April 22, 2009 0:46

Sergei Karjakin: "I need to train with good coaches"

Sergey Karjakin to play for RussiaIn the news this week was Sergei Karjakin's announcement that he will start playing for Russia instead of Ukraine. He and his family will probably move from Simferopol to Moscow soon, and become Russian citizens. In a video interview with ChessVibes, Karjakin explains that it's not a coincidence that he's now also working with Russian top coach and former second of Garry Kasparov: Yuri Dokhoian.

Transcript of the video:

Sergei Karjakin:
"I am going to play for Russia and I am going to live in Russia, most likely. This decision was made because I didn't have enough support inside the country, in Ukraine. And I also need to train with good coaches and there are a few good coaches in Russia, for example Yuri Dokhoian, who worked with Garry Kasparov and now in this tournament he is working with me. So it's mostly because of the coaches."

When you talk about the support, can you talk about it a bit more? People have suggested that it also has to do with money, is this true?

"OK, I had a little bit support from the private sponsors, but I almost didn't have any support from the Federation. It's not like in Russia, where you have very big support from the Federation."

This is the first tournament you're working with Dokhoian; how did you get in touch with him?

"I was actually offered to work with him about one year ago. I was ready to pay my own money because I'm sure nobody would pay for me in Ukraine, but he couldn't do that because he has a contract with the Russian Federation and he cannot work with foreigners."

So this was actually an important reason to switch to the Russian Chess Federation?

"Yes, it's one of the biggest reasons."

How is it going so far with Dokhoian? Do you recognize his experience with Kasparov in your preparation?

"Yes, he has very big experience. OK, now at the beginning it's quite hard to work with a new person because he doesn't know where I have problems and I don't know what he can recommend me. But I'm sure if we will continue working and we will have training sessions, we will become a team."

Are you and your family actually planning to move to Russia?

"Yes, I think me and my family will move to Moscow."

And basically you will be a candidate for the Olympiad team and stuff?

"Yes, I will be a candidate. I think I will be invited - I hope!" [Laughs.]

Vassily Ivanchuk:
"I think this is his personal decision. OK, if he thinks he will have more opportunities in the Russian Chess Federation, why not?" To the question if he was surprised, Ivanchuk answered: "I didn't think about it, but it's completely his personal decision."

Pavel Eljanov:
"I think it's a very good chance for Sergey to improve his skills, because he's a very talented player. I think he's one of the most talented prodigies in the world. I think that with this great support of the Russian Chess Federation he has great chances to become World Champion in the future."

Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers


p_voll's picture

Off course he hasn't support in Ukraine. Our country's loosing brains everyday more and more. Good luck you, Sergey.

John A.'s picture

This is bad... Russia is already stacked with too many players above 2700... I find it HIGHLY unlikely that Karjakin couldn't find any good trainers in Ukraine...

Frits Fritschy's picture

I'm afraid an awkward but relevant question was skipped in this interview: how will people in Ukraine (except from Ivanchuk and Eljanov) view this decision, and what does Karjakin think of this? Ukraine is, as far as I know, a split-up country, with a large minority looking at Russia and a small majority looking at the European Union. Not much grey there, it's mostly black and white.
Quite a step for an 18-year old. Just imagine an 18-year old Catalan soccer player transferring from Barcelona to Real Madrid? And Spain didn't close down the gas pipes to Catalonia.
Maybe chess players don't want anything to do with politics, but will that also be the other way around? I'd like to know how the Ukrainian press reacted to this.

Castro's picture

What if, in the future and for whatever reasons, the Russian Federation also cease to support him, in some unacceptable way? Will he go farter North? Beware the clothes and heating expenses! :-)
He's young, and one must take chances, but maybe because he is young, he should be careful not to take too many irreversible steps, specialy if useless.
It's indeed hard to believe that his money + some sponsors couldn't garanty a top-class coach, without limitations like Dokhoian's.
And in a far larger and chess-stronger country, will he realy have more chances? Will he as easy as in Ucraine be on the top group, all along his carear?
For being Russian it's also strongly recomended (for one's happiness, for a thing...) that one feels Russian.
I wish Sergey the best, and that he becomes Russian if and only if he knows he wants everything of it.

Ed's picture

Presumably he is getting a good contract with Russian Chess Federation, otherwise this move would not make any sense for him. What is hard to understand is why the Russian Chess Federation is doing this, given that Russia already has a number of elite GMs, including many young ones. Good deal for Karjakin. If I were a Russian elite GM I would be upset.

Castro's picture

That reminds me of something: There are sports where you can't represent nacional teams, if you previously represented other country. Football, for instance. And it makes some sense to me. Countries are not clubs. And it is good if Karjakin is aware of it.

a) Not all "Baltic Ladies" are russian!
b) Ucranian ladies have nothing to fear about comparisons, I'm sure.

a) What he "wants" (being or not #1 country or world) is not the question. The question is if becoming russian is the way to get it. Many others want (or can aspire to) be #1 in the world, and it would be insane everyone of them wishing to become russians. Maybe that's the way for us to clearly see that competitive aspirations cannot --- strightforward --- be a good reason for such a move.
b) LOL "Farther north" was a joke, but (besides you could understand "north of Moskow") there are regions north of Russia (Or couldn't we also speak about "south of Russia" because they have some ocupation in the Antartida also?) Anyway, if I were him, I'd never go North in the first place (other than for holydays), but each one has his tastes. Even russian girls can travel South, too!

All in all, I just stated some doubts about the goodness of the public reasons. Like Ivanchuck stressed, ultimately it's for Karjakin to know the exact reasons and take the wanted decisions. I think it is a bold step that no one sould take lightly. One that I think is to be taken almost only in "last resort".

Arne Moll's picture

I couldn't help noticing the Google ad accompanying this item: "Sexy Baltic Ladies: Single ladies from Baltic countries are looking for love."
Well, who knows, money or politics don't have to be the main reasons: perhaps Sergey has his eye on some Russian girl? ;-)

Thomas's picture

There may well be other, additional reasons for Karjakin's move which he didn't (and doesn't need to) mention in the interview: political ones (maybe he does belong to the pro-Russian part of the Ukrainian population - which could mean that he indeed 'feels Russian'), private ones as a Russian girl - maybe it would be a bit early to burn some bridges at his age [but emotional decisions are not rational ones ...].
@Castro paragraph 3: Well he doesn't want to be or become merely top or #1 of any country, but #1 of the whole world .... . And for this, strong competition in his own country is a blessing, not a curse.
@Castro paragraph1: What's north of Russia? ,:) For the money (not for training opportunities) as a next step it might make sense to move west rather than further north [I am not sure if Norway would be the best backup option ...].

BTW, concerning the video: If Karjakin made the right decision, there may well be another change concerning his future games against Eljanov - Krajakin's rating will no longer be 2621, but somewhere above 2750?

Aronjanfan's picture

I can´t believe that this is the only way for Karjakin (or for Russia :D ) to fight for the highest chess titles!
It was easier in the past times: The Russians called themselves Soviets and the old men in the Kremlin benefited in any case from all the chess triumphs. Anyway … Vassily is absolutely right by saying “it is his own decision”. Maybe Sergej had some good personal reasons beside the chessboard for his future ambitions as well. This is not an issue for controversial discussions and barley something big for chessmedia. Jussupov is playing for Germany now, Shirov for Spain and Tivijakov for the Nederlands. So what?

“The FIDE Trainers' Commission has instituted "Tigran Petrosian" medal. The medal will annually be awarded to outstanding trainers for special achievements over the last years. There are also medals for esteemed trainers with the names of Mikhail Botvinnik, Semjon Furman, Max Euwe, Isaac Boleslavsky.
The first winners will be announced till September 10th, 2009.”
Dokhian ? :D

Jonas's picture

@Arne Moll on April 22nd, 2009 9.49
"“Sexy Baltic Ladies: Single ladies from Baltic countries are looking for love.”
Well, who knows, money or politics don’t have to be the main reasons: perhaps Sergey has his eye on some Russian girl? "

As far as i know that baltic countries: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have nothing to do with Russia.

Maybe when you see similar ad "sexy girls from France you understand that this ad is about African girls?"

And this is very strange decision by Karjakin. Russia already have many strong players like Kramnik, Grischuk, Morozevich, Jakovenko, Svidler( although Svidler don't get invitations to top tournaments anymore because of short draws).
And only four players play in olimpiad, so either Karjakin will get spot in olimpiad because of some privileges, or he's too naive and think that he can be much stronger than these players?
Since in normal circumstances if two players are similar strenght you expect that they will chose native russian player...

p_voll's picture

I've found just one article in our press. There is a version that Russian chess federation doesn’t believe in their own players but has main goal in the returning of chess crown. They’ll prepare Karjakin an future world champion. So it can be deep combination. Remember these words. Let’s see. No more reaction in Ukrainian media. This is a proof of ... (

me's picture

Another Russian. Thats exactly what chess world needs!!! :P

guncha's picture

I think Russians want to weaken the potential of Ukraine in Olympiad. Russia lost to Ukraine with Karjakin in Dresden. And, of course, it is great to get the best young player with bright future from the camp of the enemy.

It is interesting to see which GM will be left out of the Olympic team of Russia. They have four top 10 players (Kramnik, Grischuk, Morozevich, Jakovenko) as well as Svidler who has been nr.4 in the World.

One can only guess what is the amount of money Russians will pay to Karjakin for this move...

Thomas's picture

At last at the next Olympiad, Russia won't have the problem several people mentioned. As the host country (the Olympiad will be in Khanty-Mansysk) they are allowed to nominate two, maybe even three teams [if otherwise there is an uneven number of participants]. Maybe they can also avoid calling one team "Russia 1" and the other "Russia 2", but instead go for "Russian experience" (Kramnik, Svidler, Grischuk, Morozevich, Bareev?) and "Young Russia" (Karjakin, Jakovenko, Alekseev, Vitiugov, Tomashevsky). Both teams would be potential medal candidates - and an interesting match if they end up playing each other ... .
Or they just use the result of the Russian championship to determine the team lineup?! Anyway, being on the Olympic team (or maybe not) most likely isn't part of the reason why Karjakin switches federations.
@Castro: Citing myself: "strong competition in his own country is a blessing, not a curse." What I meant is: Karjakin not only gets Dokhoian as his coach, but maybe also some of the above-mentioned [young] players as potential training partners. There is one risk involvd, though: maybe this is more beneficial to them than to him in the end ... . According to an interview on Chessdom, Ponomariov once had a coach named ... Veselin Topalov.

Castro's picture


With or without good reasons, Russia is a "baltic country" too.
(And "girls from France" also include "African girls" ;-) )

Olimpic teams can have more than 4 players.

Also, maybe being on the Russian olimpic is not the main concern for him, but I agree with your idea.

Castro's picture

While understanding the general idea "strong competition in his own country is a blessing, not a curse”, I think it is somewhat relative.
Does Carlsen need to be Russian? Did Anand? Topalov? Larsen? Ljubojevic? Short? Did lots of others? Not to mention Fischer, in the only times such a bizarre idea (becoming Russian if you want to progress to the very top) could make any sense at all! Nowadays, think about what would have been of "poor" Carlsen or "poor" Anand, with their countries "strong competition"!
Nah! There must be REAL, different and strong reasons for Sergej, and I'm glad there are, for his own sake! Otherwise he would be simply fooling himself.

About the teams: I'm sure there would be more things to say, but I'm just recaling these:
- Bareev? Maybe I myself would put him there, but the fact is he has now much less rating than various others, including Karpov! (But also Malakhov,...)
- What about Rublevsky?
- I'm not sure, but maybe Grischuck isn't older than Jakovenko, for instance.
But again, I understand your idea, and surely agree that Russia will have no problem in put a player like Sergej playing in an Olympiad at home!

Thomas's picture

Castro, I fully agree with you that one doesn't HAVE to be from a strong country to reach the absolute world top, I just maintain that it helps rather than hurts (IF you are successful against strong competition). In some ways this is similar to club play: being #1 of a small club is one thing, but players with talent and ambition then often join a bigger and stronger club to play in a higher league, face a stronger club competition and thus further improve.
Concerning the names you mentioned (Carlsen and others, maybe Dominguez from Cuba and Wesley So from the Philippines can be added to your list), indeed they got extra media attention, sponsors, ... being #1 from a less established chess country ("small" would be the wrong word at least regarding Anand). But they only progressed as far as they did because they played outside their home countries [of course you don't have to switch federations to do so].
To further explain what I mean I will define Germany and the Netherlands (for example) as "somewhere in between" chess countries. Both have lots of chess quantity - concerning number of titled players, Germany is second to Russia only (but way ahead of the USA and China), the Netherlands are also doing fine given it's a comparatively small country. Yet (ever since Huebner and Timman left the scene), both are lacking top quality. Some years ago the Dutch put lots of hopes in Stellwagen, I guess by now it's safe to say that he hasn't (and most likely won't) become a WCh candidate ... . Germany had (and still has) similar hopes for Naiditsch.
Odd and provocative comparison: Ukraine is clearly not like Norway, but more comparable to Germany and the Netherlands?

Thomas's picture

Concerning "my" Russian teams: I am obviously not their team captain, and while I did look at ELO ratings, I also used other more subjective criteria. I deliberately put a question mark behind Bareev's name - but had to find a fifth player for the 'experience' team (I think my four other names are obvious).

Karpov: now semi-retired (so is Bareev?) - in any case, would they put him on board 4 or 5?? Some years ago, the Netherlands had similar problems regarding Timman [though there were various other reasons why he wasn't even interested to play on the Olympic team]
Rublevsky: he played badly at an earlier Olympiad (Calvia 2006?) and was badly treated by his teammates in return, so I am unsure if he would even be interested.
Malakhov (and others): high rating, but not such a well-known name (maybe this is different within Russia)
So I was left with former world-top player Bareev .... .
BTW, if Kasparov returned to the chess scene, he would certainly be invited on the Olympic team. But could he claim/would he get the first board??

Concerning the young team: Yep, Grischuk has the same age (at least same year of birth) as Jakovenko. But I consider Grischuk an 'established' player, while Jakovenko made it into the Russian and world top only recently. Some people might miss Nepo(mniachtchi) on my list: he got lots of media attention, even hype around his person. But his present rating is only 2624 (#29 on the Russian list). Maybe it is still too early to make any conclusions, yet based on present evidence he may be "just a Stellwagen after all" (no offense and quite some irony in this statement).
And, stating the obvious: One year from now there may be other candidates for the young team who are not even known yet (outside of Russia). Kurnosov (recently in the chess news for another reason) might be one of them.

steven's picture

Karjakin is ethnically, linguistically and culturally russian (muscovite) ;
if he were a "real" ukrainian for instance from Lviv,
he would never want to become a "moskali",
no matter how much money and no matter how many excellent trainers
would be presented to him on a platter.
Millions of people in Ukraine,Belarus,Kazakhstan and the Baltics
consider themselves as russians and were cut off from Mother Moscow
after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
The transfer of Karjakin has more to do with history and politics than with chess.

steven's picture

It's probably not that he absolutely wants to become a citizen of russia,
but it doesn't bother him either, since his mother tongue and ethnicity is already
For a latvian or or a non-russified, ethnic ukrainian the step would be much more
Ponomariov btw is also an ethnic russian.
Money and support are obvious reasons, but there are deeper-lying and more
fundamental circumstances and reasons.

Aronjanfan's picture

off topic:
"Millions of people in .... consider themselves as russians and were cut off from Mother Moscow"

You are free to mention, that in Russia are living roughly 150 different non-russian nations. Not all of them feeling well treated by “Mother Moscow” all the time.

xtra's picture

Obviously there is a lot of difficult history and politics in this issue...but its just not reasonable to simply state that Karjakin, despite saying otherwise, changes federation because he wants to be a russian and not a ukrainian. And to add to that it is a GOOD reason (for Karjakin) to change federation if he thinks it can significantly help his career. And that seems likely, since the ukrainian federation seems to be low on funds/unwanting (I have no idea which) to support its members, like Ponomariov who doesnt play much for Ukraine since he doesnt get paid well enough.

The situation is probably not at all comparable with Carlsen, since he doesnt seem to have any problem at all with finding sponsors. Its probably much harder if you are in Ukraine, its not as rich as norway and its probably much harder to have the amoung of attention that a lone star in a country gets, Karjakin is not even number one in his country...clearly not the same situation.

Castro's picture

I understood your main ideas (and parcialy agreed) but that is precisely why I made those remarks, which I think remain pertinent 'til now, even after your last words, as these mainly explain *why* you said some things before, not treating the posible inacuracies, and refering to the actual "Karjakin case".

- "it helps rather than hurts": I repeat I understand. But at the same time you (agreeing with me) somewhat drained the value of such a thought (Sergej plays all arround the world for years!) (And nowadays, and specialy in Sergeys case, it's not having more strong chess compatriots, that gives him stronger competition. And if it were, I think Ucraine has suficient quantity and quality! If the question was beein of the same nacionality, or even living on the same country, who'd need better than Ivanchuck/Ponomariov/Eljanov/Efimenko etc.?)

- I think it is somewhat unfair to say Germany and the Netherlands lack top quality since Huebner and Timman. ELO matters? Or just having been cadidates to WCC? Anyway, I think it's not acurate. Maybe those countries are now relatively stronger now (or in the range of 10 years, at least) then in times of Huebner or Timman, and that a future WCC candidate can apear "at any time".

- I became curious about your view regarding (for instance) the Great Britain, in that hierarchy...

- Anyway and every time, one thing apears clear to me (Important note: with the information that is public!): The chess carear of a player like Karjakin simply doesn't need for him to become russian.

-Ucraine seams to be much stronger than both Germany and Netherlands, for many decades. The number of master titles in Germany and Netherlands strongly show diaspora from eastern countries, a thing Ucraine doesn't have. But Ucraine already have stronger bases (and stronger top players now). After all they won Olympiads...

- I see no dishonor whatsoever for a Karpov or a Kasparov to play for boards 4 or 5! On the contrary! One thing is you are the champion in title, other thing is meeting the team's (nacion's) requirments. Anyway, Kasparov shouldn't even have a place now (in none of the 2 or 3 teams). Not because it was imposible that he could be strong enough now, but because he'd have to prove it first! This is the good, fair and smart take on the matter (it's mine ;-) ). But of course the world (and federations) is run by people that sometimes (more than making mistakes) bend the rules and make prevail bad interests all the time.

Yes, I agree those can be more of real reasons. And hope so, precisely because (as we are informed) chess can not be a suficiently good reason for that.

The problem is, "if he thinks it can significantly help his career", it looks like he could be fooling himself, as he has not been having problems to be invited for top tournaments, and in last resort, for a chess carear of such a player, it would then be better to simply choose another country to live (most likely other than Russia!), maybe not even droping the ucranian nacionality! How does Ivanchuck do? (I'm asking because I honestly don't know :-) )

Thomas's picture

@Castro: I mentioned Germany and the Netherlands because I know most about these two countries - living and playing (amateur) chess in both of them ... I cannot really comment on other countries. But as you asked about England: it clearly also has a long chess tradition - Hastings is one of the oldest, if not THE oldest chess tournament still happening (even if it is nowadays not as strong as it used to be). By comparison, I called Cuba a 'less established chess country' (WCh Capablanca in the 1920's is too long ago).
And yes, I defined "top quality" as "serious WCh contender" or maybe, a bit more loosely, "stable top 30 player" - based on the second criterion, Tiviakov (NL) and Naiditsch (Germany) are presently close, but not, or not yet, stable. BTW: Yes, the German top 100 ELO list includes many Russian or ex-Soviet names - but at least some of them are of German ancestry. The most obvious example is Alexander Graf (formerly Nenashev), who even adapted his former German name. It is rather easy to get a staying permit and eventually German citizenship if you can claim to be of German descent (and they won't ask about your ELO or if you even play chess at all :) ). And the Dutch top list has only a few scattered foreign names.
Back to the main thread: Russia imposes "if you want to be coached by Dokhoian, you have to join the Russian federation" - I would say 'fair enough' (as they pay his salary). Beyond that, they can offer numerous young, hungry and strong players as potential training partners, which is something else, something more than just being their tournament opponent. And it is relevant that there are more to choose from - after all, maybe you don't have to be (close) friends with each other, but "chemistry" still matters.
If Karjakin [also] has other reasons for switching federations, along the lines Steven suggested, I would say it rather honors him that he doesn't mention those in the interview - not putting additional petrol on a (potential) fire. What still annoys me are insinuations without proof concerning 'poaching', lots of money involved, ... [here guncha was the only one suggesting it, but it was also brought up elsewhere].
At the very least, it is not at all comparable to athletics (one of my other hobbies), where several Kenian runners picked Arabic names and now represent Qatar - here, money is undoubtedly the main or even the only reason .... .

Castro's picture

Right. Only (new) notes your last post inspired me:
- This is so obvious that maybe it has to be writen, after all: Dokhoian can not posibly be the ONE AND ONLY, as a coach, for a Karjakin to aspire to the very top.
(I feel somewhat strange, saying this obvious thing, but OK, I've done it) :-)
- I don't think "lots of money involved" is a posibility one should dismiss. Also, I don't think it would be dishonouring. As for a chess-related reason is concerned (if there is one), maybe THAT would be the only one reason to make some sense (For instance, the russian federation having garanted him that). Otherwise, Dokhoian and potential training partners doesn't seem to me to justify... Anyway, it's peace for me, and good luck Sergej!

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