Vishy Anand: "Both of us had the right to win this match" | Interview, part 2 of 2
After our lengthy interview with challenger Boris Gelfand, obviously we also took the time to speak to Vishy Anand, who was, and still is, the World Champion. In this second part, he speaks about the second half of the match, the tie-break, the opening choices, his controversial draw offer in the last game, the criticism that he and Gelfand played "boring chess", his ambitions and his impression of Andrew Paulson, the man who bought the rights to organize all major FIDE events in the World Championship cycle in the coming years.
Part 2 of 2
The loss in game 7 put me in a position where my white game was suddenly much more important. In game 8 I would at least have to start putting pressure. If I didn't win game 8, there would not be many games left and only two whites. Suddenly the pressure is a lot higher.
But the good thing was that after a very bad night, when I couldn't sleep, the next morning when I went to work, the guys told me that they had made some important breakthroughs in his Grünfeld and that's why I at least had some confidence that I could make a good show that day.
And then he didn't allow you to show your preparation.
Well, that's the point. When I got to the game he in fact played 3...c5 I was actually slightly disappointed. It's not like we neglected 3...c5 completely or something, but we spent more time on the Grünfeld. When he went 3...c5, I thought: o, it's a pity, we don't get to use our stuff. But still, I was happy for any kind of open struggle, because you need to come back. And obviously it went like a dream, what can I say.
If you found something against the Grünfeld, why didn't you return to 1.d4 in later games?
Honestly, I don't know. We considered 1.d4 for many games, but in the mean time the guys had managed to develop some good ideas in the Rossolimo. Besides, we thought they might repair the Benoni structure. The problem is: there are only two games, so it's not like you have that many games to try everything you wanted to try. And we actually started to like the Rossolimo. We found these ideas with e4-e5, and this pawn sacrifice, and things like that. Frankly, we liked them, and that's it. We could have gone back to 1.d4, but it's a bit of a call. You don't know if he moves to his second opening; you don't know what to expect. We thought that against 1.e4 it was more likely that he would stick to the Rossolimo. These things, you don't take such decisions with full information, you're always sort of guessing and this is the decision we took.
You also switched with Black. You played the Nimzo-Indian after you lost the 4th Chebanenko/Semi-Slav. Was this similar to the Grünfeld loss against Topalov two years ago? That there was nothing wrong with the opening, but that it just didn't 'feel right' to continue playing it?
Well, we had prepared a second opening complex and we just thought: why not move there. It's normally a good question how long you should stay in the same area. I think Boris likes this approach more. He didn't like to move, at least during the match. For me, I felt already after three games you start to wonder: should you keep continuing in the same area over and over again, or should you move to the next thing. It's an open question. But game 9 seemed like a good moment to shift.
The other thing is, of course: we hoped to surprise him with what we had prepared in the other complex, but in a way he tried to keep the surprises to a minimum by playing the 4.e3 Nimzo. That's an area that white can control and say 'no, I insist we play this'. If he goes 3.Nf3 there are so many things we could do, and he wouldn't know what to expect. The Nimzo is an easier complex.
But it's also typical of the way Boris in this match kept control of the direction of the openings. With white he was always playing 3.Nc3 and 4.e3, so he tried to minimize any sort of big surprises that I could have prepared.
It's also typical of the way Boris in this match kept control of the direction of the openings.
It was a bit surprising that you only went for the Sveshnikov once. Was this also because you felt he spent so much time on it, and you'd never be able to catch up?
Well, we liked the Rossolimo more, so we went with that. During a match, you evaluate lots of options and we simply liked the Rossolimo more. I liked the nature of the play there, so I went for that.
Was it mainly his opening choice that avoided you from getting into your play, your type of positions, or was it more the way Boris played?
A bit of both. Boris kept some strategy control with his openings but he was also playing well. He spent a lot of time getting to know the structures, and really become an expert in the systems he had chosen. During the match he reacted very alertly and very resourcefully on many occasions. Of course, sometimes it went horribly wrong, like in game 8, but mostly it went well. For example game 12, we were very excited about this pawn sac idea, and still he manages to find ...c4 over the board. That changes the nature. It's not that the ...c4 idea didn't cross our mind but we still didn't expect him to play it just like that, when you're surprised. Boris was very impressive with many of his decisions, I would think.
Did you look at ...c4 in that position during the preparation?
I considered the idea, but we didn't analyze it much. We had a lot of specific things to work on. But Boris sat down for 40 minutes, understood the strategic problems Black was facing and found ...c4 and it was actually pretty impressive.
Boris sat down for 40 minutes, understood the strategic problems Black was facing and found ...c4 and it was actually pretty impressive.
And even in the rapid games he was defending extremely well. In game 2 we hit him with a surprise as well, and again he found a lot of solutions over the board. But he needed time to do that and he ran low on time later.
How did you decide to make this Chebanenko/Semi-Slav your main weapon?
Well, we wanted to bring something new to the table. Of course you can learn a completely new complex that you don't play much, something like the Grünfeld, but I wanted to stick to my Slav/Meran complex but then do something slightly different. That's how we came to ...a6. This seemed ideal for the purpose of surprise. It's not easy to predict and we actually managed to get some depth there.
In game 9, an important moment in the match was, I think, his decision to play 19.c5 in that first Nimzo-Indian. Were you relieved? During the game, how big did you think White's advantage was?
I thought that it was plus minus, simply. The problem was, I couldn't remember exactly what my preparation was in this line and then I started to get a bit confused. At some point I calculated a line with ...Bxf3 and ...e5 which worked, and then I took on f3, and he took on f3 and I realized ...e5, Bf5 is more or less resigns on the spot. Suddenly I realized that you make a ridiculous impression if you take on f3 and then don't follow up with something very specific. I was already feeling pretty embarrassed about all this, and then I saw there was hope with ...Qd6. I think c5 is a mistake because even if he found some way around this fortress, which is very hard to see far ahead, I think still it is a relief for Black to resolve this thing. It's better to just keep the bishops and continue.
How confident were you that it would be a fortress?
Well, it was difficult which fortress to choose from, because there are many fortresses. The fortress I chose held, so that was a bit of a relief. I don't really know if he could have broken through that fortress but at some point it felt vulnerable to me.
Then, also against the Rossolimo he had something, this early ...e5. Was there some kind of desperation when you got back to the hotel? A feeling of 'the guy looked at everything'?
In a sense, yes. It showed just how difficult it would be to get something against him. But between game 10, 12 and 14, the second rapid game, we ourselves were still getting the steam right. In game 12 we went for 5.d3 and then 6.b3 and then in game 14 we went back to 5.b3, so we were trying to get the idea working and I think we had some success in both games. In game 12 we did pose him some problems, even if he solved them. The same with game 14.
Boris was just very well prepared, but also very intelligently. His thing was not to be predictable but almost everywhere find something off the beaten track and to be unpredictable.
Then, Boris explained rather well that although a draw was agreed at an early stage in many games, in fact it was really quite drawish in most of them, more perhaps than people realized. But what about the 12th game. Svidler said he was "mildly surprised", Vladimir was "shocked". So what was it?
The problem was, his last move was a mistake. His rook to d8 is a mistake. Just before that I was thinking that if he plays Bxf3, gxf3 and then Rd8, we could more or less shake hands immediately. I don't think Vlady or Svidler would have disagreed there. But his last move was a bit inaccurate because I can maybe take and go Nd2 some Rc3 and play on. So in a certain sense Vlady is right and I also realized this as soon as I left. I had been waiting for him to play Bxf3 and Rd8 and somehow when he didn't, I didn't change. Of course it was a mistake not to play on for a few moves, not because there's anything in the position, I think Black still has full compensation. I strongly disagree that I had some hope in the position. OK, he has to find a way to at least liquidate the queenside or exchange a pair of pawns and double somewhere there. At least he would have had to show something.
When you left the stage you already regretted your decision?
Vaguely, I suddenly realized that he had not played Bxf3 and I short of jumped the gun and offered a draw. When I got back home the seconds told me that Vlady was very surprised that I had agreed to a draw, but according to them I had nothing.
So I have some mild regret and I can understand some of the criticism. Here you can really say there's no harm in us playing out a few moves. But like I said, I was simply under the influence of Bxf3 and Rd8, when there's nothing to play for.
And what about his clock situation?
Well, I don't think 12 minutes is too little for Boris, I don't think that is a factor at all. But, yes, it was a mistake. It was a wrong reflex as a result of just not adjusting in time. If fans complain that we stopped early, I respect that. I think it was a mistake.
If fans complain that we stopped early, I respect that. I think it was a mistake.
And wasn't it the same in the previous game? Morozevich told me that a3 wasn't the best move to offer a draw with, and that Boris should have played on.
Maybe, though I had seen the idea that I just simply stay passively and he can do nothing. I think Morozevich is right: in practical terms it's no fun to sit passively, but once you see that you have to, I don't see it's such a big deal.
Then, the tie-break. You more or less returned to the 'fast playing Vishy'. Was this a sign of more confidence?
Maybe I was simply getting into the mood. I knew you had to play a bit faster but still I was aware that you shouldn't get into this blitzing mode, which is the most dangerous thing. 25 minutes is closer to a classical chess than to blitz in a mental sense, because 25 minutes is actually 5 blitz games. There is no point in playing fast because someone is down to 5 minutes. If you gave me a winning position in a blitz match, I would take it. So you still have to be careful. Time becomes a big factor only when you're down to your last minute or seconds. So I kept reminding myself I had to be careful, but yes, generally I feel very comfortable in rapid chess, this is no big secret.
25 minutes is closer to a classical chess than to blitz in a mental sense.
And is this the result of all these tournaments in Mainz, that you just know how to adjust to a faster time control better than Boris?
I don't know. Boris gave the impression that he was prepared for every turn of events. So far I had no reason to expect that he would have any difficulty in rapid chess. In Khanty-Mansiysk and Kazan he showed himself to be able to handle all the different time controls, so there was no particular ground for optimism in that. The one thing that I was excited about was the first rapid game. I was very happy to get real winning chances, because it was the first time that I actually got some play with the black pieces in the match. That, I felt, was a very positive sign.
For the rapid, we actually switched back to the proper Meran, not the a6 Meran. It seemed that in rapid I would actually be getting interesting games with black so I was kind of excited about that. So at least I went to the second game with some positive feelings from that.
In that second game you showed good preparation, but Boris got back completely. What was the turning point?
Yes, White is better, he walked into our preparation. White wins a pawn, but his knight is misplaced on a5. Black still has a lot of play. Again I was not able to resolve this stage very easily and Boris actually made some very clever moves. I was very impressed by Bc8 and after that the only move I was really happy with was Re1, because it's tough move to make, hiding behind your king, but it's actually quite useful. After Rh6, Rh1, Rd6 is a very clever move, I hadn't noticed it. But slowly I managed to untangle; I don't think Black was better in any specific line.
And then in the third game you were hanging by a thread. To what extent did you actually see that even this rook ending was lost?
I was extremely surprised by Rh7, because somehow I was hallucinating that I was getting a Vancura. So I found it very funny that you had the same thought, at least from your question to Boris. In fact when I got back to the room, I told the guys. They said: "Nice escape!" and I said "Well, but I'm getting a Vancura," and they said: "No, you're not, you're not getting anything remotely, you're getting a Vancura like three tempi down, forget about it." Only later, when I got back to the hotel, I realized how lucky I'd been. It again strikes me that sometimes, even if you're deluded, it can give you confidence and confidence is the most useful thing in chess. But of course, Gelfand should have almost the same hallucination.
Even if you're deluded, it can give you confidence and confidence is the most useful thing in chess.
He told me he didn't really play Rh7 to avoid a Vancura, but he couldn't really explain why he played it.
It was inexplicable, because Rh7 is about the only move that draws. Even a king move keeps the win. So it seems that White can even afford to lose a tempo but losing two tempi is too much.
I had the feeling I had nailed the draw, and then I got myself confused. First of all, it's just a trivial draw if I play a Kh5 somewhere, it's just a trivial draw. There were just a lot of things wrong. Both of us were hallucinating a lot. But still at the end of it, if you ask me, I would have to say that I was lucky. You can't pretend that there's some logic to all this.
When I finished the tie-break, I felt that I at least had been resourceful, but when I got back home I realized that luck had played a much bigger part than I realized at the board. What can I say? Yes, I was lucky, I can't argue with that.
When I got back home I realized that luck had played a much bigger part than I realized at the board. What can I say? Yes, I was lucky, I can't argue with that.
About game 4, there's no point in saying that Boris was better because I was playing for a draw and these things go badly quite often. Of course if I had lost game 3, my play in game 4 would have been different. So I don't think you can just count the moments that I was worse, I think that's wrong. If I had lost game 3, it would have been a different match, and that's it.
But game 4 was really stupid. It shows that when sitting there, your emotions are much stronger than anything else. I kept on telling myself: don't play for a draw because that's the one thing that is exactly what you're not supposed to do in this situation and still, the desire to simplify was so strong that I went for this really bad simplification and I was worse. Then, at some point when I got in Re6 and Rf6, I thought I would escape and that's what happened. But my play in game 4 was ridiculous, there's no getting around that.
Was this maybe also the reason why you said these nice words about Boris at the closing ceremony? Were you still feeling that it could have gone either way, were you even feeling a bit badly for him?
Yeah, definitely. I understood that I'd been quite fortunate, even though in the rapid match I had played the first two games reasonably well. It had been a very close match. It was very easy to put myself into Boris's situation and I genuinely felt how he would feel, that he had been so close to winning the match... It was anybody's game. Both of us had the right to win this match.
Both of us had the right to win this match.
But also I admired his whole approach to this match. He was very sporting, he was very correct, he behaved impeccably and he played very well. It was genuine, it really came from the heart.
I also asked this to Boris: if you look back, is there anything that you would do differently?
Probably I would do a lot of things differently, but only if Boris promises to stick to his match strategy! Because that's the problem: I would do things differently, and so would he, and we're back into the same guessing game.
After six games, the debate was actually quite strong, e.g. on ChessVibes there were hundreds of comments: either chess was dead, or you guys didn't fight enough, and actually some of your colleagues also said that it was not interesting. Did you pick this up during the match? What would be your contribution to this debate?
I didn't really follow it too much, but even so in the press conferences you started to get this sensation, this frustration, and I could very easily imagine what the public was saying. I could even almost partly understand where it was coming from. But we were trying, we were just not getting very interesting positions because our preparation with Black was quite good. Neither of us was getting very interesting openings to do something with.
I could understand the criticism, but somehow I felt the main thing was to actually focus on the match. I mean, if you start playing for the gallery, it can get quite tricky.
Speaking about the press conferences, I sometimes had the feeling that your answers were rather short. To what extent do you have an obligation to the fans and journalists to actually make something of such a press conference? Or were you just disappointed about some of the questions you were getting?
Well, in my case, you know, right after a game you're so tense that it's very difficult to be very calm. And when you're that warmed up, it's very difficult to answer questions that are translated. This is very difficult for me, because you lose your continuity. If you want to say something, and then after every sentence they stop you, it kind of breaks your rhythm a bit. I think this format of multiple languages is always kind of... I mean, you know that when you see a press conference in just one language it's much more fun than in three, because the back and forth really drives you nuts. This has nothing to do with chess. In anything in life, if something is going back and forth, it's difficult to say something.
I also suspected that perhaps some of my idiomatic expressions might have been mistranslated into Russian. The translator was doing his best, I don't want to blame him, but you never know exactly what they understand. Sometimes you answer a question, then a journalist asks a question and you're not sure if he grasped what you tried to say.
In a sense I agree with Boris: in the first six games we felt there was nothing really to play on for. You could say that we could have played a few more moves to show the public why we agreed a draw, but I also think the commentators could have shown this to the public a little bit.
So, I imagined our style of play, you know, being well prepared and playing lines that are sort of solid in a certain sense, wasn't thrilling the public but once you're in a match and you're following a certain strategy you can't go back and forth.
Gata Kamsky was disappointed that in the match it was "80% preparation and 20% chess" and wants to promote Chess960 more. Do you agree, or are you still enjoying chess the way it is?
[Laughs.] There are arguments for 960; I don't think this is the only one. I'll put it this way: I think also Boris and me, our styles are particularly badly matched. We both tend to play in a certain way and prepare in a certain way which, if we're both well prepared, might not lead to very much. We showed this a little bit here. I tend to prepare my black opening well, he tends to do the same, we tend to defend well, and so on. I mean, with different players... I don't think chess is dead. If you have different styles, maybe things can happen. Probably even more than our styles, our approaches to the match were too similar and then it's difficult to do something.
I don't think chess is dead. If you have different styles, maybe things can happen. Probably even more than our styles, our approaches to the match were too similar and then it's difficult to do something.
But again, during the match you always have this thought: what is your priority? Should you think about these things or should you not? I concluded that it would be irresponsible to start thinking about these things. Let's say that one of us did something a bit irresponsible and lost this match. I don't think this person would even get a lot of credit for unbalancing the match. They would just say: what an idiot, doesn't he know that what he did was wrong?
And now? What are your ambitions?
The first thing is that I would like to do well in my upcoming tournaments. It's not only other people who have been disappointed about my tournament results last year. I'll play some tournaments this year and I understand that autopilot will not be good enough. I have to do something and in a way that's kind of my goal right now.
How will you change your approach?
Somehow I think, to keep on announcing your comebacks in the press all the time is a bit silly. If you want to show that you're a good player, you should do it at the chess board. It's much more satisfying, first of all, than to keep on repeating a hundred times 'o, I'm gonna play better, I'm gonna play better', it drives me nuts also. I understand that after three failed tournaments people are a bit fed up with my play but at least in this match I think I got the job done. I don't think I was playing particularly badly, I simply think Boris played well.
At least I don't want to retire, although Garry seems to spend most of his time announcing my retirement! Anyway, I'm now enjoying the Tal Memorial, and them I'm going to watch a bit of football as well.
What is your impression of Andrew Paulson, and his attempts to bring new life into chess?
First of all I would say that anybody who is making a commitment like this to the cycle, I mean especially the Grand Prix, this is a very good development in general. We shouldn't forget that there aren't that many tournaments this year. Even the top players have a very bizarre schedule where we play a couple of months, then we rest for five, six months and then again we play a little bit. If the calendar fills up a bit, this is good for everyone. Obviously the same players can't be playing everywhere and so a lot more guys will get chances. That is healthy.
Initially there are a lot of scheduling issues, especially regarding where all you can play and things like that. The first year it's always tricky to get this thing inside your schedule, then after that it's a bit easier.
A lot of what he says sounds very good so right now the important thing is to see how the execution goes, to see if the tournaments actually happen they way he says they'll happen. But in theory a lot of his ideas are very good I think.
And what if he'll make significant changes to the game?
The answer is always if it works. I enjoyed the ambiance in the Tretyakov but if there's some other approach that people want to try, and the execution works, it's fine by me. I think the main thing is simply that we have lots more events in the calendar. This is what chess players have been asking for for many years.
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