A lengthy interview with David Navara (part 2 of 2)
David Navara finished 3rd at the Reykjavik Open two months ago in Iceland, during which he gave a long interview to Grandmaster Vasily Papin. The interview – where the Czech grandmaster talks, for instance, about his doubts about the life of a chess professional, Bobby Fischer and how he fell victim to Viktor Korchnoi’s legendary sharp tongue – gives a revealing insight into a grandmaster who stands out from the crowd.
Vasily Papin kindly allowed us to cross-post the interview here at ChessVibes. We give it in two parts and today we publish the second part. You can find the first part here. The interview was translated into English by Colin McGourty; the original in Russian can be found at the Rostov Chess website.
Are there qualities besides talent and hard work that, in your view, are essential for chess players?
Yes. In particular there’s one very important quality which isn’t always mentioned, but which lies on the surface: intelligence, in the broadest meaning of the word.
People in chess are educated but, nevertheless, I think even among elite chess players there are few true intellectuals. That’s because they devote a great deal of time to chess and favour chess ahead of other forms of activity. Plus there’s the constant search for sponsors – if you don’t have good support and good trainers. An expensive trainer isn’t always a good one, and the success of the search depends largely on luck. In that sense I was lucky in life, including with coaches.
It’s hard for me to imagine you in a playing hall dressed in something other than a flawless suit with all the appropriate accessories. Do you think the external appearance of players is that important and what do you think about the dress code that’s been introduced into official events?
I’ve gradually become used to playing in a suit as I often play on the top boards and people are always following my play. On the other hand, when I’m not playing I prefer casual clothes. Therefore I go for walks around Prague dressed in everyday clothes and nobody notices, as I usually don’t get recognised in Prague in those clothes.
During his match against Vassily Ivanchuk in 2009
The external appearance of chess players is undoubtedly important, but there shouldn’t be any extremes. In my opinion it’s unacceptable to allow someone to play in a tournament hall in a bikini. You simply need to have basic restrictions. Anything else is superfluous.
Unfortunately technical progress and the rapid improvement in players’ mastery have given birth to the horrible phenomenon of “cheating” – when you find yourself not playing against a bona fide player in a tournament but a computer. Have you ever encountered that phenomenon?
The problem of “cheating” undoubtedly exists. Fortunately I’ve never come across it, although from time to time I do suspect my opponents. Yes, it’s embarrassing to admit that. On the other hand, however, it sometimes seems to me that I play like a computer, and that it’s somehow suspicious. Later though, after the game’s over, I realise that’s not true. That I actually did commit mistakes, or didn’t commit mistakes and played better than the computer, but simply differently. Or I played very similarly to it, but I was playing honestly. I know the feeling. I’ve never played against particularly suspicious opponents. Of course when a player often leaves the playing hall during a game I do sometimes start to suspect them. That’s annoying. I think you shouldn’t suspect people. But nevertheless, I do.
What do you think about the currently popular points system: 3 points for a win and 1 for a draw?
I think it has its virtues in certain events. For example, in closed tournaments it’s interesting as the measure encourages decisive games. I don’t think that applies to opens, though, as after a loss in the first round the losing player gets weaker opponents and, by beating them, he picks up more points than strong plays drawing against each other. After all, if you get a worse position and you can’t evaluate it immediately then is it worth taking a risk? Therefore it nevertheless looks more logical to give half a point for a draw and a point for a win.
At the 2010 Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk
Are you a member of the Association of Chess Professionals?
No. I undoubtedly am a chess professional, but on the other hand I don’t know to what degree I support…
Emil Sutovsky and his team?
It's not that. I think he's decent and his team is as well. It’s simply that a man who doesn’t even know to what extent it’s appropriate to play chess professionally is unlikely to be a good ACP member. It’s simply that from time to time I have doubts about the appropriateness of my profession. On the other hand, however, when I was flying to Reykjavik I had an American sitting next to me who’d spent his whole life growing cannabis professionally for pharmaceutical companies. That was his profession. Which means the profession of chess professional isn’t actually that strange. No doubt there are also more dubious professions.
One consequence of technical progress is the rapid growth in the number of international grandmasters. As a result the title of grandmaster has been devalued, becoming small change. That can’t help but concern leading grandmasters and the leadership of the ACP. One of the proposals to get out of the crisis is to abolish the grandmaster title, while another proposal is to introduce a new title. What’s your opinion?
I think the current system for awarding the titles should be changed. There are an awful lot of grandmasters. Probably you should introduce a new title or a new name but, on the other hand, the title of, for example, super-grandmaster looks a little artificial. And what happens if there’s more inflation? A new title of super-hyper-grandmaster?
Nevertheless, out of the two options, abolishing the title or having a new one, I’m in favour of the new title, but linking it to the rating you need to enter the top hundred. That’s my opinion.
Your live rating is now 2719 and 25th on the rating list. What next?
I don’t know. I’d like to play better, but somehow it hasn’t been working out. I can play significantly better in a couple of tournaments, but in the third tournament I make a lot of blunders and lose all the rating points I’d picked up. And that keeps happening. I had a period when everything was going well. That was from summer 2005 to summer 2006. Then there was a period in 2008 when it was the opposite, and nothing was working out for me. In general I don’t know what the explanation is for playing well in one tournament but badly in another.
Holding the trophy after beating Sergey Movsesian in the Prague match last year
Does the problem of an “inconvenient” chess opponent exist for you?
It mainly exists when my opponents are stronger than I am. There are problems when I play against Levon Aronian. He sees tactics better than I do, is better prepared and is a stronger strategist. Against players at my level, however, I can play normally. Although I’ve lost, for example, three out of four games to Grandmaster Ivan Sokolov. On the other hand, two of those three games were played in rapid chess and one in Fischer Chess. I think I’ll play normally against him in the next game.
There’s not long to wait until the World Championship match between Anand and Gelfand. What’s your prediction?
I think Grandmaster Anand will win by a small margin… Let’s say 7:5, although that sounds unrealistic. Perhaps 6.5:4.5.
Do you think the match will end early or will all twelve games nevertheless be played?
I think it’s more likely to end sooner, but only by a single game. We’ll see. Grandmaster Gelfand is a very strong and experienced chess player and he’s also very good at preparing for such important events.
Yes, and he’s got a very powerful team of seconds. Have you ever taken on the role of second, and if so, for who?
No. I haven’t tried very hard to get onto any team as I don’t particularly like working on the opening. I consider it a necessary evil. No, I’m not judging anyone. It’s simply that I’ve decided for myself that I don’t really want to do that kind of work. I don’t see anything wrong with it, but it’s not for me.
David, you play in leagues quite often. In which countries?
At the moment I play in the Czech Republic, Germany, France, Poland, Greece and from time to time in Croatia. Sometimes I also play in other leagues. I once played in Russia.
And if you received an offer from a Russian team to play in the Russian Team Championship would you have any problem playing there again?
No, I wouldn’t have a problem. In the leagues I get a guaranteed income regardless of the result, which in itself isn’t bad. I don’t really like playing in open tournaments, as a lot depends on the final round.
Versus world #1 Magnus Carlsen, last January in Wijk aan Zee
In which league is it most pleasant and comfortable for you to play?
At the moment I like the Czech Extra League. I play for a very pleasant and also rich club in that. From the point of view of results I play best in the French League. In recent years I’ve played a few dozen games there and scored above 75% of points, despite playing significantly more games with Black. However, it’ll be very annoying if now, having said that, I fail there in a couple of months’ time.
During the time you’ve been playing internationally have you received any offers to change citizenship or federation?
No, I haven’t received any, and I don’t want to change either my citizenship or my federation. The Czech Federation and many Czech players gave me a lot of support when I was young. Of course that can’t be compared to the support some other talents received, but they nevertheless root for me and sometimes help out with something. Firstly, it’s satisfying to play for my country, and secondly, I’ve got a sense of gratitude.
How often do you have to give lectures, media interviews, promote chess and hold simultaneous displays?
I don’t do a lot of that. When I’m asked for an interview I usually say yes. Almost always. But when it comes to having a dialogue with the wider world about the beauty of chess there are people who are more capable than I am in that regard. I’m fine at speaking about chess for male and female chess players. I do give media interviews, though rarely, because I don’t speak that well. I always try to speak very precisely and I end up having difficulty finding the appropriate words even in Czech, never mind other languages.
I give simuls from time to time. I wouldn’t say it’s dull for me. Sometimes I enjoy it, but it’s tough work. I don’t try to get as many points as possible in a simultaneous display, but I don’t want to make quick draws either. If an opponent offers me a draw in a better position then I usually accept. I play quite quickly so blunders always occur. The display ends up being quick. Someone beats me, but the majority lose.
In the past I didn’t like playing simuls at all. I wanted to improve. Now, however, I’m working constantly on chess and my rating is more or less the same.
David, what’s your favourite move in the opening?
My favourite move in the opening was in a game no-one knows about. 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 d4 3.b4 g5!??!N. I came up with that move in 2005 but only played it in 2011 (Markowski – Navara, Wroclaw, 2011). I didn’t get the chance before then. The move isn’t particularly good, but it’s also not as bad as it seems.
An original idea.
Yes, original, but there’s not really anything to boast about. Finding original ideas that aren’t particularly good isn’t all that difficult. On the other hand, however, a novelty on the 3rd move isn’t all that bad.
Your most memorable win, loss and draw?
The win against Levon Aronian in Wijk aan Zee 2012, probably because I haven’t managed to forget that game yet. I’ve had other wins as well, but I had a bad score against Levon in tournaments before that.
My most memorable defeat was when I lost the match against Alexander Grischuk at the World Cup. It was the most memorable because I failed to win a completely won position.
The most memorable draw was against Moiseenko, at the same World Cup.
But I prefer not to think about games I’ve played in the past and instead concentrate on the future.
Last March at the Reykjavik Open
So you look to the future?
Yes, I try.
So what are your future tournaments plans, then?
In a few days there’s the European Championship in Bulgaria, then again the leagues, in May I’m planning to play in the Czech Championship and then there’s the Olympiad in Istanbul.
Finally can you give us a couple of amusing stories or anecdotes involving you.
In the Czech Republic it’s quite rare for people to recognise me on the street, as I mentioned before. One day I was travelling by tram. Suddenly someone in the carriage shouted loudly: “Look, Navara!”. Flattered by such rare attention I turned round and saw two men looking out of the window at the street. “Nissan” – the second sighed in response. Then I realised they weren’t talking about the chess player Navara but about the model of car, the “Nissan Navara”.
At the end of 2003, as an 18-year-old, I was playing my first Prague match. My opponent was the famous Viktor Lvovich Korchnoi. We played only two games. In the first I escaped with difficulty as White, while in the second I sacrificed a pawn to get a winning attack. After the game my opponent was a little upset and left the hall. When I started to show variations to the fans, however, Viktor Lvovich returned and suggested an improvement, which I refuted, noting that the position was unclear. In response the famous grandmaster replied: “Only for you!”
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