Boris Gelfand: "Kasparov offered his help, but I said no" | Interview, part 2 of 2
One week after the end of the World Championship match in Moscow, challenger Boris Gelfand of Israel speaks out. In the second and last part of this interview, the Israeli tells about the second half of the match, about his favorite player Akiba Rubinstein, about his coaches whom he invited to Moscow, about chess in Israel and... about saying no to Garry Kasparov, who offered to help preparing for the match.
Photos by Alexey Yushenkov & Anastasia Karlovich
Part 2 of 2
Then, you win game 7. Everyone quoted the same statistic: that you didn't beat Vishy since '93. Were you extra relieved because of this?
Not at all. First of all I don't believe in statistics. I think it's very often misleading. It's very nice, but it doesn't have big value. For example, if you look at our games, from the year 2000 Vishy and I only played five or six games. So what does it mean that I didn't win any of these game? He won one game out of this five. What does it mean?
I was very happy that I played a really good game, really in Rubinstein-style, in the style of my favorite player, and it gave me a very good feeling.
Rubinstein is your favorite player?
Yes, sure, definitely.
So it must have also given some pleasure that you were able to play his 4.e3 move against the Nimzo-Indian in a title match.
Yes, indeed, I had it in mind.
But also from the Black side, all Meran is Rubinstein's system, even though it's called Meraner system. Most of the modern openings are based on Rubinstein. Sorry that I divert...
That's no problem! Let's divert just a bit more: do you think that at some point in history, Rubinstein would have had a good chance to become world champion?
It's hard to say. From the chess point of view of course he was much ahead of time. But as a practical player, I'm not sure if he'd be good enough to beat Lasker. Unfortunately we never had a chance to test this. Definitely the match would be extremely interesting, but history didn't let us see this match.
What was it that you won this game 7, I mean, you played a fine game, but it also seemed that Vishy didn't have his day. Especially ...g5 was criticized.
Yes, but there he's already in serious trouble. The problem is that computers always give White's advantage in very moderate terms, while from a practical point of view, White has a long-term plan and Black doesn't. That's why White's advantage is pretty big. Of course, probably it was possible to defend more stubbornly, but White has a serious advantage, much more serious than computers suggest.
Maybe this is something computers still not understand these days: if one side can still find a lot of (useful) moves while the opponent has nothing to play for.
Exactly, and I'm happy because it was actually... I think Lasker said about Rubinstein that in his games, I don't remember exactly, I could be misquoting him, but that from the first move till the last move it's like "one game", and in this 7th game it was the same. The same concept was executed from start to finish.
Based on Black's queen's bishop.
Yes, the b7 bishop was not so good.
And then the next day of course everything changed, again. What happened? How do you look back at this oversight, two weeks after?
It's hard to say. I think I played according to the demands of the position. After the [king's] knight went to c3 I had to play on the kingside. I calculated some deep and beautiful lines, but OK, one line escaped my attention. I calculated some unbelievably complicated lines and they were correct, but... OK, it happens.
At the press conference, Vishy wasn't very happy after his loss but you seemed quite down-to-earth after that blunder. How do you cope so well with such things? Or do you only look cool from the outside?
No, I felt totally confident. The match goes on. It doesn't matter if you have +1 because there are still four games to play. You can lose the next game or something. I took it as I said: each game you should be ready to play your best, and go on like this. So I thought OK, we go on with an equal score, you can miscalculate something.
Do you have such a strong personality? Do you cope with losses like this all the time?
Well, probably. I don't know about personality, but I do think that probably I cope with these things better than most of my rivals. Probably it's my strong point.
Probably I cope with these things better than most of my rivals.
Has it always been like this?
I wouldn't say so, but I learnt it over the years.
An important moment in the match was, I think, your decision to play 19.c5 in that first Nimzo-Indian, game 9...
...do you regret it? I mean, some grandmasters said White's advantage was quite big after 19.a3 or 19.h3...
Yes, White's advantage is big but the problem is that Black is simply waiting, Black has nothing to do, and I didn't see how White can break through. Probably I miscalculated something, I didn't have time to look at it yet. Maybe it was not practical to calculate it till the end. I tried to find a forced win and I found this queen against rook and knight, and I believed that if I'd play on both flanks... I saw that I would get my pawn on a6 and I believed that I would create a second weakness on the kingside and that would be enough. Of course I realized that the risk that he would be able to build a fortress would be big, but still the risk that he would simply wait, if I played 19.a3 and he would play like Kh8, Kg8, that the risk that I wouldn't find a way to break through was also big.
It's difficult, because if you play slowly and you don't win, than people will say that "he could force matters and win, and if you force matters then people say "he should have waited and he'd have good winning chances." This is the kind of positions where you don't have a perfect solution. Whatever you do, you may be making the right decision, or you make a mistake.
Did you, or your seconds, try to win this ending afterwards, in your hotel? Maybe by playing this g4 earlier?
They told me... Yes, I understand that the only try is to play g4 earlier. I considered this, but I didn't see how I would break through there. They told me that they looked at it and that it gave good winning chances, but we decided to go back to it after the match, to be focused for the tasks which were ahead of us.
Then you showed fantastic preparation, in a sideline of the Rossolimo. Was this an example of how hard you worked on your openings?
Probably. I got this idea to play ...e5, not to follow the main, theoretical couse. It seemed like a good idea and it worked well.
In the last two games it seemed that both of you were even more cautious than before.
No, I don't think I played cautiously. Again, I had the same problem as in game 9. I think after I played Bf4 in the opening, he played Rc8, I do believe that I have a certain advantage, but it's probably not good enough. Probably Ne5 was a bit premature, but it's hard to say.
About game 12, you cannot say we played cautiously, because I got caught in the opening and I think it's maybe the nicest moment of the match, this c5-c4 move. Even some great guys in the commentary room didn't see it.
Yes, it was praised by Vishy too...
It's really a great move. The computers don't even show it. It's beautiful, and such moves make a real difference. If, in a drawn position, you make ten more moves, it would add nothing to chess, if you look at the whole picture. Probably you would get some entertainment for twenty more minutes. But such moves like ...c4 I think would go to each book would be studied all over the world for many years. This move is more important than, let's say, a few more moves in game 4 or Vishy playing a few more moves in game 12.
Such moves make a real difference. If, in a drawn position, you make ten more moves, it would add nothing to chess.
You took some time on it. Did you spot it very quickly, or only after excluding alternatives?
It took a while. I immediately realized that I'm in trouble and that urgent measures are necessary. If White would manage to develop his pieces and castle long, my position would be really dreadful. I first looked at all the possible moves with my queen, but I couldn't make them work. Then suddenly it occurred that I have other ways to disturb White's piece composition.
If you look back, is there anything that you would do differently?
Well... maybe certain technical things, but the attitude, the opening choice... they would be the same.
What technical things?
Maybe I would analyze some lines deeper and pay less attention to others. And maybe in my preparation I would change time management. I would spend one more week on this, and ignore something else. Certain openings I analyzed for three weeks, and about certain openings I thought: OK, it's very unlikely to happen so I'll ignore those. But I probably spent too much time on things which were unlikely to happen, but I wanted to be on the safe side.
Vishy said that you always greeted each other warmly backstage before the game. In general the match will probably go down into history as the one between good friends. To what extent this influence the games? Is it easier or more difficult to play against someone you don't like very much?
For me I think it influenced in a positive way. Different people have different opinions, but I think a World Championship match is also a cultural event and we should set an example for children who watch it, for the public who watches it. This is a different thing: people who love chess want to see the best possible games, while people who want to see a show would prefer to see scandals, low-level accusations, et cetera. We should see to whom we apply. Do we apply to public whom we respect, to children whom we want to learn chess, or do we want to apply to the same public who want to see the same show as they watch on TV every day?
I think a World Championship match is also a cultural event and we should set an example for children who watch it.
Could we say that you see chess more like a play in a theater than as a sport?
I think it's part of it, it's not only sport. With chess you also set a good example for the society. You see so many people trying to promote chess in schools nowadays. The agenda is that chess is good, chess is teaching important things. We should do something so that his will become true, that these are not words to the outside, but we should believe in it. We should set a good example instead of cheap scandals. The fact that in a World Championship match the players treat each other with dignity and respect, I think it gives a lot to chess.
You have stated several times that you hope that chess will become a bigger sport in Israel. Are there signs already that the popularity and importance are growing?
I do believe so. As I heard, from game 9 the whole country became "chess crazy". It was the first news on TV, they built a projection [of the live coverage - CV] in the prime minister's office, so during the games he was permanently watching what was going on... Basically the whole country has greeted me like I'm the biggest hero of the country, to my surprise. The budget from the government funds for chess is doubled. We have a very low position here, and it's a long way to go, but probably we'll go up.
Are you planning to contribute yourself in some ways in Israel? Maybe something with children, simuls...
I think my name gives a lot. I want to contribute with my results. I could have started with all this a long time ago, but in this case I wouldn't have reached a World Championship match, I wouldn't have played with dignity and chess wouldn't get such a big push. I think my main task is keep on playing well, keep my level and try to go even higher.
You have no less ambition.
No, no. My ambition is to learn day after day. This match taught me a lot of important lessons, the match and the preparation for it. I hope I will benefit from these lessons and my level of the game will get even higher.
At the closing ceremony, Vishy said some very nice words about you, but in your speech you did not mention Vishy. Was this on purpose, or...?
No, it was not on purpose. I have high praise for Vishy and want to thank him for his sportsmanship. You know, the last days after the match were very hectic, and I didn't know I would be called to make a speech. I want to apologize for Vishy if I congratulate him warm enough or didn't praise him enough. I think he was a big fighter and he showed his very best and I'm thankful to him for this match. As usual he behaved with dignity and with big respect and I want to wish him all the best of success in all forthcoming events.
Of course we have to speak about the comments made by Garry Kasparov, because he actually said that Anand was not showing his very best, that he was not playing at the same level as against Kramnik in 2008. What is your reaction to this?
You know, I want to tell you something. In September last year I was approached by people representing Garry, and they suggested that he would help me during the match. They asked my representative if we wanted negotiations or not. This was while I was playing in Rogaska (at the European Club Cup in Rogaska Slatina - CV].
Wow! What exactly did they offer?
That he would be my second during the match, and probably during the preparation. They wanted to have negotiations about the format of his collaboration.
And how did you respond?
I was really shocked. He had just been helping Vishy in the previous match, I knew he was working with Hikaru [Nakamura], so obviously I said no. For me it was unthinkable to receive help from somebody who has access to secrets of my colleagues.
In September last year I was approached by people representing Garry, and they suggested that he would help me during the match. (...) I was really shocked. (...) For me it was unthinkable to receive help from somebody who has access to secrets of my colleagues.
You would never have the guarantee that certain information might become accessible to others...
No, not only this, it's my personal point of view. I think it's unthinkable. Only two years have passed when you helped one player, and now you help against him. I would feel very bad' it's against my convictions to use this.
And you think this is why Kasparov made these comments?
From the moment I said no, only negative thing were said by him about the match, about me, about Vishy... I couldn't think that such a great player would take such a revenge, but nobody has managed to provide me with a better explanation so far.
During the match I asked my seconds to brief me about what was written in the media, and there were only negative things. Like now, it was also said that under any other system I wouldn't have qualified. You know, it's like Winnie-the-Pooh, wrong bees are producing wrong honey. OK, under Garry's system I couldn't qualify but he was picking up the challengers. But I think I proved enough, in a tournament like Mexico, in short matches, long matches, I can do well in any format. I think I proved this throughout my career, and I don't need any other proof. I don't think Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Spassky, Petrosian would ever think of such an attack at their colleagues.
I don't think Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Spassky, Petrosian would ever think of such an attack at their colleagues.
Vishy's response was that Kasparov should return to chess. Do you agree?
I would be very happy.
Yes. He's a great player, probably the greatest in history, so I think he does much better playing chess rather than being outside chess. I think he would please the chess world with his games much more than with his comments.
Do you think he could still compete among the very best players?
I don't know. It's hard to speculate, but I think he should give it a try. The chess public would appreciate it a lot.
It was wonderful to see that you brought your four coaches to Moscow: Tamara Golovey & Leonid Bondar, Eduard Zelkind, and Albert Kapengut. Please briefly describe what they meant for your chess development.
Sure, it's my pleasure because they did a lot and they're part of my success. I was very happy when they accepted my invitation and came to Moscow to see the match and to cheer for me. Eduard Zelkind was my first coach. I started to work with him when I was six and we worked until I was 11, when he moved to the United States.
So he was the one who taught you that rook ending?
Yeah, exactly! He taught me the rook endings. I still have notes with the rook endings. So it's kind of a disappointment for me that I didn't win this totally winning rook ending in game 3 but it has nothing to do with chess knowledge.
Tamara took over when he moved to the States, and she accompanied me to many events, in Soviet Union Championships, and she gave me some valuable lessons, like before each game you should not only try to remember what you'll play, but you should also move the moves at a chess board because then you'll remember them well. I still do this.
Leonid Bondar is her husband and he was my teacher at the Chess University, the same as where Andrei Filatov was studying, and Ilya Smirin, and Zsuzsa Polgar... He had a lot of prominent students. His passion for chess is incomparable. There we talked about cities, and he told me that Geneva is the best city in the world because in the city parks they have big chess sets! I learnt a lot from his passion and his love for chess.
And of course Albert Kapengut was my trainer for many, many years, till 1993. With his help I won the first Interzonal; I worked the whole first Candidates cycle with him. He taught me a lot of things. Most importantly, he taught me how to deal with information and the importance of information, and how chess players should work on chess. This is the most important thing, I think. You can have the best trainers, the best computers, but if you don't know how to work, if you don't have passion for it, nothing else can help you. These are the most important lessons I got from them. And of course all of them taught me that you should win with dignity and lose with dignity.
So... what's next? You'll probably take some rest now, and then... the Olympiad?
Actually I would be happy to play. I have so many ideas and I did so much work, so I'm rushing to put it into practice and to see what I learnt. But for the moment I don't have many invitations, so maybe the Olympiad will be the next tournament.
Actually I would be happy to play. I have so many ideas and I did so much work, so I'm rushing to put it into practice and to see what I learnt.
Of course there is only one question I can finish this interview with. How do you rate Holland's chances in the European Championship?
I really hope they do well. Holland is normally not doing so well the World Cup, but the European is our territory! I believe in, and I hope for a big success. The attack is fantastic, so if the balance can be found between defence and attack, all the chances are there. Of course the group is difficult [Netherlands faces Denmark, Germany and Portugal - CV] but as long as we get through the group, it should be easier. Of course I will root for Holland and watch each match.
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