"Every year at the Chess Classic I keep my fingers crossed"
From July 27th to August 2nd, Viswanathan Anand will defend his title of Rapid World Champion, which he won already 11 times, against Levon Aronian, Arkadij Naiditsch and Ian Nepomniachtchi. In an interview with Harry Schaack the World Champion reviews the events of the last half year ‚Äì and looks ahead to the Grenkeleasing Rapid World Championship in Mainz.
Photo: Christian Bossert
From July 27th to August 2nd, once again the best players in the world will meet in the Rheingoldhalle in Mainz, Germany to play the most important rapid chess festival in the world: the Chess Classic. The world championships in rapid chess and Chess960 will be staged in a tried and trusted double round robin format with four players, after which the players battle it out in mini-matches to determine the top spot. During the GRENKELEASING Rapid World Championship the chess world champion and Chess Classic serial winner Vishy Anand will try do win his title 12th title.
However, with the leader of the successful Armenian Olympic Team, Levon Aronian, who won both the Amber tournament in Nice and the FIDE Grand Prix in Nalchik this year, he faces a formidable opponent who already showed his strength in rapid chess in Mainz in the past. The winner of the ORDIX Open 2008, Ian Nepomniachtchi from Russia and local hero Arkadij Naiditsch will try do their best to put a spoke in the favourite's wheel. Since the German number one showed an upturn in form in the last few months, he will certainly be the one to watch out for.
More information on the Mainz Chess Classic can be found at the Chess Tigers website. The experienced organizers know how to bring their tournament under the spotlights at an early stage: they distributed the following in-depth interview with Viswanathan Anand to the media.
Translation: Johannes Fischer
Harry Schaack: Several months passed between the World Championship in Bonn in October and the Linares tournament. A rather unusual break for a World Champion. What did you do in that time?
Vishy Anand: After the exhausting match I needed this break, but there was not much time for regeneration. Shortly after the World Championship I went to India. The first days were pretty chaotic. There were many tributes, receptions and parties. Basically, I was incredibly busy. In two months I flew more than 6.000 km all over India. The enthusiasm I encountered was of course fantastic. However, it was also rather demanding.
Back in Europe you immediately went to Davos‚Ä¶
‚Ä¶where I had been invited to take part in the annual conference of the World Economic Forum. It was a new experience for me. A lot of scientists, influential politicians and businessman met in Davos. I had a lot of interesting discussions.
For the first time in many years you decided against playing in Wijk aan Zee. Only in Linares, where you had won the previous two years, you came back to the tournament arena.
Yes, and despite the break I played quite well in the beginning. I won the first game against Radjabov. But against Aronian I suffered a blackout in a clearly better position, which cost me the game. In the second part of the tournament my luck returned, particularly so in the games against Ivanchuk and Grischuk. All in all, I cannot complain. My result reflects my play. Altogether my performance was not as steady as it was in the two previous years. But I did not think that I played badly.
Grischuk wins Linares 2009
Somewhat surprisingly, Grischuk won. Considering his permanent time trouble it is amazing that he is so successful.
If I have only five minutes left on the clock, I start to get nervous. For Grischuk time trouble only begins, when he has five seconds left. Before that he carefully writes the moves on his scoresheet, including minutes and seconds spent by each player ‚Äì all that with unbelievable calm. Maybe he needs the thrill. At any rate he is an excellent blitz player. One must never underestimate him in time trouble.
In Bonn you surprised your challenger Kramnik with 1.d4 after having almost exclusively played 1.e4 before. In Linares you tried your new opening repertoire for the first after the World Championship match in a regular tournament. Were you happy with the results?
Yes, I could use a couple of things I had prepared for the match in Bonn. For me it was important not to lose the feeling for 1.d4-openings because I have worked very hard to get it. The mistakes I made in Linares did not happen in the opening.
Did you have problems to play after your long break?
That‚Äôs difficult to say. The first part of the tournament went better for me than the second. I did not necessarily play better with more practice. At the end of the tournament I made eight draws in a row. That is not really satisfying. It simply was no particularly good tournament ‚Äì but neither the worst. This happens. 50% in Linares is no disaster.
In the Amber tournament in Nice, which followed right after Linares, and where blindfold and rapid chess were played you at first seemed to follow a similar pattern as you did in Spain.
I again started somewhat shaky. But you play 22 games in the Amber tournament and you can quickly recover losses by winning. After the first rest day things went pretty well. With a little bit of luck I would have won the tournament. However, in the end Aronian finished first, closely followed by me, Kramnik and Carlsen.
Anand-Kramnik (blindfold) at Amber 2009
In the blindfold game you won against Kramnik, who played his beloved Petroff. How important was this success against your rival?
Well, every win against the Petroff is great ‚Äì particularly against Kramnik. Of course it was nice to win against him and to draw the following rapid game rather easily with Black. But these things are only nice for a short moment because the tournament goes on.
The encounter with Kramnik had no particular significance for you?
Maybe it was more important than I would like to admit to myself. But I try not to take it too seriously. You play so many games in Nice. It is difficult to really cherish a win because you quickly have to focus on the next game.
In the blindfold game against Wang you had a funny endgame: two knights against pawn. According to the tablebases you missed a forced win a couple of times‚Ä¶
Yes, at one time I had a forced win in a bit more than 40 moves, another time in more than 60 moves ... (laughs) It is incredibly difficult to play this endgame in a blindfold game. At a certain point I was a bit confused and did no longer exactly know where my knights were. A couple of years ago ‚Äì also at the Amber tournament ‚Äì Topalov won the same endgame against Karpov, but in a rapid game and with a better version of this endgame.
Were you happy about your result in Nice?
I cannot complain. I had been leading for a long time, I won the rapid tournament, and almost won the overall tournament. I left Nice with a good feeling.
There were reports that Carlsen angered you in the second game. You had lost the blindfold game against him and in the rapid game the Norwegian declined your draw offer even though the position was equal.
I was only slightly angry but not really furious. I decided to take it more as a joke. However, when he declined my draw offer I was really astonished because the position was completely equal. When he offered peace a couple of moves later I wanted to go one on top of him and declined (laughs). But I did not realize that I did that in such a loud way that everybody in the playing hall could hear it. But that was okay. I have good relations with Magnus and we analyzed the game afterwards in a friendly way.
After Amber you played in the Bundesliga.
It was the final round. Even if the whole team had played horrendously badly we would have won the title. I won both of my games and was happy about my performance. But I have to admit that my team colleagues had finished the job a bit earlier. My wins were no longer important.
The Baden-Baden team with Peter Heine Nielsen, Viswanathan Anand, Peter Svidler, Michael Adams and Pentala Harikrishna | Photo: Christian Bossert
Do you like to play in a team?
I‚Äôve now been playing for a couple of years for Baden-Baden. Unfortunately, I did not have much time in the last two seasons. In the previous years I sometimes played no less than seven games in one season. I like my team colleagues, the team spirit is excellent. It is fun to play together with the guys.
Your game against Stellwagen was very complicated‚Ä¶
I had prepared for the sharp Poisoned Pawn variation of the Najdorf-Sicilian. He surprised me with a sideline and I had problems to remember the theoretical lines. All the classical games by Tal, Tolush and the great players of the 50ies came to my mind. It took me 20 minutes to get everything in order. One wrong move in this position and mate can follow quickly. I decided to give the queen for three pieces, which led to a very complex position. I calculated so many lines that my head was spinning. However, my opponent did not fare any better. A lot of my team colleagues and the spectators liked this game. But we, the players, suffered (laughs).
Next year, 2010, you will have to defend your title of World Champion. What did you think about the match between Topalov and Kamsky, in which your challenger was established?
The duel turned out to be much closer than I had thought. I had assumed that Topalov would win because of his excellent preparation, even though I had expected stubborn resistance by Kamsky. In fact, it was exactly the other way round. More than once Topalov had problems in the opening, but Kamsky did not finish the job. Topalov showed excellent nerves ‚Äì for which his opponent is renowned. If Kamsky had defended a bit better the match would have gone over the whole distance. However, he had great problems with the clock.
Anand and Topalov analyzing their blindfold game at the Amber tournament this year
A World Championship requires months of preparation. When will you begin your preparation?
I can only start when I have some more details. For the time being the match is scheduled for April but a lot of things are still unclear. At the moment, I only make general plans.
The qualification cycle for the World Championship came under threat in the last months because the Grand Prix Series was about to collapse. Now, a candidates tournament shall be played. What do you think about the change of rules that directly affect you?
I think it incredible that the FIDE changes the rules within a running cycle. One could have sought a new mode for future events. But the way it is now, things are quite unpleasant for our sport. One of the main problems is communication. Those in charge should have discussed the changes much more openly with the players. I think, FIDE simply has to make better contracts with the organizers to prevent similar things in the future.
Let us talk a bit about the Chess Classic, which will take place from 27. July ‚Äì 2. August in Mainz. You won the title no less than eleven times ‚Äì an extraordinary success. In fact, you achieved everything in your sport. You have been in the top for more than 20 years, you won World Champion titles in three different formats, and you won all important tournaments once or several times. How do you motivate yourself?
The most important is to enjoy playing chess. I don‚Äôt believe you can only motivate yourself with titles or tournaments. Of course, these are goals that are necessary and that give you a direction. But the motivation comes from the game. I am aware that my drive will diminish at a certain point of time. But at the moment I just need a little break when I had too much. I still find chess very interesting. Moreover, in 20 years you always meet new players who pose new challenges. Talents such as Radjabov, Carlsen or Karjakin take care that things don‚Äôt get boring.
Sponsor and chess fan Wolfgang Grenke chatting with Anand | Photo: Christian Bossert
At the Chess Classic you won all of the last nine rapid chess events. Can you even imagine that you will not win in Mainz?
I have to admit that this record is indeed a great success. Every year at the Chess Classic I keep my fingers crossed, and hope that Lady Luck will continue to smile at me. However, I know that in the past things could easily have been different. It was hardly ever as clear as it seemed to be afterwards. Even my most successful tournaments had one or two key moments. If they had turned out differently, things would have been more complicated.
This year your main rival will be Levon Aronian, who not only plays for the crown in rapid chess but will also defend his Chess960 title. Is it an advantage for you that he has to play two tournaments?
Hard to say. You never know in advance whether you get tired or whether it keeps you in shape. In the last two years Aronian had good results against me. At any rate, he is a tough and dangerous opponent. And I have to be very careful.
Could you characterize Aronian‚Äôs style of play?
As far as his openings and the structures he strives for are concerned, he is positionally oriented. But he plays these positions very tactically. Though he opens with 1.d4, he treats these positions like an e4-player. If things get complicated he always sets small traps for his opponents. He is a very gifted tactician, calculates excellently and hardly ever misses chances offered to him. All this makes him extremely dangerous.
Anand-Aronian at the Grand Slam Final in Bilbao 2008, with Topalov watching
You will also have to play against Arkadij Naiditsch. Since last year you are team colleagues in Baden-Baden. What can you say about him?
We played a couple of times in Dortmund, but no rapid games. He is a promising ‚Äûyoungster‚Äú. Being 23 years of age, he probably won‚Äôt like to hear that, but it‚Äôs arguably still the case. He works hard on his openings. For some time I thought he might have his breakthrough in 2004, when he had a number of good results. In 2005 he won Dortmund in sensational fashion. After that he had no really bad results but was not playing steadily enough. After some minor setbacks he made great progress in the last year. His rating went up and in the April list he has more than 2700 Elo.
The fourth player in the GRENKELEASING Rapid World Championship is Ian Nepomniachtchi. In last year‚Äôs Chess Classic he won the Ordix Open.
From the three players, this is the one, I know the least. I have not played against him yet. He tries to emulate Morozevich a bit. His play reveals that he admires his countryman very much. But it is very difficult to copy Moro‚Äôs style because it is so unique. It requires an enormous amount of positional understanding. If you continuously strive for unknown positions, in which you cannot rely on theory or your preparation, you much more have to rely on your own sense of direction. Which in itself indicates his outstanding talent ‚Äì after all, he can play that way. At any rate, he has the most unusual style of this year‚Äôs participants in the Chess Classic.
Nepomniachtchi had a couple of good results in the last years, but failed to achieve a major breakthrough. Despite some excellent tournament results his rating is still relatively low‚Ä¶
Nowadays a lot of young talents compete with each other. Sometimes things do not go well for a year even though you make no mistakes. Maybe you just did not get the right invitations. Then again, you have the necessary luck and you suddenly play on a different level. I am certain that Ian will be very motivated in Mainz and that he will show his skills. I am looking forward to him.
Thank you very much for the interview.
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