Vishy Anand: "You never know how much motivation you have inside" | Interview, part 1 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. We spoke to him on Skype on June 8th and 9th, exactly one week ago, and also one week after he had returned back to India.
Photos by Alexey Yushenkov & Anastasia Karlovich
On June 3rd, Anand and his wife got a warm welcome at Chennai airport, and then spent more or less the whole day doing interviews. In total, Vishy was interviewed about thirty times! We decided to give him a bit of a break (while we were busy ourselves working out our Gelfand interview!) but at some point there was no escape...
In this first part Anand talks about the chess in schools project in his region in India, the role of his wife during the match, his opponent Boris Gelfand's successes before the match, the Bundesliga, Garry Kasparov's negative comments, his level of play and his motivation. He also touches upon his match strategy (but there will be more on that in the second part).
Part 1 of 2
In India you were welcomed wonderfully, as the photos and YouTube reports showed. Tell me about this extra award you received?
Well, the Chief Minister announced an award... They typically give an award of winners of a gold medallist at the Olympics or a World Championship or something like that.
Will you be assisting in developing chess in the region?
They're planning to introduce chess in schools, so we kind of spoke about what I could do. We didn't make firm plans but if there's anything I can do to promote, I will of course help them.
How many schools and children are we talking about?
Well, it has now been made part of the school curriculum for the whole state. I don't know the student population of Tamil Nadu but it must be, well... the state itself has a population of about 65 million so you can guess the student population from that. So it's quite a large measure to put chess in all the schools in Tamil Nadu.
Chess in schools is getting a lot of attention, with different projects running simultaneously - via FIDE, Kasparov/Danailov, Malcolm Pein...
Yes, the movement seems to be picking up speed everywhere. I think everyone has sort of come to the same conclusion. I can't specifically speak for the others, but in India me and my sponsor NIIT, we decided to launch a big chess in schools initiative when we heard about this study showing that children who play chess do well in school. Maybe it's a similar idea for other people but certainly the chess in school movement is happening at many levels at many continents and that's quite encouraging.
We started the initiative in 2002. They go to schools and implement projects, but it's a fraction of all the schools. They're working in about 6,000 schools in total. When the governments join in, then of course we might increase the number of schools by a lot more. We have a couple of state governments joining, so it's happening in lots of places. So, the numbers might even be much larger.
Let's talk about the match. Right after, you said you mostly felt relieved. From what moment did you start to actually celebrate things? How did you celebrate?
That evening we all went out for a dinner at an Indian restaurant. It's actually a restaurant we'd been ordering in from during the match.
Yes, at one point I was waiting in the lobby of the hotel Kempinski and I saw Peter Heine [Nielsen] walking in with plastic bags full of food!
Yeah. [Laughs.] So, we went out, had a nice evening and chilled a bit and then got back. We were all quite tired so we went to sleep, at least I did.
But the next morning, were you still shaking and having this feeling of 'wow, this actually could have gone the other way'?
No, actually the feeling passed pretty fast. The funny thing is, every morning you wake up with this feeling of not knowing how it's going to go and whether you're going to play well or badly that day. Then, after the match finishes, you forget very quickly all the tension and the emotions. Unless you keep a diary, which I don't, it's very hard to replicate that later on. Even when you train it's very hard to replicate that tension.
Maybe better, that way.
Yeah, it's probably better. I can still remember the strain it puts on you, but in a few months you just remember that you won and it recedes very fast. I mean, for the next two or three days Aruna and I couldn't really sleep! It seems that the body is slowly unwinding itself but even though there is no suspense of the result anymore, you can't sleep.
Even though there is no suspense of the result anymore, you can't sleep.
Speaking about Aruna, she was in Moscow during the whole match while Boris' wife only came at the end. What exactly is the role of your wife? Because she's also your manager.
She just occupies herself with everything else. She, and Hans-Walter [Schmitt] and Eric [van Reem] obviously help her, they take care of all the little practical details, order food, this, that, dealing with the hotel, anything that comes up, phone calls, journalists making enquiries, any negotiations with the organizers, anything with FIDE, all this kind of stuff, all that somehow happens in the background.
On top of that, before the match she takes care of all the packing, the tickets, visas, things like that. Basically, I would say she does everything so that I don't have to think about anything but chess. All I have to do is make sure that my computer is in the computer bag and that's it.
Once we get there she's also someone who has to put up with my moods. By know she knows that at tournaments I'm no fun to be with, or especially matches. She puts up with all that. You know, a day like after the seventh game, you end up whining and moaning a lot. Anything you can think of as a supporting role.
I'll start at the beginning, which was perhaps also for you, the end of Kazan. Did Boris surprise you there?
Surprise is the wrong word. I never ruled him out, though I assumed that one of the others was perhaps a greater favourite, let's say Levon, or Vlady. But even so, I didn't have anyone as a overwhelming favourite because it seemed to me that in these kind of short matches everybody gets their chances. I don't know if that changes in long matches necessarily, but I never ruled Boris out. In any individual match he can play on equal terms with anyone and therefore why should he not have a chance to qualify?
And were you "happy" that you would have a new opponent again, instead of play a second time against Vladimir or Veselin?
I thought about it of course. I was wondering what it would be like to have a second match with the same person, almost like Petrosian when he had to play Spassky for two matches in a row, and how easy it would be. But I was just wondering, I didn't reach any real conclusions, I didn't think about anything specific...
It's not that you still had some "leftovers" from your preparation...
Everything will be different anyway. But I didn't take the thought very far. The thought occurred to me what it would be like to play someone for the second time but I didn't go anywhere with it.
Kazan also showed, again, that Boris is capable of peaking at the right moment and that he plays quite well in rapid games. Did this somehow worry you? For example, you said you never really felt to be the favourite.
I had noticed already that during this cycle he was a different person than during the rest of the year. I think that he also mentions this in his interview with you, that he felt that he couldn't focus on everything but if there was one important thing in his life, he could focus like even better than before. That was pretty much the impression I had of him as well. In Khanty-Mansiysk he played long and exhausting tie-breaks against people who are much younger than him, people like Vachier and Ponomariov and so on, and still hung in there until the end and got through. His qualification in Khanty was very impressive. I had already noticed that this is Boris really peaking in something that means a lot to him. When he repeated in Kazan, it was obvious that something similar would be the case in Moscow as well.
So, I didn't see really what I brought to a match that would make me the favourite over him, especially when he was well prepared, unless I could guess everything that he was about to do.
I didn't see really what I brought to a match that would make me the favourite over him.
...not even the fact that you have a better score and that you had four world titles?
Well, experience probably counts for something but I think that even though he had not played a lot of World Championships before – he played one important cycle in the 90s – still I thought he is someone who moves in these circles, he hangs out with Vlady, he hangs out with other people and I thought he would have enough impression of what they were like. I mean, he grew up with people like Polugaevsky and so on, so I thought he might not have the physical experience of being there, but certainly he wouldn't lack in impressions or stories, what it's like.
Besides, my plus score against him in classical chess is actually very modest. It's plus one. I mean, Vlady had plus two against me when we played. A lot of people made a lot about this phrase 'he has not beaten you since 1993', which is true, and I've beaten him five times since 1993, but 4 of them came in 1996-1997. After '97 I've beaten him once, in the last 15 years, which isn't that much either.
As Boris said: statistics aren't everything.
It depends which one you pick. If you say: you beat him five times since 1995, that's correct. If you say: you beat him once in the last 15 years, that's also correct. So this phrase kind of stuck in people's minds but it's not really highly relevant I think.
In these matches it's really important that you can ambush your opponent somewhere, that you can drag him into some sharp line where he is not well prepared or you're better prepared than him and you ambush him there, that has a big impact on these things. I felt with Boris this would not be easy to do because he wouldn't let me do it. That also turned out to be a reasonably accurate sort of expectation.
In these matches it's really important that you can ambush your opponent somewhere.
You had about a year to prepare for the match. What did this year look like for you? How did you form your strategy and what kind of schedule did you follow?
Basically I was training in Germany with my team, between January and April. That's why I decided I would play a couple of Bundesliga weekends...
Yes. To what extent was this horrible loss against Tiviakov affect you in any way?
I'm extremely worried about my next meeting with Loek [van Wely]! He would never let me escape for this, he's gonna give me a very hard time for this! He's gonna laugh his head off so this is going to be very painful [Laughs].
I don't know, I just went nuts in that game, it's not even serious, my play. I just got annoyed and started making very angry moves... But the point is that I was trying to build some confidence with these games in the Bundesliga, but it didn't help very much. But at least I got some practice, if you like. Playing at the board is always different from preparing so it's nice to have that perspective.
I thought: maybe you somehow wanted to show the world that although you had a few disappointing results, the World Championship was coming and that you were ready for it.
Well, in fact I would have much preferred if the world wasn't watching at all. Ideally you just play some training matches at home. But the thing is, I don't think you can go on trying to prove a point. I simply wanted to get some practical play and since I couldn't play a whole tournament... I mean if I had played in Wijk [aan Zee], it would have cut into my preparation, it would have been difficult.
And did this loss against Tiviakov maybe also work positively? Maybe it was some sort of a wake-up call?
Possibly. No, for sure, if you realize things can go horribly wrong as well, it's probably not a bad reminder. To pretend that these Bundesliga games actually were positive for me in some ways would be a bit much, but let's say they maybe had a silver lining.
You sticked to your team consisting of Peter Heine Nielsen, Rustam Kasimdzhanov, Surya Ganguly and Radek Wojtaszek, but after the previous match you revealed some other names, some big names. Did they help you again?
I think I can confirm that none of these three [Garry Kasparov, Magnus Carlsen and Vladimir Kramnik - CV] did anything with me this time. Garry probably everyone guessed. He was going around everywhere saying how pathetic I was... Vlady, well, obviously he's very close to Boris as well so this would be very difficult, and the same with Magnus.
I don't think this is something normal. I think the fact that they worked with me for Sofia was an exceptional thing. It happened, and you simply shouldn't expect it to happen again. Magnus has ambitions of his own, and so on. And Boris is very close to a lot of people, so we did think about who might be helping him...
Yeah, there were some strong rumours that he was actually helped by Levon Aronian. Did you pick up these rumours before or during the match, and did this worry you?
Well, I know that they're very close so the thought occurred to us. But we didn't spend a lot of time thinking of the implications. At some point you simply get on with doing your work and that's it.
As was revealed in my interview with Boris, Kasparov approached him in September. Did you know about this?
I kind of thought Garry might approach him. However, unless you get some firm information, maybe photos and a ChessVibes report, there's no point in thinking about it. You'll never be sure. But I actually thought this might happen.
But what is your reaction?
The story seems very Boris to me. I think he's someone who is just incredibly correct. But I did think Garry would offer his help. Not to get into details, but I think it's not a big secret that Garry and me are not the best friends anymore.
I think it's not a big secret that Garry and me are not the best friends anymore.
Kasparov said that you didn't play at your highest possible level. You've already responded to that, but still, how do you look back at your games...
It's funny, in 2008, when I played Vlady, he said: these are not the two strongest players in the world. I think at that point we were 4 and 6 on the Elo list. I think Magnus and Topalov were more representative. Then, in 2010, when I played Toppie, because Vlady had just won Tal [the Tal Memorial - CV] the previous year and so on, he said it was Magnus and Vlady who were probably more representative. This time again he said it's not playing for the title of strongest person in the world. [Laughs] So it's a theme he's coming back to quite often, but OK.
…Nigel Short said more or less the same, that you were sort of struggling with your form. Do you agree that you didn't play at your best possible level? Is it possible to compare the level with your previous title matches?
It's no secret that a lot of people thought the same thing. But in Wijk  I played extremely well, I was pleased with plus four, it was a good result. But after that, Bilbao, Tal, London, I played so badly, and then I don't give the impression of someone who is recovering in the Bundesliga. I think a lot of people continued with this impression, perhaps even some people in the local audience in Moscow, they were still remembering this horrible player from the Tal Memorial and they were not able to adjust.
But I want to put it this way: I actually think people simply underestimate what Boris did in this match. How well he had prepared and worked. The first thing I'll say is that my play was by no means weaker than, let's say, Kasparov's in London.
My play was by no means weaker than, let's say, Kasparov's in London.
There, if you didn't know that he didn't like playing the Berlin, you could have said the same things: he lacks motivation, he's lost his way, he's not interested, blablabla. Everything let's say Nigel and Garry said, could be used: he's old, he's fed up, he's moved on, whatever. Any of this could have been said about Kasparov in London in 2000 as well. There he lost game 2, he was lost in game 4, I think he was worse in game 6, in game 8 he was not worse out of the opening and in game 10 he lost. I think it's only around game 12 and 14 that he even stabilized with Black. I'm not even mentioning the white games because there was nothing happening. So my point is, when your opponent has neutralized you, it's very difficult to do wonderful things.
It is not how badly I played with Boris, but what happens when someone like Vlady actually walks into someone's preparation. I mean, Vlady is an unbelievable player, I mean just a really great player. But when he walked into an ambush in Bonn, in these Meran games, well, it's tough. You tend to make mistakes, you become shaky and all that. So if you keep comparing everything to that... It's not going to happen every time, it happened once and even Topalov learnt something from that. Definitely there were more chances but... I mean we were doing well in the openings there. At least with White, with the Catalan I was scoring lots of points... But with Boris it was very difficult to find a weak spot to aim at.
The thing is, again: information. I played 1.d4, OK, he played the Grünfeld, and it turned out that this is something we had neglected. Maybe it sounds silly, but we actually kept thinking: what happens if he plays the Grünfeld. We kept looking at his games and we thought: actually he has never played it. He once transposed into it but he never actually played the Grünfeld in his life. We did look at things that Boris had never played before in his life, but this one we didn't guess. At the end of the training camp I told Peter [Heine Nielsen]: look, prepare me one system for one game, where I can pose some problems or something and then we can go back and take a look, in case he has something prepared. This is what we basically ended up doing.
This Bb5 line.
Yeah, we basically prepared some line where we could sneak in a game and then we could come back and look. We didn't spend that much time on 1.d4 because I had actually prepared a second white opening, which is 1.e4. I think you understand something about the work load involved in having two white openings going during a World Championship match.
Especially when one of your opponent's main openings is the Najdorf.
Exactly. We had to check the Najdorf, we had to check the Petroff, we did all that work. Our idea was not to depend on 1.d4 too much. Clearly if I had prepared only 1.d4 I would have spent a lot more time on the Grünfeld. So then, after two 1.d4 games... The second 1.d4 game we got somewhere, although it's nominal. Black could have equalized.
Then, I knew whatever I did, that Boris was not going to come there and bluff 1.e4. He was going to have a good system prepared against it, one which he had spent a couple of weeks on or whatever. So I had to spend one white to find out what that system was, and it was the Sveshnikov. Now this is not a complete surprise, because he played it for a year in '97, '98... Then, after this I couldn't find too many games of his and it looked like he had moved on. So again, in addition to everything we did against 1.e4 we had a look at the Sveshnikov and there, well, game 5 of course was not impressive. He equalized well, this Bxd5 is a slightly new move and he equalized efficiently and that was it.
I had to spend one more white to find out what he was doing and then I knew that the next white would be game 8, where I could try something. So we had to choose.
So the thing is: when you're unable to have good openings with good ideas in these matches, it's very difficult to impose your style of play. What I would answer to all these people is: they are basically influenced by two things. They have this impression of my play from last year, and they assume the same thing is going on in the match. But if you take Kasparov in 2000, he was winning every tournament he played in, and then in the match he played something like I did in some of my tournaments last year. They were not taking into account the fact that Boris was playing extremely well, very focused, not giving me a lot of space. Also with White he was very careful in picking his openings. He had prepared good systems against every complex, I mean, he had done his homework. It was difficult to find ways to draw him out. And the problem again is that if you mentally think that I'm going to win this match easily, and I'm not, then your first tendency is to blame me, but in this case I actually felt that Boris deserved the credit for the fact that I wasn't able to get anywhere. So, OK, long answer, but that's basically the point I would make. It may be that I was playing badly in Moscow but it's also obvious to me that that's not the only explanation; it could also be that Boris was just playing very well.
I actually felt that Boris deserved the credit for the fact that I wasn't able to get anywhere.
The obvious explanation from the spectators was of course that it wasn't your first title match, it wasn't your second so you must have been less motivated, at least less than Boris.
You never know how much motivation you have inside. I think on the surface you may want something very badly but deeper down my experience is you never really know. Probably people can put themselves in the same situation and say that when push comes to shove, they actually don't know...
I found that sometimes inexplicable things happen in my games. You can maybe attribute this to motivation. I'm not talking about this match, I'm talking about many years of play. I found that certain days I'll play very strangely, certain days I'll play very well. It's very difficult to know where you are in every given moment. I mean I worked like someone who is very motivated, I put in all the work...
You didn't put in any less work than in earlier matches.
No, not at all. In fact I would say we... we worked three months straight, which was actually maybe even punishing. I actually would have preferred a lighter schedule, but somehow it didn't really work out with tournaments and free time to prepare. So I worked and prepared very hard, and I certainly felt motivated. Given how I played, for me the World Championship was the one thing I could redeem myself a little bit. I mean, I really understood that my play last year was bad but somehow with the World Championship in front of you, you don't have the right to start thinking about your tournaments. You have to first finish that, and then move on. But at some level I felt that I had to give it my best shot here.
So, I felt that I was motivated but honestly you never know. Motivation is something that's quite deep and it's very difficult to tell when you have it and when you don't. From the outside it's often easy to lead to conclusions, but that's the point I would make again: that it's not clear to me that my play was the only problem, it was also Boris's play.
Motivation is something that's quite deep and it's very difficult to tell when you have it and when you don't.
So, game 1. What was the reaction of your team, when you got back to the hotel? Was it like: 'Oh no! The Grünfeld!?'
A little. We had shortlisted some areas where we could go to and one was 3.f3. We thought OK, in an emergency we can start working on that, and immediately the guys set out to work. But in some way we all knew that there is a time lag. I mean, you have to understand that your opponent spent more time in almost any area than you did, and if you're playing catching up in a match, well, there is a danger that there are things you miss and than you can be hit by surprises.
The important thing is also that your black defence holds, because that buys you time to work on this. I would say that at least at the beginning, we were doing extremely well with black. I had no problems in game 2, game 4 or game 6...
You say you 'buy time'. Is this typical match strategy, that you actually take more than one game to shoot holes in the opening of your opponent and you always sort of think: as long as I don't lose with black, a draw with white is also fine?
A little bit. Actually this was the first match where I experienced this. I think I had it with Kamsky in Las Palmas, where we exchanged wins in the first three games and then there appeared maybe five or six draws, but during that time we were trying to make progress in the Zaitsev and he was trying to make progress in different areas, there was the Open Spanish and the Grünfeld... But my recent matches didn't have this. OK, you can say that Topalov was slowly making progress in this Elista ending that I was playing.
But yes, I think it is typical of these matches. While you're trying to break through with one colour, your other colour has to hold, otherwise there's no point. If you're simply losing every game in the other colour then there's no sense that one colour holds.
At least for the first six games, what we sort of expected to happen, that we would buy time with black, was working well. For the 7th game, losing with black was a blow, not because he had hit us with something that could not be repaired; we were simply annoyed that... Well, we were checking so many continuations, that we didn't pay a lot of attention to this 7.Qc2 line [after 6.c5 - CV]. My thoughts were all over the place when I went for the 7th game. Maybe we didn't go deep enough. They say these things shouldn't happen, but they always happen in the end… Ah, my son has just wandered in.
Aha. How's Akhil doing?
Akhil's doing fine! He's trying to climb on the table. He's almost disturbing the modem!
We agree on continuing the interview the next morning. The second part can be read here.
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