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An indepth discussion with Alexander the Great

10/30/2007 – Amongst players of the younger generation Alexander Morozevich is a cult figure. His uncompromising playing style, the unique, daring forays into the unknown have brought this 30-year-old more fans than just about anyone in the chess world. After the Mexican World Championship he has been very active and is now playing in the European Team Championship. Interview with Yuri Vasiliev.
 

Alexander Morozevich: “I cannot play without motivation”

Yuri Vasiliev

Interview with Yuriy Vasiliev,
Chess Observer, "Sport-Express Daily" (Moscow)

The European Championships, which started last Saturday in Greece, is under way. One member of the Russian team, and a competitor at the recent world championship in Mexico, is Alexander Morozevich. The 30-year old Moscow grandmaster probably has more fans than just about anyone, with the sole exception of Vishy Anand, and even the latter only beats him because he hails from a country with a billion-plus population.

Amongst other players, especially the younger generation, Morozevich is a cult figure. The young grandmaster from St. Petersburg, Nikolai Vitiugov, who recently won the Russian Championship First League, described him in an article about Morozevich, as “Alexander the Great”. Or, to take another example, during the recent Mexico world championship, several websites held a poll to decide which player’s games should be commentated upon online. In almost every one, it was Morozevich’s game which won!

It is no surprise to me that Morozevich should have more fans than other players. Alexander attracts the attention of everybody. In his fierce gaze one can see so much controlled rage and heat for the battle that I think his opponents do well not to look at him.

Unfortunately, Morozevich is an uneven player. But here is something strange – despite his unevenness, his rating is exactly the same as that of Peter Leko, who has a reputation as one of the most stable players in the world elite. After the Mexico championship, they both have a rating of 2755, sharing 5–6th places in the FIDE list.

After losing to Morozevich in Mexico, Vladimir Kramnik commented “I was unlucky. This was Morozevich’s day. When he is on song, he can beat anybody”. And now for a second imagine what tournament crosstables might look like, if Morozevich’s day occurred a little more often than was the case in Mexico…

Now Morozevich, together with other “Mexicans” – Peter Svidler, Alexander Grischuk, Alexander Jakovenko (who was Grischuk’s second), team captain Alexander Motylev (who assisted Svidler), and Russian champion Evgeny Alekseev are playing in the European Team Championship. We discussed this subject with Morozevich the start of the event.

We will be very self-disciplined

Yuri Vasiliev: Alexander, you have the highest rating in the Russian team. Will you lead the team?

Alexander Morozevich: No, a triumvirate will lead the team. There was no debate or “tournament ambitions”. Top board will be taken by the most solid of us, Peter Svidler., and I and Grischuk will be on boards two and three respectively. I think this is the best order.

At the Calvia Olympiad you played board one, and on the next, in Turin, on board four. For your own club Tomsk-400, you always play board one, and usually score a hatful of points. Is it a matter of principle for you, which board you play on in team matches?

In a team situation, it is not a matter of principle who plays on which board. What is important is the result, and things should be arranged so as to achieve the best result, taking into account players’ form, and other factors. After our poor performance in Goteborg 2005 in the last European Championship, we will be especially self-disciplined.

Who do you regard as your main rivals? Does it matter that your team contains so many “Mexicans”?

The European Championship is a nine-round Swiss, with one rest day. Our team is made up solely of professionals, and everybody will be able to last the pace. Of our main rivals, only the Armenian team will be at their strongest, and will undoubtedly be very dangerous. The other rivals, Ukraine and Israel, are missing some of their top players.

In Mexico, I was not in my best form

The stress of Mexico has now died down a bit. How do you now look back on your performance.

In Mexico, I was not in my best form, but I remained true to my mood before the event, which was to fight in every game”. Out of the various micro-matches, I would single out that with Kramnik. Both decisive games, both extremely interesting, with great fights. They generated great interest on the Internet and also provided a great field for analytical work. It is hard to guess, but I suspect that if I played a match against Vladimir, the majority of our games would follow a similar scenario. However, in order to qualify for such a match, it is not enough to play well against Kramnik, you also have to play well against the others, and Vishy did that best of all.

What do you think of the new world champion?

Anand is a very strong practical player. He does not strive for the absolutely “clean” opening play of Kramnik, he does not have the maximalism of Kasparov, and not the subtlety of Karpov. Anand, for example, can make a quick draw as White, if he has not played the opening well, or with a weaker opponent, if he thinks it is “necessary” or “appropriate”. But if the opponent appears to be tired, or not in form, then Anand seems to sense this and strives for the maximum from the game.

Who would rate as favourite in the match Anand-Kramnik, which FIDE rules say should take place next year?

Firstly, we should hope that the match actually takes place. In recent times, we have got used to the rules being changed at any moment… A lot will depend on how many games are played. There has recently been a depressing tendency in world championship matches for every new match to be two games shorter than the last. In a really short match, such as ten games, I would not even like to speculate on the chances…

Would you agree with the opinion that Anand is primarily a tournament player, and Kramnik a match player?

Yes, certainly. Much depends on one’s opening repertoire. Kramnik, for example, as Black strives strictly to equalize. In a match this is fully appropriate, but it is harder to win tournaments with such an approach. Anand is different. Although, of course, it is possible to change one’s openings, and one’s general approach thereto…

In Mexico you were assisted by grandmaster Alexey Kuzmin. Have you been working together long?

About 18 months. At first Gennady fulfilled purely chess functions, but later he also became my manager. During the Karpov-Kasparov matches, Kuzmin was one of Karpov’s seconds. This left its mark on him [smiles] and I suspect that Alexey does not like the sort of thing that often goes on in my games…. During the championship, when the typical “tsunami” was raging on my board, he would devote his attentions to settling some administrative questions!

My ancestors lived in Tomsk

Immediately after the world championship, you went to Turkey for the European Club Championship. It must have been difficult, so soon after Mexico, and with a long journey behind you, immediately to play a new competition. Did you do this because you could not get out of the obligations to your club?

No, it couldn’t have been otherwise. You should understand that it is quite wrong to speak of my “obligations” to my club. The truth is that Tomsk-400 is MY club! And the team leader cannot absent himself from any event! Even if I do not play every game, or even do not win them all, as is my habit [smiles], I should still be together with my team.

This time your Tomsk-400 failed to win, coming behind Kamsky’s Spanish club and “Ural”, led by Radjabov. I suspect this happened in large measure because your team included two “Mexicans”, yourself and Jakovenko, or were there other factors that played a decisive role?

Probably our tiredness played its part, but to call this the decisive factor would be immodest. Of course, we very much wanted to become champions for the third time, but in a seven-round Swiss, anything can happen. Our “Tomsk Barcelona” (as many call us, because of our team’s youth, many stars and the exceptional will to win) was gently but firmly “cut down” by the protest by Ural at the round six pairings. We had already decided our team, and several players had retired to bed, when around midnight, we suddenly discover that we are playing a different team, and it was too late to re-design our own team. As a result, our preparation was screwed up, and what would have been good against one team, turned out less well against another. In the end, both we and Ural lost points unexpectedly. It is hard to say “what if”, but I think that on the original pairings, we and Ural would have finished 1st-2nd, winning six matches each and drawing with each other. .

You are born and bred a Muscovite, but have played almost a third of your life for a Siberian club. Did this come about by chance?

Yes, I have played for Tomsk for nine years already. When I was still a young GM, I was invited to play for them by our permanent captain and the “principal architect of our victories”, Boris Kimovich Shaidullin. Although I myself was born in Moscow, before the revolution my ancestors lived in Tomsk. At the end of the 19th century, my great-great-grandfather was governor of the city. He played a significant role in its development. He was head of the Bogoyavlensky church, guardian of the Tomsk seminary, and warden of the orphanage. So you could say that my playing for the Tomsk team is somehow destiny.

This summer we worked on the founding of a Tomsk chess academy. Despite the usual bureaucratic problems and obstructions, we managed to complete this mega-project, in no small measure due to the personal involvement of the governor of the Tomsk region, Victor Melkhiorovich Kress. The academy will cover all aspects of chess education, including schools chess in Tomsk and the surrounding region, international opportunities for the most talented kids, and even the education of chess trainers at the local university. The academy began work on September, and in November it will hold the first session of the “Morozevich school”. I hope that the project would have pleased my great-great-grandfather Pyotr Vasilievich. This is my bridge to him across the century…

Probably students of the Morozevich School will study your recent book, “The Chigorin Defence according to Morozevich”. Do you plan any new literary productions?

The book you are talking about was written with the well-known journalist Vladimir Barsky. It is my first. Many different publishers had approached me over the years, with suggestions for a “selected games…” book, but I want to offer readers not just commentaries to my best games, but something more, covering my approach to the game, to preparation, to working at chess, and to my overall creative creed. I think this would be interesting, but writing it would be a matter of serious work for many months, and at present, I do not have the time.

Many of your followers are very disappointed that you have opted out of the forthcoming World Cup, the winner of which will play a match against Topalov, for the right to play a world championship match in the next cycle. Why did you refuse to play?

Several months ago, FIDE changed the rules yet again, to give Topalov the immediate right to play the final candidates match. And in Sofia at that. I do not understand the reason for this; it looks ridiculous. Given my relations with Topalov, such a match in Sofia is never going to happen, and I cannot play the tournament without being motivated to want to win it.

It is a pity that chess lovers will also not see you amongst the stars of the second Tal Memorial, which starts on the 9th of November in Moscow. But will you play the World Blitz Championship?

It is not the Russian Chess Federation’s fault, but the calendar for the next few months is over-crowded. A month ago, making a realistic estimate of my physical strength, I declined to play in the Tal Memorial. As far as the world blitz is concerned, I hope to play. I am on the candidates list [the players in the memorial are automatically invited for the blitz, the rest must qualify]. If someone pulls out, I will play in the final, if not, I will try to qualify.

Nobody doubts that Morozevich will have a great chance to reach the world blitz (if he needs to qualify). After all, he has won the traditional samovar in blitz events run by the newspaper “Vechernaya Moskva” more often than any modern player. Only the legendary Tal won it more times, the same Tal after whom the classical and blitz events are named…

Translation by Steve Giddins

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