Chess conference with Peter Svidler

12/2/2010 – "Peter Svidler is the black sheep of contemporary chess – original in every way. Which other Russian player is keen on cricket, prefers English to Russian, doesn’t consider Leo Tolstoy a great writer, resigns in drawn positions and plays billiards masterfully? Only Peter." That is the assessment of Sergey Shipov, who published this 'chess conference' on the Russian news portal Crestbook.

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Crestbook is a Russian chess portal that grew out of the original kasparovchess.com, led by its editor GM Sergey Shipov. It became the starting point of a new site which published news, games, commentary, analysis, interviews, conferences and even videos. It bears the nickname "Crest" of its chief editor Shipov, who is considered one of the best live game annotators around.


Sergey Shipov, editor of Crestbook

Today Crestbook published the first part of an interview with grandmaster Peter Svidler, who was answering the questions not of an editor but of chess fans in a special Crestbook conference. It was the tenth in the series, and the first to have a truly international character. It was published in Russian and English. Peter Svidler is totally at home inboth lagnuages and he answered the English questions in his own flawless English.

You can read Part One of the interview on this Crestbook page. Peter Svidler responded in depth to questions on his views on chess, his career, his chess playing colleagues, chess politics and chess on the Internet, in literature and in journalism. Part Two, which deals with the principles of preparation and improvement, openings, non-classical forms of chess, other games, and also simply “on life”, will appear in a few days’ time.

Short biography of Peter Svidler

Peter (Pyotr Veniaminovich) Svidler was born on 17 June 1976 in Leningrad. He began playing chess in 1983, in 1994 he became the Under-18 World Chess Champion. In “adult” chess Peter made a name for himself as an 18-year-old by becoming Russian Champion. He won that title four more times (1995, 1997, 2003 and 2008) – a feat that’s unlikely to be repeated in the foreseeable future. He received the International Master title in 1991 and has been a grandmaster since 1994. His current FIDE rating is 2722, his highest was 2765, in January 2006, when he was 4th in world rankings.

Peter has often competed, in different formats, for the World Championship. In the 2001 FIDE World Championship Peter Svidler got to the semi-final, where he lost to the ultimate winner, Ruslan Ponomariov. In 2005, at the FIDE World Championship in San Luis, he shared second place with Vishy Anand (the winner was Veselin Topalov). In the next FIDE World Championship in Mexico 2007 Peter came fifth. He got to the quarter-finals of the most recent FIDE World Cup in 2009, where he lost to Vladimir Malakhov. As a member of the Russian team Peter Svidler has won Gold at the Chess Olympiad in 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2002, and also the Team World Championship in 1997. In 2004 and 2010 he was on the Russian team that finished with silver medals at the Chess Olympiad, so overall Svidler has 5 gold and 2 silver Olympiad medals.

Apart from classical chess, Peter has also paid tribute to other types: he was the runner-up at the World Blitz Championship in 2006 in Rishon LeZion (Israel), and in 2003 he won the World Fischer Chess Championship, a title he defended in 2004 and 2005 in matches against Levon Aronian and Zoltan Almasi. Peter is a cricket fan and his publically declared musical tastes are Bob Dylan and Tom Waits. He is married and has two sons.

Sergey Shipov on Peter Svidler

Peter Svidler is the black sheep of contemporary chess – original in every way. My periodic dealings with him have left an indelible mark on my memory. Which other Russian player is keen on cricket, prefers English to Russian, doesn’t consider Leo Tolstoy a great writer, preserves his karma, resigns in drawn positions and plays billiards masterfully? Only Peter.

Svidler is immensely ironic, particularly in relation to himself. So if he criticises himself then please divide everything he says by three or four. You also need to get a subtle sense of humour ready, as some of Peter’s jokes take those he talks to a year to understand…

Overall, I have the suspicion that I don’t know Svidler at all. Each new conversation reveals new sides to his personality. I hope our KC-Conference will illuminate this polyhedron in all its glory and give you, dear readers, the same impression of the animated and witty Peter Veniaminovich Svidler. As if you were sitting down with him, discussing everything under the sun.

A few highlights

Why do people play chess? Chess is a means of self-expression, one that for lucky beggars like me doesn’t even pay so badly. What more could you ask for? But there are simpler professions, and more reliable ones.

Your most memorable victory, and your most painful loss? Two games I won in the final rounds of the Russian Championship – against Andrey Sokolov in 1994, and Evgeny Alekseev in 2008. The most painful loss is usually the latest, so here the last game of the 2010 Olympiad wouldn’t be a bad candidate.

The best move you made in your career? h7-h6 against Mickey in San Luis.

Adams,Michael (2719) - Svidler,Peter (2738) [B80]
FIDE-Wch San Luis (8), 06.10.2005
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Qd2 Be7 8.f3 0-0 9.0-0-0 a6 10.g4 Nxd4 11.Qxd4 Nd7 12.h4 b5 13.g5 Qa5 14.Kb1 b4 15.Ne2 Bb7 16.h5 Ne5 17.f4 Ng4 18.Bh3 Nxe3 19.Qxe3 Qc5 20.Qd3 Qb5 21.Qe3 Qc5 22.Qf3

22...h6! “One of the most vivid moments of the 8th round, and of the tournament as a whole. Black opens up his king position in order to make it more secure!” (Shipov). 23.gxh6 gxh6 24.f5 Qe5 25.Rhg1+ Kh7 26.fxe6 Bxe4 27.Qb3 a5 28.Bg2 Bxg2 29.Rxg2 fxe6 30.Qd3+ Qf5 31.Nd4 Qxd3 32.cxd3 Rg8 33.Rxg8 Rxg8 34.Nxe6 Rg2 35.Rf1 Kg8 36.a4 b3 37.Nd4 Bf6 38.Nxb3 Rxb2+ 39.Kc1 Rxb3 40.Rxf6 Rxd3 ½-½

Which combination gave you the most satisfaction? Svidler-Styazhkin 1986 [note that Peter was ten years old at the time!]. It goes without saying there were more important, and more original combinations – but that one stuck in my mind, and beating my first trainer was a very significant event for me.

The strong and weak points in your style of play? I am a very decent dynamic player, and I think I handle initiative quite well. Although my technique has improved drastically in the past ten years, I am still not the world’s best defender of passive somewhat worse positions.

What is more significant, holding the World Championship Title, or being rated Number 1 on the rating lists? This seems Magnus-related, and as such, will be covered elsewhere. For me the Title would be immeasurably more important.

Chess players

What would a chess player have had to achieve to be called the “greatest” chess player of all time? Winning and holding the Title, dominating the chess scene for a long period of time, bringing something new to the game. So far, I think only Fischer and Kasparov qualify, and choosing between them is not an easy task. If forced to, I’d pick Kasparov.

Who is the strongest chess player in history? I think Kasparov.

The three greatest players in the history of chess? Kasparov, Fischer, Capablanca.

If Kasparov were to return to chess now, at what strength would he play? He'd be very strong, but there wouldn’t be that domination which we witnessed before, of course – and it would be harder for him on account of his lack of practice, and then simply in terms of the passing of time and new opponents having grown up who are less (or not at all) traumatised by a long history of losses in games against him.

What did you feel when you first won a game against Kasparov? That evening you had to scrape me off the ceiling – it was one of the best days in my career. The next few games were very tough for me, however – games with GK always cost me an excessive amount of energy.

Which chess player do you currently find it most uncomfortable to play against? I always found it hardest to play against Anand and Kramnik. I still haven’t won a single game against Anand in “classical”. I’ve got a very good score against Magnus, mainly, of course, because I started playing him quite early on. But also in terms of his game I’ve always done better against him, than against A or K.

Is Magnus Carlsen lucky? There is no luck in chess – Carlsen constantly creates problems for his opponents, often by taking what many would describe as unnecessary risks. Perhaps the fact that his opponents keep on cracking under that pressure might go some way towards explaining why he keeps on doing it. For someone like Kramnik or Anand making moves that they know are not optimal in order to increase variance comes much less naturally than to Magnus. But to explain his play and results using the term 'luck' is just plain wrong.

What are the particularities, from your point of view, in the play and style of the top players?

  • Anand: Very serious opening preparation, a brilliant practical player, in my opinion the best defender in the world.
  • Kramnik: Probably the world’s best openings, brilliant universal understanding, excellent technique.
  • Carlsen: Huge natural talent, a fantastic focus on winning, the skill and ability to play any position out – now (after a year working with Kasparov) that’s also combined with excellent openings.
  • Topalov: Superb openings, brilliant play in sharp, unbalanced positions, the will to win every game.

Can Aronian become World Champion? Winning three matches in a row, and then a match against Anand, will be extremely tough. But in terms of talent, if you take the young (and by young I understand everyone under 30) then two people stand out – Carlsen and Aronian. So I consider Levon one of the favourites to win the title in the next five years.

Vasily Ivanchuk as a chess player and a person? Vasily Mikhailovich is one of the most interesting chess players of the last 20 years, and a model for all of us to imitate – you can’t help but admire his love for chess and his readiness to play anyone, anywhere. You could spend a long time talking about his encyclopaedic knowledge of all the openings without exception, but that’s already a commonplace. He’s also an extremely unusual and interesting person to talk to, with a very unique outlook on the widest range of topics.

Who among the juniors made the greatest impression on you? I really like Anish Giri – he’s very pleasant to talk to and clearly he’s a very talented chess player.

Chess politics

Do chess players need FIDE? They need it, but not in its current condition.

Who did you support in the recent election – Karpov or Ilyumzhinov? Like the majority of my colleagues I’d really like to see changes in FIDE. But it was extremely difficult to convince myself that Anatoly Evgenievich, a man who’d gained more than most from cooperating with the current FIDE administration, should be the face of those changes. So I couldn’t pick a horse in that race.

Could you offer a post mortem of the FIDE election? Two people who used to be fairly close run against each other, hilarity and litigation ensue, in the end reasonably open elections are held (at least compared to Torino, and to the extent that such a thing is possible at all; I am not sure the 'one country – one vote' system is much good, but that's a different subject altogether), the incumbent unsurprisingly wins, the two heroes are friends again. The chess world sighs and moves on.

Your opinion about Carlsen’s refusal to take part in the Candidates Matches? His decision strikes me as strange, to say the least, and of course the cycle will suffer greatly because of it. I’ve had the chance to discuss the topic with colleagues and the overall conclusion is as follows: if you suppose that Magnus isn’t fixated on the World Championship Title (and that’s precisely the impression given), then his decision will hurt the cycle, and fans, much more than it will hurt him. With his reputation, his position in the rating list and his tournament results, he can perfectly comfortably continue to do what he’s been doing for the last year or two, and then he can decide for himself if he wants to take part in the next cycle. There’s no reason the decision should impact on his modelling contracts.

How should the process of determining a World Champion look? After everything that’s happened in the last 17 years what’s important is not so much that the formula for running the cycle is correct, but that it’s consistent.

Credits (from the original): This conference was prepared by Valery Adzhiev (Valchess), Stanislav Fisejsky (phisey) and Colin McGourty (mishanp), who translated the Russian questions and answers into English (Peter Svidler answered the English questions in English). The chess fragments were overseen by Vasily Lebedev (vasa).


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