Tal Memorial 2009
The Tal Memorial, a ten-player round robin with classical time controls –
40 moves in two hours, then 20 moves in one hour and then 15 minutes for the
rest of the game with 30 seconds increment per move in this phase –, took
place from November 4th to 19th in Moscow. It was the strongest tournament of
the year, and at category 21 (average Elo 2764) one of the strongest of all
time. It was staged in the National Hotel (Mokhovaya Street D15), with the last
five rounds being played in the mall GUM (Red Square 3).
Tal Memorial winner, Vladimir Kramnik:
"Ivanchuk’s face mask put me on my guard somewhat"
By Mikhail Shpenkov
In Moscow, the record category 21 Tal Memorial tournament has just ended, in which the ten strongest players in the world were competing, with the sole exception of the Bulgarian Veselin Topalov. In the end, first prize was taken by Russian ex-world champion Vladimir Kramnik, with six out of nine. After clinching victory, the winner answered the questions of Izvestia’s correspondent.
Q: In the last round, you played Ivanchuk, your closest rival, who was half a point behind you. Did he surprise you in this game?
Vladimir Kramnik during final game at the 2009 Tal Memorial
A: I did not remember that precise move order in the opening [the game saw a Queen’s Gambit – Editor], but I cannot say I was all that surprised. Vassily plays such a wide variety of stuff that it doesn’t really make much sense to prepare a specific opening against him.
Q: You had a cold at the start of the tournament. Did you manage to shake this off before the end?
A: Yes, I feel fine again now. But here is a paradox: all three of my wins I achieved when I was unwell. Somehow I played quite easily, despite having to take tablets before each game, to lower my temperature. Now, having recovered, I feel rather tired, although by the end of such tournaments one can hardly feel otherwise.
Q: Three games in a row, Ivanchuk played whilst wearing a face mask. If he had turned up wearing it against you, would you have regarded this as a form of psychological pressure?
A: Yes, I have to admit that I was somewhat afraid of Ivanchuk’s mask (laughs). After all, he scored both his wins whilst wearing it. But in the decisive game, he decided to manage without it.
Q: In the last round, another of your rivals, the world champion Vishy Anand, was playing at the next table, against Levon Aronian. Did you manage to follow their game at all?
A: I didn’t see any need. The truth is, I quickly saw that, as White, Anand had played the opening very badly. It was already clear that he was not going to win, and that meant he could not catch me up [in the end, Anand lost in 25 moves – Editor].
Q: At the end of your game, were you worried about the outcome?
A: Ivanchuk tried to attack very sharply as White, but to be honest, I did not find a clear win for him. Evidently, neither did Vasya, since he began to use a lot of time and eventually fell into time-trouble. I don’t know, but maybe a computer could find a win in this position. But after a few inaccurate moves, my opponent’s initiative died out and I was left with an extra pawn, and so Ivanchuk offered a draw. Of course, I could have tried to realise my material advantage, but firstly, a draw was enough for me to win the tournament, and secondly, I did not want to spoil Ivanchuk’s mood completely.
Kramnik discussing his last-round game against Ivanchuk in the press room
Q: There were still resources for both players in the position, so the arbiters could have insisted you play on. Did they try to do this?
A: No. Probably, they saw how Ivanchuk was bitterly disappointed that his attack had backfired. I think that if the arbiters had tried to insist that we play on, Ivanchuk would have categorically disagreed with them (smiles). I was also pleased with the draw, not only because it guaranteed me first place, but also because it enabled me to watch the second half of the Russia-Slovenia football match.
Q: One of your wins, against Ponomariov, lasted 81 moves. Do you remember ever winning such a long game before?
A: This is nothing all that unusual. I remember 15 years ago, beating Anand, in a game which lasted 110 moves. It is another matter that, to play such a long game, you have to be in the right form. Evidently I was on this occasion.
Q: Can one say that, after a period of mediocre results, victory in the Tal Memorial has restored you to a leading position in world chess?
A: I hope so. In any event, now I can say that I am counting on regaining the world title. This victory in Moscow puts me into the Candidates’ tournament, and I hope to do well in it.
Q: In the near future, in April next year, Anand and Topalov will meet for the world title. How do you evaluate the two sides’ chances in this match?
A: If it were played on neutral territory, I would consider Anand favourite. But since the match is to be in Bulgaria, it seems to me that Topalov has the better chances. In general, the decision on the venue for the match seems to me to be hardly neutral, to put it mildly. Personally, I would not play Topalov in Bulgaria.
Q: And do you think Topalov’s absence from the Tal Memorial had an effect on the strength of the tournament?
A: I don’t think so. OK, Topalov currently has the top rating in the world, but the difference in class between the top players is not great. For example, Ivanchuk is not even in the top ten at the moment, yet in Moscow he was one of the contenders for victory. Without doubt, the Tal Memorial will be the strongest tournament in the FIDE calendar for the current year. Indeed, it is probably one of the strongest ten tournaments in all of chess history.
Translation by Steve Giddins
Vladimir Kramnik will be playing in the London Chess Classic 2009 from 8–15 December 2009, together with Magnus Carlsen, with whom he will be jostling for places in the January 1st FIDE rankings. We will be covering this exciting event on Playchess and our news pages.
The games are being broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server Playchess.com. If you are not a member you can download the free PGN reader ChessBase Light, which gives you immediate access. You can also use the program to read, replay and analyse PGN games. New and enhanced: CB Light 2009!