Kramnik: It is especially nice to win in Moscow

11/19/2009 – "I fell ill," the winner of the super-strong 2009 Tal Memorial tournament reveals. "But for some reason I achieved my best results when I had to take tablets to control my temperature." Vladimir Kramnik speaks about his chances in the Candidates tournament, the cooperation Carlsen-Kasparov, and Anand's chances in Sofia. We have added a brief Aronian statement to this Sport Express interview.

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World Blitz Championship

This event was held on November 16, 17 and 18 in the showroom of the Red Square mall GUM. Time controls were three minutes for the whole game + two seconds increment per move. The event was a 22-player double round-robin, i.e. it had a total of 42 rounds, which were played on three consecutive days. The participants include the players from the Tal Memorial, plus twelve invitees. The average rating was 2718 – quite remarkable for an event with so many players.

In the press

This conversation with the 14th world champion took place on the 11th floor of Moscow’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel, immediately after the end of the IV Tal Memorial, which Vladimir Kramnik won in brilliant style.

It is especially nice to win in Moscow

Vladimir, first a few words about how the tournament went.

It was both very successful and rather strange. Straight after the first round game against Carlsen, I fell ill. Usually in such a strong tournament, if you are playing with a temperature, you cannot expect anything very good. But for some reason, I played really well, despite the illness. Of course, I had prepared for the event and felt that I was in quite good form, but it was still a surprise for me that I achieved such a good result when I was ill and had to take tablets to control my temperature before the games. That was a revelation.

A result of "plus 3" is fairly typical for the winner of category 21 tournaments. Kasparov won with the same score at Las Palmas 1996 and Topalov at Bilbao 2008. Are you satisfied with the result, or could you have scored even more points?

I think this was not only the strongest tournament of this year, but also one of the strongest ever. Even so, I made my plus three with something to spare. I could even have won a couple of other games. I was winning against Carlsen, and also against Gelfand at one time. On the other hand, I had some luck at some moments too. So I think the result was about right. And I would emphasise that it is especially nice to win such a tournament in Moscow.

Were you not shocked at how feebly Anand lost to Aronian in the last round?

I was. Especially because Anand is well-known for his good preparation. I think it is likely that he has a bit of a complex about Aronian. He plays very badly against him. Almost every player has his bogey opponents. I said to Levon “Tell me, how come you manage to get Anand to play against you at the strength of an Indian candidate master?” Aronian laughed and said: “You pay me, and I’ll tell you!”. But joking aside, apart from this game, Anand played very well in Moscow. He was competing for first place until the last round, and the misfortune against Aronian does not in any way detract from his high class.

Do you have any bogey opponents yourself?

Fortunately not. At one time it was Alexey Shirov, but I shook off this complex and now have a plus score against him.

How do you like the rule, used here, that draws can only be agreed with the permission of the arbiter?

It seems to me that this is an imaginary problem, but if the organisers do not want players to agree an early draw, then it is better to have stricter, the so-called Sofia rules. Because, with all due respect to the arbiters, I do not understand why they allowed a draw to be agreed in the game Leko-Ivanchuk. The final position was nothing like those envisaged in these rules. As it was explained to me, while Leko was thinking whether to agree or not, he used up almost all his time, and when he decided to accept Ivanchuk’s proposal, the arbiters did not object, out of “humanitarian” reasons, since he had so little time left. It is all a bit strange. And although such a problem did not arise for me personally – I played out all my games to the very end – I think that if you are going to have anti-draw sanctions, then it is better not to give the players the opportunity to have negotiations at the board.

How far do you think that the poor play of Svidler and Morozevich was the result of their having played in the European Team Championships in Serbia?

Undoubtedly! Once you are over 30, it is difficult to play two tournaments in a row at such a level. You just do not have the energy. Knowing this, I arranged things so that I would have time to rest and prepare before the Tal Memorial. But I will certainly play for the Russian team at the Olympiad, which is next year in Khanty-Mansysk. That will be the main focus of my 2010 schedule, to arrive there feeling completely fresh. And I hope the other team members will do likewise, because if we are to win the Olympiad (which we very much want to do!), then everybody needs to come to the event fully armed.

The work with Kasparov is very important for Carlsen

When you played in Dortmund, it was not know that Carlsen was working with Kasparov, whereas by Moscow this was public knowledge. Now there is lots of talk about how Kasparov has given him his database, with 17,000 variations, and how much this helps the young Norwegian. What do you think?

All the talk about databases is just for the public (laughs). It makes no difference. The issue is not about variations, but that at Carlsen’s age, you have a lot of energy, a fresh head, and your system recovers quickly, but you do not have so much knowledge and experience. Because of this, the older players can come ahead of you. I remember that when I was 18 or 19, I could occasionally beat Kasparov, but I still lacked knowledge and experience.

Of course, Kasparov, who played against us all in his time, can tell Magnus how to play against Anand, Topalov or me, and what openings he should study, and which ones don’t suit his style. I think their work together will very much have the character of personal contact, which is very important for a youngster. If I had had such a person, maybe I would have become world champion earlier. Even before this relationship between Carlsen and Kasparov, it was clear that the former had the talent of a champion, but this cooperation with Kasparov can help him to gain the title more quickly, say not at 27, but 23.

Could Magnus become world champion at 20?

Maybe, maybe not. I cannot guarantee that he will even become world champion. At the moment, many people say that Magnus is a future champion, as though it will happen of its own accord. But it is not easy to become world champion. To my mind, Magnus is still not as strong as some of the “old guys”, like Anand, me and Topalov. And if there were to be, say, a match Aronian-Carlsen, then at this moment, I would put my money on Aronian. However, I repeat – that this youngster has world championship talent has been clear since he was 15.

Can you already feel the hand of Kasparov in Carlsen’s play?

I have not seen the results of any global chess work, although Magnus has started to play the openings better. But such talent, of course, brings results.

The candidates’ tournament will be very strong

After this event, you have a rating gap of about 30 points over those players who are competing with you for a place in the Candidates. Do you think you are now 100% guaranteed a place?

Not yet 100%, but I am 99% there.

The make-up of the tournament could be something like this. Anand or Topalov, Kamsky, Aronian, Carlsen, you, the World Cup winner (anybody’s guess!), the Grand Prix runner-up (Gashimov, Radjabov, Wang Yue or Gelfand), and one nominee of the organisers (Gashimov or Radjabov)...

If the event takes place in Baku…

Do you doubt this?

Yes, it seems to me that much could still change in FIDE’s plans. I am used to this.

OK, but let’s assume the line-up is as stated above. How would you rate your chances?

The tournament will be very strong, but no stronger than the one which has just finished in Moscow. And I have the potential to win such a tournament. But of course, I know very well that the other players you have named also have such potential, so why debate it? I will prepare seriously, to win the event and go through to a world championship match. I am positively inclined, but there are no guarantees.

The Candidates will be run, I believe, as short matches. Does this format suit you better than San Luis 2005 and Mexico 2007?

I am not thinking about this at present. In any case, whatever the format, one must be well prepared and play well.

There is more than a year before the Candidates, so what are your plans in the short term?

In two and a half weeks, I play the tournament in London, assuming I eventually get a visa.

Are you having problems with that?

Yes, they are reluctant to give out visas to anyone right now. But I hope to get it and play in London. Then I play Wijk aan Zee, where I have already signed the contract. I very much hope to break some bad habits there, and firstly, not to fall ill in Holland again, and secondly, to win the tournament. I won it about ten years ago, and ever since, have always played badly. But this time, I will take it very seriously. Then, as usual, Monaco. After that, it will depend on the dates for the Candidates tournament. But in any case I will play the Olympiad, where, I repeat, the Russian team will make every effort to secure the gold medals.

Anand’s chances in Bulgaria will be sharply reduced

When I spoke to you in Dortmund in July, it was not clear where the Anand-Topalov match would be held. Now we know it will be in Sofia. How do you rate each player’s chances?

I would say that Anand is favourite, but Topalov will win. Now that the match will be held in Bulgaria, the chances of the Indian retaining his title are sharply reduced. Anand is an adult, and he takes responsibility for his own affairs, but in his shoes, I would not have agreed to play in Sofia.

In one of his recent interviews, Morozevich said he does not find it boring to play without Topalov, either in Moscow or anywhere else in the world. Do you miss Topalov’s play?

I am already used to playing tournaments without Topalov. I am not invited to tournaments which are under the control, or let us say, of his manager Mr Danailov, whilst Topalov avoids tournaments where I am playing. But as I have already said, I am happy to play against him. I have no reason to avoid playing him.

If the Tal Memorial had been part of the Grand Slam, then as its winner, you would automatically have been invited to the Masters event in Bilbao, and there, more than likely, you would have met Topalov. What do you think of such a prospect?

If the organisers of the Tal Memorial think they need this, then why not join this system? But it seems to me that in terms of strength, organisation and finance, the Moscow tournament has already become one of the most prestigious in the world. One cannot say this of the Bilbao Masters – this year it was cut down to just four players, and was a parody of a super-tournament. In addition, all the organisation of the Grand Slam is under Danailov’s influence, and accordingly, they only invite their chosen few players. There is no objectivity at all in who plays and who does not play. If they want to be a real grand slam, then politics and personal preferences should be put to one side and not influence objective factors. So I have a sceptical view of their Grand Prix.


Levon Aronian: "When you are sick you do not feel like playing chess"

Armenian grandmaster Levon Aronian said that the reason for his uneven performance at the Tal Memorial was illness. The top Armenian player finished on 4th-5th place, together with World Champion Viswanathan Anand. "After the fourth round game against Magnus Carlsen," Aronian said, "I felt ill. My final result, even if I hadn't won my last-round game, would have been quite satisfactory. It is difficult to play when you have a headache, a sore throat and a cold. This makes it hard to compete in a sporting event. When you are sick you do not feel like playing chess.

In the final (ninth) round of the Tal Memorial Aronian defeated the reigning world champion Viswanathan Anand of India in 25 moves with the black pieces. "I am very surprised at this victory over Anand. We all have bad days, and there is nothing we can do about it," said Aronian. – Source: Regnum (Russian)


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