with Yuriy Vasiliev
Chess Observer, "Sport-Express Daily" (Moscow)
This interview with the winner of the Tal Memorial, Vladimir Kramnik, took place immediately after his game with Vassily Ivanchuk of Ukraine. This game turned out to be the longest in this final round of draws…
Vladimir, the tournament in Moscow was dedicated to the memory of the eighth world champion, Mikhail Tal. What do you think of him? Did you ever meet him across the board?
We played two rapid games. It was in 1991, the year before he died. Of course, at that time, Mikhail Nekhemyevich was not the man he had once been, but such was his unique charm that I fell under his spell even in such a short acquaintance. Tal was an exceptionally well-rounded chessplayer. The usual picture of him, as constantly playing adventurously, always sacrificing pieces, does not do justice to the real genius of the man. A few years ago, I looked through a collection of his best games, and realised that he played a great many games in really excellent positional style. In his youth, yes, he used to create these combinational tornados on the board, but in his later years, he simply outplayed his opponents by virtue of his deeper understanding. It is wonderful that the Russian Chess Federation is running a tournament in his honour. Tal is probably the most colourful of all the world champions.
You managed to score plus-four in this tournament in his honour, a tournament of category 20. Surely now nobody can say that you are “only a match player”…
This year I have won several tournaments. Only in Mexico did things not go right – although, even there I did not play any worse. I simply did not have enough luck. Here, fate was on my side.
In two of your games, against Leko and Shirov, everyone was astonished at the fantastic technique you showed, in converting a microscopic advantage. Some people are saying that your technique is better even than that of the legendary Capablanca
I would not compare myself with Capablanca, that’s going too far... But nobody can argue with the fact that I perhaps have the best technique of any player around today [smiles].
But your game against Mamedyarov in the penultimate round, you played in quite a different style – very sharply and riskily. This game reminded me of the days of the tournaments in Novgorod [in the mid-1990s]. Don’t you think so?
A lot depends on who you are playing. Mamedyarov is a very principled player – he plays sharply, comes at you, and tries to win. I have never avoided sharp play, but it does not usually arise, because my opponents play with a greater measure of safety. Therefore, in the game with Mamedyarov, and also that with Alekseev, I showed that I can also play a different style of chess from that in the games with Leko and Shirov.
Maybe the time will come when you can relegate to the past your well-known match strategy: win with white and draw with black?
Some problems remain. For greater success in tournaments, my repertoire is still a little too dry with the black pieces. In this tournament, it did not matter, because I won nearly all my white games, but in some other tournaments, it prevents me achieving better results. But, as you may have noticed in Mexico, I am trying to play in a more universal style.
In this tournament in Moscow, you were assisted by Dutch GM, Loek van Wely, although in Russia in general, and Moscow in particular, I know that you have many friends amongst the grandmaster ranks. What made you decide to work with the Dutch grandmaster?
As far as my friends and colleagues in Russia are concerned, they are all busy at the moment, but notwithstanding this fact, I would have taken van Wely with me anyway. I like him as a person, he is a very cheerful young man. And he also suits me as a specialist, as he has many interesting ideas. We started working together prior to Mexico, and I will be pleased to work with him in the future.
Van Wely will be one of the players in the January tournament in Wijk aan Zee, and will therefore not be able to help you then. What are your hopes for this tournament?
Yes, Loek will play in the main tournament, so I will have another second. In the past, for some reason unknown to me, I have not played so well in Holland. But this time, I am very determined. It will be a very important tournament, with an extremely strong field. I very much want to win the tournament, both to strengthen my number one position in the world ratings, and also to prove something to myself. I have more than one month to prepare, which is good, and I will prepare very seriously for Wijk-aan-Zee.
One of the biggest statistical specialists in the chess world, Edward Dubov, who calculates the current ratings of all the top players, told me that after your success in Mexico, you will go top of the January rating list. Does this mean a lot to you?
Several people have already told me this. Of course, it is nice to go to number one in the rating list. Not so many people have ever done this. But I cannot say that I attach huge importance to it. Firstly, because I have already been number one once before. It was quite some time ago – in 1996. Now I have become number one again. I don’t know how long I will maintain this position, but I will try to hang onto it for as long as possible. But for me, winning the forthcoming world championship match against Anand is much more important.
Is everything going OK as regards the match?
I can say that there are no problems on my side. I have signed the contract and sent it off. I know that Anand is having discussions with FIDE, but I do not know the details. On this subject, you should ask the FIDE leadership and Anand himself.
What do you think about the match with Anand?
He is a very serious opponent. Chances are about equal. Everything will depend on the details. Who prepares better. Who puts together the best team. Lots of little things, which in reality are not little things at all. I never try to guess the future, I just do everything that I can do. And if this proves enough for victory, I will be very pleased.
The match will take place in the autumn of next year. Where do you plan to play before then?
After Wijk aan Zee, I will play in Monaco, and in the summer in Dortmund. I hope to play somewhere else as well, before the match.
Will you play in Linares?
No, I am skipping Linares. That would be a bit too much work.
On the day this interview appears in “Sport-Express”, the world blitz championship will take place in the exhibition hall of GUM [a major shopping arcade in Central Moscow, opposite the Kremlin]. You have by no means a bad previous record in this form of chess. One only has to recall your drawn blitz marathon against Kasparov, played in the Cosmos Hotel, or when you won one of the strongest Moscow blitz tournaments with an almost 100% score. What are your hopes this time round?
The results you mention were a long time ago (smiles). Nowadays I only play blitz very rarely, and look on it as just a relaxation, which of course is what it is. In blitz, it is very important to be what they call “a practiced hand”. I will try of course, and will do a little bit of training beforehand, and try to remember my past triumphs. But playing the younger generation will not be easy. I know that they spend days and nights on various websites, playing blitz. This is interesting, but I do not think it is very useful. I do not do it myself. But anyway, I hope I don’t do too badly. I am not setting myself any particular targets. I will just try to enjoy myself.
And what do you think about the so-called “advanced chess” match with Anand, where you can use the computer’s help?
This is purely a show. In this form of play, the computer’s role is 80% and yours only 20%. But this 20% is decisive. You have to know how to use the computer well, when to turn it on and when to switch it off. I hope I manage to do so.
Will your wife Marie-Laure be supporting you during the tournament?
She supports me very strongly, Every round, she phoned me before and after the game, and she reacts very emotionally to my victories. Each time, she treats it like something unusual, historical (smiles). I am always surprised by this, and each time, I try to explain to her that it is normal, and that sometimes I do actually win (smiles). But she is always delighted, like a child. It is nice for me to be able to give this pleasure to her, and to my parents and brother. And to all of my supporters. In Moscow, I felt very strongly that almost everyone was behind me, and this helped to give me additional energy.
Marie-Laure and Vladimir Kramnik