"All my life I try to improve my chess level"

by Sagar Shah
9/22/2017 – Interviews with Vassily Ivanchuk are rare. The man is happy playing chess and would rather find new ideas, or indulge in a game of draughts, than answer questions from journalists. However, the chess world is always intrigued by his brilliance. They want to know more about him. At the World Cup in Tbilisi, Ivanchuk agreed for a short interview with ChessBase. In it he speaks about his World Cup performance, future plans, checkers, his inspiration for new ideas and whether he still would like to become the World Champion. Video with complete transcript.

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"OK, five minutes"

The end of fifth round of the World Cup 2017 resulted in heartbreak for many chess fans. Vassily Ivanchuk had been knocked out by Levon Aronian. "Chucky", as he is called in the chess world, immediately left the tournament hall. I was staying in the same hotel as him and all the official players. I was hoping that I would catch a glimpse of him at dinner or breakfast next day, so that an interview could be scheduled. After all, he had played a wonderful tournament by knocking out Vladimir Kramnik and Anish Giri. But, Chucky was not to be seen. I feared that he had already checked out.


The next day I went to the reception and was glad to learn that he would check out on the following day. I asked the receptionist to connect a call to his room. "Hello", came the voice from the other end in a strong Ukrainian tone. "Vassily, this is Sagar Shah from ChessBase and I would like to do a short interview with you." Ivanchuk was not so keen, "No, I do not wish to give an interview", was his reply. "You had a great tournament. Let's speak for at least five minutes." I think it was the number five that made Vassily change his mind. "Ok, five minutes," he replied. "I will come down to the reception in 30 minutes."

One of the greatest chess minds of our era
| Photo: Amruta Mokal

I ran back to the press room, and started preparing for the interview. I had just five minutes and I had to ask pertinent questions to make the genius Ivanchuk speak his heart out. After 28 minutes of preparing the questions, the ChessBase team (Macauley, Amruta and I) went to the elevator to go to the reception. When the doors of the elevator opened on the second floor, it was Vassily standing in front of us. As the rounds had finished early, Amruta gave the great idea of doing the interview in the tournament hall with Vassily sitting on the chess board.

While Ivanchuk excused himself and went to the washroom, I hurried to the playing area and setup the position of the game between Ivanchuk and Shankland from Capablanca Memorial 2017.

When he entered the room and took his chair, he immediately started to feel relaxed. This (a chess tournament hall) is the place where he has spent the maximum time of his life. His eyes lit up when he saw the position on the board. The sorrow of being knocked out was forgotten. It was replaced by the joy of seeing chess — by the joy of creating something beautiful on the 64 squares he loves so much.

Video interview

Running time: 11 minutes 48 seconds (You can even switch on the closed captions (CC))

The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Interview transcript:

Sagar Shah: How was the World Cup for you? How do you assess your performance? 

Vassily Ivanchuk: It was really an interesting tournament. I was happy to play here. I want to thank Emil Sutovsky who supported me [Ivanchuk was the nominee of the Association of Chess Professionals -Ed.]. Unfortunately I did not qualify by rating. It was an interesting tournament with big tension. In first two rounds I was a bit lucky and in the end I played quite well. In the last match against Aronian, I played a terrible first game. In the second game, I played well but it wasnt enough as my opponent defended well. And I didn't manage to win. It was really a good tournament. I played creative and fighting chess. If I will continue in this style in future I will reach big new successes.

SS: You played some excellent games against Kramnik and Giri. How were you able to bring out the best chess in you?

VI: I am just trying to keep good concentration during each game, to calculate well variations. In some moments my opponents made mistakes and I managed to utilize them successfully.

Everyone thought you were in the best form of your life, and then you lost this game one against Aronian. What went wrong?

Just in one game everything can happen. It wasn't my best game (laughs). It can happen to anybody. 

Ivanchuk was knocked out by Aronian in the quarterfinal | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Vassily, which are the future tournaments that you are planning to play?

I will play soon in the Croation League which is starting from 28th of October, no no, 28th of September sorry (laughs), and then in the end of October I will play six classical games with Wei Yi in Hoogeveen, Holland. And then I am planning to play in Gibraltar. There is also the Chinese League, but I am not sure.

So right now its completely packed with chess, no checkers?

I want to play checkers too. I dont know if it will be this year or next year, but I will try to play. It is really interesting for me to study new games. Strangely enough my biggest success has been in Frisian Checkers. I played this year in quite a strong tournament and I reached third place. I beat many champions. Frisian draughts, it's very special rules.

Do you work on it (checkers) or it comes naturally to you?

If I'm planning to play in tournaments I have to prepare for it. You have to study some theory and I am solving some combinations. I am trying to understand the stategy of how I can do it. Of course at my level to play without any preparation is stupid (laughs). 

So just like chess? 

Yes, but I am not a professional player. What I can do, I am trying to do it.

Vassily, you are one of the most creative thinkers in the game. You have found some beautiful ideas over the board, like this position in front you (check diagram below). How do you find them? What is your inspiration?

Ivanchuk - Shankland, Capablanca memorial 2017 was in front of Chucky

Ivanchuk sacrificed Rxc5 here.

I am just playing chess and trying to find something interesting especially if I am in good shape, if i feel good about myself. This position was from the middlegame and here I also considered Na7 — also an interesting move. If Rc7 b4, if Ra8 then Nc6 then b4, so in this moment Rxc5, I played this, but I also considered Na7.

Rxc5 was a long term exchange sacrifice, yes?

Yes. I calculated many moves ahead. I also calculated this (pointing towards a7 square) and tried to understand where I had better chances. It wasn't easy job, of course.

Ivanchuk at the opening ceremony of World Cup 2017. He has food in front of him, but his mind is caught up in some variation | Photo: Amruta Mokal

But Vassily, you get these opening ideas many times not on the chessboard, you are just walking or you are thinking. Is it true?

Yes, I can walk and I can think. I can remember some position and suddenly a move will appear in my head (smiles) and I start to consider it. Firstly, I am trying to understand myself whether the move is good or bad and only then I check it with the computer, if i am not completely sure. But I don't like to immediately use the computer, firstly I want to try to understand it myself.

Is there any opening idea which is very close to your heart or which you think is really the best one that you have found. Do you remember something like that?

Okay, it depends whether it is over the board or during the analysis. For example, I played Be3 against Anish Giri; it wasn't preparation, it was an idea I found over the board.

9.Be3 was a move that Vassily found over the board when he defeated Anish Giri in the first game of their round four match

Ahh, you found that on the board? I thought it was your home preparation

No no no. If it was preparation I could hardly think for half an hour in this moment (laughs).

Do you remember any other such ideas?

I remember that against Radjabov in the Sicilian I made a novelty with a pawn sacrifice. It was: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cd 4.Nd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6 6.Nc6 bc 7.e5 Nd5 Ne4 and then I found the new idea of this pawn sacrifice and strong initiative over the board.

It was the move 12.Bd2! in this position, sacrificing the b2 pawn

Is it true that you have a very strong memory and that you can remember all 48 games of the Kasparov vs. Karpov match?

No, no! (starts laughing). May be it's true that I have quite a good memory, but it's easy to understand that to remember all of Karpov and Kasparov games, full games, it's not so useful. There is no practical reason to do that. So I remember opening ideas and some interesting moments. It's more useful to remember this than remembering a game from the first to the last move. For example there are many games where white had bishop and knight against black's bishop and knight, different colour bishops and long games for 80 moves. How can I remember from the start until the end (laughs). And even if I can do it, what is the practical reason?

Vassily, you have been called as a genius, even Kasparov said that you are one of the strongest players of his generation. Do you feel that not winning the world title is something missing in your life?

Is something missing? | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Okay, hmmm (thinks deeply)... something missing...I don't think that this is the only important thing in my life. For example, I would be happy to reach level of master in draughts. It's also important. I would be happy, of course, to be a chess World Champion. But this is not the only thing in life which I am worried about.

Basically you enjoy the game and result is something secondary, yes?

Of course not. I want to reach good results. For example, if I am playing World Championship I can pretend to be playing for the title. If I am playing other tournaments, even if I will win this, it will not bring me the title of World Champion. Anyway, I am trying to show my best chess, at least to play good chess, but I would be happy to reach good results too. It's stupid to play and not want to beat your opponent. It's not logical (laughs).

And final question Vassily, do you still have ambitions of becoming the chess World Champion?

Now this cycle is closed for me, but next cycle we will see. I will plan something. But, now it's no time for it. I need to relax a little bit, to prepare for my next tournament — Croatian League — and of course always during all of my life I need to try improve my chess level and I will try to do it.

In a league of his own | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Interviewer: Sagar Shah
Video editing: Macauley Peterson
Technical assistance: Amruta Mokal


Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India, the biggest chess news portal in the country. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers, and to date close to a billion views. ChessBase India is the sole distributor of ChessBase products in India and seven adjoining countries, where the software is available at a 60% discount. compared to International prices.


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