Anand in interview – on intuition, creativity and blitz chess

by ChessBase
3/14/2009 – In the past month we brought you two sections of an unprecedented in-depth interview conducted by Indian colleagues with World Champion Viswanathan Anand. Today we continue the series with Anand's take on game formats, computer moves (ugly or creative?), Karpov, Kasparov, and secretly watching people on the chess servers. Part three of four.

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Anand on Chess –
from square one to the World Championship in Bonn

Interview Transcript
Location: Chennai
Date: 26th December, 2008.
Interviewers: Sriram Srinivasan and Jaideep Unudurti (Outlook Business)

What are your thoughts on the game formats becoming shorter?

I think it is a very natural progression. I quite like it. I like playing classical tournaments but I also like playing in rapid events. They are just more fun when you have both than when you only play one. There are lots of spectators who cannot come and sit out a seven-hour game, but you go to Mainz for instance or Corsica, the hall is full of people because they knew it is going to finish in an hour. Also there is a decision in an hour. Somebody is eliminated. It makes it more attractive as a spectator sport.

My match with Kramnik was very well followed in India. So it seems that there is a role for both. I have absolutely no issues with it. Especially when you see that you are not the only sport going through with this process of change. I don’t remember the debates in tennis when tiebreakers were introduced, but perhaps it was the same.

You mentioned rapid. Would it be fair to say that you are a very intuitive player? The moment you see a position, an idea comes to you in a flash.

Very strongly. I think it was accentuated by what I did in the Tal Chess Club, playing those blitz games. You are what you are. The Tal Club definitely accentuated it and made the effect stronger. Since I grew up with that, I continued. Nowadays I think a lot. In some of my games in Bonn I was thinking 45 minutes for a move. That is simply modern chess. You need to work through so much preparation. I continue to remain an intuitive player.

I think Malcolm Gladwell talks about it in “Blink”. He calls it “thin-slicing”.

Yeah. And it is the one thing we have over computers. We reject an incredible amount of information very fast, whereas they have to look at everything. They are doing it faster and faster and catching up in speed. Once upon a time my biggest advantage was in shorter controls. I could beat computers in blitz!

To introduce a contrarian note about computers, former world champion Karpov has gone on record saying that using computers has made you more mechanical and less creative. Your comments?

I would disagree. Strongly. I would say in general that Karpov is probably that generation which missed computers completely. You remember my match with him in Advanced Chess in 1999. He couldn’t use the computer. And it is not fair, his generation managed without computers. There was this whole generation, who couldn’t get used to it – Polugaevsky, Geller. I still remember their impressions when I showed them my computer – “this is all toys for children” – they had this attitude. Probably they would have felt it much more strongly when they heard that Kasparov had lost this game and now humans were losing regularly to computers. They saw chess in a much more intellectual light, but as a human intellectual thing.

So I would respectfully disagree. Definitely I respect Karpov a lot. He is really the generation before and he doesn’t have a good feel for the computer’s influence. I would say nowadays it is impossible to work without computers. And you don’t become mechanical at all. It allows you to do incredibly creative things. I mean there are positions I can work on where it was not feasible to work on alone. The amount of work is too much. But now with the machine you can break it down so easily. At one level, in one sense, I would agree with him. Certain areas in chess have become mechanical but in some new areas creativity flowers.

Now you have “computer moves”. Aesthetically you have these ugly moves.

Again, at initial stages, I don’t know whether it was because computers were weaker or our eye was so jaundiced against certain moves that we took longer to adapt. I don’t know which of the two, it could have been both. But nowadays, computers are stronger so the suggestions are more respectable. And you can see the analysis and see why and grasp it immediately. I would also say we have developed a certain tolerance for unusual moves. I mean, humans themselves play unusual moves nowadays. When I see some move my first reaction is no longer “Oh, this is ghastly”. My first reaction is “aha, the tactics are working” or something. So I would say it is an evolutionary thing. We have slowly learnt that our understanding of chess was not complete and computers have gotten better.

Every once in a while the computer will make a ghastly move. There is no question that in the King’s Indian when it plays Re2 or something in some position you understand that it just has no clue and there are so many examples in closed positions where they do ridiculous things. Very often the moves they point out, while ugly, have some tactical justification. And we have slowly learnt that a move is good if it works tactically, and it is not beneath contempt. A move can stand on its merits simply by being tactical rather than having any strategical depth.

Building on that can you say that in the last century you had the Romantics, the Hyper-modernists, the various schools. All that is out of the window. Now whatever works, works. For example, you can have moves like 1.e4 c5 2. Qh5 played by Nakamura [Anand smiles]. So can you say that style is dead?

Not really. When we look back we tend to think of them as Romantics, Neo-Romantics and so on. But they also went with what worked. If something didn’t work they stopped doing it. Capablanca might have been very dismissive of Hypermodern openings, but he started playing them himself in the 30s. In the 20s he said okay this is all rubbish, the Queen’s Gambit declined is good.

In chess this feeling has always been there, if you can’t refute something it has a right to exist. It is not a modern thing. The latest you can associate that trend with is the 1940s with the Soviet grandmasters, the Soviet school of chess which started with people like Geller, Petrosian, Smyslov. It was a very strong feeling they had that if something worked, even if you had prejudices or you decided on some basis, the way you were brought up, that move was ugly, you still played it.

Let’s remember, openings like the Sveshnikov were laughed at when they first appeared. But after twenty years of trying to refute it people said well maybe there is something to it. We look back and think of that period as innocent or romantic, but they were not playing for beauty, they were playing for points. I make the same mistake when looking back. It is a very strong effect. But you have to remember, when you read books on what they thought, they try incredibly hard to find something that works, and if you look at it from that standpoint, the standpoint of their views, then they were willing to make any move that they thought would win. Our sense for aesthetics has also improved, as I said, our tolerance for certain moves has improved by seeing it more often. Here I would say it’s imposing your personal views rather than letting the position decide.

You are now 39. You are the oldest of your generation, along with Ivanchuk. Are you feeling the effects of age?

I’m aware that chess is becoming very young and that we are probably the outsiders. But look at Ivanchuk and me the last two years. It seems at least that if you are motivated and you train physically, you are able to cope.

Kasparov is called the "Beast of Baku", Tal was called the "Magician from Riga" and so on. You are the "Tiger from Madras", are you happy with this or would you like to choose something else as a nickname?

No, I’m fine. We don’t have tigers in Madras (laughs), but otherwise I’m very happy with it. In fact we went recently to see tigers and I quite like the animal.

Botvinnik became the champion in 1948. You beat Kramnik, a student of his in 2008. There is no other comparable Russian star. Is the Russian era over?

Far from it. I think they are going through a brief rough patch. But still by many measures they are the leading chess country on earth. That’s not bad, given they had so many bad years recently. I think simply the rest of the world is catching up. If you compare any single country with Russia they are still ahead on everything.

Do you still play friendly blitz?

Hardly ever. Only when I’m training for something very specific. Because when you play blitz, then you lose and you want revenge. It is very difficult to play a single blitz game! You want to play for a long time. So I tend not to do that anymore.

Do you go to servers anonymously and start demolishing everyone?

No, I go on servers and watch other people, perfectly anonymously. I like to watch other people and some interesting games.

Do you visit any chess sites?

Sure. Quite a lot. I generally go to ChessBase and TWIC. Also nowadays go to many other sites, Chessvibes and Chesspro and so on. The top pages will have links to tournament websites.

A large part of your preparation now must be opening preparation. Do you still do tactical exercises, work on endgames?

Yes, before Bonn I was doing tactical exercises every evening, five puzzles. I did certain endgames I was afraid of. Rook and bishop and things like that. Amazingly, rook and bishop is the sort of thing you forget very easily how to defend properly. Even grandmasters have great difficulty holding this ending, so it is very tricky. So I go over that stuff a lot.

Sriram Srinivasan, Viswanathan Anand and Jaideep Unudurti at the time of the interview

Part onePart two
The final part four on the World Championship in Bonn will follow soon

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Anand – My Career in Chess

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