Kasimdzhanov: "The work of seconds usually remains invisible"

by André Schulz
12/9/2018 – While Carlsen and Caruana played for the World Championship in London, millions of people all over the world saw them fight in a soundproof glass box. But behind the scenes, the teams of seconds who supported them remained largely hidden. GM Rustam Kasimdzhanov has been the second of Fabiano Caruana since 2015, and in this interview, he shares impressions of the match to date. | Photos: Nikolai Dunaevsky / World Chess

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Rustam Kasimdzhanov on Carlsen vs Caruana

Rustam Kasimdzhanov, 39, was born in Uzbekistan but has been living in Germany, near Bonn, for a quite a while. He plays for the OSG Baden-Baden in the German League. In 2004, Kasimdzhanov won the FIDE Knock-out World Championship in Tripoli, Libya.

In 2008, 2010 and 2012 he supported Anand's team during the World Championship matches.

At the European Team Championship in 2011, he was the openings trainer of the German national team and helped them achieve a surprise victory.

Kazimdhanov is considered to be one of the world's leading opening experts and has recorded numerous ChessBase video series which were well received by critics and the public. He spoke by phone to Andre Schulz, in German, on Thursday, December 6th.

AS: The match is over — how do you feel?

RK: I am disappointed. We had good chances to win in the middle of the match, in game 6 or game 8. However, we could also have lost at the start or the end. 

When you talk about winning chances in game 8 you refer to the position in which Caruana played h3 instead of Qh5?


Yes, exactly. Fabiano had a very good position but during the game, he did not realise how good the position actually is. Black's pawns are far advanced and Black's position is full of holes. In the crucial position, Fabiano quickly played 24.h3. However, a short time before that moment there was a disturbance, which one could see in the video of the live webcast. There was some kind of noise, a voice from the radio or some such thing. [There was a security camera "talk back" accidentally active -Ed.] Both players suddenly looked up. Maybe Fabiano got distracted. Instead of thinking about his options and to calculate, he suddenly plays h3. That's the kind of move you make when you have to go to the bathroom. You are not fully focused and you quickly play an obvious move.

Game 8 press conference: players discuss the 24.h3 moment at length and also the noise in the playing hall

In game 6 Fabiano also missed a win but the crucial move was difficult to see...


Black could have won with 68...Bh4 (instead of 68...Nf3).

Yes, that's true. Maybe the move was indeed difficult to see. But it was not impossible. However, to find such a move you have to believe that you can win this endgame. And even if it is objectively drawn you can still try some tricks. Carlsen, too, is not infallible. And he already made a mistake, otherwise White would not even have had the chance to win. During the game, I thought the game would end in a draw. But Fabiano had enough time, one could have played on to try something. After moving the king into the middle which led to nothing he might have returned the king to start a new winning attempt. But apparently, he had already given up hopes to win the game.

With White Caruana first tried the Rossolimo but then switched to the Open Sicilian. How did this idea come about?

Chirila, Kasimdzhanov, Caruana

Fabiano actually always plays the Rossolimo but during the match, it did not work at all. In game 1 he was really lucky. Neither of the other games brought a real advantage. Here, Carlsen was very well prepared. We then hit on the line with 7.Nd5 in the Sveshnikov, a move that had hardly ever been tried by top players. Okay, back then there was a Candidates match Yudasin vs Kramnik, but that is a long time ago when players made much more mistakes. Fabiano had to learn all the variations anew for the match. One might think that a strong player should have no trouble with that but things are not that easy. Moreover, he has no experience with that kind of structure and the game simply does not play itself. But still: a couple of times Carlsen was close to the edge and Fabiano reached promising though double-edged positions. Maybe things would have been even better if Fabiano had not forgotten his preparation in game 10.

Did he...?

Yes, this can happen, of course. You prepare a lot, there's much to learn. And then you mix up moves in a line or you simply forget the moves. Such things have happened to everyone. 


Fabiano Caruana

Did you expect the Sveshnikov?

Of course, among other things. But there were so many possibilities for which we had to prepare.

Do you have an explanation why Carlsen seemed to be so badly prepared with White?

He was not badly prepared. Carlsen's preparation was as good or as bad as his preparation always is. Openings are not that important for him. Maybe something did not work. He tried 1.d4, came up against a surprise in the Queen's Gambit, then another one, and then he decided to abandon 1.d4.

After the first game with the Queen's Gambit people discussed a line in which Black sacrifices a piece on b4 which leads to a very sharp and dangerous position. Was that for real?


Yes, that was for real.

And why didn't things work for Carlsen in his other games with White?

I don't know. Maybe, Magnus did not mind a tiebreak, and he wanted to play it safe because he had faith in his rapid skills. Against Karjakin, he also wanted to reach the tiebreak at a certain point of time — and he won it smoothly.

During the match, a video appeared — probably by accident — that showed a screen with some opening lines Fabiano Caruana had analysed. Did that trouble you much?

Not really.

The training video was streamed live during the Today in Chess game 1 webcast but was only widely noticed when it was posted as a separate video (subsequently removed) after game 3

How long did you prepare for the match?

Since the Candidates Tournament, we have always been travelling, playing in tournaments or being in training camp. Sometimes we trained in remote places. We worked in the Hamptons near New York and then we spent some time at the farm of Rex Sinquefield which is right in a forest. Maybe I have been at home for seven days since the Candidates.

Do you know who helped Carlsen as a second, apart from Peter Heine Nielsen?

Laurent Fressinet, as far as I know, and I heard that Daniil Dubov helped. That's all I know. [Also on the team were Jan Gustafsson and Nils Grandelius -Ed.]

Your seconds were all known...

Yes, apart from me there was Ioan-Cristian Chirila, who also was in London. Alejandro Ramirez and Leinier Dominguez stayed in the USA.

In the regular games Carlsen and Caruana were equals but in the tiebreak Caruana just went down. What happened?

He just had a bad day. During the match, I did not think that we would definitely lose the tiebreak. After all, before the tiebreak Fabiano had an even score against Magnus in rapid. But on that day things just did not go well for Fabiano.

Magnus Carlsen

There were rumours that Carlsen might withdraw from chess should he lose the match. Do you know anything about that?

I heard these rumours. But his family knows more about that. His sister Ellen made some hints. Maybe Carlsen thought about such things.

But he is still much too young to withdraw from chess...

That's true. But I think he does not like to lose.

Do you still feel a huge disappointment?

Yes. Some people came to me to congratulate for the good work. I don't know why. After all, our work as seconds usually remains invisible. I have already worked as a second a couple of times, including World Championship matches. It may sound a bit immodest but until now I have won all the World Championship matches in which I was a second. The feeling of defeat is new for me.

How are things with Caruana?

After the tiebreak we did not yet have the chance for a real talk. After the closing ceremony, we went to dinner. His parents were there. Pretty soon we talked about how to return home from London, Caruana's family to New York, I home to Germany. Somehow, there was no real closure. Of course, we have to have a talk.

Will you continue to work together?

Yes, right now I am on my way to London. The final of the Grand Chess Tour will start in a few days.

Will Caruana be a challenger again?

Why not? He is young, he is in good shape, he can still improve. But of course nothing is for granted: you never know what will happen at a Candidates Tournament. Suddenly one of the other players is on a roll, winning one game after the next, and then he will become challenger. A lot of the top players are capable of that.

Thank you very much for your time and your answers!

My pleasure.

Chirila, Kasimdzhanov, Caruana

Chirila, Kasimdzhanov, Caruana 

Interview: André Schulz, translation from German: Johannes Fischer


André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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