I am not afraid of Magnus!

by Sagar Shah
4/9/2016 – On 29th of March, one day after the Candidates tournament came to an end, our editor Sagar Shah along with two other journalists met Sergey Karjakin at the Four Seasons Hotel for an interview. The Russian had hardly slept the night before, but looked fresh as a daisy! In this interview Sergey throws light on what helped him to win the Candidates and how he doesn't fear Magnus Carlsen. All this and much more in this Q&A session.

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Interview with Sergey Karjakin

I entered the majestic Four Seasons Hotel at 11 a.m. on the 29th of March 2016. On the previous day the Challenger for the upcoming World Championship Match had been decided. Sergey Karjakin had swooped his rook to d8 and Caruana stretched out his hand in resignation. It meant that the Russian had officially become the World Championship Challenger. “You will have only 45 minutes to ask questions to Sergey”, said Alexandra Ionova, who was managing the communications and public relations for Karjakin. Sergey was expected to come down to the lounge of the Four Seasons Hotel any minute. I was joined by the experienced journalists IM Leontxo Garcia (El Pais) and IM Stefan Loeffler (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung). We quickly discussed some of the questions that we were going to ask, making sure that the topics wouldn’t overlap.

Soon, a smiling, fresh, energetic 26-year-old man came walking towards our table. “I just couldn’t sleep!” were the first words that he spoke. “I tried to go to bed at 12 a.m. but I couldn’t sleep until three, and then I woke up at eight and I couldn’t sleep anymore. It’s simply unbelievable for me, probably too much excitement!” The super grandmaster took his chair and the three International Master journalists began the interview that would deal with his Candidates tournament, preparation, personal life, interests and most importantly: Magnus Carlsen!

Sergey Karjakin (SK) being interviewed by Sagar Shah (SS), Leontxo Garcia (LG) and Stefan Loeffler (SL)

Sergey Karjakin: I was sleeping well during the tournament, but I didn’t get enough rest before the last round. That night I slept for eight hours. But yesterday, after winning it was just five! It has never happened to me that I have slept so little!

SL: In spite of eight hours of sleep before your game with Caruana you feel that you didn’t sleep so well. Why would you say so?

SK: Generally when I play a normal tournament – an event not as exciting and important as this one, the moment I go to bed I fall off to sleep. But that night it wasn’t so smooth!

SS: It was a tricky situation for you in the last round. A lot depended on Anand’s result. How did you approach this final game?

SK: I thought it was important to just play chess – because if he is trying to win, he will have to do that with black. I could put pressure on him with the white pieces. If he defended well it would be a draw, but if he overstretched I would get my chances!

SL: You were the player who made use of all the opportunities you got in this tournament, while others kept missing. Why was that the case?

SK: I don’t know. I made use of all my chances, made draws from almost all the bad positions that I got and won all the better positions. I think psychology plays a major role in such tournaments. Look at Levon Aronian. Every time he plays the Candidates he starts well, and somewhere towards the end he starts to feel the pressure and it is difficult for him to continue. 

LG: You have shown yourself to be psychologically very strong. Does that mean you don’t need a psychologist for your mental preparation?

SK: My seconds are my psychologists and they help me all the time.

Sergey taking a picture of his second Vladimir Potkin, who was standing outside the hotel

SS: If you had to choose your favourite game from the Candidates 2016 tournament which one would that be?

SK: I would go for the one against Anand. I had never beaten him before that game, and after winning it I felt as if I really had the chance to win this tournament.

[Event "Candidates 2016"] [Site "?"] [Date "2016.03.15"] [Round "4"] [White "Karjakin, Sergey"] [Black "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A13"] [WhiteElo "2760"] [BlackElo "2762"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "85"] [SourceDate "2016.03.15"] {Prior to this game Anand and Karjakin have played against each other 26 times in different formats of the game - Blitz, Classical, Rapid. There have been eight decisive results all in the favour of Vishy Anand. Naturally the Indian ace has a psychological edge when facing the young Russian.} 1. Nf3 {Karjakin sticks to his policy of beginning the game with 1.Nf3 as he did against Svidler and Nakamura.} d5 2. e3 $5 {Although not completely silly, this is a highly unambitious move. In a way it takes away quite a bit of flexibility in from White's setup and makes d4 lines pretty harmless. Karjakin's natural inclination was towards avoiding Vishy Anand's home preparation.} Nf6 3. c4 e6 4. b3 Be7 5. Bb2 O-O 6. Nc3 c5 7. cxd5 Nxd5 {The game has transposed into a well-known position and it looks like we would follow some of the classical games like the ones played by Botvinnik, Larsen, Smyslov etc. However, Sergey gives this position his own modern touch!} 8. Qc2 $5 Nc6 9. h4 $5 $146 { [%cal Gh2h4] The highly interesting novelty. The idea of this move is to prepare Ng5 at some point and force White to weaken his kingside with a pawn move.} b6 10. a3 (10. Ng5 f5) 10... f5 {Anand tries to be safe and shuts the b1-h7 diagonal. What he should be really careful about is the fact that he is extending his position and some of the squares might become weak due to these pawn moves.} 11. Bb5 Bb7 12. Nxd5 exd5 (12... Qxd5 {was definitely a worthwhile alternative.} 13. Bc4 Qd6 14. Ng5 Bxg5 15. hxg5 Na5 {should not be such a huge problem for Black.}) 13. d4 {After playing the move h4, suddenly Karjakin switches to positional chess! Something has not really gone according to his plan, or has it?!!} Rc8 14. dxc5 bxc5 15. O-O {After the game I was curious as to why Sergey, who seemed all aggressive and wanted to blow Anand off the board, had suddenly become positional and played moves like d4 and 0-0. Well the reason is as simple as Karjakin explains after the game. "I wanted to provoke him into playing f5 and that's what he did!"} Bf6 (15... f4 16. Bd3 $1 $16) 16. Rfd1 (16. Bxf6 Qxf6 17. Qxc5 Ne5 $44) 16... Ne7 17. Bxf6 Rxf6 18. g3 { The position is around equal at this point. It is a well know fact that the side with the isolated or hanging pawns must keep more pieces on the board. Anand's next move breaks this rule and looks clearly like a positional error.} Ba6 $6 {[%cal Gb7a6] More the pieces get exchanged, more the c5 and d5 duo start becoming weak.} 19. Bxa6 Rxa6 20. Qc3 Rb6 21. Rac1 Qd6 $6 {Another inaccuracy. The queen is not at all well placed on d6. As Sergey shows Ne5 will threaten moves like Nc4 and Nd3.} 22. Ne5 $1 Rb7 23. Nd3 $1 {And this is what we were talking about. The hanging pawns become super weak. The c5 pawn advances and the rest is just pain for the Indian champion.} c4 24. bxc4 Rxc4 25. Qe5 {The queens have to be exchanged.} Qxe5 (25... Qc6 26. Rxc4 dxc4 27. Nc5 $18) 26. Nxe5 Rxc1 27. Rxc1 $16 {White has a better knight, a better rook, a better pawn structure and a clear plan of improving his king. The rest as they say is a matter of technique for a strong player like Karjakin.} g6 28. Rc5 Kg7 29. Ra5 Kf6 30. Nd3 Rc7 31. Ra6+ Kg7 32. Nf4 Rd7 33. Kf1 Ng8 34. Ne6+ Kf7 35. Nd4 Ne7 36. Nb5 Nc8 37. a4 Rb7 38. Rc6 Ne7 39. Ra6 Nc8 40. Rc6 Ne7 41. Rd6 Rb6 42. Rd7 a6 43. Nc3 {Anand resigned in this equal material position – a resignation that was not at all premature.} (43. Nc3 Re6 44. Nxd5 Ke8 45. Rxe7+ Rxe7 46. Nxe7 Kxe7 $18) 1-0

SL: Was this idea with Qc2 followed by h4, against Anand, home preparation or over the board inspiration?

SK: It was preparation. I wanted to play something sharp but at the same time non-theoretical, as Anand is a big expert in theory. This idea of Qc2 followed by h4 was suggested by my second Vladimir Potkin.

Sergey explains his fourth round win against Vishy Anand

SS: You played the same line of Queen’s Indian with black in four games. Was playing the same opening a conscious decision before the tournament?

SK: I had actually prepared a few lines but somehow I was quite confident with this line of the Queen’s Indian and I thought I will play it and defend my opening!

Dubai training camp and seconds

SL: You obviously did something right in the past couple of months. What did you do specifically to get in good shape for the Candidates?

SK: Before this tournament we had a training session in Dubai with my coaches. We had a lot of fun – we played volleyball on the beach. We indulged in much more physical fitness than we analyzed chess! The reason why we chose Dubai was that we wanted to find a hotel where everything was included [the possibility of working on chess and sports]. We found a few hotels in Dubai and a few in Maldives. But the latter is quite expensive and we saw no reason to spend so much. And as there was no possibility to go to Egypt, we decided to go to Dubai.

SS: Was it planned to indulge in more physical activity than to work on chess?

SK: When I sit in the room and I see the sun shining, I just cannot sit still. I have to go out – either to the streets or the beach. And then in the evening we would do some chess! [Smiles]

Sergey has always been mindful about staying physically fit [picture in 2004 by Frederic Friedel]

SS: Who were the people with you in the Dubai training camp?

SK: We had Alexander Motylev, Yuri Dokhoian, Vladimir Potkin and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. I played a lot of blitz games with Shakhriyar and that was fun. We also solved a quite a few studies. Mamedyarov is a great studies solving expert and when he is trying to get the answer faster than you, you also get a lot of motivation to improve your speed. In a way he was a perfect sparring partner for me. Also his enterprising style of chess rubbed off on me and I played quite a few bold moves in this tournament!

The friendship goes all the way back to 2004! Sergey Karjakin (centre) with
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (left) and Evgeny Alekseev [photo by Jean-Michele Pechine]

SL: You had quite a big team for the Candidates. It must have been quite expensive, right?

SK: Yes, without the sponsors it wouldn’t have been possible, so my biggest thanks to them. I would not have been able to build such a team and for sure we wouldn’t have been able to go to Dubai, and probably I wouldn’t have had so much energy as I had during the tournament. It could have been a completely different story.

SL: Vladimir Kramnik is a player with great experience. Have you worked with him in the past?

SK: Yes, we have worked in the past. I helped him in Kazan in 2011. We have a good relationship. He was one of the first ones to call me after my victory and he told me yesterday that tonight you can drink but from tomorrow you have start preparing! [Laughs]

SL: So did you follow his advice?

SK: Yes, a little bit! First I had a glass of Champagne and then some white wine!

SL: It would be good to have Kramnik on the team, right?

SK: Yes, I am thinking about it, but I haven’t made any decisions yet, so I cannot comment on it.

Magnus Carlsen

LG: You got the GM title earlier than Magnus, but your further progression has been slower. Why?

SK: Well, I think this has very much to do with the sponsors and the support. I was in the famous Kramatorsk school in Ukraine from the age of nine to twelve years. At twelve years and seven months I became a grandmaster. But from then onwards until the age of nineteen I didn’t get any sponsors. I was living in Crimea, which was Ukrainian back then, and I didn’t get any sort of support. Magnus on the other hand had all the backing. So he had a big advantage. Then I moved to Russia and I not only got support in the form of sponsors but also from strong coaches like Dokhoian and Motylev, who were here with me.

LG: What are the main differences between you and Magnus Carlsen, technically and character wise?

SK: Magnus is a great player. He has a lot of strong skills. He is a brilliant technical player. Also he fights for the initiative very well. He sees tactics excellently. So he doesn’t have many weaknesses. But still, he is a human, not a computer, and he also sometimes makes mistakes and loses. So I will study his games hard and try to find any weaknesses if I can.

SL: How does Magnus’ style influence you?

SK: I don’t think so much about it. But whenever I play a strong player, be it Magnus or anyone else, I try to learn from him. Because I think I can still improve as a player. For example, Pavel Eljanov said that I played much better in the Candidates than what I played in the World Cup 2015.

SS: But he also said that it is not enough for Magnus Carlsen?

SK: Yeah, he said that. But I believe I can improve, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t get better. I will organize a few training camps with my coaches and we will study his games and work hard! [Smiles]

SL: Recently you also played a typical Magnus opening with d4 followed by Bf4. Were you following him?

SK: I played it, but mainly I am trying to broaden my repertoire. A few years ago I played only 1.e4. Now, I want to try different setups. 1.e4 is a good move but I am trying to get more knowledge, more ideas. If you want to become the best then you have to know all the opening setups and theory. That is what I think.

SS: If you had to choose your favourite classical game against Magnus which one would you select?

SK: It is definitely the one that I won against him with black in 2012 at Wijk Aan Zee. It was Queen’s Indian and a good game. But I understand that it was just one game and I need to work much harder for such results again.

Here's Sergey's favourite game with annotations by him for CBM 147:

[Event "Tata Steel-A 74th"]
[Site "Wijk aan Zee"]
[Date "2012.01.24"]
[Round "9"]
[White "Carlsen, Magnus"]
[Black "Karjakin, Sergey"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "E12"]
[WhiteElo "2835"]
[BlackElo "2769"]
[Annotator "Karjakin,S"]
[PlyCount "120"]
[EventDate "2012.01.14"]
[EventType "tourn"]
[EventRounds "13"]
[EventCountry "NED"]
[EventCategory "21"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "2012.03.16"]

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 b6 3. Nc3 Bb7 4. d4 e6 5. a3 d5 6. Bg5 Be7 7. e3 O-O 8. Rc1 {
Magnus chooses the rare moves of the Petrosian line and already here I started
to think... Magnus wählt die seltenen Züge der Petrosian-Variante, und bereits
hier begann ich zu überlegen...} h6 {Not the most common move, which was
evaluated differently!   Nicht der häufigste Zug, und er wird unterschiedlich
bewertet!} 9. Bxf6 Bxf6 10. cxd5 exd5 11. Bd3 c5 12. O-O {I heard different
evaluations of this position. Aronian told me that this is a famous position
from the Queen's Gambit with an extra tempo for White, but Magnus said that
the position is absolutely harmless for Black... Zu dieser Stellung hörte ich
unterschiedliche Einschätzungen. Aronian sagte mir, dies sei eine berühmte
Stellung aus dem Damengambit mit einem Extratempo für Weiß, dagegen meinte
Magnus, die Stellung sei absolut harmlos für Schwarz...} Na6 {Preparing Nc7-e6,
but later the knight went another way... Bereitet Nc7-e6 vor, doch später ging
der Springer einen anderen Weg...} 13. Ne5 {Interesting try, White is
preparing f2-f4. I expected more Ne2 and then Ng3 or Nf4. Also possible was
Bb1 with an unclear position. Interessanter Versuch, Weiß bereitet f2-f4 vor.
Ich erwartete eher Ne2 und dann Ng3 oder Nf4. Ebenfalls möglich war Bb1 mit
unklarer Stellung.} cxd4 14. exd4 Bxe5 ({The interesting alternative Die
interessante Alternative} 14... Nc5 {seemed quite risky to me in view of
schien mir ziemlich riskant angesichts von} 15. Nxf7 ({A quieter move is Ein
ruhigerer Zug ist} 15. f4) 15... Rxf7 16. dxc5 bxc5 17. Qh5 {and for the human
the position looks very dangerous with such a weak diagonal b1-h7. , und für
den Menschen sieht die Stellung mit einer derart schwachen Diagonale b1-h7
brandgefährlich aus.}) 15. dxe5 Nc5 16. Re1 $1 {The only one try to fight for
an advantage! Der einzige Versuch, um Vorteil zu kämpfen!} (16. Nb5 Nxd3 17.
Qxd3 Ba6 $11 {is fine for Black, for example: ist in Ordnung für Schwarz, zum
Beispiel:} 18. f4 Rc8 19. Rce1 $6 {Trying to play for a win. Versucht, auf
Gewinn zu spielen.} ({White should make a draw after Weiß sollte Remis machen
mit} 19. Rxc8 Qxc8 20. Qxd5 Qc5+ 21. Qxc5 bxc5 22. a4 Bxb5 23. axb5 Rb8 $11)
19... Qd7 20. a4 Rc4 $1 21. b3 Bxb5 22. axb5 Rb4 $15) 16... Re8 ({The most
logical move does not work: Der logischste Zug funktioniert nicht:} 16... d4
17. Ne4 Bxe4 (17... Qd5 $2 18. Bc4 $1 Qxe5 19. Nxc5 Qxc5 20. Bxf7+ $18) 18.
Bxe4 d3 19. Rxc5 bxc5 20. Bxa8 Qxa8 21. Qxd3 {with an extra pawn for White.
mit einem Mehrbauern für Weiß.}) 17. f4 $6 {After this move White is not
fighting for an advantage any longer! Nach diesem Zug kämpft Weiß nicht länger
um Vorteil!} ({White should have played Richtig für Weiß war} 17. Bf1 a6 {
Black should cover the b5-square. Schwarz sollte das b5-Feld decken} 18. Rc2 $1
{keeping a minimal advantage. , was minimalen Vorteil bewahrt.}) 17... d4 18.
Ne4 $2 {Almost the decisive mistake! After this move White gets a very bad
position... Fast schon der entscheidende Fehler! Nach diesem Zug erhält Weiß
eine sehr schlechte Stellung...} (18. Nb5 Qd5 19. Rc2 Nxd3 20. Qxd3 Ba6 21. a4
Bxb5 22. axb5 Rac8 {with a draw. mit Remis.}) 18... Bxe4 19. Bxe4 d3 $1 {
Nice move, which because of the inclusion 16...Re8 17.f4 now works! Schöner
Zug, der jetzt wegen der Einschaltung von 16...Re8 17.f4 funktoniert!} 20. Rc4
{I also thought this is the strongest, but the lesser evil was 20.Re3. Dies
hielt ich auch für am stärksten, doch das geringere Übel war 20.Re3.} (20. Bxa8
d2 21. Bc6 Qd4+ 22. Kh1 dxe1=Q+ 23. Qxe1 Nd3 24. Qf1 Re6 25. Rc2 Nxf4 $17) (20.
Re3 $1 Qd4 21. Qf3 Rac8 22. Rd1 d2 23. Kf1 {and White is somehow holding...
und Weiß hält sich irgendwie...}) (20. Rxc5 Qd4+ $1 {Here we can understand
the importance of the inclusion 16...Re8 17.f4. Hier sehen wir die Tragweite
der Einschaltung von 16...Re8 17.f4.}) 20... Rc8 21. Bf5 Qd5 {Also strong was
21...b5, but I wanted my b6-pawn to support the knight on c5. Ebenfalls stark
war 21...b5, aber ich wollte meinen b6-Bauern stehenlassen, um den Springer
auf c5 zu stützten.} 22. Rc3 Rcd8 23. Qd2 Qd4+ 24. Kh1 (24. Kf1 a5 {was
equally bad for White. war ebenfalls schlecht für Weiß.}) 24... a5 $1 {Playing
against b4. Gegen b4 gerichtet.} 25. Rb1 {It was hard to suggest anything
instead... Es fiel schwer, etwas anderes vorzuschlagen...} a4 26. Rd1 Rd5 {
This is a bit too much! Of course Black's position was very good, but why not
just win an exchange by playing Dies ist ein bisschen zu viel! Natürlich war
die schwarze Stellung sehr gut, aber warum nicht einfach eine Qualität
gewinnen durch} (26... g6 $1 27. Bxd3 Ne4 28. Bxe4 Qxd2 29. Rxd2 Rxd2 $19 {
with an easy win! mit leichtem Sieg!}) 27. h4 g6 ({A stronger try was Ein
stärkerer Versuch war} 27... Red8 28. h5 f6 $19 {and White is defenceless! und
Weiß ist wehrlos.}) 28. Bxd3 Red8 29. Qe1 Qxf4 30. e6 $1 Nxe6 (30... Nxd3 $6
31. Rdxd3 Rxd3 32. e7 {with drawing chances. mit Remischancen.}) 31. Bc2 {
White is defending very well! Weiß verteidigt sich sehr gut!} b5 ({The
strongest was Am stärksten war} 31... Nd4 $1 32. Bxa4 Nf5 33. Rxd5 Rxd5 34.
Qe8+ Kg7 35. Bb3 Qxh4+ {and Black wins! But being down on time I decided to
play safer... und Schwarz gewinnt. Aber da ich weniger Zeit hatte, beschloss
ich, sicherer zu spielen...}) 32. Rxd5 Rxd5 33. Re3 Nd4 34. Bd3 (34. Bxg6 {
does not work: funktioniert nicht:} fxg6 35. Re8+ Kg7 36. Re7+ Kf6 $19) 34...
Kg7 35. Kg1 Qf6 36. Kh2 ({More stubborn was Hartnäckiger war} 36. Qf2 Nf5 (
36... Qd6 $5) 37. Bxf5 Rxf5 38. Rf3 Rxf3 39. gxf3 {and though the position
should be winning, still a lot of work is required. und obwohl die Stellung
gewonnen sein sollte, ist noch eine Menge Arbeit erforderliche.}) 36... Rh5 {
Playing in mutual time trouble. In beiderseitiger Zeitnot gespielt.} ({It was
even stronger to play Noch stärker war} 36... Rc5 $1 {and Black is dominating!
und Schwarz dominiert!}) 37. Rh3 ({There was the slightly more stubborn  Hier
gab es das etwas hartnäckigere} 37. Re4) 37... Ne6 {Here Black had many ways,
but before the time control I chose the most human moves... An dieser Stelle
hatte Schwarz viele Möglichkeiten, aber vor der Zeitkontrolle wählte ich die
menschlichsten Züge...} (37... Qf4+ 38. Qg3 Nf3+ $1 39. gxf3 Qd2+ $19) 38. Rf3
Rxh4+ 39. Kg1 Qd4+ 40. Qf2 Qxf2+ 41. Kxf2 b4 {Starting from here Magnus
defended very well, but 2 pawns was enough even for me... Von hier an
verteidigte sich Magnus sehr gut, aber zwei Bauern waren selbst für mich genug.
..} 42. Re3 Rd4 43. Bb5 Kf6 44. Rf3+ (44. Bxa4 bxa3 45. Rxa3 Rd2+ $19) 44...
Ke7 45. Rd3 bxa3 46. bxa3 Rf4+ (46... Rxd3 47. Bxd3 Nc5 48. Bb5 f5 49. Ke3 g5
50. Kd4 Kd6 {should also be winning, but I wanted to keep the rooks. sollte
ebenfalls gewinnen, aber ich wollte die Türme behalten.}) 47. Ke3 f5 48. Rd7+
Kf6 49. Rd6 Re4+ 50. Kf2 Kg5 51. Be8 (51. Bc6 Nc5 $1 $19) 51... Nf4 52. Bb5 Re5
53. Bc4 (53. Bxa4 Re2+ $19) 53... Nh5 {The decisive knight manoeuvre! Black
gives up the a4-pawn, but creates a mating threat! Das entscheidende
Springermanöver! Schwarz gibt den a4-Bauern auf, stellt dafür aber eine
Mattdrohung auf!} 54. Ra6 Nf6 55. Rxa4 Ng4+ 56. Kf1 Kh4 $1 57. Be2 Kg3 58. Bxg4
fxg4 {Because Black's king will go to h2, the endgame is completely hopeless
for White! Da der schwarze König nach h2 gehen wird, ist das Endspiel komplett
hoffnungslos für Weiß!} 59. Rb4 h5 60. a4 Kh2 {White resigned! Weiß gab auf!}

SS: Daniil Dubov, a strong Russian grandmaster, said that you have chances against Magnus because you are not afraid of him. Is this true?

SK: Yes, I am not afraid of him. I would like to focus on chess. Like Bobby Fischer said, “I play against the pieces and not my opponents.”

SL: Jonathon Rowson tweeted, “You are a strong and a solid player, but there is absolutely nothing you can do which Magnus cannot." Is there something that you are better at than Magnus?

SK: It is too early to think about this. I just finished the Candidates. I want to celebrate, take some rest, and then think more deeply about this.

SL: How is your relation with Magnus?

SK: I have absolutely no problems with him. After I won the World Cup, he congratulated me on Skype. We might not be the best of friends but we stay in touch with each other. We speak on Skype if we have some interesting topic, but mainly our discussions happen after the game when we are playing in the same tournament.

Magnus Carlsen, Sergey Karjakin and Peter Svidler at the end of the Qatar Masters 2015

LG: Magnus likes to play off-beat systems. Would it be a problem for you to prepare against him?

SK: If you look at my games in the Candidates it is clear that I was trying to surprise my opponents in the openings. So I think in the match we will both try to surprise each other.

SL: The World Championship Match is announced that it will take place in the New York City. But at the same time it is easier to find sponsors and higher prize money in Russia and also have much more media attention. Would you be interested for a change in venue?

SK: I am sure that it is possible to find some money Russia. But it is not just about me. It is FIDE who decides where to organize the match. If for example they would say that it is possible to search for something else in Russia then great, otherwise I am fine with New York.

LG: Would you feel the pressure of playing in Russia?

SK: As you have seen in this tournament I like such pressure because I have a lot of support and friends who came here to visit and support me. It might be a bit difficult psychologically to play in New York but I would like to concentrate on chess and not think too much about this.

General Topics

LG: In the year 2009 you had several dramatic changes in your life simultaneously: nationality, residence, getting married, new coach. Did that unbalance you psychologically?

SK: Yeah, probably. But after living for a few years in Moscow I am already feeling fine. Now I have two homes, one in Moscow and the other in Crimea.

LG: Russia is one of the biggest chess nations in the world. The interest of getting a Russian World Champion is very high. Even President Putin is personally interested in that. Does that put too much weight on your shoulders?

SK: Actually when there was no pressure, it was worse for me! It was a highly unpleasant situation when I had absolutely no support. However, with the kind of support I have at this moment, the pressure is not at all a problem! I feel some sort of an obligation but I like that feeling very much!

LG: You were in Crimea and now you are in Moscow. You are the perfect person to ask for an opinion on the political tension between Russia and Ukraine. What is your opinion?

SK: I wouldn’t like to talk about any politics at the moment, but I would say that I support my country and my President [Putin] and what he does is right.

Karjakin has always been a supporter of Vladimir Putin

LG: I remember you in Calvia Olympiad 2004, you were specifically interested in getting a badge that would allow you to go to women’s Olympiad!

SK: Of course, I was fourteen! (laughs)

Yes he can do that! Sergey's amazing acrobatic skills, at the age of 14, are enjoyed by Matthias Wullenweber
and Matthias Feist at the ChessBase office in Hamburg [picture by Frederic Friedel]

LG: Why do you think there is only one woman player in top 100 players in the world?

SK: I think Hou Yifan is a great player. I got my congratulations from her yesterday. She is extremely strong and plays as well as her male competitors. When I played against her in Wijk Aan Zee this year I really didn’t feel as if I was facing a woman player. She has a very high level. But I don’t know why she is the only one in top 100. It could be due to a variety of reasons but I don’t know the exact ones.

LG: What are your other interests in life?

SK: First of all it is family, next comes friends. For example, tomorrow we go to the Russian Banya (Sauna) which is actually one of the most famous in Moscow. We will have some food over there so it will be some sort of a party.

LG: Do you follow other sports?

SK: Yes, I follow and support almost all the Russian sportsmen in different fields.

SL: Currently the Russian sports is in some sort of a crisis – the athletes are sidelined, the doping scandals. You are one of the few sportsmen who can do something positive for Russia. What’s your take on this?

SK: Of course, it was very unpleasant and I was very disappointed when all these scandals came to light. But I would stand with our sports people, Sharapova and the others. They have my full support. The doping issues came to light on the first of January this year. Before that all these substances were fine. This means that the players were badly informed. If they knew it they wouldn’t have done it.

LG: To play the World Championship Match you will have to pass through the doping test. The list of doping substances for chess players is the same as that of other sports. Do you think that that should be changed in order to get a specific list only for chess?

SK: I didn’t know that I would have to undergo a doping test. I am not a big expert on this subject but I think that the bigger danger in chess is about cheating than doping.

SL: Your schedule for the next twelve months would involve a lot of preparation. You are committed to play in Norway and after that there is the Olympiad any thoughts on this?

SK: It is better to ask our captain about the Olympiad. If he says I have to play then I have no problem with it, because I always like to play for Russia.

SS: How has life changed since marriage with Galiya and the birth of your son?

SK: It probably didn’t change too much after my marriage but after the birth of my son it changed quite a bit. Now I don’t have so much time as before and also Galiya is always busy. She would normally be with me in the tournament but now she has to take care of the little one. The last time I saw them was the rest day after round nine, when I went home.

Sergey and his mother signing the Friedels guest book at the end of a visit in Hamburg in 2004

SS: You will have to prepare hard for the Candidates tournament and at the same time you have your son with whom you would like to spend time. How will you manage the two?

SK: I have done this until now and I think I can do it in the future as well. Maybe I will have to choose some country with hot weather conditions like Dubai or something similar. I will surely find time for my family and balance the two roles.

LG: Is your life only about chess or much more than that?

SK: It is definitely much more than chess. When you have a wife and baby you always have to think where to get money for my family! (laughs)

LG: Thank you so much Sergey for your time and have a great day!

The smile on his face says it all!

ChessBase has a DVD dedicated to the prodigious Sergey Karjakin authored by Lorin D'Costa: 

Chess Prodigies Uncovered:
Sergey Karjakin

By IM Lorin D'Costa

Languages: English
ISBN: 978-3-86681-379-3
Delivery: Download, Post
Level: Beginner, advanced, tournament player
Price: €27.90 or €23.45 without VAT (for Customers outside the EU) $25.33 (without VAT)

Sergey Karjakin hit the headlines in 2002 when he became the world’s youngest ever grandmaster aged just 12 years and 7 months, a record which shocked the chess world and still stands today.

In this new series with ChessBase, IM Lorin D’Costa investigates the famous prodigy focusing mainly on Sergey’s early career from aspiring nine-year-old up to grandmaster at twelve, culminating in his current world top ten status, and on who his rivals are for the title of world champion.

Not many chess players can say they defeated a grandmaster at age 11, but Sergey did when he defeated Pavel Eljanov in the Ukrainian Team Championships in 2001, and from a level endgame at that! How did Sergey defeat one of the world’s best players, Alexei Shirov, with masterful precision at the age of just 12? How did Sergey grind down the reigning world champion Vladimir Kramnik in 2004 in an opposite coloured bishop ending in the Dortmund playoff aged just 14? Enjoy these and many other scintillating games, along with the new ChessBase interactive format of Question & Answer, to enjoy an interesting documentary about one of the strongest players in modern day chess and his road from young prodigy to grandmaster and beyond!

Video running time: 5 hours.

Order "Chess Prodigies Uncovered: Sergey Karjakin" in the ChessBase Shop

Interesting ChessBase Articles on Sergey Karjakin 

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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