Interview with Vladimir Kramnik

by ChessBase
5/8/2014 – You can always count on him to be informative, open, candid, honest. The 38-year-old former World Champion, now a family father with two children, looks at art, beauty, life and chess in this 13-minutes interview, conducted by Brazilian video filmer Clara Cavour in Paris, just after Vladimir Kramnik's return to his family after a month of tournaments. We have a full transcription.

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Interview with Vladimir Kramnik

Conducted by Clara Cavour

The author writes (in Portugese): I got in touch with Vladimir Kramnik on the eve of traveling to Europe. Two days later I was facing one of the greatest chess players in history. We scheduled the interview in a conference room of a Paris hotel. He had just arrived in the city where he lives with his wife, a daughter and a son.

Kramnik, now almost a veteran of chess, defeated Garry Kasparov at the height of his reign, winning the World Championship in 2000. He held the title until 2007, when he lost it to Viswanathan Anand of Indian. Talking as fast as his ability to calculate possibilities, the Russian GM spoke about art, beauty, life and chess.


Every top player has his own style of play – like painters. You see a painting and say, okay, this is Modigliani, or Raphael, because you cannot confuse them with anyone else. It's the same with chess, which means it is also an art. Chess players are all slightly different and have their own clear way of seeing chess, and you can see it when you play through their games.

I am from an artistic family: my father is a painter, my mother is a musician. When I started playing chess, in the Soviet Union, chess was very popular and was one of the most elite artistic professions, maybe even more than classical music or painting. It was a very respectable thing to do. That was one of the reasons I started to play chess, and continue to play. Otherwise I probably would be in art anyway, another kind of art, probably painting or music, although I am quite ungifted in both areas.

I don't consider myself a genius – seriously, and I am sincere with you, I don't think I am a genius. Of course I am gifted at chess and have quite good analytical capabilities, and certain things where I am better than average. But you don't need to be a genius to be a top chess player. It's about many other qualities, about strength of character and, most importantly, the ability to learn. If you are learning very quickly in certain areas it means you have talent. The ability to learn is what I notice in all top players – but also top musicians and other people of art. In their area they learn in seconds, and that is what is called talent.

For me, personally, a beautiful game of chess is a game where everything was very logical, very well built and performed, from the beginning to the end. That is the highest definition of mastery in chess. When millimetre to millimetre everything is perfect. So for me it is perfection. For many other players it's more imagination, sometimes strange and even wrong decisions, something absurd or abstract. But I am more a classicist in chess, and also in art, where I like classical art of the 17th century. I like the beauty and the purity of the game.

Compared to life chess is very strict. In life you can be lucky, you can be born in a very rich family, you can do crazy things and still get away with it. But in chess you will not – you are going to lose. In chess you have to be very disciplined in your thinking. There are a lot of things in chess that are similar to life: you have to understand that sometimes you have to sacrifice a little bit of something to get other advantages, you have to see the whole board and the whole picture, otherwise you will never be a good chess player. In life it is also similar.

My daughter is five now, and I have started to teach her chess – my son is only one year old, a bit young yet. Most parents give their kids at five or seven whatever, swimming, football, to develop their bodies, their physical abilities. But in my opinion mental ability is more important, because in physical you can catch up later, but mental, especially in this period between five and twelve, when your brain, your patterns of thinking are building, it is very important to work on it. Chess is not the only way, but it is one of the very good tools to develop the intellect of your child.

Chess is like any other sport – at some stage it becomes quite difficult to perform. After forty it becomes quite difficult, because chess is very energy consuming. I can give you a simple example: if somebody tries to solve some not very complicated mathematical tasks for four hours in a row, I can assure you that you will be exhausted, as if you have been in a fitness room. Mental activity is also tiring and takes energy. It is a different kind of energy, but still you need a lot of it. I remember when I played my World Championship match in 2000 against Garry Kasparov, which took around three weeks – we played sixteen games, every second day – I think I lost ten kilos during the match, without being on a diet or anything. It was just very energy consuming. That is why getting older is not a plus for chess players, because physically you have less energy when you are forty than when you are twenty. It is an issue when you are playing young opponents. I am 38 and a kind of veteran in chess, and I know that playing young opponents I am giving them a certain handicap in a physical sense. On the other hand I have experience, which is helpful, and maybe a little stronger character.

I am interested in many fields, so I am sure I will find my way around life without chess. But at the moment I still enjoy chess, although now I have a family and less time for chess, unlike most of my young opponents. But anyway, chess is not the most important thing in life. Private life, private relations, family, kids is more important. I am happy the way things are, and I understand that the day will come when I will not be able to compete with the best players in the world on equal terms.

I am not a typical chess player, not a typical sportsman – in fact I am quite surprised that I managed to achieve quite a lot in chess, because I am not a sportsman inside. I don't care about competing, about being the best. For me it is never personal, a game of chess. Most of them – Magnus, Garry, Karpov – they are crazy about winning in anything they do, even if they play cards or whatever. I really never care that much, in tennis or football – I just enjoy playing. Of course in chess I care about winning, but it is not a goal, it's not a complete must. I was never fixated on the result. That is very unusual for chess. Most of the players are very determined to win. My main motivation is to do my best, to do something which is on the edge of my limits.

When I got a chance to play Kasparov in the World Championship match for me it was a challenge, the highest possible challenge. He was not only the best player at the time, he was also on top of his rating, really at the complete top of his career. That was for me a challenge, and that I managed to win was for me unexpected. I knew I could do it but I was not sure, but this is probably why I managed to do it, because it forced me to give everything. It was not about winning, so much, but rather a challenge. What is important for me is the inside challenge. That is my way of life, of playing chess, and it will probably be with me forever, I guess.

I have to play a lot of tournaments, and I am often away from home. That is a problem, because I have small kids who miss me. My daughter cries when I am leaving and is very happy when I come back – for instance today I saw her again after one month of travelling, and it was a big, big moment for us, and I will now be going for a walk with her, I promised. So it is a problem, I guess, but what can you do? I try to explain to her that if you are together with a person who is doing something at a high level, whatever it is – chess, business, art, whatever – usually they are travelling a lot and are not 100% there with you. But probably it is quite interesting to be with such a person. But all in all we have a very happy family.

  • Source: Clara Cavour web site – where you can find lots of similarly interesting video interviews and portraits, in many different languages.

Clara Cavour

I am an independent Brazilian filmmaker, 31, and I have a project for my whole life: to make filmed portraits of people of the world, little films about people of the present time.

I still do this on my own, investing in the project and using the trips that my work as a freelance camera and director allows me to do. For the interview with Vladimir Kramnik, and also with Silvia Whitman at the Shakespeare and Company Bookshop in Paris, I travelled one week before my work started to do these portraits.

I'm planning to travel and do portraits of other people. It is an endless project, but can be disseminated on the web, on television, and I don't know where else. Good to know it can also be here, for example, on the ChessBase news page.

For now the portraits are on my personal website and on facebook.

Reports about chess: tournaments, championships, portraits, interviews, World Championships, product launches and more.


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