Kramnik on his new second and his new manager

by ChessBase
1/21/2009 – Curious? In part two of his interview Vladimir Kramnik graciously agrees to talk about his lost World Championship match against Anand – what went wrong – and reveals a new member on his team. He also speaks about the separation from his long-years manager Carsten Hensel, and whom he has appointed to replace him. Kudos if you can guess both persons before reading this interview.

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Interview with Vladimir Kramnik – part two

The following conversation was carried out by phone on December 28th, late in the evening. In the first part of the interview we discussed the birth of his daughter the night before, and the problems with FIDE's Grand Prix cycle. Kramnik was especially disturbed by the constant changes to the system and by the unfair distribution of privileges. Essentially he proposed that nobody get any special privileges in their quest for the World Championship title, and certainly not himself. ("I am ready to start at ANY stage of the world championship... I would be ready to play in the Khanty-Mansiysk World Cup or anything"). He also proposed sending a questionnaire to all top players to see what they think. We are in the process of doing this and will report on the results as soon as they are available.

We now come to part two of the interview. Note that we have tried to keep the transcription of the audio recording as close to the original as possible, in order to retain the flavour of the original conversation.

Frederic Friedel: Can we talk about the World Championship in Bonn?

Vladimir Kramnik: Sure we can, no problem, although a lot has been said about it already.

Well, my impression before the match was maybe Anand can outplay him, but preparation will be decisive, and Kramnik’s preparation is awesome. However, it was the other way around: Anand had out-prepared you! How was that possible?

It is possible. In the last years Vishy has become much more serious with his preparation. And it was a bit of a legend that my preparation is the best, maybe after Kasparov, and Vishy’s preparation was a bit shaky. That was true maybe in the nineties, but things are changing, and Vishy clearly did a lot of work. Okay, I too was working a lot, but maybe in the past year my work was not, how should we say, efficient, for a certain number of reasons. One year ago I seemed to have a very good preparation with a lot of novelties, and all of a sudden this year was not very successful. Perhaps I chose the wrong direction, or the wrong method of working. Anyway, it is clear that he out-prepared me, and in this kind of match and at such a level, where the difference between the two players is so small, and the match is very short, that is decisive. If this should not happen again in the future I will have to analyse very carefully why it happened, draw certain conclusions.

You haven’t drawn them already? Anand was clearly dominating in the match overall…

Well, it may have looked like he was dominating, but you know when things are going in a wrong direction it is difficult to show your best. It is easier to play well when you have good positions, which actually I was able to show in the second half of the match. Once I started getting decent positions I was not playing worse than him. But it is another story, when in every second game you are one hour behind on the clock, and you do not have a very pleasant position. It is much more difficult to produce brilliant play in these circumstances. That is why I actually don’t know if I played badly or not. I simply cannot be sure, because I had almost no chance to show good play, because I was not in very nice positions, mostly short of time, getting nervous. Of course Anand was better in this match, that is clear, but I think the opening part played a very big role. It is his achievement, and I can only congratulate him because he did a very good job. I am not complaining, it was only my fault, and I just have to learn my lessons from it. I am still very eager to play at the highest level, and I believe that I can do this. The end of the match showed that I can even beat Vishy when he is playing very well. So I am not pessimistic about my chances in the future, but it is clear that I have to think seriously about my openings, in order to change the trend. Because the trend has not been in my favour lately. It is clear that lately I am having less new ideas than Anand or Topalov, for example. They have started to overtake me in preparation. So if I have ambitions – and I do have ambitions – I need to eliminate this gap.

And how do you plan to do that? With computers, or with human seconds?

I guess as always it should be both. You know, I have always worked a lot, and for my match with Vishy I probably worked more than ever. But it seems that the method was wrong.

And that would be, specifically…?

I have some ideas, but if you don’t mind I will not share it with the general public or my opponents. I know for myself what I did wrong and what I must do differently. I’m pretty sure I know that quite accurately.

So you are not completely discouraged or disheartened, and you think you can come back and play for the world championship? In a new match against Anand do you feel, honestly, that you would have good chances?

I think I would have my chances, definitely. I know that when I am at my best and well prepared I can beat anyone. I am still sure about it. The next time, if it happens, and if I manage to qualify, I will have learned my lesson. I mean I have experience, an age advantage, and also now I have one more person who is helping me and rooting for me (laughs).

The new member in Kramnik's team: Daria Vladimirovna, just thirteen (days that is, in this picture)

Okay, I understand – a big advantage. Really. Now the final subject and then I’ll let you go back to your new teammate. Carsten Hensel: you suddenly, to the surprise of many people, decided to part company with your manager of so many years. Why?

It was basically a mutual decision, which we took some time ago. We had quite a long collaboration – since 2001, so actually for more than seven years – and we went through I would say a lot of historical things and a lot of difficult moments, like Elista, like my match with Peter Leko, which did not go so well. And a lot of chess politics, like Prague and all those things. The collaboration with Carsten has been a very big part of my career, but everything at some point comes to an end.

But why break up? Was there some specific reason?

Well, I just had a feeling… [thinks] No, there is no very clear reason. I am perfectly fine with Carsten, we have very good relations and there are absolutely no personal problems at all between us. But I had a feeling I would like to change some things in my life. Actually we had been talking about it sometime in summer 2008, and especially after Bonn I started to get the feeling more and more, and we talked again and came to the final conclusion that we should do it. First of all Carsten is getting more and more in the organisation of different events, and he is still a manager of Peter Leko… You know in the past few years I had to have a manager, I simply had no time, playing all the world championships, the match with the computer, and so on. I had no time so to say to communicate with the outside world. This was something I missed. I am very happy to talk to you, and to talk to organisers of chess tournaments. I like to communicate. I know so many people and have good relations. Now at least I have time, which I did not have for a while. Also I just had a general feeling that I needed some kind of fresh start. After all the recent events, and also taking into consideration my child, who will definitely change my life quite a lot, and taking into consideration that I will not spent all my time preparing for another WC match in the near future, at least not this year, I had a feeling I should change something in my life and break the routine. Now I have more time for the “outside world”. I will not have to prepare so intensely this year…

Kramnik's former manager and now UEP consultant Carsten Hensel


Yes, sure. First of all I already have some serious preparation left from my match with Anand, so I can take, well not totally a year off, but sort of, and so I decided that it would be interesting for me, and even refreshing, to be my own manager, at least for one year.

Ahh, I was just about to ask: who is your new manager? The answer is Vladimir Kramnik!

Right, it is not that I am changing my manager, I am just quitting my manager and taking over myself. That is a different story. Of course I guess that for some time people might send some things through Carsten, and of course we agreed that he would definitely pass this information on to me, but basically in the future people should contact me directly.

One thing puzzles me. Carsten earned you a LOT of money – I mean the computer match, the world championships and so on were extremely well funded. And I believe he was the person who found all the sponsors, or was closely involved in finding them.

Yes, that is true, he basically found most of them…

So you are giving up a sure source of income and might lose quite a bit of money by managing yourself?

Ahhh, well, okay. You know, Frederic, nowadays the last thing I think about is money. If I would be thinking about money maybe I would not be playing chess but occupying some nice comfortable place in Gazprom somewhere [laughs]. Believe me, that would be much more profitable. No, it is really not about money at all. Yes, I understand that I might earn less now than before, but I am not really concerned about that. I am more concerned about achieving something, and my next important goals are things like becoming number one in the world, or to become again World Champion, or best of all both together.

So money is really secondary for you?

You know, I think it is the same for all top players, or for most of them. I think you have to love chess first and foremost, and you have to have another desire than just to earn money. I am sure you have to have the desire to be the best, to improve your play, to reach perfection, because this is by far the most important thing in your chess career. If you think primarily about money, if it is your main goal, I am absolutely convinced that you can never reach the very top. You can achieve good results, but you can never be right at the top. This requires something else. And for this reason I am sure that for everyone who achieved the top position money was never in the first place. This is what I think. I am not trying to be a holy person, and you don’t have to make me a saint at the next Vatican meeting. I think what I feel in this matter is pretty normal. After all, it is easier to have this kind of attitude towards money, when you have enough of it.

Thank you for a very profound conclusion to our interview. And great to know that we will be in touch more frequently in the future.

© ChessBase GmbH, Hamburg, Germany

We will be passing on all comments and messages we receive on parts one and two of this interview to Vladimir Kramnik, who is curious to know what the chess public people think about his position. We may also publish excerpts of the feedback. To send in congratulation or comments please use our feedback form which has a permanent link on the left side of the news pages. Since messages are sorted and filtered automatically you should enter "Kramnik interview" in the subject line.

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