Masterclass with Peter Svidler

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
7/15/2020 – The Swiss Masters Chess Academy sponsored the production of twelve Masterclasses hosted by GM Yannick Pelletier. Some of them were given in German, others in French and a couple in English. One of those given in English had eight-time Russian Champion Peter Svidler as the guest. Among other topics, the extremely eloquent grandmaster from Saint Petersburg talked about his early successes, some of the pivotal moments in his career and that one painful match against Sergey Karjakin at the 2015 World Cup. | Photo: Harry Gielen

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


An extremely strong practical player

Peter Svidler needs no introduction. The 44-year-old from Saint Petersburg won the strong Russian Championship no fewer than eight times, played three Candidates Tournaments and won the World Cup in 2011. These top results are just the best of a long list of victories and strong performances from a lengthy and illustrious career.

Not only that. Svidler has also made a name for himself for his abilities as a commentator. Thus, his skilful way with words made for very enjoyable two and a half hours of conversation with Yannick Pelletier. Once you get a chance, sit back, keep your preferred beverage at hand and enjoy!

We have added timestamps and listed some of the highlights from the video. 

Masterclass with Peter Svidler

0:00:00 A look at Svidler’s early life and the successes of his chess career. He starts by talking about the fact that he has lived pretty much in the same place throughout his entire life:

I moved about ten meters from where I was born. I’m a very stable person in that respect.

He was absolutely sure about what he would do with his life:

As somebody who is now a father of two children myself, I have to say I envy my parents immensely, because basically from the moment my father showed me the pieces and showed me how they moved they did not have to think what to do with me any more, because you literally couldn’t drag me away from the board.

0:15:28 Svidler, the professional chess player, talks about his work ethic:

Peter SvidlerI’m definitely not the most diligent worker in the history of chess, I can say this very confidently.

His biggest strength?

At some point, I actually invested some time in thinking about this, and I realized if there is something that you can say about me as a chess player in general terms is that I’m an extremely strong practical player. I think this describes me the best. [...] But what that means for the purposes of this conversation is that I don’t generally have any good answers, because things that work for me, they work specifically for me. And I don’t really know and I’ve never tried to formalize whether this is something that would be good for everybody or whether this is something that is very specific to how I operate.

The conclusion:

I’m much more of a player of chess rather than a theoretician of chess.

0:26:47 Once the Soviet school of chess is mentioned, Svidler uses the chance to thank the trainer that had the most impact on his career, IM Andrey Lukin. Incidentally, Lukin also worked with Kirill Alekseenko, who is now playing in the Candidates. How did he help Svidler?

Most of the work you do will be work on openings, and even in the mid-90s it was also true, so we did something to make my opening repertoire much more solid. He basically taught me how to play Grünfeld, which has become my absolute main weapon. [...] And he also made me much more serious about chess in general. 

European Club Cup 2018

Svidler led his club, Mednyi Vsadnik, to win the 2018 European Club Cup — note that Kirill Alekseenko is the first from the left | Photo: Niki Riga

0:37:23 Looking back at some of the critical points from his career, Svidler starts by mentioning the 1994 World U18 Championship in Hungary. Already at an early age, he demonstrated he preferred dynamic play over positional grinds in his game against Giorgi Kacheishvili:


Svidler explains that he was already on his own at this point, but that he understood that he needed to do something active immediately to put up a fight — thus 10...c5. Later on in the same game, he would play a move that he feels proud about, 17...Bg4 combined with the idea of ...b5. It was the kind of win a Grünfeld player lives for.

[All games mentioned are available in the replayable board at the end of this article.]

0:58:46 That same year, Svidler won the Russian Championship for the first time, getting a great boost of confidence. Things could have gone very differently though, had Vasily Yemelin converted the superior position he got out of the opening against Svidler:


“It’s move 10 and I’m completely lost here”, noted Svidler. His 10...e5 gave him enough counterchances to avoid losing immediately and a draw was signed after 26 moves. Svidler and Yemelin — who became a mathematician — are still close friends.

1:07:27 In the same Russian Championship, he beat the very strong Andrei Sokolov in the final round. Svidler considers this to be one of the most important games from his career. Sokolov could have continued playing from the following position, but resigned immediately instead:


Svidler was walking around the playing hall and noted that a win would give him outright first place. Once he came back to his board, he was surprised by Sokolov’s resignation and said:

I was so shocked and also so relieved that I don’t have to convert this into a full point that I shook his hand and said, ‘Thank you’. It’s really not something that people do. I think it’s very kind of awkward and stupid (laughs). 

1:24:31 How important is it to be mentally strong?

When I wake up before an important game and I somehow discover that I’m not worried at all, this is probably one of the very early signs that it will not go well. Generally, I think it’s very important for me to be nervous, but sort of the right amount of nervous.

1:39:33 Svidler talks about his achievements in 2011, “perhaps an [even] better year than 1997” for his career. At the World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk, he played a truly stunning move:


After having miscalculated early in the game, Svidler fought back and created strong threats against White’s king with his great bishops on b7 and b6. Here he found 26...Re2, when 27.Qxe2 would be responded by 27...Qg3. Kamsky played 27.Qc3 and resigned two moves later. This is what Svidler had to say about his rook manoeuvre:

This is definitely the most beautiful single move I ever made on a chessboard, and definitely one of the fondest memories I have about playing chess in all of my reasonably long career.

1:58:08 But Svidler not only talks about the greatest moments of his career. He also remembers the time he lost the chance to become the first player to win the World Cup for a second time. In the final against Sergey Karjakin, he stunned by winning games 1 and 2. A draw in game 3 would have been enough to secure the title, but his meltdown — and eventual loss — in that game resulted in a painful 6:4 loss after tiebreaks. This was the critical point of the entire match:


Instead of playing the strong 28.Qc3, which he probably would have found 99 out of 100 times in other circumstances, he blundered with 28.Rxf2. He could have saved the draw still, but could not recover from the shock and ended up losing. His description of that moment:

I think until this day this remains the most traumatic experience of my entire chess career. [...] I will not wish the kind of an evening that I spent after that game on my mortal enemy, this much I can tell you.

2:15:38 Pelletier and Svidler discuss how important it is to feel that you can get a victory and how having done it before gives you a lot of confidence. Or as Svidler put it:

I think at some point my successes in the Russian Championship were explained by my successes in the Russian Championship.

All games mentioned in the Masterclass



Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register