Vitiugov hopes the best is yet to come

by Macauley Peterson
3/21/2019 – Russian GM Nikita Vitiugov recently won the 1st Prague Masters in the Czech capital — one of his best results to date. Afterwards he sat down for a brief interview to recap the success and look ahead to a full 2019 chess calendar that will include the FIDE Grand Prix and presumably the Grand Swiss too. | Photo: Macauley Peterson

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"It's better to be busy than stay home"

Nikita Vitiugov won the 1st Prague Masters by a half point, finishing undefeated with two wins and seven draws for a 2794 performance rating. His seventh round win over Jan-Krzysztof Duda, who was leading at the time, he describes as "huge". After the closing ceremony in Prague we briefly chatted about the tournament what he expects for the coming months.

It has been five years since his peak all time rating of 2747, but the 32-year-old Russian is now knocking on the door of the Top 20 once again.

Vitiugov portrait

Vitiugov at the bar | Photo: Vladimir Jagr


Macauley Peterson:  How did you approach your last round game with a half point lead?

Nikita Vitiugov: I was just trying to be solid, and play a normal game of chess, but of course I understood that a draw very likely is enough to secure first place, so OK, first of all I just wanted to be solid. I played my own game and I think it was an equal game, nothing special happened. 

Jan-Krzysztof Duda, at the moment, is a very strong player, but he might be a Candidate, maybe a World [Championship] challenger in the future. He is good. He proved it for instance in St. Petersburg, during the [World] Blitz Championship. It means the guy has a talent.

Duda

Jan-Krzysztof Duda | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

There was a moment when I definitely could have played better. I played h1 at some moment and allowed him to push b5. After that I won in ten minutes maybe, but it wasn't so easy because he had some chance to get some game. It was a very important win for me but it came quite easily. 

 

21.e3 aiming for b6 was best to stop Black's counterplay

MP: How does this tournament win rank in your career?

NV: One of the good ones but definitely not the best one. Actually, it kind of sounds strange, but I didn't feel a huge tension here. The win came a bit easily. Of course there were some tough moments — for instance I got a bad position with White against Boris [Gelfand], and he could have pressed me more than he did. And then with Sam [Shankland] I was worse, but survived, equalised. These games were the toughest for me because the two games I won weren't something special. I was better prepared in the opening. With Hari[krishna], it wasn't his best game — he got an almost lost position after the opening — and with Jan-Krzysztof I was just much better, and he spent a lot of time and was in time trouble. So I consider this win as a very good one, but I hope my best ones are still to come. 

It was a very strong tournament but there were no absolutely top players here. All the players here are strong but not from the top ten for instance. Without these guys the field doesn't look so tough. It's a very competitive tournament, very equal, but anyway it's easier to play without them. I'm very used to being here in Prague, even in this hotel I've been here many times, so it helps me to feel more comfortable when I'm used to this atmosphere, to Prague, to [the] Czech [Republic].

Vitiugov with trophy

Vitiugov with trophy (click or tap to enlarge) | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

MP: What's next for you? 

NV: Russian Team Championship and then I will start the Grand Prix cycle in Moscow. 

MP:  Do you look forward to the Grand Prix?

NV: At the moment I'm just tired and exhausted, but yeah, it will be my first time in the Grand Prix and what can I say, I'm happy to be there. Finally, finally, there will be only one wildcard, and due to that I was able to qualify by rating. For instance, five years ago I had like 2750 and had zero invitations — absolutely zero — I played three or four tournaments a year, maybe one open and two team events and had almost nothing, and now I got older and rating got down, but it's still enough somehow, I don't know. It still depends on many factors, and somehow these days — last year I played in Karlsruhe, in Shenzen, Olympiad and these days I have plenty of tournaments and I'm really happy of this face. 

MP: So you are also in favour of doing away with wildcards in general?

NV: This is a very bad thing. For me I think it's one of the worst things in chess. There is no such thing in any normal sport. Of course in the football World Cup there is a place for the home team. For instance, only due to that Russia participated in the World Cup last year, but I really don't like this — any criterion is better — because "wildcard" what does it mean it only means that some guy was chosen...just a matter of taste, maybe not only taste but something more. I don't think rating is the absolute criterion, but anything is better than just giving some place to some random guy — not random, maybe a very strong player but why him and not some other player?

Vitiugov

MP: What do you think of the Grand Swiss?

NV: First of all, it's a great idea. It's great that we will have one more very very strong tournament. This [qualification spot for the] Candidates — it's good that there is such an option, but I don't think that it affects dramatically on the calendar or the plans of chess players. Many great chess players will play there and me too probably. So nothing particularly special, but of course it's great that there are more strong events. This year it's going to be very intense, but I can just repeat that I remember years when I had four tournaments a year and I didn't reject any invitation for many years, so I think it's better to be busy than to stay at home. 

MP: Unless your friends and family will miss you?

NV: Well, probably they will miss me but I feel better being busy than staying home and complaining and your know, it's better to be at home for a week, but it's a good week, rather than two months but with a pessimistic mood.

MP: You've been married for how long now? 

NV: (Thinks) Three years. 

MP: You had to think about it for a second! 

NV: Yeah, I always think — yeah, three years. 

MP: So, is your wife happy to see you playing so much? 

NV: I think she's happy to see me happy and I'm happy when I'm playing well, so it's in her own interest — me playing more, and more successfully — than me staying at home.


All Vitiugov's games in Prague

 

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Macauley is Editor in Chief of ChessBase News in Hamburg, Germany, and producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast. He was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.
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