Kasimdzhanov after ending collaboration with Caruana: “It has a lot to do with the pandemic”

by André Schulz
9/2/2021 – Fabiano Caruana and his second Rustam Kasimdzhanov formed a very successful team. However, their best year together (2018) ended in disappointment after many successes. The last Candidates Tournament did not go as desired either. “The pandemic year did not do our relationship any good”, says Rustam Kasimdzhanov. Now Fabiano Caruana and Rustam Kasimdzhanov are going their separate ways. | Photo: Austin Fuller

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Interview with Rustam Kasimdzhanov

The Caruana/Kasimdzsanov team was very successful, but it no longer exists...

That’s right. I resigned as Fabiano Caruana’s coach or second.

How did that come about?

We worked together for six years, at times very successfully, but at the end it became very difficult.

Why was that?

Well, of course it has a lot to do with the pandemic. That was, or is, a difficult time for everyone. For us chess players especially. We travel around the world, from tournament to tournament, and it was suddenly no longer possible, or the circumstances became complicated. For example, after arriving, you had to go into quarantine for ten days. Then there were long breaks in between. The last Candidates Tournament lasted 13 months due to the interruption. These are difficult conditions. The pandemic year did not do our cooperation any good.

Were you present at both halves of the tournament in Yekaterinburg?

Yes, exactly.

When did your collaboration with Caruana begin?

The first sporadic meetings took place at the end of 2013. In 2014, I also worked with Sergey Karjakin for a while. From 2015 onwards, I only worked for Fabiano.

Fabiano Caruana, Rustam Kasimdzhanov

Fabiano Caruana sharing a laugh with Rustam Kasimdzhanov at the 2019 Grand Swiss on the Isle of Man | Photo: Maria Emelianova

Before that you had already worked very successfully with Vishy Anand for several years.

Yes, from 2008 to 2012, in three World Championship matches, which we won.

How is the work of a second with such top players? Were you always with Caruana at all the tournaments?

It developed more and more in that direction. In the beginning, we also collaborated remotely, i.e. sharing ideas and analyses via the internet, but then Caruana’s environment also wanted me to be present more and more.

Who is the environment in this case?

At that time, Lawrence Trent worked for Fabiano. But Caruana’s parents both have a very big influence. 

Presence means that you accompanied Fabiano Caruana to the tournaments, in the USA, in Europe, etc., so you were always there.

Yes, or we prepared the tournaments together beforehand. For the tournaments in the US, we met at Caruana’s place in Saint Louis. Before tournaments in Europe, he came to my house. Sometimes we met in Madrid — Caruana’s parents own a house there.

You were a very successful team. What was your best time?

That’s right. Our best time was between March and October 2018, when Fabiano won almost everything, the Candidates Tournament, the Norway Chess Tournament, the Grenke Classic. He made significant gains in the ratings list and was only a few points behind Carlsen. If he had won a single game in the World Championship match in London, Fabiano would have overtaken Carlsen in the world ranking.

How did you deal with the loss at the World Championship match against Carlsen in London?

Badly, it was a big disappointment. That’s especially true for me. Fabiano was certainly disappointed too, but he is not the type to let such things out. He didn’t talk about the competition for a long time. Maybe that also affected our cooperation.

On the way to the match in London

After the 2018 World Championship match, did you consider ending the collaboration?

Yes, I at least thought about it. During those years, I often didn’t see my family for weeks. But then I continued after all.

In the Candidates Tournament in Yekaterinburg, Caruana was the rating favourite, but then things didn’t go well for him. What went wrong?

Right. He didn’t play well in both parts, for different reasons. In the first part, the tension was already enormously high, due to the beginning of the pandemic — you could see the terrible pictures from Italy, for example. There was a lot of uncertainty. Before the tournament, there were discussions among the players about whether to play at all. Maybe it would have been better to wait for the tournament to start. But everyone was already there. It was a very difficult situation. Maybe it was too much pressure. There were the high expectations as well. Fabiano actually plays best in tournaments where there is no pressure. In other circumstances, however, it depends.

At the resumption, more than a year later, he was behind and absolutely had to win the first game. He managed to do that. But after winning the first game, he strangely had no more energy.

At the Candidates Tournament | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Were you unemployed between the two parts of the Candidates Tournament during the pandemic break?

Not at all. I was giving private coaching and commentating tournaments. I was busy.

Does your termination of the collaboration have anything to do with Caruana’s poor performance in Yekaterinburg?

Only indirectly. If he had won, I would certainly have continued. You don’t finish a job in the middle of it before it’s finished. Another World Championship match would certainly have been part of the process.

And how are things going between you two now?

It’s strange. It’s like a divorce. When you work together intensively for six years, a special personal relationship develops. You can’t say the collaboration is purely business. We were together too often and too long for that. And there are still a number of unresolved issues, just like with a divorce. There are still a number of things to be clarified. Various things. I know a lot from Caruana’s opening preparation, I know many analyses and variations. We still have to work out how to deal with it.

You live in a small town near Bonn, on the other side of the Rhine in Ruppichterroth. Were you also affected by the disastrous flood?

My family and I weren’t. We live on the mountain. But down in the Siegtal there was flooding and not far away, in Hennef, there was also some devastation.

What are your next plans? What is it like to be at home all the time?

It’s a bit strange for all of us. We all have to get used to the fact that I’m back home so often now. Of course, I’ve already received a few requests to work as a coach and second, also from top players. I was recently at a nice chess event in Tashkent and had a few talks. There are great talents in Uzbekistan, players who can go far to the top. I can certainly be of help to young players.

Thank you very much for the conversation.

The Benoni is back in business

On top level the Benoni is a rare guest but with this DVD Rustam Kasimdzhanov this might change. New ways and approaches in most lines and countless improvements of official theory will show you how to play this opening at any level with success.


André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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