"The strategy was not to lose" - Eteri Kublashvili interviews Ian Nepomniachtchi

by Eteri Kublashvili
5/6/2021 – Ian Nepomniachtchi won the Candidates Tournament 2020/2021, and in November he will play against Magnus Carlsen for the world title. In an extensive interview with Eteri Kublashvili after the Candidates, Nepomniachtchi talked about his preparations for the second part of the Candidates and revealed why he once was so frustrated during his preparations that he threw his "iPhone into the wall". He also talked about his key to success, Magnus Carlsen - "a very nice dude" - and why "there is never enough time to prepare". | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Ian, you won one of the most important events in every chess player’s career and qualified for the World Championship Match. It’s a great achievement, congratulations! So, how do you feel now? 

Thank you. I feel really exhausted because it was an incredible tournament in many, many senses of the word. First of all, I guess it took 400 days from start to finish, it is kind of outstanding. Well, when you read about chess history, players were travelling by sea, from America to Europe and so on… In our times, you know, it’s not romantic at all because of the global pandemic thing.

I think the most difficult part was not playing chess, but these 13 months between the first and second legs, during which one somehow needed to keep one’s focus, needed to prepare constantly thinking about other guys: what were they doing, how did they prepare, what were they going to play, because basically, it’s one year between the tournaments and only seven games to prepare for. So, you should be ready that you’re going to face completely different players in a completely different situation.


Yes, it was a very long and nervous period of expectation and negotiations, but still, in one of his interviews, Anatoly Karpov said that this one-year break would do you good because probably you would save more energy for the second part. Do you agree with this? 

Well, especially now when I know the result – yes. Indeed, I’m not the person who should whine about this long break, since in the end, I won the whole thing. However, I’d say that this also would help other guys, because, you know, the Candidates Tournament is a very difficult competition, the stakes are very high, and there’s only one place, so it doesn’t matter if you finish on +1, or +2, or earn some rating: you should score the maximum amount of points, you should take the first place. Basically, you can earn some rating, you can play some good games, but all this will never make you happy unless you win the Candidates.

Complete interview at the website of the FIDE...


Eteri Kublashvili is a chessplayer and reports and photographs from all official tournaments for the Russian Chess Federation.


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Minnesota Fats Minnesota Fats 5/11/2021 09:44
@lajosarpad i see Carlsen as the best chess player the last 6 or 7 years.... not the 'title World champion'. But the BEST player.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 5/10/2021 06:47
@Minnesota Fats You can decide to avoid watching the world championship match. However, I do observe that Carlsen is often called "the world champion", so people seem to care about the title.
adbennet adbennet 5/8/2021 05:28
No, Radjabov had a different reason for not playing. For now there is prestige because the top players want to be world champion, and the top players want to be world champion because there is prestige. But we will know it has changed for them when the top players in general (meaning many or eventually all) decline to play in the candidates.

Carlsen in a way is "forced" to care because his main pursuers care very much. Also the sponsors and public care. He is in a difficult spot because his opinion about the relative unimportance of the world championship is a minority opinion. So his pride will not let him lose this match. Just as once he declined to be a challenger, at some point he might decline to defend his title. I believe if the candidates becomes less competitive, as in my first paragraph, then Carlsen will simply abdicate. In that scenario everybody would acknowledge that he was obviously superior, so there would be no loss of pride. But that time is not yet.
Minnesota Fats Minnesota Fats 5/7/2021 11:46
@adbennet is your last sentence related to Radjabov's withdrawal?

@adbennet, you made a good point, albeit coloured i guess with your opinion . but well elaborated. and you still got my point, thanks :)
adbennet adbennet 5/7/2021 11:13
@Minnesota Fats - Well it's a fair question. I believe Carlsen himself thinks Elo/rating is more important than the championship. My opinion doesn't count for much, but I believe the championship is more important than Elo. But this follows from a lifetime of watching sports and pseudo-sports which have a lengthy season capped by a winner-takes-all championship, usually in a knockout format. In Olympic sports there is even a four year cycle of events, and the Olympic gold is even "more" important than an annual championship would be. Anybody who arrives at the FIDE championship match thinking it doesn't matter is going to lose to a player who thinks it does matter. When *both* players state they don't care if they win, that will be when I change my mind about the importance of the championship. But we would see the signs well before that, for example when the top players generally choose not to participate in the candidates.
Minnesota Fats Minnesota Fats 5/7/2021 10:00
@genem that's my whole idea about my question, is the World Champion match still relevant these days? Winning a match and declaring yourself a champion of chess, while another player is winning tournaments after tournaments but lost one match (suppose Carlsen lost), would it affect your view on Carlsen, who wins everything ? A one Chess Champion match has lost its relevance these days anno 2021. My thoughts. We should all wake up!
genem genem 5/7/2021 09:37
@Minnesota Fats wrote: { "I just wonder even if Nepo wins, will chess folks believe he is stronger and better than Carlsen?" }

Wrong question. The right question is whether chess folks will believe a Nepo victory over Carlsen would make Nepo the deserving holder of the title - Match World Chess Champion (MWCChamp). Unless there is some weirdness, like more bogus Pottygate accusations, the answer is Yes Nepo would deserve, because Nepo won the MWCC match.

The distraction of asking whether Nepo is really 'stronger and better' than Carlsen would be both vague and irrelevant. The phrase 'stronger and better' probably just means 'higher rating'. If rating would be used to denegrate any MWCC outcome where the lower rated player won, then there would be no purpose to having a MWCC title.
adbennet adbennet 5/7/2021 07:51
Great interview by both parties, thanks for the link.
dumkof dumkof 5/7/2021 01:32
@Minnesota Fats

"Does Nepo really pose a threat to Carlsen?"

Sure he does! Nepo is possibly the biggest human threat against Carlsen. He is the only player to have a positive score against Carlsen. Once this score was very dominant, now it's less dominant.
All the previous successes, tournament victories, highest ratings you've mentioned won't help Carlsen in a match. Everything will be decided on the board. Nepo is in top form and in rising mode, so he has very good chances to win the match.

"I just wonder even if Nepo wins, will chess folks believe he is stronger and better than Carlsen?"

Sure, they will. That's what a match is being played for. Nepo has proven himself to be the best challenger, for many years. He deserves highest respect.

Let's hope the match will be decided in the classical phase. A tie and faster games would only ruin all the beauty of the classical format.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 5/7/2021 12:27
"This may sound too lofty, but, you know, it is important for me as well to play for my compatriots out of patriotic feelings."

I can respect this sentence a lot. I will definitely root for him.

@Minnesota Fats Carlsen drew his last two matches and won in the rapid playoff. His previous two wins were not nearly as convincing as his wins against Anand. If Nepo wins the match in classical chess, I believe virtually everybody will agree with me that he is a deserving champion. If he wins in the tiebreaks, then his claim for dominance will always have some strong counter-arguments. If he loses, then Carlsen will remain the best.
Minnesota Fats Minnesota Fats 5/6/2021 10:50
Does Nepo really pose a threat to Carlsen? it might just be challenge for him, but Carlsen is dealing with alot of challenges: Best Classic chess player, best blitz chess player/rapid player, best blind fold chess player (amber tournament), most tournament wins , highest elo's ever .... I just wonder even if Nepo wins, will chess folks believe he is stronger and better than Carlsen?