Topalov: 'I think this is a very good time for chess'

by ChessBase
3/25/2008 – Bulgarian GM Veselin Topalov is one of the most interesting players in world chess. His participation in a tournament guarantees uncompromising aggressive chess on at least one board. In November he is scheduled to play a World Championship qualifier against US grandmaster Gata Kamsky. Yuri Vasiliev spoke to Topalov about his general feelings about chess. Sport Express interview.

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Veselin Topalov: “Kasparov’s retirement helped everybody”

Interview with Yuri Vasiliev

My conversation with ex-world champion Topalov, which took place immediately after the end of the category 21 tournament in Linares, went beyond the subject of the battle in the tournament itself.

Yuri Vasiliev: Several top players do not like moving between continents during this event. What do you think about it?

Bulgarian GM Veselin Topalov during the tournament in Linares

Veselin Topalov: There is no problem. The organisers invite the players, and if you don’t want to play, you are free to decline. It was not easy for me to adapt after the move from Mexico, because, unlike some of the other top players, I fight to the full in every game. But I am satisfied. Firstly I ended the Mexico half on a plus score, and then did the same in the Linares part. But most of all I am pleased with the fact that I played all 14 games flat out.

Several of these games you played at a rating level over 3000, but in others, you played much more weakly. What caused these lapses in your play?

When you win a good game, you feel that your best form has returned, and you then play for a win in the next game. But the position does not always allow you to do so, and this leads to failures.

Always uncompromising: Veselin Topalov on the soccer field

So are you starting to feel that you are once again playing like you did in San Luis, and can crush everyone again?

I would say this: it is not always right to play for a win in every game. At certain moments I simply lose my head, as they say, I just want so much to win. And this sometimes leads to defeats. I need to control myself better.

Everyone is talking about Carlsen at the moment. What do you think of him? Who does he remind you of?

Magnus plays beyond his years. Excellent positional understanding, good endgame play. Ruslan Ponomariev, when he won the [FIDE World Championship] title at 18, had a similar style.

Ruslan became champion at 18; could Magnus do the same?

He simply won’t have the chance to become world champion before 2011. The system does not allow it. Everyone is talking about having a stable system for playing the world championship. Well, here it is. But the problem is that the player who shows the best results one year, may not do so in a year or two’s time. But even so, Magnus will have his chance to fight for the world title.

Then and now: Topalov in Wijk aan Zee 2008 in front of a portrait by Fred Lucas in 2004

The length of the current world championship system has been widely discussed. Morozevich recently said that it was not even like this in the days of Botvinnik and Smyslov…

It seems to me that the system they have just got rid of was more dynamic. When any player rated over 2700 could challenge the champion to a match, if he could raise the minimum prize fund. This would have been a chance for players of the class of Aronian, Radjabov and Carlsen, who have the support of their national federations.

But this system was widely opposed. Is it right that you only get the chance of the title if you have access to money?

If you recall history, Capablanca only got to play Lasker because he could guarantee a decent prize fund. Otherwise Capablanca could never have played a match with Lasker. And why did Nimzowitsch and Rubinstein never get the chance to play for the world championship? Simply because they did not have sponsors, to use the modern term. When people nostalgically talk about the “good old days”, they forget that in those days money played a bigger role than it does today. It seems to me that results, plus sponsorial support, would be a better method. Ten years ago, Kasparov suggested having a rating limit on challengers – no less than 2750.

Topalov sticks out his tongue jokingly during a simultaneous display against journalists, on one of the free days during the tournament at Sofia 2006. He scored 100% against them.

Kasparov made many interesting suggestions. But he also found himself up against the “united majority”. Do you miss Garry?

Strange as it may sound, I think that Garry’s retirement was a positive thing for the remaining players. The point is not that he was very strong, and retired when he could still have won the title back, but that he had always dominated all the attention of the mass media and sponsors. Without Kasparov, a tournament was of no interest to anyone. But as soon as he retired, the attention of the press, and those interested in putting money into chess, switched to the remaining players. Have you noticed how many new tournaments are springing up nowadays? This never happened in Kasparov’s day. In countries where there is a serious contender for the title, they organise tournaments to support him. When Kasparov retired, many people were afraid that interest in chess would wane, but in fact, it has grown.

Although the new FIDE Grand Prix has been criticised for its small prize fund, the project itself is nice, even though lacking the four top players. Why did you refuse to take part?

I think that in setting up their Grand Prix, FIDE are just copying the Grand Slam. I refused to play because, firstly, one has to guarantee to play in four tournaments, which is not only a big commitment but also interferes with my own plans. And since I always play only for first place, with my style, 100% effort in every game, it would just be too much to play in the Grand Prix and the Grand Slam at the same time. The aim of winning both would just not be realistic, and I am not used to setting myself any other aims.

In the Grand Prix, they will use the “Sofia rules”, forcing the players to fight in every game. This fits with your approach. But world champion Vishy Anand, in a press conference after Linares, said that there is no need to change anything in the rules. The world champion tends to dictate the fashion, so do you think that chess is threatened by a return to pragmatism?

If you are being paid good money, and you turn up to the game, just to play five original moves and be photographed, that does not look very nice, to say the least. Those who behave this way do it because they are afraid of losing, or want to save their energy. But sponsors do not like short draws, and they damage the image of chess. So FIDE were quite right to impose the Sofia Rules in the Grand Prix. If the position is drawn, that will be clear at the end of the game. The Sofia Rules are not against draws, they are against short draws.

Colorful: Veselin Topalov in a trendy t-shirt

Your match with Kamsky will probably also be played in the spirit of these rules, since Gata is another who always fights to the very end.

Yes, Gata is a great fighter! Winning the World Cup, beating all the top players in the process, was a great achievement. And he did not only win, but did so convincingly. I was very impressed with his play. He reminds me of a robot that never makes mistakes. I got the impression that he could play 50 games in a row without a mistake! And do you remember how he won his matches 15 years ago? He not only won, he destroyed his opponents! As a match player, he is stronger than Kramnik, I think. The match against him will require all of my strength and colossal concentration.

You place Kramnik below Kamsky, yet Kramnik won a match against the great Kasparov, whilst Kamsky lost to Karpov, whom Kasparov had beaten a number of times… Isn’t it likely that you will again have to play a match against Kramnik?

Three things need to happen first. I have to beat Kamsky, Kramnik must beat Anand, and then, if these things happen, there is a third requirement – we have to sign a contract with him, to play a match. Given the relations between us, this will not be an easy thing.

Old adversaries: Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov during their title match in Elista 2006

But can’t your relations change for the better?

I don’t think so.

The next super-tournament will be in May, in Sofia. Apart from Aronian, Radjabov, Ivanchuk, and the Chinese GM Bu, there will also be two Bulgarians – you and your regular trainer, Ivan Cheparinov, so famous for his opening bombshells. How will you play against him? After all, you know each other so well, and a trainer rarely wants to beat his charge…

It is not a problem for me personally, to play against someone I have previously worked with. My games against Ponomariev, and against Loek van Wely, who worked with me at Dortmund 2002, have always been uncompromising. Ivan Cheparinov is making rapid progress, and he has many opening ideas. He will play in the first tournament of the Grand Prix in Baku, and immediately after that in Sofia. I am sure our games will be uncompromising battles. That is the sort of chess Ivan plays, and I too.

The Three from Bulgaria: Veselin Topalov (right), Ivan Cheparinov (middle) and their manager Silvio Danialov

Doesn’t it seem to you that there is a wave of youngsters, like Carlsen, Kariakin, Radjabov and Cheparinov, who will soon overtake the “old guard”?

We recently watched the Oscar winning film “No country for old men”. But for the time being, the “old men” in the chess world are holding their own! I was very surprised how the older generation dominated the top places at the Mexico world championship.

Do you think you can regain the world title?

Everything depends on the match with Kamsky. If it happens, I will prepare seriously.

When is the match?

I think we should play in November.

When will you start preparing?

In the summer.

From your experience of the Kramnik match, what is the optimum time for preparation?

It is never long enough. This work is endless, and it is always possible to improve one’s preparation. Previously, two months of intensive work was enough. Now, I don’t know; the volume of information is becoming greater and greater.

Making a point: Veselin Topalov in discussion with Danialov and Cheparinov

How do you see the current situation in chess?

There are moments when interest in chess is growing, and it is important not to let it drop again. That happened when Kramnik refused a return match against me. We are in a good time at the present – there are many tournaments, and interest is growing. But we have to be very careful. It is important that FIDE carries out to the end its splendid idea of a Grand Prix. I also hope that the Grand Slam will reach its climax in September. I think that this is a very good time for chess.

You have lived in Spain for how many years now?

More than ten years.

Do you feel Spanish? Do you support a football team?

I watch football, but I don’t support anyone. I like the game, but it is not important who wins.

Veselin Topalov with Mario, the son of his manager Silvio Danailov in 2006

Are you only in Bulgaria during the Sofia tournament?

No, I am there at other times too. During the Mexico [World Championship] tournament, for example, I had nothing to do, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time in Bulgaria. So much so, that I didn’t want to return to chess. At least, I was not bursting to play.

Can you imagine a time when you will stop playing altogether?

It is not a question of not having enough money to live. It is another issue – what else would I do? I cannot do anything except play chess.

You could play for about ten more years?

It is all about motivation. Korchnoi is still playing at 76. But I am not sure I have the same motivation as Korchnoi or Karpov. I am noticing more and more that if I don’t win a tournament, it does not matter to me at all whether I am third or fifth.

Topalov during the 2008 Super-GM in Wijk aan Zee

At the closing ceremony at Linares, you were presented with a watch, for the most uncompromising player. How many such watches do you have?

That was the fourth.

And what is the watch you are wearing now? /em>

It is one my girlfriend gave me as a New Year present.

Is she Bulgarian?

No, Spanish. We live together, but at the moment, I am trying to retain my independence.

© Pictures and text by Yuri Vasiliev, Linares-Moscow
Translation from Russian by Steve Giddins

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