Vladimir Kramnik: A painter simply paints

by ChessBase
1/23/2005 – Following his classical chess world championship match and successful defence of his title against Peter Leko in Brissage, Vladimir Kramnik sat down with the editor of New in Chess magazine for an indepth interview. Kramnik spoke candidly and expressed opinions that have become relevant in view of the current situation in world chess. NIC interview.

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The following interview with Vladimir Kramnik appeared in the latest issue of the magazine "New in Chess", arguably one of the finest in the world. We reproduce it here with the kind permission of the editors. The interview was conducted at the end of Kramnik's match against Peter Leko in Brissago, which, as New in Chess reports, wasn’t the end of Vladimir Kramnik’s obligations to the spotlights. "Immediately after the last game had been decided in his favour, the prize-giving ceremony took place and barely was this official part over or, still on stage, he was subjected to a marathon of mini-interviews. Only much later did the classical World Champion get a chance to celebrate his victory with his team and friends. Yet Kramnik looks remarkably relaxed when the next day he takes his time to look back on three exhausting weeks. In a frank talk with Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam he shares his views on the crucial moments in the match, short draws (‘There should be more respect for the players’) and his ideas about the unification: ‘It’s not whom you play. Garry, Anand, Peter, it doesn’t matter to me really. What matters to me is what will happen after this, how we will organise the world of chess. Otherwise I do not see any sense in unifying.’"

NIC – As far as I know, people playing a world championship match divide the match into parts. The first four games we will do this, next we will do that and if something goes wrong we have this or that to fall back on.

Kramnik – You have certain ideas about the match, what you will do in this situation or that, but the moment you start to play everything changes. You adapt your plans, sometimes even play something you hadn’t prepared at all. You have certain ideas, but despite my experience you cannot avoid mistakes that you knew before the match that you shouldn’t make.’

– I see you coming back after the first game saying, guys, we have a problem. Our schedule has been turned completely upside-down.

Yes, of course, I didn’t expect this turn of events. In the first game you play something solid to get into the match. Of course it can happen that you win, but it’s a completely new situation after Game 1 already. Probably I didn’t do very well in this situation.

– Was it psychologically difficult?

'I am good enough to do what I want
to do and to play how I want to play.
I think I have deserved this right in my career.'

Well, psychologically it is still more difficult to be behind. You can say that everything is difficult psychologically, but this is basically easier to deal with. I don’t know what happened after this game but for a while I lost touch. I was having problems with white, not getting much. And Peter was playing very solidly with white. Before the match I was thinking that we would both press with white and that we would have complicated games. But somehow it started to become a little bit dry, not because we wanted to, but simply because we couldn’t find the keys with the white colour. Something was wrong for some strange reason. Maybe I got too confident after this early win and thought that nothing could happen, that everything was under control, and in Game 5 I paid for this. Partly because I was too relaxed.

– The second game you lost was beautifully played by Leko, but on the other hand it was clear that something went seriously wrong in your preparation.

It was an incredibly strange coincidence. It was a brilliant game from Peter’s side, because over the board it was not easy to find all these moves in such a sharp position, but from my side it was stupidity. It was clearly a hole in my preparation, but it was a very strange hole. We analysed this whole line and then some hours before the game we found this idea with 18...Nf6 and 21...Qg6. We briefly checked 22.Ne4, okay White is slightly better, but Black can hold. Then somehow we got this idea of 22.ab5, but there was very little time to check it. We looked at 22.ab5, did some analysis, it seems that White is better. Of course, I understood how dangerous it is, but the fact that we ended up in this position after 25...Qd3, was a complete coincidence. If Peter had not had 19 minutes but, say, 49 minutes in this position after 21...Qg6, I would, of course, sit quietly and find all this and never play ab5. But he was clearly under pressure, clearly suffering and while he was taking all this time and thinking about 21...Qg6, I made this decision. I was in the rest room and decided to play fast, not to give him time to think. To put further psychological pressure on him by responding immediately. I was checking variations and I already saw queen d3, but I thought it was just a perpetual. After all we had probably checked this with a computer so it shouldn’t be lost, because otherwise the computer would have shown that such a position is clearly lost. I was also checking 22.Ne4 again and thought it is probably drawish, and then, just two minutes before he made his move, I decided that if he played 21...Qg6, I would play 22.ab5 immediately and just see what would happen. Of course, it was fully my mistake, I should have thought, no matter how much time he had. This kind of thing had never happened to me before. You are White, you play all moves according to your preparation and you shake hands. This is something unbelievable, especially in a world championship match with a limited number of games and an incredibly tough opponent. You just give a point with white. I don’t know if this ever happened in a world championship match before.

– Was it easier to cope with because it was such a coincidence?

No, for me it would be easier to lose normally. This can happen. Still, I started to play better after this. This is something I have noticed very often: that after a loss I play better. So it was both a blow and it helped me in a way to play better. In world championship matches one of the most important things is not to make, in tennis language, unforced errors. This you shouldn’t do. You really should make your opponent suffer before he can beat you. He really has to show everything, but just giving a point like this is strictly forbidden.’

– Leko miraculously saved a couple of his black games. Were there moments when you began to despair that you were never going to tear down his defences?

I never lost hope, not even before the last game. There was something I had, probably wrongly, put into my mind. Some time ago, I don’t remember for what reason, I was checking all world championship matches. I cannot speak about the matches of Steinitz and Chigorin, because this was different chess, but for instance if you start with Lasker and Capablanca, when it is already becoming serious, I noticed something interesting. It never happened that the one who played worse or not better than his opponent, managed to win. The outcome was always fully deserved. The person who won or kept the title was at least not worse than his opponent. Not in one single match. Here I had the feeling that I didn’t play worse. Maybe I didn’t play much better than Peter, but I didn’t have the feeling I was playing worse. And that’s why I had this psychological thing that I should not lose this match. According to this idea I should equalise the score and not lose the match. (Smiles) But of course one thing is to think about this, another thing is reality. I might not have won this last game and then my theory would have been proven wrong.

– Judging by the 13th and 14th games an outsider might say that if you had played more aggressively sooner, you wouldn’t have had these problems.

Partly you are right but it is also about your opponent. In a way Peter also became a bit too defensive, he allowed me to play more aggressively. In a match it’s always about both players; you are never alone in a match. I allowed him to play as he did in the middle of the match and here it was partly his fault that he allowed me to press really hard. You can call this a mistake, but it is unavoidable. When I played against Garry, he was also pressing very hard at the end of the match. We’re humans. You are very close, you want to make a draw, you want to defend, you want to take the title. Even with a lot of experience you do this.

– Did you also get a psychological boost from his draw offer in the twelfth game?

First of all, I think I would have managed to make a draw there. I don’t think his position was winning. In either case, after knight f5 I have certain play, his position is better, but it is far from winning. Also queen takes g6 is almost a forced draw.

– After queen takes g6, Leko suggested f takes g6, rook e7 and now rook c8.

Yeah, rook c8, but I am still not sure that Black is winning. He has the advantage, that’s clear, but I think it is not clear at all that I would lose this game. Sure, it was a wrong decision of his, but again, we are humans. He was under such pressure in this game and actually playing very well, making only moves all the time, and he understood that he would to lose if not for these moves. Then when you understand that you are no longer in danger and there is some time-trouble, you are so happy to have escaped that it is very difficult to find strength in yourself to start to play for a win.

– Were you following what was happening in the outside world during the match. What people were writing...

No, not at all.

– I can understand that as a player you see the match as a whole and if there is a short draw somewhere this is part of the picture...

Well, it’s...

– No, no, let me finish...

(Starts laughing) I understand what you mean.’

– When there were these short draws they were heavily criticised. There was a lot of negative press. Do you understand this criticism?

It’s a complicated matter. From one side I can understand this, but basically, I may be subjective, I may be wrong, but still I think this criticism is not justified. It’s about your philosophy, how you see things. I believe, and now I may be a bit too harsh, that there should be more respect for the players. I’m not arrogant, I am not trying to present myself as a big star, but I think there should be more human understanding and respect. First of all, there are short draws like in the third game. What can you do? It’s completely drawish, it would be ridiculous to continue playing. Then there were a couple of games where we agreed a draw in a more or less playable position, but there were not too many of these. These draws you have to understand. A player can feel badly, anything. Amateurs want to see a game, but we are also entitled to some understanding from them, that sometimes you have certain problems. For example, if I go to a concert of a great pianist or violinist, I respect this person so much that if he plays 15 minutes and then says, I am sorry, I’m not able to play, okay, I don’t mind, because I know how high is his level, how hard he works and how much he gives of himself. In fact, how much he sacrifices to achieve what he achieves. This is a matter of respect. I don’t know what happened, why in the years that we may almost call the golden period of chess, there was so much respect for chess players. Petrosian and Spassky had no fewer quick draws than us, but they were maestros and could afford it. Because in the next game they would do something enjoyable for us, they would give us a present, some nice fight. We agreed that sometimes they needed to rest, whatever...

– In those days the media were not as developed as they are now. Perhaps you should distinguish between the chess press who maybe know what is happening behind the scenes and the general press, who do not care what is happening behind the scenes.

I believe this is more their problem than ours. It’s about culture and respect. I cannot be responsible for everyone. I know very well that we are not trying to make short draws...

– If it’s their problem, this might imply you’d rather play for a small select audience...

In a way, in a way yes. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not trying to be arrogant or harsh, but I believe it’s two-sided. If my work is not respected, then why should I please the public who give me back nothing. You give and you get something in return. You give them some pleasure and I think the public was fully satisfied with the match in general, particularly the end. But you also need to receive something back. If you only receive criticism... I mean, I like chess amateurs, but at some point you start to think, why should I care? I don’t think it’s proportional, there is too much criticism of late and I am very worried about it. It is getting too negative and I don’t know why.

– The amateur chess player wants to identify himself with a champion and it may be difficult to understand how good Leko and you are because so many aspects remain hidden. Both of you probably made the most fantastic discoveries in the Sveshnikov and perhaps precisely because of that you didn’t play it even once.

I am sorry, but we are not businessmen. It’s not a commercial deal where you earn some money and have to deliver some goods. We are also artists in a way. I am good enough to do what I want to do and to play how I want to play. I think I have deserved this right in my career. A painter never asks people what they want to see. He paints. If somebody doesn’t like it, he doesn’t like it. It’s art, you do what you think is right. Or a musician, he doesn’t play the way the public wants him to play, he plays the way he believes is right. And if he is not popular, he is not popular. There is nothing arrogant in this, it’s a creative approach. Chess is something very deep in me, on which I worked a lot, it’s really important for me. It’s one of the ways I express myself. People may like it or not, but I am very sorry, I will not change this, because I believe I have a right. I understand all these problems with short draws, but people should also understand that with modern theory it’s different now, completely different, from 15 years ago.

– They may also say it’s a matter of style. There are players who still play risky chess.

I wouldn’t say so. These players don’t play world championship matches and when they play Anand, me or Leko, I don’t somehow feel that they play so aggressively. Even Garry, in Linares he made a draw with Peter in 19 moves. This is not about style, it’s about strength. People want that we play brilliancies every day, but that is not possible. We try – sometimes we manage, sometimes we don’t. They want some Anderssen-Kieseritsky every day, and if you don’t deliver you have a problem. But I think it is more their problem, their wrong idea. They have to understand how difficult it is. It is not fun. Maybe they are coming back from work, they go onto the Internet, they want to relax, enjoy and watch a game. They want fun but it’s so incredibly difficult.

– For them it’s no fun if the game’s finished already.

They see it as some sort of entertainment, which to a certain degree is right, but they should try to come out of their bubble and try to understand us. You are trying to win the match, but sometimes you don’t feel well. Or you don’t like the position and the other offers you a draw, as in Game 6. I wanted to fight, but I am slightly worse and he offers me a draw. How can I refuse? I am white and people want me to continue, but I am slightly worse. Maybe after his victory in Game 5, a seven-hour game, Peter couldn’t sleep all night, and he just didn’t have no energy. In Game 9, I physically didn’t feel well. I am sorry, this happens. I offered a draw early on in an equal position in which I had more time. I would never do this, especially as I was one point down. I can apologize for this, but I am also human. I would like to see a slightly more positive attitude in the world of chess.

– And they should realise that you play for yourself in the first place.

Yes, it’s sad for them, but this goes for everyone. It’s both, of course. For any high-level professional, and the same goes for tennis players or football players, first of all you play because it’s part of you. Firstly, you want to express yourself and only then you play for people. This goes for everyone, Kasparov, Shirov, for Morozevich. He may be playing incredibly, but mainly he is playing for himself. People very often live in some rosy vision and they want to believe something of which they know that it is not true.

I could understand it if it got too much, but I don’t think it was too much. There were some short draws, but also many interesting games – a normal world championship match. When I played Garry, it was more or less the same. People sometimes have these blocks, for instance because it’s Leko. Leko, so this means it will be boring and there’s nothing he can do, even if he plays brilliantly. If it was Morozevich, they would be incredibly happy because it’s Morozevich. Some clichés in their minds that are so deep that they cannot get rid of them. I think this match was more interesting than the match against Kasparov in 2000, when people were not complaining because it was Garry. Now they were already complaining before the first move was made.

– Against Kasparov you were excused for your defensive play because it was a news story, the challenger stopping the Champion with a type of play he could not handle.

It’s a matter of approach. You should give a person who has achieved a lot in his profession the full right to do whatever he wants. And then you like it or do not like it. You watch it or do not watch it, but you cannot blame the person.

– Obviously many people are wondering what is going to happen next. If there is going to be a reunification match or a new cycle. What is your hope about this?

I don’t really know now. I hope we will have a reunification but I don’t know how. We are in such a deep problematic situation, that I may have this wish, but... I will try what I can, but I cannot guarantee anything. It is a problem that has nothing to do with money or with whom to play. People have the wrong idea. It’s not whom you play, Garry, Anand, Peter, it doesn’t matter to me really. What matters to me is what will happen after this, how we will organise the world of chess. This will be the main issue in the conversations I will have with different people. I want something solid and want to stop this chaos. Otherwise I do not see any sense in unifying.

– Do you feel that the Prague agreement is in tatters, something that belongs to the past?

Of course, there is nothing to feel. The Prague agreement was simply not fulfilled, not a single point, by FIDE. They signed and completely forgot about it. It is past, a sad past I would say, because people got some hopes. But it’s just over. I always fulfil my promises, but only if the other side fulfils theirs...

Dirk Jan ("DJ") ten Geuzendam, editor, with
Jan Timman, of New in Chess Magazine

– What specifically do you feel they didn’t do...

Just read the agreement, not a single point. Nothing was fulfilled. The main point of the Prague agreement was not who would play who. It was a completely new structure of the world of chess. This was the point: a new organisation with Bessel Kok. FIDE was in fact completely giving up on the world championship. They were saying, we will no longer organise it, we will give it to this company of well-respected people who will organise it. We will give our name and receive some money for this. It was a complete reorganisation of the world of chess. And it was presented as, I play Leko and Kasparov plays Ponomariov, but this was not the point. For me at least. This restructuring was the basic point of the agreement and the next day it was forgotten. I know that Bessel was simply thrown out the next day. It was just a trick. They just wanted to achieve some goals. All of them, Ilyumzhinov, Kasparov.

At the moment when they were signing I believe they knew already that they were not going to fulfil it. Maybe I am wrong or too harsh, but I have this feeling. The very next day they started to act completely against the spirit of the agreement. I remember how one month after we signed the agreement, there was this press conference in Moscow where they harshly attacked Dortmund and me. We had just signed the agreement, we were coming together and they just start a war. I logically analysed the situation and unfortunately I couldn’t see any other explanation. This is very sad for me. There is one thing they present and another thing is reality. And you draw your conclusions from reality and in reality everything shows that this is true. Now I guess we will start some new conversations and negotiations, but we will speak differently. I have learned a lesson. I hope we will manage to find some consensus, but I really don’t know. This was really something shocking to me.

– At a press conference here Joel Lautier said that this is the real world championship in the tradition that started in 1886 and it’s not a match to qualify for another match. That is a clear statement, but it doesn’t very much sound like an attempt to reconcile opposing views. Do you fully subscribe to this view?

Yes, but in a way this was also written in the Prague agreement. Okay, I would like to unify, but for me this match is something separate. I am the World Champion. FIDE also has what they call a World Champion, but I believe I kept the title. I would like to unify but if this is not possible we will go our own way. I don’t want to unify just to satisfy the public. I want a real reunification, not only on paper but also in the minds of the people who sign such a paper.

– In the anniversary issue of New In Chess Garry Kasparov said that the ACP was solely founded to stop him from playing a match against you. How do you react to that?

I don’t see much logic in this.

– He referred to the fact that Joel Lautier is a good friend of yours, your match against Leko got the umbrella of the ACP...

But this was not planned, it just happened this way. This was not my initiative. Joel Lautier got to know the main sponsor and they got to talk, I had nothing to do with this at all. I was not against it, on the contrary, but I was not insisting on anything. But also I don’t see the point of why we are supposed to play a match.

– If Kasparov beats Kasimdzhanov he definitely hopes to play you.

I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. I don’t see why the ACP is any problem...

– It’s a clear expression of his frustration that he very much wants to play a match against you. Can you understand that?

I think many people want to play a match. I am sure that Morozevich also very much wants to play against me, but there should be a certain right to do so.

– You say that the main point is that Kasparov lacks justification to play you?

I think so. At the moment, yes. It is very sad to say but his only justification at the moment is a big name. It’s not his play, not his results, not anything. Of course he is a great player and I have great respect for him. He is a fantastic player, a huge name and the public likes him very much and justifiably so, but this is the world championship, not some private business. Peter Leko won the Candidates. He deserved to play a match. I beat Garry and now I have won this match and deserve to be World Champion. You cannot just make some deals and present some names and do whatever you want.

– One might also say that the way you got to play Kasparov was open to criticism.

But I never said I was happy about it. Even when I heard about it I said, I don’t think it is right. If you remember, Kasparov also said – this was in 2000, before the match – that it was only because we had a contract for the new cycle, for the candidates, with financial guarantees. He said, I understand this is not the best, but we do it this way. Then there was a dramatic change of position, then another change, okay, but it’s all words. I had a clear position and I never changed it. Otherwise we will go like boxing, only names that count, and then Karpov will probably play Kasparov for the world championship for another 20 years.

– Something constructive has to be built...

That is my position. There are other visions, such as Garry’s. We should act according to the wish of the public, but perhaps they want to see Kamsky-Polgar. Me is me and I do what I believe. I believe there should be a clear cycle and the winner plays the world championship. Everything as it was for many many years.

– And this is something the ACP should do together with FIDE or if FIDE doesn’t cooperate you will go your own way.

Yes, yes. I am not going to accept any other ways. We will have a certain order or I am not going to unify. I don’t see any point in what’s going on. I am not criticising Garry, he may think so, but I believe it is not fair. I believe that objectively speaking Anand has more rights than Kasparov to play Kasimdzhanov. But he is out and Garry is in. I don’t blame Garry for this, but it’s the objective truth. I understand this may irritate some people but this was my position and it still is. The whole situation is just ridiculous. Now Garry is playing but why he? Why not Vishy? Why is Ponomariov out? Why are some people in a good position and others in a bad, for no objective reason. This is what worries me a lot. In my view the best solution now would be to have a four-player tournament with Kasimdzhanov, Kasparov, Anand and Ponomariov. The winner plays against me for the unification. I think this would be the only solution to finish all conflicts. Ponomariov was a strange story. You may like him, blame him, but he was really treated badly. Vishy was simply thrown out for no reason and he shows brilliant results. This would be a solution to finally solve all the problems.

– And this would be acceptable to you.

Yes, yes. I would really like to see this because I believe it is the only solution to all the fights. This is a way to satisfy everybody and after this we start a new world of chess from zero. But this is just a dream, in reality I am afraid it will not happen. It’s not in the interest of some people.


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