03.01.2006 Post-San Luis interview with Peter Svidler

What can one ask a chess player about if during the last days the latter has given plenty of interviews to chess and non-chess mass media and even a personal press conference? As a matter of fact, there were a lot of questions, because I was not that interested in global problems of Russian chess or another assessment of Topalov's play. However, everything began with unpredictable. There was a book on Peter's table called "Cure for laziness" by Vladimir Levi... Not long ago I interviewed Alexander Motylev and Sasha confessed that he suffered from severe laziness. Peter himself often claimed in the interviews that laziness is almost his main deficiency preventing him from working. The question appeared immediately.

Both Svidler and Motylev often complained of their laziness. Did the four-time Russian champion choose the helper according to this principle?

(Laughs) Is Motylev a lazy person really? Well, we really did not overwork before the championship. We mainly had philosophic discussions.

It is also important; it prepares the player psychologically...

That is why I was not disappointed. As a matter of fact, good psychological contact is one of the main reasons of our cooperation. And see by the way what we were busy with!

I just wanted to show our children to Sanya. And the children were at the country house at that time. And there is a stud farm not far from our country house, so we went to see the horses. The horses bit my hands... So, we did not work for a long time before the championship, I had to send Sasha to Kazan. All the preparation was held during one single gap. Before that I played in Mainz, and he also played do not remember exactly where. Then he spent five days at home, he has a small child too. Then he came here. From Petersburg he took the plane to Kazan. After Kazan he visited Moscow to play blitz in the ACP tournament, then went to San Vincent almost without a break, and flew to Argentina from there. And he worked during all the championship without having a rest.

Once I asked him to check the variation that could occur in one of my White games. I asked him to analyse it a bit and go to sleep, in order to discuss it in the morning. I call him at 10 am and he says, I did not sleep at all, go see what we get... So, we came very close to employing this variation as Black, because White has nothing at all, and the analysis turned out to be very thorough and interesting!

To the end of the tournament Sanya was tired to death – he was absent from home for about two months without seeing the family...

Your preparation was nice: you visited the stud farm, went to a football match...

And how can one miss the cup match? Though the match turned out to be very dull, a draw was enough for them, I clearly remember it, and having scored the first goal, they stopped playing at all.

How many days before the tournament did you arrive in Argentina?

Sasha came there at the day of the first round; he even missed the first game. And I arrived there on the 22nd, almost a week before the start. I spent a whole day in Buenos Aires waiting for the flight to San Luis...

But they say the peak of acclimatization comes on the tenth day!

These numbers differ in different sources. I was told that the seventh day is the worst. I calculated that the seventh day is the opening ceremony. It suited me.

And everyone fell ill during the opening ceremony...

Everyone got a bit sick. The organism of a professional sportsman has such a specific organisation that when the brain signals him that the event is important and he has to do his best, then he falls ill after the competition. I had cold for some time. And it appeared not immediately, I felt nice during the first game, but it went worse during the game with Rustam, I sniffed permanently. But it was over quickly. I took Coldrex during one day: usually it helps if I do it in the beginnig of the illness.

Were you not afraid to fail the doping control with Coldrex?

I discussed this topic with them. They told that if you take this medicine less than 12 hours before the test, then you have to declare it, otherwise it washes out of the organism. And I also declared that I am bringing it with me two months in advance. They sent a paper asking what medicine I take. I declared my medicines against headaches and cold. It would be an obvious profanation if they punished for such things. I notified them in advance, there should be no problems.

Was it the doping control professional?

Those people that did it were professionals and not fly-by-night company. But they quite officially admitted that the procedure has no use, as, roughly speaking, all their methods are aimed at revealing the medications that increase physical activity, and no chess player would use them. A medication chess players could presumably take (I do not know which exactly) would not enter this list, because it is of no use for a sprinter. The girl that took my doping tests, confessed: the only thing their test shows is that there are no serious heroine addicts among the participants. This is nice for public relations, of course.

Did you have some special feeling of playing in the unique world championship? Previously you played only in knock-outs...

Yes, during the preparation or even in the end of it I was suddenly overwhelmed with feeling that the tournament is extremely important. I was very worried when I realized suddenly whom I would have to play with and what problems I would have to solve. But when the first round came, I felt better.

Can you describe this feeling more precisely?

It is hard to do that. There is a feeling that you have a chance to achieve something, to show something you could not show before. You cannot state it clearly. But it was the world championship anyway! I could not believe it for a long time, bearing in mind the history of the FIDE announcements. I thought we had to wait until the documents come etc. And when it became clear that the championship would not be cancelled, tournaments began, and I had to think how to play in Dortmund, how to beat Almasi finally... I understand that it could have been not the main task, but it was the title anyway. And when everything was over, I realized suddenly that there was only one month left.

When you play in the knock-out, the frailty of life is too obvious. You understand that one failure decides all. That is why the attitude is far less serious especially on the initial stages. And here... It is a very important event. I had played in some Linares tournaments in the end of the 90s and remember the way it was like. And so I was agitated and stayed in this agitated mood till the beginning. Then I found out whom I had to play with in the first round and everything fell into place. It always happens this way with me: when one big and unclear task is divided into many small and clear ones, everything becomes easier. And when you sit and play, everything becomes even perfect. I feel good at the board.

So when Sanya was in Petersburg, we worked, but after his departure I fell into some meditation and began watching cricket matches. We went to London for a couple of days to see live cricket. I think it was the most important part of my preparation for the tournament! It was the first time I saw such a show live!

Did you root for someone or just were a neutral spectator?

What are you talking about! I cried like a madman! It was the last match in the England-Australia series; one cannot remain neutral. People usually take strawberry with cream to Wimbledon, and cricket is the place for white wine. People that were sitting behind us, had eight bottles of champagne, and there was a feeling they shoot at us. They produced the "Bum!" sound with severe regularity, filled the glasses and began singing their songs. But we were also well-packed... We went there with Mickey and Tara, got a lot of wine with us, so our condition in the evening was appropriate.

Form disinterested spectator's point of view, represented by my wife, the day was not very successful, because it was dark and judges stopped the game permanently. But the whole stadium applauded enthusiastically: there was a situation in the series that a draw suited the hosts, and every break in the game made the draw one hour closer. This was unique! People have paid 50-70 pounds for a ticket, they see nothing, just sit and drink, and everyone is happy! There are 30,000 spectators, flags, singing – a wonderful atmosphere. I was very satisfied that I finally managed to do it.

The proposal was accepted long before the world championship of course. A month and a half before San Luis I would have had doubts and maybe the thought that I had to sit at home and prepare would have stopped me. But the tickets to this match were sold a half or a whole year before the match, and the decision had to be done that time. Mickey bought four tickets and asked me whether I wanted to go there. And I told him that I wanted of course!

Did you socialize mainly with Mickey compared to other San Luis participants?

Yes, mainly with him. We have very good relations.

How did you spend the days during the championship?

Sleep, food, chess, chess, sleep, food. It is a village, so there is not much to do. I could walk, but not much, because I prepare in the afternoon, I do not like to prepare before going to sleep. So I had only evenings, and it is dark in the evenings, there is no use visiting picturesque routes. During the second free day we discovered a very beautiful lake, but the locals told us that there was no path leading there. They also told us to go there by the road. It sounded improbable to me, so I suggested going on the scout. And Sanya took such a touching care of me... We went downward a bit, and when gullies began he told me, maybe, we should not go? I ask him, why?  You have fractured legs, he answers. I told him to stop such talks. He repeated it every five minutes till we found the more or less normal path, where everything was OK: horses, sightseeing... And near the lake there were absolutely public pavilions with the fireplace made of stone, so one could kindle a fire.

The walk turned out to be very nice, but it happened only once, because they busied our third free day with something. Ah yeah, we went to play football.

We would not have gone there, but they told us that there would be only chess players and local golf club representatives. There would be no journalists, FIDE representatives, no one. There would be home barbeque, and it is perfect in Argentina, and football then. We debated for long, but it was after the 12th round, the struggle for the first place and the top four was almost over, there were only local tasks left, and I thought it was time to relax... They brought us to a casino, where we shook hands with some people without any aim for an hour, and to the golf club then. There were a hundred of people there, journalists and all the FIDE officials, and instead of barbeque there was a French dinner with small portions of uneatable food. Then it was time for football. I injured my knee, it has not healed still. This time there were no fractures, but it was unpleasant. There was not grass but something like gravel, emery-like sand. So if you are a goalkeeper without knee caps, knees get injured.

And on playing days I woke up early, and watched three or four American soap operas in turn. Then people admired – they just switched TV-channels and watched, and I had a systematic view and clearly knew what channel to chose. Usually I let Sanya sleep until 10 am, then woke him up, we studied something for half an hour, then I gave him a problem, and took some for me. Then he had a dinner; after that at 2.15 pm we analyzed something together, changed our clothes and went to the games. After the game there was an obligatory press conference, then we had a walk, discussed the next day and – go to bed.

Was there the possibility to analyze the games with the opponents?

For some strange reason they did not have a hall for analysis at all. At the first day, when the system of press conferences did not work perfectly and we had some free time, I told Mickey, let us go and analyze the game. We walked through three floors of this building, but found nothing. Finally I came to the press center, entered the ICC as a guest, called a new board, and we looked through the game on the screen with the mouse in hands. It is a marasmus! And in the next rounds we were caught us by the ear and brought to the press conference, so was no time for analysis. So, the games analysis took place during the dinner. All the chess players were qualified enough to analyze blindfolded. And as everyone had already checked something on the computer, there was a rather educated discussion...

This was the only complaint that can be presented. In all other aspects the organization was perfect. Everything was done right. Everyone was given a computer. You go to the reception; they give you a new laptop that can be connected to the Internet. So I was permanently in the net. I could watch cricket!

Did you look through the chess sites during the tournament?

No, I never do it during the tournaments. Once I read four first issues of the Chess Today. And as I went down in the fifth round, although due to the other reason, I decided it was enough. Sometimes Sanya sat at the other side of the table and began reading something aloud. I waved my hands and told him, you can read if you want, I cannot prohibit you to do that, but I will read it after the tournament if I want.

And have you familiarized with any reviews?

I was familiarized. I do not visit chess sites. I am rarely interested in the opinions about chess that can be found in Internet, because there is rarely anything new to me there. Let us take what Sergey Shipov writes hot on the trail. I will understand my own games better regardless of his having computer at hand. I can find out in his reviews that I have blundered a piece somewhere, but it is inevitable, and it is of no interest for me to read comments about the position.

* * *

Retrospectively it turns out that the game with Topalov was decisive...

In some sense yes. And again, one could suppose, but could not know anything for sure.

His moves – 14...Јa5, 15...¤f3 – it was a novelty on the high level, but I suppose all of that was analyzed?

Let me begin with the fact I had not expected 6...¤g4. I was not ready at all. Of course, after 14...Јa5 one could play 15.Јd2. But I decided that if I do not play 15.с3, then I am a chicken roughly speaking. Of course when he played 14...Јa5, I understood what was going on, because the move is senseless without playing 15...¤f3 subsequently. I calculated till the endgame and thought I was not afraid of this kind of endgame at all. While he was thinking about 15...¤f3, I checked my calculations once more and found no mistakes. I thought that this ending was better for White although it was dangerous. No annotator argued about it. Neither did Topalov. But although White is better, it is difficult to play. This is not that kind of advantage that allows you to play almost thoughtlessly. You have to think, to do your best. And it seems I have made a wrong decision from the very beginning. There were two possible approaches. I could move the knight immediately, play ¤c2, and it was my initial plan. Had it been blitz, I would have played like that. But as I had enough time, I thought a bit, found a concrete reply I did not like at all, and left the knight on a1. I thought I would be able to return it into the play anytime. Finally it I did, but I had to offer a draw by repetition, and then give one of the bishops away. I am still not worse, but the position changed.

Having seen 6...¤g4, have you considered playing 7.Ґc1 and 8.f3?

I was accused of attempting to repeat Kasimdzhanov's game. It is not quite like that. First of all, I was one of the first people to play 11.¤f5 in 1999. I cannot say it was deeply analyzed, but it was somehow analyzed with Andrei Mikhailovich (Lukin) long, long ago. It was not directly connected with the Kasimdzhanov-Anand game. Moreover, I realized that I would not be allowed to repeat the Kasimdzhanov game after 7.Ґg5. However, a) I was interested what waits for me there, and b) when someone plays 6...¤g4... (pause). Of course, chess on this level is a double bluff. You play 6.Ґe3, supposing the opponent does not play 6...¤g4. He plays 6...¤g4. Does he think you will decide that the 7.Ґc1 is a chicken's move, or he prepared to play 8...Јb6 after 8.f3 and show something? Everything gives addition possibilities: 6.Ґe3 allows 6...¤g4, 8.f3 allows 8...Јb6. And as I prepared neither of them for the game, and Veselin did not to play 6...¤g4 too often, and this move does not bring Black the best of positions (a normal, but not perfect one), I thought a bit and played 7.Ґg5, trying to remember my old analyses. And I had to solve all the problems at the board.

Maybe those 20 minutes that I spent on rather obvious solutions in the beginning turned out to be decisive in the end, but I thought I had something to think over. Now we all are extremely wise. And that time I tried to guess where I was waited. Of course, I did not guess 14...Јa5 and 15...¤f3 right in the beginning. Then it turned out that 14.¤e3 is not precise because of 14...Јb6. I knew that Sutovsky's game, but forgot it of course. However, there was a reason for leaving the pawns on f5 and f7 as long as possible: I supposed I was waited for a bit further, and there are some nuances there...

It was an important game, but it was played as it was played. When you take part in competitions, you have to forget quickly.

Do you usually think about the place you are competing for during the event?

It happens when the end of the tournament approaches. I thought there was no use to discuss what the players' aims are until the end of round 10. To tell the truth, by the 10th round the struggle for the first place took place only in theory. Let me say, in the beginning of the second half I did not have all my hopes buried. I played an extremely sharp Sicilian against Mickey. I could have played a bit calmer, because he is good in this opening, he is one of the best "White Sicilians". It does not suite his style, because there is a lot of calculation there, but he knows the best routes for his pieces very well. It was a very sharp game with play "for three results", and ended in a draw. Then I played with Rustam, got an advantage from the opening, then blundered and had to lose, then regained the advantage, and in the end, when I thought I was winning, he found a problem draw. The idea with dropping all the material did not come into my mind, and other moves were losing. And after having finished all these games in a draw, I had the first blackout at this tournament in the game with Leko. Yes, one may talk about a mini-blackout in the game with Topalov, but it can be explained by time pressure and tension. And when in the game with Leko I made such 12th and 13th moves, that after the 15th move in the absolutely safe variation (because if we consider this as dangerous anti-Marshall, then one should not play the Ruy Lopez at all) I managed to get the position somewhere between bad and hopeless, I understood a lot... And when the next day I braced up, got an absolutely won position in the game with Morozevich, and then converted it for forty moves through a draw... And I was lucky that it was the 60th move and not the 61st, and he had to make a decision in 5 minutes. This was awful, unimaginable realization technique! He played the game as a person in round 12, and I made the realization as a person who had already spent a month in Argentina and could not understand anything. Of course after that game everything became clear, and I stopped active play for a win as Black. I did not find enough strength to play some Pirc-Ufimtsev or semi-correct Paulsen against Polgar, because it was seen that physical weariness plays its role.

I had a rather strange attitude to the tournament and already during the tournament I was explained what the difference between the second and the third places was and why one should fight for the place in the first four. Although I received these rules in April, I looked through them without deep understanding and decided that if a) the tournament takes its place b) I play well there, then we shall see what I have won. So I had no certain sporting tasks during the tournament.

How do you assess your play and result in general?

I have no complaints of my play. I showed what I could show. Of course, we can start counting where I got and lost halves of points... I lost something, but there was a game with Morozevich where I won although the position was clearly lost at some point. After the opening I played automatically, making semidecisions that do not improve or worsen the position while White strengthens slowly. I led the position to the absolute disaster, but then I defended and took all the chances I was given. It is not my fault that it happened so. And in general, if we do not take into account the defeat in the only game that was of real sporting importance, +3 in the tournament of the 20th category can be assessed only as a success. The same is true about the shared second place in the world championship. Of course, if the 5th round game had another result, possibly an intrigue would have appeared. And nobody knows what would have happened if the leader had felt some tension and absence of safety from reverses of fortune. But generally I am satisfied.

In press there were many assessments of every player that took part in the championship, and also weighty opinions: Kasparov's for example...

I did not read them. Interested people showed me the interview with Kasparov, yesterday I saw Topalov's interview... One of my favorites John Le Caret has a perfect phrase: judgment of peers. It is a nice thing. The assessment of colleagues is always very important. And when Topalov and Kasparov say I played well, it is pleasant. Yet it does not change the life. I cannot say that my feelings changed after I had seen these words in press.

And when it is said that Kasparov has left, but we still have an obvious leader in the team – Svidler, do you feel that you are a leader of the team, Russia's best chess player?

Is it really said so?! No. I guess the less you think about such issues the better your chances to preserve some inner balance are. It is pleasant to play well, there is a double pleasure in playing well for the Russian team. But I do not think about certain deserved place, I will sit where they tell me. I am obviously not the strongest team player of the recent years, if we take the statistics. I rarely fail, but if we compare my results with the results of Morozevich in Elista when he won the Olympiad almost all by himself... We all helped him as much as we could, but without him there would have been no struggle even for the third place, let the victory alone... So, it is easier for me not to think about it.

Once more about assessments: cricket helped you and it did not help Mickey...


Do you have any rational explanation of his result?

I cannot understand why everyone thinks it is connected with his computer match. I did not talk a lot with him about Hydra, but I know Mickey a bit... He is an extremely rational person, and moreover, his nerves are absolutely OK. He does not go into hysterics and takes defeats rather lightly. And I am sure he knew what he resolved to do. During that trip to London I asked him why he had not prepared for that match. The fact that he did not have any preparation is well-known and documented. And he said: How should I have prepared? Neither I nor anyone else knows anything about the program, it is a secret project. One can see neither its repertoire nor its reactions to standard situations. The preparation was impossible!

If he understood that he could not but understand that Hydra starts as a clear favorite. Moreover, it is not a PC program, but a far more serious thing... And if now there are such difficulties with PC programs, than what should a person count on playing with such a monster? So he thought about the sum of money he could get and the events that could take place, decided that such an equation suited him, and agreed. Of course, I do not think he expected to lose 0,5:5,5. Nobody expects anything like that, but he should have realized there was such a possibility. So it is not quite clear to me why people think it was an awful shock for him. Of course he was not pleased, but it is strange to think that half a year later playing with colleagues, whom he struggles with for many years now, is a knife in his wounds...

There is a simpler explanation for his play. If we just looked at his year, and it is not necessary to consider only the post-Hydra events like Dortmund, it is obvious that he is tired and it seems to me that he has lost drive a bit. He does not want to play as much as before. And at the tournament like San Luis one should have at least minimal wish, it is hard to play without it, because the opponents have this wish, and they will bite his heels.

In general he lost only three games, less than anyone in the end of the table. The wish to win did not fountain in him, so maybe that is why he did not win a single game. I think it is a decline connected with absence of wish.

Should the unification match be played now? Will it do chess good?

It would not harm. I think it will be useful for chess. And whether this match will take its place or not is a question of negotiations. As a matter of fact, it is a question of what Topalov and Danailov want, because Volodya is ready and wants to play from my point of view. And nobody knows what Topalov and Danailov really want. In principle it would be nice to answer these questions and forget about the disunity without any doubts.

Does Kramnik has a right to play such a match? Topalov speaks rather harshly on the subject...

I understand he is a king of the hill now, but according to the published statistics he stands -8 with Kramnik, so from my point of view he could decrease the tone of public statements. It does not suite him. And concerning the right... it is a hard question. From my point of view, he rather has it than not. But on the other hand, it would be strange if I had another opinion, everyone should understand that I am not neutral in this question, and I never tried to disguise it. However, even if one tries to take neutral position: Kramnik defeated Kasparov and defended his title, although later than public wanted. And it is strange to say that he has no right to play the match with Topalov because his tournament results this year are worse than Topalov's.

Nowadays there are several people that decide political problems. I am not one of them so there is no use asking me about politics. There are FIDE, Topalov-Danailov, Kramnik-Henzel, there is Fischer and his bank account in Iceland. And there is also Kasparov and his people, busy with some other things. What will they decide? Let us see. Nowadays we all are spectators.

Was Danailov's behavior in San Luis proper? There are different opinions on this question on various sites...

There were some complaints. Some people told he could have behaved a bit more properly, but the problem is that it is not easy to collect the signatures of seven chess players in one official document, even if they are playing in the same tournament. There was an attempt to make an official statement, but the arbiters said rather reasonably that they would consider the issue if the statement was proved by all the participants. The attempt to find seven signatures failed.

Personally I had no complaints. But I generally do not like to complain. Let say, people said that Danailov just approached and stood looking on the board during their games with Topalov. I can understand why they did not like it. There was no such incident when Topalov played against me. Danailov came at some important moment of the first half game, when I had White, and sat behind my back. But if it is allowed, then it is allowed. I did not see the reason to complain.

What then: Israel, then the Superfinal? And what about the World Cup?

I am not going to play in the World Cup, I had enough chess this season. Everbody expects the Superfinal in Central Chess Club with great interest; the tournament will be very strong and exciting. I am a bit afraid of Israel, because such a rest for two weeks after serious event is very dangerous. Shortly afterwards you can brace up somehow. And when you relax at home, it is hard to play again.

Your schedule was very busy this year...

Generally for two last years the schedule was busy. And this year maybe was not busier than the previous one. If we count all the leagues and tournaments, then there hardly will be more than two weeks of rest in a row. On the other hand, it was a deliberate choice, so I have nothing to complain about.

Could you please comment on the situation with the members of national team for team championship? Will Motylev take part in it?

There were some strange publications... Rublevsky is going to be the member of the team. At first Sanya thought he would not be taken. It was a surprise to him when it was stated that he would be taken. Nobody told him he was included in the team, and he came to the respective conclusion, that later turned out to be right.

Without discussing the candidates, I will ask: is it normal when there is no criterion for choosing the candidates and the members are just announced?

It has always been like this. We can take for example American system with clearly stated system of choosing the members, but they had an awful scandal when Nakamura did not enter the team while he was among six best for sure. From my point of view, it is far more important that a resulting list should look like a best team of the country. And it does not matter how the list is composed.

Of course, there are some restrictions. If it was announced that the national champion plays in the team, then it should be so. If there were no such announcements, then the Trainers' Council decides everything, its main aim being exactly making subjective decision. The main thing is not to take words back. If the word is given, it should be kept. As far as I know, it happens now: in this team there are no people that are not given the promised things. The team is strong, and I do not see how it can be strengthened.

Everything is quite clear with our main rivals. The denial of the Netherlands surprised a bit, or even shocked. This is a very interesting and prestige tournament that happens once in four years. You get a wild card and... refuse to play. And I heard there even were people ready to finance it, so the refusal was not connected with absence of time to get money. They just decided it is of no interest for them.

Maybe they just wanted to remain undefeated...

Maybe, but the title of the European champions would stay with them. However, we should not judge them. The strong teams are the hosts, Armenians, Ukrainians. The Ukrainian team is as strong as ours nowadays. And in the match with equally strong team everything can happen. The tournament will be very hard, so one should understand that everything will be decided at the finish, and nobody will just serve. The Russian team has enough force. I do not say we will win for sure, but it is obvious the Russian team can do it.

What do we need for that?

No more than one person in bad form. And it would be better if everyone arrives in shape.

All photos provided by Alexander Motylev and Peter Svidler
Questions: Misha Savinov

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