And so it begins! Vishy Anand will have the white pieces against Magnus Carlsen in Saturday's Game 1 of the 2014 World Chess Championship match. Today in Sochi the players met the press in the kind of media circus we haven’t seen since their last match a year ago in Chennai. Apart from Anand dropping the minor bombshell that Polish grandmaster Grzegorz Gajewski is one of his seconds there were few revelations, but we did get some enjoyable moments. Carlsen in particular was close to his acerbic best – responding to the question, “Do you consider yourself the favourite?” with, “What do you think?”
The first encounter between the world's press and Carlsen and Anand can be replayed below:
Any World Championship match attracts the great and the good of world chess, and there was a sense of the players being somewhat overshadowed. Of course we had officials such as FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and Russian Chess Federation President Andrei Filatov, but there were also numerous World Champions, including Boris Spassky, Alexandra Kosteniuk and Anatoly Karpov, who seemed to be the man who held the microphone longest.
There were mixed views on Twitter:
Among all the official speeches perhaps the only moment of
note was when Ilya Merenzon of AGON explained that the tickets were in fact
free except for 15% set aside to sell for a charitable cause. It seems media reports that you needed to earn above the Russian median wage to attend were exaggerated.
What we were all really waiting for, of course, was to hear from the players. They were asked for some opening remarks and kept it short and sweet:
Carlsen: Thanks for having me here in Russia. I’m looking forward to start the match and thanks to all the people who are here for being here.
Anand: I’d like to thank everyone who made this event happen here in Sochi. I’ve enjoyed the week here and I’m looking forward to the match starting.
The first real question – and in fact the only one anyone is genuinely curious about in these prematch press sessions – was about the players’ seconds. Who would be helping them during the match? In Chennai Anand had sprung a surprise by,
This time his response was matter of fact, but did contain a minor surprise:
Sasikiran, Wojtaszek and Gajewski are here.
The only new member of the team was therefore Grzegorz Gajewski, a respected theoretician with a gambit named after him, but since the 2643-rated Polish player is good friends with Wojtaszek it perhaps won’t have come as a big shock to Team Carlsen.
Carlsen, meanwhile, had been caught off guard by Anand’s willingness to answer the question in Chennai, but on this occasion had his response ready. He stuck to the same formula of only talking about people who were are actually in Sochi, which of course is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg:
The Dane and the Hammer, and that’s about it.
That provoked a laugh and confused the mainstream Russian media, but we’d long since known Peter Heine Nielsen and Jon Ludvig Hammer were going to be with Magnus.
We should also note here that chess24's one and only Sopiko Guramishvili will be seconding Peter Svidler as a commentator in Sochi!
We're not sure what Peter will be wearing. So with the serious business out of the way...
...we could all relax and have some fun.
Carlsen couldn't resist a touch of irony when asked whether media reports were correct and he'd visited Sochi during the Winter Olympics:
It’s in fact true. The pictures of me at the events were not manipulated… I greatly enjoyed being here during the Olympic Games. It was a great worldwide event and I’m happy to be back.
Anand was also asked about Sochi and Russia more than you would reasonably have thought possible in a short press conference, so we decided to compile his answers into one:
It’s my first trip to Sochi. For 18 years I was only going to Moscow and suddenly three more cities in the last year. I got here over a week back and enjoyed a few quiet days. I saw the facilities and everything and it’s very impressive. The whole Olympic Park area is lovely and nice to go for walks. There are no traffic jams, which is very nice. I’m happy to be here. It’s the best country to play chess.
The only hint of controversy came when Magnus was asked about his inspection of the venue and the lack of a barrier between the players and the audience:
Frankly everything wasn’t quite ready today but what I did see was satisfactory. As for the glass wall, I think that would be a good way to do it, but it wasn’t possible this time so we had to find another solution. I look forward to seeing the result tomorrow.
If you're potentially going to spend 70 hours sitting in one spot details matter!
Things got back on topic when Vishy was asked if he'd had chess nightmares like the ones in which Carlsen had apparently lost his title:
Honestly my dreams can swing either way.
Perhaps the question of the day came from the fearless journalist who asked whether Carlsen considered himself the favourite. After a collective intake of breath in the room the world no. 1 replied:
What do you think? (long pause) Seriously, it doesn’t really matter for the players. You can only do your best and as soon as the match starts it doesn’t matter whoever was the favourite. If you play badly you’re not going to win. Last time I didn’t play very successfully at the start and I could have been severely punished for that in a couple of games. Obviously it’s important for me to get off to a better start.
Someone asked if Carlsen could show what he’d been writing or drawing before the conference began, which provoked a one-word response in the negative. Doodlegate?
Carlsen has of course been enjoying himself playing sports in Sochi...
...and was asked whether he sees parallels between tactics
in chess and in football and basketball:
At heart I’m still a kid so I play football, basketball and other sports for fun because I like to play.
The sculptor of the chess set that will be given to the winner asked Anand whether his wife is an inspiration or talisman for him when she accompanies him to tournaments. That gave the Indian challenger a chance to shine!
She’s a kind of wife! Obviously we’re very close and she’s been accompanying me more or less since we got married. Big, big support of course. Recently since our son was born she doesn’t come very often. I’m very happy she’s here.
Carlsen was also asked about his talisman, and could perhaps have taken that as code for a girlfriend. His response:
I’m not such a spiritual person!
And that was that. What was your verdict on the performance of the players? Norwegian GM Jonathan Tisdall felt his countryman had shaded it:
Shortly after the questions were over the 2014 World Championship match was officially declared open in a ceremony that featured the Dallas theme tune music more often than you might have expected:
On this occasion the whole focus was on who would play with which colour in Game 1. Last year in Chennai Magnus got the white pieces but failed to make any impact. Would history repeat itself? Spoiler alert...
...no! This time round Viswanathan Anand will have what's usually considered the slight advantage of the white pieces in the first game. If Magnus was disappointed he wasn't showing it (although he did look a little nonplussed when the magician made his black dove appear on stage):
So there's not long to wait now! Game 1 starts at 13:00 CET tomorrow and can be watched LIVE here on chess24, with video commentary and the best broadcast tool around. Needless to say, don't miss it!
Unsure what to do while waiting for the action to start? How about taking a read of Vlad Tkachiev's epic preview, where he asks how Vishy can avoid a repeat of Chennai.
Or get in the mood by taking a look at our reports on last year's match, which are all linked at the bottom of this guide to the 2014 World Chess Championship.
We hope you're as excited as we are!