Interviews May 8, 2019 | 7:16 AMby Colin McGourty

Giri: I treat myself as an idiot till proven otherwise

Anish Giri’s victory in the Shenzhen Masters finally put to rest any lingering claims that he’d never won a supertournament, and in an 80-minute interview with Jan Gustafsson the world no. 4 talks about the twists and turns of the event. He also explains how his critics motivate him, assesses his hopes of qualifying for the Candidates Tournament and gives his verdict on Magnus Carlsen’s idea that it’s good to work under the assumption that your opponent is an idiot!

You can watch the interview in full below:

After finishing winless and last on -3 in Shamkir, Azerbaijan things turned 180 degrees for Anish Giri in Shenzhen, China:

The interview starts with Jan going through the event game-by-game, but as you'll see, there are some big digressions along the way! Here’s a transcript of some of the highlights:

On the venue in Shenzhen

It’s paradise! Shenzhen is near Hong Kong and it is a very, very green city, and around this time of the year it feels like you are in the tropics. There is this rain, there is like a rain forest there. The hotel territory is huge, the hotel is one of the best hotels I’ve stayed in, and I’ve stayed in some really good hotels. It’s really a good place, just that it’s very humid and already actually pretty hot, so it’s already sometimes too hot to have a comfortable walk, and when you walk through this jungle-like environment you sometimes start seeing snakes around you – they’re not there, but you start seeing them, because you see them in the movies. It’s a bit uncomfortable.

  • Shenzhen, China

Round 1: Yu Yangyi ½-½ Giri

Giri repeated a somewhat rare Catalan line with 11…c6 in which Harikrishna had blundered badly and lost to Boris Gelfand in the recent Prague tournament. Giri didn’t make the same mistake and took a solid draw from a position of strength. He comments on the effect of computers:  

In general you see the trend nowadays with the new computers and so on. Chess seems to be not shrinking, but on the contrary expanding, and the lines that were thought to be closed are opening back [up]. I think there’s little reason to get depressed and much more reason to work hard again.

Giri accepted a draw offer from his opponent on move 31 in a position where only a couple of pawns had been exchanged, concluding:

I could be slightly better, but I thought ok, to start with a draw with the black pieces is fine. And after Shamkir I wanted to play one good game in a row!

Giri has been associated with draws more than any other active elite player, but would happily see the draw offer removed from the game:

I don’t really see the need for a draw offer to exist at all. If they want to remove it altogether I don’t see any problem. If a position is extremely dead players can easily find their way to finish the game - they’ll repeat moves. I’m also not the person… you know some players they get very arrogant. Sometimes they have 3 vs. 3 in a rook endgame, it’s a dead draw, and they suddenly feel the need to agree a draw against all the rules, let’s say they haven’t made move 40 or they haven’t asked the arbiter, and they just want to make a statement that it’s a draw, but if you want you can just repeat the moves three times, and no need to bother arbiters for that.

Round 2. Giri 1:0 Harikrishna

The 2019 Shenzhen Masters would end up being all about Hari and Giri! | photo:

Here Harikrishna was caught out by a known opening idea, and was in real trouble when Giri played 15.b4!, a move Jorden van Foreest had played before him against Markus Ragger in the 2018 World Rapid Championship:

Anish comments:

We know from Sam Shankland’s book that you have to put the b3-pawn to b4 or it’s going to be blocked by a5, and you’re doomed for life!

Giri felt it helped him a lot to know the evaluation of the position:

If you don’t know it’s really better for White you might half-try and think it’s not a big deal, but I knew it was really better for White, so it motivated me to look for the best move and not just a good one.

Things went smoothly after that, with Harikrishna never getting back into the game:

I think he felt the margin was bigger than it was. It got really bad really fast and I think he skipped the moment when he needed to be desperate.

Round 3. Ding Liren ½-½ Giri

The final position of this game was memorable!

Jan and Giri discuss whether it would still be drawn if the black queen was replaced by a pawn, with Anish commenting:

There’s some story that Tarrasch or someone… offered the guy a draw, the guy said, “I’ll play on a bit”, to which Tarrasch, in a closed bishop endgame, removed the bishop and said, “this is still a draw!”

Broken hip or not, Ding Liren joined in an ice hockey session on the rest day | photo:

Round 4. Jakovenko ½-½ Giri

A game mostly of note for Giri joining Magnus and Fabiano in playing the Sveshnikov:

If I want to join Team Sveshnikov I join Team Sveshnikov, but on my terms, and not because I’m desperate like some other characters out there!

Round 5. Giri ½-½ Rapport

“I’m a big follower of Baadur Jobava’s games,” said Giri after Rapport played Baadur’s pet line 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 e5!?, but soon after that Anish went astray and went on to suffer some uncomfortable moments:

Giri had understandably assumed this pawn capture was impossible, but, as he realised during what became a 25-minute think:

13.Re1 is met by 13…0-0-0!, and once that is there suddenly the whole thing is very sad. I was very lucky there that the game didn’t get out of hand.

But the Dutch no. 1 explains he wasn’t as worried as he might have been:

If you saw Richard that day, he didn’t breathe confidence and happiness, let me put it that way. In that sense it didn’t feel like I’d dodged a giant bullet, but if you look purely at the position, I was in big trouble at some point.

He goes on to say of Rapport:

To be honest, he has made a name for himself, and he will forever remain a very enterprising player, but some of his games recently have really not been too inspired. His results are fine, but occasionally for some reason he chooses to play it very safe or not go for a big fight when he could. I think it’s just a matter of confidence and probably he’ll regain it and be back with some fun chess.  But he still plays fine, he scored 50% in Shenzhen, which is very decent, and he even won some rating, I think. His result in Wijk was also alright. Right now probably he struggles a bit with the inspiration department, but I think just the sound of his name already excites everyone, so I’m sure he’ll find some motivation there too and be back with fun games.

Richard Rapport finished in 4th place on 50%, with 1 win and 1 loss in the 10 games | photo:

Round 6. Giri 1:0 Yu Yangyi

Yu Yangyi was fighting against the tide from 11…b5?! onwards here (11…Nxd5!), but Giri pointed out a nice moment that would have passed almost all spectators by while watching the game. He assumes that Yu Yangyi’s 20…Nf6?! was based on the idea of meeting 21.Rg5 with 21…h6. The Chinese player sank into thought there and likely spotted, 22.Bxf6 hxg5 23.Nxg5 g6 24.Ne6!!

A very nice little cheapo. It’s always the moments like this that you’d never see when you follow the game. This is usually the reason a player stumbles, because he misses a tactic like that, but of course the computer never shows that – because the computer already sees it from afar.

The game would eventually last 102 moves, with Giri noting that at some point he’d completely relaxed as if he was having a Thai massage. He was sure the position would be drawn, but when Yu Yangyi lost the thread he had to try and wake himself up again. He asks at one point,

Should I try and beat him like Shankland, to make him think he’s lost, or should I try and win the position already?!

Things ended well for our hero:

It was a funny ending, but as with your Thai massages it was a happy ending as well!

All was well that ended well for Giri against Chinese no. 2 Yu Yangyi | photo:

Round 7. Harikrishna ½-½ Giri

This was a rare case of Anish mixing up his opening analysis, with 7…c4?!, though he was in good company. Peter Svidler had done the same against Anna Muzychuk in the Gideon Japhet Cup last year, but then switched sides to punish the same mistake by Ian Nepomniachtchi in the same event. As you’ll see, the game later led to a lot of reflection, though initially it was mainly Anish kicking himself!

At the beginning of the game, after c4, before recomposing myself, I had a brief moment of meltdown, of course, and then I thought to myself, of course Hari is a great player and everything, but how to get so lucky? He has a streak, and after move 8 and 5 minutes, I’m handing him a point. I was so angry, I was thinking like these people who complain the guy’s so lucky, it’s unbelievable… that was my state for a while.

It would get worse before it got better…

…but in the end Giri managed to hold a 66-move draw. Some questions arose. Was he upset to have mixed up a position featuring games he should have known by top players?

I think you can be complete with your analysis without looking at games. In general, the analysis should be such that the games aren’t relevant to you. Whatever they played should be irrelevant, so I don’t say I don’t care about games, but I don’t consider missing a game to be a big sin. I consider missing a line in the file to be a big sin. But of course when it was even played it’s more awkward, because people will quote the games, but I think sometimes if you miss something that wasn’t played but which was obviously shown by the computer it’s also equally big.

Giri quotes a former World Champion in his defence:

I remember one time Kramnik a long time ago was telling me about some of his seconds: “they’re ridiculous, they start looking up the games!”

How can you beat players in preparation?

Nowadays it’s much more about trying to guess what your opponent hasn’t looked at before the game, rather than the quality of analysis. I don’t think the quality of my analysis is particularly better than any other top player, or the other way around. I think it’s not about the quality, it’s more about the direction you choose, where you can outsmart them.

The topic turned to the Carlsen-Caruana World Championship, where unusually for modern top level chess the players kept returning to the same opening – the Sveshnikov. Giri had some theories:

You want to have information. I’m sure if Fabi knew all that Magnus does with Black he would pick another target. You cannot fish for information for five games, you have only six games, you fish for two or three games and then at some point you have to try and strike.

Jan: You should have told us before the match! We were just fishing all the way.

Exactly! What Magnus was doing with White in the match I think is a case of some psychological issues he’s had, because clearly he was traumatised by some of the first games, and he got the feeling that ok, this guy knows everything, I’m going to be surprised everywhere, but in general I think what Fabi did was more or less reasonable. Maybe Magnus was more vulnerable in some d4 line, but you cannot explore forever…  In that way they decided to stick to this tabiya, but I think this tabiya is very big…

Also the computer doesn’t understand it very well at a low depth, which made it very, very fresh, and the other way around. Because it was very rich the computers didn’t understand it, and because the computers didn’t understand it, it was very rich. If the computer would right away show the truth everywhere it would be easy for you guys to exhaust it, but I guess you and the Fabi team struggled going through lots of lines where the computer was wrong and you had to go back and so on.

Is defending unappealing positions one of Giri’s strengths?

It definitely was not my strength, that’s for sure. There was a time when I was already a 2700 player and I would not defend anything, literally! Anything that was looking bad would be over and my favourite thing back then was to blow myself up nicely, to do some kind of desperate thing at the very start, to do some pawn break or something very desperate and then just it would end immediately and that was a very big weakness of mine. And the kind of players like Karjakin and Nakamura were much better at this always, at defending tenaciously.

A lot is really the time management and patience. Often in certain positions you need to, let’s say, you thought briefly about it and this is the way to defend, but when the position is very bad you cannot get away with a mistake anymore, so then often you think that ‘this must be it’, then you make [the move] and you say, ‘oh no!’ But at that stage, if it’s a bad position, it’s pretty much the end of the game usually, so what you should do at that stage is to try to rethink again, and that’s not fun, because the position is not really fun to think about, but you have to sort of do it all over again, and that is a bit a question of a time management thing, because you need to spend a bit more time. At the same time you shouldn’t spend too much time, because then you’re just going to lose on time at some point or be in time trouble and lose because of the time pressure, so the whole time management and patience becomes much, much harder and I think it’s very hard for everyone to defend.

I‘m very happy sometimes I managed and it’s very, very good, it gives me a lot of confidence, because you see players who do that well like Karjakin, for example, it almost made him a World Champion - the quality of saving bad positions.

The toughest and most important game of the tournament for Giri | photo: 

Does he agree with Carlsen’s theory that ideally his opponent should be treated as an idiot until proven otherwise?

I was thinking about it. I think in my case usually I treat myself as an idiot until proven otherwise in my game, and I don’t know if it’s good for me, but it’s definitely how it is for the most part, and actually it’s not bad for me… You see Peter [Svidler] is at his best when he’s terrified, when he’s unhappy, afraid and concerned, and then he gets red, and then he starts defending, and I had many games with him myself like that and I’ve seen many games of his – when he gets red he starts defending, he gets very unhappy, he gets 100% focused, and he takes over so many times! I lost to him like this a few times because you defend and then the trend switches but he’s already fully concentrated and he’s already survived the worse, psychologically, so I think it depends on people.

For Magnus it’s maybe good. Also maybe it’s true that most people he plays are idiots, at least if I speak about myself, so then he simply thinks the true thing and when he’s in good shape he indeed sees more than most other players, so it probably helps him, and also I guess it seems from his interview he has lots of psychological issues during games, and it seems it really helps him when he gets rid of them, and this mind-set helps him to feel confident.

On one of his own strengths:

Let’s say I have, especially in good shape, a very heightened sense of danger. Far before things go wrong I see them going wrong already, and that’s why when I’m in good shape I very rarely allow any sort of takeover, and I usually defend by margins, and as we saw some games I can give up a queen for a pawn and still hold it!

Round 8: Giri ½-½ Ding Liren

A seemingly quiet game, but with one big potential turning point:

Here Giri switch to AlphaZero mode and gave up a pawn with 25.Bb2!?, but there was another option:

25.Qf4! would give me a gigantic advantage, surprisingly.

White could simply then play Bb2 a move later, without giving up a pawn. In the game after 25.Bb2 Qxe3+ 26.Kh2 Rf8!, the move Giri missed, all Black’s problems were over.

Round 9:  Rapport ½-½ Giri

“I don’t know why he did it”, commented Giri of a non-game in which Rapport followed Wojtaszek-Giri, Shamkir Chess 2018, for 23 moves and made a completely uneventful draw. It left Giri half a point behind Harikrishna, but with the better tiebreak since he’d won their mini-match.

Round 10: Giri 1-0 Jakovenko

The final round win over Dmitry Jakovenko went very smoothly | photo:

The last round went perfectly for Anish, since Ding Liren gradually ground out a win over Harikrishna while Giri won a pawn against Jakovenko and eventually went on to convert it in 97 moves, though by that point he knew that all he needed was half a point. Giri had won a supertournament!

Jan gently addressed the elephant in the room:

Some people in the past might have brought up that you didn’t win so many supertournaments…

Some people! Let’s call it what it is. Some people said I never won a supertournament. That I don’t win many supertournaments is simply true, but that I didn’t win any…

You’re hurt about Reggio Emilia not getting its proper respect?

It is a pity, because my plan was to win a tournament and then afterwards say like, “pity for the tournament, now it’s no longer going to be considered a supertournament”, but then Peter Heine made this joke at the start already, or a similar one, so I thought the joke’s already gone. That thing was already brought up way too early. Actually I’m very happy with the way Peter Heine and Magnus are trying to motivate me and give me confidence.

You have to understand, I came after last place in Shamkir and I won just one game and already Peter Heine brought up this thing of me potentially winning the tournament. That gives confidence! I remember one time I had a dinner in the Spanish League and Fressinet said something that he doesn’t even remember, but he said something that made we really so much more confident for the rest of my career. I’m very grateful to these guys. They really bring out the best in me.

What did he say?

No, I cannot reveal that. It’s not a big deal, but he said something, it’s a bit personal, but he said something, he didn’t even remember, I think, it just was a phrase, it was after I lost, and it made me feel much better and I played very well in the tournament and in general often I look back to that moment when I feel not so well. I think of Fressinet and it’s all good again.

He’s a great motivator!

So does Giri now have to have a higher goal of winning a supertournament featuring Carlsen and/or Caruana?

That’s what I was already saying. It’s quite funny that for me you could divide tournaments between tournaments with Carlsen and tournaments without Carlsen, but for Carlsen all tournaments are without Carlsen. It makes it much easier for him to play. He never has to score more than Carlsen, he never has to face Carlsen, he never has to face Carlsen with White, never with Black. I understand why he plays so well! It’s much, much easier.

So you don’t think he categorises them into Giri, non-Giri tournaments?

Interesting, I never thought about it. He always says that Fabi’s particularly better than others, or something, but I really don’t know if he thinks that way. I really wouldn’t know why he would fear Fabi more than others.

It’s hard to argue with Fabi’s results, especially in 2018? He was better than everybody else.

And he had this streak, this 7/7, where I wasn’t there, so I didn’t see it, but Magnus was there and it must have been very painful at that time, so maybe he traumatised him… Fabiano clearly has his own weaknesses and I don’t think he’s particularly ahead of the rest, but of course he won many tournaments and he’s the world no. 2 now, I guess, and even in the GRENKE tournament he finished second.

Giri: "For Carlsen all tournaments are without Carlsen... it's much, much easier!" | photo:

…Fabi I like on the personal level, but I thought he would not do so well after the World Championship match. I thought it would be difficult for him to find motivation, but I think he just keeps doing what he’s doing and literally he keeps checking the Sveshnikov.

It’s a good opening!

I think it’s a good way to just move on from the match and not pretend it never happened - at the same time just to embrace the match within yourself, to just keep checking the same lines after. I think that’s an interesting psychological trick there by Fabi. For now his results are good and he also plays very well.

I played very shakily in Shamkir. I won this tournament but I’m not particularly impressed by my own play - I don’t think I played particularly well. I made also many mistakes in the conversion phase and so on, so I wouldn’t put myself very high, but right now it doesn’t even matter so much because I remember Karjakin, he qualified to the match during a year when he actually otherwise played quite poorly. He was pretty low before and he just won this whole cycle, so in that sense I’m looking forward to the cycle, and I’m going to try to show my best.

I’m curious also to see if Magnus will maintain his level. He is very, very realistic about things himself, and he said that he doesn’t expect it to last forever, which is good, because it would have been worrying if he expected it to last forever, because maybe it would! He himself seems to think it will be over at some point and then ok, it will be back to humans playing each other and it’s going to be fine.

So in general if you wish all your competitors bad results does Magnus’ dominance in a way help you, because no-one else can have great results? He’s the main competitor.

In a way he’s way too far sometimes so he’s not really my main competitor, and that sometimes also hurts me a bit when we play, because for example the stuff I play I don’t particularly think it’s good to play against him, but ok, I just play these things and I end up going for them anyway. Of course I consider sometimes to prepare for Magnus separately altogether, and I sort of do it a little bit sometimes, but then it is of course harder to motivate myself to do it because it’s just one of the many games. Also it’s very wrong to focus only on Magnus when you have eight other games, so in that sense it’s a bit harder for me to compare against him, but yeah, it’s hard to say. Of course it’s really fun when he’s doing badly, that’s for sure, and then someone else has to do well. The ideal scenario of course would be that he’s doing badly, I’m doing well and everyone else also doing badly. It’s hard to imagine!


Anish Giri was in Shenzhen with his second Erwin l’Ami, while at other events he'd been accompanied by Vladimir Chuchelov. Was Erwin his lucky charm?

Jan and Giri's conversation turned to "superstitions":

You can be attached to, for instance, sleeping hours, that if you didn’t sleep eight hours you’re not going to play well. That also hurts you indirectly, because not only did it suck you didn’t sleep well, but you also feel like you should play badly because you didn’t sleep well, so in a way I try to take a distance from all these other factors around me so that I don’t depend on them in some sense.

You hear this, Erwin? This sounds like a threat to me!

It is actually a strange thing that I’m saying, probably, but it doesn’t apply so much to seconds, it’s more just in general. I don’t know if it’s really clear what I mean but I think other players understand what I mean. For example, I think Magnus he has probably some new girlfriend right now, and that is maybe why he thinks he’s playing well.

Breaking news! I didn’t dare to ask him. I didn’t know, honestly – I heard the rumours.

Come on, you didn’t know? You probably arranged the whole thing.

I wish I had that power.

Jan mentions how Magnus had talked about his favourite book being a chapter on Giri written by Vladimir Tukmakov. Had Giri read it?

No, I’m actually very curious because ok, the good news is that I think we sort of are on friendly terms, so I think it shouldn’t be anything bad, because I saw one interview of his about Wesley So, and that was really bad. That was really not good. It claimed Wesley didn’t have enough chess culture or something - just not a very nice thing to say! I think I’m fine there, and I’m also curious, because I remember one time I said something about my game with Magnus. I think somewhere in a Wijk aan Zee tournament, a long time ago, we played a game and Magnus said that yeah, it’s tough to beat Giri because he played against me with Black and he said if he doesn’t get any opening advantage he shuts the game down. I thought it was true, and someone asked me and I said that’s true and that’s what makes it hard for him to beat me, because if I don’t get any advantage I shut the game down, and actually I even did that the next day. But then my trainer said, but why did you say that?

First he was a bit upset because it’s not a very confident thing to say, and then he thought about it a bit, and then he said, yeah, it’s fine. First of all it’s not clear if you meant what you said, and secondly, what’s more important, even if you meant what you said it’s not necessarily the case that you’re going to think like that in the future. I thought it was an interesting thing he said and I think it applies here as well. Whatever he said about me doesn’t have to apply in the future.

That’s maybe for the best, since…

Candidates qualification chances

Anish Giri will be the top seed in the 16-player knockout FIDE Grand Prix that starts in Moscow on 17th May, with his competitors including the likes of Mamedyarov, So, Aronian, Grischuk, Nakamura and Svidler. How does he rate his chances of qualifying for the 2020 Candidates Tournament?

It’s so hard… To be honest, it’s going to be a fun cycle, but the way every event is done is that it seems you need luck. I have a lot of chances on paper, but in each of them I have to be really lucky, because the Swiss event simply is one spot, there’s like a gigantic Top 100 Swiss where only one qualifies, so it’s statistically very unlikely, you have the World Cup, which is always statistically unlikely, and then you have these knockouts, which are again not entirely reliable, and rating is only one spot, I believe. So in some sense everybody has a very low chance, in a way everywhere.

At least before the Grand Prix were much less random because they were long, boring, semi-closed events, where you had a lot of chances to be back and you could score +1, +2 and still be in with a chance, and now you have these knockouts. Somehow I’m looking forward to it much more than when they announced it. Now I’m really looking forward to Moscow, because it sounds fun to play some knockout event, and it’s a smaller one than the World Cup, but I don’t know, I’m looking forward to it, but I don’t see why I would have particularly high chances, but just like everyone else I’m really going to give it a shot and it’s very motivating of course this year to have so many things to prepare for and to play.

Moscow was the scene of arguably Giri's greatest achievement to date - drawing all 14 games in the 2016 Candidates Tournament! | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, Russian Chess Federation

The new system favours the rapid and blitz specialists?

Of course the knockouts after two games they’re going to be rapid and blitz. I think the main reason they did the knockouts is because the Grand Prix tournaments for some reason traditionally were not very much followed in the chess world, and I think knockouts are going to be inevitably very popular, when it comes to following. It’s very spectacular, so I think they thought only about that. I don’t think they favour or don’t favour rapid and blitz players on purpose, let’s say.

Probably Hikaru and Nepo are slightly better at rapid and blitz than otherwise, but other than these two – I think other players… maybe Karjakin is a little bit stronger in the blitz. I remember when I talked about it with Vachier-Lagrave at some World Cup he told me he didn’t consider himself favourite against me in the rapid, which I thought was very nice, and he said only in the blitz. Also many people say that these tiebreaks are different than the rapid or blitz events. It’s hard to say, really. For sure nerves play a much bigger role, and for example Karjakin has always been doing well because he has a very good nervous system, but as I said I’m really looking forward for some reason to this Moscow and we’ll see how it goes. I really wouldn’t know, but I have a feeling it slightly favours the random guys, so to speak.

There’s more variance?

I think it’s more likely a player who is not in the Top 10 qualifies now than before, just because the chances of the Top 10 players are all slightly diminished because it became a bit more random. But as I said, it was also not easy for me, I think, last cycle. I didn’t play the Candidates. These Grand Prix events were never easy, it was always tough, and it’s not like now for me it became much harder or anything. I just have to do well.

Carlsen’s beard

The beard is weird? | photo: Eric van Reem, GRENKE Chess  

The interview ended on the big topic, the World Champion’s beard:

Jan explains that although Magnus shaved off his beard he denied seeing the tweet:

That’s very childish. If you already admit defeat, at least admit it properly. To say you haven’t seen my tweet – there’s not a person in the world that doesn’t see my tweets! That was just ridiculous. Sorry… he probably has two people who are fully professionally following my Twitter page, not counting PH [Peter Heine Nielsen] who does it just as a hobby. To say that he missed my tweet… but you know beards, they can be worrying, it’s not fun to have a beard, eventually you end up shaving it, so of course in that sense my tweet was pretty safe. 

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