Anish Giri, the world no. 4 and the youngest player in the 2016 Candidates Tournament, is only one point off the lead with six rounds to go and still has a real chance of qualifying for a World Championship match against Magnus Carlsen. So far, though, he’s mainly attracted criticism for a super-solid approach that has led to eight draws in eight games. What does Anish himself think about his style? He talked about it in a long interview before the event.
In the interview with Oleg Bogatov for RSport.ru, Giri talked about his upbringing in Russia, Japan and the Netherlands and many other topics (for instance, his name apparently means “God of Gods,” or something similar!), but here we’ve translated the last section of the interview where the focus switches to chess:
How was your preparation for the event – more training sessions or tournaments?
Unfortunately I was one of the players who for a long time didn’t know if I would take part or not. I qualified based on my FIDE rating over the last year. I was comfortably ahead of Vladimir Kramnik, but there were still a couple of months before the final count and I didn’t want to start my preparation before I was officially a participant in the tournament. As the Russian saying goes, don’t divide up the skin of an unkilled bear.
I tried not to think about it, but there wasn’t so much time left in the year. It seems to me I attempted to make my preparation intense, but not to such a degree that my brain shut off after it. The computer plays a huge role in preparation, and then it’s hard to get away from it – to switch to playing at the board. I tried to do everything in my power, and I’m happy with how it went. But, unfortunately or fortunately, preparation is only a small part of the game: the result often depends on many other factors.
Anish, among experts there’s an opinion that if Giri has decided not to lose a game then it’s almost impossible to beat him. Is that the case?It’s partly true. My style is known for being watertight, but I don’t focus on that – it’s purely stylistic. It’s not an approach I choose but a consequence of my chess style. Such positions suit my game. I’ve had a lot of games which I’ve won by exploiting a minimal advantage, when many of my colleagues would simply agree to a draw, not thinking about a win. Those are purely technical positions in which you need to take subtle decisions.
Last year I really did lose very few games. One of them was in the semi-final of the World Cup in Baku, with White against Svidler, when I surprised myself by going for a sharp attack. That was a very important stage, and if I’d beaten Peter I’d have qualified for the final and guaranteed my participation in the Candidates Tournament. It’s often like that: when you attack but you’re not sure that it’s sound, there’s some kind of indecisiveness, and ultimately it all ends badly.
Yes, I had a lot of tournaments where I didn’t lose a single game, and that often weighs on your opponents: when they have an advantage they’re afraid to let it slip. On the one hand that’s good, while on the other – in contrast to my colleagues I’ve had few tournaments where I’ve scored +5 or +6, as has been the case, for example, with Levon, Hikaru or Fabiano.
That’s the other side of the coin, but the statistics won’t play a decisive role in the result – it’s more important to be in good form. It’s like in every sport, for instance, in football – there are teams who let in few goals, and there are clubs that are focussed on attacking. That doesn’t determine the result. It’s a matter of style.
Continuing the football analogy – do you prefer a 1:0 score to 4:3?
Yes, that often occurs in my games (smiles). I can’t say I feel more comfortable, but that happens and it’s connected to some chess preferences. It’s a question of chess education, and not my choice.
In Moscow +1 or +2 will get you one of the top places, but in order to win the tournament you may need to play more aggressive chess. Do you somehow have to adjust?
I don’t think so. After all, +5 starts with +1, so it wouldn’t be bad to start with a first win. I’m more afraid of turning out to be in bad form. If I get to +1 then, I think, I’ll pick up another couple of games. I don’t think my style prevents me from achieving success. It’s another matter that good form for me and, for example, Levon, will work in his favour.
In recent years I was a step away from victory in many tournaments: for example, in the Grand Chess Tour. I scored +2 in two tournaments and +1 in the other and was close to winning the whole series. And in all those tournaments, despite my style, I let some chances slip. Somewhere I could have scored +4, somewhere +3, therefore I’m not trying to change myself and imitate my colleagues, who I don’t consider stronger than me.
You’re considered an adherent of the Soviet Chess School…
It’s tough to say. I got very lucky that I began to study chess in Russia. I can’t say that my first coaches were very well-known chess players. At first that was Asya Kovalyova, then Andrei Praslov – they still coach now at the Sports School No. 2 in the Kalininsky District of St. Petersburg. They weren’t particularly well-known, but they knew which books chess beginners needed to read, and that’s very important. Often western coaches, who are international masters and grandmasters, are clearly stronger, but sending the right book by post or giving it to read over the weekend is a very important quality for a children’s coach.
I have some Soviet chess culture, but recently my style has changed and now it’s become very technical: I squeeze out wins from slightly better endgames and I defend very tenaciously in worse positions. But it seems to me that at my age, 21, my style changes from year to year. And there’s no guarantee that I’ll always play this way. In the last year, though, I’ve played very technically, and it all took place in a narrow range: there were few fireworks in games at the top level.
Of course when I played in the French League I won about six games. Playing with chess players who are a little weaker is much easier – you throw down the gauntlet (smiles). But throwing down the gauntlet to such players as Fabiano Caruana or Sergey Karjakin isn’t so easy.
There are probably only two elite chess players in the world who are capable of squeezing blood out of a stone – the Norwegian World Champion Magnus Carlsen and you.
Yes, at the point where many chess players end the fight and agree to a draw that’s when I start to enjoy myself. Magnus and I are very close in terms of style, but in our approach to the game we’re total opposites. Magnus tries to put the accent only on play, getting away from preparation, but for me preparation plays an enormous role. And that’s not only because I really love to prepare while Magnus doesn’t and only wants to play at the board. For me it’s a huge element of the game, and my love of chess is largely based on a love of home preparation. But in terms of chess style we really are very similar.
If I’m not mistaken, you’re the only chess player in the world who hasn’t lost to Carlsen and has a positive score in games against him, 1:0…
Yes, though we have made 12 draws, and I wouldn’t draw any particular conclusions. Of course it’s nice and potentially important that I have a good score against him, because a bad score against Magnus is the end – you can immediately sign your own death warrant. When an opponent lacks a little self-confidence Magnus simply destroys him, but when Carlsen feels uncomfortable against someone he’s not the same at all. And that’s very important.
Do you consider someone the favourite before the start of the tournament?
Many say that the chances are even, but I don’t think that’s entirely true. Purely on paper, taking into account the results of tournaments in recent months, then the favourite, in my view, is Fabiano Caruana. And also Hikaru Nakamura – in terms of his results.
Fabiano played well in January in the tournament in Wijk aan Zee and he has experience of crushing such major tournaments. In one of them he scored seven wins in a row – a fantastic result, and now scoring 7/7 is known as “doing a Caruana”. That went down in history as a top tournament result for all time, and can probably be compared to some of Anatoly Karpov’s results in previous years.
Hikaru, meanwhile, won a huge number of tournaments in the past year. However, Nakamura has a huge Magnus complex – his score against him is 0:12, although Magnus isn’t in Moscow, and that shouldn’t play on Hikaru’s nerves.
Anish, is there any Russian saying that you really like.
I like Russian sayings in general. And one day before the start of the tournament I really liked it when all the players went onto Red Square for a walk and were waiting for Topalov. And one of the organisers then said: “Seven don’t wait for one”. And it was just amusing that the standard saying fitted the occasion perfectly. There are a great many Russian sayings, and they more often than not hit the mark.
Full interview at RSport.ru (in Russian)