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General Nov 24, 2021 | 3:51 PMby Colin McGourty

“Ian is a bit more aggressive!”: Carlsen and Nepo’s 1st press conference

Ian Nepomniachtchi will have the white pieces against Magnus Carlsen on Friday when the World Chess Championship begins, while in their first press conference they got a taste of how their interactions with the press will look. When Nepo was asked why he’ll win he replied, “normally I think the best player wins!”, while Magnus gave the “prediction”, “the person who scores the most points over the next three weeks is going to be the winner, and hopefully it’s going to be me”. It was a cagey opener, but the real battle lies ahead. 

And so it begins! | photo: Eric Rosen, FIDE

The Opening Press Conference of the Chess World Championship is a tradition, but perhaps not a much-loved one. On this occasion we had a long delay, then the surprise of finding out the broadcast would only be viewable by fans in phone-streamed video on the World Chess Federation’s Instagram page. Only much later, after it was over, was the video posted on the Expo 2020 Dubai website

Then there were the awkward speeches first from sponsors, when we learned more than perhaps we needed to know about the commercial fate of a Russian fertiliser company. Eventually, however, we got to the players, with Maurice Ashley introducing the World Champion Magnus Carlsen and his challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi. We watched the video so you don’t have to, and have transcribed all the players’ answers below.

Nothing in chess matches the attention given to the World Championship match | photo: Eric Rosen, FIDE

How does it feel to finally be ready to start in just two days, after months of preparation?

Ian: First of all, thank you! It feels great! Because that’s why I really prepared for the whole cycle, the Grand Prix, the Candidates and now the match. I can’t wait for it to actually start. 

Magnus: It’s going to feel better in two days! 

Why are you going to win this championship? 

Ian: Well, normally I think the best player wins! 

Magnus: I predict that the person who scores the most points over the next three weeks is going to be the winner, and hopefully that’s going to be me. And if I do win it will probably be because I made a lot of good moves and good decisions under pressure.

Magnus said he thought Ding or Fabiano would be more difficult opponents. Did you see that, and what was your reaction? 

Ian: Well, first of all, I guess, he had to say something, yeah? So that’s basically my reaction. 

Ian has the best reactions, at least when it comes to facial expressions! | photo: Eric Rosen, FIDE

Ian gave an interview and he said he didn’t think your fire may be burning as hard for this match, because it’s your 5th. What was your reaction to that quote? (this was in fact referring to a quote by Vishy Anand)

Magnus: Well, that’s the first time I hear about it and it really makes me fired up, so thank you very much!

Does it get any easier, with nerves and pressure, as this is your 5th match? 

Magnus: I think some parts may get easier as you get more experienced, but after all it comes down to what you do over the board, and I think also Ian has experience now from the Candidates, which is really the best preparation that you can get for the match, since it’s so intense. And he also has lots of people in his team that have World Championship experience, so it remains to be seen if the experience of being here before helps, but in terms of your question, if it gets any easier, yes, I would say it gets a little bit easier in the sense that you probably are a little less nervous than you are the first time. 

Ian: Of course I guess this applies to any event, basically, any major tournament you play or participate in. Until the first move has been played you feel nervous, pumped up, excited, but once it gets actually to chess this is much easier to handle. So yeah, of course I highly rate all the support that I get and I’m really thankful to all the people who are wishing me luck and success, but in general I don’t think I’m getting extra nervous because of this.

How do the lessons you learn in chess apply outside of chess? 

Magnus: That’s a very good question. I would say that chess can teach you a lot of things, when you learn it, especially when you’re young. For me, specifically, I think the most useful thing has been decision-making, to be able to make relatively quick decisions based on the data that you have, which I think is useful in almost any endeavour, and that is something that I’ve taken with me from chess. So far I haven’t applied it successfully apart from chess, but I think theoretically if I were to do something else professionally it would be very, very useful.

You’re a fan of Fantasy Football. If you could compare your opponent to any football player, is there anyone you have in mind?

Magnus: That’s a very good question. Nobody comes to mind immediately. Probably somebody very good. I’ll probably have a better answer in a couple of days! 

Ian: That’s hard to say, actually, because I’m not a Fantasy Football player, although of course I follow the football scene, but well, probably some striker, yeah? Also a good one! 

Women are a minority in the world of chess, there aren’t many in the world Top 100. Do you think if the number of female players grew and there weren’t competitions exclusively for them, a woman could be a candidate for the World Championship. 

Ian: That’s a really good question. In general I don’t see any difference. I think the general issue is that less girls go to chess schools, and the base is slightly less than when you speak about boys, because in general girls have, especially in childhood, they normally have some other hobbies and that’s how in the Top 100, for example, we normally don’t see too many female players. I guess this can be changed. For example, Aleksandra Goryachkina is doing quite nicely, and hopefully she’ll be able to qualify for the match for a second time in a row and hopefully win it. I think it’s more or less a matter of time when we see some really strong female player. We had the good example of Judit Polgar. 

Magnus: I think it’s a good question, way too complicated to answer in a few sentences. I would say there are a number of factors, I think especially cultural, that lead to the situation we have today. What I would say in general is I encourage everybody to play chess and what I’ve found around the world is that young girls find as much joy as young boys in the game of chess, and if that could be communicated more I think that would be very helpful.

You have been friends before. Does it make this World Championship any different? 

Magnus: I would say not particularly. I knew Anand very well also before the first couple of matches. I’d worked with him as well, and I don’t think it makes a massive difference. The top players know each other so well in general, especially those who have been on the circuit for a long time, so I don’t think it really matters. 

Ian: As Magnus correctly stated, it’s very hard to find an opponent you don’t know. But yeah, about ten years ago we used to work together a little, but I don’t really think it will have an influence towards how the match is going, because in general I think that once you sit at the board you have no friends. 

No friendship on the chessboard | photo: Eric Rosen, FIDE

How has the technology and how you work with it changed over the last couple of years?

Ian: That’s a good question, but I can’t say something revolutionary has happened, because we worked as usual — at least this applies to me. But of course chess engines became more powerful, and now you can choose between different engines to work with, but I believe in general the level difference between the player and the engine was high enough 10 years ago already. People now use something that’s called neural networks and this has changed the way you work a little bit, but I think it’s more or less the same — just you try to grind out the best moves. 

Magnus: I think things have definitely changed a lot over the last couple of years, since the last World Championship match, as Ian mentioned, because of neural networks. Computer engines have become a lot better and the way you work has changed a little bit, but I think generally the tools are available to everybody, so I don’t think it makes a huge difference over the board. But in terms of the way you work, things have changed a bit. 

Can you talk about your seconds and how you’ve prepared? 

Ian: Thank you for this question. Still I’m not going to introduce every member of my team, but at least part of the team which worked with me during the Candidates remains the same, and I guess that’s all I can say on this part. Speaking of my work, of course you have to be prepared mentally, physically and chess-wise, so it’s a never-ending process, basically, and you prepare as much as never before when you play a match. 

Magnus: There’s a team that have been working with me, and they’re still working, and they’re great! That’s all I can say. 

Neither player was going to reveal their team of helpers just yet | photo: Eric Rosen, FIDE

Seeing how you don’t play Fantasy Football, maybe you can compare Magnus to a character from Hearthstone or a card or deck, or if not maybe a unit in League of Legends? 

Ian: Thank you, but let me at least maybe stick to some football players, it will be easier. In general, I just say that ok, Norway enjoys really a lot of world class sportsmen, and not only football players, but also I don’t know, some very different sports. Pick the one you like! 

How much are you looking for new ideas in online chess blitz games? 

Ian: That’s a very proper question, because really for the past I believe 12, or even 20, months a lot of major chess tournaments moved online, and if before at least many of us thought this is more about having fun and sometimes training, now things have changed. Of course it’s not a new situation, especially not anymore, when you prepare some idea and you see someone playing it in some online blitz tournament, and you say, ok, thank you! You’re just extremely pleased… Maybe this idea turns out to be bad and you had no chance to come with this novelty, but of course I think the quantity is different nowadays, and perhaps the quality applies to this case as well, and sooner or later you find some interesting things you haven’t found before. You see someone is playing this in blitz chess against you. 

Magnus: Yeah, I think as a player you try to find ideas everywhere, and there are so many blitz games now polluting the databases as well that you can’t really avoid them. So yeah, what can I say, you search everywhere, in general! 

What’s your advice for the young generation that want to be champions like you? 

Ian: That’s a big question, by the way. Normally if they ask me to advise something, or wish something, then I’ll just try to say that you’ve got to enjoy what you’re doing, and you should just enjoy what you do, if it’s chess or science or sports or basically whatever. That’s the main part, because if you don’t enjoy the way you do and the thing you’re doing probably you’re doing something wrong. 

Magnus: Yeah, that seems to pretty much echo what I would say. Apart from that… no, that’s pretty much it! Enjoy what you do! If you’re going to excel in a field I think at least my philosophy is that that has to be the main component. 

Magnus highlighted his opponent's understanding of "king safety" - will the current chess king be safe in Dubai? | photo: Eric Rosen, FIDE

What differentiates Ian from your previous challengers?

Magnus: I think there are a few key differences. The main one, in terms of style, is that Ian is a bit more aggressive. He’s somebody whose play is faster, and I think he has a keener understanding of the concepts of king safety than previous opponents, so I would say that would be the main difference in terms of strengths, certainly. 

These two questions were from Tania Sachdev

You’ve been involved before in matches as a commentator and so on. How important was that in the prep for this match and what were the big takeaways that you would do differently? 

Ian: The preparation is unique, I think every match is unique, and the big problem is that you can’t really simulate the experience you are going to get during the match. You can be involved on some player’s team and so on, but I think this is quite a different story when you come sit at the board and play by yourself. So I have some thoughts, what should I do, my team has some thoughts, what should I do, and hopefully it will be quite correct. 

At the drawing of lots what would you prefer, White or Black in Game 1?

Ian: The only thing I would prefer is not to play 14 games with Black, probably, but hopefully the rules are strict so it will be more or less balanced! 

Magnus: I would say that there are advantages and disadvantages to both, certainly, to start, and frankly I’ve had both and I have maybe a slight preference for starting with White, but I don’t think your equity will be majorly different regardless. Overall I think maybe slightly psychologically it’s easier to start with White, but it’s unlikely to shift the odds considerably. 

At the Opening Gala Magnus popped a balloon filled with black confetti and it's Ian Nepomniachtchi who will have the white pieces and make the first move of the match.

What is your impression of the host city and do you have a message for UAE’s golden jubilee in a few days?

Ian: I should state that Dubai is one of the most beautiful cities and the location is just awesome. It’s good to spend a vacation here. Unfortunately we can’t spend a vacation. At least at first there is some work to do, and Dubai is also changing really smoothly, because you don’t really recognise the place you have been before. It’s changing, it’s growing, it’s just an awesome place to be. 

What about the anniversary, that it’s 50 years of the UAE? 

Ian: That’s great.

Magnus: What’s more golden than a World Championship? I think that’s the perfect way to celebrate. Apart from that, Dubai has all the facilities and also the climate, which makes it a really, really good venue for a World Championship, so I’m happy to be here.

When host Maurice Ashley suggested the players should take photos with the trophy, Ian commented, "when the time comes", while Magnus described it as "very inappropriate".

The only other official business remaining before the match kicks off was the drawing of colours at the Opening Gala and, as we've seen, it's Ian Nepomniachtchi who gets the white pieces and will make the first move.     

Follow the Carlsen-Nepomniachtchi World Chess Championship live here on chess24 from Friday November 26th!

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