Interviews Mar 31, 2016 | 7:52 PMby Colin McGourty

Karjakin on his Candidates Tournament triumph

Sergey Karjakin is Magnus Carlsen’s challenger for the World Championship title after winning the Moscow Candidates Tournament by a full point. Since then he’s been swept up in a whirl of media appearances, including giving numerous interviews to the Russian press. We take a look at some of his comments on the key moments of the tournament, his preparation and his expectations for the match against Carlsen this November.

Sergey Karjakin makes his winner's speech at the Closing Ceremony | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, RCF

The quotes from Sergey below are taken from the following interviews:

  • Sergey Karjakin: I managed to store up energy for myself and surprises for my opponents (Vladimir Barsky), Russian Chess Federation (RCF)
  • Sergey Karjakin: Among the first to congratulate me on my victory were Dvorkovich, Kramnik and Carlsen! (Oleg Bogatov, Anatoly Samokhvalov, Sergey Smyshlyaev), RSport
  • Sergey Karjakin: In Moscow I played to win, like a man, like a Russian (Kirill Zangalis), Sport-Express

Karjakin talks to representatives of RSport | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, RCF

Sergey Karjakin’s final tournament before the Candidates was the Tata Steel Masters in Wijk aan Zee. After that he took a leaf from Magnus Carlsen’s playbook and headed for somewhere warmer – the United Arab Emirates, it later turned out – to prepare, giving the occasional hint on social media:

It wasn’t just relaxing, though…

Preparing for the Candidates

Karjakin: It was very important to build up a certain number of ideas, because without surprises for your opponents it’s almost impossible to win such a tournament. In order to do that it was absolutely necessary to hold a training camp, especially as I also had to get some rest and store up energy. The United Arab Emirates was very well suited to those goals. The weather was around +30 and the work went great. By the way, I can already announce my “secret” fourth second – Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.

In that case can you also announce your “non-secret” ones!

Yury Dokhoian, Vladimir Potkin and Alexander Motylev. We did a great job, stored up some ideas and, at the same time, relaxed. I arrived in Moscow in top condition!

And how many of those ideas did you manage to use? 5-10 percent?

(laughs) It’s always like that – you use a small part of what you’ve prepared. But at the same time, I managed to pose big opening problems to Anand, who’s famous for his preparation, and in some other games as well. Perhaps they weren’t so spectacular, but in terms of the opening I got good positions, and that boosted my confidence. Of course the good start to the tournament also did that. (RCF)

Vladimir Potkin (here during Round 1) was part of the winning team - it's unlikely he and Ian Nepomniachtchi will be helping Magnus Carlsen in New York the way they did in Sochi! 

There was some debate afterwards about the quality of Karjakin’s ideas, including a line of the Queen’s Indian that earned Sergey four not always entirely convincing draws with the black pieces!

Unlike Anish Giri and Sopiko Guramishvili, Karjakin didn’t stay with his wife Galiya and their young son in the hotel, but they weren’t so far apart.

Family support

I think you were really helped by your wife Galiya…

Yes, of course. She really inspired me. Half a year ago she gave me a wonderful son, who we named Alexey. And then she did everything so that my preparation went as well as it could. Galiya constantly inspired me, and when such a wonderful little guy appeared in our family she took all the troubles on herself and gave me the possibility to study chess in peace. I’m very grateful to her, and now I’m simply obliged to devote as much attention to her as possible. Otherwise she’d simply take offence. (smiling)

Alyosha, of course, doesn’t yet realise what his dad has done?

At five months, of course, that would be tough (laughs), but over time I hope he’ll grasp that there’s some link between his birth and my success. That gave me such drive that, if it wasn’t for the birth of my son, there perhaps wouldn’t have been this success in the Candidates Tournament. Of course, history doesn’t tolerate the conditional mood, but Alyosha definitely had a role in my victory.

What about your duties as a father – are you good with nappies?

To be honest, I’m proud that Galiya has taken care of the majority of that, but I also always try to help, as far as I’m able. I really love to walk with my son – we usually stroll for a couple of hours each day, when I’m free.

Sergey and Galiya together again at the Closing Ceremony | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, RCF

Sergey, you spent almost three weeks focussed on chess, with almost no contact with your family. Where did you find some release, in order not to go crazy?

You were right to say “almost”. I didn’t actually leave my family – on the rest days we’d always meet up. Once Galiya and I went to a restaurant and to our surprise we met Viswanathan Anand there. I was with the pram and it wasn’t so easy to get it up the stairs. And the next day I had a decisive game. And Vishy, on the one hand, was surprised, while on the other he understood that the family really was a release for me and one of the factors in my success. (RSport)

Now let's switch to the tournament itself.

Sergey Karjakin started with a draw against his compatriot Peter Svidler

Round 2: Beating Nakamura

In the second round I managed to provoke Nakamura. I won’t hide the fact I set a trap for the American. It was so tempting that he fell into it. And that, of course, gave me a boost. A win almost at the start is very important. (Sport-Express)


Nakamura's 29...Nxg3?? would have equalised for Black, if not that after 30.fxg3 Nxd4 31.Bxd4 Bxd4 32.exd4 Qe3+ 33.Qf2 Qxd3 White has 34.Rc7!, winning on the spot

Round 4: A first classical win over Anand

An important moment. Firstly, I overcame myself, and secondly I seized the lead. The game was very classical – in the sense that with each move I only improved my position, while my opponent simply couldn’t do a thing. The fact that I managed to get such a grip gave me extra motivation. I can do it! (Sport-Express)


Rounds 5-10: Six draws

Karjakin had a fast start and dramatic end to his tournament, while inbetween he took things relatively easy

After your successful start you dropped off a bit?

Yes. Somehow subconsciously I began to play drily, although I needed to do the opposite and play a little more freely. That happened, though, after I lost to Anand and needed to win again. Those moments, of course, need to be analysed, to find mistakes, but that’s work for the future. In any case, the important thing is that I won, and all the rest doesn’t matter at all! (RCF)


Round 11: A loss to Anand

Sergey was asked how he dealt with his only loss of the tournament:

No problem. I survived it, perhaps somewhere deep within I even planned it. After all, you can’t go through such an ordeal without any downturns. You could say that roused me. And for the next game against Topalov I was incredibly motivated. Of course I didn’t want to lose to Vishy, especially in such an equal position, but that’s life and then everything came together again. (Sport-Express)


Round 12: Bouncing back against Topalov

After your failure against Anand how did you manage to rouse yourself and crush Topalov literally the next day?

The most important thing was that I started 1.e2-e4 – that’s my favourite move and I’ve played it all my life! (smiles) I was happy to get a sharp Sicilian – Topalov decided to go for a real fight. Unfortunately for Veselin, he was in bad form and soon blundered; after that it was already basically a matter of technique for White to win. (RCF)


The final game against Caruana

Although in an ideal world players tied for first place at the end of a Candidates Tournament would play some kind of playoff, we couldn’t complain with what we got – the only two players who could still win the tournament facing each other in the final round!

With so much at stake a professional was brought in to handle the clocks! | photo: World Chess

Is the stress in the Candidates Tournament greater than in ordinary events?

Definitely, much greater! Imagine the same situation, for example, in Wijk aan Zee: Caruana and I are playing in the last round, we’ve got the same number of points but my tiebreakers are better. I don’t think Fabiano would have burnt his bridges: well, we’d draw, share 1-2nd place – all normal. But here the difference between first and second place was colossal, so of course we put everything into the fight. And the whole tournament is like that: you constantly find yourself under great stress. I managed to handle that better than my opponent.  (RCF)

How did Karjakin approach the game?

What did you feel before the final round?

I needed two draws – a draw for my colleague Peter Svidler and a draw for myself against Caruana. Moreover, both Svidler and I had White. I immediately told myself, “You have to show everyone and play only for a win, like a man, like a Russian. And when the critical position arose on the board I wasn’t in the slightest afraid. (Sport-Express)

Sergey expressed himself a little differently in another interview:

The mood was that if he needs to then let him try and play for a win, while I’ll play chess and try to make the strongest moves. To Caruana’s credit, you can say that he did a very good job of making things sharper. After all, he had to play for a win with Black, and at some point he was outplaying me. But then, closer to the time control, he lost the thread and then I played 30.e5:


Of course, analysis is required to see how correct that move is, but for a practical game it struck me that I succeeded in complicating matters, and after that I was perfectly fine. Objectively the game should have ended in a draw, but since Fabiano had to win he pushed too hard. (RCF)


The final rook sacrifice

This was the moment of truth. 

But after all you needed to sacrifice a rook to win the game. A whole rook, when you only had ten minutes on the clock. The whole hall was waiting with bated breath. Either a beautiful win or a bitter loss.

You know, I heard the hall. I heard the breathing of my wife, who at home was putting Alyosha to sleep, I heard the prayers of my team and I felt that my country was behind me. I simply didn’t have a choice.

At such a moment even a computer might have flinched…

But I didn’t – I simply didn’t have the moral right. Finding that sacrifice wasn’t so hard. Where I needed to think was a little earlier, when I gave up a pawn for the initiative. Going for that wasn’t easy, but I didn’t want to wait passively and decided on that blow. (Sport-Express)


The final moments

In a hopeless position Caruana offered you a draw. Was that ethical?

If the position had been complicated I’d have taken it without a second thought, but it was obvious to me that I was winning, and I wanted to end the tournament in style. To go out on a high. I don’t think I offended my opponent at all. In my place he’d have done the same.

When did you realise you were going to New York?

When applause broke out in the hall and in the whole Telegraph building. And then people began to shout that I was the champion, and I understood it all. (Sport-Express)

As well as gaining a chance to fulfill a childhood dream Sergey had guaranteed himself more than a million dollars in prize money, whatever happens in the match in November. He was understandably the focus of everyone's attention.

Sergey now has eight months to get used to the attention of the world's media | photo: World Chess

That winning feeling

Sergey, you’re a very reserved person, but what did you feel at the moment when Fabiano Caruana resigned?

I was very happy - at the moment when Caruana stopped the clocks there was loud applause in the hall, and I was grateful to each of my supporters, because I felt I really was playing with home advantage. Of course on the one hand they helped me, but on the other they gave me a great sense of responsibility. My victory would have been impossible without such support, and I’m grateful for each of them – I know there were a great many such people. My success is partly down to each of them…

At the moment of victory did any of the events of your life flash through your head?

Yes, and from my whole life – from growing up, when I was five years old and started to study chess, and I had the clear sense that it hadn’t all been in vain. It happens, after all, that you spend your whole life on something, and you don’t get any great satisfaction from the outcome you achieve, but after my victory over Fabiano Caruana I felt it hadn’t been in vain that I’d spent 21 years on chess. (RSport)

Sergey struggled to sleep after his win:

After the game with Caruana for the first time in my life I couldn’t get to sleep. I tossed and turned for about three hours. Usually my nervous system is well-behaved, but on this occasion dreams were out of the question. Again and again all the twists and turns of the tournament were replaying in my mind. Few believed I could win. And a win in such circumstances is doubly sweet. (Sport-Express)

And what he’d done didn’t immediately sink in:

I think coming to terms with such a success might take at least a month, because when I became the world’s youngest grandmaster many people came up to me and congratulated me. And I thought to myself – what did I do that’s so special? Well, I won another tournament. But now I understand that I really did pull off a great feat when I became a grandmaster at the age of 12. Back then I ended up in the Guinness Book of Records and the record still hasn’t been broken. I’m proud of that – I consider it my greatest achievement.

I think I posted a good result and, perhaps, years later I’ll recall it with great satisfaction. (smiles) When I won the Candidates Tournament it didn’t immediately sink in what I’d done, but now I’m gradually starting to comprehend it. (RSport)


For Russia and the Crimea

Sergey explained in his winner’s speech that he would be proud to represent Russian and the Crimea in the upcoming World Championship match (from about 37:54 onwards):

The interviews covered the same theme:

How do you explain the fact that many were pessimistic about your chances?

There were plenty of spiteful critics. I never hid the fact that I was concerned about the fate of Russia, I never hid that, as a Crimean by birth, I always considered myself Russian. I was never afraid to express my thoughts. And also the fact we declared we’d return the chess crown to Russia didn’t win us any fans. After that people began to say it was simply PR, and all my successes were accidental. Well, now it’s signed, sealed and delivered.

Can you say the success is a success for your country?

It’s not for me to judge as I just play chess, while others can access my achievements. Although it does matter what I think, and I think about bringing glory to Russia. That’s the whole trick. Whatever anybody says, I want to bring chess to the masses. Now with the support of the Russian Minister of Sport Vitaly Mutko Russia has received the World Schools U16 Championship. And that will again be in Dagomys, where the equally important “Belaya Ladya” children’s tournament also takes place. I’m sure the country will now live for chess, as in Soviet times. (Sport-Express)

On the first day of the Candidates Tournament the big screen on the Telegraph building was advertising a concert to mark the 2nd anniversary of Russia taking control of the Crimea. The text reads: "Crimean Spring! Celebratory concert. We're together! Come yourself, bring your friends!"

In case you wanted a similar T-Shirt you can find them in "Patriot Box" vending machines in Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport - for better or worse Sergey is in tune with the Russian zeitgeist

The main reward for winning the Candidates Tournament wasn’t the 95,000 euro first prize, a gold medal, vodka or a BMW sports car, but a World Championship match against Magnus Carlsen. What are Sergey’s thoughts on that?

Preparing for Carlsen

Now I’m in the finishing straight – I just need to take one more step to win the World Championship title. That will be the toughest step, but in any case I think my name will go down in chess history, because I know perfectly well that far from all famous chess players achieve such an honour – to play a match for the World Championship title. Of course I want to win that match, but in any case I can say that my career wasn’t in vain. (RSport)

Carlsen currently has a 3:1 lead in classical games, with 15 draws, but Sergey has won Norway Chess twice! | photo: No Logo Norway Chess

One interviewer suggested Karjakin is clearly superior to Magnus in the opening:

You talk so confidently about that – in actual fact, Magnus has very many helpers, more than me. Where can I improve? I can’t say my results are stable – I can play a brilliant tournament and win it, but at times I can also collapse or have a mediocre event. Magnus, meanwhile, is stable – if he doesn’t take first place he’s second or third.

But as for the match – if I go into it in my top form then I’ll have every chance of winning. It’ll be a contest and I think it’ll be normal.

The ECU President Zurab Azmaiparashvili told us that if Carlsen’s in the same form as he was during the match against Anand in Sochi you have very real chances of winning…

I agree with Azmaiparashvili that I’ve got chances, because Magnus will have to put in good preparation and get into top form, but that’s never easy. It’s important for me to prepare well myself, and for that I need to form a good team of trainers.

Has Carlsen’s side shown any interest in your victory – perhaps you’ve talked to Magnus or his manager?

I can say that Magnus congratulated me on the internet, and his manager rang my manager Kirill Zangalis, also with congratulations. Magnus and I have normal relations – when I won the World Cup last year he also congratulated me. We’re above misanthropy. (smiles)

And, by the way, among the first to congratulate me were Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich and our famous chess player Vladimir Kramnik.

So there won’t be any scandals in New York?

No big ones, I think. (RSport)

And finally…

So you have no fear of the invincible Viking?

Of course not! We’re all flesh and blood, and Carlsen isn’t so different. Magnus is a man, and you can compete with him. I think the match in November will be hard-fought. Honestly, I’m not afraid at all. I’ll simply take things as they come, the way I always do. (Sport-Express)

We don’t have to wait until November to see Sergey Karjakin and Magnus Carlsen in action, though. Carlsen will be trying to finally win his home supertournament as they both play in Altibox Norway Chess from 18 April onwards. chess24 is the official broadcaster, with Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson commentating - it's going to be unmissable!

Sergey will have to hurry if he wants to get some use out of his $150,000 BMW sports car - after everyone who watched the Closing Ceremony had been successfully misled it was later explained that it's only on loan to Karjakin for a month | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, RCF

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