Interviews Jun 28, 2016 | 11:09 AMby Colin McGourty

Karjakin on his preparation for Carlsen

Sergey Karjakin will take on Magnus Carlsen in the Bilbao Masters in two weeks’ time, though it’s of course just a dress rehearsal for the big one – the 2016 World Chess Championship match in New York this November. In a recent interview the challenger talked about that match and how it’s affecting his tournaments this year.

Sergey Karjakin in Shamkir, where he said he went into energy-saving mode | photo: Shamkir Chess 2016

Sergey was talking to his manager Kirill Zangalis for the Russian sports paper Sport-Express:

You’re now subject to constant attention, but you’ve withdrawn a little into the shadows. Has the boom in popularity after your Candidates victory died down?

It’s fine, you know. I was giving too many interviews as it was, and appeared too often on TV. I had to turn down invitations to all kinds of talk shows, but that’s normal – part of the job. And now there’s a different job entirely – hard, tense, but in some senses also a pleasant job. After all, together with my team I’m preparing for a World Championship match. The very thought of that encounter forces me to work more fruitfully. Everything is now going according to plan. At the moment I’m at a training camp in the base of the Ministry of Sport on the outskirts of Moscow.

You played in the Shamkir supertournament. Fourth place wasn’t the best of results.

Karjakin recovered after an early loss to Giri, but didn't manage to fight for first place - see all the games

I’ve been doing this job for a long time – you might even say I became a professional at the age of 12 – so it strikes me I know how you need to prepare for this or that event. Shamkir is a wonderful place, with top organisation and a good line-up, and the tournament is in memory of my friend Vugar Gashimov. So I agreed to play – I couldn’t do otherwise. But then, reaching +1, I nevertheless switched on energy-saving mode. I didn’t set myself the goal of claiming the first prize. After all, I can’t afford to display my full strength now. I need to disguise things a little and hold back novelties for November.

Instead it was your second Shakhriyar Mamedyarov who won in Shamkir…

I’m incredibly glad about that. Shakh and I went for a walk almost every evening, we talked a lot, he introduced me to the local cuisine and we drank delicious Azerbaijan tea.

So if he gave me an energy boost before the Candidates then I hope I’ve now repaid that debt. His finish was simply phenomenal, overcoming the leaders and his direct rivals Giri and Caruana.

So Shamkir gave you a lot of positive emotions?

Sure. And if I get the chance and the tournament becomes a tradition then I’ll go back there regularly.

You took the unexpected decision to play in Kazakhstan. What was behind that decision?

Yes, I got the urge to go to the Eurasian Blitz Cup in Almaty at the very last moment, since I wanted to have some fun and relax a bit. It’s enjoyable to play blitz as it’s a kind of chess entertainment. 

The tournament itself won’t take me to a fundamentally new level, but there are strong blitz players and I’d had two months without any strong tournaments and wanted to keep myself in form. So I got a necessary warm-up. In general, Kazakhstan is a lucky country for me – I became World Rapid Champion in Astana in 2012.

You were among the leaders until the final round and could have taken first place…

Yes, but Peter Svidler wouldn’t let me. I scored 0.5-1.5 in our mini-match

Pinning and winning for Svidler with 40...Bd3

In the end I finished fifth, but I wasn’t upset about that at all. As I said, I hugely enjoyed playing in Almaty. You might say it was a chess high. As for Peter, I even wrote on Twitter that it seemed that until the end of my life I was going to have to play deciding games against Svidler. After all, we met in the World Cup final, then in the Candidates Tournament. And that’s only recently, not talking about other events. Plus our games are always uncompromising.

Can you tell us directly about your preparation for the match with Carlsen?

Well, I definitely won’t tell you about any chess variations, but we’re paying a lot of attention to walks in the open air and football. We’re also closely following the Euros in France. We watched the last match – Hungary 3:3 Portugal. Spectacular! Though you couldn’t help but think that perhaps it was an arranged draw (laughs).

Apart from Dokhoian, Motylev and Potkin have you invited anyone else onto your coaching team?

For now we’re working in the previous line-up, but let my opponents guess whether I’ve got other assistants who are working remotely.

Many thought you wouldn’t meet Carlsen before the match. However, you’re going to play two classical games in July, in Bilbao…

Yes, Magnus and I are meeting in a World Championship match at the end of autumn in New York, but before that our paths will cross in the Bilbao Grand Slam supertournament. I couldn’t turn down the invitation, and neither could he. That shows that neither of us is trying to avoid meeting. In Bilbao we’ll both try to find out something about each other that we can then use to our advantage. And I suspect neither of us will play our main variations we’re preparing for the November match.

Carlsen and Karjakin will take on Nakamura, Giri, So and Wei Yi in the 10-round event | photo: Bilbao Masters

Your popularity has grown a lot recently. Do you have new personal sponsors?

Negotiations are currently taking place with a few major companies. To be honest, I’m really counting on their help. Fortunately, though, my long-term partners are still with me for now. Since 2012 I’ve been supported by the company Alpari, and three months before the Candidates Tournament they were joined by the Morton group. Their support is priceless and I’m very grateful, as I am to the Russian Chess Federation and its president Andrei Filatov personally. He’s a big help to me. I really hope, though, that before the match we’ll find more people who want to help return the chess crown to Russia.

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