Interviews Nov 4, 2013 | 10:27 AMby Colin McGourty

Kasimdzhanov: “In chess it’s always bad to play at home”

Rustam Kasimdzhanov was a key member of Vishy Anand’s team over the course of three victorious World Championship matches. With Anand’s greatest challenge yet against Magnus Carlsen fast approaching we look back to an interview Kasimdzhanov gave after Anand beat Topalov in Sofia in 2010. The questions were posed in German by Chess24’s German editor Georgios Souleidis.

Anand's team in Sofia 2010 - Hans-Walter Schmitt, Rustam Kasimdzhanov, Radoslaw Wojtaszek, Aruna Anand and Peter-Heine Nielsen | photo: Georgios Souleidis

A Second’s Life

Flashback: 12th May 2010. I find myself in the Hilton Hotel in Sofia just after interviewing the old and new World Champion Viswanathan Anand, and now I have a chance to get my hands on one of his seconds. The Anand team – his seconds, Aruna Anand and various members of ChessTigers – had booked the entire 9th floor of the hotel for the World Championship match. At the end of the corridor a door leads to two large connected rooms. I enter and on my right see the workplace of the seconds – no windows, lots of computers – and a rest and dining room for the whole team. There they sit, the four grandmasters. Obviously pretty exhausted, but happy.

Who should I interview? I quickly calculate all the variations: the unshaven Dane PH Nielsen? God forbid, he just looks too exhausted. The Pole Radoslaw Wojtaszek? I’d barely considered it before he was already gone. The Indian Surya Shekhar Ganguly? No, I’ve struggled enough with that Indian accent for one day. That leaves only the Uzbek Rustam Kasimdzhanov. Actually, I’d probably have chosen him anyway because he speaks fluent German, which after all makes things much easier. And we’re off!

“It’s not football”

Georgios Souleidis: Rustam, let’s get straight down to it. Why did Vishy win the World Championship?

Rustam Kasimdzhanov: Of course it was a very close run thing and before the 12th game we couldn’t say that Vishy was the favourite. He had the black pieces and we’d had problems with that during the match. To be honest, we only wanted to survive with Black as Topalov is normally well-prepared with White. In the last game he was probably also well-prepared for the openings we’d been playing, the Grünfeld and that Slav Endgame. It was a big surprise that it was all over so quickly and suddenly. I heard afterwards that Topalov was determined to avoid tiebreaks. I find that very surprising – although Vishy is a better rapid chess player that doesn’t play a big role in such a struggle. Tiebreaks are a pure test of nerves and it would have been very tight. So Topalov had no need to collapse. It came as a big surprise.

In the end Topalov’s nerves didn’t hold. He was playing at home and it’s not football – in chess it’s always bad to play at home. The pressure is enormously high. I know that from my own experience, as in Tashkent I always play like someone with an Elo of 2400. I can’t play any better than that there and I don’t know why. It was also obvious when Topalov played against Kamsky – he did manage to win, but it wasn’t the Topalov we know. We already experienced the pressure two years ago, and it sometimes works in surprising ways. For a chess player of his class simply to open that diagonal and walk his king to h4 is indescribable, simply inconceivable. 

30... f5! 31. exf5? Topalov opens the h1-a8 diagonal and comes under a whirlwind black attack.

31. ♘d2 fxe4 32. ♘xe4 ♖d4 33. ♖e3 This is what Topalov should have played, blockading the e4-square. White should hold.

31... e4 32. fxe4? ♕xe4+ 33. ♔h3 ♖d4 34. ♘e3 ♕e8 35. g4 h5 36. ♔h4 g5+! A great move. With his king on h4 White can't hold the game.

37. fxg6 ♕xg6 38. ♕f1 ♖xg4+ 39. ♔h3 ♖e7! The threat is a double rook sacrifice on e3 and h4 with mate on g4.

40. ♖f8+ ♔g7! 41. ♘f5+ ♔h7! 42. ♖g3 ♖xg3+ 43. hxg3 ♕g4+ 44. ♔h2 ♖e2+ 45. ♔g1 ♖g2+ 46. ♕xg2 ♗xg2 47. ♔xg2 ♕e2+ 48. ♔h3 c4 49. a4 a5 50. ♖f6 ♔g8 51. ♘h6+ ♔g7 52. ♖b6 ♕e4 53. ♔h2 ♔h7 54. ♖d6 ♕e5 55. ♘f7 ♕xb2+ 56. ♔h3 ♕g7 And Topalov conceded there was no point playing on.

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Veselin Topalov and Viswanathan Anand during the 12th and decisive game of the 2010 World Championship | photo: Georgios Souleidis

You could say that Vishy won the World Championship in Bonn in 2008 because of great novelties in the third and fifth games which allowed him to defeat Vladimir Kramnik with the black pieces. Here in Sofia, though, there weren’t any match-deciding novelties. There was simply a lot of chess played. Did Anand win because he’s just the better player?

Sure, he’s the better player. I’ve got no personal doubts about that and many of my colleagues believe the same. Naturally you can then ask why Topalov has dominated the chess scene for the last few years if Anand’s the better player. The reason – Anand doesn’t always want it. When he plays a tournament that isn’t so important he doesn’t give 100%. He gives 100% when it really is important. Players like Carlsen, Aronian and others have won a lot of tournaments but Anand has dominated the last three World Championships. That’s the difference. He’s the better player, but he doesn’t always show it. For me personally it’s important that here, in Bonn and also in Mexico, he has shown it.

"The most important thing is to keep your eyes open"

How long have you worked as Anand’s second?

Since Bonn. We started in summer 2008, so shortly before Bonn.

In the last six or seven months you’ve barely played a game of chess.

I’ve played a couple of games in France and Spain, but practically not at all. It can simply be a bad combination. Firstly, you’ve got almost no time to play and secondly, you’ve got no energy and also no desire. All your thoughts are focussed on the match and the preparation. You also can’t play all the novelties as that would be crazy. But now, now it’s all different. Now you’ve got this freedom and you’ve built up energy. Now I can gradually start to play again.

How are we to understand that? You’re a top player, an ex-FIDE World Champion and for almost the entire last six months you’ve only been working for your boss Anand. You’ve been preparing everything, looking for novelties and checking variations. Six months without a break, right?

That sounds a bit drastic. It’s not quite so one-sided. The thing is I’ve never considered Vishy my boss. We work together as friends. Vishy also isn’t one of those who say “do this” or “do that”. We work together as colleagues and friends, and I never have the feeling that I’m subordinate to him. I do my job and for that I get respect, which I appreciate. It’s a very rewarding job in itself. It’s also extraordinary important for my chess that I can work with such a player.

That also leads me to my next question. How does it work as a second? For example, I’ve noticed with Laurent Fressinet that after he worked as Kramnik’s second he later played very well. Is it really the case that you mature as a player and get better again?

Absolutely, I’ve always noticed that. When you work with someone who’s stronger you become stronger yourself, although it doesn’t happen automatically. The most important thing is to keep your eyes open. There’s always more to learn. I remember that from when I worked with Alexander Morozevich in 2006. I noticed that you can have some doubts about what Morozevich does, but that doesn’t get you anywhere. If you keep your eyes open, if you listen and try to learn then that also helps. And Vishy is a class better again, there’s no doubting that. Elo doesn’t tell you everything. There’s a lot to learn from Vishy. It’s also easy as Vishy is a very open person and doesn’t hold himself back during chess analysis or games. He’s very generous with ideas and analysis. For example, when journalists talk to him he gives them a lot of variations. He also says what he saw and what he didn’t see. If you listen well and keep your eyes open you’ll make progress. I also felt that after the match in Bonn. Suddenly I had a new energy and enthusiasm for playing chess. Chess isn’t just about pure class – enthusiasm also comes into it.

Rustam Kasimdzhanov amid the limelight of Anand's World Championship victory| photo: Georgios Souleidis


“Playing chess isn’t about what you see. Playing chess is about what you can seize from that”

I went through a few of the games from the World Championship with Vishy and I was highly impressed by both the amount and how incredibly quickly he calculates. Is that his greatest strength, of course along with the fact that he has a very universal style?

Sure, he sees a lot more than all the others, but that isn’t necessarily a strength. In the games he loses he’s also seen more than his opponent. Playing chess isn’t about what you see. Playing chess is about what you can seize from that. It can also sometimes be a burden when you see so many variations that you can no longer maintain control. Naturally, though, it also helps. The thing with Vishy is also: when things are going well he has everything under control. In that case he’s perfect as he was here in the 4th and 12th games. When he’s winning he has the game under control and all the rest no longer plays a role. Nerves, the last game, the enormous pressure – he simply plays chess. For me he was always like Roger Federer or Ronnie O’Sullivan. When everything’s going well neither of them make any more mistakes. Vishy’s the same. However, when things aren’t going well…

We’ve seen that with Federer when he could no longer play against Nadal a couple of years ago – nothing was working for him and he can suddenly seem so weak. But when it’s going well he’s simply perfect. Vishy’s the same. Whenever he seizes control in a game he sees everything, controls everything and makes no more mistakes. That’s probably his greatest strength.

You mentioned the fourth game. There were rumours that it was all prepared. How far did your preparation actually go?

1. d4 ♘f6 2. c4 e6 3. ♘f3 d5 4. g3 dxc4 5. ♗g2 ♗b4+ 6. ♗d2 a5 7. ♕c2 ♗xd2+ 8. ♕xd2 c6 9. a4 b5 10. ♘a3 ♗d7 11. ♘e5 ♘d5 12. e4 ♘b4 13. 0-0 0-0 14. ♖fd1 ♗e8 15. d5 ♕d6 16. ♘g4 ♕c5 17. ♘e3 ♘8a6 18. dxc6 bxa4 19. ♘axc4 ♗xc6 20. ♖ac1 h6 21. ♘d6 ♕a7 22. ♘g4 ♖ad8 23. ♘xh6+! Vishy launches an irresistable attack on the black king and brings it to a virtuoso conclusion.

23... gxh6 This loses, but it would be harsh to criticise Topalov.

24. ♕xh6 f6 25. e5! The real point, after which there's no defence.

25... ♗xg2 26. exf6 ♖xd6 27. ♖xd6 ♗e4 28. ♖xe6 ♘d3 29. ♖c2 ♕h7 30. f7+ ♕xf7 31. ♖xe4 ♕f5 32. ♖e7

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Naturally it wasn’t prepared up to mate. It’s never like that. The move 23.Nxh6+ and so on – all that had to be found at the board. It was prepared until he had a fairly pleasant position, but Vishy is a player for whom it’s enough to have a good position. What I mean is that many other players would try to polish it all the way to mate. I number myself among those. But Vishy doesn’t need that. It’s enough for him to have a good position and then he can do the rest. He’s a good chess player, probably one of the best or the best who’s ever lived.

Rustam, thank you very much for the interview!


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