Anton Korobov was a vital part of the Ukrainian team that came within a whisker of winning the 2016 Baku Olympiad. The 31-year-old scored 7/9 for a 2771 rating performance, and this interview was given after his match-winning victory over India’s Sethuraman in Round 9. Anton is one of the most unusual figures among top chess players and once quit the game for five years. He tells Dorsa Derakhshani that he didn’t find the world beyond chess any better, so “decided to return to this factory”.
The interview was given after dinner, as Anton was awaiting the Round 10 pairings.
Dorsa Derakhshani: Ready?
Anton Korobov: Steady, go!
You were born in Russia and play for Ukraine - is that correct?
To tell the truth, I was born in the former Soviet Union, which was a united country, and all the countries at that time existed under the same roof, so it’s very difficult to say where and whom you really belong to. But I think that’s correct - I’m a Russian-speaking Ukrainian.
Did you ever consider representing any other federation?
Well, two years ago I had a very delicious offer from abroad and considered it, but then I decided to be a patriot as much as I can and remain Ukrainian.
Is it hard to play chess in such a strong team?
I don’t know what you really mean by playing chess in such a strong team. Of course, when playing for a national team of a country you feel some kind of psychological pressure and you have to follow not only your game but also your teammates. So that’s the additional pressure, but I think I can go with it.
What about the win against Russia here? Was it something important for your federation and government?I don’t know… by the way, we were congratulated by the President of Ukraine! But ok, that is only one match out of eleven. I played badly that day. It was a strange game - it happens here when playing Nepomniachtchi. You seem to have everything under control, but you lose the control and you can resign immediately.
The punishment was
very serious, but ok, we played very well with the black pieces - Ruslan
Ponomariov and Andrei (Volokitin).
Ruslan was a bit lucky, I think. His position wasn’t so good - strategically
lost! But ok, the fortune was on our side.
How was the team spirit before the match against Russia?
That’s a kind of prophetic question! Everything was normal.
You seem less nervous and more relaxed than usual for a chess player! Is that how you feel inside? Or you can hide it well?No, for example in today’s game I was playing very impudent (laughs), very rude chess, just to try and put some psychological pressure upon my opponent, but the emotions were really strong, because you have to follow all the other boards as well - with 30 seconds for a move. But after the time control I realized if I win we win the match! So the decision was taken - play for a win!
How do you like this Olympiad so far?
The organisation is fantastic, especially comparing it to the previous one in Tromsø! Everything is super - I don’t know what to complain about. Only the weather is too windy!
Which game of yours here did you enjoy most?
Yes, not necessarily because of the result.
Haha, well, I’d say the game against Nepomniachtchi. That was the feeling of a victim: to be condemned to death and awaiting it. That’s a fantastic feeling!!
When you were looking at other games, was there any game you were amazed by?
All the games played by Mister Jobson Jobava are fantastic. He plays very unpredictably and very focused upon his opponent’s king. You play everything logically - for example, in Jobava vs Ponomariov - just to centralise, develop and somehow you find yourself in a situation where you cannot defend your king - very surprisingly!
How were you introduced to chess?
I started to play when I was five. In 1990. Long before you were born, yeah?
That was the time of the Karpov-Kasparov match. The last one. The match was divided into two halves - the first one was in New York, USA, and the second one was in Lyon, France. That was a big agitation, where everyone was supporting somebody, it seemed. My family were big supporters of Karpov. That was the wind and the storm started - so did my chess career.
You stopped played chess for about five years, why?
I was fed up of chess. It was getting annoying for me - always the same routine, no creativity. Prepare, eat, sleep, play. For example, here I don’t even have time to take a walk – only sleep, preparation and play. Then I realised that other activities are not promising either, so I decided to return to this factory.
Are you happy with your decision?
I’m not happy at all and that doesn’t depend upon the position of a chess player or engineer or lawyer. You should be happy inside, no matter what you’re doing, but when playing chess it’s very difficult, almost impossible!
What other hobbies do you have?
Nothing specific. Sometimes reading books, following badminton tournaments. I like that sport.
You won the Karpov Poikovsky tournament twice (2015 and 2016). Is there anything you can say about that?
The tournament there is fantastic. I was born in Siberia and these northern tournaments favour me. It’s a good tradition. The first half of the year was very difficult for me, but then I found my brains in the cupboard and started to play something recognisable. The tournament was good. I was planning to win four games – which I did - and I thought I might lose one game, and well… shit happens!
As someone always above 2650 and above 2700 for some time, how do you choose your tournaments?
I play open tournaments mostly. 99% of them are open tournaments. I’m playing against amateurs. Being 2700+ was many years ago - I don’t remember.
Really? I’m pretty sure you were 2700+ in December 2015!
Really?! (super shocked) At which tournament?
I remember your badge in the 2015 Qatar Masters. It was in December!
Wow! Possibly it’s true, then.
But did/do you want to play higher level tournaments?
Well, I just read my emails and check the invitations from organisers and that’s all. I’m not following chess much these days, on a regular basis, at least. (Laughs) That is a problem!
In the 2013 Tromsø World Cup, in a question asked by the audience while you were being interviewed by Susan Polgar and Lawrence Trent, you said you hadn’t played much for the national team despite being the Ukrainian Champion a few times! What’s changed?
That interview turned the tables! Things changed after that question during that interview. Ukrainian chess bosses read or heard the interview and decided to remember me!
Korobov interviewed after beating Nakamura in the World Cup - publicly doubting the "chess literacy" of the selectors seemed to work, as he played on the Ukrainian team in the 2014 Olympiad as well
So interviews are being paid attention to… Nice! Here, at this Olympiad, there has been lots of talk about the new anti-cheating measures. Have you had any run-ins with them so far?
You know, these measures can be called ridiculous! For example, you can see someone running from the rest room with 20 minutes for 20 moves, and thinking about the position and analysing moves and lines, and some stupid guy with some device tries to do something with you for 30 seconds or one minute. Of course it’s very annoying. Today after the game I was also invited for this procedure. That’s funny, and I think that the controls they do for entrance are completely enough, but maybe the bosses have a different opinion about this.
You seem to talk pretty good English compared to other Russian-speaking chess players! Why is that?
When I was a young boy, I read the Sonnets by William Shakespeare. That’s the reason, I would say!
If you could change anything in chess, what would it be?
Nothing! I like to suffer from the game as it is.
If you were not who you are right now, who would you want to be?
Or what would you want to do?
To meet Carl Friedrich Gauss and ask some questions concerning Theorema Egregium and some other fantastic things that were born in his mind.
Thank you for your time!