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Interviews Jan 27, 2022 | 7:50 PMby Tarjei Svensen

Kramnik on what went wrong for Nepomniachtchi

In Part Two of chess24's interview with Vladimir Kramnik, the 14th World Champion speaks about what went wrong for Ian Nepomniachtchi in Dubai, his own opinion about the Dubov controversy and his plans for a new Chessable course.

14th World Champion Vladimir Kramnik is retired and says he now spends more than half of his time on projects outside chess | photo: David Llada

In Part One of the interview, Kramnik spoke about Magnus Carlsen's 2900 target, Alireza Firouzja and the rise of the young generation.

Many people expected the World Championship match in Dubai to be a close match. Was Kramnik surprised by the final result?

No, I thought there were two possible scenarios, because Ian has this problem that long events, long tournaments are difficult for him. He starts to have certain psychological burnouts. If you are a professional player and playing tournaments, everybody knows it. I even think Magnus mentioned it. It was clearly the main thing he should work on, I believe. If you see even the Candidates, he lost both times in the seventh round, the last round.

In most of the other tournaments he was playing, once it was getting to the rounds 8, 9 and 10 then his play would deteriorate seriously. The main issue was if he was able to do something about it. If he could, then I think the match would be pretty equal. It would be really very tight and close. I don’t know, Magnus would still be the favourite, but it would be quite difficult for him. If not, there is no chance. Basically, whether you have zero chance, or whether you have almost a 50 percent chance. There is nothing in between. 

As we all saw, Ian couldn’t manage to do anything with it. I don’t know if he will in his future career, it was quite a lesson. It was very obvious in the middle of the match that he just collapsed.

It’s a bit difficult to assess this match. If you are talking about the first six games, it was a pretty equal match. Then there was no play basically, in a way when one opponent is just blundering in every game. You don’t have to be Magnus to collect points. 

But Magnus played well. I mean, he showed a very good level, but the question is if he would be able to keep on showing that good level if the opponent would show more resistance and would not blunder in every second game. That is still the question, but it’s of course not the fault of Magnus. He did all the right things, basically what he should do. My feeling is that he was counting on it in the second half of the match, trying to be solid and safe and waiting for his chances.

In a way it was a fortunate match for him. The level of his play was very high, but the problem was that at some point there was basically no resistance from his opponent. It was a little bit disappointing from the point of view of the spectator. We only saw half of the match — only 6-7 games. The remaining games had not much to do with chess, which was a bit of a disappointment.

Asked whether he thinks Nepomniachtchi should have done anything differently, Kramnik says:

He probably should have been taking it more seriously, the problem he had. I am sure he knew this issue, but I think he thought he would somehow manage to escape it. I don’t know what he did about it, I am sure he was doing something about it, but probably he should have done much more — if this problem is solvable at all. That is the question.

Whether he didn’t do enough in this sense, or if he for some reason cannot solve it, I hope the first is the right answer. It would be sad if the second is the truth. He should probably have done something, he should have been preparing much more seriously in this psychological, or whatever, more biological than chess sense.

Carlsen, seen here with Nepomniachtchi in the post-Game 6 press conference, later commented in a blog post on this issue: "While he may be extremely well prepared and present the best version of himself, under sufficient pressure we all show the same strengths and weaknesses as prior to the World Championship preparations and training regimen. Ian has historically often done well in the first half, while he struggles to maintain his level throughout"

Maybe it’s easier said than done?

Yes, I agree with you, but the first step is to admit that there is a serious problem. Once you understand how serious the problem is, then you can try at least. That is the question. I don’t know. I have a feeling that Ian maybe didn’t understand how important this is, how crucial this problem is. All your preparation, physical, chess preparation etc. is not going to work if you are not going to withstand the pressure for 14 games. Absolutely nothing will help you. Maybe that’s the case, but those are just my guesses. I don’t know what the problem is, but it’s quite obvious to everyone that this was a problem.

In terms of quality of the match, Kramnik says he thought quite a few games were interesting.

The level of play before games 7-8 was pretty good. A real World Championship match in all senses. Then one player just stopped playing, basically. He was playing parts of the games well, but then just collapsed.

Magnus played well in the second part of the match, but again, it’s easier to play well when you are comfortable with +1 and there is a good chance that your opponent will collapse. Magnus has delivered more difficult things than this.

Another hot topic after the match in Dubai was when it was revealed that Russian Grandmaster Daniil Dubov had once again been part of Magnus Carlsen's team of helpers. The revelation led to strong criticism from Sergey Karjakin and Sergey Shipov, with the latter using the term “betrayal”.

Vladimir Kramnik in a joyful mood during the interview with chess24

Dubov himself immediately hit back at the accusations in a Russian interview, which was also published on chess24.

Those who are criticising for some reason think that Ian’s team and the Russian team are identical. From my professional point of view those are absolutely different things. 

I play for the Russian team with great responsibility, pride and pleasure. For me it means a lot. I also played for free, and when I felt I couldn’t, because it’s important. It’s another matter why I should help a team of people who I’m neutral or unfriendly with?

Kramnik tells chess24 he is against using terms such as betrayal and calls it “nonsense”, but adds that he would not have worked as a second against a Russian opponent himself.

I personally would not have done it. But I don’t judge. I would feel uncomfortable myself, especially against a member of the Russian national team. It’s my own feeling, I don’t consider it a betrayal or anything, but I wouldn’t do it.

The 14th World Champion added:

There is the feeling that it's somehow a bit weird, let’s be honest. I have absolutely nothing against Dubov, but I personally don't consider it to be completely normal.

Since retiring from classical chess in 2019, Kramnik has spent most of his time on projects outside chess, but he is still very passionate about sharing his experience as a player at the highest level for 30 years. That's exactly what he has done with his two published Chessable courses. 

The first one, Thinking in Chess: A How To Guide was published in July, while a two-part course on Understanding Chess Openings: 1.e4 was published in October.

Kramnik says each of the courses took him an intensive month to record.

It was difficult in all senses, but I liked it. I like to share my knowledge in my way, in the way I see it. Somebody may not agree with my point of view, whether it’s about the opening or the course or the thinking about chess, but it's me, I am honest and I am sharing what I think about openings. 

I hope it will help, I am pretty sure, especially the opening course. I think it’s a good beginning and a good structure. There is so much theory nowadays, so many games in the databases. To make sense out of it, to understand which direction and which lines and variations, where you may find 5000 games, but in fact there may just be 2-3 games that show clearly you are dead. 

If somebody is telling you that, it saves an incredible amount of time. At the same time, it gives you a certain general understanding of structure. I believe it’s useful in any case for any player of any level.

Kramnik also reveals his plans for his next course later this year: a complete course on the Sicilian.

That is the only thing that is left against e4. I did everything else. Now maybe it's time for the Sicilian, it's just that the amount of work I can only imagine! How much work has to be done. It's not only about the knowledge, it has to be updated. And the most difficult part is to cut it, to understand what is most important. You can't cover all. You have a 100-hour course, and need to put it into 15-16 hours. It takes an incredible amount of time.

Kramnik also took time to appear as a commentator, along with Judit Polgar, for the Challengers Chess Tour. He is open to coming back.

Yes, why not? If I have time, with pleasure. I have many projects besides chess. Chess is now at maximum half of what I do.

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