Reports Dec 24, 2017 | 11:06 PMby Colin McGourty

Morozevich on trying things other than chess

Alexander Morozevich is still only 40, but in recent years has been missing from the very highest level of chess. In a new interview he reveals that while not abandoning chess he took the life decision to try out new things rather than continuing to devote himself entirely to the game. He also talks about the 2018 Candidates Tournament, Carlsen and the young generation of Russian players, noting that Vladislav Artemiev struck him as the most talented but has struggled to build on that talent in the last three years.

Alexander Morozevich commentating alongside Sergey Shipov at the recent Russian Championship Superfinals | photo: Boris Dolmatovsky, Russian Chess Federation

The interview with Oleg Bogatov for R-Sport starts by focussing on Go, but since that was extensively covered in another interview with Morozevich we’ve decided to skip that part and translate the remainder of the interview:

Oleg Bogatov: How successful was the last year for you?

Alexander Morozevich: In chess terms not too successful. The year before I played more or less successfully apart from at the end, while 2017 didn’t really work out: I didn’t show the kind of play I wanted and I ended up playing only one classical tournament – in Biel. I played interesting chess in Switzerland, but it was uneven – the lack of regular practice nevertheless told. I spent the whole time at the top of the tournament table, but didn’t manage to engage in a real fight for first place. I hope 2018 will go better.

In 2017 Biel provided a chance for some stars who have fallen off the elite circuit to move centre stage | photo: Biel International Chess Festival

In your view is tournament practice what you’re lacking now to take a step forward, or is it some kind of challenge or motivation?

Perhaps I’m just not setting myself the task of making that step forwards because I’ve already made similar steps in the past.

You’ve got nothing left to prove to anyone.

To a degree. Not only to anyone – public opinion is what it is, but there are other criteria for myself as well. It’s simply that at some point, at the age of around 37-38, I asked myself a question. Perhaps it was an incorrect question, but I asked myself it – do I want to play chess for my whole life or not? Do I want to wake up at 55 or 60 years old and tell myself: yes, I spent a wonderful life in the world of chess, but I never did anything else? And I decided: no, that’s not for me.

Like a series of grandmasters who’ve quit chess recently, considering that life isn’t only about chess?

There’s no need to compare myself to anyone else. In actual fact, it’s a personal question which, it seems to me, every chess player asks himself to some degree or another. Everyone makes the assessment for himself, but at 55 or 60 years old I don’t want to tell myself, “I spent my whole life playing chess” – even if that life would have been extremely interesting and fulfilling. That’s my choice and my position, and I need to consider what else to start in life, to find myself in something new.

And what sphere do you see yourself in?

I’m searching and trying out the most varied of options. For now I wouldn’t want to talk about anything, but it’s my conscious choice, and I took it. Again, that doesn’t mean I’ve quit chess. It’s simply that besides the chess element I’m also developing some new skills which I didn’t possess while I was playing chess professionally.  

Which of the three Russian grandmasters do you think the 2018 Candidates Tournament might go well for? Is there a clear favourite in that tournament, or are all eight grandmasters roughly equal in class?

Yes, that question was recently discussed when I was commentating on the games of the Russian Superfinal in St. Petersburg. My assessment was that it’s impossible to single out any favourites in the Candidates Tournament. It seems to me that any of the chess players has a roughly equal chance of winning the tournament. That’s an opinion that’s shared by far from all my colleagues, who love to rank players. A lot will depend on the form and reserves of energy and ideas with which each player goes into the tournament. As for the Russians, it would be great if one of them qualified. Since I’m not helping any of the participants - that’s not such a big secret - I can say: I’ll support all the Russians.

Given how Sergey Karjakin, Alexander Grischuk and Vladimir Kramnik have played this year, who has at least an iota greater chance?

If one of them wins I’ll be glad. As for iotas, that’s not for me to say.

Then who’s their main rival?

All of them – the chances are equal for everyone.

The participants will play 14 games. What result would guarantee victory with such a close field - +4, +3?

The experience of the previous Candidates Tournaments shows that +3 is either shared first place or a clear victory, while +4 guarantees victory, but to score +4 in such a tournament will be very tough.

Some think that the reigning World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, hasn’t been showing top quality play this year. And many have stopped fearing him as they did before, when he’d squeeze water out of a stone, grinding out wins in 6-hour games. Has the Norwegian really dropped off a bit, or is that opinion mistaken?

It’s again very hard for me to assess, not playing against him. We met in Doha at the World Rapid and Blitz, though such games aren’t very representative. It’s hard for me to compare my sense of the Magnus I regularly played around five years ago with who he is now, but I think that in any case whoever qualifies for the World Championship match will find it very tough to beat Carlsen.

Has he had something of a slump or have his rivals dramatically improved?

I don’t entirely understand what it means for Magnus to have had a slump? He’s still playing at a very high level.

But in 2017 he won only one classical tournament…

It happens. You see, his tournament results may have deteriorated, but I don’t have the impression that his level of play has dropped. Therefore Carlsen can get into form and improve his results. Naturally, competition is growing and there are more and more young, interesting and promising players, but that’s no reason for Magnus to concede his position.

What rising young Russian talent has surprised or delighted you recently?

Daniil Dubov also looks ready to follow in Vladimir Fedoseev and Maxim Matlakov's footsteps and break into the 2700 club | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, Russian Chess Federation

In my view Daniil Dubov and Vladimir Fedoseev have shown the most progress. In terms of talent I always considered Vladislav Artemiev to be the number one among the youngsters, an impression I had after the first Nutcracker tournament in 2014. It’s difficult to assess talent, though, since clearly it’s not assessed in terms of rating. Therefore the assessment is subjective, but after the tournament I considered that we had a diamond and that for a 16-year-old Artemiev was showing fantastic play. I didn’t play anywhere near that well when I was 16. Three years have passed, though, and we see that both Daniil and Vladimir have started to play significantly better – their level of play has risen. They were working for the whole of those three years and it’s brought positive results.

And when Dubov comes round to my home and we play blitz those games are more important for me than what he says about a win in a tournament – I can see how he thinks. I know perfectly well how he played in 2013-2014 and I can see that he’s thinking and playing significantly better now. Therefore I can confidently say that he’s done great, he works a lot and he’s made noticeable progress.

Artemiev was the only "prince" to avoid defeat to Mamedyarov in the classical section - he then went on to win both rapid games | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, Russian Chess Federation

It’s harder for me to say the same about Artemiev, since I don’t know him that well. And in the games that we played in 2016-2017, again, ignoring the results, I don’t see that he’s started to think fundamentally differently. Yes, he’s got stronger physically and his play has stabilised somewhat, but it’s the same Artemiev who I saw three years ago – the person with the greatest talent, but so far not having achieved such serious progress among the group of Russians under 20 years old. For him the next year or two will be very important, because the talent he originally started out with has to be realised. Perhaps he needs to adjust his training process: I can’t give recommendations, but he needs to change something.

What would you like to say, summing up 2018?

In a year’s time, at the end of December, I’d like to play against our youth in the Nutcracker tournament.

Vladislav Artemiev may not quite have fulfilled his potential, but the 19-year-old is on the verge of 2700 in classical chess, the world no. 2 in blitz and in the Nutcracker tournament showed his rapid isn’t too shabby either!

He starred as the Princes beat the Kings, remaining the only unbeaten player and scoring +6, with a heady run of four rapid wins in a row including back-to-back wins over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. The most memorable move, however, came against Boris Gelfand, whose 43.Rh1? lost on the spot:

43…Qxf4!! The recapture 44.gxf4 runs into 44…Rd3+ and mate to follow, but the bad news for Boris didn’t end there. The game continued 44.Qb7+ Kh6 45.Qe4 Qf1+! and White resigned, due to 46.Rxf1 Rh2#

Here at chess24 we’d like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas! There won’t be too long for many to savour it, since the World Rapid and Blitz Championships are starting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Boxing Day (December 26th). Information about the tournament hasn’t exactly been abundant (the official website is here), but the World Champion is among those definitely involved:

We expect to have full coverage here on chess24.

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