Interviews Oct 24, 2020 | 12:57 PMby Colin McGourty

Navara on the Candidates & reluctantly playing in Spain

Czech no. 1 David Navara played in the Spanish League in Linares last month despite trying to pull out over coronavirus concerns. He felt compelled to play since his team were unable to find a late replacement, with the experience helping him to understand the dilemma with the once again postponed Candidates Tournament. David confesses that he suspects, “if I was in charge of the process I would have made the same mistakes”.

David Navara takes on Anton Korobov in the Spanish League in Linares - at earlier events in the same venue  players were diagnosed with COVID-19, while the whole city was later placed under quarantine | photo: Spanish Chess Federation

David Navara talked to Sergey Kim for ChessPro about how the Czech Republic opened up for chess over the summer but that now the only chess events are again online. We’ve translated the second half of the interview:

Sergey Kim: Do you think chess life will recover next year?

David Navara: In my view it should recover, but there will be less large-scale tournaments. Those will be difficult to plan, as it’s hard to predict the future… I think that before the end of March there will be very few tournaments, and only ones with a reduced number of players. In that curtailed season it will be necessary to choose tournaments very carefully, particularly in summer – where to play, where to say no, in order not to miss some interesting events. But I’m a bad forecaster.

If we’re talking about the future, what can you say about the Candidates Tournament? It’s become a little strange, hasn’t it?

It’s easy to criticise. I have the suspicion that if I was in charge of the process I would have made the same mistakes. Foreseeing all the events at the start of March was very hard. I wouldn’t say that it was impossible, but many politicians went wrong back then, and later as well… A week before the start of the Candidates Tournament I thought that it should be held, since it wasn’t clear what would happen next, but then I began to realise that it would last quite a long time and in that time a lot could change. But that in the course of a single day borders would close, as they did in the Czech Republic, was something I couldn’t foresee. It was sudden, although there were signs. I think it was necessary to stop the Candidates Tournament at precisely the time when it was stopped, but now I haven’t even got a clue…

David Navara has his temperature checked while playing at the Spanish League | photo: Spanish Chess Federation

I understand it’s not my business – it’s all very tough! I understand the point of view of FIDE and the point of view of Wang Hao… It seems to me that when I was planning to play in the Spanish League I grasped a lot about how the Candidates Tournament players must feel. I also didn’t want to play in that league and wrote to my team that after the Individual Spanish Championship many of the players ended up in quarantine, so sorry, but I don’t want to play. The epidemiological conditions are getting worse in the Czech Republic, and in Spain they’re not particularly good. I listed a total of eight reasons, but the team decided that it was already too late and there was no replacement for me. I wrote a few more letters like that, but they persuaded me to play.

It wasn’t only that I could get ill – the sanitary measures, by the way, were observed very strictly. The fear of getting ill at the league wasn’t high, but the airline that I used paid less attention to safety measures and they were pretty dubious. I was forced to stay in a packed bus for around five minutes, waiting for it to leave. Of course if one of the passengers was ill then the risk of getting infected would have been quite serious. I was less worried about getting ill than about getting stuck in quarantine for a long time, that they could cancel a flight… By the way, that’s how it was at the start, and I had to buy a second ticket.

David played every round and you can check out the games here

Some people are quite sensitive to such problems, while others are calmer. Therefore I understand that taking a decision can be tough. When I followed the Candidates Tournament I thought: ok, chess won’t change because of the coronavirus and you still have to play at some point. From the other point of view, it’s clear that it could have a very big impact on some of the players. Let’s say on Ding Liren, since he had to spend two weeks before the tournament in quarantine and, no doubt, as much after he returned home. I don’t know.

As I said already: now, after the Spanish League, I understand the participants in the Candidates Tournament better. The team gave me support, but I wasn’t in the right mood to play, and that told. It’s hard to say how much, perhaps I would have lost rating without those reasons as well, but most likely I would have played better. I don’t know for sure.

The year hasn’t been too rich in super-tournaments. Can you share your impressions of Stavanger?

Well, it hasn’t been the only one, has it? At the start of the year the tournament in Wijk aan Zee happened as always, then there was the first half of the Candidates Tournament. By the way, in the Czech Republic we held a pretty decent round-robin tournament with an average rating over 2700. It seems that was in February. So for a long time it remained the last completed super-tournament of the year… perhaps not that strong, but a good grandmaster round-robin tournament.

A last-round loss saw David Navara share only 8th place in the Prague Masters, while Alireza Firouzja won his first top event | photo: official website

I followed Stavanger, but not that frequently. In my view it was good that the extra games (Armageddon) didn’t have as much importance as they had last year, but at times the tiredness of the players told. And a lack of time. From the point of view of the quality of play having Armageddon wasn’t the best decision. On the other hand, I’d like to note that all of the participants played very aggressive chess. In creative terms the tournament was an undoubted success. There were many decisive games and few draws. It was interesting!

Norway Chess suffered a coronavirus scare when one person who came in contact with the players tested positive, but so far all other tests have turned out negative

What can you say about Firouzja’s play?

He plays well, particularly when he has the initiative. He’s very dangerous, very talented, particularly in blitz, and far from only in blitz. Of course the tournament showed that he has flaws, but a lot of promise. I think that for him to make progress in classical chess it would be useful to reduce the number of blitz games, particularly bullet, where you play one-minute games. In a certain sense that can be harmful to classical chess.

And would you commit a mistake like Firouzja did in a pawn endgame?

After Firouzja's 69.Kc3?? Magnus Carlsen replied 69...Kc5! and had won the tournament with a round to spare

I think not, but you know, I’ve played on the internet and made such mistakes that I can’t say that with absolute certainty. I still think no. A terrible mistake! But if I recall the mistakes I made… I blundered a queen, rook, knight in one move… What happened to Firouzja can happen to anyone.

Many have talked about the champion’s play, but what can you say about the play of Aronian?

I liked how Levon played! He played creative chess. He played strongly! He’s always been a strong player, but lately people have simply begun to talk more about other players, the Candidates Tournament and so on. But Levon played very well! Particularly in classical chess. It was a bit of a pity that the Armageddons didn’t go so well for him. Interesting games, but he could have scored more points.

In the last round he beat the World Champion in a fighting game. It was undoubtedly interesting to watch his games!

Levon Aronian greets Magnus Carlsen before beating the World Champion | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

I try not to pose questions about politics, but so many events have taken place in the world… Has chess study left some time to follow the events in Belarus and the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh?

I’m following, of course. In some places I understand the situation better, in some places worse. I think I grasp what’s happening now in Belarus better than what’s taking place in Nagorno-Karabakh.

I hope that fair elections will take place in Belarus, and that the political prisoners will be released from jail.

And less is known about what’s happening in the Caucasus?

There’s information, but it’s simply not so easy to get a grip on it. You can understand and assess events in Belarus as an outsider, but in Karabakh… It’s no doubt possible to understand something, but from my point of view it’s very far away, and I wouldn’t like to express myself publicly on something I don’t understand well. I’m ready to admit that. I’d like to believe that the war will end, and the casualties on both sides will end, because it’s very painful when friends and loved ones are dying… And then it’s going to be very hard to reestablish good relations between the countries.

In Karabakh everything is totally unclear for me. On both sides there are good, normal people. Therefore I want to believe that the war will stop and I’d like it to be as soon as possible. But it’s going to need some time before everything normalises.

You’re again going to have almost no over-the-board chess. What are you planning to do?

David Navara has played a limited number of online events, but did reach the final of the prestigious Mr Dodgy Invitational!

To train. To read chess magazines. To work on chess, to write something… I noticed that I’ve begun to play too much internet blitz. Or not too much, compared to others, but… Too much compared to how much I actually need to play! Previously I didn’t play on the internet at all, and now playing too often can become a kind of addiction. I’ll stay at home – we have a small garden. Perhaps too small to call a garden, but too big to call a yard! There are things to do.  

You recently published a book of your selected games. Are you planning a continuation?

There is an idea of writing a continuation, but it will be a little different. I’m preparing a book where, based on examples from my games, teaching and training questions will be addressed. At times not whole games, but fragments. My co-author will be a Slovakian Grandmaster, my contemporary, a great writer and simply a good person – Ján Markoš. But that book still needs to be written. There’s material, but there’s a lot of work to do.

And the last question. The virus has played a mainly negative role for many chess players, but let’s be optimists. Some, on the contrary, have become a fount of ideas against the backdrop of the virus, coming up with beautiful games – for instance, Daniil Dubov… Has something interesting happened recently in theoretical terms?  

Of course. It’s interesting that players have left the main lines (for example, the Berlin with a draw on move 30) in favour of more “lively” variations, side lines. In 3-minute internet games that’s very noticeable, while in the Magnus Carlsen tournaments the man himself, for example, played the Sicilian Rossolimo with h7-h5 on move 3.  

Even elite players have begun to allow themselves such things, without staking big claims on the opening. They show new, fresh ideas, which are perhaps not 100% correct, but which aren’t so easy to refute at the board, particularly in rapid chess.

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