Interviews Jul 10, 2018 | 2:01 PMby Colin McGourty

Nepo and Gelfand on Carlsen-Caruana and more

The Gideon Japhet Cup recently ended in Jerusalem with Ian Nepomniachtchi finishing a point ahead of the chasing pack, but it’s continued to provide interesting material. At least one of the photos of Boris Gelfand and Vassily Ivanchuk on a later trip to the Dead Sea deserves to go viral, while both Nepo and Gelfand also gave long interviews to Emil Sutovsky. Ian considers Magnus somewhat overrated as a match player, while Boris compares the Carlsen-Caruana match to Karpov-Kasparov and reveals how a young Fabiano once surprised him with his devotion to chess.

Boris Gelfand mentioned that he's perhaps played the most games in his career against Vassily Ivanchuk - they also visited the Dead Sea together! | photo: Gideon Japhet Memorial/Jeruchess Facebook

We'll spare you the photos of Chucky in swim gear! | photo: Gideon Japhet Memorial/Jeruchess Facebook

Anna Muzychuk, Sutovsky and co. got into the spirit of Dead Sea chess | photo: Gideon Japhet Memorial/Jeruchess Facebook

We already published Emil’s interviews with Peter Svidler and Vassily Ivanchuk, and now it’s the turn of other heroes, starting with Ian Nepomniachtchi:

The Russian grandmaster felt he’d ridden his luck in Jerusalem, but the talent of the world no. 15 has never been in doubt. Alongside Peter Svidler he’s one of the very few top grandmasters who can boast a plus score against the World Champion (in fact it’s an incredible 4 wins, 0 losses, and though two of those wins were when they were both very young the latest was in London last year). That personal experience is perhaps one reason why Nepo is less in awe of Magnus than some of his colleagues. Here are some of the highlights of the interview:  


On Carlsen-Caruana

Nepomniachtchi: I think Magnus is slightly overestimated as a match player, because actually he has played only three matches, and two of them were matches against Vishy, and somehow I believe that at the moment they played the match Vishy had become more or less a comfortable opponent for Magnus. I think he started to score a lot against Vishy in 2012, 2011 and this was really a favourable opponent for him. Once he played another guy, Karjakin, it was an extremely close match, and in fact I believe Sergey was really close to winning the match if he managed to find some tactics – in Game 10, to make a draw by force.

It would be basically one game to go, because he would surely make a draw with White, and ok, it would be another situation that he should score 1/1, not 1.5/2 or 2/3. A different situation.

I don’t see why Magnus should seem unbeatable, and now I think Magnus is not going to have any advantage in the opening and probably it’s not his strongest part of his play. If you compare his preparation in the match against Karjakin I don’t remember that he proved to us that he has found some brilliant novelties. He played the Trompowsky in Game 1, which was kind of funny, probably with the Trump election - it’s the only reason to play the Trompowsky!

He never seemed like an unbeatable player, and especially for Fabiano, who normally wins at least one game per year against Magnus

On the influence of computers

Until some moment I wasn’t sure how a computer performs so well. You go for some creative attack and it looks like it should be winning for sure, but somehow the computer, with a couple of precise moves, defends any position, and then ok, I spotted that it’s obvious from geometry. I believe there is a lot of geometry in chess, and even if optically your pieces are very far from your king and you cannot protect from a direct mate, then you start to analyse with a computer and you see that probably the b2-square and the a1-square, or f6, it’s all the same, it protects g7. I’m trying to explain in a very simple way, but geometry can be not only in queen moves or bishop moves but also some pawn structures and so on. I think this is the key, that there is a lot more for us to learn in chess and maybe if we do this via some kind of mathematic point of view, then we can follow what the computer can show us.

On a human crossing 2900

Nepomniachtchi: It’s like a Guinness record, it’s a milestone, but I believe there will be no real difference between 2800s and 2900s. Ratings normally show your current condition. Some players like Magnus, they can keep a relatively good condition throughout the year. The worst moments for him he plays like 2650 or something, so he’s not playing like a total patzer, because if you see some games of some other top players like…

Sutovsky: …like yourself?

Like me. Everybody can experience some bad days, and somehow people usually fall to the very bottom – somehow you make a mistake and you simply don’t want to play, you’re not trying to find the best defence, but on the contrary some top players – especially Magnus – even if he makes some bad move or a couple of mistakes, normally he’s trying to [avoid] the worst result and he keeps trying to find the best moves in any position. So that’s why in the end his rating is not changing that drastically.

What’s your own ambition?

I don’t really care about rating that much, but in case it will be the only option to qualify for the Candidates then ok, then it’s another ambition. To tell the truth, I believe that the only goal for a chess player who plays professionally and who feels himself capable of it is to qualify for the World Championship match. To be a realist first you should qualify for the Candidates, you should manage your tasks well, and it should be step-by-step. You cannot qualify for the match without winning the Candidates – ok, we have some examples in history, but you should be a very wise man to play the World Championship match without qualifying from the Candidates!


Boris' son Avner also gives an interview! | photo: Gideon Japhet Memorial/Jeruchess Facebook

Boris Gelfand recently turned 50, but is working on chess as hard as ever. Nowadays he’s also writing books, though, with volume three of what he sees as a six-part series expected to be published later this year or early next year. As Boris puts it, “I think it’s my moral obligation to pass on knowledge”. Other details in the interview include his World Cup summary, “No Dutch, no fun!” and an explanation of how he approaches table tennis as methodically as chess, with one difference – “I don’t train the serve in table tennis!” He has enough of that from chess and just wants, “to get a game”. If you watch to the end you’ll also get to see Boris’ young son Avner, who speaks Russian and cheerfully talks about how he likes reading and writing but isn’t interested in chess at all!

Here are some of the other highlights from the interview:


On the influence of computers

Gelfand: I think the most important thing one learns from computers is defensive possibilities. Even a dangerous looking position can be defended, as chess is a very concrete game. But also it reveals that there are many possibilities which are hidden. We witnessed now, for example, that some opening lines which we played for many years maybe are refuted, but much more are discovered with the help of computers. Normally there’s not just one way to play, but many ways.

On Carlsen-Caruana

When I played Anand it was different because it’s two players of the same style, more or less, and Carlsen-Caruana is a match of players of totally different styles, so we can expect a very interesting match. Carlsen’s very much a practical player - it’s like Karpov/Kasparov, more or less, while Caruana is a very deep player who puts a big [emphasis] on opening preparation and also is looking for the best move, very often, so I believe it could be a very, very interesting match, and the one who would produce his strong points better will prevail, I believe.

I can tell you a story. When Caruana was very, very young once he came to my house and I was amazed that ok, we were working with him a bit and then in the middle of the night or something he was looking for me as he found an improvement on some idea! I was amazed how motivated he is.

Sutovsky: I think his approach is a bit kind of an old, good school, classical chess school and Magnus, in my opinion, is a bit like a “player”, “Karpov-style”.

Yes, definitely Karpov-style. Caruana, of course, is a scientific attitude. In the last few years he became more pragmatic, probably it helped him, but still, at the core he is loyal to his attitude from childhood. He was brought up by very good trainers, let’s say the Soviet School. First he worked with Sher, I think, then Zlotnik, then with Chernin, then Avrukh, he had a training session with Beliavsky, with Razuvaev, with all the best, he got everything possible and I think he learned a lot.

The way you sound it’s like if not necessarily you would support Caruana in this match, but you would be happy if his style prevails.

No, I believe in the style more, but ok, I’m totally neutral in this and, as a chess fan, I would be happy to watch and enjoy all the games – hopefully 12 games played, hopefully tiebreaks!


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