Interviews Oct 1, 2019 | 8:23 AMby Colin McGourty

Vitiugov: “The knockout system is treacherous”

Nikita Vitiugov beat Sergey Karjakin and Wesley So in Khanty Mansiysk, but his Armageddon loss to Yu Yangyi may end up being the most memorable moment of the 2019 FIDE World Cup. His devastation was obvious, and in an interview with Boris Khodorovsky for the St. Petersburg Sport Weekend, Nikita admits that he still hasn’t got over it. He needs to recover fast, since he’s playing in the Grand Swiss on the Isle of Man, an event on which he shares the view of Magnus Carlsen that the already qualified World Champion and Fabiano Caruana shouldn’t be able to play.

Nikita Vitiugov interviewed after losing the Armageddon game to Yu Yangyi | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

Nikita was talking to Boris Khodorovsky of Sport Weekend in Russian, and we’ve translated the interview below:

Nikita Vitiugov: It’s really a shame to finish my appearance at the World Cup in such a manner. The knockout system is treacherous – for two weeks you play well, and then it all ends in one game. For any chess player getting knocked out of the World Cup at such a late stage is a shock, and when it’s all decided in Armageddon it’s a double shock.

Boris Khodorovsky: Who chose the colour for that game?

My opponent. He won the toss and picked the white pieces.

When did you feel fatigue during the tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk?

It could be felt already in the early stages. If you compare the knockout system with the usual Swiss opens or round-robin tournaments then essentially at every stage you play only deciding games. That’s a big test for your nervous system. They tell us that in tennis they play like that constantly, but for a chess player such a format is unusual. Essentially only the World Cup is played like that, once every two years. 

Was the final pairing a surprise for you?

From the very beginning I considered Ding Liren the favourite. From the early stages you got the impression that he’s a chess player from another league – perhaps the victory of the Chinese player over Magnus Carlsen in the recent St. Louis tournament had an impact on that impression. Radjabov said in an interview that he didn’t see himself getting to the final, but there probably wasn’t a single player in Khanty-Mansiysk who saw himself getting there in advance.

Are there any particular secrets for preparing for knockout tournaments?

It’s clear that a lot will be decided by your reserves of energy, and particularly nervous energy, but the problem is no-one knows how to build that up. By analogy with the European cups in football you could say: the leading clubs prepare for the latter stages, but they might not get out of their groups. It’s the same in the Chess World Cup. If you prepare for the quarterfinal and semifinal you simply might not get there, although it’s always very strong players who get to the deciding stages. The issue is that there are a huge number of very strong chess players in the world right now.

If you’d been told before the start of the tournament that you’d get to the quarterfinals would you have called that outcome a success?

Ten years I got through three rounds of the World Cup, and only after strong opponents who I was supposed to meet according to the pairings tree had been knocked out. This time I not only got through four rounds but also beat two top chess players, and the match with Yu Yangyi, who’s also a top player, was at least balanced. A very good performance, but the shock I experienced in the quarterfinal Armageddon is something I still have to get over. I need to do that, since I’ve got three very important tournaments coming up: the Grand Swiss on the Isle of Man, where a place in the Candidates Tournament is at stake, the European Team Championship in Batumi and what for me is the last stage of the Grand Prix in Hamburg.

Strong tournaments were held on the Isle of Man for the last few years. What’s special about this one?

It’s been called the strongest Swiss tournament in the history of chess, although right now a lot of strong grandmasters have decided not to play. This year, no doubt, there were more major and prestigious events than in the whole history of modern chess. It’s impossible to play so many tournaments in a row! I’m sure that the organisation on the Isle of Man will be great, and even considering the withdrawals it will be the strongest Swiss.

One reason for Anish Giri to withdraw would be to help ensure qualification by rating (the tweet we originally included here has been deleted), though that could be controversial:

Is a place in the Candidates Tournament a serious motivation?

As with the World Cup, it’s impossible to predict the winner of a Swiss tournament. A place in the Candidates Tournament is, of course, a serious motivation, though it’s not entirely clear (I think in sporting terms it’s wrong) why the World Champion Carlsen and Candidates Tournament participant Fabiano Caruana will play. They definitely don’t need a ticket to Yekaterinburg, but they can seriously affect the tournament standings.

In Yekaterinburg one place will be chosen by the organisers, and it’s almost certain that will go to Sergey Karjakin…

As far as I know, FIDE has strict criteria for the wild card. The organisers can invite a player who finishes third in the World Cup or second on the Isle of Man. A candidate can also be a player who over the course of the year is consistently in the Top 10. At this moment in time Karjakin doesn’t meet any of those requirements. Among Russian players it’s more likely that Ian Nepomniachtchi or Alexander Grischuk would be nominated, but I hope they’ll qualify for the tournament by their own efforts.

Sergey Karjakin could find no way back after losing the first game to Nikita | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

How do people in the chess world react to Karjakin’s unprecedented promotion in the Russian media?

In recent years among Russian players only Sergey has managed to play a World Championship match. The promotion is largely connected to that according to all the laws of PR. Chess players have a very positive attitude towards Karjakin the chess player. As for the somewhat obtrusive image – everyone can decide that for themselves.  

How do you assess the prospects of the Russian team in the European Team Championship in Batumi?

It’s always a big responsibility and increased motivation to play for the team. This time we’re going to Batumi with a very young team – at 32 I’ll be the oldest and most experienced player. 

1. Russia (Rating average: 2734 | Captain: Alexander Motylev)
1GMVladislav Artemiev2746
2GMDmitry Andreikin2741
3GMNikita Vitiugov2732
4GMMaxim Matlakov2716
5GMDaniil Dubov2699

As for how the tournament will go, it’s tough to predict, although all the teams will be represented by players who, like us, have gone through the World Cup and the Isle of Man Grand Swiss. Modern chess has become very intensive. In his day Mikhail Botvinnik claimed that you should play 50 games a year. Now you can fulfil that norm in a few months.

A new look for Nikita!

See also:

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