Interviews Nov 25, 2015 | 2:39 PMby Colin McGourty

Peter Svidler: “Everything went our way”

The Russian teams finally lived up to expectations in Reykjavik and claimed double gold at the European Team Chess Championship. It was fitting, therefore, that as well as being congratulated by President Putin they received a hero’s welcome on their return to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. Team leader Peter Svidler and Evgeny Tomashevsky were among the players who ran the gauntlet of media interviews, with the Russia Chess Federation providing photos and quotes.

The Russian men's and women's teams won a major team event together for the first time since 2007

Alexandra Kosteniuk was top board for Russia for the first time since 2009, and things could hardly have gone smoother - she noted, "losing for the team is doubly painful, while winning is twice as sweet!"

Just as Fabiano Caruana warmed up for beating Hikaru Nakamura in blitz by playing Jan and Pepe during their 72-hour Bantherthon, Peter Svidler got in the perfect preparation by playing a 2-hour Banter Blitz session just before he headed off to represent Russia. You can rewatch that below:

It seemed to work! Peter scored an unbeaten +2 on top board for a 2803 rating performance, helping Russian finish a full two points clear of their nearest rivals Armenia, Hungary and France. On the team’s return to Moscow Vladimir Barsky, Boris Dolmatovsky and Eteri Kublashvili were on hand to interview and photograph the players - all photos are taken from their report unless stated otherwise.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Svidler had the most to say:

It’s always pleasant when the press pays us and our results such attention. For that you need to win something, so it doesn’t happen as often as we’d like! When it does happen, though, it’s really great that you get such an official reception on your homecoming.

Peter Svidler is interviewed by the Russia-1 state TV channel

Somehow at this championship everything that could come together did come together. Over the course of recent years we’ve regularly been asked: why doesn’t the Russian men’s team win the Olympiad? There’s never any clear-cut answer as to why that doesn’t happen, and now there’s no clear-cut answer as to why we managed to win the European Championship – except for some banalities: everyone was in relatively decent form and at the key moments each member of the team won a game in an important match. Of course individually our team is super-strong and the favourite for any tournament, but in order to claim first place you need the majority or all to play at their level, to be in good form. That’s what happened this time.

Of course there’s a very big difference compared to individual events. You need to carefully follow the match situation, since that often determines decisions you take at the board. Plus the atmosphere is totally different, because within the team everyone helps everyone else to prepare and you’re constantly talking with colleagues and friends. The difference between team and individual events really is very big. Of course when you play for the national team it’s a different kind of pressure.

Everything went our way from the very beginning. When everyone’s on form and there are no problems with the line-up you don’t need to try to work out each evening which of two misfiring people you should play in the following round. On the contrary, you have the novel situation of never knowing who to leave out. In such cases a team plays well - effortlessly!

Ian Nepomniachtchi found a way to deal with the commotion on the team's arrival in Moscow

In all the critical matches the decisive moments went in our favour. Objectively the two decisive matches were at the end – first against the French, then the Armenians; matches against those teams are always tough for us. In the match against France, Grischuk won a brilliant game against Fressinet in the Berlin; there’s hardly any need to explain what that means – to win against the Berlin when it also gives your team victory in a key match against your main rivals! The French team was the most interesting to watch in Reykjavik apart from ourselves.

As has always been the case historically we had an extremely tough match against Armenia; it was dug out for us by a win for Ian who, at some moment, didn’t seem to have a very comfortable position. I really didn’t like his position, but then at home I had a quick look at his game and it turned out Ian’s evaluation was much closer to the truth – he understood much better than me what was going on and ultimately outplayed Sergei Movsesian. By not losing that match we ensured we had quite a big margin of error before the final round.

Of course it was very important to beat Ukraine. If that match against us had gone well for them they would have been extremely dangerous. That match didn’t come to my mind first because it went very smoothly for us. Vassily mixed something up or, perhaps, he simply didn’t believe that I’d ever again in my life play the variation I played in Baku against Sergey Karjakin

And Ian played safely, solidly, and didn’t give Areshchenko the slightest chance. The match was incredibly important, but the outcome was never in doubt for a moment. After an hour’s play I had a position that I was playing for a win while Ian was also pressing right out of the opening.

In the final round Tomashevsky took a more than usual interest in Svidler's game - since they were playing the same position until move 15! | photo: Máni Hrafnsson, official website 

In the first three rounds Sasha Grischuk rested, since he’d arrived sicker than the rest of us. Allowing him to recover as much as possible mixed up the colours for the other players. It wasn’t that we had the strategy: give Ian White and Evgeny Black, but it worked out like that and then, since Ian was winning game after game with White, there was no serious justification for “combatting” it.

On the rest day we went whale hunting*. Naturally, we not only didn’t catch a single whale but didn’t even see any, but on the other hand there was fresh air and getting tossed about. An important facet of our performance in Iceland was that on any given day our team had three out of four players ill. So apart from that trip (I decided trying to see a whale was something I couldn’t fail to do) I spent the rest of the time as passively as possible so as not to aggravate matters, and I didn’t see much.

* I should clarify that by 'hunting' I meant 'trying to observe from a distance, failing miserably, and getting very seasick' (Svidler on Twitter)

Perhaps the closest the Russian delegation got to a whale | photo: Mark Glukhovsky, RCF website

I slightly regret that, since my best childhood friend insists that his most unforgettable vacation was spent in Iceland – and he’s been around. I suspect I missed out on a lot because of the circumstances; but in general, during a tournament it’s hard to go on a lot of excursions.

The only person to have anything slightly negative to say about Iceland was Russian women's coach Sergei Rublevsky: "As for the organisation, it was just as modest as in Tromsø. In short, I’m waiting for an Olympiad in a southern country and I think that everything will be much better in Baku!"

Rublevsky: "In the final rounds you could say that Sasha Goryachkina pulled the team along..." The 17-year-old Russian Champion (pictured) won six of her last seven games

Evgeny Tomashevsky also posted an unbeaten +2 and talked about what went right this time round:

On this occasion we all managed to put the pieces of the puzzle together the way they should go. If you look at ratings then all of our players played at their level – perhaps some a little better, but simply the class of players on the team was pretty high and that was enough for gold.

1Svidler Peter2745½1½1½½½½5,08270828036,1
2Grischuk Alexander2750½½½10½3,0627092709-3,4
3Tomashevsky Evgeny27431½½½1½½4,57265327551,4
4Nepomniachtchi Ian2705½½11½01½5,08263427292,4
5Jakovenko Dmitry273511½½1½½5,07259827562,2

Tomashevsky is interviewed for Match TV, who also filmed the Russian team's training camp before Reykjavik

It was important that this time round we backed each other up not only in the sense of “atmosphere” and attitude, which have always been good, but by fighting on the boards. If one of our teammates had a dubious position then another would go active, get an edge and win, and, in turn, it was hard for our opponents. I had to save tough positions on two occasions, but it’s much easier to do that when you’re not threatened with match defeat.

As for where it was held, Iceland is a little like Russia: the north, beautiful nature, positive, friendly people. I think that good attitude towards us helped the team.

Svidler with coaches Alexander Motylev and Vladimir Potkin - Potkin noted, "the European Championship is part of the preparation for the Olympiad, the main team event"

See also:

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