Peter Svidler is a World Cup winner and now a seven-time Russian Champion, but the suspicion remains he could have achieved even more. In the following video interview Rustam Kasimdzhanov turns psychologist to pose awkward questions of a kind rarely voiced in chess interviews. Svidler doesn't shy away from the challenge, which makes for compelling viewing. Don't miss the video, which is accompanied by a full transcript.
The interview took place last summer after Svidler had finished filming his ground-breaking series of videos on the Grünfeld Defence for chess24, but before he won the Russian Championship yet again. In Part 1 Svidler talks about his standing in world chess, his dedication to the game, his past career and his ambitions for the future.
Rustam Kasimdzhanov: Welcome to chess24. I have the pleasure to have Peter Svidler with me and I appreciate this opportunity to ask you some unpleasant questions.
Peter Svidler: Go for it!
When I think Peter Svidler I personally think of one of the most successful players of our times. Before you start saying no, I’d like to enumerate a little bit and say six times the Russian Champion, the winner of the World Cup and you actually came very close in some of the World Championship cycles…
I did ok. I tend to do better in high-profile events. I think they motivate me more than the run-of-the-mill stuff.
Do you see yourself as one of the very top players of our times?
It’s a difficult question because the results, to a certain degree, are there, but I still feel that I will be listed as a bit-player in the era of Kramnik. Maybe not exactly a bit-player, but still – there are people out there who shaped the chess world to a certain degree. I don’t see myself as one of those, but I’m a decent player.
That being said, how
much of a chess player are you? How
important is chess for you in your life?
Yeah, that is a fair question! (laughs) I still think I’m primarily a chess player, but the question can perhaps be phrased: “Have I been as much of a chess player as I should have been over the course of my career?” And I think to that the answer is no. But once again, by now that’s probably unfixable and I’m probably more of a chess player right now than I was three years ago – so I’m trying to do something about it.
I have been somewhat… relaxed towards my chess career in general over the past decade or so. Who knows what could have happened… but the whole, “what would have happened with him if he’d worked on chess for 12 hours a day,” is completely pointless, because I don’t see myself working 12 hours a day whatever I do. It’s a non-starter. I know of some people who do that, but I can’t imagine changes in my life which would lead me to that.Working a bit more and generally being slightly more focussed on chess perhaps wouldn’t have hurt at some point, but once again, it’s a question of balance. Time is what you make of it. I’m not sure my time management is ideal – probably actually it’s not – but I’m very set in my ways when it comes to this. I’m very reluctant to give up on anything that I’m interested in to any degree.
I don’t see why you should.
Well, once again it’s a question of priorities. Being up-to-date with the wonderful world that is American TV is important, clearly, but then you sometimes play 1.g3 because you can’t really play Open openings any more. People play the Petroff against you and you kind of need to work at it.
Clearly you remain a very strong player, and you’re very successful – maybe even more so in the last couple of years: winning the World Cup and coming very close in the London Candidates.
2011 was a good year.
And the London Candidates…That’s a bit of a separate event, though. Or not separate, but stand-alone, because this was the one tournament I had an opportunity to prepare for properly. I got some support from the Russian Chess Federation, which allowed me to actually hire people to do some work with me. For me that’s very, very critical because I’m not particularly good at working alone.
Having people around who first of all did a lot of useful
work and secondly, by their presence, made me work myself – because I would
feel incredibly stupid if I had all this support system and then did nothing
myself – created a situation in which I was actually forced to do something
with my life for a change for about half a year. That brought results, but in general
2011 was more of a solid year than 2013. 2013, apart from the London Candidates,
also featured -3 in the Alekhine Memorial and -2 in Thessaloniki. It was a bit
of an uneven year, so to speak.
Speaking of uneven years, clearly your career is slightly more uneven than that of other top players, because while you do seem to do extremely well in events where it’s important or matters…
I wouldn’t say it’s uneven. I think I actually have an incredibly stable career. It’s just that scoring in the +1 to -1 arc – for the majority of it in strong tournaments – is a respectable career, and I don’t think I’m considered to be a walking point or somebody who needs to be targeted in elite events, but on the other hand you need to be winning those events to get somewhere. That’s where I’ve had problems over the years, obviously, but generally speaking apart from 1999 – and perhaps some bits of this year when I was just playing non-stop and it was hard to maintain the same level everywhere – I’m very solid, and I generally don’t have very bad tournaments. I just rarely have exceptional ones.
Well rarely… I’d like to argue with you on that – you did win the World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk 2011.
There are some rays of sunshine there.
Six times the Russian Champion. How important is that to you?
It’s pretty important, and by now it’s quite clear that this tournament agrees with me, so I try to pay attention to it because it seems as if this is the one tournament of the year in which I’m for some reason likely to do well. I think I’m tied with Tal and one behind Botvinnik, if you count the old Soviet Championships. I’m not even entirely sure – I never actually checked – but after I win one people start quoting numbers at me and that’s why I have some idea.
How much do you miss the title of World Champion?
Well, it’s the one thing that is missing, if you think about it. I’ve been involved as a second a couple of times in World Championship cycles and it’s incredibly interesting and incredibly challenging and it would be really, really great to be involved as a player, but once again – perhaps not the main but one of the reasons this hasn’t happened is the fact that it never actually featured in my life as the one thing I was dedicating my life to.
Stay tuned to chess24 for Part 2 of this interview, in which Svidler talks about the time he tried to calculate life the way he calculates chess.