I must admit I couldn’t wait for my first interview in my new capacity. I was intrigued both by what was an unfamiliar genre for me, and by the personality of the man being interrogated – Alexander Grischuk. We’ve seemingly been good friends for seven years now, but it would be an obvious exaggeration to say I know him well, as there are topics, and quite a lot of them, which he never talks about, regardless of the company or his own mood. Well, if that’s the case, then my mission was extremely clear – to expose this mysterious personality using all the means at my disposal. And that’s what I was happy to set about doing…
Vladislav Tkachiev: Sasha, like it or not, there’s just no way I’m going to be able to avoid asking you about Kazan – people wouldn’t understand. Did you really consider yourself such a clear favourite in rapid and blitz? You were probably recalling your results in the matches in Monaco against Aronian (1.5–0.5) and Kramnik (2–0), while not forgetting your blitz score against Volodya (5–1)?
Alexander Grischuk: No, I didn’t consider myself a clear favourite. Firstly, my score against Aronian in blitz is negative, and I didn’t even remember that 5–1.
V. T.: But you’ve possibly got the best nerves in the chess world. I don’t know another player who could regularly, like you do, leave himself a single second for a move, while never losing on time!
A.G.: Probably only lazy people have failed to write about that draw in eight moves with White. But you have to understand, in a situation where I was getting almost nothing with the white pieces I could see only three options! The first was to make a draw cynically, which in the end is what I did. The second was again to fix a draw, by and large cynically, but by playing on, let’s say, until the 39th move, by which I mean pretending to play, but still with a 99% probability that it would end in a draw.
V. T.: Plus something might, nevertheless, go wrong.
A.G.: Yes, I might still blunder and lose. Well, and the third option – to go for a fully-fledged fight in a worse position. But why should I do that if the score was even? Everyone now keeps writing about that draw in eight moves. Well OK, but what about the Carlsen – Radjabov game just now, which lasted for around forty moves, although essentially there were zero moves there! Neither side had the slightest chance of winning or losing! So of course I could have pretended, while knowing there wasn’t a single chance, but I decided to do it my way.
And in general, I consider the tie-break system to have been quite idiotic. Four games in classical chess, four in rapid, but only two in blitz… It’s even worse at the World Cups: two classical games, then four rapid and then again, two blitz before Armageddon; what’s that supposed to be – 90-60-90?
V.T.: I’ve played a lot of matches under the knockout system and I understand your reasoning perfectly, and even more so when your strategy and results gave rise to talk about the death of classical chess.
A.G.: No, I talked about its burial, and after those famous short draws I went up to Kramnik and said: “I’ll bury rapid chess as well!” And then we burst out laughing.
V.T.: OK, so let’s now talk about the black pieces. I’ve got a strictly professional question for you: did you decide to play what was a new opening for you, the Grünfeld, because you were striving for concrete play from the very first moves, or because Svidler is the world’s best Grünfeld specialist?
A.G.: Well, first of all, the Grünfeld wasn’t linked to Svidler, but Svidler to the Grünfeld. And when I decided to play precisely that opening I invited Peter to be my second. Secondly, even before the matches I had the suspicion that I wouldn’t get anything with White, that there would be draws, and I liked the fact that the Grünfeld gave me the possibility of striking with the black pieces. It’s another story that in actual fact I only got three Grünfelds and eight English Openings. That, of course, was something I didn’t expect, as I presumed people would test me out in the full range of variations: 5.Qb3, 7.Bc4, 7.Bb5, 4.g3 and so on.
V.T.: But weren’t you afraid of failing to remember it all?
A.G.: I was, but in my case that problem can arise in any opening.
V.T.: You actually didn’t do badly at all with White in the final.
A.G.: In terms of openings – yes, in two games, while in the other I had to equalise immediately after 9…b5.
V.T.: By offering a draw!
A.G.: Yes, I was glad he agreed. Although the position is almost equal there, I’d have had to find the only clear path, as otherwise I’m simply worse.
V.T.: So here’s a question: your team included Svidler, who’d previously worked with Kramnik for many years, you were helped by Khismatullin, though he was almost simultaneously Jakovenko’s second. Finally, I somehow became involved in your team, although a few years before that I’d been connected to Peter Leko. Is Soviet paranoia really absolutely alien to you? Do you think that in our day, in a different country and society, it’s possible to trust people completely?
A.G.: Well, firstly it’s true that we do live in a different society, a much more mean-spirited one. But I only ever select people I trust.
I’d also like to say a little more about classical chess, as I thought a lot about it in Kazan. Imagine that in football the goal was twice as narrow. How would the majority of matches finish?
A.G.: OK. But then imagine another player comes along who represents a mixture of Messi, Bolt and Schwarzenegger, and then he starts to regularly run rings around half the team, and then the goalkeeper, and whack! A goal! His team would, of course, start to win continually. Great! But still, does that mean the goals should be that small? And so now we’ve got Carlsen. Despite often having bad positions with either colour he still manages to post great results. But that doesn’t mean nothing needs to be changed – reduce the time, widen the damn goals!
V.T.: I’m glad you’ve raised that very important topic yourself. Ilyumzhinov just announced the introduction of ratings for rapid and blitz chess from the 1st January, and holding World Championships for those forms to be followed by a match for the title of Absolute Champion. And in a couple of years’ time we’ll all see the outcome of the classical and “absolute” cycles, and we can assess the impact. If that’s how it’s going to be then it strikes me as very important that the blitz championship (I’m not too bothered about the fate of “active” chess) is as spectacular as possible, so that in two years’ time the devotees of classical chess can’t turn round and say: look, it’s just as we told you – blitz sucks and should crawl back under its rock. Which system do you think would be best for running such a championship? Do you agree with me that at any given moment only one game should be played on the stage?
A.G.: On the whole, yes. But that’s more suited to Grand Prix stages, the World Cup, or whatever it’s going to be called. But when you hold the final World Championship tournament four-game matches are too short, and it would be better to have eight or ten. In that case if you only played one match at a time then the early stages of the tournament might drag on too long, and we’d again have to return to the system of holding a two-week championship.
V.T.: OK, but in the PCA we still managed to play a whole stage of the Cup in three days, while here I’m talking about blitz!
A.G.: If you’re talking about blitz then I agree, it’s wrong to have four pairs of top-class players playing simultaneously.
V.T.: By the way, do you remember those PCA blitz tournaments which were held in the best venues in Paris, London, New York and Moscow, where the playing halls were jam-packed – in contrast to the current three wives and four seconds and, as we know, no-one else?
A.G.: I was very small back then, eleven or twelve, but it was very interesting. I remember the Kramnik-Polgar and Kramnik-Vyzhmanavin matches.
V.T.: Did you have the feeling that it was the dawn of a new era?
A.G.: No, back then I wasn’t yet capable of thinking in those terms.
V.T.: Let’s talk about the generic weakness of classical chess – the problem of cheating. You once told me that electronic gadgets were only half the problem, while there was still the good old crib sheet, which no-one was watching out for. Is there someone in particular you suspect of that at your elite level?
A.G.: In general I do have suspicions, but not now in Kazan. But well, if people even say that Botvinnik used them…
V.T.: I hadn’t heard that.
A.G.: Someone said that went on during his World Championship matches.
V.T.: But nevertheless, you’ve had suspicions?
A.G.: Certainly. And I couldn’t understand why no-one did anything about it, as after all a crib sheet in your pocket gives you a huge advantage, not as great as computer help, but still very significant.
V.T.: And can anything be done about it?
A.G.: Of course it can. Perhaps if…
V.T.: You sign a contract with NASA?
A.G.: But then the question arises, does the end justify the means? By which I mean you can shield the hall with metal sheeting, put metal detectors everywhere and check all the players. You can use tweezers to get into their ears, rummage around in less easily accessible places (he actually expressed himself differently – V.T.). But the question is: what are you doing it for?
V.T.: I’d like to touch on another important topic. I’m not really much of a boxing fan and out of all the great boxers of the past and present I’m only interested in Ali and Mike Tyson. We all know the kind of statements Ali made before and after matches, and how he used that to spark off public interest. It strikes me that’s something we’re really lacking in chess, and the only person who allows himself to do anything provocative is Nakamura, for example before his games against you. Is it something personal between you?
A.G.: I’ll start off by saying that in the whole story with Ali I find Frazier much more appealing in that regard.
V.T.: Who kept quiet…
A.G.: Who simply behaved decently.
V.T.: Yes, but in the public consciousness there’s now the Great Ali and the somewhat less famous Frazier!
A.G.: Generally speaking, I was brought up in the Soviet way and consider that to be absolutely ugly and undignified behaviour, so I’m amazed you find anything whatsoever to admire there.
V.T.: So can you tell us, nevertheless, about Nakamura? Was there a conflict of some sort between you on the ICC?
A.G.: There was.
A.G.: Already quite a long time ago now.
V.T.: So what happened? Did he behave badly?
A.G.: I think his behaviour was ugly and cowardly.