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Interview with Vladimir Kramnik
Written by content team 25 July 2008

Vladimir Borisovich Kramnik is a Russian chess grandmaster. He was the World Chess Champion from 2000 to 2007. In October 2000, he beat Garry Kasparov and became the Classical World Chess Champion. Kramnik successfully defended his title against challenger Péter Lékó in a drawn match in 2004, while he defeated reigning FIDE World Champion Veselin Topalov in a unification match, the FIDE World Chess Championship 2006.
Garry Kasparov described Kramnik's style as pragmatic and tenacious. He is one of the toughest opponents to defeat, losing only one game over more than one hundred games leading up to his match with Kasparov, including eighty consecutive games without loss!
This interview was conducted by Czech journalist Pavel Matocha after the rapid chess match between Vladimir Kramnik and Czech GM David Navara. The interview was published in the Czech magazine "Weekly Euro". In this interview, Kramnik talks about Czech GM David Navara, chess ethics, chess world championship title, his upcoming match against Anand and his views on Garry Kasparov's political activities.


Weekly Euro :- You won the match against the best Czech chessplayer, David Navara, convincingly with 5. 5- 2 .5 points. Your opponent managed to win only the last game. How would you characterize grandmaster Navara. How does he play chess?
Vladimir Kramnik :-
David is a very strong grandmaster. In general he plays well - his strongest weapon is a very fast calculation of variations. I noticed already during our first game at the Wijk aan Zee tournament last January that he calculates incredibly quickly. Fast calculations are extremely important in rapid chess, there is no time for calmly contemplating a position. I had to bear in mind that last year he managed to win the very strong rapid chess tournament in Germany, Mainz.

David calculates incredibly quickly

It is interesting, David is normally very modest and shy, but at the chessboard he is a very confident and tough player. I think he only lacks experiences competing against the very top players. He needs to learn what is it like to play the real top grandmasters. I myself went through something similar when I played my first games against Kasparov and Karpov. It was at that time that I learnt the difference between competing against players from the top ten or twenty, and to compete against the world number one or two. Positions which I considered to be winning all of the sudden were not. They kept putting up resistance, they were able to find new resources to defend in those unfavourable positions.

You need to adapt to playing against the very top players - there is so much more tension and resistance. Maybe you think that the difference between me and some other grandmaster with an Elo rating of 2700 is not that great. However there is a difference, perhaps not dramatic, but a significant one. You need to adapt to that level, and I could see that David was adapting quickly. E ach day he played better then the previous one. He needs to play more often with the very best players in the world.

There is so much more tension and resistance playing top chess players

Weekly Euro :- How would you evaluate the match?
Vladimir Kramnik :-
In general I was very satisfied, especially with the fact that in each game we fought to the very end. That was what I wanted. I wanted to play games, where there will be tension till the very end. It was a good training for me, which will help me during another chess match that is ahead of me this year. And I believe that it was a useful experience for David too. I hope he learnt something from it.

tension + hard fought games are good training for me

Weekly Euro:- You mentioned your first games against Karpov and Kasparov and difficulties you had to face during those games. I remember photos of their mutual matches or of their other games with strong opponents. I was surprised that on those snapshots they would stare at their opponents intensively, right into their eyes. In nature this is considered to be clearly aggressive behaviour. If you, from a short distance, stare to the eyes of a dog, the animal will take it is as an attack. Among human beings staring is considered at least improper. Was this a typical weapon of Soviet chess players? Have you, too, experienced something similar with Karpov or Kasparov?
Vladimir Kramnik :-
 I can talk more about Kasparov, against whom I had played considerably more games. In his case I can confirm your theory. Sometimes he would stare into my eyes during a game, or make some grimaces. I sensed that he always tried to employ those sorts of methods, and his opponents usually felt very uncomfortable. However I never took much notice of it. Part of my preparation for the World Champion match against Kasparov was to be ready for his off- board tactics. I did not to react to them at all. Once you start thinking about these things during the game, even analysing them, you’re caught .

He stared into my eyes or made some grimaces, Kasparov employ those sorts of methods.

Weekly Euro :-  Sure it must affect some opponents, otherwise why would some grandmasters use it?
Vladimir Kramnik :-
Yes, no doubt. Look at the catastrophic record Vishy Anand has against Garry Kasparov. Kasparov managed to beat him almost everywhere they played, even though Vishy Anand has belonged to the absolute top players in the world for fifteen years. This difference cannot be explained purely in chess terms, there must have been some psychology.

staring into eyes or grimaces affected Vishy against Kasparov.

Weekly Euro :- Have you ever used similar tricks against your opponents yourself? You’re going to compete against Vishy Anand this autumn for the world champion title...
Vladimir Kramnik :-
No, never. When I play chess, then I play it exclusively on the board. I have nothing personal against my opponent. We only compete by making better moves with pieces on sixty-four squares. I do not try to look over-confident, make a severe face or to stare at my opponent. This sort of psychological intimidation is not for me.

I do not make a severe face or stare at my opponent

Weekly Euro :- Do you think that Karpov and Kasparov were educated for this kind of psychological intimidation by their trainers? Wasn’t it a part of the preparation at the famous Botvinnik school of chess?
Vladimir Kramnik :-
Possibly. I know that Botvinnik really believed in that kind of stuff. He paid lot of attention to those small things, he believed that such psychological details can be a great help during games.

Botvinnik really believed in that kind of stuff

 
 
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