March 18, 2012

Close-up: Alexander Morozevich!

I am coming back with one of my favorite labels: close-up! 
The interview has been already published in the second issue, February 2012, of the German Magazine: Schach.

We were surprised to see Moro's powerful comeback after many months of silence, wondering how that was possible and what happened meanwhile, indulging ourselves into endless assumptions. The one to help us out is none other than Alexander Morozevich himself, who reminds us that it takes years of hard work to be an overnight sensation. Short and clear, direct and no frills, without beating around the bush, this is his trademark answer which attracts the public even more and makes the journalists review their job as being quite challenging. And I was one of them while compiling this interview, a challenge which started in November 2011 and ended in January 2012. If I exaggerate a bit, it's a work spread over two years:) It might look like a long period of time and a clear sample of how 'difficult' those geniuses can be. But with an important tournament like Reggio Emilia in between, there is no surprise it took longer than expected. To answer a lot of questions and give a piece of yourself to the hungry journalists it's not just…something, it requires time and energy. Especially on the top level, everything counts and we, the chess players, more than anybody else, should understand that. To be honest, looking back, all the efforts were on his side, he is the one who makes the interview and I am a simple listener and learner. And the final shape the interview took, surprised me once again with its openness and honesty, a lesson which he is giving us free of charge.

Alexander's profile picture on facebook

'Be true to yourself', as Moro would say, is maybe not the best thing ever for the more sensitive natures. Like it or not, we will never dare to say what we are really thinking, we will always try to put ourselves in a positive light and please the others, hiding behind polite and diplomatic words. And yet, he has the courage to be himself, to say out loud his real opinion, no matter how unpleasant that might sound. Discreet when it comes to his personal life, his words and gestures left enough room for misinterpretations:  his frankness is seen by some as frustration, his sense of humour and ironical style as cynicism, and so forth. 
In a world full of platitudes and copies, Alexander Morozevich is fighting the hardest battle ever, to be just himself, as he was born: an original!

To the public's delight, you continued in Reggio Emilia your series of victories and decisive games. But in the end, and unexpectedly, Anish Giri finished on the 1st position. What drew you back from winning the event?
Well, it was a really totally random event, with almost every player as a possible winner. It all started after round 5, when Naka, playing as awful as possible in the first 35 moves against Chuky, finally managed to even win that game. After that, Chuky went really mad, decided to take revenge and prepare ONLY for the next game against Naka which, unfortunately for me and fortunately for the other players, was due to be played only in the final round. Basically, he was so visibly disturbed that he still has to play some games in between, that he didn’t come with any better idea than to lose them all. Of course the "normal" course of the tournament was out at this point. It's important to understand it; then things from "crazy Reggio" start to have some logic finally. About my play…well, I was sick the whole tournament, so I am really happy with my final result taking it into consideration. After my strange ‘all in’ play and self destruction against Caruana in round 6 I basically finished the tournament, looking for draws like the best remedy. Naka seemed the only player who correctly saw me as an easy target; therefore, instead of making a draw  and almost securing with that the first place, he decided to get some easy point or what it seemed for him to be, forgetting that after all, even the sick players need to be outplayed and not outmoved!:) The way he played against me is from simuls’ displays level; after that, he cracked two more times and finished only by a miracle on a third place. After the sudden present from round 8, I was back with chances for the first place, but last two games I didn't exceeded Naka's level against me very much. Ok, some people think I was the one to blame the fortune for missing quite an easy win in just one move in my last game against Vitiugov. But looking back, I didn't feel (with all my play there and being exhausted with the disease), that I was the deserved winner and have so much to complain for.

Any other thoughts on the Reggio Emilia tournament?
It seemed that Reggio has established itself firmly as a high standard tournament, increasing the category year by year and finally reaching a strong 20 cat field this year. I want to wish the organizers to continue their best efforts to keep the event as strong and fascinating as possible, and also to join the Grand Slam in the near future.

What about your plans for the near future?
They are quite open since I have no invitations at all. It looks like I have some chances for a good tournament closer or during summer, so I will keep on preparing for some imaginary super-super tournament, which is likely to happen one day.

In November last year you played the European Team Championship in Porto Carras. The 5thplace that Russian team occupied is probably not up to the expectations. Why do you think this happened?
Many professionals and different specialists have already commented on this, in the press and the internet. The more ado there is about it, the more difficult it is for us to hear each other, and to figure it out. My position is:

  1. It's necessary to stop the hysterics in the press that started after the World Team Championship in China — it doesn't do any credit neither to the Russian Chess Federation authorities, nor the trainers, and backfires the players themselves.
  2. It's also important to stop looking for scapegoats among the players - this is a vicious practice. Eliminate all the ambiguous statements about some players being non-professional. Professionalism is at least a two-way road.
  3. At last: stop washing our dirty linen in public. Why don't all the persons concerned meet and discuss the pros and cons, closed-door? Some obvious points I can mention though:

  • The objectively increased level of every single team, including our direct competitors. When I first time played for our main team in 1998 in Elista, I had to score 8 out of 10 to win gold on the fourth board. Nowadays, in Greece, the highest performance and the gold medal on the same fourth board were mine, with an inconceivable before modest result of 4 out of 6.
  • The constant rotation of the players: reasonable rotation is possible, but shuffling us like a deck of cards and waiting for a miracle — who needs this? For instance, the team that had brilliantly won the Team Championship in Bursa in 2010 was nearly dissolved by the time of the Olympics in just 6 months! Russia-1 allocated Grischuk and Malakhov, who is said to have threatened with a trial... The others were kindly invited in the Russia-2. The same bustle is happening with the trainers. We should remember Vasiliy Smyslov, 7th world champion and his famous words: «The main is to preserve the people». This was said under different circumstances, but it's very important for us now.

Putting aside the unfortunate result in Reggio, as well as the disappointing performance of the Russian team in Greece, how come that after many months without playing, your comeback is so good?
During the break, I reconsidered many things for myself that were in need of rethinking. Moreover, I worked on chess quite a lot, both as a trainer in Qatar (ed: more details about Alexander's  experience as a trainer), and on my own. In parallel I was working with different players. So I was hip to what was going on, but just had a break and played seldom for a year and a half. When I felt the time has come, I played 6 tournaments in 5 months.

That's a lot, especially on the highest level! Are you following a specific regime or rhythm during a tournament, to keep you in shape?
Nothing has changed. I am a night owl — go to bed late and prepare for the upcoming game at night. Before the game, I revise the lines a bit and go for a walk.

But how can you still keep your concentration on a decent level? Do you work on your mental approach, to strengthen it? 
Concentration is what takes you years to acquire. I am not sure I can say whether this is also mental strength or not.

In any case, you seem quite focused when you are playing and your results speak for themselves. But, according to your definition of success, how successful have you been so far?
I don't really regard my play with a link to the results — it is more of a process to me that I just enjoy. Each tournament is being lived, thought and then remembered in its own way. You draw conclusions from your losses, and they help you build future victories. And wins give you joy and fill with certain sense. I see every game this way, with its weak and strong moves.
The result is just one of the successfulness' criteria. If I win a tournament, but don't feel any gladness, is this win really great?

Than what about the times when you were not very satisfied or pleased with your performance? What did you do about it?
A single failure is always a reason to think. A number of them, as I experienced at the end of 2009, is a reason to think very seriously, re-examine, and change some things. And usually, it does you good. 2011 was all different for me.

That means you had turning points in your career?
I don't really tend towards dramatizing and trying to find any turning points. Everyone's got their ups and downs. Chess is a way with all the features of the way itself. And a turn in our understanding can be just a turn on the road.

Speaking about turns and changes, what is your position on the World Championship system?
In 2011 mere mortals had only one chance to qualify for the candidates tournament and continue fighting for the crown — playing the World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk. I approached it being not in my best condition — not everyone can reach the peak of his form playing the fourth tournament in a row, so I dropped out pretty early. Players according to the rating will be piсked out a year before the candidate tournament starts, based on the average rating of 01.07.2011 and 01.01.2012, where one of my numbers will be the legendary 2694. I don't think that as for now we have only 8 players that claim the crown. Almost anyone from the top 20 could win a match against Anand or Gelfand, and from this point the format of 8 seems controversial, because at least half of the candidates stay overboard for two years. Conducting it double rounds, and increasing the number of participants would make the tournament too bulky, and we're not in 1953. The formula that was tested in Kazan, a series of short matches, is interesting, but it's not clear whether it got accustomed or not. Maybe we can try conducting the candidates tournament like the last USA championship, by the same formula — two groups with 10 players each like a normal closed tournament, with two winners in the play-off playing two matches of 4 games each with tie breaks till the winner is defined. So in total we get the same three weeks that one needs, let's say, to win the World Cup. Of course the workload is immense, but we can handle it once in two years. But the world championship match, if it remains the main event, should consist of 16 games, otherwise it isn't very serious. 

Which are, for you, the advantages and the drawbacks of chess as a full time job?
They would be different for everyone. For me it is the possibility to be a master of my own time, absence of fixed working hours, possibility to sleep until lunchtime, and so on. Not everyone's job is their favourite thing to do, so this is already a big piece of luck. However, having to sit for hours, hypo-dynamism, specific concentration on the verge of autism, - these are the disadvantages.

Hypothetically speaking, if you had enough money to retire right now, would you?
My playing is a reflection of my feelings and my love to the game, not a desire to coin it in. There are so many fields in life where using chess brains one can make a much better fortune than in chess. Nevertheless, I've never regretted my choice.

And yet, there must be a type of training, something that you don't like doing, besides having to sit on a chair for many hours?
«Training» games which start at 10-12 am, that in my case are usually playing under the auspices of FIDE. Living hell.

Many players would certainly agree with you:) What about oddities, have you done anything unusual in your trainings?
Well, I regularly practice hypnotism. Without any result:) Recently I've started taking my backpack to the games with a much better effect. A number of very impressionable players have been thinking of what's inside more than about their own games!

Could you create an 'ideal' chess player (who won't let his mind wander off into your backpack :), and maybe even name someone who came or who is coming close?
I think that an ideal player as such, just like an ideal game, ideal government, or ideal time, does not exist. In every moment in history there are diverse requirements to be the best one. As for me, for the time being, Magnus' style and play mostly meet the spirit of our time. No wonder he's number one and so far ahead.

What 1-2 things do you believe differentiates you from other top chess players?
Every top player is unique in his own way. We play the same openings, use similar techniques etc. But in general we all play a bit in our own way, and two identical players don't exist.

So how would you describe yourself?
I guess, no matter how I try, it would be immodest. Let the others do it.

To shift a bit, but still in the chess zone: if you could play against anyone from history who would it be?
I would play against the creator of chess, if there is such.

What do you think are the essential elements in hiring a coach/second?
Trust, individual compatibility; in a higher sense: a common world-view, mutual up growth.

What are your interests outside the chess world?
Various literature, different music, taking a walk in the nature. Lately I've taken an interest in one of the eastern philosophy schools.

To end on an optimistic tone, tell me about the most fun you have had in chess.
Realizing, long time ago, when I was a schoolboy, that stalemate is a draw, unlike most of the other games where one side is winning. It seemed so irrational and strange...and it still does!


  1. I like how he thinks :) Good questions and very good answers.

  2. Thanks, Alina for a very good interview. Just got to know one of my chess heroes a little bit better. Please keep up the good work.

    BTW, just wondering whether you managed to score a GM norm at Reykjavik Chess Festival 2012 with your score of 6/9?

  3. Hello Alina,

    I am wondering what "eastern philosophy school" he is referring to. Do you have an idea?

  4. I also asked:) But, as I mentioned in the introduction, he is discreet when it comes to his personal life. So I couldn't get more info on that...

  5. Dott Antonio CerinaMarch 29, 2012 at 11:57 PM

    Hello Alina:
    I Admire really Vassily,Because with his worlds has demonstrate that is a person that goes mutch over chess...I Have perfectly understand when he speak about eastern philosophy school.I Try you to explain

  6. Dott Antonio CerinaMarch 30, 2012 at 12:01 AM

    Ciuky said:

    My playing is a reflection of my feelings and my love to the game, not a desire to coin it in. There are so many fields in life where using chess brains one can make a much better fortune than in chess. Nevertheless, I've never regretted my choice.

  7. Dott Antonio CerinaMarch 30, 2012 at 12:09 AM

    And again:
    I don't really regard my play with a link to the results — it is more of a process to me that I just enjoy. Each tournament is being lived, thought and then remembered in its own way. You draw conclusions from your losses, and they help you build future victories. And wins give you joy and fill with certain sense. I see every game this way, with its weak and strong moves.
    The result is just one of the successfulness' criteria. If I win a tournament, but don't feel any gladness, is this win really great?

    I Think this is very,very very significative,and this is an application,of Eastern Philosophy school.
    Really with this he has given an answer to you!.give me some minutes and i continue.

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