Former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik was recently in Chennai to coach fourteen young chess talents, including Grandmasters R. Praggnanandhaa and D. Gukesh among others. The training camp, which took place between January 8 to 18, was the second of its kind — the first one having taken place in Geneva, in August last year.
Sportstar caught up with the 44-year-old Russian to discuss his career, post-retirement plans, Viswanathan Anand’s influence, his most memorable matches and more.
It would be unfair if I ask you to pick and choose, but since you already had a camp previously with some of the participants here, was there anything about anyone that stood out?
I wouldn’t like to pick anyone from the group and call names. I cannot point at anyone. They are all very talented. They all have the chances to grow and become top players.
The camp took place in a resort located on the East Coast Road in Chennai, where it is very peaceful and serene. There is hardly any traffic ever, and it is situated quite outside the city. Was the location finalised for the same reason, so that it could help boost concentration?
As for the location, I completely trusted Microsense (the organisers) on this. And as I expected, it was perfect. It was a place to stay amid nature. We also played a bit of football on alternate days. It was the best possible atmosphere to study chess, cause sessions like these take so many hours, so you also need a place to fall in sync. It was good for the kids to take breaks for 15 minutes and come back to play chess with full concentration.
You said that you wanted to do something else earlier, while there was still time before you turn 60. Was becoming a mentor always on the cards? Overall, how has life after retirement been like?
I do not really consider myself a mentor. What I do is give my experience and knowledge to someone who can make good use of it. Since I worked many years to gather the knowledge and experience, it will just be good if I could pass it to someone else, especially the kids. And about my life after my retirement, yeah it is very different and very multifunctional. (I am) doing a lot of things – in and outside of chess. It is interesting and different and I am getting used to it and I feel it is exciting in its own way.
How would you deal with a player whose playing style and attitude is quite different from yours?
Of course, you sometimes face opponents who do not have a similar style, vision or understanding of chess. In any case, you have to try and understand the weakest points of the opponents; the style and you know the resources. You have to try and hit his weak points. During your career, you will meet players who will be very different from you, but still, it is the same. You have to find their weaknesses and keys on how to turn the differences into your advantage.
You have faced a lot of problems since you started playing chess, including the collapse of the Soviet Union. How has the journey been since then?
I have been playing chess professionally for 27 years. So yes, many things were happening during this period, in and outside the board of chess. But all in all, it has been a great journey and I am more than satisfied. I have thoroughly been enjoying playing. In a way, it is tough work, but I have always felt interested and found my motivation in chess. I did not expect such results in my career and whatever happened, in the end, I am fully satisfied.
What was the toughest point of your career?
I have had many such points in my career. It wasn’t smooth and was full of ups and downs. Actually, that is one of the strongest points which helped me to go on and have a very successful career. I was always able to raise myself after facing a low. There were several periods, those which I cannot recall now when things weren’t working at all but after a point of time, I was getting up again.
How has the game evolved over the years? How big a hand has technology in that?
The game is very old and has been played for centuries. And of course, in this 25 to 27 years of my professional career, the influence of ancient stuff is enormous and then the game changed quite a lot. But whatever keeps happening you have to stick to being a professional and adjust to the changes and the new ways of preparation. You have to follow ancient texts also. There is a huge amount of information. Of course, it will teach you to do stuff differently, even seize a game differently, if it is computerised chess but it is all a part of being a professional, I guess.
After Viswanathan Anand’s Mind Master, do we have a memoir or a “strictly chess” book from you coming soon?
I have some thought of writing a book; maybe a memoir or a chess book. But for now, I am so busy that I don’t have time and (laughs) frankly energy to do this. But hopefully, within a couple of years, I will try to do it. Yes, it is in my plans.
How has your career revolved around Anand? What was the most memorable game?
Well, I have played with Vishy multiple times, so it is difficult to name just one game. I mean for me he was a part of a major point of my career. In fact, he was my main opponent. He has been there for the better part of my career. I think we first played in 1989.
Viswanathan Anand (L) and Vladimir Kramnik pictured during a chess world championships match in 2008. – Getty Images
Will you mark the match against Garry Kasparov in the Classical World Chess Championship in 2000 as the highest point of your career? (Although Kasparov was the strong favourite, Kramnik won the match with two wins, 13 draws and no losses, becoming the 14th World Champion. According to Kasparov, Kramnik’s victory was because of his superior opening.)
Personally, I feel there were quite a few very memorable and important moments in my chess career but personally, yes, for the history part of it, maybe, (it was) my greatest match. But, then again, there are many other games which hold importance for me.
How is your relationship with Veselin Topalov now? (In the 2006 World Chess Championship, Kramnik won the first two games. However, after Topalov’s camp alleged that Kramnik was using computer assistance, the latter forfeited the fifth game. He eventually agreed to play again and went on to become the 14th undisputed World Champion.)
Since what happened in 2006, I do not see him often. We might have played in the same tournaments but somehow we have lived our own lives. I hope we can become friends one day and I wish him well. But generally, I still do not approve of his behaviour in that match and his behaviour in general, as well. Yeah, he has very different values and we have very different ways to live our lives.