The weekly magazine called the ‘Russian Reporter’ published an article on ‘Chess Kings’ where some of the top Russian players were interviewed. What resulted was one of the better offerings to the mainstream public on the thoughts and opinions of a chess grandmaster. The following are the musings of Peter Svidler.
The top 10-20 players in the world are clearly split between those who create elite fashion and those who follow it. Naturally, there are far more of the latter. That became particularly noticeable when Kramnik with Black started to play the Petroff – an opening which was previously considered unpromising. Soon those who’d never once played the Petroff could be counted on the fingers of one hand.
There are people who take on whole systems, among whom you can undoubtedly number Kramnik and Morozevich. That’s very timeconsuming work, however, and not everyone’s ready to do it – it’s much simpler to start at a point up to which the masters have already shown you everything.
Unclear for the sake of actual play
Partially due to laziness and partially due to the fact that I really like the actual process of the game, or because of the habit I picked up in my childhood of ending my analysis with an evaluation of “unclear”, I frequently put off thinking about the situation on the board. I even had a short dialogue with Garry Kimovich [Kasparov] on that topic during a tournament we were playing together. I got an extremely interesting position, sank into thought, came to some conclusion, made a move and then left the stage to where Kasparov was pacing. He looked at me with some kind of pity and said: “You realise normal people only begin their analysis in such positions?!”
Cricket and other sports
I’m a passionate fan. I follow, if perhaps not as actively as before, Zenit and Arsenal. Moreover, I supported the English club long before the captain of the Russian team moved there. I’m capable of watching any kind of billiards on television. In my lifetime before last I devoted a lot of time to that sport and was able to do a thing or two, so I really enjoy watching true masters play.
My special passion, however, is for cricket, particularly when played by the England team. Nowadays I probably won’t watch a test match between Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, though around five years ago I’d have watched it from beginning to end – I really was ill. In 1999 I visited Nigel Short for what was supposed to be a training camp. That happened to be when the Cricket World Cup was taking place, and he said to me back then: “Enough chess, it’s time to try something new”. Since then I haven’t been able to stop.
Reinventing the wheel
Recently I’ve very rarely managed to guess my opponent’s intentions. Without any stunning idea in response it’s easier to play by recalling your home analysis, but if you haven’t revised some lines for half a year you need to reinvent it all again. The state when you sit and realise you’ve got it written down, but you don’t remember what, is worse that if you were just playing with a clean slate. Instead of focusing on the game you’re trying to visualise what that page looks like. It really distracts you and often proves counterproductive.
A rational approach to life is one of the profession’s routine perversions, when you imagine it’s possible to calculate life itself. It’s rarely feasible, however, as the number of variables is huge. I once conducted some long and extremely high quality calculation, which essentially worked out, but instead of the outcome being positive it turned out to be far from good.
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The slowness of genius is hard to bear, but the slowness of mediocrity is intolerable. – Henry Thomas Buckle