30 November 2023

Aleksey Grebnev: Chess is Both Work and Leisure

The U18 World Champion is interviewed by Eteri Kublashvili

- Aleksey, congratulations on winning the World Youth Championship! Let's take a little tour through the tournament. Which game did you like the most? 

- Thanks for the congratulations. The game against Ilamparthi was of high quality. My opponent attempted to surprise me in the opening, but I was prepared, took advantage and won the game in what I think was a very technical style.

- It is clear that the overall result is excellent, but are you satisfied with the quality of your play in this competition? 

- In general, yes. Of course, it did not do without some mistakes, but I'm very happy in general. 

- I'd like to talk a little bit more about Game 10. It was a very important game, the penultimate round. You thought for a long time before sacrificing your queen. Did you spot the move quickly?  

- Yes, almost immediately, I just would not really believe it at first. But as I immersed myself in the position, I realized that White was in for quite a substantial edge, and all I had to do was manage my nerves and tension. And after 22 minutes of thinking, I sacrificed the queen and won.


The decisive Round 10. Photo credit: Przemek Nikiel

- Did you have any other thoughts? I mean, "this is the pivotal moment of the tournament, now I can take the champion’s title. There is no way I can go wrong here".

- Of course, even if you're in the lead and have a cushion in points, sacrificing the queen is still a risk. Even if you realize that you have an advantage, the queen is the strongest piece, and sacrificing it just scares you a bit anyway. 

- I guess the instinct of self-preservation kicks in. Not long ago, you also won the Asian Junior Championship, which is your big break this year. Please tell us about those who assist you. 

- My permanent coach at the Togliatti Chess School is Dmitry Afanasiev. Besides, I take part in sessions at Yuri Yakovich's school, in grandmaster sessions organized by the Chess Federation of Russia, and not so long ago I started cooperating with GM Maxim Matlakov.


Training session of the Russian Grandmaster Center in Togliatti (2014). Photo: ladachess.ru

- It would be interesting to know more about your chess career in general. I think our readers would like to know more about you. 

- In November 2012 I started training at MBUDO SSH No. 4 "Chess" of the city Togliatti with coach Alexei Belov. Under his guidance I made the first category title. The school director Gulnara Salakhova recognized my potential and invited me to the Togliatti Grandmaster School, which is now one of the leading grandmaster centers of the Chess Federation of Russia. I have been representing my school and the city of Togliatti in tournaments of various formats for as long 11 years now.

- So you started playing chess at the age of six?

- Yes, I did.  

- Do you think it's a bit late? It seems to me that nowadays children are introduced to chess at the age of three or four. 

- Well, when I started my chess training it didn't seem too late. Now I think that maybe it should have started it earlier (smiling).


Aleksey Grebnev at the friendship match in Belokurikha (2018). Photo credit: Vladimir Barsky


- Today, the problem of cheating is more relevant than ever. Have you come across it often? Maybe you had time to listen to Vladimir Kramnik's interview on the subject and are ready to give your opinion? 

- Personally, I haven't encountered the problem of cheating much, because I practically never play in tournaments like "Title Tuesday" or rapids with prizes, where this kind of thing - "big cheating" - usually happens. Yes, it's a big problem and we have to fight it. I haven't seen Vladimir Kramnik's interview, so I can't comment on it yet. 

- What was the situation with the anti-cheating measures at the World Championship in Italy? 

- The World Youth Championship had a reasonable level of security: they introduced a delay in the start of the broadcast and used a metal detector at the entrance, and otherwise the referees did a lot of checking. Personally, I was checked a couple of times after my wins: they took me to a separate room to check everything, including my shoes, clothes, and so on.


The award ceremony at the World Championships in Italy. Photo credit: Przemek Nikel

- You said you don't play much online, but you do sometimes, right? Have you ever suspected anyone of cheating? 

- I just play chess, I don't participate in prize tournaments. Of course, there are certain suspicions. Well, sometimes they turn out to be justified, and sometimes the website thinks there's no reason for suspicion. It happens, yes, but not very often, because I think cheating is mostly about money, so I haven't encountered it that often. 

- This is what Vladimir Kramnik emphasizes in the interview. I would like to ask you a few questions of an abstract, survey nature. Who is your god in chess, if there is one? 

- My god is Carlsen, because he seems to know everything about chess and is a model chess player overall. I also like Anatoly Karpov for his positional play and Garry Kasparov* (included in the list of persons performing the functions of a foreign agent - ed.) for his tactical flair. 

- Recently even Mohamed Salah has either voiced or tweeted on social media about his wish to face Carlsen over the board, have you seen that? 

- Yes (with a smile).


Russian Junior Championship (2023). Photo credit: Vladimir Barsky

- What are your hobbies? What sports do you like to play or watch? And if you watch, who do you support? 

- I can watch football, but I am not a fan of any particular football team. And if it is not a team game, it's something like table tennis.

As for hobbies, in my spare time I like to put together a jigsaw puzzle. Right now, I am working on a 6000-piece puzzle. I started a long time ago, but then I started traveling to tournaments, so I had to give it up for a while.

- It helps you to relax yourself and serves as a kind of meditation, right? 

- Yes, and I just like it.


The Mark Dvoretsky Memorial (2022). Photo credit: Eteri Kublashvili 

- What kind of books, movies, music do you like?

- Speaking of books, I like detective stories like Sherlock Holmes and the like. Movies are different: I like sci-fi, science movies, but I can't name any in particular. I listen to music depending on my mood. 

- What about your favorite cuisine?

- In general, I like Italian cuisine - I like pizza, pasta, but I also like rolls and sushi. 

- Do you have any pets? 

- Yes, our family’s best friend is a German Shepherd. She is three years old. 

- Awesome! Do you take her for walks?

- I try to walk her when I am not busy.


At one of the tournaments in Togliatti. Photo credit: ladachess.ru

- And what is the best time for you to relax apart from doing puzzles? 

- Sometimes chess actually seems to be the best rest for me. Despite the fact that it seems to be my job, I apparently love it so much that it is often the best rest for me. 

- Playing or watching, analyzing? 

- More like watching, analyzing, discussing.

- Do you consider blitzing a form of rest? 

- Indeed, blitz relaxes you a bit and gives you some short term pleasure. 

- What are your follow-up plans? What are the next events on your calendar? 

- My upcoming plans include the Russian Cup finals, which start in a few days in Khanty-Mansiysk. Also, thanks to the financial support of the Chess Federation of Russia for which I'm very grateful, I plan to go to the FIDE World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Samarkand.

- Will you play all three finals in Khanty-Mansiysk? 

- Yes, in all three finals. Even though my ticket in the classical event hasn't been officially confirmed yet, I am currently ranked fifth out of fourteen there, so I am very likely to qualify. That is why I plan to participate in all of them.  

-Aleksey, thank you and good luck!

- Thank you.