16 April 2023

Viswanathan Anand: It’s Good that Both Players Have Tasted Blood

The 15th World Champion gave an interview to Keti Tsatsalashvili and Mark Gluhovsky

- Thank you very much, Vishy, for your time and for answering our questions. My first question is, as a commentator, what do you like the most about this match and the quality of the games?

- The quality is not being very high, but that’s what I like about the match, because when you have too much quality, then it’s much harder to get excited. This way, I think, the participants are challenging each other, provoking mistakes, and two decisive games after four rounds… I think my match with Topalov had three out of the first four, it’s the highest, and then my match in Sochi where we exchanged wins after four games. So… Exciting, and now we have seen that both players had ups and downs, so it’s poised for a very good stage now.

- We have seen all kinds of results so far already. We have seen draws, we have seen Ian winning a game, then Ding winning a game. What is your forecast after Round 4?

- It’s good that both players have tasted blood. I always feel that you are more into the match if you exchange wins than if you make all draws. If you keep on making draws, you keep putting off the moment when you’re fully there. But after you suffered a defeat and you won, you’ve experienced everything. And then I think both of the opponents are now fully in this match, and it’s going to be very exciting. They understand that they can keep probing, and, because of the even score, the stakes are higher. I believe that it’s poised for a very exciting stage. Both of them, I think, have the confidence that they can beat each other, and this is very important because this means that they will push, they will try.

- So far we have seen surprises from both players. We had 1.d4 from Nepomniachtchi, and we also had 4.h3 from Ding Liren. Do you expect more surprises in the last rounds, or do you think that they will go with their usual openings from now on?

- 4.h3 tells me that they’ve been looking everywhere for new ideas, new ways. I think the reputation of 4.h3 is now not very good because of how the game ended, but it is interesting that you can deviate very early. These days it’s more common to play h4 than h3.

It seems to me that we’re looking at a match where they will not play a lot of old main lines. They’ll try to deviate a lot, and… It’s harder than it looks, the reason that the old main lines are old main lines is because they’re quite good. So we shouldn’t try to guess how much they’ll be able to do this, but it shows me that both of them are willing to move far away in order to spark a game. And that’s interesting because nowadays it’s generally accepted that if you’ve had many months to prepare, you can neutralise a lot.

- Ding Liren mentioned at the very beginning that he’s here with his second Richard Rapport, and we have also heard at the press conference from Nepomniachtchi that when he saw this move 4.h3, the first thing which came to his head was “Richard Rapport”. Do you believe that there’ll be more surprises and there’ll be more of Richard Rapport in this match?

- Of course. It’s clear that Nikita Vitiugov will, you know, obviously make a crucial contribution on Ian’s side, but stylistically, Richard and Ding Liren are much further apart. And so what influence he has is very interesting. I think we’ve already seen it in their taste in music. They seem to be exploring new kinds of music. Well, whatever cheers you up and gets you ready to play, it’s fine. But it is fascinating, I think. And in the last couple of days, Ding has shown a new side. He is much more open and chappy and gives away a lot of private details, and that’s a slight personality change, even in Ding. So that’s quite interesting. I don’t know if Richard is responsible for that, but I don’t think they have worked together before, and, you know, Richard is a very strong player but also clearly stylistically far away from Ding. At least before the match, maybe after the match, we will consider them much closer.

- Are you surprised that Ding Liren managed to recover so fast?

- No, it’s not remarkable at all. Think about it. You wait many, many years to qualify for these things, and good Candidates’ performance is vital because the next turn will come only a couple of years later, the cycles are quite long. And they have been waiting for this moment for a long time. And you know, if you stop when the first thing goes wrong… that’s ridiculous. You have to take this chance because it won’t come very quickly. And so even though Ding spoke quite frankly about his feelings, for me it was always clear that he was going to try to do his best job, because, come on, it’s the World Championship, you can’t just indulge yourself and feel sorry for yourself, you’ve got to take this chance with both hands and do something. So, for me it was always clear that he would try very hard, he would get back into shape, but I’m happy he managed to do it quickly. The third game was important, at least to stabilise the situation. The fourth game is a bonus. It was very nice for him to equalise yesterday, but even if he’d dragged for a day or two, you have to bring your best side to the game and play, that’s it.

I’m convinced now that, as I said, both of them experienced the pleasure of winning, but also the depression of losing a bad game, and I think this shocks you, it’s like cold water to your face, and so they will play in an interesting way.

- Vishy, what do you think is more important for the World Championship matches: psychology or chess skills?

- It’s a very simple explanation. If I’m 700 points above you, and I’m drunk, I’m depressed, I’m in a bad mood, I don’t have any ideas, I come to the board – and I will still beat you because the technical difference is too big. But as the technical difference narrows, everything else becomes important: nerves, psychology, your ability to control yourself, keep your composure, find good ideas, take the risk at the right moment, you know, find this balance – that becomes the decisive thing. In fact, given their approximate strength, that is the only thing that matters, psychology and mental strength. The technical ability is more or less equal, that’s not a question. I mean, there are stylistic differences, but essentially the player who wants it more, the player who’s willing to win will win.

- And the last question is about the atmosphere here. What do you see? Is there tension between the players?

- There is a tension of course, but I think they respect each other, and they are going to continue to behave like that. But, you know, they both want the same thing, and they understand that only one of them is going to get it, so there are going to be some undercurrents of tension. They want to beat the other person, and that’s what it’s about, but they both seem to respect each other’s abilities. Also, they’re roughly the same generation, and they’ve known each other for a very long time. I think that will be more important than any feelings they have right now.

Photos by Vladimir Barsky