Nepomniachtchi, Ding, Radjabov at the candidates’ press conference

A day after the end of the FIDE Candidates Tournament, the top three GMs Ian Nepomniachtchi, GM Ding Liren and GM Teimour Radjabov gave a press conference in Madrid. Below is a selection of player quotes.

Radjabov on changing his style of play:

It changes a lot, during your career, in general, the way you approach things. At one point you only want to play Sicilians, but then you play Berlin because you know it’s better. Practically, the thing is that today more or less everywhere, if you go too far, there is a drawish line and black is fine, but the fact is that the tries that you authorize, that you give the possibility your opponent to check you in certain lines or to find ideas somewhere. Certainly it is more limited against 1…e5 which speaks of the color black.

It also depends on the coaches, because I worked with different coaches over the years, for example I worked with [Igor] Nataf, my friend too, he was always for the King’s Indian and for 1…c5. Against Ding, for example, I thought I should play for a win, play something super complicated and go for the King’s Indian, but then I got a message from a former world champion who said that you weren’t playing this against Ding, keep calm!

Ding on whether the pandemic has hurt his career:

In 2019 I was in very good shape, I won the Sinquefield Cup and also the Grand Chess Tour final. I believe my strength has improved since then. Since the engine boost, I think today every top player has a better understanding than before. The engine can judge the position more correctly than before. For example, before Teimour was playing Indian Kings but now some lines are not playable. Before, the motor might say +1 but the position is still very blurry and the motor can go down, but now it stays at the same level!

Ding: “Since the engine boost, I think today every top player understands better than before. Photo: David Llada/FIDE.

Politics of course prevented me from playing a lot of tournaments abroad and sometimes I had to take online tournaments very seriously. I used to think that online and board games are totally different because when you play online you are more relaxed, you play casual moves without thinking whereas when you play a board game you think a lot and you are totally focused. But now sometimes I think there’s something in common and they’re not that different from me to me.

This time I remember sometimes I was thinking from the screen, from the break room and not overboard since I switched to online mode! [Smiles.] It had a positive influence on me too, I think.

Radjabov on how they managed to perform well:

After seven rounds we were in trouble, from what I understand. Then we managed to make a better tournament from the second half. For me, the most important thing was not to tilt in this situation. This is an obvious situation, when your chances of being first are almost nil and you are then playing the Candidates where only first place counts. We still don’t know, but at the time we also didn’t know the world champion’s decision if he was going to play, so it’s not sure what we’re fighting for already, in my case, on less of them. We still have to fight, there are a lot of players.

I always compared it with a shark tank or something like that. For you it’s like when you come as a spectator you ask how it was, such and such a move or such a move, but these guys, they seem to do some random moves on Chessbomb and they want to kill you!

To counter that kind of pressure, the aggression of the players, it’s very hard on one side but in my case it was actually better because I usually like to play on the counter and so on, so for me it’s was quite a good thing.

I was trying to live up to the task. Playing against these top players is always tough but it can go both ways but it can’t get much worse than in London I think [in 2013 – PD], so I was generally prepared for everything because when you have experience, you already have your negative six or negative seven, so you say to yourself: always negative two? I’m fine!

Teimour Radjabov in chess
Radjabov: “Still minus two? I’m fine!” Photo: David Llada/FIDE.

Ding on how they managed to perform well:

For me, the reason I played much better in the second half, I think, was that I relaxed a bit after a disappointing first half. I became more confident and sometimes I spent less time on each move just to believe my math and not to think too much and keep putting pressure on my opponent and waiting for more mistakes from them! [Smiles.]


The same thing for me. I had a conversation with one of the former world champions and he said to me, “Could you please play faster?” I said: “Yes, but you understand, it’s problematic, I suffer…” He said: “Can you suffer faster?”

Nepo on which time control he prefers:

Well, this is my second tournament with this time control in 15 years, I would say. The first was the game in Dubai. I guess it’s just a new feeling. If everyone’s playing without increments, maybe we’re going back in time a bit, with this Fischer increment or something like that. Also, in my opinion, this Bronstein [variant], make up for the time, not add to it, so you can’t really save time with repetition, it makes a lot of sense because you can play without being afraid of wasting time. Still, each time control has its pros and cons, I can’t really pick a favorite.

Whether Nepomniachtchi has worked or plans to work on psychology:

Somehow I don’t remember a chess player whose strong side loses. Basically, in chess, the only normal result is a draw. I would say that losing is stressful but winning is also very stressful. Sometimes after winning you can’t calm down. Basically, I think that’s a bit of a stretch. Again, it’s hard to find a player who enjoys having bad games.

Ian Nepomniachtchi Candidates Trophy 2022
Nepomniachtchi, here holding his trophy during the closing ceremony, didn’t have to worry too much about bad games this time around. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

In other sports, the best players work with a psychologist. Why not chess? Rajabov:

It’s a good question. It is a question of professionalism, first of all. I think we’ve all probably tried something different. I think chess is another kind of sport. It’s too much related to the mentality of your brain, which is a difference with physical sports. Also, we can’t shout during the game. Even when I’m, say, throwing a pawn, the opponent can say: you’re entertaining. In football you can say what you want more or less against your opponent and to everyone else and even to the coaches from time to time. Here we’re in this quiet environment where we can’t even do a nice gesture and then celebrate on camera or something.

So it’s a different type of pressure that’s always on you or on your mentality. In chess, consulting professionals from other sports, I don’t see how that helps the chess player. Maybe for guys like Rafa [Nadal] Where [Roger] Federer, maybe they know a special secret but I’m not sure actually. They work with coaches but I think it’s mostly about yourself.

There may be good examples, but what I read from the time of Karpov and Kasparov, it didn’t really help much. They couldn’t sleep for the whole game and Kasparov also wasn’t recovering very well from a few losses in the first game against Karpov. If there is a specialist, you would probably advise?

Nepomniachtchi on this topic:

I would like to add that for chess, especially with a long tournament, it’s always like a kind of emotional roller coaster, whether you win or lose, there’s a lot behind it, not everything is highlighted in the result. For example, in Soviet times there was Nikolai Krogius, a great master but also a psychologist. He said after a loss, you should always draw, never play for a win, you should draw, to put you in a normal mood.

WFM Anna Cramling, who was broadcasting the press conference live, asked if players had a favorite chess opening if they were just playing for fun. Radjabov mentioned 1…b6 or the Jaenisch and King’s Gambit “as it reminds the Jaenisch”, while Nepomniachtchi offered a nice little story:

In one of the first chess books by Lucena, one of the best Spanish chess players of the 15th century, he wrote that the first move 1.c4 is probably the worst move ever. The reason was that you can no longer develop your bishop to c4 or b5. That’s why you can’t play your Ruy Lopez, that’s why you can’t play your Giuoco Piano. 1.c4 a chess player can only play out of desperation. Big mistake. Nobody plays like that.

Anna Cramling live broadcast of the press conference.

Ding to be in Madrid alone:

Coming alone is not so bad for me since I also have half a second at a distance. Sometimes I need the company of friends, but I can also chat with them online, so I think that’s not a big deal for me. Sometimes I don’t need too much support, I think it will also take a long time. Some things I prefer to do alone!

A journalist had seen that general manager Nikita Vitiugov, one of Nepomniachtchi’s assistants, was wearing an Atletico Madrid shirt and wondered if it was because this club also had to face a lot to recover from the losses. Nepomniachchi:

Trying to be witty? I just know that he is a die-hard Atletico fan. I know there are many beautiful fountains here in Madrid and one fountain is for the celebration of Real Madrid fans, Cibeles, and another one, Neptune is for Atletico Madrid fans. That’s the only thing I learned from being here for two weeks.

Nepomniachtchi on the question of Carlsen possibly not playing another game:

This question indeed bothers me and perhaps not only me, but also the chess community. I guess it wouldn’t be good at all if the reigning world champion decided not to defend his title. But after playing the game in Dubai and two Candidates, I can understand the pressure is enormous. Basically, no matter how much you score, it’s constant pain. Even if you win here, you win there, that’s fine, but at least for me, until it’s over, I say to myself: please stop this! You’re counting the days until it’s done, somewhere deep inside you agree to any outcome. Let’s finish. And let’s not forget that he has already played five matches. It can be quite stressful at times.

Nepomniachtchi on maybe doing something different this time for his match preparation:

I think my overall experience of the first game, because I expected it to be mostly about chess, I would say it’s mostly not about chess. It’s about the system, some obvious things like health, stamina, mental readiness, etc., but it’s also about very small nuances. Sometimes one thing goes wrong, another thing doesn’t go so well and at the end of the day, sometimes things go your way. There are really a lot of different aspects you should work on.

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