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Interview with Grandmaster Sergey Karjakin

Anything for the chess crown!

The ingenious chess player, outstanding interlocutor, purposeful man Sergey Karjakin told us about his professional career, sponsors, family ... And most importantly about his main goal ...


- Sergey, tell us about your childhood: memories, hobbies, dreams.

- I was born in Simferopol, in an ordinary family. As an ordinary boy, I was fond of different kinds of sports. I was engaged in modeling, football, went to acrobatics ... I still have the skills - for example, I can walk on my hands. But one day everything changed.

I already told this story, probably 200 thousand times. On the TV there was an advertisement in which the slogan "Even a pawn can become a queen" sounded. And I asked my father what a pawn and queen are. Instead of an answer, he took out a dusty chessboard, and we began to play. After some time, my mother and I walked around the city, and she pointed to the Sport Palace, saying that there children are engaged in chess. I asked them to take me there immediately, because without chess I simply could not imagine life. And I said: "If you do not take me there, I will die. I can not live without chess! "

I was brought to this Sport Palace and there I played my first game not with my dad. Here, my first coach noticed that I probably have a talent. Since this all started. Since then, chess has entered my life so tightly that, after only 7 years, I became the youngest grandmaster in the world.

- How old were you when you played your first game of chess? Who were your teachers? Tell us about your debut chess tournament. When did you realize that you want to bind your life with this sport?

- I played my first game with my father and, of course, I lost. And since I was very ambitious boy, I was upset to tears. But I soon began to overact him. And I conducted the first serious game already in Palace of Pioneers with some older boys.

My first coach invested a lot in me, for which I am immensely grateful. We still keep in touch with each other. I systematically developed in Simferopol, and then my family moved to Kramatorsk. This was a difficult decision for my parents, because we lived poorly and they had to take very high risks, leaving work. In Kramatorsk was one of the strongest chess schools of Soviet times, one can say, the forge of Soviet talents. And this city really gave me a lot in terms of professional growth.

When I returned to the Crimea, I found out that there I have no conditions for further development. And suddenly in 2009 I received an offer from the Russian Chess Federation. Then, of course, the decision to accept Russian citizenship was made - I always felt like Russian. And there already appeared serious coaches. Yury Dokhoian, Alexander Motylev brought me to the 4th place in the world ranking in 2011. Well, how did my career go on, you already know.

Юрий Дохоян (слева) и Александр Мотылёв (справа)

Yury Dokhoian (left) и Alexander Motylev (right), photo WEB

Probably the first memorable tournament is the one where I won the grandmaster's norm at my 12 and 10 months years old. Still it's nice to be the youngest grandmaster in the world. However, it is possible that someday some young chess player will do it even earlier than I do.

And there are no sense in telling about the first tournament, therefore at Soviet chess schools children play several dozen tournaments per year. Therefore, I will note exactly the tournament that made me a grandmaster.

- When you were 12 years old, you were brought to the Guinness World Records as the youngest grandmaster in the world. What emotions did you experience?

- In fact, it was nice. But you understand - I was just a little boy. More, probably, it was pleasant to my parents, and I calmly reacted. For me, even then there was only one goal - to become a World Champion. Of course, emotions were joyful, but not more than one day. I realized that I should go further. After all, the youngest grand master of the world is still a "false" title. There are so many talents, which simply did not open afterwards. Because, for a boy of less than thirteen years, it was nothing more than a little pleasantness.

Match for the chess crown between the World Champion Magnus Carlsen and challenger Sergey KarjakinMatch for the chess crown between the World Champion Magnus Carlsen and challenger Sergey Karjakin, photo © Karjakin

- Do you agree with the opinion that in chess strategy is important? Do you think it is possible to compare a grandmaster with a commander? If so, which commander do you most resemble?

- This question is so hackneyed. Of course, it is very important to think strategically, to choose the right strategy for the party. There are many books written about the strategy and tactics of the chess game. Well, indeed, chess itself with its figures are like soldiers and officers, generals and commanders-in-chief.

I was always admired by Suvorov, who has not suffered a single defeat in his entire military career. But I consider incorrect comparing myself with someone, especially since I lost many chess parties in my life. But so, from the history of world wars, I would mention Alexander Vasilyevich.

- What helps you to tune in to the game? Is there any excitement before the match or for you it became a way of life? What advice can you give to beginning chess players?

- I'm professionally on this job from 10 years. Therefore, excitement, of course, is always present, but only at the subconscious level and with this I learned to fight. And my wife Galiya is setting me up very seriously. She is my loyal rear and very strong supports me. Therefore, I can say that my family is the main part of my support.

And what advice should I give to beginning chess players ... Chess is a very individual sport and everyone tunes in its own way, but I always try to have poker face and not show my excitement to the opponent. Even when I stand in the party to defeat, I have the appearance that I have everything in order. This often helped me out, and I saved the most difficult positions. So, the main advice - keep your head cold and hide your emotions.

Sergey and Galiya Karjakiny

Sergey and Galiya Karjakiny, photo WEB

- To what important duel / tournament are you preparing now? How is the preparation for the competition? Are the dates of the competitions already known?

- Tournaments are scheduled for the whole year, it's not a secret for anyone. Each sport has its own calendar. And I have it, too. There will be a lot of tournaments, but for me the most important - you can say, the tournament of life - is thCandidates Tournament, which will be held in Berlin in the spring. There, eight of the world's strongest grandmasters will fight for the right to play with Magnus Carlsen. For me, this tournament will be the third. I played in Khanty-Mansiysk in 2014 and took second place there. And already in 2016 in Moscow I managed to win, and I went to the match with Magnus Carlsen. Now, in order not to remain in history as a man who lost the match on the chess crown, I need to do my best and win in Berlin. The composition will be, as always, unusually strong and the chances are the same for everyone.

Preparation at me remains individual. I think we will not have enough time to tell about it. A whole team works for me. We will prepare ourselves for the Candidates Tournament for a couple of months. In the meantime, everything is going on as usual. Most recently, I did not play well at the World Cup, flew at an early stage. But the compensation is that I can now spend the rest of my time with my family.

- You are the first Russian chess player who works with sponsors. Tell us, with whom are you cooperating? What company are you planning to conclude a new contract in the near future?

- Yes, it's very cool that thanks to mass media there was a breakthrough and chess came to big companies. Maybe Vladimir Kramnik had something similar at the peak of popularity, but it was not much advertised. And in 2012 we were able to attract a financial company Alpari, which has supported me now for five years. They were the ones who opened the fact that it is possible to successfully advertise through chess. This support gave me unrealistic strenght. When rear is so securely covered, when such people stand behind, such a reliable firm, you play more confidently. 

And before the Moscow Candidates Tournament, which I won, there was a second company that supported me, "Morton." Now it is called CG "Osnova". And just a week before the match, the manager signed a contract with the titan giant, the world's largest titanium producer, VSMPO-AVISMA Corporation.

I always said that I will not conceit, I will remain what I am, but to be honest, then it was a difficult period. First, was signed a contract  with Mercedes-Benz. And this is already a very serious sponsor, a global brand that has captured the entire world market. We also have an agreement with the bookmaker company Fonbet. I am also supported by Kaspersky Lab, protecting my computers from viruses. I also became the face of Bank Otkritie after Cristiano Ronaldo and Alexander Ovechkin - two world-class mega-stars, with whom a few can compare. And, finally, I was supported by the largest fertilizer company "PhosAgro". These are my eight sponsors.

Mercedes Benz E-Class 2017 advertising

 Mercedes Benz E-Class 2017 advertising, photo WEB

In principle, we do not dwell on this. My manager is always looking for some kind of partnership agreements, and I try to combine all this. Because I have a lot of obligations before the sponsors. Now it is necessary to engage in chess, and to be constantly in view, which is very difficult. But I will try, because I understand perfectly well, if the results go down, then all sponsors will quickly scatter in different directions. Therefore, it is necessary to be between two fires. Nevertheless, a special thanks to all my companies! In chess, not so much fees as in other sports, and they provide invaluable help. It supports me - I have a smart coaching staff and I do not have to worry about everyday problems.

- Do you consider yourself a public person? How often dyou are recognized on the street? Do you like being in the spotlight?

- It's not a secret for anyone that only a prude does not like it when they recognize him and take autographs. Of course, to be famous is great. Before the match, no one knew who Sergey Karjakin was. Even when I was already the fourth grandmaster of the world or won the World Championship in rapid chess. And so far, I believe, all this chess madness is due to the fact that I had a successful match against Carlsen, and by the end of the eighth game I could win. Now they recognize me everywhere. I can not say that I am like Cristiano Ronaldo - it would be ridiculous and not true. But very often people approach me in restaurants, in supermarkets, they find out, they ask me to be photographed. Of course, I do not refuse anyone, and even more, I do it with great pleasure.

- Because of your profession, you travel quite often. How do you spend time abroad? Where can foreign fans meet Sergey Karjakin?

- I do not have any foreign fans. Only in tournaments there is a special attention.

Yes, I do travel a lot. By the way, I was in America for the first time and immediately was at the match. But now flew a second time, to St. Louis.

If I'm with my wife on vacation, which is extremely rare, we spend time near the sea. This is the best holiday for me. But when I play in tournaments, we do not even see the city. Preparation for the party, tour, rest, and all. In my childhood I played, for example, in a suburb of Amsterdam. I was there 12 times, but I have never seen the city. Therefore, one thing is rest, and the other is hard tournament work. Each tournament, or a super tournament, is a huge work and stress. Therefore, there are no time for excursions.

- Which country do you think is the most environmentally friendly? Why?

- I never thought about it. Let it be Russia, with our forests and fields. True, I liked Zurich with it calmness. Switzerland is a country with no need to understand the environment, water and air are clean there. So, let Russia and Switzerland be the most environmentally friendly countries.

- Tell about your family. The most pleasant thing that you can get from your close people is ...

- I'm still young, I'm only 27 years old. To my great happiness I am already the father of two children and the family is everything to me. By the way, today I was walking with my full namesake, whom my manager Kirill introduced me to. He is Sergey Karyakin too, and he is the World Champion in pentathlon. My second son Misha and his son Stepan were born on the same day with a difference of several hours. And today we got out with our families in the fairy-tale park, wonderfully spent time there, laughed. So for me the family is everything. I am a very family man. Of course, I can go to karaoke or somethere like this, but only once a month. And 29 days out of 30 I would prefer to spend in silence with my family. So, the best gift for me is their attention. Once again I want to emphasize that before the chess party it is my wife who sets me up. Probably, not every man comes to family ties in such an age. But I have a strong rear and I think it's forever. And it's great!

Chess World Cup 2017

Chess World Cup 2017, photo © S.Karjakin

- Your plans for the near future.

- In the near future I want to play at the Candidates Tournament and win the chess crown. This is incredibly difficult, but I have no other ambitions. In life everything happens and if it does not work, I will strive for this as long as I play. For example, Boris Gelfand, played his first World Championship match at the age of 43 years. Therefore, I will strive with all my might to the goal, despite all the unsuccessful tournaments that I had after the match for the World Championship.

I have everything else, so while I'm an active athlete, the main goal for me is a title. Especially since I was so close to him. Only in three games, three steps from becoming a world champion. It was very real, and till now my soul hurts that everything was in my hands, but I just did not finish it.

Ekaterina "EK_T_", Russia, Moscow 

Екатерина Тихонова Екатерина Тихонова