Dmitry ANDREIKIN: "I can compete with absolutely anybody!"



“I can compete with absolutely anybody!”


Text and photos: Evgeny Atarov


If in the past he was spoken of as a potential, but by no means fully realised star, then the last year has seen everything fall into place. Dmitry Andreikin has become champion of Russia, led Saratov's Economist team to the European Championship in Eilat, and has won the "match of the champions" against Nepomnyashy. 

This contest between the two brightest young Russian talents could well become as significant for them as the match between Anand and Ivanchuk in Linares 1993 was for the latter pair: one soon became world champion and for years the best Western player, whilst the other has remained the eternal genius, with no major titles.

Andreikin's victory can hardly have surprised anyone. It is another matter how he did it. In the first half of the match, he just dominated his opponent! It was a miracle that at the halfway break, Yan trailed by only one point – he could have lost all three games. In the second half of the match, the battle evened out, but there was never any real doubt about Dmitry's victory. Most of all, he, the lone wolf, managed to outplay Yan in the opening, despite the fact that behind the latter were many brilliant trainers and theoreticians…

It is interesting that his recent series of victorious has not changed Andreikin's well-balanced view of himself. He remains as calm and quiet in his view both of himself and those around him, as before. "To a large extend, I am still nobody in the chess world!", says the 22-year old Saratov native about himself. "But my ambitions have grown…" 


- First of all, please accept the congratulations of Whychess on your recent successes. Victory in the Russian Championship, now triumph in this match with Nepomnyashy. For you, this all seems like one long string of victories....

- Thank you. I would not call it a string of triumphs, but there is no doubt that recently, my results have become more stable.

- Tell us how did this match with Nepomnyashy come about?

- It happened about two months ago. Sergey Dmitrievich Janovsky proposed that I play a match with Yan, six games. Without thinking very long about it, I agreed. I took a few days to consider, but since I had no other plans for this time, I said yes. Why not play? The format was good, the opponent, the financial side…And as soon as I agreed, I started to prepare.

- Directly you agreed?

- Effectively, yes. I made a note of what needed doing, I selected some openings…

- Your match was in many ways a copy of the Kramnik-Aronian match, including the fact that Levon won the first game with Black. Admittedly, in that match, the score was levelled.

- Yes, we played with the same schedule as they did, including the rule that, in the event of a draw inside three hours, we would play a rapid game.

- Did you regard this match as especially principled for yourself?

- I understood that the match would first of all be very principled for my opponent. This year Yan, to be frank, has collapsed a bit, and this match was somehow his last chance to rehabilitate himself. In this respect, he disappointed me a bit. I thought he would play rather more aggressively, but this did not happen. For myself, I did not want to lose face. It was also a chance to end my "classical chess year" on a high – for the rest of the year, I am playing only rapid chess.

- Your chess relations with Nepomnyashy have a long history.

- We were rivals even in children's event: in Russian championships, and also in European and world championships. In Russian under-20 championships, I twice managed to beat Yan, but in children's events, he won more often. Before the start of this year, the score was “+2” in his favour. But I won against him first in the higher league, and now once in the match, so now the score is level...

- Many regarded this match as a battle for the under-20 leadership...

- That sounds a bit too much…I think that I have many rivals, as well as Nepomnyashy. Even for getting into the Russian team, I have 5-6 other rivals. And Yan is one of these. So my aim was to play as well as possible in the match and gain as many rating points as I could. 

- Someone called this a "friendly match", others "the match of champions". Which do you think is more true? Or does the name not matter to you?

- In the first instance, it was dedicated to the memory of Yuri Sergeevich Razuvaev. And considering that the match score counted, I don't think it can be called a friendly match.

In addition, it seems to me that the match was organised primarily to enable the rehabilitation of Nepomnyashy, so a battle was guaranteed, at least from his side. What one calls it is not important.

- Was it significant that you both play for Economist, and you play above him – in Eilat you were on board one and he on board two?

- The fact that we are on the same team is of no great consequence – today one plays for one team, tomorrow for another. And as for board order, that is just a question of rating. At first, we were going to follow it strictly, in which case I would have been on three and Yan on four, but then we decided to change the top places, and put Morozevich and Tomashevsky on our boards, and us on theirs. There is nothing special in this…

- Ok, let's accept that my attempts to find some internal tension in your relations with Yan have failed. Would you say that your successes in the past half year have changed your internal assessments of each other?

- Rather more yes than no. I would agree with Tukmakov, that happy emotions push one forward more quickly. But…I won the match against Nepomnyashy, but I cannot say that I have gained any special pleasure from that. I feel the same as I did after the Superfinal and after Astana. 


In reality, I have still not learned to enjoy my chess successes! I can get upset at some purely chess subtleties, such as if I fail to win a winning endgame, such as in the match with Yan. But I cannot say that after all these new successes I have started to look ay myself differently.

- So these latest successes have not given you new ambitions, and made you want to win every tournament you play in?

- I have the desire, yes. But I would rather not talk about ambitions, which seem to me more akin to self-love. If you manage to win, that would be good, but no more than that – if you don't, that is very bad.

- That is a bit gloomy. Do you really not derive pleasure from chess?

- Of course I do, a great deal. ..But the fact is that I get more pleasure out of playing itself, and not so much out of the fact that I won a certain match or tournament, or do not do so.

- You said you started preparing for the march, as soon as you found out about it?

- Yes, about two months beforehand. I did not do anything special or new. I looked at openings, formed a picture of the battle…The only thing was that I did not have to show any new openings at the European Championship. I was sure Nepomnyashy would prepare against the Nimzoindian, which I playa s Black. And, I specially went in for it against Wojtaszek and got the worse position. I managed to draw, without having to show my new work.

- It came in useful for you in the match?

- Yes, in Game 5, where I made an easy draw. In the main, I did a lot of work on the openings. I have noticed that such work always brings its benefits.

- Did someone help you prepare for the match, or did you work alone, as usual?

- Absolutely alone. I sat there on my own, and looked at the positions on the computer. I looked for new ideas, tested the assessments. There was nothing new in what I did…I did a good job, because in all games 1-5, I managed to guess the opening. Only in game 4, where Yan chose the Slav, did he surprise me slightly.

- Don't you want to change the situation and work with someone else?

- I was asked this question a long time ago. Of course, I would like to work with someone, but right now, I have no idea with whom. The choice is not simple.

- But are you working in this direction?

- Yes. I had several candidates in mind before the last World Cup, but then at the last moment, it all fell through because of this and that…The draw for the World Cup took too long. But I did not lose anything. I will keep looking. It is too late for this year but next year, before the Superfinal, World Cup, several other strong tournaments. I will definitely try to take on an assistant.

- Do you need a strong grandmaster-theoretician, or just a hard worker?

- I need someone who can find ideas. I can do this myself, but I have noticed that after several hours working with the computer, looking at games and analysing with an engine, my head starts to work less well… You don't absorb the positions. When you have an assistant who can show some promising ideas, which can then be fine-tuned, things go much quicker. I have never worked with anyone before, so right now it is hard for me to identify where exactly I need help.

- How would you assess your own play in the match?

- My play was definitely better than in the Superfinal – he I played chess! In the first half of the match, I felt energy and a desire to fight. It was slightly worse in the second half, but still not so bad, I think. 


- Is there an explanation for the fact that you were worse in the second half? Was it tiredness?

- No, strength is not the issue here. You are not tired after three games. Probably, I was upset at not winning game 3, and in the second I also had serious winning chances. Plus, these draws somehow dull you. The same happened in the Superfinal.

I played the first three games with great effort. It seemed to me that this match was very important for me, and the more decisively I won it, the better! But somewhere around games 4 or 5, I started feeling that +1 was enough.

- Did Yan surprise you in any way in this match?

- As I have already said, I felt that this match, that winning it, was more important for him than for me. I thought he would be more motivated, and would play somewhat different chess. This was the main surprise..

As far as openings are concerned, I was surprised in game 4, when he played the surprise. But given that his long-time trainer is Vladimir Potkin, that could have been guessed. But I did not think about it, unfortunately. This was the only game where I experienced any problems, but I held.

- And were you surprised that you had such a large advantage in all components of the game, during the first half of the match? The real Nepomnyashy was not visible at all...

- Yes, to be honest! I expected a rather different picture, and thought that Yan would play to break through, and to control events. But it turned out the other way round. I would summarise my result as a "strong plus one", which could at any moment, with strong desire, could have turned into "plus two".

- Did you "reinvent" yourself specially for Nepomnyashy?

- I principle, I played my own chess. It is another matter, though, that to play against Yan, you need to set him problems. He is a very creative player who, if you play just to hold him, will find strong ideas. He can both attack and also conduct a positional battle very well, so I tried right from the opening to dictate conditions, pose problems, with both colours.

In the first game, for example, I played an interesting idea, with a pawn sacrifice, and this immediately brought me success. I also played well in games 2 and 3...

- Incidentally, do you consider your style unique and different from other players?

- I think I have quite a universal style. I do not know to what extent it is unique, but my games are rather different from those of other 2700s. This is true of my approach to the opening, and my manner of solving certain problems which arise. Every strong player should be able to do absolutely everything.

- Did the match show you anything from the viewpoint of understanding your own weaknesses?

- Yes. For example, that I need to work on my technique. I had obvious problems in this match, in realising advantages. I did not manage to win game 3, and in game 6 too, I could probably have won, had I had more desire to do so. But I decided to play for a simple life…and practically agreed a draw. F I had been sure I could play for a win without risk, I would have done so.

From my point of view, there were too many missed chances in the match. And now I know exactly what I need to work on over the next few months.

- Can you learn technique like you can openings?

- Why not? One must work, study positions, gather knowledge, work on one's technique. As I have already said, my style is quite universal, and without obvious weak spots, but certain specific things, such as technique, need improving. 


- And do you know what it is that separates you now from the world top ten players?

- Yes, I knew exactly. In the first place, of course, it is opening preparation. I know that many of the top players have huge computer databases, and extensive "forests" of variations, in which there is no weak spot. I also have my own forest, but it would be an exaggeration to describe it as having no weaknesses. It is probably not even worthy of my current rating, let alone a rating of around 2800.

In other respects, though, with the possible exception of technique, I don't feel that the top players significantly outstrip me. In recent times, I have played several games against elite players, and they have not surprised me in any great way. Somewhere inside I think I already understand that I can fight with absolutely anyone…...

- Returning to the match with Nepomnyashy, do you consider the result a good one for you, even taking account of the fact that you could have won by a bigger margin?

- I am satisfied with the course of the match and the quality of my play. I think the match went well for me. I have nothing to complain about, even if it was only 3,5:2,5.

- You shared the prize for the "Best Creative Achievement" for game 3. Do you think this was the best game of the match, or do you have a different opinion on this?

- better something than nothing, as they say. So…Oleg Skvortsov promised to have a prize for creativity, and he decided this was the best game. I cannot argue with this, as there were no games in the match with sparkling play, and the third was fairly good. It had an unusual character, an unusual material balance. I cannot say the move 22...Ne8 was so beautiful, it was quite natural, but even so. I am grateful to get the share of the prize!

- If you were offered, who would you like to play the next match against?

- I have read Yan's interview, and probably he is right, that is should be based on the opponent's rating. The higher it is, the stronger he is, and the nicer it is to play the person. So, one should start at the top of the rating list and work down!

- Start from the very top?

- Yes. It would be equally interesting for me to play Carlsen, Aronian or Kramnik. I cannot specify one. It would also be interesting to test my strength against others in the top ten. There are many players. 


- Do you think this is possible in the near future?

- That depends on the wishes of those who will organise the match...

- I meant would you like such matches to be possible for you, not depending on the will of the sponsors, but because of your status in the chess world?...

- Well, at present, I have no impression of myself at world level.

- You are that clear? Wouldn't you like to play at Wijk aan Zee, Dortmund or Biel?

- I can want what I like, but at the moment, I am nobody to the organisers of these events. Yes, I now have a rating of 2727, but this is the first year I have shown this level and achieved stable results. At the beginning of the year, I was 2685, and I have gained 40 points. If you look at Caruana, who gains 100 points a year and has beaten Kramnik twice this year, there is no comparison. At the level of Carlsen, Caruana, Aronian, and in recent times Grischuk, Topalov and Mamedyarov, then neither my results not my play make any impression....

At the Russian level, on the other hand, I can hope for something, and have joined the elite, perhaps. I am now 6th or 7th by rating, and recently was invited to a session with the country's main team. I will try to advance in the right direction, win the championship of Russia again, strengthen my place in the team, etc. I have many tasks ahead.

- Do you think you are making steady progress and there is no need to force things?

- For me, yes. This year has been wonderful for me, better than any other. Unfortunately, I cannot dominate tournaments like Carlsen does. What the reasons are I cannot say.

Frankly, after last year, when I achieved nothing at all, I have plenty of reasons to be satisfied. I have a couple of titles, a higher rating, and belief in myself. Things are improving. The main thing is that I have started showing stability in good results, which I lacked previously.

- So you are looking to next year with optimism?

- This year is not over yet. I will not play any more classical chess this year, but I have a couple of rapid events and want to play as well as possible in those.

- Surely you are not setting yourself the aim of winning both tournaments?

- Certainly I am. But I do not like wishful thinking...