The scene was a café. It was more of a friendly meeting for afternoon tea than a serious interview. Although I was 20 minutes late, Wang Hao was quite the gentleman.
We talked about chess, study, family, hobbies, personality, current events and even politics over the three hours. It was a very hot summer's day, but also very cool!
At first he told me he'd been really tired in the last few days and hadn't wanted to do anything but relax. Now he was ready to look back at Biel:
Jilin Zhang: Congrats on winning the big event. Did you seriously consider the possibility of overtaking Carlsen in the fight for 1st place?
Hao Wang: Thanks. Actually I never thought about it. In the last round I could have lived with a draw, but Giri somehow made a big mistake. It was a pity Carlsen didn’t manage to win the last game. To be honest, I think Carlsen's performance in the tournament was better than mine.
J.Z.: Does that mean it's a failure for the new 3-point rule?
H.W.: It’s hard to say. Since winning a game gets 3 points everybody tries their best to achieve that. Even if it's not really good for playing serious chess it did make the players more ambitious. It’s not perfect, but it is a solution to having too many drawn games.
J.Z.: What do you think of Carlsen’s play?
H.W.: He plays human chess. He doesn’t like to choose forced variations like everybody else does with computer analysis. His advantage is that he can be very clear at a certain point and can always make the strongest moves. That's really something others don’t have. His other main skill is continuously putting on pressure until his opponent can't stand it and finally makes mistakes.
J.Z.: Is it some kind of mental skill that Alekhine also had?
H.W.: Maybe. But it doesn’t work with young talented players like Giri, Vachier-Lagrave and Caruana because they have a stronger mentality than older people and just aren't afraid of him.
J.Z.: How does it feel losing two games to Carlsen?
H.W.: Hmmm. (smiling and shaking his head as he usually does) In the first game I didn’t do well in the opening. At some point I was quite fine until I made a blunder. In general, he played better than me in that game. In the second game I somehow managed to get a small advantage. I just wanted to maintain it while looking for some chances for more. Perhaps I was already exhausted after playing seven rounds in a row, I got too tired and made a mistake. I should have gone for a draw in time pressure instead of playing in a rush.
J.Z.: Do you become more emotional when playing?
H.W.: I don’t know. I’m not very emotional but sometimes I get bored when playing and just want to play more intensively, like fighting a battle. For example, in the Russian League I once played Ponomariov with Black. He quickly went for a drawn position and I agreed to it. Afterwards I felt so bad that I just wanted to go back and play.
J.Z.: Talking about the Russian League, what do you think about the current Russian Championship Superfinal?
H.W.: They’ve got great sponsorship. No matter what they'll get good prize money. That's probably the main reason why nobody has any driving force to fight. On the other hand, just as happens in China, all these players know each other so well that it's very difficult to play. I personally felt it was much more difficult to play in the Chinese League than the Russian League because the Chinese players just simply know me better.
J.Z.: It's noticeable that you're more relaxed when playing and don't feel so bad about losing. How come?
H.W.: Probably because I'm not under much pressure. I think it depends on each individual's focus. I have many things to do other than playing chess. That helps to distract my attention.
J.Z.: What do you usually do?
H.W.: Reading, watching movies, jogging, chatting on the internet and playing video games, although I don’t play video games very much now.
J.Z.: What books in particular?
H.W.: I've been reading lots of Japanese books lately. Such as: Mishima Yukio, Haruki Murakami, Natsuhiko Kyogoku and so on. They're all famous Japanese writers.
J.Z.: Some people think you're the most talented Chinese player ever. What do you think?
H.W.: It doesn’t matter to me. I just try to play my best and find interesting moves. But that doesn't determine anything.
J.Z.: What's your biggest strength in chess?
H.W.: I think I have a good mentality. Although sometimes I can't maintain it I try my best to stay calm. I don’t know where my strength lies. Probably that I'm an all-round player? But it’s the trend of world chess. If a player wants to be someone he must have that characteristic. Attack and defence, positional chess and tactics. Without any one of those things your opponent will find your weakness and bring you down.
J.Z.: What's your ambition in chess?
H.W.: I don’t know. Completely no idea. There are many obstacles ahead of me. Geographically China is far from the world chess centre – Europe. And there are many other conditions like finance, special systems and so on. Since I can't change anything I just try to live happier.
J.Z.: If not for the career of a chess player what would you choose in life?
H.W.: Dreaming or being realistic?
H.W.: I always wanted to be a wizard of the kind that appears only in fantasies.
J.Z.: Like who?
H.W.: Like someone from The Alchemist or The Lord of the Rings.
J.Z.: Interesting. How about in real life?
H.W.: Then I have absolutely no idea.
J.Z.: What's your major at Beijing University?
H.W.: I study advertising as an undergraduate. I just wanted to learn about it and it doesn’t mean I'll do any work related to that. I'm kind of a lazy guy. I don’t think I can stand the regular eight hours work every day.
J.Z.: You're the only male player in China who's truly studying at university and also has some kind of modern fashion sense and maybe 'a feminine side' (in a good sense)?
H.W.: I think all the guys my age are willing to purchase some fashionable stuff. I just have a better source of income. That’s all.
J.Z.: It's 17 years since the first time I met you. You've changed a lot from that little boy and you're very different from how you were in that original environment. What made you change so much? It's as if you're more mature and eccentric, if I can say that?
H.W.: Yes, I am. I think it's because I've traveled a lot and I've learnt things and been willing to absorb new concepts. Also, I remember back in 2007 I played six or seven tournaments in a row. That experience was something big in my life.
J.Z.: How do you define yourself? Why do you think fans like you?
On the way out of the café we walked for a while and chatted a little bit more. We discussed the ongoing Olympics, Liu Xiang’s situation, swimming problems, family issues and even politics. As a young adult Wang Hao always has his own opinions. He said it's because he follows the news every day.
The last question was about his favourite lifestyle in the future. He said he'd try his best to travel the world, see different things and meet different people. That’s when we said goodbye. Best wishes to Wang Hao in his chess and, more importantly, in his life.
Wang Hao: The Unlimited