We proudly present the first in a brand new series of interviews with the stars of the chess world, starting with Grandmaster Anish Giri.
Lifetime Repertoires: Najdorf Sicilian
Born in St. Petersburg in 1994, he moved to Japan in 2004 and then The Netherlands in 2008.
Currently one of the world’s top 10 players, Anish Giri is a Candidate for the World Chess Championship and the author of our recent and extremely popular Chessable course, Lifetime Repertoires: The French Defense.
He was a Grandmaster at 14, is a four-time Dutch champion and has several notable tournament victories to his name.
Anish took time out from his very busy schedule to talk about his life, games, the World Chess Championship and, of course, the French Defense.
The Journey Begins
How did your chess journey begin?
My mother tried teaching me chess when I was five, but it was at six or seven that I
managed to grasp the basics and join a chess club in St. Petersburg Russia.
Did you have any particular chess heroes or role models to inspire you in the early
I was reading a lot of chess books since the early childhood, so I was in awe of all
the great players of the past. Garry Kasparov is the first player that comes to mind;
his modern aggressive style was very inspiring.
Which chess books did you find most instructive or inspirational?
The books that left an impression early on were O, Chess! by Karpov and Gik, My
Great Predecessors Part II by Garry Kasparov and The Contours of the Endgame by
Slutsky and Shereshevsky.
How did the chess culture of Russia compare with that of Japan and The
Russia has rich chess traditions that are rooted very deeply in the culture. Japan
is also known for the board games culture, but there is very little Western chess
played over there, as opposed to, for example, shogi and go. The Netherlands is
also a prominent chess country, with it’s rich history, including World Champion
Max Euwe and later world championship candidate Jan Timman.
How influential were your former trainers Vladimir Chuchelov and Vladimir
Tukmakov on your style of play?
Vladimir Chuchelov has brought another dimension to my opening preparation,
which is one of the most important aspects for a chess professional. Vladimir
Tukmakov taught me the importance of having long walks, which at times can be
just as important an aspect.
Did you feel any extra pressure when you became the world’s youngest
Grandmaster at just 14 years old?
No, I always loved what I was doing, and was doing what I loved.
How did the established Grandmasters treat you in subsequent tournaments? Were any particularly kind and helpful to a young Grandmaster?
Definitely. Perhaps, most notably, Vishy Anand had invited me for brief sessions
while preparing for his World Championship matches vs Topalov and Gelfand. It has truly been an eye opening experience.
World Championship Candidate
Very few people can go through a Candidates event unbeaten. Yet you did exactly
that in 2016 – with 14 draws from 14 games. Were there any moments in the
tournament when you were tempted to push a little more?
I had enormous advantages in many games, in particular in the second half of the
tournament, but perhaps the combination of my opponent’s resilience, some bad
luck and my inexperience at an event of such a magnitude were to blame for the
lack of victories. I was in quite some trouble in some of the games, as well, in
particular I recall a bad position after an incorrect bishop sacrifice against Anand,
so at some points I was lucky too.
Incidentally, my drawing rate doesn’t stand out in comparison to my colleagues. Carlsen and Caruana, with all the draws in their 2018 World Championship Match, was an even bigger headline than the Candidates 2016.
The 2020 Candidates tournament took an enforced break due to the current
emergency. Should the tournament have even started under the circumstances?
In hindsight it is easy to say, but at that point in time, I am sure these decisions
were not simple.
Did the situation have any impact on the way you played?
It must have, but I blame my bad start on other factors and towards the end of the
second half I had caught some speed and played a lot better.
How do you feel about continuing a tournament many months after it started?
It will be odd, but the times are very special, in general.
Would you be happy if the second half of the tournament was played online?
No, I don’t think that would be consistent.
The Online World
Online elite chess events have been a major success over the Summer. Do you
embrace the new era of digital chess or are you eager for real-life, over-the-board
action to return?
As a chess player one is taught to be realistic, go with the punches and pursue
opportunities. I am not sure what world I would prefer to live in, but I am prepared
You are a very active player in team events (five Chess Olympiads, for starters). What is the team spirit like when you represent the Netherlands?
The team spirit is very good, we are all good friends and my countrymen have a lot
of faith in me, which is reassuring. I hope more parents in the Netherlands see the
future in supporting their child’s passion for chess.
Do you firmly believe you can become World Champion?
There is a strong competitive spirit between you and Magnus Carlsen, with ‘a war
of words’ often erupting on Twitter. Is this just for show, or is the friction real?
Chess fans pay a lot of attention to ratings. Club players can become very upset if
they drop behind their friends. How important are ratings to you?
Ratings are very important, because most organizers pay a lot of attention to that. It
would put less pressure on the players, to drop all the ratings and just enjoy the
game, but at the end of the day top chess is a top sport, so in that regard it is fine
as it is.
Lifetime Repertoires: The French Defense
Your Chessable course on the French Defense is proving to be very popular. Did you enjoy creating the course?
Yes, I would never indulge into a big project like this one, if it wouldn’t genuinely
How long did it take you to put together such a significant body of work?
Hard to say. I had spent many days, throughout the past few years coming back to
the French and letting it go again. By the time I had started the preparation for the
course, I already had an immense knowledge and material ready for the project. As
for the project itself, I work very intensively and I think all in all, including the
recording, it took me three weeks.
Will we see you playing the sharpest Winawer lines in future events?
At the top level being unpredictable is very important. So no. (See what I did there?)
Are you planning any more courses for Chessable?
Advice for Club Players
How do you cope with the pain of defeat?
I think at this point in my career I have developed a reasonably healthy balance in
taking it close enough to try and avoid it, yet make sure it doesn’t leave a mark on
my subsequent games. One of the most important topics of top chess, and
probably all professional sports in general.
Club players are always interested in ways to improve their game. What advice
would you offer to them?
Besides studying my French course? Do more of what you enjoy! Time spent
towards any aspect of chess, be it playing, studying openings or endgames,
reading books and what not, it is all not lost and highly valuable. As long as you do
what you enjoy you will make the hours and in the end it is the hours that will lead
Anish Giri’s Favourite Games
Do you have a favourite game of chess?
Which of your own games is your favourite?
Every chess player I know treasures his own best games. In my case I have many
games I like. In terms of results, of course my wins against world champions
Carlsen, Kramnik, Anand and Topalov.
Magnus Carlsen – Anish Giri
Wijk aan Zee , 2011
Black to play
Anish exploited the position of the knight on g6 with 20 …e3! This cuts off the knight’s defender and wins a piece. Carlsen resigned on move 22.
In terms of chess content, also plenty, but my 21 …Kd6! against Tomi Nyback from the Corus B tournament always comes to mind when I think about these topics.
Tomi Nyback – Anish Giri
Corus Group B, 2010
Black to play
The position of the black king is cause for concern. Anish played the extraordinary move 21 …Kd6! This seems to make the king’s position even more precarious but in fact the king was never moved again during the game and was not even checked, despite being almost in the middle of the board.
Fischer and Kasparov
What are your favourite games from the history of chess?
The other day I once again came across the famous 13 year old Fischer game vs.
Donald Byrne, what a masterpiece that was!
Donald Byrne – Bobby Fischer
Third Rosenwald Trophy, 1956
Black to play
Fischer played 17 …Be6!! and won in spectacular fashion (0-1, 41). The game was dubbed ‘Game of the Century’, but Fischer didn’t even include it in his famous book, ‘My 60 Memorable Games.’
Kasparov-Topalov is also the one that comes to mind.
Garry Kasparov – Veselin Topalov
Wijk aan Zee, 1999
White to play
This game, another deemed brilliant and worthy of a special name, is known as ‘Kasparov’s Immortal Game’. Kasparov sacrificed his rook with 24 Rxd4!! which was just the start of a sensational series of moves. Topalov’s king ended up on e1 – and not in a good way (1-0, 44)
Honestly, I have read the main-stream chess books and won’t surprise you here. Anderssen, Morphy, Tal, the usual suspects!
Thank you very much, Grandmaster Giri!
The French Defense
Lifetime Repertoires: The French Defense is currently on special offer for the next two days.
A ‘Short and Sweet’ version of Anish Giri’s course is available for free.
There really is no excuse for not giving the French Defense a try!