Navara on the Candidates & reluctantly playing in Spain

Czech no. 1 David Navara played in the Spanish League in
Linares last month despite trying to pull out over coronavirus concerns. He
felt compelled to play since his team were unable to find a late replacement, with the
experience helping him to understand the dilemma with the once again postponed Candidates
. David confesses that he suspects, “if I was in charge of the process
I would have made the same mistakes”.

David Navara talked to Sergey Kim for
about how the Czech Republic opened up for chess over the summer
but that now the only chess events are again online. We’ve translated the
second half of the interview:

Sergey Kim: Do you think chess
life will recover next year?

David Navara: In my view it should recover, but there will be less large-scale
tournaments. Those will be difficult to plan, as it’s hard to predict the
future… I think that before the end of March there will be very few
tournaments, and only ones with a reduced number of players. In that curtailed
season it will be necessary to choose tournaments very carefully, particularly
in summer – where to play, where to say no, in order not to miss some
interesting events. But I’m a bad forecaster.

If we’re talking
about the future, what can you say about the Candidates Tournament? It’s become
a little strange, hasn’t it?

It’s easy to criticise. I have the suspicion that if I was
in charge of the process I would have made the same mistakes. Foreseeing all
the events at the start of March was very hard. I wouldn’t say that it was
impossible, but many politicians went wrong back then, and later as well… A
week before the start of the Candidates Tournament I thought that it should be
held, since it wasn’t clear what would happen next, but then I began to realise
that it would last quite a long time and in that time a lot could change. But
that in the course of a single day borders would close, as they did in the
Czech Republic, was something I couldn’t foresee. It was sudden, although there
were signs. I think it was necessary to stop the Candidates Tournament at
precisely the time when it was stopped, but now I haven’t even got a clue…

I understand it’s not my business – it’s all very tough! I
understand the point of view of FIDE and the
point of view of Wang Hao
… It seems to me that when I was planning to play
in the Spanish League I grasped a lot about how the Candidates Tournament players
must feel. I also didn’t want to play in that league and wrote to my team that
after the Individual Spanish Championship many of the players ended up in
quarantine, so sorry, but I don’t want to play. The epidemiological conditions
are getting worse in the Czech Republic, and in Spain they’re not particularly
good. I listed a total of eight reasons, but the team decided that it was
already too late and there was no replacement for me. I wrote a few more
letters like that, but they persuaded me to play.

It wasn’t only that I could get ill – the sanitary measures,
by the way, were observed very strictly. The fear of getting ill at the league
wasn’t high, but the airline that I used paid less attention to safety measures
and they were pretty dubious. I was forced to stay in a packed bus for around
five minutes, waiting for it to leave. Of course if one of the passengers was
ill then the risk of getting infected would have been quite serious. I was less
worried about getting ill than about getting stuck in quarantine for a long
time, that they could cancel a flight… By the way, that’s how it was at the
start, and I had to buy a second ticket.

Some people are quite sensitive to such problems, while
others are calmer. Therefore I understand that taking a decision can be tough.
When I followed the Candidates Tournament I thought: ok, chess won’t change
because of the coronavirus and you still have to play at some point. From the
other point of view, it’s clear that it could have a very big impact on some of
the players. Let’s say on Ding Liren, since he had to spend two weeks before
the tournament in quarantine and, no doubt, as much after he returned home. I don’t know.

As I said already: now, after the Spanish League, I
understand the participants in the Candidates Tournament better. The team gave
me support, but I wasn’t in the right mood to play, and that told. It’s hard to
say how much, perhaps I would have lost rating without those reasons as well,
but most likely I would have played better. I don’t know for sure.

The year hasn’t been
too rich in super-tournaments. Can you share your impressions of Stavanger?

Well, it hasn’t been the only one, has it? At the start of
the year the tournament in Wijk aan Zee happened as always, then there was the
first half of the Candidates Tournament. By the way, in the Czech Republic we
held a
pretty decent round-robin tournament
with an average rating over 2700. It
seems that was in February. So for a long time it remained the last completed
super-tournament of the year… perhaps not that strong, but a good grandmaster
round-robin tournament.

I followed Stavanger, but not that frequently. In my view it
was good that the extra games (Armageddon) didn’t have as much importance as
they had last year, but at times the tiredness of the players told. And a lack
of time. From the point of view of the quality of play having Armageddon wasn’t
the best decision. On the other hand, I’d like to note that all of the
participants played very aggressive chess. In creative terms the tournament was
an undoubted success. There were many decisive games and few draws. It was

Norway Chess suffered a coronavirus scare when one person who came in contact with the players tested positive, but so far all other tests have turned out negative

What can you say
about Firouzja’s play?

He plays well, particularly when he has the initiative. He’s
very dangerous, very talented, particularly in blitz, and far from only in blitz.
Of course the tournament showed that he has flaws, but a lot of promise. I
think that for him to make progress in classical chess it would be useful to
reduce the number of blitz games, particularly bullet, where you play
one-minute games. In a certain sense that can be harmful to classical chess.

And would you commit
a mistake like Firouzja did in a pawn endgame?

I think not, but you know, I’ve played on the internet and made such mistakes that I can’t say that with absolute certainty. I still think no. A terrible mistake! But if I recall the mistakes I made… I blundered a queen, rook,
knight in one move… What happened to Firouzja can happen to anyone.

Many have talked
about the champion’s play, but what can you say about the play of Aronian?

I liked how Levon played! He played creative chess. He played strongly! He’s always been a strong player, but lately people have simply
begun to talk more about other players, the Candidates Tournament and so on.
But Levon played very well! Particularly in classical chess. It was a bit of a
pity that the Armageddons didn’t go so well for him. Interesting games, but he
could have scored more points.

In the last round he beat the World Champion in a fighting
. It was undoubtedly interesting to watch his games!

I try not to
pose questions about politics, but so many events have taken place in the world…
Has chess study left some time to follow the events in Belarus and the conflict
in Nagorno-Karabakh?

I’m following, of course. In some places I understand the
situation better, in some places worse. I think I grasp what’s happening now in
Belarus better than what’s taking place in Nagorno-Karabakh.

I hope that fair elections will take place in Belarus, and
that the political prisoners will be released from jail.

And less is known
about what’s happening in the Caucasus?

There’s information, but it’s simply not so easy to get a
grip on it. You can understand and assess events in Belarus as an outsider, but
in Karabakh… It’s no doubt possible to understand something, but from my point
of view it’s very far away, and I wouldn’t like to express myself publicly on
something I don’t understand well. I’m ready to admit that. I’d like to believe
that the war will end, and the casualties on both sides will end, because it’s
very painful when friends and loved ones are dying… And then it’s going to be very hard to reestablish good relations between the countries.

In Karabakh everything is totally unclear for me. On both
sides there are good, normal people. Therefore I want to believe that the war
will stop and I’d like it to be as soon as possible. But it’s going to need
some time before everything normalises.

You’re again going to
have almost no over-the-board chess. What are you planning to do?

To train. To read chess magazines. To work on chess, to write something… I noticed that I’ve begun to
play too much internet blitz. Or not too much, compared to others, but… Too
much compared to how much I actually need to play! Previously I didn’t play on
the internet at all, and now playing too often can become a kind of addiction.
I’ll stay at home – we have a small garden. Perhaps too small to call a garden,
but too big to call a yard! There are things to do.  

You recently
published a book of your selected games. Are you planning a continuation?

There is an idea of writing a continuation, but it will be a
little different. I’m preparing a book where, based on examples from my games,
teaching and training questions will be addressed. At times not whole games,
but fragments. My co-author will be a Slovakian Grandmaster, my contemporary, a
great writer and simply a good person – Ján Markoš. But that book still needs
to be written. There’s material, but there’s a lot of work to do.

And the last
question. The virus has played a mainly negative role for many chess players,
but let’s be optimists. Some, on the contrary, have become a fount of ideas
against the backdrop of the virus, coming up with beautiful games – for instance,
Daniil Dubov… Has something interesting happened recently in theoretical terms?

Of course. It’s interesting that players have left the main
lines (for example, the Berlin with a draw on move 30) in favour of more “lively”
variations, side lines. In 3-minute internet games that’s very noticeable,
while in the Magnus Carlsen tournaments the man himself, for example, played
the Sicilian Rossolimo with h7-h5 on move 3.  

Even elite players have begun to allow themselves such
things, without staking big claims on the opening. They show new, fresh ideas,
which are perhaps not 100% correct, but which aren’t so easy to refute at the
board, particularly in rapid chess.

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