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Nepo in The Guardian “I was maybe the least hard working person out of the world’s top 20”

Russia’s No.1 and 2021 Challenger, Ian Nepomniachtchi talked gave his pre-match newspaper interview to Sean Ingle of the Guardian.

Photo: Eric Rosen

According to the Guaridan, it would count as one of the more seismic shocks in modern chess history if Magnus Carlsen were to lose his world title over Ian Nepomniachtchi. However, Nepo is viewed as a worthy challenger:

Nepo holds a 4-1 record in classical chess over Carlsen, dating back to when they first met as promising 12-year-olds. Nepo also has one of Russia’s fastest supercomputers, originally built for machine learning and artificial intelligence, as part of his team, which he confirmed that he was using it again to prepare for Carlsen. The computer is provided by Skolkovo, Russia’s answer to Silicon Valley.

“It can’t harm my chances,” Nepo said. “And this particular supercomputer, because it is a huge data center which can be used for scientific research, is hopefully more effective than others. You’re more sure that your analysis is good when you see 500 million node positions than, say 100 million. In general, all the top players have access to something similar. And it’s the chess engines, such as Stockfish and Leela Chess Zero, which are the main tool in helping us prepare. Everyone has those.”

Q: “What’s the story between you and Magnus?”

“The first time we met was in the European under-12 championships. He played quite well, but I didn’t feel like he was something spectacular. And he was from Norway, which is not a chess country, so I didn’t really take that much notice. But when we played again not long after, and we finished top two at the under-12 world championships, it was clear he was a strong player. In general, I think it makes some difference if you’ve played a person before and been successful. But some of our games were played nearly 20 years ago. So while it is good the score is in my favour, it would be quite foolish to rely on this alone.”

Sean Ingle: Instead Nepomniachtchi credits a change in mindset from turning him from a brilliant but erratic player into a true challenger for the crown.

“Before I was maybe the least hard-working person out of the world’s top 20! Normally if chess players have a week or two between tournaments, they prepare for the next one. But I would be going to the football pitch three times a week or watching Marvel movies. And when the new season of Game of Thrones came out, I thought: ‘Come on, this is pretty nice!’ But eventually, I understood that soon I was going to be 30 and I wasn’t being serious and had done nothing really special. At some point you have to choose if you want your life to be full of joy – and probably you’re not choosing to achieve too much – or you sacrifice something and then maybe you can move forward. But it took me quite some time to take off with this new approach.”

Sean Ingle: Another problem, he admits, is that sometimes he was too overconfident.

“This was an issue which hounded me for years. It was like: ‘I don’t really care who I play, I am going to beat them.’ Sometimes I lacked respect for my opponents. But after I corrected my mindset my results became better.”

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