Author: Sanan SHAFIZADE
The first Azerbaijani athletes to bring victory to the country in 2021 were our chess. Grandmaster, European champion, World Cup winner Teymur Rajabov became the winner of the Airthing Masters online tournament. The competition was held as part of the Chess Tour of Champions initiated by the world crown holder Magnus Carlsen. Teymur defeated Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia) in the quarter-finals, and Daniil Dubov (Russia) in the semifinals. In the final round, Teymur met with Levon Aronian (Armenia). In the first match, Teymur won with a total score of 2.5:1.5. And in the return meeting, he also outplayed his opponent (2:1). The final consisted of two matches played during two days. Each match consisted of four rapid games.
So, we share with your our exclusive interview with Teymur Rajabov after the contest.
"Please tell us about your victory at the Airthings Masters. Can we say that the ending was difficult?"
"Sure. Usually it is the athletes in the best shape and capable of demonstrating strong performance and results that make their way to the final stage of the tournament."
"Is there any difference between the preparation for online competitions and classic tournaments?"
"I don’t think there is a big difference. Same as in ordinary face-to-face competitions, chess players have opening schemes to kick off from the ground, so to speak. We repeat the analysis before the next round and make adjustments to openings in the course of the tournament. Everything is as usual."
"Unlike before, you looked slightly more emotional in the tournament..."
"I’m getting older (smiles). In fact, I had tremendous physical and emotional stress. I have played 35 games in total for nine days. I could hardly control the course of events. Still the load is many times greater than playing one classical game a day. This time we had four games a day, apart from tie-breaks and the Armageddon games (there is no draw in Armageddon). And every win in the final means tears of joy and getting off all the load of the previous days. Yes, I used to control my emotions before. Not this time though..."
"We know that President Ilham Aliyev and First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva congratulated you after the victory..."
"You can imagine how incredibly pleasant and honourable is being appreciated by the first persons of your country. This was their second congratulation (after the victory at the 2019 World Cup, R+). Of course, I had a huge spiritual motivation to do something useful for my country."
"What competitions are you going to take part in the coming months?"
"In February, March and May, I am going to take part in the next stages of the Tour of Champions organised by the world champion Magnus Carlsen. Then there are numerous tournaments lasting up until the end of the year. In addition, I think there will be other competitions, depending on the epidemiological situation in Europe and the world."
"Competitions take a lot of energy. How long does it take you to recover?"
"As the ancient saying goes, the wounds of winners heal faster... I think 10-12 days is enough to get relaxed completely."
"After a brilliant victory at the 2019 World Cup, it looks like you’re going to have a second bright period in your career."
"Not exactly. In the previous selection cycle for the world championship, I missed only half a point to qualify for the Candidates Tournament. I performed well at the Moscow stage of the FIDE Grand Prix in 2017, then I won a strong FIDE Grand Prix in Geneva. I became a medallist of the FIDE Grand Prix in Palma de Mallorca, European champion in the Azerbaijani national team, I won a gold medal on my board at the World Chess Olympiad. Then I won the very prestigious World Cup and was among the participants in the last Candidates Tournament."
"The pandemic affects people in different ways. How has it influenced you?"
"Most of the chess competitions have been cancelled worldwide. Now, having had a good rest from all previous workload, I have realised that it’s the most important component of my life. During the pandemic, it has become somehow unusual. I feel a nostalgia for the entire former rhythm of my life."
"You refused to join the Candidates Tournament in Yekaterinburg due to the pandemic. Time has shown that you were right. Do you have a chance to participate in the tournament as soon as it resumes? How will the issue be resolved?"
"The point is that I did not refuse to join the Candidates Tournament. I just sent a letter to FIDE with a request to postpone the tournament. I believed that the participants would not be able to play at full strength due to various restrictions, including tests, temperature measurements before the game, ban to leaving hotels... It was not clear what to do if one of the players got sick, and etc. According to regulations, the Candidates Tournament was supposed to be held for 22 days, despite the pandemic. I thought it would be difficult psychologically to play under ‘hospital conditions’, and even wearing masks.
“By the way, the tournament began on March 15 and has never been finished, as it was stopped after the first round. I hope that FIDE will find some acceptable solution for me to remain in the tournament.”
"Each of your victories becomes a great holiday in Azerbaijan. Do you think it is because chess is so popular in Azerbaijan or it is because of your fans?"
"Chess has always been and remains popular in Azerbaijan. Children's chess has gained popularity in the 1990s, with a big number of young players fighting and winning at various children's and youth competitions. Those who would later become the backbone of the national men's team of Azerbaijan. This includes Shahriyar Mammadyarov, Vugar Hashimov, Rauf Mammadov, Gadir Huseynov, Eltaj Safarli and others. The development and popularity of chess among the children have been widely covered in local and international media, contributing to the popularity of chess in Azerbaijan."
"Before the last day of the final match, your daughter sent a congratulatory message. Did it encourage you?"
"Of course, it did! The wishes of my loved ones are always sincere. There is some kind of power in them. I feel it very well."
"Is your daughter interested in chess? Do you play chess with her at home?"
"She knows figures and elementary moves, but so far she is only one of my fans. She is not eager to play chess and take part in competitions. As she told me, she decided to become not a chess player, but a designer. Well, let’s see."
"In chess, each piece has its own role and strength. What is your favourite piece?"
"My favourite piece is the black dark-squared bishop on g7! Chess players playing the King's Indian Defense with Black will understand me."
"Your are an idol for many. Are you thinking of opening a chess school in the future?"
"Yes, I'm going to. Now they are called chess academies. Mine is almost ready to start."
"How do you spend your free time?"
"I spend my free time mainly with chess too. I continue to stream video commentaries on my YouTube channel, analysing the games, looking for new ideas in openings. Everything is as usual. Outside chess, I communicate with friends, since the Internet allows contactless communication during the pandemic. There is also a little time for face-to-face communication with close friends. I read books and watch films."
"Which book would you recommend the chess fans?"
"I read everything that I can find. In every book you will find something useful. As to books to improve chess mastery, there are several well-known chess magazines with excellent comments from grandmasters. My favourites are the Russian magazine 64 and the Dutch New in Chess."
"Have you watched the popular TV series Queen's Move, the production of which involved famous chess players? What are your impressions?"
"In general, I liked the series. The atmosphere and games are depicted very professionally. There are, of course, as always, many controversial points, but this is natural, because its a TV series, not a documentary."
"Some athletes have special characteristics. What are yours?"
"There are many of them. But it will take too much to explain them."
"What would you wish to your fans?"
"First of all, I wish all good health. We have hard times. I wish peace to Azerbaijan, so that peace and prosperity reign in every family and in every home!"