'My win has helped the game in Hungary'

HAVING emerged supreme at the Linares tournament, Peter Leko now has his mind set on fulfilling his aim of becoming the world champion.

ARVIND AARON

Leko with his wife Sofia, who is the daughter of Armenian Grandmaster Arshak Petrosian. — Pic. ARVIND AARON-

HAVING emerged supreme at the Linares tournament, Peter Leko now has his mind set on fulfilling his aim of becoming the world champion. Living with his trainer cum father-in-law Arshak Petrosian has had the desired effect on his game over the past year. His success at Linares has done to Hungarian chess what Anand's successes in 1995 did to the game in India. This triumph could not have come at a more opportune moment in his career.

On his latest achievement, Leko said, "I cannot say that this was a surprise victory. I think I am quite strong in Classical chess."

Leko spoke at length to The Sportstar in an exclusive interview.

Excerpts:

Question: How is it to win at Linares for the first time? How did you celebrate your victory?

Answer: It is a nice feeling winning the strongest tournament of the year. It was the first time in the recent past that the top five were competing in the same tournament. So it is a special feeling.

About celebrations, there was not much time for it. The news of my success resulted in a big boom in the game back home in Hungary. For all of three days after my win, I was only answering questions. Not that I am complaining as I enjoyed it and hope to see similar results in the future.

* Did you have problems in any of your games? Which do you consider as your best game?

Actually I had not been in trouble in any of the games apart from the two that I actually lost.

The second game against Radjabov was the best clear cut game. This was a crucial...

* Queen sacrifice at the end...

Yes. That is the one. That (queen sacrifice) was for the galleries. In general, before that too I had a splendid game. Of course, the game against Kasparov in the second cycle was the more dramatic one. I was in a position of advantage and all set for a win. But, I spoilt everything because of time trouble. After the time control I had to fight very hard for a draw. Objectively Kasparov was even winning. But as dramas unfolded the game got tense and finally managed a draw after seven hours. Also, my first ever win against Anand in Classical chess in the penultimate round was extremely important and it was a defining moment of the tournament.

* Was this the best Linares event in recent times? Four players were vying for the top place unlike in the past where it seemed a single horse race.

True. It was an interesting tournament with all players motivated coming into this event. Everybody wanted to play at his best and you could feel it in the fighting spirit. But this also resulted in certain mistakes by some players. There was so much competition that if you fight level positions till the end you could make mistakes or force your opponent into making mistakes. If you are in a difficult position then it means your opponent too is suffering. It is nice to play at such events.

* Does your victory here — prior to the match against Kramnik — help your confidence?

Yes, certainly. It can only do good. Over the past one year, I have been playing classical chess (seven-hour session) very well. Even prior to my victory at Dortmund last year I was playing well in Essen. If you remove the 40 Elo points that I lost in the new FIDE control (four-hour session) my ratings from three events would be very high. This victory is certainly no surprise. I think as of now I am quite strong in classical chess.

* What could go in Kramnik's favour is that he remained undefeated through the tournament. Has there been any interest from potential sponsors for this match?

Our match will certainly be interesting as we both tied for the first position. (Leko was champion on tie-break). As such, Kramnik's main motivation is to be very stable and ensure he doesn't lose. On the other hand you can already see that my role as a challenger is to be aggressive and energetic because I have to win games. On that count Linares has been a tremendous experience for me.

* Have you made any changes in your team besides Amador (GM Amador Rodriguez) and Arshak (GM Arshak Petrosian)?

Arshak is clearly my trainer. We have been working non-stop over the last two years since he moved to Szeged, which means everyday we study a lot of chess. That has been the main change from the past. Besides, when you are preparing together you open yourself more and discuss every small detail about your game. This not only helps your openings but also your chess on the large.

Amador (Cuban Grandmaster who lives in Barcelona) is a friend and always works in the background. We have been together for a very long time now. I have already started my match preparation for my game against Kramnik but it is still a secret.

* Kasparov's form seems to be on the decline. The Rest of the World team beat Russia. Do you think Russian supremacy in chess is coming to an end?

It was of course a special moment for the world team to win against the Russians. Well, Kasparov's is a very interesting story. When he played badly in the Russia v Rest of the World, everybody wrote that his age was catching up. When he went to the Olympiad (Bled 2002) and beat everyone they started to say he is stronger than ever! Now that he did not live up to the expectations at Linares, everyone is once again picking on him. You have to understand that he is certainly not the youngest. It was a very tough tournament. He was unlucky at the beginning against Radjabov. If he had not made that blunder in that piece it would have been a completely different story.

* It was horrifying to have heard an Internet rumour that you had died in a car crash. How did you react to this?

It was an interesting experience (explodes into laughter). You are never dead when you are still alive! It happened and I could experience this feeling. It was disturbing answering the phone calls from the media and friends. One night I am supposed to be finished and the next morning I am supposed to be answering people that I am still alive. It was very nice to know how many people really care about me. I got many letters saying so many nice things that I might never get to listen in the future.

* Are you still sponsored by RWE Gas Company? How has the public recognition been back home since your becoming the first Hungarian to play for the world chess title?

I have a contract with RWE Gas Company until the end of this year. I guess we will continue our association in the future as well. They are very happy about my success. In the future I hope there will be a closer relationship between us.

Ever since I became the challenger, many things have changed in Hungarian chess. The game has witnessed a boom and the Government seems to be interested and excited about chess. After my winning the Dortmund qualifier (July 2002) we won the silver medal for Hungary at Bled (November 2002), which also increased the interest. My win at Linares has completely changed the character of the game in Hungary. This interest in chess shall only help Hungarian chess grow stronger in the future.

* Do you think your chess has been improving? Is it unpleasant sharing your manager with Kramnik?

I think I am doing well in classical chess. My results are proof enough. About sharing managers with Kramnik, I don't really care. Carsten is a good friend of mine and I completely trust him. I am only concentrating on my game now and nothing else.