Insights that Echo Beyond the Echo Chamber


You rarely get a chance against Magnus Carlsen and if he gets one, you are dead: Vincent Keymer

There were no chess clubs in Saulheim, a German village with a population of 8,000, near Mainz. So Vincent Keymer travelled to a nearby village to play chess. Though born into a musical family, his extraordinary talent in chess did not go unnoticed. Among those he impressed was the legendary former World champion Garry Kasparov. Keymer is now one of the world’s most exciting players and is considered Germany’s greatest chess hope since Emanuel Lasker, who was the World champion from 1894 to 1921. Excerpts from Keymer’s interview with The Hindu:

One of the highlights of your career must have been the 2023 World Cup at Baku. You reached the fourth round, where you shocked Magnus Carlsen in the first classical game and nearly knocked him out of the tournament.

Yes, it was for me a very interesting experience, just kind of knowing that I was basically one move away from knocking him out. Just getting the chance was great and also having the tiebreak going to the fifth game. Of course, I would have loved to win that match after he gave me this incredible chance.

How was it playing a match against Carlsen, possibly the strongest player of all time?

You get to learn a lot. He is not the player who gives you a lot of chances, so that is not exactly the most enjoyable thing.

And if you give him a chance, he will destroy you.

Yeah, that’s the thing with Carlsen. You basically rarely get the chance and if he gets one, you are pretty much dead. But, yeah, that’s what makes him so strong and also the reason why I had trouble in the tiebreaker. In this first classical game of the match, it was a nearly drawn position and then he made one huge mistake. Just not losing the second game was the deal for me, but it is always tough against Magnus.

Your thoughts on the way R. Praggnanandhaa played in that World Cup, to go all the way to the final, which he lost to Carlsen?

It surely was amazing. He had this incredibly close match with Arjun [Erigaisi], where I thought he was already basically knocked out after the first game, and then also in the tiebreaks. When I was playing Magnus, he was playing Hikaru [Nakamura]. We were on the same stage. He benefited from Hikaru making this huge mistake in the first rapid game, just mixing up the move order. But then, I don’t think anyone can pull off such a great performance without some kind of luck or help.

Praggnanandhaa is only one of the several hugely talented players from your generation. There are youngsters like Alireza Firouzja, Nodirbek Abdusattorov, D. Gukesh, Arjun and Nihal Sarin. You had drawn with Gukesh in the final round of the Chess Olympiad in Chennai in 2022. He was sensational in that tournament…

That performance by Gukesh was one of the best performances I have ever come across in a strong event like the Olympiad. I was glad with my individual performance in Chennai though I would have liked Germany to do better. And yes, it is nice being part of a generation with so many young talents. It feels nice that there is some real competition. I have heard there was this picture from 2014 from the Under-10 World Championship — Praggnanandhaa, Nihal, Abdusattorov and me in the same picture.

How do you look back at your remarkable performance at the Grenke tournament in Germany in 2018. You weren’t a Grandmaster then but you finished ahead of 49 of them, including four with a rating of more than 2700. And you were only 13.

I think it was the biggest open tournament in Europe at that time. And it had strong players like Richard Rapport, Alexei Shirov and Anton Korobov, they were the top seeds.

And you had a rating performance of close to 2800.

Yes, 2798. It was surely something no one expected. As for me, even before the last day, before the last rounds, I was thinking more about getting the half-a-point I needed to make my GM norm. The tournament helped me become known, even outside Germany.

In the last round, I was on the stage together with Magnus, because they were starting the second round of the day at the same time as the Classic. That already was something very special for me, playing on the same stage [as] the legends of the game; I was 13, so this surely was very impressive for me.

But a year later you played in the Grenke Classic, which featured the likes of Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Levon Aronian and Viswanathan Anand.

It was an amazing opportunity for me; I got it by winning the Grenke Open. And it was great playing against all of them.

Fulfilling journey: Although he isn’t from a chess-playing family and had to travel to a nearby village to find a chess club, Keymer has quickly developed into a top prospect. | Photo credit: Debasish Bhaduri

I read somewhere that you stumbled upon chess pieces in your house and that is how you started playing the game…

I am not from a chess-playing family. As a child I found a chessboard and asked my parents what it was. My parents knew the rules, you know, how to make moves. And I think I must have liked it. I don’t recall exactly, but I mean, I started going to the local club and playing against some guys. Since there were no chess clubs in my village, I had to go to another village, some 15 or 20 km away. I did pretty well at the club and also played my very first regional events, where I also did well.

Fierce focus: Keymer balanced school and a professional career for a ‘couple of years’, something he says was ‘always kind of difficult’. He is now looking forward to improving as he devotes all his attention to the game. | Photo credit: Debasish Bhaduri

Fierce focus: Keymer balanced school and a professional career for a ‘couple of years’, something he says was ‘always kind of difficult’. He is now looking forward to improving as he devotes all his attention to the game. | Photo credit: Debasish Bhaduri

What are your ambitions in chess?

I have been a professional for a couple of years now. I used to go to school the whole time, which was always kind of difficult. Now I am looking forward to improving and, well, most likely getting as high as possible.


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