Israeli chess grandmaster, and now runner-up world chess champion, Boris Gelfand met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday.
Gelfand recently lost to world champion Viswanathan Anand, from India, following an exhausting 12-game match, plus four playoff matches, held in Moscow.
Following the match, Putin invited the top two chess players in the world, Gelfand and Anand, to visit him at his vacation home. The three sat for half an hour over a cup of tea, discussing the game of kings and the recent series that earned extensive global coverage.
Putin complimented both men on their stellar playing, saying that the recent match between the two was the "best game in the history of chess."
In a conversation with Gelfand a few hours after the meeting with Putin, the Israeli grandmaster told me that he hopes his life won't change now. He has no desire to be a celebrity on television, "because it turns everything less serious. Sometimes it is so primitive."
Perhaps it is important that people see you on television as a way to promote chess in Israel. You are now the face of the game.
"I can visit hundreds of schools, but people won't necessarily respect me. I would be happy to teach classes to exceptional students. People need to earn the opportunity to play with or meet such a high-ranked player. That is how it was when I was a child."
Gelfand has very clear plans for chess in Israel: "A million children need to be exposed to the game before age 15. There has to be a strong annual competition with the six best players in the world, and four Israelis in the lead." Gelfand says that the solution is not ratings. "Chess doesn't need to be a populist game; it should be something people do for enjoyment."
You seemed downtrodden at the press conference after the series ended. During the awards ceremony, when the top prize was given to your opponent, did that hurt?
"No. I actually felt great. Maybe I was very tired. People didn't give me much of a chance and I proved myself. I did everything. Yes, I made some mistakes. But [Lionel] Messi also missed a penalty kick and Barcelona did not win the European Championship."
Will you compete again?
"Yes. I need a lot of good sleep now, and then I will start preparing for the next championship. I have no intention of having any other career. I don't know how I would react if my level of playing went down. It's a good question. But I definitely see myself in this game for many years to come. I have no thoughts about another career."
Why do you think your moves surprised people?
"Up until the tenth game, I started most of the games strongly. This undermined my opponent's confidence quite a bit."
You used the Grunfeld Defense at the opening of a number of games, which you had never played before. Was that a crazy risk?
"It is a risk not to take risks," Gelfand answered with a grin.