Mark Dvoretsky is the world’s best known chess coach and it’s a privilege for us that he’s going to be filming videos for us here at chess24 this week. In a recent interview the 68-year-old talked about how Magnus Carlsen has been the trendsetter for chess players to move away from opening theory, the influence of computers on the middlegame and endgame, and how Sergey Karjakin is in a similar position to the Russian football team as he tries to win the World Championship.
Mark Dvoretsky’s most famous pupil, Artur Yusupov, was one of the world’s best players and has gone on to become a famous coach in his own right. He’s produced three video series so far for chess24.
Now this week Dvoretsky himself is in Hamburg to film videos with Jan Gustafsson. We hope to be able to share those with you as soon as possible, but for now here’s a large segment of a recent interview with Mark by Vladimir Barsky for the Russian Chess Federation website:
Barsky: I’ve heard it said that there’s now so much knowledge that keeping it all in your head is impossible, so grandmasters have started to turn away from home preparation. They’re not exactly playing without openings, but with some kind of “lite” repertoire.
Dvoretsky: That’s not exactly the case. It’s not that there’s so much opening theory, but simply that Carlsen has appeared, and he’s the trendsetter now in chess - people follow him. In Kasparov’s day, on the contrary, everyone tried to study the opening as deeply as possible. Carlsen has shown that you can play based on mastery, will to win and other qualities, while not having fierce openings. But even now chess players still can’t allow themselves to get by without openings. Perhaps they’re not studying such forced variations, but opening preparation takes up a large part of their time.
And because of that their play in the middlegame and endgame suffers?
Unquestionably, but it’s not only because there’s almost no time left to work on other stages, but also because of the appearance of computers. Chess players receive ready-made answers, while previously to find answers they had to switch on their brains at full throttle much more often, and thereby they were constantly training different skills and decision-making habits. Of course it would be stupid nowadays not to exploit such a powerful weapon as the computer, but you have to be able to combine working with it and training your mind. The most important task of coaches is to help their students come to terms with that process.
You once stopped working with Ernesto Inarkiev largely due to his excessive enthusiasm for openings, but have you kept up a good relationship with him and do you follow his games?
So we should also congratulate you on Ernesto’s victory in the European Championship!
First of all, of course, you have to congratulate Ernesto himself. He’s a very determined, strong-willed and hard-working player and he’s seeking the best path. It seems to me that he managed to get away from that one-dimensional approach he had at the time, and I’m very glad that he really has added something. Ernesto has begun to play better, more confidently and the quality has improved. He’s a great guy and I want to wish him more success!
Do you now regularly work with any promising chess players?
No. At some point I realised that one of the factors of success (my work was almost always successful, over the course of my whole life) was that I completely immersed myself in the job. I thought all the time about the problems of my students, paying attention to the smallest details. Purely based on erudition, on technique, you can demonstrate some interesting things, but you can only really be a good mentor when you fully throw yourself into the work.
With age I now have less energy, and when serious health problems arose I sensed that however well I got on with a student it was very hard to maintain his interests and problems at the centre of attention – my own business distracted me. Therefore I no longer have students who I guide on a constant basis.
But I can be useful, demonstrating and sharing what I know through coaching sessions. In those I only take responsibility for the quality of the materials which I teach, and on that score, thank god, there are no problems for now. I’ve also begun to write more actively, preparing new books. Such a change in the vector of my activity is simply the result of a sober evaluation of my capabilities.
Yes, the second. And in German there are already five editions – in English as well. So the book is in demand.
Your book “Lessons in Mastery: New Analysis of Old Games” is about to be published. Do you consult for our team from time to time?
Yes, when they invite me. For some reason previously they didn’t invite me, although quite a few of my students would play there. Now, though, they’re happy to invite me, but unfortunately health problems sometimes get in the way.
Let’s talk a little about our teams. How can Russia’s chess team avoid repeating the “success” of our footballers?
The situation here is different. In our chess team there are quite a lot of players who are among the world’s best, so with good preparation and a sensible approach they’re perfectly capable of winning the Olympiad. As for our football team, let’s take a sober look at that: in the group stage the Russian team was the fourth in terms of ratings – the last. And that fourth strongest team also lost a few footballers. I’m not a specialist in football, so I don’t know if you can call players like Zhirkov or Denisov key players, but you can definitely say that of Dzagoev. And then that happened at the very last moment. In fact, the model that Slutsky had worked out in the qualifying matches suddenly broke down, and it was necessary to come up with something else. To replace Dzagoev. Gazzaev once said that he doesn’t know of a player named Playmaker. My impression is that Slutsky knew one, but it was hard to find another.
And why, then, should we expect something else in such circumstances? It’s a shame that the general hype stopped normal specialists from calmly saying: “Guys, if our team qualifies from the group that’ll be a great triumph”. Instead there was the impression that everyone was expecting only success. Andrey Arshavin once very accurately said: “Your expectations are your problem”.
And absolutely unfairly, since he wasn’t talking to the fans but to that boor, that minor St. Petersburg official, who decided that as a representative of the authorities he was allowed to do everything, that he was a master of the universe.
Could the coach have done something in those conditions in order to achieve success?
Perhaps it was simply impossible to do anything. Remember that famous phrase of the naïve man from the Zhvanetsky short story: “Let’s replace this seller with another – it’ll be different”? After two matches everyone was criticising Slutsky for using passive defensive midfielders – Neustädter and Golovin. But Slutsky is, after all, a coach of the very highest calibre, and he didn’t put them there by accident. However, people demanded he played an attacking midfielder. I think he understood perfectly well that nothing good could come of it, but he went down that road in the third match against Wales and, in my view, it worked out much worse. It seems he was simply demonstrating something to his critics: “Ah, you’re so clever! Well, take a look at what following your advice leads to”. I understand Slutsky is a responsible, serious man and didn’t consciously want to harm the team, but that was precisely the impression I had.
The final loss to Wales was the end of the road for Slutsky, who later resigned
I also found it totally disgusting how the public and journalists in the airport attacked the young guy Golovin: “Are you ashamed, are you ashamed?” A journalist simply shouldn’t ask such a question! You can ask, “What do you feel now?”, although it’s also not clear why you would – it’s obvious, after all.
Golovin isn’t yet used to such aggression. I think a more experienced player would have given “the only correct” reply that they were expecting: “Well, of course I’m ashamed and I want to apologise to everyone” – something in that spirit. But he’s a young guy and not used to dissembling: “I don’t know what I should be ashamed of”. And really, a person is embarrassed if they recognise that they’ve done something unworthy. But until very recently he was in the reserves, got into the team and no doubt worked full out in both the training camp and the tournament, trying as hard as he could. But he’s not Messi and he couldn’t singlehandedly save a team that was playing badly. The result, of course, is a shame, and it’s bitter for him, but why should he be ashamed? Pseudo-journalists, pestering him with such a question are like Red Guards: those same demands for public repentance from their victims.
Returning to chess, in a few months we can expect a Carlsen-Karjakin match. Objectively Carlsen’s results are significantly better. Can Karjakin prepare so as to minimise that gap in strength and reach a level that will allow him to beat Carlsen?
That’s precisely what Kramnik managed in his time. After all, Kasparov’s results before and after the match in London were significantly better than his opponent’s. However, Kramnik demonstrated brilliant preparation, and not only in a purely chess sense. Having learned from various sources the work he did and the actions he took, I’m simply stunned by how successful and professional his approach was, enabling him to achieve a deserved victory.
So Sergey has chances?
There’s always a chance, although objectively the situation is the same as it was for the football team – there’s no doubt who’s stronger. And it’s pointless to try and make light of that as it would mean totally ignoring the reality. But, I repeat, that doesn’t mean that Karjakin should lose. By means of intelligent, professional preparation he may manage to neutralise the difference in strength. Or perhaps he won’t.
Jan talked about the imminent arrival of Mark Dvoretsky in his latest Banter Blitz show:
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