A school drop-out, a world class GM and a CEO (1/2)

by Sagar Shah
8/11/2016 – Who is the youngest player to become the World Junior Champion in the history of the game? Kasparov? Anand? Karpov? No, none of them. It is the French grandmaster Joel Lautier. From his ten encounters against Kasparov Joel had a score of +1. He was instrumental in Kramnik winning the World title in 2000 and the formation of the ACP. In 2006, with a healthy Elo of 2656, he retired from chess. Sagar Shah met Joel Lautier in Moscow and brings to us an exclusive two-part interview with the man who excels in everything he does!

Interview with GM Joel Lautier

by Sagar Shah

A quick introduction: Joel Lautier was perhaps one of the best talents seen by the chess world in the early nineties. He was the youngest grandmaster in the world when he became one in 1990. He also has the unique distinction of being the youngest player to win the World Junior Championships (at the age of 15 years!). A record which has remained intact till date. Apart from scoring a win against almost every elite player you can think of, the French grandmaster has a plus score against Garry Kasparov. Yes, two wins against one from their ten encounters. He was one of the people instrumental in Kramnik winning the World Championships in 2000 against Kasparov by preparing the Berlin Wall. Joel was the first president of the Association of Chess Professionals. In 2006 he retired from professional chess and turned his attention to the world of finance. He quickly climbed up the ladder and is currently the CEO of RGG Capital, a company that specializes in Mergers and Acquisitions.

It was the tenth round at the Candidates 2016 tournament in Moscow. A man in his forties, with a French beard, and impeccably dressed, was standing in the spectator's zone of the Central Telegraph building in Moscow. The corporate appearance along with the fact that he was away from the crowd convinced me that he was not really related to chess and this might be his first appearance at a tournament. But a closer look revealed a well-known face! I walked up to him and said, "Hi! Are you Joel Lautier?" Joel looked at me slightly surprised. "It's good to see people still recognize you even though you have quit chess for ten years now!" Joel knew me from the articles he had previously read on ChessBase. We spoke for quite some time and while he was about to leave, I asked him, "I am in Moscow until the end of the Candidates tournament. Can we do an interview for the ChessBase newspage?" Joel was fine with the idea and on the day after the tournament ended I contacted him. Joel's reply came immediately: "Let's meet at 4 p.m. in the cafe of Hotel Intercontinental on the Tverskaya street." I packed my stuff and took the list of questions with me and made my way to the place of the interview. Lautier entered a few minutes later, ordered a bottle of mineral water and a cup of coffee and we began. After an hour of speaking with him I realized what a versatile man he is! And that's what separates Joel from almost everyone else. He is ready to take on a new challenge and makes sure that he excels in it. I hope that you enjoy this two-part interview.  

The Intercontinental Hotel on the Tverskaya street was where the interview took place  

Sagar Shah: Joel, let’s start from the beginning. Tell us about your initial years in chess? 

Joel Lautier: I started playing chess when I was three and a half years old. My father was the one who introduced me to the game. My mother taught me the moves but my father made me understand how to play. He was a pretty decent player – rated around 2200, which was a fairly rare thing in France at that time. France was not a particularly strong country chess wise. We didn’t have any grandmasters, not counting Spassky, only a couple of International Masters. I was playing chess at home in the initial years, not realizing the advantage that I had over other kids – I had a strong player in the house to practice with. I progressed quite quickly.  My father gave me interesting puzzles and quizzes and kept me interested in the game.

SS: When did you get seriously involved in the game?

JL: The moment when I seriously started to get interested was when I realized that I was much better than the other kids of my age. For example, I won the Paris Championship for under-10 quite easily and this was followed by the under-10 national title. This was really the starting point of my involvement with chess.

The next milestone for me was when I started beating my father on a regular basis. I was around eleven when that started to happen. This is also the year when I began to travel quite a bit. I went to Argentina for the World under-14. We were hosted by the then President of the Republic, Mr. Alfonsin in La Casa Rosada (the Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires). This was mainly because of Najdorf’s popularity in Argentina. He was still pretty active at that time. Miguel came to visit the tournament and was quite a figure. A vivid memory for a small kid!

SS: You won the World under-14 title ahead of the Polgar sisters. What was your impression about the talented Hungarians?

JL: In 1986 the U-14 World Championship was in Puerto Rico, and I won it with a good margin of 1.5 points, ahead of both the Polgar sisters. Judit Polgar was only around ten years old but quite strong. She had the same strength as Sofia who was already an IM. So it wasn’t easy. I beat Sofia and drew against Judit and won the event.

SS: Was your father still your coach during this period?

JL: I worked with my father until I got my first world title in 1986, and then I trained with an IM named Didier Sellos.  He didn’t know much theory but was a gritty player and helped me develop my defensive skills. Probably the two were related as he used to get bad positions out of the opening and had to defend. That shaped my style. I would say on the chessboard I was some sort of a street fighter. My opening knowledge was limited but I knew some systems very well. When I was a kid I first started playing 1.d4. It sound a bit simplistic, but it was an idea of my father to play 1.d4, because most of the kids in France played 1.e4. After 1.d4 they were already out of book (laughs). Since all the kids were learning in the same way, my father taught me something different and I had an edge. Against 1.e4 I was playing the French Defence, which didn’t really suit my style but was good because the kids had no idea how to play closed positions.

I also developed the taste for endings because of a book written by French author André Chéron. He was a composer of endgame studies and has dedicated a monumental book to endgame theory. Especially his chapter on rook endings was very impressive. He spent countless hours on it. Those were different days when people would spend a long time analyzing endings. It’s hard to imagine someone doing it now.  

SS: Did you study lot of endgames when you were young?

JL: It’s a stretch of the imagination today. You have to understand that there were no computers back then, no databases, very few books especially in the corner of the world where I was staying. The encyclopaedia of chess openings by the GMs editing the Chess Informants was the bible, the ultimate source of knowledge. It was not easy to find it in the western world and the informants came out every six months. So it was a very slow moving world (laughs). It was very hard to be up to date on openings, but it meant that you were stressing more on the other parts of the game. And this was also the time when you were supposed to learn the game the classical way studying games of Capablanca, Alekhine and Soviet champions. I had a fond taste for endgames. Once again this was developed by my father who said that “openings can be managed, but if you reach endgames and have good knowledge of them you are bound to have great results.” Not many people do this presently, but I think it’s a very sound advice.

SS: You think this advice is applicable even in the present day when information is easily available?

JL: Openings are just your ticket to the game. If you have lousy openings you won’t even get to play a good game. Openings are the minimal requirement that everybody should have, but it does not make the difference. Your strength in the other parts of the game does. For example the superiority in the endgame play is a clear example of why Carlsen is dominating the chess world. And this was also the strong point of many famous players like Shirov, Karpov, Kramnik. Hence I think endings are a very important area to work on.

SS: Which were the books apart from Chéron’s that helped you to become better in endgames?

JL: I gradually managed to get a hold of good books on the endgame. The one by Smyslov and Levenfish on rook endgames is brilliant. Back then there was only one publishing house that was churning out the best chess books in English and that was Batsford. So whenever I had some money I would go and buy a chess book. My father was also assembling a pretty reasonable collection of books, including Russian chess books, and that was what got me really intrigued about the Russian language.

SS: And your connection with the Russian language didn’t end there, right?

JL: Not at all! All these books by famous Soviet players were lying in my father’s library but I couldn’t understand the language. I could play through the moves and variations, but what about the commentary? It was quite frustrating. At the age of 12 I decided that I should learn Russian! I organized a small class of Russian students in my school and asked my parents to speak with the head of the school. The Russian teacher had left the job and we needed six students to get her back. I managed to convince five other classmates who had absolutely no idea what they were doing in the Russian class! (laughs) So we got the Russian teacher back and I started learning Russian. After the first year half of the class dropped out and after the second year I was the only one left. But the school didn’t mind it anymore and I had private lessons in Russian for nearly three years! I was able to learn only the basics. Without practice you cannot really master a complicated language like Russian. From the age of 19 I started travelling to Russia, which was no longer the Soviet Union, because the borders had opened up. By that time I was above 2600 in rating and number one in France. The only person in France with whom it would have made sense to talk about chess was Boris Spassky, but he was already half retired. I had the experience of working with some Russian coaches. For example, Polugaevsky was a wonderful coach I must say. I also worked intermittently with Viktor Kortchnoi for several years in the early nineties, which also shaped my play and significantly deepened my understanding of several key openings in my repertoire. From 1992 onwards I started travelling to Russia on a regular basis. This is when I really picked up the language and made friends like Kramnik, Bareev, etc.

SS: So learning the Russian language had a big impact on your life.

JL: Yes! It’s not a co-incidence that we meet in Moscow right now, right? (smiles) Initially I did travel to Russia for chess, but later I met my wonderful wife Alissa who is Russian, and my children are half Russian, and when I gave up chess and started to look for other avenues, it was in Russia that I could fulfil this. What can I say? Learning Russian in school was a decision whose repercussions I could have never thought of!

SS: Another feather in your cap was winning the World Juniors in 1988 in Adelaide.

Joel flaunting his World Junior gold medal

JL: I was just 15 years old. I was the youngest person to win the World Juniors back then and I think that record still stands. I was an IM and my strength was around 2500. It was an extremely important tournament as it opened up avenues for me to take part in elite events later on. I would say that as a kid I was extremely ambitious. I thought everything was possible. I didn’t set myself the aim of winning the event but I definitely thought that I could do something interesting. I went with a French coach, Eric Birmingham, who was not even an International Master, but knew how to work with kids of my age. It was probably one of the strongest events in the history of the World Juniors. Strong players who took part were Ivanchuk, Gelfand, Adams, Piket, Akopian, the eldest Polgar sister Susan, Patrick Wolff, David Norwood. I am forgetting at least four to five players who later became strong grandmasters. I had a good start by beating Jeroen Piket, but lost an important game against Matthias Wahls of Germany. I recovered winning a couple of games and then I lost to Akopian. I had to win the last two games to have any chance of finishing first, and I did that. But a lot of other board results had to pan out in my favour for me to win the title, and they did! Gelfand, Ivanchuk and Serper tied with me for the first spot, but the tiebreak was the most number of wins and thanks to that I became the World Junior Champion.

SS: When did you become a grandmaster?

JL: I became a grandmaster in 1990 [at the age of 17 years], one and a half year after my World Junior success. I achieved my third norm in a team tournament France vs Holland in Cannes. My first GM norm came in the Paris Open and the second in Palma De Mallorca, GMA Open. The year 1990 was very successful for me. First I became a grandmaster and then I won the Zonal tournament which qualified me to the Inter-Zonal. At that time there was only one qualifier from our zone which was made up of France, Holland, Belgium and Spain, I think. It was nice to win the Zonal with a huge score of 10.0/12.

I started well at the Inter-Zonal with 3.5/4, beating strong players like Adams, Vaganian and Yudasin. I lost to Vishy Anand towards the end of the tournament. It was not the best of my tournaments but I did reasonably well. This is when I really started playing at the top.

SS: Were you considered as one of the most promising youngsters during that time?

JL: Yes! I was the youngest grandmaster by age in the world when I became one. Adams and I were perhaps the most promising players from the western world at that point of time.

SS: What happened to your academic career?

JL: My parents and I discussed it when I was 16. I was a year ahead in my studies. My first Interzonal in Manila clashed with the final year school exam. Of course I was not going to miss a tournament like that for my school exams. I thought that I had to give my best shot at the Interzonal and my parents went along with it. I had an option to take my exams later on, but my parents were OK with me turning into a chess professional and leaving my studies. I should stress this, because it is a rare occurrence for parents to willingly accept the risk inherent for their child in such a decision. I can reflect on it better now that I’m also a parent. I didn’t realize it fully then, but it took quite some stomach on my parents’ part to let me do what I wanted, and accept that my chances of getting a regular job were being compromised as a result. They’ve always been very supportive of my chess career, but in a smart and lucid way. I also had a sponsor called “Immopar”, a French real estate company, at that time, which provided some evidence that I could make a respectable living out of the game. To answer your question – I was a dropout and never went to University! (smiles).

SS: You are a CEO of a Mergers and Acquisitions firm right now. So you must have completed your studies later, right?

JL: Yes, I did that, but much later, well into my thirties. I studied in an executive program at the famous Wharton school in Philadelphia, and a couple of years ago I graduated with an Executive MBA from Russia’s top international business school, called Skolkovo.

SS: That’s really cool! We will come to that later. But first of all we must discuss your first encounter with Garry Kasparov over the board in 1994. Tell us something about it.

JL: As I already said before, I was a very ambitious young person and nothing motivated me more than impossible tasks. I was much better at doing difficult things than the regular stuff. That was one of the reasons why I was a bit erratic in my career. I would play a good game and then a not so great one. But when there was an exciting challenge ahead, I would mobilize myself fully.

The first game between Kasparov and Lautier began with a Guioco Piano and ended with a resounding victory for the youngster

My game against Garry took place in the last round of the Linares tournament in 1994, where Anatoly Karpov showed his famous stratospheric performance. Karpov scored 11.0/13. By the time I faced Garry, he couldn’t fight for the first place anymore. So he was already a little pissed off before the game started. But that was nothing compared to what happened after the game (laughs). Kasparov was competing for the second place with Shirov. I had the black pieces and before the round began I had looked at Garry’s past games with white and couldn’t find a loss for him for almost four to five years! So, I thought to myself, “Now is the time for him to lose a game!” (laughs heartily). He chose quite a weird opening – the Italian Game. I was expecting him to play the Spanish. After the opening he wasn’t really sure whether he should be playing positionally or attack. And at some point he played it a little more aggressively than the position warranted. I sacrificed a piece and got an entire bunch of pawns in return for it. My pawns started rolling in the center. It was actually quite a spectacular game. There were three queens on the board at one point. He made a bad mistake and lost the game. After the loss he was extremely angry and disgusted. He was muttering something in Russian which I could understand pretty well! (smiles) I was, of course, very happy and I cheekily offered to analyze the game. He turned it down saying there is nothing to analyze and went away.

 This picture was taken after Garry Kasparov lost to Joel for the second time in Euwe Memorial, Amsterdam in 1995 (picture by Stein Rademaker. cf- Genna Sosonko's article "Have you seen a lion?" for chess-news.ru)

The loss didn't go down well with Garry (picture by Stein Rademaker)

After a couple of hours when I was celebrating with the other participants in the restaurant, Garry, who had calmed down, came to me and in his typical not particularly ceremonious manner said, “I should have played so and so.” I suggested some moves back and after a while he proposed that we should look at this interesting game together and invited me to his suite. We grabbed Kramnik and Gelfand on the way and spent at least two hours analyzing the game in a friendly atmosphere. I saw the good side of Garry – even though he had lost a game, which was painful for him, the fact that the patterns and themes were unusual prompted him to have a look at the game in depth with me. This is one of the attractive things about Garry. He is really passionate about the game of chess. Even though he is retired you can be sure that he looks at the top level tournaments, analyzes the games, etc. That is something I appreciate in him. Apart from that he is a difficult person to deal with. He was very competitive and beating him in the first game that we played against each other already classified me as a person who would not be his friend! We never became friends and I kept my positive score. I like it better this way than the other way around! (laughs)

Garry Kasparov vs Joel Lautier, Linares 1994 (annotations by Lautier)

[Event "Linares 12th"] [Site "Linares"] [Date "1994.??.??"] [Round "13"] [White "Kasparov, Garry"] [Black "Lautier, Joel"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C54"] [WhiteElo "2805"] [BlackElo "2625"] [Annotator "Lautier"] [PlyCount "58"] [EventDate "1994.02.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "13"] [EventCountry "ESP"] [EventCategory "18"] [SourceTitle "CBM 040"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1994.06.01"] 1. e4 {Ftacnik Blatny,P} e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d3 d6 6. Bb3 h6 7. h3 a6 8. Nbd2 Be6 9. Bc2 $6 (9. Bxe6 fxe6 10. Qb3 Qc8 $10) (9. Nc4 O-O { /\ d5} 10. O-O {/\ d4} (10. g4 $2 d5 $17) 10... Ba7 11. a4 Re8 $13) 9... Ba7 { /\ d5} (9... d5 $2 10. Nxe5 $1 Nxe5 (10... Bxf2+ 11. Kxf2 Nxe5 12. d4 $16) 11. d4 Bd6 (11... Bxd4 12. cxd4 Nc6 13. e5 $16) 12. dxe5 Bxe5 13. Nf3 $16) 10. Qe2 Qe7 {/\ d5} 11. b4 $1 (11. Nf1 {Blatny,P} d5 12. Ng3 (12. g4 $5 dxe4 13. dxe4 b5 $15) 12... dxe4 13. dxe4 Rd8 $10) 11... d5 12. a4 (12. Ba4 {Blatny,P} b5 13. Bb3 d4 14. Bb2 dxc3 15. Bxc3 {= קb4:קe5}) 12... b5 $1 (12... d4 $2 13. b5 ( 13. Bb2 dxc3 14. Bxc3 Nxb4 $17) 13... dxc3 (13... axb5 14. axb5 dxc3 (14... Nd8 15. cxd4 exd4 16. Nxd4 $18) 15. bxc6 cxd2+ (15... bxc6 {Blatny,P} 16. Nb3 Bxb3 17. Rxa7 (17. Bxb3 Bxf2+ 18. Kxf2 Rxa1 $132) 17... Rxa7 18. Bxb3 O-O 19. Qc2 $13) 16. Bxd2 bxc6 17. Be3 $16 (17. Bc3 Nd7 18. Qe3 $1 c5 (18... Bxe3 19. Rxa8+ Qd8 (19... Nb8 20. Rxb8+ Kd7 21. Nxe5+ Kd6 22. Rxh8 $18) 20. Rxd8+ Kxd8 21. fxe3 $18) 19. Ba4 O-O 20. Bc6 Rab8 21. Nxe5 $16)) 14. bxc6 cxd2+ 15. Qxd2 $1 bxc6 16. Bb2 $16) (12... dxe4 $6 13. dxe4 O-O 14. O-O $14 {/\ Nb3, Be3}) (12... O-O 13. b5 $5 (13. O-O b5 {See the game} (13... d4 $2 14. b5 $16)) 13... axb5 14. axb5 Bxf2+ (14... Nb8 $2 {/\ Bf2} 15. b6 $1 cxb6 16. Ba3 (16. Nxe5 $2 Qc7 $17) 16... Qc7 17. Bxf8 Qxc3 18. O-O $18) 15. Kxf2 Rxa1 16. bxc6 bxc6 {/\ Qc5} (16... Qc5+ 17. d4 Qxc3 (17... exd4 $4 18. Nb3 $16) 18. Qd3 $1 $13 (18. Nb3 $2 Ra2 $19)) 17. d4 $1 $13 (17. Nb3 $2 Ra2 $17 {/\ de4})) 13. O-O (13. axb5 $2 axb5 {/\ Bf2} 14. d4 $2 exd4 15. Qxb5 Bd7 $19) 13... O-O 14. axb5 axb5 15. d4 $2 (15. Bb2 $10 {/\} d4 $6 16. Bb3 $1 dxc3 17. Bxc3 Nd4 18. Bxd4 Bxd4 19. Nxd4 exd4 20. Bxe6 fxe6 21. Nf3 $1 Qxb4 (21... Rxa1 22. Rxa1 Qxb4 23. Qa2 $1 $44) 22. Rab1 $14 {/\ Qb2}) (15. exd5 {Blatny,P} Nxd5 16. Bb2 Nf4 17. Qe4 Bd5 $36) 15... exd4 (15... dxe4 $2 16. Nxe5 $16) 16. e5 (16. Qxb5 $2 Bd7 $17 (16... dxc3 {Blatny,P} 17. Qxc6 cxd2 (17... Bxf2+ 18. Kxf2 Rxa1 19. Qxc3 $14 (19. Qxc3 Rfa8 $14)) 18. Bxd2 dxe4 19. Bxe4 {Ftacnik} Bd7 (19... Bxh3 $2 20. Qxa8 Rxa8 21. Bxa8 $18) 20. Qxa8 (20. Qxc7 Bxf2+ 21. Kxf2 Nxe4+ 22. Kg1 Nxd2 23. Nxd2 Qe3+ $19) 20... Rxa8 21. Bxa8 Bb6 22. Rfe1 $13)) (16. cxd4 {Blatny,P} dxe4 17. Nxe4 Nxb4 18. Ba3 c5 (18... Bc4 19. Bxb4 Qxb4 20. Nxf6+ gxf6 21. Qe4 $18) (18... Nxe4 19. Qxe4 f5 20. Bxb4 fxe4 21. Bxe7 exf3 22. Bxf8 $18) 19. Bxb4 cxb4 20. Qxb5 Nxe4 21. Bxe4 Rad8 $15) (16. exd5 {Blatny,P} Nxd5 17. Qxb5 dxc3 18. Qxc6 Bxf2+ {/\צa1}) 16... dxc3 $5 (16... Nd7 $6 17. cxd4 (17. Qd3 {Blatny,P} g6 18. cxd4 Nxb4 19. Ba3 Nxd3 (19... c6 {Ftacnik} 20. Qb3 c5 21. Bxb4 cxb4 22. Rfb1 $14) 20. Bxe7 Rfe8 21. Bxd3 Rxe7 22. Bxb5 $14) 17... Nxb4 (17... Bxd4 $4 18. Qd3 $18) 18. Ba3 c5 (18... Bb6 {/\ Ra3} 19. Bb1 $44) 19. Bb1 $5 $44 (19. Bxb4 cxb4 20. Qxb5 Rfb8 21. Qd3 g6 $13)) (16... Bd7 $1 {(Kasparov)} 17. cxd4 (17. Re1 dxc3 $1 18. exf6 (18. Qd3 cxd2 19. exf6 dxe1=Q+ 20. Nxe1 Qxe1+ 21. Kh2 g6 $19) (18. Nb3 Ne4 19. Bxe4 dxe4 20. Qxe4 Qxb4 $19) 18... Qxe2 19. Rxe2 cxd2 $19 {/\ Bf2}) 17... Bxd4 $1 (17... Nxd4 $2 18. Nxd4 (18. Qd3 $2 Bf5 19. exf6 Qxf6 $19) 18... Bxd4 19. Rxa8 Rxa8 20. Nf3 Bc3 (20... Bb6 $2 21. Qd3 Ne4 22. Qxd5 $18) 21. Qd3 Bxe5 22. Re1 Ra1 23. Qd2 $1 Rxc1 24. Qxc1 Ne4 25. Qd1 $16) 18. Rxa8 (18. Qd3 Bxe5 $19 (18... Rxa1 $4 19. exf6 $18)) 18... Rxa8 19. Nxd4 Nxd4 20. Qd3 Qxe5 21. f4 Ne2+ $19) 17. exf6 Qxf6 18. Nb3 (18. Qd3 {Blatny,P} Rfd8 19. Nb3 Nxb4 20. Qh7+ Kf8 $19) (18. Qxb5 {Blatny,P} cxd2 19. Bxd2 Ne5 {Ftacnik} 20. Ne1 (20. Nxe5 Bxf2+ $1 $19) 20... Nc4 21. Rd1 Rfc8 $17) 18... Nxb4 19. Bb1 (19. Be3 Bxe3 (19... d4 $6 20. Bxd4 Bxd4 21. Rxa8 Rxa8 22. Nbxd4 $13 {/\} Bc4 $6 23. Qe4 $40) 20. fxe3 Nxc2 21. Qxc2 b4 22. Nfd4 Qg5 $17) (19. Ba3 {Blatny,P} Nxc2 20. Qxc2 Rfd8 $19 (20... Rfd8 {Ftacnik} 21. Bb4 d4 $17)) (19. Bd1 { Blatny,P} Rfb8 {P->}) 19... d4 $1 (19... c5 $2 20. Ba3 d4 21. Bxb4 (21. Nbxd4 $2 Bc4 22. Qe4 c2 23. Bxc2 (23. Nxc2 $2 Bd3 $19) 23... Nxc2 24. Nxc2 Bxf1 25. Rxf1 $17) 21... Bxb3 (21... cxb4 $2 22. Nbxd4 $1 Bxd4 23. Qe4) 22. Rxa7 Rxa7 23. Bxc5 $14) 20. Rxa7 $6 (20. Nbxd4 $2 Bxd4 21. Qe4 (21. Rxa8 Rxa8 22. Qe4 Rd8 $19) 21... Bf5 $1 (21... c2 $2 22. Rxa8 $1 (22. Nxd4 $2 Rxa1 $19) (22. Bxc2 $2 Bf5 23. Qxa8 Bxa1 $1 $19) 22... Bd5 (22... Bf5 $2 23. Rxf8+ Kxf8 24. Qa8+ $18) 23. Rxf8+ Kxf8 24. Qh7 $1 cxb1=Q 25. Qxb1 $16) 22. Qxa8 (22. Qxf5 c2 $1 23. Bxc2 Qxf5 24. Bxf5 Bxa1 $19) 22... c2 $1 23. Bxc2 Bxa1 $1 $19) (20. Qe4 $2 c2 ( 20... d3 21. Qxb4 c2 22. Bxc2 dxc2 23. Ba3 $17) 21. Bxc2 Nxc2 (21... d3 22. Bxd3 Nxd3 23. Rxa7 Rxa7 24. Qxd3 Bc4 {Ftacnik} 25. Qe3 Ra6 $17) 22. Qxc2 d3 ( 22... Bc4 {Blatny,P} 23. Ba3 c5 $19) 23. Qxd3 (23. Qxc7 Bb8 (23... Rfc8 $40) ( 23... Bxf2+ $5) 24. Qc5 $1) 23... Bc4 $1 (23... Bxb3 24. Rxa7 $15) 24. Qc2 (24. Qb1 Bxf1 25. Kxf1 c5 $17) 24... Bxb3 $19) (20. Ba3 $1 d3 21. Bxd3 (21. Qe4 Bxb3 22. Bxb4 Bxf2+ $1 (22... c2 $6 23. Rxa7 $1 Rxa7 24. Bxf8 cxb1=Q 25. Rxb1 Bc2 26. Bc5 $1 $14 (26. Rxb5 $2 Ra1+ 27. Kh2 d2 28. Qe8 Qf4+ $1 (28... d1=Q $4 29. Be7+ Kh7 30. Bxf6 $18) 29. g3 Qxf3 30. Bxg7+ Kxg7 31. Qe5+ Kh7 $19)) 23. Kxf2 Rxa1 24. Bxd3 (24. Bxf8 $2 c2 25. Qxd3 cxb1=Q 26. Rxb1 Bc4 $19) 24... Qb6+ 25. Kg3 f5 26. Qe7 Qg6+ 27. Kh2 Re8 $17) 21... Nxd3 22. Bxf8 (22. Qxd3 $2 Rfd8 ( 22... Bxb3 $6 23. Bxf8 Bc4 24. Qe4 Rxf8 25. Rxa7 Bxf1 26. Kxf1 $13) 23. Qc2 ( 23. Qe4 Bxb3 24. Be7 Qb6 25. Bxd8 Rxd8 $19) 23... Bf5 24. Qc1 Bxh3 25. Bb4 Bxg2 26. Kxg2 Rd3 $1 27. Nbd4 (27. Nh2 Qg6+ 28. Kh1 Qe4+ 29. f3 Qxb4 $19) 27... Qg6+ 28. Kh1 c5 $1 29. Bxc5 Qh5+ $19) 22... Nf4 $1 (22... Bxf2+ 23. Rxf2 Rxa1+ 24. Nxa1 Nxf2 25. Bb4 $5 (25. Kxf2 Kxf8 26. Qxb5 $13) 25... Nxh3+ 26. gxh3 Bxh3 $13 ) 23. Qxb5 Nxh3+ $1 24. Kh1 (24. gxh3 $2 Qxf3 $19 {/\ Bd5}) 24... Nxf2+ 25. Rxf2 Rb8 26. Qe2 Bxf2 27. Qxf2 c2 $1 28. Rc1 Bxb3 29. Bc5 $15) (20. Qxb5 { Blatny,P} Bxb3 (20... Rab8 21. Qe5 Qxe5 22. Nxe5 c2 23. Bxc2 Nxc2 24. Rxa7 Rxb3 25. Rxc7 Rc8 $17) 21. Qxb4 Bc5 22. Qxc5 Rxa1 23. Ba3 (23. Bh7+ Kxh7 24. Qxf8 d3 $19 25. Be3 (25. Qc5 Rxc1 26. Rxc1 d2 $19)) 23... Rd8 24. Bh7+ Kxh7 25. Rxa1 d3 {Ftacnik} 26. Qb4 Bc2 27. Qe4+ Qg6 28. Qe7 Ra8 $19) 20... c2 $6 (20... Rxa7 $1 21. Nbxd4 (21. Nfxd4 $2 Bc4 22. Qe4 Qg6 $1 23. Nf5 c5 $1 24. Nxc5 Bd5 25. Qg4 Qxg4 26. hxg4 c2 $19) 21... Ra1 $1 (21... Bc4 $6 22. Qe4 g6 (22... Qg6 $2 23. Nf5 $1 {/\ Ne7} c5 24. Ne5 $40) (22... c2 {Ftacnik} 23. Nxc2 Nxc2 24. Bxc2 $14) 23. Ne5 $1 {(Kasparov)} Bxf1 24. Ng4 $40) 22. Qe4 Qg6 $1 (22... c2 23. Bxc2 Nxc2 24. Qxc2 Bc4 25. Re1 $13) 23. Qxg6 fxg6 24. Nxe6 (24. Bxg6 $2 Bc4 25. Re1 c5 26. Nf5 (26. Nc2 Nxc2 27. Bxc2 b4 28. Ne5 Re8 $19) 26... Rd8 $19 {/\ Nd3}) 24... Rxf3 $1 (24... Rxb1 25. Nxf8 Kxf8 26. Ba3 $13) 25. Be4 (25. gxf3 Rxb1 26. Nd4 (26. Nxc7 Nd3 27. Be3 c2 $19) 26... c5 27. Nxb5 Nd3 28. Nxc3 Rxc1 29. Rxc1 Nxc1 $19) 25... Rf7 26. Nd4 Rd7 $17) 21. Rxa8 $1 $8 (21. Bxc2 $2 Rxa7 22. Nbxd4 (22. Qe4 Nxc2 23. Qxc2 Bc4 24. Rd1 d3 $19) 22... Bc4 23. Qe4 (23. Qd2 {Blatny,P } c5 24. Nb3 Ra2 $19) 23... Nxc2 24. Qxc2 c5 $19 (24... Bxf1 $19 {Ftacnik})) 21... cxb1=Q 22. Rxf8+ Kxf8 23. Qxb5 $4 (23. Nc5 $6 Qbg6 $1 (23... Qc2 $2 24. Qxb5 Nd5 (24... Qc4 $2 25. Qxc4 Bxc4 26. Nd7+ $18) 25. Qb8+ Ke7 26. Ba3 $18 {-> }) (23... Qbf5 $2 24. Qxb5 Nd5 25. Qb8+ Ke7 26. Ba3 $18) (23... Kg8 $2 24. Bg5 $1 (24. Qxb5 $2 Qbg6 $1 $19) 24... Qxf1+ (24... Qfg6 25. Rxb1 Qxb1+ 26. Kh2 hxg5 27. Nxe6 fxe6 28. Qxe6+ $18) 25. Qxf1 hxg5 26. Qxb5 Nd5 27. Qe8+ Kh7 28. Ne4 $1 Qe7 29. Nexg5+ $1 Kg6 30. Qh8 Nf6 31. Nh4+ $1 Kxg5 32. Qxg7+ Kh5 (32... Kf4 33. Ng6+ $18) (32... Kxh4 33. Qh6+ Nh5 34. g3+ Kxh3 35. Qxh5+ $18) 33. Nf3 $18) (23... Qa2 $6 24. Qxb5 Nd5 25. Qb8+ Ke7 26. Nb7 $1 {/\ Qd8} Kd7 $8 27. Re1 $40) (23... d3 24. Qe4 {/\ Qa8, Ba3} Qfa1 $1 $8 25. Re1 $3 Qxc1 (25... d2 $6 26. Bxd2 Qxe4 27. Rxa1 Qc4 28. Ne5 {/\} Qxc5 $2 29. Ra8+ Ke7 30. Bxb4 Qxb4 31. Nc6+ $18) 26. Qxb4 d2 27. Nxe6+ Kg8 28. Qxd2 $1 (28. Qf8+ $2 Kh7 $19) 28... Qxd2 29. Rxa1 {/\ Ra8} Qd5 $8 30. Nxc7 Qc6 31. Na6 Qd6 $10) 24. Ne5 $1 {/\ Ncd7 } (24. Qxb5 $2 Kg8 $1 $19) 24... Qgf5 $8 25. f4 $1 Qd8 $1 (25... Nd5 $4 26. g4 $18) (25... Kg8 26. Qxb5 Nd5 27. g4 $1 (27. Qe8+ $2 Kh7 28. Ncd7 Bxd7 29. Nxd7 Qe7 $19) 27... Qc2 (27... Qh4 28. gxf5 Qg3+ 29. Kh1 Qxh3+ 30. Kg1 $10) 28. Qb8+ $1 (28. Qe8+ $2 Kh7 29. Ncd7 Bxd7 30. Nxd7 Qe7 $19) 28... Kh7 29. Ncd7 Bxd7 30. Nxd7 Qd6 31. Nf8+ Kg8 32. Ng6+ Kh7 $10) 26. Ba3 (26. Qxb5 Nd5 27. g4 Qc2 $17) 26... Bc4 $1 27. Qf2 Bxf1 28. Bxb4 Qd5 $1 29. Qxf1 Qc2 $17) (23. Bg5 $1 Qxf1+ ( 23... Qff5 $2 24. Nbxd4 Qbd3 (24... Qbe4 25. Be7+ $1 Kg8 26. Qxe4 Qxe4 27. Re1 Qd3 28. Bxb4 $13) 25. Be7+ $1 $16 (25. Be7+ $1 Kg8 (25... Kxe7 {Ftacnik} 26. Nxf5+ Qxf5 27. Nd4 $16) 26. Qxd3 Qxd3 27. Bxb4 Qc4 28. Bd2 c5 29. Rc1 $132)) ( 23... Qfg6 $6 24. Qxb5 Qxf1+ (24... hxg5 $4 25. Qb8+ Ke7 26. Qxb4+ $18) (24... Kg8 {Blatny,P} 25. Qb8+ (25. Rxb1 Qxb1+ 26. Kh2 Qxb3 27. Nxd4 Qc4 28. Qxc4 Bxc4 29. Bf4 $14) 25... Kh7 26. Rxb1 Qxb1+ 27. Kh2 (27. Nc1 hxg5 28. Nxg5+ Kg6 29. Nxe6 Qxc1+ $17 {_|_}) 27... Na6 28. Qa7 Qxb3 29. Nxd4 Qc4 30. Nxe6 Qxe6 31. Be3 $17) (24... Qbf5 $2 25. Qb8+ Bc8 26. Nh4 Na6 27. Nxg6+ fxg6 28. Qa8 $18) 25. Kxf1 Qd3+ $8 26. Qxd3 Nxd3 27. Nbxd4 hxg5 28. Nxe6+ fxe6 29. Nxg5 $10) 24. Qxf1 hxg5 25. Qxb5 Nd5 26. Nbxd4 $1 $10 (26. Qb8+ Ke7 27. Nbxd4 Bd7 $15)) 23... Qxb3 24. Qb8+ Ke7 25. Qxc7+ Ke8 26. Bd2 Qd8 (26... Nd5 $6 27. Qc6+ Kf8 (27... Bd7 $6 28. Re1+) 28. Qa8+ Ke7 29. Qa7+ $40) (26... Nd3 $1 27. Ra1 Qd5 $1 $19 {/\ Qfd8} ) 27. Qe5 Kf8 $6 (27... Nc6 28. Qxg7 Bxh3 $1 $19) 28. Nxd4 $2 (28. Qc5+ Kg8 ( 28... Qe7 $2 29. Qxe7+ Kxe7 30. Nxd4 Qc4 31. Bxb4+ Kf6 32. Nxe6 Qxb4 33. Nc7 Qc4 34. Ne8+ Ke7 35. Re1+ $10) 29. Bxb4 Qc4 (29... d3 $5) 30. Rd1 Qxc5 31. Bxc5 d3 $19) 28... Nd3 $1 29. Qe3 Qc4 0-1

SS: When you understood that you were winning your game against Kasparov did you feel nervous? After all you were just a 21-year-old-boy and your opponent was the reigning World Champion!

JL: Of course, I was nervous. But I was nervous in the right way. I had adrenaline flowing in my blood throughout the game (laughs). So I was extremely alert, extremely motivated. All my games against Garry have been very interesting. In fact the game he beat me in Olympiad was also quite nice. All of them were fighting games. No easy draws.

SS: You played ten classical games against Kasparov. You had a plus score with two wins, one loss and seven draws. Which quality of yours do you think helped you to compete successfully against a great champion like him?

JL: I think it was mainly the attitude. Because Garry, in spite of all his theoretical knowledge, sublime attacking play, etc. remains a very emotional person, almost in an animal way. He could immediately sense if an opponent was afraid of him, and for him it was an important boost. He would sort of feed on that. But he had issues against players who didn’t care much for his pandemonium and were just playing him. He had problems against Kramnik because of this reason. Kramnik is a different person, as calm as a mirror. And Kasparov couldn’t do much against him because Vlad was extremely level headed. He just plays the game! He has feelings like everybody else but doesn’t express them and is very hard to read into. Against me, it was a bit different from Vladimir in the fact that I used to imitate Garry, provoke him, even in discussions, a bit on purpose because I enjoyed it! So my having an edge against Kasparov was mainly psychological and some good opening choices. And once you start well, from there it just builds itself. There is always a history when top players face each other regularly. For example, when I faced Shirov, initially I had big problems against him. I thought that his style was highly unpredictable and he was always looking for a mess. In the beginning I lost five games in a row against him. But after my win in Linares 1994 that trend changed. I managed to score five wins in a row against him and then we exchanged a few decisive results and in the end our score was level. The point that I am trying to make is that history matters between players. Psychology matters.

SS: That’s also the reason why you have a huge plus score against some very strong players like Bologan – 10.5/14 if I am not mistaken.

JL: Yes, that’s true. He even lost a game in ten moves against me. It must be some sort of a record I think!

Joel Lautier - Viktor Bologan, 1999

How does White win the game?


[Event "Enghien les Bains 3rd"]
[Site "Enghien les Bains"]
[Date "1999.03.11"]
[Round "8"]
[White "Lautier, Joel"]
[Black "Bologan, Viktor"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B10"]
[WhiteElo "2596"]
[BlackElo "2608"]
[PlyCount "19"]
[EventDate "1999.03.03"]
[EventType "tourn"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "FRA"]
[EventCategory "15"]
[SourceTitle "CBM 070"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "1999.06.08"]

1. c4 c6 2. e4 d5 3. cxd5 cxd5 4. exd5 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nbd7 6. Nf3 a6 7. d4 Nb6 8.
Ne5 Nbxd5 $2 9. Qa4+ $1 {Black has no real good way of blocking the check.} Bd7
(9... b5 10. Bxb5+ $1 axb5 11. Qxa8 $18) 10. Nxd7 {It is not everyday that you
see a strong player like Bologan losing in just 10 moves.} (10. Nxd7 Qxd7 11.
Bb5 $18) 1-0

Part II of this interview will follow shortly. In it Joel talks about the Kramnik-Kasparov match in 2000, where he assisted Kramnik as one of his seconds. Lautier narrates some wonderful anecdotes about Anand, Ivanchuk and Carlsen. The second part also includes Joel's role as ACP President, why he quit chess and his life beyond the chess board. Stay tuned for an exciting follow-up.

Sagar Shah is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He is also a chartered accountant and would like to become the first CA+GM of India. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder of the ChessBase India website.
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Jon Targaryen Jon Targaryen 8/11/2016 01:35
Excellent interview as usual.Eagerly waiting for Part 2!
sxb103 sxb103 8/11/2016 05:24
Great interview !. Thanks a lot.
digupagal digupagal 8/11/2016 08:13
I remember, there was another GM who went for Investment Banking (leaving chess)

was it Evgeny Bareev?
kyklop kyklop 8/11/2016 10:23
Kurt Utzinger Kurt Utzinger 8/11/2016 11:03
Most interesting interview ... hope being able to soon read part two.
Ra1 Ra1 8/11/2016 11:10
Sagar shah you're the man!!! Thx so much for this great and inspiring interview. Can't wait for part 2. Cheers!!
soimulPatriei soimulPatriei 8/11/2016 11:36
This is a very good interview. I especially liked the characterization of Kasparov : "remains a very emotional person, almost in an animal way".
Piri2016 Piri2016 8/11/2016 03:02
The book "Bobby Fischer: World Champion for Political Reasons? starts by commenting an interview made by Joel Lautier to Mark Taimanov. It shows Lautier has contributed to chess history in many ways.

Thanks for everything, Joel!
Duckangelito Duckangelito 8/11/2016 04:07
Great interview ! Definitely looking forward to the second part!
Thanks a lot.
genem genem 8/11/2016 09:14
Quote: "The [book] by Smyslov and Levenfish on rook endgames is brilliant." Actually it is by Levenfish and Smyslov, but it is brilliant. It is the only endgame book I read cover to cover and enjoyed the clever way they built each successive chapter on the preceding chapter.
Looking forward to part 2 of this interview.