Adrian Mikhalchishin: Grandmaster, author and chess trainer

7/16/2009 – Born in 1954, GM Adrian Bogdanovich Mikhalchishin (or Mihalcisin or Mihalčišin) established himself as a strong grandmaster who was the second to World Champion Anatoly Karpov. He went on to become an internationally renowned trainer and a prolific author of chess books. Adrian discusses his life and the strategy of chess training in this interview with Özgür Akman.

Interview with Adrian Mikhalchishin

By Özgür Akman

Please, tell us a few words about your playing career.

I was very lucky to enter into the famous Lvov Chess School. The founder was the famous trainer, Viktor Kart, a close friend of the great Leonid Stein, who came to our training sessions to show his most recent games. He was our hero and we wanted to be like him. We being: future GMs Marta Litynska, Oleg Romanishin, Aleksandr Beliavsky, Iossif Dorfman, and me. Then came Zoya Lelchuk and Vassily Ivanchuk, later followed by Andrei Volokitin, the Muzychuk sisters and a group of young GMs.

We were brought in with fighting spirits – playing for a win in every game against each other, and climbed quickly to the top. I was the USSR Junior Champion, and had a best result of fourth place in the Soviet Championships of 1984. I was also a member of many winning teams in the Soviet, Ukrainian, Slovenian, and Yugoslavian team championships. A few times, we won the World Youth Championships, in addition to the European Cup in 1984. I mean we – always we – played together: Romanishin, Beliavsky, Dorfman and me.

In 1980, I was invited by Igor Zaicev to join Karpov’s team, and gained great experience there until 1986. These were fantastic times, and communication with such titans as Efim Geller was an unbelieveable experience for me. I have also had, for 30 years, a very close relationship with Vasily Smyslow, from whom I studied a lot.


First generation of Lviv grandmasters: Mikhalchishin, Romanishin, Beliavsky

From 1998, I have played for the Slovenian Olympic Team, while also training the Slovenian Women’s Team. The team had great success with Beliavsky on first board – this team, from such a small country, was fourth a few times at the European Team Championships. Now the great trainer Victor Kart lives in Hannover, Germany, and nobody needs his trainer’s experience! Such a strange situation in the chess world!

What is the story of your training experience?

My first steps as a trainer were completely normal – I was invited by my friend, GM Oleg Romanishin, to be his second during the Soviet Championships and Interzonals in the middle of the 70s. Then I sometimes helped other friends, such as GMs Aleksandr Beliavsky and Marta Litynska. I got enourmous experience when I worked with them.

The turning point of my training career was my cooperation with Iosif Dorfman in Lvov, in 1986, after we had both had huge experience in the Karpov-Kasparov matches, working on different sides. This cooperation, where we studied and then consulted each other, proved to be very productive. Some of the students that we worked with those days even became trainers themselves, such as Vitali Golod, trainer of Israeli Olympic Team; Alex Sulypa, trainer of the Polish Women’s Team; and Andrey Maksimenko, who works as a trainer in Poland.

Later, I was a trainer of the Soviet National Team of 1989, which won the World and European Championships. Then I started to write books, especially on endgames, which were published in England, Italy, Poland, the US, and Spain. I wrote theme books, opening books and middlegame books. My last books were about the Petrosian variation, and about such middlegame structures as isolated and hanging pawns. Books about middlegame subjects are very instructive, but it is very difficult to evaluate the material. In the early 90s, as one of the most productive writers in chess, combined with my training performance, I was invited to train the Polgars. In particular, I worked with Zsusa and Zsofia, which was a fantastic experience. We worked eight hours per day on chess, and we also did some physical training, with two hours of ping pong.

After my experience with Karpov and the Polgar sisters, I started working in the legendary club of Agrouniverzal Belgrad. The owner had convinced Alisa Maric and Alisa Galliamova to play. I worked especially with Alisa Maric, for six years. She played in the semi finals of the Candidates’ Matches and was one of the top five female players of that time. We worked productively together, and I believe that she had all the abilities required for fighting for the world title.

With the Women’s Team, we won the European Cup three times, but with the Men’s Team, we were only able to get second in 2000. But the team was fantastic: Karpov, Anand, Kramnik, Beliavsky, Short, and Gelfand! Beautiful and powerful personalities – I was their captain and we have been good friends since that time. Anand and Kramnik told me afterwards that they had never experienced such an atmosphere as that found within the Agrouniverzal team. And I will always remember the sad dinner, after we lost, where Vlady told me: “Eh, captain, you had to sit yourself on the sixth board!”

Then I joined the Polish Chess Federation. Their legendary President, Zemantovski, wanted to establish a Polish Chess Academy to raise top youngsters. The development of Polish chess was very rapid and successful, thanks to hard work, and the appearance of some promising youngsters, including: Macieja, Kempinski, and, more lately, Bartel, Miton, Wojtaszek, and Gajewski.

Together with Alexander Beliavsky, I worked with Arkadij Naiditsch, who became the top German player. Then I worked with the Young Orange group of the Netherlands, and trained the National Women’s Team. Zhaoqin Peng and Tea Lanchava (Bosboom) became European vice-champions and, in the Turin 2006 Chess Olympiad, the Women’s Team took seventh place, which was a huge success.


Training top Turkish players Kübra Öztürk (middle) and Betül Cemre Yildiz (right)

Nowadays, I spend a lot of time with the Women’s Team in Turkey, and sometimes the young players there as well. I can say Kübra Öztürk is a huge talent, but there is still a lot more work to be done with the team. Kübra Öztürk and Betül Cemre Yildiz, especially, can become top female players, but younger ones still need to work a lot. There is a huge need for training and a lot of scope for progress. The main problem for them is their weak physical training program, which is also very important for chess.


Mikhalchishin working with young Turkish talents

I still have private training sessions with talented, young GMs, and I want to help Mateusz Bartel and Luka Lenic become top world players. I also consult with an interesting youth program in Slovenia, where I spend half of my time. My family prefers to stay in the beautiful city of Lvov, in Western Ukraine, where my wife is the manager of a hotel, my son is a Doctor of Political Science and my daughter is studying Law.

You were recently appointed as the Chairman of the FIDE Trainers’ Commission. What are your plans with the commission?

It used to be a committee, but after the Presidential Board meeting in Istanbul, it became a commission. There were around 30 commissions in FIDE, but not all of them were perfectly effective. When the Trainers’ Committee was established by Yuri Razuvaev, who did a lot as the Chairman, we made some progress, but we still have a lot to do. Now FIDE has cut the number of commissions to ten, which must work much more seriously.

We have to improve the role of a trainer in the chess world, since, compared to other sports, I think chess trainers are shown less respect. We have already established a title system for trainers, as with chess players, which is useful for improving the licensing system. This is required because trainers need to be monitored. Except for the ex-Soviet Union countries, other countries have big problems in chess training. Most of the trainers around are uneducated. I do not only mean proper pedagogical education, but even proper chess education.


Course at the FIDE Trainer Academy, with Adrian Mikhalchishin, Horst Metzing and GM Uwe Bönsch

We need to monitor and improve the training system for chess. For example, in football, there is a universal approach to training players. What kind of work should be done in any training session is already established. In chess, we do not have proper standards, or even a systematic tradition. There are already seminars being held in Berlin, Singapore and New York; however, we want to establish more trainers’ academies, starting with Moscow, India, Arabic countries and, maybe, Iran. These seminars are not only useful for licensing, but also for providing information to trainers in developing a universal understanding of chess training.

We have to start summer camps for young chess players; in the USA, they are very popular. In the past, we already had a three-level chess training plan to be executed, which could not be realized. However, we have to cooperate more with federations and FIDE to improve the level of monitoring and provide proper training material to many places in the world.

Why is there a need for licensing trainers?

Some players at a certain rating level think they can train. Some are certified, but some are creating chaos in the training world by creating a false image by publicity. There are “Grandmaster Johns” who give training without the proper level of pedagogical knowledge, or even chess understanding, since “Grandmaster John” is not even at the level of a Candidate Master. This is scandalous, and we need to cooperate more with national federations to overcome this problem. Most of the time, national federations do not check who is doing training work around the world. This harms the future of chess, and the education of kids who are interested in chess.


Adrian Mikhalchishin teaching [photo FIDE]

On the other side of the coin, we need to increase the level of training in many countries, in the sense that these levels are unacceptably low. Our new commission has twelve members. Efstratios Grivas is secretary, and doing a huge amount of work right now. Peter Long, who is working with the Asean Chess Academy, helped us make a website to provide proper information, training material and online training by top coaches. This website can be found at: www.Getchesstraining.com. Of course, we need to increase the level of trainers all over the world. Many trainers talk too much, having few results. The quality of a trainer can be seen by his/her pupils, and not by the publicity they make – and only by that.

Apart from providing adequate chess training knowledge, why is there a need for licensing trainers?

The first problem for chess trainers is a lack of proper sources for education, as I indicated above. However, there are more. Many trainers face problems during tournaments, due to lack of organizational facilities. Coaching during a tournament is also very important, though underestimated in general. The preparation before and during tournaments is a cornerstone of chess training. Ability to analyze the games of the pupils is a distinguishing feature of a good trainer. In the former Soviet Chess School, great importance was given to the elimination of mistakes, by analysis of pupils’ games. Evaluation of results is lacking in chess training.

What do you think are the basic qualities of a good trainer?

Of course, certain chess understanding is necessary, but, more importantly, pedagogical ability and knowledge are essential. A third thing would be an education in sports and child psychology. Another very crucial aspect is the ability to develop an individualistic approach for every pupil. Group work is nice, but trainers need to devote some specific time to each pupil. This demands more energy, but individual training is more useful for each student. Trainers are generally lazy about it, analyzing the games of the students with just the computer. This is the greatest sin because the pupil might not be able to improve without his hands making the moves. There is a similar thing in tennis, where if you develop a hand, you have a greater tendency to make the right move, as if intuitively.

In the former Soviet Chess School, the trainers’ education was not only confined to pure chess training. So, can we summarize your main strategy as a “transplantation of the accumulated knowledge of the Soviet Chess School”?

Yes. Some say there is no such thing as a chess school, or everybody is a chess school. Even Spassky had such complaints, denying there was something called the “Soviet Chess School.” There were actually many schools in the former Soviet Union, such as those in Moscow, Leningrad, the Baltic countries, Georgia, and the Ukraine, who had different influences on pupils, and, as a result, their players were playing different chess in comparison to one another.

However, all have a common point, starting from Botvinnik and Dvoretsky. Analysis of your own games is key for improving your chess. In order to fully utilize the Soviet Chess School, I also invited to the FIDE Trainers’ Commission the most famous junior trainer of those times, Anatoly Bykhovsky, who worked from Karpov’s time to Kramnik’s time – to be more specific, from 1964 to 1990. He also worked with Alexander Grischuk and has his own criticism about chess training: since learning openings is very easy now, nobody is interested in middlegame training, which is the most difficult in chess.


Secret Weapons of the Champions

ChessBase training DVD with Adrian Mikhalchishin


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