Bisik-Bisik with Viktor Moskalenko

12/15/2007 – Bisik-Bisik is a word from the Malay Archipelago, and means the act of “whispering” from one person to another. Starting with this inaugural article Edwin Lam will seek to “whisper” to all our readers out there the previously unknown other side of his interview partners. He kicks off with a conversation between Edwin and Ukrainian Viktor Moskalenko, grandmaster, teacher and chess author.

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Hola, GM Viktor Moskalenko!

Bisik-Bisik with Edwin Lam Choong Wai

Rated at 2575, Viktor Moskalenko was born in Odessa, Ukraine, on the 12th of April 1960. Married to Tatiana Yastrebova, who incidentally turns out to be a chess player as well (with a FIDE rating of 2037), this chess couple is blessed with a daughter named Mila.

Moskalenko's competitive career blossomed rather late and enjoyed the first wind of active tournament participations in the period of 1980 to 1995. He was Ukrainian Champion in 1987, and gained his grandmaster title in 1992. He competed in many events and enjoyed victories against players such as Morozevich, Khalifman, Sveshnikov, Bronstein and many more. During the period of 1992 to 1994, Moskalenko twice helped Vassily Ivanchuk with his chess preparations.

Grandmaster Viktor Moskalenko, a.k.a. CapNemo on

Perhaps his love of coaching and training, as well as his love of his wife and daughter, have overpowered his desire to compete in chess tournaments. This resulted in him being rather inactive in competitions. But the family relocation to Barcelona in the year 2000 brought about a second wind in his chess playing career. Besides competing Moskalenko also became actively involved in chess writing. He is a frequent contributor to the New In Chess Yearbook as well as Chessbase’s ChessBase Magazine 114-120.

Recently, GM Moskalenko released his first chess book entitled, The Fabulous Budapest Gambit, published by New In Chess. To find out more about the “other side” of this author of this book read on. You will learn about his triumphant slaying of a monster in Advanced Variation of the French, his passion for ping-pong and the little story of how Ivanchuk and him were asked to leave a church for having a chess discussion.

Early years

Edwin Lam: Hola, GM Moskalenko. Thank you for your participation in this interview. I understand that you were born on April 12th. Would you consider yourself to be the typically willful, independent, curious and driven to succeed – Aries?

Viktor Moskalenko: Hola, a todos! I consider that all humans are born of a magical form, but we all soon start to live like ‘idiots’ or madmen, if you want… Nevertheless, I will continue to try to be willful, independent and curious besides retaining the same drive to succeed!

At what age did you learn to play?

When I was five years old, I was ill and I wasn’t able to go out. So my dear grandmother taught me many ‘tablecloth games’, like for example card games and draughts. Those days were decisive for my learning of games. By playing thousands of games I learned everything: openings, calculation, strategy, tactics, the philosophy and psychology of each game and also typical tricks and traps at any level. It was very useful for my chess later on.

Very interesting that you had picked up a lot of board games from your grandmother. Who then taught you the rules of chess?

It was rather similar to the way Capablanca learned them; I learned the chess rules when my father played with my uncle after they had been eating and drinking a lot. From this moment on I always wanted to join them. Unfortunately, in the first years they did not let me – so Capablanca was luckier than I was!

Subsequently, who was your formal coach in the game of chess?

I think that overall, it was myself.

You were born in Ukraine, which was a part of the old Soviet Union. Did you also attend chess training sessions at the Pioneer Palace, just like all other Soviet players?

Unfortunately, I found my way to the chess club very late: when I was 14 years old. Curiously, in my city Odessa, I happened to be walking in a street when I found a poster which said ‘Odesskiy Centralniy Shaxmatniy Club’. The next day my father had me registered there to study chess. The first year I was in a group of young students of my age. We began to play some tournaments and to learn the basic steps...

What was the chess training at this chess club like?

Soon I obtained good results and they sent me to an advanced group where the trainer had a perfect level to teach chess. This was a fantastic season for me. The basic program of each class was: the history of chess, analysis of a classic game, the study of an interesting opening, some problem positions, analysis of our own recent games, blitz games. It was so interesting that I did not miss any of the classes and always was the last to leave. Also, the general atmosphere of the chess club in Odessa helped me a lot in my development as a player. I was almost always able to find some master to listen to their opinion, to analyze or to play some games...

Can you share with us, the name of your first ever chess book?

In my early days I tried to read many books on different subjects, but what really stood out to me was the book by Emanuel Lasker called ‘How Viktor became a chess master’. I think that this book is comparable to the present-day ‘Harry Potter’. I also liked many autobiographies of the best players, with their annotated games.

During your youth, who was your chess hero?

My favourite chess personality of all time is the American Bobby Fischer.

How many hours did you spend in a day to train on chess, during your youth?

Initially the time I spent on chess was very short. When I was young, I did not have good discipline to study chess. I always preferred practical chess – playing tournaments or blitz games. Later on, when I began to participate in serious tournaments, I learned that without analytical work, there can be no progress. So I dedicated more time to the analysis of systems on my repertoire. I also liked the analysis of adjourned games a lot. In the 1980s-90s this was done without the help of a computer, of course. I have gained many points thanks to the higher quality of my analysis and better ideas.

La Gomera 2006, Champion of the Canary Islands

Chess professional

When and where did you make your first competitive international chess debut?

My first success was in a strong grandmaters’ tournament in Lvov, 1988. I ended up on tied 2nd–4th place with Ivanchuk and Malaniuk. The same year, in Budapest 1988, I won the Open Championship of Hungary ahead of the sisters Zsofia and Judit Polgar. I started the tournament with a score of 8.5/9 and then drew the last two games to coast home to victory.

Could you also share with us, a little bit more about your chess progress from youth up until becoming a grandmaster in 1992?

The foundation of my progress was laid in my participation in many Soviet tournaments in the 1980s-90s. I have played against Ivanchuk, Gelfand, Dreev, Khalifman, Epishin, Rozentalis, Krasenkow, Sveshnikov, Kupreichik… and then in 1990-95 against Morozevich, Svidler, Ponomariov, Leko and many other grandmasters of the highest level. In the years 1989-90, when the politicians opened the borders, my formula for success was very simple: to combine strong Soviet tournaments with European Opens, thus gaining many prizes without problems. In 1992 I was in very good shape and I won seven tournaments in the space of a few months. I scored my final two GM norms in France: joint 1st-3rd place in Metz, and I won the Open Championship of Paris with 10/11.

Any career highlights after that?

From 1995 onwards, it bored me to make all those heavy trips all over the world. I prefer to spend more time with my family. From that point on I liked working as a trainer much more than playing. To teach chess is a pleasure for me, and perhaps it is my destiny. Nevertheless, when our family moved to Barcelona in 2000, I got an excellent opportunity to start playing active chess again. It is a fact that there are more tournaments in Spain than anywhere else in Europe. In the years between 2000 and 2007, I obtained very good practical results. As a general statistic, in my chess career I have won nearly 100 international tournaments, not counting a few small ones. And, I believe that the greatest success in my life – both in terms of play and results – was the shared 1st-2nd place with Vasily Ivanchuk in the Magistral Casino Barcelona Masters 2005.

With career victories including against Morozevich (victories in a match played in 1994), Bronstein (1992), Khalifman (22-move victory in 1985), Sveshnikov (1987), Krasenkow (1989) and Vaisser (1992), which would you consider to be your most unforgettable chess victory in your youth?

I defeated Sveshnikov with the black pieces in his favourite Advance Variation of the French (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5!). In that game, I had prepared a totally new and very creative counter-plan and obtained a very good position. But I gained the victory only after a tense and spectacular fight. I felt as if I had killed a monster!

In this age of the internet and chess databases, I do know of some FIDE titled players out there who still refused to use computers to prepare for competitions. But, I am sure you are not one of them. So, when did you start to embrace the use of computers and databases in your chess preparations?

I bought my first computer at a very late stage. The revelation came in the closed tournament of Copenhagen in 1995. Peter Leko, whom I drew with the black side of the French Defence in the tournament, won the event. I had good possibilities to win, but I lost the last game due to a lack of information about my opponent. It was then that I understood the need to have computers in order to have equal chances in a competition. That said, I think that to play well you do not need too much assistance from the computer. The machine does not guarantee a successful game and it is simply necessary to combine things. We can see typical examples of victims of computer preparation in the latest World Championship in Mexico. The players who ended up in the first three places never trusted their computer and won their games as always, using their strengths and their knowledge – in short, their own heads. Whereas it seemed to me that the rest of the participants were very tired, due to their preparations with databases, even before their games had begun...

How does it feel to have played and won a tournament game against fellow Ukrainian, the legendary David Bronstein, during the Wijk aan Zee of 1992? Was that the first time you played against Bronstein? Or, have you ever competed with him before that?

Against Bronstein, I had the black pieces. In the opening, which was a Benoni, the grandmaster demonstrated to me the main problem with this system. But in the second phase, I was able to demonstrate in return to the grandmaster that youths like me know how to play dynamic chess. Nevertheless, I have to acknowledge that David Ionovich was still by far the greater player in 1992. When I beat Bronstein I was of course very contented, but at the same time I sensed the tension of a master who had a good position and then lost due to lack of energy. So, I felt some discomfort. I learned that chess can be a very cruel sport and if you are weak at some point, your name will not always save you.

I understand that you had also worked with world number two, GM Ivanchuk. Are you able to shed a little light on that?

Personally, I have known Vasily Ivanchuk even when he was still wearing short pants! I have observed his fast progress from the days we participated together in Ukrainian tournaments all through his fast ascent to the top. Vasily is a friend and chess analysis companion. Often, even at nights, we made contact to analyse some game or idea, or simply to consult each other on some opening or player. Later on, in the years 1992-94, I twice helped him with some specific preparation, although I think this was not for something concrete. The first time we were in Moscow, and Vasily’s only preoccupation was how he could beat Kasparov. The second time was in his house in Lvov and I believe that the training was more effective then. There I met his parents, and they seemed to me to be very pleasant people who were very concerned about the life and the successes of their son. In general, I am very impressed by Ivanchuk’s great daily studying discipline and his capacity to learn. For example, for breakfast Vasily always took a notebook (not a computer notebook!) full of difficult chess problems, prepared especially for training purposes. It surprised me how quickly and easily he found the solutions, while I was sipping my coffee… Soon, we were analysing some interesting games and we also studied some positions that are still not understood by the best engines. Sometimes we played blitz. I think that a special feature of Ivanchuk is that he is always analysing something. His mind never stops working. Once we took a stroll in the beautiful city of Lvov and entered a lovely church. There, Vasily and I relaxed for a few seconds, but suddenly he started to ask me about a certain game. The church father was not so pleased and asked us to leave...

As an Author

My earliest memory of the Budapest Gambit (BG) was seeing Short uncork it against Karpov, in the first game of their 1992 Candidates match in Linares. Looking through the database, I found quite a few games where you had played against the BG in the 1990s and achieved good results with it. Tell me, GM Moskalenko, what made you switch camp in recent years to play the BG yourself?

In the years of my youth, I tried out the ‘BG’ on a few occasions with the Black pieces, when I wanted to surprise my rival, and the results were not bad. Soon I forgot about this possibility, perhaps because of the lack of material, or the lack of a good book, on the subject... Last year I decided to take up BG again for the following reasons:

  1. When I showed my first article on the ‘BG’ for Yearbook 80 to Viktor Kortchnoi, the legendary grandmaster immediately asked me: “Have you ever played this gambit yourself?” He liked the article and the games in it, also his own game against Yukhtman and Mohr. Kortchnoi was also contented with our discussion of the subject and was rather surprised by the article. He told me about his own experience with it and his opinions on it.
  2. I wanted to test my own ideas that I found in this opening.
  3. I needed material for a new book.
  4. I wanted to surprise my opponents.
  5. I discovered that it is a correct and quite dynamic opening!

    What is your current competitive chess score with the BG as Black?

My personal BG statistics in 2007 are: from a total of 11 games played, I scored 3 wins with 8 draws, which translates into a performance of 2577 (some of these games can be seen in the book).

I have here a question that would interest many chess enthusiasts out there. Petrosian and Karpov had never ventured to take up the BG with the black pieces. In your opinion, is this a reflection that the BG isn’t suitable for someone with a positional style of play?

The problem is not the ‘romantic’ style, but the character and personality of the player. Petrosian never attacked his rivals directly. His strategy was first of all not to give his rival too much counter-play, and then to take advantage of their errors. The combinations, the sacrifices and the tactics: all these would come later. The “Tiger” (Tigran) always attacked from the barricades! The same goes for Karpov. But the latter has never played more than three or four, solid openings in his life. I believe that he also had certain problems memorizing variations. I remember in some of his games there were some confusion in the opening – he would mix up certain moves...

Any advice to chess coaches who would want to use the Budapest Gambit with their students?

In the first place it is necessary to learn that the Budapest Gambit is much more than just a surprise weapon or a ‘romantic’ opening. Nor, is it a simple attacking weapon or a system with which you can ‘cheat’ your opponent. I have discovered that each main line of this opening contains elements of the modern game and there is enough room for improvisation. See for example Shakhriyar Mamedyarov’s fascinating games with the Budapest Gambit. I am sure that even players like Aronian and Svidler could include the ‘BG’ in their repertoire. (Note: Svidler played the BG in his youth).

In reference to the BG, you say “… the critical phase already starts from moves 6-8 onwards. Between moves 9-12 both sides must make important decisions, and by move 15 an assessment of the position can be made. Between moves 18-22, we already know how the game will finish…” Judging by the critical nature of this opening in the earliest parts of the game, am I safe to assume that the BG is much more suited as an opening of choice in rapid and blitz games, vs. during games in the classical time control? What is your opinion on this?

It’s clear that for rapid or blitz games it is a more than a sufficient opening. There the element of surprise is far greater. I have practiced the Budapest Gambit and the Fajarowicz in numerous Internet games on the ChessBase’s site, with the handle CapNemo. It was very amusing, there were many errors and lapses on both sides. That said, I also like to play the gambit in normal games. Some lines are easier to play with white, so in that case it’s better to have more time to improvise. From the 115 fantastic games analyzed in the book, it includes some of the best classic and modern ones. Games like these are hard to produce with only 3 or 5 minutes of thinking time…

Viktor Kortchnoi seems content after winning the Banyoles Open 2006. But then, GM Moskalenko showed him the first article on the Budapest Gambit... On the right is GM Moskalenko's wife Tatiana

Husband, father and a Catalan

Besides chess, what are your other interests in life?

It enchants me to travel by car throughout Spain. It is a wonderful country with many special places. I also like driving the car all night listening to music! My other interests include going to the cinemas, playing ping-pong with my wife, reading thrillers and fantasy books – above all by the American author Roger Zelazny and the English author Robert Asprin. I am strongly influenced by the series of anthropologist books by Carlos Castaneda and I also like wine!

You have been based in Barcelona for the past seven years. Can you please share with ChessBase readers, what is it that you like best about the city?

In recent years, I’ve been living near Barcelona, about 30 kilometres away, in a small village by the sea. The city of Barcelona is good for tourism as well as for a night out, but I prefer to sleep well! There are many fantastic sites in Barcelona; I especially like the harbour area, the mountain of the ‘Tibidabo’, the park of ‘Ciutadella’ with the Triumph Arch and, of course, Camp Nou with the football club Barcelona!

How is the chess culture like in Barcelona? Do you see a thriving chess future there?

Yes of course, indeed in Catalonia the level and the popularity of chess is very high. There are many clubs, with around five thousand federated players. The Catalonia team championship is a very popular event. There are also strong titled players and we already know the famous ‘Gran Casino Masters’ tournament.

I understand that your wife Tatiana is also a chess player herself.

Lately we have participated together in many tournaments in Spain, sometimes even together with our daughter. It is not very difficult to obtain satisfactory conditions for both. When organizers invite one, they can also invite two or more.

Have you ever played against your wife in a tournament chess game? And, what is the result or outcome of that game?

Yes, we have played a couple of times and I always won quite easily. I am the one who knows her repertoire better!

Thank you GM Moskalenko for this interesting exchange.

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