"Chess is something I love" - An Interview with Sam Collins

by Johannes Fischer
3/28/2017 – Sam Collins is an International Master (with two grandmaster norms) and a prolific author. He was born in Dublin in 1982 where he now works as a barrister. In an interview he talks about his latest DVD about ...Bc5 in the Open Games, his career, how to study openings and his favorite games.

Open Games with ...Bc5 Open Games with ...Bc5

Experienced trainers recommend playing positions with similar pawn structures, so that ideas learned in one variation can be transferred to another. With a similar objective, Collins has designed a repertoire based on systems with Bc5 after 1.e4 e5.
• Video running time: 5 h 13 min (English)
• With interactive training including video feedback
• Extra: Database with more than 1600 model games
• Including CB 12 Reader


Dear Sam Collins, you are an International Master with two Grandmaster norms to your belt. You were born in 1982 in Dublin and with a peak-rating of 2495 you are the highest rated Irish player born in Ireland. Tell us something about your career: How did you learn chess and how and why did you get better?

I learned chess from my father when I was 9 or 10. I didn't play much until I went to secondary school at age 12. My school, Gonzaga College, has a strong chess tradition with many good players and it was a great environment. I played and studied a lot of chess during that time, mainly because it was a lot of fun, but it was also a real source of pride to be good at something. As I got better I started being picked for international junior competitions and Olympiads, and wanting to travel to tournaments was another strong motivation to improve.

In 2002 and in 2014 you became Irish Champion, but in 2009 you were also Japanese Champion. How did that come about?

I worked for the Boston Consulting Group in London for two years, and transferred to the Tokyo office in 2008. When I arrived in Japan, the only people I knew were the Japanese chess team, who Ireland had played in the Dresden Olympiad. The players showed me around and brought me to tournaments, including the national championship, which I won.

You are also the author of a number of books and DVDs and in 2015 you published Karpov: Move by Move. Is Karpov a role-model for you as a chess player or do you have other favorites?

I've never met a strong player who doesn't have a healthy respect for Karpov. I particularly admire his fighting spirit and his incredible resourcefulness in difficult or lost positions. I don't have a single player as a role model, there are dozens of players I admire in different contexts. I'm 34 now and I'm amazed by the longevity of guys like Kramnik, Gelfand and Anand who managed to improve and compete into their forties, but last week I was admiring how Wei Yi crushed his third Najdorf of 2017 (against Xu Yinglun in the HD Bank Masters).


Trainers, coaches, authors and a lot of others, always stress how important it is to study the classics but most players I know prefer to focus on improving their play in the opening. What is your approach to this?

I don't have a strong view. I know that Kasparov's Great Predecessors series is an outstanding achievement and I can't imagine studying it would hurt your chess!

You recently published a DVD in which you advocate the move …Bc5 in the Open Games. You recommend to play …Bc5 against almost all Open Games: the Ruy Lopez, the Italian, the Scotch and even against the King’s Gambit. Is …Bc5 really so strong?

...Bc5 is certainly playable in all those variations, and in some it's the absolute main line (most obviously the Italian). I didn't recommend it against the Centre Game, for obvious reasons.

What attracted you to …Bc5?

After 1.e4 e5, generally the bishop is going to e7, g7 or c5. ...c5 strikes me as the most active and classical development. The ideas in these lines tend to repeat themselves so getting experience in each of them makes sense.

On a more general level: how do find ideas in the opening – and what would you recommend amateurs who want to build up an opening repertoire?

I like to follow chess and if I see an interesting idea in a tournament game, I'll remember it. If I'm looking for something in a particular line I'll normally check how the best players or the most experienced experts handle it. For amateurs, there's a huge range of high quality material on openings now, so it's best to try to work out your style (Lars Bo Hansen in Foundations of Chess Strategy explains how to do this) and fit your openings around it. John Nunn has a very good chapter on how to build an opening repertoire in Secrets of Practical Chess, which is an excellent book. One other tip is to look at your games, by opening, in the last year, and see where you're gaining and losing rating points - I did this recently and was quite surprised at the results.

…Bc5 in the Open Games is a provocative move and I suppose it might quickly lead to sharp tactical battles. How much theory do you need to know in these lines?

1.e4 e5 generally requires a reasonable level of work because White has such a broad choice. Within that context, the lines I recommend aren't very theoretical, and certainly don't require as much work as the Marshall.

According to the Wikipedia you studied law and now practice as a barrister in Dublin. How do you still find the time to study – and write about – chess?

Chess is something I love so I make time for it, though it's becoming increasingly difficult. I play in leagues in Ireland, England and Norway, and many of my teammates also have demanding jobs in law or finance. I try to spend some quality time training important skills, not just playing blitz or watching tournaments.

Now, with two Grandmaster norms and a current rating of 2449 you are as strong as a lot of professional player. But what advice would you give amateurs who ask you how to study chess effectively while having other obligations?

As above, I think people need to emphasise skills over knowledge. It's no good playing 30 moves of Dragon theory if you blunder on move 31. The fact that modern tournaments can be watched with engines creates a false impression that chess is easy, and players often forget to work on basic skills like calculation.

To conclude, three short questions: 1.: What is your favorite game played by another player?

If I can give a twin answer, the two best king marches in history, by Nigel Short, on opposite sides of the board and with a quarter century between them: against Timman (Tilburg 1991) and Hou Yifan (3rd matchgame, Hoogeveen, 2016)




Nigel Short during his match against Hou Yifan (Photo: Lennart Ootes)

And your favorite game played by yourself?

My first win against a Grandmaster, Collins - Hillarp Persson, Isle of Man 2001.


And your favorite game with …Bc5?

There are many amazing games from the 19th and early 20th centuries in these lines, including the Evergreen Game. A game which sticks in my mind is an Evans Gambit which Nigel Short played against Ruslan Ponomariov in their training match in Yalta 2003, which featured incredible imagination and blunders on both sides before ending up in an intricate endgame which has been analysed by the players, Garry Kasparov and Surya Ganguly. Nigel demonstrated it at a Dublin lecture recently and it shows how deep and beautiful chess can be - the endgame after move 52 is one of the most complex I've ever seen.


A quick chat with Sam Collins

Sam Collins: An Introduction

Johannes Fischer was born in 1963 in Hamburg and studied English and German literature in Frankfurt. He now lives as a writer and translator in Nürnberg. He is a FIDE-Master and regularly writes for KARL, a German chess magazine focusing on the links between culture and chess. On his own blog he regularly publishes notes on "Film, Literature and Chess".
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Lachesis Lachesis 3/29/2017 11:56
Sam Collins is a noteworthy lecturer. Very well organized with the ability to speak without annoying habits to distract from his presentation. Am not surprised he became a Barrister in Ireland. To his credit his idea of presenting lecturers that deal with typical and important pawn structures is something that a lot of players can benefit from regardless of
the particular openings they play.
Miguel Ararat Miguel Ararat 3/28/2017 10:59
I was under the impression Collins was a full time chess professional and author, because his books and DVD's are high standard. Usually, Collins adds a lot of model games to study as part of the supplemental material of his DVD's. I reviewed some of Collins DVD's at http://gainesvillechesstraining.com/?page_id=168 and couple of books for the Florida Chess Association Magazine, Karpov Move by Move and The Tarrasch defense Move by Move. About Collins's books I remember his original analysis of Karpov's game through "Key Pawn Structures" especially the game Korchnoi Karpov ,th Game, Merano 11. The book on the Tarrasch is particularly relevant to amateur players, because Collins shows that an opening that is unpopular at Elite level is playable a lesser levels if the players study some theory. I can quote Hilton and Ippolito" Class players weakness in the Tarrasch is lack of knowledge". I think Collins fills this gap with his book on the Tarrasch. Finally, Thank you for the article Mr. Fischer, it is good to know the human side of chess authors. It will be nice if Collins write a book about time management :)
anandymous anandymous 3/28/2017 08:39
Thank you for the interview. Sam Collins is my favorite chess DVD lecturer. I've bought the vast majority of his oeuvre and will continue to do so going forward. I hope, since he seems like a decent person, that he'll somehow get the GM title, though his day job may well prevent that.