Interview with Emil Sutovsky

8/26/2015 – After a superb win at the Biel Masters, Emil Sutovsky sat down for a talk with Dorsa Derakhshani for an in-depth interview, in which he described several memorable wins, earning him accolades such as 'best player in open positions' given by Levon Aronian himself. He also discusses his chess development, as well as his many responsibilities as president of the ACP.

Dorsa Derakhshani - Congratulations Emil on winning the tournament! After which game did you think you were a favorite to win the Biel Master Tournament?

Emil Sutovsky - Thanks, Dora! In general I had a good feeling already in the middle of the tournament, but it was after the game with Mateusz Bartel, in round eight, that I felt my chances were really good.

DD - This is a position from your game against Matuesz Bartel.

DD - In the above position you went in for the typical Sutovsky unclear sacrifice. Did you calculate the lines until the end or did you play more based on your feel of the position?

ES - Well, I couldn't calculate it all when I first saw the position, and I played it partly relying on my intuition and experience with these kind of sacrifices. However, the first time I saw this position was several years ago, in a game against GM Alexander Onischuk (Poikovsky 2010). And I was very surprised when Mateusz opted for the same line. Of course, I didn't remember the exact lines here, and it was possible that he had prepared an improvement on that game, but I still dared to sacrifice the knight... It has to be said, that I didn't expect this particular line to occur in the game against Bartel, and it was sort of a tough psychological decision.

DD -  And here you moved your bishop all the way back to c1. Bf4 or Qc1 were definitely more natural. How did you decide on this move Bc1? The bishop did finally come to b2 and finished off the game!

ES - well, it was all the part of a long plan, starting several moves earlier: Nf3-d4-e2 (and later e2-f4) - so it is not about the move Bc1 alone... if there is a reason to be proud of this game, then it would be about this plan, rather than some tactical shots that were not exceptionally complex.

DD - It truly is a wonderful game..

ES - I liked it too, but in the "game of the month" contest it would hardly be able to compete with Navara's king's voyage to h8 or Wei Yi's combination versus Bruzon...

Emil Sutovsky during the 2015 Biel Masters

DD -  How did you prepare for the tournament? I remember reading a post of yours in Facebook saying “How I decided to play without any preparations?” which you posted just yesterday. A better version might be “How do I do dare to play in a tournament without any training?“

ES - I didn’t prepare for the tournament. It sounds bad and it is bad, but I really didn't prepare, as I got an invitation to play in Biel literally one week before the start, and during that week I travelled intensively, as I had my duties as the ACP President...But of course, I used to work and analyze a lot, and some of the analysis made years ago is still pretty valuable. Besides, I keep on mastering it, even if less vigorously compared to the years when I was in the Top 20.

DD - You are a brilliant tactician. In fact Aronian once said you were the world’s strongest player in open positions! How did you develop such a style? Were there any specific books or methods you followed to become such a creative tactical player?

ES - Thanks for these kind words. I am not sure how I developed it - probably it was mostly natural. But for my students (well, "students" sounds a bit strange, as many of them are higher-rated than I am now), to develop this I suggest regularly solving different kinds of positions. Throughout the years I have built a cartotheque of such a positions (several examples were published on in June)

DD - I feel that you are a modern day Tal. What do you think are the similarities and differences between you and the eighth World Champion?

ES - No, no, I disagree. Not because it is too flattering, but because it is probably wrong. The amount of pieces sacrificed is comparable, but the style is different. And anyways, you are some 5-10 years late with such a question.

DD - Smyslov once said, “My study of chess was accompanied by a strong attraction to music, and it was probably thanks to this that I became accustomed to thinking of chess as an art, for all the science and sport involved in it.”

Your mother was a music teacher and you yourself are a bass baritone singer. Do you think music in any way affected the way you played chess?

ES - That's a good question. No, I don't think that music affected my chess style. But I do think there are some common reasons behind my love of chess and passion for music.

DD - How did the time spent in the USSR help your chess ? Do you see yourself as a member of the Soviet Chess School?

ES - Yes, of course, the fundamentals come from that time. Although I was fourteen when our family moved to Israel, it was the background received in the USSR that contributed largely to my chess career. As for the Soviet Chess School - opinions vary: what does it mean exactly? In my opinion it is more about a serious profound approach to chess, and maybe about deep professional preparation, rather than a playing style. And in this regards, even players who never lived in the USSR/Russia, like Anand or Caruana, can be also considered as heirs of the Soviet Chess School legacy...

DD - Vishy Anand mentioned that your game against GM Daniel Gormally from Gibraltar 2005 was one of the best games he had ever seen. I wanted to ask a few questions based on that game.

DD - Gormally took the pawn with Bxb4 and attacked your rook, but instead of moving it, you chose the move dxe4. The computer shows that Bxf8 is completely winning for White. What had you prepared for that move?

ES - That was a really memorable game. But I am not sure it is the right place to analyse it in-depth. The sacrifice could have been refuted objectively, but the refutation was very complex, and neither Gormally nor I found it even in the post-mortem. It was very difficult choice for White, and the combination which happened in the game (with the final 35...Nf4!!) was really hard to spot. This position is one of the happiest moments in my life. I mean the final position of the game.

DD - After your opponent made the move c4 instead of Bxf8 and you went Qf5. Had you already seen the beautiful combination right up to the mate? Can you take us through it?

ES - Yes, I saw this line after c4 Qf5 till the end. But with all due modesty - the whole story about this game with the beautiful lines that happened, or could happen, deserve a separate conversation.

Daniel Gormally - Emil Sutovsky (Gibraltar, 2005)

[Event "Gibraltar Masters"] [Site "Caleta"] [Date "2005.01.29"] [Round "5"] [White "Gormally, Daniel"] [Black "Sutovsky, Emil"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B87"] [WhiteElo "2472"] [BlackElo "2669"] [PlyCount "72"] [EventDate "2005.01.25"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "10"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2005.03.01"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bc4 e6 7. Bb3 b5 8. O-O Be7 9. Qf3 Qc7 10. Qg3 Nc6 11. Nxc6 Qxc6 12. Re1 Bb7 13. a3 Rd8 14. a4 O-O 15. axb5 axb5 16. Bh6 Ne8 17. Ra7 Ra8 18. Rxa8 Bxa8 19. Bf4 Nf6 20. Bh6 Ne8 21. Bf4 b4 22. Na2 Nf6 23. Bh6 Nh5 24. Qg4 Qb5 25. f3 Bf6 26. Rb1 Bd4+ 27. Kh1 Bxb2 28. Bd2 Nf6 29. Qg3 d5 30. Bxb4 dxe4 31. c4 Qf5 32. Bxf8 Nh5 33. Qg4 exf3 34. Qxf5 fxg2+ 35. Kg1 Bd4+ 36. Qf2 Nf4 0-1

DD - You prepared the Gruenfeld defence for Gata Kamsky. I was particularly floored by one of your ideas. Here it is:

With the knight hanging on e5 you 0-0-0! And after 17.fxe5 Rxd5 18.Bd4 how on earth did you come up with the move …h5?

ES - Respect, Dora! You are digging really deep! This game versus Malakhatko was not noticed by many, although castling long side as black in Gruenfeld is something really exceptional. Indeed, that is one of the ideas I can be proud of.

Malakhatko,Vadim - Sutovsky,Emil (Zurich, 2009)

[Event "Zuerich Jubilee op"] [Site "Zuerich"] [Date "2009.08.12"] [Round "6"] [White "Malakhatko, Vadim"] [Black "Sutovsky, Emil"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D85"] [WhiteElo "2570"] [BlackElo "2675"] [PlyCount "54"] [EventDate "2009.08.09"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "SUI"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2009.09.03"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. e4 Nxc3 7. bxc3 c5 8. Be3 Qa5 9. Qd2 Nc6 10. Rb1 a6 11. Rc1 f5 12. d5 fxe4 13. Ng5 Ne5 14. Nxe4 c4 15. f4 Bf5 16. Nf2 {[#]} O-O-O $1 {The beginning of a brilliant concept.} 17. fxe5 Rxd5 18. Bd4 (18. Qb2 Rxe5 19. Qe2 Bh6 $19) (18. Qe2 Rxe5 19. Qxc4+ Kb8 20. Qe2 Ka8 $1 {There would be a certain irony if the pinning rook of e5 were pinned by a Bf4 shot.}) 18... h5 $1 {The key. The threat is ...Bh6.} 19. g4 hxg4 20. Rd1 Bh6 21. Qb2 Rhd8 22. Bg2 Rb5 23. Qa1 Rxd4 24. Rxd4 Rb1+ 25. Qxb1 Qxc3+ 26. Ke2 Bxb1 27. Bxb7+ Kc7 0-1

DD - Even the present day computers are only able to come up with this move after some time. Was this home preparation? What was the process of finding this idea?

ES - Now it is difficult to recall all the details, but of course, back then computers were not as powerful. However in general it is more or less like today: you find the idea and try to prove it to your computer. Sometimes it works! Today you already have another option - you set up the position and leave it to your computer for several hours - that is quite popular even among the top players. I never used this "overnight analysis" - but maybe I should have...Still, I firmly believe that if you want to find some exceptional idea - you must do so yourself, as everyone has access to mighty computers nowadays. However, not many players generate important ideas.

DD - Such powerful ideas can be found with the help of the computers. Yet you are a player who would prefer that computers had never happened to the game. Don’t you think computers have expanded our horizons about the way we think about the game?

ES - Sure, computers have expanded it a lot and taught us a lot - no doubt about it. Chess just became a bit different. I wouldn't say worse - just different. And definitely less mysterious, which is a pity.

DD - You are also a top trainer: How are you able to play this great and also have students? And let’s not forget you are also the president of the ACP!

At the 2015 European Championship

ES - Well, I have to say that "playing great" can hardly be attributed to my results from the last three years... And yes, ACP does take its toll, but I find this work very important, and as ACP President I am proud of the things we have accomplished (please, refer to our website for more details). As to being a trainer - I don't have and never had many students - but this work usually brought some serious progress, and it also made me happy.

DD - Could you tell us more about the ACP? A bit about how the idea of the Association of Chess Professionals even came to reality?

ES - The idea of the ACP is very simple - to improve the situation in the professional chess world. It can be about organizing the high-class events or social programs for chess veterans, protecting the legal rights of the players and cooperating with the organizers of traditional tournaments, anti-cheating measures and helping young stars to get to top tournaments...We actually do take care about all of these issues. Recently we published a brochure, summarizing the various ACP activities.

DD - The ACP introduced the brilliant idea of qualifying their members to the best open tournaments like Qatar, Gibraltar and even one spot for the World Cup. How does this work?

ES - Well, it is actually much more than that. There is also a qualification to the best round-robin tournaments - like Wijk-an-Zee, Biel, Poikovsky...As for Open tournaments - one doesn't need to qualify to them, but if a player gets an ACP wild card, it is accompanied with special financial conditions. As to determining the wild cards: it is very simple and transparent - all the wild cards are distributed according to the standings in the ACP Tour - a system which takes into account the results of all the major tournaments throughout the world. One can learn about the ACP Tour point system on our website.

Playing at the ACP Golden Classic where he placed second, behind Wesley So, ahead of Jobava

DD - As president of the ACP what do you think about cases of Georgiev and Conery? Will the ACP defend well its VIP members? What are you going to do to improve conditions of ACP members?

ES - Of course, we will not stand aside. You can check my statement in this regard on the ACP website - it should be clear to everyone: the chess player cannot be banned for airing his/her disagreements with their national chess federation. We will use all legal means to protect the players who are attacked on these grounds.

DD - Are you happy with the current World Championship selection cycle of players getting selected for the Candidates from different tournaments like the World Cup, FIDE Grand Prix etc. And then competing in a round robin Candidates tournament to determine the challenger culminating in a twelve-game World Championship match? If not, what would you change?

ES - I think the current system of the Championship Cycle is more or less balanced. The Candidates tournament and the following match is fine. Qualification to the Candidates might be a bit better. In fact, I strongly dislike the wild cards which are distributed not according to some sportive criteria. (Ed: referring to the wild card into the Candidates, for a player who never qualified either by rating or result, while all other players need to earn their spot). Ideally they'd be removed. Also, it would be a nice idea to add some qualification tournament, for example for the players in the Top-100 , to have a couple of spots to the Candidates from there. But I am afraid it is not going to happen anytime soon, as I foresee a reduction in the money flow into top chess - Russia and Azerbaijan are involved very heavily in conducting the majority of the top events, but with the present oil prices it is not likely to continue the same way.

DD - What about your next tournament?

ES - The next tournament I plan to play in is Poikovsky - at the end of September. As usual, it is going to be strong (category 18 is expected), and some exciting chess is expected, while among the participants you have players such as Morozevich and Shirov. I'll also try to contribute myself to the spectacular side of the event, but will also try to score some points.

DD - Thanks a lot for your time, and I wish you all the best in your future tournaments.

Dorsa Derakhshani

Dorsa is a Women International Master from Tehran. She currently lives and studies in Iran, but is a passionate World traveler. This year alone she has played in tournament spanning from her home country Iran, passing through Moscow and even the Thailand Open in Bangkok.

At only seventeen years of age, she has a 2280 rating, making her the fourth highest rated Iranian female player. She was the u14 and u16 female Asian Champion in past editions of their Continental Youth Tournament.

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puppyboi puppyboi 8/27/2015 07:08
Can someone please provide a link to the chesspro article mentioned near the beginning of this interview? I am having trouble trying to track it down, thanks in advance!
kandydat1969 kandydat1969 8/27/2015 08:37
Very intersting article especially game against Gormally . Very interesting idea d:e4 and next very hard to calculate variant , by the way Sutowski in this period was 200 point ELO more
Bertman Bertman 8/27/2015 09:44
@puppyboi Here is the link:
Denix Denix 8/28/2015 10:08
Gormally - Sutovsky Gibraltar Masters 29.01.2005 is really a beautiful game. In this game there is no perpetual check option, which was always an option in every move in Bruzon-Wei Yi Danzhou 2015 immortal game.
KOTLD KOTLD 1/25/2016 01:10
That's an excellent article, with many great questions. Thanks very much.