Interview with Pavel Eljanov

7/12/2010 – We bring an interview with GM Pavel Eljanov, fresh off an impressive win at the FIDE Grand Prix in Astrakhan, which rocketed him to 8th in the world rankings. He is currently the number one Ukrainian, ahead of stars such as Ivanchuk and Karjakin. He describes his impressions on the Sofia rules, his development as a player, and reveals his fashion consultant. Here is the pictorial profile.

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Interview with Pavel Eljanov

By Anastasiya Karlovich


Pavel Eljanov, current Elo 2755,  ranked 8th in the world

He made me an offer I could not refuse!

Born on May 10th, 1983, in Kharkov, Ukraine, Pavel Eljanov has been an International Grandmaster since 2000. He recently won the Sixth FIDE Grand Prix with an impressive 2809 performance, and was also a member of the Ukrainian team which won the 36th World Chess Olympiad in 2004. He is the winner of many tournaments such as Poljanitsa-Zdruj, Linares (tournament B), Andorra, Montreal 2006, Wijk aan Zee (B, 2007), Bosna (2008), and others. We met in a café in Kharkov. When I came inside Pavel was focused on his mobile searching for tickets to Croatia where he is to play in the league in September.


Pavel Eljanov, fashionable even when choosing where to be interviewed.

Pavel, do you make your own travel arrangements?

Yes, usually I plan my own trips. I have become so experienced that I am even ready to open a travel agency (laughs).

More than a month ago you won the Grand Prix in Astrakhan. Do you feel any changes in your life? Do media and journalists attack you more often?

In general, nothing has changed. I don't feel more attention from journalists, nor did I see any chess journalist in Astrakhan. Also there was not much attention in Ukraine. I wrote a couple of articles for chess magazines such as the Russian "64" and New in Chess. Also I haven't noticed any attention from the local press either. Just a few days ago a journalist called me from the local newspaper Time asking for interview. I was busy at that moment and asked her to call me back in ten minutes, but she never did.

What can you say about your result a month later?

 I’m satisfied with my result and with the quality of my games. Of course it was impossible to plan such success but I had a feeling all the conditions were good and I would be able to show a good result.


Strolling in Kharkov.

During all the Grand Prix tournaments the Sofia rules were used.  What do you think about them? Do they really work to prevent quick draws?

Well, I never like to make quick draws. When I sign a score sheet with only twenty moves noted, I have a feeling of incompleteness and guilt, not only in front of the audience, but in myself. It’s not a good feeling so I try to fight until the end and usually only take draws in “empty” positions. If the tournament situation is favorable I can of course take a draw because it’s the sport. Speaking of the Sofia rules, I must say I have been against the idea from the beginning because it’s difficult to play all games with the same energy. I can understand if somebody decides to play for a win and won’t offer a draw but these rules don’t leave a choice. But I have to admit there are some tournaments with only six players, Libnares for example, and often after one and a half hours of play, two out of the three games are already over. When it comes to the image of chess I think this is unacceptable! So this is a positive side of the Sofia rules. I think a chess player must display a game, not quick draws. At the same time, I can say the pressure during tournaments is increasing and Grand Prix tournaments are exhausting for the players, based on my own experience. A solution might be to organize more free days during the events. I can say the fighting spirit also depends on the character of the player. Some will never accept a quick draw even without the Sofia rules. For example, during the tournament in Bazna (Romania) most of the games were decided with a fight.

What is your next goal after entering the top ten players in the world?

After I became 8th in the World rankings I would like to play in the strong tournaments of course and test my abilities. I was very lucky to get a chance to participate in Grand Prix tournaments these last two years.  Even if I hadn’t had such a result in Astrakhan I would never have a better chance to meet such strong players at the board. There aren’t that many strong tournaments in the chess world and in 2008 I had a kind of a crisis in my career. Those tournaments helped a lot to maintain my level.

After Astrakhan you participated in the ACP World Cup in Odessa. What can you say about this tournament and your result there?

I can say that organization of the tournament in Odessa is getting better every year.  This time it was excellent! The main organizer and President of the ACP, Vadim Marakhovsky, pays a great deal of attention to the organization and does so with his heart and soul.  Unfortunately, in the first round I had to play against Alexander Moiseenko, who is a friend. Still, I don’t think that friendship affects the struggle on the board much, so we just had to play. In my second game I lost fairly against Jakovenko. He played very well throughout the tournament and in my opinion deserved to win it. The match with Karjakin was quite unclear, probably with better chances for Dmitry. I can also say I was too tired after the Grand Prix and of course lacked energy.


Pavel Eljanov at the press conference during ACP World Cup in Odessa.

All the participants in Odessa had a chance to meet a new President of the Ukrainian Chess Federation, Viktor Kapustin. In your previous interview, you said you might leave the Ukrainian federation as Karjakin did earlier. What do you think about the changes in the Ukrainian Chess Federation and do you still want to find another?

I think it’s now time to “reveal my cards”.  The fact is, I never actually wanted to leave the federation, so it was just a bluff. For many years, we had grown used to Viktor Petrov as the President of the UCF. The last two years of his mandate can be judged as very bad. So I just wanted to threaten the federation with my possible transfer. To be honest, I would seriously consider it I received such as attractive a proposal as Sergey Karjakin did, but if we are talking about a transfer to another federation, with only a slight improvement in my financial situation, then I see no interest. First of all, I enjoy playing for the Ukrainian National Team because we have a very good atmosphere, and second, I’m not very happy about the idea of moving to another country, changing citizenship, etc. I hope Mr. Kapustin’s appearance will bring some changes, and I can say I have already seen a few. I know he has already paid all the federation’s debts left over from the previous president, has changed the location of the UCF’s office, and I hear it looks more impressive. I hope all the best Ukrainian players will represent the National Team at the Olympiad and know Mr. Kapustin has taken initiatives in that direction.


Eljanov in action at the ACP World Cup.

What do you think about the Ukrainian Championship? I heard it was planned to be in Kharkov, your native city. What prize fund would bring all the best players to the same playing hall?

I think we should look at the Russian Championship as a good model. They have a good system which consists of some open tournaments, final and super-final events. The prize fund is around US$ 100,000 in the Russian Championship Super-Final, and I think the UCF should consider similar figures. If the best Ukrainian players participated, then the Ukrainian Championship would be just as strong as the Russian Championship.

Going back to the beginning of your chess career, can you tell how you started playing chess?

I was lucky to be born in a chess family and my parents always supported my wish to play chess, even during the periods when I lacked the desire. My mother helped me from the beginning, and showed me the rules of chess, and afterwards we continued to study the basics using  the famous book of Ivashenko. I was probably a good book (laughs).

Do you mean everybody who studies that book can play as well as Pavel Eljanov?

I think 90% start to study chess from that book... Anyhow, I was quickly improving at the beginning but lost interest when I was 8-9 years old. The teamwork with my trainer Anatoliy Astrakhancev (coincidence with Astrakhan?) helped me to achieve a candidate master norm. Of course during that period my father supported me financially and  helped me improve in chess. In 1995 he got the idea of publishing Mark Dvoretsky’s books. I studied all those books several times before they were published, so I was one of their proofreaders as well. Together with Alexander Moiseenko, we checked variations and read the first books at least five times, so I can say I drank it in as mother's milk. At the time I had no trainers, though I studied together with Zakhar Efimenko, Alexander Moiseenko as well as worked alone. Since 1997 I have been coming to the the Chess Club of the National Law Academy. I was the youngest one there and it was a great experience for me to play with more experienced opponents such as Alexander Zubarev, Eduard Andreev among others.

I know you graduated from the National Law Academy of Ukraine named by Yaroslav the Wise. When did you decide to become a professional chess player instead of a lawyer?

Not long ago I was in a meeting with my classmates. And my Russian language teacher showed me a composition I wrote when I was only 15 years old.  Suddenly I found out that years before I had written I wanted to be a chess player, and play chess all my life. Of course I don’t remember this composition and I’m not even sure I wrote in sincerity. I think I decided to take chess more seriously after I became a GM in 2000. Sure, I was developed step-by-step and had ups and downs, but even after reaching 2600 I can not say I had studied chess professionally. In 2004, I won some chess tournaments and got a place in the National team. In that period the new talented, ambitious and young generation appeared in Ukraine. So the team which consisted of Ivanchuk, Ponomariov, Volokitin, Moiseenko, Karjakin and myself only averaged 21 or 22 years of age. At that time we made a real sensation by winning the Olympiad with no great experience, just enthusiasm and energy. I must admit the Russian team was more powerful and strong teams such as Armenia and Azerbaijan hadn’t appeared yet and could not compete with Russia. After this victory I was strongly motivated to develop more and more.


Pavel likes to come to the “Law Academy” chess club where he spends time with
his chess friends playing... Monopoly.

What was the next stage?

In 2004, Boris Gelfand asked me to help him to prepare his matches. He made me an offer I could not refuse! (laughing) The most important was not even a financial question but the chance to work with a player of his caliber. Comparing Gelfand’s attitude to chess and preparation to mine, I would call myself only a semi-professional chess player at that time, though I must say I learned a lot from him.

How do you motivate yourself during the game?

Well, I don’t have any anger and I don’t get angry looking at my opponents. I think my motivation comes from my love of chess. I also like the different ideas, the struggle of concepts, but of course I play for the result! So I probably have a killer instinct which helps me win games. I also try to work a lot at home and find interesting positions where I can just play. I cannot analyze a position deeper and deeper all the way until the end. I also trying to find positions unknown to my opponents.

Is it still possible at such a level? As we all can see how often home preparation decides the result of a game.

Yes, I can say that it’s not so easy to find such dark alleys where one could lure opponents, I can affirm chess is still inexhaustible and nobody knows how a game will finish. Even high quality computers cannot predict the result, and still win and lose playing against each other. So chess can still be called a puzzle.

What are your interests besides chess?

Spending so much time far from home I try to spend more time with my family between the tournaments and training sessions. I also have a labrador, Chester. It’s an English-American breed and I gave him that name because it sounds aristocratic, as well as close to “chess”.

I think there are also cigarettes and a brand of shoes called Chester…

Well, I didn’t mean to make such subtle advertisement (laughing).  I also go to the gym, swim, and play football. Not long ago my wife and I started to attend an English course.   

Some chess players and fans have commented your very interesting sense of fashion. Who helps you choose and what do you think about the dress code during the chess tournaments?

Usually my wife takes care of my image, though she admits most of the clothes I buy are also acceptable (laughs). In general, I prefer casual wear: jeans, fashion t-shirts. I don’t like suits and absolutely hate to wear ties, though I always put on suits and ties when I go to the opening and closing ceremonies. It is these unwritten rules which are important, though sometimes the dress code demands are stipulated in the contracts and of course I follow them.


Pavel and his lovely wife, Elena.

Speaking about your wife, can you tell if it’s helpful she was a chess player in the past?

Of course, it’s important she understands what I’m doing, though at the same moment I’m very glad she stopped playing chess professionally. I was the one who helped her to make the difficult decision to quit chess and choose, frankly speaking, a normal profession. Of course there were many tears and she wanted to continue playing… She works as a lawyer in a solid firm and has no regrets about her choice nowadays.

Does she follow your games during the tournaments? Do you discuss your games afterwards?

Yes, of course she follows my games and usually uses Rybka. Sometimes she will ask why I chose one move instead of another.

What are your nearest plans? Where are you going to play?

My next tournament will be the “Politiken Cup” open in Denmark. I played there two years ago for the first time. It’s a big tournament where many amateur chess players, mostly from Scandinavian countries, participate, and I like it very much. it’s located in a kind of student camp near the lake, and has many sports activities, such as golf, table tennis, and pool. I decided to participate in the event during the winter when the organiser offered me good conditions, so I accepted his invitation.

But many chess players playing on your level prefer not to participate in open tournaments.

I believe my high elo is not a reason to quit the tournament. First of all, it’s not correct because I have an agreement with the organizer, and second, I’m very glad to play there because it’s very difficult to be without practice for a long time.

Before the elections in the chess world, many grandmasters go into politics. Would you like to participate in any political group?

No, I have some chess ambitions and don’t want to spend my time on politics. In general I have negative opinions of it. I think that after a person goes into politics he doesn’t belong to himself any more.


About the author

Anastasiya (Nastja) Karlovich was Ukrainian champion and vice-champion among girls under 16, 18 and 20. She was European Champion with the Ukrainian team in the Youth Team Championships. She is also

  • a candidate officer in the National Law Academy “Yaroslav the Wise”,
  • a member of the chess club “Law Academy”
  • a member of the German club Grosslehna
  • one of the organisers of WGM and GM closed tournaments “Cup of Rector”.
  • a Woman Grandmaster since 2003

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