Alexander Moiseenko – the secret of success

3/11/2009 – He is 28, a lawyer by training but a strong chess grandmaster by profession. Recently Alexander Moiseenko won the very strong Aeroflot Open, together with Etienne Bacrot. This is just the culmination of a row of successful tournaments. Moiseenko spoke at length with our correspondent WGM Anastasiya Karlovich about training, tournament strategy and chess in Ukraine. Interview.

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Alexander Moiseenko – the secret of success

Interview by WGM Anastasiya Karlovich

Born on May 17th, 1980 in Severomorsk (Russia), GM Alexander Moiseenko has been an International Grandmaster since the year 2001. Recently he shared the first place in the Aeroflot Open. He was a member of Ukrainian team who successfully won the 36th World Chess Olympiad in 2004. He is a big fighter in chess and the winner of many tournaments: The Candian Open in 2003, 2004, 2008, Cappella le Grande in 2006, the World Open 2008 and many others.

You have participated in the Aeroflot Open a number of times already. This year, did you have the feeling you were going to have such a good result?

No I didn’t expect that. I took part in Aeroflot Open five times but never showed such a high performance. I just seriously prepared for the tournament and tried to get a good result, but of course I did not think that I would share first place. I just played every game and aimed to do everything possible to collect as many points as possible.

What does such a successful result mean for you?

I have won many tournaments before and shown much better performances than here. If I would have been a sole winner of Aeroflot, I’d say it was the best result in my career.

How could you manage not to lose any game in such a strong tournament?

The Aeroflot Open is a very special tournament, and the value of wins and losses is very high. If you lose and go into minus it’s hard to catch up because you get opponents of the almost same strength as you do when you are in the plus. The general level of play is so high that you can stay in the second part of the table until the end of the tournament. That’s why it was very important for me to have a good start, as I managed winning the first game against GM Ildar Khairullin. I can’t say that I was trying to avoid the danger of losing. I had big problems in my game against Pavel Ponkratov, the only IM among my opponents. He conducted the first part and the middle of the game well, but in the end I took over the initiative. But at the same time I cannot say that I was exceptionally lucky, because I missed a chance to get a big advantage and a winning position against Gabriel Sargissian. It was a long game and I could not see anything after six hours.

Was it difficult to recover after such a game?

No, it wasn’t easy. The next day it was hard to play against Pashikian.

Many GMs don’t like to play early in the day. What do you think about morning games? Was it difficult for you to play the last round?

I am fine with the morning games. I wake up early, though I know that is not so easy for many professional chess players. I was trying my best in the last game because I don’t often have the chance to win such a tournament. In the last round I played against a young Chinese player (2540 Elo). At that time he had defeated four strong GMs with 2600+ ratings. I managed to win, and it was not a bad game.

You played close to the infamous game Mamedyarov-Kurnosov. You also faced Kurnosov during the tournament. How can you comment the situation?

I do not see any special reason to suspect Kurnosov was using hints from the computer. I just think that the doubts of Mamedyarov prevented him from playing calmly, and he conducted this game worse than his usual level. I played a prepared line with Kurnosov. At one moment my opponent was thinking for 40 minutes and then found several fantastic moves that even a chess program doesn’t see from the beginning. Although he played some moves according to the first line of the computer I could see how hard he was thinking, that’s why I consider his using the computer’s help improbable. In any case we should not underestimate Kurnosov. He is very solid player who recently won the strong tournament in Hastings. He is self-confident and would not agree to a draw if he likes his position.

I remember a curious situation I had in my practice. In the game with Peter Svidler I made 20 moves which were the first line of Fritz and … resigned. Well, back then chess programs were not as strong as they are today. But I think even nowadays computers cannot find some good moves in the middle of the game, moves which strong grandmaster can find.

Whose play in the tournament made an impression on you?

To be honest I didn’t pay much attention to the encounters of the others because I was too much concentrated on my own games. But I can say that endgame technique of the winner Bacrot impressed me once again during that tournament. The young players like Kurnovos, Pashikian, the Zhigalko brothers, the Chinese players, Tatiana Kosintseva showed themselves from the good side.


Alexander Moiseenko, always interested in woman chess!

Who had taught you the rules of chess and how did your career develop?

My mother taught me chess, and when I was six I joined the chess group in the Pioneer Palace in Severomorsk (Russia). In 1989 my family and I moved to Kharkov (Ukraine), where I continued my training in the chess school. My first coach was V. Viskin, who lives in Germany nowadays. I also trained with Shmuter and Karpman. At the age of 17 I started my studies in the National Law Academy of Ukraine, named after Yaroslav the Wise, and which had a strong chess club. Future GMs like Pavel Eljanov, Alexander Zubarev, Eduard Andreev and many others were studying chess there. The coach was the famous GM Vladimir Savon. He taught me a lot of things –unfortunately he is not with us anymore… Our club organised 24-hours marathons for the best chess players of Kharkov (Baadur Jobava also took part). Thanks to the good atmosphere in our chess club, and the competitive spirit between young chess players, I became a strong grandmaster with 2580 Elo. Of course like any chess player I have periods of ups and downs. For example the year of 2007 was not so great for me. But afterwards during the summer of 2008 I managed to win five strong tournaments in a row. Perhaps I can explain such results with my more mature attitude towards chess. I simply started to study chess more.

You are a lawyer by the education. Why did you decide to become chess professional?

I made this choice because I just really like to play chess. In what other profession are there people who are so interested in their work that they can speak for hours about their job after the working day has finished? In my opinion practically all the strong chess players are fanatics. Recently I was playing in the Turkish league and I noticed that literally all members of the tournament were going on the Internet and watching the games from other tournaments after their own games were finished. I passed Anna Sharevich, sitting with her computer, and she had a chess board on her monitor!

How do you prepare for the tournaments?

Mostly I work with a computer. I also like to read chess books, and I’m sure that assessments like 0.45 or 0.34 will never replace live printed material. The books of Mark Dvoretsky had a big influence on me. I often work together with Pavel Eljanov, who is also my good friend. I also worked with Ruslan Ponomariev and Sergey Kariakin, who are colleagues on the team.


Friends: GMs Pavel Eljanov, Alexander Moiseenko

Which games can you suggest for readers to replay in order to form an opinion on your chess style?

It is always difficult to characterise your own style. Probably I prefer to play dynamic or tactical chess, but with a healthy positional foundation. I also like to sacrifice a pawn for the initiative. I can suggest that they play through the games from the last rounds of my tournaments. They also have a big sporting importance. These are my games against Evgeny Miroshnichenko in Canadian Open, 2007 and Mikhail Gurevich. If you speak about Aeroflot, it is a game with the Chinese player from the last round, Zhou Weiqi.

What are your other interests in life besides chess?

I like sport very much, especially ping pong, tennis, swimming and skiing. I can also play billiards, but usually I am the one to be killed in this game. I like to sing and often sing to myself silently during the games. Once I forgot where I was and started to sing loudly the national hymn of the Soviet Union. I value good humour and like to laugh.

Many chess players pay attention to the similarity with Vladimir Kramnik in your appearance. Did you have any funny situation because of that?

Yes, sure I heard about it. Once in Canada the organiser asked me to give away some books by Yakov Damskiy, “Break through”, to the chess amateurs. The title list of the book had a portrait of Kramnik and many people thought that it was me and wanted my autograph on the picture.

What are your next plans?

In the end of March the 11th Cup of Rector will take place in Kharkov. It consists of the match between two best Ukrainian clubs, and I’m going to represent my club “Law Academy” there. The participation of such players as Ruslan Ponomariov, Pavel Eljanov and Vladimir Beliavskiy shows that tournament will be tough. In April I’ll play for the Saratov club in Russian league as usual.

In which leagues, except for the Russian and Ukrainian, do you also participate?

I also play for Israeli and Spanish clubs. I know many Ukrainian players take part in German Bundesliga, but I haven’t had a chance to play there yet.

How can you explain the phenomenal level of chess in Ukraine, where young GMs spring up like mushrooms after a rainy day?

In my opinion there are a number of different reasons for that. Firstly, there is a great Soviet chess basis. Secondly, it’s a geographical factor that Ukraine is not far from the other European countries. After the collapse of the USSR Ukrainian chess players of different levels could take part in different tournaments in Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany. At the same time it was not possible for many Russian chess players. It’s not so easy to get, let’s say, from Siberia to any European country. The third reason is economical of course. The situation in Ukraine is still difficult. Normal and stable jobs generally mean stably low salaries, which is not the case in the countries in Western Europe. That’s why Ukrainian chess players pay much more attention to chess and work harder, understanding that in the future they can become successful professionals. And another big role was played by chess centres which appeared in Ukraine, like in Kramatorsk. Many talented players appeared also in Lvov, thanks to the efforts of Vladimir Grabinsky. And of course Kharkov is one of such centres, too.

Thank you for this interview!

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; the organiser of the WGM and GM closed tournaments “Cup of Rector”; a Woman Grandmaster since 2003.


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