An interview with Adrian Michalchishin - player, coach, author (Part II)

by Johannes Fischer
2/15/2021 – Adrian Michalchishin is one of the world's most renowned trainers. He has worked with players such as Alexander Beliavsky, Anatoly Karpov, Alisa Maric, Ilja Nyzhnyk, Richard Rapport, Mateusz Bartel, Susan and Sofia Polgar, to name just a few. In part II of an extensive interview he talks about the work of a trainer, psychology in chess, and reveals how Kasparov once forced him to play cards throughout the night, and why computers may be damaging for chess.

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An interview with Adrian Michalchishin - player, coach, author (Part I)

Johannes Fischer: When and why did you decide to become a chess coach?

Adrian Michalchishin: In 1975 I worked as a second for GM Oleg Romanishin, but in fact, I learnt more from him, than I helped him. Later I helped Maya Chiburdanidze to prepare for her Women’s World Championship match against Nona Gaprindashvili in 1978, which Maya won 8,5:6,5 to become Women’s World Champion.

And in 1980 I got an invitation from GM Igor Zaitsev, the chief of Karpov’s team, to join them. I was known as a top opening expert and for me it was an opportunity to study chess with great players such as Lev Polugaevsky, Mikhail Tal, Efim Geller and Yury Balashov. But my first training with Karpov was terrible, as he continuously outplayed me! I had to concentrate hard to keep his level.

It is also extremely important to help the players with their opening preparation during events. The opening advice of coaches and trainers to top players has decided many crucial games. Belivasky once gave me 1.000 dollars from his prize money in the World Cup after he won a decisive game with a line I had recommended!

Trainers also give advice during tournaments and matches. Which the players not always follow. Here is an instructive story. At the Interzonal Tournament 1987 in Szirak I was coaching Beliavsky. On the flight to the tournament Beliavsky had caught some virus which a few days later had developed into very bad tonsillitis. He ran a temperature of 39 degrees and had to postpone a few games and before every game that he played I took him to a hospital that was 20 kilometres away to get him some injections. But Beliavsky is an incredible fighter and despite his illness he was leading the tournament after nine rounds. And he had recovered.

Still a great fighter: Alexander Beliavsky at the Gibraltar Open 2020 | Photo: John Saunders

In rounds ten and eleven he had to play with White against Valery Salov and Lajos Portisch, who were trailing him by one point. When we prepared for these games, I told him: "Look, you recovered, but your body was under terrible stress during the illness. Now you feel great, but this is a very dangerous moment because sooner or later your body will run out of resources." With this in mind I advised him to play it safe in the next two games. "Try not to push as you usually do." But he looked at me and said: "I don’t play for draw, I am Beliavsky!" Of course, he lost both games, and at the end of the tournament he lacked half a point to qualify for the Candidates...

Among trainers we often discuss if some great players really made the most of their talents. And it is obvious that a lot of them did not but that some of the 16 World Champions did.

What were the most remarkable moments of your work with these and other top players?

Psychological preparation and a good atmosphere are extremely important. I still remember the 27th game of the first match between Karpov-Kasparov in Moscow 1986/1985. I was part of Karpov’s team, and the evening before the game we had prepared a line while Karpov took some rest.

An epic struggle: Kasparov vs Karpov | Photo: Owen Williams (Kasparov Agency)

Anatoly liked to get up late, and after he had breakfast, Igor Zaitsev, who was the head coach of our team, went to Karpov’s room to show him what we had prepared. But after a few minutes he came running out of the room and told me: "Tolya is angry and mad, go to him and try to calm him down." When I went to Karpov, he was in a terribly bad mood and asked: "What did you do the whole night? I have no serious opening option for the game!" I started to show him what we had prepared but he only waved his hands and said, "That’s nothing serious, that’s a harmless line!"

Then I said to him, why don’t you play 8.Qc2 in this line. Tolya answered: "But Garry himself played this move a few months ago against Timman. White has nothing serious here!" I tried to convince him that White has slightly better chances in that line, and after we had analysed for half an hour, he slowly started to soften and said: "Okay, let us try to tease him a bit with this line." He did and he won the game, which to my mind was one of the best games of the match. It’s all psychology…

 

European Championship in Jerusalem 2015. I trained the Turkish boys but GM Emre Can was completely out of form – after five rounds he had minus one. I realised that he just did not calculate properly, and I decided to give him a lot of exercises to solve: every morning, before the game and after the game. It worked! He won five of his remaining games and qualified tor the World Cup!

After losing a game, players are particularly vulnerable. At the super-tournament in Dortmund 1992 – the only tournament where I saw 100 metres long queues before the venue – Kasparov lost a very complicated King’s Indian against Gata Kamsky.

 

After the game Garry was terribly upset and angry, and when he looked around and spotted Zurab Azmaiparashvili and myself – we played in the Open – he pointed his finger at us and said: "You two, you come with me!" We went to his hotel, had dinner, and then we had to play belot with him until 5 o’clock in the morning.

When Azmai and I returned dead-tired to our hotel through the dark Westfalenpark we were cursing everything! We also predicted that we would lose all our remaining games. But incredibly, Garry won his last games and he also won the tournament. Azmai won the Open together with Kramnik. And after the tournament a happy and confident Garry invited us to great dinner with his wife and manager!

I now have great relations with Garry. Our ECU Academy cooperates with the Kasparov Chess Foundation, and we recommend talented European juniors who then get invited for training sessions. Garry often spends his summer holidays at the Adriatic coast in Croatia – he is living in New York but has Croatian citizenship – and we are often in contact with him.

How do you work with such players or other players? What distinguishes a good coach? Can you learn this or is this a talent you are born with?

A good coach knows what to do with a player, e. g. which openings are optimal for him. Of course, every trainer is developing and growing up together with his pupils. It is important to have a group and to create a sporting atmosphere in this group. In my youth I had such a group with Beliavsky and Romanishin and we always fought with all our might against each other. Our trainer Victor Kart was a bit upset about this fierce rivalry but at the end of the day Romanishin regularly beat me, while I was beating Beliavsky, who beat Romanishin! But we were very good friends, and after the rounds we usually spent time together, and played poker or belot with our trainer.

Some trainers, who coach only one talented player, sometimes make the mistake not to allow their pupil to study with better trainers. But the example of Boris Spassky shows why this can be useful for the development of a player. Spassky studied with GM Alexander Tolush, a player with a fierce attacking style, and then later with GM Igor Bondarevsky, who had a calmer style. These trainers helped to make Spassky a universal player.

Boris Spassky, World Champion from 1969 to 1972

Some clubs and federations do not understand the importance of professional trainers. They say, "Let us take just a good player, perhaps with a rating 2600, and he will teach our juniors a lot. But such a player often just shows his students his own games and his favourite openings, which he knows really well. However, not every player can play these lines! I know some clubs or even some countries, in which all juniors play the same opening, which they got from some top trainer!

My trainer Victor Kart taught me that it is most important to have an individual approach to every player. He also stressed the key element of the Soviet school of chess – the serious analysis of your own games to recognize and to eliminate typical mistakes and to better understand typical positions from your opening repertoire.

You have been a trainer for more than 40 years. Are you still in touch with some of the many students in had?

Well, in fact, I am a bit old fashioned when it comes to studying chess and pursuing a career. I usually tell my students that it is important not to focus entirely on chess and warn them of neglecting their studies at university. This gives them two options: they can pursue a chess career or they can choose another career and enjoy chess as amateur.

I recently wrote an extensive article for the Russian site ChessPRo, in which I asked "Where did the grandmasters go?". In fact, hundreds of grandmasters decided to pursue other careers. Among them are owners or directors of banks, e.g. Margeir Petursson from Iceland, and high-ranking politicians such as Alisa Maric, Dana Reizniece Ozola or Bozidar Ivanovich. Anatoly Karpov, Victor Bologan, Utut Adianto or Loek Van Wely also went into politics and are members of parliament. The American grandmaster Ken Rogoff made a career in finance and is former director of the World Bank. And one of my pupils is the leader of an Irish band in Slovenia!

I am always happy to hear when my boys and girls are marrying, create families and have kids. But it still is a pity that some outstanding talents lose their way, particularly so when they take drastic decisions to change their lives. When I ask them for why they often say: "I want to become a millionaire and in chess this is very difficult if you are not among the top ten."

I think, it is a pity that outstanding talents such as Alexander Ipatov, Jaro Zherebukh, Illa Nyzhnyk, Richard Rapport or Arkady Naiditsch did not reach the absolute top in the world of chess. But still – at her peak Alisa Maric was number four in the world though she had talent enough to be number one), but she became a Minister! So, who knows, which way you have to go to become happy. Anyhow, I feel as if all of my students are like my kids! And I still continue to advise many of them.

Computers have changed the chess world fundamentally. Are young players today different from young players before? In their approach to chess, in their mentality or in their approach to training and trainers?

Of course, computers have changed the chess world profoundly. They helped a lot, but they also did a lot of damage. Computers are a great help when preparing for a certain opponent, they help to find the best lines, and so on. But as the great trainer Mark Dvoretsky pointed out, modern players of all levels overlook a lot of tactics.

Mark Dvoretsky | Photo: Amruta Mokal

After all, when they analyse with a computer, they tend to ignore small tactical possibilities. Computers simply do not consider such simple lines but when you play a game you have to see and check them. Engines are like drugs – after 15 minutes of using them, the logical thinking process is switched off! I would forbid using engines until you a rating of 2000!

Computers also destroyed modern opening theory. Today, nobody plays sharp lines like the Botvinnik Variation in the Slav or the Polugaevsky Variation in the Najdorf Sicilian. Computers analysed them deeply and playing these lines turns a chess game into a memory contest. The Ukrainian GM Andrei Volokitin, who is a top analytic, once told me that his longest opening analysis runs to move 66! Trying to memorise such a long line is useless and damaging. And we do not play chess to memorise opening variations …

When I was team captain of Vladimir Kramnik, he once told me that he must repeat variations for hours to prepare for the game! And that is the reason Magnus Carlsen came up with openings like the London System that avoid computers lines. In my time, such lines were thought to be a sign that a player was lazy. But now they are a way to destroy the opponent’s computer preparation. Romanishin’s and Kramnik’s reinvention of the Berlin was a great find because computers have problems to understand the position!

Computers indeed changed a lot. A long time ago when Boris Spassky was World Champion he told his trainer GM Igor Bondarevsky, that it would be less important what opening he played but more important that he had a fresh mind!

Today, players tend to see the position on the screen first, but not on the board! The game is the same, but the picture is different. I think it is necessary to limit work with engines. Dvoretsky thought that computers damaged the abilities of the players and he believed that the best chess was played at the end of 80’s and the start of the 90’s when computers were still not that strong.

To be continued...

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An interview with Adrian Michalchishin - (Part I)


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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thirteen thirteen 2/16/2021 12:44
Still, computers do have a future, at lower and higher levels, given a careful enough approach, they guide much, everywhere, and remain 'marketable' through tactics and increasingly strategies as well. The 'switching off' personal concentration [robot] element is the enemy. It is the memory stuff, known as 'preparation' that is tough to reign-in, in reality. I liked the Carlsen- London System comment, which by accident or design, has play that just might be going towards saving our chess futures somewhat? Looking forwards to the next part.
retspan retspan 2/16/2021 11:42
Great article! That anecdote about having to play a card game with Kasparov till the wee hours of the morning made me laugh. Such information could only come from an "insider." Now I'm wondering what other strange (but ultimately successful) things other world champions have tried just to get over a lost game.
Posiskak Posiskak 2/16/2021 06:22
Very nice indeed!!
anandymous anandymous 2/16/2021 06:12
Looking forward to part three. Outstanding interview, thank you.
philidorchess philidorchess 2/16/2021 01:03
Super!!
AgainAgain AgainAgain 2/15/2021 09:57
amazing insights
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