An interview with Daniel Gormally (1/2)

by Alexey Root
4/5/2016 – Insanity, passion and addiction: A year inside the chess world is a book by Grandmaster Daniel “Danny” Gormally which just came out. His previous work focused on chess improvement but Insanity is deeply personal. In an interview with WIM Alexey Root, Gormally talks about his experiences with the chess world and what made him write such a candid memoir.

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Daniel Gormally

Alexey Root: "Insanity" describes chess players that you admire, such as Grandmasters Jonathan Hawkins and Keith Arkell. Tell us what makes them good role models.

Daniel Gormally: To some extent I admire anyone who plays chess full time because I know how tough it is myself. Note how I didn’t say “Anyone who does chess for a living” because these people are now thin on the ground. There are many people who just do chess but very few who actually make any serious money out of it. Those two you mentioned are just my friends, I guess I just admire them for the fact they’ve been able to stay my friends for many years, which is a great achievement in itself.

"Insanity" mentions ways to make a living in chess, such as teaching, writing or creating videos, and playing. How do you portion your time among those three areas?

As I said, making money from playing now is near enough impossible. I mention these challenges in my book.

Maybe I’m at that rating threshold now where it’s just very difficult. I’m around high 2400s and low 2500s, which just isn’t strong enough to consistently make money from playing in chess tournaments. And in any case, the prizes in open tournaments are fairly lousy now, both in England and in Europe. You might have a first prize of 1,000 Euros in a tournament in Europe, but even if you win it so what? A computer programmer is probably pulling down at least that every week.

So eventually you branch out into other things related to chess like coaching, commentary work etc. But the passion isn’t there, as it is with the playing side. I do enjoy writing though and it’s probably something that I should develop further as many people have said I have some talent for it.

At the moment I probably do 40 percent playing, 40 percent writing and 20 percent coaching. But if I’m honest, I’d rather just play all the time, or perhaps even change my career entirely. But all I’ve ever done is chess, so what can I do? Maybe I’m stuck with it forever.

Daniel Gormally, Insanity, Passion and Addiction, Chess Evolution 2016, 248 pages, 24.99 Euros

"Insanity" recounts an incident where a fellow grandmaster offered you a draw before a game. Your book also discusses how players have cheated with phones. What do you see as the main problems in regard to cheating and chess? And are there solutions?

First of all, offering a draw to someone before the game shouldn’t really be lumped in with cheating. Ok, it’s something that the chess world needs to address, maybe with a world-wide ban on early draws, but it can’t realistically be compared to outright cheating with phones.

There has been some cheating in chess but when you look at other sports, I actually think chess is pretty clean, compared to sports such as e.g. cycling where cheating is fairly rampant. I think the reason for that is simple – there’s very little money in chess. However, if you got a situation where chess was to explode in popularity (admittedly fairly unlikely) then you would probably get an explosion in cheating as well.

You could conceivably get a situation in the future where a top player is caught cheating, perhaps with engine assistance. I don’t think that any of the top players right now are cheating though – you’d pretty quickly get caught out because you wouldn’t be able to hold your own at the press conference when they start asking you about variations. You’d get exposed fairly quickly.

Then again you could argue that using a computer before the game to prepare is a form of “mental doping” in itself, and I’ve seen others make a similar argument. But of course you could never ban computers all together, that’s never going to happen. So as chess players we just have to deal with what’s in front of us.

I think the biggest problem chess faces relating to cheating is the increase in technology, and that the future might bring some tiny devices that help to cheat. Combine that problem with the fact that computers are just getting stronger and stronger and you could have a serious problem, if you haven’t got one already.

The paranoia cheating created is rather sad now – people are afraid to go to the toilet lest they be branded a cheat, which is crazy. But, like I say, the number of cheaters in chess is actually very low. At the moment.

"Insanity" has annotated game fragments, along with several complete games. Most of the chess moves are from your games. However, your book also features games of other top players. How can readers improve when reading your book?

Yes, there are a lot of my games in there! There are two reasons for this. First, I just find it much easier to talk about my own games than other players’ games. I understand what was going on in my game, because I’ve already been thinking about it for several hours. If you start talking about someone else’s game, then you have to recreate their thoughts right from the beginning, which is difficult. This is why in most of the annotated games you see now in magazines and online the author basically just spews out computer variations, because that’s much quicker than actually getting the board out and spending several hours making a good job of it.

Second, I wanted to talk about the psychology of the game, what emotions me and my opponents are going through in the game. You rarely see people talk about nerves, about how chess players can lose games because they become too nervous, or because they haven’t approached the game in the right way, so I try to address these issues in the book. Fischer said that every grandmaster is an expert psychologist, and he was right.

And it’s not just my games. I talk about how Fischer would have done against Kasparov for example, and I think my passion for the games of players of the past comes through in the book.

So in answer to your question Alexey, I would say this book helps readers improve on the psychological side of chess.

For ChessBase Daniel Gormally recorded a critically acclaimed
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English Attack

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Alexey was the 1989 U.S. Women's Chess Champion and is a Woman International Master. She earned her bachelor’s degree in History at the University of Puget Sound and her doctoral degree in Education at The University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies at UT Dallas since 1999 and is a prolific author.


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