An interview with Daniel Gormally (2/2)

by Alexey Root
4/12/2016 – In part two of his interview with WIM Alexey Root, English Grandmaster Daniel Gormally talks again about his recently published book Insanity, passion and addiction: A year inside the chess world, speaks about the magic of chess, alcohol and chess, work ethics, why he wants to leave the past behind, and remembers the worst and the best moments of his chess career.

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Daniel Gormally

Alexey Root: You once wrote: “I play chess, to compete against the best and achieve some admittedly moderate level of fame. To be in the spotlight, rather than dwell in the shadows.” By tying for second in the 2015 British Championship, you came close to the chess-playing spotlight. But Insanity, passion and addiction: A year inside the chess world shines a harsh light instead of a spotlight. The writer Daniel Gormally seems to be very critical of Daniel Gormally, the chess player and person. In many of your annotations you emphasize your mistakes. Why do you write about yourself in this way?

Daniel Gormally: I think a lot of my writing is self-deprecating, and I also try to look at things from the humorous side, so inevitably you are going to get such comments.

But it’s true that I suffer from low self-esteem. Recently I tried to lose some weight as we exist in a world that puts looks on a pedestal. Unfortunately, in the chess world (as you can imagine) it’s very hard to meet girls, and the ones I do meet aren’t interested in me anyway. I have nothing to offer them.

“Loneliness” is mentioned about 100 times in your 248-page book

Yes, it’s true, I’m lonely. In effect, the book is rather written from the viewpoint of the tragic anti-hero from Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther but brought to a modern setting. I think I’m not the only chess player who feels this way. I know of one English grandmaster who quit playing chess because he wanted to get a job, so he could meet people and get a girlfriend. He subsequently got married.

This was why in the book I talk about maybe doing other things, because it’s true that if you stick to chess it’s a very lonely existence. There’s no support team, you are essentially on your own. On the other hand the people I have met in chess are probably the most interesting people you could meet, maybe because they are as crazy and obsessive as I am (smiles)

Why did you call yourself “lazy” in "Insanity" with regard to chess?

Probably because I am! I wish I had the work ethic of a Kramnik or a Matthew Sadler, for example. I probably have as much passion for the game as they do. I just have less of an ability to drive myself.

That’s why I think the very top players are set apart from us because of their ability to work so hard, to put in 12 hours a day working on chess, for example. I don’t think that’s normal. So, actually in being lazy, I’m probably just being like everyone else.

But I got to the point where I was doing so little work on chess and never studied at all, that it was starting to impact my results. So recently I’ve forced myself to do some work, and I talk about this in the book.

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

But to be one of the very best you need to be consumed by that activity, to make it your whole life. I guess I just don’t have that obsession, that drive to be the best, anymore. If I ever did.

In "Insanity" you wrote that you have considered giving up drinking during tournaments and that you don’t drink when you are at home. What do you think about alcohol and chess?

Recently, I started to get a very negative view of drinking at chess. Because I noticed I could directly attribute a lot of my losses to drinking during a tournament.

I don’t drink directly before a game, but if you are going out drinking every night which tends to happen on the British chess scene, then that’s going to make you sluggish over the course of a long tournament. So my best advice is to stay away from alcohol altogether.

What is one day in your chess life that you would like to forget?

Unfortunately, I’m not the sort of person who can just have one or two pints of beer and stop, I have rather an addictive personality. Drinking a lot tends to bring out my bad side, which at the Turin Olympiad got me into trouble and into a fight with Levon Aronian.

I don’t think getting into fights in itself makes you an irredeemable person. What would make you an irredeemable person is if you didn’t recognize that you need to avoid fighting in future and the behaviour that leads to it. That you don’t realize you made a mistake.

Turin was the worst moment of not only my chess career but also my life. I was ashamed of it, why wouldn’t you be? But now I want to move on from it and not be constantly reminded of it at every turn. While at the same time addressing the behaviour that lead to it in the first place, which directly means drinking less alcohol.

What is one day in your chess life that you would like to remember?

Probably the day that my dad got out a chess set and taught myself and my sister chess. It was one of those magical moments where you just pick something up straight away.

I guess that’s when I realized I had a talent for the game, because I understood the game immediately. And of course this set me on a path that few others go on, that you meet these crazy people and have these amazing experiences.

I think from the playing point of view, certainly beating Alexey Dreev at Gibraltar to get the grandmaster title was a special moment.


Not only beating such a great player but also to get the grandmaster title at the same time was something very special. I recall after the game I wandered down to the quayside next to the hotel and just gazed out into the Mediterranean Sea. Just reflecting, chewing over what I had achieved. Money cannot buy such a feeling.

Your book has an unusual title, Insanity, passion and addiction: A year inside the chess world. What does the title refer to?

I think it refers to how I approach life, that it’s with passion and obsession. You should only really do something if you enjoy it and if you approach it with passion. Otherwise you will inevitably get very bored, and move on to something else.

I think a lot of people regard chess players as rather staid, almost robotic characters, but in the book I hopefully get over that this is not the case. That chess is full of rather unusual characters, but they are rarely boring.

Even if I occasionally view chess in a negative light I guess that’s because it’s all I’ve done for the last twenty odd years. Maybe I need a break. But I haven’t lost sight of the fact that I realize that I was lucky to have this life, to meet these interesting characters, to go to these amazing places, which wouldn’t perhaps have been the case if I had been stuck in an office my whole adult life.

But essentially the essence of the book is trying to present the life of a chess pro who is struggling. We all know about the stories of Magnus and so on, but what about 99 percent of chess pros who are making a hand-to-mouth existence, who are surviving from week to week, maybe an article here, a chess lesson there. That’s what I wanted to convey to the reader, that it’s not all sweetness and light, that there’s this hidden struggle that we don’t always see portrayed by the chess media, who like to make out the life of a chess player to be one glorious cycle. And I hope I have achieved it in the book!

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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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koko48 koko48 4/13/2016 03:07
I think it's very brave of GM Gormally to speak so frankly....My advice, Daniel? Take care of the drinking problem, if you haven't already

Knock that demon off your back, and you'll find yourself a better and stronger man than you ever were (trust me on this one)....Then you will realize you have plenty to offer :-)
yesenadam yesenadam 4/13/2016 02:59
Ok sorry. I feel awful about my comment under part 1. Brutally honest article, I guess. Thank you DG.

Some advice: Man, stop feeling sorry for yourself!!! Gee. One thing you could try is join internet chat/dating/friendship sites, there's quite a few good free ones. Make friends with amazing people/girls all over the world. (I think it's hard for everyone to meet 'candidate friends' in real life. It's like trying to find a chess game in real life vs finding one online. hehe. OK, maybe easy in real life for you since you live in the chess world.) I did, and it's impossible for me to feel lonely these days. Which I did feel sometimes before; never had quite as many great friends as I would have wished. My best friend today is also my language teacher (and I hers) that I met on a language-learning website.

"I have nothing to offer them." Well, something very wrong with your thinking there. It's maybe true if you believe it, but why do that to yourself. I don't think I 'have anything' you don't. But I know I have my time, friendship, laughter, joy, love, hugs, tears etc to offer my friends. I don't think they're nothing. I think they're everything. Do you think these things are nothing when they're offered to you?! I can't believe it.. Anyway. Good luck. :-D But really, someone in the internet age complaining they can't get a game of chess just hasn't tried.
treetown treetown 4/12/2016 06:21
These comments are very honest and must be hard for him to write. It also makes me feel sad that he feels he has nothing to offer. Perhaps he believes he is being very practical minded and blunt, but relationships are not always predictable. Good luck to him in the future.
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 4/12/2016 03:47
To see the life of professional 2500-2600 GMs is essential. And from that personal perspective, it is great. A way for the higher rated players (top 10 let us say) to help them is to play more in open tournaments.

In open tournaments, sometimes these 2500 - 2600 GMs make life difficult to the top ones - the top ones should once in a while demonstrate their quality by accepting to play these other GMs.

Considering that there are bilions of chess players in the world, being the 200th (for example) is a great accomplishment.
Mr TambourineMan Mr TambourineMan 4/12/2016 10:30
We all have our problems and Danny's book should be one of the few that focuses on the personal problems and chess life in general and as a lifestyle.

One small problem I have is that every day I want to surf the web, good god Im not a 14 yr old girl with a mobile, and what I found is that it is much better if the news articles are in the form of audio or radio when you can listen to them while tinkering with other things at the same time .

And another thing I discovered is that the game of chess on a board really is nicer but still ... stuck it in front of the computer, and then both in the debris of sense and chess.
afiedito afiedito 4/12/2016 07:34
I like to read the book. It is true about the chess media. It never discuss anything about the 99 % of chess pros...