Artist and chess player: an interview with Mihail Marin and Maria Yugina

by Conrad Schormann
12/24/2019 – Mihail Marin is considered as one of the best opening theoreticians and chess authors. Two years ago he married the painter and chess player Maria Yugina. Conrad Schormann had a chat with the couple that travels around the world, following their passions, painting and playing chess.

Marin's English Love Vol.1 and 2 - A complete repertoire for White after 1.c4 Marin's English Love Vol.1 and 2 - A complete repertoire for White after 1.c4

The aim of these Dvd's is to build a repertoire after 1.c4 and 2.g3 for White. The first DVD includes the systems 1...e5, the Dutch and Indian setups. The second DVD includes the systems with 1...c5, 1...c6 and 1...e6.


The original German version of this interview first appeared on the chess blog Perlen am Bodensee.

"When I can explain things to myself I know that I understood them."

Mihail Marin and Maria Yugina might be one of the best-known chess couples. They both play on master level, he even plays on grandmaster level. Away from the board she shines as a painter, he as an author. At the Tegernsee we met the Russian and the Romanian for a chess chat.

"Since I was a child I have been dreaming to see Neuschwanstein": Maria Yugina's dream now became true. (Photo: Maria Yugina/Facebook)

CS: Mihail, I do have to complain.

MM: Oh?

CS: Years ago, when I started to search my ChessBase Mega Database for particularly instructive comments I again and again came across your annotations. Soon I just searched for "Annotator Marin" because there simply is no better. But I do have the impression that you share your knowledge with us less often than you used to do.

MM: Thanks for the compliment! However, the one or the other current game should be there, no? Maybe previously I indeed used to do more because I am a friend of Rainer Knaak, the former editor of the ChessBase Magazine. We like each other, and he often asked me directly for annotations but he is retired now. 

How do your annotations come about?

Writing books or annotating games is a time-consuming process. I have to be certain that I understand things in all their depth. I know I do when I can explain them to myself. Only if this works, only if I am certain to understand the material myself, I start to write. And I try to write in a way that the reader gets the most of the work I have invested.

"In all their depth"? Can you elaborate?

Chess understanding and chess knowledge work on more than one level. Everybody who writes about chess, myself included, works with computers. We look at games and then explain the ideas behind the variations and evaluations given by the machine. However, this does not lead to a fundamental understanding. Therefore, I often consciously use another approach, in particular when I write a book. I play through a game or analyse on my board, focusing on my thoughts and ideas. But of course I do not always have time for this.

What are you? Chess player? Author? Coach? 

Player! That's how it feels deep inside, and that is also how Maria sees me. However, I do spend more time as an author of books or DVDs, that's how I earn most of my living. I also coach occasionally but only if things really fit. After all, I am not without success here. When I started to work with Daniele Vocaturo he had an Elo of 2360. Eight months later he was a grandmaster. And I was second of Judit Polgar when she came back to the board after taking a 14-month break to take parental leave.

And you, Maria?

MY: I am a painter! A chess painter.

I saw you playing. The tension, the fight. And here, in the first round of the Tegernsee Open you came close to winning against a grandmaster. This looked like a chess player.

MY: I love it to calculate, to work through variations. Unfortunately, I often run out of time in the end, and that is also what happened in the first round.

MM: Maria has a lot of talents. For example, a green belt in Capoeira. And she won prizes in swimming competitions. And when she is sitting at the board she is an uncompromising fighter.

MY: Yeah, but after all the question was who or what I am. And the answer to that question is "painter". I was about 19 years old when I started to paint. Every day, even when I was studying and worked as a chess teacher. Painting is my passion. Back then I had a private tutor, now painting is my profession. About a year ago I gradually started to focus on chess motives. 

A painting by Maria Yugina

And now you are living as travelling chess-player-painter-author-couple. How did you meet?

MM: Do you want to tell the story, Maria? 

MY: No, go ahead.

MM: We first met in Tallinn 2016, at the European Rapid and Blitz-Championships. I had not slept for 36 hours, it was dark and cold. I was queuing to register, wondering what on earth I am doing here. And suddenly this girl was standing before me, asking whether you can register here. A bit later we met in Vienna and spent a couple of days together, and I already asked her whether she wants to marry me.


MM: Yes (smiles).

Do you have a special connection to Germany?

MY: No, I haven't. But I like what I have seen so far. Neuschwanstein! Since I was a child, I have been dreaming to see this castle.

MM: (answering in excellent German): May I answer in German? German was my first foreign language in school. As a child, during the holidays, I often visited a family in Brasov, Kronstadt, which spoke German. I learnt to speak it there. Unfortunately, since then I have forgotten a lot because for a long time I had no connection at all to Germany. This changed when I started to record DVDs for ChessBase. To get back into the language I read "The Magic Mountain" by Thomas Mann. I thought, why not start with the most difficult. And I finished it.

Translation from German: Johannes Fischer

Conrad Schormann, skilled newspaper editor, runs an agency for editing and communication in Überlingen, at Lake Constance. But he lacks time to play chess which is partly due to the fact that he very much likes to write about it, for Chessbase, in the Reddit chess forum, or for his chess teaching blog Perlen vom Bodensee...


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