Brothers in arms

by Dhananjay Khadilkar
8/17/2019 – Not just grandmasters, but brothers too! Dimitrios Mastrovasilis tied for first in the Francophone International in Paris this week, a half point ahead of his brother Athanasios. DHANANJAY KHADILKAR chatted with Dimitrios (pictured in jacket) and Athanasios (in the black t-shirt) during the tournament for a glimpse of life in a professional chess family. | Photo: D. Khadilkar

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Meeting the Grand-Mastrovasilis frères

Playing on the top board in the final round of the recently concluded Francophone International in Paris, GM Athanasios Mastrovasilis could have drawn his game against IM Gabriel Flom a few moves earlier.

The position was equal, and he knew that a draw was the only outcome. Yet, he delayed the inevitable by a good ten minutes because of what was happening on the second board. Sitting next to him on the second board was GM Dimitrios Mastrovasilis who was in a completely winning position but was down on the clock.

“I didn’t make a draw immediately because my brother was under some time pressure. I didn’t want to make any noise that could have distracted him during those moments,” Athanasios remarked.

Brothers playing

The brothers Mastrovasilis — Dimitrios (in the jacket) and Athanasios (in the t-shirt)

Of course, given his dominant position, Dimitrios, who is rated 2594 (with a peak Elo of 2631), would have still won comfortably without this brotherly gesture.

 

Black has just tried to free his position by advancing and exchanging his d-pawn, revealing a discovered attack on Dimitrios queen from the rook on e8. But the elder Mastrovasilis has a refutation to seize the advantage. Can you spot it?

18.f3 turning the tables thanks to the pin from his own rook on the d-file. 18...xc3 19.xd8 axd8 20.e3 and White had a serious advantage.
Rd. Bo. SNo   Name Rtg FED Pts. Res. we w-we K rtg+/-
1 1 117   Meslage Jean 1794 FRA 5,0 s 1 0,92 0,08 10 0,80
2 1 60 IM Meftahi Houssem 2099 TUN 5,5 w 1 0,92 0,08 10 0,80
3 1 33 FM Ralison Milanto Harifidy 2277 MAD 7,5 s ½ 0,87 -0,37 10 -3,70
4 8 34 FM Amdouni Zoubaier 2274 TUN 6,5 w ½ 0,87 -0,37 10 -3,70
5 9 47 FM Daurelle Herve 2179 FRA 5,0 s 1 0,92 0,08 10 0,80
6 5 24 IM Gerber Richard 2305 SUI 6,0 w 1 0,84 0,16 10 1,60
7 2 11 IM Piscopo Pierluigi 2403 ITA 6,5 s 1 0,75 0,25 10 2,50
8 1 5 IM Flom Gabriel 2495 FRA 7,5 s ½ 0,64 -0,14 10 -1,40
9 2 18 IM Shirazi Kamran 2339 FRA 6,5 w 1 0,81 0,19 10 1,90

Dimitrios Mastrovasilis tournament performance in Paris

“I try not to think of my brother’s games. But, subconsciously I end up doing so. And that can be tricky, especially when you are seated next to each other. That’s why we analyse each other’s position only after our games are finished or when we are in total control of the situation,” Athanasios said.

Athanasios and Dimitrios belong to the select group of grandmaster siblings, of which only a handful are currently active. Forty-year-old Athanasios, whose current Elo rating is 2518 (with a peak of 2555), learned the ropes of chess from his father, while Dimitrios — who is 36 — followed his elder brother in taking up the sport.

Dimitrios Mastrovasilis“To have a talented elder brother was extremely handy for me as I learned a lot from him. I had somebody in the family who could help me, who I could train with and get ideas from,” Dimitrios said.

In fact, having a chess-playing sibling has been of mutual benefit for the two.

“We prepare, analyse and ideate together; we discuss general ideas, solve technical problems and not just specific lines. Equally importantly, we lend each other emotional support which is extremely important in long tournaments,” Athanasios said.

He added that very few Greek players want to play tournaments on their own anyway. “They always go with a friend or an acquaintance. To have good company is a Mediterranean temperament.”

The two brothers grew up in the port city of Thessaloniki and represent the local city club, Thessaloniki Chess Union, in the national championship. They have been playing regularly for the Greek national team (Dimitrios since 2000, Athanasios since 2004) at the Olympiad, European Team championships and world team championships.

In fact, one of their best moments was at the 2010 world team championship in Bursa, Turkey where Greece defeated two strong teams including Russia, who went on to win the tournament.

“I was playing Nikita Vitiugov on board four. I remember it vividly because I was the last to finish and by drawing my game, we won the match 2½:1½. We were extremely thrilled by the result. But unfortunately, we got so excited by our big win that in the next round, we lost to Egypt very easily,” Athanasios said. Their other memorable performance was at the 2016 Olympiad in Baku where the Greek national team, which they were a part of, remained undefeated.

Considering they are both strong grandmasters, have there been any episodes of jealousy or rivalry between the two?

Athansios“Even though I was the elder brother, Dimitrios became a grandmaster before I did. I felt a bit jealous then because he had improved faster than me,” Athansios said with a laugh. “After all, chess is an antagonistic game. Maybe, at some moment, when I was much younger I had that feeling. But then I quickly realized that harbouring such feelings, doesn’t help at all. You have to learn from each other and try to become better,” he said.

Dimitrios became a Grandmaster aged 20, in 2003 after winning the last four rounds at the European Individual Championship in Silivri, Turkey thus gaining the grandmaster title in a single stroke.

“I had a great season that year, starting with the European championship where I won my GM title. This gave me a big boost as it released the pressure. My rating soon jumped to 2550,” Dimitrios said.

Athanasios became a grandmaster two years later at the age of 26. Interestingly, the two have contrasting playing styles. While Athansios prefers solid, positional play, Dimitrios is an aggressive player. “Our styles, which are a reflection of our individual characters, complement each other very well,” Dimitrios said.

Mastrovasilis brothers

The brothers travel to tournaments together

What about their future goals?

For Dimitrios, playing in tournaments like the FIDE World Cup remains a big target. “It’s really tough to qualify,” he said. Dimitrios has competed in the 2004 and 2017 editions of the tournament.

Athanasios is looking forward to the European team championship in October. In the long term, he wants to switch to coaching and train young talent.

“As a FIDE trainer, I am already coaching strong players including  Stavroula Tsolakidou, who is an IM and three times world girls champion (U14, U16 and U18). I am happy with the results so far. It gives me extra satisfaction and motivation to train youngsters in our era since we didn't have the same level of support.”

But that’s for the future. For now, Athanasios and Dimtrios are planning to take a well-deserved summer break after a satisfying performance in the Francophone International tournament.

“First, we will go home and then with our family, visit some place close to the sea... to enjoy the waves and the sunshine,” Athanasios said.

Final standings (top 10)

Rk. Name Pts.
1 Flom Gabriel 7,5
2 Mastrovasilis Dimitrios 7,5
3 Ralison Milanto Harifidy 7,5
4 Bergez Luc 7,0
5 David Alberto 7,0
6 Mastrovasilis Athanasios 7,0
7 Macon Arthur 7,0
8 Chandesris Ludovic 7,0
9 Shirazi Kamran 6,5
10 Berend Elvira 6,5

 

All games

 

Photos: D. Khadilkar

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Dhananjay is a Paris based journalist and a chess enthusiast. While he enjoys playing the game, he is more fascinated by the drama and history associated with it.
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