Chess Talent: Vincent meets Garry

by Frederic Friedel
10/23/2015 – He comes from a family of musicians: father teaches at the university, mother plays concert cello. Vincent himself is a budding pianist – and a very strong chess player, as became clear in a coaching session at ChessBase. So we took him to meet the 13th World Champion to get a really profound evaluation. Garry Kasparov confirmed: a truly extraordinary talent. Now guess how old Vincent is.

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Chess Talent: Vincent meets Garry

By Frederic Friedel

Here's how it began. Recently – actually at the end of August – we had a very pleasant afternoon with some interesting visitors in our ChessBase office in Hamburg. Our guests were:

Heike and Christof Keymer, both musicians. Heike plays cello in an orchestra, Christof is a teacher of music at the University of Hannover. She is vivacious and full of stories; he is professoral and learned, a concert pianist – as I write these lines Christof is giving a recital in Gibraltar.

They brought along their daughter Cecilia, seven years old and one of the cutest little girls I have met in a long while. We spent quality time bantering and teasing, which was great fun, as she has a keen sense of humour. She plays the cello and piano.

And then there was Vincent, who is intelligent and well-spoken, a budding pianist – but also a very strong chess player. We are talking 2350 rating points on the current FIDE scale. ChessBase had invited him to do a coaching session with one of our most experienced youth chess trainers, Gisbert Jacoby (who has published a number of DVDs for ChessBase, all in German).

After a two-hour session I asked Gisbert what he thought of Vincent's talent and comprehension of chess. "I have never seen anything like it before," said the trainer, visibly shaken. "He is definitely better than his rating." Indeed. "Have you ever played against a grandmaster?" I asked Vincent. He looked slightly baffled: "Sure," he said, "and I have beaten three."

So now it is time to answer your pressing question. Ten. Jawohl, that's right: Vincent is ten years old. And he is being hailed as Germany's greatest chess talent (see magazine cover above) since Lasker.

So it was time to check him out properly. As chance would have it Garry Kasparov was due to attend the Aspen Institute’s 2nd Transatlantic Conference in Berlin and give a keynote speech there. It's a good speech. You should read it.

Now there is this tradition between Garry and me: once a year I am allowed to ask him to check out some (in my opinion) extraordinary talent, which consists of him looking at games, sometimes analysing personally, for an hour, with my candidate, and then giving me an opinion. I have the greatest respect for that: Garry has spotted a number of world class players before anyone had even heard their names.

I had not dragged anyone to him for quite some time now, so I seized the opportunity of his Berlin visit and took Vincent and his father to the beautiful WestIn Hotel to meet the legendary 13th World Champion. I warned them: he will have very little time – he is on a two-day blitz in the city, guest of the Aspen Institute and the German government, giving interviews to news magazines and TV stations, attending dinner banquets. So a handshake and book signing is what you should accept. Christof was perfectly satisfied: "If Vincent just gets to meet Garry Kasparov that will be a great moment for him, it will be a big motivation in his chess career."

Well, Garry walked into the hotel, accompanied by Aspen aides, spotted us and came over. After greeting the grown-ups he turned to the lad and said: "So, you are Vincent?! Have you brought a chessboard with you?" He had, and Garry invited us all up to his suite in the WestIn.

What followed was a thrilling, almost two-hour session of chess analysis and discussion. Garry started off by asking Vincent to show him some of his recent games ("against strong players"), and quizzed him on why he had chosen certain openings and certain moves – and avoided others.

Erich Follath (above middle), a senior editor of Der SPIEGEL, the biggest news magazine in Europe, was present – he had interviewed Kasparov on his new book "Winter is Coming", which is now available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and IndieBound – as hardcover, paperback, Kindle, Nook and audio book. Read it – it will (appropriately enough) chill your blood. I predict that the next chess story by Erich in Der Spiegel will be about Vincent and this session.

But back to the Kasparov training, which was sometimes extremely intense

Often Garry gave the lad contructive advice – and Vincent sucked it all in

It was a remarkable tutorial at the start of a very promising chess career

After looking at a number of games Vincent had played, Garry switched to something different: he gave the boy three studies to solve. They were all tough and Garry would sometimes provide a little bit of inspiration, explaining the geometry involved.

At one stage, when Vincent had difficulties with a study, Garry did what Bruce Pandolfini did to Josh Waitzkin in the film "Searching for Bobby Fischer": he swept the pieces off the board and told Vincent to look for the solution in his head.

This is a ten-year-old solving a difficult study in his mind

Really, really hard, but the lad never gave up and in the end succeeded!

We are not showing you the studies that Garry gave Vincent to solve – that will come in a separate article some time in the future. And then you will be able to test yourself under similar circumstances.

In the end Vincent got a set of Kasparov books from his series "My Great Predecessors"

After this extensive session I got Garry's assessment. Some of it should not be shared with all and sundry, but this much can be revealed: Vincent is incredibly talented and can definitely make his way to the top of the chess world. But he has not yet started with full, systematic training – of course not, the ten-year-old has a number of interests and talents, and spends just an hour or two on chess per day. "He will encounter the following situation: at big tournaments, like the World Youth Championship in Greece in a couple of weeks, he will be playing against twelve-year-olds from Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, wherever, who have been trained for eight years, by professional chess coaches, for many hours a day. Vincent will be running purely on talent. Let us see how he fares. I'll be watching."

Currently Vincent's family is looking for a sponsor to help with the expenses that such a chess talent brings: regular grandmaster training, travel to international tournaments (with a parent), etc. Things are looking good, and I am sure that a major company will jump in to further his career.

Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.


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