"I have to increase the activity of my pieces...with every move"

by Davide Nastasio
10/25/2018 – Weekends are quite busy for chess players, with tournaments of all kinds being organized. DAVIDE NASTASIO was lucky to witness the Georgia State Women's Championship held at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Atlanta, and interview the winner, Alisa Scherbakova, who shares her insights along with games from the tournament. | Photo: Davide Nastasio

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Georgia Women's Chess Championship

Once a year the Georgia Chess Association (from now on abbreviated as GCA) organises a tournament to find the best woman chess player in the US state of Georgia, who will then be selected to represent Georgia at National Women's events. The same happens for the Georgia Senior State champion, who will then represent Georgia in the US National Senior Tournament of Champions. Both these champions receive stipends from the GCA to attend those events.

The Georgia Women's Championship is only a four round-event, with a time control of 90 minutes for the entire game, plus 5 seconds delay. In order to participate, one must be a member of the United States Chess Federation (USCF) the GCA, and be a resident of the state.

The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Atlanta (CCSCATL) was the site for this prestigious tournament on October 13th and 14th. In Georgia, we are lucky to have such an oasis for chess players in which to practice the sport we love, in a beautiful environment, run professionally by GM Ben Finegold and Karen Boyd.

This year the winner, with 3½ points out of 4 was Alisa Scherbakova (Elo: 2004), from Belarus who is living in Georgia to pursue her academic career. I was lucky to witness some of her games, and she was kind enough to spare some time from her busy academic activities for an interview after her win.

Final standings

Final standings

Alisa Scherbakova

Davide Nastasio: Could you tell us something more about your background, studies, work?

Alisa Scherbakova: I am currently a PhD student at the University of Georgia studying Educational Psychology with a concentration on gifted and creative education. I plan to conduct a study for my dissertation on the topic of chess players’ creative thinking.

I received my first Bachelor’s and then a Master’s degree in the field of physical education and my specialization was chess coaching. Lately, I decided to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in psychology as it has been always a field which I had a keen interest in. As a former competitive chess player, I like to problem solve that is why I decided to pursue a career in a research field.

While studying I have been working as a chess coach for around 5 years. I taught students of all ages from 5 to 45. Now I work as a teaching assistant in the university helping with courses on giftedness and creativity.

DN: When did you begin to play chess, and how was it in your country?

AS: I began to play chess when I was 6 years old. My mother was told I have a developmental delay and need to attend special education classes. However, she rejected to send me to a school for children with a developmental delay and instead decided that I will attend chess classes. In Belarus, chess was highly popular and known as an excellent tool for the development of children's intelligence.

Before my first visit to a chess club, my brother taught me how to play. Thus, when I came to the chess classes I started to win from the beginning and the game attracted me.

I started to participate in chess competitions when I was seven and won my first Belarusian girls’ championship in rapid chess when I was ten years old.

DN: Did you have coaches?

AS: I had three chess coaches during my sports career. The first coach Yuri Kulaga was a great chess lover and he was able to inspire his students to become the greatest chess fans as well. My second coach Aleksandr Nevedomsky trained me for eight years and did tremendous work on my opening repertoire. The last coach is a famous Belarusian grandmaster Viacheslav Dydyshko. I think it wouldn’t be a mistake to call him one of the best chess coaches in Europe. He is not only an outstanding chess player and coach but also a very wise man who was always my role model.

Before continuing the interview, I'd like to show some of the games by GM Dydyshko, because in fact, he is a great player. The first game with Karpov was played in the former Soviet Union championship for players Under 18. Karpov was 15 at the time, and he blundered badly. It's difficult to imagine someone playing like Karpov in this game and still becoming a challenger to the World Champion just eight years later.


I gathered a small sample of games by Dydyshko with famous players like Veresov, Estrin (who became correspondence World Champion in the 1972-1976 cycle), Chebanenko (who has a line of the Slav with his name, and he is the mentor of GM Bologan). And yes Dydyshko also beat Kasparov!!


In ChessBase Megabase 2018 one can find over 1100 games played by GM Dydyshko. Thanks to Alisa, I came to know a player I never heard of and thanks to his games, I learned a lot.

Mega Database 2018

The "Mega" is the database every serious chessplayer needs. The database contains 7.1 million games from 1500 to 2017, in highest quality standard, full of top level analyses and completely classified.

Now let's go back to the interview:

DN: Do you think your studies help you playing chess?

AS: When I started my studies at university I didn’t continue my chess career. However, the background in educational psychology helped me to understand what mistakes I made as a player and chess coach.

DN: Do you have any specific training routine?

AS: Unfortunately, I have never trained alone as I had coaches. Thus, they have been organising all training routines for me.

Miss Scherbakova playing at the Georgia Women's chess tournament | Photo: Davide Nastasio

DN: Is there any time control you prefer to play?

AS: While I am a very slow thinker and my games almost always are the longest in competitions, I have been always successful in playing rapid chess with a 25-minute limit. I was four-time champion of Belarus among women in my age category in rapid.

DN: What was the best chess advice given to you?

AS: I had a plenty of good chess advice. One of them is that I have to increase the activity of my pieces and decrease the activity of the opponent’s pieces with every move.

DN: Do you have favorite players from your country?

AS: I have some favourite players from Belarus. They are Grandmasters Dydyshko, Sergei Zhigalko and Kirill Stupak. Among women, I can name WGM Anna Sharevich who recently became a US citizen and Nastassia Ziaziulkina, who was a World Under-16 Champion.

While I don't want to annoy the reader with tons of games. I did check every name given by Alisa, because the point of this article is partly information about a new State champion, but also to grow as chess players thanks to her advice. The truth is: there are no secret methods in chess, if we truly want to improve, we need to watch some of the masterpieces played by the players she mentioned. With ChessBase we don't have any excuses for not doing our homework! For example, if we check Sergei Zhigalko, we discover he has won his national championship three times, and he was 2015 European blitz champion. He is part of a chess family! His brother is also a GM — Andrei Zhigalko. This is another "secret" in chess to become good, one must be part of a community of people who love the game and play it all the time! Zhigalko has played against all the big names in chess, here is a very small sample of his games:


The Bishop's Opening and The Italian Game

Studying the content of this DVD and adding these openings to your repertoire will provide players with a very strong tool to fight 1...e5 - as the practice of the author clearly demonstrates.

DN: What advice would you give to other girls aspiring to become good players like you?

AS: Firstly, I think that girls need to know the history of women’s chess and familiarise themselves with the main female chess Champions. I think it is important for everyone to have a role model. 

Secondly, I can give an advice which will be useful for every chess players regardless of gender or age. You have to devote 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in any field. However, the practice has to be deliberate but not rote. It means that you constantly analyse your weaknesses and strengths and improve important chess skills.

Miss Scherbakova at the prize ceremony with GM Finegold | Photo: Davide Nastasio

DN: Did you play many tournaments in Europe? Were there nice places you'd advise to go?

AS: I have attended the European and World Championships in Montenegro, Bulgaria and Turkey. I also visited international championships in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania.

As far as I know, world championships among children and youth are often held in different countries around the world so players can familiarize themselves with other cultures and ethnicities. I do not have specific preferences regarding places to play as I like to travel and every country has it is unique features.

Once more I'll pause the interview to give the readers a sample of games played by Scherbakova in different European and World Championships. The games are quite interesting partly for the names involved, some coming from "chess" families where brothers and sisters are nowadays all GMs and professional chess players. We can see how Miss Scherbakova used a variety of openings in different stages of her development. As always MegaBase 2018 is a fundamental tool of research for the serious chess player.


Strike first with the Scandinavian

The Scandinavian is a rarely employed opening on the hightest level und guides your opponent on much less familiar terrain than for example the Sicilian, French or any 1.e4 e5 system. After 1.e4 d5 Black fights for the initiative from move one.

Sherbakova with Karen Boyd

DN: Do you have a favourite chess books?

AS: I can’t remember any specific favourite chess books but recently I have read ‘The art of learning’ by Josh Waitzkin and I can recommend it to every chess player. The book is written by an international chess master and wunderkind who also became a master in martial art Taiji Tui Shou.

DN: How did you prepare for this tournament?

AS: I have not been playing for a long time so I just played blitz before the tournament to refresh in memory some openings schemes.

DN: What characteristics do you think makes you a good player?

AS: For me, chess has always been a way to express my creative thinking and personal traits. As I have a bad memory and never liked to study openings I always rely on my thinking skills and creativity. I like aggressive and attacking chess and always want to win.

When I play I am totally concentrated on the game and put 100% of the effort.

DN: Thank you Alisa for this nice interview!

Miss Scherbakova playing at the tournament: Photo: Davide Nastasio

Now let's pass to her games from the State Championship, (plus two others). Against Evelyn Qiao, she had a winning position but a draw would win the tournament, so she agreed to a draw. And against Maya Dickson, both players were in time trouble, so they did not notate the whole game.


A Classical Guide to the French Defence

This DVD gives you the key to start out with the French Defence. GM Yannick Pelletier is a specialist of this opening, and believes that the most efficient way to understand its ideas, plans, and typical structures is to study classical lines.


Davide is a novel chess aficionado who has made chess his spiritual tool of improvement and self-discovery. One of his favorite quotes is from the great Paul Keres: "Nobody is born a master. The way to mastery leads to the desired goal only after long years of learning, of struggle, of rejoicing, and of disappointment..."


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