Mark Dvoretsky's final interview - Part II

by Sagar Shah
10/31/2016 – In Part II of our interview with Dvoretsky we go into more specifics. We ask Mark how can we improve at tactics and endgames. We ask for his opinion on famous authors like Jacob Aagaard and Karsten Müller, and also great trainers like Tukamkov and Chuchelov. He also narrates a funny incident about working with ChessBase software and reads out a passage written by Lev Psakhis that had him in splits. It's an interview from which you can learn a lot, and even though you might not agree with everything that Mark says, it's definitely food for thought.

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In the first part of the interview Mark Dvoretsky spoke about his early life, his first students and his most talented students, how working with Topalov was highly successful and how Anand wasn't able to benefit from his trainings. Mark also showed us his method of work, his index files. His ideology, "It is better to be first in the village than second in Rome," helped him to not overthink about not becoming a grandmaster.

In case you have missed it, read Mark Dvoretsky's final interview - Part I

Interview with Mark Dvoretsky - Part II

By Sagar Shah and Amruta Mokal

Sagar Shah (SS): What would you recommend to a student who would like to become better at tactics?

Mark Dvoretsky (MD): Tactical skills = Practical skills. Hence, you need to solve exercises. Tactics are made up of lot of features: imagination and combinational vision is one thing, calculation is another. Calculation in its turn consists of many devices like Candidate moves, elimination, comparison, attention to opponent's counter-chances, etc. So you choose the area that you would like to develop, and then solve exercises based on it. This is sure to help you become better at tactics.

When Yusupov tried to become stronger tactically, apart from the above mentioned work he tried to play aggressively in tournaments. He risked a lot and was not successful initially. But he kept at it and this helped him to become tactically stronger. He sacrificed a few tournaments, but later was able to win much more important events with the skills that he had developed.

SS: Mark, taking a small deviation from our discussion on tactics and because you mentioned Yusupov, I have a question related to him. What is the reason that Artur, who reached the world number three spot, could never become the World Champion?

MD: Well, firstly he never really had the kind of support received by the two Ks. Second, his talent was less than that of Kasparov and Karpov. It is possible to overcome the deficiency of talent by hard work, but Kasparov himself worked really hard, and Karpov too had a team that worked day and night on his preparation. I think that lack of support and talent are the two reasons why Yusupov could not become a World Champion.

Artur Yusupov (right) was Mark Dvoretsky's most successful student (photo by V. Levetin, ChessPro)

SS: Coming back to our discussion on tactics. Which books would you recommend for solving tactical exercises?

MD: For training of combinational vision, there are a lot of good books. For strong players, books written by Nunn, Aagaard and my own books should be good enough. It depends on your level, of course. But sometimes more than the level a lot revolves around your approach to chess. I believe my books are ideal for students who are ambitious and looking to improve quickly at the game. You do not have to solve everything given in the book. I am all the time trying to describe how chess players think in a given position, and I use normal words and variations. Hence, it is possible for a student of any level to improve with these books. Some analyses and some examples are difficult for the average player. But it is not important at all. He can ignore it and concentrate on what is understandable for him.

SS: When we read your books, it feels as if there is human touch to it. When reading new books it seems as if they are littered with computer variations. How do you explain this dissimilarity?

The book holder on Mark's study table

MD: Many years ago, at the beginning of my training work, one of the principles that I formulated was that serious study of any chess problem always includes some psychological component. It doesn't matter which topic you speak about. Be it defence, attack, exploiting an advantage, every problem has its psychological elements. So I try to describe how various chess players approached it and thought about the position. It is my style of work and writing. This principle is not so obvious and not everybody follows it. Here it is important to mention that every position that I give in my book has been tried out on my students. I try to avoid including completely unknown positions. This is also the reason why you can feel the human element.

SS: Jacob Aagaard is considered to be one of the best chess authors of the current generation. What is your opinion on his Grandmaster Preparation series by him?

MD: Well, Aagaard is a serious author. He works hard on his books and they are very good. With regards to the human element, I would say Aagaard is trying his best. But it is clear that every author has his approach and vision and everyone describes things the way they see it! So Jacob writes the way he sees things, and I do it my way. It's absolutely normal! [Smiles]

SS: Aagaard writes in one of his books that he was an IM, but after working with you he was able to achieve his GM title. Do you remember how your training with him panned out?

MD: I think Jacob saw me for the first time when I came to Denmark and had lectures for the strongest Danish players. I remember that he was very impressed by one of the lectures – it dealt with the activity of the rook in the endgame. I think what he liked the most was that the topic seemed completely elementary, (of course you have to activate your rook!), but when I gave them the positions, the way in which this theme was to be applied was not at all obvious, even for grandmasters! Sometimes you have to sacrifice pawns, or worsen the position of your king, or make some concessions for activating the rook. After that he came to Moscow at some point, and we discussed his games and positions and this, I think, helped him improve.

GM Jacob Aagaard is one of the most successful authors currently and is the founder of Quality Chess publishers. He thinks that Mark Dvoretsky is the spiritual founder of Quality Chess.

Jacob Aagaard has recorded five DVDs for ChessBase and you can have a look at them over here.

SS: You are a huge expert on the endgame, one of the best in the world. How do you think one can become stronger at endgames?

MD: First of all, you should clearly understand that the endgame is made up of two parts: endgame theory and endgame practice (Practical play). Theoretical endgame positions which a student should know are not many. It's not too difficult to attain that knowledge. This is what I tried to do with my Endgame Manual. It's absolutely natural to separate the things that you need to study deeply, to understand and to remember, from things that are not so important. I tried to do this with the help of big diagrams and big fonts. In English these diagrams and fonts are given in blue and are not so impressive. In all other languages it is in black. I would say that to remember the material given in my Endgame Manual is not so difficult.

Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual is one of the best books ever written on endgames

SS: But, Mark, I have met many strong grandmasters who say that they are simply unable to remember all the theoretical positions from your Endgame Manual.

MD: It depends on how they study it. If they just read it, they will surely forget it! [Laughs] The best way to remember is to develop skills in order to keep this material in your memory. This can be done by solving positions from the book, or from your own praxis. To repeat the material when a similar endgame happens in a tournament game is also a good idea. It is not necessary to spend loads of hours on one position, but you must make sure that you check all the details related to it correctly.

SS: For example, Rook + 3 pawns vs Rook + 3 pawns and an extra queenside pawn is an ending which I must have studied at least five times from your book, very seriously. But after a few months I tend to forget.

MD: Well, it is one of the most difficult endgames to master. It's almost impossible to remember the entire theory related to that endgame. However, the main conclusions are definitely possible to be kept in mind. You shouldn't worry about the fact that you cannot play such positions 100% accurately, because you will still need to calculate lines when you get them over the board. If you study the main positions from my book, you will be able to play them quite accurately. It's like queen and pawn endgames. It is impossible to remember everything, but I formulated a few simple rules which are easy to understand and increase your chances.

Mark, for sure, knows his rook endings!

In the second edition of my Endgame Manual in English, there are nice positions on the rook endings. Basically, it is the Vancura position. The idea is elementary. It will take you around 10 to 15 minutes to get acquainted with the theory. But then I give six exercises related to the topic and they are not at all easy to solve, even if they are directly related to the theory that you have studied. What I would like to stress is that in a practical game there are always some factors which are different from theory. Hence, theoretical knowledge can definitely help you and guide your thinking, but it doesn't guarantee your success.

SS: Apart from the Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual, which are the other books that, according to you, could help one to become better at endgame?

MD: Yusupov told me once that he more often uses my book “Tragicomedies in the Endgame” rather than my Endgame Manual [laughs]. Right now what we just discussed was about the theoretical part of the endgame but there is also the practical part. In my book with Yusupov named "Technique for the tournament player" we deal with this topic. There are also some other interesting books like Endgame Strategy by Shereshevsky and Endgame play by Jacob Aagaard.

SS: What about Fundamental Chess Endings by Mueller and Lamprecht?

MD: It's a reference book. You can find many good positions in the book, but you cannot study them because there are so many that you will not realize which are important and which are not. Also they lack good explanations because of limitations related to space.

SS: Karsten Mueller is also considered to be one of the experts in the field of endgame. How is your approach towards the endgame different from his?

MD: Karsten is a very nice person and he helped me improve the quality of my Endgame Manual. He checked for mistakes and found improvements at many places. He tries to check the analysis and variations and does not focus on word-based explanations like I do. He is a very serious author as well and the quality of his books is quite high. But overall, I like my approach better where there are fewer positions and more explanations.

Mark Dvoretsky considers Karsten Mueller, who has recorded innumerable endgame DVDs for ChessBase, as a serious author, whose work is of a high quality

SS: One of the things that you have always stressed on in your books is the analysis of one's own games. If a student doesn't have a trainer, how must he analyze his own games?

MD: Different level of players do it in different ways. It also depends on the amount of time available to you. Sometimes you have to just scratch the surface in order to know your mistakes, sometimes you have to go really deep. Yusupov explained the art of analyzing one's own games in our first book. He explained his game with Karpov as to how he analyzed it. It was very impressive. 

Now times have changed. Everyone uses a computer. While it is very useful, you also have to realize that in the past when we used to analyze without the engines, we had to be very alert about not missing any tactical chances for both us and the opponent. Now when we analyze with a computer, it finds these resources in an instant. Hence, we are not very tactically alert, and this is highly dangerous. Without training we tend to become less successful in practical games. The computer is quite essential, there is no doubt about it. But you need to use it carefully.

SS: So is it advisable to first work on your game without the engine and then check the analysis and conclusions with a computer?

MD: This is possible. In the past we worked out various typical approaches that help you to analyze. Dolmatov and I used the technique of positional sketches, where we save the most important position in a given game. Nowadays trainers have to find a good way in which they can combine their own thinking along with computer analysis.

Mark was not particularly fond of the latest technology. He worked with computers because they helped him in making his analyses better.

SS: That was what I wanted to come to. Do you think the role of the trainer has become much easier with the computers these days or more difficult?

MD: On one hand it is easier for the trainer because he can quickly get an impression of the games of his student. On the other hand if the trainer lacks skills, the computer just gives lines. So trainers have to make sure that they use the computer to improve the quality of their work and not the other way around.

Very important feature of the computer is to help arrange and distribute data in an appropriate manner. I use ChessBase for this purpose, but I think that the programmers have taken away one very important feature which existed until the ChessBase 7 version. ChessBase 7 is the last one that had the function of "user key". It's a key with which I distribute the material in my database and find it easily. I understand that there are many more new technological developments these days, but for me as an author and trainer the "user key" was the most important function.

Once two grandmasters visited me in Moscow – Peter Heine Nielsen and Rafael Leitao. After we studied they asked me to give them the material that we worked on. They were using ChessBase 9. I was using ChessBase 1 [Laughs!] They did not have the user key. I have my limitations with technology and hence couldn't contact ChessBase. However, they were young guys and they immediately contacted ChessBase via email. But, this issue was not resolved. ChessBase later published my endgame manual in ChessBase format. Karsten Mueller developed his own key for it. However it was much less solid than the User key that I use. If you change the format you shouldn't lose what you already have. Right now ChessBase 13 exists, but I analyze in ChessBase 9 and save in ChessBase 7. Once Yusupov went to the ChessBase office and asked them for a ChessBase 7 DVD and they couldn't find it! [Laughs heartily] Luckily I found it at my place and I now have the user key.

SS: We spoke about Anand, Kasparov, Karpov and other world class players (in part I). What are your impressions about Magnus Carlsen?

MD: Recently I gave an interview to the Russian chess news. When they asked me about Magnus Carlsen I told them about my visit to Norway. I was there to train the best players of Norway (apart from Magnus), and I met Simen Agdestein. He is a very strong player, former coach of Magnus Carlsen and a very nice guy. When we spoke, he told me some very interesting points about Magnus. His first feature is the fantastic intuitive instinct about the game. He feels the position perfectly. Simen said that Carlsen's calculation is not the best. Even he (Simen) could sometimes calculate better than Magnus [laughs], but his feeling and vision of the position is perfect. The second special thing about Carlsen is that he absolutely doesn't have any fear about losing a game or a bad result. This helps him to conserve his nervous energy and fight in any situation. Intuition and fearlessness are two of Carlsen's biggest assets.

SS: Magnus is also very strong in the endgames.

MD: Yes, this is a logical consequence of his superb intuition. But in the past there have been instances where he has made some very basic mistakes in rook endgames. If you look at those games closely you will realize that these mistakes were not a result of intuition but lack of calculation [Smiles] So most of Carlsen's errors can be seen when concrete calculation was involved.

Carlsen's trainer Peter Heine Nielsen has worked with Mark Dvoretsky in the past. So you can say that some of Dvoretsky's methods have rubbed off on Magnus as well!

SS: There are trainers like Chuchelov and Tukmakov who are currently working with the top players like Anish Giri or Fabiano Caruana and others. What is your opinion about them?

MD: I respect them. They are great trainers. Tukmakov, is a very good player. I played with him in many of the same tournaments. I didn't know much about Chuchelov before we met a few years ago in Aeroflot. He is a very good person and I was quite impressed by him. After our contact I realized that he is a great opening specialist. Well, the results demonstrate it, so I do not need to say anything more!

Two of the best trainers in the world: Vladimir Chuchelov and Vladimir Tukmakov

SS: How is their approach different from yours?

MD: Surely their approach is very different and this is quite natural. Every trainer has his own personality, own vision, strong and weak features. I am sure that all other good trainers work more on the openings than me. But it was just my weakness that when I was young my openings were not so strong. I understood that if I worked on openings, I wouldn't have time for other phases of the game. There were a lot of opening specialists but nobody in the other phases of the game. Hence, I decided to devote more energy in that direction.

SS: Your concept of first in village is better than second in Rome?!

MD: Yes! And I also proved it with my results that work on other phases of the game is more important than openings. It’s just that players don't understand this. Do you know what Psakhis wrote in one of his interviews about his work in India? I have mentioned it in my book "For friends and Colleagues." Just a moment, let me see if I can find it. [Mark looks for his book and finds the relevant paragraph by Psakhis in it] This was written after Lev was the trainer of the Indian team at the Olympiad in 2010. "I had this illusion that I could make any talented player improve. I would like to emphasize, that this was an illusion. Even if you can bring only one out of three students to a different level, this is still a very good result. People are different and everybody has a different level of understanding and it's important how good your contact with that person is." What he says about the contact with the student is absolutely correct. Regarding one out of three, I think my ratio of success was much better! [Laughs]

Mark Dvoretsky, Artur Yusupov and Lev Psakhis at Aeroflot Open 2007

Psakhis continues, "I do not work on openings with anyone. This is the biggest joy of my life. When someone asks, I reply, there are many other coaches who teach openings. I tell them to work with them. I am not interested in openings. I find them boring. Why sit in front of the computer screen for hundreds of hours while your life passes by. In the World Team Championship the Indian team won quite a few points in the endgame. Prior to our sessions the word endgame sounded to them a bit like bad karma or something even worse. [Mark starts to laugh uncontrollably]. Yes, I don't do openings, but we worked quite a bit on endgames. In modern chess for 99% of the players the endgame is undoubtedly the most important phase of the game." Very nicely written and was extremely lively to read! I liked it a lot.

Dvoretsky ended up in stitches reading Psakhis' passage from his book "For Friends and Colleagues"

Part III, the final part of the interview, will follow shortly and will deal with who were Dvoretsky's final students (in March 2016), his favourite chess books and how he made sure that money was never a motivating factor for him. He also tells us about prophylaxis, one of Mark's favourite weapons, and shows us a position from Inarkiev's game which has a nice story attached to it.



Sagar Shah is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He is also a chartered accountant and would like to become the first CA+GM of India. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder of the ChessBase India website.
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Pietromola75 Pietromola75 11/10/2016 08:46
Thank you for your time!
ulyssesganesh ulyssesganesh 11/6/2016 07:53
a great interview....thank you mark! thank you sagar!
yesenadam yesenadam 11/1/2016 06:36
Thanks CAIM SS + AM, great stuff as usual.

The bit about tactics in the beginning reminded me of Capablanca's:

"If you change the format you shouldn't lose what you already have."

Ah sorry, wrong quote hehe. This:

[On whether it is better to be aggressive or passive:] ”…if you have to be one of the two, it is much better to be very aggressive….It is quite an advantage to have the initiative. If your opponent has it, and relinquishes it through some accident or other, you must take it. It may be a good quality for a strong player to be passive and let the other player attack him, thinking he will at some time or other make a bad move, but it is fatal to the beginner or medium player – such players must be aggressive. He must attack, because only in that way can he develop his imagination, which is a very important thing.” - My Chess Career

"RAOR!" - Finegold
philidorchess philidorchess 11/1/2016 04:42
Loved It.Thanks SS.
Ken Walters Ken Walters 11/1/2016 12:28
Well, there are persons who teach (their name is legion), and then there are real teachers, like Dvoretsky. (Many, many fewer in number). It is a special talent. Not the easiest personality, but a man with a good sense of humor -- also with a cutting edge. No surprise there either. Aside from the technical expertise, what made Dvoretsky special/outstanding was his insight into personality and psychology of his students -- and of opponents. This is the thing (that keen psychological insight) that makes chess special among sports. Maybe in this Dvoretsky was like Lasker.
Mr_Hanrahan Mr_Hanrahan 10/31/2016 07:02
The idea of "positional sketches" - saving the most important positions from a game - is an excellent and helpful idea. Dvoretsky is able to help ... even from the grave!
shams shaikh shams shaikh 10/31/2016 05:50
Mark Dvoretsky is excellent, and so is the quality of questions and journalism in this series of articles. Very informative. Keep up the good work.
weerogue weerogue 10/31/2016 01:14
Brilliant again; thank you again.
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