Mark Dvoretsky's final interview - Part III

by Sagar Shah
11/10/2016 – Part III, the finale of Mark's interview, deals with his current students, his favourite chess books and what prophylaxis means to him. With interesting anecdotes about an American author, a Russian tribe and two students facing each other, Mark gives us some invaluable pearls of wisdom. His final message caps his approach perfectly – everything can be achieved with normal, effective, rationally organized work, good books, articles, materials and regular training.

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In the first part of the interview Mark Dvoretsky spoke about his early life, his first students; he told us about his most talented students, and how working with Topalov was highly successful and how Anand wasn't able to benefit from his trainings. Mark also showed 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 failing to become a grandmaster.

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

In the second part we asked Dvoretsky to shed light on how to become stronger in the endgame as well as tactics. He spoke about the human element in his books and also current authors like Jacob Aagaard and Karsten Müller. Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual, how one should analyze their games, strengths of Magnus Carlsen, difference between Mark and trainers like Chuchelov and Tukmakov were the further topics of discussion. Part two ends with Mark reading Psakhis' experience of training the Indian team at the World Team Championships which has him in splits.

Click here to read Mark Dvoretsky's final interview - Part II

Interview with Mark Dvoretsky - Part III

By Sagar Shah and Amruta Mokal

Mark and his wife Inna at their apartment in Tallinnskaya, Moscow in March 2016

Sagar Shah (SS): Are there any top players with whom you are working right now?

Mark Dvoretsky (MD): Last few years I have had serious problems with my health and that's the reason why I have restricted my work. I have already had seven cancer operations and the last one was a few months ago. In a few months I will know what I should be doing in the future. But it is clear that my health issues are going to last forever.

If I want my students to be successful, like I did in the past, I need to concentrate on their problems, and to make a lot of efforts. But when you partly focus on your own problems and health, it is much more difficult to achieve results. I had some work with a group of students in the recent past. However, my work now is to write books and prepare texts. Funnily enough, I have had many enquiries from Indian chess players in the past, but nothing really came out of it. Only one player visited me in Moscow – Tejas Bakre. Recently, my friend Elizbar Ubilava contacted me and asked if I would be able to train the Georgian Team, and that he has a strong Indian student, B. Adhiban, with whom he would like me to work. But I am not sure if that will work out.

SS: So Mark Dvoretsky is more of an author now than a coach?

MD: Yes, you can say that. Even now if there are talented young students, I would be ready to teach them. But I can no longer take the responsibility of being a regular trainer. For example, the way Caruana worked with Chuchelov.

SS: Apart from chess what are your other hobbies?

MD: I very much like to read books. I last read the historical works of best modern Russian author Boris Akunin. He writes about Russian history in very good language and is extremely high cultured. I have lot of books not related to chess [points out to a shelf in the room] and there are many more in the other room. But nowadays I prefer reading on the Kindle.

 Boris Akunin is one of Mark's favourite authors

SS: So, you do not spend your time reading chess books?

MD: Yes, I do not spend time reading chess books, because most of my time is spent in writing books! You know, there is a very funny anecdote. Maybe it is not easy to understand it without knowing the realities of Russian history, but I will try. There is a tribe in Russia called the Chukcha. They are like the Eskimos that we find in the west. They are poor people living in the north and they tend to drink a lot. The Russian population tried to contact them. One Chukcha became a member of Union of Soviet Writers. Someone asked him: did you read Pushkin? And he replied, "No. You don't understand. Chukcha is not a reader, Chukcha is a writer!" Now I feel that I am like this Chukcha! [Laughs heartily] There are so many good books, but unfortunately I have no time to read them. Also, most of the good chess books are now in English, and I am not so proficient at it. It requires more energy and attention.

SS: If you had to choose one chess book, which is your favourite, which one would it be?

MD: Difficult to say. I liked to read John Nunn's books in the past. He is a great author. I get great pleasure by reading two books written by Jonathan Rowson: Chess for Zebras and Seven Deadly Chess Sins. He is a smart writer and it helped me in my trainings. Unfortunately, the second book remained incomplete due to the "Chukcha problem". But whatever I read, I read with great pleasure. There were a few books written by Grigory Sanakoev, former Correspondence World Champion. I used a lot of the examples that he mentions in his books for my training.

John Nunn and Jonathan Rowson are two of Dvoretsky's favourite chess authors

SS: And your own book that you like the most?

Mark with the chess books in his library 

Read all of the books written by Mark Dvoretsky – a sure-shot way to become a grandmaster!

MD: It is clear for me that my best book is Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual. It's not only my opinion but I read reviews which call it the best book ever. Maybe, they are not completely right, but still this is surely a very important book. But my best book need not be my favourite book. I think it's very difficult to say which one is my favourite, but I can surely point out that there is no book which I am ashamed of. I have never seen any bad reviews about my books anywhere. This is because I never wrote a book just for the sake of writing. 

GM Maurice Ashley shared this video on Facebook and wrote: "The late great chess trainer Mark Dvoretsky being recognized in Season 4 Episode 16 of Elementary. I wonder if he knew he had penetrated American pop culture." 

There is a very interesting author in America – Andy Soltis. Unfortunately I do not know him personally. His books really impressed me. I also saw some of his very interesting articles. It is absolutely clear that he is a very talented chess writer. He has excellent style, taste and examples. I also heard some bad reviews about his books. And this was explained to me by someone in the following manner: there are two kinds of books by Soltis. The first one he writes for pleasure. He writes because he really wants to. In this case he uses his talent and skill and these are really nice. The other kind of books are the ones he writes for money, and they are below par on all levels. In my case I have never written a book for money. Never!

A young Andrew Soltis playing against Bobby Fischer in the Manhanttan Chess Club in 1971. [Photo by Larry Morris/ NY Times]

SS: You didn't write any book for money. You never trained anyone for money?

MD: No, that is not true. I worked for money with many of my students. I didn't work for money with my main students. Today if someone wants to have a training session with me, he has to pay, and it is definitely not a small sum. I didn't work for money with Yusupov, Dolmatov, Zviagintsev, Dreev, later with Popov, Riazentsev, Chernin. I got money for working with Nana Alexandria, but it wasn't from her. I was invited by the Georgian authorities to work with Nana.

Let me be more accurate – when I became a good player somewhere around 1974, when I tied for the fifth place in Soviet Championship, I got a stipend, some regular money from my Club Burevestnik. This was usual in the Soviet Union – the better players got money from the Sports Committee, while the lesser ones received money from the clubs. Soon I started to play less and less as I got busy in my training, and they had no reason to pay me. But still they continued to give me money for several years because they realized that if I don't get paid I will go to some other club and continue my work with Yusupov, Dolmatov and others. So you can say that they were paying me for training these guys but officially that was never the case.

SS: You are one of the biggest experts in the world on the theme of prophylaxis. How was your interest in the subject generated?

MD: The word prophylaxis was invented by Aaron Nimzowitsch. His definition and examples helped me to get a good idea about this term. However, he used it in a very narrow sense. For Nimzowitsch prophylaxis meant prophylactic moves, and this was the prevention of important pawn advances by the opponent. When I started to work on chess I realized that prophylaxis is much more important in a wider sense – it's a way of thinking. It's a way which helps us to find correct moves. You have to understand what your opponent wants to play. Sometimes you don't need to defend against his ideas. Sometimes you must. So you already have a choice. But the most important thing related to prophylaxis is the skill to ask what my opponent wants to play. If you develop this skill, your play becomes much stronger. Therefore I do not use prophylaxis in my books, but instead use the term prophylactic thinking. This is because I concentrate on the process of thinking and not the moves. Moves are just the consequences.

Somewhere I read that Prophylaxis is the main feature of my work. This is absolutely not true. I use it extensively in my work with my students and in books, but it is not the most important thing. If there was such a thing which was most important in my training I would say it is development of practical skills rather than knowledge.

SS: There are a few trainers who give you positions to solve and do not disclose the answer. Thanks to chess engines it is not such an issue now, but do you think it is the right approach, or must students be revealed the answer after a while?

MD: Students should make serious efforts and then we should discuss their approach to the problem. In a practical game not all your moves are good, but we must analyze them. Not revealing the answer for days is not the solution.

In this regard, I have a very interesting anecdote to share with you. Once two of my students were playing against each other in Gibraltar. It was Inarkiev versus Bakre. Inarkiev, who was white, had an initiative. However, soon the game became really complicated and he lost. I was watching it live and felt that there was something wrong with White's play. Along with some computer help, I immediately found a strong idea that gives White a clear advantage. I also checked other moves in the position and realized that they all lead to unclear positions. Only one move gives White the better position. 

It was surprising for me that when Inarkiev was back from the tournament he didn't know about the solution. I showed him the position and helped him understand the winning idea, which was very pretty. Would you like to see the position? [Mark switched on his computer and immediately found it.]

Ernesto Inarkiev vs Tejas Bakre, Gibraltar 2004

Bakre has moved his knight from f6 to d5. What should White (Inarkiev) play?

[Event "Gibraltar Masters"] [Site "Catalan Bay"] [Date "2004.02.02"] [Round "7"] [White "Inarkiev, Ernesto"] [Black "Bakre, Tejas"] [Result "*"] [ECO "B63"] [WhiteElo "2606"] [BlackElo "2446"] [Annotator "Mark Dvoretsky"] [PlyCount "43"] [EventDate "2004.01.27"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "10"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [SourceTitle "CBM 098 Extra"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2004.03.10"] {The analysis of this game is taken from Dvoretsky's article (58) on Chess Cafe entitled Reverberating "Quiet" moves.} 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Bg5 e6 7. Qd2 Be7 8. O-O-O O-O 9. f3 a6 10. h4 Nxd4 11. Qxd4 b5 12. Kb1 Qc7 13. Qd2 Rd8 14. Bd3 Bb7 15. Qe1 Rac8 16. g4 b4 17. Ne2 e5 18. Ng3 d5 19. Nf5 a5 20. h5 dxe4 21. fxe4 Nd5 {White has a powerful kingside initiative. With his last move, the Indian player seeks to untangle the situation. White has a number of tempting possibilities, which makes it very hard to calculate all the variations accurately. Still, let’s try a short analysis:} {[%tqu "En","What is the best move for White in this position?","", "","g5h4","This backward move is the best one in the position and not so easy to find. If the bishop takes on h4, it brings the queen into the game and otherwise there is no real way to hold the tension! It's so simple when you see it, but not so easy to find. Dvoretsky writes, 'And what is Black to do? Going back to f6 with the knight would be stupid; the sacrifice on c3 doesn’t work; and on 22...Bxh4 23. Qxh4 Nf4, White doesn’t take the exchange with the knight check on e7 (which in fact would also be good enough), but continues his attack by 24. h6!",10,"f5e7","",0,"e1h4","",0,"e4d5","",0, "g5e7","",0]} 22. Bh4 $3 $18 {This backward move is the best one in the position and not so easy to find. If the bishop takes on h4, it brings the queen into the game and otherwise there is no real way to hold the tension! It's so simple when you see it, but not so easy to find. Dvoretsky writes, "And what is Black to do? Going back to f6 with the knight would be stupid; the sacrifice on c3 doesn’t work; and on 22...Bxh4 23. Qxh4 Nf4, White doesn’t take the exchange with the knight check on e7 (which in fact would also be good enough), but continues his attack by 24. h6!} ({This is how the game continued.} 22. Nxe7+ Nxe7 23. Bc1 $2 {Underestimating the counterstroke.} (23. h6 f6 24. Be3 g6 25. Qf2 Qd6 {White has a hard time demonstrating the superiority of his position. Hence, Inarkiev tried to prepare the move h5-h6 with Bc1.}) 23... b3 $1 {Strengthening the threatened exchange sacrifice on d3, which has been hanging in the air for some time already. He ended up even losing the game.} 24. Rh2 a4 25. h6 Ba6 26. Qh1 Bxd3 27. cxd3 g6 28. Bg5 Rd6 29. Rc1 Rc6 30. Rf1 Rc2 31. Qf3 Nd5 32. Rhf2 a3 33. exd5 Rxb2+ 34. Rxb2 axb2 35. Qxf7+ Qxf7 36. Rxf7 bxa2+ 37. Kxa2 Kxf7 38. Kxb2 Rc5 39. Be3 Rxd5 40. Kc3 Ke6 41. Kc4 Rd8 42. Bc5 Ra8 43. Bb4 Ra2 {0-1}) (22. Qh4 Bxg5 23. Qxg5 f6 { the attack is at an end; the initiative goes over to Black.}) (22. exd5 Bxg5 23. d6 (23. Qe4 g6) 23... Qc5 {with mutual chances.}) (22. Bxe7 Nxe7 23. Qh4 ( 23. h6 g5 $1) 23... f6 $1 (23... Nxf5 24. gxf5 b3 (24... Ba6 25. f6 $1) 25. axb3 a4 26. Bc4 $16) 24. h6 g5 {with unclear play.}) *

The story continues: Once, I went to a school of young juniors to give a lecture. The juniors were joined by a strong female player, Ekaterina Korbut. I gave them this position and asked them to come back with the answer on the next day. Katya Korbut is a girl with a strong will, and she worked for six hours on the problem. The interesting part is that if you find the move Bh4!! it will take you one or two minutes and not more. All other continuations are so unclear that you can analyze more and more and get completely caught in the variations. This example demonstrates the effectiveness of work.

Mark with his former student Ernesto Inarkiev at the Candidates tournament 2016

SS: How important is physical fitness in chess?

MD: Extremely important. I know from my own experience how important it is. I was very bad at it and I wanted my students not to repeat the same mistake. Hence, I stressed it quite a lot.

SS: How would you manage your time with so much work?

MD: Life is busy and I would have been happy to spend more time with my family. I do so every now and then. I also like to visit museums and art galleries. Once I was in Spain along with Yusupov and we realized that we had very little time left. So we both decided to choose one of our favourite painters. I chose the famous Spanish painter Gaudi while Yusupov chose the Italian painter Titian. It was an interesting visit and derived great pleasure from it. Right now chess, reading and medicines are the only things that I indulge in [laughs]

Some of the souvenirs in Dvoretksy's study room

Mark couldn't remember the year and place where this photo was taken

SS: You have been a player, trainer and an author. Which profession did you enjoy the most?

MD: I think it has to be training. In playing, I wasn't a good fighter, quite opposite to Carlsen! [Laughs] I couldn't stand the nervous tension that a chess player has before the game. When I got success it was a pleasure to be a player. However, the process in itself was not enjoyable.

Writing is a very noble profession because many people read my books and thank me for helping them improve. However, I have no literary background and hence finding good words for my text is always a problem, it takes a lot of effort. I have good education and hence when I write I avoid making obvious and logical mistakes. However, to keep a high level of text is a huge amount work for me. And work of any kind is not pleasant!

On the other hand training gives me great happiness. I feel wonderful to see my students improve and succeed, which helps them make their life better.

Of all his roles in the world of chess, Dvoretsky enjoyed being a trainer the most

SS: What would be your message to all the chess players out there who would like to improve at the game?

MD: This message would make sense only for people who love chess. I think in chess everything can be achieved with normal, effective, rationally organized work, good books, articles, materials and regularly training.

Our prize possession: A selfie with Mark and his wife Inna 

Mark and Inna were the most wonderful and hospitable hosts. After the interview they invited us to have coffee and cake with them. Inna couldn't speak fluently in English, but was eager to communicate and understood everything we spoke. She always had a pleasant smile on her face. Just as we were about to leave Mark asked us if I could have a look at an issue that he was facing with his computer. "I am not so good with technology", said Mark, as he showed us the problem. He had bought external speakers which had been working fine for nearly a year, but since a few days they had stopped functioning. The problem was not too difficult to solve. All I had to do was go into settings and make the appropriate changes. However, the language of Windows on Dvoretsky's computer was Russian. We tried for quite some time, but without any success.

Finally, Amruta came up with the idea of switching on our laptop. We followed the same steps on Mark's computer – click the third tab from the top, press the second button and so on. The problem was solved quite easily and the speakers started to work again. The joy on Mark and Inna's face was tangible. As we closed the door behind us and walked towards the nearest Metro station Amruta and I didn't speak a word. We were trying to relive each and every moment of the last four hours spent at the Dvoretskys. We were happy that we had finally met the greatest chess trainer ever, the one whose books have helped thousands of chess players all over the world.

It wouldn't be an overstatement to say that Mark Dvoretsky was single handedly responsible for uplifting the level of chess education with his articles and books towards the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centurys. Our deepest condolences to his wife Inna and his son Leonid. Mark is no more, but his books, articles and teachings will continue to educate, enlighten and entertain the chess world.



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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yesenadam yesenadam 11/11/2016 03:52
Great stuff guys, thank you. I'm not sure if you've ever had any bad reviews either. :-)
k2a2 k2a2 11/11/2016 02:06
Thank you Sagar!

This is one of the most beautiful interviews I have had the pleasure of reading. You have covered both the professional and the personal aspect of this great man in a very balanced manner. Wonderful!
kmw kmw 11/10/2016 09:54
Truly excellent interview. What a paragon of chess he was.
Truffaut Truffaut 11/10/2016 08:32
Excellent interview series, thank you.
TS2010 TS2010 11/10/2016 05:25
Great interview Sagar!! Very nice work and you are one of the best chess journalists!! Really enjoy all your work and your interview with Mark was very touching as well!!
dengtianle dengtianle 11/10/2016 03:23
The puzzle is really beautiful!It also appears in Volokitin's fantastic book(Perfect Your Chess).
KevinC KevinC 11/10/2016 03:19
I REALLY enjoyed this interview series.

I really agree with Dvoetsky about one thing: I have repeatedly called "Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual" "the greatest chess book ever written". I have that opinion because I do not believe that any other one book will teach any one player more that will help him, or her, in practical play over a lifetime. If you absorb that book, you will know more than most players will ever know about the endgame, even many titled players.

This is, clearly, not meant to denigrate Dvoretsky, but I do not know if he is the greatest trainer ever, or not. What he really did first, as most had never seen before, was to really bring high-level training to the masses through books. For that, he will live on a very long time, and I am very grateful for having met him and played him once, and for having had his books.
X iLeon aka DMG X iLeon aka DMG 11/10/2016 03:01
" In playing, I wasn't a good fighter, quite opposite to Carlsen!" My sentiments exactly! People often focus on skill, missing out on this completely essential attribute: the WILL to win! Some have it, some of us don't! And I believe it's that will that you need in truckloads, no matter whether you're a chess player or a boxer, singer or businessman! And of course all it means is that if you have it you are meant for competitive endeavours. What I mean is, if you don't have it it's nothing to fret about! You just need to be self aware and chose fields of endeavour that suit your temperament. For instance you don't need that competitiveness as a composer though in closing work deals for your compositions it's still useful), you don't need it as an analyst etc. It's very important for each of us to recognise their makeup and live accordingly!
weerogue weerogue 11/10/2016 02:27
Thank you to all involved for these three articles.
fightingchess fightingchess 11/10/2016 12:37
thank you for the interview, sagar. we need more journalists like you.
janskaak janskaak 11/10/2016 10:31
With deep gratitude: thank you Sagar for this beautiful tribute. As a footnote, have you condsidered making the audio recording vailable?
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