Daniel Gormally: My most memorable game

by Daniel Gormally
7/10/2020 – His painfully honest, self-deprecating style is impossible to miss amid the generally ‘well-behaved’ community of chess players. Love him or hate him, Daniel Gormally has gained notoriety in the chess world for his witty remarks, his dark sense of humour and his unique writing style. Now he presents his most memorable game — the time he beat Alexey Dreev to get the GM title — and includes a number of side anecdotes that are hard to come across in this context: from a curious chat with a Russian girl to Simon Williams exploding in anger after coffee was spilled on his laptop. Take a look for yourselves!

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MMMG #5: Insanity, passion, addiction

Daniel Gormally was born on May 4, 1976 in England. He shared first place at the Politiken Cup in 1998 and in 2003, won the Challengers Tournament of the 2013 Hastings International Chess Congress, and shared second place at the 2015 British Championship. In November 2006, he was joint winner of the British Rapidplay Chess Championship.

More recently, Gormally shared first place at the 2019 Hastings Congress, reaching the final round as sole leader but seeing a number of players catching up with him at the last hurdle.

Daniel GormallyGormally is also known for his writing, having published Play Chess Like the Pros, Calculate Like a Grandmaster, Mating the Castled King and Insanity, Passion and Addiction: A Year Inside the Chess WorldThe latter is an intimate account of a year in the life of a struggling chess player. In an insightful review of the book, GM David Smerdon said of Gormally:

Danny certainly continues to have his detractors, but from observations at many tournaments we’ve both attended, I’ve noticed that most English chess players treat him with a certain fondness. Perhaps this is because Danny has a combination of two traits that are relatively rare among the grandmaster community. He is blindingly humble (to the point of extreme self-deprecation) and painfully open about his personal life.

His humility and openness are accompanied by a true passion for the royal game, as he told Alexey Root in an interview from 2016:

I think it refers to how I approach life, that it’s with passion and obsession. You should only really do something if you enjoy it and if you approach it with passion. Otherwise you will inevitably get very bored, and move on to something else.

I think a lot of people regard chess players as rather staid, almost robotic characters, but in the book I hopefully get over that this is not the case. That chess is full of rather unusual characters, but they are rarely boring.

These days, you can find him ranting about cheaters, showing snippets from his personal life and sharing his chess knowledge on Twitter and on his Twitch channel.

In his most memorable game, Gormally recounts his victory over Alexey Dreev at the 2005 edition of the Gibraltar Masters. Not only did he get to beat a player who has faced the best in the business for over three decades, but he also got his third GM norm while doing so!

Gormally, Daniel vs. Dreev, Alexey
Gibraltar Masters, 2005

Gibraltar 2005 was an oasis of calm in an otherwise at times tormented chess career. The reason I was able to do well I put down to a couple of factors: 1. Overcoming my fear of flying, which lessened my anxiety over the board; 2. Interacting and analysing with strong players, which raised the standard of my play; 3. Luck, and the circumstances of the event.

Although this can only be seen with the benefit of hindsight, and going into the event I wasn't particularly confident. After all I was only 2472 when I climbed into that plane which took me from Gatwick to that small enclave off the tip of southern Spain, dominated by a gargantuan rock. I was relieved to be on solid ground and took a taxi to the Caleta hotel, and when I arrived I was told that the player who I was due to share a room with, Pascal Charbonneau, hadn't shown up. This meant that I had a large suite with views overlooking the Mediterranean, all to myself. Eventually I was kicked out by the organiser Stewart Rueben who threatened to make me pay for the entire stay if I didn't take a shared room, but for a few nights I had this undeniable luxury and it added to the feeling that this was going to be my week.


Gibraltar | Photo: Niki Riga

The boost of early hard-fought draws with Nakamura and Sasikiran were quickly extinguished by a ferocious Sutovsky, who eviscerated my king in a conflagrating attack. Although the awesome pyrotechnics he displayed in this game were to be admired, I also couldn't shake the feeling that I had missed a good chance. When he had been short of time, rather than eating into the half an hour or so I had available, I had simply lashed out with little thought. But I learned something from that experience. I realized that you couldn't hustle strong players because they would see through your designs. You can kid and even bully weaker players when they are short of time, but this didn't work against players of the level of Sutovsky. You couldn't give up on concrete analysis, and had to be certain that you were still playing the best moves.

I was keen to put what I had learned into practice and soon had a chance when I was paired in round eight against Alexey Dreev. This was the first 2700 player I ever had to face in a classical game, and he had earned that rating the hard way, playing in open Swisses against fearsomely hungry and underrated kids.

In all the years preceding this one I had struggled to surmount this huge rock that was the grandmaster title, and had missed norms on several occasions by half a point. Games where it seemed I was bound to win, I'd either lose or draw. Games where I needed a draw I'd inevitably lose. Of course if you work hard enough you will overcome these obstacles anyway, and I would have done it if I had compelled myself. But I was like a typical lazy chess player in that way, relying on my talent — so I was vulnerable to the issue of luck. I had managed to bag two Grandmaster norms and had already achieved 2500 in rating, but the third one was proving elusive.

So, luck had played a defining role in thwarting my ambitions. I'm a keen believer that fortune plays a bigger role in a chess career than some would care to admit, and I had never seemed to get the breaks when they mattered, but this tournament felt different. In an earlier round I had been a pawn down against Sasikiran and somehow had managed to draw. In other tournaments I would have lost that game. Even the game I had lost against Sutovsky had been inspiring. The other reason I felt like fortune was on my side was because of the hot weather, and I always felt I played better when the sun was shining.

This was what I meant earlier when I referred to “circumstances”. Gibraltar felt like a world away from the damp struggle of the English weekend circuit. Breakfast mornings were spent on the balcony gazing into the shimmering blue sea, trying to glimpse the coast of Africa, many miles away on the horizon.

There had even been a visit earlier in the event to an exotic nightclub just across the border. This was a place like no other, with beautiful supermodel types strutting across the dance floor, while keen to approach socially awkward chess players. I was chatted up at the bar by an Russian girl clad in a tiny miniskirt, her monotone voice giving the suggestion that she had been ground down by the sex-trafficking industry, thrown about and used by an endless line of sexually frustrated losers. This was hardly a nod to any future #metoo movement and my misgivings gnawed at my conscience, but leaving the moral implications aside I was glad to be surrounded by my fellow chess playing friends in a raucous holiday environment. Drink, then play chess. It felt like a good life. I don't think it's a coincidence I finished the tournament with a 2693 performance, my best ever.

To prepare for the game against Dreev, because I didn’t have a working laptop I did what I had been doing the whole tournament and went and irritated Simon Williams and Alan Walton who were sharing a room. I soon provoked their disgust when I used the bathroom, and appropriate measures to fumigate the surroundings had to be taken. Things then went from bad to worse when I managed to spill my coffee all over Simon’s laptop, which caused him to explode in anger.

Fortunately I was able to continue my preparation. I was aware that Dreev was probably the world’s leading expert in the Moscow Variation of the Semi-Slav, but tackling him in this messy opening still seemed like the appropriate choice, because the last thing I wanted was to end up in some technical endgame where he would surely triumph. Using ChessBase, I played over dozens of games in this opening and felt ready. Now it was just a case of containing my nerves...


English Attack

Daniel Gormally shows how to combine strategic and attacking ideas in the sicilian. Use the english attack as a lethal weapon!


Daniel is an English grandmaster with a FIDE rating of 2498 and a peak Elo of 2573. He became a Grandmaster in 2005, and played for England in Olympiad and European Championships. Author of Play Chess Like the Pros, Calculate Like a Grandmaster, Mating the Castled King and A Year in the Chess World, Gormally is also an established chess coach at St Mary’s School in Alnwick, England, where he lives.


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