A methodical coach: Radjabov interviews Chuchelov

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
3/24/2021 – Vladimir Chuchelov developed a well-known method based on his ideas on what he dubs “strategic balance”. Teimour Radjabov, who was introduced to the method in 2014, recently interviewed Chuchelov for an hour and a half. In the light-hearted conversation, Chuchelov talks about his decision to become a full-time trainer, his experiences with Giri and Caruana, and his predictions for the coming Candidates Tournament. | Pictured: Chuchelov at the 2014 Tashkent Grand Prix | Photo: Anastasiya Karlovich

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Strategic balance

Grandmaster Vladimir Chuchelov needs little introduction, but for those who have not yet heard of him, this is the biographical info given at the official webpage of the Chess Stars Academy:

Vladimir Chuchelov is a Belgian chess grandmaster and professional trainer. From 2009 he worked for four years as the head coach of the Royal Dutch Federation. In 2010, he was awarded the title of FIDE Senior Trainer. In 2013, received the Botvinnik Medal for best trainer

Chuchelov developed a well-known method based on his ideas on what he dubss “strategic balance”. Teimour Radjabov, who was introduced to the method in 2014, talked to Chuchelov for an hour and a half. Below we present some highlights from the light-hearted interview, in which the coach talks about his decision to become a full-time trainer, his experiences with Giri and Caruana and his predictions for the coming Candidates Tournament.

Vladimir Chuchelov

At the venue of the traditional tournament in Wijk aan Zee

On his decision to become a full-time coach

In 2002, Chuchelov met Jeroen Piket in the midst of a tournament. Piket started to ask questions, and later invited Chuchelov to be his second in Wijk aan Zee. “It was a big revelation and a big motivational factor”, said the man born in Moscow.

Loek van WelyThings didn’t go well in Wijk, though — he got sick and could not stay until the end of the event. Nevertheless, Loek van Wely [pictured] asked for his help the very next year. Van Wely then had an unprecedented strong performance at the elite tournament, scoring 7/13 points after beating Bareev, Kramnik, Topalov and Timman.

Chuchelov explained:

Your chess performance is not completely related to what you do for a very simple reason — in my understanding, it’s like 60% chess itself (what you do, how you prepare), and more or less 40% is the different types of circumstances (it can be related literally to everything). [...] Of course, in the long term, it’s obvious that you’ll see the results of your hard work. We’re talking about at least 3 or 4 years.

For him, it made sense to become a coach, as he realized that he had always tended to focus more on analytical work than on practical play even as a competitor. He confesses that he learned many lessons from his trainer Abram Khasin.

Radjabov reflected on how Chuchelov changed his approach:

You feel like when you’re on top you know a lot of stuff, but in fact it just completely changed my attitude toward the game

On Caruana and Giri

Although Fabiano Caruana is now known for his excellent theoretical knowledge and all-around professionalism, he was not always that disciplined. Chuchelov:

With Fabiano, at the beginning it wasn’t that simple. [...] When you do something very intensively from your early childhood, and basically you don’t have a normal childhood, at some point you have some kind of midlife crisis.

Caruana was demotivated — he didn’t want to work and was more focused on playing video games. His father was afraid he would never cross the 2700-barrier.

It took me one year simply to get him back interested in chess.

Vladimir Chuchelov, Fabiano Caruana

Chuchelov and Caruana at the 2013 Thessaloniki Grand Prix

It was different with Anish Giri. Chuchelov explains that Giri had a more structured personality and approach to the game:

With Anish it was easier because Anish is more interested, flexible. Also, we both spoke Russian, so there was a common cultural background. 

Caruana and Giri were not the only elite players that were coached by Chuchelov. Other stars that learned the Belgian’s method were Leinier Dominguez, Wesley So (a few sessions), Pentala Harikrishna, Vidit Gujrathi and Hou Yifan (in the match against Muzychuk).

Notably, Dominguez told Chuchelov that he felt he knew most of the things they were discussing, but he did not know how to formulate his knowledge.

On the Candidates Tournament

Chuchelov thinks there is no way to predict who will win the coming Candidates Tournament. Radjabov asked specifically about Nepomniachtchi’s chances:

Radjabov: If Nepo wins the Candidates, he has a great score against Carlsen compared to all the other players. Do you think that it will really influence the match? Do you think he can win in this case?

Chuchelov: First of all, if he stops playing the French (lauhgs) — that would be the first condition. And he really needs to make very professional work in his preparation. To my understanding, he has to change a lot of things because he is very vulnerable. He has a lot of qualities, and those qualities he has as a player are covering the defects he has in preparation.

Full interview

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.


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