Seirawan's comeback – his views on the chess world today

by ChessBase
10/28/2011 – Yasser Seirawan is something of a legend: World Junior Champion in 1979, four times US Champion, he has played played all the chess greats. In 2007 the Syrian born US grandmaster stopped playing competitive chess, but has now returned to the game, last week coming joint first in the Barcelona GM. After this success he gave IM Anna Matnadze an extensive, must-read interview.

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Magistral Casino Barcelona 2011

The Magistral Casino Barcelona tournament took place from October 12th-20th, 2011. It was a nine-player round robin with all nine bearing the title of grandmaster (originally ten players were due to play, but GM Eduardo Iturrizaga had a car accident on his way to the airport and had to withdraw). If you are versed in the Spanish language you can read extensive notes on them here – if you are not but use Chrome you can click on "translate" and get a fairly legible English rendition of the text.

The biggest sensation of the event was the return of Yasser Seirawan to competitive chess. The 51-year-old US grandmaster had stopped playing in 2007, but recently surprised the chess world by taking part in the world team championship in China, as part of the USA team. He had significant results, including wins against Judit Polgar and GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, both active and much higher rated players.

Yasser Seirawan analysing with GM Fernando Peralta, whom he has just beaten

Seirawan finished the event in joint first with Ivan Salgado Lopez at 5.5/8 points, with a narrow tie-break advantage to the Spaniard. Here is the final cross table:

Interview with GM Yasser Seirawan

By IM (and WGM) Ana Matnadze

For the official magazine of the Catalan Chess Federation "El Butlletí d'Escacs"

GM Yasser Seirawan playing at the Magistral Casino Barcelona 2011

Hello Mr. Seirawan, welcome to Barcelona. Could you please, describe to us your preparation process for the Magistral Casino Tournament?

Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to have been in sunny Barcelona as I live in Amsterdam where it was windy and chilly when I left.

What chess analyzing program do you use?

I use three programs Rybka, Fritz 12 and Houdini. I like Houdini best. The majority of the players in Barcelona were unknown for me. My preparations were mostly to review their most recent games (last two/three years) and to get a feel for their style of play. What types of positions they excel in and to see if they have favorite openings that I like to play as well.

Whom were you expecting to be the most difficult opponent? Are you happy with your play here? Which was the best and the worst game and why?

Analysing with GM Miguel Illescas

Again, as I wasn’t familiar with the players. Before the start I thought that Smirin was the clear favorite. Overall, I’m satisfied with my play. It was consistent. My game with Smirin was my worst for sure as I made a howler (a bad blunder) when I missed his Nf4-d5 stroke, which wins on the spot. My best game was versus Peralta. We played a main line Pirc and I played a very powerful strategic idea Nc3-b5, which my computer doesn’t find but gives me a long-term advantage of the two bishops. I kept a grip on the position and played very well throughout. Really, Fernando was never given a chance to get into the game.

You told me on the first day you had been to Barcelona before. Tell me more about that, please. Did you plan any sightseeing now? Has Barcelona changed much?

I played in Barcelona for the first time in 1989 during one of the GMA World Cup events. It was extremely well organized and I had wonderful memories of the city. That event was much longer, with several free days. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do any sightseeing during the Magistral event, as there were no free days. I did however enjoy my walks along the beach boulevard to and from the hotel to the casino. If possible, Barcelona has become more beautiful than I remembered.

Back to your extensive bio: you were born in Damascus. Do you still keep roots, family connection, there? What are your childhood memories?

 Yes, I have an extensive family of Seirawans living in Damascus. This comes from my father’s side of the family. Unfortunately, when I was nine years old my mother and father divorced and I lived with my mother, so much of my knowledge of my Syrian background has been lost. Through my father I’m kept informed of what is happening there. The family left Syria when I was four years old. I have only two memories of Syria, which I wrote in detail in my book“Chess Duels”. Those memories were of pain and pleasure – an interesting twinning.

Your career has been tremendously successful in all aspects. Apart from winning a lot of prestigious tournaments and having been the ninth highest rated player in the world, you succeeded in chess writing, publishing, organizing, founding, as a commentator. And I’m already lost. Do you ever sleep? And, what is your primary occupation?

I’ve always enjoyed being busy and like working on projects. These days I mostly do reading and writing and fewer projects. I do some financial investing advising others but I’d say my primary occupation today is as a writer.

"Seirawan Chess"

How good are you at S-Chess? (Tell us more about that).

S-Chess or (Seirawan Chess) is a joint effort between Bruce Harper, a friend and strong chess master from Vancouver, BC, Canada and me. It happened by accident: I was visiting Bruce and while we were in his kitchen preparing something to eat I was lamenting about the state of chess. Specifically, the awesome advances taking place in opening theory. Nowadays it is rather common to see elite players playing a theoretical line that is twenty moves deep and even longer. In a recent game, Javocenko made a novelty – h2-h3 – around the 34th move as White against Gelfand. My goodness! What is that? I complained to Bruce that the “creativity” possible in a game between two elite players was being inexorably reduced, because of theoretical advances. I also complained to him that as Black, against a well prepared opponent, it was becoming increasingly hard to create play where the second player had a chance for victory.

While complaining I also noted my admiration for what Capablanca had called, “Capablanca Chess.” He had created two additional pieces, what he called a “Marshall” and a “Chancellor.” These two pieces had the power of a rook and knight in one case and the power of a bishop and a knight in the other. Capablanca created a 10 x 10 board, which I don’t like. I much prefer the 8 x 8 board. Trinity College in Dublin suggested a 10 x 8 board which Capablanca accepted. Otherwise, the armies are simply too far apart. “Capablanca Chess” never really caught on – you don’t see to many 10 x 8 chessboards do you? Yet I loved the movements of “Capa’s pieces”.

Bruce and I started to think how to place Capa’s pieces on an 8 x 8 board? From the starting chess position should we ‘push’ the a2-pawn to a3 and tuck one of the new pieces on the a2-square? And do the same for the h-pawn? Well one look and you see what an artificial construction that becomes.

So we began to think that the starting position for chess is just fine – perfect in fact. Capa’s pieces would have to remain off the board at the start of the game and be introduced into play as pieces come off the back rank and are developed. As we understand from chess, it is very natural that all the pieces start from the back rank, protected by a pawn in front and then come into play. In no time, we realized that was a perfect introduction for the new pieces. A player would have eight opportunities to bring the two new pieces into play. There would be no ‘symmetry’ of play as one player need not copy the opponent. Each game would be unique. We immediately became enthusiastic about our new find.

The next thing we did was to rename Capa’s pieces. I mean think about it. What exactly are a Marshall and a Chancellor? When I try to create an image in my mind of these two titles, I think about men. Specifically, in the case of a “Marshall” a military general and as for a Chancellor, a politician wearing a huge necklace of office. Reducing these images into a chess piece is simply confusing. So we had to rename the pieces and create easily identifiable images.

Once you start along these lines, and recalling the history of chess, you immediately start to think of an elephant. Chess ought to have an elephant! Since, Bruce and I thought that the piece with the powers of rook and knight would be stronger than bishop and knight, we called it an Elephant.

The second piece, a bishop and knight, becomes more tricky. What is it? What should it become? What image should we create? Thanks to the power of the bishop, in one sense, it can ‘fly’ across the board. This conjured up the image of a raptor or an eagle if you like. The image of a bird, is of course, universal and some birds are fantastic predators. I liked the image of an ‘eagle’ but eagles are mostly scavengers, preying on the dead or dying. So we settled for a Hawk.

Then we began to play the new game and discovered that it was really great. Seriously, we enjoyed ourselves immensely. Virtually no draws as well. Theoretically, the new game could feature nine Hawks or nine Elephants as pawns could promote to any piece – accept the king. The great thing about the new game is that nothing in chess has to change. Same board, same armies, just the addition at the start of four new pieces, two for each side.

Bruce and I commissioned the making of kits for the new game and away we went. Today, we have been a bit blocked as we need to make the new game available for play on the Internet. Once we manage that I’m confident the game will explode in popularity.

Lastly, what to name the new game? Clearly, it is a derivative of “Capablanca Chess” but both Bruce and I felt uncomfortable about using or dare I say abusing his cherished name. I liked “Sharp Chess”. The first word being a mixture of our last names “Seirawan” and “Harper.” We wanted to copyright the name but discovered the “Sharp Stores” chain of retail outlets had already claimed “Sharp Chess.” As Bruce and I expanded our name search we discovered that all kinds of names for chess games had been made. For example, “Animal Chess” was taken by Disney, and so on. We were stuck.

Even worse, we discovered that practically nothing ‘appropriate’ for our efforts existed at all. In order to avoid becoming a target of a lawsuit we called our joint effort “Seirawan Chess” which we’ve reduced to calling “S-Chess” for now. We want to have a future ‘name the game’ contest when it becomes more popular. Too, I’m uncomfortable with “Seirawan Chess” for the simple reason it overlooks the contribution of Bruce altogether.

I’m very good at S-Chess. I’ve played with many Grandmasters and do extremely well.

Popularity of chess

Tell us about your family.

I’m married to a Dutch lady, Yvette Nagel, who is a FIDE FM. We live in Amsterdam where Yvette works for the city and Mayor’s office. We don’t have children but we have brothers and sisters who do. Our parents are all alive and in good health so we travel often visiting our relations wherever they may be.

Being a chess pro is tough. We are constantly traveling. What is your secret to deal with jet lag?

Sadly, I have no secret for jet lag. Throughout my career it has had a negative impact on my play at the start of events. Terribly so I might add.

And your secret as to how to recover from a bitter loss?

One can never overcome a bitter loss. The way to deal with a loss is before the tournament. I think most professional players simply have to accept that when they play in a tournament, to win it, they will have to take risks. So if before a tournament a player mentally girds themselves and say, “Okay, I’m going to lose a game, two or three, but I’m going to play hard for a victory,” then accepting a loss is easier. Although the bitterness is long-lasting. Secondly, losing is part and parcel of the game. Get used to it. It will happen! Instead, we have to learn to take our losses in stride and learn from them. What did we do wrong? Why did we make the mistake we did? And so on. Losses will help us learn if we make the correct deductions.

The number of chess fans all over the world is growing every day. However, it is not yet taken as popular a sport as, for example, football or tennis… What do you think would be necessary to do to make chess more popular? What would be your strategy or ideas to attract more sponsors?

My approach is far different than the questions imply. In terms of athletic sports one doesn’t have to be a golfer to understand the game. Through simple observation we see there is a ball and a club. The golfer uses his club to smash the tiny ball into a hole that is two hundred meters away. Most athletic sports are simple to understand. Soccer, the world’s most popular sport, is simplest of all.

Chess on the other hand is too complex for the public. Someone may observe for hours and hours and still not understand the basic rules. So we should not only accept but embrace this limitation. Chess is a complex game appealing to a small but significant segment of our populations.

Where chess fails is on several levels. My experience tells me that in the case of the United States Chess Federation, for example, we need one hundred players who play and understand the game, to produce one USCF member. The reality is that we ‘lose’ ninety-nine players because somehow – on the organization level – we are not doing enough to appeal to the ninety-nine players we lose. In short, our retention levels for those who learn the game is simply abysmal failure. We need to better understand how we can make organized chess more appealing.

Recently, in August, I visited my sister in Phoenix Arizona. While there I hooked up with my friend Scott Frenaux who organizes a scholastics chess network. Scott and his staff reach out to hundreds of schools and teach chess to about 25,000 children a year. By the second year, half have dropped out. By the third year, another forty percent. Those that stay in the program eventually become champions and USCF members but the ‘attrition’ and turn-over rates are staggering, if not at times depressing for the coaches. Still, for all that effort, many lives are positively impacted.

The truth is that there really are untold millions of people worldwide who have – at times – found chess to be enormously interesting. We need to make greater efforts at ‘re-capturing’ those who have left our sport and bring them back into the fold.  If we are successful at that, chess would be, instantly, the most popular board-game in the world.

As regards sponsors, I think this is a top down approach. Here what I have in mind is the crown jewel of chess, the World Chess Championship title, universally acknowledged to be one of the most important intellectual titles in the world. This title has been the providence of FIDE for some time. Here FIDE has made a hash of its own title. When the rules are without sense, the sponsors flee. So even to begin to think about how do we attract sponsors to chess we must first realize that our most important events, world and national championships, must have sensible rules, sensible regulations and attract the best players. Failure in this most obvious top down approach means no or limited sponsorships for lesser events.

Short draws and cheating

What do you think about the “short draws phenomenon”? What would be the mechanism to avoid them?

Funnily enough, I don’t share the concern that short draws are a problem. Really, I see it as overblown hysteria. The obvious solution is what was used in the Magistral event: no draw offers before move forty. Simple. End of discussion.

The greater concern is actually getting games with content. Again, I refer back to my complaints regarding the advancement of opening theory. Let us say to the players, okay, play till move forty at least! Both players show us their homework coming out of a long theoretical dispute of say thirty moves, a late middlegame, endgame evolves where the machines have judged a small pull for White. The players continue playing correctly and by the end of another ten, twenty moves the game is clearly drawn. Well, that was nice. Right? Correct play by both players led to a draw. But was the game either fun for the players or enjoyable for the spectators? Were the players just going through the motions for the last ten or twenty moves, to meet the expectations of the rules?

This is what I worry about, that the opening theory has become so deep that the levels of sophistication for the defender is reaching so high, it becomes harder and harder for the elite to gain victory.

I’m not saying that chess is played out. No, no, no, not at all. I do however worry that theory has made such rapid advances, half the players’ armies are reduced before the players are playing on their own.

What is your opinion about cheating? It is becoming a very serious problem.

Cheating has always been a concern. Long before computers ever became strong. That is players receiving advice/information during a game. In truth, at the most elite level charges of cheating are simply ridiculous and don’t exist. On the amateur levels however cheating, again even before the computer, could have been a problem. A coach telling his student what move to make. Now with electronic devices, such charges are far more worrisome.

Here I think there is a disconnect. Again, at the elite level cheating is not a problem, but there is a public perception that there could be a problem and then it gets blown well out of proportion. A possible problem becomes a problem that doesn’t exist.

It was terribly unhelpful for the image of chess when Topalov accused Kramnik of cheating during ‘toilet-gate.’ Without any proof or any evidence whatsoever. Just a charge of “my opponent is a cheater!” When Kramnik won in rapid play, without leaving the board, Topalov explained that Kramnik’s method of cheating had simply been improved! My goodness, how silly was that? Topalov damaged his own image and brought chess into disrepute. What sponsor wants such an association?

Cheating is an image problem for chess. If the world perceives that computers are better than humans and that humans could get help at the board it would mean that there would be less and less interest in chess. Even if no cheating at all is taking place.

In my view, chess authorities should take a pro-active stance, to convince the public that there is simply no possibility of cheating at all. Some simple suggestions include no electronic devices of any type by the player (a security wand before the start of play); as well as a time delay for the relaying of the moves. These should more that suffice.

The World Championship cycle

What does Yasser Seirawan think about World Championship cycle and matches?

I don’t like the FIDE cycle at all. I think it is foolish, without sense, which is negative for sponsors, the public and for the players.

Let us start with the obvious, chess does not have a “Premiere League,” a “Grand Prix” or a “World Cup.” We are without a ‘season’, which exists in most sports. What we do have is a “World Chess Championship.” In my view, this should be an annual event. Full stop! Once you think about this and reach the same conclusion, questions start popping into mind, such as “how would an annual cycle work?” As well as other questions.

So let us step back and think of how would we create an ‘annual cycle’ with the ‘tools’ that we have in hand today? First we come to the obvious question, “What would the final competition look like?” Should we have a traditional one-on-one match? Or should the final competition feature a tournament with a double round robin or quadruple round robin final? If you stop and choose one or the other, there will be complaints from one set of fans who prefer one type (strongly) over the other. Once that awareness seeps in, the answer is obvious, you have both.

Today, we have a strange cycle, to say the least. Let us be generous, and say that today’s cycle is a fixed two year cycle where we have ‘continental championships’ bringing ‘qualifiers’ who compete in a 128 player knockout event, the World Cup. The top three players qualify for a Candidates Tournament, alongside three highest rated players (other than the existing World Champion), the runner-up to the previous Championship match and a nominee ‘wildcard’ from the Candidate’s Tournament organizer. From the Candidate’s Tournament a ‘Challenger’ emerges and then a match is played. All of these events are staged in a two year cycle (or so). It is what it is, and these are the tools we have today. I think the cycle is stupid. Why?

First of all, let us think about the role of the World Champion. Let us presume that the World Champion is the strongest, most interesting chess player in the world. That the fans, the public, the media all love him/her and thrill to their every contest! How exciting! Well guess what, in this entire ‘two year’ cycle the World Champion does nothing! He/she does not play. Not in the National Championship, the Continentals, not in the Knockout, not in the Candidates. The World Champion waits. When a Challenger is ‘born’ at long last, the World Champion comes out of the cocoon to play a twelve-game match. Doesn’t that strike you as a silly system? It certainly does me!

Imagine, if Barcelona won the Premiere League in Spain and was declared so good, they wouldn’t have to play in the League anymore. No, the team would wait for a challenger, and Barcelona would play a ‘match’ against the challenger. That’s all. The public would be confused. It is with a similar confusion as this example that I, a professional player, look at the world of chess. We have a stupid system for determining the World Champion. If it makes no sense to me, then how can I sell the system to a sponsor? For chess it gets even worse!

Let us look at the World Chess Championship and the elite world of chess today. We all know and love Viswanathand Anand. We couldn’t ask for a better chess ambassador. Vishy is a prince and a deserved World Champion! No questions. But is he head and shoulders above his colleagues and nearest rivals? I don’t think that even Vishy would make such a claim. Rather the contrary, that he does feel that he is an elite player with a few very close rivals. Yet Vishy is separated out of this elite group and put on a pedestal and removed from playing.

The world’s number one player, Magnus Carlsen, considers the system unfair and withdrew from the cycle. This is terrible for chess, for the public for sponsors. This is important to understand: Magnus is right! Vishy is but one player in an elite circle of company that includes Carlsen, Anand, Aronian, Kramnik, Topalov… It is simply wrong that by winning this or that event the World Champion is put on a pedestal above all the rest!

Again, if I were chess dictator I’d change the system dramatically. First, I would have an annual World Championship title event. I would keep the two year cycle as is, with the following changes: I would make the Candidates Tournament, a double round robin of the eight players, a World Championship tournament. In this case, what I’d have in mind is that the World Championship plays in this event, alongside seven other players – three from the Knockout (World Cup); three from the rating list; one organizer nominee (eventually, I’d scrap the nominee and include the winner of the Grand Prix.) All players would be encouraged to play in the World Cup.

Every other year there would be a twelve-game World Championship match. It would feature the world’s number one rated player and the world’s number two rated player. Full stop.

Before we stop and complain, let us think about the above for a moment and elaborate things in greater detail. First let us suppose the winner of the World Championship tournament is neither the number one or number two player in the world by the rating list. That means the (tournament) World Champion would not play in the following World Championship match next year. The privileges of the World Champion don’t exist. To win, defend, or keep the title the World Champion has to compete and perform! If the World Champion falls out of form and is surpassed by others, this is sport! With an annual championship event, the player will have opportunity to get back into shape and compete soon again.

So, every second year, there would be a twelve-game match for the world championship, for say one million Euros, minimum, featuring number one and number two. A fine pay day. The entire public would understand: number one versus number two. Simple. In sport, if a player is unable to compete, due to physical injury, the player is scrapped and replaced. Simple. If number one or number two doesn’t want to compete, number three is invited and so on. There must be a competition!

Some will complain that the above match is “too elite” or perhaps doesn’t feature the existing World Champion. They are wrong. Becoming one of the highest rated players in the world is the most democratic thing in chess! Everyone, everyday, has opportunities to raise their rating. Just go out and compete! Win a high number of games – and you too may one day become the highest rated player in the world! No one is stopping you. Everyone has a chance to gain a high rating!

Next, I’d put in the rules, that a ‘high rated player’ could not ‘sit’ on their rating. An activity requirement of at least thirty games, played three months prior to the match is needed to be eligible to accept an invitation to the match. A player must be active. Indeed, thirty games in a twelve month period can hardly be considered onerous.

Too, I’d require that any player, in either the Match or the Tournament for the world title, is required to compete in their national championship – only if the national championship is a round robin – as well as for their nations Olympiad team. This is a quid pro quo agreement. A player that is able to play in the Tournament and Match will be very well paid. It is not too much of an ‘ask’ that such players support their national championships and national team. This is a ‘give back’ to their own countrymen and colleagues!

So the way the World Championships would work is that one year a double round robin of various top ranked players and qualifiers would play for the World Championship. This would mean that every person would have two clear pathways of qualifying: become one of the top three rated players in the world or win the Continentals and place in the top three of the World Cup and you are in.

This type of cycle is what the world of chess needs and what sponsors would support! Knowing that there is a World Championship every year at stake is wonderful for chess. The chess world wants to see a showdown between the top two players; the world wants to see opportunities for their national champions to compete and to know who is the world’s best tournament player as well as best in match play.

The system is fair to everyone. In time, the process for the Tournament World Championship should be clarified and made more uniform, but if we go in this direction, chess will grow and more sponsors will be discovered along the way.

There are emerging younger and younger chess geniuses every day. What do you think about this?

Marvelous! The more the merrier! And I totally agree, new talents are emerging from all over the world and they are better and stronger and younger than ever before. Welcome!

Which of these young players have the potential, in your opinion, to become a World Champion, if any?

Well, my goodness, all of them have the potential. Smile. Seriously, to mention just a few names without slighting in any way those not mentioned, Magnus Carlsen, simply will be World Champion one day; Sergey Karaiakin of Russia; Timor Radjabov Azberjian; Hikaru Nakamura USA; Le Quong, Vietnam; Anish Giri Holland; all of these names and many others stand out in my mind as likely World Champions.

About the time controls Mr. Seirawan thinks that…

I’m disgusted with the time controls! My chief complaint is that they are not standardized. To my mind, there are three types of chess tournaments: classical, rapid and blitz. Honestly, I don’t care what the time controls for these three disciplines are, only that they should be the same for all tournaments! Today, a “Classical” tournament will have all kinds of different time controls. It is terrible. For a professional, they are constantly recalibrating themselves for all these controls which can be different from event to event in the extreme. This too, has been a failure from FIDE, official federations and the professional players. In fact, it is just stupid.

If I were chess dictator I would say: “For the next two years we will play our three disciplines with these and only these standard time controls. Full stop. At the end of two years, we will review the results. If we discover that some tweaking is necessary, we will change the standard and practice them for two years…” And so forth and so on, eventually settling on the three standards that we all like best, which works for all parties, including organizers.

I would start with a classical time control of 90 minutes for 40 moves with a thirty second bonus for all moves made from move one. For the second time control 30 minutes for 20 moves (with the thirty second bonus); for the third time control 15 minutes (with the thirty second bonus) for the rest of the game. My reasoning for this time control is that a classical game will obviously be the longest of the three disciplines. A player has physical needs, such as nutrition, drinks, visiting the restroom and so on. The three distinct time controls, allow the player to comfortably meet their physical needs. It is simply intolerable to be sitting at the board, with a strong physical need to go to the restroom and being unable to do so because you are playing on increment time only.

For Rapid Chess, I’d start with 20 minutes for all the moves of the whole game with a 10 second bonus for each move made. For Blitz Chess I’d start with three minutes for all the moves of the whole game with a two second bonus for each move made. Again, at the end of a two year period, the results should be reviewed and tweaked if necessary. If no tweaking is deemed necessary, the standards are kept for the next two years.

The whole point is that such a banal thing as time controls should be standardized around the world.

What would be your advice to young people who are just starting to play chess and take it seriously?

Have fun. Enjoy what you are doing. Take your work seriously. If you get too stressed, take a break. If you apply yourself, you will get mentally tougher, much more disciplined, feel a greater sense of personal empowerment and learn to succeed in anything you want to do. Believe in yourself.

You have played so many interesting and legendary opponents that others only dream to meet. Which player impressed you the most, both chess wise and in personality matters?

My goodness! So many to mention. Bent Larsen was my personal hero, and I’m much indebted to Victor Kortchnoi, just to mention two. The board manners of Alexander Beliavsky, Jan Timman and Judith Polgar are simply exemplary. In terms of writers, Mikhail Tal, John Nunn and Jeremy Silman are all superb. There are so many others as well. Chess is full of fascinating personalities and interesting people!

Do you coach people? If so, who are your pupils, if it is not a secret?

In general no. I’ve trained with Victor Kortchnoi and Jan Timman. I’ve done some work with Daniel Stellwagen and recently Ivo Timmermans. Much of this work is on a friendly, although serious basis. Perhaps in the future, I’ll become a chess coach, but for now, it hasn’t happened.

What are your plans for the future, besides passing the 2700 hurdle?

I’d like to help the USA team at next year’s Olympiad.

A thousand thanks, Mr. Seirawan, for the indescribably interesting interview. I could not miss your numerous fans’ chance to ask you a few questions as well. Got many, chose three. So, here they go…

Bonus questions from a fan

GM Marc Narciso: Mr. Seirawan, are the supposed hypnotic forces of Mihail Tal over his opponents a mere legend or did you also feel them?

They are both! More legend and yes I did feel them as well. When I played against Karpov and Kasparov both, you could feel their energy and determination to defeat you. At times they would look in my direction, not necessarily to disturb, but at such moments you understood they wanted to win!

What is your opinion about Viktor Korchnoi and chess longevity in general; how is it possible to play so well at 80? What would be your explanation of the phenomenon?

Sadly, I have no answers. Victor is just fantastic. As by the way was Smyslov. They just knew where the pieces had to go and put them there! Perhaps Victor doesn’t have the same energy at the board as he did decades ago, but anyone who plays against him today knows that he is burning with desire to win the game!

Taking the golden opportunity that you are so familiar with these two great men, could you please make a comparison between Fischer and Kasparov, their weak and strong sides, the key of their successfully dominating in their times, respectively?

Sad to say Bobby gave up the game when I started to play, so my comparison of Fischer versus say Karpov or Kasparov wouldn’t be helpful. I can say that Bobby had an extraordinary capacity for hard work and probably spent more time honing his game than anyone previously had. He was truly professional in his choice of openings and so on. People like to say “Bobby was the best chess player ever!” Such words make them feel good or even knowledgeable. I might ask them: really? In which time frame was Bobby the best player ever? Think about it for a moment.

Before Bobby entered the cycle that culminated in his historic 1972 World Championship match victory, by his own agreement, in 1970, he allowed Bent Larsen to play board one ahead of him in the match versus the Soviets. To repeat, in 1970, the great Bobby Fischer, himself, thought it correct that Larsen play ahead of him.

Before Bobby defeated Boris Spassky in their match, he had never beaten Boris and in fact had a bad score against this rival. If we are generous, we could say that Bobby was the best player in 1971 and 1972, and then he quit. Hmm. That doesn’t sound like solid grounds to me to make the claim that he was the best ever.

Were Bobby impressed, truly amazing, was his incredible Candidate Match results as well as the final margin of victory in the 1972 match. Bobby was always good against the lower half of the field in round robin events. He wasn’t always dominating against the top half of the field at all.

Anatoly Karpov was a remarkable world champion. It always seemed to me that victory came to easy for Anatoly. From 1975 to 1985, essentially Karpov won everything. For Anatoly gold was important and he accepted it with minimal effort. He wasn’t trying for “Fischeresque” results, he was happy to simply win first prize. And win he did! People don’t really understand how good Anatoly truly was. Just consider that while I believe that Garry Kasparov was the greatest player ever, in 1984 Anatoly was giving him a drubbing of 5-0 before the match was aborted. Imagine, leading the greatest player ever 5-0 after thirty games. Furthermore, imagine it was only a chess genius like Garry Kasparov that prevented Karpov from dominating for another decade!

My goodness! Thanks and thanks again, Mr. Seirawan…

You’re welcome.

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