"We are at a dangerous point" - An interwiew with Artur Jussupow

by ChessBase
2/3/2023 – Artur Jussupow belonged to the absolute top of the world during his active time and after moving to Germany he opened a successful chess school together with his wife. At the Staufer Open Martin Hahn had the opportunity to interview the former World Championship candidate. Among other things, the grandmaster talked about chess training, cheating in chess, and the best junior players. | Photos: German Chess Federation (Bernd Vökler)

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By Martin Hahn

The interview first appeared on the "Perlen vom Bodensee" website. Translated and reprinted with kind permission.

"We are at a dangerous point"

The final phase of the last round of the Staufer Open is under way. Artur Jussupow returns from his tour of the tournament hall and sits down next to the interviewer on the sofa in a secluded corner of the foyer. Together with his wife Nadja, Jussupow is present at the Stadtgarten in Schwäbisch Gmünd every day to look after students of the Jussupow Chess School in Weißenhorn, Bavaria, who play in the open.

The chess legend flicks through page 156 (chapter heading "A Storm on the Chessboard") of the book "School of Chess Excellence, Volume 4: Opening Developments", which the interviewer presents to him and which of course he has known for a long time. The book is by his former coach and later chess school partner Mark Dvoretsky (1947-2016). On page 156 Dvoretsky describes the path Artur had to take as an aspiring youngster to perfect his playing style:

"In his younger years Artur Jussupow was tactically weak and therefore played in a strict positional style avoiding combinatorial intricacies. He understood, of course, that one could not become a great chess player without mastering the entire chess arsenal and therefore made serious efforts to make his play more harmonious...."

This was my chance to ask the current chess teacher and former student directly about this passage.

Mr. Jussupow, I have had this book for a very long time, the chapter "A storm on the chessboard" has always interested me. Can you talk about what it was like when you changed your playing style back then?

I have striven to play universally, which means to be able to play according to positional needs. If the position demands to go for an endgame, then I wanted to go for an endgame, or if active playing or attacking is demanded, then I have to attack. That's how I felt it was right. I had taken Boris Spasski as my role model. I was able to watch him in Moscow during the Soviet Championship in 1973. Spassky won the tournament with a very good result. Of course we know that he had lost the world championship match against Bobby Fischer in 1972 but a year later he won the Soviet championship - with a one-point lead over Karpov, Stein, Tal, Smyslov and other great players. He simply rolled over the whole field, with actually very, very clever play. With technical play, he also often went into the endgame.

Until then Spassky had been seen more as a middlegame genius, and in his best time he could outplay anyone in the middlegame, as an attacking player too. But he was a universal player who could do everything in chess. He proved that in this championship. I was impressed by the way he ground everyone down. I watched his games, which were then ideal in a sense and to my mind. To be able to do what the position demands - to go into endgames if necessary, then to attack and sacrifice if necessary. The latter did not correspond to my nature at all. That's what I had to learn. And I really studied it very, very much. Another part of my programme was that we also watched many games by Mikhail Tal. Of course, I didn't want to play like Tal. But now and then, in exceptional situations, I could play that way. Or at least in similar style. After all, no one can play like Tal (laughs).

Mark Dvoretsky writes that you sacrificed a total of 15 pawns in the 1979 World Junior Championship. Dvoretsky notes that "the sporting result was understandably not very good with 7.5 out of 13, but on the other hand he gained useful experience". How did you manage not to lose motivation and to continue with you new aggressive style despite poor tournament results?

Yes, the result in this tournament was not so good. We consciously accepted that. Well, not quite consciously, of course I tried to get more points. But maybe I exaggerated a bit. It happens quite often with younger players that they have learned something and then try to use it immediately. And maybe they exaggerate a bit in that direction. But it's like a pendulum that swings. Then comes the right step, that one no longer exaggerates, no longer goes too far. You find yourself, then you have these possibilities, this experience. And then you do it better.

This topic interests me (and I'm sure other players as well) because I (of course a few levels below your abilities) recently also tried to play more attacking chess, especially in this Stauferopen in the B tournament. In fact, I would like to become a better tactician and I don't always want to solve every position strategically. But that is so tedious...

But it is possible. Of course you have to train a lot, study the games of great attacking players, and then take your time, experiment a bit. It's normal that improvement does not work right away.

Together with your wife, you are at the Stauferopen every day. What do you do here? How do you like it?

We have nine students here at our Yusupov Chess School. Most of them play in group B. The Staufer Open is very important for us, also because it is divided into two groups. Everyone can make good use of it according to their abilities. I have a lot of young players here who are still learning a lot, but some of them already have positive results. This is a very important part of our work. We try to accompany them to tournaments more often. We are definitely present at the big tournaments, at the German Championships, at such important tournaments. We help our students to analyse games, to see mistakes and maybe to correct them for the future. I think the best way to learn is in situations like that, by analysing games.

For us coaches, this is also an opportunity to observe: How does my student behave during the game? These things are important, you can't tell in training. When I see the game, I might notice things that I didn't notice before in training. That is really an important experience.

We are very happy with the situation here in Schwäbisch Gmünd. It is one of the best tournaments, you have rooms to analyse. In general, you have a lot of space, which makes you feel very comfortable here. The rooms are beautiful, there is a lot of green around, simply a lot of air. That makes you feel great, of course. I think it's really a great tournament, we like it. I'm also happy to see that some of our students are also playing here (laughs). Of course, I also take a look at their games.

Can you name a few students of the Jussupow-Chess School who are playing here?

There are adults here, but also children. For example, Alfred Nemitz, who is now playing against an international champion in the last round. He is still an U-12 player, but he is really good. Last year he managed his first win against a grandmaster - it was only one game, but still. Who also plays very well is Yunqi Li in the B group - he also made a positive score in the tournament. That is really good. (Author's note: Yunqi Li is a two-time U8 Württemberg champion).

Alfred Nemitz, a student of the Jussupow-school | Photo: Martin Hahn

I was surprised that the tournament organisers did not "exploit" your daily presence in Schwäbisch Gmünd. Were you not even asked whether you wanted to make an opening move, for example - or did you not want to do that yourself?

No, no. But I have my own good traditions, I used to play here myself.

But I think it would have been great publicity if you had been introduced at the start of a round. Many young players here may not even know that a chess legend is present in the foyer of the tournament hall every day.

That doesn't matter.

You are really very modest.

No, I'm not that modest (laughs). But there's no need. We are happy here. It's even in our interest, because we are also busy with our school. There is enough work for us here.

Another student of yours, Vincent Keymer, has developed very well and now seems to have reached the top. Was this foreseeable when you were training with him?

Artur Jussupow and Vincent Keymer. | Photo: Bernd Vökler/German Chess Federation

In principle, I think that was foreseeable relatively early on - even before I started working with him. There are such talents. But I think we'll have to wait a long time for a second Keymer (laughs). But he is a good example of a younger player who has developed very well. I think that's great. He is now working with Peter Leko. I'm really, really happy that he's working with Peter Leko, of all people, because I worked with Peter for a long time. And so I am sure that Peter is the right person for Vincent. He can teach him a lot and help him a lot and understands him very well. I think it's a wonderful fit and you can see that in the result.

How old was Vincent when you worked with him?

Twelve, thirteen years - about this range.

Was there anything in particular that made you realise at the time that he stood out?

I would say (considers briefly) quick thinking. Probably at a different speed than "just" normal players. And love for chess. That is also very important. He's also hard-working, of course. In principle, he has all the prerequisites. He has the talent and he works a lot. And he also has character. He really has the chance to become this complete player - with all the elements that are necessary for that. I have no doubt that he will make it into the top ten in the world! He can also go further. After all, I also managed to be the world's number three for a short time (laughs). And Vincent has more talent, and he also has the chance to go even further. Then we would all be happy. Of course, it's incredibly difficult at this higher level in competitions against real titans. But he is already close.

He recently became Vice World Champion in rapid chess...

Exactly. Okay, but I wouldn't overestimate that. It's important that he shows stability. A bit of luck in tournament can lead to that. But he is good. As I said, he also thinks fast, these fast tournaments suit him then. Even blitz tournaments, that fits, that underlines his strong side a bit more.

You mentioned you once were number three in the world. As a three-time World Championship semi-finalist, how do you feel that the World Championship title has become a burden for the current holder Magnus Carlsen, who apparently no longer likes being World Champion?

Of course, I can't judge the burden. Because I was never world champion (laughs). Personally, of course, I think it's a great pity that he came to such a decision. I don't quite understand it. But okay, if he feels that way... Maybe he will come back. He is a fantastic player. Maybe he needs a bit of a break, new motivation. I would like to see him return to the world championship cycle.

Like Rocky Balboa...

Yes, exactly (laughs). Of course, it's difficult to always have to give your best, to be number one. You need motivation, and preparing for a World Championship match is a lot of work. But maybe he will come back, he is still young.

In the case of the Carlsen-Niemann affair, can you understand the world champion's actions?

Carlsen is addressing a big problem though I'm not sure if he's right in this specific case. I think he could perhaps have acted a little more cautiously, especially as world champion, his word carries more weight. And of course there is the principle: if you have no evidence, you should be careful what you say.

Magnus Carlsen obviously acted emotionally, after his defeat against Niemann in the Sinquefield Cup. Can't you relate to that?

I would like to see the bigger picture. Cheating is really a plague. It also is more common in online chess. Everyone knows what's going on there. When you play a bit and suddenly realize "Oh, I don't have a chance now" - that's not a great feeling, of course. Carlsen is addressing an important issue. There are committees that evaluate and investigate this, and that's the way it has to be. I have great confidence in the FIDE Ethics Committee. However, this case is very difficult, the situation is very complicated. It has to be judged. I don't want to be a judge in this matter, because I don't feel competent enough to solve such difficult things.

Carlsen should present his case to these bodies. He would be well advised to do so. Because he is not an expert, he can also make mistakes. And if he has made a mistake, then he has harmed another man. That's why it's better to be more careful. I know that the world federation is already doing a lot to fight cheating.

Even here in Schwäbisch Gmünd there are random electronic cheating controls this year.

Right, right. But we all have to do a bit more. Also the chess press, the players themselves - everyone has to do a bit more in the sense of fair play, in the sense of how we behave ourselves. Sometimes there are violations of rules that are only very small, for example, when players talk during the game - about football, about something else, not necessarily about chess. But that's also a violation, you then disturb the others.

Because your opponent might start wondering if you talk about the game? After all, your opponent does not know what you are talking about.

Exactly! I think the topic of fair play is very important, and the German Junior Federation has taken up this cause. And I support all efforts in this direction. We also try to teach this at our school - not always successfully, of course. But it is important, it is incredibly important.

I only have one criticism of the junior federation: they have very good principles but they forget one little thing: Fair play doesn't really start with children, it starts with adults and with officials and referees - with everyone - we all have to make an effort to be respectful and fair with each other and set a good example. Adults have even more responsibility and are then often to blame for the children doing something wrong.

Do you think it's possible that the cheating possibilities that are available to anyone willing to cheat will be the end of classical chess? Just as powerful computers brought about the end of correspondence chess played?

We are at a dangerous point. But so were we ten or fifteen years ago. I remember the scandal at the Topalov-Kramnik World Chess Championship in 2006 and the difficult relations between the two afterwards.

This atmosphere of paranoia...

That too, that too. These are very dangerous tendencies. They already existed back then. Maybe we already missed something. It is difficult. It's important that we all fight against it together now. Perhaps it is also crucial what happens at the club level, perhaps everything is decided there, that we say "no - we don't want to see anything like that", that this understanding is passed on at the club level: Cheating has no place in chess!

Rubinstein, with whom you share the name of an opening system (the Jussupow-Rubinstein System - 1.d4 Sf6 2.Sf3 e6 3.e3) only learned the rules of chess at the age of 14 and still reached the very top. It is hard to imagine that someone who learns to play rather late can reach the very top today. What do you say about the fact that today so many young players are very strong and make a name for themselves?

That is the development. And that comes from the possibilities offered by computers, the access to information, you can learn everything much faster now. I can't really evaluate that properly, I lack specific knowledge on that. But a lot is changing right now, or it has already changed a lot. That is one side. The other is that the competition in chess has become much greater now. We have very, very many players, so it's much more difficult for older players to reach the top. After a certain time, your strength declines. Some people assume, for example, that your strength gradually starts to deteriorate after the age of 25. Of course, there are always exceptions, players who stay at the top longer.

Kortschnoi, for example?

Motivation, strength, energy, all that diminishes a bit with age. If you compensate for that with greater experience, greater understanding, then it's good. If you don't manage to compensate completely, then you go downhill. Those are the difficulties. Many are developing now like Vincent, there are five, six players like that in the world who are developing very, very quickly. The future belongs to these people, of course. Firouzja, Keymer, Praggnanandhaa and maybe Gukesh. They will solve it among themselves who is the best of this future generation (laughs).

Selfie: The author Martin Hahn and Grandmaster Artur Jussupow


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