The big Dvoretsky interview, part 1
Today we present the first part of our big interview with Mark Dvoretsky, which we conducted during the Tal Memorial based on questions from visitors of this site. We publish it in parts because, as it turned out, Mr Dvoretsky wanted to answer almost all questions!
On November 11th, 2010 we interviewed Mark Dvoretsky in the press room of the Tal Memorial, in the GUM department store in Moscow. We were sometimes interrupted by players, who, after they finished their game, showed it to the journalists. In total we spoke about two hours on the different subjects that were suggested by our readers.
Here's the first part, which is mainly about Mr Dvoretsky himself, and about books. In later parts we'll discuss other players, computers, the big subject of chess improvement and some miscellaneous topics. Please note that in the transcription we have taken the liberty to correct Mr Dvoretsky's English a bit here and there, but we tried to stick to his own words and sentences as much as possible.
The Dvoretsky interview, part 1
Who were your chess trainers in the past?
I had trainers just for three years, when I was a school boy. It was master Roshal, Alexander Roshal, who became a famous chess journalist later on, and grandmaster Vladimir Simagin, a very nice person and a very creative player. I am very grateful for both of them.
When was this?
I received training from them from 1964 to 1966. Then I finished school and started studying at the university and then it finished.
Do you remember a specific thing you learnt from them?
I believe it mainly wasn't a specific thing but mainly just the approach to chess. Fortunately for me Roshal was smart enough to understand that the opening is not the most important thing in chess; he was worried about general development. He also gave me a very important book which helped me to develop from First Category player to Master during one year which was My System of Nimzowitsch.
Do you think the dogmatic chess concepts introduced by Nimzowitsch are still worth studying or is it better not to expose your brain to them and solely concentrate on modern chess concepts?
It's not a dogmatic book but an explanation of some theoretical things which were arranged in some system. It always looks dogmatical and maybe in some sense it is dogmatical but it depends on the chess player. He doesn't need to take things like the absolute truth because there is no such thing. He can use it in a more reasonable way.
Have you read Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy by John Watson and do you think his arguments, in general, are correct?
The Watson book is a very serious research; he worked very well and there are some interesting insights, but unfortunately his main, basic understanding of this problem is a little bit too straightforward. I cannot explain it accurately, there's no time now, but I can recommend to read one chapter from the first book in the series School of Chess Excellence about endgame preparation, the chapter about usefulness of abstract knowledge. It explains that we don't use chess ideas, chess rules, chess principles directly in the game. Watson is right of course that chess players calculate lines during the game and don't remember about any rules, that's true. So why would you study the rules? This chapter explains why we study the rules. Another great book is the one from 1956 by the strong Master Lipnitsky, Questions of Modern Chess Theory. The book was recently published in English by Quality Chess.
Yes, we did a review on ChessVibes of this book.
It's a great book. There is one chapter about the essence of a concrete approach to chess. He also discusses why rules sometimes don't work, that all rules have exceptions, and what it means, an exception to a rule, and so on, about some fine rules, some more specific rules which are not so obvious as obvious rules, and so on. So I just recommend to read these chapters and maybe you will understand this problem better. My impression is that Watson unfortunately didn't read it and perhaps didn't think about it and his approach is too straightforward to such problems.
Was there a particular incident(s) that led you understand your love for training?
There was no particular incident. When I was a young player at the university I was involved in some kind of training work; to help the Junior team, to help this or that player, I gave some lecture at the Chess Faculty of the Institute of Physical Culture and so on. So, some random experience. And I saw at first that I liked it, I got pleasure from it, and secondly, I felt that it was successful. The lecture was successful and they asked me to continue the work, players with my work became very successful immediately, and so on. At some moment I got the feeling that I liked it more than playing and that I could be more successful with this. So it was not some specific episode.
Are there more examples, like Lipnitsky's book, of books that are very good but have not yet been translated into English yet?
Maybe it makes sense not to mention books, but authors, because it is essential for any chess player to read good authors. Some old books we mentioned, but there are of course a lot of very good modern books. The books of grandmaster John Nunn are basically very good. Great books, which I like a lot, about chess self improvement, were written by grandmaster Jonathan Rowson: Chess for Zebras and Seven Deadly Chess Sins. I liked them very much. They are very deep and very instructive. A good book was written by my friend grandmaster Aagaard and he collaborated with grandmaster Marin, he also writes very good books. There are some very good collections of exercises, for example the collection that was written by grandmaster Volokitin and his trainer Master Grabinsky, this is a very good collection of exercises, a very high level. Just recently I received a book from grandmaster Shaw from Scotland. I had no time to read it so I gave it to grandmaster Motylev, a student and friend. He told me just yesterday that he solved a lot of the exercises and he liked them very much, he believes that the book is of very high quality. I don't have my own opinion, but I believe him, perhaps it's true. So there are many really good books, and I recommend people to distuingish them from bad books and to read just good books, no other books.
Are you planning to write a new endgame book any time soon?
Besides Endgame Manual actually there is another endgame book: Tragicomedies in the Endgame, which has already been published in Russian and in German. Very soon it will be published in English as well. But after that perhaps no other books will follow. This second book is about mistakes made by mainly big players. The book can be considered as an introduction to Endgame Manual, for who didn't read it yet, or maybe some additional practice, additional training in this area, if somebody already read Endgame Manual, as an addition to this book.
All your books are directed to relatively high-level players. Would you ever consider releasing a book teaching a player from scratch rather than assuming they are already quite good?
No, absolutely not, I will never do this. There's a very simple reason: I should speak and write about what I know well, the best. From the very beginning of my training work I prepared myself to work with either strong players or with very talented young players, to help to develop to a professional level. It's how I collected my exercises, my examples, my method of work, and so on. This is what I know, what I studied. So I prefer to write what I know well. I have not enough experience about another level, a weaker level, so what's the sense? By the way, the same criteria we can apply to some other question:
In your book Secrets of Chess Training you analysed many typical deficiencies in American chess players. What deficiencies do you see in other countries (such as Britain) chess players?
I visited America several times, many times. I worked with youngsters, with grandmasters, with amateurs, so I know, somehow, American players and I could say something about them. But I didn't work with English players absolutely, maybe with Matthew Sadler, and some Scottish players. So I have not enough knowledge, enough experience, so that I can judge about them.
I recently saw you also did a book with a composer.
Yes, Pervakov. Studies for the Practical Player.
So Pervakov is probably one of your current, favourite composers.
Absolutely, he's a great composer.
Can you mention a few composers you like, and maybe which perhaps could be very good to study for the practical player?
In this book which you mentioned there is a chapter devoted to the studies of one old composer. His name is Wotawa, from Austria. These are fantastic studies; extremely good for the creative thinking for the practical chess player, so I gave a solid collection of studies from this composer. There are some other great composers; I like the studies or grandmaster Réti for example, some other studies... many composers. Maybe we should speak about good studies instead of good composers. Maybe two names will be enough: Pervakov and Wotawa.
You might know that on ChessVibes we have a weekly endgame study selected by Yochanan Afek.
Ah, he's a great composer. By the way, Israeli composers are very strong; I also like Elkies' studies, Afek is a great study composer, and some others as well. Timman is by the way a very good composer, and Smyslov, especially the last years o his life he composed some great studies... So there are many good composers.
Which strong grandmasters have you worked with?
Right now nobody. Maybe some random sessions, some lessons, but nobody regularly. It happened somehow. It's very difficult to arrange regular work with a foreign player; we should contact each other frequently and it's quite expensive. In Russia there's another situation; in Russia chess in general is not well organized, so it happened that now I train practically nobody.
What is the starting level you would prefer to work with? From what rating level?
It's not exactly a matter of rating. In Russia it's, I don't know how to evaluate it by rating, but in Russia I started either with very young Candidate Masters, when they were let's say eleven years old boys, like Alexey Dreev or Alexander Riazantsev for example. If my student is older he should be stronger, because I would like to reach good results with him and so on. So either with a very talented young player, to help develop somebody's chess style, or sometimes to help some good grandmaster. But the most important condition is that he should really want to improve and he should be ready to make serious work. Of course I gave some random lessons, I gave some knowledge if somebody wanted to listen, but it's work for money, not for interest. But for interest both of us should aim at something serious.
Mark Dvoretsky (r.) following the Tal Memorial games on a TV screen in the press room, next to Russian journalist Ilya Odessky
Do you see any drawbacks in your method, or have you seen things in methods from other trainers that you actually like very much? That you would like to adopt? Or maybe even aspects that you have copied from other coaches?
When I developed my approach to training I was quite a well educated chess player. I read a lot of chess literature so I tried to use the best of what I read from other authors. I also watches the work of some people, maybe trainer Roshal, or Botvinnik, with whom I worked together, and so on. So I tried to use some of those features, but always some features. But what is more important is that actually I have no method. I don't believe that it can exist, some correct kind of method. Such methods cannot exist just because people are all very different. Trainers are different, with different levels of knowledge, different chess strengths, and the students are absolutely different, by personality, by level of play, and so on. So I don't see that there is some absolutely correct method which I can recommend, that you should do this, and that, and so on. What I do have is some important principles for a correct approach to chess; principles of work, principles of effective work in chess. But principles is not enough; I also need to have ways how to implement principles, so some good chess material, some of my own ideas about chess problems, chess aspects, some very good examples which will be impressive for my students, and so on. But I cannot say it's a method, it's a little bit different. So for this reason, OK my principles have been very successful during all my life. So many young students were usually so successful, that I don't have reasons to doubt them. Do I see any drawbacks? Well, if the principles are correct, what drawbacks can you... The only weakness of my problems is my person. Of course I cannot know everything in chess, so some topics, some problems I cannot teach, or I don't understand well.
Can you give an example?
I understand that I am not a specialist in openings so I avoid opening work. I am not a very good strategist, so I cannot perhaps explain well some strategical situation in chess, and so on. I understand my weakness and I of course I work in the areas where I'm stronger, as everybody does. It's ridiculous to demonstrate something which you don't understand yourself well. And of course there are some personal drawbacks. Drawbacks of nature, which sometimes do not allow me to do my work by the most effective way. So it's not about drawbacks of a method, of the approach, it's the drawbacks of myself, they exist of course, but what to do?
Can you remember your silliest mistake as an annotator?
No, I don't remember. Of course I don't have a reason to be ashamed, because it's absolutely natural that mistakes are unavoidable, especially because my first book was written without a computer, without the assistance of a computer. But still everybody pointed out the very high quality of the analysis; I worked seriously. Mistakes are still unavoidable and I discover them and I correct them for new editions of the book. What I notice is that the majority of the mistakes are made in some sidelines which are not so important. Because of course you concentrate on some main ideas very accurately and some additional lines you don't check. So the majority of mistakes were made in such a way. So I corrected them, and what's important is that it almost didn't change the logic of my text, all my explanation. So I corrected something but I practically almost didn't need to remove some example because they became wrong, and so on. Of course some mistakes were very primitive. Grandmaster Aagaard wrote in his article about Endgame Manual that he started to work with this book together with grandmaster Peter Heine Nielsen and they failed to find any mistakes. Of course mistakes existed but at least they weren't so obvious mistakes. Actually one obvious mistake later on he pointed out; it's a very funny mistake, a position in some sideline about which I wrote that's stalemate and it's actually not stalemate; the king has one move. Of course the computer wouldn't allow this mistake. So OK it happens sometimes that everybody makes such stupid mistakes but what to do. I am not ashamed because it can happen with everybody. It's not that I want to hide something, to cheat with readers like some authors are doing, so OK it can happen.
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