Natalia Pogonina: Exclusive interview with European Chess Champion Evgeny Tomashevsky
Written by Natalia Pogonina
Wednesday, 05 August 2009
B. Jobava (bronze), E. Tomashevsky (gold), V. Malakhov (silver) at European Chess Championship-2009
Evgeny Tomashevsky, international grandmaster, FIDE rating (July, 2009) – 2689, one of the most talented young Russian chess players. European Chess Champion (2009), bronze prize winner at Russian Superfinal-2007, silver medal at Aeroflot Open-2007.
By a happy coincidence both I and Evgeny live in Saratov (in fact, for me he’s literally “the guy next block”), a city not far from Moscow with a population of about 1 mln. people and many grandmasters- in Russia only Moscow and St. Petersburg have more. I decided to ask my friend, who is a reigning European Chess Champion, for an interview. He was kind enough to agree and answer all of my questions, even the rather informal ones.
What attracts you in chess? What place do they occupy in your life?
Chess is a very substantial part of my life. Of course, I have never been close to the iconic grandmaster-chess addict from novels, who lives in the 64-squares world. I try not to confine myself to the game only, but it’s hard for me to imagine myself without chess. It’s a hobby, a job, a favorite occupation… Chess is attractive in many ways. Game element, excitement of struggles, passion, art, beautiful interaction of pieces; also a chance to travel, meet a lot of interesting people; finally, to prove your worth, earn respect, fame, money – that is, naturally, also very important.
Since what age do you consider yourself a chess professional?
It’s hard to say. I have always been suspecting that chess in my life is “serious and for a long time”. But even a few months ago I couldn’t yet call myself a real chess professional since I have been studying in the Saratov Sociology-Economics University. Now that I have graduated and applied for a PhD, I will have a less tight schedule, which will allow me to concentrate on chess more than before.
Did anything change after you became European Champion? More attention from the media, advertisement contracts, new sponsors?
Initially, after my success at IECC-09 there was a lot of hype, especially in Saratov. Then, as expected, the storm in a teacup started to calm down, leaving just a tiny leftover – occasional calls from the media and 1-2 additional tournament invitations. Probably, the title will serve me good sometime, but its main value is in the sports and moral aspects, not image.
It’s well-known that it’s extremely hard to become a member of the Russian chess team. Thus you, the European Chess Champion, aren’t invited. Does this competition serve as a motivator, or only makes you nervous? How do you evaluate your chances of playing for Russia in the nearest time?
Certainly doesn’t make me nervous, since it’s important not to forget that the European Chess Championship, no matter how good it is, is only a large open, the rating favorite of which is below 6-7 Russian grandmasters. To become a member of the Russian team, I will have to significantly improve my play, and regularly demonstrate excellent results. The backbone of our team consists of more experienced and stronger players than me. But I have a dream (and aim!) to play for Russia at the top events, while I will leave the opportunity to estimate my chances to others.
What do you think about Karjakin’s change of chess federation and citizenship? Your attitude towards player transfers in general?
I won’t be original here: it’s totally up to the person (and the accepting side) who is making the decision, be it Sergey Karjakin or someone else. And his right is not diminished even if we take into account that he’s a new competitor for membership in the Russian chess team, younger, stronger and even more experienced than me. It’s just the way life is – everyone is searching for better conditions. I don’t know all the details and reasons that motivated Sergey to take such astep, so my commentary will be rather banal.
Do you think the Russian team can recapture the leader’s position in the chess world?
I think we shouldn’t exaggerate the latest failures. One-two convincing victories, and the hegemony might me back, no matter what the skeptics say. Just take a look at the average rating of the top-10 players in each country. (as of July, 2009 Russia has an amazing2726.5, not to mention Kasparov (2812) - Pogonina.com). The problem is that we still have to win those one or two events. But, I think, it’s not a hurdle…
Your attitude towards women’s chess? Do you believe in its bright future?
Good question, I haven’t had a chance to answer it “head-to-head”. I’ll have to consider all the gamma of feelings towards women’s chess. Ok, here you go: no matter how ironic we, men, are when it comes to observing women play, in the depth of our soul we like what we see. And the more feminine chess is – unpredictable, severe and often illogical struggles, lots of sensations, exciting emotions – the more attractive it is. I think that by exploiting these advantages women’s chess can evolve and become more popular.
Whom do you consider the greatest chess player of all times?
Iguess,Kasparov. As to favorite grandmasters…I won’t even mention them, so that not to forget anyone!
If you could play a match against any contemporary chess player, whom would you choose? Andwhataboutplayersfromthepast?
WithAfromeevduringtheperiodwhenhisratinghasbeenatthepeak. Seriously, a match with any elite player would have been very interesting and insightful for me. It would also have been great to play against the great masters who are past their peak: Karpov, Korchnoi…to learn the way they look at chess, the game approach. From the past - it’s easier to name those with whom a meeting would not have been of interest.
Whose chance are higher in the upcoming match: Anand’s or Topalov’s?
Anand’s, I guess. In my opinion, he’s a bit, inconceivably, insubstantially, but still better player. But it’s evident that any nuances in preparation, chess shape, physical conditions, etc. are more important than this tiny difference. But, given that everything else is the same, Anand is a slight favorite.
Do you enjoy playing blitz? Do you have an account at one of the popular chess portals? If so, what’s your top rating there?
I love blitz. I wasn’t fond of Internet blitz, but lack of practice (I rarely play blitz live, mainly to lack of skilled opponents) and an occasional desire to play blitz led me to registering at ICC. So, for about 1-1.5 years I have been playing there using an anonymous account (3-min games, for some reason). At the beginning I paid a lot attention to the rating, gained 3466 and was expecting to progress. But then one summer evening I had a nice time, then decided to play some blitz, lost about 200 points, and have somehow calmed down. Now I use my account for its real purpose: enjoy chess, relax, take a rest.
What do you think about “being more open to the public” by some well-known grandmasters – creating websites, writing articles, holding simuls, commenting online, etc. Doyoutrytopromotechessyourself?
I have a great respect for such activities by grandmasters and consider it very useful in terms of promoting chess, especially if the work is done not for the record, but sincerely, with passion. So far I have only written a few articles and given even fewer simuls, but I can’t call these actions the pompous name “promotion”. However, I’m ready to popularize chess, and believe it to be an important part of a chess grandmaster’s profession.
Do you have a strict schedule? How many hours a day do you spend on chess?
Alas, I am far from perfect in terms of self-organization and time management, it’s hard for me to force myself into following schedules and timings. Depending on my mood I can practice a lot, or very little.
It’s a well-known fact that for a chess player it’s very important to be in a good physical shape. Whatsportsdoyoulikeandpractice?
I amn’t that well organized as to practice sports regularly, but I have lots of time-to-time activities. Soccer has a special place in my heart, basketball is also nice, tennis & table tennis, skiing and skating…By the way, in terms of being a sports fan, my arsenal is wider: I’m keen on virtually all the sports.
Do you believe in mascots and omens? Do you use any special techniques when preparing for the game?
I try to believe only in the omens that favor me, since believing in the negative ones is too uncomfortable. More seriously, I hardly believe in any omens. The bad ones I ignore, as to the good ones – the same, but with a smile full of content, So, I don’t have any special preparation “techniques”.
You have recently graduated from the university, and are planning to continue your studies. Could you tell us a bit about the subject of your future PhD studies?
My thesis was “Analysing and minimizing the risks of investment projects”. This branch of economics (investment analysis) is considered to be relatively unexplored and requires a creative approach, employing a wide array of analytical methods, and making the right crucial decisions. I guess, not a bad choice for a chess player. So far I don’t know what my PhD thesis will be, but I amn’t planning to change the field of my studies dramatically.
Chess in schools – part of the curriculum, optional course, or not welcome at all?
For me chess in schools is associated with the last row of school desks, chessboards and exciting Swedish chess fights during the breaks. In our class, except for me, there were a few more kids who liked chess and attended chess classes by Alexandra Yakovlevna and Alexei Nikolaevich Shestoperov, so chess was an important time of our pastime. And other kids liked watching us play. I mean, in general, kids have an interest for chess, and if there is a chance to teach chess in schools, then it’s better to take it. Part of the curriculum is better than optional course, since students tend to have a, let’s say mildly, unserious attitude towards optional courses. I don’t think that studying chess can have any negative effect, while so many talented kids, or at least potential strong amateurs will be involved in playing chess! However, I don’t think that it will be possible to introduce chess into the tight school educational system that we’ve got now. Butit’sworthatry…
Your favorite chess books?
Naming all of them would take too much time – I like chess literature and have a great selection of books. Just a few titles: the legendary “International grandmaster tournament” by Bronstein, 3 volumes of games and articles by Botvinnik, “The birth of a chess opening” by Polugaevsky, “On the way to greatest chess achievements” by Alekhine…and a dozen or two more chess books.
What do you think about chess players’ obsession with poker? Doyouplayit?
I’mneutralaboutit. It’suptotheperson. People who like poker play it. A great game, by the way (not to mention how rewarding in terms of money). I like playing poker with my friends. However, I don’t think that poker can match chess. But, again, it’s just my personal opinion…