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BORIS GELFAND: "A PERSON SHOULD TRY TO ACHIEVE MAXIMUM SUCCESS IN HIS BUSINESS"

Editor's note: we offer you Boris Gelfand's TV interview text. The interview took place in December on www.etvnet.com in "tet-a-tet program with Tanya Kisilevsky.

End of 2014 turned out to be very tight for Boris Gelfand. His tournament schedule included nearly three classical time limit super tournaments without a mere break as well as strong blitz tournament represented by Tal memorial. 46-years old Gelfand shared his victory with Caruana in Baku Grand-Prix tournament and finished third in Petrosian memorial adding the same place in the blitz tournament there. This year Boris has only played in Petrov memorial (Jurmala) (rapid tournament) where he shared his second place together with Karjakin and Rapport finishing behind Ivanchuk.
This outstanding grandmaster is not at all going to give up his strong position in chess. Chess fans in his country and abroad show great interest for him. We are grateful to eTVnet management for the permission to publish this interview on our site. We added different photos as well.

Boris, good afternoon!

Good afternoon, Tanya!

We are recording this interview specially for eTVnet company. This is Russian TV for English speaking audience in US and Canada. 

Nice to hear that. Thanks for inciting.

I know that you are back from a big tournament trip: Baku, Tashkent, Sochi. Did you have some time to relax a bit?

Well I had little rest. However if you keep in mind that I had tournament for a month and a half, seems like, I haven’t fully recovered yet.

Can you tell us the way you use to recover?

I sleep most of the time. I also go in for sports – three times a week I attend a table tennis club. I tend to walk a lot and we have enough place to do it, I visit the seaside and the shore and I also spend time with my kids and family.

Do you really have enough time for all this – I mean family and kids?

No, I never have enough time. But what has to be done! I have to find the right balance any way.

Based on what I read about you, I really think you are a sort of a “beloved” child.

We were a typical intelligent family. And it was decided to educate and develop a child. My dad has always been on business trips. He bought a chess book and decided to give me something to do.

What was that book?

“Adventure to the chess kingdom”.

You were just 4 years old then?.

I was 5 really. It turned out that many players who became one of the strongest in the world made their first steps in chess reading this book. It’s a very good manual in fact. There wasn’t a lot of books those times and I was lucky to get a good one, although nearly 100 thousand copies of that book were published, seems crazy today, but it was still hard to get one. Professional chess books from Yugoslavia had 30 thousand copies and that is also unbelievable. In order to buy a good book we had to subscribe to a catalogue and sent postcards… My dad thought the number of copies is way too less so I used to walk round the book shop when I knew the week the book was about to arrive. I came back from school, I was already 12-13 years old, and used to come in to the shop many times annoying the shop assistant asking “have you received it already?” That’s how we fought for the books.

One day my dad went to work and told me: “Let’s study chess”. “No, no, I don’t want to” – I replied. He thought I am no longer interested, but it turned out that while he was at work I read the book up to the end.   

At 5?

Yes, my grandma taught me to read letters and I knew how to read. Chess language is very simple. You can see a diagram and a solution next to it. You can set it on the board as well. If you can read, you can manage all by yourself.

Well it turns out that everything happened by chance: your dad wanted to find something to do for his kid and revealed such a talent.

Yes, but let me finish first. I have just had my sixth birthday party and went to Crimea with ,y father, to a city called Gurzuf. Adults used to play chess there on the beach all the time. I joined them and played without any minor break – this was my only passion during this holiday time. One of my dad’s friend who also lived in Minsk came there as well, he was a first grade player. I played 2 weeks with him and out of all games that we had (perhaps we played something like 40-50 games) I won two. I just can’t figure out how did I manage to do it.

He didn’t hold back, did he?

No, he didn’t. And he told my dad at once: “Bring the boy to the coach, I’ve got a good one among my friends”. So in the beginning of October, when I was still 6 years old we went to see the coach. Only those who were 7 could attend the classes, but the coach examined me a little and said: "The boy is smart, let’s meet every weekend”. I only visited him during the weekends when I attended the nursery, but I started having chess lessons three times a week when I joined school and more and more often then.   

Boris with his mother. 1975

Your parents were very lucky for sure, they revealed such a talent in their child and didn’t have to worry for him what to do. You are a parent yourself already

Yes, indeed they were. From the other side they always had doubts. They thought that an ordinary child should become an engineer or a doctor if he is lucky enough. It was hard to make a good career in the Soviet Union. You had no good chances in life with a humanitarian background. Chess was also quite an unstable thing in life. That’s why they have always been very worried.  

I learnt that at the age of 9 somebody wrote an article about you called “What a Little Octobrist!” and at 11 a new article showed up – “What a pioneer!” telling about your success in chess.

Yes. Seems like the authors didn’t know each other at all. A good thing about chess is that you can play with adults like I did at the age of 8-9 years old. Perhaps they start playing even earlier now. First I played in the city championship then… We went to Brest I think when this “What a Little Octobrist” showed up. I was 9-10 years old and I spent a lot of time with adults. We discussed something and had common topics to talk about. We were even really.  

But you had some other topics apart from chess, hadn’t you?

Of course.

You still had to attend school. Your parents wanted you to become an excellent student, didn’t they?

No, they lost illusions about “excellence”. Well I was a good student, I mean I had “B” marks nearly all the time.

You became champion of Belorussia at 15 and USSR champion at 17, right?

Yes. But among U18 juniors.

In 1985 you obtained your master’s title.

Yes, it happened simultaneously.

In fact you could have obtained this title earlier, but there were some…

Yes, bureaucratic obstacles.

I know that when Israelites speak about special things they’ve got in their country they tell about cherry tomatoes, they invented “Disk-On-Key” USB key, unmanned aircrafts and we also have a great grandmaster. You are in this list.

I am pleased to hear that.

I am also very pleased that Israelites have recently made a film about you called “The 61st Album” that got the first prize at several international festivals. It tells about your father who collected albums about you.

Yes, he managed to collect 60.

He collected 60, so Israelites decided to call the film “The 61st album”. Thats very symbolic. Your father passed away. I want you to tell a few words. These albums are wonderful. He even put in some tramway tickets.

Yes, everything’s there, every minor detail.

His love towards his child is so incredible.

Yes. My father was a perfectionist – he was an ultimate perfectionist in fact. He sometimes spent several days in order to make one page of this album. He designed it different ways…My father’s support did a great thing to me.

The story about the film is interesting of course.

When I was about to face Anand several Israel documentary film directors came to me with an idea to make a film about this event. Finally Halil Efrat and his operator came to Moscow and stayed there during the whole match making their film. Of course the contacts with my team were quite limited because of the tension I had during the match.

But they really filmed everything. Afterwards I talked to him and learnt that  he communicated with other people, all the coaches that worked with me before (they managed to come to the match). He made a film that got the first art direction prize at Jerusalem film festival and became “Best film” at Sao Paulo film festival.

What do you think about this film?

It’s a very good film, very touching. I am surprised that it won because this isn’t a sort of a main stream movie. We generally watch films about sufferings or some problems.

He showed two aspects in the film. The first one is related to the World Championship match and all the efforts that me and my assistants made. The film shows the whole match in the Tretyakov gallery. The second one is related the child’s upbringing. There are some pictures of me and my dad busy playing with some erector. The director managed to put all this together and won the first prize. He made a huge work. It was his only business during the whole year. For me this film is very touching.  

What do grandmasters talk to each other about when they have some free time?

It depends on their interests. Younger ones discuss computer games and their twitter activities. I tend to minimize my communication and generally talk to my coach. I do that in order not to be under somebody’s negative influence and avoid bad emotions. I try to communicate with nice people. Grandmasters talk about everything. You speak what is important for you. Sometimes you just can’t say a word as you are really tired. After a game that lasts for seven hours you can only return to your hotel room and lie on the bed. You eat something, take a walk and that’s it, you go to bed. 

It seems to me that this is a sort of a special type of people. They are obviously not extraverts, they are introverts, they keep all their emotions inside. 

Yes, most grandmasters are such people.

Nowadays we have social networks like Facebook, Twitter – how do you manage to live with all this?

I have my own world to live in but many chess players are active users of social networks. I can’t understand this. How do they have any time for anything else then.

How do you work on your chess?

Practically I work on my chess every day and meet three or four times a week with my coach. My case is unique: We’ve been together with my coach for 25 years already. As a rule chess players rarely work with one coach for more than half a year. Two or three years is already a “long” time. Alexander Khuzman is a wonderful coach.

Why?

It’s hard to find a good coach – a person who is able to work and motivate you to work for many years. To tell you more, everyone thinks that he is smart enough and that he only needs a coach to tell him a couple of secrets while all the other things are easy to learn on his own. He is a star, he will learn everything by himself. That’s why they keep changing coaches very often.

Don’t you think like that about yourself?

No, I don’t think that way about myself.

What do you feel about being a top level grandmaster?

I look upon it as a job: you need to constantly improve your skills in any business.

Many players are unable to get to a winning point because they have emotional failures.

Yes, very many. In order to get to a certain point you need to have many factors combined in life as well as personal qualities.

For example. What about you?

Well, first of all I had a family… I am very lucky. I lived in a good family and had good people around, my coaches were wonderful as well as colleagues. Most of the time I had positive things going on. Chess game gives birth to positive emotions. Perhaps that is a reason for my long top level chess career and my ability to play at this level. However sometimes people from unhealthy families are also successful. It’s a sort of a protest against the whole world: here I am, insulted, parents do not pay enough attention to me, nobody wants to talk to me and I will prove to the entire world that I am the greatest. We know a lot of such cases. Bobby Fischer for example. It is evident that his family had big problems and he was highly motivated by that. Everyone has lots of motivations – you can have hundreds of them.

I am also a perfectionist: you need to improve and do till the very end any thing that you do.

Somebody simply wants to be famous. He is ready to do anything to make his dream come true!

Do you want to be famous?

No, I don’t want. I look upon things exactly as they are and don’t make any additional efforts.

You told about your parents, your grandma and your grandpa. I would like to ask about your family now. You met your wife Maya already here, in Israel and you’ve got two children.

Two kids are doing well, thanks God. I am very lucky to have such a wonderful family so that I can concentrate on the game. Everyone helps me when I am at home. When I am working on my chess the house is silent. Maya doesn’t let the children play loud games and kids understand it. My elder daughter Avital who is 9 years old and Avner is 3 and a half. They understand that their dad is working hard and it’s important. They send me letters when I am playing tournaments and send gifts. I remember a parcel: Avital made or wrote something. They give me their support.

Does it help you?

Of course it helps. It gives you courage, confidence and stability. I am very grateful to them.

People think that you are a workaholic. I can even say that listening to what you say: not everyone works that hard on his chess.

Perhaps they call me workaholic because many finish their career after first problems and difficulties  

Many people do that after 30. I read one grandmaster’s interview and he said there: “I have fulfilled all my goals and that’s why I have to finish my career”. I opened Wikipedia and looked up his achievements: he only won two tournaments in his life and they were not top ones in fact.

I think that you always need to improve your skills in any business that you do. For me my profession is of a great value. A person should try to achieve maximum success in his business. That’s what I think. I try to do it myself, I live like that..

In 1988 one of the candidates tournament participants told about your playing style: “Seems like he doesn’t look at the board he looks around or walks but when he comes to his board he makes the strongest move. Did you do it to make your opponent less concentrated or it’s just how you feel inside?

That’s how I feel inside. You can’t sit still because of the tension that’s why you walk. You want to walk around. But you still keep on thinking intensively all this time. Your head works as intensive as when you are at the table.

Do you have some special chess secret or any special game style. Can you tell us about it or describe it somehow?  

My approach is very simple. Each position requires the strongest move and you need to try and find it.

That’s an illusion of course because very often you have several moves which are all good and even. Perhaps it’s more practical not to spend too much time and make one move out of three-five possible moves and save time strength.

Of course when you can find the strongest move the game is wonderful and you feel proud to create such an artistic performance. You haven’t simply won an ordinary game but the one that is going to become a part of chess history, I would rather say.

Everyone has his own motivation. One simply wants to win but I want to play a game that will be a part of chess history. That’s another attitude.

Can you count how many tournaments you played in?

A lot of them in fact, even top ones. I’ve been playing in elite tournaments since 1990. There are 8 tournaments a year in average (minimum amount), so you need to multiply 24 by 8 accordingly. I had perhaps more than two hundred of them. Some years I had more than 8 tournaments a year.

I think that Tigran Petrosyan had a special impact on you and your chess, right?

Petrosyan had an impact on me but I didn’t communicate with him long: I talked to him twice in two weeks and perhaps once again during several days. But when a child sees a great chess player it gives him a lot. I think that if a young musician sees a big master of music that might also create a huge impression. Perhaps that’s the main purpose of workshops.

I use any possible chance to meet with young chess players.

You can’t teach anything in such a short time but you can see how a person thinks, what’s important and what’s not important for him. If you can understand it it gives you a lot. Some advice or remarks give a lot.

Let’s say, Petrosyan’s advice to think over each move. Even if you are playing a blitz game, you still need to try to make each move reasonable. That meant a lot to me. It has some advantages and some disadvantages. But in general I think it’s a plus. I watch even top level players and not all of them have such an approach. Sometimes they make a move just to make it.

Who else would you call your teacher although you might have not communicated with them directly. Who did you want to look like when you were a child, whose playing style did you chose for yourself?

A coach that I worked with for many years, Albert Kapengut, have always told me that you always need to try to be a universal player and to know everything. That’s why I learnt the games of all players. We started to read books first. There was a book series in the Soviet Union called “Outstanding chess players of the world” – altogether there were 32 books. It was also called “Black series” because of the black book cover. I learnt nearly everything. I will tell you how it all went. I used to come back from school, sat on the sofa, took a book without chess and diagrams and tried to keep everything in my mind. Then I finished the book and did it all again from the very beginning. I was not unique – many did the same thing. It is a very effective method as it allows to develop a skill to keep all the board under control in your head. I think that musicians do the same thing to remember all the notes.

I wanted to compare your profession with musicians and actors, because all this is art of course.

I think we got a lot in common with classical musicians. I thought a lot about it but couldn’t find anyone better than a musician.

From the one hand it’s like sport, but the one that you don’t need any big muscles, from the other hand it’s a sort of a creative process.

Yes. I have the same approach. Some people look upon it as a sport (whether you won or lost), but I think it’s an creative process. I know some big musicians and when I talk to them I see the same problems and the same approach.

You played the World championship match in the Tretyakov gallery. So chess and art were also combined together there.

I think that these two things are similar. It all started from my match and now more and more people develop this idea. Tournaments take place in different museums. After the match we played in the Louvre, in the Russian museum, Russian chess championship took place in Nizhny Novgorod museum and chess is played in Kazan. One of the rounds of a tournament in Holland was played in the Rijksmuseum. This idea to combine chess and art seems right to me. Firstly these things look alike, secondly it attracts attention and new audience. Those who will come to watch chess will also learn something about pieces of art. It’s hard to imagine someone who lives in Moscow going to the Tretyakov gallery, but he will go there by all means to see the chess match. From the other hand, if someone notices a match in the gallery, he will come and watch it. We got one and the same base – our audience. As a rule these people are quite educated. I think this idea is right and promising.

How would you explain some lack of chess interest in the last 20 years? People used to know all great grandmasters, but today even educated people can’t tell any name if they are not interested in chess – chess isn’t popular any more. How can you explain it?  

Someone said: “Why do people play chess so well in the Soviet Union? Because they have nothing to do except this”. There were only few possibilities and that was one of the ways to see top level competitions.

Nowadays the competition is huge. It’s hard to make a child excited with chess. He’s got a lot of other possibilities. I had three chess lessons a week when I was 7 and I had already four or five lessons when I was 9-10 years old. It is impossible right now as you need to say no to all other things. I don’t remember us having such possibilities when people had several things to do. Somebody attended music classes, others played chess. Nowadays people believe that you need to everything but a little: once a week you study chess and once a week you study music. The time has changed. I still don’t think that chess is not popular any more. Let’s say, when the World championship match is being played , millions watch it all over the world, and when an ordinary tournament is being played – I guess hundreds of thousands watch it. So we still have a good interest for chess. Chess is moving more and more into some educational programs. Let’s say, in our town Rishon LeZion, nearly 30% of schools and nurseries have chess lessons. I might be wrong but it seems like 30%. I would even say that my daughter had to spend three years learning to play chess, she spent one year in the nursery and one year at school. And this percentage is increasing year by year in our town. There are such towns in Israel as well as in New York and in many other states. Especially at schools. There are several reasons for that 

а) There is an opinion that kids will become better and study at school better and chess will develop some good and useful skills.

б) From the chess players’ perspective that creates their future audience.

Next generation will know more. When they see some chess news on TV they won’t switch to another channel and will listen this news to the end.

Chess player have a sort of a special mentality, special way of thinking. Can you use this matrix in your daily life?

Generally yes, but there are advantages and disadvantages. Some things you do not understand. You try to think very logically, but you often notice the things that are against simple logic. Chess teach you a lot. Your way of thinking is just one part, but you also have an opponent and you need to understand the way he thinks. It helps in life because when you communicate with someone or you don't understand somebody else you still need to make an effort just to understand why he acts this way.

What’s more important for you during the game – to play right yourself or to understand your opponent, to understand what you can expect from him?

It’s all related to one another. If you can predict your opponent’s move you can save time and strength, but sometimes your opponent has two, three or five different possibilities. You can take some into consideration and you miss the others. You need to understand yourself what you do and try to predict your opponent’s actions. If you can’t predict – there’s nothing wrong with that, you still have time, but it’s limited. Chess teaches us to make decisions in a limited amount of time. You have a certain amount of time and you need to manage it. You never know whether you are going to use it in the end or not, or you might urgently need a lot of time in the end. If you spend it all in the beginning – you won’t have enough in the end. Time balance is one of the most complex things. We often have the same problem in our life. We don’t have enough time for everything that’s why we need to manage it: if we spend it on one thing, we won’t have it for something else. That’s how I see it.

Do you need intuition?

By all means, you can get along without it. Without intuition a chess player can get to a certain level and calculate everything… But there are things that you can never calculate. We have the same situation in our life as well. We try to calculate everything, calculate it right, but life often makes us solve problems that are hard to calculate and predict. That’s why you need to trust your inside voice, trust yourself. 

Do you trust?

I try to trust, yes.

Have you ever thought that it’s actually a nice thing that it became evident what direction are you going to when you were still young, your profession became clear. That excited you because you will never do it if you do not want. If not chess, then what?

I don’t know. You are right, I am very lucky. I don’t know why. I find some things already interesting now and think about them but I also understand that they didn’t exist when I was still a schoolboy. Some jobs didn’t exist then or some institutes. It was hard to go to some humanitarian faculty as well as to any good university. I think I am very lucky. 

 

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