Interview with GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

2007 French Champion looking forward to ETCC

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was born on 21st October, 1990 in Nogent-sur-Marne (France). He became one of the youngest Grandmasters in the history of the game, obtaining his GM title at the age of 14 years and 4 months. Maxime had incredible results over the past few years, skyrocketing his FIDE rating to 2634. A full (and very long) list of his accomplishments can be found in Maxime Vachier-Lagrave profile. We are thankful to Vachier-Lagrave family and Frederic Sellier for arranging this interview.

Chessdom: Hello Maxime, you had a fantastic year, winning both Paris and French national championship and almost winning Corus “B” Group. What are your main impressions from these tournaments?

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: I was really well prepared for the Corus, but after five wins in a row(!), I suffered much in the end of the tournament, mainly because of my failing physical condition (I still don’t know how I managed to lose that almost winning game I had against Jakovenko !!). Even if I had played very well in the tournament, I was disappointed by this end. So I began working more carefully on my physical condition, and even if I was less prepared in the tournaments I played after, from June, I only performed 2700+ TPR, always with some good games, and at least without blunders, and that’s why I managed to win these important tournaments in the summer. I showed especially good play in the French championship, (It’s the first time I managed to comment no less than 5 games from my tournament without being ashamed of my play in any of those games) and that’s what I’m really proud of, because apart from the final result (being French champion was a fantastic achievement), what I want even more in chess is to play well, and my play in Paris was not such an impressive play (still it was not bad at all, but maybe I am hunting too much for perfection in my games).

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 1

Photo by Patrick Vachier-Lagrave

Chessdom: In the era when there are many discussions on how to reduce the number of draws, you seem to be very effective, winning large number of games against strong opposition. Are you playing sharper than others or what is the secret?

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: I think I’m playing sharper than the others, but that’s only because I don’t see the point of playing a tournament and then to play “boring” games. What is the most funny is that when I perform a draw, it is generally a quick draw (no more than 30 moves), but these are generally the games I am not really proud of, but with the opening preparation that has become so important, sometimes you cannot prevent them.

Chessdom: How would you best define your chess style?

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: I would describe myself as a pure calculator: I almost exclusively calculate lots of variations during my games. However, I have improved my strategical and technical play, but I am still stronger in very complicated positions, and when I need to calculate in endgames. One of my strength (or weakness, I still don’t know) is that I may take great risks, but they are very carefully calculated, meaning I can hardly bluff: if I am sure a sac is wrong, even if the refutation is far from being obvious. On the other side, I am more confident when I take risks.

Chessdom: How many hours daily you devote to chess study? Do you work with a trainer or on your own? How important is opening preparation?

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: I study chess about 2 hours a day, mainly on my own, but I also have some trainers who I see during tournaments and some training sessions with Arnaud Hauchard and Pavel Tregubov. I don’t study chess more, as I also go to the university, where I study mathematics and IT.

Nowadays, to my deepest regret, opening preparation is more and more important, and so I am forced to work on it too. But I really don’t see the point of preparing some thirty moves with the computer, especially if it is just to find some forced draws, as it so often happens…

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 2

Photo by Patrick Vachier-Lagrave

Chessdom: We have to ask about the brilliant win against GM Fontaine at the French Championship. Game was published the same day on Chessdom and it also achieved cult status on other forums. How deep was your calculation? Did you really foresee 30…e3 and beautiful mate after the Queen sacrifice?

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: This game was very important, as I really had to play for a win to try to catch Vlad Tkachiev, and so I took many risks from the beginning. At some points, my calculation was fairly deep, but in fact there was no real point to calculate so much further in such a complicated position. I simply sacrificed my queen because I thought there was no other moves (I merely oversaw that after 23…Qf8 24.Bxe4 Nf6 I won an exchange), and so I calculated that I had at least the perpetual, and that I could have some points with …e3, but no more (and it was quite pointless to think about that in fact, even if it is exactly what happened!). There are so many ways for white to make a draw (the obvious 27.e3, 30.Qc6 (but that is already far from obvious)) that if I had thought about it for some more time, I would probably have begun thinking what would go next after 23…Qf8. I will complain no more, because such optimism gave me the occasion to play my best game ever (for the time being at least), as I took great risks, but at the same time I did not play that badly (I still don’t see how white could have got a great advantage during the game) and all the game produced a very aesthetic impression (from the exchange sac to the final combination).

Chessdom: You will represent France at the European Team Chess Championship starting later this month. Two years ago France took a bronze medal, what are the expectations this time? Who are your biggest rivals?

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: We will go in Creta with a great team, so I think we will be potential winners, but still I believe Russia, Ukraine… are stronger than us. But who knows what can happen? I mean, we’ve managed to beat the Russians twice in the past few years.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 3

Photo by Frederic Sellier,

Chessdom: What are your plans after the ETCC?

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: I still don’t have many plans after the ETCC, at least until the end of the year, because at that time I will be quite busy (but not too much!) with my exams. I will play some tournaments after, but I still have not decided which ones. What is sure is that I will play team competitions in France for Evry, and in Germany for Muelheim, and that I am 99,9% sure I will play the French championship in August.

Chessdom: There are many young GMs and IMs in France. Can you tell us more about the chess development in your country?

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: There is clearly a partial renewal of GMs and IMs in France, but I hope it will not stop here, because the new GMs and IMs still need improving (Sébastien Mazé, Sébastien Feller, Romain Edouard, Thal Abergel…). Nevertheless, I think most of them will be able to break through, at least enough so that our team will remain very strong when the former French Olympic team will stop playing (so we still have time before us). There is still a lot to do, but at least, we have the capacity to maintain our strength at the best level, and maybe even to improve!

Chessdom: What is your most memorable game?

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: I guess I’ve already answered that question !! Now some other memorable games:

• Naiditsch – Vachier-Lagrave, Moscow Aeroflot 2006, where I played one of the best tournaments of my life, during which I showed really sharp play, and that game is quite symbolic of that.

• Vachier-Lagrave – Renet, Paris Championship 2007. I was not satisfied with my level of play in the tournament, and then I play really great chess in the final round in the morning, when I usually play my worst chess…

• Werle – Vachier-Lagrave, Corus B 2007, when I took great risks to win, but I managed to take my opponent by surprise.

• Goldsztejn – Vachier-Lagrave, Paris 2003, where I sac a queen (quite uselessly in fact, but I still won in the end, and so it was beautiful!)

• and some others, but I am too lazy to put them all…

Chessdom: Thank you for your time. We wish you to continue with fantastic results.

Interview with Mr. George Mastrokoukos

George Mastrokoukos

IM George Mastrokoukos
CEO of the Organising Committee “ETCC 2007″

Hello Mr. Mastrokoukos! Only two weeks are left to the start of the European Team Chess Championship in Crete, Greece. How do you feel as being the host of such a major event?

Hello. Before anything else I would like to congratulate you for the website which seems to make a real difference in the field of objective and reliable chess reporting. As for us being hosts of this great event, it is really an honourable task combined with great responsibilities. We have already organised in Creta Maris the World Youth Championships in 2002 and 2004, dealing with over 1600 guests in each event. Although the European Team Championships is an alternative kind of tournament, involving mostly top professional players rather than talented juniors, we are very optimistic that everything will be excellent and in accordance with our well known 5-star quality standards.

Seven of the top ten players will participate. Also many players 2700+ will be present. In the women section there are two ex world champions as well. What attracted the chess elite of Europe?

It is certain that national federations have acknowledged the importance of having all their top players represent their country in team competitions. I also believe that the positive image of Creta Maris Hotel from previous events helps the top players overcome any doubts about the quality of accomodation when playing for their teams. From the previous World Youth Championships, I still remember the article of the late IA Vladimir Dvorkovich describing the playing conditions in the Congress Center of Creta Maris as better than those of the …Kremlin halls(!) or famous GM Magnus Carlsen reporting in NIC that Creta Maris was the best hotel he ever visited! Such positive comments are always appreciated but at the same time it makes our responsibility, and the expectations of our guests, to grow even bigger!

etcc hall

Congress Center of Creta Maris,
where games of the ETCC 2007 will be played

What is the total prize fund of the European Team Chess Championship and how is it redistributed?

The European Team Championship is like an Olympiad: it’s a team event among national federations without individual prize funds. Each national federation has seperate financial agreements with its own players. For example our federation is paying each player about 3.000 euros, depending on rating. We also have similar payouts for the women’s team.

We know that no event happens without sponsors. Who are the major sponsors of the ETCC in Greece?

The main sponsor of the event is TEAB SA, the parent company of Creta Maris. It is a chain of luxury hotels and properties in Crete with total assets valued well above 200 million euros. We are grateful to Maris Hotels and its Chief Executive Officer, Mr Andreas Metaxas, for their continuous support!

Where will the players be accomodated?

All the players will be accomodated in the 5-star Creta Maris Hotel, next to the Creta Maris Congress Center where the games will be held.

etcc outside the hotel

The swimming pool of the 5-star Creta Maris Hotel

It is very interesting to take a look at the carreer of a chess professional like yourself. Tell us a bit about your experience as a chess player.

My “career”, let’s say, as a chess player began quite late in 1984-85 when my family moved back to Athens from Toronto, Canada. At that time I learned how to move the pieces from a friend whom I met in an amateur football club. Although I was already 13 years old, my chess development fortunately accelerated and by 1991 I had my first IM norms. By 1994 I was already No. 5 in Greece and managed to beat many famous GMs of that time such as Inkiov, Kotronias, Murey, Grivas, etc. During that period I was also invited and played for the Greek National Team, when our coach was the Russian IM Nikolay Andrianov. After 1995 I spent less time playing chess and my actual strength has been declining. But I still participate in some tournaments, it’s always fun!

How did you decide to become an organizer of chess events?

It all began in 1993-95 when the EU and the Greek government began supporting international sport events in Crete, through a mutually funded EU program, in order to diversify the sources of incoming tourism. At that time we formed an entity with my close friend Aggelos Tzermiadianos and staged various chess tournaments in Crete with prize funds of 10 to 20 thousand dollars (that time there were no euros!). We even organised an international …wrestling event for the Greek Wrestling Federation in 1997! Since then, organising events has been an important part of my chess life.

How will the ETCC affect chess in Greece and the region?

Greece and the Balkan region are already enjoying a huge chess development. Greece has recently emerged as one of the 20-25 top chess countries in the world, former Yugoslavia has a long and outstanding chess tradition while Bulgaria has produced in the same year two World Champions (Topalov and Stefanova). Now Turkey is also developing fast with strong support from their government and they will definitely come up with great players very soon. So the ETCC itself will mostly help Greece, in terms of further promotion of our sport, as all the major newspapers nationwide and other media in Crete will be covering this event. Another main goal of the ETCC 2007 is to affect positively the European Chess Union and the conditions on which other ECU events shall be awarded in the future.

Thank you for the interview!

Thank you too, it was my honor to answer your questions.

European Chess Union

Interview with GM Csaba Balogh

One of the most perspective Hungarian juniors

Hungary is ceaseless source of the chess talents. From Geza Maroczy, Lajosh Portisch, Gyula Sax to Judit Polgar, Peter Leko and nowadays couple of outstanding juniors. One of the most perspective among them is 20-years old GM Csaba Balogh, who has kindly accepted an email interview with Chessdom.

Csaba Balogh earned his IM title in 2002 and already on 2004 he was recognized as Grandmaster. He was U-16 European Individual Champion (Budva 2003), member of the national team that won both U-16 World Team Championship (Denizli 2003) and U-18 European Team Championship (Balatonlelle 2003). On 2005 he played the European Championship in Warsaw and qualified for the KO World Cup in Khanty Mansiysk, where he eliminated Sergey Karjakin in the first round. On 2006 he finished 2nd in the Hungarian Championship but won both Hungarian Rapid and Blitz Championship. The same year he’s playing European Championship in Kusadasi and qualifies again for the World Cup in Khanty Mansiysk, which will take place in November. Csaba played at the 2006 Chess Olympiad in Turin where Hungary finished excellent 5th and is set to represent his country at the incoming European Team Championship on Crete.

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GM Csaba Balogh

Chessdom: Can you tell us how you started playing chess, what has got you attracted to the game?

Csaba Balogh: I learned the moves from my father, when I was 8 years old. One year later in Budaörs (in the city where I live) started a chess training with IM Böröcz István, who became my first coach. He had a very nice style in chess, which impressed me.

Chessdom: Recently you were invited to play two strong tournaments – 4th Sanjin Hotel Cup and Gyorgy Marx Memorial. Tell us about your experience from these events? What are the main impressions?

Csaba Balogh: Both tournaments were very strong , tough and well organized. The players were also fighting but the main idea was, that in Tayuan it was not allowed to offer draw before move 30, and in Paks before move 40. I really liked these systems, I think this would be a good way to follow for the organizers in the future. It is easy to see the result, that in Paks from the 30 games there were only 13 draws, which is really rare between similar players with almost 2600 average rating.

Chessdom: How many hours daily you devote to chess study? Do you work with a trainer or on your own? Which software is necessary for the top preparation?

Csaba Balogh: I usually study chess 6-8 hours daily. If I can work with coach or training-partner, then I do it with them, but if they are all busy, then I can work alone seriously as well. It is not a problem for me. I think recently it is necessary for everybody to have Rybka during the preparation.

Balogh Csaba 1

Chessdom: Hungary never lacked in great chess talents. Can you tell us something about the national chess development?

Csaba Balogh: This year Hungarian Chess Federation established the Maróczy Géza Chess School, which works quite intensively with our greatest talents in the age between 8-14. We have very good professional coaches also for the players who already passed a level, lets say reached more than 2400 ratings. For the young players, there were always some great GMs to see them as an idol. Earlier Portisch, Ribli, Sax, now Lékó, Polgár, Almási.

Chessdom: European Team Championship is starting later this month. What are the expectations in Hungary?

Csaba Balogh: Unfortunately Lékó and Polgár will not play for us. We will have only a bit more than 2600 average, with which we can only fight for being in top 10, because the teams are really strong.

Chessdom: Which learning method would you suggest to young aspiring players?

Csaba Balogh: I agree with many great masters from the past, who said that it is very important to know and to play well the endgames. In my opinion, to solve combinations is also very important.

Balogh Csaba 3

Chessdom: What are your plans in the near future?

Csaba Balogh: I will play in Croatian team Championship in the middle of October, then in the European team Championship. After, I will start to prepare for the World Cup in Khanty Mansiysk.

Chessdom: What is your most memorable game?

Csaba Balogh: Good question :) Recently, I really liked the game how I managed to beat Viktor Korchnoi in Paks. It was a really tough and good game with many complications.

Chessdom: Thank you for your time. We wish you all the best in your future career.

Csaba Balogh: Thank You!

Interview with GM Nikita Vitiugov

Winner of the recently played Russian Championship Higher League

Grandmaster Nikita Vitiugov, one of the most promising Russian juniors and winner of the Russian Championship Higher League, has kindly accepted an interview with Chessdom. Besides the fantastic result at the Russian qualifier, Nikita was also U20 Russian Vice-Champion (2006, 2007), U20 World Vice-Champion (2006), U18 European Vice-Champion (2005), U18 Russian Champion (2005), participant of the Russian Superfinal (2006, 2007) and he also qualified for the incoming 2007 World Cup.

Chessdom: Hello Nikita, you were probably the highest rated untitled player before becoming Grandmaster. What was the secret behind your meteoric rise?

Nikita Vitiugov: Hello, Goran. Indeed during the year of 2006 it was so. For many young Russian chess players it’s hard to get international title, because there are only few round-robin tournaments with grandmaster norm in Russia, and to win norm in a Swiss tournament is rather complex. Concerning my rise, I have been just working for the last three years, and of course, I had luck.

Chessdom: You have just won the incredibly strong Russian Championship Higher League. What are your impressions from this tournament?

Nikita Vitiugov: I am very happy that I was able to win this tournament. Though before the beginning, I counted on the qualification to the Superfinal, but during the tournament I understood that I could win. And after the game Rublevsky – Tregubov ended in a draw, I realized that I became a winner.

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Nikita Vitugov as winner of the Russian Championship Higher League

Photo by

Chessdom: Earlier this year you have qualified for the World Cup to be held next month in Khanty-Mansiysk. How far are you ready to go?

Nikita Vitiugov: I will play game after game. Before the beginning of the tournament every participant has equal chances.

Chessdom: You are young Grandmaster and already established author, your fantastic column on is very popular. Are you writing for other media too, are there any plans on writing books?

Nikita Vitiugov: Sometimes I write articles for some sport newspapers or chess journals, like “64″, but regularly I write only on I will think about writing a book in five years.

Chessdom: There are only few good Grandmaster journalists, are you going to pursue this career?

Nikita Vitiugov: I write for my pleasure and chess popularity. I haven’t though about my career yet.

Nikita Vitiugov 3

Photo by

Chessdom: How many hours daily you devote to chess study? Do you work with a trainer or on your own? Which software is necessary for the top preparation?

Nikita Vitiugov: I combine individual work with training with my coach, GM Marat Makarov. I don’t study everyday, but when I study chess, I study it hard. In my preparation I use Chessbase (7.0 and 9.0) and playing modules, like Fritz and Rybka.

Chessdom: Are there enough good tournaments for you to play? Do you receive invitations?

Nikita Vitiugov: Nowadays, I have only few good tournaments during the year, like the European Championship, the Russian Championship Higher League, and the Russian Team League, where I play for the “FINEC”. I haven’t been invited to any round-robin tournament yet. I hope that in the future this situation will be better and I will have more strong tournaments.

Chessdom: Which learning method would you suggest to young aspiring players?

Nikita Vitiugov: I would like to say to the young players, love chess, enjoy the game, and believe in yourself. But don’t forget to study chess.

Nikita Vitiugov 4

Photo by

Chessdom: What are your plans in the near future?

Nikita Vitiugov: This year I will play in the World Cup and the Russian Superfinal. I will prepare for these tournaments, and try my best.

Chessdom: What is your most memorable game?

Nikita Vitiugov: The game from the Saint-Petersburg championship 2006 with Valery Popov is the most memorable for me.

Chessdom: Thank you for your time. We wish you all the best in your future career.

Nikita Vitiugov: Thank you for your wishes.

Interview with GM Rafael Leitao

One of the leading Brazilian Grandmasters and founder of the Academia de Xadrez Rafael Leitao

Grandmaster Rafael Leitao, one of the leading players in Brazil, has kindly agreed to an interview with Chessdom. Among many of his tournament accomplishments, we shall mention that Rafael was twice World Champion (U-12 in Warsaw, Poland and U-18 in Menorca, Spain) and twice World Vice-Champion (U-10 in San Juan-PUR and U-16 in Guarapuava, Brasil). He was also four-times Brazilian Champion (1996, 1997, 1998, 2004) and eight-times Pan-American Champion (in all youth categories). Nowadays, Rafael is managing a very successful Academia de Xadrez Rafael Leitão.

Chessdom: Hello Rafael, can you tell us about your beginnings, what has got you attracted to chess?

Rafael Leitao: My father taught me how to play when I was six, and I was immediately attracted to the game. I used to play with my older brother and started reading some chess books from my father´s library. Even though I was born far away from any city with a regular chess activity, I managed to keep a natural chess development. It´s hard to say what attracted me into chess, probably the fact that the game is a perfect match to my inner personality.

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Rafael Leitao as young champion

Chessdom: You have won four Brazilian championships, first one when you were only 17-years old. Are you aiming at the record seven titles of GM Jaime Sunye Neto?

Rafael Leitao: I am not a very ambitious person, and have not settled this as goal, but it might happen. However, competition is getting tougher, so to achieve this record will be anything but easy.

Chessdom: You are seriously involved in teaching and your Chess Academy seems to be doing great. Can you present the Academy and your teaching methods to our readership?

Rafael Leitao: My Chess Academy website is It was created to help the development of talents in Brazil, since we do not have many good trainers, making it very hard for aspiring players to reach their aims. Of course the Academy is also open to players from other countries. I teach on ICC and also give classes in my city (Americana, state of São Paulo). I work mainly with advanced players (FIDE 2200 or more) and try to show them my views on chess. Above all, I tell them that there is no secrets to becoming a GM, most people can do it, with correct guidance and hard work.

Chessdom: How would you best define your chess style?

Rafael Leitao: I am a positional intuitive player.

Rafael Leitao

Rafael Leitao won the individual medal for his result at the 2006 Chess Olympiad

Chessdom: How many hours daily you devote to chess study? Do you work with a trainer or on your own? Which software is necessary for the top preparation?

Rafael Leitao: Nowadays I am very lazy and don´t work much on my own improvement (hence my horrible opening preparation). I work alone and try to work on my game at least 2-3 hours a day. Sometimes I work more, someday I don´t see chess at all. I don´t use any software apart from what everyone knows: Chessbase and all the main engines.

Chessdom: There are many young-and-coming GMs and IMs in Brazil. Can you tell us more about the chess development in Brazil? Are you experiencing expansion?

Rafael Leitao: Actually we don´t have young GM´s apart from Alexandr Fier. It is surprising that, even though it is common knowledge that becoming a GM is getting easier and easier, he was the only one to achieve it in almost a 10 year period. We don´t have many talents showing up at the moment, and that is due to lack of proper support and competent trainers. Imagine a country of Brazil´s size with only 7 grandmasters… Hopefully this situation will change in the near future, and I hope that my Academy at least helps in removing cause number 2 of our stagnation.

Chessdom: How do you see the current situation in chess world?

Rafael Leitao: It was a good thing that Anand become World Champion. He will be fully respected as deserving the title. On a wider perspective, I´m in favour of tournaments like the World Cup and think that the current situation of chess is more or less reasonable.

Chessdom: What kind of difficulties are chess professionals facing today?

Rafael Leitao: The competition is very tough and the prizes are very low. Last year I spent one month playing in Europe and could see how hard it is to win even second-rate tournaments. It is very difficult to make a living by playing tournaments. Apart from that, I dislike the life of a constant traveler. For a GM of my level it´s necessary to play leagues and give classes. On a brighter side, we should note that most GM´s work with something they love, and anything is better than having a routinely work, at least for me.

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Rafael in action

Chessdom: Which learning method would you suggest to young aspiring players?

Rafael Leitao: It really depends on many factors as age, personality and others, so it is hard to give a general advice. But players who learned chess from the computer generation must always be reminded of the importance to study the classics. As Korchnoi noted, the past masters, they too understood the game of chess!

Chessdom: You have qualified for the World Cup to be held next month in Khanty-Mansiysk. What are the expectation? How did you do in earlier World Championship cycles?

Rafael Leitao: I usually do very well in World Championship cycles. In Las Vegas 1999 I lost on the 3rd round. In New Delhi 2000 I was eliminated in the 4th round, In Tripoli 2004 I lost on the 3rd round and in Khanty-Mansiysk 2005 I was kicked out in the 2nd round. Since I don´t have a high elo, I had to eliminate favourites in all of these competitions, including Lautier, Zhang Zhong, Jakovenko.

Chessdom: Thank you for your time. We wish you to continue with fantastic results.

Rafael Leitao: You´re welcome. Keep up the good work!