Interview With GM Boris Gulko

by IM Anna Matnadze

One of the few players in the history of the game who has a favourable score against Gari Kasparov, whom he defeated on three occasions. Also the only chessplayer who won both USSR and US Championships. The legendary Boris Gulko is now in Catalonia, getting ready for the Magistral Casino Barcelona, which will start on October, 30. In this interview for the Official Magazine of the Catalan Chess Federation “El Butlletí d’Escacs” he talks about his life and career, as well as about different aspects of the royal game.

Matnadze: Hello Mr. Gulko, welcome to Barcelona. Could you please, describe to us your preparation process for the Magistral Casino Tournament? What chess analyzing program do you use?

Gulko: I use Fritz. Thanks to the organizers for making paring known a few weeks in advance, I could study games of my opponents and prepare some opening surprises.

Matnadze: Whom are you expecting to be the most difficult opponent?

Gulko: I think that the highest rated players like Dreev, Georgiev, Jobava will be the most dangerous.

Matnadze: You are a living legend indeed. However, you have not been so active lately. Has the importance of chess in your life changed in the last years?

Gulko: Chess was my passion when I was young, and now it is a quiet love. Now I’m far from using all opportunities to play. Of course, I was happy to accept the invitation to play in such an excellent tournament as Barcelona Magistral Casino.

Matnadze: You are the only player in the history of chess who holds both the USSR and USA Championships titles. Also you have a favourable score against Kasparov. What are your feelings about these facts?

Gulko: I would be glad to add Championship titles of a few more countries, but I do not know how to manage this.

Matnadze: Tell us about your victories over Gary. How and when exactly it happened? How did he react?

Gulko: I think in those games my strong sides and his weak sides came together. Gary was a normal opponent and each time reacted as a guy who lost the game. The first victory happened in the USSR championship in 1981, the second – half year later in the team Championship of USSR, and the third – in Linares 1990.

Boris Gulko

Boris Gulko

Matnadze: You did not have an easy life. You had to apply to emigrate from the USSR to escape the reigning Soviet regime. It was only in 1986 when you were finally permitted to do so. Could you tell us about that more in detail? How did you start your new life first in Israel and then in the States? How is your life in the States now?

Gulko: The seven years when I struggled for a right to leave the USSR were by far the hardest years of my life. I had three hunger strikes, a month of demonstrations in one of the Moscow squares together with my wife, during which we were arrested each day and spent hours in the police station. You can understand that after such a hardship, the years of my life in the U.S. feel like a permanent celebration of freedom.

Matnadze: Tell us about your family. As far as we know, your wife is a WGM too… Where and when did you two meet?

Gulko: We met with Anya at chess competitions. It was nice to travel and play together. Twice we played together on American national teams at Chess Olympiads. The last time we played together in one competition was the tournament in San Sebastian 1997. After this Anya pursued a different career.
Our son David is 29 years old. He is a lawyer. And we have a 10-month old granddaughter Sarah Nessa.

Matnadze: The number of Chess fans all over the world is growing every day, however, it is not yet popular as, for example, football or tennis… What do you think would be necessary to do to make chess more popular? What would be your strategy or ideas to attract more Sponsors?

Gulko: Chess will become more popular when more children will play the game. Adult chess amateurs grow up from children. When more people will become interested in chess, we’ll have more interest and more sponsors.

Matnadze: What do you think about the “short draws phenomenon”? What would be the mechanism to avoid them?

Gulko: People make short draws for two reasons – they are afraid to lose or they are tired. Against tiredness would help a rest day in the middle of the tournament. But I don’t know what is possible to do against a fear.

Matnadze: What is your opinion about cheating? It is becoming a very serious problem…

Gulko: I don’t believe in accusation of cheating of strong players. To become really strong you have to take chess as a matter of your life, and in this case cheating is excluded. I think in these accusations there’s more paranoia than substance.

Matnadze: What does Boris Gulko think about World Championship cycle and matches?

Gulko: I think that chess genius Mikhail Botvinnik created in the 1948 a great and fair system. Destruction of it was a big misfortune for chess. World Championship matches of strongest players were greatest events in the history of our game.

Matnadze: You were excluded from the World Championship held in Libya, together with other Jewish players. You wrote the famous letter to Mr. Ilyumzhinov. What was the whole story?

Gulko: FIDE promised to potential participants that Libya would provide normal conditions to all players. I planned to play in that Championship. Alas, the chairman of the organizing committee, the son of Muammar Kaddafi made a statement that Jewish participants of the World Championship would try to penetrate in the Libyan society and try to destroy it from inside, and he would fight against it. I was not ready to play chess in the mad house and demanded from Ilyumzhinov to move the Championship to a different country. But for him the mad house was OK.

Matnadze: There are emerging younger and younger chess geniuses every day. With 20-22 years you nearly become a veteran. What do you think about this?

Gulko: Now it is much easier to improve in chess compared to the pre-computer era because today each player has his computer as a high class sparring partner. Today young players reach grandmaster level much faster than in the previous epoch.

Matnadze: Which of these young players have the potential, in your opinion, to become World Champion, if any?

Gulko: All agree that Magnus Carlsen has to become the World Champion. Among the younger players, Ilia Nizhnik from Ukraine also has a potential to become the World Champion.

Matnadze: What would be your advice to young people who are just starting to play chess and take it seriously?

Gulko: Enjoy.

Matnadze: Once you said you do not regret the years you spent without playing – do you still think the same way?

Gulko: Seven years of a struggle for emigration from the USSR assisted me in development of my personality. But, if it were possible, I would be happy to avoid that school.

Matnadze: What do you like most in modern chess? What would you change?

Gulko: Modern chess is different from chess of previous centuries mainly by invasion of computers. Computers brought in our game a lot of things which are excellent, but something became lost. The world is changing, culture is changing, and we can’t stop the time.

Matnadze: About the time controls Mr. Boris Gulko thinks that…

Gulko: All time controls are good as long as both opponents have equal time for the game before the start.

Matnadze: I am sure you have also had enjoyable moments in the tournaments you have played. Can you share with us the most memorable one?

Gulko: In 1976 I played in the team championship of the USSR in Tbilisi on the same team with young Anya Achsharumova. Later I married her. It was happy, funny, and enjoyable.

Matnadze: What are your plans for the future?

Gulko: I plan to continue to work on a book of my selected games.

Matnadze: Thank you very much, Mr. Gulko, for the extremely interesting interview.