Interview with Thomas Southerland

Derek Odom talked to the organizer of the Akobian – Shulman match

akobian shulman

California’s #1 GM Varuzhan Akobian meeting the U.S. Champion GM Yury Shulman in a four day rapid match April 22-25, 2009. With average rating over 2630 ELO, Akobian and Shulman are surely among the most popular chess players in the USA. Derek Odom had the chance to speak to the organizer of this event and manager of GM Akobian, Thomas Southerland. Here is the exclusive interview for

Derek Odom: How did this match come to be? What inspired you to make it happen?

Thomas Southerland: The short answer is clearly “The Fans”. Chess has the best fans in the world. Loyal, thoughtful,
purposeful in their actions. These are the people that I want to work for. And of course there seems to be this vacuous abyss in the U.S. for these types of events. I guess I feel compelled to fill this void with something very special.

D: Why Lake County?

T: That’s a great question and I have gotten it a lot. It is a fact that we have the cleanest air in the state and the best bass fishing west of the Mississippi. But the main reason is the interest of the venue and the community. Of course it is my job is
to provide the absolute best conditions for the players. So, Lake County is the perfect combination for the match.

D: Who is attending, recognizing and/or sponsoring the event?

T: We have the media support by GM Susan Polgar, Chessdom, Jennifer Shahade and the USCF, Chessbase, IM John Donaldson, Mark Crowther, Closet GrandMaster,
ChessToday, and ICC. They are promoting the event along with the good people of our community, including the Rotary Club, Robinson Rancheria, our local radio network, wineries, the County itself, and really just too many to mention here.

I am entitled the organizer of this event, though in truth there are so many people involved without whose help it would simply not be possible.

D: It seems a lot of people have gotten on board for this strong match. Do you think events like this affect the chess community in a positive way?

T: Oh for sure! I have received so many emails about this match that it’s hard to believe. This is our sport, and to have two of the most highly regarded players
competing in a match like this in America is motivating for players of every age.

Exactly these types of matches could raise the interest in chess. I remember interviewing GM Denker back in 1996, Before the interview he played a simul. An old friend of mine and I attended the simul, and of course we both lost. Actually, GM Denker in his 70s Crushed both of us! :) -But the enthusiasm of the crowd was very energizing, which is surely good for Chess.

D: Where does your inspiration come from, any role model?

T: Oh, there are so many inspirations. I have learned a ton about promoting events from Don King, he’s the Master of course. And as far as execution?
George Foreman taught me that “One should plan their work and work their plan” Which sounds alot like a strong chess player….

D: What is your relationship with GM Akobian?

T: I am GM Akobian’s manager, business partner, student, and close friend.

D: What is Akobian doing to prepare for the match? Is he optimistic?

T: Well, he is a very graceful person as you know. Of course he will say that GM Shulman is a strong opponent, and that he just hopes for a good event for the fans. Though he is also a determined player who always looks for the win.

D: Does GM Akobian have aspirations for the U.S. Championship?

T: He does. I know that winning the title is very important to him. I told him recently that he will win it when he is ready. I told him, “Yes My Friend
you will win it when you decide that your are ready to win it, the choice is yours”. And I truly believe that the choice is his, as on any given day he can hand any GM in this country a crushing defeat. He has the talent, the training, and the experience. At this point it is only psychological.

D: Does GM Akobian participate in any community chess events, such as simuls?

T: GM Akobian is very committed to giving back to the community. In April 2008 GM Akobian played a Free Simul at the Junior College in Santa Rosa, CA. Of course this is not typical to do this type of event for free, We felt very honored and everyone had a great time.
Also GM Akobian teaches some of the nation’s brightest young players at the Karpov Chess Camp in Kansas. I keep saying to him that I think that this is the best work he is doing, these kids are being trained by a legend.

D: Let’s go back to the event. What is the schedule of the four-day match?

T: 2 rapid games 30 min each of the first three days, then 10 blitz games on Saturday.

D: Both players are very strong in tournament play, and also in blitz chess. Do you think the 30 minute time control is a comfortable one for them?

T: Yes, for sure they are both professionals. This is a great time control for the fans, moves on the run always make for interesting play at this level.

D: Is there a website where chess enthusiasts can learn more about the match?

T: Yes, Thank You, the official website is All games will be available there as well, and also relayed on

D: Thank you for the interview!

T: Thank you for having me.