Player Interviews

3. Player Interviews below:

NEW - Right Hon. Justice Bob Brooking interviewed by FM Grant Szuveges

Interviews To Date: 
 
1. Right Hon. Justice Bob Brooking interviewed by FM Grant Szuveges (24 November 2010?)
 
2. IM Greg Hjorth interviewed by FM Grant Szuveges (25 August 2010)
 
3. FM Dr Michael Baron interviewed by FM Grant Szuveges (23 July 2010)
 
4. IM Guy West interviewed by FM Grant Szuveges (25 June 2010)
 
5. GM David Smerdon intervewed by FM Grant Szuveges (09 June 2010)
 
6. FM Grant Szuveges interviewed by Elliot Renzies (2009?)

7. FM Domagoj Dragicevic interviewed by FM Grant Szuveges (July 2012)

8. Kerry Stead interviewed by FM Grant Szuveges


 
 
1. Right Hon. Bob Brooking interviewed by FM Grant Szuveges (24 November 2010?)
 

You’ve been involved in the Committee and the administration of the MCC for a very long time, including many years as President. When did you first join the MCC and when did you first get involved in the administrative side of things?

I joined the Club as a schoolboy way back in 1947, but I was a member for only 12 months.  Then I became a law student and the law kept me away from the Club for 30 years.  In 1977 I began a 17 year stint on the Committee, beginning as Secretary and ending up as President for 12 years.

 

Over the years what have been some of the most important landmarks in the history of the MCC?

What stand out are the successes in the search for a permanent home.  The Club is the oldest chess club in the Southern Hemisphere and one of the oldest in the world.  It was founded in 1866, the reincarnation of two earlier MCC’s dating from 1852.  So you could say that the Club is as old as Victoria.  It has had a couple of dozen different homes.  It started off next door to a Waxworks in Collins Street; 84 years later it crept into a basement in Flinders Lane as tenant of the Victorian Spiritualists Union.  Finally, in 1977 we were able to buy a building in Peel Street North Melbourne, near the Victoria Market, and in 1990 we bought our present building in Leicester Street Fitzroy.

 

Who have been some of the most memorable MCC characters in your time?

Some characters are memorable but are best forgotten.  I’ll tell you briefly about a few of the dead characters who should be remembered, starting with Emmanuel (“Emmo”) Basta.  He was a strong but amiable player, who did a lot for the Club and a lot to popularize chess twenty or thirty years ago.  Dr. Albert Cymons kept on helping the MCC in many ways right up to his recent death at the age of 90.  One of his achievements was Street Chess.  Three Latvians who came here after the War were great friends of the Club – Arnolds Rudzitis, who gave all his property to the Club, Kon Raipalis, who gave all his time and energy to the Club until his death at 90, and Edwin (“Eddie”) Malitis, Treasurer for 47 years, who some would say is the greatest figure in our long history.

 

To you, what are the most surprising changes that have happened to the MCC or in Victorian chess generally over the years?  For example, is there anything happening now that you could never have imagined in the 1970’s or 1980’s or even more recently?

I’ll just mention one thing about Victorian chess that has surprised me.  It’s the falling off in the number of clubs in Victoria.

 

What are the biggest challenges for the MCC going into 2011 and beyond

As the politicians say, I’m glad you asked me that.  The answer is easy:  finding enough people to run the Club.  Back in 1906 the Committee made its first of countless attempts to roster members each willing to keep the Club open for a few hours each week, and even since this has been a perennial problem.  Look at the sparsely populated rosters.  With a few very notable exceptions, like Elie Beranjia, the people who use the Club most give it the least help.  Most of them give it none at all and only make things worse by letting their own rubbish lie where it falls.  Could the Committee decree that tournament players who are MCC members will have their entries rejected if they refuse, without very good reason, to be rostered?  Unfortunately the unreasonable burden placed on the Committee members and others who are your very active tends to get them down ultimately and we lose them.


You were a judge until you retired.  Which court did you preside over and when did you retire?

I was a judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria for 25 years and retired in 2002 as a member of the Victorian Court of Appeal.

 

It’s not a profession that many people reading this would know a lot about – not from the inside anyway.  What is something surprising about it, something that people generally wouldn’t know about this profession?

I’d better not let any cats out of the bag, like telling you about the elderly judge who found his thick red robes so hot in the summer that he used to wear nothing underneath them.  Instead I’ll tell you about workload.  People who see something of the courts see judges sitting in court for only four or five hours a day.  They would probably be surprised to learn that judges in fact work long hours – reading masses of documents before a case starts and reading evidence and arguments during it, considering particular points of law, writing judgments, keeping up with the law generally, helping to administer the courts and doing other work in the community.


Since retiring you’ve done some traveling, and you’ve just got back from England?

That’s right.  We visit our son and daughter-in-law in England and usually combine that with a sea or river cruise.

 

 
IM Greg Hjorth interviewed by FM Grant Szuveges (25 August 2010)
 
Hi Greg. You are living in Carlton these days, not far from the Melbourne Chess Club, but you seem to hang out in Fitzroy a lot though. Do you identify more as a Carlton person or a Fitzroy person and why?

Carlton is a bit more artificial, yuppie, stereotypical, at least around Lygon Street, whereas Fitzroy is much more diverse. Alas: I am just on the Carlton side of the border 
 
You are often seen walking past the MCC on your way down to Brunswick St. What are your favourite bars and restaurants along "the strip"?

I like Bar Open, and there is a takeaway place which sells homous and falafel just across the road from Bar Open. Falafel Factory, or some such name. Sometimes also I hang out at Black Cat or Veggie Bar.

 
I know that you are good friends with my mate James Macaulay - an up-and-coming MCC player. He is improving heaps and I can see a bit of Hjorth in his play - particularly with the sacrifices. Are you giving him some tips or is it just a coincidence?

I can't take any credit, sorry. Actually, he was the one explaining to me his favorite sacrifices in the Najdorf :) 
 
 
Is it osmosis?
 
You work at Melbourne Uni too. How is that going - does it keep you young?

The University system in Australia is going through a crisis. 

While the vocationally orientated disciplines (medicine, commerce, medicine, and so on) seem to be doing fine, the pure core academic areas have been declining rapidly over the last 20 years. For instance, the philosophy department is down to around 5 full time staff members, and being absorbed in to other departments like history. It is a jarring experience to compare the academic standards in mathematics now with when I was a student here back in the 80's. Many disciplines are having trouble putting together enough resources to offer a reasonable major. Quite frankly we are slipping behind universities that we would traditionally have viewed with an attitude of smug superiority. I look at somewhere like the University of Singapore or the University of North Texas, even quite average universities in the US, and have a sense of despair. A further problem here is that the higher administrators are in some ways quarantined from this reality. Most of the management does not come from academic ranks and is entirely local in origin. Julia Gillard for instance had the staggering arrogance to decide that one ministerial portfolio would be insufficient for a person of her talents, and it is hard to imagine that in her time as minister for education (along with at least two other ministries) she had the time, or even the motivation, to try to understand these issues. Also there is an significant lag in academic rankings for universities -- typically these are obtained by surveying academics internationally, who in turn think back to their memories from when they visited or were a student; this in turn means that information does not present itself in a timely fashion to administrators without an academic background. My general impression is that the zeitgeist currently is towards a whole bunch of garbled and poorly thought through free market rhetoric (by the way, I should clarify that my own economic views run towards a sympathy for the free market, but in fact we witness in higher education in Australia is something like a command economy, despite the language to the contrary), and this in turn leads to people from fields such as marketing being bought in from the outside to shape the strategic direction of the university. 

Furthermore, there is a budget crisis which is slowly evolving and will inevitably lead to widespread redundancies for academic staff members. And in preparation, perhaps, for this, the university is continually unveiling new performance criteria, which in turn place many people in a position of existential threat. RMIT for instance abruptly sacked half its math department, based on performance criteria which could not have been anticipated by the people affected. The treatment of lecturers below the rank of professor is a source of continuing concern. A couple of years ago a lecturer was demoted for criticizing the state government -- something like that would be absolutely unthinkable in an American university, or in most parts of the western world. 

SO IN ANSWER: Far from keeping me young, it is a source of constant agitation. 
 
 
And you are also spending a fair bit of time in America. How is that? What is it like over there?

Very different. In many ways. 

You would think it should be quite similar. Same language. Many of the same shows and movies. Commonalities with music and literature. 

America is somewhat more open, both socially and economically. People tend to be much more immediately approachable in shops or cafes or restaurants.  There is a greater respect for pure knowledge and academic traditions. There is a much greater emphasis on free press.  Things tend to be more disorganized, especially anything to do with the government or local services. 

People think rather differently, and it is always refreshing to go back and forth between Melbourne and Los Angeles and note the differences. I have several good friends in LA, so I also like to catch up with them and find out what they are doing. 

The things I really don't like about living in the US are the problems with social justice issues -- for instance, the very high rate of incarceration. 
 
 What about chess? Will you be playing in any allegros in the near future? Or the October Blitz Marathon?

Grant thanks for asking, but I will be away in October. I definitely do wish to play in more allegros. It is just an issue of juggling the time for that against other pressures. In fact, I would like to play in some of the weekenders, but simply don't know when I will get a chance.
 
And finally, what do you find different about the Melbourne chess scene now in 2010 to what it was like when you were a regular part of it in the 1980s?

Since I have only played one tournament here since returning in 2006, and really haven't had any where near as much involvement as I would have liked, it is hard for me to say too definitively. One big difference in the chess scene is that coaching in schools has taken off, and many of my old mates make a living this way. Another difference is that the Vic Championship has gone out to the suburbs with multiple locations -- I guess Melbourne has a lot more people in the suburbs than it did back in the 80's. It does seem like there is a big wave of fresh juniors -- I was in the "Roger" generation, and this is finally being replaced. Apparently we have some of the most promising juniors in the world. these days.
 
 
And now the last question: What advice would you give to up-and-coming players?

Mm... Not sure. I guess it depends a bit on the intention. 

Here is a stab at it anyway. 

If the aim is to have fun, then I would suggest trying not to burst in to tears when you lose. If the aim is to become a professional, then if you can't get in to the top 100 by the time you are 21 have a good hard rethink. 

Oh. And never a borrower or a lender be. Floss *before* you brush. Invest your savings in Vanguard's Wiltshire 5000 Index Fund :)
 
 
 
FM Dr Michael Baron interviewed by FM Grant Szuveges (23 July 2010) 
 
Hi Michael. You won the MCC Blitz Marathon by an absolute mile! I think that everyone thought that you were going to win it, but I dont think that anyone thought that you would win it with such a convincing score! You scored 57.5 out of a possible 63 points, including seven 6-0 demolitions of your 9 opponents! What is your secret?
 
Well, it was one of my ‘’better’’ days and I think I played quite well. Also, I can think of several games where I got very lucky.  
I do not really deserve to beating you or Silvester (Urban) 6-0 – it is just that everything was going my way.  
Also, I can recall hanging my rook against Voon and being piece down against Mascarenas.  
Last but not least, I started poorly by drawing 3-3 with Jessie (Jaeger) so I   became really annoyed with myself and turned on my ‘’top gear’’.  
The final point difference between myself and the second place getter (Jessie) is something like 12 points but was only in the second half of the tournament when Jessie lost 1-5 to Jordan and 2.5-3.5 to you  that my lead became solid.
 
As well as convincingly winning the blitz marathon, you also win almost every MCC allegro and you won the 2009 MCC Allegro Championship. Like me, you are a big fan of fast chess and you are particularly good at it. What is it that makes fast chess so attractive to you?
I stopped taking my chess seriously some years ago so all I do is come to MCC every Saturday – and enjoy myself.  
One thing I love about MCC is its friendly atmosphere.  
With speed chess, I do not feel any pressure to perform – just have a good time!  
Also, speed chess provides me with opportunities to test myself against strong players of different generations (e.g. IMs Hjorth and Morris) without spending time on travel to different tournament venues and opening preparation. 
 
Do you think that fast chess is the future of chess? Is it the best way to market the game?
I am sure about it. As a spectator, I find speed games to be far more fun to watch than the slow ones.
 
What sort of events would you like to see more of at MCC?
First of all, I would like to congratulate you and other MCC administrators and members on turning MCC into Victoria’s most dynamic chess club of all!  
I am very glad to see many new events happening.
As for events yet to come to life, Fide-rated round robin events and regular blitz events would be great to have! 
 
You get criticised a bit (from one Victorian IM in particular) for not playing much chess with a slow or traditional time control. Having known you for nearly 20 years, I cant imagine that this bothers you but Im curious as to your response (if you feel you need to have one)...
Yes, I am aware of the criticism. I am not sure what some people’s problem is.  
I play tournaments that I like to play, whenever I like to play….I see no motivation/reason to play slow chess events on a regular basis its my choice..and nobody else’s business. 
I can only guess that certain IMs have seen their ratings gradually go down below mine so they want me to play… to lose more rating points, so they are once again ahead of me.  
Can not think of any other reason for that IM or anyone else to be unhappy…
 
I never considered myself to be strong enough to be an IM and I have no plan to take up chess seriously to try to become one.  
On the other hand, I have been over 2300 FIDE for many years – so I know – I belong to the level where I am now.
As for intimidation, I am known (unfortunately but very true) to be good at intimidating others but intimidating me is a very hard task.
A certain beer-loving FM was trying hard to intimidate me the best he could, but in the end he simply made a fool out of himself.
 
While some people are critical of you, you also have a large fanbase. Probably your biggest fan is "Axiom" on the ozchess forum  www.ozchess.com.au  
He posts the music and filmclip to "The Baron" every time you win something! How does that make you feel?

I am very grateful to all of those who follow my life and chess. The more friends one can make – the better!
 
What about the forums (chesschat and ozchess) in general? Are they good for chess?
Forums are not just good but essential for making our chess scene better.  
Everyone’s opinion is different and everyone (Axiom and the beer-drinking FM included) need to be heard! 
 
You are a university lecturer in your spare time. Tell us a bit about that. What do you lecture in? Do you enjoy it?
I lecture in Information System Management and Business subjects and I do love it.  
My job allows me to meet many interesting people as well as update and review my knowledge base on a regular basis – what else can one wish for? 
 
You are also a health fanatic - tell us about that too.
One of my mottos (I got many) is ‘’My body is my temple’’.  
I am simply trying to make sure that my body is rarely (if ever) in dissonance with my mind and spirit.
 
Do you think that it has helped your chess? And if so, to what extent?
It has helped my chess to a great extent.  
These days, I do not get stressed irrespectively of the position I have on the board.  
I am aware – I may look stressed and unsettled to outsiders during the mad time scrambles but deep inside – I am calmer than I have ever been . 
 
What else do you do in your spare time? Any intersting hobbies or anything?
Going for long walks, yoga, meditation, reading Chinese history and philosophy books…but I guess in most people’s eyes, it makes me a boring person rather than an interesting one . 
 
And finally, what advice do you have for up and coming players? And in particular, how can people get better at the fast forms of the game?
Hmm…stop memorizing opening lines religiously and try to develop understanding of ideas behind the lines instead.  
Also, come and play at MCC – it will do your chess a lot of good! 
 
 
IM Guy West interviewed by FM Grant Szuveges

You missed the ANZAC Day weekender because you were in Bangkok - how was it?

Hot and sticky! It was an interesting time to be there politically, of course. Jean and I saw plenty of anti government Red Shirts on the streets and they were friendly, except for one who shot me in the ear. Fortunately it was with a water pistol, as it was during the Songgkran festival, where squirting people with water pistols is a daily sport. I armed myself, and reckon I gave as good as I got.

The Thai people are generally very friendly and it was somewhat surreal to have a civil war brewing in a kind of happy, banner waving, way. Of course underneath things were serious, with many people killed. It’s terribly sad to have tanks on the streets and civilians killed by soldiers in a modern city. Unfortunately there are precedents.

The chess was disappointing for the Aussies. I think we pretty much all flopped. One dark day, every one of us lost! Matthew Drummond, Tim Reilly and Damian Norris were other expert players from Australia to shed rating points, though Matthew was about 4 pawns up in an endgame against a Grandmaster in one game and comfortably held the draw. The tournament venue was a huge, luxurious hotel, and I’m told the venue is good every year. The good reputation of the event is why Jean and I played. There was a government travel advisory not to go to Bangkok, but it didn’t seem to deter many chessplayers.

Did you do anything else there, or just play chess? Its one of my favourite cities - so Im always curious to see what others think of it...

‘One town’s very like another

When your head’s down over your pieces brother.’

(Apologies to Murray Head.)

We went out to quite a few restaurants for the local culinary experience.  Jean and I tried various Thai massages and got twisted into shapes no normal body should go, even during so called ‘foot massages’. We also went shopping at a huge mall that has since been badly damaged by the fighting. Very tragic, what happened there.

Did you go down south to the Thai islands?

Nup, we didn’t have time on this trip.

And earlier this year, you and Jean announced your engagement! You have been together for a long time and I think everybody at the MCC is really happy for you both. Was it something you were planning for a while or was it a spur of the moment decision? In chess terms, did you calculate a lot or just play it with intuition?

I was just j’adoubing!

No, most of you know Jean, she is lovely and my soulmate. We understand each other very well. People say men are from Mars and women are from Venus… Jean and I are both from the same small town on Jupiter. We’d talked about it a few times, but yeah, chessplayers do like to mull over the consequences of their actions for a while before moving. I’ve read that axe murderers are similarly reflective before taking decisive action.

I proposed on February 14th after an intimate dinner at Outlook Hill winery, which I mostly couldn’t eat due to an ill timed medical test the next day. It was quite funny, in a tragic sort of way. Jean was super impressive, doggedly eating for two. There was a storm brewing over the Yarra Valley below as we went out to the carpark, and sheet lightning in the background… it seemed like a poetic moment to mumble something about marriage. I didn’t expect Jean’s reply, which was, “Are you serious?” Apparently I am a trickster and she wanted to make sure I was sincere before answering! 

And you and Jean announced your engagement at myself and Kellys engagement party! We thought that was really cute - particularly since there were quite a few MCC people there that night. I think that it made our party even better! Was the announcement pre-planned too, or just spur of the moment?

It wasn’t really an announcement, just quietly letting a few more of our friends know. We thought about sitting on it, since the party was about you and Kelly. But since it was still uppermost in our minds and everyone seemed in a happy mood, it seemed unnecessary to keep it a secret. We rang our families pretty much immediately of course, but told most of our friends gradually, as the opportunity arose. Some people are not that interested in such things! The reactions from the MCC people were very nice. It was an enjoyable night.

Lets talk a bit about chess! You hold the record for the most MCC Championship titles - including last years event. How many have you won and which one is the most special to you?

I didn’t know I held the record. I had the idea I was tied with someone, maybe Ozols (?) on about 10 wins. If we are in fact tied, I’d love to conjure up  the form to win one more, as I don’t expect it will be an easy record to beat, especially by Ozols. For me, these days, the last tournament win is always pretty special.

And what about opponents - is there someone that you always seem to play in MCC Champs or somebody that you have always had interesting games against in the event over the years? I imagine that you wouldve played Mirko Rujevic a number of times in recent years?

Rujevic! I curse the day he was born! I’ve had to play him about 40 times in tournament games and he has foiled me in innumerable events over the years.

No, seriously, Mirko and I have been rivals and friends for a long time and I greatly admire him for his incredible energy and self belief, which seems to have almost suspended the ageing process. He’s a remarkable talent who relies little on opening theory, and we’ve had heaps of interesting and often roller coaster games.

Pyke is a bit of a nemesis at the moment… if he’s not drawing or winning against me personally, he’s beating everyone else to outscore me. This is against nature, isn’t it? I might have to become a Christian to even things up next time around.

What will be your next event? Are you playing in the Cup Weekender again - you came equal second last year?

I have to admit that I am finding weekenders harder these days, energy wise. Because I don’t study chess much at the moment, I seem to have to spend a lot longer on the opening and on calculation and the games take more out of me. I doubt I’ll play, (but bribery is a wonderful thing.)

And what about travelling - chess has taken you all around the world - which is the most interesting country you have played chess in?

The Kalmyk Republic near the Black Sea was certainly a strange place. They were still building ‘Chess City’ when we arrived for the Olympiad there, and the building had uncovered holes you could have fallen into and killed youself. A crack Yugoslav construction team was working round the clock to get it finished in time, but they didn’t quite make it. All the houses in Chess City were painted in prime colours and it looked like Pleasantville meets The Truman Show. I drank alcoholic horses milk at a Jiangriada (a kind of gymkana/rodeo/show) and then kicked an Aussie Rules footy with Solo, Depasq and the local kids, though I could barely stand up. The locals were quite poor but always dressed like executives; very snappy. 90% of their incomes must have gone on clothes.

For up-and-coming players who wish to travel overseas to play some chess, which places would you recommend - and why?

That’s tough! Most overseas tournaments are fun. I had a great time in India recently, but don’t go there if you value your rating or stomach lining.

Maybe The Philippines, because you get asked for your autograph.  I always enjoyed the United Arab Emirates, because the beaches are fantastic and if you get free accommodation it’s usually about 10 star. Anywhere in Europe is good if you like playing a lot of games, because if you have a bad tournament the next one is only half a days drive away and starts tomorrow. New Zealand is a place Jean and I like playing in, because the South Island is so picturesque, up there with rural England and Scotland for beautiful drives. Also there are lots of patzers. (Just psyching… I’m about to play in NZ) J

There are so many great places to play chess overseas. Playing in Russia was a great thrill, but nowadays only billionaires can afford to visit Moscow.

And finally, some advice for those who want to improve their chess?

Ah, the perennial question!

You have to consider what it is that attracts you to chess, and let that motivate you. Any study is good study, so do what you enjoy most. The improvement that comes from studying stuff you like should inspire you to tackle the more difficult areas, which you need to do to eliminate weaknesses.

You have to have love for the game, and in this age of computer analysis and bloodless professionalism, I think it’s good advice to concentrate on the human element and try to revel in the sporting and psychological aspects. Don’t become disillusioned by the masses of opening theory and suffocating effect of databases; you can still invent crazy variations and I like to believe that creativity is as important as ever.

Always remember that persistence and determination are attributes available to anyone. When you have setbacks, that’s when you get the opportunity to show what you’re made of. The top players these days seem very good at handling setbacks philosophically. Look at the way Anand reacted to his crushing defeat in the first World Championship game against Topalov.

Thanks Guy, good luck in your next tournament and congratulations on your engagement!

Thanks Grant, and may I say, ‘well done’ on your leading role in the MCC renaissance.

 
 
GM David Smerdon intervewed by FM Grant Szuveges 
 
Hi David, congratulations on another equal first at the ANZAC Day weekender. You also came equal first last year too. We didnt have Gawain Jones here this year, but I felt that it was still a lot stronger at the top than last year, with several players capable of winning it - there seemed to be much more depth at the top. Did you find it harder this year?
 
Much harder, yes.  Last year Gawain and I really had a ratings buffer over the rest of the field, and so the tournament basically came down to our last-round game.  This year, not only were there more players, but also a bit more weight at the top.  Combine that with a bunch of talented juniors and an extra year's experience for guys like Bobby Cheng, and you get an idea how much tougher this year was.
 
Maybe next year you will win it outright!
 
I hope so, but I mean, this year I really had to struggle just to tie with Bobby, who was in red hot form.  Obviously I want to win every tournament I play, but to be honest, it's hard not to be impressed by the quality and talent of chess in Australia at the moment, even if it means I collect a few less trophies.
 
You always seem to come and play at MCC for the ANZAC Day weekender, and the MCC and its members love having you down here. Is there some special reason why you play in this particular event, or has it just fallen this way this year and last year? 
 
I played a lot at the MCC when I was at Melbourne Uni, so in some sense it's my local club.  The MCC has this great rustic, traditional feel to it, the way a chess club is supposed to be.  People come down not just for the tournaments, but also for the love of the game and for the company.  Plus, being located a stone's throw from Brunswick St is the ideal location for chess players and artisans to get together. 
 
I seem to remember you saying that your girlfriend has family here in Melbourne - or was it you with family here? 
 
Yes, Fi's a Victorian through and through and used to live in Fitzroy actually.  I lived at Parkville for five years during uni, but I'm a Queenslander and my family is still up in Brisbane. I have managed to get her to support the Brisbane Lions, but I'm yet to convince her about rugby league!  It's possible that our paths crossed on Brunswick St in the past, but we didn't meet until we both started jobs in Canberra a few years ago. 
 
What does your girlfriend do when you are playing in chess tournaments? 
 
At MCC tournaments, she usually catches up with her family or her Melbourne friends, or terrorises the Brunswick and Lygon St shops.  One of the great things about Fitzroy is that it makes the MCC a fun place for chess porters and parents, as well as players.  Of course, last year, Fi came with me to Siberia for the World Cup, and the little town in Winter with very few English speakers didn't offer her as much to do - she probably ended up watching more chess than she'd ever seen before.  But it was really beneficial for me to have her there supporting, even if I haven't managed to convince her to play chess herself yet.
 
Everyone knows that you are a great chess player, so lets have a chat about the other things in your life that people may not know about you. You are living in Canberra - what sort of work are you doing up there?
 
I work for the Treasury, working on economic and financial policy.  In layman's terms, I basically try to keep the stock markets running fairly.  I'm also studying part-time at the Australian National University, and playing as much chess in between as I can.
 
Is it an interesting place to live?
 
Far better than its reputation.  I guess I would describe it as a very 'easy' place to live.  There's no traffic or queues, it takes 5 minutes to get anywhere, and we have all of the country's best museums, galleries, museums etc around the place.  The one thing I do really miss is the artistic and alternative cultures that were so predominant in my last two home cities (Amsterdam and Melbourne), but at least there is a great chess community here.  Actually, if the old interstate competition was running today, the ACT would probably be favourite to win!
 
And what about travel? Chess takes you around the globe for various tournaments - tell me about some of the more interesting places where you have played in chess tournaments. 
 
I've been incredibly lucky through chess to have been able to visit so many places.  Some of the most amazing places I've played tournaments have been: New York, where I got to meet Kasparov and Sting; the rock of Gibraltar; three different cities in India, including Delhi (where I lost 10 kilos to a stomach parasite) and the amazing Goa; France's only Communist town; a small village in Hungary with a nuclear power plant; a small town in the Czech Republic that almost doubles in size for the annual chess festival and whose beer is cheaper than water; Phuket in Thailand where I played an 'exhibition match' against a baby elephant; and of course Siberia in minus-20 degrees Winter!
 
And when you are back home, what else do you do away from chess and work? 
 
I've usually got a few things on the go at any given time.  At the moment, I'm doing weekly jujitsu, Spanish, yoga and soccer.  I'm also studying part-time, working on a few chess books, and regularly posting on my blog. 
 
You are originally from Queensland, and you lived here in Melbourne for a while and now you are in Canberra - what does the future hold? Will you be moving home one day, or back to Melbourne or overseas? 
 
Melbourne is my favourite city in Australia, and given Fi's background, it's possible we might end up back there.  However, we both want to live and work overseas at some stage, and I really enjoyed my time in Amsterdam and London, so it's equally likely we'll head over there for a while.  The chess in Europe is just amazing, and regular weekends and league games boast dozens of grandmasters. 
 
And what about the next few months - are you playing in any events anywhere? 
 
I'm heading back to Siberia for the Olympiad in September, and I'm playing the Malaysian Open as a warm-up beforehand.  Unfortunately, working full time means I won't be able to play any other big tournaments this year, but I'll make it to Rotorua for the Zonal in January.  And of course I'm playing quite a few weekenders on the Australian grand prix circuit, including the Victorian Open this weekend.  Weekenders are dangerous, though, as I'm usually a bit tired from the office and can shed a few rating points.  
 
What about the MCC Cup Weekender in November? 
 
It's definitely on the list.  However, it probably depends a little on how the Malaysian Open and Olympiad goes - if I'm exhausted or playing badly, I might need a Sabbatical for a few months.  Chess is like a marriage: you know it's true love til death do us part, but every now and then you need a bit of space.
 
Before we finish up though, what is some good advice for up and coming players who are new to tournament chess - anything that they can work on? 
 
I've given a lot of advice in the past, but something I haven't mentioned as much is how important I feel it is to learn about chess history, both past and current.  I think getting to know the history of modern chess provides a very important base for a chess education - Kasparov's My Great Predecessors series is an excellent place to start.  In terms of current events, Australia is a little isolated geographically in terms of chess, but there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to keep track of chess news through the internet.  Following chess news helps in getting to recognise the current top players and the big tournaments, which is useful if you ever play tournaments overseas.  Plus, these days there's a number of Australian chess blogs and sites with local as well as international chess news - The Closet Grandmaster is probably the best place to start. 
 
Nice talking to you David 
 

Cheers; hope to see you in November.  

 

FM Grant Szuveges interviewed by Elliot Renzies

Grant Szuveges

FM Grant Szuveges

 

ER: Ok let’s now start from the beginning… When did you first realise that Chess was going to play a major part in your life?

GS: Probably when I was 16 or 17. I loved playing chess and was fairly directionless in other areas. All I wanted to do was finish school and then play chess. I didnt want to go to uni or anything, just play chess. I had started playing competitively when I was 14 or 15 and I just became obsessed with it...

Who were your Chess idols when you started playing serious Chess? who are your favourite players now?

I didn’t really have any chess idols when I first started out. I didn't really know how to study the game properly and I kind of idolised certain openings instead of players themselves! Petrosian was probably the first player I really liked, but that was because he played the Caro Kann Defence. Undoubtedly though, his games have influenced my playing style. These days I don’
t really have any favourite players on the world stage as I haven’t played or followed chess for 9 years. When I quit playing, my favourite player was Portisch - followed by Kasparov, Yusupov and Tal. (I like dynamic players)...

Who was your first Chess mentor?

Darryl Johansen. I had had dribs and drabs of coaching from various other people, but it was only after getting to know Darryl that my chess significantly improved. He was the perfect coach/mentor for me because he saw the world in a similar sort of way to me and we share the same sort of humour. He wasn’t given many free rides as a kid and achieved what he did through hard work. I respected this and worked harder at my own game. I strongly believe that when choosing a coach, one must choose someone who they get along well with as a person - its not all about chess. You can’t play well for someone who you don’t respect. You need someone who understands the way you think and is supportive. I remember one time when I agreed to a draw knowing I was better (against a strong player) after I’d had a huge fight with my girlfriend. Darryl totally understood and never judged me for it. These things build trust between player and coach...

Did you grow up in Chess playing surroundings?

Compared to the kids these days, not at all!!! In those days chess was very different! I learned the rules from my father when I was 4 or 5 but never played seriously until I was 14 or 15. My sister Narelle was more into it from when I was 12 or 13 (she was 10 or 11). I got into it because of her really...

How much support did you have by your family?

Very little. My childhood wasn’t much chop really. They were supportive later on though when I was an adult and already a strong player. When I went and lived in Amsterdam in 2000 for half a year my mother sent me over $2000 so I could stay longer and keep improving my chess". From memory I spent most of it on beer in the pubs! (young people and free money can be an interesting mix...)...

 

When and how did you achieve your FM title? Was it the greatest achievement of your Chess career?

I got the title in 1999 by scoring 4.5/9 in the Oceana Zonal (the one which caused controversy by handing out lots of titles). I’ve never publically commented on this subject, but I felt for all of the players who were criticised for scoring enough points to gain a title. Did we deserve the title? Well, I don’t know, but what I can say is that there were 2 players in the tournament who were much weaker than the rest of the field and I only played one of them. I scored 4.5/5 against players under 2300 and 0/4 against players 2300 and over. I didn’t lose to anyone under 2300 but then I didnt beat anyone over 2300 either and I only had one draw (not in the final round). It was a very strange tournament and there wasn’t very much good chess played there - even by the better players. I think that the pressure of the whole thing must have got to most of the players. Was the FM title the greatest achievement of my chess career? Well on paper yes. It has been really helpful away from the board actually. Its a great thing socially eg. pretty women I’ve met in pubs, discos and parties over the years really tend to like it! It also looks great on my resume! It also looks good that the MCC president is a titled player. I earned it legitimately and within the rules of the event, and the people most close to me think that I should be proud of it, so I am proud of it in that way, but it certainly wasn’t anywhere near the best chess that I’ve played. Winning the under 2200 prize outright in the 98-99 Australian Open was more satisfying, so was winning the 97 Christmas Swiss and scoring 8/11 in the Australian Reserves a few weeks later. As was beating a GM in a tough game in Holland in 2000...

Who do you think is the most influential Chess player of modern times?

Kasparov. He was way ahead of his rivals. His preparation was amazing - way ahead of his time and the blueprint for the modern super grandmaster...

The strongest?

At his best, Kasparov. The strongest now? Ive got no idea - I haven’t followed it for 9 years. Anand, Kramnik, Topalov all seem to stand out but I really dont know...

The one whose playing style you have been inspired by and have tried to adopt?

Portisch (although he isnt exactly modern) is the one whose style I ‘ve always tried to adopt. His play is/was dynamic, aggressive and positional. I love playing with the bishop pair, especially as black in Sicilian positions. I also include Darryl Johansen for the same reasons - his games always have more to them than what people realise...

The one that you always wanted to meet?

I never had any ambition to meet any of them actually - although I got a day of coaching from Dvorevsky in Holland. After the coaching, Yusupov drove me to Germany where we said a very brief hello to Kasparov in Frankfurt. I then headed north...

Who is Australia’s most promising young player?

Zhao - he has proven himself. Is he still considered "young"? Of the current juniors, well I wouldn’t have any idea. I dont even know who most of them are. I’ve seen some of James Morris' games. He plays the game the way it should be played and I like his attitude - he doesn’t seem to tolerate mediocrity. Cedric Antolis is the only other one Ive seen but I ‘ve only seen one of his games - a great win actually as black. Apparently he started out at Melbourne Chess Club when he was very young, so I might as well use this as an opportunity to promote my club! He is the Australian Junior Champion now! These two play at Melbourne Chess Club - but I’m sure that there are other good juniors playing at other clubs too...

Who is your favourite Australian Chess player ever?

Johansen, closely followed by Wohl. Wohl is brilliant at his best...

What’s the future of chess in Victoria and generally in Australia in terms of participation and strength? How do you compare Victorian Chess with the rest of the country?

Its hard for me to give an answer in relation to Australian chess because I haven’t been involved for 9 years. I am only just beginning to see what chess is now like in Victoria. The main difference between now and when I was playing, is that now there are a huge number of juniors playing. The junior events are obviously a great success though I think its important that they transition the kids into mainstream chess tournaments too - I am assuming that the stronger ones are already. I remember in 1999, I played in the Gold Coast Open and approximately 2 thirds of the field were kids. It was amazing - 1300 rated players were in the top half of a big Swiss! It was great to see that so many kids were competing against adults. This is the sort of participation which would be very beneficial for Victorian chess. As for strength, Victoria looks to be doing very well. We have one of Australia’s 3 GMs, and I think we have 5 or 6 IMs (not sure exactly). What else seems to have improved is the general level of average players. For example, at Melbourne Chess Club, we have 1800 rated players in the bottom half of our Swiss events. 10 years ago, 1800 players were scoring 5/7 in tournaments - now they are getting 3/7 or 4/9! Chow, Dragicevic and Goldenberg all got IM norms in Queenstown recently, so I think we are in good shape. I wouldn’t have any idea how things are in other parts of Australia though. I go interstate quite often, so I should have a look next time. More needs to be done to keep 2100 - 2200 rated players in the game and to turn them into IMs. Players tend to drop out of chess at that level because they get very little encouragement to improve (unless they are juniors). We need to support these players to get to that next level...

 

You were once, actually not that long ago, considered amongst the strongest and the most talented young players in Australia. What's your strength now? Could you be able to survive the harsh requirements of a strong Chess Tournament, as, say, the Melbourne Chess Club championship?

The only chess I play these days is blitz, and judging by that, I ‘d say that I am actually stronger than when I gave chess away! Having said that though, there is no pressure on me at all now, so its easy to play well when it doesn’t matter. Not playing for years gives you a new perspective and you see the game in a different light. When I was playing, I was obsessed with chess and that isn’t healthy or good for your chess. The other factor nowadays for me is my lifestyle.

What changed in your lifestyle?

10 years ago when I played, its fair to say that I had a bit of an alcohol problem. I don’t want to use that as an excuse for a lack of success (because good players play well regardless of other issues in their lives) but it does make it a lot harder to fulfil one’s potential. It is amazing how much clearer I see the board now.

Is blitz so important?

I wouldn’t read too much into my blitz results, as I was always much better at blitz (than long games) anyway. The stress and pressure of a strong tournament makes it a completely different kettle of fish...



Has age got anything to do with it?

Being 32 is also very different to being 22. For me, being 22 was about having fun, going out, chasing women, seeing the world, being irresponsible, wasting my money, wearing silly clothes, showing off, living on 3 hours sleep per night etc... My life now is much more simple and of course very different from when I was in my early 20s! It is so much more settled rather than being a never ending rollercoaster ride. I laugh to myself now when I think about what I was like 10 years ago with the long hair and the trademark blue singlet!

Any recent OTB encounters?

I had a blitz session with David Beaumont the other week and cleaned him up 9-2 (he wont mind me saying this). I continued the next day with a 18-0 demolition of another strong blitz player (I am still arrogant enough to count to myself). The point is though, that it is only blitz! I don’t know how I would go in a strong tournament now though. I think that I would be way behind in current opening theory (although this can be learned). Id probably also be a bit rusty, and not in the habit of working hard at the board.

How hard is ... hard?

Working hard at the board is the most important and underrated part of chess in my opinion, its how you really improve. I ‘ve won lots and lots of bad positions through working harder than my opponents and making it hard for them. I ‘d also have to get a computer and a database to play now, as the preparation for games has really intensified in the last 10 years - even the weaker players seem to be better prepared these days and thus much more dangerous.

What's your approach to a "comeback"? Not necessarily your "comeback"!

Comebacks after long stints away from chess affect different players in different ways. Some come back and play brilliantly, whereas others are shocking. Its probably easier for players with positional styles, as you don’t tend to forget that aspect of the game. Players who play for complications all the times may be a bit more susceptible as their calculation may not be as sharp as before. The general level of chess is much higher now in any case so surely there are a lot of people who would have overtaken me. Nobody (including me) really knows how I would go now. I’m guessing that I 'd probably be a bit weaker than when I quit playing.


To complete the chess playing part of the interview, what does the future hold for Grant Szuveges the Chess player?

Well I have retired from chess 9 years ago. I’ve enjoyed my 9 years of retirement and I cant see myself playing now - especially while working, studying and running a chess club - unless of course someone offers me $20,000 as an appearance fee or something like that (which I also can’t picture happening)...

 

How difficult did you find it to combine initially studies and Chess and of course to facilitate being the President of the arguably oldest Chess Club in Australia with your other business.

MCC is actually one of the oldest clubs in the world! I never really had any difficulty combining studies and chess because I never studied when I was younger. Nowadays I am studying at LaTrobe University but the semester doesn’t start until March. I also work full time and have always done so while at uni - I’ve never had any problem balancing uni and work. I have a government job so taking time off is very easy for me. I take time off when I ‘ve got lots of essays due at the same time. I am not worried if I earn a bit less money one fortnight if my marks are better as a result of this. As for Melbourne Chess Club business, it will take a fair bit of time early, but it will get easier as the club gets back on its feet. The committee I have around me are very efficient people and we have all been sharing the load, especially when one of us is busy. I have full confidence in them...

What influenced your decision to become involved in the administration field?

In the second half of 2008, I deferred uni for the semester, took leave from work and went on a 5 month overseas trip with my partner Kelly. She had never travelled much and I wanted to show her some of the places I had been. Anyway, we came back in December not expecting to have anything to do with chess. We were back in Melbourne for one day, and I received a text message giving me 4 hours notice to the MCCs AGM. (even though I dont play chess, I ’ve remained a member to support the club and to play blitz). I went along to this AGM knowing that the club was not in good shape, but what I found out during this meeting, was that the problems were about 100 times worse than Id thought. I was also astonished that many of the core-group of members weren’t there - including past presidents Robert Brooking, Greg Gatto and John Lavery. Other people whom I know care about the club were also nowhere to be seen. I found out that if our club kept running the same way, it would be finished in 2 more years. I was very concerned about this state of affairs, so I decided to ask around and try to find some people who were willing to have a go at running the club better. Gradually as I was in this process, a lot of people asked me the inevitable question of "why dont you do it?" and I couldn’t really find a good answer to that, so I decided that I would. It is important in life to practise what you preach and it is also important to give something back to organisations which have given you a lot. The MCC gave me lots of happiness and fun when I was young, broke and struggling. Now the MCC is struggling and I am doing OK, its my turn to do it a favour. It just felt the right thing to do. I know that I’m a capable person, and capable people need to take responsibility if they want to see things like this improve...

What was wrong with the club and needed to change? And the question applies to all facets of running a chess club such as the MCC, its membership, state of building and property, its administration etc.

Where do we start! Well firstly, the clubrooms themselves were an absolute pigsty! On our first full day of office, we (myself and others) cleaned out the building and I took 8 carloads of rubbish to the tip over the next few days. The state of the clubrooms was a disaster, pizza boxes everywhere, papers, rubbish - you name it. On that first cleaning day, I emptied a bin with 10 cm of liquid in the bottom of it. I dont know whether it was coffee, water, coke, beer or what, but it absolutely reeked. I think you get the picture. Secondly, the membership was worse than I thought. In 2008, we had only 44 paying members (plus 30 life members). 10 years ago, we had about 200 members. We needed to get those members back to the club and replace the ones that had moved on. 44 members isnt sustainable for a club like ours. The bank balance had also plummeted with not a lot to show for it. The committee were obviously struggling and there had been a lot of infighting between some of them during the year, to the point where it had all become totally disfunctional. I could go on and on about all of this but it will take too long. Some things I will say though, are that the club had no vacuum cleaner for months, no telephone for months, disconnection notices for bills and a huge amount of dissatisfaction from its members and other chess players. Everyone in chess seemed to be totally dissolutioned by the MCC and its administration. When you run an organisation with members, you need to listen to your members and give them what they want - it makes them feel more important, and then they will do more for the club. Its a two way street, if the club works for them, then they will work for the club and both win. (this is already happening i.e. $1300 into the building fund so far). This is why we have brought back the Saturday afternoon allegro - its what the members wanted...

The whole of the Victorian chess community saw your return to chess even as an administrator as a very positive move! Did you have similar welcoming reception on behalf of the clubs members and the administration you replaced?

Yes, the reception and support I got from my business plan was overwhelmingly positive. I showed the business plan to most of the members and quite a few non-members. Of everyone who I gave it to, only one said that he wouldn’t support it, and he hadn’t even read it anyway!!! 99% of the club were very supportive. As for the administration we replaced, they were supportive too. Last year's president Bill Jordan welcomed the move and I’ve received lots of help from him, John Davenport and David Beaumont (all 2008 committee members) since being in office...

David Beaumont described the move to replace the previous committee with your administration a revolution! Was there some kind of a coup? or just a flower revolution where the members themselves realised that enough was enough and there was time for a change?

Definitely the second option. (actually I did an essay at uni on Portugals "flower revolution" in the 1970s - very interesting topic) The members themselves wanted change and even the previous committee realised that a change was needed. We had to consider the option of a coup but it wasn’t needed - the previous committee didn't want to run the show anyway. I think they are relieved that it's now our problem! ...

 

A few days after you undertook your duties as President of the MCC, things have started moving. You re-introduced the building fund and other initiatives... I mean I witnessed members being very happy about receiving their membership card, the toilets being clean etc... Tell us about it!

We were elected on the Sunday night and first thing on the Monday morning we went in and started cleaning the clubrooms! The club championship started that night and we wanted to make a big statement very early on that we were serious about what we were doing and that we would not tolerate previous standards. We took about 8 carloads of rubbish to the tip and the toilets are as clean as dilapidated toilets can be! We had a committee meeting that very day and re-launched the building fund complete with the raffle. (10 hours of coaching is first prize). The fund has been very popular indeed! We have been running the show for less than 2 weeks and the building fund has raised over $1300 (Editor's note: $1350 at the last count) so far! Mirko Rujevic was the first to buy raffle tickets despite the fact that he is a stronger player than almost all of the coaches involved in the prize!!! I'd like to thank everyone who has supported the building fund. No matter how big or small the donation is, it will still help our club. I encourage anyone else with spare money to donate also...

You have also shown particular interest in meeting executives of other chess clubs. What is the purpose of those meetings?

For whatever reason, in recent times, MCC has been very isolated and hasn’t communicated much with other clubs. MCC has the reputation of being a basket-case organisation and the joke of Victorian/Australian chess. I don't want to sound nasty, but this is what other people in chess have thought and said about our club. (someone told me a funny/tragic story in relation to this actually: at a Chess Victoria meeting, someone suggested holding the Vic Women’s Champs at MCC, and someone piped up "but MCC is hostile to women isnt it?" Someone else then replied "no, MCC is hostile to everyone!") There is a reason why Box Hill Chess Club had 600 members in 2008 and we only had 70! We (MCC) need to accept what people think of us, even if it is negative. This is the first step to change. Anyway, back to the question. I had been so keen to meet executives from other clubs to open up communications and to show the chess scene that MCC is not an insular, hostile place - but a willing and active part of the chess community. The committee of Box Hill Chess Club have been particularly helpful and supportive of us (thanks Box Hill!). They are the best in the business (600 members etc), so its important that we learn from them, as they are getting it right. They only had 24 members in the mid 90s, now they are huge. I’ve been out there a number of times recently and I’ve found them really supportive and helpful. I’m also on good terms with Garry Lycett from Dandenong Chess Clubs committee and I chat to him regularly. And I’ve been out to both Noble Park and Hobson’s Bay Chess Clubs in similar "good will missions" (and of course to publicise our building fund raffle). Good communications with other clubs is of the utmost importance to our club. Look how well some "new EU countries" are doing since joining the European Union - it benefits the whole bloc. It is the same in Victorian chess - a strong MCC is good for chess in Victoria and of course a co-operative chess scene in Victoria is good for the MCC...

You were present at the recent Chess Victoria AGM. Apart from representing MCC, were you also there in order to improve the existing relationship between CV and the MCC?

What relationship? MCC hadn’t sent representatives to a Chess Victoria meeting in years! I had a chat to Leonid Sandler and he said that MCC was entitled to 4 votes, so we sent 4 representatives (myself and 3 others). If you are entitled to 4 votes, you might as well use them - you owe it to your members. We didnt vote on anything really important to our club this time, but if there was something which affected the MCC in a big way, it is important that we get our votes. By being at that meeting, we were also making a statement to the Victorian chess community that we want to be (and be seen as) an active participant. And yes, of course by being there, we did want to show that we want to have more communication (and thus a better relationship) with CV. I chatted a lot with Leonid Sandler, Katrin Wills and Trevor Stanning and its fair to say that the relationship between CV and MCC has taken its first steps and is looking positive...

You have also referred to the fact that you were trying to approach ACF executives. Can you comment on the purpose of this approach?

I called Gary Wastell (he was the only ACF person I’ve tried to contact) and caught up with him at the CV AGM. I called him because I wanted to know if his radio show was still running and if so, to use it to promote MCC, but it isn't running any more, so that’s the way the mop flops. I’m not even sure who the ACF executives are these days and we haven’t approached any of them other than Wastell. I have no issues with the ACF, but there just doesn’t seem to be much we need to discuss with them at this early stage. Our job is to get a struggling club back on its feet, and theirs is to administer chess over a whole country. A good relationship with them can only be a good thing though. Actually, I should have a chat to them because they might donate something to our building fund - good idea...


Before you were elected new and old members received a manifesto-like document titled Business Plan for the MCC by Grant Szuveges.
Obviously, all those who read it, found it impressive in its clarity and concrete goals... How long did you study the current position of the club before you decided to do something about it and how long did it take you to compose such a lengthy document?


As I said earlier in the interview, I went to a meeting on 21st December (with 4 hours notice) and was disgusted by what had happened to the club. The very next day, we drove to Adelaide for Christmas, as Kelly’s family are from there. We chatted about it on the drive over and decided to do something - I was still very angry. I made some phone calls from Adelaide to some MCC members to confirm what was happening and then began brainstorming ideas for how the club could be run in an ideal situation as opposed to the 2008 situation. The business plan took about 2 or 3 days to compose - it wasn’t really hard to do, but I wanted to make sure that I didnt forget to include things...

Please be kind enough to summarise its (The Szuveges’s Plan) main points for us so the readers of the Chesschat forum who aren’t members of MCC can have a clear idea of its content!

The basic point of the business plan was that the MCC could be run a lot better than it was being run. In the short term, the goal must be to raise revenue quickly in order to stop the bleeding from the bank balance and renovate the building. We need to utilise the space we have - as it is a huge asset. At non-chess times such as weekday mornings, we can rent out our space to other groups such as yoga, meditation, bookclub or bridge groups etc to raise more money. These sorts of things should make the club financially stable, and we then shouldn’t keep losing members (as they will have better facilities at their disposal). The long term aim is to increase membership numbers. Other points outlined were communication with members - something that hasn’t happened recently,(until our group started) and communication with the rest of the chess scene. It also outlined the fact that the club has history which should be honoured and that due to this history, members should take pride in the club. The two key themes of the document were the concepts of transparency and accountability (of the committee). Without these things, the club will not improve...

Grant, how realistic are these goals you have set in the Szuveges Plan and how long do you think it will take before the members of the Club begin to see concrete results?

I think that all of these goals are realistic (I wouldn’t put them in my business plan if they weren’t) but people need to understand that most things wont change overnight. People often seem to think that when a new committee comes in, things will change automatically - that just doesn’t happen. When a new coach comes to a footy club, the club doesn’t change straight away, it takes time. The improvement is there, but it isnt seen to people outside of the inner sanctum of the club. It is the same with the MCC. Things are already much better eg. we have raised $1300 ($ed, $1350) toward our building fund, membership is stable, sponsorship is currently being investigated. But these things are not things that people will see unless they know about them. What people will see now is that the clubrooms are cleaner, allegro is back and things like that - although these are small things. But people won't see big changes for a few more months. They will see big changes when the toilets and kitchen get renovated, or when the outside of the building is painted, or when they see 50 people playing in a tournament that only used to attract 30. The small changes have already happened and are there for people to see, but the big things will of course, take longer. I dont think that we will be able to achieve absolutely everything from the business plan this year, but if we can achieve half of it in 2009, then we have been successful. We have started like a train though and are doing very well with the building fund. So, who knows, maybe we will get more done than we expect. The MCC is improving though and should continue to do so. When you get the process right, the results will take care of themselves, and we feel that we are getting it right...

Grant Szuveges thank you very much for your time and good luck with your efforts to bring the Melbourne Chess Club back to its deserved place in our Chess Community!

More about the new President of the MCC.

Grant is a student of European Studies at Latrobe University and is employed by the Department of Human Services in the field of Disability Support Services. He also works as a background extra on TV, and can often be seen in the background on shows such as Neighbours and Canal Road.

In his spare time he likes to travel the world (been to 45 countries), practice other languages, watch football (AFL), read, interact with animals, spend time in nature (snorkelling on reefs, hiking in mountains etc), cook gourmet food and take photographs.

His favourite sport is AFL football. "Id swap everything I’ve done in chess to be a footballer that starts on the bench in an AFL team! Although if I was one I’d probably want to be a good chess player. Team sports teach people better social skills than chess does."
He is a Richmond fan "although I will watch and enjoy any game between any two teams."

His favourite music ranges from Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Dido, Nelly Furtado, Metallica to the Bangles, Divynals, Billy Idol to Simon and Garfunkel, classical music, world music and ex-Yugoslav rock and heavy metal bands such as Dividje Jagoda and Biello Dugne. "I dont care what the genre is - it depends on the individual band or musician - I either like them or I dont."

Favourite film is a Serbian or Croatian (not sure which) film called "Dead and Cold" - "funniest thing I’ve ever watched. I’m not really into films though. Before I met Kelly, Id only been into a cinema about 7 or 8 times in my life!"

And favourite TV show is Ladette to Lady, footy, cricket and nature documentaries.

Finally he is defacto, not quite married yet and his family plans include marriage and one or two children...


7. Fide Master Domagoj Dragicevic

Hi Dom, congratulations on the (fairly) recent FM title! Welcome to the club!

Thanks.

Your story is an unusual one, but one which is quite inspirational for anyone who did not start playing chess very young: you played as a kid but from what I recall you seemed to hover around 1600 – 1700 but then as an adult, you seemed to improve out of sight, and all of a sudden you had beaten Rogers and were well on your way to becoming the player you are now! What on earth happened? How did you achieve such a jump? Was it all about the chess or was it something else?

I guess I did start playing competitive chess at the age of about 10 or 11 which you could say is quite late, as these days there are kids aged 10 or 11 that are very strong players. I believe that when a player improves in chess, it's not due to one particular aspect, there are few different reasons. Firstly, I'd like to think that just gaining more experience throughout the years has helped me improve and I have always tried to play the strongest tournaments possible and by playing those type of tournaments, a player can learn a lot. More recently, I believe an improvement has come from learning new openings which I seem to understand better and that offer good play in the latter stage of play, whereas in the past I used to play random openings which I didn't know much about and lead to positions that weren't too exciting.

Your playing style is also quite interesting – it’s the polar opposite to mine! It seems to be based purely on calculation of long variations. A strong player said to me a few years ago “I find Dragicevic very hard to play against – it’s like playing a computer!” Has the calculation been something you have really focussed on or has it just evolved that way for you?

Wow, interesting question and an interesting statement. I don't think calculation of long variations is something I have focused on a lot. I think that calculating long variations is something that just happens, and is something you get caught up in during the game. Having said that, calculating long variations can confuse a player, you can end up hallucinating and miss simple things, and worst of all it take up lot of time, which results you getting in time trouble on regular basis. Recently, I have been trying to play more on intuition, as many times the first move that comes to my mind is usually the best move (at least that's what I find) and actually that really cost me in one of my recent games where I spent half an hour calculating these long lines for my opponent where he sacrifices a piece and I am getting mated, whereas the first move that came to my mind was indeed the best move, but calculating long variations really didn't help me and I ended up sacrificing an exchange for no reason. Of course, that's not to say that I don't calculate long variations anymore, that's still an important part of the game. However, to improve and take the game to the next level, a player has to be able to play strategic chess well and not rely on tactics so much as there are many positions which are just about improving your pieces rather than trying to look for a spectacular sacrifice.

Your heritage is Croatian and I know that you spent quite a bit of your childhood there – were you born here or in Croatia and how often did you move back and fourth?

I was actually born in Croatia in 1982 and I have moved back and fourth quite a few times. In 1985 I came to Australia, in 1989 went back to Croatia, and then in 1996 came back to Australia and have been here since.

Any plans to spend some time over there playing in tournaments?

Playing tournaments in Croatia or Europe would be nice and is something I would really like to do. I actually played a tournament in Croatia back in 2005 which was very strong.

I also know that you are a passionate sports fan (Richmond in the AFL and Melbourne Victory in the A-League). What parallels do you see between chess and these more “normal” sports? What (if anything) do you take from these other sports to help your performance as a chess player?

It's funny you ask that question, I was actually thinking about this recently. I believe there are quite a few similarities and I will try to explain this. Ok, for example how many times have you heard a chess player say after they lost or drew a game "I was much better, I was winning, Fritz says that my position is easily winning but I somehow mucked it up," all in game where that player has played much better in the opening, and created a winning position in the middlegame. That's part of chess and it's happened to me quite a few times. You could say that's comparable to a game of soccer where a team dominated possession, had much more chances, missed a penalty, hit the post three times, and then in 90th minute the other team has one of their rare chances, and scores to equalize or even win. Or in the AFL where a team has much more inside 50's, has like 15 more scoring shots on goal, but scores 20 behinds, and the other team wins by being more accurate with their goal kicking. So I guess what I am trying to say is that in any sport, no matter what the situation is, in the end the final result will matter and this is no different with chess, so I guess you could say a player has to know to win the winning positions. A good example would be this year's Victorian Championships where there were heaps of games( not just my games, but the games of all the players) which should have had different results, but in the end they didn't. Had all the results gone according to the winning positions instead of the actual results, the standings would have been much different. And it's same in soccer or AFL, it doesn't matter how much a team dominates if they don't take their chances. I hope that makes sense to readers.

As well as being an MCC member, you have been a driving force behind the Noble Park Chess Club – it is a very good club with a very good culture and some very strong players! How is it going down there? Any really big plans in the foreseeable future or just stick to what has proven to be a winning formula?

It's going very well at the club, this year it has really accelerated, and we hope that it will keep going well. There are no really big plans for the foreseeable uture, but we are holding our first ever weekender in September this year, so we are hoping that will go well. So the club hopes the weekender can be well supported.

And what else do you do with yourself away from the chess board or the sporting grounds? Any interesting hobbies or anything?

Just the usual staff. Work, spending time at home, meeting up with friends. I guess you can say Sudoku puzzles are a hobby, I find them enjoyable.

And finally, what advice would you give to anyone who wants to improve their chess?

I think most important advice is to enjoy the game. And I guess just the usual advice, play strong tournaments and study chess.


And as a bonus, here's Domagoj's Interview with IM Leonid Sandler at the 2012 Australian Championships:


8. Kerry Stead inteviewed by FM Grant Szuveges

KERRY STEAD INTERVIEW

I’m interviewing my Chess Victoria colleague and MCC’s “best in the business” arbiter, Kerry Stead – about chess, life and everything in between!

Hi Kerry

You are originally from Sydney. When did you move down to Melbourne and why?

I moved down to Melbourne towards the end of 2005. I felt like I needed a change of scenery, as things were becoming a bit stale for me in Sydney. I had actually been looking at moving, but staying in Sydney, but found out that there was a room available in a house in Melbourne with a few guys I knew through chess. I looked into it & liked the idea & some other things fell into place like a job (Crown were hiring & I had experience as a dealer at Star City) & education (I applied & was later accepted to Melbourne Uni for a teaching diploma – I’d started one in Sydney, but the course was at a place that was overly focussed on religion & didn’t suit me at all), so I decided to move to Melbourne!

What do you miss most about Sydney?

Mostly friends & family. I normally get up to Sydney at least a few times a year, mostly around school holidays and/or chess tournaments, so I still see people reasonably often, but perhaps not as often as I would like sometimes.

Can you tell the readers about the main differences between the Melbourne and Sydney chess scenes – what are some of the pros and cons of the scenes in each city?

There’s a lot of differences between Sydney & Melbourne chess ... be prepared for a long answer to this one!

Let’s start with the NSW Chess Association compared to Chess Victoria – NSW has individual membership, so everyone who plays in NSWCA events needs to be a member of the NSWCA. With CV, membership is club-based, so the clubs are members & individuals are members of clubs. The associations also run things differently – CV tends to outsource its events (such as the Victorian Open, Victorian Juniors, etc), whereas the NSWCA runs events (NSW Open, Sydney International, etc) itself. This is further exacerbated by the fact that there is a separate junior league in NSW, the NSWJCL, whereas CV is responsible for both adult & junior chess. The outsourcing of events by CV also applies to junior events, such as school zonals & finals, whereas in NSW, that is all taken care of by the NSWJCL.

Another big difference between chess in Sydney & Melbourne is the chess clubs themselves. In Melbourne, they are basically self-funded, whether they are a stand-alone premises like MCC, a shared hall like BHCC, part of a community building like NPCC or some other setup. In Sydney, almost all chess clubs are run within an umbrella club like a leagues club or RSL club, who derive a significant proportion of their profits from ‘pokies’ & gambling machines in the clubs. There is a law in NSW that says that these clubs must reinvest a percentage of that profit back into the community & this is where chess clubs in Sydney come into the picture. They are run at these clubs & receive some level of funding from the club (as part of the club’s ‘community contribution’) to run things. This leads to a number of differences between chess in Sydney & Melbourne. The first is the cost of membership to a club. In Sydney, because of the funding that the chess clubs get from their ‘host’ club, membership is generally some token amount (standard when I was in Sydney was $10/year), whereas membership in Melbourne, being self-funded, is much higher (anywhere from about $80-160/year depending on the club). However there is also an additional cost in Sydney to be a member of the NSWCA, which is around $50/year & this is required for NSWCA-run events, like most weekenders & the ‘Grade matches’ (Sydney’s main interclub event).

Related to this, events at clubs tend to be much different. In Melbourne, club events tend to have an entry fee & cash prizes, whereas club events in Sydney are often free or have a minimal cost & often have trophies as prizes. Because of this, there is a flow-on effect on who tends to play these events. In Melbourne, its not uncommon to see a few 2200+ players in club events, and in bigger events like the MCC Championships, someone rated around 2000 would probably not be in the top 10 seeds for the event. In Sydney, there’s hardly any 2000+ players who play chess, as it tends to be played only by those who really want to play chess & are not concerned about incentives (so there are a few 2000+ players, but they are rare) & prize money. This also translates to weekend events, with Sydney weekend events being where the top players can play for prize money, so you will often find lots of 2000+ players playing, whereas in Melbourne playing for prize money does not have the same novelty factor, so it’s more about people having time to play, so the number of high-rated players participating in events varies a lot more from event to event.

There are also other differences between Sydney & Melbourne, such as coaching in schools, which is much more prevalent & competitive in Melbourne. Another difference would be ‘public’ chess, with Sydney having a giant chess set in Hyde Park (right next to the CBD), which often gets 50+ people during lunch hour, with people playing or watching the game on the big board, or playing on their own sets on the benches nearby. There’s nothing like this in Melbourne (at least on such a regular basis), although Melbourne does have the Anderson collection at the State Library & you can often find people playing games & looking at books there.

As for the pros & cons of each system, they again vary a lot based on the different setup of the clubs. Access to chess in clubs is easier in Melbourne, with clubs like MCC & Box Hill being open multiple times per week, whereas Sydney clubs tend to fall into the ‘one night per week’ category. From a financial perspective, chess is much cheaper in Sydney, as the costs of playing at a club are much lower (because of the host club funding). Related to this, club chess is much more competitive & serious in Melbourne, although there are also avenues for social chess at clubs as well. Weekenders tend to be better in Sydney, because that’s when the strong players tend to play, whereas weekenders in Melbourne vary depending on the venue, organisation, timing & the like. Junior chess has pros & cons with both systems, but if the quality of young players being produced is the way to differentiate, then Melbourne seems to be leading the way at present, although that may just be the typical cycle that junior chess often goes through, with it just being fortunate that Melbourne has a number of strong juniors improving at the same time.

You are someone who gives a lot back to chess, through your work with CV and as an arbiter at MCC – you obviously enjoy it! What are some of the more rewarding things about running a tournament rather than playing in one? Its quite a different experience!

I suppose it becomes more of a big picture thing. It’s not about how you do individually, as it might be if you were playing in a tournament. Rather, the reward comes from having people comment that things were well run, or that you solved some sort of issue without much hassle. In many ways you still get the same social experience of a chess tournament, but without the stress of having to play chess!

What is your advice to anyone wanting to be an arbiter in the future? What sort of person makes a good arbiter?

I’m still looking for more advice myself! I’ve only just applied for the FA title, so I’ve still got a long way to go! As for what sort of person makes a good arbiter, someone who is able to deal with people & resolve issues in a calm, reasoned manner. Another quality that is useful is being able to spot issues or potential problems and try to fix them before they become serious.

What has been your favourite event as an arbiter so far?

In that regard, my answer as an arbiter would be the same as if I was playing in the event – the Doeberl Cup – without doubt the best tournament in the country!

Besides chess, what else do you do? I know you work part time as a school teacher – but what else do you do away from work?

At the moment, most of my time is taken up with chess. Apart from arbiting, I’ve recently got back into chess coaching, which is something I enjoy doing. I also play poker from time to time & have had some success with it in the past (and hopefully more in the future!). I like to watch motorsport (particularly V8 supercars & Formula 1), UFC, tennis & other sports. I’ve also got a pretty big DVD collection, which I’m trying to work my way through ...

I also know that you are right into your fantasy sport (AFL dreamteam, supercoach etc). I think that chess players have a bit of an advantage in those sorts of games? What are your thoughts?

These types of games all involve some sort of strategy, so you’d expect chess players (who typically think strategically during games) would have some sort of advantage in that regard. Of course being someone who has only been in Melbourne for 6 or so years, any gains I might have with my strategical knowledge is counter balanced by my lack of AFL knowledge, though I am trying to get used to it ...

The same can be said for other games, with the most popular at the moment being poker, where a number of chess players have made successful transitions (James Obst being the big Australian example, while people such as Ylon Schwartz & Dan Harrington are amongst the most well known chess-to-poker converts in the USA).

And finally, what are your plans for the future? Lets hope that you are still involved at MCC!

Chess-wise I’d like to find a way to get my FIDE rating back over 2100 – it seems to be getting tougher all the time though! I’d also like to continue with arbiting & perhaps achieve the IA title one day. I’d also consider something in terms of tournament organisation, but I know that’s generally slightly below the level of arbiter in terms of player appreciation.

Outside of chess, I’d like to travel more – I have loved my trips to America & England in the past & would like to return there in the future. I’d also like to find a teaching job that I really enjoyed, although it’s not something that is easy to find!

Ultimately though, I suppose it’s about the journey of life & the quest for happiness ... and wherever that takes you.  


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