Fide Master Domagoj Dragicevic
By Fide Master Grant Szuveges
Hi Dom, congratulations on the (fairly) recent FM title! Welcome to the club!
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.