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Dusan Stojic

Recently I’ve been having some great late night facebook discussions with MCC Champion, FM Dusan Stojic! I am in front of my computer while at work and he is in front of his computer while studying for exams. It came up in one of our chats the other night that I had not interviewed him yet! So here we are!

Hi Dusan, congratulations on becoming the MCC Champion! You have also been a Vic Champion recently too, so you have been winning some of Victoria’s strongest events in recent years. What is your secret?

Thanks for the kind words, Grant. It’s a privilege to join the great names in chess that you interviewed!

I play chess simply because I enjoy it, and the occasional success is always welcome. I think that in general it really helps to enjoy what you do, and this is as true in life as in chess.

How much preparation did you do for the playoff match against IM Guy West and did the match go according to plan for you?

I went into the match hoping to give Guy a good run for his eleventh (!) club championship. Needless to say, Guy has been at the top of Australian chess for many years, and experience is very important in matches. I would have been satisfied if I lost in a close match, so I definitely exceeded my own expectations.

A few weeks before the first game, I prepared some opening lines for the match. Despite putting in some effort, I feel that my opening preparation fell short. Guy was either better or no worse in all the games out of the opening.

However, what I did well was that I fought hard at the board and managed to turn around some of the games (namely a loss into a draw in Game 1 and a draw into a win in Game 2). Somehow, Guy was unlucky in crucial stages and my nerves held up when they needed to.

What did you think (your first thoughts) when Guy unleashed the Barry Attack against you in the final game?

Having Black in the final game and needing a draw to clinch it, I was quite worried about some other openings that Guy used regularly. When I saw the Barry Attack on the board, it was a complete surprise.

The problem with playing against such openings is that they are rarely employed by strong players, and can be very deceptive. I struggled to find a decent plan, and got into trouble early on while spending a lot of time on the clock.

Was that game nervewrecking?

To say the least. After Guy missed a win (or close to it) early on, he made a decision to swap queens. I still had some problems, but played quite precisely to neutralise them. I found myself in a better endgame, with the bishop-pair advantage.

An interesting psychological dilemma occurred a couple of times during the endgame. Should I swap one of my bishops for his knight, converting to a rook-and-opposite-coloured-bishops endgame? Although the resulting position would have been a “theoretical draw”, I think that there is less risk of losing in a position where you are slightly better and have control. Besides, Guy is known for his fighting spirit and I’m sure that holding a draw in such a situation, even though it seems drawish, would be difficult.

Although I never played for a win in the endgame, Guy ended up blundering and I suddenly found myself in a winning position. Only when we shook hands, did I feel the relief and joy of winning my first MCC Championship!

As well as being the MCC Champion, you are also the Noble Park Chess Club President! How is life in the top job?

First, it’s a huge privilege to be able to in some way give back to the Noble Park Chess Club, having played there for its six years of existence. Watching a club grow and being a part of it is truly a wonderful feeling.

Second, I’m honoured to have worked with some of the most amazing people in our chess community. Working with such nice people doesn’t feel like working at all! In all, life in the “top job” is full of challenges, but is very rewarding.

For the people reading this, what are some of the skills that someone needs to be a club president or leader of people? What skills are needed to begin with and what skills are learned along the way?

Leading a committee in a chess club involves similar skills as captaining a football team or managing people in any sort of a project.

It is important to always have a vision of what you are trying to achieve and a big-picture view of things. Just as importantly, you need to figure out the role that each member of the committee plays and the skills they bring, and how to motivate the team to work together.

Being a president of a chess club (or a leader generally) requires a certain personality and the skills required are either there to begin with or they aren’t. For instance, you need to be a “people person” and it helps if you have a knack for getting along with others. Although some improvement does come with experience, I believe that leaders are born, not made.

For you, what is the most surprising thing about being a club president? Something that you absolutely would never have expected?

That your own club members don’t go any easier on you over the board despite your presidency.

Noble Park Chess Club is a great club – what should we expect to see from NPCC in the near future? Do you have a signature stamp that you are putting on it in any way?

I am very pleased with the growth we’ve had in the last two years, so we aim to keep doing the things that worked well. Our FIDE rated tournaments will be as strong as ever, but you can also expect some young guns from our Junior Coaching Program to fight in the top events.

I wouldn’t call this a “signature stamp” in any way, but recently NPCC has become increasingly interested in hosting big events. The inaugural Northern Star NPCC Classic, our first ever weekender, has been a huge success – it will definitely be held again in September 2013! We also hosted some Victorian Championship rounds, and may host some other big events in the future.

You are also growing a moustache for Movember! How is that going? Is it your first moustache?

Yes, my first moustache since those whiskers that all boys have before they start shaving.

I managed to last a whole month, despite constant societal disapproval. The mo wasn’t very impressive, but it was a fun thing to do. I think that the cause is also really good – men typically do have a habit of neglecting their own physical and mental health.

I grew quite attached to my mo, but alas, on 1 December, I got out my razor and slayed the beast.

What about trying the full handle-bar moustache next year?

This year, I wasn’t very ambitious and just wore a classic mo. Who knows, next year I might go for the handle-bar, the horseshoe or even the fu-manchu (though that one would take a while to grow).

I’m not doing it myself this year but I love Movember – it’s the perfect excuse for us all to look like 70s porn stars for a month!

It might be the only time of year we’re able to get away with it. Whenever someone gives a “mo bro” a hard time about the mo, the phrase “it’s for a good cause” always works.

On a serious note though, it’s not just an excuse to look creepy – the cause of helping fight against prostate cancer and depression is genuinely a good one.

Who has the best moustache in chess?

They are rarely seen these days, although many great players had them in the past. Best living moustache – Vlastimil Hort. Best moustache of all time – Svetozar Gligoric (who sadly passed away this year and is somewhat of a childhood hero of mine).

As for life away from the chessboard, I know that you are completing a university degree. Tell us about that – what are you studying? What sort of thing will it lead you to?

I’ve very recently completed a double degree, law and commerce. Hopefully I will practice law in the not-too-distant future.

The answer to the perennial question – at what point in one’s life can most time be devoted to chess – is sadly probably not during full time work. Hopefully wherever I end up in my professional career, I will find enough time for chess.

And what else do you do? Any interesting that chess players won’t know about you?

Svetozar and I have a younger sister Jelena. Chess players assume she doesn’t exist since she doesn’t play chess (we do as well sometimes).

I also wanted to ask about your brother Svetozar – how competitive are you when you play each other? What sort of spirit are your games played in? Is it all out war? How many times have you played each other?

We’ve played many times in classical tournaments, but it would be mind-boggling to estimate the total number of games Svetozar and I played, including blitz at home. Let’s just say that it’s nearly impossible to find an opening or a variation that we haven’t played before.

I think that we were lucky that we haven’t had problems with sibling rivalry at tournaments. Growing up, we always cheered for each other and were more than happy for the other to do well. This was a good thing because it allowed us to practice together and there weren’t hard feelings after we outscore each other.

Therefore, it was always difficult for us to play each other. Not because there is a lot at stake, but precisely because there isn’t – neither of us would mind losing too much because the other wins!

If you play each other in the Christmas Swiss, will the atmosphere at the Stojic family home Christmas dinner be frosty?

Frosty wouldn’t be so bad for that time of year, but if the atmosphere becomes heated it could be a bit of a problem.

And you are of Serbian(?) heritage aren’t you? Any plans to play any chess over in the former Yugoslavia any time soon? Maybe head toward getting the IM title next!

I took my first chess steps in Serbia at the age of 6. We moved to Australia when I was 10, at which point I was among the top for my age in my new country.

Yes, the former Yugoslavia is chess-rich and is a great place for strong tournaments. Also Budapest (with its fabled First Saturday tournaments) is only four hours’ drive from Belgrade. To match the number of tournaments you can play in at that part of the world in just a couple of months, you would have to wait in Australia for years! So I might do this at some point, but not too soon.

And finally, (I ask everyone this), what advice do you have for up and coming players? What should they do to improve their game?

We have entered an age where any decent engine is stronger than the world’s best players. This is excellent news for parts of the world (such as our own) where we don’t have an established chess tradition and many good coaches. However it is important to know how to use this resource.

For example, never consult an engine before trying to understand the position yourself. Only use engines to test your understanding or to check some lines you calculated. Further, it is important to appreciate the psychological and practical factors, and not be led astray by the objective evaluation of a position.

It is much more important to learn from your own games than from those of GMs. Get into the habit of analysing your games (especially after a loss!) and save your notes for the future. Players who don’t analyse their own games keep losing the same game!

Thankyou, FM Dusan Stojic!