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.