International Chess Master John Bartholomew is a 26 year-old chess professional from Eagan, Minnesota. He has more than 11 years of chess teaching experience with players of all ages and skill levels. John has run successful chess clubs and programs at schools in Minnesota, New York, and Texas, introducing hundreds of young players to the royal game. Just recently he also became the coach for the US team at the World Youth Chess Championship.
Name: John Bartholomew
Title: International Master
Date of birth: September 5, 1986
Fide rating: 2446
How are you?
I'm doing well, thanks Per.
What, if push comes to shove, is your all-time favorite movie?
“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly." I prefer Clint Eastwood as “The Man with No Name,” not a guy yelling at a chair.
What kind of food and drink do you prefer?
Food: seafood and Mediterranean. Drink: Iced coffee (no milk, no sugar), and iced tea (unsweetened). I spend way too long at coffeeshops; it's a daily ritual for me. When I lived in NYC it was amazing, as there's a Starbucks on nearly every block (I have a Starbucks Gold Card, obviously).
What is your favorite book?
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Special mention to Cosmos by Carl Sagan, a book everyone ought to read.
What music are you currently grooving to?
Classic rock, always. Journey, Boston, Styx, Van Halen, Queen, REO Speedwagon, etc. I suggest the “Def Leppard” Pandora station for maximum rocking out whilst playing blitz/bullet on Chess.com – it will add 200+ points to your rating and put hair on your chest. My absolute favorite band is the Canadian group Rush; they are simply phenomenal, and I wasn't exposed to them until I was in my 20s (it's a shame they aren't well known in the States). This Rush song is a masterpiece, but I celebrate their entire catalogue.
Tell me a chess secret?
Backwards knight moves are the hardest moves to see!
What is your best chess memory?
Winning the 2002 National High School tournament with a perfect 7-0 score. I was only 15 years old at the time, and the feeling was exhilarating. It was a great moment that I also got to share with my father.
What chess hero had the most influence on your chess development?
Anatoly Karpov. Of all the World Champions, I feel his game has the most clarity and cohesiveness, and I've benefited tremendously from a careful study of his play. I'm also a HUGE fan of Vladimir Kramnik (“Big Vlad”).
Are you self taught in chess or did you get lessons from a master?
I am largely self taught. I read pretty much everything chess-related I could get my hands on elementary/middle school, and I also trained relentlessly with a table-top chess computer that had 72 levels (I beat all of them, one by one). I would be greatly remiss, however, in failing to mention two people who helped me. The first is FM Eduard Zelkind, an excellent coach here in Minnesota who I trained with during middle school. He has developed a number of promising players over the years (he was a coach back in the Soviet Union), including World Championship runner-up GM Boris Gelfand. I am forever grateful to Ed for his wealth of knowledge and experience. The second is FM Robby Adamson, who assisted me with my openings during a critical stage of my development. Robby has been a great friend to me over the years, though I'm still traumatized by his insistence on the Benko Gambit :).
Was religion a part of growing up?
Yes. I was raised as a Lutheran.
If you were to live 100 years in the future, what do you think the game of chess would look like? What do you think is the chess of the future?
I think chess can and will still be enjoyed as it is today. There's no doubt that it will be far more studied and explored, but the game itself is a long ways from being played out. It's incredible to think how chess has survived the best efforts of millions of analytical minds (carbon and silicon-based) for centuries, and I sincerely hope this trend continues. We may see a partial or wholescale shift to Chess 960 or some other variant down the line, but I believe the game will remain largely intact and identifiable for years to come. I'm optimistic.
What do you think is the primary ingredients in a chessplayer?
Confidence, nerves of steel, a decent memory, and a strong work ethic. Also, the ability to learn from one's defeats.
You´ve got to have nerves of steel...
Do you have an idea of some kind of “ideal chessstyle”?
No, because any “style” is, by definition, exploitable. Top players these days excel in all aspects of chess.
How old were you when you began to play chess?
8 years old.
What do you do nowadays to get better at chess?
Now that I'm a full-time coach, I have significantly less time to work on my own game. I do try to keep my opening repertoire reasonably up to date (I write for the opening theory website ChessPublishing.com, which helps), and I also enjoying spending time on the endgame (my favorite phase of the game). I love studying the games collections of great players: Tal, Botvinnik, Karpov, Kasparov, Kramnik, and, more recently, somewhat lesser-known Grandmasters like Alexey Dreev, Walter Browne, and Vladimir Tukmakov. There's nothing better than playing through games that have been self-annotated by strong Grandmasters. I highly recommend it.
Full-time coach John Bartholomew teaching chess.
You recently became the official trainer of the American Youth Chess team for the World Youth Championship.
Thank you! It was an honor to be selected as an official coach for the US team. The World Youth Chess Championship will be held November 7-19 in Maribor, Slovenia. I train many talented young players, and I'm thrilled to be assisting our nation's best and brightest on the world stage.
Do you have a family?
Not of my own, though I plan to one day. I am close to my parents, Barney and Joan, and my younger brother, David (22 years old; a senior at Iowa State University).
Is the Internet a big part of your life?
Most definitely. I teach online using Skype nearly every day, and I also frequent sites like Facebook, Reddit, CNN, ChessBase/ChessVibes/Chessdom/, and, of couse, Chess.com. I'm also never far from accessing my Gmail account.
What was your childhood like?
Ideal! I was raised in Eagan, MN, which is a suburb of Minneapolis/St. Paul. It's beautiful here. My mother works in a hospital, and my father is a retired school teacher. My parents are great people, and they've always been supportive of everything my brother and I do in life. They raised us very well, and I try to validate their efforts by leading a good life.
What is your favorite chess game?
Karpov – Kasparov, 24th Match Game, 1985. A titanic struggle, with nothing less than the World Championship on the line. Imagine how Kasparov felt when he hit upon the idea of 23...Re7!!. Unbelievable. This is chess in its highest form.
What is chess to you – a game of combat or of art?
For me, chess is competition, camaraderie, and a never-ending creative outlet.
How much time do you devote to chess?
Daily, I'd say 6-7 hours, the majority of which is teaching (it's my job, after all :) ).
What is your inner being?
A constant work in progress.
What is the one thing you’d most like to change about the chess world?
I'd like to see chess offered as a class in every school in the country. The benefits of chess in the development of young minds are obvious and well-documented, and I'd love to see every child in the country have an opportunity to grow and learn from the game. A fantastic organization that does exactly this is Chess-in-the-Schools (their motto: “Helping Kids Grow One Move at a Time”). I worked for Chess-in-the-Schools from 2011-12, and they represent everything that is good about chess and education. It's doable on a national scale; I'm convinced.
Do you think one is born a chess player or can a great player be made by hard practice?
Practice, definitely. Talent is a factor, no doubt about that, but talent simply determines the level at which one inevitably plateaus. This is especially apparent in young players (I know, as I've taught hundreds of them!). Hard work is the most important thing.
How do you deal with the mental stress and nervous strain of playing chess?
You have to keep the game in perspective. No matter what happens, life will go on. Overall, I try to stay in good physical shape and approach each game with a positive mental attitude. Only a healthy level of nervousness is beneficial during play.
Who is your inspiration?
What is your greatest fear?
Getting caught up in planning for tomorrow when I ought to be living for today.
If you could give a beginner in chess only one piece of advice, what would it be?
Avoid bullet like the plague :) No, really – I'd say simply “chess is what you make of it”. Cliché, but chess is a beautiful endeavor that you can take as far as you want. You don't have to be a Grandmaster or even know how to mate with K+R vs. K to enjoy the game.
Do you prefer blitz, otb tournaments or correspondence style chess?
I prefer classical time-control tournament chess. It's the purest form of chess. Blitz is fun yet superficial, and correspondence is simply a scientific pursuit at this point.
Who is your most difficult opponent?
Over-the-board, it was the late GM Aleksander Wojtkiewicz. On Chess.com, it's GM Eric Hansen (erichansen). He is a superb player, and he's particularly strong at blitz/bullet. He absolutely destroyed me in a 40-game bullet match several months ago (something that NEVER happens to me in bullet), and I still haven't recovered. Eric recently qualified for the World Cup, so I'd like to extend him my congratulations!
Is there any chess book that has had a deep and lasting influence on you?
“Think Like A Grandmaster” by Alexander Kotov.
If you could choose to live one day of any time in the history of mankind, which time would that be and why?
Since it's only one day, I'd like to be a gladiator in the Roman Colosseum. Life is about moments, and I'm not sure you can top the feeling of fighting for your life in front of the Emperor and thousands of blood-thirsty fans. Barbaric, but I sometimes wonder what that's like.
"I, gladiator? Hmmm...."
Do you have any favorite hobbies?
I love sports. I played a ton of basketball until I tore both of my ACLs, so now I mainly follow the NBA (go Timberwolves!). In the summer, I try to golf as much as possible. I've also recently got into boxing, and I've watched every single bout of my favorite fighter, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. He's like the Tigran Petrosian of boxing: unparalleled defensive technique and an unbelievable counterpuncher! Seriously, look at the way he systematically picks apart the top super featherweight back in 2001: Brilliant. There's a lot of similarities between chess and boxing – hence, the intrigue of Chess boxing. Aside from sports, I have a number of others interests: reading, writing, traveling, meeting new people, etc.
Are you a superstitious person?
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in chess?
The importance of being honest with yourself. As Lasker said, “On the chessboard lies and hypocrisy do not survive long.” Chess is an absolutely brutal game that can tear down your ego, but if you recognize and learn from your shortcomings, you will be better in chess and in life.
What does your future hold as a chess player?
I'm currently working towards my Grandmaster title, so I'd obviously love to achieve that one day. Regardless of what happens, I'll always be a chess player (competitive or otherwise).
How would you describe yourself to an alien from another planet?
I'd be far more interested to hear an alien describe me!
Do you think the future belongs to rapid chess and blitz?
From a marketing perspective, yes. I mean, there's no doubt that for example this video of Ivanchuck missing mate in one is far more exciting to a spectator than a 4-6 hour OTB game. However, I do think classical time control chess will (and should) remain the primary competitive form of our game.
Do you have any thoughts on how can get even better?
Chess.com is the biggest and best thing going on in our game right now, and if I didn't truly believe that I wouldn't spend so much time here :). As an ambassador for the site, I'm working to bring more titled and professional players into the fold.. Going forward, I'm optimistic that we will foster even more connections between these players and the Chess.com community at large. Beyond that, I hope that Chess.com and especially ChessKid.com will be at the forefront of a nationwide push for chess in the schools. The future is bright!