Chess And Pets: GM Sergey Shipov

Chess And Pets: GM Sergey Shipov

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As a chess writer who relies on a pet rabbit for company and inspiration, I was curious whether others connected chess with pets. The musician Yoko Ono has a doggie chess app, which promotes chess and pet adoption. had a popular April Fools site, Chess for Pets.  On the other hand, I was turned down by three grandmasters before Sergey Shipov agreed to be interviewed about his pets. That interview, conducted via email with translation by Mongoose Press founder Leonid Rasin (LR), is below.

Buy Shipov’s books on the Hedgehog at and email for a free copy of Shipov’s autobiography On Life and Chess.

Tell me your chess accomplishments:
Commentator, author of The Complete Hedgehog Volumes 1 and 2, and training partner to Garry Kasparov when Kasparov was #1 in the world. Vice champion of Russia in 1998, participant in two knockout world championships, winner of multiple international tournaments. Biggest achievement: winner of the 2006 Midnight Sun Chess Challenge in Tromsø, Norway, where I managed to beat Magnus Carlsen. My highest career rating was 2662 (late 1990s).

Tell me the name of your current pet:

Cat Lis (this is tricky, the word “Lis” means fox in Russian – LR), actually Lis the Third. Breed: Siberian. Nine years old. He is fluffy, beige, and calm.

Tell me how you acquired your pets:

Altogether I have had three cats, three Lises. The first one, my wife purchased in the late 1990s on the market, thinking that it was a female cat. We named her “Alisa” (Russian version of Alice, pronounced in three syllables - LR.) It was difficult to pronounce all these vowels, so we shortened the name to Lisa (a female fox in Russian - LR.) After taking a closer look, we realized that it was not a Lisa but a Lis! (that is, a male, the word Lis means a male fox - LR.) He lived with us for four years, finally dying of urolithiasis.

Our daughter Zhenya (short for Eugenia – LR) brought the second Lis. She found him as a little kitten on the street, probably thrown out by somebody to die. He was very, very sick and lived with us exactly one year. I was taking care of him, trying to nurse him back to health and got very attached. When the cat died a year later, I, a grown man, cried like a small child. A terrible heartbreak.

We had more luck with the third Lis; he turned out to be a strong, healthy cat. He came to us from the house of our daughter’s girlfriend -- her cat had kittens and we took one. (It was fairly uncommon in Russia to neuter cats which means their owners often had to deal with the issue of newborn kittens – LR.) He has been living with me for some time now. For a few years it was just the two of us, sharing our meals. Then, my daughter (she is a grown up now, but visits me from time to time) picked up a starving cat on the street and brought her home. We named her Mosya, to contrast with the big Lis. (The pet name Mosya has a diminutive connotation in Russian - LR.) For a year and a half, the number of felines in the house exceeded the number of humans. Fun times!

Then my personal life dramatically changed, I have a new family now. Therefore, we decided to reduce the population of felines in the apartment and Mosya moved to live with a friend of my daughter. Lis now rules the house without any competition.

I have decided that this Lis the Third will be the last one in the Lis dynasty. A few months ago, during an unbearable cold, my wife picked up a small dog on the street. The dog appeared to be cared for, not a stray. We tried really hard to find the owners, but concluded that nobody was looking for it. Which means that they got rid of the dog deliberately. I understand people have different circumstances, but how can you kick out a dog into subzero weather? (Actual text says -20C, which is about -1F – LR.)

WIM Alexey Root, author of Prepare With Chess Strategy, and her current pet rabbit Denis.

Sergey Shipov with dog and cat.

For a while, our life became very trying. Dealing with a dog was something we were completely unprepared for. Plus, our cat didn’t take the new arrival well, and they nearly came to blows on more than one occasion. A bit later we were able to find the dog a new place to stay, and our life came back to normal.

On the Chess in Translation Web site, you are quoted as saying: “I’m at home in Moscow in the company of 2 cats and 3 computers. I consult them constantly when studying a position, but I don’t trust any of them.” Tell me more about cats and chess analysis:

In the 1990s I was analyzing using a wooden chess set and my cat Lis the First took an active part in my work by moving the pieces on the board with his paws. Actually, once he suggested a very good prophylactic move. I remember it well, a position from Queen’s Indian, and there Lis makes the move a2-a3. I looked at it and overjoyed – Eureka! The move is preparing b2-b4, the queen can be transferred to a2 through b3 and so on. All in all, he made a contribution to my opening preparation.

With the arrival of computers, it became harder for the cats to participate in analysis. Lis the Second used to sleep hugging the keyboard, right under the monitor. This picture definitely had calming effect. The current Lis is bigger, and if he lies down nearby, he has a habit of pressing random keys, which drives the computer crazy. And my attempts to analyze go out the window when the cat traverses the desk, sometimes right through the keyboard.

Journalists come to my house to interview me on a regular basis. Once they were filming me for a federal TV sports channel. They set everything up just so – me at the desk, proper background behind my back, etc. Started filming, I was deep into my story and all of a sudden Lis the Third jumped up on the desk and strolled across. Showing his colors to the entire country. I automatically petted him and continued the interview. The filming crew decided not to do another take, and the scene was aired with the cat in it. So Lis is a TV star now.

What are your "pet projects" in chess?

For many years now I have a chess site where I am discussing all major events of chess life. There is a discussion forum as well, but it is in Russian only. I consider this to be my contribution to popularization of chess, bringing together chess players spread out all over the world.

What is your pet's pet project?

Perhaps you can say that I am Lis’ pet project. From waking me up in the morning to demanding meals at night, he tries to control me.  He wants to be near me all the time and, naturally, he wants to be petted.

When I am coming home from the city, somehow he senses me approaching. The elevator may be just going up to the 15th floor, but Lis is already alert and waiting at the apartment door.

When I am away from home for extended periods of time, he clearly misses me. The first two days he wouldn’t even eat anything. My wife and son are just people to him, not a substitution. And frankly, he is more than just a cat to me.