Ivanchuk: A Genius of Imaginative, Exciting Chess!
In a recent interview during a game commentary, GM Boris Gelfand spoke about "destiny" as one of the factors determining if a chess player is successful or not in gaining the World Championship Title.
Among the modern elite players, for me, Vassily Ivanchuk is a unique, exciting and enjoyable player. His games have a richness of ideas and resources that is really special, and makes me love chess more.
It is this rare blend of imagination, technique, resourcefulness, maturity of style and fighting spirit that makes his games fun to watch! This makes him one of my favorite players, along with Tal, Bronstein, Chigorin, Nezhmetdinov and Alekhine.
His style is in sharp contrast to the ultra-technical, dry style of the world's elite players. They cannot be fully blamed for this "problem", but it is hard for the chess fans, like myself, to get aesthetic pleasure from "technical chess".
In this post I hope to explore some of Ivanchuk's games, and also share some stories about him which I have found at random.
In an interview with Susan Polgar at the Dresden Olympiad in 2008, right after the Karmnik-Anand match, Spassky spoke highly about Ivanchuk....
Spassky and S. Polgar, Dresden 2008
You can see Spassky talking about Ivanchuk at about 12:50
Here is a nice story:
Before Ivanchuk had become a famous chess player, he was a little known chess junior in one of the more rural parts of the Soviet Union. His trainer could see what tremendous talent Vassily had, and decided to enter him in one of the strong National Soviet Tournaments. On the way to this tournament, he explained to Vassily that it was a great advantage that no one knew of him. This way, he could prepare for his well-known opponents but no one could prepare for Vassily. The trainer told Vassily that he should not let anyone know what openings he plays.
Upon arrival Vassily and his trainer ran into GM Suetin. Trying to make conversation, GM Suetin said "so tell me Vassily, how do you open with the white pieces?"
Vassily replied, "Well, I like to play 1. e4 or 1. d4 but I've recently started playing 1. Nf3. However, 1. c4 is my real favorite."
Perplexed, GM Suetin said "Well if I play 1. d4, how would you respond?"
Vassily said "I'd play either 1... d5 or 1... Nf6 ... or maybe 1... d6 or 1... e6."
GM Suetin thought Ivanchuk would be crushed in the tournament. After all, the poor kid obviously didn't have a real opening repertoire, so he decided to show Vassily a rare variation of the Queen's Gambit Accepted. Once he was done explaining the opening to Vassily, he decided to play some speed games with him to enable Vassily to get a 'feel' for the opening. In the meantime, Vassily's trainer excused himself so he could say hello to some old acquaintances. About an hour later, the trainer returned to see GM Suetin playing blitz with Ivanchuk. The trainer asked GM Suetin what the match score was so far.
GM Suetin, who looked as if he had just been through a war, muttered, "We have played ten games."
The trainer said "Yes, but what is the score?"
GM Suetin turned to the trainer and shouted "WE HAVE PLAYED TEN GAMES!"
Ivanchuk had won all ten.
One of my favorite stories about Chukky comes from "Linares! Linares!" by Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam. Fortunately it's still available online ()
As he walks back, the door opens and Vassily Ivanchuk enters the restaurant. Drowsily he looks around, somewhat dazed, as though he has just woken up. He puts his hands deep into his trouser pockets and yawns without opening his mouth. What further plans he has is not yet clear. He lets his eyes wander round mistily, gives a nod in my direction without recognizing me, and takes a step forward. Behind him, Alexander Sulypa follows quietly. The waggish look in his eyes is permanently apologizing for the behaviour of his friend.
Ivanchuk gives the impression that he is heading for the section of the restaurant where he has been having his meals for the past two weeks. But halfway there, he suddenly seems to change his mind. With an abrupt movement, he swerves off and makes straight for Kasparov’s table. Approvingly, he looks at this excellent table, which, strangely enough, he hadn’t noticed before and with a second-rate actor’s emphatic nod he moves the chair back and sits down.
Sulypa doesn’t know very well how to handle the situation. He has walked on uncertainly to their regular table. Laughing with embarrassment, he whispers to Ivanchuk to join him. To no avail. The staff are more resolute. Determinedly, one of the waitresses comes in and addresses the disobedient guest severely: “Ivanchuk, this is Kasparov’s table!” Her words have little effect. Keeping her at bay with a soothing gesture, Ivanchuk adopts a concentrated attitude suggesting that he intends to experience sitting on Kasparov’s chair to the full. His trance is interrupted by Diego, who steps up to him with an expression on his face that indicates this has gone far enough. Authoritatively, he commands: “Come on, Ivanchuk, this is Kasparov’s table. Now go and sit at your own table.” Ivanchuk realizes that he will have to say something now and, turning partly to Diego, partly to the guests in the restaurant, he implores: “Please let me sit here for five minutes to absorb Kasparov’s spirit.”
Diego turns round and goes away, shaking his head. From their giggling and the looks they're exchanging, it is clear that the other guests are enjoying all this. We don't have to wait long. The door swings open and Klara Kasparova comes in, as if she has been waiting off stage for her cue. She takes in the situation with astonishing speed. She has barely set foot in the restaurant before she puts her hand over her eyes and, peering around as if she were spying like an Indian, she walks up to Ivanchuk with threatening steps. He looks up at her imploringly and softly repeats his plea. Klara Kasparova listens to him and then takes an unexpected decision. Putting her hand on his shoulder in a motherly gesture, she whispers into his ear and then quietly sits at another table. It soon turns out that she has once again perfectly anticipated her son's state of mind. Kasparov is hardly surprised when he finds Ivanchuk sitting on his chair and he joins his mother without further ado. After the situation is explained to him, he speaks a few words to Ivanchuk, laughing kindly, and then concentrates on the menu.
The following game I consider to be a work of art....
The following game is from the 2013 Candidates' Tournament. In this game Ivanchuk, playing Black, defeats Magnus Carlsen. It is a very complete game, showing the extent of Ivanchuk's talent in the opening, middlegame and endgame.About this Candidates Tournament, Vassily Ivanchuk:
GM Vassily Ivanchuk got back to Lviv, Ukraine after the Candidates tournament and before the Russian League he's been looking forward to. Ukrainian GM gave a short interview to the local newspaper Vysoki Zamok.
He didn't sound upset, "That's not a tragedy! This was a tournament full of the strongest players of the world and it was a great pleasure to compete with them. I managed to defeat both winners which wasn't an easy job to do. They didn't make mistakes which sometimes take place even in the strongest players' games: I outplayed them at the board finding the strongest moves. The encounter against Carlsen lasted for more than 90 moves, the one against Kramnik was a bit shorter. The opponents tried to find the escape but the both failed to do so. Such victories bring a great pleasure. [...] This was a tournament in which only the first place was counted. Magnus became the winner, but I am the only one of those 8 players who managed to beat him 1.5-0.5."GM Alexander Beliavsky, from a 2015 interview, talks about Ivanchuk:Alexander Beliavsky: Ivanchuk’s talent is phenomenal! But the main thing is his attitude to chess, his unique devotion to it. You can, of course, say that Vassily was unlucky, but you can also talk about psychological factors: at critical moments he would lose control of the situation. Take, for instance, the match against Ponomariov, when Ivanchuk was the undisputed favourite.
Now Vasya is at a critical age. I call 42-43 years old the “Balzac age” for chess players. And he’s already crossed that threshold, a truly critical one, when very strong chess players – suddenly! – collapse in some tournaments. And later, approaching 50, they collapse in more and more…
And when Ivanchuk told me, “Somehow I’ve started to “blunder” recently…” I replied, “Vasya! Don’t pay any attention! Be grateful that you’re winning two tournaments out of three, because later you’ll win one, and then not even one…”
Yury Vasiliev: You really consoled him, then…
A pessimist is a well-informed optimist (laughs). That Balzac age for a chess player is the point after which it’s very tough to fight for the World Championship title.
Ivanchuk Interview from the site Chess In Translation:
By mishanp on April 27, 2011
Few would identify emotional outbursts as the quality to borrow from Garry Kasparov, but then Vassily Ivanchuk has always stood out from the crowd. In a long and fascinating interview he again displays the self-awareness and deliberate strategy that often lie behind his apparent eccentricities.
Vassily Ivanchuk seems to be as unpredictable an interview subject as he is a chess player. His responses can sometimes be little more than monosyllabic, but then occasionally he gives interviews like the one below (or the interview with Danilo Mokrik that I translated a couple of months ago).
This time he was talking to Elena Sadovnik for the Ukrainian Sport Express, not long after the Amber Chess Tournament in Monaco was over. As well as going into depth on a wide range of topics, the interview is also rare (or perhaps unique) for Ivanchuk’s second wife, Oksana, contributing a “chess wife’s” perspective on her husband.
The Russian original begins with a short biography and introduction that I’ve also produced below. As the text is long I’ve decided to publish it in two parts – the second should follow shortly.
He was born on 18 March, 1969 in Kopychyntsi, Ternopil Oblast (Ukraine). He’s a grandmaster and the winner of many prestigious international chess tournaments, including: M-Tel Masters (Sofia, 2008), Tal Memorial (Moscow, 2008), Kings Tournament (Bazna, 2009), FIDE Grand Prix stage (Jermuk, 2009), Amber Tournament (Nice, 2010), Capablanca Memorial (Havana, 2010), 9th Chess Festival (Gibraltar, 2011). He was FIDE World Championship runner-up in 2002 and European Champion in 2004. He won the Chess Olympiad in 2004 and 2010 and the World Team Championship in 2001 as part of the Ukrainian team.
Kasparov called him a genius, Anand – the most eccentric chess player in the world. After his brilliant victory in the supertournament in Linares at the end of the 80s, the figure of Vassily Ivanchuk was the focus of particular attention from the chess world: he was the one, according to all predictions, set to break the hegemony of the “two Ks” – Kasparov and Karpov – and become World Champion.
Those expectations were never to be fulfilled, but Ivanchuk himself is truly surprised when journalists ask him if he regrets it. He never counts his victories: “I like to analyse, play and train – “bookkeeping” is something I can leave to someone else”.
He’s so absorbed by creating “his” chess that he often leaves our everyday world for his own, lovingly-constructed internal world. Recently, at the presentation of Ivan Yaremko’s book, “100 Figures in Lviv Sport”, to which Ivanchuk was invited as one of the heroes, I saw a half-smile on his face, and his gaze fixed on empty space. It was only then that I realised why he’s called a genius. Despite not being a chess specialist I still asked the grandmaster for an interview: the temptation to open the door into a secret world was just too great. Ivanchuk’s wife, Oksana, also kept the conversation going.
You finished the Monaco tournament in fourth, which in sport is considered the most annoying position…
Really? Vassily Ivanchuk was surprised. But it doesn’t annoy me at all. I don’t consider myself one of those sportsmen for whom only first place exists, and anywhere else is nowhere. I fight for every half-point, even when it’s a struggle for, let’s say, sixth or seventh place. Of course, you always want to win, but giving up and playing half-heartedly when you see during a tournament that there’s no realistic chance of winning – that’s absurd.
But my colleagues, who know more about chess than I do, agree on one thing: when you’ve got no chance of winning you don’t play as sharply or take as many risks. Do you agree?
That’s a tricky question for me to answer. In general, only highly competent specialists are capable of such analysis, in my opinion. If someone’s a Class A chess player, then it’s unlikely he’ll be able to judge how sharply a grandmaster’s playing.
You began the event in Monte Carlo with unpleasant losses, but then managed to create a furore with a series of brilliant victories, after which you were predicted if not to win, then at least to claim second place. Why was it that towards the end you couldn’t hold onto a top-three place?
A great number of factors influence play, particularly when it’s blindfold. For example, the enormous stress on your eyes, or the speed with which you handle the computer mouse… When there are swings like that a chess player expends an enormous amount of nervous energy, so that by the end of the tournament it’s very hard to fight against the accumulated fatigue.
I KEEP MY DISTANCE FROM MY RIVALS
Sportsmen can roughly be divided into two categories. For some, the worse the better, meaning that unfavourable external conditions and fighting neck and neck increase their motivation. Others can only really express themselves under favourable conditions, when, despite everything, the players aren’t treading on each other’s heals. Which category would you put yourself in?
I prefer a golden mean i.e. there must be motivation, but if the will to win is excessive then it usually prevents me from producing my best form. When titles are being decided, important candidate tournaments held or a significant financial prize is at stake, it becomes much harder to play. For me personally, the game, the atmosphere at tournaments, and also just the very existence of chess in my life, are of enormous significance. Having said that, the result is no less important – victories, titles, my place on the rating list. People who say those aren’t important for me are mistaken. I’m a very ambitious person.
Who in the chess world, in your opinion, is the most ambitious?
In order to say that for certain it’s not enough to analyse the games played. You also need to get quite close to the player, to get to know him better by spending a lot of time together. I prefer, however, to keep a certain distance from my main rivals. That’s not an eccentricity or superstition. Given the extremely sharp struggle in our sport the tiniest details can be important. Therefore I don’t allow myself to be open with my competitors. Rivals, seeing my strong and weak points, will use that information in the struggle against me.
Other chess players sometimes spend time together, or even get together in chess partnerships where for a certain time they cooperate with each other. But, as a rule, that’s all short-lived, as over time personal ambitions gain the upper hand over the collective idea.
During games some players, while waiting for their opponent to move, get up from the table in order to walk around, to relax. Others hypnotise the board with their gaze, sitting practically motionless. What do you do while your opponent’s considering his move?
I definitely don’t stay in one spot for long. I get up – to walk around, look at the other games or go to the restroom to drink a cup of coffee. Sometimes, during such moments, I allow myself to relax a little – if I can foresee what my opponent’s going to do next. But if a particular position or reply by my opponent concerns me, then that apparent relaxation is deceptive. At that point I’m thinking hard about what to do next.
Some chess players always have “their” people in the hall – relatives or friends, who provide them with moral support. Do you have similar assistants?
I prefer to compete alone. Getting psychologically ready for the battle ahead is also something I do independently. How do I do it? Above all, by studying an individual’s peculiarities: I look through games, analyse and make generalisations. I prepare for a particular opponent.
I’ve only twice been in the hall while Vassily was playing. Oksana joins the conversation. In Linares the game went on for a very long time. All the other pairs had finished, but he was still sitting at the board across from Peter Svidler. I’d brought a book with me for that game to somehow make the time pass a little more quickly – and I read it all the way through! I couldn’t leave the hall; I really wanted Vassily to win. It seemed, as I sat in the hall, that I was helping him. Therefore I didn’t go out even for a moment, though sitting in the same place for so many hours is incredibly difficult. But I forgot all about that discomfort when my husband nevertheless beat Svidler. When he came up to me afterwards I could see that his shirt was completely soaking. It was only then that I understood how tough his profession is.
Vassily doesn’t have any talismans or amulets, but he sets off for every tournament with the belief that everything will go well. While he’s still at home he gets in the mood for the coming struggle: I can do it, I’m strong, God-willing absolutely everything will go right for me!
THE COMPUTER’S STRENGTH IS THE ABSENCE OF HUMAN WEAKNESSES
Tell us about your team victory at the Chess Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk.
It was a tense struggle, Vassily Ivanchuk continues. Together with Zahar Efimenko, Pavel Eljanov, Alexander Moiseenko and Ruslan Ponomariov we fought from the first to the last round. At times we dug out victories, while sometimes we simply got lucky. The matches against Russian and Azerbaijan were extremely difficult. Everything was decided in the final round. I was in very good form at that Olympiad: on the first board I started with six wins in a row. In Khanty-Mansiysk I came up with a lot of new ideas, and converting them had a noticeable influence on the result.
How many chess discoveries have I made in my career? I’ve lost count. I’ve made some of my favourite opening lines popular. But after all, such novelties are only considered discoveries the first time they’re played. After that they become public property, and few recall who came up with them.
Do you turn to the computer for help?
Yes. But I wouldn’t want to play chess against the computer. Such a match could only interest me from a commercial point of view. The computer’s strength isn’t its perfection, as chess programs are developed by people, and chess players who compete against machines know which positions such-and-such a program is best in. The computer’s strength is the absence of human weaknesses. The machine can’t get nervous, tired or lose concentration at a certain moment. It doesn’t interest me, as when you play against a computer there’s no sense of a battle of personalities, while that’s precisely what makes chess so attractive.
Chess players don’t only compete at the chess board. It’s not uncommon for rivals to try to disturb each other with glances, comments, demonstrative behaviour. Have you ever come across that?
Of course. The greatest pressure usually comes in pre-match negotiations. That’s when chess players, like boxers, make dramatic and sometimes offensive statements. They try to achieve a psychological edge by arranging for the encounter to be held in a place that’s convenient for them. That was what happened during the organisation of the matches between Topalov and Anand, and Topalov and Kamsky. I’ve rarely taken part in matches of late, so it’s not often that I’ve heard such statements made about myself. In my career I remember an opponent who, having made a move, would hit the clock as hard as he could. Sometimes an opponent would come to the game late. Or make the first moves with demonstrative speed. An experienced chess player always knows at what moments it’s best to unsettle his opponent. Of course, you try not to pay any attention to such psychological attacks, but you don’t always manage to ignore them and concentrate on your own game. We’re living people, after all.
What can knock me off balance? Even if I knew I’d never speak about it. At one time I’d get more stressed when playing opponents who’d ever made unflattering statements about me, or those who I had old issues with. Yes, it can be irritating if my opponent was invited to play in a certain tournament while I wasn’t, even though in my opinion I had at the very least as good a claim as he did. The overall win-loss ratio in previous encounters also creates a certain psychological atmosphere before a game. If the score’s in your favour then you feel more comfortable.
In the following game, Ivanchuk teaches Carlsen a lesson or two on how to play the French Defense!
The following game against Morozevich shows Ivanchuk's deep chess culture. Against the French, first he chooses Steinitz's method of exchanging with dxc5, and then he allows Black to close the b1-h7 diagonal with f5,. only to use the plan from the 19th Century in such positions with g4....what a game!