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Famous Trainer Mark Dvoretsky Dies At 68

Famous Trainer Mark Dvoretsky Dies At 68

Sep 26, 2016, 5:31 AM 21,955 Reads 69 Comments Misc

The world famous chess trainer Mark Dvoretsky died today at the age of 68. The sad news was confirmed by the Russian Chess Federation. Despite a lengthy illness, his death was unexpected. His passing was mourned with a minute of silence before the first round of the Tal Memorial.

One day I realised that I look at chess in a different way from previously and with other eyes than those of a practical player. But I value variations and exact analysis as highly as before. Without them, any general discussions become indefensible, unprovable, and float in the air. But it is impossible for me not to look for the essence of the position behind the variations and the hidden mechanisms that direct the play. Here we have not only chess ideas and technical devices, but also the rules of thought and the principles of rational searching and decision-taking.

Mark Dvoretsky wrote this in the preface to his very first book, "Secrets of Chess Training," published by Batsford 25 years ago. In all his writings that followed, this approach to chess training would return—in short: the search for the truth by thorough analysis.

In those days, Batsford was the leading chess publisher, but it was the quality of his books that made Dvoretsky famous in the west. Always searching for ideas and constantly trying improve on analysis, he quickly wanted to work on a new edition of his material, but the English publisher wasn't interested. He then moved to the Swiss publisher Olms, through whom he published his old but also new books. Later he moved to Russell Enterprises.

Mark Izrailovich Dvoretsky was born born December 9, 1947, in Moscow, Russia. Trained by Alexander Roshal and Vladimir Simagin, he became an IM but never a GM. However, it is universally agreed that he played at the level of a strong grandmaster.

Among his successes as a player are victory in the Moscow Championship in 1973, equal fifth in the strong 1974 Soviet Championship and victory in the 1975 Wijk aan Zee Masters. He more or less quit competitive chess in the early 1980s although he could still be found playing occasionally.

Dvoretsky is seen as arguably the best chess trainer in the world; a reputation he built from the late 1970 onward in the Soviet Union. The fame was based on a unique and original training method, developed by Dvoretsky himself. It consisted of creating a "diagnosis" for each student, noting what were his skills and his weaknesses. His method combined lectures and practical training. For each skill, he had numerous chess positions in a huge database (written in an old computer language), dealing with e.g. intermediate moves, combinational vision, or prophylaxis. His collection includes thousands of positions.

Furthermore, the quality of these positions is extremely high because many strong players looked at them over the years and suggested refinements. Among Dvoretsky's first successful pupils were Valery Chekhov, Artur Jussupow, and Sergei Dolmatov. He would later write many successful books together with Jussupow, who credited Dvoretsky for helping him become world number-three in the 1990s.

"I knew that Mark was very seriously ill. It became much worse in the last few weeks. It was rather sudden," Jussupow told Chess.com. The former world championship candidate was perhaps the closest friend of the famous Russian trainer. "For me it's a big loss. I I lost a very good friend and my chess teacher. He was also my teacher in life. I owe so much to Mark. It is impossible to pay this debt."

Dvoretsky and Jussupow analyzing. | Photo from Dvoretsky's private collection.

Jussupow first met Dvoretsky when he was 12, and he started working with him at 15. "For me, Mark was the best coach in the world. It was extremely important to meet him, and it had a huge impact on my chess career.

"I also learnt a lot on a personal level. He more or less opened the world for me, the horizons. He introduced me to e.g. Russian music, but was also critical towards the [Soviet] system. He was a person I could relate to as a teenager.

"The most important thing he taught me was devotion to chess. Mark was a hard worker and very methodical. His main lesson was love to chess and that it required hard work. And his approach to training was very important. I am trying to do the same now. I am a coach now. He tried to teach you to make the right decisions in chess, and I am following in his footsteps. My books are an attempt to show others what I learnt from Mark.

"He created a big wave. The chess world should be grateful for his efforts."

Dvoretsky (top left) looking on while his pupils (Dolmatov
and Jussupow) analyze
. | Photo from Dvoretsky's private collection.

Dvoretsky also worked with e.g. Vishy Anand, Veselin Topalov, Joel Lautier, Evgeny Bareev, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Alexander Motylev, Vladimir Potkin, and Victor Bologan. The latter trained with him for ten years, roughly between 1993 and 2003. "It's a shock. Very sad. I just saw him in July, and he was full of plans," he told Chess.com.

To facilitate the training sessions, which always took place in Dvoretsky's appartment in Moscow's green and pleasant neighborhood Strogino, Bologan even bought a place right next door. Bologan: "What gave additional quality to the training was that he was a very strong player himself. He could easily outcalculate me, even though I was 200-300 points higher rated."

As a player, Dvoretsky reached number 35 in the world, but he never took his own career very seriously. He wanted to help other players, and he realized he was good at it. He quit playing and started coaching in his thirties, which is rather unusual. 

Analyzing with GMs Andreikin (l.) and Gelfand at the 2013 Tal Memorial.

"He was a very smart, very wise person," said Bologan. "Chess was his life. He was always working on chess and enjoying that. But he was also interested in many other things and very helpful. For example, he also helped me to write my Ph.D. and gave advice for my first book."

According to Bologan, Dvoretsky's "Endgame Manual" is the best book ever written. "In quality, style, efficiency, ideas ... It's a piece of art and knowledge, science ... It's everything. When the first edition came out in 2003, it was in German. But when Garry Kasparov got a copy, he immediately read it from start to finish." Note that Dvoretsky and Kasparov weren't exactly friends.

Danish grandmaster Jacob Aagaard agrees with Bologan's assessment of "Endgame Manual" and told Chess.com that he is "proud" of having the opportunity to write the preface to the book. "I'm very sad. He was my mentor and helped me more than anyone else did in the world of chess. He was a wonderful, funny, charming, and giving person. An incredible loss."

Aagaard pointed out that his most successful book, "Grandmaster Preparation – Calculation," was written with lots of advice by Dvoretsky. "Of course, I had my own ideas as well, but it's based around everything he said."

Playing against Paul Keres in 1973. | Photo Dvoretsky's private collection.

IM Vladimir Barsky, who works for the Russian Chess Federation these days also knew Dvoretsky very well. "He was my neighbor in Moscow, and I visited him from time to time (1-2 times a month). Mark was a columnist in 64-Chess Review and Chess Weekly when I was an editor for these periodicals. About five years ago, he asked me to help with the preparation of his memoirs; this has resulted in the two-volume book "For Friends & Colleagues."

"First of all, Dvoretsky was a great worker. He liked (or better to say—loved) chess very much, and he did his very best to find a deep solution in each position. Of course, he was an absolutеly outstanding analyst, a great expert in endings and so on. Almost every time I visited him, he showed me some special, very interesting and unusual position, tricky and witty. I was always happy to see it, and I liked chess more and more after that ... And his pupils told the same.

"I wasn't his pupil, but he taught me to be honest and scrupulous in my work first of all. I appreciated very highly his moral qualities. He was a man of very strong moral principles. He had an independent character and was brave enough to express his opinion all his life—in Soviet times or nowadays."

Dvoretsky (l.) during a lecture last year in Prague.

IM Greg Shahade told Chess.com: "In my opinion, Mark Dvoretsky is the best chess writer and teacher in history. A lot of kids look only at his newer books, but in my opinion his "School of Future Champions" series is not to be missed. The first book in that series may be the best instructional chess book of all time, and I use examples from it constantly at the U.S. Chess School. I think that his works and the training sessions he held for young players in the Soviet Union were the inspiration for the U.S. Chess School."

Six years ago, ChessVibes interviewed Dvoretsky based on questions from the site's readers (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3—sadly without images for technical reasons). About improving your chess, he said:

Chess can be seen as a practical skill, an occupation like riding a bicycle, or playing the piano, or something like this. How to improve? Like in any other area, you should follow good patterns, so study good examples, good patterns, and train yourself. Very simple. Studying good patterns means studying good books, good articles, try to get the best out of it, this will help you to do best yourself. Train yourself, in any practical area. I do it in all my lessons, with all my students. It's a natural part of normal chess work: train yourself. Because chess is not just knowledge, it's also skills. But skills don't appear automatically if you don't study something.

Dvoretsky had a long illness for the last decade. He frequently visited the hospital, but whenever he was out of hospital, he would coach pupils or attend chess events in Moscow with great energy. Last June he gave a successful "White Rook" training course, and only two months ago, he visited the Chess24 headquarters where he recorded videos.

Dvoretsky left behind his wife Inna and his son Leonid.

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