GM Ruslan Ponomariov answers your questions: Part II

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GM Ruslan Ponomariov answers your questions: Part IIEver been confused by the plethora of chess engines? Fiddled around with Microsoft’s Chess Titans? Do you find Dvoretsky’s books tough going? If so, you’ve got more in common with one super-GM than you might have thought! Ponomariov’s in-depth answers to reader questions are a must-read. (And incidentally, Ruslan revealed: "Among English-language sites the one I like most is ChessVibes.")

By Colin McGourty

Ruslan Ponomariov was responding to questions posed here at Chess in Translation and in Russian at the KasparovChess forum. My full translation can now be found at Crestbook:

KC-Conference with Ruslan Ponomariov: Part 2

While there’s no single burning issue to match the discussion of the failed match with Kasparov in Part 1, Ruslan again goes out of his way to give truly in-depth, and often funny, answers to reader questions. What most stands out, perhaps, is a very individual approach. For example:

Who are your two favourite chess authors apart from the most popular, Dvoretsky?

To be honest, I’ve never liked Dvoretsky’s books: they’re too academic, perhaps, and tough to take in. Botvinnik himself wrote about methods of preparation a long time before that, and much better.

In many of the questions that follow you get a sense of how important books are for Ponomariov. Despite his relatively young age, he’s definitely not one of the new generation of players who absorbed their chess knowledge from computers:

In general, I grew up as a chess player on books. My first computer appeared when I’d already become a grandmaster, and even then I only used it in order not to have to carry all my notebooks with analysis around with me.

Perhaps appearances are deceptive, but you do get the impression that Ponomariov’s relationship to computers is similar to that of the average chess fan. Most of us have probably tried the following!

- Which first move for White is objectively, i.e. analytically, the best? 1.e4 or 1.d4?

I don’t know. I remember once trying to leave the opening position all night for the computer to analyse, but that hasn’t yet yielded any sort of conclusion :)

- Is the opening position won for White?

For now, as far as I know, it hasn’t been possible to prove a win. Again, I’m still waiting for the computer’s final verdict :)

And which Windows user among us hasn’t tried taking a break from playing against the serious, and nigh on unbeatable, chess engines?

For a period of time I liked playing against the Chess Titans program included in Windows Vista. Microsoft apparently didn’t pay too much attention to it. It plays very badly, even at the very highest difficulty level. But it was interesting to check if I could beat it while giving up queen odds. I’d normally manage that about one time in five :)

Asked about correspondence databases, Ponomariov reveals he hasn’t quite got the hang of them (even wanting advice from the questioner!), while his long response to a general question on computers (abridged here) has more than a hint of how the world of computer chess might appear to a visitor from another planet:

I recently read a story on the internet about a match between Rybka and the free program Houdini. The final result came as something of a surprise to me. After all, a commercial program should have some sort of advantage over a free one! Although that same Rybka previously lost a match to the program Zappa which, however, didn’t stop Rybka’s creators from improving it further. I expect the same this time round!

For the average user the appearance of a strong free program is an undoubted plus. Personally, on my desktop computer, I use the free Ubuntu instead of Windows, and Open Office instead of Microsoft Office. It’s great that we’ve now got such an alternative in chess as well.

Previously there were a great number of programs: Junior, Nimzo, Hiarcs, Fritz, Shredder. At the same time it wasn’t entirely clear to me what the main difference between them was, particularly as all the programs had almost identical packaging, with only the colour of the board distinguishing them. Then Rybka appeared, which you could download from a link you were sent after paying. And then there was a new version, packaged differently as well, as Aquarium. Real progress for the user!

The choice isn't always entirely clear nowadays either! | source: ChessBase

Now the free Houdini is available. I’ve tried it, and it genuinely is a good program. In certain respects it’s even more convenient to work with. Rybka, for example, tries to use up almost all the resources it can, and at some point my computer begins to hang. I haven’t seen that with Houdini: I can comfortably multi-task.

One of the questions for Ruslan was about a very curious incident. Briefly: after his win in Dortmund in 2010, a somewhat sensationalist interview appeared in the Ukrainian “Fakty” newspaper. In it, Ponomariov talked about an admiration for Rubenesque women, the fate of the “lucky sweater” in which he won the World Championship, and a recipe for a Spanish soup given to him by Veselin Topalov. Perhaps naively, I translated the interview at Chess in Translation, where it was spotted by someone close to Ponomariov, who smelled a rat. Here’s what Ruslan himself had to say: 

And what was the story with your recent interview with D. Komarov, as mentioned on our forum (did it take place or not)?

There are different categories of journalist: some work professionally, while others act in a slipshod manner. D. Komarov has a habit of “composing” interviews himself. Among his “pearls”, which he takes great pride in, was a big interview with Joel Lautier, the winner of a tournament in Odessa, after a single formal telephone call. Or the “exclusive interview” where Vladimir Kramnik allegedly told him how he lost his virginity. (…)

In my case he didn’t even try to contact me, but simply compiled different material from various sources. That, in my view, is wrong, and gives the reader a false impression.

Still available online

In Komarov’s place, I think I might have kept a low profile, but the grandmaster chose to respond with an open letter to Crestbook. Rather than deny his actions he offers the following “defence”:

I had personal ties with Ruslan after a few years of our working together, and I didn’t consider it obligatory, after all that I’d done for him, to get his agreement for the interview mentioned, or, for that matter, for some earlier publications as well.

Because of real time trouble, due to personal matters, I really did compose the interview with Ponomariov from a few earlier conversations with him, publications by colleagues from “FAKTY”, and also fragments of an interview conducted by Dagobert Kolmayer on the site (I was given permission by the author).

It’s perhaps worth pointing out at this point that the only other interview I’ve translated from “Fakty” is: Ilyumzhinov: Chuck Norris owes me a bottle of whisky. Sadly, I can’t vouch for its veracity…

Komarov does actually go on to stand by his Kramnik and Lautier interviews, though at least in Kramnik’s case it seems the journalist made inappropriate use of a private conversation, for which he apologises in the letter. Komarov accuses Ponomariov of ingratitude, claiming the newspaper’s support played a role in money being provided by the Ukrainian government for preparations for the Kasparov match.

Ponomariov addressed a short response to Sergey Shipov, Crestbook’s editor-in-chief:

Hello, Sergey!

I’m grateful to Dmitry Komarov for the so-called “interview” with me in the “Fakty” newspaper. It was partly what motivated me to take part in the conference at Crestbook, where I was able to respond to readers’ questions in person :)

Once again, thank you to the site’s editors for their genuine professionalism!


To read the second part of the conference in full - and other highlights include Ponomariov explaining how he’d go about beating Capablanca at blitz, and a long and honest assessment of his performance at this year’s Tata Steel tournament in Wijk aan Zee – please click on the link below!

KC-Conference with Ruslan Ponomariov: Part 2

This article was cross-posted with permission from Chess in Translation. We can't resist adding the following question and answer from Crestbook:

vasa: Which chess sites do you visit, if you visit any?

Among English-language sites the one I like most is ChessVibes. If I want to have the latest games then I use TWIC, and Chess Today. Among the Russian sites - ChessPro and Crestbook.

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