Viktor Moskalenko: "That reminded me of a good blues song"

| 0 | Chess Event Coverage
Viktor MoskalenkoLast month at the Univé Open in Hoogeveen one of the participants was Ukraine-born grandmaster Viktor Moskalenko (born 1960, Elo 2587) - a well-known name at this website. New in Chess editor Peter Boel interviewed him about his new book The Wonderful Winawer and about several other subjects.

Alexei Shirov (l.) and Viktor Moskalenko during the Univé Chess Tournament in October 2010 in Hoogeveen, The Netherlands | Photo New in Chess

Moskalenko became grandmaster in 1992. In 1987 he already became Ukrainian champion. In 1992 he even won seven tournaments in a few months’ time and he shared first place with Vasily Ivanchuk in the Casino Masters in Barcelona, 2005. Moskalenko has also worked with Ivanchuk, and he is a well-known and appreciated chess trainer in his new home country, Spain, where he lives near Barcelona with his wife Tatiana and his daughter Lyudmila.

By Peter Boel

Viktor, two years ago you wrote the successful book The Flexible French. Now you’ve come up with a second book on the French: The Wonderful Winawer. Why? The Wonderful Winawer is a logical follow-up on The Flexible French. This book had to be written. I myself have won numerous games with black in the Winawer. You can get all the structures that are so typical for the entire French Defence. The variation is highly complex, and it is very popular again nowadays. When the book wasn’t out yet, but it was already announced on the New In Chess website with a few sample pages, the internet discussions already started, for instance on Your books do not contain just variations and explanations, but also many additional features, like pictures, icons, jokes, new names for lines. What is the philosophy behind this? I think a good opening book consists of three, or actually four factors: firstly it must contain improved analysis of main lines and a number of new ideas; secondly it should provide structures, the backbones of the lines. Then thirdly, the work should be enlivened by those features you mention. It should be entertaining for the reader, not just a dry summing-up of variations. There is a certain line I call ‘The Black Queen Blues’ because it involves some ‘long’ moves with the black queen. In this line you should not learn forced sequences of 25 moves by heart, it’s more important to get the idea of it. Then you can play in a kind of flow, a rhythm, and that reminded me of a good blues song.

The fourth factor is the publishing team, which does the lay-out, finds good pictures etcetera. In the past four years I have made four books for New In Chess (The Fabulous Budapest Gambit, The Flexible French, Revolutionize your Chess and The Wonderful Winawer, PB) and I am very happy with this collaboration. New In Chess books always have something special.

Anish Giri and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave with Viktor Moskalenko

Anish Giri and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave with Viktor Moskalenko
in October in Hoogeveen | Photo New in Chess

For this book you have consulted the great French expert Viktor Kortchnoi. Can you tell us something more about this? Earlier this year Viktor called me. He told me he liked my book The Flexible French and a number of other grandmasters had told him they liked it too. We talked further about the French and he asked me why I put so many novelties in my books! That may not be so clever for a professional chess player. But I am lazy, I don’t study so hard. Working on my books is a way for me to study the openings! Kortchnoi has given me a lot of information about his experiences with the French and much of this has been incorporated in The Wonderful Winawer. He has also written a preface, in which he says that I ‘write with soul’ and that the variations I recommend should be tried out by the reader. I think that’s a very big compliment coming from Kortchnoi, who can be very critical of chess writers.

Your opening books have been very successful. Your third book, Revolutionize Your Chess, caused some controversy. The system you propose was regarded with scepticism. What do you think of these criticisms? This book is my attempt to breathe new life into chess. Nowadays chess has a big problem, a generation problem I would say. We still have a few ‘magicians’ left, like Shirov, Ivanchuk, Aronian, Anand and young ‘G-star’ Magnus Carlsen. But there is also an entire army of computer players. I wrote in Revolutionize your Chess that Botvinnik had said that chess is the art of analysis, but now it is more the art of computer analysis. This is not good for human progress, because working with the computer puts your mind to sleep. We are losing our individuality this way. This book was my way of trying to wake people up. It was a message. I don’t pretend that I want to save the world and I don’t want to be a kind of Don Quixote. But computers tend to make people lazy and their world turns grey. Computers are a trap for the mind. We should set our own minds to work again. Here in Hoogeveen, Tiviakov lost to Shirov because Rybka didn’t see the move 14.d5, at least not for fifteen minutes, and you don’t have time to run a computer for so long.


The same happened in the famous 8th game between Leko and Kramnik in 2004, of course, where Leko won in a sharp Marshall with one move the computer hadn’t seen. In a way all my books are meant to be provocative. I want to wake people up, make them think. Even the Budapest book was provocative. Some reviewers wrote: ‘Good book, bad opening’. But that’s just what the computer says; it’s not the point at all. I wanted that book to be a kind of re-animation of romantic chess. And in ‘Revo’ I wanted to offer the reader a way to analyse without the computer – and to think for himself.

In that book you present a system for chess players. If you offer a system covering all aspects of chess, then where is the room for creativity? The creativity lies in the way you use the five Touchstones described in the book. There are many different ways to combine them. And also there is a lot of attention to individual aspects of the player, psychological factors, etcetera. An absolute comment on any single move is not possible, as computers suggest. There are always different possible interpretations. And in this game, as in life, if you want to accomplish anything, concentration is the key.

Now let’s talk about playing chess a little. It’s been about twenty years since you played in Holland for the last time. How was it to be back? The open tournament in Hoogeveen was very well organized, with a strong field. For me it was very tough. I’ve been very busy with the book, and also with my daughter Mila who did her final exam in architecture. But mainly it was because these days even against lower-rated players it’s hard to play. They prepare by reading Avrukh’s books, they can see all my games in databases. So I lost against a 2280 player, Alessandro Bonafede, who played quite well by the way. It’s not easy for a grandmaster in such tournaments.

Still, in Spain you win many opens. Yes, but there it’s easier for me. I know many of the players myself, and I feel at home there. In 2000 we moved to Spain from Odessa. It was a big step for our family, but in the Ukraine prospects were not very good for us. And I wanted to travel less and concentrate a little more on teaching chess, which I greatly enjoy. So we were looking for new opportunities. The atmosphere in Spain seemed very good, and interest in chess is great there. We live about 30 kilometres outside Barcelona along the coast, and we drive around a lot.

Viktor Moskalenko with his wife

Viktor Moskalenko with his wife Tatiana

I give chess trainings, my wife Tatiana, who also plays chess, teaches mathematics and Russian language, and she gives chess lessons to kids. So we get by. And I hope our daughter Mila will be a famous architect one day. In Madrid she has already been working with the best. Life in Spain is very different from Holland. If you take a walk at night in Hoogeveen, you hardly see anybody on the streets. A little depressing. In Spain the city is full of life at night. That’s what I like. Are you also a socio, a Barcelona fan? Yes I am, but I don’t go to the games in Camp Nou, I like to watch them at home. I did meet former Barca president Joan Laporta once. He has worked with a chess club in Barcelona and once sponsored a rapid tournament in Sant Boi (Barcelona). When I signed a book for him he asked me, “What is a gambit?”. I replied, “A material sacrifice which leads to lots of tactics and combinations.” So he immediately wanted to play a game with me! And he invited me to come to Camp Nou one day. Perhaps I can give a simul to the football team…

What do you consider the best chess game you ever played? In my book Revolutionize Your Chess I have given some of my best games. Here is a nice fragment of a French game.
Viktor Moskalenko – Jorge Gonzalez Rodriguez Montcada (Barcelona) 2006 (notes by Moskalenko) Viktor Moskalenko – Jorge Gonzalez Rodriguez

Keep in Mind the Five Touchstones: T1 = Material T2 = Development T3 = Placement of Pieces and Pawns T4 = The King’s Position T5 = Time 12.Nxd5!! The attack begins. I had foreseen this blow and now the moment has arrived (+Touchstone 5: time). White sacrifices his minor pieces in order to penetrate into the opponent's fortress. 12...hxg5 The main point of White's combination is 12...exd5? 13.e6! fxe6 (13...Qxe6 14.Re1) 14.Bxc6 Qxc6 15.Ne5+- with the threats 16.Nxc6 and 16.Qh5+. 13.Nb6 The b6-square is not protected now (-Touchstone 3, weak square). 13...Qb7 The only defence. The intermediate move 13...Qxd1 loses to 14.Rfxd1 Bb7 15.Rd7+-. 14.Nxa8 This seems natural (+Touchstone 1: material). Also good was the computer move 14.Nxg5! Rh4 (14...Qxb6? 15.Qf3 with decisive threats) 15.b4! with an almost winning advantage. 14...Be7 Viktor Moskalenko – Jorge Gonzalez Rodriguez
Black is ready to capture the a8 knight, but... 15.Nxg5! Another unexpected knight jump. 15...Bd7 There is no time to play 15...Bxg5 16.Qd6! (-T4) 16...Bd7 17.Nc7+ Kd8 18.Rfd1 Qxc7 19.Qf8#; or 15...Qxa8 16.Qf3!. 16.Nxf7! Another kamikaze knight! 16...Kxf7 17.Nb6! White’s last knight sacrifice. 17...Qxb6 In the event of 17...Be8 18.Qf3+ Kg6, simply 19.Nc4 wins. 18.Qxd7 Nxe5 19.Qe8+ Kf6 Viktor Moskalenko – Jorge Gonzalez Rodriguez
It looks as though the storm has blown over and Black can begin to breathe, but now the second part of the attack begins, this time with the heavy pieces. 20.Rae1! This game follows strategic concepts (and the Five Touchstones). The ideas are: activating the rook and preparing Bb3 and f2-f4, with an irresistible attack (+T3, -T4). However, at this dramatic point Black decides to sacrifice his own knight... 20...Nf3+!? Attack is the best form of defence! This resource seems to be very strong, since it opens up the white king's position. We now arrive at the key moment in the game. After 20...Qd6 White has 21.Re3!, threatening 22.Rfe1! and parrying the threat of 21...Nf3+, because now the knight will be captured with check. The most tenacious was probably 20...Qd8 21.Qxd8 Bxd8 22.f4! Ng6 23.Bb3 with a big advantage for White. 21.gxf3 21.Kh1?? Txh2#. 21...Qd6 Threatening mate in one! A counterattacking attempt that fails. 22.h3! This quiet move solves the problem. 22.f4 was a more complex option, involving many forced checks: 22...Qxf4 23.Rxe6+! Kxe6 24.Qg6+! Nf6 25.Re1+ Kd6 26.Qd3+! Nd5 27.Qxa6+! Kc7 28.Qa7+ Kc8 29.Qd7+ Kb8 30.Qxd5 and White is clearly better thanks to the queen’s great skills. 22...Rxh3 Viktor Moskalenko – Jorge Gonzalez Rodriguez
23.Rxe6+!! The final hardhitter in this game. 23...Qxe6 Or 23...Kxe6 24.Bd7+ (24.Qg6+!? wins as well) 24...Qxd7 25.Re1+ winning the queen. 24.Bd7 Black resigned, since he loses his rook on h3 without compensation. I greatly enjoyed this dynamic game, both while playing it and while analysing the lines more calmly at home.

From an interview by Edwin Lam in Australasian Chess we know that your all-time favourite chess player is Bobby Fischer. Why is that? He was an extraordinary player (in tournaments as well as matches), who successfully developed his talent and his chess skills. But he also found his own way as a personality. To me, Robert James Fischer was the last real individual World Champion, in all aspects. After him, new champions depended a lot on the help from their teams, their computers, and other ‘unnatural’ resources.

And what is your favourite chess book? In my house in Odessa (Ukraine) I still I have a big collection of almost all books from the Soviet Period. Many comments by classic players are great, and in my youth I really believed in them. A few years ago I greatly enjoyed Kortchnoi’s My Best Games, both volumes: with white and black. Right now, I prefer to trust my own rules and just analyse games of the best players without any comments. And finally I enjoy the Yearbook series from New In Chess.

Now for some really important subjects. What do you like best, vodka or wine? I like wine a lot; Spanish and Catalan wines are great.

And your favourite food? ‘Tapas’ in a traditional restaurant/bar in any part of Spain or the Gran Canarias, accompanied with a good local wine or beer. Well grilled chicken with beer or Catalan champagne. A strong breakfast in any Spanish port with a freshly prepared fish: ‘pescadito frito’ and/or sardines; all accompanied with a local red wine. By the way, the Puerto closest to my house is Arenys de Mar. Sometimes I like to test the jamon iberico vs. queso manchego accompanied with some wine from Rioja or Catalonia. Or even de bodegas Chivete.

What kind of literature do you like? Recently, the American author Terry Goodkind: Wizard's First Rule (Sword of Truth, Books 1-10). Definitively, the Carlos Castaneda series: this author takes the reader into the very heart of sorcery, challenging both imagination and reason, shaking the very foundations of our belief in what is ‘natural’ and ‘logical’.

And what are your favourite movies? I like almost all movies about the world of fantasy. Also I like many popular Hollywood films with famous stars, and sometimes movies with French or Spanish stars. I don’t like melodrama or stupid comedies, they always bore me.

Do you have a dream? I believe in dreams. Dreams can sometimes become reality. Everything depends on our power of imagination and discipline. However, for a long time I have been more interested in the ‘art of dreaming’. I dream a lot, and I think without dreams our lives are sad – no magic! You can also dream during the day. If you reach a certain level of ‘dream concentration’ you can control lots of things in your life and discover creative ideas. In my own life, as soon as I have a dream I try to realize it. For instance, by moving to Spain or by writing a chess book! By the way, chess is a helpful instrument to improve our concentration even in this sense. But, for example, the ‘art of dreaming’ helps me also to write successful chess books.

Are you already thinking about future projects for New In Chess? Yes! But there’s nothing I can tell just yet. Maybe I will be able to continue the ‘Revolutionize’ project in some way. In Spain the publishing company Robinbook is now bringing out this book in three parts: on the endgame, the middlegame and the opening. There my book was quite well received. I have also been to Abu Dhabi, where Sheikh Mohamed bin Ahmed al Hamid invited me. He was greatly impressed by the book and wanted me to give him trainings. A remarkable man. A strong chess player who has been a good football player as well, and who sets up all kinds of projects, including chess tournaments with grandmasters.

Viktor Moskalenko with Sheikh Mohamed bin Ahmed al Hamid

Viktor Moskalenko with Sheikh Mohamed bin Ahmed al Hamid

My books are a great way to get around the world; I get many interesting invitations again. And so I can bring my message to many different people.
More from ChessVibes
A lengthy interview with David Navara (part 2 of 2)

A lengthy interview with David Navara (part 2 of 2)

Robots in a Moscow park... playing chess (VIDEO)

Robots in a Moscow park... playing chess (VIDEO)