Interview with Golubev
When did you learn chess and who taught you?
In my family there were no club players, but everyone knew the rules and occasionally played chess. At 5 I showed not much interest, but at 6 I learned how to play, finally. Hard to say exactly who was most responsible for that. …Later, the family was not against my passion to chess (though they were not exactly happy). As I now understand, the fact that my grandma, a chemist, was Efim Geller’s teacher in the University might have played a positive role: she knew that such people as serious chess-players, in principle, exist.
In 1977, when I was 7. I started to learn chess in the then strong Odessa chess club. By that time I had already read a couple of books and was a chess maniac – I could play chess a whole day. So in the club I was beating all guys of my age except one, with whom we played on the same level as I remember. To face the competition sometimes helps really much. Alas, few years later that boy, Alexander Shilyaev, moved with his family to Kyiv.
When did you begin making legitimate progress in your game and How?
I think that generally I made progress all the time starting from 1975 and until I became a GM in 1996, except for a few periods. From Spring-1988 until Spring-1990 I served in the USSR Army as a soldier and played only 4 serious tournaments in these two years. I guess there was no general progress in my playing then. Also, 1986 (the year when I finished school) was clearly not the best chess year for me, for number of reasons. How to make progress? One has to play much and to learn much, to try his or her best, and to take chess seriously. But perhaps it all comes from the heart.
Can you recall a specific turning point? (a game, event, working with a chess coach, etc..)
There were many turning points. As a youngster I showed certain potential. One example, at 14 I finished 2nd (ahead, on tiebreak, of Ivanchuk who is one year older) at the Ukrainian U-17 championship. I had many successes until I turned 15. But much time was spoiled afterwards, and only when I started to compete intensively in the international tournaments in 1992-1993 it became clear for me that normally I would become a GM one day.
What are your top book recommendations for beginner to intermediate players?
Perhaps, any entertaining chess book which feels like it may help to improve should actually help. For a level higher than beginners – collections of games, played by great players and books, written by great players. But only in case if the reader enjoys a specific book, and likes that specific player. If one does not like too much to read Nimzowitsch or Bronstein, just switch to someone else light-heartedly.
What are your top book recommendations for advanced players?
Very important are good opening books, written, first of all, by GMs who regularly practice the openings or systems. Also, at least one good basic endgame manual has to be studied surely.
How did you become a GM? (What tournaments, did you have a chess trainer, etc..)
Well I played mainly in open events, trying to make a norm alongside with winning prize
money. (Also, I tried a couple of times to score a norm in closed events including Alushta 1994 Category 14 – but without success). I scored my three norms in Lucerne (Switzerland) 1994, in Biel (Switzerland) 1995 and at the Open Ukrainian Championship in Yalta 1996. Sometimes I had no luck – for example, in Berlin 1993 I had a very good performance, and only needed to be paired against a GM in the last round, and there would have been a norm for me with any result against a GM, even a loss. But I was paired against the International Master. My chess trainer in Odessa until 1985 was Anatoly Boyko, afterwards there was rather a short work with a trainer (now GM) Valeri Beim. I had no trainer in full sense of this word since 1985.
What was your exact study regimen when you were working towards GM?
I played much and tried to prepare my openings at the same time. Often one has to force oneself to work on openings. For me it was a long-term problem to force myself to work on the boring lines such as the 2.c3 Sicilian, but one has to do it. (By 1993 I was really badly prepared against 2.c3, and lost a game against Alexander Finkel at the Groningen Open, and because of this spoiled the last tournament in the most productive year in my chess career. In that game I was much worse in the opening, and though I somehow managed to create a mess with mutual chances later, these opening problems resulted in a bad mistake on the later stage of the game). Working with colleagues often brings much effect, but historically I had only limited experiences of such kind, because all grandmasters from my town (except for Geller who was a totally different generation) played 1.d4 with White, and I did not want to switch from my 1.e4. As an exception Stanislav Savchenko and I sometimes worked on the Sicilian Dragon for Black (especially around 1990), and it was rather fruitful cooperation I think. In general, to work on openings with other players is practical. And to work with many other players is very practical. I worked for Anatoly Karpov two times in 1996-1997, and later I assisted Ruslan Ponomariov from time to time, but this is somewhat different. A serious player has to work with databases, but this is so clear that barely deserves to be mentioned. I think that even now analysing the game with the opponent immediately after the game normally helps significantly for both sides.
What is your study routine now? (how is it different?)
I am not playing professionally for many years already, I would say that I was a professional until 1999, and a semi-professional player until approximately 2006. At the time I invested a lot of efforts in my playing, and I am generally satisfied with what I achieved as a player. After I realised that I could not make progress any longer, I gradually stopped to prepare openings in a way as professionals should do.
What is next in your chess career?
Already for more than ten years I am occupied in chess journalism, currently working for the Ukrainian sports newspaper “Komanda” as chess observer, for GM Alex Baburin’s daily chess newspaper in English www.Chesstoday.net (by now, I prepared more than one thousand daily issues in 10 years) and starting from this month I am working also for www.Chess-News.ru which is a promising Russian language project (its editor-in-chef Evgeny Surov) and also has an English version though not all materials are being translated as of now. I wrote three chess books, and maybe will write more in the future. Together with my friend Igor Berezovsky, the head of Shape Services, we organized IM Mikhail Podgaets Blitz Memorial in Odessa in 2009.
Do you have any charity causes that you would like to promote?
In 2010 a group of Ukrainian players, including GMs Aveskulov, Yury Vovk and myself,
organised collecting donations for Galina Shliahtich, the Ukrainian female player who is very ill and has quite a hard situation in her small town Kalush in the Western Ukraine. All this was really important for Galina (whom I know at least since 1988 when we played for Ukraine at the USSR junior team championship). I would like to thank everyone who helped her. I hope to make more in this direction later.
Nature or Nurture: Do you think top chess players are born with a natural ability/gift
or do they become so talented through hard work and the right environment?
I can be wrong but I certainly do not think that everyone can be able to reach what
Magnus Carlsen or Sergey Karjakin, or Ruslan Ponomariov, or Vassily Ivanchuk have achieved.
How do you feel about cheating in chess? (specific deterrents/punishments?)
There should be some systematic anti-cheating measures in professional chess, but I like
paranoia no more than cheating. I also think that, because in rapid chess it is harder to cheat, it gives us one more reason to support and promote the rapid tournaments. I am concerned about the future of chess, because there never were such competitors for chess as these modern computer games. Professional chess competitions must become more attractive.
Who is your favorite player and why?
Mihail Tal, and if it is needed to explain why, it is because he showed that chess can be (and should be!) entertaining also on the very top level. I also respect much Lev Polugaevsky for his approach to opening preparation. Regarding the modern players, my most favourite players are my friends.