Interview With Grandmaster Mark Bluvshtein
Mark Bluvshtein began his journey to Canadian chess record-breaking by moving from Russia to Israel at the age of 5, and finally immigrating to Canada at the age of 11. Bluvshtein didn’t waste much time, in the same year becoming the youngest Canadian chess player to achieve the National Master title at age 11. Bluvshtein continued dominating the chess scene, becoming the youngest Canadian to achieve the International Master title at age 13. In 2004, Bluvshtein obtained the International Grandmaster Title at the age of 16, also becoming the youngest Canadian to ever obtain this title. Bluvshtein’s young career has been distinguished by his rapid development and natural attacking style, as well as startling wins over famous grandmasters like Alexey Shirov, Nigel Short, and Vladimir Epishin. We would like to thank GM Mark Bluvshtein for taking the time to participate in our How to Be a Grandmaster Series
Watch This Chess Video Analyzing Bluvshtein Beating Chess Legend Alexey Shirov in 23 Moves!
When did you learn chess and who taught you?
My father taught me how to play chess at the age of five. He then played what I can only assume to be a gazillion games against me while giving me material odds. I wanted to improve and I learned from my mistakes. A good chess (and life) lesson.
When did you begin playing tournaments and how did you do?
I started playing tournaments at the age of 7. I was one of the youngest players in the club. I was hungry to improve. I lost a lot more than I won.
When did you begin making legitimate progress in your game and How?
I had very consistent progress from when I started playing chess until I became a Grandmaster, with a lot of bumps along the way. It was always about baby steps. It was about hard work, good chess coaching, and good tournaments.
Can you recall a specific turning point? (a game, event, working with a chess coach, etc..)
I had four chess coaches who all represented turning points.
1. My dad taught me how to play, and more importantly how to lose and learn from those losses.
2. Afshorm Mazkevich gave me the “Russian School” and a good basic understanding of the game.
3. FM Yuri Ochkoos gave me a very good positional understanding and got me to play at an IM level at the age of 13.
4. GM Alex Huzman showed me how to think and prepare like a GM. He also got me to play like one at the age of 16.
Most of the work was independent work. A big part of being a good chess coach is giving the right direction. Most of my progress was gradual. My losses contributed to my progress a lot more than my wins.
What are your top book recommendations for beginner to intermediate players?
The Dvoretsky books – he teaches pawn structures and endgames very well. “Zurich 1953” (by Bronstein) is also a valuable resource to teach classical chess.
What are your top book recommendations for advanced chess players?
There is a lot of confusion about how to improve with books. No specific book will push you over any hump, it only gets harder as you go up. It is about how those books are read. They must be devoured to pieces with absolutely every sentence in them being understood. Questions are good. Challenge the author on his every word and prove him right/wrong.
How did you become a GM?
I got my first GM Norm in a Round Robin in Balatonlelle (Hungary) in the summer of 2003. I thought it would be smooth sailing from there, but I had a dry year where I did not have any good tournaments and I realized it was a “lucky norm”. Then I had a session with GM Huzman in the summer of 2004. He pushed me to the limit and gave me what I was missing. I got two GM norms in my next two tournaments; the 2004 Canadian Open in Kapuskasing and the 2004 Montreal International.
I would have never become a GM without what my parents have done for me. They always spent money and energy to hire the best of chess coaches and to send me to the best of tournaments. It’s expensive for a kid to become a GM.
What was your exact study regimen when you were working towards GM?
I had a two week session with GM Huzman. We worked from 10am to 10pm with breaks that included a sports activity (usually tennis) every day. Our focus was mainly on openings, which was by far my weakest stage at that time. But then when we left theory we started analyzing the position and looking at top games from the openings. The analysis with a stronger player is crucial to development. I took every position we looked at as a battle ground. I lost almost all of our analysis battles.
It’s important to look at top games. It’s also important to stay away from the computer chess engine. Questions are good. When Rybka tells you that the position is +0.34, that’s bad. You turn off your brain right when that happens.
It’s hard to give a linear equation for becoming a GM. One of the most important components of my path was my determination. Nothing else mattered.
What is your study routine now? (how is it different?)
I finished my undergraduate degree in August and have been a professional chess player since then. I have never studied this much chess in my life. I treat studying chess as a working day. I mainly work on openings but I always follow top games and analyze them. I always try to learn new ideas and become familiar with new positions. Practice games and human analysis are important. I spar with a few colleagues.
What is next in your chess career?
I got over 2600 for the first time on the July rating list. My goal for the year of professional chess was to crack top 100. Not happening. However, I am leaving professional chess after I play in the World Cup to pursue a career in the financial sector.
Promoting chess is extremely important. I did a simultaneous exhibition at Wilfred Laurier University in March and look forward to further collaboration. It’s important for chess players to do what they can to popularize the game of chess in the world and not crawl into a hole and isolate the chess circle.
I plan on promoting the game of chess wherever possible. I have been involved and plan to be more involved with Chess in the Library, a student volunteer organization that runs chess programs in libraries across Canada. The organization is now two years young and is expanding rapidly. Programs like CITL are a big part of what’s good about chess.
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?
A combination of the two. Top chess players are talented and have a great natural ability to learn things fast, have great nerves, and be creative all at the same time. However, chess players must have a support system as well as put in the time. A great example of this is the dominance of Soviet chess in the past. Top Soviet chess players were born talented but with no advantages over the rest of the world. Their support system (environment) is what separated them from everybody else. As this support system has ceased to exist, the battle ground has evened out.
How do you feel about cheating in chess? (specific deterrents/punishments?)
I sigh every time I hear anything about cheating in chess. Cheating in chess is a disgrace. Some things need to be understood about the game. Chess is not a spectator sport. But chess is elegant, beautiful and highly regarded by most educated people. The cheating scandals are horrible for the reputation of chess and will only make things worse in chess. A bad reputation will drive more sponsors away.
The 15/30 minute online relay delay is a must. It’s too easy without it. Punishments need to be more severe. Death penalty is hopefully a bit much even for the chess extremists. Have a maximum penalty of a lifetime suspension from FIDE events and a hefty fine. FIDE needs to take control. The Feller incident is an example. I do not know all the details about the incident, but FIDE needs to get involved and not just sit back.
Who is your favorite chess player and why?
Magnus Carlsen. Magnus is by far the most exciting player in the world to watch. People talk enough about his play, but I don’t judge chess players only based on their play. Magnus is a class act and is the best thing that has happened to chess in a long time, if not ever. His modeling for G-Star makes him a popular figure in more than just the limited world of chess. He is a star in Norway and is extremely likable as a person. His recent win in Biel shows his phenomenal character. While his country went through tragic times, which must have affected him deeply, Magnus pulled it together and made the nation proud. The only “problem” with Magnus is that he is brilliant and could potentially leave chess to be successful elsewhere.
How to be a Grandmaster Series
People always want to know how Grandmaster’s achieved the extraordinary feat of becoming a GrandMaster. I noticed most Grandmaster interview’s focus more on recent and upcoming tournament’s and do not focus on how they became a GrandMaster. While most people assume that becoming a GrandMaster is simply a formula of natural talent and hard work, we’ve discovered there is more to the secret formula. Our interview series hopes to unlock these “GrandMaster secrets” so we can learn to not only work harder, but smarter as well. Our GrandMaster Interview series includes both audio and video interviews on our YouTube as well as text interviews with corresponding games on our site. We hope you enjoy these grandmaster interviews. Comments are appreciated and if you have questions you’d like to ask future grandmasters, let us know.