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Interview with Yury Shulman Print E-mail
By Jennifer Shahade   
June 11, 2006
Photo Rick Biddenstadt, courtesy of University of Texas at Dallas

Because the 2006 Championship was split up into two sections, it felt like there were really two winners, Alex Onishuck the ultimate champ and Yuri Shulman, the champion of his group. San Diego was a culmination in a series of fine results by Yuri. Most notable besides the Championship was his performance in the 2005 World Cup where he made it to round 4, defeating former World Champion Khalifman along the way. Yuri also has a gregarious, open personality that suits him well to his newest passion: teaching chess.

Yuri recently moved to Chicago, becoming the highest rated Gm in Illinois, an honor that was long held by GM Dmitry Gurevich. Chicago is aiming to contest New York’s position as the epicenter of American chess: Kasparov visited for a 40-board simul and scholastic chess is booming in the city and the suburbs. Sevan Muradian organizes strong round robins every other month under the banner of the new North American Chess Association. Hundreds of girls converge annually for the All Girls’ Nationals. Here Yuri reveals his rigorous study methods, his favorite chess books and why he thinks women and men should not compete in the same championship.

How’d you prepare for San Diego?
Alex Onischuk and I prepared over Internet. It’s funny- I had a joke before the tournament: “It’s my goal to play once against my friend Alex in the U.S Championship.” As the only way this could happen is if we each won our own groups. We studied together, and I was in good mood. All of the leaders took the same car. I’m not sure that I was better than the other players in my group, but I was in better shape. They all played aggressively against me, which allowed me to win. They decided to play safe against Gata Kamsky though. Shabalov and Kaidanov both wanted to beat me with the black pieces.

What was your favorite game from the championship?
My game against Shabalov- maybe he was better at some point. He got 4 pawns for the piece. I thought I was almost winning. Both of us played very well though.

What did you think about the tournament structure? Since I won my group, it’s hard for me to complain about it. The system has a right to exist, but I think the girls should not be in the same tournament as the men. Women are usually paired against higher rated opponents, and 4.5/9 can be enough points to win the tournament. Therefore, a draw is usually a good result for them. How can you have a championship spirit if you’re just playing a draw every game?

Was it hard to play against Alex in the final?
Yes. Because we are study partners and friends, we both know each other’s weak points in the opening. So, we both played new openings in the final. He played the Ragozin defense and I played the Bb4 line of the Marshall Attack in the Semi-Slav. (ed.note, Alex also won with the Ragozin in the last round of the Olympiad. This win contributed to the 3.5-.5 rout of Norway that led to bronze medals.)

Honestly, I don’t think the final match should be a rapid game. Many people thought I was a slight favorite because of my result in the World Cup, but Alex is also very good in quick chess. I think that the second game probably would have been a draw in classical chess, and the match would have been tied 1-1.

He played very quickly in that last game. Did that rattle you?
In the decisive game I had to come up with a concept, whereas he had to make only moves. It was of the type of position in which rapid chess wasn’t helpful to me. He didn’t have to make time-consuming strategic choices. He made an excellent choice of the opening. I got an advantage, but you should enjoy your position, even if it’s worst position. Zviagenstev is a perfect example of this. Every game he gets a worst position, but his attitude is … no trouble here, I will be able to hold it.

To what do you credit your recent run of excellent results?
It seems that I started playing better since I started to teach. It’s like the kids are teaching me. It’s strange. In Foxwoods, I played a novelty that I found with one of my students when analyzing a Khalifman game… The highest rated ones are about 2100 and they give me a lot of interesting ideas.

What’s your teaching philosophy?
The main thing is that they should enjoy it. Chess is a fun game to play. They don’t even know how to move pieces as long as they like to play with it.

The first thing I learned with my first coach was to enjoy chess. And second was to study. So I use a similar approach.
I also apply this idea to my own career. People put the best performances when they are enjoying chess. In San Diego in the 8th round against Kamsky I was very stressed out and almost lost with the white pieces.

Would grandmasters still teach if chess were sponsored?
I think about 85% of professional chessplayers would stop teaching if it wasn’t the easiest way for them to make money. Gregory Kaidanov would be an exception, I would also be an exception as I discovered I love teaching. However, I probably would be pickier. Now I allow everyone to sign up because I need to meet my expenses each month. If I was making my money just from playing things would be different. Instead of telling everyone “come over, come over,” I’d be more likely to say: “If you act badly, you can’t be here.”

Who taught you the rules of chess?
My dad taught me how to play chess when I was six and now he helps me with my chess school (www.shulmanchess.com). He’s about 1500 strength in chess, but he’s among the top ten in the World in checkers. Checkers is not as popular a sport as chess, and he has not played competitively since 1997. I’m trying to convince him to play in U.S Checkers Championship in Pennsylvania later this year. Of course I would not play because I am a weak checkers player.

You’re a very aggressive player. Did you ever consider playing e4?
I do like sharp, attacking positions. I did play 1.e4 as a kid and my dad told me to play 1.d4 against a particular opponent, and I began to like it so much I practically stopped playing e4. Recently, I’ve added 1.e4 back to my repertoire for about 10% of my games. I was inspired by a Chigorin book by Gregkov, and started playing Kings Gambit and sharp Sicilian lines.

How did you improve in chess?
I became an IM by studying the games of Chigorin and Alekhine. I would set up the clock, and pretend I was playing. I’d guess every move and write it down. Then I would put the move that was played in the game and write down why if I didn’t agree with the move… After collecting the points, I’d go over my analysis with my coach.

This technique may be quite different from today’s young players, who often use the chessbase arrows to whiz through a game.
Yes. It may be that the younger generation is able to get something from going over a game so quickly, and remember it when they see it.. I need to use a chess board because if I have that tactile memory I will be more likely to remember a variation during a game. As for Hikaru, Karjakin, Volitikin, Carlsen- I think they really don’t need a chessboard.

Whose technique is better?
It’s a question of quality vs. quantity…. It’s a very hard question. It may take me two hours to look at a game, and a youngster 10 minutes. But if they get 50% efficiency, and I can get 95% in two hours, they will be better to get 50% efficiency and look at 10-20 games than I will to look at two three games. Of course I only spend two hours on the most interesting games. As for looking at games in 30 seconds… I do this as well, especially when we play in American opens, to recall my openings before the game. My students like to go over the games at this speed- I don’t think they learn much but they are impressed by how the pieces move so quickly.

Do you prepare regularly in these big opens with two rounds a day? Even against the lower rated players?
Of course. I’d prepare for everyone if given the chance. Usually the problem is that Bill Goichberg tournaments don’t give you a lot of time to prepare before the games. I would love to at least have a minute to prepare psychologically.

It’s interesting that you prepare even against the lower rated players. Why?
Lower rated players like to play Grandmasters. Especially young players… who bring a lot of intensity and excitement to the board. They are a little stronger when they play high rated players... I don’t want to give them any edge!

What are some of your favorite chess books?
I recommend Play Like a Grandmaster to everyone. It had a huge positional impact on me. Jeremy Silman made a similar approach in How To Reassess Your Chess. Two excellent recent books are Art of Defence and Learn from the Legends. Kasparov’s five volumes are very interesting. There is also an excellent series of books in Russian called outstanding chess champions.

What are some of your favorite books outside of chess?
I recently read Angels and Demons and Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown and I liked Angels and Demons better. I also like Hermann Hesse, Ayn Rand and Garcia Marquez.

Was Ayn Rand popular in Russia?
In Russia there was a kind of reading frenzy during the late 80’s and 90’s. Thousands of books became available at the same time, which had recently been forbidden. There were republished classics, and literature from South America, Western Europe, United States, and Asia. It was hard to say what was popular in such a huge fever. Now it has calmed down.

Yuri, analysing with GMS Maxim Dlugy and Varuzhan Akobian- photo Jacob Okada

Who would win in a match between Kasparov and Fischer?
I don’t think it would be the same result in every match they played. Also, don’t forget about Spassky. I was looking at some of his recently, and was very impressed. Maybe if Spassky had insisted to play his 72 match against Fischer under the original agreement and not switch rooms, he would have won.

How would you describe the situation with U.S. chess?
I’m happy with the scholastics but we need to improve professional chess. It’s an unbelievably bad situation that U.S.A is such a rich country, and there is so little sponsorship. Things are not planned. Two or three weeks ago we didn’t even know who would play for the Olympic team. In Belarus, we would start training together three or four months prior to the event. There should be more respect for professional chessplayers. I still remember when I first played a GM. I was 15, already a master, and it was in a simul. I was 17 when I finally got to play a GM in a tournament game. My students have all played several Gms in simuls. It is routine for them.

How’d you end up in the United States?
I moved in 1999. Tim Redman of UTD invited me on scholarship. I got two educations in computer science and MBA; I got assimilated… it was a nice experience. I always had a great time there.

College chess is doing well in a few places. UMBC has the Coca-Cola scholarships. The UTD chess team must have a budget as large as the USCF’s. (laughs) Probably not, but it seems so.

If you could play any chessplayer in history who would it be? Alekhine or Capablanca… Philidor would be very interesting also. He was a genius of his time and about 2300 strength, but the next player of that time was 1600! In a way he could be considered the strongest player ever because of his comparative strength.

Chess Life Online thanks you for the interview! Good luck in your future tournaments