Ray Robson on His Road to GM
By Jennifer Shahade   
October 21, 2009
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GM-elect Ray Robson, Photo Betsy Dynako
CLO caught up with  the World's youngest GM and the youngest ever GM to play for America over email, while he was enjoying a well-earned week of rest on a Uruguay beach. Ray was relaxing between the Pan-American Juniors in Uruguay, where he earned his final GM norm and the World Juniors in Argentina, where he starts play tomorrow. Ray talked about the toughest hurdles on his way to Grandmaster, his style and his plans for his 15th birthday.

CLO: Congratulations on behalf of Chess Life Online and USCF! What is the best thing about your grand new title? 
GM-elect Ray Robson (RR): The best thing about being a GM is that I achieved a goal that I had been working toward for a long time. Even though at different stages of my career I had different short-term goals, I always had a long-term goal of becoming a GM.
 
CLO: You won your GM norms in quick succession, in Norway (August 2009), Chicago (August 2009) and Uruguay (October 2009). When did you realize that you were definitely GM strength?

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Ray Robson after winning norm #2 with Sevan Muradian and his father, Gary Robson, Photo Betsy Dynako 


RR: Although several people thought I had been GM strength for a while, I only began to feel that I was actually about that strength at the time of the 2009 US Championship. When I played against Onischuk in the final round of the Championship, I felt that I should have gotten the norm, but that time it didn't happen. In the last round of the Arctic Chess Challenge in Norway, I had the same feeling and that time I was finally able to get my first GM norm. After that, it was just a matter of me playing in tournaments and performing at the level I was capable of.

CLO: What was your toughest tournament or game on the road to the GM title?
RR: I had a few games that hurt a lot when I was trying to get my first GM norm. In the Essent Open in October 2008, I had a good chance to get a norm, needing 1 point out of my last 2 games. In the penultimate round, I played Friso Nijboer of the Netherlands. It was a tough game, and eventually we reached an endgame where my opponent was better, but it should have been a draw. We both stopped notating because there was only a five second increment, and we played over 50 moves without moving a pawn or capturing a piece. I could have claimed the fifty-move rule, but I wasn't sure how to do this, as we weren't notating. After more than 70 moves in this endgame, I lost my concentration and simply blundered a pawn, leading to an easy win for my opponent.



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GM Alexander Onischuk in a tough game against his student Ray Robson,
Photo Betsy Dynako


The other game that was most disappointing was my game against Onischuk in the 2009 US Championship where I needed a draw for my first GM norm. At some point I could have practically forced a draw, but instead I blundered and Alex ground me down.



CLO:
What was the happiest victory of your life?
RR: I tend not to get too excited after I win a game, but I think one of my happiest wins ever was probably my win against Melikset Khachiyan, which was my first win over a Grandmaster.



CLO: You are playing in a number of important tournaments in the near future, including the World Cup, the World Junior and the US Championship. Do you have a goal for these tournaments?
RR: My next tournament is the World Junior, which will be a very strong tournament, with one 2700 player participating. Officially I am ranked number 15, so I think that if I finish in the top 5 that would be great. After the World Junior, I play in the World Cup, an even stronger tournament. There is a knockout format, and since I am one of the lower rated participants I should play someone who is in the high 2600s. I think that even if I just win the first round that would already be a success. Next year's US Championship is still some time away, so I don't know exactly who will be playing in the event and what my own level of play will be. If it is similar to the last US Championship, then a top 5 finish would be respectable.

CLO:
What advice do you have for young players coming up in chess?
RR: I would advise young players to play up a rating category or two. When I was young, I always played up to get the strongest competition, and this is good especially if your rating hasn't caught up to you yet. I would also advise them to study every day (meaning serious study, not just playing blitz games:)), as it is impossible to improve at some level without working on chess.

CLO:
Are there any books, websites or software that has been particularly key to your success and that you recommend to up and coming players?
RR: I don't think there was any one book that particularly helped me; however, I would recommend any of Dvoretsky's books. When I was younger, I used to use Chessmaster 9000. This was helpful because it could analyze positions and also had lectures about chess. Nowadays I use Chessbase for searching games and Rybka for analyzing positions.

CLO:
You've been all over the world on the road to your title. What is the favorite place you've ever been to play chess?
RR: I have been to a lot of nice places, and it is hard to pick one. For this year, two great places that I went to were Norway and Uruguay. In both places the people were very nice and supportive and made sure that the conditions were excellent. Coincidentally, I got my first and last norms in these two countries.
 
CLO:
Tell us about earning your final norm. Was it important for you to earn the GM title at a certain age?
RR: It wasn't too important for me to get it at a certain age, as long as I was improving. However, I am of course very happy that I was able to get it before my 15th birthday. Against GM Andre Diamant in Uruguay, I was trying to draw for most of the game, and my opponent had no risk of losing, being up a piece for a pawn in the endgame. Somehow he let me advance my two pawns too far, and I was able to win the game.



 This game was crucial for my final GM norm as after winning the game I had 5/5, and if I had lost it would have been a much closer race.

CLO:
How will you celebrate your 15th birthday?
RR: By playing chess! My birthday happens to be during one of the rounds of the World Junior. I hope that I will be able to win and give myself a nice birthday present!

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Photo Betsy Dynako


CLO: Which player or players on the elite level impresses you the most?
RR: Magnus Carlsen impresses me the most, even though we don't have exactly the same style. In his last tournament in China he dominated in a way that isn't often seen.

CLO
: If you had to compare your style to an elite historical or contemporary player, who do you think you would match up against?
RR: This is a tough question to answer. Each player has their own style, even if it is similar to other players' styles. I don't know one person with whom my style directly correlates, but I think my style is somewhere between Fischer and Kasparov. Kasparov is usually regarded as aggressive, while Fischer is aggressive but more positional. I think that I am not quite as controlled as Fischer and not as directly aggressive as Kasparov.

Root Ray on at the World Junior starting October 22 and the World Cup, which begins on November 20 in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.