What is your earliest memory of playing chess?
I have quite a few, including the ones my parents have described to me when I grew up, but the very earliest is the recollection of beating some dude a year older than me when at the age of 7 I was taken to the Pioneer’s House. We played three games while my dad was talking to my coach-to-be, and I won the series 2-1.
What is your most memorable game?
Has to be Svidler-Kasparov, Tilburg 1997. At least I’m sure that’s the expected answer. However, I did win my last-round games in all three Russian championships I’ve won, and those were pretty memorable too.
What was your worst defeat?
The game I lost to Topalov in Elista 1998 – losing with White in 22 moves while playing board 1 for the Russian Olympic team is not something you’re likely to be proud about.
Who is your all-time chess hero?
Mikhail Tal – the man who has proven that you can reach the top and remain human.
How do you relax?
Listening to music, reading and playing billiards – not necessarily in that order.
What is your greatest fear?
Having to choose between things really freaks me out – so I guess I’m scared of being wrong and/or responsibility for your actions.
Who is your favourite band/composer?
Bob Dylan and Tom Waits are the two people I listen to almost every day. But there’s a lot of other stuff – the list would take too long to try and complete.
What is your favourite record?
Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, Waits’ Blue Valentines and Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland are in my personal top 5 of all times for some years now while the other two spots are still not reserved.
What was the first record you bought?
I guess it was Jethro Tull Heavy Horses – I asked the guy at the counter which one of the 15 Tull albums they had he’d recommend as a starter, and he came up with this one for some reason. Mind you – I liked it, and still do.
What do you consider to be your greatest weakness as a chess player?
I have a nagging suspicion I’m not very good at endgames. However very few of my games reach that stage, so I guess it’s OK.
What is your greatest strength?
I’m decent at handling initiative, and playing dynamic positions in general.
What is your most unappealing habit?
Which book would you take to a desert island?
How to Build a Boat (cheers Doc!) I’d die without company – even quicker than without food, and that’s pretty quick.
What are your five favourite chess books?
I love old tournament books. Two most obvious examples are Bronstein’s Zurich Interzonal 1953 and Tal’s book on his match vs Botvinnik.
How would you characterise your chess-playing style?
What is your favourite television programme?
That’s a tough one. However I can easily say what I would really love to watch but won’t be able to – the coverage of Embassy World Snooker Championships.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Having two cues – one for pool and one for Russian billiards – while still playing at a level when there’s hardly any point in it.
Against which player do you have the worst results?
Kramnik – the only guy I haven’t beaten in any time control apart from blitz.
What was your most embarrassing moment at the chessboard?
I really hate to play badly, and the feeling I got after drawing my first game vs Piket in the KasparovChess online tournament – missing about 10 wins in one in a row – is still very fresh.
Which single thing would most improve the chess scene?
A World championship which is recognized and played in by everyone, and a stable qualification cycle for it.
In which particular tournament do you most like to compete?
Dutch tournaments – I’ve played in Tilburg and Wijk, and have heard legends about the VSB in Amsterdam, and they’re all extremely pleasant.
Who is the most irritating opponent you have faced?
I’ve played a few people in my life who used some sort of Tiger Balsam in excess during the game, and discovered that there’re some smells that can literally knock you out at such distance.
Who is the most courteous person you have played?
When the words ‘courteous’ and ‘chess’ are used in the same sentence, I always think of Artur Yusupov. Most top players are very nice people at and around the board too.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Do not expect your problems to resolve themselves if you give them enough time.