Emil Sutovsky: 20 Questions

Emil Sutovsky was born in Baku on 19 September 1977. He won the World Junior Chess Championship in 1996 and has represented Israel in eight Olympiads. At the 39th Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk in 2010 he achieved the highest tournament performance rating (2895) in the history of the event. He took the European Championship in 2001 and has won over 40 tournaments, the most notable being the Aeroflot Open (2005). One of the most inventive and flamboyant players in the world, he is renowned for his romantic playing style and brilliant sacrificial attacks. He is president of the Association of Chess Professionals and lives in Israel.

What is your most memorable game?

Hard choice. It is either a win over Kramnik (Dortmund 2005) – my only victory over the reigning World Champion, or the game with Gormally (Gibraltar 2005), which contained some highly aesthetic combinations [see Kingpin 41 -Ed.]. But of course, there were more wins I’d include in my future best games book: the wins versus Gelfand, Smirin, Morozevich, Carlsen (beta-version, but already well above 2700 at the time), Ivanchuk, Caruana are the first that come to mind.

Gormally v Sutovsky

Gormally v Sutovsky 2005

final position after 36…Nh5-f4!!


Which living player do you most admire?

That’s an easy one. Kasparov. I think in his best years he was a model of what a chess player should be. Of course, we are talking about the chess part only!  

What/who is your favourite band/music/composer?

My mother teaches music, so it must have made some impact. It was always about classical music – but as I grew older I began to prefer Beethoven and Rachmaninov over Mozart and Chopin, my previous favourites. I believe it is going to take yet a few more years to have Bach at the top of the list☺. Of course, I do listen to other kinds of music as well. As for my favourite bands – there is always a place for The Beatles and Queen in my heart and on my playlist. Some Soviet-time singers were really great as well. If I have to pick one, I’d go for Magomaev.  

What do you consider to be your greatest weakness as a chess player?

There are quite a few. But probably the one which has prevented me reaching the highest level is my impatience over the board, and my lack of self-control during the game. Over the years I’ve been trying to overcome these weaknesses, but as soon as I started to improve on these fronts, some other problems began to pop up ☺.

What is your greatest strength?

Creativity, good vision of the board and feeling the dynamics of the position – I’ve named three but they are interrelated. Some 8–9 years ago Aronian said that I was the world’s strongest player in the open positions. Well, even then it was an exaggeration but today it doesn’t even sound like a good joke ☺. But somehow I feel that there is life in me yet!

Which book would you take to a desert island?

I would rather take an e-book with a solar battery☺.  

How would you characterise your chess-playing style?

Aggressive, concrete, dynamic. I recall reading an article about myself, stating ‘Sutovsky can be an excellent endgame player, but he doesn’t like it.’ Not quite true. The point is, if you get some sort of ending after 3–4 hours of a fierce battle, it is not easy to switch gears. On the other hand if you get a slightly better ending from the beginning (sounds a bit oxymoronish but chess fellows will understand me), you get into it. And I do like it – a dozen games won against strong Grandmasters in the Berlin Defence must be some sort of proof ☺.  

What is your favourite television programme?

I don’t watch TV at all these days, though I make an exception for some trivia shows once or twice a month.

Against which player do you have the worst results?

If I remember correctly, no one has a really crushing score with me (such as 3–0 and higher). Still, my results against Aronian, Gelfand, Grischuk and Ivanchuk are rather unconvincing.

Which meal do you most like to eat, and could you cook it yourself? 

A nice authentic Argentinian steak. But it should be a really good one. And of course, you can’t make it at home.

What do you consider to be your most important contribution to opening theory?

Throughout the years I came up with novelties that could be seen not only in my games, but in the games of Kamsky and some other top players I had occasionally worked with. However, the main contribution is probably the revival of Grünfeld defence. Before the Topalov–Kamsky match in 2009 it was hardly played regularly by any top player except for Svidler, who also partly switched to Slav at that time. Then, I had managed to prepare several new ideas and even some new concepts, which made Topalov refrain from 1 d4 after a number of tries. Just have a look and compare the number of games in the top events played in Grünfeld 4–5 years ago and now.  

Who is the chess writer you most enjoy reading, and why? 

This is going to be a difficult choice, as I will try not to miss any good chess book. Kasparov’s books are always very high on my list, although he has started to repeat himself a bit in the latest editions. Actually, the same goes for Dvoretsky – his early books were amazing. The most recent ones were very, very good, but nothing more ☺. I like Rowson’s books as he always attempts to answer difficult questions that every strong player asks himself. And I must say that Joe Gallagher’s writings in the 90s were just awesome; he wrote about the things he knew really well, he always had some fresh ideas, and the books were very well written. As for the very latest books, I can’t single out any exceptional writers. Avrukh’s opening books are very useful and informative from the chess point of view. However, they are not so much about the writing, but rather more about analysing the opening subtleties properly and copy-pasting the material into the book, while adding a few words here and there.  

If you could go back in time, where would you go?

Good question. You never know before you try . . .  I’d like to visit quite a few destinations in the past, but staying there is another issue ☺. Chess-wise, I would just love to live in a world where I am given my 2.5 hours for 40 moves, where games are adjourned, computers don’t exist, and spectators have true respect for Grandmasters, and are not just judging the players based on the Houdini evaluations . . .  

In which particular tournament do you most like to compete?

It is always a pleasure to play in Holland. And Wijk-aan-Zee seems to be the favourite event for many players. The horrible weather which usually accompanies this great event is the only reason to consider other candidates. As for the Opens, it is obviously Gibraltar that gets better every year.  

Who is the most irritating opponent you have faced?

I suspect everyone can get too excited/nervous during the game. It happens to me as well, especially in time trouble. But I have never seen anything like Nakamura’s behaviour. Now it has improved a bit, but still . . . I believe being a top player means some sort of responsibility.  

Are there any other sports/activities at which you excel?

I like many sports, but after a serious injury three years ago I had to cut down on my activities significantly. Still, I am ready to challenge anyone at the badminton net!

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