Nick de Firmian: 20 Questions

Nick de Firmian was born on 26 July 1957. He became a Grandmaster in 1985 and won the US Championship three times, in 1987, 1995 and 1998. Noted for his deep knowledge of the openings, he wrote the latest edition of Modern Chess Openings. As a member of the team that prepared Deep Blue’s opening book in its match against Kasparov in 1997 he found the variation in the Caro-Kann that defeated the World Champion in the crucial sixth game. He lives in San Francisco.


What is your earliest memory of playing chess?

My Uncle Philip taught me the rules when I was 5 years old and sick that day.


What is your most memorable game?

In 1990 I won the brilliancy prize in the Interzonal in a game against Tony Miles. We were both in horrific time pressure at the end. Fortunately for me there was a checkmate before I lost on time.

What was your worst defeat?

There are so many! One memorable defeat is losing to Larry Christiansen in the Armageddon blitz game to decide the 2002 US Championship. I ran out of time while he had 6 seconds left.


Which living player do you most admire?

Living?  Too bad that’s a criterion, because I always loved the games and the kindly humour of Mikhail Tal. So I will go with Boris Spassky, who also has so much to admire in both games and personality.


How do you relax?

By drinking a few glasses of good wine with good company.


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

Here again there are many. Beethoven, Carlos Santana, U2 come quickly to mind.


What is your favourite record?

Perhaps The Doors by The Doors.

The Doors by The Doors

What makes you happy?

Being with good friends, drinking good wine while listening to music. Especially if we are at a pleasant chess tournament.


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

Nowadays there are more weaknesses than a few years ago.  My time pressure play and tactics are not as sharp as before. I am seeing the early stages of those problems in Kramnik’s and Anand’s recent games.  At any time in my chess career I would tend to be too aggressive.


What do you consider to be your greatest strength?

Probably determination and willingness to do research.


How would you characterise your chess-playing style?

Aggressive, attacking chess. Though nowadays more endgame oriented.


What is your most unappealing habit?



Which book would you take to a desert island?

Maybe a book of chess puzzles such as Kasparyan’s, since I’d need to be occupied for a long time. Or Dante’s Inferno.


What is your favourite film?

Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.


Against which player do you have the worst results?

That would be Ivanchuk, who somehow always would see more than I would.


If you could edit your past, what would you change?

I wouldn’t change the past. There’s no point going backwards. My many mistakes at least taught me not to repeat them.


Who or what is the greatest love of your life?

My son Christopher.


What was your most embarrassing moment at the chess board?

When I knocked over my pint of beer against John Nunn in a blitz tournament in Lubeck. That was also painful, because the glass was practically full.


What do you most dislike about your appearance?

When my nose turns red sometimes.


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

Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam writes terrific articles in New in Chess. They capture so much of the atmosphere and psychology of a chess tournament. (Of course Kingpin is the most humorous magazine.)


What has been your biggest disappointment?

Again, there are so many! Yet I don’t worry about them now.


Which single thing would most improve the global chess scene?

Better fashion.


Who is the most courteous person you have played?

There are many wonderful people in chess. Svetozar Gligoric comes to mind.


Who is the most irritating opponent you have faced?

Nowadays it’s the computers.


In which tournament do you most like to compete?

Gausdal, Norway has always been a wonderful place to play.  I also enjoy sunny warm places by the sea in Greece or Spain.


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

Some other things I enjoy doing, but I was never close to being national champion in any of them.


What do you think about doping control in chess?

It’s completely pointless.


What is your most treasured possession?

I have a zen-like view of possessions and don’t value any much.


What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

To try to understand others’ points of view.


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