An interview with GM Andrey Deviatkin and GM Sergey Grigoriants

April 24, 2014, 15:00

Evgeny Surov: Chess-News is on air, we are talking to GM Andrey Deviatkin. GM Sergey Grigoriants will join us a bit later. Good afternoon!

Andrey Deviatkin: Good afternoon, Evgeny.

Evgeny Surov: The topic of our conversation is mainly Fischer chess. The reason we’re talking about it is a tournament held recently in Moscow ( where both Andrey and Sergey were taking part. It was a Fischer chess tournament. However, I’d like to start with something else.
Chess-News has just concluded the survey which shows that overwhelming majority of our readers – roughly 70% – is sceptical about future of Fischer chess, at least according to how the question was formulated. Namely: “Will Fischer chess ever replace traditional chess?” The majority says no, it won’t. Andrey, how could you comment on it?

Andrey Deviatkin: Let me say at once that I’m a Fischer chess supporter, which perhaps means that I’m going to be a bit prejudiced. Anyway, first of all, 70% of the readers doesn’t seem to me exactly “the overwhelming majority”. Secondly: the question “Will it replace or not?” is rather categorical indeed. Why would one cancel traditional chess, why would one replace it with Fischer chess completely? We should talk about something else, namely creating a parallel calendar of events, organizing more and more Fischer chess competitions.
But in any case, there will always be those who prefer classical chess. The moment when no one preferring traditional chess to Fischer chess remains on Earth is unlikely to come.
The same is about Russian draughts – which has been basically solved – and about chekers, which has been solved by a computer without any “basically”. I’m sure that avid fans of these games still exist, they will play their favorite games till the end of their lives. […]

Evgeny Surov: Okay. Let me remind the audience that Andrey Deviatkin is the person who has decided to give up playing in traditional chess tournaments. […] Andrey, as far as I remember, it was already in the previous interview that you called yourself a Fischer chess supporter, so there’s nothing new in your today’s words.

(From the interview given to Chess-News a year before, on 24.06.2013)

Andrey Deviatkin: I have just come back from the chess festival in Voronezh. It’s a nice festival, by the way. One of the reasons for me to have played there was exactly a Fischer chess tournament being part of the festival. Regrettably, it is held within one day only, it’s a rapid tournament of 7 rounds “15+3”. ( However, when I was playing it, I felt young again – it was really exciting! Something really interesting was going on the board!

Evgeny Surov: So, have you become one of those who think that chess should transform into Fischer’s suggestion in the near future?

Andrey Deviatkin: Yes, I think it will happen sooner or later. Maybe not now, but, after all, we already play with Fischer clocks, so I think the time should come for Fischer chess as well.
Let me continue answering your previous question. The Fischer chess tournament was followed by a usual rapid on the next day. I joined it too, and, to be honest, I realized soon that I was simply bored. Perhaps it’s wrong to speak on behalf of the others, but during the Fischer chess event I was talking to participants, and many of them did tell me they were excited – they found it very interesting to have their brain switched on from the very first moves.

As to rapid chess… Well, who said that opening theory is less important there? On the contrary, a player would normally blitz out his first 15 moves – either he has learned them by heart or just knows where to put pieces and pawns in a typical position. It’s all well-trodden now, the plans and setups are known to everybody. Then, after the opening, a contest begins, and the contest is about who calculates better and whose concentration is more steady. That’s how I see it’.

Evgeny Surov: Okay, you say: an ideal situation would be a parallel calendar of Fischer chess events. Then a logical question comes (which has been asked by our readership a few times as well) – who is going to organize such tournaments? Do you think chess fans will really be more and more interested in this kind of chess? Do you expect rich amateurs to appear, ready to sponsor such tournaments?

Andrey Deviatkin: Well, in this connection another question should be asked: who is funding traditional chess? Because your question, as it has sounded, suggests that there are many sponsors in regular chess, while in Fischer chess there are none. In fact, however, the current financial situation is quite mediocre, to say the least. As the recent memorandum (published on Chess-News as well) between Andrew Paulson and Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has shown, Kirsan is investing his own money in chess. [See also an excellent article by Nigel Short – – AD] Can we call it a sound sponsorship? I don’t think so. At the same time, current FIDE management headed by Ilyumzhinov obviously doesn’t wish to invest in Fischer chess – as well as in many other important things, such as fighting against cheaters. So, my answer is: on the contrary, Fischer chess has better chances to find sponsorship. But it will be some different sponsors.

Evgeny Surov: As I see it, the problem is actually to attract spectators. It’s hard to explain to ordinary people why watching chess is attractive, but with Fischer chess it’s probably even harder. One has to explain: what it is, why it is interesting and why one should watch it.

Andrey Deviatkin: The problem is that a great many people think it isn’t chess at all…

Evgeny Surov: Let’s talk about it, because I’ve seen some games from the Moscow tournament, and I haven’t seen anything particularly weird in them.

Andrey Deviatkin: Me too. Not only me! No one will find anything particularly weird in Fischer chess. Of course, it does become chaotic if we are talking about blitz “3+0”. For a human player, it’s nearly impossible to play a good Fischer chess 3+0 game. Meanwhile, when the time control is longer, the games start reminding regular chess shortly after their inception. That’s why I’m really surprised when I hear something like: “It’s not chess at all, it’s an absolutely different game, even some kind of nonsense”, etc etc.
Boris Spassky has said and keeps saying that it’s the same chess, just without opening theory – as well as Robert Fischer, of course. Hikaru Nakamura, Levon Aronian, Gata Kamsky are of the same opinion. I don’t know about Peter Svidler, but as long as he is a repeated World champion in Fischer chess, he could have said this too.

Evgeny Surov: But anyway, I think a real lot of work is needed just to make amateur players hear those opinions by great chess players.

Andrey Deviatkin: I don’t think anything enormous is required. The thing is that one should just look at the task of commenting/annotating games from a slightly different angle. Of course, it’s easy to search through databases and say something like: “The game started with the Najdorf Variation, the first 25 moves were theoretical and the players spent 5 minites each. The 26th move by White was a novelty, and now it’s +0.1 according to Houdini or Rybka”.
Of course such an approach will have to be abandoned, but what should be recalled is, for instance, old tutorials by Lasker, Capablanca, etc. I wonder how many young players have opened those books recently? The books which describe general principles of the game: development of the pieces, fighting for the center, principles of positional play, strategy basics, etc. And that’s exactly what would be interesting to hear from elite GMs, instead of references to some Svidler-Aronian game played somewhere in Wijk aan Zee!
What was really happening on the board? Why this piece was developed here and that pawn here? Why this or that decision was made during the game? I think it would be far more interesting, far more instructive.

Evgeny Surov: Let me return to the games played recently in Moscow. I think they went exactly according to your description: the play began at once, without the opening stage. This probably led to crisis on the board quicker than usual. What is your impression?

Andrey Deviatkin: My impression is that even 20 minites per game isn’t enough to play a good game. The very first moves demanded quite a lot of time indeed, because they are to choose a strategy for the whole game. For instance, in my game against David Paravyan [a young Moscow IM, now 2500+ – AD] my opening moves were horrible [see the games at – AD]. This resulted in me having spent two thirds of my time on move 9, because I was feeling obliged to invent something to avoid the quick loss.

Evgeny Surov: Was there something offending the eye? Something ugly?

Andrey Deviatkin: There were games which started with blunders, like 1.f4 f5 2.Qxa7: the queens were on g1/g8, the a7-pawn was unprotected. Black forgot about it and lost a pawn. But this is a temporary thing – of course, if a good player plays a few games and gets a bit accustomed to Fischer chess he won’t blunder a pawn like that. Nothing else unpleasant has happened. On the contrary, the playing was real fun, and, strangely enough, I remember my games played in the tournament even better than my last classical games!

Evgeny Surov: Our conversation with Andrey Deviatkin about Fischer chess is going on, and we’re being joined by GM Sergey Grigoriants, the winner of the very tournament we’ve been discussing. This tournament has finished in Moscow last weekend, and it was not just a regular chess tournament, but a Fischer chess tournament. Sergey, how did you manage to take the 1st place? Had you done any particular preparation beforehand?

Sergey Grigoriants: No, of course I hadn’t. It was a training, friendly tournament, and the main goal wasn’t to win by all means – it was rather a kind of test. Well done by the organizers, since it was probably the first time such a tournament took place in Moscow. The atmosphere was excellent – very friendly and at the same time very fighting in chess terms.
I did have some previous experience, as I had taken part in the famous Mainz festival. It used to be an annual Fischer chess event, and an extremely strong one. So, yes, I’ve come more or less experienced, and then the things just went this way.

Evgeny Surov: Now let’s say who organized the Moscow event.

Sergey Grigoriants: As far as I know, it was Andrey Deviatkin assisted by his colleagues and friends.

Andrey Deviatkin: Yes, the idea belonged to me and also my friend GM Vladimir Belov. I’d like to thank him and also GM Nikolay Chadaev who have helped me a lot. The critical issue was to find a venue.

Evgeny Surov: The playing equipment was provided by the Chess Education Center on Begovaya street [regrettably, non-existent now in 2016 – AD], wasn’t it?

Andrey Deviatkin: Yes, it was. The games were even broadcasted live. Besides, Pavel Plotnikov [the chief arbiter – AD] took excellent photos. Everything went very smoothly.

Evgeny Surov: Yes, indeed. To be honest, I wasn’t aware that it was you who organized all that. I could guess you’ve taken part, but not to that extent.

Andrey Deviatkin: Well, running a closed event is probably a bit easier than running some large open, so I don’t think I’ve done anything extraordinary, given also that my friends’ help was really valuable.

Evgeny Surov: Sergey: do you consider this experience a positive one? Should we have more tournaments like that?

Sergey Grigoriants: Yes, it was definitely a positive experience, and in general it’s always harder to start than to develop/continue. So, especially for the first tournament, I think everything was just great. There was no shadow of a slightest controversy. The arbiter was also very competent. Yes, I do think we should develop this kind of chess. If such tournaments are held on a regular basis (in Moscow too), Fischer chess is going to be much more popular.

Evgeny Surov: But how to develop it? Any ideas? How to hold such tournaments on a regular basis, so that top-level GMs play there as well? Obviously, it will require certain financial infusion…

Sergey Grigoriants: There is a clear correlation between amounts of prize money and participation of top GMs. This is true for any kind of chess, be it blitz, rapid, classical chess or whatever. That’s why, of course, the issue cannot be resolved without sponsorship and some serious organizers. As to how to promote Fischer chess, however, I don’t think huge financial investments are required here.

Andrey Deviatkin: Sergey was right noting that it had been the first Fischer chess tournament ever held in Moscow. It’s still hard to believe it, but that’s the fact, it seems. The first tournament ever! Meanwhile, the latest major tournament, after the end of the Mainz festival, was held as long ago as in 2011, it was Kings vs Queens tournament in the USA. In 2011, that’s astonishing!
As a matter of fact, Fischer Chess is being played to some extent in the Internet, on the servers such as ICC,,
[turn-based games only – AD], and so on (, etc. – AD]. But there are no tournaments! [There are a few blitz events on some of the servers mentioned, but no over-the-board tournaments – AD].
So, my answer is that in order to promote chess, you have to organize tournaments. And to organize tournaments, you have to organize tournaments! Open Swiss tournaments, for example. I think people will come. Here in Moscow we have traditional chess Swiss events held on a regular basis which are attended by a small number of people – I remember such tournaments used to gather more participants in my youth. I think that a second or third edition of such an open Fischer chess tournament will attract, at the very least, comparable number of players.
To organize tournaments – this is the point! Not so many people at all know about Fischer chess, and many of those who know of it have a little idea of how to play it, nor they are sure how to generate starting positions – because chess sets do not include the generators. We have to facilitate it, and this is cheap and easy, Fischer chess isn’t the same as golf. Generating a starting position isn’t that difficult!

Evgeny Surov: Technically, how you did it, and how is it usually done?

Andrey Deviatkin: There is a lot of software which can generate a starting position. Besides, each of the positions is numbered. As for our tournament, the arbiter was using Fritz interface which contains the “New chess960 game” option.

Sergey Grigoriants: I don’t think there is any particular difference between running traditional chess events and Fischer chess events. The only thing that differs is the starting position. In Mainz, the problem was solved very smartly: large monitors, visible to everyone, were mounted in the playing hall. Thus, despite the large number of participants, there wasn’t a single trouble. The players were setting up the pieces themselves. Here in Moscow, positions were announced by the arbiter, and it has worked fine – but a large Fischer chess event should be equipped with a big monitor. I don’t think it’s difficult from the technical point of view, though.
Everything else is similar to classic chess.
If someone has the will to organize chess events, let’s say, in museums, he solves the task. As a result, now we see chess in museums. Same about Fischer chess: if someone who likes Fischer chess has also the will and resources to organize such events, we’ll see them along with classical tournaments. It’s all about investing in the promotion, providing the prizes, attracting strong players – same as in traditional chess. I’m sure that many top GMs will play, in case the prizes are good enough.

Evgeny Surov: Do you mean the classical time control or rapid when you are speaking about running the tournaments? Andrey has mentioned that 20 minites per game hadn’t been enough for him, even with the 10 seconds increment.

Sergey Grigoriants: It’s again the same situation as in traditional chess. Some people prefer rapid, the others like classical time control. It’s up to everyone. 10 minites per game, 20 minites per game, or much more. The matter is purely of technical nature. Everyone will feel free to choose the time control suitable for him/her, as in normal chess.

Andrey Deviatkin: In fact, the blunders I’ve mentioned and which often occurred at the end of the games, were probably unavoidable. It’s part of the game – mistakes only make it more spectacular. The main thing is to have interesting, fighting games, not some 20-move routine in the opening according to well-known patterns, followed by one trying to convert his extra pawn and the other defending. And such interesting games have in fact taken place in our tournament. So, it might have been just the matter of my taste – 20 minites per game is a perfectly usable time control. However, 20 minites/game in Fischer chess isn’t equal to the same time in traditional chess – that’s what I wanted to say. I think it’s equal to approximately half an hour, because one needs additional time to understand the starting position, to find a plan.

Evgeny Surov: Got it. It’s similar to what Grischuk has told our website once: even if the time control has nominally been shortening, in fact it has been becoming longer, because lately chess players often don’t spend any time for their 10 or even 20 first moves! As a result, they get 1 hour and a half for 20 remaining moves. Meanwhile, in Fischer chess one has to think hard from the very first move.

Andrey Deviatkin: Absolutely right.


Sergey Grigoriants: I’d like also to add that approaches towards Fischer chess have been too opposite, which wasn’t in favour of this game and its popularity. I think it comes from the end of 90’s, when Kasparov and Salov had a dispute, if I remember correctly. Their opinions were opposite and very radical. One of them said that modern chess has exhausted itself, that it’s all about learning openings, and that in general one just needs to study openings very well to win the games – perhaps the very art of playing over the board isn’t even needed.
I think this opinion is too radical and thus can hardly be agreed with, nevetheless it is partly true. The opposite opinion was no less stern: Fischer chess is for lazy, mediocre players who cannot play well and doesn’t want to work on their openings, and their Fischer chess support is just an excuse for that.
Now even from the comments on your website we can see that those two opposite approaches still exist, although they are way too coarse and radical. Of course, Fischer chess contains all the main strategic motives of the classical chess. If we hold a top-level Fischer chess tournament, the winners won’t be some accidental 2000 players. At the same time, it’s true that the players who rely too much on their openings preparation, they will have some difficulties.

Evgeny Surov: Then let’s imagine a hypothetical situation: our traditional chess has been replaced with Fischer chess, but all the players remained. Do you think the world rankings will change dramatically?

Andrey Deviatkin: My opinion is that there won’t be any dramatic changes. It will change to some extent, but good chess players can play any kind of chess – I’m talking about Fischer chess here, not about time control.

Sergey Grigoriants: I agree with Andrey totally. It will just take some time to adapt to the new game: some people will need more time, some less. But in general, all the qualities needed to play well, including an ability to calculate and play endgames – everything will stay very close to what is needed now.

Andrey Deviatkin: In fact, that’s what we’ve seen in Mainz. I think the tournament was existing for 9 consecutive years, and the top places were always occupied by top GMs, with slight corrections. For instance, Hikaru Nakamura who (it seems to me) has never been a deep theoretician, or Gata Kamsky, who has also never been fond of learning main lines – they were on top in Mainz. However, Peter Svidler, whose knowledge of openings is excellent, since his memory is phenomenal – he has also been World Champion in Fischer chess. I think this all is illustrative.

Evgeny Surov: Do you think that Fischer chess could help solve the problem of cheating?

Andrey Deviatkin: I don’t think it can serve as the universal solution against cheating. The only universal solution might be to make sure that none of the players has electronic devices during games. And even so… Well, Fischer chess, of course, can make cheating harder, because the initial position is different – but I don’t think it will solve the problem radically. Cheating is a general trouble for chess, there’s nothing to be done.


Evgeny Surov: Sergey, let’s then return to the question which I’ve discussed with Andrey at the beginning. Our website has conducted a survey which has shown that most of people don’t feel, let’s say, inspired by Fischer chess. They were asked: “Do you think Fischer chess will ever replace traditional chess”, and the majority said no, it won’t. Could you comment on it?

Sergey Grigoriants: It seems to me this answer was expectable, because even the majority of Fischer chess supporters doesn’t think that anything has to be “replaced”. Of course we all enjoy classical chess, we are accostumed to it, that’s why the question, as it was formulated, brought the predictable answer. People say no because they feel respect for the traditions of chess. Here I agree with Andrey – Fischer chess must not replace anything, nor must rapid or blitz replace classical time control.
You know, there’ve been radical opinions about the time controls as well – some supporters insisted that classical chess has been existing for too long, and it was time to replace it with faster chess. However, now all the time controls co-exist peacefully and don’t hinder each other; on the contrary, they complement each other. I think Fischer chess should have similar fate.

Evgeny Surov: I’m not sure. Summarizing our conversation, I have a feeling that even if Fischer chess could be popularized somehow in the near future, it will still remain a kind of chess appendage in the minds of people. It won’t gain the same level of popularity as usual chess. [Very strange summary by Surov. How could he conclude this from the interview? It looks rather like his predisposition than the conclusion – AD]

Sergey Grigoriants: It seems to me that the minds of modern people are subject to constant and sometimes very quick change, within days or hours. Too many things enter their minds, too many leave it. This is the modern reality. That’s why I think that the main issue is someone’s will. The question is whether there’ll be people who want to develop Fischer chess and will develop it.

Andrey Deviatkin: It’s all the more because information is now spreading with enormous speed via Internet. I agree with Sergey: something that used to take years to realize can now be realized within days, hours or even minites.
Let me also raise another aspect, namely the aesthetic aspect. Many people claim that the starting positions are ugly, that it’s some kind of nonsense, as they say.

Evgeny Surov: Some of the positions.

Andrey Deviatkin: So, I think this is prejudiced by definition. For example, recently I’ve read a book which hadn’t, regrettably, been translated into Russian [nor it can be found in my native city of Moscow – I had to order in on Amazon – AD]. It’s Shall We Play Fischerrandom Chess by Svetozar Gligoric, likely the only serious book on the subject. Among other things, it describes the first tournament in Fischer chess, and also the 2001 eight-games match between Michael Adams and Peter Leko (Leko won 4.5 to 3.5).
What surprised me is that Adams, a classic positional player, said after the match: “I would like to play sometimes when queens are in the corner, on a1 or h1. I am sorry that such a position didn’t occur during our match”. We hear this from a classic positional player!
Meanwhile, another classic positional player would say that he likes the queen on c1 and dislikes it on b1. “Knights must not be on a1”, someone else would say. Yet another player would say that a knight must stay on d1, otherwise “the position is ugly”. So, this is all subjective, it reminds me of talks about music when people try to prove that some music is ‘real’ and some is not. This is a very malicious tendency which led to such composers as Shostakovich or Prokofiev being persecuted in the USSR.
[Or rock music prohibited in Muslim countries – AD]. Such opinions are prejudiced by definition, we must not be guided by them.

Evgeny Surov: Sergey, do you agree?

Sergey Grigoriants: Yes, Andrey is right. Let me also add something. Talking about key psychological differences between traditional chess and Fischer chess, there is a concept known as integrity of a game. Why some people, even really strong players, are a bit suspicious about Fischer chess? Because they are afraid of not being able to play a genuinely integral game in strategic terms – that is when you have prepared the setup and the strategic plan, and, because of this preparation, more or less have the course of events under control during the game. We are used to see it in top tournaments.
Such integrity is much harder to achieve in Fischer chess, since the situation is somehow not under the player’s control from the very first moves. Yet, this can also be considered an advantage, because you have to be independent from the very start, you don’t need to and even cannot learn well-trodden lines by heart. Those are two sides of the medal, which, ideally, should complement each other. When people are tired of abundant theoretical draws, they can switch to Fischer chess, while if they miss integral games and are tired of this chaos, they are able to return to the classical game.

Andrey Deviatkin: Chaos begets order, as the saying goes. However, I’d like to develop the topic of independent play. These days, chess is popular to big extent thanks to the opinion that it helps develop children brains.
On one hand, that’s true. On the other hand, let’s imagine the situation: a child with a certain degree of chess talent has got to a certain playing level and then has to make further progress. How should he do that? Can he avoid the opening preparation, which now means learning long theoretical lines by heart? I don’t think so. As White, one still can play something like 1.b3 or 1.g3, but if you are Black you have to learn many concrete lines by heart, which means filling your head with lumber
[as Sherlock Holmes would put it, saying that the brain is not an attic – AD].
The fact is that the amount of the lines one has to learn now is just scary! I’m not saying that we should learn nothing at all by heart. After all, there are endgames with their precise theoretical knowledge – it’s the same in Fischer chess as in traditional chess. So, what do we have here? How will chess affect the promising child?
In his age, he needs all-round development, but instead he will study mainly openings and mainly concrete computer-prepared lines. He will need it in chess only, and only in case he wants chess to be his future career. But no one can choose the career firmly at the age of 11!
In this respect, Fischer chess has a huge advantage, because it makes players think independently from the very first move, and
this is the developing effect. This means being responsible for your deeds, this means creative thinking, not some thoughtless mimicking.

Evgeny Surov: Got it. Sergey?

Sergey Grigoriants: There is one more thing I’d like to add. Yesterday, when you were conducting the survey, there were live Bundesliga games broadcasted live on Chess-News, right above the survey form. All of the 10 games were drawn! I think it says a lot, and I wonder if it was stimulating the readers to vote for Fischer chess, since it wasn’t some supertournament of extremely high importance (we remember how it went in Kazan during the Candidates). It was just a team tournament. Ten games out of ten, including Bobras – Anand on board 1, were drawn.

Evgeny Surov: That’s true, and many of them were very short draws. But there is an opinion – which, I think, one can hardly refute – that two players can always draw their game if they want. No Sofia rule or other kinds of restrictions can prevent them from doing that. Is it more difficult to pre-arrange a draw in Fischer chess?

Sergey Grigoriants: The players can draw their game if it is theoretically possible and if they want so. In football too, in any kind of sports.
Andrey Deviatkin: In any case, this is more difficult in Fischer chess, since there are no familiar patterns to bring the game to a draw by repetition. It’s hard even to get a typical position… No, it’s not just hard – it’s very unlikely. I’m talking about some kind of position with an isolated d5-pawn, in which everybody knows what to do.

Sergey Grigoriants: I’d put it another way: if one of the players needs a draw, while the other doesn’t, then it’s really harder to make it in Fischer chess, irrespective of the colour. In the tournaments such as the World Cup, White sometimes loses his first game of a 2-game match. If this is a match between 2700+ players, the loser of the first game is condemned to fail. The return game looks nonsense, because the scenario is obvious: Black would play some g6-line and try to invent something. In 95% of the cases, it wouldn’t work.
Meanwhile, in Fischer chess the things won’t be that hopeless. Indeed, there are no familiar patterns, worked out perfectly at home, to dry out the game with White.

Evgeny Surov: Does it mean that color is of no importance in Fischer chess?

Sergey Grigoriants: No, it doesn’t. White is still first to move, thus he gains some space advantage and some positional edge – but this edge is difficult to convert using familiar patterns worked out at home.

Andrey Deviatkin: In any case, the Sofia rule promoted by Danailov et al. – I’m not fond of it in traditional chess, and if it comes to important qualifying tournaments I’m just against it. However, it would make sense to forbid draw offers in Fischer chess, although this of course should be discussed. The reason is that the players don’t have to prepare for so long. The preparation will remain but it will be anything except the openings – that is, psychological, physical, etc. Thus, it’s more logical to work harder during games. […]

(Original text in Russian:; translated by Andrey Deviatkin on April 2016)

You may also like

Leave a Reply