A Masterclass is divided into 3 parts.
First of all, some well-chosen studies to warm up the neuron.
Then the game of the day, where, very often, the analyses of the Grandmasters are put into question.
And finally the fairy problems studied in the after-course restaurant.
The report is also divided into 3 parts:
the verbatim report captured on the fly by the greffier on the left-hand side
the Master's electronic report on the right-hand side
The corrections made by the Master on the verbatim report appear below
AV, you are known for your work on the Endgames, but who are you anyway ?
-- A former maths teacher, tournament player (Paris champion 1979, IM since 1988), passionate not only about endgames, but about problems and studies. On the other hand, the rumour that I would be a "contemporary of Steinitz", as a former president of the FFE used to say, is clearly exaggerated: I am still only 69 years old.
But what is a problem? I hear you protesting every time a player uses that word for a game combination.
-- Indeed, but not strong enough, since this error persists. A problem is a compound position, not one that occurs in a game. The statement is "mate in n moves", if we restrict ourselves to direct problems. But there are also "self" checkmates (I force the opponent to checkmate me), "helped" checkmates (he collaborates with me to get checked), retros (what was the past of the position?), fairy ones (different pieces or rules).
A study is also a compound position, in which one side (usually White) must win or draw, without the number of moves being fixed. As for the problem, there must be an interest, an originality: to present beautiful mates, clever manoeuvres, a new idea, a precise theme, sacrifices, etc. Difficulty is variable, but is not a goal in itself: even in championships, the selector generally tries to reward the suffering solutionist with a minimum of aesthetics.
As with cops and robbers, there are those who compose and those who solve. Some alternate between these two activities.
Since the summer, you are the only French "international double master" for the game and the problem. What effect does this have on you?
-- The expression, modelled on the common language, of double decimator seems better to me. That's right, the 2014 Bern Congress decided to give me the title of IM for resolution, belatedly rewarding performances in 2008 & 2009. It follows, a quarter of a century later, my IM title for the game. Rest assured, this will not change my daily schedule one bit.
There is another title for the composition, which does not concern me. My friend A. Onkoud may well, in the near future, hold all three titles. Let us add that Mr. Caillaud is a double grandmaster, for each branch of the problem.
How did you develop a passion for problems? Only solving them, by the way. Why don't you compose ?
-- I started solving at 14, thanks to Camil Seneca's column, which included a news item, a problem and a game in each issue. Naturally disciplined, I read everything! Now, if "reading" a game means replaying it, reading a problem means... solving it. The advantage is that you can practice without an opponent. And indeed, I did not play my first tournament until I was 18 and a half years old. I then alternated playing and solving until I was 20, when I decided to make some progress in my playing. Hm! That progress was slow in coming, so I got back in touch with the problem world... 30 years later.
In the 60's, I composed a few problems, but soon stopped seeing that I could never match the real composers. Excess of modesty? No, I don't think so. Much later I composed small studies, mostly from analyses that went wrong (or very well). But I am not a creator at heart, I am rather a collector of beauty, a gold digger!
How do you classify yourself as a solutionist ?
-- My ranking in resolution: 40th in the world and 2nd French (after Michel Caillaud). One should not draw any conclusions from this: these places come essentially from the scarcity of competitors: don't forget that there is never any money to be won. As my beloved wife says, "whenever there is nothing to win, you are very good". In 2012, MVL was invited to Japan, but to play Chess and Shogi. Luckily, it was the Problem Solvers' Congress that was taking place. He took part in the first day of the resolution championship, where he won the "studies" section, then had to withdraw on the second day. His professional activities prevent him from devoting more time to it.
My best results in world solving congresses: 18th in Turku (Finland) in 1995, 12th in Jurmala (Latvia) in 2008, 11th in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) in 2009.
Three successful world solving championships out of five, the two failures being Portoroz (Slovenia) in 2002 and Rhodes (Greece) in 2007. French titles in resolution, it is quickly done: one GM, Caillaud and two IMs, Garen Yacoubian and, at present, yours truly. Officially, Garen is only on the 2nd list, the "inactive" one, as he has not participated for a long time (although he was present in Bern).
PS: Speaking of "successful world solving championships", a little update:
Rather unsuccessful world solving championship: Ostróda 2015 (Poland).
Rather successful world solving championship: Belgrade 2016 (a prize for old men).
Successful world solving championship: Ohrid 2018 (19th, preceding Michel).
We don't see much of you in tournaments anymore. Have you lost your taste for competition ?
-- I have not played in "normal" chess tournaments since 2009. You see, now playing a game... bores me. But yes, I think about chess almost 24 hours a day ("Chess is my life", V. Kortchnoi), but playing a game seems bland, meaningless... I am so accustomed to encountering Beauty every day, whether it is in the analysis of endgames, and even of whole games, or in the contemplation of superb problems or studies. Not to mention the obvious fact that I don't have the same energy as I did in 2005, when I achieved a new norm, 17 years after obtaining my title.
When I quit my job as a maths teacher in the summer of 2006, now with all my time at my disposal (or so I thought), I imagined I would be playing a slew of tournaments until I died. Well no, I won't be Mieses or Paoli. But I hope to continue with the problem-solving competitions. If you knew how relaxing it is, compared to tournaments: short sequences (1h40 maximum, for studies), instead of suffering for 4 or 5 hours, and above all, no preparation, as you have no idea of the problems that will be proposed! No 3 hours torture to improve the 27th move of the Kalashnikov variant.
How do you see the situation of players in France? Why did you once speak of the "French disease" ?
-- The French are being fooled because they admire the performances of a few exceptional players (MVL, EB, LF, RE... and our female MS) but do not realise that there is no succession. You will tell me that I am exaggerating. However, there is no serious candidate for the world championship appearing on our soil, as Fischer was at the age of 14 in his country.
It seems that we are unable to prepare young people for the top level in a decent way. In particular by presenting them, as is the case in other sports, with as many coaches as there are specialities (or subsets, call them what you will). You can guess where I am going with this, the most important subset being the teaching of ENDGAMES!
At the last Olympiad, the French were in first place, two rounds before the end. But two top players blundered in the endgame, sending our country back into the catacombs. That's how it is: contra factum non fit argumentum (against facts, there is no discussion). At the previous Olympiad, in September 2012, victory was decided by the same reason (the French not being concerned) in the Russia-USA, Ukraine-Russia and USA-China matches. How much evidence will it take to admit the obvious?
While the French refuse to understand, others are more lucid, the Chinese for example. Have you measured the progress they have made in the endgames over the past two years? What a curious coincidence, they are world champions! Thanks to an endgame of the match against the Azeris where the "bad Bishop" ... won against the "good Knight". But what's the point of insisting: if you wash a donkey's head, you lose your laundry.
What do you think about the intrusion of computers into the daily lives of players ?
-- A remark on an often heard statement: the computer will soon become perfect, and therefore Chess will lose all interest. A nonsense, for at least 3 reasons.
First, to consider "32-unit tablebases" is a sweet dream: currently, 7-unit tablebases are not finished. Secondly, as Nicolas Giffard said a long time ago, the advent of the car did not kill the race. But I prefer the third, more personal reason. Let's suppose that competition, in the form of tournaments, stops. After all, it's in crisis: the increasingly uncertain funding, the infernal pace, the madness of the "anti-nulls" fanatics, the insane rule punishing a zero for being 30 seconds late, etc. A bunch of madmen want to disgust the world's players from the competition.
Well, even if that were the case, my passion for chess would not decrease one inch. As I told you, it is the artistic aspect of chess that occupies me almost entirely. When you contemplate a painting at home, when you listen to a concerto, you are not disturbed by the least sporting consideration. That being said, if you remain attached to this dimension, there are still solving competitions. And, for those who are more gifted than me, composition competitions!
Can we use computers to progress ?
-- Of course, but intelligently. In the days of postponements, it was recommended to proceed in 3 phases: first analyse alone, then with friends, then again alone. With the computer, you should also analyse alone, then sift through the variants with the computer, and finally review everything with your own brain.
If you are following a game of grandmasters on the Internet, unplug, as France Gall said, I mean unplug the analysis engine. This gives you a free home lesson, often from the best players in the world. But at the end of the game, consult it. If you have time, take up its suggestions yourself: the 3rd phase.
It is funny to see engines giving +4.5 to theoretical draws, like most recently Carlsen-Aronian. But it is distressing to see sheepish players repeating, in such cases, that "it wins easily". Read the comments on the broadcasting sites! Although there are some very good ones, one in a thousand perhaps, like this (nasty) review from a "top 10" player I won't name: "he's preparing a book with the title: how I became what I never was".
When you prepare an opening, don't rely on the machine's appreciation. A move that requires 3 difficult moves to justify it is a bad move in practice. A move that can be followed by 3 human moves, all leading to a purely symbolic disadvantage at worst, is a good move.
The temptation to rely on machines is a scourge of the age. Decerebration threatens: the danger is, by dint of misusing houdins, to become... a pudding.
What are your favourite books?
-- Apart from chess, it would take too long, so I'll just give you an example that will surprise you: I loved S. Larsson's trilogy. I wish I had a friend like Lisbeth (who, as you probably know, plays chess): she would have quickly cleaned up my enemies!
On the chess side, one per category: Kérès' King's Gambit (openings), Guelfand's commented games (middle game), Mandler's Beauty and Depth (studies), Breuer's Anthology (problems). Oh, I forgot the endgames: at my age, you lose your memory!
Music, cinema, food, countries ?
-- Nice pun. Thanks to the great Jacques.
In classical music, I prefer concertos to symphonies and violin-piano sonatas to opera. Although I don't forget the divine Maria (Casta Diva).
In jazz, I prefer Duke and Basie to what Davis became. But I liked Soft Machine (kekcekça?).
On the other hand, I remain fascinated by Nico, having approached her... 40 years ago. Her hypnotic voice often comforts me. Like her, I feel that "my heart is empty", while handing out songs "full of love". And I am wary of "honesty that lies to you". I used to enjoy the Moody blues, though they bear little resemblance to Léo Ferré. Also Tim Hardin, Dylan and Clapton, but otherwise King Cole and Sinatra. And others you've never heard of!
I haven't been to the cinema for over 20 years. I like De Funès a lot, but my favourite actor is Paul Meurisse. I like the films of Mankiewicz, Minnelli, B. Wilder, De Palma, but also Melville, Lautner (with Audiard), Autant-Lara and... Besson (by the way, hello Juliette!).
My favourite dish is sweetbreads with morel mushrooms, which you can hardly find any more. I hate beer and rosé wine: I make up for it with white and red. I prefer Burgundy to Bordeaux, except when I dine at J.-R. Lagunes.
Countries: in 1996, I was in Martinique. And in 2009 in Brazil, where I discovered a paradise called Paraty (a pun that is all the more unintentional because it is pronounced "tchi"). But for budgetary reasons, I usually settle for... Croatia. I'll have a hard time visiting all its islands (there are about a hundred) but I'm working on it.
What are your defaults?
--- As for the books, it would be too long... I think my main flaw is my weakness in practical life: I'm a miserable handyman, I'm not vigilant enough in managing my affairs (I've spent my life getting "enfirouâpé", as they say in Quebec). And if my wife didn't exist, it would have been even worse. I spent too much time on chess!
And I say to my face what I think, not supporting hypocrisy. I am very patient when questioned, but when someone asserts peremptorily, I tend to stick my neck out. This leads some to believe that I am proud. But it's quite the opposite...
And your main qualities?
-- They are included among my defaults !
A presentation of the course from (early?) 2006:
Location: 17bis rue d'Amsterdam. No possible armoured door with 3 digicodes that self-destruct in case of mistake. You have plenty of time: I said 6.25 pm so as not to force you to attend my "course" which starts around 6.30 pm. It ends around 10 or 10.15 pm. We examine a few endgames, studies or combinations, then (from 7.45 or 8pm) a whole game analysed in detail. Only condition: no tongue in cheek; we don't accept any analysis without verification, we are there to demolish, whether it is Fritz, Kasparov, or myself. A "Nietzschean" course, in a way. At about 10.15 pm, we migrate to the restaurant, which we leave between 12.30 and 2 am. At the table, the "course" continues with problems, essentially fairy ones. This leaves you with a field of... six hours at least to make contact.
An audience of between 5 and 10 people (and a few players who blitz and don't give a damn about the course)... You enter without any problem: no code, no Soviet customs, no Israeli wall, not even an automaton. At worst, you step over the bum who sleeps quietly in front of the entrance. It's on the ground floor (there is no floor, by the way) on the right, unless the dancers have authoritatively taken over the main hall, in which case it's on the left. No telephone. I, a pithyanthrope, do not have a mobile phone of course. Restaurant: ask for the "chess players", they don't know any names, they all capture us for world champions since they have seen a real one (Michel Caillaud, in problems).
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