February 6, 2011

Interview with Mihail Marin

It is always difficult to find the best words to describe a person that you respect and appreciate very much. I will give it a try, although I am afraid words might look too small or sound empty when compared to his achievements.
I am honoured to present you my dear friend: Mihail Marin, who doesn't need any further introduction. His name has its own well deserved place in the chess world and everybody heard of him.
His games, his books, his efforts in working with Polgar sisters or Daniele Vocaturo, they all come together in creating, if he allows me to say so, a living legend. I am sure he will have something to comment about that, mainly due to one of his biggest character traits: modesty, but this time I am the one to write the sentences:)
I know him for many years, I followed his games, I had the luck to have him next to me as a coach (in the European Team Championship, Plovdiv 2003) and I am a passionate reader of his books. His extraordinary ability to analyze problems and outline necessary courses of action is invaluable, conclusion which I can easily draw after our multiple conversations from Wijk, while following the games. And I must say, he was never losing his calm, no matter what Daniele was doing on the board:)
An outstanding chess player for many years, one of the best Roumania had and has, one of the "world's finest chess writers" (Jeremy Silman), not only a second or sparring partner for Judit Polgar or Daniele Vocaturo, but also a valuable friend...whatever he does, cannot pass unnoticed.
Seldom have I been able to recommend someone without reservation. It is a pleasure to do so in the case of Mihail Marin.


It is a wonderful reward when your pupil has a big success: Daniele is the winner of the C-Group! Did you expect that?
I am happy about Daniele's result, but describing pre-tournament my expectations is far from simple. In chess, as in any other sport, one rarely can count on achieving the final success. Even if the opponent's strength is evaluated correctly, the bigger enemy frequently is our own weakness or lack of resoluteness. I only knew that, along the past few months, he had done everything needed for arriving at Wijk aan Zee 2011 with an ample preparation and in good sportive form. Therefore, we secretely hoped to win the tournament, but I think that this is valid for every other player taking part in such a qualification tournament.

He was clearly leading the entire tournament, but, because of emotions probably, he lost his game before the last one and also, in the encounter against Ilya, the game was not in Daniele's favour. What were your thoughts in the press room?
Daniele is the kind of player who would play at full steam irrespective of the tournament situation. Together with our manager and friend, Yuri Garrett, we tried to build up this approach in him and it seems that we have succeeded. While definitely positive on long term, this also can cause some practical problems at times. There were two moments in the tournament when Daniele had a lead of 1,5 points over his nearest rival and maybe somewhere deep inside he thought that a draw would be fine. This contradiction between his general approach and the temporary weakness led him to defeat in both situations, requiring that he takes it all over again, from the beggining.
The last round game actually started very much to Daniele's favour. His opponent played the Najdorf variation, not a very inspired choice if one needs to win at any cost. After ...e7-e5 the structure is more or less blocked in the centre and White can dictate the matters. Daniele soon reached a stable advantage, in a position where only White could play for a win. Psychologically, the situation was not easy to be dealt with, though: there was no immediate win available and also no way to a draw and he had to keep making moves. He correctly decided that the bishop sacrifice on h5 would lead to a devastating attack, but chose the wrong move order and achieved a draw only with some share of luck.

Besides Daniele, are you working with other players as well?
There is just another fine young gentleman with whom I am working. He is 12 and half, very talented in chess, but also in piano and guitar playing, as well as in maths, programming, basketball and foreign languages.

Victor Marin

Let me guess: his name is Victor, your son:) Would you like him to become a professional chess player? Does he like the game?
He is quite active in chess, indeed. His results have not been very constant, but he got several medals at national level so far. Of course he likes playing, who would not in his position? In view of the details explained in the previous question, it is early to say whether he will become a professional, but, as a father, I am just happy that we have such a subject of mutual interest to discuss.

We all know you were for many years the trainer of Polgar sisters, for Judit especially. Are you still working together?
It would be a lack of modesty calling myself a trainer for such outstading players as the Polgar sisters, but, yes, over the years I had a close working relation with them. In 1990 I had a few training periods with Zsuzsa, while after 2000 I occasionally helped Judit with her preparation.

Trainer for women, for men...are you adopting different strategies when working with women?
My experience is not that ample, actually. I have acted as a second /sparring partner with a very reduced number of players. In all cases, we also were good friends, which probably is the most important aspect in order to make such a working relation function well. You need to know and understand your friend/pupil very well and adapt your behaviour with the concrete need of every concrete moment of the tournament. This is my main "strategy" irrespective of the gender of the person I am working for.

Your books are very well received! When will the next one appear? And do you have a favourite one, or one that you enjoyed very much writing it?
I am currently involved in a book project which may be anounced publicly in about one month. I cannot say more by now, but it will be something very challenging and, most probably, very rewarding from creative point of view. Usually, my favourite "baby" is that one I am working on, or that I just have sent to the printer. You know, my book family is growing really big: I have published 9 books so far and all of them have meant something very special at that concrete moment. It would be logical that "The Legends" remain my favourite book, because I worked on it during 6 years (!) and it won me the Book of the Year award at ChessCafe.com, but, curiously, I rarely think about it now. Maybe this happens because I live the emotions of the moment at full intensity and feel free to move on further when the work has been done.

The first 9 books.

You are a very experienced player, above 2600, which is very good for Roumania particularly. Why can't we see you in the team competitions?
You probably refer to the fact that I have not played in the national team starting with... the second half of the Torino Olympiad. Well, I certainly am not responsible for that, as I always liked playing in Olympiads and European team championships. Neither do I enjoy speaking about this subject. It seems that some of the leading players of the moment, as well as some influential people from the federation, agree that, as a player, I belong to the past. I will do my best proving that, while in the past I have, indeed, repeatedly been Romania's no. 1, my carrier is not at all finished yet. We have this saying in Romania: "Horses do not die when dogs want it to happen"!

How is the chess situation in Roumania and how can it be improved?
Romania is a country with huge chess tradition. The huge number of young players taking part in youth national championships is a clear hint about that. Unfortunately, the economic problems of the post-communist era make professional life more and more difficult. We still have a few teams that have the economic strength of sustaining their players financially, but the federation is rather weak from this point of view. They get some sponsorship from the Sports Commitee for participations in the official World and European competitions, but that's all. I am not a politician, so I will refrain from suggesting any solution to this problem.

Do you remember a funny, weird or embarassing moment from your experiences as a trainer, player...? If you can share it of course:)
If you want a complete list of my embarassing moments, just take all my losses from the database! Funny things happen all the time when playing chess, but, as happens with the favourite books, I tend to remember the last one. During the 2011 edition of the Tatasteel tournament, I used to share a table from the press room with my friend Yuri Garrett, you and the Dutch IM and reporter Hans Bohm, whose name is quite familiar to me. We had a friendly relation and, during one of his video reports, he mentioned the "two Italians" sitting at the same table. Next day, I happened to get a book co-authored by him (De Pion) and I kindly asked him for an autograph. "For my Italian friend" he wrote. He became very embarassed when I explained I was a Romanian GM and immediately suggested to replace Italian with Romanian. I preferred that he adds "" instead, since I was rather pleased that the fluence of my Italian got him on the wrong track.

You were also participating in solving competitions. Are you still doing that? Do you need special skills for it or any player could do it? Do you have a special technique while looking for the solution?
I have dedicated some time and energy to solving competitions few years ago. It is an independent territory and strong practical players have a handicap if compared with solving specialists. Despite my efforts, the best result I have achieved at international level was a FIDE master norm and a rating around 2250. In the meanwhile I won one (or was it two) national championships and some local events. My main competitor from the active players is GM Vlad Jianu.
Sometimes I solve mates in 4 or more during tournaments, in order to get into optimal form. I admit, this is not a traditional method, but it occasionally works out well. Even if it fails, you get the satisfaction of having spent some pleasant time and lowered the tournament tension.

Chess player, trainer, author, solving problems...for which one you dedicate more time? Which one can describe you better?
For a long period I essentially was a chess player. I believe that now, book writer is no lesser an image I would identify myself with. As I said, training I do on special occasions, while solving remains an occasional hobby. Generally speaking, there is no better feeling in chess than winning a good game or a tournament, but getting a book of the year prize or a good review is almost as good as.

Which results are are you most proud of?
It is quite common for chess players thinking that the best result is to come yet. Comparing my day-dreams as a boy to my practical results, I can evaluate that I have gone halfway only. There are, though, several tournaments where I believe that I played really well. I twice qualified for the Interzonal tournaments (1987 and 1990), I obtained a bronze board medal at the Thessaloniki Olympiad. I also am proud of my +3 score on the top board of the Istanbul Olympiad 2000. At Yerevan 1996 I got the second beauty prize for my win against Alejsandrov. Also, I occasionally beat top and very strong players, when they were at the peak of their form, like Shirov, Jakovenko, Akopian, Bologan, Kiril Georgiev.

You travelled a lot, which places you enjoyed most and why?
I always travel with pleasure to Spain, Holland and Sweden. I twice crossed the Ocean to Argentina and both were marvellous experiences. What I am most concerned with when visiting a country is the kindness of people; I feel very much at home in the aforementioned countries. Over the past years, I have been to Italy a lot. This has some special meaning to me, because one eighth of my blood is italian. Believe it or not, more than 100 years ago, the grandparents of my grandmother moved from Trento to Dobrogea looking for... a better life!! Now the tendency is quite opposite...

Which is your favourite chess player, chess book and chess game?
Depending on the book I am reading at the moment, I can feel inspired to play like Tal, Stein, Portisch or the good old Adolf Anderssen. Right now, I am carefully reading Yasser Seirawan's book on his Duels with the World Champions. I believe that there is a lot to be learned from his analysis and comments and would not be surprised if certain elements of his play will be noticed in my future games.

In the press room, Wijk aan Zee, with
Yasser Seirawan.

I know you have a big chess library. Do you know how many books you have, approximately?
Well, for a collectionary, my library is not that big. However, if we take into account that it is entirely functional, rather than fulfilling aesthetic purposes (I have carefully examined at least a few pages from most of the books I have, according to the needs of my work as a player, writer or trainer) you can call my library "big", indeed. I never counted them, but imagine that the number is somewhere in the range 1000-1500.

What would you advise us to do for improving our chess strength?
My main recommandation is: Stay away from the computer as long as you can! Study chess from the good old books and choose the new one carefully. Check things with the computer only when you have made up your personal mind. By persevering, you will be surprised finding out that the computer rarely refutes a well done human job. Occasionally, you may have some flaws, but there is nothing better than keeping an independent mind rather than being the computer's terminal.

Picture: www.chessbase.com

Thank you Mihail and good luck with all your projects!


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