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KC-Conference with Michal Krasenkow
The first hero (or perhaps guinea pig) of the “KC-Conferences” project was International Grandmaster Michal Krasenkow. Back in September 2009 he responded in writing to questions submitted by KasparovChess forum members, who over the course of two weeks managed to pose more than sixty questions. Michal indicated that he “answered almost all the questions, except the totally general or fanciful ones”. This is a slightly updated version of his conference with a couple of topical questions added.
Short Biographical Sketch:
Michal Krasenkow (Russian: Mikhail Vladimirovich Krasenkov) was born on 14 November 1963 in Moscow. He graduated in applied mathematics and computer modelling from the Gubkin Moscow Institute of the Petrochemical and Gas Industry (1985). Since 1992 he has been living in Poland. He became a Master in 1982, an International Master in 1988 and a Grandmaster in 1989. His current FIDE rating is 2628 (July 2010, 126th on the rating list); his highest FIDE rating was 2702 (July, October 2000, 10th on the rating list).
He has been Georgian Champion (1987), Polish Champion twice (2000, 2002), a multiple team champion of the USSR, Poland, Germany and Europe (1997, as part of the Ladya Azov team). He led the Polish team at a number of Chess Olympiads and European Team Championships (1997 - 3rd place, 1999 - 2nd place on the first board). He participated in five FIDE World Knockout Championships 1997-2004, with his best results being getting to the quarter-finals in Groningen, 1997 and the last 16 in Tripoli, 2004.
He has won or been a prize-winner in a large number of international tournaments, including: Moscow 1992 (Tal Memorial, 1-3), Las Palmas 1993 (1-2), Reggio-Emilia 1996/7 (1), New York 1997 (1-2), Vilnius 1997 (Mikenas Memorial, 1), Shanghai 2001 (Cat. 16, 1), Wijk-aan-Zee 2002 (“B”, 1), Vlissingen 2006 (1), Wijk-aan-Zee 2007 (“C”, 1), Ostrava 2007 (Cat. 16, 1), Hilversum 2009 (1-4), Vlissingen 2009 (1) and many more.
He has also worked as a trainer and is the author of a number of books on opening theory (on the Open Variation of the Ruy Lopez and the Sveshnikov).
Gelfand - Krasenkow (Lviv, 2000) (comments by Vassily Lebedev).
Tihonoff: Games with which players had the greatest influence on your chess development?
Every game with a strong opponent, first with masters and then with grandmasters, gave me something. Perhaps I’d single out my encounters with such GMs as Taimanov, Bronstein and Tseshkovsky, in sessions at the “Komsomolskaya Pravda” tournament in 1977.
Mustitz: Which tournament do you remember best, and why? Which game has stayed with you? Which game would you describe as your greatest achievement?
In terms of tournaments, then without doubt the first knockout World Championship in Groningen (1997), where I had my greatest success, getting to the 5th round. I still recall a lot of games (including victories over such stars as Karpov, Topalov, Shirov, Gelfand and so on), while I long considered my greatest achievement to be the game with De Firmian at the Polanica-Zdrój tournament (1995), until my pupil and now a grandmaster, Michal Olszewski, discovered that I missed a simple winning combination in the middlegame. So now I have to say that my greatest achievement is still ahead of me :)
vasa: Michal, out of all the moves you’ve made over the course of your chess career which do you consider the most beautiful?
No single move really comes to mind, but there was a two-move manoeuvre (or rather, a three-move manoeuvre, but the third move wasn’t played as my opponent replied weakly), from the game with Alexander Lagunov (Dnepropetrovsk, 1985).
23...Qa4! 24. Bd2 Rd6!! 25.Kf1?! [25.Qe2 Qd4!!] 25... Qb5+ 0:1
Mustitz: Do you play against computer programs? Do you recall any of those games?
I once played a program in the last round of a rapid chess tournament in Oviedo (1991). Computers at the time weren’t that strong, and a standard anti-computer strategy (closed positions and so on) was enough to win – though not without difficulty – and to earn an additional special prize.
clear0004: Dear Michal, which hundred ratings points were the hardest to gain?
If you’re talking about rating thresholds, then 2600. In 1993 I was already 2595, but I only became a 2600-player in 1996.
Crest: Michal, can you tell us about your mentors when you were young? Who formed Krasenkow, the chess player? Or did he grow up on his own? Does someone assist you continually now?
I remember with great warmth the trainers from the Moscow Pioneers’ Palace: Victor Liublinsky and Eduard Shekhtman, now no longer with us. Unfortunately when I finished school I also stopped receiving the help of trainers. Since that time (with rare exceptions) I’ve been on my own.
DOC-03: How did you end up in Poland?
All in all, it was by accident. Chaos reigned in the Russia of the early 90s and many tried to get out, while I also had housing problems to cope with. So when I received an offer from a Polish club (and it could have been from a German, Spanish or Czech one), I didn’t take long to decide.
- Are you comfortable there as a chess player, a citizen, and finally, as a Russian?
Yes. I feel freer than I did in Russia, never mind in the USSR. There isn’t much bureaucracy in Poland. You can travel without difficulty around Europe, and not only Europe (in general, it amazes me that Russians put up with all that hassle with visas). In chess I can be freelance and rely on no-one. The Internet cures nostalgia. In particular political forums and the aggressive boorishness of so-called “patriots” counteract any desire to return to Russia. Though the state of Polish-Russian relations means it’s necessary to be alert. There might come a time when there’s no choice but to leave Poland.
- Have you personally come up against cases of open Russophobia?
In everyday life, almost never, in chess, rarely (mainly on anonymous internet forums – there it’s been suggested more than once that I should clear off back to Russia). Russophobia in Poland for now, despite mass brainwashing, remains above all a matter for politicians and political writers – they get money for it :) – well, and politicised idiots in front of their computers.
Valchess (added in August 2010): Do you feel that Polish-Russian relations have improved after the Smolensk air crash?
I am not really aware of "underground movements" but my impression is that the initial hope that sympathy and common mourning would lead to a kind of a breakthrough is now slipping away. I don't understand the reason but Russian officials are now clearly displaying a complete lack of co-operation with Poles in the investigation of the worst disaster in Poland's post-war history. Instead, we see the usual arrogance and bureaucratic tricks. The same is going on around the old (and still unsettled) Katyn case. It's a great pity as Donald Tusk's government is the first authority in the Third Polish Republic [Translator's note: since Communist rule ended in 1989] which is pragmatic and has no Anti-Russian sentiments. Well, perhaps for some reason some circles in the Russian authorities are interested in tensions with Poland.
Crest: Michal, why haven’t you played for the Polish team recently? Such a loss for such a line-up is, in my opinion, insurmountable. Could you please let us in on what’s going on behind the scenes in Polish chess?
In 2004 some figures came to power in the Polish Chess Federation and, under the slogan “the Federation exists for the wider masses of chess players and not for a small group of grandmasters”, began to put pressure on the country’s leading chess players. They came to hate me for three reasons: firstly, I was Russian, i.e. foreign, secondly, out of their animosity towards the Warsaw club “Polonia”, and thirdly, “I’d butted in” (I came out a couple of times in defence of the interests of chess players). Well, they quickly made it clear my services weren’t required. I didn’t see any point in tilting at windmills (as, for example, Bartek Macieja, did) so I announced my withdrawal from the team. Now the federation’s leadership has changed. We’ll see what happens.
mishanp (added in August 2010): Did you see the recent interview with Tomasz Sielicki, the new President of the Polish Chess Federation, where he outlined the changes made in the last year and announced you were to be the trainer of the men’s team at the upcoming Olympiad?
Yes, Mr. Sielicki's interview is very interesting. The attitude of the federation towards the leading players has considerably improved. It is too early to draw any definite conclusions, but we hope for further progress in that direction.
Kit: Do you regret having moved to Poland?
a) That you moved. b) To Poland.
It’s useless to regret the past, especially as no-one knows what would have happened if he’d acted differently. And in any case, I think moving to Poland helped me both in my life and my chess career.
stirlitz: Dear Michal, it would be extremely interesting if you could describe the life of a chess professional from a financial point of view i.e. without going into excessive detail, what are your basic sources of income, do you earn money from anything other than chess, and how satisfied are you with the current state of affairs?
As I said, in chess I’m freelance. I play in tournaments and leagues, I train, I write articles, i.e. I do various things but all of them are connected in some way with chess. I don’t particularly try to earn money by any other means – in business, I’m absolutely nothing. I’m not complaining (touch wood!) about the current state of affairs. It never even occurred to me to compare my income (as Oleg Korneev does) with the earnings of bankers and managers :)
Renegat23: Michal, can you tell us a little about your literary plans? Are you going to write a book?
Not for now. In the mid-90s I wrote two opening books, but the relationship between the time spent on the work and the income was unsatisfactory. And for the moment no-one has expressed a desire to publish a collection of my games.
- Do you work as a trainer?
Yes, but irregularly, and mainly with Polish juniors. I’m writing these words in Italy, at the European Youth Championship.
Grafin: How often do you play in rapid chess tournaments?
Rarely, and mainly in Poland. I don’t have anything against rapid chess, but the tournament organisers usually don’t offer good conditions.
Eriksson: Michal, have you come across the use of computer assistance during competitions?
Not yet, touch wood! Sometimes when an opponent plays well you begin to have suspicions, but I don’t raise any protests or withdraw from tournaments :)
The Future of Chess
WinPooh: Michal, I’m interested in your opinion on the problem of the excessive “theorisation” of professional chess nowadays. From an amateur’s point of view top-level play is turning into a game of “who has the best memory”. Won’t this, and the dangers of computer assistance, lead to the total disappearance of professional chess? Or a mass switch to Fischer Random Chess?
For the time being we’re still a long way from that – at the highest level the majority of games are still decided by a struggle at the board. And human memory isn’t unlimited. Computer assistance is a problem. For now it’s still a marginal phenomenon. Human nature comes to the rescue – chess players usually want to win on their own, without anyone’s help. But you can’t rely on nature for too long. We need to come up with effective anti-cheating measures.
Kit: What’s your opinion of Chess960. Is it chess, or a different game?
It’s a different game entirely (never mind the peculiarities of the castling rules, you simply get different positions in it!), and therefore it’s very unlikely to replace classical chess.
- Are opens in Europe doomed? I’m thinking of the problems of rating dumping and cheating.
For now opens aren’t coming in dribs and drabs in Europe, but by the dozen. While there are still masses of amateur chess players open tournaments can’t disappear :)
Vasa: Why do we need chess?
Practically speaking you could say that we don’t, as it’s only a spectacle for those in the know, while in terms of its educational functions it can no doubt be substituted by other games. But chess is part of human civilisation: of history, tradition, culture – it’s one of those things that distinguish us from the Neanderthals.
Renegat23: In the most popular variation of the Makagonov System in the King’s Indian (5.h3), which you’re considered one of the experts in, after the moves:
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. h3 O-O 6. Nf3 e5 7. d5 a5
the most popular move for white is 8. Bg5 (you’re among those who play it). Occasionally you also see the moves 8. Be2, 8. Be3 and 8. g4. The latter move is, for me, the most promising – and is how, for example, I. Lysy has begun to play. But let’s return to the move 8.Bg5. After:
And a similar manoeuvre (Bc1-g5-e3) without the black move h6 has also been played more than once in the given system.
So here’s the question! What’s the point of the move Bg5 and doesn’t it lose a tempo compared to other lines (8. Be2, 8. Be3 and 8. g4)? Is it fashion, folly or a deep idea for white? And couldn’t you get by without it?
The loss of a tempo has no significance. In the Bagirov system the centre’s closed from the first moves and a manoeuvring battle begins. Note that white played Be3 only after …Nc5 and …c6. Now the white bishop is creating a constant threat to exchange on c5 and leave the opponent with a damaged pawn structure. After the immediate 8. Be3 black would no doubt choose a different plan (e.g. …Nf6-d7-c5). Therefore white first makes the restricting (or provoking the weakening …h7-h6) move 8. Bg5.
In general, the 6. h3 system is full of such subtleties. The thing is that it’s based on restricting your opponent’s options, so it becomes a game of cat and mouse: with the help of all kind of cunning white tries to “impose a blockading net”, while black tries to break through. Different plans by your opponent, and even a different move order, demand a different reaction and a different piece setup. I’ll discuss some of the subtleties in an article I’m now writing for Chessbase, while no doubt I’m unaware of many of the tricks myself!
pawaso: What is your opinion about the Stonewall Dutch?
Playable. If you know the ideas of the opening and have a feel for it - just go on!
Grafin: The games of which chess players (past and/or present) interest you most?
From the recent past – Kasparov, and from those now playing – Ivanchuk and Aronian.
- Which of the old masters had the greatest influence on you?
At one time it was Rubinstein. The remarkable thing is that I play in a totally different style.
- Whose games, in your opinion, are particularly useful for amateurs to study (at the level of candidate master)?
There’s no way I can give general recommendations. It depends on the style and the strengths and weaknesses of the given player’s game. But, of course, everyone should be familiar with the chess classics (Steinitz, Lasker, Tarrasch, Rubinstein, Capablanca, Alekhine, Botvinnik, Smyslov, Petrosian, Karpov and Kasparov).
Contemplater: Dear Michal! I’d like to hear your opinion on a number of aspects of chess, in particular: Are you capable during a game of maintaining the necessary concentration to calculate variations, and how?
I don’t have any special measures or means for maintaining concentration. Although I could do with them – with age it’s getting harder and harder.
- How do you manage to avoid blunders?
I try to follow the recommendations of Kotov and Dvoretsky, i.e. as full as possible a calculation of the candidate moves, checking according to Blumenfeld’s rule, and so on. That gives no guarantee of not blundering either, of course, but sometimes it helps you avoid them. The problem is that at times, in bad form, you forget even those simple things (like yesterday, when I made a horrible blunder and lost in the Polish league to Wojtaszek).
pawaso: How can chess calculation be trained? By solving exercises and combinations etc., but how? In a special way? Under special conditions? How do professionals such as yourself train chess calculation?
You can establish a time limit depending on the complexity of the position. I don't think any other "special conditions" are necessary. You can also train calculation when looking through an annotated game: having encountered a deep analysis of a certain position, just stop and try to calculate the variations yourself; then refer to the source to compare your calculations with the analysis.
Bushido: Your recommendations on books or techniques for: improving calculation, and developing combinational vision. P.S. among your publications I’m familiar with “Stumbling in the wilds - determining strategic plans directly at the board, an evaluation system for taking decisions”.
The problem, as always, is that each author has his own conception. Therefore it’s better to stick to one. In my opinion, in Russian there’s nothing better than Dvoretsky’s books. Having studied them well and resolved all the tasks (and that training is far more important than passively reading the books), you’ll make a great step forwards in all areas of chess skill.
Contemplater: Back when you were playing at first category [Translator's note: roughly Class A] level, how much theory did you study, and how quickly did you make progress?
I spent little time on theory and mainly played. At the time theory also wasn’t that developed. I became a candidate about one and a half years after reaching the first category.
Renegat23: Michal, tell us something about your chess preparation (between tournaments). Which programs do you use? Which engines do you prefer for analysis? Which databases do you use? And how do you work with databases?
I can’t say that I work regularly, from such a time to such a time – it’s more as the mood takes me: I can sit and analyse all day, or I can “not touch the pieces at all”. I use Chessbase (I’m a regular CBM author), Fritz and Rybka. The topic of working with databases would need a long discussion and, alas, the format of this conference doesn’t allow that.
- Michal, what’s your opinion of correspondence chess? Do you use correspondence game databases in your preparation?
Of course I use them – after all they’re often games of the highest quality, played with computer assistance. But is correspondence chess still of interest from a sporting point of view? I’m not sure. It would be better to ask those who play it.
Valchess: Michal, how would you define your own individual “chess style” (if, of course, you accept the very existence of such a concept beyond trivialities like “combinational” or “positional”)? To what extent was it determined by your natural inclinations, and to what extent did you consciously develop it?
I’d say: an active style. Clearly it was determined by my natural inclinations, as the study of the games of Rubinstein, Petrosian, Karpov (great masters of manoeuvring) didn’t change it.
- And could you define what, specifically, is “chess talent”? Who do you consider the greatest talent in chess history? Do you agree with the opinion that the natural talent of Karpov is both greater, and more original, than Kasparov’s?
I don’t agree. Such a comparison isn’t justified, and I wouldn’t want to rank chess talents – each great chess player had his own, original talent. And in general talent in chess, for me, is the ability to quickly perceive and process information, and to use that information to think creatively, to produce something new in certain areas of chess, depending on the nature of your talent.
Grafin: Who do you prefer in chess and personal terms: Topalov or Kramnik? Do you take either side in their conflict?
It’s difficult to respond to the first question, while the second is easier: of course, I take Kramnik’s side, as the accusations against him were absolutely absurd.
- Who, in your opinion, will win the Anand – Topalov match (if such a match takes place)?
I don’t know, but I’ll support Anand, who I’ve known well for a long time.
Luber: Dear Michal! I’d be interested to know who you’d predict the eight lucky contenders for the 2009-2011 cycle will be, i.e. who’ll continue the battle for the chess crown in the Candidates Matches? Who, in your opinion, is the favourite?
It’s impossible to give a prediction as you might say that in the chess elite at the moment there’s an unimaginable crush :) Look at how often a super-tournament is won by someone completely unexpected. Such outstanding chess players as Ivanchuk and Shirov sometimes finish first, and sometimes last.
ddt: What’s your opinion of rating inflation?
Negative. But FIDE isn’t planning on fighting it.
Lolita: Michal, can you tell us about your time on the FIDE ethics commission.
I was a member of the committee on titles and ratings, and not the ethics commission. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually manage to attend FIDE congresses and take part in the work of the commission.
- How do you assess the recent changes adopted by FIDE?
FIDE continually retains low norms (given rating inflation) for titles, and even, as in 2004, lowers them. That means that the titles are devalued. The most recent changes are a purely cosmetic alteration. My view of such politics is, of course, negative.
ddt: Was there some consequence of, or at least a reply to, your proposal to FIDE on improving the checks on granting chess titles? What other innovations would you suggest in the struggle with those falsifying chess titles?
They had some sort of discussion in Dresden but, as I understand it, they adopted almost nothing. Despite my request they didn’t send a transcript of the discussion, and I haven’t seen it. What’s the point of talking about “new proposals”!
Crest: On the same topic. Michal, what would you consider a cardinal solution to the problem of fixed tournaments? How, and at what stage should restrictions be imposed to prevent the creation of phoney titles?
It should be in the rules for granting titles, and in the checks made on the organisation of tournaments. A simpler and more effective measure, which would barely affect the interests of honest title-seekers, would be to demand that one of the norms be fulfilled in a Swiss tournament (or an official championship). That was precisely the main point of my proposals to FIDE; I don’t understand why it’s so hard to accept that rule. Investigating each case after the fact and trying to prove fraud when there’s an assumption of innocence is a Sisyphean task.
stirlitz: What’s your opinion of shortening the time control in classical chess? Which control do you consider optimal?
You always need to use common sense. Of course, the old control (2.5 hours for 40 moves) is totally inadequate for our times, but upping the tempo too much leads to a lowering of the quality of play and damages the creative side of chess. We need to halt the distinguished Kirsan Nikolaevich in his revolutionary endeavours :) I think that the most popular control nowadays (1.5 hours for 40 moves + half an hour to the end, with 30 seconds added each move) is a sensible compromise.
luber: Dear Michal! On more than one occasion you’ve participated in the FIDE World Championship. What’s your opinion of the current system for selecting and running matches for the chess crown? Which selection system, running championship matches, rematches or tournaments, do you consider ideal?
A match-tournament of challengers + a world championship match is the right system, and it’s good that FIDE has returned to it. The system of Candidates Matches is too cumbersome, and the dangers of a “Soviet pact” have long since passed. Well, and for the previous stages – that’s a wider question, as it depends on the overall system of FIDE competitions (World Cup, Grand Prix and so on).
Crest: Michal, can you acquaint us with your poem ending with the epic lines, “I’d like to root all trace of it from my soul. No to that outrage. No, no and no!” Where, how and why did you write it? Do you still write poetry?
I’ve put it up on LiveJournal. Strictly following the principle “that a cobbler shouldn’t bake pies”, after reaching a certain degree of maturity I stopped writing poetry.
[Translator’s note: on his LiveJournal page Michal explains he wrote the poem as a 16-year-old forced to spend a month in the highly regimented Orlenok (“Eaglet”) children’s camp on the Black Sea. It recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, with former “inmates” including Karpov, Kasparov and Ilyumzhinov.
Without trying to translate the rhymes, the first and last stanzas of the poem read:
“The children arrived in the “Eaglet” camp.
But for a long time the “Eaglet” nightmares
Below the poem on the LiveJournal page GM Mikhail Golubev adds an article about his experience there. As he wrote to his mother at the time: “Here the air’s good, but it’s hard to breathe”.]
Valchess: Michal, two non-chess questions: How important are music, literature and cinema for you? What are your favourite types of music, authors, works? And what don’t you like?
I prefer singer-songwriters [Translator’s note: or perhaps “guitar-poets” - Krasenkow mentions the Russian “author song”] and the most outstanding of them, Vladimir Vysotsky. By the way, in Poland (in the town of Koszalin, anyone who played there in the open in the 90s will know it) there’s a private Vysotsky museum, which is run by a remarkable woman and enthusiast of his work, Marlena Zimna. In literature I prefer realistic prose with a touch of romanticism (the works of Saint-Exupery made a great impression on me).
I haven’t particularly liked cinema since my childhood, and I only watch comedies (above all, the excellent Soviet ones), as well as pseudo-documentaries and historical films. I was also struck, of course, by socially-important works like “Repentance”, the significance of which extends far beyond the bounds of art.
- If possible, give us a quick summary of your ideological preferences and political views.
My views are liberal, based on a respect for personal freedom. The state exists for the individual, and not the individual for the state.
Winpooh: Michal, did you ever find yourself playing Go or any other intellectual games other than chess?
At times I did (though not Go), but I was never enthusiastic about them. Almost all chess players, no doubt, have gone through a stage of playing card games (Preference, Belote) and I was one of them.
-Your view on poker?
Alas, it’s not something I know much about.
redi: Dear Michal, has your education in applied mathematics helped you as a chess player? Do you regret that you gained a university degree and then played chess?
It definitely doesn’t help, but I don’t regret attending university. As I’ve already said, it’s useless to regret the past.
Sibarit: Michal, in how many languages are you fluent, and in how many can you communicate?
Of course I speak Polish quite fluently (but, alas, with an accent), my English isn’t bad, and I speak a little Spanish.
- Do you share the opinion that the knowledge of one foreign language is equal to a higher education in a subject?
It’s hard to compare. It depends on the language and the education.
- Could you please name your favourite places in the former USSR, Poland, Europe and the world?
In general I love nature. When I’m in Moscow (particularly in summer), I always go walking in Izmailovsky Park. In Poland I recently discovered a wonderful place, only 20 km from Gorzów – a forest lake with the funny name of Portki, so-called because of its form [translator’s note: “portki” means “trousers” in both Polish and Russian]. It has the purest air and water and an almost undisturbed silence. Well, and as for Europe and the world – of course the Norwegian Tromso, a symphony of mountains and fjords in the midnight sun.
Eriksson, krey: Do you read Crestbook? What would you wish the Crestbook site and its visitors?
Of course I read it! I wish it to keep growing, and I hope the site finds a good sponsor!
The text in Russian was prepared for publication by phisey (Stanislav Fiseisky) and Valchess (Valery Adzhiev). Vasa (Vassily Lebedev) was responsible for the chess fragments.
English translation by Colin McGourty with editorial assistance by Valery Adzhiev.
Colin McGourty is a fan of both chess and languages, but sadly has much more talent for the latter. While studying English Literature and Russian he spent a year in Odessa, Ukraine, before “almost” writing a PhD on a Polish writer. He grew up in England, but now lives in Poland, and mainly works as a freelance translator. For a while now he’s been scattering chess translations among the comments at sites like chessninja.com (as “mishanp”), but recently he set up his own website: Chess in Translation. He also started to write articles for Chessvibes and, of course, to cooperate with Crestbook.
Other KC-conferences in English:
KC-Conference with Alexander Khalifman: Part One
KC-Conference with Alexander Khalifman: Part Two
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