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The following interview was published in Chess Today No. 1129 (11 December 2003) Translated from Russian by Jim Marfia

Interview with IM Maxim Notkin on his 40th birthday

IM Maxim Notkin

Dear Maxim, heartfelt congratulations on your 40th birthday. Let me ask you, as a special favour to the readership of Chess Today, either to affirm or to deny that you:

Are, by virtue of your work on Chess Today, the World Chess Rating webpage, and the magazine Shakhmatnaya Nedelya, the most productive chess journalist in Russia for 2003.

It appears that I will have to answer this question in the affirmative. Besides the above-listed main occupations, I also write for other publications from time to time, when asked. There might be someone who prepares more lines in a given week, but for the breadth of my interests, I am most likely first.

Aided the popular column 'Game of the Week' to make its appearance on the WCR site?

Again, I affirm - although the idea belongs to Denis Bilunov. We worked out the technical details together; but after that, it's been just me, swimming in this sea of games. Lately, I've begun to notice that my week seems to have fewer days in it. Either that, or Mark Crowther is starting to publish his games collection more frequently! Look how fast they run - TWIC-471, 472, 473...

I've got to say - I really love this column. It's nice when a game that appeals to me turns out to be one my fellow experts like too; and it's interesting to (be the first to!) read their insightful commentary. I'm also glad to hear from chess lovers from different countries, e-mailing me to ask for PGN-files.

Are at least a little unsettled by the fate of your irregular column at the same site, 'The Week With Maksim Notkin'

I will admit to this much: that as soon as interesting events happen, then my column blossoms, too. Although, of course, the fact that it gives the impression of being 'irregular' can't help but worry me. It wasn't thought of like that. As a rule, I have noticed that any columnist, sooner or later, comes to the conclusion that what is important is not the events occurring in the world, but the thoughts coming to his head during that week. But I am not yet ready to free-associate on a weekly basis - the first question of our interview clearly demonstrates that the time for me to think of something on my own has not yet come. In the months to come, I will probably alternate general observations with reports on whatever strong tournament is happening.

Suffered from the assault of the bureaucrats upon the free chess press.

Of all your questions, this is the saddest. The situation with the magazine 'Shakhmatnaya Nedelya' could have been resolved without such brutality, even taking into account the (unfortunate) absence of flexibility in our bosses, and the general pattern of thought in today's Russia. In any case, the chess press does not need quite so much freedom as the political press. I can reassure our readers this much: we have all suffered in this, but we are not giving up. Chess is not yet forbidden. We shall all find work.

Began your chess road in Moscow, where you played for the House of Pioneers Team.

Yes, I did. The player on that team who has reaped the most success has been Mikhail Krasenkow. Igor Glek is also pretty famous; but he's a bit older - we almost didn't play on the same team at all. Generally speaking, I continued my road in Moscow, while most of my friends spent far more time going to tournaments abroad. But it is true that later, I took my own form of revenge (see the next question).

Worked, at a more mature age, as a trainer for the Venezuelan chess team.

Affirmed. I spent a year and a half in the tropics. As trainer, I even attended the Olympiad in The only word I would correct is "worked". Compared to my current burdens, that was a rest cure. The political and social situation in Venezuela in 1999-2000 was tense, and then it got worse; so I don't regret my return. But my friends, the chess players of Venezuela, I shall always remember fondly.

Were the musical mentor of both Peter Svidler and Alexander Morozevich.

Well, I wouldn't put it like that - as if I had given them violin lessons or something. Peter (thanks, Peter!) once, in a "New in Chess" interview, called me his musical guru — that's where all that came from. I have no musical education; but I love listening to music, and I've worked on it a long time (mostly rock from all eras; but jazz, classics, and folklore can also put me in a wonderful frame of mind). Since I'm almost 15 years older than Peter and Alexander, my CD collection unavoidably contains names and categories they haven't even heard of yet. For example, it was thanks to me that both of them experienced "The Crazy World of Arthur Brown". [Composer and performer of the single hit, "Fire!", in the '70's - Tr.] These days, sometimes they tell me about somebody I don't know.

I'm not going to go any further into this interesting topic, since people like different kinds of music. Boris Gulko told me that one of his older friends, having discovered Peter's musical preferences, said that he would have had a fit if any son of his had such barbarous tastes. (And Peter's tastes and mine are a lot alike.) Could there be, among the readers of CT, other such admirers of the higher arts? We shall not traumatize them.

Share your living quarters with an uncountable number of living creatures.

That's old news; now, they're countable. You can count the number of dogs on the fingers of one hand; and the number of cats is the same as a man's limbs (or legs, or eyes, or ears). The discerning readers will have already figured out by known that in my small apartment, I have 5 dogs and 2 cats. This is, by and large, on the initiative of my darling wife; but I myself love animals because, well, because you can't not love them. The reason we have so many pets is because, 7 months ago, our big, beautiful doggie (a bull-mastiff) had puppies. Say - did you notice a few days ago the same thing happened in the family of the Russian president? We thought we could sell our little beauties in 2 or 3 months, but what kind of profit can you get when you have to feed them, and they all need shots, which cost a fortune. And some are still sitting there, waiting for new masters. I'd like to see how quickly Putin manages to sell his puppies.

Won a few international tournaments.

Yes, that happened. In the 1993 Groningen Open, I shared 1-9th places; in Minsk, 1996, is was 1-6th. I won Aalborg 1995 alone (I hope I haven't mixed up those dates, even though all this was long ago). There was a time, when I could make a good start to practically any tournament. If I could have shortened those tournaments the way I wanted, my resume would look a lot more impressive. For instance, in Yalta 1996, I started with 5 out of 5; but then I lost to the grandmaster who's now asking these questions. Then, I lost another game. Generally speaking, that tournament should not have gone on so long.

Have not yet made grandmaster, all because of a certain Ukrainian girl.

That's a well-constructed question. If I were to give an evasive, mysterious answer, then the readers could imagine a romantic story, in which the beautiful Ukrainian prevented me from fulfilling the primary goal of the chess-player's life. But in fact, matters were much more prosaic. In a round-robin, grandmaster-norm tournament in Moscow, I had two games left to play. In order to make the norm, I had to win both of them. One of the two tasks looked easy: I had White against the Ukrainian, Irina Lymar, who had, up until that moment, scored a half-point in 8 or 9 games. But she managed to score twice that against me. Since this was not, after all, the final game, and since I had already played less than stellar chess in the two games preceding this one, I do not blame Irina entirely for the fact that I remain, to this day, an International Master.

But that, on the other hand, you have a big plus score against a leading German player: Alexander Graf (Nenashev).

Affirmed – I beat him twice. One of those games, in which I had White, even made the Informant Top Thirty. It was played, and commented on, in the pre-computer epoch; and to this day, I have not run it through Fritz. Who wants to be disappointed?! Perhaps I shall soon undertake this operation, and share the results with CT's readers; but on my birthday, you understand, I just don't feel like it. The next time we played, Alexander evidently wanted very much to exact revenge. He played too sharply in the opening, and the refutation was pretty spectacular.

Wrote an entertaining piece about the art of commenting on chess games, which has not yet been translated into English.

To be honest, I don't know if it has been translated. It would be more accurate to say that I haven't thought too much about it. The piece was published on As it is on today's WCR, in those days there was an English-language version of the site, and the material usually appeared in both languages. Perhaps that piece was an exception. I heard some nice reviews on it from chess-players and journalists. Perhaps we could put a link in the last question of our conversation.

Used to comment without the aid of a computer.

That's easy to prove. At one point, I had commented almost two hundred games for "Chess Base" - this was, by the way, the job that gave me a lot of the material for the article cited in the previous question. If I could find those analyses today, and ask Fritz/Junior to give its qualified evaluation, then it would immediately become clear that I had commented with my own two hands.

Now, I did see the recent game Galkin-Volzhin (Dubai 2002), where Sveshnikov's Variation was played (and I am an absolute dilettante in that line); I could see that, had the White player been familiar with my notes to the game Khalifman-Lautier (Linares 1995), he would not have taken the fatal path. So even without computers, we can still sometimes find good moves. That's encouraging.

Are prepared to share with us your plans for the future.

The simplest way to demonstrate wit is to say, "Ready", and then say nothing. Actually, I've already answered that. But I suppose you want details. I can't promise this will be interesting. Before New Year's: prepare approximately five issues of "Chess Today", write a few pieces for WCR, look over another three or four thousand games to find forty good ones. Sell another puppy - two, I hope. I warned you this might not be interesting!

Less officially: I would like to play a little more chess, even if it's only blitz. This year, I was practically deprived of that pleasure. To read at least some of the books I bought this year. Some of my most recent acquisitions were: The English Patient, and Stephen Fry's books. Tomorrow, I'd like to listen to the Grateful Dead's "Blues for Allah", Bill Frisell's "Is That You?", Miles Davis' "Sorcerer", and perhaps Paul Simon's "You're The One". If there isn't time tomorrow for all that, then the day after. In a word - I'd like to make the most fruitful use of the time that has been freed up for me as a result of events at "Shakhmatnaya Nedelya". The work will find me.

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All text Copyright Alexander Baburin unless otherwise noted