Today we have an exciting interview with Ukrainian chess grandmaster Mikhail Golubev, we asked him some question related to his chess journey and he gladly accepted our invitation, we will get to know him and learn from his story and how he became the player he is today, the difficulties he faced during his journey and his recommendations and tips for chess players and parent who want to teach their kids the game.
I’m a chess grandmaster, former professional player, Ukrainian champion 1996, author of four chess opening books in English, former professional chess journalist (and former local political activist, it can be added, perhaps); currently, a full-time chess coach from Odessa (Odesa), Ukraine where I was born in 1970 and where I’m still living now. My web page is mikhailgolubev.wordpress.com
what attracted you to the game of chess?
I started to play chess at six. Indeed, I was a chess maniac during my first years in chess: it can be easier to list what I disliked or liked not much about chess than what I liked in it. So, long-term chess strategy and endgames, I liked only sporadically. Dealing with these areas you could say were something like a sad necessity to me.
What is your chess story?
I’m grateful to my family for giving me opportunities to try myself in a number of various fields in sports, arts, science – and, after I showed no interest, or no ability, or neither, in these fields, to accept my passion to chess. Virtually all my elder relatives knew chess, but none of them was a club player. It was, perhaps, useful, that the most famous player of our city, Efim Geller, decades before my birth was a student of my grandmom, who was a chemist at the Odessa University. So, at least one serious chess player was personally known to a commanding member of our family.
In USSR there was GM Averbakh’s educational chess program on TV, which existence, perhaps, was also helpful. Also, luckily, I often played against a neighbor, who turned to be a nephew of the coach from the Odessa chess club and visited the club. This boy told me about the chess club – and nothing could have stopped me afterwards. Even if in the beginning my family only moderately shared my enthusiasm with chess. At the age of seven, I went to the chess club – and I already wasn’t a beginner, after playing much and studying some two serious chess books. In my first tournament, I won the majority of games and achieved the third category very easily.
I remained in chess because my early career was very successful: objectively I was among the strongest players of my age in Ukraine and the USSR, at least, until 1985, the year when I shared 7th-10th places in the USSR U-18 championship. The previous year I was 2nd (ahead of Ivanchuk and Brodsky on tiebreak; Savchenko was clear first) in the Ukrainian U-17 championship. Also, I won a couple of the more or less noticeable tournaments, including tournaments for adults, in 1983 and 1984 and was invited to sessions of the Botvinnik School even if Botvinnik himself wasn’t present there what was maybe even better.
1986-1990 was a complex period in my life and in my chess with ups and downs. I can mention that in 1988 I played on the last, fifth board on the Ukrainian U-18 team in the Soviet Youth Games. And I faced on that board, in particular, such young opponents as Kramnik and Svidler. After serving in the USSR Army, in 1990 I used opportunities to travel abroad for the first time and began to play in international tournaments.
I completed my IM-norms in 1991, in the all-play-all tournaments in Belgrade and Skopje. The fight for the Grandmaster title was longer and eventually I scored my norms in three open tournaments: Lucerne 1994 and Biel 1995 (Switzerland) and Yalta 1996 (Ukraine). The latter tournament was an open championship of our country and I also won the national title, having the higher tiebreak than Neverov.
I won a number of other international tournaments, mainly opens, including the Swiss Open Championship 1999. My certain successes in the team events include seven wins of the Belgian league. In Germany, I played on the first board for the Stuttgart team in 2001/2002 but my really best season was the previous one when I won all games in the 2nd Bundesliga and German Cup – and helped Stuttgart to qualify to the main Bundesliga after a long break.
My best year in chess was 1993, and my highest personal ELO was 2570 in January 1995.
Now I’m calling myself Odessa’s last Grandmaster of the 20th century which is true, and that’s it. My city was a big chess center and produced a number of the generally better players, including Geller (of course!), Tukmakov, Eingorn, Alburt, Lerner, and others.
what project do you work on right now?
Quitting from chess journalism turned to be rather painful in comparison with quitting professional chess earlier, and it took years as well. As a player, at a certain time, I got the impression that I probably couldn’t improve any more. And, while continuing playing seriously for years, I began more and more involved in chess journalism.
As a journalist, at some point, I became tired writing about the unacceptable, in my view, things that do not change year after year. Nevertheless, in all these years I was actively involved in most types of chess journalism, and in the last decade, eventually, co-produced a regular chess program at the local TV channel in our city. For some time (after Makarychevs’ project was closed in Russia) it was possibly the only regular chess TV program in the former USSR countries.
…The idea of producing chess content specifically for Youtube or Twitch still doesn’t inspire me enough. Maybe it’s for younger people?!
I have been giving online chess lessons since December 2019. Despite in the past, having coaching and assistant experience in working with talented players of all levels (last year I wrote a blog on that, called “My First Pupils”), including working in Anatoly Karpov’s team in 1996 and 1997, a long-term cooperation with Ruslan Ponomariov whom I have known since 1995, and training sessions with strong juniors, the online work is quite different and is almost a separate profession. So, I keep improving in it. I’m giving individual lessons. And there are also classes, within frames of my co-operation with MasterChess.org, the most important chess project (headed by Matan Prilleltensky and GM Alex Stripunsky) in the work of which I’m currently involved. Frankly speaking, it’s what I generally planned: to concentrate on coaching in the final part of my professional life. There are many things that I can explain to younger or less experienced players. And I’m still learning new things about chess, indeed.
who is the greatest player of all time?
Greatest: Fischer, Kasparov, and Carlsen are the obvious candidates. Though Capablanca, Alekhine, Karpov also are quite cool. And, indeed, Anand, if competitions with the fast controls are considered as well.
Favorite: Tal, Polugaevsky, Velimirovic. For example. At the early stages, I surely liked Alekhine’s combinations much.
how to teach children the game of chess?
Teaching chess from the very beginning is something that I almost never did in my life. Perhaps, this is again a different profession to what I did and am doing now as a coach.
In principle, as I think, someone can become interested in chess if events on the chessboard, the logic of chess will be somehow connected for him/her with his/her emotions, experience. With the events of the real physical world.
What are the most common mistakes that stop people from improving and what are your advices?
Focusing on chess insufficiently. Expecting too much out of too little effort. And, often, not having an appropriate coach. Still, chess improvement is a really long journey which is probably not for everyone. I have bits of experience in various other sports to chess, and am quite satisfied with these experiences, without becoming anyone rated or titled or whatever. Well, when I was 13 I once won a checkers tournament where I was rather forced to play.
what books do you recommend for beginners? intermediate? and advanced players?
I’m afraid that, generally, books became the less critical part of chess improvement in comparison with earlier times. But they are still quite important.
Perhaps, pictures can be quite an essential part of chess books for beginners. So, if pictures and/or the front cover are likable, it’s usually already a good reason to buy a book for a beginner.
For players who already know something, I would prefer, before making concrete suggestions, to clarify what they (he, she) know and what they don’t. And it’s also very important to know how much time someone is ready to devote to chess. For really ambitious players reading a hundred good chess books is not a high number and can’t be a bad idea. Even if a literally must-read for everyone chess books doesn’t exist, probably. At least, this is my view for a long time.
In general, Gambit Publications has high standards, I know this well from my experience as their author and their reader. They have good chess books for all levels.
Also I can say that I was, and still am, quite impressed with the basic concept of “The Method in Chess” by Iossif Dorfman.
what openings do you recommend for beginners?
No original concepts from me here. I think that it makes much sense, to begin with, classical openings with the simplest fundamental strategic ideas: a direct fight for the center and rapid development… I can’t prove it, because no scores of such games preserved, but I played 1.e4 e5 as Black until I was 10, and in no way could it have been a mistake, in my view. After gaining some basic chess experience, one can try to expand the repertoire or switch to other openings. Even to Alekhine’s Defense.
Also, less critically, I would suggest for beginners to try some of the more or less correct gambits. But not The Englund (1.d4 e5?), for example.