12 February 2016

Alexander Riazantsev: Sparking Students’ Interest is Priority One!

The chief coach of the RCF grandmaster center in Siberia answers the questions of Dmitry Kryakvin.

Aleksander Riazantsev is very well-known to Russian chess professionals and amateurs. The renowned grandmaster has proved himself not only as a very robust practical player and deep theoretician, but is also known from his junior age as a very qualified coach. Alexander was a member of the coaching staff of the Russian men's national team at the times when Evgeny Bareev used to be its chief coach, then he went on to head the Russian team at the 2011 European Team Championship in Porto Carras. Later on Riazantsev merged into a powerful group of coaches of "golden girls" – it is the union of Sergey Rublevsky, Alexander Riazantsev and Evgeny Najer that helped promote the Russian women into achieving great success on the world stage, dislodging the mighty Chinese team from the leading position. Aleksander Riazantsev has recently taken on leadership of the RCF grandmaster center in the Siberian Federal Okrug, intending to help bring up a new generation of domestic junior players. In anticipation of the second session of the center the grandmaster answered the questions posed by the RCF website editorial board.

How has the idea of establishing the RCF grandmaster center Siberian come about, and how has it happened that it became headed by no other person but grandmaster Aleksander Riazantsev?

The idea came about after my visit to Novokuznetsk, where I gave a simul and read a lecture. That's when Maxim Petrovich Ivakhin inquired me if I was willing to take charge of such a center if it were to be established. We discussed it for the first time then, I liked the idea, and only then with the active participation of Maxim Petrovich the issue was agreed with the Russian Chess Federation. Ivakhin had the situation under control and thus the SFO grandmaster center was founded. The startup session took place also not far from Novokuznetsk, in the village of Kostenkovo.

The head coach and his students

Did you attend any grandmaster school sessions as a young boy?

I recall attending only one session in Kolontaevo. It was a school organized by Sergei Moiseevich Yanovsky. I was 10 years old then and the details have long since been erased from my memory. I remember other guys who were involved then; unfortunately, many of them have abandoned chess. Back then, in fact, there were very few opportunities of visiting grandmaster sessions and classes in Russia. The situation in the country in the midst of 1990s used to leave much to be desired. So, I was deprived of the chance to taste the effect of school sessions on my growth as a chess player.

What impressions has the starting session of the center left with you? What measures, if any, do you plan in terms of its further development?

We have just finished our first session and it is yet early to jump at any conclusions about the results. Our grandmaster center should have at least one year’s history of operation prior to evaluating its achievements and drawing findings for that matter. The plans are many and the strategy is large. The most important thing is to develop chess in the Siberian Federal Okrug and in Russia. We want to assemble a team of professionals. The second session of the center will be held in Barnaul and the coaching team will be strengthened - apart from me, Pavel Maletin and Andrei Belozerov the children will also be assisted by Ivan Smykovsky - a very experienced coach, a good teacher and first trainer of Vladislav Artemiev, whereas Jaroslav Prizant – a coach of Alina Bivol and Ilya Makoveev will also join the action. I do hope that this backbone of coaches will go on working together in future.

Grandmaster Andrei Belozerov is checking on test solutions

How does the center’s chief coach formulate his main task?

The main task is to share our insights and expertise while trying to ignite a spark in the minds of students so that they feel taste for chess and know the direction in which they are supposed to do their homework in between the sessions. From our side we will do our best to promote their strengths and get rid of their weaknesses.

I am perfectly well aware that not every kid coming to us will become a grandmaster one day. Yet another very important aspect is that chess is not abandoned by those who do not turn into professional chess players - masters, teachers and instructors. They will go on to relay interest, devotion for chess to the generations to come. For Siberia it is of especial significance nowadays! It lays an important foundation for the future. The cities, regions, and districts will receive their new specialists, who will be engaged in training and refining of gifted players. In the future this will help a generation of teachers in bringing up a generation of champions.

On the other hand, we are the representatives of the RCF, the training unit of highly skilled players, and we are eager to immediately get down to training young stars that will later defend the honor of our country at the competitions of highest levels, winning the medals of European and World championships. Well, those who will not succeed in achieving this goal will be taught in skills that will help them promote chess at their homeland.

How was the training process organized at the training camp near Novokuznetsk?

Groups one and two were the principal ones coached by masters. I lectured first, then went on to spent time communicating with each of our young guests tete-a-tete, giving my advice based on the results of discussions. Pavel Maletin was also reading lectures, and we agreed in advance that our themes were not to cover similar topics. By the next session we will have a unified plan of lectures worked out so that the coaches’ job will be as effective as possible.

The games played were given a scrutiny, followed by analyzing various strategic tricks and schemes. Specially selected positions were offered to further enhance the variation calculation skills. At the first session the approach was comprehensive, aimed at laying foundation for future sessions. Foundation has been laid, and, from my point of view, the startup proved to be quite decent. I have highlighted certain minor points for myself, and the training system will only improve with each subsequent session.

We were accommodated at the premises of the children's educational and health center "Siberian Tale", which was occupied solely by children and their parents while unrelated people were not allowed inside. We were assisted by counselors, who were assigned to take care of the morning exercises, physical training, and sports and entertainment event routines. The number of daily meals with a snack included was equal to four.

The lecture given by the well-known coach, the 2015 Russian Rapid Chess Champion and the RCF website expert grandmaster Pavel Maletin

As far as I understand, the Siberian Federal Okrug had to choose only betweem those children from the regions that remained overboard after the grandmaster centers in Togliatti and St. Petersburg were filled up to capacity? That is, the overwhelming majority of the Russian championship winners were taken up by the two already existing schools. Have you succeeded in getting together a decent lineup of attendees and are there any young starlets among your students?

Well, the centers compete with each other, and, in fact, this is a very good thing indeed. The parents and children do have a choice to their liking as to where to head for their studies, which is a definitely positive aspect. I take this opportunity to invite everyone to Barnaul for the period of March 22 to 28. The training session regulations has already been published on the RCF website. The regulations is uniform nationwide, whereas the winners of the Russian, European, and World Championships and the Russian Cup are eligible to participate free of charge. Of course, we are not interested solely in the Siberian young players attending the sessions, but also in the children from other regions.

I was enthusiastic about certain children who took training in the center but am unwilling to give their names prematurely to make them stand out anyhow. I am not at all sure that any special focus on the young chess players will do them a good service. Let them become involved in the work to improve on their play. If they succeed, we will learn their names before long.

Tete-a-tete with Alexander Riazantsev

It is not infrequently that I am asked the following question: now that so many grandmasters have become involved in the children training process, why no results? Where are the new Kramniks, Grischuks and Karjakins? While a large amount of funds is being spent, there are still no new Russian elite grandmasters out there. What is your take on this?

I believe that they are already present among us and their success is not that far off. Now a great deal is done for the children's sports, for the development and popularization of chess. Chess goes on to encompass all the more number of people and it’s not so long ago since chess has been introduced into school curriculum in many regions of our country. This is sure to yield its fruits in due time.

The advent of computers and powerful analytical programs has largely balanced out the former advanced positions of the Soviet chess school and the superiority of our country in the coaching staff. In addition, many famous USSR coaches have now moved into different countries and have started bringing up competitors to our national juniors. Now there exist a lot of different chess databases and textbooks. Previously, it was necessary to find a strong master to explain and teach, whereas nowadays one may setup a position for the engine to run through and then you will see it all as plain as the nose on your face. The computer defends well and is capable of demonstrating a lot of hidden resources.

The problem nowadays is rather in the excessive amount of information, it is present everywhere and you should be able to glean what is useful. It is especially vital for a child who already participates at the national youth championship level. And this is exactly where a coach can step in to direct and that’s what our center will deal with – i.e. the development correction.

Have you already discussed the human-to-engine relations in the course of the startup session? At what age should one go about developing such relations?

The opening study principles have already been discussed with the children and I am very much interested to see how things will develop in terms of the participants of the session coping with their homework assignments. Every coach has views of his own, but I can say that I am going to share with our attendees my technique of making use of the analytical engines myself, and it will be then up to them to choose the approach of their own.

Each individual develops his own pace with the computer and a lot depends on a child’ capability of digesting information. Some people accumulate knowledge first, and then achieve sharp breakthroughs, others yet move along gradually, and thus there is no universal recipe in this respect. Once a child has learnt some basics and has achieved his first success in the tournaments, he begins building up the opening repertoire and then little by little and step by step he should be allowed communicating with the computer. This is how it will be in the future, this is the XXIst century that we are in nowadays!

Moreover, nowadays we can profit from a unique opportunity of following up on live and online game broadcasts from almost any tournament, and especially from the ones played here in Russia. These are free grandmaster lessons, free transfer of information! Formerly it used to be possible to appreciate the atmosphere of a super tournament solely from magazines, and, if you're lucky enough, from communication with the article’s author. Alexander Alekhine’s remarkable book with its passages describing the international 1924 and 1927 chess tournaments in New York has forever sunk deep into my memory. It was about the tournament atmosphere and about the World Champion playing each of his games. The feeling of as if of piercing time and being present on the actual spot of action is one the most effective ways to help in your growth! With the new century technology you can immerse into the atmosphere of the highest level competitions on a daily basis. Children should be let in the know of this technique by all means!

Do you currently live in the Chelyabinsk region? What is going on with the children's chess in the Urals nowadays? Do you invite your countrymen for the training sessions?

Even though I live in Chelyabinsk since 2006, I still represent Moscow when playing in the tournaments. I am not prepared to say something meaningful about the Sverdlovsk chess school, but at present Chelyabinsk goes through a certain crisis in terms of lack of perspective young talented players. There have happened some isolated cases of success, but the fact is that the last person to make the international grandmaster norm in the Chelyabinsk region was Pavel Ponkratov... This argument provides us with sufficient ground for thinking since it happened years ago!

I will invite the natives of Chelyabinsk for the school session by all means, this interview is just one of those means! My work with children of my area was of only a sporadic nature, unfortunately.

The most important question is whether the members of Russian women's team are going to raise a revolt because of their "mastermind", the manufacturer of powerful analytical projectiles has been thrown towards helping children?

This question should be first of all directed towards the women's national team head coach Sergei Rublevsky! I think that chess is so multi-faceted, with so many ideas and so many things to discover yet... The main thing is to commit everything to memory and to understand how to apply it in practice. Our task is to teach children in the ways of thinking, "digging" on their own, working day after day and later delivering results regardless of whether or not they attend our sessions. Chess is so rich that we will never fail to find something special to everybody’s liking, both for the members of the national team and for the young talents in equal measures!