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Today’s guest of belisrael.info is 35-years-old Czech grandmaster David Navara, who has been a member of the world chess elite for many years. At our request, David willingly agreed to talk on a variety of topics.

– David, tell us, in what environment did you grew up, when and from whom did you learn about chess?

– My father Mirko is a professor of mathematics, my mother Lia is a children’s dentist. As far as I know, they have never changed their occupations. In the early 1990s, we were a normal “middle class” family. Compared to Western Europe, the whole Czech Republic was poor than, and it was not easy for my parents to pay for my trips to the World Youth Championships. Fortunately, the coaches and the Czech Chess Federation met us halfway. Over the time, things have improved, more to our family than to others.

We weren’t a chess family. I knew about chess at the age of six from a book that my grandmother showed me so that I would not be bored. Before that, I had already read many children’s books. My parents later enrolled me in a club and a circle, they began to go to tournaments with me, the whole family collected chess columns from newspapers.

Who were your first coaches, and how were the classes?

– I was very lucky with the coaches. My first coach in the children’s club was Mr. Zdenek Müller, a pleasant person of golden age. He was not such a strong player, but he was a great tutor. There were only eight of us in the circle then, but one of us became a grandmaster, and two became international masters.

David Navara during the signing of the book by the legendary grandmaster Luděk Pachman (photo by National Master Břetislav Modr)

After that I had many more coaches, among which the most famous are GM Luděk Pachman, IM Josef Přibyl and especially GM Vlastimil Jansa (I list them in chronological order). I did not study with Grandmaster Pachman for a long time, since he lived in Germany and the Czech Republic. He was very friendly. I learned a lot from his books. International master Josef Přibyl did a lot for my chess growth, under his leadership I quickly (by the standards of that time) made my way from a candidate to an international master. He worked a lot with me on the classics and on the endgame. And with Grandmaster Jansa we still cooperate, although with a break of several years. He is an excellent theorist and strategist, he has many original ideas in his openings.

By the way, the book by V. Hort and V. Jansa “Together with the Grandmasters” (published in Russian translation in 1976) was popular in the Soviet Union… When did the first successes appear, after which you said to yourself that you would be a professional chess player? Perhaps it was the World Youth championships?

– Perhaps it is really worth mentioning the bronze medal from the U12 World Youth Championship in 1997 and the silver medal from the U14 World Youth Championship in 1998. In 1999, I completely failed, and in 2000 I performed successfully in the older age categories. The last time I participated in the junior world championship of U20 was in 2001. I didn’t want to waste money and time when it was possible to play in stronger tournaments under better conditions. You can hardly compare my game then with the game of today’s young professionals, but considering the circumstances, I played pretty well.

I decided to become a professional chess player gradually. There was no turning point, I just always loved chess very much.

Can you recall a number of remarkable Czech chess players of the past, starting with Richard Réti, Salomon Flohr and ending with Luděk Pachman, Lubomir Kavalek, who emigrated to Germany after the Prague Spring of 1968 (not to forget Vlastimil Hort). The guys of your generation appeared in the 21st century. Who is the closest to you of those who I have named?

– As a child, I read a very good book about Richard Réti by the chess historian Jan Kalendovsky. Grandmaster Pachman coached me for a short time, so he is very close to me. I also have good relations with the grandmasters Hort and Kavalek, especially with Kavalek (by the way, he soon moved from West Germany to the USA, where he lives to this day).

In addition to studying chess, which takes a lot of time, you got a higher education. What and where did you study?

– My field was logic. But I was only an average student (from among those who got there and stayed there) and in ten years after my master’s degree I managed to forget almost everything. There is an expression: “education is what remains when we forget everything that we have learned”… I wanted to do something else, to broaden my horizons, and even to get a master’s degree. If I began to look now for another source of income, it would be useful for me.

You speak and write perfectly, in Russian. Where does this come from and what other languages do you speak?

– I speak English more or less the same as Russian. I studied it longer, but learning the Slavic language is still easier for me. In secondary school (where we ), we had to choose a second foreign language. My parents advised me German, but there were too many applicants. Therefore, I voluntarily chose Russian, and some others – not so voluntarily. Then I began to get involved in foreign languages, discovered my talent and managed to learn a lot on my own. I had to start with German and Spanish by myself, and the language courses at the university came in handy. I didn’t become a logician, but I improved my knowledge of the language. This is where it feels like I’ve spent 19 years in various educational institutions!

In addition to these four languages, I also partly speak Polish, French and Ukrainian. Slovak does not count, as I was born in Czechoslovakia!

Do you remember your first chess book? I wonder if it was a Czech author or translated perhaps from Russian? Indeed, before the collapse of the Soviet Union, a lot of chess literature was published there. Have you studied the creativity of chess players of the past?

– I do remember. It was partly translated from German, partly supplemented by a Czech author. His name is Vítӗzslav Houška and he is a journalist and a writer. He has written many books on various topics, such as a series of books about the first Czechoslovak President Masaryk. I was lucky that I managed to get to know Mr Houška personally before his sudden death.

I got to know the Russian-language chess literature first through my coaches, and on my own – from about twenty years old. As a child, I read a lot of Czech chess books and magazines, and somewhere from fifteen to twenty-five years old, I had little time, because I had to study a lot…

Tell us about those who have had the greatest influence on your game, style, and who is helping you now, with whom you cooperate.

– I , but tried to learn from the classics their strengths. It’s true, in practice, this is far from always possible. It is clear that the coaches influenced me greatly, especially the already mentioned GM Jansa, IM Josef Přibyl and GM Pachman. But there are many others. Since 2012, we have been friends with Pentala Harikrishna, from time to time we prepare together. He and his wife actually moved to Prague. It so happened that they rent an apartment in a house in which I also have an apartment. (However, I don’t live there yet.) This means that he is my universal neighbor: both in the rating list and in the house. Although not for long, he and his wife are planning to move. We’ve rarely trained together lately.

I also have a student in Prague, also since 2012, his name is Thai Dai Van Nguyen. He had many coaches, and we still train with him, although rarely. During this time, he managed to become a grandmaster, to win the European U18 Championship, to receive a certificate of maturity, and to beat me in many training games, especially recent ones. It is clear that I only slightly contributed to his success (with the exception of victories over me), but nevertheless, they please me (also with the exception of victories over me).

When did you feel that there was a qualitative leap in your game?

– Up or down? 🙂

All right, both of them

– At about 17 years old I strengthened, and at 20 I had a very successful period, which lasted from August 2005 to August 2006. Unfortunately, the downward races followed. But around the age of thirty I played very well – maybe up to 33. Since then, I have been crawling down very slowly, while still enjoying the “look from above” at the psychological barrier of Elo 2700. Some fatigue set in, and there have been more bad days recently.

It is known that you are not a big fan of sports, but you keep fit by walking. Do you run?

– I’m not lazy, it’s just that balls and wheels categorically do not like me and do not listen to me. I really enjoy walking, and my usual speed of 7 km per hour is not so different from running.

A couple of years ago I saw Natasha Zhukova’s video, where during the Chess Olympiad you did a morning run together, and she interviewed you on the way. At my request, Natasha sent me that video, for which I am very grateful.

– That interview took place. During the Olympics in Batumi, I often walked or ran by the sea. Once I met there GM Natalia Zhukova, and she interviewed me. But I ran there even before that – after the victory over Boris Abramovich [Gelfand] it turned out very well.

In my opinion, you are very benevolent and correct in relation to your opponents. Who can you call your closest friends among your compatriots? And, maybe, among foreigners?

The triumphant victory of the Nový Bor team in the 2013 European Club Cup in Rhodes, Greece. In the penultimate sixth round, the team of the current Cup winner, the superclub SOCAR from Azerbaijan, was beaten 3.5:2.5. The defeat awaited the Azerbaijani team on the first three boards: David Navara defeated Fabiano Caruana, Radosław Wojtaszek won Veselin Topalov and Viktor Láznička won Gata Kamsky.

– I have a lot of friends in my Czech club “AVE Nový Bor”. The name of the city is best translated as “New Pine-Forest”. I am on friendly terms, for example, with Pentala Harikrishna, Mateusz Bartel from Poland, Ján Markoš from Slovakia, and with many other teammates… And also with most of the Czech colleagues.

I know that you like to play in team competitions, for example, for the Czech national team, in leagues of different countries, in the European. I would like to hear more about this.

– Yes, that’s right. When I was in college, I had free weekends, and from Monday to Friday (sometimes -Thursday) I attended classes. It happened that in one season I played in seven leagues. I stayed in many of these teams.

Belarusian grandmaster Aleksej Aleksandrov once said that chess team is an artificial entity

– As for me, It’s more pleasant to play for teams. In them, a person is part of a squad, in individual tournaments, I suffer a little from loneliness.

Since 2003, you have played many rapid chess matches at home. Where did the idea come from and who sponsored it?

– As far as I remember, Pavel Matocha came up with the idea… The sponsors were different, once or twice among them was Microsoft, and most often the state energy company ČEZ.

More about the Prague matches. In the first one, you defeated Viktor Korchnoi (1.5:0.5), in the next 2 years there were also short matches of 2 games, when you lost and made a draw… In 2006 you played a 4-game match with Boris Gelfand, with the result 2:2. Then there were matches of 6 and 8 games, for example, in 2010 you lost 2:6 to Judit Polgar, then you won against Sergei Movsesyan 3.5:2.5. The next matches again included 4 games, and in 2017 and 2018, you already played 12 rapid games, but the result was far from what you would like. What prevented you from playing better, how upset were you after failures?

A photo from the 2018 exhibition match with my good friend Pentala Harikrishna. Observed by the captain of our team Petr Boleslav

– My results in these matches have been frankly bad lately, and I have refused to participate this year (nevertheless, I do not exclude that I will play in some other match).

Yes, it’s nice to be able to play with such strong opponents, but in about half of the cases the matches started almost immediately after my return from. It is usually hot in Prague in June, and it is not so pleasant to drive 40 minutes to the playing hall (wearing a coat!) in such weather, and 40 minutes back in the evening. In addition, I knew that for a match I get three times less money than my opponent with about the same rating… But the fact that I did not prepare enough for the matches is, of course, my own fault. And some rivals were clearly stronger than me, nobody can’t argue with that.

The Prague matches were played in a very pleasant atmosphere and I am glad that I participated in them. However, I need some respite.

In December 2019, you played in Jerusalem in the final stage of the FIDE Grand Prix, held on a knockout system, where the last two participants in the Candidates Tournament were determined. Could you tell us about your performance, about other participants who were most lucky and unlucky, about the most memorable moments of the game?

– In Jerusalem, oddly enough, I played well. True, Wang Hao came there straight from the Chinese league and looked very tired. And yes I was very nervous… It seemed to me that almost all the semifinalists were sick, including me. The tournament was well organized and it was interesting to visit Israel. I spent some time on touring, but mostly focused on the game.

How many times have you been to Israel, what can you say about the country, about the service? Have there been any unforeseen or funny situations?

– In Israel, I played three times: the first two – in 2012 in the Eurocup (for the first time for Novy Bor) and in 2015, when I won a silver medal in the European Championship. I don’t remember any special stories now. It’s true, after leaving the Grand Prix, the security service at the airport asked me about my friends from Turkey, I named the grandmasters Mikhalchishin, Šolak and Ipatov (two of them do not seem to live there anymore). They didn’t really like my answer, but soon I was allowed to go further.

I would also like to ask about your meetings with Boris Gelfand, who turned 52 on June 24, 2020. Besides the friendly match in 2006, how many more games have you played against him, what is the total score?

– I think we played ten classic games, and the score is +1 in my favor. Considering that I played the overwhelming majority of these games with white, this is a normal result. Boris Abramovich is a very strong chess player, and at the same time an intelligent and benevolent person.

Who is the most uncomfortable opponent for you? I remember that several years ago Levon Aronian was considered to be such…

– With Levon, my score is still bad, but with Hikaru Nakamura it is even much worse. In general, I lost almost all the games I played against him, with one exception. In two informal games after Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz in 2017 I beat him, but anyway

It happens that one move in a game can cancel out a good games during the entire tournament, or on the contrary, with a general bad game, one gets lucky, which is not so rare, especially in cup matches. How are you with luck and bad luck?

– Here you must first define what luck and bad luck are. If the opponent makes a mistake at the last moment and loses a point, then I’m probably lucky. And if I often save bad positions because I stubbornly defend myself and set traps, is it luck or tenacity?

I save bad positions much more often than spoil good ones, although both happens to me. For example, in the 2011 in the quarterfinals of the World Cup in a game with Alexander Grischuk, I was going to make a winning move, which, most likely, would have ensured me access to the semifinals. But I changed my mind, made a mistake, didn’t win the game, and in the end I lost the match. A bit of a pity, but it happens. I’m the.

(to be continued)

Original in Russian 06/25/2020. English translation by belisrael

Interview by Aaron Shustin (Petah Tikva, Israel)

Published on 08/14/2020 18:24