Grandmaster Iossif Dorfman, a former USSR and French Chess Champion, talks to Joachim Iglesias about chess life in the Soviet Union, seconding Garry Kasparov for four World Championship matches, coaching the 9-year-old Etienne Bacrot, new chess talents (he feels Vladislav Artemiev has much more potential than Sergey Karjakin) and his book and now video series, The Method in Chess.
Before we get to the interview, here are some key moments from Iossif’s career:
- Born on May 1st 1952 in Zhytomyr, Soviet Ukraine
- Awarded the title of Merited Master of Sports of the USSR in 1973
- European Champion with the USSR in 1977
- Became an International Master in 1977
- USSR Champion in 1977
- Obtained the Grandmaster title in 1978
- Seconded Garry Kasparov during four of his World Championship matches from 1984 to 1987
- Came to live in France in 1989
- Starts training 9-year-old Etienne Bacrot in 1992, helping him to become the youngest grandmaster in history
- French Champion in 1998
- Contributor and commentator for chess24’s French site since 2019
Joachim Iglesias: Hello, Iossif. If you don’t mind, we’ll first take a chronological look at your career as a player, and then coach, before getting to current projects. You were born in 1952 in present-day Ukraine. At what age did you learn to play chess ?
Iossif Dorfman: I vividly remember the day a friend of the family offered to play chess and taught me the rules, but I didn’t really start to play until I was 11, which even at the time was very late.
Like Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who has a degree in Mathematics, you went to university. Is that a choice you regret? Would you advise promising young players nowadays to do a degree?
I spent five years studying Engineering at the Kiev Polytechnic Institute. You have to understand that at the time becoming a professional player was extremely difficult, since the slots were so scarce. Rafael Vaganian, for example, finished runner-up in the 1975 Soviet Championship without being a professional. In the USSR, the best players had a huge amount of recognition – they were as well-known as cosmonauts and could play in front of halls packed with thousands of spectators. There was very little money, however, and you had to be a little crazy to choose to become a professional. In France there’s no recognition: who knows Maxime, Etienne or Laurent? No-one, or almost no-one. Having said that, nowadays it’s possible to live well from chess in France, but it’s become an altogether different and varied profession. You have to give classes, write books and make videos on the internet as well as playing games. We’re far from the cliché, still in vogue in the 90s, of a chess player who gets up at 2pm in order to play blitz for money in the bars…
On January 1st 1977, Karpov is the World Champion and you’re still only a Soviet Master of Sport, but you’re about to have an incredible year…
I’d already had major successes before that. You need to realise that in that era Master of Sport is like Grandmaster nowadays. To make a norm it was necessary to score +6 in the USSR U27 Championship, which, as you can imagine, was pretty tough. I’d won that tournament with +11, becoming a Master of Sport with 4 rounds to spare.
In 1976 I won the Red Army Championship, which was as strong as the current French Championship.
I then went on to win the Premier League, a qualifier for the USSR Championship final, by 1.5 points. It was almost all grandmasters, such as Tseshkovsky, Sveshnikov, Beliavsky…
In the final of the USSR Championship I won six games, but unfortunately I also lost too many for a place on the podium.
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