Q & A with Boris Gelfand

After pleading for a year (at least) on your behalf, I have talked Boris Gelfand into doing a Q&A with the readers of the Quality Chess blog. It will work like this:

Put your questions in comments to this post by the end of Sunday 29th May. Boris and I will then agree on a day when we will go through them, and he will answer most of them. Please keep the questions brief, as we will not have time to read long blocks of text to get to your question. And please make them simple comprehensible questions. Thanks.

61 thoughts on “Q & A with Boris Gelfand”

  1. Omg yes! Well done Jacob!

    My question is as follows: Dear Boris, I am a big fan of yours because I love the Najdorf and 1.d4 as White, your games I find very instructive for learning these openings. I would like to know why you gave up the King’s Indian in 1998 (I notice you did play it 3 more times in 2001 though)? Also what are your opinions of the King’s Indian in general as of today? Is it too risky for the level you’re playing at? Finally is it an opening you would play again yourself someday? Best regards, James from UK.

  2. Thank You Boris.

    Question: How would you advise older amateur players (50+) to keep competitive in the modern chess world?

  3. * Which contemporary books (say published after 2010) would you recommend?

    * How would you recommend studying a book (for instance, yours), setting the position on a real board? How much time spent on any given position? Reread the whole book? Copy interesting positions anywhere else?

    * In what proportion an amateur should study opening theory, endings, tactics and positional play? Which part of that should go into solving exercises (as in GM preparation) and which into studying model games?

    Thank you very much.

  4. 1. Do you play, follow, or have any interest in other abstract strategy games such as Go, shogi, xiangqi, backgammon or poker?
    2. What study activities do you consider most efficient for an average 2000 level player with limited study time? (Realise this may be too general, and be different for each individual, but if you can give a useful general answer that would be great.)
    Many thanks.

  5. 1. I appreciate your championing the games of Rubinstein. Are there any other classical players who are particularly worth studying?

    2. What is the one trick for using Chessbase that you wish you’d learned sooner? Any other key tips to get the most out of the program?

  6. Boris

    Why did you never try 1.e4 except in atypical circumstances? Vishy, magnus, Kramnik Chucky etc all play both e4 and d4.
    Do you think it has hindered you or helped you and would you recommend amateurs to stick to a narrow well known repertoire eg just d4 or e4 as white or play everything to get to know all the different structures and motifs?


  7. Boris,

    What is your favourite endgame book please? Would you recommend any particular book to improve in this area of the game?

    Thank you.


  8. Dear Boris,

    Thanks for answering our questions. Could you break down your study routine for us?

    i.e. hours per day, what you study, physical exercise etc.


  9. Thank you for answering questions Boris.

    Have you changed your style as you have got older? Do you consider it necessary and/ or correct?

  10. When you worked with Jacob, what was the most surprising gap in his knowledge or understanding? (I ask not to make fun of Jacob but to get some sense of the difference between GMs and Super GMs.)

  11. Boris,

    What do you think is more important in chess; creativity or technique?

    Thanks in advance,


  12. Boris, I’m a big fan!

    What was your craziest chess experience? Or if none come to mind, I’d appreciate any fun stories from your vast chess career.

    Thanks in advance.

  13. Dear Boris,

    thank you for answering questions!

    a) What do you think is the best method for training calculation of variations?
    b) What is your method for remembering complex opening lines (especially while recalling them before an important game/tournament)?

    Best regards,

  14. Dear Boris,
    Thanks to your book, we know about your thinking method. Do you see a difference, in this regard, between your generation (Ivantchuk,Shirov, Anand, Kramnik) and the youngest (Giri, Caruana, So, MVL, Naka) ? What about Carlsen ?
    Best. en

  15. Dear Boris,

    Great that we can ask you some questions. I really love your first book int he series! To what extent do you think amateurs can increase their positional understanding by studying books such as your book? Or is it just a matter of talent? Though I really enjoyed your book, I still feel my positional play is crappy and hasn’t improved a lot.

    Thanks in advance for your asnwer!


  16. Dear Boris,
    You are known for calculating with your eyes closed , or even looking past the board and straight down at the floor.

    do you use this time for positional considerations or for calculating tactical lines?, can you recommend a chess exercise to do with the eyes closed .

    many thanks

  17. Gearoid MacGabhain

    Dear Boris
    I would like you view on the position after 1.d4 e6. I am happy if I get a chance to play the French but does white gain any major options by my choice if he play his usual Queens Pawn game. I understand that after 2.c4 I will play d5 but has white better by playing 2 Bf4 or 2.Nf3. Thanks for taking the time to do this Q and A

  18. Mr Gelfand,

    I think I had read somewhere that you have been studying (or playing) chess for 11 hours per day for the last 30 years. Could this possibly be true? At what age did you start training full-time?

  19. Can you please name the 3 MUST books(if any!!) ,for every chess player, for:
    D)Games Collection

  20. Sanat Singhal

    Thanks Mr Boris for answering our questions.
    I am a big fan of yours . I am a young player and I started playing a year back. I feel I am a positional player, I feel more comfortable in such positions, and my calculation is pretty weak. I currently play e4. So, my question to you is do you think that it is better for me to stick to what I know and also try to play open positions to improve my calculation or switch to more positional openings like d4?

    Thanks a lot
    Your huge fan

  21. Dear Boris,
    1/ Did you learn anything from your match with Short in Brussels in 91 that helped you later on in your career?
    2/ How did you adapt to the introduction of the computer in chess preparation?

  22. Dear Boris,

    1/ Do you think a 2000 elo player MUST work hard the endgame to have chance to reach 2200 elo ?
    2/ How do you define your style ?

    Thank a lot.

  23. Henry Chaplin

    Hey Boris,
    What book/s or methods do you recommend to systematically train tactics and calculation. I am a young player started playing a year ago and am 13 years old. My rating is around 1800 but I make major blunders in a lot of my games like blundering simple knight forks. Is there any thing I can do before or during the game to reduce their occurrence?
    Thanks a lot

  24. Hi Boris,
    Three questions:
    1.Do you think for an intermediate player studying Rook endings can have a beneficial impact on other parts of game?
    2.Do you think attempting to ‘read’ chess tactics,studies.. can help an intermediate player?
    3. Do you ‘pump’ yourself up psychologically to be positive just before an important chess game?

  25. Dear Boris,

    Please name some chess books every player should read.

    Which plan do you suggest for black in the following variant of the King’s Indian:

    1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Bg5 O-O 6. f4

  26. Hi Boris,
    Congratulations for your new book series! Your interviews are always a treat for the reader!

    1. Let’s say that I have 30min every day to improve my chess (elo 1900) What should I do? Tactics , studies, simple endgames? Would it be enough to get to 2100/2200 in your opinion ?

    2. Any chance to see you in France and get my copy of your book signed?

    Thanks a lot!

  27. Mr Gelfand,

    My current ELO is around 2400. My goal is to improve my play to 2500.
    I study chess quite a bit but has very little time to play serious games.
    My next serious tournament will be in 2017 (I will play in some teammatches before that).

    Do you have any advice on how I could peak my form before
    that tournament without hardly playing?

    I consider to play online blitz and play a training match with a friend
    with a shorter time control (like 2×45 min).

    Best regards,

  28. Hi Boris,
    What advice would you give to anyone rating below 2000. What should he/she be focusing on in respect of training. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  29. Mr gelfand,

    Do you think that playing training games against a computer is good for a low rated player ¿?
    how do you think is the better way for use the computer for training ¿?
    thanks in advance
    regards Mario

  30. Hello Boris and Jacob,

    Thanks for this. If the objective is improvement would you recommend playing opponents significantly higher rated, such as in a section above, or to play opponents your own level until you can consistently best them?

    Also, should one concentrate on a comprehensive chess education rather than practical results for an improving player and if so what method of feedback would you recommend over rating? Is a coach important in this area?
    Regards johnny.

  31. Me. Gelfand,
    Could you please share your favourite anecdote from your time studying under the 9th World Champion in the early Eighties. In retrospect, how do you think his style influenced your development?

  32. Dear Boris,

    1) What’s your advise for a religious player on how to deal with the Shabbat ?

    2) What gives you the biggest satisfaction in chess ? Feeling you have improved, finding a beautiful idea or just beating your opponents ?

  33. During and at the end of any calculation, Yusupov recommends to always check if there is any check – capture or threat. I find this difficult but very useful advice. Do you and the other top-players do this very conciously or is it just like second nature to you?

  34. I was struck once by an interview with John Coetzee who, when asked what he thought about the act of writing, replied “Well, it’s just work”. Several other world-known creative people have voiced the same comment: they are passionate, ambitious and work hard on their creativity but in the end it’s just work – including the occasional off day and a feeling of ‘what use is there?’. You however always talk about your love for the game. Three questions related to these observations:

    1. Do you see chess more as a game of sports or a work of art? I think many see it as a combination, but what does it feel like for you? Pablo Picasso or Usain Bolt?
    2. Surely at times you too must have thought of chess as just work, after another tedious draw and all your pre-game preparation amounting to no new result?
    3. Enter the computer. I can imagine that at your level much opening preparation is about memorizing instead of understanding, for on top of your world-class understanding the computer has brought so many concrete variations to the fore. Necessary evil?


  35. Dear Boris,

    1) Who do you think will became the next world champion (Carlsen sucesor)?
    2) Which are the success probabilities that Karjakin has in his match against Carlsen?
    3) Do you think that adoption of ramdom chess would be something good to promote chess (from the point of view that less preparation effort would be needed).

    Thanks so much!

  36. Dear Boris,

    I’ve read that your favorite player is Akiba Rubinstein. Do you have any advice for how a Class C player should approach studying his games?


  37. Boris,

    I’m a big fan, and really enjoy your wonderful games, books and interviews.

    How have the demands on a top player changed since you turned professional? And which factors have enabled you, Anand and Kramnik to meet these challenges and continue developing into your forties? Thank you.

  38. Dear Boris,

    What do you do when a tournament is not going wel and/or you feel you are not in good shape?

  39. Dear Boris, I like the Nimzo/QID against 1.d4. Karpov is a hero of mine and I know he played the Caro-Kann a lot, therefore I am considering playing the Caro-Kann myself. My concerns with the Caro-Kann is I hear people refer to it as the “poor mans defence”. I guess they mean that 1…e5 and the Sicilian are the best two responses to 1.e4. I would like to know your opinions about the Caro-Kann, also whether you think someone playing only the Caro-Kann vs 1.e4 can make it to GM? Best regards, Alex.

  40. Hello Boris,

    I’m 27 and have an approx 2000 FIDE rating. I started playing chess at age 23, taking it up half way through my PhD at Uni. I have gotten to 2000 by playing chess in my local league without any study so far. I feel I have reached my peak without having some actual knowledge from chess literature. I would like to know if you think it’s still possible for someone like me to become a GM, if I’m willing to put the work in? Do you have any advice or recommendations for me if I really want to have a crack at becoming a GM (in my circumstances)? Kind regards, MC

  41. Hey Mr Gelfand,

    I have always wondered if it helps to put a tactic on the board and solve it as compared to solving it directly from a book. What is your opinion on this?
    Also, studying whose games do you a think a young player rated around 1800 would benefit most from?
    Thanks a lot

  42. Kenneth Calitri

    Hello Boris,

    You are going to be stranded on a desert island for 3 years. You can bring 3 chess players (any era) and 3 chess books. What would be your choices be? (Sorry no laptop!)

    Best Regards,
    Ken aka bogo

    PS – We met your lecture at the Russian Restaurant in NYC. Hope to see you lecture again!

  43. Boris who are players you have deeply admired past or present? Who have been the most difficult or fascinating to play? What developments in chess opening theory have changed the most or had the more noticable effect on modern chess in conjunction with the computer? Should Women have a Championship format identical to Men? What are your most favourite 3 openings per color? Thanks Boris!

  44. Hi Boris

    Do you recommend that keen students of the game study games by Steinitz and Alekhine? Did their games influence you?

  45. 1. Why 1 b3 and 1. … b6 are not popular among GMs ?

    2. For a normal club player (1800 – 2200), if he choose above system as his main openings, is there any issues ?

    3. The reason this club player choose above openings is that, he likes endgames and quiet middle-games, and wishes to skip openings as much as possible. He plans to play 1. b3 and 1. … b6 every game to get experience in the same system, this way he studies one opening, so that he can spend more time to study middle game and endgame. Is there any defects in his plan?

    4. For this player (1800 – 2200, like to study endgames and quiet middle-games, wishes to skip openings as much as possible), which white and black openings suit him?

    Thanks …

  46. By the way, this player has good memory, he does not mind playing long and forced openings; in fact he is fine to play any openings, as far as in the end of openings it is an endgame or quiet middle-game … But he has difficulties to find such opening systems, he needs hints …

  47. Hi Boris. 1) who were your greatest challengers and who have you admired? What players have you admired the most past and present? Who will succeed Magnus? Thanks

  48. An Ordinary Chessplayer

    Put a little registration card in a book. One or two months after first publication have a live “chat with the author” session. Long enough time to allow readers to come up with questions, short enough that the material is relatively fresh in the author’s mind. Later purchasers can get an access code to the recording, along with some incentive to purchase quicker next time.

  49. Dear Boris,
    what qualities (or trait of character) did you try to develop/improve for your chess career?
    Best regards,

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