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Jan Gustafsson and the culture of moaning

Dresden, 10/07/2008
Jan Gustafsson is member of the German national team and has just placed shared second in the Dortmund Sparkassen Chess Days with an excellent score of 4 of 7 against world stars of chess. On the occasion of the nomination of the German team for Dresden Friday, 11 July, Klaus J. Lais spoke with him in Dortmund. Hamburg-born Gustafsson envisages the coming Chess Olympiad and talks about the situation of chess in Germany.

Hello there, Jan. You have been playing a great tournament here. Do you already know the formation for Dresden?
No. The deadline is 11 July and I have not yet heard anything. I believe, Uwe Bönsch himself doesn’t even know for sure yet…

How about a press conference during the Olympiad?
Good idea, could be worth trying. The composition will be interesting this year since we have two new players with Khenkin and Fridman. If they are in and Naiditsch would come to terms we would already be four; because I assume I will be part of the team as well. But even then it is not clear who will get the fifth ticket, whether Baramidze, Kritz or maybe Graf, since he has one ELO point more than I do.

One point! It shouldn’t come down to this. If Fridman and Khenkin are part we would have a well-balanced team with an ELO average of 2640 to 2650. What ranking do you expect with such a team?
First of all, this would be the best team we have had for a long time. But we have to figure out if things ‚inside’ the team fit. But I am certainly am looking at a top ten ranking.

Team is a good cue. Do you practice together?
Of course, chess remains an individual sport, but I suppose that we will have some more training courses together and then it will depend on the atmosphere on the team: whether we can help each other with the preparations. It is very important that we get along well. But in the end, it all depends on the process of the individual matches.

Right. But if four, five such strong guys are playing on one team wouldn’t it be better in any case to compare notes of opening repertoires?
I agree. But at the end of the day we are all still rivals. And then it is the question of how muc everyone will hand over.

This hasn’t come to my mind yet. Would you really say that, for instance between you and Arkadij, there is contention?
Well, I always beat him (laughs) – so I enjoy this type of contention. But to be serious, I actually do not take this too serious. The goal of the team is to achieve the best possible and for this I am willing to exchange ideas with the others.

You occasionally train with the Youth Olympiad (JOM) team, right?
Yes, occasionally. From time to time I used to practice with Niclas Huschenbeth trainiert, sometimes with Arik.

The JOM has become strong in my opinion. Compared to the beginnings, when we started planning a second team, a lot has developed. After all, there are four title holders.
That’s true. On the other hand, that is what you expect when you launch such a project with 16-year olds – that they learn well and make progress. The girls are coming, the guys a already quite strong. Especially Arik and Georg I think a great deal of, even though Arik cannot invest too much time in chess. I really am very curious to see how they will perform.

What do you think of your own development over the past years?
Well, I do not play much chess. Thus, it can’t really be scaled on my ELO, but I do feel that I have been doing well lately. I have gone in for the game more often lately and worked with Van Wely as fugleman. I think I am improving. But once one tournament is going bad the ELO is going down rapidly again. At the moment I have 2630 and I have much more fun at playing chess again. However, it is difficult for me to play 120 or more matches per year, like others do. I am burnt out quickly. 

Are you still spending much time with poker?
I do not want to comment on this at the moment because when I play chess I do play it professionally. I then see myself as professional and nothing else counts more that moment. Luckily, I am not in the position of having to play constantly in order to earn my living.

How long have you acutally been playing for the HSK (Hamburg Chess Club)?
Actually, it has been forever. Beginning in 1990. And national league since 96/97.

Amazing how the HSK always does it. With almost the same crack troop for many many years and for the most part always top-ranked.
In the end, it’s a fight for survival, especially regarding finances. Christian Zickelbein holds the reins, is committed and cares about it. Without him things would most likely be different.

Don’t you think that German club chess sells itself too cheaply outside the league? Although we offer a lot: youth training, club trips, adult training, championships, club nights et cetera. In some clubs there is even more going on. And not to mention the many hours voluntary helpers put in. Isn’t it that this can hardly be financed with just 3 to 5 Euro per month?
Of course I do. However, in the minds of the people it is firmly rooted that chess training has to be cheap or for free. Others spend up to 50 Euro for an hour of tennis or piano lesson and for chess this is the annual rate. That’s in their heads and has been the way ever since. It’s the culture. But at least there are about 2000 people, including chess trainers, who can make a living of chess, there are some sports are off even worse.

Even in the German Chess Association (DSB) there are constant discussions on how to distribute money. Basically, in chess this seems to run through all levels.
The culture of moaning and complaining is widely spread in Chess-Germany, but unfortunately not the culture to make changes. Even from player’s side. Some always complain but their handling with the media and their dressing are totally unprofessional. I am not an expert, but to only stand up and claim that it should be easy to get money does not solve the issue. I have been seeing this in the case of Christian Zickelbein for 20 years now. It is not easy to keep it going and to raise money. 

Back to the Olympiad. You played Cálvia and Torino, Dresden will be your third Olympiad. Can you compare the playing conditions?
In Cálvia playing conditions were quite bad but the surroundings were alright. Torino was the other way round – ideal playing conditions but with the accommodation I was absolutely dissatisfied.

Not just you. Do you think Dresden will combine good playing conditions with an ideal framework?
I expect that. If there is something to worry about than maybe that it will get cozy in the playing hall. But I have always felt comfortable in Dresden and they do a lot to guarantee that. If I had a wish I would like to stay in the Maritim hotel. Not only because of the great quality of the hotel but also because of the short distances, that is always important.

The art’otel, where you will be staying at, is supposed to be great as well.
Indeed, I have only heard good things about it so far. But I couldn’t tell, I haven’t been there yet.

Personally, I like to see you play because I can always learn something.
...Good...

...but you seem to rather avoid tactical turns in the game, don’t you?
I would not put it like this. Even after 1. d4 d5 sharp variants are possible, for instance Slavic or half-Slavic, as you could see in the matches against Ivanchuk and Naiditsch. But one thing is for sure: naturally, I am not a ‚killer’ type of person who aims at winning with the opening. Usually, I place my figures solid and then try to reconsider playing styles that I like.

Who do you think ist he biggest German talent at the moment?
Hard to say. Arik and Georg are over 18 already. I think a great deal of them, but with the younger ones I am not so familiar.

It would be great if we had as much potential as China. They produce one GM after another. Do you believe China will soon be the number one chess nation in the world?
Russia is still not bad either, but it certainly is true: since China has started to promote Western style chess they are improving rapidly. You can consider China to be one of the favorits in the Chess Olympiad. They train hard and achieve a lot. If they intensify their work within the next years they definitely could become the strongest.