Here is an interview with Valery Soloviev, a 5 dan from Kazan, Russia.

Valery Soloviev is not an ordinary Go player but an outstanding Russian science figure. His works on mathematics logic, programming theory,  cognitive linguistics and linguistic typology and databases were published in Russian and international scientific journals. Valery Soloviev used to be a president of the Russian Go Federation from 1994 to 1997.

Kazan Go Club is considered to be the strongest European go club for the last 20 years. What is the reason of this phenomenon in your opinion?

Perhaps, you exaggerated it a little. We are holding the leading positions only for the last 12 years. There are two reasons:

  1. Due to Alexey Vasiliev and his close disciples and followers an extremely creative Go environment already emerged in Kazan at the end of 1970-ies. It stimulated new players, trainers and Go leaders to achieve new sports heights. We worked greatly, productively and purposefully. No wonder that several strongest European players appeared in the one city. Let’s recall the classic example of The Beatles. How it could happen that several music geniuses emerged in Liverpool at the same time? And what about the New Orleans jazz phenomenon? Why so many outstanding musicians, who created a new music movement in a short period, of time appeared in 1920-ies? I suppose that here we see the same social and psychological factors that caused the emergence of such dominating centers. It cannot be the other way round.
  2. The majority of European players (and European and national federations’ functionaries) consider Go to be a part-time activity, an entertaining game. We had quite the opposite psychological attitude – we strived for victories. In fact it was quite easy for us to take the dominant positions in Europe – nobody really withstood it. If any European Go leaders wished to raise really strong players, any of them could come to Kazan to study our organizing experience, methods of training created by undoubtedly one of the best European trainers Valery Shikshin. But nobody got an interest. It seems that you were the first to ask this question and to publish the answer.

You say that you have been working a lot. Can you give any example, anything memorable?

I’ll give such an example. It happened in the late 80-ies during one of the Russian championships. At that time the time control was like in the most serious professional tournaments, the game was played in two days with an adjournment. The games were carefully reviewed, thus stimulating the analytical mind capacities. In one of the games my fiend adjourned a game on the stage of deep yose, losing by 1.5 points on rough estimation. While making a review a possibility of winning back one point was easily found, but how to get another point was not clear. The analysis of the situation lasted for several hours and it was a late night, but the winning chance was obscure. The game was very important and decisive for the entire tournament and we continued the analysis and started to look for traps – hamete possibilities. Finally our pains were praised. We bound an amazingly beautiful idea. At first sight the move did not make any troubles for the opponent and even seemed to be quite passive as if it told that we found nothing during the analysis. It had a natural continuation that unexpectedly appeared to me a mistake. After the most difficultly counted continuation that practically cannot be found during the game process it won one point. Though there was another unconventional and right continuation that saved the opponent’s advantage. This way gave the chance and we decided to take it.  When the game continued my friend made several natural sente moves and played this hamete. His rival obviously did not spend much time on deep game analysis and was stupefied after the continuation. Our efforts were not vain! The level of analysis was professional though a pro-player could find this move much quicker. However, who knows. Probably a professional, who use to look for the right game direction would not even examine this particular possibility. I’d recommend European Go organizations to hold tournaments with greater time control and adjournment. The game analysis in such “combat surroundings” is one of the ways to higher game mastery.

You could become the first player from Kazan who won the European championship. You took the 3rd place in 1989. Do you remember that tournament now? Did you have any chance to win it and what impeded the victory?

How can I forget it! By the way I took the third place in 1988 in Hamburg. I’ll tell you about this tournament. In general, I felt the lack of experience as it was only my second European championship. The final part was on a home-and-away basis as an experiment. I got to semi-finals quite easily. Then I had to play against Pocsai. By the break I got almost a winning position but when we continued to play I made one mistake after another and lost it. I suppose that psychological factor played its role then. Schlemper also took part in this tournament and was considered to be an evident favorite. I did not believe that I can possibly defeat him (later these thoughts appeared unjust – he was in poor shape on this tournament). Perhaps I had unconscious fear of advancing to the final part and being smashed there. As a result Poscai sensationally defeated Schlemper and became a well-deserved champion, and I defeated Wimmer and took the 3rd place.

The new generation of young Go players, first of all Stepan Popov and Dmitry Milyutkin, grow up in Kazan. They are already dominating on European Championships under 12. I won’t ask you about their chances on European tournaments but I’m very interested in struggle between European and top-Asian players. What is your opinion, how soon can we compete with them for Go titles?

It is a question of motivation of certain European players and the whole European Go community. All European players who really desired to achieve a professional level – Pietsch, Taranu, Dinerchtein, Svetlana Shikshina and Ilya Shikshin – all of them reached their goals. So it is quite feasible for European players, and one doesn’t have to spend years in Asia as we can see from Ilya Shikshin’s example. A non-Asian player can reach 9p level as Michael Redmond did. As for the highest level, it is much more difficult. I’ll address to history again. Let’s recall Pobert Fischer, the world chess champion. In 50-60-ies, when he improved his chess mastery, the game was not popular in the USA. There were no big money prizes in it. The Soviet players, supported by the government, had overwhelming predominance on the world chess arena. However Fischer amazingly defeated Boris Spassky in 1972 world champion title match. How could he do it? Fischer was a chess addict and completely gave himself up to the game. Nowadays I don’t see any Go addict in Europe. I can’t predict when such a player may appear.

Kazan has never held any international Go tournaments whether the World or European championships. Do you think that Kazan can be worth holding, for example, a European Go Congress?

In the meantime Kazan prepares for 2013 Universiade – the second largest sporting event after the Olympic Games. The Kazan International Airport is being reconstructed and expanded, thus enabling to increase the number of European flights. New hotels of different class and price range are built. There is a project of 20-storey Chess Palace where Go would occupy several floors. I believe that Kazan will be able to hold a high level tournament of any class in several years.

Many past recent Korean tournaments restricted had some restrictions towards inseis and ex-inseis (who usually win all the tournaments) and accept only amateur players aged no younger than 40 years. Should this practice be adopted in Europe?

It’s high time to do. I would play in these tournaments with great pleasure. Moreover, the official senior European Championships would be fine too.

Each month the Korea Baduk Association allocates nearly $30000 for Go development outside Korea. Now it is spent as grants for 20 professionals and ex-inseis who live in the USA, Europe and Australia. As a rule they just play (and usually win) in local tournaments. What is your opinion: is there any use in such Go promotion? Is this investment effective?

I won’t judge the Korea Baduk Association policy. Generally the question of any investment efficiency is very complicated. How much money did they spend to hold and support the EGCC near Amsterdam? The EGCC was opened in 1992. How many European Go champions did it raise during the 20 years of its functioning? How many professional players came out from it? If this center had been built in Kazan dozens of European player would have probably reached the professional level by now. Did the EGCC sponsors make the right decision about the center’s location at that time?

Computer gaming software has brought immense damage to chess and draughts. Now it gradually comes up to Go heights and the strongest bot plays at a KGS 5 dan level. Should professional Go Associations consider banning the demonstrative games between professionals and computers trying to save face as shogi organizations do?

I don’t agree that computers have highly damaged chess and draughts. Draughts appeared to be a very simple game. When the greater part of Grandmaster tournament games started to end up in tie the interest in this game disappeared. Computers have nothing to do with this. People’s interest in chess hasn’t disappeared at all in spite of computer’s victory over the world champion. Moreover, the software helped to advance in the game theory, especially in the opening theory. This resulted in general rise of humans – chess players’ tactics level and deeper understanding of the essence of chess. It helped to resolve some disputable issues of the game. Technologies were always used for progress. Let’s take pole vaulting. After the fiberglass poles had appeared the sporting results dramatically improved. The same is with chess. Computer Go progress will advance human players’.

I know you have written a Go book. A few people know about it. Could you tell us more about it? And what is the main – where to order this book?

That’s true. Once I wrote the book and named it “My Memorable Games”. It had a limited print edition and I’m afraid only one copy – at my home – can be found. In the meantime it is quite obsolete and does not have any practical importance. However if any strong player could renew the commentaries to 1-2 most interesting games, for example the 1987 game vs Rob van Zeijst or 1988 game vs Pietsch it could be interesting and useful. It would be also possible to compare the level of the strongest players of the past and contemporary ones and to see how far the new generation has advanced.

You were the president of the Russian Go Federation from 1994 to 1997. What general tasks did you fulfill at that time? Why didn’t you run for a second term? Was it a right decision?

The main achievement was the treaty with the Korea Baduk Association that enabled to send Svetlana Shikshina to study in Korea. It laid the basis of modern situation with strong players in European Go. The invaluable help was given by Mr. Cheon Poong Jho; I express my gratitude to him. Another achievement was getting new sponsors. When I started to lead the Federation, its budget was empty. We even had no money to pay fees to European and International Go Federations. After the USSR disintegration in 1991 Russian economy was completely ruined. I attracted such sponsors as LG, Hitachi, Konishi. We signed a treaty with Russian Sports Committee – a governmental sports organization – and got federal support. We started to conduct big tournaments with large prize funds (about $15000). It was not difficult to find sponsors. So when someone says that European Go is lacking for money I feel surprised. All you have to do is to work seriously on fund-raising.

There are two reasons why I didn’t offer my candidature for the second term. On the one hand I work at the university and believe my true calling is science. When I quited my post I could concentrate my efforts on science and became a professor in a year. From this perspective my decision was right. On the other hand we had another great candidate – a businessman and Go player Sergey Uspenskiy who seemed to give a powerful incentive to Russian Go progress. Unfortunately that did not happen. Uspenskiy did not keep his promises and in fact deceived the players. He was not a good organizer either.  In the next years all the corporative sponsors were lost and no new investors were found. I suppose that a wrong Uspenskiy’s merit rating, assessment of his personal and organizing qualities was my largest mistake as a president.

What can you advise to European Go players?

The absolute majority of European fans play Go for entertaining. I would advise them to find some time and energy to study Go deeper and try to improve. Than Go can bring even more fun! If you are a kyu-player you can’t see even a millionth part of possibilities and beautiful combinations that are left unseen. I’ll address to jazz once more.  It is accepted that a jazz musician should create music and keep off imitating the others. Does he have to study anything? Here are the words of the greatest improviser Louis Armstrong about jazz musicians “If he masters all professional tools, he can express his musical ideas exactly as he imagines them – that is with even greater perfection, brightness and naturalness, than an inexperienced amateur”. This is a universal law for every human activity.

If you wish to reach the top, my advice is: don’t be afraid of setting greater goals and give yourself up to the game. Go will respond very soon – your success will show by itself!    Send article as PDF