About Me

I was born in Yaroslavl, Russia, on April 20th 1988. My family and I lived in Yaroslavl until I turned 5, at which point we moved to Israel. My father taught me how to play chess soon after we moved to Haifa, while I was still 5 years old. I had quite a good coach from the beginning, as my dad is a master strength player. Israel showed a lot of progress in my chess career. Prior to leaving Israel, I won the Israeli under 10 and 12 championships, representing the nation twice in World Youth Championships. When I turned 11, we immigrated to Canada.

While living in Toronto, my playing strength witnessed a huge growth spurt. I played as much as possible and became better and better. At the age of 13, in 2001, I became Canada’s youngest ever International Master (IM) by placing third at the Canadian Zonal Championship. I was also very successful in all the youth events on this continent. In every youth or grade championship I have ever played in on North American soil for my age group, I have won my section EVERY time. I have never lost a game in any of those events. Those included North American Youth Championships, CYCCs, Canadian Grade Championships,  OYCCs and Ontario Grade Championships.

After achieving my IM title, I got hungry for more, as any chess player should. One of my biggest strengths through the years has been this constant striving for more. Next on the “to do list” was the Grandmaster title. In June 2003, I got my first Grandmaster (GM) norm in a GM Round Robin in Balatonlelle, Hungary. I started very poorly, with 0.5/2, but then scored 6/7, including three wins to finish the event. I would call that a lucky norm, a lot of bounces went my way. I got very excited, and thought I will just keep scoring norms in all the tournaments I play in. A year later, I still didn’t have any more norms.

The change from IM to GM is a big one. The next step was getting a new coach. In Aeroflot 2004, my dad spoke to GM Huzman, a world famous coach. Huzman has been working with Gelfand for many years now as his primary second. In the summer of 2004, we had our first session, which lasted approximately 2 weeks. I felt good, but I felt like the GM title was far away. Apparently not. In the following two tournaments, I scored my two final GM norms to fulfill my norm requirements. The first of the two norms came in the Canadian Open in Kapuskasing. I scored 6.5 out of 10, while playing 8 GMs in the event(!), and even losing the final round. My greatest game was beating the highly rated at the time, GM Epishin. Then came the Montreal International. I was probably over excited in the beginning of the event, but then my nerves settled. I beat the strong GM Novikov of the US in the 10th round to clinch my final norm, and finished the event at 6.5/11. It was great to get the norms on home soil, and I had the fortune of having my parents, who were visiting for the round, to share the accomplishment with. The only thing separating me from the GM title was my rating, which needed to get over 2500. A tournament later, I was over that hump, and got my official title in October 2004 during the Olympiad.

I have played in the last four Olympiads for Canada in Bled 2002, Calvia 2004, Turin 2006 and Dresden 2008. I will once again be playing for Canada in September of 2010, in Khanty-Mansiysk. This will be my second consecutive Olympiad on the first board. My biggest successes include winning the Canadian Opens in 2005 and 2009, which included the likes of GMs Shirov (twice), Ivanchuk, Bologan, Adams, Ni and Ganguly. Both events took place in Edmonton, which is why it has to put on top of “my favourite places to play” list.

I started studying in university is 2006, and chess has taken a back seat since. I have only been able to play a lot during the summers, devoting the rest of the year to education. This summer, I will graduate from York University, finishing my Honours degree in Science and Technology Studies.

Something that always goes unnoticed in the success of chess players is the people in the background. Those people are responsible for a big part of the success, but don’t get any of the credit. I consider my family the primary reason for my success. Without the support that they have given me over the years, none of this would be possible. This is not just about teaching me how to play and then coaching me. My dad went to every tournament I played in until the age of 13. My dad has recruited every one of the coaches I have ever had! They were always the best available. He has always been my biggest fan, and that is priceless. I still talk to him on the phone after every game I play, and find out why I lost or drew, or didn’t win faster:). Among other things, my dad instilled in me a great fighting spirit and determination. My mom does not play chess, which could be a good thing. My mother is the balancing force in the family, pushing the importance of chess down to earth. By now, she has heard and contributed to chess talk more than most people who do play chess. My older sister doesn’t play chess. When my dad was teaching her and me how to play chess, he “realized” she doesn’t have the personality for it. In retrospect, she has proven she can be good at anything.

My coaches cannot go unnoticed.  I have had three coaches who contributed the most to my chess development. Afshorm Mazkevich was my first “real” coach, since my dad was after all, my dad as well as my coach. Afshorm used to be a famous coach in the Ukraine. He established what is often called the “Russian School” in me, giving me a sense that is very hard to teach and must fall under tacit knowledge. Unfortunately, when coming back to Israel in 2005, I found out he had passed away a few months earlier. He would have been proud to know about my Grandmaster title. Rest in peace.

Upon my arrival to Canada, I started studying with FM Yuri Ochkoos. A great coach, who makes chess fun. I trained with Yuri until I became a 2450 IM player strength. Yuri has great understanding, which was a great contrast to my purely tactical playing style. Yuri will be our team captain at the Olympiad later this year. In 2004, I started studying with GM Huzman, and have been studying with him since when time and money permit. He is one of the best in world. I hope to continue studying with him during this year of professional chess, if sponsorship is found for the occasions.

My sponsors have made a lot of things possible. Sid and Alicia Belzberg have helped made a few of my chess sessions with Huzman possible. Their sponsoring of the Olympic teams has always been greatly appreciated by everybody. Larry Bevand has been great in helping me progress. Larry covered my plane ticket to Hungary in 2003, where I got my first GM norm. Larry’s GM and IM title stipends have helped me substantially as well. My main sponsors over the years however, are my parents, paying for all tournament and coaching expenses between the ages of 5 and 13, as well as a lot in later years.

There have been many people involved in making my chess career possible. I thank everybody else who has helped me over the years. It would be a shame to let it all go without a crack at professional chess. This year of professional chess is not just my project, it is everybody’s project.

This about me page has gotten very long very fast.

Mark.

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3 Responses to About Me

  1. I read somewhere that a rating of 2650 gives you a possibility to make a decent living playing chess, is it right? You are not far from that, though of course it’s much more difficult to increase your rating from 2600 to 2650 than from 1650 to 1700 :). You are probably considering not only rating increase as a goal you want to reach by the end of that year. I hope that these 4 years did not affect much your chess, for Kamsky for example I think his 8-year hiatus very seriously damaged his ability to compete for the world chess championship.

    • This improvement is not going to be an easy one. However, it is not just about making a decent living at whatever level. Professional chess players do not always have a simple life with the amount of traveling that they do. It is not for everybody. I have been able to maintain my level, probably even improve it a bit, over the last four years. When speaking about the world’s best, I am surprised that Kamsky was able to recover so well after the long break. The game has changed in many ways over his absence, especially at the top. Says something about his character and determination.

  2. Josh says:

    Interesting work Mark.

    Drop me an email.

    -Josh

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