Closing The Curtains

The year went by fast. Playing so many tournaments did not give much time to take my foot off the gas pedal. Even while not playing, most of my time was spent studying and working on chess. Could be the reason for some bad steering towards the end.

Chess has given me a lot. At the age of 23, I have traveled the world and met people from all walks of life. The last year amplified that. This blog was mainly about chess and might not have captured the full experience. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat!

I now have closure with the game that has been a significant part of my life for 18 years. It is time to leave and pursue other goals. My success in chess should be attributed to many factors, largely a combination of opportunities provided by those around me as well as personal characteristics that have allowed for hard work and relentless determination. I plan to take those qualities elsewhere.

I’d like to thank my wonderful sponsors: Muir Detlefsen & Associates Limited, Front Street Capital, and BMO Capital Markets. It was an honour to be sponsored by these great firms. The sponsorship was great, in large part, due to the intangibles.

There is respect for chess in society. Sponsorship does not come easy, it never will, and the onus should not just be on the organizers to find it. In the end of the day, who is the sponsorship for? The idea that professional chess players expect to be paid to “just” play chess is quite naive in a society where all other professions require social interaction and working with others.

The last year was not a one man show and it would not have been the same without the wonderful people around me. I’d like to thank my family and friends for the support they provided. My dad taught me how to play chess when I was 5 years old. He has always been my biggest fan. Not sure which of the two of us experienced more stress when I played in tournaments. I had a one way ticket to Khanty-Mansiysk (KM) for the World Cup. After getting knocked out, I quickly e-mailed my dad asking him to buy me a ticket back as soon as possible. Internet in KM was very slow. A few hours later, I had my return ticket. Typical of my dad. Doing whatever he can to help out. The women in my family don’t play chess. My mom has always been the calming influence that has kept everybody happy and sane. My sister gave birth to my nephew in July. That is the best memory I have from the last year, not to take anything away from chess.

I’d like to thank Tom Muir and Gordon Ritchie for their help. The two mentored me and provided me with guidance and friendship away from the board. They helped me with sponsorship. Without them, there wouldn’t be any.

From a chess perspective, the team of people I worked with consisted of GM Alexander Huzman, Liam Henry, IM Igor Zugic, IM Raja Panjwani, and a foreign GM who will remain nameless. I am very picky about who I work with, and each member of the team is a good friend, who has my full trust. Thank you to each of you for your contribution. I never had this kind of preparation before. The problem with opening preparation nowadays is that you most often develop a new idea and see it played by somebody else. A perfect example is from the game Morozevich-Svidler, which you can look at in this link. White’s 10th move is an idea that hasn’t been played at a high level but has been sitting in our preparation for about three months prior to this game.

Experiences in the last year have been scattered, ranging from a Hilton to a Monastery (Corsica), and from Tata Steel type of treatment to termites. In retrospect, it was all great. I had an unlimited number of chess stories before this year, and the quality of stories only grew. If you have known me on a personal level, there is a good chance you heard at least a few of them!

It’s time to open a new chapter in life and I look forward to it. I won’t forget where I came from, but it’s time for me to leave chess and pursue other goals. I don’t plan to play chess in the near future.

The blog will be kept up, but posting will stop. I enjoyed sharing my year with you and hope you enjoyed it too!

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I’m back!

I apologize for the long hiatus. The last month has been a hectic one. After coming back from Windsor on July 9th, university got a lot more intense. I was able to do the simul at the Canadian Open on July 12th, but there was no other time for chess.

The summer semester was not a very busy one until July. Missing a week of university during the compressed summer time was like missing two weeks during the regular school year. I came out alive. My last exam ended yesterday at 11am! I handed in my final assignment soon after. It was a 23 page essay. I finished the requirements for my Honours degree in Science and Technology Studies in the faculty of Science and Engineering, at York university! Mission complete.

Life would be boring and unsatisfying without new goals. The last goal was my university degree. The next goal is top 100 in the world. My chess playing has been limited in the last 4 years. In the years from 2008-2010, I have played a total of 94 FIDE rated games! That is simply not enough. What might be more disappointing is that I haven’t been able to study much chess in these years either. My summers have been packed with playing a lot of tournaments, leaving little room to study and rest.

This year will be different. I plan to play at least 100 games from August 2010 to September 2011. There will be time to study as well. This will be quite a change. Those who know me as a chess player know that I am as hard working as it gets at the board. This might be easier to do when I play so rarely. Giving it all I have in every single game might be harder when playing so much. I need to stop myself from burning out.

There will be good results, but there will also be bad ones. With so many events, it should be easier to forget the bad ones. The philosophical approach of accepting bad results is a new one for me. I am a competitor and I hate losing. I am my own hardest critic. This acceptance will be something new. It might be what differentiates a professional from an amateur. After all, I have been an “amateur” until now, regardless of how strong I have been able to become with this approach.

My first tournament will be in Barcelona and it starts on August 20th. In 15 days I will be back to playing the game I love. Total break from competitive chess will last approximately 350 days. I’ve missed it. Other forms of competition are just not the same. After devoting such a big part of my life to chess, how could they be?

Whenever chasing a goal, there needs to be a plan. Tomorrow I will be setting up that plan. I need to figure out what I need to study. This might include openings, players, endgames, etc. I have less than two weeks before I leave for Barcelona, and therefore my holes will be the first I will need to cover. My sessions will be long and daily. I did not become a Grandmaster by slacking off. I know that I will not become a top 100 player by slacking off. That’s the bottom line.

A part of my routine will involve sports, whether running, or playing basketball and tennis. This is both for the sake of sanity and for better physical conditioning. If anybody wonders why the top chess players are all physically fit, there is a reason. Chess games are extremely demanding at the highest levels. If you are not in top physical shape, you are at a disadvantage. The pressure is at its highest. At recent tournaments like the Canadian Open, I have tried to go to the gym every day after the game. It clears the mind, which is hard to do after a long game.

I look forward to the challenge that is ahead of me. It won’t be easy. It would be boring if it was…

I will try to maintain posting daily/bi-daily even while I am not playing, partly on my own day as well as on other events around the chess world.

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.

Welcome to my blog!

Hi everybody!

A little bit about me. My name is Mark Bluvshtein, I am currently 22 years old and I am currently studying Science and Technology Studies at York University.

So what’s so special about me? I’m a pretty normal guy, but not when it comes to chess. I became an International Grandmaster (GM) at the age of 16, the youngest one in Canadian history. Currently, I am the #1 chess player in Canada, with a FIDE rating of 2583. This blog will mainly be a chess blog. It’s my chess experiences that I want to share with the world.

But now is not just a random time for me to start a blog. Starting in August, I will be doing what I have wanted to do for years. I will be starting a full year of professional chess. I will push myself to the limit. With a current world ranking of 273 in the world, I want to crack the top 100. It’s now or never, since I am finishing my degree requirements this summer. During this year, I will be traveling all over the world, competing in the strongest tournaments that I can find.

As much as I am doing this for myself, I hope this project will benefit others. I hope that all Canadian players will find my journey to be an interesting and enlightening one into the world of Grandmaster chess. I certainly know that when I was younger, it would be exciting to follow a GM on his journey. I hope to unite Canadian chess as a whole, with something that I consider a very positive project. Also important is the idea of putting Canada back on the world chess map, from which it has disappeared in recent years. We have not kept up with the elite chess world which is only getting more and more competitive.

Why are my personal reasons for taking this year long journey? Simply put, I believe that I haven’t even scratched the surface of my chess goals. I have never been a full-time chess player, yet I have become a pretty good Grandmaster. I have always had devotion to chess, but it was never full devotion due to my academic commitments. But this year will be different, I will be more serious than ever. 12 months of playing chess will be quite a change from my current schedule of 9 month hibernation followed by 3 months of playing, as it has been in the last several years. I have not reached my peak. I have wanted to do this sort of a thing ever since I graduated high school, but for me, education came first.

This year will not be easy, there will be ups and downs, as there are in every aspect of life. It will not be a vacation, since even when I am not playing at tournaments, my main focus will be to study chess and improve. It will be a full-time job. When you want to succeed in anything, not just chess, this is the only way. Lack of effort will result in questions of “what if?” I plan to get rid of any of these questions.

This year of professional chess will start in August, when I am done with my university studies. I will be posting interesting things until then. Some of these upcoming projects include player biographies of the Canadian Olympic teams, as well as the CYCC, which I will be attending.

I hope everybody will enjoy my blog. I will try to do my best to maintain it frequently. During my tournaments, I will try to give daily updates, with some game analysis. I hope you enjoy it!

Mark.