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Meet CCSCSL Resident GM Ronen Har-Zvi

[imagefield_assist|fid=16387|preset=fullsize|lightbox=true|title=GM Ronen Har-Zvi will serve as the Resident Grandmaster until February 6.|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=700|height=507]

By Mike Wilmering

Grandmaster Ronen Har-Zvi is a world-renewned chess player, coach and commentator, and he is bringing his wealth of expertise to the Chess Club in Saint Louis for a few weeks to enlighten our members through private lessons, free lectures, classes and much more! GM Har-Zvi will serve as the Chess Club's Resident GM from now until December 24. Please take a little time to get to know the new Resident GM, and come on down to say hello!


When did you start playing chess, and when did you seriously commit to getting better?

I started/learned the moves by the age of 5, where I used to play with my grandfather. Pretty much everyone in our family knows chess! My father, sister ... my older brother was the chess player before me; a talented player by himself that got to a 2200-2300 level. He quit chess for a long army career. I was doing very ok from the very start, but I really started to be serious at the age of 11 after some small successes in local tournaments.


What was it about the game that intrigued you so?

I was one of those "pretending to be smart kids." I dreamt for many years of being an astronaut in NASA, which is not that easy coming from Israel! I was left with chess, and the more I was doing well playing, the more I got into the game.


What was the biggest contributing factor that brought you from a beginner to winning the U-16 World Youth Championship in 1992?

I was working extremely hard from 1990-1992 (age 14-16). I can easily say that I was doing 30-40 hours of chess a week at that time, while still being in school. From the practical chess view, I had reviewed many games by the great ones, from Capablanca, Alekhine, Fischer, Karpov, Kasparov, and I guess the very tiny ideas and play from those great geniuses that stuck in my head were a crucial factor in improving my chess during this tournament and in general.

Did you have a dedicated coach at any point, and if so, who?

Amazingly enough, the clear answer is no! Today I have the privilege to teach some of the brightest kids in the country. It is amazing how many kids 9-10 years old (and above, clearly) already have a GM working with them for a few years, and I am one of those GMs! The first GM I got to work with was Alexander Huzman, who had been Boris Gelfand's second for the last, say, 20 years. I was only 16. I had become a world champion that year, and I was already 2500 FIDE and about GM level. I have nothing but the most amazing and positive words to say about Huzman, as an amazing coach, second, and human being. For the first time ever I am thinking, how would my chess look had I started to do chess with Huzman when I was 10? For many kids today all over the world, and in the U.S. in particular, this question is not a hypothetical one. The Internet and the amount of GMs allow the young players much greater access to coaches.


When did you earn the title of Grandmaster, and at what events did you achieve your three GM norms?

I became GM at 18 1/2, in 1995. I have never played a tournament in my life with the sole purpose of making a GM norm. I just played some tournaments, and I said, "If I play well, I will make the norms; and if not, then not." I made the norms in an open tournament in Biel 1993, the Israeli League in 1994, and in a round-robin tournament in my club ASA Tel-Aviv in 1995.


I understand you also have a background in stock trading. Is/was that a full-time job? How do you feel your extensive chess knowledge has helped you in that profession?

It was more than a full-time job; maybe two jobs or a bit more! While living in Israel, my normal day would be like waking at 7:30 a.m., going to my office in Tel-Aviv, trade the local market until 5 p.m. locally. Then trade in the U.S. started at 4:30 p.m. Israel time and ended at 11 p.m. By the time you are done, it's like one o'clock in the morning! This also had a part in why I choose to work only 60-70 hours a week as opposed to 110.

I can mention some very strong players such as Patrick Wolff, Ilya Gurevich and more, that have gone from chess to the financial world.

I believe that the thinking skills that are developed over the years from chess are clearly a positive aspect for many of us [in the financial sector].


When did you move to the United States, and what brought you here?

I moved [to the U.S.] in 2003. Soon after achieving the GM title, I asked myself the following question: "Do I want to be a chess pro, or is this enough?" This was also the time that I started trading very actively, first in the Israeli market (I made my first option trade when I was 14 1/2), and then in the U.S. markets. I had also married an American woman (Heather, my wife for the past almost 13 years) and my kid Aaron was at that time 2 1/2 years old. It was possible and made sense for me to live in the U.S., which I have done since.


You served as the chess coach at UT-Brownsville for two-plus years. What did you like about coaching chess at the collegiate level?

Very simple - being around some young talented players, and having the ability to help them acheive their goals, whether it be a 2000 player whose dream is to become a master (2200) or [something more]. There are three big successes that I feel I had a part in, (in some cases it may be a small part, but still I feel I had/have part in them):

The first is WGM Nadya Ortiz, who made her last WGM norm at the Olympiad in 2010. I just started my job at UTB then, yet, due to the hour differnece, I can tell you I stayed every night until 1 to 3 in the morning helping her prepare. She made her last GM norm, which she was had been trying to make for, if I am not mistaken, eight years! And she became the first-ever WGM in Colombia.

Another is WGM Katerina Nemcova, who is a very strong WGM (top 100 in the world, former European champion under 18.) She had three IM norms, but had never made it to 2400 FIDE rating. She came to UTB, a bit under 2300, when her chess was not improving much. She had a terrific year last year, gaining 100 rating points! We are working together very hard for her to achieve the 2400 rating so she can become an IM.

Going higher in the level is my very close friend GM Timur Gareev. We all knew Timur was a brilliant player from day one, yet he was around 2600 level for quite some time during 2010. It was clear to me that his potential is clearly above this. While analyzing and doing chess with Timur, I cannot say "I teach him." That would be a joke; he teaches me!

We train together and analyze together, but I do believe that I had an important affect on Timur in and on other parts [of his game]

I was reading a few weeks ago an e-mail I wrote to Timur in December 2010, when he was 2600, with what he/me can/should do for him to have a shot to become 2700 by January 1, 2014. Timur is now 2680 or even higher, and is No. 3 on the U.S. list after Nakamura and Kamsky. Who knows? He is still young. If possible I plan to come back to Saint Louis with him in May for the U.S. Championship.

This is a long answer, but this is why we do what we do! I remember speaking with Yasser [and we agreed], the pleasure of teaching and seeing success from your students is truly something special.

The fact that one year after stopping to coach the UTB team, I still continue to be close, and do chess, with a few of the brilliant players from when I was coaching, means a lot to me, and [speaks] to the reason why I enjoy doing it so much.


How do you feel competitive collegiate chess can be further developed?

Coming from the trading world, and actively being involved in many investments, I can say it in one word: Money! Getting the best coaches possible and giving the right conditions for the players, will lead to one result and one result only.

Think about some of the coaches in the colleges now:

  • Susan Polgar - former woman world champion
  • Yasser Seirawan - four-time U.S. champion, playing candidates matches for the world title
  • Alexander Onischuk - U.S. champion and a member of the Olympic team

This is the right direction, and this will attract more and more players from all over the world to come to play college chess in the U.S.


In your opinion, how have technological advancements changed the chess world as we know it over the past 20 years?

I already touched on this question when discussing coaching, but a young kid today can sit in front of his computer anywhere in the U.S., and have a GM teach him chess online. Simply incredible! The databases make it much easier for younger players to improve much faster. No more sitting with old chess books analyzing lines for weeks. Just click, click, and you have the recent games ... much faster to study. This clearly also has an effect on why we see [players like] Caruana and such, which would have been much more difficult 20 years ago, as opposed to today.


When did you get into chess broadcasting with the Internet Chess Club (ICC)? What does it take to make a live chess broadcast engaging and interesting?

ICC is my second family. I've known Marty from ICC for more than 15 years, almost 20, since the very start of ICC.

At some point we connected more seriously in 2006, and shortly after, I started broadcasting and creating videos for ICC, which I am happy and honored to be able to do till this day, and to be a part of really amazing group of chess players, from [Joel] Benjamin to [Larry] Christiansen and others who have been doing the same for many years.

To make a broadcast interesting - be yourself! Have fun, enjoy it!. I always joke about this, but really I'm not joking: Waking up in the morning (or in the middle of the night, for some of the events!!) logging into ICC, going on air with a strong GM (Yasser, Larry, Joel, Yermo, Var, and many European GMs from Smeets, Speelman, Jones and more) having fun for four to five to six hours. Yes, this is not work, this is fun! Analyzing with them for hours, and then getting paid? The fact that I even get paid for this is crazy, but somehow is this the way it works! :)


Other than the World Famous Chess Club and World Chess Hall of Fame, what are you looking forward to seeing most when you come to Saint Louis?

I have never been to Saint Louis. Iit looks beautiful! I clearly want to see the city and especially the arch.

From a chess point of view, I said in a recent ICC broadcast that "If you are into trading, go to Wall Street; if you are into technology, go to San Fransisco; if you are into chess, go to Saint Louis." I want to see, hear, and understand: How did this happen? Why in Saint Louis? the people behind it, can this be done some where else?