Following the Sinquefield Cup held in December 2023, I was able to catch up with Maxime-Vachier-Lagrave, (often referred to by his initials, MVL). Maxime was crowned the World Rapid & Blitz Chess Champion in 2021. With a peak classical rating of 2819, he is the seventh-highest rated player in world history. At the time of this writing in January 2024, MVL sits at #3 in the world in Rapid and #10 in Blitz. JF: Can you share a bit about your journey into chess and how you became
interested in the game?
MVL: I started when I was 5, and my father taught me the rules. I got hooked straight away,
joined a club and the following season, started playing competitively. I became more and
more passionate about the game, and what's more, I was winning titles, so of course that made me want to keep going!
JF: Who were your early influences or mentors in chess?
MVL: First of all, my coaches. The first was MF Eric Birmingham, who passed on to me his
passion for Bobby Fischer. Then there was GM Nikola Spiridonov, from whom I learned
the Grunfeld, and who instilled in me a love of endgames.
As for my favorite players, they're the ones with a dynamic style of play: Alekhine, Fischer,
but also Bronstein.
JF: How would you describe your playing style, and how has it evolved over time?
MVL: It's clear that my game is dynamic, based on a lot of calculations and search of initiative.
Perhaps my main evolution over time has been to learn to be a little more patient, to take
fewer risks at times, and to wait for a mistake rather than try to provoke it headlong. I've
also gradually spent more time on the endgame, which obviously requires masses of
theoretical knowledge, but also a lot of calculation.
JF: Is there a particular opponent you enjoy playing against, or a rivalry that you find
MVL: Generally speaking, I try to take every game in the same way. Of course, playing against Magnus in particular is always a very interesting challenge. He's been the best player in the world for 10 years, so it's always important, and also symbolic, to give your best when you play him.
JF: What do you hope your legacy will be as a top chess player?
MVL: It's not a subject for me... My problem is winning titles!
JF: When future generations reflect on the current generation of top players in the
world, what do you think they will find most unique or remarkable compared to past
MVL: What's really special about my generation is that we grew up first without computers, then with... So we knew how to work without them, unlike the younger generation who is really « full computer ».
We're a unique kind of intermediate generation!
JF: If you did not play chess professionally, what career would interest you most?
MVL: We'll see when I've stopped!
JF: What specific resources or habits do you recommend for those looking to excel
MVL: First of all, lots of practice. Lots of calculation exercises, too, because that's basically what chess is all about. And above all, analyzing your own games to detect errors and gradually eradicate them: even if, of course, this work is never finished!
JF: Are there any hobbies or activities that you find complement your chess skills?
MVL: I'm not necessarily looking for my chess talents to be transposed elsewhere. I play a bit of poker, which is perhaps not complementary to chess, but in any case it's an activity in
which chess players generally do rather well.
JF: In what ways do you find yourself applying the problem-solving skills you've
developed in chess to real-life challenges?
MVL: I think it's in real-life decision-making processes that these skills are most evident. In other words, there's very little hesitation when it comes to making choices in general. And I often manage to get straight to the point.
Thank you to Laurent Vérat for help in coordinating this interview.