15 January 2018

Sergey Janovsky: All the conditions have been created for young chess talents to grow

The head coach of the Russian national teams talks to Vladimir Barsky about the work of the RCF with junior chess players

Vladimir Barsky: Sergey, a few years ago the issue of setting up regional grandmaster schools was brought up. Has work in this area been given a boost?  

Sergey Janovsky: Grandmaster schools have been around for a while now. Funding for the schools increased significantly in 2010, when Arkady Dvorkovich was head of the Federation. After Andrey Filatov became President of the Russian Chess Federation in 2014, the work of the schools was systematically restructured, making it more effective in my opinion.

RCF Grandmaster Centres have been set up at the two most successful grandmaster schools – the Tolyatti Grandmaster School under Yuri Yakovich and the Kostroma Grandmaster School that was run by Konstantin Chernyshov. These centres received significant funding and powers in order to pursue the ambitious goals they have for junior chess. This money has been used to fund regular field chess sessions, as well as to help the heads of the grandmaster schools develop the most promising talents.    

VB: How successful has the work of these centres been?

SJ: Both Grandmaster Centres tested out several interesting modes of working, and we believe that the centres now operate at the highest level. Having said that, the Tolyatti Centre performed much better at tournaments and competitions. There are at least two reasons for this. First, Yuri Yakovich managed to build an excellent team of likeminded people who work very well together. Second, Yuri took great advantage of the opportunity provided by the Russian Chess Federation to bring talented children to his centre. He made a point of coming to the finals of the Russian Junior Championships to scout the leading players in all the age categories. He then talked at length with the parents and coaches of the kids whose play impressed him the most, telling them about how his Grandmaster Centre works. A number of gifted young children have become regular students at the centre as a result of Yuri’s efforts.           

Based on the results of the first year, the Toyatti school retained its status as a Grandmaster Centre, while the Kostroma school had that status revoked and became a regional grandmaster school once again. Meanwhile, three regional grandmaster schools were promoted to the status of Grandmaster Centres: the Siberian Federal District Grandmaster School and two schools from the Northwestern Federal District. The first of these schools (headed by Evgeniy Solozhenkin) has been working in Leningrad Region for many years now, while the other (run by Pavel Drugov) is noted for being a chess boarding school that allows students to improve their chess skills while receiving a secondary education in comfortable living conditions. We had high expectations for these centres, which, for their part, set about the tasks we set them with great enthusiasm.     

After a year, it became clear that none of the other schools was capable of performing to the same level as the Tolyatti school at tournaments and competitions. Nevertheless, the Siberian Federal District Grandmaster School, headed by the widely respected chess coach and theoretician Alexander Riazantsev, retained its status as a Grandmaster Centre. The decision was informed by the recognition of the centre’s achievements in covering a vast number of territories in Siberia, allowing the centre to work with practically all young gifted chess players in the region. Nearly 200 children travel to the centre’s training sessions, and almost all the top coaches from across the region take part. 

Despite their consistently high-quality work, the two centres based in the Northwestern Federal District did not perform significantly better at tournaments and competitions. It was thus decided that the RCF would continue to support these schools, but as regional grandmaster schools only. 

In addition to these schools, I would also like to mention the positive work of the Boris Spassky School in Satka in the Urals, which is run by the wonderfully talented Amir Gilyazov and where the students have for several years been taught by head coach Ruslan Shcherbakov. 

VB: Is the new system proving effective?

SJ: We’d like to think so. In the work of the grandmaster schools, we always have to find a balance between getting as many people involved in chess as we can and achieving top results at tournaments and competitions. The grandmaster centres were set up primarily to achieve the second goal. 

VB: Has anything fundamentally new appeared in this work over the past few years?

SJ: Without a doubt. In May 2016, we set up a chess department at the Sirius Center for Gifted Education, which was a major milestone for us. President Putin attended the opening ceremony. This, of course, was all made possible by the excellent work that RCF President Andrey Filatov has done to popularize chess and increase its prestige. Several influential public officials and well-known businesspeople are on the RCF Board of Trustees.       

The chess department is run by the 14th World Chess Champion Vladimir Kramnik. He keeps his finger on the pulse, regularly involving himself in the work of the Sirius Centre and overseeing various programmes. Six 24-day training sessions were held in 2016, each of which was attended by 16 pupils and four coaches. 

Three of the coaches, chosen personally by Vladimir Kramnik (Mikhail Shereshevsky, Konstantin Sakaev and Vladimir Belikov) are employed on a permanent basis, while the fourth is selected on a rotational basis from session to session. We’ve had famous grandmasters such as the challenger for the World Chess Championship Sergey Karjakin, the Russian Women’s Team head coach Sergei Rublevsky, former European Individual Chess Champions Evgeny Tomashevsky and Ernesto Inarkiev and many other grandmasters with a wealth of coaching experience.  

In 2017, the Sirius Centre responded to our request by allowing us to replace the eight 24-day sessions with sixteen 12-day sessions in order to make it easier for the pupils to fit the Sirius sessions around their tournament schedules. However, this year the Sirius Board of Trustees asked us to return to the 24-day model, which has been by all the other departments in the Centre. The reason for this is that, in addition to the professional programmes, each department has an extensive cultural programme that is very important to the Centre as a whole. The aim of the Sirius Centre for Gifted Education is to train specialists in their chosen fields who are also diverse and cultured.     

Opening a Chess Department at the Sirius Centre is a major achievement for youth chess in Russia. And I have to mention the excellent living conditions at the Centre, with its the superb food and the latest technological equipment. The classes are entirely free, as all expenses are paid by Sirius and the RCF.

VB: What is the age range of the children who study at the Sirius Centre?

SJ: The kids are aged between 10 and 16, with the majority falling into the 12 to 14 age category. Although we did invite a number of 17-year-olds to a number of sessions last year…  

VB: Are there any additional training camps for the top youth players?

SJ: There are. We try to ensure that our players are as ready as they can be for major tournaments and competitions, so we usually hold training camps in Moscow Region before the World and European championships. Although the tournament calendar was a bit of a nightmare last year, with three major competitions – the Youth and Amateur World Cups and the European Championship – all taking place within a span of 40 days, with a break of just one or two days in between each! We were only able to hold a portion of the training camps, as there just wasn’t enough time.

The RCF sends a number of coaches to the World and European championships. Their main task is to make sure that all of the main participants have the necessary assistance. If any of the other participants is in the running for a medal, then they will receive help too. This is the major principle of our work. Obviously we are not able to provide the necessary assistance to every single player, as we often send huge teams. Many of the children have their own coaches anyway.    

VB: What support does the Ministry of Sport provide?  

SJ: We enjoy a good working relationship with the Ministry of Sport. The Ministry accommodates us in a number of ways. We are allocated funding annually. Although last year the World Championships were held in Brazil and Uruguay and tickets cost 110,000–140,000 [around $2000–2500] per person, which meant that the Ministry's money was not enough to cover all of the RCF costs and the RCF had to spend more money on youth chess than had originally been planned.  

In addition to this, the Ministry of Sport kits the players out with an official Russian national team uniform before the World and European championships, which is an additional incentive for the kids to fight for medals at the Russian Championships.

VB: So how are our young players performing at international competitions?

SJ: We absolutely dominate the European Championships, taking team gold by a margin. The competition is tougher at the Worlds, of course, because chess is undergoing a renaissance of sorts in India and the United States – in fact, the backbone of the U.S. team is made up of young talents from families that have come to the country from China and India. We are always in the running for a top-three finish, and we occasionally bring the team gold home.

2016 was a particularly good year for us, with our youth players winning a total of 25 medals and topping the leader board in the team competitions at the European and World championships: 15 out of 36 at the Europeans (5 gold, 6 silver and 4 bronze medals) and 10 at the Worlds (3 gold, 5 silver and 2 bronze). The teams performed well in 2017 too, taking 18 medals home with them – 11 at the European Championships (4 gold, 4 silver and 3 bronze) and 7 at the Worlds. I’d like to draw particular attention to the achievements of our newest star, 15-year-old Andrey Esipenko, who was instrumental in bringing the Russian the “golden double,” winning at both the Europeans and the Worlds. Shortly afterwards, he became Russia’s youngest ever grandmaster and put in a strong performance at the Nutcracker Generation Tournament. The Nutcracker tournament is the next level. It is where the best of the best compete. These are the players who will eventually play for the national team.               

The main team competition for young players is the World Youth under-16 Chess Olympiad. The Russian team is always among the medal-winners, and last December we finally took home gold after a considerable break. Junior Team Head Coach Mikhail Kobalia spoke in great detail about this victory recently. Under his guidance, the Russian team won eight matches in a row, beating the main championship contenders, India and Iran, in the process. Our team secured first place before the final round had even been played!    

VB: How is the Russian Youth Cup coming along?

SJ: The competition is under the supervision of the Children’s and Youth Committee of the RCF, which is headed by Andrey Beletsky. The number of stages is growing constantly, and we changed the system for determining the winners two years ago. Finals for all age categories are no played in a round-robin format, with the winners in each category receiving an all-expenses-paid trip to the World or European championships. Young chess players can always benefit from a challenging round-robin tournament. Plus, the format is much better for objectively determining a winner. The RCF pays the living expenses (accommodation and food) of the seven Cup winners in each category, or 56 of the 64 participants in the finals.     

VB: Will the Russian Youth Championships continue to be held in Loo, Sochi?  

SJ: Yes. We’ve got the process worked out to a tee and, objectively speaking, there are not that many sites that are capable of hosting an event with such a large number of participants, not to mention parents and coaches. There has been a slight increase in recent years in the number of participants in the higher league, and the top players receive an all-expenses-paid to the Russian Youth Championships courtesy of the RCF. The Championships are held during the second half of April, and the RCF has taken to holding the Russian Team Championships in Sochi in May, which includes youth team championships. This is a convenient setup, as the kids who have played in the Youth Championships and their coaches can simply move over from the Akvaloo resort to the Zhemchuzhina and take part in the team competition. In fact, we often see the older youth players making up the numbers on the adult teams.    

VD: Seeing as though you’ve brought up Sochi, let’s talk a little bit about Belaya Ladya!

SJ: Yeah, the tournament final has been held in the Dagomys complex in Sochi, which should be very familiar to chess players, since 2014. The competition was brought here at the initiative of Andrey Filatov, who has actually taken part in the tournament himself in the past. The Dagomys complex has all the necessary conditions to indulge oneself in chess, as well as to have a break: the children take part in sports, attend lectures on famous chess coaches, and play What? Where? When?, Brain Ring and other intellectual games. Belaya Ladya has become an international tournament, attracting some of the biggest names in chess. The number of teams taking part is growing with each passing year and, with very rare exceptions, every Russian region is represented in the competition. It is a big chess celebration that both revives and expands upon our country’s best chess traditions.