Person of day - 12 JANUARY 2023
Ilia Smirin was born on the 12th of January 1968 in Vitebsk in a family of a teacher of electronics and physics. During his childhood, Ilya dreamed of starring in films, but eventually he became a strong chess player.
“My first trainers were Lev Meltzer and Lev Pak. Two Levs. Lev Meltzer lives in Israel, he must be 85 now. Pak has spent the last few years in Germany. Lev Pak was a higher-level trainer based on chess qualifications. He played at the level of a candidate for master. What’s interesting is that he himself is not an amazingly strong chess player, but he has raised four grandmasters from Vitebsk! Andrey Kovalev, Evgeny Agrest, Rai Eidelson and me. As far as I see, four grandmasters in a little town from one trainer is a huge success. It should also be noted that it was indescribably harder to become a grandmaster in those times than it is now.” (I.Smirin)
He attended classes in the Tigran Petrosian School. He graduated from the Minsk Institute of Physical Culture and Sport. In 1987, he won the adult championship of Belarus. He was already seen as a very bright player, in whose matches boring positions never arose. It wasn’t for nothing that Ilia appreciated the art of Mikhail Tal from a young age.
“The books that you read at a young age play a huge role. One of my first books that I liked at that moment of my chess career was Attack with Mikhail Tal by Tal and Damsky, which I read from cover to cover and to which I regularly returned in more mature years. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I have read it tens of times. I also adored Leonid Stein by Gufeld and Lazarev. I read that many times and I return to it periodically. My style was formed by the influence of these books. True, I like combinations and aggressive play. The romanticism associated with these things is well known. Tal wrote about it in a wonderful journalistic style. It impressed me- I didn’t want to imitate it, but it impressed me! From the age of 9-10, I began to like these attacks, sacrifices and other risky moves…” (I. Smirin)
He was one of the winners of the Union’s qualifying championship in 1987, where he split 1st-4th places with Gelfand, Vyzmanavin and Lerner. In that same year, Ilia Smirin won the first league of the Soviet championship on his own. His first experience of participating in the USSR’s main tournament in 1988 was a serious test to the newcomer, but Smirin disappointed Vasily Smyslov and achieved a respectable result.
“The room was full- there were several hundred people and performing was truly interesting! It was an extraordinary competition. Karpov, Kasparov…it would be very unusual now, but it was more so back then. I began well, winning 2,5 out of 4. I remember the announcement from “Vremya”. (Back then, chess was at the forefront of sports news, especially if the two “Ks” were playing. I vividly remember that when they were playing, the programme would begin with their match and everything else would come later.) They announced on TV: “In the USSR championship in Moscow, Kasparov and Smirin lead after two rounds, with 2,5 points each.”” (I. Smirin)
In 1989, Ilya Smirin once again qualified for the final of the USSR championship, winning first place in a semi-final full of strong opponents. He participated in the zonal tournament of 1995 and became a grandmaster in that same year.
In 1992, he emigrated to Israel and became one of the leaders of his new homeland’s Olympic teams. He is the two-time champion of Israeli, a bronze medallist of the 2010 Olympics and the two-time prize-winner of European championships as a member of the Israeli team. He is a regular winner of the Israeli championship as a member of the “Ashdod” team. He is the champion of Russia as a member of team “Rook” from Kazan.
He was the second prize-winner of the European zonal tournament of 1993 and he played in inter-zonal FIDE and PCA tournaments in Biel and Groningen in 1993. He participated in the final series of the Intel Gran Prix tournaments in 1994, where he lost in the 1/8 finals twice, lost to Anand in Armageddon and made it to the ¼ finals in the third one after defeating Ivanchuk, but he lost to Nikolic. He also played in the final series of the 1995 Intel Gran Prix twice.
He played in the knockout world championships in 1999, 2000 and 2001, reaching the third round in the latter. In the 2002 FIDE Gran Prix, he defeated Karjakin and Dreev, but lost to Belyavskiy in the quarter-final. In the match between Russia and Rest of the World in 2002, he won 4 points out of 9, beating world champions Karpov and Kramnik. He qualified for the 2005, 2009 and 2015 World Cups.
Ilia Smirin is not merely a winner of multiple competitions- in 2001, his rating reached 2702- at that moment only a handful of chess players had ratings that high.
In May 2012, he made his debut as a commentator at the match for the world championship between Anand and Gelfand in Moscow. Later, he would commentate at multiple chess events held by RCF and FIDE. Ilia Smirin met several world champions at the chess board, such as Vasily Smyslov, Mikhail Tal, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov, Vishy Anand, Vladimir Kramnik and Magnus Carlsen, winning against the kings of the chess world several times.
“I like the job of a commentator. I would like to thank my friend Andrey Filatov for inviting me to commentate the Gelfand-Anand match. It was my first experience. Incidentally, Israeli television made a good documentary about Boris based on that match. I have very warm memories about the job and about the match as a whole. It was very interesting and I felt good in my commentating role. I tried it again several times afterwards. My last experience was the Carlsen-Anand match in Sochi. In many ways, commentating is an artistic process for me!” (I. Smirin)
In 2016, “Quality Chess” published Ilya Smirin’s book, which was devoted to his favourite debut: “King’s Indian Warfare”. In 2017, this book was published in Russian under the title of “Ancient Indian battles”.