Excerpts from Uzbek chess team coach Captain Ivan Sokolov’s Interview with Chess.com
In the recent Chess Olympiad 2022, the tiny terrain of Uzbekistan walked away with the overall gold, hushing off the more formidable teams including the ones from India.
At the event hosted by the city of Chennai, Tamil Nadu, the Uzbek men’s chess team clinched the gold medal from Armenia and the Indian 2nd team, who won Silver and Bronze medals, respectively. This was a remarkable achievement considering that Team Uzbek was led by a young captain, the 17-year-old chess prodigy Nodirbek Abdusattorov.
Chess.com caught hold of GM Ivan Sokolov, the coach who moulded the Lilliputians of the Chess world.
In this fascinating interview with chess.com, Sokolov shares insights into his coaching the Uzbek team, chiselling teen prodigies, and the future of Indian chess talents.
About Captain Sokolov
Ivan Sokolov is a Dutch-Bosnian chess grandmaster and former captain of the Dutch national team. He is known for his deep understanding of chess strategy and tactics, as well as his ability to convey these concepts to students in an easily understandable way.
During the peak of his career in the 1990s and early 2000s, Sokolov was ranked among the world’s top 30 players and was a member of the World Chess Championship cycle from 1993 to 1999. He has won or was among the best in numerous tournaments, including Hoogeveen, Sarajevo, Wijk aan Zee, Linares and Nanjing Pearl Spring. He defeated five world champions in his career, including GM Garry Kasparov, GM Viswanathan Anand, GM Vladimir Kramnik, GM Veselin Topalov, and GM Magnus Carlsen.
Sokolov has also been a prolific chess writer, with over 30 books and hundreds of articles to his credit. His book “Winning Chess Middlegames: An Essential Guide to Pawn Structures” is among the best chess books for learners as well as professionals who like to add new strategies to their quiver.
Facing the Giants: Coaching the Uzbek Team
Interestingly Sokolov had no plan of coaching a team and preparing them for the Olympiad. In fact, he had originally planned to work as a commentator in Chennai. During the Sharjah Masters tournament (May 2022), where Sokolov was involved as a commentator, he was asked by the Uzbekistan Chess Federation if he would like to coach their national team.
So he dropped his plans of commentating in Chennai and accepted the coaching offer instead. This meant flying out to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, at the end of June, where he met with team members who had already been selected for the upcoming Chess Olympiad tournament – GMs Nodirbek Yakubboev, Javokhir Sindarov, Jakhongir Vakhidov, and Shamsiddin Vokhidov (20). Captain Nodirbek Abdusattorov was not there in the first meeting as he was in Biel.
In his interview with Chess.com, he shared insights on how he prepared the Uzbek team for the mega tournament. He analysed the Uzbek players’ last 12 months’ games to understand how they are as players and catch their strong points and weaknesses.
It was vital for him to figure out in what position these players are comfortable, how their brains work when stranded in difficult positions on the chessboard, and other essential aspects.
Sokolov gave the Uzbek players a lot of middlegame positions, some drawn from specific openings or certain types of formation, and others designed to help them develop their decision-making skills.
Although he didn’t have much time with this young team, drawing on his many years of experience in the sport, Sokolov offered a wealth of insight into the training and development of these chess talents, which eventually made them the champion.
Coaching GM Firouzja
In the interview, Sokolov also spoke about his experience of coaching young Iranian grandmaster Alireza Firouzja. Firouzja became the youngest ever grandmaster at the age of 14 and the youngest ever Chess player to cross the 2800 rating.
Sokolov said when he met Firouza for the first time, he was impressed with the tremendous dedication of the young GM, which made him different from the other players. The young player used to spend more than 10 hours of the day practising the game and discussing new ideas & strategies with him. Even during breaks, when other players used to chat and play video games, Firouzja would be on his phone, watching chess videos or repairing new ideas to discuss with him.
Sokolov said that Firouza’s dedication and willingness to work hard are the main reasons behind his success.
On Indian Talents
Sokolov was all praise for the young Indian talents and said that the country has a great future in chess. He remarked that the level of play and the amount of progress the nation has made in recent years is incredible. He highly praised the Indian teenage star Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa (who defeated the world champion Magnus Carlsen three times within 6 months) commenting that he is “one of the most talented players” he has ever seen.
He also added that his team was lucky as India used three teams to compete as the privilege of being the host nation. Had India come up with a single team, GM Gukesh D and GM Praggnanandhaa would have been difficult to beat, remarked the captain.
Sokolov concluded the interview by saying that he is proud of Team Uzbekistan for their efforts, hard work and achievements. The team got a congratulatory call from the Uzbek President after winning the Gold.
Sokolov’s experience and expertise proved to be invaluable for the team, as they went on to win the Gold medal at the event. His advice and guidance helped them to navigate the tournament successfully and come out on top.
The coach is travelling back to Tashkin to discuss the future plans with the Uzbek Chess Federation and is hopeful of coaching the team again in the upcoming World Cup and Olympiad.
Captain GM Ivan Sokolov’s insights are valuable for any aspiring chess player who is looking to take their game to the next level. Training and moulding future chess prodigies is like raising up warriors who know how to aim and defend. At Mind Mentorz, we coach young players through a meticulous training process that leans heavily on cognitive skill building – the essential of a good chess player. To know more about our online and offline chess coaching in Bengaluru, reach us at +91-960 68 47428 .