Your weekend reading is here, as we proudly present an interview with Grandmaster Simon Williams.
Image © Simon Williams
Simon is a prolific chess player and author. He recently produced an excellent Chessable course on The Iron English: Botvinnik Variation with International Master Richard Palliser and is the titular GingerGM of the site noted for its high-quality chess DVDs and downloads.
We are fortunate indeed to have found (or forced) a gap in Simon’s extremely busy schedule, in order to conduct our interview.
All you need to do is sit back, relax and enjoy the thoughts of one the most charismatic and popular Grandmasters in the world.
Grandmaster Gambits: 1. e4 - Part 1
Starting the Chess Journey
How did your chess journey begin?
As with so many other people, through my parents. My dad was a strong player and
taught me the openings that I still use to this day!
Did you have any particular chess heroes or role models to inspire you in the early
Anatoly Karpov was one of the first players that I heard a lot about as a junior, probably due to my brother drawing against him in a simul. I loved his positional style and feel for the game, but then I stumbled came across Mikhail Tal…
Which chess books did you find most instructive or inspirational during your early
Chess for Tigers (by Simon Webb, originally published by Oxford University Press in 1978 and more recently by Batsford in 2013) was the easiest to read and then there was Blunders and Brilliancies (by Ian Mullen and Moe Moss, Cadogan Chess Books, 1989), a fun tactic book that improved my vision.
Were any established Grandmasters particularly helpful or kind when you broke
through to upper levels of chess?
Many if not all of the English Grandmasters that I came across were incredibly supportive. I must give a particular shout out to Peter Wells and Tony Kosten. Both were coaches for me in competitions abroad.
One of my first tournaments, I think it was the European Under-14 Championships, Peter and my dad were two of the adults. Unfortunately, my dad fell ill and spent most of the time in a Hungarian hospital. Peter supported me no end there. And Tony once covered my bar bill in the World Under-20 Championships, in India. Quite possible with the ECF emergency fund…
The Deadly Dutch Defense
You appear to be inseparable from the Dutch Defense. How did this ‘relationship’
start and will the Dutch be your life-long companion?
Again, through my dad. This was one of the first openings he showed me having
played it himself for years. I mastered it and still continue to play it to this day. And
no; I will never stop using it!
Your style of play is notoriously uncompromising. Is this inherent or were you
inspired by any particular players?
Pretty inherent I feel. I always enjoyed attacking and finding order within chaos. I
guess Tal must have influenced my play somewhat as well.
Online elite chess events have been a major success over the Summer. Do you embrace the new era of digital chess or are you eager for real-life, over-the-board
action to return?
Both are great, but nothing beats playing over the board.
You work extensively as a publisher, commentator, presenter and writer.
How do you balance time spent on such a considerable output with work on your
I do not really have any time to work on my own game now. Of course, all the output I create does keep me in check somewhat. This was never my plan though, I would much rather have been a 2800 super player! But as I couldn’t make enough money playing, I had to fund myself somehow, and luckily for me I found a fun way to survive.
You were British Blitz Champion in 2005 and second at the main British
Championship in both 2003 and 2009. Do you still have a desire to take the title?
Yes, that is still one of my main chess playing ambitions. The desire never goes…
What other ambitions do you have, as a player?
It would be great to stabilize my rating at over 2500 to start… Then find more time
to play and develop.
The English Chess Federation
As a professional chess player, are you happy with the efforts made by the English Chess Federation?
I have never been that impressed with the ECF compared to what other countries are doing. Do not get me wrong, they are some great individuals within the ECF and some glimmers of hope, but the ECF has never really seemed to have worked as a coherent system over the years.
What is it doing well?
Some of the new guys involved with moving chess forwards, seem to be doing a great job. Along with using current technology in the correct way, I also see that the ECF are going more ‘online’ now, which they will need to do to survive. Online tournaments, broadcasting ECF events, promoting women’s chess and chess in prisons are some examples.
What improvements would you like to see?
The problem has always seemed to be nurturing new talent and promoting the top players. Nearly every successful junior that has become an International Master or Grandmaster has done so themselves, without much ECF support.
I am guessing a long-term plan (two-five years) of coaching, finding funding/sponsorship and giving chances to talented junior players would be a good start. I remember the Smith and Williamson Young Master events; they were great and helped me become a GM. More high-level junior events are needed.
Then you have to ask yourself, why would they want to become an International Master or Grandmaster? Without the ECF helping the top players there is little chance of making a living from it. If the top English GM’s are struggling why would anyone want to aspire to
be like them?
Finding sponsorship is another issue. This seems to have been massively lacking within the ECF. Nearly all successful tournaments have found sponsorship through private channels. But then you have to ask yourself why would someone want to sponsor a tournament?
Without good online commentary and appealing to the new generation of players watching the game, it seems rather pointless. I am guessing then that trying to get top commentary and coverage for ECF tournaments on a regular basis would make the whole thing a lot more attractive.
To be honest though, I am a bit out of the loop concerning the ECF. Maybe these things are happening, and I am just not aware of them.
Image © Simon Williams
Your GingerGM publishing company (with Simon Ansell) has already being going
for 12 years. What do you feel GingerGM offers chess fans that other companies do not?
Fun and educational videos that one can watch on their computer, phone or tablet is one of our main strengths. We also have great presenters and various resource that a user can use to improve.
Which of your DVD titles are the top performers?
You recently published Arkell’s Endings, which has been gathering great reviews. Are any more printed books in the pipeline?
We have had some talks about this, maybe one on the Jobava London System,
probably for the reason of the last question!
Can you tell us a little about your future plans for GingerGM?
We have many plans and ideas! It is healthy to think big and keep trying to improve things and develop.
For over a year now a team of us have been developing a new website, gChess.com, that will offer some great new learning resources to people trying to improve their game.
In 2009 you did something that nobody was supposed to do, when you played the
King’s Indian Defense against Viktor Korchnoi. Then you did something else that
people aren’t supposed to do; you beat him.
Viktor Korchnoi – Simon Williams
Black to play
In this typically wild position, Simon played 29 …Ne1, winning material and homing in on a checkmate. Korchnoi resigned (0-1).
I watched the subsequent game at the Staunton Memorial, just one month later, in which Korchnoi finally ground out a win after 76 moves and many hours.
Viktor Korchnoi – Simon Williams
Staunton Memorial, 2009
White to play
Korchnoi (aged 78 at the time) finally ended Simon’s resistance with 76 Rh7 (1-0).
Your first games against him, in 2004, was a wild one too. What are memories of playing against Korchnoi?
Complete legend! He gave me the honour of analyzing the game with him in 2004 which was an amazing experience. He even said I reminded him of Tal! I later heard that if Korchnoi ever said any compliments to you, it meant that he thought you were weak…
In the last game I played against him, he tired me out… Not bad for such an old
Do you have special memories of playing against chess greats?
I have played Magnus twice. The second time he took my King in a blitz game! That
was weird. I always looked up to the Grandmaster title as a child and all Grandmasters that I played in those years gave me special memories.
Working with Chessable
Are you planning any more courses for Chessable?
Yeah certainly. I love working for Chessable and hope to continue to do so for a lot
longer. Chessable have a fantastic team, ambitious ideas and pay authors very fairly.
How do you cope with the pain of defeat?
Terribly, I try not to spread my bad energy on others after a bad game. But often a glass of wine helps…
Club players are always interested in ways to improve their game. What advice
would you offer to them?
Improving is tough at every level and does require some dedication. I would first advise working out just how much time a week you have available to work on chess, and then pick your opening choices to reflect this.
Also, pick an opening that reflects your style. Go aggressive if that is your preferred way and more long positional openings if you prefer that.
Do also make sure that you stick to your opening choices for some time, learn the middlegame plans and even endgame plans and structures. Far too many people chop and change openings, which will mean they never learn one opening well enough.
Stick to your choices and improve your game. Of course you can study other openings as well, but it is best to have one main choice that you learn first.
On top of openings, also practice your tactics and endgames. Do not play too much Blitz chess and make sure you analyze your longer time limit games, to see what you did right and wrong.
Do you have a favourite game of your own?
A game I played in the French League is probably my favorite. It featured in Danny
Gormally’s first book.
But gaining my first IM norm with this victory in the English Opening – when I was about 15 years old must have given me the most pleasure.
Simon Williams – James Howell
British Chess Championship, 1995
White to play
It is very difficult for the white king to support the passed c-pawn, as Blacks rook will keep on checking it around the board. Simon needs an extra ingredient.
50 g4! A second passed pawn is created. 50 …hxg4 51 Kxg4 Rc5 52 h5 Kh7 53 h6 Now if Black captures with 53 …Kxh6, then 54 Rh8+ swiftly follows, allowing the c-pawn to promote. 1-0
How about a favourite game from history?
This game is certainly up there.
Vassily Ivanchuk – Artur Yusupov
Candidates Match (Rapid Tie-breaker) 1991
Black to play
It is certainly an exciting game, worth seeking out. It is somewhat ironic that after a tornado of tactics and cunning attacks – by both players – the game is finally decided by a checkmate on the traditional ‘danger square’ of f2.
Yusupov played 39 …Qg3! and 0-1, as checkmate cannot be prevented.
And finally…which aspect of your chess life gives you the most satisfaction (writer, player, presenter, organiser, publisher, other…)
They are all pleasing in different ways, but nothing really beats winning an interesting game.
Thank you very much, Grandmaster Simon Williams!
Grandmaster Gambits 1. e4 - Part 2: Aggressive Lines
The other interviews in our popular series can be found here: