Wednesday, August 3, 2011


I was manager of the then National Junior Squad back in 1986-87, which comprised names like IM Hsu Li-Yang, Wong Foong Yin, Ong Chong Ghee, Low Pe-Yeow,Mark Tan, Lee Wang Sheng, Lee Song and Mark and Jeremy Lim (?!). The SCF then received news that GM Eduard Gufeld was available for a 3-day seminar having spent some time in Malaysia at the Chess Palace there doing the same thing. After deliberation, IM Tan Lian Ann agreed to sponsor the training but made sure that all proceedings were recorded and that I would be the chaperon.

GM Eduard Gufeld was renowned as the trainer who help Maya Chiburdanidze rise to world fame by beating the then Women's World Champion Nona Gaprindashvilli. He was also the creator of several beautiful wins in the King's Indian Defence, notably his "Mona Lisa" against Bagirov in 1973 and then another against Mestel in 1985 in Hastings. He showed both games in the simultaneous match in Singapore at the Chinese Swimming Club and it was really a wonder how a Russian with his brand of English could captivate the audience not just with his accent, but wonderful moves and ideas.

Gufeld laid the rules for the training - a notebook for recording ideas and variations, 2 games prepared by each student for analysis, but what's great is that he starts and ends each day with an exercise to have every student recite chess maxims and rules. Not just the ones he propounded but also the ones the students had already known. During the 3 days, he covered extensively useful topics like the relativity of values of pieces, the art of calculation, intuition and how it is derived, using mainly his own games as illustrations which were found in the book below:

I had the chance to buy this book in Europe and started to read through the games and thankfully, the English version named " The Search for Mona Lisa" finally appeared before I had to revise my knowledge of the Russian language just to read the book.

GM Gufeld through his inimitable way expounded useful concepts to our juniors, especially in the areas of opening preparation. He cited his game against Plaskett at Hastings, where the opponent played a novelty which he felt was not quite sound. He then quoted this rule : " When your opponent first make anti-rule move, you can also reply with anti-rule move..BUT NOT BEFORE!"..or : " I tell my students everytime they brush teeth they must say CENTRE..because CENTRE is best place for chess pieces!". Other famous quotes : "You not move pawns in side where opponent more strong, because it stop opponent for second but not long".."In attack, you must bring Rook into attack, and to exchange pieces which make defence Object of your attack". Finally : " When student give Bishop for Knight, I invite them to zoo. Because in Russian Bishop is same as ELEPHANT, and knight is HORSE. WHO MAKE MORE FOOD? ELEPHANT OR HORSE?".

Of all the recordings I had, only 1 survived and to this day I am still playing and replaying them to learn from the man who taught me how to teach chess and make it memorable. The game he was talking about was his famous French Defence game against then up and coming Boris Spassky in 1960. He described how he played WITH RULES and soon Spassky .." World Champion but he cannot make move! because I play with RULES! Remember..when you play without rules, you lose 80 games out of 100, but you win 80 games out of 100 if you play WITH RULES."  Now I understand why he makes the students recite the RULES.

ps: In 1993 the Grandmaster was still in Malaysia taking part in the Merdeka tournament in KL and our team was paired to meet them. I brought along the book of his games and deliberately left it on the table of my first board Tan Chin Hoe. Gufeld sat down, but was visibly shaken when he saw the book. He looked at me and asked : " You read this book?" I answered calmly : "Yes, Grandmaster". When the game started, he did not play his usual 1 e4 but 1 Nf3 instead. My psychological gambit worked. Though we lost the 1st board game, Black was objectively better and Gufeld was annoyed trying to convince the audience that he was winning. He did win, but on time of course.


  1. Thanks for this, John. Gufeld was not without his flaws (I remember he tried to take back a move against me in a clock simul), but he was an interesting man. I found it amazing how he can walk into a room and within a few minutes I could feel that everyone present instantly liked him. He had that kind of charisma.

    This really brings back memories of this remarkable man. He would always say "No matter how bad my English , it is better than your Russian"!

  2. The actual quote was: " Please excuse me for my English, but maybe my English better than YOUR Russian".

    I wouldn't go into details about his scruples, but as a trainer I believe he was professional.

    Anand shared this anecdote with us when he came in 1991. Gufeld was trying to sell him his book on the Benko at the Olympiad. Anand smiled but stopped short of agreeing to the book. Then Gufeld tried to counter offer..." 20US!" but Anand did not reply. "15US for you, special my friend" but Anand just shook his head.."All right...all right, you GOOD,10US that's it!"...

    In the end, he gave the book away to Anand :-)

  3. Hi John

    1. very nice story. tks
    2. also, plz try to recall and share as many as possible about those rules of GM Gufeld.


  4. Some rules from Gufeld:
    1. Do not capture pawns outwards because centre pawn is 1 ringgit, while a Bishop's pawn is 90 cents, Knight's pawn is 80 cents.

    2. Do not move Queen out too early.

    3. Do not push too many pawns during opening.