An Interview with IM Cyrus Lakdawala
by Davide Nastasio was published March 1, 2019 at the GA CHESS NEWS website. http://georgiachessnews.com/2019/03/01/an-interview-with-im-cyrus-lakdawala/
The interview is excellent and was enjoyed immensely. Although aware of IM Lakdawala from his playing days, and knowing he was a prolific author considered controversial by some, I knew very little about him. The lack of knowledge was remedied by the interview found him to be a very interesting person with whom I would like to spend time.
The knock on Cyrus is the number of Chess books he has written. I visited the Gorilla and stopped after counting on my fingers and toes twice. I must admit to not having read any of the books. I do not even recall seeing one of his books in a bookstore. Yet his book published last summer, How Ulf Beats Black: Ulf Andersson’s Bulletproof Strategic Repertoire for White,
looks interesting, especially since I previously read, Grandmaster Chess Strategy: What Amateurs Can Learn from Ulf Andersson’s Positional Masterpieces, by Jurgen Kaufeld and Guido Kern, published at the beginning of this decade and consider it to be a masterpiece.
The interview begins, “Life is full of surprises. Thanks to the unexpected alignment of Uranus, Saturn, and Jupiter, I had the chance to interview Cyrus Lakdawala, likely the biggest writer in chess history. Some love him, and some definitely hate his writing style. Whatever your inclination is, don’t miss this interview, because in it we discover more about a great professional player who has worked in chess for decades, and who has dedicated his life to something he truly loves.
Generally when I don’t know what to give as a gift for Christmas, I give Lakdawala’s books. I remember once I found an incredible offer of Korchnoi’s Move by Move for something like $6, and bought some for Christmas.” One of the friends I gave the book to never played chess again, so I guess Lakdawala was pure enlightenment! I loved interviewing Lakdawala for the following reasons: he is really articulate, he shows a human side of chess in which we can all find ourselves, but most of all I felt the similarities with his writings and my own.
As always in my articles I will pause the interview from time to time to show some excerpts from the great books written by Lakdawala, Some of the games I found in his books are quite important for our development as chess players.”
Davide Nastasio: Could you tell for our readers how the chess journey began for you?
Cyrus Lakdawala: My father taught me how to play at age eight, and I have never forgiven him for it! I got immediately addicted, even though I didn’t display an iota of talent for the game.
DN: Who coached you when you were young?
CL: At first I only played my father (who was an A-player) and kids at school, but never had a formal coach. I was essentially self-taught from books — and I wasn’t a very good teacher, since my study was all over the place. Also, I was completely dishonest with myself, since at age eight, I strove to be the new Tal, which was a wee bit off the mark, since on the chess board I was the biggest dove of all time. When I was a kid, during summer vacation I desperately sought out strong competition and would walk miles to the shopping center bus stop, take a 45-minute bus trip to downtown Montreal, then take a 20-minute metro ride to the En Passant Chess Cafe. There I could play blitz with strong masters, like FM George Levtchouk (maybe I’m misspelling his name, if so, sorry George!) and GM Kevin Spraggett, and many others. I would play endless blitz games for stakes of 25 to 50 cents per game, which for a 13-year-old in 1973, was a fortune, since I only made $5 per week from my paper route. I was completely lopsided in playing strength with fast and slow time controls. I could hang with masters and even some titled players in blitz, yet in tournament play, I was still rated 1795 in over-the-board play when I was 17 years old, so it would be slightly dishonest to describe myself as a budding prodigy!
DN: Which books influenced you most in your formative years? (An excellent question for a prolific Chess writer)
CL: Five chess books deeply influenced me:
1. I don’t remember its name or its author, but it was a book on Capablanca’s games. Going through them, I craved to replicate Capa’s Mozartian perfection in my own games and always fell short.
Let me pause the interview here to point out that Lakdawala wrote a book on Capablanca!
And this is a game from that book which shows Lakdawala’s great teaching skills! (The game between Capa and A. Conde from Hastings 1919 follows)
And now back to the interview!
2. I read a book on Nimzowitsch’s games (I don’t remember the name or author of this one either and I’m wondering if I should up my daily dose of Ginko Biloba) and desperately tried to imitate Nimzo’s play, usually with disastrous results, since I would cleverly transfer my queen to a1 and then get mated on the other side of the board, or with great erudition I would overprotect my e5-pawn (just as Nimzowitsch taught) and then overlook my opponent’s response …Bxa1, chopping my now hanging queen.
3. I devoured Fischer’s 60 Memorable Games, and swore to be his next incarnation and play just like him. As you may have guessed, this vow didn’t come to fruition.
I need to pause the interview once again to show another book by Lakdawala on Fischer.
My idea to show entire games commented by Lakdawala has purpose to show the great deal we can learn from his format, thanks to his questions at the right moments.
4. In the summer of 1977, I read my buddy IM Tony Saidy’s
masterpiece: Battle of Chess Ideas
and was so inspired that I made the slightly questionable decision of striving to become a professional chess player, despite the fact that I was 17 years old and rated 1795. I have since demanded an apology from Tony for tricking me with his book.
5. In 1994, I was mired at a USCF rating of 2500 for several years and it felt as if I had reached my peek rating. Then to my great good fortune, I bought a copy of my buddy Jeremy Silman’s
Reassess Your Chess
as a teaching tool for my students, since I considered it a beginner’s book. To my great astonishment, the book shifted something which was previously jammed in my thinking process and my rating rocketed to nearly 2600 within the space of a very short time, which I completely attribute to Jeremy’s indispensable book. The reason Reassess Your Chess is the best-selling chess book of all time is that it may be the greatest chess book of all time. There is some hidden secret within it. Exactly what the essence of that secret is I can’t fathom, but it is there.
Again, I pause the interview to interject my own comments: I bought a 3rd edition of Silman, because I thought it was a classic. And I also bought the last edition, now I just need to find the time to read them!
DN: Now I’d like to ask you some questions about your books, because I know you are a prolific author. How did you select material for your own books?
CL: Sometimes I propose an idea and sometimes the publisher suggests one. I’m at the point right now where there is no time when I’m not simultaneously working on at least two books. For me, the books are all consuming and I think about them day and night. Since I began writing chess books, I filled up 77 yellow notepads with notes for my books. If I average about 650 notes per pad, that is a lot of notes. I can’t give you the exact number, because I already mentioned that I’m not very competent in math and am only able to count to 20.
DN: What is your philosophy for teaching?
CL: My philosophy for teaching is to never BS the student (or parent) and always ruthlessly tell them the truth — even when it hurts — which I do, since I’m not afraid of losing students by offending their parents. It is the nature of humans to crave praise, but false praise (which I see some teachers engage in) is harmful to the student. It’s a ruthless world out there and the student shouldn’t be congratulated if they didn’t prepare, lost 50 rating points in the tournament, ignored your opening advice and placed 40th in their section, yet some of the parents clap their hands in delight and tell the kid, “Great job! High five!” Instead, the student must be toughened with the truth. If the student is weak in a portion of the game or with a psychological aspect, I insist that they strive to fix the problem. The other issue is unrealistic expectations from parents. Their kid is lazy, 14 years old and rated 1400, yet they believe he or she is a prodigy and expect me to have the student break the 2200 barrier by the end of the year, achieve the IM title the following year and GM the year after that. I tell them this is impossible, yet love is blind and many parents believe their kid is the next Caruana or Carlsen.
Speaking of Carlsen, Lakdawala also wrote one Move by Move book on the World Champion.
DN: Do you have any advice for senior players?
CL: If we are the exquisitely carved porcelain doll, then old age is the hard stone floor when we are dropped, destined to smash into a thousand tiny shards. It’s difficult not to regard old age as a personal rebuke, since it is also a thief who slowly and brazenly embezzles our abilities over time. Survival in an unforgiving environment means having to make ruthless choices, so adjust your style to reduce calculation and complications, which exhaust us old guys. If you are an older player now way past your prime, you are most certainly better than your younger counterparts when it comes to decision-making and technical positions. So strive for these, rather than math-based situations. Our brains just don’t work as well as they did in our prime, so think about switching to the Caro-Kann and put your Dragons on the shelf. Factor in that your synapses don’t fire in the brain as fast as they used to and stop being the antlered buck who wants to smash heads, vying for dominance in the herd. Be sneaky, rather than forceful. So steer the game to logic-based positions, rather than irrational ones. Look, it isn’t all doom and gloom for us old guys and gals.
Davide then writes, “I’d like to pause the interview here to show Lakdawala can help also in the field of openings. He just mentioned the Caro-Kann for senior players, and he wrote a book on the Move by Move series.”
The game between A. Matanovic and T. Petrosian, Kiev, 1959 from the Caro-Kann book follows. Then the interview resumes:
With age comes the following:
1. Our experience translates to instant understanding in some positions, which youth and inexperience sorely lack.
2. With a slowing of our brain speed comes an increase of deceit, from decades of having been tricked ourselves. Young, inexperienced players can sometimes be easily tricked into positions which require experience and understanding, rather than calculation. I wrote in Play the London System,
“Old age and deceit overcome youth and talent,” and I meant it! So there are actual advantages to being old, and as the spokesperson for Farmer’s Insurance loves to repeat, “We know a thing or two, because we’ve seen a thing or two.”
A writer cannot please everyone and must have thick skin to put his thoughts on paper, or digits on a screen. This is an example found on the internet:
3 years ago
Cyrus Lakdawala is insufferable, his books being filled with endless and pointless meanderings of this sort (from the Kramnik book):
“The meek bishop backs off, does what he is told to do and goes where he is told to go. A beaten dog may still follow the cruel master’s command. In college, my first job was as an inept hotel clerk. When encountering daily traffic of unruly, spoiled hotel guests, my mouth would obediently respond, ‘Thank you, Sir, for your constructive criticism! Of course, Ma’am! Right away, Ma’am!’ As a pressure valve, my chafing mind, suffering from some strange, inward form of Tourette’s Syndrome, would add in the dark, silent realm of thought: ‘Bugger off (anatomically explicit expletives deleted)!'”
I am one of the readers who actually like “endless and pointless meanderings of this sort,” as they tell one much about the human being who has pointlessly meandered off endlessly. Some of my favorite books about Baseball have used a meandering regular season game as a backdrop for the author’s “meanderings,” which, when one cogitates a little, were the real reason for the book.
Because of reading this fabulous interview on the website of my state Chess magazine I intend on making it a point to read several of the author’s books, including this one since I have long been a Birdman:
It is obvious Lakdawala’s books have held their value. An example would be this book:
It is out of print and will set you back at least $83.44 on Amazon with some books priced over two hundred dollars. Obviously some readers like Cyrus Lakdawala’s books.