Yesterday GM Alexei Shirov visited our club and gave a simultaneous exhibition.
Just to remind you that he was number four in the world in 1998  and twice reached the final of the world chess championship (his match with Kasparov didn’t happen and he lost to Anand in FIDE championship).  I also remember him getting into World Cup final in 2007 and he played very well recently in Corus,  getting the second place.

I prepared to play Black and knowing that he likes Ruy Lopez, wanted to play the Marshall attack, though I found that he plays the line I almost never played. But in the club I saw that he allowed half of the players to play White and decided to take White.

I got my Ruy (here is the game) and played the quiet d3, c3 line which has pretty good stats by the way.  After the black-colored bishops were exchanged he offered to exchange the white-colored too, but I decided to avoid it,  not wanting to get too simple, completely symmetrical position. We exchanged them eventually and I suspected that he wants to overplay me in the endgame, having a better pawn structure.  I managed to get some initiative and Fritz thinks that by playing 27. Nd6 I could get 0.73 advantage.

Generally speaking I felt like on some quiet island, separated by ledges from the storming ocean.  On my left, Shirov initiated a series of heavy blows.  After  a few moves he had an exchange for 2 pawns,  my neighbor tried to counter and finally the game ended in a draw, as I learned later. On my right I saw Shirov’s rock hanging on h6 (with the black king on g7) and it looked like taking it was leading to a mate. The guy didn’t take it, but got mated anyway.

But my quiet existence finished too, as there only a few people left standing and Shirov started to come to my board pretty fast,  it became almost a blitz. Right at that time he played 33… g4, and I could get an advantage just by taking the pawn. But I hesitated and we went into N vs. N endgame where he could get some advantage by playing 39… Nd6 instead of 39…. c5.  I managed to counteract his threats and suddenly I heard him saying: “I offer you a draw”.  Of course I agreed. That was a really happy moment.  I asked him to write something on my scoring sheet, a few words and he wrote in Russian (he knew that I am from Russia) – “Congratulations on a good play!” and signed it. Then after all the games finished I was able to talk to him in Russian together with my friend and some other guy. He was really nice answering our questions and keeping the conversation. Then the organizer announced the result: +17, =6, -2. Taking into account a very strong playing field this result was very good. But it wasn’t all, as the organizer said that Shirov offered players to go over their games in his hotel (the club was closing), which was 5 minutes drive away. Of course I couldn’t miss it.

So,  let’s say you are a singer. Can you imagine a rock star sitting at the table in the bar with you and a few other fellow singers (there were 3 other guys besides me), drinking beer and talking about your songs and rock in general?  That’s how I felt,  sitting across super-GM,  chatting and drinking my “Molson Canadian” – truly amazing.  Shirov was very friendly and relaxed.  First one guy went over his opening,  closed Ruy and Shirov showed his erudition, throwing lines and mentioning the games where these lines were played.  Then we went through my game and the level of his analysis was very high.  He saw the better moves right away and was critical of some of his own moves, especially 33… g4. He basically found everything what Fritz found later.

After spending almost an hour I had to leave, they were still looking at the next game.  I am still under huge impression of his personality, both as a chess player and a human.

I just got a nice photo, here it is. It’s right after simul ended, I am on the right, in a blue shirt, on the left my friend from work, also playing chess and in the middle – GM Alexei Shirov.

After simul with Shirov
Copyright 2010 by the photographer David Cohen.