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African Chess Interviews David Llada

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African Chess Interviews David Llada

African Chess continues to make giant strides by leveraging on different social media platforms. Today’s article is an interview from Africa’s most vibrant Whatsapp Group – Africa Chess News with world renown photographer David Llada. The interview covered a wide range of exciting topics and was held on 4th July 2020 from 8 pm EAT.

Who are your best female and male chess players? 

Well, when we are talking about the best female player in history, I think the answer is pretty clear. No one came close to what Judith Polgar did.

As for the best male player, I have a preference for Garry Kasparov. His dominance lasted for much longer than, let’s say, Bobby Fischer, who was also “a killer”, but only competed at the very top for much less time.

FIDE

Could you highlight on your opportunities and threats in FIDE?

I was overwhelmed by the amount of work that had to be done in my first year in FIDE. I was incapable of stretching out even further to assist the FIDE commissions and the National Federations.

But now things are improving, we have enlarged our team, a few things are already in motion, and I will be able to help more.

We are going to present the National Federations with some materials that should be helpful. We need to share knowledge and experiences, share case studies and success stories.

I have put some of this into the FIDE newsletter, to which you can subscribe using this link – FIDE Newsletter.

What are your strength and weakness in FIDE? 

My weakness is that I am kind of an outsider. Most of my colleagues are (former) top players, GMs. I am not. Others have been in chess administration or politics for a long time.  I have never been involved in chess administration before, so I have no political weight, and I lack this experience. And my influence in the decision making is minimal.

My strength: many of my colleagues devoted their entire life to chess, while I did a lot of very different things in life. So this experience can be useful. I can bring in a commercial approach to FIDE, reshape the way we do things and make chess more attractive.

Is there a possibility that in the future FIDE will be unable to get a sponsor for the Olympiad and just do it online?

Well, the funding for the 2020 Olympiad (now turned into the 2021 Olympiad) is secured.

Online events are a convenient solution in these times of crisis. But chess, both as a competitive sport and as a social activity, is meant to be played over the board. Online chess is a great complement because it helps grow the game, and it allows any of us to play a game whenever we a few free minutes (I often play a couple of games when I am waiting for the bus!). But I think a 3D chess board is much better than a 2D one.

Arkady Dvorkovich

Is there a possibility that Arkady Dvorkovich might get called back to a political post in the Russian Government? What would happen

I do not think this is a very likely scenario in the near future.

Arkady Dvorkovich is a highly respected personality in Russia. He had many options to remain in some high position within the Government, or be a chairman at some big corporation if that was his wish.

He chose to do two things he is passionate about. One is leading FIDE, and the other one is being the Chairman of the Skolkovo Foundation. The foundation is an innovative center that is known as “The Russian Silicon Valley”.

Best photos

Which photo do you consider to be your best one?

I think this one is my best photo as it has both artistic and historical value.

World Champion Magnus Carlsen being interviewed right after winning the title.
World Champion Magnus Carlsen being interviewed right after winning the title.

I took the photo in Chennai, India after Magnus Carlsen defeated Vishy Anand and became World Champion in 2013.

There was a huge crowd of Indian journalists, and somehow after the press conference, I got trapped in the “wrong” side of the room. I thought I had missed my chance of getting a good picture because all I could see was Magnus’s back. But then, all of a sudden, the lights of the cameras created this aura around him, and the picture came out very nice. Even if you do not see his face, it is a portrait that captures the essence of the moment.

What is so likeable about such a picture?

CM Charles Eichab from Namibia in action. Another fine photo representing African Chess.
CM Charles Eichab from Namibia in action. Another fine photo representing African Chess.

This image is compelling as this guy means business at the chessboard! His stare tells it all and his physical built matches his will-power. It is a very captivating photo.

Countries

How many countries have you visited?

I have been to 60 countries. That is a lot of traveling, considering that the first time I took a flight and traveled abroad, I was already 21 years old.

So it is 60 countries in 19 years. And some of these countries, I visited them a lot of times, like Mexico, and China (12 trips each).

Russia & Russian language

How is your Russian language studies going?

I speak Russian now like a 3-year-old. A very very bad-mouthed  3-year-old, that’s it. They taught me all the swear words!

But I can already follow conversations and understand like 60% of it. Not too bad!

Do you ever think any Russian player will ever win the World Champion in the future?

Russia is still, by far, the country with more chess fans in the world. They take national pride in it, so it is the country where it is easier to get support from the Government, the media, and the sponsors.

This support will probably facilitate that, at some point, Russia will produce a World Champion again.

But they are about to be outnumbered by India. If the Russian authorities and big corporations do not get involved and give chess some support, then I think the Indians are going to dominate the game for at least the next decade.

Chess player

What openings do you play as Black and White?

I am a d4 player, simply because the amount of study you have to put in to play 1.e4 is much more substantial.

With Black, I have always liked doubled-edged variants in the French Defence, and also the KID.

Have you ever encountered a terrific and painful loss in chess? Against who and why?

Most of my games ended up in a terrible and painful loss!

How many hours do you train?

Since the lockdown started, I have been trying to devote one hour per day to study chess.

I am, however, not the most disciplined person, and some times after having been working in chess stuff all day long, I do not feel like carrying any other intellectual effort. I just switch off and read a non-chess book or watch some Netflix.

Chess improvement

What is the best chess improvement plan that you have seen for 1600 players? 

I think at 1600 there is still a lot of room for improvement in the area of chess tactics and endgames.

Never forget that every strategic plan is built on tactics. In the end, in a game of chess, everything comes down to tactics and endgames.

I would recommend at that stage to solve lots of puzzles, and there are some books I would suggest:

Build up your chess“, “Boost your chess“, and “Chess Evolution” by Yusupov

– “100 Endgames you must know“, by De la Villa

– “The Attacking Manual” by Jacob Aagaard

Background & Family

What drives your passion for chess?

I come from a small town. I was quite a precocious kid, I developed very quickly, so, at school, I was bored most of the time.

Then I discovered chess, and I found a cure for boredom. That was a huge relief. And I got very enthusiastic about it! Sadly, not many people shared my passion because no one in my family knew how to play. In that little place, there were no chess teachers or a chess club.

So I taught my parents and relatives how to play. And soon I took over the role of chess teacher myself – I started giving classes when I was 12, and it became a paid job shortly after. When I reached legal age, I founded the first official chess club.

David Llada (right) in his youth playing a game against an uncle.
David Llada (right) in his youth playing a game against an uncle.

Have you worked as a photographer your whole life?

No, not at all. I was a full-time professional journalist between 1999 and 2005. Back then, I had the ambition of taking photos good enough to illustrate my articles.

Then I just quit journalism, and I started a career in business administration.

I started to visit some tournaments as a mere chess tourist. And I brought a photo camera with me. And, little bit little, it got serious.

Then I realised that with my photography, I could keep a flexible connection with chess. I could take a break from my day job, travel to some tournament, take some photos , and enjoy the atmosphere, get to see my old friends. And then, after one or two weeks, I would go back and back to my day job.

It was a perfect balance while it lasted!

What part of Spain are you from?

I am originally from the north coast, Asturias. And, after some years abroad, I ended up living on the northern coast of Spain again, but now in San Sebastian, in the Basque region.

Port of San Sebastián in 1890. Photo credit www.kiddle.co
Port of San Sebastián in 1890. Photo credit www.kiddle.co

Is your daughter Nahui Llada also taking an interest in photography?

She is a little intellectual, and she has many different interests. Like me, I think she will not choose to focus on just one thing in her life, but rather will try to enrich her experiences.

Nowadays, society rewards specialization. But I think you will enjoy a much richer life when you have different interests. So I am not going to push her into focusing on just one activity. I will keep putting options in front of her as I have done until now.

David Llada and daughter Nahui busy at the Batumi Olympiad. Photo credit Przemek Nikiel.
David Llada and daughter Nahui busy at the Batumi Olympiad. Photo credit Przemek Nikiel.

Do you consider yourself a polyglot?

Not at all, I am horrible at languages.

I am good at grasping some basics, getting to understand a little when I read it, or hear it.

But I am a very slow thinker, so I am not good at speaking other languages. To begin with, my English should be much better considering that I lived in London for long periods. I also lived in Germany for one year, and Moscow for like nine months, and I only got a fundamental vocabulary.

If I could live five lives, I would devote one entirely to chess, and another one to learning languages!

Camera

How expensive are the cameras you use?

I am going to answer this question with an old joke among photographers:

“If I die tomorrow, please do not let my wife sell my cameras for the amount I told her they costed me”.

How much does your camera cost as some of us would like to venture into photography?

The camera body I am using now costs around € 2,400.

The primary lens I use, my workhorse, is a 200-700mm f2.8, which sells for around € 1,800.

Getting proper gear is a hefty investment, and nowadays, the return is not clear.

I bought most of my gear with the bonus I got from one of my business, years ago. Over the years, I got back every cent I spent and made a profit, but I did not have such expectations when I bought all these expensive toys!

What camera did you use?

I am a Nikon user: first a D800, and now a D850.

But often the lens is more important than the camera body!

David Llada posing with his equipment.
David Llada posing with his equipment.

Nikon or Canon?

Are you a fan of Nikon or Canon cameras?

Well, I ended up with Nikon by pure chance. Nowadays, all these brands make fantastic machines: Nikon, Canon, but also Sony and Olympus.

I have a slight preference for Nikon lenses, though. I think they still have a little edge in that field.

Photography process

Do you usually edit your photos or do you share them as they are taken?

All photos go through some editing process. Since they are taken indoors, they have to be “developed” to adjust the colors; otherwise, they can have a reddish or blueish tone, depending on the kind of lighting used in the venue.

And then you also reframe them slightly or remove some distracting or artifacts. These could be a bottle of water that got in your way, or some guy standing behind your main subject with a distracting, colorful shirt.

How long does he take to process one high-quality photo during a tournament?

If we are talking about the editing that I do after capturing a photo, it depends very much on the photo itself.

Generally during a tournament, I edit each photo for like 5 minutes, eight maximum, because I try to spend as much time as possible capturing photos.

Then 2-3 minutes more labeling the photo correctly. All my photo files have a descriptive name like “20200704 Kenya Duke Michela.jpg”. This process allows me to find them quickly when I need them.

Then, once I am back home, I can work on specific photos for a bit longer, as much as 30 minutes or even more. I do this with mainly good, or awkward pictures, the ones I include in a book or something.

David Llada in action during the 2017 Women's World Chess Championship in Tehran, Iran. Photo credit Anastasiya Karlovich.
David Llada in action during the 2017 Women’s World Chess Championship in Tehran, Iran. Photo credit Anastasiya Karlovich.

Do you like taking close up shots or do you like zooming in?

I like to get very close, so you can see those micro-expressions in the face of my subject, like slightly raising an eyebrow.

What interests me more when I am taking photos is psychology, rather than the position. I would even go as far as to say that the position is a “distraction” when it comes to the kind of portraits I want to take.

Which tournaments do you like to take photos in?

Well, I have an absolute preference for the Chess Olympiad. That event has a special place in my heart. Once every two years, you have the chance to meet with people from every single country in the world. So many faces, so many cultures, so much diversity. That is a joy for any portraiture photographer. And many of those people have become my friends over the years.

A great photo of Team Kenya at the 2018 Batumi Olympiad. Sitting from left WCM Lucy Wanjiru, Gloria Jumba, standing from left WFM Sasha Mongeli, Daphne Mwikali, WCM Joyce Nyaruai.
A great photo of Team Kenya at the 2018 Batumi Olympiad representing African Chess. Sitting from left WCM Lucy Wanjiru, Gloria Jumba, standing from left WFM Sasha Mongeli, Daphne Mwikali, WCM Joyce Nyaruai.

I also like to go to large open events. Going to the very top events and taking photos of the World Championships is always lovely, but I like variety.

A tournament with more than 150 players is for me much more attractive with children, women, and senior players. That’s what makes me happy as a photographer, and also like a chess lover.

How many masterpiece photographs do you have?

I would not call them masterpieces. But I have at least a dozen remarkable photos that I am proud of. That is not too bad for a hobbyist!

General photography

You are one of the best photographers in the world. Do people recognize you in the streets?

There are three places where, very much to my surprise, I was recognised in the streets: Moscow, Belgrade, and Oslo.

This speaks volumes about the popularity of the game in these cities when even a simple photographer is recognized!

The Thinkers

Roughly how long did it take you to come up with the book “The Thinkers'” ?

Not much. I created the whole book in roughly a month.

I simply had a lot of material and ideas accumulated for more than 6 or 7 years.

The most challenging part was to choose what photos to put in, and what photos to leave out.

The book size, number of pages, and who would write the foreword were the other considerations.

Photography opportunities at the Olympiad

As a local photographer, how does one get opportunities to work at FIDE events like the Olympiad?

Do not think about the Olympiad. That is a too-far away goal because there is only one Olympiad, every two years. Dream big, yes, but set yourself some mid-term, achievable goals. If you do well there, everything else will come – in due time.

First, start local. Help the clubs in your area, your federation. Start by helping them to get visual materials good enough to make it into the local media. Photos that they can use in their presentations to make chess look cool and professional, and attract sponsorship.

We need photographers at a local and national level.

Chess books

How many chess books do you have?

My whole collection fits here (sharing a photo of the library behind). I would say I have like 1/3 of what Kim Bhari has!

David Llada's chess books.
David Llada’s chess books.

What is the best positional books in chess that you would recommend?

Boris Gelfand’s “Positional Decision Making in Chess”, is truly a masterpiece.

Which book did you read that transformed your chess game?

The books that most influenced me are the ones I have not read!

I am a 2000 player (on a good day). I never played seriously. But I love chess books, much more than playing myself. I like to go through the ideas and beautiful combinations of great players.

I can tell you the books I loved the most, but I am not a useful reference to advise on the ones that will help you improve your game!

Bobby Fischer

Did you ever take a photograph of the great Bobby Fischer?

Bobby Fischer playing in Leipzig in 1960. Photo credit www.kiddle.co
Bobby Fischer playing in Leipzig in 1960. Photo credit www.kiddle.co

I never had the chance to meet Fischer. I was planning a trip to Iceland the very same year he passed away as I knew he was sick, and I knew it might be my last chance.

But we are talking about 2008. I was not much of a photographer back then. I just wanted to meet him and write a story.

Do not forget that I am a writer. I am a much better writer than a photographer – in the Spanish language, of course!

Who do you think would have won the 1975 WCC match – Karpov or Fischer?

Probably Karpov. He was less experienced but more stable. I think, for Fischer’s mentality, defending the title would have been much more difficult than chasing it.

Africa

How can we improve the visibility African Chess? How can your office help Africa achieve this great feat, which I feel is a missing link to highlight the potential of Africa?

My perception is that, at the grassroots level, African Chess is doing pretty well already. In some areas, Africa is an example to other continents or national federations outside of Africa.

You probably can use a hand to jump to the next level. It is essential to get some 2400 players out of the 2100 player you already have.

Another idea would be to turn part-time chess teachers into full-time chess teachers. Turn amateur chess organizers into full-time chess organizers, with 2 or 3 significant events long the year. Improve the funding of your activities, diversifying the sources of income.

We can offer some support here sharing some knowledge, exchanging experience.

But what will make the real difference is the vast, untapped talent that lies within the African continent. I am currently talking to two potential sponsors with a specific interest in Africa.

What I am proposing to them is to create some chess programs, mainly to give formation and raise the level of chess coaches even further. We also want to create an annual tournament strong enough to allow African players to compete for norms.

The idea, the “dream” I want to sell these sponsors, is a long-term project to promote chess until every African country has at least one Grandmaster. It is very ambitious, but sometimes these big dreams work!

You have been to Africa before, which is the country that amazed you and why?

I have not been to Africa as much as I would like to.

I have some links with Senegal, I have been there like 5 or 6 times. Morocco is another country that I have travelled to. But apart from that, I have only been to Kenya.

 

David Llada and Nahui at Nairobi Orphanage.
David Llada and Nahui at Nairobi Orphanage.

However, I feel at home in Africa. I could adapt to live there. After my trip to Kenya three years ago, I even toyed with the idea of moving there with my family and try to make a living as a safari photographer. I also consulted with my daughters, and I thought they would love the idea, but they are too attached to their life and their friends here.

Cartoon to celebrate David Llada's visit to Kenya by Kim Bhari!
Cartoon to celebrate David Llada’s visit to Kenya by Kim Bhari!

Chess Olympiad in Africa

Which county in Africa would be best suited to host the Olympiad in your opinion?

I do not know Africa well enough to answer this question.

My impression is that South Africa is a very suitable place – it is for that reason that they already bid in 2014.

Tunisia or Egypt could also be firm candidates since they have a stable, well-established tourist industry. That helps with the logistics.

In particular, Egypt has dominated African chess over the years. We could expect that their Government has noted this and will take a leading role, by bringing such a big event to their country.

Football

Do you support Barcelona or Madrid? 

I do not like the big teams, built with money.

Between the two that you mention, I have a preference for Barcelona, at least they have a football school, and they have their own, trademark style. I have always preferred Messi over Cristiano.

But I prefer other teams, like Bilbao, Atletico de Madrid. Liverpool is the team that I support in the EPL.

Final comments

Mine is not a question, but a comment. Just to say a big thank you for using your skills in the chess arena. You have changed the way chess is viewed by the outside world. You have added class, precision, clarity to our beloved 64 squares and protagonists.

All I can say to conclude is that it has been a real pleasure. And I hope we will be able to have some more chats like this in the future, in person, at the chess Olympiad or, hopefully, in Africa.

I have no idea when I will be able to take a vacation, but whenever this happens, I am planning to go to Africa. It would like to see my good friends in Senegal or Kenya, or maybe to a new place like Rwanda or Egypt, or South Africa, which are in my bucket list for many years now!

I hope this will give me the chance to see some of you in person.