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Interview with IM Tibor Karolyi 

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Interview with IM Tibor Karolyi 

IM Tibor Karolyi of Hungary is a well known prolific chess author and the winner of the 1984 Hungarian Chess Championship.  Kenya Chess Masala had the pleasure of interviewing him recently and found out that he is an avid sportsman as well!

Background

Please give us a little background to where you were born and your family. 

I was born in Budapest in 1961. My father was a lawyer, and my mother was a physiotherapist. At his age of 17, my father was Hungarian champion at long-distance swimming and Hungarian champion of the gymnasium at chess, which virtually meant under 18. He ended up ended being a professional water polo player and he was three times Hungarian champion at it. He unfortunately got injured just before the 1956 Melbourne Olympiad and hence lost his place in the water polo team.  Hungary defeated Russia in a bitterly contested semi-finals ‘Blood in the Water‘ match.  Hungary then went on to crush Yugoslavia in the finals to take the gold medal.

My mother was a basketball player. She was in the national junior team and played the highest league, but got an injury and had to retire at the age of 17. What is interesting, she was only 154 centimetres tall! 

Chess-playing career

When and how did you learn how to play chess?

I do not know when I learned the moves. My father returned to chess, around 1974, and we played a lot of blitz with him. He played in tournaments, and I often went with him. 

Did you win any significant events when you were a junior?

Not really, but when I was 14, I did very well in the Under 17 Championship, much better than the other players at the same age. When I was 16, I finished second at my age group but scored ahead of my rivals at the age 20 championship. 

Tibor Karolyi on way to victory in the 1984 Hungarian Chess Championship.
Tibor Karolyi on way to victory in the 1984 Hungarian Chess Championship.

First international assignment

Which was the first event where you represented your county and how well did you do? 

I no longer remember, maybe the success at the World Junior was first. There was one time where I remember playing on the junior board against East Germany (I beat Tischbierek 1,5:0.5) and West Germany (I lost Lobron 0.5:1,5).

 I should do some investigation to find out which event took place first. 

Chess coach

Which chess coaches influenced you over your formative years? 

My father’s very positional style affected most. In my club Peter Szilagyi, Karoly Honfi and Istvan Csom trained me. The Federation also provided some training by Egon Varnusz.

World Junior Chess Championship

Did you participate in the World Junior Championship?

At age 16, I played in the 17th World Junior Championship (Under 20). The event was in the city of Graz, Austria in 1978. I finished 11th, ahead of players like Seirawan. In the last round, I had a better position against Yusupov; winning would have given him a chance to retain the title while a draw or loss would mean 2nd place. In the end, he agreed to a draw.   

Standings of the top 12 players at the 17th World Junior Chess Championship.
Standings of the top 12 players at the 17th World Junior Chess Championship.
Artur Yusupov v Tibor Karolyi

I also participated in the 19th World Junior Chess Championship in 1980 in Dortmund Germany which was won by Gary Kasparov.

Standings of the top 9 players at the 19th World Junior Chess Championship.
Standings of the top 9 players at the 19th World Junior Chess Championship.

World Champions

Which World Champions have you met? 

I played Tal twice, once with the black pieces and even sacrificed a knight at move 6!  My score is one loss and one draw. 

Anand beat me nicely. I had a friendly relation with him. When I wrote my book ‘Kasparov: How My Predecessors Misled Me about Chess’ the jokes we made with Anand inspired me a lot. 

I have played Kasaparov once in a game at the 19th World Junior Chess Championship that ended in a draw even though I was a pawn up.

I rarely met Kasparov since 1981, but whenever we did he was really friendly with me.

IM Tibor Karolyi (right) ponders his move after Gary Kasparov played Ne4 during the 19th World Junior Chess Championship held in Dortmund, Germany in 1980. Photo credit Tibor Karolyi.

IM Tibor Karolyi (right) ponders his move after Gary Kasparov played Ne4 during the 19th World Junior Chess Championship held in Dortmund, Germany in 1980. Photo credit Tibor Karolyi.

Another player who I spent a lot of time with is Zsuzsa Polgar when she was young and I worked with her as a training partner. I played a few times blitz with Maia Chiburdanidze and was fortunate to write a book on the great Nona Gaprindashvili

Three World Chess Champions from left - Nona Gaprindashvili, . Zsuzsa Polgar and Maia Chiburdanidze pose for a photo during the 2018 Batumi Olympiad. Photo credit Kim Bhari.
Three World Chess Champions from left – Nona Gaprindashvili, . Zsuzsa Polgar and Maia Chiburdanidze pose for a photo during the 2018 Batumi Olympiad. Photo credit Kim Bhari.

Chess Olympiads

How many Olympiads have you been to as a player and as a coach? Which was the best one? 

I never played in an Olympiad. Hungary was a chess power when I was at my best. I was Singapore’s captain at the 2004 Olympiad and the captain of the Lebanese team at the Batumi Olympiad. 

My most significant success at Olympiads was when Hungary won Silver in Bled in 2002 with two of my students (Peter Leko and Zoltan Gyimesi) in the team.  

Zoltan Gyimesi was my pupil for almost nine years.

I prepared a few players for Olympiads or worked with them before it. Sofia Polgar made 12.5 points out of 13 games in the Moscow Olympiad, and we worked together before it for half a year. Ildiko Madl did very well at Olympiads when I trained her. 

Chess books

Which was the first chess book that you published? Who was the publisher? 

My first book was on Judit Polgar published by Batsford

How many books have you published to date? 

If one counts my several volumes book on Kasparov, Karpov, Tal and Beliavsky as three and two books respectively, then 26 came out and my 27th, the volume two on Petrosian will come out fairly soon. 

In between a hectic sporting life Tibor Karolyi continues to work on his chess books!
In between a hectic sporting life Tibor Karolyi continues to work on his chess books!

Do you work on one book at a time or do you have a number of them as work in progress? 

I work on one book at the time. 

Your two-volume books on Karpov ‘The Making of a Champion’ and ‘His Prime Years’ are almost 1,000 pages. That was a massive undertaking with the detailed background stories on Karpov. How long did these two books take you to complete? 

I no longer remember exactly, perhaps a year for the two volumes. Petrosian book was an 11-month project. 

What other books have you got in the pipeline? 

I hope to have a two or three volumes book on Botvinnik, but I work on what publisher offer. 

Tibor Karolyi (extreme left) commentating during the 2000 Vladmir Kramnik - Peter Leko Match.
Tibor Karolyi (extreme left) commentating during the 2000 Vladmir Kramnik – Peter Leko Match.

World Championship Crown

Who do you think will dethrone World Champion Magnus Carlsen? 

It is hard to tell. Fabiano Caruana and Sergey Karjakin were not too far, one will have to be very, very strong and things have to go his way. 

Do you think Russia will ever get the World Chess Crown again? Which Russian do you tip to bring the crown back home? 

I think yes, but one never knows who it will be. Overall I believe Russia was the best in the Olympiads since 2002, but they won no gold medal. 

Are we seeing the gradual decline of the former communist countries (apart from China) decline in chess? 

Yes and no. Russia is still powerful, just like Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia as well. Hungary and the former Soviet block countries have indeed dropped their level. 

Peter Leko

Peter Leko was one of your most famous students. How did you link up with him, and what was your training schedule like on a typical day? 

We started when he was ten years old when he was a 1900 player until he was 14 years old. I later helped him when he was a world-class player.

13 year old Peter Leko (left) in action against Tihonov in 1992. Photo credit https://kids.kiddle.co/Peter_Leko.
13 year old Peter Leko (left) in action against Tihonov in 1992. Photo credit https://kids.kiddle.co/Peter_Leko.

On weekdays we worked 6 hours and on Saturdays 3 to 4 hours. I would estimate about 160-180 days a year. I would also prepare some opening lines for him. Leko at the age of 13, in 1993 was invited to play in Leon, Spain in a round-robin event. He ended up in 3rd place with Anatoly Karpov

In total, we worked together for about six and a half years.  

GM Peter Leko in a photo taken in 2009. Photo credit https://kids.kiddle.co/Peter_Leko.
GM Peter Leko in a photo taken in 2009. Photo credit https://kids.kiddle.co/Peter_Leko.

Hobbies

What are your other hobbies? 

I read a lot on history and play racket sports. I won Senior Championships at tennis, badminton and in racketlon. Racktlon is a combination sport in which competitors play a sequence of the four most popular racket sports: table tennis, badminton, squash, and tennis.

Tibor Karolyi as the top player in the Hungarian Senior Badminton Championship.
Tibor Karolyi as the top player in the Hungarian Senior Badminton Championship.

I have also won gold in doubles and with the Hungarian team in racketlon.

I have also tried Speedminton (a variant of badminton) and obtained a silver medal and a team bronze one at Hungarian Senior Championship.

Tibor Karolyi and his son winning a badminton doubles event.
Tibor Karolyi and his son winning a badminton doubles event.
Tibor Karolyi (6th from the left) as part of the Hungarian Team that won the Senior Racketlon Team Championship, Leipzig, Germany in 2019.
Tibor Karolyi (6th from the left) as part of the Hungarian Team that won the Senior Racketlon Team Championship, Leipzig, Germany in 2019.

Travel

Have you been to Kenya or Africa? 

I spent one year as a child in Algeria with my family when my father was the national trainer of the Algerian national team. I have visited in Durban in South Africa at the World Youth Chess Championship and sadly not travelled to Kenya as yet. 

Which is your favourite country?

I liked New Zealand a lot, and have pleasant memories from Singapore where I worked. I like Slovenia and Ireland as well. 

Best chess game? 

Maybe my win against grandmaster Laszlo Barczay. My other game was when I held Kasparov to a draw when I was a pawn up. Of course, playing two games with Tal was lovely, as he was such a charming person. 

Tibor Karolyi v Laszlo Barczay

Do you still play competitive chess and which was the last event that you played in? 

I have virtually stopped playing competitive chess. I cannot remember when I last played in an individual event. Since I started to become a trainer, I rarely played in an event. 

And even if I played I was not well prepared and not focused as compared to when I was only a player. 

Tibor Karolyi in action during a tournament in Spain in 1998.
Tibor Karolyi in action during a tournament in Spain in 1998.

General

What is your favourite food? 

I like Indian food very much. In general, I like Asian food a lot. 

Where do you currently live? 

I live in South of Hungary in Soltvadkert not very far from the Serbian border. 

IM Tibor Karolyi and his wife Aliz with their charming granddaughter Emma.
IM Tibor Karolyi and his wife Aliz with their charming granddaughter Emma.

Which languages do you speak?

I speak Hungarian, English, Russian and German.

Tibor Karolyi with his 3 sons and granddaughter.
Tibor Karolyi with his 3 sons and granddaughter.