Thursday 26 April 2012

Interview with Nils Grandelius (Part 1)

During EICC in Plovdiv

Grandmaster Nils Grandelius. Born in 1993. Currently No. 8 between Swedish players in the world rankings, FIDE rating 2545.The gold medallist of the 2011 Youth European Championship. Lives in Dalby, Sweden. He became a grandmaster in 2010 and that is a current Swedish record for that title.

Bejtovic Jasmin: Hello Nils, and first of all thank you for this interview for Chess & Life blog. Do you read a blog and what you think about it?

Nils Grandelius: Of course I read it, and in general I think it's a good blog. It's always interesting to read what professional players, who spend a lot of time with chess in their everyday life, have to say about chess. Especially nice with lots of photos and games!

Bejtovic Jasmin: When did you learn chess and who taught you?

Nils Grandelius: At the age of 6, by my granddad. I visited the club a year later, and immediately fell in love with the game.

Bejtovic Jasmin: You will finish your high school education in the end of May. Are you going to play chess like a professional?

Nils Grandelius: Yes of course. I am not yet sure for how long, though. I'll start with a year, and then see what happens.

Cappelle la Grande 2011
Bejtovic Jasmin: For a professional chess player is it better to live in Europe or in some other part of the World?

Nils Grandelius: Europe of course, as the main tournaments and the strongest leagues are played here. Sweden is not perfect, but it's close enough.

Bejtovic Jasmin: That is exactly what I thought to ask you. If we talk about Europe, it is somehow wide term. What part of Europe is perfect for a chess professional player, and why?

Nils Grandelius: I guess it doesn't really matter, as it's all very close and no matter where you live you have to travel around. I guess it has to do more with the respective federations, and then Sweden is definitely not in top. But which country is best? I have no clue.

Bejtovic Jasmin: You are a current European Champion under 18 years old. What are your feelings about that?

Nils Grandelius: Well, it feels like it was a very long time ago I won that tournament. It's nice of course, but the World Junior is much more important. Hopefully I can make a good score in Greece this summer

On Swedish chess

Bejtovic Jasmin:  Talking about tournaments, what is your next tournament, and in fact you can tell us something about your plans...

Nils Grandelius: Next tournament is the Sigeman tournament in Malmö, with a very strong field of players. A nice challenge! After that there's the Swedish Championship in July, and the above-mentioned World Junior in Greece. The summer will be concluded with the Olympiad in Istanbul. After that it's probably time for some training instead...

Photo by Tomas Olsson
Bejtovic Jasmin: Tell us more about Sigeman tournament, for a blog readers outside of Sweden.

Nils Grandelius: It's an annual tournament, this year played for the 20th time. It is closed round-robin with 8 players. 4 Swedish players are to compete with Caruana, Giri, Leko and Li Chao.

Jasmin Bejtovic: ...and if I noticed right you are actually lowest rated player, which is not so common. Can that be your advantage, because there is not additional pressure or it doesn´t matter?

Nils Grandelius: Well, it doesn't really matter. Of course it's nice to play completely without pressure, but it also means that the opposition will be very tough. I simply see it as a nice challenge.

Jasmin Bejtovic: And what about date of tournament? It is indeed very nice event, but during that time there is a bit more important event in Moscow. Can that affect Sigeman & CO tournament negatively in a way that attention will be on Anand and Gelfand? Could organizers considered that in advance?

Nils Grandelius: It's of course a negative aspect, but on the other hand it's very difficult to find a perfect date. There's always something else played at the same time. There will be a little less attention to the Sigeman tournament, but it will definitely not be forgotten.

Jasmin Bejtovic: Of course not, but I meant more internationally. Anyway, let´s move on next subject, Swedish Championship. What is your ambition in that tournament? I assume that you will play for a win.

Nils Grandelius: Yes, of course. I think the four grandmasters playing ,apart from me it's Hans Tikkanen, Emanuel Berg and Jonny Hector, are about equal in strength, so the one that's in the best shape will have a very good chance in the tournament. To not play for a win in such a case would be very strange. However, it´s chess, everything can happen!

Jasmin Bejtovic: Many criticized decision to take players witch are cheaper, without asking players clearly above them on rating list. What is your opinion about that and can you comment on a system of qualification? Is it wrong with two players from Mästare-Elit (group B) from previous championship, and a place for junior champion?

Nils Grandelius: I'll start with the second question, as it is the easiest one to anwer: They have now changed the rule so that the winner of the junior group gets a place in the Mästare-Elit instead of in the top-group, and also reduced it to one player qualifying from Mästare-Elit. This is a very sensible decision, as the difference in strength would otherwise be too big. The old system made more sense earlier, when there were 14 players in each group. Now it's all good.
The first question is a lot more complicated, and a lot of aspects have to be taken into account. First of all, there's a limit of how much money the Federation wants to spend.
At the moment, they prefer to spend money on chess-in-school projects and such, instead of the elite. That is of course an important area of discussion, but not really something I have an opinion on. 
But how to spend the money they actually have for the championship is interesting. During the last years the guidelines has been focused on not lowering the entrance money for the players. While this is good in some aspects, it did hurt a lot this year. 
With a limited amount of money, not all strong players could get the standard amount for playing. What our national coach did was to not give these players a ridiculously low offer, and instead invite cheaper players. 
This I think is wrong. Instead these players should have gotten an invitation to play for free. Most likely they would have declined, but then (almost) all would have been in order. Now it's just a mess, and quite understandable that people got angry.

During a game
Jasmin Bejtovic: Are you satisfied with conditions?

Nils Grandelius: For the ones who got invited: they are definitely not good, but acceptable.
Jasmin Bejtovic: There are also some talks about next Olympiad in Istanbul....

Nils Grandelius: It is far ahead in the future... Let's talk about that once it gets a bit closer.

Jasmin Bejtovic: I thought that Swedish championship and conditions for Olympiad has an organic connection. Am I right?

Nils Grandelius: Such a connection never existed, I think. A logical way to do things would be to take the Swedish Championship into account when choosing a team for the Olympiad, but this year the Olympic team has to be decided a long time before the Swedish championship is finished. There would normally be some connection though: when the federation wants to spend a lot of money on the elite, conditions would be good for both tournaments and vice versa. By looking at the field of players in the Swedish Championship, we could perhaps try to draw some conclusions...

Jasmin Bejtovic: Are you generally satisfied with work of Swedish chess federation, not only from elite player point of view?

Nils Grandelius: To be honest, I have no clue. I see myself purely as a player, and let other people do what they do best. Therefore it would be wrong for me to complain, and equally wrong to praise. However, if someone presents a way for me to get involved and the suggestion seems to make sense, I am of course interested.

Jasmin Bejtovic: Ok, seems reasonable. It is a bit diplomatic but still interesting. I guess that we can move on. General opinion is that there are not good tournaments in Sweden? Why is that?

Nils Grandelius: I don't really know. There are basically two good tournaments every year: Rilton Cup in Stockholm, and Sigeman in Malmö. I guess chess hasn't really attracted the masses in Sweden, and therefore it's harder to get sponsors. It's a pity of course, but I have no clue of how to solve the problem. For a professional like me it doesn't matter a lot, as I can just go abroad and play. But for the club players in Sweden it's very unfortunate.

Jasmin Bejtovic: But, there are a lot of weekend tournaments, and amount of money in them is quite ok. Still there are not so many Elo rated tournaments. Is that because organizers do what majority of players want, or something else, let´s say luck of real chess culture?

Nils Grandelius: Actually I am not sure. The weekend tournaments should be suitable for most club players, who can't spend a lot of time with chess. Then it makes sense to play 7 games in one weekend. For a professional, those tournaments are horrible of course. Having one big first prize and then 2nd prize half the amount makes it very unattractive from an economical point of view, if there are other strong players playing.
I strongly recommend all people who are serious with their chess to play 'real' tournaments instead. With 'real' I mean Elo-rated tournaments with one game a day. But if you just want to have a good time and play some chess, I guess weekend tournaments are OK.

Jasmin Bejtovic: Is that not what I said actually? Tournaments are made for amateur majority?

Nils Grandelius: In principle, yes. I do not know if the organizers are aware of this, though. And it's impossible to say whether  it's 'good' or 'bad'.

To be continued...


  1. Alexander Pettersson27 April 2012 at 11:56

    Nice interview! Regarding chess and money, I think the biggest responsibility lies on the professional players themselves to make the game attractive for sponsors.

    It's not an easy task, but in my opinion players who want to be professionals could try to be much more visible through different channels such as interviews online(this one is a good start!) and in traditional mainstream media, simultaneous chess events, lectures etc. Especially lectures for companies/schools/public bodies where one uses good chess as a metaphor for traits (strategic planning, analytical decision making, solving problems under time pressure etc.) which are useful in the outside world, is an area which I'm sure could be developed.

    If one wants to be paid for playing, it's all about getting exposure and providing value to the fans. No one is going to pay a strong player significant money just because he is good at chess, without getting anything in return. If a grand master is not ready to commercialize himself, he will just have to accept to be a (very strong) amateur...

  2. Thank you Alexander.
    I can partly agree with you that the biggest responsibility lies on the professional players. There are definitely players who are anti-propaganda for chess and a lion part of responsibility for a bad picture of chess in today´s society lies on themselves. There are also luck of solidarity between players. For example, few of them can accept completely unacceptable conditions and will ruin everything for others. Organizers knows that they always can find these minimalistic players and they don´t put efforts to attract more sponsors. It is much more complex than just to blame one or other side.
    It is also interesting to talk about what strong players has to provide in order to get well paid for that. Of course that no one is going to pay somebody because he is good at chess, but there should be limits with media exposure and exhibitions. We must not forget what is a main purpose of playing competitive chess and that is taking part in chess competitions.
    Of course that some of strong players has a little more radical opinion, like "I am GM (or IM), and somebody should pay me for that" , but there are a big number of amateurs with opinion "You are GM, all right get a job, and play chess on your free time".

  3. Alexander Pettersson28 April 2012 at 20:34

    Thanks for your reply! I'm not sure one can say that a player who accepts to play for low standard conditions can be blamed for that. If another player wants to get better conditions, it is his job to persuade the organizer of the value of choosing him in front of the cheaper player. Compare for example with the labour market in general. Western workers can complain how much they want about production being moved abroad where the work force is cheaper, but the employer will not care, if he thinks that the foreign workers provide the same output, but to a lower cost.

    I totally agree that the main purpose of playing competitive chess is to participate in tournaments. However, being paid for it, is a different issue. "The big number of amateurs" who don't want to pay for the IM/GM have every right to have this opinion. The IM/GM will have to find other amateurs who are willing to pay. And if he doesn't succeed, he will have to get a normal job... It's as simple as that in my opinion!

  4. Very good interview, blog also excellent....:)