Anastasiya Karlovich: First of all I would like to wish you Happy Birthday, as today is your birthday! Who are you Mr. Efstratios Grivas or Stratos, as your friends are calling you?
Efstratios Grivas: Well, I used to be a more-or-less decent player, gaining the title of GM and later, when I got a bit old, I tried other chess fields as well, gaining the titles of FST, IA and IO. I feel, based on my results, that I became a good Trainer/Coach/Captain, which is my business world by today. I would prefer to add my CV if anyone wants to know more. Read CV here.
Anastasiya Karlovich: Which period of your chess life you like the most? Which games you would show to your friends and readers? Which one of your numerous books is the most valuable for you? And what is your favorite trainer’s achievement?
Efstratios Grivas: Every period in your life you do things which suites you. When I was a player I enjoyed it very much and I didn’t think of a trainer’s career. Although I wrote my first book when I was 18 years old and I started to train our youth national Greek team when I was 19 years old, I cannot consider it as training, as I didn’t really know how to train at that time. I was just stronger than the others and I was asked to help the members of the team. When I was a professional player I could make a good living from chess, but suddenly the prizes became so small that it made it unproftable to play professionally. When recently I saw the winners of the last European rapid and blitz championships holding the cards with the amounts of their prizes I could not believe it. Was it pocket money? At the times when I played it would be a starting fee. I had different good results in my chess career and maybe to some people it doesn’t sound great but for me it is something that not so many can do. One of my games with my comments can be checked in the end of this interview.
As a trainer you can have more stable life. The most important period for me was when I worked in Turkey creating the program which resulted in the 6th position of the Turkish team in the World Chess Olympiad 2016. They were kids when we started to work together and they were already Grandmasters when I left them. It was great what they achieved today if you consider the situation with Turkish chess in 2005. My most favorite book is ‘The Grandmaster Program’ which describes the successful program I implemented in Turkey for 6½ years, resulting into today’s boom in that country. The funniest thing about this book that I’m trying to publish it in Turkish language but nobody wants it. I think people who deny their history cannot really go far. It’s about the history of Turkish chess but somehow they are not interested.
Anastasiya Karlovich: As a world leading Trainer/Coach/Captain you have important opinions on chess training. Can you share some?
Efstratios Grivas: Sure! We could write numerous pages on chess training but I will stick on a few remarks. First of all I do not believe in the ‘talent’ form. As I am used to say and write: ‘Talent is the excuse of the failed’. If you want to improve you need to work hard under expertise guide of a qualified trainer/coach. The problem is that there are thousands of trainers/coaches, but very few of them are really qualified and that's an eternal problem. I would advise the readers to have a look on an important part from my book ‘The Grandmaster Program’.
Anastasiya Karlovich: For two years you moved to Dubai - how was your experience there?
Efstratios Grivas: I worked for two years (2014 to 2016 fall) as the Technical Director of the United Arab Emirates Chess Federation, living in Dubai/Sharjah. My experience was negative and I almost felt that I badly spoiled two years of my life. It wasn’t necessary anybody’s fault - simply my European working/operating attitude didn’t match the mentality and the expectations of the area. But I have to admit that my experience got better as I got involved in quite a few new subjects and organisations. As it is obvious, the area is rich and the potential could be high - the problem is that changes (if any) are quite slow and not based in long term plans. In the end of the day I try to keep the positives and one of the highly important ones is that I made some new friends but as always some enemies as well! And I truly love my enemies, as I made them!
Anastasiya Karlovich: I remember you had also a shark attack when you lived in Dubai and it seems that you faced some nasty health problems during 2017...
Efstratios Grivas: Well, first of all, a year ago I broke my hip, falling in my bedroom (what a shame!) and I had to spend approximately two months in bed - an awful situation for somebody like me! Then I had to face once again my birth-problem of a wrong aorta valve and had to replace it (with a mechanical one) last November, together with two bye-passes. It seems that I can safely call myself a kind of Robotrainer (!), as I have already some iron parts inside my body! Today I feel strong and happy to have survived from aorta valve replacement, an elephant attack, a shark attack, a car accident with over 170 km/ph, two bypasses, a heart-attack, a terrorist attack, my mother-in-law and my wife! What can make me afraid anymore?
Anastasiya Karlovich: After you have been through all those difficulties did you change your approach to life?
Efstratios Grivas: First of all I came to the conclusion that impossible is nothing. Many people say nothing is impossible but we Greeks used to say that the impossible is nothing. I believe everything can be done but you never know what will happen tomorrow. Many Greeks have motto which is ‘lets live today’. In a way it proves that we are right because I consider myself as a very very lucky man, everything can just go wrong and it doesn’t depend on you.
Anastasiya Karlovich: I heard that doctors warned you that you have 50% risk to die (because of your heart problem) if you go to the Match of Millennials in August 2017. Now we know you are not afraid of anything but still why did you decide to go?
Efstratios Grivas: Well, 50% to survive is a very good chance. Before I flew there I wrote in my facebook ‘follow your heart’. I was playing a little bit because actually my heart was a problem. But I really followed my heart because I could not miss that event. I wrote in one of my books and I believe that life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.
I also felt responsibility towards the other people as everybody was depending on me in a way. I had organised everything, I knew all the data; it would be a mess if I didn’t go there. I went to three different doctors expecting them to give me higher chances but all of them agreed on 50%...
Anastasiya Karlovich: Were all these risks worth to go to the Match of the Millennials?
Efstratios Grivas: Of course, because we crushed them! The idea of the match was quite interesting. But I think this event mainly happened because the Americans believed they had created so strong a chess school that it could beat the team of the world. I did not believe it as I don’t have a very high opinion about American top chess. Of course I accepted the proposal and they believed our team was the underdog and it was nice to be in such position. Adrian Mikhalchishin and I chose the people but there were also some players who could not come. Iranians never got visas and I think it was not pushed too ‘hard’ from the American side but it’s understandable, I don’t have problems with it. When we had our first meeting I told to my team that we have to crush them but not just win. They were serious, we had a real team and a good atmosphere, we worked hard and at the end of the day we really beat them. The funniest moment was at the 6th round when we almost won the match. Someone from the Americans said it was my fault, but I answered that ‘worse are coming!’. I believed that it was important to ‘dominate’ the event even though we had already won the match. I told to my people, ‘go for the maximum’. In wars there are no prisoners.
Anastasiya Karlovich: The FIDE Trainers’ Commission is one of the most active commissions in FIDE. What is your role in the FIDE-TRG?
Efstratios Grivas: FIDE Trainers’ Commission (TRG) was officially formed on 2003/4, with the main aiming to organise and certify the training world under the auspices of FIDE. This is quite natural, as every World Federation has a similar Commission and project. By today we have in our archives approximately 5.820 certified trainers all over the world, which sounds as a good number. I joined TRG on early 2009 as the Secretary; a position that I am holding today as well. With the rest of the TRG Council (http://trainers.fide.com/) we try our best to satisfy our mission.
Anastasiya Karlovich: The TRG organises trainers’ seminars all around the World. Which goals do you have?
Efstratios Grivas: To start with, these seminars are not about making better trainers. It will be ridiculous to think that we can do it after 15 hours of work. What we are doing there is the certification of the training levels. That’s why we have five titles, which identify the level which you have and you are advised to work in. Those people who come to our seminars should understand that those who play better chess and have over-the-board titles are not necessarily good trainers. The title shows in which level you are really able to work and it helps to be more efficient.
If you have the first title you can be really good in this level and it doesn’t mean that the other title is better for you. Simply the person is very well prepared on the level of teaching beginners. Trainers who have another level or Senior trainers can deal with higher rated players. For example I consider myself incapable of working with beginners. I remember 15 years ago I was asked to publish a book about beginners. I didn’t know what to do and I asked one friend of mine who was a teacher in school to let me meet with pupils for one hour. The meeting was arranged I came inside and saw 6-7 years old kids. After one hour with them I came out, called my publisher and said, ‘I’m resigning, I will not write this book, and I understand nothing’. All questions these kids asked me were unexpected; I didn’t know what to answer, so I felt it was stupid to write anything about kids because I don’t know how to do the job. I’m sure if I become a school trainer, kids will start jumping out of the windows. The most important thing is to do what you are good in.
Anastasiya Karlovich: How difficult is it to pass an exam and become a FIDE trainer? Are you a strict examiner?
Efstratios Grivas: I don’t think it’s difficult. One should understand that chess is a sport like all the others and you need to have encyclopedic global knowledge. For example, it’s not possible for me that trainers don’t know the names of the world champions and women world champions. Your students, their parents can ask you such things and it’s not possible that you don’t have answers. During my seminars or exams I used to ask this question and you cannot imagine the variety of answers I get! Once somebody told me that Anna Kournikova is the Women’s world champion and I told him that he had made a double mistake - she is not in chess and second she was never no1 in tennis! When some trainers ask me why they need to know it I think it’s just a matter of culture. If you don’t have chess culture I don’t think you deserve to be a chess trainer. There are sports where they have 400-500 world champions, but we don’t have many.
Anastasiya Karlovich: What are TRG’s projects/plans for 2018?
Efstratios Grivas: Well, as always we have the FIDE-TRG Trainers Awards for 2017, the monthly Trainers’ Surveys, the TRG Meeting, the free FIDE-TRG Books Program, the Olympiad Trainers’ DEV Program, where in cooperation with the FIDE Development Commission we will support 20 development federations with a coach/trainer during the coming Olympiad, the Online Training Program for Africa and Asia and many other. And of course we are continuing the certification program with seminars all over the world. We have some other ideas as well but we are not ready yet to announce them! In overall I feel that we are doing well, although there are always ways to improve.
Anastasiya Karlovich: How TRG cooperates with other FIDE Commissions?
Efstratios Grivas: In general we (TRG) are in good terms, although some personal problems do exist, mainly based on differences in opinions and ways to contribute. You see there are over 400 people in FIDE Commissions, which makes it harder to cooperate always positively, but we try to keep a cool head. Personally I do believe that the locomotive should be the Chess in Schools Commission, as the potential could be very high, but I am quite disappointed by the operating way - I feel that deep reinforcement is badly needed here.
Anastasiya Karlovich: What is your opinion of FIDE’s present situation?
Efstratios Grivas: FIDE is one of the world’s most powerful sports organisations, but unfortunately people do not fully understand it. FIDE is strong and respected, as chess in general has good marks worldwide - I barely know somebody who feels negative on the game. But I see many attacks, using the word ‘corruption’ which I barely understand. There are so many idiots around, especially in the social media, who do not understand that some people who have different opinions and ideas than theirs are not necessary ‘corrupted’ but see things from a different prospective. I am of the strong opinion that FIDE should take legal actions on this stupidity, which insults everybody who has a different opinion and way of leadership. Now probably you want to know my opinion on elections, as I understand! Well, it is not my job to comment on this, as my position wouldn’t encourage it, but I feel that the FIDE Acting President Mr. Georgios Makropoulos knows what he is doing and we will see soon the positive result of it. Mr. Kirsan Iliumzhinov has been a great President since 1995, contributing to FIDE a lot of time, efforts and personal funds. But today, under his USA sanctions, is difficult to continue as a FIDE President.
Anastasiya Karlovich: Stratos, are you glad that you devoted your life to chess?
Efstratios Grivas: Once you get into chess you are getting a little bit crazy. You are living in your own world and this is a big problem in our chess society. That’s why I believe most of chess players are not so sociable. They discover a matrix world where they can live with other people who share the same dreams and ideas. On the other hand it gives you a pleasure which can be compared to a strong drug. I personally enjoy it; I enjoy being in chess of course. I still find things that excite me, I like to discover things. My only problem is that I feel I don’t have time to discover everything I want to. There are so many new ideas and I’m wondering sometimes ‘hey! I didn’t know about it! I’m 52 years old and I’m so many years in chess!’ but there are still things I’m learning every day.
The trainer who wants to improve should behave like this. He should work daily, discover new things, and never think he has learnt enough. If we expect from our students to get better we have to get better too. This is what separates the trainer who is devoted to this profession from the one who makes this job formally.
Anastasiya Karlovich: Thank you for the interview and I wish you the best of health, happiness and prosperity!