Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Szuveges Reclaims a Life

When it was announced on Chess Chat, Australia's most popular chess bulletin board, that Grant Szuveges had made a comeback to chess as Melbourne Chess Club boss, there was one thing that immediately sprang to my mind. I had to interview this guy. A quick email and he gladly agreed.

However, as work pressed on (add in the Doeberl Cup and SIO), this turned out to be an impossibility. Meanwhile, Melbourne personality Elliot Renzies managed to organise a separate long, long interview. That whole impressive conversation can be read here. Thankfully, though, Grant never forgot about my initial request and, feeling a bit embarassed about my inaction, I managed to finally organise myself.

The last time Grant and I met was way back in 1999 at the Sunshine Coast Australian Chess Open in Queensland (one of my best tournament experiences ever). I still haven't forgotten Grant's exploits in blitz, playing chess for money late into the early hours. If I remember correctly, he basically needed the cash for his next fare to wherever he was headed next. Such was the life of a young man who was out to have as much fun as he could.

Soon after the Open we find Grant in the highly controversial Oceania Zonal, also in Queensland. It was from there that he took home an FM title. That was followed by the 37th Doeberl, then in the year 2000 he appeared in his last two Australian biggies - the Begonia and finally, the 38th Doeberl. Then, at least according to available game records, he was off to Europe. There on the other side we find the Melburnian in his last few over-the-board action. At the Haarlem Open, Grant pulled off a win on the white side of a KID against no less than Russian IM Evgeni Ragozin. It's a fine victory!

Haarlem AKN op Haarlem
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0–0 6.Be2 e5 7.d5 a5 8.Bg5 h6 9.Bh4 Qe8 10.Nd2 Nh7 11.0–0 Na6 12.a3 Bd7 13.Nb5 h5 14.f3 Bh6 15.Qc2 f5 16.exf5 Be3+ 17.Kh1 gxf5 18.Qc3 Bb6 19.b4 Qg6 20.c5 axb4 21.axb4 dxc5 22.bxc5 Bxc5 23.Nxc7 Bd4 24.Qc4 b5 25.Nxb5 Rfc8 26.Rxa6 Qxa6 27.Qb3 Qa2 28.Nxd4 exd4 29.Qb6 Be8 30.Qxd4 Bf7 31.d6 Ra4 32.d7 Rd8 33.Qb6 Rxd7 34.Bb5 Qxd2 35.Bxa4 Rd4 36.Qb8+ Kg7 37.Qe5+ Kg6 38.Qg3+ Kh6 39.Qc7 Rxa4 40.Qxf7 Rxh4 41.Qe6+ Kg5 42.Qe7+ Nf6 43.Qg7+ Kf4 44.Qg3+ Ke3 1–0

And then, POOF! The man just ups and disappears. Grant Szuveges gives up chess. Completely. Here at last we learn why. And, to my surprise, it's nowhere near as dramatic as even I imagined! In short, he had a life to reclaim. Read on.


First, I want to explore Grant Szuveges - the man himself. In your interview with Elliot Renzies you freely admitted that you had an alcohol problem. How did you manage to get out of that?

Great to be interviewed by someone who gets right into it from the word go! When I said that I had an alcohol problem, I was telling the truth - but we must keep it in context. Though I had an alcohol problem, I was certainly not an alcoholic! When I was 18-22, I was one of those people who lived every weekend like it was a buck's party or a footy trip. I'd spend Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights in the pub or at a party or at the nightclubs, recover on Sundays and then get up and go to work Monday to Thursday. As of Thursday night, we would start again!

I was never someone who drank to help me sleep or anything like that, I just really enjoyed having quite a lot of beers - almost every weekend. As for getting out of it (I like your wording), well I just simply quit drinking full stop - totally cold turkey. I didn't need to go to AA or anything. I just used my willpower and didn't do it. I didn't drink a drop for the next 3 and a half years. I'd still go out with my friends - but I'd have a soda water or a coke or a hot chocolate. Being an extrovert I didn't really find it that difficult to socialise without alcohol. These days I hardly ever drink - I'd have about 10 or 12 beers over a whole year! The last time I had one was last October when I was in Hungary, Slovakia and [the] Czech [Republic]. The beer over there is nice, so I'd have a pint of it if I was having a gulasch or a traditional meal - nothing major though. I'm not in the habit of drinking these days. When I was young though, it was a totally different story - I imagine that it is probably fairly similar for a lot of people - they drink a lot when they are young and then they grow out of it. I guess that's what happened in my case in a way.

I presume it was partly tat which led to your retirement from chess. Any other reasons?

Actually after I quit drinking, I really wanted to study more chess - I even remember going to [David] Cordover's shop and buying $200 worth of books. I also prepared some different openings. But then I quit chess for other reasons. I had a falling out with some chess players and I was working a lot and mixing with other people - it just felt like the right time to go. The lack of drinking wasn't really a part of it - but what it (the lack of drinking) did do, was clarify a few things. I had become a very one-dimensional person when I was a chess player - chess was my life. I had a whole life to reclaim. I had so many interests which I had just let go of so that I could play chess. I've often said that after quitting chess, my life improved a lot - I earnt more money, I hung out with better people, I had better relationships, I had more interests, I read more books, I watched more football, I travelled more, I spent more time in the gym working out (running, cycling, weightlifting, etc) and more time going to the beach and swimming. And thus, I became much healthier. I leant German, I got back into drawing, the list goes on and on.

You know, an ex MCC president, Fred Esling, was said to deplore alcoholic excess. Do you share the same view?

Actually I didn't know that - I didn't even know who Fred Esling was! Do I share the same view? Hmmm, possibly. I dont think that I "deplore" it, but I do see it as totally pointless and really a bit sad actually. I love my own natural state of mind and I find it a bit strange that people feel that they need to alter theirs with alcohol to feel good about themselves. It's a shame to see kind, intelligent, creative, imaginative people waste their time drinking or taking drugs or eating bad food or smoking. Objectively, I think society would be better without excessive drinking, but it doesn't bother me that much - I'm not going to tell other people how to live their lives. I pride myself on being a health concious person. I eat well and exercise enough. I'm a good cook and I genuinely enjoy cooking. Kelly (my partner) is also a good cook, but she cooks differently to me, so we have a diverse, balanced diet. The one problem I do have though is that I eat way to much chocolate. It's not so bad when I'm exercising a lot because I just burn it off - but being so busy with MCC, I will have to be careful to exercise when I have time and not eat so much of it. I'm not happy with the amount of exercise I'm doing at the moment.

OK, I cant help but ask this: we're all curious about how your FM title helped you with the chicks!

Ha ha ha. Who's "we"? You lot will have to get yours and find out first hand! I was only half serious when I said that - but when you think about it, of course it helps. How can it not? It's a talking point and adds another string to your bow. It's something interesting about me I suppose. I'm fortunate enough to have never had any problems in that department anyway though - even before I got the title. I'm an extrovert and I'm easy to talk to. An FM title is just an added extra, another thing to talk to me about. Actually, what I did find was that girls always wanted to have a game of chess with me. Interestingly enough though, I've been with Kelly for 3 years now and not once have we ever had a game! I only found out that she could play about a month ago! She obviously loves me for me - not for a chess title.

Now I note that you've been to 45 countries. I like to travel myself. What's your favourite city or country and why?

Actually in relation to your last question, the 45 countries is probably even better than the chess title - it gives you even more to talk to girls about, ha ha ha. What is my favourite? Hmmm, a lot of people ask me this and its never easy to answer. I've spent so much time overseas that I've been to 27 of them more than once, and of those, 18 three times or more. (I worked out these useless statistics late last year on a plane or a train or somewhere). I guess I like different places for different reasons. In Asia, I love Nepal. It's just a really interesting country. I enjoy the Himalayas but I also like the lowlands with all of the animals - I've done safaris there in Chitwan National Park, where I've seen Indian rhinos, sloth bears (a mother and 2 cubs even!), deer, monkeys, crocs, snakes etc and ridden through on elephants. I also like Malaysia and Thailand for their coral reefs and snorkelling opportunities. In Europe, my favourite country is probably Slovenia - its a nice cross between the German speaking world and the Slavic world, and it is very pretty, with nice nature. It's easy to get around and it has things I'm interested in like lakes, forests, caves and cycling. I like other parts of the former Yugoslavia too though, especially Belgrade and Dubrovnik.

I'm also a big fan of Bulgaria and France. I tend to like the smaller countries in Central and Eastern Europe more than the bigger countries further west, as they are a bit cheaper and thus you can have a better time as you don't worry so much about the exchange rate! I like Europe in general for its castles and its bears. I went to Argentina last year and cycled in the Andes - my first time back on the bike since a potentially fatal accident at the end of 2006 (I was pretty lucky there - every day is a bonus now). It felt good to riding again and I really loved Argentina and want to go back. I'm studying Spanish as part of my course at uni actually so it may come in handy. Of the rest, I also enjoy outback Australia and I loved New Zealand too - but I've only been once for 10 days which isn't enough really. Maybe I can go back on the way to or from Argentina. My big dream though, is to go wildlife watching in southern Africa - I've read lots of books about it. I think the feeling would be a bit like the one I get from the Australian outback. Papua New Guinea, Borneo and Japan are also on my to-do list.


In the second part of this email interview, Grant Szuveges turns to more serious matters. There he delivers a left-and-right-hook combo at the cause of problems he witnessed in his beloved Melbourne Chess Club. Not one to miss!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

aaaahh - after reading about Grant on chesschat I imagined he might have been Narelle's dad, now I am guessing he is her brother ?