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WCN Exclusive Interview with Alexandre Lesiege

WCN You are about to play what must be one of the critical matches of your chess career. Are there any special preparations that you have made to face Kevin Spraggett across the board?
AL I don't prepare specifically for any particular match. I prefer to prepare my game for any opponent, at any time. By this I mean I must be ready to play with excellence at all times, not just against one player or one opening.

WCN Do you examine Kevin's past games?
AL I may look at his games, but not to make opening preparations. It is more important to understand how he plays as a person, not what he plays in a certain position.

WCN Why is that? Many grandmasters analyze their opponent's opening repertoire with the assistance of computer databases, seeking out weaknesses and preparing surprise variations.
AL For me, it is much more important that I be relaxed - that my creative energy is at its highest. Creativity is absolutely necessary to express the best chess at the board.

WCN So you would say that chess is more art than science?
AL This is true. If chess is played as a mechanical or reproductive system it is nothing. Sterile. There is no creative force to the play. I refuse to just copy moves from books.

WCN We have had the pleasure of meeting your personal trainer and cook, as well as your match advisor - both of whom have accompanied you here. Do they assist with any special regimen that you follow?
AL (smiles) It is important to have excellent food! I am also a very serious believer in being physically fit and have been practicing Yoga and meditation for over five years. Yoga is essential for both the silence and deep activity of the mind.

WCN Silence and deep activity of the mind?
AL Yes, in this way one is relaxed and can consider deeply the possibilities of the game. The spectators of this match will see fresh and inspiring chess - which I believe they will truly appreciate at all levels!

WCN As a chess grandmaster - one of a handful of elite players in the world - you are clearly at the highest level. Many of our members are just starting out on that life long journey that is the study and enjoyment of chess. What advice can you give to these aspiring grandmasters?
AL In the beginning, you must play a lot - and realize that improving your chess skill involves a great deal of work. Chess is such a complicated game!

WCN How much is a lot?
AL I do not think you can achieve the grandmaster level unless you have played at least one thousand tournament games. I have played about maybe twelve hundred tournament games in my career.

WCN A tournament game being a serious game played over the board with time controls similar to those of this match - how much time for studying the game?
AL You must study of course! I would say that you should spend half your time playing and half your time studying. I think that two to three hours of study each day is good - but eight hours a day is too much. You can see for yourself what happened to Kamsky. He dedicated himself incredibly to his game. He studied and studied and studied .... and then quit! He is burned out. His mind, his spirit, has nothing left to offer.

WCN And what should one study?
AL Study your own game. Listen to your mistakes, they will tell you what you must do.

WCN Are there any books that you would recommend?
AL For the player that seriously wishes to learn and improve at chess, I would say the books by Roman Pelts are an excellent choice. For a tournament book, I suggest Zurich '53 by David Bronstein. He is one of the finest - and by this I also mean creative - chess minds to ever write such a book.

WCN And once you have read these books? What then?
AL Find a good teacher or coach. In this way, you will not develop bad habits in your play. Experiment in your game - you must never let your play become stereotyped or routine.

WCN And the internet?
AL It is wonderful to have this resource. Chess on television is not effective. But the internet is the perfect media for chess - it can bring it to millions of people. You can learn about the game in all its aspects, play with great players - take lessons for example. It is fantastic.

WCN What about blitz or speed chess?
AL Speed chess is fine - but in moderation. (smiles) You cannot become a grandmaster just by playing speed chess! But it is important because it is fun, and gives a person the chance to play against higher rated players all the time. But again, you must not let bad habits develop.

WCN But at the end of the day, not all chess players can become grandmasters. When did you decide that you wanted to be a GM? What does it take?
AL I never thought actually about becoming a grandmaster. It was not a goal. It just happened naturally. Perhaps I am a "natural grandmaster" - like Capablanca.

WCN When did you realize that you had this natural talent?
AL I started playing when I was 9 years old and improved a great deal for the next year. Jean Hebert helped me a lot. I beat my coach when I was 12, and then when I was 13 I beat my first GM. Although I do not remember a conscious desire to become a chess professional, I was at this time more motivated then ever.

WCN Were there any setbacks?
AL Later, perhaps when I was 17, I stopped playing for months. For maybe six months I had great concerns about whether I was doing the right thing. I worried about the financial security of being a professional chessplayer, and it affected my motivation seriously.

WCN What happened?
AL I realized that being a grandmaster is like being a painter. A grandmaster is an artist - he paints on the chessboard. Like a great painting, his game is given to the world! (smiles) But, of course, one still must eat. It is strange that so much money is given to many groups - even criminals - but none to the gifted (shakes head).

WCN And with this match? Are you coming to this match as an artist or a fighter?
AL A match is very different from a swiss tournament where you play one person and then it is a new opponent the next day. I do not have as much experience in matches as Kevin.

WCN Does this give him an advantage?
AL Yes, he does have an advantage in this way. He has played many matches.

WCN How do your styles differ?
AL Kevin is very disciplined, very organized. I know he will be going through all my games searching for weakness. He will be prepared - you can be sure of that! Even in our 2 game mini-match after the Canadian Closed, I knew from his play that he was deliberately playing a variation that he had studied from my games and introducing a line that I didn't know.

WCN How will you counter this?
AL (smiles) I improvise well over the board! This match will be the same.

WCN What is your advantage?
AL I am younger. I have a freshness of play - it is not the same style. Kevin has great judgment and a deep understanding of the game but his style is more technical. I think am more tactical.
I also have a very quick positional sight, and I will avoid stereotyped moves. I do not play like a machine. As Lasker said, "it took be a long time for me to learn all the rules; it took me a longer time to forget them". This is the secret. Perhaps this match will be like Tal - Botvinnik (smiles).

WCN What is your lifetime score against Kevin Spraggett to date?
AL We are completely even. I beat him when I was 17 years old - later he beat me at the Keres Memorial in Vancouver. Perhaps also 7 or 8 draws. I think that we have been evenly matched - so far!

WCN Who is going to win the match?
AL I never play for the result. In this way, I am not here to win. I will never play something dubious or cheap. I will play excellent chess - and if I achieve this - then the result will show. If I win, I will be happy. At then end of the match, one of us will be less happy, but there will be no loser.

WCN Thank you Alexandre. We wish you the best in the match.
AL It is my pleasure

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