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A conversation with Vincent Keymer

9 min read

(Sabine S.)
(UnoScacchista) Further to his stunning win at the Grenke Open in Karlsruhe, Vincent Keymer has made a huge impact in the chess news. Just think about it: 13 years old, an early talent, a young German beating a number of strong GMs in Germany… an ideal mix to reach out to the first pages of newspapers and magazines. UnoScacchista could not stay put and, thanks to Sabine, we have managed to interview Vincent “remotely”. Dear readers, enjoy it!

(Sabine S.)
I was in Karlsruhe for the Grenke Open and the Grenke Classic end of last March. Just a one-day visit, enough anyway to get the impression of a perfectly organised event, with a wonderful atmosphere. Wandering between the chess books stands and the playing rooms (I was particularly impressed by Kasimdzhanov and Korobov), I managed to meet with Vincent Keymer’s parents… before he won the tournament. Further to that nice conversation we arranged a “remote” interview with Vincent, that I have the pleasure to share with the readers of UnoScacchista.

First, some words about the Keymer family. Vincent’s parents are both virtuosos, but in a different area, music: Vincent’s father, Christof, is a pianist and Vincent’s mother, Heike, a cellist. Both were then somewhat surprised by their son’s chess interest, skill and progress. When Vincent stood in front of them at the age of 5 with a chess roll discovered on top of a shelf and the set of pieces and asked what to do with it, the parents gave Vincent at that time such a typical answer for adults – Vincent was too young and the game too difficult. But apparently there was no better adventure for the 5-year-old than conquering 64 black and white squares. It only took a few months, his mother told me, while we were both sitting during the third round of Grenke Open (Vincent was playing against Korobov), that both parents had no chance against their 5-year-old son.

Grenke Chess Open 2018- R3 Keymer-Korobov (Photo from the official website)

At the age of 6 Vincent participated in his first tournament (Under 8) and won all nine games! At the age of 9 he already participated in the German U10 Championship and also won all 11 games! Typical for Vincent Keymer was also here that when he got his first IM standard he didn’t even know what a standard is and what its meaning was… Fast forward to October 2016, when he comes back from Batumi as 5th classified (out of 137) at the World Championship U12. And, eventually, here we are in 2018, with Vincent that makes the news by winning the Grenke Open with 8 points out of 9, starting as 99th seed of the tournament.

[UnoScacchista: The interview was arranged before Keymer got his second GM norm and reached 2487 Elo at the recent Xtracom Open in Elsinore: the kid is really moving on at the speed of light …]

Xtracon 2018 – R10, Hammer-Keymer (Photo from the official website)

The interview was carried out together with Vincent’ parents that, after approving the questions, have reviewed the overall result and approved the English translation of the interview, originally conducted in German

Sabine (SVS): How did your chess carrier start?

Vincent (VK): It started, that I found a chess set. I was interested in it, for some reason, although I didn’t know what to do with it. My parents later showed me how to move the pieces. The many possibilities fascinated me, and since then I always wanted to play.

SVS: You were taught chess by your parents, right?

VK: No, my parents aren’t chess players at all. Except for a few rules, they couldn’t teach me much in chess. But they have always supported my chess playing, simply because it is what I really like to do.

SVS: Do you think they would like you to become a professional?

VK: They don’t set me any target, like to become a chess professional. If things will develop in this direction, they would certainly be happy about that.

SVS: Did you study and practice chess at school and in clubs or only on the Internet and with private lessons?

VK: First I played a lot at home on the internet and at the chess club. After I made some very quick progress, I received private lessons. There were many people from which I could learn something.

Vincent together with Anand in 2014, when the former World Champion visited the Chess Tiger Training Center (Photo from the Training Center website)

SVS: How many hours a day do you study chess, on average?

VK: I am a pupil and I always have to see / check how much time is left for chess beside the school duties. On tournaments I spend a large part of the day dealing with chess. During common school days I may be able to manage 2-3 hours a day.

SVS: Some of the children I work with in kindergarten asked me how to stay focused and sit in front of the chessboard for so long. They asked, how do you do that, what does chess represent for you and how has it changed you.

VK: Over time you get used to playing longer and longer while remaining focused. During the training you also learn which moves you could calculate in the different positions. If you use this in chess games, you have so much to think about, that you can steadily remain seated on front of the board without effort. I don’t know how I’ve changed. I have no comparison what I would be like if I didn’t play chess.

SVS: How do you generally prepare for tournaments (of course without revealing too much of your strategies)?

VK: I repeat my openings. If the opponents have already been determined, I look at their games carefully.

SVS: What experience or lesson do you take with you from tournaments?

VK: It depends less on the tournament than on my opponents. Sometimes I come across an unknown opening, sometimes a player type I’ve never had before. It is important that I analyse each game of chess for strengths and weaknesses.

SVS: In junior tournaments, it looks like your stronger opponents come from India, China and Russia. Do have any idea on why is that?

VK: Russia is traditionally strong in chess. Chess has been very popular in India ever since they had a chess world champion in the country with Viswanathan Anand. And my peers from India, for example, can be chess professionals while I am mainly a pupil.

SVS: Which young player you played impressed you as the strongest?

VK: I like all good games and interesting positions, no matter who’s my partner.

Vincent Keymer analyses with GM Artur Jussupow during the tournament where he made his 3rd IM norm (2017) (Photo from the Chess Tigers Training Center website)

SVS: Can you tell us something about GM Jussupow? How do you work with him?

VK: I haven’t been training with Artur Jussupow for a few months now. Maybe we didn’t fit so well together. .

[A/N: In the interview given in November 2017 to DSB President Ullrich Kraus, Vincent answered: “I have been training with Artur Jussupow for a little over a year now. He has also supported me at many tournaments and helped me prepare for the match, including in Apolda when I played my third IM standard. But after some time we realized that we approach chess very differently and therefore recently finished the training. Maybe Artur is more of a coach for stronger players than I am. I’ve been training with Sergey Ovseevich for a few years now and with him I have a trainer who’s known me for a long time.”]

[UnoScacchista: since November 2017 (just after officially being awarded with the IM title), Vincent’s trainer is the Hungarian GM Péter Lékó]

SVS: We know you had the chance to meet and speak in person with Garry Kasparov. What impression did he make on you?

VK: Garry Kasparov was really impressive. He appeared extremely composed, concentrated and full of energy.

SVS: How do you feel the positions on the chessboard?

VK: I like positions where I have good plans and ideas, but I think it’s probably something everybody likes.

SVS: Your preference: classic, rapid or blitz?

VK: Right now, I’m more focused on classic of course.

SVS: In an article you were called the “Chess Pieces Whisperer”. How was it for you?

VK: I read very little of what is written about me.

SVS: You’ve been receiving a lot of media attention lately. How do you and your friends handle it?

VK: The media attention is of little use to me for chess itself. That’s why I try to spend as less time as possible with this attention. Accordingly, media interest does not play a major role in my “normal” life.

SVS: I am sure you have already traveled abroad a few times: where would you really like to go in the future? Which place did you like most and how many languages do you speak?

VK: I learn English and French as foreign languages at school. It’s good to be able to discuss the game with the opponents in English after the matches. I was not able to do that in the past at the tournaments abroad. I am not primarily interested in certain sights, but rather in the atmosphere of the places and countries. And in the food …

SVS: Do you practice other sports than chess and what is your favourite hobby?

VK: I actually like all ball sports. Recently I bought a racing bike because I like to ride. But at the moment the weather is more suitable for skating! (A/N: at the time of the interview it was snowing all over Germany)

SVS: The CASTLE EU project is currently attracting worldwide attention due to its results and its attempts to establish chess in schools. Russia has recently declared to include chess and the EU chess certificate in its teacher training. What is your opinion and how do you see the stand in Germany?

VK: I am sure that many students would benefit from chess as a school subject. However, I do not know where the teachers and trainers for teacher training in Germany are supposed to come from.

SVS: Thank you very much, Vincent, and many thanks to your parents for helping me out with this interview.

VK: Thanks to you.

If you had met Vincent in Karlsruhe, as I did after the third round of the Grenke Open, you would have been surprised very quickly. He seems calm, almost detached, his sentences are very short but concise in content. Also I could observe a peculiar behaviour: Vincent visibly revives, appears completely open and almost enthusiastic as soon as the questions are directed at chess and chess games.

But Vincent, like other boys of his age, plays football (more in the interview), also plays piano, handball, rides a bicycle and attends a high school. The sport helps him to balance, he says, and turns back to the computer on which other boys watch and analyse games. Most of the time he doesn’t talk so much about chess with his friends, but this doesn’t seem to be a great problem for Vincent at the moment.

At the age of 10 his most important goal for the year was to win against a GM: target achieved (and exceeded) with ease…

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