Interview of Duncan Suttles, Grandmaster

By Suleman Jamal

February, 1994

Duncan Suttles was born in San Francisco CA in 1945. He was an IM at age 22 and Canada's second GM at 27. He is well known for his creative play and is one of the strongest players in Canadian chess history.

Q: Which players have most influenced your style?

A: No single player. I read a book by Nimzovitch. He was the only one I can remember that had an influence.

Q: Your style has been called unorthodox. Please comment.

A: It's basically a variation of hypermodern style. It involves the flank openings such as the Pirc and Modern defenses.It involves controlling the center from the wings, using the pawns a lot and maintaining a very fluid structure. The style is successful because your opponents are given a wide freedom of choice and often underestimate the position. The style does not restrict the opponents play. This could be both positive and negative. It gives the opponent more of a chance to go wrong.

Q: Can you elaborate more on the issue of style?

A: Some players like to restrict the opponent and his choices. I don't believe that it is necessary ... With the style I play, there is the danger that if you overlook something, that the other side could gain a huge advantage. It's difficult because you are creating a very large number of possibilities and an error could lead to a large advantage for the other player. Other players restrict the number of possibilities and have more control. Also, with my style, the space advantages are exaggerated. It is strategically possible to have a space advantage without being able to convert it. An exaggerated space advantage may make your opponent overconfident. Petrosian, for instance, was a very creative player. He was more interesting than some of the others. His style was similar to mine, not necessarily in the use of flank or hypermodern openings but in his philosophical approach. He wasn't a player who always had to have the initiative. I like his slow strategic maneuvering and continual anticipation. He would allow his opponent to try something and it would always fail except when his opponent was very strong. There is no consensus about the best style. Different players have a different view of the game. It's hard to describe. Some players believe there is objectively a best move. I don't subscribe to that because the margin of draws is very high. If there was an absolute best move then there would be many more decisive results. Also I don't believe that restricting the number of responses is necessarily the best way of getting an advantage.

Q: What factors constitute talent?

A: Talent for chess probably has to do with some spatial abilities in terms of projecting a number of moves forward. There are different types of talent: positional, tactical, etc. It may be as diverse as the number of styles of the players playing the game. It probably involves memory and calculation ..(pause) .. hard to quantify.

Q: Who are your three favorite players in terms of creativity?

A: I like Lasker's play .. Fischer. Who else? ...Nimzovitch was a creative player too.

Q: What was it like to play Fischer?

A: It was very interesting. Don't ask me about the result though.I was happy that I was able to do something. In the first game, I missed some opportunities. Although I played well strategically, my technique was lacking in both games.

Q: What about Karpov?

A: ...Same thing...I lost because of a technical lapse. The games (against Fischer and Karpov) are very similar in the openings. I did not lose the game in the opening and I was satisfied with the strategic outcome of those games. There are other players whom I have had a much harder time with. I did poorly against players who were technically solid .. players who didn't try to achieve much. For example, against Geller, I may have lost a game without putting up a fight. There the psychological factor comes into play. I would screw up out of frustration. I found, the more creative the player, the more I rose to the occasion.

Q: What is your opinion on the Fischer comeback?

A: Well, I was very, very happy to see him play again. I think he did very well.

Q: What would you rate his strength at?

A: Well, he's only played the one match. I believe from what I have seen that on a strategic level, he is unmatched. He may be.. there were some technical lapses which are to be expected after a prolonged absence. I believe that were he able to recover some of his technique that he would be the strongest player. In fact I believe that his play from a strategic point of view is stronger than it was when he left. It showed a lot of thought. He wasn't sitting on his hands during that long absence.

Q: There have been mixed reviews on that one.

A: There was a stylistic change. There is less of a direct method. When he played before, he was much younger. It was the force of his personality that carried him through. What you're looking at here is somebody who probably has a greater understanding of the game than he ever had and he knows that he cannot just by force alone push through certain things and it shows up as a refinement of his strategical thinking in the game. Unfortunately, maybe people misinterpreted a few lapses in technique as weakness when in fact you see progress in the strategic side.

Q: Did you go over all of the games?

A: I did analyses of several games in depth. Some of the comments made on them were quite superficial. The games he lost were very finely balanced. They weren't anywhere near as one sided as the media made them out to be. Comments that he was crushed simply weren't true. In fact the games were consistently of a much higher caliber than the candidates matches being held concurrently.

Q: What do you think is the future of Chess?

A: I am sure that the computer will be World Champion strength in one or two years. I don't know what effect it will have on the game.

Q: How long do you think Kasparov will last as champion?

A: I don't see a real contender at the moment -- unless Fischer decides to play. I think he is more likely to be beaten by a computer than a person.

Q: Why hasn't the development of Canadian chess parallelled that of US chess?

A: People put money into US chess to support it. I suppose it is easier to attract wealthy sponsors when you're near the top. Also the US has attracted strong Russian immigrants. Don't forget, in the early 70's J.G. Prentice was a strong financial supporter of the CFC. The CFC was very supportive of Olympiads and Prentice was the principal financier. When he died there was no replacement.

Q: Why did you retire?

A: I had other interests: I became involved in stocks and in computer programming. I quit because I felt I had developed a satisfactory strategic understanding of the game and whatever improvement remained was in technique. This would require a lot of effort for minimal returns.

Q: Have you heard from Biyiasis?

A: Yes. I saw him six months ago. He is living in California and has a family. He too has retired and is in computers. Our careers have followed parallel paths.

Q: Let's talk about your company.

A: The company is International Chess Enterprises. It is a public company listed on the Vancouver Stock Exchange. We publish the magazine Inside Chess and several books. We also market several chess products. The company's largest shareholder is GM Yasser Seirawan. I am also working with IBIS technology Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of International Chess Enterprises. We develop software products. We also intend to go into interactive multiplayer computer games.

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