An Exclusive U.S. Chess Trust Interview with Nick de Firmian by Jim Eade
CT: How did you learn to play chess? How old were you, and who were you biggest influences?
NdF: I learned to play chess one day when I was 5 years old and sick. My Uncle Phil came over that day and showed me the rules and patiently tried to play with me. Playing with my Uncle and family was all I did for many years, though later there were some games and even a small kid’s tournament at the YMCA.
CT: When you first started, where could you play? What was the organized chess scene like back when you first got involved? Where there multiple chess clubs or hang-outs?
NdF: I went to the Junior High chess club in Santa Barbara, and then when I was 15 years old I learned about the Santa Barbara chess club and the USCF. The reason was that Bobby Fischer was playing Boris Spassky for the World Championship, so all of America was learning about chess.
CT: When did you begin to suspect a life long love for the game was in the works, and what was it that attracted you to chess?
NdF: The Santa Barbara chess club was a great place and in 1972 there was a lot of activity. By 1973 I was winning class prizes consistently in the USCF tournaments. This seemed more fun than digging ditches and helping out at my father’s construction sites. Also some of us juniors were able to get beer in the chess club, so that was a pretty good deal.
I found chess fascinating and perhaps addictive. There was a good weekend tournament scene in Southern California and an active chess club in Santa Barbara. I loved seeing the games of Tal and Fischer and trying to find new ideas in the openings. So in 2 or 3 years I became a master and then went off to college.
CT: I have you finishing first in the US Championship in 1987, 1995. 1998 and 2002. Is that correct?
NdF: For the US Championships, I tied for first in 1987 and 1995, sole first 1998, in 2002, I tied for highest score but lost the blitz playoff to Larry C. and thus took no part of the title.
CT: You played on some successful Olympiad teams. What was that experience like? What was it like to play against a formidable team such as the old USSR ones? How did the competition change over the years, if it did?
NdF: Yes, it used to be great fun in the Olympiads. We Americans almost always did better than our ranking, with several silver and bronze medal finishes. The match with the Soviet Union was always a great event, as they were by far the best team and also still the “evil empire.” I won my individual game a couple of times in these encounters and sometimes the US would score a team upset of the Soviets. Now there is no single super team, though the Russians are still very strong.
CT: You decided to turn pro after college, and you have been a successful one. If you hadn’t, what do you think you’d be doing today? What would your advice be to a talented young player today faced with the decision of whether to turn pro?
NdF: Going pro after college wasn’t something I had planned, but it was so interesting and so much fun to travel around the world playing chess that I just fell into it. Today it’s harder to suggest a young man should choose chess as a profession as there seems to be less money or opportunity in America for a chess player. Still, if one can break into the top 10 in the world then it’s a good lifestyle.
CT: What was your most memorable game?
NdF: My most memorable game is my game against Miles in the 1990 Manila Interzonal for which I won the brilliancy prize. I like games with lots of sacrifices and action, like the player that inspired me when I was a teenager, Mikhail Tal.
(652401) Miles, Anthony J (2595) – De Firmian, Nick E (2560) [E38]
Manila Interzonal Manila (6), 1990
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 c5 5.dxc5 Na6 6.a3 Bxc3+ 7.Qxc3 Nxc5 8.f3 d5 9.cxd5 b6 10.b4 Na4 11.Qb3 b5 12.e4 a6 13.Ne2 0–0 14.Bg5 h6 15.Bh4 exd5 16.e5 Re8 17.f4 g5 18.Bf2 Ne4 19.Bd4 Be6 20.Qf3 Rc8 21.f5 Bd7 22.Ng3 Rxe5 23.Be2 Qe8 24.Nh5 Rxf5 25.Qe3 Rc3 26.Bxc3 Naxc3 27.Bg4 d4 28.Qxd4 Nc5+ 29.Kd2 Nb3+ 30.Kxc3 Nxd4 31.Bxf5 Qe3+ 32.Bd3 Bf5 33.Rad1 Ne2+ 34.Kc2 Qe5 35.Kd2 Qb2+ 36.Ke3 Bg4 37.Rd2 Qd4# 0–1
CT: If you had to choose one chess book as your favorite, which would it be?
NdF: Either “My System” or Fischer’s “My 60 Memorable Games.”
CT: You end up spending so much time with other American GMs over the years, I assume you end up with friendships, or at least mutual respect. What is it like playing against a friend over and over again in top competitions?
NdF: One makes good friends through chess – from all over the world. My fellow American players from the Olympic team – Christiansen, Benjamin, Fedorowicz, Seirawan- became good friends. One starts out in the early days as a competitor, but you quickly learn mutual respect.
CT: Has technology (Internet, databases etc.) fundamentally changed the game? Has it made life easier or more difficult for you as a professional?
NdF: Preparing for chess tournaments has become more structured and technical over the years with databases and programs. The world in general is more computerized. These days I don’t play so often. I still go to the Olympiads to coach the Bermuda team (and mix the rum swizzle). I spend a lot of time teaching young players in the New York area.
CT: How does it feel to be elected into the Hall of Fame? What are your future plans in chess?
NdF: I’m very happy to be elected to the hall of fame. I look forward to seeing friends there and drinking to some toasts!