Suffolk Magazine Interview

My thanks to the East Anglian Daily Times Suffolk Magazine for their permission to reproduce here the interview that appeared near the back page of their November 2003 issue. The questions (in bold print) were posed by the well known Suffolk journalist, Laura Scamponi.The magazine is glossy and beautifully produced. It has its own website:


Grandmaster chess player Jonathan Levitt recently moved to Kesgrave, near Ipswich, from London with wife Tinni and baby son Nicholas. Educated at University College School and Magdalen College, Oxford he has co-written two books on the game – ‘Bobby Fischer: The $5,000,000 Comeback’ and ‘Secrets of Spectacular Chess’. He is also the author of ‘Genius in Chess’.

Did you have a role-model when you were growing up?
No. I came to terms with the fact that I'm me quite early in life and never wanted to be anyone else. These days anybody rich, good looking, healthy and young would do.

You did a Maths degree at Oxford University - what was that like?
It was great apart from the maths.

Do you have a favourite author?
I've read all of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries - and there are quite a few - so I must like him. For me, good writing has real content, an easy flow, a total lack of pomposity and a way of rising above the words...playing with them almost, rather than being restricted by them. Stout always delivers on all those fronts.

How does one become a Grandmaster?
Practice I guess...Officially the world chess federation (FIDE) confers the title when you reach a certain rating and have achieved at least three grandmaster results in the right type of tournaments. I got my title a decade ago. England now has about 30 active Grandmasters. I think I'm the only one in Suffolk.

Chess and its players have quite a low profile compared to other games (if you choose to define it in this way.) Would you like to see a few more column inches devoted to your game?
Absolutely not! Society needs that space for sex scandals, astrology and soap-opera analysis.

Is chess a science, an art or a sport?
It is what it is however people categorise it. When you compete in a tournament it seems more like a sport than anything else. It's about mustering your fighting spirit and trying to get your brain working in top gear at the critical moments. Sometimes, when things go well, you can see a beautiful idea emerge out of the fog of war and then you might produce an artistic game, but it's not what you are setting out to do.

Why do you play chess?
Oh! Lots of reasons. An intellectual buzz, testing my limits, love of the game, money. Bobby Fischer once said he played because he enjoyed smashing the other guy's ego. To be honest I'm not always sure why I play. Sometimes I just enjoy it.

Were you surprised to be asked to play for England in the European Team Championships this year?
Yes, totally shocked! The last time I played for England was in Reykjavik, 1990 when I was a much stronger player than I am now. I'm a little out of practice these days and my health is poor (in 2002 I was diagnosed with a rare arthritic type condition known as scleroderma). Quite a few players are above me on the rating list but for various reasons none of them made themselves available for selection. So off I went to Plovdiv in Bulgaria as part of a five grandmaster team.

Do you make your living playing chess?
Not now. I do various things including stockmarket 'gambling'. I used to spend half the year living out of a suitcase travelling around the world playing tournaments but these days I do more writing and teaching. Apart from a lot of magazine articles I've written two serious chess books, one on the aesthetics of the game and one on the psychology of top players. I do teach, both in schools and privately, and for that purpose I can be contacted through my website:

Which adjectives best describe you?
Middle-aged and grizzly.

Do you like living in Suffolk?
I only moved here a few months ago, but so far yes I do. It's nice being able to drive not too far and have lunch at a beautiful riverside pub. It's a fresh, clean environment compared to London and generally people are friendlier and less aggressive. It's nice to have a garden too (we had a flat in London before). I spend half my time in front of a computer screen so it doesn't matter that much to me but all in all it seems a much better place to bring up the Nickopotamus (my son Nicholas is 17 months old). My wife prefers it here too.

Would you encourage little Nicholas to become a Grandmaster chess player?
If he chooses to strive in that direction I'll be more than happy to help but I'm not intending to push him. A little chess is probably good for everybody, but a life of chess is only for those with their heads geared a certain way.

Where's your favourite spot in Suffolk?
Judging by how often I go there, it must be the two for the price of one counter at my local Kesgrave Tesco.

Is there anything that really annoys you?
Stupid people in positions of power making bad decisions that make the world a worse place. I can understand the motives behind outright corruption so general crassness annoys me more.

Is there a Jonathan Levitt motto or mantra?
I like General Patton's advice to his troops just before battle: ‘The idea boys - is not die for your country, but to have the enemy die for theirs.’ If I were sufficiently confident and arrogant I might share Garry Kasparov's motto: 'If not me then who?'

What gives you the most pleasure?
Curling up on the sofa and watching a good movie, reading an exciting book, humour, good food, cricket, winning at chess, watching Nicholas develop. Life is not as good as it was before I got my medical problems, but there are still plenty of nice moments.



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