Player Profile: Jeremy Silman
US Chess reported that IM Jeremy Silman died September 21, 2023 after a long illness. In remembrance, we present the following player profile from the June 15, 1988 edition of Inside Chess Magazine Vol. 1, Issue 12.
Player Profile: IM Jeremy Silman
by Paul Eggers
Here’s author Dorothy Parker on writing: “No one likes doing it, but everyone likes having done it.” Here’s Jeremy Silman on chess: “I love it. When one tournament’s done, I’m ready for the next one.” So much for Dorothy Parker. And so much for those would write off the 34-year-old IM-elect and author of 14 chess books as a past-his-prime scribbler.
For Jeremy Silman is more than the Fred Reinfeld of the ’80s. After a decade of playing at what observers agree to be IM strength, the California master made his third and final IM norm last December at the Roy Ervin Memorial in San Francisco, going 6 out of 6 in the last half of the 13-round tournament. The guy can play. Look at his results in the National Open. In ’83 he tied for second; in ’82 he had second to himself. Need more convincing? Try this: equal first in the 1981 US Open.
That Silman is viewed more as a writer than a player is not surprising. Pick up a copy of Players Chess News from 1985 to mid-1986 and you’ll see Silman listed as editor. Then consider the aforementioned statistic about chess books authored. Fourteen. That’s as many as a lot of weekend warriors own.
There’s more. Flip through some recent chess magazines and you’ll invariably run across a Silman by-line. Check out ads for chess videos and – sure enough – there’s Silman again (Chess: A Winner’s Strategy, parts one and two).
While Silman the writer may be more well-known than Silman the player, his strength has never been doubted by the pros on the circuit. He’s known for his opening preparation, honed during his PCN stint, in which he wrote frequent theoreticals. Yet Silman finds this aspect of his game wanting. Says he: “I always think my openings are pathetic. But then you find that no one else knows them well, either. I’d say I have a good IM-level knowledge of openings.”
Once out of the opening, Silman sees himself as a counterpuncher. Not surprisingly, he has good results against attackers, including a +3, = 4 score against GM Nick deFirmian, known for his aggressive style.
Spiraling to the Top
Silman’s career has been as wobbly as a forward pass from Joe Kapp, he of the improbable TD tosses some years back. As with many American non-GM players well past the age of consent, Silman nearly found himself blindsided by the ’70s. “Back when I became a professional in ’73,” Silman says, “chess players really were the starving artists. I slept on floors and lived hand to mouth, but still played pretty good chess. I went to England in ’78 to get a title. In my first tournament I got an IM norm, but then I ran out of money.”
Soon he was back in the US, living the precarious life he had hoped a title would enable him to leave behind. Throughout the lean years, Silman admits to sometimes losing sight of his goal. But as befits a man who has written 14 books, Silman possesses unnerving drive and energy. Now he lifts weights and plays racquetball to excise tension. Back then he experimented.
“In 1980,” recalls Silman, “I switched from l.e4 to 1.d4. Anytime you make a major change like that you’re going to lose a lot at first. And I did. But after I got used to it I started scoring well again. In ’82 I reached my peak. I was playing at a 2570 clip, but then the usual life experiences brought it down and I dropped a lot of points.
“So I became an editor at PCN. It paid the bills and all the writing got my theory back. I thought it’d be a good chance to get my game together, but it really wasn’t. I can’t remember who, but some GM once said that the best way to destroy your game is to write about it. You lose your practicality. He was right. I went from being a player to being a writer.”
But Silman the player won out over Silman the writer and teacher. He left PCN after a year, eager to play, and a year later had made two IM norms in San Francisco events. He had by this time also met his current fiance, Gwen Feldman, a book-store dealer and chess photographer. “I owe my resurgence to Gwen,” says Silman, whose schedule now includes chess teaching. “She likes it when I play. When she comes home she asks me if I’ve studied that day.”
These days the answer is invariably Yes, from two to five hours a day. From 1982 to late last year – had anyone asked – the answer would have been No. The difference is a renewed ambition to achieve the GM title. “I asked Larsen about what it takes to make GM,” says Silman. “He told me that most IMs don’t really want it. They’re happy being IMs. You need to travel and play and keep on traveling and playing.” With a European chess tour planned for next January, Silman aims to do just that.
He also aims to keep his perspective on the game. “If I had a kid,” says Silman, “I’d slap his hand away from the chessboard. It can be a tough life.” If experience shapes the man, then Silman’s long road to success has inculcated him with a thoughtful approach to the Royal Game. “If you’re a serious player, you’ve got to realize there’s an ebb and flow to chess. It’s not a linear progression, no matter how much you want it to be. My first rating was 1068, when I was 12 years old. After four tournaments, I went to 1600 stength. At 16, I made class-A, but I thought I couldn’t get any better. I was going to quit.
“So I played in one more tournament. It was going to be my swansong. But I played incredibly – about 2300 level. I played a wonderful combination”:
Liddell – Silman
1…Bf4+ 2.Bg3 Ng4+ 3.hxg4 Qxg4 4.Bf1 Qh4+ 5.Bh3 Bd7 6.Kh1 Bxg3 7.Rxg3 Qxg3 8.Bxd7 Qe1+ 9.Kh2 Qe2+ 0-1
“In the last round I drew a 2350. Then I went to the California Open, did really well, and, whammo, I’m playing again. “When you hit a new level, your mind seems to shift. But then it can shift back, and you’re not sure why.”
Though Silman’s over-the-board fortunes have shifted, his on-the-shelf success remains bedrock. As one might expect, he has definite opinions about the best books on the market. Says he: “Think Like a Grandmaster, by Kotov, teaches you how to evaluate. The Art of the Middlegame, by Keres and Kotov, teaches you how to defend difficult positions. Vukovic’s The Art of the Attack teaches you how to attack. Petrosian’s Life and Games teaches you how one of the greats played. Reassess Your Chess, my book by Thinker’s Press, teaches you how to think – how to tear apart your game and build it back up again.” In close second to Reassess Your Chess – “a labor of love,” says its author – Silman picks Chess Endings: Move by Move (Chess Digest) as one of the most instructive books he’s written.
So how does he find time to write so much and still play? Drive, yes. Simple economics, too. For Silman’s climb to the IM title has been a largely solitary task. The effort has informed his views on chess politics. As is the case with many of his non-GM contemporaries, his relations with the USCF have been, well, consistent.
“The USCF is an insult,” says Silman. “They do nothing for the top players. There’s money there, but they have no idea how to approach business or sponsors. Look at the situation now. The top players might get $50 for tieing for second. The B and C players get $300 for a class prize. This isn’t good. If I’d been given support years ago – a GM trainer, money – I might’ve been a GM at 20. As it is, they’re doing nothing for chess in the US.”
For his part, Silman continues doing what he’s known for – writing, playing, and, as shown by the examples below, winning.
de Firmian,Nick (2200) – Silman,Jeremy (2310)
Lone Pine (4), 1976
Ruy Lopez [C92]
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.h3 Qd7!? 10.d4 Re8 11.Nbd2 Bf8 12.d5 Ne7 13.c4 c6 14.a4 bxc4 15.dxc6
15.Nxc4 cxd5! is a strong Exchange sacrifice.
15…Qxc6 16.Nxc4 Be6 17.Na5 Bxb3 18.Qxb3 Qc7 19.Bd2 Rab8 20.Qc3 Qb6 21.Nc4 Qc6 22.Qd3
If 22.Na5 then …Qa8.
22…Ng6 23.Nh2 d5 24.exd5 Nxd5 25.Rac1 Ndf4 26.Qg3 Bb4!! 27.Nf3
If 27.Nfxe5 then Qxg2+!!
27…Bxd2 28.Nfxd2 Nh4! 29.Ne4
29…Nhxg2 30.Ncd6 Nxe1 31.Nf6+ Kf8 32.Nxh7+ Ke7 33.Nf5+ Kd7 34.Rxe1 Qg6 35.Ng5 Qxg5! 0-1
SM Roy Ervin – Jeremy Silman
San Francisco 1976
Sicilian Dragon [B70]
1.Nf3 c5 2.g3 Nc6 3.Bg2 g6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Bg7 6.Nb3 Nf6 7.Nc3 d6 8.0-0 0-0 9.h3 Bd7 10.e4 Ne5 11.a4 Rc8 12.Nd4 a6 13.Nce2 Bc6! 14.f4 Ned7 15.Nxc6 bxc6 16.Be3 Rb8 17.b3 c5 18.Rb1 Qc7 19.c4 Rfc8! 20.Qd3 Nf8 21.g4 Ne6 22.g5 Nd7 23.Kh1 Nd4! 24.Nxd4 cxd4 25.Bxd4 Bxd4 26.Qxd4 Rb4 27.Qd1 Rcb8 28.e5! dxe5 29.f5 gxf5 30.Rxf5 e6 31.Rf1 Nc5 32.Qh5 Rxb3 33.Rbe1 Nd3!!? 34.Be4 f5! 35.gxf6 Nf4 36.Rxf4 exf4 37.Rg1+ Rg3 38.Rxg3+ fxg3 39.Qg5+ Kh8 40.f7 g2+! 0-1
The point. If 41.Kg1 then 41…Qb6+ and …Qb2.
Jeremy Silman – SM Alan Pollard
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 5.Nf3 Nbd7 6.Qc2 Bd6 7.e4 dxe4 8.Nxe4 Nxe4 9.Qxe4 c5 10.Bg5 Qa5+ 11.Bd2 Qc7
11…Qb6!? may be better.
12.0-0-0 Nf6 13.Qh4 cxd4
13…Bd7 14.dxc5 Bxc5 15.Bc3 gives White control of e5. The text, though weakening White’s control of the center, allows White various tactical threats based on an eventual Nb5 or c4-c5.
14.Nxd4 Bd7 15.Kb1 a6?!
Better is 15…e5 though after 16.Nb5 (16.Nc2 Bf5) 16…Bxb5 17.cxb5 White wouid have a definite edge due to his two Bishops and attacking chances against Black’s King.
16.Bd3 0-0-0 17.c5! Be5
17…Bxc5 18.Rc1 is bad, as is 17 Be7 18.c6! Bxc6 19.Nxc6 Rxd3 (19 bxc6 20.Bxa6+) 20.Nxe7+ Qxe7 21.Qc4+.
18…Bxc6 19.Nxc6 Rxd3 20.Nxe5 Qxe5 21.Qc4+.
19.cxd7+ Qxd7 20.Ba5!
Black should now sac with 20…e5.
20…g5? 21.Qg3 Nd5? 22.Rc1+ 1-0