After finishing my graduate school a month ago, I could really relate how hard it was to keep competing professionally while maintaining my school’s grade. But for Le Quang Liem, it is as if ain’t no mountain high enough. Since summer 2011, Liem has joined the 2700 group and showed relatively stable performance in the elite level despite being a full-time student at Webster University, USA under Susan Polgar Chess Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) program. Personally speaking, Liem also made a respectful role model for his teammates at Webster University. When all these features on and off the board are being checked,  it is almost impossible to have a second thought for having him for my first interview post here.

Hi Liem, Happy New Year! Please do tell us how you spent your New Year’s Eve
Happy New Year! After the Pan American Intercollegiate Chess Championship which ended in New Orleans, LA on December 30th, I immediately took a flight the following morning to Vietnam to visit my family. Therefore, I celebrated my New Year’s Eve on the plane.

Any resolutions for 2017 that you want to share us?
Establish a healthier lifestyle, get in shape physically and mentally to prepare for the exciting challenges in 2017.

Besides being a chess professional, what else do you do in the meantime?
I am also a senior at Webster University. I expect to graduate in May 2017 with double degrees: Bachelor of Science in Finance and Bachelor of Arts in Management. Being a full-time student and a chess professional at the same time requires a huge amount of time and effort. I am happy that I have so far excelled in both fields.

Webster University victorious in the 2016 Pan American Intercollegiate Championship, New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo by: Paul Truong

The Pan American Chess Championship in New Orleans last month was won by 2 teams from Webster University, as a captain for Webster A, how did you see your personal and team performances there? What could have been better?
All the Webster teams performed incredibly well, particularly the A- and B- teams. I am proud to say that all team members had given their best effort before and during the tournament, and our team result probably exceeded everyone’s expectations. As for my personal performance, I feel that I could have done much better than 2 wins and 4 draws. I was never in any danger of losing, but I also did not manage to capitalize on all the opportunities I had. This is certainly an area I should improve for future tournaments.

What are your insights on Carlsen-Karjakin match in November 2016? Do you think FIDE should amend the tie-break rule in the World Match Championships?
This match had some interesting moments, but for the most parts both players were overcautious. From an audience perspective, I can understand the desire for more exciting chess, and the reluctance to see the match being decided in rapid games. I have not given much thought to the tie-break rules of the World Championship Matches, but my impression is that FIDE should change the format in a way that makes chess more marketable while retaining the traditional values of the World Championship title.

Being born in Vietnam, living in the US, and competing in numerous countries, according to your experience, do you see any difference of characteristic from chess players from different continents?
Yes, there are some differences. Chess players from different continents often have different styles based on their chess cultures. For example, Asian chess players tend to focus more on tactics and looking for original ideas, while their European colleagues are more positional and theory-driven. American players’ style is probably somewhere in the middle of the two abovementioned. However, these differences are blurring as chess knowledge travels around the globe, and most people use the same computer programs to assist them in studying chess nowadays.

In 2015, Liem was chosen to be in Vietnam Top 30 under 30 years old and being covered on FORBES magazine

I remember you told me that you’ll be participating in the World Cup this year. How many times have you played in the event? What was your best result so far? And how do you see yourself preparing for the one this year?
I have participated in every World Cup since 2007, so this year will mark my 6th time. My best result was in 2013 when I got as far as round 4 (16 players). To prepare for the World Cup this year, I am going to have serious training sessions with my coaches and teammates at Webster University. I also plan to participate in a few strong open tournaments prior to World Cup to get myself in good shape.

Would you recommend us your must-read chess books?
My System (Nimzowitsch), Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual, Winning Chess Tactics (Seirawan), and an opening book of your choice.

How much time do you spend on chess on daily basis?
As a full-time student, I have to balance my time between chess and university studies. Therefore, I do not have as much time for chess as I wish to. On average, I now spend only about 1-2 hours on chess every day.

How do you process your calculation when particular position arises, both in sharp and closed positions?
In general, I often apply my intuition and positional understanding in all types of positions arising over the board. I put myself in my opponent’s shoes to get an objective evaluation, and attempt to find strategical plans and ideas for both sides. Concrete calculation is definitely needed to support a decision, but one cannot calculate every possible scenario in each move. Therefore, I only try to calculate as deeply as I can in certain circumstances, e.g. in sharp positions where I sense some forcing tactics and combinations. In closed positions, it is more important to have a maneuvering plan.

Liem as the 2013 World Blitz Champion!

What do you think most people miss in their learning process that impede them from improving?
Many people fear uncertainty so much that they rarely step out of their comfort zone. When chess players are that risk-averse, they do not want to experience new openings or playing styles, or simply different types of tournaments. That is exactly the moment they stop improving because they do not give themselves an opportunity to adapt and maximize their potential talent. Being able and willing to learn new things in chess is critical to everyone’s success.

QUICK CHECK+
Computer or books? Books
Mikhail Tal or Tigran Petrosian? Tigran Petrosian
World chess champion or start-up millionaire? World chess champion
USA or Vietnam? I consider both my home countries
Judit Polgar or Hou Yifan? Hou Yifan
Qh6 or Nh5? Nh5

For his remarkable achievements and contribution to his country, Liem was invited to join the torch relay in Vietnam for the London Olympics in 2012

Thank you, Liem! Beyond-chess wishes you a successful 2017 🙂

For more news and pictures, please see Liem’s personal website at liemchess.com