Exclusive Interview | Chess Journalist and Photographer 'David Llada' with 'The Philox'

David Llada is a famous chess journalist and photographer. He shares his view on the popularity of chess in India, challenges in chess journalism, his magnum opus etc. with 'The Philox'.

Published on - 30 January, 2023

David Llada is a chess journalist and photographer from Spain. He is known for his coverage of major chess events and for his photographs of top players. Llada has covered many events including the World Chess Championship, the Chess Olympiad, and the European Team Chess Championship. Currently, he is Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at the International Chess Federation (FIDE). He is also the author of the book "The Thinkers".

Q1. Many are afraid to make their career in their field of chess let alone in any niche area of it. What led you to drive your career in chess journalism?

I grew up in a small place where there was no chess club or anyone teaching chess in schools. I was very enthusiastic about chess since I first learned about the game, but obviously, there were important limitations for me to become a player. Somehow, it came out naturally that I filled up this gap. At age 13, I was already teaching chess at the schools in this small town, and that became my first paid job. Shortly after, with the arrival of the internet, I also started writing about chess at a time when all the biggest telecoms were launching large projects like web portals. I was in the right place at the right time, and somehow this turned into a career.

Q2. Is there any particular player and particular match from the past you would want to take a picture of?

I guess the Fischer-Spassky match in 1972 is one that every sports photographer in the world would have loved to photograph. There are not enough pictures of it! But my time-travel dreams are mostly related to Mikhail Tal. He was such a charismatic figure that I would happily trade half the pictures I have taken for one good portrait of him!

Q3. How do you see the role of photography and journalism in promoting and growing the popularity of chess?

Contrary to my chess journalism career, which started almost by pure chance, my immersion into photography was a very conscious decision. I realised that chess' main problem was its lack of visibility, and in that, I think something that played a big role is that it was very poorly presented in pictures and videos. If we want chess to take the place in society that we believe it deserves, it is not enough to have photos/photographers "as good as in other sports". We need to have BETTER photos/photographers than other sports. So I set to it.

Q4. How do you see the future of chess coverage, do you see a shift to more online coverage in the future? Will there be another magnum opus of yours "The Thinkers : Online Edition"?

Well, nowadays, the coverage of chess events, or anything related to current news, is mostly online. However, humans are social beings, so we still enjoy playing over the board, or visiting top tournaments to enjoy their atmosphere. Many people tend to see them as totally separate worlds, but there is strong feedback between online chess and over the board.

As for "The Thinkers", the second volume will be published this year. It is conceived as a beautiful object, a coffee table book, something you want to put your hands on it. Printed pictures give you a much stronger feeling than when you see them on your computer screen - let alone your smartphone screen. To me, the difference is like playing chess online, or playing over a beautiful wooden chess board. Online is convenient, and easier to consume, but it leaves you with a bit of a fast-food aftertaste. There are things you want to touch and hold in your hands - and that's what I tried with this book, printed in large format, with high-quality paper.

Q5. Can you share an example of a photo you took that you are particularly proud of and why it stands out to you?

There is a photo I took of Magnus Carlsen the day he became World Champion that I am particularly fond of. I believe it has both historical and aesthetic value - and that is not so easy to achieve. 

Q6. Can you tell us about a chess player or a moment in a match that you found particularly challenging to capture in a photograph?

There is not that much movement in a chess game, so if you want to capture the action, you must stay vigilant and grab the only few chances you will get. Usually, we are talking about something very subtle, like a stare or a micro gesture, that lasts a fraction of a second during a 5-hour game. Being patient and watchful is a must. Being familiar with the players also helps. 

Q7. Sagar Shah is a famous chess journalist in India. You met him several times. Do you believe his chess content has led many to inspire playing chess in India?

Many things came together to explain the current chess boom in India, starting with the colossal figure of Vishy Anand, and a considerable amount of support from the institutions. But Sagar Shah's role, and that of the people around him, is not to be underestimated. With their enthusiasm, love for chess, and generosity, they have been a driving force for chess in India - and not only. He is one of the most respected and loved chess personalities worldwide. 

Our team at 'The Philox' express heartfelt gratitude to 'David Llada' for accepting the invitation for this interview despite his hectic schedule.

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