QGD Video Course

The video course for my Chessable book Queen’s Gambit Declined: A Grandmaster Explains is out (and the link offers you a free 1 hour 20 minute lesson on it!)

It was hard work, but eventually I think it was worth it. In more than 8 hours of video I go through every single line of my proposed repertoire and explain all the subtleties of the move orders and typical plans and ideas. I paid particular attention to the tactical motifs I didn’t mention in the comments and also to the so-called problem moves that the readers found difficult while studying the repertoire on the platform.

The course consists of an Overview, which you can see on my YouTube Channel, and  5 videos, one for every chapter of the book. These are The Exchange Variation, the Main Line 5 Bg5 h6 6 Bh4, the Main Line 5 Bg5 h6 6 Bf6, the Main Line 5 Bf4 and the 5th Various moves by White.

What I liked about the recording of the videos is that we managed to do it in a really professional manner. I would like to thank David (the Chessable CEO) for his dedication and attention to detail – if it wasn’t for his professionalism the final product wouldn’t have looked that good!

I have limited experience when it comes to recording, but I also cannot deny that I liked the process. It was tough, yes, we filmed more than 8 hours of video in a day and a half, but there was something special being seated in front of a camera and addressing an invisible audience that I knew was listening and paying attention!

I already wrote that the repertoire is based on my own analysis and preparation. In the videos I tried to add a new dimension by providing explanations that I didn’t include in my written commentary. My readers have also played a big role in improving the repertoire as during the course of its use they have come up with various questions and I hope that my answers helped clarify their doubts.

Chessable is launching the video course today and you can even see a whole chapter as a free sample. The chapter on the Main Line 5 Bg5 h6 6 Bf6 is 1 hour and 20 minutes long – please take a look and see the work we’d done:

Queen’s Gambit Declined: A Grandmaster Explains

The link to the full course is here.
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A Very Busy Period

It has been quite some time since I posted here, but finally I am home and even though the period is set to continue, it is high I time I described what happened in the last almost 3 weeks.

Around the 20th of May I got a call from David, the CEO of Chessable, with an idea to come over to the UK and record the video material for my QGD repertoire book. It didn’t take me long to decide and already on the 24th of May I was at his place in Swindon sitting in front of the camera.

In a day and a half we managed to record more than 8 hours of video! I was completely exhausted, but hopefully we did a good job. In fact the launch of the video course is set for the next couple of days, so I will keep you informed.

On the Saturday, the 26th of May, we went to Basingstoke to play the 4NCL Basingstoke Congress. My initial plan was not to play, as I knew I would be tired, but since David and his friend Ram were going I tagged along. I took two byes as the tournament was with long time control (90’+30” to finish the game) with two rounds per day on Saturday, Sunday and Monday (we all took a bye in Round 1 on the Friday evening).

I enjoyed my play in Basingstoke. I liked how I felt during play, how my head was working. I missed some chances but in the penultimate round I was still poised to win and be only half a point behind the leader, GM Pert. And then something completely unexpected happened. At least for me, that is. I was playing the game well, reaching a technically winning position, which I managed to spoil a bit but then I obtained a winning position again. Then I saw the way to win, but I thought it’s possible to win in another way too, and alas, chose the wrong one… It was a draw, but I lost control and shockingly even lost the game. I was stunned. Everything pointed toward me winning the game, I was playing well, winning the game twice, the momentum was positive… and then I lost. I couldn’t understand it. I understood the chess mistake, of course, but from a higher perspective I just couldn’t fathom it. In fact, I still cannot. More thinking and analysis is required.

After Basingstoke I returned home for a couple of days before I embarked on another tournament, the Capo d’Orso open in Porto Mannu, on the island of Sardinia. The place is really a paradise. A huge resort with a perfect sandy beach, sounds of birds putting you to sleep, excellent food and great people. But things started very badly for me.

Some serious external factors affected me in Round 1 and I lost embarassingly. Then I got sick, headaches, sore-throat, stuffed nose and sinuses, cough. I was basically falling apart. But to my big surprise, my chess improved immensely. I won the next 4 games, then made a draw and won the next one against one of Italy’s brightest talents, GM Rambaldi. I believe it is one of my best games ever.

I still don’t know how I found it in me to play such a strong tour-de-force under the conditions I described.

In the next round I tried to put pressure on GM Marin’s French, but I didn’t get far. The same applies for the last round game against GM Movsziszian’s Pirc. These two players finished ahead of me while I shared 3rd place (4th by Bucholz).

In the end the tournament was a big success. While I am still suffering the health issues that plagued me, I am quite happy with how I played and how my head felt during play. Perhaps those studies and exercises I solved for almost a month before the tournament paid off?

I managed to follow the world events during this period, even though I didn’t have the time to write about them. The most important was Fabiano Caruana’s latest triumph, this time on the World Champion’s territory in Norway. In spite of losing to the Champion in Round 1, Caruana managed to win 3 games (most importantly in the last round against So) and win the tournament, quite against the odds I may add. This is Caruana’s third tournament victory this year and a second one ahead of Carlsen (Grenke and now in Norway). What amazes me is his psychological stability. Nakamura said that Caruana has good streaks and bad streaks, while Carlsen is constatly good. That may have changed already, with Caruana being constantly good ever since his bad Wijk. I am very curious to see how the rest of the year develops in this sense.

Caruana’s loss in Round 1 to Carlsen definitely feels good for the World Champion, but I wouldn’t attach too much importance to it (in fact, neither did Carlsen). Carlsen does have a positive score against Caruana and he also should have beaten him in Grenke, but I am certain Caruana will learn a lot from these games and won’t repeat the same mistakes.

Up next on the world scene is the Grand Chess Tour, this time without Carlsen. It will be fun to watch, but that’s pretty much about it when it comes to faster time controls.

My own plans for the summer are no less clogged up. I have been officially named the coach of Macedonia’s women’s team and we’re working hard to prepare for the Olympiad. A training camp is coming up over the weekend and then the work continues…

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Luck In Chess

This one is from my recent Inner Circle newsletter. If you like it, please subscribe to it by using the yellow form on the right.

 

Chess depends on you. – Bobby Fischer

Do I feel lucky? – Dirty Harry

I am a firm believer in Bobby Fischer’s quote. I believe that if you do the work and give your absolute best at the board, without any excuses, hidden or otherwise, you will be rewarded.

Fischer, as Carlsen today, won many games that would have otherwise been drawn if he didn’t keep on pushing, “giving his absolute best” at the board. Such players thoroughly deserve their “luck” when they win “dead drawn”  games.

This is not the “luck” I want to discuss, as I don’t actually consider it as such. This one fully depends on the player. What I would like to discuss is another type of luck that very often happens during the game. I will illustrate this with one example, even though there are countless situations with similar characteristics.

Let’s say that there is a position in front of us with two possiblities. The position is winning, but it is complex and requires serious calculation. In winning positions it is enough to find one way to win, but the complexity of the position won’t allow for an easy solution. Let us also assume that one move wins while the other doesn’t, but the calculation of both is very difficult and both moves look very tempting.

Here luck, defined as “success brought by chance”, comes to the fore. If you are lucky in that moment, you will start  your calculation with the correct move. You will calculate it, play it and you will win the game. You may check the other move as well, but once you’ve found a win you probably won’t bother much. End of the story.

But what happens if you’re not lucky? Then you will start your calculation with the other move, spend masses of time  and energy looking for the win that isn’t there and only then start checking the winnning move. Quite possibly you may end up in time-trouble so that there isn’t even a time to check the other move. Still, you may be able to navigate the complications and find the win, but the factors weighing against you are rather significant by this point and more often than not that will not happen.

You may even be less lucky. You may think you have found a win with the move that doesn’t win, and as you are about to play it you suddenly discover a hidden defence, then you go back to your calculations and go even deeper into the woods where there is no light. If you finally muster the will to abandon the move, in spite of it being so tempting and so close to winning, by the time you start calculating the winning move the external factors mentioned above will be even heavier and more aggravating.

So what does choosing the right move depend on? In situations as described above, your intuition should lead the way. But what if you just cannot decide, even with your finely tuned intuition? What if you don’t “feel” anything that would incline you towards one or the other? And sometimes even your intuition can deceive you!

What does then intuition depend on? Good form, good mood, the state of flow? How do you get to these states?

The bottom line is that we arrive at these ephemeral and elusive concepts that are the holy grail of every chess player’s quest for the perfect mindset. But nobody has even come close to a consistently reliable method how to induce this mindset.

As you can notice, I am not even considering the factor of the opponent, where a “lucky” day for you may mean that your opponent just grants you the win for no apparent reason. Is your opponent’s unlucky day a lucky day for you?

To be honest, I am not quite comfortable to attribute too much on luck in chess. But the situations as above are not at all rare and they affect the outcome of a game in a decisive matter.

For lack of a better word I use “luck” but the whole situation is much more complex and difficult to define. I hope to have managed to shed at least some light on it so that you can continue the analysis on your own and perhaps come up with some ideas.

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Ju Wenjun World Champion

It is perhaps the ultimate proof what FIDE thinks of chess and chessplayers – a World Championship match completely ignored. If the best players are ignored, then what do you think is left for the others?

If you wanted to follow the match, you had to put in some effort. In English, there was no media coverage, no live commentary, no press conferences. Sometimes it made me regret not learning Chinese. But at least I could get the moves.

I usually avoid political comments, but this time FIDE just went too far. They are so concerned about the elections in September, worrying and protecting their own interests, that the definition of it being a World Chess Federation is suspended. Gens una sumus? Doesn’t look like it.

Going back to chess, the match was quite an exciting one. There were 5 (!) decisive games in the first 6 of the match! Then things calmed down a bit as Ju Wenjun learned how to keep things under control.

It seemed to me that Ju Wenjun was clearly the better player. She won her games because she played better than Tan, she lost when she blundered badly. This reminds me of Kasparov’s conclusion about his losses to Karpov in one of his matches – he concluded that he was losing only when blundering badly. Once he stopped blundering, he stopped losing. This is what happened in the second half of the match in China – Ju learned how to avoid the blunders and that was basically the end of the match because Tan couldn’t outplay her. In fact, Ju could have won one or two more games and the score would have been quite convincing then. The final score of 5.5-4.5 doesn’t reflect her domination.

Ju’s best game was the third one, after which she led 2.5-0.5.

The stronger player won and one of the strongerst women players in the world is now a World Champion. If only FIDE would acknowledge the fact and pay respect by more than just posting it on their website.

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An Idea from Cuba

More than 10 years ago I was really looking forward to May and spring. It meant going to Cuba to play the Capablanca Memorial.

I played in Cuba in 2005 and 2007. I freely admit that big part of the Cuban attraction lay in the exotic nightlife and the great fun to be had in the surreal atmosphere of Havana. What great times they were!

This year’s Capablanca Memorial has again an open tournament and a double-round robin elite event alongside. While browsing through the games I noticed this very interesting idea in the Rossolimo Sicilian. It was played by my friend GM Yuri Gonzalez.

Ideas come easily in surroundings that are susceptible to their creation. For me Cuba was an attack on all my senses and understanding of how things should be done. It took me some time to get used to it, but once I did, it was just going with the flow. Here’s an exciting game from 2005, played after meeting Ozyris the previous night.

Thinking of Cuba always makes me smile. For me it was indeed Cuba Libre, in all possible senses. And I suppose spring will always remind me of Cuba.

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Inspirational Quotes

This post is somewhat off-topic and not directly chess-related. I do believe, however, that the better a person is (or becomes) the better the quality of his or her life. And that, eventually, will also lead to better chess.

The text below is taken from my newsletter, from time to time I send my readers inspirational quotes like the ones below. They do help me, so I hope they also help my readers. Just to remind you, if you like what you’re reading, please feel welcomed to enter my Inner Circle by using the yellow form on the right.

 

I’ve just finished reading a book by my favourite non-fiction writer. I’ve mentioned him and his books before, Tim Ferriss and his The 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Body and The 4-Hour Chef.

His latest books are called Tools of Titans and Tribe of Mentors. I rarely buy books, mostly because I have already too many of them that are still waiting to be read, but these two I bought. Yesterday I finished Tools of Titans. The book is basically life-advice on various topics by people who have “made it”. You have writers, artists, sports people, enterpreneurs, CEOs, doctors, singers, actors, all walks of life really. When I read books like these I like to take notes so here I’d like to share some of them as I think they may be useful and they also nicely fit in the Inspirational Quotes category. So this time it is less chess, more inspiring and thought-provoking life advice! Enjoy!

 

Calm is contagious.

I’m either ready or not. Worrying is not going to change that. – Floyd Mayweather

The best plan is the one that lets you change your plans. (said by a non-chessplayer)

Standard pace is for chumps.

Busy = out of control. Lack of time = lack of priorities.

Being buys is a form of laziness – lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.

Being busy is often used as a guise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions.

Doing something well doesn’t make it important.

You are suffering because you’re focused on yourself.

When you are grateful, there is no anger, no fear.

Hope is not a strategy. Luck is not a factor. Fear is not an option.

Be a meaningful specific rather than a wandering generality.

Keep track of the times it worked, not of the times it didn’t.

Losers have goals. Winners have systems.

No need to play with the cards you’ve been dealt, change the table!

Amplify your strengths rather than fix your weaknesses.

When you complain nobody wants to help you. – Stephen Hawking

Don’t find time, schedule time.

Inspiration is for amateurs. Just show up and get to work.

When given a choice, take both.

Those who work much, don’t work hard.

Discipline equals freedom. Whatever freedom you want, you can only achieve it by discipline.

If you want to be tougher mentally, it’s simple: Be Tougher. It’s a decision to be tougher.

Work will work when nothing else will work.

What we most fear doing is what we most need to do.

In any situation you have 3 choices: change it, accept it, leave it.

Always choose courage over comfort.

Luxury is feeling unrushed.

Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.

Lives remaining: 0.

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Gashimov Memorial & US Championship 2018

It has been some time since these two finished, so the wrap-up is overdue. Since everything is already written and known of the tournaments and the results, I will focus on some personal observations.

The Gashimov Memorial is Carlsen’s second tournament victory of the year. It is good that both the Champion and the Challenger are dominating the events where they play. Carlsen’s play was far from ideal in Shamkir, but it sufficed. He embraced the pragmatic approach of Karjakin and made draws until his chances came. Then he took them, probably his most cherished one being against Giri, who at least for a while stopped his Twitterade.

I won’t repeat myself here as I recorded a video on my YouTube channel where I discuss the problem of the many draws that were non-events in Shamkir. I cannot say I like the occurrence, but it is the reality of modern chess.

In the US Championship the main news was the unexpected win by Sam Shankland, who definitely had the tournament of his life. Caruana had a great tournament, with only the temporary crisis in Rounds 4 (loss to Izoria) and 5 (saving a lost position against Shankland) preventing him from winning another title. He also won another Petroff with Black, against Robson. I also talked about his early novelties in Grenke, his opening preparation still reaps the fruits of the thorough preparation for Berlin.

The main negative surprise in Saint Louis was Nakamura. He lost 18 points and is only 3 points ahead of Grischuk as number 10 in the world. He scored a miserable 50% and he was absolutely toothless in the openings. I already wrote about this tendency of Nakamura to slacken, but I didn’t expect it would continue for the whole tournament. With Norway Chess coming soon, it is not inconceivable for Nakamura to drop out of the Top 10.

To conclude, I’ll take a look at the very convincing way Caruana dealt with an annoying line in the Sicilian.

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Gashimov Memorial 2018 – Draw Fest

All draws so far in Shamkir, but not for the lack of the players’ trying.

Sometimes tournaments go like that. Everybody wants to win, but everbody also wants to avoid losing. And if the tendency to avoid losing is dominant, you get a lot of draws. It happens.

Ding Liren was winning in Round 1 against Wojtaszek. Topalov was winning in Round 2 against Giri and in Round 3 against Ding Liren. Conversely, Carlsen wasn’t even close to a win in any of his games.

The World Champion would very much want to win every tournament he plays in. He must have been very disappointed not to obtain winning chances against the relative outsiders Navara and Mamedov. He was very effectively neutralised in both of these games. That hurts.

On a more positive side, he demonstrated a very convincing way to solve all opening problems with Black in the Fianchetto Variation in the Grunfeld Defence. The line was introduced in practice by Dubov (quite a fertile opening innovator!) and this time it got the stamp of approval of the World Champion. The psychological background of the opening moves is also highly instructive and illustrative of Carlsen’s approach to preparation.

As you can see, even from a superficially “boring” theoretical draw one can learn quite a lot!

On the other side of the ocean, the US Championship is under way. At the time of writing three games of Round 4 have finished – Shankland beat Robson with Black, Zherbukh and Onischuk drew and Nakamura scored his 4th draw, this time against Liang. The leaders Caruana, So and Akobian are still playing.

I wanted to note what is happening to Nakamura. He started with 2 Whites, drew both (against Robson and Zherebukh) without a single chance for even an advantage. Then he was lost with Black against Onischuk with Black in Round 3 and again had nothing at all against Liang in Round 4.

This is a worrying tendency for one of the “big 3” of American chess. He is getting nothing from the openings and is not even getting close to outplaying his on-paper weaker opponents. My impression is that he has lost the energy and aggression in his play.

I see this change as a result of his loss of ambition. He realised he will never become a World Champion. He will not be the one who will “deal with Sauron.” Once the ambition had gone, he comfortably settled in his current situation of a Top-10 player who makes excellent living from playing chess and travelling the world. His Twitter profile says “Professional Chess Player and Investor/Trader.” Yes, he is not only a chess player and he seems to be very good at investing/trading. That is another excellent source of income for him. These changes are his choice, of course, but the player who was once an epitome of energy, aggression and courage is now gone.

Both tournaments have a lot of rounds to play, so things can get very exciting in Shamkir (once Carlsen starts winning!) and the US Championships never fail to entertain.

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Caruana Marches On

Tired and without energy, Caruana won another super-tournament, the Grenke Chess Classic, a full point ahead of the World Champion. The good form continued after Berlin, an important factor was that there was no pause between the tournaments to break his rhythm.

What is notable is that out of his 4 victories 3 were with Black. Plus the Petroff scored another last-round win.

The difference with Berlin was that here he had the World Champion as the main competitor. But even Carlsen couldn’t match the consistency of Caruana’s play. The World Champion had a typical tournament when not in very good form – sole second with 5.5/9 and no losses.

A few words about the other players: Anand had a very bad tournament and dropped way below the Top 10 on the rating list. Next for him is Norway Chess. Can he bounce back? He’s taught us never to write him off, but each time it’s more and more difficult to come back!

Aronian is probably still in shock after Berlin, his +1 score is probably good enough for wound-licking but nothing more. He’s also out of the Top 10.

Vitiugov was the surprise of the tournament. He was invited because he earned it – he won the open last year and was guaranteed a place. He led for most of the tournament with a solid +2 (starting 2/2) and only his last round loss to Caruana spoilt his result somewhat, delegating him to shared 3rd place with Aronian and Vachier.

The Frenchman has had better tournaments, Hou Yifan was winning against Caruana, while the locals did what the locals usually do. The exception was Bluebaum, who beat Anand and scored more than respectable 50%.

Back to Caruana and his 3 wins with Black. Winning with Black is a sign of White overpressing or messing up his preparation badly. Caruana didn’t expect to win these games, but he was ready to take his chances when they were presented. Take the following game as a typical example.

His last-round win against Vitiugov has been compared to his last-round win against Grischuk in Berlin: again the Petroff, again the fxe6 structure, again in a situation when a draw would have sufficed. In fact, the difference is huge in the actual importance of the game – in Berlin what was at stake was a career-changing achievement; in Grenke, a win in a tournament. Consequently, the pressure was incomparably bigger in Berlin.

The novelty 5…Qd7 Caruana introduced against Vitiugov was a result of an engine being left to work and reaching depth that normal laptops cannot reach. This information was confirmed by Leko, who also discovered the move on his own. These guys are not just the best players, they also have the best hardware.

Winning the Candidates is a huge confidence booster. Caruana has always been confident in his own ability and with the victories in Berlin and Karlsruhe he is definitely the best player in the world at the moment. There is a lot of time until November, but this time I think we definitely have the best two players in the world playing a match for the title.

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The Canary Islands

During the last 5 rounds of the Candidates I was playing myself on the very beautiful island of La Palma. It was a small tournament, excellently organised by “El Grande” Isidro Cruz, whom I’d like to thank for all the effort he put in.

Honestly speaking, I was worried how I would play after a prolongued period of inactivity. My main concern was how my head would be working. In order to decrease the chances of “malfunction” I did some training before the tournament. Eventually it didn’t amount to much, but I did string several days in a row when I was doing some calculational work for at least one hour.

I have often written how this type of work is the hardest for me. The brain has grown out of the habit of continuous analytical work and protests when it is forced back again. The secret is to persevere, in spite of all the uncomfortable hours spent trying to visualise a position or solve a study. An embarassing truth: on more than one occassion I have spent almost an hour on a position unable to solve it.

So with some trepidations in my heart I set out on a long journey. When I arrived, this is what welcomed me. A majestic ocean sunset.

Additionally, I arrived two days before the tournament. This was very important, primarily to rest, because the tournament had a very tough schedule of 7 rounds in 5 days. This meant 2 double-round days and a very early last round game (at 9am).

Double-round days and morning rounds have always been some sort of a curse for me. I don’t remember winning two games in a day, ever. It never mattered who I played or the position I got – the maximum has always been 1.5/2, though in the vast majority of cases it was less.

I think the reason for this is the fact that I grew up in times when it was unthinkable to play more than 1 game per day. So I got used to giving it all during that one game. With the introduction of shorter time controls and 2 rounds per day I didn’t manage to adjust so I often would lack the energy for the two rounds. Often a problem can be the previous round when I wouldn’t be able to rest before the morning game.

With all these factors still present, it is no surprise that I scored 1.5/2 on the double-round days and coupled with a draw in the last (morning) round my total of 5.5/7 only sufficed for second place (shared, but second on tie-break). You can see the final standings here.

Generally speaking I was pretty happy with my performance and how my head worked. I was seeing the small tactics quickly and clearly and was feeling comfortable at the board. My best game was from Round 4, not surprisingly a single-round day. Playing with Black was a young local FM.

In retrospect, the tournament was just ideal. The place (Canary Islands!), the result, the atmosphere, my state of mind, all the pieces of the puzzle fit in just perfectly. I wish I have more tournaments like this one in the future!

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