Wishing all my readers a happy festive season and the best of times!
Here’s an enjoyable game that you won’t find in the database. It was played in the French Nationale 1 against a solid French IM.
Wishing all my readers a happy festive season and the best of times!
Here’s an enjoyable game that you won’t find in the database. It was played in the French Nationale 1 against a solid French IM.
During the European Club Cup in Skopje in 2015 I had the bright idea to conduct interviews with the elite players. One of the best interviews was with the wonderful Boris Gelfand.
Boris agreed to meet us (me and my very good friend Kiril Penushliski, a PhD and an avid chess aficionado) after the tournament and we spent a few good hours walking in the park and talking about chess, life, Universe and pretty much everything else.
It is probably long overdue, I should have published this gem long time ago, but the initial plan was to have the interview transcribed and publish it in a written version. Alas, this never materialised, so I decided to publish the audio version.
I would like to thank Boris for giving us this opportunity to talk to one of the best chess players in the world. He answered truthfully and at length, it was sheer delight to talk about chess with somebody who has seen and done it all.
You can enjoy the interview following this link.
The European Teams finished in Crete two days ago. I didn’t have much time to settle down and consolidate my impressions, but perhaps even better so. What I will write here are my direct and immediate thoughts in the aftermath of an exhausting tournament.
My appointment as a coach of the women national team came very late, at the beginning of October. This left very little time to prepare and do any meaningful work as this was also time to get to know the players. We organised several meetings in the few weeks that we had and did some opening work. I also gave the girls home assignments on improving their calculation. We also got to know each other and the atmosphere was immediately very positive and supportive. On a negative note, we didn’t have a reserve player due to the financial constraints of the federation.
During the preparation period we also discussed some psychological aspects, the game and match plans and the tournament regime. Now I can say that these worked almost perfectly.
Once the tournament started we entered our rhythm of preparation and playing. Usually we would start our preparations after the team pairings would come out in the evening, discussing possible openings for every board, and then we did the more concrete opening work in the morning after breakfast when the board pairings would come out.
The start was promising. We almost beat the very strong team of The Netherlands, ranked 14 (out of 32; our starting rank was 30). We even narrowly lost the match but the way the match was going showed that our players were very motivated and the quality of the play they showed was beyond expectation.
In Round 2 we beat Montenegro without many problems, which showed our confidence – we expected to win and we did it without allowing chances.
Then we ran into a tough patch. In Rounds 3 and 4 we were paired against the exceptionally strong teams of Romania (ranked 9th initially, finished shared 4th) and Italy (ranked 15th initially, finished 10th). We lost both matches, but the girls put up a great fight in both. We shouldn’t have lost so many games in these two matches, but the difference in experience eventually came to the fore.
This was a good learning experience as it showed that the girls are capable of playing on equal terms with nominally much stronger players. In these matches we were usually outrated by some 300 and more points. Even though the losses hurt, I kept repeating that they can play as equals against anybody. I think after a while they started to believe me.
In Rounds 5 and 6 we had two drawn matches, against Austria and Slovakia. These were matches of missed chances as we should have won both. Perhaps we were maturing for the final two rounds.
But before the final two rounds we lost heavily (0.5-3.5) in Round 8 to Lithuania. This was perhaps the only match where we didn’t overperform and maximise our chances. Luckily, it turned out to be a slump before the rise.
The last two rounds are always vital. If you perform well then you are guaranteed a successful tournament.
In Round 8 we were paired against Finland, the only team we played ranked lower than us. We beat them 3.5-0.5 and the win showed that the previous losses didn’t take our confidence away. The match also saw a crucial win for our Board 2, Dragana Nikolovska, who endured a torrid time by then, scoring 0/7. With her rating of 1854 she was commonly outrated by 400-500 points and in spite of giving her best she never got to score. But against Finland she played a very fine game, sacrificing a pawn for initiative and nurturing it to a win.
In Round 9 we were a bit lucky with the pairings, but you also have to justify that luck by playing well and winning the match. We played Greece 2, ranked 27th and a team we were confident we can beat. The course of the match was rather smooth in fact. We were much better on the first three boards while we were in trouble on Board 4. Then Dragana on Board 2 and Bojana on Board 3 lost their advantages and the games were drawn. Monika on Board 1 kept the pressure on while Gabi on Board 4 turned things around and was playing for a win. So we were never in any danger in the match and as the games progressed both our players outplayed their opponents and won their games. We won 3-1.
We didn’t lose a single game in the last 2 rounds. I have a feeling the team was growing from match to match and with each game the players grew more and more confident that they can play well and win. They all played well, all won rating points and showed a level of play much higher than the one they had shown before.
A few words about the players. On Board 1 WFM Monika Stojkovska scored a WIM norm. She has an uncompromising character and this translates on the board where she is a ferocious fighter. I was usually comfortable on Board 1, whomever she was playing, because with the good opening preparations we did I knew she would get a good position and then she would play well. I never saw her inferior in the games, in spite of the fact that the average rating of her opponents was almost 200 points above her rating. I think this tournament gave Monika the necessary confidence and showed her that she has nobody to fear. Rating gain: 37.4 points.
Dragana Nikolovska on Board 2 had a difficult tournament, but fortunately it ended on a high. We talked quite a bit before the tournament about the challenges she would face playing on such a high board and we were all aware of the dangers. I see her suffering on Board 2 as a huge learning experience, both psychologically (she didn’t crack and won a game after 7 losses in a row!) and chess-wise. She played well, the main problem being her time-management and the drop of her level of play in time-trouble. With good work she can use the momentum now to raise her level and improve immensely. Rating gain: 2.4 points.
Bojana Bejatovic on Board 3 was very solid and reliable. Like with Monika, I had the least worries here. Bojana has a very serious approach both on and off the board and she had the best time-management in the whole team. She was our best player until the last 3 rounds when unfortunately she started missing her chances. By that time the whole team was getting tired (playing non-stop without a reserve!) so this was not surprising. Bojana now knows that she can play much better than her rating and can progress rapidly. Rating gain: 21.8.
On Board 4 we had our most experienced player, WIM Gabriela Koskoska. Gabi scored 3.5/4 in the last 4 rounds and was a major factor of our success. She is a natural fighter, with good feeling for initiative and she used those qualitites in all her games, successfully overturning suspicious positions and winning quite a few of them. Her main problem was the opening when she would sometimes forget the preparation, but once in the middlegame she was quite confident in her abilities. I think Gabi’s presence in the team was very positive as she has been playing Olympiads and European Team Championships since 1994 and having such a player is always beneficial to strike balance between youth and experience. The girls look up to her and her opinion is highly valued. Putting Gabi on Board 4 was a mutual decision and it turned out to be a great one – she was our most successful player with 5/9 and her rating gain was 15 points.
The result of the Macedonian women team is truly exceptional and historic. With a starting rank 30 we finished shared 20th (with Belarus, Czech Republic and France – ranked 6th!) and left teams like Slovenia, Croatia, England and Slovakia behind us. We have a young team that is very much capable of growth and improvement. Women chess has largely been neglected in Macedonia, but this result should change that attitude. The potential for success of the women team is no less than that of the men. The women team is much younger than the men’s, with equal opportunities I don’t see why the women cannot catch up with the men. With this result and their attitude the girls showed that they deserve that chance. Now it should be given to them.
In my last two tournaments I had a wonderful experience playing chess. I was thoroughly enjoying myself and the process of playing. I was comfortable at the board and my game was flowing.
I already wrote about Llucmajor and my strategy there and I also analysed a couple of games. The recently finished Spanish team championship (the Second Division) in Linares (where I returned after 15 years!) was a similar experience only this time I was facing weaker players. I had a small dip in the performance in Rounds 3 and 4 (I didn’t play in Round 1) when I even lost a game to a FM that went on to score an incredible 6/7 on Board 1! I won the other games in good style.
Here I would like to present the game from Round 4. It is one of the wildest games I have ever played and it could have been my “immortal” had I been a bit more lucky. It is funny how I was thinking whether I will get the chance to play the combination while waiting for his 23rd move, wondering whether I will get to experience this moment of exquisite beauty and joy from playing chess, but, as it has usually been in my chess career, fate wasn’t very generous. Well, I can only hope that perhaps an even better chance will appear in the future! For now, enjoy the game.
I spent the last week in Spain at the Spanish U16 championship and I watched many games between young and talented players. They play well, follow theory and still have a lot to learn. My student Angel Luis Cubas Cabrera had a tough tournament – he played well, but so did his opponents! He entered the last round undefeated and a win would have brought him a shared 4th place. Alas, he faltered and lost… But today he had a fantastic tournament in the rapid and finished shared 2nd, half a point behind the winner. He is only 15, one year younger than most of the others, so all this looks pretty promising.
While watching the games my subconscious was working and somehow I was reminded of an episode from my tournament in Reykjavik in 2015. In the second part of the tournament I wasn’t playing well and to make things worse I got two Blacks in the last 2 rounds. Still, a last round win would have made it a decent showing.
I was paired against Ni Shiqun. At that time she still didn’t have the success of reaching the quarter-final of this year’s Women World Championship, but it was obvious she was good.
During my preparation I noticed that my young opponent, born in 1997, played some boring lines in the Scotch against 1…e5 and the non-critical 3 c4 against the Sicilian, after 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6. Since I was determined “to play for a win” I decided to go for the Sicilian.
I had several ideas in mind against 3 c4 and eventually I settled for the sharp line after 3…Nc6 4 Be2 g5!? In fact, I was convinced this was so good I even started thinking I refuted the whole 3 c4 line! If, for example, White plays 4 Nc3 instead of 4 Be2 then 4…Nge7 is very good, intending …Nd4 and …Nec6, and if White pushes 5 d4 now, then after exchanging twice on d4 and playing 7…Nc6 Black has excellent play on the dark squares.
The last round was a morning game, so I couldn’t prepare as deeply as I wanted – many of the lines were checked to a point where the position was good for Black, even though I sensed they needed deeper analysis. There was one factor, however, that I failed to take into account and that factor was the character of the position.
I noticed that my opponent was an excellent calculator (as most young players are) and my own calculations weren’t to my usual standard during the tournament. And the positions arising after 4…g5 were sharp and required calculation, no matter in which favour they objectively were.
By now you can probably sense how the game developed. Thanks to my good preparation I obtained a better position as early as move 9, but the position required serious calculations and by move 16 I was lost! Here’s the complete game:
You can now imagine my regret of not playing the boring Scotch… At the closing ceremony I had a chance to chat with Artur Jussupow and I described to him my last round game, with my line of thought during the preparation and my decision to “play for a win” and choosing the Sicilian.
Artur has seen everything in chess, so he knew what I was talking about. He told me that first and foremost, you must take your own state into account. Evaluate precisely how you feel, how your head is working, how confident you are. Everything else should come from there – the opening choice, the strategy for the game. The opponent’s preferences and how to use them come later, sometimes they are even irrelevant – it’s always better to play what makes you feel comfortable than trying to take advantage of an opponent’s shortcoming.
My game with Ni Shiqun is an excellent example – I did take advantage of her poor opening, but I nevertheless lost the game because she was more comfortable in the ensuing position even though objectively it was a better position for me!
This was a valuable lesson for me at the time. Nowadays I try to listen to my inner state more intently and I try to teach my students to do the same. Once it becomes a habit, it will raise the level of self-awareness and the good results will follow.
I present two of my games from the Llucmajor open. In the first I played the eventual winner Fedorchuk. It was a very complex game, even while analysing it I noticed the engine changing evaluations quite often. The game was balanced for most of the time and I think I lost because he was more practical. For example, he missed my 27th move, which I played, but it was a bad move, just losing a pawn! Yet he didn’t spend much time trying to refute it, he quickly moved the bishop to e2. Starting from move 18 he started to play really fast, often at the expense of the quality of his moves. But he always made solid moves, even if they were not always the best they were never bad ones. This was the only game from the tournament where I was in time-trouble and the only one where I couldn’t implement my pre-tournament strategy of playing fast and solid – in fact that is what he did! Still, it was a good fight and another proof that the idea to play quickly and soundly is a very good one!
The second game was my best effort in Llucmajor. I think my opponent improvised with the (probably) refuted Schara-Hennig Gambit and I quickly got a winning position. Then I wasn’t very precise in my calculations and instead of winning quickly I entered a technical endgame where I had the advantage of the pair of bishops in an open position. What makes this game good for me is the fact that the realisation process was very smooth. It doesn’t happen too often to me, but this time I played my moves without much thinking and everything seemed to fall into place. After the game I remembered what Botvinnik wrote about a game of his, something along the lines of “my tactical vision failed me again, but I could always rely on my technique.” Not bad at all feeling like The Patriarch!
I am currently on the wonderful island of Mallorca, playing the Llucmajor Open. This is the reason for the absence of new posts as it’s never easy to write during a tournament. I will try to give an overview of the open and my games when it finishes.
The Moscow Grand Prix is also underway. The start looked very much like the previous Grand Prix in Sharjah, a lot of (short) draws and uneventful play, and this is what I wrote for the March issue of British Chess Magazine:
“When a lot is at stake the result is the only thing that matters. That means losing is to be avoided at all costs. This further translates to a draw being a rather good result. In absence of any restrictions, like the Sofia rules, which prohibit draw offers, the players found it very convenient to make a lot of them in a small number of moves.
Draws are an inherent part of the game of chess and they can be exciting and instructive. It is the draws that are not played out until the end, agreed when all the pieces are still on the board, that bother the public. Yet I still find it unfair to criticise the players. They are there to get a result. They do what they best see fit in order to make it happen. They follow the rules of the competition. If they think a quick draw is enhancing their chances, they will try to make it. They are not there to please anybody, they are there to qualify and will do whatever is necessary. Short draws included.”
But then things livened up and there were a few rounds with several decisive games. This shows that these things often happen arbitrarily – if in Sharjah they were happening throughout the whole tournament, then in Moscow, in spite of the players still being in a “safety-mode” state of mind, more games were won and lost. Let’s see how it goes on. For the time being Ding Liren and Mamedyarov lead with 3.5/5. With this result Mamedyarov crossed 2800 on the live rating list!
The games in Llucmajor start at 8.30pm, so I am writing this at 1.23am, still waiting for the pairings to come out. Perhaps it’s time to sign off…
I have had many fabulous experiences over the years in many tournaments around the world, but the just finished Italian Women Team Championship in Gallipoli definitely ranks among the best.
It is not the fact that our team Caissa Italia Pentole Agnelli won the Scudetto. It is much more. Everything between my arrival in Bergamo last Wednesday and being picked up by Fulvio at the airport and the “ci vediamo e buon viaggio” with the girls, Yuri Garrett and Vittorio Perico, when I departed the hotel this morning, was incredibly smooth and soul-warming. Everything was just falling in place. I loved every moment of being part of our group.
I have been part of many teams in Macedonia, Spain, England and France, but nothing comes close to the atmosphere I experienced in Gallipoli. It is a rarest occurrence that you meet a person for a first time and you get along immediately – this time it happened with 6 people at the same time! Vittorio, “il gran direttore mega-galactico” was in charge of everything that had to do with the sponsors and the public relations; Yuri was our captain, I was the coach and the girls, Elisabeth Paehtz, Marina Brunello (a 100% score), Maria De Rosa, Alessia “il Bomber” Santeramo (a 100% score) and Silvia Guerini scored an unbelievable 23/24, wininng our first 6 matches and basically securing the title with a round to go. We beat two of our three main competitors 3.5-0.5. We drew the third 2-2 in the last round where a single draw secured the title.
It was the mutual understanding, respect and support that made the atmosphere so enjoyable, not only on a rational level, but also on a more subtle, deeper level where you can actually feel what the others are thinking and feeling. Yuri is a genius to create a positive atmosphere and keep it up, we only had to follow through. In the team’s first year of existence we won the national title with such ease that I still find it hard to believe. After all, the competition was fierce – the other teams had Stefanova and Fierro, Socko and Zimina, Vega and Sedina on their first two boards, while on boards 3 and 4 the ratings were about equal with our players. Yet we destroyed everybody.
My job was hard, but very fulfilling. I was working all the time, even when they were playing, preparing already for the next match. But out of the 12 games we played against our direct competitors, I managed to get 12 successful preparations on the board. Usually I am pretty good at this when I do it for myself, but I didn’t expect I would be able to do it for so many different players against so many different players! I was also a captain for the match against Padova (where Stefanova played on board 1 – we won 3.5-0.5).
In my first attempt at coaching a team and being a captain I managed to win the Italian Team Championship convincingly. Wow.
Today is Fischer’s birthday, he would have been 74. I have fond memories of this day as usually I played well on his birthday. He has always been my idol and I felt inspired to play on the day he was born.
The game I present below was played in Cannes in 2003. It was a difficult time for me personally, but one of the things I discovered about myself during the infinite nomadic travels from tournament to tournament was that I actually played well when things were difficult off the board. Whether those were personal matter or difficult conditions I usually managed to compose myself and really do my best.
The game against one of the strongest French Grandmasters, Christian Bauer is perhaps one of the best I have played against a strong opponent. The main theme is the one of control, I was never in danger and I kept him under pressure. The high quality of my moves was consistent. I still remember how it felt like a breeze. Perhaps that’s how Fischer felt too.
I promised that I would post some of the games I played in the PRO chess league on chess.com. So now that the problems with the chessboard’s appearance have been solved, I present you with some of my efforts.
The league was a good training ground for some of the old analysis and preparation I never had a chance to use. For example, take a look at my game against GM Ghosh where I managed to use a well-forgotten idea from the 1960s in the Breyer variation of the Spanish.
Here’s an example how things can quickly go wrong in an endgame in rapid games. In the position below I offered a draw, but he immediately played a move.
And here’s a game where again I used a line that I prepared long ago. It turned out surprisingly well!
In case you’re in need of another idea against the Caro-Kann, here’s one that I used in the beginning of the 00s, admittedly with mixed success. But in the rapid it gave me a great position straight away!
In my next post I’ll take a look at some of my black games where I successfully used “The Double Fianchetto Solution.” Stay tuned!