Category : My Tournaments

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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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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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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Merry Christmas!

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.

 

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An Exclusive Interview with Boris Gelfand

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.

 

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Macedonian Adventures on Crete

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.

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A Wild Game

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.

 


 

 

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The Move …g5 in the Sicilian

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.

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Games from Llucmajor

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!

 

 

 

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Llucmajor Open 2017

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…

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