Category : Personal

A Spoilt Masterpiece

The first time I met GM Neelotpal Das was in 2005 when he burst into my hotel room in Sort. Actually I had a brief conversation with him earlier that day, at the Barcelona bus station, when he asked me whether he was in the right bus going to Sort. I didn’t know who he was nor that he would become a very good friend barely a few hours later.

Sort was part of Catalunya’s chess circuit of open tournaments that was very popular back in the pre-crisis days when the prizes and conditions were good and the competition was less stiff. In fact, 2005 marked the first year of a huge Indian invasion of young, unknown and largely under-rated players coming to Spain. Apart from Paul (as he quickly told me to call him) there were Tania Sachdev, Abhijeet Gupta, Parimarjan Negi, Soumya Swaminathan, Shardul Gagare, to name only the most famous ones today. With each passing year the Indian contingent grew only bigger, making winning prizes at the Spanish opens increasingly tougher.

As it turned out I brought Paul some luck. In Sort he scored his first GM norm. Next year in San Sebastian, where we again shared a room, he scored his last GM norm and became a GM.

Paul is a very talented tactial player and when in good form he can beat anybody (just ask Nigel Short, who was obliterated and mated with White in 26 moves!). His openings were his weakest spot, but with experience he learned to take care of that aspect as well.

Paul sent me the following game with his comments some time ago. I also noticed it while browsing the database and was sorry to see him spoil such a wonderfully played game. It wasn’t just the nice attack he conducted, I quite liked the gradual build-up of the attack, so typical for White in this line of the Scheveningen. I present the game with my comments in [brackets] while I leave Paul’s as they are.

Such a pity! Games like this can be really hard on the soul… Yet, it is our duty to be able to pick ourselves up and continue, no matter of the setbacks. I am sure Paul already managed to do so!

From the chess news from around the world, GM Tiviakov became a champion of the Netherlands with an impressive 5.5/7, a full point and a half ahead of the field! In his usual unassuming, yet technically perfect style Tiviakov breezed through the field including Sokolov, L’Ami and van Wely. He scored 4/4 with White and made 3 draws with Black. Here’s his demolition of Ivan Sokolov.

Soon enough we will see the World Champion back in play in Biel. I am quite curious how my friend Nico Georgiadis will fare in the field that also includes Svidler, Mamedyarov, Vachier and Navara, as last year he had an amazing 5/9, sharing 4th with such legends as Leko, Ponomariov and Morozevich and behind winner Hou Yifan (to whom he lost in the last round!), Bacrot and Harikrishna. Keeping fingers crossed!

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From Russia With Love

I returned from Russia safely. And it was quite a challenge.

Watching the World Cup was a great experience. The game I saw was Spain-Morocco and the city of Kaliningrad was uncharacteristically Russian. The “Russian” spirit in Kaliningrad was mixed with the rich vegetation and remnants of the German times. The result was surprisingly pleasant.

Everything went smoothly on our way there. We (myself and two friends) drove the 2000km without problems and arrived relatively quickly. Our stay there was nice and the game was one of the most interesting ones from the World Cup. We witnessed 4 goals and also a bit of VAR controversy.

It was the way back that turned out to be tricky. First we were held up on the Russian-Polish border for almost 2 hours. Routine checks, but it set the course of what was to come. Then we started hearing noises from the engine. Nothing could be seen when we opened the hood, so we continued driving.

Some 700km later, near Ostrava in the Czech Republic, the car broke down. Multiple failures in the engine and we could barely get off the motorway and reach the nearest village. The locals weren’t helpful. They didn’t want to talk to us and a couple of them even ran away when we approached them for help!

We stared calling various numbers for help and, to cut the story short, after more than 3 hours a tow service came and took us and the car to the Mercedes car repair garage.

More bad news came when they informed us that they would need at least 1 week to fix the car. Now we were really stuck. We booked a hotel, still without a clear idea what to do.

My friends don’t have the same travelling experience as I have. This meant that it had to be me who would find a way out of the situation. While watching Argentina qualify I was thinking of various ways to get us back home. My first idea was to take the train to Prague and then fly back to Skopje. But one of my friends has such a fear of flying that he basically blackmailed us into not considering that option.

This made things more complicated and problematic. Eventually I discovered that we can reach Budapest by train if we left in a few hours, at 2.36am. Then I arranged a friend of mine to pick us up from Budapest and drive us to Skopje.

The night train… It brought vivid memories of my decades of tournament-hopping. Impossible to sleep in fear of robbers. Usually I would take the night train either before a tournament, trying to reach it for Round 1, or after it, when I’d be on my way to the next one. It was profoundly excruciating experience, lack of sleep at its worst. It was often preceeded by trying to stay awake at the station, often in the mid-winter cold, waiting for the train to come.

This time at least I arrived at the train station by taxi and didn’t wait for too long. We also had the whole compartment for us so there was no need to fear being robbed. I still couldn’t sleep though, old habits die hard and the familiar surrounding turned on the forgotten switches.

I was severely sleep-depraved when we arrived. It all accumulated, each day of our trip we got up at 4.30am in order to have the whole day to drive. My friend picked us up soon after we arrived and then we set out to Skopje. I was falling in and out of sleep for the duration of the whole journey.

I didn’t have time to follow chess developments while away. The Grand Chess Tour finished in the meantime with the same players dominating both in Leuven and Paris. Caruana was still awful, his blunders becoming more shocking.

Karjakin-Caruana, the blitz in Paris. Of course this is easily winning, just don’t do what the Challenger did – he put the king on c4 and dropped the rook on a2.

The following one is equally unbelievable.

Caruana as Black is winning against Anand. The plan is to pick up the a-pawn with the king. What Caruana did follows the plan and loses the game in 1 move: 51…Kd7??? 52 Nxc5+.

I already posted the position that Caruana managed to lose to Nakamura in the rapid in Paris. Now take a look at the following transformation in the blitz:

Caruana is Black and is 3 pawns up. This is move 53 and White played 53 Bd3. Now take a deep breath and see the position that appeared on the board 45 moves later.

I won’t even try to explain this. Obviously Nakamura won the game.

The Paris leg of the Grand Chess Tour was won by Nakamura. It is good to have him back and win something, after a prolongued period of mediocrity (also see here). Still, it is “only” rapid and blitz and I would like to see him win a classical tournament for a change.

To finish with some good news, it was recently announced that the wild card for the Sinquefield Cup (with classical time controls) will go to Magnus Carlsen. This means that we will get to see another clash between the Champion and the Challenger before the match in November. I am certainly looking forward to that!

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On The Road Again

There are periods when it is impossible to slow down. Things and events just keep coming and you cannot get off the roller coaster.

Tomorrow I’m off to Russia. Surprisingly enough, it’s not chess-related. I am actually going there to watch a game from the World Cup. To make it even more adventurous, and not entirely to my liking, we (me and two friends) will drive all the way to there. It is more than 2000km one-way. For some this may be fun, for a seasoned traveller like me, who prefers to limit the travel time and arrive at the destination as soon as possible, this is way too much time spent in a car! We’ll see, hope it all goes well.

In the meantime in the chess world the Grand Chess Tour started with the rapid and blitz events in Leuven and Paris. It is interesting that with only a few days between the two events the same players who were in form in Leuven continued to dominate in Paris.

Wesley So dominated the rapid in Leuven. An undefeated 7/9, point and a half ahead of second-placed Aronian and Vachier. But he completely botched the blitz, with appaling 8/18, while Karjakin won it with 11.5/18. Still, the regulations stating that the rapid points are worth double, So emerged the winner of the event, half a point ahead of Karjakin and Vachier. That wasn’t without last-round excitement, when all three (!) lost their games.

Worth noting is Caruana’s catastrophe, pretty much everywhere. In the Leuven rapid he scored 3.5/9, in the blitz 6.5/18 and currently in the Paris rapid he’s winless on 1.5/6. This brings me to a thought I had recently. Since the results show that Carlsen is so much superior to Caruana at faster time-controls, it makes sense for Carlsen to actually play the match in a more constrained fashion, basically playing for 6-6. He will definitely feel very confident if it comes to a rapid tie-break. As for Caruana, he really needs to find a “cure” for his faster-control troubles. Perhaps these events are a result of his saturation with chess recently, playing practically non-stop, but in any case this aspect of his play is a serious concern before the match in November.

To illustrate the extent of his bad form, take a look at the following position after move 50 in his game against Nakamura.

And the following one is 31 moves later:

It is here that Caruana blundered horribly. He went 81…Ne5, missing that White can simply take the pawn on h5 thanks to the fork on f5 in case Black recaptures. While even now the position should be a draw, Nakamura went on to win the game on move 123.

These kinds of break-downs never happen to Carlsen. They are a glaring weakness of Caruana and something Carlsen will definitely try to take advantage of. The Challenger has some serious work to do in this respect!

Time to prepare that backpack now!

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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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Information

Dear visitor,

You have probably noticed that my blog has suffered serious damage in the last two weeks. The reasons for this were technical (let’s call them like that).

The most important thing is that the content is intact so you can freely browse through the blog as before. If by any chance you find a link that doesn’t work please let me know.

The blog is now “under construction.” This means that it needs to be re-build and I am working on it together with a friend of mine. It will probably take a while before it gets back to normal.

So far what I have done is that I moved to another server and I have a new theme running. I will intend to keep the general look more or less the same.

I thank you for your patience and understanding and I apologise for the inconvenience of coming to this page and seeing the same stuff again and again in the last 2 weeks. I hope to be able to make this up to you by providing great content in 2018!

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Happy New Year!

Wishing all my readers a happy and prosperous New Year!

 

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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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Hectic November

It’s been a while since I wrote here, but now I finally have a little time to write an update.

November was extremely busy for me. After the European Team Championships I went immediately to a training camp in Italy where the Italian women champions started preparations for the upcoming season. It was a very productive 5-day camp on the beautiful Brunello property.

 

During a break with Lago Moro in the background

After the camp I barely spent one week at home before I jumped on another plane, this time to Spain. I am writing this from Spain, where I will coach my Spanish team for a week. Then hopefully I will return home for a quiet December (but you never know!).

During these wanderings, a lot of things happened in the chess world. I was not surprised to see Kramnik get the wild card for the Candidates. In fact I logically concluded that he will get it the moment he confirmed his participation in next year’s Wijk aan Zee. Kramnik’s has never been successful in Wijk and the last time he played there was in 2011. But he needs practice for a long tournament, the Candidates will be a 14-round double-round-robin and the only long tournament in the calendar is Wijk. Hence my logical conclusion.

There has been a lot of rapid chess going on and here Carlsen showed his dominance, literally destroying Wesley So (27.9-9.5), Ding Liren (22-8, as part of the Champions Showdown in Saint Louis), and Alexander Grischuk (15.5-10.5). The way Carlsen has been playing these matches reminds me of his dominance in classical chess not so long ago. The big question is whether he can translate this rapid dominance to classical chess, something we will very soon find out, as he is scheduled to play the London Chess Classic in December.

The last leg of the FIDE Grand Prix series in under way in Palma de Mallorca. Vachier and Radjabov are the only two players who still harbour hopes to qualify for the Candidates, but things are not going too well for them, even though they still keep their chances with one round to go. It seems that a lot will depend on the tie-break criteria and luck.

On a more personal note, just to let you know I haven’t abandoned my YouTube channel. As you can see, I just didn’t have the time to record anything. I even have an idea what I will record next, so stay tuned, hopefully for not too long!

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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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