Category : Personal

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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Garry

I barely followed the other games of the Sinquefield rapid and blitz, Garry was all that mattered.

The excitement was mixed with discomfort though. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I have always felt this strong feeling of confidence when watching elite performers. Whether that is Federer, LeBron or Messi, I always expect them to perform well. And Kasparov didn’t.

The discomfort was slowly beginning to transform to shame. I was ashamed that Garry got beaten, that he kept on blundering, that he kept on getting in insane time-troubles, that his hands were shaking. That was not the Garry I used to know, the champion who dominated the world for decades.

I have always wondered what makes legends return once they have retired. Another hero of mine, Fischer, made an even more incredulous come-back, but in his case it must have been the money. He was leading such a miserable life that he probably decided to cash in before it was too late. But with Kasparov? No money can buy the humiliation and destruction of the legend he created with his magnificent career. Both these cases strengthened my belief that legends must never return. The moment they return, the legend is destroyed.

Kasparov heavily criticised Fischer for coming back. Now he did the same thing he criticised Fischer for.

The last day of the blitz was just too weak a balm for the gaping wound of the first four. “Look, he can still do it, if only he devoted himself to study and training…” But he won’t. His life is other things now and playing chess is not one of them.

Kasparov said that this was a huge success for the popularisation of chess. Not really. This was a huge success for the popularisation of Garry Kasparov and, to a lesser extent, the Sinquefield Cup. Chess will slump back to the previous levels of popularity soon enough as if nothing happened.

I was very excited to see Garry play again. Seeing him how he played I felt ashamed. Now I am relieved. The last Najdorf of his career against Dominguez was the final bitter-sweet goodbye and I thank him for that.

 

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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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My Youtube Channel

With mixed feelings I am announcing the launch of my Youtube channel. Why the mixed feelings? Well, as I explain in my first ever video, I don’t like the video format so much. I prefer to read as then I can quickly scan and see if the material is useful or not. With the video format I feel compelled to see it all through, in case I miss something useful that may come at the end. Which means I am basically risking looking a useless video and wasting time.

Bearing that in mind, the idea with my channel is to keep it short and sweet. I explain an idea, concept, a plan, or anything really, and that’s it. Useful for the viewer and easy to grasp and apply. At least that’s my idea at this stage.

For now, just one video is up. You can check it out here. And I would appreciate comments and feedback how to make the videos better. I still don’t have a clue of all the fine points of video making, nor do I have an idea how often I’ll be filming myself, but it’s a beginning so let’s see.

The first video is about a typical reaction Black should implement when White jumps Ne5 in a position that can arise from the Queen’s Gambit Declined, the Queen’s Indian or the Zukertort System. Plus I explain a couple of plans Black can retort to if White postpones the jump. For more, please see the video.

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