Category : Personal

Batumi Impressions

I am finally back home after a gruelling 14h-trip. Another sleepless night filled with bus rides and a flight. It reminded me of those times when I was tournament-hopping with no end in sight, just that this time it was no fun at all.

The results of the Olympiad are already known, the Macedonian teams didn’t do so well and for this I blame the pre-game travel of some 40 minutes. It is impossible to play well throughout the whole distance of such a demanding tournament as an Olympiad if your energy is drained before each game by a road trip and traffic jam. From what I’ve been told in Khanty it will be better.

Here I would like to share my view of the Olympiad as a whole and also of the most impressive (for me) event there – the FIDE General Assembly.

This was a first Olympiad where I wasn’t a player. This allowed me to see things from the outside – when I play I am completely focused on my own regime, preparation and play so I deliberately block out everything that it outside of my primary focus. Now things were different.

By different I mean the social aspect. The busiest place in the playing venue was the so-called EXPO, where there were several stands: of the both presidential candidates, of the 2022 Minsk Olympiad (they didn’t have an opponent so it will be organised there) and of the ECU presidential candidate Azmaiparashvili (who also didn’t have an opponent and was elected again). An hour into the round the EXPO was bustling with all sorts of people (both Dvorkovich and Makropoulos were there almost every day) and if you needed somebody you could be certain that he or she would be there. In the informal atmosphere that ruled the place it was very easy to approach anybody (including the candidates) and start a conversation.

In spite of living some 30km from Batumi, I also managed to see a lot of people in the city. This meant quite a few extra taxi rides from my hotel in Kobuleti to Batumi, but it was worth it. In the wake of the FIDE elections meeting people was even more interesting. I talked to several high-level officers in FIDE and some very rich and powerful people and learned a lot in the process.

A very important place to be were the parties organised by the candidates. I went to both and just by observing who’s talking to whom and their body language I could see a lot. The most telling moment for me happened during the organiser’s party which also doubled as Makropoulos’s. At one point there were speeches and I could clearly see both candidates standing relatively close to each other. In that moment I realised that Makro was losing – he was uneasy while Dvorkovich was calm, in spite of the speeches being angled to favour Makro. He was even given a chance to talk and he turned it into a propaganda for his campaign, but even that didn’t help. He was nervous.

The main event was the General Assembly. It started at 9am and it ended at some time after 6pm when the winner of the elections was announced. During the assembly I was amazed to see how well-oiled Makropoulos’s team was. Whenever a negative comment from the delegates was aired, he would either cut it down or turn it to his favour. Very often a member of his team would add something that would make the accuser inadequate and would bolster Makro’s image. There were also several comments that were aimed at showing the Makro team in better light. At times he would just not discuss the question and that would be it. It was clear that the experienced politician was controlling everything from his chairman position.

The speeches of the three candidates were very telling. Dvorkovich spoke first and even though he stammered a few times he basically elaborated his future plans. He received a big applause. Short spoke second. He attacked FIDE and Makro and ended with a withdrawal of his candidacy and endorsing Dvorkovich. And then came Makro. I remember that Kasparov said that he was wrong to talk first in Tromso in 2014 because when he finished Ilyumzhinov came out and said he’d give 20 million USD to chess, mocking Kasparov’s figure of 10. This was met with laughter and approval and Kasparov felt that this was the final straw convincing him that he had lost. So I thought this was Makro’s last chance to try to sway things in his favour.

But Makro didn’t take it. His speech was weak, a mixture of attacks on his opponents and mentions of his past glory. Nothing about the future. He also lacked energy while speaking. It was clear to me that he already knew it was over. He received a meek applause.

The lobbying part that took place outside the hall was a separate show to observe. The voting had barely started (185 countries had to vote and it took around 2h to finish. It goes in alphabetical order and while waiting the delegates go outside the hall for a drink or snack) and the delegates were already discussing and negotiating, all of them already knowing the final results. Deals were made literally every minute.

The final result wasn’t a surprise for anybody. There was a wild ovation when it was read aloud and it did feel as if people were really eager for this change to happen. There was an air of hope present and I saw a lot of happy smiles.

When I finally left the Sheraton Hotel and took a taxi back to my hotel I felt completely drained. It was a first time that I felt such fatigue, as if all my energy had been squeezed out of me. Later I realised that this shouldn’t have surprised me. In a hall full of people from the whole planet engaged in historical elections the energy is easily zapped. Politics is a high-energy endeavour.

Dvorkovich won. He brings change and he brings hope. After decades of the same thing the world needed this. So the start is promising. The next 4 years will quickly pass and Minsk will hold the next elections. At least now I know how they will look like.

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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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