4NCL Rounds 5 and 6

It’s pretty late (2.15am) in London and my bus to Victoria is at 4am, followed by an hour-trip to the airport and a flight at 8.45am. I didn’t sleep much today as I had to play at 11am, so it was a long day. But let’s start from the beginning.

They say there’s always a first time for everything and this weekend was a first timer for me as well. Alas, it was not a pleasant first-time experience. I have played in many leagues and I had never lost two games over a weekend. This time it happened.

In round 5 my team Cheddleton played against Blackthorne Russia and we were the favourites to win. Win we did, but only yours truly spoiled it a bit as the only one to lose a game. I played black against the solid IM Richard Bates, who always plays the Catalan. I chose a modern and risky gambit line and obtained a good and complex position, only to start spoiling it with every subsequent move. My thoughts lacked clarity and I was feeling as if my head was full of fog. Possibly all because of the longer lay off from practical play?! My opponent played well and even though I resisted until move 55, I never had a chance.

The round 6 was the big derby against Guildford. We were equal on match points so the winner of the match would win the Pool A with a round to go. It’s worth mentioning here that last year we were trashed 8-0 against them so this year I even dared to publicly announce on Twitter that this time it won’t be the same! I was right, but that was a small consolation. We lost 6.5-1.5, the GingerGM (Simon Williams) scoring our only victory (over GM Marc Hebden) and IM Jonathan Hawkins drawing on board 1 against GM Matthew Sadler. Everybody else lost. I ran into some good preparation in an obscure line against GM Romain Edouard, but I thought I was reacting well for the time being. But then something strange happened, as white’s position very rapidly started to deteriorate at move 15 and by move 20 I was practically lost! This is a rare occurence in chess, but it can happen in these hypermodern openings – W seemingly plays sensibly and puts his pieces in the centre when all of a sudden the trend turns against him and he’s run over. I will analyse this game more deeply and will undoubtedly learn much from it!

Everybody reacts differently to set-backs. I have always tried to bounce right back, stronger and more motivated. Now is a time to analyse the mistakes, learn from them, forget them and come back winning. And that’s what I intend to do again.

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On Short, Stalemates and Sofia

There have been many discussions in recent years about the draws in chess. To me the draw is an integral part of the game of chess: after all there are two armies which are equal in size and quality and if their respective commanders deploy them well, it is very probable that there won’t be a winner.

There are many types of draws, a drawn game can be of high quality (Carlsen-Aronian from the Zurich tournament comes to mind as the lastest example), but I understand that it is the short and not-played-out draws that bother the people. (Short draws can also be entertaining, see Ivanchuk-Vachier from Gibraltar, even though it wasn’t that short. But I’ll talk about Short further on). So they went to Sofia (a nice city, but personally I prefer Plovdiv) and started prohibiting the draw offer. This does solve the problem of not-played-out draws to a certain extent, and it is a drastic solution, but it takes away one important aspect of the psychological warfare – the exact draw offer they are trying to get rid of. Very often a player will offer a draw for various reasons: as a bluff, as an attempt to get the opponent thinking more or distract him, in time-trouble or as a sign of bravado. The psychology behind the draw offer makes chess a much richer game so this is all well and nice, the only problem is that the opponent may actually accept the offer and then we have the not-played-out draw which was the problem in the first place. I suppose you cannot have it all, you need to give something to get something and obviously we’re in an experimental phase, trying various things out (banning draw offers entirely, or before move 30, or 40. I still haven’t heard of the idea of introducing fees for each draw offer during a game – an idea that needs further examination, but I’m sure they’ll come to this in the future).

The draw exists because if the game is played out until the very end there will be a stalemate. Doctor Short (Nigel is a Doctor, in case you didn’t know already) is the most vocal adherent of banning the stalemate as a draw and proclaiming it a win for the stronger side. I don’t know how serious the venerable Doctor is in his claim, but I find it difficult to accept that he cannot see the idea of the Creator of the game when the stalemate was made to be a draw. How many times has it happened to you when you’re trying to teach a beginner to give a mate with a queen and he or she keeps stalemating you? How annoying was that? Here lies the ultimate finesse of chess (thanks to Walter Browne for the beautiful syntagm) – you need to be precise until the very end! Sloppiness cannot and shoudn’t be rewarded, how much chess would lose if we reduced it just to banging moves irrelevant if they end up in mate or stalemate? There is never a “doesn’t matter” in chess, just as in life and that is why chess is so attractive to people. Precision is the name of our game and it requires mental effort that is very rewarding when executed accurately. If precision and accuracy didn’t matter then chess wouldn’t be in harmony with Nature (where everything is precise and exact) and would stop being the wisest game ever invented. And I don’t want that.

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Zurich Chess Challenge 2014

The world was waiting to see Carlsen’s first showing after winning the title. Botvinnik was probably turning in his grave watching Carlsen’s “preparation” for the Zurich Chess Challenge – yes, he did play training games, like the Patriarch preached, but Bill Gates doesn’t sound like the opponent he would have approved of. I remember back in 2011 when Kasparov was criticising Carlsen for neglecting chess in between tournaments (remember Carlsen-Giri from Wijk 2011?) but it seems Carlsen learned his lesson.

We live in modern times and things have changed since the time of the Patriarch. And we have a modern champion who epitomizes these times. Photo shoots, promotions, talk shows, advertising obligations, this is our modern world and Carlsen the superstar is very busy when not playing chess. I am sure he did some preparation before Zurich, but I think he was mostly relying on his baggage from the match with Anand. Nevertheless he was rusty at the beginning, as the blitz preview showed, but kudos to him for getting a grip and winning the last 2 games. I am sure he got an incredible psychological boost from his miniature against Anand, after all mating an ex-World Champion in some 20 moves is no small feat.

The real chess started with the classical part and for me the game with Gelfand from the first round was very impressive. Gelfand introduced a very interesting idea in the Fianchetto Grunfeld which equalised (I remember seeing a photo of Carlsen in his room in Chennai, with his laptop and cashews and a lot of books on the table, one of which was Avrukh’s 1. d4 volume 2). It was obvious that Carlsen was rusty (as he admitted in the press conference) but he spent some time in the opening and activated his myelin (check out The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle for this term) and from that moment it was vintage Carlsen. 15 g4! was the star move and even though he tried, Gelfand couldn’t handle the pressure.

After the high-quality draw with Aronian, the tournament was decided in the round 3 game with Nakamura. Carlsen was outplayed (he probably wrongly assessed these positions in his preparation) and was lost, but in spite of the +9 engine evaluation, things weren’t simple in a real game against a World Champion with the clock running down. Nakamura missed several wins and he couldn’t even draw afterwards. Nakamura has a score of 0-8 against Carlsen in classical chess and his arrogance and self-promotion (“I do feel that at the moment I am the biggest threat to Carlsen” on the cover of the latest NIC Magazine) only does him harm. More humility and modesty will make him more likeable and his results will improve, but that’s entirely up to him.

The game with Caruana was probably Carlsen’s smoothest game. Caruana got a bit ambitious (not trying to win, but trying to kill off the game immediately) with his plan of 16…b6 and 17…d5 and it was amazing to see that it was all Carlsen needed to take over the initiative. The rest was deja vu – relentless pressure and victory.

A few words about the others. Aronian was the other outstanding player, but again as in Wijk he lost in the last round and that spoiled it a bit for him. His game with Nakamura was his best effort, even though the American was in knock-down after his Carlsen shock (and a bit unwise opening choice – why go for the King’s Indian when you’re still reeling after such a loss?). Aronian was well-prepared as always and this result only confirmed his status as number 1 (or 2, for the Kramnik fans) candidate to win Khanty Mansiysk.

Anand still seems to be rather shaken, if not stirred. The impression is that he cannot really handle the pressure when put to him (the Nakamura game) and cannot handle his nerves (the Aronian game, there was no need to sacrifice the piece). His starting 3 losses in a row in the rapid were no consolation either. I wonder if he’s going to be the Ivanchuk of Khanty Mansiysk.

Caruana showed his resilience once again. I quite like it that he manages to keep his level very high even when not in top form. This is a sign of the highest class. His last round win against Aronian was huge for his self confidence and he showed this by destroying the field in the rapids. Gelfand had two lousy tournaments in a row and I attribute it to the instability that comes with age. You simply cannot maintain the same high level all the time and with age the downs are especially painful (Kramnik also has started to suffer from this, even though not to that extent). I already mentioned Nakamura and it will be interesting to see how he reacts to these setbacks.

Zurich showed that for the time being Carlsen is a class above the rest (with the exception of Aronian and probably Kramnik). Let’s see how far he can go.

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The Candidates 2014: Clash of the Centuries

When Anand finally confirmed his participation, the final line-up for the upcoming Candidates tournament was official. But even before that I noticed that this tournament will be a clash of players from different centuries: Anand, Kramnik, Topalov and Svidler all made their names and established thelmselves as elite players in the 20th century; Aronian, Mamedyarov, Karjakin and Andreikin did the same in the 21st. So it promises to be an interesting struggle between two generations of players!

I won’t be very original by saying that it will be either Kramnik or Aronian who wins it. But in Carlsen’s absence, it’s really difficult to see anyone else coming close – Anand has won similar tournaments in the past (Mexico 2007), but he’s no longer the same player; Topalov did it in San Luis in 2005, but not being the same player applies to him as well, even though he does seem a bit more motivated than Anand at the moment. Svidler did very well in London last year, but was never really in contention for first place. Kramnik is the only hope of the guys from the 20th century!

Aronian was in contention in London, but he broke down under pressure – if he manages to keep calm, like recently in Wijk and Zurich (though surprisingly he lost the last games in both tournaments), he’s a strong favourite. The other guys of the 21st century are all dark horses – they might win, but it’s very unlikely. Of the three, I’d say Karjakin has the most chances, as he’s shown more consistency and has more experience playing top level chess (especially when compared to Andreikin).

I will try to do a more detailed analysis of each player’s characteristics and chances as the tournament draws closer.

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Среќна Нова 2014

Нова година, нови надежи.

По катастрофалниот настап на нашата репрезентација на Европското во Варшава, се надеваме на подобро за Олимпијадата во Тромсо. Лошиот настап е последица на многу фактори во кои нема сега да навлегувам (само ќе кажам дека финансискиот фактор е само еден од многуте). Со овој пост сакам да предложам некои работи кои дефинитивно ќе придонесат за подобрување на атмосферата и зголемување на шансите за успешен настап во Норвешка.

Има доста работи кои можат да се направат без (или со многу малку) пари, а кои ќе бидат многу корисни како за играчите така и за раководството. Многу се зборува за тој тимски дух, сплотена атмосфера итн. но никој не работи (или не знае) да работи на тоа. Читајќи што прават и како се подготвуваат во Русија, многу е лесно да се позајмат некои од идеи од нив, обично Русите знаат што прават. Една од работите што ги прават се подготовки со поширокиот состав на репрезентацијата во текот на годината. Во наши рамки тоа е лесно изводливо (и не кошта пари!) – прво селекторот треба да одреди поширок состав, а сега на почеток на годината е добро време за тоа. Така играчите ќе знаат дека се кандидати за репрезентација и соодветно ќе можат да си ги планираат настапите и обврските (се разбира, ако имаат некакви амбиции да играат за репрезентација – тука и селекторот треба да размисли кого да именува во поширокиот состав, но тоа е друга тема). Со овој чин се става до знаење дека се мисли малку подолгорочно (макар и на 6 месеци), дека федерацијата има некаква цел, дека работи на подобрување на резултатите на репрезентацијата, дека не остава сѐ до последен момент (што е многу важно, од лично искуство знам колку е фрустрирачки да се виси до последно и да не се знае што се случува). Понатаму, во текот на годината селекторот (или некој од раководството) треба да биде во постојан контакт со играчите (макар и еден emailсо прашање за некоја партија или отварање), да ги следи настапите на тие што играат и да организира повремени средби кога играчите се во можност – еднаш до два пати месечно од 2-3 дена е повеќе од доволно – со тоа се одржува контакот и се врши размена на идеи меѓу играчите и се гради тој легендарен тимски дух којшто беше спомнат. Еве и практична сугестија – постои просторија во МКЦ, мислам дека се вика НВО центар, со капацитет од 10-15 луѓе, која се издава бесплатно на НВО и други организации. Еден телефонски повик од федерацијата и ете место за „припреми“. Евентуален трошок би биле патните трошоци на играчите кои не се од Скопје, но тоа е сепак занемарливо, а користа од ваков вид контакт во текот на годината би бил непроценлив. Уште еден детал, но кој исто така би внел чувство за организација и насока, е одредување на календарот во почетокот на годината. На практика тоа значи одредување на термини за поединечниот и екипниот шампионат кои и така не варираат многу со термините. Но, годинава тоа е од многу големо значење затоа што Олимпијадата е во август (1-15 август), а тогаш е обично терминот за лигата – што порано се утврди терминот за лига (а со тоа и поединечниот шампионат), тоа полесно за играчите кои планираат да играат турнири во јуни и јули со цел да се подготват што е можно подобро за Олимпијадата.

Ова се само неколку работи што можат да се направат и кои ми паднале на памет. Други идеи (ангажирање на тренери, физички подготовки, тренинг кампови со дефинитивниот состав пред тргнување, развивање стратегии за мечевите итн, итн) се секако можни но во голема мерка зависат од финансиите. Што мислите вие, имате ли некои идеи кои ќе помогнат за подобрување на квалитетот на нашите репрезентативни настапи?
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