The Taimanov Syndrome in St. Louis

The legendary champion sits behind the board once a year to the delight of all chess fans. Last year and this one the discipline he chose was Fischer Random.

(Strangely enough the Americans prefer not to use the name of their great champion for the game he invented – this time it was Chess 9LX, the last two digits are Roman numbers, in case you were confused).

These outings haven’t been too delightful for Kasparov. Last year he lost to Topalov, this year before the match against Caruana he said it will be “fun.” I wonder where he got the idea.

For anyone who has played chess a bit more seriously the only fun is the winning. Sometimes even that isn’t fun. For Kasparov to say that playing would be fun, simply cannot be true. Yet he said it.

You should probably be able to recognise this position:

It is the position that haunted Mark Taimanov for the rest of his life. It is the position from the 3rd game of his match with Fischer. In that moment Fischer was leading 1-0, the second game was adjourned in a drawn position and here in the third Taimanov had great position. He spent a lot of time and instead of trusting his intuition and play 20 Qh3 he went backwards 20 Nf3 and the rest is history.

In his book and all interviews afterwards Taimanov lamented how things would have been different had he played 20 Qh3 (he believed he was winning, though analysis shows he wasn’t), how the match would have been completely different, how everything would have been different. He couldn’t get this position out of his head.

Kasparov suffered a similar fate to Taimanov’s at Caruana’s hands in Saint Louis. In Game 2 he was winning (clearly, unlike Taimanov) but he blundered and lost. What happened next was a complete repetition of the Taimanov syndrome.

Kasparov mostly kept losing but it was all the 2nd game’s fault, if only he won, if only he didn’t blunder, the match would have been different. To make it worse, he kept getting winning positions but he also kept blundering, blaming it on that ill-fated Game 2. He said he couldn’t forget that game. A surprising thing to say by a player who often came back with a vengeance after a loss. Where did the psychological toughness go?

I am not sure how much Kasparov was saying what the public wanted to hear, or he was really fooling himself. He didn’t stand a chance in that match, irrelevant of that Game 2. Just like Taimanov would have lost that match to Fischer, Kasparov would have lost to Caruana. The fact that he was outplaying Caruana often means that Caruana wasn’t playing at his best, but even that sufficed to bludgeon the legend.

Time-troubles, age, lack of practice, these were the reasons given for the losses. Kasparov knew these would be present, so the real question is, why did he sit down to play and risk humiliation?

In 2016, when he decided to play blitz against America’s best players in the Ultimate Blitz Challenge, I asked him via Twitter why he was doing the same thing he criticised Fischer for in 1992 – coming back from retirement and risking a destruction of the legendary image he rightfully had. He never replied, of course, but I thought that perhaps the reason was the same as Fischer’s – money. But unlike Fischer, that money wouldn’t be from the prize fund.

I am sad that this happened to Kasparov. Perhaps even angry at him, for destroying his own image. He was my idol for as long as he played and I even briefly met him in Tromso in 2014. After the match Kasparov said that perhaps the suffering in the match was a sign from above to stop attempting to reverse time. I think he is right. Once retired legends should stay retired.

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Carlsen’s Comeback

I cannot but admire the man.

After the meltdown in the rapid and blitz he pulled himself together in the classical and basically closed down shop. Conservative, ultra-careful and safe he made 9 draws in a row. Curiously enough, the last draw followed a less well-known game by Fischer:

There was a curious story about this Fischer game I read somewhere (at this point of writing I cannot recall the details – where I read it, which analysis he wanted to refute). Fischer was trying to catch Matulovic in an improvement over existing theory at the time, but Matulovic improved on the bad analysis and caught Fischer instead!

In Round 10 more classical heritage appeared in Carlsen’s game, but this time to a better effect.

This position arose after move 19 in the Giuoco Piano, with Carlsen playing Nc4 previously and inviting …Bc4, bxc4. The position immediately draws comparison to the famous Liublinsky-Botvinnik game:

Botvinnik famously won by planting his rook on d4 and undoubling his c-pawns after White took the exchange.

Carlsen didn’t need to sacrifice an exchange, he planted a knight on d5 and this sufficed.

Then in Round 11 the Frenchman with two surnames continued the tradition (Grenke, Zagreb and now here) of losing in the last round to the World Champion, this time by committing a hara-kiri blunder in a double-edged position.

For me, this comeback was incredible. With these two wins Carlsen emerged shared 1st with Ding Liren, something which seemed not very likely, to say the least, from the way he was playing. He must be the only person alive to be able to pull this type of turnaround, to get beaten down (in the rapid and blitz), to stabilise, to take his chances and finish first!

The other big story was of course his loss in the tie-break. A first loss in a tie-break since 2007, after winning 10 of them in a row. But even this loss somehow falls into the picture of Carlsen not being at his best overall, yet finishing first. Losing the tie-break only meant that there was a guy who was better than him on that given day.

That guy is Ding Liren, one of the 3 players who manage to keep their rating steadily over 2800 for over a year. This stability is key. This is Ding Liren’s first super-tournament victory, one that undoubtedly sets a new level of expectation for him, and here I mean the Candidates Tournament next year. Together with Caruana, who, admittedly, doesn’t have a spectacular year (yet keeps his rating comfortably over 2800!), these two are the frontrunners for a match with Carlsen next year. But before that, they’ll fight it out in the Candidates, where I see them as the main contenders irrespective of who else plays there.

The move of the tournament was the final move of the tournament. In both blitz games Ding showed that he saw more than Carlsen and did it faster than his opponent.

Ding went for this position voluntarily. It appears that White’s winning, but the Chinese had the next move prepared: 40…Ne7! Carlsen could only smile and resign.

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Carlsen’s Meltdown

The main story of the Sinquefield rapid and blitz was Carlsen’s apparent inability to keep his composure.

Carlsen’s problem were his blunders. It has happened before that he starts with a loss or bad form, but this time he simply couldn’t manage to turn it around and in utter frustration he started to do odd things.

It’s not that he didn’t try to keep it contained. He tried to play more solidly (the French with a direct transposition to an endgame against Karjakin and the QGD against Ding Liren – he lost both) and then more sharply (transposing to a Dragon Sicilian against Yu Yangyi – he was brutally mated), but with equal (lack of) success.

Then came the most shocking thing for me – Carlsen’s own admission that he didn’t care anymore. I have never before heard a World Champion openly declare that he didn’t care about the remainder of the tournament (and Carlsen had a full day of blitz ahead of him).

The frustration was obvious, nothing seemed to be working, but to say that he didn’t care? That is giving up. How much did it have to hurt so that he saw no other way out but to give up?

Here’re a couple of examples of Carlsen’s frustration translated to chess moves:

If that was primitive, then this was too optimistic (to say it nicely).

There were other blows as well: getting mated by Yu Yangyi in a bad Dragon and losing to Dominguez in a Sveshnikov (a piece down on move 23). Additional pain must have been caused by his overall losses to Karjakin (2-1) and Caruana (2.5-0.5)

After such a long period of successes this was undoubtedly a shock to Carlsen’s system. Of all the players he is the one least accustomed to failures, but the strength of all champions has been their ability to overcome adversity. Carlsen has shown it before on more than one occasion. That is why I find this giving up so shocking.

Two rounds have already passed in the classical event in St. Louis. There have been 11 draws and 1 decisive result, Anand’s win against Nepomniachtchi. I expect it to continue in similar manner, with Carlsen more cautious than ever, not going after breaking records of reaching 2900. He is also human and a dent in his confidence is as bad as in anybody else’s.

In a way, and I’ll go off on a tangent here and speculate, I think that when the day comes, Carlsen will lose his title in a similar way Kasparov lost his to Kramnik. In frustration. Just to whom that may happen is the question, who will be capable to frustrate him like that? Though, what we can say for sure – nobody from the current players in St. Louis.

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Lack of Opening Ideas

The non-stop playing of the top players is taking its toll. There is no time to rest, there is no time to think things through, there is no time to invent new ideas.

The players play and it is their seconds and helpers who do the hard work of constantly coming up with new moves and lines to surprise the opponents. Some are obviously better than others, but even the best run out of ideas at some point.

It is not surprising therefore when there are so many games played with the same openings. Just sticking to what is safe ensures against big surprises, but that also leads to less excitement.

In the penultimate round of the Zagreb Grand Prix Mamedyarov employed the Scandinavian (also known as the Centre Counter) against Caruana. It was yet another tournament that wasn’t going well for Mamedyarov and it appeared as if he didn’t care. Hence, 1 e4 d5.

Black got the usual slightly inferior but extremely solid position from the opening and eventually drew the game. Players note very carefully what everybody else is playing and they probably concluded that the Scandinavian isn’t good enough for classical games, but the opening exploded in the Paris Grand Prix in both the rapid and the blitz.

Mamedyarov played 2 more games with it – he beat Anand and lost to Dubov. He stuck to his treatment of 3 Nc3 Qa5, the same line he played in Zagreb against Caruana.

Other players tried their luck with the Scandinavian as well and they all went their own ways. Nakamura also played 2 games in it, choosing 3 Nc3 Qd6 in his loss to Caruana and draw with Giri.

It was Duda who employed it the most. Perhaps tired a bit of his trusty Petroff, he kept choosing the peculiar development after 3 Nc3 Qd8 that involed the double fianchetto. His results were great – he lost 1, won 3 and drew 1. The good thing about his opening was that he always played the same, which is very practical as it requires very little preparation.

While things worked out better than expected for Duda, I doubt the Scandinavian will catch up on the highest level. It will now be subjected to serious analysis and they will find ways how to deal with it. Surprises only last so long on that level. That is why they need a constant supply of fresh ideas.

The public had its quick rush with the Scandinavian and now we’re waiting for the next one. I wonder what it will be.

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Opening Cycles


This one is from my newsletter. Enjoy it!

Nowadays chess theory develops by the minute. New ideas appear constantly and it is difficult to follow every single one of them. But sometimes it is not necessary to do so.

The openings in chess have their cycles. A characteristic cycle of an opening is that it becomes popular as a lot of new ideas and plans appear in it; people start to play it a lot and it is analysed in great depth; in these stages it is vitally important to follow all the latest developments and novelties; after a period of this process, which depends on the complexity of the opening, the main directions and variations are crystallised and it becomes easy to determine which are the most critical lines; here already the impact of the novelties is not as strong; then the main directions are explored and if the ideas are getting exhausted the opening is slowly abandoned or other, new directions appear, usually at an earlier stage.

To be aware where a certain opening is in this cycle is very important from a practical aspect. It is not very practical to start playing an opening when it is in its first stages, when it’s not clear what the main lines are and which plans are the most promising – though it is in exactly this phase that the elite players are thriving. A typical example for this is the Giuoco Piano – there are many plans and move-orders for both players: White has plans based on Bg5, Be3, the queenside expansion, the knight-transfer to f1 and then g3 or e3, the central d4-push, while Black can play with …a6 or …a5 (favoured by Ding Liren), go for …d5 or not (depending on White’s move-orders), go for …Ne7-g6 or/and …Be6. While this leaves scope for surprises and new developments for the elite, it is very confusing for the rest.

A different example is the Najdorf. This ever-green opening can never be abandoned, and is in the stage of new ideas appearing, as early as move 6, with White players trying out moves like 6 h4, 6 a3 or 6 Nb3. The reason for this is that in the traditional main lines the variations have crystallised and Black usually has a choice of a couple of reliable and straight-forward lines to choose from. For example, in the 6 Bg5 line he can either go for 6…Nbd7 or the delayed Poisoned Pawn 6…e6 7 f4 h6 8 Bh4 Qb6, championed by Vachier-Lagrave. Or in the English Attack, he can choose the lines with …h5, which are all the rage now, the sharp variations with 10…a5 (after 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cd 4 Nd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Be3 e5 7 Nb3 Be7 8 f3 Be6 9 Qd2 0-0 10 0-0-0 a5) or even the complex lines after 10…Nbd7 11 g4 b5 12 g5 Nh5.

Therefore it is practical to take up an opening in these later stages, when one only needs to study the current theory, which has narrowed down thanks to the decades of “distillation.” In these stages the effect of novelties is diminished because normally they cannot drastically impact the variations, so they are mostly of a “local” character.

A similar case is the Sveshnikov Sicilian. As the last World Championship match implied, and Carlsen’s later games showed, Black is perfectly fine in the main lines after 7 Bg5, so White players are looking for alternative ideas, Caruana’s attempt of 7 Nd5 being such a case.

I understand that in order to be able to recognise these cycles a certain opening erudition is required. This however shouldn’t discourage the opening student. Speaking from personal experience, if you dedicate your efforts to a study of an opening, meaning you go back in time to the opening’s beginnings and then analyse its development over the years, you will start to recognise these changes that all openings experience.

As an additional advantage, having studied an opening in such a way will often enable you to be ahead of the curve and even foresee the changes that still haven’t occurred! That is one of the rare superpowers in chess!

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Total Domination

Carlsen is winning everything.

I have to admit that I like that. I enjoyed watching Kasparov win everything in the 90s. Perhaps I feel that chess is a game of kings and it needs a proper king to rule and show his strength.

In 1959 the third round (from rounds 15-21) of the Candidates Tournament was held in Zagreb. It was in Zagreb that Tal overtook Keres and established a point and a half lead over his main competitor.

It is exactly 60 years later (thanks to efforts of the world-famous Croat Garry Kasparov) that an event comprised of only elite players returned to Zagreb. In 1959 there were 8 candidates, in 2019 11 players from the top of the rating list.

The results of both tournaments were identical. One player showed absolute superiority. If Tal brought dynamism and creating a mess to the fore, Carlsen’s current domination is a result of a successful reinvention of himself.

There are several factors that Carlsen changed that made him the irresistible force that he is right now. Here I would like to take a look at one of them. His Opening Preparation.

Ever since the match with Caruana the Sveshnikov Sicilian has been Carlsen’s main opening against 1 e4. The Sveshnikov offers rich dynamic possibilities in many lines and coupled with the thorough preparation made before the World Championship match, which included practice games and serious memorisation of all the prepared lines, it has been a fantastic choice for Carlsen.

However, there are a few lines in the Sveshnikov where Black’s counterplay is stymied and I’m surprised why they haven’t been tried against him more often. For example:

Carlsen’s choice of the Sveshnikov shows his changed approach towards his Black games. Fischer once said that a dramatic change in his career happened when he realised he could play for a win with Black too. Now Carlsen is doing the same.

An illustration of this is that even in the rare cases when he’s not playing the Sveshnikov, this aggressive and counter-attacking approach is shown in the other lines he’s choosing. Here’s what he played against Caruana in Zagreb:

When playing White Carlsen mostly varies between 1 c4 and 1 d4, in both cases with clear preference for closed games. In Zagreb he played 1 d4 in all but one game (in which he played 1 Nf3) and here again he is showing a lot of new ideas in the openings. Quite a fertile ground for his new ideas has been the Vienna (perhaps understandably so as it has been one of Caruana’s main openings prior to the match):

Carlsen has also shown his approach in the Grunfeld, preferring the line both Karpov and Kramnik successfully used in their matches against Kasparov, the line with Be3. His last round win in Zagreb against Vachier was deceptively smooth.

I find it difficult to understand what Vachier’s preparation consisted of here, as he immediately ended up in a worse position, but that doesn’t diminish Carlsen’s own.

As you can see, Carlsen is playing the main lines now! Not only that, he’s also introducing new ideas in these main lines and this gives him even bigger practical advantage than the previous Carlsen-style of avoiding theory and going for offbeat lines.

I see this shift towards playing the main lines as the single biggest evolution of Carlsen’s general approach to chess this year. As the positions he’s getting after the opening and his current results suggest, he has hit the bullseye. The players will of course adapt to the new Carlsen, but for now he’s flying as high as ever. Personally, I hope it continues for a long time.

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Anticlimactic Altibox 2019

I don’t understand why people start with the premise that a draw is bad.

When the premise is erroneous then everything that follows cannot be right. The way too many attempts at tinkering with the format of chess tournaments has led to mediocre at best results. The rationale has always been that the change is in order to make chess more televised, but that never happened.

Norway Chess saw the last attempt at “making chess more exciting.” But if people don’t find chess exciting as it is, no “end of the world” change will make it more exciting for them.

Still, with private endeavours the organisers are free to do whatever they like and they pay the fiddlers, so they will play.

And played they did. Even until the end of the world. I’m glad we saw “the end” very early in the tournament, in Round 1. The video of the Armageddon game between Aronian and Grischuk speaks louder (pun intended for the Spanish commentary) than words.

I have always seen chess as a game with dignity. And where is the dignity when the noble game is reduced to panicky piece throwing and chasing with seconds left on the clock? Why are we reducing ourselves and our game to park hustling? Why do we expect that by dumbing down our game and making the players clowns we will be able to sell it to a wider, usually not very interested, audience? If we don’t respect ourselves, do we really expect the rest of the world will?

The format of the tournament followed the same idea. A win in the classical game is worth 2 points and a win in the Armageddon 1.5. So why sweat for hours for an extra half a point when you can make a quick draw, Grischuk’s 15-move draw with So an exquisite example, guarantee yourself half a point and then pray to the gods of television to give you the extra point, even by drawing with Black in a completely winning position.

Following up on the absurdity of the point system, Ding Liren scored an undefeated +2 in classical, the same results as winner Magnus Carlsen, and yet finished 6th (!) behind players who had 50% score in the classical. Surely the classical should weigh more? But probably not.

The most absurd was of course the draw with Black counting as a win. By trying to eliminate the draw the format in fact encouraged an even more bizzare occurence – the players offered draws in winning positions because a draw was in fact a win! That’s Armageddon indeed. If I can somehow understand the need for it after a lot of played games at different time controls in a World Cup, here it was just a mockery of the game and the players. I read a good joke in a forum that suggested that the draws in the Armageddon should be replayed with classical time control.

I am sure that there were many who enjoyed watching these games. I didn’t. Because I don’t like to see the game and the world’s best players dragged down and paid to perform to a whim. Does anybody still remember the “new classic“? That one was also inspired by the same ideals of making chess “more interesting” and we see now how it ended.

History has shown that there is no shortcut to making chess popular or interesting to the masses. It has always been the game of kings. Changing the rules, the formats or putting players in VR suits are cheap stunts that don’t work. What works is a long-term strategy of education and positive public image by emphasising the benefits of chess. By doing this long enough we will start to see our game become even more popular. Unless we shoot ourselves in the foot too often and induce the end of the world prematurely.

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Is Playing 1 d4 Simple?

As with all things in life, the answer is “it depends.”

It depends on many things – how you play it, against whom you play it, which lines you play. And also there is the distinction of “simple” and “simplified.”

I made the transition from 1 e4 to 1 d4 back in 2008 when I realised that I won’t be becoming a GM soon. My rationale was since I wasn’t getting the title then I may as well study and learn something new. Creating a repertoire is never a simple task, but I knew what I wanted. I wanted safety so I immediately started with “everything g3.” With the benefit of hindsight, not a bad approach. Later on I expanded on it, but the love for the fianchetto has remained ever since.

Chessable’s author IM Christof Sielecki followed up on his Keep It Simple: 1 e4 with Keep It Simple: 1 d4. Not surprisingly, he also advocates the fianchetto against pretty much everything.

After watching the introductory video I got a general idea of all the lines he is suggesting. I very much liked his sincerity where often he would say that Black is fine in certain lines, admitting that there is no advantage in the variations he’s suggesting. And this is true, as in modern theory it is impossible to claim an advantage in any sound opening.

Christof’s “simplicity” is shown in the suggested move-order for the repertoire: 1 d4, 2 Nf3, 3 g3, 4 Bg2 and 5 0-0 against pretty much everything. But then things get complicated.

The repertoire does not shy away from entering mainstream theory and mainstream theory is anything but simple. The author recognises the danger of suggesting off-beat lines just in order to avoid theory – this is a dead-end street in the long-term – so he enters the main lines when that is the correct way to go. Good examples for this are the transpositions to the Catalan, the Fianchetto Grunfeld, the Tarrasch Defence and the Queen’s Indian.

I checked several lines that were interesting to me. I was curious to see how the repertoire compares to my notes.

In the Tarrasch Defence the proposed line is to play the main line with g3 without Nc3. I discovered that Sielecki improves on the proposed line by Aagaard and I couldn’t find anything wrong with it.

In the Reversed Grunfeld lines (1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 d5 3 g3 c5) he digs deep, following a forced line from many games and then considers 4 candidate moves for Black on move 14, with White having a pull in all of them.

In the Catalan you cannot avoid theory and the repertoire doesn’t intend to. The good aspect of the proposed move-order is that it avoids all the Catalan lines with early 4…dc so Black’s choices are limited to the Closed System without the subtlety of …Bb4-e7 or the Open System with 6…dc.

In the Open System the very recently played game Grischuk-Nakamura from the FIDE Grand Prix posed serious problems to Black in the line 7 Qc2 b5. Sielecki couldn’t have known of this game when he worked on the repertoire and his analysis follows an earlier game, Gelfand-Ponomariov from 2011, but stops short after 16 Nc4, limiting himself with a verbal explanation when theory goes on and Black is probably fine later on. As with all theory, it never stops evolving, and the improvement by Grischuk (16 Nd4!), who in turn was following an analysis by Avrukh, will serve well the diligent student.

In the line 7 Qc2 a6 the suggested line is 8 a4. This leads to microscopic (if any) advantages for White, but it is extremely solid so it fits well with the whole idea of the repertoire.

I was somewhat surprised that against the Grunfeld with …c6 the recommended line is 7 b3, allowing the sharp equalising try 7…dc 8 bc c5 and after 9 Bb2 Qb6 10 Qc1 (instead of the more popular 10 Qb3). This is a very concrete line requiring good memorisation, somewhat at odds with the generally slower pace of many other lines.

Against the KID the repertoire doesn’t enter the main lines but suggests 6 b3 instead. Apart from the move-order issues (as Black can play …c6 instead of …d6, toying with an idea of a transposition to a Grunfeld) this is a very practical approach – not many KID players like the sight of 6 b3 and the lines are not bad at all for White either!

The only lines where White doesn’t fianchetto his bishop are the ones where Black plays an early …c5, where the suggested plans are based on playing d5 and follow mainstream theory which guarantees White an advantage.

As usual, Christof is very thorough and I couldn’t really find a weak spot in the repertoire. Curiously enough, he often says that he used LeelaZero to suggest interesting ideas.

After going over the repertoire I cannot say that it is “simple” at all. It is simplified to a certain extent, but it requires a lot of study in order to absorb the whole material. If this doesn’t bother you (and it shouldn’t!) you have a very solid and high-quality material to rely on that will most likely serve you for many years to come.

Keep It Simple: 1 d4 is out on Chessable

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Harikrishna’s French

Have you ever wondered how an elite chess player’s preparation looks like? If you have, now you have a chance to find out.

Chessable managed to get Pentala Harikrishna to create a repertoire for White against the French Defence. He is by far the strongest player to have a repertoire on the platform and I was curious to see what material he prepared.

As an 1 e4 player who has always played 3 Nc3 against the French in the past I was excited to find out that Harikrishna also suggests the same choice for the repertoire. My reason for more or less abandoning 3 Nc3 was that all 3 main Black defences: 3…de, 3…Bb4 and 3…Nf6 became so popular that every single one of them required a ton of work to keep updated with many viable options appearing for Black.

So what did Harikrishna come up with?

As usual the Chessable repertoire comes with a full video material, so instead of going over the variations (which I did later) I decided to watch the video. While watching I was looking at my own notes and compared the lines.

Harikrishna covers a lot of 3rd moves for Black, but these are inferior so I concentrated on the 3 main ones.

The biggest surprise for me was that against 3…Bb4 he suggested the exchange variation 4 ed. At first I was disappointed, as I couldn’t believe White can pose problems there. Still, the facts that an elite player suggests that line and that the move has already been played by other strong players were enough to convince me to give it a closer look.

Harikrishna’s concept is curious. He is trying to put pressure in a symmetrical position a-la many lines in the Petroff Defence. He does in fact revolutionise the line by not playing in the old-fashioned way with a3, forcing Bxc3 when White takes bxc3, but rather goes for the more positionally solid approach with the maneuver Nc3-e2. A useful rule of thumb he gives is that White should always put his king’s knight on an asymmetrical square from Black’s: if Black plays …Ne7 then White goes Nf3 and if Black goes …Nf6 then White plays Ne2.

After the initial scepticism I found the lines quite compelling. The main reason was the easiness to play them as White’s play is simple, straight-forward and very safe. Quite a different picture than the lines after 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bc3 6 bc and now either 6…Qa5 or 6…Ne7 when White can easily be put to the sword of the counter-attack if he messes up.

Against 3…Nf6 I saw that Harikrishna’s suggested line is 4 e5 Nfd7 5 Nce2. I felt inner satisfaction when I saw this because I studied and prepared this line back in 2000 (!) as a back-up for my main choice of 4 Bg5. Since my analysis is rather dated, I was glad to find out many important improvements Harikrishna has discovered, perhaps the most shocking one being 12 Kd2! in one of the lines.

Against the Rubinstein 3…de he suggests the latest trend of 7 Ne5 (after 4 Ne4 Nd7 5 Nf3 Ngf6 6 Nf6 Nf6). I have never studied this line in depth so I took time to check it. One of the main characteristics of the course comes to the fore here – Harikrishna doesn’t shy away from showing his own preparation and novelties. For example, after 7 Ne5 Nd7 he analyses the move 8 Be2, a novelty on move 8! Both Karjakin and Dominguez have played 8 Bf4 against Meier, but Harikrishna goes for the endgame and gives deep analysis of his new idea. He could have saved this idea for an important game, but instead he chose to share it with the Chessable students. I found this very sincere.

As with any elite player, the analysis is deep and thorough, all carefully checked with an engine. Another example is his own admission that he forgot his preparation in the game against Rapport from March this year and then he proceeds to show an improvement and an important novelty on move 10 in one of the lines.

I found the video pleasant to watch as Harikrishna’s voice is calm and his exposition is measured. I invested several hours in watching him explain his lines against the French and I feel I came out of it equipped with new lines to try against this opening. For me, that is a lot.

Harikrishna’s French Toast is out on Chessable.

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Short and Sweet

Normally when it is sweet we want it to last and this particular one lasts for 50 minutes. Does it qualify as short then?

You probably realise by now that I’m talking about Chessable’s Short & Sweet courses that are free and provide a short overview of an opening.

In the course of my recording for the Najdorf Sicilian I took time to record and create a Short & Sweet repertoire. I aimed to provide a sustainable overview of the opening, covering as many different lines as possible.

With the Short & Sweet Najdorf I wanted to show that by studying a relatively small number of lines you can gain confidence to try the Najdorf, without fear of not knowing theory or being busted because of it. The main difficulty lay in the selection of the most characteristic lines for each option by White. Therefore I took care to select lines that show the most typical development of the play in a nutshell.

In the video I expanded on the presented variations as much as possible. I wanted to explain with words the main ideas and concepts so that even with a concise course as the Short & Sweet you could feel confident about the Najdorf.

Since we’re talking about short and sweet, I’ll keep this short. The sweet is at the end of this text following the link.

Give it a try. It is free after all.

The Short & Sweet Najdorf is out on Chessable.

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