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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Video Update for My Najdorf Repertoire

After the release of my Najdorf repertoire for Chessable I received a lot of positive feedback – people were happy with what I managed: to condense the Najdorf to a manageable size.

You can read the details in my previous post where I outlined my principles and selected lines. They appear to have stricken a chord with my students – with emphasis on understanding rather than memorisation it seems that I have made the Najdorf much more approachable.

With Chessable’s video sync feature in full operation the next step for the repertoire was to produce video explanations for the material. So at the end of April I sat down and recorded more than 11 hours of video material.

In the video course I took special care to take a look at the problem moves my students have encountered. By carefully checking the situations where the students have made the most mistakes I paid special attention to these positions and tried to explain them as thoroughly as possible. Often I drew parallels between similar lines or where ideas from one line could be implemented in another (like the …Qb8 idea in the 6 Be2 and 6 g3 lines), thus trying to clarify any confusion and to aid the learning process.

Another bonus for the video material is that I took the time to analyse all the model games I provided for the repertoire. The purpose of these games was to explore typical Najdorf positions, themes and maneuvers. Even though the games not always correspond to the actual repertoire lines, their intent is to give you a feeling for the Najdorf and I tried to convey this in my video analysis.

I am very satisfied with the work I did and I believe this video update fittingly complements the written commentary. However, none of this would have been possible without the professional help of David, Chessable’s CEO and the studio in his office in Swindon, the lovely English town where he resides. Thank you, David!

The Najdorf Sicilian: Simplified is out on Chessable

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Sochi Impressions

Several days ago I was invited to open the first Archibald Chess Professional tournament, organised by the Archibald Chess Company in Sochi, Russia.

While I didn’t get to see much of Sochi, there was plenty of action on the boards. It is so much different when you follow a tournament from a playing hall (even when not playing) as opposed to sitting at home and doing it online.

When I am in the playing hall, looking at the games in progress I have a much sharpened feeling for what is going on. The opening ideas are much more valuable than when I see a game in a database from home – with an engine running it is so much easier to discard many interesting ideas that you can only fully “humanely” understand if you look at with with your own eyes and process it with your own brain.

Below I present fragments from the games that left impressions of different kinds.

There are no more easy Rounds 1 in opens and many surprises are not surprises anymore. Here’s what happened to GM Bogdanovich against IM Yandarbiev (who has a surprisingly low rating).

I have noticed that players who win in the early rounds without apparently deserving to do so usually do very well later in the tournament. The rationale I have understood is that when points come even when the play isn’t on a high level, will continue to come when the play returns and the player starts to play on his usual level. After 6 Rounds Bogdanovich was leading with 5/6 (losing only to Kovalenko).

Some players like to take risks against lower-rated opponents. This may work, as it did for Timur Gareyev who played the Schara-Hennig Gambit against Margarita Potapova.

The opening of the following game was interesting to watch for 2 reasons: first, White was playing a-tempo until he got a winning position, and second, it appeared that Black made all the logical moves and yet ended up positionally lost after 16 moves.

The opening of the following game was very curious: I wasn’t sure whether Black was blundering or provoking White.

When the strongest players started playing each other some interesting opening ideas appeared. For example, I didn’t know of Black’s 6th move in the Exchange Variation in the Caro-Kann. This game was the duel between the sole leader Kovalenko on 3/3 and one of the other rating favourites Alekseev.

In the same round Russian talent and hope Esipenko lost again (the other game I had in mind was the crucial one from the European Individual in Round 10 against eventual winner Artemiev) in the same line of the Fianchetto Grunfeld to Stupak. Perhaps time to change the line?

There were quite a few more interesting examples, but you get the point. When you are in the hall everything is interesting, because on every board there is tension and struggle and you feel it, something that is easy to forget when sitting at home behind a screen.

The internet has allowed us to follow games from all over the world in real time, but watching the games in person is a different experience. Things are much more personal when you observe the position on the board together with the players who are playing it and this personal experience is probably the closest thing to playing yourself.

Now that I have returned home and I follow the games on the internet I try not to forget the feeling from Sochi and be more understanding of the players. It is more human like that.

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Refutation of the Gothenburg Variation

Or perhaps I should have named this post “How to Make a Draw Among Friends?”

The ongoing tournament in Ivory Coast, part of the Grand Chess Tour, saw the game Karjakin-Nepomniachtchi in Round 1. It featured the Gothenburg Variation of the Najdorf.

A line with rich history and alas, no future. Introduced in Round 14 of the Gothenburg Interzonal in 1955 by the Argentinian trio of Najdorf, Pilnik and Panno in the games against the Soviet players Keres, Spassky and Geller, respectively, it was handsomely met by the spectacular move 13 Bb5! (first played by Geller, as the story goes) and it resulted in the Argentinian fiasco with three beautiful wins for the Soviets.

It was considered that the line was refuted by this move, but three years later, citing sources from a Soviet magazine, 15-year old Bobby Fischer improved with the incredible 13…Rh7! in the crucial game against Gligoric in the last round of yet another Interzonal (in Portoroz) to secure qualification for the Candidates Tournament in 1959. (Another story goes that Fischer actually asked Gligoric about this line at some point earlier in the tournament – while swimming – and Gligoric said he didn’t know much about it.)

Fischer’s move is considered best even nowadays and the analyses have shown that this line ends in a draw. This has been known for a very long time.

However, another thing has also been known for a very long time. And that is the fact that the move 11 Qh5! (instead of the flashy sacrifice 11 Ne6) leads to an advantage for White, thus basically refuting the Gothenburg Variation.

Here’re the details (note that I’m using lichess for this one as chess.com has been having some issues with the game viewer):

Please bear in mind that by “refutation” I don’t necessarily mean a lost position for Black, but rather a prospectless position at the end of the line, making the whole variation unappealing to play. Similarly, you can take a look at another refutation here.

It is quite apparent that both Karjakin and Nepomniachtchi played this “game” in order to make a spectacular draw, as I am pretty sure that both knew the best way how to play against the Gothenburg Variation.

Some time ago Carlsen brought up the subject of these kind of “games” and it gave rise to some controversy with the accused Karjakin and Mamedyarov denying vehemently. But if you have been in the business for long enough, you learn to detect these things and understand what is happening under the surface.

Circumstances aside, bringing up the forgotten page from chess history, the Gothenburg Variation, is something I appreciate, so thanks to both players for that. After all, they could have played the Exchange Slav instead…

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Carlsen’s Sveshnikov

Bobby Fischer said that a turning point in his career came when he realised that he can play for a win with Black too, even against the strongest players.

I assume that this realisation must have happened during the period 1960-1963, because at that time he was still playing 1…e5. Fischer had relatively short draws in the Cordell Variation of the Ruy Lopez where he didn’t get chances at all in the Buenos Aires tournament and the Leipzig Olympiad in 1960. Even though his last two 1 e4 e5 games are from 1963, more or less from that period onwards he switched completely to the Najdorf. From the mid-60 he also incorporated the Alekhine Defence, but he never returned to 1…e5.

Nowadays there is no elite player whose repertoire does not include the 1…e5 move (barring the honourable Frenchman with 2 surnames and Nepo). After 1…e5 all of them play the Berlin Defence.

The World Champion is not an exception. He built his solidity around the Berlin and it has served him well for a very long time.

Then something happened during the preparation for the match with Caruana. Whether he thought that he should play different type of positions against this particular Challenger, or he wanted to change his approach with Black generally, or perhaps something else, Carlsen decided to adopt the Sveshnikov Sicilian as his main defence against 1 e4.

An interesting decision, the Sveshnikov. Kasparov used it several times as an alternative to his Najdorf in the early 00s and Gelfand made it his main opening in his World Championship match against Anand in 2012. Both did rather well. Still, generally speaking, it was considered that the opening lost a great deal of its former glory thanks to the line 11 c4:

This line stabilises the centre and largely kills Black’s dynamic counterplay. This change of character wasn’t to the liking of many Sveshnikov players and slowly the opening gave way to the eternally dynamic Najdorf.

So when Carlsen adopted the Sveshnikov, the first question I asked myself was, what does he have in mind against 11 c4? We are still waiting for the answer, as the only time so far this was played against him was in the blitz game with Nepomniachtchi, where the Russian was late for the game (!) so Carlsen accepted a draw after 11…b4 12 Nc2 a5 13 g3.

Theory aside (for this I invite you to join my newsletter using the yellow box on the right, since soon enough I will send a theoretical overview of Carlsen’s treatment of the Sveshnikov), I am very curious about the psychological implications of the use of this line of the Sicilian.

Let’s start with what Carlsen has said himself. He was quite open saying that he liked playing the position where he felt Black had easier play. This concerns primarily the 7 Nd5 line, played very often against him since the match with Caruana. In his own words, the engine gives an advantage to White, but when preparation ends then it is easier for Black to play who often has excellent compensation for the often-lost h5-pawn in view of an attack. His careful study of these positions has helped him understand the dynamics much better than his opponents – after the match he’s beaten van Foreest, Navara and Karjakin with only Caruana drawing.

Dynamism is present in the whole Sveshnikov, but at various degrees. If the above-mentioned line with 11 c4 lowers it to the minimum, the lines where White takes 9 Bxf6 gxf6 are one of the most dynamic ones in the whole theory of chess openings, while the positions after 9 Nd5 Be7 10 Bxf6 Bxf6 are somewhere in the middle. The level of dynamism is determined by White’s choice of lines, meaning that Carlsen is prepared for a different type of battle in each game he plays the Sveshnikov.

Does Carlsen’s newly-found liking for the dynamics mark a new phase in the development of the World Champion? Carlsen’s results in 2019 show that it appears that he has found his reliable mainstay opening against 1 e4 that, and this is crucial, allows him to play for a win with Black against any opponent.

Just like Fischer and Kasparov before him with the Najdorf, Carlsen may be equally successful with the Sveshnikov. It won’t be much about the actual theory and preparation, but more about the understanding of the inherent dynamics of these positions that will determine the outcome of his future games. So far, Carlsen seems to be ahead of the others in this aspect.

Still, nowadays the moat is always narrow as people learn to catch up very quickly. They will learn to understand the dynamics and Carlsen’s advantage may disappear. To quickly adapt and change is a vital advantage in today’s game. But that time still hasn’t arrived for Carlsen and, besides, he can adapt too.

While I don’t think this played a major role in his choosing of the opening, compared to the Najdorf, the Sveshnikov has one important advantage – it is more practical. If on White’s move 2 the possibilities are the same, after 2 Nf3 d6 White has quite a lot of sensible ways to avoid the Najdorf: 3 Bb5+, 3 Bc4, 3 c3 (not to mention the other, less critical ones) and even after 3 d4 cd there is 4 Qd4 and 4 Nd4 Nf6 5 f3. White also has the move-order 2 Nc3 with various ideas based on g3 and Nge2 while keeping the option to play d4, in addition to the Grand Prix Attack.

In the Sveshnikov these options are very limited. There is 2 Nc3 Nc6 3 Bb5 (as the Grand Prix is considered harmless after 2… Nc6) and after 2 Nf3 Nc6 only two options remain – the Rossolimo 3 Bb5 and 3 Nc3. This fact that White doesn’t have too many ways of avoiding the Sveshnikov may be very important in practice.

Carlsen’s choice of the Sveshnikov is definitely good news for the chess public. We already saw some and will definitely see more exciting games with the World Champion being aggressive with Black. The only danger lies in the possibility that people stop playing 1 e4 against him, but then again, as they say, you can run, but you cannot hide…

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Forward Chess

Disclosure: All links in the text are affiliate links. If you click on them and buy something I will earn a small commission.

“I studied chess from books” is what Sergey Shipov writes in his book On Life and Chess. I can say the same.

When I say “book” I still have the mental image of a paper book. So back in the day I would sit on my bed, with the magnetic chess set in front of me, the book in my lap and I would read and execute the moves on the board, analysing, trying to understand the secrets of the game. A very pleasant process, I must say.

I wish I had the time to go over that process again sometimes. Even though I’ve gone a long way since those times, I still have a lot to learn. The last time I did this was back in 2013 when I sat with a chess board and went over all the games from the London-Leningrad 1986 Karpov-Kasparov match using Kasparov’s book and then scored a great result at the Paleochora tournament.

Everything is fast today. And everything is on the phone. So the people from Forward Chess came up with the idea to put the books in your phone and enable you to move the pieces as if on a physical board.

A logical idea, undoubtedly, but how convenient is that? There are many apps out there where you can play chess and move the pieces, how comfortable is to use it as a part of a reading process?

Initially I was skeptical. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I prefer a physical board in front of me! So reluctantly I downloaded the app and tested it.

I expected to feel frustrated by looking at the tiny pieces and trying to read at the same time, but imagine my surprise when I actually felt comfortable reading the free sample books provided in the app.

I am no expert, so I cannot explain technically what made that comfortable feeling, but I was aware of the clarity of the screen, the sharp letters and the pleasing, familiar (Chessbase-style) look of the chess board and pieces placed above the text.

That was the first surprise.

The second one was that the process of reading and following the moves on the board was very easy. Whenever there is a game or even a move in the text you can click on it and it would immediately appear on the board.

Immediately I wanted to see how this works for the most variation-dense books. Luckily there was a free sample from Avrukh’s Grandmaster Repertoire 2A – King’s Indian and Grunfeld – you don’t get more dense than that!

So I opened it and wanted to see if I can follow the lines without getting lost. And it worked! I could go deeply into the lines and go back, either by clicking the forward/backward arrows or simply on the move I wanted to see. Rather conveniently, on each fork in the variation, next to the board a box appears to show you the possible options in that positions, all clickable.

As a bonus to all this there is also an option to use an engine (Stockfish) while reading and going over the lines. Even more, you can try your own moves and analyse on your own with the engine, trying other moves than the ones given in the book. This last option is a crucial one in my opinion – I don’t think it happens only to me when I don’t really get it why a certain move is played and not another one. Then is the perfect moment to make the move on the chessboard and ask the engine about it!

There are many other customisable options which I didn’t need – taking notes, adding bookmarks, sync-ing between devices (it can be used both on a phone and a desktop machine), night mode, piece and board styles and sizes, different fonts etc. In short, you’re invited to make the app your own.

The choice of books on offer in the app is quite big (over 300) and is ever increasing. You can see a free sample from any book before purchasing. A few of my favourites are Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual, which I think is ideal for endgame training and improving your play in theoretical endgames, the Avrukh books, Game Changer by Sadler and Regan, The Shereshevsky Method by Shereshevsky (a compilation of his books), the Aagaard books (the GM Preparation: Calculation I am still using for training), Edouard’s Magic Years with Topalov (which I would like to read when I have more time!), Gelfand’s Dynamic Decision Making in Chess, Shipov’s On Life and Chess mentioned at the beginning (which is completely free) to name but a few. There are so many and on every topic imaginable that you’d be better off to take a look yourself!

I am quite happy to recommend the Forward Chess app. I use it and I feel good when I do. Give it a try, you may find yourself spending more time reading, analysing an eventually improving!

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My European Championship 2019 – Part III

In Round 9 I was White against GM Santos Ruiz, rated 2560 and one of Spain’s brightest prospects. I noticed he had some problems in the Ruy Lopez and I expected him to switch to the Najdorf, his other main opening. I again managed to use a line I’ve never played before but I had prepared.

A crazy game where I played with utmost aggression. I must admit that I enjoyed it and the fact that I didn’t lose also felt good. Still, my sacrifices were speculative at best and objectively speaking I should have lost. But this game confirmed to me a very important thing – when you put pressure on your opponents, even if it’s only a psychological one (as in this case, when the moves weren’t good but I was “attacking”) they are rarely able to deal with it properly. This was definitely the most fun game I played in the whole tournament.

The game with Santos gave me positive vibes and I was optimistic for the next round when I was paired against another young and talented player, 17-year old Russian IM Lomasov, rated 2559. He had already beaten players like Gelfand and Short, but I didn’t need a warning to take him seriously.

I noticed that he played the sharpest 6 Bg5 against the Najdorf and I wanted to invite him to sharp play, especially as he probably wouldn’t be expecting it. But I also knew that he can easily deviate from that, in spite of not being his repertoire, so I checked the popular alternatives on move 6 as well. The opening showed that I was spot on.

I was better out of the opening, but then I misevaluated the position several times and lost. It was a pity, because the opening really gave me good chances, but I have to admit that he understood the position better at the critical moments. I was disappointed and even followed the modern trends of not resigning until almost mate.

With this loss I was back at 50% and in the last round I got the same rating range as in Rounds 6-8 – a 2283 FM from Spain, Ibanez Aullana. At least he was older than me, so I could count on less energy and (hopefully) less resistance.

But things went sour immediately. I prepared well but when he played a dubious line I relaxed and continued to make normal-looking moves when all of a sudden I was worse!

A strange game in sense how abruptly the evaluation changed: first White got worse from a perfectly normal position and then all of a sudden Black was facing huge problems after the transposition to the endgame. I played the first part of the game badly, I started to put up resistance when I realised I was worse and then I played the endgame well.

With this win I finished on +1, with 6 points out of 11. I tried to give my best and it seems that my best now looks like this. I would have liked to play better against the stronger players, but I lacked the consistency during the game in order to match their quality of moves. The positive aspect was my inner feeling of being at least equal to them and my resolve to go for a win in every game.

I think that this will be my last European Championship. As life evolves I have less and less time to devote resources to preparation and spending 2 weeks away to play a very expensive tournament. Since this one was played in my home city I thought I should give it one last try and for a last try it was a decent one, especially compared to the others.

I haven’t abandoned my desire to improve at chess. I only have to become more intelligent about it, as with less time I will need to work smarter. This tournament gave me excellent feedback and I hope to be able to use it in the future. Without any tournaments planned for now it is not clear when I could use this feedback, but the time will come. Then we will see if I learned my lessons.

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My European Championship 2019 – Part II

After the two losses I was paired with a lower rated opponent. In Round 5 I was facing WGM Maltsevskaya, 16-year old Russian talent rated 2252 and a World Champion for girls under 20 from 2018.

The game turned out to be much easier than expected as she didn’t know anything in the opening. Still, it lasted long enough to prevent me from resting a bit more.

I noticed that in modern chess the old notion of respect and resigning in lost positions is largely gone. Especially the young generation just plays until the end, even absurdly so. It is the Carlsen influence and I made the mistake of not adjusting to this change. This cost me dearly in the next round.

After the rest day, in Round 6, I was paired with another young player, FM Zlatin, rated 2243. He had a limited repertoire with a few dubious lines and I targeted one of those.

Of course, there is no excuse for not winning this. I was too relaxed and perhaps too amused. But I know that these feelings never help during a game of chess and this was shown one more time. You cannot (and shouldn’t) toy with your opponent, it’s best for both if you just put him out of his misery, because as long as there is life (he’s in the game) there is hope.

In retrospect, this game was in a way a turning point, not so much for the result, but for the quality of play. Had I won, I would have played stronger opposition again and this would have forced me to raise the level of my play. But starting with my next game I was lost, or nearly lost, in all my remaining games. Even though I was feeling the same I couldn’t keep up the quality of my moves and there were major ups and downs in evaluations, from winning to losing and everything in between.

I think this game affected me more than I thought. I know all too well from open tournaments that when I fail to win against a lower rated opponent in the next round I get a similar one who puts more resistance and if I keep not winning each next opponent is a more difficult one in spite of their ratings being lower.

Even though I knew this I still couldn’t readjust and the next round was perhaps the worst game I played in the whole tournament.

Round 7 brought an almost identical type of player – a youngster from the same country (Israel) with the practically same rating, 2245. My preparation was great, I may have even managed to refute an important line, but I followed up badly and all the effort went to waste.

A crazy game, but one with very low quality. I was missing a lot of moves and I only started to fight when I was dead lost. I was lucky to manage to confuse him in the complications, though he was winning until the very end.

As described above, following the pattern and life giving me another chance to prove I’m able to beat somebody, in Round 8 I got another lower rated player, Polatel, rated 2220. And things only got more difficult as this time I risked in the opening and was lucky not to be punished. Still, he was fighting hard throughout the whole game and outplayed me in the middlegame.

Another awful game, I was exhausted when it finished. The only positive thing about it was that I won. After two missed chances against lower-rated players I finally won a game and now I was going to be paired with stronger opposition. I was worried about it, because I saw that my level dropped and that I’m playing worse than in the first half of the tournament.

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