Candidates 2021 and What Lies Ahead

With the Candidates tournament finally finished we now have the name of Carlsen’s challenger. Many interviews were given and a lot of information appeared since the end of the event, so here I will try to summarise and give also my opinion.

The players who were leading one year ago finished on top, but their paths were different. Nepomniachtchi played solid and safe chess, Vachier was stubborn and paid the price for it.

Nepomniachtchi showed maturity and good control of his nerves. As he put it, one must never go crazy in these events. In other words, making draws is good. Vachier perhaps would have wanted to do the same, but insisting on the Najdorf and the Grunfeld made him a sitting duck and after a full year of preparation his opponents took advantage of it.

The revelation of the tournament was Giri. It seemed to me that he added a certain “forward intent” to his solidity. This was most clearly shown in the game against Caruana, when he first absorbed White’s pressure and then when Caruana decided to continue the game at all costs (instead of accepting a draw, which for him was unacceptable) Giri took over and there was no stopping him.

I was disappointed by Caruana’s decision not to try to beat Nepomniachtchi with Black. He explained this by being too early to burn bridges, but in fact already in the next round he was forced to burn those bridges against Giri. Postponing the said burning didn’t help him even though he was White against Giri. My experience says that it’s always best to try to use the first chance – in Caruana’s case the game against Nepomniachtchi. It was also more practical to do so – he would have caught the leader and in fact would have had a better tie-break in case of a win. When the first chance is not taken and when a second one comes (this often is not the case – life often gives just one chance) then taking the second one is more difficult. This was proven in Caruana’s case, when Giri played one of his best games. But, and I have noted this on more than one occasion, the modern generation of chess players is not a risk-taking generation. Nothing seems to “whip the blood when great stakes can be gained by resolute and self-confident daring” (Lasker). I see this lack of “self-confident daring” the main psychological weakness of today’s best chess players.

The rest of the field were not in contention for first place. The happiest is probably Ding Liren who scored the most points with 4.5/7. Wang Hao announced his retirement from professional chess due to health issues caused by stress. Grischuk directly decided the winner by beating Nepomniachtchi’s followers, first Vachier and then Giri. Alekseenko beat Giri in a nice game in the last round to sweeten his maiden attempt at the world title.

What can we expect from the match in Dubai? I expect a much more dynamic match than Carlsen’s previous matches. A lot of people have said that Carlsen can be beaten only in dynamic and perhaps even irrational positions. Nepomniachtchi can play like that, but modern chess is difficult because a strong player can skillfully avoid positions he doesn’t like by careful selection of openings. Let’s say Carlsen chooses 1.Nf3 – how is then Nepomniachtchi going to get a Najdorf or a Grunfeld?

As always, a lot will depend on the openings. And they will depend on the strategy the players choose. If Nepomniachtchi’s strategy is perhaps more probable to foresee, Carlsen’s is not. Does he feel strong enough to battle in sharp positions, or will he try to keep it quiet and technical?

One way or another, the match will be interesting. Just like any other World Championship match.

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Countdown to Carlsen

This text was published in the April issue of British Chess Magazine.

After more than a year since the Candidates tournament was stopped, the hapless tournament will continue from 19 April in the city of Yekaterinburg. Guarantees are freely given that the players will be safe and that they can arrive to Russia without problems. According to the FIDE President anybody who wishes to receive the Russian vaccine will be able to do so. There will be many unknowns until the event starts, and likely during its course, so the only thing we can do is hope that everything goes well this time.

Here is a reminder of the current standings: Vachier and Nepomniachtchi lead with 4.5 points ahead of Caruana, Grischuk, Giri and Wang Hao on 3.5. Last place is shared by Alekseenko and Ding Liren with 2.5.

It is worth noting that in case of a tie the result of the direct duel between the players will be the first criterion. In the case of Vachier and Nepomniachtchi for now the Frenchman has the advantage as he won their game from the 7th round. The Russian will have a chance to level the score in the 13th round.

Even though the results add up, except for the players there is nothing in common between the two parts of the tournament. The period between them was so long and the world changed in so many ways that it makes no sense to predict the outcome based on how they played in March 2020. The players will return to Yekaterinburg in different form and state of mind and will play a very short tournament of 7 rounds when anything can happen.

What we do have, however, are the points and a full point is a huge advantage in only 7 rounds. This makes the leaders the clear favourites before the start. The standings also indicate that except for the last two players everybody else is still in the running.

Nevertheless, this doesn’t make it any easier to try to predict how the event will pan out. The players barely played any classical games in the past year and basing conclusions on their online performances can be loose at best. For example, it is not improbable for a player like Ding Liren, who played very badly in the last online event in early February (starting his games at midnight), to start winning games and turn the event upside down.

Of the players who managed to play some classical games, at this year’s Tata Steel Masters in Wijk aan Zee, Giri and Caruana can be fairly happy with their play, finishing shared first and shared third respectively. On the other hand the leader Vachier should be very worried, finishing on a heavy minus score. He lost to both fellow candidates Caruana and Giri in his beloved Najdorf, making it even more painful.

Still, often playing very badly before an important event (like Caruana having an abysmal Wijk before winning the Berlin Candidates in 2018 and Anand finishing last in Bilbao before beating Kramnik in Bonn 2008) can serve as a wake-up call and can mobilise the player. To spice things up, the first round of the resumption will see the duel Caruana-Vachier, a repeat of their game in Wijk aan Zee, so we will quickly see whether the Frenchman had managed to recover.

If there are no unexpected events we will know the name of Carlsen’s challenger by the end of April. The World Championship match is scheduled to start on 24 November in Dubai. This gives the Challenger 7 months to prepare for the most important event of his life while hoping that the world becomes a better place in the meantime.

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Differences Between the QGD Repertoires

As you probably know, I recently created a Lifetime Repertoire (LTR) based on the Queen’s Gambit Declined (QGD) for Chessable. This one was not my first repertoire on the Queen’s Gambit Declined. In fact, I already had a trilogy published on Chessable that covered “everything except 1.e4” based on the QGD.

The natural question, one that I have been asked many times, was what were the differences between the two. Apart from the usual improvements thanks to the advances of chess theory and engines (these go without saying) in this post I’d like to give an overview of the differences in the chosen variations. Before continuing I want to stress again that the lines in both the trilogy and the LTR are perfectly valid and it is a matter of choice which ones to choose. I also intend to keep updating both repertoires, so rest assured that I will continue to provide feedback.

Without further ado, here are the main differences:

  1. In the Exchange Variation, after the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Be7 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bf4 c6 the trilogy analysed the move 6…Bd6 after both 6.e3 and 6.Qc2. The LTR analyses 6.e3 Bf5 and 6.Qc2 Nf6. The reason for the change was that the lines in the LTR have proven to be more dynamic and I considered them interesting enough to explore and propose them.
  2. In the Main Line with 6.Bxf6 I tried to condense the lines in the LTR by mainly proposing plans based on …dxc4. This is especially important in the lines with 8.Rc1 and 8.Qb3 (after the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Be7 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bxf6 Bxf6 7.e3 0-0). In the trilogy I proposed 8.Rc1 c6 and 8.Qb3 c6.
  3. In the Main Line with 5.Bf4 (after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Be7 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.Bf4 0-0 6.e3) the trilogy analysed the lines with 6…c5 while the LTR analyses 6…Nbd7. The reason for the change was a more general approach to the whole opening by proposing a more unified repertoire based on …Nbd7 against White’s main theoretical tries of the Main Line with 5.Bg5, the Main Line with 5.Bf4 and the Catalan.
  4. In the Catalan, after the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.g3, the trilogy looked at the variation 4…dxc4 5.Bg2 Bd7 while the LTR, in line with the approach described above analyses the Closed System after 4…Bb4 5.Bd2 Be7, followed by …0-0 and …Nbd7.
  5. In the Reti Opening, after 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 e6 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 in the LTR I concentrated on the lines with 4…d4, while the trilogy analysed 4…dxc4 in detail. After feedback from students I found that the lines with 4…d4 are much less theoretically heavy and therefore much more practical. The move 4…dxc4 still remains the main theoretical option, however.
  6. In the London System the choice of variation remained the same, but here there was a major shift in direction of better understanding of the ensuing positions after Bxg6 hxg6. After the trilogy was published there were several discoveries that showed the potential of White’s attack in these structures so in the LTR I came up with an important novel concept to defuse these attacks.
  7. In the Nimzo-Larsen, after the moves 1.b3 d5 2.Bb2 Nf6 3.e3 e6 4.Nf3 Be7 5.c4 0-0 6.Nc3 the trilogy looked at 6…b6, while the LTR analyses 6…dxc4, which leads to much more dynamic play.

The above 7 variations are the main differences between the repertoires. I hope this now makes it clearer when navigating between the two.

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Interview with GM Oscar Panno

After 7 years of maintaining this blog I can now firmly say that all the good opportunities I had in this period were thanks to it. These include but are not limited to my work in ACP, Chessable, various coaching and writing opportunities.

The latest one isn’t an exception.

Some time ago I was contacted by Sergio Panno, the son of the legendary Argentinian Grandmaster Oscar Panno. He said that GM Robert Hungaski has informed him of my blog and that perhaps I would be interested in sharing a word about a book on his father. Sergio informed me about a translation to English of a biographical book about his father called Oscar Panno, The Southern Chess Grandmaster that Challenged the North.

The above link has quite a lot of free “look inside” pages that you can read, which I did and the book captivated me. I consider myself well-educated when it comes to chess history, but while reading those pages I realised that there was a chess world that existed in South America in the 1950s that I knew very little about.

As I kept reading I came to the idea to ask a few questions the great man himself. I asked Sergio and he said that his father wouldn’t mind. That is how the interview below came into existence.

For me, this was like getting in touch with history itself. A player who became a World Junior Champion in 1953 (ahead of Larsen, Ivkov, Olafsson), qualified from the Gothenburg Interzonal in 1955 for the Amsterdam Candidates in 1956 and who played against 7 World Champions. It was just a big unbelievable WOW for me.

The Grandmaster wrote back in Spanish and I translated his answers to English. This translation was approved by Sergio so I present you the interview fully in English.

You come from a country with rich chess tradition. How did the chess culture in Argentina help you to became a World Junior Champion at the age of 18?

Buenos Aires has always been very connected to Europe via France and England and chess was one of the favourite activities. From the beginning of the 20th century we were visited by great players who left their trace. The highest points were the match Capablanca-Alekhine in 1927 and the Olympiad in 1939. Due to World War II a lot of players remained in our country, Miguel Najdorf being the most famous example, who established himself and served as a great inspiration. The 1950s were the golden period of Argentine chess with 3 silver medals at the Olympiads in 1950, 1952 and 1954. This atmopshere helped me become a World Junior Champion at the age of 18. However, in the next period we suffered financial and sporting decline and this was notable in the next showings on the international arena.

You rose to prominence in the 1950s when study material was scarce. What type of chess work did you do in that period that made you one of the best players in the world? To be more precise, how did you work on the openings, middlegames, endgames, calculation, technique?

The chess information was very scarce and it reached us very late. For example, at the moment of boarding the plane to go to a tournament GM Julio Bolbochan gave us the Russian magazines Shakhmaty with exactly 1 year delay since their publication. For these reasons we were forced to compensate these problems with great personal efforts.

You have played 7 World Champions: Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, Fischer, Karpov and Kasparov. Can you describe how it felt playing each of them?

Smyslov: a great player who deserves all my admiration because he had a great impact on the strategic development in many openings.

Tal: a unique genius, who unfortunately suffered from health problems.

Petrosian: “first among equals” (as described by Averbakh) in the 1960s who deservedly dethroned the veteran Botvinnik. I had good relationship with him in spite of the language barrier.

Spassky: a great tactician who managed to beat Petrosian. I had good results with him and also good personal relations because we also shared a passion for tennis.

Fischer: completely dedicated to chess who impressed his rivals with his confidence and eagerness to fight.

Karpov: a product of the Soviet school who deservedly dominated for many years and was a model for conversion of small advantages.

Kasparov: in my opinion, the greatest player in history (in his best years) who mastered all the styles and techniques.

How did you prepare for Candidates tournament in Amsterdam in 1956? Did you have any specific player-oriented preparation or was it a more general one?

It was not possible to prepare because I was in the military until 1 day before the trip.

In spite of becoming a World Junior Champion in 1953 and becoming a top 10 player you still decided to change your career and become an engineer. What were the reasons for abandoning the career of a chess professional?

I was never a professional player because in Argentina it cannot be a way of life. For this it was necessary to travel to Europe as various players did, like Pilnik, Quinteros and later many others. I chose to stay because of my family and then I discovered other passion in engineering, to which I dedicated many years.

Even after leaving professional chess you kept a very high level. How did you manage that?

Because of my work and family commitments I had to plan my vacations for dates when an important event took place. Meanwhile I participated in local tournaments to keep me active.

What do you think was your strongest feature that made you different from the best players in the world?

Possibly I had to compensate the absence of an absolute dedication with great effort.

The Variation with 6…Nc6 followed by …a6 and …Rb8 in the Fianchetto Line of the King’s Indian bears your name (the Panno Variation). How did you invent it?

Up until 6…Nc6 the idea originated from the Yugoslavs, inviting White to play d5. I asked myself, what happens if White doesn’t push d5? So I proposed to attack the centre with the flank pawns, which was completely compatible with the Yugoslav system.

At the age of 85 you are still very active in chess, giving lectures every week to young players. What is it that keeps you going and what is the advice you give to the young players of today?

Today’s chess is heavily impacted by computers and the only advice that seems valid to give is to study the games of the great players to understand and improve one’s technique.

What is in your opinion the best way to integrate the chess education of your time with today’s use of databases and engines?

It is of utmost importance to obtain the chess literacy of the youngest, for this having chess in schools is fundamental.Then every one can develop his or her abilities since computers and internet are available to all.

After the interview was concluded I received a link from Sergio about a talk between Oscar Panno and Levon Aronian that was published on Youtube. You may wish to have a look at it here. It’s curious to see an interaction between Grandmasters of different epochs!

To conclude, I wish Oscar remains vital and that he continues to be an active part of the chess life not only in Argentina, but thanks to modern technology also in the whole world.

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The Future of Chess

The best way to predict your future is to create it. – Abraham Lincoln

In times when the whole world is concerned about the future our game is not an exception. What will happen to chess? Does chess have a future?

I dare say that chess as a game has a future. Homo ludens has always loved games so there will always be people who will be enchanted by the 64 squares and 32 pieces.

Another question is how that future will look like. We have grown accustomed to the classical chess that comes from time immemorial, with the special atmosphere of the tournaments and matches, feeling that there is something precious and exalted in the aura of the chess world.

The pandemic forcefully changed the scenery. It forced us to stay at home, to forego all chess tournaments and if we wanted to play we were offered a digital version of our game.

I already wrote about this new world and its leader, Hikaru Nakamura. In a very recent interview Nakamura spoke about his disbelief in the future of classical chess and openly said that the future is online.

I understand that saying these things is in line with his business as a streamer and esports celebrity and that this type of future would be very favourable for him. As Carlsen has built his business companies that are slowly taking over the chess world Nakamura also wants to build his own domination, only in the online world.

When it comes to talk about the future, I always remember Kasparov’s words from 2011. Paraphrasing, he said that chess will be played only by the elite, the rest of the world will watch and be considered amateurs.

The elite just finished the only OTB tournament in this period in Wijk aan Zee. Previously it was Norway Chess. The rest? We stayed at home, watched the elite play and moved the pieces on our screens.

The pandemic sped things up, but all seems to be falling in place for Kasparov’s and Nakamura’s future.

I don’t like that future. I may be a tourist, amateur or Candidate Master in Kasparov’s terminology, but I love playing chess. I want to be the doer, not the watcher.

I also firmly believe in Abraham Lincoln’s words. It is always the person’s responsibility and it is within his or her own powers to create his or her future. What will happen to chess depends on us.

By “us” I mean the players who are not the elite. There will always be classical chess and OTB tournaments for them, they will look after their interests well. If the rest want to play OTB and want it badly, OTB will live. Then there will be organisers and sponsors who will make them happen. FIDE can also help, a major step in this direction will be including the opens in the World Championship cycle.

Of course, a lot depends on how long the pandemic continues to paralyse the world. If it is for too long, then no amount of love for the game will be able to change things simply because there will be no choice. But there are positive news in the world today so let’s try to be optimistic.

There are many actions in the world where the common people show their will and when united they manage to change things. The same applies to chess as well, so when the masks are finally down we will see how strong our love for the game is. I like to believe that it is and that we again get to experience the special atmosphere of the chess tournaments. The online world can and will exist, but nothing compares to the feeling of holding and moving your pawn from e2 to e4.

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A Different World

Already a lot has been written about the differences of online and OTB chess. I will not go into those details here. I want to describe what I see as a creation of a separate world of online chess.

The most striking example, or even better, a new leader of this new world is Hikaru Nakamura. He needs no introduction: a former world number 2 and a constant in the top 10 in the past 10 years or so. An ambitious player too, his statement about Sauron is part of chess lore. So what happened to Nakamura?

After realising that he will never dethrone Sauron it seems that Nakamura lost his ambition and motivation. His results in classical chess declined significantly and currently he is ranked 20th on the FIDE list of active players. But his speed prowess remained, or perhaps even improved – currently he is the world’s number 1 blitz player and world’s number 4 rapid player.

Moving to the online world was godsend for Nakamura. He continued to demonstrate his strength at fast time controls (the only time control possible online), but more importantly he was one of the first to create an online persona around which he built a huge following. The amounts of money he earns from his online activities are considerable (to say the least) and dwarf his earnings that come from the actual playing.

It didn’t take long for others to follow. While there is the random Giri or Radjabov or some Indian GMs, the majority of these others are players not even close to the strength of Nakamura.

I don’t know personally any of these streamers so I won’t be naming them in fear not to miss or offend somebody. The main point is that their success shows that being good at chess has nothing to do with being successful in the world of online chess.

There are quite a few female chess players who have success with streaming and creating their own online personas. They are far from the elite women players, again proving the above point of no connection between chess strength and online success.

This is perfectly normal. The world of online chess is about entertainment, much less so about quality chess.

These cases show that the new online chess world has its own heroes and stars. The potential for earning in this (brave) new world is much higher as the internet knows no boundaries. These new stars soon will be earning a lot more than the top 10 player who isn’t present online.

Still, nothing in this world is easy. A new set of skills is required to succeed in this novel category of chess stardom. Also not to be underestimated is the investment in high-quality equipment and then developing the skills to make the most out of it.

The online and the OTB worlds will continue to exist as parallel dimensions when OTB becomes reality again. Until then, feel free to make yourself at home in a different world.

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Happy Holidays

The year ends in a hectic and messy day for me. A lot of things don’t work, a lot of things need my attention and I cannot manage everything. Frustration and despair abound.

Still, I would like to end with something beautiful.

The other day I saw the following position on social media. The solution is very pretty.

White to play.

Happy New Year and all the best for 2021. May it be surprisingly sparkling as the above example.

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Real Chess

I wrote about this in my newsletter (which you can join by signing up using the yellow box on the right) and here I will expand a bit on the idea.

Some time ago I saw the following position posted on social media.

I don’t know who the players were, but the clock times were shown and both players had around 50 seconds left. This obviously indicated that it was a bullet game. This is the first point to consider.

Next comes the move Black played.

He played 9…Ne4. This is the second point and, strangely enough, the winning move.

The third point explains Black’s winning move. Black didn’t blunder his queen, he intentionally played the winning 9…Ne4. If you’re still confused read the next sentence.

White premoved 10.Bf6.

Black naturally picked up the bishop and White resigned.

So what happened here? Simply put, Black gambled and won.

A bit less simply put, here we have a plethora of new factors that are present only in the online version of chess.

Nobody plays suicidal moves in chess and this is deeply ingrained in our sub-consciousness. It is very difficult to override this belief and we saw that White couldn’t, while Black could and he was rewarded.

As a game of complete information chess is an objective game. Moving to the internet, chess ceased to be a game of complete information. The player doesn’t have the information about his opponent’s premoves, disconnects, toilet visits or even time outs. Due to this lack of information chess now starts to resemble poker or other hazardous games, when gambling is very much part of them.

In the above example Black gambled that White would want to take the knight on f6 and since these captures are usually premoved in bullet, he bluffed by removing the knight that was supposed to be taken. The bluff worked and he won the game.

But how big a deal is this? Does it really matter if you win a bullet game by a successful bluff or you lose one by an unsuccessful one?

In my view, not at all. It is all a quick fix, a 5-second satisfaction before the next game begins and all is forgotten. The search for the quick fix and the instant gratification is prevalent in today’s society and with bullet chess has also found its ways to enter the mainstream when it comes to this type of human entertainment.

This behaviour of conscious bluffing by making suicidal moves exists only online. It makes online chess a different game to the over-the-board version. Online, and especially bullet, is entertainment, fun, sometimes a mindless clicking for hours, but ultimately something that is not serious. The fact that there are official tournaments with bullet time controls that have considerable prizes only further drives away online chess from its over-the-board cousin.

To address the title of this email. Real chess? In the current reality, it is indeed. Whether you like it or not, it’s here. And, I’m afraid, it’s here to stay.

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Morphy, Fischer, Firouzja

This text was published in British Chess Magazine.

My impression of Fischer has always been that in view of his encyclopaedic knowledge, knowing all there is to know in his time, he was an excellent implementer of ideas. He would recognise an idea and then he would either perfect it or use it as it is.

For a very long time I thought that Fischer’s most original idea was his plan in the hedgehog formation consisting of …Kh8, …Rg8 and …g5, starting an attack on the kingside. He used it first in the less-well known game against Garcia Soruco at the Havana Olympiad in 1966:

While this is not exactly a hedgehog formation, in view of the passivity of White’s position Fischer played 14…Kh8! followed by 15…Rg8 and 16…g5.

The more famous example of this plan was seen in his game against Ulf Andersson, played after the Siegen Olympiad in 1970.

The pawn is on c7 instead of c5 in order to have a proper hedgehog, but Fischer already knew what he was doing: 13 Kh1! followed by 14 Rg1 and then expansion on the kingside with g4, Rg3 etc.

It was only several days ago that I learned that Fischer was not the originator of this plan. When I discovered this I was both surprised and not surprised.

It is well-known that Fischer was an ardent student of Paul Morphy’s games and had the highest esteem for his talent. He probably knew all Morphy’s games by heart. Therefore, the idea from the following position must have rung a bell when he played that game against Garcia Soruco.

This position arose in the blindfold (!) game between Louis Paulsen and Paul Morphy, played in New York in 1857. Black is stable in the centre and he finds an ingenious way to take advantage of White’s last move 15 h3.

Morphy played 15…Kh8! followed by 16…g5, 17…Rg8 and 18…g4. He won with direct attack against the king, sacrificing a rook on g2 and delivering mate.

 One can only admire the genius of Paul Morphy, to be able to come up with such an original strategic plan in a blindfold game, more than a century (!) before the modern masters picked it up. It is also no surprise that it was Bobby Fischer, with his keen eye for ideas, who first implemented the plan of his great predecessor.

As they say, everything new is something well-forgotten.

Fast forward to 2019 and the Iranian talent Alireza Firouzja. There is no doubt that Firouzja knows of Fischer’s plan in the hedgehog, just like many other players. What makes certain players stand out is not the knowledge, but the ability to adapt that knowledge to a new, original situation.

I will now show what I have in mind.  Take a look at the following position.

This position is from the game Tari-Firouzja, from the World Blitz Championship in 2019. Black has a great position here, as he has everything he could dream of from the hedgehog – the eternal knight on e5, the safer king and an opening of the position at his disposal.

Here the typical 27…b5 would have been quite strong. Black is ripping White’s position apart in classical fashion, having pushed …d5 first and now …b5. The tactical justification of the move is seen after 29 ab Ba5!, hitting the knight on c3.

However, what Firouzja did is something completely different. He managed to adapt Fischer’s plan and played the extremely curious 27…Kh7! I’ll be honest and admit that this would have never crossed my mind. To my understanding, the position is too dynamic and with a safe king I would have looked for more direct continuations akin to …b5 mentioned above.

This doesn’t mean that Firouzja’s idea is bad, not at all. It is a very interesting one, showing that the position can be approached in more than one way. His idea is a good adaptation of Fischer’s plan – he sees the open h-file as the perfect place for the somewhat idle rook on e8. After 28 Bg2 Rh8 29 Qe2 Kg8 he achieved his aim and maintained the advantage.

A lot of players have knowledge, but what they do with that knowledge is what makes a difference. From what we have seen so far (and not only based on the above example) Firouzja is intent on making a difference in the chess world.

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A Surprising g4 in the Najdorf

You must be wondering how a g4 move in the Najdorf can be surprising, but there are some cases when it is.

The year 2005 was a great year for me. At the end of it I made my first visit to Russia. In total I spent one month in Russia, divided between a tournament in Saratov and a stay in Moscow.

The tournament I played in Saratov was the first of the Aratovsky Memorials that became so strong in the following years. Back then it was a relatively unknown tournament, though very strong nevertheless.

In Round 5 of the tournament I was White against FM Isajevsky. He played the Najdorf and I had a chance to use a rare idea I discovered while analysing a previous game of mine.

This position arose from the positional line 6 Be3 e5 7 Nf3, after 7…Qc7 8 a4 Be7 9 Be2 0-0 10 0-0 Nbd7 11 Nd2 b6.

Black’s treatment of the line was sub-optimal, as White has achieved the ideal set-up: he can continie with 12 Bc4 followed by Bg5, obtaining strong control over the d5-square, which coupled with Black’s inability to push …b5 leaves White firmly in control.

That would have been the typical treatment of the line from White’s side. However, while analysing my game against Gunnarsson from that year’s European Club Cup I discovered a surprising idea.

That idea was the move 12 g4. It was quite shocking for my opponent and understandably so – White is not supposed to attack on the kingside in this line!

The game was tense, it continued with 12…h6 13 h4 Qd8 14 g5 hg 15 hg Nh7 16 g6 fg 17 Nc4, which was very promising for White. My opponent blundered and lost only 4 moves later. This game didn’t make it into the databases (none of the Saratov tournament did) and even checking now I can only find 3 games with the 12 g4 idea, the latest one from 2015 when Wei Yi used it to beat Sevian.

These types of ideas, when a positional line is suddenly turned into a dynamic one, have become more common nowadays, with the modern engines coming up with such moves on regular basis. Still, it felt good to spark such a surprise back in 2005!

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