Monthly Archives: Apr 2014

Gashimov Memorial 2014 Round 10 – No Surprises

Everything ended as expected, but we were definitely enjoying the ride! Round 10 saw Carlsen win again, avenging his loss to Caruana from the first half of the tournament and winning the tournament a point ahead of the same Caruana.

The opening was rich in psychology. First we should remember that a draw was enough to Carlsen to win the tournament. He offered Caruana to play the Fianchetto Grunfeld on move 4, but Caruana, needing to win, went for 4…c5 instead, offering a transposition to a Benoni, Benko Gambit or possibly an English. Then Magnus persisted, and went 5 c3, again offering the Fianchetto Grunfeld, but this time the exchange variation (after 5…cd 6 cd d5) where the probability of draw is extremely high. But Caruana again showed fighting spirit and went for 5…d5, sacrificing the pawn on c5, which Carlsen took. And now what we got was a reversed Grunfeld, white a tempo up, obviously! In the normal Grunfeld, when white sacrifices the pawn in this manner, it is considered to be good for black to defend the pawn when white gets the usual compensation with the strong centre, but now white took the pawn and was a tempo up. Caruana did obtain compensation for the pawn, but objectively speaking it was an uphill task from there. That is not to say that the game wasn’t complicated and demanding on both players. But Carlsen showed himself to be the better player on the day, the quality of his moves was higher, especially as the onus was on Caruana to find compensation and create play in the centre and the kingside. Caruana went into time trouble, but the feeling was that Carlsen was always in control anyway and he wrapped up the game nicely.

I doubt he needed any, but this was definitely a confidence-booster for Carlsen – winning a decisive game in a last round, avenging his previous loss to the same, very serious  opponent (potentially even a challenger in the future), winning another very strong tournament and showing character and determination after his crisis at the end of the first half. Like I wrote back then, the great Magnus performed another feat!

The rest of the games weren’t very notable, perhaps Mamedyarov preparation against Karjakin’s already played line in the double fianchetto English (against Nakamura in round 5) was a bit shallow, as soon after he introduced his novelty on move 18 (18 g5) he spent more than 1 hour (!) on his next move. There were obviously many lines to calculate, but in fact they were following the first line of the engine until the perpetual check. So it’s unclear whether he knew everything and was resting for 1 hour at the board, or he was calculating his way to the draw. This draw must have made Karjakin very happy, as he managed to fulfill his dream of drawing all his games.

Nakamura must have been surprised by Radjabov’s first ever Berlin and it showed. White got nothing out of the opening and by move 20 black got everything one wants from a Berlin. The game could have ended there and then in fact, as I’m sure the players knew it was a dead draw, but they still decided to play 57 moves more.

Carlsen won another super tournament. What was different this time was that he showed weakness and lost 2 games and then showed strength of character and resolve to win 3 more games after that. What he did was in fact regain his usual peace of mind and with it came the quality of his moves. Now how did he do that, is really something I’d like to know! He attributed his success to some luck, but let’s not forget that the strong players are always lucky! That usually means that they play strong moves and the opponents crack under the pressure – later this is called luck, as in, “I was lucky he blundered”. But that “luck” is fully deserved by the strong moves played and the pressure put on the opponent. It’s not in vain when they say there’s no luck in chess!

It’s been a great tournament, but more are on our way, with the Norway supertournament scheduled for the beginning of June. The show goes on!


Gashimov Memorial 2014 Rounds 8&9 – 14 f3?!?

Round 8 of the Gashimov Memorial saw two decisive games, for the first time since Round 5, the round when Carlsen lost to Radjabov.

The only game that was drawn was the game Carlsen-Karjakin. Carlsen finds it difficult to get a position when he plays Karjakin, especially with white – the last time he beat him, last year in Wijk, was that long 92-move Reti and he won in spite of the opening, not because of it. You might say it’s the same as with the other players, but it isn’t, with Karjakin it is different. The reason is that Karjakin is wonderfully prepared and when he doesn’t experiment he manages to achieve rock-solid positions that are almost impossible to lose. And another thing is that Karjakin is happy with playing for a draw. In yesterday’s game Carlsen tried to surprise him with an extremely rare line in the Queen’s Indian, but that led to nothing and soon enough he had to be a little careful (as he said in the press conference) to secure the draw. An uneventful game, but a food for thought for future encounters – how to create problems to Karjakin when playing with white. This game continued Karjakin’s drawing streak and he didn’t seem to mind.

The other two games were much more dynamic. Caruana beat Radjabov after the latter missed something in time trouble. In King’s Indian Caruana, like Carlsen, also sacrificed an exchange and the position was dynamically balanced. The game should have been a draw, but it was spoiled by Radjabov’s mistake on move 38. Mamedyarov-Nakamura was a Slav that quickly became sharp and it was black who took over the initiative. This line with 4 g3 against the Slav seems to be getting some popularity, it’s interesting to observe how white players are willing to part with material in order to just get a game – not to everyone’s taste, of course, to sacrifice material that early in the game, but this shows the tendency in elite chess – black is so well prepared that if white wants to play for more than a draw then more drastic measures are needed. In the game though, Nakamura didn’t take the pawn on c4 and soon enough it was white who was doing the sacrificing again. In mutual time-trouble and complications Nakamura managed to keep his advantage and win.

What surprised me most today was the game Karjakin-Nakamura and the post-game comments by Karjakin. It was a King’s Indian (Karjakin said he was “surprised” by this, as he was expecting the Slav – but surely the King’s Indian is one of Nakamura’s most frequent choices, so how can that be a surprise?!) and Karjakin went for the popular line with h3 (usually called the Makagonov line). The game followed the Ostenstad-Nakamura game from 2013 and then on move 14 a bomb dropped. Had a beginner played the move 14 f3, he would have politely been told not to come back for any more lessons, because he had no talent for chess. The move shows complete lack of understanding of the King’s Indian and is a big positional blunder. And yet Karjakin played exactly that. And to make things worse, they were following a game by his opponent, if he didn’t prepare that, then what the hell did he prepare? After the game he whined that he didn’t bring a second with him (implying that he cannot prepare without a second? Poor Karjakin) and said that he played the line for the first time in his life and he briefly looked at the lines, but surely he’s a top-10 player who should have a general positional understanding of the highest calibre, even though he’s never played the King’s Indian in his life? But no, and this is a comfort for the lesser mortals, that even elite players have blind spots and positions they understand nothing about and play them like patzers. To his credit, Karjakin then showed his usual grit at defending and saved the draw. But to me, the 14 f3 move was a bigger shock than a blunder of mate in one.

Caruana won again, his second win in a row with white. He beat Mamedyarov who again couldn’t (or wouldn’t) control his aggressive impulses in a relatively calm position. He set the table on fire with 22…e5 and in the complications he had his chances to draw, but he didn’t take them (I wonder if he didn’t because he was playing for a win) and then Caruana showed good technique to win the endgame an exchange up.

Carlsen was under pressure in the middlegame against Radjabov, but then for some reason the latter switched to defensive mode (as Svidler put it) on move 31 and had to defend for 70 more moves. He did that successfully and the game was drawn.

So tomorrow we have the decisive game of the tournament – the leaders play each other, Carlsen having the white. He did beat Caruana very nicely in Zurich with white, in a Spanish with 4 d3. But in this tournament he’s exclusively played 1 d4 and somehow I doubt it he’ll go for some topical Grunfeld line tomorrow. So I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays something else, just in order to avoid the Grunfeld. Carlsen has had problems with Caruana in the past and lost to him in the first half of the tournament, so we’re all set for an exciting battle tomorrow! The tie-breaks do favour Carlsen, though, so he may not try too hard, but that will also depend on Caruana. Stay tuned!


Како ШФМ го одредува календарот

Одговорот на ова го знаеме сите одамна – лигата е во јули или август за да може луѓето кои играат да си истераат одмор во Хотел Дрим на сред сезона. Овој аматерски пристап не е променет од кога ги играм тие лиги, а тоа е уште од 80-те години.

Оваа година Олимпијадата е од 1-14 август, што го поремети вообичаениот термин за лигата, па луѓето од ШФМ направија предлог-календар кој предвиде поединечното отворено првенство на Македонија да биде во јули, а лигата во септември. Имајќи го ова предвид, и во консултации со ШФМ, јас ги испланирав своите настапи за периодот пролет-лето.

Како шаховски професионалец со стаж од преку 20 години учество на турнири низ светот се трудам да се однесувам така – професионално и одговорно спрема работата, клубовите за кои играм и репрезентацијата. Играњето за репрезентација ми претставува посебна чест и задоволство, иако за жал од сите активни играчи до сега јас таа чест сум ја имал само 3 пати до сега (Европските екипни во Крит 2007 и Грција 2011 и Олимпијадата во Дрезден 2008). Со оглед на тоа дека Олимпијадата е настанот на годината, јас направив план како најдобро да се подготвам за него. Дел од тие подготовки е и учеството на турнири и со таа цел имав во план да настапам на силниот опен во Ретимно, на Крит, кој е во периодот од 11-19 јули. Идеален термин, кој остава малку време и за одмор по турнирот а пред заминувањето за Тромсо на 1 август.

И што се случува следно? Денес дознавам дека ШФМ решава да го замени терминот на лигата со терминот за поединечното првенство, со други зборови лигата да биде на сред јули. Објаснувањата од типот, не се знае дали ќе има пари за поединечното до јули, кој ќе го игра поединечното ако не е во лето, не можат луѓето да плаќаат ако се игра во Скопје итн се несериозни и само потврда на аматерскиот пристап за кој говорев погоре. Дури и моите предлози за компромис, лигата да остане во јули но да се помести пред или после турнирот не наидоа на разбирање и беа одбиени, иако ми изгледаа сосема фер и разумни. Суштината е во тоа чии интереси се гледаат – на професионалците (годинава тука сум само јас, со оглед дека на останатите играчи од репрезентацијата им е сосема сеедно кога е лигата, јули или септември, но други години биле засегнати повеќемина) или на луѓето кои сакаат да играат лига и да тераат одмор истовремено. Од постапката на ШФМ одговорот е сосема јасен – терањето одмор е поважно од еден од најдобрите играчи во државата и член на репрезентацијата. ШФМ воопшто не ја интересира мојот углед како професионалец, кој мора да откаже учество на турнир за кој потврдил дека ќе го игра, престижен турнир на кој многу тешко се добиваат услови и треба години за да се изгради довербата кај организаторите; не ја интересира тоа што со неиграњето на турнирот ме спречува да заработувам со својата професија; не ја интересира што член на репрезентацијата нема да може соодветно да се подготви за тоа натпреварување (да ве потсетам ли само на резултатите од минатогодишното Европско првенство и претпоследното место?) Едноставно кажано, ШФМ воопшто не ја интересираат професионалците.

Една од главните цели на ШФМ е подготовка и настап на репрезентацијата. Од разни причини подготовките се најчесто непостоечки, па затоа играчите ги земаат работите во свои раце – секој се подготвува како што знае и умее. Во случајов дури и тој момент на индивидуални подготовки се саботира.

Да биде работата уште полоша, ова не е прв пат ШФМ да донесува вакви одлуки со календарот при кои јас и други играчи биле оштетени. Иако луѓето кои се таму отсекогаш во текот на годините биле бивши шахисти, очигледно позицијата ги прави повеќе политичари отколку шахисти кои учат од сопствените грешки. А за причините и целта на промовирањето на аматерскиот шах (кој апосолутно го поддржувам, но не на сметка на професионалниот шах), во некоја друга прилика.


Gashimov Memorial 2014 – Rounds 6&7: 10-0

The power of football. Or the magic of the ball. It seems that was all it took to get Carlsen back to his old routine.

Usually a free day after a loss is an added torment, let alone two losses. The player keeps going back to the mistakes, analyses the games over and over again, cannot forget the agony of defeat. And this is where the football kicks in. In my last post I said that the recipe for coming back after loss(es) is forgetting what has happened and “just play.” For Carlsen the football match on the free day served as the perfect distraction from his brooding (as any chess player, he was definitely suffering after the two losses) and at the same time as a way of letting go of all the negative emotions that accumulate after a loss of a chess game.

Mamedyarov-Carlsen followed the game Capablanca-Nimzowitch from Bad Kissigen 1928 until move 8 – Capablanca preferred to take on f6 while Mamedyarov kept the pin and later used the bishop to attack the black queen on b6. It was the typical Catalan-type compensation, double-edged and complicated. It’s a tendency I noticed that the players are trying to get this type of position against Carlsen: starting with Anand’s Nimzo with 4 f3 in Chennai, then Nakamura in Zurich (the same Nimzo with 4 f3, he repeated the line today as well, but more on that below), then also Karjakin used the same Nimzo line in round 3 here and Radjabov went for the King’s Indian. All these choices lead to complex positions with not-so-clear positional guidelines and the players obviously think that it is here that Carlsen’s potential weakness lies. They may be on to something, as he doesn’t feel very comfortable in these positions, even though he still manages to win. The game with Mamedyarov followed the same pattern, Carlsen may not have been too comfortable, but he still found good squares for his pieces (I liked 20…Rf7 with the idea of Nf8). Mamedyarov blundered soon afterwards, but black was already clearly better by then.

The other two games of the round were no less interesting, though they both finished in a draw. The funny thing in the Caruana-Nakamura game was that they both played that line of the Open Spanish with black! Nakamura played this line last year against Safarli, while Caruana played it way back in 2010 against Shirov. As it happened, he improved on Shirov’s play and won a pawn, but somehow with active play Nakamura held the draw. Radjabov-Karjakin was interesting because of the endgame that arose: a rook endgame with 3 vs 3 on the kingside and a passed b-pawn with white’s rook in front of the pawn. Fairly typical stuff and the usual defensive method with a passed a-pawn is to put the pawns on f7, g6 and h5 and keep the king around the e6-square. But here white had a b-pawn and the king is closer to it, so Karjakin played 32…g5!? and I found that very instructive – the idea is to reduce the material and in case of h5, like Radjabov played, to play 34…g4 in order to isolate the pawn on h5 and take it with the king. This is exactly what happened and black saved the draw. A valuable defensive idea!

Today Carlsen increased his lifetime score against Nakamura to 10-0. It’s curious how the game followed similar pattern to their game from Zurich: Nakamura again went for the 4 f3 line in the Nimzo and again got a very good position. And again he misplayed it. I am sure that he would never misplay that position (not to talk about the winning one in Zurich) against any other player in the world; yet in happens against Carlsen and on a pretty regular basis at that. Psychology is the only possible explanation, but what exactly does that mean? My guess is that Nakamura places too much importance on these games against Carlsen. With his statements and behaviour he tries to show the public that he’s “the one” who will dethrone Carlsen and all this brouhaha he creates impedes his own chess ability and consequently he plays below his level in these games. He creates the tension, he puts too much significance on the games and then he can’t withstand them. What serves him pretty poorly is the typically American need for self-promotion – it seems that it doesn’t bode well with his character. For some people it works well and gives them extra strength, they feed on their own words, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with Nakamura. If he would just shut up and play, he’ll do much better against Carlsen. However, I doubt he’ll shut up.

I’m starting to think that what I said some posts ago about Karjakin getting the wrong impression from the Candidates, that he can do well by playing for draws, is becoming true. Another non-game against Caruana today, repeating the game Giri-Caruana from Zug 2013 until move 29 and then 5 moves later it was a “dead draw” (as Karjakin said in the press conference). His statement from the press conference that “chess is a draw” seems like a lame attempt to excuse his shameful approach.

Radjabov-Mamedyarov was another friendly draw and not really worth mentioning.

We now have the same situation as at the start of the tournament – Carlsen is winning, the others aren’t. I just don’t think that this time he will crack – I am pretty convinced that he will clinch it.


Gashimov Memorial 2014 – Rounds 3-5: Carlsen Castles Short

It’s an unpredictable place, this (chess) world of ours. Just when everybody was expecting the usual Carlsen dominance, things started to go terribly awry for the World Champion.

It all seemed to go so well – in Round 3 he first got Karjakin out of his preparation, then outplayed him and put him in severe time pressure. Just when you expected the inevitable, Karjakin started to defend with only moves while Carlsen started to waver. Definitely not what he had got us used to! The game ended in a draw. (I noticed that Karjakin was smart to say after the game that he was happy not because he drew with Carlsen, but because he saved a difficult position – saying the former would have been a grave psychological mistake, it would have implied he had an inferiority complex).
I think this draw disturbed Carlsen’s inner peace – he was doing what he usually does and yet couldn’t finish the process, he couldn’t clinch the game, something that simply doesn’t happen with him. After all, he built all his reputation on mercilessly clinching games! He wasn’t his usual self the next day against Caruana, even though he played his usual Berlin. In the press conference he said he wasn’t feeling very well that day, it was just “one of those days” that we all have, when everything that can go wrong, goes wrong. This was indirectly confirmed by Chuchelov, Caruana’s second and coach, when he said that before the game they looked at the exact line that happened in the game – that’s how it goes, when things go wrong for you, they go right for your opponent. The Berlin structure they got in the game, with white’s pawns on h3, g4, f3 and e5, with a Ne4 and Bf4 is uncomfortable for black, this was also noted by Svidler during the online commentary (he even went on to explain that this was the reason for the popularity of the Berlin lines with Ke8 and h5, as they prevent white from establishing this structure). Carlsen was unhappy with his position and just as any other mortal would when under pressure, blundered and lost. What I found insightful was his confession after the game that he misjudged the position several times – this usually means that his positional calculation wasn’t precise (I invented the term “positional calculation” for my own purposes – something similar was mentioned already by Kotov – it refers to the calculation of lines “when nothing is going on in the position”. It usually consists of calculating many candidate moves 2-3 moves ahead both for yourself and the opponent and is more difficult than it sounds). When your calculation isn’t clear and precise, you cannot have good judgement.
Caruana was his usual confident self in converting the advantage (his slip on move 40 only would have prolonged the game, had Carlsen taken advantage of it, which he didn’t). During the game, while observing him, I noticed that he reminds me of the young Karpov from the early 70s (from the photographs I’ve seen). The same fragile constitution and gentle disposition outwardly, but with infinite self-confidence in their ability and will to win.

Not exactly look-a-likes, but they won’t pass the chance to beat you.

Unfortunately, Carlsen’s state of mind didn’t change much today. He tried to go back to what he usually does, going for a fight and outplaying his opponent, but Radjabov was very much up to it. He took too many risks, the positional exchange sacrifice did look good at first sight, but this is again proof of his problems with the positional calculation – your eyes are telling you it’s OK, but you should back that up with calculation, and he couldn’t because, as he said, he was missing and misjudging things. A deserved loss, but all credit should go to Radjabov, who played really well and found all the best moves, and rather surprisingly, finds himself in sole first before the rest day. Carlsen also admitted that he was out of energy, I think this is the first time I hear him say that. From a person who pays so much attention to physical exercise it can only mean that he’s deflated emotionally and definitely needs the rest day tomorrow. This is his first serious crisis in a very long time (people have noted that this is his first short castle (two losses in a row) since Bilbao 2010 when he lost to Kramnik and Anand in rounds 1 and 2), so it will be interesting to see how he responds to it.

The other Azeri player also struck today and showed that Caruana still isn’t Karpov. He got very good compensation in the Grunfeld as black, but then strangely enough started to play somewhat loosely and allowed Mamedyarov to untangle and later on to try to play for a win. But even then it seemed that he could draw with the opposite-coloured bishops (plus queens). And just when one more precise move was needed, he blundered. I don’t think Karpov (from any  period!) would have missed this chance.

Karjakin continues to surprise me. After the difficult draw with Carlsen, he didn’t even try to win against Mamedyarov, as they rattled out their preparation which ended in a perpetual check (was he naively hoping that the cat ate Mamedyarov’s preparation?) Today he showed another interesting opening idea in the English double fianchetto against Nakamura. In the online commentary Svidler said it may have been preparation until well over move 30 and he may be right – all Karjakin’s moves are the first line of the engine, except 29…Qf2 when the engine prefers h4 or Rc8 and gives zeros. I think that maybe the second place in the Candidates gave Karjakin the wrong impression that he can do well with playing for a draw. You never win tournaments when playing for a draw, but perhaps he still lacks the confidence that he can actually win elite tournaments (in spite of Stavanger 2013)?!

Before the rest day we have a situation when the first and the last are divided by only a point. This means that any player can win the tournament and we’re in for an exciting second half. For me the most interesting will be to see how Carlsen responds to the situation he has found himself in, as I have encountered this situation many times in my practice. The key to recovery is the ability to detach from the previous events and “just play”, but as you probably sensed it, that’s easier said that done. Great champions make the difficult things seem easy so let’s see if the Great Magnus will perform one more feat.


Gashimov Memorial 2014 – Rounds 1&2

I met Vugar Gashimov in 2007, in Havana, during the Capablanca Memorial. He seemed a very likeable and approachable guy, I remember we chatted in the lobby of the Triton Hotel about the best way to get convertible pesos and avoid being tricked by the locals in the process (those who have been to Cuba will understand).

I also saw him at the subsequent European Club Cups and European Team Championships and in the meantime I was following with great interest his games in the Benoni, as he was the only elite player to play that opening on a more or less regular basis (and quite successfully too). His games with Gelfand from Linares 2010 and Aronian from Wijk 2012 still serve as a starting point of analysis of the popular line with Bf4.

It is quite rare that players get to have their memorial tournaments nowadays. A more common picture is to see those memorial tournaments disappear, due to financial issues. It is a grand gesture by the Azerbaijan government to establish a Gashimov Memorial and I really hope this one is just a start of a wonderful tradition in memory of a great player.

The tournament started in an expected fashion. Carlsen is winning, the others aren’t. It certainly did help him that he got two whites at the start, but at the time of writing he’s pressing for his third win, this time with black, against Karjakin.

What I found very amusing is how Nakamura’s big mouth is making him look foolish. I can’t easily forget his “Sauron” comments, him being the  “biggest threat” to Carlsen and yet he cannot win a single game against “Sauron” and with every loss these statements sound more and more hilarious and absurd. He is fast turning to what Shirov was to Kasparov, just to remind you, Kasparov had an all time score against Shirov of 15-0 (in classical). Carlsen for now leads Nakamura by “only” 9-0. Just before the tournament Nakamura signed a sponsorship deal with Red Bull. He also put the can of the drink on the table when he played Carlsen. But whatever wings it may have given him, they didn’t help him avoid losing yet another game to the stomping Norwegian. It was another typical Carlsen game, where he “just” outplays the opponent from an equal position. I don’t know if his idea to lose a tempo in the opening (6 Be2 h6 7 Bd3?!?!) was intended to taunt Nakamura or not, but the position was equal all the time until the quality of black’s moves started to drop. And then it was the same old story: strong moves that put pressure, the opponent feels the pressure, but for the time being responds with good moves; this goes on, the opponent spends more time and energy to counter Carlsen’s strong moves, this leads to fatigue and time trouble; the pressure piles up, time runs down; the opponent commits mistakes; Carlsen continues with his strong moves and wins. The process is easy to describe, what I find fascinating is observe it as it happens before my eyes!

From the other players, I can see that Radjabov has done some work to rejuvenate his opening repertoire, at least with black. He dug up his old favourite, the French (remember that he beat Kasparov with it Linares in 2003!) and against 1 d4 he used the Slav to draw comfortably against Mamedyarov. As for the rest, it’s still early to tell.

It certaily looks like it’s going to be an interesting tournament, all eyes will be on Carlsen, but let’s see if the likes of Caruana and Karjakin point to some spots on the sun.


How to Win Opens

Except for the elite, the rest of us are confined to playing in open tournaments. So it is natural to ask yourself the above question, especially if you have some healthy ambition to win and improve.

Many years ago, when starting my extensive participation in opens, I figured out a very useful rule of thumb: in a 9-round swiss, only 10% of the participants (or less) will score +4. For example, in a 100-player open tournament, a result of 6.5/9 practically guarantees you a place in the top 10. This is very useful when trying to figure out at the beginning of the tournament how many points you would need in order to get a prize.

Bearing in mind my rule of thumb, a mathematical answer to the question in the title would be +5 (7/9) or +6 (7.5/9), which in the vast majority of cases should give you the winner’s trophy. However, apart from good chess, which goes without saying, there are other factors that contribute to the overall victory.

In the mid-90s, when I started to play in open tournaments around Europe, the undisputed king of the circuit was the Russian GM Oleg Korneev. He dispatched me with ease when I played him for the first time in Sitges in Spain in 1996. He was a 1 e4 player, playing all the main lines against everything, and with black he played the Open Spanish against 1 e4 and the Semi-Slav against 1 d4. A very active player with excellent technique and great self-confidence, he would even go to tournaments two days late, starting with 0/2, then go on to win the rest of the games and win the tournament! In those days he didn’t have a permanent place to stay so he travelled from tournament to tournament and winning almost all of them! I was amazed at his ability to keep on playing without rest, practically throughout the whole year.

At the beginning of the 00s, I was in the migrating group of players travelling from one tournament to the other together with the Bulgarian GM Alexander Delchev. He had an amazing run of open victories in this period – having just met his current wife in the summer of 2000, he was playing with great enthusiasm and power. He played 1 c4 with white (basing his repertoire on Tony Kosten’s book on the English – The Dynamic English, published in 1999) and with black the Taimanov Sicilian against 1 e4 (basing it on the Burgess’s book with the same name from 2000). In 2001 he also qualified for the World Championship (which was a knock-out at that time) from the Individual European Championship in Ohrid and his rating went well beyond 2600.

In the late 00s and in the past few years there is another GM that’s quite successful in the open circuit and I played him in 2012 in Le Touquet, France, in the decisive game for the tournament victory – Ukranian GM Sergey Fedorchuk. In a Nimzo-Indian I put some pressure on him with a dubious move and to my surprise he didn’t manage to find the correct way. Unfortunately I erred a few moves later and even though he gave me another unexpected chance to escape, I didn’t find it in my time-trouble and lost. As a result of this he won the tournament alone, with 7/9, while I shared 2nd place half a point behind. Fedorchuk is a player with wider repertoire, but that is a demand of modern chess. He isn’t as theoretical as the above two, his main aim is to get a game (with both colours) and then outplay his opponents (which he does quite well).

At the recently finished Karposh Open, the surprising winner was the Bulgarian GM Kiril Georgiev. I don’t say surprising because he wasn’t among the favourites, but because of his poor start. In round 1 he drew with a 2194-player, and in round 3 with a FM with 2380, while in round 5 he drew with a player with 2416 – all of these are players which he would expect to beat on a regular basis, yet he failed to do so. Only his fantastic finish of 4/4 allowed him to finish sole first with 7.5/9. Georgiev has a very high class, being among the world elite since the mid-80s, having beaten Kasparov in blitz and Karpov in rapid. And yet he failed to beat such weak (for him) players.

I’ve presented here several players whom I know personally and who have been very successful in winning open tournaments and here are my thoughts why that has been the case.

If you see these players in person, you would notice that all of them have an enormous inner energy – you could see the deep calm in their eyes and if you’re attentive, maybe even you’ll feel the energetic field that emanates from them. The “type” of energy is different for every one of them, for example Korneev is more exuberant, while Delchev is more calm and introspective. But they all do have it and it’s one of the essential conditions for successful play in open tournaments: morning rounds, tough opponents, the stress of the shortened time-contols, not to mention the days with two rounds, all this accumulates during the tournament and the only way to maintain more or less equal quality of play is to have a high level of nervous energy.

The example of Georgiev in the recent Karposh Open highlights another characteristic of the present-day opens. If in the past a GM would expect to cruise to 3/3 or 4/4 almost blindfolded, today that is not the case. The general level of play has risen to new hights and today nobody can be sure that he or she will have an easy game, not even in round 1 – a player with 2100 can put up a very strong resistance to even such a strong GM like Georgiev and such cases are quite frequent and will become even more so. With the availability of computers, books and lessons with GMs the amateurs have become so much stronger that nobody is guaranteed an easy life. Georgiev might have been surprised by this, but he also showed the correct reaction in the second half of the tournament – every game should be considered a serious one and fought to the very end, irrespective if your opponent is a GM or an amateur with a low rating. Because you never know if the amateur won’t give you a harder time than the GM! And this is the second essential ingredient for successful play in open tournaments – fighting spirit, the willingness to sit there hour after hour and pose problems (or solve them) until your opponent yields and you win the game. Even a bad start can be compensated with an unwavering fighting spirit, as Georgiev showed. Do this on a daily basis 9 days in a row (and in order to do it you’ll need the essential ingredient number 1 – energy – you’ll need even more energy if there are two rounds per day) and you’re very likely that you will win the tournament.

I have played well over 300 open tournaments in my career and have won a few. In my case, the scenario was always the same – a good start, steady and solid play against the strongest players, normally drawing them, and then a good finish to clinch it. Of course, there are many scenarios and every tournament is a different one, but a successful tournament always has a good finish. I even say that it doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the first 7 games, if you win (or at least score 1.5/2) in the last two games, you will have a good tournament. My play in Reykjavik was of this kind, I couldn’t win against players rated in the region of 2300 and was feeling frustrated because of that, but then I got two whites in the last two rounds and I won them both and finished shared 11th. Not to mention that it’s a very satisfying feeling to go home with a win in the last round, no matter how it all went before that.

To sum up, if you want to be successful in the open tournaments, you will need a great amount of energy, powerful fighting spirit and a special emphasis on the final two rounds. Knowing all this, now the only other thing you need is to play good chess!


Why Anand Won

The dust after the Candidates has settled, the heroes have gone their separate ways and it’s time to take a better look at what happened in Siberia. These types of tournaments, with the best players in the world fighting for the highest prize are best suited to disclose the tendencies of the modern play.

The answer to the question why Anand won can be summed up in two words, quite popular in tennis – unforced errors. Here is what I mean by that.

The rise of Magnus Carlsen brought to the fore a new (or rather a bit forgotten) type of playing chess. Maybe you can call it computer chess, but it’s really nothing new. Back in the 1950s it was Smyslov who used to say something like, I’ll play 40 good moves, and if you can match them then it will be a draw. Then in the 1970s Spassky said that Fischer had a “solid monotonous play” [by ‘solid’ he meant ‘constantly good, of high quality’] and Taimanov felt that Fischer’s play was a “wall coming at you.” They were talking about solid, good moves that put you under pressure throughout the whole game. It is the quality of the moves that is winning the games, never lowering it, always keeping it a very high level. With Kasparov, this went a bit to the background, due to the general emphasis on his opening preparation and this lingered a bit on with Kramnik and Anand. Then, from the mid-2000s, the computers (or rather, the engines) started to make huge steps forward and they brought back the “solid, monotonous play” and the “wall coming at you.” If you’ve played an engine, you will know what I mean. And then came Carlsen.

The computers also increased the level of opening preparation, especially the quantity of chess analysis, hence leading to memorisation problems for the players. While Kramnik and Anand, used to heavy theoretical work since the times of Kasparov, continued in this direction, ploughing deep into popular lines, each one tackling the problem of memorisation in his own way, Carlsen went in another direction. He tries to sidestep mainstream theory and go for the lesser known paths. This doesn’t mean that he doesn’t analyse a lot, or that he needs to memorise less, it’s just that he does that in a lesser known territory, thus creating his own theory (something, by the way, that Botvinnik emphasized as an essential thing for a top player). Even he has said it himself, he tries to give mainstream theory and openings his own seal. This approach to opening preparation, coupled with the “solid monotonous play” led him to the title.

In Siberia, Anand showed that he learned something from his lost match. He learned the meaning of ‘monotonous.’ There were four other players, apart from Anand, who won the same number of games, three. But all of them, except for Anand, lost at least 3 games. Anand, as we know, didn’t lose a single game. He learned to play solid moves on a regular, constant basis, throughout the whole game. (This he didn’t manage with Carlsen, when at some point the quality of his moves would drop and he would either blunder, or allow Carlsen a way to improve the position.) And he did this in his own way, not pushing all the time like Carlsen does, giving an occassional draw in favourable positions (Andreikin, Karjakin) when he judged that it was more important to save energy than try to squeeze something more out of a drawn position. He continued with his usual approach in the openings, going for the popular and well-analysed lines in the Sicilian, the Berlin, the Slav, getting the positions he likes. From a pure chess perspective, these two factors, the “monotonous solid play” and the good opening preparation (different from Carlsen’s but very much his own) made Anand the deserved winner of the Candidates. From the psychological perspective, things were easier for Anand than for the other players (except maybe for Andreikin, who I think had a similar mindset coming to Khanty). He played liberated, without the burden of the title (remember Spassky’s words that the world championship years were the unhappiest of his life, or Botvinnik’s Monomakh’s cap) and without pressure to do anything special. A couple of months before the tournament he wasn’t even sure he was going to play! There is a series of books called Transurfing, by Vadim Zeland, in which the author proposes a method how to achieve a goal. One of the vital elements, he says, is to reduce the importance of the goal. In other words, to be emotionally detached from the goal, to be indifferent. This does sound counter-intuitive, especially if it’s a very important goal, but that is exactly the point – by reducing the importance, you can concentrate fully on the task at hand, without feeling the pressure of the importance of the goal. And this brings us to the others.

The other players also played good, solid chess, but they lacked the monotonous part. They played the way Anand played in Chennai, good, solid, chess for long periods, only to be ruined by a single bad move. It happened to all of them (except, perhaps, Andreikin, who, like I said, probably had a similar approach to Anand’s). And look at the final standings – the players who perceived themselves as favourites, Aronian and Kramnik, started pretty well, while they were still fresh and full of energy, but as the tournament progressed they couldn’t withstand the burden of the pressure, and collapsed. So who finished second? The player who had high ambitions before the start, thus feeling the pressure even before the tournament, which in my opinion is due to inexperience (Aronian and Kramnik could deal with that well, having played Candidate tournaments before). Karjakin couldn’t handle it, so he collapsed at the start. And this actually helped him! He forgot all about ambition and winning and could just play monotonous solid chess. And this he did, especially in the second half, when all the others still had ambitions left and were already cracking under the pressure – Karjakin beat Svidler because he tried a bit too much to win (and failed to draw when he could), beat Kramnik who cracked at exactly move 7 in their game, and beat Aronian in the last round, when he was completely out of sorts and totally demoralised since he couldn’t win the tournament anymore.

Going back to the beginning, when I said the reason for Anand’s win were the unforced errors he managed to avoid, while the others were making them quite a lot, we can actually see that they weren’t exactly unforced. From a purely chess perspective they were, Kramnik wasn’t forced at all to blunder on move 7 against Karjakin, but he was “forced” in another way – he was forced by the pressure he put on himself, the burden of the role of a favourite, the importance the event had for him. And it was the same for Aronian, Svidler, Mamedyarov, Topalov.

Now we can see that it was the player best accustomed to the modern demands of the game who won the tournament. Good opening preparation, good moves on a constant basis and strong nervous system is what it takes today to be one of the best. This is the essence of modern chess, these are the qualities that are required to excel. And from looking at the pinnacle of the chess pyramid, these tendencies are here to stay for quite some time.


Karposh Open 2014 Round 9

After yesterday’s bitter loss (I couldn’t sleep all night, analysing in my head the various ways I could have drawn) and the early dawn at which the game started, I was in no mood for a heavy fight, so I drew rather quickly.

The tournament was won by Kiril Georgiev. An amazing feat by the Bulgarian, who had a slow start with 2/3, but then played himself into shape and won his last 4 (!) games to finish sole first with 7.5/9. A well-deserved triumph, he seems to like playing in Skopje, having won the blitz tournament in March this year with 12/13.

The Spanish Inquisitors were in contention until the very end, but they succumbed under the Orthodox threat in the 8th round – Vovk beat Salgado and Predojevic drew with Anton. Then in the last round it was Anton who lost his game, but overall they performed well and finished 2nd (Salgado) and 9th (Anton).

My own play was pretty good and had I not spoiled it in the penultimate round I would have had a chance to fight for a good prize.

Congratulations to the organizers for another great tournament here in Skopje, hopefully this is a start of a long tradition. Next year Skopje will also be the venue of the European Club Cup, so it’s pleasant to see my home town back on the chess map.


Karposh Open 2014 Rounds 7&8

After the two blacks I repeated two whites. Both were King’s Indians, but I chose a different line in each.

In Round 7 I was paired with my team-mate from my English club at the 4NCL, Cheddleton – FM Jovica Radovanovic. It was a tense game, I misplayed something in the opening and black seemed to get a good game, but then with 14 Rab1 and later 16 b4! I got some initiative on the queenside. When time came to capitalise on that initiative I wavered (21 Qb4?! instead of 21 Bb5!) and let him create counterplay with 21…Nf4. But then he was imprecise on the next move, I was more concerned with 22…Bh6, instead of his choice of 22…f5. However, I didn’t manage to take advantage of that imprecision (24 Kh2! would have kept an edge) and on move 27 I allowed a nice combination that solved black’s problems and even gave opportunities for white to go wrong. I took my chance on move 29, when I took the pawn on b5 (29 Bb5), as he was in severe time-trouble, and he could have punished me for gambling had he chosen 30…Rcc3, keeping total domination. As it was he allowed me to push my a-pawn and then for some moves the game was balanced, but easier to play with white, as I had a clear plan of Bc6 and a5-a6. His started playing only on the increment and eventually cracked when he blundered the e-pawn on move 37. After that it was easily winning for white.

In Round 8 I was playing GM Ilya Smirin, the 4th ranked player in the tournament with 2644. I decided to change my line in the King’s Indian and he played something he had never played before. It led to a typical KID structure with a slight pull for white, and after forgetting my prep on moves 15 and 18, I slowly drifted and allowed black to equalise and further imprecisions even let black take over the initiative. I decided to exchange queens in order to get to an endgame, but I doubled my a-pawns in the process. He missed his best chance on move 32 (a move he played a-tempo!) and then I thought I could draw rather easily. I saw the fortress but then I completely misplayed the position on the kingside, practically zugzwang-ing myself single-handedly! So I gave him a present and ruined my tournament with a few horrible moves. I know these things happen, but you always hope they’ll never happen to you! The feeling is probably the worst in the (chess) world.

Tomorrow’s last round starts at 9.30am. After today’s game the starting time is just an insult added to the injury, but on the other side, it will all be over sooner.

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