Monthly Archives: Dec 2016

Best Chess Blogs on the Planet

I was pleasantly surprised today when I discovered that my blog has been rated among the “Top 30 Chess Blogs & Websites Every Chess Enthusiast Must Follow.”

Out of these 30, my blog was rated 19th, not bad at all for one of the “Best Chess Blogs on the Planet!” You can see the full list here.

I take this as a proof that people like what and how I write, which gives me immense satisfaction. I started this blog because I wanted to write about the things that were interesting to me and because nobody was writing the things I wanted to read about chess – hence I decided I will write the things I wanted to read! After 3 full years of existence it seems that the blog is growing stronger and stronger and its popularity increases.

I will continue in the same direction because I still like to write about chess. The beginning of 2017 will mark the 4th year of this blog and I hope things will only improve onwards.

Thank you all for reading and supporting this blog. If you would like to have more personal contact and insight into my work, I invite you to join my Inner Circle.

In case I don’t find the time to revise the World Rapid and Blitz, I wish you a Happy New Year and all the best in 2017!


The Spirit of the King’s Gambit

I have always feared the King’s Gambit. As most phobias, it can be traced back to my childhood. I was taught to play chess by my father, who was a player of candidate-master strength who liked to attack and sacrifice. So when we played at home he would always go after my king, usually sacrificing half of his pieces before checkmating me. In those early days I was playing 1…e5 and that would always be met with the dreaded King’s Gambit. This happened often enough for me to develop an aversion to touching the e-pawn, so soon enough I switched to the Sicilian and avoided touching the e-pawn even before the game while adjusting my pieces.

You might argue that in the Sicilian the king is also under attack, but at least there black gets to attack too. In my early Sicilian days I also developed a phobia, this time about the Closed Sicilian (yeah, I know), but this is another story.

The years passed, the Sicilian was serving me well, but the King’s Gambit phobia remained. There was no need for me to address it, after all I had no contact with the dreaded opening with either colour. But things change…

Some years ago, in view of the ever-increasing popularity of the 1 e4 e5 openings I started to look at them myself, in order to play them with black. Naturally, the first opening I analysed and made sure that I would have no problems meeting was the King’s Gambit. Theory had advanced immensely in the last 30+ years since I suffered in the King’s Gambit and I realised that actually almost any line is good for black. I analysed a couple of those and felt confident that history won’t repeat itself when somebody plays it against me (yes, when, not if, because I was sure that sooner or later my fear will materialise).

The first two rounds of the new 4NCL season were played in November. Not having played since the Olympiad I wanted to keep things solid and calm. In my first game I played a relatively weak opponent whom I managed to beat without too many problems. The second game was going to be more serious, as I was facing FM Robert Eames. I noticed in my preparation that he liked to attack and sacrifice and that he played the King’s Gambit occassionally (he even dared to play it against Michael Adams!). Even though I didn’t think it very probable, I refreshed my memory of some of the lines and thought I could keep things under control. But can you keep under control such a vagabond and violent spirit that undoubtedly exists in the King’s Gambit?

And so I won. A crazy, irrational game, in the true spirit of the opening. Was I enjoying it? Hell, no, I was suffering like when I was a kid, but at least I hope that with this win I purged the fear from my mind and that future gambits (oh, yes, there will be future gambits) will bring me the same result but with less pain.

This year is reaching its end and I am working on several new projects for the new one. One of these projects is working on a new version of my site and another one is creating an Inner Circle. I am inviting my readers to become part of a closely-knit community where I will be sharing much more than in my posts – opening analyses, ideas, psychological insights, advice, you name it – I will be responding to your questions personally with the hope that I can help you solve your problems. In order to do this I will ask for your email address and as an exchange I am giving away a file with analysis of all the games from the match Carlsen-Karjakin. I revisited and updated the analysis from the ones already published on my blog so this is a much better version. You can download it here.

I am looking forward to seeing you as part of my Inner Circle and I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!


London Chess Classic 2016 – Rounds 8-9 – So Wins (Again)

I jinxed the Americans. Both So and Caruana beat Nakamura in convincing fashion so I expected a good fight in their decisive encounter in Round 8. But no, So once again confirmed what I wrote before – the guy knows how to make a draw.

So varied from his usual choice of 6…d6 in the Spanish with d3 in favour of 6…d5 and this probably surprised Caruana as after only 15 moves it was apparent the game would end in a draw. Not a good preparation by Caruana, but a very satisfying result for So, not only the final result, but also the course the game followed – not a single problem for him.

The only decisive game of the round involved Topalov (again!). He was faced by a very strong novelty by Anand and couldn’t defend against black’s continuous initiative. This means that Topalov lost all his white games in London, an unbelievable 0/4! On the other hand, it was a very important theoretical game and a good victory for Anand, somewhat resembling the last game of their match in 2010 (you can find the game in the comments).

The surprise of the round for me was Kramnik’s choice of playing 6 g3 in the Najdorf against Giri. Too many unexpectedly connected things in the previous sentence: Kramnik, Najdorf, g3, Giri. (OK, I admit that I put Giri in there just for the alliteration sake.) Giri chose a strange line, 7…Be6 followed by 8…h5, but strangely enough he didn’t encounter problems. Giri being Giri, even his enterprising piece sacrifice on move 29, when there was absolutely no need for it, didn’t disturb the equilibrium and the game still ended in a draw. Maybe the guy is cursed.

Nakamura and Aronian drew in a drawish theoretical line in the Ragozin, while Vachier didn’t get anything against Adams in the Spanish with d3 (I’m still waiting for those spectacular ideas he must have discovered when analysing this line for Carlsen).

The last round again saw only one decisive game and again it was Topalov’s. But it’s not what you expected – he actually won! Finally the luck changed for the Bulgarian, but a little too late. He took risks against Aronian and probably didn’t have enough for the sacrificed piece, but eventually it was his opponent who cracked and not him (for a change!).

So again showed his excellent preparation, he chose a simplifying line he had already played against the same opponent (Vachier) earlier in the year and one that offered zero chances for him to even risk losing. When I praise his preparation I don’t mean only the deep analysis of the lines, which goes without saying, I primarily mean his choice of lines and knowledge what to play against which opponent in a given situation. Making draws and being solid has been effortless for him so far and this is indeed impressive as it makes it impossible to catch him when he’s ahead – he simply won’t lose a game and he seems to be able to draw as he pleases. This is a second win for So after St. Louis in a tournament that comprises of only Top 10 players. In St. Louis he won with +2, in London with +3, never losing a game. This speaks volumes of his stability. In his own words, he has “the Lord” to thank for his successes. I think his faith is a key factor because it gives him the inner peace that is necessary for stable play on this level. This year has definitely established So as one of the main contenders in any event he’s playing and it will be interesting to see how he performs next year, when everybody will be expecting much more from him.

Giri didn’t allow many chances to Caruana, but it also seemed that Caruana didn’t believe Giri would be welcoming – hence the QGA, a solid and unambitious opening choice from Caruana. Giri went for 7 b3, leading to a symmetrical position with few winning chances for either player. But then Caruana played a careless move in a dead-drawn position and Giri suddenly got a chance. Which he successfully botched to achieve his perfect score or 9/9 draws.

I really don’t know what to think of Giri. He reminds me of Leko, not only because of the draws, but of many other factors as well – he’s young, talented, has infinite resources, even physically they are similar, both tall and thin. Things clicked for Leko in 2002 (at the age of 23; Giri is 22 now), when he won the Dortmund Candidates matches after successfully managing to blend the Sveshnikov Sicilian (back then still a sharp weapon) with his distinctly positional style. Giri is trying to do something similar by playing the Najdorf all the time, but for the time being things are not working. I am curious to see what will be the further development of his style.

Adams and Nakamura drew in the symmetrical line with 5 Re1 in the Berlin while Anand and Kramnik drew in a QGD, a surprise from Anand to open 1 d4 after a longer period of time. He did beat Kramnik in their match in 2008 thanks to his switch to 1 d4, but after losing the second match against Carlsen in 2014, when he also played 1 d4, he has almost exclusively played the move of his youth 1 e4 and never looked back. Another curiousity is that the followed a game by Emmanuel Lasker from Hastings 1895, when it’s unclear whether Kramnik’s 11th move was better than Lasker’s.

This was the last elite tournament of the year. The year end marks the rise of Wesley So and the decline of Veselin Topalov. I think Topalov is out of the elite for good and we only have Anand (47) and Kramnik (41) and to a certain extent Aronian (34) from the “older” guys to still remain at the very top. The question is: for how long?


London Chess Classic 2016 – Round 7

These talented people learn fast. After being demolished in a Najdorf in the previous round, Nakamura quickly changed sides and demolished Vachier in a convincing fashion. Not a very good outcome for the Najdorf aficionados out there, black lost two games in a crushing fashion, but as it usually happens in these cases the black players will simply switch the variation and all will be fine again.

Need I say that Vachier was outprepared again? This time in his pet line in the 6 Bg5 Najdorf, the Poisoned Pawn Variation with 7…h6 8 Bh4 included. Nakamura produced an impressive tour de force, showing his attacking prowess – Vachier simply didn’t stand a chance. When they start sacrificing like that in a Najdorf the black players never survive, mostly because the sacrifices are correct! In order to survive in a Najdorf black must not allow such sacrifices.

The other games were drawn. So is a very pragmatic player, he knows not only when to play for a draw, but, much more importantly, knows how to do it. Against Kramnik he chose a line in the QGD that leads to massive simplifications and drew comfortably. His main test will come in Round 8 when he faces Caruana with black.

Adams put some pressure on Caruana in an English Opening, but it never threatened to be something serious.

Similarly, Aronian didn’t threaten Anand, which is surprising as he is one of Anand’s most uncomfortable opponents. Even more surprisingly, he repeated the toothless variation in the QGD which he used to beat Nakamura with in St. Louis earlier this year (nothing to do with the opening, apparently). That was probably Anand’s dream scenario, as he came fully prepared and drew without breaking a sweat.

In yet another QGD (3 in this round!) Topalov finally drew a game. (He also drew with black in Round 3, which means that he has 0/3 with white.) And who did he draw against? Anish Giri, of course. Giri tortured Topalov for quite a long time, but in a blockaded position arising from the popular 6…Nbd7 line in the QGD with 5 Bf4 white found it impossible to break through. Draw number 7 for Giri, still two more rounds of hope for him.

With So practically being assured a win of this year’s Grand Chess Tour, the only question that remains is who will win this tournament. Round 8 sees Caruana (4.5) take on So (5) and that should be the great battle of the Americans in London. If we look at the previous American duels in this tournament, it shouldn’t disappoint.


London Chess Classic 2016 – Round 6

What a round. It seems the players needed the rest day.

Topalov lost yet another game, this time against So. What is notable is that his bad form doesn’t really mean that his head is not working (although that’s what he’s said himself), but rather it shows in the wrong decisions he is taking. In the post-mortem he showed that he saw all the lines and improvements suggested by the computer, but his problem was deciding against playing those moves. With the current rating loss of more than 20 points he is well out of the Top 20 in the world. A comeback is not very likely, bearing in mind his statements that he doesn’t work on chess anymore and his lack of ambition. He will undoubtedly have good showings every now and then, but he will get less and less invitations to elite events and whether he will settle for lesser ones remains to be seen.

The game of the day was the duel of the Americans. A spectacular game, but one decided by superior opening preparation. The players followed Giri-Vachier from Stavanger in April this year and then Nakamura played the novelty and improvement suggested by the engine, 15…b4, and then they followed the first line for 5 moves. Now, when I say engine I usually refer to the latest Stockfish development version, the one I usually use. And from what I’ve seen by comparing the moves played by the elite, the majority of them also use it. Having immense hardware resources I believe they also use other engines, like Houdini 5.01 or Komodo 10.2. But in this instance it was obvious that Nakamura didn’t consult Houdini 5.01. I know that every configuration is different and here I speak what happened on mine, but neither Stockfish nor Komodo came up with 21 Nf5, while Houdini did in a relatively short time and low depth (depth 23 on my laptop, by depth 25 it was showing a huge advantage for white after it). Caruana said that it was his second, Kasimdzhanov, who came up with the move, but we don’t know how he discovered it. In any case, after 21 Nf5 black is just lost. Even though Caruana didn’t always play the computer moves, his choices were more than good enough to wrap up the game.

Aronian is famous for his deep opening preparation, he always plays 1…e5 after 1 e4 yet nobody can touch him there even though they know what he will play. It was interesting to see how Vachier, Carlsen’s second in the latest match and one who incessantly analysed positions after 1 e4 e5 for months on, will try to pose problems. And what happened? It was Vachier who ended up in trouble! Sometimes you wonder what he was doing on Carlsen’s team, being outprepared in all the games of this tournament! But then Aronian got greedy and ambitious (a typical trait of over-confident people), over-pressed and lost. And, against all odds, the Frenchman won a game.

At some press conference in the past Giri asked Anand when he was going to retire. Perhaps a bit insulting, but that’s why we love Giri, his big mouth can always be depended on to produce excitement when his chess fails to. After being close to winning against Anand after the latter incorrectly sacrificed a piece, Giri missed the win and made the 6th draw in a row. Then Anand asked him, “When are you going to win a game?”

Kramnik played the Colle System against Adams and black demonstrated a good way to obtain equal play. Play remained balanced throughout and ended in a draw.

Round 7 is already underway but who will win the tournament will be decided in Round 8 when Caruana plays So.


London Chess Classic 2016 – Round 5

So didn’t try to take advantage of Anand’s careless play from the previous rounds. Perhaps he’s of the opinion that the current +2 should be able to allow him to cruise to first place, just like it did in St. Louis in August, when he won the Sinquefield Cup.

After Anand’s novelty on move 10 So steered clear of any complications and went for massive simplifications and drew comfortably on move 30.

Giri also introduced a novelty early on against Aronian, he improved upon the old game Karpov-Anand from the rapid in Corsica in 2002. He confidently followed his preparation and drew without problems in 20 moves after a repetition.

Working for somebody else and neglecting his own preparation seems to affect Vachier quite a bit. Playing white and facing the Petroff Defence he managed to get a worse position against Caruana on move 18 and by move 20 he was clearly worse. Not your common scenario in the Petroff! He was lucky that Caruana misplayed his advantage with the flashy 24th move so he managed to save the game. Vachier probably needs more time to patch up his opening gaps while Caruana must be feeling sorry for a missed chance to win with black in the Petroff. It would have been quite a phenomenon on this level.

Nakamura and Kramnik continued their discussion in the QGD. I find it instructive to ponder why Kramnik plays 4…Be7 against Nakamura, allowing a normal QGD, while against other people he prefers 4…Nbd7. My guess is that the positions after 4…Be7 5 Bf4 0-0 6 e3 Nbd7 7 c5 are too static and closed and shouldn’t suit Nakamura’s dynamic style. Kramnik didn’t have problems out of the opening, but Nakamura kept on pushing for a very long time even though the position remained equal throughout. Eventually the game was drawn after 61 moves and ended with a stalemate.

The decisive game of the round was a game that involved Topalov again. What I wrote yesterday is still valid for today – Topalov just won’t play calmly. Even his choice of the Berlin doesn’t help, he treats it in such a way so that complications always arise.

Next is a rest day in London and after it in Round 6 we have the game Topalov-So. Literally anything can happen there.


London Chess Classic 2016 – Round 4

Topalov has never been one to take it easy. When in good form this means blasting the field away, when in bad…

Topalov is in bad form in London. Usually people are extra careful then, playing it safe, trying to make draws and keeping it low. Not Topalov though. He did play the Berlin with black yesterday against Vachier, but got a winning position out of it! Perhaps he thought this was a change of fortune for him?! Most probably not, because had it been a change of fortune he would have won that game. But he keeps pushing and against Nakamura’s surprise choice of Caro-Kann he went all in quickly enough. After Nakamura’s novelty on move 9, in a relatively unexplored sideline in the Caro, Topalov went forward immediately and on move 11 the comp was already giving advantage to black!

A bad game for Topalov, who usually sees much more than what was shown in this game. But a good result for Nakamura, who after the birthday loss won two in a row and is now on +1, just half a point behind the leader So.

Speaking of So, he could have increased his lead by beating Giri. But Giri is tough to beat, even when he follows fashion and plays rubbish openings. Or was it yet another case of “my cat ate my preparation?” Very strange to see Giri worse with white on move 11! People like Carlsen (it’s in line with his character and chess understanding) and Kramnik (infinite opening creativity, so he can play and invent new stuff in any line) have recently put systems like the London, Zukertort and Colle back on the menu in the elite events and others have joined in. But as they say, Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi. (Luckily, Giri is of a tender stature, so he won’t take this personally.) Giri has always been strong in theoretical fights, why exactly he needs to follow fashion and copy others I don’t understand. You don’t see Anand or So do it, they stick to what suits them best. Unless Giri finds his own way, he will never manage to fulfill his immense potential. To his credit, he defended well to save this game.

Kramnik tricked Vachier in the opening (not an easy task, but Big Vlad has done even more impossible things) and won a pawn, but it wasn’t enough. The Frenchman defended well for a long time and saved the draw.

Caruana and Aronian proved again (after the match in New York) that the main lines in the Spanish are as safe as it can get for black in chess. A correctly played game that ended in perpetual check.

Anand and Adams drew after Anand missed several important moments during the game. Adams’s pawn sacrifice was rather vague, but Anand didn’t make the most of his chances, eventually allowing Adams to simplify with an elementary combination. It’s never a good sign when you miss things in your calculations, it undermines confidence and this leads to weaker play. How it will affect both players (but primarily Anand, who seemed to be missing more) remains to be seen.

Today’s Round 5 sees So-Anand. Will So extend his lead by taking advantage of Anand’s sloppy calculations?


London Chess Classic 2016 – Rounds 2-3

No, Kramnik didn’t play 1 e4 against Aronian.

He played the Reti instead and after a brief flurry of tactics the game simplified to a draw. A well-played game by both, who kept good control over the position.

It’s been a while since Anand won a game in the Najdorf. It was a year and a half ago, in Norway, where he beat none other than his opponent from Round 2, the same Frenchman with 2 surnames. In London he repeated the feat after the Frenchman messed up his preparation first and then failed to put up the stiffest resistance.

So beat Adams in the Catalan after the quality of Adams’s moves started to drop. This is typical of a difference in class (I’m not saying Adams is of a lower class than So, he’s just in bad form, but being in good/bad form also makes it a difference in class) – for a while the weaker player plays on par with the stronger one, but once the tension rises and fatigue accumulates he is the one whose level will drop. Around move 20 black was doing alright, around move 30 he was still OK, but dubious move 36 and a mistake on move 37 decided the game. 2/2 for So and 0/2 for Adams.

The wildest game was between Topalov and Caruana. In an Advance French (not a frequent guest on this level, neither the French nor the Advance Variation) the evaluation changed frequently but it all culminated in time-trouble.

Round 3 confirmed my theory that only Carlsen can play successfully on his birthday. In Round 1 Nakamura played a horrible game on his birthday and was lost with white on move 13 against So, in Round 3 it was Anand’s turn to play a bad game on his special day. Life loves irony, so he played it against Nakamura. Not the best of games for either player, as you can witness from this excerpt:

The other games in Round 3 were drawn. Aronian and So played a high-quality game which showed So’s tenacity (I thought he will get mated on the queenside!) while Caruana and Kramnik’s Giuoco Piano sprung into life early on after Caruana decided to copy Ponomariov’s idea of early 6 a4.

It was recently revealed that Vachier was one of Carlsen’s helpers during the match in New York, but so far that work seems to have only benefitted the Norwegian. Playing the white side of the symmetrical line 5 Re1 against Topalov’s Berlin, the Frenchman somehow managed to find himself lost. Luckily for him Topalov didn’t find the killer blow on move 30.

Adams again blundered before the time control, this time against Giri, but finally he was lucky – the pawn he lost was in a rook endgame that he drew comfortably.

A very exciting tournament so far in London, hope they keep it going!


London Chess Classic 2016 Starts

The elite of the world chess gathered in London for the final leg of the Grand Chess Tour. The notable absentee, the World Champion, is probably chilling out somewhere in the Carribean on a well-deserved holiday, while his challenger didn’t qualify for this year’s Tour.

The first round saw three decisive results, two of them coming from horrible blunders. Let’s start with the earlier one.

Playing on one’s birthday is considered bad luck, although the notable absentee successfully defended his title exactly on his birthday. Probably this was because the usual (Murphy’s) laws do not apply to him. Ask Nakamura if you wish, who playing white against So made a losing blunder on move 13 (speaking of luck…) and could resign with clear conscience on move 21. At least I hope they didn’t give him flowers before the round…

Aronian beat Adams by playing the Giuoco Piano. Not that the opening mattered, I mention it here because Aronian is a 1 d4 player and Adams always plays 1…e5 after 1 e4. So Aronian copied Kramnik and played 1 e4 against a player who is certain to play 1…e5 (I wonder what he would have done had Adams played the Sicilian). He got nothing out of the Piano, I’d say that black was even slightly better. The game was decided when Adams blundered horribly, probably in time trouble.

And of course, the treat of the day was the duel of the Toilet Men – Kramnik and Topalov. No handshakes, of course, neither wants to touch the other man’s hand. The psychological undercurrent of these duels affects both players – the number of odd opening choices and blunders in their games is very big when compared to when they play other people. It is as if these games take away their peace of mind and they get over-excited. It seems that this affects Topalov more, but Kramnik has also had his fair share of odd games. Another notable feature is that usually white wins in these games.

The draws were correctly played. When chess is played correctly and the players don’t commit bad mistakes, which means that the game was of high quality, the game ends in a draw. When one players blunders the game ends with a win. And the moaners are never happy – if the quality is good, then it’s a draw, if there is a win, then the quality is low. You cannot please them all.

Anand’s new favourite way to meet the English Opening (1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Bb4), which he started to play after his problems in the usual main lines in the Candidates, survived Caruana’s attempts (Caruana was one of the players who beat Anand in the Candidates in the English Opening!) while Vachier and Giri played an uneventful Najdorf (yes, unfortunately that can also happen).

Tomorrow is Round 2 when Kramnik plays Aronian. Will he play 1 e4 against a dedicated 1…e5 player?


Goldchess Take on Carlsen-Karjakin

What happens when a strong GM decides to have fun over a game of chess, letting his imagination roam free, possibly fuelled by a glass of French wine and fine English cheese?

Goldchess is the place to go when having such thoughts. As you already know, they offer various positions, often from famous games (here’s their take on Anand-Gelfand from 2012) and reward lavishly the best efforts.

What follows is a flight of imagination, I see a relaxed atmosphere in a friendly place, a game between good friends with a lot of laughter and a time well spent. Perhaps set in a Shakespearean Midsummer.

That’s what seeing games like the one below remind me of. That chess is not always the gruelling fight to win points and rating, the constant preparation and will to win. Chess can be relaxing and fun, stress-free and pleasant.

Playing white is the strong Polish GM Artur Jakubiec and he takes on Goldchess’s computer in a brutal tour de force. Take a look at the game and let yourself drift away.

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