Monthly Archives: May 2017

Games from Llucmajor

I present two of my games from the Llucmajor open. In the first I played the eventual winner Fedorchuk. It was a very complex game, even while analysing it I noticed the engine changing evaluations quite often. The game was balanced for most of the time and I think I lost because he was more practical. For example, he missed my 27th move, which I played, but it was a bad move, just losing a pawn! Yet he didn’t spend much time trying to refute it, he quickly moved the bishop to e2. Starting from move 18 he started to play really fast, often at the expense of the quality of his moves. But he always made solid moves, even if they were not always the best they were never bad ones. This was the only game from the tournament where I was in time-trouble and the only one where I couldn’t implement my pre-tournament strategy of playing fast and solid – in fact that is what he did! Still, it was a good fight and another proof that the idea to play quickly and soundly is a very good one!



The second game was my best effort in Llucmajor. I think my opponent improvised with the (probably) refuted Schara-Hennig Gambit and I quickly got a winning position. Then I wasn’t very precise in my calculations and instead of winning quickly I entered a technical endgame where I had the advantage of the pair of bishops in an open position. What makes this game good for me is the fact that the realisation process was very smooth. It doesn’t happen too often to me, but this time I played my moves without much thinking and everything seemed to fall into place. After the game I remembered what Botvinnik wrote about a game of his, something along the lines of “my tactical vision failed me again, but I could always rely on my technique.” Not bad at all feeling like The Patriarch!





Refutation of the Tarrasch Defence

Before I present my analysis, a short round-up of my Llucmajor tournament. After not playing for some time I was wary that my head-to-hand coordination might suffer. The blitz tournament before the main event served me a very good purpose to get some practice. I made a conscious decision to trust my feelings more and, crucially, not always try to validate those feelings with calculations. This was necessary because I knew that my calculations wouldn’t be on the level of some time ago.

And things went so well! I was playing quickly and confidently. Topalov’s words that it is not always necessary to play the best move resonated well – I knew that my understanding is good enough and that I will never make a bad positional move. As for the verification by calculation, I tried to go for width over depth – check many more moves in the starting position but only calculate them 2-3 moves deep. This is a very good method that insures against blunders.

I had a great run and had 6/8 before the last round (and had I won a completely winning queen endgame against IM Kohlweyer in Round 6 it would have possibly been more). The game I won in Round 8 actually served as an inspiration for this post. My opponent played the Schara-Hennig Gambit and I quickly got a position that was close to winning. I didn’t win quickly, but my technique to convert the advantage of the bishop pair in an open position wasn’t bad at all. You can see this and the other games in the game analysis below and you can download them here.

The games in Llucmajor started at 8.30pm and finished well after midnight. That was OK, but the last round started at 9.30am and that turned out to be a big problem for me. After I finished my game in Round 8 I waited for the pairings until 2am when I discovered that I was to play 4th seed Daniel Fridman, rated 2605. He plays 1 d4, 1 c4 and 1 Nf3, so my preparations lasted until 4am (and I had to limit them!) Then I couldn’t fall asleep for the remaining of the night and got up at around 8am. I was feeling horrible and even though I managed to get my preparation in and obtain an easily-drawn endgame, I couldn’t calculate the simplest lines. Soon enough I blundered a pawn and that was it. It was certainly a disappointment, a good tournament spoilt at the end. But there are positives as well, the newly-found playing algorithm looks very promising.

Now onto the refutation. I would like to repeat here what I said when I talked about the refutation of the Budapest Gambit – by refutation I don’t mean a forced win, not at all. What I have in mind is that “White obtains a stable and safe advantage out of the opening in all the lines and at the same time Black’s position lacks perspective and has no way to evolve.” In the case of the Tarrasch Defence the positions that arise after best play lead to an endgame where White has the advantage of the bishop pair and Black’s only prospect is of a long and arduous defence. If in addition to the objective evaluation as “very unpleasant for Black” we add the psychological factor that Tarrasch players like active play and thrive in the IQP positions, then we can safely conclude that the variation with 6 dc is really a “refutation.”



You can download the analysis plus three of the games I mentioned in the comments here.



Llucmajor Open 2017

I am currently on the wonderful island of Mallorca, playing the Llucmajor Open. This is the reason for the absence of new posts as it’s never easy to write during a tournament. I will try to give an overview of the open and my games when it finishes.

The Moscow Grand Prix is also underway. The start looked very much like the previous Grand Prix in Sharjah, a lot of (short) draws and uneventful play, and this is what I wrote for the March issue of British Chess Magazine:

“When a lot is at stake the result is the only thing that matters. That means losing is to be avoided at all costs. This further translates to a draw being a rather good result. In absence of any restrictions, like the Sofia rules, which prohibit draw offers, the players found it very convenient to make a lot of them in a small number of moves.

Draws are an inherent part of the game of chess and they can be exciting and instructive. It is the draws that are not played out until the end, agreed when all the pieces are still on the board, that bother the public. Yet I still find it unfair to criticise the players. They are there to get a result. They do what they best see fit in order to make it happen. They follow the rules of the competition. If they think a quick draw is enhancing their chances, they will try to make it. They are not there to please anybody, they are there to qualify and will do whatever is necessary. Short draws included.”

But then things livened up and there were a few rounds with several decisive games. This shows that these things often happen arbitrarily – if in Sharjah they were happening throughout the whole tournament, then in Moscow, in spite of the players still being in a “safety-mode” state of mind, more games were won and lost. Let’s see how it goes on. For the time being Ding Liren and Mamedyarov lead with 3.5/5. With this result Mamedyarov crossed 2800 on the live rating list!

The games in Llucmajor start at 8.30pm, so I am writing this at 1.23am, still waiting for the pairings to come out. Perhaps it’s time to sign off…


Two Ideas Against the KIA

As you can easily see on the right side of this text I have a subsription form where I invite you to join my Inner Circle. You may be wondering what this is actually about, so I would like to share with you a sample of my newsletter. I write these on a weekly basis (if I have the time even more often) and they are all original pieces of writing on various topics – some are purely chess-related (like the one below), others have to do with chess psychology, others still with other aspects of our game (I recently wrote about cold showers. I leave you to figure out what does that have to do with chess.) So if you would like to receive emails of this kind (and also some welcome gifts when you subscribe) use the form on the right and join the Circle!

Without further ado, here are the two ideas against the King’s Indian Attack:


The King’s Indian Attack. Ever since I was a child I had mixed feelings about it. The main reason – because there was never an attack. Of course, I saw Fischer’s famous games where he was destroying his opponents (Myagmarsuren is the most famous destruction), but when I would analyse a bit on my own I could never crash through Black’s kingside, especially if he played …h6 when White threatened to play h6 himself (for some reason they never played this against Fischer, always allowing him to push h6 and fatally weaken Black’s kingside).

When I had a chance to play the Attack myself (this was in 1995), guess what they played against me? …h6 of course, leaving me fuming and cursing myself. But somehow I managed to push g4, threatening g5 and also c4 and I won the game, but never dared to try the Attack again.

Then came times when the Attack was played against me. It is usually played when Black had already committed the pawn to e6, in my case after 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 d3, but then I was happy to use the harmonious development with 3…Nc6 4 g3 g6, followed by …Bg7,…Nge7 and …d6. It is still one of the best systems against it.

The Attack has recently had an increased importance because a lot of players use 1 Nf3 as a way to enter the Reti or some other opening, depending on Black’s choice. And many Black players rely on the QGD, so we often have something like 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 e6 4 0-0 Be7 and now White plays 5 d3, not wanting to go into Catalan waters with 5 d4 or Reti with 5 c4 or 5 b3. So Black continues 5…0-0 6 Nbd2 and we are on the verge of the King’s Indian Attack.

Looking at it from Black’s perspective some time ago I was attracted by Aronian’s choice of 6…Nc6, with the idea of 7 e4 de 8 de e5! and there is a transformation in the position which is quite pleasant for Black. This is a good idea for Black, especially important is that it appears on the board early and it is Black who dictates the changes in the position!




And then Kramnik came. His idea (not actually his, it has been played before but it was largely forgotten) is deeper, but at the same time it is also universal. Black pushes the pawn to a3, provoking b3 (Fischer didn’t allow this – he played a3 himself when Black threatened to push …a3. But Kramnik’s idea works in this case as well – it is only important to keep the bishop on c8, to have the pawn on e6 protected). Then, when White reaches h5 with his pawn, he plays …f5, stopping White’s kingside play in its tracks. Here’s the position after 13…f5! from his game against Nepomniachtchi from the opening blitz in Zurich, some 2 weeks ago:



If White doesn’t take en passant then he has nothing. If he takes, he is worse. Nepomniachtchi took and lost 12 moves later. It is worth noting that Kramnik’s idea can be implemented also with a knight on e8 instead of d7, from where the knight can go to c7 to bolster e6.

So there you go. In case you needed a reliable weapon against the misleadingly-named King’s Indian Attack – now you have two!


Gashimov Memorial 2017

The tournament finished some time ago but I didn’t have a chance to pay it the attention it deserved. Here I would like to share some of the impressions I had while watching it unfold.

Mamedyarov’s second win in a row in Shamkir is a sign of highest class. He has always seemed a bit too unstable to be a regular member of the Top 10, but his latest results show increased maturity and stability (shared first at the Sharjah Grand Prix with a last round win was his last tournament prior to Shamkir). He is soaring at the moment, winning 20 rating points and reaching number 7 on the live list. He won 3 games with Black in Shamkir, beating So in Round 1 and Kramnik in Round 6. Perhaps this is understandable as winning with Black is often expected of players with counter-attacking style, but in fact Mamedyarov himself confessed that he was playing for a draw in Round 1 against So, when the latter made an atypical 1-move blunder on move 39. Against Kramnik he was under pressure but when Kramnik missed his best chance Mamedyarov simply played better chess. This new-found balance between solidity (he’s played exclusively 1 e4 e5 as Black) and his inborn aggression is bearing fruits and it only remains to be seen how far it will take him.

I was very curious to see how So will react to his first loss in over 9 months. Not only that, I also wanted to see how he will react to playing a tournament when starting with a minus score. In all the tournaments So has won in the last period there was a common scenario – he would  win a game or two in the beginning, then he would stay solid and not mind draws, until a new opportunity came along, which he would take and then he would wrap up the tournament. Shamkir showed that So can deal with setbacks. In fact, he didn’t change one bit after that loss in Round 1. He continued in the same unhurried fashion and didn’t mind the draws (though it must be said that they were interesting draws!). Then came Kramnik, who gave him a chance in an equal position. And So pounced! This was followed by an excellent technical win against Karjakin, an ideal use of his two whites in a row – 2/2 and all of a sudden he was on +1. So didn’t win in Shamkir, but he showed that he can deal with losses and knows how to keep his composure when things are not going his way.

Kramnik is always a pleasure to watch. He started the tournament with long games (83 and 73 moves in Rounds 1 and 2 respectively), always playing until the end and looking for the slightest chances and opportunities to play on. Admirable, undoubtedly, but it seems to me that he forgets that he is not 25-year old anymore. Stamina is not the same at 25 and 41 and fatigue sets in unnoticeably. He even won a game before things went wrong – a wonderful game with a rook sacrifice “for nothing” against Harikrishna. That was another game that took so much energy and then a dip followed with two losses in a row – first he didn’t make anything of a favourable position against Mamedyarov and then allowed So a chance in an equal position. From +1 to -2 in only 2 rounds is a major change of fortune in a 9-round tournament! But then he surprised me – he won his last 2 games! We have witnessed collapses by Kramnik in the past (for example he lost three in a row in Shamkir in 2015) but we have rarely witnessed such a surge at the end of a tough tournament. Kramnik was risking too much against Eljanov in the last round, he was even lost, but his courage was rewarded and he finished on a high note. I would call it an excellent accomplishment by Kramnik, but I still cannot get rid of the feeling that continuing down the path of maximum exertion will bring him more pain than joy. His change in opening strategy, going the Carlsen way by playing various g3, b3 or 1 d4, 2 Nf3 and 3 Bf4/g5 systems makes things even more difficult for him. Very often he gets nothing in the opening and he then must try to outplay strong opponents from an equal position and this requires a lot of effort. True, he has also started playing 1 e4, with some ideas in the Giuoco Piano for White, so perhaps this is a sign of a more ambitious opening approach. With his analytical abilities this should be a positive change that should help him obtain at least something in the openings with White – after all he beat both Anand (last year at the Tal Memorial, where he also played 6 Bg5 against Gelfand’s Najdorf with his preparation ending around move 25) and Adams now in Shamkir in the Piano.

I was pretty sure that Topalov was on his way out, but he proved me wrong. And I am happy for that! A player of such class should never be written off, of course, but I had the impression that he didn’t care anymore. His fantastic win against Wojtaszek in Round 2 coupled with his fighting spirit that turned around his game against Eljanov are sign that he still does care. Although, to be honest, I expect more trouble than triumph for Topalov in his next tournaments. But until that happens, I will be happy to witness games like the ones he played in Shamkir.


Italian Women Team Championship 2017

I have had many fabulous experiences over the years in many tournaments around the world, but the just finished Italian Women Team Championship in Gallipoli definitely ranks among the best.

It is not the fact that our team Caissa Italia Pentole Agnelli won the Scudetto. It is much more. Everything between my arrival in Bergamo last Wednesday and being picked up by Fulvio at the airport and the “ci vediamo e buon viaggio” with the girls, Yuri Garrett and Vittorio Perico, when I departed the hotel this morning, was incredibly smooth and soul-warming. Everything was just falling in place. I loved every moment of being part of our group.

I have been part of many teams in Macedonia, Spain, England and France, but nothing comes close to the atmosphere I experienced in Gallipoli. It is a rarest occurrence that you meet a person for a first time and you get along immediately – this time it happened with 6 people at the same time! Vittorio, “il gran direttore mega-galactico” was in charge of everything that had to do with the sponsors and the public relations; Yuri was our captain, I was the coach and the girls, Elisabeth Paehtz, Marina Brunello (a 100% score), Maria De Rosa, Alessia “il Bomber” Santeramo (a 100% score) and Silvia Guerini scored an unbelievable 23/24, wininng our first 6 matches and basically securing the title with a round to go. We beat two of our three main competitors 3.5-0.5. We drew the third 2-2 in the last round where a single draw secured the title.

It was the mutual understanding, respect and support that made the atmosphere so enjoyable, not only on a rational level, but also on a more subtle, deeper level where you can actually feel what the others are thinking and feeling. Yuri is a genius to create a positive atmosphere and keep it up, we only had to follow through. In the team’s first year of existence we won the national title with such ease that I still find it hard to believe. After all, the competition was fierce – the other teams had Stefanova and Fierro, Socko and Zimina, Vega and Sedina on their first two boards, while on boards 3 and 4 the ratings were about equal with our players. Yet we destroyed everybody.

My job was hard, but very fulfilling. I was working all the time, even when they were playing, preparing already for the next match. But out of the 12 games we played against our direct competitors, I managed to get 12 successful preparations on the board. Usually I am pretty good at this when I do it for myself, but I didn’t expect I would be able to do it for so many different players against so many different players! I was also a captain for the match against Padova (where Stefanova played on board 1 – we won 3.5-0.5).

In my first attempt at coaching a team and being a captain I managed to win the Italian Team Championship convincingly. Wow.


The Champions: Me, Yuri, Maria, Marina, Elisabeth, Vittorio, Silvia, Alessia (and Il Mostro inside the cup)