Monthly Archives: Oct 2017

Excerpts from Crete

I am writing this from the Creta Maris resort in Hersonissos in Crete, the venue of the European Team Championship. This is my first time as a coach and captain of a national team, I am helping the Macedonian women team. The call to get involved arrived late, at the beginning of October. We managed to have a few sessions which we used to prepare some lines and do some training.

The going is tough so far, but we hope that we are tough enough to get going. There isn’t much time for anything else than eating, preparing, playing and sleeping. I will probably write in more detail after the tournament, for now I leave you with a few curious positions that caught my eye.



White has a dominating position, but he blunders in 1 move: 29 Qc6?? allowing 29…Qb4 with a double attack on a4 and e1.



Not your typical Sicilian. Things have gone wrong for the ever-original Jobava and he’s just lost after 18 moves.


1-0 L’Ami-Movsesian

Quite a picturesque position.



Black’s king was getting mated on g7, but miraculously escaped and made a career by reaching e2! Somehow Almasi managed to save this and thanks to his draw Hungary beat Russia 2.5-1.5.



Fischer’s Openings in Reykjavik – Part II

This is Part II of my 3-part analysis of Fischer’s openings in the Match of the Century in 1972. The series was written for my Inner Circle to which you can also subscribe using the yellow form on the right. Once inside The Circle, if you would like to read the other two parts, let me know and I will send them to you. In the meantime, enjoy!


Fischer’s Openings in Reykjavik – Part II

Continuing my analysis from last week, we left off with Game 11, Fischer’s only catastrophy in the match. This was the first time he repeated an opening, the Poisoned Pawn from Game 7, but this time Spassky was ready and the punishment was severe.

This serious setback forced Fischer to implement the same strategy of changing his openings after 1 e4 as well. But this was more problematic for him because playing almost only the Najdorf since the US Championship in 1963 he had less solid openings at his disposal.

Fischer’s choices of the Alekhine and the Pirc in games 13, 17 and 19 were the most puzzling for me in the whole match, due to several reasons. Even though Fischer played the Alekhine on several occassions in 1970, the opening is far from being solid enough for a World Championship match. And the Pirc even less so! Yet he still played them in 3 games!

I read an interesting observation somewhere, that Fischer didn’t know how to play solidly for equality. That he always needed dynamism and activity. And this was the only reasonable explanation I could find to explain his choices of those openings.

The Alekhine in Game 13 saw a very poor reaction by Spassky. His improvisation on move 7 in a very-well know theoretical position (7 Nbd2 on which he spent 17 minutes) was of low quality. It is surprising that on both first occassions with an opening (the Poisoned Pawn in Games 7 and 11 and the Alekhine in Games 13 and 19) Spassky reacted badly! And as Russians vs Fischer tells us, he was excellently prepared for all the openings! Puzzling indeed.

In Game 15 Fischer returned to the Najdorf and didn’t venture again in the Poisoned Pawn, choosing the line with 7…Be7. In view of Spassky’s superior preparation he was close to losing after the opening. This was another surprising choice because later Fischer would say that approximately after Game 13 he started to play safe, stopped looking for chances and was leaving it to Spassky to beat him. No reason not to trust him, but how does that go along with his
opening choices with Black?

Game 17 and the Pirc was perhaps the strangest choice. First about the move-order. After 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Fischer went 2…g6. This begs several questions to be asked: why did he allow the King’s Indian that would have most probably arisen after 3 c4 (and he didn’t play it in the first half of the match when Spassky was playing 1 d4)? Since Spassky was sticking to 1 e4 did he really know Spassky so well that he trusted him he wouldn’t switch to a 1 d4 opening once he
abandoned them? And what was he trying to achieve by playing 2…g6 instead of 2…Nf6? The only explanation I could come up with for the last question was that he was avoiding 2…Nf6 3 f3, as Spassky played against Jansson in 1971.

To continue with the questions, did he intend something else after 3 c4 instead of a normal KID transposition, by leaving the knight on g8? And after Spassky’s 3 Nc3 (on which he spent 4 minutes, probably thinking to KID or not to KID) Fischer spent 4 minutes on 3…Nf6. Why? The only obvious alternative is 3…Bg7, so again, what was he trying to avoid?

The following few moves and the times spent on them continue to be mysterious. Being faced with an obvious surprise by Fischer, Spassky again, as in Game 1, chose a line from his youth, one he played only once in his life, in 1960 in Mar del Plata (incidentally a tournament where Fischer also played) – Fischer’s own pet line, the Austrian
Attack. After 4 f4 Bg7 5 Nf3 Fischer sank into a 15-minute think before choosing 5…c5. When playing the Austrian Attack with White Fischer convincingly demonstrated the strength of the line 5… 0-0 6 Bd3, winning several good games with it. So it is perhaps understandable that he wanted to avoid it with Black, but why spend 15 minutes on that decision?

The game was very important theoretically and it established the best way to play for Black in that line of the Pirc (namely to play …Bg4 before White can prevent it by h3) and it was also notable for Spassky’s original middlegame plan of 11 Rad1 and 12 Bc4.

Game 19 saw the return of the Alekhine, with Fischer varying with 4…Bg4 instead of the 4…g6 from Game 13. Another first-ever by Fischer, but Spassky was prepared. I find an interesting parallel between this game and Game 5. Had Spassky taken 12 gf (he took 20 minutes on that decision) the blocked character of the position would have resembled the one from Game 5. Why was Fischer luring Spassky in such closed positions, did he learn in his preparation that
Spassky didn’t like them and played them less well? It was considered that Fischer didn’t like closed and blocked positions, buthere he was actively pursuing them!

Fischer’s choice for what turned out to be the last game of the match was excellent and I wonder why he didn’t come up with it earlier. Again a first-ever, this time in the Sicilian, 2…e6 instead of the automatic 2…d6. (Curiously enough, in Game 20 of their match in 1992, the first game of that match where Spassky played 1 e4, after 1…c5 2 Ne2 Nf6 3 Nbc3 Fischer again played 3…e6, signalling that he wanted to play something else than the Najdorf. Here the most probable is the Scheveningen after 4 d4 cd 5 Nd4 d6, but Spassky played 4 g3).

After 3 d4 cd 4 Nd4 there came 4…a6, a move he so convincingly dismantled with White in Game 7 of his match with Petrosian. So the first question, what did he have in mind against his own choice of 5 Bd3? My guess is 5…Nc6, as Petrosian played, and after 6 Nc6 dc, instead of Petrosian’s inferior 6…bc. The positions after 6…dc are much calmer and more solid, quite in line with Fischer’s admission that he wasn’t trying to look for chances in the second half of the match. And being a Sicilian, it still offers more dynamism and activity than other openings. Still, this is why I think his choice was good, because he finally found a solid and safe line for Black.

But Spassky stayed in line with his established way to reacting to surprises, he chose a line he played before. The system with Be3 and Bd3 brought him the title with a draw from a winning position in Game 23 of his match with Petrosian in 1969, but Fischer played an important novelty after 5 Nc3 Nc6 6 Be3 Nf6 7 Bd3 d5 (the game Spassky-Petrosian went via a different move order 7…Qc7 8 0-0 Ne5) 8 ed ed! and Black was already equal. Fischer’s love for old games was crowned by employing a move played by Adolf Anderssen in 1877!

Fischer’s strategy with Black turned out to be very efficient. His frequent changes of openings and sub-lines coupled with Spassky’s predictability and bad first-time reactions enabled him to have the opening initiative in most of the games. The only opening disaster he had was when he himself was predictable, but he didn’t let that happen again.


Goldchess Millionaire Starts

The ground-breaking project Goldchess Millionaire started the inscription process for the event that will take place next year in April.

If you follow the link on the banner on the right you will see that there is an enormous amount of money (and a car!) involved. That much money has never been pumped in to chess, except for World Championship matches. Only this time the money will go to the people who play and win, not the elite. It’s obvious that Goldchess is trying to create history here.

The game is simple, but not easy. You are required to beat a weak engine in a previously determined way (like “deliver a mate with promoting a pawn to a knight”). The games are crazy and wild, the evaluations jump up and down, but they are supposed to be fun, not precise. The system is working, as there are already many people playing and winning prizes at Goldchess, you can also see some GMs and IMs here. Even without the Millionaire the prizes can be quite substantial, for example take a look at the winners.

Since the prize fund of the Millionaire is dependent to a certain extent on the number of participants, I think it is fair to give the idea a chance. It may as well change the lives of the winners for the better.

So take a look, explore the site, and if you feel like it, sign up for a chance to win big.


European Club Cup 2017

I have played many European Club Cups in my career and it is such a huge difference between following the tournament from home and being there in the playing hall. When you are in the playing hall, you can feel the tension, the atmosphere and all the subtle nuances that decide the high-stakes matches. You can feel the progress of the match, sense the direction and understand the choices of the players.

It is quite different when watching from home, even if you manage to be glued to the screen for the whole duration of the match. At home you only see the moves and even if you can try to follow the matches as if you were present, it is still not the same.

This year’s ECC in Antalya was won by the top seeded team of Globus from Russia. A star-studded team with Nepomniachtchi on Board 6 (preceeded by Kramnik, Mamedyarov, Grischuk, Karjakin and Giri) they won 5 matches and drew 2. A relatively easy win with only a single scare in the drawn match with 4th finishers Odlar Yurdu when both Kramnik and Grischuk saved lost positions. An additional fact showing their superiority is that they only lost 1 game in the whole tournament – Karjakin’s last-round loss to Grachev, which meant nothing as they were already winning that match and secured the title.

I think this year’s second place for the Macedonian title-defenders of Alkaloid was maybe a bigger success than last year’s win. They came close to defend their title and would have done it if not for the superiority of Globus; why I rate this result higher is that after their unfortunate loss as early as Round 2 (5 draws and Eljanov blundered) they picked themselves up and started scoring big wins, 6-0, 5-1 and 5.5-0.5 before the crunch match with Globus. Alas, in that match they didn’t manage to pose problems to the eventual winners as all 6 games finished in draws without any real chances for Alkaloid for something more. In total they lost 3 games, 2 by Eljanov, and the crucial one from Round 2 led them to lose the only match in the tournament:



A truly unfortunate episode, but Eljanov was not in form in Antalya, losing one more game and finishing on 50%. He was the only player who disappointed, as all the others posted excellent scores of at least +3 (Ding Liren on Board 1) while Kryvoruchko on Board 6 had an amazing 6/7.

Third were Odlar Yurdu, the revelation of the tournament. The were leading before the last round, but unfortunately then lost minimally to Novy Bor and this dropped them to 3rd place. Still, with the starting rank 6 this is by far their greatest success.

The other Macedonian team, Gambit, had a dream start of 3 wins in the first 3 rounds and were delighted to play Globus in Round 4. This is the true joy for the weaker teams, if they are lucky they get a chance to play the elite players; where else can they get such a chance? Even in that match they didn’t lose 0-6, with IM Mitkov making a draw with Korobov. At the end they finished more or less around their starting rank, but I am sure they had a great experience playing this tournament.

There were many games in the tournament that deserved attention. I will present here the wildest one.



Next up is the European Team Championship. I should be there.



Video Game Analysis #8

David decided to take up the QGD and his first game was a success! It’s always a good sign when you win the first game with a new opening!

He got a great position, but then he misplayed it. And as it usually happens, the game was decided by a blunder.

Still, an encouraging start for his build-up process of construction of a new repertoire. Hopefully he continues to win games with the QGD!

Here’s the video of our joint analysis:



Kramnik’s Disaster in Isle of Man

The problems a strong player faces in an open tournament are all too-well known to me. Having to win and win quickly, but the guy just won’t fold. Thinking you deserve to be playing on the top boards, yet you’re stuck on board 50. “What am I doing here?”

I address these issues and some more in my latest video, available on my YouTube channel.

Check it out here.


Opening Repertoire for Black

I would like to announce that this coming Saturday, the day I usually send my weekly emails, I will be offering an opening repertoire for Black to my readers.

This repertoire will be limited only to the readers of my Inner Circle (that is the yellow box on the right). I am sure that by now you have become well-acquainted with me, my blog and my writing. If you already like what you read and you think that you need a good opening for Black, please subscribe and be patient until Saturday when I will reveal the rest.

The opening is constructed using my own analysis, it includes videos and PDFs and naturally a database in pgn and .cbv format.

Even if you’re just curious, you are welcome to step inside and have a peek. I guarantee you will like what you read.

Until Saturday then!


Aronian’s Triumph

Chess is perhaps the only sport where the semi-final matches of a World Cup are more important than the actual final. While this may be difficult to explain to the outside world, we know that the main prize of our World Cup is not the title, but the qualification for the Candidates tournament. And the finalists get those spots.

We left off at the point of the semi-finals and they proved to be as tough as expected.

I would say that the main story of this year’s World Cup in Tbilisi is Aronian’s newly-found (or discovered) belief that he can do it in stressful conditions. His meltdowns in the Candidates in London in 2013, Khanty in 2014 and Moscow in 2016 are all well known. And we have come to get accustomed that Aronian is this fantastic player who cannot perform when the stakes are high.

In Tbilisi he managed to overcome the two difficult types of situations a player can find himself into in a knock-out tournament: not making a draw while being ahead (twice against Matlakov) and needing to win to stay in the match (against Vachier). The latter situation produced this spectacular game:



Winners are always lucky, in this case Aronian was lucky that Vachier was predictable and he could get his fantastic preparation in in the most important moment of the match.

But after this game they started making draws, one more improbable after the other. Take a look at this exchange of “courtesies”:



The Armageddon game was no different. Vachier was better for most of the game then it was a draw and then Aronian won. Nerves, luck, fate, whatever you call it, it just happened that it was Aronian’s day.

The other semi-final was a repeat of the friendly match held in 2016 in China when the home player beat the American 2.5-1.5. In his own words, that victory gave him confidence that he can overcome So again.

As strange as it may seem, the turning point of the match was the second rapid game which ended in a draw after 9 (!) moves. This warrants an explanation: in the first rapid game Ding was winning (with Black) but he failed to win. He was disappointed and depressed, plus he was surprised by So’s choice of the Ragozin Defence in the second game. Making a very practical decision, Ding offered a draw in a position he already didn’t like. And while generally a draw with Black is a good result, this situation was one of the exceptions, where in fact Black had to play on. But So didn’t know Ding’s state of mind and he took the superficial “draw with Black is good” probably thinking that a quick draw with Black is even better. But this quick draw gave Ding time to clear his mind off the previous game, get it out of the system and continue to play normally. Needless to say he won the next game, again with Black, and won the match since So’s Benoni failed to produce winning chances in the last game.

The final was won by Aronian because he wanted to win it more than Ding. He was pressing in the 4 classical games but Ding managed to hang on. When it came to the rapids, Ding collapsed. The last game was a must-win for Ding and he came very close, but again, it seems that as if destiny wanted Aronian to win another World Cup after 2005 and become the only player to have won it twice.

Now we have 3 certain players for next year’s Candidates, which will be held in Berlin from 10-28 March: Karjakin, Aronian and Ding Liren. Two more are very likely, So and Caruana will most probably qualify by rating in view of Kramnik’s collapse in the Isle of Man open. Two more will come out of the World Cup that finishes in November and only 4 players still have a chance: Mamedyarov, Grischuk, Radjabov and Vachier. The last player will be the organiser’s wild-card and in view of the Russian sponsorship of the tournament we can expect another Russian player in the mix. I am already thinking of visiting Berlin next spring.