Wishing all my readers a happy and prosperous New Year!
Wishing all my readers a happy and prosperous New Year!
A few days ago I received an email from Mr Paul Samson Topacio, a member of my Inner Circle, where he informed me of the existence of a Macedonian Variation in the English Opening.
I consider myself a well-educated and knowledgeable chess player, but this was a complete surprise as I didn’t know of such a thing. I knew that a long time ago the New In Chess Yearbook called the Macedonian Variation a line in the Taimanov Sicilian due to several victories by several Macedonian players, myself included:
But a Macedonian Variation in the English?
I asked him and Paul sent me the link where he discovered the name. In fact, it was chess.com’s German version that called the line Mazedonisch Variation! Check it out yourself. How they arrived at the name is a mystery to me. Perhaps the readers can help solve this enigma.
In the meantime I present short analysis of the Mazedonisch Variation. It is notable that the move 3 f4 was first played by the great Paul Keres in his match against Paul Schmidt in 1936. As I write in the comments, the move looks like it came from the King’s Gambit! Keres was famous for using the King’s Gambit, especially in his younger years, and this looks like an attempt to blend the English Opening and the King’s Gambit! Quite a brave and original idea…
After some analysis of the variation my conclusion is that the line is entirely playable, especially in faster time controls when Black doesn’t have the time to understand what’s going on!
The chess learning site Chessable I am actively cooperating with, recently released a new book that completes the site’s coverage of all the phases of a chess game.
Chessable is primarily an opening-learning platform (and it has a large number of available books on openings to be learnt there) but some time ago they also introduced an endgame book on the endgames you must know. With their latest inclusion, 1001 Chess Exercises for Beginners, they covered the middlegame as well. I am quite happy that Chessable grew to an extent to cover all the phases of the game!
The new book, written by Franco Masetti and Roberto Messa and published by New In Chess, is a very handy guide to the basic tactical motifs a chess player must be familiar with. To be honest with you, I am never quite sure how a certain motif is called (deflection, decoy etc.) but I can assure you that I can spot them immediately! I find the main advantage of the book in the systemisation of the motifs and providing the reader with a lot of examples to drill those in, thus committing them to memory (the motifs, not necessarily the names!). If you add to this Chessable’s unique learning algorithm, you have a winning combination (pun intended) and a fast track to tactical mastery.
The book opens with relatively easy Mate in 1 exercises, followed by Mate in 2. Then the main tactical motifs follow and the book ends with Mixed Motifs for both White and Black and then with Mate in 3, Mate in 4 and Curiosities. As the title suggests there are 1001 exercises but they are quickly solved and time flies doing them.
The Introduction begins with “Chess in 99% tactics!” and I couldn’t agree more. In fact that is what players of all ages and strengths are doing when trying to get into shape – they solve tactical exercises. True, the ones Carlsen solves will differ from the ones I solve, but the core is the same. If you want to get better and get into a right frame of mind for a good game of chess, you must follow down the path of tactical work. There is simply no other way.
Wishing all my readers a happy festive season and the best of times!
Here’s an enjoyable game that you won’t find in the database. It was played in the French Nationale 1 against a solid French IM.
During the European Club Cup in Skopje in 2015 I had the bright idea to conduct interviews with the elite players. One of the best interviews was with the wonderful Boris Gelfand.
Boris agreed to meet us (me and my very good friend Kiril Penushliski, a PhD and an avid chess aficionado) after the tournament and we spent a few good hours walking in the park and talking about chess, life, Universe and pretty much everything else.
It is probably long overdue, I should have published this gem long time ago, but the initial plan was to have the interview transcribed and publish it in a written version. Alas, this never materialised, so I decided to publish the audio version.
I would like to thank Boris for giving us this opportunity to talk to one of the best chess players in the world. He answered truthfully and at length, it was sheer delight to talk about chess with somebody who has seen and done it all.
You can enjoy the interview following this link.
Things changed quickly in London after the first half of the tournament. Unsurprisingly, people stopped complaining about the draws.
After Caruana’s two in a row it was Nepomniachtchi who improved on it and scored three in a row! He was helped by Adams’s “Christmas presents” (his own words). In a drawn rook endgame 2 vs 1 on one wing Adams blundered and lost.
Nepo then went on to beat Anand, who had a bad tournament, and none other than the World Champion. It was a shocking collapse for the World Champion – he played the game well up to a moment, but then what happened is impossible to explain. When you see the World Champion make beginner’s blunders the only thing you can do it scratch your head in disbelief.
While Carlsen did play the second part of the tournament with a severe cold, this is in no way an excuse for the blunders he committed. To his credit, even though visibly shocked by the loss and with more blunders to come in his last round game with Aronian, the World Champion did manage to win that game and finish on a shared third with 5/9. This lack of stability in his game has become quite a plague for Carlsen in the last year or so and he doesn’t seem to have found a way to deal with it. Still, even with those problems he easily holds his rating and the others don’t seem to be capable to catch up.
Carlsen was also the winner of the Grand Chess Tour 2017, thanks to his dominance in the rapid and blitz sections. In these formats he dominates as he did in classical chess. I wonder whether he can dominate in classical again…?!
Caruana’s last round must-win situation was playing White against Adams. In his own words, he would have accepted the repetition had Adams repeated, but Adams played on! Things really must go your way if you are to win a tournament! Adams not only played on, he also blundered (his last Christmas present in London) and Caruana secured a tie-break with Nepomniachtchi.
The tie-break was dominated by the American, especially the blitz games (the two rapid games were drawn). Caruana doesn’t have a great reputation as a rapid/blitz player, while Nepo does, but he has been improving in this aspect as well. He’s beaten Nakamura and Grischuk in matches with faster time controls, so he shouldn’t be underestimated. Still, what he didn’t win in the first blitz game is no less shocking than what Nakamura didn’t win against Carlsen earlier in the tournament. It seems being a piece up is no guarantee to win anymore…
The missed chance didn’t seem to disturb Caruana too much. He went on to win the second blitz game convincingly. Now compare that to the position from Nakamura-Carlsen.
Well, at least these guys provided some comfort to us lesser mortals, who sometimes fail to win with a big positional advantage.
As a personal observation, what the London Chess Classic showed is that Karjakin doesn’t stand a chance to play well in the Candidates. He’s been having too many bad results and it is impossible to just suddenly wake up, play fantastic chess and win a tournament as serious as the Candidates. Which probably makes Caruana the favourite, but I will write in more detail about the Candidates after Tata Steel and Gibraltar (where almost all the Candidates are playing, 5 in Wijk and 2 on the Rock, only Ding Liren is not playing anywhere).
More than half the tournament passed in London and there is an outcry in the public on the number of draws. Only two decisive results from 25 games, incidentally, both these games were won by Caruana.
People are complaining, the talks of the “drawing death of chess” is immediately back, the usual suspects are pushing their ideas of abandoning classical chess and moving onto rapid and blitz.
There are 23 drawn games out of 25. And my question is: so what?
I am not even going into the arguments that chess is basically a drawish game, that much we all know. What I would like to point out is that another tournament with the same people at another point in time may as well have more than 50% decisive games. These people are trying the best they can at the given circumstances and sometimes it just doesn’t work out.
They are the best players in the world, they all want to beat each other, they try their best, but more often than not they fail because the other player is doing the same! There is an infinite number of factors that influence these things, current form, physical condition, opening preparation, state of mind and also plain luck. The bottom line is that simply there are tournaments like this and we have to accept that fact. If the games are well-fought and you can see the players trying hard, there is nothing more we can ask of them.
Speaking of the death of chess, a ground-breaking Alpha Zero program crushed Stockfish 8 in a 100-game match, winning 28 games and drawing the rest. There are certain moot points here, like the strength of the hardware the engines were using (incomparably stronger for Alpha Zero), the time control of 1 minute per move and the openings used by Stockfish (and no opening book for it), but that is all beside the point. The main point is that Alpha Zero was only taught the rules of the game and then was left alone to learn the game by itself. It did it by using the Monte Carlo simulation, i.e. playing a mind-bogglingly huge number of games with itself and learning along the way. In a matter of hours (some say 4h, some say 24h, any way equally impressive) it reached a level good enough to annihilate one of the best engines in the world.
This is an actual Artificial Intelligence, capable of learning by itself and dominating such a complex game like chess. The fact that it managed to do it in such a short amount of time makes it even more incredible.
To wrap this up, I offer two excerpts. One of the best humans playing chess and the other of the best computers doing the same. Judge them yourself.
For the computer game I will only comment with exclamation marks to show my amazement at the moves. Enjoy and learn if you can.