Monthly Archives: May 2021

Hybrid Isn’t That Bad

After some consideration I decided to participate in the European Qualifier for the World Cup. This event was the first big hybrid event and I was curious to see how it would work in practice.

An additional motivation for me to play was that I have never played a match in my life. Here I was guaranteed 2 games against a strong opponent and this spiked my curiousity to see how I can deal with a match situation.

I was paired to play against GM Ivan Salgado Lopez from Spain. I happen to know Ivan pretty well, he was a board member of the ACP for quite some time and we worked together well. When I analysed his games I saw that he is very gifted tactically, so I thought that my chances would be higher if I “dulled” the game somewhat. I also noticed that he prefers to attack, so taking the initiative was also a priority (you can notice how this affected my decisions in the second game).

I cannot say that my chess preparations went particularly well, due to other commitments, but I did what I could.

The venue in Skopje, where we played, was in one of the best schools in the city. It was comfortable and the internet connection was stable. I used a chess board to think and move my pieces on, which was a bit unnatural in the beginning, as I had to make the move on the laptop first and then on the board. This made it a bit difficult to concentrate at the start of the first game, but I was surprised how quickly I got used to it and soon enough my concentration was quite alright.

The only time I ditched the chess board was at the end of the first game, when I had several minutes left to finish the game, so I moved to my laptop to execute the moves directly. Unfortunately that was when I blundered.

Generally speaking, I was pleasantly surprised by the hybrid format. My main concern was the ability to concentrate under strange conditions, but with that out of the way everything was normal. In a way I felt more relaxed than usual, without having a physical opponent to see there was less tension.

The match was very exciting and I enjoyed it tremendously. I should have won the first game and in that case I would have played the second one differently, but both games were full-fledged fights and this is something I have missed for quite some time with lack of playing opportunities.

In the first game I was Black and in spite of all the preparation we left theory rather early.

It was a real pity not to win a game where, as he admitted after the match, I completely outplayed him. But there was no time to waste and this is what happened in the 2nd game.

All credit goes to my opponent who found two great moves to refute my rook sacrifice. Still, I enjoyed playing the game the way I did – I am not sure going for a draw and a tie-break would have increased my chances in view of my complete absence of practice when it comes to online games at quick time controls.

So I lost the match, but it was an experience I thoroughly enjoyed. It reminded me how much I miss playing chess and now I feel a bit sad going back to the “usual routine.”

As for hybrid chess, having experienced it personally, I am now more optimistic about its future than before. With proper technical preparation, like the one we had in Skopje, and a stable online platform I don’t see a reason why there shouldn’t be more tournaments like this.


Candidates 2021 and What Lies Ahead

With the Candidates tournament finally finished we now have the name of Carlsen’s challenger. Many interviews were given and a lot of information appeared since the end of the event, so here I will try to summarise and give also my opinion.

The players who were leading one year ago finished on top, but their paths were different. Nepomniachtchi played solid and safe chess, Vachier was stubborn and paid the price for it.

Nepomniachtchi showed maturity and good control of his nerves. As he put it, one must never go crazy in these events. In other words, making draws is good. Vachier perhaps would have wanted to do the same, but insisting on the Najdorf and the Grunfeld made him a sitting duck and after a full year of preparation his opponents took advantage of it.

The revelation of the tournament was Giri. It seemed to me that he added a certain “forward intent” to his solidity. This was most clearly shown in the game against Caruana, when he first absorbed White’s pressure and then when Caruana decided to continue the game at all costs (instead of accepting a draw, which for him was unacceptable) Giri took over and there was no stopping him.

I was disappointed by Caruana’s decision not to try to beat Nepomniachtchi with Black. He explained this by being too early to burn bridges, but in fact already in the next round he was forced to burn those bridges against Giri. Postponing the said burning didn’t help him even though he was White against Giri. My experience says that it’s always best to try to use the first chance – in Caruana’s case the game against Nepomniachtchi. It was also more practical to do so – he would have caught the leader and in fact would have had a better tie-break in case of a win. When the first chance is not taken and when a second one comes (this often is not the case – life often gives just one chance) then taking the second one is more difficult. This was proven in Caruana’s case, when Giri played one of his best games. But, and I have noted this on more than one occasion, the modern generation of chess players is not a risk-taking generation. Nothing seems to “whip the blood when great stakes can be gained by resolute and self-confident daring” (Lasker). I see this lack of “self-confident daring” the main psychological weakness of today’s best chess players.

The rest of the field were not in contention for first place. The happiest is probably Ding Liren who scored the most points with 4.5/7. Wang Hao announced his retirement from professional chess due to health issues caused by stress. Grischuk directly decided the winner by beating Nepomniachtchi’s followers, first Vachier and then Giri. Alekseenko beat Giri in a nice game in the last round to sweeten his maiden attempt at the world title.

What can we expect from the match in Dubai? I expect a much more dynamic match than Carlsen’s previous matches. A lot of people have said that Carlsen can be beaten only in dynamic and perhaps even irrational positions. Nepomniachtchi can play like that, but modern chess is difficult because a strong player can skillfully avoid positions he doesn’t like by careful selection of openings. Let’s say Carlsen chooses 1.Nf3 – how is then Nepomniachtchi going to get a Najdorf or a Grunfeld?

As always, a lot will depend on the openings. And they will depend on the strategy the players choose. If Nepomniachtchi’s strategy is perhaps more probable to foresee, Carlsen’s is not. Does he feel strong enough to battle in sharp positions, or will he try to keep it quiet and technical?

One way or another, the match will be interesting. Just like any other World Championship match.