Category : Instructional/Coaching

Riding a Bicycle

This one is from my newsletter.

In case you were wondering, I won’t be talking about physical exercise and actual riding of a bicycle, even though that is a painful subject for me, the lack of it, to be more exact. That will likely be a topic for another day.

Now I’d like to share a revelation that I recently found in a book.

For all my life I was playing the Sicilian with both colours. When I played it with Black I always felt more at ease because I knew that the long-term prospects were on my side. I only (only!) had to avoid being mated and then I knew that things will be great for me as the potential endgame would give me good chances for more than just a draw.

However, when I played it with White, I always felt rushed and under pressure. Larsen called the Sicilian a “cheap trap” in a sense that White exchanges the central d-pawn for Black’s c-pawn and then tries to “cheapo” his way to a quick mating attack. So I always acutely felt this pressure that if I don’t deliver the mate then my long-term prospects would not be something to look forward to.

With these feelings, I always treated the Sicilian in a very aggressive fashion. The English Attack, lines with f4 and g4, the Sozin in the beginning of my career, all of them aimed at either a pawn storm or a piece attack.

Of course, I knew Karpov’s games in the Sicilian, playing in so-called slow-mode and strangulating his opponents, but this was mostly because of his superior playing skills rather than the “correct” treatment of the Sicilian. When he faced a Sicilian player par-excellence in the likes of Kasparov, he was forced to abandon 1.e4 altogether – the positional Sicilians didn’t work anymore.

(Of the many slow-Sicilians I was particularly impressed by the game Smyslov-Hort from Petropolis Interzonal in 1973 where White’s knight arrived on g4 (!) before delivering the final blow on f6).

I never defined these feelings exactly and to be honest I never seriously tried. I knew what I was feeling and didn’t feel a need to share that with the world. But at the beginning of the year I invested half of my one-day commentating fee at the Rilton Cup in chess books and one of the books I bought was “Winning” by Nigel Short. While browsing the book I found what I’ve forgotten I was looking for: the accurate description of White’s play in the Sicilian. Here’s Short’s comment on Black’s 17th move from his game against Kasparov from the Amsterdam tournament in 1991:

“Playing White in the Sicilian is like riding a bicycle. You have to keep moving forward, otherwise you fall off.”

Incredibly astute observation by Short and one that perfectly described my feelings!

I have written before that one of the feelings I hate the most is the feeling of being rushed. Therefore it’s perhaps not a surprise that I have stopped playing open Sicilians with White. The itch for a full-fledged open fight with sights on the opponent’s king is still there, but most of the time I think better of it. The Rossolimo seems like a good alternative nowadays.


Fischer a-la Indian

You probably remember my post on one of Fischer’s original ideas, the move …g5 in the Sicilian/Hedgehog structures. While not completely original, as it most likely was inspired by Morphy’s game, I still think of it as one of his great positional ideas that expanded our knowledge of what is possible in chess.

Nobody will be surprised by the move …g5 today, but the talented players still manage to come up with new packaging for the old ideas. Therefore, I was definitely surprised when I saw Fischer’s idea implemented in a typical Najdorf position from the 6.Be2 line.

The following position arose in the relatively recent game between two Indian prodigies, Sadhwani-Erigaisi, played in the Abu Dhabi Masters in August:

A normal Najdorf position where Black has quite a few sensible moves at his disposal, 13…Qc6, 13…Rfd8, 13…Rfe8, 13…h6, all leading to maneuvering play along well-known lines and ideas.

However, Erigaisi came up with something completely unexpected: 13…Kh8!?. I cannot say whether he came up with this in his preparation (the engine doesn’t think too high of the idea) or over-the-board, but in any case to implement a well-known idea in a new situation is always curious to see.

Sadhwani continued with the usual maneuver 14.Nd2 (going to f1 and then perhaps to g3 or e3, in case the bishop moves from e3) and Erigaisi followed through with 14…Rg8!

Now this makes it very clear what Black intends to do: …g5-g4 is coming! The engine suggests ignoring Black’s plan by 15.Nf1 g5 16.g3, but Sadhwani didn’t want to allow any sort of aggression by Black and in fact started playing on the kingside himself! This is also a psychological decision, showing your opponent that you won’t be bullied into submission.

He chose 15.h4!? and after the suboptimal 15…Qb8?! he went 16.g4!

All of a sudden it was Black who was being attacked on the kingside! After White’s g5 and Bg4 he obtained a solid advantage, even though the game was eventually won by Black.

I found this game refreshing. Two of the best young players in the world entered a well-known theoretical position and managed to give it a new life, introducing immediate aggression. The fact that they used an old idea to do so doesn’t diminish the value of it – in fact, it only shows that these players know their classics as well.

Examples like this are proof that chess is still very rich with ideas, even in the openings. Whether they are completely new or old but in new packaging, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the fresh positions they provide, and from then on it is “let the best player win.”


Impressions from the Berlin Grand Prix

The recently finished Grand Prix in Berlin produced a lot of fighting chess. I was very lucky to be able to observe the players on the stage, literally sitting next to them, as I was serving as a Fair Play Officer (FPO) for the event.

Apart from my duties as FPO I also followed the games as a fan and player. It is very different when you follow the games at home, even without an engine, and on the stage with the players. When I was there on the stage, I could more easily “plug in” and feel the position and the players. I tried to calculate lines myself and I had much higher respect for the moves the players were coming up with.

This last issue needs special mention. Since I am guilty of it myself I assume others are too. When I follow the games with an engine at home, I am so easy to dismiss the moves that are played if they don’t follow one of the engine’s top choices. This habit takes over very quickly and I soon find myself thinking the players are not very good. Yes, I understand they are very strong, 2750 rating is nothing to smirk at, but I easily forget the hard mental work and the calculations they had to do in order to come up with the move that I am so quick to dismiss just because the engine doesn’t rate it in its top 3 (or 5, 6…) choices. In other words, if a strong player calculates and thinks for a while and then comes up with a move that isn’t a clear blunder, then certainly there must be good reasons and definite advantages for that move to be played. I need to be reminded of this aspect when I am at home!

I didn’t fall into this trap when I was in Berlin. Simply because I was alone there, no engine, just the players and the positions. There I got to admire and respect their decisions again.

What I found to be an interesting exercise was to imagine the scenario of the games. There were two exceptional players who posed problems to each other and tried to overcome them. And then there was an engine, rated several hundred rating points higher, which would easily solve those problems and pose unsolvable ones to them. I imagined that it must be the same when I play opposition at my level, at higher level and at lower level, when I would be considered the engine!

This exercise helped me understand the need for consistency. Every single move had to be precise. At their level a single mishap is fatal. Connected to this is their constant creation of problems. Every single move poses a problem. I found some players easier to follow in this respect, for example I found Rapport’s moves easier to understand when it came to constant problem-posing.

By trying to get into the players’ minds I tried to understand their decisions from a psychological point of view. I tried to understand their approaches. For example both finalists, Nakamura and Aronian, had similar serve-and-volley approach when playing with White: the serve was the targeted preparation, often by entering a forced variation, aimed at catching the opponents unprepared and gaining time on the clock; if successful the rest would be the volley – converting the advantage.

With Black they were also very similar. They play solid openings against both 1.e4 and 1.d4 and don’t fear preparation in their trusted defences. If they change something it is usually a sideline within their repertoire, not the whole opening.

The experience in Berlin helped me greatly understand chess and the best players in the world much better. Unfortunately, most likely it won’t make me a better chess player because better understanding doesn’t directly transfer to better decision-making at the board. The latter requires practice of decision-making and that type of work is the actual calculation of variations. I did some calculation in Berlin, but that was far from enough to make me better at it.

They usually say that with time our understanding of chess improves, but our practical strength declines. I will try to fight that process, but for how long that will work I don’t know. In any case, I am grateful for every opportunity that I get to understand this game even a little bit better. May there be many more.


Rook Endgame by Ulf Andersson

In my last blog post I mentioned the game Andersson-Comas where White had a choice to enter a rook endgame in two version.

Andresson chose the inferior version but his opponent still didn’t manage to take advantage of that and lost.

Below I present the analysis of both versions. I hope you find it instructive.


Rook Endgames from Riga

The recently finished FIDE Grand Swiss had a lot of interesting games. I happened to be present in Riga for several rounds and I witnessed a few of them.

I was in the playing hall when the following two rook endgames were played. I had my impressions while the games were in progress and I will share them in the comments. As usual when we use our brains, my impressions were much more cautious than the definite verdicts of the engine.

The first example was from the women’s event.

The second example was from the same round, but in the open section.

The third example was the one I noticed once I left Riga. It was a game that was crucial for the eventual winner, as he managed to win from a drawn position.

I found these endgames quite instructive. Perhaps a bit comforting is that even the best players mess them up, as with the physically demanding time controls it is more difficult to keep the concentration until the end and as we know, who errs the last is what matters.


Even Botvinnik

This was published in my newsletter on 20 March this year.

Today it is unrealistic to expect the best players to play the endgames perfectly, even the theoretical ones. I remember seeing a game where even Boris Gelfand couldn’t initially give mate with a knight and bishop, though eventually he succeeded.

However, I always had the impression that the players of the past, like Botvinnik and Smyslov never made mistakes in the theoretical endgames and that generally played them better. Partly it was so because of the adjournments, when they could analyse and consult the endgame manuals so then they could play precisely.

So I was surprised when I checked the endgame of the game between Janosevic and Botvinnik, played in the Belgrade tournament in 1969. The starting position of interest of the final phase of the game is the following one:

It is Black to move and he needs to decide how to make the (relatively easy) draw. Botvinnik went for the more active 76…Rg2, even though the passive 76…Ra7 was simpler, as White simply cannot make progress.

The game continuation allowed White to become active with the Ke5 idea and while the position remained a draw it required precise calculation from Black.

The second interesting decision by Botvinnik was in the following position.

Instead of stopping White’s idea of Kf6 by latching onto the e-pawn by 79…Rg4, which again would have given an easy draw as White cannot go forward, Botvinnik allowed White to achieve his idea by taking the g-pawn by 79…Rxg5 80.Kf6 when he was already forced to come up with the only move to save the game.

However, this was incredibly difficult and Botvinnik failed.

Where would you put the rook and why? It’s a nice exercise in analysis so perhaps you can give it a try. For starters I can tell you that Botvinnik’s natural move 80…Rg1 loses, while the drawing move is 80…Rg4. Now go on and figure out why!

But the adventures didn’t finish here. Even though White was winning after 80…Rg1? he also missed the win.

Here winning was 84.Rd5! liberating the d7-square for the king and also cutting off the black king from supporting his own g-pawn. Janosevic went for the direct 84.Kd8? and here Botvinnik had the last chance to save the game.

Where would you put the king? It’s not a very difficult decision if you’re fresh and know there is a draw here. But on move 84 Botvinnik failed again. He went for 84…Kg6? and after 85.e7 Re1 86.Rd5 (even the immediate 86.e8Q wins) he was lost.

However, after 84…Kf6! he would have drawn. The idea is that taking the rook after 85.Rf7 Kxe6 86.Rxf1 Ke5! Black draws as the g-pawn marches forward aided by the king while White cannot use his king to stop it. In the case of 85.e7 Ra1 the draw is trivial as the e-pawn is stopped in view of the threat of …Ra8.

A lot of mistakes, undoubtedly. To my surprise, I discovered that even Botvinnik could err.


Morphy, Fischer, Firouzja

This text was published in British Chess Magazine.

My impression of Fischer has always been that in view of his encyclopaedic knowledge, knowing all there is to know in his time, he was an excellent implementer of ideas. He would recognise an idea and then he would either perfect it or use it as it is.

For a very long time I thought that Fischer’s most original idea was his plan in the hedgehog formation consisting of …Kh8, …Rg8 and …g5, starting an attack on the kingside. He used it first in the less-well known game against Garcia Soruco at the Havana Olympiad in 1966:

While this is not exactly a hedgehog formation, in view of the passivity of White’s position Fischer played 14…Kh8! followed by 15…Rg8 and 16…g5.

The more famous example of this plan was seen in his game against Ulf Andersson, played after the Siegen Olympiad in 1970.

The pawn is on c7 instead of c5 in order to have a proper hedgehog, but Fischer already knew what he was doing: 13 Kh1! followed by 14 Rg1 and then expansion on the kingside with g4, Rg3 etc.

It was only several days ago that I learned that Fischer was not the originator of this plan. When I discovered this I was both surprised and not surprised.

It is well-known that Fischer was an ardent student of Paul Morphy’s games and had the highest esteem for his talent. He probably knew all Morphy’s games by heart. Therefore, the idea from the following position must have rung a bell when he played that game against Garcia Soruco.

This position arose in the blindfold (!) game between Louis Paulsen and Paul Morphy, played in New York in 1857. Black is stable in the centre and he finds an ingenious way to take advantage of White’s last move 15 h3.

Morphy played 15…Kh8! followed by 16…g5, 17…Rg8 and 18…g4. He won with direct attack against the king, sacrificing a rook on g2 and delivering mate.

 One can only admire the genius of Paul Morphy, to be able to come up with such an original strategic plan in a blindfold game, more than a century (!) before the modern masters picked it up. It is also no surprise that it was Bobby Fischer, with his keen eye for ideas, who first implemented the plan of his great predecessor.

As they say, everything new is something well-forgotten.

Fast forward to 2019 and the Iranian talent Alireza Firouzja. There is no doubt that Firouzja knows of Fischer’s plan in the hedgehog, just like many other players. What makes certain players stand out is not the knowledge, but the ability to adapt that knowledge to a new, original situation.

I will now show what I have in mind.  Take a look at the following position.

This position is from the game Tari-Firouzja, from the World Blitz Championship in 2019. Black has a great position here, as he has everything he could dream of from the hedgehog – the eternal knight on e5, the safer king and an opening of the position at his disposal.

Here the typical 27…b5 would have been quite strong. Black is ripping White’s position apart in classical fashion, having pushed …d5 first and now …b5. The tactical justification of the move is seen after 29 ab Ba5!, hitting the knight on c3.

However, what Firouzja did is something completely different. He managed to adapt Fischer’s plan and played the extremely curious 27…Kh7! I’ll be honest and admit that this would have never crossed my mind. To my understanding, the position is too dynamic and with a safe king I would have looked for more direct continuations akin to …b5 mentioned above.

This doesn’t mean that Firouzja’s idea is bad, not at all. It is a very interesting one, showing that the position can be approached in more than one way. His idea is a good adaptation of Fischer’s plan – he sees the open h-file as the perfect place for the somewhat idle rook on e8. After 28 Bg2 Rh8 29 Qe2 Kg8 he achieved his aim and maintained the advantage.

A lot of players have knowledge, but what they do with that knowledge is what makes a difference. From what we have seen so far (and not only based on the above example) Firouzja is intent on making a difference in the chess world.



A few days ago my Chessable course on the Anti-Sicilians was published.

After working on the Najdorf it was only natural to round up the whole repertoire for Black against 1 e4 with the coverage of “everything else.” Now that job is done.

While I did intend the Anti-Sicilians to be suited for the Najdorf player, some of them can be used by other Sicilian players. In fact, if you play 2…d6 then the course is 100% suitable, while in the case of 2…e6 (except for Scheveningen players, who fall into the 100% suitability) or 2…Nc6 then only part of it is and this is basically all White’s 2nd move alternatives (the Morra Gambit, Closed Sicilian, the Grand Prix, the Alapin to name the more important ones).

The main difficulty in creating the repertoire were the move orders. The Najdorf players are particularly susceptible to these. I guess that’s the price to pay for playing one of the most popular Sicilians!

To illustrate my point, after 2 Nc3 the Najdorf player is already at a crossroad. If he wants to preserve the option to transpose to a Najdorf (but this option depends only on White!) he must play 2..d6 or 2…a6. The former is the traditional Najdorf move, but it is exactly here that White has come up with a plethora of interesting and testing options. Necessity is the mother of all invention and the necessity here being a desperate need for something to play against the Najdorf!

Everybody suffers when having to meet the Najdorf, even the World Champion. And it was him who came up with one of the more original ideas – after 1 e4 c5 2 Nc3 d6 he came up with 3 d4 cd 4 Qd4 Nc6 5 Qd2, followed by b3, Bb2 and 0-0-0. This line is still very much alive with no clear consensus of what Black’s best variation against it is.

Other tricky lines for Black are the Grand Prix Attack (currently with Bb5 instead of Bc4), the transposition to a Dragon via the Grand Prix (1 e4 c5 2 Nc3 d6 3 f4 Nc6 4 Nf3 g6 5 d4), the move-orders with Nc3, Nge2, g3 and then d4 when Black plays …g6, thus transposing to a Fianchetto Dragon and a few more.

Mind you, all of them are perfectly fine for Black from a theoretical perspective, which is only natural. However, when thinking about constructing a repetoire and wanting to make it easier for the students by eliminating tricky move-orders, too much theory and open Sicilians they may not be too happy with, then the choice is limited.

All of the above explains why I chose 2..Nc6 as the move to play against 2 Nc3. I was “helped” by the World Champion as in the past period he demonstrated quite a few ideas in the line 3 Nf3 e5. This further led me to create a repertoire that completely prevents a transposition to an open Sicilian, which should come as a sort of relief.

Everything else in the course was much easier to cover. The main theoretical alternative to the open Sicilian is the Moscow Variation (3 Bb5+) and here while all three Black moves are perfectly viable, I went for 3…Bd7, as the easiest one to play.

As usual with Chessable, the course comes with a free video where I give an overview of the whole repertoire in the duration of 1 hour. The total course has almost 10 hours of video. That also includes the chapter on Model Games where I analyse games that are important for the understanding of the material.

Generally I’m quite happy with the work I did on the Anti-Sicilians. It also helped me refresh my own repertoire and take a closer look at some lines that I have neglected for years (a good example is the Morra Gambit, where I came up with a very exciting idea for Black!). I like analysing openings and I like to explore them, so this type of work is something I always look forward to! I can only hope that it helps the others as it had helped me.

Break Down Anti-Sicilians is out on Chessable


Interview with GM Avetik Grigoryan

A few months ago I was contacted with GM Avetik Grigoryan, who was curious about me after discovering my blog. We chatted for a while and came to the idea of an interview. I thought it would be interesting for the wider public to know how a very strong Grandmaster who is not part of the elite conducts his coaching sessions, how his career went and similar questions I was personally interested in. Below is the interview and I hope you like it! (All images are courtesy of Avetik Grigoryan.)

To start with, I’d like to know why you stopped enjoying playing chess back in 2012 and how that happened? Was it a continuous process that led to saturation or an abrupt realisation? After all, you were 23 years old at the time with a rating over 2600 and to stop enjoying chess that early sounds strange! 

Yep, it was one of the toughest decisions that I’ve made in my life. I worked so hard to get on that level and then I decided to stop. 

Well, I didn’t stop enjoying chess. Even until now, I love it very much.

I just stopped enjoying playing in tournaments, home preparation, where it becomes important whose computer is stronger, who can remember more lines. 

I started to enjoy the competition not as much as I used to and helping others started to give me more joy.

I believe, we should try to live appropriate to our values’ hierarchy, which gives us happiness.

It was then when I started to work with some talented guys, and I felt that their success gave me so much joy. See them growing, reaching their goals, and having success gave me real pleasure. 

So, I decided to switch to a professional coach career as I enjoyed it very much. I have so much info in my head and deeply analyzed material in my computer, which I could share with more talented students than me, who can achieve in chess more than I did. 

Never in mind I regret playing 16 years of professional chess and then stopping it. These are not lost years, as many may think. Chess gave me so much knowledge that I use in my life, and without it, I would not be here where I am now.

You mentioned that you started to practice Kung Fu and changed your lifestyle after stopping professional chess. Can you describe this in more detail, how did your new lifestyle look like? 

When I was playing professional chess, I used to work from early morning until late night. There was big pressure on me. To wake up very early and work till late night, six days a week was not easy.

When I stopped, I felt so much peace. I started to appreciate each day of my life more: fruits became tastier than before, the smell of flowers became better. I had time to read books, spend time with people I love. 

Then, one sunny day I just took a pen and wrote down what kind of person I should become and what kind of steps I should take. 

I started everything step-by-step. 

One of the things in my list was to be strong physically and mentally. And I thought what can be better than Kung-Fu 😊 In Armenia we have a very good Kung Fu school. 

Armenian Kung Fu Federation

I started to practice it seriously, and there were even days when I had three training. The first one started at 5 am! 

I was balancing my working time with the students and my personal time very well. 

You told me that you enjoy coaching. Can you describe your own coaching that led you to become a 2600-player? 

Well, I was very lazy until 13 years passed from my life. 

Spain 2002

Then one thing happened in my life which changed everything. 

If it’s interesting, I can tell the story. 

Yes, of course.

It was a late-night, with our family we were in a taxi, coming home.

The driver was very sleepy, and he was driving very badly.

My father asked him why he was driving when he was so tired, and the driver’s words changed my life. He said he had to. He had a family, and he should take care of his family. Every day he woke up at 7am and drove till 1am.

I remember I got goosebumps. That was the moment when I realized that I didn’t want to have such life, and for not having such life, I needed to work very hard now. I realized that if now I did things that were easy to do, I would have a hard life in the future, and if I did things that were hard to do now, later, I would have an easy life.

After that, I started to work on chess very seriously. I analyzed all the books of classics, starting from Capablanca.

Now in my database, I have around 1000 games, which I’ve analyzed and saved.

I worked with coaches, studied in the chess academy of Armenia. Then I started to work with GM Zaven Andriasian.  There were weeks when he came to my place, we practiced all day and started again in the morning.

Very fast, both of us became GMs, Zaven even became the World Junior Champion at 17!

By the way, I advise everyone to have sparring partners, a friend with whom you can work on chess.

And it’s best when your styles are different.

In our case, Zaven was a very sharp player, and I was positional.

Then you don’t notice how you “absorb” the strong skills from your friend and give yours to him.

Also, in my career, I had a few good coaches, but two of them have an irreplaceable impact on my chess career. GM Chibukhyan Artur, who believed in me and my goal from IM to become a GM in 1 year, and then GM Akopian Vladimir, who helped me to get from 2500 to 2600 level. These are the people that I’ll never forget what they’ve done for me.

Mark Dvoretsky said that coaches should also play from time to time in order not to lose the “taste” for the game. When you play nowadays, how do you approach the tournaments? Do you dedicate time to prepare beforehand, are you ambitious to win them? Do you update your opening repertoire with the latest games?

Yeah, I absolutely agree.

I play a lot of training games with my students.

We often play certain openings or certain kinds of positions, where the student is weak.

Recently I also participated in St. Louis Fall Classic tournament after not having pressed the chess clock for three years!

The reason I participated was to show my students on my own example, what our mindset can do! Right Mindset! That right mood and the inner energy can do magic.

About updating the opening repertoire, I check all the latest games, not for my opening repertoire but for my students.

As most of them are high-level players, and everybody plays different openings, working with them automatically makes my knowledge in the openings deeper.

In St. Louis, a fascinating thing happened.

I had a novelty in one of my favorite lines – English opening with four knights and with 5.e4 line, which recently Carlsen and other top Grandmasters also started to play. In that line, I had a novelty, which I found around ten years ago, but never had the luck to play it. Then when I stopped playing professionally, I showed it to my students. Unfortunately, they also didn’t have a chance to play it.

A few months ago, in St. Louis tournament GM Petrosian Manuel bumped to that novelty, which we had so long time ago.

You coached the national team of Thailand. How does coaching a national team differ from coaching individuals? Did you devise any team strategy?

It was a very interesting and unforgettable experience.

Interesting – because as a coach, you face different challenges. Now your task is not only to help them to grow their chess skills or strengthen their weak points in the game but to create a real team where everyone helps each other, where they become brothers no matter what happened between them before. 

Unforgettable – because we spiritually became connected very much, and even now, I am in touch with most of them. 

You have also been Director at Yerevan Arabkir Children and Youth Chess School. Armenia is well-known for its chess program and exceptional chess players. What does the training program for children consist of that it develops such marvellous players?

Yep, I wanted to do something good for my country. When I accepted the offer, I invited a few other Grandmasters and professional coaches to work together and create a chess school about which I had always dreamt when I was a kid.

Well, we have chess in school as a subject, and we have professional chess schools in each of the districts of Yerevan.

Chess is very popular in Armenia since we have World Champion Tigran Petrosian, Levon Aronian, and we won a few Olympiads and the team world championship. Many parents want to see their children reach such success.

I believe the main reason of Armenian players’ success is character. During the whole history, Armenians fought, and the fighting spirit is in our blood. We do not give up and continue the fight after blunders, bad games, or tournaments.

You have helped many amateurs and chess lovers to improve. While I understand that each individual case is different, can you still single out the one most important thing that must be done in order to improve?

I give lots of attention to psychology.

There should be a very strong ANSWER to the question “WHY”?

Why do you want to get the 2000 level? Why you want to become a GM.

If the answer is strong, very strong, nothing will stop you. You’ll find motivation when it’s tough; you’ll find resources instead of excuses; you will set up plans on how to improve and start the action. That strong energy will open many doors.

I know many people who want to become grandmasters, but at the same time, they spend countless hours in social platforms scrolling FB, and I know people who have the same dream but are very goal-oriented. They work with coaches, work with chess books, and when they are online, most of the time, they learn in some chess educational websites, read some chess articles or solve chess puzzles.

That is the difference that makes the difference.

I believe desire, a burning desire, is the 1st essential “ingredient.” I have even written an article in our blog in the series “How to become a Grandmaster or achieve any goal”.

When you decided to open your website you wanted to make something different, to offer online instruction with theoretical, practical and interactive parts. How is that different from individual one-on-one lessons? What are the benefits you are offering?

Many of our students say that the educational system of ChessMood is just a dream.

I understand them very well.

Myself, in my life, I learned lots of different stuff, and when I learned them from the Internet, my biggest challenge was this: I watched the course – the theoretical part, but then I didn’t know how to put the knowledge in practice or to whom give my questions.

ChessMood consists of all that three parts!

1. Theoretical part- courses. All of them are created by our Grandmasters, and behind each 1-hour material there are countless hours of hard work.

Many think that very high-quality courses are what differs us from the market, but in real, the next two parts are very unique in the chess world and has a big impact on our students’ successes:

2. Practical part – Streams and webinars based on the courses!

During the streams, we play and comment on the games, playing ONLY the openings we teach in our courses.

In this way, students not only memorize the lines, see how to punish the opponent, when he makes a wrong move in the opening, but also see the middlegame part, typical plans, and ideas of that opening in practice. 

Students can ask all their questions during streams, webinars, and also during the 3rd important step.

 3. Forum

Here, the students can give all their questions and get answers right from Grandmasters instead of searching the answer in random places. This is what students can’t find anywhere else.

Also, in the forum, our students help each other too, many have become sparring partners and friends in life.

There are 6 Armenian Grandmasters that are part of the Chessmood team – yourself, Melkumyan, Gabuzyan, Andriasian, Ter-Sahakyan and Hovhannisyan. How does the team work? Does everybody have a special area of expertise, are the tasks divided equally or perhaps the student asks for a particular coach?

Most of the material we create together. Everyone is an expert in some particular opening, so we share the knowledge and files with each other, analyze them in more depth, using cloud engines.

As all our Grandmasters are active players, the responsibility of sorting all the material, preparing files, finding and commenting model games, and then record videos I took on myself.

Recently, GM Gabuzyan plays not much, and he also started to record videos.

Well, I am absolutely open to working with other Grandmasters as well, who can keep our quality standards.

Many have tried, but it’s tough. I’ll ask to re-record the video if the explanation of the particular line or the idea is not very clear.

I understand, of course, that it’s harder work than they used to do for recording videos for other websites, and I am ready to reward more for that work.

But anyway, it’s very tough for anyone to keep that quality standard that we initially put with our Grandmasters.

Do you also provide coaching services to professionals (IMs, GMs)? Have you been approached by them and what can you offer to these players?

Hehe 😊 Well, now most of my private students are IMs and GMs, and only a few are not titled.

As I only work with students whose goals I believe, it becomes so enjoyable to work with talented and goal-oriented hard workers, to see their progress and eventually together celebrate all their successes.

There are 3 essential steps that I do with each student.

1. What’s the goal?

It is very important to have the right Big Goal, divide it into parts, and start to reach them step-by-step. If in this 1st step, something is wrong with motivation or mindset, we fix it first.

2. Identifying the weaknesses of the student.

In other words, finding out the “illness” even small ones, all of them!

3. Make a plan and start the action.

Start healing them with action, putting big effort.

I have a very big database in my computer, which I collected during my 20+ years of being in chess. Not just openings, but also collections of calculations, positional and attacking chess, defense, endgames… All the topics in chess.

I believe a good coach is like a doctor. The patient comes and has some problems, you find out the issue, and you begin to heal him with some therapies and, in a few cases with medicine.

Every student has very different weak points in chess and how precise is the coach’s therapy or medicine, as better.

It is also important to mention that each student has his language, and for the coach, it’s a must to find the right approach of teaching.

How does your usual day look like? How much time do you dedicate to coaching each day?

It may look very crazy, but almost every day with my wife we wake up at 6.30 am and work till late evening.

A part of the day goes on working with students and preparation for the lessons and the other part goes on developing ChessMood and on much work with ChessMood team which is now becoming bigger and bigger.

How can you manage to do so much?

There are three secrets.
1. I wake up early
2. I believe in my goal with 100%
3. My magic girl who covers my back and together we chase our dreams one by one.

What is your personal goal as a coach and where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

I believe that in the next five years, all the chess educational platforms, which, instead of providing value put effort on selling with nice marketing words, will go down under the water (:D), and the best ones will become partners, sharing amazing value with the chess world.

My personal goal in ChessMood is to help as many chess lovers as possible to achieve their goals, to unlock their full potential.

In 2019, our students raised their ratings on average by 70 points!

This gives me full satisfaction in life and happiness.

In the next five years, I also am going to publish a few books which I think will make a big impact on many chess players’ careers.   

I’ll also start to travel in the world, and meet our community members in real life, make camps, and have a good time together.

We had already such experience this year in the USA when I was playing in St. Louis. Imagine, what does it mean for the coach, when your (his) students from different states fly to meet you.


A Technical Win

The Spanish Division de Honor, their Premier League, took place in Melilla from 30 September to 6 October.

I was present during the tournament and had a chance to observe the games as they happened in the playing hall. As it turned out, every round was more or less marked by Ivanchuk’s games.

In Round 1 he beat Cheparinov following the Fischer-Reshevsky game in the Classical Dragon from 1961 (which, to remind you, was an improvement over the Alekhine-Botvinnik game from Nottingham 1936), then he was lost in mere 15 moves after experimenting in the opening against Iturrizaga. And in Round 3 he produced the following technical masterpiece.

In spite of the inaccuracies at the end, mainly caused by lack of time, an impressive technical performance by Ivanchuk. It appears easy, yet it is anything but. With hindsight, I also admire his opening choice – to play an equal position but one where the long-term advantages are in his favour. This made his play easier and this translated to practical advantage which he managed to convert.

All in all, a complete masterclass by one of the best players in chess history.

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