Category : Openings

Fischer’s Openings in Reykjavik

I have always been fascinated by the “Match of the Century” in Reykjavik in 1972. Being also fascinated by Fischer and his path to the top, I have spent countless hours thinking about that match.

For the readers of my Inner Circle I plan to write a series of posts where I will analyse Fischer’s openings in great detail. Starting with his match strategy, his choice of openings and the sequence of their implementation, together with the move-order subtleties – all will be in there.

I have learnt a great deal from the match in Reykjavik. And I am not talking only about opening ideas (like the …Nh5 in the Benoni or the …Nc6, …b5 idea in the Semi-Tarrasch), but also about psychology and match strategy (even though I have never played a match in my life!).

I plan to publish the first of these emails on Saturday. If you are interested in Fischer’s legacy and the opening dominance he demonstrated in his greatest triumph, you will love these mails. I invite you to use the yellow box on the right to subscribe or use this link and then sit back and enjoy your Saturday afternoon reading about the battle in Reykjavik.


New Video On My Youtube Channel

In between flights I managed to make another video for my Youtube channel. This time I talk about Black’s possible reactions and defences against White’s minority attack in the Carlsbad structure.

And also why I didn’t walk around Milan this time.

Hope you enjoy it and find it interesting and useful.



My Youtube Channel

With mixed feelings I am announcing the launch of my Youtube channel. Why the mixed feelings? Well, as I explain in my first ever video, I don’t like the video format so much. I prefer to read as then I can quickly scan and see if the material is useful or not. With the video format I feel compelled to see it all through, in case I miss something useful that may come at the end. Which means I am basically risking looking a useless video and wasting time.

Bearing that in mind, the idea with my channel is to keep it short and sweet. I explain an idea, concept, a plan, or anything really, and that’s it. Useful for the viewer and easy to grasp and apply. At least that’s my idea at this stage.

For now, just one video is up. You can check it out here. And I would appreciate comments and feedback how to make the videos better. I still don’t have a clue of all the fine points of video making, nor do I have an idea how often I’ll be filming myself, but it’s a beginning so let’s see.

The first video is about a typical reaction Black should implement when White jumps Ne5 in a position that can arise from the Queen’s Gambit Declined, the Queen’s Indian or the Zukertort System. Plus I explain a couple of plans Black can retort to if White postpones the jump. For more, please see the video.


QGD Repertoire for Black III

This is the last part of my Queen’s Gambit Defence repertoire series that I published for the Chessable learning site. To remind you, the first part analysed the main lines of the Queen’s Gambit Declined; the second part took care of all the alternatives after 1 d4 d5, like the London System, the Catalan etc. And now, the third part covers all the other first moves except 1 e4.

An important novelty this time is that in addition to the study material I also recorded videos in order to explain the main ideas of every line. These should serve as an overview of the material and I hope you find them useful.

As a general rule, and to make things easier to learn, I always tried to recommend the usual Queen’s Gambit Declined development of …d5, …e6, …Nf6, …Be7, …0-0 followed by …b6 and …Bb7, solving the problem of the light-squared bishop. This applies equally to the Reti, the Nimzo-Larsen Attack (1 b3) and the Bird Opening (1 f4). One of the main points of this development is that it practically eliminates the need to study the English Opening (1 c4) because after 1 c4 e6 the game will transpose to the other, already studied, lines: the Reti, the Queen’s Gambit proper, or a harmless variation of the Exchange French (which I also analyse).

I was careful and aware of the various move-orders, in order to avoid being tricked into a line that hasn’t been analysed previously. This mostly applies for the Reti move-orders when White can try to tranpose to a Catalan. These have been covered neatly.

The proposed line against the King’s Indian Attack is perhaps the one I like the best. Apart from it being theoretically sound, its main advantage is that it completely changes the character of the game and White can forget about the attack and the automatic setup of e4-e5, Re1, Nbd2-f1, h4, Bf4, Nh2-g4 etc.

I covered pretty much all the sensible tries for White – all the moves and systems that don’t have a name plus the reversed Dutch (Classical, Leningrad and Stonewall), the reversed Philidor, the Sokolsky and the infamous Grob, which even got a main line status (and is probably refuted).

In the lines suggested there are many transpositions to my previous books, mostly to the Catalan, but also to the QGD lines. Needless to say, the books were designed to complement each other.

Apart from showing my own preparation, this time I also developed some lines that looked promising and easy to implement. The general idea to sticking to the QGD development should make things much easier to remember.

This book rounds-up my QGD repertoire series. Now you have a complete repertoire for Black against everything except 1 e4. I hope it serves you well, gets you good positions and brings you many points!

A Grandmaster Guide: The Reti, King’s Indian Attack, and Others, Based on the QGD


The Move …g5 in the Sicilian

I spent the last week in Spain at the Spanish U16 championship and I watched many games between young and talented players. They play well, follow theory and still have a lot to learn. My student Angel Luis Cubas Cabrera had a tough tournament – he played well, but so did his opponents! He entered the last round undefeated and a win would have brought him a shared 4th place. Alas, he faltered and lost… But today he had a fantastic tournament in the rapid and finished shared 2nd, half a point behind the winner. He is only 15, one year younger than most of the others, so all this looks pretty promising.

While watching the games my subconscious was working and somehow I was reminded of an episode from my tournament in Reykjavik in 2015. In the second part of the tournament I wasn’t playing well and to make things worse I got two Blacks in the last 2 rounds. Still, a last round win would have made it a decent showing.

I was paired against Ni Shiqun. At that time she still didn’t have the success of reaching the quarter-final of this year’s Women World Championship, but it was obvious she was good.

During my preparation I noticed that my young opponent, born in 1997, played some boring lines in the Scotch against 1…e5 and the non-critical 3 c4 against the Sicilian, after 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6. Since I was determined “to play for a win” I decided to go for the Sicilian.

I had several ideas in mind against 3 c4 and eventually I settled for the sharp line after 3…Nc6 4 Be2 g5!? In fact, I was convinced this was so good I even started thinking I refuted the whole 3 c4 line! If, for example, White plays 4 Nc3 instead of 4 Be2 then 4…Nge7 is very good, intending …Nd4 and …Nec6, and if White pushes 5 d4 now, then after exchanging twice on d4 and playing 7…Nc6 Black has excellent play on the dark squares.

The last round was a morning game, so I couldn’t prepare as deeply as I wanted – many of the lines were checked to a point where the position was good for Black, even though I sensed they needed deeper analysis. There was one factor, however, that I failed to take into account and that factor was the character of the position.

I noticed that my opponent was an excellent calculator (as most young players are) and my own calculations weren’t to my usual standard during the tournament. And the positions arising after 4…g5 were sharp and required calculation, no matter in which favour they objectively were.

By now you can probably sense how the game developed. Thanks to my good preparation I obtained a better position as early as move 9, but the position required serious calculations and by move 16 I was lost! Here’s the complete game:


You can now imagine my regret of not playing the boring Scotch… At the closing ceremony I had a chance to chat with Artur Jussupow and I described to him my last round game, with my line of thought during the preparation and my decision to “play for a win” and choosing the Sicilian.

Artur has seen everything in chess, so he knew what I was talking about. He told me that first and foremost, you must take your own state into account. Evaluate precisely how you feel, how your head is working, how confident you are. Everything else should come from there – the opening choice, the strategy for the game. The opponent’s preferences and how to use them come later, sometimes they are even irrelevant – it’s always better to play what makes you feel comfortable than trying to take advantage of an opponent’s shortcoming.

My game with Ni Shiqun is an excellent example – I did take advantage of her poor opening, but I nevertheless lost the game because she was more comfortable in the ensuing position even though objectively it was a better position for me!

This was a valuable lesson for me at the time. Nowadays I try to listen to my inner state more intently and I try to teach my students to do the same. Once it becomes a habit, it will raise the level of self-awareness and the good results will follow.


Caro-Kann For Black

I would like to present you with an excerpt from one of the last emails that I sent to my Inner Circle. In case you would like to receive this kind of emails, please use the friendly yellow form on the right to subscribe.


Enter the Caro-Kann. If I have to explain why, I’d say that it has to do with the inherent solidity of the structures. The Berlin is also solid (I have also prepared that one at depth!) but the Caro feels more compact. After all, the pawn doesn’t go that far, only 1 square ahead!

When studying Fischer’s games I noticed that he played all the lines against the Caro-Kann (except the Advance, which at that time was considered completely harmless). Compare that to his almost exclusive use of the Sozin against all Sicilians. My impression was that he wasn’t sure which line was best against it, so he kept varying. In the last 5 Caro-Kanns he played, all in 1970, he played 3 ed in game 1 against Petrosian in the Match of the Century, 3 Nc3 in game 3, and three times he played 2 d3 (against Marovic, Hort and Hubner).

Curiously enough, the same situation of almost all lines being more or less equally playable applies to today. But here’s the thing that attracted me to the idea of the Caro – almost all of them can be easily solved.

Let’s start one by one. The Panov is practically sterile after 5…Nc6 (after 3 ed cd 4 c4 Nf6 5 Nc3) even though the other lines 5…e6 and 5…g6 are perfectly playable too. The Exchange Variation after 3 ed cd 4 Bd3, successfully used by Fischer in that famous game 1 of the Match of the Century, is rather toothless nowadays. Black has nothing to fear there after playing logically 4…Nc6 5 c3 Nf6 6 Bf4 Bg4 7 Qb3 Qc8. In the reverse Carlsbad structure with the bishop out on g4 the position is as safe and solid as possible.

2 d3 can be met either by the fianchetto (2…d5 3 Nd2 g6 4 Ngf3 Bg7 5 g3 e5) or the central development of the bishop after 2…d5 3 Nd2 e5 4 Ngf3 Bd6. I would go for the former, in order to avoid 5 d4 in case of the latter, but it is largely a matter of taste.

The Two Knights, an early Fischer favourite, can be met in various ways. My preference would be the established 3…Bg4 4 h3 Bf3 5 Qf3 e6. What can possibly go wrong there?

And so we arrive at the main lines. Nowadays there are two critical ways to tackle the Caro – the Advance Variation (in particular Short’s plan with 4 Nf3 e6 5 Be2) and the Main Lines with 3 Nc3 de 4 Ne4.

It is actually the Advance Variation that bothered me when thinking about the Caro-Kann for Black. It looks unassuming and not really threatening, but that space advantage White has becomes annoying as the game goes on (I suffered some unplesant losses in several training games I played). And also there was the problem of choice of lines. There are so many plans and move orders to choose from and I found them rather confusing because I couldn’t see a clear-cut plan behind them.

And then an obscure line appeared. It was the absurd-looking check 5…Bb4 (Black can also play 5…Nd7 first and then 6 0-0 Bb4). It was a game by Carlsen that drew my attention to it – he used this line to beat Giri in a rapid game last year. True, he also used this line to famously lose to Sjugirov in 2010, but then I wasn’t paying attention.

The reason why I became attracted to the idea is that here Black’s play had purpose – the bishop will drop to c7 to attack e5 after …f6, or to b6 to attack d4 after …c5. On the kingside there was also a clear way how to place the pieces – Black plays …h6 to secure the Bf5, plays …Ne7 and castles. Then he tries to achieve …c5 and/or …f6. And that’s it! Very simple and straight-forward. The line is becoming popular as after Carlsen it was Mamedyarov and Andreikin who continued to use it on a regular basis. There is, however, some hidden danger in these lines when White plays Nh4 and Nh5 and for now this seems to be the best way to play for White.

The main lines after 3 Nc3 de 4 Ne4 Bf5 (I was never really attracted to 4…Nd7 or 4…Nf6) 5 Ng3 Bg6 also looked uncomfortable. If the sidelines like 6 Nh3 or 6 Bc4 can be dealt with, the main line after 6 h4 h6 7 Nf3 looked problematic. I always had the hunch that here 7…e6 should be played, instead of the more popular 7…Nd7. Not because it is the better move, but because it is somewhat less common and gives Black some additional options later on, such as playing …c5 and …Nc6. Again it was Carlsen who employed this first at a top level – he used it in the first black game of his match with Anand in 2013. Refinement came several years later, when Black learned not to give the check on b4 on move 11 and play 11…Be7 immediately – the point being the pawn on d4 hangs now.

The crucial games were played by Giri and Mamedyarov:  Wei Yi-Giri from this year’s Wijk and Saric-Mamedyarov from Baku’s Olympiad. Both of them suggest that Black is in excellent shape!

You can download the lines mentioned above here. They are far from conclusive, but they can serve as a good starting point for creating a Caro-Kann repertoire. Who knows, maybe soon enough I will use them myself!


But there is also Part II of this Repertoire and it can come directly to your Inbox on Saturday if you join my Inner Circle before then!


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.



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!


The Double Fianchetto Solution

In my previous post I wrote that I will take a look at my games with black in the PRO Chess League. They were notable because the variation I used exceeded all my expectations and the positions I got very excellent.

It was one of those ideas that I have briefly looked at but never analysed properly. Since I decided that I would play the Nimzo against 1 d4 my choice was the …g6 idea in the QID after 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 b6 4 g3 Bb7 5 Bg2 g6!? The good thing about this idea is that it can be universally used after 1 Nf3 as well, with a transposition very likely. I dubbed it The Double Fianchetto Solution and I wrote about it in more detail in my newsletter (if you’re interested, please sign up using the form on the right). That is what happened in my first game with it:



Not a bad start at all! Both the opening and the result were very satisfactory.

The second game was the biggest test. I played GM Vidit, rated 2689 at the time, who served as Anish Giri’s second in the Wijk aan Zee that finished just days before our game. I could expect some top-notch preparation and he didn’t disappoint.


A very lucky win for me and the opening could have gone better. As Capablanca used to say, one should play the openings that bring good results, irrelevant of the positions you get from them! And since black’s opening could be improved upon, I decided to continue to use the system.



I missed my chances, but the opening was a breeze again. The next two games can actually serve as a completion of the repertoire based on the double fianchetto as they showed how black can use the 2…b6 move order against various systems that white can play after 2 Nf3. I discovered this in the mid 00s when my repertoire was based on the Nimzo and the QID – playing 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 b6 gives black additional options agaist the London and Colle Systems because he can use the double fianchetto and obtain more dynamic play.



I felt under some pressure after the Grunfeld-like choice of 7…d5 (now I would prefer 7…d6) but there was never a clear way for a white advantage. And I won again!

The last game was a worse version than the London System as white played 3 Bg5, giving black a tempo with …Ne4.



Again smooth sailing for black! And a final 4.5/5 against such strong opposition is definitely an excellent advertisement for the variation. The practical point of playing it (it can be used against both 1 d4 and 1 Nf3) was the decisive factor in my choosing it. Another important aspect was the psychological – I didn’t mind getting equal and simple positions with several pieces exchanged, thus risking a draw against lower-rated players. The reason was that in rapid games mistakes happen in all positions so a chance to win the game will present itself even in the dullest of positions. Now that I think of it, perhaps this is applicable for classical chess as well…

Of course, if one wants to complete the repertoire then the Nimzo, the Catalan and the English 1 c4 need to be taken into consideration, but nowadays the trend is to avoid the Nimzo, so I expected people to allow me to play the line in this tournament. Personally I still feel that I need to prepare the line more deeply if I want to play it in long games, but it certainly showed great potential. For now, let’s keep my future opponents guessing!


QGD Repertoire for Black II

A few months ago I wrote about the QGD repertoire I created for the opening-learning site Chessable and it turned out to be very popular and a lot of people liked it.

That repertoire included only the lines in the QGD, the starting position being after 1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Be7. Following the popularity of the repertoire and the opening, I felt that this required a second part, one that would cover all the possible lines on the way to the QGD. With this second part now finished, the reader will have a complete repertoire after 1 d4.

The main one of white’s alternatives to the QGD is the Catalan. One of the most popular openings nowadays, the Catalan requires a very good theoretical knowledge on black’s part, otherwise he may be run over by white’s positional pressure. My suggested line against the Catalan is the relatively recent discovery 5…Bd7 (after 1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 g3 dc 5 Bg2). In the beginning black’s plan was to play …Qd7, castle long and follow it up with …h5-h4. While undoubtedly exciting (I have played like this more than once) I now feel that white should have the upper hand here – hence my suggestion for this repertoire is the new plan with 9…Rd8 with play in the centre later on by …e5. Recent practice has shown that black has an excellent position here and the white is hard pressed to show constructive ideas against it.

The second most popular option white has is the London System. A popular choice at club level it has been played quite a lot recently by the elite as well. Black has many possible plans against it and my proposal is the simple plan of taking on d4 followed by the development of the bishop to f5. This reaches a Carlsbad structure that white players have tried to treat in an aggressive way, but the suggested line with 9…Bg4 effectively neutralises these attempts. Black obtains a very solid position without weaknesses with the clear plan of a minority attack in perspective.

The other alternatives are much less common but they still should be taken seriously. Here are the attempted Trompowsky 2 Bg5, Jobava’s pet line 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Bf4 (3…a6!), the dubious Blackmar-Diemer Gambit (practically refuted), the Veresov Attack, the Colle and Zukertort Systems (the latter used by none other than Carlsen in his match against Karjakin!) and a few more. All of them are carefully analysed and sensible plans for black are proposed. In all lines black has an easy and understandable play.

Like in the QGD series, I again used my own personal analysis to create this repertoire. What I said then is also valid now – this has never been published or made known before and I am actually revealing my own preparation. The lines I suggest are the lines I have intended (and still intend) to play. Many of them I have already used, both in official and traning games, and they have withstood the test of time and practice. This is a repertoire I firmly believe in. It has served me well and I will continue to rely on it in the future. I had great results with these lines and I wish you have even better ones. Good luck!

On the Way to the Queen’s Gambit Declined

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