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.
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.
It’s been a while since I wrote here, but now I finally have a little time to write an update.
November was extremely busy for me. After the European Team Championships I went immediately to a training camp in Italy where the Italian women champions started preparations for the upcoming season. It was a very productive 5-day camp on the beautiful Brunello property.
After the camp I barely spent one week at home before I jumped on another plane, this time to Spain. I am writing this from Spain, where I will coach my Spanish team for a week. Then hopefully I will return home for a quiet December (but you never know!).
During these wanderings, a lot of things happened in the chess world. I was not surprised to see Kramnik get the wild card for the Candidates. In fact I logically concluded that he will get it the moment he confirmed his participation in next year’s Wijk aan Zee. Kramnik’s has never been successful in Wijk and the last time he played there was in 2011. But he needs practice for a long tournament, the Candidates will be a 14-round double-round-robin and the only long tournament in the calendar is Wijk. Hence my logical conclusion.
There has been a lot of rapid chess going on and here Carlsen showed his dominance, literally destroying Wesley So (27.9-9.5), Ding Liren (22-8, as part of the Champions Showdown in Saint Louis), and Alexander Grischuk (15.5-10.5). The way Carlsen has been playing these matches reminds me of his dominance in classical chess not so long ago. The big question is whether he can translate this rapid dominance to classical chess, something we will very soon find out, as he is scheduled to play the London Chess Classic in December.
The last leg of the FIDE Grand Prix series in under way in Palma de Mallorca. Vachier and Radjabov are the only two players who still harbour hopes to qualify for the Candidates, but things are not going too well for them, even though they still keep their chances with one round to go. It seems that a lot will depend on the tie-break criteria and luck.
On a more personal note, just to let you know I haven’t abandoned my YouTube channel. As you can see, I just didn’t have the time to record anything. I even have an idea what I will record next, so stay tuned, hopefully for not too long!
The European Teams finished in Crete two days ago. I didn’t have much time to settle down and consolidate my impressions, but perhaps even better so. What I will write here are my direct and immediate thoughts in the aftermath of an exhausting tournament.
My appointment as a coach of the women national team came very late, at the beginning of October. This left very little time to prepare and do any meaningful work as this was also time to get to know the players. We organised several meetings in the few weeks that we had and did some opening work. I also gave the girls home assignments on improving their calculation. We also got to know each other and the atmosphere was immediately very positive and supportive. On a negative note, we didn’t have a reserve player due to the financial constraints of the federation.
During the preparation period we also discussed some psychological aspects, the game and match plans and the tournament regime. Now I can say that these worked almost perfectly.
Once the tournament started we entered our rhythm of preparation and playing. Usually we would start our preparations after the team pairings would come out in the evening, discussing possible openings for every board, and then we did the more concrete opening work in the morning after breakfast when the board pairings would come out.
The start was promising. We almost beat the very strong team of The Netherlands, ranked 14 (out of 32; our starting rank was 30). We even narrowly lost the match but the way the match was going showed that our players were very motivated and the quality of the play they showed was beyond expectation.
In Round 2 we beat Montenegro without many problems, which showed our confidence – we expected to win and we did it without allowing chances.
Then we ran into a tough patch. In Rounds 3 and 4 we were paired against the exceptionally strong teams of Romania (ranked 9th initially, finished shared 4th) and Italy (ranked 15th initially, finished 10th). We lost both matches, but the girls put up a great fight in both. We shouldn’t have lost so many games in these two matches, but the difference in experience eventually came to the fore.
This was a good learning experience as it showed that the girls are capable of playing on equal terms with nominally much stronger players. In these matches we were usually outrated by some 300 and more points. Even though the losses hurt, I kept repeating that they can play as equals against anybody. I think after a while they started to believe me.
In Rounds 5 and 6 we had two drawn matches, against Austria and Slovakia. These were matches of missed chances as we should have won both. Perhaps we were maturing for the final two rounds.
But before the final two rounds we lost heavily (0.5-3.5) in Round 8 to Lithuania. This was perhaps the only match where we didn’t overperform and maximise our chances. Luckily, it turned out to be a slump before the rise.
The last two rounds are always vital. If you perform well then you are guaranteed a successful tournament.
In Round 8 we were paired against Finland, the only team we played ranked lower than us. We beat them 3.5-0.5 and the win showed that the previous losses didn’t take our confidence away. The match also saw a crucial win for our Board 2, Dragana Nikolovska, who endured a torrid time by then, scoring 0/7. With her rating of 1854 she was commonly outrated by 400-500 points and in spite of giving her best she never got to score. But against Finland she played a very fine game, sacrificing a pawn for initiative and nurturing it to a win.
In Round 9 we were a bit lucky with the pairings, but you also have to justify that luck by playing well and winning the match. We played Greece 2, ranked 27th and a team we were confident we can beat. The course of the match was rather smooth in fact. We were much better on the first three boards while we were in trouble on Board 4. Then Dragana on Board 2 and Bojana on Board 3 lost their advantages and the games were drawn. Monika on Board 1 kept the pressure on while Gabi on Board 4 turned things around and was playing for a win. So we were never in any danger in the match and as the games progressed both our players outplayed their opponents and won their games. We won 3-1.
We didn’t lose a single game in the last 2 rounds. I have a feeling the team was growing from match to match and with each game the players grew more and more confident that they can play well and win. They all played well, all won rating points and showed a level of play much higher than the one they had shown before.
A few words about the players. On Board 1 WFM Monika Stojkovska scored a WIM norm. She has an uncompromising character and this translates on the board where she is a ferocious fighter. I was usually comfortable on Board 1, whomever she was playing, because with the good opening preparations we did I knew she would get a good position and then she would play well. I never saw her inferior in the games, in spite of the fact that the average rating of her opponents was almost 200 points above her rating. I think this tournament gave Monika the necessary confidence and showed her that she has nobody to fear. Rating gain: 37.4 points.
Dragana Nikolovska on Board 2 had a difficult tournament, but fortunately it ended on a high. We talked quite a bit before the tournament about the challenges she would face playing on such a high board and we were all aware of the dangers. I see her suffering on Board 2 as a huge learning experience, both psychologically (she didn’t crack and won a game after 7 losses in a row!) and chess-wise. She played well, the main problem being her time-management and the drop of her level of play in time-trouble. With good work she can use the momentum now to raise her level and improve immensely. Rating gain: 2.4 points.
Bojana Bejatovic on Board 3 was very solid and reliable. Like with Monika, I had the least worries here. Bojana has a very serious approach both on and off the board and she had the best time-management in the whole team. She was our best player until the last 3 rounds when unfortunately she started missing her chances. By that time the whole team was getting tired (playing non-stop without a reserve!) so this was not surprising. Bojana now knows that she can play much better than her rating and can progress rapidly. Rating gain: 21.8.
On Board 4 we had our most experienced player, WIM Gabriela Koskoska. Gabi scored 3.5/4 in the last 4 rounds and was a major factor of our success. She is a natural fighter, with good feeling for initiative and she used those qualitites in all her games, successfully overturning suspicious positions and winning quite a few of them. Her main problem was the opening when she would sometimes forget the preparation, but once in the middlegame she was quite confident in her abilities. I think Gabi’s presence in the team was very positive as she has been playing Olympiads and European Team Championships since 1994 and having such a player is always beneficial to strike balance between youth and experience. The girls look up to her and her opinion is highly valued. Putting Gabi on Board 4 was a mutual decision and it turned out to be a great one – she was our most successful player with 5/9 and her rating gain was 15 points.
The result of the Macedonian women team is truly exceptional and historic. With a starting rank 30 we finished shared 20th (with Belarus, Czech Republic and France – ranked 6th!) and left teams like Slovenia, Croatia, England and Slovakia behind us. We have a young team that is very much capable of growth and improvement. Women chess has largely been neglected in Macedonia, but this result should change that attitude. The potential for success of the women team is no less than that of the men. The women team is much younger than the men’s, with equal opportunities I don’t see why the women cannot catch up with the men. With this result and their attitude the girls showed that they deserve that chance. Now it should be given to them.
I barely followed the other games of the Sinquefield rapid and blitz, Garry was all that mattered.
The excitement was mixed with discomfort though. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I have always felt this strong feeling of confidence when watching elite performers. Whether that is Federer, LeBron or Messi, I always expect them to perform well. And Kasparov didn’t.
The discomfort was slowly beginning to transform to shame. I was ashamed that Garry got beaten, that he kept on blundering, that he kept on getting in insane time-troubles, that his hands were shaking. That was not the Garry I used to know, the champion who dominated the world for decades.
I have always wondered what makes legends return once they have retired. Another hero of mine, Fischer, made an even more incredulous come-back, but in his case it must have been the money. He was leading such a miserable life that he probably decided to cash in before it was too late. But with Kasparov? No money can buy the humiliation and destruction of the legend he created with his magnificent career. Both these cases strengthened my belief that legends must never return. The moment they return, the legend is destroyed.
Kasparov heavily criticised Fischer for coming back. Now he did the same thing he criticised Fischer for.
The last day of the blitz was just too weak a balm for the gaping wound of the first four. “Look, he can still do it, if only he devoted himself to study and training…” But he won’t. His life is other things now and playing chess is not one of them.
Kasparov said that this was a huge success for the popularisation of chess. Not really. This was a huge success for the popularisation of Garry Kasparov and, to a lesser extent, the Sinquefield Cup. Chess will slump back to the previous levels of popularity soon enough as if nothing happened.
I was very excited to see Garry play again. Seeing him how he played I felt ashamed. Now I am relieved. The last Najdorf of his career against Dominguez was the final bitter-sweet goodbye and I thank him for that.
In my last two tournaments I had a wonderful experience playing chess. I was thoroughly enjoying myself and the process of playing. I was comfortable at the board and my game was flowing.
I already wrote about Llucmajor and my strategy there and I also analysed a couple of games. The recently finished Spanish team championship (the Second Division) in Linares (where I returned after 15 years!) was a similar experience only this time I was facing weaker players. I had a small dip in the performance in Rounds 3 and 4 (I didn’t play in Round 1) when I even lost a game to a FM that went on to score an incredible 6/7 on Board 1! I won the other games in good style.
Here I would like to present the game from Round 4. It is one of the wildest games I have ever played and it could have been my “immortal” had I been a bit more lucky. It is funny how I was thinking whether I will get the chance to play the combination while waiting for his 23rd move, wondering whether I will get to experience this moment of exquisite beauty and joy from playing chess, but, as it has usually been in my chess career, fate wasn’t very generous. Well, I can only hope that perhaps an even better chance will appear in the future! For now, enjoy the game.
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.
I have had many fabulous experiences over the years in many tournaments around the world, but the just finished Italian Women Team Championship in Gallipoli definitely ranks among the best.
It is not the fact that our team Caissa Italia Pentole Agnelli won the Scudetto. It is much more. Everything between my arrival in Bergamo last Wednesday and being picked up by Fulvio at the airport and the “ci vediamo e buon viaggio” with the girls, Yuri Garrett and Vittorio Perico, when I departed the hotel this morning, was incredibly smooth and soul-warming. Everything was just falling in place. I loved every moment of being part of our group.
I have been part of many teams in Macedonia, Spain, England and France, but nothing comes close to the atmosphere I experienced in Gallipoli. It is a rarest occurrence that you meet a person for a first time and you get along immediately – this time it happened with 6 people at the same time! Vittorio, “il gran direttore mega-galactico” was in charge of everything that had to do with the sponsors and the public relations; Yuri was our captain, I was the coach and the girls, Elisabeth Paehtz, Marina Brunello (a 100% score), Maria De Rosa, Alessia “il Bomber” Santeramo (a 100% score) and Silvia Guerini scored an unbelievable 23/24, wininng our first 6 matches and basically securing the title with a round to go. We beat two of our three main competitors 3.5-0.5. We drew the third 2-2 in the last round where a single draw secured the title.
It was the mutual understanding, respect and support that made the atmosphere so enjoyable, not only on a rational level, but also on a more subtle, deeper level where you can actually feel what the others are thinking and feeling. Yuri is a genius to create a positive atmosphere and keep it up, we only had to follow through. In the team’s first year of existence we won the national title with such ease that I still find it hard to believe. After all, the competition was fierce – the other teams had Stefanova and Fierro, Socko and Zimina, Vega and Sedina on their first two boards, while on boards 3 and 4 the ratings were about equal with our players. Yet we destroyed everybody.
My job was hard, but very fulfilling. I was working all the time, even when they were playing, preparing already for the next match. But out of the 12 games we played against our direct competitors, I managed to get 12 successful preparations on the board. Usually I am pretty good at this when I do it for myself, but I didn’t expect I would be able to do it for so many different players against so many different players! I was also a captain for the match against Padova (where Stefanova played on board 1 – we won 3.5-0.5).
In my first attempt at coaching a team and being a captain I managed to win the Italian Team Championship convincingly. Wow.
While still at University I started a file where I collected memorable lines, quotes, ideas and sometimes even whole paragraphs that made a deep impression on me. It started with Benjamin Franklin’s The Way to Wealth (“God helps them that help themselves”) and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance (“It needs a divine man to exhibit anything divine”) then continued with Shakespeare (everybody knows “All’s well that ends well (yet)” but very few know the follow-up “Though time seems so adverse and means unfit”) and from there I started collecting memorable lines from every book I read.
The chess-related inspirational quotes came much later. Mostly because I rarely found really insightful things said about chess! Not that there weren’t any, but because I’ve known them for so long that they had become part of my understanding and I didn’t find them insightful, just part of my understanding.
Here I would like to present some of the more recent ones. They are precise verbalisations of something I had vaguely sensed but never came to defining and putting into words myself. Enjoy!
The secret of succeeding in such [dead-drawn] positions in a practical game is to create the impression of momentum and progress. That automatically puts pressure on the opponent, and once an opponent feels pressure, mistakes are never far behind. – from M. Sadler’s “Chess for Life”
Those who calculate well – it’s bad for them. That means they won’t be successful for long. You have to be able to play with the hand, not only with the head.
On the first moves you should see wide, not deep. And calculate only when it’s necessary. Calculate only two moves ahead, so as not to blunder something. – Alexey Dreev (my translation from an interview in Russian)
Up to a point I’m maintaining my level and then when the pressure increases I can’t keep it up. Someone who’s in bad shape usually blunders something at some point. Often people are in bad shape and get away with it. If a guy like Magnus is in bad shape it’s very rare someone spots it. – Anish Giri
Keep the pressure on them every second. They all crack.
Don’t “turn off” your mind when it’s your opponent’s turn to move. Use this time to think ahead to your next possible move. And when he does move, always ask yourself, “Why did he make this particular move?” before you do anything else.
Don’t give up in the middle of the game if you don’t think you’re doing well – or even if you’re in big trouble. There’s always a chance that you’ll have a flash of brilliance or that your opponent might slip up. Chess is a kaleidoscope – it’s ever changing – and opportunities suddenly appear. – Bobby Fischer
The point is not to always try to and make the best move. – Veselin Topalov
In his time Robert Fischer achieved a new level of tactical precision […] Fischer didn’t allow mistakes that his contemporaries, for example Boris Spassky, thought to be acceptable inaccuracies. And he didn’t pardon them.
Carlsen, as it seems to me, reached the next level of tactical precision. When they say that Carlsen plays until the end, that he keeps the tension […] that is correct. But it’s necessary to understand why that happens. And why the others cannot do it.
Any other player from the top 20 will try to squeeze water from stone in an equal position, but he will make an inaccuracy in his calculation, then again he will miss something and will realise that it’s better not to risk and just make a draw. Carlsen, while doing the same, somehow manages not to make mistakes. – Dmitry Jakovenko (my translation from an interview in Russian)
I think it’s an important trait of a good player to be able to have the same level of focus and creativity in simple positions as well as more complicated ones and thus create chances at any point in the game. I don’t think making few mistakes and playing very accurately for a long time should be a negative.
Kasparov told me many years ago not to play tournaments with amateur conditions, because then you will play amateur chess.
In this sense I have that in common with Karpov in his heyday: he believed deeply in his abilities, he was very combative and won a lot of games in tournaments because even when he was not in a good position, he felt he could still win and played all the way. I’m somewhat similar in spirit: during a competition, I always believe in myself.
…if my opponent is not playing for a win, then regardless of the position I should be able to do it myself. – Magnus Carlsen
We were born to succeed, not to fail. – Henry David Thoreau (he didn’t write it about chess, but I’m sure you can see the connection.)
Hard work is talent. – Garry Kasparov
Today is Fischer’s birthday, he would have been 74. I have fond memories of this day as usually I played well on his birthday. He has always been my idol and I felt inspired to play on the day he was born.
The game I present below was played in Cannes in 2003. It was a difficult time for me personally, but one of the things I discovered about myself during the infinite nomadic travels from tournament to tournament was that I actually played well when things were difficult off the board. Whether those were personal matter or difficult conditions I usually managed to compose myself and really do my best.
The game against one of the strongest French Grandmasters, Christian Bauer is perhaps one of the best I have played against a strong opponent. The main theme is the one of control, I was never in danger and I kept him under pressure. The high quality of my moves was consistent. I still remember how it felt like a breeze. Perhaps that’s how Fischer felt too.