Category : Personal

Garry

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.

 

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A Wild Game

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.

 


 

 

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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.

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Italian Women Team Championship 2017

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.

 

The Champions: Me, Yuri, Maria, Marina, Elisabeth, Vittorio, Silvia, Alessia (and Il Mostro inside the cup)

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Inspirational Quotes

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

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Fischer’s Birthday

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.

 

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Games from the PRO Chess League

I promised that I would post some of the games I played in the PRO chess league on chess.com. So now that the problems with the chessboard’s appearance have been solved, I present you with some of my efforts.

The league was a good training ground for some of the old analysis and preparation I never had a chance to use. For example, take a look at my game against GM Ghosh where I managed to use a well-forgotten idea from the 1960s in the Breyer variation of the Spanish.

 

 

Here’s an example how things can quickly go wrong in an endgame in rapid games. In the position below I offered a draw, but he immediately played a move.

 

 

And here’s a game where again I used a line that I prepared long ago. It turned out surprisingly well!

 

 

In case you’re in need of another idea against the Caro-Kann, here’s one that I used in the beginning of the 00s, admittedly with mixed success. But in the rapid it gave me a great position straight away!

 

 

In my next post I’ll take a look at some of my black games where I successfully used “The Double Fianchetto Solution.” Stay tuned!

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Zebras

This is my first post on my new blog and I am very happy the process pf migration was quick and efficient. There are still some things that need polishing, but the most imporatant thing is that the blog is working well!

There are some design changes and the main one is the friendly orange sign-up box on the right, inviting you to join my Inner Circle. I think I should give you an idea what that means. I have envisioned the Circle as a place where more direct communiation will take place among its members. My intention is to share more personal stories and often give my opinions on various openings, ideas and concepts. As an illustration, please read below for an example of what that means in practice:

ZEBRAS

 

“When you hear hoof beats, think of a zebra.” – Sufi Saying

I love this saying. I first encountered it in the book of my favourite contemporary chess author, GM Jonathan Rowson, Chess for Zebras. It reminds me not to be on the side of majority (“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect” – Mark Twain) because the majority would think of a horse. And I try to think of a zebra.

I first got acquainted with Jonathan Rowson’s work in the previous century (that was a long time ago, wasn’t it) when his first book, Understanding the Grunfeld inspired me to seriously study and play the opening. I was always platonically in love with the Grunfeld, I was attracted to the sole bishop on g7, which both defended the king and attacked white’s centre. My results with the Grunfeld weren’t spectacular, but I always felt the thrill to push the pawn on d5 on move 3. Rowson devised a repertoire for black but from a completely different perspective – he told stories and explained concepts and then wrapped them up in some theory. It was exactly the kind of opening book that I wanted to read!

Years passed and in 2006 I played in Dos Hermanas. I was there with my very good friend, the Indian GM Neelotpal Das. During the tournament he gave me a book to read, imagine my surprise when it was Rowson’s second book, The Seven Deadly Chess Sins. I was completely immersed into the book that I read it in several hours during the night (yes, I can read pretty fast)! I also took notes from the book on a piece of paper – the size of the piece of paper was one from a notebook. It’s hard to believe, but somehow I managed to squeeze all the important information on that one piece of paper. I still have it, when I find it I will take a picture of it and I will send it to you (UPD: see below for this)! The book is about the shortcomings all chess players have (to a bigger or lesser extent) and what to do about them. As usual, Rowson discusses these topics in his usual educated and precise style, I would always catch myself thinking how he managed to put into exact words what I have only vaguely sensed. Needless to say my admiration of him only grew.

And then came the Zebras, his last book to date. The subtitle is telling, Thinking Differently about Black and White. I am sure we all somehow feel that there are subtle differences when playing white and black. And it’s not only the advantage of the first move or the choice of opening or variation. It’s much more subtle than that, it’s an inner dynamic that is difficult to put into words, yet Rowson succeeds to pinpoint all the nuances – it took him some 250 pages to do it, but he did it and I doubt any other author would have done a better job.

Next weekend I will go to the UK to play at the 4NCL for my team Cheddleton. I started playing for Cheddleton in 2012 and have been a regular ever since. Several years ago (it was in November 2013) the league was played in Hinckley and after finishing my game rather late I was in a hurry to catch the train to London. I ran to the reception in a desperate need for taxi when I noticed none other but Jonathan waiting for his! I asked him if we could share the taxi since I was running late for my train. He didn’t mind and soon enough I found myself sharing the taxi with my favourite author! It was only in the taxi that we introduced each other, and then he introduced himself I told him, “Yes, I know, you’re my favourite author!” and he seemed to be a little embarrased by that. We had a very pleasant chat during the ride and on the train station and I remember that there were so many things I wanted to ask him (and I was already a GM by that time!) but time was short… We discussed a lot of things, some variations as well, and I remember one thing he told me, he considered it a mistake – he told me that he should have tried to go as far as possible with the Najdorf (he was a Najdorf player) instead of changing to the Spanish. Changing his main opening against 1 e4 took him time and energy to adjust to the new positions and he felt that this slowed down his progress. These kinds of observations are what have always attracted me to his style. He looks at chess from a higher perspective and this is extremely rare nowadays. And, coincidentally, I am now at the same point, incorporating 1…e5 into my own repertoire and playing it more often, after a lifetime of Sicilians.

During that taxi ride I asked him if he planned to write another book. He was hesitant, he had too many other obligations outside of chess and they were taking his time. But he didn’t say a direct no. Well, for sure I will be waiting for that next book when it comes out, whenever that may be!

Alex

My notes from Zebras

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PRO Chess League On Chess.com

The popular playing site www.chess.com launched its Pro league in the first half of January. They managed to attract the world’s best players, including the World Champion Magnus Carlsen, So, Caruana, Nakamura, Vachier,  to name but a few. The main idea is that any city on this planet can form their team and participate.

I have excellent relations with the people of Chess Informant (I am also a regular contributor to the publication) and they invited me to be part of their team, the Belgrade Sparrows. The team has great spirit as I can hear every time we speak on Skype – they meet at the Informant’s venue in Belgrade and play all together. I am the only player who plays from home as I don’t live in Belgrade. After every match we chat on Skype and the cheers are loud and can be heard clearly!

So far the team’s run has been good – we won 3 matches, lost 2 and drew 1. The next round will be decisive for qualification for the knock-out stage and the pairings for it should come out soon.

To my own surprise, my result is great. I’ve won 13 games, lost 3 and drew 2. I played some very strong players like GMs Vidit, Gledura, Ghosh, Borisek, Skoberne and Pavasovic. The time control is 15 minutes with 2 second increment, so the quality of the games is acceptable, at least to a certain point. A typical example where I managed to use some old preparation in the Breyer Spanish (does anyone remember the move 11 Nh4, successfully used by Fischer in the 60s?) is against the Indian GM Diptayan Ghosh, currently rated 2573. I quickly got a winning position, played well and then missed a mate in 2! Luckily, the position was still easily winning even after that.

Another curiousity from my games is that except for one, all my black games started with 1 d4 or 1 Nf3. For this league I prepared the set-up with …b6 and …g6 in the QID and had great success with it! It also worked for the London System (1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 b6 3 Bf4 and also 3 Bg5).

It’s a lot of fun to play in the league, plus I am usually facing strong opponents. I will try to post some games in a later post, as for some reason the Blogger platform experiences problems with the chess.com board.

The last round of the group phase is on Wednesday, so I hope we qualify!

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Wintertime

I personally prefer Summertime but the snow season has its perks too. Like forcing you to do heavy labour when digging up your car buried under 1 meter of snow. Fun! Soon all this fun will be a memory when I go to the UK to play the 4NCL (14 and 15 of January) and whenever a heavy labour and chess are mentioned I remember a photo of young Karpov with a long sickle over his shoulder, walking somewhere on a meadow with the caption, Toil in the field helps win chess battles. I certainly hope the same applies for the shovel and the snow.

The World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Doha were the last elite event of the last year and the whole buzz around them was Carlsen’s “failure.” Now, finishing on the podium both times (sharing first on both occasions) can hardly be considered a failure; it shows Carlsen’s consistency – no other player came close to that. But the public’s view of his results as a failure shows the incredibly high expectations Carlsen has set for himself after his countless triumphs. The public expects him to win everything everywhere. And from his reactions at the closing ceremonies he seems to expect the same of himself. I don’t know if this pressure helps him or not. The public will continue to relentlessly ask for wins, wins and more wins from him, but a more objective view shows that the secret to Carlsen’s wins lies in his consistency. No other player comes close to his level of consistency, that is why Carlsen is the leader in all the rating lists – classical, rapid and blitz. So his second place in the blitz and third in the rapid is just a confirmation of his superiority even though he didn’t win outright.

Next on the calendar is the Tata Steel in Wijk aan Zee. The rise of So and the presence of both Karjakin (who I expect will draw a lot again) and Carlsen, coupled with the fresh blood of Nepomniachtchi, Andreikin, Wei Yi and Rapport, plus the eternal van Wely, promise an exciting viewing. I will be watching closely, even though the first two rounds coincide with my own playing schedule at the 4NCL.

The new year is already under way. I hope it’s much better than the previous one, which turned out to be very difficult for me, especially its second part. I have always been optimistic and, curiously enough, the harder the situation, the more optimistic I have been. As they say, what hurts you today, makes you stronger tomorrow.

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