Category : Understanding Chess

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.


Lasker’s Psychology

Quite a controversial idea probably, but I really believe it is true. This text is from my newsletter, to which you can subscribe using the yellow form on the right. The next newsletter is due on Saturday.


Lasker’s Psychology

I will start immediately with the shocker – there wasn’t any.

As many books have often repeated, I’ll paraphrase here, Lasker played the opening in a dubious manner in order to lure the opponent into unfamiliar territory and then outplay them. Nothing can be further from the truth.

No strong player plays the opening dubiously on purpose. The fact that Lasker often ended up in dubious positions after the opening doesn’t mean that he intended it. As I have already written about this, and I advise you to read the part on Vukovic’s books for better understanding, I will just say that like anybody else he preferred to have a good position after the opening.

If there was any psychology in Lasker’s play, it was almost entirely his own. He didn’t care about the opponent so much. He was primarily concerned with his own safety.

Don’t let this confuse you. Popular literature leads you to believe that Lasker was the risk-taker, the gambler, the great fighter. Yes, he could be all these things once the game was under way, but before the game he was very cautious and often insecure. I would like to discuss two very famous games of his to demonstrate my point. In both he used the Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez.

The first one is the first game of the match with Tarrasch in 1908. Here’s the game without comments.



We know that Tarrasch was a fierce critic of Lasker and often publicly stated that he wasn’t a worthy World Champion. They finally met in a match in 1908. It is not widely known, but before the first game Lasker was nervous and this showed in his comment to his brother. I don’t recall the exact words, but he said something along the lines, if I play the Exchange Variation, how can I possibly lose?

Note that he was primarily seeking a safe haven, he wanted to avoid losing in the first place!

The fact that he won shows that once the game started Lasker was just playing chess, trying to find the best moves. If an opportunity presented itself he would grab it and win the game, even if before it he was content with a draw. The game with Tarrasch was around equal most of the time, but Tarrasch erred and Lasker took his chance.

The second game is even more famous. In St. Petersburg in 1914 Capablanca was having a dream tournament. He was leading comfortably and playing excellent chess. He won the preliminary tournament with 8/10, a full point and a half ahead of Lasker and Tarrasch. These points counted toward the final standings and in the final he continued to play well. So what chances did Lasker have when they met in Round 7 in the final? He was trailing by a full point and he was playing a dangerous young opponent against whom he suffered for 100 moves in Round 2 of the final and who was openly intent on claiming his title.

Losing that game would have been a disaster for Lasker in the eyes of the public. Not winning the tournament and coming second behind the Cuban genius, much less so. How does then Lasker approach the game? No experiments, keep it safe and play the trusted Exchange Variation!



Just like in the game with Tarrasch, once the game started and he was safe out of the opening, knowing that he cannot possibly lose from that position, he started playing chess. And he outplayed Capablanca, who was probably somewhat confused: he became more relaxed after the innocuous opening choice but also concerned about what Lasker was trying to achieve.

These two games were the most striking examples I found of Lasker’s psychology. I was very surprised that even Kasparov, in his Predecessors book, fell for this myth of “Lasker the Psychologist” who played the Exchange Variation in the Ruy Lopez for a win.

“Lasker was a great man,” Capablanca said on more that one occasion. And great men are often misunderstood.




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:



“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!


My notes from Zebras


Karpov and Old Age

There is no need to introduce Karpov. It is probably the only name, together with Kasparov’s, that people far from chess can still recognise.

I would like to touch upon the subject of playing on after certain age. Karpov recently played in two events and played one Bundesliga game in between.

At the beginning of October in Murmansk there was a match between Karpov and Timman. Karpov has beaten Timman throughout their careers mercilessly. The Candidates final in 1990 (6.5-2.5) and their World Championship match in 1993 (12.5-8.5) showed Karpov’s dominance. Timman always seemed to have problems playing Karpov and the match in Murmansk looked to be one more match victory for Karpov – even though both players are past their prime (both were born in 1951) I thought that Timman being Karpov’s “customer” will play the decisive role.

Karpov is very busy nowadays, among other things he is also a member of the Russian Parliament. He never quit chess officially, but he plays very rarely and doesn’t prepare or work on chess at all. Unlike Kasparov, who after officially retiring in 2005 kept working on chess and preserved his strength, as shown in his rare outings, Karpov just loves the process of playing and cannot seem to resist the urge to sit at the board from time to time for an official game or two.

Timman is more active than Karpov, he plays often, writes for New In Chess and composes studies. I am sure he prepared for the match in Murmansk.

The course of the match showed the dangers of relying only on one’s talent even if that talent is enormous. Karpov was rusty and lack of training and practice cost him the match – in the only decisive game Karpov blundered badly:

In the last game of the match Karpov couldn’t do anything with black and he lost the match – for the first time in his life he lost to Timman in an official match.

I don’t know how it feels for such a great champion to fall so low and lose games like the one above. Spassky once said that he realised it was time to stop when he looked at his old games and saw how strong he was, while his last games had been very bad and he just couldn’t play on his usual level anymore. The realisation that you cannot do the same things you used to do before is probably one of the major disappointments of old age.

After the match Karpov played in the Bundesliga against GM Kempinski. Karpov always needed time to warm up and the match with Timman at least served that purpose. The game was a vintage Karpov win.

The game was decided by an elementary blunder by Kempinski, Karpov’s merit was in keeping the pressure.

One of the tournaments Karpov plays every year is the rapid tournament that bears his name, played in Cap d’Agde, France. It’s a rapid tournament where 4 male and 4 female players play a double-round-robin and then the first 4 players play matches of two games (with tie-breakers if needed), a semi-final and then a final. Karpov won his own tournament in 2012, but has found the going tougher ever since.

He started with a win over GM Sebag and a loss to Bacrot. In Round 3 he faced the lowest rated player, WGM Sabrina Vega, rated 2414.

I have always felt uneasy witnessing great champions tarnish their reputation with ugly losses like this one.

Karpov seemed to pick up the pace after this loss and went on to score 9.5/14 and finish one point behind Bacrot, who scored 10.5/14. It seemed that he finally got his form back and could look with optimism to the semi-final against GM Edouard, who scored two full points less.

The semi-final turned out to be one-sided. The result between a great and unprepared champion against a young and heavily prepared GM was 0-2.

In game 1, playing with black Karpov lost a pawn on move 14 and went on to lose. Game 2 was the most telling.

A very painful (not to say humiliating) defeat with white in a must-win situation. Again, my feeling of uneasiness seeing Karpov play and lose like this was difficult to conceal.

The game with Kempinski showed that Karpov is still capable of an occasional glimpse of his former glory. But let us not forget that it was played against a 2600-rated player and Karpov’s own rating is somewhere in this range, meaning that his current strength is approximately of a 2600-rated player.

Chess has changed dramatically since Karpov’s heyday, the young players calculate like machines and are prepared excellently: the computers raised the level of human calculation and their help in the preparation process cannot be overstated. Karpov was never a very hard worker off the board (unlike Kasparov) as he relied on his playing strength and talent. With age the talent remains, but the strength diminishes, primarily because of the imprecise calculations. Karpov was famous for his precise calculation of short lines but that is not the case anymore, as the increased number of blunders in his games show. Chess is a concrete game and if you cannot calculate well you simply don’t play well.

I have learned a lot from Karpov’s games and I always admired him for his fighting abilities. Seeing him lose games because of elementary blunders makes me a bit sad. Karpov’s legacy is eternal, but his present-day games will not make it to his future best games collections.


The Magic of Mikhail Tal

I had the idea to write about Mikhail Tal for quite some time but I never found the time. What opened the richness of Tal’s play to me was Dvoretsky’s Secrets of Chess Tactics and in view of the famous coach’s recent passing perhaps this is a good time to write about Tal.

Tal was never my hero. Of course, I knew his games, but I was always more drawn to Capablanca for example, being fascinated by the ease and smoothness of his play. But then came Dvoretsky’s book. What I am about to describe took place in the mid-90s, when I first got to read Dvoretsky’s book. The second part of the book, called Attack and Defence features analyses of games of such attacking greats like Alekhine and Tal. The appetizer was the game Alekhine-Junge from Prague 1942, which introduced me to the concept of “slow attack” and the difficulties the defender faces in such situations. But the real shocker were Tal’s games. In the comments below I will give my own understanding of the games at that time while I will also quote Dvoretsky.

The first game was featured under the subtitle “Science Fiction!” and it did live up to the name of the subtitle!

A true eye-opener for me! I thought for a long time trying to understand what happened in this game. My “hows” and “whys” eventually led me to realise one very important truth about chess – it is possible to play like this. Tal’s talent and skills aside, it is possible to incorporate some of these elements into one’s game. Risk, pressure, aggression, both psychological and on the board, all these can work! There is no need to feel constrained in the positional dogma and always play by the rules. Yes, balance is required as this type of play can often backfire, but for me the most important lesson was that after realising this I felt liberated, I could let my fantasy roam free while I could still curb it, if necessary, with the “positional dogma”.

The second Tal game from the book was no less impressive. It is from the same year, 1965, and from the same Candidates cycle, when Tal made it to the final where he lost to Spassky. The game was played in a moment when Larsen was leading by one point.

A similar scenario to the Portisch game and another elite player succumbs quickly after Tal applied his trademark pressure. These two games consolidated my newly-discovered truth about the possible ways to play chess and with it came the inner freedom I felt – there was no need always to play the “positional” move, sometimes it was possible to play what one wanted to play and it could work perfectly. I grasped the true impact Tal had on the understanding of chess as a whole, he showed that chess can be played in a different way and successfully too. These insights significantly broadened my horizons and even though I didn’t start sacrificing in every game I felt that I became a better player at this mysterious game called chess.


Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy

I finished my last post with the invitation to my readers to suggest, if they wish, a book on which they would like to hear my opinion. My very good friend IM Chedomir Micic suggested a true gem, actually two of them – Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy and Chess Strategy in Action, both by John Watson.

I will start by saying that both books are incredible. They are one of the rare modern books (published in 1998 and 2003 respectively) that truly provide something new in the sphere of chess strategy. I don’t think I was the only one who was under the impression that the last thing about strategy was written in Nimzowitsch’s My System and from then on it was just studying the great players’ games and picking up strategical ideas (for example Petrosian’s exchange sacrifice). Even though I noticed that white players started to push g2-g4 in the opening more frequently, I wasn’t really surprised by that, after all we have the Keres Attack in the Sicilian and there were several games by Fischer when he did just that. But it is not for nothing that Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy has the subtitle Advances Since Nimzowitsch. Watson managed to categorise and organise the material in superb manner. There are two parts of the book, Part I deals with Refinements of Tratidional Theory and here we have the typical elements like Centre, Pawn Minorities and Majorities, IQP etc observed through the prism of the modern practice, taking careful note of what has changed since the times Nimzowitsch wrote his classic. One of the most impressive examples is from the game Ivanchuk-Anand, first game of their match in 1992:


White’s last move was a mistake, it was better to take on d2 with the rook. But after black’s unexpected next move white is worse! After 18 Rd2 h5! we see the depth of the concept – Watson quotes Anand who says that white cannot consolidate his kingside (black threatens …hg4 and …Rh3) and is much worse. The following two moves are also very instructive:

“A sterling example” – Watson.

The second book, Chess Strategy in Action is a continuation of the topic in similar vein. Again there are two parts, only this time Part II is analysis of complete games, 35 in total. In Part I he examines concepts like The Surrender of the Centre, Hedgehogs and their Territoriality (an important advice for black playing the Hedgehog is to avoid exchanges in spite of his lack of space, because without pieces his position will lose its dynamism!), The Flank Pawns Have Their Say (here’s the chapter dedicated to moves like g2-g4 for white and …h7-h5 for black, a common occurrence in modern practice), The Positional Pawn Sacrifice, a chapter dedicated to Bishops and Knights and many more. I will give here a couple of examples from Part II that left an impression. The first one is from the comments of the game Shirov-Kramnik from 1994:

Black to move

And Kramnik’s suggestion here is 13…Rh7 14 Nc2 Nh8!! Great stuff! The following example is probably the most original of all:

The true value of the books lies in the fact that Watson managed to organise the material and show in a systematic manner how modern chess is played. The conclusion is that modern chess is concrete to the extreme (the development of chess engines is also very responsible for this development) and there isn’t a single rule that doesn’t have an exception and these exceptions are becoming more frequent in modern practice. These books are a must for every aspiring player who already has knowledge of the classical chess and is looking for a concentrated and well-chosen material from the modern chess practice.


Good Books – Part III

Here I will discuss some books of more general character. Apart from studying the moves I have always been interested in chess history and the life of the players. What intrigued me most was how they prepared and how they thought about various problems. Perhaps understandably so, because I never had a coach in my life so I never exactly knew how things should be done. Everything I knew I learned by myself based on my own experience, so I was always seeking for some insight as a sort of check to see if I am doing things right.

The most impressive of these was definitely Russians vs Fischer by Voronkov and Plisetsky. Even though I knew the Russians were preparing collectively in general, I was still amazed to learn to what lengths they went. More than half of the book is devoted to Fischer’s ascent from 1970 onwards and how the Russians were becoming more and more worried as he approached Spassky. One of the best parts in the book is Korchnoi’s analysis of Fischer’s style, openings and characteristics. It is quite different from the analysis of the other players who were tasked with it – Tal, Keres, Smyslov and Petrosian, who obviously didn’t quite feel they should be doing that in the first place and just wanted to get rid of the task. For example, Keres, Smyslov and Petrosian suggested their own repertoire as the best way to play against Fischer’s openings! The book also investigates Karpov’s preparation for Fischer in 1975. A revelation to me was Alatortsev’s analysis and report. Alatortsev was head of a laboratory that was analysing the psychology and physiology of the chessplayers using various methods. This striking analysis included diet, sleep, physical preparation, behaviour during the games etc. I learned an awful lot from this material and I still re-read it from time to time. This book is a must for everyone who wants to know the deepest secrets of chess preparation at the highest level.

To a lesser extent Kasparov’s Predecessors that deal with his matches with Karpov (Modern Chess Part 2Modern Chess Part 3 and Modern Chess Part 4) are books of that kind. I seem to be one of the rare people who haven’t been impressed with Kasparov’s series. Yes, they are good books, but I knew most of the stories he told and I expected much more from him when he was personally involved in the games. I was eagerly awaiting the books on the matches with Karpov, after all they are the defining point of his career, so I was looking forward to some big revelations concerning his preparation process, opening analysis, ideas he had etc. Even though he does say a lot about these things, I found it insufficient. Perhaps because I know that there are many more things that he didn’t talk about. This is one of the problems when you already know a lot, it is increasingly difficult to learn new things! One of the most useful things for me what playing through all the games of his unlimited match with Karpov. Slowly, deliberately, trying to understand what was going on. And after a while I got “into” the match, started to feel the flow of the match, I started to understand the opening choices and the tension. I also did this with the other matches and for me this was the best experience from the books.

Recently I read The King by Donner. It is a collection of his essays throughout his career as a chess journalist. Some of them are amazing, some less so. Donner had a sharp sense of humour and was confident in his beliefs and didn’t shy away from publishing them, even if they were largely controversial (there is an essay called “Women and Chess” where he openly states that “women cannot play chess.”) A thing I found surprising is that most of the problems we face now (making chess commercial, the diminishing payout of the chessplayers etc.) were very much topical in Donner’s time in the 1960s and 1970s.

I will end with a real rarity – Vukovic’s books “Od Steinitza do Botvinika” (From Steinitz to Botvinnik) published in Zagreb in 1949. Unfortunately I don’t think they are possible to find nowadays.

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This is Volume 1, dealing with Steinitz, Lasker and Capablanca. In it he analyses all the games from the matches for the crown. The revelation for me was the chapter on Lasker. A lot has been said and written about Lasker’s psychology and how he allegedly played inferior moves (especially in the opening) in order to get his opponents out of their comfort zone. I always found that hard to believe and in this book I found what I had been sensing all along. Vukovic’s explanation is that Lasker found it hard to get into the game, so in the beginning he was often careless and this led to mistakes. Once in a bad position he would immediately snap out and concentrate hard and coupled with his incredible tactical talent he posed very difficult problems to his opponents, who were, after all, fallible. As the game progressed Lasker was playing better and better, especially if the momentum had swung his way, and when they finally reached the endgame Lasker was at his best. I think this is the most precise explanation of Lasker’s “psychology” I have read and in my opinion one that best describes the great champion’s way of playing.

Here I will conclude with my Good Books and if you have any questions or would like to know my opinion on a book feel free to contact me. As new books come out and I read them at some point I will surely continue with my reviews.


Good Books – Part II

I actually read Fischer’s My 60 Memorable Games in Russian (only many years later I read it in original and I must say that it was even better!) The books in Russian dedicated to great players were part of the famous “black series” – the name comes from the black cover these books had. There were two other players from that series that left deep impression – Akiba Rubinstein and Isaak Boleslavsky (both in Russian, I don’t think they have been translated to English). The book on Rubinstein was written by Razuvaev and Murahveri and it is a classic (and I think pretty difficult to find) – it is also one of Gelfand’s favourite books. Rubinstein’s smooth and seemingly effortless positional style is one to admire and impossible to copy. In this sense it is very similar to Capablanca’s and in my opinion it is the weakness of his nervous system (and force majeure coincidences) that prevented him from becoming a World Champion. The book on Boleslavsky was written by Suetin and it was a true gem. Boleslavsky was at his prime in the early 1950s when he won the Candidates tournament in Budapest in 1950 together with Bronstein, only to lose the play-off match to him later that year. After that his career quickly went downwards but he was an excellent theoretician and went on to become Petrosian’s coach for many years. Boleslavsky’s contribution to modern theory is often unfairly neglected. He was one of the first players to use the King’s Indian with black in the 1940s and 1950s and his treatment of the Spanish with white was exemplary. What interested me most was his play with black in the Sicilian – he was the first to play …e5 in the position after 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cd 4 Nd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 Nc6 6 Be2 e5! He showed the viability of the positions after black creates a “hole” on d5 and this led to the boom of all the Najdorf lines when black plays …e5 (in the Najdorf black has the additional possibility to place his knight on d7). This was picked up by Fischer and the Najdorf became one of the most popular openings ever since.

Studying chess was easy and pleasant for me until the moment I discovered the books by Dvoretsky. It was (and still is) a fiendishly difficult time when I try to solve the exercises in his books! Only upon trying that masochistic task did I realise how difficult it is to play chess at the highest level. I read and studied all Dvoretsky’s books, but not all of them left the same impression. For me two of them stand out – Opening Preparation and Secrets of Chess Tactics. I have always been interested in opening study and analysis so the Opening Preparation widened my views and gave me a lot of ideas not only in various openings and schemes (a notable chapter is on the King’s Indian Attack) but also how to study and explore openings. There was also stuff I knew from my own experience, but sometimes it is good to have confirmation by a high authority that what you know is good. The Secrets of Chess Tactics was an eye-opener: there is a sub-title on page 147 called Science Fiction and there follow two games by Tal – Tal-Portisch, 2nd game of their match in 1965 and Tal-Larsen, 6th game of their match in 1965 (with a game by Yusupov in between). The analysis of the Tal games and my attempt to put myself in his shoes opened my eyes to a completely new way of playing chess – I just “got it” how Tal played and how it was possible for him to play like that. I also understood that I cannot play like that, it isn’t my style and character, but the fact that I came to see another dimension of chess made me feel that I have expanded my horizons immensely.

Smyslov’s book Letopis Shakhmatnogo Tvorchestva (basically a selection of his best games, the closest thing in English are probably these two volumes – Volume 1 1935-1957 and Volume 2 1958-1995) is similarly laconic like Capablanca’s Chess Fundamentals I mentioned in Part I. But it is not so much his words that matter, the feeling I got when playing over and analysing his games and trying to delve into the positions and understand his thinking processes is what makes it an excellent book. There are 326 games in it, so plenty of material to get into Smyslov’s mind and get a grasp of his feeling of harmony.

My breakthrough in 2005, when I reached another level of chess understanding and playing strength, can be attributed to one book. It is a book on Capablanca by Euwe and Prins (here’s a link to the book in German. I read it in Russian with the title Baloven Kaissi, while it doesn’t seem to be translated in English).

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It is a great pity that it cannot be found in English because the book is amazing. I had a bad end of 2004 and I spent the whole December, January and February studying Capablanca’s games. I got the books I had by him: My Chess CareerThe Last Lectures and all the books that had something on him: Kasparov’s Predecessors Volume 1 and Alekhine’s tournament books on Nottingham 1936 and New York 1924 and 1927 and I put them next to the chess board that I used for study – they were used on a daily basis for 3 months. Still, the most useful and thought-provoking was Euwe’s book. It is written from a psychological perspective and it analyses the games from this angle. The analysis of the moves isn’t always correct, but for me the most important was to try to get into Capablanca’s mind, to try to understand his move-finding algorithm. Going through his games over and over again for days on and thinking about them all the time produced a result. I started to sense the way he played, why he played certain moves and how he handled various situations. The greatest eye-opener was how precise he actually was. Every single move had a “why” and it always answered a concrete question. Exploring very carefully every move and stopping to ask myself why he has played a certain move formed a habit in me to do the same in my own games. At the end of this period I played a strong open tournament in Malaga which I won, scoring my second Grandmaster norm.

In approximately the same period I discovered Rowson’s books The Seven Deadly Chess Sins and Chess for Zebras. Rowson is a deep thinker (and a very friendly fellow, as I discovered in 2014 when we shared a taxi from our hotel in Hinckley to the train station on a Sunday afternoon after a 4NCL weekend) and he touches subjects that have always intrigued me. In Sins he defines 7 main shorcomings that chessplayers are prone to in their thinking and suggests ways to overcome them. He gives these sins peculiar names, like Blinking, Wanting and Egoism, but the concepts are profound and his advice sound. In Zebras he continues along the same lines of psychological insights, only this time he examines wider problems, like why it is difficult to improve after a certain age, how to play with black and white, myths and style, concentration, doing and being, and many more. I have known Rowson’s writing from his first book, Understanding the Grunfeld, a theoretical book written in such a way that I had no choice but to start playing the Grunfeld immediately, yet the above-mentioned books are the cornerstone to understanding the psychology of chess and chessplayers. At the end of the day better chess comes from better thinking processes and every one of us must first become aware and understand his or her own thinking processes before he or she tries to improve them. These books helped me do just that.

In Part III I will talk about books that deal with broader aspects of chess and are less concerned with the moves.


Good Books – Part I

I have often been approached and asked to suggest some good books that will help the player improve. There is no universal answer to that question because it depends on the level of the player who is asking the question. One book is good for one player, but it can be useless for another. In this post I wanted to outline the books that made a deep impression on me throughout my career, both from a perspective of improving me as a player and also from a psychological and human angle.

I made my first steps with Capablanca’s Chess Fundamentals, albeit I read it in Serbian as “Osnovi Saha.” A clear book that explained the basics with Capablanca’s own games analysed in the last chapter of the book. I think that replaying those games, coupled with my father showing me a lot of games in the Spanish (I still feel the harmony of white’s position after the Nbd2-f1-g3 maneuver) developed my positional understanding.

When I improved a bit my father made the monumental effort to translate Nimzowitsch’s My System from Russian, so that I can read it myself. I remember the thick book with black cover and fine thin pages, I still have it in my library. A few years later I learned to read Russian so I could read the original, but going through the book with my father deepened my positional understanding and introduced me to the concepts of blockade, prophylaxis and outpost. I think that these two books, Capablanca’s and Nimzowitsch’s lay the foundation of my sound positional undestanding and intuition.

Then came Kotov’s How to Become a Grandmaster (this is actually my translation of the Russian title Kak stat Grossmeisterom, which I think in English comprises two books, Think Like a Grandmaster and Play Like a Grandmaster). This was a more “mathematical” book than the previous two, which were more laconic. It provided a structured way how to analyse a position (numbering all the elements of the position, both stable and temporal, citing Steinitz’s 4 rules of positional play, all the combinational elements etc.), how to construct a plan, how to calculate variations. The last part (on calculation, Kotov’s famous variation “tree”) has drawn a lot of criticism lately, but it nevertheless had a positive impact on the inexperienced youngster who never had a coach because it gave me a direction and showed me how things should be done ideally. As I grew stronger I realised the limitations of Kotov’s method as I became more aware of my own thinking processes. Nevertheless the book was a great guidance at the time and it helped me discipline my thinking.

At that stage I was mainly studying the classics, so Alekhine featured prominently. After studying his games I always noticed improvement in my understanding, play and results. I felt the power in his games and I was particularly impressed by his technique, very forcing and precise. Alekhine’s own books On the Road to the World Championship and his book on both New York tournaments in 1924 and 1927 (I read it in one single book in Russian, in English there are two – New York 1924 and New York 1927) were huge – I remember one summer vacation with my family when I took On the Road with me and I spent hours analysing his games in our “Brako” trailer soaking wet from the heat inside. I even encountered a mistake in his comments to the game against Asztalos from Kecskemet 1927 when the line he gave at the end of the game was incorrect. And there was also Kotov’s monumental work on Alekhine in two volumes, Chess Heritage of Alekhine which was a deep analysis of Alekhine’s game from all possible aspects.

Continuing with the classics there were two more authors whose books influenced me greatly – Botvinnik’s trilogy of his best games (Volume 1 1925-1941Volume 2 1942-1956 and Volume 3 1957-1970) and Bronstein’s Zurich 1953. Botvinnik’s games taught me logic and technique, discipline and hard work during the game. He was merciless and the way he dispatched Tal at the age of 50 in the revenge-match in 1961 still amazes me. His comments were short but always to the point and served to explain his decisions. Bronstein’s book on the Zurich Candidates tournament was full of insightful comments that at times were difficult to understand. Later on I learned much more about Bronstein’s life and his way of writing and expressing things and I started to read between the lines. This made it even more fascinating, but that was later – the first time I studied the book I mainly focused on the games played in the Spanish and the King’s Indian as those were my main openings with white and black, respectively. I remember that I was feeling uncomfortable when I was going through the games in the fianchetto line in the King’s Indian because in the vast majority of them black played the system with Nbd7 and e5 and then took on d4, playing with a weak pawn on d6. I didn’t like those positions so in my games I was usually playing the line with Nc6 followed by Bg4 or Bf5.

Bobby Fischer was always my idol and the moment I got hold of My 60 Memorable Games it became one of my favourite books. I tried to absorb everything from it – the explanations, the variations, the style, the psychology. A lot of my theoretical preparation at those times (pre-computer ages!) was based on his analysis and ideas. It is one of the books that I kept returning to at various points in my career and I always managed to discover something new. As I undestood more about chess I understood more about Fischer and how difficult it is to play and win like him. And that always served as inspiration.

In Part II I will continue discussing the books that had profound impact in the later stages of my career when I already became a relatively strong player.

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