The Reti, KIA and Others – A Video Course

You probably know by now that I created a repertoire for Black based on the QGD for the chess-learning site Chessable. The links to the repertoire can be found on the right under My Chessable Books.

The video format is becoming increasingly popular. In spite of my reservations about it, I also joined the hype and decided to upgrade my course with a corresponding video course. The first part of it, on the QGD, has already been published and it is receiving excellent reviews. There is also link to it on the right, just below the first banner.

Recording video is a tough process. I already have some experience with it and I can honestly say that I now understand the film stars when they say how difficult filming is. Not that I feel like a film star, but I do not have re-takes of my recordings, which means that when you watch a clip bear in mind that it was recorded in one take – me sitting there and talking for hours.

Yesterday Chessable released the second part of the full repertoire where I discuss the Reti, the KIA, the Nimzo-Larsen 1 b3, the Bird’s Opening and the other various first moves.

Some time passed since the publication of the repertoire, so for this course I wanted to provide updates of several important variations. These are all included in both the video and the files. I think my suggested shortcuts and improvements will make the student’s task much easier when learning the intricacies of the Reti Opening.

From what students tell me, the video format is very good for internalising the material. This is probably due to the fact that the student both watches the chess board and listens to the audio explanations, thus being exposed to the same material twice and at the same time. I hope I managed to continue in the same vein as with the first part on the QGD and this video course with the updates makes your repertoire even better and of higher quality.

I invite you to take a look at my latest video course here.

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

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Batumi Impressions

I am finally back home after a gruelling 14h-trip. Another sleepless night filled with bus rides and a flight. It reminded me of those times when I was tournament-hopping with no end in sight, just that this time it was no fun at all.

The results of the Olympiad are already known, the Macedonian teams didn’t do so well and for this I blame the pre-game travel of some 40 minutes. It is impossible to play well throughout the whole distance of such a demanding tournament as an Olympiad if your energy is drained before each game by a road trip and traffic jam. From what I’ve been told in Khanty it will be better.

Here I would like to share my view of the Olympiad as a whole and also of the most impressive (for me) event there – the FIDE General Assembly.

This was a first Olympiad where I wasn’t a player. This allowed me to see things from the outside – when I play I am completely focused on my own regime, preparation and play so I deliberately block out everything that it outside of my primary focus. Now things were different.

By different I mean the social aspect. The busiest place in the playing venue was the so-called EXPO, where there were several stands: of the both presidential candidates, of the 2022 Minsk Olympiad (they didn’t have an opponent so it will be organised there) and of the ECU presidential candidate Azmaiparashvili (who also didn’t have an opponent and was elected again). An hour into the round the EXPO was bustling with all sorts of people (both Dvorkovich and Makropoulos were there almost every day) and if you needed somebody you could be certain that he or she would be there. In the informal atmosphere that ruled the place it was very easy to approach anybody (including the candidates) and start a conversation.

In spite of living some 30km from Batumi, I also managed to see a lot of people in the city. This meant quite a few extra taxi rides from my hotel in Kobuleti to Batumi, but it was worth it. In the wake of the FIDE elections meeting people was even more interesting. I talked to several high-level officers in FIDE and some very rich and powerful people and learned a lot in the process.

A very important place to be were the parties organised by the candidates. I went to both and just by observing who’s talking to whom and their body language I could see a lot. The most telling moment for me happened during the organiser’s party which also doubled as Makropoulos’s. At one point there were speeches and I could clearly see both candidates standing relatively close to each other. In that moment I realised that Makro was losing – he was uneasy while Dvorkovich was calm, in spite of the speeches being angled to favour Makro. He was even given a chance to talk and he turned it into a propaganda for his campaign, but even that didn’t help. He was nervous.

The main event was the General Assembly. It started at 9am and it ended at some time after 6pm when the winner of the elections was announced. During the assembly I was amazed to see how well-oiled Makropoulos’s team was. Whenever a negative comment from the delegates was aired, he would either cut it down or turn it to his favour. Very often a member of his team would add something that would make the accuser inadequate and would bolster Makro’s image. There were also several comments that were aimed at showing the Makro team in better light. At times he would just not discuss the question and that would be it. It was clear that the experienced politician was controlling everything from his chairman position.

The speeches of the three candidates were very telling. Dvorkovich spoke first and even though he stammered a few times he basically elaborated his future plans. He received a big applause. Short spoke second. He attacked FIDE and Makro and ended with a withdrawal of his candidacy and endorsing Dvorkovich. And then came Makro. I remember that Kasparov said that he was wrong to talk first in Tromso in 2014 because when he finished Ilyumzhinov came out and said he’d give 20 million USD to chess, mocking Kasparov’s figure of 10. This was met with laughter and approval and Kasparov felt that this was the final straw convincing him that he had lost. So I thought this was Makro’s last chance to try to sway things in his favour.

But Makro didn’t take it. His speech was weak, a mixture of attacks on his opponents and mentions of his past glory. Nothing about the future. He also lacked energy while speaking. It was clear to me that he already knew it was over. He received a meek applause.

The lobbying part that took place outside the hall was a separate show to observe. The voting had barely started (185 countries had to vote and it took around 2h to finish. It goes in alphabetical order and while waiting the delegates go outside the hall for a drink or snack) and the delegates were already discussing and negotiating, all of them already knowing the final results. Deals were made literally every minute.

The final result wasn’t a surprise for anybody. There was a wild ovation when it was read aloud and it did feel as if people were really eager for this change to happen. There was an air of hope present and I saw a lot of happy smiles.

When I finally left the Sheraton Hotel and took a taxi back to my hotel I felt completely drained. It was a first time that I felt such fatigue, as if all my energy had been squeezed out of me. Later I realised that this shouldn’t have surprised me. In a hall full of people from the whole planet engaged in historical elections the energy is easily zapped. Politics is a high-energy endeavour.

Dvorkovich won. He brings change and he brings hope. After decades of the same thing the world needed this. So the start is promising. The next 4 years will quickly pass and Minsk will hold the next elections. At least now I know how they will look like.

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Bad In Batumi

In fact Kobuleti, if I have to be more exact.

I also have never heard of it before. Now I will spend the next 12 days here, being part of the Olympiad that takes place in Batumi, some 30km from here.

The only good thing about Kobuleti is the 5-star hotel we’re staying in. Even though at the very beginning we said we preferred less stellar accomodation in exchange for being actually in the city where the games are played. It wasn’t meant to be.

So what does this mean? Let me give you a backward timeline. The games start at 3pm. The trip from the hotel to the playing hall takes 45 minutes, if there is no traffic (often there is). The scheduled transport from the hotel leaves at 1.30pm. Lunch finishes at 1pm and starts at 11.30am. The board pairings are supposed to come out at 10am, but today they didn’t (they came out after 11am) and we will see what happens tomorrow. I will leave you do the math of how much time is left for preparation and rest.

The entrance to the playing hall is the players’ worst nightmare. Only 3 (!!!) entrances for each hall. Again, do your own math how many people have to go through those entrances and the frame scanners behind them. Just for a comparison sake, the USA team spent 50 (no typo, fifty) minutes waiting in the sun before entering the playing hall in Round 1.

Yes, Round 1 is the Olympiad’s worst. They told me today it was better. But what does better mean? It simply means that in order to let the people in faster, the whole idea of security checks loses its purpose because the only way to do it is to check less thoroughly. One player told me that when they asked her what she had in the bag (because it sent the scanner off) she told them she had some coins and without even checking the bag they let her in. I am sure this wasn’t the only case. There’s your “tight” security.

There was even more mess before Round 1, when people were supposed to pick up their accreditation cards. Instead of distributing these to the hotels where the players were staying (a very good practice we saw in Baku) they opened a small, 10m2 room for this purpose. There are 185 countries participating. The queues were so long that some people were waiting for more than 3 hours to get into that room.

For us the main problem is the travel. It reminds me of the famous opens in Cappelle la Grande. Staying in Dunkirk, playing in Cappelle, bus rides between the two. Not very professional, to say the least, but the wine was unlimited and free, so no surprise they were one of the most popular opens. Wines aside (though the Georgian ones are pretty good), it is simply not fair to place some teams at a disadvantage. While the majority arrive to the playing hall in 10 to 15 minutes, it takes us 45. The same is for going back after the game. It just isn’t fair.

Of course we will fight, we always fight. Perhaps especially hard when it is against the odds. Yet the bitterness is already here. For me this Olympiad won’t feel like the celebration I have always considered it to be.

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Training With A Grandmaster

During my recent trip to England one of the more fun things I did was to record a video together with my friend David. Our idea was to show how a lesson with a grandmaster looks like.

My training process is centered on improving the student’s thinking process. The logic is that a better thinking process will lead to a better decision. The “correction” is performed by closely monitoring the student’s thoughts and commenting on the critical moments.

I set up various positions for the students to think about. Often these positions do not have a “solution” as such – they are like real-life examples from the games in a tournament. The position would be a complex one where a decision needs to be made. I even expect different students to have different preferences and choose different moves. This is normal, as we all have different styles and understand chess in our own personal way. Idiosincracies are perfectly fine, my job is only to make sure they are based on correct foundations. In chess there foundations are precise calculation and evaluation.

The position I chose for our training with David is from the famous game Flohr-Spielmann from Bled 1931. Those of you who regularly read my newsletter (and the others can use the yellow box on the right to subscribe) already know that I made a thorough analysis of this position as a way to demonstrate how chess understanding has evolved over the years. During the video, being somewhat restricted by time, I couldn’t really go over with David with all the knight moves in the starting position and in a real-life lesson we would have analysed Flohr’s choice in more depth. After all, the aim of the video was to give an idea how an 1-hour lesson looks like and normally the work continues in the next one.

With all these explanations as a way of introduction, I now invite you to take a look at the video on my YouTube channel. I am really looking forward to hear your impressions!

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Dubov’s Ideas

Daniil Dubov is one of the more original thinkers in modern chess. If you look at it at face value it is very easy to be original, just do something nobody has done before. The trick is to be original and good at the same time.

Dubov is one of the rare breed of very talented and strong young players who is also quite original. I am primarily speaking of his opening ideas, who cannot but catch your attention.

In my newsletter (use the friendly yellow box on the right to subscribe if you wish) I already noted some of his new ideas in the Grunfeld (he is a Grunfeld player with Black) and here I would like to draw your attention to his latest novelties. Currently he is playing the Russian Superfinal (just finished today), where in spite of the good start and leading the tournament he lost the rhythm and dropped to a minus score in the end. Curiously enough, he first won 2 games with Black before losing the next 3 with the same colour.

I am sure he will learn to deal with the pressure of being a leader, but in the meantime we can look at and perhaps pick up some of his ideas from the tournament.

In Round 2 Dubov introduced a true novelty on move 8 (it hasn’t even been played in games between computers or online!):

Even though he didn’t win the game this looks like an interesting way to steer the game clear of the usual paths. Black can probably neutralise this novelty, but that is difficult to do during the game as a GM as strong as Oparin failed to do so.

In Round 5 Dubov played a shocker (at least for me) on move 6!

Objectively speaking, Vitiugov reacted very well to Dubov’s 6 Nd2 and obtained a good position. But perhaps White’s play can be improved upon?

In Round 7 playing White against Fedoseev, Dubov continued in similar vein with the already-established aggressive treatment in the trendy …a6 lines in the QGD. Only this time the move e4 turned out to be a new one.

It is my impression that these lines with …a6 in the QGD work better when the White knight is already on f3!

Dubov’s ideas are very interesting and exciting, sometimes even shocking, so I always make sure to take a look at this games, wherever he plays. I would suggest doing the same if you are looking for ways to spice up your opening play, you won’t regret it!

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Sinquefield Cup 2018 – A Threesome

The Sinquefield Cup finished a few days ago and I would like to share some impressions I got from the tournament.

The crucial moment of the whole tournament was the game Carlsen-Caruana. The game lived up to the expectations and it followed a scenario where Carlsen managed to outplay Caruana, but failed to nail the game when it was within his reach.

If you take all their classical games from this year (Wijk aan Zee, Grenke, Stavanger and Saint Louis) you can notice that in all of them Carlsen had the advantage – he was constantly outplaying Caruana, but he only managed to win one, in Stavanger. This is both good news and bad news for Carlsen. The good news is that he manages to outplay Caruana on a more constant basis, but the bad news is that he wins very rarely. He was doing the same in his match with Karjakin, obtaining winning positions and failing to win, and I’m sure we all remember where that got him. As for Caruana, it is quite clear that he will have to raise his level even more if he wants to be equal in that match, but at least he can take a positive from this last game that he managed to save a lost position.

Another characteristic is that Caruana won his games showing fruitful opening ideas and then capitalising on them. Carlsen won his games in long, “completely drawn” endgames. It has been a while since Carlsen won a game in this manner, but I am pretty sure that this won’t work in London. He needs to find other ways to win games and his adoption of mainstream theory in his last tournaments looks promising in that direction. Even in the above game he introduced a fresh opening idea!

Nakamura continues to be awful in classical chess. Shared last place with 3 losses and no wins and even more shockingly a drop out of the top 10 (of which I have already written on this blog) is a big concern for the American player. He is still dominant at faster time controls, but in classical he seems to have lost the patience. The way he lost to Carlsen in the last round is shameful. I really doubt it that he will find motivation to get back on track, but I also hope he proves me wrong.

Karjakin was similarly horrible. Just plain, no opening ideas, no spark, no motivation. He lost a Berlin endgame to Aronian and a “dead drawn” endgame to Carlsen before losing to Caruana after falling into an unpleasant position. Both Karjakin and Nakamura know that they will never become a World Champion and they are both financially secure for life – what motivation do they have?

The tournament ended in a farce. The regulations stated that there should be tie-break between two players, but since there were three and their tie-breakers were all equal, the odd man out had to be determined by drawing of lots. The players protested, but that’s what the regulations stated. Still, the organisers decided not to follow their own regulations and proclaimed all three, Caruana, Carlsen and Aronian, as winners.

This is ridiculous. Why are they writing regulations if they don’t plan to follow them? If they are so bad, why not take some time to write better ones? This is very similar to the Candidates tournament – back in 2013 in London everybody agreed that the first place shouldn’t be decided by a Sonneborn-Berger or whatever, but rather by a rapid tie-break match, yet the same regulations have remained in place for all the subsequent tournaments. Sometimes I get the impression these organisers are really lazy sods who hope that the tricky situations never occur. And to make it worse, that’s what most of the time happens!

There was still a tie-break in the end, for a place in the GCT Final Four in London in December. Caruana easily dispatched of So 1.5-0.5, securing the spot. I am firmly convinced that So’s loss was a result of his miserable last round game against that same Caruana. The previous day he boldly stated that he must go all in for a win in order to secure qualification for London, yet when the game came he chickened out with the queen exchange in the Petroff and a boring draw. This failure to stir up the spirit to fight for the prize is not a sign of strong character. When you don’t take your chances somebody else will, and that is what Caruana did in the tie-break. So is a great player, but his character seems to be still “under construction.”

The next big tournament is the Olympiad, where I will also be present, only this time not as a player. Too bad, but then again being there “where the action is” is still something that excites me.

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Return To Hotel Anibal

After exactly 16 and a half years I stepped back into the legendary venue of “The Wimbledon Of Chess.”

I still remember year 2002 when I was playing in the open and before each game I would go into the playing hall where Kasparov, Anand, Ivanchuk, Ponomariov, Adams, Shirov and Vallejo were playing. It was inspirational to be able to watch these players up close and every day I had 30 minutes before my own game started to get inspired by their play.

It was common to run into these guys in the hotel. I once witnessed a blind-folded analysis by Kasparov and Anand on the staircase leading to the upper floors. Or a lift ride with Ivanchuk, who commented with “hmmm” when I told him that Kasparov beat Ponomariov in the penulttimate round to clinch the tournament.

That win over Ponomariov was very important for Kasparov. Apart from winning the tournament, it was a matter of prestige since at that point Ponomariov was the FIDE Champion, having beaten Ivanchuk in the final of the knock-out event in 2001. I remember seeing his mother Klara in the audience going crazy and pumping fists when Ponomariov resigned the game. Was it an extra motivation for Kasparov the fact that the game was played on Fischer’s birthday?

This year, unlike last, the Second Spanish Division was played in the Anibal Hotel and that is where I and my team stayed. I don’t know if it was the aura of the place, the inspiration, or the fact that this time we played in the same playing hall they were playing in 2002, but I played rather well, scoring 100% (6 out of 6) on Board 1. One of the first things I did was to go and see Kasparov’s suite, the one he always occupied when playing here.

This plaque was placed next to the entrance in the suite after his retirement. The room number is 103.

All the winners of the tournament are proudly displayed In the lobby.

My best game from the tournament was played in Round 1. I was Black against a young Spanish talent, rated 2395. I noticed that he played the Nd2 line in the Catalan and I prepared well.

In spite of the mistake on move 14, I quite liked the way I played, the nice positional idea of doubling the g-pawns and also the controlled attack that won the game in style.

Even though my team didn’t do as well as last year, we had a great time in Linares. Additionally, I am quite happy with my recent results and the way I play and feel during the games. After Porto Mannu where I shared 3rd place, this is another good result for me. I cannot really complain about a 100% score, can I?

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Mastering Chess Middlegames

I have heard many times about Alexander Panchenko’s teaching methods and successes. A talented player whose playing career was cut short by an unexpected request to head a school for promising young players. He put all heart into the work and in times (1980s) where it was very difficult to collect and organise high-quality training material he was one of the best ones in doing so.

Apart from the Middlegames, Panchenko also had a similar course on endgames, something he valued very much and following Capablanca’s principle that chess should be studied from the endgame backwards, he emphasised the study of the last part of the game.

Very recently my friends at Chessable.com prepared Panchenko’s Mastering Chess Middlegames in their well-known inter-active format. The whole book is organised in chapters, videos and problems to solve in the already recognisable and highly efficient manner. As a preview, they offer a free one-hour sample video that you can see here.

Mastering Chess Middlegames is a book that is a result of Panchenko’s work throughout the years. The organisation of the material and its quality is its highest value. The Chapters have the names like Attack on the King, Defence, Prophylaxis, Equal Positions etc. all being equally important for a successful navigation of the middlegame. Each chapter ends with several positions to solve individually.

It is not obligatory to read and study the book from the beginning until end. I was interested in the chapter Realising an Advantage and went directly to it.

One of the main things that I have noticed in the games of my students is that once they have an advantage they sort of “switch off” (Panchenko’s expression). They expect the games to be won by themselves and just sit back and relax. Coupled with this attitude can be a lack of combinative ability and these two together are the most difficult factors to overcome as a player doesn’t really expect he needs to play combinations or attack, as these two are never associated with “technique.”

Closely related to the combinative ability is the feeling for when “to go over to active operations.” Panchenko says that “this ability usually comes with experience.”

In the same chapter Panchenko addresses the problem of time trouble. It is often that an advantage should be realised with limited time on the clock, especially nowadays with the shortened time-controls and eternal 30-second time trouble. He states 5 main reasons why players fall into time trouble and of these I have found the “uncertainty in oneself and one’s strengths” to be the most common one.

When showing examples of successful realisation of an advantage Panchenko shows quite a few games where direct king attacks and aggressive play are involved. I found it very important to get used to the fact that realisation of an advantage is not a boring, “technical” task!

But there is plenty of that too, as the title “Playing for a Squeeze” would suggest. The classical game Botvinnik-Zagoriansky never fails to impress me.

This is how the whole book is structured. With so many instructive examples it is inevitable that you will increase the level of your play. And add to this Chessable’s structured repetition with their trademarked MoveTrainer and you have a winning combination to increase your playing strength.

Mastering Chess Middlegames is out soon on Chessable (linked) and you can claim your free 1h video here.

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Shakh-Attack Destroys Biel 2018

Mamedyarov’s victory is Biel was impressive. Finishing a point and a half ahead of the World Champion and beating him in the individual match is an incredible feat.

I would like to note a distinct characteristic of Shakh’s opening preparation. He often relies on super-sharp and forcing lines to achieve his aim. For example, his use of the old, almost forgotten, line in the Open Spanish when Black sacrifices on f2 and obtains a rook and a couple of pawns for two pieces – he used it to a great effect to secure a good game against Vachier.

With White he is often even more aggressive, using the move g4 whenever he can. He beat Vachier thanks to a deep preparation in the English Opening.

I think the improved quality of his opening preparation has a big impact on Shakh’s recent stability and a firm establishment in the top 3.

The decisive game of the tournament was the direct duel between Mamedyarov and Carlsen. The latter was forced to play for a win since he was trailing with a full point. Here’s what came out of it.

The World Champion didn’t have a good event in spite of the promising start. In fact, both here and in Norway a couple of months ago he started with 2.5/3 and both times he failed to win the tournament!

In the past the scenario of Carlsen’s tournaments was a slow start followed by warming up and an excellent finish. Lately the tendency has reversed: he starts well, but then instead of improving as the tournament goes on his play deteriorates. Carlsen himself admitted to many oversights during his game with Mamedyarov.

It is clear that Carlsen is in some sort of a transitional phase when it comes to his match preparations. He is trying main lines, plays aggressively with White and Black, but at the same time he still hasn’t reached the level of stability he would desire. A lot of work lies ahead for the World Champion!

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Peace In Biel 2018

It seems that yesterday’s bloodshed took some toll on the players in Biel.

Still, it is primarily Nico Georgiadis’s effort that ensured that all games finished in a draw. By ultra-aggressive and valiant play he managed to draw with the World Champion! In spite of losing the first three games, they didn’t go without a hidden benefit. When you play stronger opponents they are forcing you to raise your level of play. And it seems that three games were enough for Nico to raise his level enough to draw the World Champion!

Carlsen chose the French Defence, but don’t forget that all his opening choices are made with the title match in mind. Nico most likely didn’t expect the Armenian Variation, yet he still continued boldly. Soon enough he sacrificed material and even the engine approved of his decision! The pressure was enough even for the World Champion to crack and fail to find the best moves.

As you can see, the game was extremely complicated and even with a help of an engine I couldn’t really pinpoint a clear win for Black except on move 26. Nobody likes being attacked and this goes for the World Champion too! A fantastic result for Nico and a reminder to all that with courage no battle is hopeless.

Mamedyarov and Svidler played a Fianchetto Grunfeld where White was pressing but Black defended well. In another Grunfeld, Navara and Vachier played an exciting game.

We had bloodshed in Biel, we had draws. What’s next?

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