Author Archives: NigelD

About NigelD

Nigel Davies is an International Chess Grandmaster living in Southport in the UK. The winner of 15 international tournaments he is also a former British U21 and British Open Quickplay Champion and has represented both England and Wales on several occasions. These days he teaches chess through his chess training web site, Tiger Chess, which has articles, recommendations, a monthly clinic, videos and courses. His students include his 14 year old son Sam who is making rapid progress with his game.

Winning Equal Positions

In these days of very serious opening analysis and theory going well into the middle game in many lines, people often forget the importance of core skills or don’t have time to practice them. Tactical vision is of course absolutely essential, as most people realize. But endgame skill is often underestimated or even overlooked altogether. Who needs openings if they can win equal positions against the World’s top players.

Here’s Magnus Carlsen providing an object lesson in this art, winning a more or less equal endgame position against Teimour Radjabov. The commentator is the ever lucid and calm Jan Gustafsson:

Nigel Davies

Fixing What Ain’t Broke

There are two schools of thought with regard to making changes to openings. Most people believe that you should stick to what’s working whilst a rare few like to move on and explore new avenues.

I like to think that I belong to the second group, at least in theory, and there are good reasons why. In the early days of playing an opening it’s all very new and exciting, not least because you are learning how the thing works. But after a while its secrets can get exhausted and you start to play the line on autopilot. This in turn can lead to your entire game becoming stale and tired.

There’s another reason too, especially in these days of databases and engines. If it becomes known that you play in a particular way there’s a good chance that your opponents will prepare for you, and with engine power being what it is that can spell serious trouble. See yourself as a wildebeest looking to visit the watering hole; crocodiles have a good memory so it’s best to avoid going to exactly the same location.

A great master of opening variety and surprise was the late Danish Grandmaster Bent Larsen. In the following game he grinds down Boris Spassky in a Bird’s Opening which led Boris Ivkov to spend a lot of time preparing against the Bird when he was due to play Larsen in a match. The Bird never reappeared so Ivkov, rather than have his heard work wasted, decided to play it himself!

Nigel Davies

The Value of Chess Culture

Whilst recent studies have not confirmed the value of a bit of chess in raising kids’ IQs, I would maintain that they’re not looking for what’s important. Rather than try to study short term intellectual attainments, that may or may not be achievable by different means, it is important to look at chess as a whole and the deep history and culture of the game. It is not a puzzle or set of puzzles for the mind, it’s a multi-dimensional art form which can provide a unique sphere for ongoing personal development.

Music and traditional martial arts will have a similar effect; practitioners who become deeply involved with them will develop attitudes, beliefs and abilities that can lead to a complete transformation and benefits that will be with them for their entire lives. Yet to test the benefits of these arts after, for example, throwing a few punches or singing fara jaka a couple of times, clearly isn’t going to be a fair test.

What does chess have to offer besides the unproven hope of improved maths scores? Based on my 45+ years observation of the game and its players, as both a player and teacher, here are a few of the more important benefits that come with a deeper and more long term involvement:

1. Learning to take responsibility; if you lose at chess it’s because of mistakes.

2. Learning from mistakes, if you can uncover why you made a particular type of mistake you can learn to avoid it in future.

3. Learning to assess the risk of a particular operation and balance it against potential reward.

4. Learning the value of research, for example from books, software and the internet.

5. Learning the value of history and the idea that the players of today build on the efforts of past masters.

6. Learning to respect better players as people who can offer insights and help you in your own journey.

7. Learning to equate practice with improved results.

8. Learning to stay calm under pressure.

9. Learning to manage thinking time.

10. Learning to combine big picture movements (strategy) with short term tactical operations.

11. Learning to win without it going to your head.

12. Learning to lose without thinking you are diminished in any way and seeing it instead as an opportunity to improve.

You won’t find these benefits in simpler puzzles and games, they simply don’t have the depth or background and culture that chess does. And this is why kids should learn chess instead, starting out with simple stuff after which those who are interested can build layers of complexity. As the Indian proverb goes, chess is a sea in which the elephant may bathe and the gnat may drink, and I don’t think we have to be too bothered about the goal of their bathing or drinking. They’ll decide for themselves what they want out of chess once they’ve had the opportunity to learn.

So it’s great that there are many volunteers, parents, coaches and organisations (for example Chess in Schools and Communities) who try to get them started in the game, and long may they continue to do so. And hopefully there will be a focus on the fascination of the game rather than becoming too obsessed with ‘success’ and the horrors that can bring.

Nigel Davies

Sinquefield Cup

My son and I have been watching the Chess24 video commentary on the Sinquefield Cup and very entertaining it has been too. I don’t follow top level chess too closely but this may now change.

Something that has interested me has been the recent relative fortunes of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Anish Giri. They are both extraordinary talents yet Vachier-Lagrave seems to be breaking through to a higher level whilst Giri has been struggling.

There could be many reasons why this is so but I wonder if it’s because the Frenchman has a clear chess identity, a dynamic player with similarities to Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov. With Giri on the other hand I don’t really see that, certainly he’s a brilliant tactician but the cautious way he lays out his game gives little opportunity for this to shine through. Of course he has plenty of time to develop and suspect that everyone will struggle with him when this happens.

Here meanwhile is a video of round one:

Nigel Davies

Learning From The British Championship

There’s still a game to go in this year’s British Championship but it’s been a fascinating event. Most of all the presence of Michael Adams, a top class GM who has successfully competed against the best players in the World, has provided many great lessons. It’s interested to watch the games as they unfold because you can then try and guess the move and get a sense of the important decisions by the amount of time taken.

The following game was a vital one as Adams was pitted against the number two seed, David Howell. Adams won a tough game shown here with commentary by International Master Andrew Martin:

Nigel Davies

The Importance of Middlegame Understanding

Look on any internet chess forum and you’ll find much discussion of particular opening variations. The participants will look up similar games and use the latest engines running on fast computers but appear to neglect the most important thing. It is vital, in playing any opening, to understand the sort of middle game it will lead to.

Without this it’s impossible to stay well orientated if something unexpected happens, for example if an opponent fails to play the book moves. And there are also so many possible variations in the early stages that it’s impossible to remember everything anyway.

A player I’ve grown to admire immensely over the years is Anatoly Karpov. His positional understanding is extremely subtle, yet at the same time it is grounded in the classics. Here he is conducting a classic minority attack against the strong Argentinian GM, Daniel Campora:

Nigel Davies