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 13 year old son Sam who is making rapid progress with his game.

Chess & Mental Differences

Nobody can deny the fact that chess players as a whole are a somewhat eccentric bunch. It needs a special kind of mind to devote vast swathes of time to a board game that is so intense and so abstract, most ‘normal’ people just don’t get it. I don’t know of any studies on the mental differences of the chess playing community but suspect we’re very well represented by people with Asperger traits.

Speaking for myself I come from a line of people with ‘non standard’ brains and count myself as fortunate that with me it skipped a generation! There again I never had a problem spending huge amounts of time going through chess games and codifying and studying openings. One of my earlier recollections is of being forced to go on a family walk on a sunny day rather than go through Bobby Fischer’s games, my parents were obviously concerned.

Nonetheless I haven’t had any episodes that gave me massive cause for concern apart from one which might have been down to more recent obsession with chi kung and tai chi. I woke up in the middle of the night convinced that I’d missed the school run and slept through until it was dark, and only found my son asleep in his room after phoning the police to ask what I should do. When I later mentioned this to my teacher he did advise me that there are possible side effects to these arts due to the changes that take place in the body, and that I shouldn’t worry about it. Fortunately there has been no recurrence.

Are there practical implications for chess players if you don’t have a standard brain? For those with Asperger’s and autism the chess scene can be something of a refuge as a lot of others will understand you! Traits such as ruthlessness, paranoia and a lack of social skills and compassion can be the rule rather than the exception and you can merrily discuss an obscure variation of the Sicilian Najdorf to an attentive audience. Anxiety and depression, which also seem quite common, are an altogether more difficult thing to deal with as even the treatment may play havoc with your game. Nonetheless it might be better to keep taking the tablets as this chess player’s harrowing tale indicates. Arbiters have a hard enough job with the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet without having to call the men in white coats.

So welcome to the chess world, a wacky den of ‘individuals’ that is a haven for those with different brains. But remember that not all of them will have exactly the same brain difference as your own (or the same meds for that matter) so it can be good to cut them a little slack.

Nigel Davies

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Defusing The Demographic Time Bomb

I’ve previously written about the problems of an ageing population of regular chess tournament goers and how little seems to have been done to address the coming crisis. How should this be tackled? The usual answer is to teach kids to play, but they tend not to feed through into adult tournaments.

A factor in this is the difference in quality between junior and open age tournaments. Tournaments for ‘serious competitive players’ are usually way too strong so the kids often need to survive ongoing beatings before they can hold their own. Not many of them will want to do this.

A second issue is that casual players who might play a tournament or so a year will be put off if they have to go through the rigmarole and cost of joining a federation. They’d just as soon play on the internet. So these players, who might provide suitable sparring partners for kids in weaker sections, will be lost from the system.

These two issues suggest that something needs to be done to draw in both casual players and kids in order to get them playing ‘open age’ chess. And a good start to this would be to make it easy, inexpensive and fun. My suggestion is to create a FREE and LIVE grading system or adapt it from an existing system.

Players love to know how they’re doing via a grade so it should be made very easy for them to get one. This in turn implies that it should be made easy to organize a graded tournament and submit the results, whether it’s a junior or school chess club, a working man’s club or even someone’s lounge. The rules should not be too stringent (for example I think there’s a case for grading some kids tournaments even without them using clocks) or the procedure at all complicated. The point is to get people involved and interested in stepping up the improvement ladder.

The newly submitted results should AUTOMATICALLY update a live grading database which is simply based on a player’s last 30 games, starting with a 4 game minimum. Purists shouldn’t worry too much about whether the grades are accurate, they just won’t be. But this is not the point, it would get more people involved so they can see how they’re doing. Some of them would want to come back regularly.

With regular visitors to the database a strategically positioned calendar and information about clubs plus full membership benefits can be placed nearby. This should increase demand for lower level events (0-1300 Elo) and thus help chess clubs and tournaments attract new players.

The basic grade should not cost a penny and no forms should be required, it should just happen. It might be worth calling this a ‘free membership’ of a federation so that the federation can show good numbers to potential sponsors. This ‘basic membership’ would kick in the minute they play four graded games and if they were to win them they might come on the system really high. Again I should stress that accuracy is not the point here.

After that you should have a second tier of ‘serious’ membership which should include those who want to play in internationally rated events and achieve an Elo rating. For this there should be a charge and they in turn would get to vote on who runs things. Generally speaking this level of members would be more knowledgeable and committed to the game which in turn should help throw forward better qualified individuals to run things. You don’t want huge block votes of near beginners voting on issues where they have little understanding; the wrong people will end up in charge.

I realize of course that many federations would suffer a shortfall in income by adopting such a system, at least at first. But as most of them are run by volunteers anyway this shouldn’t threaten their existence, they’d simply be investing in attracting greater numbers instead of building a balance to spend on some less fruitful project. It should be remembered that the purpose of a federation is not to operate as a business and screw money out of its membership by virtue of its status as a ‘chess monopoly’. It is there to facilitate chess and get people playing.

Federations throughout the World should feel free to adopt this plan of mine, I don’t need an Honorary Vice Presidency, a knighthood, a statue or even credit. Let’s just try to save the game from a massive drop in numbers.

Nigel Davies

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Garry Kasparov Interview

Garry Kasparov is always interesting, and here he talks about different top players and the Sinquefield Cup but BEFORE the final leg in London. It’s also interesting to hear him talk about how we did things in the ‘old days’, especially when Kasparov himself was one of the first players to make extensive use of computer based preparation.

Nigel Davies

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Some 5 Minute Chess Drills

Although I recommend keeping 5 minute chess to a minimum there are some useful drills that you can do at this speed. Recently my son Sam and I have been doing the bishop and knight mate against the clock with us competing to get the best time. And other basic endgames such as queen against rook or rook and two pawns against rook are very suitable for this.

These technical drills are very good ones to practice at speed as the winning techniques can be remembered. On the other hand if someone plays too many full games at this speed they can develop habits that can hurt their long play chess in which cogitation is required to come up with plans and check for errors.

Of course bullet chess (one minute per player per game) is very popular, especially for those who want to take their minds of other things and then hopefully relax. But people are kidding themselves if they think this will help them improve.

Nigel Davies

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Entertainment from Qatar

Interesting to see how entertaining the chess in Qatar has been which surely must be a case for mixed strength tournaments. Here’s Magnus Carlsen essaying the Sicilian Defence rather than a Berlin and winning in fine style:

Nigel Davies

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Chess Sets

At this seasonal time of year many chess players will be getting a new set. For those buying such a present, it’s very important to have Staunton pieces, under no circumstances should you get a serious player some kind of fancy set. Wood is good too, though there are some nice plastic ones around which don’t look like plastic. And one small difference is allowable, having white bishops having a black top and black bishops having a white one.

This is known as a Dubrovnik set and it was a firm favorite of Bobby Fischer. In the following video we see him using this set:

Nigel Davies

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How Professionals Support Amateur Chess

I’ve recently seen some comments about amateurs supporting professionals, a view which probably came about because UK chess has been run down so much and has very little sponsorship. But I think that there’s another side of this that seems to be getting ignored.

Here are some of the ways in which amateurs are being supported by professionals:

1) Professional players provide an ongoing source of instruction though their games, which are routinely collected and published in databases without any payment or royalty.

2) Many hours work has gone into the development of different chess patterns (including openings), which are then routinely played by amateurs if they bother to learn them. Once again all this knowledge is available without any royalty being paid to the masters who discovered these ideas.

3) Ratings and competition were designed to discover who the best players were, not to compare Joe Bloggs to John Smith. Without the pursuit of excellence chess competition in its current form wouldn’t exist.

4) Title norms opportunities are provided by full time players, without them receiving anything like decent recompense.

5) When sponsorship does exist, for example at the London Chess Classic, numerous events are created in which amateurs can participate.

6) Chess achievements boost interest in chess and swell the numbers of people who want to play and join chess clubs etc.. This was certainly the case in the days of Bobby Fischer, and even Paul Morphy in his time inspired many to take up the game.

I’m sure there are many more ways too, but even these provide strong arguments in favour of having professionals in chess.

Nigel Davies

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Learning From The London Chess Classic

I’m back home after commentating on the London Chess Classic last Friday, but I’m due to return next weekend. One interesting thing happened meanwhile in that my son, having seen me commentating, became interested in following the games. Prior to this he had been looking at the games of his peers, which provided far from optimal models of play.

You can learn a lot from following tournaments online, especially if you try to guess the move before it is played (active involvement). Of course not everybody finds the Berlin (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6) fascinating, and this suggests that perhaps with need tournaments with mixed strength participation. But even so it can be useful.

Here anyway is the Youtube video of round 1.

Nigel Davies

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