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

Chess is NOT 99% Tactics!

Richard Teichmann once said that ‘chess is 99% tactics’, and this idea seems to have caught on. I can see why because it may seem that way to strong players. And for those who want to improve it implies that there’s an easy to understand way to do it; , practice calculation and vision. But I for one don’t think it’s true.

There are many positions in which there are no tactics, so what do you do then? It also seems that move selection is vital to the calculative process, and this stems from an intuitive sense of danger and knowing the sort of thing you should be doing. Strong players may not be aware of the process by which they select moves, or decide the sort of thing they should be doing. It just happens. But as a teacher, who constantly explains and asks about why a particular move was played, I’ve become very aware that there’s a lot more going on.

This is why an improvement program should be balanced and needs to include the development of softer and more intuitive thinking. This is harder to develop and the concepts need a lot of explanation from someone who knows what they are doing. And then they need to be practiced.

This difficulty in acquiring chess ‘understanding’ explains why so few people develop it. Games collections of great masters will certainly help, but few people bother reading them these days, especially when under increasing pressure to ‘know their openings’. This explains why I adopted the approach that I did at my Tiger Chess site, suggesting simple openings with nice pawn structures and plans whilst at the same time focusing on strategy and endgames.

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An Old Favourite, The Chigorin Defence

One of my early favourite openings was the Chigorin Defence with 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6!?. I started playing it after seeing it recommended in Leonard Barden’s The Guardian Chess Book. And I then played it throughout my teenage years, long before Alexander Morozevich discovered it.

The Chigorin is a sharp and lively counter attacking line which has much in common with both the Gruenfeld and Nimzo-Indian. There have been some developments since Morozevich championed it, but by and large it will tend to surprise White players.

Here’s my Youtube clip about the Chigorin Video at Tiger Chess:

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A Blow For Humanity

Here’s a nice blow for humanity. Note that computers can have trouble with closed positions and especially build-ups against their kings. And this in turn should help correspondence players who want to gain an edge!

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Mixed Strength Tournaments Produce More Brilliancies

In these days in which the main aim of organizers seems to be a ‘high category’, it’s worth remembering some of the reasons for organizing mixed strength tournaments. Besides giving local heroes a chance to beat star players, it can also lead to more brilliancies. It’s difficult to checkmate a 2700+ GM, but against lower rated players it’s a distinct possibility.

Here’s a brilliant win by Jan Timman from the days when mixed strength tournaments were still common. Black gets a dubious position out of the opening and is gunned down on the kingside in a cascade of brilliant sacrifices:

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Playing Too Much

Most amateur players find it difficult to get enough games. After balancing the needs of work and family there can often seem to be little time for chess. To some extent the internet has been helpful, as long as the games played there are treated in a reasonably serious manner.

There is also the opposite problem, that of playing too much. When players play vast numbers of games they can start to play on autopilot. This will tend to reinforce bad habits which then become very difficult to overlay with good ones.

Internet blitz is especially damaging in this regard as a lot of bad moves will go unpunished. And if you go on the internet after hard day at work you’re almost sure to play in a light hearted way which in turn can start to appear in your real games?

What’s the solution? Essentially it’s good to have a target of a particular number of games per annum whether they’re in club chess, tournaments or on the internet. Players with little time for terrestrial chess probably need a few internet games to make up the numbers, but then limits should be imposed. Have a plan to play a particular number of games, probably at one of the slower time limits, and then stick to it.

How many games should that be? The recommended dose for tournament games used to be around 50-70 long play games per annum, but rapid play games should count as 1/3 of the value. So a combination of 30 long games and 60 rapid games would just about meet the quota.

Nigel Davies

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How To Avoid Preparation

In these days of computer databases and ever stronger engines, preparation is becoming an increasingly important factor. And it can be a particular problem if your games are on a database, for example at 365 Chess or Chess-db. Some players might even pull your games from internet servers if they know your handle there.

So how should someone avoid preparation? Here are a few ideas:

Be The Ultimate Expert

Many players go this route, aiming to stay ahead of their opponents’ preparation with ongoing research into what they play and studying their own games more thoroughly than their opponents will. In this way they hope to get their ideas in first or have answers ready for anything their opponents throw at them.

Play Openings Which Are Hard To Prepare For

This is perhaps the simplest way. If you play openings that simply lead to a balanced and interesting middle game it will be very hard for your opponents to prepare. The best openings for this are based on plans and positional ideas rather than sharp tactical lines and include the French, Queen’s Gambit Declined and Stonewall Dutch.

The drawback is that not everyone will like such lines. In this case the next idea may be more suitable:

Become A Moving Target

A narrow repertoire makes it easy for your opponents to prepare, a wide one makes it virtually impossible. Of course you have to be able to play lots of different openings and position types, but some players are able to do this successfully. The prime example of this approach is Magnus Carlsen.

Play Under A Pseudonym

If your internet handles are known your games can be plucked from the servers. So a number of well known players choose to play under a pseudonym, and in this way experiment in secret.

Don’t Let Your Games Go To The Databases

This last one is perhaps the best of all, but it can be difficult to implement. Yet Evgeny Sveshnikov has managed to keep many of his games off the databases by agreeing this with tournament organizers beforehand, and I must say I have great sympathy with his approach.

Of course you might have to be a famous Grandmaster to pull it off, unless of course attitudes were to change…

Nigel Davies

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Titles Or Excellence?

FIDE’s recent announcement about the introduction of new titles brought back memories about enquiries I’ve had for lessons in which the stated goal was to ‘get a FIDE title’. I guess those people will be happy that their goal has been placed within easier reach but I wonder whether it is aimed at benefiting chess or just making money by selling certificates.

Martial arts have had this debate for many years with many of them rejecting a belt system because it might attract students for the wrong reasons. Belts are certainly no guarantee of excellence, it all depends on the standards that are required. And if tests come at a cost there must be a temptation to lower standards in order to increase revenue.

So should chess players pursue these titles or not?

My own pursuit of the International Grandmaster title was because I wanted to continue chess as a career and Grandmasters were generally better placed to make a living out of chess. It played a role as a marker for my development as a player, but there were other ways of measuring this. It certainly didn’t mean much in terms of showing off at cocktail parties.

There might be a case for getting one in order to improve one’s CV, potential employers can be impressed by external pursuits such as chess as long as core skills for doing the job concerned are in place. Of course deeper enquiries might reveal that there’s not much substance to the title concerned so pretending it’s more than it is could rebound.

They could also help as a boost to self confidence, a marker of achievement for those who don’t naturally have a high opinion of themselves. The ECF introduced it’s own master points system some time back and it’s served as an incentive for a number of players I know. But the Master Points System seems rather more tasteful in that it avoids using terms such as ‘Grand Master’ and ‘International Master’. These seem too easy to confuse with the real titles and the confusion could lead to a devaluation. I’ve heard of players calling themselves ‘Grand Masters’ without even having gained any sort of title, and marketing coaching services on the back of this.

At the end of the day I guess it’s down to the individual as whether they want to pursue these things and fork out their hard earned cash. But remember that it has little to do with the pursuit of real excellence and playing better chess. That’s down to the board, the pieces and lots of practice.

Nigel Davies

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The Love For Wood

Here’s another interesting Youtube documentary featuring leading Dutch players from the 1970s. There are subtitles available if you click on ‘settings’.

For the young it gives an insight into what chess was like before it became an Olympic sport, and I must say that I feel a certain nostalgia!

Nigel Davies

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