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.

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

Strategic Vs Tactical Talent

There seem to be two different types of talent for chess, strategic and tactical. Strategic talent is the ability to see macro movements of the pawn structure and understand which plan should be used. Tactical talent, on the other hand, is the ability to visualize tactical ideas and crunch forcing lines.

Some players are blessed with both varieties of talent, which makes it a lot easier for them to advance. Others are blessed with one or the other, for example Viktor Korchnoi is someone I’d say was a very talented tactician whereas Mark Taimanov was more gifted as a strategist, and I have noticed that strategic talent seems to go with musical ability.

Overall I’d say that talented tacticians find it easier to start out in chess, mainly because tactics and blunders dominate at lower levels. But as you move up the rating scale strategy becomes increasingly important.

Here anyway is a nice game by Mark Taimanov in which he beat the then reigning World Champion, Anatoly Karpov. There’s a nice combination at the end which shows that strategy alone is not enough:

Nigel Davies

Using Chess Strategies in Real Life

It’s quite interesting to see how many chess people are high achievers in real life. Do they use chess strategies to do this? Probably they do, at least in a way.

I would say that when Angela Eagle (at one time a keen chess player) recently challenged for the Labour Party leadership it was good example of an attack on a weakened monarch. There are a number of leading lawyers who have chess as their hobby and law seems to have much in common with chess in that it is an adversarial battle of intellect played according to a set of rules. Also traders of financial markets also seem well represented by chess players.

Of course there are many chess players who just play chess and are not in the least bit interested in other fields. Here’s a prime example, the late great Bobby Fischer before he lost his marbles. But even then it was all about the chess:

Nigel Davies

Cheer For The English

I thought today’s column should offer some cheer for the English after recent events. Sadly the game below is not against an Icelandic player but it does feature an English Opening played by English GM Jon Speelman. And it’s even a win!

Nigel Davies