Category Archives: Nigel Davies

How To Play a Key Game

There was a good lesson in the last round of the Candidates tournament on how to play a key game. Going into the last round Sergey Karjakin and Fabiana Caruana were in the joint lead and crucially were also playing each other. A draw between them would mean that Karjakin would qualify for a match against Magnus Carlsen because of a superior tie-break, but only if they weren’t also joined by Vishwanathan Anand who was playing Black against Peter Svidler. If Anand were to win this would boost Caruana’s tie break after which he would qualify instead.

In this situation many players might pull their punches and try to play it safe, but not Karjakin. Following the advice of Nicolai Krogius in his book Psychology in Chess, Karjakin just played a normal game. And he went on to win with a nice combination and has earned the right to play Carlsen in New York in November.

Here’s a Youtube presentation of the game:

Nigel Davies

Anatomy of an Upset

Understanding how upsets occur can help bring them off in your own games. They don’t come about in the way that most people think, for example trying a quick attack is unlikely to work.

The most valuable weapon an underdog has at his disposal is in fact frustration. If a higher rated player is having trouble beating you the chance of an error increases massively.

Here’s a case of this from the recent Blackpool congress in which GM Mark Hebden would have desperately wanted to win. So desperately in fact that he blunders with 47.Ke7?? after which 47…h4 48.Be6 b5 as White can’t cope with the passed pawns on both sides.

Instead 47.Bc4 doesn’t have this problem as 47…h4 48.Bf1 b5 49.Bxb5 h3 50.Bf1 h2 51.Bg2 still stops the pawn. And other moves such as 47.Bc6 and 47.Kf7 also draw.

Nigel Davies

No Berlin!

It was nice to see that after two games in the Women’s World Championship there have been two open games (1.e4 e5) but no Berlin endgame (2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8). This makes a thoroughly refreshing change as the top males are forever wheeling this line out in top level encounters.

What do I have against the Berlin? For the specialist there are a number of interesting strategic issues, especially in how White tries to advance his kingside pawns without a light square bishop and with his pawn on e5 (rather than e4). But for the general public it’s like watching paint dry.

Anyway, he’s a video of the second game which was won in fine style by Hou Yifan:

Nigel Davies

Zurich Chess Challenge

Although I’m not a big fan of blitz for those who want to improve because the clock is so much more important than the moves. On the other hand Grandmaster blitz tournaments can be entertaining and instructive.

The recent Zurich Chess Challenge adopted a superior incremental time limit of 4 minutes plus 2 seconds per move which means that there’s always a couple of seconds to make a move. It means that the clock has a marginally reduced influence.

Nigel Davies

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

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

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

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

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