Winning a won game is one of the trickiest aspects of chess. In addition to the regular difficulties in combining tactics and strategy, there are great psychological pressures to contend with. For some it’s an internalized parent telling them not to mess it up, others will become careless and wonder when their opponents will resign. Very few players play as well when they recognize they should win with best play.
In the November 2014 Tiger Chess Clinic (available to Full Members only) I take a look at various qualities which can help the process, perhaps the most important of which is endgame skill. The top players certainly have this in spades which is one of the reasons they rarely mess things up.
Here’s Magnus Carlsen at work in the London Chess Classic from a couple of years ago. It looked at first as if it should be a draw, but little by little things slip away for White:
Here meanwhile is some more about the Tiger Chess Clinic:
With White having won the only game with the dreaded Berlin Defence (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6) in the Carlsen – Anand match (and surprisingly Magnus Carlsen was White in this one) it could be that we’ll be seeing 1.e4, and the Ruy Lopez, making a comeback. If this happens then I’d recommend something a bit livelier for Black than clomping around in a Berlin endgame, that arises after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0-0 (Carlsen played 4.d3) 4…Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8. Yawn.
A much livelier alternative is the Moller Defence, which goes 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Bc5. Black develops his pieces on natural squares and has excellent chances to take the initiative in the middle game.
I did a video on the Moller in the 1990s. It was the one I did the most research for, finding some obscure games and analysis of Alexander Alekhine (a Moller exponent in his day) and then taking his conclusions a step further by supplementing them with modern games.
The Moller video is now at my Tiger Chess site, together with a pgn download to make it easier to learn. Here’s a video about how you can learn the Moller in a very effective way:
With Magnus Carlsen having played the Gruenfeld in the first game of the World Championship I guess that a few people may want to follow in his footsteps. How should they go about doing this? Well what they shouldn’t do is buy the biggest and best reviewed book on this opening, it’s just too much to take in. Instead you need to build things up step by step.
At my Tiger Chess site I explain how club level players should go about this with the following Youtube video explaining a bit more about the approach I recommend:
Many players are put off from learning a defence like the Sicilian Najdorf (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6) because of its reputation for being highly theoretical. This is true, but only if you play the sharpest lines at the highest level. At club level the Najdorf can be played with very little knowledge, especially if someone steers clear of the most fashionable lines.
These were my thoughts when I made my Foxy Openings DVD on the Najdorf back in the 1990s. I avoided the most fashionable lines and found that there was relatively little that Black needed to know. And I wasn’t surprised that it hadn’t dated much when I reviewed the material for publication at Tiger Chess.
There was one line that needed some attention, 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Bd7 8.f5!?. This became known as a dangerous try after my initial recordings, but putting it under the microscope it didn’t look that scary and I filmed an extra clip showing how Black should deal with it. So my Najdorf recording is back in business and represents an excellent way for people to get on board this opening.
Here anyway is some more about the Najdorf recording and Tiger Chess:
A vital part of chess skill is a subconscious understanding of ‘micro-patterns’ that jump out at you whenever they arise. There are many such patterns in chess, with strong players quickly realizing things such as the position of rooks relative to passed pawns (usually they should be behind them!).
In the following game I’d like to point out one tiny pattern, that a White knight sitting on b3 behind a Black pawn on b4. This may not look like much at first, but the knight is a tower of strength on that square, being immune from attack along the file. Eventually it captures Black’s pawn on a5 before heading over to the kingside via c6. An Alekhine wins in crushing style.
This pattern is one of the things I discuss in the first of my monthly Tiger Chess clinics which Full Members can access here. It occurred in two of my students’ games, and from entirely different openings. This in turn shows how pattern recognition in chess goes beyond knowing that you have to do X, Y and Z in a particular opening and how strong players are able to orient themselves in lines that they’ve never played before.
One of my top recommendations for Black against 1.e4 is the Caro-Kann Defence. Not only is it solid, it also fosters good positional understanding by virtue of the nice variety of pawn structures and concepts it contains.
It’s no accident that the Caro-Kann has been played by many of the greatest positional players in history; Aaron Nimzowitsch, Jose Raul Capablanca, Mikhail Botvinnik, Vassily Smyslov, Tigran Petrosian and Anatoly Karpov. All these players would have been attracted by its inherent qualities and it can also help foster them.
Here’s a crushing win with the Caro-Kann by Anatoly Karpov over Nigel Short, Karpov effectively reducing his opponent to utter helplessness:
How should someone learn the Caro-Kann? I offer what I think is a good approach at my Tiger Chess site as explained in the following video:
Openings are the bane of many club players’ lives, a source of never ending confusion and frustration. Which openings should they play and how should they play them? In desperation another book or DVD is bought only for it to be discarded after a few days. Having worked with hundreds of club players I know the issues well and where the misunderstandings come from.
The first problem is that openings need to have a STRATEGIC CONTEXT, which is something that most of the GM and IM authors take for granted. If you don’t understand the strategic themes behind an opening there are no hooks on which to hang the individual moves, so learning it becomes well nigh impossible.
The second problem is that the openings chosen, or the variations within them, are usually way too complicated. This is not the fault of club players or even authors who seem to relish giving critical and highly theoretical lines. The issue is in KNOWING THE RIGHT LEARNING PROGRESSION; as with everything, you need to start simple. Complex material can have its place but it should come later.
The third problem is that most people seem to want to be told what to do rather than figure it out for themselves, and this is not the way to be an expert in something. So we need to cultivate an attitude of being innovators rather than followers, which in turn can have a great impact on the sources we choose to study from.
As nobody seems to be addressing these issues I recently put up three lessons at my Tiger Chess site which explain the process, How to Learn an Opening, Opening Training Software and Doing Your Own Research. You need to be have Full or Video Membership, and logged on to access them, but I believe they these insights will save people a huge amount of time and frustration.
Here’s some rare footage of Alexander Alekhine. Needless to say modern research contradicts two of Alekhine’s main claims and has shown that the main factor in mastery in hard work and that memory is actually very important! Of course it is better to be thought of as a genius!
Here’s some rare footage of Bobby Fischer demonstrating a Morphy game. Actually I think he did a nice job:
Although published ten years ago and is actually about squash, this article reveals many of the qualities required to succeed in any field.
In the mid-Sixties, in a sport where his peers could be both cavalier and rotund yet still successful, his attitude caused its own revolution. ‘I won through fitness rather than through talent,’ he says, and this stemmed from an unprecedented training schedule and his infallible application to the cause. In 1966, after winning his first British Open championship, he did some press- ups and then, as the champagne was passed round, discussed his plans for Christmas training runs along his home cliffs of Morwenstow in Cornwall.
Such dedication fired an unquenchable desire to win. Michael Corby, for many years No 2 to him in Britain, remembers how Barrington cried after defeat in the quarter-finals of the world championship in Australia in 1967. ‘He cried because he cared so much,’ Corby said. ‘I used to say to him that of life’s many facets, he only had one and he should lighten up. But who is to say that I was right?’
Squash players seem to be exceptional role models in this regard, getting to know Victor Niederhoffer was helpful in learning that my own single mindedness and determination could actually be perceived as qualities. All too often you meet the attitude that it’s better to ‘have fun’ with an activity or be ‘well balanced’, which subtly implies that the pursuit of mastery of a field shows you are in some way defective!
My take on this is that normally people lack the motivation to do what it takes to succeed whilst at the same time wanting to be really good at something. Unfortunately the two don’t go together.