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!
My son Sam turns 14 today so I thought I’d devote today’s post to him and our ‘chess project’, which is a little more than 6 years old. I taught him the moves in March 2010 and he’s now well established in the tournament circuit. His new ECF grade will be around 146-147 (around 1800 Elo) and he’s probably a bit stronger than that already.
There are of course many kids who are ahead of him but I’m very proud of the way Sam is doing. He’s not one of those kids who are brilliant academically and succeed at chess (to a certain level) in passing. Instead it’s been a tough journey with a lot of hard knocks. Yet every time he’s had a setback Sam has bounced back to become a better player, which shows the sort of character and mental toughness that will help him in everything he does.
Many people have been curious about his progress and the kind of regimen we follow. From a chess perspective it’s essentially a bespoke version of my Tiger Chess syllabus which has a strong focus on core skills. The main differences with the way most juniors are taught are that he does not waste time on tricky, tactical openings and there are strong strategy and endgame components. He plays regularly in tournaments but never plays in junior events. So almost all his games are against experienced adult players.
He does quite a bit of work on chess but we go for quality over quantity. We probably do around 5-6 hours a week together when he’s got school, 9-10 when he’s on holiday. In addition to this he does an hour or two of tactical work per week on Chessity and goes through some of my Tiger Chess videos in some of his openings. He doesn’t play internet blitz but plays quite a few blitz games against me, almost always in selected openings.
What does the future hold? Well if he keeps up his current work rate he should be in Open tournaments next year and be around IM level in his late teens. Since taking up chess he’s grown in confidence, done a lot better at school and has a lot of friends and acquaintances at tournaments. So I’d say it’s going very well.
Continuing my Brexit themed journey down memory lane, here’s the second game from the European Team Championship in Skara 1980. Raymond Keene is playing Black against Harry Schussler and brings off a nice win with the unusual 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 d6 3.Nc3 Bf5!?.
Schussler must have missed Black’s stunning 13th move which basically just wins on the spot. But he fights on bravely for another 37 moves:
Viktor Korchnoi, who died yesterday, was one of my chess heroes. Meeting him over the board was one of my most memorable chess experiences, and Viktor was very nice to me in the post mortem telling me how I did better than Leonid Stein with whom he played a similar game in 1962. He was of course critical of 19.a3?, I should have played 19.Qd2.
There will be better eulogies than anything I can provide. So all I’ll say is that it was a privilege to meet him.
Something the chess books never mention is the importance of the right attitude to the game. And the most important quality I know of is the ability to respond to failure in a productive way.
The easiest way is to relegate the importance of the game so that a disappointment is deemed to have little value. This may avoid short term pain but it also avoids invaluable lessons that may be held therein. Someone who does this can be in danger of carrying their ‘pain avoidance’ over to other aspects of their lives, most commonly blaming others for everything bad that has ever happened to them.
A better way is to accept that things went wrong and then look for possible causes and ways to do better next time. This can demand a level of self honesty that is not required in normal life and it certainly isn’t easy. But therein lies the road to progress and self improvement.
This is why chess can be an invaluable tool in one’s personal development and why it is so good for kids to learn. But don’t make excuses, don’t withdraw from tournaments and never, ever give up.
In the run up to the crucial Brexit vote next month I thought I’d show some games by the England team from the European Team Championships in Skara, 1980. England won bronze amidst powerful opposition including the Soviet Union and Hungary, and they did it in remarkable style.
Here is the most famous game from the England – USSR match, Tony Miles’ remarkable win against the then World Champion using 1…a6. Was Karpov insulted by this move? I’m sure he was.
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:
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.
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:
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.