Players often start out their careers by playing really sharp openings but switch to more solid lines over time. There are good reasons for this, not least of which is the improved positional understanding borne of experience. Once that’s in place the need for memory diminishes.
A lot of players give the sharp Gruenfeld Defence (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5) up, almost certainly because of the level of maintenance required. And I noticed the other day that Lubomir Ftacnik seems to be among them, turning to the ultra solid Queen’s Gambit Declined.
This is actually a very good choice as understanding is far more important than a knowledge of variations. And in the following game he comprehensively outplays Gennady Timocenko.
After a recent burst of tournament activity it looks like I’m going to be back on the bench again, at least until my son gets used to long play tournaments and will be OK waiting around should he finish well before me. I haven’t retired and have no plans to ever do so, it’s just difficult to get to play.
This got me thinking about English GMs who have most definitely seem to have packed in playing; John Nunn, Michael Stean, Raymond Keene, Julian Hodgson, William Watson, James Howell and Darshan Kumaran. That’s quite a lot when you consider that there’s only 36 in total.
One of the first to leave was Michael Stean who quit chess at 29 years of age and went on to pursue a successful career in accountancy. Here’s his brilliant victory over Walter Browne that won the Turover prize for being the best game of the 1974 Olympiad:
With Vishwanathan Anand having qualified for a rematch for the World Championship, not many people think he has much of a chance. I am one of few who disagree, but I think he needs to do things very differently this time round.
First of all let’s think about what happened last time. He went straight into Magnus Carlsen’s strength of endgame play and beat his head against the Berlin Defence to the Spanish (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6). He looked tired and worried throughout, perhaps partly because he was playing in front of a home crowd as the defending champion. The pressure was on.
This time he’s going in as the challenger and the underdog. That means the pressure should be off him and firmly on Carlsen. Carlsen also seems confident, very confident in fact. And that makes him vulnerable…
So how can Anand win? Well the biggest factor may be that Carlsen is weak in the opening. Since he became World Champion a lot of people have started to believe that this doesn’t matter. But it does, even if it might have been overrated in the past.
To exploit this Anand needs to shift the emphasis of the struggle to this part of the game, choosing the sharpest lines and avoiding premature simplification (just to be 100% clear that means avoiding the Berlin endgames). If his seconds still think they need to win Berlin endgames he could do with a different team. They may be nice guys to eat dinner with but that won’t help him win. He needs to keep some ideas men in the back room (possibly in a different town), players like Igor Zaitsev or Yasha Murei, but younger versions. And then he needs someone who’s good at linking lots of computers together so they generate MASSIVE computing power. Then you get the ideas men to feed their concepts into the supercomputer and see how bad they are. Even if they’re bad this kind of prep could be deeply disturbing to Carlsen. He’ll find himself frequently conceding the advantage in order to ‘avoid preparation’, and this could be just the kind of edge that Anand needs.
Short matches should, in theory, be better for the underdog and the older player, but in any case Vishy should be practicing his yoga. Maybe he should also look at stepping things up a level so that he can control his nerves whilst having his brain fire on all cylinders. If he doesn’t have a really good yoga teacher he should get one. As with tai chi and qigong teachers, they’re really not expensive.
What about the venue? Well if Norway offers to host the match then Vishy should ACCEPT. Plus he might think of getting a log cabin there to train in, this Rocky IV vid shows the way:
So Vishy, that’s how to do it. And if you succeed using my suggestions you know where to send the cheque!
Unusually for me I’ve been taking a look at some of the games from the Candidates Tournament with the official web site being here. There’s certainly been plenty of fighting and original chess, the following game quickly leaving the beaten track early on (11.f4 looks like over the board inspiration). Shakhriyar Mamedyarov must have missed 14.Nde4 as that wins his queen for inadequate compensation:
In the following Youtube video Magnus Carlsen offers some nice insights and seemed to be enjoying watching the scrap to get to face him.
In an effort to get my son to combine reading practice with some chess, I recently started looking round for instructive chess books that don’t need a set. There are plenty of books with chess problems and no text and quite a few written about the game but without any meaningful chess content. Could I find some which combined the two aspects?
I did find some, but not that many. In fact only one that was really suitable. Bruce Pandolfini’sWeapons of Chess got the gold medal as it explained a lot of concepts and ideas just with diagrams and text. And a copy should be with me by the time you read this.
What about the others? Well new contributor Steve Giddins wrote quite a good one with his 101 Chess Endgame Tips, though you’d need to be a very strong player to get through some of the endgames ‘blindfold’. There are some old books that are suitable too, such as Fischer-Spassky Move by Move by Larry Evans and Ken Smith, which has a comment and a diagram after every move. But there really aren’t that many when you look at the total number of chess books that have been published.
This strikes me as being strange as it’s hard work to get a set out and follow the moves in a book like that. Most amateur players have little stomach for using their leisure time like this and would much prefer to skim through something and ignore the chess content. And this won’t do their chess much good.
What may eventually happen is that chess books will be replaced by software and e-books, but perhaps not quite yet. Whilst many e-books are very good, and take full advantage of the new media, there are others, such as some kindle offerings, which do not. Putting a conventional chess book into kindle format, without adding extra diagrams, will make things a lot harder for the reader rather than easier because books printed on paper are more robust and easier to handle. Of course they could have put a diagram after every move in kindle versions, but then that would have added to the production costs in an attempt to exploit an uncertain market.
So meanwhile I’m still in the market for printed books that don’t need a set. And if anyone knows of one then please leave a message under this post at the Facebook page for The Chess Improver.
When talented kids go on to succeed it always seems like it was bound to happen, and most great players showed considerable early promise. Accordingly it seems natural to assume that adult success will inevitably follow early successes, yet this doesn’t seem to be the case.
Many top juniors actually give up the game or fail to follow through. All we see are the winners and not the original line up.
In fact I think that childhood ability may actually serve to sabotage adult success in a number of subtle ways. First of all it sets up very high expectations that will turn into frustration if progress slows down or stops. Early success is also unlikely to foster the kind of rigorous self analysis that tends to be needed as you get to higher levels. Bad habits are likely to persist rather than get eradicated.
How can prodigies stand a better chance of success? Here are a few suggestions:
Avoid the press like the plague.
Give them the opportunity to get crushed by someone stronger rather than score hollow victories.
Foster an attitude of continual self-improvement.
Avoid stroking their young egos.
Try to get them help in developing a balanced and mature chess style.
Prepare them for disappointment.
Here’s a Youtube video about how child stars can be horribly affected by a surreal early environment. And whilst early chess success is hardly going to have the same effect I think it serves to show some of the dangers:
There’s been a lot of talk about Hikaru Nakamura’s missed win against Magnus Carlsen at the recent Zurich tournament. It does look as if 37.Qf1 would have been strong and here’s a video of the game:
Of course it’s all too easy to find such moves in these days of high powered engines. It’s also tempting to blow this lost opportunity out of proportion, especially given Carlsen’s status in the chess World. Missing wins is actually rather normal, especially in such complex games.
What we can say is that generally speaking stronger players will miss fewer such opportunities, and Carlsen turned things around with icy efficiency once he was let off the hook. He’s also set up his own Youtube channel that you can find here; there’s not much up there at the moment but I guess it’s coming. Will there be some chess? One would certainly hope so!
What should you play if you have very little time to study? One answer is to adopt the Colle System which acquired the name Businessman’s Opening as it requires very little time to learn and maintain. White plays 1.d4 followed by 2.Nf3 and 3.e3 almost regardless of how his opponent answers.
There are two different flavors of Businessman’s Opening, the Koltanowski treatment with c3, Nbd2 and Bd3 and the Zukertort treatment with Bd3, b3 and Bb2. Which is better? Well it depends what Black does. And against certain Black set-ups it might be better not to play the Colle System at all.
Here are a couple of Youtube videos which give an idea about how to play this opening. There are also other resources such as the DVD I did for Chessbase.
An interesting tendency during the last couple of decades has been an increasing prevalence of very sharp and direct openings. Instead of King’s Indians we are getting a lot of Slavs, and openings such as the Ruy Lopez have been replaced by the Scotch.
I suspect this is largely connected to the rise of chess engines as a study tool. Most modern players will be making use of an engine when they analyze which in turn will nudge them towards position in which engines excel. This means direct openings in which sharp play is possible in the very early moves.
Among the latest openings to find favor with the 2700 club is the ancient Budapest Gambit with 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5, which recently claimed a noteworthy victim in the game Gelfand – Rapport. Here’s a nice video explaining what happened:
Could this have started a fashion? Well maybe, because the following game was played shortly thereafter. But White can get a small advantage with 3.dxe5 Ng4 4.e3, intending to put his king’s knight on h3. And if he’s really worried about the Budapest there’s always 2.Nf3!
At club level a very popular approach is to set up a particular formation regardless of what the opponent plays. A triangle of pawns on e3, d4 and c3 is one example, and White might also put a pawn on f4 to produce a Stonewall Attack. The fact that this can also be used as Black against 1.d4 and Flank Openings is often seen as a bonus because there’s less to learn. But there are also dark sides.
The main issue is that a variety of formations are needed to cultivate one’s positional understanding, without this players stagnate. There’s also a practical case for not being too predictable; if someone knows what set-up you’re going to adopt he can lay out his own forces so that they adapt.
Here’s a stonewall formation getting taken apart by the then youthful Vlastimil Hort with White never really getting much play. It’s not that White is lost out of the opening, and I’m sure that improvements can be found. It’s just that it’s a serious handicap, which you can well do without when facing powerful opposition.