Category Archives: Nigel Davies

Studying Old Games (Part 2)

Continuing my review of some older games, here’s one that I consider to be very instructive, a strategic masterpiece by Akiba Rubinstein. The blockade of the hanging pawns was straightforward enough, but what I found remarkable was the way in which Rubinstein consolidated his position before trying to convert his advantage. Moves like 16.Rf2 and 19.Bf1 look slow if not pointless, but they are a key part of White rendering his position invulnerable to a sudden counterattack.

With White’s king position thoroughly secured Rubinstein resumes his siege of Black’s weak pawns on the queenside. The culmination is the tactical win of a pawn with 27.Rxc6, but after this we get further consolidation with 29.Qc5 and 30.Kf2.

It’s the quiet moves that should be studied here because Anatoly Karpov only learned to play like this more than sixty years later.

Nigel Davies

Studying Old Games (Part 1)

People sometimes ask if studying old games can help them. There are different views on the matter, mine is a qualified ‘yes’. There are many games from the past with a very high instructional value whilst others may not teach much at all.

Over coming days and weeks I’ll be posting some games which I think are very useful. Here’s the first, a classic example of a Queen’s Indian with White having doubled c-pawns and Black managing to launch a thematic attack on White’s king with a pawn storm. As for the finish it’s a real beauty:

Nigel Davies

The Obsession Talent

Being obsessive, especially if it goes with being compulsive too, is often seen as disorder. But for chess it’s actually a wonderful gift that enables people to put in the required amount of practice to make progress with the game. The often quoted figure of 10,000 hours time investment just isn’t going to happen with ‘normal’ people as their study time will be interrupted with checking text messages, phoning people up, making cups of tea and eating biscuits.

Being an obsessive person myself I’ve never had a problem with silly distractions. But what should someone do if they don’t have this talent? An internet search came up blank, but then I had the bright idea to simply reverse guidelines against obsessive tendencies. I found an article here and suggest adapting it as follows:

1) Focus on chess mastery and resolve to dismiss distractions.

2) Keep your mind on the board and the moves.

3) Read chess books, nothing else.

4) Understand that chit chat and socialization are a waste of time.

5) Eat simply and order in pizza rather than cook.

6) Accept chess as your lord and master.

7) Seek out practice partners who share your chess obsession, they can function as a ‘social outlet’ without getting distracted.

8) Exercise at home with a chess DVD running at the same time.

9) Only consider activities that will help develop your chess.

10) Don’t do anything for others, focus on your own needs.

11) Avoid wasting time on other activities.

So there you have it, an excellent template for making progress with chess. And if you can’t hack it then just accept staying weak, being the club secretary or something and losing to those with more focus and determination. Obsession isn’t a problem, it’s a talent!

Nigel Davies

The Automaton

A precursor of the chess computer was the chess automaton. The best known of these was The Turk, a fake chess playing machine that had a human chess master hiding inside. This device had quite a colorful history, defeating Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin during it’s active playing period of 84 years.

These days there’s no need for fakes, which seems sad in a way. No deception, no employment for diminutive chess masters and no awed spectators. Just a highly sophisticated machine wiping the floor with its human opponents.

On the subject of sadness and chess automatons I came across some music entitled Laments of a Chess Automaton. Actually I rather like it:

Nigel Davies

Castling On Opposite Sides

Positions in which the kings are castled on opposite sides often feature a violent race of attacks. Alexander Kotov wrote a chapter on this subject in the book he wrote together with Paul Keres, The Art of the Middle Game. He described how he used to practice playing such positions as a boy and later formulated a series of rules. One of them was that success in such attacks usually goes to the player who manages to force his opponent on the defensive.

Here’s a nice example of opposite side castling from the Baku Olympiad. Mato Jelic provides some great commentary and his other Youtube videos are worth checking out:

Nigel Davies

Art Over Elo

It’s been nice to see how entertaining some of the Olympiad games have been which once again provides an argument for staging mixed strength tournaments like we used to do a few decades ago. Having a group of players with high Elo ratings trudge around in a Berlin is NOT entertaining, even if these games are then shown online with expert commentary/computer assessments and every Tom, Dick and Harry commenting on the live feed.

By contrast here’s a great game by English GM Gawain Jones in which he plays a King’s Indian Defence and sacrifices his queen. Garry Kasparov used to do this kind of thing when he was playing and I’m sure that people miss seeing this kind of chess. But the first problem is that Jones is rated just 2635, at least a hundred points lower than he needs for the best tournaments. And his opponent was a lowly 2448.

Nigel Davies

Process Goals Vs Outcome Goals

Setting goals is a vital part of the improvement process but what should they by? The key is to set process goals rather than outcome goals, which is nicely explained here:

What are some good process goals for chess? Reading particular books, learning particular openings and solving a certain number of tactical puzzles every day certain qualify. On the other hand goals such as winning a particular tournament or championship do not as their aim depends on things such as competition.

Nigel Davies

Winning Equal Positions

In these days of very serious opening analysis and theory going well into the middle game in many lines, people often forget the importance of core skills or don’t have time to practice them. Tactical vision is of course absolutely essential, as most people realize. But endgame skill is often underestimated or even overlooked altogether. Who needs openings if they can win equal positions against the World’s top players.

Here’s Magnus Carlsen providing an object lesson in this art, winning a more or less equal endgame position against Teimour Radjabov. The commentator is the ever lucid and calm Jan Gustafsson:

Nigel Davies

Fixing What Ain’t Broke

There are two schools of thought with regard to making changes to openings. Most people believe that you should stick to what’s working whilst a rare few like to move on and explore new avenues.

I like to think that I belong to the second group, at least in theory, and there are good reasons why. In the early days of playing an opening it’s all very new and exciting, not least because you are learning how the thing works. But after a while its secrets can get exhausted and you start to play the line on autopilot. This in turn can lead to your entire game becoming stale and tired.

There’s another reason too, especially in these days of databases and engines. If it becomes known that you play in a particular way there’s a good chance that your opponents will prepare for you, and with engine power being what it is that can spell serious trouble. See yourself as a wildebeest looking to visit the watering hole; crocodiles have a good memory so it’s best to avoid going to exactly the same location.

A great master of opening variety and surprise was the late Danish Grandmaster Bent Larsen. In the following game he grinds down Boris Spassky in a Bird’s Opening which led Boris Ivkov to spend a lot of time preparing against the Bird when he was due to play Larsen in a match. The Bird never reappeared so Ivkov, rather than have his heard work wasted, decided to play it himself!

Nigel Davies