Category Archives: Nigel Davies

The Comeback Trail, Part 18

It’s all very well to have good ideas on the drawing board, in practice they might not work. History is littered with great theories and good intentions which ended up backfiring horribly.

Chess is like that too. We might have the idea to learn a really ‘good’ defence against 1.e4, such as the Sicilian Najdorf, only to find that the learning and upkeep required is simply impractical.

How should we combat this tendency? Essentially by listening carefully to the feedback we get from implementing our ideas in practice. Are they working as expected? What were the problems and/or concerns that arose? Making notes can be very useful in this regard, for example by keeping a tournament diary.

Experience has taught me to be very wary about making big chess improvement plans, preferring instead to feel my way and listen carefully to the feedback I’m getting. There have been times where I kept a tournament diary, and the learning experience proved to be invaluable.

One thing that kept coming up was basic opening preparation, having a game plan against the various things my opponents could throw at me. The answers didn’t need to be the best and sharpest available, it was simply a question of getting a playable middle game position.

Did I go home and do the necessary repairs? Sometimes, but not always. And the problem was in getting distracted by some more grand plans.

Nigel Davies

The Comeback Trail, Part 17

Thus far my comeback has gone better than expected. I have finished first (either jointly or on my own) in all three tournaments I have played in despite taking a half point bye in the first round of each of them. Out of the 12 games played there have been 10 wins and 2 draws with a rating performance that is around my previous peak in the mid 1990s.

Why does it seem to be going OK? For one thing I’ve been doing chess for around 20 hours a week despite not playing, either working with students or preparing material for Tiger Chess. When you teach something you learn a lot in the process, and during this time I’ve become much better at endgames and certain position types.

It’s harder of course if you do relatively little on chess, which I suspect has been the case with Garry Kasparov. He’s still a tremendous player but his other interests seem to have distracted him. And as recent events have shown he is not as good as he used to be:

Nigel Davies

Beating a Grandmaster

I came across this game recently and thought it worth publishing. It features a young Christer Hartman (who went on to become an International Master) beating a well known Grandmaster with a queen sacrifice.

The opening did not go well for Hartman, who lost a pawn to 10.Bxh7+. But the opposite colour bishops gave him some attacking chances on the kingside, and he cleverly set up the ingenious 21…Qxg2+.

Benko obviously missed this shot, as had he chosen 21.Nfd5 he would still have been well on top:

Nigel Davies

Chess Bans

As The Chess Improver prides itself as being on the side of individual freedom, I though it worth taking a look at where chess and chess players have been banned by various authorities. Bill Wall produced a good list of chess bans here and there’s another good one here.

One of the most disturbing features of both lists is the high number of recent cases. Many of the bans have been religious in origin, others for political reasons. Typically these are examples of authorities dishing out penalties, presumably for some perceived ‘good of the collective’, or perhaps no reason at all. The cynic might think that such actions originate in the drive towards authoritarianism with ever more regulation and ever more punishment.

What neither list covers is the effective ban of strong players from certain tournaments, there is simply no section for them to play in with the ones that are available being rating restricted. I do wonder about the message this sends out, that if someone becomes too good at the game they are simply not welcome. Of course it is unlikely that it was intended this way, many events find that the top sections attract fewer participants and yet higher prizes are expected.

In any case I think it is worth balancing such budgeting concerns against the idea that chess itself is a profound expression of personal responsibility and individual striving. You get what you deserve with chess, it is hard to make excuses and the nobility of the game lies in our efforts to improve and do a bit better next time. Penalizing strong players can be seen as being in direct opposition to these ideals, which creates the possibility that such actions may diminish or even destroy the game itself.

Nigel Davies

Better Health For Better Chess

Regular exercise is known to help the mind. For some reason a rating improvement can motivate people far more than longevity, though several UK Grandmasters have recently expressed an interest in exercise and veggies in order to outlive colleague(s)!

Aerobic exercise seems to be to the main type for brain benefits. Rather than join a gym I’ve found that having an exercise bike at home saves time and money. Some people may find things like riding an exercise bike rather boring, in which case they could take up some sport with aerobic benefits. My son Sam and I have been playing a lot of table tennis of late, which is both fun and very healthy.

The incidental effect aerobic exercise has of stress relief can be tackled more directly by breathing exercises, yoga, tai chi and meditation. I’ve been practicing tai chi for around a decade now and it really has helped a lot in terms of relaxation and stress relief.

On the other hand it does not really get the heart beating. So probably the way to go is to practice both an aerobic and a meditative type, for example running plus yoga or table tennis plus tai chi.

Nigel Davies

The Positive Side of Online Cheating

There is software around which is specifically designed to help certain individuals use engines when they play chess online. This is enough to put honest players off online competition, and I can understand why.

I don’t believe it will ultimately be stopped by cheating detection, I know of several people who have been accused of using engines in their online games when I am quite sure that they did not do so. Equally I’m quite sure that subtle use of engines is possible and that it will get below whatever radar is in use.

At the same time there is a positive side to playing people who cheat, we get stronger opponents. Obviously we don’t want to treat such games as ‘fair competition’, but for training purposes they are excellent. There’s not much point playing some dummy who makes elementary mistakes, it’s much better that they are engine guided. It’s true that the person employing the engine will get zero benefit from these games but then that’s not our problem. They get an ego massage by getting their ratings up (and it seems that some can overlook the fact that it wasn’t their own doing), we get better training games.

Of course we might not want our true identities to be known when losing to these cheats, which is why it’s best to play under a pseudonym. But if we do this the cheats can only help us improve.

Nigel Davies

The Comeback Trail, Part 16

With the amount of opening theory around these days it’s tempting to look for short cuts. This certainly explains the popularity of unusual openings, but often they are unusual for a reason. Isn’t there a better way to reduce the amount of study time needed?

Besides playing openings that lead to solid middle game positions there’s another approach worth considering; prepare opening lines together with your chess friends. This kind of team work can pay great dividends, you can motivate each other to study and play training games in the line(s) selected. In addition you can share research and search for resources jointly rather than on your own. It makes a lot of sense on many different levels.

Why don’t more people do this? A lot of players want their opening repertoire to be private and perhaps even secret. They might see the involvement of other people in this process as a potential security leak. But if you play good openings and trust your chess friends, these fears should be baseless.

I’ve come across a few cases of such joint preparation being very successful. One of these was at a club I once played for, Berlin Zehlendorf. Several members specialized in the Four Pawns Attack against the King’s Indian, and they all did well with it.

The strongest Four Pawns exponent at Zehlendorf was Wolfgang Riedel; here he is in action with his favourite weapon:

Nigel Davies

The Comeback Trail, Part 15

Although my first tournaments back were fairly successful (first place in the Rhyl and South Lakes Open sections) I was back as a spectator for the Heywood Congress. I’m going through a busy patch with non chess commitments that started just after the South Lakes event. It’s good to sense if you are taking too much on and this was one of those moments.

It’s also good to look for flaws in your play, even if you have been doing well. The weaknesses are certainly there as I had not had time to do any serious preparation, relying instead on improvisation. This can be OK up to a certain level but there’s a point at which it becomes a serious problem. Against well prepared professional players you will certainly get outgunned in the early stages, struggling to get a decent game as Black and having them equalize easily when you are White. And this is compounded if your games end up on databases so that people can study them with the help of modern technology.

I’ll be out of action in July as well but should soon get time to start working on my game. A break isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s better to plan than to charge ahead out of compulsion.

Nigel Davies