Category Archives: Nigel Davies

What’s in a Number?

The new ECF grades came out this week which would have had a lot of UK players in the UK checking their latest number. Of what significance are they? Well they do give a fairly good indication of playing strength and you can see whether you are improving or not. A larger number of games will give a more accurate figure, a smaller number is less reliable.

My own grade came out at 247, up from 240. It was based on just 12 games so I don’t think it will be very reliable, though it does perhaps indicate that I did not completely go to seed during my long layoff from competitive chess. My son Sam stayed about the same, his standard grade going down slightly (153 from 157) and his rapid grade going up (147 from 144). I think he reached a bit of a plateau after moving up steadily from his first rapid play grade of 33 in 2012. I figure he’ll be moving up again before too long.

These long term trends, over a large number of games, are what best indicates where someone is heading. Many older players suffer a slow, long term decline, though not all. Checking players over 70 for ‘standard improvement’ shows that it is never too late to get better. It was good to see a Tiger Chess member occupying one of the top places on this metric.

Of course grades can be taken a bit too seriously and can become something of a distraction. So I would recommend not thinking about them until a list comes out, and even then take a very long term view. Things like moving house, a change of job or trouble at home can play havoc with someone’s playing strength. But these issues eventually come to an end leaving the big picture as what really matters.

Nigel Davies

Never Say Die!

Magnus Carlsen’s round 8 game from the Tata Steel tournament in Wijk aan Zee was a good example of not giving up. He blundered a piece away in the opening but fought on and eventually won. Here’s an interview with him after the game.

As for the entire round, here it is with expert commentary. Coverage of the Carlsen game can be found within..

Nigel Davies


With New Year approaching, many of us will be making resolutions. Some of these will concern chess improvement, so how should these be formulated.

If someone wants to become good at something, the key is to establish productive habits that can be continued over a long period of time. Any resolutions will need to reflect this so they should not involve an unmanageable schedule. Decide how much time you can reasonably spend on chess and when this will be done. Is a commute a good opportunity to work on your game? Or perhaps getting up earlier?

Once a time slot has been established, how should it be used? Personally I’m a firm believer in fundamentals, which is why I developed the courses on strategy, analysis and endgames at Tiger Chess. Regular tactics practice is almost always a good idea and there are a number of web sites (such as Chessity) that make such practice relatively easy.

I would estimate that an hour a day is a basic minimum for chess improvement, so if someone does 20 minutes tactics practice that leaves 40 more for everything else. Effective chess training should certainly include endgame training due to the great value this has. And at this point it starts to become clear that two hours is better than one and the plan to learn to Sicilian Najdorf may be flawed!

So good luck with your improvement efforts and all the best for 2018. Keep it simple, focus on fundamentals and try to build a practice habit.

Nigel Davies

The London Chess Classic on Youtube

For those of you with a free weekend, rather than watch a season of Star Trek Voyager you might want to watch a couple of rounds from the London Chess Classic. Round 9 came in at just over 9 hours, which basically takes a day if you factor in cups of tea, bathroom breaks, lunch, dinner and a walk round the block. I find it quite interesting in parts but generally prefer to download the pgns for a quick perusal on HIARCS Chess Explorer. It all depends how much time you’ve got.

This aside, it’s great that the UK is holding such an event, which besides the super-GM tournament has many other tournaments. If you haven’t been there yet it’s well worth a visit in 2018.

Nigel Davies

It’s All Over For Humanity!

The news that AlphaZero annihilated Stockfish after practising chess for just 4 hours should give us pause for thought. Humanity basically lost the battle against computers when Garry Kasparov went down against Deep Blue, but now things have moved to a totally different level. I suspect that it could play a simultaneous display against the top ten human players and just take them apart.

In one sense this does not matter, humans do not race against cars and human chess players cannot compete against machines. But for many years there was a belief that they could, that the human mind had qualities that would at least make it into a contest. This illusion has now been swept away completely and finally.

So what about computer preparation, will this become ever more important? Frankly I think we have enough trouble remembering analysis as it is, without adding to the burden so there could be a growth in the number of players who play in Magnus Carlsen style, aiming to grind people down in the endgame. There might also be a further push towards Fischer Random Chess or other variants.

Here’s one of Youtube’s best chess commentators on one of the games from the AlphaZero – Stockfish match:

Nigel Davies

What It Takes

With only the top players in the World making a good living from playing chess it’s worth asking what it takes to get there. Frankly I’ve found attitudes in the UK to be completely out of step with reality, and it seems that this is not just the case for chess players. Sam and I watched some videos from English junior tennis matches, and although they were good they didn’t look like potential World beaters.

So what does it take? Let’s start with prodigious talent, for example any kid who can get to the top 10 in the World in his age group. After that it’s essential to have a great work ethic and strong character, which probably eliminates over 90% of the original prodigy groupings. And finally let’s factor in a serious amount of support, the kind that allows players to train full time without worrying about money. That pretty much eliminates most Western prodigies unless they are fortunate enough to get long term private sponsorship.

Who does that leave us with? It seems to me that there are a number of Indian players who tick all the boxes, with Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu leading the way. And then in China there is Wei Yi among others. For them everything is in place while everyone else will face massive difficulties in making it to the top.

So will there be an English World Champion within the next few decades? I wouldn’t have thought so…

Nigel Davies