Category Archives: Nigel Davies

Studying Old Games (Part 11)

Let’s look at another Queen’s Gambit Declined, played between Harry Nelson Pillsbury and Jackson Whipps Showalter in their match of 1897. It provides an excellent example of how Black can obtain a dangerous queenside pawn majority with …c5-c4.

The match itself ended in a rather convincing victory for Pillsbury and had a not inconsiderable prize (for those days) of $2,000. Also interesting was the fact that Pillsbury played the Berlin Defence in a number of games but Showalter answered 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4 5. d4 Nd6 with 6.Ba4 rather than 6.Bxc6. These old guys knew something about chess!

Nigel Davies

Studying Old Games (Part 10)

Moving on from some Ruy Lopez classics, this time we’ll look at a game in the Queen’s Gambit Declined. I’ve long held that this is a great opening to play for learning positional play as the planning tends to be much clearer than with more modern openings. If you want to learn something it’s good to start with straightforward examples rather than diving into incomprehensible material.

With an opening such as the QGD, old games are indispensable. This is because the theory was largely developed in the early part of the 20th Century by such giants as Rubinstein, Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine and Euwe. And Rubinstein in particular developed many new plans and ideas.

Here’s a game in which Rubinstein shows a number of concepts which may mistakenly be associated with more modern times. First of all he plays the ‘trendy’ 5.Bf4, around 50 years before Victor Korchnoi popularized it when he played it against Anatoly Karpov. And then he allows Black to shatter his pawn structure with 11…Nxf4, rightly assessing that the resulting grip on e5 was more than enough compensation:

Nigel Davies

The Comeback Trail, Part 5

Building on my last article about opening selection, there’s another factor to consider. Rather than creating an entirely new repertoire should someone play their old stuff? Or is it better to build a stronger repertoire on what you already know?

This is a thorny issue, and one for which there is no single answer. If a player has previously played dodgy gambits there’s a good case for them starting afresh. On the other hand a player with a deep understanding of some typical middle games might want to harness that and play either their old openings or ones which are closely related.

An example of this from my own practice was at the point where I found myself moving away from the Modern Defence with 1…g6 (this is definitely a young person’s opening!). I discovered that the Kan Sicilian actually led to middlegames which were quite similar to certain lines of the Modern, but without some of the other difficulties. And my record with the Kan became very good.

Here’s a game I played against the strong Greek GM, Vasilis Kotronias. Playing Black against such a dangerous opponent can be quite a tall order, but the Kan proved to be a reliable weapon:

Nigel Davies

The Comeback Trail, Part 4

Let’s put some meat on the bones of the Zulu Principle concept I mentioned in my previous article in this series. Is there a good source of ideas in which a returning player might specialize?

Bill Hartston once suggested that it’s worth looking at what Bent Larsen played thirty years ago, and this isn’t a bad place to look. Actually I’ve got another two tips for where to look, first of all the games of inventive but lesser known GMs (for example Heikki Westerinen) and the blitz and rapid games of super-GMs. The latter can be a most fruitful source as super-GMs may try out ideas they think are playable in order to avoid showing any heavy theoretical preparation.

Here’s a game in which Vladimir Kramnik tries out the 5…g6 sideline of the 3…Qd6 Scandinavian, and wins in just 14(!) moves. His opponent, the late and brilliant Vugar Gashimov was a particularly good blitz player. Will your opponents do better at normal time controls? Maybe not.

Nigel Davies

Studying Old Games (Part 9)

I’ll make this the last Ruy Lopez for a little while, but once again it’s a deeply instructive one. Defending the Closed Spanish Black defends against White’s threatened attack by massing his pieces on the kingside (14…Ne8, 15…g6, 16…Ng7 and 17…f6 are key moves in the construction of his defensive formation). Later on Black also breaks out with 21…f5, taking the initiative in the same way Black can in the King’s Indian Defence.

Nowadays we are of course familiar with this plan, but at the time it was still being worked out. There were no computer databases to help masters figure these things out, that had to use their own brains together with the board and pieces.

Nigel Davies

Deja Vu

One of the most underrated qualities a chess player can have is a good memory. This might be because many players want to see themselves as intellectuals and prefer to put their chess skill down to brain power rather than intense learning. Yet psychologists have discovered that chess skill is largely down to a process called chunking, where small pieces of memorized information are tied together as a whole.

As the recent World Championship match drew (ha ha!) to a close there was a good example of this. Carlsen’s winning queen sacrifice was noticed in the blink of an eye by Judit Polgar, one of the commentary team. And probably because she had seen so many tactical patterns before during her unique upbringing.

Here’s a position in which White had the same idea and it wouldn’t surprise me if Judit had seen this one before:

Nigel Davies

Studying Old Games (Part 8)

Still on the subject of the Ruy Lopez, here’s a classic game by Vassily Smyslov in which he completely outplays a strong opponent. The first thing to look at in this game is 12…f5!, presenting White with a passed e-pawn but on a square where it inhibits the activity of his minor pieces. Next there’s 14…g5! and 15…c5!, which further restrict White’s minor pieces.

Black gets a really great position like this but how should he convert his advantage? Smyslov answers this question by further restricting White’s forces (26…f4) and then giving up his bishop pair to break down the defence (27…Bxf6). All in all a game which shows a wonderful understanding of chess:

Nigel Davies

The Comeback Trail, Part 3

In my previous article I looked at some broad categories of openings and why it makes sense to select some over others. This time I’ll look at another useful concept for those wanting to come back to the game, a chess version of the Zulu Principle.

The Zulu Principle was first espoused by the British financier and chess sponsor, Jim Slater. After seeing how his wife had acquired an exceptional knowledge of Zulus after reading a Reader’s Digest article on them, he started to apply the same concept to investing. By specializing in particular investments he could know more than almost everyone else about them.

This idea can be applied to chess openings. If you specialize in particular lines that nobody else really bothers with you can become a leading authority on them with relatively little effort. So instead of playing something like the popular Breyer Variation of the Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 O-O 8.c3 d6 9.h3 and now 9…Nb8) why not consider something that nobody else touches? I’ve played 9…Be6 in a few games with pretty decent results and 9…Nd7 is another good move.

Black can also deviate much earlier on, for example with 5…d6 or 4…d6. Very few players pay much attention to these moves because they occur so infrequently, and this in turn gives someone who bucks the trend a Zulu Principle edge in knowledge.

Of course this is not what most players do, they just have to play the most fashionable lines. But with these being so topical there will be far more people who know them and know what to do, not to mention the fact that there’s far more to learn in fashionable lines.

So I think it makes sense to go slightly off the beaten track, but here I’d also like to issue a word of caution. Any openings that one chooses to play should follow sound principles and not just be different for the sake of it. This is partly because well principled openings will cultivate a player’s strategic understanding, especially if clear strategic themes are present. Those which lead to chaotic positions do not have this benefit.

Nigel Davies

Studying Old Games (Part 7)

Moving further back in time here’s a really ancient Ruy Lopez with Wilhelm Steinitz playing Black. Steinitz is generally regarded as being the founder of modern positional play as he codified many positional ideas and techniques that had previously been less formally stated and existed only as rules of thumb of the best players. This clarification enabled Steinitz to stand head and shoulders above his contemporaries and he was World Chess Champion for some 28 years.

In this game Steinitz provides us with a model example of how to use the bishop pair by taking space and depriving his opponent’s minor pieces of useful squares (for example 19…c5). When his pieces are clearly stronger than Black’s he is able to exchange off into a much simpler endgame:

Nigel Davies

Remembering Mark Taimanov

I was very sorry to hear about the recent death of Mark Taimanov, who I met and played several times. Having made it to 90, he was one of the last of the golden era of Soviet Chess players and I thought I’d share some personal reminiscences.

We first played in a tournament in Portugal in 1985. I saw one of his games from an earlier round against Jorges Guimaraes which went 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 e6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 Nge7 7.O-O Nxd4 8.Qxd4 Nc6 9.Qd3 Nb4 after which Guemaraes quickly retreated his queen to d2. I was wondering why White couldn’t play 10.Qg3 after which 10…Nxc2 11.Bg5 f6 12.Bf4 gives White a strong attack for the sacrificed pawn, the tactical point being that 12…Nxa1 loses to 13.Bh5+ g6 14.Bxg6+ hxg6 15.Qxg6+ Ke7 16.e5 d5 17.Qxf6+ Kd7 18.Qxh8 Nc2 19.Qh7+ picking up the knight.

This led me to trying an open Sicilian in our game in this event, but Taimanov cannily sidestepped this with 6…Qc7 instead. When we made a draw I showed him 10.Qg3, which was a bit naive of me because maybe I’d have had another chance to spring it on him. After trying to defend his position he admitted that the situation was most unpleasant for Black and never repeated this line.

Interestingly it was Jim Plaskett who got to play 10.Qg3 in a game against Bill Hartston, and won in brilliant style. We hadn’t prepared it and I hadn’t shown him, Plaskett just found it over the board:

I played in several more tournaments with Taimanov and invited him to the Owen’s Corning tournament in Wrexham in 1997. Despite being 71 at the time he played in great style and took first place. And his game against John Donaldson showed his class, tying White’s rooks down in the endgame and then getting in with his king:

Besides being a great chess player Taimanov was also a concert pianist and he successfully managed to combine his careers in these two arts. I found this clip of him playing alongside his first wife on Youtube:

For those who’d like to know more there’s also a nice interview with Taimanov here. I’d just like to say that he was a real gentleman and it was a privilege to have met him.

Nigel Davies