The Gibraltar International Chess Festival is widely hailed as the world’s premier Open chess tournament. This year’s festival was the 12th and was the biggest yet, with over 70 Grandmasters participating from all over the world. All week the tournament features interesting side events, including Masterclasses from some of the players. There are video clips available for the following Masterclasses here:
1) Nigel Short & Elisabeth Paehtz discuss their round 2 games.
2) Vassily Ivanchuk discusses his games in the FIDE candidates and other interesting ideas.
3) WGM Natalia Pogonina and GM Li Chao discuss their round 7 games with Tournament Director Stuart Conquest.
4) Maxime Vachier-Lagrave discusses a game from 2013 with Stuart Conquest and takes questions from the audience.
The Ivanchuk one features a fascinating analysis of five games he played in a match in Riga in 1991 vs Leonid Yudisan and lasts 1 hour 37 minutes.
Chess players don’t like to be surprised – unless it’s a pleasant surprise of course like a massive blunder from an opponent. Knowing what to expect is important – information increases confidence. A whole industry has grown in the chess world devoted to preparing players for battle. For example, chess databases – to prep for your opponents and learn using instructive games; and chess openings trends/surveys, like Chess Informant and New in Chess SOS.
Some players make it their game-plan to surprise their opponent as much as possible and disrupt whatever plans they had in mind. For example, playing off-beat openings, choosing unusual plans, playing some home-brew opening that departs from theory early. But these strategies are in themselves predictable to a degree, particularly if you know what your opponent is like. So, you can even prepare for the unexpected… or try to get in your surprise first.
However, in general I don’t think improvers and intermediate players need to worry about preparation of this kind. It is probably unhelpful to think in terms of tricking your opponent in some way (forget the Fried Liver Attack), instead just play logical moves according to what the position demands. Focus on solid plans and forget the one-move cheapos that lead nowhere. Of course this is easier said than done – but young players learn with enough practise against decent opponents that one-move cheapos won’t work, they need to think further ahead.
Using databases as a learning tool to find instructive games can be useful for improvers though. Finding the right example games can be difficult – rather like trying to fill a little cup from a tsunami of games. The most recent games are not necessarily the most instructive. You either need to be prepared to search for quite some time, or preferably rely upon a coach or very strong player to find the most instructive games for you to study, or refer to books that have done this for you.
At club level it is important to make sure you learn from mistakes in your games – and develop strategies to avoid the same mistakes happening again. This comes from analysing your games with your opponents, with other club players, with a coach, or at home with the help of a chess engine. With experience, it will become much more difficult to surprise you.
As players improve and get into the very strong/master level, putting in a little bit of time to prepare for opponents can pay dividends. You can make use of the resources mentioned above and it might assist you with reaching your goals. But make sure you don’t wear yourself out in advance – you need plenty of energy at the board itself in case the unexpected still occurs!
This short film about Kasparov mentions his dislike of surprises.
I was watching this a lecture giving a contemporary view of dyslexia and it got me thinking about how we go about trying to improve our chess, and how rather ineffective random learning can be. Dyslexia is a multi-dimensional disorder, not a ‘diagnosis’. Dyslexia has a variable behaviour manifestation. There is evidence that dyslexia can be ameliorated with appropriate intervention, based on in-depth individual diagnosis.
Perhaps if one looks at one’s chess skills as being impaired in some way, we might see that we all have room for improvement. I’m in the top 1% of graded chess players in England, yet I am no where near Master level – to get there I’d need to be in the top 0.1%. Even Magnus Carlsen, the World No.1, has said recently that he can improve. So how does one go about improving in the most effective way?
Well, funnily enough, the crucial part is to understand what aspects of your chess are not working well, specifically. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be as specific as possible. The clearer the understanding of what needs improvement the more chance you have of finding an appropriate way to improve. Once you have a clear idea of what you need to improve, designing a specific training scheme is the next step. After that comes the hard work of implementing it.
Of course, to do that properly you need a qualified coach that will conduct an in-depth review of your chess skills, diagnosing your strengths and weaknesses, and identifying the key learning areas. The coach can then devise a training scheme specifically for your individual needs, and support you on your implementation journey. Your training scheme will only be as good as your specific chess skills diagnosis. If you only vaguely know what to improve, the risk is you will only vaguely improve, if at all.
IM Lorin D’Costa is one of the latest ChessBase video authors. Today a new video was released where he teams with amateur Nick Murphy. They cover the plans and ideas in three different variations on the Giuoco Piano opening.
There’s a lot to like about this video. Nick Murphy is a good foil for IM D’Costa. His thought processes are typical of many of us improving chess players. He and IM D’Costa have a pleasant schtick throughout. The game in the clip below is a good representative of what to expect.
This week’s column is not a review, however. The video clip is a springboard onto a set of related topics that emerge in this game and the back-and-forth between IM D’Costa and amateur Nick Murphy.
The game is a rapid game that’s a complete mismatch. An intermediate level player rated 1847 goes up against a GM rated 2585.
Rather than play something razor sharp, the GM gave the non-titled player a sporting chance with the Giuoco Piano. Most of us know, the Giuoco Piano does not guarantee a quiet game, but one old joke (from Jan Pinski) goes something like this: if you do play white against a GM and you’re an intermediate player, you might just be able to bore the GM to death by virtue of your opening choice.
Black committed a series of basic strategic errors from the earliest moves. Do that against a GM, and it’s almost certain you’ll never recover.
Black appears to have been intimidated by the GM opponent. Understandable. I certainly would have been intimidated. As a consequence, black fails to fight for the center, concedes the initiative, does not get fully developed, loses tempi, and makes weak moves. Any of these against a GM is courting disaster. As a tangle of problems, you can expect to get clobbered even against a weak opponent. And, that’s just what happened to black in this game.
I wrote previously that we improvers rarely lose our games because of just one bad move. The move we identify as “the” move that cost us the game is usually the culmination of a series of mistakes and even outright blunders. Well, that’s the case here. Black was suffering an excruciating death long before move 18.
There is a lot to learn from this game. It’s a complete rout, but black did not just crumble.
For example, black chose exd on fifth move. Nick Murphy’s instinct, to contrast, was typical of many club players: retreat the bishop with the dubious Bb6. Black saw what Nick missed – that Bb6 allows white to play dxe. You only have to calculate a move or two to see that black would be in serious trouble. At a minimum, one of the pawns on e5 or f7 will fall.
Black invited trouble with the passive 4. … d6. Rather than fighting for the center, white is allowed to strike out with 5. d4 and – as a consequence - black is going to lose tempi with the king bishop while white gets on with development. By the time the game ends in resignation at move 18, all of white’s pieces (except for the king rook) were developed and actively placed and black still had three pieces on the back rank. The d4 thrust followed by exd and cxd left white with a robust pawn center, one that was strengthened further after the black bishop exchanged itself for a white knight on c3.
Black wasted even more time on move 7 by playing h6. This is a common move by novice players. Preemptively avoiding a pin. I’ve heard these one square rook pawn moves referred to as “little ears” by East European chess players. Learning when to move them and when not to move them is part of developing sound chess judgment. In this game, the knight on f8 is neighing and stamping its hoof to get into the game. As IM D’Costa notes, when we find ourselves in an opening variation we do not understand, then follow good opening principles. In this case, black needed to get on with development and fight for the center.
Black did display foresight when white played 8. Qb3. Many of us improvers, especially in a rapid game, might miss the nuances of posting the queen there. The Q+B battery is obvious. But if white was allowed to castle kingside immediately, all sorts of tactical opportunities would have become available. BxN was necessary to keep the knight off d5. Had black hesitated even one move, white could castle, the knight could hop, and the queen would guard the f3 knight.
Move 11. e5 is another instructive move. Re1 is sensible but a weaker move. As IM D’Costa notes, when you have a lead in development, you should try to keep it. Re1 would protect e4 and it would also allow black to get castled. Pushing the pawn to e5 is devastating. If we are slavish in our counting of attackers, we’d see that black has three pieces aiming at e5 and white has only two defenders. However . . . Tactics! Tactics! Tactics! If black takes the e5 pawn, the diagonal from a3 to f8 opens and the bishop on c1 is poised to ensure that black does not get castled!
As an improving player, the most important lesson I learn from this game is to avoid passivity from the start. You do not need to be hyper-aggressive in the opeining. but you do need to follow well-established opening principles and get your pieces developed, be energetic, don’t waste tempi, and fight for the center.
The FIDE World Cup in Tromso has seen some excellent commentary from Susan Polgar, Lawrence Trent and Nigel Short, among others. Even former World Champion Garry Kasparov, in his words “the highest-rated ever kibitzer”, rang in to add his views and you can still listen to his comments by clicking on this link.
One of the interesting things he said was that “nerves beat quality” in the knock-out tournament format, with performance in rapid and blitz games being key to making progress. Also, sheer stamina is required to merely survive the schedule. Indeed, failing to turn up on time to a game was enough to eliminate one player, misunderstanding or not.
Kasparov still concludes “eventually Kramnik will win” because of his ”immense quality”. “Nerves beat quality” in knock-outs, unless you’re playing Kramnik then!
When you can’t avoid checkmate or you can’t find a reasonable move, it may be time to consider resigning. Many beginners and even improving players will play on all the way to checkmate even when there is nothing they can do. Maybe it’s because that is the way they have been taught? Maybe it’s because they are praying for a miracle? Maybe it is because they hope their opponent will make a massive mistake? Maybe it’s because they think they will learn something from being checkmated?
It doesn’t happen that often in over the board games played under slow play conditions, but I’ve found talented juniors doing it, which surprised me. I can’t help thinking this never-resign attitude reflects a misunderstanding about the chess. What does it say about your chess skills if you don’t know when you’re hopelessly lost? Isn’t it better to preserve some energy for the next game, or some constructive post-mortem analysis you might learn something from?
The Black Knight in this amusing video clip remained ridiculously over-confident throughout the fight.
Here are two stories that are inspiring me to pursue my own self improvement interests without making excuses such as ‘no time’, ‘other duties’, ‘headache’ etc.. I admit it, my tai chi form could be better and there are multiple layers of rust to remove from my chess game if I want to compete as well as teach.
First of all here’s the remarkable Karen Cheng, whose discipline and practice ethic is an example to us all:
This one is truly amazing; to be destitute and yet learn to sing like this requires great personal qualities. Perhaps personal difficulties can bring out the best in some people, yet in others it crushes them completely.
We can’t turn the clock back and dwell on what might have been. So let’s get practicing today, at the bus stop and in the bathroom if necessary!
I think Andrew provides some interesting insights into the thinking and psychology of strong players as he comments on these games. I particularly like his analysis of the Round 1 encounter between top seed GM Gawain Jones and lower half of the draw player John Reid.
This quote from Garry Kasparov is more or less spot on. When you play chess properly, which means treating it as a matter of life or death, it can be a very painful experience. One tiny slip and the product of many hours work can be wasted. To drive the point home here’s a video of Kasparov’s reactions making some mistakes:
Putting yourself through this day after day, for example in a tournament, is also exhausting. Many people only discover this when they actually try it.
Why do they do it and come back for more? Well there’s nothing quite like it and people learn a lot about themselves. There’s also the challenge to get better which often means improving our abilities in a way the extends beyond the checkered board.
How should someone cope with losses? Well a good start is to have a relaxed attitude and the ability to smile about it. I always got the impression that Kasparov put incredible pressure on himself and it must have been a relief when he decided to retire. Magnus Carlsen, on the other hand, comes across as being far better equipped to cope. So my guess is that he’s going to be playing for a long, long time.