In a recent article I touched on the mystery of Magnus Carlsen’s dominance in chess. Grand master Nigel Davies suggested that the answer to Magnus Carlsen’s dominance may actually be very simple. He went to explain that in an age when the top players are focussing on opening preparation they are neglecting endgames. Jan Timman and Lajos Portisch have both pointed this out. Why are the top players neglecting endgames? Who knows! Carlsen then creates a moving target for his opponents by varying his opening repertoire and then uses his superior core skills being superb endgame technique, calculation and good positional understanding. In the past some of the super grandmasters were quite predictable in their choice of openings. For example Garry Kasparov as white was largely an e4 or d4 player while as black he played Sicilian Defence against e4 and King’s Indian against d4 though he abandoned that in later years in favour of the Grunfeld Defence. Carlsen has no intention of making it so easy for his opponents.
The great Alexander Alekhine once remarked”To win against me, you must beat me three times: in the opening, the middle game and the endgame.” Whether that was said in jest or in all seriousness I do not know but it contains a good deal of truth. To be a good chess player you have to be good in not just the opening, middlegame and endgame as well.
Many chess players put a great deal of time in the opening but they have to do even more work in the middle game and endgame. The middlegame is the most complex part of chess while the endgame is the most scientific. There are now 7 and 6 endgame tablebases which means that once there are 7 or 6 pieces left on the board, with perfect play from both sides the outcome of the game can be determined. If you are very strong in the opening, you will probably get a very good position coming out of the opening but what do you do with it if you are weak in the middlegame or endgame? That is where most games are really decided. A strong player in the middlegame and endgame can rescue a bad position from the opening if given half a chance. A stronger player in the opening but weak in the middlegame and endgame is likely to throw away his advantage from the opening unless it is an overwhelming one.
Because a day only has so many hours, a chess player has to decide how best to split their day. Whatever they decide work on the middlegame and endgame should be allotted some hours as well. Working only on the openings is like only working on your serves in tennis. What do you do when your opponent returns the ball? Are you able to play long or short rallies as circumstances demand? If you were a soccer player or team, you might be very strong in attack but how do you respond to a counter-attack or how do you handle the pressures and demands of defence. An all-around ability is required to maximise your chances of winning every chess game.
So maybe by super grandmaster standards Magnus might be ok or good in the opening or even mediocre but in the middlegame and endgame he is an outstanding player. A great deal of discipline is required to ensure that a chess player does not neglect any part of the game in his development. Work hard on your openings but work even harder on your middlegame and endgames!