An unexamined life is not worth living.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Motivation in Chess

I have been on a break from studying chess due to personal reasons and this made me realize that the most important component for improvement in chess is motivation! With much being written about individual moves, combinations, tricks, positional details, training techniques – I rarely see a discussion of how does one become interested in chess, and then keep the passion alive. What drives players, both amateurs and professionals, to play and improve their game?
Do some people get immersed in the game without a strong desire to improve, merely fascinated by its aesthetics?
Do others only focus on the competitive side of the game, without the reflective look at the beauty of some moves?
Perhaps for some - the immersion to the game - is a way of escaping into a different world? For me, as probably for most players it is a combination of such factors that makes me study and play chess.

Sharing secrets of the King’s Indian Defence is very important, but perhaps the grandmasters can help weaker players by explaining more about what drove them to success, what motivated to study hard. Perhaps one book that talks about this subject is Kasparov’s How Life Imitates Chess, which I had reviewed already once, but I’d like to see more written about this.

Happy New Year to everyone, as this is likely my last post for this year!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Checkmate with 4 queens - from Alekhine to Kasparov

Reading Kasparov’s books is quite entertaining, and some parallels between various historic chess battles can be observed.
Kasparov – Karpov, 1986 match, game 22
image After 43.Rb4!
Black’s king is vulnerable against the attack on the c1-h6 diagonal, and although I was familiar with this idea/position before, only now I noticed that the main line of the combination contained a pretty mate:
43. Rb4 Rxb4 (Karpov actually played 43… Rc4) 44. axb4 d4 45. b5 d3 46. b6 d2 47. b7 d1=Q 48. b8=Q

image Both sides have a new queen, but White’s threats are more dangerous, Qf4 is a threat.
48… Qc1 49. Nxg6 Qxg6 50. Qh8+ Qh7 51. Qgxg7#

image Checkmate! Does that look familiar?

Well, now all sorts of bells start ringing, and indeed, I found a similar mate in another book by Kasparov:
Capablanca – Alekhine, 1927, Game 11
image Checkmate after 67. Qh1#

Sometimes it’s worth digging a bit deeper into trees of variations in Kasparov’s books as now I understand why every time he mentions game 22 of the 1986 match, he calls it a “study like win”. It is also not surprising that Kasparov thinks that Alekhine is the World Champion with chess style most similar to his own.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Scripting Your Chess Database

Scripting is a relatively common feature in many software packages (think of Excel Macros), so it is unfortunate that no chess software package has ever exposed it – until now! When staring at databases with my games, I’ve often had desire to do things like

  • Create a diagram right before every move that has a question mark, if that blunder was made by a player with a give name
  • Export games to a different format
  • Add a diagram for all games after every 5th move for convenient printout and practice of visual replay
  • Calculate an average number of blunders per game, compare the average between two sets of games (e.g. my blitz games and my slow games)
  • Find out in how many games do I stay in my repertoire until move 15?
  • Find out who of the top 10 players has an opening repertoire most similar to mine

These are features similar to what’s available in ChessBase’s and Chess Assistant’s of this world, but not quite the same. If you are a programmer, with access to the code of the tool - adding them this is not too hard. But if you are a mere user, without source code, you are out of luck completely. With scripting however, you at least have a chance. In addition to being able to do some new things, your powers multiply in other ways:

  • It is easier to interoperate between programs and use the power of multiple packages – e.g. you can export data into Excel
  • It becomes possible to automate several repeated UI manipulations and tie them into one script
  • Users can share their scripts between each other and you get features added to your tool added more often and for free

Aquarium Scripter is coming out very soon (rumour is - tomorrow) and I can’t wait to read reviews and if those are good - get an official copy of it. The features are described here, and I have to imagine (from the first blurry screenshot) that instead of a plain list of games

we now still have a plain list of games, but also an ability to run scripts against selected games!

Now we are getting somewhere!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Watching World Chess Blitz Championship

The world blitz championship 2010 was won by Levon Aronian, and for a chess fan – the greatest attraction of this event was the amount of video materials available with the coverage of the games. I’d like to point out three sources that I was following:

  1. The official site, which also includes the coverage of the Tal memorial itself – in Russian, but some post-mortem with Nakamura was in English - – in Russian
  2. Multiple YouTube video channels – bumblebee1607, SergeySorokhtin, EugenePotemkin and probably a few more. Chessbase has posted pgn games next to some of the videos – to make it more convenient to replay:
  3. Sergei Shipov’s analysis – on – in Russian. The synchronization suffers a bit, but I like the way Shipov explains the essence of every position within 5 seconds.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Chess Position Trainer – Show Novelties

Once you created an opening repertoire in Chess Position Trainer (or imported it from elsewhere), you can cross-reference it against the database of games that you played. Here is a little walkthrough of how to use this feature.

Typically I play a lot of games on ICC, which stores all my games in a PGN file.
By using “show novelties” menu, I get a prompt for a pgn file, and then – a list of games:

Clicking on each game takes me to the position in which the game departed from my repertoire! The tool comments on what I should have played, according – to my own opening preparation

Apparently castling is premature here, but, alas, I forgot how exactly to deal with this piece sacrifice in the dragon, and did not play Nb3.

The new version of Chess Position Trainer is coming out soon, I can’t wait!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Loose Pieces Drop Off – Practical Chess

In his book “Secrets of Practical Chess”, John Nunn coined the phrase “Loose Pieces Drop Off”. Here is a little example that I think illustrates this rule well:

cerassee – DDT3000, ICC, 15 minutes per game

 image Black to Move.
White just played 21. Ba5? and seemingly created a threat to the rook on d8. However making aggressive moves before finishing development (White’s rooks have not moved yet!) is dangerous, and Black was able to exploit exactly that. As a hint – consider that Bd3 is attacked by the rook from d8, the knight on c4 is already attacked by Be6. Now also Ba5 is unprotected. Black should be able to exploit all this “looseness” of White pieces and he did… How?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Creating Opening Repertoire in ChessBase

I already wrote about how to better manager your repertoire as well as why you need to build your repertoire in the first place, but this video (posted by “Robofriven” on ChessVideos.TV) illustrates nicely the details of doing it in a particular tool – ChessBase 9 in this case. The author also mentions Chess Position Trainer, so you definitely don’t have to be restricted to one tool; more important is that your repertoire is stored somewhere at all, and you have simple ways of it updating it.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Chess Endgames – Passed Pawns Must Be Pushed

Passed pawns in the endgame are more powerful than in the middlegame. With few pieces left on the board, they can be supported by their own king and tie up entire opponent’s army. As usual, it takes a bit of experience to sense that a pawn is especially dangerous in a given situation. Feel free to skip to the last diagram in this post to see the full power of passed pawns.

Jiganchine – Black, BC – Washington scholastic match, 1999

image Black to move.

My opponent did not find anything better than repeat the position after 41… Kf6 42. Rb6+ Kf5 43. Rb7 Kg6 44. Rb6+ Kg5 45. Rb7 Kf6 1/2-1/2
At the time I took it for granted that rook endgame with minimal material advantage ended as a draw. However, looking at this position with the fresh eye, draws attention to the fact that White’s king is very badly placed. It is completely cut off from the center of the board, so Black should take advantage of it: 41… d4!

image  On top of White’s king being badly placed, Black king protects the squares on the ‘d’ file from the White rook, so White has great difficulties stopping this pawn. I analyzed two options – both are losing for White.

a) 42. Rxg7 d3 43. Rg8 Kd5 44. Rd8+ Kc4 45. Rd7 Kc3 46. Rc7+ Kd4 47.Rxh7 d2 48. Rd7+ Ke3 49. h4 Ra4

image Black is winning: the White king is cut off along 4th rank,White has to sacrifice the rook for 'd' pawn

trying to stop the pawn immediately does not help either:
b) 42. Rb8 d3 43.Rd8 d2 44. h4 h5 

image White is in some kind of amazing zugzwang. Either his king has to leave the ‘g’ file, making e5-e4 break possible, or the rook has to go to d3, which turns out also problematic.
45. Kh2 e4! 46. fxe4 Ke5 47. Kg3 Kxe4 –+ Black king advances to support the pawn
45. Kf2? d1=Q+
45. Rd3 This is the only square for the rook on the ‘d’ file, but here comes: 45… e4!! 46. fxe4 Ra3!!

image Black wins as he is going to get a new queen. The triumph of the passed pawn!

Why did my opponent not consider this advance of the pawn, and why did I overlook it in whatever analysis I did after the game? The power of material must be so strong in player’s heads, that giving up even a pawn often does not occur to many players.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Chess Endgames - Keeping the Rook Active

The major rule of rook endgames is that you should keep your rook active. When you look at a given position - usually it is obvious whether or not your rook is active However, sensing the moment and finding the tactical opportunity for activating the rook actually requires a bit of experience and judgement. An important corollary of the above rule is that you should also try to keep your opponent’s rook passive.

What does it mean for a rook to be active?
1) it attacks opponents’s pawns and protects its own
2) it can attack or cut off opponent’s king
3) it has freedom for manoeuvre, so zugzwang is never a problem
3) if there are vital open files or ranks  - it controls one of them

To be a bit more specific - here is an example from a report I wrote for a Canadian Chess magazine a few years ago:
Juma - Kazakevich, Canadian Junior Championship, 2004
image Black to move.

GAME CONTINUATION: In the game Black played 32….Kg7?  Centralizing the king cannot be wrong, it can only be untimely. White responded with 32. a4! and the game was agreed drawn a few moves later in this position:

image Black can’t make any progress. His rook is slightly more active, but there is no zugzwang in sight. The extra doubled 'f' pawn has lost most of its value, and bringing the Black king to the queenside would cost the kingside pawns.

CORRECT CONTINUATION: Much better was 32... Rc3! 33. f4 Ra3
The Black rook attacks both the a2 pawn and the g3 pawn. In the game it could only attack one of them at the same time. Such placement of a rook, which makes sure the 'a2' pawn does not move, is standard for rook endings (check out Rubinstein-Lasker, 1909, if you have not seen it). My analysis gave Black a win in all lines, but over the board it is enough to find the continuation that gives best winning chances, and that would be this line. Eventually we could come down to the position like this:

image White to move. He is in zugzwang, since his rook has no moves, so he is likely going to lose as Black king threatens to invade on g4.

Why bring up this old dusty game on which I already wrote something long time ago anyway? Well, it only today occurred to me that history repeated itself in my own game, and I also failed to keep my rook active in a pretty similar situation. This game was played even earlier, but I did not analyse it seriously until last year.

Nathani – Jiganchine, BC Junior Championship, 2001

image Black to move.
GAME CONTINUATION: I decided to play “safe”, keep as many pawns on the board as possible, and gave up the advantage by misplacing my rook:
27… Rb7? 28. Ra6 Rc7.
image Black’s rook is passive, an extra pawn does not mean much here, the game should be drawn.
: Instead I had a much better option that would have kept my rook active:
27... Rb5! 28.Rxa7 Rxe5 29. Kg3 Rc5 30. Ra2 Ke7
Black is up a pawn, and has a more active rook. Stronger players can correct me, but this is a lot likely to be winning than the position that I got in the game.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pawn Structure in the Closed Spanish – Geller vs. Smyslov

Following up on my previous post, here is another example from the collection of Efim Geller games “Application of Chess Theory

Geller – Smyslov, 1970
image position after 22.Nf3

The 7th world Champion Vassily Smyslov “agreed” on this pawn structure (by playing f7-f5), despite its several long term flaws:
1) light squares are weak, and in particular - White’s knights can occupy e4 and f5 squares
2) d6 pawn is weak
3) White controls the ‘a’ file
5) the b4 and d5 pawns restrict Black’s knights, and especially - the d8 knight has no good future prospects

However, commenting on static features of a position is much easier than exploiting them to your advantage against a strong opponent. Watch this video to see how Geller converted his positional trumps into a full point:

While Geller’s game serves as an argument against playing an early f7-f5 in Closed Spanish, delaying it may lead to White himself playing f2-f4-f5. The final position of Karpov – Unzicker, 1974, illustrates that idea:
image White just played Ng3-h5 and Black resigned!

A game Nunn-Short, 1986 illustrates how Black can try to implement f7-f5, without giving up the e4 squares:

image Black just played f7-f5, but White’s pieces are well prepared for complications;
watch the video to see who comes out on top:

Friday, October 8, 2010

Combination by Efim Geller

Geller-Anikaev, 1979

image White to move

On his way to winning chess USSR championship at the age of 55, Yefim Geller wins this brilliant attacking game. Watch the video for the solution and to see the whole game. A pawn storm on kingside results in the attack and invasion on the ‘f’ file. White’s play is a response to Black’s negligent 13… Rfc8, which weakened f7 pawn. Hint: the final shot aims at bringing the dark squared bishop to the long diagonal.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Memorizing Chess Openings

During Canadian Chess Championship in 2002, I had a pretty odd incident related to memorizing opening variations. In round 4 game I forgot my preparation literally on the next move after we entered the line I had prepared. I lost that game without putting up much resistance. In round 8 game, however, I without any particular effort played to 33rd move from my opening preparation and got a winning position, later managing to convert my advantage. How could this have possibly happened to the same player, in the same tournament?

In reality both examples had little to do with my memory being bad on one day, and good on another, but rather with how familiar I was with the ideas of each line. The line I chose in round 4 was prepared for that particular game; it was a suspicious sideline, and Black had to play carefully after violating some basic opening principles. Round 8, on the other hand, followed a line that I had played a lot with both colours in the past, and before the game I simply refreshed my memory and looked up the particulars. That being said, my round 8 opponent had also been well familiar with that line; he lost partially because he had been anticipating me to play other lines, and did not refresh this particular variation in his mind before our game. Below are the actual examples.

Glinert – Jiganchine, Richmond, 2002, Round 4 (Replay the game in the viewer, or watch a youtube video with full analysis)
Black to move
In the Panov attack, Black ventured with a very rare Qa8 and Rd8, to which White responded in a logical way with Bd2 and Ne5. I had planned to play along Krogius,N-Kortchnoi,V/Tbilisi 1966 where Kortchnoi continued with 12… Nf6, defending his kingside, and opening up the d file. I had been looking at that game several hours before the clocks were started! Instead I played 12… Nxe5?!, and lost because of difficulties getting Bc8 into the game.

Jiganchine – Sokourinski, Richmond 2002, Round 8 (Replay the fully annotated game)
image  White to move
We are in the end of a somewhat forced opening/endgame variation – also in the Panov attack. Black had just finally regained a pawn with 32… Kxf3?!, but the cost is too high: his king is cut-off, and White threatens to transfer the king to d4. With the prepared (just before the game) 33. b4! White frees up the king from guarding b2, and has excellent chances to win the game.

I’d also summarize as to main reasons I think chess players have a hard time forgetting their chess openings (I am sure you can think up a few more)

  1. Not familiarizing themselves with ideas, but rather trying to remember individual moves – that just never works, at least not for me!
  2. Getting confused by move orders. You can even remember the ideas, but playing them in a wrong order is pretty common
  3. Confusing similar variations. Often I remember that a particular move has to be played, but it actually applies to a different position with similar characteristics
  4. A non-forced nature of the opening. Glinert-Jiganchine is a concrete position, but the threats have not materialized just yet.
  5. Broad variety of options. In Jiganchine-Sokourinski, we got to move 33 by grabbing each other’s pawns and pieces pretty much non-stop along a narrow path. It is way harder to remember the correct path when the lines branch off in various directions

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Blitz sacrifice - exploiting the long diagonal

Here is a quick snapshot from my blitz game today. After my opponent and myself exchanged a few blunders, I found a neat shot in this position:

DDT3000 – pmg, 3 minutes per game, ICC, 2010
image White to move, Black just played Qb6-d8.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Play like Karpov – tactics and strategy

Karpov – Giorgadze, 1983.
Anatoly Karpov found a great way to wrap up the game. Watch the embedded YouTube video to see the answer.

image White to move

Saturday, September 4, 2010

An overlooked counter attack from a Botvinnik game

In a classic, but underestimated training game Botvinnik – Ragozin, the following position arose after White’s 28. Re1-e3.

image Black to move. Can Black capture on c3?

The threat is to attack on the ‘h’ file, and in particular – to trap Black’s queen with Re3-h3-h7. In his notes, Botvinnik did not dwell too much on this position, but the capture on ‘c3’ is very thematic throughout this game, so I felt curious to check what happens if Black bravely ignores White’s idea, and carries on with his counter attack! Let me share some analysis.

Yes he can!! Yes he can take on c3. In fact, it would have led to a forced draw, and given that in the game Black went down after 28… Ng8 pretty fast, making a draw against the strongest player in the world was probably a great option (1947 was the only year in the twentieth century without a world chess champion). Play would continue:
29 . Rh3 Rxd4
Black carried out his plan of destroying the White center. Just two moves ago there were two White pawns on c3 and d4, now there are two Black rooks
30. Rh7 Rg4!!

When your opponent attacks your queen, you should hang your rook as well!! This is what you get when you analyse a game with a computer, but in reality this is a very harmonious development of Black’s ideas – he destroyed White's center so that his pieces could get some freedom, and now they have it - big time. White’s queen is guarding the knight, which is guarding the White rook, so if either one of them gets distracted, White’s whole plot falls through. He does have enough resources to get a draw though.
31. Nd7+ Ke8
32. Qxg4  Rc1+ 
(Bad was 32... Qxh7?? 33. Nf6+)
33. Bf1 Qa1!
34. Qe2 Nd5!
Black is down a full rook for only a couple of pawns!!
35. Ne5 Nc3
36. Rh8+ Ke7
now White has to scramble for a draw:
37. Nxg6+! fxg6
38. Rh7+ Kf8
39. Rh8+ Ke7
40. Rh7+
image draw by perpetual check

In the game Botvinnik won with a nice sacrifice, but I think this draw would have been a much more exciting finish to this game. This is probably one of the more interesting discoveries I ever made while analysing a grandmaster game from a book. Perhaps that’s because I had rarely analysed games from printed books with the help of a computer…

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Opposite Coloured Bishops – part 16 - Conclusion

This is the last post on the subject of endgames with bishops of opposite colours – all examples are from my article on the same subject published in Canadian chess magazine “En Passant” almost 10 years ago.

There is an attitude to endings with opposite coloured bishops that 'they are all drawn'. There is certainly a good reason for this. And yet almost all examples that I showed had a decisive result. Partly this is because in most of them one side had a material advantage. But some endings shown had even material in the starting position. Therefore, in a position with rooks on the board, it is often possible to outplay your opponent. If you are playing for a win, there might also exist a psychological effect that would help you: when seeing opposite coloured bishops, even strong players may relax and expect that even with second rate moves they will get their draw. Not necessarily!

I also hope that the readers’ thinking about types of endings will expand from "pawn endings" and "rook endings" to more complex combinations of material, such as “rooks + bishops of opposite colour”, “rooks + knights”. These are what Dvoretsky calls “simple positions” – not quite endgames, but nor middlegames either.  Studying ideas typical for each type of these simple positions will lead to a better understanding of chess.

To wrap up the series, here is the analysis/solution for the puzzle from the last post.

Topalov Veselin - Shirov Alexei, Linares (10), 1998
opposite_bishop_143 Black to move

47...Bh3 !! An amazing move, which initially does not seem to make any sense. The point is that Black's king needs to support the 'd' and 'a' pawns as soon as possible. The bishop on e4 was on his way. By going to h3, Black attacks the 'g2' pawn, so he wins a tempo. The reason why he is not afraid to lose the bishop, is because this bishop would not help him to advance the queenside pawns anyways. 48.gxh3 Kf5 49.Kf2 Ke4 50.Bxf6 d4 Diagram


51.Be7 Kd3 52.Bc5 Kc4 53.Be7 Kb3 Diagram


The Black king comes to c2. 0-1

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Opposite Coloured Bishops – part 15

I am now wrapping up the series on endgames with opposite coloured bishops, with a couple of positions for you to solve.

Spraggett Kevin - Hartman Brian, Hamilton m (4), 1993

opposite_bishop_142  White to move.

For the solution and to see the whole game go to

Hint: One of the characteristics of endgames with opposite coloured bishops and rooks, is that when the weaker side tries to setup the blockade, the stronger side’s rook can be sacrificed for the blockading bishop.

Topalov Veselin  - Shirov Alexei, Linares 1998

image  Black to move

The next post will include the full solution to this famous position, but if you can’t wait – the game is available here:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Opposite Coloured Bishops – part 14

I found this example in one of the books by Mark Dvoretsky, in the chapter written by Gregory Kaidanov. The game shows the power of making far reaching long term strategic plans, in positions where your opponent is completely tied up. In endgames with opposite coloured bishops, fortresses are very common; to break through such defensive schemes you have to think in terms of plans, rather than follow “move-by-move, let’s see what happens next” style.
Psakhis Lev (ISR) (2580) - Hebden Mark (ENG) (2435)
Ch World (team) (under 26) Chicago (USA), 1983

opposite_bishop_139 White to move – find the winning plan.
Black pieces are completely tied up to the defence of 'f7'. And yet it takes a very original plan from Lev Psakhis to win this game.
43.Kf1 Ba7 44.Ke2 Bb6 45.Kd3 Ba7 46.Kc4 Qc7+ 47.Kb3 Qe7 48.g4 Bb6 49.Kc4 Ba7 50.Kb5 Diagram


What is the king doing? 50...Qe8+ 51.Bc6 Qd8 52.Kc4 Qe7 53.Qd7! This is the point! After the exchange of queens the White king will support the advance of the 'b' pawn. 53...Qe6+ 54.Qxe6 fxe6 55.Rxf8 Kxf8 56.Kb5 Diagram


56...Ke7 57.Ka6 Bxf2 58.c4 Kd8 59.Kb7 Be1 60.b5 Bf2 61.b6 Bd4 62.Ba4 d5 63.cxd5 exd5 64.exd5 e4 65.Kc6 Kc8 66.d6 e3 67.Bb5 Bf6 68.Ba6+ Kb8 69.Kd7 1-0

Monday, August 2, 2010

Bluff in chess - refuting opponent’s opening play

When your opponent is playing the opening of a chess game almost without thinking, it is hard to imagine that he is making severe blunders and that his play should be refuted. Most likely everything had been checked on a computer and has been played before either by him, or by other players in the database. But here is an example where my opponent “was just playing too fast”. I think after playing 2 games a day for 4 days in a row, he simply did not want to spend too long on this last round game.

Jiganchine – McLaren, BC Championship, 2008

image White to move. Find the most promising continuation.s

Black has been playing very fast so far in this tournament game, and even though I was pleased with having a centralized knight on e4, I did not look too far for a tactical refutation as well. Yet after 17. Nd6! Qc7 (I was incorrectly concerned about 17… e4, but that is just wasting time since the knight wants to come to g5 anyway) 18. Nfg5 Nd8 Qe1!? – Black’s position has too many weaknesses, and White is going to win at least a pawn – Black can’t guard the e5 pawn, while also trying to cover up f7. Black’s pieces are also too passive to provide any real compensation for it.

image Black to move. White is practically winning

Instead I wanted to keep a positional advantage and blockade on e4, and lost all of my advantage after 17 Nfg5? Nxe4 18. Nxe4 f3! with unclear position. The game ended well for me, but this was definitely a mistake on my part early out of the opening. Had my opponent been making his moves a bit slower, I would actually try to play more aggressively. Instead, I wanted to play solid moves and just blockade e4,which gave me nothing special. So in that sense, his “bluff” actually worked quite well for him! I go over the entire game in this video.

Friday, July 30, 2010

How to learn the most from your online blitz games

  1. play with slower time controls. You won’t learn much from 1 minute games, and on ICC it does not take too long to find an opponent for a decent 15 minute game
  2. focus, focus, focus, don’t get distracted on other windows open on your computer while opponent is thinking (or even worse – during your move!). I already wrote a whole other post about that.
  3. don’t play online chess when you are tired. That kind of makes sense, since it’s hard to focus when you’re tired.
  4. make sure all your games are automatically stored into a pgn file
  5. review each game soon after it’s played
  6. don’t feed it immediately to an engine, analyse by yourself for a bit
  7. check the opening against a Reference DB to see where you and your opponent deviated from previously played games
  8. if your opponent played something you completely did not expect - update your opening repertoire afterwards
  9. don’t play too many games in a row
  10. don’t take online chess too seriously, remember that over the board tournaments is a completely different game from online blitz

To the last point, when I played in my first British Columbia Junior championship a few years ago, the highest rated player had been a bit rusty. He had not played tournament chess for about a year, and he did not do so well (finishing outside of the top 3 from what I could recall) in our little competition. After the tournament he told me with a smile that he had played a lot of 1 minute games right before the tournament. He was doing really well in those, and assumed he was in excellent shape for the event. Switching time controls is never easy, I am sure we have all discovered that!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Improving time management in a chess game

You can’t improve what you can’t measure. I recommend keeping track of the time you spent during the game. Once you get into the habit of adding clock information to every move, it won’t be any more of a distraction than recording the move itself. Once you get home – you can enter it later into your personal collection/database of games and later use it while analysing the game. I went over a quick example in my previous post on the same subject. To improve your time management, here are 10 questions to think about:

  1. did you spent enough time during the critical moments?
  2. were there simple moves on which you spent more time than necessary?
  3. was your opening preparation sufficient to quickly play the opening moves?
  4. did you take advantage of your opponent’s long thinking sessions by preparing a quick response against his most likely moves?
  5. was your overall playing speed appropriate for the time controls in the tournament?
  6. were you spending enough time on your moves even if your opponent was in time trouble?
  7. is your thinking generally efficient? Are you careful about first identifying all candidate moves, or do you ever spend time calculating crazy complications to later discover that they are not necessary?
  8. do you handle time trouble reasonably trouble well – stress wise? There are good blitz players, who collapse at the end of a long slow game due to time trouble…
  9. can you play basic and/or simple endgames with little increment only? games are often decided in those long endgames when speed matters.
  10. do you play in enough slow tournaments for any of this to even matter?

I suspect by answering these questions you will learn a lot more about your chess strengths and weaknesses in general. I personally suspect that my opening preparation is often falling behind so I sometimes have spend too much time early in the game. I also generally don’t get too stressed out by time trouble (not more than I usually am, that is), but even though I like the endgame, I know there plenty of endgames I misplayed that I might have saved if I had an extra half an hour on the clock! I am also really bad about thinking during my opponent’s time, I am usually so stressed out during my games that I can’t stay in front of the board while my opponent is thinking.

All in all, if your time management is poor, or if there is something you want to improve about it (I know I do) – the popular advice is to play training games or an entire tournament with focus on better time management. Even if it has a detrimental impact on your result just in that tournament – that would make you a better player in the long term.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

A tactic that Karpov and Kasparov both missed

Karpov – Georgadze, 1983

image  Black to move. Where should the rook retreat?
In this position Black played 24… Rcc8 and experienced difficulties after White transferred the knight to c6. He later lost the game.
In his book “My 100 wins” (1984) Anatoly Karpov instead recommended 24… Rc7 (presumably to make sure that Be7 is guarded when White knight arrives to c6) 25. Nb4 Qf5 – “starting the counter attack as soon as possible”. There is a little tactical problem with that suggestion, that Karpov probably overlooked. It is ironic that Kasparov later copied the entire annotation in his Volume 5 of “My Great Predecessors”, without spotting the mistake (and I am pretty sure it is a mistake, since White gets to win a pawn or exchange on a spot without obvious compensation). That just goes to show that even world champions should blunder check their recommendations with engines (although of course there were no engines when Karpov’s book was first published).

Here is the position after Karpov’s suggested improvement of “Rc5-c7”.

image White to move. How to win material immediately?

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