An unexamined life is not worth living.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Karpov - Kramnik - blindfold game in Slav Defence

In this game Kramnik creates an instructive example where knights end up stronger than bishops because they manage to occupy key squares and invade White's weaknesses, especially on the light squares. White's bishops  remain passive throughout the game.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Brilliant attack by Vassily Smyslov

This is an older video from my YouTube Channel; in case you have not seen it - hope you enjoy! In this game Smylsov shows two typical ideas for this type of positions:

  1. The Queen + Bishop Battery when Black played h7-h6
  2. A well-timed pawn break with d4-d5 that decided the game in this case

Monday, February 20, 2012

10 Things I learned from Watching the Chess World Cup

A few months ago, I watched probably almost 50 hours of Sergei Shipov analysing live (in Russian) the games of the World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk. Was this the best use of my chess study time? Probably not, but I was so fascinated by the drama of the tournament, and Shipov’s skill and dedication as a commentator, that I could not stop watching. Guest commentators included Valery Yoshan, Ian Nepomniachtchi, and Alexander Khalifman and this allowed to also compare how different strong players approach the game. A chess amateur like myself would not be able to tell the difference in strength between all these players, but if you watch them analyse together for few hours, it becomes obvious who is in a better shape, and who has more experience in a variety of middlegame positions.


To reap at least some benefit from it, I made a series of blog posts, but also here is my general observations and notes on interesting things that commentators have said:

  1. Grandmasters seem to remember an enormous amount of opening theory, but they can surprise each other in every game – in fact they do!
  2. Khalifman seems to also know every opening in the world (indeed as a player he had a very wide opening repertoire)
  3. Khalifman seems a bit more careful at evaluating positions than Shipov. Shipov would say “the endgame is winning”, Khalifman says “good winning chances”.
  4. As you get older, your decisions to take risks on the board are less influenced by the position and more by how you feel today
  5. Ivanchuk is really tricky when playing against opponent’s time trouble
  6. Judit Polgar is great at attacking, but is not as good at defending and being careful
  7. Grandmasters seem to be understanding positions better than IM’s, formulating their assessment of each position much quicker
  8. In each position, there are a lot of very interesting moves, and one has to have a really good decision process to identify candidate moves, and pick the best ones
  9. Grandmasters sometimes make moves that are hard to understand, but there is nearly always some idea behind that move
  10. Ivanchuk’s moves are particularly hard to guess or explain

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Finding Unknown Unknowns – Get a Chess Coach

I am now looking back at some of the games I played 15 years ago, and naturally noticing some obvious defects in my play. What seems common sense to me now – was completely unknown to me back then. I had simply not accumulated enough experience to get a sense of those many types of positions. Looking back on my endgame play, it's completely obvious that I was unaware of the subject of weak dark squares, space advantage, how to utilize a pawn majority, the importance of doubled pawns in the ending, etc. In other words I did not know what I did not know! I can only notice those defects in my understanding of chess now looking back through my games with the extra 15 years of experience. This reminds me of the quote by Rumsfield about unknown unknowns. To make things worse, 15 years ago, computers were not as readily available, so occasionally I would lose a game without even ever understanding what specific mistakes I had made.

It took me many years to accumulate that knowledge, so that those mistakes would become glaringly obvious. And this is exactly what a coach can do - use his decades of experience to point out weaknesses in the chess players understanding of the game. One can study the games of grandmasters and the try to of grasp their understanding of the game, but nothing can replace an experienced player looking at your games and immediately point out things you don't understand. That can literally save you years and decades of experience and help to avoid painful losses. Such a coach must be ruthless and as undiplomatic as it is possible. It may hurt your feelings now, can but that is the most useful thing a chess coach can do for you.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Chess Psychology - Prematurely Agreeing to a Draw

Jiganchine – Degtiarev, 1996

image White to play.

Since I was not sure what I was supposed to do here, in this position I played 18. Ke2 and offered a draw, which was accepted.

Agreeing to a draw prematurely was a sin I was suffering from a lot during most of my years as an active chess player, especially in Junior tournaments back in Russia. How to do you assess the above position? I had just missed a winning line a few moves ago, and was disappointed by that. But looking at the position today, White still has several advantages:

  • most importantly – White has extra space
  • pawn tension on kingside is in his favour
  • Black pieces on the kingside are dramatically tied up

Ironically, even today I did not think of it way it until I realized that a computer engine evaluates a position as +- without giving any direct winning ideas. I think White should:

  • manoeuvre to improve placement of his pieces
  • d5 is a potential weakness in Black’s camp
  • prepare for either opening of the ‘h’ file, or opening the queenside with b2-b4 at the right moment
  • transfer rooks and other pieces to wherever the play opens up. This transfer of pieces from one side of the board is what will give White and advantage since his pieces are more mobile than Black’s

I moved the pieces around, and arrived at this sample position:

image White to move – b2-b4 opens up the game to White’s advantage in what is still a complicated position. If ‘b’ file opens up – White will be quick to double his rooks on it, and Black’s rooks will have a hard time defending ‘b7’.

In short, nothing is really indicating a draw here, White can play for a win without significant risk. Offering a draw can be explained by a combination of factors:

  • chess factors lack of understanding how White can play for a win
  • psychological disappointment after immediate break with h2-h4 failed to win
  • outside influence – I was a tired kid, playing a game in the evening on the weekday after school

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Karpov - Kavalek - the power of Maroczy bind

This instructive video shows Anatoly Karpov's ability to exploit small advantages, especially in endgames. It has now become the classic game for understanding White's strategy in this opening variation.

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