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Self-help blog

March 13th, 2015 16 comments

John has been referring to some of my recent blogs as “self-help” posts. He always has this nice biting irony that you only find warm if you have known him for 20 years… Well, when I say warm, I actually don’t really mean it, but never mind. Anyway, it is nice sometimes to talk about human traits, as they are so influential on our decisions at the board.

In a conversation with friends over dental practices, beauty salons and other businesses they are involved in, I incidentally thought about our imperfections. We all have them. I, for example, hoard things. I have about 1000 unread books in my flat. I do read a lot, but I cannot keep up with the number of books I buy. I used to feel that I should be able to control myself better – or that this was a serious character flaw. But I have known for about 20 years that I will never spend more money than I have – partly because of the laws of physics – and I accept now that some of this is outright squandered on books I will never read.

So what? Publishing is a business under threat and my support for it is a good thing. Even if it is given for reasons that can best be explained by evolutionary psychology.

Actually I believe that this approach is the right way. Some “flaws” are not as much flaws as a part of an imperfect construction, called “a human”. We should learn to accept that they are what we are. We are our strengths and we are our weaknesses. Some things do not need explaining or understanding, all we need to do is to accept that they are the way they are. There is nothing more to it.

To assist with this Sam Shankland kindly provided a blitz game he played recently in a tournament in the San Francisco area.  Sam was White.

White to play

Here he wanted to play 1.Ne7+, which is mate in 19 according to Komodo 8. Instead he played 1.Ne3, which loses more or less on the spot.

These things are not explainable in chess terms. I am not sure any explanation given will ever satisfy us, whether right or wrong. All I know is that it would be useless. The game is lost and there is nothing to learn from this I fear.

After this game Sam and his opponent were in a shared lead. But as it was double round, Sam got another chance. He won with Black and took first prize. Because this is also a part of what Sam is – a champion who plays on, even after having entered the twilight zone…

Accept yourself for the good and the bad is today’s message. And change as much of the bad as seems possible – and the way to do this is to crowd it out with good stuff.

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Chasing the unachievable

January 5th, 2015 9 comments

White to play – What is the strongest continuation?

I was visiting Peter Heine Nielsen in around 2009. He was on that day in a bit of a low mood, questioning what he was doing and how he was organising his life. As we all do this from time to time, I do not think I break any confidences in saying this. His biggest frustration was professional. He would spend at least 20 hours each week trying to find an advantage for White against the Marshall and the Berlin Defence (later renamed the Berlin Wall – or very recently, the London Defence by Anand…) on behalf of the then World Champion, Viswanathan Anand. Everyone knew that this was an unachievable task. Still the work had to be done, in order that the advantage would exist only for the brief moment in time that is a game of chess…

A similar thing happens when we are practising calculation. Especially these days when everything is checked by computers. I see it clearly these days while I am working with quite a strong student on his calculation before a series of spring tournaments. He is a very strong player, but calculating is still not an easy task for him.

And the issue with calculation is of course the same as with opening analysis. The game is rigged. Chess is a draw; there is no advantage to be found against good defence. And calculation exercises are an even bigger scam. If you are at your peak, all you can do is match the computer’s findings.

At least theoretically this is so. In reality there are some exercises that are “cooked”, meaning that the student finds something the teacher did not anticipate because of his fallible nature, or (rarely) the computer is beaten by the student. It is very pleasing when it happens in tactical positions; but much more likely to happen in weird cases where calculating 10 moves ahead does not give any significant advantage.

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A simple Morra combination

December 29th, 2014 5 comments

A friend of mine had the following position quite recently in a team match:

After a long think he played 12.Bb5+, got a worse position and eventually managed to trick his opponent and win. As I walked by the board I saw a simple combination. Is this because I am a great tactician? Probably not. I am the typesetter at Quality Chess and therefore typeset Marc Esserman’s book, Mayhem in the Morra, and probably just recognised the tactic subconsciously.

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Busy busy busy

December 15th, 2014 63 comments

I am sorry that I do not have the time to write a proper blog post today. I have been working till 2am quite a number of nights in a row in order for our books to get sent to the printer before Christmas. Sadly this does not mean early January publication, as they are shut for a few weeks.

The following four books will most likely be released on the 4th of February:

Negi: 1.e4 vs. the Sicilian 1 (360 pages)

Flores Rios: Chess Structures – A Grandmaster Guide (464 pages)

Kotronias: Mar Del Plata 1 (320 pages)

Kotronias: Mar Del Plata 2 (300+ pages)

Furthermore we are preparing reprints of Playing the French, Grandmaster Preparation – Calculation (more about this next Monday) and of course the 10th anniversary hardback edition of Learn from the Legends.

Right now I am typesetting the first Kotronias book, which will be proof read from tomorrow morning. There is really some incredible chess in this book (which deals exclusively with the 9.Ne1 main line KID). One position I looked at a few moments ago was this one, arising after 25.Rxd7:

Here I will skip the details, but just give you the main line Vassilios has analysed:

25…Rg6!! 26.Bg1! Nxd7 27.Bb5 Rxa7 28.Qc2! Rb7 29.Bc6!? Rc7! 30.h3! Nxg2! 31.Qxg2 Qh6 32.Bb6 Nxb6 33.axb6 Rc8 34.b7 Rb8 35.Nd3 Rg5 36.Ra1 Rh5 37.Bd7! Rxb7 38.Be6† Kg7

Despite having played optimum moves in the last sequence, White is still struggling badly.

Taking it easy

December 8th, 2014 37 comments

When I was young I took chess way too seriously. I would cry when I lost some games and I would start to doubt my whole existence. I remember one game where I was playing for an IM-norm against a player I have 11.5/13 against, including a quick draw in 1989. You guessed right – the loss was in the game where I was playing for the norm.

This lifetime score might not fully reflect the difference in level between us, but it does reflect the difference in me once I was in a demanding situation. I froze. Too much emotion, no space left for chess in my system.

I see the same happening from time to time with students, but as a lot of our action is online, I mainly see a lot of this stuff on the tennis courts. Some of the guys I play with behave well under all circumstances. Some behave appallingly. Especially when they miss a shot.

What I have noticed is that their play disintegrates from this moment. Giving yourself space to be disappointed might be good, but the shouting and shooting balls in the fence and so on, is not only a pain to people around you, it makes you more likely to lose the next shot.

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Simplicity is Key

December 1st, 2014 25 comments

This week I just wanted to give a little reminder to those who might be maximalists and not wanting to give up material in order to convert an advantage. I know it is a quick and boring blog post, but then the other guys have promised to put a few things up as well.

Filippov – Saric, Croatian League 2014

Black to play and win

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Three moments in the World Championship match that really mattered

November 24th, 2014 14 comments

Not surprisingly Magnus Carlsen defended his World Championship title. Apparently he was ill during a good deal of the match, but it still seems that he won without truly breaking sweat.

In my opinion both players had the same problem in this match. Carlsen did not truly believe that Anand was a threat and thus struggled to keep up motivation. Anand also did not think that he was a threat and for this reason he did not present one when he had the chance. In this way the match never really got as exciting to me as it could have.

In this article I want to present three moments where Anand performed worse than he could have.

Carlsen – Anand, Sochi (2) 09.11.2014

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.d3 Bc5 5.0–0 d6 6.Re1 0–0 7.Bxc6 bxc6 8.h3 Re8 9.Nbd2 Nd7 10.Nc4 Bb6 11.a4 a5 12.Nxb6 cxb6 13.d4 Qc7

After achieving nothing from the opening Carlsen now sets up an attack on the kingside. It really should not be too difficult to deal with, but Anand loses without a fight.

14.Ra3 Nf8 15.dxe5 dxe5 16.Nh4 Rd8

I doubt whether this improves Black’s position.

17.Qh5 f6 18.Nf5

A very important moment in the game. Anand played his next move quickly and never really recovered. As it is pretty obvious what White is trying to do, it would have made sense if he had a deep think here and decided how to deal with the attack.

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The Inability to Do Nothing

November 17th, 2014 9 comments

I was helping a friend learn the five basic steps of a tennis forehand this morning. The first thing to get under control is the grip. It has always amazed me that our coaches in the club have not helped us punters hold the racket correctly. And as a result lots of people hold the racket more as an axe than a frying pan. It is simply too unnatural a grip (and resulting swing). Basically, we have to override the instinctive way of doing things and install a different way of doing things.

The same happens in chess over and over again. I could give a lot of examples of this phenomenon. Today’s example is one of inactivity.

Areshchenko – Inarkiev, Baku 2014

69…h3+!? 70.Kh2!

70.Kxh3? Ke2 71.Re7+ Kf3 72.Re3+ Kxf2 73.Rd3 Ke2

And Black wins.

70…Ke2 71.Re7+ Kxf2 72.Rd7 Ke1

72…Ke2 73.Re7+ Kd3 74.Rd7+ and nothing happens.

73.Re7+ Kd1 74.Rd7 Rf5 75.Re7 Rf3 76.Rd7 Rf4

White to play

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