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Working with the Grandmaster Preparation books

November 27th, 2015 40 comments

There is a conversation I have once a week, sometimes once a fortnight. It is with a player or the parent of a talented youngster, who would like to have private tuition, either short term or continuously. At the moment this is not something I am ready to do for the payment people are willing to pay. There are just too many projects I need to bring to completion.

But this article is not supposed to be about whining, but a longer reply to the last person who asked me to help her daughter make decisions better and faster. It is, in short, a guide to using my books.

The first point I want to make is the most fundamental one, and thus also the one that is most far reaching and most difficult to implement.

In order to improve your chess abilities, you will have to think in a different way.

There are other ways to improve in chess: physical form (not greatly effective, but it does a lot for your health!), openings (they go out of date and you forget them, still a good position is easier to play), memorising theoretical endings (worthwhile doing, but this needs updating too), calculating faster (similar to sprint training for physical athletes, something you lose if you don’t maintain it) and others.

All of these are worth doing and if you are ambitious, you are probably doing some of them and aware that you should be doing the others as well!

But if you can improve the way you think chess, you will really get ahead.

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Nigel Short Seminar Update – Unlock a discount for everyone!

September 22nd, 2015 10 comments

Setting a price for a seminar is difficult. I hope to not lose too much money while organising them, while at the same time I hope to have big attendance, which is the reason I organise them in the first place.

This week we will have a visit from Nigel Short. I set the price at £150 for four days, thinking it is good value and I would not lose too much. While the second part is true, the attendance is lower than I had hoped. For this reason I will reduce the price with £10 per extra participant registering from now on for all participants, of course. It will not go under £100, which is what I have charged for other seminars. But if 5 more people decides to attend, the price will be down to £100…

Jacob Aagaard

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Goal setting – or setting yourself up for failure

May 27th, 2015 25 comments

This blog post is inspired by IM Lawrence Trent’s public announcement that he is retiring from competitive chess, but is by no means meant as advice to Lawrence or a comment on his very personal decision. But it is a small note on goal setting and the way you can set yourself up for failure.

I have personally aimed at the IM title and the GM title at various times in my life. I achieved both rather quickly at the time when I was ready for them, getting all the norms in less than 12 months. It took me an additional three years to surpass 2500 in rating and it is only from this that I learned some quite valuable lessons; what had worked for me and what did not.

First of all, no matter how much I desired the grandmaster title, the desire did not give me an inch of competitive advantage. Rather the contrary – the overload of importance my decision making was suffering from meant that I struggled to work things out that should have been achievable for me. Every defeat was a heartbreak and caused immense emotional suffering. I have since then had to hold my ill child in a scanner for 20 minutes while she was crying and begging me to let her go, so I have definitely experienced worse, but where that was probably 9/10, losing to a 2100 in Cappelle in 2005 was about a 7/10. If I had not been entirely demolished, it might have felt worse.

The way I got past it was actually simple. I allowed myself to fail. I decided that as long as I was trying my best, it was OK. If that was enough, then it was enough. And if not, then it was not.

In 2006 I lost a blitz play-off game at the Danish Championship where I was apparently winning. I went from 1st to 6th place in less than 30 seconds. I knew already then that I would probably never win the championship of my birth country, as I had already changed affiliation to Scotland. Still, there was no pain, no regret, no remorse. I had tried.

In 2007 I became British Champion and surpassed 2500 on the way.

What I recommend to students facing such tasks is to play it move by move. If you are close to GM-level, but constantly failing (as is happening with one guy I am helping at the moment), maybe the thing to do is to improve your chess skills and knowledge? To do the work required to be more than 2500 once; to become a GM for life, if indeed this is your wish. Because if you do not like chess, the whole thing seems rather pointless to me anyway…

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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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