Today I want to show one of my recent blitz games on the Internet Chess Club (ICC). I think it is somewhat instructive, especially in the context of IQP (Isolated Queen Pawn) positions.
I have enjoyed playing the white side of IQP positions ever since I read Alexander Baburin‘s phenomenal Winning Pawn Structures around 20 years ago. The book contains a couple of examples right out of the Panov-Botvinnik Attack as seen in this game. Even though I usually struggle with attacking, this one felt natural because Baburin’s examples are memorable.
A re-entered player cannot play someone they faced “in their first life, ” unless that opponent has also re-entered. Then, the “re-incarnated” entities can play!
Most tournaments do not allow re-entries, and scholastic tournaments almost never do, but it is something to be aware of.
Are Re-Entries Fair?
I think just about any tournament policy is fair if it is announced in advance in all publicity. It is the responsibility of the player to understand the rules of a competition, and to ask questions of the Organizer or Tournament Director if they are unsure about something.
The Organizer is responsible for ensuring good playing conditions; the Tournament Director is responsible for applying the regulations of the competition correctly and fairly.
Sometimes a re-entered player will win a prize, and this can upset some players. Anecdotally, the re-entry doesn’t change the player’s fortunes and they just increase the prize fund for players in good form.
Jacob Aagaard (1973 – ) was born in Horsholm, Denmark but for many years has represented Scotland. He earned his grandmaster title in 2007.
Aagaard’s most notable achievement as a player was his clear first place in the 2007 British Championship. He has also won the Championship of Scotland.
Not only does Aagaard have a great legacy as an author in his own right, he co-founded Quality Chess after writing a dozen books for Everyman Chess.
Quality Chess recruits top authors, including Marin, Boris Avrukh, Vasilios Kotronias, Artur Yusupov, and more.
A chess fanatic could safely buy a Quality Chess book sight unseen. I would not make this claim about any other chess publisher. Quality Chess also prints hardcover editions of their books: they have proven conclusively that players will pay for high quality work.
Anyway, this post is about Jacob Aagaard the author, so let’s get started, shall we? After all, he has won several Book of the Year awards from various entities.
The Sveshnikov book on Amazon: 5 stars.
From 1998 through 2004, Aagaard produced “typical” opening guides for improving players. I haven’t read any of these, because they didn’t cover subject matter that interested me at the time.
Excelling at Positional Chess was in my wheelhouse, and I enjoyed it even more than the original Excelling at Chess! Aagaard’s presentation of examples is sublime. I have not read Excelling at Technical Chess, but have been wanting to do so for years! So much for willpower.
Aagaard helped launch Quality Chess with Practical Chess Defence (2006). While interesting, it was perhaps slightly disappointing. I would think writing about defense is harder than writing about attacking.
Still, one must admire Aagaard for never shying away from taking risks and expressing his chess ideas.
In 2008, the new Grandmaster kept firing with The Attacking Manual 1: Basic Principles and The Attacking Manual 2: Technique and Praxis. In my opinion, these works raised Aagaard from popular writer and chess thinker to elite trainer. I didn’t get through much of these two books, but I did work through a handful of chapters — Dvoretsky-esque in many ways, but also more straightforward. This is no accident: Aagaard has been very open about his admiration for Mark Dvoretsky over the years.
As attacking-challenged as I am, these works did help. I imagine serious study would reap huge rewards. This pair of books won English Chess Federation Book of the Year for 2010.
What a way to cap off a successful career! Surely Aagaard would now focus on running Quality Chess and not write too much more, right?
Well … Aagaard is more of a field general, it seems!
Starting in 2012, he produced a series of training manuals for improving players — even up to GM level and beyond. I think there’s even a reference to Boris Gelfand using some of Aagaard’s material to help prepare for his 2012 World Championship match with Viswanathan Anand…
I bought Grandmaster Preparation: Calculation (2012) in hardcover, and it was so worth it. A beautiful book worth the $40 or whatever I paid for it. The little bit I worked through stretched me and restructured some of my thinking processes! Wow!
I’m not exaggerating: I think serious worth with this book could take an Expert like me and raise him or her to 2200-2300. All ambitious players should get it, say, 1800 and above.
That it won the 2013 Association of Chess Professionals Book of the Year award is almost an afterthought.
I haven’t bought any other books in the series, because I hardly work on chess any longer, but they are:
Born in Ryazan, Russia, Dmitry Andreikin (1990 – ) won the World Junior Championship in 2010. He is a two-time Russian Champion (2012, 2018), and was a Candidate in 2014. His highest rank was #19 in December 2014, and his highest rating was 2743 in June 2016.
Most grandmasters would be thrilled if they achieved these targets by the end of their career! And yet…
Andreikin is overshadowed by his 1990 rivals: former World #2 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, 2016 Challenger and youngest GM ever Sergey Karjakin, and World Champion Magnus Carlsen.
Today we look at a nice attacking gem against Sanan Sjugirov that helped Andreikin win the 2012 Russian Superfinal. Black plays a bit too slowly and pays a heavy price.
White to play. How did Andreikin set the stage for a quick win?
Maybe it’s obvious, but I thought I would reiterate that the game of chess is not for everyone.
My sister’s birthday is this coming Sunday, which reminds me that in all my years of playing chess and being a chess professional I could never get my mother or sister interested in the game. My sister knows how to move some of the pieces, but I doubt my mom could identify all of them!
On the other hand, my dad is a beginner, but has real interest in the game, sometimes calling or texting me random chess questions! He is the one who taught me how to play one fateful night almost 30 years ago…
I love them dearly all the same. I think it’s better that we’re not all into chess.
My experience with my family has informed my philosophy in spreading the game to others. I like chess, but there’s more to life than a board game.
Whenever I taught chess in schools as part of a curriculum (i.e., students had to learn chess and couldn’t get out of it), I tempered my expectations. Not everyone wanted to learn, and I wasn’t going to force them to like me or “my” game.
I always say, chess is one of the worst possible activities to be forced to participate in if a person doesn’t like it! Squinting at a board of full of plastic pieces in a nearly silent room? Can I blame a kid for preferring sports, art, or music?
I didn’t try to “convert” anyone. I just asked that students gave a decent effort and didn’t disturb others who were interested in learning.
It turns out that some students believe from the very beginning that chess is not for them. It is a game “for smart people,” and they believed they were not smart enough.
This is a different issue than not being interested: here I would try to build the student’s belief in themselves that they could learn. Chess is like anything else: if you work at it some and have decent instruction, you will learn! Genius is rare in chess.
I remember one third grade student in particular two years ago at my last school. For some reason she was convinced she couldn’t learn chess. But she had my class five days a week!
I promised her that if she came to class and simply tried, she would learn.
And she did! Once she realized she was starting to get it, her confidence soared. I actually think she missed me when she didn’t have my chess class any longer!
No wonder karate and taekwondo schools have forever sold “self confidence” as one of the main benefits of taking their classes!
I have written before that taking up the French Defense saved my chess career. Well, that was great for facing 1.e4, but I needed something against the closed openings. One day in 1999 my dad brought home a book that helped me solve this task for awhile. Thanks, Dad.
Play the Noteboom is the title of a 1996 book written by Mark van der Werf and Teun van der Vorm, and published by Cadogan Books (now Everyman Chess).
The Noteboom Variation is a cross between the Slav and Semi-Slav Defenses, characterized by the positon after, for example:
Black takes the c4-pawn and might hold onto it!
In the main line, black gives back the pawn and a very unusual situation arises:
Black has two outside, connected passed pawns! This single factor made the Noteboom really attractive to me in the late 1990s and early 2000s: as long as I didn’t get mated, I often wound up with winning or nearly winning endgames!
I had a ridiculously high score with the Noteboom Variation, when my opponents allowed it, including some nice upsets. The fun didn’t stop there, however.
The Marshall Gambit
White can avoid this situation by playing an Anti-Noteboom system. The most common and best choice is the Marshall Gambit:
This early central thrust is not possible in the Slav or Semi-Slav because Black has a knight on f6. The main line continues:
When White has definite compensation for the missing pawn: open lines for the queen and bishops, and a drafty Black king to target.
I believe the main move here is 8…Na6. But as a firm adherent of the “take and hold” school of chess, I used to play 8…Nd7, threatening to shut out white’s monster bishop with 9…c5.
Four of my tournament games reached this position. My opponents played 9.Bd6 or 9.Qd6. Then I held on for dear life after…
…and won all four games! Now, I was probably losing in three of them, but sometimes Caissa is on your side. My opponents included an A-player, the same Expert twice, and my first master scalp in tournament play.
Um, yeah. Don’t try this at home!
Now I view all of this very differently. In the main line Noteboom Variation White has a strong bishop pair and his central play could end up being, shall we say, problematic. 15 years later, I wouldn’t try a “rope-a-dope” strategy against the Marshall Gambit. Not a recipe for success…
Desperate people do desperate things. I was a weak player without much confidence and relied on a material advantage to win long, drawn-out endgames. I didn’t think I could win any other way. That led me to playing these semi-bluff openings.
Funnily enough, nowadays I have a massive score against the Noteboom on ICC! That’s the great thing about playing an opening: you learn how to play against it, too!
Andrew Soltis (1947 – ) was born in Hazelton, Pennsylvania but grew up in New York City. By contemporary standards “Andy” started in chess late, not playing tournaments until his teens.
In an exceedingly difficult age for American chess players to make a living from the game, Soltis nevertheless became an International Master in 1974 and a Grandmaster in 1980.
Soltis twice won the U.S. Open (1977, 1982) and Reggio Emilia1971/1972.
It is fitting Andy Soltis is Part 9 of this series, as he won the Marshall Chess Club Championship a record nine times!
Like Mednis, Znosko-Borovsky, Reinfeld, and Marin — Soltis is another author in our series for whom writing was a full-time career. He worked at the New York Post as his day job for over 40 years, writing more than 100 chess books during that time. He has also written the Chess to Enjoy column in Chess Life magazine, a great representation of his pithy writing style.
A Tour of the Andrew Soltis Library
This won’t be an exhaustive list, but I’ll cover some highlights in different categories.
Soltis discusses his chess career and lightly annotates many of his games. Progress didn’t come easily, but he persevered on the path to Grandmaster when few of his peers crossed that hurdle. In some ways this is an inspiring book, as few of us are stars and have to grind away for years to reach our chess dreams. I couldn’t put it down. A very underrated book!
This is maybe the most highly-regarded Soltis book. The idea was perhaps revolutionary at the time, but I was never a fan. I have not read the new version, however. A big plus for Pawn Structure Chess is the “supplemental games” at the end of each section — they are well chosen and annotated with typical instructive and to-the-point Soltis comments.
There aren’t too many books on chess defense. I haven’t read the Soltis books, so I can’t really comment. Paul Keres wrote an instructive chapter on “How to Defend Difficult Positions” in classic The Art of the Midddle Game. Another title is in this genre is The Art of Defence in Chess by Lev Polugaevsky and Iakov Damsky.
Endgames and Strategy
An interesting early Soltis book is Catalog of Chess Mistakes (1980), which introduces a variety of different errors a player can make playing chess or in their approach to the game. These include tactical, strategic, and especially attitude or psychological failings that can doom a player.
The book I really want to emphasize in this section, however, is my favorite Soltis book of all: Turning Advantage into Victory in Chess (2004). This book will really help reframe how you think about chess technique — which is often regarded as elusive and mysterious.
I find a lot of players don’t appreciate static nuances the way they could, and this book will help with that.
As a 2000+ player, I found this book quite instructive as a middlegame text generally! I think this may be because the Fianchetto Pirc/Modern doesn’t have a ton of theory, so the author discusses more strategy than reams of variations. Many of the ideas can be applied against other fianchettoes.
I’ll stop here. There are so many more Soltis books that I have either not read or simply missed!
Gashimov reached a peak rating of 2761 in January 2012, the same month as Wijk aan Zee. As it turned out, this would be his final tournament as epilepsy and a brain tumor forced him to retire from chess at just 25 years old. He died two years later, only 27, reminiscent of Pillsbury, Charousek, and other top talents a century before.
His notatble tournament victories include Cappelle la Grande (2007 and 2008), the FIDE Baku Grand Prix(2008) in his home city, and Reggio Emilia(2010/2011). He also won the decisive last round game that clinched gold for Azerbaijan at the 2009 European Team Championship.
The Gashimov Memorial has been held annually since 2014 in Shamkir, Azerbaijan.
Gashimov wins a minature against the formidable Boris Gelfand. The Belarusian-Israeli legend was only the fifth player in chess history to achieve a 2700 Elo rating (after Fischer, Karpov, Tal, and Kasparov). He nearly reached the chess Olympus in 2012 when he drew a 12-game World Championship match with Viswanathan Anand (+1 =10 -1) but lost the rapid tiebreak.
White to play. How did Gashimov end the game quickly after Gelfand’s untimely castling?
To me, this implies he plays 1…e6 in response to at least 1.e4 and 1.d4, and possibly other first moves as well. If my assumption is correct, it means he plays the Classical Dutch (…f5, …Nf6, …d6, …e6) or Stonewall Dutch (…f5, …Nf6, …e6, …d5, …c6), but not the Leningrad Dutch (…f5, …Nf6, …g6, …Bg7, …d6).
What Does the French/Dutch Player Want?
Rich, counterattacking play!
The choice of the Dutch as d4-defense is revealing and makes me think this player favors lines like the Winawer, Classical, MacCutcheon, or Burn Variations in the French after 3.Nc3 — and not quiet passive lines such as the Rubinstein or Fort Knox.
In my years of playing the French, I never considered playing the Winawer or MacCutcheon in tournament play — it’s just not my style. The Classical and Fort Knox were my favorites. But how do you identify what to play?
I don’t believe that the Sicilian is necessarily the “best” opening, or that everyone should play it. I do believe, however, that any player who wants to answer 1.e4 with 1…c5 can find a system to their liking.
I’m talking about how to answer the Open Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3):
As you probably know, there is a huge array of options. Traditionally, they are grouped by black’s reply from the diagram: does s/he play 2…Nc6, 2…d6, or 2…e6?
Instead I’ll consider popular variations based on my opinions about they rank on two scales:
Aggressive — Neutral — Solid
Tactical — Neutral — Positional.
Of course, white has a hand in which line is played also, so these won’t be 100% accurate, but I’ll characterize some popular lines.
If you want an excellent overview of the Sicilian mainlines and Anti-Sicilian setups, get Mastering the Sicilian Defense by the late Danny Kopec (1954-2016). Kopec always shined as an author when discussing structural play in the opening and middlegame.
Okay, here we go:
Aggressive and Tactical
High risk, high reward! Probably the most aggressive line in the entire Sicilian universe is the Dragon Variation (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6):
The “Dragon bishop” plans to breathe fire on the long a1-h8 diagonal. White’s most critical try, the Yugoslav Attack (6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 Nc6 8.Qd2 0-0):
When the first player will castle into an attack on the queenside, while starting one of their own on the kingside.
Despite this, I have never considered the Dragon super-tactical, because many of the sacrifices are standard and repeat themselves over and over again. Still, compared to other options, I will place it in this bucket.
This may surprise some people, but I consider the Najdorf a blend of Tactical and Positional. Black doesn’t necessarily aim to attack the king, and often uses a “whole board” strategy. It is not as aggressive as the Dragon in a “kill the king” sense, but a positionally aggressive opening where black willingly takes on some risk. I learned how to play this opening from the first edition of The Sharpest Sicilian, one of the finest opening books I have ever read.
Black seeks aggressive counterplay in this line, but the risks are more structural than anything else, with the potential outpost on d5. A knight ensconced here can be paralyzing. Still, neither side is too likely to get mated during a Sveshnikov battle, and the tactical play is relatively tame.
This is a dynamic, combative system with a large array of possible setups for both sides. Not only do both players need to be well-prepared and alert, some of the tactical motifs are strange. There are more solid lines a player can choose than the Taimanov, but more aggressive ones as well.
When I play 1.e4, it is my least favorite Sicilian to face because of its chameleon-like qualities. I should probably take a look at Emms’ book!
I’ve given a traditional move order, but this exact position is now infrequent because of the strong Keres Attack (6.g4). Nowadays the Scheveningen is more often reached through the Najdorf: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 e6.
These positions are among the most balanced in the Sicilian, with something for everyone.
For more than a crash course on the Scheveningen, get Dynamics of Chess Strategy by Czech Grandmaster Vlastimil Jansa (trainer of David Navara). His comments on the Scheveningen, Ruy Lopez, and other lines is as good as you’ll find anywhere. Garry Kasparov, devoted Scheveningen player during his career, might also agree with Jansa’s recommendation against the Pirc as a “turkey shoot!”
Neutral and Positional
Kan Variation (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6):
This branch of the Sicilian is much tamer than, for example, the Sveshnikov or Taimanov. There are more solid or positional alternatives, however. Black’s play is restrained, but not plodding. White has very different ways of answering this opening, from the space-eating Maroczy Bind (5.c4) to the solid 5.Nc3 to the more aggressive 5.Bd3 followed by Qg4.
Honestly, this is a Sicilian I don’t like for either side! Of course, your mileage may vary.
I’ll say it plainly: I don’t think the Accelerated Dragon is very good if white plays the Maroczy Bind (5.c4!) and doesn’t allow black to make a bunch of exchanges. I’ve never understood why this line is so popular in books/DVDs and with chess coaches. Can someone please explain it to me? Everytime I face it I feel like I’m shooting fish in a barrel.
Black has some tricks in non-Maroczy lines, but if white is prepared this defense will be a most welcome sight.
The polar opposite of the Dragon? I think so. Black hangs back and develops solidly, reacting to white’s ideas. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, if you’re the kind of player who likes to bait the opponent into overextending themselves.
The Classical has some distinct advantages. Like the Dragon, there is only one really challenging line against it, the Richter-Rauzer (6.Bg5). Unlike the Najdorf or Taimanov, in the Classical you pretty much know what’s coming if your opponent doesn’t play an Anti-Sicilian.
An aggressive player might opt for the Sozin Attack (6.Bc4) and a very aggressive opponent will head for the VelimirovicAttack (6.Bc4 e6 7.Be3 Be7 8.Qe2), but the prepared Classical player has nothing to fear in these lines.
Another benefit of the Classical is its flexible move order: black can play 2…d6 and 5…Nc6, or 2…Nc6 and 5…d6. That’s helpful when trying to get your preferred setup against Anti-Sicilians.
I hope this overview helps players considering playing the Sicilian for the first time or, maybe, a player considering a system change! Which Sicilian is best for you?