Monthly Archives: February 2021

The Levon Aronian Transfer: My Thoughts

Levon Aronian from ARM to STL!?

Levon Aronian

Levon Aronian. Photo: europechess.org

When I first saw the chess24 tweet with news that Levon Aronian will switch federations from Armenia to USA, I seriously thought it was an April Fool’s Day joke!

Then I realized it’s only February 26…

Holy Crap. Of all top players, I never expected to see Aronian transfer from Armenia. He is THE living treasure of a chess-obsessed nation.

Then I read his comments in the press release of the Saint Louis Chess Club, and understood his decision. A new governement apparently didn’t support his endeavors the way he felt they should. It reminds me of Sergey Karjakin’s transfer from Ukraine to Russia several years ago.

 

More Support is Good for Chess as a Whole

I’ve already seen comments online criticizing the USA and particularly Rex Sinquefield, but I’m all for top players receiving more support, no matter which country they play for.

Personally, I’m grateful for Mr. Sinquefield supporting chess the way he has over the past 10+ years. He is the single most important person in American chess since Bobby Fischer.

Aronian playing for the USA in Olympiads and World Team Championships will be…strange… but otherwise, not much will change.

Levon Aronian will always be seen as Armenian by fans worldwide. Let’s discuss the rest of Team USA:

  • Wesley So is still viewed as Filipino because he changed federations when he was already a 2700 player.
  • The case of Leinier Dominguez is very similar to that of Aronian.
  • Hikaru Nakamura developed as a chess player entirely in the States — and won the top section of my first rated tournament.
  • Fabiano Caruana took his early steps in chess in America. I would know, he played in countless Marshall Chess Club events I directed. The first time he played in one of my tournaments, he was already a FIDE Master. This was long before he went to Europe.
  • Ray Robson, Sam Shankland, and Jeffery Xiong developed in the United States.

Chess doesn’t have the money of other sports, and players should find opportunities wherever they can. Those complaining on the sidelines aren’t going to pay these players’ bills.

Good luck, Levon!

Encyclopedia of Chess Miniatures

Šahovski Informator is the long-time publisher of Chess Informant, Encyclopedia of Chess OpeningsEncyclopedia of Chess Endings, and many other references loved by chess players worldwide for over half a century.

Encyclopedia of Chess MiniaturesEncyclopedia of Chess Miniatures (ECM) is one of those “other” reference titles.

I’ll be upfront: at 50 USD one can say ECM is not essential, because it isn’t.

But many of my readers should buy it anyway!

  • It’s a sturdily-bound, hardcover book.
  • At 560 pages, it contains 1636 complete games and fragments.
  • The entries are sorted by ECO code.
  • The annotations are to the point, and contain all the important information in typical Informant-style symbology.
  • An index of players is included in the back.

Warning: this collection is not for beginners! I would say 1700, minimum.

The target audience is advanced players and coaches. There is a lot of gold to be mined here! In particular, the sorting by ECO code is very helpful for experienced students of the game.

Read ECM for opening prep, read it for lesson prep, and read it for pleasure.

Often, collectors find chess books lying around their home and wonder: “Ugh, why did I spend money on that one?” Or, at least I do!

Years from now, when this attractive hardcover volume catches your eye, it will bring a smile to your face.

I promise: you won’t regret buying Encyclopedia of Chess Miniatures — even if you could comb through the databases and put together a similar collection yourself. How many hours would that take you?

My copy of ECM is still as pristine as the day it arrived at my home years ago. Think of ECM as an investment you will get excellent use from for many, many years. Then 50 bucks is a small price to pay.

Chess Tactics: Radjabov — Naiditsch, 2003

Teimour Radjabov

Teimour Radjabov. Photo: 365chess.com

Teimour Radjabov was born in Baku, Azerbaijan in 1987.

He was at one point the youngest grandmaster in the world, achieving the highest title in chess at the age of 14 years and 14 days (at that time, Bu Xiangzhi was the youngest GM ever, before Sergey Karjakin shattered the record in 2002).

Radjabov began playing top tournaments at age 14, making appearances at Dortmund, Wijk aan Zee, and Linares. His peak world rank was No. 4 (October 2012), and a month later he achieved his highest mark on the FIDE Rating List: 2793.

In recent years it seemed the gifted Azeri was finished as an absolute top player, but he surprisingly won the 2019 World Cup, defeating Ding Liren in the finals. This earned him a spot in the 2020 Candidates Tournament. FIDE screwed the pooch on that one, but I look forward to seeing Radjabov in the next Candidates.

 

Dortmund 2003 is best remembered for a monumental upset: Victor Bologan (World No. 42) triumphed in a six-player double round-robin over Vladimir Kramnik, Vishy Anand, and Peter Leko — ranked 2nd, 3rd, and 4th in the world, respectively.

Two youngsters also took part in that event: Radjabov and Arkadij Naiditsch.

Everyone should play through Alexander Finkel’s annotations for ChessBase to the Round 8 battle, below — how to handle, or in this case not handle, a direct kingside attack from a Queen Pawn Game (here, the Torre Attack).

White to play. How did Radjabov launch a deadly attack?

13.?

 

Where is your counterplay coming from?

Which Chess Opening Move is Best? Part 3

In Part 1, we discussed 1.e4. Part 2 was all about 1.d4. Now it’s time to talk about the so-called Flank Openings.

Since I have discussed 1.c4 previously, I’ll focus on other moves, starting with…

 

1.Nf3 — Definitely NOT for keeping things simple

Former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik was the most successful exponent of 1.Nf3. Photo: ruchess.ru

Unless you are married to 1.e4 until death-do-you-part, opening with 1.Nf3 seems very appealing because of the flexibilty it allows in the closed openings. You can weave in and out of different systems based on your preferences or the opponent you are facing.

I’ve dabbled with 1.Nf3 since 1999 (A Strategic Opening Repertoire by John Donaldson). Conclusion: the move is more trouble than it’s worth.

Prepare an opening repertoire based on main lines, then play it. Start with 1.e4, 1.d4, or 1.c4. Your rating will thank you. Don’t get cute. More often than not, you’ll confuse yourself or you’ll wind up in lines your opponents know better than you do!

There is one more move to seriously consider that doesn’t get mentioned nearly as often:

 

1.g3 — A reasonable choice!

Obviously, this move commits White to a kingside fianchetto; otherwise, I think it could be a good choice for the right player. Black cannot be sure what exactly he’s facing, or not facing: 1.Nf3 takes away the King’s English (1.c4 e5), the Benko, Albin, and Budapest…but it also creates limitations against the Queen’s Gambit, Grunfeld, and King’s Indian, for example.

GM Samy Shoker has made a career of this move and wrote a book about it, with Emmanuel Neiman.

 

Now onto a bunch of moves I don’t recommend against your peers or better. My commentary may be harsh or dismissive, but that’s exactly how strong opponents will treat these moves.

Yes, they are playable. No, you should not be struggling for equality with the White pieces! It’s not the right way to play chess (though anything is fine occasionally). Sorry, not sorry!

I wholeheartedly agree with Greg Shahade when it comes to building an opening repertoire.

Of course, all of this goes out the window if you are facing significantly weaker opposition, or find yourself in a blitz/rapid competition.

 

1.b3 — I thought Spassky refuted this in 1970?

I’m kidding…sort of. In case you don’t know, I’m referring to this:

Larsen-Spassky was played during the USSR vs. World match in Belgrade 1970. Photo: FIDE

50 years have passed since this game; even now strong players occasionallly use Larsen’s Opening. So why do I bring up this game?

Black’s play is easy and natural; White’s setup is shaky from the get-go. Why do this to yourself?

Once again, I’m not saying to never use it, but please don’t on a regular basis!

 

1.f4 — Are you sure?

Henry Edward Bird

Henry Bird (1830-1908). 1877 drawing by Sam Lloyd. Source: Wikipedia

Be honest, Bird’s Opening regulars: how many of you push the f-pawn because you don’t want to spend time and energy studying something else?

Experienced opponents will be on guard from the beginning, recognizing the latent attacking potential in your setup and prepare for it long in advance.

One can argue White is playing a Dutch with an extra tempo, so it can’t be that bad. Still, I would not want to use it all the time against players who know it’s coming.

1.Nc3 — Pointless

Most likely, this move will box you into worse versions of openings you’re desperately trying to avoid. Next…

 

1.b4 — At least it gains space and doesn’t weaken the kingside…

Alexey Sokolsky

Alexey Sokolsky (1908-1969) A giant of chess in Belarus. Photo: Wikipedia

I think the Orangutan (or Sokolsky’s Opening) is a great opening for creative types to employ against someone rated 400+ points below them, because it is not completely ridiculous, admittedly.

Fittingly, New York IM Yury Lapshun wrote a book about it, co-authored with late National Master Nick Conticello. RIP, NIck.

But I’ll echo what I’ve said many times already: White is taking on a handicap by regularly using this against peers.

 

Others?

1.g4 is, to me, a riskier version of stuff like 1.b4. Instead of this, you’re better off pushing the a- or h-pawns, if you feel you must.

If you want to play with chemicals, the Sodium Attack (1.Na3) and Ammonia Attack (1.Nh3) at least develop a piece.

Again, no argument from me if you want to use this stuff against much lower-rated players, or in non-classical settings. Otherwise, avoid!

Chess Study vs. Chess Practice

Study and practice are both important, but…

One side of the equation will likely have a bigger impact on your overall chess progress.

Many people are experiential. They learn best “by doing.” Such chess players are able to learn from their mistakes, and don’t repeat their errors so much. When coaching, I can recognize such players very quickly.

Other players, like me, are more thick-headed. We can make the same types of mistakes — maybe the same exact mistakes — more than once. Perhaps several times … before hopefully learning from them.

“Ok, everyone learns at a different pace, understood. But they do learn! So the improver should simply play a lot, then?”

Not so fast, parents and coaches…

 

Competitive Makeup

Some players love competing, others only like winning … and plenty more are borderline nauseated by the whole tournament experience!

We need to be honest about this. It’s common to say “wins and losses don’t matter,” or similar things about “the process” of improving.

But results do matter. Not in the sense of “Ha ha, I beat you!,” but rather in dealing with losses.

Losing is much tougher on some players than others. I’m definitely part of this crowd.

Not everyone has the same competitive psychology. I advise you to not force your child or student to have the same psychology you have, or that you think they should have. 

Some players are quiet, timid, or lack confidence. They can achieve success in chess, but not if you try to “toughen them up” from the get-go. That’s how you get a kid to quit.

As a parent or coach, your first responsibility is the well-being of the child. And please: don’t judge a player for “being too sensitive.” Kids can feel annoyance and condescension. Support them, genuinely care about them, and build them up gradually.

So how do you “build them up?”

 

A “Four-Letter Word” in Chess: PREPARATION!

Many players and fans groan when discussing chess study or home preparation. They almost seem to view it as some kind of low-key cheating.

“Just wing it and see what happens!” 

“Let the best player win!”

Fans often accuse top players of “hiding behind their prep.”

I believe this is jealousy: lots of people want to increase their rating fast, but don’t want to put in the hard work for it. They would rather bash the player who gives all to “get good.”

The best way to build confidence in a player who lacks it? Great coaching and prep work!

If a nervous player knows they have been putting in a lot of work on openings and endgames, working properly on tactics, improving their grasp of strategy…they will feel a lot more optimistic about their chances in tournaments.

This work will lead to more victories, bigger trophies, a higher rating…

And then they’re on their way!

One last thing: over-preparing is not an issue in chess. Don’t use it as an excuse to be lazy. Just don’t leave your prep to the night before an event, to the point where it stops you from getting proper rest.

No Playoffs for Round Robins!

Why do we need them?

I’m not necessarily against mathematical tiebreaks for Swiss-System tournaments, especially scholastic events with trophies.

For decades and longer, a high-level round robin would be held over multiple weeks, and at the end one or more players would emerge with the highest score. End of event.

Only when indivisible prizes were at stake — such as qualification to a future event — some kind of classical playoff would be held, either immediately or at some point in the future.

Otherwise, an event could have two, three, or more co-winners. No big deal.

The London 2013 Candidates Tournament would have benefitted from a playoff, but instead “most wins” was used to decide a Challenger for the World Championship! Completely asinine.

 

Endangered Traditions

Of course, I bring all this up in light of the recent controversy surrounding the conclusion of Tata Steel Chess 2021, the 83rd annual Wijk aan Zee tournament.

I won’t wade into the events surrounding Firouzja, Wojtaszek, and the arbiter. But I will say this: the organizers should have reconsidered the importance of having a playoff when they saw the possibility of disturbing a last-round classical game!

When the playoff did happen, between Anish Giri and Jorden van Foreest, it was not decided by brilliant play. To say the least.

An armageddon game decided a prestigious event after 13 rounds of classical chess where the two Dutchmen finished ahead of Carlsen, Caruana, MVL, and other rising stars. Seriously…why??

The few traditional tournaments we have left like Wijk aan Zee should not feel pressured to give into the rapid/blitz chess mob.

I would love to hear the thoughts of others in the chess community on this issue.