Category Archives: Opinion

Andre’s personal opinions on various chess topics.

The English Opening: Playing 1.c4

The English Opening or …

I am by no means a specialist on openings in general, or the English Opening in particular, but I have opened with 1.c4, 1.d4, 1.e4, and 1.Nf3 in my tournament career.

As many before me have said, 1.e4 is the most straightforward first move, and 1.d4 can be very direct as well if the player intends it to be so.

A 1.Nf3 user often employs transpositional “games” against their adversary, aiming for certain openings or variations while avoiding others. Two defenses that regularly get frozen out in this way are the Nimzo-Indian and the Grünfeld, when white plays an early Nf3 and c4, but not d4.

Why 1.c4?

One of the main arguments for 1.Nf3 is that it avoids 1…e5.

In contrast, the 1.c4 player wants to play “English” positions; not just transpose into favorable d4-lines. Specifically, I’m talking about positions that arise after 1.c4 e5.

The 1.c4 player likes playing these positions since black has ceded control over the d5-square white hopes to clamp down on:

I began to like these positions after studying How to Play the English Opening (Batsford, 2007) by Anatoly Karpov. The ex-World Champion spends a lot of time covering the Four Knights Variation with 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.g3:

…mainly through his games against Garry Kasparov and other absolute top players. He also covers other choices on move 4 besides g3.

Game Changers

Kosten's famous book on the English Opening

I doubt Kosten imagined the influence his small book would have on the popularity of the English Opening!

Karpov’s book is underrated, but that likely has to do with the enduring popularity of The Dynamic English (Gambit, 1999) by Tony Kosten, and the authority Mihail Marin established with The English Opening (3 Volumes, Quality Chess, 2009-2010).

Kosten and Marin recommend the move order 1.c4 e5 2.g3. Kosten’s book in particular is very system-based, which appeals to many players. But with the explosion of chess information over the past 20 years, black players are more aware than ever how to deal with his main setup, the Botvinnik System:

That doesn’t mean white should hesitate to play this way if s/he enjoys the resulting positions. The strongest ideas in chess are those that are effective even if your opponent knows they’re coming.

But the “Old” English Opening was Popular for Decades!

1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 is less predictable: both sides have freedom to choose their preferred setup — black can even try 2…Bb4. Going into lines with 2.Nc3 is something to consider for a player who has more advanced positional skills than their peers and has reasonable hopes of outplaying them — though I wouldn’t recommend the English until a player is 1600, at least.

Flank openings are more structurally fluid than 1.e4 or 1.d4, but choosing 1.c4 over 1.Nf3 takes that to another level. If you can become a specialist in “pure” English positions, there are plenty of points to be scored simply through better familiarity of the terrain.

Should I Play Attacking Chess?

Studying tactics and checkmates is usually the first step for new chess players. Next comes classic. short attacking games: the miniatures. They’re exciting and more straightforward for inexperienced players than technical masterpieces.

What is an Attacking Style?

Sometimes, the position requires you to attack the enemy king. Even the most conservative players will launch an attack when it is clearly the right plan. Does this, then, make everyone an attacking player? Not quite.

An attacking player is one who most often chooses to attack when the best available plan is a matter of taste. In the same position, a different player might try to gain space, press a queenside initiative, or go for a promising endgame.

It’s more a question of a player’s mentality and approach to chess.

Let’s take a simple example from the Pirc Defense (1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6):

As I warned when challenging the idea that 1…e5 players need to worry about a lot of lines, while others have a much easier task: white has plenty of options against the Pirc, too.

Sedate players like Anatoly Karpov or Ulf Andersson would choose simple development with something like 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Be2 0-0 6.0-0 and play for central control:

Another treatment is the positional 4.f4 Bg7 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Bd3 favored by, e.g., Bobby Fischer:

An attacking player would not hesitate to pursue a kingside attack, for example with 4.Be3 Bg7 5.Qd2 c6 6.f3:

This was precisely the scheme Garry Kasparov used in his famous victory against Veselin Topalov at Wijk aan Zee 1999.

Garry Kasparov gets ready to play attacking chess against Veselin Topalov at the 1999 Wijk aan Zee tournament.

No one knew that one of the greatest games in chess history was about to begin.

Risk and Reward

Playing attacking chess in “borderline” situations increases the likelihood of a decisive result — either the aggressor breaks through or the defender repels the assault and winds up with extra material. You have to be willing to accept more losses with your wins.

There is also a greater burden on a player’s ability to calculate, even more so if they play sharp opening lines. We saw an example of this in Svidler — Vallejo-Pons. The player making the first mistake can lose outright. Some players love this kind of play, however!

What Kind of Player are You?

You have to play a lot of games and honestly assess what kinds of positions you feel more “at home” in. Does active play suit you…and how active are we talking? Do you prefer to initiate play or to play against your opponent’s ideas? Above all, don’t experiment too much in tournaments — that’s what online chess is for!

Another hint: which famous player’s games “speak” to you? It’s unlikely you’ll ever play as well as your hero, but finding a role model to emulate can be very helpful.

Don’t hesitate to keep tweaking your openings until you find a set of lines that you know how to play and actually want to play. If you would be happy to employ a line against a player rated 200 points higher than you, keep it in your repertoire!

What are your experiences? Please share!

The #1 Ingredient for Chess Improvement

Chess improvement is a goal of most players

Maybe you dream of raising your rating 100-200 points…achieving a rating of 2000…winning a Club or National Championship. I have done each of these things, when a year or two before it seemed unlikely.

There are endless chess books, websites, and coaching options available to players who want to get better. All of these tools can be helpful if utilized well, but one factor is more important than any other in determining how far a player will go in their chess endeavors: dealing with losses.

You’re going to make mistakes, blunder, and lose games you shouldn’t. You will also have bad tournaments — possibly streaks of bad tournaments — and sometimes feel like your efforts at progress are going nowhere.

Why am I spending all of this time, money, and energy training and playing tournaments? Maybe I should just cut my losses and stop torturing myself.

Have thoughts like this ever crossed your mind? They have for me, many times over the years!

Somtimes you can push these thoughts away, and sometimes they have a stronger pull, causing you to “take a break” from chess.

To keep moving forward, accept all results as simply feedback and don’t get so personally attached to it. Much easier said than done! And, admittedly, something I have never been able to do for even a full year at a time.

I reached my highest-ever rating in October 2016, at 2137. The dream of becoming a National Master after 20+ years seemed so close! Two great tournaments, three good tournaments, or four above-average tournaments might bring me to 2200.

Then I made a big mistake. Several mistakes, actually:

  • I did not recognize that my rating gains were partially luck and not the result of great play on my part. Winning from worse or losing positions, opponents walking into my opening preparation, timely draw offers accepted when my opponents should not have done so…
  • I forced myself to play events when I did not feel 100% prepared.
  • I decided to change my style and hired a coach to help me play in this alien style.
  • I put more pressure on myself as my rating slid further away from 2200 with each passing event.
  • I became demoralized and “pulled the plug” four tournaments later in June 2017 when my rating sank to 2075.
  • I have not played a tournament since!

I mean, I know better. When you lose your objectivity, you can lose everything.

Funnily enough, I was planning to play again in April 2020 alongside one of my students. Best laid plans…

I have been working on my game at a slow pace, and should be ready to compete again when COVID-19 becomes less of a threat.

My advice to you (and to myself):

I mean, I’m not providing earth-shattering advice here. Most experienced players know what to do…the question is, will you do it?

ICCF: Official Correspondence Chess

Intro to Correspondence Chess

Most players are used to over-the-board, or OTB, chess. Correspondence games are played over a period of months or even years, and not in person.

Screenshot of a completed ICCF correspondence game

Screenshot of a completed ICCF correspondence game.

They were traditionally played by postal mail, with each player sending moves to their opponent on a postcard. This is rare nowadays, and most games are played via a webserver — just log in, bring up your game, and enter a move on a chessboard. You can also exchange messages with your opponent if you wish.

Individual correspondence tournaments are round-robins with an odd number of players. You play all of your games simultaneously: half with the white pieces, and half with black. The time control is given as X moves in Y days: for example 10 moves in 50 days. This repeats as long as the game continues and a player has not run out of time.

Many sites offer correspondence chess, and the number grows if we include online servers that offer everything from blitz, to standard, to correspondence-style play. However, there is only one place to play official, FIDE-recognized CC: the ICCF.

 

The International Correspondence Chess Federation (ICCF)

The ICCF logo.

The ICCF logo.

Let’s learn a bit about ICCF’s history, from the body itself:

ICCF is the International Correspondence Chess Federation. ICCF was founded in 1951 as a new appearance of the ICCA (International Correspondence Chess Association), which was founded in 1945, as successor of the IFSB (Internationaler Fernschachbund), founded in 1928.ICCF

And the key part:

ICCF is closely co-operating with the leading world chess organization FIDE. All ICCF titles, championships and ratings are recognised by FIDE.ICCF

Titles

In addition to World Champion, the ICCF offers the following titles for correspondence play (in descending order):

  • Grandmaster (GM)
  • Senior International Master (SIM)
  • International Master (IM)
  • Correspondence Chess Master (CCM)
  • Correspondence Chess Expert (CCE)
  • Note: the Ladies Grandmaster (LGM) and Ladies International Master (LIM) titles have been phased out, as have Ladies Correspondence World Championships.

Normally, to achieve these titles a player must score two or more norms totalling a total of 24 games, similar to over-the-board GM/IM/WGM/WIM titles (two or more norms totalling 27 or more games).

CCE and CCM were added in the past few years, but I don’t think they’re prestigious, even though I have the CCE title and have a very good chance of completing the CCM title in my current tournament.

What About Computers!?

ICCF does not prohibit outside assistance. Players are allowed to use engines, which I freely admit to doing.

Besides ICCF being officially recognized by FIDE, this is the other main reason I chose ICCF play: they don’t pretend to police computer usage in long games played across the globe.

Now, no one suspects anyone else of anything. It would be much worse if computer assistance was not allowed, and some players used it anyway to cheat. I have no doubt this happens on other servers.

And I’ve got news for you: simply turning on the engine and having it do all the work for you will not get you very far when everyone else can do the same thing! This has made ICCF play very different than it was in the past, but I don’t see a viable alternative in the computer age. The vast majority of games end in draws.

I’m not very skilled in ICCF play, and don’t take it super-seriously. My opening prep is slipshod, and I’m nowhere close to being a computer expert. Still, there is scope for creativity in opening choices, directing the line of play, and steering games to the endgame. I find “centaur” (human plus computer) chess stimulating, and in some ways it has helped my standard chess, too!

Have you ever played correspondence chess before? Would you ever try it? And how do you feel about the ICCF not prohibiting engine assistance?

Watch Strong Players Play, in Person

Inspiration and Motivation

I recently wrote about my first chess tournaments. The beginning of a player’s career is critical in the development of their feelings and attitudes about the game and their own place in it.

The skittles area looks different, and yet the same. The site: Borough of Manhattan Community College. Photo: Tribeca Citizen

If you’re as clueless about chess as I was and feel you’re bashing your head against a wall — go watch strong players in person.

“Strong” depends on your level and respect for “chess authority.”

As a newbie, I was awed by the 1700s playing blitz and bughouse at the 1996 Greater NY Junior Championship organized by the Chess Center of New York.

They let me play some games, too…and crushed me in humiliating fashion.

I have never forgotten it. It kept me motivated to get stronger. Even when I sometimes wanted to quit.

A week later at the same location I watched GMs Joel Benjamin and Michael Rohde play a long series of blitz games…these guys wrote articles I read in Chess Life each month! I was starstruck.

It didn’t much matter that I finished 60th out of 65 players. Walking out of BMCC I was shaking my fist determined to improve.

Years later

During my time as Assistant Manager of the Marshall Chess Club (2003-2005) I loved watching “regulars” play. Examples: Marc Arnold, Julio Becerra, Salvijus Bercys, Jay Bonin, Fabiano Caruana, Asa Hoffmann, Giorgi Kacheishvili, Dmytro Kedyk, Kassa Korley, Irina Krush, Yury Lapshun, Alex Lenderman, Adam Maltese, Leif Pressman, Boris Privman, Raven Sturt and Leonid Yudasin. It was my favorite part of the job!

I always take the opportunity to watch high-rated players play as a player. spectator, or director. It isn’t about chess osmosis, though I do believe that exists. These experiences connect me with chess in a way solitary study and online play cannot.

The answer to chess improvement is desire…and maybe, just maybe, getting mad. You will manage a way. Watching strong players play in person, and sometimes getting your clock cleaned, can be a real help.

Online FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar: How to Prepare

Is the pandemic good for the online FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar?

The COVID-19 pandemic has actually increased the amount of scheduled FIDE Arbiters' Seminars; now they're exclusively online.

The coronavirus pandemic has increased the frequency of the online FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar.

A few weeks ago I wrote about my experience attending the 74th Internet-based FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar organized in early May by the European Chess Union. The course and final exam are a real challenge, and FIDE certainly doesn’t give away seminar norms!

WIth the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, all seminars are being organized online. This has led to more courses, since arbiters don’t need to worry about travel expenses and logistics. I hope this factor leads to increased attendance as well.

Readers’ Mailbag

After seeing my earlier post, a reader sent me a question yesterday:

Hi Andre, How are you? I am attending FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar this weekend and I was wondering how should I go about preparing for the seminar and exam? Is there any thing you suggest I can do in the next couple of days that will help me to get the most out of the seminar? Thanks for all your help.A Reader

They asked not to be identified since they don’t want FIDE to think I’m giving unfair assistance (I’m not; I don’t know this person).

A prospective arbiter reaching out for advice is a very good sign. This eagerness suggests to me that the candidate will be successful in the course. Anyway, here’s my response:

Hi [Name], My main advice would be to download the 2020 FIDE Arbiters Manual and study it well. Especially the Laws of Chess and Competition Rules. Also get into the mindset about being more proactive when running tournaments, which is different from how USCF TDs are expected to be.Andre

You must be fluent with the material to pass the exam with 80%. From my previous post:

The exam is open-book, but having access to everything is not helpful in only two hours without being well-versed in the subject matter!

For USA participants: the biggest adjustment for USCF TDs working FIDE-rated events is being confident and ready to intervene in games. You can’t be afraid of making mistakes. As we say in New York City: If you see something, say something!

Other Things to Know for an online FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar

  • How to make pairings under the FIDE Dutch System.
  • The tiebreaks to apply under each tournament type, and how to calculate them.
  • The meaning of the FIDE rating system, requirements for a player to receive an initial rating, and how to calculate the rating change of a player. For practice, go to the FIDE homepage, search for your favorite active player and study their recent tournament activity with rating changes.
  • Regulations for direct titles, title norms, and title applications for players and arbiters. To practice: visit the titles page, study current applications and the norms that comprise them. Pay special attention to the numbers of rated and titled players, and host country/foreign opponents in a player’s schedule.
  • Anti-cheating measures available to arbiters.
  • Rules about default time, recording of moves, how games can conclude in wins or draws, and claims of all kinds.

Whew! That’s a Lot!

It is. Better to over-prepare than spend several days taking the course only to not pass and have to do it again! Keep in mind also that much of your two hours will be spent typing short answer responses to questions. Usually, you need to explain actions you would take containing several steps. Attention to detail is very important.

Good luck!

Chess Openings Discussion

A Lively Chess Openings Debate

Chess Openings are always a contentious topic! My recent post “The Smith-Morra Gambit, and How to Beat It,” generated spirited discussion on Facebook, as I expected it might.

I don’t consider the Smith-Morra (1.e4 c5 2.d4) completely unsound or without merit, but a Sicilian player should embrace the Morra, Alapin, or Bb5 lines. If you fear Anti-Sicilians, study more!

As a (sometimes) Najdorf player (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6), which worries me more: the Smith-Morra or 6.Bg5? It’s not even close!

The Grand Prix Attack (1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 and 3.f4) is another line that is supposed to intimidate Sicilian players. Um, no. Well, at least white doesn’t give away a center pawn in the GPA…

In my French Defense years, I loved nothing better than facing the Milner-Barry Gambit (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Qb6 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.Bd3)! Because of my study I knew what to do and scored better than I did against French main lines.

Players wanting to cut down their chess openings study time with white are better off playing the London System (1.d4 with an early Bf4) every game than borderline gambits against decent opposition.

Old Games?

One objection raised against my post is that I only used games from 1972 and before.

These were the games that helped me learn how to defend the Smith-Morra! Old games are unacceptable in a cutting-edge mainline, but that’s not what we’re dealing with here. I’m sure white has some wrinkles I’m not aware of, but I would expect to come up with something decent in a tournament game.

This is also a great reason to play online chess: keep sharp and have a look at various attempts! Take it seriously; I don’t play anything online I wouldn’t consider using in a classical game.

Could a specialist “catch” me? Maybe! It’s a chance I’m willing to take in order to score more by accepting the gambit instead of giving white an easier time.

I don’t face Grandmasters often in tournaments. Against the 1900-2200 crowd I’m comfortable trying to emulate the play of Viktor KortschnojLarry Evans, and Henrique Mecking!

Conclusion

When it comes to chess openings, especially with the white pieces, don’t give in. Play a line capable of setting a variety of challenges for your opponent. It doesn’t have to be highly theoretical, but don’t give them the chance to rely on one pet line or one main setup.

Why has the popularity of the Ruy Lopez endured for more than a century? The resources for each player are seemingly endless! Most openings cannot match this level of richness, but it is something to keep in mind.

Happy Birthday, Anatoly Karpov!

My Favorite Chess Player

Anatoly Karpov was born May 23, 1951 in Zlatoust, Russia (then part of the USSR).

Anatoly Karpov, 12th World Chess Champion. Photo: World Chess Hall of Fame.

Anatoly Karpov, 12th World Chess Champion. Photo: World Chess Hall of Fame.

Karpov first gained widespread international attention after winning the 1969 World Junior Championship with 10 points out of 11 in the final.

He won the Moscow 1971 tournament (tied with Leonid Stein) ahead of World Champion Boris Spassky and former champs Vasily Smyslov, Tigran Petrosian, and Mikhail Tal.

Karpov’s World Championship debut at the 1973 Leningrad Interzonal was a success, tying for first place with Viktor Kortschnoj, and qualifying for the Candidates Matches. The winner of the elimination series would become Bobby Fischer‘s Challenger in 1975.

In the 1974 Candidates Matches, Karpov defeated Lev Polugaevsky 5½—2½ in the quarterfinal and Spassky 7—4 in the semifinal to meet Kortschnoj in the final. He won this Best-of-24 match 12½—11½, setting up a showdown with Fischer in Manila, Philippines.

It was not to be. FIDE accepted all but one of Fischer’s 179 match demands, but he refused to play and forfeited his title, making Anatoly Karpov the 12th World Chess Champion.

If anyone doubted the new champion, he proved his worth over the next decade by dominating matches, tournaments, and the rating list. While Garry Kasparov dethroned Karpov in the 1985 World Championship Match, he was the Number 2 player in the world through the mid-1990s.

Karpov won more than 160 international tournaments in his career, with his most resounding victory coming as late as Linares 1994. He scored 11 out of 13 (9 wins, 4 draws) in a superstar field, leaving Kasparov and Alexei Shirov 2½ points behind; one of the greatest performances ever in a top tournament.

My Favorite Anatoly Karpov Game

Anatoly Karpov could play flashy combinations, such as in his famous victory against Veselin Topalov at Linares 1994, but I most enjoy his positional masterpieces.

I began playing chess tournaments in 1996 and began receiving Chess Life magazine. Not only was Karpov’s Grandmaster Musings column one of my favorites, I remember following his 1996 FIDE World Championship Match in Elista, Kalmykia against Gata Kamsky with great interest.

Game 4 from that match is a great example of why I love Karpov’s chess! Enjoy!

74th Internet-based FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar

From May 3-7 I took part in an online FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar organized by the European Chess Union, via Zoom. This was the 74th online FA seminar; I actually took part in the very first one in July 2010. That ground-breaking event was organized by the late Sevan Muradian, whose impact on FIDE chess in the United States cannot be overstated.

I believe I was the only attendee from the USA. This seminar was given in English, but others are given in different languages, e.g. Spanish, French, Russian, German, or Arabic.

FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar?

I recently attended the 74th Internet-based FIDE Arbiters' Seminar.

I attended the 74th Internet-based FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar.

Most fans are familiar with playing titles, e.g. International Master (IM) and Grandmaster (GM), but there is also FIDE Arbiter (FA) and the higher International Arbiter (IA).

Arbiters supervise FIDE-rated events. The USCF requires Tournament Directors to be a Senior TD or higher and pass a National Arbiter exam. I became a Senior TD way back in 2005, but only took and passed the National Arbiter exam in 2019!

After gaining the NA rank, becoming a FIDE Arbiter requires a seminar, passing another exam, and earning three “norms” for assisting in qualified tournaments. I have two norms from round robins in 2019 (here and here). My final norm must be from a Swiss or Team tournament. Contact me, Organizers…

A passing seminar result is only good for four years; my 2010 effort is old news. This time I will complete my FA title.

A FIDE Arbiter can be Chief of most international tournaments excluding World and Continental Championships. After gaining the FA title, four additional norms and you can promote to IA. No seminar is currently required for IA, but the lecturers hinted this might soon change.

Seminar Details

The FIDE Arbiters' Seminar began with ECU-related matters, which I found inspiring.

The FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar began with matters related to the ECU and its Arbiters Council, which I found inspiring.

Sessions ran 8 am to 12 noon, Eastern Time, Sunday through Thursday. The final two hours on Thursday were dedicated to the exam; I know from my prior experience this is barely enough time!

Did I have an advantage from taking a seminar before? Not really. It helped that I knew what I was up against, but so much has changed in ten years.

IA Tomasz Delega (Poland), Chairman of the ECU Arbiters Council, led much of the first day dedicated to ECU tournaments. Sadly, I can’t work ECU events since I don’t belong to an ECU federation, but the discussions were interesting. The ECU process is impressive — especially how it recruits, appoints, and evaluates arbiters.

The Lecturer of the 74th Internet-based FIDE Arbiters' Seminar, IA Jiřina Prokopová (CZE)

Lecturer of the 74th Internet-based FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar, IA Jiřina Prokopová (CZE)

The FA seminar began Monday, May 4. IA Jiřina Prokopová (Czechia) was the main “Lecturer” (as FIDE calls it) with highly-experienced IAs Geert Bailleul (Belgium) and Marco Biagioli (Italy) leading sessions as well.

Jiřina, Geert, and Marco exemplified the demeanor of a top Arbiter! They treated us as colleagues and embodied the team spirit Arbiters need while supervising competitions. All were patient in answering questions, engaged in the Zoom chat, and offered helpful feedback on homework. I hope to work with them in future events!

Tournament Directors (USCF) vs. Arbiters (FIDE)

At the beginning, Jiřina focused our attention on the Roles of Arbiters and Preface to the Laws of Chess. I found this extremely important, because it framed everything afterwards.

Arbiters in FIDE events are empowered to “act in the best interest of the competition.” This is intended to give arbiters considerable latitude to use sound judgment in taking decisions. As the link between organizer and player, we have definite responsibility for how an event is run.

USCF tournaments, by design, are much more hands-off than FIDE competitions. Here directors make pairings and serve as witnesses in case there are disputes.

The simplest example of this philosophical difference? Arbiters must call a flag fall (a player has run out of time), while this is never done in USCF events!

Topics Covered in a FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar

The main topics we covered over four days were:

  • The FIDE Laws of Chess
  • Anti-Cheating Regulations
  • General Regulations for Competitions
  • Standards of Chess Equipment
  • System of Games
  • Tiebreaks
  • The Swiss system and pairing rules
  • Electronic clocks
  • Regulations for ratings and titles (for players)
  • Regulations for Arbiter titles
  • Final Exam

Everything is different! The Laws of Chess have been refined, pairing and tiebreak methods have changed, and we hardly discussed cheating in 2010!

Results

36 attendees took the exam and 9 passed with the required 80% score. The max score was 100 points across 34 questions requiring short-answer responses, in a little over two hours.

The exam is open-book, but having access to everything is not helpful in only two hours without being well-versed in the subject matter! For good reason we were sent a link to the 2020 FIDE Arbiter’s Manual before the course and recommended to study it! I read the entire thing during the course and I’m happy I did.

I passed the exam with a score of 92.5, apparently second-highest (Jiřina informed us that two participants scored over 90 and one participant scored 95.5).

Taking a FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar is worthwhile and you will learn a lot, but it is intense. I’m glad mine is over!

The FIDE Online Nations Cup

With the ongoing corona virus pandemic, chess tournaments have ceased. Online events like the Magnus Carlsen Invitational and now the FIDE Online Nations Cup have filled the breach.

The games are broadcast on chess.com and elsewhere.

The Format of the FIDE Online Nations Cup

FIDE and chess.com collaborated on the FIDE Nations Cup

FIDE and chess.com collaborated on the FIDE Nations Cup.

The games are played with a time control of 25+10 (25 minutes for the entire game plus an additional 10 seconds per move starting from move 1).

There are six teams in the event with six players each; four male and two female players.

Each match is contested on four boards. On Boards 1,2, and 3 a team chooses three of its four male players to play. On Board 4, a team chooses one of its two female players to play.

2½ points out of 4 are needed to win a match, and all boards count equally.

The team that wins each match gets 2 points and the loser 0. In case of a 2-2 tie, each team receives 1 match point.

It’s a double round-robin team tournament, so each team faces the other five teams twice for a total of 10 rounds. After 10 rounds, the two highest-scoring teams play a final match on May 10. The team with the highest score going into the final gets draw odds; in other words, if the final match is tied 2-2, the team with the highest score in the round-robin phase wins the event.

Every team gets $24,000 for participating. After 10 rounds, the two top scoring teams face off in a final match for the FIDE Nations Cup. The team runner-up gets an additional $12,000 ($36,000 total for the team), and the winner of the Cup gets an additional $24,000 ($48,000 for the team).

The Teams

Four top nations are invited, and then two other “compilations” of teams were added.

The countries invited were China, India, Russia, and the United States.

The two additional teams were Team Europe and Team Rest of World.

Every team brought most of their top male and female players! The captains were notable too.

The Players and Captains of the FIDE Online Nations Cup

China

The male players included 2020 Candidates Ding Liren and Wang Hao, plus Wei Yi and Yu Yangyi. Even scarier for the rest of the field were their female players: the return of 3-time Women’s World Champion Hou Yifan, and current Women’s World Champion Ju Wenjun.

Having won two of the last three Olympiads and the last two Women’s Olympiads, China was undoubtedly the favorite. Longtime captain Ye Jiangchuan lead the team here, too.

India

All the top players from this chess powerhouse came to play as well, including legendary former World Champion Vishy Anand, up-and-coming star Vidit Gujrathi, elite fixture Pentala Harikrishna, plus Adhiban Baskaran.

Their top female players are present as well, including Cairns Cup winner Humpy Koneru and Harika Dronavali. Anand is playing and serving as captain, while former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik is an adviser to the team.

Russia

This team is formidable as well, led by Candidates’ co-leader Ian Nepomniachtchi, the rising Vladislav Artemiev, former Challenger Sergey Karjakin, and former Candidate Dmitry Andreikin.

Their female players include recent Women’s World Championship Challenger Aleksandra Goryachkina and current Russian Women’s Champion Olga Girya. Their captain is the experienced Alexander Motylev.

United States

Their “Top 3” are here: 5-time US Champion and former World #2 Hikaru Nakamura, current World #2 and recent Challenger Fabiano Caruana, and perennial Top 10 Wesley So. Also playing for the team is recent arrival Leinier Dominguez.

Two stalwarts of US Women’s Chess, 7-time US Women’s Champion Irina Krush and 4-time US Women’s Champion Anna Zatonskih make their appearance as well. The team is lead by John Donaldson, who has captained US Olympiad teams since the 1980s.

Team Europe

A mix of players from different nations is led by Candidates co-leader Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France, former World #2 Levon Aronian of Armenia, and former World #3 Anish Giri of the Netherlands, who is playing as a reserve. Board 3 is Poland’s Jan-Krzysztof Duda.

Their female team members are Ukraine’s Anna Muzychuk and Georgia’s Nana Dzagnidze. Oh yeah, I almost forgot: their captain is the greatest player ever, Garry Kasparov!

Team Rest of World

Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan) has returned to the top with a bang, and he is joined by young star Alireza Firouzja who has not chosen a country to represent after leaving Iran. Bassem Amin (Egypt) and Jorge Cori (Peru) represent Africa and South America, respectively.

Former Women’s World Champion Mariya Muzychuk (Ukraine) and Dinara Saduakassova (Kazakhstan) round out their lineup. They are captained by FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich, who I had the pleasure of meeting in person at a tournament in 2019.

Round Robin Phase

China dominated the first part of the FIDE Online Nations Cup with 17 match points (+8=1-1). They drew Russia in Round 3, and only lost to USA in Round 10 when they had already clinched the top spot in the final.

The race for the other final spot came down to USA (+6=1-3) and Europe (+5=3-2). Each squad finished with 13 match points, but USA got the spot in the final by scoring 22 game points to Europe’s 21.5!

The other teams — Russia, India, and Team World — fell out of contention early on.

Superfinal

China earned draw odds in the Mother’s Day final match, which I have to agree with. There should be a reward for winning the first, 10-round phase of an event like this. In one match, anything can happen.

Still, it was too much for the USA to overcome. On paper, China had an advantage anyway, especially on Board 4, with the strongest active female on the planet Hou Yifan facing my friend Irina Krush. I had no doubt America’s only female Grandmaster would bring her best, and she held a draw rather comfortably despite being massively out-rated.

To win the match, USA needed two points out of the three remaining games, and it was just not to be. Hikaru Nakamura and Ding Liren drew a very double-edged game on Board 1, while Fabiano Caruana pressed Wei Yi on Board 2 and Yu Yangyi pressed Wesley So on Board 3.

Caruana and Yu both won, which was fitting because they were the two best performers in the entire event. The match was drawn 2-2, and China won the first FIDE Online Nations Cup.

Will this event become a fixture in the future after we (hopefully) defeat COVID-19? I hope so!