The FIDE Grand Swiss (organized in partnership with chess.com) was originally scheduled to be held on the Isle of Man, as the 2019 edition (won by the now-retired Wang Hao) was. This year was also scheduled to be the first edition of the Women’s Grand Swiss.
These tournaments are part of the Open and Women’s World Championship cycles. Namely, they help put the “World” in World Championship as entry is not only restricted to the 2700+ crowd.
However … COVID!
The tournaments could not be realistically be held in IoM as originally planned, but organizers in Riga, Lativa stepped up to rescue the events. Unfortunately, Latvia has been facing an uptick in cases and imposed a lockdown.
FIDE was able to get an exemption from the Latvian government, and the tournament will proceed as scheduled. The opening ceremony was held today, October 26, and the event will run through November 8.
Of course, like everything in the chess world, this sparked controversy. A few prominent players including Hikaru Nakamura and Vidit Gujrathi have withdrawn from the event.
In my view FIDE made absolutely the correct decision to go on with the Grand Swiss. I was skeptical about their decision to hold the World Cup and Women’s World Cup in Sochi this past summer, but they went quite well all things considered.
At this point it’s a case of “in for a penny, in for a pound.” Don’t disrupt the World Championship cycles any more if possible. The top finishers in Riga get slots into the Candidates Tournament or Grand Prix series.
It’s popular for people in the chess world to use FIDE as a punching bag and blame them for everything short of world hunger. True, they are far from perfect … but in my view things have definitely improved for the better in the past few years.
In times like these, it’s appropriate to cut them some slack.
When deciding which openings to employ, there are a lot of possible shortcuts one can take…but this entails some risk.
In the 2000s, a setup now known as The Black Lion (due to a book of the same name published by New in Chess in 2009) became popular for the second player. It is a Hanham setup reached via a Pirc Defense move order (to limit White’s targeted replies against this brand of Philidor Defense).
This kind of setup has something in common with the recommendations in An Explosive Chess Opening Repertoire for Black(Gambit, 2003) — a popular and well-regarded book in its time that I suspect still holds up due to the nearly theory-less nature of the setups examined.
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Is competition the next step in your chess endeavors?
Playing in a few tournaments does not commit you to becoming a “serious” chess player. There is no requirement to study extra (or at all) if you don’t want to.
I recommend trying at least a couple of events to see if you like it. I tell kids that they should try at least one tournament — if they hate it, they never have to compete again. You can even drop out early if you really want to!
Do choose the tournaments you play in wisely, however! We’ll discuss how, below.
What are your ambitions?
Obviously, if you want a chess title like Expert or Master, you need to play in tournaments. Likewise if you want to be recognized as Champion of a particular event. Otherwise, there’s no need if you don’t want to.
But if you don’t play in official, rated tournaments, you’ll never know for sure how good (or not) you really are. Crossing the barrier from casual player to tournament competitor is a serious step the overwhelming majority of chess players on Earth will never take.
Others prefer small club events perhaps because of friendly rivalries and familiar surroundings.
I guess I’m somewhere in the middle.
I am not as fond of smaller events because people who know you can observe your play and it can feel like they are judging you — even when they’re probably not! On the other hand, it’s easy to get overwhelmed in a huge playing hall with several hundred players.
Choose your time control
Note: I will only discuss standard (regular) time controls here. Rapid and blitz are separate categories.
If you want to play in American tournaments — those sanctioned by the United States Chess Federation (USCF). the games must be played with a minimum of 30 minutes (per player) for the contest, or slower. Most commonly, this is achieved with a minimum time control of 25 minutes plus a 5 second time delay.
Delay provides free seconds before your main thinking time begins to count down. Based on a 60-move game, a player would receive an extra five minutes of thinknig time, which is why “G/25 d5” counts as a 30 minute game.
There are also events that can go as long as 40 moves in 120 minutes, followed by 60 minutes to finish the game (if it goes past move 40). This is often written as “40/120, SD/60” or “40/2, SD/1.”
And everything in between! Experiment and play the time controls you like.
It’s very unlikely a new player would compete in a FIDE (international) competition but, allowing for a few technicalities, the minimum time control for such events is 90 minutes (per player) for the entire game with a 30 second increment starting from move 1.
Increment (or “bonus”) adds time to your clock after you have completed your move — it is possible, for example, to finish a game with more time than you started with.
Choose your section
If you’re rated, my advice is to stay in your section, or play up no more than one section. If you’re a 1400-rated player, it doesn’t make sense to play in the Open section “with the big dogs.” You’re not there yet. Play in Under 1600 or Under 1700 instead.
Similarly, if you’re unrated, play in the lowest section you can, or no more than one section higher than that.
Please note: if you have a rating from another country, you must disclose that to the tournament director. Don’t worry about any online ratings you may have; they’re meaningless.
Handling wins and losses
You won’t know how you’ll deal with this in games that count until you experience it. So study hard, and then get out there and play! If you do, you’ll already be ahead of a vast majority of the world’s chess population that will never step into the arena.
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Struggling Against Mainline Sicilians? This Book WILL Help!
A familiar dilemma
The biggest headache that normally dissuades tournament players from opening with 1.e4 is the Sicilian Defense (1…c5) — specifically, the Open Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 and then 3.d4).
Of course, it’s possible to employ an anti-Sicilian, but this is already a partial victory for the second player. While systems with 3.Bb5(+) or an early c2-c3 are respectable, your opponent should not be afraid of these. I would not recommend employing lesser setups like the Smith-Morra Gambit or Grand Prix Attack every time.
Allowing Black to enter their pet mainline system is intimidating for the non-professional. But I have decided that this is a lesser evil than switching to the closed games (1.d4, 1.c4, 1.Nf3, etc.), as the second player has endless options there, too.
Besides, I have always enjoyed studying opening theory and reaping the rewards of my efforts. I strongly believe players don’t study their openings enough.
Which approach versus Open Sicilians?
It’s possible to face mainline Sicilians without playing in a berzerker fashion — check out IM Timothy Taylor‘s interesting 2012 book Slaying the Sicilian which advocates for a quieter approach like playing an early Be2 in many lines. World Champion Anatoly Karpov and perennial Candidate Efim Geller scored a ton of points this way.
Of course, many players dream of launching breathtaking attacks against the Black king.
Even if you’re an attacking-challenged player like I am, you can play aggressive setups if you study well and learn important ideas. The systems Yakovich discusses also have a sound strategic basis. The English Attack and Yugoslav Attack are well-covered, for example, but you won’t find ultra-aggressive “is-this-completely-sound?” stuff like the Velimirovic Attack or Perenyi Attack.
The Russian Grandmaster wrote a dense book (only 208 pages!) with lots of variations and computer analysis, no doubt about that. But it also contains generous text annotations and key diagrams, so you won’t get lost in a forest of endless lines. This is not a database dump!
You’ll have to take your time with this book, but you won’t be left scratching your head. An ambitious player rated 1500 would benefit, but the 1800-plus crowd will really make hay with Sicilian Attacks.
So, what’s in it?
Really, the only major system not covered is the Sveshnikov! And it’s much easier to find explanatory material for White on that setup than some of the others reviewed here.
A typical page in this book. Dense analysis, but good commentary to help the reader navigate it. Well worth the needed time investment to absorb the main ideas.
At the end of each section, the author includes these “Conclusions” — a nice touch!
Yakovich’s chapters on facing the Yugoslav Dragon is the best I have seen anywhere, and alone worth the price of the book. He also makes sense of “strange” nuances in different Sicilian variations understandable.
Sicilian Attacks is really a middlegame book — plenty of discussion of pawn structures and piece placements, sometimes going as far as the endgame. That’s why you should not be put off by the 2010 publication date, at all.
Highly recommended for players willing to put in the work to play the Open Sicilian.
The biannual FIDE World Cup ended last week in Sochi, Russia. For the first time, there was a concurrent Women’s World Cup as well, which ended a couple of days before that.
How Does It Work?
Imagine an elimination bracket of 256 players, sorted strictly by rating from highest to lowest.
They are paired 1 vs. 256, 2 vs. 255, 3 vs. 254, etc. Each pairing plays a two-game match, one contest each on consecutive days, and the loser is eliminated. The third day is a rest day for players who won their matches 2-0 or 1½-½, or tiebreaks (rapid, and if necessary blitz or armageddon) for pairings that ended 1-1.
After the first round, 128 players are left, then 64, 32, 16, 8, 4, and 2 in the final.
The Open World Cup had 206 players instead of 256, where the top 50 players by rating didn’t have an opponent, and got a bye into Round 2.
Similarly, the Women’s World Cup had 103 players: a bracket of 128 players where the top 25 by rating got a free pass into Round 2.
In case you’re wondering, males and females can qualify for and play in the World Cup, while only female players can participate in the Women’s World Cup. This is analogous to other major events that have an Open and Women’s section; e.g.: the Chess Olympiad, the World Championship cycle, and most if not all National Championships.
World Cup in The Pandemic Age
A few players needed to withdraw during the event because of a positive COVID test, and others did so out of caution, including Levon Aronian (Armenia).
As I posted in March 2020, FIDE’s decision to proceed with the Candidates Tournament was risky but in my opinion defensible. Once again, FIDE took serious chances in holding the World Cups, with hundreds of players and officials from around the world converging in one place.
The verdict? In the grand scheme of things, FIDE came out smelling like a rose!
Winners of the FWC and FWWC
Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Poland) won the Open event, defeating Sergey Karjakin (Russia) in the final. Both qualified for the 2022 Candidates Tournament.
JKD, now just outside the Top 10, knocked out World Champion Magnus Carlsen(Norway) in the semi-final, while Karjakin eliminated Vladimir Fedoseev (Russia) in this round as well.
Carlsen beat Fedoseev in the third-place match, held concurrently with the final.
Indeed, Goryachkina mowed down the field … until the final, where she was vanquished by former Women’s World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk (Russia)!
The “Chess Queen” played out of her mind. After a first-round bye as the 14th seed, Kosteniuk won ALL of her matches in regulation, not needing any tiebreaks, and collected 43 Elo points!
Tan Zhongyi (China) won the third-place match over Anna Muzychuk (Ukraine). Since Goryachkina is already qualified for the next Women’s Candidates Tournament by virtue of playing the last Women’s World Championship Match, I believe Tan joins Kosteniuk in the next Women’s Candidates.
Why I Love the World Cup
So much drama! Two-game mini-matches guarantee excitement and frayed nerves.
Even if the players decide to make two short draws in regulation, the presence of tiebreaks ultimately don’t give them an easy way out.
We typically see the same players doing well in knockouts over the years (remember, they go back to 1997 if we include the FIDE World Champioships held in a similar format). In years past, Mickey Adams, Vishy Anand, Ruslan Ponomariov, Gata Kamsky, and Levon Aronian always seemed to reach the final stages of these events.
I don’t believe that’s a coincidence — great nerves and ability to handle pressure really show in the World Cup. Fun fact: from 2001-02 through 2011, Ponomariov either won the Knockout (2001-02), or lost to the eventual winner!
In recent times, Karjakin has taken on the mantle of “KO King.” He staged an epic comeback in the final against Peter Svidler in the 2015 edition.
On the Women’s side, this is Kosteniuk’s second victory (2008) and third finals appearance (she lost to Zhu Chen way back in 2001!). Those events were Women’s World Championships.
What do you think of the World Cup? Leave a comment!
FIDE broke news that Istvan Csom (1940-2021) passed away on July 28. As the report mentions, this Hungarian Grandmaster (1973) and International Arbiter (1991) was a two-time champion of his country (1972, 1973) and part of the 1978 Buenos Aires Olympiad team that won the gold medal over the USSR in a historic upset.
When I was approached about being Deputy Arbiter for a Grandmaster Norm round robin tournament to be held in August 2019 at the Chess Max Academy in Manhattan (i.e., close to home) my interest in becoming an arbiter returned.
A Small Part of History
IA Grant Oen, responsible for FIDE Events in the USA at the time, informed me that I had to become a National Arbiter before I could officially work FIDE events. For this I needed to take and pass a National Arbiter exam with an 80% score. This exam is written and graded by the USCF, and only Senior TDs or above can take it (Associate National TD and National TD are the two higher ranks).
After working on the exam for about eight hours, I sent it back to Grant and I passed with a 93% score (112/120). Now I had to do another FIDE Arbiter seminar and get three tournament norms since my efforts from 2009-10 were long expired.
FA seminar norms are good for four years, and FA tournament norms expire in six years. Since the early 2000s, player norms (e.g. for IM or GM) never expire, and players sometimes achieve norms decades apart.
After a positive experience and earning a norm in the first GM norm event, I assisted in another in November 2019 where I got my second norm. I worked under IAsEduard Duchovny (USA) and Diana Tsypina (Canada), respectively.
At the end of the second event, I got to meet FIDE PresidentArkady Dvorkovich! Brandon Jacobson earned a GM norm, and Abhimanyu Mishra became the youngest International Master in history by achieving his final IM norm with an ultra-solid nine draws in nine games!
Mishra actually earned his first IM norm in the August event, and in July 2021 he became the youngest GM ever.
These events would actually qualify for International Arbiter (IA) norms, but one must have the FA title before earning IA norms, and you can’t reuse FA norms in an application for IA! C’est la vie.
We’ve seen that a successful FIDE Arbiter application needs a seminar and passing an exam (with at least 80%), and three tournament norms. But the three norms must include two different types of tournaments (the most common event types are Swiss-system, round robin, or team). A candidate can use only Swiss tournaments ifone is a Swiss event with 100+ players, at least 30% of them FIDE rated, and at least seven rounds.
In addition, participants from at least two FIDE federations need to participate, unless the event is a National (adult!) Championship (open or women, individual or team). And I didn’t expect an invitation to assist in the U.S. Championship or U.S. Women’s Championship anytime soon!
Well, those are round-robins anyway. I had two round robin norms, so I needed to find a Swiss to assist in — the requirements for team events are even more strict, and very hard to achieve for US-based arbiters because we are probably the only major country that does not have a National Team Championship.
But first … pandemic!
The world shut down, including over-the-board chess tournaments. In May 2020 I participated in an online FIDE Arbiter seminar and passed the course successfully.
I now needed the Swiss, and I was pretty determined to get it done as soon as things began to reopen. I did not want to let it linger.
Not the World Open
A five-round Swiss would have been good enough to complete my FIDE Arbiter title, but with such events it can be unclear in advance if enough players will enter such that the requirements listed in the previous section are met…
Held directly before the World Open at the same location, this event draws dozens of titled players — FMs and IMs pursuing norms, and GMs playing for prize money and guaranteed cash for participating (as they afford opportunities for others to earn norms by playing them).
I arrived in Philadelphia on Friday night, June 25. The tournament ran from Saturday, June 26 through Wednesday, June 30. Two rounds per day Saturday through Tuesday, and the final (9th) round on Wedesday.
Overall, I had a great experience!
There were no disputes throughout the entire nine rounds. The atmosphere was serious but cordial, and the toughest part of my job was setting clocks and making sure players didn’t leave without submitting their scoresheets (FIDE requires this)! The players were outstanding, too, when it came to respecting the mask-wearing requirement of the event.
FM Vincent Tsay earned his second IM norm, and in fact clinched it without even needing to score in the final round! He ended up drawing tournament winner GM Vladimir Belous anyway. Belous scored 7 points out of 9, along with GM Hans Niemann and IM Andrew Hong, but received a small bonus for having the best mathematical tiebreaks.
The current US Chess FIDE Events Manager, IA Chris Bird, helped ensure all my documents were in order, arranged for me to pay the 50 euro fee to USCF, and sent off my FIDE Arbiter application to Baira Marilova at the FIDE Elista office.
The application now appears on the FIDE titles page, to be hopefully approved at the next FIDE Council meeting, which I believe meets in early August.
After that: my pursuit of the International Arbiter title! Stay tuned!
The idea of defeating a stronger player appealed to a “weakie” like me, so I devoured Superior Opponent in my early years. Unfortunately, I did not score upsets that often…
But over the years I learned a lot. Now that I have more experience, I’ll give you some of my own advice on beating players better than you.
Good psychology only goes so far.
I’m not going to insult your intelligence by telling you there is a formula to consistently beat players rated 500 points higher than you. Exception: anything goes if we’re talking about players rated under 1000.
The tips I’ll discuss can give you a slightly better chance against such opposition, but luck is your best friend here: hope the opponent underestimates you, miscalculates something, or has a bad game.
If you are a massive underdog, just play the best moves you can … for as long as you can … and don’t get too far behind on the clock. This last guideline is important: an experienced, higher-rated player will just keep the game going in your time pressure, shuffling pieces until you collapse.
For the rest of these tips, I’m going to assume you’re facing someone rated 1000+ and roughly 200 points higher than you. This is a steep hill, but not an impossible one: statistically you should score about 25% against such a player (one win and three losses in four games, or two draws and two losses).
For context, with a 300-point rating difference you’re expected to score 1 point out of 10.
Don’t change your playing style.
You have certain strengths as a chess player. Don’t abandon your strongest weapons based on who you’re paired against. If you’re an attacker, attack. If you’re a good endgame player, trade. If you know a certain opening well, play it — don’t be afraid of the opponent knowing it better than you do. Sidebar: targeting the weaknesses of a peer or an inferior opponent is often a good idea!
Believe in your ideas, and don’t try too hard.
It’s tempting to make “extra” efforts to beat stronger players, but I think the best you can do in this area is to make sure your concentration is as good as it can be for the game.
If you think you’ve found a good move or plan, and don’t see any flaws, go for it. Maybe you’re wrong and missed something, but don’t assume this is the case! That’s called “seeing ghosts.”
Calculate until the evaluation is clear.
If you’re a good calculator, this is not a problem. For others, like me, calculation is not our strong suit.
Don’t go crazy trying to see everything till the end, unless mate or a decisive material balance is at stake. Otherwise, just use the Chess Informant classification that I discussed previously.
Don’t offer draws to higher-rated players.
I’m not one of those coaches who says you should always “play till bare kings!” There are a number of situations in which offering or accepting a draw makes sense, or when aiming for a more drawish position is a good idea.
However, there is almost never a good reason to offer a draw to a higher-rated player. There are two rather obvious reasons for this:
If you have the advantage, you shouldn’t be offering a draw! Doing so communicates fear and increases the confidence of your opponent, who might be on the ropes. If you’re really afraid of messing up when better against a higher-rated, you can play solidly and safely, avoiding risk. Just strike a confident pose at the board while doing so!
If you are worse — or even equal — your opponent won’t accept your draw offer. Moreover, it again shows weakness. Whether your opponent is torturing you or merely shuffling pieces back and forth, just keep finding the best moves you can while not showing any frustration. Imagine you are at a picnic on a warm summer day!
Wait for the higher-rated player to offer the draw (or, if you’re playing against a peer, the player with the superior position has the “right” to make the peace offering). Only when you’re playing against a lower-rated player can you offer a draw in an inferior position.
Experienced players: are there any other general tips I didn’t mention? Leave a comment!
Chess Informant popularized a classification system that is now universally used in chess literature and when discussing positions. Who is better, and by how much?
When I was struggling to learn chess, I didn’t really feel what these meant. Now, I hope others will be a bit less confused!
This is a short post, and I’m not giving any positions here: but use these guidelines the next time you study a chess position — I think you’ll have an “A Ha!” moment.
Of course, I’m only talking about human evaluation during a chess game! I only care about what the computer says in ICCF games.
White/Black has a decisive advantage
An unstoppable attack; too much extra material without compensation; an opponent with hopelessly bad pieces; or an endgame edge so big the win is straightforward.
White/Black has a large advantage
This is the most important category!
I would define it as any of the above, but to a lesser degree — a dangerous attack that isn’t clearly winning; an extra pawn or exchange with the opponent having some form of compensation; awkward but not hopeless pieces; or a solid endgame edge that still requires decent technique.
Two or three of these smaller edges together can be considered a decisive advantage. This is what I believe is meant by the so-called “accumulation of advantages.”
This category is much closer to decisive advantage than to small advantage! When you get your opponent here, your advantage will likely grow if you simply suppress any counterplay.
White/Black has a small advantage
A lead in development, space (more central presence, control of an open file), pawn structure (lack of pawn weaknesses, or less than the opponent has), or piece placement (in the center or near the “action zone”). Two or three of these together can add up to a large advantage.
The position is equal
The chances are balanced, and if both sides play well, a draw is the likely result. Be careful: this doesn’t necessarily mean the position is dry or boring! Usually, you need to play actively. Simply shuffling your pieces around and waiting is usually a recipe for disaster.
The position is unclear
You can think a position is unclear or “I don’t know what’s going on,” but this isn’t helpful. Decide on one of the categories above, and also decide if you will play for a win or a draw.