Tag Archives: Magnus Carlsen

Chess Tactics: Zhao — Batsiashvili, 2016

Zhao Xue

Zhao Xue at the 2016 Baku Olympiad. Photo: 2019 FIDE Women’s Grand Prix

Zhao Xue was born in Jinan, China in 1985. She earned her Grandmaster title in 2008 and reached a peak rating of 2579 in 2013.

Zhao has won three team and three individual gold medals representing China at the Women’s Chess Olympiad, and three team and two individual golds at the Women’s World Team Championship.

 

Nino Batsiashvili

Nino Batsiashvili. Photo: agenda.ge

Nino Batsiashvili was born in Batumi, Georgia in 1987, and earned her Grandmaster title in 2018. She was part of Georgia’s gold medal team at the 2015 Women’s World Team Championship.

Perhaps most famously, she drew World Champion Magnus Carlsen in the opening round of the 2015 Qatar Masters Open.

The two ladies get into an uncompromising battle, where Zhao prevails. If you’re looking for a livelier way to defend the Queen’s Gambit, consider the Vienna Variation as Black chooses here. It’s a real mainline, but almost never seen below master level … which means lots of points can be harvested by a well-prepared player.

Black’s knight has wandered too far. White to play.

23.?

 

When the Smoke Clears …

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.

Chess Tactics: McShane — Cheparinov, 2009

Luke McShane keeps it simple

Luke McShane

Luke McShane. Photo: FIDE

Luke McShane (born 1984) is an English Grandmaster who won the World Under-10 Championship in 1993 and Wijk aan Zee B in 2011. He reached a peak FIDE rating of 2713 in July 2012, and his peak world rank of 29 in November of that year.

He has scored victories over Michael Adams, Levon Aronian, Etienne Bacrot, Magnus Carlsen, Sergey KarjakinVladimir Kramnik, Alexander Morozevich, Hikaru Nakamura, Ruslan Ponomariov, Nigel Short, Wesley So, and Radoslaw Wojtaszek

…in classical chess.

McShane added another notch to his belt when he took down Ivan Cheparinov in just 20 moves during the 2009 European Team Championship.

Longtime readers of the Chess Essentials blog know I’m not fan of sidelines, espeically with White. Many are playable, some even good. But I think players sometimes get into trouble overthinking how they should play these lines. If your line calls for an all-in attack, go for it!

I don’t know how Cheparinov felt, but I would be taken aback by such shameless aggression! I don’t recommend this approach every game against strong players, but I’ve long said that simple, direct plans executed well are easier to play and very effective. Luke McShane provides a great example with this Closed Sicilian/Grand Prix Attack hybrid.

 

So Easy, A Caveman Can Do It

An Important Bishop Endgame Concept

Bishop Endgame Theory

In particular, we’re going to discuss the same-color bishop endgame. The attacking side has one pawn, and the defender has none.

If the defender can sacrifice their bishop for the last pawn the game is drawn, so the attacker must proceed carefully.

What the Defender Wants in this Ending

The position is completely drawn if the defending king can reach a square in front of the pawn opposite the color of the bishops. The king stays put and the defender moves their bishop around forever … or until they can call over the Arbiter or TD and claim a draw. Here’s an example:

Things get much more complicated if the defending king is behind the advancing pawn. In that case, the bishop desperately tries to control a square the pawn needs to cross in order to prevent it from queening. The attacking king and bishop look to attack the defending bishop, forcing it to move and give up control of the pawn’s path.

This is why you nearly always want your king to blockade passed pawns in the endgame: he can control all of the squares around him, and it’s harder to push him away than a rook, bishop, or knight!

A Worst Case Scenario

Anyway, a plausible scenario is the following:

This is a famous endgame study by Genovese composer Luigi Centurini (1820-1900) published in 1856. You’ll find it in every endgame encyclopedia, for example Basic Chess EndingsDvoretsky’s Endgame Manual, and Magnus Carlsen’s favorite Fundamental Chess Endings … but for years I didn’t quite understand it.

The Black bishop can stop the pawn on either the long b8-h2 or mini a7-b8 diagonal. If White can gain control of both diagonals, the Black cleric will be unable to stop the pawn.

Chase the Bishop!

 

More Room to Operate

Notice that Black lost because of the short a7-b8 diagonal. To draw, Centurini taught us that the defender usually needs both diagonals to be at least four squares in length. Then, there will always be at least one square on one of the diagonals that the attacker cannot control.

Here’s a famous example of successful defense:

 

Hopefully you now understand this classic bishop endgame if you previously struggled with it!

Which Chess Opening Move is Best? Part 1

Should I Open with 1.e4, 1.d4, or something else as White?

Not surprisingly, the short answer is “it depends.”

Let’s dig deeper.

First, there is one thing you certainly should not do. Don’t play offbeat moves (1.b3, 1.b4, 1.f4, 1.Nc3, etc.)  just to avoid theory. I’ve touched on this before. Only use moves like this if you enjoy playing the resulting positions. 

Having gotten that out of the way, we really have only four or five serious moves left. There’s no question which one we should discuss first.

1.e4 — Best by Test?

The famous game Fischer-Tal from the 1960 Leipzig Olympiad was a sharp draw in the French Defense. You can actually purchase a print of this photo here.

To a certain extent, I think Bobby Fischer was right. But not everyone should follow his advice.

Opening with the King Pawn requires the most well-rounded skills. Generally, you must attack the Sicilian Defense or give Black at least equality. Aggressive play is also the best recipe against the French Defense, Caro-Kann, and Pirc Defense, among others.

At the same time, patience and maneuvering skills are needed to play the Ruy Lopez or Italian Game well.

The higher up the rating ladder a player advances, the less opponents are afraid of gimmicky attacks — aside from feeling confident against gambits, they might willingly enter slightly worse positions with a chance to grind you down. Michael William Brown was in my group at the 2008 Western Invitational Chess Camp (organized by Robby Adamson). His main defense was the Closed Ruy Lopez, and he really knew how to play it. Sure enough, Michael became a Grandmaster in 2019.

Maybe the biggest question is: can you break down the Berlin Wall or Petroff Defense?

My point is, I think 1.e4 requires the most diverse range of skill to play well consistently — in other words, to legitimately play for a win against strong opposition. Contemporary role models include CarlsenCaruana, and Karjakin. 

It’s no coincidence these players have contested the last two World Championship Matches!

Not everyone prefers the King Pawn, or possesses the ability to play it well — or at least as well as the ability to play other first moves.

In Part 2, we discuss some alternatives, starting with 1.d4.

In Part 3, I give my opinions on various Flank Openings.

Norway Chess 2020

Supertournaments Return Over-the-Board

Altibox Norway Chess

Norway Chess: a supertournament fixture since 2013.

Altibox Norway Chess will be held from October 5-16, 2020; the latest edition of the Norwegian supertournament held in Stavanger since 2013. It will also be the first major over-the-board tournament since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Magnus Carlsen has only won two of the seven editions of his home tournament (2016, 2019), the same amount as Sergey Karjakin (2013, 2014). Many players find it tough to perform their best with the hometown glare squarely on them.

Veselin Topalov (2015), Levon Aronian (2017), and Fabiano Caruana (2018) are the other winners. Carlsen has won the companion blitz event three times, however — Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has two victories, while Karjakin and Wesley So have one each.

Altibox Norway Chess 2020

This year Carlsen (Norway), Aronian (Armenia), and Caruana (USA) are joined by young stars Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Poland) and Alireza Firouzja (FIDE). Aryan Tari (Norway) completes the six-player double round robin. Firouzja defected from Iran last year and has yet to declare which country he will represent in the future.

In a sign of the times, the official player photos were taken with each man wearing an Altibox Norway Chess mask!

Over-the-board round robins are making a comeback in the latter portion of 2020, including norm tournaments and the National Championships of several countries … not including the USA, unfortunately.

In November, FIDE will restart the Candidates Tournament, another round robin that had to be suspended after the first half in March.

Small Swiss tournaments and round robins will return sooner than many expect. Large tournaments will be a concern for awhile, and I predict it will impact scholastic chess the most.

Thank goodness we have real chess again, and not only a bunch of online events! They’re better than nothing, but far from adequate in my opinion.

Who do you think will win Norway Chess in 2020? Post your predictions below!

Chess Tactics: Andreikin — Sjugirov, 2012

Dmitry Andreikin

Dmitry Andreikin. Photo: FIDE

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?

13.?

Hook, Line, and Sinker

Attack with Mikhail Tal

Attack with Mikhail TalAttack with Mikhail Tal was written by the former World Champion with sports journalist Iakov Damsky. Tal died in 1992, but Ken Neat’s English translation was first published in 1994 by Cadogan Books.

Some players have a special aura in chess history. I would definitely include Paul Morphy, Jose Capablanca, Bobby Fischer, and yes, Mikhail Tal in this category.

The Magician from Riga

Born November 9, 1936 in Riga, Latvia, Mikhail Tal became the youngest-ever USSR Champion in 1957 at 20 years old (a record later broken by Garry Kasparov). He repeated as Champion in 1958, and won six Soviet Championships in all, equalling Mikhail Botvinnik’s record total.

Tal won the 1958 Interzonal Tournament and dominated the 1959 Candidates Tournament to challenge Mikhail Botvinnik for the World Championship in 1960. He won the match 12½—8½ becaming the 8th World Champion, and the youngest. He remains the third-youngest official, undisputed Champion in chess history, after Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen.

Botvinnik won the rematch in 1961. Tal never reached another title match, increasingly dogged by ill health, but he remained a top player through the late 1980s.

Still, Mikhail Tal captured fans’ imagination by the manner of his victories. He dismantled the chess elite with daring sacrifices and rich complications. But how did the Wizard see the game?

The point of Attack with Mikhail Tal

While Tal includes instructive puzzles at the end of each of the nine chapters (“What Would You Have Played?”), this isn’t a textbook. It’s not a first book on attacking chess; for that, choose The Art of Chess Combination by Eugene Znosko-Borovsky (written in Descriptive Notation).

“Misha” tries to cultivate in his readers an opportunistic eye and aggressive mentality needed to launch successful attacks when appropriate. Attack with Mikhail Tal is one of my favorite books, and I have always been an “attacking-challenged” player.

Tal knows that not everything can be calculated “to the end.” He took risks, but his play was not reckless! I would sum up the attacking principles presented as follows:

  • Pay attention to defects in the opponent’s position (Chapters 1 and 9)
  • Get as many pieces as possible into the attack (Chapter 3)
  • Get those pieces into strong positions (Chapter 6) and find the right path for them to get to the enemy (Chapters 4 and 5)
  • Remove obstacles (Chapters 2, 7, 8, and 9)

A chessplayer cannot be unduly materialistic. Chess is more than counting the point values of the pieces you and your opponent have; one also needs to assess their possibilities. Extra material is useless if it doesn’t take part in the game.

Tal evaluated the compensation would receive for his sacrificed material. There is a defnite value to strengthening your pieces or reducing the power of your adversary’s units! With practice, you will improve your feel in positions with unbalanced material.

Who should read Attack with Mikhail Tal?

Ideally, you should not be prejudiced about either sacrificing material or accepting sacrifices; do whatever the position in front of you demands. Easier said than done!

Just about anyone would enjoy Attack with Mikhail Tal, no matter their rating! Instructive games, memorable recommendations, and the book is a series of conversations or interviews between Tal and Damsky.

However, I would not expect huge improvement with this book for players rated below 1700. I am not sure they have the chess strength to evaluate attacking potential objectively.

My advice for lower-rated players: enjoy the book and re-read it as you improve. You will pick up new things upon a second and third reading, and Tal’s ideas will become easier to implement in your own play.

Garry Kasparov Tribute, and My Favorite Kasparov Game

The Greatest

Garry Kasparov was born April 13, 1963; today is his 57th birthday.

MasterClass photo of Garry Kasparov

MasterClass photo of Garry Kasparov

Kasparov retired from classical chess in 2005 after winning the Linares tournament (shared with Veselin Topalov). It was the ninth time he won clear or shared first at the most prestigious tournament of all.

Though he retired at the relatively early age of 41, Garry Kasparov accomplished so much there’s no way I can recount everything.

Garry Kasparov Career Highlights

  • In 1985 he became the youngest (official, undisputed) world chess champion in history: 22 years, 6 months, 28 days. He is the 13th World Chess Champion, defeating the 12th Champion Anatoly Karpov.
  • In January 1984 he became the fourth player to achieve an Elo rating of 2700 (after Bobby Fischer, Karpov, and Mikhail Tal). He simultaneously became World #1 for the first time.
  • In January 1990 he became the first player to achieve an Elo rating of 2800.
  • In July 1999 set the record for the highest Elo rating: 2851 (surpassed by Magnus Carlsen in 2013).
  • Except for July 1985 (Karpov) and January 1996 (tie with Vladimir Kramnik), Kasparov was ranked World #1 from January 1984 through January 2006 (when he dropped off the ranking list for inactivity following his retirement the previous year).
  • He won or shared first place in 15 consecutive tournaments from 1981 through 1990.
  • He was the Classical (i.e. lineal) World Chess Champion from 1985-2000.

My Favorite Garry Kasparov Game

The Kasparov game that made the biggest impression on me was his positional sacrifice against Alexei Shirov from the 1994 Credit Suisse Masters. As usual, Kasparov had no fear of a major mainline opening, in this case the Sveshnikov Variation of the Sicilian Defense. Let’s start from the position before white’s 16th move:

16. ?

White has a powerful knight on d5, but black has two pieces that can remove it: his knight and, more directly, the light-squared bishop. This leads Kasparov to an idea that’s logical once you see it, but striking nonetheless.

White sacrifices a clean exchange, but White’s d5-knight is a tower of strength. Black’s knight can’t move and needs at least three moves to challenge its counterpart.

There’s no immediate win, and indeed the game continued for some time. White can keep improving his position, but what can black do? Positions like this are very hard to play.

What’s your favorite Garry Kasparov game?

The Magnus Carlsen Invitational. Let’s discuss online tournaments.

A Brave New Online Chess World

The Magnus Carlsen Invitational was just announced by the World Champion himself. The rapid and blitz tournament featuring eight of the world’s best players will begin April 18, online.

With sports shut down across the globe due to Covid-19 including chess, spectators can follow the Magnus Carlsen Invitational at home. Internet broadcasts have made physical audiences unnecessary for chess events. Pictures of empty audiences may give the impression that chess is unpopular, but that’s far from the truth.

The Magnus Carlsen Invitational won't be the first event without a physical audience.

Ju Wenjun defends her Women’s World Championship title…in front of an empty audience.

Rapid and blitz only, please

There should be limits to what we do with technology!

Organizers: please don’t try online classical tournaments. The risk of cheating is too high. Classical events are what fans remember for years to come; we quickly forget the winners of the world rapid championship.

It would be very difficult to ensure fair play when the games are played remotely. With no way to check for devices before or during games, there would always be suspicion. Arbiters sent to every player’s location would not erase all doubts.

The FIDE Ethics Commissions rightly punishes cheaters harshly, forever tarnishing them. Gaoiz Nigalidze and Igors Rausis were caught using chess computer programs in the bathroom, and lost their grandmaster titles as a result.

A successful Magnus Carlsen Invitational would be great for chess, but I hope organizers don’t take things too far.