Nona Gaprindashvili was born in 1941 in Zugdidi, Georgia (then part of the Soviet Union). An unstoppable force from a young age, she convincingly defeated Elizaveta Bykova 9-2 (7 wins, 4 draws) in 1962 to become the 5th Women’s World Champion.
She earned no less than 20 gold medals (individual and team) across 12 Women’s Olympiads from 1963 through 1992, and competed successfully in “men’s” international tournaments.
In 1978, she was the first woman to be awarded the International Grandmaster (GM) title by FIDE. Unfortunately for Nona, this would be the year she lost her Women’s World Championship title to countrywoman Maia Chiburdanidze. Gaprindashvili’s 16-year reign nearly matched that of Vera Menchik (1927-1944, the year of her death).
Since 2004, the country that scores the most total points in the Open and Women’s Olympiad wins the Gaprindashvili Cup.
Russia won in 2004, 2010 and 2012; China won in 2006, 2014 and 2018; and Ukraine won in 2008 and 2016.
I mention all of this because I came across a very nice Rossolimo played by Gaprindashvili in 1964 against Lyubov Idelchyk (1936-2006), Ukrainian Women’s Champion in 1963 and 1969 who later immigrated to the USA.
How did Gaprindashvili conclude her attack? White to play.
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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.
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 Karjakin, Vladimir 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.
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?
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 Carlsen, Caruana, 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.
Isaac Boleslavsky: The Most Underrated Chess Theoretician?
Isaac Boleslavsky(1919-1977) was born in present-day Ukraine. He was one of the best players in the world during the 1940s and 1950s.
Runner-up in back-to-back USSR Championships in 1945 and 1947, he narrowly missed a chance to face Mikhail Botvinnik in the 1951 World Championship match. He later assisted Tigran Petrosian in his title matches.
Despite this formidable résumé, Boleslavsky’s legacy can be most clearly seen in the Ruy Lopez, King’s Indian Defense, and Sicilian Defense. His ideas are everywhere in these systems. Unfortunately, I doubt most casual players have even heard of him!
The very first Interzonal was held in 1948 in Saltsjöbaden, Sweden. Up for grabs were places in the Budapest Candidates Tournament of 1950, the next step in the World Championship cycle. Boleslavsky qualified easily with a strong third place result in Saltsjöbaden behind David Bronstein and Laszlo Szabo. These three players were part of the first 27 awarded the new International Grandmaster title by FIDE.
In the first round of the interzonal, Boleslavsky won a miniature against Finnish master Eero Böök with an important new idea.
The author divides his material into three parts: Queen’s Side, King’s Side, and Miscellaneous.
Looking through the chapters in each part, you realize that “Queen’s Side” refers to closed games: King’s Indian Defense, Grunfeld Defense, Modern and Old Benoni, Queen’s Indian Defense, Nimzo-Indian Defense, and English (1.P—QB4 and 2.N—QB3) and Reti Openings (1.N—KB3 and 2.P—QB4).
“Miscellaneous” contains the Budapest, Bird (including From Gambit), Catalan, Center Counter (Scandinavian), Dutch, King’s Indian Attack, Alekhine Defense, Orangutan, Spassky’s Defense (!? — this refers to 1.N—KB3 N—KB3 2.P—KN3 P—QN4), Grob, Three Knights, and Chigorin Defense.
The author incudes complete games or game fragments that illustrate the trap in question. Each trap has one or two diagrams.
Obviously, this 50-year-old book doesn’t contain the latest hot theory! But I think most players would have greater opportunities to apply the lines here than what might be found in contemporary games.
No matter which openings featured in this book appear in your games — I’m betting several do regularly! — there are important pitfalls that aren’t obvious at all. You might be surprised to see the names of some of the victims!
Almost any player would find this book helpful. It can be had for under ten bucks on Amazon. I’m sure there are at least a handful of points to be harvested using the ideas in Howson’s book … well worth it, I say.
You can increase your chess rating quick, fast, and in a hurry. Almost immediately, in some cases. But if you’re a “chess romantic,” this method is not for you.
Everyone wants to win more games, but what price are you willing to pay? If you’re 1000+, I have long been convinced that the quickest, surest path to more wins and a higher rating runs through the opening.
Embrace this. Don’t allow yourself to be brainwashed by the group-think that pervades chess instruction and insists you look for a pot of gold at the end of the tactics rainbow. Or worse, insists you focus on endgames.
Are you still reading? Good. Let me be very clear about what I mean, and explain my reasoning.
Use opening study to drive your rating gains
Knowledge is power in chess. When looking to increase your chess rating, laziness won’t do.
That said, there are different layers to opening study.
Wait! Why not tactics and endgames?
You are working on tactics! If you study openings properly, you will learn recurring tactical ideas in lines you actually play. This makes them easier to find in real life instead of hoping to apply something from solving thousands of random puzzles.
Your endgame results will also improve as a side-effect of serious opening study. Not only will you get more familiar positions and practice playing them, good study will provide you with better endgames than you had in the past!
Okay, let’s keep going!
Know what kinds of positions you play well, or can learn to play well.
A player can’t completely avoid tactics or strategy — we all know this. As for the lecture about “stunting your chess development,” that applies to aspiring 2700-rated grandmasters. Almost everyone else spends their chess career managing their weak spots.
If attacking play comes naturally to you, play openings that allow you the kinds of attacks you like to play. Not all attacks are the same!
Do you consider yourself a strategist? Fine (that’s a hint by the way, study his games). Do you like to maneuver in closed positions? Maybe you prefer queenless middlegames? Perhaps you have an affinity for certain types of endgames?
Research “candidate” openings that might suit you. Then test them out against good opposition online. I recommend playing games in the 5-minute pool. The results aren’t important; focus on whether or not you like the character of the play.
Don’t be delusional
I’m a poor attacker … and after 25 years of chess, this won’t change very much. While I’ve had some success with the Sicilian Najdorf (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6) , I have played the Dragon Variation (5…g6) exactly once in a tournament game — at the Manhattan Chess Club in 1996! I lost badly, too.
On the other hand, I like playing queenless positions, and for some reason I’ve always been able to play any kind of endgame with rooks well. Slow maneuvering is not my forte, which I guess explains why several attempts to play the Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5) as black have been a failure. My attempts to play the English Opening (1.c4) have been disastrous.
As WIM Iryna Zenyuk once told me: “Play YOUR chess.”
A word about system openings
I’m referring to the King’s Indian Attack, Colle System, London System, Torre Attack, etc.
I would mostly avoid them … and not because of nebulous ideas about “limiting your potential.”
As I’ve said before, avoiding main line openings forces you to work harder at the board when you have nerves, a ticking clock, and an opponent to deal with.
Instead, choose openings with defined main lines you can study in advance and learn well. If your opponent deviates, you will either know how to deal with their subpar moves, or can take comfort that you have a route to a clear advantage. In other words …
Raise your rating by shortening the game
The more of a game you can pre-plan, the better your results will be — if your prep is good.
Think about it: do you have more confidence in your own moves, or those you learned from Stockfish or Grandmaster XYZ? As long as you have an idea of your moves’ purpose and aren’t blindly memorizing, I think the answer is clear. Lofty ideas about being creative or original stop most players from increasing their chess rating. That, and not wanting it badly enough.
Yes, you’re going to have to memorize some lines … some of them 15+ moves. That’s a good thing: your hard work will leave your peers behind and raise you to a new level. Let them do 20 minutes of tactics a day and play openings “based on ideas.” They will be at the same level five years from now.
Action steps to improve your rating
Buy ChessBase if you haven’t already. I consider it indispensible if you’re serious about trying to increase your chess rating.
Search for openings/positions you might be interested in playing.
Test these lines in online play to see if they suit you and you like playing them.
Create a database in ChessBase with your opening lines. I call mine “Opening Lines.” In this database is one “game” (line) for each opening.
Constantly play through GM games in your chosen lines, and keep testing online.
Add/edit lines in your database … this could take months to begin with, and never really ends. Be thorough.
Maintenance. Keep studying games, memorizing your lines, and practicing online.
Boris Spassky (born 1937) was the tenth World Chess Champion (1969-1972). Before that, however, he was one of the greatest prodigies of early modern professional chess.
Born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Spassky defeated Mikhail Botvinnik in a simul as a ten-year-old in 1947, a year before Botvinnik became World Champion.
With a third-place finish in his very first USSR Championship, Spassky qualified for the 1955 Gothenburg Interzonal. At Antwerp he captured the World Junior Championship a point ahead of Edmar Mednis. He next qualified for the 1956 Amsterdam Candidates Tournament — earning an automatic Grandmaster title.
At 18 years old, Spassky became the youngest GM ever, eclipsing Tigran Petrosian‘s record by five years.
He established himself as a top player in the early 1960s. Highlights include the 29th USSR Championship (Fall 1961) and the 1964 Moscow zonal.
Spassky battled through the World Championship cycle to earn a title match with Petrosian in 1966. The match went the full 24 games, but Iron Tigran narrowly retained his title.
Undeterred, Spassky immediately won the Second Piatigorsky Cup. In the next Championship cycle he defeated Petrosian in June 1969 to become the new Champion.
Why he is underrated
Unfortunately, Spassky was outshone by two meteors: first Tal, then Fischer.
Mikhail Talwas born less than three months before Spassky. He won back-to-back USSR Championships, an Interzonal, a Candidates Tournament, and a World Championship match within four years! Just 23 years old, he shattered the record for youngest World Champion ever.
Bobby Fischer broke Spassky’s youngest-ever GM record by three years. Later, he won 20 consecutive games en-route to victory in the 1970 Interzonal and 1971 Candidates series with tallies of 6-0, 6-0, and 6½-2½. Then he took Spassky’s World Championship title in 1972.
This is a loss for chess! The casual fans who only know Spassky as “the guy who lost to Fischer” should play through some of his best games — they are as enjoyable and imaginative as those of any player in chess history, full stop.
After losing his title, Spassky won probably the strongest-ever USSR Championship, the 41st, in October 1973. The field included established stars like Lev Polugaevsky, Viktor Kortschnoj, Efim Geller, Paul Keres, and Mark Taimanov, youngsters Evgeny Sveshnikov and Alexander Beliavsky … and four other World Champions — Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, and Karpov.
To me, this implies he plays 1…e6 in response to at least 1.e4 and 1.d4, and possibly other first moves as well. If my assumption is correct, it means he plays the Classical Dutch (…f5, …Nf6, …d6, …e6) or Stonewall Dutch (…f5, …Nf6, …e6, …d5, …c6), but not the Leningrad Dutch (…f5, …Nf6, …g6, …Bg7, …d6).
What Does the French/Dutch Player Want?
Rich, counterattacking play!
The choice of the Dutch as d4-defense is revealing and makes me think this player favors lines like the Winawer, Classical, MacCutcheon, or Burn Variations in the French after 3.Nc3 — and not quiet passive lines such as the Rubinstein or Fort Knox.
In my years of playing the French, I never considered playing the Winawer or MacCutcheon in tournament play — it’s just not my style. The Classical and Fort Knox were my favorites. But how do you identify what to play?