How to Get Better At Chesscontains answers from Grandmasters and International Masters about their thoughts on chess improvement, motivation, study methods, etc.
I can’t remember how I discovered this book, but I’m glad I did. It was hard to put this book down, and I read it all in a few sittings.
Because the interviews were collected in the late 1970s and 1980s, this book doesn’t talk about analysis engines or databases at all … I find this refreshing! The respondents also don’t give too much advice on openings.
You’ll find answers given by players like Nick DeFirmian, Larry Evans, Bent Larsen, Vladimir Liberzon, Viktor Kortschnoj, Yasser Seirawan, and lots more.
The players often have conflicting opinions, but that shows there isn’t just one recipe to success as a chess player. I find it inspiring that different approaches can be highly successful. Find what works for you.
The authors also includes a selection of games.
If you’re a fan of “thought-provoking” chess literature, I consider this book a must-buy!
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.
Boris Spassky. Photo: Britannica.com
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.
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.
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 Kortschnoj, Larry Evans, and Henrique Mecking!
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.
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.
Faced with the Sicilian Defense (1.e4 c5), many white players avoid the Open Sicilian that comes about after 2.Nf3 and 3.d4. Instead, they choose an Anti-Sicilian like the Smith-Morra Gambit (1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3)
At club level, an unprepared black player can quickly find themselves in serious danger. White aims for a menacing setup like this:
Of course, black needs to survive long enough to face even this!
The Smith-Morra Gambit player hopes their adversary will fall into a nasty trap, and there are many. For example:
Or this one:
Many black players look to turn the tables on white with the so-called Siberian Trap:
To avoid accidents, many black players decline the gambit or give back the pawn immediately.
I’m not one of them. If I knew all my opponents would play the Smith-Morra, I would always answer 1.e4 with 1…c5. If the line is so great for white, why do top players not use it?
In the traps above, black has problems on e5 and b5, and uncoordinated pieces. Knowing what you’re up against makes it far easier to deal with!
There are many viable setups for black, but I defend the Smith-Morra with the line 2…cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 Nc6 5.Nf3 d6 6.Bc4 a6! Don’t rush that …Nf6 move.
Let’s see some examples.
Debut by Transposition
According to the MegaBase, Dutch master Lodewijk Prins first reached the position after 6…a6 against Savielly Tartawkower in 1950, but couldn’t recover after his pieces got tangled early on. The game started as an O’Kelly Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 a6).
Battle of Titans
Fischer and Kortschnoj drew in Buenos Aires 1960, also after transposing from an O’Kelly.
San Antonio 1972
The Tournament Announcement for San Antonio 1972. Source: Chess Life and Review, October 1972
The Church’s Fried Chicken International, held in San Antonio, Texas in 1972 remains one of the strongest events ever held in the United States. Lajos Portisch, former World Champion Tigran V. Petrosian, and future World Champion Anatoly Karpov tied for first place with 10.5 points out of 15.
American master Ken Smith (the “Smith” in “Smith-Morra”) tried the gambit several times, but without success against such chess heavyweights.
Let’s take a look at two of those games. Both were played in the second half of the tournament when black could have expected the Smith-Morra Gambit.
Round 9 vs. Evans
We saw this American legend play a model game before. He does again here:
Evans also played in Buenos Aires 1960, so he would have known the Fischer—Kortschnoj game above.
Round 13 vs. Mecking
The future World #3 emulated the Kortschnoj/Evans treatment and then collected material.
The bottom line on facing the Smith-Morra Gambit
If you play the Sicilian you should be happy to face the Smith-Morra, or any Anti-Sicilian for that matter. Playable though they may be, Anti-Sicilians are inferior to the Open Sicilian,
Don’t use the common excuse “white knows their pet line better than I will.” Study! Learn how to deal with the annoying sidelines your opponent can throw at you, and thank them for not challenging you in the most critical way.
I don’t have a perfect record against the Smith-Morra Gambit, but I score better than 50%. Anytime you can say that with one of your black openings, that is a big success.
In Part 1, we looked at French Defense lines where black exchanges pawns on e4.
Now we’ll start looking at the most common center type in the French: white plays e4-e5. In this post we’ll look at the Winawer and Classical Variations.
The next post will feature the MacCutcheon and the Tarrasch.
White locks the center with e4-e5; Winawer and Classical
There are several important lines where this can happen. In all of them, the main idea is the same: Black wants to attack white’s d4-pawn, starting with the pawn advance …c7-c5!
(a) Winawer Variation 3.Nc3 Bb4
The Winawer is the most dynamic system in the French Defense. It starts as follows:
Now black tries to break down the white center, while white accepts weak queenside pawns in order to get black’s strong bishop. Typically, white attacks on the kingside, and black goes for counterplay in the center and on the queenside. An important example:
This is the Winawer Poisoned Pawn Variation. Both sides face danger! In other versions of the Winawer, black castles kingside while he still can and creates counterplay on the queenside and in the center, while white goes for mate.
A classic example of Winawer chaos comes from the first game of the 1960 World Championship match:
Or the famous duel between Fischer and Tal later that year:
I have never played the Winawer as black in a tournament game…too crazy for me! The next possibilities occurred in plenty of my games, however.
(b) Classical Variation with 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7
This is another double-edged variation, but play is not as “fast” as in the Winawer. Still, attacks can appear suddenly:
Games in this line often become positional struggles where black’s “problem” bishop on the light squares is a long-term factor: