Tag Archives: Openings

Chess Tactics: Zukertort — Blackburne, 1883

Battle of 19th Century Chess Legends

Johannes Zukertort

Johannes Zukertort

This game from the London 1883 tournament is very famous, and for good reason. You won’t forget it once you’ve seen it!

Johannes Zukertort (1842-1888) was born in present-day Poland. One of the leading players of early tournament chess, he challenged Wilhelm Steinitz in the first official World Championship match in 1886, which he lost (5 wins, 5 draws, and 10 losses).

In contrast to Zukertort, Joseph Henry Blackburne (1841-1924) enjoyed a much longer chess career. “The Black Death” competed in top tournaments (and matches) from London 1862 through St. Petersburg 1914!

 

The Black king is clearly in distress, but how should White continue?

Deflected Again!

Chess Tactics: Bisguier — Larsen, 1965

A Dean of American Chess

Arthur Bisguier - Chess Life Dec97

Arthur Bisguier was featured on the cover of the December 1997 issue of Chess Life.

Arthur Bisguier (1929-2017) was a grandmaster (1957) from New York. The 1954 U.S. Champion won clear or shared first place at the U.S. Open five times between 1950 and 1969. He also represented the USA in five Olympiads between 1952 and 1972.

As an author he wrote, among other works, The Art of Bisguier: Selected Games 1961-2003.

Bent Larsen (1935-2010) was a top player, and a famously combative one, often employing risky openings with both colors. This may have extracted more points than usual against relatively weaker opposition, but sometimes things went badly wrong, as here.

 

Who’s Afraid of the Pirc/Modern?

In May 2020, I featured another classic demolition of the Pirc; do I have something against this opening?

Variations and symbols are from the bulletin (source: MegaBase). The text comments are mine.

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

Which Chess Opening Move is Best? Part 2

In Part 1, we discussed 1.e4. I opined that the King Pawn universe is not for everyone. That begs the question:

What About the Closed Openings?

This is a much broader topic, because it includes basically everything except 1.e4!

Still, there’s an obvious place to start.

1.d4 — Have it Your Way

Generally, you’ll prefer 1.d4 to 1.e4 if you don’t want to play directly for kingside attacks most of the time. 1.d4 tends to lead to White seeking an advantage on the queenside. That doesn’t mean you can’t play aggressively if you choose to! Far from it.

Botvinnik Keres

Botvinnik and Keres met in 20 tournament games. Photo: Verendel.com

White can go for the throat against even Black’s most solid options: consider the classic game Botvinnik — Keres, 1952 (given at the end of this post).

The 6th World Champion meets the Queen’s Gambit Declined with the seemingly dry Exchange Variation … and then plays directly for a central and kingside attack! He won in crushing fashion; even now this is considered a model game for the QGD Exchange.

For many club players, it’s the model game.

On the other hand, White can adopt a slower strategy; consider the model game Evans — Opsahl, 1950 which I discussed in an earlier post.

Against the solid Nimzo-Indian (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4) White has many solid approaches, but he can also satisfy his bloodlust with the Sämisch Variation.

When Black tries more double-edged systems like the Modern Benoni Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6), Dutch Defense (1.d4 f5), King’s Indian Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 and 3…Bg7), or Grünfeld Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 and 3…d5), White can play solidly (the first player could choose a quiet kingside fianchetto against each of these, for example) or meet fire with fire.

Even when Black seeks to take control from the get-go with the Benko Gambit, White can throw down the gauntlet.

Efstratios Grivas

Efstratios Grivas. Photo: FIDE

If you’re a 1.d4 player looking for several good recommendations against Black’s options in one place, I recommend taking a look at Beating the Fianchetto Defenses by Efstratios Grivas. The esteemed Greek trainer is not always my favorite author, but this offering is very well done.

He chooses sensible systems against the Benoni, Benko, KID, Grünfeld, and Modern Defenses, and then delves into the typical middlegames and endgames that arise from them.

 

I hope I’ve provided some food for thought. Below is, as I promised, Botvinnik — Keres, 1952. Note that it arises from a Nimzo-Indian move order.

The fun doesn’t stop here. In Part 3, we’ll discuss the Flank Openings — perhaps the most interesting way to open a game! Stay tuned!

Chess Tactics: Ftacnik — Cvitan, 1997

A King’s Indian Sprint

Ognjen Cvitan

Ognjen Cvitan. Photo: Šahovski klub Draga

Ognjen Cvitan (born 1961) is a Croatian Grandmaster most notable for winning the 1981 World Junior Championship.

Our featured position comes from a game played during the 1997-98 season of the German Bundesliga, one of the top team chess leagues in the world.

In a wild King’s Indian Defense, typical of the evergreen Mar del Plata Variation, Cvitan reaches the finish line ahead of the renowned Lubomir Ftacnik.

 

How did Cvitan (Black) kick off a memorable combination on his 23rd move?

 

Cornered!

How to Defeat Kids in Chess Tournaments

The Impact of Scholastic Chess

Children usually have more time to devote to chess improvement.

Kids have been taking over chess for a long time now. This is great for the game in the long term, but what about the adults who have to face these youths in tournaments?

A kid or teenager is usually still improving; if an adult is getting better, it’s typically at a slower rate. I’ve never been convinced that this is because of “younger vs. older brains.” Older players simply have more life responsibilities which require focus and energy that cannot be spent on chess.

Given two players of the same rating facing off, I would bet on the younger player in the absence of other information.

All is not lost, however.

Understand Your Adversary

I have played in many quads over the years where all of my opponents were kids or teens rated similarly to me, that is, in the 2000-2100 range. Bearing in mind everyone has a different style, here are some things I learned:

Home prep can make a huge difference

Kids stick to their openings and either don’t suspect or don’t respect prepared variations.

Research! If you know what openings your rival plays, do some pre-tournament work and find wrinkles to set them challenges. You can really make hay if you regularly face the same set of opponents and can develop a game plan against them.

Also, especially in Swiss tournaments, remember to go for a walk early in your rounds to see what potential opponents are playing. On a related note …

Put your thinking cap on

In one event, I noticed in the first two rounds that a player I was due to meet in the final round displayed impressive middlegame and endgame play, both tactical and strategic. His openings were quite refined as well. I asked myself: “Why is he under 2100 and not 2200+?”

I concluded the reason was likely psychological. Probably, he gets nervous and doesn’t handle pressure on par with other players of his rating class.

When we faced off, he got a definite advantage with the White pieces, though Black has some counterplay:

Trusting my scouting report, I played 21…Nd5 confidently and … offered him a draw!

Mind you, the clock wasn’t an issue for either of us.

He started to think … and think … and think. He began turning red and looked ill.

Soon he did what I expected, and agreed to the draw. I could tell he knew he shouldn’t do it, but he didn’t have the stomach to play on. I understood his emotions, because I’ve been there!

Target their Weaknesses

I faced one Expert kid five times. I lost the first game, drew the second from a much better position, and then won the last three encounters!

What happened?

In the first game I went for a slow, maneuvering Chigorin Ruy Lopez as Black, with the idea that young players are generally more comfortable with livelier positions. I was outplayed and lost the game, but I got to watch some of his other games in that event and others before we met again.

In our second game I went for a kingside attack, after observing that he didn’t handle direct attacks very well. I had great winning chances, but couldn’t crash through and drew.

After seeing more of my adversary’s games, I was able to prepare effectively for the final three battles and went for aggressive play. Our fourth game began with the sequence 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 (I knew he played this line) and now 4.Nf3 Nbd7 5.g4!? which had been popularized by Alexei Shirov.

I won in 17 moves.

I’m not a great attacker, but judged that he was an even worse defender.

Don’t be a Hero

Conversely, another Expert I often faced became my angstgegner. This was in large part because I was stubborn and kept trying — and failing — to refute his opening. But at a certain point, I felt I was doomed against him no matter what I did, and it affected my play. The final tally: one win, one draw, and four losses.

The bottom line: learn as much as you can about your young opponents’ playing style, openings, and likes/dislikes. Prepare well, establish a blueprint for your games in advance when possible, and trust your skills!

Good luck!

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.

Next time, we’ll discuss some alternatives, starting with 1.d4.

Chess Tactics: Malinin — Andreev, 1989

Vasily Malinin: Double Grandmaster

Vasily Malinin

Vasily Malinin. Photo: Rewal Chess Festival

Vasily Malinin (born 1956) is a Russian Grandmaster of both over-the-board and correspondence chess. He was also the 21st and last USSR Correspondence Chess Champion (the final of this multi-stage event, the Rozinov Memorial, was played from 1998-2002).

Here Malinin plays an absolutely wild game and finishes it beautifully. He certainly found his Mona Lisa.

There really isn’t much else to say, except … enjoy!

What did Malinin (White) play on his 17th move to continue an already crazy Benko battle against Konstantin Andreev?

 

Sac, Sac, Mate

A breathtaking game by Malinin!

Chess Tactics: Morozevich — Iordachescu, 1998

Alexander Morozevich: A New Shining Star

Alexander Morozevich

Alexander Morozevich. Photo: chessdom.com

Alexander Morozevich (born 1977) burst onto the world chess scene in the mid-1990s and quickly became a darling of fans worldwide with a unique brand of tricky, aggressive, unorthodox chess. The Muscovite was a protégé of super trainer Vladimir Yurkov (1936-2007) whose previous students included Yuri BalashovNana Ioseliani, and Andrei Sokolov.

Morozevich earned his Grandmaster title in 1994. In August of that same year he won the final edition of the Lloyds Bank Open in London with an amazing 9½ points out of 10.

Morozevich later became a fixture at top events, reaching a peak rating of 2788 and peak ranking of World #2 in July 2008 (behind World Champion Viswanathan Anand). His debut at the top came much earlier, however, when he jumped in rating from 2590 (World #93) in January 1998 to 2723 (World #5) in January 1999.

Another particularly stunning performance helped in that ascent.

 

The 1st Chebanenko Memorial

In February 1998, a 10-player round robin honored the famous trainer of Moldova, Vyacheslav Chebanenko (1942-1997), in the nation’s capital Chisinau.

Alexander Morozevich was only the fourth-highest rated player in the well-balanced Category XII event.

The 20 year old won his first game … drew the second … and then won all the rest! Obviously, his tally of 8½ points out of 9 was enough for first place.

In Round 6, what did Morozevich (White) play on his 22nd move against Viorel Iordachescu?

 

An Interference Tactic that Makes an Impression

Though he sometimes plays blitz and rapid events, Alexander Morozevich has scarcely played classical chess since 2014 — he won the annual Karpov tournament at Poikovsky in May of that year. It appears he has effectively retired, with little fanfare … a loss for the chess world.

Chess Tactics: Boleslavsky — Böök, 1948

Isaac Boleslavsky: The Most Underrated Chess Theoretician?

Isaac Boleslavsky

Isaac Boleslavsky. Photo: chessgames.com

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!

 

Original Grandmaster

The Grand Hotel Saltsjöbaden, site of the 1948 interzonal.

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.

 

A Dangerous Queen Maneuver