No matter why you decided to pick up chess, Congratulations, and Welcome!
I played my first chess tournaments in 1995-96. While I started teaching beginners as early as 1997 (when I was not much past 1000 USCF), I didn’t become a full-time chess teacher and coach until 2005 (I had surpassed 1800 by then).
I’ve seen and learned a great deal over the years, and I’d like to share some of my best advice.
How you perform against friends and family means nothing.
Just because you can beat your dad, your friends, or your co-workers in chess says absolutely nothing about how well or poorly you play the game. The only way to know where you stand in the pecking order is to play in official (rated) tournaments. And no, online ratings don’t mean anything either, whether you play on ICC, lichess, or anywhere else. Online is just practice.
Expect to lose a lot of games. A lot.
No one becomes a strong chess player without losing hundreds, no, thousands, of games. People who say otherwise are lying. The sooner you accept this, the better off you’ll be.
Related to this: genius is exceedingly rare in chess. Unless your name is Kasparov, Anand, Kramnik, or Ivanchuk, you are not a chess genius and your kid isn’t either. If someone tells you otherwise, they’re only after your money.
Academic achievement and chess aptitude? Probably unrelated.
I’ve already written about this here. I’m not a scientist or a researcher, but have worked with thousands of students over the years, age 3 and up.
Endgames are overrated.
Most games between non-experts (97+% of the chess population!) will be decided before the endgame is reached. You should know some basics, but don’t spend more than 20-25% of your study time on this phase of the game.
Openings are underrated.
Don’t listen to people who advise you to ignore openings! Effective opening study is well worth your time, even as a new player.
The opening gets a bad rap because it is often presented very poorly. That’s the fault of the material, not the phase of the game itself! I recently reviewed a book that presents the opening pretty well for inexperienced players.
Teimour Radjabov was born in Baku, Azerbaijan in 1987.
He was at one point the youngest grandmaster in the world, achieving the highest title in chess at the age of 14 years and 14 days (at that time, Bu Xiangzhi was the youngest GM ever, before Sergey Karjakin shattered the record in 2002).
Radjabov began playing top tournaments at age 14, making appearances at Dortmund, Wijk aan Zee, and Linares. His peak world rank was No. 4 (October 2012), and a month later he achieved his highest mark on the FIDE Rating List: 2793.
In recent years it seemed the gifted Azeri was finished as an absolute top player, but he surprisingly won the 2019 World Cup, defeating Ding Liren in the finals. This earned him a spot in the 2020 Candidates Tournament. FIDE screwed the pooch on that one, but I look forward to seeing Radjabov in the next Candidates.
Dortmund 2003 is best remembered for a monumental upset: Victor Bologan (World No. 42) triumphed in a six-player double round-robin over Vladimir Kramnik, Vishy Anand, and Peter Leko — ranked 2nd, 3rd, and 4th in the world, respectively.
Two youngsters also took part in that event: Radjabov and Arkadij Naiditsch.
Everyone should play through Alexander Finkel’s annotations for ChessBase to the Round 8 battle, below — how to handle, or in this case not handle, a direct kingside attack from a Queen Pawn Game (here, the Torre Attack).
White to play. How did Radjabov launch a deadly attack?
Former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik was the most successful exponent of 1.Nf3. Photo: ruchess.ru
Unless you are married to 1.e4 until death-do-you-part, opening with 1.Nf3 seems very appealing because of the flexibilty it allows in the closed openings. You can weave in and out of different systems based on your preferences or the opponent you are facing.
Prepare an opening repertoire based on main lines, then play it. Start with 1.e4, 1.d4, or 1.c4. Your rating will thank you. Don’t get cute. More often than not, you’ll confuse yourself or you’ll wind up in lines your opponents know better than you do!
There is one more move to seriously consider that doesn’t get mentioned nearly as often:
1.g3 — A reasonable choice!
Obviously, this move commits White to a kingside fianchetto; otherwise, I think it could be a good choice for the right player. Black cannot be sure what exactly he’s facing, or not facing: 1.Nf3 takes away the King’s English (1.c4 e5), the Benko, Albin, and Budapest…but it also creates limitations against the Queen’s Gambit, Grunfeld, and King’s Indian, for example.
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.
Muscovite Mark Dvoretsky was a very strong player, becoming an International Master in 1975. In this period he reached his peak as a player but soon became a trainer.
And what a trainer he was! He worked extensively with such players as Women’s World Championship Challenger Nana Alexandria, Valery Chekhov, Sergei Dolmatov, and Viktor Bologan, among many others.
His most prominent student was Artur Yusupov, who rose to World #3 in 1986. Dvoretsky and Yusupov would collaborate on many books for very strong (or at least very ambitious) players. These were borne out of training sessions with future stars, including Vladimir Kramnik and Peter Svidler.
NOT for Beginners!
Honestly, no other author scares me the way Mark Dvoretsky does. That’s a compliment, by the way: his books will make you work like no others that I’ve seen. A trademark of his books is very deep analysis of his own games or his students’ games. He will often discuss how well or poorly his students did in solving these training positions.
I’ve read reviews that complain about the inclusion of chapters from other trainers’, but I appreciate the different viewpoints. Dvoretsky frequently gets lost in a forest of analysis so dense you question how helpful it is to your chess development. The contributors tend to stick to one topic and cover it in very instructive fashion.
I consider my study session a success if I can get through one chapter of one of these books.
These are the books that introduced the West to Mark Dvoretsky. They feature lectures at the his chess school, sometimes with chapters from other contributors like Igor Khenkin, Aleksei Kosikov, and Boris Zlotnik.
I absolutely love this book. It isn’t about opening theory, but typical maneuvers and operations in a variety of opening systems. This book forms the basis of how I play the Sicilian against the Grand Prix Attack, and helps orient me when I face King’s Indian Attack-style setups.
Devour this gem one bite (chapter) at a time. It discusses positional play in ways you wouldn’t expect having read other classics. The contributors each have something valuable to add — including chapters by top players Vladimir Kramnik and Evgeny Bareev!
Assiduous study of this book will vault you far ahead of other class players when it comes to positional understanding.
This one is quite good, but literally makes my head hurt! Dvoretsky keeps making you think he has revealed the answer to one of his analysis positions…only to go back and reveal a further nuance to consider. The lasting impact it has left on my play is don’t assume. The attack you think is irresistible…the defense you think is impenetrable…may not be so!
This is perhaps the most popular of Dvoretsky’s books, as it is not aimed towards master-level players only. It contains a lot of explanatory material and diagrams, but personally I am not a big fan. Probably I would have a different opinion if I was taking my first steps in chess.
I have never read this book, and don’t intend to. It’s famous for its dense analysis, and is geared towards budding International Masters and Grandmasters.
Edition Olms Books
Before talking about the books, let me just say that I have never regretted purchasing an Edition Olms book, or paying their high prices. They produce gorgeous paperbacks that you never want to ruin: high-quality paper, print, and binding.
Some of these books are reprints of the Batsford books that have long been out of print.
A good mental workout! It’s not a puzzle book, but a collection of positions are discussed which feature unexpected tactical solutions. I didn’t find this book as challenging as Dvoretsky’s other works, because of I’m used to solving paradoxical “Russian” tactics.
This book is original, and not a reprint of the earlier Batsford series. It’s challenging, and stresses the importance of small nuances. It’s really helpful if you play King’s English (1.c4 e5) or Reversed Closed Sicilian (1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 Bg7 etc.) positions from either side.
This one really helped me in my coaching endeavors. It stressed to me how individual chess improvement really is, and how much of a disservice coaches can do to their students if they take a cookie-cutter approach.
I very much enjoyed the anecdotes Dvoretsky provides about his experiences as a trainer, and the frame of mind a coach should approach helping a student from. I recommend it to coaches and to anyone directing their own self-improvement.
I stopped buying Dvoretsky’s books because they require a commitment to study that I was no longer willing to give, but I might read his two autobiographical works at some point. His other titles include:
The games are broadcast on chess.com and elsewhere.
The Format of the FIDE Online Nations Cup
FIDE and chess.com collaborated on the FIDE Nations Cup.
The games are played with a time control of 25+10 (25 minutes for the entire game plus an additional 10 seconds per move starting from move 1).
There are six teams in the event with six players each; four male and two female players.
Each match is contested on four boards. On Boards 1,2, and 3 a team chooses three of its four male players to play. On Board 4, a team chooses one of its two female players to play.
2½ points out of 4 are needed to win a match, and all boards count equally.
The team that wins each match gets 2 points and the loser 0. In case of a 2-2 tie, each team receives 1 match point.
It’s a double round-robin team tournament, so each team faces the other five teams twice for a total of 10 rounds. After 10 rounds, the two highest-scoring teams play a final match on May 10. The team with the highest score going into the final gets draw odds; in other words, if the final match is tied 2-2, the team with the highest score in the round-robin phase wins the event.
Every team gets $24,000 for participating. After 10 rounds, the two top scoring teams face off in a final match for the FIDE Nations Cup. The team runner-up gets an additional $12,000 ($36,000 total for the team), and the winner of the Cup gets an additional $24,000 ($48,000 for the team).
Four top nations are invited, and then two other “compilations” of teams were added.
The countries invited were China, India, Russia, and the United States.
The two additional teams were Team Europe and Team Rest of World.
Every team brought most of their top male and female players! The captains were notable too.
The Players and Captains of the FIDE Online Nations Cup
The male players included 2020 CandidatesDing Liren and Wang Hao, plus Wei Yi and Yu Yangyi. Even scarier for the rest of the field were their female players: the return of 3-time Women’s World Champion Hou Yifan, and current Women’s World Champion Ju Wenjun.
Having won two of the last three Olympiads and the last two Women’s Olympiads, China was undoubtedly the favorite. Longtime captain Ye Jiangchuan lead the team here, too.
All the top players from this chess powerhouse came to play as well, including legendary former World Champion Vishy Anand, up-and-coming star Vidit Gujrathi, elite fixture Pentala Harikrishna, plus Adhiban Baskaran.
Their top female players are present as well, including Cairns Cup winner Humpy Koneru and Harika Dronavali. Anand is playing and serving as captain, while former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik is an adviser to the team.
This team is formidable as well, led by Candidates’ co-leader Ian Nepomniachtchi, the rising Vladislav Artemiev, former Challenger Sergey Karjakin, and former Candidate Dmitry Andreikin.
Their female players include recent Women’s World Championship Challenger Aleksandra Goryachkina and current Russian Women’s Champion Olga Girya. Their captain is the experienced Alexander Motylev.
Their “Top 3” are here: 5-time US Champion and former World #2 Hikaru Nakamura, current World #2 and recent Challenger Fabiano Caruana, and perennial Top 10 Wesley So. Also playing for the team is recent arrival Leinier Dominguez.
Two stalwarts of US Women’s Chess, 7-time US Women’s Champion Irina Krush and 4-time US Women’s Champion Anna Zatonskih make their appearance as well. The team is lead by John Donaldson, who has captained US Olympiad teams since the 1980s.
A mix of players from different nations is led by Candidates co-leader Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France, former World #2 Levon Aronian of Armenia, and former World #3 Anish Giri of the Netherlands, who is playing as a reserve. Board 3 is Poland’s Jan-Krzysztof Duda.
Their female team members are Ukraine’s Anna Muzychuk and Georgia’s Nana Dzagnidze. Oh yeah, I almost forgot: their captain is the greatest player ever, Garry Kasparov!
Team Rest of World
Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan) has returned to the top with a bang, and he is joined by young star Alireza Firouzja who has not chosen a country to represent after leaving Iran. Bassem Amin (Egypt) and Jorge Cori (Peru) represent Africa and South America, respectively.
Former Women’s World Champion Mariya Muzychuk (Ukraine) and Dinara Saduakassova (Kazakhstan) round out their lineup. They are captained by FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich, who I had the pleasure of meeting in person at a tournament in 2019.
Round Robin Phase
China dominated the first part of the FIDE Online Nations Cup with 17 match points (+8=1-1). They drew Russia in Round 3, and only lost to USA in Round 10 when they had already clinched the top spot in the final.
The race for the other final spot came down to USA(+6=1-3) and Europe (+5=3-2). Each squad finished with 13 match points, but USA got the spot in the final by scoring 22 game points to Europe’s 21.5!
The other teams — Russia, India, and Team World — fell out of contention early on.
China earned draw odds in the Mother’s Day final match, which I have to agree with. There should be a reward for winning the first, 10-round phase of an event like this. In one match, anything can happen.
Still, it was too much for the USA to overcome. On paper, China had an advantage anyway, especially on Board 4, with the strongest active female on the planet Hou Yifan facing my friend Irina Krush. I had no doubt America’s only female Grandmaster would bring her best, and she held a draw rather comfortably despite being massively out-rated.
To win the match, USA needed two points out of the three remaining games, and it was just not to be. Hikaru Nakamura and Ding Liren drew a very double-edged game on Board 1, while Fabiano Caruana pressed Wei Yi on Board 2 and Yu Yangyi pressed Wesley So on Board 3.
Caruana and Yu both won, which was fitting because they were the two best performers in the entire event. The match was drawn 2-2, and China won the first FIDE Online Nations Cup.
Will this event become a fixture in the future after we (hopefully) defeat COVID-19? I hope so!
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:
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.
Now, I have to admit being attracted to this book when I first bought it many years ago because Anatoly Karpov, the 12th World Champion, has always been my favorite player. I remember enthusiastically reading his Grandmaster Musings column in Chess Life magazine in the late 1990s.
The Karpov book is a slim 187 pages plus an Index of Variations, and there are no other books in the series. Still, it’s a definitely worth having if you have interest in playing drier openings that resist cutting-edge theory.
The openings for black
Against 1.e4: Caro-Kann
After 3.Nc3/Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4, he gives 4…Nd7.
Of course…this is often known as the Karpov Variation!
In the Advance Variation, Short System after 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 5.Be2,
Khalifman gives 5…Ne7
which indeed Karpov favored. Coverage is light here, and theory has certainly moved forward, so I would supplement study here with a database of modern games.
Khalifman’s guidance on sidelines is sound and easy to understand. In general Chess Stars authors really shine at conveying the ideas behind the moves.
Against 1.d4: Nimzo-Indian, Queen’s Indian, Catalan
You start with 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6, as Karpov usually did.
Against 3.Nc3 you go for the Karpov Variation of the Nimzo-Indian (3…Bb4 4.e3 c5 5.Bd3 0-0 6.Nf3 d5 7.0-0 dxc4 8.Bxc4 cxd4 9.exd4 b6).
The coverage is better than I’ve seen anywhere else. Again, supplement with newer games.
Against 3.Nf3, the recipe is the Queen’s Indian with 3…b6.
I suppose 4.g3 Ba6 is the main line here
so you’ll want to consult a database for more up-to-date games.
Against 3.g3, when white plays the Catalan, you play 3…d5 4.Bg2 Be7 5.Nf3 0-0
The explanations are great, but as I keep saying, you need to supplement the text with contemporary games.
A similar approach with …Nf6 and …e6 is given against Queen Pawn Games like the London, Trompowsky, Torre, Veresov, etc.
Against 1.c4: English with 1…e5
I’m not a specialist on these lines, so I can’t comment on how theory now views the lines given, but once again the commentary is instructive.
Against 1.Nf3: 1…Nf3 2.c4 b6
Some similarities with the Queen’s Indian section, but in many lines Khalifman recommends a double fianchetto and does a great job showing how the play can develop. Again, newer approaches are missing, but it’s a great start.
Khalifman also gives some guidance against 1.b3 and 1.g3 in this chapter.
As you can see, this book has definite limitations in 2020. Still, the structure of the repertoire, care taken about move orders, and above all the easy-to-understand insightful commentary make Opening for Black according to Karpov one of the forgotten opening book gems of the past 20 years.