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An Interview with WFM Maaike Keetman

Our second blog post of the day is here for your weekend reading, as we proudly present an interview with Woman FIDE Master Maaike Keetman.

Maaike is the Publishing Manager for Chessable. This week saw the release of her own Chessable course – The Fierce Nimzo-Indian – which we examined on Wednesday.

Maaike keeps plenty of other plates spinning too. As a player, she represents The Netherlands at the Chess Olympiads and is currently helping the Chessable White Rose team perform so successfully in the Four Nations Chess League.

It is time to find out more about WFM Maaike Keetman, from her chess early moves to the future plans.

Maaike KeetmanPhotograph © Maaike Keetman

This picture was taken at the ARISAN WIM Chess Ladies tournament 2019. Maaike won the event and secured her second Woman International Master norm.

Early Moves

How did your chess journey begin? Do any other members of your family play chess?

When I was only five years old, my parents taught my older brother how to play both chess and checkers. They were both strong checkers players and in fact that was how they met. My brother quickly realized he would never be able to beat them at checkers, so he decided to play chess instead! At some point my sister and I joined him and went to the local chess club as well, and ever since then I have been hooked.

Did you have any particular chess heroes or role models to inspire you in the early days?

When I was young, I really loved studying Mikhail Tal’s attacking games. And of course, Judit Polgar was a huge inspiration!

Which chess books did you find most instructive or inspirational during your early years?

In the Netherlands, it is very common to learn chess using the step-by-step method. I worked through all of the exercise books multiple times, some definitely at least 10 times – sort of using spaced repetition myself, before I knew it existed!

Style and Influences

How would you describe your style of play?

It’s hard to describe but I tend to thrive more in positions that require precise calculation. Also, I always come to fight, aiming for positions that are double-edged. No boring draws in my games!

Were any other players influential in the development of your style?

Besides Judit Polgar, modern top-player Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has a style that I really admire and I always feel inspired after watching his games.

What is your most memorable success (so far!)?

Probably my shared second place in the European Championship for Girls Under-16, Porec 2015.

Can you tell us a little about your experience of playing at the Chess Olympiad?

It was amazing! As the Dutch men’s team is quite strong (thanks to Anish Giri), we stayed at the hotel with all of the top countries. It was also interesting to see everyone at the Bermuda party in a much more relaxed mood than usual!


What can you tell us about the ChessQueens Foundation and your role within it?

Five years ago, the ChessQueens were founded to promote chess among women and girls in the Netherlands. These days, the main focus is on inspiring young girls to play chess. For example, we organize the ChessQueens girls tournament every year, and last year had over 60 girls playing with ex-world champion Zhu Chen as special guest!

Maaike ChessQueens

COVID-19 has made things harder for us, but we are doing our best and have been organizing online Grand Prix tournaments for the girls on Sundays.

Online elite chess events were a major success over the Summer. Do you embrace the new era of digital chess or are you eager for real-life, over-the-board action to return?

I think it’s great that chess is gaining popularity and is doing well online! However, I do miss over-the-board chess as there are many social aspects related to it – traveling and seeing new places, spending time with friends, meeting new people, analyzing with opponents; I really miss those things.

Do you find playing online very different to over-the-board chess? Does it have any impact, one way or another, on your games in the 4NCL, for example?

It is very different, especially for longer games. It is really hard to stay focused for so long. For the 4NCL online, I make all of the moves on a physical chess board to make it feel more real, but it is still hard as it is very easy to get distracted.

Maaike and Chessable

How did you become involved with Chessable?

I had been working for New in Chess for years already when I first encountered Chessable in the summer of 2018, when I started importing NIC books to the platform. I was very impressed by the company and at some point in early 2019, I made the switch to fully work for Chessable and I still really love it here!

The Fierce Nimzowitsch-Indian

Your new Chessable course, The Fierce Nimzo-Indian, has just been released. What can we expect from the course?

It is a dynamic, fighting repertoire based on the Nimzo-Indian. You can expect a lot of lesser-known set-ups that are nonetheless engine-approved and that will give you good chances to play for a win.

How long did it take you to complete?

About five months. The COVID-19 quarantine period was quite helpful to get more done!

As an active and competitive player, are you concerned that you have given away too many of your secrets by creating a Chessable course?

Not at all! In fact, I learned a lot from it, as it forced me to work very systematically and not miss any strong lines from White. I believe in the soundness of the opening and would be happy to play the lines against anyone!

Can you tell us what else you have in the Chessable pipeline?

I will certainly aim to make a second installment, covering 3 Nf3 and other deviations from White. I have also been working on making a course full of exercises from recent games, to help train decision-making.

Balance and Ambition

When chess is your day job, it is often the case that one lacks chess energy to play games. How you manage such a balance?

It’s very simple: I truly love chess! I gain energy from it and can never get enough of it.

How much time do you devote to working on your own game?

These days not as much as I would wish, as I’m quite busy combining my full-time job with my full-time enrollment in university and with writing courses! However, I still try to train daily to stay sharp.

What ambitions do you have, as a player?

I have always wanted to become an International Master. But first up is gaining my final Woman International Master norm and getting the WIM title!

Club players are always interested in ways to improve their game. What advice would you offer to them?

Critically examine your games to take a detailed and unbiased look on your own decision-making and find out what needs attention, and what areas you could improve in. Then, try to find tools or recommendations to improve them! I really believe that you have to train something until it becomes something second nature and is applied subconsciously, so I can definitely recommend to use Chessable to improve! I also found the discussion Anish Giri recently had with a neuroscientist quite insightful in that regard.

How do you cope with the pain of defeat?

Good company and good food (read: chicken nuggets and ice cream…) never fail to make me feel better.

Maaike’s Favourite Games

Do you have a favourite game of your own?

My win against Grandmaster Danny Gormally in the Hastings 2019-2020 was quite memorable.

Gormally - Maaike

Danny Gormally – Maaike Keetman
Hastings, 2019

Black to play

This snippet comes after Maaike has defended very well indeed against Grandmaster Gormally’s attack. The black queen looks like she may have problems rejoining the action, but Maaike’s next move reveals the reality of the situation.

52 …Qa4! Pinning the white knight against the queen and attacking the white rook – and offering a queen sacrifice. If 53 Rxa4, then 53 …Nf3+ dislodges the king from the blockading square, guaranteeing the promotion of the e2-pawn. Checkmate will follow swiftly. (0-1, 57)

How about a favourite game from history?

This is an easy question: the game Alexander Morozevich – Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Biel 2009! This game truly has it all, from interesting play in the opening, sacrifices, surprising defenses and then a fascinating endgame. Highly recommended to play through!

Alexander Morozevich - Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Biel 2009Alexander Morozevich – Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
Biel 2009

Black to play

It is certainly an entertaining game, with creative play by both players all the way through.
We encourage readers to find and study the game for themselves. Here is the bizarre endgame. White is limbering up for 73 Bg8 but Vachier-Lagrave was on the ball and played 72 …g5! This ensures Black can control the queening square on h8. There followed 73 fxg6 Rd6 74 Be8 Be5 75 Kb7 Rb6+ 76 Kc8 Kd6 and White resigned.

And finally, which aspect of your chess life gives you the most satisfaction? 

Probably playing chess myself, as when you are playing a long classical game, it almost feels like the world stops for a few hours. It’s really an incredible feeling. That said, I love everything about chess and am truly passionate about my job and about writing as well!

Thank you very much, WFM Maaike Keetman!

The Fierce Nimzo-Indian

The Fierce Nimzo-Indian

This new Chessable course is already attracting a lot of attention and it has only been out for a few days. The Nimzo-Indian Defense is a very popular opening and a real challenge to 1 d4 2 c4. Don’t be left behind; head here for further details.

Our Interviews

The other interviews in our popular series can be found here:

Anish Giri

Erwin L’Ami

Richard Palliser

Sahaj Grover

Daniel Barrish

Kamil Plichta

Simon Williams

Sarah Longson


The Fierce Nimzo-Indian

100 Years Ago

This is my 100th Chessable blog post. The number set me thinking about what was happening in the world of chess 100 years ago.

The world was still trying to return to normal in 1920, following a time of unparalleled tragedy and catastrophe. The Roaring Twenties waited in the wings, ready to step in with prosperity, freedom and all that jazz.

Meanwhile, back on the chess board, new events were emerging. October 1920 brought the First USSR Chess Championship. Alexander Alekhine is the inaugural champion. Within a year he will leave Russia for good; in 1927 he will become World Champion, a title he will eventually take to the grave after a turbulent and controversial tenure.

100 Years Ago: Alekhine on the Attack

Alekhine’s terrific tactical skill allowed his opponents very little respite. Here are two snippets from the tournament, showing how he used tactics to finish off his games in style.

100 Years Ago
Nikolay Dmitrievich Grigoriev – Alexander Alekhine

Alekhine’s queen is under attack, as is the bishop on d4. It doesn’t matter; he is still in full control of the position.

He played 25 …Bxf3! and White resigned. The key line is 26 Rxe8 Rxe8 27 gxf3 Re1+ 28 Qxe1 Qf3 checkmate.

Alekhine's Checkmate Plan

The white king is in big trouble in the next example too.

100 Years Ago

Ilya Leontievic Rabinovich – Alexander Alekhine

Alekhine has just sacrificed the exchange and could now win back the material with interest by playing 37 …Qxa4, when 38 Qxd2? Qa7+ picks up the stray rook on b8. White could reduce the losses with 38 Rd8, but Alekhine’s extra knight should guarantee victory.

However, he preferred to attack kings as directly as possible and he played 37 …Qc1+! Play continued: 38 Kf2 (38 Kh2 Nf1+ will cost White the queen) Rf6+! 39 Ke3 Nb1+ and White resigned.

Final Position

40 Kd3 allows a forced checkmate in seven moves, starting with 40 …Rd6+

40 Ke4 lasts a shade longer; after 40 …Nxc3+ the white queen is lost and checkmate will still follow soon.

If you would like to improve your own tactical skill, you should consider purchasing The Complete Chess Workout 2 by International Master Richard Palliser. Perhaps we will be writing about your excellent games, 100 years from now…?

The Fierce Nimzo-Indian

Learning: A Marathon, Not a Sprint

Is the process of learning a marathon or a sprint?

Professor Barry Hymer, the Chessable Science Consultant, today follows up his original blog post on Chess and the Science of Learning with a new instalment.

Professor Hymer shares with us his thoughts on the art of successful learning. Is it akin to a marathon or a sprint? He backs up the nuts and bolts of his ideas with numerous real-life cases.

Over to you, Professor Hymer…

Success at an Advanced Age

In my previous blog post I asked the question: What do Grandmasters Jonathan Hawkins, Joe Gallagher, and Ye Jiangchuan have in common, and how could the late, great researcher Graham Nuthall have explained this?

As many of you correctly observed, all three of these expert and highly successful chess players achieved their Grandmaster titles at a relatively advanced age. Indeed, as they were in their late 20s or early 30s, this was virtually their dotage compared to the Prags, Gukeshes and Karjakins of this world, after only modest early progress or a late start in the case of Ye Jiangchuan, China’s second GM, who learned chess at 17.

Marathon or Sprint?

Jonathan’s book details an important part of his learning methods

The late researcher of learning, Graham Nuthall wouldn’t have been surprised by this at all. His research over several decades led him to have profound respect for the slow and incremental processes of learning. This involves frequent opportunities for revisiting newly acquired skills and concepts and close monitoring of understanding and retention. In the well-worn metaphor, learning is a marathon, not a sprint.

Sure there are Bolts aplenty in the chess world. Like maths and music and a small number of other ‘closed systems’, chess rewards an intense early focus and unlike most other
domains of achievement doesn’t need years of accumulated broader life experience for these rewards to reveal themselves. But there are also, sadly, plenty of ‘shot-bolts’ in the chess world. Youngsters with immense early promise who left the game at the point that prodigious early achievement came into contact with the implacable force of consistently high quality opposition. 


It’s at that point that Mo Farah-like endurance comes into its own. Additionally, the deep truth of the old Aesop fable reveals itself – slow and steady wins the race. Or to be more accurate, hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. (When talent works hard, great things can happen.)

So where does this take us in the Chessable world? I would suggest two things.

First, as pioneers in harnessing learning science to the yoke of chess improvement through such processes as the MoveTrainer™ technology and its associated functions, we need to keep on the alert for expanding the reach and zeroing in on the efficiencies of skill acquisition and retention. These are imperatives located in the ‘hard sciences’ of cognitive psychology – and include such valuable, elusive, and related processes as near transfer, meta-cognition, elaboration and self-regulation.

Our friends at the University of Sydney are exploring some rich terrain in this area. We will be supporting them in this research.

Second, we mustn’t rely only on streaks and rubies to keep us keeping on in pursuit of
improvement. We neglect the intrinsic drivers at our peril, and must find ways of valuing the teachings of the ‘soft science’ of the field of ‘positive psychology’ too, and seek to operationalise in chess terms such character strengths and virtues as wise judgement, open-mindedness, perspective, bravery, honesty, diligence etc. We are liaising with a creative researcher, clinical psychologist, and chess enthusiast at the University of California in this area. I will be writing about these qualities in future blog posts too.

Mind the Gap!

As something I’d like to advance as a challenge for the Chessable community and which in many ways bridges both the priorities mentioned above, I will finish this post with the concept of learning demand. See, for example, the work of the educational researchers Leach and Scott: this draws on the idea that there is demonstrably great value (in terms of learning) to be found in analysing what a student already knows before a new unit is taught. Then we compare that knowledge with the knowledge embodied in the intended outcomes of that unit. Learning demand is therefore the identified gap between the student’s prior knowledge and the intended outcomes.

Tied in to this is careful and constant monitoring of new skills, ideas and understandings as the unit (think Chessable course) develops. This will be through such active ingredients as questions, quizzes, tests etc. I would suggest that at Chessable we’re already exceptionally strong at the second part – close and personalised monitoring and review.

However, beyond providing very broad descriptions of who a particular course is pitched at (e.g. beginners, Elo 1800-2000, etc), I’m not sure we’re all that good yet at establishing learning demand prior to beginning work on a new course. I suspect that this would be more pertinent for some courses than others. Courses on openings might be less suited than courses on tactics or strategy development, for instance. I have a hunch there’d be strong payoffs for your learning if we got better at this. Watch this space.

Feedback is Always Welcome

As always, I’d welcome members’ contact with thoughts, ideas and feedback on these posts: email [email protected]

Thank you, Professor Hymer, for your fascinating thoughts on whether learning is a marathon or a sprint. I am sure it will all come as good news to Chessable users of a certain age.

We are looking forward to your next blog post.

A reminder to all readers: Chess Improvement by Barry Hymer and Peter Wells is essential reading. 

The Fierce Nimzo-Indian

The Fierce Nimzo-Indian

The Fierce Nimzo-Indian

The Fierce Nimzo-Indian is major new Chessable course by Woman FIDE Master Maaike Keetman.

Maaike has appeared on this blog before, in our reports on the Four Nations Chess League. We will also discover more about Maaike in our next big interview.

Yesterday we presented the basics of the Nimzo-Indian Defense, which leads us nicely to an examination of some of the lines advocated by Maaike in this new course.

I was intrigued to see how Maaike was suggesting we play against the most common variation – the mighty Rubinstein.

Akiba Rubinstein (1882-1961) was one of the greatest players never to have contested a match for the ultimate title. Incidentally, the story of his life and games is definitely worth reading. His chess openings were exemplary and it is a testament to his understanding of the game that his variation is still the best way to challenge the Nimzo-Indian. In short, Black absolutely must have a well-prepared response.

New Adventures in the Rubinstein Variation

Maaike Keetman on the Fierce Nimzo-Indian

After the initial moves 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e3, Maaike recommends the sensible 4 …0-0.

It is not all that often we have the opportunity to develop two pieces and castle as early as move four with the black pieces. We can take it as a definite sign that the Nimzo-Indian offers a very sound positional platform.

One idea behind 4 e3 is to play 5 Ne2 and 6 a3. If Black plays 6 …Bxc3+ then White avoids  having to accept doubled pawns by recapturing with the knight on e2.

Black has various ways to counter this plan and they are often designed to make use of the extra time White has to spend on the plan of obtaining the bishop pair without enduring the curse of the doubled pawns.

Maaike recommends a different approach, which has the potential to take opponents by surprise.

After 5 Ne2 the idea is to play 5 …c6 and then meet 6 a3 with 6 …Ba5. The bishop can then be chased around a little more, but it has a new home on c7.

White builds an imposing pawn centre but Black has plenty of scope to apply significant pressure, in the style of the French Defense.

Maaike Fierce Nimzo-Indian

This is a very interesting way to play and I am looking forward to investigating it in greater detail.

Classical Play

Next on my agenda is to take a look at how Maaike suggest we play against the Classical Variation. This starts with 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2. White wants to encourage Black to part with the bishop, but definitely doesn’t want to allow the doubling of the pawns. White will lose time with the queen moves, giving Black incentive to play actively.

Maaike likes plans with an early …b6 followed by an assault on White’s pawn centre. The idea is to act quickly, before White can consolidate and start working towards a lasting advantage with the bishop pair.

Classical Nimzo-IndianMaaike is very good at explaining where each piece is aiming for; not just for Black, but also for White. This will help the student to gain a deeper understanding of the moves and plans throughout the entire course.

I like the way Black can start a powerful attack against the Classical Variation, using ideas from the Dutch Defense.

Classical 4 Qc2

The bishop on b7 is looking very powerful and good old rook lift should set Black on the way to showing just how fierce this Nimzo-Indian really is.

I have high hopes for this course and am looking forward to trying out Maaike’s recommendations in practical play.

Head here for further details on The Fierce Nimzo-Indian.

Short and Sweet

If you still need convincing just how good this course is, then head for the free Short and Sweet taster course.

The Fierce Nimzo-Indian

Chess Opening Basics: The Nimzo-Indian Defense

What is the Nimzo-Indian Defense?

The name certainly comes with an air of mystery.

Indian Defenses

There is a whole range of Indian Defenses. The normal starting point is 1 d4 Nf6. After 2 c4, Black can continue with a variety of moves including 2 …g6 and 2 …e6. The former is a route into the King’s Indian Defense and Grunfeld Defense, which we will cover in future blog posts.

After 2 …e6, White has choices. 3 Nf3 can lead to the Queen’s Indian Defense (3 …b6). The Bogo-Indian Defense (3 …Bb4+) is also possible, as is the Benoni Defense (3 …c5).

3 Nc3 is the most challenging move. White is limbering up for 4 e4, establishing a very strong centre.

Black can pin the knight with 3 …Bb4 and now we have the starting position of the Nimzo-Indian Defense.

Nimzo-Indian DefenseThe Nimzo-Indian Defense

Hypermodern Revolution

The first part of the name come from Aron Nimzowitsch, the Latvian-born Danish player. Nimzowitsch is one of the most original thinkers in the history of chess and his ideas continue to influence chess players at all levels. His classic book, My System, remains essential reading despite being 95 years old.

Nimzowitsch was at the forefront of the Hypermodern Revolution of the early 20th Century. The Nimzo-Indian has certainly stood the test of time (note the abbreviated version of Nimzowitsch; this is similar to the abbreviated ‘Bogoljubov’ in Bogo-Indian).

The immediate point of 3 …Bb4 is that if White carries on regardless and plays 4 e4 anyway then 4 …Nxe4 reveals a key idea of Black’s play. Black is aiming to control the e4 square and will set about dismantling the rest of White’s centre in due course.

The Nimzo-Indian Defense is a very tough nut to crack. So much so that for a period of time from the 1980s onwards, players with White would avoid it altogether with 3 Nf3 instead of 3 Nc3.

It is a very popular and extremely reliable opening. Apart from being inherently solid, Black has good chances to play for a win.

Note how easy Black’s development will be. They can already castle on the fourth move. Then there are many choices. Black could counter the white centre with …c5, …d5 (or both together) or could attack it with pieces, after fianchettoing the queen’s bishop.

A timely …Bxc3(+) can compromise White’s queenside pawn structure, admittedly at the cost of leaving the opponent with the bishop pair.

The Nimzo-Indian Defense has been a favourite of the World Champions ever since the days of Capablanca and is frequently seen in matches for the ultimate title.

Nimzo-Indian Defense: Main Variations

Nimzo-Indian Rubinstein

4 e3 The Rubinstein Variation

This is the most popular of all White’s moves and it leads to a large amount of different variations.

Classical Nimzo-Indian

4 Qc2 The Classical Variation

Popular in the 1920s and 1930s, partly due to Capablanca’s use of 4 Qc2, this variation fell into disuse until the 1980s when it was brought back into master play. Yasser Seirawan was one of the new pioneers. White refuses to accept doubled pawns after …Bxc3(+) but time could be lost with the queen.

Kasparov Nimzo-Indian

4 Nf3 The Kasparov Variation

Kasparov used this flexible move against Karpov in their title matches. Depending on how Black proceeds, White can follow up with either 5 g3 or 5 Bg5. Incidentally, Kasparov’s results with Black in the Nimzo-Indian Defense are far from impressive. They include losses to Pshakis, Beliavsky, Kramnik and Ivan Sokolov. A rare failure for the repertoire of the 13th World Champion.

Leningrad Variation

4 Bg5 The Leningrad Variation

This is a big favourite of the 10th World Champion, Boris Spassky. Despite that, it has never been trendy.

Saemisch Variation

4 a3 The Saemisch Variation

This aggressive move virtually forces Black to play 4 …Bxc3+. This immediately clarifies the situation over the question of the bishop pair and the doubled pawns. Mikhail Botvinnik refined the move order, by playing 4 e3 and then, depending on Black’s response, 5 a3.

Minor variations include:

4 f3, 4 g3, 4 Qb3 and 4 Bd2. The former two can easily transpose to other lines. The latter two are considered tame.

Brand New Course

Tomorrow we shall investigate the brand new Chessable course on the Nimzo-Indian Defense by Woman FIDE Master Maaike Keetman. I am interested to see which lines Maaike recommends in The Fierce Nimzo-Indian.

Meanwhile, here are links to the other parts of our ongoing series on Chess Opening Basics.

Arkhangelsk Defense

Budapest Gambit

Caro-Kann Defense

Göring Gambit

Leningrad Dutch

London System

Ragozin Defense

Semi-Slav Defense

The Fierce Nimzo-Indian