Wesley So and His Amazing Streak

By Bryan Castro / On / In Features

Wesley So in 2015.
Wesley So in 2015.

Filipino-American GM Wesley So is the hottest player in chess at the moment. At the time of this post (after the Tata Steel tournament in Wijk aan Zee), he has won or drawn his last 58 games in tournament play. The last time he lost a tournament game was in July of 2016 against Magnus Carlsen at the Bilbao Masters tournament in Spain.

Like in most things, people love a winner. Fortunately, Wesley So is very easy to like. He’s friendly, humble, and happens to play very good chess as well.

Born in the Philippines, he learned chess from his father at age 6, Wesley So rose quickly in chess. He started playing in international chess tournaments in 2005 and earned his Grandmaster title in 2008. He moved to the United States in 2015.

In this post, we’re going to explore some of the highlights of the 23-year-old Super GM’s incredible unbeaten streak.

Bilbao 2017

Wesley So’s journey started quietly in Spain. He finished this tournament tied for 3rd with one victory, one loss (to Carlsen), and eight draws.

Here is his lone victory of the tournament against the difficult-to-beat Anish Giri. Here So battles Giri in an evenly pitched match and then precisely and gradually builds up an advantage until he is able to build a mating net around his opponent’s king.

Sinquefield Cup 2016

The next stop on Wesley So’s journey was St. Louis and the 2016 Sinquefield Cup. With 5.5/9 points, So edged out four players who finished with 5 (Aronian, Topalov, Caruana, and Anand).

This was a highly contested tournament, and Wesley So clinched the lead with a comeback victory over Veselin Topalov – who had been leading earlier in the tournament.

One thing to note about this game was that Wesley So often has to fight back in double edged positions where he doesn’t always have the advantage. This type of toughness when your back is against the wall is the character of a champion.

42nd Chess Olympiad 2016

Although there are many draws in the elite tournaments where he usually plays, this is not the case at the 42nd Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan. Playing 3rd board behind fellow Super-GM Americans Fabuana Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura, So racked up an impressive 7 wins and 3 draws.

Here is an instructive victory against Serbian GM Nikola Sedlak. So demonstrates several positional and tactical themes in this game, including the power of the two bishops, sacrificing pawns for line clearance and time, and how to build pressure on a pinned piece.

Isle of Man Masters 2016

In October 2016, Wesley So joined a contingent of masters to battle it out at the Isle of Man International. So finished with a respectable 6.5/9 (4 victories and 5 draws), but he had to settle for 3rd place as Ukrainian GM Pavel Eljanov and American Fabuana Caruana tied for 1st with 7.5/9 points.

Although Wesley achieved victories against several strong GM’s, his most interesting game of the tournament in my opinion was his first round victory against WGM Marina Brunello of Italy in a game featuring the French Defense. In this game, So sacrifices a piece for a pawn and ton of initiative. Although the young Brunello tried her best, the game simplified into an endgame where the Super GM demonstrated his superior technique.

London Chess Classic 2016

In December, Wesley So competed in the London Chess Classic with some familiar opponents and finished with (what is becoming) familiar results. He edged out GM Fabuana Caruana to win the event with 6/9 points (with 3 wins and 6 draws).

Many of our games have shown Wesley’s considerable endgame skill. The following game shows us that he knows how to attack as well. His victim was Veselin Topalov, who struggled in London. Seizing the opportunity, Wesley So plays aggressively, with a sparkling finish.

Tata Steel 2017

Wijk aan Zee has been the location of super-GM tournaments for years, and it hosted the Tata Steel tournament in January – featuring a line-up that included World Champion Magnus Carlsen and recent challenger Sergey Karjarkin. However, it was Wesley So who once again finished first – a full point ahead of Magnus Carlsen.

In our first game, he defended well against the creative Hungarian GM Richard Rapport, who had an advantage for most of the game – playing brilliantly until making an error that So was able to capitalize on. Although Wesley So has played excellent chess throughout these past months, whenever anyone strings together a streak such as his, he has to have some luck and help along the way as well.

Finally, I’d like to show you his final round victory against GM Ian Nepomniachtchi. The Russian GM plays inaccurately in the opening, and Wesley So punishes it, winning his opponent’s queen for a rook and minor piece. It’s enough as So wins the game with precision.

The Future is Bright

I hope you enjoyed this little tour of Wesley So’s incredible run. Besides the unbeaten streak, So racked up tournament victories against the world’s elite at the Sinquefield Cup, the London Chess Classic, and at the Tata Steel Masters. During this run, he has also risen in the ranks and is currently the world’s #2 rated player behind the champ, Magnus Carlsen.

From reading several interviews, Wesley So seems to be a very humble, yet determined individual. He is very grateful for his talent, as he considers it a gift. However, he also understands his responsibility as a chess professional and the work and focus it takes to prepare for the his matches. This combination of hard work and humility seem to be a winning one for him.

How brightly will Wesley So’s future shine? Time will tell of course, but from my point of view, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to think that this chess star will be leaving the limelight in the near future. Perhaps we’ll even see him as a future challenger for the World Championship.

Your Turn

Let us know what you think. Send us a message on Twitter!

How do you think Wesley So would do in a match against Magnus Carlsen?

What is your favorite game of his?

Who will be the player to end Wesley’s streak?

 

 

Seedrs vs Crowdcube Part II – Key lessons for UK crowdfunding campaigns.

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news, Start-up life

Back in October of last year, I wrote Part I of my take on Seedrs vs. Crowdcube. It was a short and sweet post promising more detail down the line. In part II, the goal is to share a little bit more of Chessable’s story and also try and help other UK entrepreneurs considering the same issue.

If you are an entrepreneur, you may ask what lessons can a failed campaign offer you? Plenty! While crowdfunding did not work out for us, our investment bid is not over yet, and we are in the last stages of raising an angel round privately. We are also one of the very few companies to have been listed both on Seedrs and Crowdcube (not an easy feat!). As a failed crowdfunding campaign, I can say that I wish I knew a lot of what I am about to write before the journey. I certainly Googled around for such a post; there was none to be found. Here it is.

First things first, do you really need crowdfunding?

We opted for crowdfunding for multiple reasons. First, we had many enquiries from our users about whether they could invest. This may sound like a no-brainer then, but be careful! If like us, you have a lot of international and U.S. users, you may find that getting U.S. individuals to participate is next to impossible. Confront the platforms on this issue straight away, as despite what members of their team may tell you, it may just be impossible. For instance, we couldn’t get a £10k accredited US investor on board, and we only found out when it was time to make the payment. Initially, we were told by the crowdfunding platforms we’d find a way to make it work, it didn’t. We wasted the investor’s time, and we wasted our time.

This might change as the field matures and certainly if we were able to let our US and international backers participate, crowdfunding may have been the way. As for us, we then hoped that our UK and European supporters would help us pull through, but we really did miss the rest of our user base. Moreover, considering we had trouble getting German and Swedish users on board, the situation is just as likely to get harder as Brexit looms over our heads.

Lesson: If you opt for crowdfunding and have a large user base outside the UK, be sure to check, double-check and triple-check exactly how your international users can get on board, if at all.

Another reason we choose crowdfunding was that despite the high fees charged by the platforms (nearing 10% when tallied up), it appeared to offer us a better deal. The market seemed to offer higher valuations. The crowdfunding companies promised introductions to exciting investors. The platforms said they would make everything easier than raising money privately. “How will you ever raise money from a crowd without us, they’ll say”!

In reality, I’ve found it so much easier to conduct our private investment. We did have to pay a solicitor upfront to draft up some documents and consult with us, but it has been easier than preparing for the crowdfunding platforms. In the UK, the crowdfunding platforms are FCA regulated; which protects people from “financial promotions”. This adds a lot of overhead and makes things harder and longer than they should be. The crowdfunding companies also work pretty slowly, drawing things out for a long time.

If you think you won’t find investor introductions without the platforms, think again! Our most promising investor leads, U.S. and U.K. based, were already part of our mailing list. Consider that perhaps there are other ways to get these same introductions.

Lesson: Hiring your own solicitor and dealing directly with a few angels, may be a more cost and time effective option to raise finance for your business. Crowdfunding takes more time and effort than it initially appears or promises.

Our most promising investor leads, were already part of our mailing list.Click To Tweet

We also saw crowdfunding as an exercise in marketing and branding. Let’s make some noise, and more people will find out about us! We spent a considerable chunk of our bootstrapped revenue on this, but in the end, we think it was worth it. In particular, our London events worked out really well. We promoted them via our mailing list and more than a few people joined us. New chess book authors partnered with us. We got invited to present at chess events. I even got a chance to once again appear on the BBC! It was thanks to these efforts that we met some of our private investors who will soon be part of Chessable. There must be some magic to meeting prospective investors in person, rather than having your first interactions with them online. In the end, this became the most important reason of them all.

Lesson: The marketing and branding you can get out of crowdfunding can be very successful. However, do not underestimate its price and how much time and energy it will take. We’ve met companies that have spent £5k just on their crowdfunding video. As a young start-up, you may be surprised by how quickly all the fees add up.

Certainly, if in the future I am ever considering the issue of crowdfunding again, it would be a good idea to consider other financing options in a bit more detail. But if I were to crowdfund again (and due to the marketing and branding, I would!), why would I opt for Crowdcube instead of Seedrs? Here is why:

Key Takeaway #1: Crowdcube’s algorithm is transparent, Seedrs offers you a black box.
Let’s cut to the chase. The big one. To get investment you need introductions to investors. To get introductions to investors via the crowdfunding platforms there is only one way. You need to rank above-the-fold on the platform’s main investment opportunities page. Just like in Google search results, the top three results get all the clicks; the rest is left forgotten. The platforms may not admit it, but it’s not too hard to come to this conclusion yourself.

In one week with Crowdcube, we received ten times the number of introductions than we did via Seedrs. On Crowdcube every single investment gives you exposure at the top of their page. Being at the top of the page leads to further introductions and further investments. Social proof, it’s basic human psychology! In contrast, Seedrs maintains a secret sauce for their top rankings. Raise more money they said, and you’ll get there. The truth was, even a £5,000 investment was not enough for page one! What’s my motivation to get another £5k investor on board if it will lead to no introductions? On Crowdcube, a £10 investment is sufficient.

Lesson: Crowdcube offers a clear strategy for you to follow. Watch the Seedrs and Crowdcube homepage before making your choice. See if you understand their success metrics. What do you need to do to get above-the-fold exposure? Don’t take my word for it, and definitely don’t just assume a good investment opportunity will rise to the top by itself.

Key Takeaway #2: Crowdcube offers more guidance and support through the entire process.
Even if you think you don’t need it, it is good to know that it’s there. During my entire interaction with Seedrs, I heard a real person’s voice once. This was when I was chasing Seedrs down and had to call them to get a major issue fixed on launch day. In contrast, simply to get an application in with Crowdcube, I spent at least two hours on the phone with real people who showed an interest in what we do. Ivan, who would become our campaign manager, researched our business and asked critical and important questions that you rather answer before investors ask them! Mike, their marketing guy, helped us with some of our best marketing and branding ideas. It was awesome to have a real partner in our funding efforts.

Many other little things help Crowdcube have the edge over Seedrs. For instance, the actual interface and web platform used to create your campaign, their support documentation, investor rewards, and more. However, since Seedrs may very well evolve and improve I will leave you with the details only on the key takeaways. Certainly, if Seedrs became a more transparent platform, things would change. However, until they do, at the very least I hope I have encouraged you to scrutinise this choice with a bit more care before making such an important decision. Good luck!

 

Three Powerful Beginner Chess Strategies

By Bryan Castro / On / In Chess improvement

chess pawn at the ocean under cloudy sky - 3d illustration

Jumping into the Ocean of Chess Strategy

When I first started playing chess, I had a very narrow view of strategy. In my mind, I was either attacking my opponent’s king or he was attacking mine. This strategy worked fairly well among my friends.

However, there were times when my “Attack or Defend” strategy would not quite work. The position didn’t offer either of us a clear way to attack. Eventually, I discovered that if I was very careful, I would often be able to win material via a tactical shot or more likely, left a piece en prise (undefended) for me to scoop up.

Eventually, that stopped working as well as my opposition got better and better. Eventually, I found myself on the defending side of my “Attack or Defend” method a little too often.

What I realize now that my opponents had started to explore the deep ocean of chess strategy, while I was just paddling around in my little pond in my back yard. Now, as I teach beginning players as well as playing against my children as they begin to learn chess, I see that they are often swimming in the same pond in the beginning.

In this article, I want to give beginning and novice players (and perhaps some intermediate players) a glimpse of the vast ocean of chess strategy. It can be quite beautiful, but also scary for the uninitiated.

Strategy versus Tactics

It is important to understand the difference between tactics and strategy. We can consider tactics to be forced sequence of moves that lead to a specific objective – usually (but not always) a gain in material.

Consider the position below (from one of my recent games against National Master Barry Davis). In this particular game, White won material by force – I could not avoid it. This is tactics.

On the other hand, strategy involves longer term plans and maneuvers. As we shall see in the following games, the moves in these games are not forced by an immediate threat against the opposing king or massive loss of material.

Tactics and strategy exist together. Typically, tactics serve the long-term strategy involved in a particular position. However, at times, if one side makes a big enough tactical mistake, finding it is more important than any strategic elements available in the position.

To put it another way, although beginning players often miss tactics – or fall prey to tactics – I think one reason they do so is because they don’t have a plan or a strategy in the first place. Hopefully, this article will give you a few ideas to work with.

With all of this in mind, let’s look at a few strategies with examples.

Creating and Attacking Weaknesses

One of the fundamental strategies in chess is attacking weaknesses. Often, this comes in the form of a weak pawn. Sometimes, your opponent creates these weaknesses by advancing a pawn or recapturing after an exchange. Strong players don’t wait for their opponents…they look for opportunities to create weaknesses.

How is this done? As we will see in the following two examples, it is often done using one of your own pawns to attack the pawn formation of your opponent. Whether your opponent tries to stop this or allows the pawns to be traded, what results is usually a backward pawn or an isolated pawn – both of which are often subject to attack. One thing to remember, which we will see in both of our examples, is that sometimes defending one weakness exposes other weaknesses. When this happens, you can often shift the target of your attack to win.

The minority attack is an important attacking formation to learn. Although this article won’t go in depth on the minority attack, the following game demonstrates the its potential. As mentioned, White’s pressure on c6 eventually leads to targets all over the board.

In the next example the legendary Viktor Korchnoi creates a weak pawn for his opponent. Although his opponent tries to counterattack actively, Korchnoi finds an opportunity to transform his positional advantage into a king hunt.

Remember the following about creating weaknesses:

  1. ABC-W’s (Always Be Creating Weaknesses for your opponent). Actively look for opportunities, particularly when your opponent provides a “hook” (by advancing a pawn).
  2. Remember that weaknesses often gives the owner of the weakness some compensation. For example, an isolated pawn has two open (or half-open) files next to it that the owner can take advantage of.
  3. Pawn weaknesses are important, but always look for other opportunities that may arise when your opponent defends the weakness.

Using Files and Diagonals

Our pieces need a path to get to where they need to go. Often, our opening sequences will lead to specific files and diagonals being of specific importance. For example, the early …c5 thrust in the Sicilian Defense (1.e4 c5) will often lead to a half-open c-file upon which a lot of Black’s chances rely. Openings such as the Reti which creates a fianchetto of its king’s bishop (after initial moves Nf3, g3, and an eventual Bg2) often depend on using that long diagonal for its purposes.

As with creating weaknesses, we can wait for them to happen, or we can take the effort and forethought to create open lines for our pieces.

In our first example, the 3rd World Champion Alexander Alekhine takes control of the long diagonal a8-h1. Not only does he take control of it, nearly every move he makes contributes to keeping control and eventually using it to attack his opponent’s king.

In our next game, we see Hungarian grandmaster Istvan Csom create an open file using the h-pawn and then systematically and patiently puts his major pieces on it. His opponent, who controls the a-file himself, is diverted away to protect other weaknesses. Csom then takes control of that file as well and using both the a-file and h-files for his major pieces, winning a beautiful game.

Here are some tips for creating and controlling open lines:

  1. Try to look ahead and see where a potential file and diagonal might get opened (if not open already).
  2. Get their first with your rooks (for open files) or bishops (for diagonals).
  3. Consider whether it is better to trade off your opponent’s pieces that contest the line or whether you should hold your ground and let them initiate the trades.
  4. Avoid opening lines if you think your opponent is in a better position to take advantage of it.

Creating and Protecting Outposts

The final beginner chess strategy we’re going to cover today is the creation of an outpost for your knights. Although bishops can also use outposts, knights in particular need them to be effective. Why? Simply because bishops, rooks, and the queen have long-range mobility and can strike from afar.

Knights are very powerful also, as they can leap over obstacles. Their unique movement also can also catch opponents in deadly forks.

What is an outpost? An outpost is a square often (but now always) supported by a pawn that cannot be attacked by opposing pawns. The best outposts are on the 4th, 5th, and 6th ranks. Also, central outposts are often very powerful. Of course, an outpost is a good one if it is where the action is.

In our first example, Grandmaster Judit Polgar demonstrates the creation of an outpost on d5. Her knight quickly occupies it and from that jumping off point she exchanges it to simplify into a winning endgame.

In that particular game, Polgar forced her opponent to isolate his d-pawn, which shows us that the square in front of isolated pawns are good outpost squares.

In the following example, the 3rd World Champion Jose Raul Capablanca uses a simple but powerful move, …h5, to secure the f5 square for his knight. Later in the game, Capa’s knight finds its way to an outpost on e4, remaining there for the rest of the game where it supports Black’s endgame plans.

Capablanca annotated this game in his book My Chess Career, and I’ve included his most insightful comments where noted.

As you can see from these two games, knights are very effective if they can operate from a strong outpost. Here are a few things to remember:

  1. Use pawn levers to divert or exchange opposing pawns to protect a potential outpost.
  2. Remember the technique of putting a pawn on h4/h5 (or a4/a5) to prevent opposing pawns from attacking an outpost.
  3. Outposts are only good if you can both occupy it and it is in a sector of a board where the knight can be useful.
  4. Remember that a knight doesn’t have to stay on the outpost forever. Sometimes, the outpost is just a stop along the way for the knight to attack or exchange itself advantageously (as in the Polgar game).

Conclusion

Learning strategy is a long journey that never ends. However, the longer you stay on the path, the more enjoyment and success you will experience in chess. This article is just a beginning. Here are a few ideas on how you can continue to improve your chess strategy:

  1. Strategy starts with the opening. Keep doing your Chessable repetitions and perhaps look at some repertoires written and commented on by strong players (like IM Christof Seilecki aka ChessExplained). As you study your openings, try to understand some of its key strategic elements.
  2. Study annotated games from some of the game’s best strategic masters. I recommend the games of Capablanca, Botvinnik, and Karpov. They have written books of their own games as well as their games being featured in books of other great authors.
  3. Read manuals on strategy to learn how to assess various positional elements such as pawn structure, king safety, bishop versus knight, and others. There are many good ones both classic and modern.

 

I hope this article was helpful to you and that these beginner chess strategies will help you win more games. If you enjoyed it, please share it with your friends. Chessable is here to aid you on your path to chess improvement. Until next time, I wish you the best of luck in that journey.

Season greetings: 2016 year in review.

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news, Start-up life

Dear Chessable learners!

It has been an incredible year. Before it comes to an end, I wanted to send our best wishes and biggest thanks out to all of you.

Your support and feedback have made all of what we’ve achieved possible. We look forward to seeing you in the new year, and for now, please enjoy your holidays very much.

Some of you (we can see who you are!) are still logging in and working on strengthening your synapses. (This is a somewhat cool way of saying strengthening your memories). If you are one of us peeking onto Chessable, I wanted to offer you a brief year in review:

  1. In 10 months, we’ve reached over 13,000 registrations.
  2. We’ve gone from 0 to 2,200,000 chess positions studied.
  3. We’ve increased the books in our store from a single International Master (who we all love); to several masters. Our authors now include some of the word’s best Grandmasters. We now cover many of the most popular chess openings.
  4. We’ve added many many features that you can opt-in or out from. In this manner, you can personalise Chessable to suit your individual learning needs.
  5. In September, I was finally able to start working on Chessable full-time.

 

We have some incredibly exciting developments in the works for the new year that we know you will love. As a quick hint or sneak preview, I will just say that I personally need to break the 2,000 barrier! I need to work beyond the opening to do so. This requires some new tools and last I checked; no one else has yet built what is necessary. That’s where we come in!

Lastly, some of you may be wondering about our crowdfunding. If you had supported us on our campaign, I have already sent you a personal note via e-mail. However, if you weren’t able to, I just want to let you know that we did not reach our funding target, mainly because despite trying, we could not get our US members on board. We did, however, make the most out of the process. Our campaign has helped us strengthen our brand and has influenced our achievement of significant milestones. We also have this super cool video to show for it: https://goo.gl/wJqv3S. I plan to write more about the crowdfunding next year.

Meanwhile, while the lack of funding slows things down a bit (e.g.,. iOS app), we are nonetheless confident of successfully achieving our next milestones. After all, learning doesn’t have to be hard 🙂

Stay tuned.

Happy holidays and happy new year!

The Chessable Team

The Openings of Magnus Carlsen

By Bryan Castro / On / In Chess openings

Openings of the World Champion

Carlsen_Magnus_(30238051906) small
Magnus Carlsen at the 2016 Chess Olympiad. Photo Credit: Andreas Kontokanis

When I started studying chess seriously, I started with the games of the World Champion at the time, Garry Kasparov. I read several books about his championship matches and the openings he played (and like a typical fan played them myself). Kasparov’s approach was to find the sharpest, most critical lines in opening theory and find new ideas and weapons – unleashing them brutally on his opponents. This in contrast to the opening approach of our current young champion, Magnus Carlsen.

Let’s consider what International Master Greg Shahade had to say about him in his interesting 2013 article Greg on Chess: Magnus & Openings.

And somehow Magnus Carlsen seems to care little about the opening! In fact sometimes it feels like he just shows up and plays whatever he wants.

Mr. Shahade goes on to survey a few of Carlsen’s opening choices during that period, which typically were noncritical lines that you might find amateurs playing at their local weekend tournament. That article was from 2013, so let’s see what the champ has been up to since then.

Only Carlsen knows specifically why he chose certain opening weapons for certain encounters. However, I see a few advantages to his approach. First, he will most likely be more prepared in the positions and structures he ends up with. Also, as his opponent might often deviate early to either avoid Magnus’ preparation – or because he hasn’t studied the opening, the World Champion will often get a chance to outplay his opponent with his superior skill.

He may also choose specific variations because he feels they will be less comfortable for his opponent. This is reminiscent of the first World Champion, Emanuel Lasker, who often played opening not only for their objective worth, but for their psychological effect on his opponents.

Let’s take a look at some of his more interesting choices over the last couple years.

Sneaky Scandinavian

With the Black pieces, Carlsen tends to play very solid openings as befits his positional style. So he often plays 1…e5 against 1.e4 often aiming for several variations of the Ruy Lopez, including the solid Berlin Defense as well as several of the Closed Variations of the Ruy. Against 1.d4, he is very comfortable in dynamic positional openings such as the Nimzo-Indian and the Queen’s Indian.

However, at times he plays “ordinary” openings that probably both confuse his opponents as well as shows them how versatile he can be.

Here’s an encounter where he outplays Fabiano Caruana during the 2014 Chess Olympiad. He uses what’s known as the Mieses-Kotroc variation of the Scandinavian, featuring an early …Bg4. Although it has been played at GM level, this is the only game with this variation at the elite level. Carlsen shows his positional prowess and endgame mastery.

Sicilian Defense? No Problem

In conversations with amateur players, I occasionally encounter the theory that Carlsen – known as a predominantly positional and defensive player – is not skilled in sharp encounters. However, looking at a few games with White against the combative Sicilian Defense shows us that he can play sharp positions as well as anyone.

Against the Sicilian, he often chooses the slightly offbeat Canal Attack – which often transposes into the related Rossolimo Variation (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5). This opening is also part of Able’s Repertoire: White with 1.e4 written by Chessable co-founder David Kramaley. In this next game, he plays the Canal Attack in a critical game that helped him win the 2015 London Chess Classic. His opponent is another world class GM, Alexander Grischuk.

By the way, he also plays the Open Sicilian very well. In the following game, Carlsen plays a fine positional game, where he gains several positional advantages, then simplifies into a winning endgame. In this case, his opponent is another top ten player, Wesley So.

Queen’s Pawn Game Adventures

Magnus Carlsen usually plays the standard 2.c4 after playing 1.d4 against both 1…d5 and 1…Nf6. However, he’s also shown some creativity in playing some openings seldom seen at the elite levels of chess – although club players will be quite familiar with them.

He is not afraid to play openings such as the London, the Trompowsky, and most recently, the Colle — although he lost that game in his World Championship match with Sergey Karjakin.

In the following game, Magnus plays the Accelerated London (1.d4 followed by 2.Bf4) which transposes into a seemingly harmless Exchange Caro-Kann. However, these are the types of positions that the champion relishes, gaining small positional edges and then transforming the position into a winning endgame.

The Daring Dutch

Another slightly uncommon weapon that Carlsen has trotted out in high level encounters is the Dutch. Unlike fellow elite GM Hikaru Nakamura, who prefers the Leningrad Dutch after 1.d4 f5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 g6, Carlsen has played the Stonewall variation almost exclusively.

Here is another high level encounter against Poland’s top rated GM, Radoslaw Wojtasczek. White doesn’t make any big mistakes, but Carlsen slowly grinds him down and shows great accuracy and timing in a final assault.

Interesting Italian

When Magnus plays 1.e4, he often heads toward the Ruy Lopez. However, he has played the Italian Game (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4) several times recently. This opening often leads to a slow maneuvering game, which would appear to suit our young World Champion quite well.

Although it has a reputation for drawish positions, in the hands of a positional master such as Carlsen, the Italian becomes a weapon to be feared.

In the game presented below, Carlsen faces off against former World Champion Vishy Anand. Observe how White’s doubled isolated e-pawns help restrain Black’s knight while White’s own knight’s mobility wins the game.

Sicilian Surprise

For our final game, I’d like to show you a game that demonstrates Carlsen’s versatility and skill. Although Carlsen plays a variety of openings with both White and Black, one common thread is his positional prowess and endgame virtuosity. It is no different even when he uses offbeat openings.

I hope you will enjoy Carlsen’s final game in his title defense against Sergey Karjakin. In this game, Carlsen plays a move he has never played in competition, 5.f3 (The Prins Variation). This game was the final one of the rapid tiebreaks, and Carlsen was leading by a point, so Black needed a victory to continue on in the match. Although White’s play is solid and sensible, he produces a beautiful combination to finish the game.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed a look at some of Magnus Carlsen’s more offbeat opening choices. As I did researched his openings and played through many of his games, I made a few observations.

First, even though he plays what many do not consider “serious” openings, he made them work for him. Because of his tremendous skill, he found resources in these openings that allowed him to prevail. So don’t be afraid to play these openings even though some title player thinks they’re “garbage.”

Second, even though he chose different types of openings, his style manifested itself through the middlegame and endgame. Magnus played sharp openings like the Sicilian in a positional fashion and created favorable endgames. So even if you prefer a specific style of play – e.g. tactical vs. positional – don’t let this restrict the types of openings you play because they aren’t considered congruent with your “style.” There are positional lines in sharp openings and there are tactical lines in solid openings. It takes work (and perhaps a good book) to find them, but they are out there.

Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment with different openings. Although we may not have the time to study chess like a professional like Carlsen, we can still play different openings for enjoyment. Our study of different openings will benefit us, because ultimately openings lead to middlegames and endgames, each with various strategic lessons that will carry over whether we stick with the same opening or not. I believe Magnus Carlsen’s skill at the various openings are both a result of his inherent skill and training. However, I also believe that his skill and knowledge of chess has grown through playing and experimenting with different openings and structures.

Of course, it is important to learn our openings thoroughly as well as develop other aspects of our game, such as tactics, planning, and endgames, so don’t jump around too much when you’re first learning. Stick with your openings for a little while, doing your repetitions with Chessable daily, and you’ll soon find yourself in a different class of chess altogether.

You may not find yourself playing in the World Championship with Magnus Carlsen…but you never know!

Co-founder IM John Bartholomew in London

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news, Start-up life

As part of Chessable’s Crowdcube crowdfunding campaign, this week we put on a couple of events. The first one saw co-founder, IM John Bartholomew play against 25 opponents in a timed simultaneous exhibition. John put on a fine performance in his first ever simul outside the US and finished with a score of 17.5 to 7.5. The field of players was lucky to score some points, as John struggled to keep up on the clock against so many opponents, and I as part of them, will have to admit, we all played the clock!

Timed Simultaneous Exhibition

The next day we organised an event so people could meet us and play some chess. We also talked about chess as an industry, Chessable as a business and a potential investment opportunity. It was awesome to meet everyone who came along and get such high quality feedback; of course, it was also a great and fun evening and someone even managed to beat John!

Chessable's co-founders face off!
Chessable’s co-founders face off!

As a preparation for the London Chess Classic, John also played GM Simon Williams in the first ever Battersea Blitz Tournament. You can read the full report of the evening here http://www.batterseachessclub.org.uk/im-john-bartholomew-wins-battersea-blitz-after-thrilling-play-off-with-ginger-gm-simon-williams/

A big thanks to everyone who came to both events, and a special thanks to the Battersea Chess Club for organising such a wonderful simul. If you would like to find more information about our crowdfunding campaign, please click here.

Chessable CEO David Kramaley invited to present at the London Chess Conference! Will you be there?

By David Kramaley / On / In Chess and school, Chess science, Chessable news

Hello everyone,

I just wanted to add a note announcing that I have been invited to speak at the 4th London Chess Conference, covering the didactics of chess.

I will be running a workshop about “Cognitive insights into chess improvement”, talking about my unique and insightful Master’s dissertation that was awarded Distinction by Bristol University.

I’ll also be presenting Chessable as an online learning system, and lastly participating as part of a panel taking a critical look at some of the latest research published about chess and academic achievement.

The Conference takes place in London at the Hilton Olympia from the 10th to the 12th of December 2016. For more information and the full detailed conference programme, please visit the official website: http://londonchessconference.com/detailed-conference-programme/

This is one of the largest conferences on Chess and Education in the world; there are close to 150 delegates! If you happen to be attending or are nearby, I’d love to hear from you.

Cheers,
David

London Chess Conference

Chessable user CurtisM97 and his remarkable chess improvement

By David Kramaley / On / In Chess improvement, Chessable review, Learning chess

Chessable user CurtisM97 and his remarkable chess improvement
Chessable user CurtisM97 and his remarkable chess improvement

Recently I had the opportunity to have a brief exchange with one of our Chessable members, CurtisM97 who has achieved vast improvements in his chess. Curtis is Memorial University of Newfoundland student intending on majoring in Psychology, and his Chessable study patterns are commendable. While not one of our power users who have managed to gather millions of points and studying hundreds of positions in relatively short periods of time, Curtis has made slow but steady gains.

At the moment of writing this, Curtis has learned 135 variations and his maximum daily streak is only 4. However, this is more than enough! You don’t have to learn 300-500 variations and log on every single day, we all have other commitments. Regular and incremental study sessions of chess openings is what’s important. Keep those tricky variations fresh in your mind and don’t try to cram it all in one day, take your time and slowly build up!

My own personal streak has never gone above 30 days, and that was with a lot of effort. I am surprised how some of our Chessable members have kept it going for over hundreds of days! Incredible!

Now, let’s find out a bit more about this amazing rapid chess improvement:

1) You have improved around 500 points in a year of online chess, that’s impressive, how do you feel?
I can only describe my progress as satisfying! I started playing the game because it seemed so satisfying to be good at. So starting with no knowledge of any chess fundamentals and then developing to the point where I am today is very pleasing to me.

2) A lot of work must have gone into this, and your game must have improved all around for such a brilliant change. Let’s break it down, how have you improved your chess openings?
I am very privileged to grow up in a time where information is accessible. Having a tool like Chessable on hand has improved my playing significantly, it really sums up what the Internet has to offer chess. Having so much information in one place has allowed me to develop a system for my own playing preferences, and that’s the only way I could learn openings without frustration.

3) Which openings do you play (if you don’t mind sharing!)?
I’ve always played 1. d4 as white, just because I was exposed to that when I started playing. As black, I play the Nimzo-Indian versus d4 and the Caro-Kann versus e4.

4) How have you improved your middle game?
Middle games are a little harder to get used to than the opening for me personally. I mostly depended on chess personalities on YouTube for middle game help. People such as IM John Bartholomew have helped me understand the middle game, as he is one of the most coherent commentators on the Internet. Other than that, Nimzowitsch’s book “My System” has helped me out a lot.

5) What about your endgame, have you worked on that at all?
Admittedly I haven’t really read a book that solely talked about end games. But I have taken as much advice from Grandmaster games and YouTube videos as possible, but I don’t think I could consider that study. I just know the very basics about end game fundamentals.

6) You gained over 200,000 points on Chessable, that’s pretty impressive. What would be your tips to new Chessable users about how to get the most out of the platform?
Studying chess is much like studying anything else. Chessable is a fantastic program for chess study, but you have to study at a healthy pace. Cramming yourself with information will not improve your play, you’ll just get overwhelmed! Develop a study plan, and review what you learned every day! There’s no rush. I’ve been using Chessable since release, so It’s not like I’ve gained 200,000 points over night, it came with time. Making a system for your playing creates consistency in your results.

7) What would you personally like to see improved on Chessable?
At this point in time, the only thing that could be improved with Chessable is purely aesthetic, but that’s being updated very frequently! For a site that’s only in an open beta, you’re getting much more than what you could ask of it.

8) What’s next for you? Any new goals?
Of course my only goal right now is to keep improving! At this point I’m more than happy with the rate of my success. It’s a long shot, but I’d like to increase 200 rating points by November of 2017. That would be my goal for the year. Although it’s only Internet elo, it’s a nice sign of improvement until I have confidence to play OTB in my local tournaments here in Newfoundland!

Thanks Curtis! It’s very inspiring to hear of your progress for our readers and us! As for your struggle with middle games and chess endgames, I am happy to say that adding more chess strategy, chess tactics and chess endgame books is one of our priorities that will hopefully soon be a reality. We also have some novel ideas on how to make studying those as efficient as possible, even more than our system already makes possible. Since those are the areas of my own game that could now use some improvement, expect to see something cool soon!

The Openings of the Top Ten Chess Players of All Time

By Bryan Castro / On / In Chess openings

The Best of the Best

Everyone loves to speculate as to who was the best ever. I’ll share my opinion, but I’ve put little spin on it this time. I’ll share who I think the Top Ten Chess Players of All Time were, but I’m also going to survey their opening repertoires and see what we can learn about them.

In creating my list, I did review a few other lists, including ones that used statistics to create ELO ratings for the players of previous generations. Also, I looked at the opinions of several masters for their top picks.

I looked for some consensus. For example, most lists placed Kasparov, Fischer, and Capablanca in their top three, although in various orders. However, after that there was no other trends that I could decipher other than the recurrence of the other players on my list.

There were a few notable players left off the list. Several non-world champions, Paul Morphy, Aaron Nimzowitch, Akiba Rubinstein, David Bronstein, and Viktor Korchnoi, who appear in other top ten lists didn’t make it onto this list. Mikhail Tal was on earlier versions of my list before I finalized it. Another world champion who didn’t make it onto the list was Max Euwe, who would definitely be on a top 15 list.

Finally, I left off currently active players such as Vishy Anand, Vladimir Kramnik, and Magnus Carlsen. Their chess careers have yet to conclude and I felt it would be difficult to place them among the legends on my current list.

Opening Observations

I found the process of mapping out the top ten players’ repertoires both fascinating and challenging. There are a few reasons for this and to cut down on the length of this article I had to make some choices as to what to include.

First is the matter of style. We can use Petrosian as an example. Although he was primarily known as a positional defensive player, he was fairly comfortable playing the sharp and tactical Sicilian Najdorf as black – scoring quite well with it in fact. I noticed this as well with players who were primarily known as attacking or tactical players such as Garry Kasparov or Boris Spassky – they could play “quiet” openings quite well also.

The fact is that these top players know chess very well. Although they may have proclivities toward a particular style of play, their overall understanding of the game allows them to play opening systems that are against that “style.” Also, over time certain openings such as the Najdorf Sicilian have proven themselves to be quite effective and combative weapons and offered these legendary players the opportunity to find creative challenges for their opponents – and thus the best players will play them.

Similarly, the players of this group often played openings to counter specific opponents. For example, Garry Kasparov primarily played the Scheveningen and Najdorf variations of the Sicilian Defense during the years he was world champion. However, for psychological and gamesmanship reasons, he played the Sicilian Dragon in his 1995 World Championship match against Vishy Anand – who himself was a proponent of the Sicilian Dragon. You can see Kasparov’s Sicilian Dragon game in my previous blog post.

Because of these reasons, I chose to narrow down my survey of their opening weapons. First, I looked at their openings during their peak years – typically the years they were world champion plus a few years before and after. Secondly, I tried to identify the openings that they played most often as well as the opening variations they chose in their most important matches – e.g. the world championship.

I hope you find my list both entertaining and informative. Let’s start with #10 and count down.

#10 Tigran Petrosian

Tigran Petrosian
Tigran Petrosian in 1975 in Warsaw.

Tigran Petrosian – the 9th World Champion – is known as a defensive player who was a master of prophylaxis – the preventing of the opponent’s threats and ideas. Like many positional players at this level, his endgame play was exemplary. His chess style involved little risk and his record demonstrates this as Petrosian seldom lost.

Petrosian’s main opening moves with White were 1.d4 and 1.c4, usually leading to closed positional games. Against 1…Nf6 Petrosian played 2.c4 and against 2…e6 played both 3.Nc3 (allowing the Nimzo-Indian) and 3.Nf3 (denying the Nimzo-Indian. Against the Queen’s Indian Defense he often played the Spassky system (1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 b6 4. e3). When he allowed the Nimzo, he most often played the 4.e3 system (aka the Normal Variation: 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 O-O. When facing 1…d5 he usually played 2.c4 and against the Queen’s Gambit Declined continued with 3.Nf3 and 4.Bg5. 

With the Black pieces, when his opponent’s played 1.e4, he most often responded with 1…e6 2.d4 d5 (the French Defense). When White played 3.Nc3 Petrosian played 3…Bb4 (the Winawer). This is a combative system and play combines both positional and tactical play with the center usually locked. Against 1.d4, Petrosian often aimed for the Nimzo-Indian after 1…Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4. When his opponent played 3.Nf3 (preventing the Nimzo), he played both the Bogo Indian (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Bb4+) and the Queen’s Indian (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6).

As an example of Petrosian’s play, I present a game from his second world championship match against Boris Spassky. Playing the Queen’s Indian, Petrosian demonstrates several of his strengths – his positional use of the Exchange Sacrifice, his exploitation of small positional mistakes by his opponent, and his incredible endgame play.

#9 Boris Spassky

 

Spassky in 1984. Photographer Gerhard Hund.
Spassky in 1984. Photographer: Gerhard Hund.

Boris Spassky – the 10th World Champion – is often referred to as a “universal” player – comfortable in both attack and defense and in all phases of the game. Indeed, Spassky was adept at all aspects of the game, but as I play through and studied a few of his games, I observed his particular talent for aggressive attacking play.

With the White pieces, Boris Spassky was creative – using different openings even if they were not considered particularly strong. He opened primarily with 1.e4 in congruence with his strong tactical skills and aggressive play. Against the Sicilian, which he faced most often during his peak years, he usually played the Open Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3), but has quite a few games where he played the Closed Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.g3) as well. Against 1…e5, he played 2.Nf3 aiming for the Ruy Lopez. However, he also has trotted out the King’s Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.f4) quite a few times. Creativity and variety is a good way to describe Spassky’s play with the White pieces.

With Black, Spassky seemed to depend on just a few solid weapons.  Against 1.e4, he most often replied with 1…e5 and when faced with the Spanish, he almost always replied with the Breyer Defense (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 Nf6 5 O-O Be7 6 Re1 b5 7 Bb3 O-O 8 c3 d6 9 h3 Nb8). Against 1.d4 and 1.c4, he usually played 1…Nf6 and 2…e6, either playing the Nimzo-Indian Defense or transposing into the Queen’s Gambit Declined.

In the following game, Spassky demonstrates his skill in attack in the Closed Sicilian. Spassky’s deep tactical insight into the positions allow him to make multiple sacrifices to get at Black’s king.

#8 Emanuel Lasker

Lasker in 1925 in Moscow.
Lasker in 1925 in Moscow.

Emanuel Lasker – the 2nd World Champion – is most well-known for his psychological approach to the game. He made moves not only because of their objective worth, but also because of the effect they would have on his opponents. Lasker was one of the pioneers of chess strategy, and was good at all aspects of the game. However, he is best known for his defensive technique as well as incredible endgame skill.

Lasker almost always played 1.e4 and his opponents almost always responded with 1…e5 and Lasker usually headed towards the Ruy Lopez. He often played what are now known the classical variations against the French and Caro-Kann with 3.Nc3. Although the Sicilian was not played as much in the late 19th and 20th centuries, he faced it a few times and almost always responded with the Open Sicilian (2.Nf3 followed by 3.d4).

With the Black pieces, Lasker played a fairly narrow repertoire. Against 1.e4 he played 1…e5 and against the Ruy Lopez he most often chose the Berlin Defense (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6). When his opponents played 3.Bc4 (the Italian Game), Lasker played the classical Italian (3…Bc5) while later he switched to the Two Knights Defense (3…Nf6). Against 1.d4, he most often chose 1…d5 and the Queen’s Gambit Declined. Although he orginated the Lasker Variation (where Black plays the freeing move …Ne4) in the QGD, he more often chose the Orthodox Variation (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e3 O-O 6.Nf3 Nbd7) during his career. These defenses often lead into rich and complex endgames, which Lasker excelled in.

The following game displays both Lasker’s psychological approach to the opening as well as his incredible technique. This is considered one of Lasker’s best games and it’s also one of my favorites and I’ve annotated it with analysis from various sources.

#7 Vasily Smyslov

Smyslov in 1972.
Smyslov in 1972. Source: Dutch National Archives.

Smyslov was the 7th World Champion.  He had an incredibly long competitive chess career spanning from 1940 when he participated in the Soviet Chess Championship and ending in the early 2000’s, when he had a FIDE rating over 2400 at over 80-years-old. He was known for his positional prowess and exceptional endgame skill. He contributed much to opening theory, including the English, Gruenfeld, and Sicilian.

Categorizing Smyslov’s opening repertoire with White is difficult as he played 1.e4 and 1.d4 almost equally and also had a significant number of games with 1.c4. In looking at his openings over time, I did notice that 1.c4 and 1.d4 were more prevalent after 1960 while 1.e4 was played more frequently by comparison earlier in his career. However, that being said, Smyslov employed a few interesting weapons with the white pieces, including the Closed Sicilian and the King’s Indian Attack – in particular a variation now known as the Smyslov Variation (1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 g6 3.b4).

Smyslov depended on a few pet systems with the Black pieces. Against 1.e4 he responded with 1…e5 primarily and was defended the Ruy Lopez with various systems, but often used what has come to be known as the Smyslov Defense (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7.Bb3 O-O 8. c3 d6 9. h3 h6). Although he faced the Italian (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4) rarely, he used the Hungarian Defense almost exclusively against it (3…Be7). Against 1.d4 Smyslov played 1…Nf6 aiming for the Nimzo-Indian Defense, and played the Bogo-Indian and Queen’s Indian almost equally when denied the Nimzo.

The game I chose to demonstrate Smyslov’s style is a battle from the 1945 USSR Championship. In this game, Smyslov shows how he can take one positional element – the d5 square – and exploit it – transforming it into a winning attack. Although known for his positional and endgame prowess, he was also capable of brilliant flowing attacks.

#6 Alexander Alekhine

Alekhine
Alekhine circa 1924.

Alexander Alekhine was the 4th World Champion, defeating Capablanca in 1927. Alekhine was known as an incredible tactician and attacker. His play is characterized by an increase in complexity and tension as compared to the clear positional style of Capablanca. He was known as a tireless analyst and his chess openings contributions were numerous.

Although Alekhine played 1.e4 frequently, he more often preferred 1.d4. He most often faced 1…Nf6 and after 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 his opponents often transposed to the Queen’s Gambit Declined, where Alekhine often played for what is now known as the Alekhine variation of the Orthodox QGD (1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5. e3 O-O 6. Nf3 Nbd7 7.Rc1 c6 8. Bd3 dxc4 9. Bxc4 Nd5 10.Bxe7 Qxe7 11. Ne4). Against the Nimzo, he played the Classical variation (4.Qc2). 

With the Black pieces, Alekhine played the Nimzo-Indian Defense at every opportunity against 1.d4. When he wasn’t allowed the NImzo, he often played the Queen’s Indian Defense. Against 1.e4 he often played 1…e5 and often headed towards the closed variations of the Ruy Lopez. Against 1.e4 he is also known for Alekhine’s Defense (1.e4 Nf6), although he played this much less frequently.

In the following game, Alekhine demonstrates the dynamic potential of the isolated d-pawn in the Black side of the Nimzo-Indian Defense. He uses converts it into a material advantage and uses his edge to win in the endgame.

#5 Mikhail Botvinnik

Botvinnik in 1969. Source: Dutch National Archives.
Botvinnik in 1969. Source: Dutch National Archives.

Mikhail Botvinnik won the World Championship three different times and was near the top of the chess world for 30 years. He was a pioneer in systematic training, incorporating psychological and physical training to supplement his chess training. He also founded a school of chess in the Soviet Union, which boasted such graduates as Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov. As a player, he enjoyed complex positions. He was a master of deep plans and used his tactical skill to support those plans. He contributed much to some of the most complex opening systems, including the Semi-Slav as well as the several variations within the Caro-Kann with both the White and Black pieces.

Botvinnik preferred closed positions where he could build his deep plans, so he most often opened with 1.d4 and secondarily with 1.c4. Against the Nimzo-Indian he played 4.e3 (the Normal variation). When facing the King’s Indian Defense, he usually employed the Samisch Variation (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3). Against the Gruenfeld he played what is known as the Russian Variation (1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. Qb3 ).

With the Black pieces, Botvinnik played many systems. Against 1.e4, he played the Sicilian, the Caro-Kann, as well as 1…e5. However, he most often chose the French Defense (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5) and when allowed, mainly played the Winawer Defense (3.Nc3 Bb4). Against 1.d4, he mainly played 1…Nf6 usually headed towards the Nimzo-Indian Defense, but also played quite a few Gruenfeld games as well. Besides 1..Nf6, Botvinnik on occasion employed the Dutch Defense as well against 1.d4.

The following game shows Botvinnik’s combination of calculation and positional understanding. Creating wonderful outposts for his knight and then using an exchange sacrifice to eliminate a key defender, Botvinnik weaves a web around his opponent’s king. Except where noted, I adapted comments made by Alexander Alekhine.

 

#4 Anatoly Karpov

Karpov in 1977. Source: Dutch National Archives.
Karpov in 1977. Source: Dutch National Archives.

Anatoly Karpov won the World Championship in 1975 when Bobby Fischer failed to defend his title. Eager to prove his worthiness as champion, Karpov dominated nearly every major tournament he played in for several years including defending his title several times successfully before his epic rivalry with Garry Kasparov. Karpov is best known for his ability to sense and exploit slight positional advantages. As we’ve noticed with many positional players on this list, Karpov is also excellent in the endgame.

Although Karpov primarily played 1.d4 with White, he was extremely successful with 1.e4 as well. With 1.d4 he rarely allowed the Nimzo, and scored heavily with White against the Queen’s Indian Defense. Against the King’s Indian, his primary weapon was the Samisch Variation. When facing the Gruenfeld, he preferred the Exchange Variation. Against 1.d4 d5 he played 2.c4 (the Queen’s Gambit).

With the Black pieces, Karpov employed a few handy weapons. Against 1.e4 he played both 1…e5 aiming for the closed Ruy Lopez – usually relying on the Flohr system (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 O-O 8. c3 d6 9. h3 Bb7 ) – and the Caro-Kann for which he is well known for the aptly named Karpov variation (1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nd7 ). Against 1.d4 he most often utilized the Nimzo-Indian and Queen’s Indian Defenses. When he occasionally played 1…d5 he employed the Tartakower variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined (1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Be7 5. e3 O-O 6. Nf3 h6 7. Bh4 b6).

Although Karpov was known as a positional player, this does not mean he was uncomfortable in sharp complicated positions. In the following game, he demonstrates one of his main weapons against the Sicilian – the Keres Attack.

#3 Jose Raul Capablanca

Capablanca
Capablanca circa 1920.

Capablanca – the 3rd World Champion – was a prodigy at chess. He had a clear positional style and is considered one of the best endgame players ever. He excelled at neutralizing his opponent’s counterplay and simplifying into a winning or slightly adventageous endgame and simply outplaying his opponent from that point onward. His opening systems were not very complex and he was not known for sharp opening play, but I suppose one doesn’t need sharp openings when you rarely make a mistake in the middlegame or endgame.

Capablanca’s repertoire is fairly straightforward. Although he played 1.e4 he preferred 1.d4. He played the Queen’s Gambit against 1…d5. When he played against 1…Nf6, most of his opponents either transposed back into the Queen’s Gambit Declined via 2…e6 and 3…d5 or played the NImzo-Indian Defense. Against the Nimzo, Capablanca pioneered what is now known as the Classical Variation (1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Qc2) although it is also called the Capablanca Variation.

Capablanca’s repertoire with Black was also fairly narrow. Against 1.d4 he often opened with 1…Nf6 but almost always transposed into the Queen’s Gambit Declined, often employing the solid Orthodox Variation (1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Be7 5. e3 O-O 6. Nf3 Nbd7 7. Rc1 c6 ). When his opponents played 1.e4 he played 1…e5 most of the time and played various systems against the Ruy Lopez depending on what his opponents played. His opponents also played the Four Knights against him quite a few times, and he almost always responded with the Symmetrical Defense (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bb5 Bb4 5. O-O O-O 6. d3 d6 ).

I chose the following game for Capablanca as it was one in which one of his moves were criticized by other masters of his era being “anti-positional.” However, Capablanca did not blindly follow general positional principles. Instead, he instinctually found the right move for the position. This game also illustrates one of Capa’s characteristic “little combinations” which he concludes the game with.

#2 Bobby Fischer

Fischer
Fischer in 1960. Color adaptation of original photo by Ulrich Kohls.

Bobby Fischer was the 11th World Champion – defeating Boris Spassky in 1972 to capture the title. Although controversial throughout his life and ending his career abruptly, Fischer’s star shone most brightly when he was at the top.  His style is hard to classify, as he excelled in all phases of the game with no apparent weaknesses. His opening repertoire was narrow, but his preparation was deep. He played both complex and simple positions accurately. He is also considered one of the greatest endgame players. When playing over and studying his games, Fischer’s play exudes a fundamental “correctness” that is beautiful to observe.

Bobby Fischer’s opening repertoire is fairly straightforward as he kept a very narrow repertoire (although he demonstrated that he could play other openings well when he deviated). With the White pieces, he almost exclusively played 1.e4 and played most of the main lines against most of Black’s replies. Exceptions include the Exchange Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6), which he turned into a formidable weapon and the Sozin-Fischer Attack in the Sicilian (1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e6 6. Bc4 Nc6).

Fischer’s Black repertoire was equally narrow. Against 1.e4 he played the Sicilian – focusing mainly on the Najdorf and often playing the Poisoned Pawn variation (1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 Qb6). Against 1.d4 he played the King’s Indian Defense almost exclusively, although he started playing the Gruenfeld more towards the end of his career as well.

I chose the following game to demonstrate Fischer’s brilliance and clarity of his play. Each move logically follows the other. In this particular game, I include comments by Fischer and others (whom I credit in the annotations).

#1 Garry Kasparov

Garry Kasparov in 2007.
Garry Kasparov in 2007. Source: The Kasparov Agency.

Garry Kasparov was the 13th World Champion. His long-term dominance in both matchplay and tournament play is unmatched – holding the world championship for 15 years as well as the number one ranking for nearly the same amount of time. A student of the Botvinnik school of chess – he brought chess preparation into the 21st century with his combination of physical preparation, analytical depth, and the incorporation of computer analysis in his opening preparation. In studying his games and reading his comments to his games and matches, I was particularly impressed by his preparation for specific opponents, which extended past chess preparation into psychological considerations. His opening preparation was considered superior to his contemporaries. Although strong in all areas of the game, he is known for his aggressive tactical style.

With the White pieces, Kasparov played 1.d4 and 1.e4 equally, usually choosing his weapons based on specific preparation against his opponent. He is known for reviving the Scotch Opening (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4) but most often played for the Ruy Lopez. Kasparov was usually at the vanguard of mainstream openings – and has been described as usually playing to find the most testing moves in every position (as opposed to playing solid but non-threatening options).

With the Black pieces, Kasparov most often played the sharpest, most combative lines. Against 1.e4, he almost always chose the Sicilian Defense, playing the Scheveningen earlier in his career and migrating to the Najdorf. Against 1.d4, he has played a plethora of openings, including the King’s Indian Defense earlier in his career and moving more towards the Gruenfeld and Nimzo-Indian later in his career. He is also very skilled with 1…d5, employing the Queen’s Gambit Declined and Slav defenses throughout his career.

The following game illustrates a couple key aspects of Kasparov’s play. First, Kasparov valued the initiative and quality of the pieces more than material – freely sacrificing pawns and other material to achieve these aims. Second, he avoided simplifying exchanges and preferred to keep tension and dynamic chances within the position.  Finally, once he spots an opening in his opponent’s defenses, he is relentless in attack. Enjoy this briliancy against his long-time rival Karpov.

Conclusion

Looking at the opening repertoires of the Top Ten Players of All Time was very insightful for me. A came away with a few observations.

First, except for perhaps Fischer and Capablanca, the other members of the top ten had fairly wide repertoires. They played a variety of different systems against the major openings with both White and Black. Part of this was due to the fact that they could often prepare specific openings for their opponents during tournaments and matches. Another aspect is that their overall skill at chess allowed them to play what suited them for a particular match-up.

This is in contrast to the typical amateur player who does not study chess full-time and would also be confused by studying too many openings. Amateur players made to well to follow Capablanca’s lead and stick to a narrow repertoire that we can excel in and perhaps add to later.

Second, although most of the players stuck to the most well-known openings for much of their repertoire, there was a wide variety of systems being played overall. This is perhaps due to the fact that they were often at the forefront of opening developments – e.g. they were the leaders, and the other masters followed where they led. Because of this, they were the ones making new developments in these older systems and adding new wrinkles.

For we mere chess mortals, it tells us that we can try out different openings that we find interesting without worrying about playing the “main line.” The mainstream openings are only what the top players of the day are playing – and it doesn’t invalidate the soundness of other openings that are not currently in fashion.

Finally, a word about style. Although in my research I found many characterizations about certain players’ style, I found many examples (some which I shared in this article) where a positional defensive player demonstrates a brilliant attack or the reputed attacker simplifies into a complex endgame.

Remember that chess is a game of interconnected ideas. So you cannot fully separate strategy from tactics, attack from defense, or one phase of a game from another. So you must study your openings with an eye towards the middlegame and study your endgames with consideration from which openings that may arise.

With that in mind, remember to do your daily repetitions with Chessable, and although we may never make it onto a Top Ten list, we can surely improve our game day by day.

 

Seedrs vs Crowdcube – Our crowdfunding campaign: Part I

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news, Start-up life

Update on the 28th of February 2017: Part II of this article is now released, find it here Seedrs vs Crowdcube Part II – Key lessons for UK crowdfunding campaigns.

I’ve meant to write this blog post for a couple of weeks now, but things at Chessable have been very busy (good busy!) Many of you may be aware that we launched a crowdfunding campaign at the beginning of this month. Some of you may also know that it was promptly taken down. If you invested non-anonymously I got in touch explaining the situation. I also promised to reveal more detail about the decision in the blog. This is the first of two posts that aim to do so. Due to time constraints, I’ll save the details for Part II. I expect Part II to be very useful to anyone asking the following question: For my UK based startup, should I crowdfund with Seedrs or Crowdcube?

This is the question Chessable faced around July this year. After conducting research to attempt to answer it, we decided that both platforms are just as good. It was 50/50. At this point, Seedrs just edged out Crowdcube because we thought that the “nominee” structure was a nice little perk for investors. While that remains true, it only took one day of being “live” on Seedrs for us to realise that we made the wrong choice.

The next few days would confirm this realisation. For reasons to be explained in Part II, this led to an in-depth conversation with Seedrs and with Crowdcube. It rapidly became apparent that Crowdcube is not only the right choice, but is the only choice for a crowdfunding campaign like ours.

We worked hard to be able to swap crowdfunding platforms, and we were able to do so successfully and very quickly. At this point, it’s worth noting that only 2% of campaigns that apply are approved to go live on Crowdcube. I am happy to announce we are one of fifty campaigns that will launch with the largest UK crowdfunding platform.

Dropping Seedrs for Crowdcube was not a decision taken lightly. We invested a lot of effort to be listed there, and many of you took your time to support our campaign. We also appeared on the BBC during this time, meaning that leaving Seedrs would be seen as a huge sunk cost. Since Chessable is still a bootstrapping startup, our resources are extremely limited. Time is always of the essence. Therefore, I am leaving the details out for the time being and will share my full experience once we conclude the Crowdcube campaign. This new campaign is our primary goal and is set to launch mid-November. I will be able to offer a detailed comparison between both platforms, one of the few (or the only?) crowdfunding campaign that can do so.

To conclude, I’d like to say that on Crowdcube we will be able to give back more to our supporters and investors. When we launch we will have a nice little surprise in store. We think you will love it. The Crowdcube “Reward” structure allows for this, and I look forward to telling you more about this soon. Of course, in the meantime, Chessable continues to grow as measured by all metrics. This is exciting because we really have just begun!