The Grand Prix: Everything you need to know about Fide’s flagship event and why it’s so controversial

By Leon Watson / On / In Chess news

Fide’s big event, the Grand Prix, is back for another round starting today in Moscow. Here are all the details and main talking points.

What is it?

The Grand Prix is a series of four elite-level tournaments taking place from February to November. It is organised by Fide, or more specifically Fide’s commercial arm Agon/World Chess.

The first round took place at the impressive 4000 sq ft Sharjah Chess & Culture Club, which claims to be the biggest chess club in the world.

It was won by Alexander Grischuk on tiebreaks after a three-way tie with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.

French number one MVL in action at Sharjah
French number one MVL in action at Sharjah

The second will be between May 12 and 24 in Moscow’s Telegraph building, which is just a few hundred meters from the Kremlin.

Dates or venues have not been announced yet for the next two rounds scheduled for Geneva in July and Palma de Mallorca in November.

Why is it important?

Put simply, Fide has made the Grand Prix an essential part of the World Chess Championship cycle.

Win one of the two spots available, and you secure a place in the Candidates tournament scheduled for March 2018.

Win that and you will get a crack at Magnus Carlsen. However, that is a long and arduous journey.

Who’s in it?

There’s an 18-player line-up of elite grandmasters taking part, with each playing three of the four events which are run as a nine round Swiss contest.

The field at Moscow is headed by MVL and Hikaru Nakamura while Mamedyarov, Grischuk and Michael Adams, the English number one, return.

Grischuk picking up his prize
Grischuk picking up his prize

Anish Giri has been back in form recently and takes his place while the cricket-loving Russian Peter Svidler and Boris Gelfand, the oldest in the field at 48, also make up the numbers.

Hou Yifan, the world’s leading female player, is also competing.

Players qualify to the Grand Prix series by rating or by being nominated by World Chess by Agon Ltd, with one addition coming from the Association of Chess Professionals (ACP) or Fide.

Who’s going to win it?

That is absolutely impossible to say. However, for players like Nakamura, MVL and Mamedyarov the Grand Prix may offer the best chance they have to get to the Candidates next March so they might have that extra push.

Grischuk eventually came out top in Sharjah and will be dangerous.

What is the prize money?

This is a touchy subject.

World Chess have offered up prizes purses of 130,000 euros per Grand Prix, or 520,000 euros for the total Grand Prix series.

Sergey Karjakin at the launch of the Moscow Grand Prix, with Fide president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov
Sergey Karjakin at the launch of the Moscow Grand Prix, with Fide president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov

However, the prize for first place is “only” 20,000 euros and given the long, drawn-out nature of the event that has put off some of the top players.

As a result the Super GMs weren’t exactly falling over themselves to enter.

So, who’s missing?

Well, Magnus Carlsen obviously. He has no reason to enter given the main motivation for most grandmasters is the chance to enter the Candidates tournament which is the final play-off before the World Championship match.

But apart from that there’s a whole host of stars who aren’t there for various reasons.

Hikaru Nakamura will be gunning for glory at the Grand Prix
Hikaru Nakamura will be gunning for glory at the Grand Prix

Out of the top 10 Carlsen, Vladimir Kramnik, Fabiano Caruana, Vishy Anand and Sergey Karjakin won’t be at Moscow.

More noticeably there will be no Wesley So, the current world number two. He is focusing his energies on the rival Grand Chess Tour.

Also missing is the combustible Bulgarian Veselin Topalov.

The former world champion, who dropped out of the world’s top 20 at the end of last year, wrote a piece on his website saying he was refusing his invitation because of the “unfavourable conditions” offered to grandmasters.

By that we can assume he meant the prize money.

World Chess responded by saying it was “a shame that Mr Topalov chose not to take part”.

What do Fide say about it?

They say it’s incredibly important, as you would expect.

At the launch of the Moscow event Ilya Merenzon, the chief executive of World Chess, made some pretty big claims.

Ilya Merenzon, the chief executive of World Chess
Ilya Merenzon, the chief executive of World Chess

He said: “The eyes of the chess world will be on Moscow once more. We are expecting thousands of spectators at the venue and millions more will watch every move at www.worldchess.com.

In the build up to the Moscow event, Georgious Makropoulos, acting president of FIDE, said: “With so many top players in the line-up, the Moscow Grand Prix will undoubtedly feature some classic match-ups for chess fans around the world.”

What does everyone else say about it?

They say the prize fund is paltry, and doesn’t provide enough motivation for the top GMs.

The high number of bore draws has also led to criticism.

Malcolm Pein, for example, said in his Telegraph column that Sharjah was “one of the dullest events in recent memory”.

Topalov, who never wastes an opportunity to criticise Fide, said the game’s governing body is “failing to summon top players”.

Another ageing legend not shy of sticking the knife into Fide is English GM Nigel Short.

After claiming Fide was selling places on the Grand Prix for $100,000 a spot, Short said the process has been “utterly prostituted”.

It is fair to say the Fide Grand Prix is splitting opinion at the moment.

How to improve at chess? USCF rating increases 300 pts in 1 year. Here is how.

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

GermanMC has gained 300 USCF points in one year.
GermanMC has gained 300 USCF points in one year.

How to improve at chess?

This is a question we all ask ourselves at one point or another. It’s the reason why I read all the science there is on Chess and started Chessable! Recently, I got news that one of our users made some remarkable improvement, 300 over the board points in one single year. I got in touch with him to find out a bit more about it. GermanMC is not only one of our power users, but he has also made his opening repertoires available on Chessable for anyone to use. Some are free, and some, cost a few dollars. His top book is on the Ruy Lopez, it’s free and has been studied by an impressive 1,238 people! He has learned 764 variations with a modest maximum daily streak of 9 (there are some who have kept a streak for over a year).

I’ve tried to keep the questions similar to previous chess improvement interviews so as to stick to a familiar theme. Now, let’s find out a few more insights on how to improve at chess, here we go!

1) You have improved around 300 USCF points in a year of tournament chess since joining Chessable, that’s impressive, how do you feel?
Improvement is very satisfying of course, but it also makes me feel hungry for more knowledge and improvement. It’s really nice to live in an age abundant with brilliant resources like Chessable; all I have to do is open up my laptop and get to work.

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?
Over this past year, I have become much more familiar with the typical plans in my openings as well as the “theory” moves. I often understand how to handle the positions that I get out of the opening better than my opponents, which has allowed me to win many easy games against strong players. Chessable has been a key contributor to this aspect of my game because so many of the available repertoire books contain very high-quality instruction and allow me to easily review lines

3) Which openings do you play (if you don’t mind sharing!)?
My style has changed a lot over this past year as I have become a stronger player. As Black, I like to play the Najdorf against 1.e4 and the Benko Gambit against 1.d4 because I always seem to get fighting positions that are interesting to play. As White, I enjoy playing 1.d4 and going for Catalan-type structures with a later Kingside-fianchetto (spoiler alert – this will be the topic of my next Chessable book).

4) How have you improved your middle game?
The middlegame is probably the most critical stage of the game because it is where most games are decided at the amateur level. I personally have improved my middlegame significantly by obtaining a better understanding of the plans out of my favorite openings, as I mentioned earlier. Working daily with an online tactics trainer has also improved my middlegame play a lot. Other than that, I recently got started with Jeremy Silman’s How to Reassess Your Chess, which I find to be a very enjoyable read.

5) What about your endgame, have you worked on that at all?
I have to admit that I have slacked off a bit in my endgame study, but I have taken the time to learn a few basic king and pawn endgames as well as some rook endgames. John Bartholomew has some great videos on his Youtube channel about various essential endgames that I find very instructive!

6) You gained over 1,000,000 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?
My biggest tip to new users would be to develop a “Chessable routine.” To get the most out of the platform, it is important to do smaller (but daily!) review sessions rather than reviewing a very large quantity of lines every few weeks.

7) What would you personally like to see improved on Chessable?
I think the user interface could be improved a bit, but it seems to be getting better almost every time I log on!

8) What’s next for you? Any new goals?
I have my eyes set on 2200, which is when the National Master title is given here in the United States. It would be great to reach that goal sometime in 2018. I would also love to play in some international tournaments when I happen to be in Europe so that I can increase my FIDE rating, but that’s more of a long-term goal.

Thanks GermanMC!
It’s very inspiring and motivating to hear of your chess improvement.  I am sure many of our readers, including myself, will take a tip or two away from your experience and apply it to our own game. Best of luck on the road to 2,200 and see you on the leaderboards! Personally, I am aiming for 2,000 FIDE this year, which right now, seems a long way away, a long way away!

So, how to improve your chess? In summary, it involves a lot work (1,000,000 points don’t come easy!), habitual study, and a balance between knowing chess openings and understanding the middle game concepts that are relevant to that chess theory.

A bit more about GermanMC:
GermanMC is a chess player who is also a student in Austin, Texas. His nickname stems from the fact that he grew up in Munich, Germany. His passion for chess has been highlighted in recent months as he reached his age-groups Top 100 List for the USCF after improving 300 rating points in one year. He spends his free time playing chess tournaments, solving tactics, reading chess books, and of course, creating Chessable chess books.

Our first round of funding is in!

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news

Update on the 24th of April 2017: We’ve finally achieved our goal and raised £100,000 for our first round of funding, if you need advise for your crowdfunding campaigns you can find David on clarity.fm

Last year John and I took the decision to fundraise to accelerate the growth and development of Chessable. A whole year and two crowdfunding campaigns later, I am very happy to announce that we have finally done it! We’ve raised nearly £100,000 from private investors. These funds will immediately be put to good use, supporting our mission of making Chessable the go-to source for chess improvement and education.

Paradoxically, investing time in fundraising would always delay many of the things we want to achieve. Our roadmap and backlog have always been overflowing with things we need to do. I often had doubts, should I be working instead of trying to raise funds? However, I think the following story told by Stephen Covey in his famous book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, describes why fundraising was always the right choice:

Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.

“What are you doing?” you ask.

“Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.”

“You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?”

“Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.”

“Well why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you inquire. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”

“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!”

We didn’t want to be too busy sawing. We wanted to make sure we deliver an awesome service as quickly as possible without compromising on quality. While we have been consistently improving the site, which is now unmistakably better than during our humble beginnings in February last year, there are still a lot of things we want to do! With a two-man team this has been a slow process and while we’ve had a helping hand from some awesome volunteers it just hasn’t been enough to work on everything we’d like to deliver. This is why we chose to fundraise and sharpen the saw.

Now that the process is complete (hurray!), we will immediately start growing our team and bring you more great features and content. We’ve already recruited one of our volunteers to be our first full-time hire (welcome Simon!) and have concrete next steps to bring you more great things that we know you will love. Stay tuned.

Wesley So’s Road to US Champion [Infographic]

By David Kramaley / On / In Features

Wesley So's Road to US Champion Infographic

Last month we wrote about Wesley So’s incredible unbeaten streak. Just a couple of days ago Wesley extended his streak to a few more games clinching the title of US Champion. What a feat!

While fighting for the title Wesley played a beautiful game vs. Jeffery Xiong, find it below. This game is being widely proclaimed a masterpiece in social media, and rightfully SO!

I met Wesley in person a few months ago at the London Classic, what a nice guy. Therefore, to celebrate one of my favourite player’s success, we’ve commissioned a caricature and created a little infographic. We hope you like it.

Finally, we’d like to say again, congratulations Wesley!

Wesley So and His Amazing Streak

By Bryan Castro / On / In Features

Update (April 12th, 2017): Wesley So’s continuation of his streak has resulted in him being crowned US Champion. To celebrate this special moment we’ve created an infographic of Wesley’s road to his success! Check it out.

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

Update on the 24th of April 2017: We’ve finally achieved our goal and raised £100,000 for our first round of funding, if you need advise for your crowdfunding campaigns you can find me on clarity.fm

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

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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.