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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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:
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).
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.
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:
Try to look ahead and see where a potential file and diagonal might get opened (if not open already).
Get their first with your rooks (for open files) or bishops (for diagonals).
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.
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:
Use pawn levers to divert or exchange opposing pawns to protect a potential outpost.
Remember the technique of putting a pawn on h4/h5 (or a4/a5) to prevent opposing pawns from attacking an outpost.
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.
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).
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
In 10 months, we’ve reached over 13,000 registrations.
We’ve gone from 0 to 2,200,000 chess positions studied.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!