Leon is a national newspaper journalist from London, England. He is an avid chess fan, and writes regularly about the game. Apart from chess, he loves cricket, Tottenham Hotspur FC and spending time with his son.
Shortly before Christmas, Chessable had the pleasure of catching up with Garry Kasparov to talk about his work with the Chess In Schools and Communities charity, which helps get kids involved in this great game we play.
Kasparov, who we have a tactics training book on, dominated the world of chess for two decades and is, as everyone reading this will know, without doubt one of the greatest players ever.
But while we were fascinated by him, we also couldn’t stop ourselves from quizzing the former world champion, the “Beast of Baku”, about the current crop of super GMs and, in particular, the upcoming Candidates tournament which starts this week.
It has been three months since that chat and tournaments such as the Tata Steel event in Wijk aan Zee have passed. But what Kasparov said was still very interesting.
We thought we would enlighten you on what the great man had to say:
On Magnus’s weaknesses
Kasparov was no doubt excited about the Candidates tournament in Berlin, but finding someone who can beat the reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen – another elite player we have a tactics training book on – is a tall order.
However, Carlsen does have some weaknesses, says Kasparov. But finding them is another matter…
We all have weaknesses, but they are for his opponents to discover. He is a very versatile player, he is probably a bit less confident with positions that are very, very complicated because he likes crystal clear positions and he plays perfectly.
But it would be a mistake to think that you can trick him by complicating things.
All his weaknesses are very relative compared to others because when you say ‘oh he is weak here’ what it means is he is not as perfect as he is in other positions.
But so far his style brings him victories because as I said it is very universal. Also you can see that he totally dominates rapid and blitz because the average score of his moves is phenomenally high.
So I would say that his strongest side is his phenomenal instincts – he just immediately sees the right square for a piece and how to put them together to create the best possible configuration.
On Magnus’s topsy-turvy 2017
On this Kasparov was clear – Carlsen was dominant in rapid and blitz, it was only classical where he showed weaknesses:
Yes, it’s been up and down but that’s in classical tournaments. The people expect him to win all the time, and that’s not easy because you can’t win all the time even if you are Magnus Carlsen.
Players who he faces in classical tournaments they have more time and the gap between him and them is much narrower, and there’s a lot of pressure.
I was there in Magnus’s shoes 20-25 years ago and it’s enormous pressure, it’s a psychological test. You enter a tournament, you face the best in the world, and people still expect you to win because they think if you are world champion you must win anyway.
So that’s why Magnus goes back and forth. He did win the very strong Isle of Man, remember.
Will any of them beat Magnus?
No, in short. Kasparov does not believe any of the Candidates fighting it out to face the world champion really stand a chance. Carlsen is just too strong:
I guess he can hardly imagine he will be in great danger in 2018 in the world championship match.
There was the 2016 match with Karjakin which he had to take very seriously, but I don’t think it will be like that.
There’s getting through and there’s putting him in danger. I don’t think he is in real in great danger from any of the potential candidates judging from the current results and quality of play, it seems Aronian is a favourite.
On Aronians nerves
Yes, the Armenian is bang in form and one of the favourites. But can he keep it together?
The problem with Aronian, well, we all know that he was a favourite many times before and he has to make sure at the critical moment he will not blow it up.
So Aronian’s nerves at the Candidates tournaments have always failed him.
So I don’t know. I would say Aronian has a very good chance, but it’s a very, very level field so we can expect almost any result.
Any result that is, apart from Vladimir Kramnik winning. The Russian, of course, is an old campaigner who Kasparov faced many times.
I would be surprised if Kramnik does well. He is probably too old, and this is his swansong.
He will have a good time but I don’t see him as one of the real contenders just because the rest of the field is much younger.
The newcomer, the dark horse. Does he have a chance?
Looking at this field of contender I would also be surprised if Ding, the Chinese, does well.
He’s a newcomer and it will be very difficult to compensate for lack of experience playing at that level.
And the rest…
And then the rest of the players it will be tight and probably a plus three score could be clean first.
That means that anybody who has a good day so that’s why I would say it is a highly-unpredictable event.
I would not be surprised by almost any result. Except of course Kramnik and Ding – I would be very surprised if one of them wins.
Of course, at Chessable we believe failing is a big part of chess learning but with this function you can force yourself to complete each puzzle as if your game depends on it (which may well be the case at some point).
Here’s what you’ll see when you get a tactic wrong:
To find this option, go to Settings > Study and then select No when asked: When studying tactics, should we show you the solution on failure?
2. Our wishlist forum
Is there a book you’ve been longing to get on Chessable?
Perhaps it’s a new book that you’re itching to read, or an old classic that you think could really make a difference to your game.
If there is, now you can let us know on our new book request forum.
Stick a request on there and if it gets upvoted by other users we will look into it. We can’t promise to publish every book because it very much depends on whether the publisher will let us, but we will try.
We are hoping this forum will mean you, collectively, can tell us what books would be good on Chessable.
If you’ve been left a little frustrated at having to wade through lots of variations or puzzles you don’t want to learn, already know, or want to learn later then this is the update for you.
We have added pause/unpause alternatives in the chapter options for every book allowing you to pause all alternative lines you don’t want in one fell swoop.
It means if you want to learn a specific opening variation or set of patterns in a tactics book you can either pause others chapters en masse to leave the ones you want to learn, or pause everything you want to learn and then unpause any variations you do want to.
Here’s what to look for (courtesy of David and his Snipping Tool skills):
We think this is an update well worth using for those of you who don’t necessarily want to follow the structure of a book, or who just want to dive in to master something specific.
4. ACF ratings (finally)
If you’re a user from Down Under you may have been wondering why we you can put an ECF, Fide or USCF rating on your profile but not an Australian Chess Federation rating.
Well, after it had been requested several times, now you can. ACF ratings rank alongside, FIDE, ECF and the German DWZ rating system.
Sorry for not doing it sooner. Fair dinkum.
And that’s it for now – but rest assured we’re already working on our next bunch of tweaks, and the next round of new Chessable books.
Coming up soon we have something completely different… we’ll let you know more when we can.
You may not have noticed, but we’ve been working around the clock to find new ways to improve your chess training.
Yes, quite literally around the clock.
That’s because our new feature allows you more freedom to fiddle with the time you have for each puzzle or variation you want to learn.
We are pleased to announce our latest new feature: the unlimited time button. Because time can wait for a chessman, or woman.
You can find it here:
Can’t find that page? Simply click “browse” to go inside a book and see these options:
This neat little addition designed by our developer Simon Wuttke allows you give yourself as much time as you need on any book chapter or set of variations. It is easy to find – on the right of the screen – and easy to toggle.
And remember, you can still set the clock for whatever time you want – it doesn’t have to be left on the default.
The point of this is if you’re finding a particular book tricky – and some of them really are – or you just don’t like being hurried along then this new addition can effectively turn off the timer so it doesn’t hurry you along.
It’s only a small change, but from the feedback we think it’s clear that often it’s these fiddly little things that make a big difference.
Coming up we’ve got more book launches and some grander features in the pipeline (more on that next month!), but in the meantime we hope you like this new bit of control you have over your chess learning.
And, of course, we are keen to hear any more ideas you have to make this site better.
He almost did it – but Chessable’s own John Bartholomew fell just short of winning a hard-fought second GM norm today.
The Scandi king put in a phenomenal performance on the final day of the Charlotte Chess Center’s GM/IM Norm Invitational tournament to top his group above three GMs and the much talked about Indian super talent Ramesh Praggnanandhaa.
But when his final game ended in a hard-fought draw, he just missed out on the norm.
Unlucky John, it’s only a matter of time!
Going into rounds 8 and 9, John was out in front on 5/7 needing to hit the 6.5 mark to pick up the norm.
In round 8 John faced 2430-rated IM Denis Schmeliov, and picked up a vital half-point with this quick 24-move draw in the Slav Defense, covered in his 1.d4 Repertoire for White:
That left John with everything to do in the final round – an all-or-nothing win with black was needed against the teenage IM David Brodsky (2405), a player he hadn’t faced in classical chess before.
Going into it he tweeted:
I'm now on 5.5/8 @CLTchesscenter. A win in the final round earns me a GM norm. I'll be black against IM David Brodsky (2405), and the game starts at 4:00 pm EST (no live game relay). All-in, baby! #finittowinit
The English IM Lawrence Trent also pitched in along with the host of the Perpetual Chess podcast, Ben Johnson, and yours truly.
Here’s how the game went:
Afterwards, John tweeted:
I missed out on the GM-norm by half a point, but on the plus side I won the tournament and finished undefeated on 6/9 (+3, =6, -0). Feeling good about my play and looking forward to my next event: the Southwest Class Championships (Feb. 15-19). Thanks for the sweat, everyone!
John has been made to wait for his second norm. He picked up his first GM norm in December 2013 at the Saint Louis Classic so when it does happen we expect he’ll be very pleased.
John, of course, is co-founder of this chess training site and an avid user. The Minnesota master has also authored several chess opening books here including his hugely popular 1.d4 Repertoire for White and his IM John Bartholomew’s Scandinavian opening trainer. The title for that may have to change soon, we hope.
All that remains to be said is another well done to John for getting so close – you’re an inspiration to so many chess players here and we’re proud of you.
Against John though, he came unstuck. Playing white, John essayed a nice win out of the Zurich Variation of the Nimzo-Indian. This opening is covered in IM John Bartholomew’s 1.d4 Repertoire for White chess opening trainer, but Praggu played an early move order shuffle with 3… Nc6 and then departed entirely with 11… a5.
John took full advantage, pressing him with solid positional play before Praggu blundered then wilted in the endgame. It was another impressive win for John at the tournament.
John now needs 6.5/9 to secure his second GM norm. Praggu, unfortunately, is now out of the running for a norm in this tournament, but has the Gibraltar Masters to look forward to.
Here is the game:
After the game, John said: “I’m very happy with this game, I think it was my best game of the tournament. A pretty smooth, strategic win.
“Every game is tough, you can’t expect to enter a tournament like this and beat up on anyone really… I’ll do my best with my remaining games here.
“It’s just cool to play a guy like Praggnanandhaa, he’s a fantastic player and 12 years old just to see the focus he has is incredible. I think this time next year he could be 2600.”
Time for @fins0905 to finish strong! Good luck on the final day
John is currently leading the pack in Charlotte with 5/7, and needs 1.5 from his remaining two games today. But he has two tough games – against GM Denis Schmeliov (2420) and in the afternoon IM David Brodsky (2405).
While Chessable’s own John Bartholomew is continuing his quest to get the Grandmaster title, time is running out for another International Master hoping to secure what would be an even more incredible achievement.
On January 10 Indian super talent Ramesh Praggnanandhaa, or Praggu as he is known, was exactly 12 years and five months old, meaning he has just two months left to write himself into chess history.
The boy from Chennai is in the final straight of his race against the clock to become the world’s youngest-ever Grandmaster, a feat that would put him in an exclusive club of chess greats who’ve held the record.
If he does it, it will be some feat. The most famous member of the youngest club is of course the American genius Bobby Fischer who became the world’s youngest Grandmaster at 15.
Yet that achievement that now looks rather paltry compared to Sergey Karjakin‘s long-standing current record of 12 years and seven months.
If – and it is a big if – Praggu breaks the Russian’s mark, predictions that he will one day emulate his hero Vishy Anand and become world champion will start looking very serious indeed. The big guns will really start looking over their shoulders.
Norway’s reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen, for example, only achieved it at a relatively late-to-the-party 13 years four months.
Right now Praggu has one GM norm (a high level of performance in an elite chess tournament) and needs two more to qualify for the title, and it has to happen before March 10. That is a very tall order.
His next tournament, the Winter 2018 CCCSA GM/IM Norm Invitational in Charlotte will take place between January 11 and 15, where he is expected to face a certain John Bartholomew, IM. It may be that our own Scandi master has a part to play in this.
He’s not norm-al!
In his last norm attempt at the Rilton Cup in Stockholm, Sweden, Praggu had a torrid time. But afterwards he was typically sanguine about his chances.
“I am not thinking about it,” he told Norwegian channel NRK Sport this week. “It’s fun to play some good chess. But if I can achieve it, I will be very happy.”
Don’t be fooled by that though – Praggu clearly wants it.
After starting out at the Rilton with two wins, Praggu’s attempt to bag a second GM norm ended in round 8 of 9. He finished the tournament with a performance rating of just 2485 – way below what he needed.
In a large part that was due to a final round loss to the English International Master David “Eggy” Eggleston after the chance of a norm had gone, but it has led to doubts over whether the youngster will manage it.
Before Christmas Praggu fell agonisingly short of snatching the record outright at the World Junior Championship in Tarvisio, Italy.
In the final round he had the chance to win the tournament, which is unique in that it carries an automatic GM title for the winner, but ended up finishing fourth (joint second).
It followed a similar close but no cigar performances at the Isle of Man International in September and before that the HZ Tournament in August.
However at the Isle of Man he did play this brilliant 18-move miniature against one of the best players in South America, a 2645 GM from Paraguay:
The other wonderkids
Praggu, who is sponsored by an Indian property entrepreneur, has not been the only wonderkid in the running to beat Karjakin’s 2002 record. But now he is the only realistic chance right now who’s still standing.
Praggu’s international compatriot Nihal Sarin, now 13, and Nodirbek Abdusattorov of Uzbekistan both battled hard to get there.
Abdusattorov, who is nine months older, had long been considered a potential record-breaker after he beat two GMs in a tournament aged just nine.
But time ran out on him in July leaving the younger Praggnanandhaa in pole position.
Praggu, meanwhile, hit the 2500 rating requirement on his birthday in August at the HZ Tournament in the Netherlands, but just missed out on a first norm when he lost in the last round.
Disappointment then followed again at the Isle of Man International tournament where he missed another chance to secure the required norm.
Next up is the Charlotte event. And then Praggu is targeting the Tradewise Masters, a 10-round open tournament in Gibraltar that starts on January 21.
Gibraltar has a stellar field that includes Armenia’s in-form Levon Aronian, the US blitz king Hikaru Nakamura and the French number one Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.
And after that he will have to find another high-level tournament to enter – and do it fast.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.