Grandmaster Colovic on How to Win Opens


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We are delighted to present a new blog post by Grandmaster Alex Colovic. Today, in a post which will have special relevance to club and tournament players, he shares his thoughts on how to be successful in Open tournaments.

How To Win Opens

Grandmaster Alex Colovic
Grandmaster Alex Colovic

I started playing opens throughout Europe in the mid 90s of the last century. One of the most useful rules of thumb that I devised for myself from the beginning (but I am sure others have known it as well) was to establish how many points I would need in order to win a prize. The rule goes that approximately 10% (or less) of the players will score +4 (6.5/9). So in an open with 100 players the score of 6.5/9 will practically guarantee a top-10 finish. Experience has shown that this rule never fails.

Over the years there were several players that were exceptionally successful playing in open tournaments. Since I was often playing in the same tournaments with them I studied them carefully and I noticed several common characteristics. Here I present my observations.

The King
Photo by Elia Pellegrini on Unsplash

King of the Circuit

In the mid-90s, when I started to play in open tournaments around Europe, the undisputed king of the circuit was the Russian GM Oleg Korneev. He dispatched me with ease when I played him for the first time in Sitges in Spain in 1996. He was a 1.e4 player, playing all the main lines against everything, and with Black he played the Open Spanish against 1 e4 and the Semi-Slav against 1.d4. A very active player with excellent technique and great self-confidence, he would even go to tournaments two days late, starting with 0/2, then go on to win the rest of the games and win the tournament! He travelled from tournament to tournament, winning almost all of them! I was amazed at his ability to keep on playing without rest, practically throughout the whole year.

Enthusiasm and Power

At the beginning of the 00s, I was in the migrating group of players together with Bulgarian GM Alexander Delchev. He had an amazing run of open victories in this period as he was playing with great enthusiasm and power. He played 1 c4 with White (basing his repertoire on Tony Kosten’s book on the English – The Dynamic English, published by Gambit in 1999; incidentally, inspired by his success with the English I also bought the book and started playing it myself, also with very good results!) and Taimanov Sicilian against 1 e4 with Black (basing it on the Burgess’s book with the same name from 2000). In 2001 he also qualified for the World Championship (which was a knock-out at that time) and his rating went well beyond 2600.

In the late 00s and in the past few years there is another GM who is quite successful in the open circuit and I played him in 2012 in LeTouquet, France, in the decisive game for the tournament victory – Ukrainian GM Sergey Fedorchuk. In a Nimzo-Indian I put some pressure on him with a dubious move and to my surprise he didn’t manage to find the correct way. Unfortunately I erred a few moves later and even though he gave me another unexpected chance to escape I didn’t find it in my time-trouble and lost. As a result of this he won the tournament alone, with 7/9, while I shared 2nd place half a point behind. Fedorchuk is a player with wider repertoire, but that is a demand of modern chess. He isn’t as theoretical as the above two, his main aim is to get a game (with both colours) and then outplay his opponents (which he does quite well).

I also played Fedorchuk five years after our encounter in France. The game followed exactly the same pattern as the one from Le Touquet, proving that my analysis of his style and behaviour was correct. Alas, it was me who erred last and I lost again. Fedorchuk went on to win the tournament.

Photo by Brandon Morgan on Unsplash

Enormous Energy

If you see these players in person you will notice that all of them have an enormous energy – you could see the deep calm in their eyes and if you’re attentive maybe you will feel the energetic field that emanates from them. The type of energy is different for each one of them, for example Korneev is more exuberant and aggressive, while Delchev is more calm and introspective. Fedorchuk is perhaps something in between. But they all do have it and it’s one of the essential conditions for successful play in open tournaments: morning rounds, tough opponents, the stress of the shortened time controls, not to mention the days with two rounds, all this accumulates during the tournament and the only way to maintain more or less equal quality of play is to have a high level of energy. And all of these players have it in abundance.

Strong Finish
Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Unsplash

A Good Finish

I have played well over 300 Open tournaments in my career and have won a few. In my case, the scenario was always the same – a good start, steady and solid play against the strongest players, normally drawing them, and then a good finish to clinch it. Of course, there are many scenarios and every tournament is a different one, but a successful tournament always has a good finish. I even say that it doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the first seven games, if you win the last two games, or at least you score 1.5/2, you will have a good tournament.

So if you want to be successful in open tournaments you will need a great amount of energy, fighting spirit and a special emphasis on the final two rounds. Knowing all this, now the only other thing you need is to play good chess!

Further Reading

Thank you, Alex, for your excellent advice.

Readers can find more excellent and instructive articles on Alex’s official website.

Click here to find Alex’s Chessable course and here for our Chessable interview.

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