Issue 1 – April 2014
A rag-tag band of Scots, English and Slovak mercenaries; one of Europe’s oldest and most fascinating cities; an opportunity to walk off with prizes and titles! What could possibly go wrong? asks Andrew Burnett at the Prague Open.
Quite a lot as it happens! Being one of the lower rated of the top players in a large open brings with it something known as the yo-yo effect. You defeat an opponent a few hundred points below you, and then lose to someone a few hundred points above you and so on until you break the win/lose cycle. I broke the yo-yo cycle in the very first round by self-destructing from a won position!
Putting paid to my chances of some big match-ups for a few rounds at least!
Elsewhere, our motley crew were doing rather better. Mikey Groves, happily ensconced in his hotel just one metro stop from the Hotel Olympik where the tournaments were being held, was rewarded with a big name in round 2
England’s Peter Constantinou spent a couple of years studying in St. Andrews and his solid positional style proved quite a headache for many of us during his time north of the border. Having moved to Prague for work, it was the perfect opportunity to catch up with him. His 4th round game was most un-Peter-like, though thoroughly entertaining for the rest of us. Peter takes us through it…
The 4th member of our team was WIM Alena Mrvova, a friend from my early tournaments in Slovakia. Although not as active in tournaments nowadays, she was looking for a good performance to boost her hopes of an Olympiad spot.
Neither Mikey nor Alena really recovered from these blows, Alena in particular bemoaning the fact she had left her 4 children at home, only to be faced with 4 more youngsters in the final 4 rounds!
Mikey seemed to struggle as much with the language as he did with the solid play of the locals. His inability to differentiate between horalky (a popular brand of chocolate wafer) and hranolky (chips) was the source of much mirth come dinner-time, and his conversations with Alena were hugely entertaining.
His daily question of her was “Happy cow?” (translates as, did you win?) and the usual answer of “Sad cow!” as Alena related another tale of woe at the hands of an under-rated Russian 12-year-old.
My own tournament burst into life after a couple of good wins and the better side of a draw against a Russian IM (see this issue’s Endgame Corner). In round 7 I found myself playing Black against a German doctor, untitled but sporting a hefty 2388 ELO rating.
I was extremely pleased with this win against a highly-rated player, but my celebrations were tempered somewhat in our traditional post-match pizza & analysis.
“He played an awful lot of bad moves for someone rated almost 2400″- Peter; “He turned up 40 minutes late” – Alena; “He didn’t really do….” -Mikey, stopping mid-sentence when he saw the tears in my eyes!
This took me within touching distance of the leaders, and a win in the 8th round, playing another IM, would see me fighting on the very top boards for the prize-money.
And that, as they say, was pretty much that! Peter played well but never quite managed to break away from a series of draws, Mikey and Alena would rather forget about the chess, and I started poorly, improved but then missed my chances when they counted.
Prague as ever was beautiful, despite the heavy winds and eventual snow. The tournaments (there was a B Open held alongside the A) were efficiently run as Czech events almost always are, and for anyone considering next year’s event I would definitely recommend it.
The Prague Open is part of the Czech Tour, a series of 11 events throughout the year, so you dont have to wait for the next Prague Open to sample Czech Republic and its wonderful culture.
www.czechtour.net has all the details, and Nigel Chapman’s guide to the Marienbad Open can be found elsewhere in this issue
Re-inventing the Wheel!
New moves, let alone new ideas, are considered the preserve of the world’s top players. Should others come up with novelties – others such as ourselves; keen amateurs – then they tend not to be noticed by the wider chess community. At best they are considered ‘interesting but flawed’ – unable to meet the exacting standards of annotators and experts alike.
However, interesting ideas (perhaps flawed, but what isn’t in these days of chess engines?) are still waiting to be found in all openings – as long as we view them as ‘practical weapons’ rather than ‘pure’ creations. This month we will look at one such idea – but firstly we will look at the games which led to the discovery. First up, Bent Larsen – a chess fighter and creative genius.
Our second stem game features a man who I consider to be the Scottish version of Larsen! Paul Motwani became Scotland’s first ever Grandmaster in 1992 and his play is characterised by aggressive and creative openings combined with a deadly feel for the initiative – just as Larsen’s play is.
While looking for ways to avoid the heavy theory of the Winawer, I borrowed ‘Paul’s 4.Qd3′ for a while and did rather well with it. I was never happy about the response 4…b6 though – a quick …Ba6 would rid black of the annoying white-squared bishops and, although theoretically it wasn’t a big problem, the resulting positions didn’t suit me.
Also, and extremely importantly, Larsen’s 4.exd5 exd5 5. Qf3 was quickly found to have a large flaw in it. Black could reply 5…Qe7+ and the disruptive effect of this check not only prevents white from achieving any of his ideal piece configurations, but actually causes serious problems.
It would have been easy to give up on these lines, look for different ideas or just immerse myself in the theoretical debates of the day, but one day it came to me …
and finally, a few months later, I had the chance to try the system out again.
These 3 games have shown at least that 4.Qf3 has some serious practical value – definitely below IM level where almost all of us play.
It may not have ‘reinvented the wheel’, but it has taken a couple of old tires and rims and constructed a version of the wheel which Winawer players seem to view as square! And that, I personally feel, is well worth the creative effort!
The idea of splitting the tuition pages of this magazine into sections came to me when reading some other magazines recently. Most of the articles gave ideas/suggestions/techniques which were expected to apply to ALL amateur players, whether under 1000 or over 2000!
This doesn’t make sense obviously – the gulf between these levels being far too large to warrant the same study or learning material, so we have endeavoured to break things down into manageable sections, akin to Major/Minor/Open tournaments at most weekend congresses. Naturally, some readers will be behind some others within sections as far as knowledge goes, other ahead, or varying in different areas of the game. Nevertheless, the Blue/Red/Black belt distinction will hopefully allow us to better address particular areas of weakness in each level.
As with all other articles in this magazine, reader input is positively encouraged; what worked for you; what would you like to see discussed; where have got things right or wrong? To begin with, in this issue we will look at some of my own games against different levels of opposition: perhaps some of the deficiences we need to address will be that much clearer initially, and then we can move on to readers’ own games and ideas.
First up, let’s consider those I will categorise as BLUE-BELT players, rated from about 1000-1500: still quite a wide spread of strength and abilities, but narrow enough to discern several specific short-comings and areas in need of improvement.
Of course, this was a one-sided game primarily because I am 800 points higher-rated than David, but there is a lot to be taken from such games.
If you are going to play an opening, particularly one as positionally dangerous as the Dutch Stonewall, you have to know beforehand where the pieces belong and what you absolutely MUST NOT DO!
It’s your opponents job to break down the wall, so don’t help him! Conversely, if you are sitting on the white side of this, and your opponent makes moves which you KNOW are against the openings logic, you must vigorously play against the resulting weaknesses and be aware on every move that there might be a tactical opportunity available.
Away from the board…choose your openings and learn the basic strategies for each side. This doesn’t have to be in huge depth, just so you know the basic positional and tactical ideas. Likewise with the openings you most often face. At lower club – level this can often be enough to give you a very strong chance of reaching a ‘winning’ position.
As you’ll no doubt have guessed by now, the Streetfighting Chess team do like to travel, and there are few better places to mix wanderlust and chess than in the Czech Republic. Not for the first time our intrepid correspondent, Nigel Chapman, tries his luck in the Mecca of European chess, this time at the Marianske Lazne Open.
Mariánské Lázne or Marienbad is an elegant Neo-Classical and Art Noveau spa town west of Prague, close to the German border and the location in January 2014 of a FIDE Open, Seniors and Closed IM and GM Tournament.
Mariánské Lázne in the 19th and 20th centuries was one of the top European spas, popular with notable figures and rulers who often returned there. Among them were such names as Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Frederic Chopin, Thomas Edison, Franz Kafka, Mark Twain, Richard Wagner, King Edward VII of the United Kingdom, the Russian Czar Nicholas II, and Emperor Franz Joseph 1 and many others.
Today, the town is popular with German and Russian tourists. This article details the highs and lows from the perspective of a club-level player in the Open event.
In the 1st round, I was playing a strong Polish junior and tried a sharp tactical line against the Sicilian.
Ended up playing my previous opponents younger brother in the 2nd round and thankfully after some weak play managed to force a quick win.
Faced another strong Polish junior in Round 3 and tried another Wing gambit line against the Sicilian.
Round 4 and my reward for losing was to be paired against an Ungraded Russian junior. I won a pawn in the middlegame and a long endgame ensued.
Round 5 saw me paired against a strong veteran Czech 2000+ player and decided to mix up again with White.
Round 6 proved to be a strange game, with strong opening play leading to a strong tactical shot, and a miscalculation leading to a crisis in confidence.
Today I was determined to make amends for yesterdays cowardice and tried the Danish Gambit. My opponent played Capablancas Defence which I recommend as usually allows Black to equalise comfortably.
Finally: a win! In the game I perhaps did not make a particularly good opening choice and there were better options than 18 b4, simply retreating the king to g1 followed by b4 might have been the better alternative.
My last round 2000 graded opponent decided to take me out of the book with 1 d3. Both players chose reasonably looking set-ups and the following position was reached.
Getting to Know You!
…the Streetfighting Chess interview presents
WIM Fiona Steil-Antoni
-Please can you tell us when and how you got interested in chess?
My father is an amateur player and when I was about nine year’s old I got curious and asked him to teach me how to play. Aged 10 I went to see a friend play in a tournament, but I absolutely hated the fact that everyone could watch your game and I told my father I would never ever participate in a tournament myself. However someone managed to convince me to give it a try a couple months later and from that moment on everything happened very quickly.
As there were not too many girls playing chess in Luxembourg I was quickly noticed by the national coach, GM Vlastimil Jansa, and I went on to participate in my first World Youth Championship at the age of 11 and my first Olympiad at the age of 13. Obviously I have never stopped since!
-What is the chess scene/culture like in Luxembourg? Some of us have heard of Grandmaster Alberto David and the big Open which (used?) to be held there, but beyond that,we don’t know anything!
We have a team championship with 6 different divisions in place (which, for such a small country, is not too bad I guess), but besides that and a couple of rapid tournaments there is not too much going on unfortunately.
Back in 2007 and 2008 my club held the international Kaupthing Open, but when our main sponsor, this Icelandic bank, went bankrupt there was no motivation to find a new one and so that was it. (Unfortunately, since Alberto David has changed federations to Italy – where he was born we don’t even have a GM anymore.)
-You travel to tournaments with your boyfriend (Moldovan IM Vladimir Hamitevici) What are the pros and cons of this ‘arrangement’?
To be honest, I can’t really come up with any cons of travelling to tournaments with Vladimir. I think it might be more stressful if you’re a “professional chess couple”, but seeing as neither of us makes a living from playing chess it is much more relaxed. The pros on the other hand are pretty obvious: if your partner plays chess too, he can not only help you prepare and go through your game with you afterwards, but he will also understand the morale ‘highs and lows’ that one can go through during a tournament. We all know how cruel chess can be at times and having someone besides you who knows just how you feel at that particular moment can make some painful losses easier to cope with.
-You have recently been in Scotland and you also play in the 4NCL in England. Where is the next stop on the map – Ireland?
Well, I am actually writing these answers from Edinburgh and on April 7th I am off to Dubai to participate in the Sharjah women’s tournament which I am really excited about. Then in May, after the final 4NCL weekend, I will play a tournament in Corsica with 3 of the Scottish legends (MacQueen, Ozzy and the one and only Mikey G) so that promises to be a very interesting tournament!
As I have become really fond of Scotland and its people, I might also play in the Scottish Blitz tournament at the end of May and I will definitely play in the Scottish/Commonwealth Championships at the beginning of July. Finally there is a possibility I will return to Andorra, which was absolutely amazing last year, and I will of course participate in what will already be my 7th Olympiad in Tromso.
-What advice would you give to young females trying to improve, particularly in a small country?
The problem of small countries is that there is often not a big chess tradition, hence not so many tournaments and opportunities to play and improve in general. Another problem is that as there are less players there is less concurrence and if someone reaches a certain level one might feel like that is enough of an achievement (I am talking from experience here). So the main thing in small countries might be to keep the motivation up at all times, while the way to improve will remain the same as in my answer to the question just beneath!
-And what advice in general to club players trying to improve/enjoy their chess?
I think you can improve simply by playing for some time, but there will always come the moment when you will have to start working on chess to reach the next level. For club-level players I would say that studying openings should be the last priority and that endgames and tactics should be given privilege.
But as everyone knows, studying endgames is not much fun (if you’ve figured out a way to make it exciting, please let me know!), which is why I would advise to always start with tactics. Solving chess puzzles is fun and you can do it pretty much anywhere, using a book, a computer, a phone…
-What are your plans and ambitions for the future, both chess and personal?
In September of this year I will go back to London to finish my Bachelor’s Degree in Events Management, but besides that I have very recently become part of a truly exciting challenge: I am the Press Officer for Zurab Azmaiparashvili’s campaign for the ECU elections (which will be held during the Tromso Olympiad in August). This should keep me quite busy for the next few months and then hopefully for the 4 years following the elections! As for chess, my ambition has been to become a WGM for quite some years now, so if I ever want to reach that goal I better start doing some serious chess work soon!
Red Belt level can be something of a ‘no-man’s land’ in chess. Far too strong to be classed as a beginner or Minor section player, but not quite able to break-through into Major’s or first-team chess. What needs to be added to your chess to allow for this leap? How can we integrate these improvements?
Over the next few issues we’ll look at various aspects of opening-to-middlegame play and also tactical play as these are the main areas which prevent red-belts from climbing the ladder. Improving your own weaknesses in this respect, and being able to spot and punish your opponent’s failings are the key.
OK, so where does black improve on this performance? If he wants to get to the next level (1800+ in our belt scheme) he has to…
a) look at a few games in this line and see where strong players put their pieces in the opening. In those games there will be some tactical exchanges – try to learn the ones which recur, and remember to avoid those which cause problems (for instance, the d4-d5 advance forking 2 pieces) and
b) try to take knowledge from one opening/middlegame into another…the pawn structure in this game was known to me from the Exchange Ruy Lopez! Look at some of Fischer’s games. None of this need be tedious – if you can’t bear to look at a few of Karpov’s games on the black side of this English variation, or Fischer’s in the Ruy Lopez maybe you are playing the wrong game!
Even the end of a game of chess has to have a beginning, and where better to begin than the most recent endgame shortcomings of your editor! We all know that chess is, among other things, a blend of strategy and tactics, of planning and calculation. Even with reduced material on the board this holds true, but what happens when we forget to combine these elements?
In conclusion, it is pretty clear that I personally have a lot of work to do on endgames! 3 half-points thrown away by an inability to look much beyond the calculation of variations.
The variations MUST be guided by a strategic imperative! Even if you are down to 5 minutes, spending a minute or so to work out your guidelines will be well worth the effort
I would very much welcome readers input for this endgame column: any endings or endgame themes which you feel would benefit the rest of us or which you yourself would simply like to see covered and explained.
firstname.lastname@example.org is the address and who knows, perhaps your own endgame tales will be featured!
For the purposes of this magazine, ‘Expert Level’ chess will be considered as 2200 rating. If the majority of games in magazines played by 2600+ players are a struggle for myself (2200 and a bit) to follow, then I can only imagine what it is like for
average club players to constantly read, play through and try to learn from such games. It’s not hugely helpful to say the least. So, we will concentrate on the more basic ideas which will allow players to progress towards the next level.
In this game, my opponent Alan is at the lower end of Black Belt, a good club-player who needs to be consistent against Red-Belt players and find that extra something to trouble the Black Belts, particularly those at the higher end of that scale.
So, what can we take from this example of a ‘lower’ Black Belt against our ‘expert level’ to which he aspires?
Firstly, your openings MUST be more than just ‘playing moves’ particularly in difficult openings where you give up space.
You will see this in the Modern Defence or Kings Indian, for example. If black simply ‘develops’ without a clear strategic idea, he will often be crushed , and without any particular difficulty.
Even very good players (like my opponent Alan in this game) can have this happen to them!
Secondly, your knowledge of the openings doesn’t have to be ‘extremely detailed’ or ‘theoretically sound’ to reach 2000+ level, it just has to be good enough to ensure you are in the game from an early stage with a reasonable knowledge of the strategies involved.
A good ‘chess-player’ can quite happily make most positions playable if they have a sound enough basis.
Thirdly, and this happens frequently, always try to decipher your opponents plans and moves – IN PARTICULAR the ones where you think ‘Oh, he’s letting my knight to a good square/allowing me to take a pawn/etc.
More often than not at higher Black Belt level there is a very good reason your opponent is letting you do this. The first step to working out his reasons is to be aware that there are some!
Finally, look at how those players you aspire to be rated alongside play the game – copy the good bits and punish the bad bits!