24 Sep 2016

Best game from the Baku Chess Olympiad

After a dramatic last round, the United States of America won their first Olympic gold medal since 1976. The Ukrainian team played a fantastic tournament and managed to beat Slovenia in the last round, but this was only good enough for the silver. Both teams scored 20 points but the USΑ had the better tie-break criteria. The Russian team managed to win bronze only, despite the fact that they were the favourites for gold.

The 42nd Chess Olympiad started in Baku on 2 September and has been the biggest sporting event ever held in Azerbaijan. This competition brought together 181 teams in the Open section and 142 teams in the Women’s section, representing a total of 175 countries. This is a record figure in the history of all Olympiads.
Greek chess team Olympiad
Picture by Antreas Kontokanis

The semi-professional Greek team had a great Olympiad and, alongside the winners – the USA, remained the only other undefeated team in the tournament, The Greeks’ “secret” strategy was to draw with White and push hard with Black. Of course, this is half joking and half true. :)
Women winners Baku Chess Olympiad
(photo from the official tournament site)

Suggestion: with the World Championship between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin coming up, you may like to see their past games and take a look at some interesting trivia here.

In the Women’s section, China won the gold medal with 20 points. First place was decided in the last round, where China faced Russia. The Chinese team won that match and the Olympiad. The Polish ladies won silver on a tie-break over the Ukraine. Both teams scored 17 points but Poland finished second and the Ukraine third.
First board individual winners Baku Chess Olympiad
(photo from the official site of the tournament)

In this picture, we can see GM Baadur Jobava from Georgia, who achieved a performance of 2926. He stands in the middle andwon gold in the first board. On the left is GM Leinier Dominguez from Cuba, who won the silver (performance of 2839), and on the right is GM Fabiano Caruana, representing USA, who won the bronze metal (performance of 2838).

These three played in the first board but GM Andrei Volokitin, from Ukraine, achieved the best overall performance in the Olympiad with an outstanding 2992 (!) in the fifth board.
Baku Chess Olympiad
The best game of the Olympiad took place in the 8th round between Jobava and Ponomariov. White happily sacrifices his knight on the f5 square in order to capture the bishop on e7. Black accepts the temporary sacrifice because, after the moves15.Nf5 exf5 16.Rxe7 Be6, we reach the position seen below.
Baku Chess Olympiad
White to play

It seems that the rook is trapped on e7 and Black can threaten it in different ways, like Kf8, Qd8 or Nc6. So Black can be happy with this position.

What do you think? Is the rook on e7 trapped or does White have a specific tactical resource here? Can you work out the next move for White?

After calculating all possible variations, you may check the whole game here.

Thus, the 42nd Chess Olympiad is complete. You may like to know about future Olympiads. Well, the 2018 Chess Olympiad will be held in Batumi, Georgia, and the 2020 Chess Olympiad will be held in the Russian city of Khanty-Mansiysk.

P.S. What was your favourite part of the Baku Chess Olympiad? Who is your favourite player or team? :) Feel free to comment and discuss below.


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21 Sep 2016

Upgrade your “Thinking System”!

Today we have some really great news – one of our top-selling (and cheapest) products “My Thinking System”, a premium video, has now been upgraded:) 
new and improvedWhat’s new?

Previously, this premium video only had a video element. Now we have made the following updates to it:


  • An e-book – a text version of the complete video lesson
  • Practical part – games and positions that will help you to DIGEST the ideas well.



And guess what! The price of this product remains the same – just $17 USD! :)

If you have already studied this premium video and would like to get the new version, please contact our Support Team and get the updated version completely FREE!

If you have not studied this premium video yet, I know what you might be thinking …

Why should I study/buy this premium video?
whyWell, I have a list of answers to your question. :)


  • I recommend to my students to start with this premium video from among our paid products, as it contains high-quality information about the chess thinking process at a cheaper price. You can find more information about this topic here.
  • If you cannot afford to buy our paid courses, then “My Thinking System” will suit you best. You will spend only $17 but get a high-quality video lesson.
  • In this video, you will learn the need to have a well-developed system of thinking. It will be UNIVERSAL and help you detect the best move in any kind of position.
  • This video lesson has received a 5/5 rating from our students (as you can see in the product page).
  • Moreover, a former world number 5 player, GM Jaan Ehlvest, has written a detailed review of this product (and also my teaching methods, in general). You can find it here.



I’ve said it all and you have to make the final decision now. I’m sure you will find this premium video very instructive and useful. :)
Thinking System in Chess

P.S. If you have already studied this video lesson, please write your feedback and thoughts about it in the comments below, guys! It will really help others and I’ll appreciate it. :)

Decision making in critical positions – part 2

By
IM Sagar Shah and myself (GM Igor Smirnov)

In the first part of this article, we discussed what we should do in a critical position and how to stop your opponent’s idea. If you missed it, I strongly recommend you to read it here, and only then continue with this second part, so that you won’t break the continuity but will DIGEST this lesson fully. :)

In the second part, we’ll address a much more important question:

But what if your opponent’s idea cannot be stopped?
what ifProphylactic thinking is a key tool in critical positions. But one need not always prevent the opponent from executing his plan. Sometimes you can create a threat that is stronger than the opponent’s idea.

To make this point clearly, let us see a most interesting position from the 2013 World Championship match between Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen.

Anand – Carlsen WC Match 2013
anand vs carlsenWhat should Black do?

Now you know that whenever you see a position, the first question that should come into your mind is this: What is my opponent’s idea?

We answer this by “giving the move to our opponent”. If it were White’s turn, he would simply play 27.Rf4! b2 28.Rh4 b1=Q 29.Nf1 and no power in this world could prevent mate on h7.

Carlsen realizes that his opponent’s threat is strong but, at the same time, that he can’t do anything to prevent it. Hence, rather than making futile attempts to prevent his opponent’s idea, he goes ahead with his own idea of queening the pawn via 26…b2!

Now Anand lets Carlsen queen his pawn and goes for the attack with 27.Rf4!? b1=Q 28. Nf1?? This blunder effectively seals the fate of the World Championship match after 28…Qe1!, preventing Rh4. Anand promptly resigns.

Suggestion: you may like to watch the video lesson “What can we learn from the Anand – Carlsen World Championship Match?” here.
anand vs carlsen28…Qe1 – preventing Rh4 – ended the game

Let us not get into too many intricacies but merely note that instead of the blunder 28.Nf1, 28.Bf1 would have been a better try. But it would have not been enough for a win, as Black can successfully defend his position.

What we learn from this position is that sometimes preventing the opponent’s idea is either not possible or not good enough. Therefore, you need to create a threat that is stronger than your opponent’s threat. In this way, you can successfully refute his idea.

Magnus Carlsen is definitely a master when it comes to creating counter-threats, and all world-class players know a fine balance exists between preventing the opponent’s ideas and ignoring them. But now let us look at a game of mine right out of the opening, where I was able to create stronger threats than my opponent’s idea.

Sagar – Deepthamsh, National B, Tirupati 2012
sagar shah chessWhat should White play?

My opponent is a 2100 player. He played the Old Indian Defense, which is a little passive yet a very solid opening. His last move in the position was Nd7-b8. What would you do?

Instinctively, I am sure you have already asked yourself the question as to what my opponent’s threat is. If it were Black to move, he would have definitely played Na6! with the idea of parking his knight on the wonderful location of b4. There is no really good way to prevent this plan. Hence, White must come up with something that is stronger and will put Black in trouble.

If you look carefully, there is one more factor that is highly in White’s favor, and it is that he is far ahead in development. A very common rule in chess is that when ahead in development, you must open the position. Such rules come in very handy when you are trying to formulate a plan.

Keeping all this in mind, the best move for White here is 14.c5! This moves blasts open the position and makes Black’s plan of Na6-b4 quite slow. After 14…ed4 (14…dc5 is met with 15.de5!) 15.cxd6 Bxd6 16.Nxd4 – and White is clearly ahead.
sagar shah chessBlack to play

Well-developed pieces and a mobile central majority give White a clear advantage. Black now continues 16…Na6 17.f4 Nb4 18. Qf2
sagar shah chessBlack to play

Black has been able to plonk his knight on to the weakened b4 square but, as you can see, that hardly matters now. The center is fluid and the b4 square has very little or no relevance to this position. White cannot prevent Black’s idea but can make it less powerful with the central break of 14.c5!

Let us conclude this article at this point and offer some important reminders about what we have learnt, so that you can start using these techniques right away in your very next game.
tips
CONCLUSIONS

  • Critical positions occur approximately 4-5 times in a game, but the most important is the first critical position that arises because it gives direction to the game.
  • How do we identify a critical position? Ask yourself: “What is my opponent’s plan/idea?” Think carefully about his idea. The best way to understand it is to “give the move to your opponent” in your mind. In this way, you can find what his idea is.
  • Once you find the opponent’s idea, two things can happen.

critical chess positions

  • The real skill in identifying critical positions is to be alert to the opponent’s possibilities at all times. If you cannot identify your opponent’s ideas, you will be missing the critical positions all the time and end up in a bad situation.
  • Whether to be prophylactic and stop your opponent’s plan or to make your own counter-threat is another skill that isextremely hard to master. You need a lot of practice to perfect this art. But you have to make a start on it.


And the right way to do so is always to ask the extremely important question: “What would my opponent do if it were his move?” It can be boring to ask yourself this after every move, but if you keep doing so, soon it will become very natural and you will make prophylactic moves without much thought.

Identifying critical positions is something you must do in every game; and if you do master this art, then you are well on your way to becoming a strong chess player! The day won’t be too far away when, like my Grandmaster friend in the first paragraph, you too will be able to identify critical positions based on your intuition and feel for the game. But till then, you will have to follow the guidelines given in this article! I wish you the very best for your future games! :)
practiceFinally, I’d like to make one additional note that will help you to improve. After your game is over, you must try to analyze it without using an engine. When you do that, try to note which positions you thought were critical during the game, make a few observations about each one and also how much time you spent on that position. This will surely help you to improve your sense of identifying critical positions.

All the games discussed above are in PGN format and can be downloaded from here.

P.S. What do you think of this article? Did you like it – please write your thoughts in the comments below. If you really liked it, please share it with your friends! :)

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16 Sep 2016

Decision making in critical positions

HOW TO IDENTIFY CRITICAL POSITIONS IN CHESS AND MAKE THE RIGHT DECISIONS


by
IM Sagar Shah and myself (GM Igor Smirnov)
critical thinkingLet me start off with a conversation I had with an experienced Grandmaster friend of mine a few days ago.

Me: According to you, what is a critical position?

GM friend: It is a position where you need to spend a good amount of time in order to make an important decision during a game.

Me: Ok. You’ve told me what to do during a critical position, but what about how to recognize whether or not it is a critical position?

GM friend: (after a long time thinking) I think a player can understand whether or not it is a critical position, based on his feel and understanding of the game.

Me: But then, how do you explain whether or not it is a critical position to players who do not have a highly developed understanding of the game like you?

GM friend: (again, after a long period of thought!) I don’t really know!! :)

The above conversation sparks off a few very interesting points about critical positions, the first being that a critical position is one where you must put in a lot of thought and make an important decision; second, great players, thanks to their endless hours of chess practice, have developed a feel for what a critical position is.

But for mere mortals who are taking their initial steps in the game of chess, it is important to understand what exactly a critical position is.

Why is a critical position so important?

whyThe point is that if you do not understand that a given position is critical and do not spend time on it, you will miss the opportunity either to gain an advantage or to equalize the game (if you are in a worse position). Hence, it becomes extremely important to understand what a critical position is and how to identify one.

Of course, you could work for hours and hours on chess, see top level games of GMs, analyze them, play in strong tournaments, analyze your own games, solve combinations, work on positional chess, etc., and you too would have a keen sense of knowing what a critical position is.

While there is no substitute for all of the above activities, by reading this article you can get an initial idea as to how to identify a critical position.

But, first of all, let me start off with an example from the 1979 USSR championship game between Gutman and Vitolinsh.

Gutman-Vitolinsh 1979 USSR
critical chessIt’s Black to play. How should Black defend?

{The answer to the above position can be found in something like this. Suppose I play Qe7, White will give Qh6+ and I cannot interpose Qh7 because my f8-rook hangs. Next, his rook comes to g1 and it’s all over. Hence, I must somehow bring the White king to d3, where the interposing Qh7 will be a check. Hence, the right move is Bd3!! And after Kxd3 Qe7 Qh6+ Qh7+! is a counter-check. Black wins.}

No matter how difficult the answer to this position is, and even if it takes you a while to find it, I am sure each one of you understands that Black is in trouble. We can safely conclude that White has very dangerous threats here and that Black has to have a long think – hence, this is a critical position.

Even a beginner can understand this. We shall not be dealing with such positions in this article because the threat is quite obvious and any person will devote a lot of time to finding a solution to it rather than getting mated.

Suggestion: you may like to study our article “How to evaluate a position in chess?”.

Instead, we will be dealing with positions where the opponent’s threat is not so easy to understand.

Let’s kick off with an easy position.

Kasparov – Dubiel, Katowice 1993
critical chessWhat should White play?

First of all, let us understand why this position is so critical? Most of the time, in order to understand the importance of your move, you must give your opponent’s move some consideration. Think here as if it’s Black to play. What would he do?

Of course, if it were Black to play, his choice would be very easy. He would simply play 13…c5! and activate his b7-bishop. Once you are aware of what your opponent wants, you become aware of why the position is so critical.

If you don’t think this way and just play a natural developing move, like 13.Bf4, Black will react with 13…c5! and the position becomes equal. The problem here is that you are not paying enough attention to your opponent’s idea.

If you do ask yourself the question about what the opponent wants to do, you will immediately come up with the move 13.c5! for White, clamping down on the b7-bishop forever. It’s a very typical positional idea to keep your opponent’s bishop passive. Therefore, an awareness of what the opponent wants to do can make your decision very easy.
connect the dots steve jobsKasparov might have found this move within five seconds because such patterns are firmly engraved in his mind. But for us, we must constantly train our mind to be prophylactic.

Prophylactic?! What exactly does this mean? Prophylaxis is the art of understanding what your opponent wants to do and then preventing it.

Very strong players, like Kasparov, Karpov, Anand, and Carlsen, are very quick to spot the opponent’s ideas and prevent them. The first step in recognizing critical positions is quickly to understand what the opponent wants to do.

Here is a little more complicated example from a game of mine.

Sagar – Vinay, Bhopal 2013
critical chessWhat should White play?

As we already know, the first thing we must do when we get a position in front of us is “give the move to the opponent”. In this way, we will know what he is intending to play. So what would Black play if it were his move? He would go for 13…c6-c5 and then bring his knight back into the game with 14…Na5-c6. Once that is achieved, White will have no advantage. Hence, once you realize what Black’s plan is, you must try your best to prevent it.

I played the move 13.c5!, hitting the Black center, and after 13…e5 14.Bg5 Black’s central position is falling apart. He has to take 14…Bxf3 15.Bxf3 d5. It seems as if Black has an extremely strong center but you need to look a little further …
critical chessBlack’s center is strong and he threatens the move e5-e4. What should White do?

16.e4! is a powerful move; and after 16…d4 17.Na4, with the idea of Be2-c4 later, White has a dominant position with the two bishops, as well as a target to attack on a6, to say nothing of Black’s peripheral knight on a5.

Suggestion: you may also like to read our article “How to approach a position from a different angle?”.

The way to think in such positions is as follows:


  • What is my opponent’s idea?
  • Is it dangerous?
  • If yes, how can I prevent it?



Once you know that you must prevent your opponent’s idea, you must give it your all. This is the key. You cannot stop half-way through the above position, thinking that Black has a strong center. You have to look a bit further and find the move16.e4!, then assess the position.

This is how you must approach critical positionsStrong willpower is the key to preventing the opponent’s ideas and making your own ideas work.

All the games discussed above are in PGN format and can be downloaded from here.

P.S. Now that you know what a critical position is, have you ever played some game(s) which involved a critical position and grasped its importance? If so, how did you react to it? Feel free to share your game(s) with us – I’ll be glad to see them. :)

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14 Sep 2016

30% discount on RCA comprehensive courses – reminder

To make progress in chess, and to do so consistently, you need to have a strong understanding and a comprehensive knowledge of the chess game. Improper and incorrect training will only give you inconsistent results.

We’ve developed a variety of chess courses for you on this topic – for instance, our hot and top-selling courses like “GM’s Positional Understanding”, “Self-taught Grandmaster”, “GM’s Secrets”, and “How to beat Titled Players” fall into this category.

All of these courses have got 5/5 ratings from our students who have already studied them (as you can see in the image below) – therefore, there is no doubt about the quality of these courses.
5 star ratingBy the way, I’ve mentioned only some of RCA’s comprehensive courses above – there are a total of nine comprehensive courses in all!

And the important part is that we can provide you with them for a massive 30% discount, to celebrate the end of the “RCA Crossword Contest”! :) You will save as much as a HUGE $175 USD (the total discount you get on all comprehensive courses)!

Simply use the coupon “comprehensive” when making your purchase. If you don’t know how to use a discount code, please see here. This is a limited-period offer and will be valid only till Wednesday, 14 September. I hope you won’t let this great opportunity pass you by! :)
30% discount
Finally, I’d like to keep your energy levels high – so let’s take a look at a very interesting position from a game played by the World Champion, Magnus Carlsen.

Magnus Carlsen – Anish Giri
carlsen vs giriWhite to play

We can see that all Black’s pieces are misplaced. Observe how Black’s queen and knight are restricted. But White’s rook is under attack now. How would you play here as White?

Hint: we analyzed this game only a few weeks ago and published an article about it. :)

After calculating all possible variations, you can find the whole game here.

P.S. Don’t miss out on grabbing our comprehensive courses with this huge 30% discount, guys! By gaining this knowledge, you will be able to find the best moves easily, like in the above example. Simply use the coupon “comprehensive” when making your purchase.