23 November 2013

FT: Young Norwegian takes world chess title

Magnus Carlsen's victory in the 2013 World Championship has deservedly received a great deal of press attention, including a front-page article in the Financial Times (FT).  The world's most influential grandmaster had this to say:
Kenneth Rogoff, a professor at Harvard, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund and a chess grandmaster in his own right, told the FT: “Magnus was magnificent, showing enormous talent and a will to win, the likes of which can compare with the greatest in any sport.”
He added: “Carlsen has emerged as the most important public personality the chess world has known since the great American champion Bobby Fischer, he will draw many new devotees to the game.”
The "Lunch with the FT" article featuring Carlsen was also well worth the read, for those who have not seen it.

21 November 2013

Training quote of the day #6

...Two monks were walking side by side down a muddy road when they came upon a large puddle which completely blocked the road.  A very beautiful lady in a lovely gown stood at the edge of the puddle, unable to go further without spoiling her clothes.
Without hesitation, one of the monks picked her up and carried her across the puddle, set her down on the other side, and continued on his way.  Many hours later when the two monks were preparing to camp for the night, the second monk turned to the first and said, "I can no longer hold this back, I'm quite angry at you! We are not supposed to look at women, particularly pretty ones, never mind touch them.  Why did you do that?"  The first monk replied, "Brother, I left the woman at the mud puddle; why are you still carrying her?"
From Taijiquan: Classical Yang Style by Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming

14 November 2013

Commentary - 2013 Russian Championship (Women's Final Round)

The final round of the 2013 Russian championship featured another Caro-Kann Advance similar to the round 4 game between Kosintseva and Kosteniuk previously analyzed.  White (Alina Kashlinskaya) plays a less challenging variation and Black (Daria Charochkina) eventually decides to liven up the game by creating a pawn structure imbalance on move 20, which features a passed c-pawn.  Black's 22nd move allows White to grab the initiative and make threats on the kingside, which eventually nets White a pawn.  Black from that point defends well, however, and shows how to use an active rook in the endgame, enabling her to hold the draw.

13 November 2013

Commentary - 2013 Russian Championship (Women's Round 4)

As I mentioned a while ago, I am continuing to work on commentary for several international games that caught my eye over the past month.  This next game, from round 4 of the women's section of the Russian championship played in October, features the sacrificial 3...c5 line of the Caro-Kann.  Alexandra Kosteniuk employs it well and the game is complex both tactically and positionally; the original ChessBase report mentioned that it was a "very strange game", which is difficult to deny, which of course also makes it very interesting.  Among other things, multiple pawn sacrifices are offered, refused and finally accepted.  Tatiana Kosintseva missed (or deliberately passed up, hard to say) more than one chance to force a draw and seemed to be pressing at the end as well, but overextended herself and allowed Black to win the ending.

12 November 2013

Annotated Game #108: Opening preparation?

This is the final game from the last Swiss tournament in the Slow Chess League.  One of the interesting features about playing in a Chess.com league is that all of your opponents' games on the site are accessible and downloadable.  This naturally can work both for you and against you.

It seemed to me at the time that my opponent must have looked at the previous round's game (Annotated Game #107) as part of his preparation.  The idea of playing the ...e4 advance as in the previous game could perhaps be improved by preventing the response Ng5 (which wins a pawn by force).  This appeared to be the idea behind Black's 4...h6 in this game, which otherwise has little point.  The opening takes a very different path from the previous game, but unfortunately I make some similar kinds of errors, including following a dubious and uncertain plan, which allows Black to take over the initiative and create too many threats for me to find my way through.

In general, I felt that my last two opponents were better focused during the games and wanted to win more than I did, so by that measure they certainly deserve their results.  I hope to do better on that score in my next games.

11 November 2013

Commentary - World Championship 2013, round 2

Although some have criticized the recently-started World Championship for its drawishness, we are still in the feeling-out period between the two contenders.  I found the second round game to be well worth studying, as it shows off the Classical Caro-Kann, and the unusual sideline selected by Carlsen, to good effect.  Anand's aggressive setup, including 11. f4, is handled well by the challenger, who never lets White get moving on the kingside and instead initiates some key exchanges in the center.  Black's opening is designed to neutralize White's initiative and then counterattack if White becomes too lazy or loose.  The opening selection worked well for Carlsen, who threatened a minority attack on the queenside and pressured Anand into repeating moves on the kingside to secure the draw.

09 November 2013

Annotated Game #107: Don't be afraid of the center

This game is from round four of the last Swiss tournament run by the Slow Chess League.  Some all-too-familiar lessons can be seen from analyzing this loss:
  • Don't be afraid of the center!  White could have established a fine center with d4-e3 early on, consolidating his pawn advantage and giving Black little scope for counterplay in the center.  White also shied away from "posting up" in the center with e4 later on.
  • Following general principles without concrete analysis can lead to trouble; in this case, I did not properly evaluate some of the exchanges that I initiated, although Black also made some similar missteps with exchanges.
  • Planlessness and negative trends.  I drifted planless starting around move 17, when a simple plan would have done fine.  This contributed to the establishment of a negative psychological trend for me and letting my opponent take over the initiative.  He was able to make a series of threats without having to worry about my counterplay, which in the end gave him the game.

03 November 2013

Relish the challenge, don't fear it

The following excerpt from an interview with Ashley Merriman at Chess Life Online reinforces some of the mental tournament preparation techniques that I've identified and worked to adopt.  The idea that you should strive to win, while not fearing a loss, is probably the most fundamental concept.  Letting go of the emotional and off-the-board distractions can sometimes be hard, but I do think it's a sure way of increasing one's chess performance.
You need to ask yourself if the idea of a competition is a stressful experience or an exciting experience. Psychology and physiology are connected. Under a stress or threat condition, you might think “Everyone is waiting for me to fail. I am not prepared.” There are physiological changes that occur. Your veins contract and your blood pressure rises. You burn out the glucose that is circulating. You might feel tightness in your lungs. In contrast, when you are in a challenge state, your veins dilate. You burn glucose stored in fat cells, which means you have longer sustained energy. In a challenge state, two extra liters per blood can pump per minute. In chess, that means that more oxygenated blood to your brain.
As much as you are practicing it will be different in competition. If you are stressed about tournaments, you might want to play MORE tournaments to get used to tournaments. That’s called the stress inoculation model. You will build stress immunity by playing in competitions. If you are excited about competitions, make sure that your testosterone peaks at the right time. You want to be revved up and challenged and excited but not too early – it's about timing. 
Ask yourself, “Is a particular match a threat or a challenge?” Be mindful of your state of mind entering the game and during the game. Even when you are winning, the fear of screwing up may make you more fixated on an error when you need to move on to the next move or the next game.