Monthly Archives: May 2014



People ask whether chess is a sport, a science or an art. Karpov says that they are all of these, Marcel Duchamp claims that all chess players are artists but not all artists are artists and Magnus Carlsen puts chess firmly into the sports box. I strongly put it into the arts category and I do so because a great game has the ability to be viewed as an object of beauty. It is a manipulation of patterns that shifts the shape of a game; it can create awe, can show emotion and can speak of its time.

There are a number of games that fall into this bracket and they are often given the moniker ‘Immortal’. Here is a link to which has a page dedicated to them:

One of the games listed is between Rashid Nezhmetdinov, pictured above, and Oleg Chernikov and is described at the begining of this fine documentary. It is an extremely bold attack – a thing of beauty.



Correspondence files

I’m doing what I said I wouldn’t be doing and that is playing too many correspondence games.

I have fourteen postal games going and this looked set to be a bureaucratic nightmare if I didn’t sort out a system. Already I have misinterpreted a couple of postcards, played incorrect moves and only later discovered that I didn’t know where I was. Fortunately the moves I made weren’t blunders and at such an early point in the game they still work as openings, albeit not the openings I was trying for.

So I have set up a system. I have bought black and white A5 folders for each game corresponding to the colour I’m playing. On the spine of the folders I have a label with the event, my opponents name and the game number. Inside in the front section I have the correspondence, then a divider, a scoresheet, then a pad of paper for my analysis. I have cut up two cardboard chess logbooks (with the plastic pieces) and  glued one game page to the back of each folder that I can fold out next to the pad. This allows me to look at the position while I analyse – I’ll also have my chess set with me to move pieces around.


More fuel for the chess fire. I’m attaching some links to videos I’ve found on the net and that I enjoyed. They are:

How To Win at Chess by the BBC which explains how to play chess and gives snippets about chess.

Men Who Would Be Kings about street chess in Washington Square Park (I played a couple of games here in 1991 and enjoyed the sarcastic banter by my opponents as they thrashed me and took a couple of dollars off me).

and in a similar vein this one is about chess in Tomkins Park

and more New York chess

Chess Me Out is a short documentary that shows chess players talking about their relationship to the game.

Knights of the Bronx is a movie about kids finding glory through chess and I recommend it to parents who have kids interested in chess.

and one less suited to kids about a wino that learns chess in prison

Which is a true story that is also a documentary – here is the trailer.

I hope the links keep working – let me know if they don’t.


Phion Mutesi

In the electronic world I found an app called e+chess that is a chess e-reader. It allows you to read some chess books and to click on annotated moves in the text. As you do moves occur on a board next to the text. It seems like a good idea and I have enjoyed reading, and viewing, some of Capablancas book ‘Chess Fundamentals’ which comes free with the app (which is also free). Other books are available as in app purchases. But, in luddite spirit, I still want to read paper books and unfortunately I have done very little ‘full board nirvana’ work – see earlier post. This makes it impossible to read books that focus on technique.

This doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading because there are good chess books that don’t have games in them. The last one I read was a very moving book called ‘The Queen of Katwe’ by Tim Crothers. I found out about it while googling for chess stuff and there are some videos online about Phiona Mutesi, the queen of Katwe, that are good – here is a link to one

It’s a story of a girl from a Ugandan slum that follows her brother to a charity outreach place in the slum where, amongst other things, they teach chess. She goes there, and returns, because she gets a cup of porridge. She starts learning chess and enjoys the game and gets better and better at it to the point where she ends up competing internationally. What I find so uplifting is that chess, which is such an egalitarian game, can have the power to transport someone from hopeless poverty to a place of self value, dignity and ambition.

Another book I read was ‘Birth of the Chess Queen’ by Marylin Yalom. I’ve always wondered why the King is so passive and vunerable in chess while the Queen is so strong. Given the physical and historical differences between men and women you’d expect that the male figure would be the bold crusader while the queen might hide in the castle quaking. So this book was interesting. It talked about chess’ muslim beginings where the pieces are abstracted to avoid figurative and potentially idolotrative imagery and explained the growing scope of the chess queen from a piece that could only move one space in any direction to the dynamic piece we know know. It covered the history of europe as chess was developing and made links to powerful female historical figures at crucial times during chess’ expansion. It was a great read.

how does this make me improve at chess? Well I think it is fuel for my interest in chess and that’s got to help.

My ‘Round Three’ Game

So having lost the game in my last ‘life drawing’ post I thought it would be good to analyse it.

Life Drawing

Life drawing

Round 3 of my weekly competition and I lost a great game. Why life drawing? Well my first game of the competition was a messy affair full of mishaps, poor calculation culminating in two blunders. My second was a book opening followed by a quick demolition by a much stronger player. But last nights game was an interesting, see-sawing game that kept me on edge and kept me thinking. When I thought about the game later I didn’t think about the moves so much as the intense feeling of concentration; the kind where you can forget to breathe. I realised that I never concentrate to that extent normally and that probably very few of us would as a matter of course. I thought what a rare, and good, thing it was. On reflexion I realised that one of the few other times I remember this level of quiet, meditative concentration is when I do life drawing. With life drawing there is a kind of solemness. Drawers arrive and the atmosphere is generally cordial, hushed and workmanlike. When the drawing starts the room becomes silent other than the scraping of charcoal on paper and for the length of the pose every one is focused on transmitting the lines they see. Physically you find yourself holding on to your breath as you look for shapes and there is a pure flow from brain to hand. It is a meditative process.

Tragically I couldn’t keep up this level of concentration in my game. My moves became faster when I felt I was winning and I became so distracted that I couldn’t write down my moves properly. In one horrendous lapse of concentration I threw away a piece and lost.

I have not done life drawing for a couple of years but I will go back because I realise how much I like this meditative concentration and hopefully by doing more of it I’ll be able to increase my ability to maintain this state of thought longer.

Getting thrashed


Round two of the weekly competition saw me getting thrashed by a player rated over 2100. I didn’t know how to start my game as black. Should I play something I know well or should I steer clear of theory and battle it out from an unorthodox opening? Well my problem was twofold. The opening defence I know best is the Sicilian. When I first considered openings I chose to learn the Ruy Lopez as white and the Sicilian as black. I did this because they are the most well known, popular and highly regarded openings. They are also complex and it is likely that a great player will have studied them. My alternative was to shoot from the hip but again a player with such a high rating was not going to be bad at tactics, calculation, and all the other technical aspects of the game. In the end I played the Sicilian. After 18 moves I resigned; a crumpled heap of intellect. My opponent very kindly went through the game with me. The moves to my move 10 were book moves and went:

what I should have played was 10. b5 then if 11. e5 I have the nasty Bb7 pining the queen to the rook but I had run out of book moves I knew (although I knew that b5 is often played as a counter-attacking pawn storm) and I couldn’t find the tactic leading to the pin. But we talked about this and looked at other moves later. We discussed the Sicilian; that it is complex and that perhaps the French opening (my second most common defence) leads to a less tricksy middle game. My opponent also said that I should be looking at castling long when g4 comes along and that the d5 square is very important in the Sicilian. So losing isn’t so bad. I’m sure that this one Sicilian game has taught me more about the Sicilian than hundreds of blitz Sicilians and hours of video lectures. Post Script: I found that my opponent also blogs about chess and he has written a great post called ‘The amazing Sicilian Najdorf’ on May 21st here:



Yesterday I went to my first competition with a time control of more than 15 minutes. The competition had a time control of 1hr and started at 7pm with one game per Friday for seven Fridays in a Swiss format. I arrived at 6pm because there was a junior club then that I brought my son to. While I was waiting I ended up playing some casual games with another adult. We played three very sharp, close and interesting games in the hour before the competition.  I won all these games and I think my opponent settled into thinking I was quite a bit better. When the pairings were announced we discovered we were playing each other again. The tournament director told us to start our clocks and we were off. I think because of my wins earlier I took the wrong approach to my game. I played quickly and fairly aggressively and recklessly. At an early point in the game, maybe move 5 or 6, I sacrificed my knight to get a pawn and to bring his king out (preventing later castling). My sacrifice was ill conceived and he managed to stay ahead in the game and pushed his lead further by wining an exchange. I was in bad shape and consequently I started worrying about the game more and concentrating better. The game was into its 50th plus move and I think my opponent was getting exhausted, I think we both were but he was the one to start blundering. The position levelled again; we both promoted pawns and I had a queen, a pawn and my king to his queen and king. I also had the initiative and could keep checking him which I did for many moves. We were both mentally exhausted and I moved my queen onto a square where he could take me with his queen and win the game – an absolute blunder. Instead he moved his king, I realised what I had done and I took his queen. A hugely disappointing finish to a bad game full of inaccuracies that only took me 20 minutes to play.

Thinking about it today made me understand that I need to work on my focus in addition to my knowledge. When I go back next week I will be much more careful about my frame of mind and I will try to bring my more methodical correspondence chess approach to an over the board setting. I need to get rid of any preconceptions about my opponent and treat the moves as I would a postcard move. I will report back then and hopefully I will have worked out better how I can focus.

Style 2: US Chess League Definition



Here is a definition of chess style from the US chess league (I’m still looking for a way of determing my own style without relying on the games I’ve played in the past):

Please understand that these classifications are the subjective viewpoints of the United States Chess League. Many players that are classified could reasonably be listed under 3-4 of these headings. We tried to choose that category which fit each player the most. 


A technical player will usually play the same openings repeatedly and know them extremely well. Usually these systems are positionally based and they know the strategical ideas extremely well. They may become uncomfortable when confronted with a new and unfamiliar position, however they usually do everything they can to aim for the positions they understand. Sometimes they make even make concessions to avoid being attacked or giving up counterplay, even if this may not be the objectively correct decision. Despite this, they are hard to play against, because you feel like you are always playing into their strongpoints. Almost all technical player’s seem to have an incredible overall chess understanding. It’s a very practical style of play that’s used by some of the most active and successful players in the nation, and it’s almost impossible to be a “techincal” player, without being very strong, as it requires too much chess understanding for lower rated players to use successfully.

Examples – GM Igor Novikov, GM Alex Wojtkiewicz, IM John Donaldson


Positional Players are a bit different than technical players. Postional players are more versatile in their opening choices and simply rely on their general chess understanding to find the right solution in all positions. The difference between a “positional” player and a “technical” player is almost psychological, as the positional player’s simply don’t go out of their way to avoid unfamiliar positions, or positions in which they are being attacked. Despite all this, positional players may be easier to face if you have a tactical nature, as it’s usually a bit easier to steer the game towards your style.

Examples – GM Yasser Seirawan, GM Joel Benjamin, GM Julio Becerra


Attacking players feel comfortable with the initiative. They want to be always attacking the opponent, and depending on whether they are, their strength may vary by quite a bit. Some attackers don’t even have to be great calculators, but instead just have a natural understanding of how to conduct an attack.
Attackers may have some difficulty against technical players, who often don’t even give the attackers a chance to get started, and thus steer them into positions they aren’t comfortable in. However if the attacking player ever manages to mix it up against the more technical types, the attacker stands a great chance of landing a knockout. Their games can be very entertaining as you know there is always a good chance for some fireworks.

Examples – GM Larry Christiansen, WIM Jenn Shahade, FM Dmitry Zilberstein


Calculating players generally work very hard at the board. Even though their general chess intuition may not be the greatest, they make up for it by pure and raw calculation power. You can almost feel their brains going overtime as you sit across from them. They try to always see one move further then their opponent, and are ready to pounce if you make just the slightest miscalculation. These players may often work so hard throughout the game that they end up in serious time trouble. Some of the toughest players to play against are technical players who are also strong calculators.

Examples – GM Alex Ivanov, GM Gregory Kaidanov, GM Walter Browne


There is something about the way a tricky player plays that’s very disconcerting. Repeatedly they will play moves that you didn’t even consider and that just flat out look weird, to the extent that it may become very confusing for you. They never give up, and are constantly looking for ways to trap and attack you. These types of players are usually very entertaining because of their resourceful and imaginative style. They can be differentiated from calculating and attacking players mainly by the unorthodox nature of their play.

Examples – GM Alex Shabalov, Julian Hodgson, GM Pavel Blatny, IM Yuri Lapshun


Dynamic players are usually pretty well rounded, but lean more towards the aggressive/tactical side. They often play enterprising openings and try to simply outplay you. They aren’t scared to mix things up and are usually fighting constantly. Dynamic players are well rounded enough to not feel too uncomfortable if the position should be strategical or dry. Sometimes they may play the same openings game after game, however they are different than technical players because their opening choices are a lot more double-edged.

Examples – GM Hikaru Nakamura, GM Nick DeFirmian, FM David Pruess


These players have a little bit of edge to their game. They understand that chess is a game, and the object is to do everything possible to win and not always to find the absolute best move. They often will play very quickly to put clock related pressure on you, and will often understand and avoid your strength’s. They usually will play openings they are very familiar with. Technical players are often very practical as well, however they are usually a lot more limited in their opening choices, whereas practical players can play a more types of postions comfortably.
Despite being comfortable in more types of openings, these players often have serious holes in their theoretical knowledge. They just hope to get a reasonable position out of the opening without spending too much time, and then to simply outplay you.

Examples – GM Leonid Yudasin, IM Jay Bonin


These are a weird group of players. You get the sense that they simply understand where the pieces belong, whether the game is positional or tactical in nature. They may not be the best pure calculators, but they make up for it by moving quickly and confidently and being able to easily found solutions where others may have to spend a lot more time. Their reliance on their intuition may sometimes be a weakness as they trust their instincts too much when the position demands harder work.

Examples – GM John Fedorowicz


Logical player’s seem to try very hard to try to understand the position they are playing from a logical perspective. They are pretty solid at all phases of the game but usually not spectacular at any. They are good at adapting to unfamiliar position’s and approaching them with a fresh mind as they have no preconceptions of what type’s of positions they would like to play, and instead try to find the objective best move. These players won’t often try anything too unorthodox, however they also won’t shy away from complications if they are necessary.

Examples – GM Jonathan Rowson, IM Vinay Bhat


Often young players have not yet developed a sense of style. It’s very rare that you will find a positional young player, however they often develop into positional players when they mature. For this reason, some young players will go unclassified until their style develops more.


chess style

I have been writing in the Analysis section of this blog describing a forced sequence of moves that changed the style of play for each player more than it improved the position of either player. The position changed whites likely strengthening of the centre, which might be described as ‘closed’ and positional, to a more usual position where both sides become castled on the same side; a semi open position that is more tactical. It was a subtle change and I could be wrong about it but it did get me thinking about playing styles.

The way a person plays, their style, seems to me a combination of temperament, inspiration and natural strengths: spacial awareness, calculation, visualization, pattern recognition. If this is the case then it would change over time.

Natural strengths can be tested to some degree and improved. For example visualisation skills can be tested by how well someone can play blindfold chess – it can also be improved by those excercises I mentioned earlier in ‘Full Board Nirvana’. Calculation, a topic I haven’t covered much yet, can be tested and improved by finding long forced sequences. So natural strengths can be improved and playing style may shift accordingly.

Temperament is something that makes up a person and to change this you need to change your environment, grow or see a psychiatrist. I have noticed that kids love to play very sharply and I suspect this is because this will lead to the greatest opportunity for success or failure, both good for growth. In adults I think aggressive players have a bipolar and romantic quality; they prefer short games with tactical heroics including bold sacrifices in the hope that they get a beautiful game. Positional players on the other hand seem to enjoy slow manoeuvring chess that leads to inevitable, punishing wins. Both types of players are, in my view, likely to exhibit these tendencies in other aspects of their lives. In nature one might be described as a lightning bolt while the other might be a glacier – both equal in my eyes.

Inspiration comes from what you think is cool. In the romantic era of chess of the 19th century anyone who was naturally safe (positional) would be at a disadvantage because it was de riguer to be bold, to accept gambits and sacrifice for glory – this was what was cool. Nowadays that has shifted, Magnus Carlsen is widely seen as a methodical, positional, long gaming player and his style pays dividends and is considered cool. Hikaru Nakamura, who does seem to enjoy the different, is also cool – he plays unusual openings, tries obscure lines, and actively seeks the glorious. So now inspiration comes in more forms.

Where does that leave me? Well I’m not sure. I will try to strengthen all aspects of my technical chess but that doesn’t point in any direction. My temperament is fairly steady but I do like a bit of glory – I also like to play cat and mouse in a slow game. This ties in with what I am inspired by. I admired Magnus Carlsens game with Vishy Anand in the 2013 world cup which was a beautiful, steady, calm bit of persistance. But I also love those flashes of glory such as the ‘immortal game’  and I like what I have read about Mikhail Tal

I think the solution, at this stage, is to keep working on technical aspects of my chess and varying the openings and middlegame choices I make and seeing what comes naturally. I will also float the question “How do I recognise what kind of player I am”