I'm a FIDE Master, the 2009 Indiana State Co-Champion, do video presentations for ChessBase, ChessVideos.tv, chesslecture.com and chesscube.com. I also give individual lessons both in person (for those in the Michiana area [if you don't know what that is, you're not there]) and on the internet.
This began back in January of 2005, and here we are in July of 2019, 14 and a half years later. Many of my students weren't even alive when I started this blog. I have no idea as to how many posts I've written, but I've uploaded about 7500 games, and annotated around 5700 of them. That's a lot of time and effort.
The blog began as a way of sharing what was new in the chess world, presenting the sort of information I hoped to find when browsing the chess web, but rarely did. This meant chess news and annotated games, but a good deal more - there was more of an informal feel in those early years, and as a younger guy I had more energy and fewer responsibilities to handle. It was also new and exciting, and I threw myself into it, often posting 5-7 times a day.
I still feel satisfied when posting a well-crafted entry, but the increasingly rapid treadmill of elite events is harder to keep up with, and - unlike the situation when I first started - there are plenty of others who are doing a fine job of it. There are also other things happening in my life to which I'd like to give more attention, without having a little voice in the back of my head asking when I'm going to catch up on my coverage of this or that event.
So, dear readers, this is it...kind of. I'm considering selling the database of all the games (with the annotations), if there's any interest, and I'm also thinking of selling a bunch of my chess books. (Not all of them, but a pretty fair number of them.) You guys will get dibs on them. And I'll throw in another pitch for chess lessons - catch me here while you can (send me a note via the Contact link if you're interested). So there will still be a little bit of this and that as we close up shop, but this is just about the end. (Never say never, so who knows, but that's the plan.)
To head off any conjectures or concerns: my health is fine (as far as I know), nor is this precipitated by something terrible happening in my private life. I'm just moving on to other things, grateful for the experience of having blogged for all these years, and for the interactions I've had with many of you. Thanks a bunch, everyone, and I'll hopefully see many of you elsewhere: at live events or on chess servers, for example. I'm still doing videos on ChessLecture.com, and maybe someday I'll do videos on YouTube or try streaming on Twitch, but no guarantees.
This book is a nice tribute to the late Chelyabinsk (Russia) grandmaster, Igor Kurnosov, who was killed by a car in 2013 at the age of 28. Kurnosov, who was born in 1985, became a GM in 2003 and was making gradual progress to elite ranks, reaching a peak rating of 2680 and rated 2662 at the time of his tragic death. (He was a pedestrian crossing the street early in the morning when he was hit by an inexperienced driver.) His style was definitely crowd-pleasing, generally sporting an aggressive 1.e4 repertoire with the white pieces and the Sicilian, King's Indian, and especially the Gruenfeld with Black.
He wasn't just a strong player, but a liked and respected colleague, which accounts for the breadth of the book's contributors. Eight players are listed as the compilers and editors of the work, and still more players were involved in annotating the games. Some of the annotators were friends of his, some his victims in the games (often the player fell under both categories), and their respect for him as a person and a competitor is evident.
Interspersed between the games are biographical interludes (mostly but not only detailing the progress of his career) and both in and out of the games themselves are many small anecdotes. He really comes across as a player who was beloved by his peers. (A little surprisingly, as he looks extremely serious in the book's many pictures, many of them not of him at the chess board.)
Anyhow, the reader will get a good sense of the man and his career, though I think the book might have been improved with a slightly heavier editorial hand. One Sosonko-like chapter would have improved the book, I think: better one extended reflection than a couple of dozen snippets.
The heart of the book is in the games, and both the games and the notes are impressive. The games are almost all lively and entertaining, as both Kurnosov's style and repertoire were extremely aggressive. They make for excellent study material, in part because Kurnosov as a "mere" mid-to-high 2600 player generally flew under the radar. The notes (mostly by GMs, some of whom have are or have been rated over 2700) are very good too.
It's a pity he's not better-known in the west, because I think that club players - strong club players in particular - would really enjoy this book, and benefit from it too, if they use it for solitaire chess or Think Like a Grandmaster exercises. Recommended, and available here.
Sally Landau, Checkmate! The Love Story of Mikhail Tal and Sally Landau. Elk & Ruby, 2019. 223 pp.
A distinction I've been thinking about recently distinguishes the substantive and the procedural. Once you're aware of the distinction, you'll see it everywhere. For example: when we teach, we think about content - particular facts (the substantive) - and about teaching students how to think - the best procedure for them to pursue truth on their own (the procedural). In government, we might try to promote certain outcomes by passing particular laws (the substantive approach), or we might focus primarily on setting things up in a certain way and (as much as possible) let people make their own decisions in life (the procedural approach). We could pursue equality of outcomes (substantive) or equality of opportunity (procedural). In the New Testament (Ephesians 4:15), we're admonished to speak the truth (substantive) in love (procedural).
In fact, we find that same duality when we analyze what it is to love someone. We can define it in a roughly procedural way (do unto others as you would have them do unto you, or to treat others as they want to be treated), but if we void it of any substantive content it seems that our attempts to love others will fail. Sometimes people don't want what's in their best interest, and at least some of the time we would gravely wrong the beloved if we were to treat them as they want to be treated. Giving a suicidal person a gun or a drug addict their substance of choice would not be loving. This is not to deny a "procedural" component to love or ethical decision-making, but it is a denial of the claim that those ideas an be defined by purely procedural means. There is such a thing as human nature, and while we don't know everything there is to know about it, and there is some room for person-relativity here, it seems reasonably clear that there are, at least in the overwhelming majority of cases, some things that lead to objective human flourishing and other things that destroy or at least very strongly undermine such flourishing. One can intend to love someone and have loving feelings towards that other person, and yet fail very badly to do what is objectively loving; that is, to do what is in the other's best interest for the sake of their best interest.
It is this distinction that comes to mind when I read Sally Landau's memoir of her life with (and then without) Mikhail Tal. It is clear that she loved, and continues to love, Mikhal Tal very passionately; and to some degree this was reciprocated. But all too often, Tal's love in particular was either overwhelmed by his selfishness or self-centeredness - his desire to put chess first and to engage in constant affairs - or, if we want to be as generous as possible, by a failure to recognize that his actions harmed his beloved and would destroy their relationship. Landau eventually created some "counterplay" of her own, and even that didn't work. Tal finally arranged for a divorce so he could marry one of his paramours, and that second marriage was unsuccessful. Landau moved on and eventually enjoyed a successful second marriage and a friendship with Tal that lasted the rest of his life, while Tal enjoyed relative success with wife #3. Some of their ongoing relationship was based on their son together (and he contributes a short chapter in this book), though the focus is mostly on their relationship with each other, not as mediated through their shared concern for their son.
The memoir will take one on an emotional roller coaster. Both protagonists are bright, charming, talented, and headstrong - and young. Too young, really; both are still sowing their wild oats. They were bright, shiny objects to each other, and while Mrs. Tal was more committed - both by choice and through the psychological pressure put on her by Tal and his parents - neither (especially Tal) had the maturity at that stage of their lives to make the relationship work. Their relationship worked better after their divorce, and both were very willing to make sacrifices for the other and for the sake of their son. Their mutual tenderness was obvious, and both felt a clear, at times almost heartbreaking sense of loss about the other's absence. Still, it is hard to believe that even if it had been possible for them to remarry late in Tal's life that things would have been any different the second time around. The feelings and attraction were there, but was the older Tal any more responsible and other-centered than his younger self?
So I find the book a little depressing, or at least melancholy. Both protagonists are likeable and interesting, and you're rooting for them, but at the same time it's clear almost right away that there's no way it's going to work. Many of us have had friends who get into relationships that we as outsiders know won't work, can't work, and that are bad for them - and sometimes our friends are aware of it too but can't (or don't) help themselves.
It's a genre I don't really understand, either. Why would one write about these things for the general public? It's one thing for her to be interviewed and say, "I loved Misha and he loved me, and while our marriage didn't ultimately work out we remained caring and close friends till the day he died." It's another to understand why anyone would want to make everything in public. Even if she wants to share her love life with the world, why is Tal's love life anyone's business?
Alice Roosevelt once famously said, "if you don't have anything nice to say about someone, come sit next to me!" This of course parodies the more famous adage that one should remain silent if someone doesn't have anything nice to say about someone. But what do we do when we have both good and bad things to say about someone? I'm inclined to ask, why are we interested in the person in the first place? If the bad things are relevant to our interest, it may be worth addressing those "sunspots". If not, then why bother? It's not about writing hagiographies and whitewashing the past. It is about making a distinction between the relevant and the irrelevant, and between the private and the public. Chess fans loved and continue to love players like Tal and David Bronstein because of their creativity and excellence at the chess board. We're not interested in Tal because of his philandering or Bronstein because of his bitterness. (This is not judging either man. "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" is misinterpreted, but it's a good bit of practical wisdom in any case. It's saying that we don't need to hear about these less exalted aspects of their lives and personalities.)
This has been a critical review; let me end on a higher note. I've wondered why Landau wrote the book, and I'll try to offer an answer. It is a cry of the heart, a statement of a deep love that can no longer be requited. She cannot bring her beloved back, but by sharing that love, warts and all, with the broader chess world, with those of us who knew or were acquainted with Mikhail Tal, she can relive that love and take solace in it. When it comes to that feeling of love and grief, those of us who have lived a little can identify, and wish her well.
That is the title of a blog post by economist and chess enthusiast Tyler Cowen (FIDE rating 2230). It's a nice little piece, but I'm a bit skeptical about a couple of Cowen's claims. He says that thinks that Magnus Carlsen is showing up
better prepared in the openings than his opponents, probably for the first time in his career. Yet his preparation has taken an extraordinary spin. Other grandmasters prepare the opening in the hope of achieving an early advantage over their opponents. Magnus's preparation, in contrast, is directed at achieving an early disadvantage in the game, perhaps willing to tolerate as much as -0.5 or -0.6 by the standards of the computer.... Nonetheless these are positions "out of book" where Magnus nonetheless feels he can outplay his opponent, and this is mostly opponents from the world top ten or fifteen.
Cowen is a brilliant guy who does know something about the game, but I think that he's somewhat mistaken. Only in part; he is right that Carlsen is looking for non-mainstream opening ideas that give him play and avoid the opponent's preparation, without caring too much about the engine's evaluation. That is correct...and has been correct for much of the last decade--it isn't new at all. Of course the aim isn't and never has been to get a disadvantage, which would be dopey, but to fly under the opponent's radar as he looks for the engine's top choices.
Second, while this has been a part of his modus operandi, it is not the whole. He has, now and in the past, also looked for lines that give him an objective advantage with White and full equality with Black.
Third, I suspect that Cowen is basing his conclusions in part on a misunderstanding of Carlsen's comments after his game with Ian Nepomniachtchi. Despite some goading by Maurice Ashley, Carlsen made a point of noting that his position wasn't as bad as it looked, and in fact Fabiano Caruana was willing to go for an almost identical position against Viswanathan Anand the next day. It's also forgotten that a -0.5 or so quickie evaluation on our personal computers doesn't mean that that was the evaluation on the super-computers he had access to, before and after long and deep analysis checked by his seconds.
So, there is something to Cowen's conclusions, but they are overstated.
Sergei Tkachenko, Oleg Pervakov's Industrial Strength Endgame Studies. (Elk & Ruby, 2018). 248 pp. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.
Those of you who have followed this blog for a while know that I’m a fan of endgame studies. They make for excellent practice in calculating variations, but even more than that, they are a source of great beauty. In over-the-board play most games are mundane. Even if they are perfectly played—sometimes, especially if they are perfectly played—they can seem rather dull to all but the most refined aficionado. And even then, it’s more an appreciation for the way in which one player (typically Black) solved his problems. In endgame studies, by contrast, beauty is fundamental. Occasionally, beauty takes a back seat to depth or humor, but it’s rare. (Besides, I’m inclined to think that humor, in the way it is manifested in chess, is closely related to beauty – it’s another manifestation of the aesthetic.)
Many tournament players are familiar with the great composers of yesteryear, with names like Kasparyan and Kubbel, Mattison and Mitrofanov, Reti and Rinck, and – non-alliteratively – Grigoriev and Troitsky. We’re less aware of contemporary composers, unless they’re also known for their tournament play (e.g. Benko, Smyslov, and Timman). Why? I think it’s because a lot of the low-hanging fruit has been taken, and for a contemporary composer to get published and succeed in competitions he must produce studies that are not only beautiful but deep – generally so deep that even strong club players have little chance of solving them without becoming specialists.
There are exceptions, one of whom is the Russian composer Oleg Pervakov, born in 1960. Those of you who are fans of Mark Dvoretsky’s works will remember that name: they co-authored one book (Studies for Practical Players) and Pervakov’s work made a significant contribution to a second work. His compositions are fantastic, and have been praised by both Garry Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen. (Frankly, that’s already a good enough reason to seek out Pervakov’s work, but I’ll continue anyway, if only to assure you that one need not be a contender for the greatest player of all time to appreciate and benefit from Pervakov’s studies.)
His studies aren't easy, but they are accessible - both intellectually and aesthetically. When you see the solutions (if you didn't solve it yourself) they will make sense to you. They're not like, say, some of the monster tablebase endings computers have worked out to a win in several hundred moves, where nothing makes any discernible sense until the very end. You'll get it. And the beautiful moves are beautiful for all the usual reasons we love endgame studies and great combinations.
Enough blather. Let's have a look at some examples. (The first of each pair of entries gives the position, the second the solution.) Then when you're done and have been suitably impressed, go here and spend some coin. Bear in mind that none of the three studies I'm showing did better than 4th place, and Pervakov has won many firsts over the course of his composing career. He's goooooood.
In stark contrast to the book mentioned in the preceding post, this is a book I'll get hot off the press. Granted, they are works in completely different chess genres, but the point is about price. If anything, this Dvoretsky book is underpriced if one compares the quality of his material with that of typical tactical books.
Those interested in getting the work should be warned that, as usual, his books are aimed at advanced players who have already achieved a fairly high level of tactical competence. If you're a master you'll find the easier problems a challenge (at least to get all the points right), while grandmasters will struggle with his more difficult material.
All the same, I recommend that everyone have a look at the excerpt and give the puzzles a try. In most of the cases the first move is pretty obvious, and when it is the difficulty comes in working through the details. In other cases the first move isn't as easy. But give it a shot; you'll find it rewarding even if you don't succeed. It's good exercise, and the aesthetic pleasure will be enhanced when it comes after you've put in an effort to solve the position for yourself.
I found this article even more helpful than the one cited in the earlier post, as it places more emphasis on the interesting way he was legally gaming the system. This was an issue the United States Chess Federation had to address decades ago, when life prisoner Claude Bloodgood managed to get his USCF rating over 2750 by winning countless games against his fellow prisoners. He was a strong club player, but his strength certainly wasn't that of a very strong GM (or any sort of GM). Assuming the games were all legitimate, however, the problem was with the USCF rating formula at the time, or of its applicability to an isolated pool like that of a prison population when one of the players is "infinitely" stronger than anyone else there.
Vladimir Kramnik - "Mr. Dortmund" - won't be playing, but it's a very strong all the same. The action begins tomorrow, Saturday, with the following first round pairings in this eight player round-robin:
Richard Rapport (2735) - Ian Nepomniachtchi (2775) Leinier Dominguez Perez (2760) - Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu (2667) Teimour Radjabov (2759) - Radoslaw Wojtaszek (2737) Daniel Fridman (2644) - Kaido Kulaots (2574)
The elite events never stop! If the draw disease strikes once again in Riga, just change the channel to Dortmund (or vice-versa).
Despite the extra Grand Prix points on offer to those who win their knockout matches before the tiebreaker stage, ambition took a back seat on day one of round 1 of the Riga Grand Prix. Seven of the eight games were drawn, some with no fight whatsoever, and only one game finished with a winner. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave demolished David Navara in just 19 moves, and Navara could have resigned several moves earlier.
Among the draws, there were serious winning chances for one side or the other (or both) in two of the games. Wesley So was winning much of the way against Pentala Harikrishna before letting the win slip (38.Nf5! instead of 38.Nxc6? probably would have done the trick), while first Nikita Vitiugov and then Alexander Grischuk missed wins against each other. For Vitiugov, he could have taken advantage of Grischuk's 19...0-0-0?? with 20.Nxe4, which would result in a position where he's up two pawns with a superior position and no risk at all. After 20.Rh1(??) he was clearly worse, a status which further declined over the next few moves. Black had a number of probably crushing moves on move 27, especially 27...Qb4. Instead, he chose the clever but mistaken 27...Bf1+?, greatly reducing his advantage. Vitiugov's position remained difficult, but he eventually saved a knight ending a pawn down.
UPDATE: I was completely wrong about 20.Nxe4, which loses to 20...Qg6. Thanks to those who wrote in to correct me. I trusted both the Chess24 computer and the snippet of live commentary I saw that said that (which was itself probably accepting someone's relaying the Chess24 computer's analysis), and in this case it was wrong. Mea culpa for not checking this!