Saturday, August 28, 2010

"Show Me.... Wax On, Wax Off"

In the original Karate Kid movie, teen Daniel was hoping to learn Karate from Mr Miyagi but ended up doing all sorts of chores from waxing his car, to sanding his floor and painting his house.

In the movie's iconic moment, when Daniel finally gets fed up with the chores and threatens to leave, Mr Miyagi finally reveals what he was hoping to teach Daniel. Daniel was in fact, learning a very important fundamental skill in Karate - the art of self-defense. You cannot be good at Karate if you only learn about attacking. You must learn how to defend properly.

The same is true in chess.

By learning how to defend, you not only become more aware of your opponent's attacking possibilities, tricks and plans but you acquire the necessary knowledge of how to launch a successful attack. This skill is vitally important if you want to know if a particular attack is good especially when it involves a piece sacrifice.

As an example, in the position below:

Can White play the sacrificial attack 1. Qxf6+?

Another part of the game where defensive technique is vitally important is your endgame skill.

For example, do you know how to defend as Black in a K+R v K+R+P endgame as the one below? Is the position even savable?

Can Black save this position?

Or how to defend with the utmost precision in a K+R v K+Q endgame?

Do you know to win this position as White?
If you're Black, do you know how to give the most problem to White?

It is only by incorporating these techniques into our knowledge which forms a basis from where we can then build bigger memory blocks and know if a particular attack or a particular position can be defended.

That will ultimately, make you a better player.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Legacy Of Mikhail Moiseyevich Botvinnik

We have all heard of Mikhail Moiseyevich Botvinnik - the Great Patriarch of Soviet chess and the 6th World Chess Champion.

I can't help but notice that quite a number of players express disapproval of both Botvinnik as a person and also of his approach to chess and to others, Botvinnik was the epitome of everything that was bad about Soviet chess. Some people have even accused him of being a lame World Champion and that he only kept the title for so long is because of the automatic right of a return match for a World Champion.

As anyone who has picked up any of his books, from his well known One Hundred Selected Games to his annotations of the World Championship games (published by Olms and New In Chess), his notes are often very brutal. Botvinnik spares no one, not even himself. And it is this attitude which seems to have turned a lot of players off him.

So what you may ask, is so great about Mikhail Botvinnik?

Despite the criticisms, what we know about modern chess and how we approach chess is largely due to Mikhail Botvinnik's influence and contribution. He paved the way to modern chess. He made important discoveries to opening theory (eg. the Botvinnik Variation of the Semi-Slav still holds up today in the face of computer engines).

Botvinnik was fearless to a fault. He would never back down from tactical complications when the position demanded it but it is his middlegame prowess that are the most impressive.

He helped established what is now the following rules that continues to stand up today to anyone who wants to improve their chess.

#1. Annotate Your Own Games
There's an interesting blurb about this. When asked about Kasparov who was a promising teen at the time, Botvinnik's first question was,"Do you annotate your own games?" As anyone who has annotated their own games (using computer engines like Fritz/Rybka doesn't count), it is not an easy subject and oft a laborious task.

#2. Maintain Objectivity
Botvinnik was pedantic to the fault in this and was his own worst critic. One must cast aside personal bias when it comes to ealuation of any given chess position. You must be impartial and must part with your pride and bias. These days, with the advent of computer engines, spotting tactical mistakes is as easy as flicking off a switch with strong engines like Rybka and Fritz.

#3. A Healthy Body, A Healthy Mind
Botvinnik understood the importance of being and staying healthy. Increasing your body's physical condition means that your body is operating optimally at all times. That means your stamina and endurance improves (vital for tournaments) and your mind becomes more focused on the task at hand. After the 1951 match with Bronstein, Botvinnik realised that his 3 years of absence in chess almost cost him dearly and he started putting himself into shape by exercising regularly, and focusing more on chess.

#4. Study Of Annotated Games By Strong Masters
These days, there's no getting around this. If you want to improve, you have to read through annotated games, not to only to understand how to play the game accurately but to understand the concepts, plans and strategies. For example, Kasparov was made to study Alekhine's games because his approach to chess was similar to Alekhine's.

#5. Thorough Opening Preparation
Botvinnik's opening preparation involved thorough analysis and a deep understanding of the resulting position all the way up till the middlegame. Such a scientific approach to chess was unheard of in the pre-Botvinnik era. Any new or valuable information of interest will be noted down and analysed. These days, all chess players (even beginners) need to develop a basic opening repertoire, and more advanced players typically would try to have a repertoire that that would lead to rich middlegame play.

I think the greatest compliment that I can say is taken from 9th World Chess champion Tigran Petrosian,"We all regard ourselves as pupils of Botvinnik and subsequent generations will learn from his games."

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Chess Informant Website Hacked And The Kavalek-Short Affair

Warning: The Chess Informant website ( has been compromised. Their sale items including the latest CI 107 and ECO A, 4th Edition (if you follow the links from their main webpage) shows that the website has been hacked.

This only adds to the woes for Chess Informant considering that their Editor in Chief Zdenko Krnić was recently killed in a hit and run accident. I would urge caution on potential buyers from purchasing straight from their website for now. :(

Onto other news, Nigel Short has commented on Kavalek's piece in the Huffington Post (as reported by Chessbase). Kavalek has some serious axe to grind as can be seen in his older 1994 post on the Sentinel.

Short on his part has responded to his allegations and novelty as " It is the sort of move any decent player would find in his sleep." on

Short also responded of Kavalek,"My objections to the "Kavalek Files" were and are manifold but the fundamental point is the highly unethical betrayal of trust by a man who was employed to help me, and to whom I paid a very large sum of money. What was the purpose of him publishing this series of revelatory articles? a) to puff up Kavalek's own importance b) to damage me professionally by revealing as many of my novelties as possible. As far as I am concerned, his spiteful actions are beneath contempt..."