What a Difference a Year [Doesn’t] Make: Karpov – Unzicker 1975 1-0

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In our last post we took a look at Karpov – Unzicker 1974 from the Nice Olympiad. Here we have a game from the following year where Unzicker chooses a different line in the opening, yet crashes and burns even faster.

I’m really enjoying looking at these old Karpov games and seeing how he handled the Spanish.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Karpov – Unzicker 1974 1-0

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Here’s another game from the 1974 Olympiad that really demonstrates the power of a pre-world champion Anatoly Karpov.

This game is a masterful example of how to make use of a space advantage. It also shows how Karpov was able to ever so slightly increase the pressure in his position until his opponent collapsed.

Check out the reshuffling maneuver beginning with 24.Ba7 and ending with 27.Bb1 and marvel at a master in action.


Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Karpov – Westerinen 1974 1-0

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Here is a game that I’m marveling over from the 1974 Nice Olympiad vs Finnish GM Heikki Westirnen

It’s amazing to see a strong player get completely squeezed like that. “Spanish torture” indeed.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Review of Defend Like Petrosian by Alexey Bezgodov

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Defend Like Petrosian by Alexey Bezgodov New in Chess 2020 272pp

If you’re a regular reader of this blog then you’re aware of the fact that I am a big fan of the Soviet era of chess. So any time I get a chance to read a book about a Soviet World Champion I take it.

For a long time it felt to me like the ninth world champion, Tigran Petrosian, was quite overlooked by chess literature. He would often be referred to as “dry” or “boring” in conversations I’ve had with various chess players over the years. Lately, however, it seems like chess authors and publishers are giving Petrosian his due.

This book is one of many which have come out over the past few years covering the life and games of the late champion.

The book is presented in two parts. Part I is called “Descent and Evolution” and starts essentially at the beginning of Tigran’s career and runs through the end of his life. In this section you see the growth of “Iron Tigran,” a nickname which was bestowed on him due to the incredible difficulty of claiming a victory against him.

In Part I games are given headers which describe the main takeaways from the game to come. Examples include: Exchange sacrifice, the first well known example; What is meant by weak squares and diagonals?; An inappropriate pawn thrust; and A light-square thriller.

Part II is called “Tigran against the titans” and breaks down his performances against several of the all time greats from his era. This section is split into 14 chapters and covers matchup against Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Fischer, Spassky, Karpov, Kasparov, Korchnoi, Keres, Larsen, Gligoric, Geller, Bronstein, and Portisch.

Part II contains the same sort of pre-game headers mentioned above. Again these often serve as a guidepost of what’s to come.

Annotations are a very balanced combination of verbal and variation analysis.

Here is nice example of that from the first part of the book. The game is Olafsson – Petrosian Bled 1959. Here is the position after 16.a4

Here Petrosian plays 16…Nc6

“A clear tactical illusion. Only taking into account the weakening of b4, TP momentarily forgot about the centre. Black is fine after the logical 16…c5! 17.a5 c4 18.axb6 Rxb6 19.e4 Bf4 20.Rc2 Rab8=”

Another example, this time from Part II’s chapter on Petrosian vs Kasparov. This is from the game Kasparov – Petrosian Moscow 1981. Here White has just played 35.Qf6+??

“White could win after the automatic pawn push 35.f6! After at least winning the pawn on e5, White’s numerous pawns would overwhelm the enemy defences.”

As I have written about multiple times in the past, the verbal parts of game analysis are more important than the variations. Variations will change over time as computers gain strength, but the verbal explanations will always be instructional for years to come.

This book is very instructive and will make a welcome addition to the library of any player who is either looking to improve or who is a fan of Petrosian himself.

Til next time,

Chris Wainscott

Review of Zlotnik’s Middlegame Manual

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Zlotnik’s Middlegame Manual by Boris Zlotnik 2020 New in Chess 400pp

When I was first learning to play chess seriously (1987ish) and when I came back to chess after a nearly 20 year layoff (2011) the subject of pawn structure was a tough nut to crack.

Sure, we had Pawn Structure Chess by Soltis, and the quirky Pawn Power in Chess by Kmoch, but other than those two and a few scattered bits here and there, the subject of pawn structure was largely uncovered.

Lately, that has started to change. With amazing books covering the various structures and their plans, it’s a whole new world.

New in Chess has delivered yet another entry into the fray with this offering by Boris Zlotnik. That was a name I wasn’t familiar with, but I quickly accepted IM Zlotnik’s bona fides when I read the forward by Fabiano Caruana and learned that Zlotnik served as his trainer for three years from 2004-2007. During that time frame Fabi went from around 2200 to 2500.

This book breaks down material into digestible chunks, which include typical middlegame structures, along with typical methods of play.

To see the table of contents simply click the links below.

TOC 1

TOC 2

The topics covered are both typical (i.e. what you need to know) and wide-ranging. For club players like myself who are looking to take the next step towards improvement these are very necessary lessons and techniques to learn.

So let’s talk about who this book is for. Well, that’s always a pretty arbitrary thing, really, but it’s something of a “necessary evil” when talking about chess books. The book claims to be for a “wide range of post beginners and club players” but that’s a bit lacking in my mind.

Mostly I would say that is due to the way in which this book is written. The formula is one which has become tried and true – deeply annotated games in the theme being presented. So in the IQP chapter you have a bunch of annotated games featuring IQP’s and the typical plans involved for both sides of those positions.

When I said “deeply” above, I do indeed mean deeply. And not just “database dump” annotations. The analysis is very well done and quite instructive. But there is something that I feel is missing. Namely, prose annotations.

In one of his Perpetual Chess Podcast appearances, IM Cyrus Lakdawala said that he feels that the verbal analysis is the most important part of the analytical work done on books these days. To paraphrase the reasoning he gave, it’s because as engines grow stronger the variational analysis will change over time, but the verbal explanations remain correct.

To see this in action, take a look at any online forum and watch how club players sometimes talk about how terrible older books are because engines now offer different lines than the ones given by the authors. I’ve seen such players bash writers such as Alekhine and Euwe because the latest Stockfish now offers different moves. The problem is that there will continue to be a stronger engine tomorrow that will refute the engine of today for the foreseeable future.

What the complainants often fail to understand here is that if the move that Grandmaster X gives is +1.8, but the latest Stockfish gives a different move that is +1.95 the reason for both moves may still be the same. e.g. restricting certain pieces or pawns or taking control of an outpost, etc.

So why the long digression above? Well, because this book, while heavy on variations, is light on prose. Too light in my opinion. For that reason alone I think that the “wide range” of players is perhaps less than the author would like. This isn’t to say that someone around the rating range of say 1200-1400 wouldn’t get anything from this book, after all, it’s well annotated, but perhaps their understanding of structures wouldn’t be as well served as it would be with more verbal explanations.

After all of that you may think that I don’t like this book. Nothing could be further from the truth. I found the book to be very instructional and well worth the read.

In fact, the chapter on the Carlsbad Structure was incredible. Prior to reading this book, if you would have said “Carlsbad Structure” to me I would have immediately responded “Minority Attack” but this book shows not only that, but also plans focusing on e3-e4, attacking on the kingside with both players castled on that side, attacking on the kingside in opposite sided castled positions, and play with both sides castled long.

I also very much loved the chapter covering whether or not to exchange the fianchettoed bishop. This chapter discussed not only the KID, but also the Dragon and Accelerated Dragon.

I also believe that for anyone who  is working on improving their positional play, the chapter on Symmetrical Pawn Structures in this book should be required reading. After all, those positions rely on the accumulation of small advantages, which is one of the hallmark’s of positional play.

Lastly I’d like to talk about something that is becoming more of a feature in chess books than it ever used to be, and rightfully so, and that’s the inclusion of exercises. Including exercises is a great way to turn what would otherwise be a passive learning experience into an active one.

This book gives 162 exercises and solutions. Some of the exercises just give you the side to move, and others ask you to evaluate a certain move or give the ideas for one side. Overall the exercises were both challenging and balanced.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone rated from around 1200 and up, but with the caveat that the stronger the player, the more understanding about the subject matter you will gain. For those below maybe 1500 this will serve as a well-annotated collection of games and some detailed exercises.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Slight Retooling of the Training Program

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So I’m trying to retool my training in a way that will be relatively small, but will hopefully have big results.

Up to this point I’ve been the classic example of “a little of this, a little of that” style training. Meaning that in the course of the same block of let’s say two hours on any given day I might play through a game or two from a games collection, then go through a few lines in an opening book, then solve some tactics before reading a little bit of an endgame book. Basically the ADD version of chess training.

So the change is this…

Starting as of a few days ago I’m going to focus on ONE area of improvement at a time, with some slight allowances for other things.

So now a day of training will look more like this:

I tend to start every day when I wake up with some Chessable. I spend maybe 30 minutes there, mostly working on some tactics courses there. I also pop in for a few minutes here and there. For example, if I arrive at work 15 minutes early I might sit in my car solving puzzles for 10 minutes before heading in. This should be all of the training I need for simple tactics.

The change comes in the form of what I’ll be doing for the bulk of my time. I now plan on focusing on one thing at a time, for at least a month. Want to work on the endgame? Then it needs to be for at least a month. Want to work on calculation? Then it needs to be for at least a month. Want to learn a new opening? Then it needs to be for at least a month.

I’ll still flip between materials a bit here and there, but within the same subject. So, for instance, if I work on calculation I may flip between a book on endgame studies, and a book like GM RAM or Perfect Your Chess, but I will stay with the subject.

What are some things that YOU have done? What impact did they have on your chess? I’d love to hear some stories.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

One Small Step Khanin-Trjapishko 1-0

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You ever play a game where you’re kind of cruising along through the opening and suddenly you realize that something has gone very wrong?

Historically that’s me on many lines on the White side of the French.

Here’s a position from a game in the 2018 Russian Junior Championship where a semi-sideline of the Caro has been played by White. It’s Black to move, and Black plays…

15…Nd7?

It seems like Black is putting the knight on d7 to try to exchange some pieces, which makes sense, but then after 16.Bf4

Black needs to admit his mistake and just go back to f6. But of course it’s hard to grasp that during a game.

Personally I think I would have played 15…Nxe4 16.Qxe4 Bf6

Instead, Black just gets steamrolled by White.

Here’s the game.

Til  Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Amazing Calculation Karjakin-Navarra Shamkir 2018

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Let’s say you are Black and you are faced with this decision. White has just played 31.Rxd5. Do you take the rook or not?

Sure, you have three pawns for the piece, but if you take the rook you’ll have no pieces and your opponent will have a bishop.  Still, who wants no pieces when our opponent has one? No way we take the rook, right?

Let’s say our two candidate moves are 31…Rxd5 or 31…Rc3 – what would you do?

Navarra took the rook.

At a depth of 40 Stockfish 12 gives this position -0.15

At a depth of 40 Stockfish 12 gives this position 0.42

When I really think about this decision I realize it’s not one to be taken lightly. After all, if you don’t take the rook then how do you stop this  Rh5 idea which forces …h6, then swing the rook back to a5 to force …a6 and now Black’s pawns are getting weak.

So what I would think of as an “automatic” decision of not taking the rook turns out to be anything but automatic in the hands of a strong player.

Here is the entire game.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Slow Down! Don’t Rush.

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If you’ve studied chess seriously for any length of time you may very have heard the phrase “Don’t rush.” Typically this applies to endgames, but really it should apply to just about any phase of the game.

Let’s take this position. It from some analysis of the game Tal – Roman 1961

This is from the the first book of the two-volume set The Complete Manual of Positional Chess by Sakaev and Landa. The authors give a line that shows how White wins after Black takes the knight with 13…axb5. But what if Black plays 13…Qxf3 – what then?

The book gives no analysis, and one of the things that I have been really pressing myself to do lately is to answer questions like this rather than just let them go. I have spent most of my chess book reading time just kind of shuffling pieces and not really thinking. I’ve been working to change that lately.

So let’s look at that position with 13…Qxf3 played:

Obviously White can’t simply recapture the queen as after 14.gxf3 Black simply wins a piece by taking the knight. I’ll leave it to you to work out why neither 15.Nxb5 nor 15.Bxb5+ work.

So that told me that surely 14.Nc7+ should be the move. I analyzed for a bit and came up with 14…Ke7 15.Bd6+ Kd8

The problem here of course if that after taking the queen the bishop on d6 falls. Something like 16.gxf3 Bxd6 17.Nxa8 Ke7

Hmm…just looks even. Surely the authors of this book didn’t miss such an obvious try as 13…Qxf3 did they?

I tried other moves and just couldn’t crack it. So finally I put it in an engine. Once I did so I once again heard “don’t rush” playing in my head.

The correct sequence is 14.Nc7+ Ke7, and now, instead of rushing with 15.Bd6+ simply recapture the queen now with 15.gxf3

The rook on a8 is hanging and if the rook moves then either of the two following lines happen. 15…Rb8 16.Bd6+ Kd8 17.Bxf8+ Kxc7 18.Bd6+ and the rook is lost.

15…Ra7 16.Bd6+ Kd7 17.Bxf8+ Kxc7 18.Bxg7 Rg8 19.Bxf6

While I wish I would have found the idea prior to using the engine, I am glad that I spent a few minutes checking. The work will pay off.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Strategic Decision Making

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I just received the new book on Petrosian from Ilan Rubin’s excellent Elk & Ruby publishing house.

The book is called Petrosian Year by Year and this is the first volume, covering the years 1942-1962. The authors are Tibor Karolyi and Tigran Gyozalyan.

The first game within the book is a simul game between Petrosian and Flohr. For some reason which is not given in the book (though the authors do also question this) Petrosian has the White pieces.

This position has arisen after the Black’s 15th move, 15…Bd7 which the authors called a mistake.

So I took a look here, trying to figure out what is wrong with the move. I started by first evaluating the position. This was my evaluation process:

White should be better here. He has more space and the more active pieces. He does have a worse pawn structure though. Here, Tigran Vartanovich plays 16.Rhe1 which the authors call a mistake. So I set the book down to try to figure out why.

The problem is that I did what I almost always do in these positions – I thought tactically. I searched and searched but couldn’t figure out any sort of shot that White missed.

The answer shows a deficiency in my thinking process. The answer is as follows:

“This move keeps some advantage, but it’s not the best a it allows Black to castle. If 16.Bg5! Qf7 17.Rhe1+ Kf8 18.Nh4 White wins as the h8 rook will be out of play.”

This, by the way, is an example of the excellent type of verbal/variational analysis which the book looks to contain.

I need to really revamp my thought process. I am training, but I need to train harder. Once OTB is back I’m going to make a real run at 1900 as the first logical step on the rest of my journey.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott