After spending a large part of the last year playing a combination of blitz chess
and correspondence chess, I figured it was time to return to competitive tournament
chess, so I decided to shell out some money and play in a tournament. But how to
prepare? Like I said I was on a diet of correspondence chess and blitz, so I wasn't
quite ready to jump back into OTB competition. So naturally, I consulted the best
resource I could find... Mikhail Botwinnik, or more exactly, Botwinnik's 100 Best
"Above all else, before playing in competition a player must have regard to his
health, for if he is suffering from ill-health he cannot hope for success. In this
connection the best of all tonics is 15 to 20 days in the fresh air, in the country."
Hmmm... 15 to 20 days of fresh air in the country, eh? Not a very realistic solution.
My brother tried a variation of that at a chess tournament once, going ahead to
the city 3 days ahead and drinking like a fish. That Botwinnik training method didn't
work very effectively. But fear not, Botwinnik had some more applicable advice later
"Then I study those opening lines which I intend to apply during the contest. ...For
one competition three or four opening systems for White and the same for Black are
quite sufficient. But these systems must be prepared thoroughly. If you do not have
such systems at your command you can hardly count on finishing very high in the
Three or four systems for White and Black?! I was about to play a three round tournament
so I thought I'd simplify a little bit. What to play as White, and what to play
v. 1.d4 and 1.e4. I've found that in my games (whether blitz, correspondence, or
OTB) at my level, normally I'm out of "book" by about the fourth or fifth move,
so obviously this wouldn't take up a great deal of my time, but this was a small
but important step. I decided beforehand that I was going to play solidly as White
and sharply as Black. It is more important to really "go for it" as Black especially
in a short tournament. Against 1.e4 I decided on 1.e4 e5. There was really only
one choice I had to make then. I play the Two Knights v. 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 and the
Steinitz line against the Scotch. The Centre Opening, the King's Gambit
and so forth are encountered so rare that I don't spend more than a cursory glance
on them. So the big question once I decided on 1.e4 e5 was what am I going to play
vs. the Ruy Lopez? I was going to try the
Marshall attack but a lot of things have to go right for Black in order
to get to that position, and once I get there, is it even better? So instead I decided
on a more underrated system called the
Open Ruy Lopez Players such as Tarrasch, Korchnoi and Yusupov have championed
this line over the years and it is a great line to get some counterplay as Black.
Since the "tabiya" position above is five moves in, there are very few opportunities
for White to avoid this line. The main opportunity that White has to avoid the Ruy
Lopez is on move four, when he has the opportunity to play the
Exchange Lopez Emmanuel Lasker used this line in the early 1900s and it
was generally avoided by masters until Bobby Fischer reintroduced it into practice
at the 1966 Havana Olympiad. I probably shouldn't be saying this to a bunch of potential
opponents ;) but I find it one of the hardest lines to face as Black. In 1946, former
World Champion Max Euwe analysed the pawn structure of the Exchange Ruy Lopez without
any pieces in an interesting study:
Start position 1.
g5 ) 9.
White can sacrifice a pawn, because the outside passed-pawn is the decisive
Kc5 21. Ka4
Ke4 23. Kc5
and White wins
Obviously that is not forced, but to a Ruy Lopez player it should throw up a caution
flag against thinking the Exchange Lopez is a drawing line similar to the Slav Exchange.
What that study shows me, if nothing else, is a couple of things. Firstly, the queenside
majority is almost useless for Black because of the doubled pawns. Secondly, wholesale
changes result in a stronger position for White. So this creates a general game
plan for me, v. the Exchange Lopez. Keep as much wood on the board as possible,
and strive to undouble the queenside pawns so I can create a passer. I've had troubles
with most of the main lines v. 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.O-O. The
positions arising out of
5...f6 don't suit my style (believe me I've learned the hard way), and I
5...Bg4 lines too sloppy (e.g. sharp but ultimately better for White). So
during an email exchange with Canadian IM Lawrence Day, he recommended former co-world
champion David Bronstein's line of
5...Qd6 which makes no concessions to pawn structure, and encourages queenside
castling. It seemed like a (relatively) perfect fit. ? In all honesty, this was
my biggest worry about playing 1.e4 e5 because I have had troubles with the Exchange
Lopez over the years.
Now what about 1.d4? I wanted to try an Indian defence because then I can try to
transpose into an Indian defence v. 1.c4 as well (via 1.c4 Nf6 2.d4). Basically
that came down to two choices…either the
Grünfeld or the
Nimzo Indian. Those are two of the sharpest 1.d4 defences, and I'm still
not convinced on the "correctness" of the Benoni or the KID. I eventually decided
on the Nimzo because, despite the fact I have Jonathon Rowson's excellent "Understanding
the Grünfeld", the Grünfeld is one of those defences you have to play a lot in order
to get comfortable with it, and I've played the Nimzo for years. Normally I play
a fairly straightforward Nimzo system consisting of ...O-O, ...c5, ...d5, ...b6,
...Bb7, ...Nc6 etc. but I was inspired by this game by Eugenio Torre to try a ...d6, ...Nc6, ...e5, ...O-O-O system
which was absolutely new to me. Personally I believe it's always important to try
something new at each tournament, so even though I was playing an opening I had
used for years, there was a new wrinkle I could possibly try out. But what if they
avoid the Nimzo with 3.Nf3? In previous years, I had played the Queen's Indian Defence
with 3...b6, hoping for 4.Nc3 and playing 4...Bb4 and backdooring into a Nimzo-Indian,
but instead I decided to go into a Queen's Gambit with
3...d5 My idea here still wasn't very clear…there are lots of options including
Queen's Gambit Accepted and many others which I have dabbled with over
the years. I figured out of two Blacks, the chances were remote that I would get
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 and I would decide over the board.
I had already mentioned my ideas v. 1.c4. There was no use putting further thought
into lines like 1.Nf3, 1.g3, 1.f4 , 1.b4 etc. I had certain things I played against
them and there was no need to reinvent the wheel. Besides, like I said earlier I
only expected two blacks so no need to go crazy.
Now what to play as White? I have played five things in rated OTB before 1.e4, 1.d4,
1.c4, 1.Nf3 and 1.f4, but the English has fallen out of my repertoire so my choices
are "down" to four. Each has it's pros and cons. Pretty early on I decided against
1.e4. I only really enjoy playing against
1.e4 e5 and wasn't looking forward to a diet of Sicilians, Pirc, Alekhines,
Scandinavians, you name it. I didn't really want to play 1.d4 because I can get
the same lines with 1.Nf3 by playing 2.d4 except I avoid things like the
Albin countergambit and the
Budapest because of the early Nf3. Now I would miss out the chance to
play the Nimzo-Indian as White, which I would enjoy, but I could get the chance
to play an Open Sicilian v. 1.Nf3 c5 2.e4. I've found that 1.Nf3 turns a lot of
Indian players into Queen's Gambit players because they instinctively play
1... d5 which I turn into a Queen's Gambit by 2.d4, 3.c4 etc. Psychology
is a big part of the opening stages of chess and I always want them playing *my*
game and me calling the shots. My brother talked me into choosing the fourth option
though, the Bird 1.f4. At my level it isn't any worse than any of the other choices,
and it's relatively rare, so every one doesn't have their favorite Sicilian/Nimzo/King's
Indian/French to throw at it, and I've found that some people have trouble finding
a good plan against it. An added bonus, which swayed me over, was that by avoiding
the From's Gambit 1.f4 e5 by 2.e4! it turns into a
King's Gambit which I've been a closet player of for years. Again, this
turns Sicilian players v. 1.e4 into 1.e4 e5 players. My brother kidded me that I
could be a positional master if they responded 1.f4 d5 and a tactical master if
they responded 1.f4 e5. In addition there's a lot less for me to worry about theoretically
so I can focus my limited energies into my openings as Black.
So, with that straightened out, I decided to go back to Botwinnik:
"So now your schemes are worked out; but even that is not enough. Certain of them
– those of which you are not absolutely sure – should be tried out in training games.
Of course, these games must be played with a partner who will keep them secret,
otherwise all your opponents will be as well acquainted with them as you are, and
all your opening preparation will be wasted."
This is good advice. I despise playing against chess playing computers and there's
no guarantees that you will get what you're looking for on ICC, SchemingMind or
anywhere else. For instance, the percentage of Ruy Lopezes I get in real life OTB
chess is a lot higher v. 1.e4 e5 (vs. Scotch, Two Knights, etc.) than the internet.
Luckily for me I have a chess playing brother who is relatively the same strength.
So I talked him into playing a couple of training games with me. They were set at
35 minutes per side, which was lower than the time control for the tournament, just
so I could get used to analyzing, recording my moves, etc. The openings were thematic
and in lines that I wasn't certain of. The first game was set up with me as White
at the position after 1.f4 d5. (Light annotations provided by me)
Refutor – K.S.
Training Match (1) G/50
A03 – Bird's Opening : Lasker variation
c5!? Bird himself called this move weak (or was it Blackburne) because
this makes it easier for White to develop his light squared bishop
Bb5+?! Following Bird-Janowski Hastings 1895, but this is wrong. Better
is 4.b3 and I can wait for him to move his knight so I can play Bb5 with a pin.
Qe2?! Maybe not the strongest move, but I was planning on trying d3,
e4 to open the centre that away, also I wanted to keep the option of castling queenside
a threat. I only half intended to do it, but the threat is greater than the execution
or something :) 8...
d4?! My brother wanted to open the centre since I was behind on development,
but I wonder if this wasn't best
Rc8 11...cxd4 12.Bxd4 e5 was better ...killing my bishop
Rad1 The immediate 18.Ne5 was better…blocking off the pieces from the
kingside after Bxe5 19.dxe5
Ng4! This seemed strong during the game... I wonder if I picked the
right continuation 20.
Rd3 20.g3! Ne3 21.gxf4 Qxf4 22.Ne5 was strong for White
Ne5 22.Ng5! was better 22. …Nh6 23.Qe4 Nf5 24.d5
Bd8 Fritz says its even, but I believe I'm in the driver's seat
Bc1 I'm better in all lines 26...
My brother's line loses instantly, but let's see what else there was
a) 27.Bxh6 g6 28.Qf3+-
b) 27.Rg3 Bg5 28.Bxg5 hxg5 29.Qxg5 f5 30.exf6 Rg8 +-
I was winning in all variations. We played a few more training games, but this was
an illustrative example of me playing a line that I wasn't quite familiar with against
a relatively even training partner, and learning a couple of things.
So with my openings picked out, and with some practice games in the openings that
I've chosen, I go back to Botwinnik for some more preparation advice:
"If you are weak in the endgame, you must spend more time on analyzing studies;
in your training games you must aim at transposing to endgames, which will help
you to acquire the requisite experience. Similar methods will make good your deficiencies
in middle-game play, though here the problem is more complicated."
And at kevinspraggett.com,
Canadian GM Kevin Spraggett recommends:
"To improve tactics it is no secret that problem solving is beneficial (good old
work). When I have to train for a big tournament, about two weeks before it is scheduled
to begin I start spending not less than 2 hours per day just solving problems...
Two weeks for me is an optimum period that my experience has shown works best for
me. What works for you is something that you can only know by experimentation....
On the day of a game I also try between 30 minutes to 1 hour of problem solving.
I find that these problems right before the game really wake me up and get me ready
to 'fight' as soon as I sit down at the board."
I knew it! I just knew it was a matter of time before the masters recommended studying
endings and tactics. I have wrestled with this problem for a *long* time, because
I don't enjoy doing endgame studies, or tactical problems. I do like playing through
games though. So what I did was go out and purchase a game collection called "Capablanca's
Best Chess Endings" by Irving Chernev and played through that. It is a collection
of 60 games from by the former world champion that were decided in the endgame.
I was learning endings without actually studying an endgame manual. Some people
may say that learning endings by playing through games is less efficient than sitting
down with a Reuben Fine tome, but I figure that there are lots of things I can learn
from looking at Capablanca's games besides winning won endings. I plowed through
that book with great joy.
But what about tactics? As I said before, I have Reinfeld's 1001 Chess Tactics,
and Polgar's Tactics book and the only thing I use them for is a sedative when I
can't get to sleep! Luckily, the solution came in the mail. My friend, Neil Frarey,
mailed me the program CT-ART by Convekta. I can't recommend this program enough.
While I found going through the tactic books tedious, using this program to do basically
the same problems is fantastic. I've done tactical problems every day since I've
gotten this program and I love every minute of it. For people similar to myself,
who have trouble sitting down with a tactics book and solving problems, this may
be a good alternative for you.
Botwinnik had a little more advice, part of which you're helping with right now:
"I must mention one other possibility of achieving perfection which I myself have
always tried to carry out.
What is the essence of a chess master's art? Fundamentally it consists of the ability
to analyse chess positions. True, at the board, you must be able to analyse very
quickly and without touching the men; but in the last resort, whether you are working
out the possible variations or estimating the actual position, chess is the art
Home analysis has specific features of its own: you are not restricted by time,
and you can move the men freely. Despite this difference between home analysis and
practical play, there is much in common between them. It is a well known fact that
almost all the outstanding chess-players have been first-class analysts.
The deduction is irresistible: anyone who wishes to become an outstanding chess-player
must aim at perfection in the realm of analysis.
There is one other essential difference between analysis and practical play; during
play your analytical work is continually being tested against your critically-minded
opponents, but in home analysis it is very easy to be unobjective. To fight this
tendency and to get away from poor analysis it is useful to publish your individual
analytical work. Then you are subject to objective criticism. IN other words, published
analysis, or quite simply, annotation of games for the press, is a sure method of
arriving at perfection."
So fellow Schemingmind.com members, this is why I have made this article. To analyze
some of the games I have played and will play in the tournament. Analysis is very
important and the Internet is the perfect medium to get feedback.
As a sidenote, during this preparatory period, I definitely doubted my actions.
My results in blitz chess went seriously downhill, causing me to doubt my choices
of openings and the worth of the CT-ART and Capablanca training. I was nervous about
what to play right up until I sat down for my first game. My rating was 1499 CFC
and it was supposed to be split into two sections, Open and U1700 so I had assumed
that the toughest player I would take on would be 1700. As fortune would have it,
they combined the sections into one tournament and just split the prizes (e.g. prize
for the player with the most points and prize for the player rated under 1700 with
the most points) so in the first round I would have White against a local expert,
and the fourth highest seed in the tournament.
Refutor (1499) – NN (2004)
Anonymous tournament (1)
f4 I stuck to my preparation believe it or not. My hand hovered over
the e-pawn before I made this move. Come on, come on, please play 1...e5
d5 Darn it. Oh well, good thing I played some of those training games
against my brother... hint, hint 2.
c5 Similar to the game above, Black tries to dominate the board with
his pawns, but in doing so makes it easier to develop my light squared bishop. As
White I prefer Black to play more aggressively like this against my setup, than
a more passive such as I encountered later on in the tournament continuing 2...Nf6
3.e3 Bg4 4.b3 e6 5.Bb2 Be7 and believe it or not I didn't get that light squared
bishop off the first rank until move 16 3.
Nc6 Again I think this is making things too easy on White
b3 This is the stereotypical setup I use when I play the Bird. My goal
at this point, playing an opponent who is rated 500+ points more than me, is to
get to a middlegame that I relatively understand. 5...
O-O This has all been pretty straightforward so far.
Qc7!? This move was the first one that wasn't "theory" according to
my Megabase at home. 7...Be7 and 7...Bd6 have been played before. I think he was
trying to threaten queenside castling, but I don't think that was a realistic threat.
Bxc6 I was thinking about playing 8.Bxf6 gxf6 and destroying his pawn
structure and forcing his king to be centralized or moderately defended by the queenside
pawn structure, but I was worried about the impending kingside attack. He was rated
500 points higher than me, so I was pretty sure he could take advantage of the open
file better than I could defend. It's sad but true. ? Plus positionally, my dark
squared bishop was the best piece on the board. 8...
Bxc6 If 8...Qxc6 I was going to play 9.Ne5 and get a perfect square
for the knight with tempo e.g. 9...Qc7 10.Nxd7 Qxd7 11.Bxf6 gxf6 is favored by the
computer, but again, I didn't like the open g-file. This may be okay though.
Be5 After reading my notes to my 8th move, some may call me a hypocrite
for moving "the best piece on the board" to e5 where it will likely get exchanged,
but hear me out. I assumed (correctly) that he was going to block the attack on
the queen, then if he captured my bishop on e5, the knight would be even stronger
on e5 than it would be previously, because without Black having a dark squared bishop,
it will be much harder for Black to remove the knight from e5, having to move the
f6-knight to d7 and the exchange allowing me to open the f-file. Ironically, that's
exactly what happened. 9...
Nc3 Keep on developing 10...
Nd7?! Obviously simpler to play like this v. a patzer like me, but
Fritz liked 11...d4! Opening lines towards my king 12.exd4 cxd4 13.Ne2 Rd8 for instance
looks very strong. 12.
d4! This strong move, putting the question to the pawn on c5, gave
me some initiative 12...
Rac8 13...f6 might be better, and could be played either here or on
the next move. My knight is too strong on e5.
Nxe5? Maybe individually this move isn't that bad, but the question
mark is for the plan, not for the move. Black is doing nothing to counter my plans,
and is giftwrapping a kingside attack for me. He has provided me with an open f-file,
a lot of his pieces are on the queenside, there is a pawn on e5, and my knight is
much better than his bishop. A kingside attack is inevitable. 15.
Qa5 Seeking queenside counterplay, but also moving another piece to
the queenside 16.
b5?! Obviously he wasn't worried about the kingside, or he may have
tried 17...g6 instead. Even if he plays that I can still get my pieces in around
his king. 18.
I saw that I could at least get a perpetual here, but when I got home Fritz revealed
to me 20.Nxg7!
a) 20...Kxg7 21.Qf6+ Kg8 22.Rf3 +-
b) 20...axb3 21.Nh5 f5 22.Qg3+ Kf7 23.Qg7+ Ke8 24.Nf6+ etc.
I saw some of that over the board, but I couldn't make it work. Also I saw the potential
mate that followed, but assumed that the expert would take a draw when it was available.
A draw vs. someone rated significantly higher than me would be a fabulous start
to the tournament so we continued.
Nh5+= and at this point I offered a draw because he can get a perpetual
by moving his king back and forth. If he doesn't take the perpetual he's in trouble.
Since he was rated 500 points higher than me, he said "nyet" and played...
Qh3! I had calculated this finish a lot earlier, opening up the g-
and h-file culminating in a checkmate. I got the idea for the checkmating pattern
from a game Oll-Ulibin
Even though I'm not arrogant enough to compare my game to that beautiful game, the
idea was similar. 24...
I was very happy with this game. My second expert scalp. This proves that CT-ART
works (for me) because I saw the idea for the mate a couple of moves ahead. Plus
I won a game with the Bird so now I can retire it for a while and my opening preparation
paid off a little bit.
So how did it end? Did I go riding off into the sunset with glorious victories using
Bronstein's line in the Ruy Lopez, or the Open Lopez or using the King's Gambit?
Sadly no, I lost my other two games, both versus higher rated players, and they
made short work of me. I gave a fragment of my second round game above, and my third
game was the Black side of the Trompowsky where I made a couple of bizarre moves
in the opening, an incorrect sacrifice and dearly paid the price. It was just a
one day tournament with three rounds, so I definitely underestimated the energy
I would be expending. The tournament was three hours away from my home, so instead
of going the night before and staying over, I made the boneheaded decision to wake
up at 6am and go down that morning. I will not do that again. I was an absolute
zombie by the end of it. So what did I learn? I need to play more games, and at
longer time controls to get used to playing, and try to cut the blitz out of my
diet. I've also got to try to keep a positive attitude throughout the whole tournament,
no matter how I'm playing. I'm an emotional player, and I take wins too well, and
losses too badly. Also I need more of a fighting spirit. Even though I didn't show
my two losses, trust me when I say that I could've and should've put up more of
a fight in both of them. I fully enjoyed myself and I can guarantee that it won't
be so long before I play another.
And I'll finish with one more quote from Mikhail Moisevich:
"That is all the advice I can give the player, but it is advice that I myself continually
try to follow. Possibly some of my suggestions will not be of much benefit to some
players; each much consider them critically and apply them with caution, taking
his own individual capacities and habits into account."
Somebody is echoing my intentions of playing correspondence chess. I am using it to work on my openings while gaining practical experience with those openings. I haven't read Botvinnik's book but it seems to me that it is very difficult to follow his advice. In regards to Craig's openings in my opinion I can't work on more than three systems as Black [ Two against 1.e4 and one against 1.d4 ] With White I am finding that I will eventually need to have more than one system for 1.e4 e5.
Similar to Craig's experience, I don't get much out of blitz games and regard them as exercises to train immediate tactical vision. I consider correspondence games and 35/G or above time controls as more relevant and representative of my true strength.
Great article with pertinent information.
Without revealing too much, what were you planing on the 1.f4 e5 gambit?
Players can benefit from the insights of a true fan of the game.
You can't go wrong with using Botwinnik as inspiration, but I was wondering whether anyone else had read GM Edmar Mednis' "How to be a Complete Tournament Player?" I think it's a well written book with some excellent tips.
always nice to see how others treat tournament preparations! and regarding your dilemma how to treat the froms gambit 1. f4,e5 i can see how one would be inclined to go for 2. e4!? ( i do so myself sometimes ). but in all fairness its not that much work to go through the theory of the froms and when you know it you will basically have a great advantage after the opening.
Good article, to be brief; I have done okay in two small tournaments and could have done better but just getting back into it myself like the author here. Furthermore, in one large tournament, I got mopped up. So, my point here is maybe some should try smaller tournaments if at all possible at first.
Nice articel, but I must confess I prefer to have ONE solid repertoire. I do not agree one should always try something new in a tournament, if that means: playing with white 1.e4, d4, Nf3 and f4 over the years. In opening play experience is very important, to understand the typical ideas and tactics roughly (and maybe even some nuances, as the years pass by...). So for myself I prefer to stick with one opening once I have choosen it. I also do not care if it may be theoretically "unsound". Theory is the praxis of the masters (Nimtzowitsch), I am no master, so why should I care? My results with the KID where always above my averedge performance. (btw, Radjabov won with it against Topalov in Morelia/Linares this year; a desperate kasparov giving up the KID against a Kramnik in his best years does not affect my choice.)
I'd like to stress again, that I liked this articel due to it's richness of ideas, but I would recommend to choose and opening and stay with it. This saves a lot of time for more important training aspects, such as tactics, endgames, and positional play. You just have to take a look what went wrong when you get a bad position out of the opening, and learn how to do better, and things will work out through the years with a minimum effort.
Greetings to all friends of the game we love...