“Be prepared” might be the scouts motto, but it could just as easily apply to Fabiano Caruana’s performance in the 2018 Candidates, where he outclassed the rest of the field, won comfortably in the end and qualified to take on the reigning World Champion, the Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, in a match that will take place later in the year in London.
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
Not just the brilliant Stones record but also a sentiment that could capture the general chess public’s mood as the 2018 Candidates approaches.
Although I’m convinced that the majority of chess followers would relish the prospect of the ever inventive Levon Aronian, or perhaps the dashing attacking brilliance of Shakhriyar Mamedyarov winning through to take on Magnus Carlsen, there is also that unspoken dread that lingers in the background: the idea that we could be forced to endure the second instalment of Karjakin-Carlsen; the first edition of which surely threw up (both literally and figuratively) one of the most boring World Championship matches in history.
Hastings. Just the name itself is to evoke a chess tournament of somewhat legendary proportions - on a par historically with Wijk Aan Zee. However there’s no doubt that the tournament has gone downhill in recent years. Go back to the mid nineties and the early 2000s and the tournament was still a fairly strong event attracting strong grandmasters on a regular basis. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case and the most recent edition was the weakest I can ever remember.
You can put up a lot of reasons but the primary one is money. If you put up enough cash, then the stars will come, after all they still do to Wijk Aan Zee - hardly the most glamorous location either. And the problem is that Hastings as a town isn’t doing that great, money wise, so they don’t have money to put into the event.
Another candidates tournament is rolling around - Berlin 2018, with many of the usual suspects involved. The question arises: who is favourite going into the event?
There’s little question for me that Aronian is now the outstanding favourite to win that tournament and qualify to play Carlsen. It just feels like his time. He’s just got married, he’s just had one of the best years of his life chesswise and from a personal point of view.
To start with I’m going to concentrate on British chess - in the second part I’m going to be looking at more international events like the FIDE World Cup.
Luke McShane had a great chance to win the British and only fell at the final hurdle in the playoffs. It would be cruel to say that he’s become the “Jimmy White” of the British championships, but there’s also no doubt that it’s somewhat strange he hasn’t won the tournament by now given his evident strength.
A word that tends to often be overused when describing sporting collapses. However there’s no doubt that something strange happened to me in the last round of the British championships at Llaundudno. Whether it was choking, or fatigue, or a combination of those two I’m not really sure.
I do think that it’s not a coinicidence that the four who got into the play off were all under 35. Ok, three of them were the top three seeds, but you get the point.
Recently I started to think about why the late chess coach Mark Dvoretsky, who passed away recently, was so well acclaimed as a teacher of the game. It struck me that the real reason was that Dvoretsky wasn’t afraid to talk about some of the most difficult themes that crop up in chess.
It would have been easy for him to grind out a living talking about the sort of subjects that most gravy-trainers tend to fall back on, like showing off some wonderful attacking game featuring a stonking combination at the end, while showering such games with the usual platitudes and cliches.
But no, Dvoretsky had a real love of chess which shone through in his writing, and loved to get down to the nitty-gritty, and try and uncover the engine room of chess and the process that players go through when they consider their moves.
“The unexamined life is not worth living”
is a typically profound quote from Socrates. And exactly the same logic can be applied to chess. Quite simply you must analyse your own games if you want to improve. Only that way will you be able to identify where you have been going wrong, what mistakes you have been making and what to do about them.
The Philidor defence is one of Black’s most solid defences to 1.e4. He aims to hunker down with as flexible position as possible and expand later. Recently this defence was given a boost by the “Black Lion” (I thought this might be something from one of David Attenboroughs programmes), a rather scary sub-variation that has been extolled by no less than the Ginger GM himself.
However, I wish to circumvent Black’s usual way of playing by recommending a system involving an early g4. This system is risky but it does have the benefit of immediately giving Black huge problems to solve. The whole idea of playing g4 in the Philidor I believe was first popularised by the ever inventive Latvian Alexey Shirov, who also created a similar idea against the Semi-Slav.
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