WHY I WRITE ABOUT THE CHESS GREATS
In my view, it’s important for chess fans to embrace a chess hero, and after studying his life and games, moving onto another chess hero. It’s fun, you learn a lot, and it makes the whole chess experience richer and far more interesting.
When I write about any of the chess greats, I try and do it in a way that makes people want to know more about the subject of the article. I want them to rush to a database and look at his games. And I want them to buy a book on that player so they can go in-depth into his life and art. I want people to get as excited by chess history and chess legends as I am.
ALEKHINE PART 4
In the fourth installment of my seven-part Alekhine series, lots of people took sides, some feeling Alekhine was the bomb, and others joining the Capablanca camp. And that’s great! It’s fun to root for your hero and insist he was the best! But the one thing I want people to understand is that each champion was close to untouchable in his ultimate prime, so picking a “best of all time” is purely a matter of taste.
The problem I found in the comment’s section wasn’t that many felt Capablanca was the best of all time (it’s as good a pick as any!), the problem was their bizarre anger over my claim that Alekhine was by far the best player on earth from 1930 to 1934 (though he had a tiny drop-off after 1932). They (childishly) insisted that Capablanca would have beaten him in a rematch and that Capa was always better than Alekhine. Their “proof” was the two players’ overall score: 9 wins, 33 draws, 7 losses in favor of Capablanca, and one guy insanely added, “Numbers do not lie!”
DO NUMBERS LIE?
Well, I’m afraid they DO lie. Capablanca was indeed a much better player up to 1920, and just a bit better from 1921 to 1927. And that superiority (which Alekhine acknowledged) gave Capa a 5-0 lead (with various draws) before their World Championship match. BUT... let’s look at those numbers:
Capablanca won his first four games over Alekhine in 1913 and 1914, and the Cuban’s massive superiority was obvious to everyone, including Alekhine! In Part 2 of my Alekhine series, I pointed out:
“With the World Championship and nothing but the World Championship on his mind, he mapped out a clear plan: Play against the world’s best and win every tournament, thus showing that he was the true challenger to the title. And, at first he would also avoid Capablanca until he felt he was closer to him in strength.”
After their 1913 and 1914 games, they didn’t face each other again until 1922, when Alekhine finally tossed away the “No Capablanca” strategy and they both went at it in a very strong tournament in London. Both players dominated everyone else. However, Capablanca won more games than Alekhine (both were undefeated) and so Capa came in first, and Alekhine second. They didn’t play again until New York 1924 (they drew both their games in that event), and New York 1927 (where they drew three and Capablanca won one).
After New York 1927, Alekhine beat Capablanca in their match 6-3, and after that they each won one tournament game against each other.
Capablanca: 1913 – 2 wins. 1914 – 2 wins. 1927 – 4 wins. 1936 – 1 win.
Alekhine: 1927 – 6 wins. 1938 – 1 win.
If you feel that beating up on a vastly inferior foe (which Alekhine was in 1913 and 1914) proves Capablanca’s eternal superiority, you clearly lack the logic gene. However, when they played on a more level field (Alekhine didn’t reach top 3 status until 1921), Alekhine’s numbers are better.
A press photo from the 1927 match. The man standing is the arbiter, Dr. Carlos Augusto Querencio | Image Wikipedia
In short, one can chew on these numbers in many different ways and come up with an opinion that suits your particular prejudices/tastes. That’s fine, but don’t insist that your view is proven fact, and smack down anyone that dares think differently than you do.
I’ll end this topic with a wonderful comment by mrmibs:
“Two great champions - completely different styles - who is better? Who cares - just appreciate the artistry - these were difficult times that we could not fathom - WWI - the Great Depression and the onset of WWII. One thing for sure - we are all better off that these two geniuses existed and clashed on their chosen battlefield.”
Amen to that, mrmibs!
In my article How to Turbo-Charge Your Game some readers took offense at me recommending a coach since not everyone can afford one.
Well, I also tell people that Spagos Beverly Hills is my favorite restaurant and anyone that goes there will have a very enjoyable meal. I’m well aware that most can’t afford it, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s a fantastic place.
I’m also well aware that most people can’t afford a coach, though nowadays one can get a grandmaster coach online for a very reasonable sum.
When I just started, I was coached now and then (for free) by a 1600 level player, and he was very helpful. Other than that, I never had a coach until after I turned pro, and then a far more experienced player (around my own strength at that time) gave me some pointers (also for free… keep in mind that I didn’t have enough money to feed myself, let alone pay for lessons) that had a huge effect! He was able to see a major weakness (I moved too quickly in key positions), and once I realized it, my game improved enormously.
If you can’t afford lessons, you will have to read books, articles (I’ve written at least 2 zillion articles on Chess.com, and they are all free), and play people a bit better than yourself if you want to improve. You put in the work and improvement will happen!
If you can afford lessons, it’s important to find a coach that is right for you! Just because others like him, or that the coach has a monster rating or title, doesn’t mean you and that teacher are a good match. Coach/student is a relationship, and not all relationships are meant to be. If you hire a coach and find you just don’t communicate with each other very well, get a divorce and look for a new one.
CHESS ENGINES DON’T AGREE WITH EACH OTHER
One guy was disappointed that a computer assessment I gave (Houdini) didn’t match up with the assessment of his computer (GarboChess). For those that think all chess engines like the same moves, I have startling news: they often totally disagree with one another! If they agreed on every position’s ins and outs, then every computer vs. computer game would be drawn. But that’s clearly not the case.
Chess engines have different styles (some are more tactical while others have more positional finesse), vastly different programming, and even different “tastes.” For example, take a look at the following position:
If I give Houdini 5 minutes to ponder this situation, it insists that 22...Ra6 is the best move.
If I give HIARCS Chess Explorer (Deep HIARCS) 5 minutes, it gives thumbs up to 22...b4 with 22...Ra5 coming in second and 22...Kh8 third (HIARCS seemed to like 22...Kh8 right off the bat, while Houdini spits on that move).
That’s why, if I’m doing a serious analysis, I will use two or three engines at the same time since each one has its own insights into the position I’m looking at.
YET ANOTHER TALENTED CHESS.COM ARTIST
Chess.com member Fischermylife once again shows that this site’s readers are talented artists. Here he tries to show me that, “There are many ways to reach your goal from a point. The straight (shortest) line is preferred over any other.”
I will cherish this forever, and put it next to my Wolverine on a Lounge Chair Smoking a Pipe drawing. To be fair, Fischermylife also seemed to think that I had no knowledge of the Soviet School of Chess (Why does everyone read one book or article and think they are an expert in that subject?). But I won’t comment on that since I find his drawing to be much more interesting (in a way it’s like an X-ray into Fischermylife’s brain). In fact, I was using it as a meditation tool for a while (the image completely covering my field of vision while I laid in weightless bliss in a Lilly tank with Stairway to Heaven blaring in my ears), but had to stop when I woke one night in a zoo wearing some form of animal hide, with copious amounts of jet black hair growing on my back and chest.
Me entering my Lilly Tank
Me waking up at the zoo
WRESTLING WITH TROLLS
StevieBlues wisely said:
“Mr. Silman you must not take the bait of trolls. It’s literally fighting with a child, and you would not do this if you saw them face-to-face! Just ignore it, and don’t worry – the rest of us do the same.”
Okay, okay... I won’t fight them. But is it okay to hit them with several Taser blasts to their gonads? Please say it’s okay!?
Jimmy-the-Hand uses the word “muppet” for “trolls.” Why is Jimmy-the-Hand using a sweet, cuddly creature’s name for the disgusting stench of Internet trolls? For the love of god, leave the muppets alone!
BTW, why not stay with “troll”? It’s a perfect word for their behavior. Of course, I expect some misguided group will announce that the use of the word “troll” is cruel, and that one can only say “t-word” in the future (as in, “Oh no, that t-word is doing it again!”). It’s clear to me that political correctness is destroying the English language.
Can’t we ban these guys from from making comments?
THE NAME GAME
I’ve always been fascinated by the various made up names (and interesting avatars) that most Chess.com members use (though I wish they would also give their real name on their page). What’s particularly hilarious is how one made up name attacks another made up name as being fictitious (just as one dude with a bizarre avatar laughs at another person’s bizarre avatar).
A great example is the recent troll infestation that appeared in batgirl’s latest chess history piece on the first U.S. Woman’s Champion. One guy wrote: “I think aliens have again sabotaged Mr. Silman’s brain into believing that fictional characters can participate in real world discourse. ‘Batgirl’ is not a chess historian, she’s not even real!”
Though I won't mention the name of the dude who's been belittling batgirl’s moniker, when you see his comments and avatar in BatGirl's post (linked above), you'll know why I found it hard to stop laughing. He uses Ivanchuk’s image as his avatar, but I think an avatar of a village idiot falling off a wall would be more appropriate.
BTW, if you aren’t reading all of batgirl’s chess history articles, you’re missing out on one of the best things on this site!
PLAYING COMPLEX OPENINGS THAT NEITHER PLAYER UNDERSTANDS
Amateurs do this all the time, and it’s actually a good idea to do so IF you are able to get a strong player to point out the pros/cons/ideas/patterns/plans of the opening in question, and the flaws in your thinking. Suddenly a badly misplayed game becomes a master class of instruction.
Shoshonte (1558) – Travis Alverio (1327)
National Chess Congress 2013
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3
This position might seem to be simple, but it’s actually ripe with extremely complex possibilities.
This is often considered to be inaccurate, but that might not be the case.
Though very playable, this goes a bit easy on Black, who shouldn’t mind swapping off his potentially bad bishop for White’s bishop.
The critical reply to 4...Bf5 is 5.cxd5 cxd5 6.Qb3 and now:
- 6...Nc6 7.Qxb7 Bd7 8.Qb3 Rb8 9.Qd1 e5 10.Nf3 Bd6 11.Be2 0-0 gives Black a lot of compensation for the sacrificed pawn, though whether it’s 100% sound remains to be seen.
- 6...Qb6 7.Nxd5 Nxd5 (7...Qxb3? 8.Nxf6+) 8.Qxd5 Qb4+ (The pawn sacrifice 8...e6 9.Qb5+ Nc6 is also tried on occasion.) when White has tried both 9.Bd2 Qxb2 10.Rc1, looking to take advantage of White’s lead in development (or, if development fails, then to gain a positional advantage based on White’s extra center pawn and central space), and 9.Kd1, holding onto the extra pawn like grim death.
- 6...Qd7 is risky, as shown by the following game: 7.Nf3 e6 8.Ne5 Qc7 9.Bb5+ Nfd7 10.e4 Bxe4 11.Bf4 Bd6 12.Nxe4 dxe4 13.Rc1 Nc6 14.Bxc6 bxc6 15.Rxc6 1-0, Ivan Sokolov (2656) – C. Quaranta (2151), Vienna Open 2013.
- 6...Bc8 This looks a bit strange, but it’s not so bad (White’s probably only a little better) since Black’s position will turn out to be quite solid: 7.Nf3 Nc6 (7...e6 8.Bd3 Nc6 9.0-0 Bd7 10.Bd2 Qb6 11.Qd1 Bd6 12.Rc1 0-0 13.Na4 Qd8 14.Nc5 Bxc5 15.Rxc5 Ne4 16.Bxe4 dxe4 17.Ne5 Nxe5 18.dxe5, ½-1/2-1/2, Alexander Alekhine – Jose Capablanca, New York 1924) 8.Ne5 e6 9.f4 Be7 10.Bd3 0-0 11.0-0 Nd7 12.Bd2 Ndxe5 13.fxe5 Bd7 14.Rf3 Nb4 15.Be2 a5 16.a3 a4 17.Qd1 Nc6 18.Bd3 g6 19.Qe2 f6 20.exf6 Rxf6 21.Raf1 Kg7 22.Be1 Rxf3 23.Qxf3 Bf6 24.Bg3 Na5 25.Bc7 Qe7 26.Bd6 Qd8 27.Bc7 Qe7 28.Bd6 Qd8 29.h4 Nc6 30.h5 Be8 31.h6+!, 1-0, Matthew Sadler (2625) – Sipke Ernst (2581), [D10] Oslo 2011.
Naturally, all these move 6 possibilities for Black are just barebones basics. One could easily write dozens of pages on each one.
Other than 5.cxd5, White’s most logical move is 5.Nf3 when 5...e6 6.Nh4 is very popular since it goes after the two bishops (and a safe, small positional edge) right away.
Of course, I very much doubt that Black was aware of the pitfalls surrounding his 4...Bf5, and White was, apparently, also in unknown territory.
5...Bxd3 6.Qxd3 dxc4?
Just 6...e6 7.Nf3 Nbd7 is fine for Black. The capture on c4 gives up the center for no reason and isn’t something that an experienced player would do.
7.Qxc4 e6 8.Qb3?
I can only guess that White played this move as a reaction to a possible ...b7-b5 (it also attacks b7, but it’s not hard to defend). The fact is that White should not fear a one-move attack against his queen, and he should also be aware of the negative aspects of ...b7-b5, namely the weakening of the c6-pawn on an open file and the creation of a hole on c5. Once you realize that ...b7-b5 can create a lot of problems for Black, you will not only try to prevent it, you’ll actually beg Black to do it!
Instead, White should have demonstrated that chess is an easy game by playing the obvious 8.Nf3, developing, preparing to castle, and also putting pressure on the important e5-square.
Terrible. Black saw his pawn was attacked and defended it in a way that, other than making sure the pawn is safe, has no redeeming value (it wastes a move and creates a weak pawn on c6).
Instead, 8...Qb6! is a complete answer to White’s innocuous 8.Qb3. The pawn is guarded, Black’s queen takes up an active position, and Black threatens to chop on b3 and give White doubled isolated b-pawns. Of course, Black didn’t do this for the same reason White didn’t worry about ...Qb6 – both players thought that White would answer with 9.Qxb6 and give Black the doubled pawns. But this is 100% incorrect thinking. After 8...Qb6 9.Qxb6 (Black actually wants White to do this!) 9...axb6 Black’s doubled pawns aren’t weak at all, nor have any squares been weakened in Black’s camp. In fact, that pawn will gain queenside space with an eventual ...b6-b5, and the capture on b6 has also turned the do-nothing a8-rook into a powerful canon spitting fire down the half-open a-file.
Of course this is playable, but 9.Nf3 is far better since it affects a key central square (e5). Yes, “little” details like this do add up!
It’s normally not wise to open the center when one’s king is still there. Simply 9...Be7 or 9...Bd6 followed by 10...0-0 was better, while 9...Nbd7, retaining some flexibility, is also fine.
Another sub-par decision created by the fear of losing a pawn or, at the very least, getting an isolated d-pawn. But by reacting to Black’s “threat,” you are helping him develop and then castle. Instead, 11.Rd1 turns his threat into your threat and also brings the dormant rook on f1 to a hot open file.
As I constantly say (for players from beginner to 2100), one of the worst chess crimes is to react to enemy “threats” that, more often than not, aren’t threats at all or can be dealt with in a positive manner. Taking on c5 is NOT positive. Here’s a sample: 11.Rd1! cxd4 (11...Qc8 is probably better, when 12.e4 cxd4 13.Nxd4 Nxd4 14.Rxd4 Bc5 15.Qa4+ Nd7 [15...Kf8 is better, though White retains an edge] 16.Rd3 a6 17.Bf4 b5 18.Qd1 keeps Black under pressure) 12.exd4! (White wants to use the pawn to rip open the center and go after Black’s uncastled King.) 12...Be7 (12...Nd5 13.Nf4!) 13.Qb5! (13.d5 also gives White a nice initiative) 13...Qd7
13...Qc7 is a mistake and takes us to our first puzzle:
14.d5 Nxd5 15.Rxd5 Qb7 17.Nd4 Rc8 18.Nf5 0-0 19.Bd2 intending Rd1 and perhaps Bc3 in some lines with Black finding himself under enormous pressure. 19...Rcd8?? is a blunder that takes us to another puzzle:
Here's the analysis of 11.Rd1
Everyone should play over these lines since it shows you, in very clear fashion, the difference between just making moves that avoid confrontation and taking hold of the game and imprinting it with your own vision and energy.
The rest is worth a glance since it shows how a position can slowly get worse and worse:
The game was eventually drawn after Black missed a couple of winning continuations. But none of that matters. What DOES matter are the very common mistakes that both players made in the opening:
- Giving up the center for no reason (6...dxc4).
- Opening the position when one’s king is in the middle (9...c5).
- Wasting time to create an obvious pseudo threat (8.Qb3).
- Reacting to threats in a self-destructive manner (8...b6).
- Fearing doubled pawns (8...Qb6! was the way to go when the pawn structure after 9.Qxb6 axb6 actually favors Black!).
- Failing to place pieces where they control an optimum amount of central squares (9.Nge2 instead of the superior 9.Nf3).
- Allowing fear to make you actually help your opponent (11.dxc5 developing Black and helping Black castle quickly).
- Not trying to punish an enemy who has left his king in the center for too long (11.dxc5 instead of 11.Rd1!, turning up the heat!).
- Making a move that actually makes an enemy piece more active, while also weakening a central square (14.e4, which turned the c5-bishop into a laser beam, and left d4 vulnerable).
One or two of these things isn’t the end of the world, but when you do these “invisible/innocent” and all-too-common errors too many times, your game often slides away into oblivion and you are left wondering what went wrong.
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