How does one play against a World Champion?

9/13/2011 – GM Adrian Mikhalchishin shares his extensive experience working with players who faced World Champions, and the difficulties this unique challenge presents. He also breaks down the upcoming Women's World Championship and gives his opinion. He explains how he prepares players to face a champion, and how both the trainer and the student can make the most of this opportunity.

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How does one play a World Champion?

By Adrian Mikhalchishin

For every player, facing a World Champion is an event in a chess tournament and in their chess career. It's always important and interesting to compare oneself with the strongest player and to see if, as the great Vassily Smyslov used to say, "World Champions are chosen by God!" Of course, it is an exaggeration, but it is a fact, that without the help of divine intervention we cannot imagine ourselves as a World Champion. But the main characteristics of all World Champions are a huge love for the game and ta titanic work ethic (except Tal and Capablanca!).

Thus players try to show in such games that they are not worse, nor do they deserve less and want to understand what made their opponents World Champions.

This is a difficult and important time for  their trainers. It is a good opportunity to show pupils, how it is necessary to work on chess to become a great player and to get renewed inspiration after such a game. After a negative result, it is important to study how to reassess and improve  one's own chess and to see some of the technical advantages of the champions to improve their own game.

[Event "ch-Euro Indiv Women"] [Site "Tbilisi GEO"] [Date "2011.05.07"] [Round "1"] [White "Ozturk, Ku"] [Black "Stefanova, A."] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D45"] [WhiteElo "2262"] [BlackElo "2506"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/8/3N4/4k1pp/5n2/5PK1/8/8 w - - 0 58"] [PlyCount "52"] [EventDate "2011.05.07"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "11"] [EventCountry "GEO"] [Source "Mark Crowther"] [SourceDate "2011.05.09"] {The champion's advantage in technique is beautifully demonstrated in the next game. The position normally promises White significant chances to hold the draw, but the world champion's technique is superb.} 58. Ne4 Kf5 59. Nd6+ Kg6 60. Ne4 Ne6 61. Nd6 Nd4 62. Ne4 Kf5 63. Nd6+ Kf6 64. Ne4+ Kg6 65. Kg2 h4 66. Nf2 (66. Nd6 Kf6) 66... Kf5 67. Nd3 Ne6 68. Kf2 ({Nothing would change if the king retreated elsewhere such as} 68. Kh2 Nf4 69. Nf2 Ke5 70. Ng4+ Kd4 71. Kg1 Kd3 72. Kf2 Kd2 73. Nf6 Nd3+ 74. Kg2 Ke3 75. Nd5+ Kd4 76. Ne7 Nf4+ 77. Kf2) 68... Nf4 69. Nc5 Ke5 70. Nd7+ ({The tricky} 70. Ne4 {does not work after} g4 71. Ng3 Nd3+ $1 72. Kg2 Ne1+) 70... Kd4 71. Nf6 Kd3 72. Nh7 ({Now the provocative and tricky} 72. Ne4 {was possible.} g4 73. Ng3) 72... Ne6 73. Nf6 Kd4 74. Ke2 $2 ({It was necessary to simply continue with} 74. Ng4) 74... Ke5 75. Ng4+ Kf4 {with the opponent's king on f4 it is difficult to fight.} 76. Kf2 Nd4 77. Ne3 ({After} 77. Nh2 h3 $1 {White is in zugzwang and loses a second pawn.}) 77... Nxf3 78. Nd5+ Ke5 79. Ne7 Ke4 80. Kg2 g4 81. Ng6 Kf5 82. Ne7+ Kg5 83. Nd5 Nd4 0-1

A positive result always gives a boost, as it gives the impression that becoming a champion is not too far away and all that is needed are additional efforts during the training.

In my trainer's career I have had a few encounters with World Champions.

At the beginning, I was a second of Oleg Romanishin during the Soviet Championships 1975-78,where he played champions such as Karpov, Tal, Petrosian and Smyslov. And there were a lot of successes as Oleg was capable of beating anybody at that time. So, together we worked with another future great trainer, Arshak Petrosian, and got a lot of experience. It was our basic trainers education and we are grateful to the great person Oleg Romanishin and feel pity, that he did not keep his fantastic level from those times.

Later, many years ago, I helped Maya Chiburdanidze to prepare her opening repertoire against Nona Gaprindashvili. It was not so complicated work, as I had nothing to do with the match after this.

Then I worked a great deal with Anatoly Karpov against Garry Kasparov,who was extremely strong in the opening preparation. We all had difficult times, despite the fact that we had some of the best opening specialists, such as the legendary Efim Geller and Lev Polugaevsky. I remember the terrible pressure felt by my friends, Romanishin, Beliavsky, Dorfman and Vaganian, facing World champions. They all were absolute top in the 70s  and 80s, but were unable withstand the pressure the World Champions applied.

In the nineties I started to prepare more top female players like Zsuzsa Polgar, Alisa Maric and Zhaoqin Peng. They all played at the top and Zsuzsa even became World Champion, while Maric was in the top five a few times and Peng was a top ten player. However, other than Maya Chiburdanidze, who had lost interest in her chess and devoted herself to her religion, they did not play directly against World Champions. So, preparation was mostly psychological ,as she avoided main lines and tried to play for technique. Champs have a huge psychological weapon , which is their influenced on their opponents. I remember that I could not convince Alisa Maric, who feared no one, to play more active against Zhu Chen in her best year.

It was necessary to try to reach reasonable positions from the opening, to avoid technical positions, and to try to change the curse of the game's fourth hour.

Mikhalchishin working with young Turkish talents

Nowadays, training the young Turkish Women's team, I have met with world champions occasionally.
My girls are rated much lower and it is possible to meet World Champions in the FIDE Grand Prix or the European Individual Championship.

Training top Turkish players Kübra Öztürk (middle) and Betül Cemre Yildiz (right)

Betul Yildiz played Hou Yifan three times in the last edition of the Grand Prix, and consistently got very favourable positions from the opening, but then started to make typical girl's mistakes - no more active moves forward. So,it was the first part of her general preparation - to explain, that her objective is just to press forward. Her opponent wants simple technical positions and will not be very happy with sharp play where the chance of making a mistake is much higher. I told her that top players hate pressure from the lower-rated players! Openings are not a problem, as her last level of preparation is sufficient to face even a World champion! It was partially psychological preparation as taught by Chinese table tennis trainers. Their psychological preparation is to convince (and to prepare) pupils, that their technical preparation is at the top.

[Event "Shenzhen WGP 2011"] [Site "Shenzhen CHN"] [Date "2011.09.09"] [Round "3"] [White "Hou Yifan"] [Black "Yildiz, B."] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C55"] [WhiteElo "2578"] [BlackElo "2308"] [PlyCount "179"] [EventDate "2011.09.07"] {The first and most important problem is how to play a World Champion with Black? It is an important part of chess psychology as in women's chess it is more important than memorizing long opening lines. Preparation was to play very aggressively with Black, and never step back! The motto was "Russians and Turks never go back!" Geoffrey Borg, chief of the FIDE Grand Prix gave good advice, explaining that Hou Yifan plays technical positions like a computer! So,the only way to play her is to try be better prepared in the opening and to conduct very active strategy at every moment. Betul, you have nothing to lose and every result is good. It's a great honour to play a World Champion and every positive result will be a huge boost for you.} 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 {Hou Yifan is by far the best female specialist in the Spanish, but since she is preparing for her World Championship match against Humpy Koneru, she is very careful not to show her preparation. In the Candidates her main opening was the Spanish, but I would recommend she change it immediately! As a result she has chosen the Giuoco Piano in the last competitions, where opening knowledge is unimportant. Events are slow to develop and there are no dangers to fall into with any opening preparation surprise.} Nf6 4. d3 Be7 5. Bb3 O-O 6. O-O d6 7. c3 Na5 8. Bc2 c5 9. Nbd2 Nc6 10. Re1 ({Somebody suggested changing direction here with} 10. a3 $5 {preparing b2-b4, which in my opinion is worth trying.}) 10... Re8 {Alexander Beliavsky's favourite plan.} ({It is more common to protect the e5 pawn in a different manner, preparing a central break. Betul has great experience in similar structures, which she has defended well against such top players as Aleksandra Kosteniuk and Tatiana Kosintseva.} 10... Qc7) 11. Nf1 h6 12. h3 Bf8 {Now after the set-up preparations are complete, Black is ready to counter in the center with d6-d5.} 13. N3h2 $6 {To tell you the truth, this is a strange way to handle this classical Spanish position, yet this move has been used by such experts as GMs Yudasin and Nevednichy! To move a knight away from the center is wrong up until the moment, when the center is closed or defined, such as in classical Fischer games, who introduced this knight maneuver into modern practice.} ({The most serious option here is of course the final activation of the center.} 13. d4 exd4 14. cxd4 cxd4 ({A very interesting option is to counter White's central break with } 14... d5 $5 15. e5 Ne4 16. dxc5 Nxc5 17. Ng3 (17. a3 a5 18. Ng3 d4 19. Ne4 Nxe5 20. Nxd4 Bxh3 21. Be3 Bg4 22. f3 Bh5 23. Bf2 Bg6 24. Rc1 Rc8 25. Nxc5 Bxc5 26. Ba4 Bxd4 27. Qxd4 Rxc1 28. Rxc1 Qg5 {with sufficient counterplay, Sermek,D (2490)-Stevic,H (2300)/Makarska 1995}) 17... b6 18. Bd2 a5 19. Bc3 g6 20. Nd4 Nxd4 21. Bxd4 Rb8 22. Qf3 Ne6 23. Rad1 Nxd4 24. Rxd4 Qc7 25. Bb3 Rxe5 26. Rxe5 Qxe5 27. Rxd5 Qe1+ 28. Kh2 Be6 {and the position is equal. Caposciutti,M (2315) -Arlandi,E (2440)/Forli 1993}) 15. Nxd4 Bd7 16. Ng3 d5 17. Nxc6 (17. Bf4 $142 Bb4 18. Re2 Nxe4 19. Nxe4 dxe4 20. Bxe4 Qf6 $11) 17... Bxc6 18. e5 Ne4 19. Bf4 $6 ({Slightly better is} 19. Nxe4 dxe4 20. Bf4 g5 21. Bg3 Qxd1 22. Raxd1 Bg7 23. Bxe4 Bxe4 24. Rxe4 f5 $1 25. Re2 f4 26. Bh2 Rxe5 (26... Rad8 27. Rxd8 Rxd8) 27. Rxe5 Bxe5 $15 {Nevednichy,V (2535)-Bruzon,L (2625)/Benasque 2004}) 19... Qh4 20. Qf3 Ng5 21. Bxg5 Qxg5 22. Qd3 g6 23. f4 $1 Qxf4 24. Nh5 $1 Bc5+ 25. Kh1 gxh5 $2 (25... Qg5 26. Nf6+ Kg7 27. Nxe8+ Rxe8 {promised Black a serious initiative.}) 26. Rf1 Bf2 27. Rxf2 Qxf2 28. Qh7+ Kf8 29. Qxh6+ Kg8 30. Qh7+ Kf8 31. Qh6+ Kg8 32. Bh7+ {White has perpetual at worst and can continue his attack. Jonkman,H (2417)-Ris,R (2300)/Hoogeveen 2004}) 13... d5 ({It is possible to continue improving the pieces with} 13... g6 14. Ne3 Be6 15. Qf3 Bg7 16. Nd5 Bxd5 17. exd5 Ne7 18. Bxh6 Bxh6 19. Qxf6 Nxd5 20. Qf3 Nf4 21. Bb3 d5 22. Ng4 Bg7 23. Rad1 Qd6 24. h4 Rad8 25. g3 Ne6 26. Ne3 Nc7 27. h5 b5 28. hxg6 fxg6 29. a4 a6 30. axb5 axb5 {with very comfortable play for Black. Nepomniachtchi,I (2613)-Cebalo,M (2533)/Biel 2007}) 14. exd5 {Generally,in such situations it is better not to reduce the pressure in the center. As such any other move would be a more logical choice.} (14. Qf3 d4 15. Bb3 $146 ({ Weaker is} 15. Ng3 g6 16. Bb3 Be6 17. Bxe6 Rxe6 18. c4 Rb8 19. Bd2 b5 20. cxb5 Rxb5 21. b3 a5 22. h4 h5 $15 {Yudasin,L (2605)-Nikolic,P (2625)/Tilburg 1993}) 15... Na5 16. Ba4 Bd7 17. Bxd7 Nxd7 $11 18. c4 $6 a6 19. Ng3 b5 20. b3 g6 21. Bd2 Nc6 22. Ng4 Qh4 $15 {0-1 Nevednichy,V (2563)-Beliavsky,A (2638)/ Jugoslavija 2001}) (14. Ng4 d4 15. Bb3 Be6 16. Bxe6 Rxe6 17. c4 Nxg4 18. hxg4 Rg6 19. g3 a6 20. Nh2 Be7 21. f4 b5 22. b3 bxc4 23. bxc4 Rb8 24. f5 Rd6 25. Nf3 Qa5 26. a4 Bf6 27. Bd2 Qd8 28. Rb1 Nb4 {and Black controls the game. Vratonjic, S (2447)-Popov,S (2477)/Mataruska Banja 2007}) 14... Nxd5 15. Qf3 Be6 ({ A bit risky was the aggressive approach with} 15... f5 16. Ng3 g6 17. h4 $1 h5 18. Bg5 Be7 19. Bxe7 Rxe7 20. Qd1 $1 Be6 21. Nf3 {and the weakness on g5 is very unpleasant.}) 16. Ng4 Qc7 ({More solid could be} 16... f6 17. Bb3 Kh8) 17. Ng3 Rad8 ({Too risky was} 17... Nf4 18. Bxf4 (18. Nxe5 Nxh3+ 19. gxh3 Nxe5) 18... exf4 19. Nh5 Bd6 20. d4 cxd4 21. Qd3) 18. Bd2 Nde7 ({Now was possible} 18... Nf4 19. Bxf4 exf4 20. Nh5 Bd6 21. Bb3 Kh8) 19. Nh5 Ng6 20. Qg3 Kh8 ({It was also possible to protect the f6 square more directly with } 20... Be7) 21. Rad1 ({More logical was to double on e file} 21. Re2) 21... Bf5 ({Too complicated to calculate, yet possible, was the risky pawn capture} 21... Bxa2 22. b3 Na5 23. c4 Nxb3 24. Bc3 Nd4 25. Bxd4 cxd4 26. Ra1 Qa5) 22. Qf3 Nh4 ({Better was to return} 22... Be6) 23. Qg3 Ng6 24. Bc1 c4 25. Rd2 ({ Now wrong was} 25. Qf3 Nh4 26. Qg3 cxd3) 25... cxd3 (25... Nf4 $1 {would lead to a huge advantage.}) 26. Bxd3 Bxd3 27. Rxd3 Rxd3 ({Two options still kept Black's advantage:} 27... Nf4) ({and} 27... Qa5) 28. Qxd3 Rd8 29. Qe4 Qd7 30. Ne3 {Now the position is equal, however control over the central file still gives Black some chances to play for an advantage.} Qe6 31. b3 Nge7 32. Ng3 Nd5 33. Qc2 $2 ({White did not want to suffer without the d-file after} 33. Nxd5 Qxd5) 33... Nxe3 $2 {An automatic exchange, but small tactics would have won a pawn.} (33... Nxc3 $1) 34. Bxe3 Qd5 35. Qf5 Qd7 (35... g6 {would lead to a clear Black advantage.} 36. Qf6+ Kg8 37. Qh4 Qd3 38. Bxh6 Qxc3) 36. Qh5 Kg8 37. Qf3 ({Dangerous was} 37. Nf5 Kh7) 37... Qe6 38. Qe4 Qd5 39. Qg4 Qd7 40. Nf5 Kh7 41. Bc1 Qe6 ({Very unpleasant was} 41... Qd3) 42. Ne3 ({Slightly more technical was another retreat} 42. Ng3 {as White would keep the option to come to the central square e4.}) 42... Qxg4 43. hxg4 Rd3 44. Bb2 Bc5 ({It was also possible to try to bring the king closer to the center. The endgame is always slightly better for Black.} 44... Kg6) 45. Rd1 Rxd1+ 46. Nxd1 Kg6 ({Very strong was} 46... e4 47. c4 Kg6 48. Kf1 Nb4) 47. Kh2 f5 ({Once more} 47... e4) 48. Kg3 h5 49. gxf5+ Kxf5 50. b4 Bb6 ({Also possible was another retreat} 50... Be7) 51. Bc1 g5 ({A very good alternative was to try to penetrate White's position with the king.} 51... Ke4 52. Nb2 h4+ 53. Kxh4 Bxf2+) 52. a4 a6 ({ Still very good was} 52... e4) 53. a5 Ba7 ({Better was} 53... Bc7) 54. f3 Ne7 55. Bd2 Nd5 (55... Kf6 {with the idea to place the knight on f5.}) 56. c4 Nf4 ( {Very good was} 56... Nf6) 57. c5 Bb8 ({Still good was} 57... Nd3 58. Ne3+ Kf6 59. Nd5+ Ke6) 58. Kf2 Nd5 59. Ne3+ Nxe3 60. Kxe3 Bc7 ({In this bishop endgame, it was still possible to try to win with} 60... g4 61. fxg4+ hxg4 62. Be1 Bc7 63. Bh4 e4) 61. Kd3 g4 62. fxg4+ Kxg4 (62... hxg4 {would make practically no difference and lead to equal play.}) 63. Be1 Kf5 64. Kc4 Ke4 $2 ({The wrong direction. It was safer to be closer to her own pawns.} 64... Ke6) 65. c6 b6 66. axb6 Bxb6 67. b5 $2 {Its always dangerous to exchange such pawns, but White desperately wanted to come with her king.} ({White could try to exploit her unexpected winning chances differently.} 67. Bf2 Bc7 68. Bg3 Bd8 ({ No better is} 68... Bd6 69. Bh2 h4 70. Bg1) 69. Kc5 Bc7 70. Bh2 h4 71. Bg1 Kf5 72. Bf2 {and h4 is in trouble.}) 67... axb5+ 68. Kxb5 Bc7 69. Ba5 ({Tempting was either} 69. Ka6 Kd5 70. Kb7 Bd6 71. c7 ({The obvious deflection} 71. Bb4 { would be met by the sacrifice} Bb8 $1 {transposing into a similar conclusion to the game.}) 71... Bxc7 72. Kxc7 e4 73. Bh4 e3 74. Kd7 Ke4 ({Losing was} 74... e2 75. Bg3 Kd4 76. Ke6 Ke4 77. Kf6) 75. Ke6 Kf4 76. Be1 Kg4 {and the position is the same draw as in the game.}) 69... Bd6 70. Kb6 $6 ({Chances to win were slim even after the correct king retreat} 70. Kc4 Bb8 71. Bb6 Bd6 72. Kc3 ({Or} 72. Ba7 Kf4 73. Kd5 Bc7 74. Ke6 e4) 72... Kf4 {immediately trying to attack the g2-pawn.}) 70... Kd5 71. Bb4 Bb8 72. c7 ({Or} 72. Kb7 e4) 72... Bxc7+ 73. Kxc7 e4 74. Kd7 Ke5 75. Be1 e3 76. Ke7 Kf4 77. Kf6 Kg4 78. g3 ( {Black threatened to exchange White's last pawn} 78. Ke5 h4 79. Ke4 h3) 78... Kf3 79. Kg5 Ke2 $1 {Black has to control the pawn on g3 and the f2 and f1 squares.} 80. Bb4 Kf3 81. Kh4 Kg2 82. Be1 Kf1 83. Bc3 Kg2 84. Bb4 e2 85. Bc3 Kf2 86. Bd2 Kg2 87. Be1 Kf1 88. Bd2 Kg2 89. Be1 Kf1 90. Bd2 {Final impressions? Hou Yifan Its always difficult to play tournaments before World Championship matches and they never show the real preparation of the player. Hou Yifan looks more stable psychologically, as she can perform well even under stress and in uncomfortable situations. This means she has one of the important champion abilities: To be able to suffer and not crack under the pressure. Also on her side are the positive results from all her last encounters against Humpy. Humpy Koneru She is preparing extremely seriousely for this encounter against one of the most talented Women's World Champions since Maya Chiburdanidze. A great deal depends more on practical pre-match preparations: she simply needs to be in good form. Her last tournament results were highly unsuccessful, but they just show the pressure she is under. Additionally, she has complicated relations with her national Federation. That said, she has changed radically in the last two years, and has become much more social, to he point where smiles have started to show on her face. Her different Indian outfits are really masterpieces, compared to the sports uniforms Hou Yifan mostly wears. I saw the last FIDE Grand Prix in Dokha and I must say I had a feeling on how Koneru woke up after her disastrous start while all events around were just in her favor. So,to evaluate the chances in the match is very difficult. On the surface, the situation looks to be much more favourable for Hou Yifan, but in a match, when players will sit one against another, things can change considerably. Especially, if Koneru is able to forget her bad memories from her games against Hou Yifan.} 1/2-1/2

About Adrian Mikhalchishin

Born in 1954 in Lvov and a Grandmaster since 1978, is currently among the top 5 world trainers and the Chairman of the FIDE Trainers' Commission. The Ukrainian trained the team of USSR in 1980's, national teams of Slovenia, Poland and the Netherlands, and was the trainer of Anatoly Karpov (1980-1986), he trained Zsuzsa Polgar, Alexander Beliavsky, Maja Chiburdanidze, Arkadij Naiditsch and Vassily Ivanchuk. He is also the trainer of the Turkish Women's team and is the author of several Chessbase DVDs.


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