Kavalek in Huffington: The Road to Chess Mastery

3/26/2012 – How much do you have to know to become a strong chess player? According to Russian folklore you have to know 300 chess positions to become a grandmaster, but nobody knows what exactly these positions are. Clearly there is is something in the number 300 that attracts chess writers, as GM Lubomir Kavalek explains in his latest Huffington Post column, which is all about books.

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The Road to Chess Mastery

By GM Lubomir Kavalek

Siegbert Tarrasch, one of the world's finest players from 1890 till World War One, taught chess in his book Three Hundred Chess Games. Vassily Panov presented in Russian 300 Selected Games of Alexander Alekhine with the notes of the former world champion.

In his book GM-Ram, IM Rashid Ziyatdinov prints 256 plain diagrams and asks you to fill in the remaining 44 positions. This is your chess brain, he says, but he doesn't tell you what to do with it. No text, no words - you are on your own. Once you acquire the "essential grandmaster knowledge" of these positions, chess is easy. Off you go, mastering the game and becoming a grandmaster. He also added 59 classical games without notes. "To be World Champion - at the level of Alekhine and Kasparov -you must know 1,000 most important games of top players," he claims.

The English grandmaster John Nunn gets to the number 300 differently. Instead of positions, he discusses ideas. His book Understanding Chess Endgames is a wonderful presentation of 100 key endgame ideas. Each idea has four fragments. The follow-up is Understanding Chess Middlegame, consisting of 100 important topics, each treated with two examples. Altogether, there are 300 ideas and more. No need to write Understanding Chess Openings, although one finds many rich opening ideas in Nunn's Understanding Chess Move by Move and 101 Brilliant Chess Miniatures. All Nunn's books were published by Gambit Publications.

In one of the first chapters of his middlegame treatise, Nunn reveals one of the main points of middlegame play: "All parts of the board are connected. Plans, strategies and tactics that occur in one area of the board can impact another part of the board in unexpected ways." He calls it "interconnectedness," but perhaps it has more to do with synchronicity. Butterfly flaps its wings in China, triggering an earthquake in California. White's dark bishop sneezes on the queenside, the black king catches a cold on the kingside. Something like that.

To prove the point, Nunn connects two games with the same theme: Botvinnik-Capablanca, one of the most famous games in history, and my game with Uhlmann from the 1976 Manila Interzonal. There are similarities: white plays the move a3-a4, only to lose the a-pawn later. But it opens the diagonal a3-f8 for his dark bishop, helping him to finish a successful kingside attack.

Mikhail Botvinnik's glamorous game against Jose Raul Capablanca in the elite AVRO tournament, played in Rotterdam in 1938, drew attention for other reasons. Not only did a spectator shout out loud the key move of the winning combination before it was played, but it turned out Botvinnik could have won the game earlier without sacrificing his pieces. Richard Cantwell, a Fairfax dentist and veteran of the Washington D.C. chess scene, discovered this more than 60 years after it was played.

For many years the game was Botvinnik's calling card, published all over the globe. Not surprisingly, the game found its way into Garry Kasparov's book On My Predecessors, Volume Two, published by Everyman Chess. But Cantwell found additional improvements, notably on the 1988 analysis by Moscow master Vladimir Goldin, cited by Kasparov.

Note that in the replay windows below you can click on the notation to follow the game.

Nunn combines the Botvinnik-Capablanca encounter with the following game because white helps his kingside attack by placing his dark bishop on a3. But it was not what I was going to do. I wanted to place on the square a3 my Queen!

I came to the 1976 Manila Interzonal with a wonderful second, Jan Timman. The Dutch grandmaster was about to move up among the world-class players, but he was not there yet. Snatching him was a great deal. It might have been the last time Jan took a coaching job.

The French Winawer was Timman's domain. He played it with both colors, but with the black pieces he suffered against two Yugoslav players, Bojan Kurajica and Albin Planinec. Before my game against Uhlmann, Timman's experience came in handy. We knitted several ideas together and they worked perfectly.

Viktor Moskalenko, who likes exotic names and peppers his books with fresh, interesting ideas, wrote about the difficult opening in The Flexible French and The Wonderful Winawer. Both books, published by New In Chess, are great reads. But Kurajica's maneuver Qd1-c1-a3 went unnoticed.

Where to look for chess ideas...

Several books with original ideas are worth reading. Two were already mentioned in previous columns. Invisible Chess Moves by Yochanan Afek and Emmanuel Neiman, published by New In Chess. It won Chess Cafe's 2011 Book of the Year Award. The runner-up Lessons with a Grandmaster by Boris Gulko and Dr. Joel R. Sneed, published by Everyman Chess, is based on a Socratic dialog, previously used by Andrew Soltis in his chess books. Gulko dives deep into his games and explains them clearly and well.

Quality Chess has published various books by strong grandmasters. Artur Yusupov's series Boost your Chess, Beyond the Basics and Chess Evolution, The Fundamentals are great training tools. Lev Psakhis's Advanced Chess Tactics is a beautiful, witty sentimental journey into his past with a special tribute to the legendary attacker, the world champion Mikhail Tal.

Grandmaster Versus Amateur, edited by Jacob Aagaard and John Shaw, is a great attempt by several grandmasters to map their paths to the grandmaster title. Their struggles and triumphs are vividly described and have instructive value.

Amateurs who want to reach a more modest 2100 rating can always turn to Jeremy Silman's classic How to Reassess Your Chess. In the fourth almost completely re-written edition, the California IM delves into psychology. The 658-page epic book underscores Silman's trademark: how to balance chess imbalances.

Original column hereCopyright Huffington Post


The Huffington Post is an American news website and aggregated blog founded by Arianna Huffington and others, featuring various news sources and columnists. The site was launched on May 9, 2005, as a commentary outlet and liberal/progressive alternative to conservative news websites. It offers coverage of politics, media, business, entertainment, living, style, the green movement, world news, and comedy. It is a top destination for news, blogs, and original content. The Huffington Post has an active community, with over one million comments made on the site each month. According to Nielsen NetRatings, the site has around 13 million unique visitors per month (number for March 2010); according to Google Analytics the number is 22 million uniques per month.


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