Shirov: with black and white in Ottawa simul

3/7/2012 – Two simultaneous exhibitions on 39 boards – that is nothing unusual for a top grandmaster. But Alexei Shirov is willing (a) to take the black side of as many boards as the participants want; and (b) to do a four-hour lecture with his opponents on their games after the event is over. "That’s why we keep inviting him," writes John Upper in this must-read report filled with games and analysis.

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Shirov 2012 Ottawa Simul

Report by John Upper

For the third February in a row, GM Alexei Shirov returned to Ottawa’s RA Chess Club for a simul and lecture. On February 23, he scored 19 wins, one draw, and no losses at the RA Club. The next night he travelled across the Ottawa River to Gatineau where he scored 18 wins and one loss, for a combined score of +37 =1 –1.

While it is not uncommon for a strong GM to play a simul without losing a game, even with the one loss Shirov’s result is particularly impressive because while most simul-givers take White in all their games, in his simuls Alexei concedes some of his advantage by alternating between White and Black. Usually. But a Friday afternoon storm dumped ten cm of snow on Gatineau just before his second simul, keeping several of his opponents away.

Gatineau’s Maison du Citoyen (City Hall), here in Summer without the snow

So when Alexei arrived at Gatineau’s Maison du Citoyen he found his opponents had taken not only all the available Whites (and as few as possible of the Blacks) but one player sat down as Black and turned the board around! Alexei good-naturedly didn’t object (“well, if that’s what makes them happy...”) even though it meant he played 15 of his 19 games as Black, including one stretch of ten Blacks in a row with a former 2300+ player at one end and two experts at the other. Can you imagine other simul masters?

Well, if that's what makes them happy... Alexei Shirov playing with the black pieces

Count the blacks! An aerial view of the Shirov simul in Gatineau


Shirov is famous as an attacker, and (of course) some of his simul games had him sacrifice for strong attacks (vs Dagenais and Upper) or turn a development or positional advantage into a winning attack (vs Cote and Ivanenko). But this time the dominant theme was endgame skill: on at least a half dozen boards Shirov entered endgames where he was between equal and lost, and won them all. Amos Kuttner was completely outplayed from an equal rook endgame, and Roger Hubley missed a chance to exchange down to a very drawish opposite-coloured Bishop ending.

Alexei in action: the Latvian GM usually alternates Black and White in his simuls...

Worst of all, from the home-team’s point of view, Mate Marinkovic and Bill Doubleday were both winning in tricky rook endings and both lost. Only Saeid Sadeghi showed sufficient endgame resourcefulness to steer an inferior position to a dead drawn rook ending. If there is an antidote to Shirov then surely Saeid has the patent: this is his third draw in three simuls against the Super-GM.

In the opening phase of the simul...

... and the last man sitting: Mate Mankovic ponders his 57th move

Marinkovic,Mate - Shirov,Alexei [A26]
RACC Shirov simul Ottawa, 23.02.2012

The game is basically drawn, but continued 57.Rxc6+ Ke7 58.Ra6 Rg2+ 59.Kf1 a2 60.g5? Rc2!–+ 61.h5 Rc1+ 62.Kf2 a1Q 63.Rxa1 Rxa1 64.Kxf3 Rg1 65.g6 Kf6 66.Ke3 Rc1 67.d4 Rc3+ 68.Kd2 exd4 69.e5+ Kg7 0-1. The game is extensively analysed in our replayer below.

Alexei got burned only once (picture above), when he played an overly ambitious exchange sac from a passive position, and Pat Duquette’s solid play combined with a fingerfehler from Shirov to bring in the full point. The game is analysed in our Javascript replayer below.

My favourite game features both Shirov’s talent for combinations and his endgame skill: against Michel Desjardins he played an endgame combination which sets up an unavoidable and deadly exchange sacrifice.

Desjardins,Michel - Shirov,Alexei [C02]
RACC Shirov simul Ottawa, 23.02.2012 [Upper,John]

28...Nxb2!! White resigned! That's unusually early in a simul game – where players often drag losing positions all the way to mate – but Michel is strong enough to know how bad his position is. The key point is not simply that Black gets a R+P for N+B, but that White has no obvious way to save the Pc3 against a future exchange sac. Full analysis in our Javascript replayer below.


On Saturday Alexei reviewed his simul games against those attending the lecture; in effect, a post-mortem with a Super-GM. Like any joint analysis, what you get out of it depends on what you put in. Some players had clearly reviewed their games carefully and were prepared to talk about where their OTB analysis differed from their books’ recommendations and computers’ evaluations. Others seemed reluctant to say anything, even when asked a totally normal post-mortem question like, “Did you consider this move?” It is possible they were intimidated, but I find this difficult to understand, since I don’t find Alexei intimidating at all. Of course he knows vastly more about chess than I do; and he sees things much faster and more clearly than anyone I’ve met. But he’s prepared to share some of that with you if you ask – and that’s why we keep inviting him.

Shirov analyses with simul participants and explains the latest theory on the Dragon

So, if you’re lucky enough to get the chance to analyze with him: do your homework, ask some questions, make some suggestions. You’ll get more out of it, and maybe Alexei will too: during last year’s visit I told him about a novelty I’d found a few years ago in an opening we both played. The day after this year’s lecture he showed up at the Club and played some blitz games against the regulars (5 min v 2 min; score: Shirov 8 – RACC 0). Then he told me he’d shown my idea to another 2700 player (who I won’t name). This player had wrinkled his nose at it and suggested a continuation I hadn’t considered. Alexei showed me their idea and.... [waffle]... the position is too complicated for me to come up with an adequate response to a pair of 2700's without a lot of silicon help. So the ball is back in my court. At the moment, I’m not optimistic.

A few of Alexei’s more interesting insights are included in the notes to the games. Before you read them, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you more likely to cause a GM trouble in a simul by going into tactical complications or into a pawn ending? (vs Kuttner)

  • How about playing a line that is generally regarded as bad in a highly tactical opening like the Anti-Meran Botvinnik System? Isn’t that just crazy against a guy with as much experience in it as Shirov? (vs Doubleday)

  • Do GMs get “take-backs” in simuls? (vs Duquette) I don’t know the answer to this, so I’d like some feedback. I’ve never heard that the simul-giver has the right to take back a move once played, and have always assumed that a simul is just like a tournament game: touch move. But both Shirov and Nigel Short (last Fall) said that they believe the simul-giver has the right to take back a move until he has moved on to the next board. If so, it ought to be common practice to announce this at the start of the simul. Are there any conventions about this, ChessBase editors and readers?

Selected games with analysis

A complete set of games from the RACC simul can be found at the Club website. Thanks goes to: Gordon Ritchie for arranging and hosting Alexei’s visit, and to Marcel Laurin for running the Gatineau simul. Text and photos are by John Upper.

Copyright Upper/ChessBase

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