"I want to help people realise their advantages" - Ivan Sokolov's "Understanding Middlegame Strategies"

by Stefan Liebig
4/30/2024 – Have you ever been there? You're happy with the advantage you've worked so hard for, you've been holding on to it for hours, and then: one mistake and the point goes down the drain! In his ChessBase video series "Understanding Middlegame Strategies", now in its ninth part, Ivan Sokolov, one of the world's best trainers, gives deep insights into his wealth of experience and reveals how to find the right moves in the future.

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Understanding Middlegame Strategies Vol.1 - 9

In this Video-Course we deal with different dynamic decisions involving pawns. The aim of this Course is to arm club/tournament players with fresh ideas which they can use in their own practice.

Video lessons have become an important part of training in recent years," says former world number 12 Ivan Sokolov. The 56-year-old, who matured into a world-class player in the analogue era, is now a regular guest in the ChessBase recording studio. In the meantime he has built up an excellent reputation as a coach. He currently coaches the Romanian national team. In 2022 he even surprisingly led the Uzbek team, led by the exceptional talent Nodirbek Abdusattorov, to Olympic victory.

A fan of Alekhine and Spassky who was born in Jajce, Yugoslavia, and emigrated to the Netherlands due to the war, he has a clear aim with his middlegame series: "I want to help people realise their advantages." He does this in a thoroughly unconventional way, as the first, second and fourth parts of the video series discuss pawn structures in detail, and all the other parts have opening titles (Hedgehog, Sicilian, Spanish, Catalan and twice French). But his explanation is convincing: he wants to explain structures that he himself has often tried out against world-class opponents. Sokolov knows how important it is to look at openings in conjunction with the resulting middlegames and endgames. It is a philosophy that former German national coach Dorian Rogozenco and Slovakian coach Jan Markos also advocate in interviews and implement in their ChessBase courses.

Changing times

Sokolov recalls with a smile how he used to cut out chess games from daily newspapers and was delighted to receive tournament bulletins from friends. He used these to build up his own chess library. "I learned from the classics and admired the interplay of tactics and strategy. Alekhine and Spassky were my great role models," says the father of two grown-up children. Of course, like all other chess enthusiasts, he followed the World Championship matches between Karpov and Kasparov in the early 1980s. Like most, he was also enthralled by Kasparov"s active play and his tournament victories at the Yugoslavian tournaments in Banja Luka, Bugojno and Niksic. Sokolov could only dream of his victory over Kasparov many years later...

It's hard for today's players to imagine that back then you had to search for good chess equipment and make good connections. "Today the problem is to choose the right material from the flood of material available," says the world-class coach, recognising the challenge that amateurs face time and again in his daily practice. He advises a varied training programme with classics in book form, but also video courses: "Both have their pros and cons. With a video course, you can get to know and understand a lot of plans in a short space of time. That"s a big advantage over a book."

Compared to purely analysing with an engine, he definitely relies on the human component. Because what you can explain and convey with language, long analysis variants cannot teach you - in fact, they often confuse you. However, Sokolov also knows from his many years of experience as a trainer: "People learn differently." Which is why everyone should ultimately find their own way.

Stick with it

The important thing is to stick with it. Tactical training should play a more important role than just learning the openings. Complete games should also be analysed - particularly if they match your own openings. It is important to look at well annotated games. Sokolov is fascinated by Chess960 and the top tournament that took place in Weissenhaus in February. "It was exciting to see how even the top players - without the shield of their theoretical knowledge - were left to their own devices from the start and could even lose after ten moves. This should make us respect the "old masters" even more," he says, looking forward to more events of this kind. However, he does not believe that classical chess and its theoretical achievements are in danger. Even if there are more Chess960 tournaments, he stresses the importance of pattern recognition and the databases, video courses and books that can be used for this.

For him this is at the heart of improving his playing strength: Magnus Carlsen is also so good because he is a master of pattern recognition. Perhaps that's why Sokolov's victory over the young Carlsen is one of his favourite games.

Sokolov-Carlsen, Hoogoven 2004

But his victory against the eventual world champion Viswanathan Anand is also a true masterpiece:

Anand-Sokolov, Hoogovens, Wijk aan Zee 1996

Further victories that are among his own highlights:

Sokolov-Caruana, European Individual 2010

Sokolov-Topalov, Wijk aan Zee 1996

Sokolov-Kramnik, Wijk aan Zee 2004

These impressive and instructive games, and especially the ChessBase video series "Understanding Middlegame Strategies", will certainly help you make fewer mistakes in the future and turn your good positions into points. And those who want to learn even more can look forward to the continuation of the video series and many more tips from one of the best trainers in the world ...

Interview with Ivan Sokolov

If you want to know more about Ivan Sokolov, be sure to check out his interviews with Sagar Shah - they also feature his impressive wins over Garry Kasparov and Judit Polgar:



And here are some more dates from Sokolov's vita:

Ivan Sokolov was born on 13 June 1968 in Jajce, Bosnia (then part of Yugoslavia). He learnt the game from his father at the age of six. Sokolov"s father was a strong player and gave his son access to chess literature. In 1986 he became an International Master, the Grandmaster title followed one year later, in 1987.

During the civil war in Yugoslavia, Sokolov went into exile with Predrag Nikolić in the Netherlands in 1993, where he became national champion in 1995 and 1998. He is married to a Dutch national. He was voted Dutch Player of the Year in 2003. Since April 2009 he has been registered again with the Bosnian Chess Federation. In 2010 he organised the Bosna Open in Sarajevo. In December 2010 he returned to the Dutch Chess Federation.

Sokolov at a simul

From 2018 to 2022, Sokolov was Vice-President of the European Chess Union. Sokolov is currently the Chairman of the Trainers Commission of the European Chess Union. In 2022, Ivan Sokolov coached the Uzbek team that won the Chennai Olympiad. Since January 2023, Ivan Sokolov has been the national coach of the Romanian Chess Federation.

Sokolov took part in twelve Chess Olympiads, played in several top national tournaments and celebrated many individual successes, e.g. Biel 1988, Portorož 1993, Dresden (zonal tournament) 1998, Hastings 1998/99, Sarajevo 2003 and 2005.

Sokolov has also written several chess books.

Understanding Middlegame Strategies Vol.1 - 9

In this Video-Course we deal with different dynamic decisions involving pawns. The aim of this Course is to arm club/tournament players with fresh ideas which they can use in their own practice.

Stefan Liebig, born in 1974, is a journalist and co-owner of a marketing agency. He now lives in Barterode near Göttingen. At the age of five, strange pieces on his neighbor's shelf aroused his curiosity. Since then, the game of chess has cast a spell over him. Flying high in the NRW youth league with his home club SV Bad Laasphe and several appearances in the second division team of Tempo Göttingen were highlights for the former youth South Westphalia champion.
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