Old and new

by Jonathan Speelman
7/16/2023 – Simen Agdestein recently won the Norwegian Chess Championship for a ninth time in his career. The 56-year-old outscored the likes of Aryan Tari and Jon Ludvig Hammer, but did not have to beat national hero and former student Magnus Carlsen, who does not participate in his country’s championships. In his column this week, Jon Speelman analyses recent games by both the master and the student! | Photo: VG.no

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


Master and student

[Note that Jon Speelman also looks at the content of the article in video format, here embedded at the end of the article.]

Simen AgdesteinToday I’m looking at a couple of recent games which have caught my eye and pivoting from the first of them to an old but relevant example.

We start with a win by Simen Agdestein in the Norwegian Championship, which was very kindly brought to my attention by one of the people I teach.

Agdestein, as many readers will know, is a strong grandmaster who was Magnus Carlsen’s teacher when he was about eight or so. We used to play in the same Bundesliga team, and he would come and tell us about this kid who was simply different from anybody else he’d ever taught...

Agdestein comes from a superbly sporty family, and he also played football very seriously, appearing a number of times as a striker for the Norwegian national team and I believe scoring a goal against Czechoslovakia as it then was — while in club football he at one time played for Aberdeen.

The game Agdestein v Kaasen involves some really serious calculation, and both players used a lot of time at the critical phase. I’ve supplemented it with a famous game by the “Patriarch” Mikhail Botvinnik, which includes some of the same themes.

Classical chess is different from faster time limits and in many ways better, if much more stressful. Since his abdication as world champion, Carlsen has been enjoying himself at the faster time limits and, of course, on Saturday, July 8th he scored a miraculous and Fischeresque 9/9 against some of the world’s top blitz players.

Deciding which game to use for my newspaper column this week (in The Observer every Sunday) I was attracted to his game against Ian Nepomniachtchi, in which a fairly technical endgame finished in a snap checkmate. I had Stockfish on in the background and was surprised and intrigued to be told that at a critical moment Nepo could have drawn in a line which at first glance looked hopeless.

The important thing in such circumstances is to avoid being merely the engine’s follower, but to interrogate it to try to understand what's going on. In one position which it gave as winning, I wondered if it might be mutual zugzwang and indeed it was, which leads to a short but interesting tract of play.

Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Middlegame Secrets Vol.1 + Vol.2

Let us learn together how to find the best spot for the queen in the early middlegame, how to navigate this piece around the board, how to time the queen attack, how to decide whether to exchange it or not, and much more!


Jonathan Speelman, born in 1956, studied mathematics but became a professional chess player in 1977. He was a member of the English Olympic team from 1980–2006 and three times British Champion. He played twice in Candidates Tournaments, reaching the semi-final in 1989. He twice seconded a World Championship challenger: Nigel Short and then Viswanathan Anand against Garry Kasparov in London 1993 and New York 1995.