The experts play their openings: a theme tournament with Rustam Kasimdzhanov, Mihail Marin, Robert Ris and Merijn van Delft

by Arne Kaehler
5/21/2021 – Practice what you preach: in a theme blitz tournament on the well-known and popular ChessBase authors Rustam Kasimdzhanov, Mihail Marin, Robert Ris and Merijn van Delft showed why they like and what they know about the openings they present in their courses. If you missed the live transmission of the entertaining event on, here's a summary with highlights from the games.

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Fritztrainer Theme Tournament

The tournament was hosted by Daniel King and Arne Kaehler and you can watch it on YouTube.

0:00 - Intro

0:20 - Introduction of the four authors and host Daniel King

0:36 - Format and procedure

3:57 - Round 1

14:25 - Round 2

31:40 - Short break in which Daniel talks about his bass guitar, Merijn speaks about his chess playing housemates, and Mihail explains why his three dogs and two cats need more space.

37:15 - Round 3

56:12 - Round 4

1:18:40 - Short break in which Daniel asks Rustam whether he would like to share some inside information about the Candidates Tournament in Yekaterinburg where Rustam worked as trainer and second of Fabiano Caruana.

1:24:55 - Round 5

1:37:52 - Round 6

1:54:27 - Final results


Tournament review

Round 1

3:57 - Round 1 - in which the McCutcheon variation of the French had to be played

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1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Bb4 5.e5 h6 6.Bd2

In round 1 Rustam, the highest rated player, had Black against Mihail, who was well-prepared for the double-edged McCutcheon. Mihail was able to exert pressure with White and to secure an advantage and then won the game with a knight fork.


But in the Dutch duel between Robert and Merijn the French fared much better. Though Merijn lost/sacrificed a knight rather early in the game he managed to hit back and after some mistakes by Robert, Merijn could even win the game.


Round 2

14:25 - Round 2 - in which the English was obligatory

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1.c4 e5 2.g3 Nc6 3.Bg7 Nf6 4.Nf3 d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.0-0 Nb6 7.a3

In the second round both games ended in a draw. Does that mean that the English Opening has drawish tendencies? Definitely not. Both games were exciting.

In the endgame, Mihai's double pawns held up well against Robert's attacks, and the game finally ended peacefully.


Rustam had Black again and had to defend against Merijn's attacks. However, Merijn found no way to break through and the game finally ended in a draw.


Round 3

37:15 - Round 3 - in which things got messy and the players were inspired by the Tactic Toolbox Semi-Slav with 5.Bg5 by Robert Ris 

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1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.Bg5 dxc4

Of course, Robert's deep knowledge of these sharp lines gave him an advantage and he managed to win with Black against Rustam. In a difficult position Rustam tried to drum up counterchances with a bishop sacrifice but Robert kept his cool and won with precise play and good technique.


Merijn scored the second point for the Netherlands. He defeated Mihail in an incredibly sharp game.


After three rounds Merijn was first with 2.5 out of 3, while Rustam only had 0.5/3... time for the turbo.

Round 4

56:12 - Round 4 - in which the Najdorf was everyone's favourite

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1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6

Each Wednesday Merijn hosts the "Game of the Week" show on ChessBase and published the fine and instructive Fritztrainer Practical Chess Strategy: The Bishop but so far he has not made any opening DVDs. Therefore, he could choose which opening all four players had to try. Merijn opted for his favourite: the Najdorf.

Rustam tried Fischer's favourite move against the Najdorf -  6.Bc4 - and won the grandmaster duel against Mihail. In a difficult Mihail finally lost track and blundered with 74...b3?, when 74...Bf3 should have given him a draw.


In a fierce exchange of blows Merijn and Robert played one of the most interesting games of the tournament, but in the end Merijn had the better of it.


Round 5

Round 5 - In which the pros and cons of the Two Knights Traxler Defense were debated

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1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 Bc5

The Traxler is an enjoyable but rather risky counterattack that leads to wild tactical positions but in the two games in this round it was White who dominated. 

In the opening debate between Rustam and Merijn, Rustam was sure that "5....d5 is the only correct move against this opening!" and proved his point by winning rather quickly when Merijn did not play it - it was Merijn's first loss in the tournament.


Robert played with Black against Mihail and seemed to know the opening quite well but Mihail defended brilliantly and after a fine counterattack against the exposed black king Robert soon had to resign.


Round 6

1:37:52 - Round 6 (Final Round) - In which the players had to show how to win against the Grünfeld

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1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 c5 7.Nf3 Bg7 8.Be3

Before the last round, Merijn led with 3.5/5, and was one point ahead of Mihail and Rustam who followed with 2.5/5, while Robert had 1.5/5.

Thus, Merijn, who played with White against Mihail, only needed a draw to win the tournament.

And he indeed managed to draw, though Mihail could have made life more difficult for him.

The second game of the round also ended in a draw. Robert played with White against Rustam but did not get much out of the opening and later successfully defended a difficult endgame.


In the game between Merijn and Mihail Merijn quickly forced a lot of exchanges and after 17 the game looked rather drawish. However, then Merijn blundered with 18.Bxa7?, but both Merijn and Mihail (and the hosts Daniel and Arne) had overlooked the counter 18...Bh6! which would have given Black a winning advantage.

After this missed chance, the game soon petered out into a draw and Merijn won the tournament.


Final standings


Of course, not all of the many Fritztrainers could be tried in this tournament and here are two interesting DVDs that might be tested in another theme tournament.

The Benoni is back in business

On top level the Benoni is a rare guest but with this DVD Rustam Kasimdzhanov this might change. New ways and approaches in most lines and countless improvements of official theory will show you how to play this opening at any level with success.

Power Play 27 and 28 - The King's Gambit and Tactic Toolbox

Glorious sacrifices, unexpected tactics and checkmating attacks. The King's Gambit is one of the oldest and most romantic openings in the game of chess. These DVDs contain all you need to know to play the King's Gambit.


Arne Kaehler, a creative mind who is passionate about board games in general, was born in Hamburg and learned to play chess at a young age. By teaching chess to youth teams and creating chess-related videos on YouTube, Arne was able to expand this passion and has even created an online course for anyone who wants to learn how to play chess. Arne writes for the English and German news sites, but focuses mainly on content for the ChessBase media channels.


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