Saturday, March 26, 2011


Lately there has been talk about  theoretical openings and its importance in determining results. One needs to "profile" an opponent to bring out the right "weapons" to win. Strangely, I believe Fong Yit Ho's profiling of Yeoh Li Tian was well done in capitalising on Black's need to win. Many similar examples in World Championship encounters have used this tactic, eg Lasker - Capablanca 1914, Karpov-Kasparov 24th game 1985 and Kasparov-Karpov Seville 1987. "To win by detaching oneself from winning" is a supreme psychological tactic adapted from Lee Zhong Chang's Thick Black theory. You may wish to read about it from Chu Ching-Ning's book " Thick Face, Black Heart".

I'm not sure about the author's familiarity of the various tools available today, but perhaps he ought to know of 2: ChessBase and Fritz. One is a database that contains games played in history (up till the latest month), the other a computer engine that shows reasonable moves branching from a position. 

Every player who takes the trouble to spend hours and hours perfecting his chess should not do without these 2 programs as they can give a realistic forecast of what's to come when preparing for an opponent. However, this is not all that is. If that were true, all top-level GMs would have churned out wins at every opportunity. Such is the wonder and vastness of the game - not everything is predictable.Generally technical knowledge in the other phases of the game (especially endgames) is even more critical as mistakes tend to happen later in the game and good technique is required to bring home the point. No point in losing a game when you're up a Queen for Bishop+Knight right??

As to the GMs recommendation for adopting a complex opening such as the Ruy Lopez as a must-know for every aspiring player, we need to qualify this statement. GMs eat,sleep and breathe chess so they will have the need to spend every living hour understanding the myriad of variations and its possible positions that can lead to a distinct advantage. An opening such as the Ruy Lopez has about 80 years of history in recorded master games, with it its log of good and bad plans that follow every single variation. Learning the Ruy Lopez by studying the latest lines played today simply does the opening injustice. Many of the plans used today are evolved painstakingly from the past, with contributions by every World Champion and top players in their generation.

So before you decide to embark on this route, I would like to recommend a  good book that will explain the evolution of this opening and how one should tackle its study.

 Though Mark Dvoretsky does not have a high opinion of Alexey Suetin, nonetheless this man has attempted to scholastically categorise the vastness of chess strategical themes and its relation to the opening, middlegame and endgame. In this book, he gives a good approach to anyone who wishes to study the Ruy Lopez systemically by studying good historical games played by the World Champions, some of which have fashioned useful plans and ideas named after them. I urge you to find this book and read it.

The Ruy is heralded as the King of e4 openings, simply because it offers many faceted approaches to competitive play. One can choose to play tactically against it (the Marshall, Schliemann, Open,Riga variations) or positionally (the Steinitz, Zaitsev, Breyer,Berlin,Cozio, Cordel,Bird) and similarly White too has weapons at his disposal to play tactically ( 5 d4) or initiate positionally (the Worrall, d3 systems, the Exchange variations etc). As Black often dictates what variation to play after 3 Bb5 or  3..a6 4 Ba4, plans in such variations can run to as long as move 25 nowadays so if you do not possess a good memory, mastering this opening may prove futile. Sidestepping with the Exchange does not give White an endgame edge, due to discoveries in this century with 5..Qd6 which renders much of Fischer's analysis in his "My 60 memorable games" irrelevant.

Is it true that this is the only path to mastering chess openings?? I would rather think not. As many of us struggle with the constraints of time, family, commitments, are there not other means that we can play chess without adopting the Grandmaster's approach to learning openings? Simply because, we are not Grandmasters who can afford the time. So unless you are ready to relinquish all your other commitments in the effort of being a Grandmaster and nothing else, this path is not for you.

Generally, for non-GM aspirants, I would rather be content to adopt GM Portisch's advice : " Your task in the opening is to reach a reasonably playable middlegame"

Monday, March 21, 2011


As Siegbert Tarrasch used to say, " It is not enough just to be a good player. One must also play well". Therefore it does not suffice that if one enters the national elite, one is automatically a good player. It is also important to apply oneself into executing the processes that make up a good move or plan.

Perhaps parents should often ask what is the road ahead for a child that is interested in chess - should they equip him with the trainers to help him in his game, sign the child up for as many tournaments as possible in the hopes of improving his/her play, hoping to clinch the 4 points required to enter the National Junior Squad??  

What is not clear perhaps is the heavy investment in terms of  5 hours a week or 20 hours a month, notwithstanding the hours spent in tournaments? Yet there is often the lament that there's simply not enough time for tuition, assignments and what not? What about the fees of approximately $300 a quarter or $1200 a year? That is the basic package. If the child goes for regional tournaments, the expenses are equivalent to  an overseas field trip. All this just for DSA into a good school?

I hold the view that generally chess-interested students have the intellect that grows when they grow with the game. Any serious student of the game will do the necessary research into the various aspects of the game, spending time into learning and memorising the opening weapons that will steer the player into advantagous positions. Then pick selected tournaments to shine. This discipline of preparing and performing for tournament results will ultimately be a major part on his study routine (which he/she will then understand) which should make him/her a better student. Surely this is a much more meaningful benefit of encouraging a child to take up chess?

Similarly coaches in my opinion should inculcate good thinking skills to their students. It would not be sufficient to expect the child to pick up good thinking habits simply by playing game after game with them. Much has to be explained apart from reiterating the facts. It has come to my attention that some school CCA Chess sessions are nothing more than just sparring sessions with students. I doubt very much of the efficacy of this approach. Coaches should expound knowledge and demonstrate the knowledge well with good examples and tests to ensure comprehension. Without which, no training scheme, however illustrious, can achieve results.

TCA Junior Open April 22 Good Friday

Sunday, March 20, 2011


As the SCF April Rating list is out, I took the pains to compute the performance of my students and here they are. The variance is computed from their last rating in Jan'11. If you compute it from their Jul'10 rating, the variance is even greater.


 Generally, the students who were with me for more than 2 years had good gradual increases in rating. Kristine was an exception - her ratings were slipping when I took her on in November last year but she's climbed back to the 1400 level.  

 As the above students were not involved in the National Junior Squad program since June last year, none of their ratings were increased artificially (evidently when the ratings are rounded to 1200, 1300 or 1400 upon joining).


Finally we have a winner! Kristine Quek has defeated her long-time rival Rachel Soh to clinch the Girls' Under 12 title at the playoffs on Saturday.

Preparation was a little tough, but we got down to patching White's answer to the French (which seems to me a little insipid) and leave the rest of the openings intact.

Congrats Kristine!

Saturday, March 19, 2011


I suggest you go to the CC to sign up and pay there. No late entries shall be entertained. Neither can you register online. Closing date is 27 March 2011. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


A pandemonium day at the 63rd National Schools Individuals at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel (much akin to the scene similar to a disaster area minus the disaster). Let's look at the results rather than talk about what can be done better shall we?

Category      Name              Points     Position

GU9       Lee Hui Ling        5.0         3rd
GU11      Lau Hui Miin        5.0         5th
GU12      Kristine Quek       6.0         Playoff for 1st
BU09      Nicholas Low        4.5         22nd 
BU10      Hugo Tan            4.5         29th
BU11      Lee Shi Hao         5.0         12th
BU12      Adrian Yeo          5.5         7th
BU12      Samuel Yip          4.5         18th
BU13      Nicholas Teo        4.0         18th
BU14      Sitoh Yinghao Elliot4.0         13th
BU14      Oliver Cheok        4.0         14th
Open      Nicholas Lee        4.0         29th
Open      Asaph Ho            4.0         37th

The ones highlighted are in the medal list. Overall, a very good performance from most of my students. Well done! For those who did not score at least 4 points, the time will come so long as you bear in mind the lessons and apply them in your games. Consistently. Playing 1 game every day.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


To those who are taking part in the coming National Schools' individuals, here's my advice:

1  Review all opening lines that you have been taught. 

2. Sleep early on 15th Tuesday night 

3  Record your games 

4  Think about your opponent's last move: Is it a threat? 

5  Look for checks, captures, threats (yours when it is your move, your opponents' when they are thinking)

6  Keep it simple

7  Concentrate very hard between moves 12-30

8  Do not exchange pieces/pawns without any reason

9  Do not be 10 minutes behind your opponent on the clock


Friday, March 4, 2011


I came across 2 interesting posts which dealt with the issue of being a GM. One shows the statistics confirming that the age one becomes a GM is getting increasingly younger, at 12 years 7 months achieved by Kariajkin. Another disputes Anand's quote that if you are not a GM by 14, you should forget about it.

An interesting observation - only 2 of the 10 GMs mentioned are from non-communist countries. The 2 (Bacrot and Fischer) incidentally have enormous innate talent and do not fret about their daily livelihood during their pursuit of the GM title.

Personally, I believe that Anand is being pragmatic about his view. He feels that if one does have the talent to make it, then, with modern technological tools like databases and engines, there is really no major obstacle to attaining the title if one works at it by inferring on his researches of the game and executing them right over the board.

What does it mean when one has gone over the desired age of 14? Two things come to mind.

  • Talent is not sufficient for GMship

  • Not having the other prerequisites (time, peace of mind, health, discipline) plus  distractions (be it work or relationships etc).   
 Insufficient talent is something not easy to accept for many. Everyone wants to try, but to face reality that one doesn't have what it takes is really a humbling experience. A simple test - endgames. Somehow the talented ones never seem to have problems identifying a win in the endgame. When you hear of slip-ups in someone's game, especially in the endgame, it is a sign that the player has failed to comprehend or appreciate simple inter-workings of the pieces. 

Those who have the talent sadly usually have the curse of laziness about them - they take their talent for granted and assume everything will fall in place. Not so today. There is much more that can be learnt from the science of chess if one invests time and effort in absorbing the knowledge from the games analysed and dissected from opening till the end of the game. But knowing it is just one part of it. One has to have the nerves, the iron determination not to err in time trouble, have the intuition and (luck sometimes) to simply sense the right move to play at the critical moment. Hours can be spent, but it simply does not yield the same results for everyone. Hence talent without hard work equates to nothing.

I will say that Anand's quote should be taken seriously if the conditions for excelling in chess do not exist in our country - primarily where individual pursuit does not clash with daily living issues and problems. Children are generally spared from life's tribulations so it is fair to say that as one enters adulthood, the odds to GMship can be insurmountable. In that view, it would be wiser not to ascend the path than to be forced to turn back.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


 I recommend this book for beginners and young children who have just mastered the moves of the pieces. This book condenses much of what's required in the field of tactics. Tactics often decide the game in games played by children under the age of 12. It's not important to worry about chess imbalances as yet - one should learn to play tactically and develop their skills in this area before venturing elsewhere.