It’s Physics Baby!


Having retired from ambitious chess (I’m still allowed to go to the Spanish coast to eat paella and make draws, just as I am allowed to win blitz championships – but that is another story) I am now focused on improving my tennis and my general level of fitness. I also have some other ambitions, but more about that another time.

The intention was always that I would start working out seriously after the Olympiad. But when I came home I was quite tired. Then I fell behind with Positional Play (and found it quite hard to write) and had to typeset a lot of books. Then our childcare arrangements collapsed (the last nursery in Milngavie closed down) and I had to pick up the slack, as I am the “flexi-time” worker in the family.

The latter actually was the catalyst to get started. Catherine (age 5) needed afternoon care on Wednesdays. So, Anne signed her up for a dance class, to her utter delight. The dance class was in a gym, so I simply joined.

Over the next six months I went to the gym twice a week and did 45 minutes of exercise. I also did a bit of rowing at home, maybe 20k a week or so. Slowly I was improving my ‘physics’ a little bit, building confidence and gaining momentum. I even went down to the tennis club a few times, though I was still a bit too slow to catch the balls I would like to catch.

During the year I have been working more and more days from home. At the moment I am only in the office Mondays and Fridays. The main reason is that I drop off Cathy at 9am and pick her up at 3pm, making the travel time of 45 minutes each way to work a killer. I would rather spend that time in the gym.

So, since July 5th I have been doing just that. I now exercise about 14 hours a week. I cycle to work (13k in 36 minutes/41 minutes back up the hill), I do weights, row, swim, play tennis, run on the treadmill (10.5kph is my cruise speed), use the cross-trainer and so on. Take today; 26k cycling, 90 minutes of tennis and possibly half an hour on the treadmill/concept 2 afterwards. Hell, in a few months I might not even be fat anymore!

This training pattern looks a lot like everything in my life I have ever succeeded in. I could tell you exactly the same story with the writing of the Grandmaster Repertoire series; or the Attacking Manuals; or the Excelling series. Once you get going, you build up momentum; and even if it is maybe harder stuff you are doing later on, you do it easily.

Actually, it is Newton:

“The vis insita, or innate force of matter, is a power of resisting by which every body, as much as in it lies, endeavours to preserve its present state, whether it be of rest or of moving uniformly forward in a straight line.”

Or the rewriting (taken from Wikipedia):

“Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to a change in its state of motion or rest, or the tendency of an object to resist any change in its motion (including a change in direction).”
You start slowly; build momentum and over time the push to continue becomes so powerful that it almost carries you, making stopping a bigger effort than continuing. Or, as we like to call it: it becomes a habit.

One study indicated that making a habit takes an average of 66 days (throw out those “form a new habit in 28 days books…”). It took 20 days to learn to drink a glass of water in the morning, while doing 50 sit-ups in the morning mysteriously took 84 days to become a habit. (Read Jeremy Dean: Making Habits Breaking Habits)

The thing I have taken away from this realisation has been that I have a tendency to give up too soon. If it takes up to three months to get into the habit of doing something difficult, why am I giving up after two weeks?

Rather, now I slowly build the momentum. I understand that everything is governed by the laws of physics; even our minds (yes, despite our debate about talent and my uncertainty in my convictions there; I still do not believe in magic). I understand that if I want to achieve something, starting with two pathetic sessions a week is not bad. It is hard to get any movement from a big object (my ego) and doing just 90 minutes a week is tiring. But once it is in motion, it takes someone with immense power to stop it (read Anne).

So please do not give up too soon. If your goal is to go through the Yusupov series, for example; know that the first book is almost painfully difficult to get through. The second book hard. The third book easier and the last six books a joyride.

27 thoughts on “It’s Physics Baby!”


    In latest repertoire book for White by Alexey Kornev titled “A Practical White Repertoire with 1.d4 and 2.c4. Volume 1: The Queen’s Gambit”, Tarrasch Defence seems to be under heavy cloud.

    While reading Jacobs GM Rep I remember reading somewhere that some variation is going to be a future mainline.

    Here we have it!

    In Kornev’s book it’s Chapter 11, pages 108-121:

    1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 c5 4.cxd5 exd5 5. Nf3 and after the strongest 5…. Nc6 he goes 6.dxc5!?.

    After 7…. b5 he claims a +/- advantage, and after 7….Bxc5 he claims +/= after your move 16…. Be6 and all others!

    Jacob, Nikos, how do you comment this?

  2. Jacob Aagaard

    I really do not feel that this line is a problem. Read the introduction to GM10 and see the argumentation.

    However, there is another problem, which we will mention in the next newsletter.

  3. @netanya chess

    The Tarrasch is agonizing. You can resurrect it with some tricks here and there but White is cleary ahead in the theoretical battle. If you don’t want to study for years a defense that you are going to give up ultimately, study a real defense, the nimzo or the grunfeld.

  4. @Jacob Aagaard
    Sorry Jacob, I don’t understand this sentence.

    In both grunfeld and tarrasch black gives something for something else but while in the grunfeld white has a temporary edge (his center is going to be under pressure for the entire game), in the tarrash white has a very stable edge due to his better pawn structure. So, while in the grunfeld black needs no tricks to be alive (his compensation is very long-term), in the Tarrasch black has to do something fast before white’s edge becomes decisive. In fact I haven’t heard about anybody claiming the grunfeld to be refuted (perhaps Berliner did…but he claimed to be winning after 1 d4!) while the tarrasch seems to be refuted twice a week.

  5. As a c-class player I’m recommended to play the QGD Tarrasch, which is supposed to learn weak players active piece play. But even on my level the isolated pawn can be a problem latter in the game, but I suppose this a part of the lesson with Tarrasch?

  6. Nikos Ntirlis

    At the Greek teach championships i was approached by 2 GMs who said to me that they have finally finished studying GM Rep 10 combined with their own investigations and they’ll be playing the Tarrasch soon. One of them has already quite some experience, because he has played the Tarrasch a few times in the past. I am really troubled when lots of people say that “Tarrasch is a bad opening” now that its popularity has riched a historical maximum, maybe coming second after the time Tarrasch, Rubinstein, Capablanca, Lasker et al where using it in their games!

    Part of Tarrasch being an attractive choice for GMs tday is of its practicality. It can be used against the Queen’s Gambit, the Catalan and the English and be reached via many move orders. Maybe not everybody sees it as a stable first choice repertoire choice, but a good addition. Always talking about GM Level.

    At an ordinary club level, i have seen Tarrasch producing miracles! I have a student, rated 1300 who crushed a 1900 player i have never beat, witht he Tarrasch in 23 moves. I too see the Tarrasch as a stepping stone to a player’s progression, but remember that Kasparov won his right to face Karpov in 1984 because of the Tarrasch and Spassky won his title because of the same opening. At the right hands, the right time, even if it doesn’t come as a surprize, the Tarrasch can be deadly.

    In the newsletter there is going to be a problematic line against our repertoire choice discovered by Giri and some suggestions to deal with it. What i find wanderfull, is that after GM 10, the “new critical lines” against this 130 years old opening are lines that before the publication of this book where practically unknown!

  7. Just over two months to form a habit, guess that doesn’t count the several months (years?) of drooling over getting started.

    Two months… for results, does the task need to be done daily?

  8. @Nikos Ntirlis

    Kasparov and Spassky were so ahead of their contemporaries that could win even with the albin countergambit…but when Kasparov met Karpov he had to dump the Tarrasch. Probably the Tarrasch is sound in the sense it doesn’t loses by force (probably neither the Budapest gambit does) but every improvement by White is deadly while Black has to find huge amount of improvements just to survive.

  9. Nikos Ntirlis

    This is definately not what Kasparov thinks about the opening by the way. You just have to read his “Modern Chess” series where he tells the nice story about his seconds arguing about the choice of Tarrasch of Grunfeld!

    Also, this is not the opinion of a many “classical” players, who you would imagine that would think of the Tarrasch like you do. I remember for example the discussion we had with Ivan Sokolov at the Istanbul Olympiad. But again, everyone has the right to his own opinion!

  10. Jacob Aagaard

    You exaggerate, but surely, in a very sharp opening, improvements can be deadly. The same is the case in the Grunfeld; but not so in the QGD or Nimzo. And yes, the Grunfeld has been far more developed in recent times, so it has a better reputation. If the same attention had been given to the Tarrasch, I think it would have a similar reputation.

    Regarding Kasparov giving up the Tarrasch: look at his score in the Grunfeld. It was dreadful in matches; especially against Karpov. It was the same problem in general; he needed openings with a more fixed pawn structure to do well with Karpov. Like the KID, QGD and so on.

  11. @Jacob Aagaard

    garryk is right, except White has just an edge in all variations but he is not clearly better as garryk says, probably.

    The Grunfeld has always had a better reputation. And about your sentence about the attention, I don’t think so, sorry.

    By the way, even the GM10 move c4 feels doubtful. It doesn’t feel good, as c4 at other move in the Tarrasch… Of course, maybe this has not been proven yet but probably this will arrive one day, as for other variations.

  12. After all this negative publicity about the Tarrasch Defense, let’s reel everyone back into reality. First off, your opponent probably needs to be a GM and your opponent needs to know the subtle bust to the Tarrasch. I’m currently playing in the US Open, and my first round was a Tarrasch Defense against an unusual line, Chapter 16 line B if I recall correctly, which I deviated at move 10 and still won. The practical side of chess still applies: 1.c4 e6
    2.Nc3 d5
    3.cxd5 exd5
    4.d4 c5
    5.Nf3 Nc6
    6.Bf4 c4
    7.e3 Nf6
    8.Be2 Bb4
    9.O-O O-O
    10.Qc2 Re8
    11.Ne5 Qa5
    12.a3 Bxc3
    13.Qxc3 Ne4
    14.Qc2 Nxe5
    15.Bxe5 f6
    16.Bf4 g5
    17.Bg3 Bf5
    18.Qd1 Nd2
    19.Bd6 Nxf1
    20.Kxf1 Rad8
    21.Bb4 Qc7
    22.Kg1 a5
    23.Bd2 b5
    24.Bh5 Bg6
    25.f4 Qe7
    26.fxg5 fxg5
    27.Bxg6 hxg6
    28.Qg4 Rf8
    29.Re1 Qf6
    30.Qg3 Rd7
    31.Bxa5 Rdf7
    32.h3 Qf2+
    33.Qxf2 Rxf2
    34.Bc3 Rc2

    So until Aagaard or Carlsen or Anand is your opponent, the Tarrasch is fine, no matter what you haters say!

  13. @Patrick

    You can pretty much say that about any reasonable opening, hence why it’s been suggested dozens of times here and elsewhere that worrying too much about deviations on move 17 is not so critical for amateurs when practice time would better be spent in trying to become a better all around player rather than studying line D3b72.

  14. @Blue Knight
    Maybe the …c4 move “doesn’t feel good” and honestly this was my own first impression, but way before GM 10 was started to be written, there were voices like Avrukh’s, Kotronias’, Halkias’ and now for example Kornev’s (i just received his book), not to mention many others like Cox for example, that were clearly speaking in favour of the …c4 move. Let me remind you that Avrukh didn’t feel like recommending the main line of the Tarrasch for White in his GM Rep 1, due to exactly this …c4 move! And nowdays we have experienced a clear boost of popularity of the …c4 lines seen in GM 10, so people are convinced. Just check every TWIC for yourself to find out.

    I have no intentions to change your mind about the Tarrasch, but i would like to point out that your optimism and certainty about White’s chances is certainly not something that is a fact among GMs. On the contrary i’d say, of course based on my own feedback.

  15. @Blue Knight
    Actually, after 9…c4 I currently know of three ways to equalise for Black.

    I do not understand why someone would not like this move and just dismiss it on principle. In general Black is ok in the Tarrasch if White does not get control of the d4-square. This is the reason why these a3-variations are so interesting for White. Get the bishop to b2 and control d4 indirectly.

    When you say that White has an advantage everywhere I really find it hard to take you seriously.

    I once had a dinner with a friend who had not read my most recent book, but still wanted to explain to me that I was clearly mistaken in my views and that I was wasting my time and my talent going down the road I was going. I tried to explain to him that he might want to consider it a bit more carefully, as I had actually spent quite a lot of time thinking about these things, but he just rejected it on principle.

    It was a valuable life lesson that tought me to always consider other people’s opinions carefully, if they had spent serious time on them. I would want to understand what the basis for them is, before I reject them. I would recommend that you’d do the same. You might not change your views, but you would get wiser in the process none the less.

    There are some complicated defences for Black that always live on the edge; and always have. The Dragon, The Tarrasch, The Grunfeld, The KID, The Sveshnikov, The Noteboom and more.

    What characterises all of these is that most of them were under the weather/dead and gone at some point. Their popularity comes and goes. It takes effort to keep them going.

    Anyway, I am exciting this discussion as I will no doubt repeat myself. As a few times before, I do have the feeling of coming with arguments only to be met with strong assersitions that cannot be tested, as they are backed up with nothing concrete.

  16. @Jacob Aagaard

    “he needed openings with a more fixed pawn structure to do well with Karpov”

    Regarding your explanation to garryk about why Kasparov switched from the Tarrasch and Grunfeld to the KID and QGD against Karpov, would you please be able to explain why he did better with fixed pawn structures?

  17. @Daniel
    Kasparov is logical and dynamic. He found long term decisions more difficult and you will find that a lot of his big mistakes were pawn moves with long term consequences. At least this is my view 🙂

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