The element of surprise – Part 1


I was in Moscow last year to follow the World Championship match – and to be honest, to see Boris Gelfand become World Champion. I was quite sure that his chances were about 50/50 and I think the match showed that fully. In the end the only reason he did not take the title was because Anand was already World Champion. What I mean by this is that when it came to the decisive moments, Anand had less to lose; no matter what happened, he would forever be a part of chess history. Gelfand did not have this luxury and I think it affected him slightly. He said he was extremely calm during the games, but this feels a bit like a counter-reaction. Who knows – it is all guesswork – but anyway, those were my thoughts.

Anand made mistakes preparing for the match. His team was the same as the previous two title defences and consisted entirely of dynamic 1.d4 players, just like himself. Not really a moving target.

Gelfand’s team, on the other hand, was largely a secret and continues to be so to this day. Some were official seconds, while others had helped prior to the match, like for example Aronian.

Gelfand’s choice of the Grünfeld Defence was a big surprise for Anand’s team. I am sure they had expected the match to be fought on the Semi-Slav battlefield, as this was both players’ main defence against 1.d4 prior to the match. But they were experienced and ready for surprises.

Still, it took them a long time to recover from the surprises of the Grünfeld and the Sveshnikov – which Gelfand had not really played for a decade. Quickly they decided to leave the main lines behind and tried 3.f3 against the Grünfeld and the Rossolimo Sicilian.

At the same time, Anand had initial success with the 5…a6 Semi-Slav. Some good novelties led to effortless draws, but after the free day Gelfand finally managed to come up with an idea that gave him chances to play for an advantage. White had a better pawn structure and even if the computer indicates 15…Bf4 as an equalizing moment, the variation seemed a bit suspicious for Black. Anand had to give up the defence he had intended to last the entire match and revert to obscure lines of the Nimzo-Indian, where he was surviving more than thriving.

By this stage Gelfand’s surprises were no longer surprises to the Anand team. Even if you have a few months head start, you will not be able to guess what the opponent will come up with again and again. The 12th game should have been a warning to Gelfand that the Rossolimo was becoming a dangerous fortress and that he should start moving before it became his death ground. Unfortunately he was too worried about the state of other lines and allowed Anand to show his preparation in the rapid games. Anand, on the other hand, reverted to the Semi-Slav and got out of the opening okay. He did not play the rapid match better; in fact he probably played slightly worse than Gelfand, but the advantage on the clock in the 2nd game made all the difference. The World Championship was decided on a blunder in a drawn ending – because one of the players was running out of time.

If you look forward to 2013 you will see that Gelfand’s work on his openings in 2012 is occasionally still rewarded, but less and less so. I personally think he made a mistake in repeating his openings for the Candidates tournament. I was of the opinion that two different defences against 1.e4 were needed and that a certain amount of bluff would have fared better than defending an objectively equalizing defence. To put it bluntly, the novelty was over.


This blog entry will be continued next week. I am just back from holiday and a lot of things are waiting for my attention; not least the final typeset of Attack & Defence, which, I am happy to say, looks quite a bit like Calculation – Part II, which should make a lot of people happy, as for some reason this is the most popular book in the series (though my favourite is Positional Play).

A funny thing about coming home from holiday and celebrating three birthdays – Anne’s, my 40th and Rebecca’s 4th – the kids suddenly have to entertain themselves again. Cathy has decided that Rebecca needs to learn to play chess and has found a most willing student. Armed with the chess set she got for her own 4th birthday from my dad (and signed by Judit Polgar after Cathy lost to her in a simul last year) and Judit’s Chess Playground app, she is going at it methodically. I was looking forward to teaching Rebecca to play, but it seems I will not have that honour. It is already too late… Let’s see if Rebecca can repeat Cathy’s record, and beat Anne at the age of 4 as well!

39 thoughts on “The element of surprise – Part 1”

  1. Jacob, thanks for writing the posts, I truly enjoy them.

    Maybe I’m naive but I think that Carlsen will be able to beat Anand without having to prepare openings too much. It is my impression that he wins games based on a fantastic understanding of the middle game and a strong physical condition for the end game even though he seemed tired at the end in London. Carlsen seems to vary his openings a lot and it must be very difficult to prepare something against him.

    I have read Calculation and Positional Play; they are both great books I find but the latter is in my opinion clearly the better of the two.

    Congratulations with your birthday. It sounds very cosy with the children playing chess 🙂

  2. Gilchrist is a Legend

    Schachversand have the two French books for 30/09/2013 I think, with the Rating book for 30/08/2013, but I suppose it will change now depending on the updated schedule.

  3. Oh, here we go again, looking for exact dates again. Might as well find out the time while you are at it!

    Let’s see, the French books will be out on 9/23/2013 at 14:57 GMT. Happy?

    When they come out they come out. I’d rather Quality Chess continue to do what they always have been doing, editing the way they should be, and not falling flat to that of one of their competitors, and resorting to the cookie cutter approach of “This book must be exactly 224 pages long and a drop dead date of 11/15/2013 at 10:00 GMT Sharp!”

    Keep up the good work, and when the books come, the books come. I definitely am looking forward to the rest of the GM Preparation series. Finished Calculation. On Positional Play as we speak.

  4. @Paul Brøndal
    I think it is quite easy to underestimate Anand because he plays poorly before matches. To me he is a bit like Botvinnik; not the best anymore, but very hard to get rid off. Let us see if Carlsen is up to the task.

  5. Gilchrist is a Legend

    Good prediction, but it might have been inaccurate by one hour. I think it would be 15.57 GMT.

    This Rating book sounds interesting–I have no coach anymore, so some guidance on how to learn to improve (especially rating-wise) is quite necessary.

  6. About Gelfand openings. He is generally quite well prepared with Black, with sharp, dynamics openings but with White he is clearly less prepared well and often uses openings and/or variations relatively harmless and/or “soft”.

    We have seen this in the last tournaments where he played. The players have less problems to prepare and play against Gelfand with Black than with White…

  7. well, i have to favor carlsen based on results. the only weakness he has shown is he sometimes doesn’t seem to play well under a lot of pressure, as in losing in the last round of the candidates, but i’m not sure that anand, at this stage anyway, has an advantage ever here.


    ### Playing the French ###

    Nikos, which line did you choose against Winawer. I have Vitiugov’s “The French Defence Reloaded” book and he suggests 6… Ne7 7.Qg4 cxd4 line.

    As a backup he suggest 6… Nc6 line played by GM Kruppa and GM Ponomariov, namely the Nc6 variation.


    @Jacob Aagaard
    Sincerely Jacob, how you gonna surpass French Defence books like “Play the French 4th Edition” by Watson, “The Modern French” by Antic & Maksimovic, Moskalenko’s “The Flexible French” & “The Wonderful Winawer”, and my call Vitiugov’s “The French Defence Reloaded”.

    These are good books with nearly highest reviews, so where will be the catch? Please motivate me somehow, I’m in despair just like Buridan’s ass 🙁

  10. I do not think most of those books were very good. If I press the analysis just a bit, ask a few questions, then White suddenly is close to winning. I hope we are a bit more robust, but I will let the readers judge.

  11. @Jacob Aagaard
    🙂 I agree – on the other hand, closed French positions maybe be difficult to evaluate for engines? Content wise I like ‘The Modern French’ the most, but it is a mess structure-wise.

  12. Gilchrist is a Legend

    I enjoy that book due to its coverage of 7…Be7 in the Steinitz, and the 3…Be7 Tarrasch. Combined with Playing the French would be quite interesting, since not always I feel like playing the McCutcheon; the Classical with 4…Be7 seems slightly calmer if one plays the solider lines. 3. Nd2 c5 4. exd5 Qxd5 is also very solid.

  13. Not really sure where to post this question, but since there seem to be questions about pretty much everything everywhere, I’ll post it here.

    I bought the book “Best Play” by Alexander Shashin some week ago out of pure interest, does anyone have anything to say at all about this book? The very idea of a formula that would find the best move in any given position sounds absolutely ridiculous to me, but since the man seems to be a kind of legend in Soviet, having worked together with Kamsky, Korchnoi and Morozevich, I thought maybe his ideas aren’t crap at all.

    Any thoughts at all about the book? Jacob?

  14. Gilchrist is a Legend

    If I remember correctly, I think Jacob said something like this modern plan with …Nb6. My guess is perhaps something such as: 1. 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Be7 5. e5 Nfd7 6. Bxe7 Qxe7 7. f4 a6 8. Nf3 Nb6 9. Qd2 Bd7. I looked in the database, and see this move order.

    For example, see the games Felgaer-Rodriguez Vila, Buenos Aires 2012, Sengupta-Short, Gibraltar 2011, or Khegaj-Levin, Jekaterinburg 2013. I am accustomed to the “old” way of playing, with the …c5 pawn break, with …Nc6/…Nxc5/…0-0/…a6/…b5, etc. I am completely unfamiliar with this set-up, but it looks quite interesting. In the latter game, Black even castled queenside, something I rarely see in this line.

  15. @Marvel
    I read parts of the book, and I am at a loss as to how much value the formula has. I will say that since it is based on somewhat measurable factors; that there has to be some value. Shashin has clearly done considerable study on the matter and it is intriguing. I would be very interested in what an objective professional would write in a review.


    Jacob Aagaard :
    I do not think most of those books were very good. If I press the analysis just a bit, ask a few questions, then White suddenly is close to winning. I hope we are a bit more robust, but I will let the readers judge.

    Well just that happen with Trompowsky book. Such flaws make books mediocre, but not top-notch. That’s life 🙂

  17. Am I misreading many of the posts or are they totally irrelevant regarding the topic “The element of surprise”? I just don’t see any connection with the books about the French defence and the Trompowsky and Jacob’s about Gelfand’s and Anand’s preparations.

  18. Since everyone else is off topic… Any clue what will be the repertoire suggestion to the tarrash in the two soon to be released french defence books?

  19. Multeplukker :
    Since everyone else is off topic… Any clue what will be the repertoire suggestion to the tarrash in the two soon to be released french defence books?

    I will join you off-topic. For “Playing the French” 3…c5 and taking back with the queen on d5. The other French book (by Berg) is on the Winawer, so his anti-Tarrasch will follow in the second volume.


    Ray :
    @John Shaw
    Great, it’s on my reportoire as well .

    Dear Ray,

    I have Vitiugov’s “French Reloaded” and I bought both Moskalneko’s books on French. Which books do you have? I’m planning to buy Nikos’ and Berg’s books though…

  21. Gilchrist is a Legend

    Definitely 3…Nf6/11…Qc7, I looked in the database for Berg’s games, and there were probably 20+ games with this line in the recent years. I think it is quite complicated and tactical, especially with that long line where Black’s bishop is stuck on h2, White’s knight is on g3, Black’s knight on f4, yet neither side cares about taking the h2 bishop.

    Given that Berg’s book on the Winawer is first, definitely interesting is the 7. Qg4 line. In the databse, I see Poisoned Pawn quite much, interspersed with some 7…0-0. He also plays 6…Qc7, so perhaps that might be an alternative line to 6…Ne7 7. Qg4. Honestly I think 7…0-0 is quite fun. 8. Bd3 f5 I think is already fine for Black, but 8…Nbc6 it seems the 3. Nc3 players try with effort to refute it. But it still remains viable…

  22. @Jacob Aagaard
    A question about the ‘Grandmaster Preparation’ series of which I own all 3 books, should I first finish my book about GP Calculation or could I start also with GP Positional Play? Because I like to do different topics and not the ‘Same’ like Calculation the whole time.

    If so, I understand that its best to start with GP Strategic Play only after finishing Positional play because of the fact that Strategic is like Positional but then in a greater sense so to speak?

  23. Gilchrist is a Legend

    I think you are right, probably Poisoned Pawn and then the alternative lines, most likely on the sixth move. 7…0-0 and Poisoned PAwn together would be great, but it would take a massive amount of time, like covering both 6…e5 and 6…e6 in the Najdorf, since both Poisoned Pawn and 7…0-0 have lines going past move 25. But GM6 covered two lines for both 6. Be3 and 6. Bg5, so one never knows. Anyway, 6…Qc7, for some reason I have a feeling it could be in the book. It looks underrated, although I usually prefer 6…Qa5 slightly.

  24. @Marvel
    Have not read it. Sorry, no opinions. Too busy at the moment to do so as well.

    You already have a good plan and I would just follow it if I was you. Basically, you can do it as you like, but I would go through the two first books (in whatever way) before Strategic Play – which however does not mean that you would not benefit as well from entirely reversing the order (though not recommended).

  25. @Jacob Aagaard
    Well, yet even the commentators and GMs that I read said this themselves… And I think he has played some very strong players, even higher than him in ELO, even World Champions, so I don’t think these players are afraid of him like this… 😉

    I said ” in the last tournaments where he played.” This can not be true for all his life of course. 🙂

    @ LE BRUIT QUI COURT and Ray

    I hope for the poisoned pawn variation. BTW, I thought the 7. …0-0 variation somewhat problematic for Black currently. But I can be wrong as I don’t really know this line…

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