Posts Tagged ‘Rustam Kasimdzhanov’

I have now finished watching all of my dear friend Rustam Kasimdzhanov’s Chessbase DVD called Strategy Step by Step.

Why do I call him “my dear friend”? It’s because he has the endearing habit of calling all of us, his viewers and pupils, his dear friends, and I feel very honoured and privileged to be amongst this select group of chess players.

It is difficult to know from the blurb on a Chess DVD who it’s going to appeal to. When I ordered this I thought it might be too advanced for me. In fact Rustam makes everything very clear, whatever your level of playing ability. He has selected the games to illustrate some general strategic principles but he explains almost every move. Even in the opening.

For example, after introducing the first game (a win aginst Anand from San Luis, 2005), he shows the first moves 1.e4 c5 and he says “And this is the first place where I’d like to stop.” He then begins an explanation that he continues throughout the game showing how White is fighting on the light squares and Black on the dark ones.

There are only six games on this DVD but Rustam breaks them down into several parts and gives a very detailed commentary throughout. He talks quite fast but I just about managed to keep up with him most of the time. In fact his language is very attractive. I like to listen to him because his words are very well-chosen.

I was a bit surprised by the way in which Rustam approaches teaching strategy. I was expecting topics like control of the centre, blockading, open files, isolated pawns and so on. Rustam does mention these things but he mentions them almost incidentally. He is a very concrete player. He talks about strategic themes only in so far as they provide a basis for a concrete plan. Much of his analysis is focused on specific variations, with the strategic considerations simply providing the backdrop to the action.

For example, in his game against Dautov, Rustam, who is playing Black, has an open file occupied by two rooks. A winning advantage, you might think. But the rooks can achieve nothing on their own. Black needs to whip up some action elsewhere on the board and that’s why Rustam is looking at the d5 square, where he’d like to place a knight. Knowing this, it’s not hard to guess his next move.

Position after 23.f4 (Black to play)

But you need to do the analysis.

By the way, like many Chesbase DVDs it seems to have been put together in a bit of a hurry. This is no reflection on Rustam, who has prepared his commentary very thoroughly, but on the Chessbase production team. The order in which the videos are presented does not appear to be the order Rustam intended.

This doesn’t diminish the instructive value of the material but makes the presenter look a little bit confused when he says “Finally, I would like to present…” and follows it with a final game at the end of which he says “… and so we will proceed with some other examples in the next lessons.”

Now here is the rest of the game against Dautov.

23…. Ne4 24.Nxe4 dxe4 25.Qxe4 Nf6 26.Qe5 Nd5 27.Qxc7 Rxc7 28.Ra1 Rxa1 29.Rxa1 Nxe3 30.Ra8+ Kh7 31.Nc1 Rd7 32.Nb3 Nc2 33.g3 Nxb4 34.Kf2 g5 35.Kf3 Kg6 36.Rg8+ Kf5 37.g4+ Kf6 38.fxg5+ hxg5 39.Ke4 Ra7 40.Nd2 Ra3 0–1

Photo by Fred Lucas

Since I’ve been taking lessons from Rustam Kasimdzhanov he has become one of my dearest friends. Even though he is a world class player, he never makes me feel inferior. Nor does he show off. He is rightly proud of some of his games but when he shows them to me it is the games that we focus on rather than Rustam’s ego. He has a passion to help me improve my chess and simply to enjoy it more. He does this by talking me through his games move by move, explaining everything that he was thinking about. He melds strategy and tactics into a single coherent plan that he elaborates with amazing clarity. His English is perfect. His vocabulary is rich. His explanations really sink in and everything seems easy when I listen to him.

Yesterday he gave me a very good illustration of something that often gives me problems when I try to follow master games. It’s the idea of the positional pawn sacrifice. Those grandmasters can be baffling sometimes. They tell you to avoid dubious gambit lines where you throw away pawns in the opening in order to wrong-foot your opponent and get an attack. These cheap attacks can be fended off by any half-decent player who knows how to defend and then you are simply a pawn down. Pawns are important, they say. “Pawns are the soul of chess.” So they play the openings very precisely and cautiously. They resign games when they are a pawn down saying airily, “the end game was easily winning for White.” Yet they wilfully litter the board in the middlegame with pawns en prise, which their opponents stubbornly refuse to capture. They do this, they tell you, for “positional reasons” where any attack, if it exists at all, is veiled in fog.

So this puzzle has never been resolved in my mind. When is a pawn merely a pawn and when is it everything? Rustam cleared up my confusion completely.

He showed me this game from the world championship tournament in San Luis, 2005.

Kasimdzhanov, Rustam (2670) – Anand, Viswanathan (2788)
FIDE-Wch San Luis (4), 01.10.2005

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 Ng4 7.Bg5 h6 8.Bh4 g5 9.Bg3 Bg7 10.h3 Ne5 11.Nf5 Bxf5 12.exf5 Nbc6 13.Nd5 e6 14.fxe6 fxe6 15.Ne3 0–0 16.Be2 Qe7 17.0–0 Rad8 18.Bh5 Kh8 19.Re1 d5 20.a4 Nc4 21.Nxc4 dxc4 22.Qg4 Qb4 23.Qxe6 Rd2 (see diagram 1).

Diagram 1

Rustam’s pawns on a4, b2 and c2 are vulnerable and under attack.So what does he do? How should he defend? Why, by centralising his rook of course!


Diagram 2

The pawns, after all, are only pawns but a centralised army can win the game.

Vishy is a tricky player, of course, so he plays on without taking any of the pawns.

24… Nd4 25.Qe4 Nf5 26.Be5 Rxf2 27.Bf3 Rd2 28.Bxg7+ Kxg7 29.Qe5+ Rf6 30.a5 Nh4

Diagram 3

Now Rustam has a problem. He knows he has done everything correctly. He has left his pawns to fend for themselves because he knows he can win with his pieces. But how? Where is the tactical blow that will initiate the brilliant mating attack? Rustam would like to do something decisive with his bishop but Black is threatening 31… Rxg2+, winning the g-pawn with check, so Rustam must try something else.

31.Qc7+ Rf7 32.Qe5+ Rf6

Diagram 4

The checks aren’t working as the position simply repeats itself. Rustam must try harder. Then he remembers that a pawn is only a pawn and abandons the g-pawn to its fate.


Diagram 5

After this there is no defence. Vishy tries a few more tricky moves but only confuses himself and stumbles into a mate in two.

33… Ng6 34.Bxg6 Rxd1 35.Rxd1 Kxg6 36.Qe4+ Kg7 37.Rd7+ Kg8

Diagram 6: White to mate in two

Even I could finish the job!

38.Qh7+ 1–0

This game is explained in detail in Rustam’s DVD for Chessbase, Strategy Step by Step. If you watch it, you too will become one of Rustam’s dear friends and he will certainly become one of yours.

The photo of Rustam is by Fred Lucas who seems to specialise in this kind of thing.

One of the better books on tactics

One of the hardest things about studying chess is finding material that helps you improve. I love reading chess books but many of the ones I like best are way above my playing level, while books that might actually help me improve can be very tedious and unappealing.

Improving your tactical skills is especially hard. You need to study positions that stretch you but if they are too hard your brain seizes up and you get discouraged. I’m convinced also that a lot of chess professionals don’t understand how to teach tactics.

Chess trainer Martin Weteschnik noted that asking his pupils to solve a huge number of tactical problems didn’t help them improve. So he wrote a book called Understanding Chess Tactics. It’s not a bad book. But it’s not a complete solution either.

In this book Weteschnik gives an example of a game played by Holger Witt before he had read the book, in which he made a tactical blunder. This is followed by an example from a game where Holger played well after absorbing the lessons in the book. But the two examples are very different. The first is quite hard because there is a lot going on. The second is very easy because the tactical motif is very clear.

There is a problem with this book because none of the diagrams show whether white or black is to play. So it is difficult to use it interactively. The diagrams are there quite simply to illustrate the text. You are shown things and you need to absorb them. This is a very passive way of learning and is not very effective in my view. I become bored and tired of this very quickly, although the tactical insights Weteschnik imparts are no doubt worthwhile and helpful.

He also makes the mistake, in my view, of trying to explain simple points using difficult examples.

But my main problem with this kind of approach is that you don’t learn something as concrete as chess by reading a lot of abstract explanation about what is theoretically possible. It is a bit like trying to learn a language by studying a grammar book. It’s too dry and too remote from real life.

Training from Tiger Lilov

The worst example of the academic approach that I’ve seen is on a recent training DVD from Chessbase. It’s called Tactics: From Basics to Brilliance by Valeri Lilov. It sounds great, doesn’t it? From basics to brilliance. Who doesn’t want to be brilliant? There are a little over 100 positions on this DVD. Quite a lot of them are brilliant, there’s no doubt about that. And, unlike in Weteschnik’s book, you get the chance to work out the moves for yourself. But the explanations from Mr. Lilov – or Tiger, as apparently, we should call him – drive me mad. He quite often spends three or four minutes talking very fast about what you need to know before showing you the position and, I have to tell you, what he tells you you need to know is not what you need to know at all. Forget what Tiger says you need to know. What you need to know is not whether the advantage is static or dynamic; or whether what you are about to execute on the board should be referred to as forcing play, a forcing move, a tactical break or a tactical operation; or how many different sorts of sacrifice or combination there are. What you need to know is where the pieces are and where they can go. That’s what you need to know.

Moreover, these tactical combinations, though often brilliant, are not good for beginners. Some of them are quite stunning simply because they have a logical inevitability that is many moves deep and far from obvious. It’s hard to imagine using similar motifs in your own games.

Ivashchenko's book for beginners

What I recommend for beginners, or even very mature players who need help with tactics, is Chess Tactics for Beginners from Chessbase’s rival ChessOK.

Chess Tactics for Beginners 2.0 has just been released and can be bought on CD or downloaded straight to your laptop or PC. It is based on a book of 1,320 positions by Sergey Ivashchenko and it’s comprehensive, progressive and interactive. You are not given any explanations but you learn by doing. You learn to see in fact, which is very important.

But once you’ve started to master the basics, it’s helpful to have a top class player talk you though how tactics can be applied in your games. This is where Rustam Kasimdzhanov comes in.

Kasimdzhanov - a brilliant mind

Rustam Kasimdzhanov has presented a few training DVDs for Chessbase but the only one I have seen is The Path to Tactical Strength. His explanations couldn’t be more different from Tiger Lilov’s. First of all, all the positions he presents – and there are only 22 – are from his own games. Secondly, he shows you each position before he begins talking about it. And thirdly, which is most important, everything he tells you is of direct relevance to the position in front of you. He does an outstanding job of dissecting the tactical possibilities that are inherent in the position, what to look for, what he saw himself, what he tried to achieve with his pieces and how he solved his problems.

I love Kasimdzhanov’s explanations. I have watched and listened to them many times because I’ve had this DVD for a few years, and the more I watch it the more I appreciate it. But I’m under no illusion that this DVD will make me as brilliant as Kasimdzhanov or even help me improve very much.

I think Weteschnik’s book is more likely to help with that. I have been reading and re-reading his book recently because I think it does help when you are studying tactics to understand the mechanics and nuances that regularly occur.

But I think the key to becoming stonger is to learn three things. One is to calculate without looking at the board. The second is to learn to calculate more variations. And the third is to calculate longer variations. Some books have been written about how to acquire these skills but they don’t actually teach them, or teach them very badly. It’s something, it seems to me, that all strong chess players have to learn to do for themselves.

But I have a few hints that can help and I will write about them next time.