The Road to Chess Mastery
Lubomir Kavalek
International Chess Grandmaster
Posted: 03/25/2012 11:00 am

How much do you have to know to become a strong chess player?

According to Russian folklore you have to know 300 chess positions to become a grandmaster, but nobody knows what exactly these positions are.

There is something in the number 300 that attracts chess writers. Siegbert Tarrasch, one of the world’s finest players from 1890 till World War One, taught chess in his book Three Hundred Chess Games. Vassily Panov presented in Russian 300 Selected Games of Alexander Alekhine with the notes of the former world champion.

In his book GM-Ram, IM Rashid Ziyatdinov prints 256 plain diagrams and asks you to fill in the remaining 44 positions. This is your chess brain, he says, but he doesn’t tell you what to do with it. No text, no words – you are on your own. Once you acquire the “essential grandmaster knowledge” of these positions, chess is easy. Off you go, mastering the game and becoming a grandmaster. He also added 59 classical games without notes. “To be World Champion – at the level of Alekhine and Kasparov -you must know 1,000 most important games of top players,” he claims.

The English grandmaster John Nunn gets to the number 300 differently. Instead of positions, he discusses ideas. His book Understanding Chess Endgames is a wonderful presentation of 100 key endgame ideas. Each idea has four fragments. The follow-up is Understanding Chess Middlegame, consisting of 100 important topics, each treated with two examples. Altogether, there are 300 ideas and more. No need to write Understanding Chess Openings, although one finds many rich opening ideas in Nunn’s Understanding Chess Move by Move and 101 Brilliant Chess Miniatures. All Nunn’s books were published by Gambit Publications.

In one of the first chapters of his middlegame treatise, Nunn reveals one of the main points of middlegame play: “All parts of the board are connected. Plans, strategies and tactics that occur in one area of the board can impact another part of the board in unexpected ways.” He calls it “interconnectedness,” but perhaps it has more to do with synchronicity. Butterfly flaps its wings in China, triggering an earthquake in California. White’s dark bishop sneezes on the queenside, the black king catches a cold on the kingside. Something like that.

To prove the point, Nunn connects two games with the same theme: Botvinnik-Capablanca, one of the most famous games in history, and my game with Uhlmann from the 1976 Manila Interzonal. There are similarities: white plays the move a3-a4, only to lose the a-pawn later. But it opens the diagonal a3-f8 for his dark bishop, helping him to finish a successful kingside attack.

Mikhail Botvinnik’s glamorous game against Jose Raul Capablanca in the elite AVRO tournament, played in Rotterdam in 1938, drew attention for other reasons. Not only did a spectator shout out loud the key move of the winning combination before it was played, but it turned out Botvinnik could have won the game earlier without sacrificing his pieces. Richard Cantwell, a Fairfax dentist and veteran of the Washington D.C. chess scene, discovered this more than 60 years after it was played.

Full article here.

Chess Daily News from Susan Polgar
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