…and the two first boards,

Tonight Sweden is again playing in the European Team Championship (GroupB), on Pandanet, at 20.00 CET, against Italy. The team is somewhat stronger this time and I will watch it from the sidelines. Again Fredrik Blomback(6d) and Charlie Åkerblom(5d) play the first and second board. Here are my own comments to their games from the last match against Finland. I did not use an AI for the analysis, so I hope they will reflect my own strength and weaknesses, and some of the awe I feel for these strong players.

Charlie did not have his best day, so I have kept the comments to a minimum, leaving more comments for one of his better days:

Fredrik played a beautiful game:

Disappointment and relief

I have been planning to write something about every tournament that I have participated in since October, but at the end of every tournament I have been so disappointed with myself that I needed a break. Then, some days later, when it would have been reasonable to write something, I got into the I-will-win-the-next-tournament mood, and I did not feel that I had the time. But that is not completely true either. I have commented games, lots, for publishing, and perhaps the real reason for not publishing is that I did not find a frame for them that included myself and that wasn’t all negative.

This is all quite typical for a chess player, to have to change, always. And for me it has been more dramatic in the last few years, with new (stronger) engines that have made some of my go-to openings, if not unplayable, then unappetizing. I have spent more than 500 hours last year changing my opening repertoire, so that it is up to the demands of the time. In the process I forgot about having to play the games too, and virtually every other aspect of my game has deteriorated.

There was also the book that I started writing in 2007, which I have finally finished. (I will write more about it later) Perhaps, due to my slow writing tempo, it will not free up a lot of time for me not to write it anymore, but it is a relief not to think about it, all the time.

So, I have made a plan for playing better, but until it has kicked in the reader will have to suffer games of my current standard, although not today.

Since posting last time, I have played for Sweden in the European Team Championship B-league three more times and have won all my games, which is a nice change to losing all my matches before that. As a team we are doing well, and we have only lost to Germany so far.

The last match, against Finland, was streamed by Anton Silfver (2d) on his twitter channel “ClynchTV”, together with Anton Christenson (3d). In my comments, I refer to them as Anton & Anton in my comments to the games. (I believe the stream can still be found on Twitch)

I will comment on all the games of the match, starting with my own. Take note that I am significantly weaker than the two top boards, and I am trying to make sense of their strategies, although these might be hard for me to grasp.

My own game first. I was very, very lucky on move 152, when I made a ko-threat that was not sente:

A shaky game on my part. I was in horrible time trouble when I made the faulty ko-threat, and it is not very likely that I would have survived if my opponent had not gifted me a big part of his stones.

Next I will  give my thoughts on the other three games in the match.

Kvibergspelen, Gothenburg

The Swedish Grand Prix tour 2022-2023 involves 6 weekend tournaments that are played between September 2022 and May 2023. I participated in the first of the six, Kvibergspelen, during the last weekend of September. It is played in a sport arena in a suburb of Gothenburg, and this year it attracted more participants than ever. The playing are was crowded with people, and you could hear chess being spoken of wherever you went. As with all GP-tournaments, it started out with four rapid games on the Friday evening and through an absolute miracle i managed to score 4/4, even though I was last at some stage in every game I played. In the first round I played White against Hrund Hauksdottir, who have close to 800 elo-points less than me, but she was better off at various stages of the game, and I had to do my utmost to win the game. The three next games were no better, but on the Saturday I played all right and won two games against Jonny Hector and the promising Norwegian junior Elham Abdrlauf. So, with two rounds to go I had won all my games, and I felt I had a good chance to win the tournament. Then in round 7 I was paired with Simen Agdestein, and due to the result of our earlier encounters (not good for me), I had a defensive mindset and we agreed on a draw after less than 20 moves. So, 6,5/7, and only one game to go. In the last game I got the Black pieces against Kaan Kucuksari, a Swedish Junior who have won good games against me before, but in situations where I was trying hard to win myself, perhaps too hard. I knew he had gotten much better (and increased his ELO with more than a 100 points), but I did not know exactly how much better:

I was quite disappointed with the way the game went, of course, but my disappontment would be misguided if I used the narrative “I won my first six games and then I messed it up”. Rather, “I did not play as well as I expect of myself, and I was lucky to get soo far”, is a better verdict. Also, it is always nice to see someone you have coached turn into such a strong player. We will see more of Kaan, and the next time we meet over the board, I hope I will make him have to play his best.

Keeping two thoughts in your head at the same time

I have tried to not be involved in the conflict that arose in the chess world due to Magnus Carlsen’s decision to pull out of the Sinquefield Cup this year. With Magnus giving so little explanation for his behaviour, I feel the shadow fell squarely into his corner. Hans Niemann was accused of cheating without a shred of credible evidence. And the way the accusation was put forth, made things even worse. Whatever the hidden facts Magnus implies being part to, this is not the right way to act. It is, however, the wrong way. He makes a terrible example for all his young fans. I am appalled by this.

That is one side. The other is that Hans Niemann has cheated in the past, and that his attitude towards winning suggests that he finds the possible punishment for cheating the main reason for not doing it. Short version: he does not come across as very sympathetic, and I would have understood if Carlsen had said that he did not want to play in a tournament against him. Because, cheating is a real threat to competitive chess, and professional players fight every day against the notion that this is something normal; something that happens on a regular basis. They fight it not only in public, but also in their minds. It is an easy road to take, to become suspicious of your opponents, and when you open that door, there are a thousand things that trigger your suspicion. There have been times when I left the breakfast table I shared with other grandmasters, due to the uncritical circulation of unfounded rumours of cheating. Although such idle talk is not as bad as cheating itself, I believe it paves the way for more cheaters. We risk ending up in a situation similar to the one the competitive cycling world found themselves in a few years back; where cheating became normal at the top, since many of the elite cyclists considered it to be normal and thought they would be unable to win unless they cheated too. (I am aware that this is a somewhat simplified version of the facts.) It is very hard to prove that someone cheats in chess (if they do not get too greedy), and banning those that do cheat is one of the few things we can do to discourage potential cheaters from not doing it. Still, there are also disadvantages to hard punishments, especially for youngsters who might be derailed for life almost before it began. I do not want that.

So, I too have my doubts about Hans Niemann, though my doubts have not become more serious after what Magnus said. That would be wrong. Niemann admitted to cheating as a teenager. Compared to me he is a kid, and there must be a place for change, growth and redemption for young people. I believe what he did was serious; perhaps more serious than he himself believes. I think it is wrong though refuse him a second chance based on a hunch, even if the hunch comes from a World Champion. (He insinuates that he knows something more, but his arguments are clearly hunches). New evidence could change the way we look at things, but it will not change my opinion of how Carlsen dealt with it.

Being true to my idol, Egon Friedell, who advocated being paradoxical, I will end with a game by the GOAT himself. At this moment in history, I clearly prefer his games over his statements.