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What is the best first move?

This is the presentation how to comment the chess game. It is series of installments and we are going through one sample game trying to cover all the most important parts of the game.

Today we start with the very first move.  I like to reveal the secrets which were worked out together with our team of experienced grandmasters and coaches. You can see our team members and our chess games commenting service in detail on our website

The chess game has its own properties, one of them is that it can be recorded and reviewed later. Chess game played on the tournament venue is recorded in a form of a score sheet which is signed by both players and by the arbiter at the completion of the game. Sometimes especially in elite tournaments the digital web based application for saving the games is used as well.

There are hundreds of thousands of games in stored databases. It is the data of chess history. Historically important games are analyzed with experts and are available for  the public in printed or in digital version.

Every beginner likes to improve his game. We are learning from our mistakes. There is no better way than analyzing your own games.

In chess it is paramount to learn from your own mistakes.

You have emotional connection to your game making it easier to remember the material gathered during the postmortem analyzes process. Definitely it is not enough to check your mistakes only with a computer engine.  Computer evaluation might be good enough for the super grandmaster who only needs casually to check if he blundered something during the game.

There is no industry standard how to do the game analyzes despite every day a lot of coaches are doing exactly that trying to teach their students not to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

There are however common mistakes which might be overlooked by even by the most seasoned coaches. Let’s start to review the very first move.

I am here not to teach World champion Magnus Carlsen which move he should make. Our lecture is useful from the very beginner till the World champ and to all the coaches around who want to enhance their knowledge of chess.

When our student who are making the first steps and is not aware much with opening theory plays 1.Nh3 it is easy to point out his or her mistake. Actually he or she needs to play only 1.e4. All other moves are much inferior for the young aspiring player. Why?

The debate of the best first move is not a new.  Historically it is considered that the first move 1.e2-e4 is more aggressive and other moves especially the 1.Nf3 are more quiet and leading to the positional game. This is also reflected in the opening books, the openings after 1.e4 are called open games and after 1.d4 we find the closed openings. The open game is where the youngsters usually start their road to the chess wonderland and after getting more acquainted with the positional game they move to discover the other opening moves.

Which first move was the choice of past Word Champions. Magnus the great plays everything, but still favors 1.e4. Other great champions who preferred 1.e4 were Garry Kasparov, Wishy Anand and ofcourse the legendary Bobby Fischer.  We can see some tendencies of great players. In their younger days they preferred to play the open game and then they sink gradually into the positional waters. Some of them made attempt to return back to their childhood favorite openings, but not with success.

Once Tigran Petrosian who became World Champion in 1963 revealed that he badly wanted to return to play 1.e4, but he could not, because it was difficult to change the positional style back to the aggressive approach,  for a reason he had nickname Iron Tigran due to his almost impenetrable defensive playing style, which emphasized safety above all else.

Vladimir Kramnik who retired from tournament chess not so long time ago actually started to play again 1.e4 betraying his favorite 1.Nf3, this however did not helped him back to the laurels of World champion and it was kind of wear fell to chess.

We can make a conclusion that the one move which is the best candidate for the best first move is 1.e4. Other moves are just other moves, because the question is to play the aggressive .1e4 or something else. We really do not care what grandmasters choice is, but the youngsters should start out with 1.e4 and there is certain reasoning for that.

We can call it chess imprinting, it is phase sensitive learning of certain chess patterns. The novice player can quickly be acquainted with simple tactics, mate in one, mate in two things like that. In other hand it is nearly impossible to teach the Petrosian style of chess. The positional patterns like pawn structures, bad and good pieces come to the table much later. All these patterns are paramount to know if you play closed positions.

This is why we make our very first move 1.e2-e4.

This move was made in the game between Howard Staunton and William Popert and the game was played in London in 1840. What move Popert played after .1e4 and did he made a mistake or not we will discuss in our second installment of the game comment series.


Jaan Ehlvest



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Valge Daam chess festival

Valge Daam chess festival


There is not so many traditional chess festivals around Baltic sea region. One of them was the Liepaja chess festival. Last year however they had the 25th edition and unfortunately this was the last one. The main organizer in Liepaja Aris Ozolins quit due to health issues. It is the common situation when traditional chess festival dies out when the man behind the event is leaving. This happened also with two other much more famous events, one in Linares and other in Reggio Emilia already years ago. Chess is not a business opportunity and the empty space is difficult to fulfill. Last year the new FIDE leaders were elected, but no new ideas how to promote chess or how to implement new events were created. Everything still depends on local initiative.

The city of Haapsalu in Estonia was eager to sponsor a big chess festival. Haapsalu is not new to chess. Yours truly played in Haapsalu some 40 years ago.  Like Liepaja Haapsalu is situated on Baltic sea shore and is itself well known tourist destination. There is a lot of events in Haapsalu during the summer.  One of them is the White Lady festival which takes place on the beginning of August. Haapsalu is very busy during the summer month, so the chess players found the end of August most convenient for their event.

The festival was held from 23 till 25th of August. During the three days four different events took place. The Open tournament was 9 rounds event from where top four finishers qualified to the super tournament. Total 68 players took part of the Open event. Kirill Chukavin and Dana Riezniece Ozola where the winners with 7,5 points. Chukavin is young Estonian players and Riezniece is today well known Latvian politician, but in the past she was the Latvian strongest female player and despite not being active any more she is still the number one in Latvia among women. The tournament cross table.

The blitz tournament took place on Saturday morning. It had seven double rounds. Total 48 players participated and the pretournament favorite Latvian grandmaster Nikita Meshkovs emerged victorious with 11, 5 points. I share second third place with 10,5 points. I lost my match against Meshkovs 0,5 to 1,5 and this was the crucial outcome for final results. Full table is here.

There was also so called handicap tournament which was intended to real chess aficionados and for sponsors. Unfortunately it did not attract as much players as hoped for and finally nearly all players who had interest were included. The players were divided into four categories and according to their category the time control was adjusted. The top players had two minutes against the weakest players who had 8 minutes. There were no increment so some games got very wild at the time scramble. No incidents occurred and during the festival the arbiters Gert Elmaste and Margit Brokko had everything under control. Surprise winner of the handicap tournament was Robert Dubrovin.

The Super tournament. From the Open there were four qualifiers and other players were invited. One of the participants was the ex-World champion Alexander Halifman from Russia. He as usual kept his solid style and was the only player who did not lose a single game. This was however no good for the first place. In recent tournaments Latvian player Nikita Meshkovs is showing upswing trend. He showed very strong play also in Haapsalu. He lost his only game in the last round when he already secured the first place. The lucky winner was former Latvian now American grandmaster Alexander Shabalov who finished second. Halifman was third. The best Estonian player was Meelis Kanep who finished fourth. Dana Riezniece was the last only with one draw. Halifman was the only true gentleman who drew with the lady. The tournament gathered in overall very strong field and the winner got nice cup among some small prize money. The overall standing.

The festival was a success considering the overall activity. Nearly one hundred players participated. I was happy that few youngsters whom I taught chess during my chess club activities in Haapsalu participated as well. This kind of chess festival should be four days instead of three, but the Haapsalu during the summer season is expensive tourist destination and the accommodation is costly. This is why the Open was held in one day instead of two. The feedback from players was positive especially from our Latvian friends. We hope that this was not one time event and the city of Haapsalu may sponsor it next year as well.

In the last round Shabalov won complicated battle against the tournament winner.

Jaan Ehlvest

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Looking back to the seniors

The new event the US Senior Championship took place this July.

Ten players had single round robin tournament. All players despite Alex Fishbein had notable chess career. All grandmasters. The tournament favorite was not announced, but there was only one active player present Alex Shabalov who finally won the event. In his own words he had a lot of luck and in total he had three lost positions during the tournament.

All other players had more or less the same weakness lack of practice. Also the physical fitness or lack of it might play a lot in senior’s competition. The quality of games differed a lot. There were some outstanding games, but most of the time at the end usually in time trouble many games turned to muddy waters and as we say they did not have their logical end.

This was true with my games, but I am sure everybody could complain. The format was difficult the time control 90 minutes for the first 40 moves and then half hour to complete the games with 30 second increment does not look first very tricky for younger generation. However most of the players in this field had in the past different much more friendly time control. Like 2,5 hours for the first 40 moves and after that the game was adjourned.

I lost my first game where I mixed everything possible in the opening. In my next game I tried to be solid and missed several winning opportunities.

In the next game after that I missed a golden opportunity as well. Both my opponents shared second-third place at the end.



Finally on round four I won and I thought I am back in the competition.

Now after this game I played against my friend Alexander Yermolinsky. I was Black and still I was in fighting mood. I got very promising positions, but in severe time trouble accepted his draw offer which was made on move 30. There was a rule no draws allowed before move 30.

Next time I bring more games and some inside stories from seniors. Time being here is the final standings.

Cross table after round 9

Rank Name Rating 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Score
1 GM Shabalov, Alexander 2500 x ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 6.0
2 GM Kaidanov, Gregory 2544 ½ x 1 1 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 5.0
3 GM Goldin, Alexander 2540 ½ 0 x 0 1 1 1 0 ½ 1 5.0
4 GM Christiansen, Larry 2574 ½ 0 1 x ½ 1 0 0 1 ½ 4.5
5 GM Novikov, Igor 2556 0 ½ 0 ½ x ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 4.5
6 GM Benjamin, Joel 2524 ½ ½ 0 0 ½ x 1 1 ½ ½ 4.5
7 GM Yermolinsky, Alex 2504 ½ 1 0 1 ½ 0 x 0 ½ 1 4.5
8 GM Dlugy, Maxim 2518 0 ½ 1 1 0 0 1 x 0 ½ 4.0
9 GM Ehlvest, Jaan 2515 ½ ½ ½ 0 0 ½ ½ 1 x ½ 4.0
10 GM Fishbein, Alexander 2432 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ x 3.0


Jaan Ehlvest

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Rhodos Word Senior’s Team Championship

Rhodos Word Senior’s Team Championship


In April the Word Senior’s team competition took place in Rhodos island in Greece.

It was my second time to participate in this kind of event. Last year it was held in Dresden and our US team was somehow the lucky winner. We needed some luck in the last round. This time the US team did not give other teams any chance and we took the gold winning eight matches and only drawing against Iceland.

There was two age groups, over 50 and over 65. Our team members were nearly the same as a year ago. Only Kudrin was replaced with Novikov. Only true American again was Joel Benjamin. Our international team had a good team spirit and wonderful leader Alexander Shabalov who like a year ago took individual gold on the first board.

My performance was not so bright, but I had also some moments. In our match against Iceland my victory helped to draw the match. Actually I won rather quickly and we never were in any danger to lose the match. At the very end Novikov lost to Hjartarson and this helped Vikings to level the match. I lost few half points in the matches with Italy and Armenia when I agreed a draw in the winning positions to secure the overall victory in the matches. My rating performance gave me the bronze medal on my board.

Shabalov played on the first board, Benjamin on the second, Novikov on the third and I on the fourth board. Yermolinsky was our reserve player. He like Shabalov took the individual gold as well.

The Rhodos is famous tourist destination. In April as our taxi driver explained it is still winter. The winter temperature was around plus 18 and it was sunny. However the official tourist season started when we were leaving on April 16. Still we could play some tennis and Shabalov with his special equipment managed to swim on the open sea as well. There was only problem the food. We stayed in the luxurious Olympic Palace hotel and the food was excellent and also unlimited, so for some players it was difficult not to gain some weight.

The tournament saw much stronger competition compared to the last year. Icelandic team was very strong. They however missed the place in the podium losing the last match to Israel. Petursson lost in few moves in equal position when the draw was enough to take the bronze for the team.

Armenia had also a strong team having Rafael Vaganian on the first board. They also had very bad performance in the last round where they lost to the Italian team. The Italian team was the big underdog who took the second place. Third place went to Israel who took down the Iceland team in the last round with some luck. Final standings.


The games

The Margeir’s tragedy.

My game against Emms was not really a tragedy, but just unpleasant accident.

I had my chance against Iceland to make me also valuable player for the team.

Against Armenia it was Shabalov who clinched the important win.

In the match against Armenia our winning margin was minimal, but some positions we just did not finish.

In overall I am very pleased to be the two times World Champion. I actually was a team member of the Soviet team winning the 1989 World team Championship in Luzern.

I like to thank here all my team members for a good team spirit and cooperation.

Jaan Ehlvest

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Chess notes

Chess notes


Chess is different today compared decades ago. The players however are not much stronger. In one hand they have perfect opening preparation due the help of computer programs, but in other hand this also makes the players more vulnerable. They rely too much on ready solutions and the ability to solve practical problems during the actual game is getting worse and worse.

The seconds and coaches are not helping the players to get better in chess improving their understanding of chess. Instead they are downgraded to do the robotic work just supervise the computer analyses. Even here they are not up to the task. In the last fall during and after the World Championship match seconds of Caruana denied their miscalculations during their preparation for the match when asked if the Sveshnikov line used by Magnus Carlsen was kind of missed opening in their preparation.

Definitely it was and Fabio Caruana lost his battle in the opening phase, which was crucial in the match. He however behaved as nothing happened and did not fire his seconds during the match and also after the match. One can admire his patience, but in chess like in soccer the coach usually takes the responsibility of the failure.  Years ago during the matches between Karpov and Kasparov being a coach was a risky business.

The most famous scandal was the Kasparov’s accusations to one of his seconds that he was stealing and selling their opening preparations to Karpov. Nowadays we live in friendly atmosphere. Everybody is doing high five and criticism is not tolerated. The coach must quarantine that children have fun with chess and the luggage of the superstar is safe. Yes, there are cases when the second must deal with the luggage instead of teaching the student good manners.

In ongoing US Championship few games got my eye. In the following game Gareev missed some interesting ideas and lost without a battle.

Nakamura had some unexpected rare move in his sleeve and he got serious opening advantage against Caruana, but then suddenly made mistake after mistake. In the past the coaches forced the students analyze the position at least one week before they could make some conclusive argument about it. Now the computers help with the evaluation, but still one should work a lot himself as well.


Jaan Ehlvest



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Kramnik’s retirement

Kramnik’s retirement


I first met Kramnik during the Moscow Open in 1992. He was a young star with a big future and I was despite the fact that I was only 30 years old the star from the past. Years to come we played a lot of games, but we never actually crossed in the fight for the big honors. I was ahead of him in several super tournaments, but I never seriously considered myself as a contender for the World championship cycle. He however somehow got to play the match with Kasparov and won it convincingly. How he qualified to play with Kasparov is well forgotten.

Looking back to his chess career one may wonder that he had very easy life. I cannot remember him having any big obstacle during his route to the top. His favorite opening line was the one with 1.Nf3 which usually lead to the game with two results. Nobody can win forever, even the best.

The new computer era of chess when players just need to remember the correct lines changed a lot. The 1. Nf3 was not good enough anymore. Kramnik switched to 1.e4. When I saw this my first reaction was, that he was just bored and wanted to spice up the game. I was mistaken. He seriously thought that this is the right thing to do and he may still beat the very best. Now something strange happened. Huge fluctuations in his games and results occurred. He lost his cool. The new approach to his game did not shake his opponents, but backfired.

He could not win the most important tournaments and he could not stop either. I do not have any slightest idea who is or was his second or coach. Knowing the top players and their attitude I am very sure that all these decisions concerning his game and preparations he made himself. Now after catastrophic performance in Wijk he decided to quit after all.

The question remains why his game descended in recent years and why. You cannot have everything. It is not possible to be a family man and a successful player. You need to sacrifice a lot. Most importantly you need to work constantly and add something new. Nobody is the number one by default, you need to prove it every day again and again. Kramnik did not need to do it. He always got the invitations and never had to prove himself to qualify. Yes, he was a former World Champion, but so what. Playing in the inner cycle makes you soft and you may lose the objectivity.

When Kramnik did play the last Russian championship? Why the Russian Olympic team failed to win the Olympiad in last decade or so? Somebody complained, I think it was Karpov, that Kramnik is missing the qualities of being a leader. The answer might be more simple, objectively the Russian team composition was not just good enough to win.

Objectively Kramnik could be easily on the top 20 for next 10 years, if he can return to his 1.Nf3 and dismiss the winning attitude which backfired in recent years. He himself admitted that he cannot. He wants only to win and if this is not possible any more he calls it off. Kasparov had the same exact reasoning. Kasparov however found that computers are leveling the field and this did not suite him.

Botvinnik was famous with his methodology approach to chess. He always pointed out, that one should never repeat his mistakes. I like to share my game with Kramnik back in 1995 when Kramnik lost his objectivity. Very rare occasion back then.


Jaan Ehlvest

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Pavlodar Akim Cup 2018

Pavlodar Akim cup

The Pavlodar Akim cup was my first real tournament for years. I did play this year in Dresden where the senior team World Champioship took place, but I was avoiding the individual tournaments only trying to play rapid and blitz. It was the fourth Akim cup in Pavlodar. The Pavlodar Chess Federation was created 20 years ago and the same man Aleksander Babenko is still the president. He is also Akim (leader) one of the Pavlodar regions.

On my way to Pavlodar I also visited Astana, the new capital of Kazakhstan. I did envy Astana. They do not have the old city like Tallinn has, because the Astana is a new city. I was invited to Astana by my former student Darmen Sadvakasov and I  gave simultaneous exhibition and I had a master class as well for his students from his Chess Academy.

After Astana Pavlodar looked like some disappointment, but only for few days. When I got used to the new surroundings I started to enjoy it as well. The local food was excellent. I like lamb, but I tried the local delicatessens like horse meat as well. I found it still little bit strange to eat, so I preferred lamb.

The industrial city lies next to the Irtysh river. Which gives the electricity to the region and you may find fish especially the zander in local kitchen. There is a wide selection of fur products in local market. Mink coats are on sale and most of the women are wearing them on streets. The local temperature was around minus 20 Celsius and I was not dressed up to it, but the local transport functioned well enough. The taxi ride from our hotel to the tournament hall cost around one EUR. In general everything was cheaper not in %, but in times if you compare them with EU prices. The quality of products and services however was excellent. Pavlodar is considered to be peripheral part of Kazakhstan and this probably is visible in infrastructure. Still I am sure they have a great future.

The chess is on the boom in Pavlodar. They have modest, but very functional Chess House where our tournament took place and they have very good chess in schools community.  I had the chance to visit one of the schools and I was really surprised what I saw. They have special chess classroom with chess equipment and students who are fond of chess.

Usually I avoided the long walking trips due to the harsh weather and took the taxi. One day however I tried to walk with my friend arbiter Bolat Asanov to our hotel from the playing hall, but very soon I changed my mind and we were forced to use the tram instead. Then first time in my life I saw the tram conductor.

The Pavlodar market made great expression on me. On the first floor there were numerous counters with culinary staff. The horse meat was on sale everywhere. Still as I already mentioned it looks little bit odd to me. On the second floor they had nearly everything. They had even a sex shop.

The tournament itself was a difficult affair for me. The time difference with Tallinn was only four hours, but it still killed my normal sleeping habits. Some nights I could get proper sleep only from I drew first two games, but then I lost two in a row. The second loss was especially painful. I blundered in the winning position. After that I put myself together and won three games in a row. Especially pleasant was the next game. I prepared a novelty and then outplayed my opponent.

In the next game I took some risk, but it was worth of it.

In the penultimate round I faced the local player the managing director of the chess federation. He lost his first six games, but I did not underestimate him. Somehow I tried too hard to win, later if you look the final results, the draw could give me the third place. I was disappointed after the game, but the friendly atmosphere and the relaxed blitz tournament in the last day cooled me down.


The overall standings.

The blitz tournament was affair of only four players. The tournament winner Igor Lysyj, Evgeni Egorov, Dimitri Mahknev who made GM norm in the tournament and myself. We played the Kazakhstan gambit with both colors and total four rounds making it 12 games. Mahknev was the winner and I was second.

I like to thank here the Palvodar Chess Federation officials inviting me to Plavlodar and wish all the best in their chess development in the region.

Jaan Ehlvest

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Pühajärve handicap tournament

The 19th Pühajärve handicap tournament was held on the last weekend in friendly atmosphere. The winner was the rating favorite Nikita Meskovs from Riga who secured the first place one round to go.

Total 36 players took part of the festival. Final results were little bit strange, because the older generation did very well. The format was as usual, but this year the weaker players did not shine at all. Being honest I am little bit tired of this handicap format, because playing with the weakest group who have 18 minutes against your two minutes requires full concentration and it is not fun at all. The other problem is that too many players are the same. Some qualification could be a good idea.

This year beat the weaker opposition with confidence, but losing again to Marti Medar. The professional runner was one moment leading the tournament, but could keep the pace to the end.

The history of the festival has some sad taste as well, too many players who took part are gone. The organizer Urmas Randma asked the others to remember the deceased with one minute silence. Latest casualty was Lithuanian grandmaster Aloyzas Kveynis who died recently in this summer being only 55 years old.

The detailed results of the tournament are here.

Jaan Ehlvest

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Haapsalu Chess Academy

Haapsalu is a small seaside town in Estonia. Ottomar Ladva  a young GM is from Haapsalu and still lives there. Other notable sportsman from Haapsalu is the tennis player Kaia Kanepi. I played my first chess tournament in Haapsalu back in 1979. This summer there was a chess festival in Haapsalu during the famous White Lady event. Shortly after the chess festival the city council people approached to me with the idea to open some kind of chess academy in Haapsalu. I was taken aback with this offer, today the chess in Estonia is not very popular any more. Still it was not just one time emotional burst and finally last Wednesday the opening event took place in the local Sport center.

The city mayor Urmas Sukles himself was present and also the initiator of the plan the head of city council Jaanus Karilaid. I gave to the chess aficionados short introductory lecture about chess and its benefits to children. After that we had friendly chess games. I managed to beat Mr. Karilaid, but some youngsters had the chance to play with each other. The academy is going to have chess gathering once a week. Every month I am going to visit the Academy to give consulting to the children and to the educators as well. Very nice initiative from the Haapsalu city and I hope we are going to open more Chess Academies in Estonia in the future.


Jaan Ehlvest

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Mikhail Tal’s memorial blitz tournament Riga 2018

Mikhail Tal was a controversial World Champion. I had very good personal relations with him and I was really surprised when in 1985 in Tallinn when we first met on chess board he did not press me much as White and the draw was agreed very quickly. I had feeling back then that he just did not want to beat the rising Estonian star and just gave me a draw. Tal was avid blitz player and he won the World blitz Championship in Canada in 1988. Tal’s nickname was the “magician from Riga”, so it was not big surprise that Latvian Chess Federation president Aris Ozolins organized the event on 10. of November in Riga in honor of Tal’s birthday which was on 9th of November. Many top players were missing, because of the short notice of the event. Still Latvian leader Kovalenko, Latvian German blitz specialist Daniel Fridman who was the Liepaja festival this summer and yours truly Jaan Ehlvest were present. Total 134 players took part of the event. The time control was three minutes plus two second increment. I started with three wins, but then I slowed down making few draws where my game was up and down mode. In round 9 I faced one of the leaders pre – tournament favorite Igor Kovalenko. This game I managed to keep under control from the start to the finish.

During the blitz tournament the most important thing is to keep the balance. Immediately after this game I lost to local blitz specialist Verners Putka. I had excellent position after the opening, but I started to play to deep and finally I lost.

After this disaster I managed to win the last three games and shared the second place with Putka. Third place on tiebreak. Overall very nice event and good place to check your form.

Jaan Ehlvest