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Chess in the museum

Chess in the museum


In Estonia there are a lot of museums, one of the biggest number per capita in the World. The Tartu Sport museum is one of the biggest in Baltic states. The idea to make some chess event in the museum was a good plan and the predecessor event took place in January in the ERM.  This time the main organizer was Peep Pedmanson. He’s two sons both play chess and he tries to promote chess wherever possible. The event took place at the end of October.

The simultaneous exhibition started early at and because of that most of the participants were children. Still we had nearly 20 chess enthusiasts. Before the simul I made a small introduction. Stating the benefits of chess for children and I appreciated the effort of Mr. Pedmanson and the museum staff. I had the opportunity to sign on the museum wall where other prominent Estonian former sport stars already had their signature.

The simul went smoothly. I had a bad position against Estonian Olympic team member Hendrik Haavamäe, but when he made an illegal move I forced him to accept my draw offer. The regulations are not clear in this case. Most of the time it is automatic loss for the player, but of course the friendly simul is not about winning or losing. In other games I did not have any problems and at the end I made one more draw with Sarabella Normano who was a member of Finnish Olympic team in the recent Chess Olympiad in Batumi. She actually lives in Tartu and she already played against me in January simul as well.

I hope that the idea to promote chess via museums is a vital idea and we expect to continue this tradition.

Jaan Ehlvest

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Seniors at large

Chess has some benefits and among others it is believed that people who play chess have less risk to Alzheimer’s disease. We cannot prevent aging however and the eternal life is not yet discovered. Older people still continue to play chess. I had the opportunity to represent the US senior team in Dresden in July where the World Senior team Championship took place. Our team which took part on the 50 plus senior group consisted mostly from grandmasters from former Soviet Union.

Only true American in our team was Joel Benjamin. We were the big favorites and finally we won. There was one mishap when we lost in round four to the strong English team. I supposed to have a lot of experience in team championships. First I got a bonus in 1988 when I was a member of the Soviet team in the Thessaloniki Olympiad. I was the second reserve player together with Artur Yussupov and we did not influence our team’s success in any way. Our leaders Kasparov and Karpov showed excellent performance and there was never any doubt that the Soviet team is not winning the Olympiad.

In 1983 I was a member of students team of Soviet Union and we won the World under 26 team Championship in Chicago. I was again reserve player.

Question was, that back then the winning or losing was matter of life and death. Moscow was on your back and any failure was punished by the authorities. During the Chicago event our team won the competition without any big effort. Things however were not going so smoothly few years back. Like for the players who were involved during the World Student’s team Championship in Mexico city in 1978 where Soviet team got the second place. Several players got punished for different reasons. Most ironic was that one reserve player was accused of going to movies instead of staying in the playing hall during the crucial match. All this came to my mind when analyzing our match against England. Especially it was England who took the gold from SU in 1978.

It is true that the pairings might became light surprise as we did not expect to meet so early in the tournament. However all players expect me left to the city. Prior that in our team meeting it was decided that our reserve player Kudrin is going to play. At this moment we did not know that our opponent might be England. I did not go to the city because I was playing on the blitz tournament finishing third which was a big upset for me. Still nobody was worried about the match.

Next day our reserved player Kudrin barely played more than five minutes. Draw with black pieces is usually a good result, but it was not a good sign. Somehow Benjamin had some difficulties to put himself together and lost without a fight to Emms. Shabalov had his usual up and down game against Speelman which finally ended peacefully.  I knew that I need to keep the pressure as long as possible and I managed to do it, but failed to convert my advantage.

It was only round four and nobody in our team took this defeat from England as the end of the World. We managed defeat other teams convincingly and in the final round the strong German team came to our help and stopped the mighty English team. On the closing ceremony their representative promised to improve their team for next year at least with John Nunn, but yes Nigel Short may play as well. The winning US team may return next year as well. As it appeared the first place was important for us, because we did a big favor to people who helped our team to participate in Dresden. Seniors at large is not for everybody and it was important that our team was successful and may have a chance to find sponsors for next year as well. In case of second place our maximum sentence for failure would not be as harsh as it was back in 1978 for Soviet boys who were second behind England and some of them got serious disqualifications. Now we have a chance to defend our title next year, in case of second place we most likely could not have second chance for the title.

When I could not convert my advantage against Plasket I had my moments in the next game.


The tournament took place in nice hall and the German organization was excellent. Only thing which haunted me was the players. Children’s tournament or even Olympiad makes you feel optimistic about the future. Here where a lot of seniors gathered together it does not look very optimistic. During the opening ceremony Sveshnikov took a floor and we remembered Alexander Vasjukov who recently passed away. We all do, but definitely this was the tournament of age group where you do not want to belong. Still it was interesting to meet some old comrades like Yuri Balashov and others. All players seemed happy to enjoy chess and at least they do not have Alzheimer.

Final results


Jaan Ehlvest

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Do we need chess books?

Do we need chess books?


There was a certain period approximately in the beginning of this century when the publishing business in my opinion was in very shaky situation. The new technologies using the electronic versions as information bearer looked much more advanced and cheaper than the old hard cover versions. The sales of Barnes & Noble bookstores took heavy decline. I had not very good experience with chess publishing houses in the past. My first book the “Leningrad Dutch” was published by Batsford publishing in 1994, but shortly afterwards the publishing house went into bankrupt. I was sure that the general situation is not improving in the beginning of first decade of 2000. However the old publishing survived and there is still market for chess books. The sales are still tricky business and only the few know how they really do it in the open market. The authors need to rely on the publishing houses, because they know how to distribute the books. The target is the same as it was decades ago, 2000 copies to the US market and the same amount to European market.

Simple math shows that it is not very lucrative business for the authors. Writing a book is very time consuming, if you are not just fulfilling simple order. The simple order is the opening books. Everybody likes to write opening books and when a year ago I was ready to take the job, I could not find suitable publisher who was ready to fulfill the order. This forced me to write a little bit more complicated book which is going to be out in May this year. The “Grandmaster opening preparation” took me for a while to complete. I was lucky that Jacob Aagard was ready to publish it. I did my job, but can I be sure that the book represents any value for the chess aficionado.

I did read few chess books during my long career around chess. I am not counting the theoretical opening books, but the books from which you may find some useful information. There were some good books. The good does not mean the same thing when comparing the chess books to the fiction books. Chess might be many things, but for sure it has something from everything, from art, from science and from sport. The good chess book in my opinion needs to explain things. Recently I see mostly books which describe things.

The historical chess books are fine to read, but the theoretical opening books are just collections of opening lines which only describe the state of affairs with a computer evaluation. The value of the book supposedly is the big name of the author of the book, which in my opinion is useless in this context. The top grandmaster could probably explain things, but using his name when describing things is just devaluing the author’s capacity. I do not read these kind of books. This does not mean that I am not going to write one myself again. My Batsford book was typical example of this kind of book. Now I like to do things differently, hoping to add some deep explanations to the opening lines.

The “Grandmaster opening preparation” does the explanation how to prepare the opening lines. After reading this book you do not need to buy opening books anymore, because you can do the evaluations yourself. Still it is more convenient for most of us to get collection of opening lines written by some authority of that line, but at the end you are not going to remember the lines anyway.

Who needs then the chess books? Children do. They cannot make their preparation yet themselves. They need a good description which enables them to make their own decisions and hopefully improve their decision making process. Meaning they need to learn how to think.

My book the “Chessgymnasium” was written for children who are going to make their very first steps on chess board. The aim was not to teach them how to play chess, but using the properties of chess to enhance their ability to think. The game of chess must be fun, this is the slogan of many chess scholars. Using the chess game and hope that it helps to develop some positive trends for the student might be a good idea. However there are a lot of other activities which do the same. The difference with chess is that the chess paradigm has specific set of rules which are not only arbitrary rules made by man, but one can easily find that these rules are universal.

In Ancient Greece the geometry was the paradigm which one should master before entering to Academia. Chess in other hand should be taught to every child during his or her preschool period. The “Chessgymnasium” tries to help teachers and parents to prepare the children for the compulsory education. It represents the paradigm where it is possible to training child’s brain.

I am very happy that with the initiative of Latvian chess federation my book was published in Latvian language. The presentation of the book took place on April 6 in Riga Sport School.  The CEO of the Jumava publishing house Mr. Juris Visockis was present among other distinguished quests. Beside well known chess players and officials Latvian minister of finance Mrs. Dana Rieznice Ozola who still is one of the best female players in Latvia said few kind words about the book. Later simul with clocks took place. I faced eight opponents having 35 minutes to complete the game, my opponents had 25 minutes, but still I lost one game in time. I drew one and won the rest. In other end of the hall Rieznice and the other top female player Laura Rogele gave the tandem simul and they lost one game winning the rest.

I am very thankful to my Latvian colleagues for this wonderful event and I hope that the “Chessgymnasium” is going to be very soon available in other languages as well.

Jaan Ehlvest

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On the eve of disaster

On the eve of disaster


The Berlin Candidates tournament is about to finish. There were numerous online comments during the rounds and one I took a peek was the Shipov’s youtube channel. The other popular one is the Saint Louise chess club streaming. I missed this one, because it is focused mainly for the very average player and in my opinion one gets tired to see for years the same commentators. However I must admit that they are doing fine as a team. Both channels are politically motivated to support their favorites. Karjakin versus Caruana. The conflict cannot be more dramatic as the situation before the final round. The tournament had early leader Vladimir Kramnik who had very happy face and then unexpectedly went down. In recent rounds he recovered and was very close to beat the unbeaten Chinese representative.

What is the main character traits for success in chess and particular in Berlin? Why Aronian one of the tournament pre favorite is doing so badly?

My explanation is the following. Today’s chess there are numerous tournaments which have no qualification phase. Players are not under constant pressure. There are certain level of pressure needed to mobilize our resources to fight or flight. Some players cannot stand the heat and never could adopt it despite being very good at chess. To name a few we immediately picture Ivanchuk. The game of chess involves some luck as well, but this is what makes all the difference-if you are not trained to stand the heat of the battle you are most likely to fail.

There is a big difference from which background the player evolved as well. The players from so called wellbeing societies are less adopted to stand the stress. It is not about some curious Soviet chess school as some secret training method, but it was about the environment where success in chess was nearly the only option to succeed and make a career and it put enormous pressure to the players and the winning and losing was a matter of life and death. Personality like late Korchnoi was the most remarkable example of this school. This is why player like Nakamura has very little chance to succeed to become World number one. He is a big fighter and a good gambler, but I doubt he can successfully play when the life and death is at stake.

Why then Kramnik who probably had all this failed in Berlin. In my opinion he just over pressed it. There is a certain law in sport psychology. The optimum stress level and if you cannot keep it you play below your level. You do not need really a psychologist in every day’s chess, but Berlin was an exception. Kramnik was too happy after winning against Aronian and too stressed when he went down. How to handle the stress level and to keep your student in optimum requires very good specialist. In computer era the seconds or the chess helping team is not so important, but the person who can measure the player’s stress level and to change it is the must. Magnus is probably laughing when he is reading these sentences. It’s true, if you know your game-the opening moves are well analyzed and memorized, you have enough time on your clock, you dominate also psychologically your opponent, it looks easy. However in winning and losing paradigm there is always the next player who makes even Magnus to sweat and the great Norwegian is going down. This player definitely is not coming from Berlin.

Who is going to win today? Most of the aficionados hope that it is Caruana. I also hope that he can stand the heat today and then he has enough time to think and rethink his approach against himself. His lack of self confidence needs to be improved. He is much better player than anybody else in Berlin, but the soviets have something what he needs to improve.

The disaster is somebody’s win. Good luck to everybody!

Jaan Ehlvest

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Estonia Horses advanced to playoffs

The Pro chess league  had the final round in the preliminary tournament this last Wednesday. In the Eastern division the long waited match between Estonia Horses and Norway Gnomes took place. World champion Magnus Carlsen was playing for Gnomes and only winning the match could help Gnomes to qualify. Estonia Horses needed only to draw the  match to advance. Throughout the season Estonia Horses lost few matches when in the last moment the luck was on their opponent’s side. This time it seemed in the beginning that again everything is going wrong. In the second round Avital Boruchovsky trapped his opponent Borki Predojevic in the opening and got a winning position. Norwegian player also had barely any time left.

In the second round I was not able to defend against the World Champion. My first round game against Grandelius was very shaky and ended in a draw. Against World Champion I tried to keep the pace playing fast, but in several moments I could not use my chances.

Instead of 4-4 after two rounds it was 3-5. In the next round Horses managed to win back one point, but before the last round the score was 5,5-6,5. The last round did not go well in the beginning, Magnus quickly got winning advantage against Boruchovsky and also even against their weakest link Elham Abdrlauf our player Sander Kukk had lost position. This influenced my play and in position where I already outplayed my opponent Predojevic I started to make questionable decisions and managed to save the game only due to my opponent’s time scramble. Somehow Kukk managed to trick his not so experienced opponent and now it was all about the last game.

This was a big blow to Magnus’s fans. The commentators could not hide their disappointment.

We are obliged to qualify to the finals after this success.

Jaan Ehlvest

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Estonia Horses

Estonia Horses

Is the name of the team which is leading after three rounds in the Eastern division on the chess super league.  Our team line up may found here. The league was created by US chess enthusiast Greg Shahade who himself is only IM in chess, but is a great organizer. Years ago he started the US chess league and now we have the Super chess league where the teams from every continent are present.

I created the Estonia team and when I was asked about the team name I proposed the horses. The pigs are probably better name for Estonia team, but there is one breed of horses which originated from Estonia. Our team has several agents playing for us. My good friend Alexander Onischuk is the head coach and manager of the Texas Tech University. He somehow did not play up to his expectations, but in general our team is doing great. After three rounds we are leading in our group. I was a big help for our team in the last match. I played a risky game in the first round and got rewarded.

I continued my winning streak grounding down the Mumbai team female player in a rook endgame.

However in the final round I took it too easy at the end and my opponent managed to save the game.

The match ended with 8-8 tie, but we are still sole leaders in our division. Some very interesting matches are ahead and one is against the Norwegian club where current World champion Magnus Carlsen is playing.

Jaan Ehlvest

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Chess in the museum

Chess in the museum

In Russia the chess in the museum project was started in 2012. In Estonia both the museums and chess are popular subjects. Chess at least in the past. In 2000, Keres was elected the Estonian Sportsman of the Century. In Tallinn the visitor can find a lot of museums, one of my favorites being the Estonian Maritime Museum.

The recent and the biggest museum is the Estonian National Museum. The museum is located in Tartu in the second biggest city in Estonia. I was very excited when I got the invitation to give a simul on the museum premises.

The simul is the simplest way to popularize chess. Usually the youngsters are very eager to participate. Still only handful simuls are held in overall. The initiative of the Estonian National Museum was most welcome and I hope that we can continoue this trend in the future. In Tartu 21 players took part in the simul. Most of them young boys, but also two girls were among participants. I tried not to win all the games and drew two of them winning the rest. Last boy standing had also very good drawing chances in slightly inferior rook endgame, but this time I won not giving a draw to my opponent. I just did not want to spoil the boy with a present. He has great future ahead if he continous to play chess.

The museum people treated me very well and the simul was well organized. Because of the late hour not many spectators were present though. The museum people and I agreed to make this chess day traditional event in the future.

Jaan Ehlvest

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What we can learn from AlfaZero?

What we can learn from AlfaZero


As a coach for some top level players I study chessgames played by computers regularly and generated some of my own. There is certain things you can learn from the computer chess and I believe the games from recent match between AlfaZero and Stokfish were not exception. However nothing extraordinary. It is not also relevant for chess audience which program is the strongest, because nearly all of them are stronger than human masters.

I like to discuss about the fuss which surrounded the AlfaZero itself. Some people even chess players are praising it as something they never saw before and the authors behind AlfaZero wish to convey us that they created something which could learn chess in four hours and is using some forgotten new technology called neural networks and making huge leap developing the AI. The AI development using chess is misleading, so I like to qoute next paragraphs from the following paper.

Long time ago it was suggested that chess is the drosophila of AI? The specific meaning of the analogy has never been more than superficially elaborated. What most practitioners seem to mean by claiming chess as the drosophila of AI is simply that computer chess, like drosophila, represented a relatively simple system that nevertheless could be used to explore larger, more complex phenomena.

Deep Blue program which beat Kasparov in 1997 was capable of evaluating 200 million positions per second (which translated into an average search depth of six to eight moves). IBM had spent millions of dollars on Deep Blue, a machine that only played a grand total of six games against a single opponent before it was dismantled. In fact, the machine was disassembled immediately after its narrow victory over Garry Kasparov, and its internal workings have never been revealed to the satisfaction of the research community – an important but unintended consequence, perhaps, of the competitive tournament system and the increasing reliance on cash prizes to fund system development. In any case, to many observers, Deep Blue’s brute force approach to computer chess – along with its narrowly specialized ‘Kasporov Killer’ techniques – was too single-minded to suggest any meaningful general intelligence.

‘My God, I used to think chess required thought’, reflected the noted cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter in response to the Deep Blue victory: ‘Now, I realize it doesn’t. It doesn’t mean Kasparov isn’t a deep thinker, just that you can bypass deep thinking in playing chess, the way you can fly without flapping your wings’ (quoted in Weber, 1996). In a 1997 response to the Deep Blue victory published in the journal Science, John McCarthy, the founding father of both AI and competitive computer chess, publicly lamented the degree to which computer chess had been led astray by the will-o-wisp of tournament victories: ‘chess has developed much as genetics might have if the geneticists had concentrated their efforts starting in 1910 on breeding racing Drosophila. We would have some science, but mainly we would have very fast fruit flies’

At the heart of McCarthy’s critique is the perception that, although computer chess was productive in that it encouraged constant experimentation, it produced no new theories – either about human cognitive processes or theoretical computer science.

Herbert Simon and Allen Newell had stressed that it was essential not only that the computer made good moves, but that it made them for the right reasons. Computer chess was, for Simon and Newell, valuable only to the degree that it represented a ‘deliberate attempt to simulate human thought processes’ (Newell et al., 1958). This lofty goal was soon abandoned in the quest to build stronger tournament performers.

The race of building the winning chess playing program as the only successful outcome of the AI development only made the difference between human and machine wider.

The brute-force approach to computer chess highlighted the growing divide between AI and the human cognitive sciences. A growing body of research on human chess players indicated that human players rarely thought ahead more than one or two moves, relying instead on perception, pattern recognition, and the use of heuristics. Chess, as it was played by humans, turned out to be an even more complex cognitive activity than was imagined by the early artificial researchers (Wagner and Scurrah, 1971). As a result, computer chess came to be seen as increasingly distinct from human chess.

Many AI researchers appeared to believe, the primary measure of an experimental organism was its ability to produce fundamental theory, then chess was probably not the drosophila of AI. Despite the impressive productivity of the computer chess researchers, the research agenda that computer chess encouraged was simply too narrow to be sustainable. It was as if drosophila-based genetics research had never advanced beyond the mapping of the drosophila chromosome.

Chromosome mapping was, of course, an important contribution made by the drosophilists to genetics research, but as mapping techniques became increasingly routine, interest in drosophila stagnated. It was only with the introduction of new wild varieties of drosophila into the laboratory, and the migration of the drosophilists out of it, that the drosophila was reinvented as an experimental technology for investigating population genetics. Computer chess had no such second act yet. AlphaZero supposed to have one as the Google Corporation wants us to believe.

When looking the games of AlphaZero I found one position which has some blink of AI presence. The game is commentated below and the move I am talking is the 19th move of White h2-h3. Most likely I am mistaken and the move was still coming out from the brute force calculation tree and has nothing to do with AI. I think that the comparison with animal psychology is very relevant here. We have a very big data about animal behavior and despite popular beliefs there are registered very few occasions when animals purposely try to send signals or information to humans using their mind. Animals are bound to their instincts and to detect the appearance of intellectual life act is rare as the AI appearance in chess playing computer program.

I hope that this time the AlfaZero is not disappearing like Deep Blue and some more data is available for the public. We need to wait.

Jaan Ehlvest

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Pühajärve handicap tournament 2017

Pühajärve chess festival

The 18th of Pühajärve handicap tournament was held on the last weekend of November. The pretournament favorite Swedish grandmaster Nils Grandelius won the event with impressive margin. He was quick and accurate which was needed when playing against the weakest group of players when the stronger player had only two minutes against 18 minutes without increment.

There were four groups of players according to their strength. Handicap tournament gave the weaker players some chances against the stronger players. Many players already participated in Pühajärve in previous years and had a good idea what to expect. Bolat Asanov from Kazakhstan started to lose game after game. Veteran grandmaster did not play in any competition for years and this was a cruel comeback. After some advice from former World Champion Alexander Khalifman who did play in Pühajärve in previous tournaments Bolat managed to limit his losses.

The other participants included Latvian finance minister Dana Reicnice-Ozola, president of Latvian chess federation Aris Ozolins and other more or less prominent figures. Beside the winner only Kaido Külaots may consider himself as full time professional chess player. He showed consistent play throughout the tournament and finished second. Yours truly took the third place which was some kind of accomplishment. There were total of 35 rounds and for older players it was not easy to keep the pace. However in the last day I managed to get 6,5 points out of 7 which was good finish, but this only secured the second place. Full standing is here.

There were many interesting games and some of them were available online.

The following situation was typical when there is no time left for properly evaluate the situation on board.

I had some problems in the first day when I lost to Rõtov, but on the second day I managed to outplay strong GM from Isreal.

In the closing ceremony the former prime minister of Estonia Tiit Vähi was present who congratulated the winners. The tournament tradition depends heavily on sponsors. The organizers are planning a bigger event in two years when it is 20th anniversary.

Jaan Ehlvest

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Tbilisi World Cup second part

How to beat a weaker opponent? This was the question I asked myself during my career very often. This was the drawback of being too strong. I played a lot of Open tournaments for living in US and I had to face this problem quite often. When you have the two game match to win the task might look much easier. Still not every time the rating favorite wins.

In chess when the favorite is losing it makes people happy. Usually we picture a situation when the old master is losing to the young talent. The younger generation is taking over. There is no shame for the older player, life must go on. I played with Anand first time back in 1988 in Reggio-Emilia when he was only 19 years old. I won the game in 25 moves. Today if someone plays like Anand in that game we cannot predict him very bright future in chess. At least today’s champion do not have this kind of games in his collection. Still Anand became World Champion. He still plays chess today and in several occasions refuted the rumors about his retirement.

In Tbilisi he lost the match already on the second leg against the scandalous Anton Kovalyov. Anand relies always to his intuition and is famous of his speed when the pure calculation is important. He was already 46 years old during the Tbilisi competition and even he must pay tribute to his age. There is always a deeper reason when player who is much stronger is losing a game against lower rated opponent.

When playing against patzer there are few recommendations the stronger player should follow. First recommendation is to dictate the course of the game. Create the situation when only you have the choices to play safe or complicate matters. The classical game how to play against this strategy from the weaker side is the battle between very young future World Champion Boriss Spassky and Mikhail Botvinnik.

In our game Anand was probably taken aback with not so good move h7-h5 which created a new kind of position which was not thoroughly analyzed by Anand’s team. Now he started to create some kind of plan. This even despite the fact that he managed to get a better positions was a mistake. Against MLV it might be a good strategy, but it is obvious that the full time student Kovalyov did not analyze the move h7-h5 for weeks. Most probably he picked it up just for one game.

The strategy against a weaker opponent is not to play the very precise chess, but just to follow one good idea or plan. In short just pick one good looking line against weaker opponent there is no need to be very creative. Simple standard moves plans are usually good options. In our game Anand instead of following the standard plan tried to play very deep chess and finally sacrificed a Knight which was a terrible blunder. There was nothing wrong to continue the game without any strong commitment. Now his opponent was forced to find only one good move Kf5! which decided the game and the match.

Situation which we want to avoid in any cost when facing a weaker opponent. We like to force our opponent to find and make a series of good moves, not just one. Statistically weaker opponents make more mistakes and to keep the game dry and long only increases the chances for a stronger player.

I always wonder what they so called elite coaches trainers are telling to their elite students. I am sure they do not discuss the strategy how to beat the underdog, but they should.