Friday, June 24, 2016

Tournament Preparation with US Women's Champion Nazi Paikidze

A Conversation with the Champ

IM Nazi Paikidze
It is my pleasure to interview the 2016 US Women's Chess Champion - IM and WGM Nazi Paikidze. During this interview we get to know Nazi personally and then discuss her 2016 US Championship victory and tournament preparation in general. Enjoy!

Getting to Know Her

Question: When you are not studying or playing chess, what do you like to do - e.g. do you have any hobbies or interests outside of chess?

Answer: When I am not busy with chess, I like to workout at the gym, I try to lead a healthy life style and daily fitness is a big part of it. I also enjoy cooking, reading, and spending time with my family. 

Queston: If you were not playing chess (professionally), what would you want to do? 
Answer: My second career choice would be fashion designer. 

Question: Very interesting! Do you see a connection with chess? Perhaps within the aesthetic aspects of chess and fashion? 

Answer: Fashion is my other passion. I don't see any connection between chess and fashion, for me they are two completely different things. 

Early Development in Chess

Question: When did you first start playing chess and how did you learn?

Answer: My father taught me how to play chess when I was only 5 years old. I really enjoyed the game and wanted to learn more. Luckily, chess was a part of curriculum at my elementary school in Tbilisi, Georgia. That's how the journey began...

Question: Where there any obstacles you faced when becoming a master and how did you overcome them?

Answer: Actually, becoming a master was relatively easy for me. Thanks to my parents, who were very supportive of my career. I always had great coaches to train with, and I was able to travel around the world playing strong international tournaments. 

Question: Growing up, did you have any favorite players that you admired or whose games you enjoyed studying?

A: I have a lot of favorite players, but growing up my two absolute favorites were: Bobby Fischer and Anatoly Karpov. They influenced my opening choices: Najdorf and Caro-Kann.

Question: Fischer was one of mine as well - what was it about their style or their games that you like?

A: I loved Fischer's aggressive style and Karpov's positional play. I think the two had very different styles and I tried to learn from both. 

Question: When I was researching for the interview, I found an article that mentioned that she had worked with a trainer for several years, but the information was incorrect. I then asked her about her coaches in general.
Answer: I had several coaches over the years, the last one I worked with was a Russian GM - Vladimir Belov. He helped me reach my peak FIDE rating - 2455. However, I have not had a coach since I moved to the states (2012). 

Question: Did they each teach you something different about chess? Help us understand the value of having coaches and how each coach can bring about different aspects of your play.

Answer: It's always good to see things from different perspectives; that is why I enjoyed learning from different coaches. Some of them helped me learn openings, some helped me improve my understanding of middle games, and with some I trained endgames. 

The 2016 US Championship

Nazi won the 2016 US Women's Championship with a score of 8.5/11, winning the championship in the final round with a victory over 7-time US Women's Champion GM Irina Krush. Congratulations!

Question: You came in second in the 2015 championship. Where there any particular changes you made in your preparation or training between 2015 and 2016?

Answer: The big change was my in self-confidence. In 2015, when I was playing the championship for the first time, I was very nervous, and did not believe I could finish on top. After the result, I became confident that I am able to fight for the first. That's what I did in 2016 and it paid off.

Question: Do you have a favorite game from the tournament? 

Answer: My favorite game is the last game vs Irina Krush. I have made a video of it with my analysis on

Below is the decisive game from the US Women's Championship. I have chosen to present it without annotations and I encourage you to check out her video on

Tournament Preparation in General

Question: What advice would you give to amateur players to prepare for their tournaments? 

Answer: My recipe for a tournament preparation is: 

  • Do a lot of tactics/puzzles (as many as 100 a day), 
  • Repeat openings, and 
  • Play practice games (blitz or rapid). 
(Bryan: I formatted Nazi's response into a bulleted list for clarity)

Question: In your tournament preparation, you mention practice games - do you play with other training partners or against the computer (or both)?

Answer: I play blitz online mostly, but I also ask some friends of mine to play training games with me. I am lucky to have many strong chess player friends.

Question: In your practice games, do you focus on specific openings you are preparing?

Answer: Not necessarily, I just try to practice playing so I am in shape for the tournament. 

Question: Besides chess preparation, do you do any mental or physical training before your tournaments?

Answer: I train physically every day. I believe it is extremely important to be in a good physical shape to have all the energy last for the whole tournament. I also like to read Sports Psychology books for mental training.

Question: Do you feel pressure or nervousness before an important round or in general during tournaments and how do you deal with it?

Answer: Absolutely. Nervousness and anxieties are part of the tournament. When I feel nervous, I know it is a good sign. It means I care. To deal with it, I try to prepare better for my upcoming games.

Question: Between the rounds of the tournament, do you analyze chess or rest (or a little of both)?

Answer: I try to rest and prepare for the next game. I don't analyze my games until the tournament is over. 

Future Goals or Projects

Question: Do you have any chess (or non-chess) goals or projects you would like to share with our readers?

A: Right now I am enjoying teaching chess. Soon I will start my preparation for the upcoming Olympiad where I will be representing USA Women's Team. It is going to be my first time playing Olympiad, and I am very excited and I will try my best to bring points to the team. 

Question: Do you have a website or social media where readers can contact or follow you?

Answer: Yes, I have a website: and readers are welcome to follow me on Twitter and Instagram: @NaziPaiki


Thank you, Nazi, for your insightful answers! I appreciate your time and participation. You are a rising star in chess and I look forward to following your future chess exploits.

Your Turn

I hope you enjoyed our conversion today. What other questions about tournament preparation do you have? Do you have any routines or training regimens you practice when preparing for a tournament? 

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Friday, June 17, 2016

5 Tips for Developing Your Opening Repertoire with IM Greg Shahade

IM Greg Shahade
IM Greg Shahade


Developing an opening repertoire is one of the most important tasks of a chess player.

It is also one of the most confusing for beginning and intermediate players. 

A couple years ago, I read several articles by International Master Greg Shahade revolving around developing an opening repertoire. His articles were logical and made a lot of sense to me, so I asked him if he would give answer a few questions about the topic and he generously agreed.

Although Greg and I cover a lot in this article, I recommend you read his original articles to get the full context of our discussion.

There's a lot of back and forth between Greg and I in this article, so I'll try really hard to indicate who's writing what.

Tip #1: Select Openings Based on Your Chess Goals

In Greg's article Greg on Developing an Opening Repertoire, he discussed basing your opening choices on your future ambitions in chess. Basically, the higher up the chess ladder you want to climb, the more you will have to learn main line openings. In the article, he has some specific suggestions, and I asked a few questions to expand on these points.

BRYAN: You mention that players with high ambitions should stick with main line openings. 

Is part of the reason for this is because those openings are more complex and therefore players will learn more? Or mainly because those openings are the most competitive (as demonstrated by being played the most at the highest levels)? 

GREG: That's basically it. 

1. You will get the best positions with the main line openings 
2. You'll learn more   
3. You won't have to constantly relearn new openings and structures when you get stronger (because it's just so hard to get an advantage with a substandard opening against a top player). 
There's a reason all the top players play a few agreed upon decent openings, and if you try to get away without that, you're going to eventually run into a roadblock where your openings will hurt you. 
A good example are people who play the Benoni exclusively. I believe at some point...maybe the 2400-2500 FIDE level, it becomes a real problem, and so it's better to eliminate it as soon as possible. Maybe keep it as a surprise weapon but it can't be your go to opening, and least not with the current state of theory.
BRYAN: What do you think of an approach that limits one’s openings to specific structures? For example, openings like the London or King's Indian Attack or repertoires that focus on elements like Isolated Queen's Pawn (IQP).
GREG: I think it's fine if you don't have many huge ambitions in chess, but if you want to go really far it's not a great idea.  
However for most people, many of whom have jobs and limited time they can spend on studying the game, I think it can be a decent practical decision, as long as the openings are good.  I don't think it's so easy to force or aim for IQP positions for either color though.
The London is a better example and for white I think it's fine to play this way if you don't have any grand ambitions.
Oh, also playing KID and KIA structures are probably the easiest way to get similar positions all the time. Only main issue is against 1.e4. 
BRYAN: Do amateur players need to worry about their "style" or does playing the "right" openings for their ambitions and goals matter more?

GREG: I don't think that amateur players have to worry about their style, but they should just play whatever makes them happy, as long as it doesn't suck. If you have no great ambitions in chess, you can literally play anything, because you're just having fun with the game.  
But if you want to be much stronger one day, weird openings like the Center Game, Kings Gambit or something like 1.e4 c5 2. Nf3 a6, should not be one's main opening. (although if you want to play it every now and then as a suprise weapon its fine).

Tip #2: Use Good Sources for Your Opening Knowledge

In Greg on Chess: Opening Books, he discusses some of the flaws of many opening books.
  • They are too long (without being instructive).
  • They are not objective - White can't always have a big edge and Black can't always get equality!
  • They are quickly outdated.
BRYAN: In your article about opening books, you discuss the flaws in opening books as well as some recommendations on how they can be improved. If this is the case, how would you recommend players learn openings (assuming no knowledge)? 
GREG: My blog was mainly written for talented kids/players who are already about 2000. I actually think that for players U1600, and definitely for total beginners, opening books are useful.  
However I would stay away from the books that are encyclopedic in nature and just give an endless number of lines and variations and instead focus on books that demonstrate key ideas. However once you are 2000+, most of these books aren't too useful. 
I do think there are some opening books that are good even for master level players, and some books that when used in combination with a proper ChessBase database, could be useful for even 2400+, but these are the exception rather than the rule. 
BRYAN: In addition to good books, I would also recommend coaches are a good source of opening knowledge. The idea is that when you are still developing your overall chess knowledge, you need sources that will explain the ideas and not just give a ton of variations with no explanations. As Greg stated, as you get stronger, your study will evolve into using chess databases to look up the current theory.

Tip #3: Balance Rote Memorization with Understanding

When you are learning new openings, it is important to understand the reasons behind every move you make. In a lot of openings, specific moves can be interchanged as long as one understands the general reasoning behind the moves. However, there are some openings where the specific move order is extremely important.

GREG: Some openings rely more on rote memorization and some are more ideas. There are plenty of lines where even I barely know the exact moves but they aren't so urgent (for instance playing against something like the London Attack). Whereas with white in the main line against the Dragon ideas still matter but you have to know more exact lines than in a normal variation.
BRYAN: This is where good opening books (or coaches) come in handy, because they can point out where strict memorization (and understanding) is needed in specific lines.

Tip #4: Understand the Ideas and Plans for the Middlegame (and Endgame)

A big mistake I see beginning and intermediate players make - and I was guilty of this as well - is to simply focus on the opening sequence of moves. They will memorize the first 10-12 moves of their openings (quite well in many cases) and figure on "playing chess" with a decent position after they get out of book. The problem comes when they are out of book and have no idea of the plans and ideas that arise out of that opening.

In Greg on Chess: The Value of Studying Openings, Greg says that the best reason to study the openings - when done properly - is that you will gain many strategic and tactical ideas. I recommend reading this article in its entirety because he gives a couple good examples of this. 

Besides having good sources for your opening knowledge, here are some ideas to help you apply this tip to your chess training.
  • Study complete master games within your opening repertoire - annotated if possible, especially if you are a beginner.
  • Catalog games and positions that illustrate the key ideas in your openings. Chess databases like Chessbase are great for this purpose.
  • Try to figure out why (or find out) how the opening moves lead set you up for the middlegame. This will also help you remember the move order and understand what you should be doing when your opponent deviates from your main lines.

Tip #5: Don't Rely on Chess Engine Analysis in Opening Study

In one of the comments to Greg's articles, the person commenting using one of Greg's examples showed that it was not the top choice of the chess engine - apparently refuting Greg's example. Of course, I thought this illustrates a big problem with amateur players - over-reliance of chess engine analysis. This is problematic particularly in the opening.

BRYAN: What do you think of chess engine analysis in opening study – particularly for players rated below 2000 (and how does it differ for higher rated players)?

GREG: For U2000 players an engine is definitely not necessary for opening study. As you get higher rated it becomes more important. 
The worst annotated games I see are often when players rated around 1900-2100 are clearly parroting engine lines without any understanding of the reasons behind the lines. 
Also lower rated players don't have a good feeling for when an engine line is "irrelevant" (basically a line that no human will see in a game so there's no point even paying attention to it in postgame analysis). The lower rated player will then call their move a "blunder", despite the fact that almost all master level players would play it. The student simply doesn't understand this because their chess understanding isn't high enough and Stockfish says one line is .4 better. This type of stuff leads to so much confusion. 
I could easily write a whole article about this subject, but most U2000 are just horrible at using a computer engine in all aspects of chess.
BRYAN: The chess engines can be very useful in helping us find tactical mistakes in our games. However, they cannot explain why or how we can avoid these blunders.

As Greg notes, as you get stronger the chess engines can be useful, but I agree with Greg that amateurs need to focus on improving their chess understanding before using the chess engines too much.


Developing an opening repertoire is a long term project. There is no "perfect repertoire" and your own repertoire will evolve as you experience different openings and increase in your chess knowledge and skill. Our hope is that these tips will help you maximize the benefits you receive from your opening study.

I want to thank Greg for his generosity and time as well as his insightful answers. I encourage you to check out Greg's blog at You can also follow him on Twitter @GregShahade.


Your Turn

If you liked this article, please share it with others. 

Also, I hope to have Greg back for an interview where we can get to know more about him, his chess and other interests. Is there a question you'd like to ask him? Put it in the comments below!

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Legendary Viktor Korchnoi

Viktor Korchnoi

The human element, the human flaw and the human nobility - those are the reasons that chess matches are won or lost. 
-Viktor Korchnoi


Viktor Korchnoi passed away June 6, 2016 at the age of 85. He was one of the great legends of the game. I wanted to write a little about this great player and important person in the history of chess.

Despite some controversy throughout his life and career regarding the World Championships and occasionally cantankerous personality, several articles I have read have praised his generosity towards his fellow players in post-mortem conversations. Having never met the man, I will focus on his chess.

Chess Accomplishments

There is not much to add to what many have written about him, but to highlight just a few of his many accomplishments at the chessboard:
  • 4-time USSR Chess Champion
  • 10-time Candidate for the World Chess Championship
  • 2-time World Championship Challenger (against Karpov in 1978 and again in 1981)
  • 2006 winner of the Senior World Chess Championship at age 75
  • 2009 winner of the Swiss championship - at age 78!
What impresses me most about his life besides his chess play is his resilience and perseverance throughout his life and chess career. I will allow you to read elsewhere (links below) about the details of his life.

His Games

When I heard of his passing, I dug up an old used book of his games. I would like to share one of the games I studied. It is a masterpiece against another legendary player - Mikhail Tal. I picked this game because it highlighted a couple aspects of Korchnoi's style. Besides his aggressive style, it also shows his willingness and skill at using his king actively. He also demonstrates the usefulness of sacrificing a pawn for strategic purposes.

The annotations are mine but I borrow much from Korchnoi's own analysis in his book Korchnoi's Best Games (Philidor Press, 1977) and have noted where I have used his words and analysis.

I also studied a few games from GM Larry Christiansen's tribute video he did for ICC. Mr. Christiansen's video is worth watching for both aesthetic and instructive purposes.


Viktor Korchnoi was truly a legendary player and personality. His chess games are wonderful works of art and demonstrations of chess at the very highest level. The me, his chess games and career also demonstrated the formidable will and determination of the man. And that is something that we can admire and strive to emulate.


Your Turn

Have you ever met Viktor Korchnoi? Have you ever played him? I'd love to hear any stories you may have of him or any games you may have. Put them in the comments below.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Chess for Personal Growth with GM Nigel Davies


Chess can be many things to people. To some, it is an enjoyable game for recreation. To others, it is an intense battle against someone else's ideas. To me, it is both of these things as well as something more - a tool for personal growth.

In my conversation with Grandmaster Nigel Davies, I observed that he had similar feelings about the game. I appreciated his sincere insights into chess psychology and personal development along with the practical training advice he shares.

I first "met" Nigel when I read his book The Power Chess Program when I started playing competitive chess.  Since then, I have incorporated some of his opening books into my repertoire - The Dynamic Reti and Play 1.e4 e5!. So naturally I was thrilled when he accepted my invitation to chat about chess. Besides the titles I mentioned, he has authored many other books as well as producing many training videos and products for Chessbase.

I hope you enjoy our conversation.

Development of a Grandmaster

When did you start learning chess and how did you learn?
I learned the rules from my dad when I was 9 and started out playing games with him, family friends and anyone who would give me a game at school.

What was the hardest obstacle on your way to the GM title and how did you overcome them?
The main issue I faced was in not having a good coach (and a great one would have been better) and having to rely on books and practical experience. In a way this was good because the books I read, for the most part, were by the greatest players in history. Even so I had many misconceptions and weaknesses which I only really managed to address in my late 20s and early 30s.

What were your best tournament results or favorite event you've played in?
It's generally been that my favorite tournaments coincided with my best results! But my all time favorite tournament venue was Gausdal, in the Norwegian mountains, where I made my final GM norm in 1993 and then won the event in 1997.

Do you have a game of your own that is either instructive or memorable? 
My most memorable game is probably my win against Russell Dive from Wrexham 1994 in which I won the tournament half a point over the GM norm.

Here is that game. It should reward the reader with both pleasure and instructive content. Annotations and analysis by Bryan Castro.

Chess Heroes

Do you have any chess heroes or players you looked up to when you were a developing player?
Yes, though they were mainly past champions. Emanuel Lasker was the player who influenced me most and then Akiba Rubinstein, Mikhail Botvinnik, Mikhail Tal, Leonid Stein and many others.

You've authored many chess books and videos - do you have a favorite chess author or favorite book (other than your own)?
I read Lasker's Manual of Chess around 5 times so this should really count as my favorite book and Lasker as my favorite author. After that I found Mikhail Botvinnik's collected games very inspiring, Hans Kmoch's books on Rubinstein's games and Pawn Power in Chess and Raymond Keene's books on Leonid Stein and Aaron Nimzovitsch. But I got a lot out of many books by a great variety of authors, and this largely compensated me for not having a mentor.

What was it about Lasker or his play that attracted you?
It was mostly my impression of his character that I liked, he struck me as a very interesting and independent person who thought his own thoughts about both chess and life. I lived quite a solitary life in my teens and I think I saw him as the kind of Grandfather I'd have liked to have.

Do you have a particular game of Lasker's that has been inspirational or influential in your chess development?
Lasker's win against Capablanca from St. Petersburg 1914 is a game I've often returned to. Basically he had to win that game to have any chance of winning the tournament and did in majestic style. In particular the choice of opening, the apparently drawish Exchange Ruy Lopez, was a psychological masterpiece.

Here is the game between Lasker and Capablanca mentioned by Nigel. I annotated the game with analysis and comments adapted from GM Alejandro Ramirez (from his lecture about the St. Petersburg tournament) and GM Garry Kasparov from My Great Predecessors.

Training Advice

If you could only give one piece of advice to beginning or intermediate players, what would it be? 
To study the endgame. This is the simplest and most reliable way to improve, and one that you can do well without a trainer.

I noticed your Chessbase training software How to Beat Younger Chess Players. Being in the "older" category myself, I am very interested in this topic. Can older players improve and get to higher levels and what general advice would you give?
Yes, they just need to be able to learn and change. This is sometimes very difficult for experienced players because they might have been playing in a particular way for a long time and will find it difficult to overlay their old models with new ones.

For me older players are the most interesting ones to coach because so few people think they can get better, they want to improve for the right reasons (usually their parents aren't involved!) and we can have some good banter during the lessons!

In  your work with amateur players, what is the biggest training or study mistake that they make? 
They play openings that are too intricate and this drains away their study time.

Are you referring to playing sharp openings that require too much theory (for example, the Najdorf Sicilian) or “subtle” openings that are perhaps beyond the grasp of a beginner or intermediate player (or both)?
Both. Players need to build their understanding up layer by layer, mastering simpler plans and concepts first and then moving on to more complex ones. The Najdorf Sicilian is in a way fairly simple in its strategic construction (aiming at e4!) but you have to know what you're doing against White's dangerous attacking plans. And that's without the World of anti-Sicilians etc..

On the flip side, what is the one training or study method or area that amateur players should do more of?
Besides endgames, which I mentioned earlier, and regular tactics work, which everyone recommends, the understanding of typical positions and plans is something that helps a lot. But for this it's good to have a coach with a deep understanding of positional play.

I remember that you also play Correspondence Chess, which I have started to participate in more myself. What benefits does Correspondence Chess have for OTB tournament players - e.g. can over-the-board players benefit from playing correspondence chess?
It can be very useful for testing openings. The way I've used it lately is as a quick way of finding out how to play against a particular line, you just try it in a correspondence tournament in which computers are allowed. Your opponents can be very diligent in finding a refutation, you may lose but you get a free research team!

The Essence of Chess

What does chess mean to you – in other words, why do you enjoy chess?
I'm not sure I've ever 'enjoyed' chess as such, in fact there seems to be at least as much pain as pleasure. What I would say is that if you play chess with the proper 'intent' and are fully absorbed in the games, living out the drama of the fight makes you feel very 'alive'.

I think we may see chess similarly - the being fully absorbed in a particular game - for me there is a "struggle" which is both difficult and enjoyable as I am testing all of myself against all of my opponent. For you, is it a competition against an opponent or perhaps more of an internal battle to express yourself creatively and fully? 
Yes I see it very much as an 'internal struggle' in which your opponent helpfully provides a series of challenges for you to overcome. As you do this it provides a powerful means of self discovery and in the end, hopefully, some measure of enlightenment!

What qualities or characteristics does chess training help people develop? Is it similar to other arts/practices such as sports, music, or martial arts?
I think that different arts cultivate different things. Chess can be very good for a lot of things but the biggest one in my view might be termed 'mind management'. Learning to play well under considerable pressure draws upon a wide range of abilities and techniques. For example the ability to maintain one's composure under pressure is something that can be developed for chess and then applied to a wide variety of situations outside the tournament hall.

Chess and other Goals

What are your current chess projects or goals - or non-chess activities?
As far as chess is concerned my main goals are coaching orientated, I like to see my students do well and one of these is my 13 year old son. Outside of chess I've been practicing qigong and tai chi in a rather serious way since 2007 and have qualified as an instructor. I'd like to improve my tai chi (especially my rendition of the long form!) and also develop my teaching practice in this field.

Are there any similarities between your practice of qigong/tai chi and chess? 
The main similarity between chess and tai chi/qigong is that you have to work diligently at them over a long time as progress does not come quickly. There are useful things that I learned from chess that have made my tai chi journey easier, for example I know to practice as much as possible (for me that usually comes out at 2 hours per day) and find the best teachers that I can. This would also apply to other art forms such as music.

What are the joys and challenges of teaching your son?
It's been a long and fascinating journey, we're now more than 5 years in to our 'chess project'. The great thing is how good it has been for him from a personal development point of view, chess is very good for that. The toughest part is if he gets upset after a game, usually if he's lost from a good position. But the time we've spent training and at tournaments has been wonderful from a father-son bonding point of view.

How can readers best contact you regarding coaching or other services?
My chess coaching website can be found at and for those who are local my tai chi site is at


Nigel, I appreciate your time as you shared your thoughts about chess. I'm sure Better Chess Training readers will take a lot away from our conversation. 

As we've discussed, the road to chess improvement is perhaps also a pathway to personal development and self-discovery. Do you have a parting piece of advice for players as they travel the various peaks and valleys which is chess development and life?

Yes, and that's to keep practicing with whatever you want to do well. There are no magic bullets or formulas which can substitute simple dedication.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

June 2016 Reader Survey

Dear Chess Friend,

In an effort to improve the usefulness of Better Chess Training for you, please fill out the following survey. I'll have it up for the month of June 2016.

Your response are confidential and much appreciated, so please take a few minutes and complete the survey.

To participate in the survey, use the following link to go to the Google Form.

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Thank you!