Thursday, July 31, 2014

Afek's Challenge!

The Dutch NK Open in Dieren is currently in progress. One of the participants in the tournament is the world famous study composer IM Yochanan Afek (2298). Afek is a brilliant composer. Some of his studies are very deep and can really teach you a lot and at the same time give you loads of joy and satisfaction solving them.
At the age of 62 Afek is still quite sharp and is currently playing excellent chess at the Dutch NK Open in Dieren. (Photo by Alina L'Ami)

Afek has composed a study specially for the tournament. He will reveal the answer today i.e 31st July at 17.30 hrs. Let's have a look at what this man has composed.

It's White to play and win.

I know many people who when confronted with a study, start the engine. Houdini or Rybka or for that matter Fritz are so strong these days that the toughest of positions are solved by them within fractions of a second. This can give you the illusion that these positions are not really so difficult. The sad part is that during the game it's your head that has to do all the thinking. You have no computer with you (unless of course you are cheating!!) So as Aagaard says: You have to train your mind to do the thinking and not your computer! My advice to you would be to dig your head in by setting up the position on a board and taking 30 minutes on the clock to find the win for White. If you find the answer then compare your thinking with mine and if you don't then do not give up. After thinking for 30 minutes the position will be firmly engraved in your head so try thinking blindfolded. Like when you are travelling and have nothing to do or you are about to sleep and can think about this position for a few minutes. But in no case should you see the answer before solving the study. It will rob you of the happiness that you will get after you solving it correctly!

To tell you the truth when I first saw this position, the first move seemed clear right from the word go. When two black pawns are about to queen, you really do not have much time to waste, you have to go start your own play. 1.d7 is bad because of Qd7. And after checking the futility of 1.Re5+ Kd7 I think you will settle for the right move which is 1.a7.

Black has two possibilities now Qc2+ or Qc6. How do you decide which one to calculate first?

I think this is really a very difficult question. But when you go deeper you realize that one move is completely illogical. For eg. let's start with 1...Qc6. Now our rook is hanging and d7 would have been cool but unfortunately the pawn is pinned. Hence we have to play 2.a8=Q Qa8 3.d7+ Black king has two options Ke7 or Kd8. To Kd8 we go Bb6+ when Black king has to come up to e7 anyway. Keep this position of black king on e7 in your mind and go back to the diagram above.

Now let's check 1...Qc2+ White can now get in the important move 2.f5! (As pointed out by one of my good friend CRG Krishna 2.Kf6 also wins easily)

Black has no more checks and nothing better than the move 2...Qc6. When it turns out that the pawn on f5 instead of f4 is a huge advantage to us. 3.a8=Q Qa8 4.d7+ Kd8 5.Bb6+ Ke7 6.f6+! This is the point! Thanks to our pawn being on f5 we get this important check and Black is busted. Thus through logical means we deduce that 1....Qc2+ can help only White.

So we have confirmed that the right move is 1...Qc6

Choices are not so many. The d pawn is pinned, rook on d5 is hanging. White reply seems forced. 2.a8=Q+ Qa8 3.d7+

Important question: Where will the black king go? Ke7 or Kd8

Once again we are at cross-roads. What shall we calculate first. I think the natural tendency for any player is always to see the more active move for the opponent. Hence instead of the passive 3...Kd8 we will definitely looks at 3...Ke7 first. White doesn't have many options here. Bf6 or Bc5. (d8=Q transposes to Bf6 variation). 4.Bf6+ Ke6 and now we have to queen as black is threatening to pick up our rook and also start checking with his queen. 5.d8=Q Qd8 6.Rd8

It's Black to play and white has set up a devious mating net. If either of the black pawn queens f4-f5 would be a very pretty mate.

I call such positions as "Mirages." Often in our game we are drawn to a brilliant idea from far. It's simply beautiful and the temptation to have our name in some tactical books written by some famous author is huge! We know that the trap works. But the opponent has a way to escape from it. But we try to keep working on the details because the trap is just too beautiful. We do not want it to go waste! For eg. in the above position Black has the simple 6...gf4 and there is absolutely no way for White to stop one of the black pawns from queening. The trap with f5# was only an illusion. A mirage which looks beautiful from far but is just sand when you come near it! A huge mistake would be to spend a lot of time over such positions. If you keep doing that, you will find yourself tired and under grave time pressure. The right way is not to get attached to an idea. If it doesn't work move ahead and think of new ones.

Thus to 3...Ke7 4.Bf6? is a grave mistake. So What do we do? The only other option is 4.Bc5+

Immediately we notice that 4...Ke6 is a mistake because we can just 5.d8=Q and after Qd8 6.Rd8, the rook controls the d2 pawn and the bishop controls the g2 pawn. It's an easy win. 

So to 4.Bc5+ Black must go 4...Kd8. Also if Black would have gone 3...Kd8 to 3.d7+ instead of Ke7 we would reach a similar position. Hence it doesn't really matter if Black played 3...Kd8 or 3...Ke7 if White were to play correctly (i.e Bc5+ to Ke7) but Ke7 had the additional trap that 4.Bf6 was tempting and wrong!

My intuition told me that this is the critical position of the study. Why did I think that this was the critical position? In chess whenever you reach the level of maximum activity and all your pieces are in play is usually a critical position for you. Because if you do not do something at that point then from there on your activity can only reduce because you are at the maximum level. 
I knew that the moves preceding it were correct because there were really no options and here I have maximized my position. My pawn is on d7 and I have been able to corner the Black king on d8. I thought on this position for a long time. After being unsuccessful in my initial attempt to solve this position on the board. I put this position in the back of my mind. Whenever I would get some time I would start thinking about it. The good part about being in a foreign country (Currently I am in Spain to play tournaments) is that you can think even while you are walking as the traffic rules are followed by everyone. While in India I would really not recommend you to do that! So I kept thinking about this position and I just couldn't break it. The rook was attacked. Moving it made no real sense as Qc6+ would come. Even Rd6 was being met by d1=Q Rd1 and Qc6. Hence I had to play 5.Bb6+ Ke7 but what next?

Making a queen looks like a logical progression but after 6.d8=Q Qd8 7.Bd8 Ke6 

The white rook is attacked and also g1=Q is threatened.

It was already late and I had work to do the next day. Unable to see anything for White at this point I decided to go bed. To go to sleep without being able to solve a position is actually a good training. It means that you accept the defeat for that day. But bear in mind only for that day. You haven't seen the answer so you are ready to fight fresh for the next day. This attitude helps you to take defeats during a tournament in stride and come out stronger the next day. I have heard of players who have sat entire nights trying to solve a position. While such an exercise is great for building up one's never say die attitude I think you can never really concentrate 100% if you think on the same position for long hours. You are tired and the same variations keeps running in your head over and over again.
After the sun rose on the next day I was fresh! I set up the initial position of the study and believe it or not I was able to solve it within a few minutes. In the above position White allows Black to make a queen.
8.Rd2! g1=Q

And now is the time for the fireworks. 

9.f5+ Black has no options and must go 9...Ke5 I just need to bring the Black king now to e3 I thought to myself. A deadly skewer awaits black. After 10.Bc7+ Ke4 there is just no way to bring the black king to e3. Maybe White can fight on in this position but he is the one who is fighting for a draw. It was at this point that the brilliant idea struck me! A combination of Skewers and keeping the black king contained inside the box.

Can you see the composer's brilliant idea?!!


The move becomes extremely easy to understand once you see it but so difficult to find it from the initial position!! Qd4 is met with Bf6 and Kd4 with Bb6. And there is just no way to stop Bf6#. What a finish! Hats off to the true Genius, the composer: Yochanan Afek.

But how can one find such a move from the initial position. Rd4 is the tenth move in the variation and it's not at all easy to find. In my case I had seen a similar idea before. This made my task easier. Here is the position.

Black pawns are about to queen. What should white do? 
The right answer as in our study is to build a mating patter with Rf7!! with the idea of Bd5 and f4#
You can see the entire study over here.

But as you see chess is not all about calculation and over the board skills. You also need to see more and more positions and keep them in your memory. When you go deep into some variations these patterns will come really handy.

Though it's not possible to win a prize for solving this study as I have to be present at the Dutch Open for that, I cannot deny the joy and fulfillment that I derived form solving this study! Did you also feel the same?!!

Can you guess the time it took for world no.2 to solve this position?

The PGN for this study can be downloaded from here.

And here is the entire study with all the variations for you to play it over.

I am very happy that Yochanan put the link of the solution given by me here on his website and had good words to say for my blog.

Friday, July 25, 2014

My game in a famous book!

Usually when I buy a new book, I tend to go to the name Index given at the end of the book just to see if the author considered any of my games worth publishing in his book!
I remember there was once a small note in a book written by the famous opening expert Schandorff. The book was titled Playing 1.d4: Indian Defences.

I was quite elated because my name came in the book thanks to a theoretical battle I had in the Grunfeld with M G Gahan in 2008. However the author immediately suggests a novelty i.e a move that I hadn't made! So there was nothing really to be proud about.

 But today as I flipped the pages of the book written by one of my favourite authors: Jacob Aagard, I was pleasantly shocked!(yes shocked. surprise would be just too mild).

There you can see my name, second in the list!

And which book are we talking about? The book is none other than Attack and Defence which was released in December 2013. 

It is the fourth book in the Grandmaster Preparation series. The book is aimed at ambitious players and I am sure strong Grandmasters are using this book to improve their play!

The position comes under the section of the "only moves". Here you see that I have had the talented young Indian GM S P Sethuraman on the ropes. His g7 point is about to be destroyed. He has to find the only move to stay in the game (which he didn't yet I left him unpunished). And guess what?!! This is the last position in the only move section and according to Aagaard this is the most difficult position on defence that he has ever put in his books. Now that's something really to be proud of! Have a crack at the position and then check the answer which Aagaard has given below.

I am sure you are wondering, how does Aagaard find such positions? If Sethuraman had found this stunning defensive idea with Rf4 then I am sure it would have been easier to identify this game. But he hadn't and the right move remains in the notes to the game. So does Aagaard meticulously check every game in the database or scans each one of them under the watchful eye of Houdini?!! That's just too much to ask for! My guess is that he found the game when I published it New in Chess yearbook 106 in the year 2013. Here is the article that I wrote in the yearbook. I am sure if you go over the game and my analysis carefully you can learn a lot.

I have clearly mentioned all the analysis in the note to the 31st and the 32nd move in this article. It is commendable that Aagaard was able to find this nice position and maybe he kept it safely in his database and classified it under the heading of "only move". But it is sad that he doesn't even mention that he took almost all the analysis from this New in Chess yearbook source. About 32...Ba5+ He mentions that white must have forgotten about this move, while in my annotations I have mentioned that I had missed this idea. It would be nice if Aagaard would have mentioned the source from which he took the analysis. 
On the other hand, there is the chance that he found this position without reading my article in the yearbook. But I think the chances of that are really very slim. What do you think?!!

PS: This article does not in any way belittle the efforts taken by Aagaard. He is doing a great job by writing such high quality books and helping players all over the world to improve. I have always had immense respect for him and shall have it in future too. But it is my opinion that such a famous author who is writing a book that is being read by so many players must always give the source from where he took the analysis.

On the next day after I posted this on Facebook, Jacob Aagaard replied. This is what he said:
I did not use your annotations. I go through TWIC looking for examples. If I do see something in Chess Informant or somewhere else that I want to use, I find the game in my database and start analysing it from scratch, as I try to form my own opinions and try to avoid replicating others work or mistakes. 
Regarding copyright. The moves are not copyrighted. They are information. If our engines find the same moves, they are not to your credit either. However, if I use words or illustrative lines from somewhere, I do give the reference.
But as said, this example I am pretty sure I found in TWIC.
Although I would have checked the Yearbook as well. I just think I saw this game in TWIC.
 Regarding my method, it is not a secret. I go through 100s and sometimes 1000s of games a week looking for something interesting. It is time-demanding work, but also quite rewarding. Less than 5% of the examples in my books are something I have seen somewhere else. At times I mention the source, as said, also when it is not a legal requirement. When I copy someones original work, I hope I always mention it.

SAGAR: So the discussion regarding copyrights ends here. The author did not take the position from my yearbook and hence he has no need to provide the source. After all moves are never copyrighted.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

People behind my IM title!

On 18th July 2014, after 13 years of playing Chess, I achieved the Title of International Master!
Enjoying the success with a slice of my favourite dish: Pizza near Sant Marti, Spain!

I could go on for hours about how I worked hard on those nights when I chucked my sleep in order to get to the depths of a line which never happened in my over the board game! Or I could talk about the physical fitness regime which pushed me to the state of unconsciousness on many occasions! Or about solving a study on which I worked for days and days in my head without a chess set, thinking about it even as I had food and to experience the unadulterated joy of finding the key idea! Yes there are loads of such individualistic experiences I could share about! But since the day I was close to achieving my IM title there was one article which I wanted to write thanking all the people who have helped me to achieve it. Of course, it would be impossible to cover each and every person but I have chosen the main 11 people who I think played pivotal roles.

No great thing was ever achieved alone! Anand with his team!


After achieving the title, the first thought that came to my mind was that this would really have been impossible without your support,mom and dad! From the day I started playing chess until today I have had the utmost support of my parents.
 My father was the one who introduced me to this game when I was around 10 years old. It was the urge to beat my dad at the game of chess which made me improve rapidly in my initial years! Barring from the fact that my parents have sponsored me for almost all my chess trips, the emotional support that they have provided me with has been of key importance. I think there has not been a single day in my chess playing life when after the game, my dad has been unaware of my result. I must have played more than a 1000 game but he has always asked me as to how my game was and if I had lost what was the reason for the same. The focus was always on how to improve as a chess player rather than on the results!

This is what my dad has to say about this pic: 
Dear All
I had the opportunity to play with the latest IM from India few years ago in Switzerland & had him in great difficulty. After that he has not dared to play against me in any competitive tournament-Dharmen Shah (IM ka Baap)

My mom I can say plays the role of the balancer. She makes sure that there is some sanity left in me. Often when I am engrossed in the middle of a deep calculation, she would come by my side and talk about what I would like to eat in the evening! While it really makes me angry at that instant, I realize how her love is totally unconditional and not at all dependent upon my success or failure in chess! In my worst of tournaments she has been the one who has motivated me to come out stronger!

3.Mahesh Ved and 4.Late Praful Shukla.
Me having a light moment with Mahesh Sir on the day of my marriage!

My first coach in chess was Mahesh Ved. Whatever qualities of integrity and discipline that I own today are thanks to him. When I was just 12 and played in my first outstation tournament, my parents were not able to accompany me because of their commitments in Mumbai. It was Mahesh Sir and Praful sir who took care of me like their son.I have been on many a trips with them ever since. Mahesh Sir taught me the importance of discipline. We were never allowed to watch TV during the tournament. This habit has been ingrained in me so well that I don't even remember when was the last time I watched TV during an event! We would have to drink plain milk with sugar in the morning in his presence which I really hated but I realized that as a sports player, you often have to do things that you don't like in order to stay in good shape! Some of the habits of Mahesh sir have also rubbed off on me. For eg. I was so inspired seeing his huge collection of chess books that I promised myself to buy a chess book in every tournament I play. Though I am still some books away from overtaking him, I can boast of the second largest chess book collection atleast in Ghatkopar!! :)
One incident which will always stay with me was the following: " I won the u-19 state championships in pune with 7.5/8 and a round to spare. I was going to agree to a draw in the last round when Mahesh sir called me. I think these were his words, " Playing for a win when nothing is at stake is a matter of attitude." I played that game and created one of the best positional masterpieces of my career. Ever since then I have stopped agreeing to draws before the game!
Late Praful Shukla: A kind and great human being.

Praful Sir on the other hand was more easy going but it was he taught me the importance of saving every penny. Praful sir who passed away a few years ago would be proud that his student has become an International Master!
I shall always be indebted to my initial gurus who gave me practical knowledge which no books in the world could ever have given me!


This man is a genius. He is the author of the books Reassess your chess, Reassess your chess workbook, Amateur's mind and Silman's endgame course (Atleast these are the books I have read). I have read his books maybe 3-4 times. Whenever someone asks me what is the best way to improve at chess, I recommend his books. Oh the theory of imbalances! What a theory! It kind of brought a balance in my thinking! When I was near 2100, I read his books. His method was long. To find the imbalances, make a list of them. Prioritize and then make use of your positive imbalances. I worked on it for years. Trying to make it a part of me. As of today I have forgotten what the imbalances were but it has become a part of my natural thinking process. Anyone who thinks he or she is bad at positional chess, no matter what his rating is 1200 or 2300, I would heartily recommend his books!
I haven't met him in person but cannot wait for the day when I would!


Imagine this: Its a dark room. There is a table and a chair. Above the table there is small tube light. On the table lies a laptop and next to it a chess set with a book and a pen. Daniel King in his flawless English asks me to pause the laptop and have a think. I press the pause button and have a deep think and then write down my answer in the book. With utmost excitement, I click the play button to see if Daniel King agrees with what I have written! On the days when my answers matched with him I would be the happiest man on the planet! :) His Powerplay series from 1-21 are a joy to watch. If you are serious and ready to work hard you will get coaching from one of the best tutors in the world. Those days and nights of learning from Daniel King locked in a room for hours were probably what took me to the next level after Jeremy Silman!
Not to forget most of my talking and writing skills are thanks to the beautiful way in which this guy speaks! It's my dream one day to make a DVD with him! :)


I must say that after working with Silman's books and Daniel King's DVDs I had developed a kind of word based approach to my thinking. Yes both Silman and King have a lot of word annotations as compared to variations! I think Mark Dvoretsky changed all of it!! Variations here, variations there, variations everywhere!! I started to think more in terms of concrete moves than abstract theories. But bear in mind, somehow Silman and Daniel King's theories worked perfectly with Dvoretsky approach. For eg. Thanks to Silman and King I would know that the best square for my knight was d4 and thanks to Dvoretsky I would concretely try to work the best possible way to bring the knight to d4! Silman and King helped me plan and Dvoretsky helped me execute! A deadly combo!! :)
His works are really of a high quality and I can recommend his books to people aiming to become an IM or GM.
I have read a lot of things about Dvoretsky as to how his methods are inflexible and he doesn't adapt them to suit the needs of specific students. But whatever it is I am grateful to him for showing me that concrete variations are the blood of chess. 
WISH: to have one training session with the man who is deemed as one of the best trainers in the world.


Artistic and unconventional describes this man the best! I got to know about him through his lectures on His way to talking in the lectures was so smooth. It seemed as if he had some fresh approach towards chess. Chess seemed easy when I heard this man speak. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that he has a Ph.d in philosophy. I really wanted to learn chess from Jesse and once even managed to contact him for training. However, I couldn't afford his fees. You can know more about Jesse from my blogpost which I wrote some months ago.
WISH: Jesse is a huge Smyslov fan. I would like to go to USA some day and sit with him and a chess set, with no engines or computers. Just a book of Smyslov's best games and to analyze the games for hours on end!


The latest Grandmaster preparation series is maybe one of the best written books by Aagaard for the ambitious players. But it was back in 2006 that I was able to chat with Jacob on server. He was playing a game and told me that he would get back to me after the game was over. Sure he did and with great patience he answered all my questions for the next 20 minutes. From questions like how I should improve to what is the correct approach towards the game of chess, he typed everything. Maybe it was one of the best chats I have ever had with anyone. The one line which I always remember is this:
Me: "So the right way forward is to work hard on chess?"
Aagaard: " I think when you do something that you like, it ceases to be hard. It shouldn't be hard work, it should be easy work!"
What a great approach!
It showed me that what a kind Samaritan he really was. Today he is a well celebrated hero in the world of Chess trainers but I have high regards and respect for him ever since that day of 2006.


In 2010 I went to play in Budapest. There I met GM Josefz Horvath. If ever you need an inspiration to be a chess player, you should meet this man. Josefz devotes almost every single minute of his to chess. He is one of the best trainers in Hungary.He has informators from 1 to the latest one, NIC yearbook from 1 to the latest and his house his littered with every latest book that has been released in the world of chess.  The thing which really amazed me was his encyclopedic knowledge. I would show him one of my games and he would tell me ,"ahh the same structure arose in the game Ribli-Smyslov 1983 London." Or " Sagar have you seen the game Polgar-Sax Hungarian championship 1990. The same tactic was used in that game." 
Hours would pass by as he would show these wonderful games and I would be thoroughly mesmerized by his memory. Another important thing which Josefz would always do was to save each and every move that we discussed during the training session in the database. According to him, a good idea can be hidden in any move and hence no effort must be wasted! I have been saving even the silliest of my blitz games from that day onwards! 
Horvath Josefz has really played a huge role in helping me become an International Master.

And friends last but not the least, no recipe is ever complete without the magic ingredient. The ingredient which brings all the factors together and magically makes everything work. For me without doubt that person has been my wife and the love of my life: AMRUTA MOKAL

With my biggest support after crossing 2400 elo in live rating list.

There is a widespread notion in the chess world that marriage spells the end of one's chess career. While many have witnessed a slump in their form after tying the knot, things have really gone like a fairy tale for me! I not only gained almost 100 Elo points in the first five months of my marriage but also made my final IM norm and achieved the IM title. Lady luck has smiled upon me some would say! But I say that the lady luck believes in a lot of hard work! After marriage we had a nice relaxing honeymoon for seven days and have been on the chess board ever since. It's so nice to have a playing partner at your disposal any time you want! :) In the Barbera Open where I made my final norm and gained 53 Elo points, Amruta took complete care of me. She didn't play in the tournament, cooked food for me, prepared against my opponents, analysed my games and told me the mistakes I had made. A totally dedicated second! :)
I was an IM strength player since many years but somehow I managed the feat only after marriage! A big thanks to my wife who had a huge role to play in my success.

I would really like to thank from the bottom of my heart to all my facebook friends. I received nearly 735 likes and 222 comments!! :) That's just too much!! Now I am inquisitive to know the number of likes I will receive when I become a GM!! That's really a cool motivation to work harder!! :)

As you can see, there were so many people who selflessly helped me in becoming an IM. The time has come for me to do something similar.
I am ready to guide people who wish to improve in the game of chess with whatever knowledge I have. You can contact me on my email address : or contact me via message on my facebook page or write to me on twitter
Age, financial situation is no bar. You can contact me. However two things are quintessential: love for the game of chess and an appetite for great hard work.

I will try my best to become a GM soon but as I have always said the fun is not in reaching the destination but in enjoying the journey! I will soon post my journey to the IM title! Till then! Adios!