Setting up your training plan (English)

To become a better chess player you need to work on your game in four different ways. First, you have to solve difficult exercises. Second, it is very important to analyze your own games. Third, you learn a lot from playing through annotated games of strong players. Finally, it is important to know what to do in the opening. Many players limit their training to only studying openings, but that is not proper chess training. After all, it is more important to be able to win better positions or to succesfully defend a slightly worse position. In my previous article I wrote about analyzing games. Now I will how to set up a training plan after you have annotated your games. …

Guimaraes Open rounds 7 to 9: a tough end of the tournament (English)

In my first report I showed a photo of the convivial, full squares on the first evening. Before the last round, on Sunday morning, I took the photo above and to me it seemed symbolic for the end of the tournament: it’s over.

The previous report ended with the message that I had to play against top seed Karen Grigoryan in round 7 and that two more matches would follow in the next 16 hours, which was a brutal schedule. This is also the reason that the last report is a bit late and my trip home was not as smooth as I had hoped, so that did not help either. Out of the last three matches I only scored 1 out of 3 and therefore the the finish of the tournament was not very nice. Let’s see what went wrong:

Karen Grigoryan (2658) – Koen Leenhouts (2414)

The opening is over and the position is about level. I thought I was at an important crossroads here. After 15…Re8 I thought it was about even, but White’s position seemed a little easier to play. As a second option, I thought I could complicate the position with 15…Qxd4, after which I thought I would get very nice compensation for the exchange. So I chose the second option, which was based on a miscalculation. 16. Nxc6! Qxc4

Here I was already a little less happy and I counted on 17. Rac1 Rxc6 18. Rxc4 Rxc4 19. b3 Rd4 with a complicated position. In fact, White is also better here, because the black pieces do not work well together. Grigoryan, however, opted for a more convincing solution: 17. Ne7+! Kh8 18. Nxf5 exf5 19. b3! and here White is also an exchange up, but in addition Black’s pawn structure is ruined. Of course I didn’t get any chance in the remainder of the game.

Although I had hoped to put up more resistance, my defeat with the black pieces was no surprise. In the evening I played with White against a young Spanish player with a slightly lower rating and here I hoped to be able to recover. However, I mistreated the opening and quickly found myself with my back against the wall. However, the defense in bad position went quite well in the past two tournaments and here again I found a nice defensive idea:

Koen Leenhouts (2414) – Alejandro Domingo Nunez (2345)

Black is a healthy pawn up and this pawn is a passed a-pawn. White would prefer to start a king’s attack, but there are actually no such possibilities. Another white trump is that he controls the b-file with his rook and the black bishop doesn’t have very nice squares. After a long thought I came up with a good idea, 27. Qc4! If Black now takes on c4, I take back with the knight and then black’s pawn on d6 will fall. The position is still complicated, but at least White has counterplay. My opponent opted for the logical 27…Rc8, but after 28. Qxc7 Rxc7 29. c4 I was confident I could keep things together, partly because my opponent was running out of time. In the rest of the game, I thought I got a few chances to play for an advantage, but that was more optimistic than realistic. A draw was the result and I could only be happy to escape with this result.

At the start of the last round I had 5.5 out of 8 and I had to play the German Jonah Krause with Black. After an interesting opening I decided to sacrifice a pawn for active pieces, but my opponent defended accurately. In the next position Krause played a strong counter move that I did not see coming.

Jonah Krause (2348) – Koen Leenhouts (2414)

I could have played better already, but after White’s next move I realized things had really gone wrong: 27. h4! White not only keeps his own position closed, but now he also threatens Ng5 with an attack on the rook and a possible mate threat on h7. I saw nothing better than 27…Rg4 28. Ng5 Qg7, but after 29. Qf5! my position was extremely difficult. Just like in previous games, I turned out to be at my best in a bad position and I still managed to reach a drawn endgame which I did hold in a fairly easy manner.

So I ended up at 6 out of 9, which was slightly less than expected. Thibaut missed a win in the last game, reaching 6 out of 9 as well, Tom won to reach the same score and Glen unfortunately lost his last game to finish on 5.5 points. Nevertheless, we looked back with satisfaction. We had a great week, played well at times and at least now clearly know what to work on to improve. We concluded our trip with a nice dinner at the excellent restaurant in our hotel. On the square in front of our hotel we could enjoy daily musical performances. I liked the fado singer myself, but his performances were a bit too long. The photo below shows an artist who performed a rock repertoire, from decades ago


The tournament was impressively won by Max Warmerdam. Max clearly showed that he has worked very hard on his game even during the pandemic and played a fantastic tournament. In the last round he defeated Grigoryan with Black to arrive at a nice score of 8 out of 9. The 2600 is in sight for Max.

The return trip the next day was problematic. We flew back to Brussels with a stopover in Zurich. In Porto I was initially denied access to the flight. A PCR test was demanded because I was traveling to Belgium as a Dutchman, although the rules of the Belgian government clearly stated that this was not necessary for people with a full vaccination. Only after much insistence did I get access to the flight to Zurich where my situation would be reconsidered by the people there. Fortunately, they saw no problem at all. So all’s well that ends well.

In a later blog, I will look back at this summer’s two tournaments and I will share the lessons I learned about my own play and my plan to improve on my weaker point. To be continued!

Guimaraes Open rounds 2 and 3: a mediocre start (English)

Before round 2 I took a picture of this cat  and that clearly brought bad luck. After my opponent made a mistake in the opening, I was already quickly winning. However, I didn’t play very well afterwards and it gradually went downhill until a loss was inevitable. A disappointing result. In round 3 I was able to recover with a quick win. The task for the coming rounds is clear: win a lot and hope to get back on the higher boards as quickly as possible.

Bruges Masters rounds 2 and 3: narrow escape (ENGLISH)

Today two games had to be played. For European players this is quite a tough schedule, but I will not complain since I recently saw a schedule of an American tournament which was really gruesome. I ended the day with 2,5 out of 3. The score is ok, but there is work to be done with regards to my play. In today’s games there were some really tough moments, where things could have easily gone wrong.

In the morning I was paired against the French player Christian Stevens. He played stronger than his rating suggested” or “He played stronger than his rating would suggest. After the opening I felt like I lost the thread bit by bit, so I had to change the character of the position.

Koen Leenhouts (2414) – Christian Stevens (2049)

Black is better. He has the pair of bishops and his pawn structure is better, as my passed pawn on d5 is more of a weakness than a strength. Furthermore it is hard for White to get nice outposts for his knights. After a move like 27…Ra8 it would have been very hard to create play and keep my position together, but fortunately for me my opponent became too materialistic and he took on c5 with 27…Bxc5? According to Euwe’s counting rules, Black gains two points with this move, however, the value of connected passed pawns should not be underestimated. A few moves later the position was

Here I have to decide which pawn to push. I thought it was most logical to play 31. d6. With two pawns on the sixth rank it should be hard for the defender to block my pawns. The engine however gives 31. c7! as way stronger. The big difference is that Black’s b-pawn is now much less dangerous, as becomes clear after, for example: 31… Ra8 32. d6 Ra1+ 33. Rc1 Rxc1+ 34. Nxc1 fxg3 35. Ne4 and White will win, although it looks still quite dangerous. In the game Stevens didn’t defend in the best possible way and after move 38 the position was like this:

Here I have a couple of strong moves, but I chose 39. Rb8 Rxc6 40. d8.Q 1-0

2 out of 2 with the third round to follow really soon. Here, I had to play with Black against the strong Dutch youth player Khoi Pham. His rating of 2128 stemmed from the pre-corona area and as a youth player I imagined he would be quite a bit stronger by now. Unfortunately, I played the opening poorly and, I have to say, my opponent played with impressive precision. After White’s move 20 the following position occurred:

Khoi Pham (2128) – Koen Leenhouts (2414)

From a material point of view, things are equal, but White has a really big advantage: he has a strong bishop against a vulnerable knight en most of all, his king is extremely safe compared to my horrible king’s position. All of this meant that it was time to change the character of the position:

20… Nd2! The exclamation work is attached, because I force my opponent to make some difficult choices in a winning position, which by itself already is a good thing. His best choice was to sacrifice an exchange with 21. exd5, but those complications are not that easy to assess. Khoi chose a different, logical move 21. Qb7+ and now I had to play 21…Kf6, because 21…Qd7 loses to 22. Qb4+ with a double attack. Now, he played 22. e5+ and although my position is still miserable, I was quite happy to see this move as the position will become closed and a closed position offer long-term prospects for my knight against his bishop if I have the luck to survive, 22…Kg6 23. Rfd1 Nc4 24. h4 h5 25. Bf1 Nxa5 26. Bd3+ f5

I thought the worst was over by now, but White has a beautiful win which I do want to show you: 27. Rxa5! Qxa5 28. Qc6! Rae8 29. Bxf5!! Kxf5 30. Qc2+ when Black can not escape mate. Beautiful, isn’t it? Fortunately for me, my opponent missed his chances and a draw was soon agreed.

Tomorrow there is one round and I will play white on a live board:

Tournament website: https://sites.google.com/view/brugsemeestersbe/home