Wednesday, September 5, 2018


At the age of 17 I started to play competitive chess. Before I spent my free time exclusively at music. In 1985 as a 9 year old boy I assigned for elementary music classes. A year later I started practicing an instrument the trombone.  Another 2 years later I joined a harmony orchestra: the Gildemuziek of Roeselare. There I first got to learn to play music together with other children on Sunday-mornings. A couple of years later I was permitted to play music in the main-orchestra in which even some professionals were playing. We rehearsed weekly on Friday-evenings. It was an interesting and lovely time with many performances in Belgium and abroad. I remember once that I participated at a notorious procession in France. Before we got a free lunched offered from the organization which included martini as much as you wanted. I don't have to explain this heavily impacted our music afterwards.

The members got many privileges. The orchestra got a lot of revenues thanks to the performances and the members were allowed to enjoy this. Clothes, memberships, drinks, food, instruments, music scores, transport, camps... was often completely for free. Also the most loyal members got celebrated every time they achieve a 10 year jubilee. I experienced 1 such jubilee myself. The complete orchestra came to my (elderly) house for a serenade. As commemoration you got a golden star on the hat of your music-costume which from then onward stayed on it.

That episode of my life came to an end when I moved at the age of 22 to Antwerp. It became too difficult to still attend the Friday-evening rehearsals. Besides at that time I already got in love with the game of chess which meant I preferred to play chess in Deurne than playing music. I did however have a look for an orchestra or fanfare in the neighborhood but my chess-ambitions interfered. Today I still possess my instrument. When my children were very small, I did play music on it a couple of times but in the meanwhile things again got quiet.

It is again a special introduction but I do believe something which can be interesting for chess. Many clubs in Belgium are having difficulties to survive. Last year the chessclub of Schoten was even liquidated. If there are no members then it stops. So it is very important as club to keep your members happy and seek new ones. The Gildemuziek has today more than 90 members. They are still very successful after 95 years. Of course chess has much less financial resources but a jubilee for our most loyal members shouldn't cost much. This can be done easily at a yearly club-party by giving them a small present. Maybe we can also think at a sweater/ t-shirt of the club (something already done by kmsk). Each time a jubilee is reached an extra piece is added next to the emblem of the club.

The club KSK Deurne for which I play today, is also experiencing difficulties. If you check the homepage then you notice 6 candles. Each candle represents somebody important for the club and whom recently died. Also we don't see any youngsters breaking-through to competitive chess despite a decade of youth-trainings. This year the club celebrates their 60th anniversary with a quiz. I don't like to quiz but this jubilee is a very good opportunity to make changes and prepare for the future.

So jubilees for chess players don't exist which doesn't mean I can't consider this year as a jubilee. It was in 1993 that I participated at my first big open international tournament at that time still as unrated player. Big can be considered literally as in that year there was a record of participants in Open Gent, 539 see palmares. I scored a modest 3,5/9 in that tournament. I guess that I still can find the score sheets in an old box (at that time I didn't have a computer and I never digitized it) but I won't publish anything here of it as nobody wants to be reminded about how bad my play then was.

25 years later so now in 2018 I again participated at the Open of Gent. I assume the organizers didn't notice. Some tournaments do pay attention to such details. In the last Open Brasschaat the organizers offered a present to the most loyal participants by inviting them for a simul. This wouldn't be interesting for me of course but it is the gesture which is important. In the end I probably gave myself the most beautiful present for this jubilee by competing against some very interesting opponents. In round 5 I played against the congenial American grandmaster from Iranian origin Eshan Moradiabadi, later winning also the tournament. However in round 7 I got an even more fascinating opponent: the Russian grandmaster Vladimir Epishin.

Once Vladimir was the 10th highest rated player in the world, helper of Karpov in his world-championship-matches and achieved a peakrating of 2670. Any real chessplayer loves to get a chance to play a standard game against such famous grandmaster. So I was eager to bring my best game. However in the morning I discovered very soon how difficult the task would be. He has 3441 games in my database (I only have 287) of which already 781 with black against 1.e4 (compared to 63 of mine). Besides I was also very surprised by the sheer amount of openings he dared to play. Even when I just stick to my fixed repertoire (so I don't change my openings) then I should still consider 72 different positions conform the database (I am sure that this doesn't include everything Vladimir knows as many games never get in the database). For this article I summarized it (so I prepared this a month after I played the game) as you can't fully understand this without viewing the details. I have never seen such large arsenal of openings from any player but I do suspect that the Ukrainian grandmaster Vassily Ivanchuk would easily beat this record.
Vladmir Epishin's arsenal of openings which I had to take into account
To understand the magnitude of it, I made the same exercise upon myself. It sounds weird but how many openings would I look at to prepare for a game against myself by using the same kind of database.
So that are only 3 or 24 times less than Vladimir. Most amateurs are wondering what it takes to become a top-player. Well you see there is still an enormous difference between what a FM knows and what an (ex-) worldtop-player knows. By the way don't assume Vladimir just plays something randomly as most if not all chosen systems he knows very well which he also proves in our game.

It is pretty futile to prepare for such amount of openings during an open tournament. I got up at 6 o'clock in the morning to start. Anyway I don't need much sleep during a tournament due to the excitement of the games at the condition I don't drink any alcohol. I stopped at 11 o'clock out of necessity to leave timely from Kontich to Gent and to pick up along the way 2 players having troubles to find transport. It is like you go to an exam but you only learned a part of the complete course as many systems Vladimir played were completely new for me. In orange I indicated at which openings I had looked briefly of the 72 possibilities. It are 24 of them so 1/3.

In the game I was lucky as Vladimir chose number 68. On the other hand my luck didn't last long. I hadn't found any games of Vladimir beyond move 5 so there was still a lot to guess. Eventually I couldn't remember properly all my preparations. Looking at a maximum amount of lines comes at a certain price. It is necessary to repeat to remember things well. Anyway it was a great fight. In below hyper-sharp game both players were pushed at and over their limits.
[Event "Open Gent 7de ronde"] [Site "?"] [Date "2018.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "Epishin, V."] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B15"] [WhiteElo "2310"] [BlackElo "2530"] [PlyCount "84"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [Sourcedate "2018.07.19"] [Sourceversiondate "2018.07.19"] [CurrentPosition "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"] 1.e4 c6 { (I found from Vladimir Epshin 781 games after 1.e4 in my database. He dares to play almost anything. So besides c6 you can find games with g6, b6, c5, d5, e5, Nf6 and e6.) } 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 a6 { (This is a very strange variation with the sole purpose to avoid my theoretical knowledge. However if you look in the database then you can find 4 games out of 49 Caro Canns in which my opponent chose this move. The most recent one was played in 2015.) } 4.Nf3 Bg4 5.h3 { (I deviate with this move from 2 earlier games my opponent won against +2400 players. H3 is the critical test which indeed I had analyzed during my game-preparation despite the very difficult circumstances. ) } 5...Bh5 { (The most popular continuation but my analysis recommends the more solid Bxf3.) } ( 5...Bxf3 6.Qxf3 dxe4 { (E6 is more solid.) } 7.Nxe4 Qxd4 8.Be3 { (This double pawn-sacrifice was still part of my preparation.) } 8...Qxb2 9.Bc4 { (White has a huge initiative for the sacrificed material.) } 9...Qxa1+ { (Obviously not forced but the most funny line.) } 10.Ke2 Qxh1 11.Qxf7+ Kd7 12.Be6+ Kc7 13.Qf4+ Kd8 14.Qxf8+ Kc7 15.Qc8# ) 6.exd5 { (Here I started to consume a lot of time. I couldn't remember if it was first g4 or first ed5? I only looked at this line a few minutes so then it is hard to remember the sequence correctly. Besides both moves are possible here and often transpose.) } 6...cxd5 7.g4 Bg6 8.Ne5 { (H4 is also interesting but Ne5 is the most played.) } 8...e6 { (My opponent played here instantly while I was consuming loads of time to correctly evaluate the consequences of Nc6.) } ( 8...Nc6 9.h4 Nxe5 10.dxe5 d4 { (Not the best move but the move you fear as white.) } 11.h5 { (I had seen this in the game and the engine confirms that it refutes black's line.) } 11...dxc3 12.Qxd8+ Rxd8 13.hxg6 fxg6 14.bxc3 $16 ) 9.h4 f6 { (After the game I found out that there are still 10 master-games in the database with this position. Of course my opponent was aware about this and that it scores rather well in practice for black.) } 10.h5? { (I had looked at Nxg6 in my preparation but that was done so chaotically that I couldn't remember the details at all. Anyway after Nxg6 white needs to play accurately to maintain the advantage or he risks getting into problems. Therefore I chose my own course hereby missing something elementary.) } ( 10.Nxg6! hxg6 11.Qd3 { (I still remembered that Qd3 is stronger but I couldn't see a good follow-up.) } 11...Kf7! 12.h5 gxh5 13.gxh5 Bd6 14.Bd2 Nc6 15.O-O-O Qd7 $14 ) 10...Bxc2 { (I was disgusted to miss this temporarily sacrifice. Bf7 and dxe5 are indeed good for white but now black is fully ok.) } 11.Qxc2 fxe5 12.dxe5 { (This game would be a good example of the rot-theory. ROT = revolutionary opening-theory. 1 of the characteristics of the theory is that the pieces are staying a longtime on the base-line.) } 12...Nc6?! { (The engines consider this an error but the position is extremely complicated for humans. Necessary appears to be Nd7 keeping the balance.) } 13.Bd3?! { (The accurate Be3 together with a fast long castling is stronger.) } ( 13.Be3! Qc7 ( 13...Nxe5 14.O-O-O Nxg4? 15.Qa4+ { (Black's knight will be lost.) } ) 14.O-O-O Qxe5 15.Kb1 d4 16.Bxd4 Nxd4 17.Qa4+ Nc6?! 18.Bg2 Qc5 19.Rhe1 $18 ) 13...Nb4 { (Black thought for some time here as there are several possible moves. In the end he chose for safety which is likely wise. After the game I showed Alain Talon what kind of crazy stuff could've happened if one of the alternatives was played.) } ( 13...Nxe5!? 14.Bxh7 d4? 15.Bg6+ Nxg6 16.Qxg6+ Kd7 ) ( 13...d4!? 14.Bxh7 dxc3 15.Be3 ( 15.Bxg8 Rxg8 16.Qh7 Qd5 17.O-O Nxe5 18.Qxg8 Nf3+ 19.Kh1 Ne1+ 20.f3 Nxf3 ) 15...Nge7 16.Bg6+ Kd7 17.O-O-O+ Nd5 18.Bf5 Qe7 ( 18...cxb2+ 19.Kb1 Kc7 20.Bxe6 Nxe3 21.Rxd8 Nxc2 22.Rxa8 N2d4 $13 ) 19.Rxd5+ Kc7 20.Bc5 Qg5+ 21.Be3 Qe7 $11 ) 14.Qe2 Nxd3+ 15.Qxd3 Rc8 16.a3 { (I was very pessimistic during the game. I saw no attacking possibilities. My pawn-structure is shattered and how could I bring my king into safety. I don't understand much of the game as the engines think it is still about equal. Besides a3 was here very interesting. Anyway I was again spending a lot of time.) } 16...Qc7 17.Bf4 Nh6 18.Bxh6 gxh6 19.O-O-O { (I sacrifice a3 and e5 but I rightly noticed that I would get excellent compensation.) } 19...Qc4 { (Black is a very experienced professional so knows very well how dangerous such complications can be. By exchanging queens black has for sure a comfortable game.) } ( 19...Bxa3 20.Kb1 Bb4 21.Ne2 Qxe5 22.f4 Qe4 23.Qxe4 dxe4 24.Rd4 Be7 25.Rxe4 $13 ) 20.f3? { (Unfortunately I was already here running out of time. I don't manage to find the accuracy needed to keep the position balanced. The precise Kb1 was sufficient to avoid any damage.) } ( 20.Kb1! Qxg4 { (This is not playable with the black king still in the center.) } ( 20...Bxa3 21.Nxd5!? exd5 22.Qxa3!? Rf8!? 23.Qd6!? Qc2+ $11 ) ( 20...Qxd3+ 21.Rxd3 Rg8 22.Rg1 Rc4 23.f3 Bc5 $13 ) 21.f4 Bc5 ( 21...Qxf4 22.Nxd5 exd5 23.Qxd5 $18 ) 22.f5 Qxf5 23.Qxf5 exf5 24.Nxd5 $14 ) 20...Bxa3 21.Kb1 Qb3?! { (Attractive but not so accurate.) } ( 21...Be7! 22.Ne2 Kd7 { (Or first exchanging on d3 and only next Kd7. ) } 23.f4 Qxd3+ 24.Rxd3 Rhg8 25.f5 Rxg4 26.Nd4 exf5 27.e6+ $17 ) 22.Rd2 { (I also considered Rh2 although I had detected the loss of a piece. The complications are not easy to calculate.) } ( 22.Rh2 Rxc3 23.Qxc3 Qxd1+ 24.Ka2 Bf8 25.Qc8+ Kf7 26.Qd8 Qa4+ 27.Kb1 Qe8 28.Qf6+ Kg8 29.Rc2 Qe7 30.Qf4 $19 { (Black slowly repels the attack and then the extra piece will tell.) } ) 22...Bb4 { (I suspect black has originally planned Bxb2 but now noticed that it doesn't bring any dividends. } ( 22...Bxb2 23.Rxb2 Qxc3 24.Qxc3 Rxc3 25.Rxb7 O-O $13 ) 23.Ne2?! { (A more stubborn resistance gives the precise Rc1. I was playing on increment so the quality of my moves automatically decreased.) } 23...Qxd3+ 24.Rxd3 Rg8 25.Rg1 Ke7 26.f4 Rc4 27.Rg2 Bc5 28.b3?! { (With Rf3 white could still prolong the fight. After the played move it is definitely lost.) } ( 28.Rf3! Re4 29.Nc1 Re3 30.Rfg3 a5 31.Nd3 Rxg3 32.Rxg3 Bd4 33.Kc2! b5 34.Kb3! Bb6 $17 { (This is a very good endgame for black but a clear win is not yet there for black. On the other hand this line is not forced at all.) } ) 28...Re4 29.Rf3 Rf8 30.Kc2 { (I saw black's next move but couldn't find an answer in only 30 seconds.) } 30...Rxe5 31.fxe5 ( 31.Rc3 { (After the game Alain Talon asked if I could've won a piece with Rc3.  I didn't notice this possibility during the game but I am sure the grandmaster saw the refutation.) } 31...d4 $19 ) 31...Rxf3 32.g5 Rf2 33.g6 { (Black doesn't fall for this trap but you never know of course.) } 33...hxg6 ( 33...Rxg2?? 34.gxh7 Rxe2+ 35.Kd1 Rxe5 36.h8=Q Rxh5 $11 ) 34.Rxf2 Bxf2 35.hxg6 h5 36.Nf4 Bd4 37.Nxh5 Bxe5 38.Kd3 a5 39.Kc2 { (Here my opponent started to stare at me as why was I still continuing the game. A round earlier I got the victory by the Belgian FM Marc Lacrosse in a dead-drawn position as  he unexpectedly resigned. I mean it never harms to play another couple of moves before resigning. I understand it is no fun to play in a lost position when many people are watching you but I just ignore them.) } 39...b5 40.Kd3 a4 41.bxa4 bxa4 42.Kc2 d4 { (My king can't stop both pawns and the rest can't play anymore. Mate in 14 is already shown by the engines so I also thought it was time to resign. It was a great fight in which I as amateur had to surrender to the professionalism of my opponent.) } 0-1

That is the sort of games why somebody likes to play chess. My 25th jubilee is behind me but I still hope to play many games in this crazy world of chess. Enjoy each of your games as nothing lasts forever.



  1. I remember Epishin playing at Open Leuven. Watching him play made me realise just how much GMs really understand and how much study they have put in to master the openins. His recent performances in Gent were impressive. I hope your club keeps on going. Several English clubs have folded and there does not appear to be much interest by youth.
    Good column by the way.

    1. One of the reasons why I wrote this article, is the declining respect for grandmasters. Many players look at the engines and get the impression that grandmasters play horribly. Besides today we have already +1600 grandmasters so how hard can it be to get such title. Well I think this article gives a glimpse about what amount of knowledge is needed to become a grandmaster which is definitely something extraordinary.

    2. "I hope your club keeps on going. "
      I wrote in my article that our club had the worst result last interclub-season in the 20 years that I've participated. Well yesterday I received the news that 3 of our base-players of the first team have announced to step down and put themselves as reserves. That means players of the second team have to fill the gaps. This doesn't need to be a disaster but for sure today a lot of doubts exist. A relegation to 3rd division while 5 years ago we were still playing in 1st, could be very painful for the future of the club.

    3. Another thing which I forgot to mention, is the heavy negative impact which the raise of the pension age has on most clubs (not only chess related).
      Recently the pension age has been increased from 65 to 67 in Belgium. However an even much bigger impact has the abolishment of pre-retiring. 20 years ago I've seen people going for pre-retiring at the age already of 51. That is very young so many of them took up important voluntary tasks in the clubs. This group of young retired people is completely disappearing while people above 67 can't replace them. In my club several people of the board are around 70 years old which clearly is another big concern for the future.

    4. I have to agree re age of your committee. Our committee has an average age of 65. We don't like to ask the younger members to devote a lot of time to the club as most of them are in jobs which are very time consuming and the ability to leave on time or early is now very limited. Work appears to be all consuming for many people in England. Several of our top players find it difficult to commit to club chess because of work commitments, both in the private and public sectors. A great shame.

    5. In my Dutch article I wrote about (top) players playing about 10% less games than 7 years earlier.
      In my Dutch article I wrote about 20% decrease of Belgian chess players between the age of 30-50 in the last 7 years.

      I agree that the changed employment-conditions in which much more is demanded, has made it hard to combine a job with chess. However maybe an even more important impact had the emancipation of the women. Before all house-hold tasks + children related stuff was almost exclusively for the wife. This is definitely not the case anymore. Women work also today and expect that the husband helps. Finally there is today also a much wider variety of interesting things we can do. If you add up everything then it is just natural that chess-clubs in our Western world are struggling to survive.

      My personal opinion is that clubs should much more adapt themselves to those changes. Unfortunately as we already noticed, most commitees consist of 'old' people and that are exactly the sort of people which are the last to like changes. We just had our annual member-meeting of the club and again we just continue as we did for the last decades.

      Still there are a few clubs with potential in Belgium. It is an open question if those can counter the current trend.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.