25 October 2016
A Mathematical Margin of Error
GM Alexander Galkin shares impressions on coaching Alexandr Triapishko at the World Youth U16 Championship.
This article is a case study of a coach-player collaboration at a high-level competition that shows aspects of the coaching process, methods of preparation for tournament games, and elements of general and sports psychology.
It was the Russian Chess Federation as well as a twist of fate that gave me an opportunity to work as a coach (or, perhaps more precisely, a consultant coach) for several young Russian chess players at once at the World Youth Championship in Khanty-Mansiysk.
Early in the morning on 21 September, I left Rostov-on-Don for Moscow to join a delegation departing from the Domodedovo Airport to Khanty-Mansiysk. Not without a small mishap, however: I couldn't find my bag at the baggage claim, and two other guys arriving from Rostov-on-Don failed to find their suitcases too. What a downer! It would be frustrating to go on a two-week trip without any baggage whatsoever. I already started considering what stuff I would have to buy first thing upon my arrival. But after about 30 minutes of search, stern airport employees took pity on us and the baggage carousel spat out the three bags from Rostov-on-Don. Including mine. There were no limits to my joy!
On the plane, I spoke with Mikhail Kobalia, head of the delegation, a strong grandmaster and an old friend of mine. We had known each other since 1989. I was 10 and he was 11 when we played our first game, one of so many others to follow. It was a Soviet Russian championship among boys under 12. I beat Mikhail then and won the tournament, while he finished second. Then we played in USSR championships together. After the Soviet Union collapsed, we repeatedly played in Russian championships, first youth and then adult ones. Our lives often crossed and we frequently shared a room during tournaments. Our three-week trip to Iraq alone counts for a lot: it was in 1999, with Saddam Hussein alive and ruling there! To sum up, we are on friendly terms, and I am very pleased with that.
After some casual talk about ourselves, our families and mutual friends, we went on to discuss my professional duties at the tournament. I was wondering what exactly I was supposed to do. I assumed that, given that Russian coaches had lots of experience of working at such championships, there existed certain guidelines specifying what to do. Michael shared some general principles; as for the rest, he suggested that I act according to the circumstances and in my sole discretion. It was not so clear whom I was supposed to coach, but Mikhail promised to name all the players on my team before the start. So that was how we decided to proceed. Then the seat belt sign switched on: the plane was about to land at the Khanty-Mansiysk airport.
The organizers met us and arranged comfortable buses to deliver us to a just as comfortable hotel. I had already stayed there a few years ago when I played in a Russian Rapid Grand Prix Final. To settle the matter right away, I'll note that the tournament was organized very well. The hotel was excellent. The food was very decent. The play room was comfortable. There were enough buses, and everyone was brought, taken away, met and seen off. The organizers also proved to be very hospitable in general. I don't know whether there were any complaints or not, but I would rate the tournament's organization as excellent.
The day before the first round, Mikhail reduced the number of players in my charge: one participant had declined my services, saying that she would be aided by her regular coach on Skype. Thus, I was to work with two championship players.
One of them was Alexandr Triapishko, a player of a master level rated slightly above 2450 and Russia's U16 champion of 2016. He hadn't won any medals earlier at Youth World or European Championships. (Alexandr had not participated in the last few World and European Championships, because he lives in Crimea. It is also worth noting that Alexandr is a disciple of the Russian Chess Federation's Grandmaster Center in Togliatti ― Ed.). The general opinion, however, was that Alexandr was an interesting and promising chess player. I also heard opinions of reputable trainers that this young player had serious issues with the opening stage, which, in their view, greatly reduced his chances of achieving good results. This was about all the information I had regarding my new trainee before the start of the tournament. Alexandr was ranked fifth by rating in the starting list..
I liked it how my student reacted when he learned that he would receive help from a qualified chess player during the tournament (he hadn't been told about such a possibility before): his eyes lit up and his genuine delight was visible. Granted, I was not completely sure he had even heard about me as a chess player because I had virtually ceased to play at official events five years before, when he was still very young.
Incidentally, it is a very interesting nuance. When dealing with young players aged 10 to 14 who have achieved considerable results, I've been repeatedly surprised to notice that they don't know the names of many famous grandmasters. They do know by heart the names of the world's top 10 or 20 players. But beyond that they haven't even heard all the names. Even though one would think that, while studying openings (if they do study them, of course), they can't overlook games of those grandmasters including Russian ones. Let me give you a specific example. During a team tournament held in Moscow this summer, I aided two boys from the Russian team in analyzing their games. We came across an opening variation where a whole range of Grandmaster Sergey Volkov's games are crucial to understanding that type of positions. Volkov is an original player, a champion of Russia and the winner of many tournaments all over the world. And the most important thing is that his games in openings like the French Defense, the Slav Defense, the Nimzo-Indian Defense, and several others have become conceptual. They have pushed the opening theory forward, and they still continue to do so. But it turns out that many of today's young players have never heard this name before. As well as many other names of strong grandmasters. The new generation doesn't remember its predecessors.
I was in even worse conditions as compared to Volkov. He still performs and wins tournaments, and his name is well-known in the chess world. But I can't say the same about myself. Understanding (and, of course, taking no offense) that my name might be simply unknown to Alexandr, I told him, just in case, a few things about myself: my full name, my rating, and some successes.
Alexander Galkin: participant of the 2011 Russian Championship Superfinal
Following this introduction, I outlined the working procedure established in the team: the players prepare for a game, and if there any questions they contact me. I also approved my trainee's intended preparation plan. Of course, I wasn't going to shirk away from work. My approach to any business is as follows: if you take on a job, it must be done professionally. Yes, you can make mistakes, you may fail to know or understand something. But you must handle a task in the most responsible manner possible. Based on this approach, I encouraged Alexandr to contact me with any questions whatsoever, including not related to chess. Thus I tried to gain maximum trust from the player and make him aware that he was not alone (like he was used to be at other tournaments), that there was a coach around and that he could knock on my door and get the professional assistance required.
Alexandr defeated a player from Kazakhstan in the first round. This wasn't a smooth ride, despite my trainee's white pieces and an impressive rating advantage. But despite his not very confident play, his class finally made the difference. His opponent, having quite a good position in a dynamic multi-piece endgame, got confused at some point, and Alexandr confidently took advantage of his mistakes.
Triapishko – Turar
28…е4 was worth considering here with a knight transfer to е5 ― or even 28…b5 29. cb ab 30. Bb5 Rс2 31. Kg1 g4 with complicated play. But Black had the misfortune to provoke his opponent's pawn advance.
28… Nd6?! 29. c5! Ne4?! 30.f3! Nf2
If 30…Nc5, then 31. Rbc1 b6 32.b4 with a win.
31. Rd2 g4 32.hg fg 33.g3 N4h3 34.Re1, and soon Black resigned.
In the evening, I heard a knock on my door: Alexandr came to review the game with me. So we would not only prepare for the next opponents but work across the board. I liked it: it was obvious that he really wanted to study chess. Not only did he view the game with a computer engine, but he also came for "a human evaluation." Or maybe for a human contact with a more experienced player. We discussed the opening stage of the game. We looked at what other qualified chess players had done in that position and drew some conclusions.
In the second round, Triapishko was to play Black versus an Israeli player. Alexandr came to see me before lunch, and I looked up his opponent's games in the database. He shared his thoughts about the possible opening systems that might occur. We discussed those systems in general terms and outlined the strategy for the round. He needed to finish the opening stage with a normal position and then outplay his opponent thanks to his higher level of play.
Triapishko won the game. But he played somewhat imprecisely in the opening, and his opponent could have set up some unpleasant problems for him. The opponent failed to seize that opportunity, however, and Alexandr gradually outplayed him in the subsequent complicated endgame ― once again, full of dynamics. Two things became clear to me at that point: my student was a good practical player, with good calculation ability and confidence in his powers. At the same time, it was confirmed that he didn't have excessive opening knowledge. I hadn't met Alexandr before the tournament. I might have seen some of his games, but they weren't an object of my focused attention, of course. That said, I was getting more and more information in the course of the competition.
In the evening, Alexandr paid me a traditional visit. We discussed the game. We started with the opening and made conclusions. After reviewing the game, my trainee said that he thought he had played the game badly. However, I assured the player that he was wrong. The game was quite decent, considering the status of the tournament. I also noted that he could start playing better as the tournament continued. Your engine is not working at its full power yet, you are just picking up speed, I told him. An imprecision in the opening is a normal thing. You just need to work more on this stage of the game. But that doesn't really have anything to do with the quality of play itself.
As I talked to my colleague, I noticed that, on the one hand, he was quite confident in his abilities. On the other hand, he went a bit too far with self-criticism. A critical attitude to one's play is good by itself: such an approach will help you grow further. But you shouldn't overdo it: this could undermine confidence in a player's moves, which would lead to additional nervous pressure on him. And that doesn't help at all.
In the third round, Alexandr's opponent was also from Russia. Triapishko was playing White. For now, his opponents had a lower rating that him. Meanwhile, his opening repertoire included a lot of dubious lines. He certainly would like to, and had been trying to, play central variations, but it was quite obvious that, his knowledge being insufficient, he was initially disadvantaged when preparing for a game. Sure, he would have to study openings seriously anyway. Then he would need to "fine-tune" them in tournament games. This should be focused work which, unfortunately, the player had yet to do. Which is why, when preparing for such an important and high-level tournament as the Youth World Championship, one must try to take advantage of their strong points, while minimizing the damage from their weak points. Instead of having qualms about the absence of crucial theoretical knowledge in a plethora of openings, players should focus on the subsequent game stages: the midgame and the endgame. In other words, one should not get fixated on gaining an opening advantage with White automatically (this was not an option in our case), but rather try to get a playing position from the opening that is as comfortable for you as possible and fight on. Never ceasing to fight, never losing concentration.
Draw. A rare variation was played. The opponent wasn't ready for it and put himself in a bad position with a few wrong moves. He had to give away an exchange. Some weakening of the white king's position and the activity of Black's bishops allowed the latter to hope for some compensation. But not more than that. White's advantage was obvious and could be increased by various moves. Apparently Alexandr somewhat relaxed at that moment and maybe even added another point to his score in his head. This is a standard situation: it seems that all has been done and you only have to wait for the opponent's inevitable resignation and the signing of the scoresheets. But you often get punished for that approach. The opponent is not ready to acknowledge defeat so quickly, he musters all his strength in a drastic situation and is still capable of long resistance. And the "winner" has already lost the concentration required and can't pull himself together to continue the game at a high level. In such confrontations the "predetermined" outcome often changes to the opposite one.
And thus my trainee started making inaccurate moves. At one point, he overlooked a line, then his confidence began to waver as he realized that he had lost focus. In about five moves, his opponent already had full compensation for the missing material. And in about another 15 moves, the game ended in move repetition. A bitter disappointment...
We discussed the game in the evening. The missed opportunity upset Alexandr. It had been a "free" chance from the opening. And to fiddle everything away like that... I tried to brighten his mood. We talked about the need to stay focused till the very end of the game. About him having to continue looking for his chances and to try to get that game out of his head. But making sure that lessons are learned later, after the tournament.
In the fourth round, Alexandr was to play Black versus a Kazakh player. A Kazakh again. During our short morning meeting, we discussed the particulars of his play and mapped out opening variations.
Alexandr won the game. He got a good position in the opening. But then he was unable to choose the right plan. He made some chaotic moves that were parts of different plans. His play lacked confidence. As a result, he failed to deliver his plan, and his opponent readjusted his position and developed a dangerous initiative. The black king's position was really precarious. Alexandr had to give away a pawn ― and luckily it was only a pawn. White could have "grabbed" even more. But my trainee played that part of the game quite decently. Immediately after the time trouble was over, the Kazakh player made a blunder. I can't say that Black was really bad, he had some compensation for a pawn in the endgame. But after that mistake Black won back the pawn, and it was White who needed to show certain precision. Which he actually failed to demonstrate: Black gradually won a second pawn and then brought the point home.
Agmanov – Triapishko
Instead of the logical 43. Ne6, which retained the edge, White played 43. R5g4? And after 43…Nd3 44. Rf1 Rd5 it was Black who got a stable advantage, which he used to score a win.
We reviewed the game in the evening. It turned out to be ragged: the first half was of low quality, but at a crucial moment Alexandr had been able to brace up and start playing at a good level. On the whole, the impression was not very positive for the moment. There was a decent amount of points, 3.5 out of 4, and it could have been all the four wins. But I wished the quality of the games was better. Anyway, wishing alone won't get you there. Everyone had come to the tournament to play well, but only a small number of participants would succeed. The others would pin their hopes on next events where they might perform better. That's the reality of sport. I repeat, I still had hopes that my trainee would "warm up" and change gears as the tournament would progress. However...
In the fifth round, my trainee's opponent was an Italian, with a rating higher than Alexander's, even if just by a point. We discussed the opponent's play and the openings before the game and opted for two systems that my student intended to play. We decided that both were of equal value (because they were both rare and could hardly offer White an edge), but I gave Alexandr a free reign to choose among them. Play whatever you feel more at ease with, I told him. Most of the fight would still occur in the midgame.
He lost. And it was a one-sided game. As I watched the game online, I was quite surprised that he played a completely different system compared to what we had been planning. Sure, he took an independent decision. He was already a quite competent chess player. This was his tournament. And it was his right to take any decisions in personal events. But the opening decision he took this time proved to be very bad. I don't know what he was guided by, but certainly not by in-depth knowledge of such systems. As a result, he was simply worse as White from the opening. And then there was hopeless defense. There was a feeling of impending doom. The game was of extremely low quality...
In the evening, my trainee failed to come. I had an idea that this might be the end of our studies at that tournament. A thought which didn't trigger any particular emotions because my mind was also occupied with the performance of my other trainee, in the girls' section. She had no smooth sailing either, and I had to apply serious efforts to try to improve her situation. This was taking enough of my energy. I had stuff to do, and there would be no point in chasing Alexandr anyway.
The next day was a day off, which I spent on preparing my girl trainee for a crucial game. Our targeted work bore fruit: she won that game. Alexandr didn't contact me on that day either.
The next morning I saw him again, however. We studied the game he had lost. I reproached him for having played a different opening, instead of the ones we had chosen, for no important reason. And there were no reasons. He couldn't actually explain himself why he had decided to change the opening system. Sure, he might have implemented an interesting idea in the course of the game. But first, he never saw it, it was the computer that suggested it later. And second, a casual chance doesn't justify a poor preparation for a game. I tried to explain to him again that opening "tricks" were not for him. He had to outplay his opponents in midgame positions. And those positions needed to be acceptable from the outset, and not bad for him. Otherwise you will get only so far. You spend a lot of time and effort in the opening, and then you have neither a positive result nor enough time and effort for the rest of the game. You need to get away from "illusions" and just play your chess. Even if an opening is dubious or imperfect, you can still play it. You don't participate in a competition for the best novelty. Your goal is to get equal play. And play your own chess. It was along those lines that we talked.
In the sixth round, Alexandr played with Black versus a Vietnamese player, Tran Minh Thang. As it turned out later, the Vietnamese outdid himself and won the bronze despite his modest rating. But this happened later, and at that moment we saw that the opponent was lower-rated than Alexandr and that the latter absolutely needed to fight for a win to make his way back to the group of the players who aspired to climb to the pedestal.
Alexandr won the game. He was better virtually from the opening. Then some interesting play followed where White even sacrificed his queen. But even that didn't help him. On the whole, this was a decent game. When I studied this game with Alexandr, I saw once again that he was quite good at calculating lines.
In the seventh round, Alexandr faced a Turkish player as White. My trainee was surprised in the opening and, as usual, he didn't gain any edge. But later he started to outplay convincingly his opponent, who acted somewhat timidly. And then my student failed to find a precise continuation at some point, and the Turk was able to take away his initiative. As a result, a dynamic yet objectively drawn queen endgame appeared on the board. The Turk started to misstep, then there was a transition to a pawn endgame that proved to be absolutely won for White as he was the first to queen. Black had a pawn on c2, and without other pawns on the board this would be a theoretical draw. But there was a white pawn on a4 and a black one on a5, and it seemed to be an elementary win. Yet it turned out that the pawn a5 attacked the square b4, and the white queen couldn't get closer to drive the black king away from the passed pawn. And here my trainee found a very fine move. He allowed his opponent to promote the pawn and traded off the queens. But his king "pushed" the opponent's king aside, and the latter turned out to lose the race towards the surviving pawns. The Turk was so upset that he kept playing the position with a king and a queen against a lone king until checkmate...
Triapishko – Ozen
It seems that the pawn endgame is absolutely won.
53.Kf5 Ke3 54.g4 Kd3 55.g5 Kc3 56.g6 Kb2 57.g7 c3 58.g8Q с2 59.Qb8 Ka2 60. Qc7 Kb1 61. Qb6 Ka1 62. Qc5 Kb1, and the queen doesn't advance any further.
But Alexandr finds a study-like move:
63. Kе4! с1Q 64. Qс1 Kс1 65. Kd3!, and White wins.
Our spirits were high in the evening. I even noted jokingly that after such an endgame I was ready to acknowledge Alexandr as a positional player. First, it was a beautiful ending. Such esthetic achievements put a player into a good mood and give him confidence. It's like being an artist, among other things! Second, he resumed the fight for medals. I used this game as an example to repeat my advice: "You are a strong practical player. If you don't get anything in the opening, it's OK. Don't sweat it. Just play and beat them in the midgame and endgame!"
In the eighth round, Alexandr played Black against a strong Iranian player. There were actually several strong Iranians in the tournament who were considered by many before the start as favorites in this group: both by rating and by strength of play. One of them was certainly expected to win the tournament. But in reality all of them were unlucky at the championship. Either Khanty-Mansiysk wasn't their city, or there were different reasons.
But let's go back to the game of the eighth round. It was clear that my student spoke about his opponent with respect. After studying his opening repertoire, we didn't find anything really scary. We chose some lines. We decided that he wouldn't play 1.e4. But we discussed how to play even in that case.
Alexandr won the game. His opponent actually played 1.e4. But he didn't shine in preparation. Black got an equal position. Later the game converted into a minor piece endgame where Iranian seemed to retain some edge. But the Iranian played carelessly, routinely believing that Black couldn't grab the h2-pawn with the bishop due to the move g3, with the king subsequently approaching the imprisoned bishop. And here my trainee demonstrated another positive side: along with good calculation abilities, he could also take an unbiased look at a position. Many wouldn't even consider such a capture. It's clear that the bishop is trapped: you see this and stop the calculations at once. But Triapishko captured the pawn and understood correctly that, within the time White's king spent to win the bishop, he would activate his own king and push the passed pawns forward. And the bishop would grab a second pawn before it perished. The knight was slower than the bishop and would find it hard to handle the passers. And the resulting two black pawns versus one white pawn on the other side would distract White's king from aiding its knight. It couldn't stay on both sides of the board at the same time.
The Iranian was clearly flabbergasted by the change in the position's structure. Instead of starting to play accurately, which still ensured a draw in different ways, he made several pseudo-active moves allowing Black to improve his position even further. As a result, White's king and knight were never able to stop the inevitable promotion of one of the two black pawns.
Tabatabaei – Triapishko
Playing out of the box: 35… Bh2! 36. g3 Kc6 37.Nb4 Kb6 38. Nd3 a5 39.Kf3 Kc6 40. Kg2 Bg3 41. fgd5!
Trying to create passed pawns.
42.с5 h5! 43. Крf3 g5 44.g4?! h4!
And after a few more inaccurate moves, White was no longer able to stop the black pawns coming through from all sides and eventually resigned.
A very good win. At that moment, it became clear that my trainee had very decent chances for medals. His play had become better than at the start of the tournament. That was what I had been hoping for. The train picked up speed and headed at full steam towards its destination: the pedestal.
As we reviewed the game in the evening, I showed my trainee my own game I had won at the 2002 European Championship versus GM Andrei Kharlov, where I implemented a similar idea. I also captured the h2-pawn in the endgame, but with a knight. The knight was trapped, but in the meantime I improved the position of the king, which rushed to the other flank to chase the pawns abandoned by its white counterpart. After giving the doomed knight away for another pawn, I got a comfortable position with passers on both flanks.
Kharlov – Galkin
35…Nd2 36. Kе3?! Nf1! 37. Kf2 Nh2! 38. Kg2 Nf3 39. Kf3 Kd5 40. Kе3 Kс4, and Black won.
Both games were very similar. But Triapishko had had a more challenging task, so it was even more pleasant that he had handled it.
Armenia's Haik Martirosyan had previously scored 7 out of 7 at the tournament. It would seem that hardly anything could stop him from winning the first place. In the eighth round, he had a draw with an Iranian, the highest-rated player at the tournament. And in the ninth round, he was to face Alexandr who was a point behind. Alexandr, elated by the previous successful games, was ready for a battle. It was nice to see that he wanted to fight. Not just secure a draw with Black but really chase the leader. We looked at the opening schemes and discussed the specifics of the Armenian player's style.
A draw. Pawn breakthroughs occurred as early as in the opening, central lines opened up, and it turned out that the position was near equal. The Armenian saw a possibility to repeat moves and accepted it. Triapishko, however, had no possibility to avoid repetition. It was already clear that the tournament's leader was trying to gain the first place with little effort. This was a logical strategy.
In the penultimate round, Alexandr was paired as White versus the Iranian rating favorite. The latter was a decent player who had recently performed quite well at the Baku Olympiad for his country's adult team. His opponents included quite strong grandmasters, and he was by no means dwarfed by them. Both rivals had the same number of points and they shared the second and third places in the tournament table. Most probably, the Iranian still hoped to catch up with the leader. As well as my trainee, who stuck to the same hope. But only one of them would continue the race.
The Iranian picked up the gauntlet by choosing a modified Pirc Defense in response to 1.e4. The position was complicated, but White had a solid initiative after the opening. Later on, Triapishko played very aggressively and resourcefully and brought a well-deserved point home. This was a fine and hard-fought victory.
Triapishko – Maghsoodloo
A positional exchange sacrifice, 32.Rd5!?, proved to be another nail in Black's coffin.
Meanwhile, the tournament's leader had another quick draw, and the lag from him reduced to half a point. It also turned out before the final round that my trainee had better tie-breakers. Which meant that, with the number of points being equal, he had every chance to become a world champion.
The ultimate round would start at 11 a.m. After we discussed on the previous evening the game Alexandr had won versus the Iranian, we went on to prepare for the decisive battle. I liked it once again that, despite the black color, Alexandr wasn't going to hold on to the second place, but was eager to catch up with the leader. He was to play with a Croatian who was half a point behind. Therefore, a negative outcome might throw him out of the top three altogether. But Alexandr ignored this scenario. He was confident in himself. This was good. I approved of that. As we prepared we saw that in some systems the Croatian went for variations that forced a draw. We rejected such systems in advance.
We also noticed that in the ultimate round the leader was to play the low-rated Vietnamese previously defeated by Alexandr. And Martirosyan would have White. That seemed to be a very lucky pairing for the decisive round. But Triapishko was optimistic with regards to the final round. He believed that the Vietnamese would fight back. Furthermore, in the last few games the leader didn't overextend himself but had fairly quick draws. And it was far from certain that, with the final round's strong nervous tension, he could once again roll his sleeves up and play a good, high-quality game. There is always a hidden desire to finish things with the least physical and psychological effort. But one doesn't always manage to do that... The game confirmed that. The Vietnamese defended ferociously throughout the game and used time trouble to start active play against the white king. And the Armenian player made a mistake. The Vietnamese could have gotten a position with a major edge, but also blundered, and the game ended in perpetual check.
The Vietnamese took the third place as a result. And had he won, he would have helped Alexandr to become the champion. Alexandr could only rely on himself in such circumstances...
The opening was favorable for him. The position wasn't standard and his opponent wasn't very well-versed in the intricacies of the system, so Black got a good position easily. The system was very complicated. The outcome of the game depended on who would push his pawns forward first. If Black's flank pawns moved, nothing could stop them. If White broke through in the centre, Black would have to face the dangerous passers while taking care of his king x-rayed by White's strong and now active bishop. Therefore, the opponents' task in this system was to slow down, or better stop, the advance of the enemy pawns. The sides maneuvered based on the considerations above. And then someone had to make a mistake...
After some maneuvering in the game, Black pushed forward his pawns on the queenside. White countered by breaking through in the center and damaging the black king's defenses. The opponents ran into time trouble. In that situation, Triapishko failed to find a proper position for his rook and had to put up with a draw. It is also fair to point out that playing in time trouble with an open king and with the opponent's queen and rook in its close vicinity is no fun. Sure, the computer shows some crazy lines with the king wandering all over the board and hiding from checks on the other edge of the board. But one has to be realistic: it's next to impossible to find all this at the board with so little time left. You can just go all out hoping that it will come out fine in the end. And if it doesn't, you get checkmated. So, in my opinion, the outcome of the game was quite logical. Of course, I would love Alexandr to win this final game and the tournament. But one needed to be realistic. And the reality was that he finished second in the tournament. A world vice-champion! Icing on the cake: he achieved his last International Master's norm. A fine result, considering the course of events and the quality of games in the first half of the tournament. A result that both the player and the coach could be pleased with, I think.
The Khanty-Mansiysk World Championship's closing ceremony
It's clear that there is a huge difference between collaboration with my permanent trainee and the focused work with Alexandr at this tournament. The working pattern itself is different. While I already know quite well my female trainee (even though there is always a probability that the coach is mistaken in this) and I can guess what she needs at a particular moment, working with Alexandr as a coach was for me almost like walking into unknown territory. Both in chess and psychological terms. And the effectiveness of our work depended, among other things, on our ability to gain mutual understanding in terms of both human communication and preparation for the games. I don't have any illusions that my humble aid at the tournament made any significant contribution to the player's good performance at such an important event. Certainly his success can be attributed to: his skills, his knowledge, his talent, his health (physical form), his strong nervous system, his fighting mood, and his desire to win in every game. All that stands for around 90% of success. The Russian Chess Federation and the World Championship's organizers provided the player with a proper living environment and a good playing room. That makes for another several per cent. Well, and the remaining mathematical margin of error can be attributed to my aid. :-)
In my subjective opinion, the most important aid that I provided to the player was of a psychological rather than purely chess nature. I created for him a kind of territory of psychological comfort, where he was believed in and supported in every way, and where someone explained to him clearly, without hysteria or authoritarianism, what his problems were in each particular game as well as in different situations throughout the tournament. And this was a dialogue between equals rather than lecturing. I tried to avoid pressuring the player but gave him an opportunity for self-fulfillment. While at the same time subtly controlling the situation to avoid a serious deviation from the proper course. Of course, you need to be strict where necessary. You won't get anywhere in sports without discipline.
To conclude, I would like to emphasize that Alexandr Triapishko proved himself to be not just an excellent tournament fighter but also a disciplined athlete who understood the necessity of self-control throughout the entire important competition. It's also worth noting his craving for new knowledge. It's an important trait which, I am certain, will help him in attaining new heights in chess.
Photos from UgraMegaSport's and the Russian Chess Federation's websites