Review: Learning from the World Champions, by Sergey Tiviakov

By Davide Nastasio

While I generally study openings in order to be able to reach a decent middlegame, I know that openings will not make me win the game. The game will be won in the middlegame or the endgame. As a visual-auditory learner I need a professor, or someone good in that field, talking to me. In my opinion, reading a book is boring because the book cannot answer my questions. Don’t get me wrong, books are really good for a reference, or for something to do on a cold winter’s night, or to impress a girl coming to my apartment with my intellectual prowess. But the best I’ve found on the market for learning chess is Chessbase.

Chessbase has an army of GMs and IMs creating new content monthly, which is definitely satisfying my needs as a competitive chess player always searching for improvement.  In this case, I jumped right away on this product, because I know that Tiviakov is an excellent teacher.  He is quite thorough, maybe a little too much, since he generally gives as a Christmas gift a million-game database that you really need to watch!



Sergey Tiviakov


Tiviakov begins the introductory video saying that he is a very active chess player, but he is also very active in teaching. One of the common questions asked by most of his students is how can they improve in chess. Who wouldn’t want to know such a secret?




Well, Tiviakov reveals the secret, and the secret is…watch the games of world champions, because they will teach you everything about openings, combinations, middlegames, and endgames!



Carlsen defeats Anand


The idea is quite simple, but is so profound.  Consider for a moment that a world champion’s repertoire of openings is the most updated and sound that one can find, because the champion plays for money and glory against a field of opponents whose main goal is to dethrone him. But not only is the world champion’s repertoire of openings  great, his opponent’s repertoire is great, as well.  The opponent hopes to defeat him at all cost.

In a previous review, I noticed that Chessbase provided an openings tree of some champions in their series Master Class.  Practically Master Class is a series of monographs containing all the games played by a champions such as Lasker, Alekhine, Tal, etc.    Inside there is an openings tree so one can see immediately what Lasker played as White or Black.




That said, clearly every game played between such players should be at the top of our list for learning.  Then we come to the other two parts: the middlegame, and the endgame. In this case, the world champion studied what would be the result of the openings he uses. The result must be an advantage or good position in the middlegame, which eventually will lead to a winning endgame. Once more, the elite games are the best from which to learn, but we do have a problem: how can a player who is rated 1800-2000 really learn from a game played between two players who are rated 2700-2800?  That is simply impossible, because as they are 300 to 400 points above our rating, we will have difficulty comprehending the sophisticated evaluations of the positions made by such knowledgeable opponents.  And here comes into play Tiviakov, a GM who has been at the top of the mountain with a peak rating of 2700.  He clearly can interpret the openings, middlegames and subtleties of the endgames of world champions and render them understandable to us.

This is the reason I wanted this Chessbase DVD so badly.  A good friend of mine once asked me, “Did you watch the World Championship between Anand and Carlsen?”  I answered, no, because I knew the games between those two players are above and beyond my understanding, and I needed someone to explain them at a level I can understand and learn from them.  This is the case with the present DVD.
But Tiviakov went one step further; he proved that we can learn from such games, because he learned too!  How, you may ask.  Because Tiviakov first presents the game of the world champion, and explains the concept he wants you to understand.  He then further illustrates the concept in the next video, which is one of his games.  He shows the same idea in action, and how he played it.

Tiviakov mentioned that two of the world champions he copied were Karpov and Smyslov, hoping this can help.



A young Kasparov playing against Smyslov


Now to analyze the content of the DVD:

The close relationship between the openings and the middlegame is covered, as well as the centralization of the pieces.  The first advice TIviakov gives is to find a role model to use for learning the openings and the correct middlegames.  The games cannot lie. They show the right path one must follow.

Then Tiviakov shares his personal experience as 1.e4 player.  His role model was Karpov, and he says that he was playing the same strategy for the Ruy Lopez, which Karpov adopted.  For the French, he would play 3.Nd2 following Karpov’s games that he studied over and over. Tiviakov mentioned a few times a book of Karpov’s best games, but there are many.  Today the best is the one made by Chessbase, which is a DVD chessbase software and has more than 2900 games played by Karpov, and annotated by different commentators.

Returning to Tiviakov’s advice: it is up to us to learn from it, as much as we can. What did I do? I selected some of Karpov’s games in the openings that Tiviakov mentioned, and watched I them.  Tiviakov mentioned which games to watch, but he didn’t place them in the “model games” database, so I did it for you here.  In this review, I inserted the games Tiviakov mentioned that are very important to know.  Then it is up to you do the remaining 50% of the work, which is watch them (maybe a couple of times) and see if something sticks out.

Tiviakov clearly says that in order to understand the connection between opening and middlegame, you need to study these games till the end.  That said, here they are:

In this game, Karpov makes a mistake at move 29, which gives a good advantage to his opponent, but also Black makes a mistake.  Can you find the correct move Black should have played at move 29th to gain a good advantage?



I don’t play the Spanish at the moment, but I can definitely understand the advice given by Tiviakov. In this second game, I find a complete different center from the previous game. Then, as a human player, I would consider Black having an advantage from the open A file, since we have seen Capablanca and other players winning brilliantly once they have the A file open.  Still here Black is not able (or maybe it is not possible) to exploit such an advantage. Hence the reason to study the game deeply.  We must be curious.  We must ask ourselves questions, and work hard to find the answers.

Zheliandinov was a very good GM, and here clearly we cannot understand how it is possible that Black, who has the control of the A file, doesn’t go anywhere.   We have seen endless examples of how such control can win a game, for example with Capablanca.



Also from this game we see how Karpov let the opponent open a file, but he is able to neutralize the enemy plans on it.




Now let’s see some of Karpov’s games with the French.  This game is a lesson on how to play against the IQP.




Of course, Tiviakov mentions many other champions whose games one must know in relation to their openings.  I will not mention all of them here, because it would become tedious, but definitely watching the videos made by Tiviakov and doing the work he described will be rewarding for one’s improvement.

I also found interesting how Tiviakov introduced the discussion of the Carlsbad Pawn structure, and how briefly he sketched the topic. Chessbase dedicated an entire DVD to the Carlsbad, which means one must definitely study it if the goal is to reach master level in chess;




However, I wouldn’t be an honest reviewer if I didn’t warn you, Dear Reader, of a possible flaw in the logic of “watching the games of a hero” and “repeat the patterns learned in those games.” What is the flaw? Well, let’s take for example Fischer-Marovic 1970, a real great game.  It is amazing, but the problem is the endgame.  Tiviakov, and of course Fischer, know quite well how to win the rook-pawns endgame, because they are masters. But can this be said of the average 2000-rated player? Of course not. The same for even lower ratings. So while it is true that these games are masterpieces, amateur players do need to work a lot on their endgames.

Once more, Chessbase comes to our aid with many titles in their catalogue.  I’ll just refer to two, which will help us to master the rook endgames:





The following is a list of the topics treated in the DVD.  For each topic, 2-3 videos show many different champions’ games with the theme that Tiviakov is trying to teach. A lot of credit belongs to Karpov.

1. Space Advantage, and a bad bishop: Ruy Lopez
2. Active play with an Isolated Pawn (control of the center)
3. Middlegame Patterns: mating attack with opposite colored bishops
4. The positional exchange sacrifice to create a blockade
5. King activity
6. Attacking the king with heavy pieces
7. Endgame Patterns: endings with opposite coloured bishops: winning with the help of zugzwang
8. The advantage of B+N against a pair of bishops
9. The advantage of the bishop pair in symmetrical positions
10. Controlling open lines with a pawn majority on the queenside. Realizing small advantages

The DVD ends with 10 interactive positions where Tiviakov drills the student on the different topics treated in the DVD.  This kind of feedback is quite important, because one can gauge how much he learned.

This DVD gave me a lot, and helped me to add another rung to the ladder toward improvement of my chess understanding. Of course, the next tournaments will tell if I will be able to use all the acquired knowledge. The DVD definitely motivated me in watching more champion-level games, and just for that I’m grateful, because to keep the motivation  high  is very important in chess. Last, but not least, now when I watch some of these champions’ games, I’m more able to understand what the ideas behind each side are, because Tiviakov detailed many strategic plans based on the pawn structures.


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