Exclusive Training With Yasser Seirawan

Yesterday Sunday the 17th, together with a few club colleagues, I was fortunate enough to attend an exclusive training session with world renowned Chess Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan.

We visited Yasser in his house in Amsterdam which has been been his main stead for a number of years now, traveling back and forth between the U.S and The Netherlands. We received a warm welcome with coffee and tea and Yasser showed us some of the books he has published in earlier years such as “No Regrets” about the return match between Fischer and Spassky in 1992.

The subject of the training was:

Playing the Caro-Kann defense from the Black point of view.

Yasser started with pointing out that there are basically two ways to combat 1.e4:

  1. playing to attack and eliminate (or move) the pawn on e4 (Aljechin defense, Scandinavian, Open Spanish, Russian defense, French defense and the Caro-Kann defense)
  2. playing around the pawn on e4 (mainly Sicilian and Closed Spanish and to some extend the Pirc and modern defenses)

Yasser has always been a staunch advocate of the first method and during his career he slowly gravitated from his early favorite the Aljechin defense (against which White in his opinion has never really shown a clear way to achieve an advantage) via the French (with often a bad bishop on c8) to the Caro-Kann defense (which has a slight delay in counterattacking the center, but has no bad light squared bishop). Throughout the years, the Caro-Kann has remained one of his most trusted weapons, so in this respect it was only natural we would consult him to share some secrets with us.

Out of the many ways in which White can combat the Caro-Kann Yasser summarized:

  • 1.e4 c6 2.c4 d5 – where White trades twice on d5 and holds back his d-pawn
  • 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.cxd5 cxd5 4.c4 – the Panov Attack normally leading to complex isolated queen pawn positions
  • 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Pc3/Pd2 dxe4 4.Pxe4 Nd7/Bf5 – the classical Karpov and Capablanca methods
  • 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.f3 – the “Fantasy” variation
  • 1.e4 c6 2.d3 d5 3.Nbd2 – King’s Indian Attack
  • 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 – the Advance variation or as tongue-in-cheek dubbed by Yasser himself: “the Short defense”

It is the last system (the Advance variation) that we spent the most time on, especially since nowadays it is the most popular way to combat the Caro-Kann. Yasser sketched out some history on the line and also shared some of his currently preferred methods on how to play this line.

Throughout the session Yasser gaves us a few tips & pointers as to how to study the openings:

  • Always check at least three things – his Golden Rules so to speak – and religiously repeat this during the first phase of the game:
    1. Do I have my fair share of the center?
    2. Do I have effective development?
    3. Is my king safe?
  • before or during the transition to the middle game ask yourself if you like the position you are about to play and if you feel it is trustworthy
  • while exploring a variation, use an opening book reflecting the popularity of certain moves and check them with an engine running in the background. Always be critical of certain moves and also wonder if you can play more ambitiously at certain moments
  • Have so-called “guides” (world renowned specialists on certain openings) that you can turn to when faced with a difficult opening problem, f.i. Kasparov for the Najdorf, Svidler for the Grunfeld and Karpov for Isolated Queen Pawn positions.

When asked about the White systems against the Caro-Kann he and the black playing community had feared the most during his career he said that he had basically figured them all out, but pointed out a few hick-ups along the way:

  • 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5 5.Ng3 Bg6 6.h4 h6 7.Nh3!? when White is trying to bring about a lot of pressure on e6. But some sample games of Botwinnik had saved the day for him
  • 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Ng5 Ngf6 6.Bd3 e6
    7.N1f3 h6 8.Nxe6 (Kasparov’s infamous loss against Deep Blue in 1997)
  • 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Ng5 h6 6.Ne6 Qa5+
    7.Bd2 Qb6 8.Bd3 fxe6 9.Qh5+ Kd8 10.Ba5 (Nunn – Georgiev, Linares 1998)

Most enjoyable about Yasser is that he is a man full of stories and anekdotes of which he shared a number with us. At a certain moment we felt we even had to cut his enthousiasm short, because we had already taken up so much of his precious time ;-)

Today Yasser is travelling to Saint Louis, Missouri, to be a commentator at the second Sinquefield Cup. He pointed out something noteworthy: it is going to be the strongest tournament in history, and that without the participation of a single Russian Grandmaster. Personally I’m looking forward to him doing the live commentary again, I’m guessing with co-commentators Jennifer Shahade and Maurice Ashley.

After saying goodbye to Yasser we ended the day with a pint of beer and some blitz chess in chess cafe “De Laurierboom” in the center of Amsterdam.

All in all, it was an occasion to be remembered and maybe even to be repeated!
Many thanks to Dirk Goes for initiating and organizing!

From left to right: Yasser Seirawan, Hing Ting Lai, Nabil Kania and myself

From left to right: Yasser Seirawan, Hing Ting Lai, Nabil Kania and myself

Yasser and Hing Ting at work

Yasser and Hing Ting at work