The Champions Chess Tour Finals (CCT Finals) was the closing event of the 2023 Champions Chess Tour, run by Chess.com. Eight players met in Toronto from December 9 to December 16. They played for a $500,000 prize fund. The pre-tournament favorite was former World Chess Champion GM Magnus Carlsen. In the finals, Carlsen defeated GM Wesley So to win the 2023 Champions Chess Tour.
The time control for the CCT Finals was 15 minutes plus a three-second increment (15+3), except for tiebreak games. One might think that this rapid time control would preclude games lasting more than 90 moves. But Carlsen won a 93-move game against GM Alireza Firouzja.
Grind Like a Grandmaster
With just seconds on both players’ clocks, Firouzja was defending with a king and rook against Carlsen’s king, rook, and bishop. One of the CCT Finals commentators was GM David Howell. Howell and Carlsen’s book Grind Like a Grandmaster: How to Keep Pressing until Your Opponent Cracks, based on their Chessable course, was published November 1, 2023.
The king and rook against king, rook, and bishop endgame is referenced more than once in Grind Like a Grandmaster: How to Keep Pressing until Your Opponent Cracks. To the player with the extra bishop in this endgame, Carlsen advises, “I think you should in principle always play until you reach the 50 moves.” Carlsen is referring to the 50-move rule, which states that if 50 moves elapse without a pawn move or a capture then a draw can be claimed.
Parts of Grind Like a Grandmaster: How to Keep Pressing until Your Opponent Cracks are written as dialogue between Howell and Carlsen. To Carlsen’s advice to play on with king, rook, and bishop against king and rook, Howell replies, “I agree. Especially below elite grandmaster level, this is one of the hardest endgames to draw.” Carlsen states that in most blitz games when he has the extra bishop, he wins. He adds, “I am pretty sure I’ve never lost with the rook either.” Defeating Firouzja on December 12, 2023, was one more win in this endgame for Carlsen.
How to Grind
When I was 10 years old, the Lincoln Star (my hometown newspaper in Nebraska) quoted me as saying, “I hate games that are all even. I want to know if I’m going to win or lose.” At age 58, I still feel that way. If I don’t see a clear way to win, I may offer a draw. As noted in my previous SparkChess articles, I have also turned wins into draws through poor, or non-existent, calculating.
One of the chapters in Grind Like a Grandmaster: How to Keep Pressing until Your Opponent Cracks is “Turning draws into wins.” Howell and Carlsen show that playing out positions that computer engines evaluate as 0.00 is rewarding. They advise targeting weaknesses in your opponent’s pawns and squares while incrementally improving the placements of your own pieces. They emphasize that you should never stop calculating.
Grind Like a Grandmaster: How to Keep Pressing until Your Opponent Cracks is not perfect. Twice the word zugzwang is rendered as zuzwang. About his 123-move draw against GM Anish Giri in 2017, Carlsen states, “some parts of the game where actually nice.” (The word “where” should be “were.”)
Each chapter begins with a “historical archetype.” Those examples are from games by Rubinstein, Capablanca, Fischer, Spassky, Karpov, Gelfand, Andersson, Leko, Judit Polgar, Kramnik, Smyslov, and Shirov. I read the eBook version of Grind Like a Grandmaster: How to Keep Pressing until Your Opponent Cracks. In the eBook’s “Index of Games,” I can click on the book’s games by Carlsen and by Howell and replay those games in their entirety. But none of the historical archetype games are included in the Index of Games.
John S. Hilbert, author of several books on 19th and 20th century chess players, pointed out an error about a win by José Raúl Capablanca over Frank Marshall. The relevant part of the sentence is: “This was the final game in their 23-game match, which had already been decided in Capablanca’s favour.” Hilbert notes that the match was for “8 games up,” with draws not counting. After 22 games Capablanca led 7–1 with 14 draws. Despite the lead in wins, the match had not yet been decided. Capablanca had to win an eighth game to win the match.
Buy this book
Howell and Carlsen are entertaining teachers. They explain their own games, and their thought processes, extremely well. My FIDE rating is 1925, and I learned a lot from their book. The “Grind Like A Grandmaster” Chessable course is for players rated 1600 or higher. I think the book based on the course also is suitable for chess players in that rating range. I recommend Grind Like a Grandmaster: How to Keep Pressing until Your Opponent Cracks.