Reigning National Blitz Champion Mehul Gohil profiles his opponents for the upcoming NCC Blitz Championships Fizza Blitz Chess Invitational Tournament. The event, to be held at Goan Gymkhana on 19th February 2011, is arguably the biggest blitz chess event in Kenyan history. With a total prize fund of KES 20,000/-, eight hand-picked blitz protagonists will battle it out against each other twice over 5-minute games in a double round robin format.
Text: Mehul Gohil
Photos: Various sources
I wish to share with the East African chess audience my opinions regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the seven blitzoids I will face at the upcoming NCC Blitz Championships Fizza Blitz Chess Invitational Tournament.
Over the last half decade, I have met the seven guys over friendlies and serious blitz matches. Therefore I have an unmatched and unique understanding of their blitzplay nuances.
I will dissect each of these seven blitzoids using the patented ‘gorilla criteria’ which goes as follows:
Blitz Instinct – Unlike a game played at classical time controls, in blitz it is vital for a player to feel when it’s necessary to initiate complications, play boring chess, how and when to deviate from a mainline, and when to go into autopilot mode, even when the decisions to be made lead to second or third rate moves. Blitz is not about accurate play but accurate instinct. Some blitzers have a better ability to read their opponent’s game and are able to change the nature of the position accordingly. For example, a good blitzer may sense complications arriving and will spend 15-20 seconds on each of his next 2-3 moves and then suddenly bang out his next dozen moves in only 10 seconds. He has instinctively prepared himself for the complications by first having roughly planned his course of action (when making those slow moves). The effect is that the opponent is psychologically shocked at some subconscious level: “Why is he playing so fast in a murky position?”, and this leads to massive gain of time on the clock. Blitz instinct is about understanding the rhythm of fast chess.
General Chess Strength – This is a feature blitz shares with all the other formats of chess. It all about pure chess skill and knowledge. Some blitzers are able to overcome their blitz instinct deficiencies via superior chess strength. Blitzers like Peter Gilruth and Ben Magana are examples.
‘Fleg’ Control – The chess clock in blitz becomes either your 17th piece or the 65th square on the board. It is the thing that defines blitz for what it is – very fast chess. A blitzer has to continuously keep tabs on the clock situation (a spectator will notice good blitzers sometimes twisting their necks in quick jerks, like a bird, looking from board to clock). Blitzers who have the necessary instinct for fast chess also tend to pay more attention to the ‘Fleg’ situation. Skillful management of the clock sometimes allows a blitzer to win games lost on the board.
Stability and Stamina – Championship blitz is very different from friendly blitz. You may come across blitzers who boast a lot in their local clubs after beating ‘all comers’ over a table filled with beers, scattered pieces, laughter and cheap chess gossip but these boasters always end up as cellar dwellers in the final championship analysis. Blitz Championships have the tension piling up round after round and this is something largely absent from friendly blitz. The process of handling the building tension over 14 rounds is what separates the blitz men from the blitz boys. Tension also creates fatigue and therefore stamina comes into play. Some blitzers collapse in the second round robin cycle due to stamina issues. In the Blitz Championships weak minds and pathetic stamina are dealt with ruthlessly.
I believe the above four factors are the ones most critical in the make up of a strong blitz player. Now in order to give a clearer idea of how the 8 blitzers in the NCC Championship compare with one another I will give each one of them points out of eight on each of the above critical factors using myself as a reference point.
As a blitzer, I would describe myself as follows:
Blitz Instincts – 8/8. Can smell when the heat needs to be turned up on the opponent. Has excellent pacing of moves. Knows when to accelerate intelligently.
General Chess Knowledge – 7/8. Wide knowledge of opening variations. Is conversant with most of the basic tactical patterns and has a reasonable feel for positional play. Endgame knowledge is solid.
‘Fleg’ Control – 8/8. Is the faster blitzer in Kenya. His clock awareness is excellent and he rarely loses games on time.
Stability and Stamina – 7/8. Due to his experience in championship situations, he is on ‘home ground’ in tense blitz situations. Indeed he thrives on it. The various blitz championships he has won clearly indicate a healthy blitz stamina and he has a well known ‘Gabresellasei kick’ towards the end of these championships.
TOTAL SCORE: 30/32
Now let me take a look at the other seven (in no particular order).
BLITZ INSTINCTS – 2/8. His recent match against me and his disastrous performance at the Sippers Blitz Championship in 2009 indicate he has problems in this department. He has an inability to adjust to the various and varied scenarios blitz imposes on its adherents.
GENERAL CHESS STRENGTH – 5/8. This is one of Obutu’s main assets. He has a narrow but well worked out opening repertoire. His chess style in general is solid and in technical positions he is known to convert.
‘FLEG’ CONTROL – 1/8. Again his recent match against me (where I gave him time odds) showed he is a very slow blitzer (when compared to the rest of this elite field). His clock awareness is almost non-existent. This leads him to messing up well built positions.
STABILITY & STAMINA – 1/8. Obutu probably has the weakest and most brittle nerves in the field. Much has always been expected of him due to his respectable general chess strength but a lack of nervous stability and stamina has always let him down at the big stage.
TOTAL SCORE: 9/32
BLITZ INSTINCTS – 4/8. Magana’s blitz instinct score could be higher but he fails to apply himself at this fast format of chess. He takes blitz to be a joke not worthy of his strong chess skills. This sometimes results in him looking at blitz positions as if they were full-blooded affairs. He aims to play very strong moves when 2nd or 3rd best ones played quickly would be more expedient.
GENERAL CHESS STRENGTH – 8/8. With the dropping out of Peter Gilruth, Magana takes over the boast of being the strongest chess player in the field if not the strongest blitzer. His opening knowledge is deep. His middlegame skills are second only to Gilruth’s and he has a phenomenal and very quick tactical eye. Perhaps his game plan on 19th Feb is to make this strength of his cover up the weaknesses of his blitz instinct.
‘FLEG’ CONTROL – 3/8. Magana has been known to exhibit a very fast hand in time scramble situations but he will find that the field assembled may be the fastest of any blitz championship to have taken place in Kenya. Take out the time scramble scenarios and one notices poor blitz clock handling.
STABILITY & STAMINA – 5/8. Magana has solid nerves and a natural chess confidence. Perhaps his lack of consistent experience at the blitz championship level have not allowed him to develop this strength further.
TOTAL SCORE: 20/32
BLITZ INSTINCTS – 6/8. Consistent practise against the best in Kenyan blitz and an ability to adapt to any situation with his flexible mind, have allowed Githinji to develop a dangerous and powerful blitz instinct.
GENERAL CHESS STRENGTH – 2/8. This is the one thing that has prevented Githinji from taking ultimate honours. He has relied mainly on his natural intelligence and powers of observation and trial and error practice to get his skills. But is that enough in an elite blitz field?
‘FLEG’ CONTROL – 5/8. He is not among the fastest blitzers on the block but via experience he has learnt how to deal with the blitz clock. Like Magana he has a fast hand in time scramble situations.
STABILITY & STAMINA – 6/8. Githinji has strong blitz nerves. Plus there is a hint of arrogance in his blitz demeanour which is always useful as a psychological weapon. He is ever confident and does not let setbacks take him down. E.g his stunning comeback in the 2nd leg of the round robin at the Sippers Blitz Championship after a bad start.
TOTAL SCORE: 19/32
BLITZ INSTINCTS – 3/8. George is very good in friendly games but he will find the animals in the NCC Blitz Championships are very ferocious. Like Obutu, George lacks blitz pedigree and therefore his blitz instincts are suspect.
GENERAL CHESS STRENGTH – 3/8. George has retired from active chess for the last 2-3 years in order to concentrate on his studies and now he is trying to catch up. He is a diligent student but perhaps he still needs more time to measure up against the chess knowledge of some of the others in this elite blitz field.
‘FLEG’ CONTROL – 4/8. Due to his youth and enthusiasm for blitz, George has respectable blitz clock control but nothing remarkable.
STABILITY & STAMINA – 3/8. He is untested at the highest levels. The friendly chess games have shown that George does have some kind of blitz machismo but maybe it will mean nothing in an atmosphere of killing tension(?).
TOTAL SCORE: 13/32
BLITZ INSTINCTS – 1/8. With his wild style of play and lack of respect for proper blitz ‘process’, Akello has the worst blitz instincts in the field. He does not pay attention, or perhaps simply does not understand anything about the rythms of blitz pace.
GENERAL CHESS STRENGTH – 4/8. Akello’s Houdini/Mikhail Talish style of play has fooled many into believing he has very good chess skills. But a microspic look at his moves and unsound chess reveals major weaknesses. That said he remains a dangerous gambit player and the more knowledgeable players in the elite field will have to watch out for his random moves.
‘FLEG’ CONTROL – 2/8. Together with his blitz instinct status, this was the other reason why Akello was not initially ‘handpicked’ for the blitz championships. He tends to massively overthink on some of his blitz moves and invariably finds he has created a big mess on his clock. He may lose a number of games on time in the championships.
STAMINA & STABILITY – 2/8. Like some others in the elite field, Akello has lack of experience playing at the highest blitz levels. It is uncertain how he will manage to cope with the extreme tension with his rather poor blitz instincts.
TOTAL SCORE: 9/32
BLITZ INSTINCTS – 5/8. Some of the blitzers in the elite field have tended to designate Philip as the whipping boy of the championships. However, I have observed his blitz and his instincts for fast chess are respectable. Some blitzers will be shocked come 19th Feb.
GENERAL CHESS STRENGTH – 1/8. This is Philip’s main weak point in this field. His chess theory may prove to be out of date when compared to the others. He will need to hit ‘the gym’ regarding this otherwise he may find himself having to rely too much on blitz instincts to get out of sticky situations.
‘FLEG’ CONTROL – 6/8. Philip is one of the fastest blitzers in the country. He has excellent clock awareness and his time management skills are very good. Some players may find themselves getting into a pressure cooker situation as they may not realise how fast Singe is.
STABILITY & STAMINA – 4/8. Perhaps Singe should be rated higher but he has no experience at the highest blitz levels and it remains to be seen whether he can really handle the tension and gruelling schedule of a high-octane 14 rounds of championship blitz.
TOTAL SCORE: 16/32
BLITZ INSTINCTS – 7/8. I consider Martin Gateri to be my main threat at the blitz championships. His blitz instincts are superb and he cannot be faulted on his blitz style. He is especially good in dynamic positions and is at his most dangerous in blitz in these ones.
GENERAL CHESS STRENGTH – 6/8. Martin is well versed with the latest opening trends and understands the openings he plays very well. His middlegame skills are creative and he is also a versatile player, being able to handle both dynamic and boring positions well.
‘FLEG’ CONTROL – 7/8. I believe only Martin can match me on time and clock awareness. His speed of thought is superfast. He knows how to turn on the screws on the opponent using the clock.
STABILITY & STAMINA – 8/8. Martin probably has the best blitz nerves of anyone in the field. He is always confident and composed and does not get ruffled by either setbacks or psychological pressure. He feeds on the tension and uses it to his advantage.
TOTAL SCORE: 28/32
If we are to rank the 8 players according to their ‘Gorilla Criteria Scores’ then the list from strongest to weakest in the elite field would look like this:
- Mehul Gohil
- Martin Gateri
- Ben Magana
- Githinji Hinga
- Philip Singe
- George Mwangi
- Wycliffe Obutu
- Akello Atwoli.