Remembering Colin Crouch

I was very sad to hear of the recent death of English IM Dr Colin Crouch at the age of 58.

Colin was one of the most popular members of the English chess community. He was not just a strong player but also a highly respected author and a very successful junior chess coach.

We all know chess players with no interest at all in life outside the 64 squares. Colin wasn’t one of those. He was extremely well-read and knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects including history and politics (he had been a member of the Labour Party). His doctoral thesis was on the economics of unemployment in Britain. He was blogging on politics and history as well as chess up to a week before his death.

We also know strong players who consider it beneath their dignity to talk to anyone with a rating under 2200. Colin wasn’t one of those either. He was happy to talk to anyone at any time, as witnessed by his dedication to coaching young children in Harrow and Pinner.

Colin had been in poor health since suffering a major stroke in 2004 which robbed him of much of his eyesight. On my shelves I found two books, both published by Everyman Chess, about his games after returning to competitive chess. Why We Lose At Chess is essentially a puzzle book based on his games during the 2006-07 season. Analyse Your Chess is a collection of his games played between Spring 2009 and early 2010. Both books are instructive, with lucid and detailed analysis of his games and brutal honesty about his mistakes. But more than that, they’re intensely moving about how he came to terms with his visual handicap and other health issues caused by his stroke.

But the book I got most pleasure from was the Hastings 1895 Centenary Book (Waterthorpe Information Services), co-written by Colin Crouch and Kean Haines. The original Hastings 1895 book (every home should have one) featured all the tournament games annotated by the participants, but, strangely by today’s standards, they didn’t annotate their own games. Crouch and Haines re-annotated the games through modern eyes, providing a fascinating perspective on how a leading contemporary player and writer viewed the way chess was played a century ago.

I knew Colin for forty years, but we were acquaintances rather than close friends. We met twice over the board, the first time at the London Chess Festival in 1975, one of my better tournaments (perhaps I’ll show you the games some other time), where an exciting rook ending led to a draw. We crossed swords again in 1992, on top board in a Thames Valley League match between Richmond B and Pinner A. This time my ill-judged central break led to a speedy defeat.

Two games against more challenging opposition, from consecutive rounds of the 1991 Krumbach Open:

Richard James


The Power of the Threat

While executing an attack or promoting a pawn can lead to a winning game, beginners often do so because they think that action (attacking or promoting) is more powerful than the threat of action. Taking action, such as launching a successful attack against your opponent or promoting a pawn, certainly can lead to victory. However, sometimes just the threat of such actions can have a greater influence on the course of the game in the long run. An attack can fizzle out and a passed pawn can be captured. However, a good threat can create long term problems for your opponent, stalling their plans while they deal with yours!

Typically, the beginning chess player only looks at moves that lead to something concrete or immediate, such as employing a fork to win material or getting a pawn to its promotion square to add another Queen into the game. These are certainly good goals to have in mind when determining the next move in your game. However, beginners employing this type of thinking are actually looking at things in black and white terms. While the majority of the game’s principles appear to be black and white in nature, there are exceptions or gray areas which more experienced players understand and take advantage of. The threat is one such example.

When we first learn the game’s principles, such as having more attackers than opposition defenders, we approach this principle in a rather primitive way. We pick a target and start aiming our pawns and pieces at that target. As beginners we develop tunnel vision, seeing only our target which limits our consideration of other positional aspects. We use such chess principles to improve our game but when we treat a principle as an iron clad rule we run into problems. Take the threat of doing something compared to making good on that threat and taking action.

A threat is suggesting that you’re going to do something without actually doing it. You’re neighbors might be talking about throwing an all night party so you knock on their door the day before the party and tell them you’ll call the police if the party goes on past a certain hour. This is an example of a threat. Your neighbors might reconsider their party if they think the police will show up and shut it down. You might not have to even call the police because the threat of taking action means those troublesome neighbors will most like reconsider their plans. This same idea holds true in chess.

The simplest example of a strong threat in chess can be found in the passed pawn. A passed pawn is one that has no opposition pawns on the files on either side of it. So, if you have a pawn on the c file and there are no opposition pawns on the b and d files, that mighty little c pawn has a chance to make its way to its promotion square (c8 for White and c1 for Black). The threat is the threat of promotion. This creates problems for your opponent because he or she will have to keep an eye on that pawn, in the form of employing pieces to stop its promotion. Valuable opposition pieces will have to stop what they’re doing, participating actively in the game, to prevent the promotion.

Lets say you get your c pawn to the square c7. Now that pawn is one move away from promotion. The pawn on c7 is a major threat that your opponent cannot ignore. Just keeping the pawn on c7, using a pawn or piece to protect it maintains the threat. This means your opponent has to deal with that threat which can weaken his or her position because someone has to pull guard duty. If you are able to safely promote the pawn, that’s great. However, if you can maintain the threat of promoting that pawn for five or six moves you’ll be doing more damage to your opponent’s game because they’ll have to deal with that threat during each of those five or six moves.

Tactical threats are also very useful, using the same idea that your opponent has to deal with the threat. Let’s say you see a potential Knight fork that will garner material if the fork is executed. Your opponent might see the threat and have to adjust his or her plans to prevent it. If you can keep the Knight positioned so that the threat is maintained for another move or two, your opponent will have to keep shuffling pawns and pieces around to deal with the threat. This means your opponent isn’t able to execute their immediate plan and instead, deal with your threat. While gaining material is certainly worth something, forcing your opponent to deal with a threat by potentially weakening his or her position is worth more. Dealing with threats often means weakening one’s position.

Employing threats in chess is also a great way to learn how to be patient. Beginners are far from patient when they start their chess careers, often launching early attacks that might gain material but weaken their position. When developing a threat on the chessboard you have to hold off on executing the threat, or taking action, until the moment is right. In the case of our Knight fork, you don’t want to try to maintain the threat indefinitely. You want to let your opponent weaken their position and then execute the tactic, in this case a fork. This teaches the beginner a valuable lesson in both patience and timing. When to execute the fork depends on a number of positional aspects. If you’re about to lose the opportunity to execute the fork, then employ this tactic, letting the threat become reality. The same thing holds true with our pawn promotion example. All threats have an expiration date and all expiration dates are different, depending on the position.

One good way to learn about threats is to play through master level games. I have my students go through a game looking for threats. They’ll go through one game four or five times. I have them play through the game twice, simply getting a feel for the game itself, noting whether it’s open or closed game, etc. My students will then note each time a tactic is played or a passed pawn created during their third play through of the game. Next they go back and look at the moves leading up to the tactical play or moment the pawn became a passed pawn. In the case of the tactic, they note when the threat of the tactic started and how long (in moves) it took for the threat to be turned into reality (when the fork, for example, was finally employed) or stopped. With passed pawns, I have students follow the action from the moment the passed pawn was created to either its promotion or capture. How long did the threat hold up? How many pawns and pieces did the opposition have to use to deal with the threat? How was the opponent’s position weakened while dealing with the threat? By playing through master level games, students clearly see the effectiveness of threats which they can then employ in their own games.

Threats can have a greater long term value in the form of tying up opposition material and weakening one’s position. With master level games, it’s extremely educational to see how both sides make and deal with threats. Here’s a game chock full of threats by my favorite chess player, Boris Spassky. Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson


I Had a Swinging Time with Charlie

My opponent in this chess game is named Charlie and he uses the handle DevanteSwing on ICC. Somehow my correspondence chess rating on ICC got reset to zero and then several correspondence chess games were started with me that I did not ask for. This is one of those games. I was declared the winner of four of these games by adjudication after my opponents abandoned these games. However my rating went down after three of these games were adjudicated!! I am baffled by this! My current correspondence chess rating at ICC is 1884 after 11 games, all wins.

This is one of the correspondence chess games that I got to finish with a win.

Black blundered on move number 7 and his game went downhill quickly after that. White’s “sacrifice” on move number 8 sets up the combination that wins material for White and chases the Black King around. After White wins a pawn both sides continue with “normal” development, but the Black pieces are a bit uncoordinated. White wins another pawn on move number 15.

White finally castles on move number 16 ( a bit late) and the win is fairly easy for White from there.

Mike Serovey


More 2015 Colorado Closed Championship and Scholastic Championship

Life is full of little ironies for the stupid – P.J. O’Rourke

One irony of chess is that sometimes the most satisfying games artistically are the competitive stumbling blocks. For example, we present two games from the recent 2015 Colorado Closed Championship and Scholastic Championship in which a lower section winner suffered a loss, These were, in my opinion, two of the most exciting games of their respective sections of the tournament. Afterwards, we present two outstanding games from the top section.

Victor Huang won the Colorado Closed Scholastic Championship 2015 on tiebreaks. Perhaps his most entertaining game was his 4th round loss to 6th-place Daniel Herman, who is up a knight at move 35. The easy win is 37 … Qxc5, but instead Herman has to win the game all over again with a lot of luck.

The Challenger section was won by student and young giant Gunnar Anderson, who is edged out in sharp play by 5th-place Chris Peterson.

Here is one of my favorite games from the Championship, in which 2nd-place Ponomarev wins a game from 3rd-place Bloomer that is positionally on knife’s edge from the fifth move.

This 3rd round game effectively won the 2015 Colorado Closed Champion title for Lior Lapid. In the diagrammed position, White threatens to win the queen for two minors.

Jacques Delaguerre


Teaching Kids through classical games (7)

Chess is war. In war it is advisable to fight when and where you have a stronger force and the same applies in chess. If you’ve got the better game in a particular area of the board then this is where you should fight, and Paul Morphy does so in the following game:

Paulsen,Louis – Morphy,Paul
USA, 1857

1. e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Bc5 5.0–0 0–0 6.Nxe5

Q: What is Nxe5 aiming for?
A: This is a fork trick, used to get the better center in opening phase. A better example is 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bc4 Nxe4 5.Nxe4 d5 getting the material back with a nice game.

6…Re8 7.Nxc6

It would have been better to play 7.Nf3! Nxe4 8.Nxe4 Rxe4 9.d3 Re8 10.d4 when white develop with ease.

7…dxc6 8.Bc4 b5

Q: Instead of text move, is it advisable to take on e4?
A: No, because of 8…Nxe4? 9. Nxe4 Rxe4 10.Bxf7+ Kxf7 11.Qf3+ etc.


Q: Is Bb3 playable, with the same idea?
A: No, Black can generate very dangerous play against white’s queen with 9.Bb3? Bg4 10.Qe1 b4 11.Nd1 Nxe4.

9…Nxe4 10.Nxe4

10.Bf3 loses immediately to 10…Nxf2 11.Rxf2 Qd4 12.Ne4 (12.Qf1 Qxf2+ 13.Qxf2 Re1#) 12…Rxe4 13.Bxe4 Qxf2+ 14.Kh1 Bg4 15.Bf3 Re8–+, as given in Chessbase.

10…Rxe4 11.Bf3 Re6 12.c3?

Q: Why is c3 a bad move?
A: It allows Black to hinder White’s development. The course of the game shows why.

12…Qd3! 13.b4 Bb6 14.a4

In a cramp positions it is advisable to exchange a few pieces. 14.Re1 Rxe1+ 15.Qxe1 Bd7 16.Qf1 was better.

14…bxa4 15.Qxa4 Bd7

It is better to play 15… Bb7 in order to prevent exchange of queens.


16.Qa6 would have been better.


With this move, Black clearly gets his pieces into superior positions.

17.Qa6 Qxf3!

The element of surprise. You can win the battle if you know where to fight.

18.gxf3 Rg6+ 19.Kh1 Bh3 20.Rd1 Bg2+ 21.Kg1 Bxf3+ 22.Kf1 Bg2+

Find the quicker way to finish than Bg2+.


Now Be4 – leads to mate in 3
Bf3 – leads to mate in 4
Bh3 leads to mate in 5

23…Bh3+ 24.Kh1 Bxf2?

Still winning but far from delivering checkmate. Find a better continuation than this.

25.Qf1 Bxf1 26.Rxf1 Re2 27.Ra1 Rh6 28.d4 Be3

That pockets a rook. How?

Note: If you’ve get Chessbase, you can find this game with lots of detailed variations. But it is advisable to solve it at your own way!


Ashvin Chauhan


Sun Tzu, Chess & War

I found this documentary interesting, especially the comparisons between chess and go in their applications to warfare. My view is that chess wasn’t actually designed as a war game at all, and that instead it evolved from fortune telling rituals. This would certainly explain why chess thinking doesn’t necessarily work so well if applied to military scenarios.

Nigel Davies


Getting a Draw in the Endgame.

Sometimes we have bad positions, and we need to try to save them. One way to get a draw in the endgame is to ensure that your opponent doesn’t have enough material to checkmate you.

In this week’s problem, White has been put in no less than two pins. This type of pin is called a cross-pin and it can be deadly.

White is going to lose material. However he can save the game if he takes drastic steps to ensure Black doesn’t have enough material left to checkmate him with. How does White rescue half a point?

The solution to last Monday’s problem is that Black plays b4. When White plays Rxb4, Black plays b5 and then plays Bd6 and b4 to trap the White Rook. The moral is to be sure your Rook is active in the endgame.

Steven Carr


Short Circuit

I guess a Short Circuit might be what happens when Nigel S gives a simul. But it’s also the reason for many of my losses. My brain short circuits: it stops working before it gets to consider the correct move, either for me or for my opponent.

Watch what happened in this recent game against Martin Smith, who blogs elsewhere on chess art, literature and history.

1. e4 c5
2. c3 d6
3. d4 Nf6
4. Bd3 Nc6
5. Nf3 e5
6. dxc5 d5
7. exd5 Qxd5
8. Qe2 e4

Martin has chosen an unusual variation, but one which scores well for Black. Bg4 now is equal but this move loses a pawn.

9. Bc4 Qxc5
10. Ng5 Ne5
11. Bb5+ Nc6
12. Nxe4 Nxe4
13. Qxe4+ Be6
14. Bxc6+

Gaining a tempo and splitting his pawns, but probably not enough reason to trade bishop for knight.

14… bxc6
15. Be3

Nothing very much wrong with this but it would have been simpler to castle. I thought it didn’t matter much whether I played this before or after castling. I got as far as noticing that he had to move his queen to maintain defence of c6. I assumed he wouldn’t want to exchange queens after Qd5 so assumed he’d play Qd6. I failed to be thorough in considering every possibility, though, and the idea of Qb5 didn’t occur to me at all. If I’d seen it I’d have castled without further thought. I guess b5 is an unusual square for a black queen early in the game.

15… Qb5
16. a4

I could have played Nd2 followed by c4 and O-O but again it hadn’t occurred to me that he could play Qa6. I thought Qb7 was his only move.

16… Qa6
17. b4 Rd8
18. f3

A slightly dangerous plan. I mistakenly thought my king would be safe on f2. The right idea was 18. Na3 followed by b5 and eventually O-O, but to play that I had to notice that 18… Qxa4 would have been well met by 19. O-O followed by Nc2.

18… Be7
19. Nd2 O-O
20. Kf2 Rfe8
21. Qc2 f5
22. Rhb1

Continuing to pursue a faulty plan. I was planning to open up the queen side and win his a-pawn but was still unaware that my king would be in danger because his pieces seemed so far away. Moving my rooks into the centre would have led to a position where Black probably has enough for the pawn but no more.

22… Bd6
23. b5 Qc8
24. Kg1 cxb5
25. axb5 f4

This is where things get interesting. We were playing 35 moves in 75 minutes (with a choice of adjournment or adjudication if the game was unfinished when time was called) and at this point we both had round about 10 minutes to reach the time control – a minute a move.

I was very surprised by this move, having expected Bc5 instead. It turns out, though, that neither of those was the best move.

The move Martin should have preferred was 25… Bf7 (not easy to find with the time control approaching) when best play is 26. Bg5 Re2 27. Qd1 (not 27. Bxd8 Qc5+ 28. Kh1 Qe5) 27… Rde8. Black will pick up the c-pawn with advantage but no clear win.

I don’t think I’d decided what to do if he’d played 25… Bc5. 26. Nf1, according to the computer, is equal with best play, but 26. Bxc5 Qxc5+ is winning for Black.

26. Bxa7

I couldn’t see any reason not to take the pawn and indeed Stockfish gives this as its first choice (although in 10 moves time it will change its mind). Instead I could have played Bd4 (which we looked at briefly after the game), or, better still Bf2 when White has an extra pawn in a stable position.

26… Bc5+
27. Bxc5??

A fatal short circuit. For some reason I played this at once, not considering moving my king at all. Perhaps I thought I had to take because otherwise he’d take my bishop but I really can’t explain it.

27. Kf1 loses at once to 27… Rxd2! 28. Qxd2 Bc4+ with mate to follow.

27. Kh1 is an adequate defence, though. The extra tempo compared with the game makes a big difference There’s a long forced variation: 27… Bxa7 28. Rxa7 Qc5 29. Ra4 (Ra2 giving up the exchange might also hold) 29… Qf2 30. Rd4 (the point) 30… Rxd4 31. cxd4 Bf5 threatening mate, the queen and indirectly the rook. So White has to check. 32. Qb3+ loses because White has no back rank checks. 32. Qa2+ draws as the black king has access to f8. The winning try is 32. Qc4+ Kh8 33. Ne4 (meeting all the threats in one go) 33… Bxe4 34. fxe4 f3 35. Qf1 (after 35. Rg1 Black has a perpetual) 35… fxg2+ 36. Qxg2 Qxd4. At this point White has several tries but Black appears to be holding in all variations.

27… Qxc5+
28. Kh1

28. Kf1 again gets mated after 28… Rxd2!

28… Qf2

I’d seen this but thought I had a defence.

29. Rb2

29. Rf1, for instance, avoids the mate at the cost of the knight and, eventually, the game.

29… Bh3!

This was the reason why Martin played f4 on move 25.

30. Rg1 Bxg2+

On one level I lost because I blundered on move 27, caused by a short circuit. If I’d defended correctly I could have at least drawn the game. But Black could have played better himself at move 25. At a higher level, though, I lost because I failed to realise that my king was in danger once the dark squared bishops had been exchanged. If I’d castled on move 15 instead of short circuiting and overlooking that he could temporarily prevent O-O, this wouldn’t have happened. I could also have avoided the attack by centralising my rooks instead of playing on the queen side.

So (no pun intended) how can I stop myself short circuiting in this way in future? I suppose I could make some motivational notes on my scoresheet, or even on some other piece of paper. But then again, maybe not.

Richard James


Say it isn’t So, Wesley!

If you follow the tournament circuit, you undoubtedly know about what I am now referring to as “doodle-gate.” I use the word doodle, because that is exactly what Wesley did during a ninth round game at the United States Chess Championship in St. Louis earlier this month. An Arbiter declared Wesley’s game against Varuszhan Akobian to be a forfeit, giving the victory to Akobian after he complained about Wesley writing on a piece of paper, forbidden by FIDE tournament rules. What was he scribbling or doodling? Were they words that would turn the tide unfairly against Akobian? Absolutely not! They were merely a few self inspiring words, ” Double check. Triple check. Use your time.” Hardly a Machiavellian scheme to win the game. This has caused an uproar in the chess community and made tournament Arbiters about as popular as parking enforcement officers (those dunces that write parking tickets). My heart goes out to Wesley because, rules or not, I don’t think he did anything morally wrong. In fact, I think FIDE may want to reconsider their rule regarding this issue.

Chief Arbiter Tony Rich said that So wrote “words of general encouragement and advice” to himself on a piece of paper below his score sheet, which FIDE tournament rules forbid. Rich had warned Wesley twice before awarding the game to his opponent. Many chess players from around the world have taken sides on this thorny issue and Wesley So, proving what a decent human being he is, humbly explained himself on Facebook. While I think So received a punishment that outweighed the crime ten fold, the question arises, are the rules that govern tournaments in need of an overhaul? Should they remain as is? Why not take time off of his clock? This got me to thinking about governing rules or laws in general and when they become problematic.

There have been a number of well publicized cheating scandals in the chess world over the last few years. While the number of honest players far outweighs the number of cheaters, at least in over the board games, these cheating scandals have caused problems for honest players. An honest player who works extremely hard, putting in long hours of study and improving greatly for his or her efforts, can often look forward to being accused of cheating when they produce above average results at a tournament. What kind of culture rewards an individual’s hard work by suspecting them of cheating? The culture of black and white, Western culture!

In fairness to Arbiters and tournament staffs that run events, there is always the potential for cheating. The computer technology meant to improve our lives, has also made cheating an easily rendered reality. However, to accuse an individual of cheating should not be taken likely. To do so sullies a person’s reputation and in the end we’re only as good as our reputation in the eyes of others. The solution for putting an end to cheating is not an easy one and so far no one has been able to solve this problem to everyone’s satisfaction. Do we simply go through a full electronic body scan and sit naked at the chessboard? That’s not likely, for aesthetic reasons alone. The point is that there’s no immediate and easy solution.

I mention cheating because it’s an example of the plethora of problems chess federations around the world face today. The laws and bi-laws established in the past to make tournaments proceed smoothly should regularly be examined to see if they’re still valid today. In the United States, there are antiquated laws that make no sense. An example of this is the former Ice Cream law in the town of Carmel California. This city ordinance stated that it was illegal to eat ice cream on the main street of the town. Did I mention that there was an extremely popular ice cream shop on that street? Essentially, you could walk into the store, purchase an ice cream cone legally, walk out the door with cone in hand and become a criminal! Fortunately, Clint Eastwood became Mayor of Carmel and put an end to that law. I site this example because it exemplifies the idea that no rule of law can completely stand on it’s own merits forever. Of course, I’m not talking about laws regarding serious crimes such as murder.

To think that the rules that govern chess tournaments need not be reviewed and revised when necessary is unrealistic. A purist would say of Wesley’s actions, that his doodling was distracting. While I’m not a world class player by any means, my eyes are on the board, seeing only the position in front of me. Personally, I wouldn’t care if my opponent was formulating a cure for cancer on a cocktail napkin during our game. It’s about the action on the sixty four squares!

In fairness, Akibain had the right to complain. However, why not simply ask Wesley to stop, one human being making a simple request of another human being. If you know anything about Wesley So, you know that he is a polite, kind human being, not some wunderkind brat likely to laugh at your request. Chess tournament history is littered with stories of chess players literally insulting one another during a game, a much greater offense than inspirational doodling, with no forfeiture of the game for either party involved.

The Arbiter is trained to operate within the letter of the law but not trained to deal with the quirkiness of the human spirit and chess players can be a quirky bunch (which is why I feel so at home in the world of chess, more so than in the world of music). Serious chess players are a unique breed. They can be eccentric, outspoken, introverted and/or obsessed. The laws that govern tournament play only take into account the game and the environment in which it’s played. I say this because Arbiters need to be able to see beyond the black and white of the rule book, human nature. Again, why not take time off of Wesley’s clock?

What would happen if the FIDE rules changed and players were allowed to doodle during their games? Having a basic understanding of human nature, I could only image the chaos that would ensue. Some players might write unflattering comments about their opponents, making sure the opposition could see those comments. That would be an offense worthy of game forfeiture. However, Wesley’s words we simply inspirational. In fact, his opponent would have benefited from such inspirational words as well. I guess you could say that Wesley provided inspiration for both himself and Akibain.

Should Wesley have listened to the Arbiter? Absolutely! As much as I disagree with this ruling by FIDE, it is a tournament rule and you need to adhere to the rules. However, the punishment didn’t fit the crime. I’ve worked as an Arbiter and can tell you it isn’t easy. You cannot please both players when making a decision. As chess players we learn the games rules and mechanics or principles. Once we master the basics, we learn to think outside of the box, non mechanical thinking, which makes us better players. Shouldn’t a good Arbiter be an individual who, knowing the rules, thinks outside of the box to produce the best results? I challenge all Arbiters worldwide to be more creative and human in their rulings. Who knows, you might become more popular. Here’s a game by Wesley to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson


Amateur Versus Master: Game Thirteen

This is my second cc game with Harold Boege. The first game was in the previous round of the 2011 Golden Knights Postal Championship. This game is
from the final round and it may be my only win from this round. I am the only NON master in this section and I expect to finish it with an even score.
Although I am not 100% certain, I believe that Harold is the highest rated opponent that I have defeated in correspondence chess.

I started off playing something resembling the Bremen System and ended up with something that I have never seen before or since this game, except in my analysis.

Mike Serovey