Calculation Leads To Creation . . .

One of the most important qualities that a chess player can possess, is the ability to calculate deep and accurately in a position. It is, no doubt, one of the things that separates an average player from a strong one, and a strong one from an elite one. And, according to its importance, calculation in chess is not something that can not be learned from a book or obtained from software, it can not be emulated or bluffed and is difficult to teach.

It is something which we chess players must develop.

This is obviously done by analysing many positions, first and foremost by playing lots of games. For the player who is serious in wanting to improve their calculation ability, though, hard work must be done away from over-the-board battle. This consists of the analysis of complex positions, against the clock. Some of the old masters used to write down candidate moves on a notepad, and then deeper variations to each. I would advise that players do this now also, only using chess software to check the analysis over afterwards — it will be of greater reward.

It is very interesting when first starting this method of training. When setting the clock to, say, 15-minutes, it will be amazing just how little ground gets covered before the flag drops – and how many mistakes are included. But gradually, the more one carries this out, the quicker the analysis goes, the more organised it becomes, and ultimately the more accurate.

Take a look at the game below, played by the great Mikhail Tal versus Johann Hjartarson. I can imagine that Hjartarson, playing black, was not too alarmed at his obviously inferior position upon Tal’s 33.Nc6, which is where we pick the game up. However, things were about to change very quickly. The reason for this is firstly a failing in Black’s sense of danger and positional technique. However, it is Mikhail Tal’s power of calculation which produces 36…Rc5!! and ultimately decides the day. It is true that Tal’s opponent walked somewhat clumsily in to the trap, but nothing should detract from the fact that Tal saw it’s decisiveness.

It might be of vaule to the reader to take a few moments in order to look at the position at 33.Nc6 before proceeding.

John Lee Shaw

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Blindfold Chess: Good or Bad?

Last Saturday I played a couple of blindfold games at the Bradford Chess Festival. This isn’t as hard as it sounds for experienced and strong players, most players over 2200 should manage at least one. But is it good or bad for your chess?

Opinion is divided. In the former Soviet Union blindfold exhibitions were banned due to health concerns, other players swear by it as an improvement method. Those who have watched Knights of the South Bronx may recall that Mr. Mason insisted that all training was done blindfold when his team qualified for the nationals.

I tend to side with Mr. Mason’s view and used to use blindfold training exercises extensively as a teenager. But I’m not sure that it’s such a great idea to play lots of boards at the same time, this seems like showing off more than anything. So for this reason the Bradford organisers kindly let me off with just one game at a time, and it didn’t go too badly.

Here’s the second game in which I played an ‘Allies’ team of a couple of local players:

Nigel Davies

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Chess for Heroes Continued

Let’s assume that, whether you’re a parent or a teacher, you want your children to learn chess because you’d like to give them the opportunity, should they have the talent and the interest, to become good players.

Of course this isn’t a safe assumption. These days, at least in my part of the world, most parents and teachers want their children to learn chess either to ‘make kids smarter’ or as a low-level ‘fun’ after-school activity.

Anyway, if you want to give your children the chance to be good players (by which I don’t necessarily mean grandmasters: average club players or even weak club players as opposed to social players would be fine) they need to do three things. They need to learn chess skills, solve lots of puzzles and play lots of games in fairly serious conditions. If you’re only playing chess once a week in school you’re not going to be able to do this.

Children who come from a chess playing family will be doing these things automatically, but those whose parents are not chess players will not be able to help their children in this way. Children of primary school age from a non-chess background need external help along with parental support.

The main reason I decided to set up Chess for Heroes the way I did was the release of a new and much stronger version of Douglas Bagnall’s Javascript chess program p4wn. The original version, with some debugging from Chris Lear and hacked about a bit by me, was named Fishy Bobber on chessKIDS academy. It was fairly weak, but stronger than the other Javascript program on there, so good for training for beginners but not so good as a teaching tool. The new program is a lot stronger, as Douglas has incorporated the bug fixes made by Chris and others. It’s not fault free as yet: one issue seems to be is that it has a habit of allowing pawns to capture knights early in the game, and because there’s no opening library it can’t be used for opening training at higher levels.

There are also two very useful features. Firstly, the computer can easily be set up to play any starting position. At present I have various positions set up where the computer gives odds. This is very useful in encouraging young beginners who gain confidence from winning games. The other useful feature is that it records the game while it’s being played, so that it’s easy for the parent to cut and paste the moves and email them to their chess tutor. You can also set the program to play itself, or to act as a referee in a game between two humans. If two children are learning together, or if a parent is learning with a child, they can play on the website and the parent can submit that game to the chess tutor. You can play it on my website here.

It looks as if I’ll also be able to use this engine for endgame skills training in the next stage of Chess for Heroes. If I put it on the highest level and take out three lines of code which say “keep the king at the back for the first few moves” it seems to play endings reasonably well.

In chess, as in everything else, there’s a big difference between theory and practice. You can be very good at solving puzzles and demonstrating your chess skills but you may not be able to put this into practice in your games. So being able to provide simple constructive feedback for young children and their parents is very important. This won’t be heavy opening theory or deep analysis – just telling your pupils they need to develop their pieces more quickly, not bring their queen out too soon or try to avoid leaving pieces en prise. Advice of this nature should be invaluable to parents wanting to help their children learn chess.

So the idea of Chess for Heroes is that children should spend time at home playing games and receiving feedback on the games, learning skills and solving puzzles. We aim to provide resources for children to do all these.

Finally for now, the tagline of Chess for Heroes is ‘serious about chess’. We see chess as a serious game for older children and adults, not a fun game for young children. “I don’t want my children to do homework”, parents say to me, “because then chess wouldn’t be fun”. What’s more fun, though, winning or losing? If you take it seriously you’ll win most of your games and have fun. If you don’t take it seriously you’ll lose most of your games, find chess isn’t fun, get frustrated and give up.

Should you visit the Leipzig Gewandhaus for a symphony concert you’ll find the words RES SEVERA VERUM GAUDIUM painted on the walls. These words from Seneca translate as “True pleasure is a serious business”

My esteemed fellow Chess Improver contributor Hugh Patterson explained in a recent post that all the students in his chess clubs have to do homework. Quite right too. In my view, but this is not the view of most of those involved in primary school chess in this country, if you don’t want to improve you don’t need a teacher, and without homework you won’t improve.

Richard James

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Strategic Thinking

There are two concepts that all chess players must understand from the start; strategy and tactics. Beginners often confuse the two. Simply put, when we employ a strategy in chess, we are examining a game position in general terms and working out a plan to deal with the overall problem at hand (From a strategic problem comes a tactical solution). A tactic is the actual method we employ to bring our plan into fruition. So a strategy can be though of as our plan of action while a tactic is the actual plan in action. Strategic thinking looks at the “big picture.” Once you see the “big picture,” its time to roll up your sleeves and get down to business, resolving the strategic problem with a fist full of tactics. Einstein was a strategic thinker, calculating the variables of a problem, while Clint Eastwood portraying Dirty Harry would be a tactician, blasting away at the problem!

Tactics, such as forks, pins and skewers, are easier to learn because because they employ pattern recognition. Tactics are visual in nature. The chess student uses pattern recognition and is taught to look for specific piece/board patterns such as an opponent placing his or her Queen in front of their King on an open rank, file or diagonal. The opposition’s Queen can then become pinned to her King should our budding tactician notice this great tactical opportunity. You can think of the difference between tactics and strategy as the difference between linear and non linear mathematics. In linear mathematics, one plus one will always equal two. In non linear mathematics, one plus the one doesn’t always equal two. Strategy requires a more abstract, big picture view of the situation at hand, in this case a chess game!

To help students differentiate between tactics and strategy, we’ll consider tactical thinking first: If you’re looking at your own pawns and pieces, determining which are protected and which are not, you’re thinking tactically. Tactical thinking tends to require immediate action, such as having to protect an unprotected pawn or piece. If you’re looking for checks ,mates, forks, pins or skewers, you’re thinking tactically. Again, if you see a great tactical play, you’re going to take action immediately. If you’re trying to calculate the end result of an exchange, you’re thinking tactically. Tactical thinking means taking action (not simply thinking about it). On the other side of the coin, if you’re counting material to determine who has an advantage, you’re thinking strategically. If you’re examining a position to see whose material is more actively placed, you’re thinking strategically. If you’re contemplating attacking versus defending, you guessed it, you’re thinking strategically. Action will not be immediate as is the case with tactical thinking.

There are three simple concepts that will help you understand strategic thinking or strategy, and those are material, safety and freedom. It should be noted that these three concepts or ideas are part of the “bigger picture” or positional overview. Think of the difference between strategic and tactical thinking as viewing a painting in a museum. With strategic thinking, you’re taking in the entire painting, examining it as a whole (seeing everything at once), whereas with tactical thinking, you’re examining the painting on a more detailed level, such as brush strokes or color relationships. Tactical thinking requires that you hone in on a specific issue and resolve it through an action. Strategic thinking requires that you identify the overall problems before any action is taken. We’ll start our look at strategic thinking with an examination of material.

When we talk about material, we talking about both player’s pawns and pieces. If we want to know which player has more material, we simply count each side’s captured pawns and pieces. Of course, the pawns and pieces have been assigned a relative numeric value based of the pawn or piece’s power. The pawn, who is limited in power, is on the bottom rung of the value ladder and is worth one point. The Queen, the strongest piece in either side’s army is on the top rung of our ladder and is worth nine points (Knights and Bishops are worth approximately three points, while Rooks are worth five points).

Being able to compare the relative strength of both side’s pawns and pieces allows a player to assess a position from a strategic viewpoint. If you know you’re down a substantial amount of material, you’ll plan accordingly, avoiding the execution of any attacks that might cost you what little material you have left. If you’re ahead in material, you might be apt to launch a more aggressive attack.

Safety is another important consideration. When I say safety, I’m speaking of your King’s safety. Castling is a critical factor in any game. Most beginners who don’t castle their king to safety end up losing their games. So how does castling your King to safety and the concept of strategy fit together? Here’s how:

To castle your King, you have to move two minor pieces on the King-side or two minor pieces and your Queen on the Queen-side. You also cannot have moved your King or the Rook (on the side you intend to castle on) prior to castling. You can’t move into or through check with your King when castling. In short, you have to meet specific conditions in order to castle. Your opponent knows this and will do his or her best to thwart your chance to castle. This means you have to be on the lookout for possible attacks, checks, etc. Therefore, if you plan on castling, you have to exercise strategic thinking from the start! Following the opening principles, we know that we place a pawn in the center of the board (1.e4…e5). Moving the e pawn to e4 allows White to bring the King-side Bishop into the game. White might follow up with 2.Nf3 then 3.Bc4. These two moves put White’s King-side minor pieces on active squares and allows White to castle on move four. This is big picture thinking: White knows he or she needs to castle so a strategy is put into place to castle. Your plan to castle is strategic in nature.

The concept of Freedom is really the concept of piece activity. Beginners often have a hard time with developing their pawns and pieces to active squares. When I teach my students to develop their pawns and pieces, they often think that a pawn or piece is finished in its development after a single move. However, pieces can be further developed to more active squares. An actively developed piece finds itself on a square that controls a large number of other squares on the board, especially squares on the opponent’s side of the board. Therefore, you should always look to see if you can further develop a piece to an even more active square. Piece activity is strategic in nature rather than tactical because you’re looking at the piece in question and comparing it to the other pieces on the board. You’re looking at the big picture.

The intention of this article is to get you, the reader, to see the difference between strategies and tactics in its most basic form. I think of strategy as the job of army generals who sit behind their desks and look at the big picture while the grunts or soldiers have to put those plans into action, using tactics or simply put physical fighting. Speaking of fights, here’s game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

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Just When You Think You Are Safe…..

I am currently playing in the ICCF Adrian Hollis Memorial Correspondence Chess Tournament. Adrian Hollis was a strong over-the-board and correspondence player and a world renowned academic. The tournament started this year and is one of the strongest purely British tournaments ever held with an average rating of 2504 ICCF, which is the equivalent of category XI. All the eleven British players are either Grandmasters or Senior International Masters and two are currently qualified for the ICCF World Championship Final. One being GM Nigel Robson, who was also an IECG World Champion in 2006, and the other being GM Richard Hall, a Silver Medallist in the ICCF 25th World Championship in 2013.

Being the lowest rated player, I expected a very tough tournament, which it certainly is proving to be! After a really poor start, which included a loss due to a ‘clerical’ error, I have, at least, drawn a couple of games and feel relatively safe in my remaining ones. I thought I was safe playing White against GM Nigel Robson, with my bishop pair and extra pawn, but suddenly his pieces just seemed to be better placed and in control and I was struggling to defend! Nigel is a formidable player and we wish him luck in the World Championship.

You can view this game and other finished games on the ICCF website HERE

John Rhodes

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The Difference Between a Knight Developed at c3 and at d2

There is a well-known trap in the Bogo-Indian Defense that raises an interesting question whenever I show it to someone. The trap is as follows and involves a question of how White should recapture after a trade of Bishops by Black:

The question after this trap is always, “Well, why would White ever want to play Qxd2 anyway, exposing the Queen to an attack by …Ne4? Isn’t it obviously better to recapture with Nbxd2, simultaneously developing the Queen Knight?” This is an excellent question. It is best answered by examining some long-term issues in the middlegame arising from this opening.

Comparing Knight developed at c3 and Knight at d2

Knight at c3

First, we look at what can happen if Black mistakenly allows White to recapture the Bishop with Qxd2 instead of Nbxd2, by not taking White’s Bishop early enough for the “trap”.

Black’s plan in this variation of the Bogo-Indian is to play …d6 and …e5, attacking White’s Pawn on d4 and encouraging White to close the center with d5. After the center is closed, all attention must be directed toward Pawn breaks by either side.

White is acknowledged by theory to have some advantage in this opening, having more space and a lead in development, and can think about attacking either on the Queen side (with plans such as a3, b4, c5) or on the King side (with plans such as e4, Ne1, Nd3, f4). But Black has a solid position, and can aim for counterplay with …a5 with …Na6 or …Nbd7 aiming for …Nc5, and/or …c6, to prevent White from gaining too much ground on the Queen side, and perhaps preparing slowly for …f5 to further attack White’s e4 Pawn chain base.

Knight at d2

By contrast, let’s see what happens when Black correctly forces White to recapture the Bishop with Nbxd2.

below is a sample continuation, in which at move 13, probably White’s best move is the paradoxical undeveloping move Nb1! The Knight at d2 is not doing much, being blocked by White’s own c4 and e4 Pawns. More important, it is not controlling the important a4 square (that Black can possibly aim to occupy with …a4), and it is not controlling the b5 square that could also be important (in a later attack against Black’s c7 and d6).

But this retreat wastes two moves (the original Nbxd2 and the Nb1) before getting to c3. However, in the Qxd2 situation, White wasted a move with the Queen, which is not so well-placed on d2: White’s Queen is actually better placed on d1, where it controls a4, than on d2. But White’s Rooks are not connected, so White will eventually want to develop the Queen anyway, perhaps to c2. So overall, White has lost one move, net, and, and this does make some difference in White advantage, even in a closed position, because the extra White move in the Nc3 variation makes it that much harder for Black to catch up in development and begin counterplay.

Summary

The summary of the situation is that paradoxically, since White wants the Knight on c3 anyway eventually, “saving” time by recapturing with development by playing Nbxd2 actually ends up wasting a move because the Knight will have to spend two more moves to get back to c3. Knights are funny pieces because any time a Knight has a choice to go to one of two different squares, if it chooses to go to one of them, it will always require two more moves to get to the alternate square. This is something to think about when planning Knight maneuvers: it is efficient, when possible, to plan to get to a desired square with the smallest number of moves possible (given the tactical constraints).

The other point to remember is that “wasting” moves to get a Knight to a good square may be justified. “Backwards” Knight moves are very important in chess, because a Knight on a good square can be so powerful that it is worth spending the time to get the Knight there. Look at how White thematically “undevelops” the Knight on f3, where it is doing nothing, to e1 and then to d3, to control the c5 square and b4 square (in case of a Pawn advance to b4 in the future) and also regain pressure on Black’s e5 Pawn and help support an f4 advance.

Study of typical middlegame positions in the Bogo-Indian can pay off with better understanding of the roles of both of White’s Knights and both of Black’s Knights (Black’s King Knight was not discussed here, but it has plans too).

Franklin Chen

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An Interesting Way To Teach Knight Moves To Kids

While teaching how pieces move, the most difficult to explain and understand is the knight. This is because other pieces move in in straight lines and the knight is the only piece which can jump. Kids can usually grasp the point that knight can jump but still find it difficult to understand its movements.

The best way to teach anything is to keep it simple, interesting and if possible make it funny (a kind of trigger) so that kids can easily remember it. Here is one interesting and funny method. The founder of this method is one of my chess friends (Mr. Rushang) who is a chess coach and also a very creative person. Nowadays I am using this method very effectively and enjoy doing so.

Normally we have tiles on the floor. Then we ask one of the kids to come up and ask him or her to stand on any tile they like with their legs together and then jump two steps, one by one, still with their legs together. Once he or she has completed the second jump, we ask him or her to spread their legs to show where the knight came from and where it is now. Believe me, the is very funny and effective way to teach kids knight moves. Parents even told me that after my departure the kids would continue to play this game.

If you would like to use this method on a board then you can do it with two fingers together and the same process outlined above. But it is not as funny!

Teaching should not be stereotyped, you have to make it interesting.

Ashvin Chauhan

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Smyslov: Master of the ‘Coiled Spring’ Approach

I have always been an admirer of the late Russian Grandmaster, Vassily Smyslov. One of the things that drew me to his games, was his ability to take on cramped positions without becoming passive. He would then, very often unravel his position, rather like a spring which is wound and full of tension before being released. There would then be an explosion in which Smyslov would take space, and begin to relocate his pieces to more advanced positions, very often to carefully prepared squares.

Smyslov’s play, I must say, suits me very well, his style fits very well with mine and the openings I play. For players who play openings or piece setups where development is initially contained to the first 3-ranks and the opponent very often establishes in the centre, studies of his games really can not hurt at all.

Infact, this approach is one of the best ways to become familiar with an opening.

In the following game, I would like to draw your attention to how Smyslov plays quietly and subtely, but remains active (not an easy thing to do!). He controls the situation, playing accurately and responding to his opponent. Steadily, his position improves, and he is able to pounce when his opponent shows an obvious lack of technique and understanding of the type of position.

John Lee Shaw

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A Reader’s Youtube Videos

My thanks to Michel Miro for sending me links to his Youtube chess videos. Nice work:

Tribute to chess through painting

Male and female World Champions (Rocky)

Alexandra Kosteniuk (Pretty Woman)

Nigel Davies

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Chess for Heroes

In my last three posts I’ve discussed three reasons for promoting junior chess: to encourage participation in serious competitive chess at whatever level, to identify and fast track potential master strength players, and to use chess as a learning tool.

Between the 1950s and the 1970s chess was promoted in secondary schools: this proved successful in terms of our first aim. The work of the late Bob Wade, Leonard Barden and others was successful in the 1970s and 1980s in terms of our second aim. Chess in Schools and Communities is successfully pursuing the third aim, but over the past 30 years we’ve lost focus with regard to the first two.

Since the 1980s the main focus of junior chess here in the UK has been the primary school chess club. I started getting involved in primary school chess through the Richmond Chess Initiative in 1993, and after a few years I started asking questions. Yes, a few strong players came through primary school clubs, but nowhere near enough. I also didn’t see how they were ‘making kids smarter’. Richmond primary schools are the most academically successful in the country, the schools that were running chess clubs were, by and large, the most academically successful schools in Richmond, and the children who joined their chess clubs were, by and large, those who were academically strong, so there was not very much leeway in terms of making them even smarter than they were.

So our clubs were attracting a lot of very bright boys (but sadly few very bright girls) but the standard of play was, with a few exceptions, pretty low. The children enjoyed the chess clubs, and, to that extent they were an asset to the schools, but they weren’t becoming strong players or developing a long-term interest in chess.

The basic problem is that, because chess is not part of our culture, very few parents have enough knowledge about chess to help their children. Just doing 30 hours of chess in school over a year (actually more like 25 hours once you’ve taken off the time taken getting the sets out, setting them up and putting them away again) isn’t going to get you very far. Playing games at home against parents who are themselves beginners won’t help either, and losing game after game against the chess app on your mobile won’t be a lot better.

I’ve been thinking for a long time about how to get round this problem. I’ve tried handing out worksheets, giving homework, emailing parents with advice on how to help their children at home, writing books for parents, but none of this has had any success.

This time I hope I’ve found the answer.

CHESS FOR HEROES provides a workbook for children plus email access to a chess tutor for children learning the moves. There’s also a chess engine on the site which will record your games. After each module of the workbook you submit your children’s worksheet answers and games against the computer to your chess tutor who will get back to you with specific feedback on your children’s progress.

Children will benefit – they will be able to spend more time each week on chess, will improve their play, win more games and enjoy chess more.

Parents will benefit – they will get help for their children, and, by helping their children, will learn more about chess themselves.

Schools will benefit – their chess club will be stronger, and their children will learn various cognitive and non-cognitive skills which will help them excel academically.

Chess tutors will benefit – they will have something constructive to do between their lunchtime club and their after school club, and will make more money though marking their students’ worksheets and commenting on their games.

The ECF will benefit – more children will be encouraged to take part in higher level competitive chess and they will have more of a long-term interest in the game.

Finally, I will benefit – I will receive royalties for every copy of the course you buy.

Everybody wins, nobody loses. What’s not to like?

Do please visit the CHESS FOR HEROES website. If you’d like to be a CHESS FOR HEROES tutor yourself please let me know.

Richard James

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