Blindfold Chess

A controversial improvement method is to play blindfold chess. Blindfold exhibitions were banned in the Soviet Union in 1930 because they were thought to be a health hazard, though I have yet to see any evidence that this is true. And I’ve found that it has helped my own game to practice visualizing ahead in my mind rather than moving the pieces on the board.

Here’s a recent blindfold exhibition by Magnus Carlsen in which he takes on three opponents simultaneously. A bit of a walk in the park for him, but entertaining nonetheless:

Nigel Davies

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Entry points

Rooks need open files, but open files are not much use unless you can find a good entry point on them, so that you can invade the enemy position.

In this week’s position, White is better developed. Both his Rooks are on good files. Should White attack on the Kingside or the Queenside?

The White rooks look very nice, but where are they going?

How did White set his opponent such tough problems that he failed to find the best defense and allowed White to penetrate with a Rook?

The solution to last Monday’s problem is that White draws with 1 c4! bxc4 2 Ke4 Kc2 3 Kd4 Kxb2 4 Kxc4 and with only a rook pawn left, Black cannot win.

Steven Carr

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A Modest Proposal

I’ve written many times about the problems facing junior chess here in the UK. Two weeks ago I considered GM Simon Williams’s critique of what’s happening at top levels of junior chess. Last week I looked at some contradictions in the public perception of chess.

Today I want to highlight the one thing that is really not working and see how we might go about putting it right.

A lot of what we do is great.

Promoting chess in secondary schools is great, and the ECF is quite rightly putting a lot of effort in this direction. At present, though, it’s not easy to get that much interest outside single-sex selective schools.

Junior Chess Clubs are great, especially for parents who want to fast-track their children, for children who are doing well at school and want to take things more seriously, and for children who want to learn the basics in a non-competitive environment.

We run some great tournaments, at least they would be great if more of the participants were developing their skills in tandem with gaining experience in competitions.

There are a number of very devoted parents out there, doing a wonderful job in encouraging their children to play chess, and, in many cases, doing a lot of voluntary administration as well. Only a small number, though. We need to make it much larger.

Putting chess on the curriculum is great: more children will learn chess, they’ll learn the basics correctly rather than being taught at home by parents who are unaware of their own ignorance. It might also make them smarter. We can then feed them through to competitions and junior chess clubs when they’re ready.

There’s a lot of great work going on in junior chess in this country, and yet the whole set-up is ineffective. If you look at what actually happens in primary school chess clubs in my part of London you’ll see why.

There are some school clubs which are reasonably successful, where there’s a member of staff who is committed to chess, who is present in the classroom to ensure children are quiet and well-behaved, and who encourages children to take part in both team and individual competitions and to join junior chess clubs, but these schools are very much in a minority.

A few weeks ago I spoke to a friend and colleague, an IM who has, for some years, been running an after-school club at a primary school very local to Richmond Junior Club. I asked if he had any players who might be good enough to represent Richmond in national competitions. No, he told me. It’s just a low-level fun club, although there was one boy who might be good enough next year.

A year or so ago I emailed another friend and colleague, another IM, about the players at another local primary school where he’s been running the chess club certainly since the last century. I asked if any of his players were going to take part in our forthcoming individual tournament. He replied that his members were only interested in taking part in team tournaments where they represented the school, not in individual competitions.

Now my two friends are both outstanding players, brilliant chess coaches and great guys. The two schools are among the highest rated state primary schools in the country. So we have two fantastic teachers working in fantastic schools, who, at least in these two schools (I’m well aware that they both get better results elsewhere) produce very few if any children who reach a reasonable level of chess proficiency or take a long-term interest in the game. IMs and GMs, along with many others, including myself, are trying to make a living providing low-level entertainment for children who are not serious about chess and whose parents don’t want them to be serious about chess. It would be a much more productive use of their time if they were teaching smaller numbers of children who were ambitious to succeed, but, the way things are at the moment, they can earn more money doing what they’re doing, and who can blame them?

We first need to make sure that more children learn chess. I can’t see chess on the curriculum in the UK being made compulsory in the near future, and, personally, I wouldn’t be in favour. So let’s put together an attractive package for a potential sponsor. We’ll put a couple of chess sets in every junior classroom (Year 3/2nd Grade upwards) in the country. (Yes, a project of this nature was started by the ECF a few years ago but turned out to be a complete fiasco.) Just putting chess sets into schools without accompanying instruction won’t work, though. We’ll also produce some attractive, colourful, child-friendly posters to go round the room showing the rules of chess. We’ll encourage children in Year 3 to play mini-games so we’ll also produce some mini-game posters. We’ll encourage teachers to get those children who wish to do so to play chess before school and at break times. We’ll provide an information pack for class teachers. We’ll produce a booklet giving the rules of chess, some mini-games, some basic advice on tactics and strategy, and links to recommended resources, email this to schools and ask them to forward it to all parents.

Let’s then set up a network of chess academies providing individual and group tuition, competitions, and time and space for children who enjoy chess to socialise with each other. In more affluent areas parents should be happy to pay for this. These academies will also provide tutors for schools who are ambitious to excel at chess.

We also need to flood the media with positive stories about competitive chess, particularly as played by older children and young adults, both male and female. At present chess has a good reputation among the general public for ‘making you smarter’ but a poor reputation as a hobby, which is one reason why many parents want their children to ‘do’ chess but not to be good at chess. Last week’s post considered the image of chess players. They are seen as geeks who either dress too formally or too informally, have poor social skills, will probably go mad (like that Fischer chap), are almost all male (wasn’t there a player who said women were useless at chess the other day?), are either very young or very old, and are so unhealthy that they will probably drop dead at the board. Getting away from these stereotypes and promoting a positive image of chess should be a top priority.

While I continue to support primary school chess clubs because it’s better for schools to have a club than not to have a club, the current model of the primary school chess club led by a professional chess teacher is, in my opinion, demonstrably not fit for purpose. By continuing to support it we are letting down both the children and the wider chess community. Surely we can come up with a way of using our talented chess coaches to teach children who want to learn and improve rather than just running low-level children’s entertainment.

Richard James

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The Sinking Ship

Every chess player has found themselves in a position so seemingly bad that it’s as if they were on a sinking ship. I say seemingly because often appearances can be deceiving. Beginners, who lack playing experience, tend to give up hope when hitting the smallest bump in the positional road. Of course, there are positions where one should simply resign, but there are also many positions that look worse than they actually are. I have seen countless student games in which one player will resign even though they have a completely playable position. They resign because not only can’t they find a way to improve things but they have no way in which to accurately measure the position’s true nature. Can it be saved or is resignation in order? To answer this question, one must look at a position objectively, questioning that position by using principled elements to arrive at an answer.

For beginners, it’s best to start with the simplest questions, such as do I have more or less material than my opponent? Taking stock of material balance issues can be a good first step in determining just how much trouble you’re in. With beginners, an early deficit in material, being down a pawn or two or perhaps a minor piece, can be overcome. However, being down a Queen can have devastating consequences. Beginners love to bring their Queens out early, often losing them in the process. Therefore, I have a training rule to prevent this. If you bring your Queen out early and lose it during a practice game, you have to resign. Needless to say, this curbs early Queen play! You should always try to maintain a material balance. If you do find yourself with less material, consider the material you’re missing and how that affects the position. In the opening and middle game, minor pieces are critical. If you’re down a minor piece or two, you’ll have play more defensively because you don’t have key pieces that can aid in potential attacks. When in this kind of trouble, hang on to your material and play to reestablish material balance. Your opponent may try to trade material which means they will have a greater advantage in the endgame. Avoid trades if possible, when down material, and aim for equalization.

Development is another principled consideration. Beginners have trouble with good development when they first start playing. They often move the same piece again and again while their opponent follows principled play, bringing a new piece into the game with each move. Development is critical during the game’s opening phase and going into the middle game. You should examine whether or not your opponent has better development, pieces being on their most active squares, when determining how much trouble you might be in. If your opponent has better development, they have greater control of the board which makes it difficult for you to launch successful attacks. Beginners often panic when faced with an opposition position in which their opponent controls the board. However, before throwing in the towel and simply resigning, remember that position’s are fluid, they sometimes change drastically within a few moves. Look to improve your own position by challenging your opponent’s control of board space. Use pieces of lesser value to challenge pieces of greater value. Doing so will force your opponent to give up some control, allowing you to gain it!

Potential attacks against your pawns and pieces is another consideration when trying to work your way out of a bad position. Beginners hang pieces or lose a series of exchanges because they don’t carefully consider the number of attackers versus the number of defenders. If you have a pawn or piece under attack and your opponent has three attackers to your one defender, you’ll more than likely have to give up that pawn or piece. It’s a lost cause and trying to defend a lost cause will only make the position worse. Look for a counter attack elsewhere. If you can attack an opposition piece of greater value, your opponent will first have to deal with your threat. This could change the dynamic of the position, giving you room to regroup. Know when to give up material to an overwhelming opposition attack. You can’t hope to put out a raging fire with a thimble full of water!

Timing is everything. For example, since White moves first, White has a free turn. White starts off one move ahead of Black. If you move the same piece over and over again while your opponent brings a new piece into play with each move, you’re essentially giving your opponent a free turn with each move of the same piece. How far behind are you in tempo? If your opponent is ahead by five tempi, you have a lot of catching up to do. If behind, try to catch up but don’t try to catch up by launching an all or nothing attack. Think pawn and piece activity.

Determine the safety of your King. Beginners learn the reason for King safety the hard way by not Castling and getting checkmated. You’ll want to see if your King is facing a mating attack and determine what kind of damage will result when having to avoid such an attack. Questions one should ask are will my position be irreversibly weakened or damaged defending against an attack and will I lose so much material in avoiding mate that winning is no longer an option? Of course, one should ask if checkmate is unavoidable? Beginners often have trouble with this last question because they are still learning mating patterns and sometimes can’t see a mate in three or four.

Are your Rooks activated? I see so many junior level games in which both players Rooks are sitting on their starting squares gathering dust! Beginners will wring their hands in despair, thinking a position is lost because they can’t move a pawn from its starting square because it will be captured upon doing so. Why not use a Rook that is still on its starting Rank to protect that pawn?

These basics ideas are all interrelated, one being intimately tied to the others. Each move you make should have purpose. If someone asked you why you made a specific move, you should be able to provide a sound explanation. Just this idea alone will go a long way towards keeping your positional ship afloat! When you find yourself in a troublesome position, determine why you’re in that undesirable situation. Determine the basic cause of the problem and see of you can work your way out of it. Not every position can be fixed but panicking and giving up before looking for a solution will not help you improve your game. Trying to think your way out of a bad position will help improve your game, even if you don’t end up winning the game after working your way through the problem at hand. We learn from our losses. However, don’t assume a position is hopeless until you ask a few questions. Sometimes a sinking ship can remain afloat long enough for a rescue to ensue! Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

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Amateur Versus Master: Game Fourteen

They’re creepy and they’re kooky,
Mysterious and spooky,
They’re all together ooky,
The Addams Family.

Their house is a museum
Where people come to see ’em
They really are a scream
The Addams Family.

So get a witches shawl on
A broomstick you can crawl on
We’re gonna pay a call on
The Addams Family.

They’re creepy and they’re kooky,
Mysterious and spooky,
They’re all together ooky,
The Addams Family!

This song kept running through my head every time that I got a card from Gary Adams or looked at this chess game. Once, I asked him on a card that I sent to him, “How is the “Adams family doing?”. I got no reply. I do not know if he failed to get the joke or just did not think that it was funny.

This game is one of the four that I drew in the 2011 Golden Knights Postal Championship, Final Round. I ended this section with 1 win, 1 loss and 4 draws. This even score is what I wanted, but it failed to put me over 2200 points because of losses in other sections of correspondence chess. I am still waiting to see how I place in this section.

Mike Serovey

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The Polugaevsky Variation

90% of chess books you can open, read page 1, and close the book for ever.” – Polugaevsky

In August, 2015 it will be 20 years since Lev Abramovich Polugaevsky departed this Checkerboard of Nights and Days. I’m currently reading  Grandmaster Preparation (Pergammon Press, 1981, ISBN 0-08-024099-2 hardcover 0-08-024098-4 paperback), Kenneth P. Neat’s English translation of Polu’s Rozhdenie Varianta (“Birth of a Variation”).

The variation the birth of which is subject of the book is the Polugaevsky Variation of the Najdorf Sicilian, 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 b5 where Black ignores the threat of 8. e5 and counts on recovering the value of his knight by 8 … dxe5 9. fxe5 Qc7 10. exf6 Qe5+ .

“The Variation”, as the author calls it, was Polugaevsky’s pride and joy, or his problem child, or both. A mercurial character, Polugaevsky, by his own impassioned testimony, was alternately elevated to the heavens or cast down to Tartarus by the ebb and flow of the theory of his variation as it played out over the 35 years from the time he began his career-long analysis until his passing.

The purely practical value of an “old chess book” like this is that one is introduced to all the nuances and divergences as seen at the time a variation is young, not omitting lines which might be dismissed in a more modern book without explanation.

The more esoteric value of this book, written by one of the finest analysts of the soviet era of chess, is the peek into the process, the vicarious gaze into the abysmal depths of combinatorial complexity at the cusp of opening and midgame.

The Variation has done gone on, for the most part, currently regarded as dangerous for Black, much as the King’s Gambit has been for decades at a time viewed as dangerous for White. Again like the King’s Gambit, there is no conclusive proof of The Variation’s unsoundness. It is still occasionally played, a good deal of its rareness in practice attributable to the popularity of 6. Be3.  A few years ago, Tibor Karolyi did some modern computer-aided analysis of the Polugaevsky Variation for New In Chess.

Here’s the first grandmaster occurrence of 11. Be2 in the Polugaevsky Variation.

“Chess is my love. I owe it the happiest moments of my life. It steeled me and shaped my character”. – Polugaevsky

Jacques Delaguerre

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Teaching Kids Through Classical Games (11)

Gruenfeld, Ernst – Alekhine, Alexander,
Karlsbad 1923

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Bg5 Be7

4…Nbd7 can also be played here as White can’t win the pawn on d5: 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Nxd5 Nxd5 7.Bxd8 Bb4+ wins piece.

5.Nf3 Nbd7 6.e3 0–0 7.Rc1

A well known tempo struggle begins; White wants to develop his bishop when he captures the pawn on c4 while Black refrains from taking on c4 until White’s light square bishop has moved.

7…c6 8.Qc2 a6 9.a3 h6 10.Bh4 Re8 11.Bd3 dxc4

Gaining a tempo, but now White has a majority in the center. It is truly said that chess is a generalized exchange.

12.Bxc4 b5 13.Ba2 c5

Freeing Black’s game with the c5 lever. 13…Bb7 14.0–0 c5 is also playable.

14.Rd1 cxd4 15.Nxd4 Qb6 16.Bb1 Bb7 17.0–0 Rac8

With a threat of Be4.

18.Qd2 Ne5

Improving the position of this piece by heading to c4. The knight was not doing much on d7.

19.Bxf6 Bxf6 20.Qc2 g6

Though the pawn structure around Black’s king is slightly weakened by this there is no way White can exploit it. A weakness is only a weakness if it can be targeted.

21.Qe2 Nc4 22.Be4 Bg7

22…Bxe4 23.Nxe4 Bg7 is also possible.

23.Bxb7 Qxb7 24.Rc1 e5 25.Nb3 e4!

Creating a nice outpost on d3 which can be used by knight.

26.Nd4 Red8 27.Rfd1 Ne5 28.Na2 Nd3 29.Rxc8 Qxc8

“Grünfeld, completely outplayed by his mighty opponent, correctly seeks his last chance in destroying Black’s powerful fore post on d3. Note that a protected knight on d3 or e3 (respectively e6 or d6) is normally worth an exchange because of its ability to paralyze the opponent’s activity and to participate in dangerous combinations.”
– Kasparov

30.f3?

Here Kasparov suggests 30.Nc3 as an improvement which might lead to pawn down queen endgame for White. If you have Chessbase you can check the variations given by Kasparov.

30…Rxd4! 31.fxe4

Black’s rook can’t be taken because of 31.exd4 Bxd4+ 32.Kf1 Nf4 33.Rc1 Qxc1+ 34.Nxc1 Nxe2 35.Nxe2 Bxb2 which gives a winning endgame with two extra pawns.

Pause for a moment and try to find the winning continuation for Black

31…Nf4!! 32.exf4 Qc4!

White is at least losing a piece.

33.Qxc4

33.Re1 Qxa2.

33…Rxd1+ 34.Qf1 Bd4+

And mate on the next move.

0–1

Ashvin Chauhan

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Update on Adrian Hollis Memorial CC Tournament

With eleven games out of fifty five still in progress in the Adrian Hollis Memorial you might think that the winner was certain in this prestige event which is, quite possibly, the strongest ever correspondence chess tournament with players solely from the United Kingdom.  At the moment the winner is very likely to be either the player with the highest or lowest number of points so far!  GM Nigel Robson has, so far, scored a magnificent 6 / 8 or 75%, but can he be caught by GM Richard Hall, a World Championship Silver Medallist, who has, so far, scored 2.5 / 4 or 62.5%?  It is, of course, quite possible and will be fascinating to follow. Another player who has done well so far is SIM Richard Beecham with 5.5 / 10, which includes two wins, although he could easily be overtaken too. Unfortunately, the games cannot be followed live even by the players, although you can view them when finished.

You can view the cross table here: – www.iccf.com/event?id=41391

I am fortunate to be also playing in this event, although I let myself down by losing a level game with a ‘clerical error’ earlier on. I am pleased to say that I have, however, managed one win which I show below. My opponent, SIM Paul Timson is a strong OTB player who I have only managed to draw with on a previous occasion. My queen and bishop gained space on the queen side and I was able to win a pawn. He put up a stubborn defence and at times I wondered if I had enough to win.

John Rhodes

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Stalemate

A valuable resource to help us save endgames is stalemate.

In this week’s problem, White is in big trouble. He has an extra pawn, but the good news stops there. The Black King is so active that it will be able to take all of White’s pawns.

However, White can still draw the game. How does White draw? He has to stalemate the Black King , eventually, to save the game.

The solution to last Monday’s problem is that White plays 1 f4+ Ke6 2 f5+ Ke5 3 Bg6! fxg6 4 h7! Nxh7 5 fxg6 and the Black Knight is helpless against the passed pawn.

Steven Carr

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Schrödinger’s Game

You will no doubt be aware of Schrödinger’s cat, which is simultaneously both alive and dead.

It occurs to me that public perception of chess is full of similar paradoxes.

Times journalist Tom Whipple, writing about Nigel Short’s views on women’s chess, chose to tell us the reason why he game up competitive chess in his teens:

“No, the reason I quit aged 15, at a time when my friends (or rather, given I played competitive chess, tormentors) were starting to go to the pub, was something else. It was because I looked round one day and realised I was myself in a minority: I was the only person in the immediate vicinity not wearing a bow tie.”

He then, by way of further explanation, that he quit because chess was ‘too geeky’. A quick search of the ECF grading database reveals that his grade at the time he quit was a not terribly impressive 74. So I’d suggest that he quit because he just wasn’t very good at the game. Or perhaps he’d never been taught to play well.

Perhaps Mr Whipple played chess in a different universe to me. There was one junior a few years ago, now an IM, who used to wear a bow tie regularly. Another junior, now a GM, was wearing a bow tie the first time I met him, but that was because he’d just been to a party. I wouldn’t say that bow ties were de rigeur in the Thames Valley League, though.

But there’s a different stereotype, isn’t there? Chess players are often portrayed in the media as scruffily dressed, wearing anoraks, unwashed T-shirts and torn jeans, with their sandwiches in a carrier bag.

So there you have Schrödinger’s chess player, who simultaneously is geekily well-dressed and sporting a bow tie, and is badly dressed with an anorak over his T-shirt.

You might have thought a highly regarded journal of record (well, not everyone has a high regard for their chess correspondent) would encourage its writers to avoid lazy stereotypes.

I think the paradox stems from the perception that chess is for geeks, and that there are two public, and rather contradictory, views of geeks: the bow tie wearing eccentric mathematician and the scruffy trainspotter. But serious competitive players are, in one sense, anything but geeks. You need a lot of mental toughness to succeed in chess at a high level. We should be celebrating our best players, male or female, juniors, seniors or inbetweeners, for that quality as well as for their talent, hard work, commitment and dedication to chess.

I don’t think is the only paradox in the public perception of our game.

On the one hand chess is seen as something which requires genius level intelligence, an astronomically high IQ, to master. On the other hand it’s portrayed as a game so easy that it’s suitable for mass participation by very young children. Schrödinger’s game, very easy and very hard at the same time. This always reminds me of what the great Artur Schnabel said about Mozart’s piano sonatas: too easy for children and too difficult for artists. So parents are often totally confused about what chess really is. The answer to this question is, as CEM Joad would have said, it depends what you mean by chess.

If you mean learning how the pieces move, then, yes, it’s easy for most young children. If you mean playing ‘real’ chess, considering alternatives, thinking ahead, that’s something very different. You don’t need a very high IQ to do this but you do require a certain amount of cognitive and emotional maturity which most young children don’t have. Parents who have some knowledge of ‘real’ chess understand this, which is why, for instance, Magnus Carlsen’s father dropped the game for a few years when his 5-year-old son found it hard to get beyond the moves of the pieces. Parents who don’t understand ‘real’ chess, which, here in the UK must be about 80-90%, have no understanding that their children aren’t really playing chess because they don’t know how to play real chess themselves. You can tell when you ask kids joining a school club to name the rook and they tell you, as they nearly always do, it’s called a castle. You know they’ve been taught the moves by someone who has never read a chess book, and who was taught the moves himself by someone who had never read a chess book.

And this perhaps explains another paradox.

The other day I received my six-monthly royalty statement from my publishers. It’s gratifying that Chess for Kids is still selling well, and providing me with a significant amount of money every year: the only book I’ve written which has done this. However, The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids isn’t selling at all. Unless something remarkable happens it’s never going to get anywhere near paying off its advance.

In a sensible world it would be the other way round. If you really do see chess as a very hard game you’re going to need a guide on how to teach it. If you’re not a proficient player yourself you need to learn enough to help your kids. Even if you are a proficient player you’ll appreciate that some guidance on how to go about teaching something so difficult wouldn’t come amiss. All parents wanting to teach their kids chess should read a book on the subject first. And there’s really no other book on the market which will help you in this way.

There are, on the other hand, plenty of attractive books on the market teaching the rudiments of the game to kids. Once you’ve read my book on how to teach chess you’ll then, when you think your kids are ready, want to buy them a book. You might choose mine, but you might prefer one of the rival volumes which teach very much the same material in different ways. It’s up to you: it doesn’t really matter too much which one you prefer. In a world where chess was recognised for what it really is, my book for parents would sell many times more copies than my book for kids, rather than the other way round.

The right, non-confusing message we’re putting out about chess should be that, although it’s fairly easy to learn the moves, it’s really a game for older children and adults at which some exceptional younger children with exceptionally supportive parents can excel, a game which requires mental toughness as well as intelligence.

Richard James

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