The Comeback Trail, Part 15

Although my first tournaments back were fairly successful (first place in the Rhyl and South Lakes Open sections) I was back as a spectator for the Heywood Congress. I’m going through a busy patch with non chess commitments that started just after the South Lakes event. It’s good to sense if you are taking too much on and this was one of those moments.

It’s also good to look for flaws in your play, even if you have been doing well. The weaknesses are certainly there as I had not had time to do any serious preparation, relying instead on improvisation. This can be OK up to a certain level but there’s a point at which it becomes a serious problem. Against well prepared professional players you will certainly get outgunned in the early stages, struggling to get a decent game as Black and having them equalize easily when you are White. And this is compounded if your games end up on databases so that people can study them with the help of modern technology.

I’ll be out of action in July as well but should soon get time to start working on my game. A break isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s better to plan than to charge ahead out of compulsion.

Nigel Davies

Pupil Referral Unit and Chessity

I talked to teachers at a Yorkshire Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) today about ways of teaching their students.

Part of my role for Chess in Schools and Communities is to reconnect with schools we’ve taught in previously. We taught at this PRU a few years ago. I was really pleased to learn that chess is still going strong there. All 50 children across the two sites play chess every Friday afternoons.

Children referred to a PRU don’t tend to stay there for long so following our curriculum wouldn’t make sense. I showed them the following variants:

Pawn game
Rook game
Pirate chess
First check

I’m back there later in the term for a simul with the children.

I taught at a PRU in London. On my first day six big children (I was used to primary sized ones) came to the classroom. While they did sit down and we did ‘chess’ for a bit they soon got up and exited through the window. Not a great start but things improved!

Nigel encourages students to do regular calculation training. I’ve found Chessity an excellent resource for this and endeavour to do a daily practice. Their free app is useful.

This is a puzzle (that I got wrong!) that struck me as interesting.

Dan Staples

Recognise the Pattern # 37

This article aims at beginners only. Here are some positions on a typical theme. You are advised to find the solutions first and then look at the theme name and the solutions:

1. Bill Wall vs Robert Gantt 1978
White to Play

2. Eduard Hamlisch vs NN 1899
White to Play

3. Shmatkov vs Eidlin 1960
White to Play

The theme is ‘sacrifices on f7/f2 against uncastled king’. Of course the main idea is to keep the opponent’s king in the center but often it is used to win/trap opponent’s queen in conjunction with mating threats. I thought I have covered this with my series on recognising the pattern, but it was missed out. Recognising the pattern is a series where I have discussed typical checkmate patterns, attacking formations and endgame patterns.


Solution 1:

1.Bxf7+ Kxf72.Ng5+

Black resigned in view of Ne6 in case of Kf8 or e8 and Qc4+ in case of Kg8.

Solution 2:

1.Bxf7+ Kxf7 2.Ng5+

Black resigned in view of Ne6 in case of Ke8 whilst Kf6 can be met by Qf3#.

Solution 3:

1.Bxf7 Kxf7
2.Ng5+ Kg6

If 2… Kf8/e8 then Ne6 wins the queen or if 2…Kg8 then Qb3 wins.

3.Qd3+ Kh5

If Kh6 then Ne6 discovered check wins queen.


This wins due to the threat of winning the queen or checkmate with Qh3.

Ashvin Chauhan

ChessEssentials, Level 5

“We raise Champions!”

Past reviews can be accessed here
ChessEssentials, level 1
ChessEssentials, level 2
ChessEssentials, level 3
ChessEssentials, level 4
App link at the iTunes store ChessEssentials
The latest release of our app offers now level 5 (reference ratings 1400-1700). It costs $3.99 and it maintains the same format of 30 lessons, 30 puzzle sets and 30 tests arranged in a well thought order. Going over this level helps you build upon the knowledge accumulated so far; if we compare this with building a house, you are now raising walls, higher levels and all extras related to it.
Lesson 01 starts the level with mate in 3 puzzles, same with how level 4 ended. Good warming up as you might know by now.

Lessons 02 to 06 are of major importance. They cover one of the most important openings of all time on both sides of the board: the Queen’s Gambit Declined (QGD). It is the opening any player must learn and play to understand how tactics flow from solid strategy. They do not just appear on the board out of the blue.

  • Lesson 02 covers the QGD Tartakover variation
  • Lesson 03 covers the QGD Lasker variation
  • Lesson 04 covers the QGD Classical variation
  • Lesson 05 covers the QGD Cambridge Springs variation
  • Lesson 06 covers the Tarrasch defence

At this level strategy flows naturally from the openings studied prior to it. The Isolated Queen Pawn (IQP) is a very controversial subject and it has the chess World divided about in half: half of the players like its strenghts and the opportunities it presents, while the other half avoids it because of its weakness. You get the chance to make up your own mind about it, followed by a few lessons highlighting the importance of each piece’s position during the game.

  • Lesson 07 covers the IQP strength
  • Lesson 08 covers the IQP breakthrough
  • Lesson 09 covers the IQP weakness
  • Lesson 10 covers the Piece activity – Knight’s position
  • Lesson 11 covers the Piece activity – Bishop’s position
  • Lesson 12 covers the Piece activity – Rook’s position
  • Lesson 13 covers the Piece activity – Queen’s position
  • Lesson 14 covers the Piece activity – King’s position

Strategy can put you in the position to use tactics decisively so when you get the chance, you need to be able to recognize the signs and execute with precision. The basics of some of the tactical procedures have been previously covered and here you get a chance to expand your knowledge.

  • Lesson 15 covers the h2/h7-square sacrifice
  • Lesson 16 covers the g2/g7-square sacrifice
  • Lesson 17 covers the f2/f7-square sacrifice
  • Lesson 18 covers overloading
  • Lesson 19 covers the zwischenzug (in-between move)
  • Lesson 20 covers the underpromotion
  • Lesson 21 covers the counterstrike
  • Lesson 22 covers limiting counterplay
  • Lesson 23 covers threefold repetition
  • Lesson 24 covers the stalemate
  • Lesson 25 covers the zugzwang

The aspects covered here are more complicated and it is our intention to help you master them. Do not be afraid and study them with an open mind; in the end (pun intended) you will realize they are easier than they look.

  • Lesson 26 covers the King on the edge
  • Lesson 27 covers the triangulation
  • Lesson 28 covers the corresponding squares
  • Lesson 29 covers various endgames

Lesson 30 ends this level with mate in 4 puzzles. The training session takes it up another notch in preparation for level 6. Hope you find this presentation interesting and the app worth giving it a try!

Valer Eugen Demian

Transposing Into Rook Endgames

Transposing into rook endgames when material up can be dangerous because there’s a tendency for them to be drawish. This is why my Dad thought for a long time before exchanging queens in this game.

The other interesting point is that he got his rook behind the passed d-pawn after which Black’s rook was forced to go to a very passive square.

Sam Davies


Don’t worry. Although this might start off like a post on politics, it’s actually about something else. Most things, in my experience, are not about what most people think they’re about. If it really was a post on politics, Nigel, quite rightly, wouldn’t publish it. After all, this is a chess blog.

In the aftermath of the recent General Election it’s been interesting to read articles from a variety of viewpoints on what will happen next with regard to both UK politics in general, and, more specifically, Brexit.

Adam Swersky, for example, is a local councillor in Harrow (North West London) representing the Labour Party. In his day job he leads an initiative helping people with health problems and disabilities to find employment. He wrote an interesting article proposing a Grand Coalition to solve the UK’s political and social problems.

A couple of hours later I came across an article in the Sunday Times suggesting that the election result might open the way for a soft Brexit. The article was written by the newspaper’s economics correspondent Tommy Stubbington, who had previously worked for the Wall Street Journal, and, before that, for Dow Jones Newswires.

You might by now be asking yourself what this has to do with chess. But 22 years ago, back in 1995, Tommy and Adam were sitting across the chessboard from each other in Round 4 of the Richmond Chess Initiative Championship. Tommy was the more experienced player so the game resulted in a comprehensive victory for the future Sunday Times over the future Harrow Labour Party.

Both Tommy and Adam were strong, but not outstanding, players at primary school age, both achieving grades in the 120s before giving the game up to concentrate on their academic work. If you’re bright enough to understand chess at a higher level at that age without intensive coaching there’s a fair chance (although it’s not true for everyone) that you’ll find other things to do with your life that are more lucrative, such as being a top financial journalist, more worthwhile, like helping people with health problems find work, or just more interesting than chess.

This is one of the problems with children starting competitive chess young: those who do well will be the children with a very strong general intellgence (David Didau believes there is such a thing: you may disagree) who will often choose to do other things with their lives.

Looking back at the 29 players in that 1995 tournament, there is, as far as I know, one (older than most of the players in this event and also older when starting competitive chess) still playing regularly and another, who also started relatively late, playing occasionally. I’m aware that another competitor, now a Brussels-based Eurocrat (not sure what effect Brexit will have on him) plays online to a high level. So we’re getting at most 10% of our stronger players remaining active 20 years later – and don’t forget that these were the strongest RJCC players, and the RJCC players in turn were the strongest primary school players. The followthrough from primary school to adult chess has been for 20 or 30 years at the most 1% (probably more like 0.1% now), even in an area like Richmond with a strong and active junior chess club acting as a bridge between the two worlds.

Children who start competitive chess at secondary school age, however, do not need precocious skills – and it’s those who are more likely to continue playing chess as adults. The younger children start to play competitively the more likely they are to become grandmasters, but the older children start to play competitively the more likely they are to continue playing as adults.

If you look at the pattern in other Western European countries you’ll find that, although chess is very popular with young children, just as it is here, it is also, unlike here, popular with teenagers, and, again unlike here, many young people come into competitive chess for the first time in their teens. There are several possible reasons for this, which I’ve touched on in many articles here and elsewhere over the years. Perhaps the educational and social ethos in this country, something I alluded to last week, also has something to do with it. What do you think?

Richard James

Opening Principles Part Seven: Middle-Game Preparation

When beginners learn and begin to master the opening principles they often think, after the last basic principle has been applied, that it’s time to start attacking. While attacking is the crucial factor when it comes to winning games, launching into one prematurely can and usually does, lead to a weakened position from which one can never fully recover. If you play through the games of master level players, you’ll see that they only attack when the time is right. When’s the right time? Read on and you’ll find out.

Obviously, if your opponent provides you with an opportunity to launch a successful attack early on you should consider doing so. When I play beginning students, they provide ample opportunity for me to launch into attacks that greatly alter the balance of the game in my favor. Beginner’s games tend to have a lot of weak positions that allow for early attacks. I teach my beginning students to avoid launching early early attacks, those during the opening, and instead build up their position. Of course, I teach them how to spot a potential early attack and what they can do to stop it. After all, I’d be a dreadful chess teacher if I didn’t teach defensive methods.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, when you play through the games of the masters you’ll see that they methodically build up their position, only attacking when the position warrants it? What do I mean by this? Typically, a beginner who takes the opening principles to heart will control the center with a pawn or two, develop three or four of their minor pieces (Knights and Bishops), Castle their King to safety and connect their Rooks (moving their Queen up a rank). Then they’ll start looking for possible attacks. They might spot a potential attack but that attack will depend on their opponent making a specific move or two that allows the attack to take place. This is wishful thinking chess. Our beginner, in this example, is counting on their opponent doing something specific in terms of a move. This specific move is what the beginner wants not what their opponent wants. Our beginner is seeing the position only in terms of what opposition moves work for that beginner’s plan. Their opponent is most likely going to make a move that counters our beginner’s plan which leaves the beginner in a jam!

The mistake our beginner is making is launching an attack that will only succeed if their opponent makes essentially bad moves. This is unrealistic since your opponent also wants to win the game and has plans of his or her own! When a plan solely depends on a move or two being made by the opposition and those moves aren’t made, then the attack falls apart. How do we create a position that leads to a successful attack? By increasing the number of pieces that can partake in an attack so we have greater attacking options! How do we do that?

We continue the development of pawns and pieces. Just because you’ve controlled the center with a pawn or two, developed your minor pieces, Castling your King and connected your Rooks, doesn’t mean you’re ready for the Middle-game where attacks generally start. There’s further development to be had! Of course, you want to bring a new piece into the game during each opening move but you can, after having achieved this goal, bring those pieces to more active squares. What are active squares? Those squares that allow your pawns and pieces to control opposition squares (the squares on your opponent’s side of the board). For example, a White Knight on c3 might consider moving the d5, only if it’s safe, in order to attack more squares on the opposition’s side of the board. However, before you start considering moving pieces for a second time, take a look at your Rooks.

Beginner’s tend to neglect their Rooks. A beginner playing the White pieces might Castling King-side but leave their Rook dormant on the f1 square. While that Rook is more active than it was prior to Castling (when it was trapped on the h1 square), moving it to e1 would allow it to access the e file which is especially important if Black hasn’t Castled yet. Then there’s the other Rook, the Rook on a1 in the case of King-side Castling (by White). Once the Rooks are connected, they have the ability to work along their starting rank, acting as bodyguards for pawns you might want to push up (or down in the case of Black) the board later on. Pawns can be further developed. While beginner’s learn not to make flank pawn moves during the opening, if there’s a Black Bishop on c8, a White Knight onf3 and White Queen on d1, White might want to move the h pawn from h2 to h3, preventing a potential relative pin. However, it’s more important to develop your minor pieces first before making such a pawn move.

Sometimes we’re forced to move a minor piece to a square that is less active during the start of the opening because the opposition controls the square we initially wanted to move to. Can we develop the piece in question to a better square? If we can we should, especially before launching an attack. The more pieces you can employ in an attack, the better your attack will be. Think of it this way, if you have five attackers and you opponent has three defenders, their chances of warding off your attack are far less than if the number of attackers versus defenders was equal. Greater force (when attacking) is a key idea. However, to have a greater attacking force you first have to activate your pieces.

Slowly developing or moving your pawns and pieces to active squares gives you greater attacking options. Namely, you have more potential ways to attack. If your pieces are centrally located, controlling a large number of squares on your opponent’s side of the board, you’ll be able to launch attacks from more locations that your opponent can defend. You opponent might build up a good defense on one part of the board but, because you have centrally located pieces, you can attack elsewhere. Having options within your plan is crucial. The problem with most beginner’s plans is that they’re based on a specific move being made by their opponent. Having options also means being flexible. Thus, if your opponent makes a move you didn’t see coming, you’ll be able to address that opposition plan accordingly because you have actively developed your pieces. You can’t anticipate every move your opponent might make which means you could be attacked. However, if your pawns and pieces are actively placed, you have a much better chance of surviving.

When you look at your position and think there’s nothing there, look again! You’ll probably find a pawn or piece that can be further activated or developed. When you have greater control of the board, which only happens when your pieces are more actively positioned than your opponent’s pieces, you opponent may be forced to make a move he or she doesn’t want to make. That can lead to a better position for you and a winning game. The watchwords for the day are pawn and piece activity. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

Aronian – Carlsen, Norway 2017

This game has already getting well known but it’s worth reposting here, Levon Aronian wins really brilliantly against the reigning World Champion, Magnus Carlsen. Besides the later fireworks the move 10.Bd3-c2 is worth noting, creating problems for Black as Peter Svidler explains:

Nigel Davies

Botvinnik – Toran, Palma de Mallorca 1967

As with most of us my time is limited. My current chess practice involves solving Chessity daily tactics puzzles and following Nigel’s Endgame Course at his Tiger Chess website.

I was introduced to this excellent endgame through the course. This was instructive with regard to the importance of centralising the King. The move 22.Rxd5 kept the game alive.

Dan Staples

From Middlegame to Endgame

Kashdan vs Alekhine 1933, Black to Move

No great chess player complicates matters unless they find a simple solution. Alekhine was not an exception, White’s last move was Nb5 attacking the c7 pawn. Alekhine used little tactics to reach an endgame where his knight and passed pawn on the g-file are simply enough to win the game.

Here is the solution and the rest of the game.

Ashvin Chauhan