Taking On The Other Kind Of Time Trouble

I was asked a little while ago, how one can improve their chess if they don’t have a lot of time.

To be honest, this is a tricky question to answer. If the player is seriously up against it when it comes to available time, (for example, someone working long hours or a single parent — Heaven forbid, both), then things are indeed challenging. Chess is, after all, something that requires as much study and practice time as possible, This is especially true if one wants to be a strong player.

Let’s suppose, that after my commitments, I have a mere hour available in the day for chess. (This should be relatively doable for most people I think.) How do I make it productive? How much of that hour, do I set aside for playing and how much for study? The answer is quite simple in my opinion: all of it.

Let’s take a look …

My week starts on (let’s say, for argument’s sake) Monday. I begin the week with a game of chess. If I make it 25-minutes per side, then I have a game of 50-minutes. That leaves 10-minutes spare, so I can do a few tactical problems afterwards or play a game of blitz too. That is a very good hour of chess play.

On Tuesday, I can analyse the game(s) I played the night before. It’s good to do it here, because even after 24-hours my thoughts are relatively fresh still. I allow the full hour. The reason for this is that time can tick on when analysing games. There may be complicated positions; there will be crucial points; deep analysis is likely to be needed here and there. Maybe I feel that I didn’t quite get my head around a certain position on Monday. Now is the perfect time to set it up on my board and take a look. I write things down, make notes, look things up in the database.

It is very important for my development to do this manually, without the aid of an engine. Engines are great to check things and point out errors in our thinking, but merely using a chess engine to analyse teaches very little. This is because learning requires mistakes, in order to identify the flaws in our own brain — rather, the flaws in our own thinking. To improve, that thinking needs the benefit of experience, in order to be ‘re-programmed’, and a chess engine does not provide that. It can only show the ‘what’, not the ‘how’ or ‘why’.

Wednesday can be used to focus on openings. I explore lines, work on my repertoire database, try to find ideas and plans. Maybe my games have highlighted weaknesses, and I can’t ignore those. Can they be fixed or do I need to find something else?

On Thursday I devote the time to blitz. Not only is this a great way of releasing tension, but it is a great time to give my opening work from the night before a whirl, test out some new lines and ideas, for example. The last 10-minutes can be used for going back over the games, just to look at crucial positions, any blunders (when I play blitz there tends to be quite a lot of those!), and look for things that may have been missed. In my opinion, one should not dwell too much on blitz games — though this might be why I am extremely bad at it.

Friday I can start winding down for the weekend, so I study some middlegame problems and tactics. There are some good books around for this purpose, and websites like Chessity make this kind of thing all the easier. The way I would approach this, personally, is to split the hour in to two. The first 30-minutes I would use to analyse a complex middlegame position. I set it up on the chess board and analyse as I would over-the-board (so, without moving the pieces). The only difference from an over-the-board situation, is that everything is written down, and checked over with a computer later.

The second part, I would use to do some tactics training. Sites like chess.com or Chessity are great for this and their apps mean that it can even be done on one’s phone. This is great if one spends some time on public transport, or a lot of time waiting around. Actually, it is quite addictive once that tactics rating starts going up!

Saturday I could leave open, and use it as I feel. Where do I think I need more attention? What area in the week did I feel I didn’t quite get enough time with?

Sunday is for endgame. I would work through a good book, and try to iron out mistakes that I had made in endgames previously. I religiously set up the standard mating material combinations (K+Q v K, etc.) against the computer and practice them. (I once saw a guy unable to mate with King, Bishop and knight against lone king. It was agonising. I never want to experience that in a game.)

And that is a week of work on my chess done. And covering many areas of my game.

The above is just one example of how an hour a day can be used to give one’s chess some serious attention. The emphasis is on Quality rather than Quantity. And I really believe that this can be used to good effect. “Where there’s the will there’s a way,” after all — but, as with everything, much needed ingredients are structure, commitment and discipline.

If you go down this route, I advise you to keep all your work, and your games. It will be great to look back on in a few months time and see what difference just an hour a day has made to your chess! Please let me know!

John Lee Shaw


Move Order in Combinations

Just like the combination on a safe has to entered in the correct order, you have to play the moves in a combination in chess in the correct order.

Sometimes you see the moves which win, but realise that they allow the opponent to defend if you play them in the wrong order.

So if your intended combination doesn’t work, try to see if changing the move order helps.

In this week’s problem, White can checkmate Black. White has a choice of four tempting checks. They could all be winning moves, but there is only one winning line. Which order does White check Black in to force checkmate in 5 moves?

The solution to last Monday’s problem is that I played Ng4 which left White in serious trouble. The threat of Nxe3+ virtually forces White to play Rxd8+. When I recaptured with Rxd8, White was left with no good defence against the new threat of Nxb3 followed by Rd2+.

Steven Carr


Chess Games for Heroes (1)

Last week I introduced you to the concept of Chess Games for Heroes: short games for use by chess teachers in clubs, small groups or one to one, where students have to guess the next move (or rather select what they consider to be the strongest move) and receive points for good suggestions.

Here, as promised is the first game.

Game 1
Gioacchino Greco – NN
About 1620

This is one of the earliest surviving games of chess. Gioacchino Greco was an Italian chess player born in about 1600. In 1625 he published a book of games, which were probably his opening analysis. Here’s one of them. Can you find his moves?

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6

Choose a move for White.

3. Bc4

5 points for this move, Nc3, d4 or Bb5. 3 points for c3 or Be2. This is the ITALIAN GAME.

Choose a move for Black.

3… Bc5

5 points for this move, the GIUOCO PIANO, or Nf6, the TWO KNIGHTS DEFENCE. 3 points for Be7 and 2 points for d6.

Choose a move for White.

4. c3

5 points for this move, d3, Nc3, 0-0 or b4 (the EVANS GAMBIT). White plans to play d4, controlling the centre.

Choose a move for Black.

4… d6

2 points for this move. 5 points for Nf6, the best move, attacking e4. 3 points for Qe7 or Bb6.

Choose a move for White.

5. d4

5 points for this move. 3 points for 0-0, d3 or b4. White has two strong pawns in the centre.

5… exd4

Choose a move for White

6. cxd4

5 points for this move, keeping his two pawns in the centre.

6… Bb4+

Choose a move for White

7. Nc3

5 points for this move, or for Kf1 (it’s usually better to block in this sort of position but Kf1 creates various threats here). 3 points for Nbd2 or Bd2.

7… Nf6

Choose a move for White

8. 0–0

5 points for this move, d5 or Bg5. 3 points for Qd3 or Qc2. Black can now win a pawn but White is getting his pieces out quickly and Black hasn’t castled yet.

Bonus question 1. Suppose White plays 8. d5 here. Choose a move for Black in that position.

5 points for Bxc3+

Bonus question 2. Now suppose that after 8. d5 Black plays Ne7. Choose a move for White in that position.

5 points for Qa4+, a FORK winning the bishop. This is why Black had to play Bxc3+ after d5.

8… Bxc3

Choose a move for White

9. bxc3

No points for this obvious recapture. Also no points for d5. If you played anything else you lose 5 points.

9… Nxe4

Choose a move for White

10. Re1

5 points for this move, putting a rook on the open file and PINNING the knight. 3 points for d5, Qc2 or Nd2.

10… d5

Choose a move for White

11. Rxe4+

5 points for this interesting sacrifice. 5 points also for Ba3, stopping Black from castling. White has lots of good moves here: 3 points for Bxd5 (after Qxd5, Ng5 will win the piece back because of the PIN), Bg5, Bd3, Nd2 or Ng5.

11… dxe4

Choose a move for White

12. Ng5

5 points for this move, threatening to capture on f7.

Choose a move for Black

12… 0–0

No points for this move, which, as you’ll see, loses. 5 points for Ne5 (White can’t take the knight because he’ll lose his queen). 2 points for Rf8 or Be6.

Choose a move for White

13. Qh5

5 points for this move, giving White a winning attack.

Bonus question 3. What would you play if Black played g6 here.

5 points for Qxh7# – CHECKMATE ends the game.

13… h6

Choose a move for White

14. Nxf7

5 points for this move, giving White a winning attack. 2 points for Bxf7+.

14… Qf6

Choose a move for White

15. Nxh6+

5 points for this move, a DOUBLE CHECK leading to mate. 2 points for Bg5 which wins the queen.

15… Kh8

Choose a move for White

16. Nf7+

5 points for this move. 2 points for Nf5+, Ng4+ or Ng8+, which take longer.

16… Kg8

Choose a move for White

17. Qh8#

5 points for this move: it’s CHECKMATE!

Black played a natural but not very good move on move 4 after which he was always in trouble. White occupied the centre with his pawns, developed his knights and one of his bishops quickly (he didn’t need to use the other bishop), castled quickly and put his rook on the open e-file. Black tried to castle to make his king safe but this gave White a winning attack.

Richard James


Unrealistic Expectations

Over the last 13 months, I’ve had the opportunity to interview people who stopped playing chess after a serious attempt on their part to study the game. The point of my interviews was to find out why they gave up on the game they once loved so much and, to see if there was anything I could do to help my students avoid such a fate. While there were a wide range of reasons sited, the overwhelming single answer was frustration because they weren’t progressing.

Of course, whenever you attempt to learn any skill, there will be bumps along the road to mastery. To succeed, you have to be able to ride over those bumps in order to arrive at your destination, in this case, playing good chess! However, the height and difficulty of those bumps in the road are more often than not, determined by the person traveling that road. We create these seemingly impassible obstacles by creating unrealistic expectations regarding our overall goal and it all boils down to becoming frustrated because we cannot meet our goal due to our approach.

One problem that creates an air of frustration is the need to learn how to do something as quickly as possible. Western society places a high premium on learning to do things quickly. Of course, I can’t fault someone for wanting to master a skill quickly. After all, if given the choice between being able to learn a skill in one month or one year, we’d all opt for the one month time line! However, chess, like music, requires a slow but steady course. You can’t buy a piano and expect to be playing like Mozart a week later. The same holds true for chess. Chess, like music, requires a careful balance of theory and practice. Like music, you can study all the theory in the world but unless you spend hours and hours actually playing, theoretical knowledge won’t get take you very far. Chess also requires practice, in the form of playing other people to hone your skills.

However, before you can find that balance between theory and practice, you need to have a long hard look at your expectations and reality. By this, I mean that our expectations are often greater than the reality they’re based in. So often, I hear beginning students say “I’m going to get my rating up to 1200 in six months time, then 1800 within the next eight months.” In their minds, they’ve created a very reasonable plan. However, reality can be a cruel mistress. With the mastery of any skill, those first steps go along quite smoothly. With chess, the beginner can make great strides very quickly. This comes about because the beginner has no knowledge at the start of their chess career so each basic concept learned can be quickly applied to their game, garnering them seemingly instant results.

In my daily classes, my beginners learn the basic opening principles. When I start with these beginners. They thrust flank pawns out onto the board, put their Knights on the rim and leave their King’s exposed. After learning the three primary opening principles, they are now opening with a central pawn move, developing their minor pieces towards the board’s center and castling their Kings. This happens quickly and they are rewarded for their efforts. They start winning a few games or at least don’t lose as quickly. They pick up a few tactical ideas and endgame principles and things are moving along quickly. Then they hit their first bump in the road. They play opponents with a bit more experience and they stop winning any games at all.

This is where frustration rears its ugly head. At the start of their studies, they gained knowledge that allowed them to see their game improve quickly. I tell my students from the start that they will make that initial rating jump quickly but it slows down after that. As they develop their skills and their rating goes up, they’re facing stronger opponents who have more playing experience. What my beginners see is that their newly acquired knowledge is no longer pushing them forward. While I now teach them further piece activation and how to transition into the middle game, they are still frustrated that progress is not coming at a faster pace.

This happens because they base their expectations on their experience, which in the case of chess, is limited because their still beginners. As you develop your skills, the knowledge you must embrace and understand becomes more complex, which means that improvement will be slower. The best approach to take is that of taking things slowly and not expecting too much. Measure progress in small increments not giant leaps and bounds. Take your time for Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a Grandmaster.

One of the root cause of chess frustration for the serious beginner is setting impossible studying schedules. The overenthusiastic beginner will think “I’ll study chess for four hours a day, seven days a week to improve quickly.” Chess requires enormous concentration and concentrating for too long can drain you, causing you to simply waste that time because you’re struggling to think. While a player with years and years of experience can study for many consecutive hours, they can do so because their brain is conditioned for it. They’ve built up their mental muscles! The beginner’s mind simply cannot concentrate for longs periods of time. Start slowly, maybe thirty minutes, four days per week. Yes, employing a lighter study schedule seems like it would take forever to raise one’s skill level. However, a beginner who attempts to study for three hours straight will find that their mind will start to wander after thirty minutes. This means they would spend two and a half hours trying to keep their concentration up. Start with short periods of concentrated study and you won’t waste time!

The beginner should also consider when and where they study. Study some place quiet and study when you’re least tired. Studying while sitting in busy train station after being up all night will get you nowhere! Quality must always come over quantity. Better to spend a week of thirty minute study sessions learning a single opening principle than trying to learn them all in one long study session. Remember the fable of the Hare (rabbit) and the Tortoise, slow and steady wins the race.

The trick here is to not have unrealistic expectations regarding your progress. Be happy with slow but steady advancement and you’ll avoid frustration. Learn one idea thoroughly and then move onto the next idea. Don’t be too critical of the speed at which you learn because we all learn at different speeds. Record all your games from the start because when you get frustrated at your lack of progress, you can play through your early games and see that you really have improved. Relax, take your time and remember, slow and steady really does win the race. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson


Another Comedy of Errors from 1978

This is another correspondence chess game from the 1978 Golden Knights Postal Championship, Round 1. It seems that I had three periods in my chess career in which I was experimenting with irregular openings. My first one was in 1978. My second one was during the 1980’s while I was stationed in Germany and the third one was after my discharge from the US Army.

Both side made errors in this correspondence chess game, but mine were more often and more serious. Looking at this correspondence chess game causes me to ask, “What was I thinking back then?”.

This correspondence chess game was played long before I had access to chess databases or engines to help me to play better. I was a private in the US Army and I had no real chess books or equipment at the time that I started this correspondence chess game. Now, I would not be so on my own and I would not misplay a King and pawn endgame the way that I did in this correspondence chess game.

Although I have an ECO code for this chess opening, I have been unable to find a name for it. My notes below explain this disaster well enough.

Mike Serovey


Steady As She Goes

My performance is markedly irregular. I go through periods when I am totally engaged, and then I have days, weeks or months where my mind simply won’t conduct chess.  It’s not a matter of making mistakes, rather, it’s a complete absence of the detachment necessary to enter into the symbolic language space, making chess merely an act of shifting figurines around randomly and without heart.

Having musical errands in Southwest Kansas this past week, I decided to extend the trip and drive on to Wichita for the annual Kansas Open. The first evening I won a prize in the 10-minute tournament with 3.5/5, losing only when I experimented for the first time since the 1970’s with the Alekhine Defense in competition. This loss was artistically counterbalanced winning my first Dutch Defense ever in competition.

The next day I played one decent game, and that was pretty much it for the tournament.

So having improved in my middle game and transitions and conversions, the new frontier for me is constancy and reliable performance despite not having the luxury of being a child prodigy nestled about with care and having instead to live in the complex world of a man in his sixties.

Here’s my one good game from the Kansas Open. My opponent becomes frustrated and sacrifices a knight. Faced with the choice of returning the piece or clinging to material with a death grip, I cling. With a certain amount of luck, success!

Jacques Delaguerre


Sacrifices in The Endgame

When we talk about sacrificing some material the first thought that comes to mind is that it is for a mating or crushing attack (sac sac and mate – Fischer). However sacrifices are also possible in the endgame, but what is the fundamental basis for that? I started studying the endgame seriously when I manage to draw a Rook endgame with three pawns more in 2010. So here I am sharing few fine practical points that I have derived from my own experience, reading & guidance from Nigel.

Whenever I see any endgame the first thing I check for is the availability of a passed pawn or the possibility to create a passed pawn. You can consider sacrificing some material in order to gain a dangerous passed pawn. It has a huge impact in deciding the activity of other material on the board.

Activity could be piece activity, but in order to play the endgame better one should focus more on activity of the king. A recent example of this could be Aronian’s game against Caruana in Norway chess 2015. I have already discussed this game here so I am not going to repeat it. Similarly you can think about giving up some material if it forces your opponent to take a very passive positions. Here are some examples that illustrate my thoughts

Gelfand Boris against Bareev in 1992 at Linares

At first glance it is hard to draw up a plan but the availability of the passed pawn on c4 makes it very simple. Gelfand choose Rxe6. Why? Because the pawn on c4 forces Black’s rook to take very passive position on c8. On the other hand White’s king’s activity can decide the game easily once he reaches b6. Here are the rest of the moves:

1. Rxe6+ fxe6 2. c5 Kf6 3. c6 Rb8 4. c7 Rc8 5. Ka4 Ke5 6. Kxa5 Kd4 7. Rc6 Ke3 8. f4 Kf2 9. Rc3 Rxc7 10. Rxc7 Kxg3 11. Rxg7+ Kxf4 12.Rh7 1-0

Garry Kasparov against Timman in 1992 at Linares

In this position, Kasparov choose to sacrifice his knight for a pawn (and only a pawn!) in order to get a free hand with his king on the queenside as Black’s king has to stay on kingside in order to prevent h7 to h8 with promotion. Here are the rest of the moves:

1. Ne8+ Kf7 2. Nxf6 Kxf6 3. g5+ Kf7 4. h6 Ba4 5. Ke5 Bd1 6. Kd6 Bb3 7. Kc5 Ba4 8. Kb6 Bb5 9. a4 Bxa4 10. Kxa6 Bd7 11. b5 Bc8+ 12. Ka7 1-0

Ashvin Chauhan


Converting The French Into A Universal Repertoire

One of the useful things about playing the French is that it can be fairly easily turned into a low maintenance universal repertoire. A few years ago I made a DVD for Chessbase on this topic in which Black would combine the French with Bogo-Indian type lines, meeting 1.d4 with 1…e6 and then on 2.c4 playing 2…Bb4+. The emphasis here was on solidity rather than anything else and the French lines I gave featured the Romanishin System with 3…Be7 against 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 or 3.Nd2 together with super solid lines of the Bogo. This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s a good way to get a universal 1…e6 repertoire up and running.

For more adventurous souls I recently made this one in which the Owens Defence is used as a supplement to the French. I don’t recommend the Owens against 1.e4 because of 1…b6 2.d4 Bb7 3.Nd2, but it can be playable after 1.d4 e6 2.c4 b6. Here’s a sample that’s on Youtube:

Finally there’s a more traditional option for Black is to combine the French and the Dutch, and this you can do with playing 1.d4 e6 2.c4 f5, which has the advantage of avoiding gambit lines like the Staunton (1.d4 f5 2.e4!?) plus other anti-Dutch ideas. If you’d like to go this route I show the ideas on this video at my Tiger Chess site:

Remember that players at club level really just need plans, ideas and concepts whilst they get on board an opening, in my opinion it’s plain madness for them to buy a huge tome full of variations played and analyzed by top GMs. I do explain this and more on my Tiger Chess site with some video lessons that are available to both full and video members.

Nigel Davies


Keep Your King Safe

In one of my recent games, the player of the White pieces neglected the safety of his King.

In the diagrammed position, White has weakened the white squares around his King and he has played f3 in response to Qb7+, opening up the second rank.

This allowed me to launch an attack against his King. What did I play? There is more than one good move, but one move in particular is very troublesome for White.

The solution to last Monday’s problem is that White sacrifices two Queens in one move by playing c8=Q. He can then win by putting one of his Queens on the seventh rank.

Steven Carr


Chess Games for Heroes: Introduction

Most of you will be familiar with magazine articles and books with titles such as “How Good is Your Chess” and “Solitaire Chess” where the author asks you to guess the moves made in a master game. You score points for matching the master’s move or for finding other good moves. You may also lose points if you select a bad move.

I’ve often used Daniel King’s excellent (if over generously marked) “How Good is Your Chess” articles in CHESS with my older and stronger pupils but I wanted something different to use for younger children and within lower level groups in chess clubs. For this environment I required an activity which could be completed within 30 minutes using very short games (no longer than about 15 moves) with uncomplicated opening play and simple tactics.

So I decided, as part of my continuing Chess for Heroes project, to produce some of my own and try them out with my pupils. A couple of months ago I wrote up two games (one from Greco, one played by Staunton) and tested them with our new Intermediate Groups at Richmond Junior Chess Club as well as with private pupils.

Each game comes with a teacher’s sheet, giving the game along with the places where the pupils are asked to find moves and the scores they receive for their choices. Mostly these will be the winner’s moves but sometimes also (in the opening or at a critical defensive point) they are asked to find the loser’s moves. There are also bonus questions: what would you play if your opponent had played a different move. The pupils receive an answer sheet. They have to write each answer in notation (prior knowledge of how to record your moves is essential for this activity) and there’s also space for the number of points they score for each move. At the end the pupils add up their points and receive a rating: Chess Superhero, Chess Hero, Trainee Hero or Future Hero. If you’re working with a group the children will be keen to find out who has scored the most points. In a class environment you’ll probably want to use a demo board but you might also like to ensure that the children have the correct position set up on a board in front of them.

The response was interesting. My private pupils seemed to enjoy them. The children at Richmond Junior Club also enjoyed them but were taking a long time to think of their moves, some of them remarking that “This is really hard”. Children who will usually take little more than 10 seconds per move in their games were, when faced with the task of selecting the best move in the position, unable to come up with an answer within two or three minutes. I took pains to make it clear to them that their objective was to find the best move, not to guess what was played in the game, and that they might on occasion score more points for finding an improvement on the actual move. In order to complete the activity within the time I allocated for it I’ll need to impose a time limit of a minute for each move in future. If they haven’t written anything down by then they don’t score any points for that move.

This is precisely the difference between casual chess and competitive chess. If you’re playing a casual game against a friend you might not be too bothered about finding the best move or about the result. You might even get frustrated if you think your opponent is spending too long on his moves. If you’re playing a competitive game, though, your job is to find the best move you can in the time you have available. Perhaps the most important thing for chess coaches to do if they want to convert social players into serious players is to get them to understand the difference. If you agree with this, you might think this sort of lesson could be an effective way of achieving this aim.

I’ll be posting the first two Chess Games for Heroes lessons over the next two weeks and writing some more over the Summer holidays. It would also be good to find a publisher for this and the rest of the Chess for Heroes project at some point.

Richard James