“What Say You?” The 1 Minute Challenge (2)

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer”
Bruce Lee

A quick reminder about how to do it:

  • Have a look at the position for 1 minute (watch the clock)
  • Think about the choices in front of you and pick the one you feel it is right
  • Verify it in your mind the best you can
  • Compare it with the solution

Are you ready? Below is this week’s position:


This week’s challenge is a king and pawns endgame with Black being up by 1 pawn. Here are my thoughts:

  • There are no passed pawns
  • At first glance the Black king seems unable to defend its isolated pawns, so my first reaction was to try line A: 1. Kg3 … and after a few seconds I realized Black wins with ease
  • The second logical try is line B: 1. Kf1 … where White has the opposition. The concept of the opposition (level 2, lessons 19 of our app) is critical in such endgames and it offers simple yet powerful guidance toward a desired result. Surprisingly here it does not work because Black uses the position of the f3-pawn and after 1… Kd2 2. Kf2 Kd3 wins the opposition back, followed by the game
  • Three of the remaining choices (1. Kg1 … 1. Kh2 … and 1. Kh3 …) do not make much sense in my opinion

If you are still with me, you know there is one move left: 1. Kh1 … It seems counter intuitive for a human player. Why on Earth would I consider moving my king in the most unpleasant square available, away from the f3-pawn and far away from those Black pawns? I looked at the solution and couldn’t believe that it was the one, a move discarded by my intuition from the first moment… Of course once this happens, the normal reaction should be to figure out the reasoning. What do you notice first after you play 1. Kh1 …? If you have noticed White has the distant opposition, it is very possible you found the solution in time. Truly after the second try (1. Kf1 …) you should be looking at 1. Kh1 … instead of discarding it. The distant opposition might not come into play as often as the opposition; however it is as important and powerful. One other interesting observation: after 1. Kh1 … the position has a nice geometric motif: if you consider the f-file as a vertical axis of symmetry, the position is symmetrical.

Do not feel bad the engines spit out the solution immediately. You can look at it and replay it but do not stop there! Do the next step of figuring out why the solution is as it is based on your knowledge. The thought process involved is going to help you in future games and really this is what matters. Play your own games/ positions and don’t let the engines take that away from you regardless how “perfect” they play. Enjoy the full solution below:

Valer Eugen Demian

Manchester Congress

My Dad was equal first in the Manchester Open last weekend with three wins, a draw and a half point bye. I thought this was a good game by him, in a quiet looking position he took the initiative starting with 15…Bb4 and offered the sacrifice of two pawns to maintain it:

Sam Davies

Cedars of Harrow

Let me take you back about 65 years, to the early 1950s. We’re on a council estate in the North West London suburb of Harrow Weald. A few years ago two friends had learnt chess, and now they are joined by a third boy, whom one of them had met through a shared interest in train spotting, all three sharing the same first name: David. With support from the local community centre they form a chess club on their estate which soon attracts more teenagers from the surrounding area. The club takes its name from the name of the estate: Cedars. They enter a team in the Middlesex League and rapidly gain promotion to Division 1, winning the title at the end of the decade. In 1959 the third David, a certain Dave Rumens, shares second place in the World Junior (U20) Championship.

Other clubs, notably Mushrooms in South London, spring up in imitation of Cedars. By the early 1960s chess is booming among teenage boys in London, and Islington win the London League with a team comprising mostly teenagers. It was from this environment that the first wave of the English Chess Explosion would arise: players a few years younger than the three Daves, the likes of Ray Keene, Bill Hartston and Mike Basman would achieve prominence not just nationally but internationally, and a few years later, players such as Jonathan Speelman and Michael Stean, along with Tony Miles from Birmingham, would approach world class.

As it turned out, Cedars didn’t last very long, although their imitators, Mushrooms, are still going strong today, oscillating between Divisions 1 and 2 of the London League and still with several of the same players from half a century ago. The historical importance of Cedars, though, should not be underestimated.

I was, like many others, saddened to hear that Dave Rumens, the third of the three Davids, died last month. Dave disappeared from the chess scene in the early 60s and 1965 married Carol Lumley. Two daughters, Kelsey and Rebecca, soon arrived. Carol later found fame as a poet, using her married name: Carol Rumens. The marriage didn’t last, and in the mid 70s Dave returned to his first love: chess. For nearly a decade he was a fixture on the weekend circuit: no tournament was complete without Dave’s permanent cheeky grin and trademark Grand Prix Attack against the Sicilian Defence. His attractive and aggressive playing style, along with his friendly and outgoing personality, made him one of the most popular figures in British chess.

Now I can quite understand why many of you don’t visit the English Chess Forum very often, but I would urge you to read this thread right the way though, in particular the contributions of Cedars co-founder Dave Mabbs, and others who knew Dave much better than I did. Note also his ex-wife’s poetic tribute. You can also find an obituary written by Stewart Reuben on the ECF website here.

I first got to know Dave Rumens in 1976, when I was marginally involved in an international tournament run by the London Central YMCA chess club (CentYMCA is another great story, perhaps for another column) and persuaded a few of my clubmates from Richmond to take part.

Here’s a brilliant win from that event, with Dave using his favourite opening system to defeat former English international Michael Franklin.

Dave’s second chess career brought him two IM norms, but sadly not the title which his creative play deserved. He dropped out of competitive chess again in 1984, only making a brief comeback in 2001. But that was far from the end of his involvement with chess. In the 1990s he started a new chess career in junior chess coaching, and taught chess very successfully in North London right up until his final illness. Dave Rumens was a real chess original, both as a player and a personality, and will be much missed by very many people in the chess world.

Dave Mabbs continued playing on and off, making more comebacks than Frank Sinatra, most recently a couple of years ago after more than a decade away from the board. Now living in Suffolk, he still has a very respectable grade of 178. I played him three times in the Thames Valley League, losing in 1973 and drawing in both 1983 and 1984. The third Dave, David Levens, although always slightly less strong than his two namesakes, has played a lot more regularly than either, most recently in the British Over 65 Championship. He now lives in Nottingham and has a grade of 155. He is also very much involved with junior coaching and has written a book for beginners.

Let’s just return, though, to suburban London in the 1950s. Can you imagine anything like that happening today: a group of teenagers from a less than privileged background getting together to form a chess club which within a few years becomes one of the strongest in the country. (Dave Rumens’ father was a window cleaner at the time of his birth, and later found employment as a postman. Leonard Barden, a decade older and still going strong, is the son of a dustman.) Most teenagers, at least here in the UK, no longer have that sort of interest in chess. Most teenagers, I suspect, also lack the gumption to start something of that nature for themselves. Both chess and childhood are very different now from two generations ago. In some ways they’re both a lot better, but I can’t help thinking we’ve lost a lot as well.

Richard James

Practice Makes Perfect?

I recently read a social media post stating that kids were studying chess up to four hours a day. It went on to question the validity of such an effort. I thought about this and realized that just because you study something for hours on end each and every day doesn’t mean you’re going to master that subject or even improve much. Quantity doesn’t guarantee any kind of mastery or improvement unless there is a high degree of quality to one’s studies. I know about this all too well.

We’ve all heard the old adage that states “to master an art you must put in at least ten thousand hours of study.” That’s a great deal of time to dedicate to any endeavor, especially in a world that becomes impatient after three minutes. Think about it. Your internet is running a bit slow, a matter of milliseconds, and you thrown a fit because you can’t download a pop tune in under sixty seconds. There was a time when getting online took a lot longer than sixty seconds. I mention this because those individuals who actually attempt to master something via the ten thousand hour method have a lot of natural patience. However, there’s a crucial missing statement that should be firmly attached to the ten thousand hour party line and that’s, “it only works if you have an excellent training structure or program.” In other words, you can waste ten thousand hours trying to master something and get nowhere because you didn’t employ a sound method of training (quality). To demonstrate that I know what I’m talking about here, I’ll give you my typical training day as a musician.

I play guitar for up to four hours a day (sometimes more). In the right hands, this amount practice each day will have any musician greatly improving within a short period. In the wrong hands, bad playing and the bad habits thus developed will lead to no improvement and a lot of frustration. With music and chess, it all comes down to the structure of your training program more so than the time spent training. I play for such a long period of time each day because I’m studying some extremely complex and difficult to learn jazz guitarist leads (what they call a “professional’s advanced class). This is akin to preparing an opening for a high level chess tournament. Too many improving guitarists and chess players have dreadful training methods that aren’t structured to optimize their studies. This is why they don’t get the results they’re after.

Here’s the way my typical guitar training sessions go. I start with a good thirty minutes of jazz scales. Why scales when I can work on playing actual songs? Because my fingers need to warm up before trying to play extremely complicated guitar leads. If I try to play a lead with no warn up, my fingers don’t work as well and I get frustrated. If I become frustrated, I might not feel like playing. Therefore, I warm up with scales. I then play a series of ten bebop (jazz) leads on my guitar, with each lead becoming more complex as I move through them. I play each lead a minimum of ten times. I should mention that if I hit one off note, I add another five times to the total workout of each lead. Bad habits form when you hit a bad note and continue anyway. You need to stop and start again, correctly. These lead guitar riffs are specifically designed to prepare my fingers for the more complex work I’ll be doing towards the end of my session. Next I move on to twenty Wes Montgomery leads. He was an amazing guitarist and learning to play his music is extremely difficult. Each of the twenty leads is done ten times with the same off or bad note penalty. Sometimes, I’ll play a leads perfectly and then my fingers get stupid (more likely it’s my brain but I hate to admit that) and I can’t play the lead through a second time. I stop and immediately take a break. Trying to continue when you’re frustrated will only make matters worse. It’s time to walk away and play a quick game of chess. I keep a board set up in my studio. In fact, when my bands rehearse there is always a game being played during those rehearsals, with some moves being made while the musicians are playing! The point here is to stop when frustration sets in because you’ll waste more time by not taking a break. Notice that there’s a structure to my studies? This is the only way you can improve.

After my jazz workout, I do some old school country guitar, called “chicken picking.” This is a string bending work out in which I’m using my fingers to “pick” the strings so I’m playing multiple notes at once. Only now do I actually run through both my band’s sets (roughly 18 songs each). Yes, I know the songs because I wrote almost all of them but I like to refine them ever so slightly.

In short, I have a very structured training work out. I’ve also done well over ten thousand hours of playing and am considered (by my peers, not by myself) to have mastered my instrument. However, there is no last stop on the road to improvement. It’s a road than only ends when you die. This is why you have to keep at it. A chess training workout doesn’t have to be as long as my guitar workout to be beneficial. The workout I described above is as long as it is because of solo and song lengths. With chess, you’re workout can be much shorter. Remember, just because someone else is studying chess for four hours doesn’t mean they’re going to play better than someone putting an hour or two into their studies. It’s about quality not quantity.

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, you should set realistic goals regarding how long you study. I can play guitar for four hours because I’ve developed the concentration and stamina to do so over the last thirty five plus years of playing. If you’re new to chess, you need to study for shorter periods of time until you build up your mental stamina. Otherwise you’ll burn out quickly. Try thirty minutes daily to start and forty five minutes daily, three months later. Trying to study chess for four hours will give the beginner a solid thirty minutes of good studying followed by three and a half hours of glazed eyes and nothing accomplished. Take it slow. You have to be patient to improve. Getting good at sometime takes time and you cannot rush the process if you want to gain the most from your studies. Don’t be impatient. Take it nice and easy.

As for what to study? Make a list of everything you think is wrong with your chess playing and be honest (after all, you’re the only one seeing the list). Categorize the issues into opening, Middle and endgame problems. If you don’t have access to chess books or training software, go online and search for your particular problem. If you have trouble with your opponent hitting you with tactical plays that seem to come from nowhere, type “how to spot tactics in chess” into your search engine. Do this with each of the problems on your list. Do note that the internet allows everyone to be an expert so you have to watch out for people who don’t know what they’re doing. Look for know chess player’s online writings to avoid this. Look for web pages and sites that have positive reviews.

You’ll also want to go online and look up chess training programs. However, I suggest you try working through your list first and using that to start your training because if you’re brand new to chess, you won’t know a good training program from a bad one. Trust books written by Bruce Pandolfini. His writings on chess improvement form the foundation of my own chess teaching and coaching program. He writes in a clear and concise manner and is beginner friendly (many books are too advanced for beginners even though they’re supposed to be for the novice player) Go onto chess forums and see what people recommend in the way of training. You have to do the research.

In closing always remember that when it comes to improvement, quality always trumps quantity and patience wins the war. It comes down to a well thought out training program. That is how you improve. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

Beating a Grandmaster

I came across this game recently and thought it worth publishing. It features a young Christer Hartman (who went on to become an International Master) beating a well known Grandmaster with a queen sacrifice.

The opening did not go well for Hartman, who lost a pawn to 10.Bxh7+. But the opposite colour bishops gave him some attacking chances on the kingside, and he cleverly set up the ingenious 21…Qxg2+.

Benko obviously missed this shot, as had he chosen 21.Nfd5 he would still have been well on top:

Nigel Davies

Listen to Your Pawn Levers

I’m enjoying using Audible. I read a lot with my work and it’s helpful to have the option of listening to books rather than read. It gives my eyes a rest. I’m currently listening to Deep Work by Cal Newport. He recommends isolating yourself from distractions in order to do more valuable work. It’s an interesting book. One thing he talks about to help you do the work that I had also read elsewhere was Jerry Seinfeld’s technique of marking a cross on a calendar every day he worked on new material. Thus building a chain of crosses. Seinfeld made it a must to never break the chain. It could be useful in terms of our chess praxis.

This was an instructive loss – the notes are Nigel’s. The major theme here was the need for White to play the e4 pawn lever which, as you can see, I did not appreciate.

Dan Staples

Hanging Pieces

This article aims at beginners only. When we talk about hanging pieces or pawns, the general understanding is that a piece without support is called a hanging piece. I would like to propose a different categorization, and one which can significantly reduce the number of blunders by just observing and understanding them.

I largely divide hanging pieces into two categories:

A) Pieces that have no support or can have their support removed:
Pieces that have no support, or can have their support removed, are technically undefended. With pieces that are supported like this the attacker always just remove the support and then they are just like undefended pieces.

Position A:
This is a variation from the game Miguel Najdorf vs Robert James Fischer, 1966 (White to move)


This is very simple, Qc8 check wins the rook on b7.

Position B)
Miguel Najdorf vs Robert James Fischer, 1966 (White to move)


This is the same scenario as White can first play Nxd6. In the game Fischer resigned in view of Qxd6 and now Nxb7 and we achieved position A in case of Rxb7. Of course Black can’t trap the knight with Qb6 or c7 because of pawn to d6.

B) Pieces performing crucial tasks are always hanging:
Here the piece is performing or going to perform a crucial defending role. It is therefore always hanging no matter how many times it is defended. The game is usually over once it has been captured.

Here’s a position I composed myself:


Here the bishop on c5 is defended three times but this bishop is going to perform the very important task of preventing checkmate vai Qh6. So this bishop is hanging no matter how many times it is defended. White can win the game with Rxc5.

Ashvin Chauhan

Bad ideas (2)

“Errare humanum est…”
Seneca

My first article on this subject can be revisited HERE A few days ago I stumbled in my online search over one of Magnus Carlsen spectacular combinations when he was 12 years old. Possibly some of you might know it, while some might not. It is however safe to assume all will enjoy reviewing it together with my 2 cents about the game. The final combination did not happen out of the blue. There were a number of factors involved during the game to make it possible and in my opinion the most important one was a “bad idea” Black had in the opening. He planted the seed early and continued to water it until it grew into something nice looking and completely useless. I feel inspired today and will call it a “game eating” idea!

Let’s have a look at the game and how the “game eating” idea developed:


I think we must look at this game with a human eye. Black’s idea was to dominate the queen side and he achieved it. The main point is that it was absolutely useless and when Magnus played the final assault on the opposing king, those pieces on the queen side were still dominating it and being absolutely useless in the same time. Black had a few opportunities to re-adjust instead of persevering, but missed them. What do we learn out of it? The main lesson for me is the importance of piece activity (lessons 10 to 14, level 5 of our chess app). Always pay attention to what your pieces and the opposing pieces are doing at any moment. Be ready to move them around as the position requires and expect this simple advice to be hard to follow. Please practice it as often as possible because it is the only way to get better. Good luck!

Valer Eugen Demian

Controlling the Open File

Controlling an open file is especially useful when you can penetrate to the 7th or 8th ranks. Here’s a game in which I managed to do this from the 2015 British Rapidplay Championships:

Sam Davies

Heffalump Swamp

The only competitive chess I’ve played for many years has been in my local league, the Thames Valley League. As I write this we’re half way though the summer break so it’s a good time to look back to last season’s games and consider how I might do better next time round.

My first game last season was a quick (in more ways than one) win against a talented junior which I’ll probably come back to later. My next match was against Kingston, a small club with a fairly strong first team but not much in the way of reserve strength. As several of their regular players were unavailable I found myself playing an opponent graded more than 50 points (about 400 Elo points) below me. Now I’m normally fairly consistent: I tend to beat lower graded players, lose to higher graded players and draw with players about my own strength, so, with the advantage of the white pieces, I was expecting a fairly comfortable victory.

Here’s what happened.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 d5

If he’s playing this move he doesn’t know a lot about openings.

3. cxd5 Nxd5
4. Nf3 Nc6
5. e4 Nb6
6. d5 Nb8
7. Nc3 e6

He’s hitting my centre pawn. What to do? At this point I started having visions of my opponent playing Bb4 sometime soon giving me problems holding d5 so I panicked and looked for a way to stop this idea. Bf4, Be2 and Qd4 have all been played here and the engines rather like a4, but I decided I should trade off the dark squared bishops and get his queen off the d-file.

In fact I have tactical resources, for instance 8. Bf4 exd5 9. exd5 Bb4 10. Qe2+ or 8. Be2 exd5 9. exd5 Bb4 10. Qd4, but these weren’t immediately obvious to me so, after some thought, I played…

8. Bg5 Be7
9. Bxe7 Qxe7
10. Be2 O-O
11. O-O

I was happy with my lead in development, space advantage and extra centre pawn but the engines are not so impressed, considering the position about equal.

11… N8d7

The engines tell me Black should trade on d5 here, and that I should, either now or next move, play dxe6, meeting Qxe6 with Nb5. Not something I considered at all, of course.

12. a4 a5
13. Rc1 c6

Again he should have traded on d5, but instead he gives me the chance to play d6. Well, it’s the obvious move but again I started panicking about the pawn eventually being surrounded by the black pieces so decided on what I thought was a safer alternative.

14. dxc6 bxc6

I was still fairly happy here. Black has an isolated pawn which I can target, and if it moves to c5 I’ll have a tasty outpost on b5. I would also have argued that the black bishop is rather bad. The engines are still not impressed, though.

15. Nd4 Bb7
16. f4 Nf6
17. e5

Why not gain some space to go with my other advantages? I expected Nd5 here, but the engines prefer the unobvious (at this level) tactical shot Rfd8. Instead the knight went back where it came from, so I appeared to have gained a couple of tempi.

17… Nfd7
18. Bf3

Hitting the weak pawn on c6 again.

18… Nd5

Now I have to make a decision.

19. Bxd5

At the time I was pleased with myself for having found this move. I was trading advantages: giving up a bishop for a knight and straightening his pawns, assuming he’d take back with the c-pawn, but in exchange I’d get an outpost on b5, play on the c-file and, potentially, a good knight against a bad bishop. I didn’t seriously consider what would happen if he took with the e-pawn. In fact taking with the e-pawn is fine for Black and Bxd5 was a pretty poor decision. Nxd5 was OK and perhaps very slightly better for White, as was Qd2.

19… exd5

Never mind: I can still get my knight to d6. This must be good for me.

20. Nf5 Qe6
21. Nd6 Ba6

It hadn’t occurred to me that he now had this square for his bishop, but never mind. My rook will be happy looking at the black queen.

22. Re1 f6

It was only now that I realised I had a problem. I can’t defend e5 again and my knight on d6 has nowhere to go. It now seemed to me that, far from playing safe, I’d overreached and was now in trouble.

23. f5 Qe7

I couldn’t see any alternative to the speculative sacrifice on d5, but in fact there’s a tactical solution: 24. Ncb5 cxb5 25. Qxd5+ Kh8 26. axb5, when I’m regaining the piece as the bishop is trapped (Bc8 leaves the rook on a8 hanging). I’m not a good enough tactician to see that sort of thing, so I had to make do with…

24. Nxd5 cxd5
25. Qxd5+ Kh8

This looked fairly unclear to me: perhaps my opponent would find the defence too difficult. But now we’re in exactly the sort of swamp where heffalumps are as likely as rabbits to drown.

26. exf6

My computer tells me I should have played 26. Rc7, which is an immediate draw by repetition after 26… fxe5 27. Qc6 and now either 27… Rfd8 28. Qd5 Rf8 or 27… Nb8 28. Qc5 Nd7. But I was starting to run low on time and it seemed natural to trade off my e-pawn rather than leaving it en prise.

26… Qxf6

26… Nxf6, trading queens, was a probable improvement.

27. Rc7 Rad8
28. Qc6

After thinking for a bit I suddenly noticed I had a fork and jumped at the opportunity. But, unlike in the line after White’s 26th move, it’s just a losing blunder. I’d simply missed that he could defend with Nb8, meeting both my threats and creating two threats of his own.

It’s not obvious at my level and with the clock ticking, but 28. Rc6 Nb8 29. Re6 is the computer recommendation, apparently with equality. The tactical point is that the immediate 28. Rc6 would allow Qxb2, but now 29… Qxb2 would lose to Nf7+.

28… Qd4+
29. Kh1 Qd2

He should have played Nb8 at this point, which just wins at once. Now I have some sort of defence.

30. Rg1 Nb8
31. Ne4 Qe2

And here he should trade queens, which is still winning comfortably.

32. Qc3 Rd7
33. Rxd7

I had two better choices here: f6, which I think I considered but rejected, and Qc5.

33… Nxd7
34. Nd6 Nf6

34… Qd3 was correct here. Now I could and should grab the a-pawn: my only hope is to run Black out of pawns.

35. h3 Qf2
36. Rc1

Again, I should have captured on a5, which, according to my computer, is only slightly better for Black. By now neither of us had enough time left so I’ll let the rest of the moves pass without comment.

36… Bf1
37. Qc6 Qf4
38. Rc2 Bd3
39. Rc1 Bxf5
40. Nxe4 Bxe4
40. Nxf5 Qxf5
41. Rc5 Qf1+
42. Kh2 Qf4+

At this point I stopped recording as I was down to my last couple of minutes. My opponent eventually mated me with king and rook against king just before his flag fell.

So what went wrong? The mistakes at the end were understandable: the position was complicated and I didn’t have enough time left. The main problem was the blunder on move 28, and before that the positional misjudgement on move 19. I could have played the early part of the game much better, but on several occasions I didn’t play the move I knew I should have played because I was fearing ghosts: something that happens over and over again in my games. Perhaps I was unlucky because the run of play went against me. This sometimes happens, but my opponent played well after the opening and took enough of his chances to score a well deserved win.

Richard James