The Return of the Raptor

Chess openings tend to drift in and out of fashion apparently depending on spurious factors such as whether or not they have a strong player using them. A good example is the Raptor Variation of the Trompowsky which goes 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 Ne4 3.h4!?, a one time favourite of UK GM Julian Hodgson which all but disappeared when he stopped using it.

Interestingly it now seems to be making something of a comeback, mainly thanks to the efforts of Richard Rapport. There are a few others chipping in too such as the inventive Australian GM Max Illingworth:

Nigel Davies

The Formulation Of Plans And Personal Style

Many chess amateurs like to talk about whether certain openings are unsuitable because they don’t suit their personal style. They might additional argue that their chess style is something which very hard to change because it reflects their nature. I don’t believe in this at all and would like to explain my reasons.

The formulation of plans and personal style is closely connected. For instance in the Queen’s Gambit Declined Exchange Variation White can adopt either a minority attack or playing with his central majority (the f3 and e4 plan). There is the nice example given by Sam Davies in his last post.

Similarly there are two plans in the position given below, and in both of these White is winning.

Q: White has two plans at his disposal. White of these do you prefer and why?
Plan A: Greek Gift sacrifice
Plan B: Winning a piece with Bd2

Here I would prefer to go for winning a piece with Bd2 because I am biased towards simple chess and I found that simplicity suits me better in chess. Yet in my early days I tended to play very aggressively. This contradiction shows that personal style in chess can be developed and it has little to do with someone’s nature.

Here is an exercise to prove my point. If you believe you’re an aggressive player then quickly go through some games of Capablanca or Geller. You will soon realize that their play is not that different to your own.

Ashvin Chauhan

The Chess Connection

“Pay attention, we’re gonna ask questions later!”
Buddy “Cloudy” Russo, The French Connection

How many of you have seen The French Connection movie? Gene Hackman is front and center in it as detective Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle; together with his partner Buddy “Cloudy” Russo (Roy Schneider) they are trying to get to the main source of a drug smuggling connection. It received at the time 5 Academy Awards, including the one for Best Picture while being the first R-rated movie to win it. I highly recommend it in case you have not seen it or if you wish to see it one more time. I was too young to really enjoy the 70s, so I love watching movies and/ or videos from that time.

This past weekend (Feb 18-19) I got together with a chessfriend I have not seen in years. Dan Scoones is a strong local master, 2 times provincial champion, who’s love for chess has not diminished over the years despite a very busy professional life keeping him away from OTB. His life is a bit less hectic these days and he spends a lot of time reading top quality books. He had a spare copy of Aagaard’s “Grandmaster Preparation – Calculation” and I had to have it. We met at the local Starbucks and in no time Dan pulled a chess set and we began talking our common language: famous Soviet chess players and trainers, hedgehog system, GM Suba, Maroczy structure, Fischer learning Russian to read Lipnitsky’s book (how many know this one, eh?…), etc as well as our love for endgames. Dan is an incredible endgame player, writing a nice column “Browsing for endgames” in our provincial newsletter BCCF Bulletin available for free in pdf format. He shared with me the following endgame study, courtesy of GM Maurice Ashley a common Facebook friend of ours. Try to solve it on your own, without engine help!

It is really cool to know you are looking at the same position Maurice, Hikaru (Nakamura) and alikes took the time to enjoy. It is a chess connection we are all blessed to have as a community, a connection dating back to the first chess manuscripts. Of course the experience is more exciting when the players involved are your contemporaries. Let’s proceed looking at the position to identify helpful clues in figuring out the solution. Do remember a simple rule I learned many years ago from a dear chess composer (Leo Mozes) in my home city:
“Every piece on the chess board has a purpose”
The list of clues could include but are not limited to:

  • Ne6 defensive purpose – to limit the action of Qf5
  • Ne6 attacking purpose – must be there for a deadly fork on the f8-, g7- or f5-squares
  • the f6-pawn – an unfortunate blocker also limiting the action of Qf5
  • Qf5 – another unfortunate blocker of Kg6 from running toward the center
  • Kf8 – helping Qe7 along the 7th rank; covering all squares around Kg6 should be a goal

If you found extra ones, you did a very good job!

Did you find the solution yet? I am happy I saw the first move, but did not see Hikaru’s move 2. I went for the popular choice and there is no shame in that. Here is the complete solution:

Be mindful you are part of the chess connection and get involved. It is the only way to keep it alive. If you have any games and/ or positions you would like me to look at, please do not hesitate to let me know. I will gladly include them in my column for everyone’s benefit. Looking forward to your messages!

Valer Eugen Demian

Building A Centre

I liked this game by Mikhail Botvinnik because he showed how to build a centre for White in the Queen’s Gambit Declined Exchange Variation. This is an alternative plan to the minority attack with b2-b4-b5.

Sam Davies

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

It’s been a long time since I showed you any actual chess on a Sunday, so here, for a change, are two puzzles for you to solve. In each case I just want you to select your next move, and, if you want, consider what the two positions have in common.

In this position it’s White’s move.

And in this position it’s Black’s move.

Go away and solve them now before reading on.

It seems like I’ve spent most of my life telling children to use a CCTV when they’re playing chess. Look at every Check, Capture, Threat and Violent move both for you and for your opponent. Continue with all sequences of checks, captures and threats until you reach a quiescent position. As Cecil Purdy wrote, examine moves that smite.

If I’d been brought up on Purdy perhaps this would have become second nature to me. But instead I was brought up on Golombek’s The Game of Chess, which explained what to do but not how to do it. Golombek was an excellent writer and, it goes without saying, extremely knowledgeable about chess. But, unlike Purdy, he wasn’t really a teacher.

So, although I try to explain to my pupils how to think about chess positions, I’m totally unable to do the same thing myself in my own games.

These positions came from my two (at the time of writing) most recent games. I was White in both positions. You’ve probably found the best move in both positions by now: they’re not so hard if you know there’s something there, but easy to miss over the board, at least at my level.

In the first position I could have won a pawn with the simple tactic 1. Rxb7 Rxb7 2. Qc8+, but neither player noticed, either at the time or during the post mortem. The game was eventually drawn: you might possibly see all the moves in a future post.

In the second position, Black looks in trouble. His h-pawn is en prise, his f-pawn will be under pressure after a future Rcf1, and White’s centre pawns are ready to roll. But the great god Tactics comes to his rescue: he has 1… Rxd4+ 2. Kxd4 Ne2+, when Black is a bit better but White might just be holding. Again, fortunately for me and my team (we won the match by the minimum margin) neither player noticed the opportunity and I eventually brought home the full point.

Both tactics are essentially the same thing, aren’t they? You sacrifice a rook for a pawn, setting up a fork to win back the rook. If I were writing a tactics book (which, as it happens, I am), and included a chapter on sacrificing to set up a fork (which I probably won’t as it’s a very basic tactics book) you could well include both positions. In both games I didn’t consider the possibility at all, just seeing that the pawn was defended and not taking it any further.

Although I teach my pupils to look for this sort of thing in their games, it just doesn’t occur to me to do so myself. It ought to be second nature, but it isn’t, which is one reason why I’ve never been a very good player. I guess that, as I’m coming towards the end of my chess career, it’s too late to do anything about it now.

Richard James

The Importance of Tactics Three

Tactics can quickly decide the games of beginning and intermediate players, so knowing how and when to employ them is crucial if you wish to improve your game. Of course, tactics are not a guaranteed way to win but they can change the material balance in your favor and thus make it easier to win due to having a larger army than your opponent. We looked at pawn and minor piece (Knight and Bishop) forks in the last two articles. Now we’re going to look at major piece (Rook and Queen) forks. There is a difference between pawn, Knight and Bishop forks versus Rook and Queen forks. That difference has to do with the value of the material doing the forking. Pawns, for example, are great at forking because they have the lowest relative value. When a pawn forks two pieces, you automatically end up with a material gain. Knights and Bishops, when forking major pieces, (Rooks and Queens) also lead to a material gain. However, when you’re using a Rook or Queen to fork, you have to be careful because of their high relative value. If you have a Rook forking two minor pieces, and those minor pieces are protected by pawns or other minor pieces, then you’re apt to lose material should you follow through with the fork and capture one of those minor pieces!

We’ll start by looking at Rook forks. Rooks have the ability to move along the ranks and files. Unlike the Bishop who can only control diagonals of one color, the Rook can cover both black and white squares simultaneously. Because a Rook is worth more than a minor piece or pawn, your target pieces when using a Rook to fork should be a piece of higher value, such as The King or Queen and an unprotected piece of lower value, such as a Knight or Bishop. Why not a piece of equal value? Well, a piece of equal value would be another Rook and you can’t fork another Rook because that other Rook would simply capture your Rook! As with all forks, the set up is critical to your success. Take a look at the example below:

This is an extremely simplified example but it demonstrates what I just mentioned above regarding the idea of forking a piece of greater value than the Rook and a piece of lesser value. In our example, the White Rook moves to d6 (1. Rd6+) where it checks the Black King on h6 while also attacking the Bishop on a6. The King moves (1…Kg5) and the Rook captures the Bishop with 2. Rxa6. Nice and easy. However, if Black had a Knight on b8, this fork wouldn’t work because the Knight would protect the Black Bishop and following through with the exchange would leave you trading a five point Rook for a three point Bishop. Forks work when the piece being captured after the other piece has moved isn’t protected. However, what if we substitute A Black Queen for the Black Bishop and the White Rook we’re using to fork King and Queen has a bodyguard? Take a look at the example below:

Here, the Rook moves to the forking square, d6 (1. Rd6+). Since it’s checking the Black King, Black has the choice of moving the King and losing the Queen (and the game) or Capturing the Rook. Black opts to capture with 1…Qxd6. Now we see why the Rook needed a bodyguard. Remember, the Queen moves like both a Rook and Bishop, so forking a Queen with either of these two pieces requires a bodyguard for the forking piece. White plays 2. Bxd6, winning the Queen at the cost of a Rook. The net gain of this tactic is four points of material, trading Rook for Queen. With major piece forks, you often need a bodyguard to assist the forking piece to ensure a gain of material. Thus, the more valuable the piece doing the forking the more carefully you must set up your fork. There is one place where Rooks can can be highly effective against lower valued material, namely the pawns!

Rooks love to reek havoc on the seventh and second ranks, especially when the initial pawn structure (pawns on their starting squares) is somewhat intact. Let’s take a look:

White plays 1. Rd7, forking the Black pawns on c7 and e7. Black can only protect one of those pawns which means White captures the other one free of charge. After 1…Rfe8, White plays 2. Rxc7 winning a pawn. Black blunders with 2…Rac8, attacking the White Rook, thinking White will trade Rooks. However, the White Rooks says “time to take another pawn” and plays 3. Rxb7. Black decides to cover his a7 pawn with 3…Ra8 and the White Rook runs away after creating a three to one Queen-side pawn majority for White with 4. Rb3. This actual tragedy was from a student game in one of my beginner’s classes. White went on to win after being able to promote a Queen-side pawn. Of course, we can thank the Rook for creating the pawn majority!

The above example shows how powerful the Rook can be when it comes to rounding up pawns. However, you must be careful when going on a pawn hunt with one of your Rooks because of the Rook’s value. Hunting pawns with Rooks and Queens can be hazardous to your position’s health. It’s better not to hunt pawns in the first place because you have greater tasks to be tackled, such as winning the game by creating strong positions! Now we’ll look at some Queen forks.

Since the Queen is the most valuable piece aside from the King, you have to be extremely careful when using her, especially when it comes to forks. If you miscalculate your tactical assault, you may become the victim rather than the other way around. When forking with the Queen, it’s best for the beginner to only consider forks that involve the opposition King as one of the forked pieces. Take a look at the example below:

In the above example, Black is threatening to capture the a2 pawn. White could simply move the Queen to b1 or c2 to defend it. However, wouldn’t it be better to win the Rook outright? White can further improve upon his material advantage by employing a fork. Using a Queen fork, White plays 1. Qb3+ which forks the Black King and the annoying Black Rook. After black blocks with 1…Rf7, White plays 2. Qxa2 equalizing the material balance. Of course, if the Black Knight was on b4, this fork wouldn’t work. You should always make sure the pieces you’re planning on capturing after employing the fork aren’t protected.

When using Rooks and Queens for forks, you have to take care because these are your major pieces, having the highest material value. Therefore, you need to make sure they can’t be recaptured after you execute the fork. As I mentioned in the previous two articles, the way to find potential forks is to look for pieces that share a rank, file or diagonal. Rooks fork on the ranks and files. Queens have an advantage in that they can fork on the ranks, files and diagonals. Their disadvantage is that they’re at the top of the relative value scale so if you lose your Queen due to a faulty tactical execution, you’re down a lot of material. Next week we’ll start our examination of pins, a deadly tactic you should know how use. Until then, here’s a great gambit game from the romantic era of the game we all love. Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

The Benefits of Studying the Games of Morphy

“In a set match, Morphy would beat anybody alive today… Morphy was perhaps the most accurate chess player who ever lived. He had complete sight of the board and never blundered, in spite of the fact that he played quite rapidly, rarely taking more than five minutes to decide a move.”

Bobby Fischer

I’ve always been a fan of Paul Morphy. Ever since I studied his famous “Opera Game,” I enjoyed his clear attacking style. I think he is a good player for everyone to study, especially beginners.

Here are a few reasons why I think he is an important player to study:

Unlike many players of his era, Morphy set about developing his pieces before attacking. He seemed to value the development of his pieces highly, often sacrificing a pawn or two (as we’ll see in our example) to accelerate the development of his pieces.

Morphy was also a master of creating and sustaining the initiative. In looking at many of his games, I always felt like his opponents were stumbling backwards trying to defend themselves. His superior development of his pieces often aided in this, as well as the poor defensive skills of his opponents during this time period.

Following up from this is his incredible skill in coordinating his pieces – particularly when conducting the attack. When you look at his games, you often see that nearly all of his pieces are working for him. This is especially important for beginners, who often conduct an attack with one (maybe two) pieces.

One other aspect of his games was that although he played the top players of his era, opening theory and defensive techniques haven’t been developed as much as they are now. This means that his opponents made mistakes similar to the ones you and I (and our opponents) might make (unless you’re a master yourself who plays other masters). Sometimes these games are more instructive than watching a subtle positional duel between two of today’s top players.

Paul Morphy was ahead of his time and head and shoulders above his competition. His moves stand the test of time and his play was entirely modern. I think you will find studying his games very rewarding.

Below is a video of one of his masterpieces with my commentary (geared towards beginners). Enjoy!

Bryan Castro

The Search For Mona Lisa

Is chess an art, science or sport? Or something else? I tend to take the position that we should aim first and foremost for better results as this generally means better quality of play. It’s also too easy for people to proclaim themselves to be artists when another unsound sacrifice or dubious gambit goes wrong.

Having said that there is an element of art in chess and there are very strong players for whom this overshadows results. One such player was Eduard Gufeld.

Back in the 1990s, during my brief period as the Batsford Chess Editor, I got to know Gufeld because he was constantly phoning me up with book proposals. He had a number of co-authors in the former Soviet Union with whom he’d collaborate on various books, and then sell the manuscripts to publishers in the West. I had to reject many of his ideas but still enjoy many of his writings.

Sadly Gufeld died in 2002 but left behind a rich legacy in games. The book on his own games, The Search For Mona Lisa, was also a classic that many people may have overlooked because he was never one of the World’s top players.

Here’s Gufeld showing one of his games, and a very nice effort it was too:

Nigel Davies

Improve Your Calculation With King And Pawn Endgames

In my last article, I have stated that calculation and formulation of plan are the core skills in chess. There are different ways to getting better at calculation and studying king and pawn endgame is one of them.

Why king and pawn endgames? Because the result usually hinges on precise calculation. Let’s consider the following example from one of my games. I am playing Black and in a losing position.

White to move

In this position White played 1.f4 with the hope that after gxf4 then Kxf4 followed by g4 he would have a protected passed pawn. I really feel bad for him but now it is draw after 1…g4! and the game ended in a draw after some more moves when White discovered he could not break through.

Here is another example from game of my students who has White.

White to move

Of course White is winning but in the game he played 32. Ke3 and went on win as his opponent didn’t resist much. But the natural Ke3 is, in fact a bad move and game could be draw after Black’s 32…c4!

The winning move for White is actually really instructive and interesting. White can play 32. Kg3. I just don’t want to jump into variations but I would like to just emphasize that king and pawn endgames can be very tricky.

How should someone study king and pawn endgames? Well first one should look for theoretical positions in king and pawn endgames as they are building blocks. After that you can move forward to solve endgame studies.

Do you remember when you last spent enough time studying endgames? If not then this is a good time to start!

Ashvin Chauhan

Space Advantage

“A space advantage means little if there is no way to penetrate into the enemy position.”
Jeremy Silman, The Amateur’s Mind

It is very easy to throw around words like “space advantage”. One side can get that really quickly by playing aggressive or when the opponent is really shy and defensive. So you get it one way or the other; what now? It is very possible you get a bit tentative, expecting the “space advantage’ to perform some sort of miraculous voodoo and bring you closer to a win. That signals a new direction the game goes into and you should not go there. Another possibility is you get overconfident and keep on attacking, hyper extending yourself. This has been proven disastruous since the days of Alekhine and his famous defence. Have you ever played on either side of the following line? It was for a while my main weapon against the overzealous opponents, happy to have a d6-pawn and my queen trapped after only 11 moves. They never saw it coming…

Today’s game is meant to help you be confident when you get “space advantage’. Do what White did (penetrate into the enemy position) as much as possible and you will have a new weapon to use in your games.

Here is the link to the article “Bad ideas” if you wish to revisit it. What do we learn out of this game? First of all we learn that we must attack if we have the space advantage. Steinitz said:
“When a sufficient advantage has been obtained, a player must attack or the advantage will be dissipated.”
A space advantage is in most cases sufficient advantage to make you start the attack. The second thing we can learn is even if our style is a bit shy and defensive, we must find a way to give the opponent something to worry about or we stand no chance. Hope you find it useful. If you have any games and/ or positions you would like me to look at, please do not hesitate to let me know. I will gladly include them in my column for everyone’s benefit. Looking forward to your messages!

Valer Eugen Demian