Writing a Chess Book

After writing a number of articles for The Chess Improver, I was offered the chance, thanks to Nigel’s recommendation, to write a chess book. Within weeks, I had signed a publishing contract. Of course, I did little thinking before jumping into the project because I didn’t want to lose this opportunity. I was given six weeks to write the entire book because the publisher need one written quickly. The book would be 176 pages. I’ve written this article to give other budding chess writers an idea of what they’re getting into should they decide to write a book.

Having written for many years, I’ve come to the conclusion that the hardest part of writing is actually sitting down and doing it. I know many people who claim to be writers yet spend more time talking about being writers than actually putting words to paper. Writing doesn’t count for anything unless the words find their way to the page. Being contracted means you have to write or you’ll be sued for any advance money if you don’t produce something. The prospects of ending up in an English Court (the publishing company is based in the UK) for doing absolutely no writing served as a great incentive to get busy (while I’d like to experience the English court system, I’d rather do so as a spectator). Given the short period of time in which I had to write my first book, I knew I had to sit down everyday and commit words to paper. I write best in the mornings, so each morning I’d be writing by 6:30 am, stopping only to go teach classes. On that first day, I sat down in front of my laptop, staring at what seemed like the world’s largest blank page.

The hardest thing to face when writing any type of book is that first page, knowing hundreds of blank pages sit behind it. You can’t think about all the pages that haven’t been written. You have to think about the single page your writing. Otherwise, you’ll become overwhelmed and unable to move forward. However, before you start writing, you need a plan. I created an outline, laying out what needed to be covered in the book. Create an outline before typing a single word. The outline provides a guide you can follow and helps ensure you don’t leave anything out.

Fortunately, having taught chess for many years, I was able to use my own teaching program the to form the outline. I started with a broader outline first. The book was broken down into four parts: The Rules, The Opening Game, The Middle Game and The Endgame. I moved on to what would be included in these four sections. It’s fairly easy, if you read a lot of chess books, to know what to include in each section. If you’re not a chess teacher, consider looking at chess books, especially those that you’ve enjoyed, to see how they’re laid out. Don’t worry, you haven’t crossed the plagiarism line yet. You’re merely looking for a template to base your outline on. It’s important to use other chess books to create an outline because you want to make sure you don’t leave anything out. However, if you’re writing a book for beginners, don’t use a book geared for advanced players to create your outline. This brings me to another important point, don’t write above your audiences comprehension level. When you get really good at something (not that I know what I’m doing), it comes easily to you. Too many teachers assume their students will understand their explanations because they understand their own explanations. The reason the teacher understand the words coming out of his or her mouth is because they know the subject inside and out. Meanwhile, their students sit silently, becoming more glassy eyed with each passing minute. Assume your reader has no prior knowledge of the game.

Surprisingly, the hardest part of writing this book was explaining the rules. I teach chess visually, with a board and pieces. My students can see how the pieces move in a three dimensional environment. Explaining how the pieces move using only words to do so, isn’t easy. It’s as if you’re suddenly reduced to one dimension. Here’s where you dig through your collection of chess books. Read five or more authors and see how they describe pawn and piece movement. Then sit down and write an explanation of pawn and piece movement, in your own words. Castling was a challenge because there are many conditions that must be met in order to castle. I had to create a very simple explanation for each condition and group them in a logical order. I wrote, edited, wrote some more, edited some more, and eventually came up with a clear explanation of castling and it’s rules. Editing is what makes a book flow fluidly.

Edit each section as you go along. Write freely without editing and then go back and edit when you’ve finished a single section or chapter! Remove redundant or repetitive sentences and statements. Often, we say the same thing twice when trying to make a point. This wastes space. Cut the fat and your writing will thank you for it! Don’t get too wordy, a problem that’s a terminal condition for this writer. Your readers want to know how to play the game of chess and probably don’t have the time or patience to listen to your old college stories that you use as analogies. Analogies are great, but only use those that everyone can relate to. Planning your vacation to Fiji is not a good analogy for middle game planning unless your travel plans are undefined and prone to chaos.

Limit your use of sophisticated or “big” words. That’s what we have academics for. If your readers have to use a dictionary to figure out what your saying, they’re not learning chess! Of course, there’s nothing wrong with throwing in a few big words now and again, but don’t overdo it. Keep your explanations as simple as possible. Your readers will love you for it, or at least not mutter four letter words when hearing your name. Always assume your reader has never played chess. Keep it simple because the more complicated you make an explanation, the more lost your readers become. It’s not that your readers are simpletons. Far from it. They’re new to chess. Even if one of your readers is a genius, he or she will want an easy to understand explanation of the game not a PhD dissertation.

Always write from your heart. Share your passion for chess with your audience. Readers want to share your passionate for chess or they wouldn’t be reading your book. Always be truthful. Don’t tell your readers that they’ll become brilliant chess players in seven days. Don’t make any other guarantee than with hard work, their game will improve. Honesty is important. Encourage readers to achieve their goals as long as they’re realistic. Think of your reader a family member your helping with their studies (a family member you like). The best thing I got out of writing my book? It made me a better chess teacher. Be a teacher. The world needs them desperately. Try writing a chess book. You learn a lot about chess by doing so. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

Is the Benko Gambit Really Refuted?

This OTB chess game is one of my wins against a 1500-rated player with me playing the Black side of a Benko Gambit Declined. My first win with the Benko Gambit was when I was still rated 892. That chess game went over 70 moves. The win below was much faster. I was married and stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado when I played this game. My wife at the time (Shirley) was impressed by my beating a 1500-rated player. Now, I expect to win the majority of my chess games against opponents that are rated under 1900 points. While I was playing this chess game I was wearing something shiny on my hat. Shirley stated that I hypnotized the entire room with that hat! 😉

In 1980, GM Larry Christiansen told me that the Benko Gambit was refuted. The chess game below might change his mind on that.

Mike Serovey

A Lesson From Carlsen – Pelletier

Lessons from the games of Magnus Carlsen are usually related to positional chess or endgames. Here we have position after move number 46, Carlsen has an extra pawn but there are opposite colour bishops on the board:

Q: Do you see any winning chances for Carlsen?
A: Yes, the position on the board offers winning chances to White because of:
1. Black’s passive king: Black has weakness on b6 and the king can’t go and defend it due to Black’s king side pawns being placed on light square. White’s bishop could easily eat them in the absence of Black’s king.
2. Black’s passive bishop: Black’s bishop will not be able to attack White’s king side via d4 route due to tactical reasons which I will explain later on. The other routes are slow as White’s king can quickly attack b6. So Black’s dark square bishop has to occupy a passive position.

White has winning breakthrough and brilliant manoeuvre to win a second pawn, which is really hard to spot:

1. Ke2!

Heading towards b5.

1…Kf8 2. Kd3!

Stopping Bd4.

2…Bf6 3. b3 Bb2

3…Bd4 is not possible because of 4. b4 Bf2 5. a5! cxb4 6.a6!!, and Black’s bishop can’t touch White’s king side and eventually would have to sacrifice the bishop for White’s rook pawn.

4. Bd5 Ba3 5. Kc4 Bb4 6. Kb5 Ba5 7. Bc4 Ke7 8. Kc6

A very important move, not allowing Black’s king to defend b6. Had White not done this Black’s free bishop can capture pawns on the king side and the game might ended in draw.

8…Kf6 9. Bd3 Kf7 10. h5!!

Black has to take otherwise white can take on g6 followed by g4 wins a pawn and the game.

10…gxh5 11. Bxf5 Kf6 12. Be4 Kg7 13. Bf3 Kh6 14. Kb5 Kg6

Now White needs his bishop on e8 or f7 with Black to move would result into winning more material.

15. Bd1 Kh6 16. Be2 Kg6 17. Bf3 Kh6 18. Bc6

White threatens Be8, so Black resigned.

Ashvin Chauhan

Reductio ad Finis (Latin)

Going straight to the end (approximate translation)

When there are no more dropped pieces for free and those around you are not scared anymore of the Fried Liver, the games grow longer. They test you patience and resilience, especially when you reach the endgame more often. It is the time when you should seriously start looking at the game of chess backwards or in other words to start from the end. Our app level 2 covers the basic endgames: queen versus pawn, rook versus pawn plus king and pawn versus king to understand the concept of the opposition. If you start going this way, it will reveal an important aspect: fewer pieces on the board do not mean a simpler game, but quite the opposite. There are a number of tricks you need to know to be successful and it is not enough to know them just for a month or two after you think you understood them. You have to know them for as long as you will play the game.

Let’s look at a couple of positions my students have played lately:

This was the end of a club game between students of around 800 CFC (Chess Federation of Canada) rating strength. They play decent openings and in the middle game can come up with interesting ideas and plans. The endgame however is what it is… How many mistakes did you see above? Here is a list:

  • In the initial position Black has the material upper hand and a simple 1… Rh1 would have maintained it; it is obvious Black was focused on capturing the g2-pawn without thinking the possible endgame outcome should have guided her against it. Anyone who has studied the basic endgames should realize quickly the exchanges on g2 lead white to a simply won position because of the extra, passed f4-pawn
  • The second important moment comes after 5… b5 White is still winning and all it has to do is to make sure Black runs out of pawn moves on the Queen side; once that happens, the Black king must move away and the f4-pawn march down the board is going to end up with a queen promotion and an easy win.
  • A simple move like 6. b3 … changes the situation on its head; now after 6… cxb3 7. axb3 a5 white cannot win anymore and should observe how the a5 and b5 pawns versus b3 will give Black a passed pawn that must be stopped. We are entering a more complicated endgame situation where the rule of the square governs (our app level 3) and ignoring it always leads to disaster. The move 6. Kf3 … loses on the spot
  • Game over right? Well, not so fast; in order for it to be over, Black must know what to look for (the rule of the square). I switched my attention from it to record another result when both players asked me to come over and told me they agreed to a draw. I was speechless. Our endgame lessons cannot come soon enough!

This one was played by my favorite student C you are already familiar with from previous articles. What do you think of the play on both sides? Are there any moments when you might have played differently? I bet there are. Let’s review a few of them:

  • White is indeed winning at the starting point of the above position
  • The first mistake is 38. b4 … Being up material, the main concern White should have is to take care of the h3-pawn, the only threat capable to give him headaches; obviously he lost track of it
  • The second mistake in a row is 39. Na5 …; again, it makes not sense to look for spectacular combinations white thought he saw (?); his material advantage is going to be lost
    It is hard to explain 43. Ke2 … for someone who can answer right away when asked “In the endgame the kings must go in the center”. This simple king move leads now to a draw instead of a win after 43. Ke4 …
  • Did you read the comment on move 46. Kd3 …? Talk about being confident. Rooks are out of the way and it must be a win, right? No!
  • The last mistake decides the winner: 49… Kb4 was not needed. Based on the rule of the square mentioned above, both kings can easily catch the opposing pawn
  • After 52. f8=Q+ … we reach one of the basic endgames queen versus pawn. White floundered around for another 13 moves, but managed to win it. There is hope though: he remembered this endgame and promised he will review it to play it better next time

Not sure if the above makes a strong enough case for studying endgames as part of your tournament preparation. I honestly hope it does. A player strengthening his game backwards (beginning with the basic endgames) will experience a sudden jump in rating to over 1000 and more. This growth will continue as the study of endgames will go deeper. There is excitement and rewards when going straight to the end!

Valer Eugen Demian

Last Round Wins

Winning in the last round makes all the difference to a tournament. After four rounds in Blackpool I was only on one point, despite having had two winning positions with White but I managed to win the last game which changed the result completely:

Sam Davies

Defend With Your Life

There are plenty of puzzle books where you’re invited to find the winning move: to win material or force checkmate. But very few books present puzzles where you have to find the best defence.

Try your hand at this position. It’s Black’s move.

Go away, make yourself a cup of coffee or pour yourself a glass of your favourite tipple, and choose a move before reading on.

I came across this position the other day (I’ll tell you where at some point, but not for a few months). It’s, I think, an excellent defensive puzzle for intermediate standard players.

I set this up on the demo board for the upper intermediate group at Richmond Junior Club (these are young children graded round about 40-70 ECF). They set about analysing the position working mostly in small groups. One of two or them preferred to work alone.

They soon noticed that White was threatening Qxh6, not surprisingly. At this level many children get obsessed with this tactic and sometimes give up the rest of their army in order to set it up. While a few wanted to play a king move to h7 or h8, most of them wanted to move their queen. Some of them spotted that Qf6 lost the exchange to Nd7. I was very impressed that one group at first suggested 1… Qh7, and then explained to me that White could then play 2. Nd7, and if 2.. Rd8, then 3. Nf6+, exploiting the pin on the g-file to play a fork.

Interestingly, most of them failed to mention White’s other threat: Bg4, skewering the queen and rook and winning the exchange. At this level, many players make the mistake of only considering one threat, or one reason for playing a move. Trying to think about more than one thing at once proves to be difficult. This, by the way, is a point that Dan Heisman makes regularly: you should ask yourself “What are my opponent’s threats?” rather than “What is my opponent’s threat?”. Because it’s a more familiar pattern, you will tend to see the threat of Qxh6 before the threat of Bg4.

Once you realise that White has two threats you can start trying to find ways to meet them both at the same time. You might think of 1.. h5, which does meet both threats. Now White can win the h-pawn by playing a fork: 2. Rg5. There’s a stronger alternative, though, in 2. Qh6 Qh7 3. Qd6 with multiple threats: one idea is 3.. Rfd8 4. Nd7 Be6 5. Nf6+ Kh8 6. Qxd8, winning the exchange.

On the other hand, an experienced player would probably sense that 1.. h5 doesn’t look right, so would only consider it if everything else failed. Black has one simple move to meet both threats and leave him with a perfectly satisfactory position. That move, as you’ve probably realised by now, is 1.. Qe6, planning to meet 2. Bg4 with f5. After this move Black is at least equal. Eventually, my students managed to find the right answer for the right reason.

I then wound back the position by half a move. White’s last move was Rg4-g3. I asked the class if this was a mistake. Couldn’t White have played the immediate Qxh6 instead? Doesn’t that move win a pawn? A bright spark quickly provided the information that Black would reply with Qxg4, which will leave him a piece ahead. I’d guess, though, that had they been white in that position, most of them would have played Qxh6 without very much thought. Rg3, by the way, is an unusual way to create two threats. The threat Qxh6 comes about by moving the rook away from the attentions of the black queen, while it’s also a clearance move, vacating a square which the bishop wants to use. I’m not sure that there’s a technical term for this sort of double threat.

When we talk about tactics we tend to think about sacrifices and combinations. Most tactics you’ll find in books (including, at the moment, the CHESS FOR HEROES books) are exactly that. In real life, tactics is mostly about sorting out positions like this, defending accurately, not missing simple one or two movers.

Richard James

Love Thy Gambit

With the exception of sacrificing material to gain a positional advantage, it’s generally not a good idea to give away pawns and pieces, especially during the opening. However, a gambit asks you to do just that, give up material at the start of the game. The player employing a gambit will give up material within the first few moves. The material given are pawns. The majority of gambits are executed by white. While most gambits involve sacrificing one pawn, the Danish Gambit sacrifices three. Gambits can be very effective but must be played carefully. All gambits have the same goal, gaining a positional advantage. A positional advantage in the opening is the ability to develop your pieces rapidly. The player who controls the center first has the advantage. Let’s look at the King’s Gambit first. After the moves 1. e4…e5, 2. f4, we reach this position.

White offers black the f pawn. This is the gambit. Black can either except the gambit or decline it. If black captures the pawn, exf4, black gains a slight material advantage but gains doubled “f” pawns and now has only one central pawn. However, taking the pawn doesn’t mean you’ll lose the game. As for white, at some point the “d” pawn will be move to d4, giving white a classical pawn center. With a pawn on d4, white will be able to rapidly develop the minor pieces to active squares. Play continues with 2…exf4, 3. Nf3…g5, 4. d4. We reach the following position.

Black has taken the pawn with 2…exf4. It’s tempting for white to play 2. d4 instead of 2. Nf3. However, doing so would create problems for white. After 2. d4, black would play 2…Qh4+, forcing the white King to move. Trying to block the check with 3. g3, would lead to a heavy loss of material for white. The black pawn on f4 becomes dangerous when the black Queen is on h4, which is why 2.N3 is played. The f3 Knight stops the Queen from moving to h4. After 4. d4, white has a strong pawn center and can develop the minor pieces quickly. Now let’s look at the Danish Gambit, which starts with 1. e4…e5, 2. d4.

Here, white offers the d4 pawn to black. Rather than trying to defend it, which would lead to positional complications, black accepts the gambit with 2…exd4. In the Danish Gambit, white offers the “c” and “b” pawns as well. Play continues with 3. c3…dxc3, 4. Bc4…cxb2, 5. Bxb2, arriving at the following position.

White’s down two pawns, leaving black ahead in material. However, black is behind in development. None of black’s minor pieces have moved, nor does black have a centralized pawn. White, on the other hand, has a pawn controlling the center and two Bishops that control central squares as well. The Bishops are also aimed at black’s King-side pawns, making the prospect of King-side castling risky for black. By giving up a few pawns, white has gained a huge lead in development and has the positional advantage. White has followed the opening principles while black has ignored them, hunting pawns instead. Our Last example is the Evan’s Gambit. The key position is reached after 1. e4…e5, 2. Nf3…Nc6, 3. Bc4…Bc5, 4. b4.

Here, white offers black the b4 pawn. Time is critical during the opening. Chess players refer to time as tempo. The player that gains tempo has an advantage over the player who loses tempo. During the opening, you want to gain control of the center before your opponent does, making it a race whose winner is the first player to achieve this. One thing you don’t want to do during the opening is to move the same piece over and over again. Doing so will cause you to lose tempo. In the above position, black has to move the Bishop because it’s being attacked by a pawn. Since the Bishop has to move, costing black tempo, it captures the pawn with 4…Bxb4. Black captures the pawn as compensation for this loss of time. However, white plays 5. c3, and the black Bishop has to move once more. Play continues with. 5…Bc5, 6. O-O…Nf6, 7. d4…exd4, 8. cxd4…Be7, arriving at the following position.

White has strong central pawns, two minor pieces in play, and has castled. Black, on the other hand, has lost tempo and doesn’t have a strong presence in the center. His King hasn’t castled and black’s position needs improvement. Studying gambits will teach you a great deal about development during the opening. They also lead to exciting and sometimes dangerous games. I encourage you to try them. However, precise play is required.

It’s well worth exploring gambits as a beginner because you’ll learn a great deal about development and tempo. Gambits can lead to exciting games that keep you on your positional toes, so to speak. Of course, you don’t see gambits played at a professional level, but as a beginner or improving player, don’t let the stop you. I’m sure the opening theory snobs will have a few things to say about my love of gambits, such as “what a rotten idea, and you call your self a chess teacher.” As the old saying goes, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” It’s a good day for me when I can simply please Mrs. Patterson! See you next week.

Hugh Patterson

Big Ugly Win

I didn’t play particularly well however I was very pleased to do so well against such a strong player. I didn’t understand 6…Bd6 and became nervous about both Black’s bishops being pointed against my Kingside. Nigel explained that my fears were unwarranted and I should have played 7.Nc3 rather than 7. Ne5 (Nigel’s comments below). The game went on and I was no worse. Black wanted to win and sacrificed the exchange with 13…Rxf3.

It certainly unbalanced the position and on another day White’s greater understanding of the resulting positions could easily have won it.  I was wrong to take his rook with my pawn (I was worried about my pawns being weak and losing more of them). I should  have gone for greater activity by taking with the queen and dominating the kingside with Qf7 and then finding a nice home for her on h5. I made more mistakes especially by giving up my bishop for Black’s Knight and inflicting serious dark square weaknesses on myself. (I’m wondering if I’ll ever get the hang of light and dark square weaknesses!). Soon I was no longer better but Black blundered with 26…d3.

Dan Staples

Puzzles at Every Move

“The art of simplicity is a puzzle of complexity”
Douglas Horton

Please open another tab in your favorite browser and play in the background ‘Fly like an eagle” by Steve Miller Band. Here are a couple of versions to choose from if you are not very familiar with it:
Steve Miller Band
Joe Bonamassa
It starts with
“Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping
Into the future…”
Yeah, now it is much better! It is one attractive solution to the puzzle in front of me writing this and you reading it. We are slipping into the future while solving puzzles at every move. What is your recipe for solving them?

A long time friend of mine (DT) has been blessed with achieving some lofty goals during his chess career. One of them is winning the finals of the United States Correspondence Chess Championship with an impressive +13 =1 -0, a true Fischeresque result. Lately he still shares his accumulated wisdom with those willing to learn and does it online no less! Considering my father is afraid to touch the mouse not to break something, it is incredible my friend is active online like anyone many years younger than him. This past week he shared the following:
“There are 2 basic rules for solving tactics. These 2 rules will not solve all tactics but will solve about 90% of tactics.
1. Look at ALL checks no matter how dumb they may look at first
2. After looking at the checks, look at all forcing moves and captures no matter how dumb they might look at first”
Have you ever heard anyone tell you that before? What do you think of them? Here is a couple of selections from the puzzles DT added to illustrate his point:

The rules seem to be working, eh? One has to agree the checks on move 1 in both are not exactly your first choice, right? I think DT’s rules could be very useful in home preparation. That could for sure translate in coming up with better ideas in your games, as well as seizing the opportunity to see and unleash unexpected tactics when your opponents stumble on their own. Last but not least we should not omit the other 10% DT alludes to: those positions where no check is the starting move of the correct solution. Chess composition has opened the opportunity for the creation of real master pieces based just on that. I have been told as early as my junior days that no real chess composition puzzle of any value starts with check. Here is one of them I found online, stunning in its simplicity and difficulty. Hope you will enjoy it!

Valer Eugen Demian