Author Archives: Valer Eugen Demian

About Valer Eugen Demian

The player - my first serious chess tournament was back in 1974, a little bit late for today's standards. Over the years I have had the opportunity to play all forms of chess from OTB to postal, email and server chess. The journey as a player brought me a lot of experience and a few titles along the way: FIDE CM (2012), ICCF IM (2001) and one ICCF SIM norm (2004). The instructor - my career as a chess teacher and coach started in 1994 and continues strong. I have been awarded the FIDE Instructor title (2007) for my work and have been blessed with great students reaching the highest levels (CYCC, NAYCCC, Pan-Am, WYCC). I am very proud of them! See my website for more information. I have developed my own chess curriculum on 6 levels based on my overall chess knowledge and hands-on experience. A glimpse of it can be seen in my first chess app: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/chessessentials/id593013634?mt=8 I can help you learn chess the proper way if this is what you seek!

Teacher’s Delight (2)

“… Skyrockets in flight!
Afternoon Delight!…”
Starland Vocal Band

We all have our good days and bad days. It is what makes this life worth living. How would you know it is a good day if you could not have a bad one? This past week we definitely had a good one and we definitely recognized it as such! Matthew is a student showing a lot of potential primarily because he works at it weekly with enthusiasm. He is also the one bringing you from the abyss to the edge of your seat and all this in one game.

The first example is from a game where white built a strong position and somehow managed to win an exchange. In the ensuing complex endgame he traded it down to rook versus knight with a clear cut passer on the a-file. Of course it would be too bland to just promote the pawn and win; somehow black managed to capture the passer (while his lone Knight was fighting both the rook and pawn!…) and make a game out of it. Here is where they landed. Admire how white surgically removed all doubts and collected the full point:

In below’s game Black moved Qd8-e7 in the opening, overlooking White’s d5-knight. If you think that is a terrible blunder you would never do, don’t be so sure about it. I remember how back in University (feels like yesterday though…) I was playing an important game, nursing an extra pawn while under positional pressure. It was a time when you would have 2 hours for 40 moves. I spent about 45 minutes calculating something very clever and elaborate just to miss one important, tiny detail: the starting move for that line involved placing the queen en prise. I did it (all seemed perfect) just to watch in shock and disbelief how my opponent snatched my queen within seconds. Don’t you hate it when it happens? It is what they call tunnel vision and nobody is immune to that.

Back to the game Black continued with determination (I resigned that game of mine on the spot) and somehow reached below position. Here is how things unfolded:

Valer Eugen Demian

Fighting In The Trenches (2)

“I’ve paid my dues in the classical trenches”
Laila Robins

Last time we stopped at below position between my club students from the top group. Probably it was not hard for you to decide White is still winning. The queen side pawns are the ones deciding it and there is nothing Black can do about it. Simply put any pawn counts in king and pawns endgame, including the double ones. A simple way to win is given below before continuing with the game play:

White did not play like that and a comedy of errors followed up on the chess board. There is an old saying fitted for writers: “Paper endures anything written on it”. I guess in this case “The chessboard endures any moves played on it” is a good analogy…

Not sure how successful you are in convincing yourselves or your students there’s no need to promote all your pawns to win a game. I keep on saying “Always look for the fastest win” and many a student would be able to repeat it by heart if asked. Doing it on the chessboard seems to be a different story. You can imagine White had a lot of fun promoting 2 pawns into queens and the crowd was having a blast cheering for the accomplishment. Do you know what happened next? Well, Caissa decided I needed help to get my message through and twisted the fate of this game in a powerful way. Look at the previous position before scrolling down and guess which move white made to create an instant teaching moment? It is not that easy to find considering how many ways (all except one…) you can win as White. Your mind should be wired the right way and refuse to even look at it! Here it is:

Remember, the idea is not putting down the players. It is to show what can happen when endgame knowledge is spotty at best. It also shows playing good endgames is like fighting in the trenches with a never give up attitude. Good play and bad play are intertwined with teaching moments almost at every step. Fight the battle in the trenches and you will be rewarded!

Valer Eugen Demian

Fighting In The Trenches (1)

“I’ve paid my dues in the classical trenches”
Laila Robins

Many a player have to fight in the trenches, in the endgame trenches that is. It turns out endgame is the less intuitive part of the game. Patterns need to be known, moments must be seized. We have started to dig our trenches at the club. The fight is going to be long and could not be avoided any longer. Here is another example why:

What do you think about this position? Who is winning? Take a quick glance and depending on how skilled you are, the result should be more or less obvious. Of course there is more than one way to skin a cat, so you have a number of options to choose from. Which one is yours?


Can you still win this endgame? Do you believe White can still win the endgame? Most of the times believing is all that matters. Think about this until next week. To be continued…

Valer Eugen Demian

Teacher’s Delight

“… Skyrockets in flight!
Afternoon Delight!…”
Starland Vocal Band

Teaching is a journey of 1,000 miles. There are countless ups and downs along the way and key is to keep on moving no matter what. In the same time teaching requires two willing parties: the teacher sharing their knowledge and the student absorbing it. The best reward any teacher craves and cherishes in the same time is to see their students apply the shared knowledge. Today I share with you one such reward from Eric, a cheeky 8 years old always eager to try new tricks on his opponents. Enjoy the game spiced up by Eric’s comments:

Valer Eugen Demian

Need Sure Points? Scandinavian Defence Edition

“A dream becomes a goal when action is taken toward its achievement”
Bo Bennett (businessman)

Wikipedia provides a very nice introduction for this entry:
“The Center Counter Defense is one of the oldest recorded openings, first recorded as being played between Francesc de Castellví and Narcís Vinyoles in Valencia in 1475 in what may be the first recorded game of modern chess, and being mentioned by Lucena in 1497.”
According to the same source its name began to switch to what we know today in the 60s when a number of well known GMs played it occasionally. Their intention was to surprise the opposition and render home preparation useless. If you think about it, this is still true today: how many of you prepare to face it in your club games? Common, be honest now…

We are all told from the very early beginnings how bad it is to get our queen out too early. There are countless examples punishing the side doing that, regardless of colour. Can you tell though how many of those examples you have been shown or have discovered on your own are against the Scandinavian? I do not recall any. This actually proves the GMs are not cocky or weird using it. Scandinavian is a decent opening. Our World Champion Magnus Carlsen has used it with success not long ago it two Olympiads. I have added both games below for your convenience. You can access them by selecting each one at a time from the menu above the diagram:

If the above games have tickled your curiosity, I have 2 more samples to give you confidence. The first one is a game played by the highly talented GM Istratescu. Andrei has the inner talent of calculating accurately and blindly fast for a GM. Quite often his games would show minimal reflection time for him and up to the maximum for the opposition. He still is deadly in tactical situations where he finds the correct line in most complicated positions. In the game below he played the Scandinavian in aggressive fashion and got an easy draw early in the middle game.

The second game shows that Black should not fear an early chase for his queen. It is one reason why the recommendation is to play positional when facing the Scandinavian. It is far better for white to go for a quick castle (preferably with a g2-g3, Bf1-g2, O-O setup) and slow build up pressure; eventually the odd position of the black Queen might create difficulties for black.

Valer Eugen Demian

Fair Assessment

“All assessment is a perpetual work in progress.”
Linda Suskie

Last week we had a look at an endgame from one of our club games. The article is available HERE The position in the spotlight was this one:


Neither player did a very good job assessing the position (White was far too pessimistic, while black was too optimistic) and a number of moves later they reached the following one. How would you assess it?

White is still down a pawn which is surprising after being on the verge to even up the material in the first diagram. We made the observation it had to play aggressive. That did not happen and the main reason was poor assessment: she considered her position was lost!… You do not need a lot of endgame knowledge to observe now a number of differences:

  • The d6-pawn has advanced only once; pushing it towards promotion should have been the main focus
  • Kb7 is stopping Ra5 from reaching the 8th rank and help with the pawn promotion
  • Black’s pawn chain is still alive and far more dangerous now with the passed e4-pawn

Your chess sense should tell you black is back in the game and has a fighting chance. Now imagine you’ve been playing this game and whatever you felt in the first position, this one feels worst. Key is in such moments to calm down, reset and see what can be done to still achieve a good outcome. Have you ever been told of being too easy to play against? That means in tough situations or when things are not going in your favour, you cannot stop the slide and put up a fight. It is possible white was aware the latest position was worst; unfortunately it did not cross her mind to look for a way out. You might say that is impossible: white might just as well resign, saving time and effort if it accepts her faith. That is true except there’s always one hope we all have: the opponent might blunder. Of course you need to put up a fight and give it the opportunity to do so. Very rarely opponents blunder on their own.

Going back to the position a fair assessment should include a way out of it. White must eliminate the dangerous black pawns even if that means losing the important d6-pawn. Once white has that, it could look one more time to see if there’s more and if finding nothing, it should settle for a draw. It would be better than losing as it happened in our game after they reached a Black queen for a White rook type of endgame. In retrospect Black could think he was right all the time to think he was winning. That would be wrong; a fair assessment is needed at all times regardless of the outcome.

Valer Eugen Demian

“What say you?” The 1 minute challenge (11)

“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

Endgame play continues to be a tough nut to crack as I can see week after week at our club. I asked both players about this position and got the following answers:
Mengbai: “Don’t know. I guess I am losing”
Steven: “Don’t know. Winning?”
Have a look at the position (White to move) and decide for yourselves.

It is an interesting endgame, one you could encounter quite often at club level. Going over the position we can see the following important aspects:

  • Black is up a pawn
  • Kf4 is by far better than Kg8; the rather obvious Kf4-e5 would put it right in the center, supporting the d5-pawn
  • White has a passed d5-pawn, while Black has a passed a7-pawn; d5 is much stronger since it already is on the 5th rank. Black stands to lose the a7-pawn fairly quickly
  • Rd1 is pretty much tied up behind the passer but if White is not playing aggressive, it could swing to the 2nd row and possibly capture some white pawns in the process; if Black captures the f2-pawn and there is no imminent win for White, the e4-pawn becomes a passer and a threat
  • Rc5 is not placed in its best position but working together with the d5-pawn and its king, could make it very useful

Did you have something similar coming out of your analysis? How about a plan of action for White? In my opinion, after Kf4-e5 the combined threats of promoting the d5-pawn and back rank mating Kg8 (when it moves over to stop the passer) are overwhelming. White is simply winning here. The only challenge is to find the right moves and play aggressive.

In the game White managed to win the a7-pawn but her play was very tentative. I am not sure what was she concerned about when her passer reached the d6-square and stayed there longer than needed. Probably it is a good thing I had to watch other games meantime and missed a number of moves played. The simple line below shows a straight forward way for White to win. Next time we are going to look at the last part of this endgame.

Valer Eugen Demian

Missing Once, not Missing Twice

“It is better to learn late than never”
Publilius Syrus

I have been talking about turn based chess for a while now. To some having 3 days to think for a move sounds outrageous; to others they understand you do not really think for 3 days. Life happens around us and that reduces the reflection time and attention span quite considerably. Today I have an interesting example from one of my games.


I had a promising position from the opening, just to rush it and allow Black to open it up. Black’s last move was 23… Bd5xa2, winning a pawn and obtaining two passed pawns on the queen side. Does White has anything to compensate the material disadvantage? I think it has:

  • The White pieces work together and are much better placed
  • Ra8 is not playing at all and as long as that is the case, White is actually up in material
  • Black’s castle has a chip in it White might be able to exploit
  • The combo queen + knight is always better than queen and bishop. Hope you know why

Are you convinced White has enough compensation for the pawn? It has. Do you think it might have sufficient compensation to play for a win? I was not so sure of that. The real question needing a good answer was how to continue the attack. Should I go for 24. Qe4+ or 24. Qh4+? Checking on h4 looked a bit too narrow. There was nothing imminent happening and I wanted to keep my pieces central. I also wanted to combine the attacking threats on the castle with a possible win of the a7-pawn. Unfortunately I did not analyse the position close enough and missed the resource available. Luckily later on I saw the attacking idea with the queen and knight combo and that allow me to get the perpetual. Hope you will enjoy the play and learn a thing or two from it.

Valer Eugen Demian

“What say you?” The 1 minute challenge (10)

“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
Last year I published an article about “Quick decisions” needed in short time control games. You can review it HERE
This past week I had a flash back about that storming the castle attack and for some reason I felt the solution presented in that article was actually not the best. Let’s have another look at it and see which of the available options you prefer given the outcome. Have a look for a minute at the options presented and choose.

Here are some helpful thoughts for each line:
3. Qe2 (Played in the game) – having the queen not only join the attack but lead it, seemed an attractive choice. My guess is having your most powerful piece in the front line provides some confidence and could strike fear into the opposition. If Black plays like in the game, 6 moves later White reaches a clearly won position. Of course Black can play 3… Ng6 and the position holds.
3. Bxh6 (Suggested line) – it opens up the h-file, something white wanted all along. Black manages to play 3… Ng6, but that cannot do more than delay losing. Black has no useful defensive moves and both rooks (b7 and f8) do little to nothing.
3. Qb2 (New option #1) – the idea here is to take advantage of the pin along the g-file. The combination of White rooks dominating the g- and h-files and the battery along the a1-h8 diagonal is deadly. It is however a not very intuitive move: play on the queen side when the action is on the king side. I have seen stranger moves at club level though
3. Qc3 (New option #2) – same idea to take advantage of the pin along the g-file. The slight difference here is Black being able to play 3… Ng4 since Rg3 must defend the White queen. White wins the knight and reaches a won endgame. This queen move is not as strange as the other one; some might see the battery connection along the 3rd row and think that could be used to bring the queen to the king side. In the same time the queen keeps an eye on the c7-pawn.

Has your opinion changed after reading the above? Possibly you did not choose 3. Qe2 since Black holds at correct play. We all should consider the best replies for the opposition when deciding what to play. The other three choices however lead to different winning positions. Not sure which one fits your style. Personally in a game situation I think I would stick with my suggested line (3. Bxh6). In the end it still feels the most direct for me. The beauty of it is to discover two other options and that makes it worthwhile. This should be a good sample of what home preparation is about. Positions, combinations, lines stick with you until you find a reasonable solution resonating with you. Do the work and don’t let them linger on.
P.S. The exciting article by Richard James “Missed Opportunities” is perfectly timed. What better example of how useful the 1 minute challenge as part of preparation could be? GM Meier could have used it.

Valer Eugen Demian

Need Sure Points? Volga-Benko Gambit Edition

“A dream becomes a goal when action is taken toward its achievement”
Bo Bennett (businessman)

A while ago I wrote two articles about Volga-Benko gambit. The first one was based on a game I played and the second one was a follow up with ideas of improvement for Black’s play. You can review the second one HERE
This article is a follow up of idea #3 from it. The main point of both games below is once Black achieves an active setup, that balances out the sacrificed pawn. A balanced position poses interesting questions:
White: I am up a pawn and under pressure. How much risk should I take to continue? If I give back the pawn, my position could be worst and then I have to fight for a draw. If I do nothing, why would I play ahead?
Black: My active position compensates being down in material. If White decides to risk it, I have to make sure I will get my pawn back. If White sits tight and does nothing aggressive, I can also wait and maintain my active position
Hope the games below will be a good starting point in your preparation if you wish to introduce/ maintain Volga-Benko as part of your repertoire.

Game 1: a game played years ago with white looking to surprise black with a lesser known variation. Black managed to setup an active position with ease and both players agreed to a draw.

Game 2: a newer game where both sides made sure they reached a desired setup; once that happened, it felt like a standoff with neither side willing to blink first.

Valer Eugen Demian