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!

Sac Or No Sac?

“A sacrifice is best refuted by accepting it”
Wilhelm Steinitz

Tactics decide the game. If you want a simple comparison, tactics are like putting the ball in the net. You need to know what to do when the opportunity is staring you in the face. Do you know what to do? Have you practice enough to firstly recognize it and secondly to take advantage of it? Let’s see how good you are in the following position. The question is: should white sac on h7 or not?

Analyse the position and firstly go with your gut instinct. Gut instinct is most of the times right and it relies heavily on personal experience. Personal experience is based both on the aspects of the game you learned and on direct feedback you got while playing your games. Have you ever looked at this sacrifice from a theoretical point of view? How about playing it or having it played on you? If you did, most certainly your gut instinct gave you the right signal and you got it right. If you did not, it is very likely you got this wrong.

It could be helful to look at position 4 under “Tactics” in my previous article HERE and added below for convenience:


It shows a successful sacrifice on h7. Now what you should do next is compare the two, identifying what aspects in position 4 made the sacrifice successful. Do you also find them in the proposed position 4.1 above? Let’s have a look at them together:
Similarities

  • The pawns defending the castle have not moved
  • Kg8 is the only defender of the h7-pawn
  • Black does not control nor attack the g5-square and allowing 2. Nf3-g5
  • Qd1 could join the attack via the d1-h5 diagonal

Differences

  • White has the e5-pawn (position 4), while the pawn is missing in position 4.1
  • Bd2 controls the c1-h6 diagonal (position 4), while it is blocked for the moment by Nd2 in position 4.1
  • Re1 could come in and help the attack using the 3rd rank (Re1-e3-h3), while Rf1 would require an extra move to do that in position 4.1
  • Bb7 is trapped for the moment by Nc6, while Bc8 has an open c8-h3 diagonal

Now it is time to weigh the above points and formulate a conclusion. Lesson 15 (level 5) of our chess app covers this nicely and if you have gone through it, you will notice rather quickly which one of the 6 needed conditions for the sacrifice to work is not met. That is condition #2:
“#2. The h2/ h7-pawn is defended only by the King and cannot be defended by any other piece in a move”
Kg8 being the only defender of the h7-pawn is met but black can simply defend the h7-square in a move. The sacrifice does not work:

Well, knowing these details makes the difference between winning a game in spectacular fashion and looking like a fool. It is obvious in what category we all want to be, so study these tactics and practice them; your efforts will be rewarded. Hope you liked it and will consider studying tactics closely, possibly using our app.

Valer Eugen Demian

ChessEssentials, Level 5

“We raise Champions!”

Past reviews can be accessed here
ChessEssentials, level 1
ChessEssentials, level 2
ChessEssentials, level 3
ChessEssentials, level 4
App link at the iTunes store ChessEssentials
https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/chessessentials/id593013634?mt=8
The latest release of our app offers now level 5 (reference ratings 1400-1700). It costs $3.99 and it maintains the same format of 30 lessons, 30 puzzle sets and 30 tests arranged in a well thought order. Going over this level helps you build upon the knowledge accumulated so far; if we compare this with building a house, you are now raising walls, higher levels and all extras related to it.
Mates
Lesson 01 starts the level with mate in 3 puzzles, same with how level 4 ended. Good warming up as you might know by now.


Opening
Lessons 02 to 06 are of major importance. They cover one of the most important openings of all time on both sides of the board: the Queen’s Gambit Declined (QGD). It is the opening any player must learn and play to understand how tactics flow from solid strategy. They do not just appear on the board out of the blue.

  • Lesson 02 covers the QGD Tartakover variation
  • Lesson 03 covers the QGD Lasker variation
  • Lesson 04 covers the QGD Classical variation
  • Lesson 05 covers the QGD Cambridge Springs variation
  • Lesson 06 covers the Tarrasch defence


Strategy
At this level strategy flows naturally from the openings studied prior to it. The Isolated Queen Pawn (IQP) is a very controversial subject and it has the chess World divided about in half: half of the players like its strenghts and the opportunities it presents, while the other half avoids it because of its weakness. You get the chance to make up your own mind about it, followed by a few lessons highlighting the importance of each piece’s position during the game.

  • Lesson 07 covers the IQP strength
  • Lesson 08 covers the IQP breakthrough
  • Lesson 09 covers the IQP weakness
  • Lesson 10 covers the Piece activity – Knight’s position
  • Lesson 11 covers the Piece activity – Bishop’s position
  • Lesson 12 covers the Piece activity – Rook’s position
  • Lesson 13 covers the Piece activity – Queen’s position
  • Lesson 14 covers the Piece activity – King’s position


Tactics
Strategy can put you in the position to use tactics decisively so when you get the chance, you need to be able to recognize the signs and execute with precision. The basics of some of the tactical procedures have been previously covered and here you get a chance to expand your knowledge.

  • Lesson 15 covers the h2/h7-square sacrifice
  • Lesson 16 covers the g2/g7-square sacrifice
  • Lesson 17 covers the f2/f7-square sacrifice
  • Lesson 18 covers overloading
  • Lesson 19 covers the zwischenzug (in-between move)
  • Lesson 20 covers the underpromotion
  • Lesson 21 covers the counterstrike
  • Lesson 22 covers limiting counterplay
  • Lesson 23 covers threefold repetition
  • Lesson 24 covers the stalemate
  • Lesson 25 covers the zugzwang


Endgame
The aspects covered here are more complicated and it is our intention to help you master them. Do not be afraid and study them with an open mind; in the end (pun intended) you will realize they are easier than they look.

  • Lesson 26 covers the King on the edge
  • Lesson 27 covers the triangulation
  • Lesson 28 covers the corresponding squares
  • Lesson 29 covers various endgames


Mates
Lesson 30 ends this level with mate in 4 puzzles. The training session takes it up another notch in preparation for level 6. Hope you find this presentation interesting and the app worth giving it a try!

Valer Eugen Demian

French Defence – C’est Bon!

One of my previous articles was a French Defence miniature White won in 20 moves after a vicious attack on the castle. You can review it HERE I have been looking ever since for an opportunity to level the balance and show a nice game played by Black; now I have found it. This one is also a correspondence chess game, meaning both sides had time to ponder their moves and plans like in the previous one. The players involved are 2400+ ICCF rated, giving even more value to it.

Hope you liked it! What conclusions can we draw out of it?

  • Black was very focused on making sure his plans on the queen side were applied as soon as possible
  • Choosing one of the main moves 9… Bxc5 proved to be (again) a better option
  • Black’s attack rolled on faster
  • It is not obvious where White went wrong
  • After 18… g6 White’s late attack stalled and his pieces were left in passive positions

If the French is part of your opening repertoire, consider this a reference game you could use in future. You can actually consider both games, the previous one as a clear example of how not to play it. 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

Storming the Castle (2)

We all have one or more memorable games or combinations close to our heart to keep as jewels forever. How does your chess jewel look like? Is it a well rounded game where your plans went so well, it felt like your pieces were alive and moving alone? Was it maybe the combination of a lifetime? I have a few of each and I bet you all do have them too. Of course we are just mere mortals compared with Fischer and his “My 60 Memorable Games“; still do not sell your jewels short as they also are shiny and memorable. Teaching chess helps me and you rediscover some of these jewels and display them with pride in front of our audience. They are special because they are ours and also because we can add to them all sort of unique details about those moments and thoughts at the time.

A few years ago I discovered the following jewel from a game played in Heidelberg 1946 between what it looks to be two members of the same family. I do not have much more information on it and if anyone does, I would gladly hear from you and do a follow up article on it. Anyhow, here is the position for you to look at and try to figure out what White should do here to amazingly win the game!


It is an interesting position for sure. Let’s have a closer look at it:

  • the opposite-side attacks situation is easy to see and Black has clearly made more visible progress. The a2-passed pawn is a game changing force, especially because of being supported by the Qa3 + Ra8 battery. Black has full control of the queen side
  • the center is pretty much blocked with Nd4 and Nd5 in perfect positions to help the operations on either flank as needed; White has no time to think about doing anything there given the situation on the queen side
  • there is hope for White on the king side with Qe3 attacking the h6-square and the h5-pawn supported by Rh1; however with Black threatening to trade queens, there is an urgency to find something decisive there

How bold are you? Do you have a flare for vicious attacks and decisive sacrifices? If you do, you should feel right at home here. What piece(s) can you think of sacrificing? Do a quick overview and don’t be surprised of what you will find!

How do you feel solving a 9 moves checkmate? It must feel like Superman for a few minutes, doesn’t it? Come up with this in any way, shape or form (including take backs and help from kibitzers) and you have your jewel for life. Now think about coming up with this in an OTB game. The length of the combination makes it a very hard task. The fact it starts with a queen sacrifice makes it even harder (up from very hard?…) because there is no way you can pick up Qa3 and then some; that means you must reach checkmate! Of course the once in a lifetime opportunities do not come around in easy-breezy situations. What do we learn out of this? The length of a combination could feel like a burden; in fact it isn’t a burden as long as you have a clear goal in mind. Knowing what you need to accomplish is of utmost importance, then you also need will and sheer calculation to keep it going. This time it ends up beautifully. What do you do when it does not work out? Well, at least you gave it a shot. That is worth almost as much as solving it. Like Pink Floyd lyrics say:
Don’t give in without a fight

Valer Eugen Demian

Opening Blunders

“Chess is a fairy tale of 1001 blunders”
Savielly Tartakower

Playing carefully and well in the opening is and has always been important; of course how one does that, it is up for discussion. Back in my junior days players would memorize many a line and a coaching session could include nasty questions such as “at what move should you play Ra8-c8 in the Sicilian Dragon?”. That practice was somewhat understandable with nothing but books and magazines available to keep us up to date with the latest theoretical ideas. Can you believe the rotary phone was the most advanced piece of communication at the time? It did not have many features, forget apps or internet access… The main downside of the memorization approach was (and still is) being in a difficult position the minute your opponent would play something outside the memorized lines; many talented players used that in purpose to get their opponents out of the books and outplay them using pure chess knowledge.

Today it is hard to surprise anyone in the opening; still it does not mean you should give up on trying to do that. It means you should do better research and of course know many ideas and setups enabling you to blend them in different ways to achieve that surprising and confusing position for your opponents. Today’s game is a very good example of that. Black got careless or simply confused of the succession of openings they touched and lost fast. It might not be a lot to look at, but the lessons out of it could be very useful in your opening preparation.

Hope you found it useful. What can we learn out of it? Here is where you can start:

  • Learn opening ideas and plans to be able to apply them as the position requires
  • Do not be afraid to try many openings or similar openings; that would enable you to avoid being dragged into an unknown opening or setup
  • Make sure you learn as many traps and tricks from the openings of your choice as possible; this is two fold: on one hand it teaches you to avoid them and on the other hand you can use them against your opposition

Pay attention what is going on at move 1 and stop doing that when the opponent shakes your hand. 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

ChessJournal App

“Record, analyse and store your competitive ‘over-the-board’ games”

This week I am happy for the opportunity to present another app useful for the club player, app called ChessJournal. It is created by Jon Fischer and Matt Lawson both from Bristol, England and it can be downloaded for free at the iTunes and Google Play stores. Jon was kind enough to help me write this article by answering to a few questions. Hope you like it and will decide to give this app a try!

Eugen: A short introduction about you and your team
Jon: ChessJournal App is a passion project started by a chess addicted designer and a chess intrigued developer! Me and Matt both work in the digital design sector and are passionate about product design best practice. Also we are both young fathers and are thus very short on time! When you combine our first two passions with a shortage of time to study, ChessJournal App is the logical outcome! We sat down together and asked ourselves, could we use an app to help club and tournament players study more, learning about their own games in the process?

Eugen: What is your chess story?
Jon: I have been playing chess since I was five years old and hover around the 1800 ELO (145 – 150 ECF). Matt knows the moves and would like to improve but probably needs a better coach than me!

I’ve been an avid club and tournament player in the Bristol and District chess league (in the UK) since 2004. Like a lot of adults I have noticed minimal change in my chess performances over the last decade. Every year the grades come out, every year I’m 145 ECF. Last year I decided to put down my openings books and started seriously studying my own games and nothing else.

  • No openings
  • No ending study or puzzles
  • No tactics trainers
  • Just me and my games

This year (using ChessJournal App) I have achieved my highest ever rating performance of 159 ECF (1892 ELO). An improvement of 98 ELO. Anecdotally I have had feedback from ChessJournal users that they have seen improvements between 65 and 110 ELO points. Obviously I don’t have any hard data on these numbers yet, but the anecdotal feedback is encouraging!

Eugen: Why this app? How did the idea for it come about?
Jon: The concept of ChessJournal started from a love of club and tournament chess and a feeling that the majority of apps didn’t really help amateur players improve. As I browsed through the app store, I felt the majority of apps fell into one of four camps:

  • Play other humans at blitz
  • Tactics trainers
  • A chess database of master games on your phone
  • All of the above!

My problem with a lot of the apps on the market was they either focused on openings, puzzles, master games or five minute blitz. But the majority of chess coaches and masters agree that one of the best ways to improve is through studying your own games and learning where you personally make mistakes. Whilst I love a cracking game of online blitz as much as the next player, it isn’t really helping me make better decisions, learn from my mistakes or understand how my games are won or lost.

Funnily enough, around the same time I happened to read an article on the chess improver blog on the benefit of keeping a journal for the ambitious amateur. As I was reading the article I also happened to be staring at a shoebox of paper scoresheets from my regular attendance at local tournaments.

Thus me and Matt settled on the idea of a “chess players diary” that would enable amateur players to carry and study their own games wherever they go.

We started work on ChessJournal in January 2016 and launched version 1.0 in May last year. We run a lean iterative design and development approach meaning we are always looking for feedback from chess players and factoring in their thoughts as we push to develop the best chess players diary and scorebook available. We learnt an awful lot about what players need from a chess diary in v1.0 that we decided to go back to the drawing board late last year and rebuild the app from scratch.

We officially relaunched ChessJournal v2.0 on April 19th 2017 on both Apple and Android featuring a host of new powerful features such as cloud storage and the ability to set and track personal improvement goals across your competitive chess season.

So far the feedback has been fantastic! We are averaging 4 star reviews and above and we are receiving a lot of lovely emails (and new feature requests) from club and tournament chess players around the world. We have already planned and scheduled the next update for ChessJournal 2.1 and there are more exciting plans in the future.

Eugen: Can it compete with the big and popular guys such as Chessbase, Monroi, etc?
Jon: My initial response is that we don’t want to, or feel we need to, compete with the big and popular guys such as Chessbase. We genuinely take it as a compliment that ChessJournal is regularly used in the same breath as Chessbase!

There are similarities such as the storage and analysis of your own games but after that our focus on self study and goal tracking hopefully helps club and tournament players see the angle and approach that we are taking. ChessJournal is categorically not a database app. If you want to understand the 18th line of a sub variation of the Berlin defence then ChessJournal is not for you. We will never add a five million game database to ChessJournal.

However, if you are a sub 2100 player and serious about cutting out the mistakes, having easy access to your games anytime and easily sharing your annotated thoughts with your club mates and coaches then we feel you will get real value from ChessJournal. ChessJournal is all about your game and no one elses!

I grow tired of hearing 1650 rated players (and I include my former chess playing self in this category) debate the merits of opening lines and their theoretical soundness. The large software players in the market dominate at the elite and very strong club player level where, I agree, that you need to understand theoretical novelties and what different people have played.

I guess what me and Matt are saying is that we believe real chess improvement for the amateur player can come from a focus on your own games and therefore a piece of giant database software is perhaps overkill for a lot of players. But then thats just our opinion…

Eugen: What’s it competitive advantage?
Jon: Its free! Ha ha, seriously I genuinely feel that ChessJournal is excellent value! The app is free to download but to unlock all features (such as annotations and sharing of annotated games) we charge a modest annual subscription fee of £5 / $6 / €6 a year.

A second major advantage is that it is available on both major platforms, Apple and Google Android. We get a lot of positive comments from iPhone carrying club players grateful for the ability to store their games. Because it is cloud based your games can be accessed anywhere on any device. One of my best friends has an Android smart phone and an iPad but his personal ChessJournal is always the same, wherever he is.

The third major advantage is simply mobility. Because it is an app you can leave your laptop at home next time you attend that weekend tournament. We have built in full import and export features for PGN so that a player can input their games when they are at matches or tournaments and still export them to other well known popular chess database software.

Eugen: The app’s best feature is?
Jon: Personally I would say either the goals section of the app or the annotation timelines.

Goals allows a player to create unique targets and goals for their desired improvement across the chess season. They can literally make a goal anything they want but once created they can link important games to them as they move through the season.

The annotation timeline is a feature unlocked with premium membership where a player can create and save variations in the game and annotate key positions. I suppose I am just really pleased with the design of this area in the app and we are in the process of rolling out some even better user interface updates.

We have a solid roadmap of new features coming and are regularly receiving new ideas from the chess community. To finish I would say that in the long term we are aiming to create the ultimate companion app for amateur club and tournament players. This is just the start!

Thank you for giving us this opportunity to talk to you about ChessJournal. More information can be found on chessjournalapp.com

Valer Eugen Demian

A Poisoned Pawn

“… The notorious Poisoned Pawn arises after 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 Qb6, with current theory suggests that the b2 pawn is not too heavily laced with arsenic, but it would be suicidal to enter the line without specialist knowledge.”
Graham Burgess, The Mammoth Book of Chess, 2000 edition, pg. 176

Fischer’s love for this controversial Sicilian Najdorf line is legendary. He was not just a “specialist” but the “guru” of it. People understood that fast and followed their newly discovered guru by playing it often; that is how an opening line becomes popular and players of all levels try to become immortals by finding the next refutation or proof of its validity. The engines have changed the game a lot and one critical aspect is proving a lot of gambits wrong; however a handful of them are still tough to crack and Najdorf, the poisoned pawn is one of them.

Back in 2014 I tried my first Najdorf, poisoned pawn as Black in a correspondence game and we drew it in 25 moves by perpetual and without any novelties or deviations. The chosen line was so well analysed, it made no sense for either of us to deviate and hope to get anything out of it. Today’s game followed a well analysed line as well; what is impressive about it is the surgical positional precision white used to win the game. It is a game played in the ICCF teams Olympiad Final 19th edition, the last edition played by post; a number of games are played by email, but each board (teams consist of 4 players each) has 3-4 players insisting to stick with playing by post as intended. The current standings for the final from where you can also see the situation on each board, can be seen HERE

Have you also been impressed with the positional play by ICCF GM Rufenacht? I think it puts this line under a strong question mark and it does not stop just there; the computer won’t be able to help you a lot if you need assistance. Black did extensive research to get out of the maze and it did not find the Ariadne’s thread; maybe you will but be prepared for a long road ahead. Of course if you find it, it will be published in the following Informator. Please don’t forget to mention who launched you down this quest though; good luck!… 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

“Hodor!”

“We had this meeting with George Martin where we’re trying to get as much information as possible out of him, and probably the most shocking revelation he had for us was when he told us the origin of Hodor — or how that name came about…”
David Benioff

Our minds function in ways we still do not truly understand today and for the forseeable future. If we want a better future, we should change that as soon as possible. This week’s puzzle is an interesting illustration of that. What on Earth could connect in my mind a chess study from 1922 to a well known character from George R R Martin’s epic fantasy series “A Game of Thrones”? Well, on one hand I am a huge fan of the series. It has so much of a real life feeling to it, plus the twists and turns are so unexpected and interconnected, it is hard not to be atracted to it. On the other hand I liked the puzzle the minute I saw it. It amazes me more and more how chess artists from 100 or so years ago could come up with such beautiful ideas and unique solutions; to me they really deserve to be as famous as the top players we all known so well.

Please have a look at the position! The task is White to move and win. Give it a try and then compare your solution and thought process with the one below.


Step 1: Let’s look at it like we normally do and firstly we should remember studies follow a simple rule: all pieces on the chessboard serve a purpose. We can proceed verifying that together with the material situation assessment:
– Ka6 looks out of place
– Kd5 is in a perfect position in the center
– Nb8 looks oddly placed
– Bh4 is going to be important as it is the only piece capable to stop the a3-pawn
– the c2- and d2-pawns give mixed messages: they are in the way of Bh4, but also are in the way of the d4-pawn and Kd5
– the d4-pawn is first and foremost the protector of the a1-h8 diagonal
– the a3-pawn is the key; it is easy to feel that because it is passed and only 2 moves away from promotion
OK, now what can we do with this information? Well, we know we need to win and that means there is no way we can allow the a3-pawn promotion. This is an important observation!

Step 2: how do we stop that pawn? Ka6 and both White pawns cannot do much in that regard. That means it has to be a combination of Nb8, Bh4 and possibly those pawns (somehow) working together to do it. Hmm, that does not sound simple to put together; maybe we can look at simpler bits and pieces like when we put together the edge pieces of a puzzle:
– Nb8 can move to c6 or d7; moving to d7 does not seem to lead anywhere. Moving to c6 though could threaten Nc6-b4+ with stopping or winning the a-pawn. The only problem with that is Nb8-c6 gives up the Knight for free… Can we afford to drop the Knight like that?
– Bh4 needs a tempo from somewhere to get involved because a direct Bh4-f6 is ignored by Black and a3-a2 is deadly; hmm, dropping the knight could give us the tempo we were looking for since after Kd5xc6 the d4-protector of the a1-h8 diagonal is not defended. Oh, that is another important observation!

Step 3: we drop the knight to bring Bh4-f6 into the action. What do we do now after Black brings back its king to protect the pawn? Can you still “see” this in your mind or maybe have it on the chessboard in front of you? One way or another the picture gets clearer: Black cannot come back Kc6-c5 because now you can win the a3-pawn after Bf6-e7+. Black is forced to go back where it was (Kc6-d5). That is good, now we might be able to use the pawns I guess. Playing c2-c3 or c2-c4+ does not help:
– c2-c3 adds another piece along the critical a1-h8 diagonal and that is a killer even if it might get rid of the d4-pawn; you won’t be able to stop the a-pawn anymore and mating a king in the center requires firepower we do not have
– c2-c4+ drops the pawn and the d4-pawn survives as the protector of the a1-h8 diagonal
OK, we need to move the d2-pawn and the only possible move is easy to see.

Step 4: Black moves one step away from promotion and we realize stopping it becomes impossible. What now? Is it possible the solution could involve a checkmate? There is no other logical alternative, is it? In order to do that we need to tighten the noose around Kd5 and c2-c4+ does that. The d4-protector cannot take en-passant because the bishop would finally take control of the diagonal, stop the promotion and together with the remaining d3-pawn could win the game; at this moment we also see Kd5 must step aside in such a way to still defend the d4-protector and that is only possible in one way. Please look again at the position! Isn’t Kc5 now almost completely surrounded? Could you see the following decisive move coming from the most unlikely source? Remember, the goal is to either checkmate or stop the a-pawn promotion. Enjoy the solution.

Did you analyse blindly as you were reading the steps above? Could you follow it up correctly all the way to the solution? If you did, you have a sharp chess mind; keep it up by practicing often. Wasn’t Black’s desperate defence of the a1-h8 diagonal both heroic and tragic in the same time? The a-pawn managed to run away like in the movie, right? Sadly the outcome for the defenders was the same. OK, at least here the feeling we are left with is of joy by solving the puzzle… Hope you liked it. 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

Quick Decisions

“Choices are the hinges of destiny”
Pythagoras

In April we held the BC Championship qualifier for the continental final of Susan Polgar Foundation Girls Invitational 2017 in St. Louis. It is the second edition for us and the 14th edition for the continental final. This is a tournament exclusively for girls and over the years has helped discover promising talents, plus launch the career of many talented girls in North America. The format for us locally is 5 rounds Swiss or round robin (based on the number of entries) with the games being played under active time control (30 minutes per player, no increment). First place clear or after tie breaks qualifies to St. Louis. The tie break system is a written puzzles test consisting of solving 10 puzzles in 10 minutes or less. We have not had a tie so far, but each time the winner chose to take the test anyway just for fun.

Not sure how many of you are playing 30 minutes per player. This is a good option to play online. There is a decent amount of time to think about what you are doing, as well as it ends relatively quickly; in my opinion this is well balanced. Playing over the board under the same time control is not much different, but one needs to have some practice with it or the time pressure will get the better of you. What strategy you might consider to be successful? Here is my take on it:
1. Opening – you need to have reliable opening choices and play them well. There is very little time you can really spend on thinking about it and if you start guessing, time becomes your enemy rather quickly
2. Middle game – having a solid position will force the opponent to spend time deciding where and how to attack you. This is a good thing! A good middle game position builds up from the opening; here it is important to know typical setups and plans available out of your opening choices. One such setup to consider could be for example a specific pawn structure or a standard attacking idea
3. Endgame – do not ignore it, thinking there is little chance to reach it in such a short time! Being able to play a strong endgame could either allow you to defend stubbornly and force the opponent to find the win (mostly in increasing time pressure) or improve your position bit by bit and put your opponent in time pressure to defend a worst position

The game I have selected is a good illustration of the above. It was played in the 4th round and was of major importance in setting up the stage for the last round and deciding the first place. Black had played very serious up to that point and was rewarded with a bit of luck along the way by collecting wins in round 1 (when she was under assault) and round 3 (in an opposite colour bishops endgame). White on the other hand let a draw slip through her hands in round 2 when she kept the opposition for 3 moves and forgot to pay attention to it when playing the 4th move in a king and pawns endgame; her opponent gained the opposition and got the win. Looking at this position I can add a few details to help you understand better what was going on:
– White managed to play her preferred opening line
– Black decided to go pawn grabbing, probably because this was her first game where she could do that
– White’s clock was running well under 10 minutes, while black had 12+ minutes
– White is a player used to slower time controls, so here the time crunch was her enemy
– Ne5 is very well placed; kicking it out of there should have been high on White’s priority list
– the White pieces are lining up to storm the castle and that is worth the pawn White is down; that was the g-pawn black captured and has allowed white to place a rook on g3
– both Black rooks are not very useful, Rb7 being clearly the worst of them all
Who do you like here? What side would you prefer to play considering the time available? There is no right or wrong answer and it is pretty much based on what type of player you are. Let’s see what happened in the game:

Hope you found this article useful. A number of points could help you in any active game with reflection time up to an hour per player. We will continue to see faster time controls in many tournaments and being ready to play good is going to give you an edge. 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

Endgame Play (3)

“To improve at chess you should in the first instance study the endgame”
Jose Raul Capablanca

This week’s endgame is a beauty! At first glance it looks deceivingly simple. It is white to move; please have a look and guess what the result would be:


Does the position look familiar to you? Do you happen to know more about it? I found it online as is and would love to hear who is the author, plus the time and place when/ where it was published. Moving on, the first thing I noticed were the 4 passed pawns, 2 for each side and on the same side of the board. Both pawns on each side are separated by one file; this means each king has a fighting chance against them. Let’s have a look at how each king has to fight those pesky pawns.

The White king: both pawns are on the 3rd rank and the king is not in their imaginary square (the corners of it are “a1-a3-c3-c1”) to stop their promotion. This means White must use the first move to enter in that imaginary square by playing either Ka4xa3 or Ka4-b3; both moves stop both pawns from promoting. The pawns can’t really do much against any move choice. OK, that sounds reassuring and we can move our attention to the other side.

The Black king: he is in the imaginary square created by the White pawns (the corners of it are “h2-c2-c8-h8). Do you remember why we should consider the c2-c8 as corners instead of b2-b8? Think about it and make sure you find the right answer before moving on. The answer will also be available below for verification. So, should the Black king be worried about those White pawns since it sits comfortably in their imaginary square. Will it just cherry pick them with ease like the White king will do? Apparently it will. Have a look at the White pawns now; could they do anything about it? Well, one strong strategy the pawns separated by a column have in fighting the opposing king is to maintain an L-shape (knight move) formation. They sit on f3 and h2 identical with a knight move and maintaining that makes them intangible. When the Black king attacks the front one (the f3-pawn here), the backwards one (the h2-pawn) moves forward “h2-h4” in the same L-shape (knight move) formation. The Black king would not be able to capture the f3-pawn and also stop the h4-pawn from promoting, so this could pin down the Black King.

Do we have enough to solve the puzzle? Let’s see if we do and will start by taking one of the Nlack pawns (less to worry about, right?):

Hmm, that did not turn out as expected, right? What is the reason for it? Well, the Black king came all the way to the queen side and helped the c3-pawn promote. Fortunately we have the luxury of choosing which Black pawn to take, so let’s try to capture the c3-pawn first. There is no way the Black king can come to the rescue of the a3-pawn:

The answer to the question above regarding the imaginary square of the white pawns: the left hand side corners of it should be c2-c8 because the h2-pawn would move h2-h4 in one move, meaning it could promote in 5 moves instead of 6. You must be aware of this detail with passed pawns still on their original square. Hope you liked it and used this opportunity to refresh your endgame knowledge. 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