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!

Wanna be an English Trapper?

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”
George Santayana

Funny how the past becomes important as we grow older. Some moments we remember immediately, others pop up at the right moment or even when we least expect it. Chessplayers have a good memory and that is an important ingredient in getting better. Another important thing is studying “traps and zaps”, expression used by Bruce Pandolfini in his popular book “Chess Openings: Traps and Zaps” from 1989. If you do not have it, you can always create your own from past games you played or have studied. Here is one of mine from the time I was in grade 7:

The English Opening is again popular these days, but was not so much at that time. I liked it because it allowed me to surprise my opponents expecting mostly 1. e4 or 1. d4. I have won many a game because of this. Do you think this trap is too simple or easy to see? You could be right now that you saw it. Hopefully you will not have it done to you from now on; it is not a nice feeling to lose that fast. All I can say is the trap functions today as efficient as it did back then. Quite a few of my students are using it too. It is also only one of more the position offers against unaware opponents. Here is another one played by one of my students a few years back:

Lessons 8 and 9, level 4 of our app have a few more useful traps and zaps in the English. The beauty of it is having the opportunity to add more examples as more unsuspecting victims fall for them. One of my former students managed to finish top 10 in boys U8 at the World Youth Chess Championship in Vietnam 2008 by playing the English exclusively with the White pieces; while he could not collect pieces with his traps at that level, he got pawns and superior positions he converted into invaluable points later on in those games. What more do you need? I will end this teaser article with one of my latest uses of a trap from a game I played online a couple of weeks ago. It was the game inspiring me to write this article. Hope you enjoyed it!

Valer Eugen Demian

The Wrong Rook (2)

“We are our choices”
Jean-Paul Sartre

More than a year ago I wrote an article on the same subject. You can review it here and that could help you figure out the solution to this puzzle as well.


You could say “But this one has 2 extra pawns in it”, so let’s look into why those pawns are on the board. The position has equal material. Re3, Re2 and Rb3 are in a standoff, all being under attack one way or another. An exchange leads to a simple draw since both pawns can either do damage or be captured as shown. In the same time Black’s rook battery along the 3rd rank protects its king from being checkmated and keeps an eye on the f6-pawn.

You might get the feeling in the beginning those pawns are important. Both of them are passed and on the 6th rank. The White king is not in the a3-pawn square, while the Black king is in the f6-pawn square (please review lesson 26, level 3 of our app). The a3-pawn cannot advance at the moment; the f6-pawn can and Black could catch it by moving either the rook or its king. If Black wants to catch it with its rook (1. f7 Rf3), it has to consider Rb3 is under attack and would be lost. That means the only move it really has is 1. f7 Kg7 Next we should look at what White can do about its pawn. Defending it 1. f7 Kg7 2. Rf2 Kf8 leads nowhere fast, so what about promoting it?


Now we have reached a similar situation with the other puzzle. White has sacrificed its pawn and all it has left is to attack the king. Should it do it with 1. Rf2+ …, 1. Rf1+ … or it does not matter? If the king goes toward the h8-corner, White wins no matter what because like in the other puzzle Black loses a rook. We also see in the process why the a3-pawn is needed, as the White king uses it to hide from checks (see line A). Now we look at what happens if the Black king goes in the center and we could observe quickly the difference between having a rook on e2 or not (see line B). Going back to the main line, we conclude it matters which rook is used to check with; one move leads to a draw and the other one to a win. Hope you have enjoyed it.

Valer Eugen Demian

Dependency on Technology

“While we’re all very dependent on technology, it doesn’t always work”
Bill Gates

I had a busy prior week and weekend. My next article was in a preliminary stage, waiting for a window of free time when I could take it from there and finish it. I woke up on Sunday morning, got ready and turned on the laptop. The operating system would not start; tried it a few times with no luck. I had to use a different computer to google for computer repair shops in our area and there were not many places open on Sunday. Drove to a couple listed as open and found them closed. I dropped by a big electronics store with a Geek Squad: they would take it in, but could not look at it today; their expectation was they would hold onto it for at least 2-3 days. That is unacceptable these days. It puzzles me how in a big city like Vancouver one cannot find computer services on Sunday unless you know someone personally. We are all dependent on our computers and other devices yet when they don’t work, there’s always a reason why they can’t be fixed in time. What is more upsetting is when the reasons for not being able to fix them in time do not even begin to involve if or what is wrong with the said device.

This experience has forced me to adapt. It is the first time when my newer laptop has done something like this and a lot of information I have on it is not accessible right now. Writing another article all of a sudden is not exactly an easy thing to do. I got the idea to make a connection between my situation, chess, engines and internet, resulting it these thoughts. A vast majority of chess lovers are increasingly dependent on technology. If today there’s an internet glitch or ideally we won’t be able to get engine help, how many could actually play the game at the same level with the one when everything is normal? Can you do that? If you can, you are in good shape. This means the game has helped you reach a point where you have developed habits and skills you can use at anytime and in many aspects of your life.

I remember in my childhood the moment when my father decided I should start learning/ doing chess on a daily basis to get used to having an intellectual activity. It is possible I might not have a definite answer when I say using the technology today is not the same thing. We cannot have an app for every life challenge we encounter. We need to be able to use our brain as the best app we have and technology could be a very useful tool in optimizing this process. A tool will never be able to think and decide for us no matter how advanced it is. Years ago the main challenge was to find the written information (if there was any) and the process was long and arduous. Would those used to google for anything today believe those days existed? There is an ocean of information out there and countless databases with millions of games at our fingertips. Does this mean they are of more use to us in times of need? I say choosing the right information is at least as long and arduous of a process as we experienced in the past; moreover there’s a risk of being shallow and never find it firstly because it feels too simple to dip into the ocean and secondly because we might have not developed the habit of doing it properly.

Chess has been seriously influenced by engines and databases. Gambits have fallen first, defending is so much better than it ever was, while attacking at the right time is devastating; still there is enough to learn from this game for everyone. We can still improve and play the game without any of the technology around us when it decides not to work. This is not happening at the speed of a mouse click for sure, nor in a month of studying chess like some have tried. We need to make a conscious effort time and time again for it to work; one way to do it is to start playing one game a week without any engine help, then maybe one game a day and when all is ripe, play without any engines and enjoy it. It is like a detox cure. I have started my cure a while ago and I can tell you it feels better and better. Would you join me? You won’t regret it!

Valer Eugen Demian

Sacrifice for Beginners

“Sacrifice (definition) = a move that gives up material to gain a positional or tactical advantage”

For a long time my first reaction when someone played a sacrifice against me was to feel shivers down my spine. How could I not see this? The sacrifice must be correct, right? The opponent knows what its doing. This of course put me in a defensive position and because of that the sacrifice was already successful. It did not let me look at it with the right frame of mind. How could I stand a chance to play my best against it? I thought about this as I was preparing my new lesson for the current level 2 group of students. We were covering basic mistakes in the opening and punishing those require more often than not one or more sacrifices. I know that for beginners the value of pieces is like the 10 Commandments and because of that reason alone, seeing sacrifices in their games is very rare. This means no chances to punish basic opening mistakes. Let’s take on the challenge to rectify this situation.

We were looking at the following game (also included in level 2, lesson 2 of our chess app):


The theme for this one is called “Cannot play one against all” and it is a hot topic for beginners. After reaching the position above, I could see their puzzled eyes looking at it and could tell they did not understand what was going on. I jumped at the opportunity to introduce them to the topic of sacrifice and did my best to make it as simple as possible.

  • Step 1: We looked at the position and observed Black had an extra pawn and with the last move it was threatening to win either a rook or a queen for the knight
  • Step 2: The first try when facing a sacrifice is to see what happens if you accept it. We played the best line we could think of starting with 6. Kxf2 … The conclusion was that accepting the sacrifice was not a good idea
  • Step 3: We started to look for alternatives and one target we have been talking about (the f7-weak spot) was already attacked by our Bc4; with one attacker and one defender (Ke8), we needed to bring into the action another attacker. This is how the move Rh1-f1 was discovered: it attacked Nf2 and once the knight would move away, we could have a second attacker on f7
  • Step 4: At this moment we had a closer look to see if there was a better move also bringing our rook on f1; O-O became evident within seconds
  • Step 5: Bringing the rook on the f-file meant sacrificing the queen. We have a rule of thumb saying “Sacrifice your Queen only if you can checkmate or get the queen back and then some”
  • Step 6: It was easy to see we could not get our queen back, so the class had the pleasure to look for checkmate

Hope you have figured out the solution by now. Enjoy it below and hope our quest to find it has been instructive!

Valer Eugen Demian

The Mongolian Tactic Origin

“I will not return alive if I do not defeat the Jin army!”
General Muqali

Not long ago I wrote an article about the Mongolian tactic. You can review it HERE
At the end of it I asked the chess community to help find how this came about and got its name. I am happy one of our fellow chess enthusiasts was kind enough to send me more information. Thank you Martin for sharing it! I have done a copy and paste of his message below for everyone’s benefit. One final quick note before passing the floor to Martin; the Mongolian player’s name mentioned by Yasser was Lhamsuren Myagmarsuren. Hope you will find this useful and please keep your feedback coming!

“This is a short reply to the article “The Mongolian Tactic” where you have asked for the actual origin of the name “Mongolian Tactic” for the tactic you have shown in the same article. As you have pointed out GM Yasser Seirawan states that the name comes from Bobby Fischer. Here is a teaching video on YouTube where he explaines the origin of the name (from Minute 34:30 to 40:30).
Spoiler from here (better watch the video as an explanation because of the amusing story): in a tournament Bobby Fischer was facing some Mongolian player with a very difficult name. After asking multiple times for the name he simply wrote “Mongolian” on his table. This guy was the one who used this tactic in there matches. Greetings, Martin”

Valer Eugen Demian

Inexplicable Endgame Play

“If you are weak in the endgame, you must spend more time analyzing studies; in your training games you must aim at transposing to endgames, which will help you to acquire the requisite experience”
Mikhail Botvinnik

This week’s endgame comes from a voting match we played as part of one Canadian team during an 8 months period. The team componence (46 players for us versus 6 players for them) seemed to favor us by quite a bit, still getting things organized as a team with so many players is not easy to do. We are getting better at it as time goes on. We have far less “drive-by” players (those who just vote for any move they think of, even moves never discussed) and we have managed to prove to our regular team members that discussing our options before we start voting actually pays off. In this particular game we managed to overcome a so-so opening and shaky middle game play into the following endgame position (White to move):

The general consensus here was that despite the extra pawn, we had no chance to win at correct play. I was one of the members interested to offer a draw, but the team decided to play on. It turned out to be a very interesting experience. Do you agree the position should lead to a draw at correct play? Here are a few reasons for it:

  • The extra pawn is doubled and even if they are center pawns, as long as they stay doubled they are of little use
  • The double rook endgames are far more tactical because of the existing fire power and both kings need to be protected
  • The important h4/h5 pawn moves have already been played, establishing clear boundaries on what those pawns can do
  • White’s plan should be very simple here: take control of the 2nd rank and put pressure on the e5-pawn with both rooks to impede its advancement

Instead of the above White chose firstly to bring his rook onto the 7th rank. Of course an (un)written rule says the best position for any rook is on the 7th rank. We actually have the opportunity to see how any of these rules cannot be applied without making sure the situation on the chessboard warrant them.

The above mistake was important but not decisive. Letting us take control of the 2nd rank, the same idea they tried at the wrong time, made absolutely no sense. That also meant we now had a clear path toward winning. Some may say this second mistake allowed us to win it; in reality they were both connected. The remaining of the endgame was more or less technical. Enjoy the winning line and hope you will learn a bit from it. You never know when your opponents might offer you the opportunity to punish their endgame mistakes in inexplicable fashion.

Valer Eugen Demian

“What say you?” The 1 minute challenge (7)

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

A quick reminder about how to do it:

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

Are you ready? Here it is: which of the three possible king moves wins the game for White?

This is a very difficult endgame; if you are able to figure out the guiding ideas and guess the correct move, consider yourself a strong player. My take on it:

  • Material is equal
  • White has a chance to win because of the better position of its king
  • It is easy to see White could win the a-pawn, bringing the position into a basic king and pawn versus king endgame
  • If White captures Black’s pawn with its own pawn, key is to hold control of the critical b7-square: if White has it, it is a win; however if Black has it, it is a draw (lesson 19, level 2 of our chess app)
  • If White captures Black’s pawn with its king, it has to place the king in front of the b-pawn in order to win (lesson 19, level 2 of our chess app)
  • On the Black side of it its king should either consider taking control of the b7-square (see above) or attack and capture White’s b-pawn to reach a draw

With the above in mind, we have to choose a move. Which one did you pick? Have a look at the solution and go over it with care to understand all the twists and turns.
The highlight: white uses the opposition to force the black King all the way to the h2-square. That saves the b-pawn, allows white to capture the a-pawn and reach a won endgame. It is kind of amazing how two simple concepts combined together can create such a complicated puzzle, isn’t it? Enjoy!

Valer Eugen Demian

Missing The Obvious

“When your mind tries to verify a preconceived notion you can miss the obvious”
James Cook

My latest entertaining turn based game on chess.com lasted for 7 months. The game had many twists and turns as the positional battle shifted between both sides of the chessboard; later in the game the tactics could have tipped the balance in my favour. Unfortunately I missed the winning idea time and time again; some might ask how is this possible when 3 days per move reflection time sounds like an eternity. The truth is life happens every day with moves in between and a lot of times one wishes they could just play without interruptions or waiting time from beginning to end. Here is the game with all the important moments highlighted:

The lessons learned from it are at least the following:

  • Do your best not to have preconceived ideas and verify each exchange sequence possible one more time before committing (missing the obvious #1)
  • Identify and learn from missed opportunities on both sides during post mortem analysis (missing the obvious #2)
  • Work on your tactics consistently and relentlessly to be able to convert won positions into full points (missing the obvious #3 to #6)
  • Be strong and alert from beginning to end especially when you can feel you have missed a couple of opportunities. You never know when you might get another chance; the opponent could falter as well (missing the obvious #7 and #8)

Valer Eugen Demian

“What say you?” The 1 minute challenge (6)

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

Here is some interesting information I found online about the composer behind this week’s puzzle:
“M. Brede (. M. stands for “Mister” Brede’s chess problem were in “M. Brede” began in 1841 in Chess Player’s Chronicle , and from 1843 in the Illustrated London News published), which is Ferdinand Julius Brede (1799 or 1800 Stettin – 15.12.1849 Altona, today a district of Hamburg). Brede was an accountant at Altona’s merchant Georg Friedrich Baur. Baur was the owner of the Baurspark named after him in today’s Hamburg district of Blankenese. Brede also worked as a writer under the pseudonym de Fibre and as a chess composer. Brede was a member of the Hamburg Chess Club ( Chess Player’s Chronicle 1841, page 241 “Problem No. 131 By M. Brede, of the Hamburgh Chess Club.” In 1844, Brede gave the almanac to friends from the chess game, a collection of self-made chess pieces Brede is the author of the variant problem.”
Book: “Chess in 19th century newspapers 210 chess assignments and 200 pictures.”
Author: Elke Rehder
Place of publication: Homburg, Publisher: EDITION JUNG, Publication year: 2014. 340 pages, format DIN A5, binded. ISBN 978-3-933648-54-9.

In those days puzzle solving challenges would sound something like:
“If you find the key to this position in ten minutes, we shall think of you as a very promising aspirant for Caïssa’s honours”
Today we are much stronger/ better as a community and we can solve them a lot faster, don’t we? A quick reminder about how to do it:

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

Are you ready? Here it is:

Even if this is about tactics and raw calculations, tactics do not happen out of the blue. They happen when the position is ripe, so the first step needed is to recognize it being as such. We are used to this by now:

  • Black has winning material advantage
  • White still has enough fire power to attack Kg8 and that includes: Nd5, Qf4, Rg2 and the g6-pawn
  • Black’s heavy pieces (queen and both rooks) are away on the queen side for the moment
  • The only Black piece defending its king is Be6; that means White’s attackers outnumber the defenders at least 3 to 1, giving us a first indication the attack has a chance to succeed
  • Both moves 1. Ne7+ … and 1. gxh7+ … look good, so how do we decide which one to go with? To choose correctly, we need to see the difference between the two
  • Looking carefully at each option move, we should see a couple of important details:
    1. Ne7+ … opens the diagonal a2-g8, giving Qa2 a way to come to the defence of its king
    1. gxh7 … eliminates one of the pawns defending their king and still keeps Qa2 away

Conclusion: 1. gxh7 … is the move winning faster; now we can start calculating the moves. The second move is key and I am sure you can see it now. Enjoy the complete solution!

Valer Eugen Demian

Mednis Principles (2)

“With major pieces (queen or rook) on the board, having bishops on opposite colors favors the side with an attack.”
Edmar Mednis

A couple of nice articles about these principles can be reviewed HERE and HERE
SIM Michael R Freeman is a very strong ICCF player from Darwin, New Zealand. The fact he has been able to perform at around 2500 correspondence chess rating since 2009 is a high accomplishment not many are capable of. He is also FIDE-CM over the board and this summer he had the opportunity to play in the 8th IGB International Seniors Open Chess Championship 2017, Malaysia. Michael was kind to share interesting positions from his games along the way and I liked one in particular. The position was extremely interesting and the additional thoughts and comments by Michael caught my attention and made me take a closer look. We also had a very instructive online discussion about it; in the end can say for sure I learned more about opposite bishops endgames. Here it is with comments as indicated:

Of course Mednis principles apply here perfectly. White was pressing all along and that opened the door for a nice ending. Personally I think this is also an excellent example of how we need to pay attention to what is going on until the opponent has signed the scoresheet. Michael could have been rattled by the missed chances or by the tough defence he had to face up to that point; also he might have thought this was a done deal with those 2 passed pawns ready to promote. Any of us in his shoes would have had to consider 1… Bc5 as the best reply and gather our last drops of energy to figure out the winning idea with Bb5 hanging. He did it and was rewarded for it. Below is the full game score. Thank you Michael for sharing it with us!

Valer Eugen Demian