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!

Sicilian Alapin Surprise

“Black has only two good replies (to 2. c3) – 2… d5 and 2… Nf6”
Evgeny Sveshnikov

White chooses Sicilian Alapin to surprise Black and render its theoretical preparation useless; instead of a well prepared Dragon, Najdorf, Sveshnikov or other preferred variation, the options are drastically reduced as any good book on it will tell you. A lot of times Black is not prepared for it and this gives White a psychological advantage at move 2. The good news is Black can also do something about it and the reduced number of choices helps. In my experience as a Sicilian player, one must have a variation ready to face the Alapin.

GM Johan Salomon is another very promising young player from Norway, the land of our current World Champion. Johan is very active on social media and regularly shares with his followers interesting puzzles and games of his own or by others. I find his choices very interesting and useful, like the following game I selected to share with you. IMO all Sicilian loving players should look at it and consider it as the starting point to explore the variation and ideas behind it. Without further ado here is the game:

White chose to avoid the heavily analyzed standard Sicilian variations with 2. c3 … and Black returned the favour with 5… Bf5; add into the mix an unexpected yet very playable queen sac and Black may have a nice surprise weapon to go along with the main preparation. Hey, one thing is for sure: if you manage to unleash the queen sac, your opposition does not read my column and you have a leg up on them. Please send over your games and get even better prepared in this variation to the point where white would avoid playing the Sicilian Alapin against you!

Valer Eugen Demian

“What Say You?” The 1 Minute Challenge (3)

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

This article marks the 1 year anniversary since I joined Nigel and friends on this site. I am very grateful for the opportunity and would like to say:
“Thank you Nigel for bringing me on-board!”
In life we are presented with a finite number of opportunities. The twist each time is not knowing if they are the right ones, if it is the right time or simply if we are ready for it. In a way it is similar with what we face on the chessboard at every move and of course each one of us reacts differently. My approach is to take it if it feels right. Young people have a tendency of letting them pass, searching for that elusive once in a lifetime opportunity to certain success. One goes by, there will be several others coming our way, isn’t it? I was more or less the same, don’t think for a second I was not. John Snow’s words are true, don’t you think?
Theon Greyjoy “… Remember we were all young and stupid, you always knew. Every step you take is always the right step.
John Snow “It’s not. It may seem that way from the outside but I promise you it’s not true. I’ve done plenty of things that I regret…
We simply don’t know which opportunity leads to certain success and this, I argue, is the whole point of life: choose what you feel is right for you at any given moment.

I had and still have no idea where this opportunity is going to take me. I tried my writing several times in the past with more or less success and realized I liked doing it. That was helpful in deciding to take it. The weekly format forced me to adjust on the fly and look for subjects of interest on a regular basis. I had no idea this was going to happen when I made my decision. Life has a lot of twists and turns. The decisions we make lead us in different directions. The final destination might be there waiting for us no matter which way we choose and of course it is still possible we might not reach it in the end. The best we can do is give it our best shot each time.

Right now I feel this 1 minute challenge idea has value for many. In a World full of opportunities and an overwhelming amount of information at our fingertips, thinking for ourselves and making the best possible decisions is increasingly important. No engine or similar tool will help you do that. They are just tools. Yes, an engine will “show” you in a split second the possible result of a move/ decision; however it will never be able to “explain” it to you. That is what really matters and why we should continue practicing it. 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? Below is this week’s position asking you to choose the winning move from the 4 options presented (in no particular order):

Here are my thoughts:

  • It is another endgame with White having considerable material advantage
  • The White king is too far away so 1. Kg2 … or similar does not help. The rook and pawn must find a way to get it done
  • Sacrificing the rook in exchange for promoting the pawn 1. axb5 Kxa1 gives us a basic queen versus side pawn endgame (lesson 17, level 2 of our chess app); with the White king so far away, this position is a draw
  • Moving the rook decision brings a new twist: where should we move it?
  • Moving it to the king side (as far away from the king as possible) 1. Rg1 bxa4 loses the pawn and reaches a rook versus pawn endgame (lesson 18, level 2 of our chess app); with the White king so far away, this position is also a draw
  • The remaining choice 1. Ra3 Kxa3 2. axb5 … is kind of out of the box thinking, don’t you think? The main idea is to force the king in front of the a5-pawn and away from the a1 promotion square. This would allow us to promote with check and win sufficient tempi to capture the remaining pawn and win the game
  • One last detail is to go with your gut feeling in the line 1. Ra3 b4 It is possible you might be out of time by now. All you would need to calculate is if you have enough time to capture the a5-pawn and stop the b-pawn from promoting

Here is the solution:

I found the position interesting and educative. The answer was not obvious and reaching it required solid knowledge of basic endgames, plus a well thought plan. If some might think this puzzle is too easy, do not dismiss it. You can use this one or similar to warm up during home preparation; do not start with the tough ones first. Practice makes it perfect. Hope you found it useful.

Valer Eugen Demian

The Mongolian Tactic

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

I had the chance to watch live online the game between Anand and Carlsen, Sinquefield Cup, 04-Aug-2017 (full game HERE). At the end of it GM Yasser Seirawan made an interesting comment about Anand’s choice to draw the rook and pawns ending they were playing. He said the pawn push 60. g4 … was called “the Mongolian tactic” and he knew about it from a game played or witnessed by Fischer many years ago. Apparently Fischer was the first one to name it as such (or possibly “the Mongoloid tactic”). I have never heard of it before and Yasser’s comments made me extremely curious. The truth is Anand’s choice settled the game quickly, proving its effectiveness. Here is the final part of that endgame:

It could be that time in my life when studying history and bringing back into the spotlight useful information is important; another possible reason is I first fell in love with the antiquity and the first profession I thought about pursuing was archeology. Right after the game I started doing some online research with the intention of writing this article; as you can see it took me almost a month and have still not been able to find more than what you can see here. Apparently Yasser wrote an online article for “The Kibitzer” column @ The Chess Cafe website in the early 2000 (2003 or 2004?), but I could not find it anymore. What I could find though were a couple of games where “the Mongolian tactic” has been used before. The first game between Carlsen versus Yue (full game HERE) also contains a few interesting comments by a couple of users about the history of its name. Thank you “TugasKamagong” and “Shams” for sharing your knowledge!

  • TugasKamagong: “Carlsen’s 46. g4 … is a pawn maneuver that doesn’t have a name. <Shams>, posting in the tournament kibitz page King’s Tournament (2010) a few minutes after that move was played, called it “the Mongolian tactic.” I can’t find a game where a Mongolian player made this maneuver, so I guess <Shams> was alluding to some brilliant 13th-century war tactic by Genghis Khan at say, the Battle of Badger Pass. Anyway, I propose that we use <Sham>’s term and call this the Mongolian Tactic or perhaps the Mongolian Break-through…”
  • Shams: “Yes, who can forget the carnage that day at Badger Pass. I had thought Fischer used the term “Mongolian tactic” for this? Not sure where I read that.”

Here is the final part of that game where “the Mongolian tactic” brought Carlsen a full point:

“Shams” and user “Anastasia” also made a few comments about it for a game between Polgar and Almasi (full game HERE)

  • Shams: “72… g5 allows 73. g4! … what Fischer used to call the “Mongolian Tactic” (don’t ask me why.)…”
  • Anastasia: “not to be picky but Fischer actually called it the mongoloid tactic”
  • Shams: “hmm, do you know the story? google isn’t helping. I’m curious…”

These users are additional sources confirming Yasser’s recollection of the name being linked to Fischer.
Here is the final part of that game where “the Mongolian tactic” also brought Judit the full point:

Here you have it now in one place. Could anyone shed a light on this very clever piece of tactics and help set the record straight? I think it would be nice to save it for future generations as part of other pieces of wisdom in the endgame. I would be more than happy to write more on the subject and even offer this space to anyone wishing to contribute to it; until that happens, I think we could all re-learn about it and have it ready in our daily endgames. Remember the pawn cluster g4-h4-g5-h5 whenever the kingside pawns face each other and because h2-h4 and h7-h5 are important and popular moves to play in the endgame, always ponder carefully the g3-g4 or g6-g5 pawn push in the light of “the Mongolian tactic”. It is pretty devastating!

Valer Eugen Demian

“What Say You?” The 1 Minute Challenge (2)

“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? Below is this week’s position:


This week’s challenge is a king and pawns endgame with Black being up by 1 pawn. Here are my thoughts:

  • There are no passed pawns
  • At first glance the Black king seems unable to defend its isolated pawns, so my first reaction was to try line A: 1. Kg3 … and after a few seconds I realized Black wins with ease
  • The second logical try is line B: 1. Kf1 … where White has the opposition. The concept of the opposition (level 2, lessons 19 of our app) is critical in such endgames and it offers simple yet powerful guidance toward a desired result. Surprisingly here it does not work because Black uses the position of the f3-pawn and after 1… Kd2 2. Kf2 Kd3 wins the opposition back, followed by the game
  • Three of the remaining choices (1. Kg1 … 1. Kh2 … and 1. Kh3 …) do not make much sense in my opinion

If you are still with me, you know there is one move left: 1. Kh1 … It seems counter intuitive for a human player. Why on Earth would I consider moving my king in the most unpleasant square available, away from the f3-pawn and far away from those Black pawns? I looked at the solution and couldn’t believe that it was the one, a move discarded by my intuition from the first moment… Of course once this happens, the normal reaction should be to figure out the reasoning. What do you notice first after you play 1. Kh1 …? If you have noticed White has the distant opposition, it is very possible you found the solution in time. Truly after the second try (1. Kf1 …) you should be looking at 1. Kh1 … instead of discarding it. The distant opposition might not come into play as often as the opposition; however it is as important and powerful. One other interesting observation: after 1. Kh1 … the position has a nice geometric motif: if you consider the f-file as a vertical axis of symmetry, the position is symmetrical.

Do not feel bad the engines spit out the solution immediately. You can look at it and replay it but do not stop there! Do the next step of figuring out why the solution is as it is based on your knowledge. The thought process involved is going to help you in future games and really this is what matters. Play your own games/ positions and don’t let the engines take that away from you regardless how “perfect” they play. Enjoy the full solution below:

Valer Eugen Demian

Bad ideas (2)

“Errare humanum est…”
Seneca

My first article on this subject can be revisited HERE A few days ago I stumbled in my online search over one of Magnus Carlsen spectacular combinations when he was 12 years old. Possibly some of you might know it, while some might not. It is however safe to assume all will enjoy reviewing it together with my 2 cents about the game. The final combination did not happen out of the blue. There were a number of factors involved during the game to make it possible and in my opinion the most important one was a “bad idea” Black had in the opening. He planted the seed early and continued to water it until it grew into something nice looking and completely useless. I feel inspired today and will call it a “game eating” idea!

Let’s have a look at the game and how the “game eating” idea developed:


I think we must look at this game with a human eye. Black’s idea was to dominate the queen side and he achieved it. The main point is that it was absolutely useless and when Magnus played the final assault on the opposing king, those pieces on the queen side were still dominating it and being absolutely useless in the same time. Black had a few opportunities to re-adjust instead of persevering, but missed them. What do we learn out of it? The main lesson for me is the importance of piece activity (lessons 10 to 14, level 5 of our chess app). Always pay attention to what your pieces and the opposing pieces are doing at any moment. Be ready to move them around as the position requires and expect this simple advice to be hard to follow. Please practice it as often as possible because it is the only way to get better. Good luck!

Valer Eugen Demian

“What Say You?” The 1 Minute Challenge

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

I have been talking a lot in my previous articles about gut instinct in chess. It relies heavily on personal knowledge and experience, reason why we all need to continuously work on both. I have been thinking for a while now about how to help you get better at it and the best idea I could come up with is to get closer to a game situation. How does this work? Well, time has become an important factor in the game; long gone are the days of 40 moves in 2 hours, one or two adjournments and an adjudication by a selected panel consisting of the best players in the tournament. These days we need to make our decisions much faster. Here is how I propose you 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? Let’s start with the position below:

OK, hope you have timed yourself. You can compare now your thoughts with mine gathered in the same fashion:

  • My first thought was this position resembled the famous Reti study (W: Kh8, c6 B: Ka6, h5); however the g-pawn is more advanced and Reti’s solution cannot help
  • Since the g-pawn is 3 moves away from promoting and cannot be stopped, we must push a pawn forward; this immediately eliminates any king move (line A)
  • I have 2 pawns to choose from, but the a-pawn gets blocked after 1 move
  • Moving the h-pawn first (line B) allows me to push it all the way to h7 and when Black promotes g1=Q, Kh8 is trapped in the corner; my a5-pawn still has a move to give but after pushing it, I think Black cannot win anymore
  • This looks very good so far and becomes my choice
  • There is a bit of time left and I am thinking what would happen if 1. h5 Ka6 the only other possibility for Black? One thing easy to see is I will have to move Kh8-g7 and Black will promote g1=Q with check; hmm that gives Black tempi to bring his queen all the way to g6, move his king aside Ka6-b5 to avoid stalemate and that will force the a5-pawn to move (3 moves to promotion). White would need just 2 moves Qg6-f7-f8#
  • Line B is now busted and the solution is now obvious


Did you get it all that in 1 minute? If you did, congratulations! The queen versus pawn endgame (lesson 17, level 2 of our chess app) can occur quite often at club level play, especially when the players are closely matched. The most likely pawn to give trouble is the side pawn (either a- or h-) and knowing how to deal with it can save you invaluable half points. Do not forget to review it whenever you get the chance like in this study. Hope you liked it!

Valer Eugen Demian

How To Play With The Bishop Pair

The general consensus today is the bishop pair provides a positional advantage. Do you agree with this or not? A few years ago Franklin Chen wrote a very nice article about how not to play with the bishop pair. You can revisit it HERE He gives excellent insights into the pitfalls one may fall into when playing too confident and expecting the advantage to bring home the win automatically. I wanted to write an article about the following game anyway, when I stumbled over Franklin’s article. This is rather fortunate as it allows me to balance it with a view from the other side. Rest assured if you avoid those pitfalls, you will be rewarded by the bishop pair.

The game was played by correspondence chess and it is from the on-going North America Pacific Zone 6th ICCF Championship. The reflection time was 5 days per move with time control every 10 moves. Saved time is accumulated and can be used at any moment in the game with some restrictions. This is a good game to add to your database if Tarrasch Defence is in your repertoire or you want to have a good line prepared against it.

A few important lessons to learn from it:

  • Leave your king in the center at own peril
  • Avoid moves like 13… Rc8 by making sure you understand the priorities of the position in front of you
  • Used properly the bishop pair is going to bring you material advantage

Hope you liked it and it will encourage you to review and study these aspects more closely.

Valer Eugen Demian

Endgame play (5)

How do you feel about king and pawns endgames with equal number of pawns on the same side? Are you concerned and study them? Do you know them and believe they are simple to deal with? What do you think about the following classic endgame and how it got played out?

Do you think White is lost here anyway because of the better position of Kd5 and possible loss of the f5-pawn? Of course not being able to use the opposition to stop the opposing king from invading your position is a concern, the same is having unprotected pawns (like the f5-pawn) left behind by their adjacent friends. The key is to know all resources available in your position. Can you think about a resource Chigorin missed? White has no way to push forward, nor breakthrough to create a passed pawn. If it simply retreats (like it did in the game), it won’t even be able to think about holding a draw in a king versus king and pawn endgame for 2 reasons:

  • The Black king will be in front of its pawn(s) as it should
  • Black is going to be up minimum 2 pawns after winning the f- and h-pawns

Retreating is basically surrendering! The only chance is to look elsewhere and from the remaining options the only one making sense is stalemate. How do we force black to stalemate us? We need to find a good spot for our king and give black no options. A good spot we can reach is on the h-file, where the h5-square not only suits our idea but also blocks the h4-pawn in the same time. All you need now is care to put together the right move order:

Did you know about this stalemate idea? If you did, don’t forget it. If you did not, remember it as you never know when it can come in handy. Here are a couple of more recent examples where it paid off to know it. The first one is from a game played by well known top players:

The second one is from a recent game between 2000 to 2300 players:

I hope this article makes a good case for learning and perfecting the fine details of this endgame with pawns on the same side. It does not look like much when you go over it; however knowing it is essential and can bring you invaluable half points in your games.

Valer Eugen Demian

Endgame play (4)

Today’s position is a very good example of how important pawn endgames are; even a momentary lapse of reason (do you know Pink Floyd’s great album with the same name from 1987?) could be fatal to any player, beginners and grandmasters alike. Have a look at the position, do a quick assessment and decide what should be the result of it with black to move:

Everyone knows or should know GM Wolfgang Uhlmann (GER) a guru in French defence. That becomes obvious while looking at his annotated games (our app level 4, lessons 2 to 7 has a great selection) from the 80s. Any French defence player should study them to gain invaluable knowledge about this solid opening choice against 1. e4 …
IM Tania Sachdev (IND) is much younger and on top of her excellent chess results, you might have heard her as part of the official commentary team for the 2013 (Chennai) World Championship Match between Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand. We should agree both are top players with a high level knowledge of chess in general.

Your quick assessment should cover at least the following aspects:

  • Material is equal
  • We are in a King and pawns endgame with no passed pawns
  • In such an endgame the opposition, tempo and pawn breakthrough (all covered in level 3 of our app) should be closely monitored

Of course it is much easier to discuss it after the fact, but in reality if you have a solid endgame knowledge foundation, that will help you navigate the still waters with care and avoid judgement lapses. I am going to go out on a limb and say 1… Kf6 should be an easy choice to make here for Black. Going down the possible line (see line to get there at the end of the article), they could have reached below position A1. The position is a dead draw. Give it a try (Black to move) if you wish to practice your endgame knowledge!


Kc7[/pgn]

Tania misjudged the position and chose to play 1… a6 using the tempo move available instead of the opposition. Going down this possible line (see line to get there at the end of the article), they would have reached below position A2. The difference is minimal: the a5/a6 pawn pair is placed one square away from the A1 position above. Does it matter? Give it a try (Black to move) and see what comes up:

Post mortem Tania was in disbelief hearing her position was lost after 1… a6 Of course in an OTB game where time could be a factor, such fine details might be easily overlooked. Here I would say 1… Kf6 is a more natural move to find and play. Holding the opposition is a safer bet. It is possible Tania thought after 1… Kf6 2. a6 … the White pawn is closer to queening and more dangerous, when on the other hand the a7-pawn is farther away from the White king which would need an extra move to reach it.

Wolfgang had the game within grasp and all he needed to play was the winning move 1… a6?? 2. e4! … Nobody knows but him why he chose a losing move instead. There is no doubt he wanted to win as much as any of us if given the chance. He simply missed the following decisive pawn breakthrough, proving once more how important pawn endgames are. Enjoy the swift pawn breakthrough Tania played with confidence and its devastating result. Hope you liked it and it will convince you to study these pawn endgames more than you’ve done so far.

Valer Eugen Demian

Piece activity

Piece activity is a positional aspect of major importance in a game. Hugh Patterson has written a very nice article about it back in 2014. You can review it HERE Our chess app also covers it extensively in level 5, lessons 10-14 by looking at how the activity of each piece influences the outcome of the game. One of my latest online games proved to be a good example in that direction. Here is the beginning of it (turn based, 3 days per move), leading up to an important junction in the game:


Black’s last move is definitely out of the ordinary; when something like this happens, it is a good idea to stop, take a deep breath and analyse the position to the best of your abilities. It is easy to see white cannot capture the rook because it would lose its queen. This is the starting point for your analysis:

  • Material is equal
  • Both sides are castled and so far the White king is in more danger because of Ne5 and Rf3 being in close vicinity
  • There are no other attackers on the White castle
  • There are not a lot of defenders of the White castle either
  • If White does not pay attention, a move such as Qd8-d7 could increase the number of attackers and apply pressure

OK, so the conclusion is White must do something to improve the defense of its castle and its piece positioning. Looking at the piece positioning we see:

  • Rf1 and Be3 are in decent position with no better options for the moment
  • Rc1 could be placed better, but doing that won’t help with defending the castle
  • Qd2 could move and have Rf3 in danger of being captured; however a simple look at 18. Qe2 Qd7 19. gxf3?? Qxh3 (see last part of the game below) gives black a winning position
  • Nc3 is capable to get involved and in 2 moves (Nc3-e4-g5) it can spring into action, defending both the f3-square and h3-pawn

On the Black side we have:

  • Qd8 needs at least one move (Qd8-d7) to get into the action
  • Bg7 is very nicely placed, but there are no targets along the a1-h8 diagonal
  • Ra8 is completely out of the game and does not count
  • Ne5 and Rf3 are active but if White chooses the right plan, both could be chased away by pawns

Let’s see how the game continued:

Conclusion: piece activity must be monitored closely at all times. That starts with your own pieces and continues with the opposing ones. At the beginning it could feel like extra burden when the amount of time is so scarce (today’s time controls are a lot less of what they used to be); however if you stick with it, you will get better and realize it helps with planning and decision making. Your games will flow nicely and the moments of blank stares with no ideas in mind will be drastically reduced. Hope you will start looking at it!

Valer Eugen Demian