Category Archives: Annotated Games

Ten Reasons My Winning Game Turned into a Loss

Recently I had one of the most embarrassing losses in my chess life. Granted, I’ve had many losses, and many of them have been quite painful, but this one was particularly bad, because of many regrets about factors that I could have controlled but didn’t. I did not fully understand this earlier in life, but more and more I have learned that my performance in a serious chess game hinges on factors completely independent of what one might think of as the core of chess play (theoretical knowledge, tactical calculation ability). The circumstances surrounding this game have much to teach about how not to go into a game. When we talk about chess improvement, we must talk about the whole context of playing chess, not just the pieces and positions on the board.

Ten faulty thoughts and actions

  1. My first mistake was that, seeing that it was finally nice outside, after work, when I was supposed to just rest, and prepare to eat dinner after my wife came home, I instead went out for my first run in several days. I returned a bit tired. I’m not stupid: I know that it is foolhardy to waste one’s glucose stores shortly before a competitive chess game, because the brain needs a lot of glucose to think clearly, especially in a four-hour time-control game ending near midnight.
  2. Abby was confused when she saw me finally come home from my run, because the timing messed with our dinner plan, because she hadn’t known when to start cooking dinner. Having an unexpected change in routine caused unnecessary stress for everyone.
  3. We decided we had to eat leftovers from the refrigerator, but suddenly the power in our neighborhood went out. This caused a dispute in which I (starving after my run) wanted to get stuff out of the refrigerator, but she didn’t want to open it. Don’t have draining arguments before a chess game.
  4. By the time the power came back and I had to go off to my chess game, I had packed dinner to take with me but still not eaten. Do not play chess hungry.
  5. I arrived at the chess club and ate much of my dinner in the couple of minutes before the round began, but this is not optimal timing. Do not eat a lot of food right before a game. You need to be thinking, not digesting.
  6. I trash-talked before the game, saying, “We’re going to see a sacrifice in this game”, because in fact, I had prepared some Black gambits for the occasion. This was possibly the single worst mistake I made that evening. Do not trash-talk and trap yourself into some ego-driven mindset or pre-commitment.
  7. As White, my opponent surprised me on move 2, playing an opening that I don’t fear but which I have never faced as Black and did not expect. I ended up playing slightly more passively than I normally would have. Do not get “surprised” by coming to a game with too many expectations about how a familiar opponent will play. Be ready for anything.
  8. In a good position, I moved quickly and recklessly with intention of attack, even though in my last three tournament games, I played deliberately and solidly. Do not play a certain way just to back up your pre-game trash-talking. Play the position as it is.
  9. I saw an opportunity for a sacrifice and instead of calculating it all out, just immediately played it. It was unsound, but my opponent did not find the refutation, and I suddenly had an easily winning position. But then I went crazy, unsoundly aiming for a quick win. He erred again, and I had a win in sight. But then, as I concluded that in a couple of moves I might Queen my a2-Pawn, I got up and walked to the corner of the chess club to open another chess set and return with a Black Queen in hand. Do not get up and distract yourself at a critical moment in a game. Do not engage in nonverbal trash-talking by getting a Queen before it is your move and you have actually decided to playing the Pawn promotion.
  10. In a winning position with beautiful checkmates in forced variations, I completely stopped thinking and played one bad move after another, my attack was stopped, and one piece down for nothing, I lost the game. Continue careful calculation, even in a position that looks great, especially if you have sacrificed something and need to make it count.

There are certain things I did wrong that I confessed here that I plan to never do again. I have learned a truly expensive lesson. It is possible that none of you have done as many immature, stupid things as I just did, but if any of what I have confessed rings true to you and causes you to reconsider your similar behavior, I hope my loss has not been in vain.

The annotated game

Franklin Chen

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O’Kelly Crusher

This week I’m sharing a smashing game by a teammate of mine, Chris Briscoe, played in the UK’s Four Nations Chess League (4NCL) in March. I manage Surbiton, a team in Division 3, which this year has over 60 teams competing for just three Division 2 promotion spots. Chris is our regular Board 1 player and we are fortunate to have him – he previously played for Wood Green, which is usually near the top of Division 1.

Angus James

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Queen Against Pawn

Last time we looked at a pawn ending played between two young players (about 1500-1600 strength) at Richmond Junior Chess Club. After various misadventures, during which Black miscalculated badly in a position where he had a simple win, this position was reached, with White to play.

Before we continue looking at the game, some basic endgame knowledge. Everyone needs to know the ending with queen against pawn on the 7th rank supported by the king. If the pawn’s on a centre file or knight’s file the queen wins. You force the king onto the queening square and advance your king. Against a bishop’s pawn or a rook’s pawn, though, it’s a draw unless your king’s close enough to take a hand in a checkmate. With a bishop’s pawn, the defender can move his king into the corner so that taking the pawn will result in a stalemate. Likewise, with a rook’s pawn, the king in the corner will be stalemated.

Another piece of basic knowledge is that you can stop a pawn on the 7th rank easily if you can put your queen on the promotion square. All you have to do then is approach the pawn with your king.

Bearing that in mind, let’s see what happened in the game, with White to play his 60th move.

Black has the potentially drawing c-pawn, and two others as well, but his king is on d3 rather than d2. White has several ways to bring home the full point. A nice winning move is 60. Qh3+, when Kd2 walks into 61. Qe3+ Kd1 62. Qe1#, while moving back to, say, c4 allows Qe3, controlling the queening square. White can then follow up with Qc1 and just take all the black pawns. A similar idea is 60. Qh6, again followed by Qc1. But instead the game continued:

60. Qd8+ Kc3 61. Qxf6+

In some lines White might want to keep the f-pawn on the board to prevent the stalemate defence, but after this White’s still winning.

61… Kd3 62. Qf3+ Kd2

Allowing an immediate mate, but otherwise the king will be cut off on the fourth rank.

63. Qe2+(?)

Missing the mate in 2: 63. Qe3+ Kd1 64. Qe1#. White’s still winning at the moment, though.

63…Kc1 64. Kxg2?

This is the move that throws away the win. It’s not so easy at this level, but the winning idea was 64. Qb5 (avoiding the stalemate defence) Kd1 65. Qb3 Kc1 66. Kxg2 Kd2 67. Qb2 Kd1 68. Kf2 c1Q 69. Qe2#.

64… Kb1 65. Qd3 Kc1?

Now White’s winning again. Instead, Ka1 was drawing.

66. Kf2?

It looks natural to move the king in but now Black has the chance to revert to the stalemate defence. Again, the win was to be achieved by occupying the b-file. For example: 66. Qb3 Kd2 67. Qb2 Kd1 68. Kf2 Kd2 69. Qd4+ Kc1 70. Qb4 Kd1 71. Qe1#.

66…Kb2 67. Qd2 Kb1 68. Qb4+ Kc1?

The final mistake. Black still had a draw by moving to the a-file.

69. Ke3

White had to be careful: Ke2 and Ke1 were both stalemate. There was another mate in two, though: 69. Kf1 Kd1 70. Qe1#.

69…Kd1 70. Qd2#

Once more, then, a lot to learn from this game. These endings with pawn on the 7th rank against queen are so important and essential for understanding many pawn endings. As I tell all my students, you can’t understand other endings until you understand pawn endings, you can’t understand middle games until you understand endings, and you can’t understand openings until you understand middle games.

For the record, here’s the complete game.

Richard James

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Amatuer Versus Master: Game Six

My opponent in this game is from Russia (I think Siberia) and is the second highest rated player in this section. At the time that I am writing this, Norchenko has one win and four draws, including the one with me, and is in second place in this section. I am in third place with five draws and one loss. So far, there are only four wins and thus four losses in this section. The remaining 13 concluded games are all draws.  I do believe that the ultimate winner of this section will be whoever gets a plus score. The top two places in this section advance to the next round.

When this game started I decided to play the White side of the Sicilian Defense because I wanted to try the Smith-Morra Gambit on him. I almost never play the White side of the Sicilian Defense in a rated game, but I did this time. I messed up the move order and decided not to play the gambit because the move order that I played favored Black. After I made this decision updates to my database showed that I could have played the Smith-Morra Gambit and been OK.

Black’s fourth move surprised me a little, as did many of his moves afterwards. I had never seen this line or variation in any other game that I have played before or after this one. Fortunately, most of what he played was in my database. When he varied from my database I was able to figure out good enough moves to hold the draw.

From move number 19 on we were out of my database. On move number 26 I played what the chess engines considered to be a second-best move. The “better” line would still have been even and thus I would still end up with a draw. I played what I thought was the more impressive or cuter line.

I believe that this is the highest rated player that I have drawn on ICCF.

Mike Serovey

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Development: Doing It and Disrupting It are Sides of the Same Coin

I’ve written quite a few posts on The Chess Improver that revolve around the importance of piece development in chess. Some of them have focused on developing one’s own pieces, while some have focused on disrupting the opponent’s development. In this post, I present a game in which both were pursued simultaneously and consistently, with good effect.

After move 4 of a slow Slav Defense, both White and Black had 2 minor pieces developed, with a fairly balanced position. Then as White, I decided to move an already developed Knight to try to gain the Bishop pair. Black allowed me to not only gain it but also to get a better Pawn structure.

On move 7, to my surprise, Black moved an already developed Knight, without any particular threat, rather than continue own development. Now I had a choice to make: either continue developing normally, or take advantage of the temporary situation to try to disrupt Black’s continuing development. It turned out that the Knight move undefended Black’s d5 Pawn and also did nothing to protect the b7 Pawn. After some calculation, I felt it justified to develop my Queen to b3, striking at both the b7 and d5 Pawn. This is a thematic idea in many Slav Defense lines where Black’s movement of the light-squared Bishop from c8 presents tactical opportunities for White. (Note that I count the Queen move as “development” here, because the Queen plays a great role on b3 and also is not in danger of being chased away.)

Is Black positionally lost at move 8?

At this point, on move 8, Black should have likewise developed the Queen, as a defensive move, but instead made a weakening Pawn move, b6, that I think already results in a positionally lost game! Look at the tactically forced position after White’s move 12.

Number of already developed pieces

  • White has effectively 3 developed pieces: Queen, light-squared Bishop (both attacking f7), and castled Rook on f1. I count the Rook as developed because after White plays f3, opening the f-file on the next move, it will already be attacking f7.
  • Black has only the Queen developed, and still cannot castle. That’s effectively two pieces behind in development.

Future development possibilities

  • Although White’s dark-squared Bishop is still not developed, and is somewhat blocked in by the Pawn on e3, actually Bd2 is already possible, after which White’s remaining Rook can be developed.
  • Black will not be developing the Queen Knight anytime soon. It cannot even move to any square right now except to a6, but that just drops the piece to White’s Bishop attacking the square. We see why b6 was such a terrible move, weakening the light squares in the absence of Black’s light-squared Bishop. Also, Black will have to take probably four moves just to maneuver something in order to be able to develop the Knight on c6 or d7 without immediately losing material. For example, playing c5 would result in immediate loss on the light squares of Black’s Queen, Rook, and/or Knight because of Bb5, and where can the Queen go in order to allow Nd7 without blocking Black’s own undeveloped Bishop or dropping the f7 Pawn?

So if you do the arithmetic, you can see that in effect, Black is something like six moves behind in development. Intuitively, in an open position (as will be the case once White plays f3), it would take a miracle for Black to survive, being so far behind: one way or another, it should be possible for White to aim pieces and Pawns at Black’s position to tactically force some kind of decisive win of material during an attack.

The rest of the game

After move 18, let’s take stock of the situation. Black has managed to develop a Bishop and castle in the last six moves. White has the half-open f-file for the Rook, and acquired a central Pawn mass and has opened up the way for the dark-squared Bishop to come out at will. Black’s Knight is still not developed, but now hopes to get to a6 or d7, which are free, but the Queen side Pawns have been weakened even further with b5 (which was however practically necessary in order to get White’s Bishop off the f7 target).

It turns out that there was already a forced win here for White, without needing to develop the Queen Rook or Bishop. e6 would have won already, by winning the f7 Pawn for free. However, probably because i was in a state of mind of “winning by developing”, I chose not to immediately grab material, knowing that Black was lost already and I could take my time. So I just developed my dark-squared Bishop to f4, restricting Black from developing the Knight. After the Queen moved, I again just developed, bringing my remaining undeveloped piece, the Queen Rook, to d1, defending my d4 Pawn and “preparing” d5 (which was already a winning move even without the preparation).

On move 21, let’s do the arithmetic again: White has the Queen, two Rooks, and two Bishops developed (5 pieces), as well as the Pawn front of d4 and e6 ready to go, and Black has only the Queen developed; in fact, the Bishop that retreated to d8 cannot really be called “developed”, although there looks like some kind of swindling attempt to get to b6 to bother White’s King.

There was no longer any reason to delay, so I played d5 and e6. Black lashed out for activity (note that with the White Pawn about to come to e6, Black could only try to develop the Knight to a6 if at all, but then at the cost of losing vast amounts of material thanks to the threats on f7 and c6 and b5). I chose a simple solution based on Black’s weaknesses on the dark squares, threatening simultaneously to win either a piece or the exchange, and then with a continuing raging attack while at it, and Black shortly resigned.

I thought this admittedly lopsided game was a good example of a successful thought process based on evaluating both how quickly one can develop one’s pieces and how restricting an opponent’s development translates effectively to having more time for one’s own development.

The annotated game

Franklin Chen

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Tactical Oversights

It is remarkable how small tactics can finish games quickly, even where Grandmasters are concerned.

Looking at the recent Chebanenko Rapid Open there were two games between GMs that ended decisively in less than 25 moves. Shirov was on the winning side of both.

I am struck by how easy he made it look to take down these GMs, without really doing anything special. They just miscalculated and Shirov took full advantage with some precise play. The clock is a factor, but I doubt either of his victims were in time trouble when they made their mistakes.

Here Shirov plays an Advance against the French and Black seems to be playing fine up until the 17th move and suddenly one tactical oversight ends the game quickly:

Here Shirov starts off playing a Rossolimo against the Sicilian and then he moves back into Open Sicilian territory with 5.d4!? His opponent responds well, and even starts attacking along the h-file, but when he slips up Shirov pounces.

Such tactical oversights are extremely difficult to completely avoid. You would have to literally check-every-move (CEM) your opponent can make at every turn, and that is just not possible with time constraints as they are with tournament play. To help mitigate the risk, you can develop an intuition for when it is a good idea to use CEM, and only adopt it when the position demands it. For example, in highly tactical positions or critical moments. There are routine moves, and there are moves where accuracy is important and getting it right could effect the outcome of a game. Spending more time considering your alternatives at these key moments is justified. I guess in the case of these games, these GMs’ needed to do more checking at certain moves, but unfortunately for them, they didn’t. Hats off to Shirov for demonstrating the flaws in their plans so clinically.

Angus James 

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Pawn Endings in Practice (2)

It’s been far too long since the first article in this series, but here’s a very instructive ending between two of Richmond Junior Club’s stronger members (both about 1500-1600 strength) on 22 March.

We start here, with White considering his 41st move. Should he trade rooks or not? First lesson: you have to calculate the pawn ending before trading the last pieces. So before you can play any ending well you have to understand pawn endings. In this case the pawn ending is won for Black, so White should avoid the trade. Although Black has a slight advantage I guess the rook ending should be drawn. We teach our pupils to move their king up into the centre of the board in the ending but here the correct plan for Black is to move his king to b4 to attack the c-pawn. This is an important position type, with the two immovable pawns on the c-file. Black can attack c4 from either b4 or b3, but Black can only defend from d3, so when he runs out of pawn moves on the other side he’ll have to capitulate.

Let’s see whether our gladiators were up to the challenge.

41. Rxb7+? (Now Black’s winning.) Kxb7
42. Kf1 Kb6
43. Ke2 Kc6? (Now it’s probably a draw. Ka5 followed by Kb4 is winning for Black.)
44. f4? (The computer gives 44. Ke4 as leading to a queen ending where White has a slight advantage.) f5? (Kb6, followed by Ka5 and Kb4 is winning again for Black.)
45. Kf3? (White can draw by moving onto the d-file. Now Black is winning again.) Kb6? (Good plan but poor timing. Black should have played h5, and then Kb6 etc.)
46. Ke3? (White can draw here by playing g4, when both players will promote.) Ka5 (Finally Black is on the winning track.)
47. Kd2 Kb4
48. Kd3 Kb3
49. g4 (Desperation) fxg4
50. g3 h5 (The last few moves have been fine for Black.)
51. f5 h4?? (All he had to do to win was play Kb4 when White is zugged. Interestingly, when I demonstrated this ending at the club the following week quite a few of the class made the same mistake. I guess they were already familiar with the idea of sacrificing to obtain a passed pawn but failed to calculate the resulting position. Now White is winning.)
52. f6? (Now it’s a draw. Instead, White can win by just capturing the pawn. His king can stop the g-pawn by entering the queening square, and then he can play f6, sacrificing to create an unstoppable passed pawn.) gxf6? (Black errs in turn. He could have draw by playing hxg3, when both players queen. Black will have an extra pawn but White has a perpetual check on the other side.)
53. gxh4 g3
54. Ke3 Kxc4
55. h5 (White has one pawn against three, but he’s going to promote first.) g2
56. Kf2 Kd3
57. h6 c4
58. h7 c3
59. h8Q c2

The last few moves have all been self-explanatory. When the pawn ending was reached, Black was winning. After a series of mistakes on both sides he found the winning plan, but then miscalculated badly. Now we reach an ending with queen against three pawns, two of which are on the seventh rank. White should win from here, but did he actually manage to do so? Don’t miss next week’s exciting episode.

Meanwhile, what lessons can be learnt from this ending so far?

1. You have to calculate the pawn ending before trading or proposing a trade of your last piece.
2. Being able to activate your king first is often decisive in pawn endings, but the centre is not always the best place. In this game Black’s winning plan (at least it should have been winning) involved marching the king down the a-file.
3. Learn the position type with two fixed pawns on the same file. If you can activate your king first you can attack the pawn from two squares, but it can only be defended from one square. Then all you have to do is run your opponent out of pawn moves and he’ll be zugged.
4. Sometimes you can win by sacrificing to obtain a passed pawn.
5. Positions with passed pawns on both sides need to be calculated accurately. You can’t just guess but really have to work it out. There may not be much point in sacrificing to get a passed pawn if your opponent’s king can move into the queening square.
6. Sometimes pawn endings can become queen endings. You have to be really good at queen endings as well as pawn endings.

Richard James

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Sometimes it is Better to be Lucky Than Good

This game was my last game in this section to finish. My opponent is from England. My opponent kept declining my draw offers because he thought that he had a better pawn structure.

I was, once again, mislead by the chess engines into playing an inferior line and could have lost the endgame if my opponent found the winning idea on move number 41. Instead, he moved his King in the wrong direction and then agreed to a draw.

I ended up with an even score in this section which netted me third place. Although I have won several Walter Muir sections, and these are played on the ICCF server, this third place finish is my best result so far in an international section. The Walter Muir sections are for players in the USA only and I am not allowed to use chess engines in those events.

On move number 6 White captures on c6. This gets me out of what I wanted to play, but I usually do OK with it as Black.

Although White grabs some space in the Center with his pawns on e5 and f4, he leaves his King a bit naked. I was never able to take advantage of that, though.

On move number 15 both players still have their kings in the Center and neither one can castle. I never did get to castle my King.

On move number 27 I pinned White’s Bishop to his King. After some fancy moves we traded off some minor pieces and rooks, but I never got an advantage out of it. On move number 28 I got convinced by Houdini 3 that the line that I played was better than the one that I wanted to play. I now think that the other line that I rejected was better.

On move  number 36 I was up a doubled pawn. I also had two passed pawns. Even so, I was unable to win.

Mike Serovey

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The Importance Of Defending While Attacking

In a recent tournament game, I knew I was going to play Black, and had a plan in mind before the game started. I find that I play better when I’ve decided on a theme before a game even begins. In this case, I had been looking at some games by the late GM Vugar Gashimov, who died recently at age 27. I’d always been astounded that he was willing to play the risky Modern Benoni as Black, since modern theory (supported by chess engines) has frowned on this opening for quite some time now. Back in my youth, I was a fan of the Modern Benoni, inspired by the feats of Tal and Fischer and Kasparov as Black using this opening, and when I returned to playing chess as an adult nine years ago, I also played it a lot initially. But I got crushed too many times, and I completely stopped playing it in serious chess in around 2006.

But reviewing the games of Gashimov made me decide to look at the Benoni again, and privately I decided that in honor of his creative, bold style, I would at least once in my current tournament go all out into the “attacking as Black” mode, for fun and (hopefully) profit. I decided that at the first available opportunity as Black against 1 d4, I would attempt my first Benoni in almost a decade.

So in my game, I offered to play a Modern Benoni, striking with c5 against White’s d4 Pawn, but after d5 and then my e6, to my surprise, he decided against holding with c4, in favor of replying with the weak dxe6 that simply gives Black an automatic advantage, with the Pawn retake fxe6 contributing to the center as well as opening up the f-file for possible future attack. Well, Benoni or not, I was going to attack, and the rejection of the Benoni simply meant that I could begin attacking almost straight out of the opening, and without risk.

Outline of the game

The game unfolded in a way that offered a clear attacking plan for Black, so I felt it would be particularly instructive to share it here as a thematic example of attack, with the observation that many of the attacking moves were also defensive in nature. We often see games in which an attack fails because of overextension, leaving weaknesses at home. My game was one where at one point, I missed a winning move, and also my opponent could have defended by taking advantage of a momentary lack of defense. So the critical moments in the game illustrate both “attack by defense” as well as “defense by attack”.

The first thing to note is that “defensive” moves may actually be counterproductive and make attack easier. In this game, White made the classic “mistake” of unnecessarily moving a Pawn in front of the castled King, creating a weakness and a target. White played h3 to prevent Black from developing a Bishop to g4, but this only created a target of a possible future sacrifice on h3.

As soon as h3 was played, the plan for Black was completely clear: maneuver the remaining Black Knight to e7 and then to g6, where it is ready to go to f4 or h4 and apply pressure to the g2 or h3 Pawn. Also note that this maneuver also has a defensive purpose: White in the game hoped to play f4 to block the attack, and the Knight on g6 stops it. During an attack, it is often important to preemptively restrict the opponent’s mobility.

More maneuvering: Black’s Bishop moved from f6, where it served somewhat like a Pawn, to g5, to control more dark squares (White no longer having a dark-squared Bishop helped a lot) and possibly go to f4 or threaten to exchange off White’s Knight if it came to d2 to try to help defend the King side (and it did go to d2, and in the game it did get exchanged).

Black also played the Queen to f6, protecting the e5 Pawn in preparation for freeing up the Knight on g6 (this turns out to be very important), and also having ideas of swinging further to the King side for an attack on White’s King.

At this point, White’s best bet was to try for some Queen side or center play, although Black was ready to catch up on developing the Queen side, retaining a large advantage while trying to get more forces over to the King side attack.

It turned out that the game ended very quickly, as White immediately walked into a tactically untenable position. However, I failed to play the immediately winning sacrificial move sequence, which would have been very pretty because it does not lead to instant checkmate but instead a position in which White is helpless and will clearly lose after several more moves in which Black can calmly bring the light-squared Bishop and King Rook into the picture. Check out the variation that has 18…Nf4 19 Nf3 Nxh3!

The move I played had the serious drawback that it did not actually prevent the move it was supposed to prevent, Nf3. It turns out that White can play that move offering a trade of Queens that on the surface looks pretty bad (it is certainly not a good position for White), but actually offered chances for a draw through simplification, and even a chance at an advantage if Black got greedy and started grabbing the f3 Pawn and the h3 Pawn. The reason is that Black’s e5 Pawn is unprotected after the unplayed variation, resulting in White getting a Knight on e5 and then amazingly having resources because of the threat of Nf7+ against Black’s King. When I played 18…Nh4 instead of the winning 18…Nf4, I should have remembered to double-check that by attacking, I was not undermining my defense of my important e5 Pawn.

However, my opponent did not play Nf3 (which we should classify as both a defensive and attacking move, because it attacks Black’s e5 Pawn and virtually forces a trade of Knights, after which the retake Qxf3 is also an “attacking” move wanting to deflect Black’s Queen from protecting e5!), but blundered instead into a quick loss as the King side was ripped apart, I sacrificed my dark-squared Bishop, and obtained a forced mate after the piece was accepted.

Conclusion:

  • A solid attack requires defense of one’s attacking base (here, e5 Pawn) and against possible Pawn barriers (here, White’s f4 push).
  • During the final phase of an attack, make sure not to allow tactics that result in the undermining of something no longer defended because the attacking pieces abandoned it (here, Black’s e5 Pawn).

The annotated game

Franklin Chen

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Queen Traps

The other day one of my pupils showed me a recent tournament game in which he had the black pieces.

I can’t remember the exact move order, but it started something like this.

White opened with the queen’s pawn but neither player really demonstrated much understanding of the subtleties of the opening. At move seven Black decided to attack the white queen. At this level children tend to play threats in the hope that their opponent won’t notice rather than trying to put pieces on better squares. But this time White was sufficiently alert to move his queen and decided to throw in a check on b5. Qd2 instead would have been fine. Black might, I suppose, have replied with c6 but instead he found, possibly without realising why, the correct move Bc6. Suddenly, White’s queen is trapped in broad daylight, in the middle of the board. Black eventually went on to win the game with his extra queen.

Last week I demonstrated this to a group of children at Richmond Junior Club, and asked them what lessons they could learn from the game. They were all eager to tell me the lesson that you have to look ahead before playing your move, which of course is perfectly correct. There were two other lessons I wanted them to tell me about as well, but I had difficulty getting the replies I was looking for.

I was hoping they’d tell me that it’s often dangerous to bring your queen out too soon, one reason being that she might get trapped. I’m sure most of them have been told this many times, but they weren’t able to relate this piece of advice to the game in question. The second thing I hoped they’d tell me was that you should beware of playing random checks. Probably not all of them are aware of this. They’ve been taught to look for every check, capture and threat so not playing random checks seemed like strange advice to some of them. What we mean, of course, is that you should look at every check – it might be checkmate, lead to checkmate, be a fork or whatever, not that you should always play a check should you have one available.

This reminded me of a very short game I first saw in Chernev’s 1000 Best Short Games of Chess many years ago.

In this game White started with 1.e3. Children often play this, illogically, because they’re scared of Scholar’s Mate. Then he went for a queen attack on move 2, but as his e-pawn had only advanced one square Black correctly took over the centre. On move 4 White played his queen to what seemed to be a random safe square, but it wasn’t safe at all. Again, the white queen was trapped in the middle of the board, in record time.

In both these games, White learnt the hard way about the dangers of bringing your queen out too soon.

Richard James

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