Category Archives: Annotated Games

Pawn Moves in Front of Black’s Castled King: Looking at h6 and f5

I stopped by the Pittsburgh Chess Club recently, met someone new, and played a couple of quick casual games with him. I felt that one of the games we played was instructive, illustrating the theme of king safety in the middlegame (and by extension, thinking about this straight from the opening).

King safety and Pawn advances

One important theme when paying attention to King safety in the middlegame is sometimes expressed, too simplistically, as “don’t move Pawns in front of your castled King”. Let’s focus, for this article, on so-called classical development, versus modern development: we mean by “classical” that Bishops are developed toward the center rather than fianchettoed away from the center onto diagonals.

Taking the side of Black developing “classically” as an example, the maxim “don’t move Pawns in front of your castled King” means not moving the f, g, or h Pawns unless necessary. The tricky part of interpreting this advice is understanding what “necessary” really means, and also an advanced player will want to know not only when to do something when it is necessary, but when it is not necessary but nevertheless advantageous. I will ignore the advanced case in this post.

I would like to begin a series of articles on concrete guidelines for when it is good or bad to move a Pawn in front of one’s castled King. The quick game I just played illustrates two of the easiest considerations starkly.

Black’s h6 when White may create a diagonal threat on h7

In the game, Black made a serious error by playing an unnecessary 11…h6. First of all, White had no real threat to place a piece on g5. But more generally, even if there is such a threat, the cure may be worse than letting it happen.

Here is a rule of thumb: in classical positions where Black no longer has a Knight (usually on f6) protecting the King side, h6 is often a serious weakening move. This is because it prevents Black from being able to solidly playing the “other” defensive Pawn move in the future, g6. Being able to play g6 is often very important to block White from delivering a mating attack on the light-squared diagonal from b1 to h7. The move h6 weakens not only the h6 Pawn (if White has a dark-squared Bishop aiming at h6), but also weakens h7 light-colored square and the g6 light-colored square, making defense of the King much more difficult. For example, with only the f7 Pawn protecting the g6 square, if Black ever needs to put either a Pawn or a piece on g6 to block any attack, White can potentially attack that square with multiple pieces, outnumbering Black. This is the kind of forward looking that a chess player must attend to when creating a defensive middlegame plan out of the opening, especially as Black.

In the game, you can see each of these dire predictions come true. Being on the other side of the board, knowing about these weaknesses around you opponent’s King, you can often create a lethal attack very quickly!

In the annotations, note that if Black had just castled, and then defended with g6 only when forced to, the resulting position if White tried the same brute force mating plan against h7 would have been quite acceptable and solid for Black, with Pawns on f7, g6, and h7 blocking any quick mate. As White, I would therefore have refrained from the committal e5 advance, which has the disadvantage of ceding control of the d5 light-colored square and opened up the diagonal from a8 to h1 to my own King!

Black’s f5 to block a diagonal threat on h7

The final error by Black was that of not cutting losses by pushing back and at least blocking White’s powerful King side attack by fighting with well-timed f5. f5 looks very ugly, because White can take the f-Pawn en passant and leave Black with an isolated e-Pawn. For this reason, I have seen that many club players avoid playing such a move until it is too late to make maximum use of this blocking attempt/counterpunch.

When you are on the defensive, you have to ask yourself: what is the lesser evil, getting a weak Pawn and a King side that looks like Swiss cheese because of holes on g6 and h7, or getting mated through too-passive defense? If it seems that all other defenses will fail, choose to avoid getting mated, and choose to fight on even with an ugly-looking position. In fact, 13…f5 results in a position that, while rather unpleasant, at least offers opportunities for Black counterplay. Black does get rid of White’s powerful e5 Pawn, open up the f-file, and develop the Queen, all while fighting White’s center and avoiding getting suffocated to death.

The complete annotated game

Franklin Chen

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Completing My First Tournament: 7th Round And Summary Of What I Learned

Here I conclude my coverage of my first chess tournament, the 1980 Michigan Open (Reserve Section), achieving my first provisional USCF rating of 1546 after scoring 3.5/7.0 points. I also won a trophy for 2nd place Unrated in the Reserve Section (my father, also playing in his first tournament, won the trophy for 1st place Unrated in the Reserve Section). It was a great way to start my chess tournament life!

My goal in analyzing the games of my first tournament has been to begin exploring the development of a new chess tournament competitor (my young self of 1980) and examine common patterns of thoughts and behavior. I will continue further to track the evolution of my skill and style through analysis of further tournaments from 1980 and 1981.

Round 7

In my round 7 game, as Black I faced the Ruy Lopez (against White rated around USCF 1600), and as in round 3, did not know what I was doing and quickly gave up the center. My opponent did not know what he was doing either and we traded quickly into an endgame. As with many other endgames I played in this tournament, positions that are clearly draws at a higher level of play nevertheless contained imbalances and opportunities for going astray, and I played poorly, deliberately trading into what I should have known was a lost King and Pawn ending.

Summary of tournament

Openings

Move numbers after I was out of any theoretical knowledge:

  1. 1 (Bird’s Opening as Black)
  2. 5 (Petroff Defense as White)
  3. 9 (Closed Ruy Lopez as Black)
  4. 5 (Exchange Ruy Lopez as Black)
  5. 4 (Open Sicilian as White)
  6. 6 (Philidor’s Defense as White)
  7. 9 (Closed Ruy Lopez as Black)

Nobody lost a game straight out of the opening (except for the Open Sicilian where I won quickly as White), although poor positions of course arose. We could have used a better understanding and use of principles (such as development and central control) to improve beyond this 1500 level of play.

Middlegames

  1. I did not understand the value of the Bishop pair, or that Knight on the rim is dim, and got destroyed on the King side.
  2. A lot of piece trades. My opponent did not understand the value of the Bishop pair.
  3. Highlighted the importance of using Pawn breaks.
  4. My opponent should have opened the position because of my poor opening development, but instead closed it, allowing me to consolidate and in return attack his King with a Pawn storm.
  5. (I won the game out of the opening because my opponent ignored development and created holes.)
  6. A lot of piece trades. I did not understand the weakness of my isolated Pawn and lost it.
  7. A lot of piece trades. I did not understand the weakness of my opponent’s isolated Pawn and dissolved it instead of attacking it.

Endgames

5 of 7 games went all the way to an endgame. Many errors occurred, so the lesson is that there is much to be gained from studying the endgame. In addition, knowing what endgames are advantageous would have allowed me to make better decisions in the middlegame (regarding Pawn structures and Bishop vs. Knight). I feel that in the absence of clear attacks against the King, middlegame play often tend to be aimless simplification at the 1500 level. At top levels of chess, one plays openings with a goal toward certain kinds of endgames. Club level players who are no longer hanging material all the time and want to improve should also start to think this way.

  1. (I lost in the middlegame.)
  2. I had the Bishop pair advantage but squandered it. Comedy of errors resulted in my winning because my opponent did not realize the King and Pawn ending was lost for him.
  3. Draw: I dawdled and simplified in an endgame I could have won.
  4. Draw: I simplified too much, then my opponent allowed a won King and Pawn ending but I did not know it was won for me.
  5. (I won in the opening.)
  6. Draw: one Pawn down, but Bishop vs. Knight; comedy of errors, but eventually I won a Pawn back and simplified to a draw.
  7. I mistakenly simplified repeatedly, resulting in a lost and King and Pawn ending.

The complete annotated game

Franklin Chen

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Chess Blindness: Part Three

There have been a few articles on this blog about the causes and effects of chess blindness. This is my third article on chess blindness that was not caused by time pressure. The game was the second time that I played Daniel Herman and it was also my second loss to Daniel. This time, there were no distractions of any kind. I just spaced out and blundered away a Rook!

Because this was the very first time that I played Black against Daniel I played the Modern Defense and then transposed into the Benko Gambit. Originally, I was going to play the Dutch Defense and then I changed my mind for some unknown reason.

Because of the unusual move order I was unsure of the best moves to play during the opening. It seemed to me that Daniel was too. I made some minor opening errors, but no outright blunders until move number 21 when I made a totally unsound sacrifice of my Rook. I did not even consider that White could just play 22. Rxa4!! winning my Rook for a pawn!

I usually try to castle by move number 10, but in this game I could not castle until move number 13. At that point I had equality. After that I played the typical maneuvers that start Black’s queenside attack. On move number 20 I missed a move that would have given me a clear advantage. On the next move I flat out blundered and then resigned. This game is another example of what happens when I fail to consider all of my opponent’s possible replies before I play a move!

Mike Serovey

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My 6th Tournament Game: An Error That Reveals An Attempt To Learn

Continuing my series on my first chess tournament, which I played in 1980, I cover my round 6 game, which ended up being the third draw in 6 rounds. There is a pattern here to note: at this USCF 1500-1600 level of play, games very easily end in draws, because of missed opportunities in the middlegame, inappropriate simplification into an endgame, and then inaccurate endgame play leading to a final simplification after which no progress can be made by either side. We already saw this in my round 3 game.

Summary of the game

Having scored 3 out of 5 points so far in the tournament, I got to play someone rated around 1600. I was White.

Opening

To my surprise, as Black he played an opening continuation in the Philidor Defense known to be bad. Unfortunately, because I saw the resemblance between the position and the famous 1858 game by Paul Morphy against the Duke of Brunswick and Count Isouard, at move 7 I swung my Queen over to b3 just as Morphy had done, even though because Black’s 6th move was different, this move was harmless. Playing by analogy rather than by calculation is sometimes reasonable, but in this case it was thoughtless.

The result was that Black forced a Queen trade immediately. This combined with the symmetrical Pawn structure meant that in the absence of gross errors, the likely result of the game was a draw. (Recall that in my round 2 game, in a Petroff where the Queens also got traded quickly, my game should have been a draw, but I accidentally won anyway.)

An error that reveals an attempt to learn

In the middlegame, I made a curious and admittedly ugly and poor positional and tactical error of advancing my f-Pawn with 13 f4, to try to undermine Black’s e-Pawn and attack on the King side. This resulted in my isolating my own e-Pawn and then losing it. The resulting simplified position, nevertheless, was easily drawable.

What I want to talk about is the nature of this error. It’s a pretty bad error, but I think it illustrates that sometimes, when progressing in chess, it is common to make an error that nevertheless has clear motivations behind it. Here, I made this error because

  • I wanted to unbalance a dead symmetrical position in order to play for a win, showing an active fighting spirit I had not always shown earlier in the tournament.
  • I had been reluctant to make Pawn breaks in earlier games, but was warming up to the idea that Pawn breaks were important.

In other words, even though the plan was completely misguided, it showed that I was now willing to take risks to unbalance a position. I think an important stage in developing as a chess player is that of trying a different way of thinking, even if it is actually not carried out well. That is better than simply being stuck in a rut, in which case there is no way to improve. Currently, as an instructor and coach, I look for ways in which someone is stuck in a rut, a plateau, and encourage doing something different even if it initially backfires.

Endgame

I would call the position after move 18 and endgame: a lot of simplification, White a Pawn down, two Rooks and Bishop vs. two Rooks and Knight.

It turned out that neither player knew how to optimize using either the Bishop or the Knight imbalance in the endgame, so the endgame was a typical trading of errors until all the Pawns came off the board and all that was left was a Bishop vs. Knight, so a draw was agreed.

The complete annotated game

Franklin Chen

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My 5th Tournament Game: Lessons from an Uncomfortable Miniature

Continuing in my series of posts covering the first chess tournament in my life as a new unrated player and member of USCF, here I present my 5th round game in the 1980 Michigan Open (Reserve Section). It was a very short game, lasting only 12 moves, and only a couple of minutes. This was in a tournament where the time control was the old classical 40 moves in 2 hours, so after the game, I had to hang around for hours waiting for my father to finish his game.

I felt embarrassed by this game, which I won by checkmating my opponent (rated around USCF 1500) on the 12th move. I definitely felt good that I played well and deserved to win, but some things about what happened bothered me.

Lessons I Learned

I had never seen my opponent’s 4th move before in the opening, but just remembered to stay calm and play by ordinary principles of development. He then proceeded to break every opening principle I had learned: he moved his Queen out early, put his Knight on the rim, and even weakened the critical square d5.

I was surprised and disappointed by how quickly and poorly he played. I felt that he did not take me seriously, thinking he could just play garbage against an unrated 10-year-old boy at a time (1980) when very few kids were playing in chess tournaments. I did not believe that his play against matched his 1500 rating. I felt insulted for the first time in the tournament: in my first four rounds, all of my games had been quite hard-fought, no mercy shown me whatsoever. Fortunately, this was the only chess game in my life when I felt that I was not taken seriously because of my age and inexperience.

After the game, my opponent quickly exited to smoke. My assessment of the situation suddenly changed. I concluded that I might have been hasty in assuming he was deliberately insulting me. I thought to myself that he had not looked very well during the game and was fidgety. Maybe as a smoker he was having trouble functioning well because of withdrawal. I felt some compassion for his plight.

Then I got angry again: maybe he had deliberately thrown the game in order to go smoke? Was this possible? I no longer knew what to believe about what had happened, and I did not ask him.

Finally, I felt embarrassed that I had jumped to conclusions that may have simply reflected my own self-consciousness at being the little kid at the tournament. I realized that I could have trapped myself psychologically. From then on, I decided never to think of myself as the kid at the tournament. As long as I didn’t think that, then it wouldn’t matter whether anyone else thought it either. This was the real lesson I learned that day. Whatever was going on with my opponent, I would play the game and aim for the win. I could not control what he thought of me or whether he was sick or whether he was deliberately losing. I could not control any of these things, so it was pointless to dwell on them.

The complete annotated game

Franklin Chen

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Amateur Versus Master: Game Ten

This game is another recently completed draw against a chess master. This game is from the final round of the 2011 Golden Knights Correspondence Chess Championship. The first 18 moves were in my database. I was on my own from move number 19 on. So far, I have no wins, one loss and one draw in this section. However, I do have an advantage against a 2300 rated player that I drew in the previous round. We will have to wait and see how that game works out.

Because both sides played aggressively and made solid developing moves neither one of us got an advantage at any point in this game. My strategy against this higher rated player was to trade down into an even endgame. The point where we agreed to a draw was during the transition from the middle game to the endgame. White had more space in the center and the Bishop versus my Knight, but he couldn’t do anything with these slight advantages.

Mike Serovey

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My 4th Tournament Game: First Time I Attacked in the Middlegame

In my last three posts here, I analyzed the first three tournament games of my life, as a new unrated player in 1980:

  • I lost the first upon being attacked effectively in the middlegame.
  • I won the second in a very uneven game in which both players simplified quickly and reaching an endgame which I won only because my opponent blundered into an obviously lost King and Pawn endgame.
  • I drew the third after bumbling into an advantageous endgame but not knowing how to win, and allowing simplification to a draw.

Fourth game

My fourth game (my opponent was rated around USCF 1550) is interesting because for the first time in the tournament, I actually had a clear middlegame attacking plan in a blocked position, and correctly followed through on it, castling Queen side and attacking on my opponent’s vulnerable King side with an obvious Pawn break as well as activating my pieces toward that side of the board. For the first time in the tournament, really, I displayed an active search for an initiative in the middlegame.

Unfortunately, a few moves before forced mate, I apparently did not realize the strength of my position and mysteriously simplified repeatedly, into an endgame with a useless Pawn up, and a draw resulted. The irony is that my opponent allowed me at two points the opportunity to trade my Bishop for his Knight, in which case the Pawn-up King and Pawn endgame would have been an easy win for me. Apparently my knowledge of King and Pawn endgames was still very limited, illustrating yet again how important it is to master these basic endgames.

The classic pattern I see in these early games is that of unwarranted simplification in advantageous middlegames and endgames, probably a result of the early emphasis on “counting points” of material, and not realizing that an active piece is worth more than a passive piece.

The complete annotated game

Franklin Chen

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Failing to Win a Won Game, Part 3

The following game is one of the first correspondence chess games that I played at the Internet Chess Club (ICC). I don’t know when this game was played nor do I know the ratings of both players at the time that this game was started. According to my notes on this game I lost most of those early games on ICC. Eventually, I won enough games to get my ICC correspondence chess rating over 1700 points. I quit playing correspondence chess there because I was having trouble getting paired into games and because of the repeated time control violations. Some of my opponents were repeat offenders and yet they still got off with warnings! Why have time controls if you are not going to enforce them?

I think that I made a notation error on White’s final move and that the White Queen went to g5 and not g6 on move number 24. Otherwise, my resignation makes no sense at all! Did I really miss the win of the White Queen and resign in a correspondence chess game? In an over the board (OTB) game I could blame such an error on fatigue or a distraction. I have no such excuse in correspondence chess! I prefer to believe that I made a notation error!

I think that I was playing this game without the use of a game database and that was why I didn’t play this opening very well. The first eight moves are typical of what I would play against a Closed Sicilian Defense and I have usually done well with this. My queenside expansion may not have been the best idea and I missed playing f5 at a key point in this game. Playing my Queen to a5 on move number 12 was probably the beginning of a series of small mistakes that lead to my demise. I was also guilty of not developing my Bishop on c8 and thus not connecting my rooks on my back rank. This also caused problems for me. I compounded my errors with pawn grabbing and leaving my King under protected.

Someone stated that the ultimate chess blunder is resigning in a won position. I have done that at least once before this game. Did I make the same blunder here too? At the point where I resigned, I was up a Queen, Rook, Knight and pawn! However, my King was totally naked and had nowhere to run or hide.

Mike Serovey

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Lessons From My 3rd Tournament Game: The Nature Of Endgames

I have now shown the first two tournament games of my life, from 1980: I lost the first game and won the second game. My third game, discussed here was a draw.

It was an instructive experience for me in my first tournament to experience all three possible results in the first three rounds! I believe it might have been devastating if, for example, I had lost too many games in my very first tournament. Instead, I was involved in some very long and interesting games from the start.

My opponent was rated around USCF 1500, and this shows in his play.

Common errors in 1500-level chess

Opening

In the opening, I had no idea how to play the Black side of a Ruy Lopez. Nobody had taught me the plans for White or Black. I was just winging it. I gave up the center at move 10; my opponent returned the favor by playing apparently mechanical moves that would have applied in a “standard” line, instead of more principled developing moves fitting the situation.

The first thing someone at a 1500 level can do, after mastering basic tactics, is to understand the basic principles of what to try to achieve in the middlegame after the first several opening moves. Many games at this level are decided, unfortunately, by “unorthodox” opening continuations that lead immediately to not knowing how to cope, being outside of one’s memorization. Pointlessly giving up the center for Black should have led to trouble for me, but by accident, actually kept working well for me, against 1500-level opponents, even after this game, because they did not understand what to do any more than I did, and it became almost random who would enter the middlegame with an advantage.

Middlegame

One thing I noticed while looking at my first tournament games, including this third one, was that at the level of play of myself and my opponent, we shuffled a lot of pieces around, either

  • “attacking” without enough backup, or
  • playing passive-looking retreating moves without a clear plan of reactivation.

In particular, I did not understand the importance of looking for Pawn breaks. Here, for example, c5 was crying out to be played, repeatedly. However, I did use a g4 Pawn break to achieve a lasting advantage, so I get some credit for that.

Also, I got into tactical trouble, hanging a piece in an elementary way. Luckily, my opponent got bamboozled and missed an elementary “capture Pawn with check and double attack” that would have left me completely lost, and instead allowed me a recapture with check that led to a Queen trade into an endgame favorable to me!

1500-level chess is still largely decided by big swings in evaluation resulting from missed tactics.

Endgame

The endgame was an unbalanced one, with Black having a Rook and two Pawns for two minor pieces. It favored Black because of the noticeable lead in development. My opponent as White made the elementary mistake of trading pieces in a bad endgame, rather than keeping them to maximize defensive possibilities. Trading the single remaining Rook led to a terrible Rook and two Pawns versus two Knights endgame.

However, again I did not know yet to aggressively use my Pawns, especially here the Queen side Pawn majority. There was a lot of random shuffling around of pieces, then an insidious swindle by my part when I finally realized I should attack on the Queen side. I succeeded in achieving a tactically won position against the pair of Knights, but never saw the win. After too much simplification, the result was a dead draw.

My observation about 1500-level endgame play is that players trade pieces and Pawns too readily, not realizing that there are times when a trade helps and there are times when a trade harms. As a result, many quick draws happen in actually interesting and unbalanced endgames. The 1500-level player who understands endgames can often survive terrible openings and middlegames and win in the endgame. I wish I had learned this lesson earlier in life. I now think that “working backwards”, by knowing what to aim for in the endgame, and then approaching the middlegame with a goal of reaching a good endgame, and approaching the opening with a goal of reaching a good middlegame, should be addressed by students of chess who have reached a 1500-level and are no longer just making extreme tactical blunders constantly.

The complete annotated game

Franklin Chen

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Failing to Win a Won Game, Part 2

This is a game that I played back in 2005. In this case my opponent was the one who failed to win a won game. I had White against a higher rated player and I got surprised by a kingside sacrifice. Then, Nolan got greedy and grabbed the pawn on h4. That gave me time to bring my Rook back to the h file and defend my King. If he had ignored that pawn and continued to check my King he would have checkmated it in the center of the chess board. Because of the pawn grab I was able to trade down into an endgame in which I was up material. After that I simply ran Nolan out of time.

More analysis of this game can be found at http://mikeseroveyonchess.com/chess-games/english-opening-page/english-opening-with-nolan-j-denson-page/

Mike Serovey

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