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Opening Principles Part Four: Castling

A safe King is a happy King and this is nowhere more apparent than in the game of chess. If your King is constantly being attacked, you have to defend him which means you’re unable to attack you opponent. Attackers win games while defenders are left holding down the fort! Beginner’s games are most often lost because the novice player doesn’t make his King safe. The way you make your King safe is by Castling. Castling is crucial but when to Castle is extremely important as well. Timing is everything in chess.

Castling is very simple. However, there are some important rules to Castling that we’ll go over first. Castling is the only time you get to move two pieces at the same time. You can Castle either King-side (towards the right for White or towards the left for Black) or Queen-side (towards the left for White or towards the right for Black). When Castling King-side, the King moves from the e file to the g file, remaining on it’s starting rank, while the Rook moves from the h file to the f file. When Castling Queen-side, the King moves from the e file to the c file, while the Rook moves from the a file to the d file, both pieces remaining on their starting ranks. You move the King first and then the Rook (not the other way around) Now for the rules:

The King and Rook, on the side you’re Castling on cannot move prior to Castling. If you move the King prior to Castling, you give up the right to Castle on either side. If you move one Rook prior to Castling, you give up the right to Castle on the side of the board the Rook moved on. If you move both Rooks before Castling then you give up the right to Castle, period. This is why it is crucial not to move either of these two pieces until after Castling.

You can’t Castle until the pieces between the King and Rook have moved off of their starting Squares. Remember, only the Knight can jump over pawns and pieces. All the other pieces can only move when there is space for them to do so. This is why it is important to move a central pawn towards the center early on. Playing 1. e4 allows the King-side Bishop room to get out onto the board which facilitates Castling sooner. On the King-side, you have to move the Knight and Bishop prior to Castling and on the Queen-side, you have to move the Knight, Bishop and Queen. Many people Castle King-side because you have one less piece to move.

This next one is important: You can never Castle through or into check. This makes perfect sense since protecting the King is the name of the game! Thus, if an opposition pawn or piece attacks a square the King either moves through and will end up on after Castling, you cannot Castle until that pawn or piece is dealt with.

Castling does two things. It provides a safe haven for your King and it gets one of the Rooks that would otherwise be stuck in the corner into the game. There’s something you need to consider when Castling and that’s pawn structure. Ideally you don’t want to move the pawns that will be in front of your King before you Castle because they create a wall in front of his majesty. For example, when Castling King-side, you want to keep pawns on the f2, g2 and h2 (f7, g7 and h7 for Black) squares because they can work together to stop potential attacks. If you move them prior to Castling, you’ll leave openings that opposition pieces can exploit. You’ll also want to keep a Knight on f3 for White or f6 for Black because the Knight can work with the King to protect the h pawn as well as keep the opposition Queen off the g and h files. When Castling, don’t Castle if doing so lines your King up with a swarm of opposition pieces. If the opposition has amassed a large force on your King-side, consider Castling Queen-side. Never Castle into a potential attack.

When to Castle: The history of chess is littered with the corpses of games lost due to not castling. Beginner’s are taught to Castle early on, yet in many master level games we see Castling occurring much later. Why is this? Because the master level player knows when to Castle. During the opening phase of the game, both players are developing their pawns and pieces to active squares, building up their control of the center and preparing for future attacks. It comes down to King safety. If your King is safe you can put Castling off in favor of active development. However, you need to take a good hard look at the opposition’s pieces, especially those nearest to your King. Are they able to deliver a successful attack? If there are two attacking pieces, do you have enough defenders. If the King hasn’t yet Castled and he’s a defender, you’ll lose your right to Castle should the King have to get into the action. This would be a time to Castle, perhaps on the other side of the attack or on the side of the attack, only if you have enough defenders. You want to have one more defender than your opponent has attackers. Remember, if you actively develop all your pieces right away (but carefully), you’ll have the option to Castle on either side of the board! Better to have the ability to Castle sooner than later which is why we try to bring a new piece into the game with each move during the opening. Note that you can move your Queen up one square or rank and it doesn’t count as bringing your Queen out early. Bringing your Queen out early can be deadly for the player who dares to exploit her power early on (during the opening).

You should always Castle if you want a safe King. If your King is safe, you have one less thing to worry about. You can get on with the business of building up an attack. If your opponent’s King is not Castled, you have a target. Beginners should avoid sacrificing pieces in order to force the opposition King to capture that piece before Castling, giving up the right to Castle. Many beginners playing White will exchange their c4 Bishop for the f7 pawn in order to bring the Black King out onto the board (after Kxf7). Sacrificing pieces is a skill that take time to develop because it is usually part of a combination of moves and beginners are not ready to think that far ahead. Build up your attacks rather than squander valuable pieces. Next week we’ll combine opening development with Castling. Here’s a game to enjoy until then!

Hugh Patterson

Everything Looks Like A Nail

It is interesting and useful to look through our games but can be rather uncomfortable too. The moves you decide are good during a game can often seem rather strange in the cold light of day.

In this game my Queen moves at 11, 12 and 13 look like I’m trying to create something out of nothing and are unnecessary and bad. White should have won this but Black produced a clever drawing knight tactic at the death.

My big problem in games is that while I can calculate well I do so too much and too often. Nigel frequently tells me that when you are always calculating ‘everything looks like a nail”. Korchnoi was a great calculator. He worked hard to reel in his tendency to think like a hammer in positions where calculation wasn’t called for – he had a mantra that he would repeat in such positions – “nothing to calculate, nothing to calculate”.

Dan Staples

Rook and Pawn vs Two Knights or Bishop and Knight

There are many games with this material imbalance, so it is important to know the basic strategy in such situations. Broadly speaking we can divide into two parts, middle game strategy and endgame strategy.

In the middle game two minor pieces tend to be stronger than the rook and pawn as the rook won’t be able to find open lines. Therefore in the middle game player with two minor pieces should attack with his extra piece, as in the following instructive example.

On the other hand the player with the rook and pawn should look for an endgame where his opponent does not have a single major piece on the board. In such cases the availability of a passed pawn and targets matters a lot and if the rook is able to access the targets it can often win. Here are a few examples:

A) Rook and pawn vs. two knights but the rook fails to find targets


B) Rook and pawn vs. two knights – the rook wins

Here all Black’s pawns are weak and so White’s rook can target them easily:

C) Rook and pawn vs. bishop and knight – the rook can’t find a target

D) Rook and pawn vs. bishop and knight – the rook wins

There are of course exceptions to these situations, but generally speaking the rook and pawn are better in endgames.

Ashvin Chauhan

ChessJournal App

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valer Eugen Demian

Saving A Draw

White was very resourceful in this endgame and saved a draw from a desperate looking position starting with the ingenious 77.a6!. Good defence is just as important as good attacking play.

Sam Davies

How Good is Your Endgame?

Many readers will be familiar with the popular magazine feature, known in various places as How Good is Your Chess? and Solitaire Chess, in which the reader is invited to predict the next move in a master game, and is awarded points for selecting good moves.

Some time ago I showed you a couple of lessons based on shorter and lower level games suitable for use at intermediate level (up to about 100 ECF/1500 Elo).

As part of the Chess for Heroes project, which I’ll come back to in more detail, quite possibly next week if nothing else interesting happens in my life in the meantime, I decided to produce a few lessons using king and pawn endings, with the games taken from the Richmond Junior Chess Club database.

Here’s the first one, which was tested successfully at RJCC the other day.

Set this position up on your board. At various points in the game you will be asked to select a move for either White or Black. Sometimes you will have three moves to choose from, and sometimes you will have a free choice. In this position it’s Black’s move.

If you find a winning move you’ll score up to 10 points. If you find a drawing move you’ll score up to 5 points. If you find a losing move or an illegal move you’ll score no points.

Choose a move for Black:
a) Kc6 b) Kd6 c) g5

10 points for Kd6 – head to the king side to attack White’s weak pawns
5 points for Kc6 – the wrong direction for the king
0 points for g5 – loses to an en passant capture

1… Kc6

Choose a move for White:
a) a4 b) f4 c) Kg3

5 points for Kg3 – get your king into play
0 points for a4 or f4 – creating targets for the black king

2. f4 Kd5
3. Kg3 g5 (Ke4 was one of many winning moves)

Choose a move for White (free choice)

10 points for hxg6 – a winning en passant capture
5 points for fxg5 or Kf3 – both these moves should draw
0 points for anything else

4. fxg5 fxg5
5. f4 gxf4+
6. Kxf4 Ke6

Choose a move for White:
a) a3 b) Ke4 c) Kg4

5 points for Ke4 – taking the opposition (a4 and b4 also draw)
0 points for a3 or Kg4 – both of these moves should lose

7. Kg4

Choose a move for Black:
a) b5 b) Kd5 c) Ke5

10 points for Ke5 – Black will be able to approach the white pawns
5 points for b5 – this should lead to a draw
0 point for Kd5 – this will lose after Kf5

7… b5

Choose a move for White:
a) a3 b) b4 c) Kf4

5 points for Kf4 – the only move to draw by keeping the black king from advancing too far
0 points for a3 and b4 – both these moves should lose
8. a3 a5 (Black had the same choice as on the last move. Again Ke5 was winning.)
9. b3 (Again, White had the same choice as on the last move. Kf4 was still a draw, as was b4.)

Choose a move for Black (free choice)

10 points for a4, b4 or Ke5 – all these moves should win
5 points for Kf6 – this move should lead to a draw
0 points for any other move

9… b4
10. axb4 axb4
11. Kf4

Choose a move for Black (free choice)

10 points for Kf6 – Black wins by taking the opposition
5 points for Kd5 – this leads to a race in which both players promote
0 points for other moves – White will win the h-pawn

11… Kf6
12. Kg4 Ke5
13. Kf3

Choose a move for Black (free choice)

10 points for Kf5 – taking the opposition
5 points for all other moves

13… Kd4

Choose a move for White (free choice)

5 points for Kf4 – leading to a drawn position with black queen against white pawn on h7
0 points for anything else

14. Ke2 Kc3
15. Kd1 Kxb3
16. Kc1

Choose a move for Black (free choice)

10 points for Ka2 – the quickest way to win
8 points for Ka3 or Kc3 – these moves are less efficient
5 points for Ka4 or Kc4 – both these moves lead to a draw

16… Ka3

Bonus question 1: what would you do if White played Kb1 here?
a) Ka4 b) Kb3 c) b3

10 points for Kb3 – winning by taking the opposition
5 points for Ka4 or b3 – both these moves lead to a draw

17. Kc2 b3+

Bonus question 2: what would you do if White played Kb1 here?
a) Ka4 b) Kb4 c) b2

10 points for b2 – winning as White has to play Kc2
5 points for Ka4 or Kb4 – both these moves draw as long as White plays correctly

18. Kc1

Choose a move for Black (free choice)

10 points for Ka2 – forcing promotion
5 points for other moves – all of which are only drawn

18… b2+
19. Kb1 and the game was eventually drawn

At the end of the exercise you’re assigned a Chess Hero rating:

95-120: Chess Superhero

70-94: Chess Hero

45-69: Trainee Hero

Below 45: Future Hero

If you teach chess at this level, please feel free to use this yourself. I may well decide to change the marking scheme in future, perhaps awarding 5 or 0 points rather than 10 or 5 in questions where there are only winning and drawing options: I’m still thinking about this.

Richard James

The Comeback Trail, Part 13

I finally made my first tentative step back into competitive chess by playing the Rhyl Open last weekend. It made sense to choose this one as the scene for my comeback, it promised to be a nerve wracking experience and I wanted a tournament where I felt there wouldn’t be too much shadenfreude if I did as badly as I feared.

Having taken a half point bye on the Friday evening I managed to get a win and a draw on the Saturday. On the Sunday I was already feeling more confident and managed to win both games to finish first equal.

The key game was my Sunday morning encounter with Mike Surtees, a highly original player who does well in North West UK events. I had prepared for him the night before and I felt that his line against the Sicilian left Black with a promising position, similar to those White obtains against a dubious line of the Nimzo-Indian Defence. And in fact he found himself in a difficult position early on:

So where do things go from here? Well as my son Sam was good with us both playing (he did well with a win and three draws in the Major) I’ll be entering some more events where he’s playing. As for international events and stuff, they’re going to have to wait.

Nigel Davies

Active versus Passive Learning

When studyiing chess, an important element is not only the material you choose to study – whether it be a chess book, video, or software – but your level of engagement with the material. We can categorize learning (in general) into two types – active and passive learning. Although there is some debate around this (which I won’t delve too much into), in general active learning is favored for knowledge retention and application.

Passive learning is generally what you do when you watch a chess video or listen to a lecture. I also think passive learning occurs when you blindly follow chess engine analysis (and some may not consider this learning at all). You are “receiving” the instruction from a source.

Active learning by contrast is as it sounds – the student is engaging with the material. This could include activities such as solving tactical problems, doing Solitaire Chess, or analyzing your chess games (without assistance). You are a participant in the creation of the learning process.

Although I think there is a place for passive learning – for example, with beginners who know nothing of chess or when learning a totally new opening – we should try to make our training and study more active. 

In the following video, I discuss three techniques you can use to be more actively engaged with the chess videos your watch.

Try these methods out next time you watch a chess video!

Bryan Castro

A Strategic Opening for Beginners: The Ruy Lopez Exchange

Rather than memorizing opening moves and copying what top players are playing nowadays, it’s really great for beginners to play simple strategic chess openings. In the Ruy Lopez Exchange (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6) White exchanges his bishop against Black’s knight on c6 and then plays d2-d4, exchanging the d4 and e5 pawns.

That creates pawn islands where White has a pawn majority on king side ( 4 vs. 3). On the other side, Black’s pawn majority won’t easily be able to create passed pawn, at least not without the aid of pieces. White’s strategy is very simple yet can be decisive. All you need to do is trade off pieces and reach to the king and pawn endgame where White is technically a pawn up and winning is relatively easy.

Here is the game for you to study, for more games on similar structure you can visit chessgames.com

Lasker – Tarrasch World Championship Match in 1908

Ashvin Chauhan

Connected Passed Pawns

A few weeks ago I posted this endgame win by Kopylov over Botvinnik using connected passed pawns. In the Rhyl congress yesterday I did something similar, getting some powerful passed pawns that were much stronger than my opponent’s. His piece sacrifice seemed a bit desperate but the engine confirms that Black is winning anyway:

Sam Davies