Category Archives: Articles

Slav Extraction

I’ve been down at the London Chess Classic. I worked 10 days straight. It was too hard to resist playing and I entered the weekday U2050. I won my games with White but lost with Black. I was so tired that is was hard to calculate. Also, I had intermittent toothache.

I registered with a dentist while there and saw him yesterday. He said I had fractured a tooth and it needed extracting. In the evening I had to play a delayed game in the York Club Championship – which I’m organising. Btw I can recommend this free software.

I had struggled to get an advantage with White against Paul in the past and decided to play 3.c4. I still didn’t get much. His pieces seemd rather far from his King so I decided to attack on the Kingside and played 14.g4. If I had seen 20.Qh4 things would have been different. I tried a speculative Knight sacrifice which Black easily defended.

Today my dentist gave me a 2.30 appointment (it did!). My tooth didn’t want to leave my jaw but with the drill and some heavy duty instruments it succumbed.

Dan Staples

The London Chess Classic on Youtube

For those of you with a free weekend, rather than watch a season of Star Trek Voyager you might want to watch a couple of rounds from the London Chess Classic. Round 9 came in at just over 9 hours, which basically takes a day if you factor in cups of tea, bathroom breaks, lunch, dinner and a walk round the block. I find it quite interesting in parts but generally prefer to download the pgns for a quick perusal on HIARCS Chess Explorer. It all depends how much time you’ve got.

This aside, it’s great that the UK is holding such an event, which besides the super-GM tournament has many other tournaments. If you haven’t been there yet it’s well worth a visit in 2018.

Nigel Davies

The Importance of Tactics

I was surprised that Magnus Carlsen missed several tactics in his game yesterday but he did seem a bit out of sorts. Black’s 33…Rxc5 had probably been missed by White and then later he must have missed 36…Qa4!, which was a killer. It all shows the importance of tactics, which is why I do my Chessity every day!

Sam Davies

Elitism in Junior Chess

In an article in the November British Chess Magazine, GM Aleksandar Colovic bemoans the declining standards in junior chess.

Colovic starts by considering various projects involved with putting chess on the curriculum in schools. I share his reservations about this, but not for the same reasons.

“…there is one thing”, says Colovic, “that bothers me. … “It is the fact that all these activities are not aimed at producing the next Garry Kasparov or Judit Polgar. … Chess is seen as part of a person’s culture, not as a possible future profession.”

This is where I have a problem. Junior chess has, over the past 30 years or so, become increasingly elitist, and this attitude is one of the reasons for this. In my view the main purpose of any competition-based junior chess programme should not be to produce professional chess players, but to develop chess culture and produce hobby players with a lifelong passion for chess. Specifically, it should be to maximise the number of young people reaching, say, 1500 strength, not to maximise the number of young people reaching 2500 strength. I like to consider the chess playing population as a pyramid. At the top you get the likes of Garry Kasparov and Judit Polgar, Magnus Carlsen and Hou Yifan. As you go down you get grandmasters, international masters, national masters, down to the mass of 1500 strength (or below) players at the bottom. Unless there are amateur hobby players putting their time and money into chess the whole edifice will collapse.

Hobby players are just as important as professional players. They put money into chess: they join clubs, enter competitions, subscribe to online chess sites, buy boards, sets, clocks, books, software and DVDs. They take lessons with professionals, either online or in person. They put time into chess as well. They become club secretaries, treasurers, match captains, administrators, tournament organisers, arbiters. They pass on their passion for chess to their children. Perhaps they volunteer as teachers in their chess club or their children’s school. Some of them will develop an interest in other aspects of chess such as problems and endgame studies. Some will collect chess books or chess sets. Some will become chess historians. Some, if they’re financially successful in their career, will become chess benefactors, sponsoring events which will enable the professionals to earn a living. Without a strong base of hobby players there will be no market for professionals.

I believe we have our priorities totally wrong. We should be measuring teachers’ success, not by the ratings of their pupils, but by the amount of enjoyment they get out of the game and the length of time they continue to play. I’d much rather one of my pupils enjoyed playing chess at 1500 level for the next 50 years than became a disillusioned 2500 grandmaster stuck with chess because he has no other skills or qualifications (and any chess player active in social media will be able to name several of these).

I believe we should also be wary of promoting chess using dubious claims for its perceived extrinsic benefits and instead focus on the game’s intrinsic qualities. Chess is the greatest game in the world. Quite apart from the excitement of playing, or even watching, chess, it possesses an extraordinary aesthetic beauty. It offers its devotees the opportunity for travel and friendship with like-minded people throughout the world. It has an endlessly fascinating history and heritage going back centuries. It has an unrivalled body of literature covering every conceivable aspect of the game. It has no need for dubious and unverifiable it that chess helps prevent dementia. If you promote it as something that ‘makes kids smarter’ parents will take what they can get out of it for a year or two before taking them out of chess and into some other ‘improving’ pastime.

Let’s consider the nature of chess. We all know how hard it is to play chess even reasonably well. What skills do children require to become proficient players? They need exceptional concentration and impulse control: without these skills they will make one-move oversights every few moves. They need to be able to confident at handling and manipulating complex multi-dimensional abstract information. They need to be able to consider the position from their opponent’s perspective. They need the ability to self-reflect: to understand where they made a mistake and work out how to put it right. They need emotional maturity to cope with the demands of competitive play. If they can appreciate the beauty and heritage of chess they’ll get a lot more enjoyment out of the game. All these are skills we associate more with older children than younger children. Everything about chess screams out ‘adult game’, not ‘children’s game’.

Perhaps you see now why I describe junior chess as elitist. The only children who will really understand chess at a young age are the exceptionally bright kids with extremely supportive parents. Yes, it’s among these children that you’ll find your potential Kasparovs and Polgars, but at the same time many of them will drop out, choosing to concentrate on their academic career with will lead to a job more worthwhile and lucrative than being a 2500 grandmaster. And those children who don’t have an exceptional talent, whose parents are, often for the best of reasons, unable or unwilling to support them, will find it hard to make significant progress. If we want to combat elitism in chess we need to promote chess for older children, and not just for children in top academic schools, so that children from all backgrounds can enjoy chess.

Richard James

It’s All Over For Humanity!

The news that AlphaZero annihilated Stockfish after practising chess for just 4 hours should give us pause for thought. Humanity basically lost the battle against computers when Garry Kasparov went down against Deep Blue, but now things have moved to a totally different level. I suspect that it could play a simultaneous display against the top ten human players and just take them apart.

In one sense this does not matter, humans do not race against cars and human chess players cannot compete against machines. But for many years there was a belief that they could, that the human mind had qualities that would at least make it into a contest. This illusion has now been swept away completely and finally.

So what about computer preparation, will this become ever more important? Frankly I think we have enough trouble remembering analysis as it is, without adding to the burden so there could be a growth in the number of players who play in Magnus Carlsen style, aiming to grind people down in the endgame. There might also be a further push towards Fischer Random Chess or other variants.

Here’s one of Youtube’s best chess commentators on one of the games from the AlphaZero – Stockfish match:

Nigel Davies

How to Analyse Chess Games

We all know that analyzing our chess game is very important for making progress. But how exactly should this be done?

1. Analysing Other Peoples’ Games: Do this just with a board, pieces, pen and paper. Of course you can use chess programs but I am a bit old fashioned about this. When you physically move pieces on the board rather than a computer screen you work much more effectively; this can’t be explained, you need to try it! Go through the games, write down your thoughts and compare it with notes anyone else made on the same game. Making your own notes is hugely preferable to just reading the notes of others because you become actively involved. If you don’t have books than you can search for the same game on YouTube & the web.

2. Analysing Your Own Games: This is the most crucial and a hard task to do well. In this case you already know your thoughts and ideas behind the moves or plans, so the question is where you might get a second opinion. The best is to go through the games with your coach or a player who is stronger than you or at least equal to you. And believe me; you will definitely learn a lot. But not everyone is so lucky to have a chess coach or a good or a strong chess friend. So here I am going to tell you the most reasonable & effective way to analyse your own game.

A) Tactical Analysis: This is something you get easily on where you can import any game in PGN format and it gives you ready made analysis. In this case you are supposed to focus on mistakes and blunders rather than any inaccuracies.

B) Member Clinic: This is available to full members, all you need to do is to send the games to Nigel and He will analyse few selected games.

C) Ask someone to analyse your game on YouTube: There are many good you-tubers who are ready to analyse your games and publish them on YouTube.

Do you have any better idea? Do let me know!

Ashvin Chauhan

A King’s Indian Attack Game

The King’s Indian Attack is a set-up that was first used as a Black opening and then adopted with colours reversed. It can be used almost regardless of what Black plays though it does seem to be better against certain set-ups.

In the game below my Dad uses it against the French and wins a complicated game:

Sam Davies

Chess Behind Bars

My grandfather spent time in Leicester Gaol. My father was in Feltham Borstal (now Feltham Young Offenders Institution) for several years. I was in Broadmoor (then described as a hospital for the criminally insane, now described as a high security psychiatric hospital) on three occasions in the 1970s. How many of us, I like to ask my friends, were, or are, criminals?

The answer is only one: my grandfather, who was imprisoned for breaking into a church as a teenager. My father taught at Feltham Borstal, while I visited Broadmoor for three chess matches.

Perhaps Tom Harry James would have benefitted from learning chess, and even receiving a chess book written for prisoners. (Come to think of it, perhaps he did. I never found out how my father learnt how the pieces moved.)

A chess book for prisoners might seem a strange idea, but that’s what I have in front of me. Chess Behind Bars, by Carl Portman, published by the excellent folk at Quality Chess: a sturdy and beautifully produced hardback of over 300 pages. Carl is the English Chess Federation’s Manager of Chess in Prisons, and spends much of his spare time voluntarily visiting prisons, giving simuls, delivering equipment and starting chess clubs.

In his preface, Carl Portman writes: “This book is written primarily for prisoners (anywhere in the world), but let me be clear that from a wider perspective this book will be of value to prison staff and officials, governments, chess fans and the general public alike”.

Much of the book comprises a guide to chess for novices: highly enjoyable with an excellent selection of tactics puzzles, but, at least for this chess fan, the first 80 pages are of the most interest and provide much food for thought.

Carl’s first chapter, What Chess Means to Me, must have been very painful to write. He tells of his childhood, spent in some poverty with a violent, alcoholic stepfather. He discovered chess at secondary school and was encouraged by the teacher who ran the school club. He played in inter-school matches and later joined an adult club. Carl believes that, if he hadn’t discovered chess, he may well have ended up in prison himself.

You’ve probably heard of, and perhaps read, a book called The Grass Arena, in which John Healy, a former alcoholic, related how he was taught chess in prison, and, as a result turned his life round. The book was made into a film, which Carl saw in 1992. Carl describes this as an epiphany, and, more than two decades later, when the ECF wanted to appoint someone to promote chess in prisons, he was eager to apply for the post. While writing his book Carl interviewed John: this interview forms part of the second chapter of the book.

In Chapter 3 Carl describes his first prison visit. Following a question and answer session he played a simul against about 20 opponents. Although some of his opponents were novices, others were clearly competent players. Carl, who is a strong club player with a current grade of 164, lost one game and drew two. Sets and boards were donated to the prison so that they could start a chess club, all the players received chess magazines, and there were additional prizes for the best players.

Chapter 4 deals with women’s chess – and chess in women’s prisons. For me, though, the most inspiring part of the book is Chapter 5, which closes the first part of the book. Here, Carl presents testimonies from prisoners about how much they’ve gained from chess. There are several recurring themes. Chess is seen as being an enjoyable and productive way of passing time. It demonstrates how you have to stop and think before making decisions. It can be addictive, but, unlike alcohol and other drugs, it’s not a damaging addiction.

I’d like to quote part of the final testimony in the book. “I’m a relative newcomer to chess. Having Asperger’s Syndrome I love the clear, precise logic of the game. I have two chess books in my cell and a nice chess set. I’m placing out the positions from the books and going through the logic and planning of each move. I’m kinda having some fun with it too. Being autistic I have a lot of trouble understanding and experiencing emotions.”

Should you buy this book? If you have any interest at all in the subject of chess in prisons, yes. If you’re involved in any way with chess administration, again, yes. And anyone who quotes Phil Ochs certainly gets my vote, although I could have done without the dubious claims for chess preventing Alzheimer’s Disease. There’s a whole, very different, book to be written on the subject of chess in prisons (Claude Bloodgood gets a brief mention and a game here, but Norman Whitaker and Raymond Weinstein are conspicuous by their absence) and hospitals (my friend Martin Smith has done a lot of research into chess in Broadmoor). Having said that, though, Chess Behind Bars is far more worthwhile than most chess books, and, I would say, deserves your support.

I have a few questions for you, though.

Whose contribution to chess is more valuable? Carl, who is voluntarily promoting chess in prisons in his spare time, or those of us who make a living from teaching the children of well-heeled and aspirational parents in the most affluent parts of London.

What chances are there of someone from Carl’s background discovering chess today? Or indeed someone from John Healy’s background becoming addicted to chess in his teens rather than alcohol? Children who start chess in primary school will only succeed with supportive parents, while those who start chess in secondary school will be able to teach themselves. Most of the secondary schools playing competitive chess in this country are selective. While some of the comprehensive schools in my area have chess clubs, there is no competition and no enthusiastic member of staff who will encourage them to take the game seriously.

I think the chances are somewhere between remote and zero. As long as chess policy is dictated by market forces rather than by genuine need that will continue to be the case. It’s my view that the social benefits from promoting chess in secondary schools are rather more important than the perceived academic benefits of promoting chess in primary schools, but, sadly, it’s not where we are at the moment.

Richard James

Wood Shedding

There once was a time when an individual wanting to pursue a particular skill would take on the task knowing that the path to mastery was a long, hard and often difficult journey. However, the person embarking on this journey simply accepted the idea of long, hard work as the cost one paid when striving to be the best at something. For centuries, young apprentices worked under their masters, slowly and carefully learning their craft. Today, thanks in large part to technology, humans have to come to expect things to be done quickly, including things that were once done slowly in an effort to produce the highest quality outcome. Whether it’s learning a language, learning music or learning chess, the novice now finds themselves temped by the idea of rapid of accelerated learning.

The idea behind rapid or accelerated learning is that the process of learning itself is streamlined so you only study what is deemed (by the instructor) to be absolutely necessary. While some streamlined learning does work, garnering fairly decent results, I’ve noticed that there’s no mention of the countless hours of work, much of it repetitive in nature, required even by an accelerated learning program. Case in point, guitar mastery.

I receive at least three emails a week from guitar websites stating that they have created a learning program that will knock years off of the time required to play
“great” guitar. If I was a novice guitarist, I’d probably sign up for one of them. However, being someone that still earns part of my income from playing, I know that these emails fail to mention one critical aspect to improvement, hard work and longs hours on the fret board.

You can cut down on the time spent learning how to play an instrument by eliminating some unnecessary or redundant exercises, such as certain scales. However, the scales you do have to learn take time to master. This means you’re going to be putting a great deal of time into practicing them over and over again. In other words, you’re going to be working extremely hard no matter how streamlined the process. This holds true for chess as well.

I’m in the process of writing a chess book for beginning and intermediate players. In writing this book, I closely examined other books to see how those authors approached the same topics I’m going over. I noticed that some books had titles that used the words “rapid improvement” or “improve your chess in “x” amount of days.” While these certainly help to sell books, I believe the titles might lull the potential buyer into a false sense of just how long improvement is going to take. Chess mastery (something I’m nowhere close to) takes a great deal of time. Also consider the fact that we all learn at different speeds. Some people have a harder time learning than others, who quickly pick things up. However, I’ve found that my students who struggle and have to work twice as hard, often come out with a firmer grasp of the subject than those who pick things up quickly.

Chess, like playing a musical instrument, requires both theory and practice, theory being the study of the game and practice meaning actually playing the game. You have to do both. Reading every book ever published on how to play the guitar does you no good unless you pick up a guitar and play it. The same holds true with chess. The point here is this: Studying and practicing what you’ve learned through your studies takes a great deal of time. Therefore, there is no quick road to true mastery! As the Mathematician Euclid said to a King trying to find an easier way learn geometry, “there is no royal road to geometry.” Mastery comes at a cost and that cost is good old fashion hard work.

Too often, in music, you hear about legendary musicians who spend 12 to 15 hours a day playing their instruments, following the hard road to mastery. What you don’t hear about is how it took them a long time to be able to concentrate for such lengthy periods. They slowly built up their ability to concentrate for long periods of time. Yet, musicians new to playing will attempt the same feat, failing completely. You have to develop the mental muscles that allow you to concentrate for long periods of time slowly. You don’t walk into a gym and immediately start your beginner’s weight lifting class by bench pressing 300 lbs. You build up to it, the slower the better. We must learn favoring quality over quantity. More importantly, we must learn how to take on the mastery of something, in this case chess, in proper increments that allow us to learn and move forward without frustration.

My advice is this: Don’t look for an easy way out. This means you’re going to have to put in hard work over a lengthy period of time. Of course, if you find a teaching system that cuts some of that time down, by all means try it. However, always remember that no matter what the system, hard work on your part will be required. Let’s say you decide that hard work is worth the price of mastery or just improvement. Now you have to create a schedule that allows you to study and practice (playing chess) for greater periods of time over the long run. Musicians call studying and then practicing what you’ve just learned “wood shedding,” and while all musicians strive to be able to practice for extremely long periods of time, they have to build their mental and physical muscles to do so. This takes time. Notice how the word time keeps coming up?

Building up one’s level of mental and physical concentration requires patience. This means setting smaller goals. Therefore, you should, in the case of chess which requires a great deal of mental stamina, start with small blocks of study time, such as thirty minutes a day. Of course, some new students of the game will think that thirty minutes a day over seven days will equal only three and a half hours of work a week, a rather small number compared to the ten thousand hours required to reach a master level of comprehension. Fear not, that small amount of study time per week will grow. The beginner could try studying for two hours a day instead but if they can only fully focus (concentrate) for thirty minutes at a time, an hour and a half of their studies will be wasted. It’s a matter of quality over quantity. The biggest problem with setting unrealistic goals is the feeling of failure when we don’t reach those goals. Better to set and reach smaller goals and have a sense of accomplishment than to overreach and be disappointed.

Thus, if you want to get better at chess, or anything for that matter, start with small goals and take your time. Sure, you’ll hear stories of players who spent all their waking hours studying and playing chess, but these players are few and far between. Some of what you hear is simply myth. The only thing you can be sure of is that if you slowly build up your wood shedding skills, you’ll eventually be able to study and practice for hours on end. Remember, it really is a matter of quality over quantity. That’s the key to solid learning retention. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

Should have gone for a Hedgehog

This game against Paul Johnson was not one of my better efforts! Paul is a stalwart of York RI and has contributed greatly to its success.

I think I should have gone for a Hedgehog formation, as Nigel suggested in our lesson (notes below), with for example 8…d6. Nigel thought that 18.Ne4 was good by Paul, good to keep pieces on in an IQP position. I hit out (lurched!) with 21…f5 as is my wont. Nigel suggested the calmer and, in the cold light of day, far more aesthetically pleasing 21…Ne7. In the end I’m dead in the water but time was a big factor in Paul’s decision to accept the draw!

Dan Staples