Category Archives: Articles

Difficult Pairings

Everybody gets difficult pairings now and then. One of the toughest situations is if you have to play a very young player who is also very good; it’s very embarrassing to lose.

In the Crewe Major last weekend I had to play one of the best 8-year-old players in the World whose ECF grade is 150 already. Fortunately I managed to win after playing one of my best games of the year. It looks like I was strongly motivated!

Sam Davies

The Third Missed Fork

Yet another game, yet another White, yet another QGD Exchange, and yet another missed fork. They say things come in threes.

This game was another rematch: against Ealing and Richmond Junior Alfie Onslow, who had beaten me at the start of the season, as well as in the previous season. Would it be third time lucky?

1. d4 d5
2. c4 e6
3. Nc3 Nf6

I think this isn’t part of Alfie’s regular repertoire. I seem to recall a game in an informal blitz tournament when he played the King’s Indian, which I met with the Smyslov variation. Although his moves were all reasonable he seemed unfamiliar with the opening and was soon some way behind on the clock.

4. cxd5 exd5
5. Bg5 Bb4

Another Bb4 rather than Be7, so I’ll be playing in the centre rather than going for a minority attack.

6. e3 O-O
7. Nf3 h6
8. Bh4 Qd6
9. Bd3 Ne4
10. Qc2 Bf5
11. O-O Bxc3
12. bxc3 g5
13. Bg3 Nxg3
14. hxg3 Bxd3
15. Qxd3 Nd7
16. Rab1 Nb6

16… b6 would have been more to the point as he wants to play c5. Now my knight should have advanced to e5 rather than retreating. I was probably scared of f6, for no very good reason. Of course an immediate 17. Ne5 f6 would lose at once to 18. Qg6+.

17. Nd2 c5
18. c4

A conflict in the centre of the board. Both players have to make decisions about pawn captures here. Waiting a bit, as Black decided to do, was probably not the right idea: taking on c4 would have been better.

18… Rad8
19. dxc5

A miscalculation. Instead 19. cxd5 followed by Ne4, hitting all sorts of juicy squares (c5, d6, f6) would have given me some advantage.

19… Qxc5
20. Rb5

I was hoping I was winning a pawn with this move, but in fact I’m losing a pawn: I’d completely missed Black’s reply. It’s the usual short circuit. I attack my opponent’s queen and assume he’s going to move it, not looking at anything else.

20… dxc4
21. Qb1

21. Qxd8 was an alternative which, of course, I didn’t consider at all.

21… Qc6
22. Nf3 c3
23. Rc1

Blundering into a position you might have seen before. 23. Rb3 was the correct move, when I might eventually be able to win the c-pawn.

23… Rd6

But Alfie misses the chance for a winning tactic: 23… Rd1+ 23. Rxd1 (or 23. Kh2 Rxc1 24. Qxc1 Qxb5) c2 24. Rxb6 axb6 25. Qc1 cxd1Q+ 26. Qxd1 when Black is the exchange ahead.

24. Nd4 Qc7
25. Rb3 Rxd4

Running low on time, he switches to desperation mode. There was no need for this: after 25… Qd7 White is only slightly better.

26. exd4 Rc8
27. Rbxc3 Qxc3
28. Rxc3 Rxc3

Now it’s easy for me as long as I keep a clear head.

29. Qe4 Rc1+
30. Kh2 Rd1
31. Qxb7 Rxd4
32. Qb8+ Kh7
33. Qxa7 Ra4
34. Qxf7+ Kh8
35. Qf6+ Kh7
36. Qxb6 Rxa2
37. Qb7+

I’d worked out a long sequence of checks ending up with Qf7+ forking king and rook, but Alfie pointed out that I could have played Qb1+ immediately – yet another missed fork! Anyway, he resigned here.

One of the few games I played last season in which I handled the clock better than my opponent. A gratifying win against a strong opponent, but ultimately frustrating yet again because of the missed tactic.

Richard James

Getting Selected

Getting in the right events is vital for chess players who want to improve and/or make a name for themselves. When selection is also involved this issue can become very stressful, from local junior events to national teams.

Chess is fortunate in this regard in that it has ratings. But what if they are not applied with iron consistency or even not used at all? Certainly there are cases in which players who would have been the ‘rating choice’ have been ‘overlooked’.

There can be reasons for selecting a lower rated player. But because of issues such as fairness, cliques and the potential abuse of power, it is better for selections to be made with a standard formula.

What should someone do if they feel they are being unfairly treated? Vigorous complaint can certainly work, though it can get them labelled as a ‘trouble maker’. A more effective response is just to smile and work harder on chess, this will probably translate into a higher rating after which it will be hard for selectors to ignore without looking blatantly unfair.

Nigel Davies

Winning A Dodgy Endgame

My position was not that great when I went into this endgame with 9…Qxb3, mainly because of White’s pressure on the open a-file. But when he failed to capitalize on this I gradually consolidated my position with 23…a5! being an important move. After more ups and downs I finally won with just a couple of minutes left on the clock.

Sam Davies

The Second Missed Fork

Another game, another White, another Queen’s Gambit Exchange (well, sort of), another missed fork.

1. d4 d5
2. c4 e6
3. Nc3 Bb4
4. Nf3 Nf6

Black chooses the Ragosin System. He’s planning to meet Qa4+ with Nc6 when you might argue that both the white queen and the knight on c6 are misplaced. Of course Bg5 and e3 are both fine but instead I exchange at once.

5. cxd5 Bxc3+

A very strange decision, giving me an extra centre pawn as well as the two bishops. White has a very large plus score from this position.

6. bxc3 exd5
7. Bg5 h6
8. Bh4 Bf5
9. Qb3 b6

The computer prefers to give up the b-pawn with Nbd7, which it considers equal. Now I could trade on f6, when Black has to double his f-pawns to avoid losing a pawn, but I preferred to wait to see if he castled.

10. e3 O-O
11. Bxf6 gxf6
12. Be2

I might have played c4 here.

12… Nc6
13. O-O Na5
14. Qa4

And now I might have played Qd1, followed by Bd3 to trade off the bishops. The queen’s not so well placed here.

14… c6
15. Nh4 Be4
16. f3

16. Bg4 followed by Bf5 was better, still trying to trade bishops. I think I’d just failed to notice that the black bishop had the h7 square available.

16… Bh7
17. g3

The immediate e4, sacrificing a pawn to open lines, was probably a better idea. After 17… Re8 Black would have been close to equality. One idea will be b5 followed by Nc4 (you might remember that Black might have gone for the same idea in the game I showed you last week: something for me to remember and learn from). Black vacillates a bit over the next few moves before hitting on the right plan.

17… Qe7
18. Ng2 Kh8
19. Qd1 Rae8
20. Qd2 Kg7
21. Rae1 f5
22. Bd3 b5
23. Qc2 Qg5
24. g4

Trying to be clever but we both missed something. After 24… fxg4 25. Bxh7 f5 Black will regain the piece with a position the computer assesses as equal.

24… Nc4
25. Bxf5

Another possibility here was 25. h4 Qf6 26. gxf5, but, as usual, I seize the first opportunity to trade queens.

25… Bxf5
26. Qxf5 Qxf5
27. gxf5 Rg8
28. Kf2

28. e4 was better. Here Black should have preferred 28… Kf6 29. e4 Nd2, but instead creates a cheap threat.

28… Nb2
29. Rb1

Better was 29. Nf4 Kf6 30. e4

29… Nc4
30. Rfe1 Kf6
31. e4 dxe4
32. fxe4 Nd2
33. e5+ Kxf5
34. Rbc1 Ne4+
35. Kf3 Ng5+

The black knight heads in the wrong direction. 35… Nd2+ was correct.

36. Kf2

And the white king also heads in the wrong direction. 36. Ke3 was better for White, not blocking the f-file, but now Black could equalise with 36… f6. This is a rather tricky position, and, without too much time left on the clock, the inaccuracies are, at this level, understandable.

36… Nh3+
37. Kf3 h5
38. Ne3+ Ke6
39. c4 Ng5+

The computer prefers b4 here. The checks force White’s king to a better square.

40. Kf4 Nh3+
41. Kf3 Ng5+
42. Ke2

Untypically, but correctly, turning down a possible repetition.

42… b4
43. Kd3 Rd8
44. Rf1 Rg6

A fatal error. He had to play Kd7 to clear the e6 square for the knight.

45. h4 Nh3
46. Rf3

The immediate Rf5 was winning, but instead I decided to force the knight to what I thought was an even worse square first.

46.. Ng1
47. Rf5

But this move is now a blunder. This is the position you might have seen before. I’d overlooked the tactic 47… Rxd4+ 48. Rxd4 Ne2+ with Black for preference, although White can probably hold. I suppose it’s not so easy. It’s quite an unusual position, it appears, superficially, that Black has no counterplay, and the clock is running down. I should have learnt the idea from my previous game, though. Luckily for me, my opponent didn’t notice it either.

I was still winning with either Rff1 or Rf2 here, but Rf4 would have been less clear. The reason is that, after, say, 47. Rf2 f6 48. d5+ Kxe5, White wins at once with 49. Nf5, and Black has to give up a rook to avoid immediate mate.

47… Nh3

Now White’s centre pawns are too strong. The rest of the game can pass without comment.

48. Rcf1 Rf8
49. d5+ cxd5
50. cxd5+ Ke7
51. Rxh5 Rc8
52. Rh7 Rc3+
53. Kd2 Ra6
54. Rhxf7+ Kd8
55. Rf8+ Kc7
56. R1f7+ Kb6
57. Rf6+ Ka5
58. Rxa6+ Kxa6
59. e6 Ra3
60. e7 Rxa2+
61. Kc1 Ka5
62. e8=Q Ng1
63. Nc4+ 1-0

Attack or Defend

There are two roles each player assumes during a single game of chess, that of attacker and that of defender. Both players switch between these roles as the game progresses. When one player attacks, the other defends against that attack. With beginners, you often see one player attacking wildly, without a real plan, in an attempt to either win material or produce a fast checkmate. The end result is usually a loss of material for the attacker and a dreadful position as well. Then there’s the beginner who decides to simply build up a defense and ward off the opposition’s attacks for the entire game, playing passively which gets you nowhere. Knowing when to attack or defend is crucial if you want to win games. Also key to success is having the proper amount of force (pawns and pieces) when attacking or defending. The first question we have to address is when to attack and when to defend? To experienced players, the answer to this question is simple. However, to the beginner, the answer isn’t always clear.

The opening principles tell us that we should gain control of the board’s center as early as possible, not letting our opponent gain control first. Therefore we need to be aggressive from the game’s start (attack the board’s center). If you have the White pawns and pieces, you get to make the first move which means you have the chance to gain control of the board’s center from the start. Attack the central squares! Beginners tend to think of attacking in terms of attacking opposition pawns and pieces, in other words physical material. Thus, they think that moving a piece to a square upon which it controls other squares on the opposition’s side of the board isn’t really attacking anything since there’s no physical pieces on those squares. The beginner will move pieces to squares on which they can attack opposition material, even if it weakens their position or causes them to move that piece multiple times to get to the specific square. Remember, when you attack an empty square you are controlling that square, keeping enemy pawns and pieces off of that square which falls into the category of attacking. Just because a square is empty doesn’t mean it has no value. Every square you control is one less square available to your opponent! Therefore, try to control as many squares on your opponent’s side of the board as possible because doing so makes it difficult for the opposition to launch their own attack.

The more force you use when attacking the greater the probability of your attack being successful. You never see a sporting event where a single player takes on an entire opposition team. Teams are made up of multiple players who work together, not individually. Your pawns and pieces should work like a team, meaning they should be coordinated. When attacking do so with multiple pieces who are working with one another (protecting one another and providing multiple attackers) while also attacking a single target (piece or square) multiple times. I see many beginner games in which one player actually attacks with a plethora of attacking pieces but those pieces are not coordinated to they end up being lost within a few moves. Successful attacks involve pieces (and of course pawns) working carefully together. Yes, there are attacks that lead to checkmate involving a single piece, such as a back rank mate or smothered mate (involving a lone Knight), but there are always previous, smaller attacks that open up the necessary lines to deliver checkmate. Coordinated pieces that target specific squares lead to successful attacks.

Speaking of targeted squares, it’s easier to launch a successful attack when you hone in on a weakness in your opponent’s position. Beginners will often launch a multi-piece attack on a specific square but that square will be heavily defended so a loss of material usually ensues rather than a profitable attack. When choosing a target square, look for one that is first, weak due to a lack of defenders and second, one that will open up a further line of attack against the opposition King. With this said, sometimes your opponent will be able to pile up defenders to ward off your attackers. While the rule of thumb is to have at least one more attacker than your opponent has defenders (or one more defender than attackers, when defending), you’ll eventually have to decide whether committing all that material to a single attack is worth it. Does doing so weaken your position elsewhere on the board? If the answer is yes, don’t commit unless you know that you’ll be able to either come out of any exchanges up material or be able to deliver checkmate in the very near future.

If your opponent is attacking then you’ll have to play the role of the defender. The reason it’s better to be the attacker is that defenders get stuck defending and are unable to attack the enemy position until they successfully ward off the current attack. The attacker has the initiative! Too often, beginners will defend a pawn with everything they have only to discover that their opponent can add one final attacker, leaving you unable to successfully defend, in this case, a pawn. You’ve committed a large portion of your forces to the defense of a pawn which means those defending pieces are tied down, leaving you open to attacks elsewhere on the board. Sometimes you have to bit the bullet and simply give up the pawn!

Beginners too often don’t know where an attack is coming from until it’s too late. Before making a move, you should look at any opposition piece that is active, on the board, and note what squares that piece controls and what pieces of yours it attacks. Are there more than one attacker on any of your pieces or key squares? Key squares are those that can open a line that allows an attack on your King. If one of your pieces is under attack, move that piece to a safe square. If a key square is targeted, defend it. During the game, you should always look for weaknesses in your position. When you find one, defend it. If you defend potential weaknesses in your position early on, you deprive your opponent the opportunity to launch an attack on those potentially weak squares.

When attacking, you want to attack squares on your opponent’s side of the board. The reason 1. e4 is better than 1. e3, from an attacking viewpoint, is because the pawn on e4 attacks two squares on Black’s side of the board (d5 and f5). Putting a pawn on e3 does attack a center square but it’s one of your squares which is more of a defensive move. If you deprive your opponent access to his or her own squares, they’re going to have great difficulties launching any attacks. Conversely, you do want to cover squares on your side of the board against opposition attacks. 2. Nf3 does just that because it not only attacks the center of the board, it also keeps the Black Queen off of the h4 and g5 squares, which in an opening such as the King’s Gambit is extremely important.

Attack when the opportunity presents itself. If you see a weakness in your opponent’s position, exploit it. Your opponent will have to become the defender and won’t be able to launch any immediate attacks. Also try to create attacks by targeting weak squares. When creating attacks, you start moving your material towards your target square, only launching the attack once you have sufficient material to do so. Of course, your opponent will probably see the pieces heading his or her way and will try to defend that position. However, if your pieces are coordinated and you have a greater number of attacks than defenders, then you should be successful. Just make sure you have a few defenders left near your King to protect his majesty.

Be the attacker and things will happen. Be the defender and you’ll spend the game warding off attacks and coming no closer to checkmating your opponent than you were on move one. Be aggressive but not foolish. Look for weakness on your opponent’s position while defending your own potential weaknesses. Examine every opposition piece near your side of the board and take your time when considering moves. Do this and you’ll play a better game of chess or at least spend less time defending and more time attacking. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Post into Practice

My first game after last week’s post on the French Rubinstein was a French Rubinstein. I think that looking at Georg Meier’s games helped me think about being more active with Black particularly with the major pieces. So moves like 8…Qa5+ and 16…Rxd6 and later activity with the rooks and queen.

I’ve found that most players at my level don’t play 6.Nxf6, which is the most common master move, however White did so here.  I was unsure about playing Black’s key lever 7…c5 straightaway and the most common move after 7.Bg5 is 7… h6 which is what Nigel recommends. It’s so hard to remember!

In the Rubinstein White’s knight does sometimes come to e5 and can be very dangerous but it doesn’t seem right here and then coming to d3 felt a little awkward for White.  I was aware of the idea of pushing the e pawn as a way of activating Black’s light squared bishop and was pleased to have played it. I think seeing the potential of exploiting the pinned knight with 18…Bf5 was a result of my Chessity tactic training. Although I hadn’t looked at 19.g4 in reply which came as a surprise. I thought it was just a wild swing but it is what my engine suggests and I really should have considered it. I lost a lot of my advantage by not taking the g pawn with my knight but I didn’t analyse it very well and missed that after the exchanges on g4 I’d have Rg6 pinning White’s queen.

I like the look of the final position with his rooks and queen lined up on the e file and my rooks and queen lined up on the 2nd rank.

Dan Staples

Check for Errors in a Beginners Game

This article is for beginners only.

The game below was played on chess.com between two beginners with a decent time control. Your task is to go through the game and find the mistakes apart from the obvious material blunders, then compare your answers with the given findings.

Let’s see how many you can find. Blundering a piece is quite common mistake which can be improved with the knowledge and time:

White: Rajeshkumar (1324)
Black: Hal_2001_Chess (1261)

Findings:

a) White can play 3.Nxe5 but Black can regain the pawn with 3…Qh4, threatening both Qxf2 and Qxe4. But White should have look bit further:

3. Nxe5 Qh4
4. d4 Qxe4+
5. Be3 Ne7
6. Nd2

The material on the board is equal but White has a huge lead in development.

b) On move 4 White played h3. Of course this is to avoid Bg4 but that pin is not at all dangerous as White is not yet committed castle on the kingside and Black has no way to exploit this pin. On the other hand White can play h3 after Bg4 which gains time. The same applies to Black’s 4th move, …h6.

c) On move 5 Black played a6 which is 4th move with pawn. One should refrain himself from making such moves. Instead one should give priority to pieces to the pawns in the initial stage of the game.

d) White played his pawn to d5 which is a serious mistake as blocks his own bishop’s diagonal. On the other hand it helps Black increase the activity of his dark square Bishop.

e) Move 11 was a sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice.

f) On move 12 White exchanged his center pawn against Black’s wing pawn. In the opening and middle game center pawns are more important than the wing pawns in general.

The same things I have tried to explain in this video:

Ashvin Chauhan

Tactics Practice

When I started chess I was not very good at tactics. My Dad explained that this was a very important area and since then I have solved over 100,000 tactical positions. The first 70-80k were using the tactics software from ChessOK and after that I have done daily practice on Chessity.

At the moment I’ve solved just less than 30,000 positions on Chessity, which ranks 22nd for the most positions solved on the site. My real ranking might be higher than that as some accounts may have quite a few people using them.

The following game shows this training paying off with the 16…Bxc5 followed by 17…Qxc4 combination.

Sam Davies

The First Missed Fork

My next opponent and I had had several quick draws in recent years and this time we, in effect, agreed to share the point before the start of the game. I essayed the Black Knights’ Tango, an opening I increasingly think is rather dubious, and soon found myself at a slight disadvantage, but once I’d equalised my opponent offered to share the point. I accepted and we spent the rest of the evening in the adjacent bar. Much more enjoyable for both of us than playing a serious game!

Regular readers will have seen a position from my next game several months ago. Here’s the complete encounter. I’d recently read Matthew Sadler and Natasha Regan’s excellent book Chess for Life, and was particularly impressed by the chapter on Keith Arkell’s handling of the QGD Exchange. When I try the same opening with White, though, things never seem to work out the same way.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 e6
3. Nf3 d5
4. Nc3 Be7
5. cxd5 exd5
6. Bg5 h6
7. Bxf6

They usually play Bh4 here, but this is also OK.

7… Bxf6
8. e3 O-O
9. Qc2 c6
10. Bd3 Qd6

An unusual choice. Re8 and Nbd7 are both popular here.

11. Rb1 Bg4
12. Nd2 Re8
13. O-O Nd7
14. b4 a5

Ambitious. Rac8 has been played a couple of times here. I decide to take the pawn, but now we’ve moved away from typical QGD exchange territory.

15. bxa5 Reb8
16. Nb3 Bd8
17. Bf5

The wrong plan. The computer prefers 17. e4 or 17. a6 bxa6 18. e4, with a slight spatial advantage and play against the pawn on c6. As so often in my games, I’m too eager to trade pieces.

17… Bxf5
18. Qxf5 Bxa5
19. Nxa5 Rxa5
20. Rb3

Failing to understand the position. I had to play 20. a4. Now Black would be a bit better after 20… b5, with Nb6 and Nc4 to follow. But instead he blunders into a tactic.

20… Nf6

This is the position you might have seen before. If you have you’ll recall, if you haven’t already spotted it, that I could have won a pawn by a simple combination: 21. Rxb7 Rxb7 22. Qc8+. As usual, I failed to consider it at all, even though I tell my pupils to look for every check, capture and threat. Instead, I spent some time analysing 21. e4 and eventually decided to play it, but without much conviction. I was right not to be convinced. One thing that was happening in my head was that I was very happy to notice a way to trade queens, and I usually go for anything involving a queen exchange. My feeling has always been that the more pieces I swap the fewer pieces I will have left to leave en prise and the nearer I will be to a draw.

21. e4 g6
22. e5 gxf5
23. exd6

I’d seen this and was hoping my pawn on d6 would prove to be strong. I’d seen that there were some lines when, if the knight on f6 moves away, I’d have the possibility of d7 followed by Rxb7, even though I hadn’t considered 21. Rxb7 at all. What I’d missed was that Black now has 23… Ne8 24. d7 Nd6, defending b7 again when the pawn on d7 will fall and Black will be a pawn ahead. Fortunately for me, my opponent missed this as well, and instead played…

23… b5
24. a4 Ne4
25. Nxe4

Leading to a level ending. I might, had I considered it, have tried for more with 25. d7, when Black would still have doubled isolated f-pawns.

25… fxe4
26. axb5 Raxb5
27. Rc3 R5b6
28. Rfc1 Kf8
29. g3 Rd8
30. Rxc6 Rxd6
31. Rxb6 1/2-1/2

The ending is completely level. A fair result as neither of us really deserved to win. I really must learn to spot simple tactics!

Richard James