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Chess Forum Survival Guide

A new adult student asked me for some good advice regarding the exploration of chess forums. I gave him a one word answer, “don’t!” “What do you mean don’t?” He replied. I diplomatically explained to him that while joining a chess forum could provide a conduit to a great deal of useful information, in most cases, he’d more likely end up falling down the endless rabbit hole of absolute madness found on many chess forums, never to be heard from again. He looked at me as if I was mad, so I sat him down to have a heart to heart chat about the subject. By conversation’s end, he looked just like a small child whose been told that there is no Santa Claus, Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy. I, on the other hand, felt like a bit of an old fashioned heel. Here’s the gist of what I told him:

Forums can be, and in many cases are, a great resource of practical information, allowing the forum user to save countless hours researching a topic on their own. Of course, I’m speaking purely theoretically, along the lines of “in a perfect world…” As I’m fond of mentioning, there’s a huge difference between theory and reality with chess forums (any many other types of forums to be fair). In theory, the chess forum should be your one stop chess shop when looking to acquire information regarding the game we love so deeply. In fact, you’d think that because we love chess so much, that chess forums would close to perfect in regards to useful information. They would perfect if the worst of human behavior didn’t cloud the numerous postings and threads. What behaviors are those you may ask? Ego and stupidity come to mind!

Now if I sound a bit harsh, let me state that there are a large number of chess forum contributors who really do present useful chess information. Many of these contributors are titled players who offer sound advice, regarding opening theory, for example. However, anyone on a forum can proclaim themselves an expert regardless of their qualifications. This means you might end up taking the advice of a player who barely understands the ideas behind the opening principles when preparing for an important game. Be cautious when taking forum advice regarding playing unless it comes from a qualified individual. With this said, I’ve seen some great explanations of difficult concepts from non-titled players. Like shopping for a car, you have to do your due diligence rather than simply buy the first car you see.

Forums also become a place where individuals can beat a subject to death, the old idea of flogging the dead horse. A subject is posted on the forum and, rather that providing a definitive and simple response, large numbers of people either confuse the issue or hijack the forum and send it in a completely different direction. You spend an hour reading through the threads and forgot what it was you were trying to get out of the posting in the first place. It can start out as a discussion regarding endgame theory and end up as an argument over who sells the best leather wingtip shoes in the greater London area. Unless you’re planning a trip to London and buying shoes while there, you may feel a bit cheated. Many a night I have sent out angry emails to forum members demanding back the hour of my life lost reading their dribble. My tip: If you scan through people’s postings regarding chess theory and you don’t see any algebraic notation within the comments, move on.

Of course, forums allow people to stand proudly at the bully pulpit and spew venomous rhetoric across the internet. Sadly, you find this on many chess forums. What starts as a seemingly Innocent discussion about a specific chess player, chess book, etc, turns into a free for all verbal slug-fest with the least qualified individuals throwing the hardest punches. You’d be surprised at how many people who cannot write to save their lives complain on forums about those who do write. Of course, constructive criticism is important but simply saying a chess book is garbage without offering some solutions to make it better is just old fashion bullying.

You also see chess enthusiasts complain about moves made during important, professional matches. This would be all well and good if the person complaining was a seasoned Grandmaster. However, the biggest complaints come from players whose ratings are on par with their shoe size (and IQ for that matter). “He should of played Bxd4 on move 27. What a dummy.” This from the guy who holds the world record for losing chess games to Scholar’s Mate.

Lastly, there’s the long winded types (which is why I’m trying to keep this to 1,000 words or less). Does it really require 124,375 words to make a point that could have been made employing 27 words (some of you are envisioning me)? Do you really need to use arcane words that we all have to look up in the dictionary? Great, your a wordsmith, but tone it down a bit. You must be a hoot at the local pub’s University Challenge night…

Since the thousand word limit I set for myself is nearing, I fear I must sign off. Enjoy your chess forums but heed my warning because I come this way but once (to quote Professor Harold Hill from The Music Man). My advice: If you put the time you spent reading chess forums into studying the game you’d become a lot better, a lot faster. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week. These guys don’t need no stinking forums….

Hugh Patterson

Old News

Since I returned to tournament chess in 2011 after a hiatus of 20 years, I’ve had an … “interesting” time with the openings.

Having depended heavily on memorization in my earlier years, I found I needed a reset.

Easier said than done. My best games have consistently been those where there was no opening: I was calculating from the first move. That’s hard to do when you play into lines where you have studied.

Today’s game was one of those games. Played in 2011, I had only the vaguest ideas of the modern English opening, but as you will see it worked out okay.

I’m still shuffling my repertoire. Dutifully I have recently pursued more mainline stuff than I had been playing. The results have been mediocre. I feel like I’m wearing someone else’s clothes. I can’t stay interested and blunder aimlessly.

I think it’s back to my simple-is-better game theory approach to the Chess in the coming tournaments.

Jacques Delaguerre

Winning Equal Positions

In these days of very serious opening analysis and theory going well into the middle game in many lines, people often forget the importance of core skills or don’t have time to practice them. Tactical vision is of course absolutely essential, as most people realize. But endgame skill is often underestimated or even overlooked altogether. Who needs openings if they can win equal positions against the World’s top players.

Here’s Magnus Carlsen providing an object lesson in this art, winning a more or less equal endgame position against Teimour Radjabov. The commentator is the ever lucid and calm Jan Gustafsson:

Nigel Davies

Fixing What Ain’t Broke

There are two schools of thought with regard to making changes to openings. Most people believe that you should stick to what’s working whilst a rare few like to move on and explore new avenues.

I like to think that I belong to the second group, at least in theory, and there are good reasons why. In the early days of playing an opening it’s all very new and exciting, not least because you are learning how the thing works. But after a while its secrets can get exhausted and you start to play the line on autopilot. This in turn can lead to your entire game becoming stale and tired.

There’s another reason too, especially in these days of databases and engines. If it becomes known that you play in a particular way there’s a good chance that your opponents will prepare for you, and with engine power being what it is that can spell serious trouble. See yourself as a wildebeest looking to visit the watering hole; crocodiles have a good memory so it’s best to avoid going to exactly the same location.

A great master of opening variety and surprise was the late Danish Grandmaster Bent Larsen. In the following game he grinds down Boris Spassky in a Bird’s Opening which led Boris Ivkov to spend a lot of time preparing against the Bird when he was due to play Larsen in a match. The Bird never reappeared so Ivkov, rather than have his heard work wasted, decided to play it himself!

Nigel Davies

More Transitions to the Middle Game

In last week’s problem, Black’s plan was to liberate his pieces by playing e5.

White can get an advantage and stop Black’s plan by playing 1. Ne5. The idea is to follow up with f4 and Nb1-d2-f3, or Qf3 and then Qh3.

The best play for Black is to play 1..Bxe5 2. fxe5 Nd7 3. f4 and White has the plan of Nd2 followed by Nc4.

In this week’s problem, we again have to find a plan for White. Which is the best square for the Knight?

Steven Carr

T’ain’t What You Do

As we now know, chess, at least using the CSC model, doesn’t make kids smarter. However, a recent article in the Daily Mail, citing research involving 12,000 Australian teenagers, suggests that playing video games might make kids smarter.

According to Alberto Posso, from RMIT University in Melbourne, students who play online games almost every day score 15 points above the average in maths and 17 points above the average in science.

“When you play online games you’re solving puzzles to move to the next level and that involves using some of the general knowledge and skills in maths, reading and science that you’ve been taught during the day. Teachers should consider incorporating popular video games into teaching – so long as they’re not violent ones.”

Well, that poses many questions, one of which is: what are you going to drop from the curriculum to make room for these ‘popular video games’? In the EEF/CSC study, some schools dropped a maths lesson for chess, while some dropped a humanities lesson. It might seem strange to drop a maths lesson for chess when you’re trying to make kids better at maths, but there you go. At the London Chess and Education conference we’ve heard about studies claiming that kids who replace one of their weekly maths lessons with chess do better at maths than those who don’t. You know what? If I were a primary school headteacher and I thought my pupils needed to improve their numeracy, I’d take a long hard look at the methods used for teaching maths in my school rather than introducing chess to make kids better at maths. So perhaps schools should drop a humanities (history, geography etc) lesson instead? You know what else? If I were a primary school headteacher I think I’d consider making sure my pupils understood their place in the world and how they got there was even more important than making them good at maths.

For the past few weeks, a particular area of my local park, alongside a tall structure known locally as the Shot Tower, which was part of the gunpowder works which were there until the late 1920s and next to a footbridge taking you onto a nature reserve recommended by David Attenborough, has been full of mostly young males, often on bikes, staring intently at their smartphones. What are they doing? They’re playing Pokémon GO: according to some of my chess pupils there are a lot of Pokémon there.

The reason why these games are so addictive is that you always want to get to the next level. So you have an incentive to improve your knowledge and skills. Now, some of the ‘slow’ chess courses which have achieved positive results in terms of ‘making kids smarter’ do something similar in that they use the ‘building blocks’ principle, using a series of mini-games and puzzles to enhance kids’ cognitive and chess skills. Kids learn maths in very much the same way. Now if you turn learning chess or maths into a video game children can go at their own pace. If they have the time and the talent they might reach a high level quickly, but if they go more slowly it really doesn’t matter. There’s a lot of chess software around already which approaches the game in this way. I’m sure there’s even more maths software around as well. But there are many of us concerned about the amount of time kids spend in front of screens. At least Pokémon GO gets you outside.

One of the problems with education both here in the UK and in the US is that decisions are made by people who think that all children should reach a certain level in maths or English by a certain age, that children who don’t reach this level have failed and that teachers whose pupils don’t reach this level have failed. In my opinion this is dangerous nonsense. Children should be encouraged to develop at their own pace. Some children start well but their progress stalls. Other children are late developers. The tortoise sometimes beats the hare.

Perhaps what it is that ‘makes kids smarter’ is not the subject itself but the method of teaching it. So, instead of commissioning studies to research whether or not x, y or z ‘makes kids smarter’, maybe we should be looking at what teaching methods we should use to ‘make kids smarter’, and how these methods could be developed using software and other media. In the words of the song: “T’ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it. That’s what gets results”. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather listen to Ella Fitzgerald than anyone making unsubstantiated claims about chess ‘making kids smarter’.

Richard James

The Scotch Opening

Beginners who play with the White pieces often play timidly at first, pushing a pawn one square instead of two on their first turn. They worry that pushing a pawn to e4, for example, will leave that pawn stranded without protection whereas as pushing a pawn to e3 affords that pawn protection by it’s fellow pawns on f2 and d2. However, if you’re playing White you should aggressively go for control of the board’s center immediately. The Scotch Opening is a good opening for teaching aggressive play from the start. The classical Scotch comes into play after the moves 1. e4…e5, 2. Nf3…Nc6, 3. d4…exd4, 4. Nxd4…Nf6 and 5. Nc3, White immediately contests Black’s attempt to control the board’s center, a crucial concept (central control during the opening) as far as opening principles are concerned, while Black fights back to equalize the position. It should be noted that because black is a move behind, he or she should play to equalize or keep the position balanced rather than play for a fast attack during the opening.

The point the beginner should embrace is the idea that, because White moves first, White can gain control of the center before Black does and should therefore aim for central control from move one rather than making passive moves that allow Black to gain central control, turning the position around. The first two moves for both White and Black, 1. e4…e5 and 2. Nf3…Nc6, are the first two moves in a number of openings. Why? Because they fight for the center in a sound way. Move three of the classic Scotch, 3. d4…exd4 demonstrates the idea of White aggressively attacking Black’s own plan for control of the center. One of the reasons I teach this opening to beginners is because it clearly demonstrates the the opening principles in action, especially playing aggressively. A Scotch Opening might proceed a bit further like this:

Let’s review each move in terms of opening principles. Move one, for both players, 1. e4…e5, follows our first opening principle, controlling the center with a pawn. The pawns on e4 and e5 both control key central squares. The Queens and King-side Bishops are given room to develop. On move two (2. Nf3), White correctly develops (with tempo) the King-side Knight to its most active square, f3 where it attacks the e5 pawn while putting pressure on the d4 square. Tempo comes about because the Knight is attacking the pawn on e5, forcing Black to defend it which Black does with 2…Nc6. Black’s last move is a sound and logical choice because it develops a minor piece that not only protects the e5 pawn but also attacks the d4 square. Remember, Black needs to try and equalize the position and this move does just that! On move three, 3. d4, White attacks Black’s centralize pawn on e4, forcing Black to capture the d4 pawn. Does Black have to capture back?

If Black does something other than capture, instead developing the King-side Knight to f6, White can further gain tempo by playing either 4. d5, attacking the Queen-side Knight which forces it off of c6, or playing 4. dxe5 which attacks the King-side Knight, forcing it off of f6. Either way, White gains tempo and dislodges one of Black’s Knights off of an important square. Therefore, Black has to capture the pawn in order to avoid becoming further behind in tempo and sound position.

After Black captures the d4 pawn with 3…exd4, White can capture the pawn with 4. Nxd4. This moves works because the White Knight on d4 is protected by the White Queen on d1. If Black were to capture the White Knight on d4, the White Queen would simply capture it back which wouldn’t be good for Black from a positional point of view. Remember, as Black you want to keep things equalized. Therefore, Black plays 4…Nf6, attacking White’s e4 pawn. White develops a minor piece with 5. Nc3 which protects the pawn. Notice that White develops rather than attack the Knight on f6 with 5. e5. Attacking the Knight with a pawn would be silly since the c6 Knight would simply capture the attacking White pawn. Think development rather than all out attacking during the opening. Of course, White moving the pawn to d4 earlier is an attacking move, but one which was made to contest or stop Black’s attempt to control the center. There’s a difference between the two!

Black now plays 5…Bb4, pinning the c3 Knight to the King on e1. This move by Black stops White’s c3 Knight from being able to protect the e4 pawn due to the absolute pin. Black develops a new piece into the game while preventing White’s previously developed minor piece from doing its job, acting as a bodyguard for the e4 pawn. White plays 6. Nxc6. This does break an opening principle, not moving the same piece during the opening, but there’s a reason for breaking this principle. It should be duly noted that principles are not rules and can be broken if the reason is sound. Here, removing the Black c6 Knight, doubles up Black’s pawns on the c file after 6…bxc6. Note that using the d6 pawn to capture back on c6 would lead to a potential trade of Queens in which the Black King would have to capture back, forfeiting the right to castle. It also allows White to play 7. e5, attacking the f6 Knight. This last move by White is dangerous because Black moves the attacked Knight to e4 (7…Ne4) where it teams up with the Black Bishop on b4, attacking the pinned Knight. There are a few ways to deal with this last move by Black, such as 8. Qd4 which not only adds a second defender on the c3 Knight but protects the vulnerable f2 square from a potential fork by the Black Knight on e4.

Then there’s a more modern approach in which White goes after Black sooner. Take a look:

In this variation, which I first met on a wonderful Andrew Martin DVD on the Scotch, White immediately goes after the center with 2. d4 rather than developing the Knight on move two. After Black captures the d4 pawn (2…exd4), White develops the Knight with 3. Nf3. When Black plays 3…Nf6, White hits back with 4. e5, forcing the Black Knight off of the f6 square. When Black plays 4…Ne4, White captures the pawn on d4 with the Queen (5. Qxd4), attacking the Black Knight and covering the f2 square so Black can’t sacrifice the Knight by capturing on f2 which would fork the King-side Rook and Queen.

All in all, the Scotch is a great way to teach aggressive play to beginners. I highly recommend playing around with this opening, really experimenting with it, seeing what works and what doesn’t. You should always tinker with openings. While learning the mainlines and variations is sound, experiment a little. Be a scientist and explore the board. While you’ll find that many of your ideas can be refuted, you might find a little something in the way of a move that will surprise your opponent. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

Modesty, Generosity, and Plain Truth

Interviewer: In November, New York City will host the match for the chess crown between world champion Norwegian Magnus Carlsen and Russian grandmaster Sergey Karjakin. Some have compared this match with your match against Robert Fischer, which was supposed to take place in 1975, but never took place.

Anatoly Karpov: So far, Carlsen has not reached the level of the Fisher. He does not have the brightness inherent in the American. So on that side, there’s no comparison. And Sergei Karjakin, with all my sympathy for him, he has not gotten to my level. Therefore, it will not be a match on the scale of what my match with Fischer could have been. But it is very interesting. I am glad that Sergei was able to get to the match for the crown.
Interview “Anatoly Karpov: It’s going to be very difficult for Sergei”, Sovsport.RU, 2016-08-04

After thanking the Almighty, friends, family and the Sinquefields, GM Wesley So, winner of the 2016 Sinquefield Cup said

Thank you to my honored opponents who are like unpaid coaches to me because I study their games closely and even when I was still a kid was so motivated to play by observing their amazing techniques. Like I said, anyone in this group could have won, it just happened to be my year. Mabuhay!

This was taken in some quarters as the generosity of a truly modest individual, but it seems to me such modesty and generosity constitute expression of the plain truth.

GM So won the 2016 Sinquefield Cup 5.5/9 (+2 -0 =7). Viswanathan Anand took second 5/9 (+1 -0 =8). None of the roster of grandmasters won more than 2 games in 9 rounds. In world-class chess, it’s not at all lonely at the top.

Even Karpov, an egoist since youth and something approaching an insufferable ass in his mid-60’s (as witness his comments on the Carlsen-Karjakin match), was forced in his own time by the realism of the chess mind to acknowledge the plain truth. In 1974, upon winning his Candidate’s Final against Korchnoi, Karpov was approached at the reception by a flatterer. Karpov brushed off this unwelcome and ingratiating individual with the words, “After all, I am merely doing what everyone else is doing, that is, learning to play better.”

Here’s a link to what, to my mind, is So’s best game of the Cup.

Jacques Delaguerre

Wrong Exchanges

It has been a common observation at amateur level that they tend to exchange almost equal value pieces whilst playing against stronger opponent, with a draw in mind. Sometimes, they just move mechanically based on general rules. This in fact, gives masters an opportunity to demonstrate their technique. Here is an instructive example:

In the given position, Black exchanged his knight against White’s bishop and went for a bishop vs. knight endgame. At first this looks quite innocent and even a good idea because we have been told that a bishop is usually better than a knight in the endgame against knight. Secondly the position is not so closed, so Black might be able to open the position & can change the pawn structure. Lastly, Black could emerge with a passed pawn on either c- or d-file.

But taking the bishop on d3 is actually a mistake because it has nothing to attack. And White’s knight would become very active on c3, d4 or f4.

Interesting Exercise: Change the position of the bishop from e8 to d8 and analyse the position! This kind of imagination is helpful in learning chess.

Question: How would you recapture on d3?
Answer: Recapturing with king is dubious due to 1…c5!. For example 1…c5! 2. Nc1 Bb5+ 3.Kd2 Bc4 from where the bishop can be exchanged against the knight almost by force, while pawns on c5 and d5 guarantees Black a better game.

In the game Alekhine played cxd3! and now c5 is rather dubious idea (compare it with the previous line 1. Kxd3)

1.cxd3 c5?! 2.d4! c4

2…cxd4 is even worse because of 3. Kxd4 Kc6 and 4. Kc5 is winning.

3.f5!

The pawn can’t be taken because of Nf4

3…gxf5 4.h4!

Fixing a weakness, which is quite common in masters’ game!

Black tried to fight for next 20 moves but failed to change the outcome of the game.

Interesting Exercise: From here try to win the position against your friend or even an engine.

Ashvin Chauhan