Category Archives: Articles


This week, some updates on my last three posts.

First, some more very sad news. Just a couple of weeks on from the death of Richard Haddrell, English chess has lost another of its most valued administrators: John Philpott. John, like Richard, had held many different roles over several decades at club, county (Essex), regional (SCCU) and national levels. His main area of expertise was in financial matters, having worked for Ernst & Young. As I write this he’s still listed on the ECF website as Company Secretary, Voting Registration Officer and Financial Controller. In recent years, the ECF has been riven by tribalism, but John and Richard were both respected on all sides for their (unpaid) professionalism and impartial advice. Outside chess, John was a passionate supporter of West Ham United and enjoyed singing in local choirs. My only personal contact with John was a London League game in 1999, which lasted two sessions and 82 moves (I eventually won a queen ending).

The previous week I wrote about a 6-year-old in one of my school chess clubs whose mother said he was brilliant at chess, but it turned out that he didn’t really know how the pieces moved. We had an odd number at the club last week so I was able to spend some time with him while I paired off the other players. After the club I went back into the town centre to do some shopping in the supermarket. The boy and his mother were also there. When he saw me he shouted excitedly “Mum! Mum! It’s Mr Richard Sir James!” (He’s Italian and has an imperfect understanding of British titles.) His mother asked me how he was getting on. She looked crestfallen when I replied that he was still struggling to learn all the rules. I suggested that he should read a book and showed her a copy of Chess for Kids, which I’d also shown her son during the lesson. She told me she’d buy a copy and asked why the school hadn’t told the parents that I’d written the book. We eventually found ourselves at adjacent checkouts at the same time. The boy turned round to the cashier who was serving me and said “Excuse me! That’s my chess teacher!”.

Again, this is the problem with primary school chess clubs. At Richmond Junior Club it’s very different: most parents know at least a little bit about chess and are often keen to learn more. But at school chess clubs most parents, while perhaps thinking they know how to play chess, actually know virtually nothing, and are totally unaware that they know virtually nothing. It’s all very well everyone from FIDE downwards making grandiose claims about the number of chess players in the world, but if they don’t know all the rules they’re not going to take much interest in Carlsen v Karjakin, or even be aware that the match is taking place.

Going back another week, you may recall I wrote about Stephen Moss’s book The Rookie. I spent the following two Mondays in the company of Stephen at Kingston Chess Club, where my club, Richmond had two matches, a league match followed by a cup match. My first match of the season had resulted in a quick win against a teenager of about my strength who played all his moves almost instantly and lost horribly, so I was thinking that perhaps this would be my lucky season. Kingston fielded a weak team against us in the league match, and I found myself just avoiding playing Stephen Moss, who drew his game on board 5. Kingston had low graded players on the bottom boards and I was playing the White pieces against an opponent graded a long way below me. The way my opponent played the first few moves made me feel even more confident, but I gradually lost control and was forced to make an unclear sacrifice of a knight for two pawns. I then spotted a queen fork which seemed to win the piece back, but I’d missed something rather obvious: my move actually lost rather than won a piece.

Normally I’m pretty consistent: I tend to beat weaker opponents, lose to stronger opponents and draw against opponents of my own strength fairly regularly. My opponent in this game was, I think, the lowest graded player I’ve ever lost to. I guess I’ll have to annotate it for you at some point, just to get it out of my system.

The following week I was on board 5 for the cup match and wondering if I’d get the chance to cross swords with the Rookie. This time, though, Kingston had a stronger team, and I had Black against one of my regular opponents, a player of about my strength against whom I have a very bad record. I managed to trade off most of the pieces quickly, and at move 20 my opponent offered me a draw. Although I might have been slightly better in the ending, given what happened the previous week I had no hesitation in accepting. I spent the rest of the evening in the bar downstairs playing 10-minute chess, mostly against my genial opponent from the previous week. In the first game I allowed a mate in 1 when lots of pieces ahead, but I won the rest of the games, mostly very easily as my opponent combined oversights with unsound sacrifices. Such is life. Stephen was also in the bar, playing on the next board, but we didn’t get the chance to play. Maybe another time. Onwards and upwards, or, in my case, downwards.

Richard James


Those of you who read my social media posts know that I’ve been going through hyperbaric (oxygen) therapy in preparation for a major surgical procedure in November. With this type of treatment, you’re placed in a sealed Acrylic tank, pressurized to thirty feet below the ocean’s surface and bombarded with 100% pure oxygen. Each dive, as it’s called, lasts roughly two hours. By employing the use of a pressurized environment, oxygen is forced into your body, down to the cellular level. In the simplest terms, the treatment is akin to having a cellular make over that has some amazing effects. Physically, I feel as if I’m in my twenties again (I’m 55 years old). My mind/body coordination is better than when I was in my teens. And then there’s the effect on my mind which is the most amazing of the many benefits of hyperbaric therapy.

One problem most of us have when playing chess is maintain a high degree of focus. We can zero in on a position and see the smaller picture easily. An example of visualizing the smaller picture would be seeing a potentially strong attack (for you) early in the game, becoming fixated on the attack and failing to see an even more lethal counter attack by your opponent. The problem with seeing the smaller picture is that you miss the bigger picture which turns out to be of greater overall importance. This occurs because our focus isn’t highly trained. In my last article I recommended a card counting technique to help develop your immediate focus. While this will help with reeling in scattered thoughts prior to playing, you still have to maintain that focus, something I had trouble with, at least until very recently.

A neurologist became interested in what happened to me after I started my hyperbaric treatments because he realized he could measure the effects of oxygen on the brain via chess playing. Having a patient who played and taught chess gave him a perfect test subject. Here’s what I’ve noticed so far in regards to my treatment and it’s implications regarding chess:

Those scattered thoughts that haunted me but also allowed me a certain level of creativity have nearly vanished. There’s no dithering around when it comes to decision making. The problem, be it a leaky kitchen sink, math equation or chess position, presents itself and I act upon it immediately. While I do enjoy becoming lost in thought, it’s great to be able to not waste time “spacing out.” When faced with a problem, I think with a greater degree of logic, being able to break the problem down and then solve it in a straight forward manner. Prior to the treatments, I had to focus my mind just to acknowledge the problem in the first place. Then I would take a slightly round about way in my journey towards solving the problem at hand. Now, the problem quickly comes into focus and the solution lays itself out very clearly. With chess, I’m finding it much easier to see the small and big picture simultaneously, clearly seeing a given position from both sides of the board. Of course, this doesn’t mean I’ll be challenging Magnus Carlsen anytime in the near or distant future, but my game is much better. I’ve been playing a number of computer programs at a level where the silicon beast normally crushes me. Not so much as of now! I see the board with greater clarity!

Oxygen will not make you smarter, something many people have asked me about. You have to work with what you were born with! What the oxygen does is to help your brain operate at a higher level. It comes down to focus. I had to drive up to my dad’s place yesterday, traveling through an extremely bad storm. He has an extremely steep driveway leading up to the house. I parked my car and noticed his copy of The New York Times sitting at the bottom of the driveway which was littered with slick and subsequently slippery leaves. Normally, I would stagger down the driveway, hoping I didn’t slip on the leaves and break my leg. However, I found myself quickly moving towards the newspaper, my mind focusing on spots where there were no leaves, guiding my feet to those safe places which allowed me to avoid slipping. This is what I mean about focus. Driving around San Francisco, I see architectural details I never noticed before even though I had taken the same route year after year.

This ability to see things in a different, more focused way, is allowing me to view various positions on the chessboard in a more enlightened fashion. My brain is finding it easier to see the board from my opponent’s viewpoint, thus allowing me to determine their best response to my potential moves. While you could say that I’m playing better chess I think it’s more a case of being able to play more clearly. By clearly, I mean seeing things with greater clarity. Unique details are recognized by your brain. The world looks slightly different these days.

Obviously, most people are not going to be presented with the opportunity I’ve been given, hyperbaric therapy. However, as Nigel pointed out via a social media posted article ), you can increase your oxygen intake without a machine which will give you (although not as quickly or drastically as in my case) a greater ability to focus. Because we must breath in order to live, and we do it day in and day out without putting much thought into it, we tend not to give oxygen intake much thought (unless we suddenly find ourselves without air). We tend to think of physical improvement as a byproduct of eating healthy and getting exercise. Of course, both of these endeavors will help in our quest to live a long and healthy life, but something as simple as controlled breathing can be a game changer.

I must admit that I was not happy with the idea of having to lay in a tube for two hours a day, five days a week for eight weeks, even though I had 500 cable channels at my disposal and an extremely comfortable but small bed inside the tube. However, the benefits far outweighed my complaints. Memory is also increased. On Friday, I watched a documentary my doctor had seen numerous times. While I had only seen it this one time, my doctor pointed out, after we had a discussion about the film, that I had been able to recall the most minuet details of the nearly two hour documentary. This ability to remember smaller and smaller details comes in handy when it comes to studying chess theory, especially opening and endgame theory. How easy would a college class be?

I’ll be officially starting the neurological study this week (tomorrow) and will keep a journal, the highlights of which I’ll publish here. For those of you who would like to have their brains function at a higher level, consider, breathing exercises, physical exercise and of course, diet. While it may not have as strong an effect on your body as a pressurized oxygen tank, you’ll still see a difference and that difference could translate into better ratings points or better yet, a healthier, happier life. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

Available and Unavailable

“Therein lies the secret of great hunters. To be available and unavailable at the precise turn of the road.” – Carlos Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan

James MacNeil won the Under 1800 prize this past weekend in the Denver Chess Club Fall Classic taking home $500.

I did not attend the tournament. I had other chores as we prepare our garden for winter.

At one point I felt that the essence of improvement after my return at age 59 to tournament competition after a 20-year hiatus was to play everywhere every time.

And improve I did, and continue to do so, yet recently my results have declined.

I see now that the essence of success is to play when I it is to my advantage to play, when I am ready to play, when I am psychologically prepared to play. To know, as Castaneda put it so beautifully, when to be available and unavailable.

In today’s game, I was available to take home James’ king.

I’m not sure why I minced around with 3. d3 and 4. Nd2, since after Black’s 2 … c5 there was no reason not to go straight into a King’s Indian Attack with 3. Nf3.

14. Nh4! was good enough, but the sacrifice of a bishop for two pawns was not convincing enough that I needed to refrain from 14. g4!!

Jacques Delaguerre

Sacrifices on e6

A piece sacrifice on e6 (e3) is a typical middle game attacking theme to destroy the pawn structure around the enemy monarch and hopefully get a decisive attack. Sometimes it has positional characteristic too in order to secure outpost on e5 (usually a knight). Here are some instructive examples:

Yuri Balashov against Rifat Sabjanov in 1994 – White to Move

Q: Is it worth considering e5-e6 here?
A: Yes, White can get a strong attack as follows:

1.e6 Bxe6 2.Rxe6!!

This creates strong hold on e5 for White’s knight which completely dominates the position.

2…fxe6 3.Ne5 Qb6

White would have a winning position against other moves too, for example 3…g6 4.Qf3 or 3…Qd6/b8 4.Bf4. These may have prolonged the fight but woudn’t change the outcome.


Actually Qf3 was even better.

4…Rd8 5.Qxe6

And White went on win after few more moves.

Sacrifice to destroy pawn cover – Kramnik against Nigel Short in 1995 – White to Move

Q: Which piece wwould you sacrifice on e6?
A: The bishop of course because if 1.Nxe6 then 1…Qxh4 wins

1.Bxe6!! fxe6 2.Qxg6 Nxe5 3. Qh7 Kf8 4. Nf4

The position is totally lost so Black resigned.

Sacrifice to use lead in development –
Helgi Olafsson against Jonathan Levitt in 1990
– White to Move

Q: How would you proceed with the White pieces?
A: I would sacrifice on e6 as follows:


There is no way to decline the sacrifice. If the bishop moves then there is mate on e6 and if knight moves then the bishop is lost. Meanwhile f5 can be met by Ng5.

1…fxe6 2.Ng5!

The bishop on g2 can’t be taken because of the spectacular Qxe6+! leading to either a back rank mate or a smothered mate.

2…h6 3.Nxe4

Threatening 4.Nf6+. Note that 4.Bxe4 would be a mistake because of Nc6 when you still need a move to save the knight so you can’t win pawn on c5.

3…Nc6 4.Nxc5 Qc7 5.Nxd7! Rac8

5…Rxd7 is not possible because of 6.Qxe6+ Rf7 7.Bxc6 etc..

6.Qxe6+ Kh8 7.Be4 Ne7 8.Rd6

Stronger than Qxe7. Black resigned after 3 more moves.

Ashvin Chauhan

Choose Your Weapon

Online voting chess is a nice challenge. The rules are very simple; two teams face each other in one game, each team can have as many members as possible, reflection time is 2 days per move and moves are selected by a majority of votes (each member has 1 vote). During the 2 days of reflection time each team discusses the position and merits of possible moves.

The selected voting team match is part of the World Cup IV semifinal and it is one where our team won an exchange early in the middle game and nursed the material advantage into present endgame. It is White to move and a heated discussion occured about the merits of choice A – 69.f5 … versus choice B – 69.Rxh5 … Now imagine you are White here in an OTB game. Time is of course a factor and you need to decide what to do. There’s more than one way to skin a cat so it matters what you choose. I would imagine you could go with what you know or think you know best, right? Which one is that?

Going back to our debate, we had a good one going on. The first reactions were perfect:
wayne_thomas “69.f5 wins right away. If they take our pawn, they lose their knight and then their pawn.”
MrWeakie “Either f5 or Rxh5 are absolute wins. After Rxh5, we queen with check, and although it will take a few moves, K+Q vs. K+p on the 2nd rank is still a win. The technique involves checking with the queen and slowly moving closer to the pawn, and then moving the king up. I would go with either move, the f5 version perhaps being less tedious than the Rxh5 version.”
Wayne backed up his choice with 3 GM games where in 2 of them the queen could not win vs the h-pawn.
MrWeakie continued with: “I agree that f5 is simplest and will vote accordingly. However, I challenge anyone to play this position with me and draw. I play White, you play Black, and I will open with Rxh5!” and started to get some traction for his choice.
I won’t bore you with the entire discussion; the idea is to see which one should you choose. Here are the merits and challenges of both:

Choice A – 69.f5 …
1. It brings white immediate material advantage so it is easier to see
2. The rook vs pawn endgame is an easy win because White captures the pawn very fast

Choice B – 69.Rxh5 …
1. It gives back the material advantage
2. Reaching the queen vs side pawn endgame requires calculation (simple one mind you) for the pawn race
3. Once in the queen vs pawn endgame, White must use a harder technique (avoid the stalemate) to win

Have you decided yet? Should I throw in a wrench in it and say the engines prefer 69.Rxh5 … with mate in 15? The 69.f5 … choice could go longer (mate in 17) as a battle of queen vs knight arises (see above). Does this make you change your mind? Remember, the clock is ticking… Oh, by the way our team chose A by a wide margin and team Bangladesh resigned!

Valer Demian

Weak Squares Around The King

The solution to last Monday’s problem is that Black plays 1…d5!. After that , the White bishop on b3 is caged in, and can never take part in the game. Black is effectively a pieces up after he plays c6, Bc8 and Bf5.

In this week’s problem, White senses that the dark squares around Black’s king are very weak, and decides to launch an attack. What does he play?

Steven Carr

Farewell to an Administrator

I was saddened to hear of the recent death of Richard Haddrell, one of England’s most prominent chess administrators.

I never met Richard: indeed my only contact with him was through his role as Grading Administrator for the ECF. When I had tournament results for grading I had to email them to Richard. If I made a mistake I’d be sure to receive a rather abrupt and sarcastic reply, like a schoolmaster telling off a naughty schoolboy.

And a schoolmaster was what he was before his retirement. Richard was certainly no rookie as a player, having won the championship of his club, Tunbridge Wells, in Kent, on several occasions. It was as an administrator, though, that he’ll be remembered. He received a President’s Award for Services to Chess in 1994, at which point he had been actively involved in chess administration for 25 years or more. That work would continue for the rest of his life.

Richard’s forte was accuracy and attention to detail, which is why he was in demand when rules needed to be written or meetings needed to be minuted. He held many roles of this nature over the years. As a schoolmaster he was naturally very much involved with junior chess, and, apart from organising many teams in competitions in Kent, was also the Chief Conductor of the National Schools Chess Championship from 2001 to 2015.

For many chess players in the South of England he will be best remembered as the SCCU (Southern Counties Chess Union) bulletin editor from 1978 until its demise in 2011, and its webmaster from its instigation in 1998 until his death. The SCCU website was, and still is, something extraordinary, and a fitting tribute to Richard’s memory. It’s totally unlike any other website I’ve seen. No graphics, no gimmicks, just an index of anything you might need on the front page. Perfect: very easy to find whatever you’re looking for. His waspish sense of humour was also present throughout the site. Most of us would have turned to the “What’s New” page for the latest results of county matches, but we’d also read, with many chuckles along the way, his informative reports of SCCU and ECF meetings. After that, we’d turned to the wonderful “Ragbag” page: a cornucopia of absurdities from the world of SCCU chess, many of which came from rookies (or castlies) in low level kiddie events. A few examples:

“Do the clocks go clockwise?”
An 8 year old in a recent junior congress

From a recent Megafinal:
Junior: “I lost in three moves by Scholar’s Mate.”
Controller: “Scholar’s Mate is four moves.”
Junior: “Oh. It was three moves. Does that mean I won?”

From an EPSCA event:
“He beat me with an undiscovered check.”

From an U9 event 26.2.11:
Junior (who has bare king): “Tell him it’s a draw. He’s only got a king and queen left.”
Adult: “Well, no, that isn’t a forced draw.”
Junior’s opponent: “Yes, it is.” (Accepts draw)

It’s also worth a look at the Archives, which will inform you that, apart from being Bulletin Editor and Webmaster, Richard was SCCU secretary, and also Minute Secretary, from 1997 to his retirement on health grounds in 2015, and also Minute Secretary from 1979 to 1982. All this was on top of his work more locally in Kent, and in Tunbridge Wells Chess Club.

I’ve always believed that organisers and administrators are just as important as players. Many of us get involved in a small way, perhaps captaining a team in the local league, but there have always been a small number of people who who seem to spend much of their lives involved with chess administration at all levels. Most of them are, like Richard, highly competent, dedicated and reliable individuals, and it is they who are the backbone of chess in this country. If any vacancy arises for any job they will be the first to volunteer, with no expectation of either reward or fame. If you want something done, ask a busy person. Sadly, there are not many of them left now. It’s very easy to sneer, as many of us used to do when we were younger: perhaps they’re not the strongest players in the world, perhaps they just enjoy attending committee meetings and hearing the sound of their own voice, but without them the rest of us wouldn’t be able to play competitive chess.

I have the 1995 BCF Yearbook in front of me, which reports on Richard’s BCF President’s Award. “One thing which sets Richard apart from the rest of us is his penchant for getting this right.” From the context, this is clearly a typo for “getting things right”: I’m sure he appreciated the irony. That was Richard, a loyal and dedicated servant to the game of chess who prided himself on conscientiousness, efficiency and attention to detail, and would come down on those who didn’t meet his high standards with mordant humour.

Many of his colleagues who knew him personally have posted heartfelt tributes on the English Chess Forum:

“Richard was a great administrator who facilitated so much chess playing, particularly in the SCCU, schools and as an efficient grading administrator.” (Neill Cooper)

“English chess is much the poorer with his passing.” (John Swain)

“A very genuine and hard working man with no agenda other than to do what he could for other chess players.” (Michael Flatt)

Finally, from SCCU President Julie Denning:
“… a gentle soul, absolutely dedicated to the interests of chess. Richard, rest in peace. We will be missing you for many years to come.”

Richard James

Fast Forward Focus

I’ve always had trouble focusing my mind quickly because my thoughts tend to be akin to a pinball wildly bouncing around a full tilt gaming machine. This can be troublesome when trying to sit down and play a game of chess! For the last three years, I’ve been studying the game of blackjack from a mathematical standpoint. In my studies, I’ve also learned the art of card counting which any good blackjack player will tell you, drastically improves your chances of doing well against the casino (reducing the odds). I should note that this article is not in any way an endorsement for either card counting or gambling. To be able to card count at a blackjack table takes years of practice and is only a small part of mastering the game, mathematics being the lion’s share of the work. However, I will say that taking a single, well shuffled deck of cards and counting it (using the basic Hi-Low system) is an excellent way to focus your ability to quickly concentrate. Again, don’t think that simply doing this is going to make you a high roller at the casinos (they frown upon card counters and you don’t want to visit the casino’s pit boss in his dark, smokey and frightening back office)!

When you watch a Hollywood film about blackjack card sharks, you tend to see either one or two character types. You have your rain man type, savants who can’t string two words together but seem to be able to instantly count the exact number of tooth picks that fall out of a container and onto the floor. The next character is the guy who walks up to the blackjack table and a though bubble appears over his head filled with calculus equations. From these two highly exaggerated examples, people think you have to be a gifted idiot or rocket scientist to pull off card counting. The good news? If you know how to add, subtract, divide and multiply, you have the prerequisite skills required. Learning card counting is easy but mastering it extremely difficult (especially when faced with a six decks, 312 cards, a standard in Las Vegas). Doesn’t this sound like a familiar game we all love? However, to do this concentration exercise you just need to learn the basics.

Because you have to concentrate heavily while doing the counting, it focuses your mind, narrowing the thought process down and in doing so, helps to point your thinking in a single direction rather than a scattered one. I now count a single deck of cards before sitting down to play chess (whenever possible) because it gets rid of the scattered thoughts that damage my ability to singularly concentrate on one thing. Here’s how it works:

A deck of card has four suits, diamonds, hearts, clubs and spades. These are completely ignored in the count. It’s all about the card numbers! There are thirteen numerically valued cards within each suit, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King and Ace. You might be thinking, with thirteen different types of cards, how am I supposed to keep track of them all? The good news is that we’re going to divide all of those cards into one of three numeric values: +1, -1 and 0 or the neutral card.

Any card with a value of 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 is assigned a value of +1. This means they’re worth one point. The 7, 8 and 9 have a value of zero. The Jack, Queen, King and Ace are worth -1. This means they’re subtracted from the positive numbers. Let me clarify this with an example:

After shuffling the deck, you flip over the first card and it’s a 2. This means it’s worth 1 point. The next card up is a 5 which is worth another point. You now have two points (1+1=2). The next card up is a 4, so you now have a total of 3 points (1+1+1=3). The fourth card dealt from the deck is a Jack. This card is valued as -1, which means you subtract 1 point from your total (1+1+1-1=2), leaving a total value of two. The next card up is a 8 which has a value of zero so you don’t worry about it (1+1+1-1+0=2). You go through the deck, mentally adding and subtracting as you go along. You’ll get it wrong at first but don’t worry because the idea here is to focus your thought process on this single procedure, clearing all those random thoughts out of your mind as you count. If you really need to see if you’re counting correctly, go through the deck of cards first and write down the value for each card and the final total, carefully keeping them in the order they were shuffled in, and then go back and do it in your head. Compare the two answers.

Again, this is not an advertisement for improving your blackjack techniques or an invitation to take up gambling. Trust me when I say, the house or casino always wins in the end. Most people are NOT suited for gambling, period! However, if you’re looking for a quick way to sharpen your focus, give this a try. Of course, I feel like a bit of a dullard since I didn’t think to try this as a chess tool when I first learned how to do it! It only became a training tool because I was waiting for an opponent who was running late and just happen to have a deck of cards in my car. You know, I think this counting business really works because this is the shortest, most “to the point” article I’ve written to date! Here’s a game to enjoy until next week and remember, chess is not a game of chance so you shouldn’t be taking any!

Hugh Patterson

Strong Character for Strong Chess

The human element, the human flaw and the human nobility – those are the reasons that chess matches are won or lost. 
-Viktor Korchnoi

Chess is a game of the mind. Not just because it is game of logic, memory, and analysis, but also because chess tests your very character. Chess is played with 32 pieces and pawns on a board with 64 squares, but it is also played in our heart and soul. To me, this is what is beautiful about chess – that it is an expression both of our intellect and reasoning, but also of our creativity, desire, and determination.

In this article, I want to discuss four character traits that I believe are essential to becoming a really good chess player. In addition, I offer suggestions on how you can enhance and develop these.


The first quality that you need to cultivate as an aspiring chess player is desire. You need to want to improve. One of my favorite motivational speakers Eric Thomas says, “You need to want to succeed more than you want to breath.” Maybe that’s a little extreme for the average amateur chess player, but you need to want to improve enough so that you will do some chess study rather than say watching some television or a video game.

A good question to ask yourself is why you want to get better at chess. If your answer is something external like winning prize money or impressing your friends, then it is unlikely that you will sustain the necessary dedication to succeed.

However, if your desire to become better at chess is derived from an internal motivation such as trying to improve your mental capabilities or a deep appreciation for the logic and aesthetics of the game, then that combined with some of the other character traits I will mention may help drive you up the chess ladder.

To improve or stimulate this quality within yourself, I suggest you write down the reasons that you want to get better at chess on a piece of paper or index card. You can make it a short essay or perhaps a few bullet points. It can also be a simple sentence.

After you’ve done this, review it regularly. Doing this will do one of two things. It will either increase this desire for improvement within you…or you’ll realize you don’t really want to improve that much at chess and you’ll cease this exercise.

Your desire to improve will drive you to make positive decisions about your chess.

However, desire alone isn’t enough.


Perseverance means sticking with something despite delays and difficulties in reaching it. This quality is especially important for chess players as becoming really good at chess takes a long time (for most people). Even if you are particularly talented and pick chess up very quickly, it might still take you at least five years to become a master.

I started “trying” to become really good at chess about 20 years ago. During that time, I’ve gotten married, had three children, a couple career changes, as well as the other struggles that life brings. A couple times, I’ve stopped playing chess altogether for several years at a stretch.

However the call of Caissa is a sweet one and once you’ve heard it, it is hard to turn your back on her forever. I’ve returned to playing chess and my desire is back stronger than ever, so now I have to back it up with perseverance.

How can I do this? I think it is important to examine your beliefs because what you believe will affect your attitude and your willpower to persevere. Consider the following questions:

  • Do you believe you have the potential to get better or do you think you’ve reached the highest point of your chess ability?
  • Is mastering chess is a matter of talent alone or the result of a long process of improvement?
  • Does your age factor into your ability to improve? Is getting really good at chess for young people only? Can you guess that I’ve been mulling this over lately?

Your beliefs about yourself and about the reality that mastery takes time is key to your persevering through the struggles of life as well as struggles at the chessboard.

Finally I suggest that you simply refuse to give up. Although life may happen and you may need to take a break from the game, remember that you can always come back. You only fail if you don’t come back.


While perseverance is about sticking with it for the long haul, consistency is about the regularity and frequency of your training.

Each time I came back from a layoff from chess, it took a little while to get back to where I left off. I had to brush up on my openings as well as sharpen my tactical skills. This could have been avoided if I had stayed consistent.

Developing consistency is essentially making chess training a habit. As I write in my article Developing Good Habits for Life and Chessthere are a few steps to create a new habit:

  • Identify the habit you are trying to develop.
  • Break down the habit into smaller parts or behaviors.
  • Progress slowly and gradually increase the frequency, intensity, or volume of the habit.
  • Keep it easy – e.g. increase the habit gradually enough that your perceived effort is similar to before.

Developing consistency is also understanding that shorter training sessions done over several days is more effective in general than one long training session every once in a while. A problem I in my early days was trying to keep up a schedule when I trained or studied for 4-5 hours per day. Other parts of my life suffered as my daily activities were out of balance.

Now, I do an hour or two a day and on the busy days, I get in 20-30 minutes of tactics or studying a mastery game. I realize that eating an apple a day is much more effective for keeping the doctor away than trying to eat seven apples in one day!


The final ingredient that I will discuss today is resilience. Resilience is bouncing back from set-backs. Similar to perseverance and aided by desire and consistency, resilience brings you back to the chessboard after a disappointing performance or frustration with your progress.

Like the other traits I mentioned, I believe that this can be improved. Here are a few steps you can take:

  • Keep a positive view of your chess abilities. Like I mention in my article on game analysis, it is important to note not only your mistakes but the good moves you made. Review these whenever you feel frustrated with your progress.
  • Keep things in perspective. Remember that a loss is but one game of hundreds or thousands that you will play in your lifetime. Use a loss or set-back as fuel for your training.
  • Stay in contact with your chess friends or perhaps your coach when you are feeling down about your play. They will help you keep things in perspective and a coach can help you find any systematic or regular mistakes you may be making.
  • Embrace mistakes and losses as a chance to learn and grow. As Capablanca said, he learned a lot more from his losses than he did from his wins.

One great example of resilience was Kasparov’s comeback after going down 4-0 in his 1984 World Championship match where he challenged the champion at the time Anatoly Karpov.  Despite a crushing deficit in which Karpov only needed to win two more games, Kasparov held on, playing to sixteen straight draws before losing again! Kasparov finally won his first game of the match in game 32. He also won games 47 and 48, bringing the match to 5-3. Unfortunately, the match was controversially stopped due to various reasons. I believe Kasparov would have eventually won, and in the return match he edged out his rival to become the World Champion.

Here’s the score of the 32nd game – Kasparov’s first victory in the 1984 match.


Today’s article was about character traits. Some people believe that you either have these or you don’t. After studying the topic and observing others, I tend to believe that although you may gifted with an abundance of one or more of these traits, that you can develop them.

The beautiful thing is that once you develop these traits with regard to your chess improvement, you can apply them to other parts of your life (and vice versa). Understanding the power of desire, you an foster these in your work and family life. Similarly, developing consistency as a habit need not be limited to your work on your chess. Finally, life is full of set-backs. The greatest stories are those of people overcoming their set-backs in life through resiliance and perseverance.

In a way, chess becomes a training ground for life, and our life experiences can contribute to our chess success as well. Combine this with some tactical skill and strategic acumen (and perhaps a solid opening repertoire) and you’re well on your way to success in chess and life!

Bryan Castro

Collecting Lint

Amalgamated Lint–up 3 points! – Gomez Addams

My game certainly has collected lint lately.

Every Gruenfeld player with Black likes nothing better than White to play e3 … Be2 without moving the queen bishop out to f4 nor otherwise offering challenge Black’s quick rush to the center. Yet in recent weeks I lost two .. two .. games with Black in that, the easiest of lines.

First it was a three week’s pneumonia, but the second game has no such excuse. Chess just stopped for me for a week. My psyche refused to step through the looking glass into Chess’s 1.x-fractal-dimensional world. Perhaps I was sated artistically with tremendous progress in a software system I am currently designing and coding. Perhaps I was merely bored.

In any case, I managed this week, with great difficulty, to eke out a win against a player 400 points below me. I wouldn’t mention it except for the worst move of the game, which is quite instructive. It’s not in the notation, it’s in the comments: 22. Ra2 { draw offered }.

After a mediocre opening which left Black on the kinfe edge of disaster, White could have tried to set up a battery on the a-file and pawnroller on the queen side, but White was looking for a draw. After a few feeble attempts at strategy, and seeing that Black had nothing, White duly offered said draw.

That was a Mistake. Of course, I did not want a draw. Indeed I sensed the hated draw looming. But to offer the draw after some half-hearted wood-shifting gave away White’s secret: he didn’t understand the position nor did he have a plan. That was all Black needed to formulate a plan in a sterile position: to wit, the certainty that White would aimlessly trade if given the chance. After 27. Bxc4, Black’s bishop became dangerous and fortunately White did not grasp how dangerous, allowing a subsequent win of the exchange and the game.

Jacques Delaguerre