Category Archives: Articles

Levers: Instructive Positional Errors

This was a game in our Summer Tournament. I was White against a Leningrad Dutch. I misplayed the opening and didn’t give myself a clear pawn lever plan to play for. Nigel’s comments on the possible lever play later are worth studying.

Once I had got my bishop to f3 I was back on with a possible future e4 lever. However, my recapture with the knight rather than the queen on move 14 is an instructive error. If I had taken with the queen I would have kept the possibility of playing e4 alive. Taking with the knight showed that I wasn’t aware of the key plan.

My move 34 was poor. If I had swapped my knight for his bishop it would as Nigel pointed out have been a simple winning pawn endgame. I think I was still thinking of the way my knight had dominated his bishop and wasn’t alive to the favourable transition.

Dan Staples

Pattern Backfires: The Remedy

This article is aimed at beginners only. Building a pattern bank is a very important step towards your chess improvement because we play what we know. But sometimes these patterns backfire too. Here is an example:

Position is taken from a game played on chess.com

Black sees a typical opportunity to win a pawn & unpin his knight by playing 1…Bxf2+ followed by 2…Ng4+, winning back his sacrificed piece with 3…Qxg5. This pattern is very common in the opening stage but one has to be careful in the execuation. Here Bxf2 is a blunder because Black had only seen the typical tactical pattern; if he had tried to calculate or see just half move further, he would have rejected the move based on White’s Qa4+!.

1…Bxf2?
2. Kxf2 Ng4+
3. Kg3! Qxg5
4. Qa4+!

This collects the knight on g4 and Black is lost.

Here is another example:
Bjarte Leer-Salvesen vs Jimmy Mardell, Rilton Cup – 2007


White has threatened the b7 pawn, which is usually known as a poisoned pawn. You might have seen many chess traps where taking such a poisoned pawn resulted in the queen being trapped or some similar disaster, so Black played Nc6 with an idea of Rb8 to trap the queen. Unfortunately for him he has missed something, what is it that he has not seen?

1… Nc6
2. Qxb7! Rb8??

Black can still try Nd4! but I guess he did not recheck before playing Rb8. This often happens with beginners.

3. Qxc6!!

This forces resignation.

As with the previous example the solution was to look a little bit further rather than trust the pattern blindly. Chess is not just pattern recognition, it also needs accurate calculation.

Ashvin Chauhan

More Tactical Sharpness

Here’s some more tactical sharpness, this time by the Chinese lady star, Hou Yifan. I don’t think Anatoly Karpov appreciated the strength of 18.b5! until it was too late and White soon emerged with an extra piece. I now know why my Dad wants me to practice tactics every day, you need to be on your guard against such ideas all the time:

Sam Davies

The Wrong Rook’s Pawn

Every Russian schoolboy (and girl) knows that if you have just a king, and your opponent has a rooks pawn along with a bishop which doesn’t control the promotion square, you can draw if your king can reach the corner.

Let’s look, for example, at this position from a game in the 1991 Richmond Junior Championship.

Black was winning easily but erroneously queened a pawn on a1, which White captured with his knight. Black’s bishop took back, and White played his king from e2 to f2, reaching this position. You’ll see that he could have drawn most simply by playing g4, moving his king to h1 and waiting for his opponent to shake hands. But no matter: this position is still drawn.

Let’s play on a few moves.

1.. Kg4
2. Kg1

This move or g3 will draw: other moves lose.

2.. Kg3
3. Kh1 Kf2
4. Kh2

Now the white king is safely in the corner everything draws.

4.. Be5+
5. Kh3

If you don’t know this ending it might look natural to head towards the pawn, but this move loses. Instead Kh1 and g3 are both easy draws.

Now it’s up to Black to find the winning plan. At this point there are seven winning moves to choose from: five safe bishop moves along the h2-b8 diagonal, Kg1 and h6. His choice, as you’ll see, isn’t the quickest, but it’s good enough.

5.. Bg3
6. Kg4

It’s crunch time. Black now has only one winning move. Did he find it? Can you find it?

The only winning move is 6.. h6. The plan is to defend this pawn with the bishop and then force White’s king away.

A sample variation: 6.. h6 7. Kh5 Bf4 8. Kg4 Be3 9. Kh3 Kg1 10. Kg3 Bd2 11. Kh3 Be1 12. g3 Bd2 13. Kg4 Kg2 14. Kh4 Bc1 15. g4 Bg5+ 16. Kh5 Kg3 17. Kg6 Kxg4

He didn’t find this plan, though. Instead the game continued:

6.. Be5

Now White has one drawing idea: 7. Kg5 Bg7 8. g4. Without this pawn Black would be winning, but now he has no way of making progress.

7. Kh3

Now Black’s winning again. He has the same seven moves as two moves ago, and this time finds the quickest win.

7.. h6
8. g4

Black again has seven winning moves – bishop moves on the h2-b8 diagonal, Kf1 and Kg1. Bg3 is the neatest and quickest move, forcing White to play g5 and covert the h-pawn into a g-pawn, mating in 14 moves. Bf4, to defend h6, takes one move longer.

Alas, he chooses something else:

8.. Bf6
9. Kh2 Kf2
10. Kh3

There’s still nothing wrong with hiding in the corner: Kh1 is once again an easy draw, but this should stll give White a half point.

10.. Be5

Now the white king can’t return to the corner. There are two legal moves: a 50-50 shot. White still doesn’t really want to force the black pawn onto the g-file, does he? Perhaps he should try the king move instead. What do you think?

11. Kh4

The wrong decision: after 11. g5 hxg5 it’s an unexpected stalemate! If Black plays anything else the draw is also clear.

Now Black made no mistake. The game continued 11.. Bf4 12. Kh3 Kf2 13. Kh4 Kg2 14. Kh5 Kh3 15. Kg6 Kxg4 and White resigned.

If you like the sort of endgame questions like those I posed here, you’ll find a lot more, all based on games from the RJCC database, in CHESS ENDINGS FOR HEROES. The first draft of both this and CHESS OPENINGS FOR HEROES will be completed this summer.

Richard James

I’ll Play Chess Anywhere

I’m going to tell you a cautionary tale regarding the appropriate time and place to play chess, rather than offer any practical advice on improving your skills. Think of this as a life skill lesson regarding what not to do. While most people work chess into their often busy lives, I schedule my life around teaching and studying chess. It’s the nature of the obsessive, compulsive type. I have very mild OCD or obsessive compulsive disorder and have used it to my advantage when it comes to studying various subjects, such as chess. However, it’s been brought to my attention that I sometimes take my love of the game a bit too far. I play chess everywhere even if it’s not appropriate. Case in point.

A number of years back, a man I knew from the music scene had died and I decided to go to the service because I heard food would be served afterwards. Everyone at the service had tears and kind words for this fellow. Truth be told, he was a self serving insufferable jerk who I didn’t like. I was sitting in the back with a few friends. Our eyes were glazed over from the tedious lies being spewed from the pulpit regarding the love and kindness of the dearly departed. I had a travel sized chess set in my bag. I motioned to the guy next to me, seeing if he wanted a quick game to which he gave me a thumbs up. I know you’re probably thinking this is in bad taste, which it would be if I actually cared about the guy in the casket. I set up the board and we started to play, occasionally nodding our head to let whoever was speaking know that we cared. Things went well until my opponent, who was rather drunk, accidentally knocked his Queen off the board. I was starting to bend down to find it under our pew when my drunken friend screamed “where did that god damn Queen go.” When one of the ushers came to shut him up, he started a fight and everyone in our pew got thrown out. I refused to leave until I found the Queen. Make a note, don’t play chess at funerals. I still do but have smartened up, playing on my tablet which won’t say a word because I keep the volume down.

I’ve played chess at weddings as well. Trust me, it’s a great way to un-waste the four or five hours of your lifespan you have to commit to such celebrations. When I got married we got the entire event finished in three hours. Our guests thanked us for this months later. I once was at a wedding and the speeches were getting a bit ridiculous. I’m all for pontificating about how you grew up with the groom and what a fine man he was, etc, etc. However, the groom at this wedding was a womanizer and his bride found out about it thirty minutes before saying “I do.” While playing a few games, again, on the back pew in a church, the parents of both the bride and groom had a verbal argument over the groom’s terminal case of wander lust. Fortunately, we didn’t kicked out but the groom sure did. Was there any fallout from playing chess during a wedding? Absolutely! The bride’s sister said to me to me, years later, that I was a self indulgent psychopath because I played chess during what was supposed to be the happiest day of her sister’s life. I suggested she might want to vent her anger at the groom. After all, I wasn’t the one cheating on her sister.

I also play chess when I either play music live or go see others play music live. This is the one place where no body seems to mind you playing. I do it before my own gigs because it helps me both relax and focus my mind. The only time it became a problem was during a barroom fight in which a body was thrown across our table and the position ruined. For a brief moment, I thought about hitting the guy whose body ruined my winning game. However, looking at him crumpled on the floor, I realized that he’d already been punished. Besides, I’m a Buddhist and we’re not allowed to participate in barroom fights (it’s in the small print of the Staying Out of Trouble section of Buddhism for Dilettantes).

Playing chess on a tablet or your phone is great during family reunions. Rather than spending time listening to family members recalling precious moments that never actually happened, you can improve your game. Rather than remind your ninety eight year old mother that you didn’t fall off the boat while traveling down the Amazon because you were never there, you can improve your game. However, you have to train your family to put up with it. My family, because I earn a living teach chess, decided that they’d put up with my playing chess at the dinner table because they think I’m working. Actually, I’m avoiding being dragged into conversations that make me want to jump off the roof. Play freely, play anywhere, enjoy the game and disregard those who don’t Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

C-file control – Collateral Complications

I think I played this game okay – 6/10 perhaps. I misplayed the opening somewhat and won with a nice tactic. As ever, Strategically wanting but I live and learn!(?).

I got myself in trouble with 23…Qc7. Nigel said 21..f4 and again 23…f4 would have been the way he would have played it. I did consider the f4 idea but as I couldn’t see a “concrete” advantage I rejected it. A good illustration of how a Grandmaster sees things differently to me.

12…Nb8 is interesting – Nigel is a big fan of backwards Knight moves.

19…fxe4 would also have been an improvement.

Nigel concluded by saying “Messy game, but in a way this was an example of ‘collateral complications’ helping Black control the c-file.”

Dan Staples

Deep vs Superficial Knowledge

Storchenegger – Clemance, Auckland 1978:


Q: White’s last move was 13. Nd5. What is wrong with it?

This position is an excellent example of merely information vs. deep knowledge. We all know that centralising a piece can be a really good decision, especially when it is a knight. But here this allows Bxd5 that gives away the bishops pair but creates a symmetrical pawn structure where control over the only open file often decides the game. The New Zealand correspondence champion made no mistake and occupied the c-file by tactical means and won quite convincingly. This is also an excellent example of tactics at the service of strategy.

Here is the rest of the game.

Ashvin Chauhan

Tactical Sharpness

I was impressed by White’s tactical sharpness in the following game. He took the initiative with the unexpected 13.Nh4! and then followed up with the hammer blow, 16.Bxh6!. The game ended with another neat sequence with 23.Bxf7! and 24.Bf8!.

Sam Davies

The Frightful Revisited

Chapter 3 of The (Even More) Complete Chess Addict is entitled ‘The Frightful’. The worst players of all time. The worst tournament performances of all time. The worst games of all time. The worst moves of all time. The worst games and moves of the best players.

Over the past few days I’ve encountered two games which would certainly qualify for the next edition, should I decide to write it at some point.

As I write, the Altibox Tournament is taking place in Norway. This position arose in the pre-tournament Blitz. World Champion Magnus Carlsen was White against Lev Aronian.

In this position Aronian had just played 51.. g4. Carlsen had to decide which way to capture. With only a few seconds left on the clock, he chose to take with the h-pawn, and you don’t need me to tell you what happened next. The correct capture would have ensured the draw.

Now we turn the clock back more than a century, to 19 November 1915, and a simultaneous display given by the great Capablanca, a player renowned for his accuracy, at the Franklin Chess Club, Philadelphia. One of his games, against William H Snowden Jnr, reached this position, with Capa having to decide how to get out of check.

The game continued 47. Kh4 Nxe4 48. h6 and White eventually won. I’m sure you will have no problem finding improvements for both players in this sequence.

My source for this game was Edward Winter’s Chess Notes, essential reading for anyone with any interest in the byways of chess history.

If, as I’m sure you did, you managed to find the correct answers to these two positions, feel free to tell your friends that you can play chess better than Carlsen and Capablanca. Yes, we’re talking about a simul and a blitz game, but, even so, you’d expect any strong player to find the right move in a nanosecond or two.

It’s reassuring for those of us with no pretensions to being good at chess to know that even the best players in the world can make really stupid moves from time to time.

Richard James

Training Exercises

Once you’ve learned the rules of the game, you can immediately start playing against human opponents. However, the results are going to be negative at first if you’re playing a more experienced player. Even playing a slightly more advanced beginner might be a losing proposition. What’s the beginner to do? Play a specific training game that will teach the beginner how to move all the pawns and pieces in a coordinated manner. Isn’t that simply playing regular chess? No. The training game I’m writing about uses only pawns, at first, introducing a new piece into the mix when a pawn reaches it’s promotion square and promotes. The name of the game is pawn wars.

GM Susan Polgar stated that her father had her playing pawn wars extensively after she learned the rules of the game and look where she ended up! I use pawn wars to train my beginning students just after they’ve learned the rules but before they start playing normal games of chess. When I first starting teaching, I felt that pawn wars wasn’t a good substitute for simply playing actual chess. However, I took a second look at it and realized that this simple pawn game prepares beginners for more advanced concepts such as pawn and piece coordination and pawn structure. The benefits won out and I started extensively using it in my curriculum.

To play pawn wars, you set up only the pawns on their starting squares, the White pawns being set up along the second rank and the Black pawns along the seventh rank. Players take turns as both Black and White. The key to winning is getting a pawn to it’s promotion square, promoting that pawn and using the piece the pawn promoted into to capture your opponent’s pawns. The beautiful thing about this game is that it forces players to intuitively develop good pawn structure and avoid weak pawns. You can introduce the passed, isolated and backwards pawn to students immediately via this game. It also helps students practice moving the pieces legally as well as teaching them to think ahead.

As for what each player should promote their pawns into? Many teachers allow their students to promote their pawns into only Queens. The problem with this is that students will often favor the Queen, thinking it the only piece that’s good for attacking and capturing. This can lead to them bringing their Queen out early in regular games which leads to disaster. I have my students go through the other pieces first before promoting a pawn into a Queen, starting with the Knight, then Bishop, Rook, King and lastly, the Queen.

Most beginners have trouble with the Knight, which is why that’s the first piece allowed into the game. By starting with the Knight, beginners get a better feel for it’s movement and feel more confident with it when they sit down and play normal games of chess. They get a better feel for it’s “L” shaped movement because they’re forced to practice with it. Many beginners tend to favor one piece because it’s easier to move than the others. This version of pawn wars forces them to become adept at moving all the pieces. It also allows them to start seeing positions tactically. They naturally discover that when placed on certain squares, the Knight can attack two or more pawns at once. When they eventually learn about forks, the concept will seem less foreign to them because they’ve already learned it.

Next comes the Bishop. The Bishop, being a long distance piece, can attack from a great distance. However, it needs mobility which is learned through this pawn game.
The idea of good and bad Bishops can be introduced as well. I teach my students to destroy a pawn chain, which beginners seem to figure out without knowing what it’s called, by attacking the chain’s base. A lot of the learning when playing pawn wars is intuitive and lays a solid foundation for more advanced techniques. It’s important to let students figure things out on their own when playing this game. We learn from our mistakes!

The Rook comes next. The great thing about Rooks versus pawns is that the player with only pawns will learn how to use pawns to protect one another. The player with the Rook will learn how to spot weak pawns and take advantage of them. Again, I let my students discover more advanced concepts intuitively, only teaching them about those concepts after they’ve discovered them.

Then there’s the King. I introduce the King into the game before the Queen because the King can be checked. This means that the player with the King learns how to move it through hostile territory safely. Students intuitively discover the King’s value as an attacker and defender. Using the King prepares students for endgame pawn and King play.

Lastly, I have them promote a pawn into a Queen. However, I remind them that the Queen shouldn’t be introduced early in a normal game. While my students get a taste of the Queen’s intoxicating power, they’re using it in a position that’s closer to an endgame. While many find it easy to win the pawn war with the Queen, a few end up losing their Queen which plants a good principled seed into their brain; be very very careful with your Queen!

Each student will play a cycle of ten games, five games as White and five as Black. Each pair of games sees either player promoting a pawn into one of the five pieces in the following order: Knight, Bishop, Rook, King and lastly, Queen. If you want to hone you basic skills prior to playing a normal game of chess, this is a great way to do it. You’ll learn about advanced concepts early on and understand them much better when you study them in depth. Here’s a short game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson