Category Archives: Articles

The Last Shall Be First

The grammar school students in the various schools and school systems I visit weekly stem from backgrounds ranging from generational poverty to conspicuously affluent families. A few have participated in some form of organized competition. There are two or perhaps three notably talented youngsters among all those I teach this year, but none have had much formal chess education.

I limit my discourses on the opening to three domains:

  1. Early traps such as Fool’s and Scholar’s Mate
  2. The problem set by 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 and Black’s second move possibilities, with some subsequent analysis
  3. The problem set by 1. d4 d5 and White’s second move possibilities, with some subsequent analysis

I learned to stop at limits 2 and 3 when I found my students discovering on their own the London System and Cochrane’s 4. Ne5xf7 in the Russian Defense.

But generally, when the children are willing sit quietly and listen to a brief lecture with Q&A before breaking out the boards and sets for chessplay, I prefer to teach my afterschool enrichment students about the endgame. This has two benefits, one obvious and one more subtle. The obvious benefit is that the ending allows the student to become familiar with the intrinsic powers of the individual pieces on the open board in a fashion that is denied by the more crowded board of the opening and midgame.

The more subtle benefit is learning the concept of conversion. To wit, the task in chess is repeated conversion of the position one finds to a position more familiar and more desirable. As it is considered provable in game theory that no comprehensive algorithm exists for choosing the right move in any chess position short of calculation to all possible terminal positions, conversion is worthy of being considered a fundamental principle of chess.

Students become familiar, and occasionally fluent, in conversion after the simple lesson of 1st, 2nd and 3rd position:

  1. Kd6 Pd5 kd8
  2. Kd5 Pd4 kd7
  3. Kd5 Pd3 kd7

After demonstrating that (1) is a win with either player to move, and that (2) is mutual zugzwang revolving around the struggle to convert (2) to (1), the brightest student in the class always gets that the trick in (3) is to convert to (2) with Black to move.

Chess is solved back-to-front. If we could but see it, the entire game is a corresponding squares problem.

The game which follows is one of my more feeble recent efforts. On the heels of a tournament in which I defeated two experts and drew a third, gaining 82 rating points, this month’s first round saw me paired as White against an unrated. Preoccupied with the affairs of the day, I turned in a classic (for me) performance of being utterly artistically absent while maintaining a modicum of technical skill. I managed to draw a terrible position by conversion to a classic king-and-pawn ending.

I blogged May 2, 2015 on general thoughts about teaching chess for children.

Jacques Delaguerre


What is the Best Way to Choose a World Chess Champion?

The recently closed World Cup in Baku provides us with an opportune moment to reflect on chess. Congratulations are in order to Sergey Karjakin who fought tooth and nail to win against fellow Russian Peter Svidler in the finals.  What is the best way to choose a World Chess Champion?  Is the old format where there were Interzonal tournaments and then Candidate matches to determine the strongest candidate who would then play the reigning World Champion in a Classical Match say over 16 games or so. Or perhaps we should have a format where everyone has an equal chance of winning the World Championship, get all the qualifying players together and let them battle it out over a marathon knockout competition as was the case in Baku.  There has been considerable debate about this over the years with pros and cons for the various options. In this short piece I will focus on the World Cup.

There were many upsets in the World Cup.  The top seeds did not make it and one would wonder why. I think the format of the matches, 2 classical games and tie break games, means there is no time for someone to recover if they have a bad day. After winning a game, a player just has to try and find a draw in the other classical game.  In the tie break Armagheddon games, black has to draw with black to win while white needs an outright victory to win the game. Ultimately it boils down to nerves and those with weak nerves no matter how strong they may be, will not last long in the World Cup format as played in Baku.

Interestingly Magnus Carlsen has spoken out in favour of the World Cup format at Baku. Why would Carlsen do that? One thing about Carlsen is that he is willing to take risks not just as a player but as a champion.  A knockout format to determine the World Champion would disadvantage him more than anyone else. Even though Carlsen may be the reigning World Champion in all 3 formats of the game (Classical, Rapid, Blitz) there is no telling what can happen in knockout tournament, especially giving his style of play.

One thing for sure is that the recently concluded World Cup left a bitter taste in my mouth. I don’t think this is the way to decide one of the important places for the Candidates Tournament. The World Cup was incredibly long and a good number of games, despite providing a good deal of drama were littered with errors. It would be reasonable to conclude that exhaustion had set in as some of the mistakes from such top players would generally be unacceptable.

Can the World Cup be held in a different format? It seems there are too many rapid and blitz games while the number of classical games are too few. It was quite clear that some players were quite happy to draw their classical games being stronger in the rapid and formats. Does this sit well with the chess players and the spectators? As a spectator my top priority would be to see quality chess so that’s a vote for classical games.  However, to increase the number of classical games would prolong the tournament as more rest days would be needed.

I guess there was a balancing act to keep costs low and thus have the tournament as short as possible. There are also sponsors who are investing in the game and need exposure for their brand. What will be the best way to go about that while ensuring a high quality competition to determine the highly coveted World Chess Champion crown?  Whatever happens going forward it will be interesting to see if the World Chess governing body FIDE takes lessons from the Baku World Cup to improve things going forward.

Bruce Mubayiwa


Recognising the patterns : Challenge # 9

Today’s challenge: Find the typical pattern and react accordingly. Black to move.

David Bronstein against Paul Keres 1950

Q: What is white threatening? Find the best defend for Black.

Hint: All you need to do is, bring your queen into the defence.


The best move for Black is to play 29…Rfd8 as White can’t play 30. Qh6. We will discuss it deeply later on but let’s first check what was happened in the game.

30. axb3 Qb4

31. bxc4

Rf4 works too.


32. Rf4!

Not 32. Qh6 because Rg8 followed by 33…g5 defends. Mate can’t be avoided now.


If 32… Rg8, then Rh4 wins (Yusupov)

33. Qh6 Black resigned

The pawn on f6 and queen are threatening mate on g7 which is known as Lolli’s mate. When the defender tries to save mate (usually by placing Rg8) that opens the door for other beautiful combinations for attacker:
– Sacrifice on h7 followed by mate along h file
– Bringing knight on g5/e5 attack on h7 or f7 or both

So what is the general optimal way to save against Lolli’s mate?

It could be vary case to case but if you can bring queen into defence it saves because of
– You can exchange attacker’s main attacking piece Queen and still can defend f7-g7-h7

Now let’s check, how black was able to defend this game using above general observation.

Here is the improvement.


That brings the queen into the defence in time.
Not 29…Rfc8 because it allows Bd7 with tempo – 30. Bd7 Rfb8 31. Qh6 Rg8 32. Rf4 and now g5 won’t work because of 33. Bf5 and White wins.

Now If 30. Qh6 then Rg8 followed by g5 saves the game. Or if 30. Rf4 then Qd8 joins the defence.
And the game is on!

It is wise to learn how defend against the usual attacking pattern.

Ashvin Chauhan


Life After Chess For Garry Kasparov

As someone who hasn’t played many tournaments of late it’s always interesting to see what other former competitors are up to. Garry Kasparov has certainly kept himself busy defending humanitarian causes and giving numerous interviews about Russia, but the chess player is still there. Knowing that a certain young journalist would interview him Kasparov learned more about him and was ready. Old habits die hard.

This is one of the things about chess that has lasting value, at least when you do it properly. Competitive chess is a tough arena which teaches valuable survival skills. The same can not necessarily be said about other specialist disciplines.

Nigel Davies



Sometimes, zugzwang is the only way to win a game. When your opponent’s pieces are placed as well as they can possible by posted, then he has to move them to a worse position when he would prefer to leave them where they are.

In this week’s position, White has to arrange a zugzwang to win.

How can White win the position?

The solution to last Monday’s problem is that White wins with 1. Bd8 Bxd6 2. Be7

Steven Carr



Over the past two weeks I’ve considered the view that the whole structure of English chess is really not suitable for the 21st century.

Over the past decade or so various groups of modernisers have attempted to get their candidates elected to positions on the English Chess Federation board, but, while some of them have been successful it has always ended in tears.

It’s been clear for a couple of years now that another group, based loosely around the organisers of the highly success London Chess Classic and Chess in Schools and Communities, has been trying to get its nominees into positions of influence on the board. Their representatives are opposing the current holders of the positions of Directors of Home and International Chess in the forthcoming elections next month.

In principle I’m in favour of much of their agenda (and should add that some of them have been good friends of mine for many years), but the way they have gone about things has made them a lot of enemies, and it seems to me extremely unlikely that their candidates will be elected. Two of their number, already on the board, are standing unopposed, although I understand that unsuccessful attempts have been made to find candidates to oppose them. They may possibly be in danger of defeat, though, from None of the Above, such is their unpopularity in some quarters.

Take, for example, the English Chess Federation forum. The English Chess Forum has existed for some time now. Like all forums it attracts a number of eccentrics, illiterates, obsessives and single issue fanatics, but it also hosts a lively debate about many aspects of English chess. Of course, sometimes posters (and whole threads) are critical of the English Chess Federation, and so some of those on the ECF board, seeing this criticism as something that might deter, or might in the past have deterred, potential sponsors, advised their board members not to post there and instead set up their own lookalike English Chess Federation Forum. On one recent occasion it was alleged that the English Chess Forum was described as ‘toxic’.

But their own forum has not proved very popular with posters, most of whom have preferred to continue using the original. Moderators have sometimes been slow to remove pseudonymous posters (both forums understandably operate a ‘real names only’ policy). And recent discussions concerning disputes among members of the ECF board have been potentially more damaging and ‘toxic’ than anything on the English Chess Forum. The whole episode has made the ECF, in the eyes of many, look rather foolish. In my opinion it would have been much better to set up a blog to enable board members to communicate with the chess playing public while working closely with the original forum to encourage positive debate on a wider range of issues.

It also appears that those who are seen to stand in the way of ‘progress’ are destabilised. The excellent Lawrence Cooper left the post of International Director a couple of years ago, having, as far as I understand it, had enough of the constant arguments. Alex Holowczak, the young, energetic and hard working Director of Home Chess, has recently been targeted. Lawrence and Alex are two of the most popular people in English chess and, I would have thought, people you really want to keep on your side.

I guess it’s, in some ways, the same problem as we have with FIDE, and perhaps a similar problem to the one that would face Jeremy Corbyn in the unlikely event that he should become Prime Minister. If you don’t like the system do you try to tweak it from within or overthrow it? In attempting to overthrow the system they’ve alienated the very people whose support they need, and who would, in many cases, be generally in favour of modernisation.

There are two fundamental problems, it seems to me, with regard to modernising the ECF. Chess players in this country tend to be very conservative (with a small c), very resistant to change and reluctant to provide financial support for their national federation, whether through Game Fee or through membership, which might, for example, go towards supporting our national teams at all levels (open, women, seniors, juniors etc). They’re not going to vote for modernisation any more than turkeys are going to vote for Christmas.

The ECF is essentially an amateur organisation, and, as in any amateur organisation, you’ll have a mixture of excellent people who work hard for the love of the game and those who like attending boring meetings, hearing the sound of their own voice and generally feeling important. Most of the current ECF people come in the former category, but this hasn’t always been the case in the past. What you can’t do without upsetting a lot of people is impose professional standards on an amateur organisation.

Although I have a lot of sympathy with their agenda, the modernisers have succeeded in alienating many of the most popular and influential people in English chess over the past couple of years. But without a radical overhaul I fear for the future of chess in this country. A recent poster on my Facebook wall suggested that chess has no future either as a professional game or as a recreational hobby, but only as a learning tool for young children. I hope he’s wrong but this is the way things seem to be going. I guess, though, that the current set-up will last another 15-20 years and see me out.

Richard James


Another Chess Boom?

With the release of Pawn Sacrifice, the movie about Bobby Fischer and his journey to the 1972 World Championship match against Boris Spassky, people have asked me if the film will reignite the general public’s interest in chess. It’s the same question many people asked when Searching for Bobby Fischer was released decades ago. While Searching for Bobby Fischer, the story of Josh Waitzkin, did do some good sparking a general interest in chess, we’ll never capture the interest in chess that Fischer brought about in 1972. At the time, I was living in New York and as a twelve year old, saw the impact he had on the United States.

At that time, Americans had an unhealthy interest in the cold war. I say unhealthy because it was a war fought using print and television as its primary weapons and most people became obsessed with those “Communist Russians.” Obsession can be very unhealthy, especially when it’s driven by fear and fear was the watch word of the day. It was us against the Russians and the idea that a single man would go up against the Soviet chess machine proved irresistible to Americans. Who doesn’t like a fight in which the underdog wins?

As the match between Fischer and Spassky drew near, the nightly news reported on Fischer’s demands and speculated as to whether he’d even show up to play Spassky. Chess equipment sales went up overnight. Everyone, especially in New York, seemed to be discovering chess. When Fischer touched down in Iceland and the match began, bars who normally had sports showing on their television sets instead had the match on. Fischermania was sweeping the country. A chess boom was born. Chess clubs sprung up around the country and the future of chess burned like a bright star. However, with boom comes bust and the brightest stars burn out quickly. After Fischer won the championship in 1972, the boom started to fade away. Fischer disappeared into the realm of madness and chess paid the price.

Searching for Bobby Fischer, the story of a young chess prodigy, brought chess back into the limelight and got people interested in the game again. Parents, saw chess as a good thing for their children. However, it didn’t have anywhere near the impact Fischer’s 1972 battle with Spassky had. Rather than a boom there was a quiet pop! Which brings me to the potential impact of Pawn Sacrifice on chess.

The movie doesn’t paint a rosy picture of Bobby Fischer and nor should it. Sadly, he had serious mental health problems that people either didn’t recognize or swept under the rug because, after all, he was a ”chess genius.” When one is titled a genius they’re allowed to be eccentric because, after all, they’re genius! Fischer was an extremely complex individual, one who the mental health community could have a field day with. Back then, mental health was still in the dark ages from a clinical viewpoint. Case in point, Fischer complained during the early stages of the 1972 match that he could hear the motion picture cameras used to cover the event and this was disturbing him. Another outlandish demand by the boy genius? No, actually it’s a symptom of paranoid schizophrenia. Imagine playing for the world championship and have your mind start to fall apart?

Pawn Sacrifice will garner some interest in chess but with script lines comparing chess to falling down a rabbit hole (“this game, it’s a rabbit hole”), we may find a few people fleeing from the game. Let me be clear, chess does not cause mental illness but obsession can and it’s easy for an obsessive personality to fall victim to the obsessiveness that chess can sometimes demand. If you want to truly master something you have to put an abnormal amount of time into your studies.

So what would it take to create another chess boom like we saw in 1972? A set of circumstances whose odds wouldn’t be worth the bet! Now, I’ve gotten more emails than usual about chess lessons over the last week but that still doesn’t amount to a chess boom or even a chess bang. The tragic thing about the Fischer boom and its impact on chess is that those great gains in interest have been lost simply by the passing of time. There was no great follow up moment to sustain the momentum. Yet the idea of another chess boom looms in the minds of many players.

As a chess instructor, I spend time on forums chatting with other instructors in search of effective teaching ideas. I often see postings regarding the lack of or waning interest in chess. These posters will talk about an upcoming championship match and whether or not it will help spread the game. A percentage of those posing comments about increasing the interest in chess are involved in the game professionally, be they players who live off of tournament winnings, tournament organizers, chess clubs/federations and instructors. I understand their thinking. I earn my living teaching chess. While I earn a semi-comfortable living, I worry about the future of chess because if chess was suddenly taken out of the schools here I’d have to find another career (playing guitar in a punk rock band doesn’t pay the bills).

Since the idea of another major chess boom seems highly unlikely, chess professionals should try to raise interest in the game by literally taking it to the people rather than waiting for the people to discover it on their own. The world of chess could take a few lessons from the world of music.

Let’s say you start a really great band. No one is going to appreciate how good you are unless you get out in the world and play. So, you get your band booked at a club for your first show. You use social media to advertise that show. Your band plays the show to one hundred people. They love you and tell their friends. You book another show, advertise on social media sites and three hundred people show up to your next gig. This happens because the original one hundred people that saw your first show tell their friends, spreading the word. You keep doing it and hopefully get more and more people with each show. You sell your band to one person at a time!

When I say we need to bring chess to the people, I mean exactly that. I now do chess clinics and demonstrations at non chess events that range from punk rock clubs to library events. While the majority of the people I engage don’t go on to play chess regularly, a small percentage do and small percentages, when added together, create bigger numbers (of people interested in chess). I do many of these events free of charge, investing my time in hopes of helping the game’s future. The only thing I ask of the people I encounter is that they pass what they learn along to their friends. It’s the system bands use for building a fan base.

It’s slow and steady but it’s progress in the right direction, forward. It’s not sitting around waiting for a miracle. I could concentrate on garnering more paying students but I’d rather help build a future for the game that has given me so much. What’s the point in having a career in chess if its days are numbered? Like a garden, you first have to plant seeds if you eventually wish to smell the flowers!

Chess can be a tough way to make a living. It’s just like music and being in a band, you have to take the slow and steady course, nurturing your future . If you want to see a bright future for the game you love, plant the seeds, tend to them and you’ll have something to harvest later on. Bring the game to the people rather than waiting for a set of circumstances that probably won’t happen. I sometimes take my guitar and go busking, not for money but for my love of playing. Go take a chess set to a coffee place, set it up and ask if anyone wants to learn the game. You might make a few new friends and keep our beloved game going well into the future. Get out there and do something. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson


A Half-Warmed Fish

I have a half-warmed fish in my breast …
– Dean William Archibald Spooner

A concept half-formed, perhaps now fully formed, emerges in my Chess:

The 20th century view of White initiative turns out to be a subtle form of lunging.

Last night in the fifth round of a tournament which saw me gain 82 rating points, I lost the White side of a Leningrad Dutch, putting me out of equal first to fourth place. I won’t trouble you with the game score, in which unlovable position I managed brilliantly to maintain drawing chances until very late in the time scramble, leaving many moves unrecorded.

The game arose from 1. g3 f5 2. d4.

In the midgame, I reached a mainline position where the only way forward was to push on the Black queen knight with d4-d5. I looked “down the well” and realized with a certain clarity that this led to a position where Black got his anticipated counterplay. I rebelled at the concept, and achieved an utterly passive position by playing instead b2-b3.

Of course, ’twere better to bite bullet and go into the prescribed complications. Having faced this conundrum before, I was aware of the alternative handling from which I had veered on my second move.  feeling compelled one last time to follow down the classical d4 path.

I was wrong to do so.

The elegant and 21st-century way to handle such positions is not attempting to block the center with 2. d4 and give meaning to Black’s thrusts, but to pursue the middle way with 2. Bg2 anticipating Black e7-e5 and planning d3 with a likely formation of c4/Nc3/e3/Nge2, among other possible okay-Black-you-commit-first formations.

The pursuit of 20th-century-style White initiative in the opening and early midgame assures that with proper play, Black emerges from the midgame with a slight initiative.

It is said that Spooner not only mixed up words but entire concepts on occasion … According to sources, Spooner once remarked of a widow that “her husband was eaten by missionaries”. – Wikipedia

Jacques Delaguerre


Recognising the Patterns : Challenge # 8

Today’s Challenge: Find the typical pattern and react accordingly. It’s White to move

Joel Benjamin against H. Carter 1982

Q: Can you see a win for White based on one of the classical method of checkmating?

Hint: You need to open up the h-file and a2-g8 diagonal in order to finish.


In the game White played as follows:

11. Nxd5

Opening up the a2-g8 diagonal.


11…Bb4+ can be met by 12. Nxb4+ or 12. Kf1, but not c3 (work out on your own why c3 is not possible).
11…Qa5+ can be met by 12. Nc3+ followed by a sac on g6 and mate in a few moves.

12. Bxd5+ Kh8

12…Rf7 can be met by 13.Bxf7+ Kf8 14. Qxh7, which is just winning. Now comes another sac to open up h file.

13. Ng6+ hxg6
14. h5

This opens the h-file by force.

15. c3 Qxd5
16. hxg6+ Kg8

Here comes the typical manoeuvre which leads to Damiano’s Mate.

17. Rh8+ Kxh8
18. Qh3+ Kg8
19. Qh7#

This method of checkmating is called Damiano’s mate.

Abram Y Model against Grigory Abramovich Goldberg in 1932

Q: Is it wise to capture on g4?
A: It is better to play 19. Rfe1 though black is still having initiative but far from winning. But in the game white took on g4 and game ended quickly.

19. hxg4 Qe3+!
20. Rf2

This seems to be the only move.


Not only opening up the h-file but also threatening g4-g3, which can’t be met.

21. Qa5 Rc8

22. Bxb7 g3

Threatening mate on the next move. If 22. g3 then 22…Qxe4 is winning.

23. Raf1

Now we see the typical manoeuvre in order to access h file with Queen.

24. Kxh1 Qh6+
25. Kg1 Qh2#

Ashvin Chauhan


Does Red Bull Help Your Chess?

The news that Red Bull is sponsoring Hikaru Nakamura might get people wondering if this drink might be good for your chess. Here he is with a can of the stuff by his side:

So is it true, can Red Bull help? Well be warned first of all, caffeine can get you banned by FIDE if there’s 12 micrograms per millilitre in your bloodstream. Plus the fact that it might not help, personally I’ve found beverages with caffeine in just make me nervous during games.

Of course it’s as well to test this for yourself, plus other approaches like staying well hydrated. But stay within the legal limit if you’re likely to be dope tested.

Nigel Davies