Category Archives: Articles

Into the Crystal Ball

Have you ever played someone who seems to anticipate every move you make as if they have a crystal ball that allows them a glimpse into the game’s future? It happens a great deal to beginners who sit mystified at the chessboard, wondering how their opponent had developed such an impressive skill. When they learn that their opponent can think many moves ahead, beginners start to believe that their skilled opponents are thinking ten or eleven moves ahead. This leaves the beginner, who can barely think a move ahead, feeling as if there’s no future for them as far as improvement is concerned. What it I told you that you only have to think one and a half moves ahead to improve your chess? Would you, the beginner, feel better about your journey towards improvement?

I first came across the concept of thinking one and a half moves ahead when I acquired a copy of Power Chess for Kids by Charles Hertan. In the book, students are taught to think one and a half moves ahead as their starting point. One and a half moves ahead translates to the move you make, your opponent’s best response and your follow up (move) to your opponent’s best response. I quickly incorporated this method into my teaching program and it has worked extremely well.

However, it sounds easier than it actually is to employ this method when you’re first starting your chess career. Here’s why: When you ask a beginner what their plan is, they’ll more often than not tell you that they’re going to make this move and their opponent is going to make that move which will be followed up by another move and so on. The beginner proudly states that he or she is thinking three or four moves ahead. Except there’s one big problem, the beginner is thinking of opposition moves they want their opponent to play, not the moves their opponent is actually going to play. There’s a difference here. Your opponent is simply not going to play into your hands by making the moves you want them to make. They’re going to make moves (hopefully for them) that derail your plan! After all, they want to win as well!

Therefore, if you think in these terms you’re rarely, if ever, going to win games. When you consider that first move in our one and a half move system, you need to think of a sound move from the start. For example, young players love Scholar’s Mate. In four moves they can deliver checkmate with the light squared Bishop (white) on c4 and the white Queen delivering the mate on f7 (either via f3 or h5). If the person manning the black pieces is oblivious to this fast checkmate they’ll lose in four moves. However, anyone with a bit of playing experience can easily deflect this mating attempt. Thus, playing for Scholar’s Mate is a good example of making moves in our system that are unrealistic regarding sound play.

Move two, our opponent’s response to our first move is the first thing we need to consider when plotting our own first move. When considering a candidate move, we should pretend to switch places with our opponent and see if we can come up with as a crushing response. Doing so allows us to test the validity of our potential move before committing to it. If you don’t do this, you won’t get far. It’s that simple. You have to consider the strongest response to your potential or candidate move before making it. Doing so allows you to see the position through the eyes of the opposition which can shed light on potential problems on both sides of the board. Chess is all about seeing the position at hand from both sides and solving problems. Look at every pawn and piece when considering a response to your move idea because you’re less likely to miss that killer opposition reply. It takes time to do this but you’ll develop patience which is key!

Patience is a critical factor here! Patience may be one of the hardest things a beginner has to learn. It literally takes time to develop patience and he or she who takes his or her time when playing will do best in the long run. Beginners have a tendency to play fast. If one’s opponent makes a fast move, the beginner will often respond in kind, thinking of this quick response as a way to show their opponent that “I’m just as smart as you and can play just as fast.” Wrong! Just because someone decides to drive past you on the highway at 110 miles per hour doesn’t mean you should step on the gas pedal to match their speed. Common sense says just because someone does something foolish doesn’t mean you should! Take your time when examining potential moves and responses by your opponent.

Where things get a bit tricky is when you have to come up with the response to your opponent’s move. It’s the starting point for understanding the art of the combination. Most tactical plays are based on a combination of moves. While you do sometimes fall into a situation in which a tactical play, such as a fork or skewer, comes out of nowhere because your opponent made a poor move, you usually have to set up a tactical play. Therefore, getting good at coming up with that third move, your response to your opponent’s move, is extremely important. It’s called follow through!

During the opening, your first moves might be simply to develop a pawn or piece to a good square. Let’s say you want to develop your Queen-side Knight to c3. You eye the c3 square as a great place for the Knight. Then you think of your opponent’s response which might be using his or her King-side Bishop (moving it to b4) to pin your Knight on c3 to your King on e1. Simply knowing this pin is possible goes a long way towards helping you determine whether you want to make this move. You then think to yourself, if I move my Knight to c3 and my opponent uses their King-side Bishop to pin the Knight to the King, what are my options, my best response? You examine the board and see that you can Castle out of the pin. This is the way to employ the one and a half moves ahead concept.

This thinking can be applied to the middle and endgame as well. In the middle game, it’s all about tactics for the novice player. Therefore, you need to take this approach from a tactical perspective. If I make this move, the start of the tactical combination, how can my opponent stop my tactical play. Don’t think in terms of I’ll do this and he’ll do exactly as I want. Your opponent is going to do everything humanly possible to stop your tactical idea. If, after look at all your opponent’s material, you see that he or she can’t stop the tactical play, carry on. If you see that your idea can be rebutted, come up with another one and a half move plan.

In the endgame, things become a little clearer with less material on the board. However, just because there are fewer pieces on the board doesn’t mean things get easier. Endgame calculations, unlike middle-game calculations, can be a lot deeper, meaning players are thinking a lot more than one and a half moves into the future. Beginners should still employ the one and a half move system rather than try to calculate five moves ahead. Keep it simple until you gain more calculation experience.

There’s only one way to develop your ability to calculate moves ahead and that is experience, playing a lot of chess. However, if you use the one and a half move system, you’ll get better at calculating a lot faster. The point here is that you have to have a plan of action with every move. If you have no plan, you might as well be giving your opponent free turns because that’s what the opposition will garner with every bad move made, a free opportunity for them to further develop their pieces or launch a solid attack. Patience is your best friend when playing chess. Good positions must be carefully shaped the way in which a sculptor creates art from a lump of clay or stone. Always put yourself into the opposition’s shoes when considering a response to your move and make sure you have a follow up. Do this and you’ll be playing better chess in no time! Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of Middlegame Understanding

Look on any internet chess forum and you’ll find much discussion of particular opening variations. The participants will look up similar games and use the latest engines running on fast computers but appear to neglect the most important thing. It is vital, in playing any opening, to understand the sort of middle game it will lead to.

Without this it’s impossible to stay well orientated if something unexpected happens, for example if an opponent fails to play the book moves. And there are also so many possible variations in the early stages that it’s impossible to remember everything anyway.

A player I’ve grown to admire immensely over the years is Anatoly Karpov. His positional understanding is extremely subtle, yet at the same time it is grounded in the classics. Here he is conducting a classic minority attack against the strong Argentinian GM, Daniel Campora:

Nigel Davies

Where Is There An Opening?

Bodhi is originally without any tree;
The bright mirror is also not a stand.
Originally there is not a single thing —
Where could any dust be attracted?
– Huineng, 6th Partiarch of Zen Buddhism

http://archive.armstrong.edu/images/history_journal/lisa%20plat2.jpg

Sixth Patriach Tearing the Sutra

In Huineng‘s day, the Sutras, the sacred scriptures of Buddhism, were hand-written and brought to China by traders from India and were worth their weight in silver. When Huineng, the original champion of immediate enlightenment which characterizes Zen Buddhism, reached satori, he ripped a Sutra to shreds, providing later generations of Buddhist artists a theme as familiar to them as, say, the Passion was to Christian artists. Along the same lines are Krishna’s comment in the Bhagavad Gita that “to the enlightened man, the Vedas (Hindu scriptures) are as superfluous as a cistern in a flood.”

I’ve meditated on this truth while reading a popular openings treatise. Weighty, up-to-date, impassioned, it exercised my chess mind but left me feeling completely detached from the goals of the author while respecting his prowess and hard work. The pieces move. We reset the board. The pieces move again. Where is there an opening?

Jacques Delaguerre

The Passed Pawn – Underpromotion

Last week, we looked at the passed pawn in general. Promoting a passed pawn usually ends the game in favour of the promoter as it creates huge material imbalance if the pawn becomes a queen. But this is not always the case!

Sometimes underpromotion is necessary in order to checkmate the opponent king and to meet opponent’s resources such as counter promotion, checkmate threats, the threat of capturing the promoted piece and drawing tricks. Here are some enlightening examples:


1) Robert Fontaine against Maxime Vachier Lagrave in 2007:

Underpromotion to meet perpetual checks and checkmating the opponent king

Q: How would you proceed with Black pieces?
A: Black can checkmate the opponent king with series of forcing moves using underpromotion.

1… f1=N+!!

This is the only way to pocket the point, promoting the pawn into a queen leads only to a draw after Qxc7.

2.Kf4 Rh4+ 3.Kg5 Be3+!

Sacrificing the rook.

4.Kxh4 g5+
5.Kh5 Ng3+

White resigned in view of 6. Kg6 g4#.

2) Aron G Reshko against Oleg Kaminsky in 1972:
Underpromotion to avoid stalemate tricks


Q: What would you promote to on a8?
A: Promoting to a queen or rook fails to Qf7+!! due to stalemate tricks. In the game White promoted the pawn into a bishop and went on win after couple of moves.

3) Nakamura against Kramnik in 2012:
Underpromotion leaves Black without any counter chances.

Q: How would you proceed with the White pieces?
A: In the game White played 1.c8=N+, the only move to win the game because promoting pawn into queen can be met by exd1=Q+ whilst 1.Kxe2 can be met by f3+ followed by Bxc7. Black tried hard for next 18 moves but failed to save the day. Here are rest of the moves in case you’re interested.

62…Kf6 63.Kxe2 Ke5 64.Nb6 Kd4 65.Bg2 Be1 66.Nd5 Ke5 67.Nb4 Bh4 68.Nd3+ Kf5 69.Kxd2 Kg4 70.Ke2 Bf6 71.N1f2+ Kg3 72.Bf3 Bd8 73.Ne4+ Kh4 74.Ne5 Bc7 75.Ng6+ Kh3 76.Ne7 Bd8 77.Nf5 Bb6 78.Kf1 Kh2 79.Bg4 f3 80.Nh4 1–0

Ashvin Chauhan

Being Too Greedy In The Opening

The solution to last Monday’s problem is that White can draw with 1. Kb7! Kc4 2. Kc7 d5 3 Kc6.

But 1. Ka7 loses to 1…Kc4 and 1. Kb8 loses to 1…Kc6.

The problem shows that care is needed even in simple positions.

This week’s problem illustrates the dangers of taking pawns with your queen in the opening.

The game went 1. d4 Nf6 2. Bg5 Ne4 3. Bf4 c5 4. d5 Qb6 5. Nd2 Nxd2 6. Bxd2 Qxb2 7. e4 d6 8. Rb1 Qxa2.

How does White get an advantage?

Steven Carr

STREXIT

In the past three weeks I’ve looked at three events designed to bring chess to a wider public.

Nette Robinson staged a combination of a blitz tournament and a jazz gig, which appealed to both chess and music fans. Nette is also a talented artist, and has combined chess with art in the past.

Matthew Sadler and Natasha Regan brought their Chess for Life roadshow to Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club: they’ve also given talks in other chess clubs and in less formal venues.

The ECF started a new initiative to promote chess by staging simuls in pubs, with Keith Arkell kicking things off in a hostelry not too far from me.

All three events were great and thanks are due to the organisers and participants, but their success in reaching out beyond the local chess club membership was questionable. Of course this is very difficult. There’s an enormous gap between the enthusiastic social player and even the weaker club player. We get people turning up at our club who think they’re really good at chess because they’ve won a few games on the Internet, but some of them find it hard to cope with real chess with the clock ticking and soon disappear.

Meanwhile, our local chess league, the Thames Valley League, is slowly shrinking. Not so long ago there were nine or ten strong competitive clubs in the league: now there are only three or four. Some of it is natural, but more and more higher rated players are pulling out of the league because they’re no longer prepared to risk playing a game which might not finish on the night. Everyone in this country has been much concerned recently with the possibility of BREXIT, but in ThamesValleyLeagueLand we’re seeing stronger players exiting their local league: not BREXIT but STREXIT.

I’ve explained the league rules before, but I guess I ought to provide a brief recap for new readers. Matches take place on weekday evenings, starting in theory at 7:30 but in practice more like 7:45. We have a choice of a 2½ hour or a 3 hour session, but most clubs prefer the former option. Before the start of the match the players in each game have to agree on the time control. The three options, in order of precedence, are, a slow game with adjournment or adjudication (I won’t bore you with the complicated rules about this), playing to a finish in one session with an intermediate time control and a quickplay finish, or playing all the moves within either 75 or 90 minutes. So a player who prefers slower chess can insist on the first option.

I was on the Thames Valley League committee for many years but resigned some time ago due to my frustration with the inability of the Committee and the club representatives at the AGM to come to terms with the problem. The people who turn up every year to the AGM are very often those who, like me, have been playing in the league for the past half century or so. They’re resistant to change and naturally prefer slower time limits. It’s in the nature of elections, whether chess or political, that people tend to vote for their perceived self-interest rather than for the interests of the community as a whole. So we were getting constant cries of “We don’t want faster time limits: they favour younger players and are unfair to older players like us”.

By and large, younger players prefer faster time limits, while older players, naturally enough, prefer slower time limits. In addition, stronger players tend to prefer faster time limits while weaker players tend to prefer slower time limits. What has happened to the Thames Valley League in recent years is that several clubs have withdrawn their first team from the league while continuing to run teams in lower divisions for weaker and, often, older players. Even the committee should understand that the whole concept of adjournment or adjudication will be very strange for a younger player coming into the league via junior competitions, just as it will for the hobbyist who has previously played exclusively online. While the league has made some positive decisions over the last decade or so, unless the Committee is prepared to come to terms with 21st century chess, it’s questionable whether or not the league will exist at all in a decade’s time. It will see me out, I guess, but not much more than that.

By the time you read this article, this year’s AGM will have taken place. Will anything change? Probably not, but you never know. Watch this space for the latest news.

Richard James

Why Learn Openings?

A young student of mine asked me why he should learn a number of different openings rather than simply apply sound opening principles. On the surface, you might dismiss this question as rather silly, but he brings up a good point. When learning how to play chess, we learn that there are specific principles to be followed during the opening phase of the game. Beginners are taught the idea of allowing opening principles to guide them when they’re not sure what move to make. It’s easy to see why beginners might think that the opening principles are the cure all for studying opening theory. Of course, opening principles will take the beginner a long way on their journey towards improvement. However, they will only take you so far.

One of the problems that keeps many players from studying opening theory is it’s complexity. Let’s face it, even the most enthusiastic improving player will become glassy eyed when faced with reading and playing through the ECO (Encyclopedia of Chess Openings). I’ve seen beginners become catatonic upon opening this book for the first time. It might as well be written in Sanskrit as far as the novice player is concerned! I know plenty of decent casual players who don’t know a lot of opening theory, but manage to apply opening theory and reach a playable middle-game. However, it is important to know a bit about opening theory if you plan on playing well over the long run. With my students, I feed them a little opening theory at a time rather than shoving the entire ECO down their throats at once. So what’s the big deal with knowing openings and opening theory?

Imagine if every move your opponent made during the first ten to fifteen moves (the opening) gave you a clue as to what their next move would be. You’d essentially know what was coming and could counter that future move with a good move of your own. Now image that each move your opponent makes during the opening leaves you drawing a blank except in regards to opening principles. I think I’d rather be in the scenario in which each move provides a clue! Understanding a little opening theory allows you to know what’s coming next from your opponent.

You don’t have to know every move, both mainline and variations, of a specific opening. You just have to know the basics, say the first ten moves if you’re a beginner. If you know the first ten moves of ten openings, five for black and five for white, you’ll have a much easier time navigating the starting phase of the game. This means learning ten openings and the first ten moves of each opening. It is nowhere near as hard as the beginner might think. Here’s how I teach this idea:

I start with the Italian Opening for two reasons. First, it clearly illustrates the basic opening principles. Second, it can transpose into the Evan’s Gambit, which I also teach. I then introduce the Ruy Lopez because of move three, 3. Bb5. We compare the placement of the Bishops, c4 in the Italian and b5 in The Ruy Lopez. The idea here is to build on the foundation of 1. e4, 2. Nf3, so that learning and remembering move order in the various openings is easier. Next up, The Scotch, again building on those first two moves. Since I work with beginners and improving players, we tend to avoid certain openings due to their complexity, which is over the heads of less experienced players. Next we learn the King’s and Queen’s Gambit in that order. Since my students have met the Evan’s Gambit, they know why we sacrifice a pawn and understand the basic nature of Gambit play. Now we look at openings for black.

We start with 1…e5, working on maintaining equilibrium against white. Too often, beginners playing black will either play too timidly or launch premature attacks. Therefore, we learn how to balance the position into the middle-game. We don’t define this first opening but rather employ principled opening play. Then we look at the French Defense and the Caro Kann. Only then do we look at the King’s Indian Defense. The reason for this order is because learning the King’s Indian first can leave students playing too defensively, not going after the center at the right time. Lastly we look at the Sicilian which takes the most amount of time due the numerous lines. I recommend that my students don’t play the Sicilian until they really understand the other openings for black I teach.

When I teach these openings, we learn three moves at a time. With the Ruy Lopez, for example, we learn 1. e4, 2. Nf3 and then 3. Bb5. White’s third move is important to grasp or understand regarding the opening principles. In the Italian Opening, the Bishop is placed on c4 (3. Bc4) which directly influences the center. When the Bishop is placed on b5, it indirectly effects the center because, if white exchanges the Bishop on b5 with the Knight on c6, black’s e5 pawn is no longer defended. The b5 Bishop therefore uses the threat of exchanging itself for the black Knight on c6 as an example of proper opening principles, control (indirectly) of the center.

We then look at the next three moves in each opening, going over how those moves adhere to the opening principles. Each subset of three moves is gone over with the previous three moves until my students not only know the move order of each opening but the underlying principles or mechanics behind them. In the end, my student learn basic opening theory while strengthening their understanding of opening principles. While you don’t have to memorize the ECO, having a basic knowledge of opening theory will take you a lot farther in your chess careers. Try my suggestion. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

Symmetry

Someone once joked that Hans Berliner was only comfortable in a position where he was a rook ahead and on the move in an otherwise symmetrical position. So the endgame composers began to compose “Berliner Positions” in which White is rook ahead and on the move in an otherwise symmetrical position and … lost.

Today’s game reached symmetry after 12 moves, which symmetry I broke with 13. Bb5. Was White better for that? My first impulse was 13. Bd3, which Stockfish favors and calls equal.

In retrospect, 16. a3 looks like a mistake, compared to 16. Bc3. Later, I probably should not have been so eager to trade off all four rooks, after which I managed to draw the very difficult N vs. B ending. The spectators agreed that the opening and midgame were okay, but that the ending was the most fun to watch!

Jacques Delaguerre

The Passed Pawn

This article is aimed at beginners and pre-intermediate players only. Though, intermediate players may find it interesting.

The pawn, the smallest chess unit, increases its value if it advances to the other side of the board with proper support. This is because of its unique power to promote itself to any other piece except the king.

A pawn is a ‘passed pawn’ or ‘passer’ if it doesn’t having any obstruction from an enemy pawn on the same file or neighboring file. Various endgame and middle game themes are based around the passed pawn only. We will deal with those concepts later on.

Let’s consider the following position:

Here:
1) White’s ‘c’ and Black’s ‘c’ pawns are not passed pawns as they have frontal obstruction.
2) White’s ‘g’ and Black’s ‘h’ pawns are not passed pawns as they face obstruction from the neighboring file’s enemy pawns.
3) White’s ‘e’ and Black’s ‘a’ pawns are passed pawns.

The level of difficulty in producing and promoting a passer varies with the level playing strength. Sometimes it is easier whilst at other times it is harder and requires the use of various tactical motifs and combinations to achieve the objective. Here are some instructive examples:


Carl Schlechter against Julius Perlis in 1911


In the given position Black’s last move was 7…Bxb1.
Q: How would you evaluate Black’s last move? And how should White proceed here?
A: Black’s last move was a mistake. Now White can win a good pawn.

8. dxc6!!

Surprise!

8…Be4??

Black is completely oblivious. He should have played 8…Nxc6 when White is pawn up yet far from winning. But now White can launch a splendid combination which wins on the spot.

9. Rxa7!!

This forces Black to give up his due to White’s powerful candidate on c6 and Black’s awkward knight on b8. But his next move forces him to resign after White’s reply.

9…Rxa7 10. c7

Black resigned as he can’t stop White’s pawn from being promoted.

Karjakin against Navara in 2009

In this position White already had passed pawns on the a- and b- files but they are not dangerous yet because of Black’s active rooks on the 7th rank.

Q: How can White win this position by force?

A: Karjakin played R5c2 which wins by force.

36. R5c2!!

White sacrificed his whole rook in order to make use of his pawn on b6.

36…Rdxc2 37. Rxc2 Rxc2

37…Rxa5 fails to b7 followed by Nd7+.

38. b7 Rb2 39. Nd7+ Ke8 40. Nb6

The point behind the combination. Black resigned.

Ashvin Chauhan

Strategic Vs Tactical Talent

There seem to be two different types of talent for chess, strategic and tactical. Strategic talent is the ability to see macro movements of the pawn structure and understand which plan should be used. Tactical talent, on the other hand, is the ability to visualize tactical ideas and crunch forcing lines.

Some players are blessed with both varieties of talent, which makes it a lot easier for them to advance. Others are blessed with one or the other, for example Viktor Korchnoi is someone I’d say was a very talented tactician whereas Mark Taimanov was more gifted as a strategist, and I have noticed that strategic talent seems to go with musical ability.

Overall I’d say that talented tacticians find it easier to start out in chess, mainly because tactics and blunders dominate at lower levels. But as you move up the rating scale strategy becomes increasingly important.

Here anyway is a nice game by Mark Taimanov in which he beat the then reigning World Champion, Anatoly Karpov. There’s a nice combination at the end which shows that strategy alone is not enough:

Nigel Davies