Category Archives: Articles

Karpov on the Minority Attack

Anatoly Karpov was one of the all time greats. He was known especially for his positional play and accuracy in the endgame. One of the positional techniques he was particularly good at was the minority attack. He has several sparkling victories in which the minority attack was a featured contributor.

In this first example, Karpov saddles his opponent with the characteristic weak pawn. However, in this case, he doesn’t actually win the pawn. However, it’s presence is a constant reminder of the technical flaw in Black’s position, and Karpov engages in an endgame technical melee which ends when his own passed pawn threatens to promote.

In the following game, Karpov shows a couple common themes within the minority attack. First, he trades off his opponent’s light-square bishop. This bishop often defends the weak c-pawn. Second, Karpov brings his queen’s knight to a4, where it can often find a home on the c5 square. In this case, it gets traded off quickly, but Black subsequently loses the weak c-pawn and the game.

In our final example, Karpov shows that the weak pawn doesn’t have to be the c-pawn, as his opponent’s chooses to leave the a-pawn by exchanging first with his c-pawn during the classic minority attack’s b4-b5 advance. Karpov then gives us a master class on the proper use of the rooks in the endgame. Enjoy this video with my commentary on this beautiful game.

Anatoly Karpov is a master at many aspects of chess. However, his skill in executing the minority attack in all of its nuances have given us many masterpieces to study to improve this particular positional plan.

I hope to have given you a good start, but continued study of Karpov’s games will be rewarded both aesthetically and with a better understanding of the minority attack and positional play in general.

Bryan Castro

10,000 Hours Is Just Part of the Puzzle

This recent article lends some important clarification to the so-called 10,000 hour rule. Of course some of us have been aware of the importance of talent for some time, especially after post mortem analysis with a young Vishwanathan Anand. I understood that I’d never be as quick sighted as him or other top players even with 100,000 hours.

Having said that my many years of chess teaching has convinced me that what most people are missing is practice time. Often it is the opportunity that’s the problem, especially for those with jobs and families. But most usually it’s a lack of willingness to put as much time in as possible and over an extended period.

People try to circumvent this truth with quick fix methods that just don’t work. But most people can make good progress over time if they put 7-10 hours a week in and focus on core skills.

Nigel Davies

Trumping the Tromp

In my recent post The Return of the Raptor I mentioned how the 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 Ne4 3.h4!? line of the Trompowsky Attack seemed to be making a bit of a comeback. Lines like this can be particularly popular with busy players who don’t want to spend too much time on preparation. But this approach can also come at a cost.

With a limited opening repertoire depending on some oddball moves, what do you do if you have to face a real expert in this opening? Alan Merry faced this issue as White against GM Peter Wells in the recent Blackpool Congress with Wells having written an excellent book on this opening.

Merry stuck to his guns and played 2.Bg5 but found Black very well prepared. Wells followed one of the Carlsen – Karjakin games with 4…gxf6 and would soon built up an excellent position. The storm broke with 12…d4 after which the attack was really beautifully conducted:

Nigel Davies

Endgame play (2)

“Play the opening like a book, the middle game like a magician and the endgame like a machine”
Rudolf Spielmann

GM Susan Polgar is one of the best chess teachers in the World. Every day you can learn something new from her either by following her chess posts on social media or by studying her chess career. Every puzzle posted on her account gives the opportunity to learn something new or practice important concepts. I have already discussed the importance of the endgame a bit in a previous article; you can review it HERE

Today we look at another king and pawns endgame, this one courtesy of Susan. Have a look at it (White to move) and give it a try before reading on. It is important to know and play the endgame like a machine, without letting it play for you, so no engines please! Your brain is still very powerful and you need to use it.

Let’s follow the same pattern: test your instinct and write down what you think is the result of this endgame. Good, now we should identify existing elements in this position giving us clues about what we should do:
1. The extra pawn White has is doubled. This drastically reduces its value and it is not clear yet if its presence helps or not; a first thought might be the f4-pawn could offer an extra tempo? We will get back to it later
2. The opposition is of major importance in these endgames. Here the kings are far away from one another, so the most likely opposition to consider is going to be the distant opposition (3 or 5 squares between the kings). Do you remember why there is no 7 squares distant opposition? Just checking…
3. The pawns are blocked; that means White’s king must capture the f6-pawn to have a shot at winning. Remember that king and pawn versus king has a good chance to win if the strong king gets in front of its pawn
4. Kf3 has 2 ways to try approaching the f6-pawn; going in the center or going on the king side; now:
– going in the center gives Black a chance to use the distant opposition and hold the fort (see line A). It is easy to see and helpful to do a bit of blindfold play: 1. Ke4 Ke8 (distant opposition 3 squares apart) 2. Kd5 Kd7 (opposition). There is no other king maneuver here for white to trick black such as using the corresponding squares
– going to the king side is worth a closer look (see main line). It is obvious White gets deep into Black’s position before Black can counter, so here should be the break we are looking for
5. Doing some blindfold play on the king side we can see: 1. Kg4 Ke8 2. Kh5 Kf7 3. Kh6 Kf8 and here we should be able to win the pawn
6. Before moving on to see the solution, there is one more thing we could look at to get full value: still wondering if the existence of the f4-pawn is relevant or not (see point #1 above)? Do you have an idea by now or simply ignored it? No worries, I have included that in the solution (see line B).

Now we have all we need to figure out the solution. If you are very confident at this point, go over the solution to verify your thoughts; however if you are still unsure, go over it carefully with the purpose to understand it.

Hope you liked it. If you have any games and/ or positions you would like me to look at, please do not hesitate to let me know. I will gladly include them in my column for everyone’s benefit. Looking forward to your messages!

Valer Eugen Demian

A Great Korchnoi Win

The following game by Viktor Korchnoi impressed me a lot. Instead of trying for the usual minority attack on the queenside he closed the position with a4-a5 and then played for a lever with e3-e4. Later on there was a neat breakthrough on the queenside with a5-a6 so as to get the White king in. This was the first time I’ve seen either of these ideas:

Sam Davies

The Chess Hero Project

A few months ago I revealed that one item on my bucket list was to complete a chess course, or, to be more precise, a series of books, designed for children, or indeed anyone, who has mastered the basics and would like to be able to play competitive chess successfully.

The assumption is that readers will know all the rules of chess, know the value of the pieces, and understand that, other things being equal, superior force usually wins.

There are plenty of books for beginners available, some of which I’ve written myself, all of which teach more or less the same things in different ways, and many of which, if my sales figures are anything to go by, sell pretty well. If you want your children to learn the basics, choose the one you like best.

There are also many books on the market for competitive players covering all aspects of the game. Some are written for lower level competitive players, others for higher level competitive players. Publishers bring out more and more titles every month, so, even in these days of screen-based entertainment, they must still be commercially viable, and no doubt appeal to an international market.

There is very little available designed to take you, or more specifically to take children, from one level to the other, and of course there’s an enormous difference between social and competitive chess. Although there is much excellent material out there, particularly in terms of tactical training, there’s nothing on the market which covers all aspects of the game at this level, structured in a logical way. Some writers and publishers think that all you have to do to write a book for children is to give it a catchy title and add a few cartoons. On the contrary, writing for children is very different from writing for adults. You must always be mindful of your readers, using, as far as possible, simple vocabulary and simple sentence structures, explaining everything very clearly. While most chess books show you what to do, books aimed at younger readers, in particular, also need to show you how to do it.

I have on my computer a database of nearly 17,000 games played at Richmond Junior Club over a period of 30 years. While most books at this level either base their material on everything that might happen in a game, or on what happens in master games, my books will be based on what happens in games played by children at this level. What openings do they play? What tactical ideas happen most often in their games? What middle game plans do they choose? What types of mistake do they make? What endings are most important at this level?

The books should also be sufficiently flexible to be used in different ways. It should be accessible to older children studying chess on their own, and to parents working at home with younger children. It should also contain a wide range of different materials which could be used by chess teachers as part of a formal course, for longer lessons within a junior chess centre of excellence, and for shorter lessons within a school chess club.

I’ve spent several years thinking about exactly how to structure the material, as well as researching and analysing the games in my database, along with other junior games from commercially available databases. I eventually decided to write a series of six books, all devoted to different aspects of the game. I’ve started work on all six volumes, but all are some way from completion. I’ll describe each book in more detail in subsequent articles: for the moment, though, I’ll just list the working titles.

1. CHECKMATES FOR HEROES

This comes first, as checkmate is the aim of chess. All players need to be really good at finding checkmates.

2. CHESS TACTICS FOR HEROES

This book covers tactics to win pieces, and is closely connected to the first volume. Checkmates are, of course, a specific type of tactic. Both books will require, and develop, visualisation and calculation skills. Many tactics will involve using a threat of checkmate to win material.

I’m well on my way with these two books. The research is completed: it’s just a question of putting everything into place. I hope to complete the first draft of both by September 2017.

3. CHESS OPENINGS FOR HEROES

I’ve been asked many times over the years to recommend a book on openings for children. My answer, until now, has always been “I haven’t written it yet”. Learning openings is not, for the most part, about learning moves off by heart. It’s about understanding pawn formations and plans, along with an awareness of typical tactical motifs which occur again and again across different openings. I haven’t yet come across anything which takes this approach to the start of the game and explains it in simple terms.

4. CHESS ENDINGS FOR HEROES

The ending may not be the most glamorous part of the game, but in many ways it’s the most important. Unless you understand endings you won’t really understand middle games, and unless you understand middle games you won’t really understand openings. Most chess teachers agree about the importance of teaching endings to their pupils.

I’m planning to complete these two books by September 2018.

5. CHESS GAMES FOR HEROES

This is a series of ‘How Good is your Chess’ games suitable for children – games of about 15 moves in length. I wrote the first two games a couple of years ago and posted them here and here. Since then I’ve produced a few more, and developed the idea of arranging some of the games by opening in order to link up with Chess Openings for Heroes.

6. CHESS PUZZLES FOR HEROES

This is based on my ‘thinking skills’ puzzles which you can read about here, here, here and here. The format is a series of puzzles in which the student has to explain the reasons for his or her choice. The puzzles could be anything: mates, winning material, defence, endings, openings, strategy.

These two volumes together synthesise and contextualise everything in the other four books. I’m hoping to finish writing them by September 2019.

At present I’m open to offers from any publishers who are interested in the project, or anyone interested in developing them electronically. If you have any constructive suggestions please feel free to contact me.

Richard James

The Importance of Tactics Five

This week, we’re going to look at pins involving the Rook and Queen as well as go over some key concepts regarding this tactical tool. We’ll start with a review of a few key concepts. Why review what we already know? Let me tell you a little story about my past. I’ve always had a love affair with motorcycles, owning my first bike at the age of seventeen. When you’re seventeen, just coming up with the money to buy a motorcycle is a gargantuan task for a lazy teenager. I ended up buying the most broken down three stroke Cafe Racer because it was all I could afford. When something went wrong, which was nearly daily, I was at the mercy of the neighborhood mechanic who charged a lot for repair work. Fortunately, he took pity on me and decided to teach me how to fix the bike myself. He taught me motorcycle repair one tool at a time.

My mechanic mentor, upon asking him why I had to learn how to use one tool at a time, patiently explained that you must master one tool before moving on to the next because each tool was used for a specific circumstance and the tools were interrelated, being used together, harmoniously in order to accomplish a specific task. He also stated that, when learning to use each tool, a quick review of that tool’s use greatly helped when mastering it. This idea stuck with me throughout my life and became a cornerstone in my own teaching methods Therefore, we’ll start with a review of the pin.

As stated in the previous article, a pin occurs when a piece (the piece doing the pinning) attacks a piece (the pinned piece) that sits on a rank, file or diagonal in front of a more valuable piece. Thus, a pin takes place when one piece is attacked and should that attacked piece move, a piece of greater value will be captured. With relative pins, the piece being pinned can move at the cost of the more valuable piece behind it. In an absolute pin, the pinned piece cannot move because the piece behind it is the King. Take a look at the diagram below:

In this example, it’s Black to move. Black sees that the White Bishop on f4 is hanging (unprotected). Of course, we never capture pawns and pieces unless it helps our position. Here, capturing the White Bishop does help Black’s position. How does it help? By playing (Black to move) 1…Bxf4, White’s Rook on d2 is now pinned to the White King on c1. This is an absolute pin which means that the piece being pinned cannot move because doing so would expose the King to capture. Since you cannot capture the King in chess, you cannot move the pinned piece! The Rook, in the above example, is also attacked by the Black Queen on d8. Two attackers and one defender spells trouble for White. Even if White plays 2. Nf3, adding a second defender of the Rook on d2, it wouldn’t matter because Black would happily trade his Bishop for White’s Rook. This simple example serves to make a few key points you should always keep in mind regarding pins and tactics in general:

The first point to remember is that tactics in which one of the pieces involved is the King tend to have more dire results for the victim of the tactical play. The reason for this is because the tactic in question, a fork for example, includes a check, forcing the King to move at the expense of the other piece. In the case of a pin, the pinned piece is literally super glued to it’s square because it cannot move. This brings up another point, putting pressure on the pinned piece. In the above example, The Black Queen was attacking the White Rook on d2. However, if the Black Queen was on the a8 square instead of d8, we would move her to d8 after the Black Bishop pinned the White Rook with 1…Bxf4. When given the opportunity, and if it doesn’t damage your position, pile up on pinned pieces. While White can add another defender to the poor Rook on d2, the difference in value between the pinned piece and the piece doing the pinning means that Black will win material and this brings up the next point, always consider the value of the piece doing the pinning and the pinned piece. In the above example, the pinned Rook is worth five points and the Bishop doing the pinning is worth three points. Try to use pieces of lesser value to do the pinning. However, there’s another reason for pinning pieces that doesn’t involve gaining material via an exchange. Pins, especially absolute pins, can stop the pinned piece from becoming involved in the game! In the above example, the White Rook on d2 would love nothing more that capture the White Queen on d8. However, even though the Black Queen is there for the capture, White cannot do a thing about it because the White Rook is absolutely pinned to it’s King by the Black Bishop on f4. Now that we’ve reviewed a few key pinning concepts, let’s move on to Rook and Queen pins. Before we start, remember, you have to keep a constant and watchful eye over all ranks, files and diagonals because these are the places where pins occur.

We’ll start by looking at Rook pins. The Rook is a major piece, along with the Queen. Because the Rook has a relative value of five points, you have to be cautious when using a Rook for pinning purposes. The reason for being cautious has to do with the Rook’s value. If a Rook is pinning a protected minor piece, worth three points, to a more valuable piece, such as the Queen, you’re simply keeping the pinned piece from participating in the game because should the minor piece move, the Rook captures the more valuable piece. If we reverse things, having a minor piece such as a Bishop pinning a Rook to a Queen or King, the minor pieces could trade itself for the pinned Rook, coming out ahead in the exchange of material. However, in the case of Rook pinning a Bishop that’s protected, an exchange wouldn’t be favorable. Therefore, you’d be pinning the minor piece to keep it out of action. However, a Rook can be extremely valuable, exchange-wise, if the pinned piece is the Queen. Take a look at the example below:

In this student game example, the game starts out 1. e4…d5. After 2. exd5, Black decides to develop the King-side Knight with 2…Nf6. This seems reasonable since Black develops a minor piece, bringing him one step closer to Castling King-side, and attacks the White pawn. White plays 3. d6 and now Black makes his first mistake, capturing away from the center with 3…exd6. The reason this move is problematic is because it leaves the Black King exposed on the e file. Try to capture towards the center when given the opportunity. Of course, in the exchange variation of the Ruy Lopez, when White trades the Bishop on b5 for the Knight on c6, Bxc6, we capture away from the center with dxc6 which opens up a diagonal for Black’s light squared Bishop and gives the Black Queen some breathing room. White now naturally develops a Knight with 4. Nf3 and Black wastes time with 4…c5. I say “wastes time” because you want to get your minor pieces into the game and get your King off of the exposed e file, meaning the development of the King-side minor pieces (King-side Castling). White plays 5. Bc4 and Black develops his Queen-side Knight with 5…Nc6. White Castles with 6. 0-0 and Black makes the worst move, 6…Qe7. Anytime you place your Queen in front of your King on an open file, you’re asking for serious trouble. The young man playing the White pieces takes advantage of this and plays 7. Re1, pinning the Black Queen to its King. Now, Black is stuck having to block this pin with either 7…Ne5 or 7…Be6. Either way, Black is going to end up with a pinned minor piece which may soon fall to additional material moving in to attack the now pinned piece. In this example, pinning the Black Queen to her King has created a dreadful situation that will cost Black material and at the least leave him with a terrible position.

Pins in which the Queen is doing the pinning can be extremely dangerous for the player employing the pin because you’re using your most powerful and valuable attacking piece to do the pinning. Because the Queen is worth more in relative value than the individual pawns and pieces, you’re not going to make a profit, material-wise, in trading your Queen for any of your opponent’s material. Therefore, Queen pins tend to be employed to keep the pinned piece out of play, at least temporarily. However, if you add the right second attacker to the pinned piece, things change. Let’s have a look:

Here, the White Queen is pinning the Rook on f7 to the King, which is an absolute pin. The Queen is worth more than the pinned piece so a second attacker is needed to make the pin profitable. White plays, 1. Ng5 and no matter what Black does, the Knight will capture the Rook on White’s next turn.

When pinning with pieces of higher value, you need to think things through, very carefully. Adding pressure via additional attackers (attacking the pinned piece) is a good way to ensure a positive result. Rooks love open and semi open files, especially when there’s an opposition King at the other end of the file. Queens can certainly pin pieces but don’t look for a quick win of material unless you add pieces of lesser value into the mix, using them to put pressure on the pinned piece. Remember, once the Queen comes out into the game, especially early on, she becomes a target for the opposition. Next week we’ll look the the skewer which is similar to the pin. Here’s a game to enjoy until then!

Hugh Patterson

The Comeback Trail, Part 10

In The Comeback Trail, Part 9, I discussed how it can be a good idea to create databases for prospective rivals. Let’s now look at this in another way, what if they create a database on you?

This thought should be enough to discourage us from playing dubious gambits, especially if we play our chess in a relatively confined environment. It also suggests that we might want to have a certain variety in the openings we play in order to avoid the brunt of an opponent’s preparation.

How can you incorporate some variety but without massively increasing our preparation workload? This is a difficult issue, and something that chess organizations may want to consider before putting everyone’s games online! I think a good approach is to play openings which are very sound and where any sharpness tends to be deferred until later in the game.

At this stage you’ll start to realize why the Berlin Defence to the Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0-0 Nxe4) and Queen’s Gambit Declined have become so popular, they fit this bill perfectly. But meanwhile there are plenty of other openings which are good for this, for example 3…g6 against the Ruy Lopez is also solid and leads to complex middle games. If I were to play 1…e5 on a regular basis, this would certainly be a candidate line for me.

Are there particular players who have mastered this approach? Well an obvious one is a young Norwegian chappy by the name of Carlsen…

Nigel Davies

Techniques to Calculate Better: Part II

As explained in the first part of this series it is only necessary to calculate in positions where there are forced variations and the possibilities are limited. It is impossible to calculate when the possibilities are unlimited.

In these situations the first logical step is to select a series of candidate moves, so we can immediately conclude that in order to calculate well we need to select good candidates moves. This process is extremely important and there are techniques that will help you to improve it.

One of the first authors discuss the idea of candidates moves was Alexander Kotov, in his famous book Think Like a Grandmaster. However Kotov proposed creating a complicated tree of variations, which is inefficient. I believe that in chess there are no ready made recipes, and instead it is orderly and logical thought that will lead us to success.

Many times in order to find good candidates we need to have good candidate ideas. These candidate ideas will lead to a limited number of candidates, and only the analysis of these will allow us to know if it is necessary to find new candidates. A concrete example will serve to clarify all this:

Choosing candidate moves correctly is the basis for success in calculation, however the correct move in a particular position will not always be among the first candidate move that we will analyze. Even the strongest GMs don’t achieve this all the time, sometimes it is necessary to expand the number of candidate ideas and moves.

This statement raises the question about when is the time to expand the candidates? As I said earlier there are no exact recipes or algorithms when calculating, but I can tell you a series of recommendations: First you must select very few candidates. Sometimes it is enough to select a single move since the best move in the position may be obvious, or so it seems. Most of the time we choose 2 or 3 moves to consider, and very rarely more than that. In principle we should limit ourselves to a serious analysis of these chosen alternatives. Many times, through this analysis we are going to conclude that one of these alternatives is the best, but it is also possible that we will not reach a definitive conclusion. When we intuitively feel that in the position we can achieve more than what we have found by calculating the first candidate move, we must stop concrete analysis for a moment and take a fresh look at the position, without any preconceived idea, and ask ourselves: Are there other options? Is there something that I’m missing? Are there other candidate moves? This way we will find the hidden resources of the position. Here is a very simple example of this:

Successfully selecting the candidate moves is the basis of any good chess calculation. Meanwhile expanding the candidate moves is a very important technique to calculate correctly, since there are positions where the winning or saving resource is hidden. The difficult thing is not the concrete calculation of moves but the finding of this resource. Once found, calculating it will not take much time.

Andres Guerrero

Politicians & Chess

Regardless of one’s political persuasion this makes for interesting viewing. The leader of the Lib Dems, Tim Farron, plays a game on live television and loses in just 36 seconds.

In his defence I should point out that his opponent, UKIP MEP Jonathan Arnott, is a pretty good player with a current ECF grade of 187.

Nigel Davies