Category Archives: Articles

Volga-Benko Gambit Line Busted

Wikipedia mentions about this opening:
“… Many of the world’s strongest players have used it at one time or another, including former World Champions Viswanathan Anand, Garry Kasparov, Veselin Topalov and Mikhail Tal, and Grandmasters Vassily Ivanchuk, Michael Adams, Alexei Shirov, Boris Gelfand, and Evgeny Bareev.”

Admit it, every now and then we have our urges to play like savages in the jungle. There are several gambit choices available, mostly busted and not suitable for correspondence chess play; still it is hard to resist the urge, right? I look at the above list of top and over the top players choosing Volga-Benko and it soothes the pain of losing this game. I rubbed shoulders with giants in a funny way. It is my belief this could be a good reference game for many a player from this point on.

I chose to play this game because of an urge. It is as simple as that. My partner was unknown to me before the game and got the winning lottery ticket of facing it. His play was extremely inspiring! The value of this game is enhanced by the fact both of us could and did use engine assistance. Right now white has a solid idea and plan to work with, while black will have to go back to the drawing board and find a better play than I did. Hope you will enjoy the game and annotations:

The attack beginning with 21.Nxg5!! … could be featured in any tactics book. Replay it whenever you feel the need to refresh your tactics skills. I look forward to see more games branching out from ours. 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

Harrogate 4NCL Congress

I had a tough start in this last weekend’s Harrogate 4NCL Congress with a draw and then two losses against strong opponents. One thing that I’ve talked about a lot with my Dad is to never give in and fight on in the next games, regardless of what has just happened. And I managed it here by winning my last round.

I think I castled a bit early because Black’s attack with …h5 and …h4 was quite dangerous. But I kept calm and eventually got a counterattack along the c-file. The computer says I was never worse:

Sam Davies

Chess for Babies

Last month’s London Chess Conference supported by Chess in Schools and Communities was, as always, a mixture of the inspiring, the fascinating and the somewhat disturbing.

We learned quite a lot about methods used for introducing chess to very young children, much of which seems to emanate from Italy and Spain.

Now this doesn’t mean playing complete games of chess against Karpov, like young Mikhail Osipov, whom I wrote about a few weeks ago. It doesn’t involve playing any competitive games at all. FIDE are now promoting a course, originally developed in Italy, for five and six year old children using a giant chessboard to help children develop psychomotor (physical) skills. By playing movement-based games on the board children learn about directions: vertical, horizontal and diagonal. They also learn about listening, following instructions, working as a team, letters (a to h, I suppose) and numbers (1 to 8).

You can find out more about it here. The videos of the lessons are in Italian, but even if it’s not one of your languages you’ll get a pretty good idea of what’s going on.

We also heard from Pep Suarez, from Minorca, who is teaching chess to even younger children using song and dance. Each piece has a different song which describes its moves, and a dance to go with it. He explained that some strong chess players are horrified by this approach to chess. At first he was only getting a small number of children moving onto playing full games, and only a few of those would go on to play competitive chess, but recently his small island (population under 100,000) has produced several national age-group champions.

The people behind these schemes are very much involved with the FIDE Chess in Schools Commission. Their mission:

o Chess for Education (CFE) not Education for Chess (EFC).

o Using chess within the educational framework to improve educational outcomes rather than using the educational environment to produce chess players (although that is an inevitable and very welcome by-product).

o The main focus of CiS is a social educational programme in primary and secondary schools, with particular emphasis on the ages 7-11.

o ‘CiS’ will this year provide a social educational programme for pre-schoolers at home or in kindergarten (see Psychomotricity).

o ‘CiS’ is also important at third level, in further education, especially aiming to encourage research and to develop the professionalization of chess teaching.

The fourth item here is presumably the Italian programme mentioned above.

This is very much the way chess education is moving internationally, although here in the UK we take a rather different approach geared much more towards competitive chess.

My feelings about this are very mixed. Yes, of course it’s important that young children learn through music and movement. If, like me, you grew up in the UK in the 1950s, it’s quite possible your school would have used a BBC Radio (we called it the wireless in those days) programme called precisely that: Music and Movement. If you really want your primary school to go into chess in a big way, then it would probably be a good idea to do this sort of thing to ensure that kids who joined your chess club knew all the moves.

On the other hand, there are all sorts of reasons why you might have concerns. There are no doubt many other ways of teaching children these skills. I can see that the nature of the chequered board has a number of advantages, but I’d be interested to hear from early years teachers as to the effectiveness of using chess for this purpose. It would also only be effective if the teacher was fully engaged and enthusiastic about the lessons, and of course it wouldn’t need a chess tutor at all.

I can also see the objections raised by some strong players who see this as dumbing down chess by turning it into an activity for very young children. But if it works in terms of producing significant numbers of young people with a lasting interest in chess then why not? It’s not something I’d want to be involved with myself, though.

Whether we like it or not, and, personally, I have a lot of reservations, it’s the way children’s chess is heading at the moment. Chess is being used as a tool to improve educational outcomes, and, if it also produces chess players, so much the better. My priority would be very much the other way round, but it’s where we are at the moment.

But how much evidence is there that chess really does improve educational outcomes (‘making kids smarter’)? We learned something about that as well, and I’ll return to this theme next time.

Richard James

Are Databases Important for the Beginner?

There was a time in the not so distant past, when we had to keep track of important games, both our own and the games of others, by carefully copying each move into a paper notebook. If you were serious about improving, you’d often find yourself copying dozens of games into that notebook that were centered around a specific opening you were trying to learn or a tactical idea you were trying to master. This was a daunting task at best. Incorrectly writing down a move from one of those games made the game worthless! Thanks to huge advances in technology, you can now purchase software that gives you immediate access to millions of games with the click of a mouse or the swipe of a finger. You can easily have ten thousand examples of a specific opening or a huge collection of games representing many different openings neatly stored on your computer. You can compare an individual move you might be considering to hundreds of thousands of previously played games to see if that move has any merit. The database is an extremely powerful and useful tool for anyone wishing to improve their game. However, do you really need a database as a beginner and when should you invest in one?

Before investing in a database program, which can be quite costly, you have to determine whether or not it’s really going to help your game, in other words, help you improve. While the database is an essential tool for serious/professional players as well as coaches and instructors, the beginner should understand that a database is not an instructional tool in the way a training DVD or software program is. With a training DVD or software program, actual lessons are being taught aimed at helping you learn the topic at hand. For example, a DVD on how to play the Ruy Lopez is just that. The DVD teaches you how to play this opening and is written and presented by an individual who has expertise with the Ruy Lopez. A database, on the other hand, might have a collection of ten thousand games featuring the Ruy Lopez opening, which is far greater than the number of example games featured in the DVD. However, there’s no instruction within the database so you just have the games themselves with perhaps a little annotation that is far above the beginner’s comprehension level. Therefore, the database expects you to already know the opening, or at least a bit of it’s mainline and variations. If you’re new to chess and don’t fully understand the opening principles, for example, you’ll quickly become lost and frustrated trying to figure out what’s going on within the database’s games. A database may show the opening principles in action but it doesn’t teach them.

Now, this isn’t to say that beginner’s can’t benefit from a database, but the beginner is better off spending their hard earned money on instructional material and, once they’ve improved, acquire a database program. I rely on my database program for teaching and coaching for very obvious reasons. I give at least ten chess lectures per week. I give roughly four hundred lectures per year (I work year round). Since I rarely show the same game twice during an academic year, I need to have easy access to a large number of games. All I have to do is consult my trusty database to find the games I use. The other advantage to databases, such as ChessBase 14 which I rely upon, is that it allows me to compare lines from a plethora of other games to the game I’m presenting to my students. For a teacher or coach, it’s an indispensable teaching tool. It should be noted that in order to get the most out of a database such as the one I use, you have to do a lot of reading and tinkering with the database. The user manual for ChessBase 14 is 487 pages long and you have to read quite a bit of the manual to get the most out of the software program. This alone, is too much for the beginner to deal with. Is there a happy medium for our intrepid beginner regarding the database? There sure is!

Cost is very prohibitive for many of us who love the game. I can write all chess related chess equipment off on my taxes. However, if you’re not teaching chess for a living and don’t have a good accountant, spending three or four hundred dollars on software can take food off the tables of many of my fellow chess players. Would you be happy if I told you you could either download a free database program or spend roughly twenty to fourty American dollars on an all in one chess program? I’d be happy!

Let’s look at the free database program first. It’s called ChessDB and can be found here: This is the homepage, so read the page and follow the instructions for downloading, which is a link button in the upper right hand corner of the page. The Beta version with the endgame tables is only 36 megabytes in size so it won’t put a strain on your computer’s available memory.

ChessDB is a great little database program because not only is it free, but it comes with a small database of 27, 681 games. I say small because my latest database has over 6,800,000 games. However, the beginner doesn’t really need six million games to have a decent database (I don’t even need that many games). Beginner’s just need games that they use for a reference for their own studies. If you want to add a larger database of games, you can add an additional 3.5 million games (see the ChessDB website for more on this) The only real downside to this program is that you’ll have to do a bit of studying to learn how to navigate the program and take advantage of its many features. However, you’d have to do that with any database and the good news is that you don’t have to pay any money for this program.

If you’re willing to pay around twenty to fourty American dollars for a program that not only has a large database (600,000 plus games), but a built in playing program and roughly one hundred hours of training and instructional material, try Chessmaster’s Grandmaster Edition or Chessmaster 10th Edition (both are essentially the same with the Grandmaster Edition having one additional section, Josh Waitzkin analyzing a series of games). This is an excellent program for the beginner wishing to not only improve but to have access to a decent database. I highly recommend this program to all my beginning students. It’s a great all in one program. Seldom do you find all in one programs that are great all around programs since most of these tend to be be weak in one area or another. While this is not the best program for more experienced players, it’s first rate for those new to the game. You can’t beat the price either! While not free, it’s close to it considering the fact that a beginner will be able to get a great deal of training in a single software package. Note, you’ll have to do a bit of searching online to find it for the price listed above because, original versions of this program, brand new, in the box and unsealed can sell for as high as three hundred American dollars. Just search around and you’ll find one for a decent price. The company that put out the game no longer makes it so you’ll have to buy it used or find a new copy someone has lying around in their closet. However, the search is well worth it. You can find free demo downloads (do not download full versions online because it’s internet piracy which is illegal) online to try it out. However, always exercise caution when downloading any program onto your computer (which is why I will not provide a downloading source. That risk is yours and yours alone).

So there you have it, a few ideas on acquiring a database should you feel the need for one. As a beginner, don’t worry about having a fancy database even if all your chess playing friends have one. It’s better to invest your money into training materials because, after all, if you really improve your game and beat your friend who’s always bragging about their fancy database program, you’ll have the last laugh. You might find yourself thinking, after beating your friend, “I guess those six million games didn’t do as much for you as my wise investment in my own training.” However, if you want to delve into the world of databases, try one of the above suggestions. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week. These guys are old school. They had to write down thousands of games into their notebooks which just goes to show you that technology doesn’t necessarily mean you have the advantage on the chessboard or off the chessboard in life!

Hugh Patterson

The Comeback Trail, Part 6

In my my last article I explained how the Modern Defence actually became a useful background for playing the Kan Sicilian. It can also help with other openings, an obvious example being the King’s Indian.

I have played the King’s Indian in some games but not with great success. I suspect this could probably be put down to the fact that I played it out of desperation (“What the hell should I do as Black against HIM?”) rather than inspiration and/or preparation. But it worked out OK in the following game, even if I played the likely dubious 7…Qe8:

Nigel Davies

Studying Old Games (Part 11)

Let’s look at another Queen’s Gambit Declined, played between Harry Nelson Pillsbury and Jackson Whipps Showalter in their match of 1897. It provides an excellent example of how Black can obtain a dangerous queenside pawn majority with …c5-c4.

The match itself ended in a rather convincing victory for Pillsbury and had a not inconsiderable prize (for those days) of $2,000. Also interesting was the fact that Pillsbury played the Berlin Defence in a number of games but Showalter answered 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4 5. d4 Nd6 with 6.Ba4 rather than 6.Bxc6. These old guys knew something about chess!

Nigel Davies

Recognising Mistakes

Student: I can win the game if I play well.

Me: That’s half true.

Chess is a game of mistakes! That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t press because when you’re playing well there are more chances that your opponent will make mistakes. Here are few interesting examples to test your skill to recognise the mistake.

Anand against Kramnik in 2001

Q: In the given position Anand played 24.bxc4. Is it a mistake?

Solution: Yes, it is mistake. Instead Anand should play Nxe6 followed by bxc4 with the better position, but after 24. bxc4 game was ended in 3 more moves.

24…Nxf4! 25. gxf4 g3!! 26.Nf1

The pawn can’t be taken because of Bc5, which wins the exchange.

26…gxf2+ 27.Kh2

If 27.Kxf2 then Bc5 is winning or if Kg2 then Rg8 followed by Bxc4 is winning.


White resigned as he was forced to give up the exchange.

Above was the case of tactical mistake which is relatively easy to recognise. Strategic mistakes can be much harder to see:

Anand against Aronian in 2009

Q: In this position Anand played 12. b3. Is it a mistake?

A: Yes it is, though it doesn’t lose any material directly and has nothing to do with opening preparation. But after 12…Nxd3 Black gets the bishop pair and an attack, so yes it is a mistake.

Here is the rest of the game in case you’re interested.

Ashvin Chauhan

Endgame Play

“To improve at chess you should in the first instance study the endgame.”
Jose Raul Capablanca
“In the ending the king is a powerful piece for assisting his own pawns, or stopping the adverse pawns.”
Wilhelm Steinitz

Happy New Year! This is the time of new beginnings, New Year resolutions and hope. We are going to be better, do more and achieve more. I wish to give you a helping hand in starting on the right foot chess-wise and remind you of the quotes by Capablanca and Steinitz (see above). Yes, it sounds a bit funny to talk about the endgame at the beginning of the year; however studying the endgame has maintained its importance and contributes mightily in improving one’s play. This time I have chosen a puzzle by GM Ray Robson. Have a look at it (White to move) and give it a try before reading on. No engines please! Your brain is still very powerful and you need to use it.

Test your instinct and write down what you think is the result of this endgame. Probably your mind is already running back and forth, adding moves along possible lines to back up your instinct. How is it working? Do you need help? Let’s do this together and see where it is going to take us!
1. Material: White is up 3 pawns in a King and pawns endgame. This is pretty overwhelming.
2. Black has only the lone King, so we do not have to worry about Black playing for a win.
3. All pawns are passed; right away we need to activate the square rule trigger. The lone king should be in the square to be able to catch any of the pawns. We see Kg7 is in all 3 pawns squares, meaning the pawns would not be able to promote by themselves and will need help from Kh1.
4. The h3-pawn is a side pawn, meaning all black has to do is capture the e5- and g6-pawns, followed by going straight to the h8-corner in order to get a draw.
5. Now if you are more advanced, you might have learned of instances when 2 isolated, passed pawns (such as e5- and g6-) can defend themselves until their king comes to help. Do you remember where the lone king should be in those instances? It must be in front of the less advance pawn or on the e6-square in this case; if that would be true, the lone king could not capture the e5-pawn because the g6-pawn would promote with ease. Unfortunately the lone king is in front of the more advanced pawn and could capture it right away, followed by the capture of the e5-pawn.
6. The h3-pawn is one tiny step too far back and could not help the g6-pawn.
I believe by now you have realized Kh1 must move. It is the only logical conclusion, as well as the only way to fight for a desired win. If you got so far, I think you have a pretty good handle on the king and pawns endgames; also this might have been a good review of how to piece all above details together.

This is the moment of truth when we put meat to the bones. Move choices and order matter; any plan is worth much less if we cannot piece together the right moves. Please verify your solution:

Did you get it right? If the answer is “Yes” you should be proud; probably you are collecting a lot of half points winning or drawing such endgames. If the answer is “No”, you should look objectively where your instinct and knowledge was different. Those are for sure areas where you can improve your game and get better in the process. 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

Exploiting a Weak Kingside

It can be very dangerous to move pawns in front of your king. In this game, that I played over a year ago, was one in which my opponent moved lots of kingside pawns forward but after 26.Qh5 probably started to regret it:

Sam Davies

Bucket List

Getting the Christmas gig means inevitably that I get the January 1st gig as well, when you’ll all be too busy recovering from seeing in the New Year to read this article.

It’s the time when many people make resolutions and I’m sure many of you will have made chess resolutions this year. Perhaps you’re going to learn a new opening? Take time out to sharpen your tactical skills? Brush up your knowledge of rook and pawn endings? All admirable resolutions if you want to boost your rating.

Some of you might also compile a bucket list of things to do before you die, or, if you’re younger than me, before you reach a certain age. I’ve compiled a bucket list myself, but there are only two items on it.

The first item is to finish writing my family history, which will eventually become my own life story, including the story of Richmond Junior Club, which, as anyone who knows me will be aware, has been a very important part of my life.

The second item is to finish writing my chess course for children (or indeed older learners) who have learned the moves and would like to play serious competitive chess. A series of books will cover the basic knowledge and skills you require to reach 100 ECF/1500 ELO. Work is currently in progress on this project under the working title Chess for Heroes.

One of the principles of Chess for Heroes is that you can’t understand the middle game until you understand the ending. If you don’t understand the ending you will have no idea when to trade pieces or which pieces you should trade. If you don’t understand the middle game you’ll have no real idea what you’re doing in the opening. Although you need some understanding and appreciation of opening theory: what happened before you came along, just memorising moves isn’t enough.

Understanding my life, though, is very much the opposite. Chess for Heroes is the endgame of my life and will be very different from anything else on the market. To understand what it’s all about and why I do it you have to understand the effect chess had on my life. You also have to understand what was happening at Richmond Junior Club between 1975 and 2005, why it was so successful, and why, although it seemed to me the obvious way to run a chess club for children, I know of no other club run in anything like the same way. The opening of my life is what happened in my childhood, and how that influenced the way RJCC operated. What happened before I was born is, if you like, the opening theory that you need to be aware of before you try to understand me. Where did I come from? Whose DNA did I inherit? Who were my parents, and where did they come from?

I’ll write more about this in the weeks to come, along with some thoughts from the 2016 London Chess & Education Conference, and perhaps demonstrate some of my recent games.

For the moment, though, I’ll just take this opportunity to wish all readers of this column, their families and friends, all the best for 2017.

Richard James