Category Archives: Articles

ND – “Really good, just don’t repeat 3.Nc3!”

This is a game I played against John Duggan at the excellent Coulsdon Chess Club run by Scott Freeman. Nigel said it showed substantial progress apart from the ugly 3.Nc3. I think 8.e4 is instructive as a key pawn lever against the Dutch. I was pleased with my calculation of the ending. I allowed Black to promote his pawn next to his King, lost because of my King and queen mating net.

Dan Staples

L-shape Pawn Formation

“Pawns are like buttons. Lose too many and the pants fall down by themselves.”
George Koltanowski

The knight moves in L-shape right? We all learn that at the very beginning and struggle at first to figure out the move. I can go one square to the right and two forward or two squares to the right and one forward? That could be very confusing. Add the other directions and permutations of square choices and you will leave any beginner numb in front of so many possibilities. Do you know of any other area of the game where the L-shape is of importance? If you do and the title of this article gave it away, you have either studied our app lesson 26, level 4 (thank you for that!) or you are a very strong player and have known this for a while now.

Here is a study by L Kubbel to test your knowledge:


It is white to move. What does your gut feeling tells you about the possible result here? Can White win? How about Black? Is it maybe a draw?

As always let’s look at this together to make sure you get it right. Analysis:

  • In king and pawns endgames we always look for passed pawns: each side has 2
  • The White pawns are on the edge and doubled; this reduces their value quite a bit
  • The Black pawns are separated by a file
  • Both kings are in the imaginary square of all opposing pawns, meaning they can stop them from promoting
  • White looks to have no more than a draw; even if it captures both Black pawns, the Black king will easily reach the a8-corner and stop the promotion
  • Black could have a chance to win since the White king must stop 2 passed pawns in the same time
  • If the Black king manages to capture both White pawns, Black will probably win

OK, this does not sound very promising for White. When I worked on the puzzle, the first thing I looked at was how to deal with the Black pawns. The b5-pawn being the closest is an obvious first target. How would Black respond to that? Well, here you need to know about the L-shape pawn formation. That formation helps 2 passed pawns separated by a file fight the opposing king and survive. If that is the case and Black can easily reach an L-shape by playing d7-d6, what can White do? Standing still does not work because Black will capture the White pawns and win. Bringing the king forward though, would result in one of the Black pawns promoting.

Let’s pause for a moment. Take a deep breath and look for options. It looks like you cannot stop both Black pawns. What can you do then? Hmm, if the b-pawn promotes and the White king is on the a-file, we might get a stalemate. That is awesome! The other option with the d-file promoting, it is a clear loss. OK, now you have a plan: capture the d-pawn and run to the a-file; be careful on the timing though (see line C)! Hope you liked it and it got you interested about this important endgame aspect. All left now is raw calculation. Here is the solution to help you out:

Valer Eugen Demian

An Endgame from Llandudno

Here’s an endgame I played yesterday in the Llandudno Major. My opponent should have played 28…Kf7 straight away before the pin on the g-file became a problem. Instead he advanced his queen side pawns after which the loss of the f-pawn was the beginning of the end.

Sam Davies

King and Rook Checkmates

What I often do when playing young children who are lacking in confidence is head for an overwhelmingly won ending and turn the board round to let them win.

I was playing a boy at a school chess club the other day and duly turned the board round when I had a rook and lots of pawns against a few pawns. On swapping the positions my king soon captured my opponent’s pawns and, when I captured his last pawn we reached this position, with Black to move:

I explained to my opponent that he could mate me in two moves by playing a king move, and, more by luck than judgement, he was able to find it.

At the end of the club at this school I usually do a quick 10-minute lesson on the demo board for children who have finished their tournament games. I set up this position and asked if the students could find the mate in 2 (being careful to explain exactly what a mate in 2 was). There was one boy, the strongest player in the club, who had just missed out on qualifying for the Delancey UK Chess Challenge Gigafinals at the weekend, had some idea how to go about trying to work out the answer, but the rest of the class were unable to do anything other than making wild guesses.

I then changed the position slightly:

Again, they had the same difficulty trying to find the mate in 2 for Black. When they eventually found the answer I made another slight change:

When our strongest player found Rc6 I asked the whole class how many different answers there were to this question. At first they just made random guesses (2? 3? 22?) and I told them it wasn’t a guessing game: they had to work it out. Finally, someone found Re6 and it dawned on them that there were in fact five ways for Black to force mate in 2 moves in this position.

I would have liked, if I’d have had time, to have rotated the positions by 90% and 180% to see whether they would realise the answer was, in effect, the same, or whether they would go back and try to solve the puzzles from first principles. But it was the end of the session and the parents were waiting outside to collect their children. Another time, maybe.

The teacher who was in the room with me at the time, not a chess player herself, told me the lesson was very hard for them, and was impressed with their answers as well as with their enthusiasm and concentration during the lesson.

For chess players these examples are very simple and very basic. We know that, in order to play even reasonably good chess, we need to think “I go there, you go there, I go there”, but this type of thinking, even when “you go there” elicits only one possibility, is very hard and very unnatural for most young children, especially if they are not used to playing simple strategy games at home.

I suspect it’s because this sort of exercise introduces children to a totally new thinking skill that scholastic chess in the classroom might have a short-term effect in ‘making kids smarter’.

I also suspect that teaching kids how the pieces move in half an hour and putting them into a competitive environment will have no effect at all in ‘making kids smarter’. A ten-minute lesson of this nature after they’ve finished their tournament game will also have little effect unless the thinking skills are reinforced. Otherwise most of them will have forgotten it by the following week.

Richard James

Three Good Moves

When we first start playing chess, we often make the first move we see, good, bad or indifferent (usually the move falls under the heading of bad when you first start you chess career). Of course, we’re still learning the basics of the game so this is a natural part of the learning process. More astute beginners might stare at the board for a few minutes, examine the position from both sides and only then making a move. Thinking they’ve spent enough time to have found a good move, they’re often shocked when that supposedly well thought out move turns out to be a bad choice. Chess is about decision making and there’s an art or skill to this process. The first step in the decision making process is taking the time to properly make a good decision.

Last week at our Yearly Academic Chess Summer Camp, I noticed that our beginner’s group was playing extremely fast as if it were a game of Blitz. I looked on in horror as hanging pieces (those that can be captured free of charge) were not only there for the taking but remained there for many moves. Had these beginners taken more time to consider their moves, they might have seen and captured those hanging pieces. However, there’s more to making good moves than simply taking your time. You have to employ a logical system that allows you to find good moves and that’s what this article examines.

While it’s true that patience is an absolutely crucial skill in chess, simply staring at the board for a long time, with your thoughts scattered about, does a player little good. You have to employ a logical system with which to examine the position at hand in order to determine the best move. This is the toughest challenge beginner’s face when learning the game. Therefore, we have to assess the position in a sequential, logical order, starting with threats.

Threats, either yours or your opponents, are the first order of business. You must identify threats. Too often, beginners will blindly consider their potential threats which blinds them to those of their opponent. Therefore, every time your opponent makes a move, look for a threat by that opposition pawn or piece. This means looking at every square that pawn or piece is attacking and determining whether or not one of your pawns or pieces is on one of those squares under attack. If one of your pawns or pieces is under attack, determine whether or not to move that pawn or piece or defend it. In assessing this idea of moving or defending, the beginner should first determine the value of the attacking piece versus the value of the piece being attacked. If a three point Knight is attacking a five point Rook, then the Rook should be moved. If the pieces are of equal value, ask yourself, can I move the attacked piece to a more active square? If you can, then your opponent may be doing you a positional favor! You never want to make moves that help your opponent and if your opponent does so, take advantage of them. Good moves serve to strengthen your position.

If the pieces are of equal value and you cannot move the attacked piece to a more active square, then defend it. Again, consider the value of potential defenders. Obviously, if you defend a piece with a pawn then your opponent may reconsider capturing it, especially if doing so does nothing to help their position. However, make sure to look at the position to see if capturing your piece will create an opening in your defenses that allows for a strong opposition attack. If so, you may have to build up your defenses around the attacked piece and potential positional opening. Don’t worry my novice chess playing friends, most beginner’s games will not have such calculated attacks, so you probably will not face this issue until later in your chess careers. However, be aware that more experienced players will sacrifice material to open up the position for an attack.

Now look for potential threats you can create. With beginner’s games, those threats often revolve around hanging pieces. Look to see if any of your opponent’s pawns or pieces are hanging. If there are no hanging pawns or pieces, see if there are any threats you can make. When you first start playing you don’t think in terms of threats. Threats come in varying degrees of severity, a potential checkmate being the strongest threat. We’ve already looked for hanging pieces so next we see if there are any threats you can make that force your opponent to respond with a move he or she doesn’t want to make. What kind of move is this? One that slows down their development or one that weakens their position. If you can further activate your pawns and pieces while threatening your opponent’s material, while weakening their position or forcing them to make moves they don’t want to make, you traveling along the correct road to mastery! Good threats include attacking a piece of greater value with a piece of lesser value, moves that check the opposition King and force him to move (prior to Castling) or moves that set up tactical plays (forks, pins, skewers, etc). Then there’s the counter threat.

If your opponent threatens one of your pieces, see if you can make a bigger threat. If you opponent attacks one of your minor pieces with a pawn, look to see if you can threaten an opposition piece of greater value with either a pawn or a piece of lesser value. You opponent will have to deal with the bigger threat, yours, which may lead to them having to make a positional concession which could give you an advantage!

Always look to further activate your pawns and pieces, especially during the early phases of the game. Before starting to play for Middle-game exchanges, develop your pawns and pieces to their most active squares, especially those that allow pieces to control more of the board. As I stated in earlier articles, the more control of the board you have (especially on your opponent’s side of the board), the greater your options. The greater your options, the fewer options your opponent has. This leads to winning games.

Once we’ve done this, we must look for at least three good moves. I tell my students that the difference between a good move and a great move is this: A good move is just that, a good move. A great move is one that wins the game (or creates an overwhelming advantage). To find that great move, you have to consider a few good candidate moves (moves we’re thinking about making). Just jumping on the first move you see might cause you to miss that great move. Therefore, you should try to think of at least three good moves. When you think of each move, make a mental note to yourself as to why that move is good. Have sound/good reasons for that move! If you can’t come up with a good reason for the move in question then it’s not a good move! Then compare the three moves and decide which of them is the best. If you do this every time you’re considering a move, you’ll win more games than you lose (eventually). Speaking of moves, here’s a game to enjoy until next week that has more than a few good moves in it. Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

The Comeback Trail, Part 16

With the amount of opening theory around these days it’s tempting to look for short cuts. This certainly explains the popularity of unusual openings, but often they are unusual for a reason. Isn’t there a better way to reduce the amount of study time needed?

Besides playing openings that lead to solid middle game positions there’s another approach worth considering; prepare opening lines together with your chess friends. This kind of team work can pay great dividends, you can motivate each other to study and play training games in the line(s) selected. In addition you can share research and search for resources jointly rather than on your own. It makes a lot of sense on many different levels.

Why don’t more people do this? A lot of players want their opening repertoire to be private and perhaps even secret. They might see the involvement of other people in this process as a potential security leak. But if you play good openings and trust your chess friends, these fears should be baseless.

I’ve come across a few cases of such joint preparation being very successful. One of these was at a club I once played for, Berlin Zehlendorf. Several members specialized in the Four Pawns Attack against the King’s Indian, and they all did well with it.

The strongest Four Pawns exponent at Zehlendorf was Wolfgang Riedel; here he is in action with his favourite weapon:

Nigel Davies

Endgame Strategy: Capablanca – Ragozin, Moscow 1936

Nigel’s analysis of this instructive Capablanca endgame is included in the Tiger Chess Endgame Course. It also appears in Shereshevsky’s excellent book – Endgame Strategy.

Capablanca wrote “White’s plan is to prevent the advance of the c pawn (after which the b pawn could become weak) and to control the entire board up to the fifth rank. This is achieved by moving the King to e3, and by placing the rook at c3, the Knight at d4, and the pawns at b4 and f4. After he has attained such a position White will be able to advance his Q-side pawns.”

Dan Staples

Sicilian Dragon: The Yugoslav Attack

This article aims at beginners and intermediate players to provide basic strategy to play against Sicilian Dragon. The most dangerous attacking setup against Sicilian Dragon is the Yugoslav Attack where White’s plan is fairly simple but nonetheless very strong.

Strategy:

1. White’s light square bishop usually exchange the Black’s knight on c4 (the knight attacks the queen on d2 and bishop on e3), otherwise that bishop will have great potential on the a2-g8 diagonal (refer to Fischer vs. Larsen – sac sac and mate).

2. White is aiming to exchange the dark-square bishop on h6. And in the absence of his dark square bishop the safety of Black’s king can be compromised.

3. White will open the h-file with the h2-h4-h5 thrust.

4. Lastly White will try to remove the knight from f6 in order to deliver checkmate along the h file and probably h7 or h8.

Caution:

Black’s main counter play is heavily reliant on the counter attack along the c- file and a1-h8 diagonal. Here is a game which I believe, covers the above mentioned points and can be served as model game to beginners.

On my next article I will present this game with more notes. Meanwhile the reader is invited to figure out what was going on.

Ashvin Chauhan

Sac Or No Sac?

“A sacrifice is best refuted by accepting it”
Wilhelm Steinitz

Tactics decide the game. If you want a simple comparison, tactics are like putting the ball in the net. You need to know what to do when the opportunity is staring you in the face. Do you know what to do? Have you practice enough to firstly recognize it and secondly to take advantage of it? Let’s see how good you are in the following position. The question is: should white sac on h7 or not?

Analyse the position and firstly go with your gut instinct. Gut instinct is most of the times right and it relies heavily on personal experience. Personal experience is based both on the aspects of the game you learned and on direct feedback you got while playing your games. Have you ever looked at this sacrifice from a theoretical point of view? How about playing it or having it played on you? If you did, most certainly your gut instinct gave you the right signal and you got it right. If you did not, it is very likely you got this wrong.

It could be helful to look at position 4 under “Tactics” in my previous article HERE and added below for convenience:


It shows a successful sacrifice on h7. Now what you should do next is compare the two, identifying what aspects in position 4 made the sacrifice successful. Do you also find them in the proposed position 4.1 above? Let’s have a look at them together:
Similarities

  • The pawns defending the castle have not moved
  • Kg8 is the only defender of the h7-pawn
  • Black does not control nor attack the g5-square and allowing 2. Nf3-g5
  • Qd1 could join the attack via the d1-h5 diagonal

Differences

  • White has the e5-pawn (position 4), while the pawn is missing in position 4.1
  • Bd2 controls the c1-h6 diagonal (position 4), while it is blocked for the moment by Nd2 in position 4.1
  • Re1 could come in and help the attack using the 3rd rank (Re1-e3-h3), while Rf1 would require an extra move to do that in position 4.1
  • Bb7 is trapped for the moment by Nc6, while Bc8 has an open c8-h3 diagonal

Now it is time to weigh the above points and formulate a conclusion. Lesson 15 (level 5) of our chess app covers this nicely and if you have gone through it, you will notice rather quickly which one of the 6 needed conditions for the sacrifice to work is not met. That is condition #2:
“#2. The h2/ h7-pawn is defended only by the King and cannot be defended by any other piece in a move”
Kg8 being the only defender of the h7-pawn is met but black can simply defend the h7-square in a move. The sacrifice does not work:

Well, knowing these details makes the difference between winning a game in spectacular fashion and looking like a fool. It is obvious in what category we all want to be, so study these tactics and practice them; your efforts will be rewarded. Hope you liked it and will consider studying tactics closely, possibly using our app.

Valer Eugen Demian

The Art Of Attack

This game shows that material isn’t everything. Leonid Stein sacrifices the exchange with 14…Nd7 and after 15…Qh4+ White’s king loses the right to castle. It’s interesting how Black gets positional compensation for the material he gave up.

Sam Davies