Using the King in the Endgame

This position is taken from a game one of my students played at Mayor Cup, 2018 (C Category) after 46…Rb5. In the game my student decided to block the Black’s passed pawn with the rook (47.Rc4) and lost very quickly.

Q: What do you think? Is it possible for White to save this position?


In this case, blocking the pawn with the rook is necessary as White’s king is too far from the Black’s b pawn. But the blockader must be changed to the king very soon because the rook can’t block two passed pawns. The correct move is 47 Kf2! which allows the rook to reach to b1 in two moves compared to three via c4. This one is not so hard to find but the issue was that he simply didn’t consider the king move. Play might continue as follows:

47.Kf2! b3 48.axb3 axb3 49. Rg1 c5

After the tricky 49…Rc5! White can generate his own counter play with pawn to f4-f5 advance as Black’s king is already cut from the g file.

50. Ke2 c4 51. Kd2 b2 52. Kc2 c3! 53. Rb1!

Otherwise Ra5 to a1 is winning for Black.


Now white can start pushing his f-pawn.

54. f5 Kh7 55. f6 Kxh6 56 Rg1!

The game is now a draw, which is a good example of the value of using the king.

Ashvin Chauhan


Passive Rooks

I’ve been going through a lot of rook endgames with my Dad recently and it came in useful in the following game. White’s position became very passive after 27…Rc3 and under pressure missed 30…Rxd3. I’m not sure I played it in the very best way after that but it seemed as if it should be enough to win.

Sam Davies


Jacob Bronowski

Before you read on, here’s a problem for you. It’s White to play and force checkmate in 3 moves. You’ll find the solution at the end of the article, but you might want to solve it yourself first.

Last week’s obituary of the London Commercial Chess League touched briefly on Dr Bronowski.

Jacob Bronowski was born in Poland in 1908 to a Jewish family which fled to Germany during the Russian occupation of Poland in the First World War and moved to London in 1920.

He was a top mathematics scholar at Cambridge University, where he also played chess, but his talents and interests were not just in the realm of science (or STEM subjects as we’re expected to call them today). He also had a passion for literature, and, specifically, poetry.

Although Bronowski played mostly in club and county events, he was clearly a pretty useful competititor. He was active in Yorkshire chess circles between 1934 and the outbreak of the Second World War, when he was a lecturer in mathematics at University College, Hull. He played as high as Board 2 for the strong Yorkshire county team, which would suggest he was round about 2200 strength.

In 1936 he won the Brilliancy Prize for this game in the Yorkshire Championship.

White’s opening play was far from impressive, and, in the diagrammed position, Bronowski came up with an extraordinary idea: a passive exchange sacrifice involving a queen trade. The idea is that White will have grave problems trying to defend b2, after which his position will inevitably collapse.

The engines, with their cold iron logic, love the concept of the exchange sac, but consider Black’s attack is much stronger if he avoids the queen swap. Instead, they propose 14.. Qb6 15. Qc2 and, only now, 15.. Rab8 when, after 16. Bxb8 Rxb8 17. Rd2 Qa5 Black has a winning attack.

They add that White’s 20th move failed to meet Black’s threat of c4 followed by Nb3, and instead suggest that he could have lashed out with 20. b4, when Black is better, but not clearly winning. Not an easy move to find over the board, though.

In the next game, Bronowski beats a future British Champion who overlooks a tactical point.

White’s 22nd move was not best (b4!), but set a trap. Black must have overlooked White’s 25th move. Instead he had to play Bb5, deflecting the rook from f1.

These games, along with last week’s offering, suggest that Bronowski was a player of considerable creative imagination with a tricky, tactical style.

It may not be surprising, then, to learn that he was also a distinguished, but not prolific, problemist, his earliest composition having been published when he was still in his teens. Most of his problems were either direct mates or reflexmates (a form of selfmate where both sides have to deliver mate on the move if they can do so).

The problem at the head of this article was his last to be published in the British Chess Magazine, in 1970, four years before his relatively early death.

The key move is 1. Nb7!. The star variation is 1.. Kc5 2. Rh6! followed by a bishop mate. After 1.. Kc6, the more prosaic 2. Ra6+ leads to similar bishop mates. Finally, 1.. Kb6 is met by 2. c4 Kc6 3. Ra6#.

Finally I must acknowledge my sources for this article:

Edward Winter’s Chess History page on Bronowski
Steve Mann’s Yorkshire Chess History page on Bronowski

Richard James


Truly Understanding Chess Concepts

When we study any subject, be it in a classroom environment, book, video or training app, how much do we really comprehend? As a chess teacher, student comprehension is my number one priority. However, in the end, it’s up to the student master the concept or idea being presented. I’ve learned to have at least three different explanations for every idea I present to my students because learning is not a “one size fits all” affair. We all learn in different ways.

When I have a classroom full of new students I’ve never worked with before, I have to categorize their individual comprehension pathways. A comprehension pathway is the way in which a student best learns a subject. Is the student a visual learner, descriptive learner or somewhere in between? It dawned on me that self learners may not ask this question of themselves when deciding to learn chess. They may just go out and buy a book, thinking this is how you learn the game. Chess books can be problematic because they tend to minimally descriptive and less visual in nature. I’ve seen many books on opening principles that give a brief written description of the principle being presented and then thrust the reader into the cold, dark sea of opening theory with a sub-minimal amount of text describing the principle being applied. Both the visual and descriptive learner would have trouble learning in this situation.

Unfortunately, the chess student has to work with the materials that are available which are so vast and different from one another that the student becomes overwhelmed. Therefore, I suggest employing the following tips for getting the most out of the the ideas and concepts you learn. These tips are really steps that will ensure you get the most out of your chess education, be it in a class or via self study.

The first step is to determine what Kind of learner you are. Are you visual, meaning that you need to see ideas and concepts in action graphically, or do you do well reading something and then intellectually digesting it? Or are you a combination of the two? Knowing this will help you find the right material to aid in your studies. If you’re a visual learner, you can use training software and videos, narrowing down the choice of training material. If you’re a reader, you face a bigger challenge, namely finding books that are right for your skill set.

As I previously mentioned, most chess books are difficult to get a lot out of, with the exception of books written for absolute beginners, because they tend to be light when it comes to visual and descriptive explanations. This is not the fault of the authors. It has to do with the fact that most books are written for chess players within a broad ratings range. A book might be written for players with a rating between 1200 and 1600. The 400 point difference can be huge for a lot of players. 1200 is considered a beginner’s level while 1600 is an up and coming club player. While the 1600 rated player might fully understand the information contained within the book, the 1200 rated player might miss out on a great deal of potential knowledge, struggling to comprehend the material presented. What should the lower rated player do? Dig into the book and try the following:

The hardest part of learning more advanced concepts is truly understanding them. Sure, you can memorize a game principle, siting the author’s words verbatim, but that doesn’t mean you really know the idea. Therefore, you have to try and put that explanation in your own words. Try teaching that idea, in your own words, to another person. If you can successfully explain the concept you just learned to another person, you’re guaranteed to really know that concept. However, that’s half the battle!

Chess is a combination of theory and practice. Theory is the study of the game while practice is actually taking what you’ve just learned and working it out on the chessboard. Too many students try to learn a large number of the game’s principles at once and then use them in their games immediately. This can become overwhelming for the student, with bits and pieces of the idea being recalled from memory as they play. The problem with these bits and pieces is that they’re not complete thoughts regarding specific principles. Take the first three opening principles, controlling the center of the board with a pawn, developing minor pieces towards the board’s center and castling.

The student can easily remember that these are the things you need to do during the opening. However, the devils in the details as they say. Which pawn do you develop towards the center? There are four, the c, d, e and f pawns. Moving the f pawn can lead to disaster. The c pawn signals the English opening which most beginners can’t successfully play. As for development of the minor pieces, which minor piece do you move first? As far as castling goes, many beginners will blindly castle either too early, losing a developmental edge, or into an attack. These pitfalls can be avoided if the student takes on one principle at a time. Let’s say you’re new to chess and studying the opening.

Start with principle one, developing a pawn towards the center of the board. Look at games via instructional videos. Even though you’ve just learned this principle, go online and watch a few videos on the opening principles. These videos will show you why certain pawns are better to move at the game’s start than others. They’ll show you what happens when you move the wrong pawn. Even though you’re a book learner, the information you’ve intellectually digested will make more sense when you see it in action. Only when you’ve visually seen the outcome of different opening pawn moves should you move onto the next principle, following the same method for retaining your new found knowledge. Play a game or two after learning each principle. Don’t worry about losing, just worry about applying the principle correctly.

Be patient when studying chess. Don’t try to take in everything at once. Learn one concept inside and out and only then move onto the next. The patient learner is the student who gets the most out of their education. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson


Recognise the Pattern # 38

Today we will see a typical theme know as fool’s mate. The idea is to use the weak (e1-h4 or h5-e8) diagonal with the queen or the bshop in order to checkmate opponent king. I believed that the chance of this happening would be very low for experienced players until I found a victim rated above 2,000. Of course he didn’t allow checkmate in 2 with 1.g4 e6 2.f3 Qh4 # but missed a pretty combination.

Albrecht (2035) vs Rene (1855), 2007
Black to Move – Position after 11. f3

Q – With his last move f3, White has weakened the e1-h4 diagonal and I guess he believed that this was OK as the bishop can come to f2 and there is no immediate way to attack the same diagonal. What did he miss?

Solution –

A Square or a piece defended once and attacked once is always vulnerable.
11…fxg4 ! 12. fxg4??

This is final mistake because the Black rook is attacking the f2. White should have tried Qb3 with the idea of castling long.


Now the knight can’t be taken due to checkmate in two.

13. Bf2 Ne3!!

Here White resigned as he is going to lose his right to castle and minimum another pawn.
A sample line might be 14. Qb3 Ng2+ 15. Kf1 Ne3+ followed by Nxg4.

Ashvin Chauhan


An Error in Minev

My Dad was showing me this rook endgame from Nikolay Minev’s book on rook endgames. Minev gives this as winning for Black after 77.Rb2+ Kc5 78.Rc2+ Kd4 79.Ra2?? Ra6 but I asked why White can’t play 79.Rc6. We came to the conclusion that it draws, and the engine says that 79.Rc8 and 79.Rc7 draw too.

In the game Gheorghiu played 77.Ra1? and after 77…Kb4! he resigned because after 78.Rb1+ Ka5 79.Ra1 Ra6 White is in zugwang, which must have been difficult to see. After 80.Ra2 Kb4 81.Rb2+ Kc3, the rook has run out of checking room.

Sam Davies


Commercial Break

I guess 94 is a pretty good age, but it’s still sad to have to mourn a passing.

I was sorry to hear that the London Commercial Chess League has decided it has no choice but to close down.

The league website reports:

“On June 5th 2018, The Executive Committee of the London Commercial Chess League took the unhappy, but nonetheless necessary decision, to dissolve the League. With the withdrawal of DHSS (The Department of Health and Social Security), BBC and TFL (Transport For London), the League was left with just three clubs, with four, possibly five teams for next season. This is clearly insufficient for a meaningful league, and would only delay the inevitable if we attempted to run for another season.

“It is clear that the League has run its course in the face of the changed nature of the modern world. With fewer and fewer commercial enterprises based in London, and even fewer of then having “works teams”, which used to be so common for every sport in the past, the League has effectively lost its raison d’être. Add to this the ever increasing security issues surrounding access to company buildings in the evenings, the Committee felt it had to face the fact that the writing, that has been on the wall for some years now, must finally be taken note of.”

As you will see, the league, founded in 1924, at first proved very successful, reaching a peak just before the Second World War. After the war the numbers soon rose again, reaching a second peak in the late 50s/early 60s. The Fischer boom saw another increase, but from 1980 onwards there was a rapid and inexorable decline. I played in the league for one season – 1984-85 – myself, but that’s another story for another time.

Chess has changed a lot in the past half century, but, more importantly for the London Commercial League, work patterns have also changed a lot.

The LCCL was probably never a league where you’d find many really strong players, but in its time it attracted some distinguished figures from other walks of life.

Here’s a game from 1962. The engines approve of White’s excellent combination starting on move 17, but think he should have kept the queens on at move 22. It’s understandable, though, to trade off into what appears to be a won ending.

Yes, this was THE Dr Jacob Bronowski, the celebrated polymath best remembered today for his TV documentary series The Ascent of Man. At the time he was the National Coal Board’s Director of Research. It was no doubt in part due to his support that the NCB won the league in the 1962-63 season.

The Bronowski Trophy is still held in his honour, a mini-league between teams representing the London Commercial League, along with the legal, banking and insurance professions. In the past, the Civil Service also used to take part. There are still, as I write, a couple of postponed matches still to be played in this season’s competition. It’s not, at the moment, clear whether it will survive the demise of the LCCL. The London Banks League seems to have been renamed the City Chess Association, which runs a Swiss tournament with various banking teams, legal and insurance teams, plus a team from Athenaeum, a central London chess club.

I’ve written before about how our culture of evening chess leagues has held back the development of the game in this country, but even so it’s sad to lose a part of chess history in this way.

Nevertheless, it’s not all doom and gloom in the London chess scene. New leagues are being formed, new clubs are being formed, and several long established clubs are actively promoting chess in the community, and increasing their membership as a result. I’ll consider this further over the next few weeks, along with more on Dr Bronowski.

Richard James


Chess and Heavy Vehicle Rescue

We’ve all driven by vehicular accidents on motorways and silently hoped the victims weren’t badly hurt. However, we seldom give a moment of thought to the men and women who have to clear those wrecks off of the road. When a truck flips over and blocks the motorway, it’s these men and women who not only have to clear the road so traffic can flow again, but also have to rescue or save the valuable cargo contained within the truck’s trailer. Add to this the dangers of getting hit by a passing car while trying to clean things up and you have a job taken on by only a brave few.

I started watching a television program called Highway Thru Hell, about a heavy vehicle rescue team in Canada recently. This team patrols the Coquihalla Highway, one of the most beautiful and dangerous highways in North America. What does this have to do with chess? Surprisingly, everything. As I watched episode after episode, I couldn’t help thinking that the owner of Jamie Davis Motor Truck and Auto Ltd, Jamie Davis, uses his mind the way in which a strong chess player does.

The Coquihalla Highway, or Coq as it’s known, is a major transportation route for commercial vehicles in Canada. It’s busy every single day of the year. During the winter it becomes covered with snow and ice, requiring around the clock snow removal. During the winter months, ice is the enemy and an enormous number of truckers lose their battle with it every single day. If a large truck overturns and blocks a lane, traffic builds up for miles and miles. If all lanes are blocked, commerce comes to a standstill. Often all lanes have to be blocked to remove a large wreck. This highway depends on guys like Jamie Davis to keep it open. Still, what does this have to do with chess?

If you’re in the position Davis is in, every single day of the year, you have to solve very complex problems quickly. Those problems are multifaceted. On the one hand, you have to clear the road. Of course, you could use brute force and drag the wreck off the road. However, on the other hand, the owner of the cargo that’s inside the truck wants what’s left of the cargo to remain intact. If the load inside the truck’s trailer is unharmed but the trailer itself is completely damaged, you have to not only save the cargo but do it fast. The only people who can do this are people who can quickly and correctly analyze a problem and then create a flexible plan in case there are any additional, unforeseen problems. This sounds like positional analysis and planning in chess!

Chess players carefully examine candidate moves in order to determine which one is best. Davis carefully looks at the problem and comes up with a number of solutions, only choosing one after thoroughly working though each, comparing their individual merits to determine the best course of action.

Of course, this is where experience comes into the equation. We’ve all seen experienced chess players analyze positions as if it was second nature. They can analyze a position with little trouble because they’ve been doing it for a long time. The same idea holds true for Davis. Watching him work through a specific problem is like watching a strong chess player working through a position. When it comes to vehicle rescue and recovery, he’s a Grandmaster.

I’ve had a few chess players ask me while I seek chess knowledge outside of the realm of chess. You don’t have to be a chess player to make really great decisions based on logic and reason. Problem solving is the key to playing good chess. It’s also the key to being good at everything else in life. The reason I look at how other people solve problems in unrelated fields is because I sometimes find a new way to approach a problem that allows me to find a better solution on the chessboard. Just because chess has principled methods to guide you when solving positional problems doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look elsewhere, especially if you want to improve your methodology. Sometimes the best solutions are found far from the environment in which your problem resides.

Yes, you have to study chess to get good at chess but there are other avenues you can take to improve your game. Yes, you have to learn principled methods to solve positional problems, but your chess education shouldn’t stop there. I’ve taken to watching documentaries that revolve around problem solving. Some of these are medical in nature and some deal with truck wrecks on an icy highway. What they have in common is this: People being forced to solve complex problems in a short period of time. That’s how I develop my positional problem solving skills. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson


Levers: Instructive Positional Errors

This was a game in our Summer Tournament. I was White against a Leningrad Dutch. I misplayed the opening and didn’t give myself a clear pawn lever plan to play for. Nigel’s comments on the possible lever play later are worth studying.

Once I had got my bishop to f3 I was back on with a possible future e4 lever. However, my recapture with the knight rather than the queen on move 14 is an instructive error. If I had taken with the queen I would have kept the possibility of playing e4 alive. Taking with the knight showed that I wasn’t aware of the key plan.

My move 34 was poor. If I had swapped my knight for his bishop it would as Nigel pointed out have been a simple winning pawn endgame. I think I was still thinking of the way my knight had dominated his bishop and wasn’t alive to the favourable transition.

Dan Staples


Pattern Backfires: The Remedy

This article is aimed at beginners only. Building a pattern bank is a very important step towards your chess improvement because we play what we know. But sometimes these patterns backfire too. Here is an example:

Position is taken from a game played on

Black sees a typical opportunity to win a pawn & unpin his knight by playing 1…Bxf2+ followed by 2…Ng4+, winning back his sacrificed piece with 3…Qxg5. This pattern is very common in the opening stage but one has to be careful in the execuation. Here Bxf2 is a blunder because Black had only seen the typical tactical pattern; if he had tried to calculate or see just half move further, he would have rejected the move based on White’s Qa4+!.

2. Kxf2 Ng4+
3. Kg3! Qxg5
4. Qa4+!

This collects the knight on g4 and Black is lost.

Here is another example:
Bjarte Leer-Salvesen vs Jimmy Mardell, Rilton Cup – 2007

White has threatened the b7 pawn, which is usually known as a poisoned pawn. You might have seen many chess traps where taking such a poisoned pawn resulted in the queen being trapped or some similar disaster, so Black played Nc6 with an idea of Rb8 to trap the queen. Unfortunately for him he has missed something, what is it that he has not seen?

1… Nc6
2. Qxb7! Rb8??

Black can still try Nd4! but I guess he did not recheck before playing Rb8. This often happens with beginners.

3. Qxc6!!

This forces resignation.

As with the previous example the solution was to look a little bit further rather than trust the pattern blindly. Chess is not just pattern recognition, it also needs accurate calculation.

Ashvin Chauhan