Category Archives: Articles

Steady As She Goes

My performance is markedly irregular. I go through periods when I am totally engaged, and then I have days, weeks or months where my mind simply won’t conduct chess.  It’s not a matter of making mistakes, rather, it’s a complete absence of the detachment necessary to enter into the symbolic language space, making chess merely an act of shifting figurines around randomly and without heart.

Having musical errands in Southwest Kansas this past week, I decided to extend the trip and drive on to Wichita for the annual Kansas Open. The first evening I won a prize in the 10-minute tournament with 3.5/5, losing only when I experimented for the first time since the 1970’s with the Alekhine Defense in competition. This loss was artistically counterbalanced winning my first Dutch Defense ever in competition.

The next day I played one decent game, and that was pretty much it for the tournament.

So having improved in my middle game and transitions and conversions, the new frontier for me is constancy and reliable performance despite not having the luxury of being a child prodigy nestled about with care and having instead to live in the complex world of a man in his sixties.

Here’s my one good game from the Kansas Open. My opponent becomes frustrated and sacrifices a knight. Faced with the choice of returning the piece or clinging to material with a death grip, I cling. With a certain amount of luck, success!

Jacques Delaguerre

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Sacrifices in The Endgame

When we talk about sacrificing some material the first thought that comes to mind is that it is for a mating or crushing attack (sac sac and mate – Fischer). However sacrifices are also possible in the endgame, but what is the fundamental basis for that? I started studying the endgame seriously when I manage to draw a Rook endgame with three pawns more in 2010. So here I am sharing few fine practical points that I have derived from my own experience, reading & guidance from Nigel.

Whenever I see any endgame the first thing I check for is the availability of a passed pawn or the possibility to create a passed pawn. You can consider sacrificing some material in order to gain a dangerous passed pawn. It has a huge impact in deciding the activity of other material on the board.

Activity could be piece activity, but in order to play the endgame better one should focus more on activity of the king. A recent example of this could be Aronian’s game against Caruana in Norway chess 2015. I have already discussed this game here so I am not going to repeat it. Similarly you can think about giving up some material if it forces your opponent to take a very passive positions. Here are some examples that illustrate my thoughts

Gelfand Boris against Bareev in 1992 at Linares

At first glance it is hard to draw up a plan but the availability of the passed pawn on c4 makes it very simple. Gelfand choose Rxe6. Why? Because the pawn on c4 forces Black’s rook to take very passive position on c8. On the other hand White’s king’s activity can decide the game easily once he reaches b6. Here are the rest of the moves:

1. Rxe6+ fxe6 2. c5 Kf6 3. c6 Rb8 4. c7 Rc8 5. Ka4 Ke5 6. Kxa5 Kd4 7. Rc6 Ke3 8. f4 Kf2 9. Rc3 Rxc7 10. Rxc7 Kxg3 11. Rxg7+ Kxf4 12.Rh7 1-0

Garry Kasparov against Timman in 1992 at Linares


In this position, Kasparov choose to sacrifice his knight for a pawn (and only a pawn!) in order to get a free hand with his king on the queenside as Black’s king has to stay on kingside in order to prevent h7 to h8 with promotion. Here are the rest of the moves:

1. Ne8+ Kf7 2. Nxf6 Kxf6 3. g5+ Kf7 4. h6 Ba4 5. Ke5 Bd1 6. Kd6 Bb3 7. Kc5 Ba4 8. Kb6 Bb5 9. a4 Bxa4 10. Kxa6 Bd7 11. b5 Bc8+ 12. Ka7 1-0

Ashvin Chauhan

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Converting The French Into A Universal Repertoire

One of the useful things about playing the French is that it can be fairly easily turned into a low maintenance universal repertoire. A few years ago I made a DVD for Chessbase on this topic in which Black would combine the French with Bogo-Indian type lines, meeting 1.d4 with 1…e6 and then on 2.c4 playing 2…Bb4+. The emphasis here was on solidity rather than anything else and the French lines I gave featured the Romanishin System with 3…Be7 against 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 or 3.Nd2 together with super solid lines of the Bogo. This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s a good way to get a universal 1…e6 repertoire up and running.

For more adventurous souls I recently made this one in which the Owens Defence is used as a supplement to the French. I don’t recommend the Owens against 1.e4 because of 1…b6 2.d4 Bb7 3.Nd2, but it can be playable after 1.d4 e6 2.c4 b6. Here’s a sample that’s on Youtube:

Finally there’s a more traditional option for Black is to combine the French and the Dutch, and this you can do with playing 1.d4 e6 2.c4 f5, which has the advantage of avoiding gambit lines like the Staunton (1.d4 f5 2.e4!?) plus other anti-Dutch ideas. If you’d like to go this route I show the ideas on this video at my Tiger Chess site:

Remember that players at club level really just need plans, ideas and concepts whilst they get on board an opening, in my opinion it’s plain madness for them to buy a huge tome full of variations played and analyzed by top GMs. I do explain this and more on my Tiger Chess site with some video lessons that are available to both full and video members.

Nigel Davies

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Keep Your King Safe

In one of my recent games, the player of the White pieces neglected the safety of his King.

In the diagrammed position, White has weakened the white squares around his King and he has played f3 in response to Qb7+, opening up the second rank.

This allowed me to launch an attack against his King. What did I play? There is more than one good move, but one move in particular is very troublesome for White.

The solution to last Monday’s problem is that White sacrifices two Queens in one move by playing c8=Q. He can then win by putting one of his Queens on the seventh rank.

Steven Carr

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Chess Games for Heroes: Introduction

Most of you will be familiar with magazine articles and books with titles such as “How Good is Your Chess” and “Solitaire Chess” where the author asks you to guess the moves made in a master game. You score points for matching the master’s move or for finding other good moves. You may also lose points if you select a bad move.

I’ve often used Daniel King’s excellent (if over generously marked) “How Good is Your Chess” articles in CHESS with my older and stronger pupils but I wanted something different to use for younger children and within lower level groups in chess clubs. For this environment I required an activity which could be completed within 30 minutes using very short games (no longer than about 15 moves) with uncomplicated opening play and simple tactics.

So I decided, as part of my continuing Chess for Heroes project, to produce some of my own and try them out with my pupils. A couple of months ago I wrote up two games (one from Greco, one played by Staunton) and tested them with our new Intermediate Groups at Richmond Junior Chess Club as well as with private pupils.

Each game comes with a teacher’s sheet, giving the game along with the places where the pupils are asked to find moves and the scores they receive for their choices. Mostly these will be the winner’s moves but sometimes also (in the opening or at a critical defensive point) they are asked to find the loser’s moves. There are also bonus questions: what would you play if your opponent had played a different move. The pupils receive an answer sheet. They have to write each answer in notation (prior knowledge of how to record your moves is essential for this activity) and there’s also space for the number of points they score for each move. At the end the pupils add up their points and receive a rating: Chess Superhero, Chess Hero, Trainee Hero or Future Hero. If you’re working with a group the children will be keen to find out who has scored the most points. In a class environment you’ll probably want to use a demo board but you might also like to ensure that the children have the correct position set up on a board in front of them.

The response was interesting. My private pupils seemed to enjoy them. The children at Richmond Junior Club also enjoyed them but were taking a long time to think of their moves, some of them remarking that “This is really hard”. Children who will usually take little more than 10 seconds per move in their games were, when faced with the task of selecting the best move in the position, unable to come up with an answer within two or three minutes. I took pains to make it clear to them that their objective was to find the best move, not to guess what was played in the game, and that they might on occasion score more points for finding an improvement on the actual move. In order to complete the activity within the time I allocated for it I’ll need to impose a time limit of a minute for each move in future. If they haven’t written anything down by then they don’t score any points for that move.

This is precisely the difference between casual chess and competitive chess. If you’re playing a casual game against a friend you might not be too bothered about finding the best move or about the result. You might even get frustrated if you think your opponent is spending too long on his moves. If you’re playing a competitive game, though, your job is to find the best move you can in the time you have available. Perhaps the most important thing for chess coaches to do if they want to convert social players into serious players is to get them to understand the difference. If you agree with this, you might think this sort of lesson could be an effective way of achieving this aim.

I’ll be posting the first two Chess Games for Heroes lessons over the next two weeks and writing some more over the Summer holidays. It would also be good to find a publisher for this and the rest of the Chess for Heroes project at some point.

Richard James

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Only Fool’s Rush In

Wise men say, only fool’s rush in. While Elvis Presley was singing about love rather than chess, I think chess players of all levels can take these words to heart. After all, we’ve all launched a premature attack only to have it repelled, with the big pay off being the weakening of our position. Wise chess players never rush into an attack. However, there are times when an early attack can be beneficial. The trick is to know how to identify such an opportunity.

Beginner’s have the habit of throwing individual pieces at the opposition King with no real rhyme or reason. They end up losing material while making no real threat to the opposition. With a little experience they then move on to attacking the King with pairs of pieces with similar results. Often, this idea of a two piece assault becomes popular with the novice player because they’ve had some luck with the Scholar’s Mate. The Queen and Bishop combination then become the staple of the beginner’s early attacks.

As our beginner gains further experience, they move onto attacks against the weak f7 (for black) and f2 (for white) squares, trying to disrupt the King-side of the board. While these two squares are weak during the opening, attacking them comes at a cost that the beginner fails to see. What the beginner sees is a chance at a fast attack that may weaken the opposition’s position. However, if the word’s “chance” and “may” are used when considering an attack you may not want to take a chance because good chess is not a game of chance and the word may (as in “it may work”) should not be in a chess player’s vocabulary! The validity of an attack can be judged by what it costs you to embark on such an endeavor.

Of course, attacking is key if you hope to win a game of chess but you have to consider the cost of launching the attack. For example, many beginner’s think the idea of trading two minors, a Knight and a Bishop, for a Rook and a Pawn during the opening is an equal exchange. This might occur after 1. e4…e5, 2. Nf3…Nc6, 3. Bc4…Nf6, 4. 0-0…Be7 5. Ng5…0-0, 6. Nxf7 Rxf7, Bxf7…Kxf7. The player of the white pieces says, “ah ha, I’ve taken one of the black pawns that shields the castled black King and I’ve got the black King-side Rook as well. This means I’ll go into the end game with an extra Rook!”

However, what the player of the white pieces missed was the price paid for winning the pawn and Rook. What’s the price? Well, going into the endgame with two Rooks and a Queen against one Rook and Queen might have some value if both players were in the actual endgame but, they’re still in the opening. The two minor pieces white traded for the black Rook and pawn were active pieces in the opening. Minor pieces are critical in the opening and tactically important in the middle-game. Black’s Rook and pawn were inactive so white traded two active pieces for an inactive Rook and pawn. Then there’s the tempo factor! White moved the Knight three times to launch the attack. This allowed black to get ahead in development. In the end, the price paid by white was much higher than the results garnered! If you look at the final position, black has a firm grasp of the board’s center while white has nothing.

The beginner should learn to evaluate the cost of any attack in terms of game principles, only considering an attack early on if the outcome of the attack is far greater than the price paid. Trading those two minor pieces for a Rook and a pawn means that black has all four minor pieces to white’s two minor pieces. With the middle-game soon to start, black has a two to one potential tactical majority which means that black will have an advantage when it comes to developing any tactical plays. Minor pieces play a much more important role in the early phases of the game than the major pieces.

One thing I do with my beginning students is to have them keep a pencil and paper handy while playing practice games so they can create a list of pros and cons for any attack they’re planning. They write down their attacking goals and benefits in one column and the negative aspects in another. For an attack to warrant any merit, the benefits must greatly outnumber the costs incurred by launching such an attack. To be considered on their list are piece activity, central board control, King safety, tempo, potential tactics, etc.

One point, that is important for the chess teacher to keep in mind, is the thinking that leads the beginner to rush into early attacks. We become good at teaching only when we understand the point of view of our students. To simply think that a student doesn’t know any better doesn’t help the teacher to fully understand why a problem is occurring. Therefore, I ask my students a lot of questions to determine why they, in this case, launch an attack like the one shown above. As I mentioned earlier, students think that the removal of a major piece, the Rook, and one of the three pawns protecting the King gives them an advantage. It could be considered an advantage, again, if this took place towards the endgame. They also consider the idea of relative material value being absolute. To the beginner, six points of material for six points of material is an equal trade. Younger beginners don’t always understand the word ‘relative.’ To them, a Knight and Bishop are equal in value to a Rook and a pawn, period. Therefore, I explain to them that the term relative means that the value can change depending on positional aspects, such as open versus closed game, or depending on the actual phase of the game. Always ask students to explain the reasoning behind their actions on the chessboard. Otherwise, you’ll never be able to explain your reasoning in a way that makes sense to them.

Anyone who has taught junior level chess has seen the Fried Liver Attack, which is the next attacking phase most youngsters employ as they mature as players. The Fried Liver Attack, which occurs after 1. e4…e5, 2. Nf3…Nc6, 3. Bc4…Nf6, 4. Ng5…d5, 6. exd5…Nxd5, 7. Nxf7…Kxf7, 8. Qf3+, can prove disastrous for black if he or she doesn’t know what they’re doing. The person playing the black pieces is often a less experienced player (at junior level) which means the person playing white can deliver a crushing blow. Of course, the person employing this attack will eventually face an opponent who knows what he or she is doing!

Now, if we look at this series of moves, remembering that this is a junior level attack, we might consider this assault to be a bit more sound because the price paid in terms of game principles isn’t as steep as the previous example. White did moved the Knight three times to take down the f7 pawn and did stop the black King from castling. Of course, white should have developed a new piece with each move. However, white does have the black King in a bit of a positional pickle. Moreover, white has options to continue building up the attack. While I wouldn’t embark on this attack, it provides junior players with an opportunity to hone their attacking skills. There are numerous ways to continue the Fried Liver from this position and you can look them up. The point I want to make is that this attack has a bit more bite to it because the cost of employing it is less than the price paid in our first example.

If you wish to launch an early attack, add up the cost in terms of principled play and see if that cost outweighs the benefits. Losing the game is a price you don’t want to have to pay. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

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The Unbearable Heaviness of Computer Analysis

Having a solid opening repertoire and knowledge of typical plans is very important. But that doesn’t mean you need to memorize lots of computer analysis. – Nigel Davies

The subject of chess students lending undue weight to computer analysis of the openings recently came up in discussion with GM Davies and friends on Facebook.

Folks tend to forget that the computers are guessing just like we are. It’s axiomatic in the mathematical discipline of Game Theory that it’s not possible to find provably the best chess move without calculation to all terminal positions. Unless a computer’s brute force calculation is either exhaustive (not mathematically possible on current computing platforms in the opening) or intersects its Nalimov tablebase, the computer is operating strategically/heuristically (i.e., “guessing”) just as we do, though with a greater speed than we can muster and a flawless memory for the variations it has already calculated.

The other fact many learners don’t forget, but rather, can’t quite grasp, is that there are many paths through the forest to the inevitable draw. All that chess requires is that one stay on one of the paths to the draw and make sure one’s opponent steps off the path and onto the path to perdition instead of doing so one’s self.

Incidentally, some time ago WGM Natalia Pogonina remarked on Facebook that the Russian Chess Federation has access to supercomputer time for openings analysis, and that the more processing time given to any sound opening, the closer the computer heuristic evaluation of advantage approaches 0.0 (complete equality). Which seems obvious, but it’s worth noting.

The following game is presented without computer analysis of any kind. My opponent, a nice fellow and one of my “regular customers”, groused to the Tournament Director as he walked out the door, “That was no fun, he just rolled over me, I never had a chance!”

Jacques Delaguerre

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Some Excellent Stuff Over YouTube To Improve At Chess

Thechesswebsite
Thechesswebsite is publishing material mainly in video format over YouTube and has more than 130,000 subscribers. Currently he mainly focuses on annotated chess games from recent tournaments and some ‘masala’ chess videos. Some of his videos are for members only but you can find lots of instructive free stuff. With English not being my first language, I found it is difficult to understand him because of his accent. But I really appreciate his continuous works over 6 years.

King Crusher
This channel is run by Tryfon Gavriel, a FIDE Candidate Master, British Regional Master and also the webmaster of Chess World. He reached a peak ECF rating of 212 (equivalent to about 2350 USCF) in July 2014, and a 216 rapid grade. He runs his YouTube channel as King Crusher and has been active for the last 8 years with around 60,000 subscriber and more than 5,000 videos. You can find lots of classical and modern annotated games on his channel.

Power Play Chess by Daniel King
This doesn’t require any introduction. King mainly produces the videos on current chess tournaments. He started this channel three years back and currently there are more than 500 videos that you can go through.

Chess Network
Introducing himself as Jerry, the creator of this channel is a self taught National Master with over 100,000 subscribers. Beginners to intermediate players can get much from his videos.

I have also found some other chess channels useful which focus on commentating during their/other blitz games. I believe this is entertaining but less instructive, so they are not included here.

And yes if you don’t like to go over YouTube and search for good videos here is an option. www.lichess.org has selected more than 1000 videos from different channels.

Ashvin Chauhan

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Sacrificing Two Queens

This week’s puzzle is not very hard, but it is unusual because to win White has to sacrifice two Queens.

This doesn’t happen very often, and it is even rarer to sacrifice two Queens on the same move. This is the only position I know where it happened.

How does White to play win?

The solution to last Monday’s problem is that White wins by sacrificing his extra material. 1 Kc4! Kd7 2 Kd5 Kxd8 3 Kc6 and wins.

Steven Carr

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Paignton Challengers A 1974 Part 5

Going into the last round I was on 4½/6, with a chance of first place if I won my final game. I found myself playing White against one of the highest graded players in my section and a QGD Exchange Variation soon appeared on the board.

1. d4 d5
2. c4 e6
3. Nc3 Nf6
4. Nf3 Nbd7
5. cxd5 exd5
6. Bg5 Be7
7. e3 c6
8. Bd3 Ne4

You can do this if you like but, as you might expect, Black usually castles in this position.

9. Bf4 Ndf6
10. Qc2 Nxc3

Rather obliging. Bf5 was another option, but Black could also castle here, offering a pawn. Stockfish analyses 10…0–0 11.Nxe4 dxe4 12.Bxe4 Nxe4 13.Qxe4 g5 14.Bg3 f5 15.Qe5 f4 16.exf4 g4 17.Nd2 Bf6 when Black has a lot of play.

11. bxc3 Bg4

This is just bad. He could still have castled.

12. Ne5 Bh5

And this is a blunder.

13. O-O

Missing the chance to play Rb1 which just wins a pawn. Qc8 or Qd7 would be met by Bf5.

13… Bg6
14. Rab1 Bxd3
15. Qxd3 Qc8
16. Bg5

Another inaccurate move. I should have taken the opportunity to play c4, which Black could now have prevented by playing b5.

16… Ne4

This is just crazy. I really can’t imagine what prompted him to play this move. Last round nerves, perhaps? All I have to do is open the centre and Black will have no defence.

17. Bxe7 Kxe7
18. c4 f6
19. cxd5 Nd6
20. Nc4

Stockfish recommends the piece sacrifice Rfc1 here. Black’s best bet now is to trade knights but instead he loses quickly.

20… cxd5
21. Nxd6 Kxd6
22. Rfc1 Qd7
23. e4 b6
24. Qg3+ Ke6
25. Rc7 1-0

So I finished on 5½/7, enough for a share of first place. Four wins with white and three draws with black. In the immortal words of Mr Punch, that’s the way to do it.

Looking back at the games I was lucky that all my black opponents played rather feebly in the opening and in each case I was able to gain a significant advantage early in the game. Two of my white opponents played unambitiously and allowed me easy equality. Only in round 4 was I in any trouble, where I blundered a pawn and should have lost the subsequent ending.

For the first time I was feeling confident about my chess. A few weeks later the new season was under way. My first seven matches resulted in seven wins, several against fairly strong opponents. My next tournament, one of the large open Swisses which were popular in London at the time, saw me extend my winning sequence to nine before losing to a strong opponent in the second round. Although I’d cut out most of my blunders and was happy with my defence to 1. e4, I’d still lose the occasional horrible game to opponents who knew the opening better than me.

The question that interests me is whether or not I was a stronger player 40 years ago in my mid 20s than I am now in my mid 60s. I think players of, say, 1800-2000 strength are stronger now than then, which, given the increased knowledge of chess, is what you’d expect. If I’d continued to play regularly and take chess seriously I’d be stronger now than I was back in the mid 70s. But I chose not to, so, perhaps I’m about the same strength.

In a few weeks time I’ll revisit another tournament from my past.

Richard James

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