Category Archives: Articles

Never Trust a Robot

This warning from Stephen Hawking got me thinking. First of all I was surprised that he was taking the trouble to lend support for this idea which has been depicted in the movies on numerous occasions. And then I started considering chess players’ relationships with computers and how they’ve changed the nature of the game.

Computers have certainly led to massive advances in the fields of training and preparation; now even some players below 2200 can effectively use engines such as Houdini or Stockfish to prepare critical positions. This has led to many top players eschewing sharp theoretical lines and instead choosing to slug it out in dour positional struggles, with Magnus Carlsen being the leading representative of this approach. Speculative gambits have become quite rare as the work required to prepare them is largely wasted; it’s a serious risk to play the same line in more than one game as future opponents may be very well prepared.

So what lines are good? Basically just about anything that puts the emphasis on the middle game in which both sides have lots of playable alternatives. Your opponent can still prepare using a computer database, but he’s not likely to unleash a decisive opening innovation.

As for artificial intelligence, let’s keep them on a tight rein. I discussed this matter with Michael Koblentz on Facebook and he cited Koblentz’s law of robotics. This included such common sense measures as not given computers weapons, allowing them unilateral control of life support systems, build other computers etc. All common sense really, and of course we should never, ever, let them play chess.

Nigel Davies

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Adventures with 1…e5 (3)

Fate soon offered me another opportunity to defend against 1. e4 in another Richmond v Surbiton encounter, this time a match between our respective B teams. Again I was sitting opposite an opponent rated slightly below me.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4

Someone else who’s going Italian. I decided to try the Two Knights’ Defence again.

3.. Nf6
4. Ng5 d5
5. exd5

Should I stick with the slightly dubious Fritz variation after what happened last time or try something else? I decided to go down the main line, at least for a few moves.

5.. Na5
6. Bb5+ c6
7. dxc6 bxc6
8. Be2

White’s most popular choice here, but is it best? Alternatives are the currently fashionable 8. Bd3 preparing a knight retreat to e4, which leads to fairly obscure positions, and the sharp pinning move 8. Qf3, when one option (there are others) for Black is 8.. Rb8, the Colman Variation, analysed by Eugene Ernest Colman while he was held in the Changi Civilian Internees Camp in Singapore during the Second World War. Colman played his move successfully in club chess for Wimbledon, no doubt on occasion in the Thames Valley League. Olympiu Urcan’s biography of Colman, Surviving Changi, is highly recommended.

8.. h6
9. Nf3

Steinitz and Fischer both tried Nh3 here.

9.. e4
10. Ne5 Bc5

The immediate Bd6 is Black’s most popular choice here but engines and stats both prefer this move.

11. c3

The most popular move here. White wants to prevent a possible Qd4 but takes a square away from his queen’s knight.

11.. Bd6

This move and 11.. Qc7 both score very well for Black.

12. d4

Again the most popular choice, but 12. f4 might be an improvement.

12.. exd3
13. Nxd3 Qc7

76 games in BigBase 2014 reached this position with Black scoring 74%. It looks like White’s backing a loser by going down this line.

14. h3

Now we have 41 games with Black scoring 78%.

14.. O-O
15. O-O Bf5

21 games here and Black now up to 81%.

16. b3

Played twice in BigBase 2014. In both cases Black won after playing Rad8.

16.. Rfe8

White looked like a man about to play Ba3 so I played something that I thought prevented this. I was right, but for the wrong reason.

17. Ba3

This should lose at once, but White’s position is uncomfortable due to Black’s pressure down the centre files.

17… Bxa3

Stockfish informed me after the game that I should have played 17.. Bh2+ (the immediate 17.. Rad8 is also strong) 18. Kh1 Rad8 when there’s surprisingly little White can do to meet the threat of Rxe2 followed by Bxd3.

18. Nxa3 Qe7

This is what I’d seen when I played 16.. Rfe8. I thought it won a piece, but it doesn’t. Instead I could again have played 18… Rad8, but now White has some sort of defence: 19. Nc2 Rxe2 20. Nd4 Bxd3 21. Nxe2 when Black has bishop and knight for rook and pawn.

19. Re1

We both missed that White can save the piece here: 19. b4 Qxe2 20. Qxe2 Rxe2 21. Nc1 (gaining time by hitting the rook) 21.. Re4 22. bxa5 Ra4 23. Nb1 and White is still in the game. But now Black’s just a piece ahead.

19… Qxa3
20. Nb4 Rad8

Forcing a queen exchange.

21. Qc1 Qxc1 22. Raxc1 Kf8 23. Kf1 c5 24. Na6 Ne4 25. g4 Bc8 26. Kg1 c4 27. Nc7 Re7 28. Nb5 cxb3 29. axb3 Nxb3 30. Rb1 Ned2 31. Rbd1 Rde8 0-1

My switch to 1.. e5 was certainly successful in that game. White certainly needs to rethink the opening as 10.. Bc5 seems very comfortable for Black. Still no Spanish, though. Maybe next time.

Richard James

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The Road that Leads to Improvement

I thought about titling this article “The Journey to Mastery” but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that not every chess player would be willing to commit to such a difficult endeavor, becoming a titled “master” of the game. On the other hand, anyone who enjoys the game would be more than happy with improving their chess skills. Thinking about it further, I realized that you cannot even consider the journey to mastery until you’ve spent some time walking along the road that leads to improvement. At some point, a mathematical statistician determined that anyone who put ten thousand hours into the study of a subject would become a master of that subject. Does that mean that all you have to do is read a stack of chess books and play chess for ten thousand hours to become a Grandmaster? Absolutely not! In fact, you could spend ten thousand hours studying and playing chess only to become a slightly better than average player. It’s quality of study that leads to real improvement, not quantity of time spent studying. The best students of any subject have highly effective study habits and techniques.

In my youth, back when chess games were recorded on stone tablets, we got better at chess by reading chess books and then testing out our new found knowledge on the board against a human opponent. Now, there are so many alternative methods of study that the beginner is left bewildered by the numerous choices. You can use Books, DVDs, training software or websites that are dedicated to specific aspects of the game. However, no matter which method you choose to employ, there is one specific concept that must be embraced in order to improve. I’m talking about good studying habits. If your studying habits are not good you’ll only retain a fraction of what you learn which slows down your improvement greatly. This can lead to frustration which can lead to simply giving up. How you study is just as important as what you study!

Slow and steady wins the race when if comes to improvement. Humans tend to be impatient so they try to complete a task as quickly as possible. This leads to setting unrealistic goals. If your goal requires three hundred hours to accomplish, you could spend an hour per day and meet your goal in three hundred days. You could also shorten that time frame by spending ten hours a day working toward you’ll goal, cutting the total number of days needed to thirty. This would be a grave mistake! Most people lead busy lives which means they can only dedicate a small amount of time each day to their studies. However, even if they had the time to study for ten hours a day, they would fall victim to mental fatigue, especially when studying chess which requires great concentration. The best route to take is to set a realistic time table, say thirty minutes a day to start. Most of us can take thirty minutes from our daily schedule without having our lives fall apart. Thirty minutes will not leave you mentally drained at the end of your study session. While you might say that thirty minutes day isn’t much, it adds up to 182 hours a year. Still, some of you are thinking that 182 hours isn’t a lot of time, especially when thinking about reaching that 10,000 hour mark. Forget about that 10,000 hour idea. Let’s worry about improving before mastery!

Our next consideration is where to study. I’ve talked about study techniques in previous articles but I feel the subject so important that I’m bringing it up again. My next point is crucial if you want to improve. Find a quiet place to study. I feel so strongly about this that I have taken to sitting in my car, parked in front of my house to study chess uninterrupted. I have a busy household and even my office can be a bit noisy. You need a place that is not only quiet but offers no distractions as well. I’ve taken to my car because of one incident. I was studying a variation of the Nimzo Indian opening because it I had trouble with it. Sitting in my office, I reached one of those “ah ha” moments when everything suddenly became clear. I had the Nimzo Indian within my grasp. Suddenly, our pit bull (Ruby Petrosian Patterson) burst through my office door, made a run towards my desk and started grabbing chess pieces off the board I use. Needless to say, my concentration was broken and the mysteries of the Nimzo Indian still remain a mystery to me. Find a quiet place to study!

If you’ve followed my advice so far, you’ve set up the conditions for productive studying. You have a realistic time table and a place to study. Now comes the question, what to study? Finding suitable chess material to study is similar to buying pants. Pants come in a vast range of sizes. However, you’re never going to purchase a pair that is an exact fit. The length might be perfect but the waist is a bit tight! Chess training material is the same way.

While many companies will list a rating range for their training material, such as “for players rated between 800 and 1200,” that 400 point range is a huge consideration for the beginner whose rating is closer to 800. How can the beginner determine whether the training material in question suitable for their skill set? If its a book, the beginner can either examine the book, if being purchased from a bookstore, or preview it, if being purchased online. In either case, look at the table of contents first. If you’re a beginner trying to improve your general opening play, you should see chapters dedicated to the opening principles such as control of the board’s center, minor piece development, castling, etc. The book should also contain games in which both sides win. Examine a chapter and ask yourself “does this make sense?” If you can’t understand the concepts as explained by the book’s author, you may want to consider another title! Avoid books that promise fast improvement results or promise a fast increase in your rating.

DVDs can be a bit trickier because you cannot play the DVD before purchasing it. However, many DVD producers, such as ChessBase, offer previews on their website which allow you to test drive them prior to purchase. Again, ask yourself “does this make sense.” With specific DVDs, such as those dealing with opening play, you have to be careful as a beginner. I teach and coach chess full time so I spend a great deal of time both teaching and learning. I will always be a student of the game. I mention this because I’ve fallen victim to the purchase of a DVD about specific openings that are beyond my skill set. Beginners should stick to DVDs that explore principles rather than specific openings at least until they have a strong grasp on the principles!

Lastly, invest in a software training program that has a good GUI (Graphical User Interface) and decent chess engine. This gives the beginner an instant opponent and many of these programs have add on training modules that can be purchased separately. There are some pitfalls with these programs. First off, when playing against the computer at its lowest levels, you’re going to get an unrealistic game of chess. The computer will make the worst moves and, while your victory against the silicon beast might feel good, you’ll pay for that joy when you sit down and play a human (even a novice player) and they make much better moves than your computer program (on a low setting), leaving you with a lost game. Only play the computer at a higher game setting. The moves are more realistic and you only get better at chess by playing stronger opponents. Play human opponents every chance you get!

Lastly, beware of website advice. While a decent percentage of these websites are an excellent resource for learning, you have to remember, anyone can create a chess website regardless of their chess skills. I spend a great deal of time correcting my student’s bad habits, bad habits they picked up online. Nigel’s Tiger Chess website is an exception and you should consider an online visit (http://tigerchess.com). Another good resource is IM Andrew Martin’s Youtube videos (https://www.youtube.com/user/YMChessMaster) You would definitely do well to read all the excellent articles by the folks here at The Chess Improver as well. Keep it simple, make your study time count and sit in your car if you need a quiet place to study. Your game will slowly but surely get better. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week. I bet these guys had good studying habits!

Hugh Patterson

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How Does One Fight a Blind Warrior?

My opponent in this chess game uses the handle blind-warrior on ICC because he is legally blind. He needs to use a special electronic chess board when he plays on ICC so that he gets notified when his opponent moves or sends him a tell. Many chess federations have special rules for blind chess players, such as “touch move” does not really apply to them. His real name is Manny Guzman and he was born in Puerto Rico. He lived in New York City for a while and now he lives in Maui. If his special chess board malfunctions Manny will ask to abort the game and I let him because that is not how I want to win. If I can’t get at least a draw against a legally blind 1500 rated chess player then I need to quit playing chess for a while and go to bed!

I have played against the Smith-Morra Gambit before and I have not fared well in the past. So, in this chess game, I decided to try an unusual move on my third turn. Normally, I do not play my Queen out this early in the opening! However, that worked out OK for me in this game. Manny also brought his Queen out early and I gained some time chasing it around.

Manny’s fifth move was a novelty and I was on my own from there.

As Black I challenged the Center on my sixth turn and we started exchanging material from there. My ninth move was intended to keep the White Knight off e5. Letting that Knight get there would have resulted in the loss of a pawn.

White did not castle until move number 13. Black was lagging behind in development but was making threatening moves on almost every turn up to that point. I never castled and decided to keep my King near the Center instead. White continued to play normal developing moves while Black continued to put pressure on c2.

On move number 16 White goes into a combination that loses material for him. He then follows that up with a horrendous blunder on move number 19. Things went downhill for him from there.

My forcing the exchange of rooks on move number 23 simplified the endgame and made it easier for Black to win. When I am up material I will trade off pieces and go into an easily won endgame. When I am down material I will try to trade off pawns for a drawn endgame. White resigned when he realized that I was up a Rook and was going to queen my passed c pawn.

Mike Serovey

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Methodically Building An Endgame Fortress

A student showed me a fascinating game of his in which he was fighting for a draw as White, being an exchange down (Rook down for a Knight) for a Pawn. The position looked precarious, but the more I looked at it, the more it looked like he missed a fortress draw (he blundered quickly instead). Upon analysis, the fortress idea appears to work, but just barely. Below I explore the construction of the fortress and a subtlety that shows how a single inaccuracy could cause White a lot of trouble.

Features of the position

The starting position has unusual features that give White a fighting chance to draw at all:

  • White has a Queen side Pawn majority and a King side Pawn majority. This helps prevent Pawn breaks by Black, although Black may be able to try a minority attack on the King side.
  • Black’s b6 and e6 Pawns are extremely weak. If White could win one of them, that would ensure a lot of counterplay, probably good enough for a draw.
  • White’s Knight on d4 is a monster. Most critically, it prevents any Black King invasion via c6, b5, or f5, so Black can any possibility of winning only by using the Rooks and King side Pawns.
  • There is only one open file for any of the Rooks, the a-file. If White takes it, White should probably be able to draw by perpetual check and/or winning the b6 or e6 Pawn (especially the e6 Pawn, in which case White would have a passed e-Pawn ready to march to e6 and e7).
  • One of Black’s Rooks happens to be very poorly placed. It will take time for this Rook to get to the a-file and join up with the other Rook to try to advantageously trade one Rook and then aim to knock off any weak White Pawns that cannot be protected by White’s King or Knight.

Ideas of White’s fortress

Making a list of the features of the positions gives many clues about how White could possibly draw this position, as well as how Black can try to win it. Of course, general considerations are not enough: very careful tactical calculation is required especially when White has the opportunity to go all out to abandon everything and try to get to Black’s seventh rank with a Rook: if the attempt at a perpetual check (or other draw by repetition) and/or Queen promotion fails, White will obviously lose. In this article I don’t focus on the variations in which Black allows such penetration, but on the fortress itself, under the assumption that Black does not allow the penetration.

The first thing to do is to imagine that Black does trade off White’s remaining Rook. Black can always force a Rook trade if desired, so we have to at least be able to hold the draw if White’s Rook can no longer defend the whole range of White’s position, from Queen side to King side.

  • Black’s King cannot make progress as long as White’s Knight stays close to d4 and attacks the e6 Pawn.
  • If Black sacrifices the Rook for White’s Knight, that should not achieve anything because Black’s King is not close enough to do anything useful in the King and Pawn ending.
  • The c-Pawn must remain protected: this requires either the King on the b, c, or d files or the Knight on e2.
  • The e-Pawn must remain protected: this requires either Ne2 blocking a Rook on e1, or f4 creating a Pawn chain.
  • The f-Pawn must remain protected: if the g-Pawn has been forced to advance to g3, then f4 creates a Pawn chain; if the g-Pawn has been forced to advanced to g4, the f-Pawn is best protected at f3 by the Knight on d4.
  • The g-Pawn must remain protected: it has to go to g3 or g4, because otherwise it is too far away from White’s King and Knight, which ideally remain no further than the e-file, in order to guard against possible loss of the c-Pawn or possible invastion by Black’s King.
  • The h-Pawn must remain protected: at h3 it is in big trouble because we assume the g-Pawn has to be advanced; at h4 it might be OK, protected by a Pawn at g3; at h5 it might be OK, protected by a Pawn at g4.

How might Black breach the fortress?

The main thing to notice is that if Black can get a Pawn down to h3 safely, without trading any Rooks, White is surely lost, because Black can first tie up White’s pieces on the Queen side, then trade a Rook just in time to get the other Rook attacking White’s defenseless Pawn on h2. Therefore, Black has the plan of g5, h5, h4, h3.

Also, if Black can force a Pawn trade of the g-Pawn and open a file on the King side (say by White being able to play f4 only after Black has already played g5), White is surely lost, because of the power of a Rook crashing through White’s position through that file and winning one or more remaining weak White King side Pawns with the help of the other Rook.

So the main variation below, which succeeds in setting up a defensive fortress, has White hurrying up to distract Black’s Rook away from the King side to defend the a-file, then playing h4 to permanently prevent the h3 plan. Note that it involves saving time by not defending the attacked h2-Pawn at all.

An interesting side variation, which may lose, involves White playing g3 to protect the h2-Pawn currently under threat, but permanently weakening the h-Pawn. Black can try the g5, h5, h4, h3 plan. If White just waits passively, the game is lost. There is a fiendishly complicated variation in which White abandons the fortress idea and tries to get counterplay at the cost of sacrificing the f-Pawn after redeploying the Knight to d6. This is scary-looking and I don’t actually know if White can draw with computer-perfect play, but it is White’s best try after starting the mistaken g3 idea.

Annotated

Franklin Chen

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Avoiding Time Trouble

“Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them.”
– Albert Einstein

If I talk about myself, I never face time trouble except in ‘blitz’ chess because of my habits, both good and bad. So I thought I’d share what I think are my good habits along with observations from the tournament hall of bad ones. Plus those I am trying to overcome:

1. Many of us have the habit of thinking only when our clock is ticking and relaxing in the opponent’s time. Sometimes it is good to take a break, though it is not always necessary.

2. Calculating the same variation again and again is something I have seen a lot. It often occurs when someone is not able to visualize the board properly and it often results in time trouble.

3. Taking too much time in opening can lead to time trouble. Of course if there is something new you should think about it, but when the moves are familiar to you it’s better to play more quickly and save time for critical moments.

4. Trying to see every detail in calculating can also lead to time trouble. There’s no need to calculate everything to the end, it is not possible for humans. It’s better to end your calculation when you feel position is comfortable for you.

5. Don’t try to force a position that’s not ready. In a simple position you can’t find a forced win over the board. You can do it at home with hours of analysis. Over the board you should coordinate your quality of move and time so play the optimal move rather than one that is necessarily the best.

Ashvin Chauhan

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The Processes of Finding The Right Move

How does a Grandmaster decide what moves to play? The same as any chess player, by a process of thought. It just happens that the Grandmaster applies the process better, and understands things a little more. It used to be suggested that it was a matter of intelligence, but that is now known to be a myth. Grandmasters have put hours and hours of study in over a chessboard, and played thousands and thousands of games. Of course, some people are cleverer than others, but in the main I believe this to be irrelevant.

It is my belief that anyone with the desire, who is willing to invest the time, can become a very good chess player. And very proficient at applying their mind to it.

It goes without saying that the thought process is one of the most important qualities of a chess player. One can forget the opening, and other theoretical aspects, if one cannot think effectively. The correct line of thought can make a whole bunch of difference, with regards to the clock as well as anything else, and what exactly the correct approach is will depend upon the position on the board.

– How do we know?

– How can we evaluate this essential part of our technique?

Well, those who know my writing will already be aware that I am a great fan of the books by Alexander Kotov, Think Like a Grandmaster and Play Like a Grandmaster (the latter being one of my most treasured possessions). In those books, Kotov goes in to the thought process of a Grandmaster, and especially the differences depending upon the types of situation.

He states that in positions where there is calm, and no contact between the opposing sides, the considerations should be of a general strategic nature, where one wishes to post pieces, what files may open, how the structure and layout may change over time and how we can prepare for it. Importantly, the analysis of variations should be minimal, and merely as a quick check over. By contrast, when there is contact (or credible impending contact) between the opposing sides, he said very simply, “one calculates”. Thus, positional considerations play second-fiddle to the concrete analysis of variations and possibilities.

Failure to apply this can have serious consequences and make one’s analysis muddled and ineffective, as well as costing much time on the clock due to trying to cover everything from all sides. In chess it is very important to concentrate on the relevant. Before I learned this I used to have terrible time trouble problems due to going between the two approaches.

I found it very interesting to see Kotov’s words applied often when listening to Peter Svidler’s commentary during the recent Carlsen-Anand World Championship match. Svidler made many general observations, such as to where he would like to place a certain piece and why. He also voiced his anticipations about certain files being opened, changes in pawn structure, and he was ever mindful of the endgame.

Where there was tension, he wasted little time on such matters, instead stating that “we should calculate”, or that a certain line should be “made concrete”.

This, to me, indicated a finely tuned technique — not that one would ever think otherwise for such an accomplished player as Svidler, of course. And so I decided that in this article I would bring it to your attention, dear reader. If you find yourself unsure of how to approach a certain position in your chess games, or perhaps you are getting in to time trouble a lot, the following points may help you considerably. Infact, I would go as far as saying that there is not a chess player around who would not benefit from bearing the following in mind:

– In positions where there is little contact between the opposing sides, where there is a relative calm: One considers general strategic plans and possibilities. The analysis/calculation of variations is minimal.

– When there is contact between the opposing sides: One calculates variations. Positional and strategic considerations are minimal if at all.

An effective thought process can (probably will) add points to one’s rating. It will certainly add to the enjoyment of the game, due to less blundering and time pressure. It will help us approach chess positions with confidence and clarity. It will result in us finding the relevant and important. Ultimately, it is what will help us find the right moves.

John Lee Shaw

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Balance

Beginners are fond of launching early or premature attacks regardless of what it does to their position. These attacks are uncoordinated and weaken the beginner’s position which more often than not, costs them the game. After a few chess lessons, the beginner’s attack becomes more coordinated. The most popular point of attack for beginners are the f2 and f7 squares which are weak because they’re solely defended by their respective Kings at the game’s start. An attack on the f7 pawn typically involves the King-side Knight and Bishop. After, 1.e4…e5, 2.Nf3…Nc6 and 3.Bc4…Nf6, white breaks an opening principle and moves the Knight a second time, 4.Ng5. Because white moves first, white has an opportunity to stay one move ahead in development during the opening, except in the above example in which white forfeits his lead in tempo (time). Therefore, I introduce the idea of balance early in my student’s chess careers.

Think of balance as an old fashion seesaw, such as those found at a playground. When the seesaw is parallel with the ground, it is evenly balanced. When someone sits on one side of the seesaw, it tilts, lowering that person to the ground. If another person sites down on the opposite side of the seesaw, the person closest to the ground is raised up. When one end of the seesaw goes up, the other end goes down. It is no longer evenly balanced. How does this relate to chess?

When the game starts, before any pawn or piece is moved, the position on the board is evenly balanced. Since white moves first, white disturbs the balance, tipping it (like the seesaw) in his or her favor with a move like 1.e4. This move puts a pawn in the center of the board, allows the King-side Bishop (as well as the Queen) to develop, which brings white closer to Castling. Its a powerful first move that puts the Question to black, how are you going to restore the balance? If Black plays 1…e5, the balance is restored for the moment. While black can play other moves such as 1…e6, 1…c6 or 1…c5, beginners should start with the simple 1…e5 to restore the balance.

Examining a move in terms of positional balance will help the novice player avoid weakening their position during any phase of the game. The opening exemplifies this idea. Since white moves first, white disturbs the balance of the starting position. Black needs to immediately restore the balance with a counter move that garners the same positional benefits as white (1…e5) or set up a future balanced position with an opening move other than 1…e5. After 1.e4…e5, white might play 2.Nf3. White disturbs the balance again by attacking the e5 pawn and controlling the d4 square. Black might counter with 2…Nc6 which protects the e5 pawn and puts pressure on the d4 square. The point is this: Black is making moves that strive to maintain positional equality or balance.

Chess is a positional dance in which both players must be in sync with each others actions or moves. To ignore your opponent’s moves leads to disaster. An opponent’s move must be met with a counter move that strives for some semblance of positional equality. Does this mean we play for equality or balance of position only? Absolutely not! After all, checkmate wins the game which means you’ll have to launch an attack which means stepping away from the idea of maintaining equality or balance. The point here is that you don’t want to launch an attack until the time is right.

To determine when the time is right for an attack, you have to look at your position and ask a few key questions. Start with an examination of space. Do you control more space on the board than your opponent? If so, an attack might be considered. However, before committing to that attack, ask yourself a few more questions. Does launching an attack weaken your position? So many beginners will capture a piece, only to have their entire position fall apart. A strong position trumps capturing pieces unless capturing staves off a potential checkmate. Does capturing a pieces strengthen your position while weakening that of your opponent? These are the questions to ask before attacking.

An idea I pass onto my students is that their goal in the opening is to aim for a balanced position, waiting until the middle game to launch any attacks. A balanced position means an equal control of space, namely the board’s center during the opening. I make a point of mentioning this each time a student considers moving the same piece twice during the opening. By doing so, they’re giving their opponent the opportunity to develop another new piece. Moving the same piece over and over again allows your opponent to gain tempo (time) which makes it harder for you to achieve balance. How do you determine whether you have a balanced position or not? Determining the balance of a position requires some analysis.

Analyzing a position as a beginner can be extremely difficult because the beginner tends to see everything at once. Rather than focusing in on key elements, the novice player’s chess vision is blurred because they’re trying to look at every pawn and piece at the same time. To analyze a position’s level of balance, the beginner should approach the task systematically. During the opening, controlling the board’s center is the name of the game. Therefore, the beginner should count the number of squares his or her pawns and pieces control. Do the same for the opposition’s pawns and pieces. This simple act will give you an idea about the position’s balance. If you’re behind in spatial control, aim to make moves that balance that control either equally or in your favor.

Beginner’s should get in the habit of continually developing pawns and pieces to more active squares going into the middle-game. I have observed students developing correctly during the opening and stopping their development as soon as their Rooks are connected. They then started gearing up for an attack. While gearing up for the attack, their opponent continues to improve their pawn and piece activity. Ultimately the attack fails because the position’s balance was off, in favor of the player whose pieces were more actively developed.

Therefore, you should look at a position in terms of balance for both sides before considering your next move. When a position is balanced, an attack might be in order. Of course, there are times when a position is imbalanced in favor of your opponent but an attack could tilt the positional seesaw in your favor. However, beginner’s don’t have their skill set built up enough to identify such positions. Keep it simple and balanced until you become a stronger player. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week. Happy Thanksgiving. I’m off to our family turkey day chess tournament.

Hugh Patterson

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We Had an Even Finnish to the Chess Game

My opponent in this chess game is from Finland.

The first 11 moves of this chess game were pretty much what I expected. I was surprised by White’s 12th move, but it was in my database of chess games.  Once again, I was a little surprised by White’s 15th move. V. Golod has commented that this position gives Black an isolated d pawn, but it is otherwise equal. Blacks’ 16th move was based upon the results of games in my database, the evaluations of various chess engines and upon Golod’s comments. The Golod analysis is included in my subscription the ChessBase Magazine.

Up until move number 18 we are still in my database of chess games. White’s move number 19 is a novelty. The more usual move here is 19.Bd3. After that I was on my own. With a Knight versus a Bishop I thought that it was best to keep as much of my material as I could on dark squares so that this material could not be attacked by the White Bishop.

When I was given the chance to grab the White Bishop on move number 21 I took it. After that, there was some maneuvering of pieces and pawns with neither side getting any advantage. Because the material was even and our ratings were close I offered a draw and he accepted. At the time that I am writing this, this is the only game in this section that is completed.

Mike Serovey

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Blockading To Defend When Things Get Tough

In a recent tournament game that I painfully lost, I had a terrible losing position, but my opponent suddenly changed the nature of the game by allowing me to set up a blockade that should have enabled me to draw. I played carelessly and threw away the draw. I thought it would be instructive to show how powerful the concept of blockade is. In this game, the blockade was worth even more than the Pawn down and if I had been more careful, I could have maintained the blockade in the center and still had attacking chances of my own on the King side.

In the position below, my opponent had a winning advantage largely due to doubled Rooks on an open e-file, but then initiated a trade of Knights in which he blocked his own open file by recapturing with a Pawn to e4. Granted, this had its points: creation of a passed Pawn with Rooks behind it can be very powerful given the threat of advancing the Pawn further. But in this particular position, I had enough time to place my Bishop on e3 setting up a blockade, and if I had just made sure to leave it there, I could have continued a decent King side attack as compensation. Note in particular that Black’s extra Pawn, the d-Pawn is backward on a half-open file, and therefore if it can be prevented from advancing, the extra Pawn should not suffice to win in a simplified ending given enough piece activity. Here, tactics based on my good piece activity were enough that I could even have tried for more, if I had maneuvered my other Rook to the King side more efficiently.

Franklin Chen

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