Category Archives: Articles

Rules And Fair Play

The news last week that Wesley So was defaulted for ‘using notes’ during one of his games came as a shock to many chess fans, and especially when the full story emerged. Here are details of what happened from Chess24 with So being interviewed:

Q: What happened yesterday?

A: I wrote something beside my scoresheet on a piece of paper – just to focus during the game, which was a reminder for me to play hard – but apparently the rules don’t allow it so I lost the game yesterday.

Q: According to the arbiter he had warned you about it before…

A: I wrote it on my scoresheet before. He told me you can only write draw offers or the times or the results on the scoresheet, so I brought a piece of paper with me this time, but my logic didn’t work out.

Q: Is that a normal habit of yours?

A: Yes, unfortunately it has been a habit for me for a long time – for years actually – and I did it a lot in the past, in Tata Steel, almost all my tournaments. Nothing was working for me in this tournament, so I thought I’d go back to my old habit. This tournament has been a nightmare for me, so I just want it to be finished.

Was what So did illegal and deserving of a forfeit? Well the FIDE regulations can be seen here, with the following being the relevant rule:

“12.3: During play the players are forbidden to make use of any notes, sources of information or advice, or analyse on another chessboard.”

Is it just me in thinking that this would this seem to be about chess notes, such as a file of opening variations? Was the arbiter being sensible and measured in giving a forfeit when lesser penalties such as a time deduction were possible? And was it fair of So’s opponent to seek arbitration rather than just playing the game? I will leave it up to the reader to decide.

As far as chess improvers are concerned I’d suggest trying to stay on the right side of the law wherever possible so as to avoid hassle during your games. Meanwhile it’s better not to distract or lower oneself by trying to use technicalities unless you have been genuinely affected by your opponent’s actions. It should be the moves that should count with the rules serving the goal of fair play.

Nigel Davies

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No Way Out!

Rooks like open files. At the start of the game, they are stuck in the corners and are often the last pieces to be developed. Even then, they often have to wait until some pawns and pieces are exchanged before they can get open lines to travel on.

It is in the endgame that Rooks do best. There are lots of open lines for them to move on and they can rampage around, attacking weak pawns, cutting off the enemy King, and helping their own pawns to Queen.

But it is surprisingly easy , even in an endgame, to put your Rook in a place where it is going nowhere. Rooks are just not much good at blockading enemy pawns. They lose a lot of mobility if they are reduced to standing in front of an enemy Pawn, trying to stop it moving forward.

In this week’s problem, Black has the chance to make sure White’s Rook is going nowhere. How does he do it?

The solution to last Monday’s problem was that Black plays Bxc3, followed by Bf5. Then the Black Knight gets a superb outpost on e4, with a clear advantage to Black.

Steven Carr

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Right Said Fred

The name of Fred Reinfeld came up recently on the Chess Book Collectors Facebook page.

For decades now Reinfeld has been mocked and slated by many strong players, but his books are still remembered fondly by those who grew up with them 50 or more years ago, so much so that “21st century” editions in algebraic notation of some of his books have been published.

My view is somewhere between the two extremes. For me Reinfeld is, or at least was, the chess equivalent of someone like Jeffrey Archer or Dan Brown. If you want great literature you’ll look somewhere else but if all you want is a good story and an easy read then Archer or Brown will probably suit you just fine. It’s very easy to be snobbish about this sort of thing but I’m not sure that’s a reason to criticise authors whose books have given pleasure to so many. (Of course there are very many other reasons why you might want to mock Jeffrey Archer, but that’s something else entirely.)

There are many with good things to say about Reinfeld. Leonard Barden (in correspondence with Edward Winter) referred to Reinfeld’s ‘lucid and informative explanations’ (Chess Notes 8004). According to BH Wood in the Illustrated London News in 1977, “Bob Wade has remarked again and again how poorer players find him helpful”. (Chess Notes 8364). On the other hand, David Hooper (again in correspondence with Winter) wrote: “He started with some serious books, found they didn’t pay, that the public wanted drivel (How to win in ten moves) and American pace necessitated mass production of drivel, he developed contempt of chessplayers, including many champions” (Chess Notes 8436). I think most of us can name several contemporary chess authors who started with serious books, found they didn’t pay and reverted to mass production of potboilers.

A quick scan of the shelves in the Chess Palace came up with seven books authored by Reinfeld, along with one edited by him and a couple of others (by Marshall and Reshevsky) which he is believed to have ghosted. There may possibly be one or two more around somewhere. So I decided to refresh my memory about these volumes.

The only Reinfeld beginners’ book I have is The Complete Chessplayer (1953), a solid guide similar in concept to other adult beginners’ books of the same period, for instance Golombek’s The Game of Chess (my first ever chess book) and Pritchard’s The Right Way to Play Chess (still in print: as it happens I edited and updated the most recent edition). It starts with the rules of chess, followed by some basic tactics, some basic endings and an opening survey. I was surprised to see that Reinfeld gave 5…Nxd5 in the Two Knights an exclamation mark, claiming that the Fried Liver was unsound. I was also surprised to read that ‘King-side castling is common in ninety-nine games out of a hundred’ (both meaningless and factually incorrect – much of the writing is careless in this way). Finally, there’s a short selection of lightly annotated master games. I don’t think I bought this book myself: it must have been in one of several boxes of books I’ve been given over the years. Yes, it’s dated and for various reasons wouldn’t be a lot of use now, but it was a pretty good book for its day.

Chess Mastery by Question and Answer (1939) was a pioneering attempt to teach by demonstrating master games and asking the reader to comment on some of the moves in terms of both strategy and tactics. An interesting idea which has been copied by few if any other writers. Regular readers will be aware that in general I approve of using Socratic methods when teaching chess, although they’re probably more useful in one-to-one tuition rather than in a book. Reinfeld applied the same technique to a selection of lower level encounters in a later book, Chess for Amateurs, which was actually the second chess book I ever owned some 50 years ago. I lent it out some years later and never got it back. It would be good to see contemporary authors writing more books in this style. Come to think of it, I might even write a Chess Heroes book using Socratic methods to critique children’s games.

Amidst all the mockery, Reinfeld hasn’t really received credit for his pioneering teaching methods. Many of us now understand that one way to improve is by intensive solving of tactics puzzles, and, if you want big books with lots of tactics there are several to choose from. Reinfeld was the first to produce this sort of book. As I collect tactics books I had to have 1001 Brilliant Chess Combinations and Sacrifices and 1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate (both 1955, and both books have appeared in different editions with slightly different titles – these are the titles of my editions). These have been reprinted recently in algebraic notation, but without correcting analytical errors. Big tactics books are great but you’d probably do better with something more recent where the analysis has been computer checked.

Tarrasch’s Best Games of Chess (1947) was recommended by GM Kevin Spraggett as one of his favourite books, and is generally considered to be one of Reinfeld’s better efforts. Possibly this was because the notes to many of the games was based on Tarrasch’s own annotations. I remembered enjoying this book when I borrowed it from a library as a teenager so wanted a copy mainly for nostalgic reasons. It’s been reprinted, but not translated into algebraic. As there’s no other collection of Tarrasch’s games readily available in English this would certainly merit a ’21st century edition’.

Reinfeld published two collections of games played by British (and Commonwealth) players: British Chess Masters Past and Present (1947) and A Treasury of British Chess Masterpieces (1950). Two enjoyable collections of games, many little known and some played by little known players, with light, some would say superficial annotations. As a British chess player myself I wanted these for my collection. They won’t do a lot for your chess improvement but I’m pleased to own them. As far as I know, neither of them have been reprinted.

I’ve been selective about which Reinfeld books I acquired and avoided the obvious potboilers but I wouldn’t call any of these books mass-produced drivel. Yes, he generalises and over-simplifies but you have to when writing for less experienced players. Yes, any fool could switch on a chess engine and improve much of the analysis. Yes, much of what he wrote about the openings is out of date. Yes, some of his writing is slapdash. Yes, some of his books contain unverifiable anecdotes which today would, quite rightly, earn him the wrath of Edward Winter. But considering the books in my library, The Tarrasch book is important and would merit a ’21st century’ edition. The two collections of British games are pleasant and undemanding, in a genre which sadly no longer seems to exist. The tactics and question/answer books were revolutionary for their time. Most importantly his books gave a lot of pleasure to thousands, perhaps millions of readers. If you’re looking for something to make you a better player in 2015, though, you’d be well advised to look elsewhere.

Richard James

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Chess and Bonding

I was once offered a piece of advice regarding parenting, “you’re damned if you do and damned of you don’t.” During the early years of your child’s life, he or she looks up to you as parent and hero and all things in between. Then come the teenage years and with them rebellion. No matter what you do, your child will disagree with you, spitting out statements such as “you just don’t understand,” or worse yet, “I hate you.” This can be heartbreaking for a loving parent! However, this attitude tends to be a natural evolutionary stage for teenagers who are exploring the boundaries of adolescence and societal behavior. Don’t take it personally.

Activities that bond parent and child can be extremely important during these unruly years and act as a lifeline for adolescents who might otherwise venture into dangerous situations that lead to irreparable damage. Many parents bond with their children through sports, sharing a common love of a football team, or through youth sporting leagues. However, this bond is often not strong enough to survive the rigors of those terrible teenage years. Of course, I tell my students that it’s their job to rebel as a teenager, doing so creatively rather than destructively. After all, some of the world’s greatest rebels have created some of civilization’s greatest achievements. I also tell them that one day they’ll be sorry for the things they say to their parents in their youth.

Maintaining a bond with a child throughout both your lives can be difficult. So many factors come into play that can work against the parent/child relationship, eroding that relationship before it’s had a chance to fully develop. While love is the key, love can be an extremely difficult idea for the young mind to truly understand. Therefore, developing solid bonds early on, bonds that have the ability to last a lifetime, provide the greatest opportunity for not losing touch with your children.

Chess is a fantastic bonding tool for parent and child. Before delving into the psychological aspects of this idea, we should look at the socioeconomic reasons for chess being an excellent bonding tool. First off, investing in chess equipment is inexpensive. You just need a chess set and access to learning materials which can be found online or at your local library. Second, chess doesn’t have defined social boundaries (financial, religious or political). Rich or poor, Catholic or Muslim, Democrat or Republican, people who love the game of chess play for their love of the game. I’ve often seen Muslims and Catholics happily battling it out on the chessboard, putting their religious differences aside for the sake of the game. Chess has no physical requirements, so a parent with a disability who cannot play football with their child can still play chess with that child.

What sets aside chess as a good bonding tool over other parent/child endeavors is that it is an activity that both parent and child can learn at the same time with both participants being on equal footing (although children who are serious about chess tend to eclipse their parents over time). Because there are no physical aspects to the game, the age at which you learn to play isn’t an issue. Try being a fifty year old man learning how to play football with his fifteen year old son!

The idea that chess can improve a child’s logic and reasoning skills also applies to parents. Imagine an activity that is equally good for both parent and child alike! Chess is also good for one’s memory which is a plus for older parents and excellent for children lacking in focus.

Psychologically, I believe that chess allows for a tighter, long lasting bond between parent and child because it’s a game of the mind in which both players are interlocked in a dance of sorts. Plans are met by counter plans, a type of intellectual ballet. Chess is a neutral zone where parents are less apt to say something their child thinks uncool or offensive, which erodes at the bond rather than strengthening it. It’s a chance to spend time with your child in a place where it’s all about the action on the board. Both parent and child can leave their views and opinions of the world on the sidelines and enter the world of chess.

If you’re a parent who already plays chess, you can help develop your child’s chess skills without having to worry about saying something they won’t like. Your child, even unruly teenagers, will appreciate getting better because they, in turn, will be able to go out and beat their friends at chess (thanks to your help). With teenagers, you don’t want to set up a scheduled time to play on a regular basis at first. Set up a chessboard and sooner or later they’ll get curious. Only then, when your child is interested, should you suggest a regularly scheduled game. This can go a long way towards strengthening bonds.

If you and you child are both new to chess, you have an opportunity to create a very strong bond. If your child is taking his or her first chess class, ask them to show you what they learned in class that day. Let your child become the teacher. Of course, you’ll want to go over what they show you, using an age appropriate chess book, to reinforce your own knowledge, and to make sure they’re playing correctly. If your child struggles with a chess concept, work together to understand it. I offer the parents of my students, the opportunity to sit in on my classes or take a couple of free lessons to get them up to speed. That is how important the idea of bonding through chess is to me. I encourage all of my student’s family members to play chess and have had classes with a parent, uncle and grandmother of one student all learning at the same time.

Chess provides a nice break for both parent and child from the technological devices that we spend much of our day staring at. Video games are a parent’s worst nightmare because they’re often violent and send the wrong message to impressionable minds. Most parents have no interest in the video games their kids play. You don’t have that problem with chess! Chess requires no batteries! Chess helps develop patience in both parent and child and patience is a much needed skill for parents.

I’ve seen first hand, potentially troubled teens who maintained a bond with a parent through their love of chess. Those same teenagers never ended up getting into too much trouble because of that bond. Try playing some chess with your child. Consider it a long term investment, one that pays off down the road. Play chess with your child because forming a better bond may be the single event that prevents calamity later on in their lives. Better human bonds make for better humans. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

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Fighting the London System

This game continues our examination of the London System. The following game exemplifies how to play against this System using a King’s Indian model.

This game, from two of the finest tactical GM’s,  is worthy of your attention on several fronts. For clarity, Black’s play is a model of focus, and uses every means possible to take advantage of white’s weak squares from the very beginning. White is on the defensive and is just trying to keep up after Black’s 6th move. And Black never gives up the notion he is playing a King’s Indian. Analysis added by Chess King.

Ed Rosenthal

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Book Review: Petrosian’s Legacy

http://www.abrilbooks.com/media/catalog/product/cache/3/image/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/2/f/2f1b60b3-f4b6-4b10-9703-b822397e5bdd-7.gif
A well-known sports writer Viktor Vasilyev wrote the books Zagadka Talya (“Tal’s Mystery”) and Vtoroe “ya” Petrosiana (“Petrosian’s second “I”). He expressed [an] idea there [about the influence of early family life on chess] . I’m the boy from a problem-free family that lived a relatively quiet life, not taking into account the global turmoil that affected everybody – the World War II, so I’ve got one playing style. Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian’s life was harder, more difficult – and this affected his playing style as well. Such theory is worth considering, but I think it’s only a hypothesis. – GM Tal,  “Mikhail Tal’s last ever interview” with Vitaly Melik-Karamov

Petrosian’s Legacy is one of the odder books left behind by a world champion chessplayer. It was published posthumously in 1990 by Tigran Petrosian‘s widow, Rona Petrosian. It is assembled by Edward Shektman from articles, lectures and television shows by the late grandmaster (Petrosian died in 1984). It was translated into “Russian” English (sic) and very imperfectly cleaned up by the late Arnold Denker, all this in itself making this slender 123-page volume a curiosity for the ages.

The book’s value is the insight it provides into an exceptionally peculiar mind among the many peculiar minds of the chess world.  Petrosian was brilliant intellectually, loyal to the Soviet system which nurtured him,  and yet was apparently somewhat emotionally isolated from his peers by a rough upbringing, by ethnic (in the book he calls it “tribal”) hero status in Soviet Armenia and in the world Armenian diaspora, by an overwhelming desire to achieve tinged with certain amount of bitterness, and by his increasing deafness.

This crabby, vain, and often unforgiving man treats not only with his successes, but also deals frankly with his own weaknesses as a chessplayer with self-deprecating humour and grace, and evinces a “complicated” love for chess which characterizes only a very few players even at grandmaster level.

Jacques Delaguerre

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Teaching Kids Through Classical Games (5)

Meek,Alexander Beaufort – Morphy,Paul
1855

This game is ideal for explaining the general rules of openings.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4
This is a gambit. The reason behind playing gambit is to develop forces rapidly whilst on the other hand the opponent is investing a move to capture the material (usually a pawn).

Q: What are the general strategies to play against gambits?
A: In the opening players try to dominate the center so it is good to accept a center pawn rather than wing pawn. Another strategy could be to return the extra material at the right time.

4…Bc5 5.Ng5?!

A mistake, in the opening you should try to introduce a new piece into the battle with each move. By moving the same piece here white is losing control of the center too.

Q: How would you defend black’s position, with Ne5 or Nh6?
A: Nh6 is the right one as with this move you are defending with developing move whereas Ne5 is a mistake as you are moving same piece twice without any proper reason.

5…Nh6!

5…Ne5? 6.Nxf7 Nxf7 7.Bxf7+ Kxf7 8.Qh5+ g6 9.Qxc5(Position 1)

6.Nxf7? Nxf7 7.Bxf7+ Kxf7 8.Qh5+ g6 9.Qxc5 (Position 2)

Now compare position 1 with position 2.

Q: Which one is better for black?
A: Position 2. In position 1 your knight is still at g8 while in position 2 it is already been developed.

9…d6

Attacking the queen and therefore getting time to develop another piece on the next move.

10.Qb5 Re8!

Pressure on the center. In general it is good to place rook on files where opponent king or queen is placed.

11.Qb3+?

This move only helps Black. 0–0 was better instead.

11…d5

Using the fact that e4 pawn is pinned.

12.f3 Na5

This forces White to unpin Black’s d5 pawn.

13.Qd3 dxe4 14.fxe4 Qh4+ 15.g3 Rxe4+

15…Qxe4+ is also a winning endgame but Morphy prefers Rxe4.

16.Kf2 Qe7 17.Nd2?

Q: How would you punish this mistake?
A : It is necessary to protect the e2 square in order to avoid mating net with Re2+ followed by Bh3 and so on. Here Morphy punishes his opponent with Re3.

17…Re3! 18.Qb5

18.Qxd4 Re2+ 19.Kg1 Bh3 etc.

18…c6! 19.Qf1

19.Qxa5 Re2+ is also winning after 20.Kf3 Qe3#, 20.Kg1 Qe3+ 21.Kf1 Qf2# or 20.Kf1 Re1+ 21.Kg2 Qe2#.

19…Bh3! 20.Qd1

Or 20.Qxh3 Re2+ 21.Kg1 (21.Kf3 Qe3+ 22.Kg4 h5+) 21…Qe3+.

20…Rf8

Another piece into the battle, remember this.

21.Nf3 Ke8

0–1

Ashvin Chauhan

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Exchanging Pieces

The solution to last Monday’s puzzle was that Karpov secured a slight edge by playing Ng3. Black was threatening to exchange his bad Bishop by playing Bf5. Now, if Black plays Bf5, White takes the Bishop with his Knight leaving himself with a good Bishop. And , if Black plays Nf5, White takes the Knight with his Bishop, leaving his opponent with a Bishop that is worse than White’s Knight.

This is not a huge advantage for White, but those sort of moves helped Karpov become World Champion.

This week’s puzzle is also on the theme of exchanging pieces. Sometimes we need to exchange off our opponent’s most important pieces.

How does Black get a clear advantage by a simple exchanging sequence?

Steven Carr

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Chess for Goldfish

Here’s a game played a couple of months ago between two of Richmond Junior Club’s less experienced members.

You’ll see a lot of typical mistakes. They exhibit the goldfish syndrome, thinking only in the moment, oblivious of what happened a few moves ago, they only look at part of the board, not the whole board, they miss backward diagonal captures and they fail to look ahead.

If the game remains simple, children at this level can give the impression of playing a decent game, but when things get complicated, as they did here, both players will make a lot of oversights.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Nc3 Bb4
4. Bb5 d6
5. d3 Bg4
6. Be3 a6
7. a3?

A typical mistake that this level where children are tempted to counter-attack instead of moving the threatened piece. Either Ba4 or Bxc6+ would have been fine.

7… Ba5?

Black misses his chance to win a piece with 7… Bxc3+ 8. bxc3 axb5. I’d seen this position while watching them playing so was particularly keen to go through the game afterwards. Both children were wide eyed with amazement at the idea that you could actually look one and a half moves ahead in this way.

8. Ba4 h6
9. h3 Bh5
10. b4 b5

This time it’s Black who prefers a counter-attack to moving his threatened bishop. ‘Copycat’ moves of this nature are very popular at lower levels of children’s chess.

11. Rb1

White chooses a seemingly random move. Instead he could have won a pawn: 11. Nxb5 axb5 12. Bxb5 Nge7 13. bxa5 Rxa5 14. a4.

11… Bb6

Black spots that his bishop is threatened.

12. Nd5?

But now both players seem to have forgotten that the white bishop is in danger. They both consider only the last move rather than looking at the whole board. Instead 12. Bb3 was equal.

12… Ba7?

Black doesn’t notice he can take the white bishop.

13. g4 Bg6
14. g5? hxg5

For the next few moves both players are looking only at the kingside where there’s quite a lot going on. Being able to scan the whole board is too hard for players at this level, but it’s an important lesson they’ll have to learn if they are going to make significant progress.

15. Bxg5? Nf6?

Black could win a piece here with 15… f6, when both white bishops are under attack.

16. Bh4

One of White’s problems is that he tends to play the occasional random and seemingly pointless move. When I asked him why he told me it was because (and lower level primary school age players often think like this) ‘if he takes my bishop I’ll take his rook’.

16… Bh5

In fact Black can, and should, take the rook: 16… Rxh4 17. Nxh4 Nxd5 18. exd5 Qxh4 19. dxc6 (19. Qf3 Nd4 20. Qg3 Qh5 21. Qg4 bxa4) 19… Qxf2#. At this level, though, you can’t expect players to see this far ahead.

But this move is also good, as was 16… bxa4 (yes, it’s still there and still nobody’s noticed). White’s last few moves have just created weaknesses.

17. Rg1

White wants to threaten the g-pawn, but now Black can win most easily by playing Nd4 when White can’t defend the pinned knight on f3.

I was watching the game again at this point. Black picked up his king intending to castle, but then changed his mind (rightly so because 17… O-O 18. Bxf6 is winning for White), and panicked. 17… Kf8 was winning but instead he played…

17… Kd7?
18. Rxg7

Undermining the defence of the pinned knight on f6. Suddenly White’s right back in the game. As it happens, Black’s best move is to play 18… Nxd5 when he gets a lot of pieces for the queen. At this point, though, Black took a look round the board – and suddenly noticed that he could capture the bishop on a4.

18… bxa4?

Unfortunately for Black this is exactly the wrong time to capture the bishop.
White can now win by playing the simple 19. Nxf6+. Fortunately for Black, though, White played…

19. Rxf7+??

Another typical mistake, not just at this level. It’s often said that backward diagonal moves are the easiest to overlook and here White does just that.

19… Bxf7
20. Nxf6+ Ke6?

Black’s a rook up and just has to keep his king safe. At this level children tend to play the first legal move they see when they’re in check rather than considering the alternatives. 20… Kc8 is the way to go here. Ke6 looks – and is – very scary.

21. Nd5

The position is, not unexpectedly, too complicated for both players. This move loses because Black can take twice on h4 after which he’s threatening mate (don’t forget that bishop lurking on a7). Instead White could win by playing 21. Ng5+ Kxf6 22. Qf3+ (discovered checks with the knight win the queen, but not the game) when he’s a rook down but has a winning attack.

21… Rxh4
22. Nxh4 Qxh4
23. Nxc7+ Kd7
24. Nxa8

Overlooking Black’s mate threat but by now Black was winning anyway.

24… Qxf2#

Richard James

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Cramped Positions

When we first learn how to play chess, we study open games as opposed to closed games. In an open game, there are plenty of available squares on the board, making piece placement easier. Long distance attackers, such as the Bishop, Rook and Queen rule the positional roost. In a closed game, there is less space available, so our long distance pieces can’t openly control the board. Our Knights and pawns become the positional weapons of choice. Open games lead to more tactical play while closed games lead to more positional play. The beginner, more often than not, becomes lost when their opponent steers the game toward a closed position. In closed games, the center of the board is often cramped which leaves beginners wondering what to do. Here are some simple suggestions for un-cramping a closed position.

When faced with a closed or cramped position, you have to create a plan for relieving the pressure. Many beginners end up further cramping their position because they make moves that avoid exchanges, thinking that if they can further close the position down, their opponent will eventually have to give in and make a move that costs them material. Wrong! If you’re playing an opponent who has experience with closed or cramped positions they’re going to, as the saying goes, give you enough rope and watch you hang yourself. Remember, you are used to open positions while your opponent may be used to closed or cramped positions. This is the type of position they like! Therefore, you have to have a plan, which can be difficult for those not used to this type of situation. There are four ideas you can employ to relieve the cramped or closed position.

First, consider removing or trading opposition pieces that are cramping your position. Bishops, for example, are at their best in open positions where they have great mobility. However, if they have no room in which to move, they’re “bad Bishops.” On the other side of the coin, because Knights can jump over other pieces, they work extremely well in closed or cramped positions. If your opponent has “good Knights” and you have “bad Bishops,” see if you can find a way to trade you immobile Bishops for your opponent’s mobile Knights. While Knights and Bishops have the same relative value, this value changes depending on the type of position they’re in. Trading a bad piece for a good piece will help to unclog the position, opening things up. The better a piece’s mobility, the better that piece is!

Second, use pieces of lesser value to push back pieces of greater value that stand in your way. This is a realm in which pawns are King! Because pawns have the lowest relative value, a pawn attacking a minor or major piece is (in most cases but not all) going to force that piece off of its square. The same holds true with minor pieces (Knights and Bishops) attacking major pieces (Rooks and Queens). However, you must take care when attacking in such a way. This type of attack is only completely successful if it drives the targeted piece away without weakening your position. If you successfully drive the piece in question away, only to create a position that allows your opponent to win material or checkmate your King on the next move, you might reconsider your attack. Don’t be discouraged by this last statement! In closed or cramped positions, it usually takes more than one opposition move to ruin your game.

Third, consider attacking your opponent’s weakest point on the board, which can be difficult for beginners to determine. The easiest way for the beginner to find the weakest point in their opponent’s position is to look at each opposition pawn and piece and determine the number of defenders that pawn or piece has. Since attacking the King is the name of the game, start by looking at the pawns and pieces defending the opponent’s King. However, there are often weaknesses elsewhere that can provide an avenue for attack. Always count the number of attackers you have and compare it to the number of defenders your opponent has. Remember, you’ll want to have more attackers than opposition defenders.

Fourth, Attack the opposition’s space advantage straight or head on! When experienced chess players navigate closed or cramped positions, the scales are a bit more balanced. By this, I mean that both players have a more even positions, cramped as it may be. When beginners face a closed or cramped position, they are more often than not playing someone who knows this type of position better. This means, the beginner’s pieces are cramped together with no room to breath while their opponent’s pieces have a bit more in the way of mobility. This means the beginner has to bit the bullet and attack. However, you can’t just attack any piece! Examine the position and look for the piece that controls the most space. When I refer to space, I’m talking about space on your side of the board! Think about where you’d like to put your pieces and determine which opposition piece prohibits this. That’s your target. You might consider exchanging a piece of great value for an opposition pieces of lesser value if doing so gives your other pieces much needed breath room.

I have my students learn a bit about closed positions early on, not so they can start playing closed games out of the gate but so they can recognize openings or sequences of moves that lead to closed or cramped positions. Recognizing that a position is heading towards becoming closed helps you prepare for such a position. If your opponent is trying to close or cramp a position, you should be trying to keep it open. If you find yourself in a cramped position, try using my four suggestions to open that position up. Here’s a game by a gentleman who loved closed positions. Enjoy!

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