Category Archives: Basic (Rating below 1000)

O’Kelly Crusher

This week I’m sharing a smashing game by a teammate of mine, Chris Briscoe, played in the UK’s Four Nations Chess League (4NCL) in March. I manage Surbiton, a team in Division 3, which this year has over 60 teams competing for just three Division 2 promotion spots. Chris is our regular Board 1 player and we are fortunate to have him – he previously played for Wood Green, which is usually near the top of Division 1.

Angus James

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Queen Against Pawn

Last time we looked at a pawn ending played between two young players (about 1500-1600 strength) at Richmond Junior Chess Club. After various misadventures, during which Black miscalculated badly in a position where he had a simple win, this position was reached, with White to play.

Before we continue looking at the game, some basic endgame knowledge. Everyone needs to know the ending with queen against pawn on the 7th rank supported by the king. If the pawn’s on a centre file or knight’s file the queen wins. You force the king onto the queening square and advance your king. Against a bishop’s pawn or a rook’s pawn, though, it’s a draw unless your king’s close enough to take a hand in a checkmate. With a bishop’s pawn, the defender can move his king into the corner so that taking the pawn will result in a stalemate. Likewise, with a rook’s pawn, the king in the corner will be stalemated.

Another piece of basic knowledge is that you can stop a pawn on the 7th rank easily if you can put your queen on the promotion square. All you have to do then is approach the pawn with your king.

Bearing that in mind, let’s see what happened in the game, with White to play his 60th move.

Black has the potentially drawing c-pawn, and two others as well, but his king is on d3 rather than d2. White has several ways to bring home the full point. A nice winning move is 60. Qh3+, when Kd2 walks into 61. Qe3+ Kd1 62. Qe1#, while moving back to, say, c4 allows Qe3, controlling the queening square. White can then follow up with Qc1 and just take all the black pawns. A similar idea is 60. Qh6, again followed by Qc1. But instead the game continued:

60. Qd8+ Kc3 61. Qxf6+

In some lines White might want to keep the f-pawn on the board to prevent the stalemate defence, but after this White’s still winning.

61… Kd3 62. Qf3+ Kd2

Allowing an immediate mate, but otherwise the king will be cut off on the fourth rank.

63. Qe2+(?)

Missing the mate in 2: 63. Qe3+ Kd1 64. Qe1#. White’s still winning at the moment, though.

63…Kc1 64. Kxg2?

This is the move that throws away the win. It’s not so easy at this level, but the winning idea was 64. Qb5 (avoiding the stalemate defence) Kd1 65. Qb3 Kc1 66. Kxg2 Kd2 67. Qb2 Kd1 68. Kf2 c1Q 69. Qe2#.

64… Kb1 65. Qd3 Kc1?

Now White’s winning again. Instead, Ka1 was drawing.

66. Kf2?

It looks natural to move the king in but now Black has the chance to revert to the stalemate defence. Again, the win was to be achieved by occupying the b-file. For example: 66. Qb3 Kd2 67. Qb2 Kd1 68. Kf2 Kd2 69. Qd4+ Kc1 70. Qb4 Kd1 71. Qe1#.

66…Kb2 67. Qd2 Kb1 68. Qb4+ Kc1?

The final mistake. Black still had a draw by moving to the a-file.

69. Ke3

White had to be careful: Ke2 and Ke1 were both stalemate. There was another mate in two, though: 69. Kf1 Kd1 70. Qe1#.

69…Kd1 70. Qd2#

Once more, then, a lot to learn from this game. These endings with pawn on the 7th rank against queen are so important and essential for understanding many pawn endings. As I tell all my students, you can’t understand other endings until you understand pawn endings, you can’t understand middle games until you understand endings, and you can’t understand openings until you understand middle games.

For the record, here’s the complete game.

Richard James

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Tactical Oversights

It is remarkable how small tactics can finish games quickly, even where Grandmasters are concerned.

Looking at the recent Chebanenko Rapid Open there were two games between GMs that ended decisively in less than 25 moves. Shirov was on the winning side of both.

I am struck by how easy he made it look to take down these GMs, without really doing anything special. They just miscalculated and Shirov took full advantage with some precise play. The clock is a factor, but I doubt either of his victims were in time trouble when they made their mistakes.

Here Shirov plays an Advance against the French and Black seems to be playing fine up until the 17th move and suddenly one tactical oversight ends the game quickly:

Here Shirov starts off playing a Rossolimo against the Sicilian and then he moves back into Open Sicilian territory with 5.d4!? His opponent responds well, and even starts attacking along the h-file, but when he slips up Shirov pounces.

Such tactical oversights are extremely difficult to completely avoid. You would have to literally check-every-move (CEM) your opponent can make at every turn, and that is just not possible with time constraints as they are with tournament play. To help mitigate the risk, you can develop an intuition for when it is a good idea to use CEM, and only adopt it when the position demands it. For example, in highly tactical positions or critical moments. There are routine moves, and there are moves where accuracy is important and getting it right could effect the outcome of a game. Spending more time considering your alternatives at these key moments is justified. I guess in the case of these games, these GMs’ needed to do more checking at certain moves, but unfortunately for them, they didn’t. Hats off to Shirov for demonstrating the flaws in their plans so clinically.

Angus James 

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Pawn Endings in Practice (2)

It’s been far too long since the first article in this series, but here’s a very instructive ending between two of Richmond Junior Club’s stronger members (both about 1500-1600 strength) on 22 March.

We start here, with White considering his 41st move. Should he trade rooks or not? First lesson: you have to calculate the pawn ending before trading the last pieces. So before you can play any ending well you have to understand pawn endings. In this case the pawn ending is won for Black, so White should avoid the trade. Although Black has a slight advantage I guess the rook ending should be drawn. We teach our pupils to move their king up into the centre of the board in the ending but here the correct plan for Black is to move his king to b4 to attack the c-pawn. This is an important position type, with the two immovable pawns on the c-file. Black can attack c4 from either b4 or b3, but Black can only defend from d3, so when he runs out of pawn moves on the other side he’ll have to capitulate.

Let’s see whether our gladiators were up to the challenge.

41. Rxb7+? (Now Black’s winning.) Kxb7
42. Kf1 Kb6
43. Ke2 Kc6? (Now it’s probably a draw. Ka5 followed by Kb4 is winning for Black.)
44. f4? (The computer gives 44. Ke4 as leading to a queen ending where White has a slight advantage.) f5? (Kb6, followed by Ka5 and Kb4 is winning again for Black.)
45. Kf3? (White can draw by moving onto the d-file. Now Black is winning again.) Kb6? (Good plan but poor timing. Black should have played h5, and then Kb6 etc.)
46. Ke3? (White can draw here by playing g4, when both players will promote.) Ka5 (Finally Black is on the winning track.)
47. Kd2 Kb4
48. Kd3 Kb3
49. g4 (Desperation) fxg4
50. g3 h5 (The last few moves have been fine for Black.)
51. f5 h4?? (All he had to do to win was play Kb4 when White is zugged. Interestingly, when I demonstrated this ending at the club the following week quite a few of the class made the same mistake. I guess they were already familiar with the idea of sacrificing to obtain a passed pawn but failed to calculate the resulting position. Now White is winning.)
52. f6? (Now it’s a draw. Instead, White can win by just capturing the pawn. His king can stop the g-pawn by entering the queening square, and then he can play f6, sacrificing to create an unstoppable passed pawn.) gxf6? (Black errs in turn. He could have draw by playing hxg3, when both players queen. Black will have an extra pawn but White has a perpetual check on the other side.)
53. gxh4 g3
54. Ke3 Kxc4
55. h5 (White has one pawn against three, but he’s going to promote first.) g2
56. Kf2 Kd3
57. h6 c4
58. h7 c3
59. h8Q c2

The last few moves have all been self-explanatory. When the pawn ending was reached, Black was winning. After a series of mistakes on both sides he found the winning plan, but then miscalculated badly. Now we reach an ending with queen against three pawns, two of which are on the seventh rank. White should win from here, but did he actually manage to do so? Don’t miss next week’s exciting episode.

Meanwhile, what lessons can be learnt from this ending so far?

1. You have to calculate the pawn ending before trading or proposing a trade of your last piece.
2. Being able to activate your king first is often decisive in pawn endings, but the centre is not always the best place. In this game Black’s winning plan (at least it should have been winning) involved marching the king down the a-file.
3. Learn the position type with two fixed pawns on the same file. If you can activate your king first you can attack the pawn from two squares, but it can only be defended from one square. Then all you have to do is run your opponent out of pawn moves and he’ll be zugged.
4. Sometimes you can win by sacrificing to obtain a passed pawn.
5. Positions with passed pawns on both sides need to be calculated accurately. You can’t just guess but really have to work it out. There may not be much point in sacrificing to get a passed pawn if your opponent’s king can move into the queening square.
6. Sometimes pawn endings can become queen endings. You have to be really good at queen endings as well as pawn endings.

Richard James

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Queen Traps

The other day one of my pupils showed me a recent tournament game in which he had the black pieces.

I can’t remember the exact move order, but it started something like this.

White opened with the queen’s pawn but neither player really demonstrated much understanding of the subtleties of the opening. At move seven Black decided to attack the white queen. At this level children tend to play threats in the hope that their opponent won’t notice rather than trying to put pieces on better squares. But this time White was sufficiently alert to move his queen and decided to throw in a check on b5. Qd2 instead would have been fine. Black might, I suppose, have replied with c6 but instead he found, possibly without realising why, the correct move Bc6. Suddenly, White’s queen is trapped in broad daylight, in the middle of the board. Black eventually went on to win the game with his extra queen.

Last week I demonstrated this to a group of children at Richmond Junior Club, and asked them what lessons they could learn from the game. They were all eager to tell me the lesson that you have to look ahead before playing your move, which of course is perfectly correct. There were two other lessons I wanted them to tell me about as well, but I had difficulty getting the replies I was looking for.

I was hoping they’d tell me that it’s often dangerous to bring your queen out too soon, one reason being that she might get trapped. I’m sure most of them have been told this many times, but they weren’t able to relate this piece of advice to the game in question. The second thing I hoped they’d tell me was that you should beware of playing random checks. Probably not all of them are aware of this. They’ve been taught to look for every check, capture and threat so not playing random checks seemed like strange advice to some of them. What we mean, of course, is that you should look at every check – it might be checkmate, lead to checkmate, be a fork or whatever, not that you should always play a check should you have one available.

This reminded me of a very short game I first saw in Chernev’s 1000 Best Short Games of Chess many years ago.

In this game White started with 1.e3. Children often play this, illogically, because they’re scared of Scholar’s Mate. Then he went for a queen attack on move 2, but as his e-pawn had only advanced one square Black correctly took over the centre. On move 4 White played his queen to what seemed to be a random safe square, but it wasn’t safe at all. Again, the white queen was trapped in the middle of the board, in record time.

In both these games, White learnt the hard way about the dangers of bringing your queen out too soon.

Richard James

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What To Do About Gambits

Speedy development is often worth the investment of a pawn in the opening. Examples include the Smith-Morra Gambit of the Sicilian 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 when White has a very promising initiative for the pawn that often brings dividends. Devotees of this line can become highly attuned to its nuances. If that is the case you have to ask yourself as Black whether taking them on in their most familiar territory is the most intelligent thing to do. You might decide it is better to avoid it than to try to refute it. Even if you like spending many an hour with opening books, there is no substitute for hours of practice playing the line over and over again – which White will of course be doing. Perhaps Smith-Morra Gamiters’ would find the Caro-Kann or the French Defence, or something else, really annoying. If so, play that against them! It is wise to get your opponent out of their familiar territory.

This is the sort of thing that can be considered if you know your opponent and you’re playing them in an over-the-board game. Of course, if someone plays a gambit against you in a correspondence game and you are allowed to use software for help, then that is a different matter. For example, silicon monsters nowadays are less impressed with the Smith-Morra than we humans are. Below is one of my own correspondence games against a line of the Smith-Morra that I would have found difficult to play against over-the-board. But, with assistance from HIARCS, I found it easier to deal with. It takes a long time, but eventually White’s initiative dissipates and then it is all about whether Black can convert the ending. The knight and pawns ending was particularly pleasant to play for Black. If you would like to play some correspondence chess online, try FICGS – The Free Internet Correspondence Games Server.

Angus James 

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Steps Revisited (3)

Revisiting the Steps Method has encouraged me to think again about the best way to teach tactics. Assuming, of course, that our students have developed excellent chessboard vision and understand the basic principle that (other things being equal) Superior Force Wins.

Steps is very thorough at outlining every possible tactical idea to win material and providing excellent puzzles to reinforce each concept before the students move onto the next idea.

But there’s not so much, at least in the main part of the course, about the actual thinking process. I teach my pupils to look at every check, capture and threat by telling them to use a CCTV to look at the chessboard. The first C stands for Checks, the second C for Captures and the T for Threats. Checks, Captures, Threats and Violent moves, or, if you prefer, for those of you who correct children who ‘kill’ their opponent’s pieces, looking for Checks, Captures and Threats leads to Victory.

I think it was Purdy back in the 1930s who introduced the concept of looking for Checks, Captures and Threats. “Examine moves that smite!”, he said. “A good eye for smites is far more important than a knowledge of strategical principles.”

In the 1970s, Kotov’s book Think Like a Grandmaster was hugely influential. Kotov advised his readers to identify ‘candidate moves’ and form a tree of variations, taking each forcing move in turn and trying to analyse each sequence of checks, captures and threats until quiescence is reached, then assessing the resulting position. As time went on, though, Kotov’s work was criticised by other writers who claimed that this was not really how chess players thought.

Well, perhaps it was how Kotov thought. I certainly found it helpful for improving my play when I first read it 40 years ago, although I usually forget to look at all checks, captures and threats in my own games! My method of teaching tactics uses a similar approach at a much lower level. The Steps Method takes what I think is a slightly different approach, emphasising the different tactical ideas rather than the thought processes you might use. In a sense it’s the same principle as “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for life”. By using CCTV you can in theory solve any tactical position.

Perhaps, at least for some players, learning the thought processes will be more efficient. If you learn, say, Philidor’s Legacy you can remember it and use it yourself, but it won’t help you with any other position. If, on the other hand, you learn to analyse all sequences of checks, captures and threats, you will, in theory, be able to solve very many positions.

There’s a third method, as well, which might be used: intuition. You might well think of someone like Tal in this context. An intuitive player will play a move because it looks right, or even just because it looks interesting, without precise calculation.

Ideally, we need to use a combination of methods when teaching tactics. We need to teach the specific thinking skills – analysing all checks, captures and threats for both players. We need to teach visualisation skills to enable students to look ahead and calculate accurately. (As it happens, the Steps people are developing a new series of workbooks designed to develop this skill.) We need to teach the basic tactical ideas: forks, pins, discovered attacks, deflections and so on, which the Steps course does outstandingly well. We also need to encourage our students to develop intuition, creativity and fantasy, partly by encouraging them to play open games where tactical opportunities will abound: something that is encouraged within the Steps course.

Richard James

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When The Going Gets Tough

Chess is a tough old game. You need to plan ahead as well as managing short-term tactical shots. The average length of a game of chess in terms of moves might be 40-50 moves, but many games end decisively in less than 25 (known as miniatures) while others go on and on for over 100 moves in some cases. Short games that end decisively tend to involve opening mistakes or tactical oversights.

It is therefore essential to spend some time on openings and tactics training. The problem comes when players only do opening and tactics, and neglect development of their strategic and positional understanding of chess and endgame training. Of course, it is far easier to ‘do’ openings and tactics training because there are books and software galore to support players with that. When it comes to positional understanding, middle game training and endgame training, not only is this harder to do on your own, it is also less clear which resources are best to suit your level. Chess coaches can help you identify your development needs to put you on the right path to improvement, with the right resources.

Here is a short and sharp game played a few years ago where Black (who shall remain anonymous) goes wrong in the opening and doesn’t make it much further. It is not a good idea to play the Sicilian Defence unless you are prepared to learn some opening theory and have a keen tactical eye. Otherwise the game can be practically over after just 1-2 inaccurate moves.

Angus James

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Using a Lead in Development

Getting a lead in development, by being efficient about how we develop our pieces, is the main aim of the opening.

How can you be efficient about development? For a start, think about how you can mobilise all of your pieces quickly, not just one or two. Think about where you can move your pieces so that they are doing something that influences the important central squares. Don’t make the common beginner’s error of moving the same piece more than once in the opening, unless it is essential. Think about where your king would be safest and make that happen as part of your opening strategy.

The game below is a classic example of what can happen if one side gets a lead in development out of the opening. Take a look at the position after White’s 12th move. White’s opening has not been a great success. His king is still stuck in the centre and he is 2 moves away from castling. In contrast, Black has castled his king to safety and has all his minor pieces ready for action and is 1 move away from connecting his rooks. To take advantage of the lead in development, Black needs to move fast. He realises that, to attack the enemy king before it has the chance to castle, he has to open lines to the king, and he invests a piece to do that as quickly as possible. By the 19th move, White’s centre is completely destroyed, and it is only a matter of time before Black’s better developed pieces move in to finish White off.

Angus James

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Back To Basics

Magnus Carlsen recently launched an Official YouTube Channel, following his successful challenge for the World Championship.

It is good to see that he is starting with the basics. His first training video concerns the three things that players should be thinking about in the opening phase of the game, namely, development, king safety and central square control. He explains these eloquently in the video below.

This is all pretty standard training stuff, which any chess coach teaching junior beginners will cover. But it is good to see short training videos like these online, easily accessible to all. Perhaps more non-chess players will be encouraged by these short videos to give chess a try.

Despite how simple the advice is on the video, it is amazing how many experienced players get into trouble by not following this advice. For example, many games see players never castling, or launching attacks before completing development, or attacking on the side and neglecting the centre. Sometimes the simplest advice is the most difficult to follow, for amateur and master alike.

Angus James

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