Category Archives: Endgames

From Russia with Love

Well, not quite. However, my opponent in this chess game is a Russian woman. I did win and I love winning! My opponent’s last name sounds like that of another woman from Russia, Anna Kournikova.

In this section I ended up with 5 draws and 1 win. This game was my only win in this section. As a result of my failing to win an earlier game, the best that I can do in this section is third place.

I started this chess game off wanting to play the Max Lange Attack and I ended up with a Giuoco Piano instead. This line tends to be drawish, but my opponent gave my some chances for play and I took them.

I had the position after move number 9 in another correspondence chess game that I lost. This time, I played more accurately and my opponent is the one who was inaccurate.

On move number 11 I could have played the sharp Bxf7+, but I decided against that for some reason that I no longer remember. Perhaps the line that In played is safer for White.

On move number 12 I decided that it was best to get my King off the same diagonal as the Black Queen was on. Discovered checks can be a pain! Once Black castled queenside it was a race to see who could checkmate the other one first. However, I was not positioned for a queenside attack and thus I had to reposition some of my pieces.

On move number 14 I got my sacrificed pawn back. By move number 17 I had all of my White pieces in this game, but I still was not clear on where to attack first.

Move number 19 finally started some queenside play. Move number 21 started a combination that favored White (me). Starting at move number 23 both sides were aggressively attacking the other side and Lidiya never let up her attempts to trick or trap me until she was clearly lost.

Starting at move number 28 White was putting pressure on both the Black Rook and the backwards Black pawn at  f6. At move number 31 I won the Black pawn at h4 and then the Black pawn on f6 ten moves later. I was up two pawns at that point but Lidiya continued to fight.

On move number 42 Lidiya sacrificed her Bishop by taking the White pawn that was on h3, but I was not dumb enough to fall into her trap and I moved my King instead. She recovered one of her lost pawns but she was still losing.

On move number 44 I played the only move that wins for White and Lidiya had no chance from there. Still, she lasted for another 15 moves before she finally resigned.

Mike Serovey

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Work On Your Openings, Work Even Harder On Your Middlegame And Endgame

In a recent article I touched on the mystery of Magnus Carlsen’s dominance in chess. Grand master Nigel Davies suggested that the answer to Magnus Carlsen’s dominance may actually be very simple. He went to explain that in an age when the top players are focussing on opening preparation they are neglecting endgames. Jan Timman and Lajos Portisch have both pointed this out. Why are the top players neglecting endgames? Who knows! Carlsen then creates a moving target for his opponents by varying his opening repertoire and then uses his superior core skills being superb endgame technique, calculation and good positional understanding. In the past some of the super grandmasters were quite predictable in their choice of openings. For example Garry Kasparov as white was largely an e4 or d4 player while as black he played Sicilian Defence against e4 and King’s Indian against d4 though he abandoned that in later years in favour of the Grunfeld Defence. Carlsen has no intention of making it so easy for his opponents.

The great Alexander Alekhine once remarked”To win against me, you must beat me three times: in the opening, the middle game and the endgame.” Whether that was said in jest or in all seriousness I do not know but it contains a good deal of truth. To be a good chess player you have to be good in not just the opening, middlegame and endgame as well.

Chess-image-chess-improver

Many chess players put a great deal of time in the opening but they have to do even more work  in the middle game and endgame. The middlegame is the most complex part of chess while the endgame is the most scientific. There are now 7 and 6 endgame tablebases which means that once there are 7 or 6 pieces left on the board, with perfect play from both sides the outcome of the game can be determined. If you are very strong in the opening, you will probably get a very good position coming out of the opening but what do you do with it if you are weak in the middlegame or endgame? That is where most games are really decided. A strong player in the middlegame and endgame can rescue a bad position from the opening if given half a chance. A stronger player in the opening but weak in the middlegame and endgame is likely to throw away his advantage from the opening unless it is an overwhelming one.

Because a day only has so many hours, a chess player has to decide how best to split their day. Whatever they decide work on the middlegame and endgame should be allotted some hours as well. Working only on the openings is like only working on your serves in tennis. What do you do when your opponent returns the ball? Are you able to play long or short rallies as circumstances demand? If you were a soccer player or team, you might be very strong in attack but how do you respond to a counter-attack or how do you handle the pressures and demands of defence. An all-around ability is required to maximise your chances of winning every chess game.

So maybe by super grandmaster standards Magnus might be ok or good in the opening or even mediocre but in the middlegame and endgame he is an outstanding player. A great deal of discipline is required to ensure that a chess player does not neglect any part of the game in his development. Work hard on your openings but work even harder on your middlegame and endgames!

Bruce Mubayiwa

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Sometimes You Win and Sometimes You Don’t

I am posting two different games from the same section here. In the first game my opponent dropped a Bishop on the thirteenth move of the game and he resigned when I took it. My opponent in this first game is from the Netherlands. My opponent in the second game is from Canada.

In the second game we played much longer and agreed to a draw. These results put me in temporary first place in this section. I also got a draw against the other player who is higher rated than I am in this section. With 4 draws and a win I am alone in first place in this section and I am winning my last game in this section. However, that may not be enough to keep first place if one of the players that I drew wins more than 2 games in this section.

My notes in this second game, plus what I have stated above, pretty much cover what happened in this game.

Mike Serovey

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My Gripes About Correspondence Chess

Because Nigel has a “no offense” policy for this blog I will not use the names of the people that are involved in my stories. However, the guilty parties know who they are!

On ICC (the Internet Chess Club) I had numerous occasions in which my opponents exceeded the time controls and got off with warnings! Repeat offenders got off with warnings and were given extra time to play while I was NOT given any extra time to play my moves! That is why I quit playing correspondence chess on ICC.

I have had similar problems playing correspondence chess under the rules of the US Chess Federation (USCF). As I see it, the USCF rules for correspondence chess are not only inconsistent, but they are also inconsistently enforced. In an Over the Board (OTB) game, if my opponent takes too long to move and runs out of time he or she loses. The only out for my opponent would be if the clock was defective or not set properly. If my opponent had a heart attack, got food poisoning or was arrested in the middle of the game he or she would still lose if the clock ran out! This is not the case with cc!

I have played people who were already in prisons when the chess games with them started. These prisons sometimes have their own rules for how mail to inmates is handled. Now, I have an opponent who was free when our games started and he ended up in the county jail where he lives while our two games were in progress. It took two months for me to realize that I had not heard from this particular opponent and I sent him repeat moves. It took two more weeks to get replies from him. The TD for these games stated that I am supposed to charge this opponent for the amount of reflection time that he is actually thinking about his moves and not for “transition time”. If my opponent can’t get his mail while he is in jail, does that really count as “transition time”? I would say, “No”! By my calculations, this opponent ran out of time and I should win on time forfeit! However, I am being told otherwise!

The following was copied from the USCF website:

transmission time: The time a move is in the custody of the
Postal Service, that is, from the postmark date to date of delivery
at the recipient’s address.

This makes it clear that the time that my moves are sitting in someone’s mailbox is not transmission time!

The game below is from my most recent draw in correspondence chess that was played on the ICCF server. This draw leaves me in fifth place out of seven in this section. In my only remaining game from this section I am winning, but my opponent in that game has yet to finish any of her games in that section. I need to win this last game and then have her win a few of her other games if I am going to finish any better than tied third place in this section.

Although the move order can vary depending on what my opponent plays and what mood I am in, I played the Botvinnik System in this chess game. My opponent played the Kings Indian Defense. On move number 8, he started a maneuver with his King’s Knight that I rarely see in OTB chess. On move number 9 he put his Knight on d4, which has annoyed me on a few occasions.

For some reason that I no longer remember, I rejected 12.e5. At first glance it looks like it should win material, but the chess engines are saying otherwise. My move number 10 gets my Queen’s rook off the long diagonal that Black’s dark-squared Bishop is on and supports b4 on my next move. Black continued with his Knight maneuver. I continued with my kingside expansion. I then locked up the Kingside and we exchanged light-squared bishops. Further exchanges led to a position in which neither one of us had any advantage.

Then, we both centralized our rooks and tried to get some play on the Queenside. After a few more exchanges my opponent was left with a backward pawn on the b file and I had a backward pawn on the d file. A few moves later I found a good outpost square for my Knight on b5, but it failed to amount to anything.

On move number 30 , I put my remaining Rook on the open a file and I also had my Knight on b5. Again, these slight positional advantages were not enough to win. Further exchanges across the board lead to my having a passed pawn on the d file, but it still was not enough to win, so I settled for a draw against a provisionally lower rated opponent. These draws against provisional 1800 rated players has hurt my rating some. If I can’t consistently beat 1800 and 1900 rated players  then I will not likely ever get my ICCF rating over 2200 points!

Mike Serovey

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Checkmates in Queen Endings

Perhaps my all time favourite chess book is Chess Curiosities, by Tim Krabbé. There’s a chapter in this book about strange occurrences in queen endings.

The other day I was looking at games played by some of my friends in the recent London Chess Classic FIDE Open when I came across something which reminded me of this chapter.

Former RJCC star Richard Cannon was being outplayed in a queen ending by an opponent rated 300 points below him when this position arose.

It’s been a long struggle but now, on move 89, White is on the verge of victory with three extra pawns, one of which is about to queen. He can win at once with Kf7, when Black has to trade queens to avoid immediate mate. Instead he played 89. Qh5+, which is still winning easily. After 89… Kg8 he could centralise his queen again with 90. Qd5+ and then push his pawn to d7. But instead he pushed at once: 90. d7 Qa3+ 91. Ke6 Qa6+. Now White regrets leaving his queen offside. He’s either going to lose his d-pawn or lose his queen and promote his d-pawn (after, say, 92. Kf5 Qb5+ 93. Kf4 Qxh5 94. d8=Q+) when he’s going have to start the winning process all over again. Not fancying this he tried to keep both his pawn and his queen by playing 92. Ke7, only to find that, completely out of the blue, he’d lost his king instead when Black produced 92… Qf6+ 93. Ke8 Qf8# giving Richard a rather fortunate point.

It’s very easy to make this sort of mistake, and Krabbé gives examples of strong grandmasters suffering embarrassing defeats in this way. It’s been a long game, you’re feeling tired, you’re running short of time or perhaps playing on increments. You’ve long since switched out of Middle Game Mode and into Endgame Mode where you’re thinking about king activity and assuming there won’t be any possibility of checkmate.

I know from personal experience just how easy it is because almost a year ago I lost a game myself in the same way. There were some fascinating tactics earlier in the game, which I might share with you some other time, but for now consider this position.

I had the white pieces and, just as in the previous example, was trying to promote my d-pawn in a queen ending. The problem was that my king had nowhere to hide so I could expect no more than a draw. With not much time left I pushed the pawn here after which my young opponent swiftly demonstrated a mate in four: 44. d7 Qh1+ 45. Kg4 f5+ 46. Kf4 Qe4+ 47. Kg5 h6#

Note that the mate only worked because 44. d7 unpinned the black f-pawn by cutting off the white queen. Instead any sensible move such as 44. Qe7 would have drawn as long as I didn’t run out of time.

So I looked through some games played in 2013 in BigBase 2014 to see what else I could find.

I guess White was a bit unlucky in this one. You might think someone with a 1988 rating should have done better, but if you’re sitting there with the clock ticking it’s not so easy. Black has just delivered a check and White has to consider how to parry this. With 71. Qf3 he’d have had every chance of exploiting his two extra pawns but instead he played 71. Kg4 Qxg2+ 72. Kxh4 confident that Black didn’t have any dangerous queen moves. Correct, but instead he found a dangerous king move: 72… Kh6 with the deadly threat of g5#. Seeing that 73. Qg3 would be met by 73… g5+ 74. Kg4 Qxe4+ and mate next move he resigned.

In this example Black has a queen and a pawn on the seventh rank against his opponent’s queen. White’s been checking him for the last ten moves so he now decided to head for safety in the south east corner of the board, playing 92… Kg3. Not a good idea: suddenly White mates in two moves with Qf4+. Easily done, but Black, with a rating of 2084, is, by most standards, a pretty strong player.

Even grandmasters are not immune from this sort of thing. Here’s Kazakh GM Anuar Ismagambetov in action. He’s a pawn down but as his queen is securely blockading the extra pawn there should be no way his opponent can make progress.

75. Kc6 is fine for a half point, but 75. Kd6 Qb6# left White looking rather foolish. Ismagambetov? I’m not sure whether or not his gambit is off but in this game his ending certainly was!

So next time you reach a queen ending, don’t forget to look out for snap checkmates. Learning some queen and pawn mating patterns is also going to help you.

Richard James

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Blackmar-Diemer Schemer

This chess game is one that I recently completed. I have not been writing articles lately partly because these correspondence chess games have taken up a great deal of my time and partly because I have not been feeling well. I am feeling a little better now and I am getting caught up on things again.

This chess game is one of three draws in this section. I also have one quick win when my opponent dropped a Bishop on move number 13 in another game. In this chess game I tried a gambit on a lower rated player and all I was able to accomplish was getting my pawn back and equality. The one win and three draws have me temporarily in first place in this section. I will need at least one more win in order to keep clear first place.

My opponent’s third move was something that I had never seen before. I disagreed with what the chess engines were recommending and stayed with my database of games on move number 7. From move number 11 on I was out of my database. I was using my chess engines quite a bit to blunder check the moves that my 40 years of experience told me to look at. However, my opponent was using chess engines too and thus he avoided making any blunders as well! Both sides played aggressively in both tactical and positional chess. We were evenly matched even though I was higher rated by 110 points.

Someone has been using the contact form on this chess site to send me spam! This needs to stop because all you are doing is annoying me!!!!!!!!!!

Mike Serovey

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A Reminder About The Strengths And Limitations Of Chess Engines

Last week, I wrote an article about methodically building an endgame fortress, given a fascinating position that arose in a student’s game. One thing I did not focus on in the discussion was the fact that he has inquired about confusing evaluations by chess engines during endgames. Often, in positions that we know a correct and foolproof drawing technique, a chess engine will show a large evaluation score incorrectly suggesting that the superior side has such an advantage that it should win. He knows about tablebases, which are exactly computed evaluations of simplified endgame positions in which exhaustive search has proved the result is a win or draw, along with the full variations leading to the end result. So he asked me why the computer can be unreliable.

The reason for this has been known for decades, but is worth periodically remembering given how this period of human history has shown a huge explosion in the successful use of computation to make progress in various domains, including chess, Web search, and shopping prediction. This success has led many to believe (either with excitement or worry) that computers are on the verge of becoming super-intelligent. I don’t believe this is the case at all (but this general topic is outside the scope of this site).

Here I just want to point out something very concrete: that endgame fortresses are still difficult for computer engines to “understand”. Coincidentally, GM Daniel Naroditsky recently wrote an article about breaking fortresses. I highly recommend studying it, and experimenting with “throwing an engine” at the positions he gives. You will get an idea of how a computer engine “thinks” as it tries to search forward for some kind of forcing variation.

The main difficulty for chess engines is that they are largely programmed to search forward, whereas we human beings in the domain of chess are able to use meta-reasoning rather than just huge, long chains of “if/then/else” in order to generate ideas, plans, and test them out by working backward (instead of forward). Breaking a fortress involves taking in the biggest possible picture of what is happening on the board, eliminating what must not possibly work (usually, this means shuffling pieces around is not enough), and trying to see if something might work (usually, this means some kind of temporary “weakening” through Pawn advances in order to eventually create a Pawn break). We humans can with care determine what the “critical” positions must look like, in which everything has to be accurate else counterplay is achieved, and then zoom in to see if we can create a forcing line (usually based on some kind of Zugzwang or switch of attention from one side of the board to the other) that is tactically justified.

Chess engines are tremendously useful for this kind of work, actually, despite what I’ve said: on their own they may not be able to crack fortresses, but they can supply the assistance to a human who is “directing” the problem solving on the meta level and assigning specific calculations and verifications to the chess engine. The usefulness of computers as assistants is very exciting and real, but should never be confused with claims that they will achieve autonomous “intelligence”.

Franklin Chen

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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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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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The Danger Of A King Out Of Play In The Endgame

In a hard-fought game my student played that ended in a draw, when we were looking at it, I observed that his opponent missed a win at one single critical moment. This was a result of an accumulation of positionally questionable decisions that, although in themselves still led to defensible positions, led to a single blunder that could have been punished.

Three mistakes

Allowing an outside passed Pawn

The first unnecessary concession was made in the late middlegame when Black captured a piece on a5 allowing a recapture with a Pawn bxa5 resulting in White getting an outside passed Pawn. Granted, this being a Rook Pawn made it not as useful, but still created unnecessary danger.

King out of play

The second unnecessary concession was moving the King from g8 to h7, out of the main action. It was best to moving the King toward the center and toward the Queenside, with the goals of safeguarding the Pawn chain from c6 as well as, more critically, aiming toward White’s a-Pawn, either to capture it or at least prevent it from Queening. Granted, Black had a plan to get the King to f4, but it is slow. In fact, it ended up working in the game, but only because White did not act more quickly and decisively to try to Queen the a-Pawn.

Creating another outside Pawn for the opponent

The final concession, which in this case was a big blunder, was to accept White’s sneaky offer of a Queen trade, resulting in transforming White’s c-Pawn into an “outside” b-Pawn that could have been used as a Pawn break to lead the way for White’s King to invade the Queen side and successfully Queen the a-Pawn. A calculation shows that Black’s attempt to also Queen a passed Pawn is too late, because White’s active King can get to Black’s King side Pawns in time to ensure that after White gives up the Rook in turn, the resulting King and Pawn ending is an easy win because Black’s King ends up out of play and White can just push a passed Pawn to victory.

Lessons

The main lessons to learn are that even in a drawable position, it is wise to keep the draw simple by not giving a passed Pawn to the opponent, not giving a Pawn break to the opponent, and keeping one’s King ready to prevent Queening of a passed Pawn if it does exist.

Franklin Chen

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