Working Without Engines

My Dad and I usually look at chess without an engine, trying to figure things out for ourselves. Dad says that this is a better way to develop as a player because using an engine leads to people becoming too reliant on them in their thinking. Here is an example:

We found this position while going through IM John Cox’s book on the Berlin. Black played 47…c5 which looks like a great try, but Cox thought it might be a blunder. Carlsen then answered with 48.e6+ which was given two question marks, Cox commenting that 48.f6 ‘was immediately decisive’.

I think that Cox must have had the engine on all the time to make it seem so easy to him, the players did not find this easy to see and we struggled too. The reason is that after 48.f6 Black can let White get a queen with 48…cxd4 49.f7 dxc3 50.f8=Q cxb2 51.Qf1 c3, when the passed pawns are very strong and at first seem to tie White’s queen down.

It turns out that White can win after 52.Qd3+ Ke8 53.e6 c2 54.Qd7+ Kf8 55.Qd8+ Kg7 56.Qxe7+ Kh6 57.Qf8+ Kh7 58.Qf7+ Kh6 59.Qf4+ Kh7 60.Qh2+ Kg8 61.e7 Kf7 62.Qe5 Ke8 63.Qc7. However this only became clear when we looked at the position with an engine and the line is 15 moves deep.

Sam Davies

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A Lesson from Neubauer – Sargissian, 2007

Position after Black’s 35…c5

Black has occupied the h file. The first move that came to my mind was to play Rh1 and exchange the rook on h8, and this in fact what was played.

Q: Is it the right way to proceed?

A: In fact Rh1 is a blunder in the given position as White can’t prevent Black’s king from penetration on the queenside via the light squares. The game ended after 5 more moves.

36. Rh1?? Rxh1 37. Kxh1 a4 38. dxc5

This is just another mistake but the alternatives also seem to lose:
a) 38. Be3 Kc6! 39. Kg2 b4! and Black is winning.
b) 38. Kg2 cxd4! 39. cxd4 b4! has the idea of bringing the king to c4/b3 via Kc6-b5-c4-b3, which is winning for Black.
c) 38. f4 cxd4 and same plan given in option b will win.

38…Kc6!

An exercise for readers: Why should Black should not directly capture the pawn on c5 with his bishop?

39. Kg2 Kxc5 40. Kf2 Kc4 41. Ke2 Kb3

White resigned.

Lesson: Do not exchange the last major piece from the board until and unless it is must because it can prevent the opponent’s piece from getting in to your position. It is also very useful for attacking the opponent’s weaknesses.

The correct way to defend the position was to play 36.dxc5 followed by pawn to f4 and it is very difficult for Black’s rook to find any good square on h file. After exchanging the rook the position was lost as White can’t prevent Black king from penetrating on the queenside via the light squares.

Ashvin Chauhan

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Fighting In The Trenches (1)

“I’ve paid my dues in the classical trenches”
Laila Robins

Many a player have to fight in the trenches, in the endgame trenches that is. It turns out endgame is the less intuitive part of the game. Patterns need to be known, moments must be seized. We have started to dig our trenches at the club. The fight is going to be long and could not be avoided any longer. Here is another example why:

What do you think about this position? Who is winning? Take a quick glance and depending on how skilled you are, the result should be more or less obvious. Of course there is more than one way to skin a cat, so you have a number of options to choose from. Which one is yours?


Can you still win this endgame? Do you believe White can still win the endgame? Most of the times believing is all that matters. Think about this until next week. To be continued…

Valer Eugen Demian

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Better Pawn Structure

Here’s another rook endgame from Master Rook Endgames by Nikolai Minev. Black is a pawn down in this one but has the advantage because his pawn structure is better. Black’s first move is important because he needs to stop White playing 36.c3.

Sam Davies

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Capablanca vs Shipley, 1924

This is an amazing game played by Capablanca. I have been looking at this game for the last few days and didn’t find an obvious mistake or blunder by Black until he had a lost position. This game shows that how a better pawn island and slightly better king can be a decisive advantage in the hand of Capa.

Position after 20. Rb3!

Capa just wants to double his rooks on the b file and penetrate through to the 7th rank.

20…Kc7

The most natural move to meet the rook battery on the b file, but this allows exchanges of rooks. As an exercise it is useful to try to find some alternate ways to play Black’s position and see if White can win.

21. Rab1 Rb8 22. Rxb8 Rxb8 23. Rxb8 Kxb8

Now we have position where Capa’s king is just one rank more advanced than his counterpart.

24. Kd3 Kc7 25. Kd5 Kd6 26. g4 Ke6

26. Kf5 might be stronger but here White has clear cut winning plan. That is to exchange the f pawn against Black’s f pawn and he will soon get a kingside majority, and if Black keeps the f pawn, which is what happened in the game, then Black soon run out of good moves.

27. h4 f6

After 27…Kf6 there is 28. f4 exf4 29. Kxf4 Kg6 and now Ke5 is winning.

28. f4! exf4

After 28…c5 then 29. fxe5 fxe5 30. g5 is winning due to the outside passed pawn.

29. Kxf4 h6??

A blunder in a lost position because this creates another square (g6) for White’s king to penetrate, though no other move can save the day.

30. c3

Black resigned after few more moves.

Here is the full game in case you’re interested.

Ashvin Chauhan

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Fair Assessment

“All assessment is a perpetual work in progress.”
Linda Suskie

Last week we had a look at an endgame from one of our club games. The article is available HERE The position in the spotlight was this one:


Neither player did a very good job assessing the position (White was far too pessimistic, while black was too optimistic) and a number of moves later they reached the following one. How would you assess it?

White is still down a pawn which is surprising after being on the verge to even up the material in the first diagram. We made the observation it had to play aggressive. That did not happen and the main reason was poor assessment: she considered her position was lost!… You do not need a lot of endgame knowledge to observe now a number of differences:

  • The d6-pawn has advanced only once; pushing it towards promotion should have been the main focus
  • Kb7 is stopping Ra5 from reaching the 8th rank and help with the pawn promotion
  • Black’s pawn chain is still alive and far more dangerous now with the passed e4-pawn

Your chess sense should tell you black is back in the game and has a fighting chance. Now imagine you’ve been playing this game and whatever you felt in the first position, this one feels worst. Key is in such moments to calm down, reset and see what can be done to still achieve a good outcome. Have you ever been told of being too easy to play against? That means in tough situations or when things are not going in your favour, you cannot stop the slide and put up a fight. It is possible white was aware the latest position was worst; unfortunately it did not cross her mind to look for a way out. You might say that is impossible: white might just as well resign, saving time and effort if it accepts her faith. That is true except there’s always one hope we all have: the opponent might blunder. Of course you need to put up a fight and give it the opportunity to do so. Very rarely opponents blunder on their own.

Going back to the position a fair assessment should include a way out of it. White must eliminate the dangerous black pawns even if that means losing the important d6-pawn. Once white has that, it could look one more time to see if there’s more and if finding nothing, it should settle for a draw. It would be better than losing as it happened in our game after they reached a Black queen for a White rook type of endgame. In retrospect Black could think he was right all the time to think he was winning. That would be wrong; a fair assessment is needed at all times regardless of the outcome.

Valer Eugen Demian

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“What say you?” The 1 minute challenge (11)

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer”
Bruce Lee

A quick reminder about how to do it:

  • Have a look at the position for 1 minute (watch the clock)
  • Think about the choices in front of you and pick the one you feel it is right
  • Verify it in your mind the best you can
  • Compare it with the solution

Endgame play continues to be a tough nut to crack as I can see week after week at our club. I asked both players about this position and got the following answers:
Mengbai: “Don’t know. I guess I am losing”
Steven: “Don’t know. Winning?”
Have a look at the position (White to move) and decide for yourselves.

It is an interesting endgame, one you could encounter quite often at club level. Going over the position we can see the following important aspects:

  • Black is up a pawn
  • Kf4 is by far better than Kg8; the rather obvious Kf4-e5 would put it right in the center, supporting the d5-pawn
  • White has a passed d5-pawn, while Black has a passed a7-pawn; d5 is much stronger since it already is on the 5th rank. Black stands to lose the a7-pawn fairly quickly
  • Rd1 is pretty much tied up behind the passer but if White is not playing aggressive, it could swing to the 2nd row and possibly capture some white pawns in the process; if Black captures the f2-pawn and there is no imminent win for White, the e4-pawn becomes a passer and a threat
  • Rc5 is not placed in its best position but working together with the d5-pawn and its king, could make it very useful

Did you have something similar coming out of your analysis? How about a plan of action for White? In my opinion, after Kf4-e5 the combined threats of promoting the d5-pawn and back rank mating Kg8 (when it moves over to stop the passer) are overwhelming. White is simply winning here. The only challenge is to find the right moves and play aggressive.

In the game White managed to win the a7-pawn but her play was very tentative. I am not sure what was she concerned about when her passer reached the d6-square and stayed there longer than needed. Probably it is a good thing I had to watch other games meantime and missed a number of moves played. The simple line below shows a straight forward way for White to win. Next time we are going to look at the last part of this endgame.

Valer Eugen Demian

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Passed Pawns

Something I noticed many years ago looking at lower level junior games is that passed pawns in the ending are worth much more than at higher levels. Children will often panic and make unnecessary sacrifices instead of calmly working out how best to stop them.

One of my private pupils recently won an Under 9 tournament and had managed to record two of his games which he brought in to show me. His round 1 game, in which he had the white pieces, had several points of interest, two of which involved passed pawns.

Let’s take a look.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bc4

Stop here! In lesson after lesson I tell my private pupils not to play this move order, partly because Black might reply with 4.. Nxe4. We often tell the Richmond Junior Club intermediate group the same thing. But every week, every tournament this is what they play. It’s what they know and feel comfortable with, and they don’t want to change. If they really want to play a Giuoco Pianissimo, I tell them, remember PNBPNB: e4, Nf3, Bc4, d3, Nc3, Bg5 in that order. But they never do it. Or, better still, learn a different opening. You’ll only make significant progress if you gain experience of playing different types of position. But most of them never do.

4.. Bc5 5. Ng5

Stop again! In lesson after lesson I tell my pupils not to play Ng5 in this sort of position if their opponent can castle. In lesson after lesson I explain why. But they still play it, hoping that their opponent will fail to see their threat. I guess the only answer is proactive parental involvement: going through their opening repertoire the evening before the event. In this game Black was strong enough to get the next few moves right.

5.. O-O 6. d3 h6 7. Nf3 d6 8. O-O Bd4

A position which has arisen quite often in low level games. On my database Black scores close to 75% after the normal 8.. Nd4 in this position, although White’s OK after either Be3 or h3. In this game, though, Black decides to trade his two bishops for the two white knights.

9. Be3 Bxc3 10. bxc3 Bg4 11. h3 Bxf3 12. Qxf3 a6 13. d4 exd4 14. cxd4 b5 15. Bd3 Nb4 16. e5 dxe5 17. dxe5 Nxd3 18. cxd3 Qxd3

The first blunder of the game. Two moves ago White played e5 to threaten the black knight. Black plays a couple of trades first, and then forgets that his knight is en prise. capturing a pawn instead. This is a very typical type of mistake at this level and age. Children will just look at the last piece that’s moved rather than the whole board, and, because their concentration is not very good, they will forget what happened a couple of moves ago if there have been some intermediate moves.

19. Bc5

White doesn’t notice, or possibly decides, mistakenly, that he’d rather win a rook than a knight.

19.. Qxf3 20. gxf3 Rfe8

Black sees the attack on the rook so moves it to safety. Now, finally, someone spots that the knight on f6 can be taken. 20.. Nd7 would have offered even chances: Black will have a pawn for the exchange and is quite likely to pick up another one in the near future.

21. exf6 Re5 22. Bd4 Re6 23. fxg7 Rg6+ 24. Kh1 Rd8

White should be winning now with his extra piece, but instead he makes an understandable (at this level) oversight.

25. Rad1

It’s natural to protect the bishop rather than moving it again, but now Black could have played Rgd6 (PIN AND WIN!), regaining the piece with a position that should be winning. White failed to ask himself the MAGIC QUESTION “If I play that move, what will my opponent do next?”, and Black failed to look for all forcing moves (use a CCTV to look at the board: looking for Checks, Captures and Threats leads to Victory), instead choosing to prepare to push his passed pawn.

25.. Rc8 26. Rg1 Rxg1+ 27. Rxg1 c5 28. Bc3 b4 29. Bd2 Rd8 30. Bxh6 c4 31. Bg5 Rc8 32. h4 c3 33. h5 Kxg7 34. h6+

34. Be7+ would have won one of the dangerous black pawns.

34.. Kh7 35. Rg4 c2 36. Rg1 f6 37. Bf4 Rd8

An inaccuracy, allowing White to get his rook behind his passed pawn. (RBBPP – Rooks Belong Behind Passed Pawns: the other day I lost a drawn ending by failing to follow my own advice, which I’ve been teaching for the past 45 years or so.)

38. Rg7+ Kh8 39. Kg2

Missing 39. Rc7 with an easy win.

39.. Rd4

White’s still winning, but has to play 40. Be3 Rc4 (otherwise 41. Rc7) 41. Bc1 here. You have to calculate accurately when your opponent has a passed pawn. Instead, White overlooks a tactic, which Black does well to notice.

40. Kg3 Rxf4 41. Kxf4

He doesn’t have to take the rook here: Rc7 is a drawn rook ending. At this level, though, they usually move first and think later.

41.. c1Q+ 42. Kf5 Qh1 43. Kg6 Qb1+ 44. Kxf6 a5 45. Rd7 Qb2+ 46. Kg6 Qc2+ 47. Kf6

White has some threats of mate or perpetual check as well as a passed pawn, but as long as Black calculates accurately he’ll win easily. For instance, 47.. Qxa2 48. Rd8+ when Black can either play 48.. Qg8 and win the pawn ending or 48.. Kh7 and run with his king. But instead he panics and returns his queen at the wrong time. Another recurring mistake at this age/level is to trade off the last pieces without calculating the pawn ending first. There’s a lot about this in CHESS ENDINGS FOR HEROES.

47.. Qh7 48. Rxh7+

No doubt played without thinking, as one does. At this level I’d expect nothing else, but White can gain a vital move by trading on g8 rather than h7: 48. Rd8+ Qg8 49. Rxg8+ Kxg8 50. Ke5 a4 51. Kd4 b3 52. axb3 axb3 53. Kc3 Kh7 54. Kxb3 Kxh6 55. Kc3 Kg5 56. Kd3 Kf4 57. Ke2 and White wins by a tempo.

48.. Kxh7 49. Ke5 Kxh6 50. Kd4 a4 51. Kd3

This loses a tempo, but shouldn’t affect the result: 51. Kc4 b3 52. axb3 axb3 53. Kxb3 Kg5 54. Kc3 Kf4 55. Kd2 Kxf3 and Black just gets back in time to draw.

51.. b3 52. axb3 a3

A fatal miscalculation. Instead 52.. axb3 is an immediate draw. Of course if White’s king was on e3 instead of d3 he’d have been quite correct. I’d guess he’d seen the idea before but chose the wrong moment to use it.

53. Kc2 a2 54. Kb2 a1=Q+ 55. Kxa1 and White had no trouble promoting a couple of pawns and checkmating his opponent.

A game with many mistakes which are very typical for young players at this level.

Richard James

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Missed Opportunities

This position is taken from a game played in Round 5 of the Grenke Chess Classic.

White, the German GM Georg Meier, is about to play his 39th move against Magnus Carlsen.

After 1 minute 28 seconds, and with just five seconds remaining on the clock he decides to play safe: 39. Ra1. The pieces were traded off and he captured the a-pawn to reach a drawn ending.

He wanted to look at something in the post mortem.

39. Rh1 Qe7 40. Rxh7+ Kxh7 41. Rh5+ Kg6, and, on reaching this position he realised that he’d missed the second rook sacrifice 42. Rh6+ Kf7 (or 42… Kxh6 43. Qh5#) 43. Qh5+ Kg8 44. Rh8#. Black could avoid the mate by playing 41.. Kg8 but after 42. Be6+ Rff7 43. Rh6 White has a winning attack. In this line Black could also try 39.. Qf7, when White replies 40. Bf5 and Black can’t hold h7.

Unfortunate for Meier: with more time on the clock he’d have found the brilliant double rook sacrifice to defeat the World Champion.

In fact White has two other wins in this position.

One of them is 39. Rh5 with very much the same idea. Now after 39.. Qe7 40. Rxh7+ still works, but even stronger is 40. Be6 threatening 41. Rxh7+ Kxh7 42. Qh5#. Alternatively, 39.. Qf7 40. Rxh7+ Kxh7 41. Rh1+ Kg8 42. Be6 wins the queen.

The other winning move is 39. Rf5 Rxf5 (or 39.. Qb8 40. Rxf8+ Qxf8 41. Rb1 with Rb8 to follow) 40. Bxf5 Qc7 (one of White’s many threats was Rh1) 41. Qe8+ Rg8 42. Qe6 Rf8 43. Rh1 and again Black has no way to defend h7.

Three ways to win, and a couple of other promising moves as well (Be6, Rb1), but, with only 90 seconds or so left, it’s understandable that Meier chose a safe, but not winning option. Chess is a cruel game.

Moving onto the next round, let’s watch world championship candidate Fabiano Caruana struggling to hold the ending against Hou Yifan. Hou, playing black, is about to make her 64th move.

Understandably enough, she moves her threatened a-pawn. Meanwhile, chess fans throughout the world, watching the chess24.com engine, realise she’s missed a beautiful win.

It starts with 64.. Kd2 when White has nothing better than 65. Bxa6. Now come two stunning moves. 65.. Nd3+!, sacrificing a knight to undouble the white pawns, followed by 66. cxd3 d4, sacrificing the rest of her pawns to force promotion. Totally amazing!

White doesn’t have to capture the knight, though.

66. Kb1 Ne1 67. Bxb5 Kxc3 68. Bc6 d4 69. Be4 Kd2 (but the immediate Nxc2 only draws) 70. a4 Nxc2 71. Bxc2 d3 72. Bxd3 cxd3 (but not Kxd3 which is only a draw) and Black will promote with check and win by a tempo.

After 66. Ka2 there are several ways to win. One attractive line runs 66.. Kxc2 67. Bxb5 Kxc3 68. a4 Kd2 69. a5 c3 70. a6 c2 71. a7 c1Q 72. Bxd3 Kc3 73. a8Q Qb2#

66. Ka1 is similar to Ka2.

In fact, after 64.. a5 65. Kc1 Hou is still winning. The way to secure the full point runs: 65.. Ke2 66. Bc6 Ke1 67. Bxb5 Ne2+ 68. Kb2 Kd2 winning the c3 pawn. Instead she continued 65.. Ne2+ 66. Kb2 Kd2 (going back with Nf4 was still winning) 67. Bxd5 Nxc3 and Caruana managed to hold on, the game eventually being drawn on move 98.

Another missed opportunity, but it’s very difficult for anyone to spot this over the board. For Caruana, as for Carlsen in the previous round, a narrow escape.

These two positions demonstrate just how beautiful – and how difficult – chess can be. Which is why playing it and teaching it, at least to pupils who want to play chess well, is so worthwhile.

A tweet from chess historian Olimpiu G Urcan summed it up: “You really have to feel pity for those who don’t play or understand chess in moments like this”.

Richard James

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A Lesson From Carlsen – Pelletier

Lessons from the games of Magnus Carlsen are usually related to positional chess or endgames. Here we have position after move number 46, Carlsen has an extra pawn but there are opposite colour bishops on the board:

Q: Do you see any winning chances for Carlsen?
A: Yes, the position on the board offers winning chances to White because of:
1. Black’s passive king: Black has weakness on b6 and the king can’t go and defend it due to Black’s king side pawns being placed on light square. White’s bishop could easily eat them in the absence of Black’s king.
2. Black’s passive bishop: Black’s bishop will not be able to attack White’s king side via d4 route due to tactical reasons which I will explain later on. The other routes are slow as White’s king can quickly attack b6. So Black’s dark square bishop has to occupy a passive position.

White has winning breakthrough and brilliant manoeuvre to win a second pawn, which is really hard to spot:

1. Ke2!

Heading towards b5.

1…Kf8 2. Kd3!

Stopping Bd4.

2…Bf6 3. b3 Bb2

3…Bd4 is not possible because of 4. b4 Bf2 5. a5! cxb4 6.a6!!, and Black’s bishop can’t touch White’s king side and eventually would have to sacrifice the bishop for White’s rook pawn.

4. Bd5 Ba3 5. Kc4 Bb4 6. Kb5 Ba5 7. Bc4 Ke7 8. Kc6

A very important move, not allowing Black’s king to defend b6. Had White not done this Black’s free bishop can capture pawns on the king side and the game might ended in draw.

8…Kf6 9. Bd3 Kf7 10. h5!!

Black has to take otherwise white can take on g6 followed by g4 wins a pawn and the game.

10…gxh5 11. Bxf5 Kf6 12. Be4 Kg7 13. Bf3 Kh6 14. Kb5 Kg6

Now White needs his bishop on e8 or f7 with Black to move would result into winning more material.

15. Bd1 Kh6 16. Be2 Kg6 17. Bf3 Kh6 18. Bc6

White threatens Be8, so Black resigned.

Ashvin Chauhan

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