Category Archives: Great Chess Miniatures

Short and Sweet (2)

In a recent Thames Valley League match my teammate Chris White managed to win a game against an opponent graded 173 in only ten moves.

Here’s how it went.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Be2

Chris is playing a reverse Philidor, which doesn’t seem the most likely place to find a ten-mover. Still, you never know.

3… Nf6
4. d3 d5
5. Nbd2 dxe4

This seems rather obliging. Bc5 and Be7 are more challenging options.

6. dxe4 Bg4

Again he might have preferred Bc5 here.

7. c3 Bd6
8. h3 Bh5
9. Nh4

Chris wants to put a knight on f5 (a knight on the rim isn’t dim if it’s on its way somewhere else) but he has to calculate this accurately.

9… Nxe4

A familiar tactic, apparently winning a pawn, but Chris has it all worked out.

10. Nxe4

Now Black, to his credit, realised that he was losing a piece and resigned without waiting to be shown:

10… Bxe2

Or 10… Qxh4 11. Nxd6+

11. Qxe2 Qxh4
12. Bg5

And Black’s queen is trapped.

This is a quiescence error. Black thinks the position after Qxh4 is quiescent (there’s nothing immediate happening) but it isn’t. You have to look at all forcing moves before deciding a position is quiescent and stopping your analysis.

This seemed to be a relatively unusual idea, although I’d remembered seeing this game in Chernev’s 1000 Best Short Games of Chess.

I did a quick search on MegaBase 2018 and found several other examples. The game between Roberto Diaz Garcia (2037) and Leandro Jimenez Jimenez (1974) played in the Championship of the Dominican Republic last May, was almost a repeat of Busvine-Birnberg, the only difference being that White had played O-O rather than Nf1.

A few more examples of the same queen trap. This one’s from a very different opening and has happened more than once. 8. dxe5 would have been OK for White.

Even fairly strong players seem to miss this idea.

The final example features a very different setting, but the queen still gets trapped in the same way.

So there are two tactical ideas you might want to learn. If your opponent plays Nh5 you can sometimes win a pawn using a discovered attack: Nxe5 followed by Qxh5. But you must make sure your queen isn’t going to be trapped as a result. The general idea of trapping a queen in this way is also worth remembering.

Richard James

Stalemate Tuesday

“Any problem that features a pawn moving from its starting square to promotion in the course of the solution is now said to demonstrate the Excelsior theme.”
Excelsior by Sam Lloyd

Chess offers many more opportunities to enjoy it than what we get from the original position and normal play. There are several chess variants to choose from, as well as trying your hand at reaching the most unusual positions one can think of. Stalemate is very hard to reach given its main condition: no pieces can move and the King is not in check. It is logical to look for such positions in the endgame where we have few pieces left. Has it ever crossed your mind though to look for stalemate in the opening? Some have done it already. You can try to do better either by yourself or with your friends at the club. Why would you even consider doing that? I always regarded such unusual exercises as a way of being inventive; way too many times we blitz our moves without thinking in long opening lines, most of the times with no understanding why those moves are played in that order.

Here is an example of juniors who discovered a beauty composed by Sam Lloyd (shortest stalemate possible) and played it on the national stage. It did not go very well with the organizers and both got “0” at the end of it. If you want to play a pre-arranged draw, choose something “normal” to avoid the spotlight. I remember doing it once back in the University Championship. We chose a game with some spectacular sacrifices ending in perpetual; in hindsight it was a bit too spectacular and a number of players came over to watch it live, plus at the end of it a lively analysis erupted. There was no internet at the time and the likelyhood of someone knowing the game was not very high. Today if you want to do something similar, be careful what you choose; google is always watching… Below is what those juniors did. That is asking for trouble or being as inventive as one can be, depending on your perspective:

You can pick up the challenge and see if you can beat Sam Lloyd by finding a shorter stalemate. A couple of players from Germany chose to add a nice wrinkle to it and created a stalemate on move 12 with all the pieces on the board! The position might look familiar since Wheeler (Sunny South 1887) and Sam Lloyd (him again) composed similar positions some 100 years prior; still reaching it requires some work and from this point of view it is as good of a chess workout as anything. Enjoy!

Valer Eugen Demian

Short and Sweet (1)

When Mike Fox and I were writing our Addicts’ Corner column in CHESS one of our regular features was ‘Short and Sweet’, in which we invited readers to submit their own very short wins (or losses).

Every week I download the latest TWIC and search for mini-miniatures. This week’s TWIC offers a bumper 7872 games, many of them played in the World Rapid and World Blitz Championships, but also much else from Christmas/New Year tournaments around the world. The World Rapid and Blitz Championships, held, controversially, in Saudi Arabia, featured some less experienced local players who were easy prey for the visiting GMs.

Let’s look at some of last week’s quicker decisive games.

Cho Fai Heng (1476) – Benjamin Yao Teng Oh (1855)
Jolimark HK Open 24 Dec 2017

1. e4 c5
2. Ne2 Nc6
3. Nbc3

The Closed Variation is a nice system to play against the Sicilian. You can close your eyes and play the first eight moves without thinking. Or can you?

3… Nd4

Not optimal, but hoping for a Christmas present. White duly obliges.

4. g3 Nf3#

Of course it’s easy to fall for this if you’re, like White in this game, a low graded and perhaps inexperienced player.

Strong players would never make that sort of mistake. Or would they?

Six days later, this happened.

Gulnar Mammadova (2357) – Sarah Hoolt (2405)
World Blitz Women 2017, Riyahd R17 30 Dec 17

1. e4 c5
2. Nf3 e6
3. b3 b6
4. c4 Bb7
5. Nc3 Nc6
6. Bb2 e5
7. Nd5 d6
8. g3 Nge7
9. Bh3

White’s not threatening anything so Black decides to prepare a fianchetto.

9… g6
10. Nf6#

It’s blitz so you move fast. These things happen. But if you stop to ask yourself the MAGIC QUESTION ‘If I play that move what will my opponent do next?’ it really shouldn’t happen. It’s also a pattern which you should recognize. Pattern recognition is an important part of chess and will save time in analysis. It doesn’t mean you don’t have to analyse at all, though.

Now here’s something strange. Perhaps the most frequent opening tactic of all is Qa4+ (Qa5+ for Black) picking up a loose minor piece. It’s a pattern you have to remember. Like this.

Inga Charkhalashvili (2337) – Bedor Al Shelash (-)
World Rapid Women 2017, Riyahd R2 26 Dec 17

1. d4 e6
2. c4 d5
3. Nc3 Nf6
4. Bg5 Bb4
5. Qa4+ 1-0

Except that it isn’t. Black could have defended with Nc6. Perhaps she didn’t notice, or perhaps her mobile phone went off. Who knows?

I’d have been tempted to wait a move, playing something like 5. Nf3 hoping for 5… b6 in reply.

In rapid and blitz games mistakes like this will inevitably happen. But a grandmaster playing in a slowplay event would never hang a piece on move 5.

Wong Meng Kong (2252) – Denis Molofej (2081)
Jolimark HK Open 25 Dec 17

1. Nf3 d5
2. c4 dxc4
3. Qa4+ Qd7
4. Qxc4 Qc6

Trading queens on move 5 would be pretty boring so White prefers…

5. Qb3 Qxc1+ 0-1

Until I came across these games I was planning to write about a particular book and author this week. The book included an analogous position to this:

Mohammed Alanazy (1850) – Ahmed M Al Ghamdi (2159)
World Blitz 2017, Riyahd R15 30 Dec 17

1. e4 c5
2. d4 cxd4
3. c3 d3
4. Nf3 d6
5. e5 dxe5
6. Nxe5 Qc7
7. Qh5

White defends his threatened knight while at the same time threatening mate in 2. What could be more natural? Sadly, the blitz time limit didn’t allow him to ask himself the MAGIC QUESTION.

7… g6

Black defends his threatened king while at the same time threatening the queen which is defending the knight. If 8. Qg5 he can choose between Bh6 and f6, both winning a piece.

8. Qf3 Qxe5+ 0-1

My last offering for now highlights another recurring tactical pattern in the opening. Again, an idea all competitive players need to know.

Johan-Sebastian Christiansen (2495) – Hassan M Al Bargi (1579)
World Rapid 2017, Riyahd R2 26 Dec 17

1. e4 d5
2. exd5 Qxd5
3. Nc3 Qd8
4. d4 Nf6
5. Nf3 c6
6. Bc4 Bg4

Allowing a familiar combination. At least it should be familiar. My database has 28 examples of White’s next move, with two of the victims being rated over 2200. The earliest example is Albin – Lee New York 1893, a tournament which also featured William Henry Krause Pollock.

7. Bxf7+ Kxf7
8. Ne5+ Kg8
9. Nxg4 Nbd7
10. Qe2 Nxg4
11. Qe6#

Which is why an early section of Chess Openings for Heroes covers these tactical patterns which happen over and over again. You won’t find this, as far as I know, in any other elementary openings book.

Richard James

Wanna be an English Trapper?

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”
George Santayana

Funny how the past becomes important as we grow older. Some moments we remember immediately, others pop up at the right moment or even when we least expect it. Chessplayers have a good memory and that is an important ingredient in getting better. Another important thing is studying “traps and zaps”, expression used by Bruce Pandolfini in his popular book “Chess Openings: Traps and Zaps” from 1989. If you do not have it, you can always create your own from past games you played or have studied. Here is one of mine from the time I was in grade 7:

The English Opening is again popular these days, but was not so much at that time. I liked it because it allowed me to surprise my opponents expecting mostly 1. e4 or 1. d4. I have won many a game because of this. Do you think this trap is too simple or easy to see? You could be right now that you saw it. Hopefully you will not have it done to you from now on; it is not a nice feeling to lose that fast. All I can say is the trap functions today as efficient as it did back then. Quite a few of my students are using it too. It is also only one of more the position offers against unaware opponents. Here is another one played by one of my students a few years back:

Lessons 8 and 9, level 4 of our app have a few more useful traps and zaps in the English. The beauty of it is having the opportunity to add more examples as more unsuspecting victims fall for them. One of my former students managed to finish top 10 in boys U8 at the World Youth Chess Championship in Vietnam 2008 by playing the English exclusively with the White pieces; while he could not collect pieces with his traps at that level, he got pawns and superior positions he converted into invaluable points later on in those games. What more do you need? I will end this teaser article with one of my latest uses of a trap from a game I played online a couple of weeks ago. It was the game inspiring me to write this article. Hope you enjoyed it!

Valer Eugen Demian

This Piano is No Joke!

Many amateur chess players (especially Americans) mispronounce the names of chess openings and foreign chess players. “Giuoco” is pronounced like joke-o. Giuoco Piano means go easy game. This opening and its variants are also called “The Italian Game”.

My opponent blundered while transitioning from the opening to the middle game. I can’t say that any one move was responsible for his loss.


Mike Serovey

Opening Blunders

“Chess is a fairy tale of 1001 blunders”
Savielly Tartakower

Playing carefully and well in the opening is and has always been important; of course how one does that, it is up for discussion. Back in my junior days players would memorize many a line and a coaching session could include nasty questions such as “at what move should you play Ra8-c8 in the Sicilian Dragon?”. That practice was somewhat understandable with nothing but books and magazines available to keep us up to date with the latest theoretical ideas. Can you believe the rotary phone was the most advanced piece of communication at the time? It did not have many features, forget apps or internet access… The main downside of the memorization approach was (and still is) being in a difficult position the minute your opponent would play something outside the memorized lines; many talented players used that in purpose to get their opponents out of the books and outplay them using pure chess knowledge.

Today it is hard to surprise anyone in the opening; still it does not mean you should give up on trying to do that. It means you should do better research and of course know many ideas and setups enabling you to blend them in different ways to achieve that surprising and confusing position for your opponents. Today’s game is a very good example of that. Black got careless or simply confused of the succession of openings they touched and lost fast. It might not be a lot to look at, but the lessons out of it could be very useful in your opening preparation.

Hope you found it useful. What can we learn out of it? Here is where you can start:

  • Learn opening ideas and plans to be able to apply them as the position requires
  • Do not be afraid to try many openings or similar openings; that would enable you to avoid being dragged into an unknown opening or setup
  • Make sure you learn as many traps and tricks from the openings of your choice as possible; this is two fold: on one hand it teaches you to avoid them and on the other hand you can use them against your opposition

Pay attention what is going on at move 1 and stop doing that when the opponent shakes your hand. If you have any games and/ or positions you would like me to look at, please do not hesitate to let me know. I will gladly include them in my column for everyone’s benefit. Looking forward to your messages!

Valer Eugen Demian

How NOT to Play Against Stronger Opponents

This win against a much lower-rated opponent put me into temporary first place in this section. However, games that finished after this one did dropped me back into a tie for fourth place.

Going through the crosstable for this section I played over my opponents games that he has finished. So far, he has one forfeit win and about five losses. He will most likely finish in the second to last position. In every game that I looked at, he played the same Carro-Kahn like set up as both White and Black. I sent a message to him telling him that passive play against strong opponents will get him clobbered every time!

On move number 7 White played a novelty that may not have been that good. Move number 12 was also weak because is was played to support move number 14, which was an outright blunder. After Black’s 14th move, White was dead lost. White resigned when Black had checkmate in 5 moves.

I now have enough content in the membership area of my chess site to start taking a few new members to help me beta test this site. I gave Tai one free membership to this site and he has yet to do anything with it. I will take up to a total of 10 free members to beta test this membership area. After that, I will be charging for access to this site. If the beta testers do not give me any useful feedback, then I will cancel their memberships and they will have to pay to rejoin this site! If you are interested in joining then contact me.

Mike Serovey

Amateur Versus Master: Game Twenty Two

My opponent in this very short correspondence chess game is an ICCF master from Sweden. When White offered a draw on move number 11, I was surprised and then checked my database of games that had that position in them. I found that White won one game and the other three ended in draws. So, I accepted the draw.

This correspondence chess game started off as the Ruy Lopez and transposed into the Four Knights. I was trying to get the Berlin Defense because it is solid and drawish. This Four Knights gave me the draw that I wanted, only sooner than I expected it!

I had third place in this section before this draw and I remained in third place after accepting the draw. My annotations show the games in my database without any real comments.

Mike Serovey

Amateur Versus Master: Game Twenty

My opponent in this OTB Rapid Chess game became a USCF Life Master. I do not recall if he was yet a LM at the time that this chess game was played. This is one of three losses that I have to Corey Acor and my only loss to him with the black pieces.

My opening play with the Black side of the Closed Sicilian Defense may not have been that accurate, but I lost because I failed to realize that my King was in check and thus I tried to make an illegal move with my Rook on my move number 19. The only legal move with that Rook would lose the exchange so I resigned.

The rules do not require my opponent to tell me when my King is in check, but I usually will tell my opponents as a courtesy. Corey did not tell me that my King was in check until after I tried to make an illegal Rook move! Still, I consider Corey Acor to be a gentleman as well as a strong chess player.

I had lost to a master in Round 1 who was visiting from England. I won rounds 2 and 3 and then lost to this master in the final round. That gave me an even score against a fairly strong field for me.

Unfortunately, playing like a patzer every time that I faced Corey Acor made me look like a patzer to him! If Corey had not watched some of my chess games with other strong players he could have concluded that I barely know how to move the pieces! Sometimes, I rise to the level of my competition. At other times, I freak out and play like a beginner! With Corey Acor, the freak out factor kicked in.

Mike Serovey

Another French Defense Bites the Dust

My opponent in this correspondence chess game was an unrated player who was given a provisional rating of 1800 for pairing purposes. At the time that I am writing this, Mike O’Mahoney has lost to me and one other opponent.

This win put me in temporary first place in this section and a subsequent draw with the other player who defeated Mike has kept me in a tie for first place in this section.

Some of you may remember a cartoon character called Huckleberry Hound. He used to sing My Darling Clementine quite often while walking around. The chorus is as follows:

Oh my darling, Oh my darling,
Oh my darling Clementine,
You are lost and gone forever,
Dreadful sorry Clementine.

I changed the chorus to the following:

Oh ma honey, Oh ma honey,
Oh ma honey chess player Mike,
You are lost and gone forever,
Dreadful sorry chess player Mike.

You tried to beat me, You tried to beat me,
You tried to beat me in a game of chess,
But you are lost and gone forever,
Dreadful sorry chess player Mike.

My opponent (Black) started making minor positional and developmental errors early in this correspondence chess game and was losing rather quickly. Thus, I cannot pick only one move as being the losing move.

Mike Serovey