Category Archives: Great Chess Miniatures

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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Chess Superminiatures

A club mate of mine, Nick Pelling, has published an interactive ebook called ‘Chess Superminiatures’. Superminiatures are super-short chess games that last under 10 moves. There is a surprising amount that can be learnt from such short games. Furthermore, Nick brings the players and the games to life with his anecdotes and historical insights, as well as commentary on the moves.

A computer programmer by trade, Nick has enabled readers to interact with the ebook, with multiple choice ‘guess the move’ options at key points in each game. Some of the moves are not at all obvious, so this is a really good way of testing your chess skills. Also, he has divided up the games into chapters with themes so you can learn some important lessons along the way and see some instructive games to prove the points.

Over 100 games are arranged into eight themed chapters:-

1. Monkeys With Hammers – Attacking games
2. That’s Gotta Hurt – Moves that were overlooked
3. Greed Isn’t Good – What happens to greedy players
4. Tales of the Unpredicted – Bolts from the blue
5. Tangled Webs – When pieces fail to work together
6. Champs vs Chumps – Tales from Chess’s top table
7. Return To Sender – Correspondence players getting unexpected mail
8. Best of the Best – The very best superminiatures I’ve ever seen!

Within each chapter, the puzzles are arranged in ascending order of difficulty, so every reader should quickly find themselves at an appropriately challenging level of difficulty, whatever their playing strength.

So, there you have it – not only are you introduced to some delightful short games, you also get to train and develop your own board vision at the same time. Chess Superminiatures is available on Amazon for Kindle.

Below is a game from Chapter 3, Greed isn’t Good, notes by Nick Pelling:

Angus James

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The Most Beautiful Opening Trap Ever, With Its Tempo Twin

Recently, I noticed that some people have been playing a variation of the Scotch Game involving White retreating the Knight on d4 to b3 after Black’s Bc5. That brought back memories of a beautiful opening trap that I learned from some dusty library book in my childhood, probably by Horowitz or Reinfeld. One thing that I found really remarkable about this opening trap was that there is a similar opening trap that I also encountered in those days that was the exact same position except with one important tempo missing. The tactical ideas are similar, but different in that the tempo means that the win is much, much harder. I think of this other trap as being the most beautiful opening trap I have ever seen. (Correct me if I’m wrong.)

Where did the extra tempo go? Oh, it is a result of the positions being with colors reversed! I always thought that was fascinating.

Here are both traps: the easy one, then the hard one.

The easy trap

The easy trap is one that a student if prompted could find, being told to look for something, even if by just trial and error, because of forcing checks.

The hard trap

The “twin” of the easy trap is much, much harder. I think it would take an advanced player to really work out the solution, with all the sidelines, to conclusion. This is because there is no immediate checkmate, and there are many possible variations. An impatient student might look for checks or look for captures, to no avail, missing the essence of the trap, which is to do what it takes, even if it takes several moves, to completely trap the King, rather than kick it around (in which case it will escape, and because of the huge amount of sacrificed material expended, the failed attacker will have a lost game).

I think this lovely trap contains much that is worth study. Besides the theme just mentioned, here are some additional ideas:

  • The “losing” side does not have to take the Queen. Have the student try to continue the game, even at the cost of a Pawn. This will illustrate that you don’t have to give up just because you fell into a trap.
  • The forced mate that I saw in the opening trap book is a mate in 7. It turns out that there is a mate in 6 that I did not know about until working on this article and turning on the chess engine. This mate is much more involved but quite beautiful. It’s worth studying the shorter mate as well.

Franklin Chen

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The Power Of White’s Pawn On e6

A position came up during a session with a young student in which I wanted to illustrate to him the power of gambits, because he has a materialist bent and likes to snatch Pawns.

While showing him a gambit, we happened to reach one of those positions in which Black has a Pawn on d5 and White has a Pawn on e5, but Black’s light-squared Bishop is no longer covering e6, and therefore White has the opportunity to push the Pawn all the way to e6. The point is that Black’s dark-squared Bishop is shut in and therefore White can work to develop quickly and launch an attack with, in essence, an extra piece.

I first saw this theme in my youth in the famous game Spielmann-Landau, 1933. It has popped up again and again (often in the Caro-Kann) and I was pleased that the theme came up spontaneously in an even easier context for him to understand.

My little demo

We were just knocking around pieces when I was showing him gambits when an opportunity to get a Pawn to e6, even without a sacrifice, turned up. I had him play Black while I knocked out moves as White: not necessarily the best moves at all, but moves that I felt would illustrate certain themes well for his level of play:

  • The cramping power of the Pawn on e6.
  • The value of quick development even at the cost of a further sacrifice.
  • A final sacrifice to break through for mate.

Just as the games of Paul Morphy and Adolf Anderssen were instructional and inspirational to me when I was young, I thought an improvisational creation together of something in their spirit would intrigue him and stick in his mind. I made sure to point out that in this game, he might as well not have had the King Bishop and King Rook on the board.

The Spielmann-Landau 1933 game

Franklin Chen

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Accidental Queen Sacrifices

I run chess clubs in several schools and I often see children losing their Queens for either very little compensation or none at all. It’s not a problem that can be simply resolved by saying “move your Queen to the second rank” or “don’t move your Queen too early” or something similar. That might help her survive the opening phase of the game, but eventually she is going to have to get in amongst the fray.

What I try to do is make students more aware of the potential pitfalls of putting your Queen in amongst the opponent’s ranks, especially when she is on her own. While it might seem tempting to try to win a pawn with your Queen, such manoeuvres are inherently dangerous. It’s a bit like deciding your most powerful piece should take a stroll into the enemy camp to kill a foot soldier. Does the goal justify the risk?

The other thing worth saying is if you do find your Queen trapped there are often ways to release her by sacrificing minor material.

I’ve dug out two of my own games to illustrate the perils of Queen sorties. In the following game White gets his Queen trapped and misses an opportunity to free her by sacrificing a minor piece for two pawns.

In this game, Black takes a hot pawn but then realises that the Queen is trapped and takes steps to ensure she survives by sacrificing a minor piece. It didn’t change the outcome of the game, but it enabled Black to fight on for quite a long time.

Angus James

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Move Two! Chapter 8

Chapter 8 of Move Two! returns to the subject of pawn endings. When novices reach the point where are no longer making simple tactical oversights they will suddenly find that many of their games reach the ending. Time and again, as my Richmond Junior Chess Club database testifies, players who are a pawn down will trade off their last piece just thinking it’s an equal exchange, and find themselves moving from, say, a rook ending with good drawing chances, into a lost pawn ending. A good understanding of pawn endings is therefore essential at this level. I often argue that you can’t really play other endings until you understand pawn endings, because you won’t know when or whether to trade pieces. Likewise, you can’t really play middlegames until you understand endings, and you can’t really play openings until you understand middlegames.

So we start with our first basic multi-pawn position: king and six pawns against king and five. (With younger players I start with king and six against king and four.) When I take the black pieces against less experienced players I often win because my opponents just advance their pawns, allowing my king to march up the board and capture them. So we have the first rule of endings: Use Your King, or as Mike Fox used to say, KUFTE (King Up For The Ending).

You then need to understand the logic of advancing on the side where you have a pawn advantage, and the idea of leading with the pawn which doesn’t have an opposite number to create a passed pawns. (Children who have gone through my Beginners’ Course will have learnt this technique for creating passed pawns in their Capture the Flag games.) Finally, you need to understand the plan of running your king over to the other side while your opponent has to stop to capture your passed pawn. Children often find the concept of forming multi-move plans difficult to comprehend.

Once students have mastered this position they can move on to king and three against king and two on the same side. This requires a lot more subtlety along with understanding the concept of the Opposition. Simply creating a passed pawn will, as they will have learnt in Chapter 4, often just lead to a drawn position. Sometimes we can win by creating a passed pawn and getting in front of it. On other occasions we can win by blocking the pawns and getting our king round the side. These are important techniques which will need a lot of repetition and reinforcement to aid full high-level understanding.

chessKIDS academy gives you the chance to play these positions against a computer here.

We then look at the familiar sacrificial breakthrough with three pawns against three (f5, g5, h5 v f7, g7, h7) in the absence of kings. Finally, we consider the relationship between the opening and the ending, by looking at the potential pawn ending arising from the Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez, an opening which will be considered in more detail in a later chapter.

A short quiz then tests the student’s understanding of some of the concepts considered in this chapter.

The Activities section invites readers to try out the opening featured in the next chapter: the Two Knights’ Defence. In particular, after 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6, investigation of the moves 4. Ng5 and 4. d4 is encouraged.

Masters of the Universe Chapter 8 moves into the 1950s and 60s, introducing two very different players, Vasily Smyslov and Mikhail Tal. In selecting the games for this section I was looking at short games with tactical points which were easy to understand positionally, just the sort of game that Nigel is looking for at the moment. If there was a suitable game available from the player’s youth, that would be my choice. There was a Smyslov game from his teens readily available, but it proved surprisingly difficult to find a suitable early Tal game because he chose such complex openings. It might be easier to find something now, in these days of mega databases, but I eventually chose a win against Spassky from 1979.


Richard James

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Happy Birthday To Me…

As it’s my 39th birthday today I thought I’d celebrate by showing one of my best games. Played when I was just 8 years old it shows the power of the Modern Defence bishop on g7.

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The Life and Times of Mikhail Tal

Mikhail Tal is one of the greats that I actually had the privilege of meeting and playing against.

Tal was a really wonderful and funny person who loved to play blitz. His bohemian lifestyle did nothing for his health and he spent much of his life in and out of hospital. What he saw during his games was simply amazing, fantastic calculating ability linked to tremendous imagination.

Here’s a short pictorial video:

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A Queen Sacrifice

The following brilliant game was posted recently on Kevin Spraggett’s site but without it being replayable. As it’s a real gem, and one that isn’t well known (at least I hadn’t seen it before!), I thought it worth posting.

White’s 18.Rhf1! is surely one of the most beautiful moves ever played on a chess board, the point being the spectacular follow up of 19.Rxe6!.

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Andy Murray’s Chess Connection

With Andy Murray playing in the Wimbledon final today it’s time to explain how chess has contributed towards getting him there. It comes through his coach, Ivan Lendl, whose father was a chess master and who plays the game himself.

Lendl is known to be one of the best strategists on the tennis tour and I think this comes from having a chess background. In the following quote, on his early years in tennis, he recalls some games with his dad:

I don’t have fond memories of those times. My mother would drag me to the courts ever since I was able to breathe and once I was able to walk she was pushing one of those tennis rackets in my hand. She was very hard on me, almost oppressive at times. I like to think of my father in those times, who was able to soothe me more…with a game of chess

Here’s one of his father’s games, just about the most exciting one I could find among the quiet and determined performances listed on my database. The bishop sacrifice is nice, but hardly speculative in any way:

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