Category Archives: Great Chess Miniatures

Alekhine Number (Part 1)

If you happen to be Alexander Alekhine your Alekhine Number is 0. If you’ve played Alekhine your Alekhine number is 1. If you’ve played someone with an Alekhine Number of 1, your Alekhine Number is 2.

You can maintain a hardline view and only include serious competitive games, or you can take a more lax approach and include simul games, casual games and online games.

I wonder how many people still alive have an Alekhine Number of 1. Arturo Pomar, a child prodigy in Spain in the 1940s, who died two years ago, was a pupil of Alekhine and played him three times in tournaments, drawing one of the games. He may well have been Alekhine’s last surviving opponent from competitive games. However, there’s still at least one active player who faced Alekhine over the board: Dimitrij Mathon. Mathon was born in 1927, claims to have played Alekhine in a simul in 1943, and is currently playing in the Czech 60+ Championship. (Thanks to John Saunders and Roger Emerson for this information.)

If you know anyone else still alive who played Alekhine I’d love to know: please get in touch.

My Alekhine Number is 2. Over the next two articles I’ll show you the games.

For the first game we travel back in time to Devon, to the city of Plymouth, famous for its naval base, and for Sir Francis Drake’s game of bowls. It’s 5 September 1938. The local chess club has organised a small all-play-all tournament of eight players to celebrate its golden jubilee. They’ve invited the world champion, Alexander Alekhine, and the Women’s World Champion, Vera Menchik to take part. The most interesting of the other competitors is Paul List, who was born in Odessa in 1887, moved to Germany in the 1920s and then settled in England in 1937. There were also three English internationals, Sir George Thomas from the older generation, and, representing the younger generation, Stuart Milner-Barry and George Wheatcroft. The field was completed by two local players, Ronald MacKay Bruce and Harold Vincent Mallison. Can you imagine Magnus Carlsen, or any other top grandmaster, agreeing to take part in such an event today?

Alekhine conceded two draws, to List and Thomas, which was only enough for a share of first place with the veteran Baronet, who scored one of his greatest successes. The other players finished well in arrears: List and Milner-Barry on 3½, Menchik on 3, Wheatcroft on 2½ along with Mallison, making a highly creditable score in such company. Ron Bruce was somewhat out of his depth, only managing two draws and losing to the world champion in just 12 moves.

1. e4 c6
2. Nc3 d5
3. Nf3

The World Champion chooses the Two Knights variation against Bruce’s Caro-Kann Defence. 3.. Bg4 is the most popular move here, but there’s not a lot wrong with just taking the pawn.

3.. dxe4
4. Nxe4 Bf5

4.. Nf6 is the usual choice. In the main line Caro-Kann Bf5 is excellent, but here it’s slightly inferior.

5. Ng3 Bg6

There’s a big difference between the Two Knights and the main line, as you’ll see on move 7. Instead Black should play Bg4 here.

6. h4 h6
7. Ne5 Bh7
8. Qh5

This position has been reached over 400 times on my database, with White scoring 86%. I’d have thought it was, by now, common knowledge that this position is close to winning for White, but apparently not. Quite a lot of 2200+ players have reached this with Black.

8.. g6

Now White has two very strong continuations. Alekhine chooses the flash move, but the alternative might be even better. After the simple 9. Qf3 several games have concluded 9.. Nf6 10. Qb3 Qd5 11. Qxb7 Qxe5+ 12. Be2 Bg7 (or 12.. Nd5) 13. Qc8#

9. Bc4 e6
10. Qe2

With a Big Threat, which Bruce overlooks. The best chance is 10.. Qe7 when Black’s still in the game, even though his king-side looks extremely ugly.

10.. Nf6
11. Nxf7

This position occurs in 11 games in my database. There are also 28 games with 10.. Bg7 11. Nxf7 and 17 games with 10.. Nd7 11. Nxf7.

11.. Kxf7
12. Qxe6+ 1-0

A trap which is well worth knowing, especially if you play the Caro-Kann. You might also like to try this variation with White.

The tournament schedule was pretty tight: seven games had to be fitted into six days, along with adjournments. This game was played on the Tuesday morning, and later the same day Ron Bruce found himself facing Vera Menchik. He wrote himself into the history books by becoming probably the only player to lose to two reigning world champions in a tournament on the same day.

(ChessBase mistakenly assigns the black pieces in this game to Rowena Mary Bruce. Rowena was Ron’s pupil and, from 1940, wife, as well as many times British Ladies Champion. At the time this game was played she was still Rowena Mary Dew.)

Richard James

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Is the Benko Gambit Really Refuted?

This OTB chess game is one of my wins against a 1500-rated player with me playing the Black side of a Benko Gambit Declined. My first win with the Benko Gambit was when I was still rated 892. That chess game went over 70 moves. The win below was much faster. I was married and stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado when I played this game. My wife at the time (Shirley) was impressed by my beating a 1500-rated player. Now, I expect to win the majority of my chess games against opponents that are rated under 1900 points. While I was playing this chess game I was wearing something shiny on my hat. Shirley stated that I hypnotized the entire room with that hat! 😉

In 1980, GM Larry Christiansen told me that the Benko Gambit was refuted. The chess game below might change his mind on that.

Mike Serovey

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Short and Sweet (3)

Chess Improver reader Matt Fletcher sent me a game played by one of his teammates in a Hertfordshire League match last November.

As it happens it featured a variation I wrote about in an earlier Chess Improver post.

White in this game was Evgeny Tukpetov (currently 2280/212) while Black was Francis Parker (currently 1954/191).

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. c3

White chooses the Ponziani Opening

3.. Nf6
4. d4 Nxe4
5. d5 Bc5

Black chooses the move I was shown after the game in my earlier article. I had another chance to play it, against a different opponent, recently but chickened out as I’d forgotten the theory. You’ll probably see that game later this year.

This is not a new idea at all. The earliest game on my database with this piece sacrifice is Brien-Falkbeer (he of counter-gambit fame) in 1855, although Black followed up incorrectly by taking on f2 with the knight rather than the bishop next move. It was later played by Chigorin and Pollock, and it seems there was quite a lot of theory on it in the 19th century, reaching the conclusion that it wasn’t quite sound.

6. dxc6 Bxf2+
7. Ke2 Bb6

This is a relatively new move which seems to justify the piece sacrifice. The earliest game I have was played between Tim Krabbé and Paul de Rooi on my 14th birthday. It was played a few times between 2003 and 2014 by players in the 2100-2350 range before taking off at a higher level in 2016.

A game from the 2014 World Blitz Championship saw Gabriel Sargissian experiment with 7.. 0-0 against Ian Nepomniachtchi but White eventually won a long and exciting game.

8. Qd5 has almost always been played here, and seems to be the only really satisfactory move for White. Black will continue 8.. Nf2. Now White has three reasonable options. 9. cxb7 Bxb7 10. Qxb7 Nxh1 which looks pretty unclear. 9. Rg1 dxc6 10. Qxd8+ Kxd8 when Black has three pawns for the piece. 9. Qxe5+ Kf8 10. Rg1 dxc6 which again seems unclear: Black has two pawns for the piece but the white king is exposed (and the black king also misplaced).

8. Qa4

Tukpetov tries something different, but this move is just bad.

8.. Nf2
9. Rg1

Or 9. cxb7 Bxb7 10. Rg1 Qf6 when Black clearly has more than enough compensation.

9.. dxc6
10. Na3 Qd5

This is fine, but the engines prefer 10.. Bf5

11. Qc4

White was busted anyway, but this is an egregious blunder. He resigned immediately without waiting for the inevitable 11.. Qd1#

It’s very strange to see such a strong player lose like that. He must have had an off day: I guess it happens to everyone from time to time.

It’s stranger still that Tukpetov had had previous experience with this variation: he’d faced it in two recent 4NCL games.

In November 2016, a year before this game, he had White against GM Matthew Turner and followed one of the recommended lines.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. c3 Nf6 4. d4 Nxe4 5. d5 Bc5 6. dxc6 Bxf2+ 7. Ke2 Bb6 8. Qd5 Nf2 9. cxb7 Bxb7 10. Qxb7 Nxh1 11. Bg5 f6 12. Bh4 Rb8 13. Qd5 Qe7 14. Nbd2 c6 15. Qc4 g5 16. Be1 Kf8 17. g3 d5 18. Qxc6 e4 19. Nd4 Bxd4 20. cxd4 Kg7 21. Bh3 Rxb2 22. Qd7 Qxd7 23. Bxd7 Rhb8 24. Bc6 f5 25. Bxd5 Rd8 26. Bb3 Rxd4 0-1

He was doing fine for some time (the engines recommend 21. Qxd5 with advantage) and appeared to resign in an equal position (the engines give 27. Rc1 as totally level). Perhaps he missed something Perhaps he lost on time. Perhaps his phone went off. Perhaps someone out there knows and can tell me.

The following March he faced the same variation again. His opponent, Samuel Franklin, had no doubt seen the Turner game and prepared an improvement, which might be why Tukpetov varied on move 9.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. c3 Nf6 4. d4 Nxe4 5. d5 Bc5 6. dxc6 Bxf2+ 7. Ke2 Bb6 8. Qd5 Nf2 9. Bg5 f6 10. Nxe5 Qe7 11. cxd7+ Bxd7 12. Qxd7+ Qxd7 13. Nxd7 Kxd7 14. Be3 Nxh1 15. Nd2 Bxe3 16. Kxe3 Rae8+ 17. Kf3 Re5 18. g4 Rhe8 19. Nc4 Re1 20. Rxe1 Rxe1 21. Ne3 Rb1 22. Bg2 Rxb2 23. Bxh1 Rxa2 24. Kf4 c6 25. h4 a5 26. Be4
a4 27. Bxh7 a3 28. Nc2 Rxc2 0-1

9. Bg5 seems to lead to a fairly forced tactical sequence after which Black has a winning advantage.

Now, in November 2017, he varied on move 8, but I don’t see how you can prefer Qa4 to Qd5, which hits both e5 and b7. As you’ve seen, he lost just three moves later.

While the Ponziani might have some merit as a surprise weapon, I’m not sure why you’d want to play it regularly at this level, where your opponents will prepare against you. Nepomniachtchi and, not unsurprisingly, Jobava, have played it quite often. Carlsen’s played it once and Nakamura twice, once in a blitz game. It’s perfectly sound and contains a certain amount of poison, but lacks the strategic complexity of the Ruy Lopez.

Another thing, which perhaps relates to last week’s article. It seems that Evgeny Tukpetov arrived in England a few years ago, when he was in his late 30s, never having played a FIDE rated game of chess. Perhaps he was schooled in the old Soviet system which concentrated on skills development rather than competitive play. I wonder, incidentally, whether anyone knows who is the highest graded player in England who has never played a FIDE rated game? There must be quite a few graded above me.

Richard James

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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