Category Archives: Improver (950-1400)

O’Kelly Crusher

This week I’m sharing a smashing game by a teammate of mine, Chris Briscoe, played in the UK’s Four Nations Chess League (4NCL) in March. I manage Surbiton, a team in Division 3, which this year has over 60 teams competing for just three Division 2 promotion spots. Chris is our regular Board 1 player and we are fortunate to have him – he previously played for Wood Green, which is usually near the top of Division 1.

Angus James

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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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Queen Traps

The other day one of my pupils showed me a recent tournament game in which he had the black pieces.

I can’t remember the exact move order, but it started something like this.

White opened with the queen’s pawn but neither player really demonstrated much understanding of the subtleties of the opening. At move seven Black decided to attack the white queen. At this level children tend to play threats in the hope that their opponent won’t notice rather than trying to put pieces on better squares. But this time White was sufficiently alert to move his queen and decided to throw in a check on b5. Qd2 instead would have been fine. Black might, I suppose, have replied with c6 but instead he found, possibly without realising why, the correct move Bc6. Suddenly, White’s queen is trapped in broad daylight, in the middle of the board. Black eventually went on to win the game with his extra queen.

Last week I demonstrated this to a group of children at Richmond Junior Club, and asked them what lessons they could learn from the game. They were all eager to tell me the lesson that you have to look ahead before playing your move, which of course is perfectly correct. There were two other lessons I wanted them to tell me about as well, but I had difficulty getting the replies I was looking for.

I was hoping they’d tell me that it’s often dangerous to bring your queen out too soon, one reason being that she might get trapped. I’m sure most of them have been told this many times, but they weren’t able to relate this piece of advice to the game in question. The second thing I hoped they’d tell me was that you should beware of playing random checks. Probably not all of them are aware of this. They’ve been taught to look for every check, capture and threat so not playing random checks seemed like strange advice to some of them. What we mean, of course, is that you should look at every check – it might be checkmate, lead to checkmate, be a fork or whatever, not that you should always play a check should you have one available.

This reminded me of a very short game I first saw in Chernev’s 1000 Best Short Games of Chess many years ago.

In this game White started with 1.e3. Children often play this, illogically, because they’re scared of Scholar’s Mate. Then he went for a queen attack on move 2, but as his e-pawn had only advanced one square Black correctly took over the centre. On move 4 White played his queen to what seemed to be a random safe square, but it wasn’t safe at all. Again, the white queen was trapped in the middle of the board, in record time.

In both these games, White learnt the hard way about the dangers of bringing your queen out too soon.

Richard James

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Five Basic Weaknesses

In Hinduism we have an expression that we should try to overcome certain human weaknesses. Here my intention is not to start a spiritual debate but rather show you how this also applies to chess when you are serious about improving.

Attachment: It is something like you’re playing what you like rather than what position requires. For example a person who loves attack on king will sometimes try to launch an attack when it is inappropriate. If I talk about myself, I prefer endgames, and because of this attachment I have missed many opportunities to launch a winning attack on the enemy king.

Anger: This is related to emotional instability and we all know that a person with unstable emotions can react badly. So I think there is no need to discuss this further.

Fear: This works on all levels. For example if you are going to play match against a stronger player there are more chances that you start playing with some fear rather than playing naturally. How many of us have had this feeling? Probably everyone. But the best way to proceed is to treat your opponent as an opponent rather than IM, GM or super GM. I mean to say that it’s best not to overestimate your opponent.

Greed: There are many examples where even GMs get greedy, and amateurs do this quite often.

Pride: Here it is closely connected with arrogance. Again, rather than giving the example of someone else suffering from this, I will start with myself. I lost so many games against weaker opponents because I took them casually. So don’t underestimate your opponent.

I’m going to ignore ‘lust’ as I can’t correlate it with chess. But what are the solutions? Pranayam, meditation and yoga all fall under the solution list but if you want to dig deeper you may find my other article interesting as we often ignore basics.

Ashvin Chauhan

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What To Do About Gambits

Speedy development is often worth the investment of a pawn in the opening. Examples include the Smith-Morra Gambit of the Sicilian 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 when White has a very promising initiative for the pawn that often brings dividends. Devotees of this line can become highly attuned to its nuances. If that is the case you have to ask yourself as Black whether taking them on in their most familiar territory is the most intelligent thing to do. You might decide it is better to avoid it than to try to refute it. Even if you like spending many an hour with opening books, there is no substitute for hours of practice playing the line over and over again – which White will of course be doing. Perhaps Smith-Morra Gamiters’ would find the Caro-Kann or the French Defence, or something else, really annoying. If so, play that against them! It is wise to get your opponent out of their familiar territory.

This is the sort of thing that can be considered if you know your opponent and you’re playing them in an over-the-board game. Of course, if someone plays a gambit against you in a correspondence game and you are allowed to use software for help, then that is a different matter. For example, silicon monsters nowadays are less impressed with the Smith-Morra than we humans are. Below is one of my own correspondence games against a line of the Smith-Morra that I would have found difficult to play against over-the-board. But, with assistance from HIARCS, I found it easier to deal with. It takes a long time, but eventually White’s initiative dissipates and then it is all about whether Black can convert the ending. The knight and pawns ending was particularly pleasant to play for Black. If you would like to play some correspondence chess online, try FICGS – The Free Internet Correspondence Games Server.

Angus James 

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When The Going Gets Tough

Chess is a tough old game. You need to plan ahead as well as managing short-term tactical shots. The average length of a game of chess in terms of moves might be 40-50 moves, but many games end decisively in less than 25 (known as miniatures) while others go on and on for over 100 moves in some cases. Short games that end decisively tend to involve opening mistakes or tactical oversights.

It is therefore essential to spend some time on openings and tactics training. The problem comes when players only do opening and tactics, and neglect development of their strategic and positional understanding of chess and endgame training. Of course, it is far easier to ‘do’ openings and tactics training because there are books and software galore to support players with that. When it comes to positional understanding, middle game training and endgame training, not only is this harder to do on your own, it is also less clear which resources are best to suit your level. Chess coaches can help you identify your development needs to put you on the right path to improvement, with the right resources.

Here is a short and sharp game played a few years ago where Black (who shall remain anonymous) goes wrong in the opening and doesn’t make it much further. It is not a good idea to play the Sicilian Defence unless you are prepared to learn some opening theory and have a keen tactical eye. Otherwise the game can be practically over after just 1-2 inaccurate moves.

Angus James

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An Effective Way To Reduce Your Opening Work

I personally don’t like to learn lots of chess opening theory and some times due to other responsibilities you can not afford to spend such time on it. So how one could reduce one’s work on openings with the greates efficiency? Here I give 100% credit to Nigel who helped me a lot in reducing opening work by the following simple means.

Playing the same positions with both colours
I play d4 with White and the Caro against e4. I gradually came to realize that many branches of the Caro follow Queen’s Pawn Openings, so actually you’re playing the same opening with different colours. Here is an example:

This is typical position in Caro exchange with 7…Qd7 variation.


I love the above position as I feel very comfortable in it. Here I prefer to play 13…Rab8 with an idea of playing …b5-b4, and it is the same plan that has been deployed by great players in the QGD Exchange Variation (Rab1 with an idea of playing b4-b5).

I play the QGD exchange in the same fashion:

So you can see how you can reduce your work.

An opening is not complete if you don’t know its middle game plans, so my advice is to keep your opening simple and try to observe the pawn structure, related strategies and piece placements. Examples can be found in playing with an isolated pawn, playing for a minority attack or fighting against hanging pawns. If you would like to read something more on preparing on middle games, here is another article of mine.

If you like this article, please comment here.

Ashvin Chauhan

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Using a Lead in Development

Getting a lead in development, by being efficient about how we develop our pieces, is the main aim of the opening.

How can you be efficient about development? For a start, think about how you can mobilise all of your pieces quickly, not just one or two. Think about where you can move your pieces so that they are doing something that influences the important central squares. Don’t make the common beginner’s error of moving the same piece more than once in the opening, unless it is essential. Think about where your king would be safest and make that happen as part of your opening strategy.

The game below is a classic example of what can happen if one side gets a lead in development out of the opening. Take a look at the position after White’s 12th move. White’s opening has not been a great success. His king is still stuck in the centre and he is 2 moves away from castling. In contrast, Black has castled his king to safety and has all his minor pieces ready for action and is 1 move away from connecting his rooks. To take advantage of the lead in development, Black needs to move fast. He realises that, to attack the enemy king before it has the chance to castle, he has to open lines to the king, and he invests a piece to do that as quickly as possible. By the 19th move, White’s centre is completely destroyed, and it is only a matter of time before Black’s better developed pieces move in to finish White off.

Angus James

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Back To Basics

Magnus Carlsen recently launched an Official YouTube Channel, following his successful challenge for the World Championship.

It is good to see that he is starting with the basics. His first training video concerns the three things that players should be thinking about in the opening phase of the game, namely, development, king safety and central square control. He explains these eloquently in the video below.

This is all pretty standard training stuff, which any chess coach teaching junior beginners will cover. But it is good to see short training videos like these online, easily accessible to all. Perhaps more non-chess players will be encouraged by these short videos to give chess a try.

Despite how simple the advice is on the video, it is amazing how many experienced players get into trouble by not following this advice. For example, many games see players never castling, or launching attacks before completing development, or attacking on the side and neglecting the centre. Sometimes the simplest advice is the most difficult to follow, for amateur and master alike.

Angus James

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Imitation, The Sincerest Form of Flattery

There is an old adage among writers. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

Copying your opponent’s moves in the opening is well-known as a poor strategy. It’s common enough among novices and beginners. Sometimes even intermediate players do it, like my opponent in this turn-based Internet game played this week. I’ll admit I was surprised by the copycat behavior. My opponent had white, so he had the advantage of first move. This was the Internet equivalent of correspondence chess, with a time limit of up to three days per move. My opponent still appeared to run out of ideas quickly.

My opponent wasted a tempo from the start with 3.a3. When you go into a symmetrical position as White, it’s best not to go into it with a lost tempo. All else being equal, that gives your opening advantage entirely away. In this case, White got no compensation for that lost tempo.

I would expect an intermediate player to see that the ensuing exchanges would work to my advantage after the tempo loss and very likely lead to a queen-less middle game. That was definitely my plan. Trade the queens on d1, dislodging the white king. Then develop my bishop and castle long, forcing my opponent to pin a piece and lose another tempo.

This game is an example of what can happen after several wasted tempi. Rather than developing counter-play on the queenside, White invested two tempi trying to win back a pawn, one of my doubled pawns on f6 and f7. I allowed the doubled pawns, since it opened the g-file for possible use by my rook on h8. After investing those tempi, White wasn’t able to capture the f7 pawn. Later with 18.g4, White wasted another tempo chasing my bishop to its intended square. 18…Bg6 was planned to prepare the central pawn thrust to d3.

There is no point in making a move that forces your opponent to make the very same move s/he obviously intends to make on their next turn. White should have noticed that g4 was fruitless and looked for a move that would complicate my plans or make an attempt at counter-play. With my pawn on d4, poised to advance to d3 once the bishop added support, White should have been alarmed about its advance. The closer a central pawn gets to the opposite side of the board, the more it grows in power. I would have considered Rd2 with the idea of doubling the rooks on the d-file, Kb1 to increase king safety, or even a4 hoping for some queenside counter-play.

The position after 16…cxd5 is interesting to evaluate. White was down a minor piece and a pawn. I’d just taken on the responsibility of an IQP. My pawn structure was inferior. But I had more active pieces and the initiative. I intended to press that IQP forward immediately. White has just lost the best blockader of an IQP, his last knight.

I especially liked the outcome of my IQP. 24…d2#, the white king mated by a pawn move.

Glenn Mitchell

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