Category Archives: Improver (950-1400)

ChessJournal App

“Record, analyse and store your competitive ‘over-the-board’ games”

This week I am happy for the opportunity to present another app useful for the club player, app called ChessJournal. It is created by Jon Fischer and Matt Lawson both from Bristol, England and it can be downloaded for free at the iTunes and Google Play stores. Jon was kind enough to help me write this article by answering to a few questions. Hope you like it and will decide to give this app a try!

Eugen: A short introduction about you and your team
Jon: ChessJournal App is a passion project started by a chess addicted designer and a chess intrigued developer! Me and Matt both work in the digital design sector and are passionate about product design best practice. Also we are both young fathers and are thus very short on time! When you combine our first two passions with a shortage of time to study, ChessJournal App is the logical outcome! We sat down together and asked ourselves, could we use an app to help club and tournament players study more, learning about their own games in the process?

Eugen: What is your chess story?
Jon: I have been playing chess since I was five years old and hover around the 1800 ELO (145 – 150 ECF). Matt knows the moves and would like to improve but probably needs a better coach than me!

I’ve been an avid club and tournament player in the Bristol and District chess league (in the UK) since 2004. Like a lot of adults I have noticed minimal change in my chess performances over the last decade. Every year the grades come out, every year I’m 145 ECF. Last year I decided to put down my openings books and started seriously studying my own games and nothing else.

  • No openings
  • No ending study or puzzles
  • No tactics trainers
  • Just me and my games

This year (using ChessJournal App) I have achieved my highest ever rating performance of 159 ECF (1892 ELO). An improvement of 98 ELO. Anecdotally I have had feedback from ChessJournal users that they have seen improvements between 65 and 110 ELO points. Obviously I don’t have any hard data on these numbers yet, but the anecdotal feedback is encouraging!

Eugen: Why this app? How did the idea for it come about?
Jon: The concept of ChessJournal started from a love of club and tournament chess and a feeling that the majority of apps didn’t really help amateur players improve. As I browsed through the app store, I felt the majority of apps fell into one of four camps:

  • Play other humans at blitz
  • Tactics trainers
  • A chess database of master games on your phone
  • All of the above!

My problem with a lot of the apps on the market was they either focused on openings, puzzles, master games or five minute blitz. But the majority of chess coaches and masters agree that one of the best ways to improve is through studying your own games and learning where you personally make mistakes. Whilst I love a cracking game of online blitz as much as the next player, it isn’t really helping me make better decisions, learn from my mistakes or understand how my games are won or lost.

Funnily enough, around the same time I happened to read an article on the chess improver blog on the benefit of keeping a journal for the ambitious amateur. As I was reading the article I also happened to be staring at a shoebox of paper scoresheets from my regular attendance at local tournaments.

Thus me and Matt settled on the idea of a “chess players diary” that would enable amateur players to carry and study their own games wherever they go.

We started work on ChessJournal in January 2016 and launched version 1.0 in May last year. We run a lean iterative design and development approach meaning we are always looking for feedback from chess players and factoring in their thoughts as we push to develop the best chess players diary and scorebook available. We learnt an awful lot about what players need from a chess diary in v1.0 that we decided to go back to the drawing board late last year and rebuild the app from scratch.

We officially relaunched ChessJournal v2.0 on April 19th 2017 on both Apple and Android featuring a host of new powerful features such as cloud storage and the ability to set and track personal improvement goals across your competitive chess season.

So far the feedback has been fantastic! We are averaging 4 star reviews and above and we are receiving a lot of lovely emails (and new feature requests) from club and tournament chess players around the world. We have already planned and scheduled the next update for ChessJournal 2.1 and there are more exciting plans in the future.

Eugen: Can it compete with the big and popular guys such as Chessbase, Monroi, etc?
Jon: My initial response is that we don’t want to, or feel we need to, compete with the big and popular guys such as Chessbase. We genuinely take it as a compliment that ChessJournal is regularly used in the same breath as Chessbase!

There are similarities such as the storage and analysis of your own games but after that our focus on self study and goal tracking hopefully helps club and tournament players see the angle and approach that we are taking. ChessJournal is categorically not a database app. If you want to understand the 18th line of a sub variation of the Berlin defence then ChessJournal is not for you. We will never add a five million game database to ChessJournal.

However, if you are a sub 2100 player and serious about cutting out the mistakes, having easy access to your games anytime and easily sharing your annotated thoughts with your club mates and coaches then we feel you will get real value from ChessJournal. ChessJournal is all about your game and no one elses!

I grow tired of hearing 1650 rated players (and I include my former chess playing self in this category) debate the merits of opening lines and their theoretical soundness. The large software players in the market dominate at the elite and very strong club player level where, I agree, that you need to understand theoretical novelties and what different people have played.

I guess what me and Matt are saying is that we believe real chess improvement for the amateur player can come from a focus on your own games and therefore a piece of giant database software is perhaps overkill for a lot of players. But then thats just our opinion…

Eugen: What’s it competitive advantage?
Jon: Its free! Ha ha, seriously I genuinely feel that ChessJournal is excellent value! The app is free to download but to unlock all features (such as annotations and sharing of annotated games) we charge a modest annual subscription fee of £5 / $6 / €6 a year.

A second major advantage is that it is available on both major platforms, Apple and Google Android. We get a lot of positive comments from iPhone carrying club players grateful for the ability to store their games. Because it is cloud based your games can be accessed anywhere on any device. One of my best friends has an Android smart phone and an iPad but his personal ChessJournal is always the same, wherever he is.

The third major advantage is simply mobility. Because it is an app you can leave your laptop at home next time you attend that weekend tournament. We have built in full import and export features for PGN so that a player can input their games when they are at matches or tournaments and still export them to other well known popular chess database software.

Eugen: The app’s best feature is?
Jon: Personally I would say either the goals section of the app or the annotation timelines.

Goals allows a player to create unique targets and goals for their desired improvement across the chess season. They can literally make a goal anything they want but once created they can link important games to them as they move through the season.

The annotation timeline is a feature unlocked with premium membership where a player can create and save variations in the game and annotate key positions. I suppose I am just really pleased with the design of this area in the app and we are in the process of rolling out some even better user interface updates.

We have a solid roadmap of new features coming and are regularly receiving new ideas from the chess community. To finish I would say that in the long term we are aiming to create the ultimate companion app for amateur club and tournament players. This is just the start!

Thank you for giving us this opportunity to talk to you about ChessJournal. More information can be found on chessjournalapp.com

Valer Eugen Demian

How Good is Your Endgame?

Many readers will be familiar with the popular magazine feature, known in various places as How Good is Your Chess? and Solitaire Chess, in which the reader is invited to predict the next move in a master game, and is awarded points for selecting good moves.

Some time ago I showed you a couple of lessons based on shorter and lower level games suitable for use at intermediate level (up to about 100 ECF/1500 Elo).

As part of the Chess for Heroes project, which I’ll come back to in more detail, quite possibly next week if nothing else interesting happens in my life in the meantime, I decided to produce a few lessons using king and pawn endings, with the games taken from the Richmond Junior Chess Club database.

Here’s the first one, which was tested successfully at RJCC the other day.

Set this position up on your board. At various points in the game you will be asked to select a move for either White or Black. Sometimes you will have three moves to choose from, and sometimes you will have a free choice. In this position it’s Black’s move.

If you find a winning move you’ll score up to 10 points. If you find a drawing move you’ll score up to 5 points. If you find a losing move or an illegal move you’ll score no points.

Choose a move for Black:
a) Kc6 b) Kd6 c) g5

10 points for Kd6 – head to the king side to attack White’s weak pawns
5 points for Kc6 – the wrong direction for the king
0 points for g5 – loses to an en passant capture

1… Kc6

Choose a move for White:
a) a4 b) f4 c) Kg3

5 points for Kg3 – get your king into play
0 points for a4 or f4 – creating targets for the black king

2. f4 Kd5
3. Kg3 g5 (Ke4 was one of many winning moves)

Choose a move for White (free choice)

10 points for hxg6 – a winning en passant capture
5 points for fxg5 or Kf3 – both these moves should draw
0 points for anything else

4. fxg5 fxg5
5. f4 gxf4+
6. Kxf4 Ke6

Choose a move for White:
a) a3 b) Ke4 c) Kg4

5 points for Ke4 – taking the opposition (a4 and b4 also draw)
0 points for a3 or Kg4 – both of these moves should lose

7. Kg4

Choose a move for Black:
a) b5 b) Kd5 c) Ke5

10 points for Ke5 – Black will be able to approach the white pawns
5 points for b5 – this should lead to a draw
0 point for Kd5 – this will lose after Kf5

7… b5

Choose a move for White:
a) a3 b) b4 c) Kf4

5 points for Kf4 – the only move to draw by keeping the black king from advancing too far
0 points for a3 and b4 – both these moves should lose
8. a3 a5 (Black had the same choice as on the last move. Again Ke5 was winning.)
9. b3 (Again, White had the same choice as on the last move. Kf4 was still a draw, as was b4.)

Choose a move for Black (free choice)

10 points for a4, b4 or Ke5 – all these moves should win
5 points for Kf6 – this move should lead to a draw
0 points for any other move

9… b4
10. axb4 axb4
11. Kf4

Choose a move for Black (free choice)

10 points for Kf6 – Black wins by taking the opposition
5 points for Kd5 – this leads to a race in which both players promote
0 points for other moves – White will win the h-pawn

11… Kf6
12. Kg4 Ke5
13. Kf3

Choose a move for Black (free choice)

10 points for Kf5 – taking the opposition
5 points for all other moves

13… Kd4

Choose a move for White (free choice)

5 points for Kf4 – leading to a drawn position with black queen against white pawn on h7
0 points for anything else

14. Ke2 Kc3
15. Kd1 Kxb3
16. Kc1

Choose a move for Black (free choice)

10 points for Ka2 – the quickest way to win
8 points for Ka3 or Kc3 – these moves are less efficient
5 points for Ka4 or Kc4 – both these moves lead to a draw

16… Ka3

Bonus question 1: what would you do if White played Kb1 here?
a) Ka4 b) Kb3 c) b3

10 points for Kb3 – winning by taking the opposition
5 points for Ka4 or b3 – both these moves lead to a draw

17. Kc2 b3+

Bonus question 2: what would you do if White played Kb1 here?
a) Ka4 b) Kb4 c) b2

10 points for b2 – winning as White has to play Kc2
5 points for Ka4 or Kb4 – both these moves draw as long as White plays correctly

18. Kc1

Choose a move for Black (free choice)

10 points for Ka2 – forcing promotion
5 points for other moves – all of which are only drawn

18… b2+
19. Kb1 and the game was eventually drawn

At the end of the exercise you’re assigned a Chess Hero rating:

95-120: Chess Superhero

70-94: Chess Hero

45-69: Trainee Hero

Below 45: Future Hero

If you teach chess at this level, please feel free to use this yourself. I may well decide to change the marking scheme in future, perhaps awarding 5 or 0 points rather than 10 or 5 in questions where there are only winning and drawing options: I’m still thinking about this.

Richard James

A Strategic Opening for Beginners: The Ruy Lopez Exchange

Rather than memorizing opening moves and copying what top players are playing nowadays, it’s really great for beginners to play simple strategic chess openings. In the Ruy Lopez Exchange (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6) White exchanges his bishop against Black’s knight on c6 and then plays d2-d4, exchanging the d4 and e5 pawns.

That creates pawn islands where White has a pawn majority on king side ( 4 vs. 3). On the other side, Black’s pawn majority won’t easily be able to create passed pawn, at least not without the aid of pieces. White’s strategy is very simple yet can be decisive. All you need to do is trade off pieces and reach to the king and pawn endgame where White is technically a pawn up and winning is relatively easy.

Here is the game for you to study, for more games on similar structure you can visit chessgames.com

Lasker – Tarrasch World Championship Match in 1908

Ashvin Chauhan

Quick Decisions

“Choices are the hinges of destiny”
Pythagoras

In April we held the BC Championship qualifier for the continental final of Susan Polgar Foundation Girls Invitational 2017 in St. Louis. It is the second edition for us and the 14th edition for the continental final. This is a tournament exclusively for girls and over the years has helped discover promising talents, plus launch the career of many talented girls in North America. The format for us locally is 5 rounds Swiss or round robin (based on the number of entries) with the games being played under active time control (30 minutes per player, no increment). First place clear or after tie breaks qualifies to St. Louis. The tie break system is a written puzzles test consisting of solving 10 puzzles in 10 minutes or less. We have not had a tie so far, but each time the winner chose to take the test anyway just for fun.

Not sure how many of you are playing 30 minutes per player. This is a good option to play online. There is a decent amount of time to think about what you are doing, as well as it ends relatively quickly; in my opinion this is well balanced. Playing over the board under the same time control is not much different, but one needs to have some practice with it or the time pressure will get the better of you. What strategy you might consider to be successful? Here is my take on it:
1. Opening – you need to have reliable opening choices and play them well. There is very little time you can really spend on thinking about it and if you start guessing, time becomes your enemy rather quickly
2. Middle game – having a solid position will force the opponent to spend time deciding where and how to attack you. This is a good thing! A good middle game position builds up from the opening; here it is important to know typical setups and plans available out of your opening choices. One such setup to consider could be for example a specific pawn structure or a standard attacking idea
3. Endgame – do not ignore it, thinking there is little chance to reach it in such a short time! Being able to play a strong endgame could either allow you to defend stubbornly and force the opponent to find the win (mostly in increasing time pressure) or improve your position bit by bit and put your opponent in time pressure to defend a worst position

The game I have selected is a good illustration of the above. It was played in the 4th round and was of major importance in setting up the stage for the last round and deciding the first place. Black had played very serious up to that point and was rewarded with a bit of luck along the way by collecting wins in round 1 (when she was under assault) and round 3 (in an opposite colour bishops endgame). White on the other hand let a draw slip through her hands in round 2 when she kept the opposition for 3 moves and forgot to pay attention to it when playing the 4th move in a king and pawns endgame; her opponent gained the opposition and got the win. Looking at this position I can add a few details to help you understand better what was going on:
– White managed to play her preferred opening line
– Black decided to go pawn grabbing, probably because this was her first game where she could do that
– White’s clock was running well under 10 minutes, while black had 12+ minutes
– White is a player used to slower time controls, so here the time crunch was her enemy
– Ne5 is very well placed; kicking it out of there should have been high on White’s priority list
– the White pieces are lining up to storm the castle and that is worth the pawn White is down; that was the g-pawn black captured and has allowed white to place a rook on g3
– both Black rooks are not very useful, Rb7 being clearly the worst of them all
Who do you like here? What side would you prefer to play considering the time available? There is no right or wrong answer and it is pretty much based on what type of player you are. Let’s see what happened in the game:

Hope you found this article useful. A number of points could help you in any active game with reflection time up to an hour per player. We will continue to see faster time controls in many tournaments and being ready to play good is going to give you an edge. 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

Fourth Time Unlucky

Here’s a puzzle for you, taken from a game I played the other day. It’s White’s move. What would you play?

While you’re thinking about your answer, here’s what was happening three boards away. My teammate, a new club member who, until a few weeks ago, had never played competitive chess, never recorded his moves or used a clock, and knows very little opening theory, was playing black against a seasoned campaigner (ECF 129). He’s very keen to play and improve so we’re selecting him for our matches whenever we can. It’s always important to encourage new members.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. d4 exd4
4. Bc4

A common choice at this level. You have to know what to do next. The usual reply is Nf6, which is fine as long as you know the Two Knights Defence and have good lines against both 5. O-O and 5. e5. If you prefer defending the Giuoco Piano to the Two Knights then you’ll probably prefer Bc5, which again will probably transpose after 5. c3.

On general principles, even if you don’t know the theory, you should get one of your pieces out rather than make a nervous reaction like..

4… h6

At one level it’s natural to be scared by the idea of Ng5, but after, say, 4… Nf6 5. Ng5, you can defend with either d5 or Ne5.

5. O-O Bc5
6. c3 dxc3
7. Nxc3 a6

Another unnecessary pawn move – just the sort of move we all tell our pupils not to play, and quite rightly so too. Perhaps he wanted to play b5 next move. The first time we met at the club we played a few friendly games, in one of which I played a similar gambit in the Ruy Lopez after he’d played some unnecessary pawn moves. After the game he asked me why I gave up the pawn.

Now White really ought to be pretty close to winning. He has several attractive attacking moves to choose from. The engines like Qb3 and Be3 (very happy for Black to trade and open the f-file) but White prefers a typical tactic in this sort of position.

8. Bxf7+

A temporary sacrifice to set up a fork.

8… Kxf7
9. Qd5+ Ke8
10. Qxc5 d6
11. Qh5+ Kf8
12. Ng5

I guess it’s tempting to threaten mate but there were probably stronger alternatives here. Black can meet the threat and then drive White’s pieces back.

12… Ne5

But not like this, though. The knight is open to attack here. It shouldn’t be too hard to spot 13. f4, which just wins at once, but instead White preferred…

13. Nd5 Nf6
14. Nxf6 Qxf6

Now Black has an awkward threat of g6, opening up a line of defence from f6 to h8 and winning a piece. The only way for White to keep an advantage now is to play 15. f4. Alternatively, 15. Nf3 leads to exchanges and a level position.

15. h3

Instead White misses Black’s threat and loses a piece.

15… g6
16. Qh4 hxg5
17. Qg3 Nf7
18. f4 Qd4+
19. Be3 Qxe4
20. fxg5 Bf5
21. Rac1 Rc8
22. Qf2 c5
23. Rce1 Qd5
24. Rd1 Qe6

Black has played sensibly over the past few moves and kept his extra piece. Now White spots a clever tactical idea to win a pawn…

25. g4 Be4
26. Rxd6

… but there’s a serious flaw.

If I told you Black had a mate in two in this position you’d have no difficulty finding it. If the opportunity for a snap mate comes along in a position in which you were just thinking about keeping your extra piece and checkmate hadn’t entered your head at all you could easily miss it.

But, as I keep on saying, you have to look at every forcing move: check, capture and threat.

It’s always nice to win a game with a queen sacrifice, but sadly for Black it wasn’t to be. There was an alternative win as well: Rxh3 when White has to trade twice on f7, ending up a rook down. No matter, though. Black’s still winning.

26… Qe8
27. Bxc5 Kg8
28. Rf6 Rxh3
29. Qd4

Now Black has another chance for an immediate win. It might not be so easy to find at this level, but 29… Rxc5 30. Qxc5 Qd7 leaves White with no defence against the twin threats of Qxg4+ and Rh1+ followed by Qd2+. He’s still winning easily, though after…

29… Rh1+
30. Kf2 Rh2+

Instead he could have traded to set up a fork: 30… Rxf1+ 31. Kxf1 Qb5+.

31. Kg3 Rg2+
32. Kh3 Rc7

Black stops to defend f7, but the computer finds 32…Nxg5+ 33.Kh4 Nf3+ 34.R6xf3 Bxf3 35.Rxf3 Qe1+ 36.Kg5 Qc1+ 37.Kxg6 Rc6+ 38.Bd6 Rxd6+ 39.Qxd6 Rxg4+ 40.Kf5 Qg5+ 41.Ke6 Re4+ 42.Kd7 Qg7+ 43.Kd8 Rd4, which is not possible for most of us to find over the board. The move also introduces the idea of transferring the rook to the h-file after the knight on f7 moves.

33. Re1

Now Black has a mate in six moves. Instead White might have tried 33. Rxf7 Rxf7 34. Rxf7, challenging Black to find the correct capture. The more obvious 34…Kxf7 leaves Black a rook ahead, but White can force a draw: 35.Qf6+ Kg8 36.Bd4 Qf8 37.Qe6+. Instead 34… Qxf7 35.Qxe4 Rxb2 should win.

34… Nxg5+
34. Kh4 Nf3+

An oversight, but it shouldn’t have mattered: I guess he must have overlooked that his bishop was pinned. The quickest mate was 34…Rh7+ 35.Kxg5 Rh5+ 36.Kf4 g5+ 37.Ke3 Rh3+ 38.Rf3 Rxf3#

35. Rxf3 g5+

There was still a mate: 35…Rh7+ 36.Kg5 Rh5+ 37.Kf4 g5+ 38.Ke3 Bb1+ and mate in two more moves.

36. Kh3 Rh7+

This should lose. Instead Black could draw by giving up his queen: 36…Rxg4 37.Rf8+ Qxf8 38.Bxf8 Bf5 threatening mate, when White can choose between 39.Qd5+ Rf7 40.Kh2 Rh4+ with a perpetual check and 39.Qxg4 Bxg4+ 40.Kxg4 Kxf8 with a drawn rook ending.

37. Kxg2 Bxf3+
38. Kxf3

The sort of obvious move you play without thinking – well at least I do, which is why I’m not a strong player! But it should only draw. Kf2, on the other hand, wins, as White will win the bishop later under more favourable circumstances.

38… Qxe1

Again, the obvious move you play without thinking – and again it’s a mistake. 38… Rf7+, taking time out to move the rook to a better square, would draw.

39. Qd8+ Kg7
40. Qxg5+ Kf7
41. Qf5+ Kg8

Or 41…Kg7 42.Bd4+ Kg8 43.Qg6+ Kf8 44.Bc5+ Re7 45.Qf6+ and wins

42. Qf8# 1-0

An exciting game but a sad end for Black. He’ll put it down to experience.

If you remember my articles from a few months ago (here and here) you’ll recognise the theme.

I was White, again facing the same opponent as in the first game quoted above, and again we both missed the same idea. In this case a bishop sacrifice decoys the black rook into a fork: 1. Bxd5 Rxd5 2. Qa8+. These ideas keep on coming up in my games – and every time I miss them, even though I’ve just been writing a chapter in Chess Tactics for Heroes based on this theme. The game, again, was eventually drawn. You may well see it in full here in a few months time.

We lost the 8-board match 3-5 but if we’d both taken our chances we’d have won 4½-3½ instead. Still, at least it was an end-of-season mid-division match with nothing at stake expect honour and grading points.

Richard James

Endgame Play (3)

“To improve at chess you should in the first instance study the endgame”
Jose Raul Capablanca

This week’s endgame is a beauty! At first glance it looks deceivingly simple. It is white to move; please have a look and guess what the result would be:


Does the position look familiar to you? Do you happen to know more about it? I found it online as is and would love to hear who is the author, plus the time and place when/ where it was published. Moving on, the first thing I noticed were the 4 passed pawns, 2 for each side and on the same side of the board. Both pawns on each side are separated by one file; this means each king has a fighting chance against them. Let’s have a look at how each king has to fight those pesky pawns.

The White king: both pawns are on the 3rd rank and the king is not in their imaginary square (the corners of it are “a1-a3-c3-c1”) to stop their promotion. This means White must use the first move to enter in that imaginary square by playing either Ka4xa3 or Ka4-b3; both moves stop both pawns from promoting. The pawns can’t really do much against any move choice. OK, that sounds reassuring and we can move our attention to the other side.

The Black king: he is in the imaginary square created by the White pawns (the corners of it are “h2-c2-c8-h8). Do you remember why we should consider the c2-c8 as corners instead of b2-b8? Think about it and make sure you find the right answer before moving on. The answer will also be available below for verification. So, should the Black king be worried about those White pawns since it sits comfortably in their imaginary square. Will it just cherry pick them with ease like the White king will do? Apparently it will. Have a look at the White pawns now; could they do anything about it? Well, one strong strategy the pawns separated by a column have in fighting the opposing king is to maintain an L-shape (knight move) formation. They sit on f3 and h2 identical with a knight move and maintaining that makes them intangible. When the Black king attacks the front one (the f3-pawn here), the backwards one (the h2-pawn) moves forward “h2-h4” in the same L-shape (knight move) formation. The Black king would not be able to capture the f3-pawn and also stop the h4-pawn from promoting, so this could pin down the Black King.

Do we have enough to solve the puzzle? Let’s see if we do and will start by taking one of the Nlack pawns (less to worry about, right?):

Hmm, that did not turn out as expected, right? What is the reason for it? Well, the Black king came all the way to the queen side and helped the c3-pawn promote. Fortunately we have the luxury of choosing which Black pawn to take, so let’s try to capture the c3-pawn first. There is no way the Black king can come to the rescue of the a3-pawn:

The answer to the question above regarding the imaginary square of the white pawns: the left hand side corners of it should be c2-c8 because the h2-pawn would move h2-h4 in one move, meaning it could promote in 5 moves instead of 6. You must be aware of this detail with passed pawns still on their original square. Hope you liked it and used this opportunity to refresh your endgame knowledge. 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

ChessEssentials, Level 4

“We raise Champions!”

Past reviews can be accessed here
ChessEssentials, level 1
ChessEssentials, level 2
ChessEssentials, level 3
App link at the iTunes store ChessEssentials
Level 4 (reference ratings 1100-1400) costs $2.99 and it also has 30 lessons, 30 puzzle sets and 30 tests still arranged in a well thought order. A junior at this level could become a regular at the national finals, while a club player could start giving top and titled players some headaches. In order to be successful with that, he needs to cover the following:
Mates
Lesson 1 starts the level with mate in 2 puzzles, same with how level 3 ended. We should consider this by now as a warm up, the same athletes do at the beginning of any training session. Please have a look at one sample:


Opening
Lessons 2 to 7 explore the French defence. This is a solid choice any player should consider using at one moment or the other of their chess career. The most obvious advantage is defending the f7-weak spot, as well as being involved in the fight for the center. The downside is having difficulty in activating Bc8, but we view this as a small price to pay for getting the benefits coming with using it. Learning the English opening is something I have done as a junior and I have won many a game for playing it against mostly surprised opponents. I have used a particular line which brought myself as well as my students lots of wins, including at World Youth Chess Championship (WYCC) level. It has positives and negatives as any other opening line, still its success rate speaks volumes.
– Lesson 2 covers the introduction to French Defence
– Lesson 3 covers the Exchange Variation
– Lesson 4 covers the Advance Variation
– Lesson 5 covers the Classical Variation
– Lesson 6 covers the Winaver Variation
– Lesson 7 covers the 3… a6 Variation
Lessons 8 and 9 cover the English Opening
– Lesson 8 covers a fiamchetto line of the English Opening
– Lesson 9 covers other ways to play it
Lesson 10 covers the Budapest Gambit giving any player a nice weapon to use against 1. d4
Please have a look at one sample:

Tactics
Disrupting the opposing defence and successfully running the attacks is the theme here, followed by a more advanced coverage of the pin. Attacking the King can be done on any side of the board and pretty much at any moment of the game if the right conditions are there and the player observes them.
Lessons 11 to 16
– Lesson 11 covers eliminating the defender
– Lesson 12 covers distracting the defender
– Lesson 13 covers atracting the defender
– Lesson 14 covers the interference
– Lesson 15 covers absolute pins
– Lesson 16 covers relative pins
Lessons 17 to 19
– Lesson 17 covers king in the middle
– Lesson 18 covers king on the king side
– Lesson 19 covers king on the queen side
Lesson 20 looks at how to use promoting a pawn into a queen at the right time to your advantage.
Please have a look at one sample:

Strategy
Lessons 21 to 25 focus on the rooks and how to use them efficiently.
– Lesson 21 covers how to open a line
– Lesson 22 covers how to use open lines
– Lesson 23 covers how to close open lines
– Lesson 24 covers the 7th rank domination
– Lesson 25 covers the back rank weakness
Please have a look at one sample:

Endgame
Lessons 26 to 29 look at some very important endgame positions
– Lesson 26 covers the separate 2 passed pawns
– Lesson 27 covers general king and pawns endgames
– Lesson 28 covers the Lucena position
– Lesson 29 covers the Philidor position
Please have a look at one sample:

Mates
Lesson 30 ends this level with mate in 3 puzzles. The training session takes it up a notch!

Conclusion: once a player reaches this point, his chess knowledge and preparation begins to take shape nicely. The tactical aspect of its game is getting sharper and the endgame should be a definite strength. Important strategical elements are added for a more rounded preparation. Hope you find this presentation interesting and the app worth giving it a try!

Valer Eugen Demian

ChessEssentials, level 3

“We raise Champions!”

Past reviews can be accessed here
ChessEssentials, level 1
ChessEssentials, level 2
App link at the iTunes store ChessEssentials
Level 3 (reference ratings 800-1100) costs $1.99 and it is useful to any club player wishing to move up through the ranks. It is the first level with 30 lessons, 30 puzzle sets and 30 tests also arranged in a well thought order. They cover the following aspects of the game:
Mates
Lesson 1 starts with more mate in 2 puzzles, similar with the last lesson 22 from level 2. The idea is to remind the student of the real object of the game regardless if they’ve done the previous levels or not. Please have a look at one sample:


Opening
– Lessons 2 to 5 add three more openings and cover opening principles all students must know and apply: developing, castling, occupying the center and beginning the attack. One of Steinitz
principles says:
“The side who possesses an advantage must attack, otherwise he risks losing that advantage. The best way to come up with a plan for an effective attack is to identify a weakness in opponent’s position and to exploit it.”
It is possible a lot of players believe it is a no brainer to attack in their games; however for beginner to intermediate students this is not the case. On top of the fact they need to watch all the pieces, attacking can be confusing. I heard many a student saying “but I have attacked the opposing pieces time and time again” and that is true from as early as 1. e4 d5 or 1. e4 Nf6. Here we point to the fact pieces attacking each other are just the first step toward attacking as a concept. It also gives a few simple reference points when to look for attacks on both sides.
– Lesson 2 covers the opening principles
– Lesson 3 covers the Evans Gambit
– Lesson 4 covers the Two Knights Defence
– Lesson 5 covers the Danish Gambit
Please have a look at one sample:

Tactics
– Lessons 6-14 increase the complexity of the basic tactics covered in level 2. Lessons 6 to 8 in particular highlight how deceiving the pins can be and what opportunities appear during tactical battles. The player with a knack for tactics would have an advantage over a more positional player; however all need to know and practice their tactics by solving as many puzzles as possible and use them in their games. Lessons 12 to 14 introduce three typical checkmate combinations (smothered mate, suffocation mate and the well known back rank mate). They require continuous observation of the position in general and more importantly the position of both kings in particular. A good attacker would look at the defensive weaknesses of the opposition, while a good defender would make sure their defence does not allow any such devastating tactics against them. A good player must do both at all times.
– Lesson 6 covers the absolute pins
– Lesson 7 covers the relative pins
– Lesson 8 covers breaking the pins
– Lesson 9 covers forks
– Lesson 10 covers double attacks
– Lesson 11 covers the windmill
– Lesson 12 covers the smothered mate
– Lesson 13 covers the suffocation mate
– Lesson 14 covers the back rank mate
Please have a look at one sample:

Strategy
– Lessons 15-24 are introductory to strategy. According to Wikipedia strategy is:
“… the aspect of chess playing concerned with evaluation of chess positions and setting of goals and long-term plans for future play…”
The idea is to guide the students forward from the first basic concepts of value of pieces (pawn = 1 point, knight = bishop = 3 points, rook = 5 points, queen = 9 points, king = priceless) and it looks at how to increase or decrease their values during the game. Lessons 22 to 24 are a reminder sometimes obtaining a draw could be as valuable as a win. The stalemate, perpetual check and the wrong corner could save the student important half points when anything else would lead to defeat. The game is over and all hope is lost when we stop believing, so these lessons should become allies in fighting on to the end in all your games!
– Lesson 15 covers the relative value of pieces
– Lesson 16 covers freeing up space
– Lesson 17 covers opening lines
– Lesson 18 covers trapping pieces
– Lesson 19 covers the tempo concept
– Lesson 20 covers the zugzwang
– Lesson 21 covers the game of the 20th century
– Lesson 22 covers the stalemate
– Lesson 23 covers the perpetual check
– Lesson 24 covers thw wrong corner
Please have a look at one sample:

Endgame
– Lessons 25-29 continue the study of the endgame, focusing on the major importance of the passed pawns. Obtaining one or more passed pawns changes the balance of any position immediately and this is very important in the endgame. The students need to know how to play with and without passed pawns on their side. Moving one step forward when there are no passed pawns on the board, it is worth looking at opportunities to create such passed pawns; doing this at the right time could help the student achieve winning advantage and high satisfaction.
– Lesson 25 covers the opposition
– Lesson 26 covers the square rule
– Lesson 27 covers passed pawns
– Lesson 28 covers pawn breakthrough
– Lesson 29 covers how to play the endgame
Please have a look at one sample:

Mates
Lesson 30 ends this level with more mate in 2 puzzles, similar with the last lesson 22 from level 2. Reminder: the real object of the game is to checkmate the opposing king!

Conclusion: by the end of level 3 the student should become a good club player with a solid chess foundation. The knowledge of tactics and endgame play would begin to tip many a game in their favour on a regular basis. Players of this level would be solid additions to their club team for matches against other clubs; in team tournaments such solid players make the difference and help their teams win matches most of the times. The top players usually cancel each other out. Hope you find this presentation interesting and the app worth giving it a try!

Valer Eugen Demian

100 Chess Tests, Basic Tactics

“100 Teste de sah, Procedee tactice elementare”/ “100 Chess tests, Basic tactics”, ISBN 978-606-8298-58-0, Editura Unirea – Alba Iulia is the third book in Romanian by MF Marius Ceteras (ROU), a follow up on the previous two very popular ones for beginner and intermediate players. His books are recognized by Romanian Ministry of Education and are officially used for teaching chess in schools across Romania and Republic of Moldova. The success of those books can be measured by the public positive response and desire for more of the same: they asked Marius to help them get more puzzles for practicing all the concepts presented. This third book is in response to that request.

The book is divided by 3 levels of difficulty plus one final review chapter and it is suitable for players rated around 1200 to 1600. Although it is written in Romanian, this book can be used by anyone rather easily. In today’s day and age the online free translation services solve decently any language barrier, including here for the rather minimal use of Romanian language in the description of each test. The puzzles are simply illustrated with their item number and either letter A (if White moves first) or N (if Black moves first). The solutions for all puzzles are located at the end of the book and checking them requires minimum effort even if you don’t know Romanian. The Romanian chess symbols for the pieces are (you can also Google them):
C = Cal (Rou) = Knight (Eng)
N = Nebun (Rou) = Bishop (Eng)
T = Turn (Rou) = Rook (Eng)
D = Dama (Rou) = Queen (Eng)
R = Rege (Rou) = King (Eng)
An English speaking reader might get mixed up at the beginning by the use of “N” or “R” (symbols for different pieces in English), but with a bit of practice things will work out well. I still get mixed up occasionally when translating between Romanian and English; this comes even after using both languages for many years!…

There are 100 tests of 6 puzzles each for a total of 600 puzzles. IMO this is a minimum number of puzzles any club player should solve on their own in order to get better. The puzzles are grouped by the tactical procedure required to solve them, as well as by level of difficulty. This aspect of the level of difficulty cannot be stressed enough! The internet is full with countless puzzles and sites offering puzzle solving; where the majority of them fall short is having those puzzles logically arranged in a meaningful and helpful progression. It is of very little use (sometimes no use at all) to try to solve a puzzle suitable for a 1600 level when you are under 1000. If you don’t even realize the puzzle is not suitable for you, there is a danger of turning an engine on to solve it for you; in that case you would learn nothing.

Levels 1, 2 and 3 have 30 tests for a total of 180 puzzles each, while the final review chapter has 10 final tests for a total of 60 puzzles. Marius personalizes all tests with a couple of nice local touches: all of them are from games played by Romanian players from Romania and Republic of Moldova; also their skill level varies from promising juniors to Grand Masters. There are tests where a tactical procedure is revisited as part of the same or a different level; the distinction between them is made by labeling them with letters such as: (A) for the first test and (B) for the second test.
Example I: level 1, test 6 deals with the “discovered attack” and it is marked (A), while test 7 also deals with the same subject and it is marked (B).
Example II: along the same idea level 2 has test 34 about “Attraction” (A), test 44 “Attraction” (B), while level 3 has test 66 “Attraction” (C) and test 76 “Attraction” (D).
This is a bit confusing and I am sure it could be improved in future. The number of tests per each tactical procedure has been chosen based on a statistical analysis of the frequency each might appear in a game, as well as how complex the procedure is. I believe this also is an important qualitative aspect of the book.

The solution of each puzzle could lead to the following possible outcomes for the side moving first:
– forced checkmate
– winning material advantage
– winning attack on the oppposing King
– won endgame
– winnning position
– draw if that is the best possible outcome
This book also covers the following tactical procedures not included in the previous two books; for each one I have added a sample puzzle to better illustrate what to expect:
1. The X-Ray attack (level 1, test 18)


2. Taking control of a square (level 2, tests 68 and 78)

3. The intermediate move (level 2, tests 69 and 79)

4. The counterattack (level 2, tests 70 and 80)

Other suggestions for improvements could be related to the layout: for each diagram it might be sufficient to have the lines and rows marked only on one side of the board (instead of both) to save space; also instead of using the letters A (if White moves first) or N (if Black moves first), it could be simpler to use an empty circle (if White moves first) or a dark circle (if Black moves first). It would go along the Informator type of layout and make it more appealing to a wider audience. The book can be purchased in local bookstores if you happen to visit Romania or online HERE. Hope you found this short review useful plus the offer interesting chess-wise (quality of material) and price-wise (18 Lei is approx 4.21 USD or 3.98 euro). An interesting interview with Marius will follow up in another article.

Valer Eugen Demian

Raymond Smullyan – and a Postscript

I was saddened to hear of the recent death of Raymond Smullyan at the impressive age of 97. Smullyan was a mathematician, stage magician and concert pianist as well as a philosopher, but was best known as the author of many books on logic.

He was also interested in chess and published two books of ‘chess logic’ puzzles based on retro-analysis: The Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes (1979) and The Chess Mysteries of the Arabian Knights (1981). My bookshelf includes the latter, but not, as far as I can recall, the former. In Smullyan’s puzzles the solver has to use logic to work out how the position was reached, rather than, as in most chess puzzles, what should happen next.

Here’s his best known puzzle.

Set up this position on your board: a white bishop on a4, a black bishop on d5, black rook on b5 and black king on d1.

In the Arabian Knights book Smullyan explains that Haroun Al Rashid, the White King, has made himself invisible, a trick he learnt from a Chinese sorcerer. He is on one of the 64 squares of the enchanted chess kingdom, but no one can see him. Your task is to discover his location.

You might like to work it out for yourself before reading on.

You’ll spot that the black king is in check from the white bishop, but that there is no possible last move for that piece. But if Haroun Al Rashid is on b3 he will be in what appears to be an illegal double check from the black rook and bishop.

You’ll need a bit of lateral thinking to realise that this double check is not quite impossible: it could come about from an en passant capture.

This is how the position might have arisen (the black bishop could be somewhere else on the long diagonal). Black plays 1… Bd5+ and the game continues 2. c4 bxc3 (en passant), giving double check from the rook and the bishop by opening two lines, and then 3. Kxc3, giving you the required position. So the answer is that Haroun Al Rashid is on the c3 square.

This was first published by Leonard Barden in what was then the Manchester Guardian in 1957, but, as Barden had been sent the puzzle without any further information, the composer was not named. A few weeks later, Smullyan made contact with Barden, who later published several more of his chess logic puzzles.

By way of a postscript to last week’s article, I have a more conventional puzzle for you to solve.

Black to play: choose your next move.

You might recall that last week I demonstrated how my two most recent games featured missed opportunities for very similar tactics: sacrificing a rook for a pawn to set up a fork regaining the rook.

Since then I’ve played another league game, and again I was awarded the white pieces. In this position my opponent has an extra pawn on c3 which might not be very safe, while I might also be thinking about taking advantage of the slightly insecure black king by playing Nxg5.

They say things come in threes, and, for the third consecutive game both players failed to notice the possibility of a very similar combination.

Black can play 1… Rd1+! 2. Rxd1 c2 winning material by forcing the white queen away from her protection of the rook on b5. White’s only hope now is to give up the exchange: 3. Rxb6 axb6 4. Qb3 cxd1Q 5. Qxd1. Instead, Black, who was starting to run short of time, played Rd6, and, a few moves later, panicked and gave up material unnecessarily. I eventually won the game.

This is slightly harder from last week’s positions. Firstly, it involves a sacrifice on a vacant square. Secondly, there’s the additional motif of deflecting the white queen so you have to see one move further ahead. The basic concept is quite similar, though, and again, if you look for checks, captures and threats, you should be able to find it.

Richard James