Category Archives: Improver (950-1400)

The Chess-Player’s Brainfade

One of the most important qualities that a chess player must have on his C. V. is the ability to analyse accurately. One can possess all the theoretical knowledge and experience in the world, but when it comes to it, it is our moves over-the-board, that will decide the game. And if we are blase or complacent in our contemplations, we will (or should) pay the price.

What makes human chess so exciting, is that even with the best of intentions, games are filled with oversights, inaccuracies and darn right blunders. These are made at all levels, and even the greats fail. Perhaps you watched the recent online blitz showdown between Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura? As well as being a real treat to see just what these players are capable of seeing given such short time, there was also some comfort to the mere mortals among us, when Nakamura hung his Queen by allowing his King to be skewered.

This makes me feel slightly more at ease, in sharing with you the following example that I recently played online. It is a correspondence game with a 7-day time control and I feel that it perfectly demonstrates the difficulties we face in maintaining a clear head, capable of consistent accurate analysis. Both myself and my opponent certainly failed at this in the most critical moments of the game, which was decided by who made the last error rather than any brilliance. This was, luckily for me, my opponent, who also committed the great faux pas of assuming that his opponent knew better than he did, as you will see.

So what do we learn from this game? Well, a few things:

  • We have to base our analysis upon the nature of the position. This goes without saying, but it is sometimes startlingly easy to forget. My positional and psychological decisions had served me very well up to a point in the above game. When the pieces are not in contact, when there is no tension, limiting one’s thought process to this is fine. The analysis of lines can often be limited to a few moves in these positions — infact, deep analysis of lines would be an inefficient use of time. However, when creating tension, when the pieces are in close contact, this changes. Even more so if one is intending to take a risk, such as a sacrifice. Deep, thorough and accurate analysis becomes essential and general positional and psychological thought simply will not suffice. We must endeavour to confirm that we will get the return we want, we can’t just wish our opponent to do something or trick or bully them into it.
  • Our opponent does not have to cooperate with our aspirations. Actually, the chess player’s goal is to not cooperate with the opponent. My decision to play 17…Bxh3 was based on the fact that I felt that White would be compelled to move his knight (therefore allowing me the strong …Qh4) after 18.gxh3 Rg6+ 19.Kf1 Bh2 in order to stop mate. This was completely inaccurate, but I saw what I wanted to see and didn’t see the reality on the board.
  • Our opponent is never infallible. My opponent’s decision to not play 18.gxh3 ultimately cost him the game. Had he analysed accurately, he would have seen that the bishop was a safe capture and that he would be fine to all that I had to throw at him. Instead, he relied on the accuracy of my analysis and in effect allowed himself to be bluffed, thinking that I had all my i’s dotted and t’s crossed. This resulted in him losing a game that he should have won.

John Lee Shaw

King Up For The Ending

Like all chess teachers, I explain to all my pupils that the first rule of endings is to use your king actively. In the very early days of Richmond Junior Club, Mike Fox would use the acronym KUFTE (King Up For The Ending).

Here’s an example. I have the white pieces and am a pawn behind but as long as I remember the Philidor position I should draw with a bit of care. What could be more natural than moving my king up the board to g4? Let’s just shake hands and grab a swift pint in the bar before closing time. But I’m soon awakened from my reverie. The black pawn moves to h5. My opponent offers his hand, but not because he’s happy to share the point.

King Up For The Ending wasn’t such a good idea in that position, then. Perhaps I’ll do better next time.

I’m white again, and have a pawn on the seventh rank. I reach out for a queen, eager to promote my pawn and force resignation. “Check”, my opponent says. “Oh no, I missed that one. Never mind, I can move out of check and then promote. I must remember to bring my king up for the ending, and attacking an enemy pawn seems like a good idea, so I play Kf3. Now if Rg3+ I’m playing Kxf4, if Rg8 I can probably play Rd7 followed by Rd8, and if the rook moves horizontally I promote at once with mate. What could go wrong?

But instead, my opponent plays Rf2. “Checkmate”, he announces, apologetically, and stops the clock.

Perhaps it will be third time lucky.

This time my opponent has a knight rather than a rook, so I shouldn’t have to worry about checkmate. I must remember to watch out for knight forks: Kc4, for example, wouldn’t be too clever. So I’ll move my king forward again, both advancing and centralising: surely it must be safe this time. My opponent moves his knight to b6. From out of the blue it’s another checkmate.

It’s very easy, isn’t it, to make this sort of mistake. Many games are decided by opening tactics. At the start of the game we wear our Opening Hat. We think about quick development, central control and king safety, but if we forget our Tactics Hat we could easily overlook a fork, for example. While we wear our Tactics Hat in the middle game it’s all to easy to forget it when we have our Ending Hat on. We’re thinking about winning pawns, creating passed pawns, promoting them and mating our opponent with the resulting queens. We learn at an early age that in the ending the king is a fighting piece. We’re not likely to get mated with many pieces on the board so we can advance him fearlessly into enemy territory.

But as you’ve seen it doesn’t always work out like that. The Magic Question always has to take precedence. Just in case you didn’t know, the Magic Question is “If I play that move, what could my opponent do next? What checks, captures and threats will be at my opponent’s disposal?” With not many pieces on the board, it’s fatally easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. The clock is ticking away: perhaps you’re playing on increment. I guess we’ve all been there.

Here’s another example:

Of course you can guess what happened next: White played Kd4, advancing and centralising, but allowing Rd3#.

This one’s a bit different:

White is up by the exchange for a pawn. The king is already centralised so it’s time to think of another endgame precept: Passed Pawns Must Be Pushed. Another sad story: d6 was met by Bc6#.

So how did I find these examples? I’m currently in the final stages of research for Checkmates for Heroes, part of the Chess for Heroes project (about which much more later) and looking for examples of interesting black checkmates to be used as test positions. I also came across positions such as these which were interesting for other reasons.

One final, and rather different, tragedy, this time not an ending.

Anything reasonable will win for White. Nf3 is, according to the engines, mate in 9, while Qxg7+ is obvious and strong. Instead, White, not noticing there was a big difference, captured on g7 with the rook. As Tartakower said, the mistakes are all there waiting to be made. We’ll all do well to remember Tartakower, as well as the Magic Question, next time we play chess.

Richard James

The Passed Pawn

This article is aimed at beginners and pre-intermediate players only. Though, intermediate players may find it interesting.

The pawn, the smallest chess unit, increases its value if it advances to the other side of the board with proper support. This is because of its unique power to promote itself to any other piece except the king.

A pawn is a ‘passed pawn’ or ‘passer’ if it doesn’t having any obstruction from an enemy pawn on the same file or neighboring file. Various endgame and middle game themes are based around the passed pawn only. We will deal with those concepts later on.

Let’s consider the following position:

Here:
1) White’s ‘c’ and Black’s ‘c’ pawns are not passed pawns as they have frontal obstruction.
2) White’s ‘g’ and Black’s ‘h’ pawns are not passed pawns as they face obstruction from the neighboring file’s enemy pawns.
3) White’s ‘e’ and Black’s ‘a’ pawns are passed pawns.

The level of difficulty in producing and promoting a passer varies with the level playing strength. Sometimes it is easier whilst at other times it is harder and requires the use of various tactical motifs and combinations to achieve the objective. Here are some instructive examples:


Carl Schlechter against Julius Perlis in 1911


In the given position Black’s last move was 7…Bxb1.
Q: How would you evaluate Black’s last move? And how should White proceed here?
A: Black’s last move was a mistake. Now White can win a good pawn.

8. dxc6!!

Surprise!

8…Be4??

Black is completely oblivious. He should have played 8…Nxc6 when White is pawn up yet far from winning. But now White can launch a splendid combination which wins on the spot.

9. Rxa7!!

This forces Black to give up his due to White’s powerful candidate on c6 and Black’s awkward knight on b8. But his next move forces him to resign after White’s reply.

9…Rxa7 10. c7

Black resigned as he can’t stop White’s pawn from being promoted.

Karjakin against Navara in 2009

In this position White already had passed pawns on the a- and b- files but they are not dangerous yet because of Black’s active rooks on the 7th rank.

Q: How can White win this position by force?

A: Karjakin played R5c2 which wins by force.

36. R5c2!!

White sacrificed his whole rook in order to make use of his pawn on b6.

36…Rdxc2 37. Rxc2 Rxc2

37…Rxa5 fails to b7 followed by Nd7+.

38. b7 Rb2 39. Nd7+ Ke8 40. Nb6

The point behind the combination. Black resigned.

Ashvin Chauhan

Sealing the Weakness

Today I am going to talk about the sealing a weakness by physically blocking lines. It is really a nice theme which beginners often fail to see; when your opponent tries to exchange the blockading piece often you get a passed pawn, a better pawn chain or a nice outpost for a piece.

Here are a couple of examples of this:

Seirawan against Yussupov in 2000

Q: Black has a weakness on c6 but which is not accessible to White in the near future. Could you formulate a plan for Black using the theme discussed above?

Hint: You can seal that weakness by placing a piece on c4. This kind of idea often arises in the QGD Exchange pawn structure.

Solution: Black can bring his knight to c4 via f8-d7-b6 and c4 which not only seals the weakness on c6 but gets a nice outpost.

Here is the rest of game:

20…Nf8 21.Nb3 Qa3 22.Qc1 Nd7 23.Rc2 Qa8 24.Ne1 Nb6 25.Nd3 Nc4 26.Re2 Qc8 27.Nbc5 Rce7 28.Rfe1 Qf5 29.Kg2 h5 30.f3 Qf6 31.a4 bxa4 32.Nxa4 h4 33.Nac5 Qg6 34.e4 hxg3 35.h3 Bxc5 36.Nxc5 dxe4 37.Rxe4 Rxe4 38.Nxe4 Nd6 39.Qxc6 f5 40.Nxd6 Rxe1 41.Qc8+ Kh7 42.Qxf5 Re2+ 43.Kg1 Re1+ 44.Kg2 Re2+ 45.Kg1 Qxf5 46.Nxf5 Rf2 47.Nxg3 Rxf3 48.Kg2 Rd3 49.Ne2 Kg8 50.h4 Kf7 51.h5 Kf6 52.h6 gxh6 53.Nf4 Rxd4 54.Kg3 Kf5 55.Ne2 Ra4 56.Ng1 h5 57.Kh3 Kg5 58.Nf3+ Kf4 59.Ne1 Ra2 60.Nd3+ Kg5 61.Ne5 Ra3+ 62.Kh2 Kf5 63.Nf7 Rd3 0-1

The next example is one of my favourites and a really instructive one:
Janowski against Capablanca in 1916


Q: What will you do with your damaged pawn structure on the queenside? Try to formulate the plan.

Hint: Capablanca uses weak pawn to support the c4 square.

Solution: Black first supports the b5 square by playing 10…Bd7! and then slowly gets the pawn push to b5 in order to bring his knight to c4 via a5-c4 route. The whole game is really instructive and has already been annotated by Nigel D here.

Ashvin Chauhan

Nine Eventful Moves

Here’s a question for all teachers.

When teaching, do you prefer to present your pupils with high level material, expecting them to fill in the gaps for themselves and make rapid improvement? Or do you prefer to present them with material which is at or slightly above their level, to reinforce what they already know and perhaps teach them one new skill.

Most chess teachers seem to prefer the first method, but, especially when working with younger and less experienced players, I prefer the second method. Showing lower level players a master game will, as often as not, leave them confused, giving them information which they are unable to contextualise.

Which is why I spent 30 years collecting games played at Richmond Junior Club, with the intention of producing coaching materials based on what actually happens in kids’ games.

One thing I noticed was how many games are decided by opening tactics, with the same patterns repeated over and over again. This is why I included a lot of opening tactics in my book Move Two!.

Consider this game, played the other day at Richmond Junior Club between two players of about 1000 (Elo) strength.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nf6

Black decided to try out a new opening, the Petroff Defence, but it transpired that he only knew the first two moves. In another game the same afternoon, played between two stronger (about 1500-1600 Elo) players, White tried 1. e4 c5 2. c3 but again only seemed to know the first two moves, being surprised that Black, who had seen the move before and knew what to do, replied 2… d5. He replied with the not very impressive 3. e5, when Black, instead of playing Bf5, leading to what you might consider either an advance French with the queen’s bishop outside the box or an advance Caro-Kann with an extra tempo, chose 3… e6, leading to an advance French which neither player seemed to know very much about. White seemed even more surprised when I explained that 2… d5 should be met by 3. exd5 Qxd5 4. d4.

As an aside, I consider the Petroff to be a reasonable choice for Black at this level as long as you know how to meet the tactics on the e-file. It requires a lot less knowledge of theory than 2… Nc6. The disadvantage is that it can easily lead to rather dull positions.

3. Nxe5 Nxe4

Now it’s clear that Black hadn’t made any attempt to study the Petroff. White, on the other hand, had learnt the Copycat Trap so knew what to do next. In future, Black will prefer the main line: 3… d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4.

4. Qe2

Most kids at this level know this, and when I demonstrated the game to a relatively small group (most of the club were at the UK Chess Challenge Megafinals) the following week, there were only a few who were unaware of what to do.

4… Ng5

Rather surprisingly, Black, a fairly experienced player, was still blind to what was going to happen next. One or two strong players have chosen this line, with 4… Qe7, as a surprise weapon, but as far as I can see Black’s going to be a pawn down with not a lot to show for it.

5. Nc6+

White was very well aware of what she should do next and gleefully pocketed the black queen.

5… Be7
6. Nxd8 Kxd8

White was ahead by a queen for a knight and just had to be careful. Her next move was absolutely fine.

7. d4 Re8

A black rook has appeared menacingly on the e-file, glaring at White’s royal couple. Alarm bells are ringing. Red lights are flashing. What should White do? Most of the audience the following week suggested 8. Be3, which looks extremely sensible to me, blocking the e-file and giving White time to get her king into safety by castling. 8. Nc3, intending to meet a discovered check with Be3, is also excellent. White saw that her queen was in danger and moved it out of the way, oblivious to the fact that the king was now exposed to a fatal double check.

8. Qd3 Bb4+

This time it was Black who knew exactly what to do, recognising the pattern of the familiar ‘Morphy’ rook and bishop mate.

9. Kd1 Re1#

And sadly, White was still a queen up, but a king down. All that in just nine moves.

Here’s what you might learn from this game:

  • If you want to try out a new opening you need to do more than learn the first two moves.
  • If your opponent plays the Petroff, play 3. Nxe5 and hope they fall for the Copycat Trap.
  • If you want to play the Petroff with Black remember to play 3. Nxe5 d6 followed by Nxe4 if the knight retreats (and be ready to play Qe7 in reply to Qe2).
  • Learn about how to place your line pieces (queen, rooks, bishops) in line with more valuable enemy pieces, understanding that if your piece is in the way you can play a discovered attack/check, while if your opponent’s piece is in the way it will be pinned.
  • Learn to understand and recognise (and see coming a long way off) discovered checks.
  • Learn about the idea of using discovered checks to win material (and being aware that the piece making the discovery will be, as long as it’s not next door to the enemy king, be immune from capture).
  • Learn about double checks – “the atom bomb of the chessboard” – and understand that a double check has to be met by a king move.
  • Learn the rook and bishop mating pattern – look at it in different contexts, for example Morphy v Aristocratic Allies.
  • Look at every check you could play – and look at every check your opponent could play in reply to your intended move.

Nine important lessons in just nine eventful moves. Cheap at half the price. And also just the sort of game I’d use for a very low level ‘How Good is Your Chess’ lesson.

Richard James

Rook Endings (4)

Two more practical examples of rook and pawn against rook from games played at Richmond Junior Club.

In this position the good news for Black is that his king is in front of the pawn and the white king is subject to mating threats on the side of the board. The bad news is that his rook is badly placed, and that it’s White’s move. (If it was Black to move he could win by moving his rook in a westerly direction.)

His plan should be to get his rook round the back to threaten mate, while White will need to counter this by moving his rook away to check the black king from the other side.

White now has two moves to draw: Ra6 and Rb6. He needs to meet mate threats with horizontal checks, and has to be as far away as possible from the enemy monarch.

But instead he played 55. Re6, presumably with the idea of keeping the black king on the f-file. Now any westerly rook move is winning for Black. He chose 55… Re1, having observed correctly that the pawn ending would be winning. White went back behind the pawn: 56. Rf6, and now, out of Black’s 17 legal moves, 11 are winning and 4 are drawing. The quickest winning moves are Re7 and Re8, both mating in 21 moves according to the tablebases. He actually chose one of the drawing moves: 56… Re2, missing the winning plan of threatening mate on the h-file. Now White again has time to draw by moving his rook over to the far side of the board (note that this is one of many positions in these endings where you want your rook on the side rather than behind the passed pawn). This time, Ra6, Rb6 and Rc6 all draw, but in principle he should move as far away as possible. Instead, stuck with the mistaken idea that rooks always belong behind passed pawns, he played 57. Kh3.

Now Black has four winning moves: Re8, Re7, Re5 and Re3 (but Re4 is only a draw). Still not thinking about potential checks on the h-file he chose perhaps the least obvious of these, 57… Re3. White played 58. Kh2 when Black has a choice of 14 moves, of which 8 win and 5 draw. As you would expect by now, the quickest wins are Re8 and Re7. Instead he went for one of the drawing options: 58… Ke2.

Now White has 16 possible moves, but only one of them draws: Kg3, hitting the f-pawn. After his actual choice, 59. Kg1, though, Black can again win by moving his rook in a northerly direction, again planning a check from behind. Instead he gave up and pushed the pawn: 59… f2+. White was happy to capture the pawn: 60. Rxf2+, and a draw was agreed.

If you’re down to the last few minutes on the clock, or, as is likely these days, playing on an increment, it’s all too easy to think inflexibly, as both players did in this example. Black seemed to be thinking purely about how to push his f-pawn, while White was just trying to prevent this. Neither player was thinking about how to check the enemy king.

Our final example starts off by being about getting your king in front of the pawn, but when Balck fails to do this it’s just about calculation. Will White calculate accurately? We’ll see.

Black has to make his 52nd move. He has 15 moves to choose from, three of which lose his rook, although one of them, Rg2, still draws (rook against pawn is another interesting subject). There are 10 winning moves and two other moves that draw: Rg4 and the move he chose, 52… f3.

Now it seems very natural and obvious to push your pawn, and you’ve probably been taught that passed pawns should be pushed, but when you possess the only remaining pawn on the board you often want your king in front of the pawn. This is the case here.

White found the only move to draw: 53. Kd4, correctly rushing back with his king. His rook is well placed on the h-file here, preventing the black king from travelling to g2 via h3. Black pushed the pawn again: 53… f2, for the moment preventing the white king’s approach. White again found the only drawing move: 54. Rf7. (Rg7+ would have led to king and queen against king and rook, which would have been another story entirely.) Black naturally replied by defending the pawn with 54… Rg2.

On his 55th move White has no less than 21 choices (the maximum number of 8 king moves and 13 rook moves, one short of the maximum, for those of you who care about this sort of thing). Nine of them draw and the other twelve lose. The most obvious draw is the simple Ke3 just winning the pawn and demonstrating to black that he pushed his pawn too quickly. However he was seduced by the skewer 55. Rg7+, no doubt playing too fast to notice that after he won the rook Black would promote.

Now Black has six king moves, but the only one to win is Kf6, when he’ll reach the tricky ending king and queen against king and rook. It’s mate in 28 according to the tablebases, but would he have been able to win? We’ll never know because instead he played 55… Kh4.

White’s now drawing again if he finds 56. Rf7, getting back behind the passed pawn and preparing to meet 56… Kg3 with 57. Ke3, when Black can make no progress. His actual choice of 56. Rh7+ was too slow, though, because now after 56… Kg3, which Black played, his king will have time to reach g1 via h2. The game continued 57. Rg7+ Kh2 58. Rh2+ Kg1 and Black won by promoting his pawn.

Richard James

Rook Endings (3)

Last time I considered some simple rook and pawn v rook endings from the Richmond Junior Club database.

In this article I’ll show you a few slightly more complicated examples.

Caspar Bates, who had to choose a move with white in this position against his brother Pascal, returned to chess several years ago and is now an occasional player (for Richmond in the London League) and an excellent composer of endgame studies.

At this stage in his career, though, his knowledge of endings was limited. He had the opportunity to head for the Philidor position, but instead chose a passive defence with his rook. This should still be good enough to draw, and in this position he has three ways to share the point. In order to play this position accurately, both players have to be aware of two standard tactical ideas, one of which you saw last week.

White can draw by continuing his policy of passive defence, playing Rd1, when Black has no way to make progress. Or he can choose an active defence and play either Rb2 or Rf2, planning to move up the board and check from behind. But Rg2 (or Rh2) would lose to a skewer: Black would reply with d2+ (a discovered check) and, if White takes the pawn, pick up the rook via a skewer because the white king is too far away. If White doesn’t take the pawn, Ra1 will lead to the same thing.

Instead White chose Ke4. Now Black can use another tactical idea which you may remember from last week’s article. His two winning moves are Ra7 and Ra8. In both cases, if the white rook takes the pawn, a check from behind will force the king away and win the rook. And if White doesn’t take the pawn, again black rook checks from behind will prove decisive. Note, though, that Ra6 is only a draw because the white king will be close enough to approach the rook, meeting Re6+ with Kf5.

Alas, he missed his chance, and after several repetitions the game eventually resulted in a draw.

This rather atypical position should also be a draw, but Black, to play, chose what should have been a losing option: 46… Ra5. Now White has two winning moves: the simpler way to win is 47. Rb6+ but White’s actual choice of 47. Kd4 should also suffice. Now Black is in zugzwang: a horizontal rook move lets the pawn advance, a vertical rook move allows Kc5, a king move to, say, b2, allows Kc4. That leaves Black’s choice in the game, 47… Kb4, which White correctly met with 48. Rb6+ Ka4 49. Kc4 Ka3. Now White can win by choosing a horizontal rook move, when Black is again zugged. Instead he played 50. Rb3+, when, after 50… Ka2 he’d have to repeat moves and have another go at finding the winning idea. But Black preferred 50… Ka4. Now 51. Rb1, threatening mate, wins at once, but he missed it, repeating moves with 51. Rb6 Ka3. He still didn’t spot the zugzwang and decided to try a different idea, 52. Kb5, hoping Black would trade rooks. No such luck: she captured the pawn: 52… Rxa6. Now White could have offered a draw but instead played on, hoping Black would allow a rook mate: 53. Rb3+ Ka2 54. Kc3??, only to discover he was losing his rook after 54… Rc6+ 55. Kb4 Rb6+.

Disillusioned, perhaps, by the result of this game, White soon gave up his chess career, and now, more than 30 years on, is a partner in a firm of solicitors based just across the road from Richmond Junior Club’s current Twickenham venue.

The basic principle in these endings is that if your king can make contact with the promotion square you’re likely to get the result you want.

So in this position, with White to move, there are two winning moves: Kg6 and Kh6. The white king has to run up the board, using the rook to shelter from checks if necessary. Instead, White played the understandable but misguided 52. f5, when Black can hold the draw by activating his rook and preparing to check from behind. But now Black in turn erred by playing 52… Re5 to pin the pawn. White now demonstrated the win as follows: 53. Ra6 Kf7 54. Ra7+ Kf8 55. Kf6 Re4 56. Ra8+ Re8 57. Rxe8+ Kxe8 58. Kg7 (the only winning move) and Black resigned.

Black could have offered more resistance with 55… Ke8 when play might continue 56. Kg6 Rd8 57. f6 Kg8 58. Rg7+ (but not f7+ which only draws) 58… Kf8 59. Rh7 or 58… Kh8 59. Rh7+ Kg8 60. f7+.

Note that this is the type of position where Black will lose even though his king reaches the queening square because of White’s mate threats.

So chess improvers need to be aware of a few basic principles, some of which apply to all rook endings.

* Rooks belong behind passed pawns (RBBPP)
* Keep your pieces active at all times
* Play with a long-term plan in mind rather than just operating with immediate threats
* Your king needs to head towards the promotion square
* Be aware of the basic tactical ideas which happen in rook endings (the skewer, the check to force the king away from defending the rook)
* Develop your long-range calculating skills

I’ll have a few more examples for you next week.

Richard James

Rook Endings (2)

Having been sent the rook ending you saw last week I decided to look at the rook endings in my Richmond Junior Chess Club database to see how young players handled them.

I started by looking at endings with rook and pawn against rook.

Before you learn rook and pawn against rook you’ll need to know how to mate with king and rook against king (obviously) and have a complete knowledge of all king and pawn against king positions. At any point one player will be trying to trade rooks while the other player will be trying to keep rooks on the board. At lower levels, of course, this knowledge is sometimes lacking.

There were several games where this sort of thing happened. Black, in a position which should be a comfortable draw, decided to play Rxf4+. I guess this is caused by false logic. Black thinks “If my opponent gets a queen I’ll be 9 points behind, so I should capture the pawn now when I’ll only be 5 points behind”. Time and time again, if you ask children why they played their move, they will give an answer involving some sort of false logic. He saw that he’d lose his rook but thought it was the right thing to do.

Children at this level also tend to think in terms of threats rather than plans. This policy might work well in your primary school chess club, but at higher levels you need something more. In endings, more than any other part of the game, you need a plan. The man with the plan wins. In this position White’s winning because the black king is cut off. His plan should be to bring his king across to support the pawn’s advance while using his rook to stop the enemy monarch approaching. Instead he saw the chance to create a threat and played Kf6. Black was alert to the possibility of a skewer and White’s win turned into a loss.

Several lessons from this:
1. You need to operate with plans rather than immediate threats.
2. You need to watch out for skewers in rook endings.
3. You need to remember the idea of using your rook to cut off the enemy king.

This is similar to our first example, but perhaps White had a different reason. Up to this point White had defended impeccably, but now forgot that he could continue checking and thought the only way to stop the immediate mate was to play Rxg3. If you know the Philidor position you’ll know that Rf1+ is an easy draw.

Black has an extra pawn but should only draw. Instead, she played a natural move, pushing her passed pawn to h4. Sadly for her, a rook check will drive her king away and she will lose her rook. Another game where the rook beats the rook and pawn, and another tactical idea you need to know.

One more lesson:
4. Look out for positions where a rook is defended by a king: a rook check might force the king away from defending the rook or into a potential skewer.

At the end of a long game, when you don’t have much time left on the clock, it’s all too easy to forget to ask yourself the Magic Question (if I play that move what will my opponent do next?). In this position Black promoted his pawn without enough thought, and yet another skewer cost him his new queen. Instead he had four winning moves, Kf1, Kf2, Rh3 and the attractive Rf3+, when, if Black captures, it’s White who has a skewer.

Next time we’ll look at some slightly more complicated endings with rook and pawn against rook, so stay tuned.

Richard James

Rook Endings (1)

My friend Chris Kreuzer, a former pupil at Richmond Junior Club and now a colleague at Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club when he’s not playing for the English Deaf Chess team, sent me a game resulting in an exciting and error-strewn rook ending. His opponent in this Thames Valley League game was talented Richmond Junior Alfie Onslow, whose game against me from earlier in the season featured here a few months ago.

Chris is a strong player whose results seem to me to be affected by his addiction to time trouble. This game was played with a time limit of 75 minutes per player for the game. There are no increments in ThamesValleyLeagueLand where, in the impoverished suburbs of West London (irony alert), most clubs can’t afford to buy digital clocks. When the rook ending was reached Chris was down to about 3 minutes on the clock to Alfie’s 12 minutes. Chris had won a pawn in the middle game but gave up material in the quest for activity and was now a pawn behind.

We’ll join the game here, where White’s just captured a pawn on c5.

Black has to choose his 45th move. In fact there are two possible moves here, as someone pointed out after the game the possibility of 45… Kd7 46. Bxe7 Kxc8 47. Bxf6, which will lead to a draw. With not much time on the clock it’s understandable that Chris missed this, instead playing the obvious bishop exchange. So…

45… Bxc5
46. Rxc5

White’s a pawn ahead in this ending, but Black’s king is centralised and he’s about to put his rook behind the passed c-pawn. My pupils know about KUFTE (King Up For The Ending, for which thanks to the late and much missed Mike Fox) and RBBPP (Rooks Belong Behind Passed Pawns).

46… Rc1

On general principles this can’t be wrong and indeed it’s fine for a draw, as are various other moves such as f5 and Kd6.

47. Rc6+ Kf5
48. c5 Rc2
49. f3 Rc4
50. Rc8 Kf4
51. c6 f5
52. c7

Perfectly reasonable play by both sides so far. Charlie White has now reached the seventh rank so Black has to be careful to shelter his king from checks.

52… Rc2

Still fine for a draw, and perhaps not expecting the white king to march bravely up the h-file. Another way to share the point was 52… Rc1 53. g4 Kxf3 54. gxf5 e4 55. f6 when Black has to find 55… Rc2+ 56. Kh3 Rc6 in order to prevent the f-pawn’s advance and draw the game.

53. Kh3 Rc4
54. Kh4 Rc1
55. Kh5

White’s king is becoming dangerous and now Black has only one route to equality. He has to remain active and play 55… Rc2 56. g4 fxg4 (again the only move to draw). Now White has two tries: 57. Rf8+ Kg3 58. c8Q Rxc8 59. Rxc8 Kxf3, which is a draw; or 57. fxg4 Rh2+ (only move again) 58. Kg6 Kxg4 (the final only move), which is also a draw.

55… Rc6

Natural enough in time trouble, I suppose, as Chris wants to prevent Alfie’s king advancing, but unfortunately it loses.

56. g4

The winning move. White’s threatening both g5 and gxf5, when a recapture will be met by Rf8+. Perhaps Black should try 56… fxg4 when the immediate 57. Rf8+ is only a draw but the simple recapture 57. fxg4 is winning.

56… Kxf3

57. gxf5

Now it’s White’s turn to go wrong. This recapture should only draw but instead 57. g5 e4 58. g6 e3 59. g7 e2 60. Re8 and White wins the promotion race. Note that his king is supporting the g-pawn but is too far away to support the f-pawn.

57… e4
58. Kg5

Or 58. f6 Rxf6 59. Re8 Rc3 60. c8Q Rxc8 61. Rxc8 e3 with a draw.

58… e3
59. f6 Rc4

Running out of time, Black makes what looks like a fairly random move instead of pushing his pawn.

After 59… e2 60. f7 (60. Re8 is a safer draw) 60… e1Q 61. f8Q+ Kg2 White has no more checks and, although he has an extra pawn his rook is out of play and his king is in trouble. My computer tells me he has only one way to draw, the far from obvious (at least to me) 62. Qg8. (In real life, though, with his flag hanging, Black would take a perpetual rather than looking for a mating sequence.) Black’s other drawing move is 59… Rc5+ 60. Kg6 Rc7 61. Kg7 e2 with similar play to the line above.

60. f7

And, unfortunately for Chris, it’s all over.

1-0

What lessons can we learn from this?

1. Endings can often be tactical: you have to be good at accurate long-range calculation to play this sort of position well. (Of course the paradox is that positional players are likely to reach more endings than tacticians.)

2. Activity is important in rook endings.

3. Pushing passed pawns is important in endings.

4. If you’re playing any fairly fast time limit, especially without increments, if you get significantly behind on the clock in an otherwise level ending you’re probably going to lose, either by running out of time or by having to rush your moves and consequently making mistakes

Richard James

Stephen MacDonald-Ross

I was saddened the other day to receive an email informing me that one of my regular Thames Valley League opponents, Stephen MacDonald-Ross, had died at the age of 70.

Stephen was the younger brother of the better-known (but, in recent years, much less active) Michael MacDonald-Ross. Like many chess players, he came across as very quiet, but was always a pleasant and friendly opponent. He was usually graded a few points below me, but my impression, judging from our games, was that he was much stronger than his grade. His openings were well prepared and he seemed to excel at positional and endgame play, but was hampered by a tendency to mishandle the clock and run short of time.

I was never able to beat him in five encounters, managing only three draws.

The first time we met was in a London weekend congress in 1974. I had White and the game was a fairly short draw. It was not until 1992 that we met again, in a London League match between Richmond and Wimbledon.

Our remaining four games were all in league matches and in each case Stephen was white. We met three times in the 1990s, the first occasion being a 1992 London League match between Richmond and Wimbledon.

1. d4 g6 2. c4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. e4 e5 5. Be3 Nc6 6. Nge2 exd4 7. Nxd4 Nge7 8. Be2 O-O 9. O-O f5 10. Qd2 Nxd4 11. Bxd4 Nc6 12. Bxg7 Kxg7 13. f4 fxe4 14. Nxe4 Bf5 15. Qc3+ Kg8 16. Bf3 Qe7 17. Ng5 Qf6 18. Qxf6 Rxf6 19. Rae1 h6 20. Ne4 Rff8 21. Nc3 Bd3 (I have to be careful here as my position is slightly loose. This is not good, giving White time to double rooks on the e-file. 21… a6, to prevent a possible Nb5, should have been preferred.) 22. Bd5+ Kg7 23. Rf3 Bf5 24. Rfe3 Nd4 (A blunder, probably in time trouble, losing at once.) 25. Re7+ Kf6 26. Rxc7 Rac8 27. Rxb7 a5 28. g4 Bd3 29. Ne4+ Bxe4 30. Rxe4 Nf3+ 31. Kf2 1-0

It’s not very often that I get outplayed positionally but that’s what happened in our next game, from a 1995 Thames Valley League match between Wimbledon A and Richmond Juniors A.

1. d4 f5 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 e6 4. Nf3 d5 5. O-O c6 6. c4 Bd6 7. b3 Qe7 8. Bb2 O-O 9. Qc1 Bd7 10. Ba3 Be8 11. Bxd6 Qxd6 12. Nbd2 Nbd7 13. Qb2 Bh5 14. Rfe1 Ne4 15. Rad1 h6 16. Ne5 Nxe5 17. dxe5 Qc5 18. Nxe4 fxe4 19. Qd4 Qxd4 20. Rxd4 Rf5 (Black should be fine here despite the typical Stonewall bad bishop because of the potential weakness of the e5 pawn. The right way to go here is 20… g5, to prevent, rather than encourage, White’s reply. My move is not very intelligent, just provoking White into playing good moves. Now Stephen outplays me in impressive style.) 21. f4 exf3 22. exf3 Rff8 23. Bh3 Rae8 24. cxd5 cxd5 25. f4 Bf3 26. Ra4 a6 27. Rb4 Re7 28. Rb6 Rfe8 29. Kf2 Be4 30. Ke3 Kf7 31. Rc1 g5 32. fxg5 hxg5 33. Bg4 Rh8 34. h3 Bf5 35. Rf1 d4+ 36. Kd2 Ke8 37. Bxf5 exf5 38. Rxf5 Rxh3 39. Rxg5 Rh2+ 40. Kd3 Rxa2 41. e6 Kd8 42. Rc5 Rc7 43. Rd6+ Ke7 44. Rxc7+ Kxd6 45. e7 1-0

Looking at these two games now, it’s clear that I lost them both by making a threat (21… Bd3, 20… Rf5) which was met with a gain of tempo when I should have preferred a defensive move instead. Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learnt there.

We met again in another Wimbledon A v Richmond Juniors A match in 1998. Again it was a Dutch Stonewall, but this time I chose a different plan, delaying castling. After mutual inaccuracies in what was probably mutual time trouble I missed a winning tactic.

1. d4 e6 2. c4 f5 3. g3 Nf6 4. Bg2 d5 5. Nf3 c6 6. O-O Bd6 7. b3 Qe7 8. Bb2 b6 9. Qc1 Bb7 10. Ba3 Bxa3 11. Nxa3 Nbd7 12. Qb2 O-O 13. b4 Rab8 14. cxd5 exd5 15. Rfe1 a5 16. b5 c5 17. dxc5 bxc5 18. Nc2 a4 19. Qa3 Nb6 20. Ne3 g6 21. Nd4 Rfe8 22. Nc6 Bxc6 23. bxc6 Rbc8 24. Rac1 Rxc6 25. Nc4 Nxc4 26. Rxc4 Re6 27. Rc2 Qa7 28. e3 c4 29. Rd1 Re5 (Missing my chance as the time control at move 30 approaches: 29… Rxe3 is winning.) 30. Qd6 Qe7 31. Bxd5+ Nxd5 32. Rxd5 Qxd6 1/2-1/2 (White now stands better in this double rook ending. I don’t remember whether we agreed a draw here or whether the position went for adjudication. Unlike our previous game, neither of us wanted to play on.

Our last encounter was in 2013, in a match between Richmond B and Wimbledon B. Like our first game, it was a short draw.

Although never a demonstrative presence at matches, Stephen will be much missed in London chess circles, most of all by his friends and colleagues at Wimbledon Chess Club, to whom I extend my sympathy.

Richard James