Category Archives: Improver (950-1400)

Adventures with 1…e5 (1)

So, as I explained last week, I’ve decided to play more positively and make some changes to my opening repertoire. In particular, I’m switching from c5 to e5 in reply to e4. You might think c5 is the more aggressive choice, but not in my case. I preferred the relatively stodgy Kalashnikov Sicilian, but in most cases my opponents preferred to avoid the main lines, as generally tends to happen at club level. As I teach 1.. e5 to my pupils I know rather more about it than I do about 1.. c5, but in the past I’ve been scared of the tactics.

Since 2001 my only competitive games have been played for my club, Richmond, in the Thames Valley League. I currently play about 20 games a year. I’ve never in my life played a FIDE rated game but if I had a rating it would be somewhere in the region of 1900. The season started with two matches between our A and B teams, which are both in Division 1 of the league. My first black of the season was in the second of these matches when I found myself playing on board 2 for Richmond B against Jochem Snuverink, who has a FIDE rating of 2341. Playing an opponent about 450 points stronger than me would at least give me the chance to learn something.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4

So he’s going Italian rather than Spanish. My main choices are Bc5 and Nf6, against both of which White has sharp options where Black has to know the theory. I guess I could play defensively with Be7 if I didn’t want a theoretical battle. Of course, whatever Black chooses, White has the option of playing for a closed position with d3.

3.. Nf6

3.. Bc5 is probably the theoretically stronger move but Black has to be prepared to counter both the Evans Gambit (4. b4) and 4. c3 Nf6 5. d4. Both absolutely fine as long as you can remember the analysis. 3.. Nf6 is more fun for Black to play, though.

4. Ng5 d5

Black’s alternative here is 4.. Bc5, the scary Traxler (or Wilkes-Barre) variation. 5. Nxf7 is totally wild and unplayable for either side unless you know the theory. 5. Bxf7+ Ke7 may not give Black quite enough play for the pawn, although things are never so easy in practice.

5. exd5 Nd4

This is the next big decision for Black. The obvious recapture 5.. Nxd5 gives White a pleasant choice. The famous Fried Liver Attack with 6. Nxf7 is very popular and successful in junior chess. An alternative preferred by some authorities is 6. d4, when 6.. Nxd4 7. c3 b5 is a fairly recent try for Black. I would have said that Nxd5 was no longer played at higher levels but it was tried in Shirov-Sulskis (Tromso Olympiad 2014) when Black, who seemed unaware of ancient theory, lost quickly. I would have thought Shirov was the last person you should play 5.. Nxd5 against, but I guess there’s no accounting for taste.

5.. Na5 is, and has been for a couple of hundred years or so, the main line. I’ll return to this in a later post.

5.. b5 is the Ulvestad Variation, which usually transposes into my choice, the Fritz Variation. This was very popular for many years at Richmond Junior Club and scores well in practice (54% for Black on BigBase 2014), so it was a natural choice for me.

6. c3

Generally accepted to be the best move. A trap which I’ve used successfully online (and in games against small children at Richmond Junior Club) on several occasions goes 6. d6? Qxd6 7. Nxf7? Qc6 8. Nxh8? Qxg2 9. Rf1 Qxe4+ 10. Be2 Nf3#

6.. b5
7. Bf1

Looks strange, but again considered the best move here.

7.. Nxd5
8. cxd4 Qxg5
9. Bxb5+ Kd8

This is the main line of the Fritz variation. White now has an important decision: Qf3 or O-O.

10. O-O

10. Qf3 is the more popular option here (144 games on BigBase 2014 compared with 70 for O-O) but Stockfish considers Black to be fine after 10.. exd4 (much better than the more usual Bb7, which would probably transpose to my game) 11. O-O Rb8 or 11. Bc6 Nf4! 12. Bxa8 Bg4 when Black, despite being a rook down, appears to stand better.

Jochem’s choice seems to be a definite improvement, leading to an advantage for White in all variations.

10.. Bb7

10.. Rb8 11. Bc6 exd4 (or 10.. exd4 transposing) is probably a better try for Black, but, with his king in the centre, it’s still good for White.

11. Qf3 exd4

11.. Rb8 12. dxe5 Ne3 13. Qh3 Qxg2+ 14. Qxg2 Nxg2 15. d4 is another try, but leaves White with an extra pawn.

12. d3 Qf6
13. Qg4 Qd6

In this position Black has chosen Qe5 five times and Bc8 three times. Everything seems to favour White, though.

14. Na3 c6
15. Ba4 Nf6

The losing move. 15.. Nb6 was a better try, but still pretty unpleasant for Black. Now Stockfish chooses Qh4, planning to follow up with moves like Nc4, Re1 and Bg5 when it can’t find a good defence for Black. Jochem’s move is also good enough to win.

16. Qg5 h6
17. Qa5+ Qc7
18. Nc4 c5
19. Bd2 Nd5

Leading to a quick loss, but after 19.. Qxa5 20. Bxa5+ Kc8 21. b4! White opens up the c-file for an attack on the black king.

20. Qb5 Qe7

The computer move Ke7 was the only way to play on.

21. Rae1 1-0

So it looks from this game that the Fritz Variation, while offering good chances against an unprepared opponent, is pretty much unplayable for Black as long as White knows the theory.

Richard James

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Opening Blunders, Part One

This article will be a collection of short games in which either my opponent or I blundered early in the games.

All three of these chess games were played on ICC against a computer program called BethO. I have a bad habit of playing late at night or early in the morning making me too tired to play well. It is even worse when I am trying to eat or otherwise distracted while I am playing chess. This program tends to play goofy openings very quickly and I often fall into the trap of playing too quickly to match the speed of this program. Then, it will bite me with a move that I did not look for! Sometimes, when I am really tired, I will fall for the same trap more than once!

In this first game as White, I tried to play the Botvinnik System, but I messed up the move order when I got surprised by Black’s early Queen development and very aggressive play. On Black’s sixth move it put a Knight on d4 and I decided to develop normally. That turned out to be the beginning of the end for me. The White Knight on c3 is pinned to the White King by the Black Queen. I should have played either 7.Bd2 or 7.Qa4 to break that pin. Instead, I tried to castle out of the pin because I missed Black’s next two moves.

In the second chess game, I played an English: Bremen, reverse dragon and once again, I blundered early in the game. As White, my 18th move was weak because I traded my fianchettoed Bishop for a Knight and that left the light squares around my King weak. I also put the Black Queen on that diagonal. With the Black Queen on c6 my Knight on c3 was pinned to my unprotected Queen while that Knight was en prise. I could not save that Knight and thus I resigned two moves later.

Here is another chess game in which I blundered early against BethO while playing the White side of the English Opening. Once again, I played the Botvinnik System as White. This time, I played my more usual move order. Once again, Black puts its Knight on d4. Black also forfeits the right to castle by moving both of its rooks and then its King. This leaves the Black King in the Center. This should have altered my plan to attack on the Kingside and instead I should have opened up the Center. By move number 15 White has a special advantage across the board. Allowing the Black Rook to get to e3 was a mistake as was not protecting the White pawn on d3. It was bad enough that I gave away my pawn on d3 , but then I gave away the one on g3 too!  After that I resigned.

Mike Serovey

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Fishing Pole

We have a new member in our chess club. A 12-year-old beginner, he’s really enthusiastic and seems to have some talent. His parents, although knowing little about the game, are very keen to do everything they can to help him.

Half a century or more ago, I myself was in very much the same position. I was really enthusiastic about chess. My parents, wanting to support my enthusiasm but knowing very little about the game, bought me a book (The Game of Chess by Harry Golombek since you asked) so that I could teach myself. “If we try to teach you ourselves”, they said, “we might get it wrong and put you off.” I didn’t understand everything in it and got confused by the chapters on the openings when HG said that there were two moves you could play in this position, while it seemed to me, correctly, that there were many moves you could play. But it still stood me in good stead by giving me well-structured and accurate information about chess.

These days, though, children don’t learn through books, they learn through the Internet. And the Internet is, for all sorts of reasons, a dangerous place.

I like to give new members a game, so on his first visit to the club I took the black pieces against him. His first moves were, in order, e3, g3, Bg2, a3, b4, c3, d4. I asked him what he was trying to achieve in the opening. He explained that he was combining the ideas of his two favourite openings, the King’s Indian Defence and the Stonewall. It seemed that he’d come across online lessons on both openings (probably chosen because he liked the names) but completely misunderstood them.

A couple of weeks later he was very much into gambits. He wanted to play the Wing Gambit, the Halloween Gambit (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Nxe5) and, his new favourite opening, the Fishing Pole. Now I’m reasonably knowledgeable about chess history and literature, and one of my colleagues even more so, but none of us had heard of the Fishing Pole. When I arrived home I searched on Google and found this.

So what do we have? 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. 0-0 Ng4. It’s obvious to any experienced player that this move is nonsense. It may not be losing but it’s just a waste of time. 5. h3 h5. Now if White just plays a sensible developing move like d3 he’s going to be slightly better. Black’s just wasted time playing two fairly useless moves and broken a couple of basic opening tenets into the bargain. He’ll only lose if he takes the knight and gets mated.

We’re told this is a common trap in the Ruy Lopez. Is it? There are 14 examples of 4.. Ng4 out of almost 5.8 million games on BigBase2014. The position after 5.. h5 occurred only 8 times. So hardly common. And none of those 8 people fell for the trap by taking the knight (although Black’s percentage score after 4.. Ng4 is actually fairly respectable). Perhaps it has an extremely high success rate if you play it in online bullet games against weak opponents, but not in real games. Note also some of the comments, none of which are critical. “I will definitely try it every chance I get. Chess is wonderful and you don’t have to sweat!!” enthuses bsharpchess. KWash01 also approves: “All and all I like it and will most certainly try to use it.”

I’m disappointed that a very popular and reputable site such as chess.com should publish such misinformation, and that its users should be so uncritical. Of course if you play online blitz or bullet you’ll come across opponents who play junk like this extremely quickly and win games on time or through a cheap tactic, but it’s not real chess and not how we should be encouraging our pupils to play.

There are, I think, two issues. First of all, in chess, as in everything else, there’s a lot of ill-informed and dangerous rubbish out there. There are any number of videos, articles and e-books written by weak amateurs peddling their favourite eccentric opening or theory about chess. So if you’re trying to teach yourself you need to ensure that your sources are reliable. Asking an experienced chess teacher would be a good place to start.

You also need to learn chess in a structured way. If you’re learning openings you start with basic principles, then you learn the major openings before you look at less popular openings. If you want to emulate Abraham Neviazsky and spend the next 50 years of your life opening 1. b4 that’s fine, but I’d advise you to gain experience with mainstream openings first. I’d also suggest that practising tactics, learning about strategy and familiarising yourself with endings is, unless you want to play very sharp lines, more important than studying opening theory.

So we in the chess community need to promote structured chess courses for learners of all ages. We need to promote them actively and aggressively so that newcomers to the game learn correctly right from the start. Once you get the wrong idea about something or get into a bad habit it’s difficult to get out of it.

Richard James

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Towards Your Chess Improvement

The position below was taken from the game of Tarrasch against Berger, played in 1889:


White to move

At first glance it looks as if it is winning for white as you can play Rxd4, winning a piece.

First raw thought:
Rxd4 – cxd4
Qxc8 – Qxc8
Ne7+ and White wins a piece,

Normally a beginner, with some combinative knowledge, will instantly play this given combination and ended up in losing (as after Nxc8- d3 wins). The reason is that they don’t care to look at the position that arises after the combination which gives them a material advantage.

Lesson 1: Always try to see another half move ahead before playing a combination. The same thing has been recommended by Jacob Aagaard in his book Grandmaster Preparation: Calculation.

Second thought:
Before executing the combination I must bring my king closer so that I can stop the pawn advance. But then he can defend easily with Ra8 or Rb8 so I must stop here and look for other good moves. But now I see there is a chance to gain a tempo with:
Rxd4 – cxd4
Ne7+ (Changing the move order) – Qxe7
Qxc8+ – Qf8 and Qxf8 and gaining a tempo.

Lesson 2: Don’t give up in between.

Third thought:
I don’t get any material advantage then. Yet looking another half move ahead (lesson 1) I see that I now have a winning endgame position because the d4 pawn will fall soon and I can create outside passer on queen side.

Lesson 3: In the endgame a tiny advantage can be decisive and whatever combination you play must consider resulting endgames.

This position and the associated thought process shows that every position teaches you something. Progress is dependent on how much you learn and capitalise on it in future games.

Ashvin Chauhan

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Abraham’s Choice

Last Tuesday (9 September 2014) my old friend Abraham Neviazsky died suddenly at the age of 80. I’d known Abraham more or less since joining Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club in 1966.

Abraham was a remarkable character who had learnt chess as a boy in Lithuania, having been taught by the likes of Mikenas. His family had suffered hardship during the Second World War, and eventually found their way, via Poland, to Israel. Abraham later married an English girl and moved to England.

Abraham was noted for his devotion to Fulham football club, and also for his devotion to moving his b-pawn two squares at the start of the game. I played in the same team as him on many occasions and rarely if ever saw him play any first move other than b4. He didn’t play it in a particularly scary way, but was confident and experienced in the slightly unusual middle game positions he reached. In recent years he had also taken to starting his games with Black with a6 followed by b5.

The subject of opening choice has been a topic of debate recently on Nigel’s Facebook page. How should we choose our own openings and what advice should we give to our students, whether adults or children?

Should we encourage them, like Abraham, to stick to the same opening at all times or to vary their openings? And should we encourage them to choose main line openings or, again like Abraham, unusual openings?

I was an active tournament player in the mid 1970s, when the English Chess Explosion, along with the explosion in opening books, was getting underway. What I did was, in retrospect, exactly the wrong thing to do, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. Whenever a new Batsford opening book came out I’d rush to Foyle’s to buy it on publication day, skim through the pages excitedly and play it at the next opportunity. I’d get a bad position because I didn’t really understand the opening, decide it wasn’t for me, await the publication of the next opening book and repeat the whole cycle all over again. When I eventually realised that I was no longer interested in studying chess seriously I was left with the opening repertoire I had when the music stopped. I haven’t been happy with what I play, especially with White, but don’t feel confident playing anything else. I know a little bit about most openings but not enough about anything to play it against a strong opponent. I’m envious of my friends who’ve been playing the same non-critical openings for the past 40 years and know exactly what they’re doing at the start of the game.

But there are two reasons why I don’t really regret taking that approach. As a chess teacher it’s important that I know a bit about all openings so that I can find out how much my students know about them, so that I can avoid falling into the trap of only teaching the openings I play myself, and so that I can avoid giving them bad advice. A few months ago I watched two colleagues demonstrating a game to a class of eager students. The game started 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. d4 exd4 5. 0-0 Nxe4, which they castigated for being too greedy and moving a piece twice in the opening. In fact it’s main line theory and perfectly good for Black, but as neither of my colleagues played this line with either colour they were unaware of this.

There’s another thing as well. It seems to me that only playing e4 and never d4 is like only listening to Bach and never to Mozart, or only reading Dickens and never Jane Austen. Always playing b4 on your first move, then, must be like only listening to, I don’t know, Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf. From my perspective it would seem that, from his choice of opening, Abraham only experienced a small part of the world of chess. But I’ve known few people who played chess with so much enjoyment and enthusiasm as Abraham. He’d have liked a few more years, but suffering a heart attack while playing chess against an old friend is probably the way he’d have wanted to go.

Richard James

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Chess Preparation for the Busy Person

Before writing, I checked for other peoples’ views on how a busy person should prepare? But most of the time they suggest opening repertories which save time. Instead of this I have a different idea that does not involve the effort involved in changing openings, instead putting the focus on managing your existing repertoire more efficiently.

1. Create your own database: You put in tournament games, online games with a decent time control and correspondence games.

2. Select critical positions: Whatever opening systems you play, you can find some middle game positions that occur in your games the most and put them into different categories. For example winning positions, losing ones and those which are difficult to handle or uncertain.

3. Use the computer as playing partner: I am not big fan of using a computer for chess preparation but here you can use computers in more sensible way. First of you can select levels which you want to play against then play your selected positions as black and white in order to grasp the ideas and spot out tactical possibilities.

4. Using the database: Once you have plenty of experience in playing the selected positions, now it’s time to see how the experts play them. You simply search positions using any chess database and can go through the games.

The whole process is nothing but a way working on the selected patterns in more organised way.

Ashvin Chauhan

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Guidelines For Teaching Kids Endgames and Tactics

Once a student is familiar with piece movements, attacks, check and checkmate, my next topic is to teach him or her elementary mates. This was explained by Capablanca in his book Chess Fundamentals.

“The first thing a student should do, is to familiarise himself with the power of pieces. This can best be done by learning how to accomplish quickly some of the simple mates.”

In my view tactics and endgames should be learned in parallel. For tactics it’s best to proceed step by step to develop tactical skills very gradually and effectively. I have had very good results with that. But for the endgame I referred to many books before finally choosing ‘GM RAM’. This seems very strange at first as there are just 256 dry positions to work out without even knowing who is to move! But once you go though the you realise that the first 58 endgame positions are really essential. I realised that 70% or more of my endgame knowledge is based around those 58 positions, and these cover the following topics:

– Key Square
– Rule of Square
– Opposition
– Shouldering
– Pawn breakthrough
– Essential Rook ending (Philidor and Lucena)
– Queen vs. Rook endgame
– Essential Queen endgames

These elements are all vital for practical endgame play. And as there is nothing ready-made it can actually actually inspire us to work through them in our own way.

There is a problem when a coach focuses on the endgame. A few of my students see the endgame as boring, insisting that I teach them more and more tactics, but the problem is that they can’t understand that they are not knowledgeable enough to decide what is good for them.

Accordingly I have not changed my way even at the cost of some students going elsewhere for lessons. Quality demands sacrifices.

Ashvin Chauhan

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World Rapid Chess Championship

The FIDE World Rapid Chess Championship 2014 recently concluded with Magnus Carlsen winning, followed by Fabiano Caruana in 2nd place and Viswanathan Anand in 3rd.

There was an interesting endgame between the FIDE World Champion, Carlsen, and former World Champion, Anand. Carlsen uncharacteristically went wrong in an ending. In taking a pawn with his knight he missed a simple rook move that skewered his bishop and knight. Anyone can make such mistakes, especially in rapid chess, but when the World Champion does it, it’s called a blunder! Despite this loss, it wasn’t enough to stop Carlsen becoming the 2014 World Rapid Champion. You can view the ending play with commentary on the clip below.

Angus James

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Legal Aid

I’m sure you all know about Legal’s Mate (or, if you prefer, Legall or Legalle, with or without an acute accent). It’s named after François Antoine de Legall de Kermeur (1702–92), a French chess player who taught Philidor and was probably, until he lost a match to his pupil in 1755, the strongest player in the world. Sadly, the games of that match are not extant: all we have of his play is the one game with the mate that bears his name.

Here’s an example from the RJCC database: Ray Cannon giving a simul back in 1987.

Black resigned, seeing that 8.. Ke7 9. Nd5 was checkmate. He would have been better advised to capture with the pawn rather than the knight on move 6.

There are, as you would imagine, many games on my database where one player unwittingly moves the pinned knight, losing the queen. Beginners will see the attack on the knight, decide they don’t want to lose it (even though it’s defended twice) and move it away. Alternatively, as in the next game, a more experienced but impatient player will get excited about the idea of creating a threat and forget to ask himself the Magic Question.

Of course, this is a really important topic that we need to teach to young children.

Firstly, they have to understand the pin, recognise the typical position type and be aware that if they move the knight their opponent will be able to capture their queen.

Then they need to learn that sometimes, but not very often, they will be able to move the pinned knight with impunity because they, like Sire de Legall or Ray Cannon, will have a mate at the other end of the board. Apart from its practical merit, it’s always good to show children queen sacrifices. There’s a section on Legal’s Mate in Move Two!.

But there are two possible problems that can arise. The first one happens when they find the mate they’d planned was illusory. One of my earliest coaching experiences was a game at RJCC where, after we’d given the class a lesson on Legal’s Mate, one player did just this. It might possibly have been this game:

If this was the game I’m thinking of, Black played Ng4 fully aware that White could take the queen but hoping that he had a mate in reply.

Another thing that can go wrong is that the mate’s there but the sacrificer hasn’t considered what happens if his opponent doesn’t take the queen.

Here’s the start of another RJCC game from the same period:

The mate’s there OK if Black takes the queen on move 6, but he unsportingly captured the knight instead when White had nothing for the piece.

Failing to check for this sort of thing is not recommended, but in another RJCC game nearly 20 years later Black got away with his indiscretion:

A little bit of thought would have persuaded White to play 12. Nxe4, leaving him a piece ahead. So there you have it. Teach your pupils about Legal’s Mate: it’s an important part of their chess education. Don’t forget to provide some Legal aid as well. Teach them to ensure that the mate is actually there if their opponent snaps at the bait, and to check what happens if their opponent doesn’t take the queen. Perhaps a worksheet could be produced where the students have to tell you whether or not the unpinning sacrifice works.

Richard James

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Future Masters

Future masters have to start somewhere and most in England learn their skills on the weekend tournament circuit, in junior events and adult events. It used to be the case that it would take many years, even for the most talented, to become masters, but now things seem to have speeded up with access to databases and coaching.  It is remarkable how quickly juniors can improve now. One kid from nearby went from a beginner to the top player in the county for his age category in just 3 years. I guess he will have his first master title in another 3 years, such is the trajectory of his progression.

I recently had a look through some of my games in the 1990s, the decade when I first started playing chess. In 1996, I played in the World Amateur Championship in Hastings. I played a future IM, Thomas Rendle. He was only about 10 at the time, graded perhaps around 1500 elo, while I was about 1700 elo – although the ratings are a bit irrelevant as we were both heading for ratings hundreds of points higher. While I was a bit more experienced, he had the confidence of youth. He was in the habit of wearing bow-ties, as I recall. I thought he was a bit reminiscent of Walter, the arch enemy of Dennis and Gnasher. Anyway, he played the French Defence, which he still does today, although he’s no longer wearing the bow-ties!

In the game below he played well until he saw an opportunity to win two minor pieces for a rook, missing that his king would get into trouble.

Although I won this encounter, ten years later he become an IM while I hit a wall and stopped making significant progress. I like to think that the reason why I didn’t progress to master level was that I only came to chess as an adult, and annoying things like having to earn a living got in the way. While there is probably a little bit of that involved, it is probably more because I didn’t want to improve as much as he did and didn’t prioritise it enough. What are you prepared to sacrifice to improve? If you’re not giving 100% to chess, forget becoming a master. And watch out for the kids – some of them may be future masters!

Angus James

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