Category Archives: Intermediate (1350-1750)

Recognise the Pattern # 33

Today we will see a typical sacrifice on f6 (f3) in order to destroy a king’s pawn cover. Earlier we discussed the classical Bishop sacrifice and Lasker’s double Bishop sacrifice which had the same goal.

Before sacrificing piece on f6 (f3) one should carefully evaluate the possibility of participation of his major pieces along the g- or h- file (rook lifts are a very typical theme here) and possible ways of declining the sacrifice.

Here is an instructive example:

Tal against Dmitry in 1970

In the given battle White has already lifted his rook and knight and is ready to jump on f6, while on the other side Black’s queen is already cut off from the main battle field although she is attacking the White rook. Therefore White’s queen has to leave the first rank with tempo, which is quite possible after opening up the h-file. In general White’s position has great potential.

Here Tal played:

18. Nf6+!! gxf6 forced
There is no way to decline the sacrifice. If Black plays 18…Kh8 then Nxh7 is simply enough to win.

19. Bxh7+!!

As discussed the White queen needs to leave the first rank with a gain of tempo.

19…Kh8

Black is preventing White’s queen being activated with check. If Black plays Kxh7 then Qh5+ followed by Rg1! wins

20. Rh4 Kg7 21. Qc1

Threatening Qh6 mate.

21…Ng8 22. Bxg8

Black resigned here in view of following lines:
a) If 22…Kxg8 then 23.Rb3.
b) If 22…Rxg8 then 23.Qh6.

Otherwise there is no defence to Qh6 except by surrendering the queen on b1.

Work for readers!!
It is recommended that you study the following games on the same theme:
Nunn against Craig William in 1986
Petrosian against Larsen in 1960
Spielmann against Hans Gebhardt

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

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

Recognise the Pattern # 30

In my last article we saw how to break down fianchetto castled position by opening up the h-file with the help of h4-h5 lever, but sometimes your opponent can physically block the h file with the piece (usually a knight on h5/h4). In such situations it is often a good idea to sacrifice an exchange in order to open lines against the opponent’s monarch. Before sacrificing like this there is one very crucial point one must consider; there are more chances that exchange sac won’t work if your opponent can protect h7 (h2) reasonably.

Here is an example that covers the theme.

Kasparov against Piket in 1989

Q: In this position Black played 31…Bd5. How would you evaluate this move?

A: This bishop move is a mistake as it allows exchange sacrifice on h5, otherwise it wasn’t possible even with a free move for White. For example 31…a6 (just a random move) 32. Rxh5 gxh5
33. Qh4 and now Bd7 threatening to take on f5 then to protect the h7.

Let’s get back to game.

31…Bd5? 32. Rxh5! gxh5 33. Qh4

33…Qc4

Now the …Bc6-d7 idea won’t work because of Qh3 followed by Re1>h2 threat.

34. Qxh5 Qf1+

Other moves like Rd8 or Rc8 won’t work because of Qh6! followed by Rh3.

35. Kb2 e5 36. Qh6!!

Threatening f6! & the knight is untouchable because of pin along the e file. The position is lost for Black.

36…Kh8

If 36…f6 then 37. gxf6 Qg2 38. Ne2 wins.

37. g6

and Black resigned after 3 more moves.

Ashvin Chauhan

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

Recognise the Pattern # 29

Today we will see a typical way of breaking down a fianchetto formation. Here are some points to be considered while attacking fianchetto formation:
1) Try to exchange the fianchettoed bishop which will create a long term weakness around the opponent’s king.
2) Open up the h-file by advancing the h-pawn, sometimes you need to sacrifice to open it, I will discuss this pawn being blocked in my next article.
3) A pin on f7 (f2) can play a very crucial role
4) Try to stabilise the center, which is important as a wing attack can often be answered by a central counter attack.

These are the ideal conditions but it is not compulsory to carry out all of it before proceeding for an attack.

Steinitz against Mongredian in 1863. – White to move


Question: Is it the right time to attack with h4-h5 lever in order to attack the finachetto formation?

Solution: Most of the preconditions have been fulfilled except the exchange of fianchettoed bishop. Steintitz went for a kill as follows:

10. h4!

The idea is to open the h-file with the h4-h5 lever.

10…Nd7

If 10…h5, in order to prevent White from opening up h file, then 11. Ng5 is very unpleasant.

11. h5 c5 12. hxg6 Nxg6

If 12…hxg6 then 13.0-0-0 followed by Ng5, with the idea of Ne6, is very dangerous for Black.

13. 0-0-0

Bringing the rook into the game and protecting e4.

13…a6 14. Ng5 Nf6

It seems that Black is well protected but Black missed a blow. Can you see it?

15. Nxh7!!

Of course you often need to sacrifice something in order break the opponent’s defence when your pieces are placed optimally.

15…Nxh7 16. Rxh7 Kxh7

16. Qh5 was even stronger than the text move.

17. Qh5 Kg8 18. Rh1!

Threatening checkmate.

18…Re8 19. Qxg6

The point of whole combination.

19…Qf6 20. Bxf7+ Qxf7

Now 21. Rh8+ wins the queen and game. Black resigned after one more move.

Ashvin Chauhan

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

He Who Hesitates

“He who hesitates is lost”, according to the old proverb, dating from long before the days of gender-neutral language.

In chess this is often true, but more often, at least in my games, those who hesitate are drawn. At my level this happens over and over again. You have a good position. You know what you ‘should’ play, but you get nervous, you start thinking ‘what if it doesn’t work’, the clock’s ticking away and you have to make a decision. You chicken out and play something which looks vaguely safe instead. I’m sure there are many of us who would get better results if only we had the courage of our convictions.

Witness the following game, in which I had the black pieces against an opponent of similar strength to myself, who I knew from previous encounters was an uncompromising player who would guarantee me an interesting game. He insisted, as was his right, on the ‘slow’ option: we had to play 35 moves in 75 minutes, with time called after 2½ hours. The league rules stipulate that, if the game is unfinished, the player whose turn it is to move can adjourn and continue at the opposing team’s venue or propose an adjudication. The other player can then agree to an adjudication or insist on an adjournment, travelling to his or her opponent’s club. (You may well think it extraordinary that here in 2016 we’re still playing chess in this way with such Byzantine rules, but that’s the Thames Valley League for you.)

1. d4 Nf6
2. Nf3

This gives me a problem as I prefer to fianchetto my king’s bishop in systems when White refrains from c4. The problem is that I have rarely played the King’s Indian Defence with black, and, although I used to play the Grünfeld regularly, gave it up more than 40 years ago. I rather suspect theory has moved on since then.

2… g6

Hoping he won’t play 3. c4, but…

3. c4 Bg7
4. Nc3

So I have to decide: King’s Indian, Grünfeld or perhaps c5 with some sort of Benoni. Mentally tossing a coin, I choose the first option.

4… O-O
5. e4 d6
6. Be2 e5
7. O-O

He goes for the main line. I’m not up to date with current theory after Nc6 so I select a less common variation which, to the best of my knowledge, is playable, and hope he doesn’t know any more about it than I do.

7… exd4
8. Nxd4 Re8
9. f3 c6

Nc6 is also popular here. Now White’s usual choice is Kh1, to move off the open diagonal.

10. Nc2 Be6

A natural developing move but Na6 is more often played and scores better.

11. Be3 d5

Going for the thematic pawn break, but I suspect White stands better in the resulting position.

12. cxd5 cxd5
13. e5 Nfd7
14. f4 Nb6

This position has occurred several times in practice. Black could also play Nc6 here, as 15. Nxd5 is hit by Ndxe5 when Black stands better.

15. Nd4 Nc6
16. Ncb5

Still fine for White, although Black won both games reaching this position on my database.

16… Bf8
17. b3

The first hesitation, perhaps, although it’s natural to prevent the black knight landing on c4. The engines all prefer Nxe6 followed by Rc1. It looks rather unnatural to me to trade off a strong knight for a bad bishop, but I’m not going to argue with them.

17… Nxd4
18. Nxd4 Rc8
19. Qd2

Another hesitation. White plays a natural ‘improving’ move rather than going for the pawn break with f5, which would have given him a strong position.

19… Nd7
20. Kh1

And again. He might have preferred 20. Bd3, taking control of the e4 square and preparing to meet 20… Nc5 with 21. f5.

20… Nc5
21. Bf3 Qd7
22. h3

Yet, again White hesitates and has now lost his advantage. Here the engines want to play Nxe6 followed by either Rac1 or g4. White must play actively to prevent Black putting a knight on e4.

22… h5

Now it’s my turn to hesitate. I wanted to prevent g4 and was worried, without any good reason, about the e-pawn being weak after a trade on e4. Instead 22… Ne4 23. Bxe4 dxe4 is equal, with a possible perpetual after Bxh3 if White tries something active.

23. Rad1 b6

Again – Ne4 is about equal.

24. Bf2

Again – f5 is good for White.

24… Rc7

Again chickening out of Ne4. I’m sure we both knew the right moves to play but wimped out of playing them at every opportunity.

25. Rfe1 Rec8
26. Rc1

Natural, I suppose, but setting up various tactical possibilities for Black on the c-file. The engines now recommend 26… Ne4, when Black will have enough compensation if White snatches the pawn, or 26… Nd3, but instead I wimp out again and move my knight to an unfavourable square on the edge of the board.

26… Na6
27. Rxc7 Rxc7

Giving White a tactical opportunity. Instead Nxc7 is correct.

28. Rc1

Missing 28. Nxe6 (it’s easy to miss tactics starting with a seemingly antipositional move) when 28… fxe6 is not possible because of 29. Qd3, hitting both a6 and g6.

28… Bc5
29. Rd1

As we approach the time control White allows a tactic which I manage to spot.

29… Bxh3
30. Nb5

Not the best reply. One improvement is 30. Be2 (hitting the loose knight on a6) 30… Bg4 31. Bxa6 Bxd4 32. Qxd4 Bxd1 when Black has an active rook and a pawn against White’s two bishops. The engines claim equality. Needless to say I hadn’t seen any of this at all, but in a complex position with neither player having too much time left inaccuracies are inevitable.

30… Qxb5
31. gxh3 Bxf2
32. Qxf2 Nb4

32… Qd7, to prevent f5, with a slight advantage to Black.

33. Be2

33. f5 gives White enough counterplay for equality.

33… Qc5
34. Qg3

A mistake as we approach the time control…

34… Kh7

And the final hesitation, playing a ‘safe’ move rather than 34… Qc2 with Rc3 to follow and the black major pieces infiltrate.

35. f5

On the last move before the time control White finally manages to play the thematic pawn break which he might have played on move 19, or on various other occasions thereafter.

35… Qc3

The best reply. Time was called and, as it was my opponent’s move he had the choice of adjourning and playing on at my club or proposing an adjudication. By now the other games had finished and my team had secured enough points to win the match so there was nothing except honour at stake. He proposed an adjudication, and, having better things to do with my life than spend a couple of days analysing the position and another evening travelling to his club to play it out, accepted his proposal. (I’d probably have asked him to seal a move and played on if the match had depended on it.)

I consulted the engines when I returned home and decided that after what appeared to be best play for both sides: 36. Bf3 Nd3 37. e6 Ne5 38. fxg6+ fxg6 39. Rxd5 Rc5 40. Rxc5 Qxc5 I was going to win the e-pawn and reach an ending with an extra pawn, but, with the queens still on the board it was unlikely to be enough to convince the adjudicator to give me a win. So I emailed my opponent and proposed a draw, which was accepted. Of course if I’d asked him to seal he might not have found the correct move. With more courage and determination I might have won the game. But with more courage and determination, and by playing f5 at the appropriate moment, my opponent might also have won the game, so I guess a draw was the fair result.

Richard James