Category Archives: Intermediate (1350-1750)

ChessJournal App

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valer Eugen Demian

How Good is Your Endgame?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1… Kc6

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

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

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

Choose a move for White (free choice)

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

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

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

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

7. Kg4

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

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

7… b5

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

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

Choose a move for Black (free choice)

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

9… b4
10. axb4 axb4
11. Kf4

Choose a move for Black (free choice)

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

11… Kf6
12. Kg4 Ke5
13. Kf3

Choose a move for Black (free choice)

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

13… Kd4

Choose a move for White (free choice)

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

14. Ke2 Kc3
15. Kd1 Kxb3
16. Kc1

Choose a move for Black (free choice)

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

16… Ka3

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

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

17. Kc2 b3+

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

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

18. Kc1

Choose a move for Black (free choice)

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

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

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

95-120: Chess Superhero

70-94: Chess Hero

45-69: Trainee Hero

Below 45: Future Hero

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

Richard James

“Hodor!”

“We had this meeting with George Martin where we’re trying to get as much information as possible out of him, and probably the most shocking revelation he had for us was when he told us the origin of Hodor — or how that name came about…”
David Benioff

Our minds function in ways we still do not truly understand today and for the forseeable future. If we want a better future, we should change that as soon as possible. This week’s puzzle is an interesting illustration of that. What on Earth could connect in my mind a chess study from 1922 to a well known character from George R R Martin’s epic fantasy series “A Game of Thrones”? Well, on one hand I am a huge fan of the series. It has so much of a real life feeling to it, plus the twists and turns are so unexpected and interconnected, it is hard not to be atracted to it. On the other hand I liked the puzzle the minute I saw it. It amazes me more and more how chess artists from 100 or so years ago could come up with such beautiful ideas and unique solutions; to me they really deserve to be as famous as the top players we all known so well.

Please have a look at the position! The task is White to move and win. Give it a try and then compare your solution and thought process with the one below.


Step 1: Let’s look at it like we normally do and firstly we should remember studies follow a simple rule: all pieces on the chessboard serve a purpose. We can proceed verifying that together with the material situation assessment:
– Ka6 looks out of place
– Kd5 is in a perfect position in the center
– Nb8 looks oddly placed
– Bh4 is going to be important as it is the only piece capable to stop the a3-pawn
– the c2- and d2-pawns give mixed messages: they are in the way of Bh4, but also are in the way of the d4-pawn and Kd5
– the d4-pawn is first and foremost the protector of the a1-h8 diagonal
– the a3-pawn is the key; it is easy to feel that because it is passed and only 2 moves away from promotion
OK, now what can we do with this information? Well, we know we need to win and that means there is no way we can allow the a3-pawn promotion. This is an important observation!

Step 2: how do we stop that pawn? Ka6 and both White pawns cannot do much in that regard. That means it has to be a combination of Nb8, Bh4 and possibly those pawns (somehow) working together to do it. Hmm, that does not sound simple to put together; maybe we can look at simpler bits and pieces like when we put together the edge pieces of a puzzle:
– Nb8 can move to c6 or d7; moving to d7 does not seem to lead anywhere. Moving to c6 though could threaten Nc6-b4+ with stopping or winning the a-pawn. The only problem with that is Nb8-c6 gives up the Knight for free… Can we afford to drop the Knight like that?
– Bh4 needs a tempo from somewhere to get involved because a direct Bh4-f6 is ignored by Black and a3-a2 is deadly; hmm, dropping the knight could give us the tempo we were looking for since after Kd5xc6 the d4-protector of the a1-h8 diagonal is not defended. Oh, that is another important observation!

Step 3: we drop the knight to bring Bh4-f6 into the action. What do we do now after Black brings back its king to protect the pawn? Can you still “see” this in your mind or maybe have it on the chessboard in front of you? One way or another the picture gets clearer: Black cannot come back Kc6-c5 because now you can win the a3-pawn after Bf6-e7+. Black is forced to go back where it was (Kc6-d5). That is good, now we might be able to use the pawns I guess. Playing c2-c3 or c2-c4+ does not help:
– c2-c3 adds another piece along the critical a1-h8 diagonal and that is a killer even if it might get rid of the d4-pawn; you won’t be able to stop the a-pawn anymore and mating a king in the center requires firepower we do not have
– c2-c4+ drops the pawn and the d4-pawn survives as the protector of the a1-h8 diagonal
OK, we need to move the d2-pawn and the only possible move is easy to see.

Step 4: Black moves one step away from promotion and we realize stopping it becomes impossible. What now? Is it possible the solution could involve a checkmate? There is no other logical alternative, is it? In order to do that we need to tighten the noose around Kd5 and c2-c4+ does that. The d4-protector cannot take en-passant because the bishop would finally take control of the diagonal, stop the promotion and together with the remaining d3-pawn could win the game; at this moment we also see Kd5 must step aside in such a way to still defend the d4-protector and that is only possible in one way. Please look again at the position! Isn’t Kc5 now almost completely surrounded? Could you see the following decisive move coming from the most unlikely source? Remember, the goal is to either checkmate or stop the a-pawn promotion. Enjoy the solution.

Did you analyse blindly as you were reading the steps above? Could you follow it up correctly all the way to the solution? If you did, you have a sharp chess mind; keep it up by practicing often. Wasn’t Black’s desperate defence of the a1-h8 diagonal both heroic and tragic in the same time? The a-pawn managed to run away like in the movie, right? Sadly the outcome for the defenders was the same. OK, at least here the feeling we are left with is of joy by solving the puzzle… Hope you liked it. If you have any games and/ or positions you would like me to look at, please do not hesitate to let me know. I will gladly include them in my column for everyone’s benefit. Looking forward to your messages!

Valer Eugen Demian

Fourth Time Unlucky

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

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

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

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

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

4… h6

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

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

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

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

8. Bxf7+

A temporary sacrifice to set up a fork.

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

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

12… Ne5

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

13. Nd5 Nf6
14. Nxf6 Qxf6

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

15. h3

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

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

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

25. g4 Be4
26. Rxd6

… but there’s a serious flaw.

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

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

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

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

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

29… Rh1+
30. Kf2 Rh2+

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

31. Kg3 Rg2+
32. Kh3 Rc7

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

33. Re1

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

34… Nxg5+
34. Kh4 Nf3+

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

35. Rxf3 g5+

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

36. Kh3 Rh7+

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

37. Kxg2 Bxf3+
38. Kxf3

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

38… Qxe1

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

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

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

42. Qf8# 1-0

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

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

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

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

Richard James

Endgame Play (3)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The answer to the question above regarding the imaginary square of the white pawns: the left hand side corners of it should be c2-c8 because the h2-pawn would move h2-h4 in one move, meaning it could promote in 5 moves instead of 6. You must be aware of this detail with passed pawns still on their original square. Hope you liked it and used this opportunity to refresh your endgame knowledge. If you have any games and/ or positions you would like me to look at, please do not hesitate to let me know. I will gladly include them in my column for everyone’s benefit. Looking forward to your messages!

Valer Eugen Demian

Endgame play (2)

“Play the opening like a book, the middle game like a magician and the endgame like a machine”
Rudolf Spielmann

GM Susan Polgar is one of the best chess teachers in the World. Every day you can learn something new from her either by following her chess posts on social media or by studying her chess career. Every puzzle posted on her account gives the opportunity to learn something new or practice important concepts. I have already discussed the importance of the endgame a bit in a previous article; you can review it HERE

Today we look at another king and pawns endgame, this one courtesy of Susan. Have a look at it (White to move) and give it a try before reading on. It is important to know and play the endgame like a machine, without letting it play for you, so no engines please! Your brain is still very powerful and you need to use it.

Let’s follow the same pattern: test your instinct and write down what you think is the result of this endgame. Good, now we should identify existing elements in this position giving us clues about what we should do:
1. The extra pawn White has is doubled. This drastically reduces its value and it is not clear yet if its presence helps or not; a first thought might be the f4-pawn could offer an extra tempo? We will get back to it later
2. The opposition is of major importance in these endgames. Here the kings are far away from one another, so the most likely opposition to consider is going to be the distant opposition (3 or 5 squares between the kings). Do you remember why there is no 7 squares distant opposition? Just checking…
3. The pawns are blocked; that means White’s king must capture the f6-pawn to have a shot at winning. Remember that king and pawn versus king has a good chance to win if the strong king gets in front of its pawn
4. Kf3 has 2 ways to try approaching the f6-pawn; going in the center or going on the king side; now:
– going in the center gives Black a chance to use the distant opposition and hold the fort (see line A). It is easy to see and helpful to do a bit of blindfold play: 1. Ke4 Ke8 (distant opposition 3 squares apart) 2. Kd5 Kd7 (opposition). There is no other king maneuver here for white to trick black such as using the corresponding squares
– going to the king side is worth a closer look (see main line). It is obvious White gets deep into Black’s position before Black can counter, so here should be the break we are looking for
5. Doing some blindfold play on the king side we can see: 1. Kg4 Ke8 2. Kh5 Kf7 3. Kh6 Kf8 and here we should be able to win the pawn
6. Before moving on to see the solution, there is one more thing we could look at to get full value: still wondering if the existence of the f4-pawn is relevant or not (see point #1 above)? Do you have an idea by now or simply ignored it? No worries, I have included that in the solution (see line B).

Now we have all we need to figure out the solution. If you are very confident at this point, go over the solution to verify your thoughts; however if you are still unsure, go over it carefully with the purpose to understand it.

Hope you liked it. If you have any games and/ or positions you would like me to look at, please do not hesitate to let me know. I will gladly include them in my column for everyone’s benefit. Looking forward to your messages!

Valer Eugen Demian

100 Chess Tests, Basic Tactics

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Valer Eugen Demian

Raymond Smullyan – and a Postscript

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

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

Here’s his best known puzzle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black to play: choose your next move.

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

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

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

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

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

Richard James

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

It’s been a long time since I showed you any actual chess on a Sunday, so here, for a change, are two puzzles for you to solve. In each case I just want you to select your next move, and, if you want, consider what the two positions have in common.

In this position it’s White’s move.

And in this position it’s Black’s move.

Go away and solve them now before reading on.

It seems like I’ve spent most of my life telling children to use a CCTV when they’re playing chess. Look at every Check, Capture, Threat and Violent move both for you and for your opponent. Continue with all sequences of checks, captures and threats until you reach a quiescent position. As Cecil Purdy wrote, examine moves that smite.

If I’d been brought up on Purdy perhaps this would have become second nature to me. But instead I was brought up on Golombek’s The Game of Chess, which explained what to do but not how to do it. Golombek was an excellent writer and, it goes without saying, extremely knowledgeable about chess. But, unlike Purdy, he wasn’t really a teacher.

So, although I try to explain to my pupils how to think about chess positions, I’m totally unable to do the same thing myself in my own games.

These positions came from my two (at the time of writing) most recent games. I was White in both positions. You’ve probably found the best move in both positions by now: they’re not so hard if you know there’s something there, but easy to miss over the board, at least at my level.

In the first position I could have won a pawn with the simple tactic 1. Rxb7 Rxb7 2. Qc8+, but neither player noticed, either at the time or during the post mortem. The game was eventually drawn: you might possibly see all the moves in a future post.

In the second position, Black looks in trouble. His h-pawn is en prise, his f-pawn will be under pressure after a future Rcf1, and White’s centre pawns are ready to roll. But the great god Tactics comes to his rescue: he has 1… Rxd4+ 2. Kxd4 Ne2+, when Black is a bit better but White might just be holding. Again, fortunately for me and my team (we won the match by the minimum margin) neither player noticed the opportunity and I eventually brought home the full point.

Both tactics are essentially the same thing, aren’t they? You sacrifice a rook for a pawn, setting up a fork to win back the rook. If I were writing a tactics book (which, as it happens, I am), and included a chapter on sacrificing to set up a fork (which I probably won’t as it’s a very basic tactics book) you could well include both positions. In both games I didn’t consider the possibility at all, just seeing that the pawn was defended and not taking it any further.

Although I teach my pupils to look for this sort of thing in their games, it just doesn’t occur to me to do so myself. It ought to be second nature, but it isn’t, which is one reason why I’ve never been a very good player. I guess that, as I’m coming towards the end of my chess career, it’s too late to do anything about it now.

Richard James

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