Category Archives: Intermediate (1350-1750)

Teaching Kids Through Classical Games (11)

Gruenfeld, Ernst – Alekhine, Alexander,
Karlsbad 1923

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Bg5 Be7

4…Nbd7 can also be played here as White can’t win the pawn on d5: 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Nxd5 Nxd5 7.Bxd8 Bb4+ wins piece.

5.Nf3 Nbd7 6.e3 0–0 7.Rc1

A well known tempo struggle begins; White wants to develop his bishop when he captures the pawn on c4 while Black refrains from taking on c4 until White’s light square bishop has moved.

7…c6 8.Qc2 a6 9.a3 h6 10.Bh4 Re8 11.Bd3 dxc4

Gaining a tempo, but now White has a majority in the center. It is truly said that chess is a generalized exchange.

12.Bxc4 b5 13.Ba2 c5

Freeing Black’s game with the c5 lever. 13…Bb7 14.0–0 c5 is also playable.

14.Rd1 cxd4 15.Nxd4 Qb6 16.Bb1 Bb7 17.0–0 Rac8

With a threat of Be4.

18.Qd2 Ne5

Improving the position of this piece by heading to c4. The knight was not doing much on d7.

19.Bxf6 Bxf6 20.Qc2 g6

Though the pawn structure around Black’s king is slightly weakened by this there is no way White can exploit it. A weakness is only a weakness if it can be targeted.

21.Qe2 Nc4 22.Be4 Bg7

22…Bxe4 23.Nxe4 Bg7 is also possible.

23.Bxb7 Qxb7 24.Rc1 e5 25.Nb3 e4!

Creating a nice outpost on d3 which can be used by knight.

26.Nd4 Red8 27.Rfd1 Ne5 28.Na2 Nd3 29.Rxc8 Qxc8

“Grünfeld, completely outplayed by his mighty opponent, correctly seeks his last chance in destroying Black’s powerful fore post on d3. Note that a protected knight on d3 or e3 (respectively e6 or d6) is normally worth an exchange because of its ability to paralyze the opponent’s activity and to participate in dangerous combinations.”
– Kasparov

30.f3?

Here Kasparov suggests 30.Nc3 as an improvement which might lead to pawn down queen endgame for White. If you have Chessbase you can check the variations given by Kasparov.

30…Rxd4! 31.fxe4

Black’s rook can’t be taken because of 31.exd4 Bxd4+ 32.Kf1 Nf4 33.Rc1 Qxc1+ 34.Nxc1 Nxe2 35.Nxe2 Bxb2 which gives a winning endgame with two extra pawns.

Pause for a moment and try to find the winning continuation for Black

31…Nf4!! 32.exf4 Qc4!

White is at least losing a piece.

33.Qxc4

33.Re1 Qxa2.

33…Rxd1+ 34.Qf1 Bd4+

And mate on the next move.

0–1

Ashvin Chauhan

Share

Teaching Kids Through Classical Games (10)

The most important single feature of a chess position is the activity of the pieces. This is absolutely fundamental in all phases of the game.

Michael Stean in Simple Chess

Jakob Rosanes – Adolf Anderssen
Breslau – Breslau -, 1862

1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5

The Falkbeer Counter Gambit.

3.exd5 e4 4.Bb5+ c6 5.dxc6 Nxc6 6.Nc3 Nf6 7.Qe2 Bc5!

Q – Is it good to sacrifice another pawn?
A – Black is offering another pawn in order to complete his development. After 8… 0–0 White will be behind in development and the fact that his queen and king are on the same file which gives Black some attacking chances.

8.Nxe4 0–0

Black is threatening to win a knight.

9.Bxc6

Q – Was it compulsory to take on c6?
A – Yes, as 9.d3 Nd4 or 9.Bd3 Re8 10.Kf1 Bf5 lose in a straightforward way.

9…bxc6 10.d3 Re8 11.Bd2 Nxe4

11…Bf5 and Ng4 are also winning. Can you work out how for yourself?

12.dxe4 Bf5 13.e5 Qb6

Compare the relative positions of the two armies. White is two pawns up but his army is poorly coordinated and passive. On the other hand all Black’s pieces are active and ready to launch an attack on the opposing king.

14.0–0–0?

More proof that chess masterpieces require the generous cooperation of the loser (Kasparov)! With 14. Nf3 white can prolong the fight.

14…Bd4

Very straightforward.

15.c3??

15.Bc3 is a better option though it is also losing. 15…Bxc3 16.bxc3 Rad8 17.Nf3 Qa5 (with threat of Qxa2) 18.Rxd8 Rxd8 19.Nd4 Qxa2 wins.

15…Rab8 16.b3

Forced.

16…Red8

16…Qa5 17.Kb2 Bc5 and 16…Bc5 17.Be3 Qa5 18.Rd3 Red8 are also winning.

17.Nf3??

Now it is checkmate in 5 moves. 17. Kb2 or 17.g4 are also losing, but not immediately.

17…Qxb3!!

Opens the b-file.

18.axb3 Rxb3 19.Be1 Be3+

Followed by checkmate on next move after 20.Qxe3 Rb1#. White resigned here.

0–1

Do remember this checkmate pattern with rook and bishop.

Ashvin Chauhan

Share

Opening Blunders, Part Three

This is another one of those correspondence chess games that someone started on ICC without asking me if I wanted to play. I won this chess game rather quickly because of an opening blunder.

Sometimes, I will open with 1.e4 against lower rated players because I am hoping for a quick win with a gambit. When I get the Sicilian Defense I usually transpose into the Botvinnik System. I did that in this chess game.

For the first 8 moves Black set up a pawn structure that was identical to mine. However, his King’s Knight was placed differently. Up to move 12 I got the moves and piece placement that I wanted. Then, Black blundered on move number 12 and dropped a Bishop. Black resigned on move number 16 because I was threatening checkmate and he could not get out of it.

Mike Serovey

Share

Short Circuit

I guess a Short Circuit might be what happens when Nigel S gives a simul. But it’s also the reason for many of my losses. My brain short circuits: it stops working before it gets to consider the correct move, either for me or for my opponent.

Watch what happened in this recent game against Martin Smith, who blogs elsewhere on chess art, literature and history.

1. e4 c5
2. c3 d6
3. d4 Nf6
4. Bd3 Nc6
5. Nf3 e5
6. dxc5 d5
7. exd5 Qxd5
8. Qe2 e4

Martin has chosen an unusual variation, but one which scores well for Black. Bg4 now is equal but this move loses a pawn.

9. Bc4 Qxc5
10. Ng5 Ne5
11. Bb5+ Nc6
12. Nxe4 Nxe4
13. Qxe4+ Be6
14. Bxc6+

Gaining a tempo and splitting his pawns, but probably not enough reason to trade bishop for knight.

14… bxc6
15. Be3

Nothing very much wrong with this but it would have been simpler to castle. I thought it didn’t matter much whether I played this before or after castling. I got as far as noticing that he had to move his queen to maintain defence of c6. I assumed he wouldn’t want to exchange queens after Qd5 so assumed he’d play Qd6. I failed to be thorough in considering every possibility, though, and the idea of Qb5 didn’t occur to me at all. If I’d seen it I’d have castled without further thought. I guess b5 is an unusual square for a black queen early in the game.

15… Qb5
16. a4

I could have played Nd2 followed by c4 and O-O but again it hadn’t occurred to me that he could play Qa6. I thought Qb7 was his only move.

16… Qa6
17. b4 Rd8
18. f3

A slightly dangerous plan. I mistakenly thought my king would be safe on f2. The right idea was 18. Na3 followed by b5 and eventually O-O, but to play that I had to notice that 18… Qxa4 would have been well met by 19. O-O followed by Nc2.

18… Be7
19. Nd2 O-O
20. Kf2 Rfe8
21. Qc2 f5
22. Rhb1

Continuing to pursue a faulty plan. I was planning to open up the queen side and win his a-pawn but was still unaware that my king would be in danger because his pieces seemed so far away. Moving my rooks into the centre would have led to a position where Black probably has enough for the pawn but no more.

22… Bd6
23. b5 Qc8
24. Kg1 cxb5
25. axb5 f4

This is where things get interesting. We were playing 35 moves in 75 minutes (with a choice of adjournment or adjudication if the game was unfinished when time was called) and at this point we both had round about 10 minutes to reach the time control – a minute a move.

I was very surprised by this move, having expected Bc5 instead. It turns out, though, that neither of those was the best move.

The move Martin should have preferred was 25… Bf7 (not easy to find with the time control approaching) when best play is 26. Bg5 Re2 27. Qd1 (not 27. Bxd8 Qc5+ 28. Kh1 Qe5) 27… Rde8. Black will pick up the c-pawn with advantage but no clear win.

I don’t think I’d decided what to do if he’d played 25… Bc5. 26. Nf1, according to the computer, is equal with best play, but 26. Bxc5 Qxc5+ is winning for Black.

26. Bxa7

I couldn’t see any reason not to take the pawn and indeed Stockfish gives this as its first choice (although in 10 moves time it will change its mind). Instead I could have played Bd4 (which we looked at briefly after the game), or, better still Bf2 when White has an extra pawn in a stable position.

26… Bc5+
27. Bxc5??

A fatal short circuit. For some reason I played this at once, not considering moving my king at all. Perhaps I thought I had to take because otherwise he’d take my bishop but I really can’t explain it.

27. Kf1 loses at once to 27… Rxd2! 28. Qxd2 Bc4+ with mate to follow.

27. Kh1 is an adequate defence, though. The extra tempo compared with the game makes a big difference There’s a long forced variation: 27… Bxa7 28. Rxa7 Qc5 29. Ra4 (Ra2 giving up the exchange might also hold) 29… Qf2 30. Rd4 (the point) 30… Rxd4 31. cxd4 Bf5 threatening mate, the queen and indirectly the rook. So White has to check. 32. Qb3+ loses because White has no back rank checks. 32. Qa2+ draws as the black king has access to f8. The winning try is 32. Qc4+ Kh8 33. Ne4 (meeting all the threats in one go) 33… Bxe4 34. fxe4 f3 35. Qf1 (after 35. Rg1 Black has a perpetual) 35… fxg2+ 36. Qxg2 Qxd4. At this point White has several tries but Black appears to be holding in all variations.

27… Qxc5+
28. Kh1

28. Kf1 again gets mated after 28… Rxd2!

28… Qf2

I’d seen this but thought I had a defence.

29. Rb2

29. Rf1, for instance, avoids the mate at the cost of the knight and, eventually, the game.

29… Bh3!

This was the reason why Martin played f4 on move 25.

30. Rg1 Bxg2+
0-1

On one level I lost because I blundered on move 27, caused by a short circuit. If I’d defended correctly I could have at least drawn the game. But Black could have played better himself at move 25. At a higher level, though, I lost because I failed to realise that my king was in danger once the dark squared bishops had been exchanged. If I’d castled on move 15 instead of short circuiting and overlooking that he could temporarily prevent O-O, this wouldn’t have happened. I could also have avoided the attack by centralising my rooks instead of playing on the queen side.

So (no pun intended) how can I stop myself short circuiting in this way in future? I suppose I could make some motivational notes on my scoresheet, or even on some other piece of paper. But then again, maybe not.

Richard James

Share

My Favourite Things

“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.” Jolly nice they are too, but they’re not MY favourite things.

I like to tell my students that my three favourite things are chocolate, especially plain chocolate, ice cream, especially chocolate ice cream and … pawn endings.

So imagine my excitement when I saw this position on the board while watching some games at Richmond Junior Chess Club the other day.

It was White’s move in a game between two of our (relatively) stronger players, round about 1200 strength. RJCC, sadly, isn’t what it was 20 or 30 years ago.

Let’s have a look at how the game continued.

It’s immediately clear to any experienced player that, with the kings on e3 and e5, White, to move, will lose, whereas Black, to move, will not be able to make progress. A classic case of the OPPOSITION. The players both told me after the game they’d heard of ‘the opposition’ but clearly White, at any rate, didn’t actually understand it. This is why you need worksheets to test that children have actually understood the lessons at a higher level.

Players of this strength tend to think statically rather than dynamically, which is why they’re stuck at 1200 strength. If you’re only thinking statically it will be natural to play Ke3. You know you want to defend your pawn so you move your king next to it. If you’re applying dynamic thinking to chess positions you’ll be looking ahead, calculating everything that moves, and then you’ll see the problem.

So White can draw by playing Ke2 (or Kf3). He needs to be able to play Ke3 when Black plays Ke5 so he needs to stay in contact with the e3 square as long as Black is in contact with the e5 square.

White, after some thought, played 1. Ke3? and Black of course replied with Ke5. Now White realised he had a problem and tried 2. Kf3 Kd4 3. e5. This is a good attempt, forcing Black to make a decision about how to capture the pawn. He chose to take with the king. When I asked him why after the game he told me he wanted to keep his pawns together. This seems to be to be a case of misunderstanding basic principles. Generally speaking you want to keep your pawns together to make it easier for you to create a passed pawn (you’d rather have f and g pawns v g pawn than f and h pawns v g pawn, for instance), but if you have the chance to create a passed pawn in the ending you should generally seize it with both hands. After 3… fxe5 Black wins very easily. Play it out for yourself if you’re not sure. Instead, 3… Kxe5? left White having to make a decision about which way his king should move.

Again, if you understand the opposition you’ll make the right decision and play Ke3, which, as long as you know what you’re doing, will lead to a draw. Of course you have to know exactly how to defend after 3. Ke3 f5 4. gxf5 Kxf5 but this is very basic knowledge which all competitive players of any age should know back to front. But if you don’t understand the opposition and you’re thinking statically rather than dynamically you may well do what White did in the game and play Kg3 instead. He explained to me after the game that he wanted to be near his pawn to defend it. This time Black made no mistake and the game continued 4. Kg3? Ke4 5. Kg2 Kf4 6. Kh3 Kf3 (you need to understand that in this sort of position the white pawn can be attacked from two squares but only defended from one square) 7. Kh2 Kxg4 and Black soon obtained a queen and delivered checkmate.

So much to learn from such a simple position. You can see why pawn endings are among my favourite things.

Meanwhile, you might be wondering what happened to my adventures with 1… e5. Well, I’ve had a few more blacks without facing 1. e4 again. I did reach a pawn ending, although not a very interesting one, in my most recent game, though.

Although there are lots of pieces on the board here both players should be thinking about a potential pawn ending as either player can trade queens and White can, whenever he chooses, initiate a mass exchange on d5.

I had the black pieces and had to make a decision in this position where White has just played 26. c4. At this point we probably both realised that any potential pawn ending would be drawn. I decided to trade queens at the point and centralise my king so we continued 26… Qxf4 27. gxf4 Kf7 28. Kf2 Ke7. Now White can continue to maintain the tension but instead chose to trade on d5. I then had to decide how many pieces to trade off. I could perhaps have kept one pair of rooks on the board, although it’s unlikely that the result would have been different. Instead I went for the pawn ending: 29. cxd5 Bxd5 30. Bxd5 Rxd5 31. Rxd5 Rxd5 32. Rxd5 exd5. It’s well known that this type of pawn ending is drawn. Black can never activate his king because of White’s protected passed pawn and likewise White cannot activate his king because of Black’s queenside pawn majority. We continued 33. Ke2 b5 34. Kd3 a5 35. a3 b4 36. axb4 axb4 37. Kc2 c4 (The only move to draw. Black has to threaten to create a passed pawn. 37… Ke6 38. Kb3 is winning for White.) 38. h4 h5 39. Kd2 Ke6 40. Ke2 Ke7 and my draw offer was accepted.

Richard James

Share

A Question of Time

In last week’s game, with more time and more ability I might have had to assess this king and pawn ending (with White to play) before choosing my move.

So what’s happening here? Let’s start by considering this position.

If Black has to move his king it’s clear he will lose. If it’s his move he will, if White is careful, run out of pawn moves first and White will win. But if it’s White’s move he can only draw because he’ll run out of pawn moves first.

So White’s aim is to reach this position with Black to move.

White needs to get his king in so, from the first diagram, obviously starts with 1. Kf3 Ke8 2. Kf4. After 2… Kd7 3. Ke5 White has achieved his aim, reaching the second diagram with Black to move. Now Black has a choice of pawn moves. We’ll look at each in turn.

After 3… g5 White can choose three pawn moves: one wins, one draws and one loses. The winning pawn move is 4. g4 h6 5. f3 and Black has to give way. If he prefers he can draw by playing 4. f4, for instance 4… gxf4 5. gxf4 h5 6. f5 exf5 7. Kxf5. Or he can choose to lose instead with 4. f3 h5 5. f4 h4 6. gxh4 gxh4 7. Ke4 Kxd6 8. Kf3 Kd5 9. Kg4 Ke4 10. Kxh4 Kxf4. Another way to draw is 4. Kf6 Kxd6 5. Kxg5 e5 6. Kh6 Kd5 7. Kxh7 Ke4 8. Kg6 Kf3 9. Kf5 Kxf2 10. g4 Kf3 11. g5 e4 12. g6 e3 13. g7 e2 14. g8Q e1Q

Returning to the second diagram Black might also play 3… h6. This time White has two winning pawn moves. 4. f4, which drew against g5, now wins. After 4… h5 5. Kf6 is now winning for White, while after 4… g5, 5. fxg5 hxg5 6. g4 forces Black to give way. 4. f3, which lost against 3… g5, also wins, meeting 4… h5 with 5. f4 and 4… g5 with 5. g4. But 4. g4, the only way to win against 3… g5, this time is only a draw after 4… h5. Another way for White to win is 4. Kf6, which was only a draw against 3… g5.

Back to the second diagram for the last time, and now Black plays 3… h5. It’s clear that 4. f4 wins at once. On the other hand, 4. g4 now loses after 4… h4 with a passed pawn (but 4… hxg4 only draws) and 4. f3 also loses after 4… g5 followed by 5… h4. 4. Kf6 this time is a win for White.

So to summarise from this position:

After 3… g5, g4 wins, f4 and Kf6 both draw, f3 loses.
After 3… h6, f3, f4 and Kf6 all win, g4 draws.
After 3… h5, f4 and Kf6 both win, f3 and g4 both lose.

So White can win with optimal play.

Back at the first diagram, then, after 1. Kf3 Ke8 2. Kf4 Black might want to consider alternatives. His best try is 2… g5. Now 3. Ke5 is met by h5, when Black’s passed h-pawn will distract White and enable him to draw. So White needs to play 3. g4 to prevent this.

We now need to consider another position.

If it’s White to move in this position it’s a draw with best play but Black has to get his timing right.

1. Kf6 Kxd6 2. Kxg5 Kd5 (Paradoxically, perhaps, 2… Ke5 loses because White gains an extra tempo: 3. f3 Kd4 4. Kh6 Ke3 5. Kxh7 Kxf3 6. g5 e5 7. g6 e4 8. g7 e3 9. g8=Q e2 10. Qg1 and White wins) 2. Kh6 Ke5 3. Kxh7 Kf4 4. f3 e5 5. Kh6 Kxf3 6. g5 e4 7. g6 e3 8. g7 e2 9. g8=Q e1=Q with a draw.

If it’s Black to move, though, White wins easily after 1… h6 2. f3 with Zugzwang.

Now consider what happens if White starts with 1. f3 h6.

This time it’s White who has to be careful if he wants to draw. Kf6 is now winning for Black so the only move is Ke4, to be able to take the opposition when Black takes on d6, after which he can make no progress.

2. Ke4 (2. Kd4 Kxd6 3. Ke4 Kc5 4. Ke5 Kc4 5. Kxe6 Kd3 6. Kf5 Ke3 7. Kg6 Kxf3 and Black wins) (2. Kf6 Kxd6 3. Kg6 Ke5 4. Kxh6 Kf4 5. Kh5 e5 and Black wins) 2… Kxd6 3. Kd4 e5+ 4. Ke4 Ke6 and Black, despite his extra pawn, only has a draw.

So, returning to our first diagram, after 1. Kf3 Ke8 2. Ke4 g5 3. g4 White’s primary aim is to reach the third diagram with Black to move while Black has to prevent this. So Black avoids 3… Kd7, instead playing Kd8, preparing to meet 4. Ke5 with Kd7. We now know that this is only a draw so White cannot achieve his primary aim but he still has a winning plan. His king has to take a journey to the queen side. He can win by playing Kc5 in reply to Kd7 (just as he can by playing Ke5 in reply to Kd7) or by playing Kc6 at some point. Black cannot prevent both these ideas.

White must continue 4. Kd4 (the only move to win) Kc8 5. Kc4 (again the only move to win: 5. Kc5 Kd7 is a draw) 5… Kb8 (or 5… Kd7 6. Kc5 and wins because it’s Black’s move) 6. Kb5 Kb7 7. Kc5 Kc8 8. Kc6 Kd8 9. d7 and wins.

Finally, we can conclude that the pawn ending is winning for White with best play (and that, returning to last week’s game, I could have won by selecting 38. Bd5). Chess is just too hard!

Richard James

Share

Let Me Introduce You To…

I had been travelling the tri-city circuit (Albany, Schenectady, Rochester NY) tournament play, and went with Dr. Erich Marchand to Cazenovia for the NY State Championship in 1963. If it hadn’t been for Erich I probably would not have played chess at all. He was the strongest player in Rochester for many years, until Ken Rogoff, and I believe he had the record for tournaments entered in a lifetime achievement; He was a great chess mentor, and a very sound player. ( He also was a very canny player of the French Defense, I think he liked Botvinnik ) You can see how honored he is by visiting here.

We used to practice together at his home, and i can still smell the tomato soup!  Well he introduced me to another Dr. – Dr. Schmidt, who had a few airoplanes in the hangar. He flew us around in a small twin engine Beechcraft before playing chess, and let me at the controls for a few minutes. It was quite a treat for a young player! Anyway, i was a bit unkind to Dr. Schmidt, as the following game testifies. Thanks to John Donaldson of the Mechanics’ Institute for finding this small prize winning game from that tournament.

The opening play of the game is probably not the approved play currently, but i had been reading some opening magazines and found a system in the Ruy I wanted to try out…

I think at the time Dr. Euwe had published some opening pamphlets, that were subscriptions;
and each month I would put the three holed pamphlets together bookwise.

In a more recent game, again I had been learning another variation of the Ruy that I wanted to try out, 5. d3, and got an opportunity against a redoubtable player. It seems all my favorite variations have to do with the dratted D Pawn!

If you were to take anything away from these two games, I would choose two basic principles:

1. Find a good chess mentor who is a chess mensch and
2. Prepare some openings you want to try out, you never know when they might come in handy.

Ed Rosenthal

Share

A Sinne of Feare

Last week I quoted with approval the dictum attributed to Amos Burn: “He Who Combinates is Lost”. Well, sometimes, but not always. Sometimes he who is too scared to combinate is lost. Sometimes he who is too scared to accept his opponent’s unsound sacrifices is lost.

Regular readers will have seen the end of this game a couple of months ago. We got there via some fascinating tactical complications.

The game was played in January last year. I had the white pieces in yet another Richmond v Surbiton encounter.

The opening was a King’s Indian Attack. I’d stationed my minor pieces on the king side and advanced my h-pawn to create a weakness while my opponent pushed his pawns on the other side of the board.

Noticing that my bishop on f4 was in line with his rook, I took the opportunity to put my knight on f6, so play continued 20. Nf6+ Bxf6 21. exf6 Qxf6. Black understandably didn’t fancy moving his rook and leaving the pawn on f6. It’s now decision time.

I’m a pawn down but can capture the rook on b8. Alternatively, I can play it as a sacrifice and go 22. Bg5, driving the black queen into the corner. I saw a possible further sacrifice and spent some time considering 22. Bg5 Qh8 23. Rxe6 fxe6 24. Bxe6+ Rf7 without coming to any conclusion as to whether or not it was sound. Meanwhile my clock was ticking away (we had 75 minutes each for the game) and I was getting behind on time.

As it happens, White has several ways to win from that position. The strongest plan involves getting the queen into play with Qd2/Qc1. The moves are easy enough to find if you’re a computer but not so easy for a human with limited tactical ability and a ticking clock. If I didn’t trust the exchange sacrifice, 23. Ne5 was also winning, and indeed any reasonable move was good.

In my heart of hearts I knew that 22. Bg5 had to be correct, and any reasonably experienced player, I’m sure, would reach the same conclusion. Better to be a pawn down with the black queen in the naughty corner than the exchange for a pawn up with no attack and Black’s queen side advancing. But the words of Omar Khayyam were resonating inside my head: “Ah, take the cash and let the promise go, Nor heed the rumble of a distant drum”. As someone who always makes cautious decisions I couldn’t bring myself to play a position a pawn down rather than taking the insurance of an extra exchange. I eventually decided to capture the rook. Now the computer tells me Black has adequate compensation for the exchange.

We continued: 22. Bxb8 Rxb8 23. c3, with a discovered attack on the knight which Black ignored: 23… bxc3 (Bb5 gave equal chances). I now noticed 24. bxc3 Rxb1 25. Qxb1 Qxf3 so rejected the recapture and focused on taking the knight. Being a natural pessimist I tend to assume that any sacrifice I might consider will be unsound while any sacrifice my opponent makes will be sound. I started seeing lines where Black was promoting a pawn and panicked. Something I often do in my games is to reject a move, forget why I rejected it and play it anyway, and this is what happened here. I forgot what I’d analysed a couple of minutes previously and recaptured on c3. But I was fearing ghosts. There was no reason at all not to play Qxa4. Black has several tries but they’re all very easy to meet as long as you keep your head.

Anyway, 24. bxc3 Rxb1 25. Qxb1 Qxf3 was played, with Black now having two knights and a pawn to my rook. I saw a way to muddy the waters, though, and played 26. Bxe6 with the idea of 26… fxe6 27. Rxe6 when I hoped I’d win either the knight on c6 or the bishop on a6. Now it’s Black’s turn to make a critical decision. The right choice is to play 26… fxe6 27. Rxe6 Qf5 (Nxc3 is met by 28. Qb6) 28. Qxf5 gxf5 29. Rxc6 Bb5 followed by Nxc3 when Black’s c-pawn will give him a winning advantage. But it’s not so easy to find this over the board and this time he assumed I knew what I was doing and preferred 26… Nxc3, hitting my queen.

Now I had the chance for a spectacular winning move. I saw the idea but didn’t get the execution right. The winning move is Bg4, keeping the vital e2 square under control. But instead I played 27. Bxd5 Ne2+ 28. Rxe2 Qxe2 29. Bxc6 Qe7 30. Qb8+. It was more accurate to play the immediate 30. Qb6, but to do that I had to see the variation. 30… c3 31. Qxa6 c2 32. Qc8+ Qf8 33. Be8 c1Q 34. Qxc1 Qxe8 when White should win the queen ending.

After 30… Qf8 31. Qb6 Black can play Bc8 when White has some advantage, but, for the second time in the game, he called my bluff, playing 31… c3 and daring me to capture on a6. Again, with not too much time left for the rest of the game, I panicked, believing that he’d seem some way of promoting the c-pawn. Just like on move 24, though, there was no reason at all not to take the bishop: White has several ways of stopping Black getting another queen. Instead I spotted the sequence 32. Be4 Bc4 33. Qxa5 Qxh6 34. Qxc3 Bxa2 when material is level but I hoped to make something of my passed d-pawn.

The game progressed with 35. d5 Qf8 36. Qc6 Qb4, abandoning the back rank and giving me my last chance. 36… Qb8 might have held on but now I have a win after 37. Bd5, although I have to find accurate sequences after both Qe1+ (the resulting pawn ending might be the subject of a future blog post) and Kf8. Instead, with very little time left, I played the ‘safe’ 37. Kg2. Now the position should be drawn: you can read about the tragicomic conclusion here.

John Donne wrote about his ‘sinne of feare’. In this game I was too scared to play a strong sacrifice, spending too much time thinking about it, and too scared to accept my opponent’s unsound sacrifices. Although you might think I was unlucky at the end I deserved to lose.

Richard James

Share

Burn’s Right

“He who combinates is lost.” I have a vague memory, many years ago, of seeing this attributed to Amos Burn, but have never been able to track it down. Google only comes up with an old Addicts’ Corner column on a very old Richmond Junior Club website, which, for some reason, still exists out there in cyberspace, in which we asked for help on this subject.

As someone who has never been very good at combinating this has always had a lot of resonance for me. My experience is that more games are lost by unsound than are won by sound combinations and sacrifices. And then there are all the combinations and sacrifices you consider and, usually correctly, reject.

As teachers and writers, though, we like to demonstrate games which are won by brilliant combinations. There are all sorts of valid reasons why we should do this, but, at the same time, kids often get the wrong idea of chess: that all sacrifices work and that making sacrifices is the usual way to win a game. Therefore they often go round making random sacrifices without having worked anything out.

There are essentially two types of sacrifice. We might sacrifice because we’ve calculated that we can force checkmate or win back the sacrificed material, probably with interest. If we’ve miscalculated, though, we’ll just find ourselves behind on material and looking foolish.

We might also make a positional sacrifice, giving up material because using our judgement and experience, we believe the strong position we get in return is more than worth the material investment. To play the first type of sacrifice just involves the ability to calculate, but positional sacrifices require more abstract considerations, which are difficult for young children.

When Morphy was playing the Aristocratic Allies in the Opera House he made a positional sacrifice of a knight for two pawns to gain a strong position, and he was entirely justified in doing so. At the end of the game he sacrificed his queen because he had performed an accurate calculation and worked out that by doing so he would force checkmate.

Let’s see what happened to a few guys who got it wrong.

Our first example shows an unsound positional sacrifice. Black, observing that White had left his king in the centre and advanced some king-side pawns, decided to play a random sacrifice of a bishop for two pawns on g4. It didn’t work out well for him, though, and, although White didn’t play optimally and he had some drawing chances at one point, he eventually lost the game some 50 moves later. Don’t try this at home, kids. if you go round doing this sort of thing you’ll lose far more games than you’ll win.

In this position White saw the opportunity for a rook sacrifice leading to checkmate and played 1. Rd7 Qxd7 2. f6, hoping that Black wouldn’t be able to find a defence to Rg7+. But he was mistaken as Black had two ways to meet the threat. He could just have played Rxf6, returning the rook, when White has no mate and the black a-pawn will soon decide the game in his favour. Instead he played 2… Qd1+ 3. Qxd1 Kxg6, which was even better. He now had two rooks for his queen, White had no attack at all, and his a-pawn was going through. White’s rook sacrifice just made him look extremely foolish. This is what happens if you miscalculate. Get it right. Every time.

In our final example White had already made a random rook sacrifice to reach a totally wild position. He should have tried Bd2, which would have given him some practical chances but instead sacrificed another piece with 1. Ng6 Nxg6 2. Qxf5, hoping that Black wouldn’t be able to meet the threats to his knight and king. But again he’d failed to calculate accurately and after 2… Ne7 3. Qf7+ Kd8 Black’s king was perfectly safe and White had nothing to show for his missing pieces.

I’ll repeat this again and again, kids. You really have to learn to calculate accurately if you want to be good at chess. You can’t just make random sacrifices and hope for the best.

I think you’ll agree that the three losers in these games played pretty badly. But who were they? Were the games played in some fairly low level junior tournament, or in one of the lower sections of a weekend congress?

Far from it. If you follow top level chess you’ll probably have recognised the positions. They all came from rounds 3 and 4 of the recently concluded Grenke Chess Classic played in Baden Baden, Germany. The first example was World Champion Magnus Carlsen losing to Arkadij Naiditsch after punting a rather dubious positional sacrifice. The second example saw Carlsen the beneficiary of a miscalculation by former World Champion Vishy Anand, who, to be fair, had probably switched to desperation mode after losing his a-pawn while trying to build up a king-side attack. The third example was played by the only slightly less stellar David Baramidze, who, rated a long way below the other competitors, decided to go for broke and went wrong in an extremely complex position giving Naiditsch another victory.

If players of that level can misjudge or miscalculate perhaps Amos was right and he who combinates, more often than not, is lost. Or maybe chess is just too hard for mere humans. But let’s get the right message across to our pupils: 90% of the time that sacrifice you’re considering is really not going to work.

Richard James

Share

Teaching Kids the Ruy Lopez (5)

Returning to my series of articles on introducing kids to the Ruy Lopez, let’s start with the moves 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4.

What could be more natural or logical than playing 4… b5, driving the bishop back again and negating the potential pin on the a4-e8 diagonal? Children are more interested in creating threats than putting pieces on good squares, and, at low levels, you’ll win a lot of games because your opponent doesn’t notice your threats.

You won’t read a lot about this sequence in openings books, though, because it’s not popular with stronger players, and on the rare occasions they play it they follow up with Na5, immediately trading off the white bishop at the cost of a tempo. Mamedyarov, Morozovich and Agdestein have all started this way a few times, when play usually continues 5. 0-0 d6 6. d4.

It’s very natural again, though, especially for children who are probably more familiar with the Italian than the Spanish, to continue with a developing move like Bc5 or Nf6 just as they would after 3. Bc4. The position might look similar but the analysis is very different. If you’re playing chess at lower levels, particularly in junior tournaments, though, it’s good to know what’s happening.

By and large, the differences favour White, mainly because the bishop is safer from immediate attack on b3 than it is on c4.

Let’s take a closer look.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 b5 5. Bb3 Bc5 as in the Giuoco Piano.

The first point is that White can play, if he chooses, the Fork Trick with 6. Nxe5. You can’t do this in the Giuoco Piano, of course (although kids sometimes try) because 6… Nxe5 will hit the bishop on c4 and you’re not going to get the piece back.

Alternatively, White can continue in Italian fashion with 6. c3 Nf6 7. d4 exd4. We have two strong options here. 8. cxd4 Bb4+ 9. Bd2 Bxd2 10. Nbxd2 is very pleasant for White. In Italy Black can equalise with d5 hitting the bishop on c4, but in Spain we can meet d5 with e5 giving us a nice space advantage. We could also choose 8. e5, which again is well met by d5 in Italy, while in Spain Black has to move his knight to an awkward square.

So perhaps Black should play Nf6 instead. The stats favour White in many of these variations, mainly because a lot of the games feature stronger players beating weaker players, but the engines seem to think Black’s position is not unreasonable.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 b5 5. Bb3 Nf6. Many kids like to play Ng5, going for the Fried Liver Attack. After 6. Ng5 d5 7. exd5 Nxd5 8. Nxf7 seems even stronger for White than the Fried Liver proper, but Black can do much better with 7… Nd4 to trade off the bishop when necessary. Regular readers will be aware than in Italy Nd4 seems to give White a slight advantage if he knows what he’s doing, but in Spain it’s absolutely fine for Black.

Instead, White might want to try 6. d4 here. The engines seem happy with d6 or Nxd4 for Black. 6… d6 seems rather passive but 6… Nxd4 leads to interesting complications. White plays 7. Nxd4 exd4 8. e5 and Black has to give up his knight because of tactics with Qf3 or Qd5. Instead he can play the strange looking computer move 7… c5, trapping the bishop with c4 when the knight moves away. 7. Bxf7+ has also been played, which looks scary to me but not to the engines.

If Black knows the Two Knights Defence, though, he’ll probably play the Italian move 6… exd4. Now White, as in the line above, can play 7. e5 as d5 is not an option for Black. Black is quite likely to play Ne4 when either O-O or the immediate Bd5 are possible for White. We’re now in a position which can arise from a variety of move orders. For some idea of White’s prospects in this sort of position, consider the following short game in which a strong player suffers a painful defeat.

There are one or two loose ends which I may or may not tie up later. One of the ideas of this series of posts was to make the point that most opening books are written by and for very strong players. They have little relevance for those of us playing club standard chess and no relevance at all for kids just starting out in competitive chess. Opening books for kids should be based on what happens in kids’ games, not what happens in grandmaster games. I’ve been asked many times to recommend a good opening book for kids at this level. My answer has always been the same: I haven’t written it yet, but at least I’m now working on it.

Richard James

Share