Category Archives: Intermediate (1350-1750)

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Knightmare

More on the Ruy Lopez later, but you might be wondering what happened to my adventures with 1…e5.

Since I last posted in this series I’ve had three more games with Black, facing d4 twice and f4 on the other occasion.

Here’s my most recent game against d4, in yet another Richmond v Surbiton match. This time I was playing for our A team against their B team, facing a slightly lower graded opponent. A positional battle ensued.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 Nc6

For many years my main defence to 1. d4 has been the Dutch, but I’ve also played this on a few occasions. I’d resolved to play it more often this year. If White plays 3. Nc3 I’m planning to play an immediate e5, meeting d5 with Ne7, Ng6, Bb4 or Bc5 depending on what White does in the meantime, and then d6. Most players at my level haven’t studied this rather unusual defence, which scores very well for Black in the databases. In my previous 1. d4 game, playing for Richmond B against Wimbledon A, my opponent, Russell Picot, graded some way above me, clearly had studied it and came up with a very dangerous line. A few days before our game he’d partnered Kramnik against Giri in the final of the Pro-Biz Cup at the London Chess Classic so perhaps Big Vlad had given him some tips.

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 Nc6 3. Nc3 e5 4. d5 Ne7 5. Nf3 Ng6 6. h4 (This scores 71% for White in BigBase 2015, whereas the most popular move, e4, only scores 27.5%.) 6… h5 7. Bg5 Be7 8. e3 Ng4? (Careless, allowing a strong reply. I should have played d6 instead.) 9. d6 Bxg5 10. hxg5 cxd6 11. Bd3 Nf8? (Ne7) 12. Qc2 (Bf5!) 12… g6 13. O-O-O a6 14. Be4 Rb8 15. Kb1 b5 16. cxb5 Bb7? 17. Bxb7 Rxb7 18. Ne4 Rb6 19. Nxd6+ Rxd6 20. Rxd6 axb5 21. Rd5 Ne6 22. Nxe5 Nxe5 23. Rxe5 O-O 24. f4 Qb8 25. Rc1 Qb6 26. Qb3 Rb8 27. Rd5 d6 28. Qd3 Nc5 29. Qd4 Ne6 30. Rc8+ Nf8 31. Rxf8+ Kxf8 32. Rxd6 Qc7 33. Rd7 1-0

3. Nf3

White prevents an immediate e5 so Black’s plan is e6 followed by Bb4, d6 and e5.

3… e6
4. g3 Bb4+
5. Bd2 Bxd2+

We’ve now transposed into a variation of the Bogo-Indian Defence. I showed the game to a friend of about 2200 strength who suggested this was a wasted move and that I should have preferred Qe7. In the main lines of the Bogo-Indian, yes, but with a knight on c6 I think this move is fine. If my opponent plays d5 in reply to my e5 I’d really like e7 for my knight. In a closed position such as this the lost tempi (I’m also spending two moves getting my pawn to e5) don’t really matter. My other line of thinking was that, as I’d have less space if my opponent met e5 with d5, I wanted to trade off my potentially bad bishop, and I’d rather trade it for a bishop than a knight, which I’d have to do if he played Nc3 followed by a3.

6. Nbxd2 O-O
7. Bg2 d6
8. Qc2 e5

Now White has to make a decision about the pawn formation. Should he close the centre with d5 or capture on e5 and open the d-file? Perhaps he should have chosen d5 but either way I’m very comfortable.

9. dxe5 dxe5
10. Rd1 Qe7
11. e4?!

I guess he was worried about my playing e4 at some point but this really isn’t what he wants to do, blocking in his bishop and giving me an outpost on d4.

11… h6

Just waiting, and preventing Ng5 should I play Be6. I could well have played Bg4 immediately, though.

12. O-O Rd8
13. Nb1?!

Trying to redeploy his knight to d5 but instead he lets my knight reach d4. My plan now is obvious.

13… Bg4
14. Rxd8+ Rxd8
15. Nc3

He might have admitted his error and gone back to d2 instead.

15… Bxf3
16. Bxf3 Nd4
17. Qd3 c6

Taking d5 away from his knight. We’ve now reached a pawn formation which can arise from a King’s Indian Defence, or, with colours reversed, from a Ruy Lopez where White’s played c3 and d4, Black’s played d6 and c5, and White’s traded pawns on c5. This formation favours Black slightly anyway, and here my knight has already reached its dream square. In addition I was, unusually, well ahead on the clock (we were playing 35 moves in 75 minutes).

18. Bg2 Nd7
19. Kh1 Nc5
20. Qb1 a5
21. f4?!

Running short of time, it’s understandable that White wants to open the position and free his bad bishop on g2. Capturing didn’t occur to me at first, as you usually try to keep the position closed with a knight against a bishop, but I wasn’t sure how to make progress if he answered, say, f6 with f5, taking the important staging post at e6 away from my knights. But then I noticed that I could follow up the trade with Qh4, when my knights have more squares, my rook will be able to invade down the d-file at some point, and his king is not looking very secure.

Instead he would have done better to wait with something like b3 and see how I was planning to improve my position.

21… exf4
22. gxf4 Qh4
23. e5?

He’s trying to give his bishop some air, but this is just losing. Now my knights come in on f4 and d3 with decisive threats. He should have tried f5 instead, to keep my knights out of e6.

23… Nde6
24. f5 Nf4
25. Qc2 Ncd3
26. e6?

An oversight in time trouble, but after 26. Qd2 Nh3 27. Bxh3 Qxh3 28. Qg2 Qxg2+ 29. Kxg2 Nxb2 Black’s going to mop up several of the overextended white pawns. Now a rather improbable knight fork on wins a piece.

26… Ne1
27. exf7+ Kxf7
28. Qe4 Nexg2
29. Rxf4 Nxf4
0-1

Quite an easy game to play as my opponent made some positional errors.

(My apologies to my friends at Streatham and Brixton Chess Club for borrowing the title of their 1970s annual.)

Richard James

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Victor Was Not Victorious

Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s I played three or four rated chess games against Victor E. Hakala. I lost one of those chess games and I won the rest of them on time forfeit. A search on Google for one of his photographs informed me that Victor died back in 2001. I was unable to find a photograph of Victor, but I remember that he bore a strong resemblance to Grandmaster Pal Benko. Victor E. Hakala also had Benko’s tendency to get into time trouble, but not GM Benko’s overall talent!

In the chess game below from 1990, Victor played the Colle System. This is one of the few times that I have won against it, but this win was on time forfeit. All of my wins against Victor E. Hakala were on time forfeit! The advantage changed hands several times during this chess game and we both missed a few things! When Victor started to get into time trouble it seems that I just tried to run him out of time and that I stopped looking for the best moves on the chess board. Victor completed his thirtieth move and then his flag fell before I could reply. I failed to note what the time control was for that chess game.

Victor’s fourth move was a novelty and is not in my database of games. It seems that he was the only one to try that move against me. His fifth move was not the best and it brought his Queen out early. I continued to develop normally. I castled early while White delayed castling for a few moves. On move number ten I started to gain time by harassing White’s Queen and Bishop. On move number 15 I failed to prevent a move that White missed. My seventeenth move and White’s eighteenth were both errors because we both missed a good  move for White. By move number 21 we had reached equality. On move number 25 White recaptured with the wrong Knight and I missed the win of a pawn. I had several chances to take that pawn and I never did. The position was even when Victor overstepped the time control.

Mike Serovey

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Checkmates in Queen Endings

Perhaps my all time favourite chess book is Chess Curiosities, by Tim Krabbé. There’s a chapter in this book about strange occurrences in queen endings.

The other day I was looking at games played by some of my friends in the recent London Chess Classic FIDE Open when I came across something which reminded me of this chapter.

Former RJCC star Richard Cannon was being outplayed in a queen ending by an opponent rated 300 points below him when this position arose.

It’s been a long struggle but now, on move 89, White is on the verge of victory with three extra pawns, one of which is about to queen. He can win at once with Kf7, when Black has to trade queens to avoid immediate mate. Instead he played 89. Qh5+, which is still winning easily. After 89… Kg8 he could centralise his queen again with 90. Qd5+ and then push his pawn to d7. But instead he pushed at once: 90. d7 Qa3+ 91. Ke6 Qa6+. Now White regrets leaving his queen offside. He’s either going to lose his d-pawn or lose his queen and promote his d-pawn (after, say, 92. Kf5 Qb5+ 93. Kf4 Qxh5 94. d8=Q+) when he’s going have to start the winning process all over again. Not fancying this he tried to keep both his pawn and his queen by playing 92. Ke7, only to find that, completely out of the blue, he’d lost his king instead when Black produced 92… Qf6+ 93. Ke8 Qf8# giving Richard a rather fortunate point.

It’s very easy to make this sort of mistake, and Krabbé gives examples of strong grandmasters suffering embarrassing defeats in this way. It’s been a long game, you’re feeling tired, you’re running short of time or perhaps playing on increments. You’ve long since switched out of Middle Game Mode and into Endgame Mode where you’re thinking about king activity and assuming there won’t be any possibility of checkmate.

I know from personal experience just how easy it is because almost a year ago I lost a game myself in the same way. There were some fascinating tactics earlier in the game, which I might share with you some other time, but for now consider this position.

I had the white pieces and, just as in the previous example, was trying to promote my d-pawn in a queen ending. The problem was that my king had nowhere to hide so I could expect no more than a draw. With not much time left I pushed the pawn here after which my young opponent swiftly demonstrated a mate in four: 44. d7 Qh1+ 45. Kg4 f5+ 46. Kf4 Qe4+ 47. Kg5 h6#

Note that the mate only worked because 44. d7 unpinned the black f-pawn by cutting off the white queen. Instead any sensible move such as 44. Qe7 would have drawn as long as I didn’t run out of time.

So I looked through some games played in 2013 in BigBase 2014 to see what else I could find.

I guess White was a bit unlucky in this one. You might think someone with a 1988 rating should have done better, but if you’re sitting there with the clock ticking it’s not so easy. Black has just delivered a check and White has to consider how to parry this. With 71. Qf3 he’d have had every chance of exploiting his two extra pawns but instead he played 71. Kg4 Qxg2+ 72. Kxh4 confident that Black didn’t have any dangerous queen moves. Correct, but instead he found a dangerous king move: 72… Kh6 with the deadly threat of g5#. Seeing that 73. Qg3 would be met by 73… g5+ 74. Kg4 Qxe4+ and mate next move he resigned.

In this example Black has a queen and a pawn on the seventh rank against his opponent’s queen. White’s been checking him for the last ten moves so he now decided to head for safety in the south east corner of the board, playing 92… Kg3. Not a good idea: suddenly White mates in two moves with Qf4+. Easily done, but Black, with a rating of 2084, is, by most standards, a pretty strong player.

Even grandmasters are not immune from this sort of thing. Here’s Kazakh GM Anuar Ismagambetov in action. He’s a pawn down but as his queen is securely blockading the extra pawn there should be no way his opponent can make progress.

75. Kc6 is fine for a half point, but 75. Kd6 Qb6# left White looking rather foolish. Ismagambetov? I’m not sure whether or not his gambit is off but in this game his ending certainly was!

So next time you reach a queen ending, don’t forget to look out for snap checkmates. Learning some queen and pawn mating patterns is also going to help you.

Richard James

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When to Sacrifice

It’s important to learn about the idea of sacrificing a piece for a pawn or two in front of the castled enemy king. There are many books which will show you examples of this, and all teachers enjoy showing these games to their students.

But if you read these books and follow these lessons you may well get the idea that such sacrifices always work. In real life, of course, they don’t, but it’s much more entertaining to demonstrate a short sacrificial win than a long game where the defender refutes the sacrifice and wins the ending with his extra piece.

Sometimes you can calculate a forced win. Sometimes it will be obvious to an experienced player (but not necessarily to someone less experienced) that the sacrifice won’t work. There’s also a grey area in the middle where you clearly have compensation. It’s partly a question of style, temperament and personality whether or not you will choose to make the sacrifice. You might also like to remember the rule (something I read years ago, I think in a book by Julian Hodgson) that you should play the sacrifice if, after giving up the piece, you have more attackers than your opponent has defenders.

The game below was posted on Facebook by my colleague at CSC, Ferris Lindsay. He asked why he lost this game. Let’s have a look.

1. e4 e6
2. d4 d5
3. exd5 exd5

White chooses the Exchange Variation in reply to his opponent’s French Defence. This is often a sign of peaceful intent, but Ferris has an aggressive plan in mind.

4. Nc3 Nf6
5. Bg5 c6
6. Nf3 Be7
7. Qd2 O-O
8. O-O-O

Natural moves, I suppose, but this position has only been seen in a few fairly low level amateur games. Superficially it looks a bit scary for Black, who has to reckon with a possible sacrifice if he ever tries to play h6. So we might want to consider why stronger players don’t start the game in this way.

It’s worth considering what would happen if Black decided to put the question to the bishop at this point. After 8… h6 White can consider two thematic sacrifices. Do either of them work. You might like to go away and analyse this position yourself before reading on, or, if you’re a chess teacher, set it as an exercise for your students.

So: 9. Bxh6 gxh6 10. Qxh6 when Stockfish finds several viable defences for Black, which may not, however, be so easy to find over the board at amateur level. One such defence is 10… Ne4 with the idea of Qd6 as well as a possible fork on f2. Then 11. Nxe4 dxe4 and the knight on f3 can’t move because of the nasty Bg5 pinning and winning the queen. Now Black’s not threatening exf3 because gxf3 will open the g-file for a white rook, but he’ll be able to play Qd6 next move and defend comfortably.

Or White could try 9. h4 hxg5 10. hxg5 hoping for an attack down the h-file. Now Black has only one way to gain an advantage: 10… Ne4 (against other knight moves 11. Bd3 will give White at least a perpetual check) 11. Nxe4 dxe4. Again the knight can’t move because of Bxg5 and this time, because of the pawn on g5, Black will be able to capture on f3 next move. After 12. Bc4 exf3 13. Qd3 Bxg5+ 14. Kb1 Re8 15. Qh7+ Kf8 White is two pieces down but has a strong attack. Not quite strong enough, according to Stockfish.

8… h6 is fine if you have a silicon brain, but a human would have to be pretty brave and pretty good at defending to play it.

Instead Black played…

8… Nbd7
9. h4

A useful move as White might have a rook lift via h3 in some lines.

9… Bb4

Black decides to take action on the queen side.

10. Bh6

This is it. Ferris sacrifices a bishop even though he’s only going to get one pawn in return. My first thought as a more experienced player is that this really isn’t going to work. Before we see what happened in the game, we’ll consider a more measured approach for White.

White’s most natural move seems to be 10. Bd3 when Black could continue with Qa5, a logical follow-up to his previous move. Given the subject of this article, though, we might also consider 10… h6 and decide whether 11. Bxh6 works. Again you might want to step back and decide on the blue pill or the red pill before going any further.

This time the sacrifice seems to work for White because he’s already played h4. One possible variation runs 10. Bd3 h6 11. Bxh6 gxh6 12. Qxh6 Re8 13. Ng5 (threatening mate in 3 starting with 14. Bh7+) 13… Nf8 14. Rh3 Bxh3 15. gxh3 Qd6 16. Rg1 and Black has to play 16… Re1+ to gain time to stave off White’s attack.

But back to the game…

10… gxh6
11. Qxh6 Kh8

A typical panic reaction in the face of White’s sacrifice. This sort of move is often seen in games at this level. Black moves his king because he’s scared of a possible check. He should have preferred 11… Ng4, driving the queen back, when he should be able to defend.

12. Bd3

Developing and attacking, but 12. Ng5, preventing an immediate Rg8, would have given Ferris an extra move for his attack and put him back in the game. 12. Ng5 Qe8 13. Bd3 Rg8 14. Nxh7 Ng4 15. Qd2 when White has won a second pawn for the piece and exposed the black king.

12… Bxc3
13. Ng5

White bravely continues with his attack rather than recapturing the piece. 13. bxc3 would have given Black time to defend with 13… Rg8

13… Bxb2+

Black seems determined to lose his bishop. Instead the natural move 13.. Bxd4 was correct, giving him a vital extra defender. Then 14. Bxh7 Ng4 15. Qh5 Ndf6 rather amusingly traps the white queen, while after 14. Nxh7 Black just has time to defend: 14… Ng8 15. Qh5 Bg7 16. Nxf8+ Bh6+ 17. Kb1 Qxf8.

14. Kd2

Likewise White insists on not capturing the bishop. This move should lose, but after 14. Kxb2 Qb6+ 15. Kc1 Qxd4 16. f3 Qb4 17. Bxh7 Qa3+ is one possible variation, leading to a position where both players have a perpetual check.

14… Qa5+

Moving the queen offside (14… Bxd4 was easier) but should still be good enough.

15. Ke2 Re8+

A tempting check, but it’s dangerous to undefend f7 in this way. 15… Bxd4 was still the simpler option.

16. Kf1 Re4

A very complicated position has arisen. Black tries block the attack on h7 by returning material, but, as it happens, the move is a mistake.

Yet again 16… Bd4 was correct. Then after 17. Nxh7 Black should gain time by returning one of his extra pieces: 17… Ng4 18. Qh5 Nh6 19. Qxh6 Bg7 20. Qh5 Kg8 – but I guess these moves would be very difficult to find over the board.

17. Nxf7+

What could be more natural than capturing an undefended pawn with check? But, unfortunately for Ferris, it loses.

Taking the rook also loses: 17. Bxe4 dxe4 18. Rh3 Qb5+ 19. Kg1 Qe2 20. Rf1 (an amusing position, given that White castled queen-side 12 moves earlier) 20… Qh5 and the black queen has managed to get back to defend her king.

But, amazingly, Stockfish reveals that there is a win here. The improbable winning move is 17. Rh3, with the slow but unanswerable threat of Rg3, forcing mate. The best Black can do is give up his queen: 17… Qc7 18. Rg3 Qxg3 19. fxg3 Kg8 when Black has rook (about to be captured), bishop and knight for queen. Paradoxically, White needs his knight and bishop for the attack, so he should use his rook, not a minor piece, to trade off the intruder on e4. Stockfish continues: 20. Re1 b6 21. Rxe4 dxe4 22. Bc4 when, because of the threats on f7, Black has nothing better than Ba6, shedding a piece.

Of course working all this out with your clock ticking is far too hard for most humans.

17… Kg8
18. Ng5 b6

Black is two pieces up but still needs to defend accurately. This move lets White back into the game. There were preferable defences such as Re7.

19. f3

Ferris misses his last chance. Again he could have considered the rook lift: 19. Rh3 (threatening both 20. Rg3 and 20. Nxe4 dxe4 21. Bc4+) when Black’s only route to an advantage is 19… Re7 when Stockfish analyses two variations: 20. Bxh7+ Nxh7 21. Re3 Ba6+ 22. Kg1 Qb4 23. Rxe7 Qxe7 24. Qg6+ Kh8 25. Nf7+ Qxf7 26. Qxf7 Ndf6 when White has queen and two pawns for four minor pieces in a position which looks totally unclear to me or 20. Nxh7 Bxd4 21. Rg3+ Kf7 22. c3 Ba6 23. Qg6+ Ke6 24. cxd4 Bxd3+ 25. Rgxd3 Rg8 and Black’s king just about survives.

19… Ba6
20. fxe4 dxe4

White has regained most of his material but now it’s Black who has the winning attack. Another insufficient try here is 21. Ne6 Bxd3+ 22. cxd3 Qf5+ 23. Nf4 Rf8.

21. Kg1 Bxd4+ 22. Kh2 Qe5+ 23. g3 exd3 24. Rde1 Qc5 25. cxd3 Qc2+ 26. Kh3 Qxd3 27. Re7 Qg6 28. Qxg6+ hxg6
29. Re6 Re8 30. Rxc6 Re3 31. Rc7 Nc5 32. Rxa7 Bc8+ 33. Kg2 Re2+ 34. Kf1 Rf2+ 35. Ke1 Nd3+ 36. Kd1 Bg4+
37. Nf3 Bxf3#

So was Ferris right to make the sacrifice? In theory, no, because the sacrifice could have been refuted simply by 11… Ng4. In practice, no, because he eventually lost the game. But, you know what? I think he was indeed right to sacrifice. He will have learnt a lot about when sacrifices against the castled king are or aren’t likely to work, and will have learnt also about how to calculate and what sort of moves to look for in that sort of position. The beauty of online games is that the result doesn’t really matter. There’s no prize at stake. There are no teammates to complain if you lose. So you can afford to try things out and treat your games as a learning experience.

Richard James

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Adventures with 1…e5 (4)

My fourth consecutive black saw me facing 1. c4 so it’s not relevant to this series of articles. Another match and yet another outing with the black pieces. This was yet another Richmond v Surbiton encounter: Richmond B v Surbiton A so I was on a high board against an opponent about 200 points stronger than me.

My opponent chose the slow option. We had to complete 35 moves in 75 minutes, with a choice of adjournment or adjudication if the game was unfinished after 2½ hours. You might find the rules strange but that’s the way things work in ThamesValleyLeagueLand.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5

At last I get to face the Ruy Lopez. I’m looking at a few options in answer to this.

3… g6

The Smyslov Variation. I’m hoping to continue with Bg7, Nge7, d6, 0-0 in some order. The Cozio Variation (3… Nge7) is another possible move order to achieve the same aim.

4. O-O

Not White’s scariest line. An immediate d4 will disrupt Black’s plan but his position is still playable.

4… Bg7
5. c3 d6
6. Re1 Nge7
7. d4 O-O

Natural developing moves so far. The three previous games in this series were about opening knowledge, tactics and calculation. Here, at least for the moment, it’s about understanding pawn formations, long-term planning and positional judgement. But of course you still have to calculate everything that moves.

Both players have several choices with regard to the centre pawns. White can close the centre with d5 when the position will resemble a King’s Indian Defence or possibly trade on e5. Black has a range of options. He might be able to play an immediate d5, an immediate f5, or trade on d4 and then play either d5 or f5. He might also want to throw in a6 (with or without a subsequent b5) before doing any of these. There’s a lot to think about.

8. Be3

For the moment White decides to play a simple developing move rather than committing himself in the centre.

8… Bd7

Not a very intelligent move. There was no need to put the bishop on d7 after I’d castled and in some cases it might prefer to be on g4. Now was probably the time to undertake some sort of action in the centre.

9. Bf1

Again White decides to wait.

9… Kh8

Another waiting move based on an irrational fear of checks on the diagonal. I could and probably should have played 9.. exd4 10. cxd4 d5 when I can meet 11. e5 with f6.

10. d5

White decides it’s time to take action in the centre himself, heading for a King’s Indian Defence structure. I’m very big on encouraging children who are serious about the game to learn ALL major openings, partly for this reason. If you never open 1. d4 and never play the King’s Indian with black you’ll be totally at sea when you reach this sort of position via a Ruy Lopez.

Now the game continues with a series of typical KID-type moves.

10… Nb8
11. Nfd2 f5
12. f3 f4
13. Bf2 g5
14. c4 b6
15. b4 a5

16. c5

Ambitious. 16. bxa5 was a simpler and probably stronger alternative.

16… axb4
17. c6 Bc8
18. Qb3 Na6
19. Qa4

Overlooking a cheapo but Black seems to be doing quite well anyway, with various tactical chances on the king-side and the long diagonal.

19… Nxd5

My opponent thought I would have been in trouble here without this move but Stockfish suggests I’m OK. The pin on the a-file isn’t a big problem as, whenever I move the bishop from c8, it can bounce back to c8 again after Bxa6. But he’d completely missed this simple tactic winning the exchange.

20. exd5 e4

The point – the rook is trapped and White has no way of blocking the diagonal. Justification for my third move!

21. Rxe4

The more natural Nxe4 was probably a better try – at least in theory.

21… Bxa1
22. Nb3 Be5
23. Nd4 Bxd4

Well, what can I say? It looks, and is, totally wrong to trade off the bishop on the long diagonal for a knight. If one of my more serious pupils had played this move I’d have been very disappointed in them. At this point I had about 15 minutes left to reach move 35, so didn’t want to spend more than a few minutes on this move. I had visions of this knight coming in on e6 in some lines, but, realistically, that’s never going to happen. I’d also failed to consider that White could double his queen and bishop on the long diagonal. From what I recall, my other candidate move was Bf5, which is absurd for tactical reasons. After a sensible move such as Qf6, though, White has absolutely nothing for his material deficit. It’s Black, if anyone, who has the king-side attacking chances.

So what went wrong? Why did I play such an obviously bad move? Time and again in my games I talk myself out of playing a move I know I should play or talk myself into playing a move I know I shouldn’t play.

Indecisiveness (coupled, in this case, with lack of familiarity of the opening) always leaves me behind on the clock. I’m not a good speed player and not good at dealing with stress so when I don’t have much time left I start to panic. Lack of self-confidence, which also contributes to getting short of time. Irrational fears (in this case, an irrational fear of a knight landing on e6). All this is the story of my life, not just the story of my chess games. In my case, and it’s probably true to a greater or lesser extent for most players, getting better at chess is not just about learning more openings or improving calculation skills. It’s about clearing all the junk (which has been there for more than half a century) out of my head.

Anyway, the game continued.

24. Bxd4+ Kg8
25. Nd2 Bf5

The position’s now very complicated and without much time on the clock I wasn’t able to find a good continuation. Stockfish tells me Black has several ways to draw here but I really don’t understand most of the moves! One of the options was 25… g4, with the following variations: 25… g4 26. fxg4 Bxg4 27. Bxa6 Qg5 28. Qb5 Bh3 29. Qe2 Rxa6 30. Nf3 Qxg2+ (30… Qg4 31. Re7 Rf7 32. Re8+ Rf8 33. Re7) (30… Qg6 31. Nh4 Qg5 32. Nf3) 31. Qxg2+ Bxg2 32. Kxg2 Rxa2+ 33. Kh3 Ra3 34. Kg2)

26. Bxa6 Bc8

Played (without any thought) to regain the bishop, but I should have taken the rook instead and gone for the white king: 26… Bxe4 27. Nxe4 g4 28. Qb5 Qh4 29. Qe2 Rf7 30. Bc4 gxf3 31. gxf3 which Stockfish assesses as equal, though don’t ask me why.

27. Qxb4 Rxa6
28. Bc3 Bf5

This is losing. The only way to stay in the game was to play Rxa2, hitting the knight on d2. Stockfish analyses 28… Rxa2 29. Qd4 Qf6 30. Qxf6 Rxf6 31. Bxf6 Rxd2 with an ending in which, although Black is temporarily a pawn ahead, White has better chances.

29. Re2

He could have ignored the rook, just playing 29. Qd4 Qf6 30. Qxf6 Rxf6 31. Bxf6 Bxe4 32. Nxe4 Rxa2 when White is winning because Black can’t defend c7 (after Bd8, Nc3, Nb5).

29… Rf6

29… Kf7 was an insufficient alternative. Stockfish informs me that White’s best reply is 30. Ne4, threatening 31. Bf6, and also 31. g4 fxg3 Nxg3 when if the bishop moves on the b1-h7 diagonal White has Re6 and if it moves on the h3-c8 diagonal White has Qb1. Alternatively, 29… Rxa2 30. Qd4 and Black has to give up a rook. Notice that 29. Re2 defended the knight on d2.

30. Qd4 Kf7
31. Re6

White gives up a second exchange, this time deliberately.

31… Bxe6 32. dxe6+ Rxe6

Losing horribly but 32… Ke8 drops the rook on f6 and 32… Kxe6 drops the rook on a6 (after 33. Qc4+).

33. Qg7+ Ke8
34. Qg8+ Ke7
35. Qxg5+ Ke8
36. Qg8+ Ke7
37. Qxh7+ Ke8

At this point time was called. My opponent could either propose an adjudication or seal a move and adjourn. We agreed on an adjudication as the computer would confirm whether or not he had any more than a perpetual. Looking at the position, we soon concluded that after Ne4 I had no defence to a future Nf6+. Computer analysis confirmed this so I resigned by email the following day.

1-0

Richard James

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