Missed Opportunities

Last time I left you with this position, from a training game in which I had the black pieces against an 8-year-old pupil.

White had just checked on h8, and discovered that after I played Kd7 his queen was unfortunately trapped.

It doesn’t look very interesting, and, but for my tactical incompetence, it wouldn’t have been very interesting. Let’s play on.

30. Qxa8 Nxa8 31. c4 Nxe4

I noticed that the white rook was overworked.

32. Be1 f5 33. cxb5 axb5 34. Ra3 Nb6 35. Ra7 Nc4 36. a4 Qg7

White’s done the right thing so far. If you’re playing in desperation mode you’re not trying to find the objectively best move, but the best way of gaining some sort of counterplay and retaining practical chances. Now, though, he has to defend g2 and has no good options.

After the natural 37. Rc2 Black has lots of winning moves, but the quickest and nicest is Ned2, cutting off the rook’s defence. You might or might not consider this a Novotny Interference: the interference with the rook is deliberate, but the interference with the bishop accidental.

Instead White chose a move which should have lost much more quickly.

37. g3 Nxg3

There was a mate in 5 here: 37.. Rxg3+ 38. Kf1 (or 38. Bxg3 Qxg3+ and mate next move) 38.. Rg1+ 39. Ke2 Qg2+ 40. Kd3 Nb2+ 41. Ke3 f4#. I really should have seen this but automatically captured with the lower value piece.

Never mind: I still have a forced mate.

38. Bxg3 Rxg3+ 39. Kh1 f4

This is mate in 8, but there were two mates in 7: 39.. Qg6, threatening Qe4+ and meeting Re1 with Qc2, and 39.. Rg2, planning Qg3.

40. axb5 f3

Still winning, although it’s not quite so easy now. Here Qg6 was again mate in 7, while Qf7, Qh7 and Qg8 were all mate in 8. I was moving too fast and had completely overlooked the idea of checking on the long diagonal.

41. b6 Qh6

Again Qg8 was more efficient.

42. Rxc7+ Kd8 43. R1xc4

The rook was needed on the back rank. After 43. R7xc4 I have to find some tricky moves: 43.. Rh3 44. R4c2 Ke7 45. b7 Qf4 46. b8Q (46. Rf1 f2 47. Rfxf2 Rxh2+ 48. Kg1 (48. Rxh2 Qf1#) 48.. Rxf2) 46.. Rxh2+ 47. Kg1 Qg3+ 48. Kf1 Rh1# 44.. Ke7 is not at all obvious, I think.

Now I again have mate in 5, but again I missed it. I should have sacrificed my rook: 43… Rg1+ 44. Kxg1 Qe3+ 45. Kh1 Qe1+ 46. Nf1 Qxf1+ 47. Kh2 Qg2#

Playing the queen move first, as I did, should only draw. White now has rook and knight for queen, a lot of checks and a dangerous passed pawn.

43.. Qe3 44. Rc8+ Ke7 45. R4c7+ Kf6 46. Rf8+ Kg6 47. Rg8+

47.. Kf5

I thought I was winning after this move but had missed an important defensive resource.

Instead, I had to play either Kf6 or Kh6, when White can either take the perpetual check himself or capture on g3, when Black will have no better than a perpetual.

For example: 47.. Kf6 48. Rxg3 Qe1+ 49. Rg1 f2 50. Rf1 Qe4+ 51. Nf3 Qxf3+ 52. Kh2 e4 53. b7 Qf4+ 54. Kh3 Qf3+ 55. Kh2 or 47.. Kh6 48. Rxg3 Qe1+ 49. Rg1 f2 50. Rf1 Qe4+ 51. Nf3 Qxf3+ 52. Kh2 Qf4+ 53. Kg2 Qe4+ 54. Kxf2 Qxh4+.

48. Rxg3 Qe1+ 49. Rg1 f2 50. Rf7+

Not the immediate 50. Rf1 because of 50.. Qe4+ 51. Nf3 Qxf3+ 52. Kh2 Kg4 and Black wins.

White has to force the black king to e4 first.

50… Ke4

I still thought I was winning here because I’d overlooked that White could play 51. Rf1. The best I can do is 51.. Kxd5 52. b7 Qxb4 53. R1xf2, but this should be an easy win for White.

Fortunately for me, my pupil missed the idea as well, capturing the queen without pausing for thought. The rest of the game is not interesting.

51. Rxe1+ fxe1Q+ 52. Kg2 Qd2+ 53. Kg3 Qxb4 54. b7 Kxd5 55. Rc7 (Nf3 would have made it harder for me, but he’d lost concentration at the end of a long game and was playing instantly.) e4 56. Nf1 Qb6 57. Ne3+ (A one move oversight, but it only hastened the end.) 57.. Qxe3+ 58. Kg2 Qb6 59. Re7 e3 60. Kf3 Kd4 61. Rd7 d5 62. Re7 Qb2 63. Rf7 Qf2#

Afterwards, as we both had time to spare, he watched as I entered the game into ChessBase. I pressed a button so that he could see the names of famous players who’d played the same opening moves as him. I then pressed another button so that he could see the computer analysis and pick up when one of us made a mistake. Finally, I printed off the game for him (in scoresheet mode) so that he had a complete record. He was amazed at how much you could learn if you recorded your games. I’m not sure how much he learnt, but I learnt a lot from this game. Perhaps I should have been kind to him and offered a draw at the end.

Richard James


Fighting In The Trenches (1)

“I’ve paid my dues in the classical trenches”
Laila Robins

Many a player have to fight in the trenches, in the endgame trenches that is. It turns out endgame is the less intuitive part of the game. Patterns need to be known, moments must be seized. We have started to dig our trenches at the club. The fight is going to be long and could not be avoided any longer. Here is another example why:

What do you think about this position? Who is winning? Take a quick glance and depending on how skilled you are, the result should be more or less obvious. Of course there is more than one way to skin a cat, so you have a number of options to choose from. Which one is yours?

Can you still win this endgame? Do you believe White can still win the endgame? Most of the times believing is all that matters. Think about this until next week. To be continued…

Valer Eugen Demian


The Modern Italian

I’m thrilled that one of my private pupils has won a couple of Under 8 tournaments recently. However, I have a couple of problems.

One is that he always plays the Giuoco Pianissimo with white, while spending a lot of time watching videos on disreputable openings online. I’ve shown him lots of games with different openings and suggested he tries them. He prefers to stick with what he’s familiar with, but he’ll not make the next step forward until he learns how to play different openings. The other issue I have is that he won’t record his games, even though he knows how to do so. He tells me his opponents play too fast. At this age, if his opponents play fast he’ll automatically play fast as well, and will either forget to record his moves or will miss some out and get confused.

So in our most recent lesson we played a training game on the clock (25’+5″), both of us writing our moves down. He got most of the way until I started playing fast because I was running short of time. I also insisted that he tried out a different opening system, and helped him a bit with it. I gave him the white pieces.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5

Here I explained that one aim with White is to try to play d4 at some point. He asked me how to do that and I showed him 4. c3. He’s seen this before but, as it hasn’t been reinforced regularly at home, he’d forgotten the move.

4. c3 Nf6

I now gave him the choice: d4 or d3. If you play d4 here the ideas are easier to understand but you need to know a bit of theory. If your opponent’s studied this and you haven’t you’ll probably run into trouble. Likewise, if you’ve studied it and your opponent hasn’t you may well score a quick win. Alternatively, you can play d3, which, I explained, is sometimes played by Magnus Carlsen. In this system the individual moves are not so important: it’s more about understanding ideas and plans. He decided to go with Magnus.

5. d3 d6

A complex and flexible position typical of 21st century chess. Both sides have a wide range of plans at their disposal. White will look for the most favourable moment to play d4 while Black might also be thinking about playing d5 at some point. Learning to appreciate openings popular with top grandmasters is an important part of chess culture and will enable you to get more enjoyment and benefit from following live games online.

In this position the most popular moves are, in order, O-O, Bb3 and Nbd2. Bb3 might look strange at first: we all learn early on in our chess careers not to move pieces twice in the opening except to avoid or make a capture. White has two ideas: to be able to drop the bishop back to c2 if Black plays Na5, and to avoid being forced to move the bishop should Black play d5 at any point. Likewise, Black will often play a6 followed, without being prompted, by Ba7 in this sort of position. It’s all rather sophisticated. Assuming we want to stop our pupils playing Four Knights type positions, should we encourage them to play this system, or to play 5. d4?

My pupil’s next move, Bg5 is very natural, especially as he knows the idea from the Giuoco Pianissimo, but rarely played by stronger players as it’s a bit inflexible. I guess it should only be played after your opponent has castled. It should have worked on this occasion, though, as my play between moves 8 and 12 was poor.

6. Bg5 h6 7. Bh4 a6 8. O-O O-O

This would probably have been the right time to play g5: after White has castled but before Black castles.

9. Nbd2 Be6

Maybe not the best move but I wanted to see what he did. When I was learning chess the received wisdom was that you should trade on e6 in this sort of position. You’re losing control of the important d5 and f5 squares which you might want to use for a knight and giving Black what might become a useful half-open f-file. On the other hand, Black’s pawn formation becomes rather inflexible, which may be why strong players sometimes trade in this situation. 9.. g5 is possible but you’d have to be confident in your assessment of the position after Nxg5. The engines think at first that White has enough play, but if you leave them long enough they come round to preferring Black’s extra piece.

10. Re1 Bxc4 11. Nxc4 Qe7

This and my next move are both bad mistakes. If I want to unpin I really have to bite the bullet and play g5. Trying to unpin with Qe7 followed by Qe6 doesn’t work in this position.

12. d4 Ba7

12.. exd4 was slightly better as Black would be hitting e4. Now White has a very large advantage if he finds 13. Ne3. The threat is 14. Nd5, and if Black tries 13.. Qd8, then 14. Ng4 destroying the black king-side. It’s now too late to unpin: 13.. g5 loses to 14. Nf5. This opening is rather more poisonous that it looks. Just a couple of sloppy moves from Black and, in just 13 moves, White has a winning position.

I suggested this as an option but my pupil decided he preferred to chase back my knight on c6.

13. d5 Nb8 14. Qe2 Nbd7 15. Rad1 g5 16. Bg3 Kg7

I missed a tactic here: 16.. Nxe4 17. Qxe4 f5 18. Qc2 f4 when Black is better – an idea familiar from other openings such as the King’s Indian Defence.

17. Ne3 Bxe3 18. Qxe3 Nh7

He was stuck for a plan here. I suggested he might advance on the queen side starting with c4 or perhaps try to undermine my king side pawns by playing h4. He decided to play b4 rather than the more accurate c4, and, when I stopped his queen side plans, switched to the king side.

19. b4 b5 20. h4 g4 21. Nh2 h5 22. f3 gxf3 23. Qxf3 Nhf6 24. Rc1 Nb6

The knight should probably have stayed on d7, but even so White was better. My pupil’s last few moves have been excellent. Now the engines look at the rather ineffective bishop on g3 and try to reroute it or trade it for the black knight by playing 25. Bf2 with the idea of Be3 and Bg5. But instead White is seduced by the idea of playing a few queen checks.

25. Qf5 Rg8

25.. Rh8 was better, with the idea of Rh6. Now 26. Rf1 followed perhaps by a bishop manoeuvre to g5, would be a powerful plan. Instead White chooses a check which turns a good position into a bad position. All checks should be considered, but not necessarily played. All Qg5+ does is chase the black king where he wants to go.

26. Qg5+ Kf8 27. Qh6+ Ke8

Three moves ago I was practically lost, now I’m practically winning, and all because of a couple of checks. Now White spotted that his bishop on g3 was in danger, but chose the wrong way to defend it, closing off his queen’s escape.

28. Re3 Rg6 29. Qh8+ Kd7

He still looked happy here – until he noticed that his queen had no escape. In a slowplay game resignation at this point would be justified, but in rapidplay, and by now I was well behind on the clock, having been explaining the position while my time was running, anything might happen.

You’ll see the rest of the game next week.

Richard James


Teacher’s Delight

“… Skyrockets in flight!
Afternoon Delight!…”
Starland Vocal Band

Teaching is a journey of 1,000 miles. There are countless ups and downs along the way and key is to keep on moving no matter what. In the same time teaching requires two willing parties: the teacher sharing their knowledge and the student absorbing it. The best reward any teacher craves and cherishes in the same time is to see their students apply the shared knowledge. Today I share with you one such reward from Eric, a cheeky 8 years old always eager to try new tricks on his opponents. Enjoy the game spiced up by Eric’s comments:

Valer Eugen Demian


What the Papers Say

Last week you saw my game against Ron Bruce (who had previously lost to Alekhine in 12 moves) from Paignton 1976. There are two further stories to be told about this game, reprinted here from RAT, the Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club Newsletter/Magazine with kind permission from the author, editor and publisher.

The story so far. Those few RAT readers who actually play through the games may recall that I published a mildly amusing but somewhat inaccurate game I played at Paignton in the last issue. Anyway, imagine my surprise when I forked out seven of my hard-earned pence for the New Inflationary Evening Standard on my way home from work on Monday 31st January. I turned, as is my wont, to the Leisure Page, read my horoscope – Leo, would you believe – laughed at ‘Clive’ and ‘Bristow’, Bridge with Rixi – ah! Chess with Lenny, and read the following attached to the diagram on your left (or even below) (translated into Algebraic for trendies and Eurofreaks).

“R.M. Bruce v R. James Paignton 1976. Black’s pawn is about to queen, so White’s effective choice is limited. Should White (to move) play (a) 1. Rxg7+, (b) Bxg7, or (c) another move- and which (if any) of these alternatives saves the game?

“Par times: 30 seconds, chess master; 1 minute, expert; 3 minutes, strong club player; 5 minutes, average club; 8 minutes, weaker club or school; 20 minutes, average.”

Curious, for a reason which will become apparent later, I turned to the solution and read:

“In the game, White chose (a) 1. Rxg7+ and resigned after Kh8 since he has no more useful checks. The Richmond chess magazine claims a draw by (b) 1. Bxg7 Qxb7 2. Bxb7 Kxg7 3. c6 a1Q 4. c7 Qf1+ 5. Kh2 Qf2+ 6. Kh3, but then f4! 7. gxf4 Qe3+ wins as Black will win White’s pawn on the seventh. So Black wins in all variations.”

Now this refutation had been claimed to me a few weeks previously by RAT reader Nevil Chan (Harrow – we get around) but looking at the position again I thought I could cope with it. In any case I was under the impressiou I had given 5.. Qe2+ rather than Qf2+ in my notes. But surely Leonard Barden couldn’t be wrong. Had I really failed to solve the problem with the regulation 3 minutes, or, as some have claimed, 5 minutes? Would I be consigned for ever to the category of ‘weaker club or school’, or, even worse, to the grey mass of mediocrity indicated euphemistically by the terse ‘average’? Was ‘RAT’ to become a byword for shoddy analysis? Would I become known all over London as a perpetrator of inaccurate annotations?

I rushed home and checked that I had indeed, as I had thought, given 5.. Qe2+. First blood to me. I then set up the position and found that again, as I had thought, after 5.. Qf2+, Kh1! draws. (After 5.. Qe2+, Kh1 loses to Qd1+ and Qc2+ but if 5.. Qf2+ White’s king can go to h3 when Black checks on either d2 or e2). I checked this analysis at the club later that evening with David Goodman amongst others and my findings were confirmed. Right again, the position is, as I claimed, a draw.

Returning to 2018, here’s the critical position with Black to play. After 5.. Qf2+ 6. Kh3? f4! Black is winning: 7. gxf4 and now Black can choose either Qe3+ or Qf1+, with an eventual fork picking up the passed pawn. So White must play 6. Kh1! instead. Now Black can try again: 6.. Qf1+ 7. Kh2 Qe2+. This time 8. Kh1? loses: Black has time to zigzag to the c-file and pick up the pawn. So now White has to play 8. Kh3! leading to a draw. It’s a bit confusing at first, isn’t it? After Qf2+, Kh1 draws while Kh3 loses, but after Qe2+, Kh3 draws while Kh1 loses. For those of you who teach chess, this position, or, for a harder puzzle, the position in the first diagram, might be a good quiz question. Possibly something I might use in CHESS PUZZLES FOR HEROES! Anyway, back to 1976/7 for the second story.

Incidentally, as my notes were already rather too long, I neglected to include the following conversation which took place immediately after the game.

RMB: I should have played Bxg7 but forgot that my rook was defended by my king’s bishop.
RJ: After Bxg7 I play Qxb7 Bxb7 Kxg7 and my pawn queens.
RMB: Oh, yes.
Enter Harry (Golombek), an old sage.
HG: I see vice triumphs over virtue once again.
RMB: Not at all. My opponent played very well.
Exit, pursued by a bore.

It was only back at the hotel that I realised that Black had problems as White could push his c-pawn.

Of course all this happened more than 40 years ago, while it was 38 years before this game, almost to the day, that Ron Bruce lost to Alekhine. Time passes. Everything’s different, but again, everything’s very much the same. I’m still here and still playing chess. Leonard Barden’s still here, and still writing a regular column (online only these days) in the Evening Standard.

Richard James


Need Sure Points? Scandinavian Defence Edition

“A dream becomes a goal when action is taken toward its achievement”
Bo Bennett (businessman)

Wikipedia provides a very nice introduction for this entry:
“The Center Counter Defense is one of the oldest recorded openings, first recorded as being played between Francesc de Castellví and Narcís Vinyoles in Valencia in 1475 in what may be the first recorded game of modern chess, and being mentioned by Lucena in 1497.”
According to the same source its name began to switch to what we know today in the 60s when a number of well known GMs played it occasionally. Their intention was to surprise the opposition and render home preparation useless. If you think about it, this is still true today: how many of you prepare to face it in your club games? Common, be honest now…

We are all told from the very early beginnings how bad it is to get our queen out too early. There are countless examples punishing the side doing that, regardless of colour. Can you tell though how many of those examples you have been shown or have discovered on your own are against the Scandinavian? I do not recall any. This actually proves the GMs are not cocky or weird using it. Scandinavian is a decent opening. Our World Champion Magnus Carlsen has used it with success not long ago it two Olympiads. I have added both games below for your convenience. You can access them by selecting each one at a time from the menu above the diagram:

If the above games have tickled your curiosity, I have 2 more samples to give you confidence. The first one is a game played by the highly talented GM Istratescu. Andrei has the inner talent of calculating accurately and blindly fast for a GM. Quite often his games would show minimal reflection time for him and up to the maximum for the opposition. He still is deadly in tactical situations where he finds the correct line in most complicated positions. In the game below he played the Scandinavian in aggressive fashion and got an easy draw early in the middle game.

The second game shows that Black should not fear an early chase for his queen. It is one reason why the recommendation is to play positional when facing the Scandinavian. It is far better for white to go for a quick castle (preferably with a g2-g3, Bf1-g2, O-O setup) and slow build up pressure; eventually the odd position of the black Queen might create difficulties for black.

Valer Eugen Demian


Alekhine Number Part 2

I left you last time in Plymouth in 1938. Now we’re going to move forward 38 years and sail round the South Devon coast until we reach the seaside resort of Paignton.

Regular readers may recall that I played in the Challengers there in 1974, sharing first place in my section, so now it was time for me to try my luck in the Premier. In Round 5 I had the black pieces against Ron Bruce, who lost the 12-move game against Alekhine you saw last week.

I annotated the game for RAT, the Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club newsletter/magazine. Here, with my contemporary notes (a few minor amendments), is what happened. I’ve added some other comments, mostly from my computer, in italics.

1. c4 g6
2. g3 Bg7
3. Bg2 c5
4. Nc3 Nc6
5. d3 e5

The Botvinnik System, which can be played by White or Black. It is also an effective equalising system against the English or the Closed Sicilian, and gives Black good winning chances against passive or planless White play. The disadvantage is the hole on d5, but Black can attack on the K-side with f5, on the Q-side with b5, or even in the centre with d5, depending on White’s plan. (I’d learnt this from Ray Keene’s book Flank Openings and played the set-up a lot with Black at the time.)

6. e4

More usual is 6. Nf3 d6 (Not 6.. Nge7 7. Ne4 d6 8. Bg5) 7. O-O Nge7 when White can play for Q-side expansion with Rb1 and a3, or equine occupation of d5 with Nf3-e1-c2-e3. Hmm. 6.. Nge7 is often played, and 7. Ne4 very rarely played in reply. After 8. Bg5 Black seems equal: 8.. h6 is usually played but other moves are possible. I’m not sure where that variation came from.

6.. d6

Giving White the option of developing his knight on an inferior square.

7. Nge2

Not so good is Nf3 when the knight will soon have to move again to allow f4. Another plan is 7. f4 Nge7 8. Nf3, when Hempson-James London Chess Congress Open 1976 continued 8.. Nd4 9. Nxd4 cxd4 10. Ne2 (better Nd5=) with a slight edge for Black, but I eventually lost by choosing an artificial plan in what should have been a winning position.

7.. Nge7
8. O-O O-O

Although the position is symmetrical I felt I had some advantage here as I suspected I was more familiar with the position than my opponent.

9. h3?!

I was right! This is quite unnecessary as yet.

9.. Be6
10. Kh2 Qd7
11. Nd5 f5
12. Bg5 h6
13. Be3 Kh7
14. Qd2 Nd4
15. f4

Black has gained a tempo. The position is once again symmetrical but this time it is my move. Now to find something useful to do with it.

15.. Rab8
16. Nec3 Nxd5
17. Nxd5

Guess what. Black has gained another tempo. Relatively best was 17. cxd5. The engines tell me Black should trade on e4 and f4 before playing b5 here.

17.. b5
18. Rae1?

Leaving his position en prise, but Black is threatening bxc4, fxe4 and Bxh3 as well as what he plays in the game. Perhaps best is 18. fxe5 dxe5 19. b3. The engines tell me trading on d4, then on f5 before playing b3 is equal.

18.. bxc4
19. dxc4 exf4
20. Rxf4 Rxb2!?

Flash Harry strikes again! But first 20.. Bxd5 would have made life easier, answering 21. cxd5 Rxb2 22. Qa5 with Nc2. The engines have a slight preference for Bxd5, but it’s more complicated than my note suggests. My move is perhaps the more practical choice.

21. Qxb2

White’s best practical chance.

21.. Nf3+
22. Rxf3 Bxb2
23. exf5 Rxf5
24. Rxf5 gxf5

Not 24.. Bxf5 on account of 25. Bxc5. Not the right reason for rejecting Bxc5. After 24.. Bxf5 White should play 25. Bc1 Qg7 26. Re7 Qxe7 27. Nxe7 Bxc1 28. Nxf5 gxf5 reaching a bishops of opposite colour ending where Black has an extra pawn but White should have no problem holding the draw.

25. Rb1 Bxd5?

Now this puts the win in jeopardy. After either Qg7 or Bg7 Black should win without too much trouble. If 25.. Bxg7 White has 26. Rb7, a nice echo of Black’s 20th move (perhaps not surprising considering the symmetrical opening) but after simply 26.. Qxb7 27. Nf6+ Bxf6 28. Bxb7 Bxc4 Black is two pawns up in a double Bishop ending. I think the question mark is rather harsh: Black should still be winning after this move. My computer thinks this the fourth best move, having a slight preference for Qg7, Bg7, or, best of all, Be5.

26. Bxd5 Bg7

After 26.. Qg7 White plays 27. Bc1 when a) 27.. Bxc1 28. Rb7 when the resulting bishops of opposite colours ending is drawn despite Black’s extra pawn, or b) 27.. Bf6 28. Rb7 Be7 29. Rxa7 and it is not clear how White can make progress. After 26.. Qg7 27. Bc1 Black’s best move is Qc3, which retains winning chances. Instead of Bg7 or Qg7 Black could also consider either Qe8 or Qe7.

27. h4

Necessary here or next move to create a haven for the king.

27.. Qa4

This, however, is a mistake which I hadn’t noticed at the time. Instead 27.. Qe8 is best, with possible infiltration via h5 or e5 depending on White’s next move. 27.. Qe7 is also preferable to Qa4.

28. Rb7 Qxa2+
29. Kh3 a5

Black has no convenient defence to the threat of Bf4-xd6-f8/e5 but plans to queen his a-pawn, if necessary giving up queen for rook to reach an ending where the central pawn configuration prevents White’s Bishop from returning to stop the pawn.

30. Bf4 Qa1
31. Bxd6 a4
32. Bxc5

Not 32. Bf8 a3 33. Rxg7+ Qxg7 34. Bxg7 Kxg7 and the a-pawn cannot be stopped. But White has a better defence in 32. Ra7 (Rooks Belong Behind Passed Pawns!) 32.. h5 (perhaps not obvious but best according to the engines) 33. Bxc5 (or 33. Bf8 Kh8!) 33.. Qf1+ 34. Kh2 Qe2+ 35. Kg1 Qd3 36. Kg2 f4 37. gxf4 Kg6 when Black may be winning. This is very much a computer line, though: at my level it wouldn’t be possible to find all those moves over the board.

32.. a3
33. Bf8 a2
34. c5 Qf1+
35. Bg2 Qa6?

The winning line is 25.. a1Q and now a) 36. Bxg7? Qh1+! or b) 36. Rxg7+ when Black can choose between i) 36.. Qxg7 37. Bxg7 and not 37.. Qc4? when 38. Bf8 loses to Qg4+ and f4 but 38. Be5! Qxc5 39. Bf4! sets up a fortress position and draws but 37.. Qe2! preventing Be5 and winning and ii) 36.. Kh8 37. Bxf1 Qxf1+ 38. Kh2 Qe2+ 39. Kh3 Qe8! winning the bishop with a technical win, so White’s best try is c) 36. Bxf1 Qxf1+ 37. Kh2 Qf2+ 38. Kh3 Qf3! 39. Rxg7+ Kh8 40. Kh2 Qe2+ 41. Kh3 Qe8 reaching the position after Black’s 39th move in variation b(ii)). A computer writes: Variation b(i) after 37. Bxg7 is interesting: Qe2 is the only winning move. 37.. Qe1 also only draws after 38. Bd4!: Black has to prevent Be5 and threaten Qg4+ at the same time. In variation b(ii) I slightly prefer 38.. f4 to Qe2+. And in variation c, 38.. Qf3 certainly doesn’t deserve an exclam: 38.. Qg1! is mate in 5.

36. Rxg7+?

Missing the draw after 36. Bxg7! Qxb7 37. Bxb7 Kxg7 38. c6 a1Q 37. c7 Qf1+ 38. Kh2 Qe2+ 39. Kh3 and draws. Indeed, but there’s a bit more to it than that, and a story behind this position which will be continued next week.

36.. Kh8

White resigns. A curious conclusion.

Richard James


Fair Assessment

“All assessment is a perpetual work in progress.”
Linda Suskie

Last week we had a look at an endgame from one of our club games. The article is available HERE The position in the spotlight was this one:

Neither player did a very good job assessing the position (White was far too pessimistic, while black was too optimistic) and a number of moves later they reached the following one. How would you assess it?

White is still down a pawn which is surprising after being on the verge to even up the material in the first diagram. We made the observation it had to play aggressive. That did not happen and the main reason was poor assessment: she considered her position was lost!… You do not need a lot of endgame knowledge to observe now a number of differences:

  • The d6-pawn has advanced only once; pushing it towards promotion should have been the main focus
  • Kb7 is stopping Ra5 from reaching the 8th rank and help with the pawn promotion
  • Black’s pawn chain is still alive and far more dangerous now with the passed e4-pawn

Your chess sense should tell you black is back in the game and has a fighting chance. Now imagine you’ve been playing this game and whatever you felt in the first position, this one feels worst. Key is in such moments to calm down, reset and see what can be done to still achieve a good outcome. Have you ever been told of being too easy to play against? That means in tough situations or when things are not going in your favour, you cannot stop the slide and put up a fight. It is possible white was aware the latest position was worst; unfortunately it did not cross her mind to look for a way out. You might say that is impossible: white might just as well resign, saving time and effort if it accepts her faith. That is true except there’s always one hope we all have: the opponent might blunder. Of course you need to put up a fight and give it the opportunity to do so. Very rarely opponents blunder on their own.

Going back to the position a fair assessment should include a way out of it. White must eliminate the dangerous black pawns even if that means losing the important d6-pawn. Once white has that, it could look one more time to see if there’s more and if finding nothing, it should settle for a draw. It would be better than losing as it happened in our game after they reached a Black queen for a White rook type of endgame. In retrospect Black could think he was right all the time to think he was winning. That would be wrong; a fair assessment is needed at all times regardless of the outcome.

Valer Eugen Demian


Alekhine Number (Part 1)

If you happen to be Alexander Alekhine your Alekhine Number is 0. If you’ve played Alekhine your Alekhine number is 1. If you’ve played someone with an Alekhine Number of 1, your Alekhine Number is 2.

You can maintain a hardline view and only include serious competitive games, or you can take a more lax approach and include simul games, casual games and online games.

I wonder how many people still alive have an Alekhine Number of 1. Arturo Pomar, a child prodigy in Spain in the 1940s, who died two years ago, was a pupil of Alekhine and played him three times in tournaments, drawing one of the games. He may well have been Alekhine’s last surviving opponent from competitive games. However, there’s still at least one active player who faced Alekhine over the board: Dimitrij Mathon. Mathon was born in 1927, claims to have played Alekhine in a simul in 1943, and is currently playing in the Czech 60+ Championship. (Thanks to John Saunders and Roger Emerson for this information.)

If you know anyone else still alive who played Alekhine I’d love to know: please get in touch.

My Alekhine Number is 2. Over the next two articles I’ll show you the games.

For the first game we travel back in time to Devon, to the city of Plymouth, famous for its naval base, and for Sir Francis Drake’s game of bowls. It’s 5 September 1938. The local chess club has organised a small all-play-all tournament of eight players to celebrate its golden jubilee. They’ve invited the world champion, Alexander Alekhine, and the Women’s World Champion, Vera Menchik to take part. The most interesting of the other competitors is Paul List, who was born in Odessa in 1887, moved to Germany in the 1920s and then settled in England in 1937. There were also three English internationals, Sir George Thomas from the older generation, and, representing the younger generation, Stuart Milner-Barry and George Wheatcroft. The field was completed by two local players, Ronald MacKay Bruce and Harold Vincent Mallison. Can you imagine Magnus Carlsen, or any other top grandmaster, agreeing to take part in such an event today?

Alekhine conceded two draws, to List and Thomas, which was only enough for a share of first place with the veteran Baronet, who scored one of his greatest successes. The other players finished well in arrears: List and Milner-Barry on 3½, Menchik on 3, Wheatcroft on 2½ along with Mallison, making a highly creditable score in such company. Ron Bruce was somewhat out of his depth, only managing two draws and losing to the world champion in just 12 moves.

1. e4 c6
2. Nc3 d5
3. Nf3

The World Champion chooses the Two Knights variation against Bruce’s Caro-Kann Defence. 3.. Bg4 is the most popular move here, but there’s not a lot wrong with just taking the pawn.

3.. dxe4
4. Nxe4 Bf5

4.. Nf6 is the usual choice. In the main line Caro-Kann Bf5 is excellent, but here it’s slightly inferior.

5. Ng3 Bg6

There’s a big difference between the Two Knights and the main line, as you’ll see on move 7. Instead Black should play Bg4 here.

6. h4 h6
7. Ne5 Bh7
8. Qh5

This position has been reached over 400 times on my database, with White scoring 86%. I’d have thought it was, by now, common knowledge that this position is close to winning for White, but apparently not. Quite a lot of 2200+ players have reached this with Black.

8.. g6

Now White has two very strong continuations. Alekhine chooses the flash move, but the alternative might be even better. After the simple 9. Qf3 several games have concluded 9.. Nf6 10. Qb3 Qd5 11. Qxb7 Qxe5+ 12. Be2 Bg7 (or 12.. Nd5) 13. Qc8#

9. Bc4 e6
10. Qe2

With a Big Threat, which Bruce overlooks. The best chance is 10.. Qe7 when Black’s still in the game, even though his king-side looks extremely ugly.

10.. Nf6
11. Nxf7

This position occurs in 11 games in my database. There are also 28 games with 10.. Bg7 11. Nxf7 and 17 games with 10.. Nd7 11. Nxf7.

11.. Kxf7
12. Qxe6+ 1-0

A trap which is well worth knowing, especially if you play the Caro-Kann. You might also like to try this variation with White.

The tournament schedule was pretty tight: seven games had to be fitted into six days, along with adjournments. This game was played on the Tuesday morning, and later the same day Ron Bruce found himself facing Vera Menchik. He wrote himself into the history books by becoming probably the only player to lose to two reigning world champions in a tournament on the same day.

(ChessBase mistakenly assigns the black pieces in this game to Rowena Mary Bruce. Rowena was Ron’s pupil and, from 1940, wife, as well as many times British Ladies Champion. At the time this game was played she was still Rowena Mary Dew.)

Richard James


“What say you?” The 1 minute challenge (11)

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer”
Bruce Lee

A quick reminder about how to do it:

  • Have a look at the position for 1 minute (watch the clock)
  • Think about the choices in front of you and pick the one you feel it is right
  • Verify it in your mind the best you can
  • Compare it with the solution

Endgame play continues to be a tough nut to crack as I can see week after week at our club. I asked both players about this position and got the following answers:
Mengbai: “Don’t know. I guess I am losing”
Steven: “Don’t know. Winning?”
Have a look at the position (White to move) and decide for yourselves.

It is an interesting endgame, one you could encounter quite often at club level. Going over the position we can see the following important aspects:

  • Black is up a pawn
  • Kf4 is by far better than Kg8; the rather obvious Kf4-e5 would put it right in the center, supporting the d5-pawn
  • White has a passed d5-pawn, while Black has a passed a7-pawn; d5 is much stronger since it already is on the 5th rank. Black stands to lose the a7-pawn fairly quickly
  • Rd1 is pretty much tied up behind the passer but if White is not playing aggressive, it could swing to the 2nd row and possibly capture some white pawns in the process; if Black captures the f2-pawn and there is no imminent win for White, the e4-pawn becomes a passer and a threat
  • Rc5 is not placed in its best position but working together with the d5-pawn and its king, could make it very useful

Did you have something similar coming out of your analysis? How about a plan of action for White? In my opinion, after Kf4-e5 the combined threats of promoting the d5-pawn and back rank mating Kg8 (when it moves over to stop the passer) are overwhelming. White is simply winning here. The only challenge is to find the right moves and play aggressive.

In the game White managed to win the a7-pawn but her play was very tentative. I am not sure what was she concerned about when her passer reached the d6-square and stayed there longer than needed. Probably it is a good thing I had to watch other games meantime and missed a number of moves played. The simple line below shows a straight forward way for White to win. Next time we are going to look at the last part of this endgame.

Valer Eugen Demian