Category Archives: Richard James

Rook Endings (4)

Two more practical examples of rook and pawn against rook from games played at Richmond Junior Club.

In this position the good news for Black is that his king is in front of the pawn and the white king is subject to mating threats on the side of the board. The bad news is that his rook is badly placed, and that it’s White’s move. (If it was Black to move he could win by moving his rook in a westerly direction.)

His plan should be to get his rook round the back to threaten mate, while White will need to counter this by moving his rook away to check the black king from the other side.

White now has two moves to draw: Ra6 and Rb6. He needs to meet mate threats with horizontal checks, and has to be as far away as possible from the enemy monarch.

But instead he played 55. Re6, presumably with the idea of keeping the black king on the f-file. Now any westerly rook move is winning for Black. He chose 55… Re1, having observed correctly that the pawn ending would be winning. White went back behind the pawn: 56. Rf6, and now, out of Black’s 17 legal moves, 11 are winning and 4 are drawing. The quickest winning moves are Re7 and Re8, both mating in 21 moves according to the tablebases. He actually chose one of the drawing moves: 56… Re2, missing the winning plan of threatening mate on the h-file. Now White again has time to draw by moving his rook over to the far side of the board (note that this is one of many positions in these endings where you want your rook on the side rather than behind the passed pawn). This time, Ra6, Rb6 and Rc6 all draw, but in principle he should move as far away as possible. Instead, stuck with the mistaken idea that rooks always belong behind passed pawns, he played 57. Kh3.

Now Black has four winning moves: Re8, Re7, Re5 and Re3 (but Re4 is only a draw). Still not thinking about potential checks on the h-file he chose perhaps the least obvious of these, 57… Re3. White played 58. Kh2 when Black has a choice of 14 moves, of which 8 win and 5 draw. As you would expect by now, the quickest wins are Re8 and Re7. Instead he went for one of the drawing options: 58… Ke2.

Now White has 16 possible moves, but only one of them draws: Kg3, hitting the f-pawn. After his actual choice, 59. Kg1, though, Black can again win by moving his rook in a northerly direction, again planning a check from behind. Instead he gave up and pushed the pawn: 59… f2+. White was happy to capture the pawn: 60. Rxf2+, and a draw was agreed.

If you’re down to the last few minutes on the clock, or, as is likely these days, playing on an increment, it’s all too easy to think inflexibly, as both players did in this example. Black seemed to be thinking purely about how to push his f-pawn, while White was just trying to prevent this. Neither player was thinking about how to check the enemy king.

Our final example starts off by being about getting your king in front of the pawn, but when Balck fails to do this it’s just about calculation. Will White calculate accurately? We’ll see.

Black has to make his 52nd move. He has 15 moves to choose from, three of which lose his rook, although one of them, Rg2, still draws (rook against pawn is another interesting subject). There are 10 winning moves and two other moves that draw: Rg4 and the move he chose, 52… f3.

Now it seems very natural and obvious to push your pawn, and you’ve probably been taught that passed pawns should be pushed, but when you possess the only remaining pawn on the board you often want your king in front of the pawn. This is the case here.

White found the only move to draw: 53. Kd4, correctly rushing back with his king. His rook is well placed on the h-file here, preventing the black king from travelling to g2 via h3. Black pushed the pawn again: 53… f2, for the moment preventing the white king’s approach. White again found the only drawing move: 54. Rf7. (Rg7+ would have led to king and queen against king and rook, which would have been another story entirely.) Black naturally replied by defending the pawn with 54… Rg2.

On his 55th move White has no less than 21 choices (the maximum number of 8 king moves and 13 rook moves, one short of the maximum, for those of you who care about this sort of thing). Nine of them draw and the other twelve lose. The most obvious draw is the simple Ke3 just winning the pawn and demonstrating to black that he pushed his pawn too quickly. However he was seduced by the skewer 55. Rg7+, no doubt playing too fast to notice that after he won the rook Black would promote.

Now Black has six king moves, but the only one to win is Kf6, when he’ll reach the tricky ending king and queen against king and rook. It’s mate in 28 according to the tablebases, but would he have been able to win? We’ll never know because instead he played 55… Kh4.

White’s now drawing again if he finds 56. Rf7, getting back behind the passed pawn and preparing to meet 56… Kg3 with 57. Ke3, when Black can make no progress. His actual choice of 56. Rh7+ was too slow, though, because now after 56… Kg3, which Black played, his king will have time to reach g1 via h2. The game continued 57. Rg7+ Kh2 58. Rh2+ Kg1 and Black won by promoting his pawn.

Richard James

Rook Endings (3)

Last time I considered some simple rook and pawn v rook endings from the Richmond Junior Club database.

In this article I’ll show you a few slightly more complicated examples.

Caspar Bates, who had to choose a move with white in this position against his brother Pascal, returned to chess several years ago and is now an occasional player (for Richmond in the London League) and an excellent composer of endgame studies.

At this stage in his career, though, his knowledge of endings was limited. He had the opportunity to head for the Philidor position, but instead chose a passive defence with his rook. This should still be good enough to draw, and in this position he has three ways to share the point. In order to play this position accurately, both players have to be aware of two standard tactical ideas, one of which you saw last week.

White can draw by continuing his policy of passive defence, playing Rd1, when Black has no way to make progress. Or he can choose an active defence and play either Rb2 or Rf2, planning to move up the board and check from behind. But Rg2 (or Rh2) would lose to a skewer: Black would reply with d2+ (a discovered check) and, if White takes the pawn, pick up the rook via a skewer because the white king is too far away. If White doesn’t take the pawn, Ra1 will lead to the same thing.

Instead White chose Ke4. Now Black can use another tactical idea which you may remember from last week’s article. His two winning moves are Ra7 and Ra8. In both cases, if the white rook takes the pawn, a check from behind will force the king away and win the rook. And if White doesn’t take the pawn, again black rook checks from behind will prove decisive. Note, though, that Ra6 is only a draw because the white king will be close enough to approach the rook, meeting Re6+ with Kf5.

Alas, he missed his chance, and after several repetitions the game eventually resulted in a draw.

This rather atypical position should also be a draw, but Black, to play, chose what should have been a losing option: 46… Ra5. Now White has two winning moves: the simpler way to win is 47. Rb6+ but White’s actual choice of 47. Kd4 should also suffice. Now Black is in zugzwang: a horizontal rook move lets the pawn advance, a vertical rook move allows Kc5, a king move to, say, b2, allows Kc4. That leaves Black’s choice in the game, 47… Kb4, which White correctly met with 48. Rb6+ Ka4 49. Kc4 Ka3. Now White can win by choosing a horizontal rook move, when Black is again zugged. Instead he played 50. Rb3+, when, after 50… Ka2 he’d have to repeat moves and have another go at finding the winning idea. But Black preferred 50… Ka4. Now 51. Rb1, threatening mate, wins at once, but he missed it, repeating moves with 51. Rb6 Ka3. He still didn’t spot the zugzwang and decided to try a different idea, 52. Kb5, hoping Black would trade rooks. No such luck: she captured the pawn: 52… Rxa6. Now White could have offered a draw but instead played on, hoping Black would allow a rook mate: 53. Rb3+ Ka2 54. Kc3??, only to discover he was losing his rook after 54… Rc6+ 55. Kb4 Rb6+.

Disillusioned, perhaps, by the result of this game, White soon gave up his chess career, and now, more than 30 years on, is a partner in a firm of solicitors based just across the road from Richmond Junior Club’s current Twickenham venue.

The basic principle in these endings is that if your king can make contact with the promotion square you’re likely to get the result you want.

So in this position, with White to move, there are two winning moves: Kg6 and Kh6. The white king has to run up the board, using the rook to shelter from checks if necessary. Instead, White played the understandable but misguided 52. f5, when Black can hold the draw by activating his rook and preparing to check from behind. But now Black in turn erred by playing 52… Re5 to pin the pawn. White now demonstrated the win as follows: 53. Ra6 Kf7 54. Ra7+ Kf8 55. Kf6 Re4 56. Ra8+ Re8 57. Rxe8+ Kxe8 58. Kg7 (the only winning move) and Black resigned.

Black could have offered more resistance with 55… Ke8 when play might continue 56. Kg6 Rd8 57. f6 Kg8 58. Rg7+ (but not f7+ which only draws) 58… Kf8 59. Rh7 or 58… Kh8 59. Rh7+ Kg8 60. f7+.

Note that this is the type of position where Black will lose even though his king reaches the queening square because of White’s mate threats.

So chess improvers need to be aware of a few basic principles, some of which apply to all rook endings.

* Rooks belong behind passed pawns (RBBPP)
* Keep your pieces active at all times
* Play with a long-term plan in mind rather than just operating with immediate threats
* Your king needs to head towards the promotion square
* Be aware of the basic tactical ideas which happen in rook endings (the skewer, the check to force the king away from defending the rook)
* Develop your long-range calculating skills

I’ll have a few more examples for you next week.

Richard James

Rook Endings (2)

Having been sent the rook ending you saw last week I decided to look at the rook endings in my Richmond Junior Chess Club database to see how young players handled them.

I started by looking at endings with rook and pawn against rook.

Before you learn rook and pawn against rook you’ll need to know how to mate with king and rook against king (obviously) and have a complete knowledge of all king and pawn against king positions. At any point one player will be trying to trade rooks while the other player will be trying to keep rooks on the board. At lower levels, of course, this knowledge is sometimes lacking.

There were several games where this sort of thing happened. Black, in a position which should be a comfortable draw, decided to play Rxf4+. I guess this is caused by false logic. Black thinks “If my opponent gets a queen I’ll be 9 points behind, so I should capture the pawn now when I’ll only be 5 points behind”. Time and time again, if you ask children why they played their move, they will give an answer involving some sort of false logic. He saw that he’d lose his rook but thought it was the right thing to do.

Children at this level also tend to think in terms of threats rather than plans. This policy might work well in your primary school chess club, but at higher levels you need something more. In endings, more than any other part of the game, you need a plan. The man with the plan wins. In this position White’s winning because the black king is cut off. His plan should be to bring his king across to support the pawn’s advance while using his rook to stop the enemy monarch approaching. Instead he saw the chance to create a threat and played Kf6. Black was alert to the possibility of a skewer and White’s win turned into a loss.

Several lessons from this:
1. You need to operate with plans rather than immediate threats.
2. You need to watch out for skewers in rook endings.
3. You need to remember the idea of using your rook to cut off the enemy king.

This is similar to our first example, but perhaps White had a different reason. Up to this point White had defended impeccably, but now forgot that he could continue checking and thought the only way to stop the immediate mate was to play Rxg3. If you know the Philidor position you’ll know that Rf1+ is an easy draw.

Black has an extra pawn but should only draw. Instead, she played a natural move, pushing her passed pawn to h4. Sadly for her, a rook check will drive her king away and she will lose her rook. Another game where the rook beats the rook and pawn, and another tactical idea you need to know.

One more lesson:
4. Look out for positions where a rook is defended by a king: a rook check might force the king away from defending the rook or into a potential skewer.

At the end of a long game, when you don’t have much time left on the clock, it’s all too easy to forget to ask yourself the Magic Question (if I play that move what will my opponent do next?). In this position Black promoted his pawn without enough thought, and yet another skewer cost him his new queen. Instead he had four winning moves, Kf1, Kf2, Rh3 and the attractive Rf3+, when, if Black captures, it’s White who has a skewer.

Next time we’ll look at some slightly more complicated endings with rook and pawn against rook, so stay tuned.

Richard James

Rook Endings (1)

My friend Chris Kreuzer, a former pupil at Richmond Junior Club and now a colleague at Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club when he’s not playing for the English Deaf Chess team, sent me a game resulting in an exciting and error-strewn rook ending. His opponent in this Thames Valley League game was talented Richmond Junior Alfie Onslow, whose game against me from earlier in the season featured here a few months ago.

Chris is a strong player whose results seem to me to be affected by his addiction to time trouble. This game was played with a time limit of 75 minutes per player for the game. There are no increments in ThamesValleyLeagueLand where, in the impoverished suburbs of West London (irony alert), most clubs can’t afford to buy digital clocks. When the rook ending was reached Chris was down to about 3 minutes on the clock to Alfie’s 12 minutes. Chris had won a pawn in the middle game but gave up material in the quest for activity and was now a pawn behind.

We’ll join the game here, where White’s just captured a pawn on c5.

Black has to choose his 45th move. In fact there are two possible moves here, as someone pointed out after the game the possibility of 45… Kd7 46. Bxe7 Kxc8 47. Bxf6, which will lead to a draw. With not much time on the clock it’s understandable that Chris missed this, instead playing the obvious bishop exchange. So…

45… Bxc5
46. Rxc5

White’s a pawn ahead in this ending, but Black’s king is centralised and he’s about to put his rook behind the passed c-pawn. My pupils know about KUFTE (King Up For The Ending, for which thanks to the late and much missed Mike Fox) and RBBPP (Rooks Belong Behind Passed Pawns).

46… Rc1

On general principles this can’t be wrong and indeed it’s fine for a draw, as are various other moves such as f5 and Kd6.

47. Rc6+ Kf5
48. c5 Rc2
49. f3 Rc4
50. Rc8 Kf4
51. c6 f5
52. c7

Perfectly reasonable play by both sides so far. Charlie White has now reached the seventh rank so Black has to be careful to shelter his king from checks.

52… Rc2

Still fine for a draw, and perhaps not expecting the white king to march bravely up the h-file. Another way to share the point was 52… Rc1 53. g4 Kxf3 54. gxf5 e4 55. f6 when Black has to find 55… Rc2+ 56. Kh3 Rc6 in order to prevent the f-pawn’s advance and draw the game.

53. Kh3 Rc4
54. Kh4 Rc1
55. Kh5

White’s king is becoming dangerous and now Black has only one route to equality. He has to remain active and play 55… Rc2 56. g4 fxg4 (again the only move to draw). Now White has two tries: 57. Rf8+ Kg3 58. c8Q Rxc8 59. Rxc8 Kxf3, which is a draw; or 57. fxg4 Rh2+ (only move again) 58. Kg6 Kxg4 (the final only move), which is also a draw.

55… Rc6

Natural enough in time trouble, I suppose, as Chris wants to prevent Alfie’s king advancing, but unfortunately it loses.

56. g4

The winning move. White’s threatening both g5 and gxf5, when a recapture will be met by Rf8+. Perhaps Black should try 56… fxg4 when the immediate 57. Rf8+ is only a draw but the simple recapture 57. fxg4 is winning.

56… Kxf3

57. gxf5

Now it’s White’s turn to go wrong. This recapture should only draw but instead 57. g5 e4 58. g6 e3 59. g7 e2 60. Re8 and White wins the promotion race. Note that his king is supporting the g-pawn but is too far away to support the f-pawn.

57… e4
58. Kg5

Or 58. f6 Rxf6 59. Re8 Rc3 60. c8Q Rxc8 61. Rxc8 e3 with a draw.

58… e3
59. f6 Rc4

Running out of time, Black makes what looks like a fairly random move instead of pushing his pawn.

After 59… e2 60. f7 (60. Re8 is a safer draw) 60… e1Q 61. f8Q+ Kg2 White has no more checks and, although he has an extra pawn his rook is out of play and his king is in trouble. My computer tells me he has only one way to draw, the far from obvious (at least to me) 62. Qg8. (In real life, though, with his flag hanging, Black would take a perpetual rather than looking for a mating sequence.) Black’s other drawing move is 59… Rc5+ 60. Kg6 Rc7 61. Kg7 e2 with similar play to the line above.

60. f7

And, unfortunately for Chris, it’s all over.

1-0

What lessons can we learn from this?

1. Endings can often be tactical: you have to be good at accurate long-range calculation to play this sort of position well. (Of course the paradox is that positional players are likely to reach more endings than tacticians.)

2. Activity is important in rook endings.

3. Pushing passed pawns is important in endings.

4. If you’re playing any fairly fast time limit, especially without increments, if you get significantly behind on the clock in an otherwise level ending you’re probably going to lose, either by running out of time or by having to rush your moves and consequently making mistakes

Richard James

Stephen MacDonald-Ross

I was saddened the other day to receive an email informing me that one of my regular Thames Valley League opponents, Stephen MacDonald-Ross, had died at the age of 70.

Stephen was the younger brother of the better-known (but, in recent years, much less active) Michael MacDonald-Ross. Like many chess players, he came across as very quiet, but was always a pleasant and friendly opponent. He was usually graded a few points below me, but my impression, judging from our games, was that he was much stronger than his grade. His openings were well prepared and he seemed to excel at positional and endgame play, but was hampered by a tendency to mishandle the clock and run short of time.

I was never able to beat him in five encounters, managing only three draws.

The first time we met was in a London weekend congress in 1974. I had White and the game was a fairly short draw. It was not until 1992 that we met again, in a London League match between Richmond and Wimbledon.

Our remaining four games were all in league matches and in each case Stephen was white. We met three times in the 1990s, the first occasion being a 1992 London League match between Richmond and Wimbledon.

1. d4 g6 2. c4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. e4 e5 5. Be3 Nc6 6. Nge2 exd4 7. Nxd4 Nge7 8. Be2 O-O 9. O-O f5 10. Qd2 Nxd4 11. Bxd4 Nc6 12. Bxg7 Kxg7 13. f4 fxe4 14. Nxe4 Bf5 15. Qc3+ Kg8 16. Bf3 Qe7 17. Ng5 Qf6 18. Qxf6 Rxf6 19. Rae1 h6 20. Ne4 Rff8 21. Nc3 Bd3 (I have to be careful here as my position is slightly loose. This is not good, giving White time to double rooks on the e-file. 21… a6, to prevent a possible Nb5, should have been preferred.) 22. Bd5+ Kg7 23. Rf3 Bf5 24. Rfe3 Nd4 (A blunder, probably in time trouble, losing at once.) 25. Re7+ Kf6 26. Rxc7 Rac8 27. Rxb7 a5 28. g4 Bd3 29. Ne4+ Bxe4 30. Rxe4 Nf3+ 31. Kf2 1-0

It’s not very often that I get outplayed positionally but that’s what happened in our next game, from a 1995 Thames Valley League match between Wimbledon A and Richmond Juniors A.

1. d4 f5 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 e6 4. Nf3 d5 5. O-O c6 6. c4 Bd6 7. b3 Qe7 8. Bb2 O-O 9. Qc1 Bd7 10. Ba3 Be8 11. Bxd6 Qxd6 12. Nbd2 Nbd7 13. Qb2 Bh5 14. Rfe1 Ne4 15. Rad1 h6 16. Ne5 Nxe5 17. dxe5 Qc5 18. Nxe4 fxe4 19. Qd4 Qxd4 20. Rxd4 Rf5 (Black should be fine here despite the typical Stonewall bad bishop because of the potential weakness of the e5 pawn. The right way to go here is 20… g5, to prevent, rather than encourage, White’s reply. My move is not very intelligent, just provoking White into playing good moves. Now Stephen outplays me in impressive style.) 21. f4 exf3 22. exf3 Rff8 23. Bh3 Rae8 24. cxd5 cxd5 25. f4 Bf3 26. Ra4 a6 27. Rb4 Re7 28. Rb6 Rfe8 29. Kf2 Be4 30. Ke3 Kf7 31. Rc1 g5 32. fxg5 hxg5 33. Bg4 Rh8 34. h3 Bf5 35. Rf1 d4+ 36. Kd2 Ke8 37. Bxf5 exf5 38. Rxf5 Rxh3 39. Rxg5 Rh2+ 40. Kd3 Rxa2 41. e6 Kd8 42. Rc5 Rc7 43. Rd6+ Ke7 44. Rxc7+ Kxd6 45. e7 1-0

Looking at these two games now, it’s clear that I lost them both by making a threat (21… Bd3, 20… Rf5) which was met with a gain of tempo when I should have preferred a defensive move instead. Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learnt there.

We met again in another Wimbledon A v Richmond Juniors A match in 1998. Again it was a Dutch Stonewall, but this time I chose a different plan, delaying castling. After mutual inaccuracies in what was probably mutual time trouble I missed a winning tactic.

1. d4 e6 2. c4 f5 3. g3 Nf6 4. Bg2 d5 5. Nf3 c6 6. O-O Bd6 7. b3 Qe7 8. Bb2 b6 9. Qc1 Bb7 10. Ba3 Bxa3 11. Nxa3 Nbd7 12. Qb2 O-O 13. b4 Rab8 14. cxd5 exd5 15. Rfe1 a5 16. b5 c5 17. dxc5 bxc5 18. Nc2 a4 19. Qa3 Nb6 20. Ne3 g6 21. Nd4 Rfe8 22. Nc6 Bxc6 23. bxc6 Rbc8 24. Rac1 Rxc6 25. Nc4 Nxc4 26. Rxc4 Re6 27. Rc2 Qa7 28. e3 c4 29. Rd1 Re5 (Missing my chance as the time control at move 30 approaches: 29… Rxe3 is winning.) 30. Qd6 Qe7 31. Bxd5+ Nxd5 32. Rxd5 Qxd6 1/2-1/2 (White now stands better in this double rook ending. I don’t remember whether we agreed a draw here or whether the position went for adjudication. Unlike our previous game, neither of us wanted to play on.

Our last encounter was in 2013, in a match between Richmond B and Wimbledon B. Like our first game, it was a short draw.

Although never a demonstrative presence at matches, Stephen will be much missed in London chess circles, most of all by his friends and colleagues at Wimbledon Chess Club, to whom I extend my sympathy.

Richard James

He Who Hesitates

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

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

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

1. d4 Nf6
2. Nf3

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

2… g6

Hoping he won’t play 3. c4, but…

3. c4 Bg7
4. Nc3

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

4… O-O
5. e4 d6
6. Be2 e5
7. O-O

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

7… exd4
8. Nxd4 Re8
9. f3 c6

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

10. Nc2 Be6

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

11. Be3 d5

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

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

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

15. Nd4 Nc6
16. Ncb5

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

16… Bf8
17. b3

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

17… Nxd4
18. Nxd4 Rc8
19. Qd2

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

19… Nd7
20. Kh1

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

20… Nc5
21. Bf3 Qd7
22. h3

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

22… h5

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

23. Rad1 b6

Again – Ne4 is about equal.

24. Bf2

Again – f5 is good for White.

24… Rc7

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

25. Rfe1 Rec8
26. Rc1

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

26… Na6
27. Rxc7 Rxc7

Giving White a tactical opportunity. Instead Nxc7 is correct.

28. Rc1

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

28… Bc5
29. Rd1

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

29… Bxh3
30. Nb5

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

30… Qxb5
31. gxh3 Bxf2
32. Qxf2 Nb4

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

33. Be2

33. f5 gives White enough counterplay for equality.

33… Qc5
34. Qg3

A mistake as we approach the time control…

34… Kh7

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

35. f5

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

35… Qc3

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

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

Richard James

Doubled Pawns (4)

One of my chess regrets is that I’ve played so few games on either side of the Nimzo-Indian Defence. I haven’t taught it very much either. It always seems to me to be hard to teach as there are so many possible pawn formations that could arise depending on which pawn moves Black chooses to make in the centre. It was gratifying to see that Nigel making very similar comments on the same opening on his Facebook page recently.

White also has to make the decision as to whether he should prevent, allow, or even encourage Black to double his c-pawns by trading minor pieces on c3. When I was learning chess in the 60s the Nimzo-Indian was one of the big doubled pawn related battlegrounds. Black would place his pawns on b6, c5, d6 and e6, and be happy to attack the c-pawns using a knight on a5, a bishop on a6 and some major pieces on the c-file. White would sit their gloating about his extra space and control in the centre and dream of using his centre pawns to launch an attack on Black’s unfortunate king. Textbooks would demonstrate games in which White’s plan looked unstoppable.

They’d also demonstrate games in which White was tied down to defending the pawns and was eventually unable to hold his position.

Like this:

Or this:

But looking for recent examples at top level chess I couldn’t find anything.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. Chess in 1956 was very different from chess in 1896, which was itself very different from chess in 1836, so it’s only to be expected that chess in 2016 will be very different from chess in 1956.

So what happened? Is it just fashion or has the battle been won?

I think the latter is the case. The strength of Black’s Ne8, planning to block White’s attack by meeting f4 with f5, which was first played by Capablanca against Paul Johner in 1929, has been well known for decades and database statistics demonstrate that Black scores well in these positions.

After the moves 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 c5 White will now play either 5. Ne2, to recapture with the knight if Black takes on c3, or 5. Bd3 followed by 6. Ne2.

This particular variation, then, seems to be an example where the doubled pawns are weak because the front pawn is open to attack.

Richard James

Doubled Pawns (3)

The 1972 Fischer-Spassky match took place just after I finished my formal studies and started my first job. For players of my generation it was part of our chess education, and for many of those a few years younger it provided the inspiration for them to take up serious chess.

It was fascinating to read a recent (January 2015) interview with Boris Spassky, in which he said that he always had a good relationship with Bobby and that they kept in touch after the match.

I guess history is what happened before you were born, or at least before you became aware of a subject. For me, Lasker, Alekhine and Capablanca are history, although if the latter two had lived longer they might not have been. For my pupils today, the Fischer-Spassky match is ancient history, but those of us around at the time will remember well what happened.

In the first game Bobby took a risk, making what on the surface appeared to be a childish blunder losing a piece. Fischer then demanded the removal of all cameras. His demands were refused and he defaulted the second game. He booked a ticket on a flight back to the US but, after an intervention from Henry Kissinger, was persuaded to remain in Reykjavik and continue the match.

Spassky sportingly agreed to play the third game in a small backstage room out of the audience’s view. This is what happened. Bobby was commanding the black pieces.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 e6
3. Nf3 c5

Fischer proposes a Modern Benoni, having avoided the dangerous lines where White plays an early f4. This opening, first popularised by Tal who scored a string of brilliant victories with it in the 1950s, leads to complex strategical and tactical battles. It’s a pity it’s seen so rarely in top level events these days. Perhaps the elite players consider it not quite sound.

4. d5

And Spassky accepts the challenge.

4… exd5
5. cxd5 d6
6. Nc3 g6
7. Nd2

Of course we all tell our pupils not to move pieces twice in the opening but this is a standard idea for White in the Modern Benoni. The knight is heading for c4 where it will hit the potentially weak d6 pawn while supporting an eventual pawn break with e5. Meanwhile, the f-pawn is now free to move to f3 to support the centre, or perhaps to f4 to support e5.

7… Nbd7
8. e4 Bg7
9. Be2 O-O
10. O-O Re8

A standard position in this opening. White’s most popular choice here is a4, another standard move in this opening, clamping down on Black’s potential queenside pawn break with b5. The more immediately ambitious f4 is the second most popular choice, with Spassky’s move coming in third.

11. Qc2 Nh5

This is the move that startled me, along with the rest of the chess world, back in 1972. Fischer voluntarily allows his kingside pawns to be shattered: again something we all tell our pupils not to do. Of course this isn’t the only move, and in fact hasn’t been played very often since this encounter. The sober choice is a6, but Black’s most popular option here is the almost equally startling Ne5, giving White the very tempting option of kicking the knight with f4. After 11… Ne5 12. f4 (White usually prefers a more cautious approach) Neg4 13. Nf3 Black has tried a variety of tactical ideas: 13… c4, 13… Nxe4 14. Nxe4 Bf5 15. Bd3 c4 and 13… Nh5 14. h3 f5 15. hxg4 fxg4, all of which demonstrate the richness of this opening.

12. Bxh5 gxh5

Here, 13. a4 would transpose into another top GM game played about 10 weeks later, which saw White extinguishing Black’s kingside pressure and engineering a central breakthrough with 28. e5. Perhaps it’s this game which put everyone off the whole idea.

Gligoric-Kavalek Skopje Olympiad 1972
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 e6 4. Nc3 exd5 5. cxd5 d6 6. e4 g6 7. Nf3 Bg7 8. Be2
O-O 9. O-O Re8 10. Nd2 Nbd7 11. a4 Ne5 12. Qc2 Nh5 13. Bxh5 gxh5 14. Nd1 Qh4
15. Ne3 Ng4 16. Nxg4 hxg4 17. Nc4 Qf6 18. Bd2 Qg6 19. Bc3 Bxc3 20. bxc3 b6 21.
Rfe1 Ba6 22. Nd2 Re5 23. f4 gxf3 24. Nxf3 Rh5 25. Qf2 Qf6 26. Re3 Re8 27. Rae1
Qf4 28. e5 dxe5 29. Re4 Qf6 30. Qg3+ Kh8 31. Nxe5 Rg8 32. Rg4 Rxg4 33. Nxg4 Qg6
34. c4 Rf5 35. Nh6 Rf6 36. Re8+ Kg7 37. Rg8+ Kxh6 38. Qh4+ 1-0

13. Nc4 Ne5
14. Ne3 Qh4
15. Bd2

15. f3, to prevent Black’s next move was suggested as an improvement. Now Fischer gives Spassky no choice but to straighten out his pawn formation.

15… Ng4
16. Nxg4 hxg4

There’s a big difference between this and the Gligoric game: Gligo’s knight was on the more useful c4 square rather than c3.

17. Bf4 Qf6
18. g3

Creating some weaknesses. This was criticised at the time and Bg3 was suggested as an improvement.

18… Bd7
19. a4 b6
20. Rfe1 a6
21. Re2 b5
22. Rae1 Qg6
23. b3 Re7
24. Qd3 Rb8
25. axb5 axb5
26. b4 c4
27. Qd2 Rbe8

Boris’s sickly e-pawn will not live very long.

28. Re3 h5
29. R3e2 Kh7
30. Re3 Kg8
31. R3e2 Bxc3
32. Qxc3 Rxe4
33. Rxe4 Rxe4
34. Rxe4 Qxe4

Bobby is a pawn ahead with a winning position: as usual the presence of bishops of opposite colours favours the attacker. Fischer is remorseless.

35. Bh6 Qg6
36. Bc1 Qb1
37. Kf1 Bf5
38. Ke2 Qe4+
39. Qe3 Qc2+
40. Qd2 Qb3
41. Qd4 Bd3+
0-1

In this game Fischer was happy to allow doubled pawns in front of his king in order to gain the two bishops and some piece activity. Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea in the position, but from my 1972 perspective it was extraordinary that it was playable at all, and good enough to bamboozle Boris.

Richard James

Doubled Pawns (2)

One way in which doubled pawns can be weak is when they cripple a pawn majority in the ending. The typical pawn formation where Black has doubled pawns on the c-file following a trade of bishop for knight in the Ruy Lopez will be familiar to most of my readers.

White’s dream when playing the Spanish Exchange is to reach a winning pawn ending, so Black needs to be aware of the danger and keep pieces on the board.

Here’s one I made (very much) earlier. It’s a London League game from December 1972. I was playing the Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez, as we called it in those days, under the influence of Bobby Fischer. Regular readers of this column will know that it’s still popular at club level today. We’ll hurry through the first 36 moves.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Bxc6 dxc6 5. O-O Bd6 6. d4 Bg4 (6… exd4 is better. Now Black has to give up bishop for knight so White has all the advantages of the Spanish Exchange with none of the disadvantages.) 7. dxe5 Bxf3 8. Qxf3 Bxe5 9. Rd1 Qe7 10. Qd3 Rd8 11. Qxd8+ Qxd8 12. Rxd8+ Kxd8 13. c3 Ne7 14. f4 Bd6 15. Be3 f6 16. Nd2 Ng6 17. g3 Re8 18. Kg2 Re7 19. Kf3 Rd7 20. Rd1 Be7 21. Ke2 Kc8 22. Nb3 Rxd1 23. Kxd1 b6 24. Nd4 Kd7 25. Nf5 Bf8 26. Ke2 c5 27. c4 Ke6 28. g4 Ne7 29. Nxe7 Bxe7 30. Kf3 Bd6 31. h4 b5 32. b3 h6 33. a4 c6 34. f5+ Kd7 35. Bf4 Be5 36. Bxe5 fxe5

Black has obligingly let me exchange off all the pieces and reach a winning pawn ending. Maybe there were some players back in 1973 who didn’t understand this sort of thing.

37. h5

This is the correct plan. 37. g5 h5 is only a draw as the white king has no way through. So I have to play h5 first and then prepare g5, recapturing with the king. I just have to make sure that I time my waiting move on the other side of the board correctly.

37… Ke7 38. Kg3 Kf7

Now I have to be careful. The right way to play it is 39. Kh4! Kf6 40. a5 b4 (or 40… bxc4 41. bxc4 Kf7 42. g5 Ke7 43. f6+ gxf6 44. gxh6) 41. g5+ hxg5+ 42. Kg4 and wins as Black has to give way. On the other hand the immediate 39. g5?? fxg5 40. Kg4 Kf6 41. a5 b4 is no good as White can make no progress.

39. a5??

This also doesn’t – or shouldn’t – work. The waiting move can – and should – wait. Now Black will have the choice of either pushing or capturing on the queen-side depending on the choices White makes on the king-side. (If you play Capture the Flag pawn games, which you, and your pupils, should, you’ll get a lot of practice in positions where your choice between pushing and taking will depend on the number of tempo moves available.)

39… Kf6??

Black returns the compliment. The path to the draw is 39… Ke7! 40. Kh4 (or 40. g5 hxg5 41. Kg4 Kf6 42. Kf3 bxc4! (here taking draws but pushing loses) 40… Kf6 41. g5+ hxg5+ 42. Kg4 b4! (here pushing draws but taking loses). Once the tempo moves on the other side have been exhausted Black has to be able to play Kf6 in reply to White’s Kg4.

40. Kh4 Ke7
41. g5 Kf7
42. Kg4 Ke7
43. f6+!

The winning move. Of course I’m planning to meet 43… gxf6 with 44. gxh6 when my (doubled) outside passed pawns give me an easy win.

43… Kf7
44. gxh6 gxh6
45. Kf5 b4
46. Kxe5 and Black resigned

(Capture the Flag games are games without kings where you can win in three ways: by getting a pawn to the end safely (capturing the metaphorical flag), taking all your opponent’s pieces or stalemating your opponent. They are excellent for young beginners and can also be played at the end of a school chess club or lesson where there isn’t enough time for a complete game. The full Capture the Flag pawn game starts with both players having 8 pawns on their normal starting squares and no other pieces.)

Richard James

Doubled Pawns (1)

I’ve thought for a long time that there’s been more well-intentioned but misleading advice written about doubled pawns than about anything else in low and intermediate level chess books.

This first occurred to me in about 1970 when I first read Botvinnik’s One Hundred Selected Games and played through a couple of games that startled me because of the decisions Botvinnik made about his pawn formation. One of them concerned doubled pawns. Botvinnik enjoyed complex strategical chess and there are a number of games in the book where, playing black, he successfully fought against doubled white c-pawns in the French Winawer. In the game that particularly surprised me he was on the other side of the board, the owner of doubled c-pawns.

This game saw Botvinnik playing White against Vitaly Chekhover, best remembered now as a composer of endgame studies, but also a strong player who was awarded the IM title in 1950.

The game started with a rather unusual variation of the Nimzo-Indian Defence. Botvinnik played Queen’s Gambit type moves with White but Chekhover moved his d-pawn one square rather than two.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 e6
3. Nc3 Bb4
4. Nf3 O-O
5. Bg5 d6

Perhaps rather over-committal for contemporary tastes. c5 and h6 are the current master choices here.

6. e3 Qe7

6… Nbd7 is usually played here, but although both players have played perfectly reasonable moves the whole variation has never been fashionable.

7. Be2 e5
8. Qc2 Re8
9. O-O Bxc3

Botvinnik has to make his first doubled pawn decision. After 10. Qxc3 Black has the option of Ne4, when the queens will come off and White will still have doubled pawns (11. Bxe7 Nxc3 12. bxc3 Rxe7). The engines don’t seem worried, though, as they’re intending to play c5 sometime soon.

10. bxc3 h6
11. Bh4 c5
12. Rae1 Bg4

Botvinnik comments here that White wants to play around the d5 square, so he has to trade on f6.

13. Bxf6 Qxf6
14. Qe4 Bxf3

An interesting moment. Botvinnik thinks White now stands better because of his play on the central white squares, preferring 14… Bf5 15. Qxb7 Nd7 ‘and White’s pieces lose their cohesion’. The materialistic engines think Black doesn’t have enough compensation.

15. Bxf3 Nc6
16. dxc5 dxc5
17. Rd1 Rad8
18. Rd5 b6

The engines agree with Botvinnik that Black should have preferred 18… Qe7 19. Rfd1 g6 (the notation in my edition of the book gives the ambiguous ‘P-N3’ but this is clearly meant) 20. g4 when White maintains his centralised queen. Unlike Botvinnik, they think the resulting position is more or less equal, being unable to find a way for White to make significant progress.

19. Rfd1 Na5
20. h3

This passes without comment in the book, but the engines consider it too slow, preferring immediate infiltration with Rd7 when White stands better.

20… Rxd5

This was the position that interested me some 45 years ago, when I was still a pretty inexperienced player. I’d learnt that doubled pawns were bad and that passed pawns were good, so how could Botvinnik possibly consider taking with anything other than the pawn here? His only comment was that ‘Naturally, after 21. cxd5 Qd6! Black’s position would certainly be no worse’. Natural to him, maybe, but back in 1970 not so natural to me.

It’s not so natural to the engines, either, which all want to take with the pawn, just as I would have done. I rather suspect that this is just the sort of position that engines will struggle to assess correctly. As we’ll see next move, Botvinnik overlooked a defensive possibility for Black in the game, which also makes things less clear. I’d be interested to know how Magnus Carlsen, for instance, would assess and play this position.

21. Rxd5 Qe7

This may well be the losing move. The correct defence for Black, missed by Botvinnik in his analysis, was 21… g6 22. Rd7 Kh7 23. Rxa7 Rd8 when Black’s control of the d-file gives him equality.

22. Bg4 Qb7

Now it’s too late for g6: 22… g6 23. Rd7 Qf6 24. Rxa7 Rd8 25. Rd7. So White gets to establish is bishop on the vital f5 square, when he’ll force the exchange of queens and reach a highly favourable ending.

23. Bf5 Qb8

Certainly not 23… g6 24. Bxg6 fxg6 25. Qxh6+ Kf8 26. Rd6 when White will win either the queen or the king. The rest of the game was not a problem for someone with Botvinnik’s technique.

24. Rd7 Rd8
25. Qxe5 Nxc4
26. Qxb8 Rxb8
27. Be4 Na3
28. Bd5 Rf8
29. e4 a5
30. c4 b5
31. cxb5 Nxb5
32. e5 a4
33. f4 Nd4
34. Kf2 g5
35. g3 gxf4
36. gxf4 Ne6
37. Ke3 c4
38. f5 Nc5
39. Rc7 Nd3
40. e6 fxe6

White sealed 41. fxe6 and Black resigned.

Richard James