Category Archives: Richard James

Speed Merchant

My next game featured a return encounter with the Harrow junior I played in my first game of the season. Here’s how our earlier game went. My opponent played all his moves (there weren’t very many of them) more or less instantaneously. I thought perhaps he was rushing the game because he had some homework to complete but that didn’t seem to have been the case.

Here’s the game, in which I had the black pieces.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4 Nf6
4. d3 Bc5
5. h3 d6
6. O-O Na5
7. Bb3 Nxb3
8. axb3 Be6
9. Nc3 a6
10. Bg5 Qd7

A pretty crude attempt to set up a sacrifice on h3. There were probably better plans available, but I suppose you can’t argue with success.

11. d4 exd4
12. Nxd4 O-O-O
13. f4

The engines prefer White after a move like Qd3. After this move, opening up the g1-a7 diagonal, the sacrifice is immediately decisive.

13… Bxh3
14. gxh3 Qxh3
15. Nce2 Ng4
16. Rf3 Qxf3
17. Bh4 Qe3+
18. Kg2 Qxe4+
19. Kg1 Ne3 0-1

The return encounter with our north west London rivals involved a relatively complicated journey by public transport: a bus, two trains and another bus. The trip started badly: the first bus took 20 minutes to get past the first two stops due to a traffic jam so I was running very late. I was pretty flustered when I arrived, finding myself facing the same opponent as in the previous game, but this time with the advantage of the move. He played at the same speed as last time.

Here’s what happened.

1. d4 d5
2. c4 c6
3. Nf3 Nf6
4. e3 Bf5
5. Nc3 e6
6. Nh4 Bg6
7. Nxg6 fxg6

A very strange decision. My database has 1340 games with hxg6 and only 16 with this move.

8. Bd3 Nbd7
9. O-O Bd6
10. cxd5 exd5
11. e4 dxe4
12. Nxe4 Nxe4
13. Bxe4 O-O
14. g3 Kh8
15. Bg2 Qb6
16. Be3

I’d assumed, correctly, it would be dangerous for Black to capture on b2 but my opponent didn’t think twice about it.

16… Qxb2
17. Rb1 Qxa2
18. Rxb7 Nb8

Nb6 or Nf6, allowing me to capture on c6, would have been better alternatives.

19. d5 c5
20. Qc1

My computer likes Qg4 here, with a fairly obscure (at least to me) tactical idea: for example 20. Qg4 Re8 21. Bh6 gxh6 22. Qf3 and now 22… Rf8 loses to Qc3+ while 22… Be7 loses to Rxe7.

20… Qa6
21. Qb2 Be5
22. Qb5

Chickening out by giving Black the option of trading queens. 23. Qb3, retaining the initiative, was correct.

22… Bd6

But instead Black blunders. 22.. Qxb5 23. Rxb5 Nd7 was only slightly better for White.

If I saw this in a tactics book I’d have no problem finding the very simple 23. Rxb8, destroying the defender and winning a piece. Indeed there are plenty of similar examples in Chess Tactics for Heroes, written for players of under 100 ECF/1500 Elo strength (if you want to see the first draft let me know and I’ll email you a copy).

How could I miss such a simple tactic? I was thinking that his last move defended c5 so he was planning to trade queens and keep his extra pawn. Therefore I had to retreat my queen to foil his plan. It just hadn’t occurred to either of us that my last move created a threat. Short circuiting in this way happens over and over again in my games.

23. Qb2 Be5
24. Qb5 Bd6

He repeats the same blunder, and, even after thinking a long time about whether or not to repeat moves I fail to spot the winning move. Instead I decide on a threefold repetition.

25. Qb2 1/2-1/2

What went wrong? Was I still flustered after the traffic problems on the way to the venue? Was I still lacking confidence after losing to a much lower graded opponent a few months earlier? I teach my pupils to look for checks, captures and threats, so why can’t I do it myself?

This was not the only game I played last season which featured simple tactics missed (regular readers will have seen some other examples already). Nor was it the only game in which I agreed a draw in a completely won position.

Richard James

A Knight on d6 is Dim

My next game was again with the white pieces against Mike Singleton, a very experienced player graded slightly above me.

We’d played twice before, a long time ago, and in each case I also had White. Mike beat me in a London League match in 1979, and we drew, again in the London League, in 1982.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 g6
3. Nc3 Bg7
4. Nf3 O-O
5. Bg5

The Smyslov Variation: unless your name is Vasily you might consider this a cowardly way to avoid the main lines. To be fair to myself, though, the stats are pretty good for White after 5… d6 6. e3.

5… c5

An excellent choice as long as you’re happy with a Benoni formation after White plays d5, which is really the first player’s only chance for an advantage.

6. e3 Qa5
7. Bd3

7. Qd2 is usually played here.

7… d6
8. O-O Bg4
9. Bxf6

A poor choice, completely misassessing the position after the minor piece trades.

9… exf6
10. h3 Bxf3
11. Qxf3 Nc6

The immediate cxd4 was probably better as I could now have played dxc5 with equality.

12. Qf4 cxd4
13. exd4 f5

By now I realised that I’d misjudged this position. I’d assumed that Black’s crippled pawn formation would give me the advantage, but in fact it’s Black who stands better due to the weakness of White’s d-pawn. Black’s fianchettoed bishop is very strong here.

14. Nb5 Rad8

He might also have played 14… a6 15. Nxd6 Bxd4 when the knight on d6 is in trouble.

According to Znosko-Borovsky in How Not to Play Chess: ‘The great Steinitz used to say that if he could establish a Kt at his K6 or Q6, he could then safely go to sleep, for the game would win itself’, although Edward Winter has failed to find any contemporary references to Steinitz saying any such thing.

You may recall a previous game in which I excitedly established a white knight on d6 only to find that it was neither strong nor stable on that square. Perhaps I should avoid putting my knights there in future.

15. Nxd6 Qc7
16. c5 Nxd4
17. Rac1 Ne6

My position is falling apart. My knight on d6 is being undermined and my pawns on b2 and c5 are both under attack.

18. Qf3 Nxc5
19. Nxf5

A desperate attempt to find a tactical solution.

19… Qe5

19… Bxb2 was the way to maintain an advantage. Now a forced sequence leads to a level ending.

20. Rfe1 Rxd3
21. Rxe5 Rxf3
22. Ne7+ Kh8
23. Rexc5 Rf4
24. Nd5

Not the most accurate move. It would have been better to do something about the b-pawn immediately…

24… Rd4
25. Ne3 h5

… because Black could now have won a pawn: 25… Ra4 when both my queen-side pawns are en prise.

26. Rc7 Rb4

Misplacing the black rook. Instead 26… Ra4 was equal.

27. b3 Bh6
28. Rd1 a5
29. Rdd7 Bxe3
30. fxe3 b5
31. Rxf7 Rxf7
32. Rxf7

White has won a pawn, but it’s probably not enough to win the game. Black aims to eliminate the queen-side pawns.

32… a4
33. bxa4 Rxa4
34. Rf2 Kg7
35. Rb2 Kf6
36. Rxb5

Settling for the draw. I could have tried to keep the pawns on but it was unlikely to affect the outcome of the game.

36… Rxa2
37. Rb6+ 1/2-1/2

A fair result, I suppose. I didn’t deserve anything more after a craven opening choice followed by an error of judgement on move 9.

Richard James

Better Maul Paul

Returning to my games from last season, I was in need of a win to boost my morale, and, in my next game, had White against Paul Barasi, whom I’ve known well since our first encounter back in 1968. This was our eighth meeting, and up to this point we’d both won twice, with three draws.

As Paul is a regular reader of this column I’ll have to be careful what I saw about him!

Here’s the game:

1. d4 d5 2. c4 Nc6 3. Nc3 dxc4 4. d5 Ne5 5. Nf3 (f4 is the critical move in this southpaw Alekhine’s Defence) Nxf3+ 6. exf3 e6 (6… e5!?) 7. Bxc4 exd5 (7… c6!?) 8. Bxd5 Bd6

There are three games from this position on my database, all of them with the English FM Mark Lyell playing Black. In each case his opponents played Qa4+, and in each case White won the game. The engines prefer Qb3, after which they consider White stands better, so perhaps this line isn’t the best choice for Black. I chose a simpler move which poses fewer problems for Black.

9. O-O Ne7 10. Bb3 O-O 11. Ne4 Bf5 12. Nxd6 cxd6 13. Bf4 d5 14. Rc1 Be6 15. Qd2 a5

Giving me a fairly free pawn. Nc6 or Rc8 would have been OK for Black.

16. Bc7 Qd7 17. Bxa5 Qb5 18. Bb4 Rfe8 19. Bxe7 Rxe7 20. Rfd1 h6 21. Qd4 Ra5 22. g3 b6 23. Rc3 Qe8

Giving me a second pawn in order to threaten mate.

24. Qxb6 Rb5 25. Qd4 Bh3 26. Re3 Rxe3 27. fxe3 Qe7

There’s a third pawn if I want it. 28. Bxd5 Rxd5 29. Qxd5 Qxe3+ 30. Kh1 Qf2 looked scary and I didn’t have time to work it out. After the immediate 31. Rg1 Bf1, with the idea of Be2, White has to take a draw, but instead I can throw in 31. Qd8+ Kh7 32. Qd3+ g6 33. Rg1 when White is safe. 28. g4 is also an option, but again looked too scary. By now, needless to say, I was beginning to get short of time.

28. Kf2 Qc7 29. e4 (Bxd5!?) Rxb3

The engines, as expected, throw their hands up in horror on seeing this move, but it’s an excellent practical try in a lost position.

30. axb3 Qc2+ 31. Qd2 (the immediate Rd2 was also fine) Qc5+ 32. Qe3 Qc2+ 33. Rd2 Qc1

With insufficient time on the clock and facing a mate threat I went into panic mode and missed the correct defence here: 34. g4 Qf1+ 35. Kg3 when Black has nothing.

34. Qe1 Qc5+ 35. Ke2 dxe4 36. Qf2 (36. fxe4! Bg4+ 37. Kd3!) Qb5+ 37. Ke1 e3

I missed that one (exf3 was a better try for Black) but fortunately had a way out and just about enough time left on the clock to win the game from here.

38. Rd8+ Kh7 39. Qc2+ g6 40. Qd3 and i just about managed to beat the clock. I’m not sure that I deserved to win this due to my poor time handling, but still, a win is a win.

Another game, another White and another Paul, this time Paul Janota, another player of about my strength. This was our third encounter: we’d drawn in 2000 and I’d won in 2010.

1. d4 e6 2. c4 Nf6 3. Nf3 b6 4. a3 Bb7 5. Nc3 Be7 6. Qc2 (d5!?) d5 7. cxd5 exd5 8. Bf4 O-O 9. e3 Nbd7 10. h3 (Unnecessary here: Bd3!?) a6 11. Be2 c5 12. O-O Rc8 13. Qd2 Re8 14. Rac1 Nf8 15. Rfd1 Ng6 16. Bh2 Bd6 17. Bxd6 Qxd6 18. dxc5 bxc5 (A typical hanging pawns position which should be fine for Black. My opening hasn’t been very impressive.) 19. Bd3 Ne5 20. Nxe5 Qxe5 21. Be2 Ne4 (Not such a good idea. Now I get some play on the d-file.) 22. Nxe4 dxe4 23. Qc3 h6 24. Qxe5 Rxe5 25. Bc4 Re7 26. Rd6 a5 27. Rcd1 Bc6 28. Rd8+ Re8 29. Rxe8+ Bxe8 30. Rd5 (Bd5!?) Kh7 (Kf8!?) 31. Re5 (winning a pawn) Rb8 32. Rxc5 Rxb2 33. Rxa5 Rc2 (Rb7!?) 34. Bd5 (winning a second pawn because of 34… f5 35. Be6 g6 36. Rc7+) 1-0 A rather generous resignation by my opponent. He might have played on for a few more moves.

Two rather unconvincing wins, but at least they went some way towards getting my season back on track.

Richard James

You Made Me Lose

It was in the very early days of Richmond Junior Club, 40 or more years ago. One Saturday morning a boy approached me accusingly. “Mr James, you made me lose!”, he said.

I soon discovered what had happened. The previous week I’d demonstrated Legall’s mate to him. A few days later he had a school chess match and was presented with the opportunity to move his pinned knight, following up with a check when his opponent captured his queen. Sadly, there was no mate there: the position was similar but not the same. Of course this is one reason why chess is so hard. you learn an idea: there will be many similar positions where the same idea will work and, equally, many other similar positions where it won’t work. You can’t just use memory. You have to calculate as well.

I was reminded of this the other day by something one of my private pupils said to me. When he arrived for his lesson his mother told me that he had a tournament coming up in a couple of weeks time so could I teach him some openings? At his level chess is about not making oversights and understanding what’s happening at the start of the game, not, as many parents assume, about learning some moves off by heart before a competition.

I printed off what I’ve done so far on Chess Openings for Heroes, which takes a very different approach to the begnning of the game, and decided I should start by making sure he knows how to stop Scholar’s Mate. In this sort of tournament there are always kids who will try it on. We’ve done this several times before, but unless it’s reinforced at home, children will forget. I played the moves 1. e4 e5 2. Qh5 Nc6 (he argued with me that Nf6 was better because he seemed to remember someone once told him that was the move to play) 3. Bc4. To his credit he played Qe7. I told him that was fine, but that he could also play g6. He looked horrified by this suggestion and told me his chess teacher at school, who is a much stronger player than me as well as a very experienced chess coach, said that this was a bad move. No doubt he was told not to play 1. e4 e5 2. Qh5 g6 but had remembered the advice without understanding the reason and was unable to differentiate between the two positions.

At this level children remind me of Eric Morecambe’s attempt to play the Grieg Piano Concerto in the famous Morecambe and Wise sketch: they play all the right moves, but not necessarily in the right order.

There was also a boy at a school chess club more than 20 years ago who had remembered that after 2. Qh5 you could defend by putting one of your big pieces on e7, but couldn’t remember which piece to use. So week after week he played 2… Ke7 and week after week lost game after game in three moves.

Children who try to memorise moves without understanding and without calculating will inevitably become confused and frustrated. But memory is much easier than calculation and understanding for young children, and their parents often suffer from the mistaken belief that chess is mostly about memory.

It’s not just the moves that can leave children confused: it’s also the rules of the game. A few months ago another of my private pupils played in the Megafinals of the UK Chess Challenge, just failing to qualify for the Gigafinals. He told me that in one of his games he was winning and decided to castle. When doing so he accidentally knocked his king over. His opponent claimed a win on the grounds that my student had resigned. His father then came up (I don’t know why he was in the playing hall at all) and explained that the result was correct: if you knock your king over you forfeit the game.

I’ve seen children cheat in this way but you can also see how a misunderstanding might arise. You’re watching a video of a game between two grandmasters. One of them turns his king over to indicate that he’s resigning. Your child asks why he did that and you reply that if you knock your king over it means you resign.

Some years ago, another pupil was playing in the Megafinals. In one game he was winning but his opponent moved his king next to my pupil’s king and claimed a draw. My student, thinking this was a rule he didn’t know about, accepted the result. Again, you can guess what might have happened. The other player witnessed a board with the kings on e4 and e5. He asked the reason for this and was told that if two kings stand next to each other it means the game is drawn. Taking it out of context, he assumes that if you move your king next to your opponent’s king at any time you can claim a draw.

Most children are resilient and get over this sort of experience pretty quickly, but a few aren’t, and don’t.

You see misunderstandings at a more basic level when children first join school chess clubs. They’ve been told ‘you win the game by taking your opponent’s king’ and ‘you castle by swapping round your king and rook’: maybe because their dad really believes that these are the rules, but more likely because he doesn’t explain checkmate and castling clearly and make sure that his children understand.

How can we avoid these misunderstandings and ensure that children are well prepared before they join a chess club and before they play in their first tournament?

Richard James

The Time Factor

Two weeks ago I left you having just lost my worst ever game. Was I getting too old for chess? Would my season recover?

The following week I was back at Kingston, for a cup match. This time I was paired with black against one of my regular opponents, an experienced player of about my own strength who favours 1. d4 and 2. Bg5 with the white pieces. We traded a lot of pieces early on and reached what I thought was a slightly better ending, whereupon he offered me a draw, which, considering what had happened the week before, I was happy to accept just to regain my equilibrium. I spent most of the rest of the evening in the bar downstairs playing blitz against my opponent from the week before, and winning most of the games very easily.

In my next game I was black again, against Alfie Onslow, a very strong junior who had now outgrown Richmond Junior Club and was playing for Ealing Juniors. He had won a close game against me the previous season and chose the same opening this time round.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4 Nf6
4. d3 Bc5
5. c3

The current fashion, avoiding immediate confrontation and leading to a strategically rich middle game. It seems to be popular with a number of strong juniors at present.

5… a6
6. Nbd2 O-O
7. Qe2

Alfie played this against me in our previous game as well. It’s unusual but there’s nothing wrong with it.

7… d5
8. Bb3 Bg4

I don’t think this is a very sensible move. I tell my pupils not to play your bishop here in the Nc3 Giuoco Pianissimo if you’ve castled but your opponent hasn’t. It probably applies here as well. Having said that, though, a guy with a 2435 rating used it to beat a much lower rated opponent.

9. h3 Bh5
10. Nf1 dxe4

Making a decision as to what pawn formation I want to play. d4 was also possible here.

11. dxe4 Bg6
12. Ng3 Nh5

This is a serious mistake, although Alfie doesn’t take advantage of it.

13. Nxh5 Bxh5
14. O-O

Chickening out of the critical plan. White should go for the black king here: 14. g4 Bg6 15. h4 when Black has the unenviable choice between 15… h6 16. h5 Bh7 17. g5 and 15… h5 16. Ng5

14… Kh8
15. Be3 Qe7
16. Rad1 Rad8
17. Bd5 Bxe3
18. Qxe3 Qf6
19. g4 Bg6
20. Bxc6 bxc6

I’ve been outmanoeuvred over the past few moves and now have doubled isolated c-pawns. The white knight heads towards the key c5 square.

21. Nd2 Qe6
22. Nb3 Qc4
23. f3 f6
24. Qc5 Bf7
25. Qe7 Rc8
26. Nc1

Again opting out of the critical option, 26. Rd7, when Black might have chances of holding on after 26… Qb5.Now I can chase his queen back.

26… Rfe8
27. Qd7 Be6
28. Qd2 Qc5+
29. Qf2 Qe7
30. Rd2 Red8
31. Rfd1 h6
32. Nb3 Bxb3
33. axb3 Rd6

I’d been some way behind on the clock the whole game and by now I didn’t have time to think. Hence this move, which is in effect the fatal mistake. I just wanted to give him the opportunity of undoubling my pawns while contesting the d-file, but the undoubled pawns turn out to be much weaker than the doubled pawns. Instead I should have just waited to see how he was intending to make progress. The engines recommend a5, to prevent b4, either immediately or after trading on d2.

34. Rxd6 cxd6
35. Qb6

This is what I’d missed. There’s no way to defend the a-pawn. I think I’d have seen this and played something else on move 33 if I’d had more time on the clock. However, all is not necessarily lost. I could still have gained some counterplay if I’d have found the correct plan here. The white king is not altogether secure so I should have aimed to open some lines in the centre with 35… Qd7 36. Qxa5 d5 with some practical chances, but I didn’t have enough time left to do anything requiring any thought.

35… Kh7
36. Qxa6 Rc7
37. b4 Qe6
38. Qd3 Rd7
39. c4 h5

39… Rb7 still offered some chances but I only had time to look at one side of the board.

40. c5 hxg4
41. hxg4 g6
42. cxd6 Kg7
43. b3 Kf7
44. Qc4 f5
and White soon won.

Alfie played a good game and deserved to win, but perhaps I should have held the draw. My problem in this game, as with most of my recent games, was poor clock handling. When you’re playing to a finish in a 2½ hour session you really can’t afford to get too far behind your opponent on the clock, especially if you’re, like me, not confident when you have little time left. This is something I really need to work on in future.

Richard James

Cedars of Harrow

Let me take you back about 65 years, to the early 1950s. We’re on a council estate in the North West London suburb of Harrow Weald. A few years ago two friends had learnt chess, and now they are joined by a third boy, whom one of them had met through a shared interest in train spotting, all three sharing the same first name: David. With support from the local community centre they form a chess club on their estate which soon attracts more teenagers from the surrounding area. The club takes its name from the name of the estate: Cedars. They enter a team in the Middlesex League and rapidly gain promotion to Division 1, winning the title at the end of the decade. In 1959 the third David, a certain Dave Rumens, shares second place in the World Junior (U20) Championship.

Other clubs, notably Mushrooms in South London, spring up in imitation of Cedars. By the early 1960s chess is booming among teenage boys in London, and Islington win the London League with a team comprising mostly teenagers. It was from this environment that the first wave of the English Chess Explosion would arise: players a few years younger than the three Daves, the likes of Ray Keene, Bill Hartston and Mike Basman would achieve prominence not just nationally but internationally, and a few years later, players such as Jonathan Speelman and Michael Stean, along with Tony Miles from Birmingham, would approach world class.

As it turned out, Cedars didn’t last very long, although their imitators, Mushrooms, are still going strong today, oscillating between Divisions 1 and 2 of the London League and still with several of the same players from half a century ago. The historical importance of Cedars, though, should not be underestimated.

I was, like many others, saddened to hear that Dave Rumens, the third of the three Davids, died last month. Dave disappeared from the chess scene in the early 60s and 1965 married Carol Lumley. Two daughters, Kelsey and Rebecca, soon arrived. Carol later found fame as a poet, using her married name: Carol Rumens. The marriage didn’t last, and in the mid 70s Dave returned to his first love: chess. For nearly a decade he was a fixture on the weekend circuit: no tournament was complete without Dave’s permanent cheeky grin and trademark Grand Prix Attack against the Sicilian Defence. His attractive and aggressive playing style, along with his friendly and outgoing personality, made him one of the most popular figures in British chess.

Now I can quite understand why many of you don’t visit the English Chess Forum very often, but I would urge you to read this thread right the way though, in particular the contributions of Cedars co-founder Dave Mabbs, and others who knew Dave much better than I did. Note also his ex-wife’s poetic tribute. You can also find an obituary written by Stewart Reuben on the ECF website here.

I first got to know Dave Rumens in 1976, when I was marginally involved in an international tournament run by the London Central YMCA chess club (CentYMCA is another great story, perhaps for another column) and persuaded a few of my clubmates from Richmond to take part.

Here’s a brilliant win from that event, with Dave using his favourite opening system to defeat former English international Michael Franklin.

Dave’s second chess career brought him two IM norms, but sadly not the title which his creative play deserved. He dropped out of competitive chess again in 1984, only making a brief comeback in 2001. But that was far from the end of his involvement with chess. In the 1990s he started a new chess career in junior chess coaching, and taught chess very successfully in North London right up until his final illness. Dave Rumens was a real chess original, both as a player and a personality, and will be much missed by very many people in the chess world.

Dave Mabbs continued playing on and off, making more comebacks than Frank Sinatra, most recently a couple of years ago after more than a decade away from the board. Now living in Suffolk, he still has a very respectable grade of 178. I played him three times in the Thames Valley League, losing in 1973 and drawing in both 1983 and 1984. The third Dave, David Levens, although always slightly less strong than his two namesakes, has played a lot more regularly than either, most recently in the British Over 65 Championship. He now lives in Nottingham and has a grade of 155. He is also very much involved with junior coaching and has written a book for beginners.

Let’s just return, though, to suburban London in the 1950s. Can you imagine anything like that happening today: a group of teenagers from a less than privileged background getting together to form a chess club which within a few years becomes one of the strongest in the country. (Dave Rumens’ father was a window cleaner at the time of his birth, and later found employment as a postman. Leonard Barden, a decade older and still going strong, is the son of a dustman.) Most teenagers, at least here in the UK, no longer have that sort of interest in chess. Most teenagers, I suspect, also lack the gumption to start something of that nature for themselves. Both chess and childhood are very different now from two generations ago. In some ways they’re both a lot better, but I can’t help thinking we’ve lost a lot as well.

Richard James

Heffalump Swamp

The only competitive chess I’ve played for many years has been in my local league, the Thames Valley League. As I write this we’re half way though the summer break so it’s a good time to look back to last season’s games and consider how I might do better next time round.

My first game last season was a quick (in more ways than one) win against a talented junior which I’ll probably come back to later. My next match was against Kingston, a small club with a fairly strong first team but not much in the way of reserve strength. As several of their regular players were unavailable I found myself playing an opponent graded more than 50 points (about 400 Elo points) below me. Now I’m normally fairly consistent: I tend to beat lower graded players, lose to higher graded players and draw with players about my own strength, so, with the advantage of the white pieces, I was expecting a fairly comfortable victory.

Here’s what happened.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 d5

If he’s playing this move he doesn’t know a lot about openings.

3. cxd5 Nxd5
4. Nf3 Nc6
5. e4 Nb6
6. d5 Nb8
7. Nc3 e6

He’s hitting my centre pawn. What to do? At this point I started having visions of my opponent playing Bb4 sometime soon giving me problems holding d5 so I panicked and looked for a way to stop this idea. Bf4, Be2 and Qd4 have all been played here and the engines rather like a4, but I decided I should trade off the dark squared bishops and get his queen off the d-file.

In fact I have tactical resources, for instance 8. Bf4 exd5 9. exd5 Bb4 10. Qe2+ or 8. Be2 exd5 9. exd5 Bb4 10. Qd4, but these weren’t immediately obvious to me so, after some thought, I played…

8. Bg5 Be7
9. Bxe7 Qxe7
10. Be2 O-O
11. O-O

I was happy with my lead in development, space advantage and extra centre pawn but the engines are not so impressed, considering the position about equal.

11… N8d7

The engines tell me Black should trade on d5 here, and that I should, either now or next move, play dxe6, meeting Qxe6 with Nb5. Not something I considered at all, of course.

12. a4 a5
13. Rc1 c6

Again he should have traded on d5, but instead he gives me the chance to play d6. Well, it’s the obvious move but again I started panicking about the pawn eventually being surrounded by the black pieces so decided on what I thought was a safer alternative.

14. dxc6 bxc6

I was still fairly happy here. Black has an isolated pawn which I can target, and if it moves to c5 I’ll have a tasty outpost on b5. I would also have argued that the black bishop is rather bad. The engines are still not impressed, though.

15. Nd4 Bb7
16. f4 Nf6
17. e5

Why not gain some space to go with my other advantages? I expected Nd5 here, but the engines prefer the unobvious (at this level) tactical shot Rfd8. Instead the knight went back where it came from, so I appeared to have gained a couple of tempi.

17… Nfd7
18. Bf3

Hitting the weak pawn on c6 again.

18… Nd5

Now I have to make a decision.

19. Bxd5

At the time I was pleased with myself for having found this move. I was trading advantages: giving up a bishop for a knight and straightening his pawns, assuming he’d take back with the c-pawn, but in exchange I’d get an outpost on b5, play on the c-file and, potentially, a good knight against a bad bishop. I didn’t seriously consider what would happen if he took with the e-pawn. In fact taking with the e-pawn is fine for Black and Bxd5 was a pretty poor decision. Nxd5 was OK and perhaps very slightly better for White, as was Qd2.

19… exd5

Never mind: I can still get my knight to d6. This must be good for me.

20. Nf5 Qe6
21. Nd6 Ba6

It hadn’t occurred to me that he now had this square for his bishop, but never mind. My rook will be happy looking at the black queen.

22. Re1 f6

It was only now that I realised I had a problem. I can’t defend e5 again and my knight on d6 has nowhere to go. It now seemed to me that, far from playing safe, I’d overreached and was now in trouble.

23. f5 Qe7

I couldn’t see any alternative to the speculative sacrifice on d5, but in fact there’s a tactical solution: 24. Ncb5 cxb5 25. Qxd5+ Kh8 26. axb5, when I’m regaining the piece as the bishop is trapped (Bc8 leaves the rook on a8 hanging). I’m not a good enough tactician to see that sort of thing, so I had to make do with…

24. Nxd5 cxd5
25. Qxd5+ Kh8

This looked fairly unclear to me: perhaps my opponent would find the defence too difficult. But now we’re in exactly the sort of swamp where heffalumps are as likely as rabbits to drown.

26. exf6

My computer tells me I should have played 26. Rc7, which is an immediate draw by repetition after 26… fxe5 27. Qc6 and now either 27… Rfd8 28. Qd5 Rf8 or 27… Nb8 28. Qc5 Nd7. But I was starting to run low on time and it seemed natural to trade off my e-pawn rather than leaving it en prise.

26… Qxf6

26… Nxf6, trading queens, was a probable improvement.

27. Rc7 Rad8
28. Qc6

After thinking for a bit I suddenly noticed I had a fork and jumped at the opportunity. But, unlike in the line after White’s 26th move, it’s just a losing blunder. I’d simply missed that he could defend with Nb8, meeting both my threats and creating two threats of his own.

It’s not obvious at my level and with the clock ticking, but 28. Rc6 Nb8 29. Re6 is the computer recommendation, apparently with equality. The tactical point is that the immediate 28. Rc6 would allow Qxb2, but now 29… Qxb2 would lose to Nf7+.

28… Qd4+
29. Kh1 Qd2

He should have played Nb8 at this point, which just wins at once. Now I have some sort of defence.

30. Rg1 Nb8
31. Ne4 Qe2

And here he should trade queens, which is still winning comfortably.

32. Qc3 Rd7
33. Rxd7

I had two better choices here: f6, which I think I considered but rejected, and Qc5.

33… Nxd7
34. Nd6 Nf6

34… Qd3 was correct here. Now I could and should grab the a-pawn: my only hope is to run Black out of pawns.

35. h3 Qf2
36. Rc1

Again, I should have captured on a5, which, according to my computer, is only slightly better for Black. By now neither of us had enough time left so I’ll let the rest of the moves pass without comment.

36… Bf1
37. Qc6 Qf4
38. Rc2 Bd3
39. Rc1 Bxf5
40. Nxe4 Bxe4
40. Nxf5 Qxf5
41. Rc5 Qf1+
42. Kh2 Qf4+

At this point I stopped recording as I was down to my last couple of minutes. My opponent eventually mated me with king and rook against king just before his flag fell.

So what went wrong? The mistakes at the end were understandable: the position was complicated and I didn’t have enough time left. The main problem was the blunder on move 28, and before that the positional misjudgement on move 19. I could have played the early part of the game much better, but on several occasions I didn’t play the move I knew I should have played because I was fearing ghosts: something that happens over and over again in my games. Perhaps I was unlucky because the run of play went against me. This sometimes happens, but my opponent played well after the opening and took enough of his chances to score a well deserved win.

Richard James

Novice Versus Amateur

One genre of chess book I find useful involves games between masters and amateurs. This originated with a series of books by Max Euwe and Walter Meiden in the 1960s, and there have been a few others since. I’ve always thought that you can probably learn more from the play of those rated, say, 300-400 points above you than from the top players. If I see a game played by a 2200 strength player I’ll be able to understand it and think ‘Yes, I could play like that’, while a game played by Carlsen will be over my head.

So perhaps there’s scope for a book for novices which uses games played by amateurs as teaching materials. The games would have to be simple to understand and free from obvious oversights. As it happens, one of the books in the Chess Heroes project, Chess Games for Heroes, will be similar to this, but as it uses the ‘How Good is Your Chess’ principle the games are, of necessity, short.

Here’s a training game I played against one of my pupils which might be useful.

1. e4 d5

I usually play e5, which is what he’s used to, but wanted to see what he’d do when faced with unfamiliar problems. Of course the natural move is to take the pawn, but he noticed I had a threat and chose to defend instead.

2. Nc3 c6

I decided to transpose to a Caro-Kann. How would he cope with that? Rather illogically, perhaps, he now decided to trade pawns.

3. exd5 cxd5
4. d4 Bf5
5. Bf4 Nf6
6. Nf3 e6

Rather careless. I’m trying to develop my king side pieces first, but not considering possible replies. White now has the opportunity to play 7. Bxb8 Rxb8 8. Bb5+ when I’d have to play the uncomfortable Ke7 as Nd7 would lose immediately to Ne5. White has another interesting option in Nb5, which was also possible last move. I’d have to reply with Na6 when the knight on b5 will be safe for some time to come. I really should have played Nc6 by now.

7. Bb5+ Nbd7
8. O-O Bb4

With a positional threat. We haven’t yet spoken much about weak pawns so here’s an opportunity to teach him a lesson. The engines prefer h6 here, to prevent White playing Nh4 and trading off my light squared bishop.

9. a3

Just what I was hoping for. Now I’m going to trade on c3 when White will have backward doubled pawns on the half-open c-file as well as an isolated a-pawn. In an analogous position type where Black has a c-pawn rather than an e-pawn White might be happy with his two bishops, but here I’m hoping to tie him down to defence by targeting the front c-pawn with my major pieces.

9… Bxc3
10. bxc3 Rc8

I could also have played Ne4 here, but I would have had to analyse lines like 10… Ne4 11. Ne5 Nxc3 12. Qh5 Bg6 13. Bxd7+ Qxd7 14. Nxd7 Bxh5 15. Ne5 Ne2+ to justify it.

11. Qd2

He spots my threat and chooses the most natural defence. There were better alternatives, but at novice level it wouldn’t be possible to find them for the right reasons.

The simplest option is 11. Nh4 Bg6 12. Nxg6 hxg6 13. Qf3 Ne4 14. c4.

White can also give up the c-pawn for counterplay:
11. Qb1 Rxc3 12. Qb4 Rxc2 13. Ne5 with more than enough compensation, although Black shouldn’t take the second pawn.
11. Rb1 Rxc3 12. Bd3 Bxd3 13. cxd3 b6 14. Qa4 with compensation for the pawn.

11… O-O

After playing this move I realised that I could have played Ne4 at once, although my move is also strong. Around this point my pupil became stuck, and was unable to find reasonable moves. Understandably so because his position is very difficult to play and he probably doesn’t have any reasonable moves. Some of his moves, including the next one, were my suggestions.

12. Bd3

I’d suggested that he might want to trade off my dangerous bishop. I have no intention of taking it, though, as I don’t want to give him control of c4 and e4. After he’d played the move I realised that Ne4 was very strong.

12… Ne4
13. Bxe4 Bxe4

The wrong recapture. I didn’t want to double my pawns (as I was trying to teach my pupil about the weakness of doubled pawns) or block in my bishop, but dxe4 is excellent as it drives the white knight back to e1.

14. Qe3

If I’d noticed it left the c2 pawn en prise I’d have suggested that he played an alternative. My computer thinks Ne5 is the best try, but Black’s still a lot better.

14… Nb6
15. Nd2 Bxc2

The rest of the game is just a matter of technique for an experienced player. I offered my pupil the chance to switch sides and see if he could win with Black at several points but, to his credit, he preferred to play it out and see how I beat him.

16. Rac1 Bg6
17. Bg5 Qc7
18. Bf4 Qc6
19. Rfd1 Nc4
20. Nxc4 Qxc4
21. Bd6 Rfd8
22. Be7 Rd7
23. Bg5 b6
24. Rd2 Qb3
25. Bf4 Qxa3

A second pawn falls.

26. Rdd1 a5
27. Re1 Rc4
28. Qd2 Rd8
29. Re3 Rdc8
30. h3 b5
31. g3 b4

The third weak pawn falls. White finds a good tactical try but I manage to calculate the win.

32. Bd6 bxc3
33. Bxa3 cxd2
34. Rd1 Rc1
35. Bxc1 Rxc1
36. Rb3

Another good tactical try, threatening mate but allowing an amusing finish. My pupil shows admirable tactical imagination as well as tenacity which will stand him in good stead in the future.

36… Rxd1+
37. Kg2 Rg1+
38. Kh2 Rh1+
39. Kg2 Be4+
40. f3 Bxf3+
41. Kf2 g6
42. Rb8+ Kg7
43. Kxf3 d1=Q+
44. Kf4 Qxd4+
45. Kf3 Rf1+
46. Ke2 Rf2+
47. Ke1 Qd2#

I guess you might find this a useful example of how an amateur can beat a novice by creating weak pawns, attacking them and winning them. This is not the only training game of this nature I’ve played recently so I guess learning about pawn weaknesses, how to avoid them, how to create them and how to exploit them, is a useful lesson for novices who want to become amateurs. There may be more on this topic in Chess Openings for Heroes.

Richard James

Feedback and Follow-ups

This week, some feedback and follow-ups on recent posts.

But first, something rather less recent. It was great to hear from Dr Robert Samuels, a chess player and senior lecturer in music at the Open University, concerning my articles on chess and music last year. I pointed him in the direction of The Even More Complete Chess Addict, which he is enjoying reading. He has just started his own blog on chess and music which you can, and should, if you’re interested in both chess and music, read here.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the European Schools Chess Championship in Montenegro and mentioned the reports by an English parent who was concerned that some of the participants were fearful of the reactions of their parents and coaches if they lost.

Shortly after publication I came across this article from the Jewish Chronicle last year, written by Dana Brass, mother of leading English junior Ezra Brass. Her experience has been very similar:

The reaction of the Russians, who had sent the largest delegation, was perfunctory. A win was simply an expectation met, a job done. A loss would unleash a myriad of expletives at the poor offspring very publicly (again, my Russian proving useful).

Meanwhile, there were problems with parents at the recent PanAm youth Youth Championships in Costa Rica, according to a Facebook post by Paul Truong:

Some chess parents and coaches are embarrassing the chess community, again! After receiving so many complaints, the organization of the 2017 PanAm Youth Championships addressed the complaints and announced a new procedure this morning.

They are allowing all parents, coaches, family members, and head of delegations, etc. 5 minutes to take photos of their players. After the 5 minutes are up, they are asked to leave the playing hall. Once everyone was out of the room, play began.

The reason for this is a number of parents and coaches instead of taking pictures of their players, took pictures of all the opening positions of potential rivals. Some got so aggressive that they got in the way of other parents / family members / coaches who really want to take pictures of their own players.

When this announcement was made, a huge round of applause erupted. At one time years ago, parents were allowed to be in the playing hall. Because of a few parents and coaches who cannot behave, rules had to be changed.

Chess is a game. The time for serious preparation is at home. Young players need their parents and coaches’ support at tournaments but some lines should not be crossed.

In the same article I asked why other Western European countries were not represented in the European Schools Championship. This elicited a reply from Helmut Froeyman, whose son Hugo is Belgian U8 Champion, explaining that, in his case at least, it was a matter of time and money: his national chess federation offers no financial support for this type of event, and he and his wife both work full time. In addition, this particular tournament clashed with Hugo’s school exams. I took the opportunity to read Helmut’s chess blog and ask him more about junior chess in his country. His reply confirmed my understanding: perhaps I’ll return to this some other time.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how many parents misunderstand the nature of chess. Here’s another story.

The other day I was filling in for a colleague who had to leave early in the RJCC Beginners’/Novices’ group. There were a few children who were too young and immature for chess, but others who were really enthusiastic and keen to learn. Some of them were still there with me more than half an hour after the scheduled end of the session. Among the children left at the end were a sister and brother who had come along for the first time that day. Their mother was also watching with interest. I set up this position and asked them how White could get checkmate in two moves.

This is a good question as it tests children’s understanding of both pawn promotion and stalemate as well as their ability to look ahead and their knowledge of typical king and rook checkmates. I was planning to move onto the positions discussed here, but first wanted to see whether they could solve this.

One of them eventually realised that promoting to a queen was stalemate and they finally discovered that the problem was solved by promoting to a rook instead.

The mother watching was incredulous, though. How could it possibly be better to promote to a rook rather than a queen? There’s nothing a rook can do that a queen can’t do. True, but there’s something a queen can do that a rook can’t do: in this case, control the h6 square. She seemed unaware of the concept of stalemate, and of the idea of looking at what your opponent’s next move might be. She told me that when she was a girl her family lived on a boat, and she was taught chess by a man with a fondness for ‘a certain substance’. At least, unlike most parents, she was doing the right thing by taking her children to Richmond Junior Club, where, as we have a separate group for novices, her children will learn to play correctly.

I’d advise her, though, not to read How to beat Anyone at Chess, by Ethan Moore. Simon & Schuster were the first publishers of Fischer’s My 60 Memorable Games, but now they’re publishing a book, which doesn’t quite make the same impression.

Here’s the blurb:

Learn to take the king like a pro!

Whether you’ve played a few matches or are completely new to the game, How to Beat Anyone at Chess helps you master leading strategies for one of the hardest games out there. Each page guides you through important moves with easy-to-understand explanations and tips for staying ahead of your opponent. From utilizing the queen’s power to slaying your rival’s king, you’ll learn all about the traps, squeezes, and sacrifices that give players an extra edge and how you can use these techniques to beat the competition.

The ultimate guide to conquering the classic game, How to Beat Anyone at Chess will show you how to become a grandmaster in no time!

Who, you might ask, is Ethan Moore? Perhaps he’s this guy, with a rating of 883. Who knows? Quality control, indeed!

Finally, shortly after writing this post I read another article about Brexit by a former RJCC member, Jonathan White. Jonathan still finds time to play chess in between being a professor at the London School of Economics. Perhaps one reason is that, unlike Adam and Tommy, he started competitive chess at the age of 13, when he joined RJCC from Westminster School along with his friend, Ben Yeoh.

I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again now: children who start competitive chess at secondary school age are much more likely to play as adults than those who start at primary school age.

Richard James

As Others See Us

“Chess. Quite boring if you ask me but chess club is the sort of thing you should belong to aged 8 if you’re going to graduate to the Bullingdon Club and then become a Tory MP.”

(A note for non-UK readers: the Bullingdon Club is, according to Wikipedia, “an exclusive but unofficial all-male students’ dining club based in Oxford … noted for its wealthy members, grand banquets, boisterous rituals and destructive behaviour, such as the vandalising (“trashing”) of restaurants and students’ rooms.” It’s former members include David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson.)

This is the opinion, not that anyone, as far as I know, was asking her, of one Sophia Money-Coutts, in a recent Sunday Telegraph article about board games. I guess she should know about Tory MPs, if not about chess. Sophia’s grandfather was Bill Deedes, a Tory (or Conservative, for those of my friends who like to make the distinction) MP famous for his friendship with Margaret and Denis Thatcher, and from a long line of MPs dating back almost 400 years.

I suppose it makes a change from the usual stereotypical description of chess players: we’re usually portrayed as being introverted nerds with poor social skills and dubious personal hygiene, shabbily dressed and with our sandwiches in a carrier bag. Articles about chess on internet news sites often conclude with the obligatory ‘all chess players are loonies’ feature, with paragraphs about Morphy collecting women’s shoes, Steinitz giving God odds of pawn and move, Carlos Torre taking his clothes off on the bus, and Fischer – well – just being Fischer. Given the way we’re presented in the media, it’s not surprising that parents sometimes tell me they don’t want their children to be good at chess. Sure, they want them to play chess because they’ve read that ‘chess makes kids smarter’, but, understandably, they don’t want them to grow up to become either Billy No-Mates or Boris Johnson. To be honest, I’m not sure which is worse.

Perhaps, though, there’s also an element of truth in Sophia’s perception of school chess clubs as being mainly for intelligent boys from upper-class families. We could start by looking at the schools taking part in the final stages of various national schools competitions.

Let’s start with the EPSCA (English Primary Schools Chess Association) Under 9 Championship.

The final eight teams this year, in order of finishing, were as follows:
1. Westminster Under (the junior branch of Westminster School, one of London’s leading academic schools)
2. Homefield (upmarket prep school in South London with a strong recent chess record)
3. St Paul’s Juniors (the junior branch of St Paul’s School, another of London’s leading academic schools, whose former pupils include Jon Speelman, Julian Hodgson and many other chess players)
4. Wetherby (top people’s prep school in central London, former pupils include Princes William and Harry)
5. The Hall (upmarket prep school in Hampstead, also with a strong recent chess record)
6. Hallfield (prep school in Edgbaston, an affluent suburb of Birmingham)
7. Akiva (Jewish fee-paying primary school in North London)
8. Dulwich Prep (the junior branch of Dulwich College, another top academic London school, whose former pupils include Ray Keene)

Eight fee-paying schools, seven of them in London. Will the Under 11 Championship be any different?

1= Westminster Under
1= Haberdashers’ Aske’s (prep department of leading independent school in Elstree, just north of London, another school with many recent chess successes)
3. Heathside (another upmarket prep school in Hampstead with a strong recent chess record)
4. North London Collegiate (prep department of leading independent girls’ school in North London)
5. North Bridge House (upmarket prep school in North London, again with a strong chess tradition)
6= Homefield
6= Brookland (state primary school in Hampstead Garden Suburb)
8. Heycroft (state primary school in Essex with chess on the curriculum via CSC)

So 14 schools were represented in this competition, of which 12 are, I believe, fee-paying, 12 are in affluent areas of London and one in an affluent area of Birmingham.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against any of these schools and offer my congratulations to all of them, to their pupils, their chess tutors and their parents. It’s especially gratifying to see the CSC (Chess in Schools and Communities) pupils from Heycroft and the girls from North London Collegiate doing so well. But it does look as if, taking only school chess clubs into consideration, Sophia Money-Coutts has a point.

The ECF Under 19 Schools Championship is not very different, although, partly because of the way it’s run, there’s a much wider geographical spread: as far as I can tell, the final 16 schools were either fee-paying or grammar (selective) schools.

(For those readers not familiar with the UK education system, in most parts of the country children move from primary to comprehensive (non-selective) schools at the age of 11, but in some areas there are also state grammar (selective) schools which require children to pass an examination. There’s also a thriving private sector with many fee-paying schools.)

1. Royal Grammar School Guildford (fee-paying)
2. Hampton School (fee-paying)
3= Reading School (grammar)
3= Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School (fee-paying)
3= Queen Elizabeth’s School Barnet (grammar)
6= King Edward’s School Birmingham (fee-paying)
6= The Judd School (grammar)
6= Nottingham High School (fee-paying)
6= City of London School (fee-paying)
6= King Edward VI Grammar School Chelmsford (grammar)
6= Wilson’s School (grammar)
12= Sir Thomas Rich’s School (grammar)
12= Eltham College (fee-paying)
12= Wirral Grammar School for Boys (grammar)
12= Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital (fee-paying)
16. Yarm School (fee-paying)

Here’s an exciting game from this event with a remarkable conclusion. Can you find an improvement for Black on move 24? The winner is an IM elect from Haberdashers’ Aske’s school: his opponent was representing Sir Thomas Rich’s School.

While I’d again like to offer my congratulations to the participants, and my thanks to the orgainsers of both competitions, this does make the whole schools chess set-up in the UK look very elitist, in the worst sense. I wonder how many of the participants will indeed go on to read Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford, join the Bullingdon Club and become Conservative MPs.

I’d suggest two things: we should be doing more to promote chess in the state sector, especially within comprehensive schools (CSC is already doing great work in primary schools), and should also strive to promote a more positive image of chess itself: as an exciting and beautiful, not a boring game, and of chess players: as serious sportspeople, not as either nerds or toffs.

The answer to my question above: Black missed the extraordinary defence 24… Qd7, when, after the moves 25. Bxd5 e6 26. Nxe5 Qxd5 27. Qf4 Qb7, my computer assures me that White will eventually draw by perpetual check by moving his knight to g4 and then to f6. Chess is only boring to those who, like Sophia, don’t know enough about it to appreciate its excitement and beauty.

Richard James