Category Archives: Richard James

Typical Errors in Children’s Games

I was watching a game between two young girls, both fairly good players for their age, at Richmond Junior Club yesterday.

As I reached their board the position, in its essentials, looked something like this:

I watched White playing Qxf7+. As soon as she saw the check Black picked up her king and moved it to its only legal square, h8. Now White noticed she had a passed pawn so moved it from c6 to c7. Black now spotted that the white queen was en prise and captured it with her queen. But it was too late: White was promoting a pawn and soon won the game.

In this short sequence we see several errors which are very typical of the play of children at this level.

White sees what she thinks is a good move and jumps at the opportunity to play it without checking whether or not it’s safe. Backward diagonal moves are often the hardest to see, and here White’s move could and should have thrown away the win.

Black does what so many children do when then they hear their opponent announce ‘check’. She picks up her king without stopping to look whether there’s a better way to get out of check, such as blocking or, even better, capturing. This is an automatic reaction: my king’s in danger so I’d better move it. It’s something children really have to get out of, the sooner the better.

Then White reacts to the first thing she notices – the passed pawn on c7. She doesn’t notice that she has a very simple checkmate in one move, or that she can capture her opponent’s queen. When you see a good move, look for a better move rather than playing it straight away. Use a CCTV to look at the chessboard: look for Checks (for both players), Captures (for both players) and Threats (for both players) in that order and you will be rewarded with Victory. In this case White happened to notice a Threat before she looked for Checks (one of which was checkmate) and captures (one of which won a free queen).

At this point, though, it doesn’t matter. Black now notices that she can take the queen on f7, but White promotes and Her Majesty makes a quick reappearance.

A few lessons to learn:

Don’t jump at the first move you see that looks good. Make sure it’s safe, and stop to see whether there’s a better move.

Don’t automatically pick up your king when your opponent says ‘check’. It’s sometimes better, especially early in the game, to block the check. It’s often better still if you can capture the piece that’s checking you safely.

Watch out for backward diagonal moves: they’re often the easiest moves to miss.

Most chess games are not won by playing good moves: they’re lost by playing bad moves. Ensuring you’re not making a mistake is, at this level, the most important chess skill of all.

One of the things I explain to my pupils is that one way (and there are many others) in which I’m different from other teachers is that most teachers teach you to play good moves: I teach you not to play bad moves.

Richard James

Adventures with 1… e5 (8)

My first game of 2016 was for Richmond B against Hounslow A. While my team tends to vary a lot, Hounslow had fielded the same three players in the same order on their top boards all season. I knew I was on board 3 so I was expecting to play an old friend, the Thames Valley League President, David White, who is rated slightly below me.

David’s openings are predictable. He meets 1. e4 with the Sicilian Dragon and 1. d4 with the Benko Gambit. With his name-matching colour he opens 1. e4, playing 2. c3 against the Silician and the King’s Gambit against 1. e4. As he occasionally plays in rated tournaments I was able to find several of his games on my database.

In the past I’ve always met the King’s Gambit with 2… Bc5 (four games between 1988 and 1992) but I’ve tried various things online, most often the little-known 1. e4 e5 2. f4 Nc6 3. Nf3 f5.

I’d read John Shaw’s monumental work on the opening fairly recently, though, so had some knowledge of 3… g5. The line David preferred seemed to lead to Black’s advantage so, when I was awarded the black pieces I decided to give it a try.

1. e4 e5
2. f4 exf4
3. Nf3 g5
4. h4

The usual move, of course, but, according to Shaw, Black can obtain easy equality. Instead he recommends the much less popular 4. Nc3 as White’s only serious try for an advantage.

4… g4
5. Ne5

The Kieseritzky Gambit. 5. Ng5, the Allgaier Gambit, is not to be recommended against a well-prepared opponent.

5… d6

Nf6 is a more complicated alternative. My choice returns the pawn for an active position.

6. Nxg4 Nf6
7. Nxf6+ Qxf6
8. Nc3 Nc6
9. Bb5

9. Nd5 is met by 9… Qg6 10. d3 (Qf3 runs into Nd4) 10… Qg3+ 11. Kd2 Nb4 and if White goes after the rook Black has a perpetual.


9… a6 was the old move, when, for example, Short-Shirov (Las Vegas 1999) was drawn. Black’s king is going to live in the centre anyway, and d8 has some advantages over e8, so this looks like a slight improvement.

10. Bxc6 bxc6
11. Qf3 Rg8
12. d3 Bh6
13. Ne2

This is virtually a losing move. According to Shaw, White’s only sensible move is 13. Qf2 when he analyses 13… Rb8, when an exchange sacrifice on b2 is looming, although he tells us that Bg4 is also possible. An example featuring an up-and-coming teenager: 13. Qf2 Rb8 14. Rxb2 15. Bxb2 Qxb2 16. O-O Qxc2 17. Nxf4 Qxf2+ 1/2-1/2 (A Fedorov – M Carlsen Dubai 2004) as after 18. Rxf2 Bg7 Black is winning back the exchange. I also note with interest: 13. Qf2 Rb8 14. Nd1 (preventing the exchange sac) 14… Rg3 15. O-O Qg6 16. Bxf4 Bxf4 17. Qxf4 Rxg2+ 18. Kh1 Rg4 19. Qf6+ Qxf6 20. Rxf6 Rxh4+ 21. Kg2 Ke7 22. Rf3 Bg4 23. Rf4 Rg8 24. Kf2 Rh1 0-1 (G Bucher – M Goodger British Championship Canterbury 2010)

13… Bg4
14. Qf2 Bxe2
15. Kxe2 Kd7

Here I finally deviate from one of the games I’d come across that afternoon when preparing for this encounter. D White – G Bucher (Sunningdale 2013) concluded 15… Rg4 16. c3 Qg6 17. Rh2 f5 18. h5 Qe6 19. Qd4 fxe4 20. Qh8+ Rg8 21. Qxh7 f3+ 22. Kf2 e3+ 23. Kf1 e2+ 24. Ke1 f2+ 0-1 Grant Bucher had clearly learnt something from his loss against Martyn Goodger three years earlier and had wisely switched to the black pieces. Either move leaves White (name or colour) with a difficult position.

16. c3

16. Rh3 Rg4 17. c3 Rag8 18. Rh2 Qe5 19. Kf1 f3 20. gxf3 Rg1+ 21. Qxg1 Rxg1+ 22. Kxg1 Qg3+ 0-1 (G Ricca – P Van Hoolandt Imperia 2007) was no improvement.

16… Rg4

Good, but Rh3 might have been even better.

17. Bd2 Rag8
18. Rag1 c5

At this point I noticed that my a-pawn was en prise and played this just to be on the safe side. 18… Qe6 was better, though.

19. Kf1 Rg3
20. Rh3 R8g4

Throwing away most of my advantage. Instead: 20… Qe6 21. Rxg3 fxg3 22. Qe1 Bxd2 23. Qxd2 f5 and White’s king will be fatally exposed.

21. d4

21. Rxg3 Rxg3 22. d4 keeps White in the game.

21… cxd4

Releasing the pressure again. As always I was getting too nervous in a winning position. 21… Qg6 should have been preferred: for instance 22. dxc5 Qxe4 23. cxd6 f3 24. Rxg3 Qd3+ 25. Ke1 Qb1+ with mate to follow.

22. cxd4

22. Rxg3 Rxg3 23. Qxd4 Qxd4 24. cxd4 gives Black an endgame advantage, but David’s choice in the game just loses.

22… Qe6
23. Qe2 f3

This felt right at the time, and my instincts were correct.

24. Qb5+ Ke7
25. Rxg3 Rxg3
26. Bxh6

26. Kf2 is the last chance, when I’d have to find 26… Qg4 27. Bg5+ (27. Bxh6 Qxh4 28. Kf1 Qxh6) 27… f6 28. Qc4 Rxg2+ (careful not to allow White a perpetual) 29. Rxg2 Qxg2+ 30. Ke3 Qe2+ 31. Qxe2 fxe2 32. Kxe2 fxg5 33. hxg5 Bxg5 with an extra piece in the ending.

26… Qxh6
27. Qc4 Qf4

Covering d6 as well as threatening a deadly discovered check.

28. Qxc7+ Kf8
29. e5 fxg2+
30. Ke1 Qe3+
31. Kd1 Qxg1+
32. Kc2 Qf2+
and White resigned

Richard James

Adventures with 1… e5 (7)

Last season I played six games with Black starting 1. e4 e5. They all continued 2. Nf3 Nc6, whereupon I encountered 3. Bb5 and 3. Bc4 twice each, and 3. d4 and 3. c3 once each.

I chose unusual ways to meet the Spanish: 3… g6 in one game and 3… Nge7 in the other. After the latter game my opponent told me he’d have played the Exchange Variation if I’d played 3… a6. I’d been wondering whether, considering that I only play 15-20 games a year and am coming to the end of my chess career, it was worth learning a main line defence such as the Marshall. How often would I get the chance to play it?

In the spirit of enquiry, I decided to find out whether my first Spanish opponent last season would have followed the main lines, so, when I found myself once again with the Black pieces against Paul Shepherd (congratulations to Paul for having become Surrey champion since we last met) I decided to ask him by playing 3… a6.

I hadn’t quite decided what to play against 4. Ba4 but as it turned out I wasn’t going to have to make that decision. Yes, he decided to trade on c6.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5 a6
4. Bxc6 dxc6
5. O-O Bg4

This is what I teach my pupils so I decided to play it myself.

6. h3 h5

A considerable improvement on the similarly motivated Fishing Pole Trap. Of course it’s not a good idea for White to take the bishop.

7. d3 Qf6
8. Be3

The more complicated alternative is 8. Nbd2 which my opponent rejected because he didn’t know the theory, unaware that I didn’t know it either.

8… Bxf3
9. Qxf3 Qxf3
10. gxf3 Bd6
11. Nd2 Ne7
12. Rfd1

The usual choices here are Rfb1 (which looks rather strange to me) and Nc4.

12… O-O-O

Ng6, c5 and f6 have all been played here, but the engines seem happy enough with my choice. A not terribly interesting GM example: 12… c5 13. Nc4 Nc6 14. c3 Ke7 15. Kf1 f6 16. a3 a5 17. a4 g6 18. Ke2 Ke6 19. Rg1 Rhg8 20. Rg2 Rad8 21. Rag1 Kf7 1/2-1/2 A Volokitin (2600) – V Akopian (2689) Sochi 2004

13. Kf1 Ng6

Or 13… f6 14. Ke2 g5 15. Rg1 Ng6 16. c3 Rd7 17. Nc4 Be7 18. Rad1 c5 19. a3
Rhd8 20. Rd2 h4 21. Rb1 Nf8 22. b4 cxb4 23. axb4 b6 24. d4 exd4 25. cxd4 Ne6
26. d5 Ng7 27. Na3 Bd6 28. Nc4 and a draw in 65 moves in A Ruszin (2125) – H Asabri (2228) Budapest 2007

14. Ke2 Nf4+
15. Bxf4 exf4
16. Rg1 Rhg8
17. Nc4 g5
18. Rg2 f6
19. Rag1 Be7
20. Rh1

White might have played h4 at any time over the last few moves. Now I decide to put a stop to that idea, after which there shouldn’t be too much happening.

20… h4
21. Ra1 Rge8
22. Kd2

But this is very careless, allowing a potential fork should the white knight move to a5. I managed to spot this and played…

22… b5
23. Na3 Bxa3
24. bxa3 Re6
25. Rb1 c5
26. Rgg1 c4
27. Rgd1 Red6
28. Ke2 cxd3+
29. cxd3 Rd4
30. Rb4 Kb7

It’s not looking too for for White in this rook ending, but he could try to hold on with Rb3 or Rxd4 rather than giving up a pawn with…

31. Rdb1 Rxd3
32. a4 Rd2+
33. Ke1 Rxa2
34. axb5 axb5

A very poor decision, played without any thought at all. Instead, simply 34… a5 when White has no counterplay and Black has an easy victory in prospect.

35. Rxb5+ Kc6
36. Rf5 Rdd2
37. Rxf6+ Kd7
38. Rf7+ Ke6

Natural, I suppose, but another poor decision. 38… Kd6 39. Rf6+ Ke7 was the way to go, again with a simple win.

39. Rxc7 Re2+
40. Kd1 Red2+

Offering a draw, which was accepted. After 41. Ke1 I have nothing better than repetition.


Not a good game. My opponent made a careless mistake on move 22 and took a risk which left him with a lost position on move 31. I then threw away easy wins on moves 34 and 38. The same thing happened, you will recall, in the game I demonstrated last week. The better my position the more nervous I become and the worse I play. It’s always been what’s going on in my head more than anything else which prevented me becoming a better player. Would I ever win another game against a highly rated opponent?

There was no reason to complain about my position from the opening, though. 1… e5 still seems to be working well: perhaps I should have played it all my life.

Richard James

Adventures with 1… e5 (6)

Last season, long-standing readers may recall, I switched from playing the Sicilian to 1… e5 in reply to e4.

Just as last season, I’ve had the black pieces in most of my games so I’ve had several more opportunities to imitate my opponent’s e-pawn advance.

My first 1. e4 e5 game this season was against Alfie Onslow, a recent member of Richmond Junior Club who has outgrown the Saturday group and is now about my strength. I’d expected something like a Catalan or an English but discovered he’d switched to 1. e4.

Let’s look at the game.

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

This is the way most stronger players choose to handle the Italian these days. White avoids the theory and tactics of 4. Ng5 or 4. d4 as well as the boring 5. Nc3 so popular in kiddie chess, heading for a strategically rich middle game.

5… d6
6. Nbd2 Bb6
7. Bb3 a6
8. Qe2

This looks rather artificial. White’s planning to leave his king in the centre for the time being.

8… O-O
9. h3 h6
10. Nf1 Be6
11. Ng3 Qd7
12. Nh4 Ne7
13. Nh5

Starting a king-side attack which we perhaps both over-estimated. This sort of thing looks tempting from the white side and scary from the black side. A stronger or more confident player than me wouldn’t have panicked, though.

13… Nxh5
14. Qxh5 Bxb3
15. axb3 Qe6
16. Nf5 Nxf5
17. exf5 Qf6
18. h4 g6

By this point I was getting worried about a potential g4 followed by g5 but, as usual, I was fearing phantoms. I can always meet g5 with Qxf5 when his g-pawn is pinned so I should just continue with a move like 18… Rfe8 or 18… d5. Instead I panicked and sought a tactical solution which only gave Alfie some genuine attacking chances.

19. Qxh6 Qxf5

Suddenly both players have king-side attacks. I guess it takes a certain amount of courage to ignore Black’s threat and press on regardless with h5, but perhaps that’s what Alfie should have done. We can look first at 20. h5 Qxf2+ 21. Kd1 when White’s king is safe and Black has to deal with the threats on the h-file. Her Majesty has to scuttle back with 21… Qf6 22. hxg6 Qg7 when White can win the exchange by trading queens followed by Bh6+ or, even stronger, continue the attack with 23. Qh3, with the idea of Ra4, which gives White a winning attack. So instead Black must play 20… Bxf2+ 21. Ke2 Bg3 (best) 22. Ra4 g5 (best) 23. Bxg5 f6 (best) 24. Be3 when Stockfish gives White a slight advantage (don’t ask me why).

Back in the real world, though, most of us would, as Alfie does, stop and defend f2. But now White’s position is not so easy to handle and I gradually outplay him over the next few moves. The computer, of course, suggests various improvements which need not detain us here.

20. Be3 Bxe3
21. Qxe3 Kg7
22. Rh3 Rh8
23. Ra4 d5
24. g4 Qf6
25. g5 Qe7
26. Qf3 c6
27. Kf1 Raf8
28. Qg4 f5
29. gxf6+ Qxf6
30. Qg3 Rh5
31. Rg4

This should have been the losing move.

31… Rf5
32. Rh2

Or 32. h5 Rxf2+ 33. Kg1 Rf1+ 34. Kh2 Qf2+ 35. Qxf2 R8xf2+ 36. Kg3 Rf6
37. Rxg6+ Rxg6+ 38. hxg6 Kxg6 with a winning rook ending.

32… Rf3
33. Qg1

A desperate shot which, because I don’t stop to think, pays off. I’d assumed he had to play 33. Qg2 when I’d seen that 33… Rxd3 could be met by 34. h5, keeping White in the game, so had planned, correctly, to play Qf5 instead, which is indeed winning. But when Alfie played 33. Qg1 instead I went into autopilot and played what I was going to play against the move I’d expected without any further consideration.

Now, with a skewer coming up, 33… Rxd3 is winning very easily, but there’s a significant difference after…

33… Qf5

… because g2 is available for his rook so White has the tactic, which of course I’d completely missed…

34. Rxg6+

… which was accompanied by a draw offer.

There are quite a few variations to consider, and, running towards the end of the session, I used up too much time trying to work them out so had little choice but to accept.

We’d both considered the pawn ending after 34. Rxg6+ Qxg6 35. Rg2 Rxf2+ 36. Qxf2 Qxg2+ 37. Kxg2 Rxf2+ 38. Kxf2. Yes, it’s another OPP ending: I was wondering if I had some sort of sacrificial breakthrough on the queen side but I don’t and the position is, according to the engines, drawn after either 38… a5 or 38… c5. After anything else White plays 39. b4 when his OPP apparently wins.

In this line White also has the option of 36. Rxf2 Qxg1+ 37. Kxg1 when Black can choose to keep the rooks on the board by playing, say, 37… Rh8, but that also appears to be equal.

Another try for Black is to head for a RR v Q ending after 35… Qxg2+ 36. Qxg2+ Kh7, again with probable equality.

There’s also yet another option for Black, which neither of us had considered at all. Instead of taking the rook I could play 34… Kh7 when Black’s attack looks, superficially, stronger. Stockfish analyses 34…Kh7 35.Rg7+ Kh8 36.Rg5 Qxd3+ 37.Kg2 Qe4 38.Kf1 Qb1+ 39.Kg2 Rxf2+ 40.Qxf2 Rxf2+ 41.Kxf2 Qxb2+ 42.Kg1 Qc1+ 43.Kg2 d4 (43…Qxc3 44.Rh3) 44.cxd4 exd4 45.Rh3 when Black has queen and some extra pawns against two rooks. At first it thinks Black’s winning but, after further consideration, doesn’t seem at all convinced that he can do much about White’s plan of Rhg3 followed by a perpetual along the g-file.

So perhaps a draw was the correct result in the final position but my carelessness on the previous move threw away the full point.

Richard James

Bishops and Knights

I’ve always felt that there’s one thing above all that makes chess such a fascinating game. We have two types of piece in our army which have very different abilities yet are very similar in value. It’s this interplay between knights and bishops which goes a long way towards making chess so interesting.

I recently had the honour of playing Stefano Bruzzi for the first time. Stef represented Italy in the Clare Benedict Cup way back in 1960, and, a few years later, moved to England. He’s played for Surbiton Chess Club for many years but, surprisingly, we’d never encountered each other over the board until last month.

(The Clare Benedict Cup was an international team tournament for counties in Western Europe which took place annually between 1953 and 1979. It was funded by the American writer and patron of the arts Clare Benedict (1870-1961), a distant relation of James Fenimore Cooper, best known as the author of The Last of the Mohicans).

The game was a short and, on the surface, uneventful draw, but on several occasions we both had interesting decisions to make concerning minor piece trades. Most of the decisions that fell to me I probably got wrong.

As usual (at least over the past season and a half) I was awarded the black pieces.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 Nc6

It’s not very often these days I have the luxury of playing someone significantly older than myself. I’ve had mixed results with this opening (I think there are a few promising lines for White) but considered it unlikely that my opponent would have studied it in any depth.

3. Nf3

He has to decide which knight to develop first. I’m going to meet 3. Nc3 with 3… e5 and after 4. d5 my knight’s going to e7 followed by g6. After 3. Nf3, though, we reach a somewhat eccentric Nimzo-Indian type position.

3… e6
4. Bg5

Almost certainly not the best move. Nc3, a3 and g3, in that order, are the most popular moves here. The bishop is just a target on g5.

4… h6

The first minor piece decision falls to White. Retreating looks natural but Bxf6 is also perfectly reasonable.

5. Bh4 Bb4+
6. Nc3

Here and on the next move I turn down the opportunity to play Bxc3, doubling White’s c-pawns. An interesting alternative, though, would have been 6… g5 7. Bg3 Ne4 8. Qc2 Nxg3 9. hxg3 g4 10. d5 gxf3 11. dxc6 fxe2 12. cxd7+ Bxd7 13. Bxe2 Bc6 which has been seen in several games.

6… d6
7. e3 O-O
8. Qc2

Now I no longer have the chance to saddle White with doubled c-pawns. Should I have taken the opportunity? Don’t ask me!

8… e5

Here White has to decide which structure he wants to play. He can push with d5, trade with dxe5 or maintain the tension, which is what he chooses to do.

9. O-O-O

An interesting choice which looks slightly risky as the king might be exposed there, but it does have the merit of unpinning the knight on c3.

9… exd4

Very careless. I spend much of my life teaching children about the danger of having doubled f-pawns in front of your king in Giuoco Pianissimo type positions. I also explain that this idea can happen in many openings so you always have to be on the lookout and see it coming a long way off. Here, though, I forgot my own advice. Now was the right time to trade minor pieces on c3, even though I’m no longer doubling his pawns. 9… Bxc3 10. Qxc3 Qe7 is about equal.

Now Stefano thought for some time, during which I realised I had a problem if he played 10. Nd5. I have to continue 10… dxe3 11.Nxf6+ gxf6 12.a3 Bd2+ 13.Nxd2 exd2+ 14.Qxd2 when my computer thinks White is slightly better, with more than enough compensation for the missing pawn.

Instead, much to my relief, he preferred to trade bishop for knight on f6.

10. Bxf6 Qxf6
11. Nd5 Qd8

Now White has the chance of another minor piece trade, this time on b4, but he rightly spurns the opportunity because the bishop on b4 is now awkwardly placed.

12. a3 Ba5
13. b4

There was a sharp alternative giving Black the chance to sacrifice a piece. A computer generated variation: 13.exd4 Ne7 14.Nxe7+ Qxe7 15.b4 Bb6 16.c5 dxc5 17.dxc5 a5 18.cxb6 axb4 19.a4 b3 20.Qxb3 Be6 21.Re1 Qc5+ 22.Qc2 Qa3+ 23.Qb2 Qc5+ with a perpetual check.

13… Bb6
14. exd4 a5

Again White has to decide whether or not to make a minor piece trade. 15. c5 Ba7 16. b5 Ne7 17. Ne3 was another option which seems OK for Black. This time he selects the knight for bishop swap.

15. Nxb6 cxb6
16. b5 Ne7
17. d5

Fixing the pawn structure in this way helps Black, but I guess he wanted to keep the queen side closed. 17. Bd3 was also possible when Black’s pawn structure doesn’t look too healthy but he has plenty of piece activity and White’s king might become exposed.

17… Bg4
18. Rd4

Giving me the opportunity to double his f-pawns… and offering a draw. After a move like Be2 or Qe4, for example, Bxf3 would be reasonable, trading off White’s potentially active knight and leaving Black with a horse heading for g6 and e5 against a not terribly useful bishop.

Now the choice of whether or not to trade minor pieces falls to me. I didn’t seriously consider playing 18… Bxf3 19. gxf3 when his rook might be coming to g1 and all his pieces are pointing at my king. But my computer tells me that Black is fine after 19… Ng6 followed by Qf6 and putting a rook on e8. A stronger or more confident player than me would have continued in this way.

The move I was considering was Qd7 (not the best square for Her Majesty) when the position is indeed about equal. Anyone who knows me, though, will not be at all surprised that I accepted Stefano’s proposal to share the point.

Richard James

Outside Passed Pawn (2)

The reason for my interest in the type of pawn ending you saw last week was a recent game in which I had the white pieces. We reached this position, with Black to play after hoovering off all the big guys very quickly, ending with a trade of rooks on the d-file.

Just as last week, if you’re a chess improver yourself, play through these positions before reading on. If you’re a chess teacher, give them to your students to play through. Feel free to add some more tweaks yourself and see what happens.

The game finished bathetically as my opponent (rated slightly below me) carelessly failed to notice my threat to create an OPP. 24… c4?? 25. g4 Kc6 26. h5 Kd6 27. h6 and Black resigned.

In fact this position is not very exciting. Black has four drawing moves. He can play f5 to prevent g4 or move his king to the c-file (it doesn’t matter which square) when he’ll be able to stop the pawn from queening. Reasonable play from both sides will then result in a draw. I’d have to be careful, though, not to play h5 at the wrong time when I’ll just end up losing it.

It’s interesting to tweak the position to see which positions are winning for White and which are drawing. Let’s assume White has played g4 and place the kings on different squares.

Try this, for example, with White to play.

Here White, according to Stockfish, has three winning moves: h5, Kd3 and Kf3. Ke3, though, is only a draw.

Let’s play a few moves.

1. h5 gxh5 2. gxh5 Ke6 and now the white king has to decide which way he’s going.

The simple plan is to head towards the h-pawn. We’ll then be able to give up our passed pawn and capture the two black king-side pawns in return. A sample variation: 3. Kf3 f5 4. Kg3 Kf6 5. Kh4 b5 6. b4 cxb4 7. cxb4 a6 8. h6 Kg6 9. h7 Kxh7 10. Kg5 f4 11. Kf5 f3 12. Kxe5 Kg6 13. Kf4 Kf6 14. Kxf3 and wins.

We can also win by going the other way, but it’s rather more complicated. For instance: 3. Kd3 Kf5 (other tries: 3… f5 4. h6 Kf6 5. Kc4 a6 6. Kd5 e4 7. h7 Kg7 8. Ke5 Kxh7 9. Kxf5 and wins or 3… b5 4. c4 b4 5. h6 Kf7 6. Ke4 Kg6 7. h7 Kxh7 8. Kd5 Kg7 9. Kxc5 e4 10. Kd6 f5 11. Ke5 and wins) 4. a4 Kg5 5. Ke4! Kxh5 6. Kf5! e4 7. c4 a5 8. Kxf6 (Kxe4 is simpler but this is more fun) 8… Kg4 9. Ke5! Kf3 10. b3! (In this line White only wins because he has this spare move) 10… Kxf2 11. Kxe4! Ke2 12. Kd5! Kd3 13. Kc6! Kc3 14. Kxb6! Kxb3 15. Kb5! and wins.

On the other hand, 3. Ke3, as Winston Churchill is alleged to have commented when meeting a new young MP called Clive Bossom, is neither one thing nor the other, and in fact loses after 3… f5 when White won’t be able to hold the h-pawn, leaving Black with an extra pawn and a simple win.

Richard James

Outside Passed Pawn (1)

You can’t understand chess openings unless you understand middle games. You can’t understand middle games until you understand endings. And you can’t understand endings until you understand pawn endings. If you’re in a rook ending you need a constant awareness of what’s likely to happen should the rooks get exchanged, so that you know whether or not you should be aiming for a rook swap.

Now some pawn endings can be extremely complex, defeating even strong grandmasters, but there are also some basic principles which will aid understanding. A recent game of mine which resulted in a pawn ending got me thinking about positions where one player can create an outside passed pawn.

Consider this position:

At the start of the game we like to keep our pawns near the middle of the board. ‘Capture towards the centre’, we’re told. At the end of the game, though, there’s a lot to be said for having pawns on the side of the board.

This formation favours White in pawn endings. We hope to play h5, forcing an exchange and creating an Outside Passed Pawn (OPP), trade our h-pawn for the black f-pawn so that our king will reach the queen-side first. But it all depends where the kings are. Here, White’s king is further up the board so we have the additional idea of immediate infiltration on the queen-side.

I’d suggest you play these positions out, firstly with white to move and then with black to move, before reading on. If you’re a chess teacher give them to your pupils to play out. You might want to get them to score the games so that you can ensure they really understand what’s happening.

With White to move we can just follow our plan with 1. h5 and win easily.

With Black to move White is going to have to be slightly more subtle. After 1… Ke6 Black can meet 2. h5 with Kf7, so instead we’ll play on the queen-side first, for instance with 2. c4. If Black plays Kf7 at some point we’ll play Kd5, and if he plays Kd6 we’ll reply with h5. We do have to be a little bit careful here, though: 2… Kd6 3. h5 f5+ when we have to play 4. Kf4 rather than 4. gxf5 gxh5 when Black gets the OPP.

Now let’s tweak the position a bit so that the black king is further advanced. Again, play it out yourself with both colours, or give the position to your pupils.

With White to move it’s still a trivial win as long as we exercise a little care. We’re going to follow the same plan: push h5, create an OPP, trade our h-pawn for the black f-pawn and get across to the other side of the board first.

With Black to play, though, it seems to be only a draw with best play as Black can approach the white h-pawn from in front of the f-pawn. A sample variation:

1… c4+ 2. Ke3 Ke5 3. h5 gxh5 4. gxh5 Kf5 5. Kd4 Kg5 6. h6 Kxh6 7. Kxc4 f5 8. a4 f4 9. Kd3 Kg5 10. b4 f3 11. Ke3 Kg4 12. Kf2 Kf4 13. c4 Ke4 14. c5 bxc5 15. bxc5 Kd5 16. Kxf3 Kxc5 and White will get back in time to draw.

So we can draw a couple of basic principles. Having a potential OPP is good. Having your king nearer the centre is also good. With both advantages you’ll probably be winning the game.

Next time we’ll add some more pawns and make it a bit more complicated.

Richard James

Coulda’ Been a Contender

In the last few posts I’ve demonstrated my games from the 1977 Major Open in Brighton.

What happened next?

I’d already made the decision to give up playing in weekend congresses, my last one having been a few weeks earlier. By now Richmond Junior Club was going well and I decided I really didn’t want to miss even the occasional Saturday. So now my chess was mostly confined to matches for Richmond in the London and Thames Valley Leagues. I took part in the Major Open again the following year, but this time never really got going, eventually finishing on 5/11, two wins, three losses (one of which you saw a couple of weeks ago) and six draws. In 1979 I moved down to the First Class tournament, the section below the Major Open, which still contained some reasonably strong players. I was hoping to do well, but my results were exactly the same as in the Major Open the previous year, with two of my losses the result of horrendous blunders.

I gave the British a miss in 1980 and 1981 but tried again in the 1982 Major Open. I started badly but a second week revival saw me finish on 50%: four wins, three draws and four losses. And that was it. I made the final decision that I was no longer a tournament player. To be honest, although there were good times where I did well, I didn’t really enjoy playing in that sort of event, much preferring team chess to individual tournaments. My only competitions since then have been occasional appearances in the Richmond Rapidplays where I was involved in the administration and sometimes played to make an even number. I preferred different outlets for my love of chess: organising, teaching and writing. I’ve continued to play league chess, though. I eventually stopped playing for Richmond in the London League in 2001: travelling up to London, usually after a school chess club, was just too much hassle that I didn’t need in my life. Since then I’ve contented myself with playing 15-20 games in the Thames Valley league every year (I play for both the Richmond A and B teams). That’s as much serious chess as I want.

Now I’m eligible for senior (65+) events my friend Ken Norman has suggested that I might like to join the international senior circuit. The idea has its merits: visit attractive places, play some chess, and perhaps make some friends from other parts of the world. I’ve decided against it, though. I haven’t been a tournament player for many years and I don’t think I’d do myself justice if I started again now.

I sometimes, wonder, though, whether I could have gone further. Perhaps I might have reached 190-200 (2100-2200) strength. I was always aware I had neither the determination nor the raw chess ability to go further than that. If I’d had the opportunity for lessons with someone like Nigel Davies things might have been different. I would have learnt to stop the continual switching of opening repertoire and style, to identify and work on the position types I preferred, to stop playing for draws by trading off pieces when I had my opponent under pressure, and to choose the right openings to reach the positions I played well. More importantly, perhaps, I might have been advised to take up Tai Chi to help with my issues regarding self-esteem, stress and anxiety.

If I’d taken that route I wouldn’t have had the time or energy to develop Richmond Junior Club in the way I did so perhaps I made the right decision. The rest of my chess career, and the history of Richmond Junior Club, are stories for another time, and, perhaps another place.

Meanwhile, I hope you’re all enjoying the festive season and wish you all the best for 2016.

Richard James

1977 Major Open Part 5

With two rounds to go I was on 5½/9. Two more good results would give me my best ever tournament performance. In round 10 I was black against a good friend, Bill Phillips, who had started Pinner Junior Club shortly before Mike Fox and I started Richmond Junior Club in 1975. Bill is still an active player, having recently participated in the FIDE Open at the London Chess Classic, and, now as then, about the same strength as me. We’re still in touch, as well, following each other on Twitter.

Our encounter was not short on excitement, as you’ll see.

1. Nf3 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. c4 d6 4. Nc3 Bg4 5. e3 c6 6. h3 Bxf3 7. Qxf3 Nd7 8. Bd2
Ngf6 9. Bd3 e5 10. O-O-O

Looks risky, especially combined with the rather random g-pawn push which follows. 10. O-O was safe and equal.

10… O-O
11. g4 Qb6
12. g5 Nh5
13. Ne2

Allowing a tactical blow giving me a nice position.

13… exd4
14. exd4 Nc5
15. Bc2 Ne6
16. Be3 c5

Piling the pressure on the pinned d-pawn. White could defend with Qe4 or Qg4 but instead goes for some dubious tactics.

17. Rd3 cxd4
18. Rb3 Qc5

18… Qa6 would have given me a winning attack after, for instance 19.Ra3 (19.Bd2 is relatively best: 19… Qxa2 20.Ra3 Qxc4) 19…Qxc4 20.Bd2 Rac8 21.Qd3 Qc6 22.Re1 Nc5 23.Qf3 Qb5 with d3 coming next.

19. Bd2 Qxc4
20. Kb1 Nc5

Looks natural, I suppose, but this is a mistake, losing the d4 pawn. The computer prefers Rae8 here with pressure on the knight on e2.

21. Rb4 Qe6
22. Nxd4 Qd7
23. Nf5

After this nice move White is doing fine.

23… gxf5
24. Qxh5 Ne4
25. Be3

An exchange sacrifice at this point is also possible: 25.Rxe4 fxe4 26.Bxe4 f5 27.gxf6 Bxf6 28.Bh6 Kh8 29.Bxf8 Rxf8 which looks equal. Now I might have played 25… d5 to prevent this idea.

25… a5
26. Rxe4 Qc6

Or 26…fxe4 27.Bxe4 Rfe8 28.Qxh7+ Kf8 29.Qf5 Qxf5 30.Bxf5 which is about equal. Instead I go for the other rook.

27. Rh4 Qxh1+
28. Bc1 Rfc8
29. Qxh7+ Kf8
30. Qxf5 Rc5
31. Qf4

Better was 31.Qe4 Qxe4 32.Rxe4 d5 33.Re2 with equal chances.

31… Rac8

A dreadful mistake, presumably overlooking White’s 33rd move. Instead I have to stop and defend the d-pawn: 31… Be5 32. Qe4 Qf1 when my computer gives me an advantage.

32. Qxd6+ Ke8
33. g6 Rxc2

Black’s king is too exposed. The best I can do is 33…f5 34.Qe6+ Kd8 35.Qg8+ Kc7 36.Qxg7+ and the king flees to safety but at too much cost.

34. gxf7+ Kxf7
35. Rf4+

Bill chooses the wrong check. He has a forced mate with 35.Qd7+ Kg8 36.Qe6+ Kf8 37.Rf4+ Bf6 38.Rxf6+ Kg7 39.Qf7+ Kh8 40.Rh6#.

35… Ke8

And here we agreed a draw, although White can reach a queen ending a pawn ahead after 36.Qg6+ Kd8 37.Qd3+ Kc7 (37…Ke7 38.Re4+ Kf7 39.Qd7+ Kg8 40.Qe6+ is mating) 38.Qxc2+ Kb8 39.Rc4 Rxc4 40.Qxc4 Bh6 41. Qc3 Bxc1 42. Qxc1 Qxh3.

A very lucky escape for me, so I was still on +2, and found myself with white against a leading local player, John Henshaw, who was graded well above me, in the last round.

A Sicilian Defence with c3 soon transposed into a French Tarrasch. It wasn’t really deserving of any more than a brief commentary.

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. c3 d5 4. exd5 exd5 5. d4 Nc6 6. Bb5 Bd6 7. O-O Nge7 8. dxc5 Bxc5 9. Nbd2 O-O 10. Nb3 Bd6 11. Nbd4 Bg4 12. Bg5 (Be2 and Qa4 are the usual choices.) 12… Qb6 13. Qb3 Qc7 14. h3 Bh5 15. Bd3 a6 16. Qc2 Bg6 17. Bxg6 hxg6 18. Qd3 Rac8 19. Nxc6 bxc6 (There’s no real reason not to play Qxc6 and keep the a-pawn.) 20. Bxe7 Bxe7 21. Qxa6 Bd6 22. Rfe1 Rb8 23. Qe2 Rb6 24. Rab1 (I now have a solid extra pawn, but as so often I chicken out by offering my opponent a draw which he has little choice but to accept. I guess I was tired after a long tournament and happy to share the point with a much stronger adversary.) 1/2-1/2

So I finished the tournament on 6½/11, an excellent result by my standards, which demonstrated again that, on a good day, I was able to hold my own against county standard opposition.

What happened next? You’ll find out next week.

Richard James

1977 Major Open Part 3

Continuing my series on the 1977 Major Open, after four rounds I was on 2½ points.

In the fifth round I had White against Paul Carey, a teenage player with a slightly higher grade than mine. I played an early c3 against his Sicilian Defence.

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. c3 Nf6 4. e5 Nd5 5. d4 cxd4 6. cxd4 b6 7. Nc3 Bb7 8. Bc4 Bb4 9. Bd2 Bxc3 10. bxc3 d6

11. O-O Nd7

A very strange decision, letting me take on d6 for free.

12. exd6 O-O
13. Bd3 N5f6
14. Bg5 Qb8
15. Bf4 Nd5
16. Be5 Nxc3
17. Qc2

A slightly stronger alternative was the Greek Gift 17. Bxh7+ Kxh7 18. Qd3+ Kg8 19. Ng5. As Black can’t afford to weaken his king’s defences any more he has to play Ne4, returning the piece.

17… Rc8
18. Bxh7+ Kh8
19. Ng5 Ne4

White can still claim an advantage here after 20. Qa4, for instance 20. Qa4 Bc6 21. Qxc6 Rxc6 22. Bxe4 Rc4 23. Nxf7+ Kg8 24. Ng5 Qe8 25. Bxa8 Qxa8 26. Nxe6 with lots of material for the queen, or 20. Qa4 Nxg5 21. Qxd7 Nxh7 22. Qxf7 Rg8 23. Rac1 with more than enough compensation.

Understandably, though, I chose to play for a draw:

20. Nxf7+ Kxh7
21. Qe2 Nxe5
22. dxe5

Rather careless, giving Black another option: 22… Kg8 23. d7 Kxf7 24. dxc8Q Qxc8 when there’s no perpetual and Black’s king may be safe enough to allow him to play on. 22. Qh5+ first would force the game continuation.

22… Rf8
23. Qh5+ Kg8
24. Nh6+

Sacrificing a knight for the second perpetual check of my tournament.


Round 6, the end of the first week, brought me a black against David James, a future Welsh international from Liverpool, who is still very strong and very active today. I chose a variation of the Grünfeld which, I think, was recommended by Bill Hartston in his early Batsford book on that opening. It didn’t work out very well.

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nxc3 6. bxc3 Bg7 7. Bc4 O-O 8.
Ne2 Nc6 9. Be3 b6 10. Qd2 Bb7 11. h4 Na5 12. Bd3 c5 13. Bh6 cxd4 14. Bxg7 Kxg7
15. cxd4 h5

16. Qe3 Qd6

This is too slow. Black’s king is dangerously short of defenders so I should have tried for counterplay via Rc8 followed by Nc4.

17. O-O Rac8
18. e5 Qd8

A fatal mistake. I had to try Qd7, with the idea of Qg4. Now White has a very strong attack.

19. Nf4 e6
20. Qg3 Rh8
21. Bxg6

White crashes through my defences with a bishop sacrifice. It’s all gone rather horribly wrong for me.

21… Qxd4
22. Bxf7+ Kxf7
23. Qg6+ Ke7
24. Qxe6+ Kf8
25. Qf6+ Kg8
26. Qg6+ 1-0

So I was back to 50%, and after a rest day on Sunday, had White against Ted Lea, an experienced player of about my strength. The game was a quiet draw not deserving of any further discussion.

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Bb5+ Bd7 4. Bxd7+ Qxd7 5. O-O Nc6 6. c3 Nf6 7. Re1 e5 8.
d4 Rd8 9. Bg5 Be7 10. dxe5 dxe5 11. Qxd7+ Rxd7 12. Na3 Nh5 13. Bxe7 Kxe7 14.
Nc4 Ke6 15. Rad1 Rhd8 16. Rxd7 Rxd7 17. Ng5+ Ke7 18. Nf3 Kf6 19. g3 h6 20. Ne3
Rd3 21. Kf1 Ke6 22. Ke2 Rd7 23. a4 Nf6 24. Nd2 g6 25. f3 Ne8 26. Nb3 b6 27. Ra1
Nd6 28. Nd2 Na5 29. Nd5 f5 30. Rf1 Rf7 31. Ne3 f4 32. Nd5 fxg3 33. hxg3 c4 34.
Rh1 h5 35. Ne3 Rh7 36. Nd5 g5 37. Kf2 Nab7 38. Ne3 Nc5 39. Ndxc4 Nxc4 40. Nxc4
Nxa4 41. Ra1 1/2-1/2

Richard James