Category Archives: Richard James

Chess Games for Heroes (1)

Last week I introduced you to the concept of Chess Games for Heroes: short games for use by chess teachers in clubs, small groups or one to one, where students have to guess the next move (or rather select what they consider to be the strongest move) and receive points for good suggestions.

Here, as promised is the first game.

Game 1
Gioacchino Greco – NN
About 1620

This is one of the earliest surviving games of chess. Gioacchino Greco was an Italian chess player born in about 1600. In 1625 he published a book of games, which were probably his opening analysis. Here’s one of them. Can you find his moves?

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6

Choose a move for White.

3. Bc4

5 points for this move, Nc3, d4 or Bb5. 3 points for c3 or Be2. This is the ITALIAN GAME.

Choose a move for Black.

3… Bc5

5 points for this move, the GIUOCO PIANO, or Nf6, the TWO KNIGHTS DEFENCE. 3 points for Be7 and 2 points for d6.

Choose a move for White.

4. c3

5 points for this move, d3, Nc3, 0-0 or b4 (the EVANS GAMBIT). White plans to play d4, controlling the centre.

Choose a move for Black.

4… d6

2 points for this move. 5 points for Nf6, the best move, attacking e4. 3 points for Qe7 or Bb6.

Choose a move for White.

5. d4

5 points for this move. 3 points for 0-0, d3 or b4. White has two strong pawns in the centre.

5… exd4

Choose a move for White

6. cxd4

5 points for this move, keeping his two pawns in the centre.

6… Bb4+

Choose a move for White

7. Nc3

5 points for this move, or for Kf1 (it’s usually better to block in this sort of position but Kf1 creates various threats here). 3 points for Nbd2 or Bd2.

7… Nf6

Choose a move for White

8. 0–0

5 points for this move, d5 or Bg5. 3 points for Qd3 or Qc2. Black can now win a pawn but White is getting his pieces out quickly and Black hasn’t castled yet.

Bonus question 1. Suppose White plays 8. d5 here. Choose a move for Black in that position.

5 points for Bxc3+

Bonus question 2. Now suppose that after 8. d5 Black plays Ne7. Choose a move for White in that position.

5 points for Qa4+, a FORK winning the bishop. This is why Black had to play Bxc3+ after d5.

8… Bxc3

Choose a move for White

9. bxc3

No points for this obvious recapture. Also no points for d5. If you played anything else you lose 5 points.

9… Nxe4

Choose a move for White

10. Re1

5 points for this move, putting a rook on the open file and PINNING the knight. 3 points for d5, Qc2 or Nd2.

10… d5

Choose a move for White

11. Rxe4+

5 points for this interesting sacrifice. 5 points also for Ba3, stopping Black from castling. White has lots of good moves here: 3 points for Bxd5 (after Qxd5, Ng5 will win the piece back because of the PIN), Bg5, Bd3, Nd2 or Ng5.

11… dxe4

Choose a move for White

12. Ng5

5 points for this move, threatening to capture on f7.

Choose a move for Black

12… 0–0

No points for this move, which, as you’ll see, loses. 5 points for Ne5 (White can’t take the knight because he’ll lose his queen). 2 points for Rf8 or Be6.

Choose a move for White

13. Qh5

5 points for this move, giving White a winning attack.

Bonus question 3. What would you play if Black played g6 here.

5 points for Qxh7# – CHECKMATE ends the game.

13… h6

Choose a move for White

14. Nxf7

5 points for this move, giving White a winning attack. 2 points for Bxf7+.

14… Qf6

Choose a move for White

15. Nxh6+

5 points for this move, a DOUBLE CHECK leading to mate. 2 points for Bg5 which wins the queen.

15… Kh8

Choose a move for White

16. Nf7+

5 points for this move. 2 points for Nf5+, Ng4+ or Ng8+, which take longer.

16… Kg8

Choose a move for White

17. Qh8#

5 points for this move: it’s CHECKMATE!

Black played a natural but not very good move on move 4 after which he was always in trouble. White occupied the centre with his pawns, developed his knights and one of his bishops quickly (he didn’t need to use the other bishop), castled quickly and put his rook on the open e-file. Black tried to castle to make his king safe but this gave White a winning attack.

Richard James


Chess Games for Heroes: Introduction

Most of you will be familiar with magazine articles and books with titles such as “How Good is Your Chess” and “Solitaire Chess” where the author asks you to guess the moves made in a master game. You score points for matching the master’s move or for finding other good moves. You may also lose points if you select a bad move.

I’ve often used Daniel King’s excellent (if over generously marked) “How Good is Your Chess” articles in CHESS with my older and stronger pupils but I wanted something different to use for younger children and within lower level groups in chess clubs. For this environment I required an activity which could be completed within 30 minutes using very short games (no longer than about 15 moves) with uncomplicated opening play and simple tactics.

So I decided, as part of my continuing Chess for Heroes project, to produce some of my own and try them out with my pupils. A couple of months ago I wrote up two games (one from Greco, one played by Staunton) and tested them with our new Intermediate Groups at Richmond Junior Chess Club as well as with private pupils.

Each game comes with a teacher’s sheet, giving the game along with the places where the pupils are asked to find moves and the scores they receive for their choices. Mostly these will be the winner’s moves but sometimes also (in the opening or at a critical defensive point) they are asked to find the loser’s moves. There are also bonus questions: what would you play if your opponent had played a different move. The pupils receive an answer sheet. They have to write each answer in notation (prior knowledge of how to record your moves is essential for this activity) and there’s also space for the number of points they score for each move. At the end the pupils add up their points and receive a rating: Chess Superhero, Chess Hero, Trainee Hero or Future Hero. If you’re working with a group the children will be keen to find out who has scored the most points. In a class environment you’ll probably want to use a demo board but you might also like to ensure that the children have the correct position set up on a board in front of them.

The response was interesting. My private pupils seemed to enjoy them. The children at Richmond Junior Club also enjoyed them but were taking a long time to think of their moves, some of them remarking that “This is really hard”. Children who will usually take little more than 10 seconds per move in their games were, when faced with the task of selecting the best move in the position, unable to come up with an answer within two or three minutes. I took pains to make it clear to them that their objective was to find the best move, not to guess what was played in the game, and that they might on occasion score more points for finding an improvement on the actual move. In order to complete the activity within the time I allocated for it I’ll need to impose a time limit of a minute for each move in future. If they haven’t written anything down by then they don’t score any points for that move.

This is precisely the difference between casual chess and competitive chess. If you’re playing a casual game against a friend you might not be too bothered about finding the best move or about the result. You might even get frustrated if you think your opponent is spending too long on his moves. If you’re playing a competitive game, though, your job is to find the best move you can in the time you have available. Perhaps the most important thing for chess coaches to do if they want to convert social players into serious players is to get them to understand the difference. If you agree with this, you might think this sort of lesson could be an effective way of achieving this aim.

I’ll be posting the first two Chess Games for Heroes lessons over the next two weeks and writing some more over the Summer holidays. It would also be good to find a publisher for this and the rest of the Chess for Heroes project at some point.

Richard James


Paignton Challengers A 1974 Part 5

Going into the last round I was on 4½/6, with a chance of first place if I won my final game. I found myself playing White against one of the highest graded players in my section and a QGD Exchange Variation soon appeared on the board.

1. d4 d5
2. c4 e6
3. Nc3 Nf6
4. Nf3 Nbd7
5. cxd5 exd5
6. Bg5 Be7
7. e3 c6
8. Bd3 Ne4

You can do this if you like but, as you might expect, Black usually castles in this position.

9. Bf4 Ndf6
10. Qc2 Nxc3

Rather obliging. Bf5 was another option, but Black could also castle here, offering a pawn. Stockfish analyses 10…0–0 11.Nxe4 dxe4 12.Bxe4 Nxe4 13.Qxe4 g5 14.Bg3 f5 15.Qe5 f4 16.exf4 g4 17.Nd2 Bf6 when Black has a lot of play.

11. bxc3 Bg4

This is just bad. He could still have castled.

12. Ne5 Bh5

And this is a blunder.

13. O-O

Missing the chance to play Rb1 which just wins a pawn. Qc8 or Qd7 would be met by Bf5.

13… Bg6
14. Rab1 Bxd3
15. Qxd3 Qc8
16. Bg5

Another inaccurate move. I should have taken the opportunity to play c4, which Black could now have prevented by playing b5.

16… Ne4

This is just crazy. I really can’t imagine what prompted him to play this move. Last round nerves, perhaps? All I have to do is open the centre and Black will have no defence.

17. Bxe7 Kxe7
18. c4 f6
19. cxd5 Nd6
20. Nc4

Stockfish recommends the piece sacrifice Rfc1 here. Black’s best bet now is to trade knights but instead he loses quickly.

20… cxd5
21. Nxd6 Kxd6
22. Rfc1 Qd7
23. e4 b6
24. Qg3+ Ke6
25. Rc7 1-0

So I finished on 5½/7, enough for a share of first place. Four wins with white and three draws with black. In the immortal words of Mr Punch, that’s the way to do it.

Looking back at the games I was lucky that all my black opponents played rather feebly in the opening and in each case I was able to gain a significant advantage early in the game. Two of my white opponents played unambitiously and allowed me easy equality. Only in round 4 was I in any trouble, where I blundered a pawn and should have lost the subsequent ending.

For the first time I was feeling confident about my chess. A few weeks later the new season was under way. My first seven matches resulted in seven wins, several against fairly strong opponents. My next tournament, one of the large open Swisses which were popular in London at the time, saw me extend my winning sequence to nine before losing to a strong opponent in the second round. Although I’d cut out most of my blunders and was happy with my defence to 1. e4, I’d still lose the occasional horrible game to opponents who knew the opening better than me.

The question that interests me is whether or not I was a stronger player 40 years ago in my mid 20s than I am now in my mid 60s. I think players of, say, 1800-2000 strength are stronger now than then, which, given the increased knowledge of chess, is what you’d expect. If I’d continued to play regularly and take chess seriously I’d be stronger now than I was back in the mid 70s. But I chose not to, so, perhaps I’m about the same strength.

In a few weeks time I’ll revisit another tournament from my past.

Richard James


Paignton Challengers A 1974 Part 4

Going into round 5 I was on 3/4 and had white against an experienced tournament player who, back in 1962, had won the Barstow Cup, which appears to be the individual championship of the Civil Service Chess League.

He chose a passive variation of the Old Indian Defence which left him short of space and without any realistic pawn breaks.

1. c4 Nf6
2. Nc3 d6
3. d4 Nbd7
4. e4 e5
5. d5 c6
6. f3 h5

Looks rather odd: I suppose he wanted to prevent a later g4. Be7 is the usual move here.

7. Be3 Qc7
8. Qd2 Be7
9. Bd3 Nf8
10. Nge2 Ng6
11. b4 a5
12. b5 c5

Blocking the queen side, but only White has chances on the king side.

13. Ng3 b6
14. Nf5 Bf8
15. O-O-O Bd7
16. h4 O-O-O
17. Rdg1 Ne7
18. g4

The first pawn break.

18… g6
19. Nxe7+ Bxe7
20. g5 Nh7
21. f4

The second pawn break.

21… exf4
22. Bxf4 Bf8
23. Qh2 Bg4
24. e5

The third pawn break.

24… Bf3
25. exd6

Stockfish recommends the exchange sacrifice 25. Qh3+ Bg4 26. Rxg4 hxg4 27. Qxg4+ Kh8 28. Re1.

25… Qd7

Unexpectedly deciding not to take back on d6, when White would still have stood clearly better.

26. Bf1 Bg7
27. Bh3 Bg4
28. Bxg4 hxg4
29. Na4 Kb7
30. Re1 Rde8
31. Qg2

Giving Black a chance. There were several much better alternatives, for instance 31. Bd2, threatening Bxa5. Bd2 also controls e1 so there’s a second threat of Re7, followed, after two captures on e7, by Re1.

31… f5

Black misses the best try: 31… Qf5, threatening the bishop on f4 as well as infiltration with Qd3. Stockfish at first considers the position equal but eventually finds a way for White to thread his way to a win starting with 32. Bd2.

31… Qf5 32. Bd2! Qd3 33. Rxe8 Rxe8 (33… Qa3+ 34. Kc2 Rxe8 35. d7 transposes) 34. d7 and now Black can try:

A) 34… Rd8 35. d6+ Qf3 36. Qxf3+ gxf3 37. Rf1 f5 (37… Rxd7 38. Rxf3 f5 39. Bxa5 Rxd6 40. Re3 bxa5 41. Re7+ Kc8 42. Rxg7 Nf8 43. Rg8 Rd8 44. Nxc5+–) 38. Rxf3 Nf8 39. Re3 Nxd7 40. Re6 +–

B) 34… Qa3+ 35. Kc2 Qxa4+ 36. Kb1 Qa3 37. d6+ Ka7 38. Bc3 (only move) when Black’s defences are all insufficient:

B1) 38… Rg8 39. Bxg7 Qd3+ 40. Qc2 Qe3 41. Bc3 Rd8 42. Re1 Qf4 43. Qd3 g3 44. Be5 Qg4 45. Bxg3 +–

B2) 38… Rb8 39. Bxg7 Qd3+ 40. Qc2 Qe3 41. Bc3 Qf3 42. Re1 Nf8 (42… Rd8 43. Kb2 Rxd7 44. Re7 Qb7 45. Qe2 Nf8 46. Rxd7 Nxd7 47. Qxg4 +-) 43. Re7 Rd8 44. Re8 Rxd7 45. Rxf8 g3 46. Be5 g2 47. Bh2 Qg3 48. Bxg3 g1Q+ 49. Qc1 Qxg3 50. Qd1 Qxd6 51. Qxd6 Rxd6 52. Rxf7+ Kb8 53. Kc2 +-

B3) 38… Qxc3 39. dxe8Q Qa1+ 40. Kc2 Qxa2+ 41. Kd3 Qxg2 42. Qxf7+ Qb7 43. Re1 Qxf7 44. Re7+ Kb8 45. Rxf7 Bd4 and now not

B3a) 46. Rxh7? g3 47. Re7 Kc8 48. Re1 (48. Re2 Bf2 49. h5 g2 50. Rxf2 g1Q) 48… g2 49. h5 g1Q 50. Rxg1 Bxg1 51. hxg6 Bd4 –+ but either

B3b) 46. Ke4! g3 47. Kf3 Nxg5+ 48. hxg5 Kc8 49. Rc7+ Kd8 50. Rb7 +- or

B3c) 46. Re7! Kc8 47. Ke4 g3 48. Kf3 g2 49. Kxg2 Nf6 50. gxf6 Bxf6 51. Rc7+ +-

Would I have found Bd2 in the game? Who knows?

Black’s actual choice, though, made it easy for me.

32. Re6 Qd8
33. Rhe1 Bd4
34. Re7+ Ka8
35. Nxb6+ Qxb6
36. Rxe8+ Rxe8
37. Rxe8+ 1-0

I was now on 4 points out of 5, playing on board 1, and, for the first time in my life, in with a chance of winning a tournament.

My opponent in Round 6 was, I think, the Allan Gardner who is still active today as a player and organiser in Bolton, and is still very much the same strength as me. I started off with the Modern Defence, but my opponent, who may well have read Ray Keene’s Flank Openings, headed for a King’s Indian Attack rather than occupying the centre. I in turn chose to transpose into a Sicilian Defence, opting for the Staunton set-up which had also been recommended by Ray Keene in various contemporary publications.

1. e4 g6
2. Nf3 Bg7
3. g3 c5
4. Bg2 Nc6
5. O-O d6
6. d3 e6

I’ve often played the Botvinnik blockade, e5, in this type of position.

7. Re1

White’s plan is familiar against the main line of the King’s Indian Attack, but not really appropriate here.

7… Nge7
8. Nbd2 O-O
9. Nf1 Rb8
10. h4 b5
11. Rb1 a5
12. Bg5 e5
13. Qd2 Be6
14. Ra1 f6
15. Bh6 d5
16. Bxg7 Kxg7
17. N3h2 dxe4
18. Bxe4 Bd5
19. Bxd5 Nxd5
20. Nf3 Qd7

At this point I chickened out and proposed a draw, which was accepted. I’m probably slightly better here and could well have played on.

Richard James


Paignton Challengers A 1974 Part 3

So, going into Round 4 I was on 2½/3 with the black pieces against one of the stronger players in my section. My opponent gave me the opportunity to try out a line recommended by Keene and Botterill in their book on the Modern Defence. The game would, like my first round game, eventually reach an ending with rook and 4 pawns against rook and 3 pawns on the same side.

1. e4 g6
2. d4 Bg7
3. Nc3 d6
4. f4 c6

Not so fashionable these days when a6, under the influence of Tiger Hillarp Persson, is often preferred. Keene and Botterill recommended a6 against an early Be3, but a6 in this position was relegated to their final chapter on the Avant Garde.

5. Nf3 Bg4
6. Be3 Qb6
7. Qd2 Bxf3
8. gxf3 Nd7
9. O-O-O Qa5

So far both players are following the book. Keene and Botterill gave three variations here, f5!?, Kb1 (the move almost always played today) and Bc4, my opponent’s choice.

10. Bc4 b5
11. Bb3 Nb6
12. Nb1

Rather craven. Keene and Botterill quoted a 1971 game between Adorjan and Jansa in which f5 was played. Qd3 and Kb1 have also been tried here.

12… Qxd2+
13. Nxd2 d5
14. c3 Nf6
15. Bc2 Nfd7

Not a very impressive choice. 15… Bh6 to pin the f-pawn, possibly followed by a later Nh5 (a sort of left-handed Nimzo-Indian plan) would have been more to the point.

16. b3 e6
17. h4 f5
18. Rdg1 Nf6?

Simply leaving a pawn en prise. I should have played Kf7 instead.

19. exf5 exf5
20. Bxf5 Kf7
21. Bd3 Bh6
22. Nf1 Nh5
23. f5 Bxe3+
24. Nxe3 Nf4
25. Kd2 Nxd3
26. Kxd3 Nd7
27. Rh2 Rhg8
28. Rhg2 Nf6
29. fxg6+ Rxg6
30. Rxg6 hxg6
31. Ng4 Nxg4
32. fxg4

Reaching a rook ending where White has a good extra pawn and every expectation of winning.

32… Rh8
33. Rh1 Re8
34. h5 gxh5
35. gxh5 Kg7
36. h6+ Kh7
37. Rh5 Re6
38. Re5

At this point both players had to calculate the pawn ending after the rook exchange. I guess we both just assumed it was an easy win for White. White is indeed winning quite easily, but he’ll have to negotiate a queen ending to score the full point.

38… Rxe5 39. dxe5 Kxh6 40. Kd4 Kg6 41. Kc5 Kf5 42. Kd6 b4 43. c4 d4 44. e6 d3 45. e7 d2 46. e8=Q d1=Q+ 47. Kxc6 and White should win.

Instead I preferred to keep the rooks on the board, heading for rook and 4 against rook and 3, although, with the black king badly placed, White should still win.

38… Rxh6

Reaching the first time control.

39. Re7+ Kg8
40. Rxa7 Rh3+
41. Kc2 Rh2+
42. Kb1 Kf8
43. a4 bxa4
44. bxa4 Ke8
45. Rc7 Rh6
46. Kb2 Kd8
47. Rg7 c5

Losing another pawn, but there was nothing any better.

48. Rg5 Rh2+
49. Ka3 cxd4
50. Rxd5+ Kc7

At this point time was called at the end of the first session. White had to decide which way to capture on d4. Every Russian schoolboy (or girl) knows that rook, a and c pawns against rook is very often a draw, and the tablebases confirm that is indeed the case here. Taking with the pawn should win, though. The difference becomes clear later on.

51. cxd4 Kc6
52. Rc5+ Kd6
53. Kb3 Rh1
54. a5 Rb1+
55. Kc4 Rc1+

The second time control.

56. Kb5 Rb1+
57. Ka6 Rb4
58. Rb5 Rxd4

White has followed a winning plan, giving up his d-pawn, and now, because Black’s pieces are further away, White can promote his a-pawn.

59. Ka7?

But instead White makes an inexplicable error. He was winning easily with either Kb6 or Kb7, but now the black king can get close enough to draw.

59… Kc6
60. Rb7 Rd8
61. a6 Rh8
62. Rb8 Rh7+

Another sealed move after time was called at the end of the second session (which must have been a short session after dinner). I guess we continued the following morning.

63. Ka8 Rg7
64. Rh8 Kb6
65. Rh6+ Kc7
66. Ka7 Rg8
67. Rf6 Rh8
68. Rf1

At this point the tablebases tell me Black has five moves which draw: Kc6, Rc8, Rh4, Rh3 and Rh2. It’s interesting to see why other moves lose. Fortunately for me I managed to find one of the drawing options.

68… Kc6
69. Rc1+ Kb5
70. Rc7 Rh6

The only move to draw.


I’d scored 1½ points from two rook endings in which I could easily have scored only ½. I was starting to agree with Ken Norman that endings were far from boring, and that playing them well reaps its reward.

Richard James


Paignton Challengers A 1974 Part 2

I left you last time after the first round of the 1974 Paignton Challengers A Tournament.

In round 2 I had the black pieces against a friend and clubmate, Geoff Davies, and was content with a short draw in a position in which I might well have played on. If you read my column two weeks ago you’ll realise that I’m still more than happy to take a short draw with black against friends. Perhaps this is one reason why I never made much progress as a serious competitive player.

So onto round 3, where I had white against a lower graded opponent.

In those days I liked to play against big centres with black, choosing the Modern Defence, and with big centres with white, hence my choice of the Four Pawns Attack against my opponent’s King’s Indian Defence. I’d learned this from the Batsford book on the King’s Indian by Barden, Hartston and Keene.

Here’s what happened.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 g6
3. Nc3 Bg7
4. e4 d6
5. f4 O-O
6. Nf3 c5
7. d5

Main line 4PA theory so far. Now Black usually plays 7… e6 (b5 is an interesting alternative) when after 8. Be2 exd5 White has to choose which way to recapture. At the time I favoured taking with the e-pawn, which, to be honest, is not a very good move. Despite a couple of rather horrible losses I generally scored well with it because my opponents weren’t familiar with the position and chose incorrect plans.

7… Nh5

German writers would remark that this move was “nicht stellungsgemäß” (my favourite word at the time) – not appropriate to the position. In lines where Black plays e5 rather than c5 he’s going to move his knight from f6, often to h5, and play the f5 pawn break. But, confused by White’s opening, he plays an inappropriate move and constantly refuses to avail himself of the e6 break. If you don’t play your pawn breaks in cramped positions you’ll end up getting squashed.

8. Bd3 Na6
9. O-O Bd7
10. Be3 Nc7
11. a4 a6
12. a5 Nf6
13. h3 Qc8
14. e5 Nfe8
15. Ne4

So far so good, but Stockfish prefers the immediate Qe1 here.

15… Rb8
16. Qe1 b5

Finally Black plays a pawn break.

17. axb6 Rxb6
18. Bc1

It’s fairly natural to defend the pawn, but Stockfish again prefers Qh4.

18… Bf5
19. g4 Bxg4

I’ve speculated in a previous article that, at this sort of level, more games are lost by unsound sacrifices than are won by sound sacrifices. It’s understandable that Black, not liking his position very much, lashes out in this way. Stockfish considers 19… Bxe4 20. Qxe4 e6 a much better defence.

20. hxg4 Qxg4+
21. Qg3 Qxg3+
22. Nxg3 f5
23. Ne2 Na8
24. Rb1 Nec7
25. Bd2 Rfb8
26. Bc3 R6b7
27. Bc2 Nb6
28. b3 Nbxd5

Black decides to sacrifice another piece for a couple of pawns. By this time I’d have been wishing I knew how to mate with a bishop and knight.

29. cxd5 Nxd5
30. Kf2 Nb4
31. Bxb4 Rxb4
32. Rfe1 Bh6
33. Kg3 Bf8
34. e6

Good enough, although the pawn might become a target here. Better was exd6 followed by Nc3 and Nd5, playing for an attack on the black king.

34… Bg7
35. Rh1 Bf6
36. Kf2 d5
37. Rhg1 R8b6
38. Bxf5 Kh8

Reaching the time control. (In Round 2 and subsequent rounds we were playing 38 moves in 2¼ hours.) Now it’s easy: I can return one of my extra pieces for a mating attack on the g and h files. He might have tried Rxb3 instead.

39. Bxg6 hxg6
40. Rxg6 Kh7
41. f5

Retreating the rook to g4, g3 or g2 was slightly more efficient.

41… Bh4+
42. Nxh4 Rxh4
43. Kg3 Rh6
44. Rxh6+ Kxh6
45. Nc3

The sealed move. He could have resigned here and saved us both the trouble of resuming.

45… c4
46. Nxd5 Rxb3+
47. Rxb3 cxb3
48. f6 exf6
49. e7 b2
50. Nc3 Black resigned

So, 2½/3 and things were looking good. Tune in again for next week’s exciting episode.

Richard James


Paignton Challengers A 1974 Part 1

I haven’t considered myself a serious player for many years, but back in the early and mid 70s I was a regular on the British tournament circuit.

This new series takes a look at some of my more successful events.

For several years I’d been playing at about 1800 strength but the latter months of 1974 saw a dramatic improvement. I put this down to reading two books. Think Like a Grandmaster, by Kotov, first got me thinking about how to make decisions in chess. I followed his advice about writing your move down before playing it, and found that this practice cut out a lot of the blunders which had previously been common in my games. Looking at my scoresheets from the period, I was crossing out my moves and changing my mind several times every game. Of course you’re no longer allowed to do this so I eventually had to revert to playing my move before writing it down. I’d also read and enjoyed Keene and Botterill’s book on the Modern Defence, which, for the first time, gave me a viable defence to 1. e4 (no 1. e4 e5 for me in those days).

It’s strange how some things never change. At the end of August 1974 I took part in the Berks & Bucks Congress, which, then, as now, comprised several small Swiss sections of about 16 players each. Not so many sections now, as then, of course. Playing in a section in which I should have scored well, I failed to win a game, scoring three draws and two losses in the five round event.

So I wasn’t feeling confident when I travelled down to the Devon seaside resort of Paignton with my friend Ken Norman a few days later. Paignton is another tournament which hasn’t changed its format much in the last half century or so. There’s a popular Premier section, usually won these days by local resident GM Keith Arkell, and various grading restricted sections below (though again not as many as in the Fischer boom days). So while Ken competed in the Premier, I settled down in the Premier Reserves A.

In those days I didn’t appreciate endings so probably had mixed feelings on reaching a rook ending a pawn up after winning my opponent’s isolated d-pawn.

Of course positions like this are meat and drink to the aforementioned Keith Arkell, but not so easy for me. Let’s see what happened. This was the position after Black’s 32nd move, just before the first time control (for the first round only we were playing 34 moves in two hours followed by 17 moves per hour). I guess I felt at the time that White should be winning because of Black’s doubled pawns, but wasn’t quite sure how to make progress.

33. Rb7 Kh7
34. Rf7 Kg8
35. Rf5 Ra2
36. Kg3 Ra3
37. Rf3 Ra4
38. Rf5 Ra3
39. Rb5 Kf7
40. Rb6 Rc3
41. h4

In principle I want to keep as many pawns as possible on the board and don’t want to undouble his pawns, but I couldn’t find any other way of getting my king up the board. The computer seems to agree with me.

41… gxh4+
42. Kxh4 Ra3
43. Kg3 Rc3
44. Rd6 Ke7
45. Rg6 Kf7
46. Ra6 Rb3
47. Rc6 Ra3
48. Rc4 Rb3
49. Re4 Kf6
50. f4 Rb5
51. f5 Rb7
52. Re6+ Kf7
53. e4 Rb3+
54. Kf4 Rb1
55. Rc6 Rf1+
56. Ke3 Rg1

I’ve made some headway over the last 15 moves, but what do to next? I seemed to think that I could only make progress by giving up my g-pawn, while my opponent apparently believed me and, for several moves neglected to win my g-pawn. Here I should have played Rg6 when I can eventually advance my e-pawn while retaining my g-pawn. A sample variation: 57. Rg6 Re1+ 58.
Kf3 Rf1+ 59. Ke2 Rb1 60. Kf2 Rb3 61. Ra6 Rc3 62. e5 Rc2+ 63. Ke3 Rc3+ 64. Kd4
Rg3 65. e6+ Kf6 66. Ra7.

57. Kf3 Rf1+
58. Ke2 Rg1

Missing his chance for Rf4

59. Kf3 Rf1+
60. Kg2 Rf4

Taking his second chance. Now the game should be drawn.

61. Rc7+ Kg8
62. e5 Rxg4+
63. Kf3 Rg1
64. Ke4 Ra1
65. Rc8+

This was the sealed move so we must both have been playing very quickly. I suspect (but don’t now remember) that we adjourned for a couple of hours and resumed later in the evening. During the interval I complained to Ken about having reached ‘another boring ending’. Ken, then as now an endgame aficionado, told me that unless I agreed with him that endings were interesting he wouldn’t give me a lift back home to London. So I had to play the game out.

65… Kf7
66. Rc7+ Kf8
67. Kd5 Rd1+

Just after the adjournment Black makes a fatal error. Most moves draw here: even Ke8, because White can’t avoid the checks without losing a pawn. (67… Ke8 68. Rxg7 Ra5+ 69. Kd6 Ra6+ 70. Kd5 Ra5+ 71. Ke4 Ra4+ 72. Kf3 Ra5 73. Kf4 Ra4+) But this moves lets me get my king to e6 safely, after which the win is simple.

68. Ke6 Rd8
69. f6 Re8+
70. Kf5 gxf6
71. Kxf6 Kg8
72. e6 h5
73. Rg7+ Kh8
74. e7 h4
75. Rf7 Kg8
76. Rg7+ Kh8
77. Rg4 Kh7
78. Kf7 1-0

So a lucky win for me after some not very impressive endgame play by both sides.

Find out how the tournament continued for me next time.

Richard James


Adventures with 1… e5 (5)

Regular readers of my posts might be wondering what had happened to my attempts at playing 1… e5 in reply to 1.e4 this season.

Since my last article in the series I’ve faced 1. f4 followed by four consecutive 1. d4s. My last two games, though, saw me facing 1. e4 again, both times against slightly lower graded opponents.

For many years now it’s been against my principles to play serious chess unless there’s an ‘r’ in the month. The league chess season used to finish at the end of April, but it now drags on until the end of May, with cup matches continuing well into June. I really prefer to have more than a couple of months break between seasons.

The first game was in our last league match of the season, against Kingston, who were finding it difficult to field full teams since the sad loss of their captain, Chris Clegg, a few months ago.

I was sitting opposite their new captain, but three of the Kingston players had failed to appear, so I guessed my opponent was not really in the mood for a serious game, while a solid draw would do our prospects no harm.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5 Nge7

The Cozio Variation. I’d been looking at 3… g6 and 3… Nge7 but it was so long since I’d last faced a Lopez that I’d forgotten which one I was going to play as well as all the analysis. My opponent told me he’d have played the Exchange Variation against 3… a6.

4. d4

Perfectly playable, of course, but not White’s most dangerous option.

4… exd4
5. Nxd4 g6
6. O-O Bg7
7. Be3 O-O
8. c3

8. Nc3 is more to the point but Black still has several playable replies.

8… d5

Leading to complete equality. Now a series of exchanges simplifies the position.

9. exd5 Nxd4
10. Bxd4 Qxd5
11. Bxg7 Kxg7
12. Qxd5 Nxd5
13. Na3 Bf5
14. Rfd1 c6
15. Bd3 Bxd3
16. Rxd3

Offering a draw, which was immediately accepted. I’d intended to offer a draw on my next move anyway.

Not a very exciting adventure, I’m afraid, but I can’t really complain about achieving equality with the black pieces so quickly.

The league programme may have finished but we were still in the cup, with a quarter-final match against Division 2 side Hayes, who currently meet in Uxbridge, by the standards of the Thames Valley League a long journey and one which most of our players were unable or reluctant to make, so I had little choice but to play. Again, I had the black pieces and found myself facing 1. e4. My only previous game against my opponent, back in 2001, had started 1. f4 but since then he’s changed his opening repertoire.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. d4 exd4
4. c3

Not unexpected from what I knew about my opponent.

4… d5

He told me after the game that he has a good record against weaker players who take the pawn, but stronger players prefer this move.

5. exd5 Qxd5
6. cxd4 Bb4+
7. Nc3 Bg4
8. Be2 Bxf3
9. Bxf3 Qc4

9… Qxd4 10. Bxc6+ has netted a few victims. Qc4 is attributed to Capablanca, and indeed the earliest game with it on my database is Marshall-Capablanca Lake Hopatcong 1929. Transposition from the Danish Gambit is also common. Both my opponent and I were familiar with this line. If you play e5 in reply to e4 you really ought to know it.

10. Bxc6+ bxc6
11. Qe2+ Qxe2+
12. Kxe2 O-O-O
13. Be3 Ne7

Still travelling a familiar route.

14. a3

Rad1 is more often played here, but Black scores well. a3 might be slightly more accurate.

14… Bd6

The only game in my database with this move was agreed a draw at this point. The other games all saw Black preferring Ba5.

15. Ne4 Nf5
16. Rac1 Rhe8
17. Nxd6+ Rxd6
18. Kd3 Red8

Played without much thought. Nxd4 was an alternative, giving White fewer options, which didn’t occur to me until the following move.

19. Rc4 c5

Here I spent some time considering the respective merits of Nxd4 and c5. They both seem to lead to equality.

20. Rxc5 Nxd4
21. Bxd4

There was no real need for this exchange. Instead Kc3 was about equal.

21… Rxd4+
22. Ke3 Rd3+
23. Ke4 Rd2

Again played too quickly. I should have preferred 23… R8d4+ 24. Ke5 Rd2 when Black will win a pawn as the white king is exposed a potential f6+. Maybe not so obvious at my level, though.

24. Rhc1 R8d7
25. R1c2 Re7+

Slightly inaccurate again. The safe way to draw was 25… R7d4+ 26. Ke5 Rd5+ when White has nothing better than repetition.

26. Kf3 Rd3+

My draw offer was accepted immediately. White could have tried to avoid the checks by 27. Kf4 Rd4+ 28. Kg3 Rd3+ 29. f3 but there’s really not much there.

Again not very exciting, I’m afraid, but both games demonstrate that a well-timed d5 can give Black easy equality in many open games.

Richard James


Children of the Revolution

Here’s a question for you. What’s slow, green and free range? Sounds like a children’s riddle, doesn’t it? A dinosaur egg, perhaps?

Before I tell you the answer, though, I have another children’s riddle for you. Why is it that, when children’s lives should be better than ever before, children in the Western world increasingly see themselves as unhappy and increasingly suffer from a range of physical and mental health problems? (I could give references and may well do so at another time and in another place.)

There is a growing movement towards a different approach to education: an approach promoting ‘slow’ child development, starting formal education later rather than earlier, a ‘green’ childhood, restoring children’s connection with nature and the outdoors, and a ‘free range’ childhood, teaching children self-reliance by giving them more freedom and independence in their spare time.

Child psychologist David Elkind’s book The Hurried Child was first published in 1982. From the blurb to the 25th anniversary edition: “…by blurring the boundaries of what is age-appropriate, by expecting – or imposing – too much too soon, we force our kids to grow up too fast, to mimic adult sophistication while they secretly yearn for time to act their age.”

It may well be that your life is so busy that you’re not aware of the ‘slow movement’. The concept of slowing down in all aspects of our lives was popularised by Scottish born Canadian journalist Carl Honoré in his 2004 book In Praise of Slowness. In his 2008 book Under Pressure, Honoré considers a slow approach to parenting and education. He asks (quoting again from the blurb) “whether we are going wrong in some fundamental way”.

You will probably know that, here in the UK, children start formal schooling at the age of five. In many other countries, children don’t start formal education until six or even seven. The 2011 book Too Much Too Soon?, subtitled Early Learning and the Erosion of Childhood, edited by Richard House, comprises a series of essays by experts on early years education questioning the idea that the earlier children start learning to read, for example, the better they do. Of course some children are ready to learn to read very young (I was one: I could already read fluently before I started school not long after my fifth birthday) but many are not.

Richard Louv’s seminal book Last Child in the Woods was first published ten years ago. According to the blurb in my edition, Louv “directly links the absence of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation to some of the most disturbing childhood trends: the rise in obesity, attention disorders, and depression”. There are many who share his concern about children’s increasing disconnection with nature. David Bond’s 2013 film Project Wild Thing, for instance, tackles the same subject.

Parents are, quite understandably, concerned for their children’s safety so they either keep them at home staring at a screen or sign them up for a continual frenzy of ‘improving’ activities. Those of us who grew up in the 1950s and 60s experienced a very different childhood. New York journalist Lenore Skenazy was accused of child abuse after writing a column about how she let her 9-year-old son ride home alone on the subway. As a result of this she founded the “free range kids” movement, encouraging parents to give their children more independence and self-reliance.

Of course this is only one side of the argument and there are many experts who take the opposite view but, speaking personally, I find their views of considerable interest. None of them are advocating a return to the sort of childhood I experienced 50-60 years ago: they are all looking at how latest research can inform parents and teachers how to help their children live in the 21st century. You may well disagree completely and think our current parenting and teaching methods are fine as they are. You may well think their views are impractical and idealistic, but maybe the world needs, and has always needed, impractical idealists.

The answer to my riddle then, is that perhaps we’ll see a revolution in the whole concept of what childhood should mean in the 21st century. Perhaps we shouldn’t be encouraging our children to do too much too soon. (And you might understand why I wasn’t impressed when a fellow chess teacher asked about Under 6 tournaments in his area, and why he wasn’t impressed with my reply.) Perhaps we should do more to ensure that children spend time outdoors and find ways to connect with nature. Perhaps we should give children more freedom and independence. Perhaps the childhood of the future will be slow, green and free range. Perhaps it will be more holistic, with schools seeing children as individuals, identifying their particular talents and interests and finding activities which they might like. It’s not just about being ‘progressive’, though. For many children there’s a lot to be said for old-fashioned concepts such as academic rigour and discipline as long as it’s placed within the context of the children’s lives.

Perhaps you’re unfamiliar with these ideas, in which case your homework for this week is to read some of the authors I’ve mentioned here. You might expect educationalists who hold these views to be sceptical about encouraging mass participation in chess by very young children. They might also be sceptical about the whole business of promoting chess (or anything else) as something that ‘makes kids smarter’. You might also want to ask yourself what part chess will play in the lives of the Children of the Revolution. Perhaps more children will start chess later rather than earlier (yes, a few children will be ready to start early just as I was ready to start reading early). We might see children taking up fewer extra-curricular activities but taking them more seriously. We might see parents and teachers encouraging children to play chess because they want to become good at it rather than because it might make them smarter. In the short term we might see fewer children playing, but more children will continue to play into their teens and on into adulthood. I just wonder how much of this will happen in my lifetime.

Richard James


A Modest Proposal

I’ve written many times about the problems facing junior chess here in the UK. Two weeks ago I considered GM Simon Williams’s critique of what’s happening at top levels of junior chess. Last week I looked at some contradictions in the public perception of chess.

Today I want to highlight the one thing that is really not working and see how we might go about putting it right.

A lot of what we do is great.

Promoting chess in secondary schools is great, and the ECF is quite rightly putting a lot of effort in this direction. At present, though, it’s not easy to get that much interest outside single-sex selective schools.

Junior Chess Clubs are great, especially for parents who want to fast-track their children, for children who are doing well at school and want to take things more seriously, and for children who want to learn the basics in a non-competitive environment.

We run some great tournaments, at least they would be great if more of the participants were developing their skills in tandem with gaining experience in competitions.

There are a number of very devoted parents out there, doing a wonderful job in encouraging their children to play chess, and, in many cases, doing a lot of voluntary administration as well. Only a small number, though. We need to make it much larger.

Putting chess on the curriculum is great: more children will learn chess, they’ll learn the basics correctly rather than being taught at home by parents who are unaware of their own ignorance. It might also make them smarter. We can then feed them through to competitions and junior chess clubs when they’re ready.

There’s a lot of great work going on in junior chess in this country, and yet the whole set-up is ineffective. If you look at what actually happens in primary school chess clubs in my part of London you’ll see why.

There are some school clubs which are reasonably successful, where there’s a member of staff who is committed to chess, who is present in the classroom to ensure children are quiet and well-behaved, and who encourages children to take part in both team and individual competitions and to join junior chess clubs, but these schools are very much in a minority.

A few weeks ago I spoke to a friend and colleague, an IM who has, for some years, been running an after-school club at a primary school very local to Richmond Junior Club. I asked if he had any players who might be good enough to represent Richmond in national competitions. No, he told me. It’s just a low-level fun club, although there was one boy who might be good enough next year.

A year or so ago I emailed another friend and colleague, another IM, about the players at another local primary school where he’s been running the chess club certainly since the last century. I asked if any of his players were going to take part in our forthcoming individual tournament. He replied that his members were only interested in taking part in team tournaments where they represented the school, not in individual competitions.

Now my two friends are both outstanding players, brilliant chess coaches and great guys. The two schools are among the highest rated state primary schools in the country. So we have two fantastic teachers working in fantastic schools, who, at least in these two schools (I’m well aware that they both get better results elsewhere) produce very few if any children who reach a reasonable level of chess proficiency or take a long-term interest in the game. IMs and GMs, along with many others, including myself, are trying to make a living providing low-level entertainment for children who are not serious about chess and whose parents don’t want them to be serious about chess. It would be a much more productive use of their time if they were teaching smaller numbers of children who were ambitious to succeed, but, the way things are at the moment, they can earn more money doing what they’re doing, and who can blame them?

We first need to make sure that more children learn chess. I can’t see chess on the curriculum in the UK being made compulsory in the near future, and, personally, I wouldn’t be in favour. So let’s put together an attractive package for a potential sponsor. We’ll put a couple of chess sets in every junior classroom (Year 3/2nd Grade upwards) in the country. (Yes, a project of this nature was started by the ECF a few years ago but turned out to be a complete fiasco.) Just putting chess sets into schools without accompanying instruction won’t work, though. We’ll also produce some attractive, colourful, child-friendly posters to go round the room showing the rules of chess. We’ll encourage children in Year 3 to play mini-games so we’ll also produce some mini-game posters. We’ll encourage teachers to get those children who wish to do so to play chess before school and at break times. We’ll provide an information pack for class teachers. We’ll produce a booklet giving the rules of chess, some mini-games, some basic advice on tactics and strategy, and links to recommended resources, email this to schools and ask them to forward it to all parents.

Let’s then set up a network of chess academies providing individual and group tuition, competitions, and time and space for children who enjoy chess to socialise with each other. In more affluent areas parents should be happy to pay for this. These academies will also provide tutors for schools who are ambitious to excel at chess.

We also need to flood the media with positive stories about competitive chess, particularly as played by older children and young adults, both male and female. At present chess has a good reputation among the general public for ‘making you smarter’ but a poor reputation as a hobby, which is one reason why many parents want their children to ‘do’ chess but not to be good at chess. Last week’s post considered the image of chess players. They are seen as geeks who either dress too formally or too informally, have poor social skills, will probably go mad (like that Fischer chap), are almost all male (wasn’t there a player who said women were useless at chess the other day?), are either very young or very old, and are so unhealthy that they will probably drop dead at the board. Getting away from these stereotypes and promoting a positive image of chess should be a top priority.

While I continue to support primary school chess clubs because it’s better for schools to have a club than not to have a club, the current model of the primary school chess club led by a professional chess teacher is, in my opinion, demonstrably not fit for purpose. By continuing to support it we are letting down both the children and the wider chess community. Surely we can come up with a way of using our talented chess coaches to teach children who want to learn and improve rather than just running low-level children’s entertainment.

Richard James