Category Archives: Richard James

Knightmare

More on the Ruy Lopez later, but you might be wondering what happened to my adventures with 1…e5.

Since I last posted in this series I’ve had three more games with Black, facing d4 twice and f4 on the other occasion.

Here’s my most recent game against d4, in yet another Richmond v Surbiton match. This time I was playing for our A team against their B team, facing a slightly lower graded opponent. A positional battle ensued.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 Nc6

For many years my main defence to 1. d4 has been the Dutch, but I’ve also played this on a few occasions. I’d resolved to play it more often this year. If White plays 3. Nc3 I’m planning to play an immediate e5, meeting d5 with Ne7, Ng6, Bb4 or Bc5 depending on what White does in the meantime, and then d6. Most players at my level haven’t studied this rather unusual defence, which scores very well for Black in the databases. In my previous 1. d4 game, playing for Richmond B against Wimbledon A, my opponent, Russell Picot, graded some way above me, clearly had studied it and came up with a very dangerous line. A few days before our game he’d partnered Kramnik against Giri in the final of the Pro-Biz Cup at the London Chess Classic so perhaps Big Vlad had given him some tips.

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 Nc6 3. Nc3 e5 4. d5 Ne7 5. Nf3 Ng6 6. h4 (This scores 71% for White in BigBase 2015, whereas the most popular move, e4, only scores 27.5%.) 6… h5 7. Bg5 Be7 8. e3 Ng4? (Careless, allowing a strong reply. I should have played d6 instead.) 9. d6 Bxg5 10. hxg5 cxd6 11. Bd3 Nf8? (Ne7) 12. Qc2 (Bf5!) 12… g6 13. O-O-O a6 14. Be4 Rb8 15. Kb1 b5 16. cxb5 Bb7? 17. Bxb7 Rxb7 18. Ne4 Rb6 19. Nxd6+ Rxd6 20. Rxd6 axb5 21. Rd5 Ne6 22. Nxe5 Nxe5 23. Rxe5 O-O 24. f4 Qb8 25. Rc1 Qb6 26. Qb3 Rb8 27. Rd5 d6 28. Qd3 Nc5 29. Qd4 Ne6 30. Rc8+ Nf8 31. Rxf8+ Kxf8 32. Rxd6 Qc7 33. Rd7 1-0

3. Nf3

White prevents an immediate e5 so Black’s plan is e6 followed by Bb4, d6 and e5.

3… e6
4. g3 Bb4+
5. Bd2 Bxd2+

We’ve now transposed into a variation of the Bogo-Indian Defence. I showed the game to a friend of about 2200 strength who suggested this was a wasted move and that I should have preferred Qe7. In the main lines of the Bogo-Indian, yes, but with a knight on c6 I think this move is fine. If my opponent plays d5 in reply to my e5 I’d really like e7 for my knight. In a closed position such as this the lost tempi (I’m also spending two moves getting my pawn to e5) don’t really matter. My other line of thinking was that, as I’d have less space if my opponent met e5 with d5, I wanted to trade off my potentially bad bishop, and I’d rather trade it for a bishop than a knight, which I’d have to do if he played Nc3 followed by a3.

6. Nbxd2 O-O
7. Bg2 d6
8. Qc2 e5

Now White has to make a decision about the pawn formation. Should he close the centre with d5 or capture on e5 and open the d-file? Perhaps he should have chosen d5 but either way I’m very comfortable.

9. dxe5 dxe5
10. Rd1 Qe7
11. e4?!

I guess he was worried about my playing e4 at some point but this really isn’t what he wants to do, blocking in his bishop and giving me an outpost on d4.

11… h6

Just waiting, and preventing Ng5 should I play Be6. I could well have played Bg4 immediately, though.

12. O-O Rd8
13. Nb1?!

Trying to redeploy his knight to d5 but instead he lets my knight reach d4. My plan now is obvious.

13… Bg4
14. Rxd8+ Rxd8
15. Nc3

He might have admitted his error and gone back to d2 instead.

15… Bxf3
16. Bxf3 Nd4
17. Qd3 c6

Taking d5 away from his knight. We’ve now reached a pawn formation which can arise from a King’s Indian Defence, or, with colours reversed, from a Ruy Lopez where White’s played c3 and d4, Black’s played d6 and c5, and White’s traded pawns on c5. This formation favours Black slightly anyway, and here my knight has already reached its dream square. In addition I was, unusually, well ahead on the clock (we were playing 35 moves in 75 minutes).

18. Bg2 Nd7
19. Kh1 Nc5
20. Qb1 a5
21. f4?!

Running short of time, it’s understandable that White wants to open the position and free his bad bishop on g2. Capturing didn’t occur to me at first, as you usually try to keep the position closed with a knight against a bishop, but I wasn’t sure how to make progress if he answered, say, f6 with f5, taking the important staging post at e6 away from my knights. But then I noticed that I could follow up the trade with Qh4, when my knights have more squares, my rook will be able to invade down the d-file at some point, and his king is not looking very secure.

Instead he would have done better to wait with something like b3 and see how I was planning to improve my position.

21… exf4
22. gxf4 Qh4
23. e5?

He’s trying to give his bishop some air, but this is just losing. Now my knights come in on f4 and d3 with decisive threats. He should have tried f5 instead, to keep my knights out of e6.

23… Nde6
24. f5 Nf4
25. Qc2 Ncd3
26. e6?

An oversight in time trouble, but after 26. Qd2 Nh3 27. Bxh3 Qxh3 28. Qg2 Qxg2+ 29. Kxg2 Nxb2 Black’s going to mop up several of the overextended white pawns. Now a rather improbable knight fork on wins a piece.

26… Ne1
27. exf7+ Kxf7
28. Qe4 Nexg2
29. Rxf4 Nxf4
0-1

Quite an easy game to play as my opponent made some positional errors.

(My apologies to my friends at Streatham and Brixton Chess Club for borrowing the title of their 1970s annual.)

Richard James

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Teaching Kids the Ruy Lopez (4)

Today we’re going to look at two important and interrelated tactical ideas which can arise from the Ruy Lopez. One of the ideas is a way for White to win material, while the other idea will win material for Black.

Suppose Black decides to chase the white bishop back with a6 and b5. Black will often do this straight away in kiddie chess. Kiddie players love to create threats in case their opponent doesn’t notice. Now if Black plays d6 there are some potential white square weaknesses around the d5 square. If Black plays Nxe4 a bishop move to d5 might fork the knights on e4 and c6, or, if the knight on c6 has moved away, the knight on e4 and the rook on a8.

Better still, a queen landing on d5 might also threaten mate on f7, backed up by the bishop on b3.

Let’s have a look at a few games to see how this works out in practice.

In our first game Black defends weakly against the Fork Trick. 8… Bd6 would also have failed because of the Qd5 idea: he should have played 8… Bxd4 instead.

Playing natural developing moves doesn’t mean you won’t lose quickly if you’re not careful. Black had to play the ugly 8… Bd6 instead. Note that if 10… Ng4 to defend f7, White just takes it off.

Black, who from his rating isn’t a bad player, comes up with a losing 6th move. He should either take on d4 or play d6 instead of Be7. This just goes to show how devastating an early d4 can be against an unwary opponent.

Again, a player with a reasonable rating plays a careless move (any other capture on move 7 would have been OK) and this time Qd5 pins and skewers everything in sight.

Another Fork Trick where Black goes wrong very quickly. This time White finds a different target: a bishop on e5. Note that, as mentioned last week, in other Fork Trick lines (7…) Bd6 is often the best move but in the Ruy Lopez it usually leads to a quick disaster. Again he should have played Bxd4 instead.

In this game White manages a record-breaking quadruple queen fork.

A typical example of a position where White wins a piece by playing Bd5.

Now for the black trap. This is sometimes known as the Noah’s Ark Trap, allegedly because the trap is as old as Noah’s Ark.

What happens is this: White plays d4 (without c3). Black trades pawns and knights on d4, forcing White to take back with the queen. Black then kicks the queen with c5, followed by c4, trapping the bishop on b3.

Study this game very carefully, paying full attention to the notes, and you’ll see how it works. Both players have to look several moves ahead to see whether or not it’s going to work and recognising the patterns will help you do this. Estonian chess great Paul Keres, who won this game, was one of the strongest players never to become world champion.

Richard James

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Teaching Kids the Ruy Lopez (3)

Back to the Ruy Lopez this week.

We’ll start by travelling back 25 years to watch the 6-year-old Luke McShane in action. It was seeing his early games and results with this opening that first alerted me to the advantages of teaching the Ruy Lopez at a relatively early stage of children’s chess development.

In this game Black allows the familiar discovered check to win the black queen.

The second game features a less common idea: a rather unusual rook fork wins Luke another queen.

In this article we’re taking a break from 3… a6. It’s very natural, especially if Black is more used to facing Bc4, to play a simple developing move such as 3… Nf6 or 3… Bc5. Of course Nf6, the Berlin variation, is very popular at all levels at the moment, while Bc5, while not played so often at GM level, is a frequent guest in amateur events. Both, of course, are perfectly reasonable moves.

Against 3… Nf6, or indeed 3… Bc5, it’s not unreasonable to play, as Luke did, the immediate exchange. f6 is not necessarily the best square for the black knight in the exchange variation. Instead, though, I’d recommend White to play 4. O-O against either of these moves. Making the king safe and giving the rook access to e1 in case the e-file gets opened can’t be bad. What we’re not going to do is transpose into a Four Knights by playing Nc3 and d3.

Games at this level often go 3… Nf6 4. O-O a6 when White can trade on c6 and capture on e5, transposing into our article from two weeks ago. If you want to play a6 you have to do so on move 3, not on move 4. Every move we’re going to work out whether or not it’s safe to win the black e-pawn. Otherwise, we’re going to play a quick d4, not bothering too much if it loses a pawn, and, if the e-file is opened, put our rook on e1.

If they play 3… Bc5 instead we have a choice. We’re going to castle next and then we can, depending on Black’s reply, play c3 followed by d4 (and possibly d5 hitting the pinned knight) or go for the Fork Trick with Nxe5 followed by d4, using a pawn fork to regain the piece.

Let’s look at a few more short games to see how these ideas work out in practice and learn some tactical ideas.

See how easy it is to win a piece. In this game Black plays five obvious and natural moves – giving him a lost game. You see how strong the c3 and d4 idea can be against an opponent who plays Bc5. The only square for the bishop on move 6 is b6, which interferes with the b-pawn so Black cannot unpin with a6 followed by b5.

In this game we learn another important tactical idea. Black makes the mistake of playing 3… Nf6 4. O-O a6 and then allows a classic pawn fork. Pawn forks in the centre happen over and over again at this level. e5 will fork a bishop on d6 and a knight on f6 while d5 will fork a bishop on e6 and a knight on c6. Another typical tactical idea when Black has bishops on c5 and e6 is to play c3 and d4, hitting the bishop on c5, followed by the fork on d5.

Here White is successful with the fork trick. Bd6 is usually the right way to go in Italian fork trick positions but here it’s not good. Black’s 8th move just loses a piece and his 10th move just loses a king. 8… Bd6 would have saved the piece but left him way behind in development.

Finally for this week we return to Luke McShane to see how he handled the Berlin Defence as a GM. 5. d4 is more often played but Re1 is a simpler way of regaining the pawn which also contains a drop of poison.

Richard James

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Chess with Chris and Kenny

Back to the Ruy Lopez next week unless anything else happens. Today there’s something different I have to share with you.

I returned from Richmond Junior Club last Saturday to see the sad news that one of my oldest chess friends and most regular opponents, Chris Clegg, had died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 66.

I’d known Chris for more than 40 years and saw him regularly at matches in the Thames Valley League between my club, Richmond, and his club, Kingston. We played six times in a decade between 1978 and 1987, and then, strangely a 22 year hiatus before four more recent encounters.

Chris started playing chess at his secondary school, taking part in junior tournaments and soon joining his local chess club where he remained for the rest of his life. Every time we played Kingston we knew he’d be there, captaining the team. If we were playing at Kingston he’d be the first to arrive to set up the furniture and equipment, and the last to leave, having put everything away. He’d even arrive early for away matches and help set everything up without asking or being asked. Chris would be at almost every tournament in the London area, arriving on his own and leaving on his own.

By profession he was a solicitor, but he retired very early. He had no family, living with his mother until she died some years ago. His other interest was bird watching. Chris was one of those highly intelligent, rather introverted people who tend very often to be drawn to chess. As his Kingston Chess Club colleague John Foley wrote in his obituary on the English Chess Forum, chess kept Chris going and Chris kept Kingston Chess Club going.

The chess world has always needed, and will continue to need, the likes of Chris Clegg. At his best he was a county standard player, a bit short of master strength. But, more importantly, he was an organiser who worked at a local level, never seeking fame or recognition. Chess isn’t just about producing grandmasters. Without dedicated organisers there would be no grandmasters and no chess.

Here’s an exciting game from a Thames Valley League match a few years ago in which both players missed wins.

But there was also good news recently: news that, as Bruce Mubayiwa reported on this site, Kenny Solomon has become South Africa’s first grandmaster. A great achievement in itself, but notable also for Kenny’s background, growing up in a township notorious for drug abuse and gang violence.

From his website:

“Kenny was exposed to gang culture from an early age. Kenny realised that if he didn’t create his own future, he would merely become a pawn in this scene, trapped in the violent, oppressive cycle of gangsterism. Strong family values and his early interest in chess kept him away from these influences and compelled him to make choices about his fate.

“After getting into chess at the age of 13, he would play blitz games with his older brother and a friend in the Solomons’ backyard, amidst lines of dripping washing.”

Note that he taught himself to play chess in his teens. Not starting young is no barrier to becoming a grandmaster.

Chris Clegg and Kenny Solomon, two very different people and two very different players, but united by their passion for chess. I’m not sure whether chess made either of them smarter but it had an enormous social impact on both of them. It enabled Kenny to escape from the gangs and drugs of a South African township, taking him to Europe where he married an Italian girl, and to grandmasterdom. It gave Chris a purpose in life and a means of connecting with an increasingly alien world (he never used the internet or even owned a mobile phone).

There’s something else they have in common as well. I don’t know when Chris learnt the moves: probabbly round about the age of 11, as we all did in those days. There’s a loss to Ray Keene from the 1961-62 London Under 14 Championship, possibly his first tournament, on chessgames.com. I would guess that they both started their obsession with chess at about the age of 13 or 14. Not at 7 or 8 as children do today.

Regular readers will know that I consider the social benefits of chess at least as important as the academic benefits, and that these benefits really kick in for older rather than younger children. I’ll leave you with a quote from a recent interview with the comedian Stewart Lee.

“But also the things that get you when you’re 13 or 14, that’s when you’re most susceptible and if you’re lucky enough to encounter a good thing when you’re 13 or 14, it will stay with you for your life.”

Chris and Kenny were both lucky enough to encounter a good thing when they were 13 or 14.

Richard James

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Teaching kids the Ruy Lopez (2)

So we left you last time considering the Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez after the moves 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Bxc6 dxc6 5.O-O. If Black, as he often will in lower level kiddie tournaments, plays a natural developing move such as Nf6 or Bc5 we can capture the pawn on e5 safely, and, if Black tries to get the pawn back we have an array of tactical weapons involving using our rook on the open e-file at our disposal.

The most popular moves, in order of frequency, are f6 and Bg4, followed at a considerable distance, by Qd6 and Bd6. Stronger players tend to prefer f6 and Qd6, while lower rated players are more likely to go for Bg4 or Bd6.

At this level you can usually get away with simple development but there’s one important thing you need to know. It’s a trap which happens quite often in kiddie chess: the Fishing Pole‘s much more respectable cousin.

After 5… Bg4 play continues 6. h3 (a natural move, and by far White’s most popular choice here) 6… h5 when White has to decide whether or not to take the bishop. Theory recommends 7. d3 when both sides have to calculate each move whether or not White can take the bishop. If instead 7. hxg4 hxg4 leaves White in trouble, and if he tries to save his knight with 8. Nxe5 he gets mated after 8… Qh4 9. f4 g3 (the key move, shutting the door on the white king).

Before we move on there’s one other thing you might want to demonstrate, at least to older kids. Look at this variation: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Bxc6 dxc6 5. d4 exd4 6. Qxd4 Qxd4 7. Nxd4. Now take everything off the board except the kings and pawns and play out the resulting pawn ending. Something like this might happen:

This is worth explaining. White’s winning because he can always force a passed pawn. As long as he doesn’t undouble Black’s c-pawns his opponent will never be able to create a passed pawn. If you run an intermediate level class it’s well worth giving this sort of ending to your pupils. Get them to record their moves and see what happens. In my experience many players will fail to win with White because they play c4xb5 at some point.

This exercise will teach you a lot about doubled pawns: about when and why they can be a disadvantage. It will also teach you a lot about pawn endings. Most importantly, it will teach you how openings and endings are closely connected (even though both are even more closely connected to middle games).

I wouldn’t encourage kids to spend too long playing the exchange variation, though. One reason is that, if you teach them to play the exchange variation after 3… a6 they’ll also make the trade after other third moves, which you probably don’t want them to do. So at some point they’re going to have to move onto 4. Ba4 as well as considering how to meet Black’s most popular 3rd move alternatives.

But first, you might like to demonstrate a couple of famous games. Regular readers will know that I’m very big on teaching chess culture as well as just chess so it’s always a good idea to look at how some of the all-time greats handled the opening you’re learning.

Richard James

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Teaching kids the Ruy Lopez (1)

For years I used to teach kids the Italian Game as their first real White opening once I wanted to get them away from mindless development in the Four Knights. If Black played Bc5, then c3 followed by d4, or if instead he played the Two Knights we went for the Fried Liver Attack with Ng5.

The problem with this, though, is that it’s very much about remembering forced variations, which doesn’t suit everyone and may possibly come at the expense of genuine understanding.

So why not teach the Ruy Lopez instead at this level? In my opinion there are a lot of reasons why you should.

As a not entirely irrelevant aside, most openings books are totally useless for less experienced juniors. In fact some of them are useless even at my level. In practical terms, I’m not interested in what grandmasters play. I want to know what the random player sitting opposite me in my next Thames Valley League match is going to play. If you’re teaching young kids you want to know what young kids who haven’t studied the openings very much are going to play. As someone once said, what good is the book if your opponent hasn’t read it?

So when I teach the Ruy Lopez I’m not going to show them Mickey Adams’s latest TN on move 35 of the Marshall. Nor am I going to discuss Vlad Kramnik’s most recent subtlety in the Berlin Wall. They’re not going to see the Marshall or the Berlin Wall at all. Nor are they going to play an early Nc3 and d3 and transpose into a boring Four Knights Game. They’re not even going to memorise any variations or learn very much theory. Instead they’re going to learn a lot of devastating tactical weapons which they can use against the sort of moves they’re likely to meet over the board in kiddie tournaments. They’re also going to learn about quick development, castling early, controlling the centre, the importance of the c-pawn in the opening, using open files, making pawn breaks, winning a pawn and converting it in the ending.

At this level, the Ruy Lopez is essentially about the resulting tactics when White tries to capture the pawn on e5, and when Black tries to capture the pawn on e4.

So we’ll start by showing them some moves: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5. The Spanish Opening or Ruy Lopez. Named after a 16th century Spanish priest. Why are we playing this? On move one we stick a pawn in the middle. Our opponent does the same thing. We attack it with our knight and he defends it. So we attack the defender. Now we’d like to trade off our bishop for his knight and then chop off the pawn. Or would we?

If you’re playing this in a low level kiddie tournament there are all sorts of replies you might meet. Beginners will often move the knight away because they don’t want to lose a piece, not understanding that a trade of equal value pieces is fine (and forgetting that they moved the knight to c6 to defend the pawn on e5). They might decide to copy White and play Bb4. Fine – we’re going to play c3 to kick the bishop away, and then, before or after castling, d4. Important lesson about using the c-pawn to fight for the centre (which is why we’re not playing the Four Knights). They might play either Bc5 or Nf6, maybe because it’s what they’ve been taught to do against Bc4, or maybe because they look like sensible developing moves. If they’ve heard that doubled pawns are bad they might play Nge7. If they think their e-pawn is in imminent danger they’ll probably play d6. We’ll look at some of these in more detail in a later article, but we’ll start with what is, at most levels, the most popular reply: a6. They might play this because they know it’s the usual move, or just because they like creating threats, hoping their opponent won’t notice.

We continue, then, 3… a6 and see what happens if White carries out his ‘threat': 4. Bxc6 dxc6 (we’ll explain that this is the better recapture because it opens lines for the bishop and queen). Now we’ll play 5. Nxe5 and ask them to select a move for Black.

As they’ve been taught not to bring their queen out too soon they’ll probably suggest various developing moves like Nf6 or Bd6 before considering the idea of a queen fork. They’ll need a bit of prompting to see that there are three queen moves which Black could employ to regain his pawn: Qd4 (forking e5 and e4), which happens to be the best option, Qe7 (skewering e5 and e4) and Qg5 (forking e5 and g2). We’ll play a few more moves: 5… Qd4 6. Nf3 Qxe4+ 7. Qe2 Qxe2+ 8. Kxe2 and agree that Black stands better: he has the two bishops in a fairly open position and White’s king is awkwardly placed. You might possibly want to leave the discussion about the relative merits of the minor pieces for another time though.

Big lesson number 1: look out for queen forks in the opening. These are easy to miss partly because you may not be looking for tactics when your brain’s still in opening mode and partly for the reason mentioned above: you usually don’t want to bring your queen out too soon.

So we’ll take a few moves back and try to do a bit better for White. Instead of taking the pawn on move 5 we’re going to castle. You’ll see the difference very shortly. If he hasn’t seen the position before Black is quite likely to play a natural developing move such as 5… Nf6. Now we’re going to capture on e5. It’s time to play Spot the Difference.

Let’s suppose Black tries Qd4 as he was advised to play the move before. So: 6. Nxe5 Qd4 7. Nf3 Qxe4 and it’s easy to see how White can win the queen.

Or Black could take the pawn at once: 6. Nxe5 Nxe4 when White again uses his rook on the e-file: 7. Re1. If the knight retreats a discovered check will win the black queen. They may well be familiar with this idea from the Copycat Trap in the Petroff. If not, they should be.

Finally, Black could try to drive the knight back first, just as in the Petroff, say 6. Nxe5 Bd6 7. Nf3 Nxe4 8. Re1. Again we use the rook on the e-file. This time there’s an enemy knight in the way so we have a pin. Black can defend the pinned piece with 8… Bf5 but now we can simply attack the pinned piece with 9. d3 (or Nc3) and come out a piece ahead.

Simple first lesson on the Ruy Lopez, then. A little bit of very basic theory, but much more than that. A graphic illustration of why we castle quickly in positions where the e-file is going to be opened, and how we use the rook there. A lot of vital tactical ideas as well: queen forks for Black, pins and discovered attacks for White. If there’s an enemy piece between our rook and his king we can pin and win it. If there’s a friendly piece in the way we can move it with a discovered check. Next time we’ll take the opening a bit further and look at some more ideas.

Richard James

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Checkmates in Queen Endings

Perhaps my all time favourite chess book is Chess Curiosities, by Tim Krabbé. There’s a chapter in this book about strange occurrences in queen endings.

The other day I was looking at games played by some of my friends in the recent London Chess Classic FIDE Open when I came across something which reminded me of this chapter.

Former RJCC star Richard Cannon was being outplayed in a queen ending by an opponent rated 300 points below him when this position arose.

It’s been a long struggle but now, on move 89, White is on the verge of victory with three extra pawns, one of which is about to queen. He can win at once with Kf7, when Black has to trade queens to avoid immediate mate. Instead he played 89. Qh5+, which is still winning easily. After 89… Kg8 he could centralise his queen again with 90. Qd5+ and then push his pawn to d7. But instead he pushed at once: 90. d7 Qa3+ 91. Ke6 Qa6+. Now White regrets leaving his queen offside. He’s either going to lose his d-pawn or lose his queen and promote his d-pawn (after, say, 92. Kf5 Qb5+ 93. Kf4 Qxh5 94. d8=Q+) when he’s going have to start the winning process all over again. Not fancying this he tried to keep both his pawn and his queen by playing 92. Ke7, only to find that, completely out of the blue, he’d lost his king instead when Black produced 92… Qf6+ 93. Ke8 Qf8# giving Richard a rather fortunate point.

It’s very easy to make this sort of mistake, and Krabbé gives examples of strong grandmasters suffering embarrassing defeats in this way. It’s been a long game, you’re feeling tired, you’re running short of time or perhaps playing on increments. You’ve long since switched out of Middle Game Mode and into Endgame Mode where you’re thinking about king activity and assuming there won’t be any possibility of checkmate.

I know from personal experience just how easy it is because almost a year ago I lost a game myself in the same way. There were some fascinating tactics earlier in the game, which I might share with you some other time, but for now consider this position.

I had the white pieces and, just as in the previous example, was trying to promote my d-pawn in a queen ending. The problem was that my king had nowhere to hide so I could expect no more than a draw. With not much time left I pushed the pawn here after which my young opponent swiftly demonstrated a mate in four: 44. d7 Qh1+ 45. Kg4 f5+ 46. Kf4 Qe4+ 47. Kg5 h6#

Note that the mate only worked because 44. d7 unpinned the black f-pawn by cutting off the white queen. Instead any sensible move such as 44. Qe7 would have drawn as long as I didn’t run out of time.

So I looked through some games played in 2013 in BigBase 2014 to see what else I could find.

I guess White was a bit unlucky in this one. You might think someone with a 1988 rating should have done better, but if you’re sitting there with the clock ticking it’s not so easy. Black has just delivered a check and White has to consider how to parry this. With 71. Qf3 he’d have had every chance of exploiting his two extra pawns but instead he played 71. Kg4 Qxg2+ 72. Kxh4 confident that Black didn’t have any dangerous queen moves. Correct, but instead he found a dangerous king move: 72… Kh6 with the deadly threat of g5#. Seeing that 73. Qg3 would be met by 73… g5+ 74. Kg4 Qxe4+ and mate next move he resigned.

In this example Black has a queen and a pawn on the seventh rank against his opponent’s queen. White’s been checking him for the last ten moves so he now decided to head for safety in the south east corner of the board, playing 92… Kg3. Not a good idea: suddenly White mates in two moves with Qf4+. Easily done, but Black, with a rating of 2084, is, by most standards, a pretty strong player.

Even grandmasters are not immune from this sort of thing. Here’s Kazakh GM Anuar Ismagambetov in action. He’s a pawn down but as his queen is securely blockading the extra pawn there should be no way his opponent can make progress.

75. Kc6 is fine for a half point, but 75. Kd6 Qb6# left White looking rather foolish. Ismagambetov? I’m not sure whether or not his gambit is off but in this game his ending certainly was!

So next time you reach a queen ending, don’t forget to look out for snap checkmates. Learning some queen and pawn mating patterns is also going to help you.

Richard James

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When to Sacrifice

It’s important to learn about the idea of sacrificing a piece for a pawn or two in front of the castled enemy king. There are many books which will show you examples of this, and all teachers enjoy showing these games to their students.

But if you read these books and follow these lessons you may well get the idea that such sacrifices always work. In real life, of course, they don’t, but it’s much more entertaining to demonstrate a short sacrificial win than a long game where the defender refutes the sacrifice and wins the ending with his extra piece.

Sometimes you can calculate a forced win. Sometimes it will be obvious to an experienced player (but not necessarily to someone less experienced) that the sacrifice won’t work. There’s also a grey area in the middle where you clearly have compensation. It’s partly a question of style, temperament and personality whether or not you will choose to make the sacrifice. You might also like to remember the rule (something I read years ago, I think in a book by Julian Hodgson) that you should play the sacrifice if, after giving up the piece, you have more attackers than your opponent has defenders.

The game below was posted on Facebook by my colleague at CSC, Ferris Lindsay. He asked why he lost this game. Let’s have a look.

1. e4 e6
2. d4 d5
3. exd5 exd5

White chooses the Exchange Variation in reply to his opponent’s French Defence. This is often a sign of peaceful intent, but Ferris has an aggressive plan in mind.

4. Nc3 Nf6
5. Bg5 c6
6. Nf3 Be7
7. Qd2 O-O
8. O-O-O

Natural moves, I suppose, but this position has only been seen in a few fairly low level amateur games. Superficially it looks a bit scary for Black, who has to reckon with a possible sacrifice if he ever tries to play h6. So we might want to consider why stronger players don’t start the game in this way.

It’s worth considering what would happen if Black decided to put the question to the bishop at this point. After 8… h6 White can consider two thematic sacrifices. Do either of them work. You might like to go away and analyse this position yourself before reading on, or, if you’re a chess teacher, set it as an exercise for your students.

So: 9. Bxh6 gxh6 10. Qxh6 when Stockfish finds several viable defences for Black, which may not, however, be so easy to find over the board at amateur level. One such defence is 10… Ne4 with the idea of Qd6 as well as a possible fork on f2. Then 11. Nxe4 dxe4 and the knight on f3 can’t move because of the nasty Bg5 pinning and winning the queen. Now Black’s not threatening exf3 because gxf3 will open the g-file for a white rook, but he’ll be able to play Qd6 next move and defend comfortably.

Or White could try 9. h4 hxg5 10. hxg5 hoping for an attack down the h-file. Now Black has only one way to gain an advantage: 10… Ne4 (against other knight moves 11. Bd3 will give White at least a perpetual check) 11. Nxe4 dxe4. Again the knight can’t move because of Bxg5 and this time, because of the pawn on g5, Black will be able to capture on f3 next move. After 12. Bc4 exf3 13. Qd3 Bxg5+ 14. Kb1 Re8 15. Qh7+ Kf8 White is two pieces down but has a strong attack. Not quite strong enough, according to Stockfish.

8… h6 is fine if you have a silicon brain, but a human would have to be pretty brave and pretty good at defending to play it.

Instead Black played…

8… Nbd7
9. h4

A useful move as White might have a rook lift via h3 in some lines.

9… Bb4

Black decides to take action on the queen side.

10. Bh6

This is it. Ferris sacrifices a bishop even though he’s only going to get one pawn in return. My first thought as a more experienced player is that this really isn’t going to work. Before we see what happened in the game, we’ll consider a more measured approach for White.

White’s most natural move seems to be 10. Bd3 when Black could continue with Qa5, a logical follow-up to his previous move. Given the subject of this article, though, we might also consider 10… h6 and decide whether 11. Bxh6 works. Again you might want to step back and decide on the blue pill or the red pill before going any further.

This time the sacrifice seems to work for White because he’s already played h4. One possible variation runs 10. Bd3 h6 11. Bxh6 gxh6 12. Qxh6 Re8 13. Ng5 (threatening mate in 3 starting with 14. Bh7+) 13… Nf8 14. Rh3 Bxh3 15. gxh3 Qd6 16. Rg1 and Black has to play 16… Re1+ to gain time to stave off White’s attack.

But back to the game…

10… gxh6
11. Qxh6 Kh8

A typical panic reaction in the face of White’s sacrifice. This sort of move is often seen in games at this level. Black moves his king because he’s scared of a possible check. He should have preferred 11… Ng4, driving the queen back, when he should be able to defend.

12. Bd3

Developing and attacking, but 12. Ng5, preventing an immediate Rg8, would have given Ferris an extra move for his attack and put him back in the game. 12. Ng5 Qe8 13. Bd3 Rg8 14. Nxh7 Ng4 15. Qd2 when White has won a second pawn for the piece and exposed the black king.

12… Bxc3
13. Ng5

White bravely continues with his attack rather than recapturing the piece. 13. bxc3 would have given Black time to defend with 13… Rg8

13… Bxb2+

Black seems determined to lose his bishop. Instead the natural move 13.. Bxd4 was correct, giving him a vital extra defender. Then 14. Bxh7 Ng4 15. Qh5 Ndf6 rather amusingly traps the white queen, while after 14. Nxh7 Black just has time to defend: 14… Ng8 15. Qh5 Bg7 16. Nxf8+ Bh6+ 17. Kb1 Qxf8.

14. Kd2

Likewise White insists on not capturing the bishop. This move should lose, but after 14. Kxb2 Qb6+ 15. Kc1 Qxd4 16. f3 Qb4 17. Bxh7 Qa3+ is one possible variation, leading to a position where both players have a perpetual check.

14… Qa5+

Moving the queen offside (14… Bxd4 was easier) but should still be good enough.

15. Ke2 Re8+

A tempting check, but it’s dangerous to undefend f7 in this way. 15… Bxd4 was still the simpler option.

16. Kf1 Re4

A very complicated position has arisen. Black tries block the attack on h7 by returning material, but, as it happens, the move is a mistake.

Yet again 16… Bd4 was correct. Then after 17. Nxh7 Black should gain time by returning one of his extra pieces: 17… Ng4 18. Qh5 Nh6 19. Qxh6 Bg7 20. Qh5 Kg8 – but I guess these moves would be very difficult to find over the board.

17. Nxf7+

What could be more natural than capturing an undefended pawn with check? But, unfortunately for Ferris, it loses.

Taking the rook also loses: 17. Bxe4 dxe4 18. Rh3 Qb5+ 19. Kg1 Qe2 20. Rf1 (an amusing position, given that White castled queen-side 12 moves earlier) 20… Qh5 and the black queen has managed to get back to defend her king.

But, amazingly, Stockfish reveals that there is a win here. The improbable winning move is 17. Rh3, with the slow but unanswerable threat of Rg3, forcing mate. The best Black can do is give up his queen: 17… Qc7 18. Rg3 Qxg3 19. fxg3 Kg8 when Black has rook (about to be captured), bishop and knight for queen. Paradoxically, White needs his knight and bishop for the attack, so he should use his rook, not a minor piece, to trade off the intruder on e4. Stockfish continues: 20. Re1 b6 21. Rxe4 dxe4 22. Bc4 when, because of the threats on f7, Black has nothing better than Ba6, shedding a piece.

Of course working all this out with your clock ticking is far too hard for most humans.

17… Kg8
18. Ng5 b6

Black is two pieces up but still needs to defend accurately. This move lets White back into the game. There were preferable defences such as Re7.

19. f3

Ferris misses his last chance. Again he could have considered the rook lift: 19. Rh3 (threatening both 20. Rg3 and 20. Nxe4 dxe4 21. Bc4+) when Black’s only route to an advantage is 19… Re7 when Stockfish analyses two variations: 20. Bxh7+ Nxh7 21. Re3 Ba6+ 22. Kg1 Qb4 23. Rxe7 Qxe7 24. Qg6+ Kh8 25. Nf7+ Qxf7 26. Qxf7 Ndf6 when White has queen and two pawns for four minor pieces in a position which looks totally unclear to me or 20. Nxh7 Bxd4 21. Rg3+ Kf7 22. c3 Ba6 23. Qg6+ Ke6 24. cxd4 Bxd3+ 25. Rgxd3 Rg8 and Black’s king just about survives.

19… Ba6
20. fxe4 dxe4

White has regained most of his material but now it’s Black who has the winning attack. Another insufficient try here is 21. Ne6 Bxd3+ 22. cxd3 Qf5+ 23. Nf4 Rf8.

21. Kg1 Bxd4+ 22. Kh2 Qe5+ 23. g3 exd3 24. Rde1 Qc5 25. cxd3 Qc2+ 26. Kh3 Qxd3 27. Re7 Qg6 28. Qxg6+ hxg6
29. Re6 Re8 30. Rxc6 Re3 31. Rc7 Nc5 32. Rxa7 Bc8+ 33. Kg2 Re2+ 34. Kf1 Rf2+ 35. Ke1 Nd3+ 36. Kd1 Bg4+
37. Nf3 Bxf3#

So was Ferris right to make the sacrifice? In theory, no, because the sacrifice could have been refuted simply by 11… Ng4. In practice, no, because he eventually lost the game. But, you know what? I think he was indeed right to sacrifice. He will have learnt a lot about when sacrifices against the castled king are or aren’t likely to work, and will have learnt also about how to calculate and what sort of moves to look for in that sort of position. The beauty of online games is that the result doesn’t really matter. There’s no prize at stake. There are no teammates to complain if you lose. So you can afford to try things out and treat your games as a learning experience.

Richard James

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Adventures with 1…e5 (4)

My fourth consecutive black saw me facing 1. c4 so it’s not relevant to this series of articles. Another match and yet another outing with the black pieces. This was yet another Richmond v Surbiton encounter: Richmond B v Surbiton A so I was on a high board against an opponent about 200 points stronger than me.

My opponent chose the slow option. We had to complete 35 moves in 75 minutes, with a choice of adjournment or adjudication if the game was unfinished after 2½ hours. You might find the rules strange but that’s the way things work in ThamesValleyLeagueLand.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5

At last I get to face the Ruy Lopez. I’m looking at a few options in answer to this.

3… g6

The Smyslov Variation. I’m hoping to continue with Bg7, Nge7, d6, 0-0 in some order. The Cozio Variation (3… Nge7) is another possible move order to achieve the same aim.

4. O-O

Not White’s scariest line. An immediate d4 will disrupt Black’s plan but his position is still playable.

4… Bg7
5. c3 d6
6. Re1 Nge7
7. d4 O-O

Natural developing moves so far. The three previous games in this series were about opening knowledge, tactics and calculation. Here, at least for the moment, it’s about understanding pawn formations, long-term planning and positional judgement. But of course you still have to calculate everything that moves.

Both players have several choices with regard to the centre pawns. White can close the centre with d5 when the position will resemble a King’s Indian Defence or possibly trade on e5. Black has a range of options. He might be able to play an immediate d5, an immediate f5, or trade on d4 and then play either d5 or f5. He might also want to throw in a6 (with or without a subsequent b5) before doing any of these. There’s a lot to think about.

8. Be3

For the moment White decides to play a simple developing move rather than committing himself in the centre.

8… Bd7

Not a very intelligent move. There was no need to put the bishop on d7 after I’d castled and in some cases it might prefer to be on g4. Now was probably the time to undertake some sort of action in the centre.

9. Bf1

Again White decides to wait.

9… Kh8

Another waiting move based on an irrational fear of checks on the diagonal. I could and probably should have played 9.. exd4 10. cxd4 d5 when I can meet 11. e5 with f6.

10. d5

White decides it’s time to take action in the centre himself, heading for a King’s Indian Defence structure. I’m very big on encouraging children who are serious about the game to learn ALL major openings, partly for this reason. If you never open 1. d4 and never play the King’s Indian with black you’ll be totally at sea when you reach this sort of position via a Ruy Lopez.

Now the game continues with a series of typical KID-type moves.

10… Nb8
11. Nfd2 f5
12. f3 f4
13. Bf2 g5
14. c4 b6
15. b4 a5

16. c5

Ambitious. 16. bxa5 was a simpler and probably stronger alternative.

16… axb4
17. c6 Bc8
18. Qb3 Na6
19. Qa4

Overlooking a cheapo but Black seems to be doing quite well anyway, with various tactical chances on the king-side and the long diagonal.

19… Nxd5

My opponent thought I would have been in trouble here without this move but Stockfish suggests I’m OK. The pin on the a-file isn’t a big problem as, whenever I move the bishop from c8, it can bounce back to c8 again after Bxa6. But he’d completely missed this simple tactic winning the exchange.

20. exd5 e4

The point – the rook is trapped and White has no way of blocking the diagonal. Justification for my third move!

21. Rxe4

The more natural Nxe4 was probably a better try – at least in theory.

21… Bxa1
22. Nb3 Be5
23. Nd4 Bxd4

Well, what can I say? It looks, and is, totally wrong to trade off the bishop on the long diagonal for a knight. If one of my more serious pupils had played this move I’d have been very disappointed in them. At this point I had about 15 minutes left to reach move 35, so didn’t want to spend more than a few minutes on this move. I had visions of this knight coming in on e6 in some lines, but, realistically, that’s never going to happen. I’d also failed to consider that White could double his queen and bishop on the long diagonal. From what I recall, my other candidate move was Bf5, which is absurd for tactical reasons. After a sensible move such as Qf6, though, White has absolutely nothing for his material deficit. It’s Black, if anyone, who has the king-side attacking chances.

So what went wrong? Why did I play such an obviously bad move? Time and again in my games I talk myself out of playing a move I know I should play or talk myself into playing a move I know I shouldn’t play.

Indecisiveness (coupled, in this case, with lack of familiarity of the opening) always leaves me behind on the clock. I’m not a good speed player and not good at dealing with stress so when I don’t have much time left I start to panic. Lack of self-confidence, which also contributes to getting short of time. Irrational fears (in this case, an irrational fear of a knight landing on e6). All this is the story of my life, not just the story of my chess games. In my case, and it’s probably true to a greater or lesser extent for most players, getting better at chess is not just about learning more openings or improving calculation skills. It’s about clearing all the junk (which has been there for more than half a century) out of my head.

Anyway, the game continued.

24. Bxd4+ Kg8
25. Nd2 Bf5

The position’s now very complicated and without much time on the clock I wasn’t able to find a good continuation. Stockfish tells me Black has several ways to draw here but I really don’t understand most of the moves! One of the options was 25… g4, with the following variations: 25… g4 26. fxg4 Bxg4 27. Bxa6 Qg5 28. Qb5 Bh3 29. Qe2 Rxa6 30. Nf3 Qxg2+ (30… Qg4 31. Re7 Rf7 32. Re8+ Rf8 33. Re7) (30… Qg6 31. Nh4 Qg5 32. Nf3) 31. Qxg2+ Bxg2 32. Kxg2 Rxa2+ 33. Kh3 Ra3 34. Kg2)

26. Bxa6 Bc8

Played (without any thought) to regain the bishop, but I should have taken the rook instead and gone for the white king: 26… Bxe4 27. Nxe4 g4 28. Qb5 Qh4 29. Qe2 Rf7 30. Bc4 gxf3 31. gxf3 which Stockfish assesses as equal, though don’t ask me why.

27. Qxb4 Rxa6
28. Bc3 Bf5

This is losing. The only way to stay in the game was to play Rxa2, hitting the knight on d2. Stockfish analyses 28… Rxa2 29. Qd4 Qf6 30. Qxf6 Rxf6 31. Bxf6 Rxd2 with an ending in which, although Black is temporarily a pawn ahead, White has better chances.

29. Re2

He could have ignored the rook, just playing 29. Qd4 Qf6 30. Qxf6 Rxf6 31. Bxf6 Bxe4 32. Nxe4 Rxa2 when White is winning because Black can’t defend c7 (after Bd8, Nc3, Nb5).

29… Rf6

29… Kf7 was an insufficient alternative. Stockfish informs me that White’s best reply is 30. Ne4, threatening 31. Bf6, and also 31. g4 fxg3 Nxg3 when if the bishop moves on the b1-h7 diagonal White has Re6 and if it moves on the h3-c8 diagonal White has Qb1. Alternatively, 29… Rxa2 30. Qd4 and Black has to give up a rook. Notice that 29. Re2 defended the knight on d2.

30. Qd4 Kf7
31. Re6

White gives up a second exchange, this time deliberately.

31… Bxe6 32. dxe6+ Rxe6

Losing horribly but 32… Ke8 drops the rook on f6 and 32… Kxe6 drops the rook on a6 (after 33. Qc4+).

33. Qg7+ Ke8
34. Qg8+ Ke7
35. Qxg5+ Ke8
36. Qg8+ Ke7
37. Qxh7+ Ke8

At this point time was called. My opponent could either propose an adjudication or seal a move and adjourn. We agreed on an adjudication as the computer would confirm whether or not he had any more than a perpetual. Looking at the position, we soon concluded that after Ne4 I had no defence to a future Nf6+. Computer analysis confirmed this so I resigned by email the following day.

1-0

Richard James

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Adventures with 1…e5 (3)

Fate soon offered me another opportunity to defend against 1. e4 in another Richmond v Surbiton encounter, this time a match between our respective B teams. Again I was sitting opposite an opponent rated slightly below me.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4

Someone else who’s going Italian. I decided to try the Two Knights’ Defence again.

3.. Nf6
4. Ng5 d5
5. exd5

Should I stick with the slightly dubious Fritz variation after what happened last time or try something else? I decided to go down the main line, at least for a few moves.

5.. Na5
6. Bb5+ c6
7. dxc6 bxc6
8. Be2

White’s most popular choice here, but is it best? Alternatives are the currently fashionable 8. Bd3 preparing a knight retreat to e4, which leads to fairly obscure positions, and the sharp pinning move 8. Qf3, when one option (there are others) for Black is 8.. Rb8, the Colman Variation, analysed by Eugene Ernest Colman while he was held in the Changi Civilian Internees Camp in Singapore during the Second World War. Colman played his move successfully in club chess for Wimbledon, no doubt on occasion in the Thames Valley League. Olympiu Urcan’s biography of Colman, Surviving Changi, is highly recommended.

8.. h6
9. Nf3

Steinitz and Fischer both tried Nh3 here.

9.. e4
10. Ne5 Bc5

The immediate Bd6 is Black’s most popular choice here but engines and stats both prefer this move.

11. c3

The most popular move here. White wants to prevent a possible Qd4 but takes a square away from his queen’s knight.

11.. Bd6

This move and 11.. Qc7 both score very well for Black.

12. d4

Again the most popular choice, but 12. f4 might be an improvement.

12.. exd3
13. Nxd3 Qc7

76 games in BigBase 2014 reached this position with Black scoring 74%. It looks like White’s backing a loser by going down this line.

14. h3

Now we have 41 games with Black scoring 78%.

14.. O-O
15. O-O Bf5

21 games here and Black now up to 81%.

16. b3

Played twice in BigBase 2014. In both cases Black won after playing Rad8.

16.. Rfe8

White looked like a man about to play Ba3 so I played something that I thought prevented this. I was right, but for the wrong reason.

17. Ba3

This should lose at once, but White’s position is uncomfortable due to Black’s pressure down the centre files.

17… Bxa3

Stockfish informed me after the game that I should have played 17.. Bh2+ (the immediate 17.. Rad8 is also strong) 18. Kh1 Rad8 when there’s surprisingly little White can do to meet the threat of Rxe2 followed by Bxd3.

18. Nxa3 Qe7

This is what I’d seen when I played 16.. Rfe8. I thought it won a piece, but it doesn’t. Instead I could again have played 18… Rad8, but now White has some sort of defence: 19. Nc2 Rxe2 20. Nd4 Bxd3 21. Nxe2 when Black has bishop and knight for rook and pawn.

19. Re1

We both missed that White can save the piece here: 19. b4 Qxe2 20. Qxe2 Rxe2 21. Nc1 (gaining time by hitting the rook) 21.. Re4 22. bxa5 Ra4 23. Nb1 and White is still in the game. But now Black’s just a piece ahead.

19… Qxa3
20. Nb4 Rad8

Forcing a queen exchange.

21. Qc1 Qxc1 22. Raxc1 Kf8 23. Kf1 c5 24. Na6 Ne4 25. g4 Bc8 26. Kg1 c4 27. Nc7 Re7 28. Nb5 cxb3 29. axb3 Nxb3 30. Rb1 Ned2 31. Rbd1 Rde8 0-1

My switch to 1.. e5 was certainly successful in that game. White certainly needs to rethink the opening as 10.. Bc5 seems very comfortable for Black. Still no Spanish, though. Maybe next time.

Richard James

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