Category Archives: Richard James

Doubled Pawns (4)

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

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

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

Like this:

Or this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard James

Doubled Pawns (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. d5

And Spassky accepts the challenge.

4… exd5
5. cxd5 d6
6. Nc3 g6
7. Nd2

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

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

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

11. Qc2 Nh5

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

12. Bxh5 gxh5

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

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

13. Nc4 Ne5
14. Ne3 Qh4
15. Bd2

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

15… Ng4
16. Nxg4 hxg4

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

17. Bf4 Qf6
18. g3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard James

Doubled Pawns (2)

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

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

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

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

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

37. h5

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

37… Ke7 38. Kg3 Kf7

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

39. a5??

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

39… Kf6??

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

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

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

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

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

Richard James

Doubled Pawns (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. e3 Qe7

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

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

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

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

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

13. Bxf6 Qxf6
14. Qe4 Bxf3

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

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

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

19. Rfd1 Na5
20. h3

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

20… Rxd5

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

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

21. Rxd5 Qe7

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

22. Bg4 Qb7

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

23. Bf5 Qb8

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

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

White sealed 41. fxe6 and Black resigned.

Richard James

King in the Centre

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to play the following game the other day. It’s short, clean, simple and, I think, instructive.

Watch what happens when my opponent (he’s graded below me and I’ve won both our previous encounters) gets behind in development and doesn’t find time to castle.

I had the white pieces and chose the Queen’s Gambit.

1. d4 d5
2. c4 dxc4
3. Nf3

Back in the days when I was learning chess this was almost always played. Today 3. e4 is also popular but there can’t be much wrong with a simple developing move.

3… c6

Heading for a transposition from the Queen’s Gambit Accepted into the Slav. 3… Nf6 would be the usual QGA move.

4. a4

Trying to discourage b5 but there’s nothing wrong with either e3 or e4 here, perhaps with the former for preference as in some lines the pawn on e4 will be en prise to a bishop on b7.

4… Bf5

A very unusual move. 4… Nf6 would lead to a normal Slav position while 4… e6 followed by b5 and Bb4 to hamper White’s undermining pawn break with b3 is an interesting option.

5. e3 Na6

After only five moves we reach a position unknown to MegaBase 2016. Black’s plan is clear: a quick attack on the c2 square.

6. Bxc4 Nb4

Now I have to make a decision, over which I thought perhaps too long. I can defend c2 with an artificial move such as Bb3 or Na3, but I really don’t want to play either of these moves. So I decided on a simple developing move, trusting that there was no justification for Black to play like this rather than getting his pieces out.

7. O-O e6

Black goes back on his idea and decides to start developing instead. After 7… Nc2 perhaps White’s simplest option is 8. Nh4 (knights on the rim aren’t always dim) 8… Nxa1 9. Nxf5 e6 10. Ng3 and the black Knight is stuck in the corner – a typical theme in positions like this.

8. Nc3 a5

I didn’t understand this move at all. Why not play Nf6, getting a piece out?

9. e4 Bg4

With a lead in development White has to think about blasting open the centre with a timely d5. The engines want to play this immediately but simple development can’t be bad.

10. Be3 Bxf3

Another very strange decision, after which Black is already virtually lost.

11. Qxf3 Nf6
12. Rad1

Again the immediate d5 was strong but the rook is also very happy looking at the black queen. I demonstrated this game at Richmond Junior Club and it was interesting to see how difficult many of the children found it to come up with a simple developing move. Most of them wanted to play something like Bg5 instead, tempted by the pin (which Black can negate with Be7).

12… Be7
13. d5

My audience took some time to find this, being unaware of the principle of opening the position when you have a lead in development. I hope they learnt an important lesson! A lot of them wanted to play 13. Qg3 O-O 14. Bh6. Children often get obsessed with this attacking plan, sometimes sacrificing the whole of their queenside in order to make a crude and easily parried mate threat. Simple development as recommended by Fred Reinfeld – or Paul Morphy – has given me a winning position after only 13 moves.

13… exd5

Or 13… O-O 14. d6 Bxd6 15. Bg5 with Ne4 to follow.

14. exd5 cxd5
15. Nxd5 Nbxd5
16. Bxd5 Nxd5
17. Rxd5 Qc8

All I have to do now is find an accurate move to prevent Black castling, but my audience again had problems with this, instead considering moves with more immediate threats. Rc1, which had been my first thought, was a popular choice, but after Qe6 Black is hanging on. Some were again seduced by 18. Qg3 O-O 19. Bh6 which just throws away most of White’s advantage, being easily met by Bf6. It took several unsuccessful guesses before someone came up with the right idea. Children at this level find preventative moves hard to find and understand.

18. Qe4

With an immediate secondary threat of Re5, Bc5 and, if I really wanted to be sadistic, Re1, hitting the pinned bishop with all my remaining pieces. Some of our members know the acronym PPPPPP: Put Powerful Pressure on Pathetically Pinned Pieces.

18… Qe6

Hopeless, but 18… Ra6 is well met by 19. Rc1.

19. Re5 f5

Desperation. Now anything reasonable will win. The engines play 20. Qxb7 Qxe5 21. Qa8+ Bd8 22. Rd1 and the vertical pin has turned into a horizontal pin. As I was winning a piece anyway I saw no reason to look beyond a simple queen exchange, followed by attacking the pinned piece.

20. Rxe6 fxe4
21. Bc5 Rc8

Allowing a swift conclusion. Immediate resignation was better.

22. Rxe7+

Black resigned as 22… Kf8 23. Rc7+ wins several rooks while 22… Kd8 23. Rd1# wins a king.

Richard James

Typical Errors in Children’s Games

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few lessons to learn:

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

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

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

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

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

Richard James

Adventures with 1… e5 (8)

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

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

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

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

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

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

4… g4
5. Ne5

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

5… d6

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

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

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


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

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

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

13… Bg4
14. Qf2 Bxe2
15. Kxe2 Kd7

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

16. c3

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

16… Rg4

Good, but Rh3 might have been even better.

17. Bd2 Rag8
18. Rag1 c5

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

19. Kf1 Rg3
20. Rh3 R8g4

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

21. d4

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

21… cxd4

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

22. cxd4

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

22… Qe6
23. Qe2 f3

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

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

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

26… Qxh6
27. Qc4 Qf4

Covering d6 as well as threatening a deadly discovered check.

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

Richard James

Adventures with 1… e5 (7)

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. h3 h5

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

7. d3 Qf6
8. Be3

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

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

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

12… O-O-O

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

13. Kf1 Ng6

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

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

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

20… h4
21. Ra1 Rge8
22. Kd2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

39. Rxc7 Re2+
40. Kd1 Red2+

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


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

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

Richard James

Adventures with 1… e5 (6)

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

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

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

Let’s look at the game.

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

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

5… d6
6. Nbd2 Bb6
7. Bb3 a6
8. Qe2

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

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

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

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

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

19. Qxh6 Qxf5

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

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

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

This should have been the losing move.

31… Rf5
32. Rh2

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

32… Rf3
33. Qg1

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

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

33… Qf5

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

34. Rxg6+

… which was accompanied by a draw offer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard James

Bishops and Knights

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

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

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

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

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

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 Nc6

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

3. Nf3

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

3… e6
4. Bg5

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

4… h6

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

5. Bh4 Bb4+
6. Nc3

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

6… d6
7. e3 O-O
8. Qc2

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

8… e5

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

9. O-O-O

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

9… exd4

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

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

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

10. Bxf6 Qxf6
11. Nd5 Qd8

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

12. a3 Ba5
13. b4

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

13… Bb6
14. exd4 a5

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

15. Nxb6 cxb6
16. b5 Ne7
17. d5

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

17… Bg4
18. Rd4

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

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

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

Richard James