Category Archives: Strong/County (1700-2000)

Missing Once, not Missing Twice

“It is better to learn late than never”
Publilius Syrus

I have been talking about turn based chess for a while now. To some having 3 days to think for a move sounds outrageous; to others they understand you do not really think for 3 days. Life happens around us and that reduces the reflection time and attention span quite considerably. Today I have an interesting example from one of my games.


I had a promising position from the opening, just to rush it and allow Black to open it up. Black’s last move was 23… Bd5xa2, winning a pawn and obtaining two passed pawns on the queen side. Does White has anything to compensate the material disadvantage? I think it has:

  • The White pieces work together and are much better placed
  • Ra8 is not playing at all and as long as that is the case, White is actually up in material
  • Black’s castle has a chip in it White might be able to exploit
  • The combo queen + knight is always better than queen and bishop. Hope you know why

Are you convinced White has enough compensation for the pawn? It has. Do you think it might have sufficient compensation to play for a win? I was not so sure of that. The real question needing a good answer was how to continue the attack. Should I go for 24. Qe4+ or 24. Qh4+? Checking on h4 looked a bit too narrow. There was nothing imminent happening and I wanted to keep my pieces central. I also wanted to combine the attacking threats on the castle with a possible win of the a7-pawn. Unfortunately I did not analyse the position close enough and missed the resource available. Luckily later on I saw the attacking idea with the queen and knight combo and that allow me to get the perpetual. Hope you will enjoy the play and learn a thing or two from it.

Valer Eugen Demian

“What say you?” The 1 minute challenge (10)

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer”
Bruce Lee

A quick reminder about how to do it:
– Have a look at the position for 1 minute (watch the clock)
– Think about the choices in front of you and pick the one you feel it is right
– Verify it in your mind the best you can
– Compare it with the solution
Last year I published an article about “Quick decisions” needed in short time control games. You can review it HERE
This past week I had a flash back about that storming the castle attack and for some reason I felt the solution presented in that article was actually not the best. Let’s have another look at it and see which of the available options you prefer given the outcome. Have a look for a minute at the options presented and choose.

Here are some helpful thoughts for each line:
3. Qe2 (Played in the game) – having the queen not only join the attack but lead it, seemed an attractive choice. My guess is having your most powerful piece in the front line provides some confidence and could strike fear into the opposition. If Black plays like in the game, 6 moves later White reaches a clearly won position. Of course Black can play 3… Ng6 and the position holds.
3. Bxh6 (Suggested line) – it opens up the h-file, something white wanted all along. Black manages to play 3… Ng6, but that cannot do more than delay losing. Black has no useful defensive moves and both rooks (b7 and f8) do little to nothing.
3. Qb2 (New option #1) – the idea here is to take advantage of the pin along the g-file. The combination of White rooks dominating the g- and h-files and the battery along the a1-h8 diagonal is deadly. It is however a not very intuitive move: play on the queen side when the action is on the king side. I have seen stranger moves at club level though
3. Qc3 (New option #2) – same idea to take advantage of the pin along the g-file. The slight difference here is Black being able to play 3… Ng4 since Rg3 must defend the White queen. White wins the knight and reaches a won endgame. This queen move is not as strange as the other one; some might see the battery connection along the 3rd row and think that could be used to bring the queen to the king side. In the same time the queen keeps an eye on the c7-pawn.

Has your opinion changed after reading the above? Possibly you did not choose 3. Qe2 since Black holds at correct play. We all should consider the best replies for the opposition when deciding what to play. The other three choices however lead to different winning positions. Not sure which one fits your style. Personally in a game situation I think I would stick with my suggested line (3. Bxh6). In the end it still feels the most direct for me. The beauty of it is to discover two other options and that makes it worthwhile. This should be a good sample of what home preparation is about. Positions, combinations, lines stick with you until you find a reasonable solution resonating with you. Do the work and don’t let them linger on.
P.S. The exciting article by Richard James “Missed Opportunities” is perfectly timed. What better example of how useful the 1 minute challenge as part of preparation could be? GM Meier could have used it.

Valer Eugen Demian

Missed Opportunities

This position is taken from a game played in Round 5 of the Grenke Chess Classic.

White, the German GM Georg Meier, is about to play his 39th move against Magnus Carlsen.

After 1 minute 28 seconds, and with just five seconds remaining on the clock he decides to play safe: 39. Ra1. The pieces were traded off and he captured the a-pawn to reach a drawn ending.

He wanted to look at something in the post mortem.

39. Rh1 Qe7 40. Rxh7+ Kxh7 41. Rh5+ Kg6, and, on reaching this position he realised that he’d missed the second rook sacrifice 42. Rh6+ Kf7 (or 42… Kxh6 43. Qh5#) 43. Qh5+ Kg8 44. Rh8#. Black could avoid the mate by playing 41.. Kg8 but after 42. Be6+ Rff7 43. Rh6 White has a winning attack. In this line Black could also try 39.. Qf7, when White replies 40. Bf5 and Black can’t hold h7.

Unfortunate for Meier: with more time on the clock he’d have found the brilliant double rook sacrifice to defeat the World Champion.

In fact White has two other wins in this position.

One of them is 39. Rh5 with very much the same idea. Now after 39.. Qe7 40. Rxh7+ still works, but even stronger is 40. Be6 threatening 41. Rxh7+ Kxh7 42. Qh5#. Alternatively, 39.. Qf7 40. Rxh7+ Kxh7 41. Rh1+ Kg8 42. Be6 wins the queen.

The other winning move is 39. Rf5 Rxf5 (or 39.. Qb8 40. Rxf8+ Qxf8 41. Rb1 with Rb8 to follow) 40. Bxf5 Qc7 (one of White’s many threats was Rh1) 41. Qe8+ Rg8 42. Qe6 Rf8 43. Rh1 and again Black has no way to defend h7.

Three ways to win, and a couple of other promising moves as well (Be6, Rb1), but, with only 90 seconds or so left, it’s understandable that Meier chose a safe, but not winning option. Chess is a cruel game.

Moving onto the next round, let’s watch world championship candidate Fabiano Caruana struggling to hold the ending against Hou Yifan. Hou, playing black, is about to make her 64th move.

Understandably enough, she moves her threatened a-pawn. Meanwhile, chess fans throughout the world, watching the chess24.com engine, realise she’s missed a beautiful win.

It starts with 64.. Kd2 when White has nothing better than 65. Bxa6. Now come two stunning moves. 65.. Nd3+!, sacrificing a knight to undouble the white pawns, followed by 66. cxd3 d4, sacrificing the rest of her pawns to force promotion. Totally amazing!

White doesn’t have to capture the knight, though.

66. Kb1 Ne1 67. Bxb5 Kxc3 68. Bc6 d4 69. Be4 Kd2 (but the immediate Nxc2 only draws) 70. a4 Nxc2 71. Bxc2 d3 72. Bxd3 cxd3 (but not Kxd3 which is only a draw) and Black will promote with check and win by a tempo.

After 66. Ka2 there are several ways to win. One attractive line runs 66.. Kxc2 67. Bxb5 Kxc3 68. a4 Kd2 69. a5 c3 70. a6 c2 71. a7 c1Q 72. Bxd3 Kc3 73. a8Q Qb2#

66. Ka1 is similar to Ka2.

In fact, after 64.. a5 65. Kc1 Hou is still winning. The way to secure the full point runs: 65.. Ke2 66. Bc6 Ke1 67. Bxb5 Ne2+ 68. Kb2 Kd2 winning the c3 pawn. Instead she continued 65.. Ne2+ 66. Kb2 Kd2 (going back with Nf4 was still winning) 67. Bxd5 Nxc3 and Caruana managed to hold on, the game eventually being drawn on move 98.

Another missed opportunity, but it’s very difficult for anyone to spot this over the board. For Caruana, as for Carlsen in the previous round, a narrow escape.

These two positions demonstrate just how beautiful – and how difficult – chess can be. Which is why playing it and teaching it, at least to pupils who want to play chess well, is so worthwhile.

A tweet from chess historian Olimpiu G Urcan summed it up: “You really have to feel pity for those who don’t play or understand chess in moments like this”.

Richard James

Need Sure Points? Volga-Benko Gambit Edition

“A dream becomes a goal when action is taken toward its achievement”
Bo Bennett (businessman)

A while ago I wrote two articles about Volga-Benko gambit. The first one was based on a game I played and the second one was a follow up with ideas of improvement for Black’s play. You can review the second one HERE
This article is a follow up of idea #3 from it. The main point of both games below is once Black achieves an active setup, that balances out the sacrificed pawn. A balanced position poses interesting questions:
White: I am up a pawn and under pressure. How much risk should I take to continue? If I give back the pawn, my position could be worst and then I have to fight for a draw. If I do nothing, why would I play ahead?
Black: My active position compensates being down in material. If White decides to risk it, I have to make sure I will get my pawn back. If White sits tight and does nothing aggressive, I can also wait and maintain my active position
Hope the games below will be a good starting point in your preparation if you wish to introduce/ maintain Volga-Benko as part of your repertoire.

Game 1: a game played years ago with white looking to surprise black with a lesser known variation. Black managed to setup an active position with ease and both players agreed to a draw.

Game 2: a newer game where both sides made sure they reached a desired setup; once that happened, it felt like a standoff with neither side willing to blink first.

Valer Eugen Demian

Need Sure Points? London System Edition

“A dream becomes a goal when action is taken toward its achievement”
Bo Bennett (businessman)

If a draw is what you need with White, the London System is a solid choice. First and foremost you can play its standard setup against the majority of defences Black might want to use. That is incredible flexibility if you really think about it. Secondly it is not hard to learn and the resulting position is very solid. Thirdly the main idea is to attack on the king side; however White can engage in battle anywhere else on the board.

Personally I have tried Colle and Colle-Zukertort where the main difference is white’s dark squares bishop being left on c1 for later deployment as needed. A lot of people though stand by the London System as one of their favorite. The simple fact that bishop gets developed on the f4-square before white plays e2-e3, is used as one of the main reasons. Do you play/ have played or are interested to play the London System? It could be an unexpected surprise for opponents you know are well versed in opening theory.

I have chosen sample 2 games, one from the past and one more recent, where the opening of the d-file allowed quick exchanges of the heavy pieces. The positions left afterwards were pretty even so the draw was a natural result.

Valer Eugen Demian

Girl Power 2018

“Everyone has the impulse to be elite”
Alfre Woodard

GM Susan Polgar has been doing incredible work to promote girls chess. This past Saturday we ran our provincial final, qualifying our top girl to the 15th edition of Susan Polgar Foundation Girls Invitational in St. Louis, Missouri. Chess is officially still considered a barbeque side activity in Canada and this is astonishing because we have great talents. I think they keep me and us going. I mean you have to see how a student who walked in the door a while ago comes up with this decent looking plan or combination. To each our own goals. We cannot be all World Champions even if we dream about it. That does not mean we don’t win our personal World Championship every now and then. I guess this is the beauty for us mortals; we win them more than once in our own way. Below is a selection of 3 World Championships won by our girls that day.

Sample #1
Imagine white has won two pawns in the opening, followed by massive exchanges leading into a rook and pawn endgame. The last Black pawn if you can believe it was at some point on f6, hopelessly blocked by an f4-pawn. White gave up the f4-pawn for the a6-pawn a first bad idea, but who could blame her? The endgame was so won, it could almost play itself out. Almost is never good enough and somehow that hopeless pawn reached f3. That is determination you know! Black could simply not be stopped. Do you believe if I told you she learned chess 3 years ago?

Sample #2
Round 2 decided the winner. It was not an easy game for black (the top rated player in the tournament) up to this point. She was under pressure with not a lot of space around. Luckily she reached this position. What happened next is an endgame played in true Capablanca style after rejecting the draw offer with confidence.

Sample #3
No report is worth its value without some tactical fireworks. This was quite a boring game for a while. I guess the girls decided they had enough of that and brought out the guns. One other reason might have been Black running low on time so she had no choice but to do something about it. What followed is something I have not seen in years. Enjoy!

Valer Eugen Demian

Need Sure Points? English Edition

“A dream becomes a goal when action is taken toward its achievement”
Bo Bennett (businessman)

We should play to win at all times. Fischer is well known for his desire to win and pushing the limits for it. His 29… Bxh2 during the first game versus Spassky in 1972 is legendary. You can find the game HERE
It is debatable why he did that and we will never know his real reasons. My theory is he considered himself the best, miles ahead of the top players of his era. Someone in his position takes risks and he was confident he could wiggle his way around it no matter what. Confidence is an important part in being successful and having a winner attitude.

I am as confident as any, but I am also well aware of my limitations and of having a goal oriented personality. Being objective and goal oriented are other important ingredients in having a winner attitude. Think of the following situation: you have a winner attitude and are facing an interesting choice in your game. You need just a draw to accomplish your objective whatever that may be: obtaining a title norm, winning a tournament, qualifying to another stage, etc. Should you still play for a win no matter what? I argue you should not. Having a winner attitude should not drive you into riskier territory if you don’t have to. That means the winner attitude should help you reach and maintain good positions (those where you can get at least a draw at anytime), while the objective approach should stop you short of considering Fischer type ideas like 29… Bxh2

I am planning to offer a number of suggestions to play good positions in different openings, positions offering you a chance to go for a draw if the situation requires it. I used to have a number of lines ready where I could do just that if it was enough/ needed. This is the first article in a series of a few more spanning over as many openings as possible. Hope you will enjoy the games below!

Valer Eugen Demian

The Cochrane Gambit

John Cochrane (1798-1878) was one of the most interesting figures in 19th century chess. Rod Edwards ranks him among the world’s top 15 players for half a century, from 1820 to 1870, yet he never played any formal competitive chess.

Cochrane was a scion of the Scottish nobility, a member of the family of the Earls of Dundonald. He joined the Royal Navy as a young man, but changed his career and became a barrister. In the early 1820s he played casual games against the leading French players of the time and wrote a book on the game. He then moved to India to further his legal career. He spent the years from 1841 to 1843 in London, where he proved himself superior to everyone except Howard Staunton. Back in Calcutta, he played many games against two local players, Moheschunder Bannerjee and Saumchurn Guttack, which were published in England, mostly by Staunton.

Cochrane is perhaps best remembered today for the Cochrane Gambit, which goes like this:

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nf6
3. Nxe5 d6
4. Nxf7 Kxf7

There are 848 games with this on MegaBase2018, with White scoring a healthy 59%.

Cochrane and Bannerjee tested this over many games in the 1850s, with Cochrane invariably following up with the natural 5. Bc4+. Bannerjee tried three ways of getting out of check: Ke8, Be6 and d5.

One of their games continued:

5. Bc4+ Ke8 6. O-O c5 7. h3 Qc7 8. f4 Nc6 9. Nc3 a6 10. a4 Qe7 11. Nd5 Qd8 12. d4 cxd4 13. e5 Nxd5 14. Bxd5 dxe5 15. Bxc6+ bxc6 16. Qh5+ Kd7 17. fxe5 Kc7 18. Rf7+ Kb8 19. e6 Bd6 20. Bg5 Qb6 21. a5 Qc5

So far Black has defended well, but this is an oversight. The correct move was Qb4. Cochrane now has a pretty win: 22. Bf4 Qb4 23. c3 and Black will have to give up his queen to prevent Bxd6#.

22. b4

White misses his opportunity…

22.. Qe5

… but Black gives him a second chance. Instead, either Qc3 or Qd5 would have provided a sufficient defence.

23. Bf4 Qxe6

Losing at once. His only chance was Qxf4.

24. Qc5 Qxf7
25. Bxd6+ 1-0

Cochrane’s gambit led an underground existence for more than a century, until it was revived in the late 1970s, its most prominent regular practitioner being the Latvian IM Alvis Vitolinsh. 5. Bc4+ was now considered insufficient and instead attention turned to 5. d4, which was almost always played at this time.

By the late 1990s attention had switched to another 5th move for White: Nc3, which is preferred by today’s engines. It reached the big time when Topalov punted it against Kramnik in 1999, the game resulting in a thrilling draw.

Since then, though, the Cochrane Gambit’s only appearance in top level chess came in 2016, when Ivanchuk was unsuccessful in a blitz game against the Chinese GM Li Chao.

Objectively, the gambit is not quite sound. If you like this sort of thing it may well be worth a try in blitz games at lower levels. For the piece you get two pawns and some attacking chances against Black’s displaced king, which, if you’re not playing a well booked-up master strength player, might be considered reasonable compensation. Why not give it a go yourself, in commemoration of the life and chess career of John Cochrane?

Richard James

Defend With Your Life

There are plenty of puzzle books where you’re invited to find the winning move: to win material or force checkmate. But very few books present puzzles where you have to find the best defence.

Try your hand at this position. It’s Black’s move.

Go away, make yourself a cup of coffee or pour yourself a glass of your favourite tipple, and choose a move before reading on.

I came across this position the other day (I’ll tell you where at some point, but not for a few months). It’s, I think, an excellent defensive puzzle for intermediate standard players.

I set this up on the demo board for the upper intermediate group at Richmond Junior Club (these are young children graded round about 40-70 ECF). They set about analysing the position working mostly in small groups. One of two or them preferred to work alone.

They soon noticed that White was threatening Qxh6, not surprisingly. At this level many children get obsessed with this tactic and sometimes give up the rest of their army in order to set it up. While a few wanted to play a king move to h7 or h8, most of them wanted to move their queen. Some of them spotted that Qf6 lost the exchange to Nd7. I was very impressed that one group at first suggested 1… Qh7, and then explained to me that White could then play 2. Nd7, and if 2.. Rd8, then 3. Nf6+, exploiting the pin on the g-file to play a fork.

Interestingly, most of them failed to mention White’s other threat: Bg4, skewering the queen and rook and winning the exchange. At this level, many players make the mistake of only considering one threat, or one reason for playing a move. Trying to think about more than one thing at once proves to be difficult. This, by the way, is a point that Dan Heisman makes regularly: you should ask yourself “What are my opponent’s threats?” rather than “What is my opponent’s threat?”. Because it’s a more familiar pattern, you will tend to see the threat of Qxh6 before the threat of Bg4.

Once you realise that White has two threats you can start trying to find ways to meet them both at the same time. You might think of 1.. h5, which does meet both threats. Now White can win the h-pawn by playing a fork: 2. Rg5. There’s a stronger alternative, though, in 2. Qh6 Qh7 3. Qd6 with multiple threats: one idea is 3.. Rfd8 4. Nd7 Be6 5. Nf6+ Kh8 6. Qxd8, winning the exchange.

On the other hand, an experienced player would probably sense that 1.. h5 doesn’t look right, so would only consider it if everything else failed. Black has one simple move to meet both threats and leave him with a perfectly satisfactory position. That move, as you’ve probably realised by now, is 1.. Qe6, planning to meet 2. Bg4 with f5. After this move Black is at least equal. Eventually, my students managed to find the right answer for the right reason.

I then wound back the position by half a move. White’s last move was Rg4-g3. I asked the class if this was a mistake. Couldn’t White have played the immediate Qxh6 instead? Doesn’t that move win a pawn? A bright spark quickly provided the information that Black would reply with Qxg4, which will leave him a piece ahead. I’d guess, though, that had they been white in that position, most of them would have played Qxh6 without very much thought. Rg3, by the way, is an unusual way to create two threats. The threat Qxh6 comes about by moving the rook away from the attentions of the black queen, while it’s also a clearance move, vacating a square which the bishop wants to use. I’m not sure that there’s a technical term for this sort of double threat.

When we talk about tactics we tend to think about sacrifices and combinations. Most tactics you’ll find in books (including, at the moment, the CHESS FOR HEROES books) are exactly that. In real life, tactics is mostly about sorting out positions like this, defending accurately, not missing simple one or two movers.

Richard James

Puzzles at Every Move

“The art of simplicity is a puzzle of complexity”
Douglas Horton

Please open another tab in your favorite browser and play in the background ‘Fly like an eagle” by Steve Miller Band. Here are a couple of versions to choose from if you are not very familiar with it:
Steve Miller Band
Joe Bonamassa
It starts with
“Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping
Into the future…”
Yeah, now it is much better! It is one attractive solution to the puzzle in front of me writing this and you reading it. We are slipping into the future while solving puzzles at every move. What is your recipe for solving them?

A long time friend of mine (DT) has been blessed with achieving some lofty goals during his chess career. One of them is winning the finals of the United States Correspondence Chess Championship with an impressive +13 =1 -0, a true Fischeresque result. Lately he still shares his accumulated wisdom with those willing to learn and does it online no less! Considering my father is afraid to touch the mouse not to break something, it is incredible my friend is active online like anyone many years younger than him. This past week he shared the following:
“There are 2 basic rules for solving tactics. These 2 rules will not solve all tactics but will solve about 90% of tactics.
1. Look at ALL checks no matter how dumb they may look at first
2. After looking at the checks, look at all forcing moves and captures no matter how dumb they might look at first”
Have you ever heard anyone tell you that before? What do you think of them? Here is a couple of selections from the puzzles DT added to illustrate his point:



The rules seem to be working, eh? One has to agree the checks on move 1 in both are not exactly your first choice, right? I think DT’s rules could be very useful in home preparation. That could for sure translate in coming up with better ideas in your games, as well as seizing the opportunity to see and unleash unexpected tactics when your opponents stumble on their own. Last but not least we should not omit the other 10% DT alludes to: those positions where no check is the starting move of the correct solution. Chess composition has opened the opportunity for the creation of real master pieces based just on that. I have been told as early as my junior days that no real chess composition puzzle of any value starts with check. Here is one of them I found online, stunning in its simplicity and difficulty. Hope you will enjoy it!

Valer Eugen Demian