Category Archives: Strong/County (1700-2000)

O’Kelly Crusher

This week I’m sharing a smashing game by a teammate of mine, Chris Briscoe, played in the UK’s Four Nations Chess League (4NCL) in March. I manage Surbiton, a team in Division 3, which this year has over 60 teams competing for just three Division 2 promotion spots. Chris is our regular Board 1 player and we are fortunate to have him – he previously played for Wood Green, which is usually near the top of Division 1.

Angus James

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Tactical Oversights

It is remarkable how small tactics can finish games quickly, even where Grandmasters are concerned.

Looking at the recent Chebanenko Rapid Open there were two games between GMs that ended decisively in less than 25 moves. Shirov was on the winning side of both.

I am struck by how easy he made it look to take down these GMs, without really doing anything special. They just miscalculated and Shirov took full advantage with some precise play. The clock is a factor, but I doubt either of his victims were in time trouble when they made their mistakes.

Here Shirov plays an Advance against the French and Black seems to be playing fine up until the 17th move and suddenly one tactical oversight ends the game quickly:

Here Shirov starts off playing a Rossolimo against the Sicilian and then he moves back into Open Sicilian territory with 5.d4!? His opponent responds well, and even starts attacking along the h-file, but when he slips up Shirov pounces.

Such tactical oversights are extremely difficult to completely avoid. You would have to literally check-every-move (CEM) your opponent can make at every turn, and that is just not possible with time constraints as they are with tournament play. To help mitigate the risk, you can develop an intuition for when it is a good idea to use CEM, and only adopt it when the position demands it. For example, in highly tactical positions or critical moments. There are routine moves, and there are moves where accuracy is important and getting it right could effect the outcome of a game. Spending more time considering your alternatives at these key moments is justified. I guess in the case of these games, these GMs’ needed to do more checking at certain moves, but unfortunately for them, they didn’t. Hats off to Shirov for demonstrating the flaws in their plans so clinically.

Angus James 

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Quality Over Quantity

Every chess player wants to improve at chess and for that we already have books suggested by coaches, playing games, doing tactical exercises, endgames etc etc. Yet I have observed a few things among the people who are working hard but failed to improve as much as they might have wanted to or deserved. What are the reasons? I will try to answer.

Here is a position:

Looking at the position you might be wondering what is new in it? It is the Lucena position. It can be won by building a bridge and most of the players know this very well. But how many of you really know that how to reach this position? Are there any rules which can be used? What are the exceptions? My point is that rather than reading too much it’s better to learn few things but try to master them. Quality is always better than quantity.

Now following this example let’s say you have learned everything that has been discussed above for this position. Yet in practical games you don’t reach it for a long time so there are more chances that you forget the ideas/rules. So repetition is a must, but it is often ignored. If I talk about myself, I have read many books but haven’t repeated the process, and I can see that this accumulated knowledge is wiped out with time, not completely but partially.

Accordingly we should look at developing a strong bedrock of knowledge rather than trying to learn lots of new things all the time. And this is achievable if you focus on knowing a few things perfectly and then revise them periodically so that they’re never forgotten.

Ashvin Chauhan

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Five Basic Weaknesses

In Hinduism we have an expression that we should try to overcome certain human weaknesses. Here my intention is not to start a spiritual debate but rather show you how this also applies to chess when you are serious about improving.

Attachment: It is something like you’re playing what you like rather than what position requires. For example a person who loves attack on king will sometimes try to launch an attack when it is inappropriate. If I talk about myself, I prefer endgames, and because of this attachment I have missed many opportunities to launch a winning attack on the enemy king.

Anger: This is related to emotional instability and we all know that a person with unstable emotions can react badly. So I think there is no need to discuss this further.

Fear: This works on all levels. For example if you are going to play match against a stronger player there are more chances that you start playing with some fear rather than playing naturally. How many of us have had this feeling? Probably everyone. But the best way to proceed is to treat your opponent as an opponent rather than IM, GM or super GM. I mean to say that it’s best not to overestimate your opponent.

Greed: There are many examples where even GMs get greedy, and amateurs do this quite often.

Pride: Here it is closely connected with arrogance. Again, rather than giving the example of someone else suffering from this, I will start with myself. I lost so many games against weaker opponents because I took them casually. So don’t underestimate your opponent.

I’m going to ignore ‘lust’ as I can’t correlate it with chess. But what are the solutions? Pranayam, meditation and yoga all fall under the solution list but if you want to dig deeper you may find my other article interesting as we often ignore basics.

Ashvin Chauhan

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What To Do About Gambits

Speedy development is often worth the investment of a pawn in the opening. Examples include the Smith-Morra Gambit of the Sicilian 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 when White has a very promising initiative for the pawn that often brings dividends. Devotees of this line can become highly attuned to its nuances. If that is the case you have to ask yourself as Black whether taking them on in their most familiar territory is the most intelligent thing to do. You might decide it is better to avoid it than to try to refute it. Even if you like spending many an hour with opening books, there is no substitute for hours of practice playing the line over and over again – which White will of course be doing. Perhaps Smith-Morra Gamiters’ would find the Caro-Kann or the French Defence, or something else, really annoying. If so, play that against them! It is wise to get your opponent out of their familiar territory.

This is the sort of thing that can be considered if you know your opponent and you’re playing them in an over-the-board game. Of course, if someone plays a gambit against you in a correspondence game and you are allowed to use software for help, then that is a different matter. For example, silicon monsters nowadays are less impressed with the Smith-Morra than we humans are. Below is one of my own correspondence games against a line of the Smith-Morra that I would have found difficult to play against over-the-board. But, with assistance from HIARCS, I found it easier to deal with. It takes a long time, but eventually White’s initiative dissipates and then it is all about whether Black can convert the ending. The knight and pawns ending was particularly pleasant to play for Black. If you would like to play some correspondence chess online, try FICGS – The Free Internet Correspondence Games Server.

Angus James 

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Using a Lead in Development

Getting a lead in development, by being efficient about how we develop our pieces, is the main aim of the opening.

How can you be efficient about development? For a start, think about how you can mobilise all of your pieces quickly, not just one or two. Think about where you can move your pieces so that they are doing something that influences the important central squares. Don’t make the common beginner’s error of moving the same piece more than once in the opening, unless it is essential. Think about where your king would be safest and make that happen as part of your opening strategy.

The game below is a classic example of what can happen if one side gets a lead in development out of the opening. Take a look at the position after White’s 12th move. White’s opening has not been a great success. His king is still stuck in the centre and he is 2 moves away from castling. In contrast, Black has castled his king to safety and has all his minor pieces ready for action and is 1 move away from connecting his rooks. To take advantage of the lead in development, Black needs to move fast. He realises that, to attack the enemy king before it has the chance to castle, he has to open lines to the king, and he invests a piece to do that as quickly as possible. By the 19th move, White’s centre is completely destroyed, and it is only a matter of time before Black’s better developed pieces move in to finish White off.

Angus James

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Going Off Piste

Going “off piste” or “off the beaten track” in the opening has its merits. For a start, you get your opponent thinking earlier, which is no bad thing if you’re fed up of 10-20 opening book moves being fired at you in the first 10 seconds of a game. You can explore the positions that occur after your opening at your leisure at home, while your opponent will most probably have to sweat at the board trying to fathom what the heck is going on in the position. At the very least you are going to get a time advantage, and that puts your opponent under pressure.

The opening after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 is very well-known. The most common moves here are by far 3.Bb5 (Ruy Lopez), 3.Bc4 (Italian Game), or 3.d4 (Scotch Opening), and to a lesser extent 3.Nc3 (Three Knights/Four Knights).

What about other options on move 3? Well, there are a number of reasonable alternatives to consider. Top of the list is perhaps the Ponziani (3.c3), which Carlsen has used as a surprise weapon. Or perhaps it isn’t that much of a surprise – he is becoming famed for his use of unpopular, but perfectly reasonable openings, with the aim of getting a playable position out of the opening, and just outplaying his opponents from an equal position in the middle game and/or ending. Below is an example of Carlsen’s use of the Ponziani:

Another line worth considering at this juncture is 3.Be2. This goes by the name of the Inverted Hungarian Opening. So called, because White’ s bishop on e2 resembles Black’s bishop on e7 in the Hungarian Defence. It doesn’t look like that much, but it seems fine. Below is a recent game from the Bronstein Memorial Open, which saw it adopted by a 2700+ player, Baadur Jobava. Presumably he didn’t fancy seeing his lower rated opponent’s opening preparation, and played something unexpected, but perfectly playable, and consequently won very quickly. A lesson to us all.

Angus James

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Capablanca and Bishop Immobilization

Capablanca’s games are an excellent study for intermediate players who want to improve their game. His endgame skill is legendary. His positional judgment is also highly regarded.

One positional motif that recurs in his games is the use of his pawns on one side of the board to restrict an enemy bishop and then launch an attack on the opposite side of the board. An example of this was the game Capablanca-Black, New York, 1916.

The same motif appears in Capablanca’s game against Winter at the 1919 Hastings Tournament. Isolate the opponent’s bishop, then initiate an attack on the opposite of the board.

Here’s a third example: Yates-Capablanca, Moscow, 1925.

Glenn Mitchell

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“Satisficing” as a Strategy for Rapid Games

I played a rapid game bright and early this AM. I was up by 6:30 AM and playing before 7AM. My opponent and I were pretty much equally rated.

I’ve been watching Nigel’s ChessBase video on the QGD Exchange Variation all week. It’s an excellent video for chess improvers, since Nigel focuses on plans and ideas rather than memorizing lengthy variations. The last few clips discuss how the lessons one learns with focused attention on a particular opening can often be transferred to other openings.

A case in point was my game this morning. I chose to play 1.e4 and my opponent decided to play a Caro-Kann Defense. One of the examples Nigel demonstrates on his DVD is a Caro-Kann Exchange Variation that transforms to something like a QGD Exchange Variation with colors reversed. I opted to try for that. We didn’t get there, but we did get to a game where I could use some of the strategies from the QGD Exchange Variation.

Rather than adopting the minority attack, I decided to use my IQP to lever open the center. I consider the position in the diagram below and decided that 12.d5 was a strong move. I had three pieces defending my IQP on d5. Black had only two pieces defending d5 and had an undefended bishop on d6.

Black made a dubious move with 13…Rb8. Black should have played 13…Ne4. My evaluation of that position was roughly equal. We could have had a good game with reasonable chances for both sides. My reply was strong, trading knights on f6 and then bringing my rook from f1 to d1, where I could hassle the black bishops.

Black made a futile piece sacrifice, 16…Bh2. Black was down a piece with no compensation, except the h2 pawn. I didn’t make a serious blunder in this game, so the fruitless bishop sacrifice was enough to cost Black the game.

My weak play in this game was in the endgame. I waited much too long to get my connected, unopposed queen pawns moving. Delaying their movement didn’t change the outcome of the game. Two pieces up after 29.NxR, I was reasonably confident of the win throughout the endgame. Mobilizing my queen pawns earlier would have shortened the endgame. It was better endgame technique. Inefficient play is to be avoided, especially for us older players during a weekend tournament. Extra moves require extra time and mental energy, which increases opportunities for fatigue in later games and that can lead to costly mistakes.

I didn’t consciously relax my game during the endgame. I didn’t look for the quickest win, either. With rapid games, there is usually not enough excess time to calculate the most efficient solution. Instead, I often “satisfice.” I look for a satisfactory solution that is sufficient to win. That’s what I did in this game. I “satisficed” my way to a winning endgame.

Glenn Mitchell

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Gibraltar Masterclasses

The Gibraltar International Chess Festival is widely hailed as the world’s premier Open chess tournament. This year’s festival was the 12th and was the biggest yet, with over 70 Grandmasters participating from all over the world. All week the tournament features interesting side events, including Masterclasses from some of the players. There are video clips available for the following Masterclasses here:

1) Nigel Short & Elisabeth Paehtz discuss their round 2 games.

2) Vassily Ivanchuk discusses his games in the FIDE candidates and other interesting ideas.

3) WGM Natalia Pogonina and GM Li Chao discuss their round 7 games with Tournament Director Stuart Conquest.

4) Maxime Vachier-Lagrave discusses a game from 2013 with Stuart Conquest and takes questions from the audience.

The Ivanchuk one features a fascinating analysis of five games he played in a match in Riga in 1991 vs Leonid Yudisan and lasts 1 hour 37 minutes.

Angus James

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