Category Archives: Strong/County (1700-2000)

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

Short and Sweet (3)

Chess Improver reader Matt Fletcher sent me a game played by one of his teammates in a Hertfordshire League match last November.

As it happens it featured a variation I wrote about in an earlier Chess Improver post.

White in this game was Evgeny Tukpetov (currently 2280/212) while Black was Francis Parker (currently 1954/191).

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. c3

White chooses the Ponziani Opening

3.. Nf6
4. d4 Nxe4
5. d5 Bc5

Black chooses the move I was shown after the game in my earlier article. I had another chance to play it, against a different opponent, recently but chickened out as I’d forgotten the theory. You’ll probably see that game later this year.

This is not a new idea at all. The earliest game on my database with this piece sacrifice is Brien-Falkbeer (he of counter-gambit fame) in 1855, although Black followed up incorrectly by taking on f2 with the knight rather than the bishop next move. It was later played by Chigorin and Pollock, and it seems there was quite a lot of theory on it in the 19th century, reaching the conclusion that it wasn’t quite sound.

6. dxc6 Bxf2+
7. Ke2 Bb6

This is a relatively new move which seems to justify the piece sacrifice. The earliest game I have was played between Tim Krabbé and Paul de Rooi on my 14th birthday. It was played a few times between 2003 and 2014 by players in the 2100-2350 range before taking off at a higher level in 2016.

A game from the 2014 World Blitz Championship saw Gabriel Sargissian experiment with 7.. 0-0 against Ian Nepomniachtchi but White eventually won a long and exciting game.

8. Qd5 has almost always been played here, and seems to be the only really satisfactory move for White. Black will continue 8.. Nf2. Now White has three reasonable options. 9. cxb7 Bxb7 10. Qxb7 Nxh1 which looks pretty unclear. 9. Rg1 dxc6 10. Qxd8+ Kxd8 when Black has three pawns for the piece. 9. Qxe5+ Kf8 10. Rg1 dxc6 which again seems unclear: Black has two pawns for the piece but the white king is exposed (and the black king also misplaced).

8. Qa4

Tukpetov tries something different, but this move is just bad.

8.. Nf2
9. Rg1

Or 9. cxb7 Bxb7 10. Rg1 Qf6 when Black clearly has more than enough compensation.

9.. dxc6
10. Na3 Qd5

This is fine, but the engines prefer 10.. Bf5

11. Qc4

White was busted anyway, but this is an egregious blunder. He resigned immediately without waiting for the inevitable 11.. Qd1#

It’s very strange to see such a strong player lose like that. He must have had an off day: I guess it happens to everyone from time to time.

It’s stranger still that Tukpetov had had previous experience with this variation: he’d faced it in two recent 4NCL games.

In November 2016, a year before this game, he had White against GM Matthew Turner and followed one of the recommended lines.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. c3 Nf6 4. d4 Nxe4 5. d5 Bc5 6. dxc6 Bxf2+ 7. Ke2 Bb6 8. Qd5 Nf2 9. cxb7 Bxb7 10. Qxb7 Nxh1 11. Bg5 f6 12. Bh4 Rb8 13. Qd5 Qe7 14. Nbd2 c6 15. Qc4 g5 16. Be1 Kf8 17. g3 d5 18. Qxc6 e4 19. Nd4 Bxd4 20. cxd4 Kg7 21. Bh3 Rxb2 22. Qd7 Qxd7 23. Bxd7 Rhb8 24. Bc6 f5 25. Bxd5 Rd8 26. Bb3 Rxd4 0-1

He was doing fine for some time (the engines recommend 21. Qxd5 with advantage) and appeared to resign in an equal position (the engines give 27. Rc1 as totally level). Perhaps he missed something Perhaps he lost on time. Perhaps his phone went off. Perhaps someone out there knows and can tell me.

The following March he faced the same variation again. His opponent, Samuel Franklin, had no doubt seen the Turner game and prepared an improvement, which might be why Tukpetov varied on move 9.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. c3 Nf6 4. d4 Nxe4 5. d5 Bc5 6. dxc6 Bxf2+ 7. Ke2 Bb6 8. Qd5 Nf2 9. Bg5 f6 10. Nxe5 Qe7 11. cxd7+ Bxd7 12. Qxd7+ Qxd7 13. Nxd7 Kxd7 14. Be3 Nxh1 15. Nd2 Bxe3 16. Kxe3 Rae8+ 17. Kf3 Re5 18. g4 Rhe8 19. Nc4 Re1 20. Rxe1 Rxe1 21. Ne3 Rb1 22. Bg2 Rxb2 23. Bxh1 Rxa2 24. Kf4 c6 25. h4 a5 26. Be4
a4 27. Bxh7 a3 28. Nc2 Rxc2 0-1

9. Bg5 seems to lead to a fairly forced tactical sequence after which Black has a winning advantage.

Now, in November 2017, he varied on move 8, but I don’t see how you can prefer Qa4 to Qd5, which hits both e5 and b7. As you’ve seen, he lost just three moves later.

While the Ponziani might have some merit as a surprise weapon, I’m not sure why you’d want to play it regularly at this level, where your opponents will prepare against you. Nepomniachtchi and, not unsurprisingly, Jobava, have played it quite often. Carlsen’s played it once and Nakamura twice, once in a blitz game. It’s perfectly sound and contains a certain amount of poison, but lacks the strategic complexity of the Ruy Lopez.

Another thing, which perhaps relates to last week’s article. It seems that Evgeny Tukpetov arrived in England a few years ago, when he was in his late 30s, never having played a FIDE rated game of chess. Perhaps he was schooled in the old Soviet system which concentrated on skills development rather than competitive play. I wonder, incidentally, whether anyone knows who is the highest graded player in England who has never played a FIDE rated game? There must be quite a few graded above me.

Richard James

A Case for Castling

“Castle early and often”
Rob Sillars

An interesting article “When to Castle” has been posted a while ago by Hugh Patterson. You can review it HERE
Castling is something we learn about from the very beginning and after we overcome the challenge of doing it correctly, moving our king to safety seems like a logical option. Time and time again the side not castling is punished for ignoring it and there is little to no excuse for that. Club players these days are challenged to do the right thing in an information overload era. Anyone can google for games and most common strategy or tactical aspects of the game. I often hear “GM X (insert the name of your favorite one) did not castle and won nicely”. Yes, they did. The difference is they knew why the position allowed them to skip castling and what were the positives and negatives to look for and consider when making the decision.

Voting chess I have used quite often for my articles here fascinates me lately. It is a microcosm of today’s reality: a lot participate, very few understand and even less learn a thing or two while being involved. Below is one of our recent games versus a team with a good reputation. Our team chose to ignore castling, lured by the mirage of winning the opposing queen; that did not happen, so looking back the question remains: should have Black castled at some point in the game or not? What say you? Hope you are going to enjoy the game.

Valer Eugen Demian

Imbalanced Material Conclusion

“When not opposed by the bishop pair, the queen is worth rook, minor piece, and 1½ pawns”
Garry Kasparov

Not long ago I presented a voting chess position where our team decided to go for an imbalanced material position by sacrificing our queen. You can review the article HERE
Our controversial queen sacrifice split our team in 2: those who agreed with it and those who thought we were simply losing. Here is the position we envisioned and reached, together with black’s following move:

Black’s move is baffling. If we analyze the position for Black, a few important points should have been considered:

  • White has no weaknesses
  • Nd4 rules the board
  • The 1st ands 2nd rank are controlled by the White rooks
  • The a2-pawn is passed and can become dangerous if it starts advancing; it should be blocked ASAP and captured
  • There is no back rank danger, so the a2-pawn should be attacked by the rook; a queen is the worst possible blocker of a passed pawn one can think of

Going back to our side we were aware if Black would target our a2-pawn, there was not much we could do to hope for more than a draw; that pawn was our only hope to reach for the stars. It is hard to understand how a team of 15 players on their side could miss such an obvious idea. Seeing your opposition play like this should always be a confidence booster. The following group of 16 moves white had a clear goal in mind: setup a more aggressive position, exchange a rook to leave the queen to fight alone and begin pushing the a-pawn forward.

White is now clearly winning. The passer has reached the 6th rank for the simple reason the queen is the worst blocker one can choose. The Black king arrived in the center to participate in the battle, but he did not have time to switch places with the queen and become the blocker. That would have given the queen a bit of freedom to come up with some threats against the White king. Does that d4-knight look strong or what? It has been dominating the position since move 25. Here we experienced another heated discussion, even if the voting was overwhelming in favour of 42. Ra1 … I argued that 42. Ra4 … was superior. I still believe it was. White’s pieces would have cooperated nicely as can be seen in the sideline below; the line looks quite logical and the moves have a nice flow connecting them. Unfortunately I was alone voting for it.
In the end we won regardless. Black gave up and played one bad move after another, inviting us to checkmate. One last question for you before looking at the last part of the game: which rook move would have you chosen?

Valer Eugen Demian