Category Archives: V.Strong/Master (1950 plus)

The Mongolian Tactic Origin

“I will not return alive if I do not defeat the Jin army!”
General Muqali

Not long ago I wrote an article about the Mongolian tactic. You can review it HERE
At the end of it I asked the chess community to help find how this came about and got its name. I am happy one of our fellow chess enthusiasts was kind enough to send me more information. Thank you Martin for sharing it! I have done a copy and paste of his message below for everyone’s benefit. One final quick note before passing the floor to Martin; the Mongolian player’s name mentioned by Yasser was Lhamsuren Myagmarsuren. Hope you will find this useful and please keep your feedback coming!

“This is a short reply to the article “The Mongolian Tactic” where you have asked for the actual origin of the name “Mongolian Tactic” for the tactic you have shown in the same article. As you have pointed out GM Yasser Seirawan states that the name comes from Bobby Fischer. Here is a teaching video on YouTube where he explaines the origin of the name (from Minute 34:30 to 40:30).
Spoiler from here (better watch the video as an explanation because of the amusing story): in a tournament Bobby Fischer was facing some Mongolian player with a very difficult name. After asking multiple times for the name he simply wrote “Mongolian” on his table. This guy was the one who used this tactic in there matches. Greetings, Martin”

Valer Eugen Demian

Inexplicable Endgame Play

“If you are weak in the endgame, you must spend more time analyzing studies; in your training games you must aim at transposing to endgames, which will help you to acquire the requisite experience”
Mikhail Botvinnik

This week’s endgame comes from a voting match we played as part of one Canadian team during an 8 months period. The team componence (46 players for us versus 6 players for them) seemed to favor us by quite a bit, still getting things organized as a team with so many players is not easy to do. We are getting better at it as time goes on. We have far less “drive-by” players (those who just vote for any move they think of, even moves never discussed) and we have managed to prove to our regular team members that discussing our options before we start voting actually pays off. In this particular game we managed to overcome a so-so opening and shaky middle game play into the following endgame position (White to move):

The general consensus here was that despite the extra pawn, we had no chance to win at correct play. I was one of the members interested to offer a draw, but the team decided to play on. It turned out to be a very interesting experience. Do you agree the position should lead to a draw at correct play? Here are a few reasons for it:

  • The extra pawn is doubled and even if they are center pawns, as long as they stay doubled they are of little use
  • The double rook endgames are far more tactical because of the existing fire power and both kings need to be protected
  • The important h4/h5 pawn moves have already been played, establishing clear boundaries on what those pawns can do
  • White’s plan should be very simple here: take control of the 2nd rank and put pressure on the e5-pawn with both rooks to impede its advancement

Instead of the above White chose firstly to bring his rook onto the 7th rank. Of course an (un)written rule says the best position for any rook is on the 7th rank. We actually have the opportunity to see how any of these rules cannot be applied without making sure the situation on the chessboard warrant them.

The above mistake was important but not decisive. Letting us take control of the 2nd rank, the same idea they tried at the wrong time, made absolutely no sense. That also meant we now had a clear path toward winning. Some may say this second mistake allowed us to win it; in reality they were both connected. The remaining of the endgame was more or less technical. Enjoy the winning line and hope you will learn a bit from it. You never know when your opponents might offer you the opportunity to punish their endgame mistakes in inexplicable fashion.

Valer Eugen Demian

“What say you?” The 1 minute challenge (7)

“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

Are you ready? Here it is: which of the three possible king moves wins the game for White?

This is a very difficult endgame; if you are able to figure out the guiding ideas and guess the correct move, consider yourself a strong player. My take on it:

  • Material is equal
  • White has a chance to win because of the better position of its king
  • It is easy to see White could win the a-pawn, bringing the position into a basic king and pawn versus king endgame
  • If White captures Black’s pawn with its own pawn, key is to hold control of the critical b7-square: if White has it, it is a win; however if Black has it, it is a draw (lesson 19, level 2 of our chess app)
  • If White captures Black’s pawn with its king, it has to place the king in front of the b-pawn in order to win (lesson 19, level 2 of our chess app)
  • On the Black side of it its king should either consider taking control of the b7-square (see above) or attack and capture White’s b-pawn to reach a draw

With the above in mind, we have to choose a move. Which one did you pick? Have a look at the solution and go over it with care to understand all the twists and turns.
The highlight: white uses the opposition to force the black King all the way to the h2-square. That saves the b-pawn, allows white to capture the a-pawn and reach a won endgame. It is kind of amazing how two simple concepts combined together can create such a complicated puzzle, isn’t it? Enjoy!

Valer Eugen Demian

Missing The Obvious

“When your mind tries to verify a preconceived notion you can miss the obvious”
James Cook

My latest entertaining turn based game on chess.com lasted for 7 months. The game had many twists and turns as the positional battle shifted between both sides of the chessboard; later in the game the tactics could have tipped the balance in my favour. Unfortunately I missed the winning idea time and time again; some might ask how is this possible when 3 days per move reflection time sounds like an eternity. The truth is life happens every day with moves in between and a lot of times one wishes they could just play without interruptions or waiting time from beginning to end. Here is the game with all the important moments highlighted:

The lessons learned from it are at least the following:

  • Do your best not to have preconceived ideas and verify each exchange sequence possible one more time before committing (missing the obvious #1)
  • Identify and learn from missed opportunities on both sides during post mortem analysis (missing the obvious #2)
  • Work on your tactics consistently and relentlessly to be able to convert won positions into full points (missing the obvious #3 to #6)
  • Be strong and alert from beginning to end especially when you can feel you have missed a couple of opportunities. You never know when you might get another chance; the opponent could falter as well (missing the obvious #7 and #8)

Valer Eugen Demian

“What say you?” The 1 minute challenge (6)

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

Here is some interesting information I found online about the composer behind this week’s puzzle:
“M. Brede (. M. stands for “Mister” Brede’s chess problem were in “M. Brede” began in 1841 in Chess Player’s Chronicle , and from 1843 in the Illustrated London News published), which is Ferdinand Julius Brede (1799 or 1800 Stettin – 15.12.1849 Altona, today a district of Hamburg). Brede was an accountant at Altona’s merchant Georg Friedrich Baur. Baur was the owner of the Baurspark named after him in today’s Hamburg district of Blankenese. Brede also worked as a writer under the pseudonym de Fibre and as a chess composer. Brede was a member of the Hamburg Chess Club ( Chess Player’s Chronicle 1841, page 241 “Problem No. 131 By M. Brede, of the Hamburgh Chess Club.” In 1844, Brede gave the almanac to friends from the chess game, a collection of self-made chess pieces Brede is the author of the variant problem.”
Book: “Chess in 19th century newspapers 210 chess assignments and 200 pictures.”
Author: Elke Rehder
Place of publication: Homburg, Publisher: EDITION JUNG, Publication year: 2014. 340 pages, format DIN A5, binded. ISBN 978-3-933648-54-9.

In those days puzzle solving challenges would sound something like:
“If you find the key to this position in ten minutes, we shall think of you as a very promising aspirant for Caïssa’s honours”
Today we are much stronger/ better as a community and we can solve them a lot faster, don’t we? 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

Are you ready? Here it is:

Even if this is about tactics and raw calculations, tactics do not happen out of the blue. They happen when the position is ripe, so the first step needed is to recognize it being as such. We are used to this by now:

  • Black has winning material advantage
  • White still has enough fire power to attack Kg8 and that includes: Nd5, Qf4, Rg2 and the g6-pawn
  • Black’s heavy pieces (queen and both rooks) are away on the queen side for the moment
  • The only Black piece defending its king is Be6; that means White’s attackers outnumber the defenders at least 3 to 1, giving us a first indication the attack has a chance to succeed
  • Both moves 1. Ne7+ … and 1. gxh7+ … look good, so how do we decide which one to go with? To choose correctly, we need to see the difference between the two
  • Looking carefully at each option move, we should see a couple of important details:
    1. Ne7+ … opens the diagonal a2-g8, giving Qa2 a way to come to the defence of its king
    1. gxh7 … eliminates one of the pawns defending their king and still keeps Qa2 away

Conclusion: 1. gxh7 … is the move winning faster; now we can start calculating the moves. The second move is key and I am sure you can see it now. Enjoy the complete solution!

Valer Eugen Demian

Mednis Principles (2)

“With major pieces (queen or rook) on the board, having bishops on opposite colors favors the side with an attack.”
Edmar Mednis

A couple of nice articles about these principles can be reviewed HERE and HERE
SIM Michael R Freeman is a very strong ICCF player from Darwin, New Zealand. The fact he has been able to perform at around 2500 correspondence chess rating since 2009 is a high accomplishment not many are capable of. He is also FIDE-CM over the board and this summer he had the opportunity to play in the 8th IGB International Seniors Open Chess Championship 2017, Malaysia. Michael was kind to share interesting positions from his games along the way and I liked one in particular. The position was extremely interesting and the additional thoughts and comments by Michael caught my attention and made me take a closer look. We also had a very instructive online discussion about it; in the end can say for sure I learned more about opposite bishops endgames. Here it is with comments as indicated:

Of course Mednis principles apply here perfectly. White was pressing all along and that opened the door for a nice ending. Personally I think this is also an excellent example of how we need to pay attention to what is going on until the opponent has signed the scoresheet. Michael could have been rattled by the missed chances or by the tough defence he had to face up to that point; also he might have thought this was a done deal with those 2 passed pawns ready to promote. Any of us in his shoes would have had to consider 1… Bc5 as the best reply and gather our last drops of energy to figure out the winning idea with Bb5 hanging. He did it and was rewarded for it. Below is the full game score. Thank you Michael for sharing it with us!

Valer Eugen Demian

“What say you?” The 1 minute challenge (5)

“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

Are you ready? Below is this week’s position, a rook and pawns endgame between players rated 2400+ FIDE. It is white to move and the quest is to decide if White can play the tactical rook sacrifice or not?

This one feels real because it is from a game instead of a study. Dhopade probably had a better understanding of the position since he played the game; still the 1 minute we have is enough time to evaluate the position and come up with a good answer. Here are my thoughts:

  • Material is equal
  • There are no passed pawns
  • Both Black pieces (king and rook) are very well placed, one attacking Rd4 and the other one the a3-pawn
  • Black is threatening to win a pawn on the queen side and create a passer
  • It becomes obvious Black is better and playing for a win
  • Reading the question again leads me to believe White did not like his position at all and wanted to do something unexpected to surprise his opponent
  • Considering a sacrifice of this magnitude means White was thinking of getting a serious return for it or the game would be lost
  • What serious return could White think of? With only pawns left on the board, the only serious return could be promoting one of them
  • Which pawn is the most likely candidate to promote? A quick glance from left to right identifies the b4-pawn (and the possible b4-b5) plus the c4-pawn (and the possible c4-c5) as options
  • In both cases Black can ignore the sacrifice and choose to deal with the pawn situation created; the difference is after 1. b5 c5 Black is in a better position than after 1. c5 b5
  • The last detail to ponder is if Ra2 can come around and cover the 8th rank in time to stop the promotion; Black would consider using the e-file or h-file for that purpose
  • Kf1 is the only one capable to defend either file, meaning it won’t be able to cover them both

Conclusion: White should not sacrifice its Rook. Please see how the game ended below:

In general a sacrifice like this smells desperation. If anyone tries it against you, the first indication is they are desperate. This should give you confidence because it is an immediate confirmation your position is much better and you should play for a win. What you need to do is figure out if you can accept it (first step) and how you would win in that case; if you are not sure and accepting it feels too risky, see what is the best way to ignore it (second step). Normally the opponent offering the sacrifice has spent a lot of time to come up with it and brushed aside (most of the times) what to do if you simply ignored it. A sacrifice like this one works better for the player offering it with little time on the clock; in the same time the option to ignore it backfires on the same player with little time on the clock because he needs to look for something else, spending time to do it and trying to not forget what he had planned when it all started.

Valer Eugen Demian

Draw Or No Draw?

“If your opponent offers you a draw, try to work out why he thinks he’s worse off”
Nigel Short

Mentioning draws in competitive chess brings up first Fischer’s approach to play for a win in every game; possibly close behind is Short’s advice, something quite popular in junior and club chess levels. Of course things are not as simple as they seem and the correct way to look at draws is to take a balanced approach, analyse the situation at hand and decide if you need to play for a draw or not. We all start playing with the intention to win; some might even know the saying:
“If it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?”
Vince Lombardi
It is however possible to look for a draw all along if the opponent is quite strong or famous. One of the latest examples in this regard is the first game between Magnus Carlsen and Bu Xiangzhi at the FIDE World Cup 2017. Bu sacrificed a piece to open up Magnus castle. All the pressure was then on Magnus who had to choose between going for a perpetual or playing ahead and proving the sacrifice was wrong. What would have you done in his shoes? It depends, right? Going back to Bu’s decision, it shows one of the right ways to go for a draw: attack the opposing King, offer a perpetual line and have a strong attack with practical chances as the other option. Time could also become a factor since the stronger player would have to use it to decide what to do and how to navigate the stormy waters of defending properly. Magnus did not handle it properly and Bu’s decision brought him a decisive win:

The second and decisive game between Bu Xiangzhi and Magnus Carlsen (same event) was another good display on how to play for a draw from the beginning. Bu played very solid and maintained a small advantage throughout the game. Magnus could not muddy the waters, nor was he given any opportunity to create a weakness in White’s position. It is very hard to play for a win with the Black pieces in such cases.

I am sure if you look in your own databases of personal games, you could find several samples where you were faced with the same dilemma: “draw or no draw?”. My next two personal examples have passed the test of time and will forever stick with me, proving that draws can also be memorable.
The first one comes from my junior years. My queen side attack was not very inspired and my piece placement proved to be unfortunate. I remember sensing something was wrong and hoping I could hold on. My opponent came up with a brilliant plan, only to follow it up with a huge blunder when all he had to do was to collect the win. That gave me the opportunity to force the draw in a unique position. See it for yourself:

The second example is also a personal milestone, representing my first result for the national team. Back in 1989 Romania managed to arrange a friendly correspondence chess match with Germany, a perennial powerhouse. A number of young and full of potential players were selected to represent both countries and I was fortunate enough to also be selected on our side. I did not know much about my opponent except his high ICCF rating at the time (2485), while I had no international rating. We were playing two games in the same time (one as White and one as Black), moves being sent back and forth by post. The pace was about 1 move a month; the postal connection between Romania and Germany was still very sketchy at the time. I got an interesting position as white in the semi-Slav and had my eyes on attacking at the first opportunity; for that purpose I was ready to take risks.
“He who takes risks can lose, he who doesn’t however will lose for sure.”
Savielly Tartakover
Black got in time trouble, played a couple of dubious moves and then decided to go for the available line leading to a draw by perpetual.

Hope I made a good case for looking at the draw option with an open mind. Today chess is played under fast time controls and holding a strong position where you could offer a draw at anytime is a strong choice for all of us. Looking at the FIDE World Cup 2017 semifinal, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had the chance to play for a draw in his Armageddon game versus GM Levon Aronian. He did not succeed, but the possibility to decide the winner of the match like this was/ is of major importance. We need to be prepared to play for a draw if the situation dictates and there is nothing wrong with that.

Valer Eugen Demian

“What Say You?” The 1 Minute Challenge (4)

“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

Are you ready? Below is this week’s position asking you to choose the next move for White. What is the most likely result based on your choices?

Here are my thoughts:

  • Material is equal
  • Each side has a passed pawn and both kings are within reach (see rule of the square in our app level 3, lesson 26) with a plus for the Black king being closer
  • Pushing the pawn forward 1. c5 … gives Black time to activate its king (1… Ke6 for example). White will have to capture the a-pawn, while Black will do the same with the c-pawn; after those pawns come off the board, Black’s king will be closer to capture the g4-pawn and promote its remaining f6-pawn (see basic pawn endgames in our app level 2, lesson 19). Black could win in this case
  • Based on the above idea 1. Kd4 … does not look like a good idea either because it also allows 1… Ke6. The difference in this case might be the fact the White king stays close to its c4-passer, it could capture Black’s a-pawn and come back in time to defend the passer; hmm, this is an interesting thought after all
  • Continuing along this line of thought 1. Kd5 … looks the best since it is keeping Kf7 away. The problem here is that after 1… a4 there is no other response but the forced 2. Kd4 … or the a-pawn promotes. We are now back to the previous line with the a-pawn farther down the board. This will draw the White king away and allow the Black one to activate; after the simple moves 2… Ke6 3. Kc3 Ke5 4. Kb4 Kd4 there is nothing better for each side than pushing pawns down toward promotion and a draw
  • Going back to 1. Kd4 Ke6 and using the information gathered in the 1. Kd5 … line, this must be the move to play. The a5-pawn has not moved yet and black must choose between moving it or bringing its King closer; in both cases this is good news for white

Conclusion: 1. Kd4 … gives white the best practical chances and should be played. You might be out of time by now to be able to determine if white can win this or not. The endgame has one more nice wrinkle white must consider in order to win and you can see it looking at the solution below:

What can we conclude out of it? Sometimes we might have to go ahead and play the most promising line even if we don’t see the final result for various reasons. We must keep our focus and apply our thought process along the way to uncover opportunities and achieve the best possible result. Start with the simple stuff first and build on it based on your knowledge; wherever your knowledge stops, mark it down and make sure you focus on expanding it during your home preparation. Good luck!

Valer Eugen Demian

Sicilian Alapin Surprise

“Black has only two good replies (to 2. c3) – 2… d5 and 2… Nf6”
Evgeny Sveshnikov

White chooses Sicilian Alapin to surprise Black and render its theoretical preparation useless; instead of a well prepared Dragon, Najdorf, Sveshnikov or other preferred variation, the options are drastically reduced as any good book on it will tell you. A lot of times Black is not prepared for it and this gives White a psychological advantage at move 2. The good news is Black can also do something about it and the reduced number of choices helps. In my experience as a Sicilian player, one must have a variation ready to face the Alapin.

GM Johan Salomon is another very promising young player from Norway, the land of our current World Champion. Johan is very active on social media and regularly shares with his followers interesting puzzles and games of his own or by others. I find his choices very interesting and useful, like the following game I selected to share with you. IMO all Sicilian loving players should look at it and consider it as the starting point to explore the variation and ideas behind it. Without further ado here is the game:

White chose to avoid the heavily analyzed standard Sicilian variations with 2. c3 … and Black returned the favour with 5… Bf5; add into the mix an unexpected yet very playable queen sac and Black may have a nice surprise weapon to go along with the main preparation. Hey, one thing is for sure: if you manage to unleash the queen sac, your opposition does not read my column and you have a leg up on them. Please send over your games and get even better prepared in this variation to the point where white would avoid playing the Sicilian Alapin against you!

Valer Eugen Demian