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

Going Back to the Basics (1)

“Everything in life goes back to the basics”
Kron Gracie

One of my online students (let’s name him C) sent me his latest analysed games and the following message as he was preparing for a local tournament:
“Recently I’ve been noticing that when I’m in a game, sometimes I don’t find an attack, or a really good move right away, and I start to focus on dumb, and pointless things in the game like taking a side pawn, and I forget about what is happening around me. This is mainly why I blunder and then lose. If you could give me some advice before the tournament I would appreciate it.”

Week after week we repeat the same process while going over his games. It is interesting to see how he struggles to make connection between our analysis and his thought process during the games. I have seen it too many times: the student believes after the lessons taught and puzzles solved, we are done and they do not have use for them anymore. During my earlier years as a coach I would not even think about it (too obvious, right?) and could become frustrated; one such moment was about 10 years ago during the national final of a team competition when I was coaching team British Columbia. Our province is a perennial 3rd in the country with Ontario and Quebec being in a league of their own. There are a number of reasons why this is the reality, but they are not important for the purpose of this article. Anyway the matches versus Ontario and Quebec are always a measuring stick of how we are doing; any wins or draws versus them are important. Our player in question was an up and coming junior at the time and he happened to be my student as well. Do not remember exactly what was the situation he missed in the endgame after a long battle in the match versus Ontario; it might have been going for a draw in the side pawn and bishop of wrong corner color (our app level 3, lesson 24). The point was that coincidentally we covered that situation right before the tournament (one would assume to be fresh on his mind) and I could not believe he failed to remember it.

Coming back to today I just reminded C of our process. One hears a lot in sports “go back to the basics” when things are not going well. It is easy to dismiss it as a cliche and to believe it does not apply to you when in reality it does very much. The first step in going back to the basics is to mind at all times the material balance or in simpler terms to know how many pieces you have versus what the opponent has. Do you mind this at all times in your games? Is it just as simple as counting the pieces and their value, subtract it from what the opponent has and see what you got? Do you count the pieces left on the board or the ones already captured? I see some of my level 2 students counting the pieces captured because they are fewer. This is not very good practice. Do you know why? There are a couple of obvious reasons for it:

  • The captured pieces cannot influence what is going on in the game anymore
  • Some captured pieces could be misplaced (example: falling under the table) or the opponent might hold one or more in their hand

Get into the habit of counting the pieces on the board and watch the balance between you pieces and the opposing ones. It is a basic aspect of the game you can use from the simplest “I am up by a point”, to the most sophisticated ones such as “I am going for an imbalanced material situation”. I am not going to spend time on “I am up by a point” C was alluding to when he mentioned taking a side pawn; however I am going to show a very interesting position where the imbalanced material situation was the answer. Here it is from one of our unfinished team voting games:

We had a long discussion about what to do here and some of the ideas were as follows (in chronological order):

  • “19. c5 gives us a passed pawn but it’ll be very difficult to defend; 19. Rfd1 is also a good idea since b5 is such a slow move”
  • “I like 19. Qb2 to move the queen away from the Black rook”
  • “Going back to 19. c5 it could be interesting to look at: 19. c5 Na5 20. Rbc1”
  • “19. c5 Na5 20. Rbc1 Nb7 21. c6 Bxc6 (21… Rxc6 same line) 22. Qxc6 Rxc6 23. Rxc6 and Black loses at least one queen side pawn”
    This was the seed of looking for an imbalanced material situation!
  • “19. a4 bxa4 20. Qxa4 Nd4 21. Qd1 Nxe2 To me this doesn’t seem great as I’d think their bishop is a bit better than our knight in such an open position, and both …Be6 and …Bg4 look like good moves for them”
  • “At the moment, the blunder 19. cxb5?? is in the lead, so we’re going to have to unite around a move. How about 19.Qb2 … ? It doesn’t seem to have any immediate downsides, and it gets us out of the pin”
  • “One quick note; 19. cxb5 is not a “blunder” per se. 19… Nd4 20. Qd2 Nxe2+ 21. Qxe2 Bxb5 22. Rxb5 axb5 23. Qxb5 with two pawns and a knight for a rook. Not the best, but not a total disaster”
  • “19. Qb2 is a safe option, but the resulting position (19. Qb2 b4) is probably not too much better for us than the a4 line”
  • “19. Qb2 b4 20. Rfc1 a5 21. Rc2 Rc7 22. Rbc1 Rfc8 23. Qb3 a4 doesn’t seem very good for White”
  • “I am not convinced that 19. cxb5 is all that horrible. I also wonder about 19. a4 having an issue with 19…b4 19. Qb2 looks interesting but the variations I see so far look defensive. So, let us look at 19. cxb5 in a little more depth. Tell why it is bad”
  • “19. cxb5 Nd4 20. Nxd4 Rxc2 21. Nxc2 Bxb5 22. Bxb5 axb5 23. Rxb5”
  • “In that line it is not clear to me how Black wins just with the queen, rook and 3 versus 4 pawns after they capture the a2-pawn (worst case scenario). White defends the f2-pawn with one rook and holds (for example) the 4th row with the other rook and knight. It feels easier to play than suffering in the 19. Qb2 line”
  • “I don’t like a4 b4 now (thanks to eric for finding that!). I am skeptical of cxb5; we’ll hold, but it won’t be easy, and we won’t have winning chances. The lines with Qb2 and Nd4 looks pretty good for us. Therefore, my vote goes to Qb2 (though I would be really unhappy if cxb5 won out)”

It is very interesting to go over the above and follow the train of thoughts. In the end 19. cxb5 won by one vote (10 votes) over 19. Qb2 (9 votes). Which move would have you chosen if you could be white in this position? Looking back here we were at the crossroads and going for 19. cxb5 made all the difference. My guess is it also surprised the opposing team and the resulting material imbalance influenced them into playing from bad to worst; now we are in an endgame where winning is just around the corner. Before showing you how the game went on for a few more moves, please remember to watch the material balance at all times until your subconscious will take over and do that for you.

Valer Eugen Demian

Stalemate Tuesday

“Any problem that features a pawn moving from its starting square to promotion in the course of the solution is now said to demonstrate the Excelsior theme.”
Excelsior by Sam Lloyd

Chess offers many more opportunities to enjoy it than what we get from the original position and normal play. There are several chess variants to choose from, as well as trying your hand at reaching the most unusual positions one can think of. Stalemate is very hard to reach given its main condition: no pieces can move and the King is not in check. It is logical to look for such positions in the endgame where we have few pieces left. Has it ever crossed your mind though to look for stalemate in the opening? Some have done it already. You can try to do better either by yourself or with your friends at the club. Why would you even consider doing that? I always regarded such unusual exercises as a way of being inventive; way too many times we blitz our moves without thinking in long opening lines, most of the times with no understanding why those moves are played in that order.

Here is an example of juniors who discovered a beauty composed by Sam Lloyd (shortest stalemate possible) and played it on the national stage. It did not go very well with the organizers and both got “0” at the end of it. If you want to play a pre-arranged draw, choose something “normal” to avoid the spotlight. I remember doing it once back in the University Championship. We chose a game with some spectacular sacrifices ending in perpetual; in hindsight it was a bit too spectacular and a number of players came over to watch it live, plus at the end of it a lively analysis erupted. There was no internet at the time and the likelyhood of someone knowing the game was not very high. Today if you want to do something similar, be careful what you choose; google is always watching… Below is what those juniors did. That is asking for trouble or being as inventive as one can be, depending on your perspective:

You can pick up the challenge and see if you can beat Sam Lloyd by finding a shorter stalemate. A couple of players from Germany chose to add a nice wrinkle to it and created a stalemate on move 12 with all the pieces on the board! The position might look familiar since Wheeler (Sunny South 1887) and Sam Lloyd (him again) composed similar positions some 100 years prior; still reaching it requires some work and from this point of view it is as good of a chess workout as anything. Enjoy!

Valer Eugen Demian

“What say you?” The 1 minute challenge (8)

“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: black is a pawn up and looking for the best plan to get the win. What should Black do?

This was an interesting team voting game because of what followed. We had a very passionate discussion at this point about those options listed. It continued the following 3 moves and I just gathered the most important thoughts shared, all in one place. It does not make much of a difference for the purpose of this article. Anyhow, here is the thought process behind each idea as expressed on our side. Go over each one of them and see which one matches your thoughts the best.
Preventing any counterplay on the king side
It would stop Kf2 from coming down.
Since we own the d-file their king would be trapped to the upper left quadrant, thus making a race of kings to the center a mute point. This would give us time to move our K/R/pawns where we like.

Bringing the king in the game
It is the most logical move centralizing our king and slowly and calmly improving our position.
We need to centralize the king and prevent counter-play. 26… Ke7 is clearly the only way to achieve both.
If our rook alone can cause trouble, just imagine if we get both our king and our rook working together.
Endgames are a matter of style. My preference is for eliminating any counterplay the opposition might have. Why take chances when we are ahead?
Moving the king to the queen side is to seek attacking those isolated a- and c- pawns. Think about it this way: if our king forces their rook to defend those pawns, our rook can easily outplay their king. Yes, a centralized king is needed in the endgame; however IMO supporting our pawns and targeting their weak pawns is more appropriate in this position.

Going after the weak queen side pawns
I thought 26… Rd1 was the way to go to get the rook behind the pawns.
Right now, I like 26… Rd1 because I think that we can get either their h3 or a3 pawn. There is no risk with this maneuver. We can always centralize our king later.
I agree that 26… Ke7 is also good and will win eventually. I just think 26… Rd1 is a bit more accurate.
I should say that I know 26… Ke7 is the obvious positional move, and unless 26… Rd1 outright wins material we should centralize the king.
In the lines I’m seeing, 26… Rd1 does win a pawn and keeps their king close to their h-pawn as a bonus.

Using the 5th rank to swing the rook on either side as needed
I would firstly like to be able to swing the rook over and the fifth rank is where this can happen. Secondly, I believe our king must seek the maximum of central activity and that there is no reason to bury him on the queen side, where our two pawns are never ever going to break through alone whereas after trading the h-pawn, our sound three connect pawns will give us a lot of opportunities against their weak king side pawns.
I prefer 26… Rd5 and rather than bringing the Black king to the queen side, I was hoping for it to play a more central role.

Each of the above have merits more or less. It is a matter of style and endgame knowledge which one to choose and play. Probably all of them lead Black to winning, so which one seems the most attractive to you? In the end our team chose to bring the King in the game and used it to win a second pawn on the queen side; once that happened, our passer on the queen side became a decoy and enabled our king to penetrate on the king side. It is interesting to note how we used the rook to hold the fort and that eliminated any possible counter play. White had no chance to create trouble with our 7th rank protected. Yes, the endgame continued for 18 moves and some might find that too long. We simply believe (and there’s more of us after such games) it is a pleasure to play won positions on the winning side for as long as it takes. What do you believe?

Valer Eugen Demian

Boxing Day Challenge

“A computer once beat me at chess, but it was no match for me at kick boxing”
Emo Philips

One day I stumbled over this doozy and it kept me hooked for a while. You have to admit the position is intriguing and it is hard to let go once you see it. In a way it is kind of like a Boxing Day deal; you get your eyes on it and you have to have it. Let’s see if you can get this deal done: White to move and draw!

It starts easy, doesn’t it? Those 2 pawns must take care of themselves with their king poorly placed near the a8-corner. Of course losing one of them (the e5-pawn is under attack) leads to losing both and then the game is over. One idea could be to bring the king over and that can’t be done right away because the pawns drop (see line A). Hmm, a logical follow up is to have the pawns take care of themselves for a little while and once that is accomplished, white can try bringing the king over. After 1. f7 Rf8 2. e6 … those little buggers can hurt in a hurry; Black’s reply 2… b6 is forced and now we have achieved what we wanted: the White pawns stay on the board longer.

Bringing the White king over looks now like a must. The White pawns are in a Mexican standoff with Rf8 and the king has only one move to play 3. Kb7 … Black of course does the same 3… Kc5 and here is the turning point. I got stuck with the idea of bringing the king over all the way and realized the b6-pawn would win the game for Black after the rook sacrifices itself for those 2 White pawns (see line B). That was one nasty dilemma. The moves seemed all good so far with no alternatives. I left it alone for a number of days. It is always a good idea to reset when you get stuck, leave the challenge on the side and clear your mind. You can come back to it after a few minutes of doing something else or thinking of something different. The challenge still lingers in the back of your mind, but you can return to it fresh and flexible to approach it from a different angle.

What else can White think about using to save the draw after 3… Kc5? The pawns can’t move and bringing the king over loses. Can you think of anything useful here? If you can’t, have a beer or coffee or simply look out the window for a bit. Now get back to it from a fresh angle. The seventh rank is the one helping the rook capture those pawns. You can think about vacating it with your king and could not do it before; now you can. It seems completely counter intuitive and losing since now the Black king is closer and after 4. Ka6 Kd6 (see line C) Black wins those pawns and the game. So much for a fresh angle, eh? If you resist the temptation to turn on the engine and show what you have missed or can’t see, I commend you! You will be rewarded. The solution is right there in front of you and you have all that you need to figure it out. Give it another shot and do not scroll down to see the solution. How can you use all that we have figured out so far?

  • The 2 White pawns are barely hanging in there before being lost
  • The White king can’t come closer to help them out
  • The seventh rank must be vacated by the White king

So, did you figure it out? White reaches a forced draw because the alternative would be to win the game. Enjoy the solution!

Valer Eugen Demian

The Wrong Rook (2)

“We are our choices”
Jean-Paul Sartre

More than a year ago I wrote an article on the same subject. You can review it here and that could help you figure out the solution to this puzzle as well.


You could say “But this one has 2 extra pawns in it”, so let’s look into why those pawns are on the board. The position has equal material. Re3, Re2 and Rb3 are in a standoff, all being under attack one way or another. An exchange leads to a simple draw since both pawns can either do damage or be captured as shown. In the same time Black’s rook battery along the 3rd rank protects its king from being checkmated and keeps an eye on the f6-pawn.

You might get the feeling in the beginning those pawns are important. Both of them are passed and on the 6th rank. The White king is not in the a3-pawn square, while the Black king is in the f6-pawn square (please review lesson 26, level 3 of our app). The a3-pawn cannot advance at the moment; the f6-pawn can and Black could catch it by moving either the rook or its king. If Black wants to catch it with its rook (1. f7 Rf3), it has to consider Rb3 is under attack and would be lost. That means the only move it really has is 1. f7 Kg7 Next we should look at what White can do about its pawn. Defending it 1. f7 Kg7 2. Rf2 Kf8 leads nowhere fast, so what about promoting it?


Now we have reached a similar situation with the other puzzle. White has sacrificed its pawn and all it has left is to attack the king. Should it do it with 1. Rf2+ …, 1. Rf1+ … or it does not matter? If the king goes toward the h8-corner, White wins no matter what because like in the other puzzle Black loses a rook. We also see in the process why the a3-pawn is needed, as the White king uses it to hide from checks (see line A). Now we look at what happens if the Black king goes in the center and we could observe quickly the difference between having a rook on e2 or not (see line B). Going back to the main line, we conclude it matters which rook is used to check with; one move leads to a draw and the other one to a win. Hope you have enjoyed it.

Valer Eugen Demian

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