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

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


An Example of a Priyome

I wrote a recent column on priyomes. This is a Russian concept for strategic positions that recur frequently. They include not just static structure (i.e., the positions of the pawns and pieces) but also the associated maneuvers to exploit that structure. Reader feedback asked for examples.

Below is a position from the 6.Be3 variation of the Najdorf (the Geller-Karpov) variation. The structure is common to many Sicilians. The black rook on c8 is menacing the white knight on c3. Playing the knight to b6 is a common Najdorf maneuver and white decides to prevent this with a5. The pawn move is not a blunder, but I judged it to be questionable because it ignores an important priyome. Black reacted aggressively with a very thematic exchange sacrifice on c3.

By sacrificing the rook for the knight, black wins the critical e-pawn and completely shatters the white queenside pawn structure.

The important lesson to learn is not just the structure – the rook staring down the half-open c-file at the white knight. It’s also exchange sacrifice coupled with Nxe4 that needs to be remembered. Black gets plenty of compensation for the exchange sacrifice.

Fritz Pro 14 gives black a very slight advantage. I prefer black’s chances in this position. I suspect this is the chess engine’s materialistic preference. Yes, white has a rook in exchange for a knight and a pawn, but white also has an isolated rook pawn and doubled c-pawns that are isolated. Then look at black’s pawn structure, which is very healthy. Add the centralized knight, and I feel black has more than just a slight advantage. In the game itself, Ian Nepomniachtchi won rather easily.

Glenn Mitchell


Chess Superminiatures

A club mate of mine, Nick Pelling, has published an interactive ebook called ‘Chess Superminiatures’. Superminiatures are super-short chess games that last under 10 moves. There is a surprising amount that can be learnt from such short games. Furthermore, Nick brings the players and the games to life with his anecdotes and historical insights, as well as commentary on the moves.

A computer programmer by trade, Nick has enabled readers to interact with the ebook, with multiple choice ‘guess the move’ options at key points in each game. Some of the moves are not at all obvious, so this is a really good way of testing your chess skills. Also, he has divided up the games into chapters with themes so you can learn some important lessons along the way and see some instructive games to prove the points.

Over 100 games are arranged into eight themed chapters:-

1. Monkeys With Hammers – Attacking games
2. That’s Gotta Hurt – Moves that were overlooked
3. Greed Isn’t Good – What happens to greedy players
4. Tales of the Unpredicted – Bolts from the blue
5. Tangled Webs – When pieces fail to work together
6. Champs vs Chumps – Tales from Chess’s top table
7. Return To Sender – Correspondence players getting unexpected mail
8. Best of the Best – The very best superminiatures I’ve ever seen!

Within each chapter, the puzzles are arranged in ascending order of difficulty, so every reader should quickly find themselves at an appropriately challenging level of difficulty, whatever their playing strength.

So, there you have it – not only are you introduced to some delightful short games, you also get to train and develop your own board vision at the same time. Chess Superminiatures is available on Amazon for Kindle.

Below is a game from Chapter 3, Greed isn’t Good, notes by Nick Pelling:

Angus James


Amatuer versus Master – Game Four

This game is from the very first event that I played on the ICCF server. This game was from the Diamond Jubilee section DJ-CT18/pr11. My opponent was an International Master from Brazil. His English was not that good so he had his American fiancee translate for him. I got some translated notes and I will include some of his comments below.

During this game I was not aware that ICCF rules allowed me to use chess engines. At the time that this game was played my strongest chess engine was Deep Rybka 4.

Fausto started off with some comments about the move order and how I could have transposed into a Sicilian defense. I almost never play the White side of a Sicilian Defense and I preferred to stay with the English Opening in this game.

According to Fausto, White wins 47% of the time after 3. d4 cxd4 and Black wins 41% of the time. Fausto thought that I had a better move number 5. Instead of 5.g3, he recommended 5.Nc3 with a 57% chance of winning. After his fifth move he gives the game as being equal.

At Move Number 6 Fausto thought that Nc2 was better with a 60% chance of winning. He thought that 8.e4 was my best move. Anything else would give Black the advantage. My ninth move was not in his database. He stated that Black’s advantage was -0.26. He stated that my tenth move was the only in the chess literature. Move 12 was preparing to castle. I dropped a pawn without apparent compensation and began to struggle from there. It was about this point in the game that I stated to him that castling is overrated. Delaying castling here may have cost me this game.

When I played 14.f4 I planned to keep my King in the Center. I then changed my mind and castled into a weak position. On Move number 15 all of the chess engines were saying to play Nxc5, but Black still has an advantage.

I castled on move number 18 and Fausto said that playing 18. a4 would equalize. From move number 18 on I was pretty much lost.

Mike Serovey


Two Pawn Advantage, Not Enough?!

With minor piece endgames, sometimes what appears to be sufficient material for a win is actually insufficient. Have a quick look at the position below. Most of us improvers would likely conclude that white is winning, especially since it’s white to move and the black pawn on a5 is lost. That left white with two pawns and a bishop against just a bishop of the same color.

Appearances can be deceptive. It’s a mistake to rely on intuition alone in the endgame. Two pawns were not sufficient for the win in this position!

GM Khalifman won the game, but only after GM Meier resigned. There was no forced win for white, so my surmise is that GM Meier ran out of time. Up to the move where he resigned, he defended brilliantly. The draw after move 75 was easy enough even for a fish like me to spot, so I’m quite certain that GM Meier knew the position was a draw. The best white could do was maneuver until there was a draw by threefold repetition or by the 50-move rule.

Have a go and set up the position where my analysis ends. If white moves his bishop to c7, it blocks the c-pawn. Black can move the bishop off the diagonal and prepare to place it on the b8/h2 diagonal. White cannot move the king without dropping the pawn, so the bishop has to move. If Bb8, the black bishop moves back to a5. If Bc8, the black bishop goes to the b8/h2 diagonal. Game drawn in either case.

Glenn Mitchell


Mating with Knight and Bishop

Last week, I shared some of my thoughts on endgame mastery for improving chess players. I mentioned that learning the ending for Knight and Bishop against lone king could wait, since it occurs infrequently over the board. That’s still my opinion.

For stronger improvers, say ELO 1800 and above, there is some benefit in working through the mate. If you do not know the mate, please get out a chessboard for this. Don’t work through it in your head.

Depending on where the lone king is located on the board, it can take as many as 35 moves to achieve mate. So, with the 50-move rule, that means your technique has to be spot on for this. Your play has to be precise. One inaccuracy can mean a draw under the 50-move rule. That’s one of the important the benefit of learning this mate. You have to be able to calculate precisely. Another important benefit. You must keep your pieces coordinated.

GM Karsten Mueller does an excellent job walking viewers through this mate in his first DVD for ChessBase on the endgame. I’m going to break this down into the same stages as GM Yuri Averbakh in his classic book, Chess Endings: Essential Knowledge. This is a small, lucid book on endgame play from the 1960s. I’m going to use his positions, too.

Let’s start with the simplest case. The lone king is already in a correct corner of the board. That’s the corners with the same color as the bishop. The bishop and knight together control four important squares in the diagram below. The white king then comes forward to shoulder the enemy king towards the corner. From this point, if black plays precisely, mate takes nine moves.

Most players beyond the weakest novices know that the mate is only possible in a corner controlled by the bishop. As the endgame approaches, they’ll likely run to corner opposite that of the bishop. Thus, you need to know how to force the king from a “wrong” corner to one controlled by the bishop. Averbakh doesn’t name the technique. GM Karsten Mueller calls this the “W-maneuver.” That’s a helpful mnemonic that describes how the knight moves across the board.

Keep in mind that it is the knight moves that will spoil your mate quickest. That’s because the knight trots while the bishop can move more quickly.

With best play by black, this adds eleven more moves to the mate.

When the endgame begins on the edge but the lone king is in the middle, you might need to give the lone king some space. You also need to lose a tempo or two.

The worst case is the lone king away from the center of the board. The process begins by driving the king to the edge of the board. From there, the mate continues, depending on where along the edge the lone king lands. The king and bishop do most of the work of forcing the king to the edge of the board. The knight is used to close off important flight squares.

My suggestion to my fellow improvers is to make slight changes to these positions and work them through to checkmate. That way, you’ll really understand what is going on and not memorize solutions.

Glenn Mitchell


C3 Sicilian: Anti-Sicilian for the Improving Player

I’m pleased to see that Gambit released several of their “Chess Explained” books this week for the Amazon Kindle. One of them is IM Sam Collins’ book, Chess Explained: The c3 Sicilian.

The c3 Sicilian is a good choice for improving chess players. There’s a lot less theory than playing the Open Sicilians, such as the Najdorf or the Dragon.

If you read about the c3 Sicilian on forums or ask at the local chess club, you’ll likely hear some players comment that white doesn’t get an advantage with the c3 Sicilian. Well, at the level of the chess improver, such theoretical judgments have no practical importance. If both white and black play correctly, the Open Sicilians don’t promise white an advantage, and we improvers don’t play perfectly. Another comment you’ll likely read is that the c3 is boring. OK, it’s not generally a sharp opening. That’s a virtue for us chess improvers, however. Sharp openings require lots of memorization. The c3 Sicilian doesn’t take nearly as long to learn as the Open Sicilians. As with any opening, you need to learn some basics, but from the beginning you can focus on plans and ideas rather.

I find that the c3 Sicilian is a good repertoire choice for white because many of the positions take on important and familiar pawn formations, such as the d4-e5 pawn duo common in the French Defense, isolated queen’s pawn, etc.

Here’s a rapid game I played tonight online against a B class player. I missed an important opportunity on move 10 to win a piece. As I said, we improvers don’t play perfectly. So, don’t forego an opening like the c3 Sicilian just because you hear that white doesn’t get an advantage from the opening. We improvers need to work harder on avoiding disadvantages through blunders and weak moves, rather than expecting a big advantage from our choice of opening.

Glenn Mitchell


Man versus Machine Part 3

This game is one of three that I played on 29 Feb 2012 against a computer program on the ICC server called Colussus. This game is one of my two losses that night. My previous posts about my games versus Colossus can be found here: Colossus Game 1 and here: Colossus Game 2.

I played the opening a little too aggressively and neglected castling my King. From move ten on, I was losing but I did not realize that until move number 22. This game shows why it is a bad idea for me to play chess when I am tired or distracted. However, this was an unrated game so all that I lost was my pride.

Mike Serovey


Sometimes a Tree is a Bush

GM Kotov wrote a famous book about calculation in chess, Think Like a Grandmaster. He discusses the calculation of variations using an extended metaphor, the tree of variations.

The basic idea is that players should calculate a tree of variations. Players should only examine each branch of the tree once. Why once? To keep from dithering over multiple lines and then feeling time pressure, when they can be tempted to play a completely new candidate move and not even verify if it is sound.

A tree of variations implies that there are a small number of candidate variations to examine. Kotov recognized this is not always the case. Sometimes a player has to make a decision without the benefit of careful calculating every candidate variation sufficiently.

The game below is instructive for us improving players. GM Walter Browne felt he had a winning position. He likely calculated a handful of variations out several moves. Out several moves, there was still uncertainty. What GMs and IMs have that we do not is much greater experience and – as a result – a better-refined intuition about the outcome from a sacrifice and the initiative that follows. They make better evaluations. After black played 12. … 0-0, GM Browne reasoned this was the critical moment to begin a kingside attack. He sacrifices a rook in exchange for a swift and crushing initiative. He made his evaluation on the basis of partial calculation.

There’s another instructive lesson here for us improvers. GM Browne missed that 20. Rf1 was premature one move. It was his good fortune that his opponent missed it, too, since 20. … Qa5 would have given black some counterplay after 21. … Qe1+. Black further blundered by making the move Qa5 one move too late. Had he played 21. … Rg7 instead, white would have won the exchange and had a much better position but black could have continued to play on.

Glenn Mitchell


Imagining That You Can Play Ten Moves In A Row

Now and then, I hear a non-chess-player make an analogy using the game of chess, suggesting that some competitive business advantage is like being able to play two moves in a row in chess. I try to point out that being able to play two arbitrary legal moves in a row in chess is not just some kind of small or large advantage, but an overwhelming one. For example, suppose it only takes one move to push a Pawn forward attacking your opponent’s Queen: this means that given two moves in a row, you could win a Queen without doing any of the ordinary back-and-forth calculation that characterizes the complexity and beauty of chess.

However, the fantasy of playing two moves in a row is quite an important one, the first step toward making plans, if we place some constraints on the nature of the two moves.

First of all, as already mentioned, it’s cheating if you imagine a sequence of moves in which the first move creates a deadly threat but in reality your opponent could block it easily, without making some other serious concession, because that’s like being allowed a two-move sequence in a fight in which you get to both get in close and the deliver a blow, when in real life the whole trick is how to get in close without being punched back in the first place.

If your opponent can block the threat of the first move, but you have calculated a second move in response to the first defensive move that has no good defense, then what we have is a two-move combination. Although it is very important to be able to see and calculate combinations, this also is not what I’m talking about here. A tactical combination is where you figure out how to strike your opponent so that even after he puts up his best possible block, this leaves an opening for you to then deliver the final blow.

Rather, I’m talking about imagining two moves in a row where you pretend you have an opponent who will take minimal care to protect himself (avoiding immediate mate, loss of material, etc.), but at the same time may not be super aggressive. This fantasy works best if the position at hand is at least “closed” enough so that it is plausible for each of you to maneuver in your own space without stepping on the other.

Ten moves in a row!

In fact, the most closed position possible is the initial board, with nobody having played a move yet! This position is so closed that you can, and should, imagine that you can play not only two moves in a row, but more like ten.

Try this exercise, both as White and as Black. Keeping in mind to be consistent with your actual opening repertoire, set up the board and play the first ten moves of your ideal setup, with the assumption that you can only place Pawns and pieces on your half of the board. Be honest: do not just pile everything up on the f7 square, for example.

What does your setup say about what your middlegame plans are before you even make a move in each game that you play?

You might also want to test out playing this ideal position against someone who has not yet made any moves. Theoretically you should be able to win, with such a lead in development. You can even test out your ideal position against a computer engine and see how well you can do against best defense (one way to do this is to set up a position by forcing the computer to just move a Knight out and back home for ten moves).

Here are some sample positions that reflect different opening choices. Create your own!


Typical for many beginning players:

A more advanced setup:


Black setups are a lot trickier because typical opening theory has them being different from White setups as a result of forcing play by White. A mistake I see often is when someone as Black plays passively because of following a invisible script that is relevant only because of best play by White. But if White plays passively, there is no reason Black cannot immediately adopt an ideal setup rather than a compromise defensive setup.

Here is a Black setup that is less aggressive than one White might choose with colors reversed, but is often the best that can be done given constraints from early in the opening:

Here is another typical realistic Black setup. Note that if not for typical constraints placed by White, Black could already have moved a Pawn from c6 to c5. Depending on what your opponent as White do, you don’t have to follow the usual script, if you understand what you’re aiming for and your opponent allows you to take a shortcut to it.

Franklin Chen