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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Going Back to the Basics (4)

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

Material balance article was posted HERE
Kings’ position article was posted HERE
Pieces’ positioning was posted HERE
Last but not least one needs to be aware of the pawn structure on both sides. Pawns are a bit of an uncomfortable subject for many a player. Beginners don’t really know what to do with them. Their games do not last or keep the material balance long enough for the pawns to be more than a nuisance. At the beginning of the game pawns are too many to handle and more often than not they are obstacles impeding the pieces to move. Quite a few of my level 2 players choose to move a pawn when they cannot find a useful piece move, so we have been talking about them more often to make them pay more attention to them pawns.

Club players today could also do a better job looking after the pawns and involving them more in their games. It could be the fact pawns are slow pace moving pieces. They take a while to get going and be of importance. Everything today is about speed and instant gratification. Engines are setup to look for the line with the most positive mathematical outcome; how many times does that take into consideration the pawn structure? This being said pawn structures still are and will be of importance. I thought for a couple of days about what to write in this article and then I got the idea to go back in time and remind everyone of a few long forgotten, dusty pawn structures. Why would I do that? First these pawn structures deserve to be in the forefront of anyone’s home preparation and second it is a bit of a sentimental trip down the memory lane for me; nevertheless I hope this will tickle your curiosity to find out more about them.






Valer Eugen Demian

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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

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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

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“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

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