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

World Rapid Chess Championship

The FIDE World Rapid Chess Championship 2014 recently concluded with Magnus Carlsen winning, followed by Fabiano Caruana in 2nd place and Viswanathan Anand in 3rd.

There was an interesting endgame between the FIDE World Champion, Carlsen, and former World Champion, Anand. Carlsen uncharacteristically went wrong in an ending. In taking a pawn with his knight he missed a simple rook move that skewered his bishop and knight. Anyone can make such mistakes, especially in rapid chess, but when the World Champion does it, it’s called a blunder! Despite this loss, it wasn’t enough to stop Carlsen becoming the 2014 World Rapid Champion. You can view the ending play with commentary on the clip below.

Angus James


Amateur Versus Master: Game Ten

This game is another recently completed draw against a chess master. This game is from the final round of the 2011 Golden Knights Correspondence Chess Championship. The first 18 moves were in my database. I was on my own from move number 19 on. So far, I have no wins, one loss and one draw in this section. However, I do have an advantage against a 2300 rated player that I drew in the previous round. We will have to wait and see how that game works out.

Because both sides played aggressively and made solid developing moves neither one of us got an advantage at any point in this game. My strategy against this higher rated player was to trade down into an even endgame. The point where we agreed to a draw was during the transition from the middle game to the endgame. White had more space in the center and the Bishop versus my Knight, but he couldn’t do anything with these slight advantages.

Mike Serovey


Future Masters

Future masters have to start somewhere and most in England learn their skills on the weekend tournament circuit, in junior events and adult events. It used to be the case that it would take many years, even for the most talented, to become masters, but now things seem to have speeded up with access to databases and coaching.  It is remarkable how quickly juniors can improve now. One kid from nearby went from a beginner to the top player in the county for his age category in just 3 years. I guess he will have his first master title in another 3 years, such is the trajectory of his progression.

I recently had a look through some of my games in the 1990s, the decade when I first started playing chess. In 1996, I played in the World Amateur Championship in Hastings. I played a future IM, Thomas Rendle. He was only about 10 at the time, graded perhaps around 1500 elo, while I was about 1700 elo – although the ratings are a bit irrelevant as we were both heading for ratings hundreds of points higher. While I was a bit more experienced, he had the confidence of youth. He was in the habit of wearing bow-ties, as I recall. I thought he was a bit reminiscent of Walter, the arch enemy of Dennis and Gnasher. Anyway, he played the French Defence, which he still does today, although he’s no longer wearing the bow-ties!

In the game below he played well until he saw an opportunity to win two minor pieces for a rook, missing that his king would get into trouble.

Although I won this encounter, ten years later he become an IM while I hit a wall and stopped making significant progress. I like to think that the reason why I didn’t progress to master level was that I only came to chess as an adult, and annoying things like having to earn a living got in the way. While there is probably a little bit of that involved, it is probably more because I didn’t want to improve as much as he did and didn’t prioritise it enough. What are you prepared to sacrifice to improve? If you’re not giving 100% to chess, forget becoming a master. And watch out for the kids – some of them may be future masters!

Angus James


Amateur Versus Master: Game Nine

This is a recently completed game that was played on the ICCF server. My opponent is from England and is one of two 2300 rated players that I drew in this section. He is also the highest rated player in this section. This draw has temporarily moved me back into second place out of 13. I doubt that I can remain in  second place because I am losing one of my three remaining games in this section.

This game went only 26 moves and thus it would qualify as a miniature, but it was not a “Grandmaster draw”. I had two pawns for a Knight, but a passed pawn on the Queenside was compensation for the Knight. I also had a fianchettoed Bishop that covered a potential queening square.

I play the English Opening as White and thus I dislike having to play against it as Black. However, in this game I did OK with it. I tried to transpose into a Modern Defense and then from there we got some kind of Benoni Defense. Having an up-to-date database of games helped me get through the opening without any errors. My analysis in the game below includes notes from other commentators.

By move number ten Black is lagging a little behind in development but is advancing his pawns on the Queenside. The trick here is for Black to avoid over extending those pawns. By move number 14 Black has completed his development and the game is even. On move number 16 Black starts a combination of moves that gives Black connected passed pawns for a Knight, but is still fairly even. I calculated at least a draw for Black with this in spite of the slight material deficit. The reader can decide for himself or herself how this game would have gone if we had played it out beyond 26 moves.

Mike Serovey


Improving Concentration

Being able to concentrate at the board is easier said than done, yet it is vital if you are going to play your best chess. Among the issues that could impact on your concentration are tiredness, fitness level, health, distractions and worries at home/work, etc.

Health and fitness are easily taken for granted, until you reach middle age and realise they are not a given. To be fit, well and rested for a tournament or match you have to train not just your chess brain, but also take care of yourself. It is notable that professional chess players spend a large amount of time preparing for matches just focusing on fitness. Great stamina is required to play at a high level for hours. Concentration is something that can be improved by increasing your fitness level and maintaining good health.

Getting a good night’s sleep before playing chess is an obvious one, but not always easy to achieve when you’ve got a family. Try to get an early night and avoid too much alcohol or caffeine.

On the day itself, get some fresh air before the game with a walk or some form of exercise. This is likely to help to get your body and mind energised for the game. Last minute opening preparation will most likely be a waste of time.

Some players find it useful to turn up 15 minutes early to games to get into ‘the zone’ before the game starts. Apparently Botvinnik did this. If you only get into ‘the zone’ 15 minutes after the game has started the whole game could be decided by then. Being calm will most likely put you in a better position to cope with whatever is about to occur at the board or around it.

When you do finally get started – after you’ve done your fitness program, healthy lifestyle regime, got a good night’s sleep, had a walk in the morning and turned up early – there can be really irritating distractions. Like talking in the background by inconsiderate folk, eating at the board (especially crisps and wrapped sweets), slurping tea/coffee, table shaking, etc. These things are often more distracting than someone’s mobile going off, but no one gets defaulted for them. Your opponent is not supposed to distract you, but rather than having a dispute that requires arbiter intervention, it might be better to remain resolutely focused on the position and not let yourself be distracted by it all. Maintain a Zen-like calm, and don’t let those pesky distractions get to you!

Spend as much time at the board as possible, concentrating as hard as you possibly can. You might find it helpful to get up regularly to take a little walk around, but try and limit these leg stretches in terms of time so that you’re not tempted to take your mind off the position. There is nothing worse than returning to the board and thinking, ‘what was I planning to do next?!’ and spending 15 minutes to re-acquaint yourself with the position.

Staying hydrated by drinking water before and during games is wise, particularly if the venue temperature is warm. This may mean you need to visit the bathroom once or twice, but better that than being dehydrated, which is proven to negatively impact body and mind performance. If you need to eat during the game, apparently bananas are good for slow release of carbohydrates, so that you don’t have any high or low blood sugars.

Angus James


Milner-Barry Gambit Versus The French Defense: Game 3

This game is one of my recently completed games at ICCF. My opponent in this game was rated about 50 points above me at the start of this game. I found plenty of his games in my database and thus I knew that he liked to play the French Defense. I don’t remember finding any games in which he faced the Milner-Barry Gambit, so I decided to try that opening. This time it paid off with an exciting win.

The first 11 moves of this game went exactly as I wanted them to. I was surprised by Black’s move number 12. From move 13 on I was into my own original analysis. I doubt that I would have found all of White’s good moves in an Over the Board (OTB) game. However, my familiarity with this opening would have helped me if I had enough time to look at key ideas and positions.

White gets a lead in development and attacks against Black’s King and Queen as compensation for the pawns that are sacrificed. However, I will also recapture some of my lost pawns when I get the chance to.

Black’s fifteenth move was a mistake because it forced the White Rook to a better square. Putting the Bishop on c5 would have been slightly better because it would temporarily keep the White Rook off e3. White was winning from move number 16 on, but I still needed to find the correct follow-up ideas to my previous moves. Again, Black surprised me a few times but never found any moves that threw me off.

White is putting pressure on f7 as well as chasing some of Black’s pieces around. The double check on move number 19 is, again, intended to remove some of the defenders from the Black King. Doubling the pawns on the f file gives White more targets to attack.

On move number 22 White has several options. I decided to play the pawn to h4 in order to give the White King an escape square if needed and to break up the pawn structure around the Black King. Continuing to advance the h pawn is just following through on my idea to shatter the pawn structure around the Black King. Although Black was losing at the point where he resigned, I still think that the resignation was a little premature. Still, I’m not complaining!

This game gives me my second win in this section. At the time that I am writing this I am in fourth place out of thirteen with two wins, one loss and five draws. The one person that I lost to is now in fifth place. I still have four games remaining in this section and at least one of them is a win.

Mike Serovey


Amateur Versus Master: Game Eight

This game is an oddity for me because it is one of my rare wins against a chess master.

However, this win was on time forfeit in a dead-even position. My opponent had six other losses in this section before this one. I am guessing that all seven losses were on time. These seven losses have Nicotera in dead last place in this section. At the time that I am writing this I am in fifth place out of thirteen with an even score.

This is a variation of the English Opening that I rarely play and I got no particular advantage out of the opening. On move number 19, I was preparing to open up the Center and take advantage of my two fianchettoed bishops. I never got the chance.

Because of how short this game is, there really isn’t much that I can say about it.

Mike Serovey


Dutch Disaster

English GM Keith Arkell won the recent European Individual Seniors for those age 50+. But he is a relatively young veteran compared with some of those playing! Following the individual event was the European Senior Team Championship where the following miniature was played between a 69 year old and an 81 year old. Congratulations to these two old masters who create a wonderful spectacle. Who says chess is just a young persons game? With people living longer perhaps in the future we will see more adult age categories. Besides 50+ and 65+ perhaps an age 80+ category? Viktor Korchnoi, for example, is 83 and still playing. Anyway, this game is the kind of sparkling game that inspires people to play chess, so I can’t help repeating it here.

Angus James


The Chicken Bone Revisited

In some previous posts I mentioned a tactic that Michael Hoffer and his students call “the chicken bone” because Black chokes on White’s king pawn like a chicken bone. Hoffer and company think that this tactic gives White quite an advantage, but I believe that White’s advantage is more psychological than it is tactical. White’s 60% win rate has more to do with Black panicking and playing poorly than it does with the actual position. Here, the threat of the threat is greater than the execution.

Michael Hoffer posted the following game in a Facebook thread and I copied it from there. I do not know who Muir is nor do I know his rating. This game was played back in 1988 in Lugano, Switzerland, but that is all I know about this game. I was not given the rest of the information.

I do not know what rating Miles Ardaman had at the time that this game was played, but his current USCF rating is 2265. Although I can’t prove it, I remember playing Miles back in 1975 when he was barely in his teens and rated 1400 USCF. I played the Black side of a closed Sicilian Defense and won. The last that I heard Miles was a psychiatrist in private practice somewhere in Texas. He, like many other strong players, was fond of playing the tournaments that used to be held in Plant City, Florida before they closed that hotel.

Playing 5.Qe2 is the beginning of the chicken bone setup. I believe that the Queen is played there in order to support the advance of the e pawn. Playing 7.e6 starts the choking process. Although Hoffer and company disagree on this, Houdini 4 gives 9… Nc6 as being Black’s best move here and it also gives Black a slight advantage. Black’s only move on number 10 is g5!. Everything else loses. Black resigned on move number 12 because the only way to avoid immediate checkmate is to give away plenty of material.

GM Ronald Henley also gave the following line in his Facebook post.

According to Henley, White has a clear advantage after move number 12. However, the game Basso,P (2208)-Solomon,K (2372) Trieste 2013 shows how Black can avoid many of these problems.

My final conclusion is that Black can survive the chicken bone as long as he or she remains calm and plays logical moves. Of course, it helps if Black has some prepared moves to play as well!

Mike Serovey


Amateur Versus Master: Game Seven

Ricardo Rain is a Senior International Master (SIM) from Brazil and is the only “titled” player in this section. The loss in this game took me out of temporary first place in this section and gave it to Rain. At the time that I am writing this, Rain is in first place with 3 wins and 2 draws while I have dropped to seventh place with 1 loss and 5 draws. I may end up with 1 more loss and 3 wins before this is over. This is my only loss in this section so far and my second loss overall to a master from Brazil.

This game is another one of my losses with the Benko Gambit that convinced my to stop playing this opening in correspondence chess. White allowed me to capture his Bishop on f1, which forfeits the right to castle his King. White has to “castle by hand” as a result of this and that costs him time. Until recently, I won almost every time that this happened! Lately, this has not been giving me enough of an advantage.

On move number 12 Black started a Knight maneuver that was quite common when I learned this opening back in the 1970’s. Now, I would most likely forgo that maneuver and play 12… Qb6.

On move number 16 White starts to cram that a pawn down my throat. Until I can find a better way to handle this I am not likely to play the Benko Gambit again.

On move number 17 all of the chess engines were telling me to play h4 giving away another pawn. That idea never made any sense to me, so I rejected it and played Nd3 because it made more sense to me.

From move number 18 on White had an advantage that I was unable to dissipate or overcome. On moves number 19 and 20 an exchange of pawns moved White’s passed pawn from the a file to the b file giving Black the same kind of problem all over again.

Through a series of Knight and Rook moves Black was able to temporarily block the passed pawn on the b file, but this blockade could not last forever.

With no play left for Black on the Queenside, Black opened up the Kingside on move number 26. This may have been an error. On moves 29 and 30 more pawns are exchanged. Generally speaking, when one is down material one wants to get as many pawns off the board as is possible. So, trading pawns here helps Black some, but not enough.

I spent quite a bit of time analyzing move number 32 and I did not come up with anything better than 32… Nc3 with the idea of putting that Knight back in front of White’s passed pawn.

Move number 33 started a series of exchanges that did not really favor Black but seemed to be the best that I could find in this position. At move number 36 Black has a Rook for a Bishop and a  Knight and is also still down the gambit pawn. With the queens and all of the pawns off the board Black could have held this endgame to a draw. However, this was not the case here.

From move number 37 on White was clearly winning, but I wanted to play this out anyway. It was about this point in the game that I realized that my opponent and I were both analyzing this game on and that we were both seeing the other person’s analysis. I knew what moves he was expecting me to play and he saw my analysis. Part of the reason that I played this endgame out as long as I did was to get as much analysis into both my personal database and also into as I could.

Black could have played this out to move number 69 but instead resigned at move number 46 in order to free up his time and energy for other games that he had a more realistic chance of drawing or winning.

Mike Serovey