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

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

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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

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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 Playchess.com 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  Playchess.com 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

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O’Kelly Crusher

This week I’m sharing a smashing game by a teammate of mine, Chris Briscoe, played in the UK’s Four Nations Chess League (4NCL) in March. I manage Surbiton, a team in Division 3, which this year has over 60 teams competing for just three Division 2 promotion spots. Chris is our regular Board 1 player and we are fortunate to have him – he previously played for Wood Green, which is usually near the top of Division 1.

Angus James

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Amatuer Versus Master: Game Six

My opponent in this game is from Russia (I think Siberia) and is the second highest rated player in this section. At the time that I am writing this, Norchenko has one win and four draws, including the one with me, and is in second place in this section. I am in third place with five draws and one loss. So far, there are only four wins and thus four losses in this section. The remaining 13 concluded games are all draws.  I do believe that the ultimate winner of this section will be whoever gets a plus score. The top two places in this section advance to the next round.

When this game started I decided to play the White side of the Sicilian Defense because I wanted to try the Smith-Morra Gambit on him. I almost never play the White side of the Sicilian Defense in a rated game, but I did this time. I messed up the move order and decided not to play the gambit because the move order that I played favored Black. After I made this decision updates to my database showed that I could have played the Smith-Morra Gambit and been OK.

Black’s fourth move surprised me a little, as did many of his moves afterwards. I had never seen this line or variation in any other game that I have played before or after this one. Fortunately, most of what he played was in my database. When he varied from my database I was able to figure out good enough moves to hold the draw.

From move number 19 on we were out of my database. On move number 26 I played what the chess engines considered to be a second-best move. The “better” line would still have been even and thus I would still end up with a draw. I played what I thought was the more impressive or cuter line.

I believe that this is the highest rated player that I have drawn on ICCF.

Mike Serovey

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Tactical Oversights

It is remarkable how small tactics can finish games quickly, even where Grandmasters are concerned.

Looking at the recent Chebanenko Rapid Open there were two games between GMs that ended decisively in less than 25 moves. Shirov was on the winning side of both.

I am struck by how easy he made it look to take down these GMs, without really doing anything special. They just miscalculated and Shirov took full advantage with some precise play. The clock is a factor, but I doubt either of his victims were in time trouble when they made their mistakes.

Here Shirov plays an Advance against the French and Black seems to be playing fine up until the 17th move and suddenly one tactical oversight ends the game quickly:

Here Shirov starts off playing a Rossolimo against the Sicilian and then he moves back into Open Sicilian territory with 5.d4!? His opponent responds well, and even starts attacking along the h-file, but when he slips up Shirov pounces.

Such tactical oversights are extremely difficult to completely avoid. You would have to literally check-every-move (CEM) your opponent can make at every turn, and that is just not possible with time constraints as they are with tournament play. To help mitigate the risk, you can develop an intuition for when it is a good idea to use CEM, and only adopt it when the position demands it. For example, in highly tactical positions or critical moments. There are routine moves, and there are moves where accuracy is important and getting it right could effect the outcome of a game. Spending more time considering your alternatives at these key moments is justified. I guess in the case of these games, these GMs’ needed to do more checking at certain moves, but unfortunately for them, they didn’t. Hats off to Shirov for demonstrating the flaws in their plans so clinically.

Angus James 

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Sometimes it is Better to be Lucky Than Good

This game was my last game in this section to finish. My opponent is from England. My opponent kept declining my draw offers because he thought that he had a better pawn structure.

I was, once again, mislead by the chess engines into playing an inferior line and could have lost the endgame if my opponent found the winning idea on move number 41. Instead, he moved his King in the wrong direction and then agreed to a draw.

I ended up with an even score in this section which netted me third place. Although I have won several Walter Muir sections, and these are played on the ICCF server, this third place finish is my best result so far in an international section. The Walter Muir sections are for players in the USA only and I am not allowed to use chess engines in those events.

On move number 6 White captures on c6. This gets me out of what I wanted to play, but I usually do OK with it as Black.

Although White grabs some space in the Center with his pawns on e5 and f4, he leaves his King a bit naked. I was never able to take advantage of that, though.

On move number 15 both players still have their kings in the Center and neither one can castle. I never did get to castle my King.

On move number 27 I pinned White’s Bishop to his King. After some fancy moves we traded off some minor pieces and rooks, but I never got an advantage out of it. On move number 28 I got convinced by Houdini 3 that the line that I played was better than the one that I wanted to play. I now think that the other line that I rejected was better.

On move  number 36 I was up a doubled pawn. I also had two passed pawns. Even so, I was unable to win.

Mike Serovey

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Quality Over Quantity

Every chess player wants to improve at chess and for that we already have books suggested by coaches, playing games, doing tactical exercises, endgames etc etc. Yet I have observed a few things among the people who are working hard but failed to improve as much as they might have wanted to or deserved. What are the reasons? I will try to answer.

Here is a position:

Looking at the position you might be wondering what is new in it? It is the Lucena position. It can be won by building a bridge and most of the players know this very well. But how many of you really know that how to reach this position? Are there any rules which can be used? What are the exceptions? My point is that rather than reading too much it’s better to learn few things but try to master them. Quality is always better than quantity.

Now following this example let’s say you have learned everything that has been discussed above for this position. Yet in practical games you don’t reach it for a long time so there are more chances that you forget the ideas/rules. So repetition is a must, but it is often ignored. If I talk about myself, I have read many books but haven’t repeated the process, and I can see that this accumulated knowledge is wiped out with time, not completely but partially.

Accordingly we should look at developing a strong bedrock of knowledge rather than trying to learn lots of new things all the time. And this is achievable if you focus on knowing a few things perfectly and then revise them periodically so that they’re never forgotten.

Ashvin Chauhan

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Amateur Versus Master – Game Five

This game is from the final round of the 2011 Golden Knights Correspondence Chess Championship. Because John and I agreed to email our moves to each other instead of using snail mail, this game finished well ahead of the other ones in this section. The rest of my games in this section are still in the openings or are transitioning to the middle games.

John is the lowest rated opponent that I have in this section. I lost playing the Black side of the Benko Gambit. This loss, combined with a few other ones, has convinced me to stop playing the Benko Gambit in correspondence chess. I used to win whenever my opponent fully accepted my gambit. Lately, I have been losing whenever White shoves that passed pawn down my a file!

I am the only non master in this section. Therefore, I have no delusions of grandeur about winning this section. I am simply trying to get an even score and this loss will not help me any.

On move number 6 I decided to change up my usual move order because I was hoping to confuse my opponent and thus gain a psychological advantage. This almost worked. John did get confused a little, but I lost anyway.

Whenever White allows Black to capture the Bishop that is on f1 White gives up the right to castle. This is where Black gets his compensation for the sacrificed pawn. I am no longer able to keep my advantage in this variation.

Black completes his basic development on move number 11 and then White begins his assault by moving that passed a pawn down my throat. I still need to find Black’s best reply to that.

By move  number 14 Black is  bringing his rooks and knights over to the Queenside to launch his counter attack. White is going to break open the Center.

On move  number 15 White anchors a Knight on b5 and this Knight creates problems for me for quite a while afterwards.

Looking back at move number 16, I now doubt that trading my fianchettoed Bishop on c3 was the best move for Black. Allowing White to get a pawn on c4 created many problems for me. From move number 21 on Black is losing.

Mike Serovey

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What To Do About Gambits

Speedy development is often worth the investment of a pawn in the opening. Examples include the Smith-Morra Gambit of the Sicilian 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 when White has a very promising initiative for the pawn that often brings dividends. Devotees of this line can become highly attuned to its nuances. If that is the case you have to ask yourself as Black whether taking them on in their most familiar territory is the most intelligent thing to do. You might decide it is better to avoid it than to try to refute it. Even if you like spending many an hour with opening books, there is no substitute for hours of practice playing the line over and over again – which White will of course be doing. Perhaps Smith-Morra Gamiters’ would find the Caro-Kann or the French Defence, or something else, really annoying. If so, play that against them! It is wise to get your opponent out of their familiar territory.

This is the sort of thing that can be considered if you know your opponent and you’re playing them in an over-the-board game. Of course, if someone plays a gambit against you in a correspondence game and you are allowed to use software for help, then that is a different matter. For example, silicon monsters nowadays are less impressed with the Smith-Morra than we humans are. Below is one of my own correspondence games against a line of the Smith-Morra that I would have found difficult to play against over-the-board. But, with assistance from HIARCS, I found it easier to deal with. It takes a long time, but eventually White’s initiative dissipates and then it is all about whether Black can convert the ending. The knight and pawns ending was particularly pleasant to play for Black. If you would like to play some correspondence chess online, try FICGS – The Free Internet Correspondence Games Server.

Angus James 

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