Category Archives: Valer Eugen Demian

ChessEssentials, Level 1

‘We raise Champions!”

We all remember our first steps in chess. Our first lesson about the chessboard and pieces probably came from our grandparents, parents or friends; if you were the curious kind maybe you saw someone play the game and asked what was that about. Depending on your age I bet the chessboard looked way too big and pieces way too many to control. How did you feel about the rules, eh? Did you spend a lot of time confused if indeed only white moves first or either can move if the opponent agreed on it? It seemed only fair to ask, isn’t it? I remember having a hard time convincing a number of beginners you were not allowed to start with 2 moves in a row; for some reason the local folklore had that as an important rule. How about the en-passant rule? That gives headaches even to average club players…

I was one of the lucky ones to have my father Valer Vasile Demian (IM-ICCF, national correspondence chess champion of Romania in 1968) as a mentor. Our chess library is today of a decent size and quality because of his passion. I got to learn chess bit by bit using invaluable books (collectibles today) he bought or magazines he was a regular subscriber for. The Eastern block had access to high quality magazines from former USSR (Shakmatny bulletin, 64) or former DDR (East Germany). They still contain buried chess treasures today (more about that in future articles). This is how I was exposed to the books written by G M Lisitsin. His book on endgames is IMO the best endgame book ever written and we were lucky to have it translated in Romanian (1960 edition). My father told me he read the book one summer when he was sick and by the end of it his chess understanding and strength increased by at least one category level. I did the same and found out I got the same jump. Years later I started to incorporate this into my chess teaching materials and proved this to be the case over and over again. We take pride in our students knowing the endgames from early on and playing them well above average.

These days the internet has radically changed the way we communicate and keep ourselves informed. The younger generations have apps at their fingertips and use them with ease. Of course there’s the danger of forgetting our brains are still the best apps we can use and here is where our mission comes from. Back in 2012 I have decided to create and offer a chess app based on our method, one containing the minimum knowledge a club player would need to be able to play at a solid candidate master level by the end of level 6. Of course there are tens of thousands of apps out there, many of them offering chess content in one form or another. It is not easy to make yourself visible and this is one reason why I am writing a series of articles about it. My hope is more players will see the benefit of checking our app out.

The app is called “ChessEssentials“, it was released in 2013 and it is available at the iTunes store. It has 6 levels out of which 4 are available right now (March 2017). I am quite a bit behind in my original optimistic schedule; in that one all 6 levels should have been available by now. Lately I have concentrated on doing a major app upgrade together with my programmer (released on Mar 17th, 2017), as well as working hard on putting together level 5 (about 60% done). It is not easy to do that in your spare time when the goal is to provide value to those choosing to download it.

Level 1 (reference ratings 0-400) is free and it focuses on the basic rules of the game. It contains 18 lessons, 18 puzzle sets and 18 tests paired as “lesson X + puzzle set X + test X”; the idea is to learn a chess concept presented in a lesson, practice it with the respective puzzle set and verify it with the test. All lessons, puzzles sets and tests are numbered, so it is easy to identify how they are paired together. The lessons have a description of the concept being presented, giving the user the opportunity to choose whichever one they want in any order. This latest update includes an improved monitoring feature showing how much the user has completed percentage wise. Another improvement is to allow the user to go back and redo or solve unsolved puzzles by going directly to the first unsolved one (skipping those already solved) and so on. A completed lesson, puzzle set or test would get a check mark on the respective list, while an unfinished one would get a dark circle for an easier identification. The main idea behind programming the app was to make it as simple and intuitive to navigate as possible.

  • Lessons 1-9 deal with the chessboard, how the pieces move and the original position. They include how to write down the chess moves and offer a particular feature for this level only: when you tap on a piece to move it, all its possible moves are displayed on the chessboard. This helps visualise them for the selected piece at a moment when the chessboard might look way too big and a Bh1-a8 move might as well be from one continent to another! We were all in those shoes and see it every day with our new students.
  • Lessons 10 covers the basic mates queen + king vs king and rook + king vs king.
  • Lesson 11 covers the basic mates 2 bishops + king versus king, bishop + knight vs king, 2 knights + king versus king + pawn (to show it is possible) and one sample king +2 pawns vs king. All are mates in 1, except one mate in 2. These are fundamental endgame positions a player needs to know for an obvious reason: we need to know what the target is. The fact we have the minimum number of pieces on the chess board for the checkmate to be possible, helps learning how to keep track of them.
  • Lesson 12 deals with the stalemate concept.
  • Lesson 13 with deals with other draw types such as perpetual, 3 fold repetition, lack of mating material, 50 moves rule and draw by agreement. It is important to know them as soon as possible to have a clear idea how any game could end.
  • Lessons 14-18 deal with 1 move checkmate from any position, checkmate delivered by a queen (#14), rook (#15), bishop (#16), knight (#17) and pawn (#18). Here the idea is to make you aware any piece (except the king) can checkmate at anytime if the right conditions/ positions are present; in other words any player must pay attention to the board constantly from the first to the last move!

Below I have chosen a few simple puzzles for better understanding. Please select each puzzle from the pull-down menu on top of the diagram.

Conclusion: level 1 teaches the rules and the object of the game. This way a beginner learns what to play for and it is less likely it will wander around aimlessly in their games. Hope you find this presentation interesting and the app worth giving it a try!

Valer Eugen Demian

Endgame play (2)

“Play the opening like a book, the middle game like a magician and the endgame like a machine”
Rudolf Spielmann

GM Susan Polgar is one of the best chess teachers in the World. Every day you can learn something new from her either by following her chess posts on social media or by studying her chess career. Every puzzle posted on her account gives the opportunity to learn something new or practice important concepts. I have already discussed the importance of the endgame a bit in a previous article; you can review it HERE

Today we look at another king and pawns endgame, this one courtesy of Susan. Have a look at it (White to move) and give it a try before reading on. It is important to know and play the endgame like a machine, without letting it play for you, so no engines please! Your brain is still very powerful and you need to use it.

Let’s follow the same pattern: test your instinct and write down what you think is the result of this endgame. Good, now we should identify existing elements in this position giving us clues about what we should do:
1. The extra pawn White has is doubled. This drastically reduces its value and it is not clear yet if its presence helps or not; a first thought might be the f4-pawn could offer an extra tempo? We will get back to it later
2. The opposition is of major importance in these endgames. Here the kings are far away from one another, so the most likely opposition to consider is going to be the distant opposition (3 or 5 squares between the kings). Do you remember why there is no 7 squares distant opposition? Just checking…
3. The pawns are blocked; that means White’s king must capture the f6-pawn to have a shot at winning. Remember that king and pawn versus king has a good chance to win if the strong king gets in front of its pawn
4. Kf3 has 2 ways to try approaching the f6-pawn; going in the center or going on the king side; now:
– going in the center gives Black a chance to use the distant opposition and hold the fort (see line A). It is easy to see and helpful to do a bit of blindfold play: 1. Ke4 Ke8 (distant opposition 3 squares apart) 2. Kd5 Kd7 (opposition). There is no other king maneuver here for white to trick black such as using the corresponding squares
– going to the king side is worth a closer look (see main line). It is obvious White gets deep into Black’s position before Black can counter, so here should be the break we are looking for
5. Doing some blindfold play on the king side we can see: 1. Kg4 Ke8 2. Kh5 Kf7 3. Kh6 Kf8 and here we should be able to win the pawn
6. Before moving on to see the solution, there is one more thing we could look at to get full value: still wondering if the existence of the f4-pawn is relevant or not (see point #1 above)? Do you have an idea by now or simply ignored it? No worries, I have included that in the solution (see line B).

Now we have all we need to figure out the solution. If you are very confident at this point, go over the solution to verify your thoughts; however if you are still unsure, go over it carefully with the purpose to understand it.

Hope you liked it. If you have any games and/ or positions you would like me to look at, please do not hesitate to let me know. I will gladly include them in my column for everyone’s benefit. Looking forward to your messages!

Valer Eugen Demian

100 Chess Tests, Basic Tactics

“100 Teste de sah, Procedee tactice elementare”/ “100 Chess tests, Basic tactics”, ISBN 978-606-8298-58-0, Editura Unirea – Alba Iulia is the third book in Romanian by MF Marius Ceteras (ROU), a follow up on the previous two very popular ones for beginner and intermediate players. His books are recognized by Romanian Ministry of Education and are officially used for teaching chess in schools across Romania and Republic of Moldova. The success of those books can be measured by the public positive response and desire for more of the same: they asked Marius to help them get more puzzles for practicing all the concepts presented. This third book is in response to that request.

The book is divided by 3 levels of difficulty plus one final review chapter and it is suitable for players rated around 1200 to 1600. Although it is written in Romanian, this book can be used by anyone rather easily. In today’s day and age the online free translation services solve decently any language barrier, including here for the rather minimal use of Romanian language in the description of each test. The puzzles are simply illustrated with their item number and either letter A (if White moves first) or N (if Black moves first). The solutions for all puzzles are located at the end of the book and checking them requires minimum effort even if you don’t know Romanian. The Romanian chess symbols for the pieces are (you can also Google them):
C = Cal (Rou) = Knight (Eng)
N = Nebun (Rou) = Bishop (Eng)
T = Turn (Rou) = Rook (Eng)
D = Dama (Rou) = Queen (Eng)
R = Rege (Rou) = King (Eng)
An English speaking reader might get mixed up at the beginning by the use of “N” or “R” (symbols for different pieces in English), but with a bit of practice things will work out well. I still get mixed up occasionally when translating between Romanian and English; this comes even after using both languages for many years!…

There are 100 tests of 6 puzzles each for a total of 600 puzzles. IMO this is a minimum number of puzzles any club player should solve on their own in order to get better. The puzzles are grouped by the tactical procedure required to solve them, as well as by level of difficulty. This aspect of the level of difficulty cannot be stressed enough! The internet is full with countless puzzles and sites offering puzzle solving; where the majority of them fall short is having those puzzles logically arranged in a meaningful and helpful progression. It is of very little use (sometimes no use at all) to try to solve a puzzle suitable for a 1600 level when you are under 1000. If you don’t even realize the puzzle is not suitable for you, there is a danger of turning an engine on to solve it for you; in that case you would learn nothing.

Levels 1, 2 and 3 have 30 tests for a total of 180 puzzles each, while the final review chapter has 10 final tests for a total of 60 puzzles. Marius personalizes all tests with a couple of nice local touches: all of them are from games played by Romanian players from Romania and Republic of Moldova; also their skill level varies from promising juniors to Grand Masters. There are tests where a tactical procedure is revisited as part of the same or a different level; the distinction between them is made by labeling them with letters such as: (A) for the first test and (B) for the second test.
Example I: level 1, test 6 deals with the “discovered attack” and it is marked (A), while test 7 also deals with the same subject and it is marked (B).
Example II: along the same idea level 2 has test 34 about “Attraction” (A), test 44 “Attraction” (B), while level 3 has test 66 “Attraction” (C) and test 76 “Attraction” (D).
This is a bit confusing and I am sure it could be improved in future. The number of tests per each tactical procedure has been chosen based on a statistical analysis of the frequency each might appear in a game, as well as how complex the procedure is. I believe this also is an important qualitative aspect of the book.

The solution of each puzzle could lead to the following possible outcomes for the side moving first:
– forced checkmate
– winning material advantage
– winning attack on the oppposing King
– won endgame
– winnning position
– draw if that is the best possible outcome
This book also covers the following tactical procedures not included in the previous two books; for each one I have added a sample puzzle to better illustrate what to expect:
1. The X-Ray attack (level 1, test 18)

2. Taking control of a square (level 2, tests 68 and 78)

3. The intermediate move (level 2, tests 69 and 79)

4. The counterattack (level 2, tests 70 and 80)

Other suggestions for improvements could be related to the layout: for each diagram it might be sufficient to have the lines and rows marked only on one side of the board (instead of both) to save space; also instead of using the letters A (if White moves first) or N (if Black moves first), it could be simpler to use an empty circle (if White moves first) or a dark circle (if Black moves first). It would go along the Informator type of layout and make it more appealing to a wider audience. The book can be purchased in local bookstores if you happen to visit Romania or online HERE. Hope you found this short review useful plus the offer interesting chess-wise (quality of material) and price-wise (18 Lei is approx 4.21 USD or 3.98 euro). An interesting interview with Marius will follow up in another article.

Valer Eugen Demian

The Chess Connection

“Pay attention, we’re gonna ask questions later!”
Buddy “Cloudy” Russo, The French Connection

How many of you have seen The French Connection movie? Gene Hackman is front and center in it as detective Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle; together with his partner Buddy “Cloudy” Russo (Roy Schneider) they are trying to get to the main source of a drug smuggling connection. It received at the time 5 Academy Awards, including the one for Best Picture while being the first R-rated movie to win it. I highly recommend it in case you have not seen it or if you wish to see it one more time. I was too young to really enjoy the 70s, so I love watching movies and/ or videos from that time.

This past weekend (Feb 18-19) I got together with a chessfriend I have not seen in years. Dan Scoones is a strong local master, 2 times provincial champion, who’s love for chess has not diminished over the years despite a very busy professional life keeping him away from OTB. His life is a bit less hectic these days and he spends a lot of time reading top quality books. He had a spare copy of Aagaard’s “Grandmaster Preparation – Calculation” and I had to have it. We met at the local Starbucks and in no time Dan pulled a chess set and we began talking our common language: famous Soviet chess players and trainers, hedgehog system, GM Suba, Maroczy structure, Fischer learning Russian to read Lipnitsky’s book (how many know this one, eh?…), etc as well as our love for endgames. Dan is an incredible endgame player, writing a nice column “Browsing for endgames” in our provincial newsletter BCCF Bulletin available for free in pdf format. He shared with me the following endgame study, courtesy of GM Maurice Ashley a common Facebook friend of ours. Try to solve it on your own, without engine help!

It is really cool to know you are looking at the same position Maurice, Hikaru (Nakamura) and alikes took the time to enjoy. It is a chess connection we are all blessed to have as a community, a connection dating back to the first chess manuscripts. Of course the experience is more exciting when the players involved are your contemporaries. Let’s proceed looking at the position to identify helpful clues in figuring out the solution. Do remember a simple rule I learned many years ago from a dear chess composer (Leo Mozes) in my home city:
“Every piece on the chess board has a purpose”
The list of clues could include but are not limited to:

  • Ne6 defensive purpose – to limit the action of Qf5
  • Ne6 attacking purpose – must be there for a deadly fork on the f8-, g7- or f5-squares
  • the f6-pawn – an unfortunate blocker also limiting the action of Qf5
  • Qf5 – another unfortunate blocker of Kg6 from running toward the center
  • Kf8 – helping Qe7 along the 7th rank; covering all squares around Kg6 should be a goal

If you found extra ones, you did a very good job!

Did you find the solution yet? I am happy I saw the first move, but did not see Hikaru’s move 2. I went for the popular choice and there is no shame in that. Here is the complete solution:

Be mindful you are part of the chess connection and get involved. It is the only way to keep it alive. If you have any games and/ or positions you would like me to look at, please do not hesitate to let me know. I will gladly include them in my column for everyone’s benefit. Looking forward to your messages!

Valer Eugen Demian

Space Advantage

“A space advantage means little if there is no way to penetrate into the enemy position.”
Jeremy Silman, The Amateur’s Mind

It is very easy to throw around words like “space advantage”. One side can get that really quickly by playing aggressive or when the opponent is really shy and defensive. So you get it one way or the other; what now? It is very possible you get a bit tentative, expecting the “space advantage’ to perform some sort of miraculous voodoo and bring you closer to a win. That signals a new direction the game goes into and you should not go there. Another possibility is you get overconfident and keep on attacking, hyper extending yourself. This has been proven disastruous since the days of Alekhine and his famous defence. Have you ever played on either side of the following line? It was for a while my main weapon against the overzealous opponents, happy to have a d6-pawn and my queen trapped after only 11 moves. They never saw it coming…

Today’s game is meant to help you be confident when you get “space advantage’. Do what White did (penetrate into the enemy position) as much as possible and you will have a new weapon to use in your games.

Here is the link to the article “Bad ideas” if you wish to revisit it. What do we learn out of this game? First of all we learn that we must attack if we have the space advantage. Steinitz said:
“When a sufficient advantage has been obtained, a player must attack or the advantage will be dissipated.”
A space advantage is in most cases sufficient advantage to make you start the attack. The second thing we can learn is even if our style is a bit shy and defensive, we must find a way to give the opponent something to worry about or we stand no chance. Hope you find it useful. If you have any games and/ or positions you would like me to look at, please do not hesitate to let me know. I will gladly include them in my column for everyone’s benefit. Looking forward to your messages!

Valer Eugen Demian

Activity Versus Material

“Help your pieces so they can help you”
Paul Morphy

This past week one of my level 2 students played the following game over the internet as part of his weekly assignment. He was supposed to practice the Bishop’s Opening if facing 1… e5 and he did do his best. The game does not look like much; still I believe its value can be found a bit deeper under the surface. My student, like many other players out there, has a tough time resisting material grabbing. We all have to fight this urge to grab free stuff, so let’s not be too hard on him or them. The difference is once you go through a few disasters because of that, you learn to stay away from it.

Chess today is focused on active play and initiative. This can be worth as much as a pawn or two, depending on circumstances. Everyone can read about a piece in the center, a Rook on an open file and even more advanced concepts like under promotion or such; however it is very hard to keep in mind something as hard to grasp as those 2 concepts. I grab a piece, I can see it and feel it. What does the active play give me to help me win the game? You don’t really see those pawn(s) it is worth. It takes time and practice to seek playing like this and become confident doing it. Please go over the game and annotations:

I hope this example will count as practice instead of a few of your own games. I know people say we learn from own experiences and have also done it as well, regardless of what my parents and teachers told me; however I am happy to say age makes us wiser and I have improved the percentage of times when I actually learned from others’ mistakes. It saves a ton of time and pain, believe me. If you have any games and/ or positions you would like me to look at, please do not hesitate to let me know. I will gladly include them in my column for everyone’s benefit. Looking forward to your messages!

Valer Eugen Demian

Mednis Principles

“With major pieces (queen or rook) on the board, having bishops on opposite colors favors the side with an attack.”
Edmar Mednis

Not long ago I mentioned Mednis and his principles while annotating a voting game. You can review that article here. This time I have another nice example on how true these principles are and how they can help you decide and implement your strategy during your games. The following game has been played online with 3 days per move. It was a positional game from end to end and with my annotations I am trying to show that such games do not have to be complicated nor confusing to play.

Hope you liked it. The match was declared as won by Canada 1-0 by a shoddy team forfeit rule very early on. Both teams continued playing to the end. My other game ended in an interesting draw I might present later on. Match wise team Iran won it 281.5 – 260.5 (271 boards) even if it did not mean anything. It was and is ridiculous all players efforts on the chessboard were nullified like this. That is all I have to say about it. If you have any games and/ or positions you would like me to look at, please do not hesitate to let me know. I will gladly include them in my column for everyone’s benefit. Looking forward to your messages!

Valer Eugen Demian

Volga-Benko Gambit Line Busted (2)

One of my friends from Eastern Canada, Bob Taylor, has given me some very interesting insight after reading my previous article Volga-Benko Gambit Line Busted. He was enthusiastic about my call to help improve Black’s play for a better outcome. In this article we offer together a few ideas to get things rolling for those willing to take on this task more seriously.

Idea #1
It is probably not a good idea to play such gambit at long time controls. It works well in over the board games, especially in quick ones such as blitz or less than 1 hour per player because Black’s quick development pressures White’s position. The quicker White needs to figure out a way to deal with that pressure, the more likely it is to play less correct. In correspondence chess (or turn based chess) with 3 days or more per move, where both players can consult literature and/ or have engine support, the gambit looks very desperate and probably is.

Idea #2
The following line is interesting. Studying it might not lead to the discovery of many sample games at the beginning, but one should look further down the road after a few more moves are played:

Only after going this deep you can truly start the study of it. In the first article I mentioned briefly two sample games and now I have added them here to help your research. Please select each game from the pull-down menu on top of the diagram:

Idea #3:
The following move order looks more precise:

One thing to notice is the elimination of the 7.a7 … option for white. IMO that is a good thing for Black because being forced to take on a7 puts the a8-rook on a less desired square. A rook there is of no use later on, so moving it back or away when forced, it is going to waste a tempo. It is also important to compare middle game positions from different lines. Here is one comparison found by Bob where Black looks better in position 1. Please select each game from the pull-down menu on top of the diagram:

Hope you all find this information of interest. Thank you Bob for your contribution! If you have any games and/ or positions you would like me to look at, please do not hesitate to let me know. I will gladly include them in my column for everyone’s benefit. Looking forward to your messages!

Valer Eugen Demian

Tactics Sample

“Strategy requires thought, tactics require observation”
Max Euwe

This is an interesting puzzle because it requires astute observation to bring black the full point. It is easy to see the available 1… Qh1+ 2.Kg3 Qg2+ 3.Kh4 … How do you follow it up though? Please give it a try before reading on.

Having the move is an important advantage. It is similar with having the ball and the attack in basketball or American football. You get the opportunity to finish it with a few possible results (no score or score more or less points), depending on how you execute it. In chess the execution relies heavily on tactics and tactics are dependent on observation. We have observed right off the bat how black takes control over the light squares; White however plans to escape using the dark squares. The g6- and h6-pawns could help with that, but we must be careful how we plan this. The e7-bishop could be sacrificed for both of them, exposing Kg8 and muddying the water. This brings us to Bg7; how can we use it properly? First and foremost we must ensure offering it for free with 1… Be5+ is a Greek gift; once we do that, we are ready to piece together the right move order.

Have you solved it yet? Please read on my take on it and compare it with yours:

Did you get it right? Do you prefer the 2… Bxf4+ or 2… g5 line? Hope you will remember the weakness and strength of the bishop and the battery bishop + queen: both control only one colour. If you have any games and/ or positions you would like me to look at, please do not hesitate to let me know. I will gladly include them in my column for everyone’s benefit. Looking forward to your messages!

Valer Eugen Demian

Volga-Benko Gambit Line Busted

Wikipedia mentions about this opening:
“… Many of the world’s strongest players have used it at one time or another, including former World Champions Viswanathan Anand, Garry Kasparov, Veselin Topalov and Mikhail Tal, and Grandmasters Vassily Ivanchuk, Michael Adams, Alexei Shirov, Boris Gelfand, and Evgeny Bareev.”

Admit it, every now and then we have our urges to play like savages in the jungle. There are several gambit choices available, mostly busted and not suitable for correspondence chess play; still it is hard to resist the urge, right? I look at the above list of top and over the top players choosing Volga-Benko and it soothes the pain of losing this game. I rubbed shoulders with giants in a funny way. It is my belief this could be a good reference game for many a player from this point on.

I chose to play this game because of an urge. It is as simple as that. My partner was unknown to me before the game and got the winning lottery ticket of facing it. His play was extremely inspiring! The value of this game is enhanced by the fact both of us could and did use engine assistance. Right now white has a solid idea and plan to work with, while black will have to go back to the drawing board and find a better play than I did. Hope you will enjoy the game and annotations:

The attack beginning with 21.Nxg5!! … could be featured in any tactics book. Replay it whenever you feel the need to refresh your tactics skills. I look forward to see more games branching out from ours. If you have any games and/ or positions you would like me to look at, please do not hesitate to let me know. I will gladly include them in my column for everyone’s benefit. Looking forward to your messages!

Valer Eugen Demian