Category Archives: Valer Eugen Demian

“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

Boxing Day Challenge

“A computer once beat me at chess, but it was no match for me at kick boxing”
Emo Philips

One day I stumbled over this doozy and it kept me hooked for a while. You have to admit the position is intriguing and it is hard to let go once you see it. In a way it is kind of like a Boxing Day deal; you get your eyes on it and you have to have it. Let’s see if you can get this deal done: White to move and draw!

It starts easy, doesn’t it? Those 2 pawns must take care of themselves with their king poorly placed near the a8-corner. Of course losing one of them (the e5-pawn is under attack) leads to losing both and then the game is over. One idea could be to bring the king over and that can’t be done right away because the pawns drop (see line A). Hmm, a logical follow up is to have the pawns take care of themselves for a little while and once that is accomplished, white can try bringing the king over. After 1. f7 Rf8 2. e6 … those little buggers can hurt in a hurry; Black’s reply 2… b6 is forced and now we have achieved what we wanted: the White pawns stay on the board longer.

Bringing the White king over looks now like a must. The White pawns are in a Mexican standoff with Rf8 and the king has only one move to play 3. Kb7 … Black of course does the same 3… Kc5 and here is the turning point. I got stuck with the idea of bringing the king over all the way and realized the b6-pawn would win the game for Black after the rook sacrifices itself for those 2 White pawns (see line B). That was one nasty dilemma. The moves seemed all good so far with no alternatives. I left it alone for a number of days. It is always a good idea to reset when you get stuck, leave the challenge on the side and clear your mind. You can come back to it after a few minutes of doing something else or thinking of something different. The challenge still lingers in the back of your mind, but you can return to it fresh and flexible to approach it from a different angle.

What else can White think about using to save the draw after 3… Kc5? The pawns can’t move and bringing the king over loses. Can you think of anything useful here? If you can’t, have a beer or coffee or simply look out the window for a bit. Now get back to it from a fresh angle. The seventh rank is the one helping the rook capture those pawns. You can think about vacating it with your king and could not do it before; now you can. It seems completely counter intuitive and losing since now the Black king is closer and after 4. Ka6 Kd6 (see line C) Black wins those pawns and the game. So much for a fresh angle, eh? If you resist the temptation to turn on the engine and show what you have missed or can’t see, I commend you! You will be rewarded. The solution is right there in front of you and you have all that you need to figure it out. Give it another shot and do not scroll down to see the solution. How can you use all that we have figured out so far?

  • The 2 White pawns are barely hanging in there before being lost
  • The White king can’t come closer to help them out
  • The seventh rank must be vacated by the White king

So, did you figure it out? White reaches a forced draw because the alternative would be to win the game. Enjoy the solution!

Valer Eugen Demian

Two Rooks on the Seventh

Nimzowitsch was one of the first ones to highlight the power of two rooks on the seventh rank in his famous book “My System” published in 1925. Many a player are reminded of it time and time again or are happy to have it as a resource to draw or win their games. This month I got a first hand reminder during one of my online games. It is not that I have forgotten about it, but I simply overlooked it and lost half a point in the process. Lesson 24, level 4 of our app will get a new addition to the existing collection of puzzles on this subject. Let’s see the game together:

Do not dismiss the potential of two rooks on the seventh. Contrary to the popular belief the purpose for such rooks is not to checkmate the opponent or even win the game on the spot. Their purpose is to use their dominance and gain material advantage one can further use to win the game; in our case their purpose was to save half a point for white after a dubious opening and some poor play. Next time I will be far more reluctant to find exceptions (are there any?…) where those rooks on the seventh won’t help.

Valer Eugen Demian

Wanna be an English Trapper?

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”
George Santayana

Funny how the past becomes important as we grow older. Some moments we remember immediately, others pop up at the right moment or even when we least expect it. Chessplayers have a good memory and that is an important ingredient in getting better. Another important thing is studying “traps and zaps”, expression used by Bruce Pandolfini in his popular book “Chess Openings: Traps and Zaps” from 1989. If you do not have it, you can always create your own from past games you played or have studied. Here is one of mine from the time I was in grade 7:

The English Opening is again popular these days, but was not so much at that time. I liked it because it allowed me to surprise my opponents expecting mostly 1. e4 or 1. d4. I have won many a game because of this. Do you think this trap is too simple or easy to see? You could be right now that you saw it. Hopefully you will not have it done to you from now on; it is not a nice feeling to lose that fast. All I can say is the trap functions today as efficient as it did back then. Quite a few of my students are using it too. It is also only one of more the position offers against unaware opponents. Here is another one played by one of my students a few years back:

Lessons 8 and 9, level 4 of our app have a few more useful traps and zaps in the English. The beauty of it is having the opportunity to add more examples as more unsuspecting victims fall for them. One of my former students managed to finish top 10 in boys U8 at the World Youth Chess Championship in Vietnam 2008 by playing the English exclusively with the White pieces; while he could not collect pieces with his traps at that level, he got pawns and superior positions he converted into invaluable points later on in those games. What more do you need? I will end this teaser article with one of my latest uses of a trap from a game I played online a couple of weeks ago. It was the game inspiring me to write this article. Hope you enjoyed it!

Valer Eugen Demian

The Wrong Rook (2)

“We are our choices”
Jean-Paul Sartre

More than a year ago I wrote an article on the same subject. You can review it here and that could help you figure out the solution to this puzzle as well.

You could say “But this one has 2 extra pawns in it”, so let’s look into why those pawns are on the board. The position has equal material. Re3, Re2 and Rb3 are in a standoff, all being under attack one way or another. An exchange leads to a simple draw since both pawns can either do damage or be captured as shown. In the same time Black’s rook battery along the 3rd rank protects its king from being checkmated and keeps an eye on the f6-pawn.

You might get the feeling in the beginning those pawns are important. Both of them are passed and on the 6th rank. The White king is not in the a3-pawn square, while the Black king is in the f6-pawn square (please review lesson 26, level 3 of our app). The a3-pawn cannot advance at the moment; the f6-pawn can and Black could catch it by moving either the rook or its king. If Black wants to catch it with its rook (1. f7 Rf3), it has to consider Rb3 is under attack and would be lost. That means the only move it really has is 1. f7 Kg7 Next we should look at what White can do about its pawn. Defending it 1. f7 Kg7 2. Rf2 Kf8 leads nowhere fast, so what about promoting it?

Now we have reached a similar situation with the other puzzle. White has sacrificed its pawn and all it has left is to attack the king. Should it do it with 1. Rf2+ …, 1. Rf1+ … or it does not matter? If the king goes toward the h8-corner, White wins no matter what because like in the other puzzle Black loses a rook. We also see in the process why the a3-pawn is needed, as the White king uses it to hide from checks (see line A). Now we look at what happens if the Black king goes in the center and we could observe quickly the difference between having a rook on e2 or not (see line B). Going back to the main line, we conclude it matters which rook is used to check with; one move leads to a draw and the other one to a win. Hope you have enjoyed it.

Valer Eugen Demian

Dependency on Technology

“While we’re all very dependent on technology, it doesn’t always work”
Bill Gates

I had a busy prior week and weekend. My next article was in a preliminary stage, waiting for a window of free time when I could take it from there and finish it. I woke up on Sunday morning, got ready and turned on the laptop. The operating system would not start; tried it a few times with no luck. I had to use a different computer to google for computer repair shops in our area and there were not many places open on Sunday. Drove to a couple listed as open and found them closed. I dropped by a big electronics store with a Geek Squad: they would take it in, but could not look at it today; their expectation was they would hold onto it for at least 2-3 days. That is unacceptable these days. It puzzles me how in a big city like Vancouver one cannot find computer services on Sunday unless you know someone personally. We are all dependent on our computers and other devices yet when they don’t work, there’s always a reason why they can’t be fixed in time. What is more upsetting is when the reasons for not being able to fix them in time do not even begin to involve if or what is wrong with the said device.

This experience has forced me to adapt. It is the first time when my newer laptop has done something like this and a lot of information I have on it is not accessible right now. Writing another article all of a sudden is not exactly an easy thing to do. I got the idea to make a connection between my situation, chess, engines and internet, resulting it these thoughts. A vast majority of chess lovers are increasingly dependent on technology. If today there’s an internet glitch or ideally we won’t be able to get engine help, how many could actually play the game at the same level with the one when everything is normal? Can you do that? If you can, you are in good shape. This means the game has helped you reach a point where you have developed habits and skills you can use at anytime and in many aspects of your life.

I remember in my childhood the moment when my father decided I should start learning/ doing chess on a daily basis to get used to having an intellectual activity. It is possible I might not have a definite answer when I say using the technology today is not the same thing. We cannot have an app for every life challenge we encounter. We need to be able to use our brain as the best app we have and technology could be a very useful tool in optimizing this process. A tool will never be able to think and decide for us no matter how advanced it is. Years ago the main challenge was to find the written information (if there was any) and the process was long and arduous. Would those used to google for anything today believe those days existed? There is an ocean of information out there and countless databases with millions of games at our fingertips. Does this mean they are of more use to us in times of need? I say choosing the right information is at least as long and arduous of a process as we experienced in the past; moreover there’s a risk of being shallow and never find it firstly because it feels too simple to dip into the ocean and secondly because we might have not developed the habit of doing it properly.

Chess has been seriously influenced by engines and databases. Gambits have fallen first, defending is so much better than it ever was, while attacking at the right time is devastating; still there is enough to learn from this game for everyone. We can still improve and play the game without any of the technology around us when it decides not to work. This is not happening at the speed of a mouse click for sure, nor in a month of studying chess like some have tried. We need to make a conscious effort time and time again for it to work; one way to do it is to start playing one game a week without any engine help, then maybe one game a day and when all is ripe, play without any engines and enjoy it. It is like a detox cure. I have started my cure a while ago and I can tell you it feels better and better. Would you join me? You won’t regret it!

Valer Eugen Demian

Sacrifice for Beginners

“Sacrifice (definition) = a move that gives up material to gain a positional or tactical advantage”

For a long time my first reaction when someone played a sacrifice against me was to feel shivers down my spine. How could I not see this? The sacrifice must be correct, right? The opponent knows what its doing. This of course put me in a defensive position and because of that the sacrifice was already successful. It did not let me look at it with the right frame of mind. How could I stand a chance to play my best against it? I thought about this as I was preparing my new lesson for the current level 2 group of students. We were covering basic mistakes in the opening and punishing those require more often than not one or more sacrifices. I know that for beginners the value of pieces is like the 10 Commandments and because of that reason alone, seeing sacrifices in their games is very rare. This means no chances to punish basic opening mistakes. Let’s take on the challenge to rectify this situation.

We were looking at the following game (also included in level 2, lesson 2 of our chess app):

The theme for this one is called “Cannot play one against all” and it is a hot topic for beginners. After reaching the position above, I could see their puzzled eyes looking at it and could tell they did not understand what was going on. I jumped at the opportunity to introduce them to the topic of sacrifice and did my best to make it as simple as possible.

  • Step 1: We looked at the position and observed Black had an extra pawn and with the last move it was threatening to win either a rook or a queen for the knight
  • Step 2: The first try when facing a sacrifice is to see what happens if you accept it. We played the best line we could think of starting with 6. Kxf2 … The conclusion was that accepting the sacrifice was not a good idea
  • Step 3: We started to look for alternatives and one target we have been talking about (the f7-weak spot) was already attacked by our Bc4; with one attacker and one defender (Ke8), we needed to bring into the action another attacker. This is how the move Rh1-f1 was discovered: it attacked Nf2 and once the knight would move away, we could have a second attacker on f7
  • Step 4: At this moment we had a closer look to see if there was a better move also bringing our rook on f1; O-O became evident within seconds
  • Step 5: Bringing the rook on the f-file meant sacrificing the queen. We have a rule of thumb saying “Sacrifice your Queen only if you can checkmate or get the queen back and then some”
  • Step 6: It was easy to see we could not get our queen back, so the class had the pleasure to look for checkmate

Hope you have figured out the solution by now. Enjoy it below and hope our quest to find it has been instructive!

Valer Eugen Demian

The Mongolian Tactic Origin

“I will not return alive if I do not defeat the Jin army!”
General Muqali

Not long ago I wrote an article about the Mongolian tactic. You can review it HERE
At the end of it I asked the chess community to help find how this came about and got its name. I am happy one of our fellow chess enthusiasts was kind enough to send me more information. Thank you Martin for sharing it! I have done a copy and paste of his message below for everyone’s benefit. One final quick note before passing the floor to Martin; the Mongolian player’s name mentioned by Yasser was Lhamsuren Myagmarsuren. Hope you will find this useful and please keep your feedback coming!

“This is a short reply to the article “The Mongolian Tactic” where you have asked for the actual origin of the name “Mongolian Tactic” for the tactic you have shown in the same article. As you have pointed out GM Yasser Seirawan states that the name comes from Bobby Fischer. Here is a teaching video on YouTube where he explaines the origin of the name (from Minute 34:30 to 40:30).
Spoiler from here (better watch the video as an explanation because of the amusing story): in a tournament Bobby Fischer was facing some Mongolian player with a very difficult name. After asking multiple times for the name he simply wrote “Mongolian” on his table. This guy was the one who used this tactic in there matches. Greetings, Martin”

Valer Eugen Demian

Inexplicable Endgame Play

“If you are weak in the endgame, you must spend more time analyzing studies; in your training games you must aim at transposing to endgames, which will help you to acquire the requisite experience”
Mikhail Botvinnik

This week’s endgame comes from a voting match we played as part of one Canadian team during an 8 months period. The team componence (46 players for us versus 6 players for them) seemed to favor us by quite a bit, still getting things organized as a team with so many players is not easy to do. We are getting better at it as time goes on. We have far less “drive-by” players (those who just vote for any move they think of, even moves never discussed) and we have managed to prove to our regular team members that discussing our options before we start voting actually pays off. In this particular game we managed to overcome a so-so opening and shaky middle game play into the following endgame position (White to move):

The general consensus here was that despite the extra pawn, we had no chance to win at correct play. I was one of the members interested to offer a draw, but the team decided to play on. It turned out to be a very interesting experience. Do you agree the position should lead to a draw at correct play? Here are a few reasons for it:

  • The extra pawn is doubled and even if they are center pawns, as long as they stay doubled they are of little use
  • The double rook endgames are far more tactical because of the existing fire power and both kings need to be protected
  • The important h4/h5 pawn moves have already been played, establishing clear boundaries on what those pawns can do
  • White’s plan should be very simple here: take control of the 2nd rank and put pressure on the e5-pawn with both rooks to impede its advancement

Instead of the above White chose firstly to bring his rook onto the 7th rank. Of course an (un)written rule says the best position for any rook is on the 7th rank. We actually have the opportunity to see how any of these rules cannot be applied without making sure the situation on the chessboard warrant them.

The above mistake was important but not decisive. Letting us take control of the 2nd rank, the same idea they tried at the wrong time, made absolutely no sense. That also meant we now had a clear path toward winning. Some may say this second mistake allowed us to win it; in reality they were both connected. The remaining of the endgame was more or less technical. Enjoy the winning line and hope you will learn a bit from it. You never know when your opponents might offer you the opportunity to punish their endgame mistakes in inexplicable fashion.

Valer Eugen Demian

“What say you?” The 1 minute challenge (7)

“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: which of the three possible king moves wins the game for White?

This is a very difficult endgame; if you are able to figure out the guiding ideas and guess the correct move, consider yourself a strong player. My take on it:

  • Material is equal
  • White has a chance to win because of the better position of its king
  • It is easy to see White could win the a-pawn, bringing the position into a basic king and pawn versus king endgame
  • If White captures Black’s pawn with its own pawn, key is to hold control of the critical b7-square: if White has it, it is a win; however if Black has it, it is a draw (lesson 19, level 2 of our chess app)
  • If White captures Black’s pawn with its king, it has to place the king in front of the b-pawn in order to win (lesson 19, level 2 of our chess app)
  • On the Black side of it its king should either consider taking control of the b7-square (see above) or attack and capture White’s b-pawn to reach a draw

With the above in mind, we have to choose a move. Which one did you pick? Have a look at the solution and go over it with care to understand all the twists and turns.
The highlight: white uses the opposition to force the black King all the way to the h2-square. That saves the b-pawn, allows white to capture the a-pawn and reach a won endgame. It is kind of amazing how two simple concepts combined together can create such a complicated puzzle, isn’t it? Enjoy!

Valer Eugen Demian