Category Archives: Valer Eugen Demian

“What say you?” The 1 minute challenge (5)

“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? Below is this week’s position, a rook and pawns endgame between players rated 2400+ FIDE. It is white to move and the quest is to decide if White can play the tactical rook sacrifice or not?

This one feels real because it is from a game instead of a study. Dhopade probably had a better understanding of the position since he played the game; still the 1 minute we have is enough time to evaluate the position and come up with a good answer. Here are my thoughts:

  • Material is equal
  • There are no passed pawns
  • Both Black pieces (king and rook) are very well placed, one attacking Rd4 and the other one the a3-pawn
  • Black is threatening to win a pawn on the queen side and create a passer
  • It becomes obvious Black is better and playing for a win
  • Reading the question again leads me to believe White did not like his position at all and wanted to do something unexpected to surprise his opponent
  • Considering a sacrifice of this magnitude means White was thinking of getting a serious return for it or the game would be lost
  • What serious return could White think of? With only pawns left on the board, the only serious return could be promoting one of them
  • Which pawn is the most likely candidate to promote? A quick glance from left to right identifies the b4-pawn (and the possible b4-b5) plus the c4-pawn (and the possible c4-c5) as options
  • In both cases Black can ignore the sacrifice and choose to deal with the pawn situation created; the difference is after 1. b5 c5 Black is in a better position than after 1. c5 b5
  • The last detail to ponder is if Ra2 can come around and cover the 8th rank in time to stop the promotion; Black would consider using the e-file or h-file for that purpose
  • Kf1 is the only one capable to defend either file, meaning it won’t be able to cover them both

Conclusion: White should not sacrifice its Rook. Please see how the game ended below:

In general a sacrifice like this smells desperation. If anyone tries it against you, the first indication is they are desperate. This should give you confidence because it is an immediate confirmation your position is much better and you should play for a win. What you need to do is figure out if you can accept it (first step) and how you would win in that case; if you are not sure and accepting it feels too risky, see what is the best way to ignore it (second step). Normally the opponent offering the sacrifice has spent a lot of time to come up with it and brushed aside (most of the times) what to do if you simply ignored it. A sacrifice like this one works better for the player offering it with little time on the clock; in the same time the option to ignore it backfires on the same player with little time on the clock because he needs to look for something else, spending time to do it and trying to not forget what he had planned when it all started.

Valer Eugen Demian

Draw Or No Draw?

“If your opponent offers you a draw, try to work out why he thinks he’s worse off”
Nigel Short

Mentioning draws in competitive chess brings up first Fischer’s approach to play for a win in every game; possibly close behind is Short’s advice, something quite popular in junior and club chess levels. Of course things are not as simple as they seem and the correct way to look at draws is to take a balanced approach, analyse the situation at hand and decide if you need to play for a draw or not. We all start playing with the intention to win; some might even know the saying:
“If it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?”
Vince Lombardi
It is however possible to look for a draw all along if the opponent is quite strong or famous. One of the latest examples in this regard is the first game between Magnus Carlsen and Bu Xiangzhi at the FIDE World Cup 2017. Bu sacrificed a piece to open up Magnus castle. All the pressure was then on Magnus who had to choose between going for a perpetual or playing ahead and proving the sacrifice was wrong. What would have you done in his shoes? It depends, right? Going back to Bu’s decision, it shows one of the right ways to go for a draw: attack the opposing King, offer a perpetual line and have a strong attack with practical chances as the other option. Time could also become a factor since the stronger player would have to use it to decide what to do and how to navigate the stormy waters of defending properly. Magnus did not handle it properly and Bu’s decision brought him a decisive win:

The second and decisive game between Bu Xiangzhi and Magnus Carlsen (same event) was another good display on how to play for a draw from the beginning. Bu played very solid and maintained a small advantage throughout the game. Magnus could not muddy the waters, nor was he given any opportunity to create a weakness in White’s position. It is very hard to play for a win with the Black pieces in such cases.

I am sure if you look in your own databases of personal games, you could find several samples where you were faced with the same dilemma: “draw or no draw?”. My next two personal examples have passed the test of time and will forever stick with me, proving that draws can also be memorable.
The first one comes from my junior years. My queen side attack was not very inspired and my piece placement proved to be unfortunate. I remember sensing something was wrong and hoping I could hold on. My opponent came up with a brilliant plan, only to follow it up with a huge blunder when all he had to do was to collect the win. That gave me the opportunity to force the draw in a unique position. See it for yourself:

The second example is also a personal milestone, representing my first result for the national team. Back in 1989 Romania managed to arrange a friendly correspondence chess match with Germany, a perennial powerhouse. A number of young and full of potential players were selected to represent both countries and I was fortunate enough to also be selected on our side. I did not know much about my opponent except his high ICCF rating at the time (2485), while I had no international rating. We were playing two games in the same time (one as White and one as Black), moves being sent back and forth by post. The pace was about 1 move a month; the postal connection between Romania and Germany was still very sketchy at the time. I got an interesting position as white in the semi-Slav and had my eyes on attacking at the first opportunity; for that purpose I was ready to take risks.
“He who takes risks can lose, he who doesn’t however will lose for sure.”
Savielly Tartakover
Black got in time trouble, played a couple of dubious moves and then decided to go for the available line leading to a draw by perpetual.

Hope I made a good case for looking at the draw option with an open mind. Today chess is played under fast time controls and holding a strong position where you could offer a draw at anytime is a strong choice for all of us. Looking at the FIDE World Cup 2017 semifinal, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had the chance to play for a draw in his Armageddon game versus GM Levon Aronian. He did not succeed, but the possibility to decide the winner of the match like this was/ is of major importance. We need to be prepared to play for a draw if the situation dictates and there is nothing wrong with that.

Valer Eugen Demian

“What Say You?” The 1 Minute Challenge (4)

“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? Below is this week’s position asking you to choose the next move for White. What is the most likely result based on your choices?

Here are my thoughts:

  • Material is equal
  • Each side has a passed pawn and both kings are within reach (see rule of the square in our app level 3, lesson 26) with a plus for the Black king being closer
  • Pushing the pawn forward 1. c5 … gives Black time to activate its king (1… Ke6 for example). White will have to capture the a-pawn, while Black will do the same with the c-pawn; after those pawns come off the board, Black’s king will be closer to capture the g4-pawn and promote its remaining f6-pawn (see basic pawn endgames in our app level 2, lesson 19). Black could win in this case
  • Based on the above idea 1. Kd4 … does not look like a good idea either because it also allows 1… Ke6. The difference in this case might be the fact the White king stays close to its c4-passer, it could capture Black’s a-pawn and come back in time to defend the passer; hmm, this is an interesting thought after all
  • Continuing along this line of thought 1. Kd5 … looks the best since it is keeping Kf7 away. The problem here is that after 1… a4 there is no other response but the forced 2. Kd4 … or the a-pawn promotes. We are now back to the previous line with the a-pawn farther down the board. This will draw the White king away and allow the Black one to activate; after the simple moves 2… Ke6 3. Kc3 Ke5 4. Kb4 Kd4 there is nothing better for each side than pushing pawns down toward promotion and a draw
  • Going back to 1. Kd4 Ke6 and using the information gathered in the 1. Kd5 … line, this must be the move to play. The a5-pawn has not moved yet and black must choose between moving it or bringing its King closer; in both cases this is good news for white

Conclusion: 1. Kd4 … gives white the best practical chances and should be played. You might be out of time by now to be able to determine if white can win this or not. The endgame has one more nice wrinkle white must consider in order to win and you can see it looking at the solution below:

What can we conclude out of it? Sometimes we might have to go ahead and play the most promising line even if we don’t see the final result for various reasons. We must keep our focus and apply our thought process along the way to uncover opportunities and achieve the best possible result. Start with the simple stuff first and build on it based on your knowledge; wherever your knowledge stops, mark it down and make sure you focus on expanding it during your home preparation. Good luck!

Valer Eugen Demian

Sicilian Alapin Surprise

“Black has only two good replies (to 2. c3) – 2… d5 and 2… Nf6”
Evgeny Sveshnikov

White chooses Sicilian Alapin to surprise Black and render its theoretical preparation useless; instead of a well prepared Dragon, Najdorf, Sveshnikov or other preferred variation, the options are drastically reduced as any good book on it will tell you. A lot of times Black is not prepared for it and this gives White a psychological advantage at move 2. The good news is Black can also do something about it and the reduced number of choices helps. In my experience as a Sicilian player, one must have a variation ready to face the Alapin.

GM Johan Salomon is another very promising young player from Norway, the land of our current World Champion. Johan is very active on social media and regularly shares with his followers interesting puzzles and games of his own or by others. I find his choices very interesting and useful, like the following game I selected to share with you. IMO all Sicilian loving players should look at it and consider it as the starting point to explore the variation and ideas behind it. Without further ado here is the game:

White chose to avoid the heavily analyzed standard Sicilian variations with 2. c3 … and Black returned the favour with 5… Bf5; add into the mix an unexpected yet very playable queen sac and Black may have a nice surprise weapon to go along with the main preparation. Hey, one thing is for sure: if you manage to unleash the queen sac, your opposition does not read my column and you have a leg up on them. Please send over your games and get even better prepared in this variation to the point where white would avoid playing the Sicilian Alapin against you!

Valer Eugen Demian

“What Say You?” The 1 Minute Challenge (3)

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer”
Bruce Lee

This article marks the 1 year anniversary since I joined Nigel and friends on this site. I am very grateful for the opportunity and would like to say:
“Thank you Nigel for bringing me on-board!”
In life we are presented with a finite number of opportunities. The twist each time is not knowing if they are the right ones, if it is the right time or simply if we are ready for it. In a way it is similar with what we face on the chessboard at every move and of course each one of us reacts differently. My approach is to take it if it feels right. Young people have a tendency of letting them pass, searching for that elusive once in a lifetime opportunity to certain success. One goes by, there will be several others coming our way, isn’t it? I was more or less the same, don’t think for a second I was not. John Snow’s words are true, don’t you think?
Theon Greyjoy “… Remember we were all young and stupid, you always knew. Every step you take is always the right step.
John Snow “It’s not. It may seem that way from the outside but I promise you it’s not true. I’ve done plenty of things that I regret…
We simply don’t know which opportunity leads to certain success and this, I argue, is the whole point of life: choose what you feel is right for you at any given moment.

I had and still have no idea where this opportunity is going to take me. I tried my writing several times in the past with more or less success and realized I liked doing it. That was helpful in deciding to take it. The weekly format forced me to adjust on the fly and look for subjects of interest on a regular basis. I had no idea this was going to happen when I made my decision. Life has a lot of twists and turns. The decisions we make lead us in different directions. The final destination might be there waiting for us no matter which way we choose and of course it is still possible we might not reach it in the end. The best we can do is give it our best shot each time.

Right now I feel this 1 minute challenge idea has value for many. In a World full of opportunities and an overwhelming amount of information at our fingertips, thinking for ourselves and making the best possible decisions is increasingly important. No engine or similar tool will help you do that. They are just tools. Yes, an engine will “show” you in a split second the possible result of a move/ decision; however it will never be able to “explain” it to you. That is what really matters and why we should continue practicing it. 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? Below is this week’s position asking you to choose the winning move from the 4 options presented (in no particular order):

Here are my thoughts:

  • It is another endgame with White having considerable material advantage
  • The White king is too far away so 1. Kg2 … or similar does not help. The rook and pawn must find a way to get it done
  • Sacrificing the rook in exchange for promoting the pawn 1. axb5 Kxa1 gives us a basic queen versus side pawn endgame (lesson 17, level 2 of our chess app); with the White king so far away, this position is a draw
  • Moving the rook decision brings a new twist: where should we move it?
  • Moving it to the king side (as far away from the king as possible) 1. Rg1 bxa4 loses the pawn and reaches a rook versus pawn endgame (lesson 18, level 2 of our chess app); with the White king so far away, this position is also a draw
  • The remaining choice 1. Ra3 Kxa3 2. axb5 … is kind of out of the box thinking, don’t you think? The main idea is to force the king in front of the a5-pawn and away from the a1 promotion square. This would allow us to promote with check and win sufficient tempi to capture the remaining pawn and win the game
  • One last detail is to go with your gut feeling in the line 1. Ra3 b4 It is possible you might be out of time by now. All you would need to calculate is if you have enough time to capture the a5-pawn and stop the b-pawn from promoting

Here is the solution:

I found the position interesting and educative. The answer was not obvious and reaching it required solid knowledge of basic endgames, plus a well thought plan. If some might think this puzzle is too easy, do not dismiss it. You can use this one or similar to warm up during home preparation; do not start with the tough ones first. Practice makes it perfect. Hope you found it useful.

Valer Eugen Demian

The Mongolian Tactic

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

I had the chance to watch live online the game between Anand and Carlsen, Sinquefield Cup, 04-Aug-2017 (full game HERE). At the end of it GM Yasser Seirawan made an interesting comment about Anand’s choice to draw the rook and pawns ending they were playing. He said the pawn push 60. g4 … was called “the Mongolian tactic” and he knew about it from a game played or witnessed by Fischer many years ago. Apparently Fischer was the first one to name it as such (or possibly “the Mongoloid tactic”). I have never heard of it before and Yasser’s comments made me extremely curious. The truth is Anand’s choice settled the game quickly, proving its effectiveness. Here is the final part of that endgame:

It could be that time in my life when studying history and bringing back into the spotlight useful information is important; another possible reason is I first fell in love with the antiquity and the first profession I thought about pursuing was archeology. Right after the game I started doing some online research with the intention of writing this article; as you can see it took me almost a month and have still not been able to find more than what you can see here. Apparently Yasser wrote an online article for “The Kibitzer” column @ The Chess Cafe website in the early 2000 (2003 or 2004?), but I could not find it anymore. What I could find though were a couple of games where “the Mongolian tactic” has been used before. The first game between Carlsen versus Yue (full game HERE) also contains a few interesting comments by a couple of users about the history of its name. Thank you “TugasKamagong” and “Shams” for sharing your knowledge!

  • TugasKamagong: “Carlsen’s 46. g4 … is a pawn maneuver that doesn’t have a name. <Shams>, posting in the tournament kibitz page King’s Tournament (2010) a few minutes after that move was played, called it “the Mongolian tactic.” I can’t find a game where a Mongolian player made this maneuver, so I guess <Shams> was alluding to some brilliant 13th-century war tactic by Genghis Khan at say, the Battle of Badger Pass. Anyway, I propose that we use <Sham>’s term and call this the Mongolian Tactic or perhaps the Mongolian Break-through…”
  • Shams: “Yes, who can forget the carnage that day at Badger Pass. I had thought Fischer used the term “Mongolian tactic” for this? Not sure where I read that.”

Here is the final part of that game where “the Mongolian tactic” brought Carlsen a full point:

“Shams” and user “Anastasia” also made a few comments about it for a game between Polgar and Almasi (full game HERE)

  • Shams: “72… g5 allows 73. g4! … what Fischer used to call the “Mongolian Tactic” (don’t ask me why.)…”
  • Anastasia: “not to be picky but Fischer actually called it the mongoloid tactic”
  • Shams: “hmm, do you know the story? google isn’t helping. I’m curious…”

These users are additional sources confirming Yasser’s recollection of the name being linked to Fischer.
Here is the final part of that game where “the Mongolian tactic” also brought Judit the full point:

Here you have it now in one place. Could anyone shed a light on this very clever piece of tactics and help set the record straight? I think it would be nice to save it for future generations as part of other pieces of wisdom in the endgame. I would be more than happy to write more on the subject and even offer this space to anyone wishing to contribute to it; until that happens, I think we could all re-learn about it and have it ready in our daily endgames. Remember the pawn cluster g4-h4-g5-h5 whenever the kingside pawns face each other and because h2-h4 and h7-h5 are important and popular moves to play in the endgame, always ponder carefully the g3-g4 or g6-g5 pawn push in the light of “the Mongolian tactic”. It is pretty devastating!

Valer Eugen Demian

“What Say You?” The 1 Minute Challenge (2)

“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? Below is this week’s position:


This week’s challenge is a king and pawns endgame with Black being up by 1 pawn. Here are my thoughts:

  • There are no passed pawns
  • At first glance the Black king seems unable to defend its isolated pawns, so my first reaction was to try line A: 1. Kg3 … and after a few seconds I realized Black wins with ease
  • The second logical try is line B: 1. Kf1 … where White has the opposition. The concept of the opposition (level 2, lessons 19 of our app) is critical in such endgames and it offers simple yet powerful guidance toward a desired result. Surprisingly here it does not work because Black uses the position of the f3-pawn and after 1… Kd2 2. Kf2 Kd3 wins the opposition back, followed by the game
  • Three of the remaining choices (1. Kg1 … 1. Kh2 … and 1. Kh3 …) do not make much sense in my opinion

If you are still with me, you know there is one move left: 1. Kh1 … It seems counter intuitive for a human player. Why on Earth would I consider moving my king in the most unpleasant square available, away from the f3-pawn and far away from those Black pawns? I looked at the solution and couldn’t believe that it was the one, a move discarded by my intuition from the first moment… Of course once this happens, the normal reaction should be to figure out the reasoning. What do you notice first after you play 1. Kh1 …? If you have noticed White has the distant opposition, it is very possible you found the solution in time. Truly after the second try (1. Kf1 …) you should be looking at 1. Kh1 … instead of discarding it. The distant opposition might not come into play as often as the opposition; however it is as important and powerful. One other interesting observation: after 1. Kh1 … the position has a nice geometric motif: if you consider the f-file as a vertical axis of symmetry, the position is symmetrical.

Do not feel bad the engines spit out the solution immediately. You can look at it and replay it but do not stop there! Do the next step of figuring out why the solution is as it is based on your knowledge. The thought process involved is going to help you in future games and really this is what matters. Play your own games/ positions and don’t let the engines take that away from you regardless how “perfect” they play. Enjoy the full solution below:

Valer Eugen Demian

Bad ideas (2)

“Errare humanum est…”
Seneca

My first article on this subject can be revisited HERE A few days ago I stumbled in my online search over one of Magnus Carlsen spectacular combinations when he was 12 years old. Possibly some of you might know it, while some might not. It is however safe to assume all will enjoy reviewing it together with my 2 cents about the game. The final combination did not happen out of the blue. There were a number of factors involved during the game to make it possible and in my opinion the most important one was a “bad idea” Black had in the opening. He planted the seed early and continued to water it until it grew into something nice looking and completely useless. I feel inspired today and will call it a “game eating” idea!

Let’s have a look at the game and how the “game eating” idea developed:


I think we must look at this game with a human eye. Black’s idea was to dominate the queen side and he achieved it. The main point is that it was absolutely useless and when Magnus played the final assault on the opposing king, those pieces on the queen side were still dominating it and being absolutely useless in the same time. Black had a few opportunities to re-adjust instead of persevering, but missed them. What do we learn out of it? The main lesson for me is the importance of piece activity (lessons 10 to 14, level 5 of our chess app). Always pay attention to what your pieces and the opposing pieces are doing at any moment. Be ready to move them around as the position requires and expect this simple advice to be hard to follow. Please practice it as often as possible because it is the only way to get better. Good luck!

Valer Eugen Demian

“What Say You?” The 1 Minute Challenge

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer”
Bruce Lee

I have been talking a lot in my previous articles about gut instinct in chess. It relies heavily on personal knowledge and experience, reason why we all need to continuously work on both. I have been thinking for a while now about how to help you get better at it and the best idea I could come up with is to get closer to a game situation. How does this work? Well, time has become an important factor in the game; long gone are the days of 40 moves in 2 hours, one or two adjournments and an adjudication by a selected panel consisting of the best players in the tournament. These days we need to make our decisions much faster. Here is how I propose you 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? Let’s start with the position below:

OK, hope you have timed yourself. You can compare now your thoughts with mine gathered in the same fashion:

  • My first thought was this position resembled the famous Reti study (W: Kh8, c6 B: Ka6, h5); however the g-pawn is more advanced and Reti’s solution cannot help
  • Since the g-pawn is 3 moves away from promoting and cannot be stopped, we must push a pawn forward; this immediately eliminates any king move (line A)
  • I have 2 pawns to choose from, but the a-pawn gets blocked after 1 move
  • Moving the h-pawn first (line B) allows me to push it all the way to h7 and when Black promotes g1=Q, Kh8 is trapped in the corner; my a5-pawn still has a move to give but after pushing it, I think Black cannot win anymore
  • This looks very good so far and becomes my choice
  • There is a bit of time left and I am thinking what would happen if 1. h5 Ka6 the only other possibility for Black? One thing easy to see is I will have to move Kh8-g7 and Black will promote g1=Q with check; hmm that gives Black tempi to bring his queen all the way to g6, move his king aside Ka6-b5 to avoid stalemate and that will force the a5-pawn to move (3 moves to promotion). White would need just 2 moves Qg6-f7-f8#
  • Line B is now busted and the solution is now obvious


Did you get it all that in 1 minute? If you did, congratulations! The queen versus pawn endgame (lesson 17, level 2 of our chess app) can occur quite often at club level play, especially when the players are closely matched. The most likely pawn to give trouble is the side pawn (either a- or h-) and knowing how to deal with it can save you invaluable half points. Do not forget to review it whenever you get the chance like in this study. Hope you liked it!

Valer Eugen Demian

How To Play With The Bishop Pair

The general consensus today is the bishop pair provides a positional advantage. Do you agree with this or not? A few years ago Franklin Chen wrote a very nice article about how not to play with the bishop pair. You can revisit it HERE He gives excellent insights into the pitfalls one may fall into when playing too confident and expecting the advantage to bring home the win automatically. I wanted to write an article about the following game anyway, when I stumbled over Franklin’s article. This is rather fortunate as it allows me to balance it with a view from the other side. Rest assured if you avoid those pitfalls, you will be rewarded by the bishop pair.

The game was played by correspondence chess and it is from the on-going North America Pacific Zone 6th ICCF Championship. The reflection time was 5 days per move with time control every 10 moves. Saved time is accumulated and can be used at any moment in the game with some restrictions. This is a good game to add to your database if Tarrasch Defence is in your repertoire or you want to have a good line prepared against it.

A few important lessons to learn from it:

  • Leave your king in the center at own peril
  • Avoid moves like 13… Rc8 by making sure you understand the priorities of the position in front of you
  • Used properly the bishop pair is going to bring you material advantage

Hope you liked it and it will encourage you to review and study these aspects more closely.

Valer Eugen Demian