Category Archives: 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

Endgame play (5)

How do you feel about king and pawns endgames with equal number of pawns on the same side? Are you concerned and study them? Do you know them and believe they are simple to deal with? What do you think about the following classic endgame and how it got played out?

Do you think White is lost here anyway because of the better position of Kd5 and possible loss of the f5-pawn? Of course not being able to use the opposition to stop the opposing king from invading your position is a concern, the same is having unprotected pawns (like the f5-pawn) left behind by their adjacent friends. The key is to know all resources available in your position. Can you think about a resource Chigorin missed? White has no way to push forward, nor breakthrough to create a passed pawn. If it simply retreats (like it did in the game), it won’t even be able to think about holding a draw in a king versus king and pawn endgame for 2 reasons:

  • The Black king will be in front of its pawn(s) as it should
  • Black is going to be up minimum 2 pawns after winning the f- and h-pawns

Retreating is basically surrendering! The only chance is to look elsewhere and from the remaining options the only one making sense is stalemate. How do we force black to stalemate us? We need to find a good spot for our king and give black no options. A good spot we can reach is on the h-file, where the h5-square not only suits our idea but also blocks the h4-pawn in the same time. All you need now is care to put together the right move order:

Did you know about this stalemate idea? If you did, don’t forget it. If you did not, remember it as you never know when it can come in handy. Here are a couple of more recent examples where it paid off to know it. The first one is from a game played by well known top players:

The second one is from a recent game between 2000 to 2300 players:

I hope this article makes a good case for learning and perfecting the fine details of this endgame with pawns on the same side. It does not look like much when you go over it; however knowing it is essential and can bring you invaluable half points in your games.

Valer Eugen Demian

Endgame play (4)

Today’s position is a very good example of how important pawn endgames are; even a momentary lapse of reason (do you know Pink Floyd’s great album with the same name from 1987?) could be fatal to any player, beginners and grandmasters alike. Have a look at the position, do a quick assessment and decide what should be the result of it with black to move:

Everyone knows or should know GM Wolfgang Uhlmann (GER) a guru in French defence. That becomes obvious while looking at his annotated games (our app level 4, lessons 2 to 7 has a great selection) from the 80s. Any French defence player should study them to gain invaluable knowledge about this solid opening choice against 1. e4 …
IM Tania Sachdev (IND) is much younger and on top of her excellent chess results, you might have heard her as part of the official commentary team for the 2013 (Chennai) World Championship Match between Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand. We should agree both are top players with a high level knowledge of chess in general.

Your quick assessment should cover at least the following aspects:

  • Material is equal
  • We are in a King and pawns endgame with no passed pawns
  • In such an endgame the opposition, tempo and pawn breakthrough (all covered in level 3 of our app) should be closely monitored

Of course it is much easier to discuss it after the fact, but in reality if you have a solid endgame knowledge foundation, that will help you navigate the still waters with care and avoid judgement lapses. I am going to go out on a limb and say 1… Kf6 should be an easy choice to make here for Black. Going down the possible line (see line to get there at the end of the article), they could have reached below position A1. The position is a dead draw. Give it a try (Black to move) if you wish to practice your endgame knowledge!


Kc7[/pgn]

Tania misjudged the position and chose to play 1… a6 using the tempo move available instead of the opposition. Going down this possible line (see line to get there at the end of the article), they would have reached below position A2. The difference is minimal: the a5/a6 pawn pair is placed one square away from the A1 position above. Does it matter? Give it a try (Black to move) and see what comes up:

Post mortem Tania was in disbelief hearing her position was lost after 1… a6 Of course in an OTB game where time could be a factor, such fine details might be easily overlooked. Here I would say 1… Kf6 is a more natural move to find and play. Holding the opposition is a safer bet. It is possible Tania thought after 1… Kf6 2. a6 … the White pawn is closer to queening and more dangerous, when on the other hand the a7-pawn is farther away from the White king which would need an extra move to reach it.

Wolfgang had the game within grasp and all he needed to play was the winning move 1… a6?? 2. e4! … Nobody knows but him why he chose a losing move instead. There is no doubt he wanted to win as much as any of us if given the chance. He simply missed the following decisive pawn breakthrough, proving once more how important pawn endgames are. Enjoy the swift pawn breakthrough Tania played with confidence and its devastating result. Hope you liked it and it will convince you to study these pawn endgames more than you’ve done so far.

Valer Eugen Demian

Piece activity

Piece activity is a positional aspect of major importance in a game. Hugh Patterson has written a very nice article about it back in 2014. You can review it HERE Our chess app also covers it extensively in level 5, lessons 10-14 by looking at how the activity of each piece influences the outcome of the game. One of my latest online games proved to be a good example in that direction. Here is the beginning of it (turn based, 3 days per move), leading up to an important junction in the game:


Black’s last move is definitely out of the ordinary; when something like this happens, it is a good idea to stop, take a deep breath and analyse the position to the best of your abilities. It is easy to see white cannot capture the rook because it would lose its queen. This is the starting point for your analysis:

  • Material is equal
  • Both sides are castled and so far the White king is in more danger because of Ne5 and Rf3 being in close vicinity
  • There are no other attackers on the White castle
  • There are not a lot of defenders of the White castle either
  • If White does not pay attention, a move such as Qd8-d7 could increase the number of attackers and apply pressure

OK, so the conclusion is White must do something to improve the defense of its castle and its piece positioning. Looking at the piece positioning we see:

  • Rf1 and Be3 are in decent position with no better options for the moment
  • Rc1 could be placed better, but doing that won’t help with defending the castle
  • Qd2 could move and have Rf3 in danger of being captured; however a simple look at 18. Qe2 Qd7 19. gxf3?? Qxh3 (see last part of the game below) gives black a winning position
  • Nc3 is capable to get involved and in 2 moves (Nc3-e4-g5) it can spring into action, defending both the f3-square and h3-pawn

On the Black side we have:

  • Qd8 needs at least one move (Qd8-d7) to get into the action
  • Bg7 is very nicely placed, but there are no targets along the a1-h8 diagonal
  • Ra8 is completely out of the game and does not count
  • Ne5 and Rf3 are active but if White chooses the right plan, both could be chased away by pawns

Let’s see how the game continued:

Conclusion: piece activity must be monitored closely at all times. That starts with your own pieces and continues with the opposing ones. At the beginning it could feel like extra burden when the amount of time is so scarce (today’s time controls are a lot less of what they used to be); however if you stick with it, you will get better and realize it helps with planning and decision making. Your games will flow nicely and the moments of blank stares with no ideas in mind will be drastically reduced. Hope you will start looking at it!

Valer Eugen Demian

L-shape Pawn Formation

“Pawns are like buttons. Lose too many and the pants fall down by themselves.”
George Koltanowski

The knight moves in L-shape right? We all learn that at the very beginning and struggle at first to figure out the move. I can go one square to the right and two forward or two squares to the right and one forward? That could be very confusing. Add the other directions and permutations of square choices and you will leave any beginner numb in front of so many possibilities. Do you know of any other area of the game where the L-shape is of importance? If you do and the title of this article gave it away, you have either studied our app lesson 26, level 4 (thank you for that!) or you are a very strong player and have known this for a while now.

Here is a study by L Kubbel to test your knowledge:


It is white to move. What does your gut feeling tells you about the possible result here? Can White win? How about Black? Is it maybe a draw?

As always let’s look at this together to make sure you get it right. Analysis:

  • In king and pawns endgames we always look for passed pawns: each side has 2
  • The White pawns are on the edge and doubled; this reduces their value quite a bit
  • The Black pawns are separated by a file
  • Both kings are in the imaginary square of all opposing pawns, meaning they can stop them from promoting
  • White looks to have no more than a draw; even if it captures both Black pawns, the Black king will easily reach the a8-corner and stop the promotion
  • Black could have a chance to win since the White king must stop 2 passed pawns in the same time
  • If the Black king manages to capture both White pawns, Black will probably win

OK, this does not sound very promising for White. When I worked on the puzzle, the first thing I looked at was how to deal with the Black pawns. The b5-pawn being the closest is an obvious first target. How would Black respond to that? Well, here you need to know about the L-shape pawn formation. That formation helps 2 passed pawns separated by a file fight the opposing king and survive. If that is the case and Black can easily reach an L-shape by playing d7-d6, what can White do? Standing still does not work because Black will capture the White pawns and win. Bringing the king forward though, would result in one of the Black pawns promoting.

Let’s pause for a moment. Take a deep breath and look for options. It looks like you cannot stop both Black pawns. What can you do then? Hmm, if the b-pawn promotes and the White king is on the a-file, we might get a stalemate. That is awesome! The other option with the d-file promoting, it is a clear loss. OK, now you have a plan: capture the d-pawn and run to the a-file; be careful on the timing though (see line C)! Hope you liked it and it got you interested about this important endgame aspect. All left now is raw calculation. Here is the solution to help you out:

Valer Eugen Demian

Sac Or No Sac?

“A sacrifice is best refuted by accepting it”
Wilhelm Steinitz

Tactics decide the game. If you want a simple comparison, tactics are like putting the ball in the net. You need to know what to do when the opportunity is staring you in the face. Do you know what to do? Have you practice enough to firstly recognize it and secondly to take advantage of it? Let’s see how good you are in the following position. The question is: should white sac on h7 or not?

Analyse the position and firstly go with your gut instinct. Gut instinct is most of the times right and it relies heavily on personal experience. Personal experience is based both on the aspects of the game you learned and on direct feedback you got while playing your games. Have you ever looked at this sacrifice from a theoretical point of view? How about playing it or having it played on you? If you did, most certainly your gut instinct gave you the right signal and you got it right. If you did not, it is very likely you got this wrong.

It could be helful to look at position 4 under “Tactics” in my previous article HERE and added below for convenience:


It shows a successful sacrifice on h7. Now what you should do next is compare the two, identifying what aspects in position 4 made the sacrifice successful. Do you also find them in the proposed position 4.1 above? Let’s have a look at them together:
Similarities

  • The pawns defending the castle have not moved
  • Kg8 is the only defender of the h7-pawn
  • Black does not control nor attack the g5-square and allowing 2. Nf3-g5
  • Qd1 could join the attack via the d1-h5 diagonal

Differences

  • White has the e5-pawn (position 4), while the pawn is missing in position 4.1
  • Bd2 controls the c1-h6 diagonal (position 4), while it is blocked for the moment by Nd2 in position 4.1
  • Re1 could come in and help the attack using the 3rd rank (Re1-e3-h3), while Rf1 would require an extra move to do that in position 4.1
  • Bb7 is trapped for the moment by Nc6, while Bc8 has an open c8-h3 diagonal

Now it is time to weigh the above points and formulate a conclusion. Lesson 15 (level 5) of our chess app covers this nicely and if you have gone through it, you will notice rather quickly which one of the 6 needed conditions for the sacrifice to work is not met. That is condition #2:
“#2. The h2/ h7-pawn is defended only by the King and cannot be defended by any other piece in a move”
Kg8 being the only defender of the h7-pawn is met but black can simply defend the h7-square in a move. The sacrifice does not work:

Well, knowing these details makes the difference between winning a game in spectacular fashion and looking like a fool. It is obvious in what category we all want to be, so study these tactics and practice them; your efforts will be rewarded. Hope you liked it and will consider studying tactics closely, possibly using our app.

Valer Eugen Demian

ChessEssentials, Level 5

“We raise Champions!”

Past reviews can be accessed here
ChessEssentials, level 1
ChessEssentials, level 2
ChessEssentials, level 3
ChessEssentials, level 4
App link at the iTunes store ChessEssentials
https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/chessessentials/id593013634?mt=8
The latest release of our app offers now level 5 (reference ratings 1400-1700). It costs $3.99 and it maintains the same format of 30 lessons, 30 puzzle sets and 30 tests arranged in a well thought order. Going over this level helps you build upon the knowledge accumulated so far; if we compare this with building a house, you are now raising walls, higher levels and all extras related to it.
Mates
Lesson 01 starts the level with mate in 3 puzzles, same with how level 4 ended. Good warming up as you might know by now.


Opening
Lessons 02 to 06 are of major importance. They cover one of the most important openings of all time on both sides of the board: the Queen’s Gambit Declined (QGD). It is the opening any player must learn and play to understand how tactics flow from solid strategy. They do not just appear on the board out of the blue.

  • Lesson 02 covers the QGD Tartakover variation
  • Lesson 03 covers the QGD Lasker variation
  • Lesson 04 covers the QGD Classical variation
  • Lesson 05 covers the QGD Cambridge Springs variation
  • Lesson 06 covers the Tarrasch defence


Strategy
At this level strategy flows naturally from the openings studied prior to it. The Isolated Queen Pawn (IQP) is a very controversial subject and it has the chess World divided about in half: half of the players like its strenghts and the opportunities it presents, while the other half avoids it because of its weakness. You get the chance to make up your own mind about it, followed by a few lessons highlighting the importance of each piece’s position during the game.

  • Lesson 07 covers the IQP strength
  • Lesson 08 covers the IQP breakthrough
  • Lesson 09 covers the IQP weakness
  • Lesson 10 covers the Piece activity – Knight’s position
  • Lesson 11 covers the Piece activity – Bishop’s position
  • Lesson 12 covers the Piece activity – Rook’s position
  • Lesson 13 covers the Piece activity – Queen’s position
  • Lesson 14 covers the Piece activity – King’s position


Tactics
Strategy can put you in the position to use tactics decisively so when you get the chance, you need to be able to recognize the signs and execute with precision. The basics of some of the tactical procedures have been previously covered and here you get a chance to expand your knowledge.

  • Lesson 15 covers the h2/h7-square sacrifice
  • Lesson 16 covers the g2/g7-square sacrifice
  • Lesson 17 covers the f2/f7-square sacrifice
  • Lesson 18 covers overloading
  • Lesson 19 covers the zwischenzug (in-between move)
  • Lesson 20 covers the underpromotion
  • Lesson 21 covers the counterstrike
  • Lesson 22 covers limiting counterplay
  • Lesson 23 covers threefold repetition
  • Lesson 24 covers the stalemate
  • Lesson 25 covers the zugzwang


Endgame
The aspects covered here are more complicated and it is our intention to help you master them. Do not be afraid and study them with an open mind; in the end (pun intended) you will realize they are easier than they look.

  • Lesson 26 covers the King on the edge
  • Lesson 27 covers the triangulation
  • Lesson 28 covers the corresponding squares
  • Lesson 29 covers various endgames


Mates
Lesson 30 ends this level with mate in 4 puzzles. The training session takes it up another notch in preparation for level 6. Hope you find this presentation interesting and the app worth giving it a try!

Valer Eugen Demian

French Defence – C’est Bon!

One of my previous articles was a French Defence miniature White won in 20 moves after a vicious attack on the castle. You can review it HERE I have been looking ever since for an opportunity to level the balance and show a nice game played by Black; now I have found it. This one is also a correspondence chess game, meaning both sides had time to ponder their moves and plans like in the previous one. The players involved are 2400+ ICCF rated, giving even more value to it.

Hope you liked it! What conclusions can we draw out of it?

  • Black was very focused on making sure his plans on the queen side were applied as soon as possible
  • Choosing one of the main moves 9… Bxc5 proved to be (again) a better option
  • Black’s attack rolled on faster
  • It is not obvious where White went wrong
  • After 18… g6 White’s late attack stalled and his pieces were left in passive positions

If the French is part of your opening repertoire, consider this a reference game you could use in future. You can actually consider both games, the previous one as a clear example of how not to play 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

Storming the Castle (2)

We all have one or more memorable games or combinations close to our heart to keep as jewels forever. How does your chess jewel look like? Is it a well rounded game where your plans went so well, it felt like your pieces were alive and moving alone? Was it maybe the combination of a lifetime? I have a few of each and I bet you all do have them too. Of course we are just mere mortals compared with Fischer and his “My 60 Memorable Games“; still do not sell your jewels short as they also are shiny and memorable. Teaching chess helps me and you rediscover some of these jewels and display them with pride in front of our audience. They are special because they are ours and also because we can add to them all sort of unique details about those moments and thoughts at the time.

A few years ago I discovered the following jewel from a game played in Heidelberg 1946 between what it looks to be two members of the same family. I do not have much more information on it and if anyone does, I would gladly hear from you and do a follow up article on it. Anyhow, here is the position for you to look at and try to figure out what White should do here to amazingly win the game!


It is an interesting position for sure. Let’s have a closer look at it:

  • the opposite-side attacks situation is easy to see and Black has clearly made more visible progress. The a2-passed pawn is a game changing force, especially because of being supported by the Qa3 + Ra8 battery. Black has full control of the queen side
  • the center is pretty much blocked with Nd4 and Nd5 in perfect positions to help the operations on either flank as needed; White has no time to think about doing anything there given the situation on the queen side
  • there is hope for White on the king side with Qe3 attacking the h6-square and the h5-pawn supported by Rh1; however with Black threatening to trade queens, there is an urgency to find something decisive there

How bold are you? Do you have a flare for vicious attacks and decisive sacrifices? If you do, you should feel right at home here. What piece(s) can you think of sacrificing? Do a quick overview and don’t be surprised of what you will find!

How do you feel solving a 9 moves checkmate? It must feel like Superman for a few minutes, doesn’t it? Come up with this in any way, shape or form (including take backs and help from kibitzers) and you have your jewel for life. Now think about coming up with this in an OTB game. The length of the combination makes it a very hard task. The fact it starts with a queen sacrifice makes it even harder (up from very hard?…) because there is no way you can pick up Qa3 and then some; that means you must reach checkmate! Of course the once in a lifetime opportunities do not come around in easy-breezy situations. What do we learn out of this? The length of a combination could feel like a burden; in fact it isn’t a burden as long as you have a clear goal in mind. Knowing what you need to accomplish is of utmost importance, then you also need will and sheer calculation to keep it going. This time it ends up beautifully. What do you do when it does not work out? Well, at least you gave it a shot. That is worth almost as much as solving it. Like Pink Floyd lyrics say:
Don’t give in without a fight

Valer Eugen Demian