Anticipating The Endgame As Part Of Understanding The Opening

The 2014 World Chess Championship rematch between Carlsen and Anand kicked off with Carlsen playing the Grünfeld as Black, an interesting choice since he does not usually play this opening, and in fact Anand is the one who prepared the Grünfeld as Black in 2013. The game proceeded along a path in which Anand as White lost an opening initiative and got into some trouble but held an unpleasant endgame.

Since detailed commentary from many strong players is already available and will continue to be provided as the match progresses, so why should I write out it here at The Chess Improver? My goal here is to describe the big picture that players of many levels can relate to and hopefully apply to their own play.

The goal of the Grünfeld Defense opening

Black’s goal in playing the Grünfeld Defense is to try to destroy White’s center, by targeting White’s Pawn on d4. The asymmetrical Pawn structure that arises when White’s c-Pawn is exchanged with Black’s d-Pawn gives Black possible chances to contain White’s d-Pawn and counterattack with a Queen side Pawn majority.

White has a choice of goals in return, and has to make a decision. (Take note if you are following the match, because we may see the Grünfeld pop up again with players making different decisions.) The three basic choices are to:

  • Grab the big center with e4, advance with d5 eventually, possibly make a passed d-Pawn for the endgame.
  • Forget the endgame, go all out with an attack on Black’s King based on h4, h5, etc.
  • Forget the big center, protect the d4 Pawn with e3, block in Black’s Bishop on g7, and try to make headway on the Queenside.

What happened in this game

What actually happened was Anand played as though aiming for one of the first two, but was inconsistent in followup. He got the center and then played as though to attack Black’s King: Qd2, allowing his Knight on f3 to be captured by Black’s Bishop permanently messing up White’s Pawn structure (doubled f-Pawns, isolated h-Pawn), castling Queen side. But he never did attack Black’s King after all, and the Pawn on d5 didn’t get any further.

So Black’s defense, based on destroying White’s Pawn structure and surviving any attack, with the aim of reaching a superior endgame, worked out. Anand had to be careful to hold the draw in face of his isolated and weak f and h Pawns.

The main thing I want to point out is that it was not automatically bad for White to allow the weakened Pawn structure. Before the endgame, there is the middlegame. It is a valid, aggressive idea for White to decide not to try to win the endgame, but instead the middlegame. It just didn’t work out in this particular game.

Franklin Chen


Keep Your Chess Interesting

Have you been ever become bored while working at chess or playing? To be honest I have done so quite often and many times I have fallen asleep while doing some chess. Part of the problem is that my whole day involves chess and chess alone, whether it’s coaching or preparation. That in turn has affected my playing skills quite badly, so I have developed some rules about what one should avoid.

Stop playing mechanical chess: This happens when you think that you are 100% familiar with the positions you play and believe that how are you playing them is the only way to go! In order to overcome this habit I started to play some unorthodox chess openings. You can try 960 chess too. This is quite interesting as you don’t get familiar positions and you start to play chess again!

Unplug yourself from routine: This applies to any field, not only chess. One should take regular breaks and rest from anything in which you find yourself becoming too routine. Some organisations even offer paid holidays so their employees can balance their personal life and work, keeping them focused and effective while at work. If you are not, you started losing interest in the activity you most like.

Apart from that you can use music or inspirational quotes while working at chess. This helps you in keeping focused even if you are training too much.

Ashvin Chauhan


Tarrasch and the Anarchist Bishop

I recently got back in to playing some chess, dear reader. For some time now, my main chess activity has been writing about our wonderful game, and I do dare say that I might regret not leaving it that way as time goes by. However, I must say that having joined up at one of the numerous chess servers around, I am finding it rather enjoyable to be back at the board. The bug is back.

I have noticed that the website I play at has a tactics training feature, paying members can play an unlimited number of tactics per day, and are rated depending on their success. I fast became addicted, even though my initial experience with the tactics was quite humiliating. It really is quite amazing how the brain slows down and becomes lazy when one is not using it, the sharpness fades and we can forget even elementary things. Thankfully, just before my laptop went flying off of the balcony, my brain started to wake up, and I began making progress, and feeling somewhat on the road to my former self, when I was playing chess like there was no tomorrow, including a couple of hours of live online chess daily.

Why am I telling you this? Well, it surprises me that looking at the players on the site I play at, it appears that the percentage of them who take advantage of this tactics trainer is rather low. To be honest, I don’t really understand it, tactics are a very important part of chess, and the more a player practices them, the easier he/she will recognise important tactical and thematic patterns. One can never practice them enough, and I think that most chess coaches would say that a few hundred at least are required before very much benefit is felt from them. If they are able to be practiced for free, at the click of a mouse button, then this is a gift to the modern day player that the old masters did not have.

Such a master would be Siegbert Tarrasch, (1862-1934), one of the most influential chess players of all time. Tarrasch was one of the advocates of the chess principles that we still follow today, rapid development, castle early, focus on the centre. He did things ‘by the book’ so to speak. This made him a target of the games hypermodernists. What we are going to look at, is a game played by Tarrasch in 1914. From what I can gather, he was facing a consultation team, named ‘Allies’. I’ve annotated the game, so I wont give too much away here, only to say that it is very illustrative when it comes to the principles of good opening play, and how to approach things when the opponent does not develop effectively. In the case of ‘Allies’, this included leaving the King precariously situated in the centre.

I advise the reader to take time when playing through the game, as much can be learned from it. In a way, I selfishly hope that it is the first time you are seeing it, as Tarrasch’s knock-out blow is I think right up there with the finest moves the game has ever seen. It was his wide appreciation of the chess board, of patterns and tactical themes, that allowed him to deliver it.

Enjoy …

John Lee Shaw


How To Learn The Gruenfeld

With Magnus Carlsen having played the Gruenfeld in the first game of the World Championship I guess that a few people may want to follow in his footsteps. How should they go about doing this? Well what they shouldn’t do is buy the biggest and best reviewed book on this opening, it’s just too much to take in. Instead you need to build things up step by step.

At my Tiger Chess site I explain how club level players should go about this with the following Youtube video explaining a bit more about the approach I recommend:

Nigel Davies


In Summary

This will be my last post on the problems with junior chess for the foreseeable future, but, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to summarise what I’ve been writing recently.

I’ve been spending the past 15 years telling anyone who’ll listen to me that the best thing we could do to promote and encourage chess in this country would be to abolish after-school and lunchtime chess clubs for children up to the age of 11.

To play chess to adult club standard you need to be able to apply complex logic to chess. Most children will, under normal circumstances, only develop the required cognitive skills at about 11 or 12.

Children who start chess at, say, 7 and who haven’t reached adult club standard or thereabouts when they leave primary school at the age of 11 are likely to give up chess unless they go to a secondary school which is very big on chess.

Children will only reach adult club standard by the age of 11 if their cognitive development is exceptionally advanced or if they are immersed in chess from a fairly early age, either at home, at school, or through a chess academy which is open every day.

Most chess teachers either have an insufficient knowledge of chess or an insufficient knowledge of how young children learn. Young children are active learners: they need to do things, not listen to lectures. You need to start by finding out what they know and build on their knowledge rather than telling them what you know. Standing in front of a demo board showing them a game is great for older and stronger children but will only confuse younger, less experienced players.

Most parents, at least in my area, teach their children the wrong names for the pieces, the wrong rules and incorrect strategy. Because chess is not part of our culture they are unaware of the extent of their ignorance and unwilling to be told about it.

Competitive chess has a poor public image and chess players are seen as anti-social nerds who are probably also mad. So while some parents and schools want their children to learn chess they don’t want them to be good at chess.

The current ethos with regard to childhood, at least among the majority of parents in my area, emphasises taking part rather than being successful, having fun rather than being serious, doing lots of things at a low level rather than excelling at a few things.

Parents in my area see after-school chess clubs as a learning tool, something that might help their children get into the selective secondary school of their choice, or as a cheap child-minding service. They are not prepared to help or support their children beyond playing low-level games with them. There is also a complete misunderstanding about exactly what chess practice entails.

Children are often encouraged to take part in competitions before they’ve learnt all the rules of chess let alone have any understanding of basic tactics and strategy. Chess entrepreneurs encourage this because they make money out of these events.

If I were Prime Minister what I’d do is this:

Set up a national chess course with an appropriate reward system.

Set up a network of individual and team tournaments linking up with the national chess course: if you pass a level of the course you get a ticket to take part in a tournament at the appropriate level.

Set up a network of junior chess clubs operating the national chess course providing outreach to local schools and individual tuition for talented children with supportive parents.

Abolish all junior chess clubs not following the national chess course.

Encourage primary and prep schools who want to take chess seriously and teach all or most of their children to play properly on the curriculum.

Encourage all secondary schools to set up chess clubs and enter teams of children who have passed the first level of the national course into competitions.

But I’m not PM and never will be, so enough of that.

I appreciate that many of my posts here have been very negative, but there’s a lot to be negative about. Veteran chess journalist Leonard Barden, as someone who, along with the late Bob Wade, played such an important part in the English Chess Explosion in the late 1970s and early 1980s, knows more than anyone about the decline in junior chess in the UK. Here’s what he wrote in his chess column in the Guardian on 1 November:

It was all so different in the 1970s Bobby Fischer boom years. Then England had a huge crop of talented juniors, many of whom became grandmasters and masters, but there was a desperate shortage of suitable older players to coach them.

This week, in contrast, England’s juniors have struggled to average 50% in the European Youth championships for under-18s to under-8s at Batumi, Georgia, whereas in the inaugural World Senior over-50 championship at Katenni, Greece, England has the two top seeds, John Nunn and Mark Hebden, with the European champion, Keith Arkell, also among the favourites.

Now, the implication is, we have a huge crop of older players involved in coaching, many of whom learnt their chess in the 1970s boom years, but there are very few talented juniors coming through.

The good news is that I’m currently talking to a few schools and clubs who might possibly be interested in doing things my way.

If anything positive happens I’ll keep you in touch, but now it’s more than time to move onto another subject.

Richard James


The Best Defense is a Counterattack

Often, the beginner finds himself (or herself) having to constantly defend a series of positions when playing a stronger or more aggressive opponent. Beginners are apt to be either the aggressive or passive player (defender) during their games and tend to end up on the defensive (passive) side more often than not. They (the beginner) see attacking and defending in a very black and white manner. By this, I mean that the beginner will only consider absolutely defensive moves when under attack or aggressive moves when leading an attack. Countless times, I’ve seen beginners end up with terrible middle-game positions because their opponent launches attack after attack, leaving the novice stuck, having to defend their King with awkward pawn and piece play. This comes about because the beginner panics, moving the attacked piece or only making moves that defend against the opposition’s attacking pieces, not considering the possibility of a counterattack or potential threat.

Much of my own game knowledge comes from studying the teachings of Australia’s own late great C.J.S. Purdy. Cecil Purdy had an amazing talent not only for playing the game of chess but teaching it as well. He (along with Reuben Fine and many others) were proponents of two crucial ideas, developing with a threat and the use of counterattacks as a method for switching one’s role in the game from defender to attacker. The employment of just these two concepts alone will help the beginner step out of the shadow of poor defensive play and into the bright lights of aggressive play. While the two players of a game of chess take on one of these two roles during their game (attacker or defender), it doesn’t mean that they are stuck being the attacker or defender throughout the entire game. Beginners think that once they get stuck defending they’ll remain defenders until their opponent concludes his or her attack. In reality, the tables can be turned on the attacker with a good threat or counterattack. Just because you have to defend a position doesn’t mean that you can’t make a move that suddenly puts your opponent on the defensive.

When the beginning chess player is on the receiving end of a threat, they tend to panic. The beginner gloomily stares at the position and thinks of two options. The first is to flee the scene of the crime by moving the piece being attacked. The second option is to further defend the piece under attack. While there is basically nothing wrong with either of these ideas, the beginner limits themselves in regard to options. In chess, the more options you have, the better off you are! Good players will look at an additional option, creating a bigger threat! If your opponent attacks one of your minor pieces with a pawn you might consider moving that minor piece. However, moving that minor piece might reduce the number of defenders of one of your key central squares or pieces under attack. What if you could move one of your pawns to a square where it attacks an opposition Rook? Your minor piece is worth three points while your opponent’s Rook is worth five points. From a material value viewpoint, your threat is bigger so your opponent will have to move their Rook, hopefully damaging their position in doing so. You opponent will have to deal with your threat before continuing with his or her own threat. The employment of a threat can turn the defender into the aggressor. If your opponent makes a threat, see if you can make a bigger threat. Turn the tables on the attacker. Big threats beat out smaller threats. However, don’t make threats that further undermine your own position!

Therefore, before turning tail and running off to a safer square or locking up one of your pawns or pieces in the defense of your attacked piece, look for a threat. Threats can be absolute game changers! Creating a threat limits your opponent’s choices and thus their plans. A threat can force your opponent to change their game plan costing them tempo or weakening their position. Look for a threat before considering moving the attacked piece or adding additional defenders to the position.

Both Purdy and Fine said that the best defense is a counter attack and this holds true in most cases. When a beginner launches an attack, they often do so while suffering from tunnel vision. This means that they are focused on a small section of the board, the area where the attack takes place, rather than the entire board. When launching their attack, they are considering the pawns and pieces in the immediate vicinity of the attack. I’ve seen a plethora of beginners fall victim to back rank checkmates because their field of vision doesn’t extend throughout the board. A lack of total board vision allows for strong counter attacks. Look at the entire board and ask yourself “can I launch a counterattack that poses a bigger threat because my opponent missed something (a weakness of their position) due to tunnel vision?”

Again, the beginner panics when a piece comes under fire and first thinks about fleeing the scene of the crime or, if this isn’t possible, adding defenders to the position. The problem with moving the attacked piece out of the line of fire is that in doing so, you can weaken your position. If you’re playing Black, have castled King-side and have a Knight on f6, that Knight is a crucial defender of the h7 pawn. If White has their Queen on d3 and the light squared Bishop on c2, with the b1-h7 diagonal clear of pawns and pieces, the f6 Knight is a critical defender of h7. If the Black Knight flees the f7 square, checkmate (by White) will quickly follow. What should Black do if it looks like White is starting to build up an attack against the poor beleaguered Knight? Consider a counterattack. Of course, in the above example, you’ll want to first look for ways to support the Knight.

You’ll see, especially in the games of beginners, one player focusing all his or her efforts on an early attack. Good chess players build up a position and only after their pawns and pieces have been developed to their most active squares, do they launch an attack. Beginners, on the other hand, launch into attacks at the first chance they get. Because these attacks are premature, they usually amount to not much more than a weakening of the attacker’s position. Rather than fleeing or defending against the premature attack, weakening your position in the process, look to see if a counter attack can be employed.

When the beginner launches into an attack, they leave weak spots in their own defense. After all, those pieces used for the attack have been relieved from their defensive duties to launch the attack, meaning there are less defenders on the attacker’s side of the board. This can present an opportunity. Before considering piling up defenders around your attacked piece or fleeing, look for holes your opponent’s position, noting which pawn, piece or square near the opposition’s King has been weakened as a result of your opponent’s attack. Your opponent’s pawns and pieces are lined up for an attack against your position so they may not be on the best squares to suddenly defend their side of the board when hit with a counterattack. The novice tends to throw everything into an attack which means that their defense is neglected. This is the time to launch a counterattack.

When facing an attack, don’t automatically assume that you have to move the attacked piece. The price the attacker pays for launching an attack, especially a premature attack, is often a weakness in their own position. If you don’t panic and use complete board vision (seeing the entire board), you’ll see that weakness. By employing a counterattack or threat, you can gain the upper hand in which case the hunter becomes the hunted. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson


Amateur Versus Master: Game Twelve

My opponent is this game is a Senior Master and is the only 2400 rated player that I have faced in Over the Board chess. Gary has won the State of Florida Chess Championship at least once and has also run the state championship as the senior tournament director for that event at least once. The state championship several years ago was the last time that I saw Gary in person. Gary is a year or two older than I am and he also has some chronic health problems. Gary has managed to keep is USCF chess rating over 2400 points for about 40 years now.

I learned the Botvinnik System from a USCF Life Master who did not know what it was called at that time. He advised against playing this system as Black, but I often get away with it and Botvinnik himself played it as Black. In this game I missed a shot at an upset victory on move number 12. Gary most likely would have found the correct line of play, but it may have rattled him anyway.

I walked into a Knight fork on move number 13 and lost the exchange of a Rook for Knight. Things went downhill for from there.

Mike Serovey


The Art Of Attacking A Slightly Weakened King Side

In a recent tournament game, as White I ended up misplaying a Semi-Tarrasch type of early middlegame, allowing Black easy equality after committing to the e5 advance (giving up control of the d5 square) and not taking advantage of Black’s lag in development. However, I managed to win by stubbornly trying to attack a slightly weakened King side, resulting from my forcing g6 to avoid mate on h7. Even after g6, however, Black’s position was fine. But at least I had something to work with. This game is instructive because it shows how to try to make progress based on just a single possible weakness in the opponent’s position.

The story

Black made the error of trading off the dark-squared Bishops, permanently weakening f6 and h6 and d6. Again, objectively Black’s position was still solid and fine, because of his very strong Knight on d5 that guarded the f6 square anyway.

But I did some maneuvering and waiting to allow my opponent to make one inaccuracy after another, resulting in Black voluntarily moving the Knight away from d5 to b6 and my own Knight getting to a d6 outpost, thanks to Black’s missing dark Bishop.

Finally, Black made a tactical inaccuracy that allowed me to win the a7 Pawn. Even after this, objectively the position should have been an easy draw, thanks to simplification and Black’s total control over the d5 square. But Black gave up the light-squared Bishop for mine, resulting in a position in which I had still had a bind and remote chances to try for a King side attack.

It turned out that Black maneuvered poorly, making his own Rooks passive and away from his King, and finally erring with moving his Queen also away from his King, to the Queen side. This allowed me to land my Knight on f6 just in time as the King side was undefended, and through some tactics win the f7 Pawn and the game.

A long grind of a game, but I was happy that my patience was rewarded.

Franklin Chen


Playing Better Rook Endgames

You can learn technical rook endgames using any good endgame book, but what I am going to share is based on my experience and little reading. If you deploy following points while playing rook endgame it will definitely help you.

An active rook is your hero: Rooks love to attack in the endgame. Here are two simple examples which will help you to understand what I mean by that.:

With these examples I am not claiming that an active rook will always secure you a win or draw a pawn down, but it will definitely provide you better chances to win or defend in worse conditions.

In order to keep your rook active you should know the Tarrasch Rule which is to place rooks behind the passed pawn, whether it is your passed pawn or your opponent’s.

Cutting off the enemy king: This can happen a lot in practice and often decides games (a very useful tool to obtain lucena position!)

In this position Rd1!! is a forced win for White and no other move will do. Here the Black king is cut off by a file, and if you want to check how effective a rook is when it cuts off enemy king along a rank, please study the Philidor position.

Rook works well when weaknesses are fixed rather than mobile, something I have learned by studying Capablanca’s rook endgames. And in order to target those weaknesses you must have an entry point into the enemy camp. You can do that by working hard!!

Ashvin Chauhan


Thoughts on the Sacrifice …

Sacrifices in chess are among the most exciting things to observe. They are also very satisfying to play … especially when they go right. They have the ability to take calmness and turn it on its head, giving the game a dramatic and tense flavour.

However, sacrifices are not things to be taken lightly or made on a whim. The player is, after all, giving material to the opponent. So how should sacrifices be approached in chess? This, like everything else, is a much debated topic, of course. There are some materialists who wont entertain sacrifices; then there are others who will sacrifice at the slightest opportunity. Neither player is right, in my opinion, the decision should always be based on the position, with as deep an insight as possible.

In playing over Grandmaster games featuring sacrifices, some factors do stick out, however. I would not call them ‘rules’ exactly, but they are consistently present in the games. More specifically, they are present in games where the player making the sacrifice is successful and vindicated.

First, the reasoning must be valid. Even in the case of so-called ‘speculative’ sacrifices, one can never approach it with a ‘let’s see what happens’ mentality. Even a speculative sacrifice must have something that one can use or work with: activity, it opens up the King, it creates an avenue for passed pawns to march, or some other form of compensation. Ultimately, it gives the opponent considerations. These considerations by themselves can prove decisive.

Second, one must commit. There is no going back after a sacrifice of material, no second chance, and usually changing one’s mind will not have positive outcomes. Therefore, once a sacrifice is made, the player sticks to it.

Recapture material only when the motive behind the sacrifice has been achieved — or, if the sacrifice is refuted and you get lucky enough to get your material back, I guess. I have seen countless games where good sacrifices are made, only for the attacker to lunge at regaining material later on. It often follows, that the rewards reaped following the sacrifice are diminished … often making me wonder why the player sacrificed in the first place to be honest.

So, with these in mind, let’s look at the following game, played between Emil Sutovsky and Ilya Smirnin in the Israeli Championship of 2002. Sutovsky takes relative tranquility and blows it wide open with two bishop sacrifices.

If we look at our factors, we should probably conclude that his sacrifices were valid — he opens Black’s King, which is not able to run for cover. On top of this he obtains activity, while the Black pieces lack quality. Following on from that, Sutovsky commits fully to his action. His focus is firmly on the Kingside, Black’s king specifically; and well, he gave two bishops, if that’s not commitment I am not sure what is.

Then, when he has the opportunity to re-capture material, he declines it at first, and only does so when it is not at the cost of what the sacrifice brought him. Finally, with all these factors in place, Sutovsky goes one step further, finishing the game in style and making yet another sacrifice to mate his opponent.

This is a lovely sacrificial game, I hope you will enjoy it.

John Lee Shaw