Dear Professor Verghese…

Due to some recent controversy on the matter I have been considering writing to Professor Verghese about his Alzheimer’s study. Although ‘board games’ were cited as being associated with a lower risk of dementia, would this happen to include chess?

There was a certain lack of clarity on the matter, so I guess he might have meant that Monopoly and Cluedo were the ones that were really good for the brain. But after mulling it over for a while I decided that this would be a really stupid question. The best that would have happened is that the prof would have had good chuckle. There again I might spark a new line of research on chess players and pedantry.

Chess is good for the mind, and there’s an overwhelming mass of data and anecdotal evidence to support this view. If anyone doubts this they should research the popular practice of giving homework, which is doled out to kids with far less evidence than we have for the benefits of chess. Meanwhile it’s clear that pedants are annoying, so much so that the best you can hope for is escape from their presence without them hating you and wanting to show your ‘errors’ to the World. Of course I’m sure that many chess players have valid conditions that cause their pedantry, such as obsessive compulsive disorder and/or Asperger’s. But whatever the excuse (and there are chess people with Asperger’s and/or OCD who make brilliant positive contributions), pedantry shouldn’t be the main face that chess shows to the World. It puts people off, from potential chess club members to sponsors.

Unfortunately pedants often seem to be those who are most active on blogs, forums and in chess politics, they just have to put the world to rights if only in a hypothetical way. Everything is criticism, negativity and pet whinges, nowhere will you find evidence of creation. So they don’t organize tournaments, don’t improve and don’t get others involved or on the road to success. They seek only to belittle the achievements of others and glory in the magnificence of their critique.

I would like to be innocent of these crimes myself but unfortunately I am not. I have moaned and whinged and criticized to the applause of my peers and felt good about doing so. But I came to realize that this was all about me, my own failings, fear of success and resentment of those who actually did succeed. And it’s interesting to note that around the time I changed things around and got the GM title I was also into inspirational books such as Scott-Peck’s A Road Less Traveled and People of the Lie.

I think that if I’ve managed to change then so can others, or at least they can try. And if anyone would like specifics on how to move their minds then please contact me and I’ll publish specific methods in subsequent articles.

Nigel Davies

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Getting the Most out of DVDs

As self improving chess players, we seek out educational tools to help us improve our game. Back when I first started playing, you had one choice if you wanted to get better at chess on your own, books. You’d go to the library or purchase a copy of the book you wanted, study it and apply your new found knowledge on the chess board. Back then, there were nowhere near as many chess books available as there are now and it was much easier to figure out which book would apply to your skill level. Now, we have an overwhelming number of chess books, most of which go over the heads of the average player. Then there are instructional DVDs.

DVDs are a great way to learn for those who don’t want to plod through often dryly written chess books. DVDs are visual and animated which helps with comprehension and pattern recognition. However, the DVD market is flooded with titles and it’s often difficult to determine which DVD is right for you. So, before we discuss how to get the most out of a chess DVD, we should briefly learn how to choose the correct DVD.

If you’re a beginner or improver, you’ll want to look for titles that include key words such as beginner, basic and introductory. Stay away from titles that use words such advanced or the term club player. Also avoid DVDs that concentrate on the games of a particular master because they’re often geared towards players with a solid grasp of more advanced principles. You’ll also want to consider the source. Remember, anyone can put out a chess DVD and these days it seems like everyone is. Plenty of titled players put out their own instructional DVDs but it takes a special talent to teach chess. This means that not all titled players are great or even just good teachers! Two DVD series I would recommend are the Chessbase series and the Foxy series. Both, use top notch teachers such an Andrew Martin, Nigel Davies and Daniel King, to name just a few! These titled players also teach so they know how to explain the subject matter in a manner that the viewer will understand. Now let’s look at how to get the most from your new DVD.

Let’s say you’ve decided to learn the Caro Kann opening and have purchased Andrew Martin’s Chessbase DVD, The ABCs of the Caro Kann. Before viewing the DVD, you should study the opening a bit. While Andrew’s DVD explains the opening in detail from move one, it’s to your advantage to do some preparation before actually viewing the DVD. Why should you do this? The answer is very simple. You’ll want to do some preparatory studying so you understand the underlying mechanics of this specific opening because the more basic knowledge you have of this opening prior to watching the DVD, the more you’ll get out of viewing it. Too often, players who use DVDs for their training don’t bother to prepare themselves prior to viewing. While they can learn from the DVD, they won’t learn as much as if they did some simple preparation. Here’s what I mean.

Get a general book on openings for your chess library if you don’t already have one. If you’re a beginner, get a book like The Dummies Guide to Chess Openings because its easy to understand. Read through the section on the Caro Kann. When reading that section, look at each move playing in this opening and examine the mechanics or principles behind that move. Does each move adhere to the opening principles? Play through the example games. The author presents a game in which black wins and one in which white wins. Take notes. Yes, take notes. Have a notebook dedicated to the Caro Kann. You should write the game you’re playing through down in your notebook and comment on every move. Your commentary should explain, in your own words, why a move works, why it doesn’t, etc.

Then go online and look up the Caro Kann. Read a few beginner’s articles and watch a few videos. This sounds like a lot of work just to watch a DVD but you’ll be rewarded in the end. Take notes on the articles you read and any videos you watch. Now it’s time to watch The ABCs of the Caro Kaan!

Common sense tells us to start at the beginning of an instructional video and work our way through sequentially. You’d be surprised how many chess players will skip around in no real order when watching such a DVD, cheating themselves out of a series of strong, well thought out lessons. In the case of Andrew’s DVD, the presentation is designed to be watched sequentially and that’s how you get the most out of it. Take notes as well. The great thing about these DVDs is that you can rewind them and watch parts again, parts that you may find confusing the first time around. If you can rewind a section that you don’t understand and re-watch it, why take notes? Because when you take notes, you’re writing the concepts down in your own words which helps you retain those ideas in your head. Its also much easier to carry a notebook around (and safer) than a laptop.

Go through each individual video a few times before moving to the next video. In other words, don’t simply go from one game to the next (one video to the next). Watch Andrew’s presentation of a game two or three times, then move on to the next video. Often, ideas demonstrated in one section will form the backbone of the next section (video). After you’ve gone through the entire DVD, practice what you’ve learned in some casual games. After playing the opening yourself, go back and watch the DVD again. You’ll learn more from the DVD, having played the opening yourself.

Take your time when watching chess DVDs. You will not retain everything offered through this instructional tool in one sitting. Watch it over and over. Take your time. If you really want to get the most out of self learning using DVDs, try this approach. I use this method (I wouldn’t ask you to try something unless I did so myself) and it works. Here’s game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

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Chess Opening Blunders – a Quick Win

My opponent hung his Queen on move number 19 of an ICC rapid chess tournament game and then said that it was not fair when I took his Queen with my Knight. You can take back blunders in a friendly game, but not in a tournament game! He was lost even before he dropped his Queen.

I joined this event late and got a half-point bye in Round One. This win is from Round Two. I drew Round Three and won Round Four. That gave me three points out of four.

Mike Serovey

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The Rubinstein Variation of the French Defense

  • Jacques Delaguerre (I’ve always thought the Rub French proves that the main line of the French is the Advance Variation)
  • Nigel Davies Well then, your assignment for this week is to find a hole in Parimarjan Negi’s analysis and then post it here on Facebook!

Akiva Rubinstein helped usher in the 20th century’s approach to opening theory. The salient characteristic of his opening analysis relative to that of his contemporaries was a sophisticated insight into the relationship between time and space on the chessboard. The variations that bear his name each exhibit some apparent temporal paradox.

The Queen’s Gambit Declined, Orthodox Defense, Rubinstein Attack (D61-65) revolves around the struggle for the tempo which will be traded when Black eventually plays d5xc4 and White king bishop recaptures. The Rubinstein Variation of the Symmetrical English (popping up as anything from A04-A34 in the clumsy move-order-oriented ECO numbering system) is a temporal joke in which Black preempts White’s right to open the center by moving the d-pawn two squares. The Rubinstein Four Knights Game (C48) likewise features Black’s queen knight jumping the fence to d4 in a manner classical theory would have supposed reserved to the first player. The Rubinstein Sicilian (B29) and Rubinstein Nimzo-Indian (E42) both exhibit similar taxonomies.

The Rubinstein French is one of Akiva’s greatest jokes on the attacking players of his generation and their love for the asymmetrical topography and material imbalances that characterize other French lines. Rubinstein’s variation apparently yields a tempo and brings White’s QN to the center, only to tease White to give the tempo back by Ne4xNf6. Black remains backwards in space and apparently backwards in development but structurally sound and catching up inexorably move-by-move.  White gropes for a target while Black paddles smoothly and positionally into the calm waters of the draw.

I played the Rubinstein French  tonight at Denver Chess Club. This was not good wall chart strategy for a competitive four-round Swiss section, but it was artistically satisfying. 15 … Ne4-d2! left the gawkers gawking and led to compliments after the game.

I’m not very good at following instructions. For one thing, I’m turning in my homework to Grandmaster Davies here on Chess Improver, rather than Facebook. Also, I had an improvement on Negi, honest, but my opponent didn’t play into it. Maybe next time!

Jacques Delaguerre

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Queen and Knight in the Endgame

A Queen and Knight can cooperate very well in the endgame.

In this week’s problem, White can force a win with a clever sequence of moves. He has an advanced pawn on h6, which means he may be able to sacrifice something on g6, if he can then play h7 and queen his pawn.

How does White win?

The solution to last Monday’s problem is that White can check Black in 7 moves by playing Ra1,Ra5,Rh5,Rh7,Rd7,Rd8 and finally Re8 check.

Steven Carr

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London Chess Fortnight 1975 5-day Open R1

The Evening Standard London Chess Fortnight, organised by Stewart Reuben, took place in August 1975 at a hotel in Earls Court, West London. The main event was an 11 player all play all tournament which was memorable for providing Tony Miles with his first GM norm. (Miles 7½/10, Timman and Adorjan 7, Sax 6, Nunn 5½ etc).

Among the subsidiary events was a 5-day open Swiss in which I took part. My first round opponent, AA Aaron, seemed, from his name, determined to make the top of the grading list (he clearly hadn’t taken Jacob Aagaard into account). I had the white pieces and opened quietly with a double fianchetto. We’ll skip quickly to the interesting bit.

1. Nf3 d5
2. b3 Nf6
3. Bb2 g6
4. g3 Bg7
5. Bg2 O-O
6. d3 Nbd7
7. c4 dxc4

Rather obliging, trading a centre pawn for a wing pawn.

8. bxc4 Nh5
9. Bxg7 Kxg7
10. d4 c5
11. d5 f5

Again rather obliging. Black now has a backward e-pawn.

12. Nbd2 Ndf6
13. Qb3 Qc7
14. Qe3

The engines prefer Qc3 here.

14… f4

The engines tell me 14… e6 is possible here as after 15. dxe6 Bxe6 16. Qxe6 Rae8 White’s queen is trapped. He can try 17. Ng5 to set up a potential fork but Black can just move his king, leaving the white queen stranded.

15. Qe5 Qxe5
16. Nxe5 Nd7
17. Nd3 fxg3
18. hxg3 Rb8
19. a4 b6
20. e4

With a nice position for White, which, over the next few moves, gets to look even better.

20… Nhf6
21. Ke2 Re8
22. Bh3 Nf8
23. Bxc8 Rexc8
24. e5 Ne8
25. f4 a6
26. Rab1 Nc7
27. Ne4 b5
28. axb5

The other capture was also possible: 28. cxb5 axb5 29. d6 exd6 30. Nxd6 Rd8 31. axb5 Nfe6

28… axb5
29. Ndxc5 bxc4
30. d6 exd6
31. Nxd6 Nd5

Black chooses a tactical defence based on the knight fork on c3. The alternative was to give up his c-pawn: 31… Rd8 32. Nxc4 Nfe6 33. Ne4

32. Rxb8

Now I had to decide which rook to capture. As it happens, the other one was better, although at my level it was too hard to calculate:

32. Nxc8 Nc3+ (32… Rxb1 33. Rxb1 Nc3+ 34. Ke3 Nxb1 35. e6 and Black will have to give up one of his knights for the e-pawn.) 33. Ke3 Nxb1 and Black will be unable to keep his c-pawn while stopping White’s e-pawn.)

32… Rxb8
33. Ra1

The wrong plan. Charlie the c-pawn is Public Enemy No 1 and needs to be stopped. I should have played 33. Rc1, hoping to be able to round him up.

33… Rb2+
34. Kf3 Rb8

Missing an opportunity, according to the engines. Passed pawns should be pushed, even at the cost of a knight. A sample variation:

34… c3 35. Ke4 c2 36. Kxd5 Rb1 37. Ra7+ Kh6 38. Nd3 Rd1 39. Rc7 Rxd3+ 40. Ke4 Rd2 41. Ke3 Rg2 42. Ne4 Ne6 43. Rc3 Kg7 44. Kd3 h5 45. Rxc2 Rxc2 46. Kxc2 h4 47. gxh4 Nxf4 with a draw.

35. Ra7+ Kg8
36. e6

I have no idea why I didn’t just take the pawn here, when White should be winning.

36… g5

Again I don’t understand why he didn’t push his pawn:

36… c3 37. e7 Nxe7 38. Rxe7 c2 and now the only way to draw is to let Black queen while setting up a perpetual at the other end of the board: 39. Nce4 (If White wants to stop the promotion it will cost him both his knights: 39. Nd3 Rb3 40. Ke4 Rxd3 41. Rc7 Rxd6 42. Rxc2 and Black is winning) 39… c1=Q 40. Nf6+ Kh8 41. Nf7+ Kg7.

Now the cutest way to draw is 42. Nh6+ Kh8 (Black will be mated if he takes either knight: 42… Kxh6 43. Ng8+ Kh5 44. Re5+ g5 45. Rxg5# or 42… Kxf6 43. Ng8+ Kf5 when White can choose between 44. g4# and Re5#) 43. Nf7+ Kg8 44. Nh6+, repeating moves.

The second cutest way to draw is 42. Ng5+ Kh6 (Kh8 is also a draw) 43. Kg4 and this time Black has to give a perpetual check to avoid getting mated.

37. e7 g4+

37… Nxe7 38. Rxe7 gxf4 39. gxf4 and White retains a vital pawn along with his extra piece.

38. Kxg4 h5+

38… c3 might lead to an amusing finish. Taking on f8 is good enough but the nicest way to win is to underpromote to a knight on e8. 39. e8=Q is no good because of Nf6+ 39. e8=N Rxe8 (39… c2 40. Rg7+ Kh8 41. Nf7#) (39… Kh8 40. Nf7+ Kg8 41. Nh6+ Kh8 42. Rg7 leads to mate) 40. Nxe8 and White wins.

It would have been good to win the immortal five knights game in this way. Perhaps I should emulate Alekhine and publish this variation as if it actually happened.

39. Kf3

Good enough, although there was no reason not to take the h-pawn. Now White can win the c-pawn and his extra piece decides. No further comment is required.

39… Nxe7
40. Rxe7 c3
41. Nce4 Nh7
42. Nxc3 Nf6
43. Nce4 Rb3+
44. Kg2 Ng4
45. Re8+ Kg7
46. Kh3 Rb2
47. Kh4 Nf6
48. Nxf6 Kxf6
49. Kxh5 Rb3
50. Kg4 Rd3
51. Ne4+ Kg7
52. f5 Kf7
53. Re6 Rd1
54. Nd6+ Kg8
55. f6 Rf1
56. Re8+ Kh7
57. f7
and Black finally resigned.

So I won my first game after an interesting but flawed struggle. Tune in again next week to find out what happened next.

Richard James

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Tournament Prep for Older Players

I met a chess player a few weeks back who was about to enter his first tournament in three weeks. He’s in his late forties and sought my advice for getting ready, both for this tournament and future tournaments. “You should consider Tai Chi or another martial art and get cracking with it!” His look of bewilderment said it all. My chess playing friend was of the opinion that chess was a completely mental effort and no physical conditioning was needed. Wrong. If you don’t believe me ask Boris Spassky who blended his chess studies with physical activities! I recommend Tai Chi to my students now because it helps immensely with stamina, concentration, focus and patience. Exercising your mind for many hours cannot be done simply by building your mental muscles because using your brain can be physically draining. We’ve all had a bad case of “brain drain” in which we’re physically exhausted after a long match. You increase your brain function physically as well as intellectually. It’s a case of Yin and Yang.

“Since, I’m not going to become a martial arts master in the three weeks left before my first tournament, what can I do?” Expecting me to say “not much, good luck,” he was taken back when I gave him some ways to increase his stamina in this short time period. Here’s what I suggested:

Change your eating habits to start. Start reducing the amount of sugar and caffeine you take in. While these might give you a boost of energy, that energy is short lived. As they say, what goes up must come down and this is true when ingesting sugar and caffeine based products. Eat fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as anything else deemed healthy. Consider the time of day when you’ll be playing to determine the appropriate food to eat. Heavy foods make you sluggish which translates to being sleepy (not good for the tournament player). Eat light and healthy. “Should I start now?” Absolutely! I told my friend that he must start now so his body can adjust to the lack of sugar and caffeine. Sugar and caffeine are treated by the body the same way drugs are which means there is a period of withdrawal. When you introduce a chemical to your body and it’s a substance your body naturally produces, your body will stop producing it. Therefore, when you stop feeding your body that substance, it takes a while for the body to start producing it again. Healthy eating and natural forms of energy acquisition make for better levels of concentration.

Next, I told my friend to regulate his sleep so he is getting the necessary amount of sleep each night. I heard people say they do their best work on little sleep. This is a ego driven myth. We need sleep and most of us don’t get enough due to life’s many surprises. Rather than just getting a good night’s sleep just prior to the tournament, I told my friend that each time he got a good night’s sleep before the tournament was like putting money in the bank of focus and concentration. The longer you put money in, the greater the amount available later on (focus and concentration) when you need to cash out! He needed eight full hours of sleep per night. I asked when the tournament started and he said 10:00 am. Since it was a local tournament less than 30 minutes from his house, I suggested going to bed at 11:00 pm and getting up at 7:30 pm. He mentioned that this added up to 8 ½ hours. I reminded him that it takes people a bit of time to actually fall asleep. Sleep isn’t sleep unless you’re actually sleeping.

Time for some exercise. I didn’t expect him to do ten three minute rounds of boxing with me (something I do three times a week in addition to my other physical activities) but I did expect him to get the blood flowing through his body, feeding a greater amount of oxygen to the brain. I suggested taking long walks every single day, rain or shine. Sitting around hunched over the chess board while studying opening theory looks impressive but you mind can wander easily when you start to get tired. Walking is a good way to get the blood flowing to your brain and isn’t as boring as sitting in a gym doing repetitive exercises (yes, martial arts requires repetitive exercises but they’re a lot more fun than a stair master). I told him to walk two miles a day, downloaded an app to measure his progress and reminded him that I would check the app. Of course, I had to say, quoting a friend, a Chinese Judge who says to young people who stand before her in court in regards to cheating on his exercise “You shame your family honor if you don’t walk the full two miles.” I suspected he was having second thoughts about asking for my advice.

“Well, what about the chess part of this preparation?” My reply was “stick with what you know.” At this point, he got a bit agitated “What?” I explained that he should employ the openings he felt comfortable with rather than trying out something new. If you want to play a new opening at a tournament, you need to put at least six months of serious work into that opening before testing it out in tournament play. “What if my opponent plays an opening I’m not familiar with?” In these case, let the opening principles guide you but not in a mechanical way. Always make moves to improve your position rather than going for premature attacks. If your opponent is tactical, close the position down. Always work with your pawns with an eye towards the endgame. Play both sides not just your own. Pretend to be your opponent and find his best move before he does. Then you can calculate an appropriate response.

“Sometimes my mind wanders while my opponent is thinking about their move.” That comment was worthy of a “shame your family honor” rebuttal, which he got! The time in which your opponent is thinking of possible moves is a gift to you! You should be looking at every single one of the opposition’s pawns and pieces, figuring out where they could move to to create problems for your position. When you have this free “opposition time,” you should use it wisely, examining the position carefully. If you do it right, you’re actually using your opponent’s own clock time against them. I recommend reading The Art of War to get into this way of thinking.

Get to your tournament early which means leaving early. Rushing into a tournament means you’re going into it with added stress. Tournaments can be stressful enough so don’t add to an already stressful situation. So far, my friend is taking my suggestions to heart. While he may not take of Tai Chi, the cure all for everything in my book, he’ll at least avoid some of the pitfalls many players experience when they sit down to play. All this advice is simple common sense but there seems to be a global lack of it these days. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

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Sometimes, An Extra Pawn is Not Enough to Win

This is a recently completed correspondence chess game that was played on the ICCF server. My opponent in this correspondence chess game is an American who lives in Hong Kong with his Japanese wife. Despite my sharp play in the opening and middle game, my extra pawn was not enough to win in the endgame because it was doubled. It seems that the only way that I can beat Barney is to chose a different opening variation the next time that I get White against him.

My draw in this cc game has me temporarily tied for first place. I am also tied for first place in another section on the ICCF server. In both sections, someone who is still playing can knock me out of first place on tie breaks or by outscoring me. I will have to wait and see how things turn out for me in both sections.

I get frustrated when I go into an endgame up material and then I can’t force a win and I have to hope for another blunder by my opponent. The higher rated players seldom make the kinds of endgame blunders that I need to win. Even the weaker players know not to give up the opposition in King and pawn endgames. So, it is going to take some time for me to get my ICCF rating over 2100 points!

Mike Serovey

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