Inexplicable Endgame Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valer Eugen Demian

An Important Pawn Lever

Here’s a game I played last weekend. It was a bit of a dull game but Black had an important pawn lever with …c6-c5 at various points. Eventually I broke out with 28…e5 instead, which led to an exchange of rooks and a draw.

Sam Davies

The Fourth Missed Fork

For my next match I was back at Surbiton, and facing Steve Kearney, my opponent in the first Missed Fork game, again with the white pieces.

I went for the Queens Gambit again, but this time chose a slightly different set-up.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 e6
3. Nf3 d5
4. Nc3 Be7
5. Bf4 c6
6. e3 Nbd7
7. h3 O-O
8. cxd5 exd5
9. Bd3 Re8
10. O-O Nf8
11. Ne5 Ng6
12. Nxg6 hxg6
13. Qc2 Nh5
14. Bh2 Bd6
15. Bxd6 Qxd6
16. Rab1 Bd7
17. b4 b6
18. a4 Nf6

So far so orthodox. I might have waited and tried to prevent c5 before playing b5.

19. b5 c5
20. dxc5 Qxc5

Black chooses an IQP formation. He might also have played bxc5, with hanging pawns.

21. Rbc1

21. Ne2, controlling the key d4 square, was more to the point. Now, and also over the next few moves, Black could play d4, trading off the isolated pawn.

21… Rac8
22. Rfd1 Qb4
23. Qb1 Qh4

Instead Black goes for a king-side attack.

24. Qb3 Be6
25. Qa3 g5
26. Ne2 Nd7

Vacillating. There were better alternatives, such as Rcd8, keeping more pieces on the board. I was expecting, and rather concerned about, the consistent 26… g4, but the engines aren’t too bothered, continuing with 27. Rxc8 Rxc8 28. g3 Qxh3 29. Qd6 with more than enough for the pawn. I rather suspect that 28. g3 wouldn’t have occurred to me.

27. Rxc8 Rxc8
28. Nd4 Nc5
29. Nf5 Bxf5
30. Bxf5 Rd8
31. Rd4

Looks natural, but the engines prefer Bg4 or Qa2.

31… Qh6
32. Bg4 Qg6
33. Bf3

Careless. I should have played Qa2 first to prevent Qb1+ or Qc2.

33… Qb1+
34. Rd1 Qc2
35. a5

Not 35. Rxd5 Rxd5 36. Bxd5 Qd1+. Now Black should try 35… Ne4, with equality, but instead makes what should have been a fatal blunder.

35… Qc4
36. axb6 axb6

And here’s the Fourth Missed Fork. I just hadn’t thought about the significance of opening the a-file. Of course, if you know it’s there it’s easy: 37. Bxd5 just wins everything. A sacrifice to set up a check which is also a fork. Time and time again I miss simple tactics by failing to do what I’ve been trying to teach my pupils to do for decades: look for every check, capture and threat.

37. Rd4 Qxb5
38. Bxd5 Rf8
39. Qa7 Ne6
40. Bxe6 fxe6
41. Rd7

Natural, I suppose, when you’re running low on time, but I failed to spot that the black queen can reach b2 to defend g7, when White will have problems defending f2. Instead Qe7 would have offered some chances. Now the game lurches towards the inevitable draw.

41… Qb1+
42. Kh2 Qb2
43. Re7 Rxf2
44. Qb7 Qe5+
45. Kg1 Rb2
46. Qc8+ Kh7
47. Qxe6 Rb1+
48. Kf2 Rb2+
49. Kg1 1/2-1/2

Richard James

Educational Benefits of Chess Variants

Chess variants are versions of chess that incorporate changes to the way in which the game is played. These variants range from Fischer Random 960 chess, in which the pawns remain on their same starting ranks and squares but the pieces themselves start off on different starting squares (starting off on their initial ranks; 1st rank for White and 8th rank for Black), to Bughouse (A four player version of chess) to variants made up by imaginative children. The questions I pose is should we include these variants within our teaching curriculum? I’ve spoken with many chess educators and there seems to be a line drawn in the sand with one side supporting variants while the other side claims no educational value to these unique versions of the game. We’ll start by examining Bughouse, a favorite variant that’s even played at rated tournament settings.

For those of you unfamiliar with this variation of chess, Bughouse employs four players and two boards. Players work in teams of two. One team member plays Black and the other team member plays white, both team members sitting side by side. Their opponents do likewise, with one player manning the white pieces and the other the black pieces. What makes this game interesting is that after you capture a pawn or piece, you give that captured piece to your teammate who can either hold onto in or place it anywhere on the board. Pawns cannot be dropped on their promotion squares and pieces cannot be dropped on a square that creates an instant checkmate. Let me further explain how this works for those of you unfamiliar with the game. If you’re playing White and your teammate is playing black (you’re sitting side by side, each with a board in front of each of you), each time you capture one of your opponent’s pawns or pieces (your opposition team sits across from you and your teammate) which are Black, you hand that pawn or piece to your teammate. When it’s your teammate”s turn, they can either drop the newly acquired pawn or piece that you gave them onto the board or hold on to it for later use. When your teammate captures a pawn or piece (which is White because your teammate is manning the Black pawns and pieces), they give it to you to either use right away or later on. Dropping a pawn or piece on the board constitutes your turn, so you have to wait until it’s your turn again to move that dropped pawn or piece. The first team member to checkmate ends the game for all players.

Many chess players ans teachers don’t see any benefit from this version of chess. However, I use it for tactics training. Beginners have a tough time with tactics because tactics require being set up via a combination of moves which is above the skill set of the average beginner. With Bughouse, you look at the board and see a potential fork, for example, and rather than trying to maneuver a Knight across the board in order to exploit this tactic (meanwhile your opponent foils you plan with a counter move), you simply drop the Knight on the square that creates the fork. Of course, you don’t get to execute the fork right away because you used your turn up placing the piece on the board, but you start to visualize tactics and that helps beginners identify the patterns that can lead to tactical plays. Pattern recognition can be developed through this variation. Bughouse is also a great way to learn the art of attacking and defending. In this variation, you can drop (place) a pawn or piece onto a square that allows it to attack the opposition. You opponent can also drop a pawn or piece to block the attack or add another defender to the position. Players have to carefully count the number of attackers versus defenders and decide whether or not they should add more material into the fight. Beginners often lose material due to an inadequate number of attackers or defenders and this version of chess helps them with attacking and defending calculations. Is there a downside to Bughouse besides the high level of noise emanating from the rowdy players?

Honestly, there’s no substitute for the traditional form of the game. Kids love Bughouse because they can have a stockpile of additional pieces making attacks much easier and therein lies one of the problems. Kids will often blindly throw material into their attacks, losing the material in the process without reward, because they can always acquire more material from the teammate. This creates a sloppy way of thinking about attacking (and defending). If you’re already a good chess player, Bughouse can be fun and won’t aid you in developing bad chess habits. If you’re a beginner, it can create some bad chess habits unless those beginners are careful. This means, you the chess teacher (or parent) have to instill the principles used in regular chess into the minds of younger players before they play Bughouse on a regular basis. While it’s a fun way to play chess, it’s no substitute for good old fashion chess. However, lessons can be learned within the format of Bughouse as long as you think in teems of principled play so it has some benefit (besides being fun).

Now for Chess 960 as first introduced by Bobby Fischer. In this version, the pieces all start out on their starting ranks but where they are placed on the rank is different. This means Knights, Bishops, Rooks, Queen and King don’t start off on their traditional starting squares. This means all that opening theory goes partially out the window. However, this is a game that is heavy on tactics and serves as a tactical training aid. It also teaches beginners to attack where the action is. What do I mean by “where the action is?” Beginners tend to miss attacking opportunities because they don’t look at the entire board, only focusing in on where the opposition King is. This means they often miss weaknesses in their opponent’s position, lines where an opening to attack the enemy King can be created. Again, you have to be careful with young beginners when introducing them to this variation because it’s important they employ the opening principles in their regular games and follow sound middle and endgame principles as well. However, it can be used to help with improving a student’s attacking skills.

Children play a number of variations of chess from Suicide Chess to Exploding Chess. These variations should not be encouraged because they don’t aid in student’s chess education. Any variation played should always offer something in the way of training that incorporates the games principles. With that said, I encourage my students to create variations that have an educational purpose. Why? Because it gets them really thinking about the game, it’s principles and has them really examining the game in greater detail than when they simply play it. You should always encourage your students to explore the game as long as it’s a serious exploration. If my students are willing to approach creating a new variation of chess with the eyes of a scientist, I’ll support their quest. Don’t dismiss all chess variants because some of them can actually help improve aspects of your game. Speaking of games, here’s one to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

An Effective and Ineffective Pin in the Italian Game (2)

This article aims at beginners only. In my last article I discussed the effectiveness of a very common pin, Bg5 (or …Bg4 by Black) pinning a knight against the queen. In this article we will see that the same pin can very dangerous when your opponent has already castled and can be exploited with simple and effective Nd5 (or …Nd4 by Black). Most of the time this guarantees a very strong attack because it creates weakness around the opponent’s king (usually doubled pawns on the f-file) which are static.

Here is a nice example of this:

Ashvin Chauhan

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

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

A quick reminder about how to do it:

  • Have a look at the position for 1 minute (watch the clock)
  • Think about the choices in front of you and pick the one you feel it is right
  • Verify it in your mind the best you can
  • Compare it with the solution

Are you ready? Here it is: which of the three possible king moves wins the game for White?

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

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

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

Valer Eugen Demian

Snuffing Out Counterplay

One of the things my Dad has been teaching me is how to try and snuff out the opponent’s counter play. I think I did a reasonable job of this in the following game from the 2016 Leyland Major:

Sam Davies

Missed Opportunities

My next match involved a trip to Uxbridge, where I was expecting to play their top board, Charlie Nettleton, a young player with a grade of 187 (now 197). I found quite a lot of Charlie’s games on MegaBase, but discovered that he’s one of these players who chooses a different opening every time, which at least meant I didn’t have to waste any more time on preparation.

I had the black pieces and soon found myself in a Vienna/Bishop’s Opening hybrid, another post-theory opening.

1. e4 e5
2. Nc3 Nf6
3. Bc4 Nc6
4. d3 Bb4
5. Bg5 d6
6. Nge2 Na5
7. Bb5+ c6
8. Ba4 b5
9. Bb3 Nxb3
10. axb3 h6
11. Bh4 Be6
12. O-O O-O
13. Kh1 g5
14. Bg3 Nh5
15. d4

Fairly equal so far, but my next move is a blunder. Instead, Qc7 would have been about equal.

15… Qf6
16. d5

Missing an opportunity. White could win a pawn here with the natural move 16. Ra6. This creates two threats. The obvious one is Rxc6, but there’s also a threat of Na2, when the bishop on b4 has nowhere to go. A problem-like theme: White creates this threat by moving his rook beyond the a2 square. Now I could deal with this threat by playing 16… Bxc3, but after 17. Nxc3 White has another threat. The knight recapture has uncovered the possibility of Qxh5. I could meet that threat with 17… Nxg3, but after 18. fxg3 White reveals another discovered attack, and this time there’s no way out. I can’t move the queen to defend c6 so the c-pawn finally falls.

16… cxd5
17. exd5

Taking with a piece seems more natural, and probably stronger.

17… Bd7
18. Qd3 a6
19. f3 Qe7
20. Bf2 f5
21. Na2 e4
22. fxe4 fxe4
23. Qd1 Bc5
24. Bxc5 Rxf1+
25. Qxf1 dxc5
26. Nac3 b4
27. Nd1 Rf8
28. Qg1

I’ve outplayed my opponent over the last few moves, but at the cost of precious time on the clock. I now have the chance to gain a decisive advantage.

28… Qd6

The sort of safe move you play in time trouble, defending the pawn on a6 and blockading the d-pawn. But I could have done much better: passed pawns should be pushed! The first point of 28… e3 is that the pawn can’t be taken. 29. Nxe3 runs into Re8, skewering the white knights, while 29. Qxe3 is even worse after Rf1+. White has nothing better than 29. Rxa6 when Black continues 29… Bg4 (but not 29… Bb5 30. Re6) and White has no defence. For instance, 30. Ng3 Nxg3+ 31. hxg3 Rf1 32. Qxf1 e2 and wins, or 30. Qe1 Qe4 (more accurate than 30… Bxe2 31. Rg6+ Kh7 32. Re6) followed by Bxe2 and Nf4. The best try is 30. Qxe3 Bxe2 when White clearly can’t capture the black queen, so has nothing better than 31. Ra8 Qxe3 32. Rxf8+ Kxf8+ 33. Nxe3 and Black, with a piece against two pawns, should win.

I should add that e3 was also very strong, as well as being rather more obvious, the previous move. Nimzowitsch was right about passed pawns!

29. Ne3

Now it’s equal, or would have been after the more active 29… Bb5.

29… Bc8
30. Rd1 Nf4
31. Ng3 Qg6
32. Nc4

White misses the chance to push his passed pawn: 32. d6 was strong.

32… Re8

Now I should have given up my e-pawn for activity: 32… e3 33. Nxe3 h5 with enough compensation for the pawn according to the engines.

Instead, with little time remaining, I overlooked the discovered attack after which my position collapsed.

33. Qxc5 Bg4
34. Re1 h5
35. Ne3 Bc8
36. d6 Qf6
37. Qc6 Rd8
38. Nxe4 Qe5
39. Nc4 Qd4
40. Nxg5 Bd7
41. Qc7 Qf6
42. Ne4 Qf8
43. Ne5 Nd5
44. Nxd7 Nxc7
45. Nxf8 Kxf8
46. dxc7 Rc8
47. Ng5 1-0

An interesting game with some missed opportunities on both sides. My main problem, as usual, was poor time handling. With much less time on the clock against a much younger opponent it’s highly likely that things will go wrong.

Richard James

Chess and Rehabilitation

Chess is a game (although devotees will tell you it’s more than just a game) enjoyed by young and old alike. It knows no racial, social, sexual or religious boundaries. It’s inexpensive to invest in the needed equipment to play it and with plenty of free, online sources, one can learn and improve at no cost. However, it can serve a greater cause, changing the future of those who have made bad decisions in their lives. Chess can help to rehabilitate those individuals who have difficultly solving problems in their lives, problems that range from criminality to substance abuse to scattered thinking. Let me explain this idea and give you some real examples of the positive changes chess has brought to a number of individuals.

We’ll start by looking at what chess can do for those individuals with scattered or disorganized thought patterns. We all known someone (maybe even ourselves) who seems to deal with life’s numerous problems in a roundabout way, often going from point “a” to point “b” in an illogical if not haphazard manner. Try as they may, they never seem to have an easy time of solving even the simplest of problems. Chess is a game that requires the ability to create a logical plan and execute it in a straight forward manner. Problem solving in chess comes down to coming up with a series of steps that resolves the issue at hand (a given position on the chessboard) in the most expedient manner possible. In chess, you cannot afford to take the scenic route, instead taking the most direct path to resolution available. This is a learned skill which is developed through both theory (studying the game) and practice (actually playing the game). The organized problem solving methods learned when studying chess can be applied to real life situations. The logic, reasoning and planning required to be a successful chess player can be employed when tackling the many problems we face in our day to day lives. After playing and studying chess, the once scattered thinker can now solve problems using an organized system of thought. Does this mean that chess will make you more intelligent? Sadly no! You’re born with the brain you’re born with but studying chess will hep you to make the best of what lies within your cranial cavity!

In the many schools I teach chess in, I present real life analogies played out on the chessboard and vice versa. I do this so students can more easily apply what they learn from chess to their lives. My students range from prep school children to hardened juveniles and adults who are locked up in jails. When teaching in jails and prisons, the one common thread all the men, both young and old) share is a series of extremely bad decisions they made during the course of their lives. While I’ve never spent time behind the hard iron bars of the prisons I teach in, I’ve made some truly bad decisions in my life that nearly cost me everything. The old adage “there but by the grace of God go I” rattles through my thoughts every time I enter a jail or prison. The only difference between the men I work with in prison/jail and myself is that I was fortunate enough to have found the game of chess before I ended up behind bars and learned a bit about making good decisions and the consequences of bad decisions. You know that other old adage, “sex, drugs and rock and roll?” Lets just say that in my youth I lived that lifestyle to its fullest and that kind of lifestyle is ripe with bad decisions. Because ,for whatever reason, I escaped ending up either dead or locked up in a jail somewhere, I work extremely hard to help incarcerated individuals learn how to stop making the type of bad decisions that landed them in leg irons. I say leg irons because I tend to only work with the worst offenders, many of whom committed murder and are actually moved around the prison in leg irons. On a side note, I will not allow prison guards to be in the room with me when I’m working with one to five of these men. It’s not that I’m some sort of tough guy who can take on five men at once. I simply need to show these guys a certain level of trust and in prison, trusting someone with your life is the highest form of trust there is. Since I’m still here writing this, I may be on to something! In actuality prisoners tend to be on their best behavior with outsiders.

With my incarcerated students, we learn, through the game of chess, how good decisions can make our lives on the chessboard easier and how bad decisions can spiral out of control and leave us in a hopeless situation or position. We apply this idea to their lives. We look to the future because the bad decisions of their past cannot be undone. We learn how, from the moment they start using chess to aid them with solving life problems, their lives can change for the better. The tools used to succeed on the chessboard can be used to succeed in life. Chess is also a way these men can challenge one another without anyone getting physically hurt. As I often say, “chess is the one way you can get into a fight that won’t land you back in jail.” I’ve paired rival gang members against one another on the chessboard and, while there might be a bruise or two to the loser’s ego, no blood is shed. In fact, often, these rivals will become playing partners and even respect one another in the end. Chess has a way of bringing these men closer together.

Then there’s the drug addicts and alcoholics I’ve taught chess to. For someone with a drug or alcohol problem, spending time alone with their thoughts can lead to further substance abuse. Being alone with one’s self can have deadly consequences. The hardest dilemma for the addict is having too much time on their hands when first in recovery because they start thinking (negative thoughts) and early in recovery, those thoughts are as poisonous as the substances they ingest. The addict, early in their recovery, has trouble focusing and when they do, their thoughts are extremely painful, with the addict dwelling on all they’ve lost. They also lack logic and reasoning skills because addiction is an illogical and scattered lifestyle. Therefore, chess is a valuable tool for keeping the addict’s mind occupied and for teaching them to problem solve without the use of drugs or alcohol. Addicts tend to avoid their problems, many deeply rooted within their psyche and extremely painful to relive, by indulging in the drug their choice. They avoid the pain that lives within them, remaining chemically numb because they don’t know how to deal with their pain. They don’t have a point of reference, only scattered thoughts. They’ve lost their ability to function in the world due to the substance abuse. They have no focus. Chess can provide a way in which to learn how to develop focus and concentration as well as how to make sound, logical decisions. However, one of the most important aspects of chess as it related to recovery is the game’s ability to help addicts avoid becoming trapped in their own dark thoughts. Chess keeps the occupied. It keeps the dark thoughts at bay because they’re trying to concentrate on playing. I’ve had good results with many addicts simply by teaching them this game that helps them make better decisions. In closing, chess can be extremely therapeutic as well. When I was diagnosed and treated for an aggressive cancer in 2007, it was chess that kept me from losing my mind. Every moment spent playing chess was a moment I didn’t think about possibly dying. Well, that was a rather grim article anc I thank you for suffering through it. Here’s a game to enjoy until week when I promise the subject matter will be a bit more upbeat!

Hugh Patterson

London Loss

This is a game against a friend, John Foley. Nigel thought I was playing over ambitiously because of good recent results! I hope today that I wouldn’t even consider 12…Bxh4 and that the 11…c5 lever would be more automatic. Nigel shared a couple of interesting games in this system.

Dan Staples