Knowing the Endgame for Better Trades

Beginners only tend to be interested in learning endgames if you can show them how useful they are. And for successful coaching it is highly desirable that your students are interested in learning!

Accordingly this article is aimed at beginners only. I will demonstrate how knowing or learning an endgame can help in making the right exchanges.

Black to play and win
This position is taken from one of my internet games. This position looks even at a first glance but it is completely winning for Black.

Hint: The king and pawn endgame is the best way to realize the material advantage.

Solution:

1…f5

Forcing the knight to c5.

2.Nc5

The only move. Now what?

2…Nxf2

The simplest solution that forces exchanges.

If 2…Bxc5 then 3. Bxc5! drops a pawn but retains drawing chances for White. The same is true of 3.Nxc5. Note that 3.bxc5 leads to a winning king and pawn endgame for Black after exchanges on f2 because White’s king can’t protect the c5 pawn and the pawn is within the reach of Black’s king (Rule of Square).

3.Rxf2 Rxc5!!

The point, winning a pawn and forcing exchanges. My opponent resigned here in view of 4.bxc5 Bxc5 when the rook is pinned. Black can take the rook on next move and resulted position will be an easy win because of the extra pawn in a king and pawn endgame.

Ashvin Chauhan

Sicilian Alapin Surprise

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

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

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

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

Valer Eugen Demian

Centralizing the King in the Endgame

This was one of my best rapid play games that I played in Atherton in 2015. At that time I played the Closed Sicilian with White and got a nice advantage out of the opening.

My Dad liked the breakthrough on the queenside with 19.b4 which led to the win of a couple of pawns. He also liked the fact I centralized my king in the endgame while giving Black no counter play.

Sam Davies

Better Maul Paul

Returning to my games from last season, I was in need of a win to boost my morale, and, in my next game, had White against Paul Barasi, whom I’ve known well since our first encounter back in 1968. This was our eighth meeting, and up to this point we’d both won twice, with three draws.

As Paul is a regular reader of this column I’ll have to be careful what I saw about him!

Here’s the game:

1. d4 d5 2. c4 Nc6 3. Nc3 dxc4 4. d5 Ne5 5. Nf3 (f4 is the critical move in this southpaw Alekhine’s Defence) Nxf3+ 6. exf3 e6 (6… e5!?) 7. Bxc4 exd5 (7… c6!?) 8. Bxd5 Bd6

There are three games from this position on my database, all of them with the English FM Mark Lyell playing Black. In each case his opponents played Qa4+, and in each case White won the game. The engines prefer Qb3, after which they consider White stands better, so perhaps this line isn’t the best choice for Black. I chose a simpler move which poses fewer problems for Black.

9. O-O Ne7 10. Bb3 O-O 11. Ne4 Bf5 12. Nxd6 cxd6 13. Bf4 d5 14. Rc1 Be6 15. Qd2 a5

Giving me a fairly free pawn. Nc6 or Rc8 would have been OK for Black.

16. Bc7 Qd7 17. Bxa5 Qb5 18. Bb4 Rfe8 19. Bxe7 Rxe7 20. Rfd1 h6 21. Qd4 Ra5 22. g3 b6 23. Rc3 Qe8

Giving me a second pawn in order to threaten mate.

24. Qxb6 Rb5 25. Qd4 Bh3 26. Re3 Rxe3 27. fxe3 Qe7

There’s a third pawn if I want it. 28. Bxd5 Rxd5 29. Qxd5 Qxe3+ 30. Kh1 Qf2 looked scary and I didn’t have time to work it out. After the immediate 31. Rg1 Bf1, with the idea of Be2, White has to take a draw, but instead I can throw in 31. Qd8+ Kh7 32. Qd3+ g6 33. Rg1 when White is safe. 28. g4 is also an option, but again looked too scary. By now, needless to say, I was beginning to get short of time.

28. Kf2 Qc7 29. e4 (Bxd5!?) Rxb3

The engines, as expected, throw their hands up in horror on seeing this move, but it’s an excellent practical try in a lost position.

30. axb3 Qc2+ 31. Qd2 (the immediate Rd2 was also fine) Qc5+ 32. Qe3 Qc2+ 33. Rd2 Qc1

With insufficient time on the clock and facing a mate threat I went into panic mode and missed the correct defence here: 34. g4 Qf1+ 35. Kg3 when Black has nothing.

34. Qe1 Qc5+ 35. Ke2 dxe4 36. Qf2 (36. fxe4! Bg4+ 37. Kd3!) Qb5+ 37. Ke1 e3

I missed that one (exf3 was a better try for Black) but fortunately had a way out and just about enough time left on the clock to win the game from here.

38. Rd8+ Kh7 39. Qc2+ g6 40. Qd3 and i just about managed to beat the clock. I’m not sure that I deserved to win this due to my poor time handling, but still, a win is a win.

Another game, another White and another Paul, this time Paul Janota, another player of about my strength. This was our third encounter: we’d drawn in 2000 and I’d won in 2010.

1. d4 e6 2. c4 Nf6 3. Nf3 b6 4. a3 Bb7 5. Nc3 Be7 6. Qc2 (d5!?) d5 7. cxd5 exd5 8. Bf4 O-O 9. e3 Nbd7 10. h3 (Unnecessary here: Bd3!?) a6 11. Be2 c5 12. O-O Rc8 13. Qd2 Re8 14. Rac1 Nf8 15. Rfd1 Ng6 16. Bh2 Bd6 17. Bxd6 Qxd6 18. dxc5 bxc5 (A typical hanging pawns position which should be fine for Black. My opening hasn’t been very impressive.) 19. Bd3 Ne5 20. Nxe5 Qxe5 21. Be2 Ne4 (Not such a good idea. Now I get some play on the d-file.) 22. Nxe4 dxe4 23. Qc3 h6 24. Qxe5 Rxe5 25. Bc4 Re7 26. Rd6 a5 27. Rcd1 Bc6 28. Rd8+ Re8 29. Rxe8+ Bxe8 30. Rd5 (Bd5!?) Kh7 (Kf8!?) 31. Re5 (winning a pawn) Rb8 32. Rxc5 Rxb2 33. Rxa5 Rc2 (Rb7!?) 34. Bd5 (winning a second pawn because of 34… f5 35. Be6 g6 36. Rc7+) 1-0 A rather generous resignation by my opponent. He might have played on for a few more moves.

Two rather unconvincing wins, but at least they went some way towards getting my season back on track.

Richard James

The Death of Competition

Competition drives civilization. While it’s really the ideas formed in the minds of our species greatest thinkers that advance civilization, it’s what is then done with those ground breaking ideas that sets the course humanity repeatedly embarks upon. To simply come up with a great idea and leave it just that, a brilliant thought rattling around the cerebral cortex, amounts to nothing. The idea must be made a reality and this means turning that idea into action be it the automobile or home computer. When the idea becomes reality it is introduced to the rest of the human species. In the case of the home computer, they were manufactured, sold to millions of consumers and then improved upon. Driving all of this was the idea of competition, one manufacturer creating a better model that would outsell those models introduced by other manufacturers. Sports is also the realm of competition, where individuals and teams compete to see who is the best in their given sport. In short, we are all touched by competition.

However, there has been a recent trend, when it comes to competition between children, whose aim is to remove competition from the equation, opting to create an environment within sports type endeavors in which everyone is a winner just for participating. This means, for example, that if your show up to an event in which traditionally, only the top three participants are rewarded for their performance, you’ll be rewarded for simply showing up and participating. It’s the parenting theory of “every child is special and should be rewarded just for that.” Some call it the “special snowflake” syndrome. This is where parents tell their children that they are special (which of course every child really is) and then steer those children away from a competitive environment. I really understand this point of view because we love our children and don’t want to see them suffer in any way, including their discovering that they’re just not good at something. I suspect some parents think that their child’s lives will become irreversibly damaged should they enter a competitive event and come in last. Again, I understand that you want to shield your child from the horrors of the world, but eventually they’re going to go out into the world and have to deal with competition. It’s everywhere and the sooner you prepare your child to deal with it, the better off they’ll be in the long run.

Everyone has something their good at and can take pride in. For some, it takes longer to find than others. When I was growing up, I was introduced to music and the arts in general. My parents didn’t have to keep me out of competitive sports because even I knew I’d be terrible at any sport (I really was). This is something parents need to understand. You’re children are a lot smarter than you think and intrinsically know their limitations. My parents greatly aided my dream of becoming a professional musician, knowing that it is one of the most competitive businesses around. They left dealing with the issue of competition to me, only making sure they’d be there if it all became too much for me to handle (a good way to approach this). I’ve been in this competitive business almost 40 years and it does require a tough outer layer of emotional skin to survive it. I, as you know, also teach and coach chess. I’ll never be the best chess player in the world (not even close) and I’m fine with that! Just because I’m not the best doesn’t mean I can’t pursue this game I love so much. As for guitar playing, I’m highly rated and very competitive, always aiming to out play the competition. This spurs me on to practice more than most players. I reap the rewards of such diligence. I mention these two things I do to make a point and that is: You don’t have to be the best at something to enjoy it, making it an important part of your life, and if you do find something your really good at, why not shoot for the stars (within reason). I think parents mistakenly steer their children away from chasing their dreams, which change with great regularity.

Children should be allowed to follow their dreams and be taught that there will be others who aspire to the same dream, thus creating an environment of, you guessed it, competition! When we try to avoid situations of competition in our child’s lives we shelter them from the inevitable, the plain and simple fact that life itself is competitive. Children eventually leave their mothers and fathers, setting out into a world that can be fierce and unforgiving. Better to be prepared than not.

I was at a chess tournament thrown by a school a while back and noticed that they had a huge number of trophy’s displayed on the stage. Upon asking why there were so many of them, I was informed that every child playing in the tournament would receive one simply for showing up. I felt a bit uneasy about this idea because some of my students were playing in that tournament and those students spent countless hours working on their game so they would have a chance at winning one of the normally coveted top place trophies. One of my students also found out that everyone was getting a trophy and while he was glad there wouldn’t be anyone going home empty handed, he felt slightly cheated because he had worked so hard to prepare for what was not really a straight forward competition. Do we need to reward everyone for simply showing up? Imagine if this idea of “everyone’s a winner” was applied to the competitive world of technological businesses. Would we see all of the rapidly developed technologies that have changed our lives for the better come about in such a lightning fast way? Would we see once expensive computers we use in our daily lives come down to an affordable cost. I suspect not because competition drives advances and affordability. Yes, you’re a winner for trying, for giving it a shot, but if you want to truly be the best at something, you have to compete against other like minded individuals who also want to be the best at something. The only way to determine one’s level of skill is by comparison, namely comparing your skill to the skills of others who share your interest in that endeavor. This is done, using chess as an example, by playing another person.

One of the tough things about competition and chess is that chess comes down to you and your brain against your opponent and his or her brain. You might say that it’s a battle of brains and when we lose, we tend to take it a bit personally. Is the person you just lost to smarter than you? Absolutely not but people think that chess skills go hand in hand with one’s IQ, meaning the better the chess player the smarter he or she is. Wrong! I’ve heard parents say that “wow, that little boy that won first place sure is smart.” Does this mean that the parent’s son that came in 19th place is less smart? Absolutely not! It means the little boy that won first place may have been playing longer or had better pattern recognition skills. You can’t take your child losing a chess tournament or any other competition as a sign there’s something wrong. You also can’t shield them from what they’re going to meet head on when they mature, competition. So what should you do?

Tell them that the very fact they tried counts for a lot and even if they don’t do well in this endeavor, there is something out there that they’ll be great at. The adventure for the child is finding that. Competition should not be avoided but embraced in a healthy way. I mention this because there are parents who, upon finding their child’s uber talent, become slave drivers who force their children to improve at all costs. Let the child develop the interest and if they’re really into it, they’ll put in the time. Accept competition. Now that you’ve suffered through my rant, I give you a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

Crawling In With The King

Here’s a game of mine from the recent Manchester Open which was very much a strategic affair. I improvised the early 6.Nc3 and 7.Qc2 and fortunately managed to get a strong position in the early middle game.

The decisive moment came when Black played 23…Ng5 rather than 23…Bg5, which allowed me to saddle him with a really bad bishop and lots of light square weaknesses. My king just marched in:

Nigel Davies

The d5 Square in the Sicilian from Black’s Point of View

Last week we looked at the importance of the d5 square in the Sicilian Defence from White’s point perspective. In this article we will see it from Black’s point of view. Black plans for either d7 to d5 or d6 to d5 in order to free his game. If you just start learning the Sicilian, you might wonder why it frees Black’s game? Well here is the answer:

1) In most the Sicilian lines White attacks Black’s kingside and we all know that a flank attack can be countered by an attack in the center. Playing …d6-d5 fits this bill.

2) Black can neutralise White’s attack along the half open d file by opening it for his rooks.

3) To eliminate the weakness on d6.

4) Once Black plays d5, his position will be not be cramped. Thus he can use his pieces to their full potential, especially a dark square bishop on e7.

What happens if Black is not able to play d5? What would be the next strategy? He needs to stop White from using is for his pieces and at least try and force White to recapture with a pawn on d5.

Here are a couple of games in which Black manages to get …d6-d5 in, with great success:

Semyon Dvoirys vs Wang Yue in 2007 (Black sacrifices a pawn on d5 for piece activity)


Alexander Kovchan vs Sergey Karjakin in 2010 (Just counting the numbers of attack and support of d5 is not sufficient)

Ashvin Chauhan

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

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

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

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

Right now I feel this 1 minute challenge idea has value for many. In a World full of opportunities and an overwhelming amount of information at our fingertips, thinking for ourselves and making the best possible decisions is increasingly important. No engine or similar tool will help you do that. They are just tools. Yes, an engine will “show” you in a split second the possible result of a move/ decision; however it will never be able to “explain” it to you. That is what really matters and why we should continue practicing it. A quick reminder about how to do it:

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

Are you ready? Below is this week’s position asking you to choose the winning move from the 4 options presented (in no particular order):

Here are my thoughts:

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

Here is the solution:

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

Valer Eugen Demian

Counterattack in the Queen’s Gambit Declined

Here is a dramatic game in the Queen’s Gambit Declined Exchange Variation. My Dad showed me this one so I could see the strength of a Black rook on the third rank, both defending the weak pawn on c6 and menacing White’s king. A particularly instructive move was 29…h5 which saves Black’s king from back rank problems and brings up another attacker, if only a pawn.

Sam Davies

You Made Me Lose

It was in the very early days of Richmond Junior Club, 40 or more years ago. One Saturday morning a boy approached me accusingly. “Mr James, you made me lose!”, he said.

I soon discovered what had happened. The previous week I’d demonstrated Legall’s mate to him. A few days later he had a school chess match and was presented with the opportunity to move his pinned knight, following up with a check when his opponent captured his queen. Sadly, there was no mate there: the position was similar but not the same. Of course this is one reason why chess is so hard. you learn an idea: there will be many similar positions where the same idea will work and, equally, many other similar positions where it won’t work. You can’t just use memory. You have to calculate as well.

I was reminded of this the other day by something one of my private pupils said to me. When he arrived for his lesson his mother told me that he had a tournament coming up in a couple of weeks time so could I teach him some openings? At his level chess is about not making oversights and understanding what’s happening at the start of the game, not, as many parents assume, about learning some moves off by heart before a competition.

I printed off what I’ve done so far on Chess Openings for Heroes, which takes a very different approach to the begnning of the game, and decided I should start by making sure he knows how to stop Scholar’s Mate. In this sort of tournament there are always kids who will try it on. We’ve done this several times before, but unless it’s reinforced at home, children will forget. I played the moves 1. e4 e5 2. Qh5 Nc6 (he argued with me that Nf6 was better because he seemed to remember someone once told him that was the move to play) 3. Bc4. To his credit he played Qe7. I told him that was fine, but that he could also play g6. He looked horrified by this suggestion and told me his chess teacher at school, who is a much stronger player than me as well as a very experienced chess coach, said that this was a bad move. No doubt he was told not to play 1. e4 e5 2. Qh5 g6 but had remembered the advice without understanding the reason and was unable to differentiate between the two positions.

At this level children remind me of Eric Morecambe’s attempt to play the Grieg Piano Concerto in the famous Morecambe and Wise sketch: they play all the right moves, but not necessarily in the right order.

There was also a boy at a school chess club more than 20 years ago who had remembered that after 2. Qh5 you could defend by putting one of your big pieces on e7, but couldn’t remember which piece to use. So week after week he played 2… Ke7 and week after week lost game after game in three moves.

Children who try to memorise moves without understanding and without calculating will inevitably become confused and frustrated. But memory is much easier than calculation and understanding for young children, and their parents often suffer from the mistaken belief that chess is mostly about memory.

It’s not just the moves that can leave children confused: it’s also the rules of the game. A few months ago another of my private pupils played in the Megafinals of the UK Chess Challenge, just failing to qualify for the Gigafinals. He told me that in one of his games he was winning and decided to castle. When doing so he accidentally knocked his king over. His opponent claimed a win on the grounds that my student had resigned. His father then came up (I don’t know why he was in the playing hall at all) and explained that the result was correct: if you knock your king over you forfeit the game.

I’ve seen children cheat in this way but you can also see how a misunderstanding might arise. You’re watching a video of a game between two grandmasters. One of them turns his king over to indicate that he’s resigning. Your child asks why he did that and you reply that if you knock your king over it means you resign.

Some years ago, another pupil was playing in the Megafinals. In one game he was winning but his opponent moved his king next to my pupil’s king and claimed a draw. My student, thinking this was a rule he didn’t know about, accepted the result. Again, you can guess what might have happened. The other player witnessed a board with the kings on e4 and e5. He asked the reason for this and was told that if two kings stand next to each other it means the game is drawn. Taking it out of context, he assumes that if you move your king next to your opponent’s king at any time you can claim a draw.

Most children are resilient and get over this sort of experience pretty quickly, but a few aren’t, and don’t.

You see misunderstandings at a more basic level when children first join school chess clubs. They’ve been told ‘you win the game by taking your opponent’s king’ and ‘you castle by swapping round your king and rook’: maybe because their dad really believes that these are the rules, but more likely because he doesn’t explain checkmate and castling clearly and make sure that his children understand.

How can we avoid these misunderstandings and ensure that children are well prepared before they join a chess club and before they play in their first tournament?

Richard James