The Frightful Revisited

Chapter 3 of The (Even More) Complete Chess Addict is entitled ‘The Frightful’. The worst players of all time. The worst tournament performances of all time. The worst games of all time. The worst moves of all time. The worst games and moves of the best players.

Over the past few days I’ve encountered two games which would certainly qualify for the next edition, should I decide to write it at some point.

As I write, the Altibox Tournament is taking place in Norway. This position arose in the pre-tournament Blitz. World Champion Magnus Carlsen was White against Lev Aronian.

In this position Aronian had just played 51.. g4. Carlsen had to decide which way to capture. With only a few seconds left on the clock, he chose to take with the h-pawn, and you don’t need me to tell you what happened next. The correct capture would have ensured the draw.

Now we turn the clock back more than a century, to 19 November 1915, and a simultaneous display given by the great Capablanca, a player renowned for his accuracy, at the Franklin Chess Club, Philadelphia. One of his games, against William H Snowden Jnr, reached this position, with Capa having to decide how to get out of check.

The game continued 47. Kh4 Nxe4 48. h6 and White eventually won. I’m sure you will have no problem finding improvements for both players in this sequence.

My source for this game was Edward Winter’s Chess Notes, essential reading for anyone with any interest in the byways of chess history.

If, as I’m sure you did, you managed to find the correct answers to these two positions, feel free to tell your friends that you can play chess better than Carlsen and Capablanca. Yes, we’re talking about a simul and a blitz game, but, even so, you’d expect any strong player to find the right move in a nanosecond or two.

It’s reassuring for those of us with no pretensions to being good at chess to know that even the best players in the world can make really stupid moves from time to time.

Richard James

Training Exercises

Once you’ve learned the rules of the game, you can immediately start playing against human opponents. However, the results are going to be negative at first if you’re playing a more experienced player. Even playing a slightly more advanced beginner might be a losing proposition. What’s the beginner to do? Play a specific training game that will teach the beginner how to move all the pawns and pieces in a coordinated manner. Isn’t that simply playing regular chess? No. The training game I’m writing about uses only pawns, at first, introducing a new piece into the mix when a pawn reaches it’s promotion square and promotes. The name of the game is pawn wars.

GM Susan Polgar stated that her father had her playing pawn wars extensively after she learned the rules of the game and look where she ended up! I use pawn wars to train my beginning students just after they’ve learned the rules but before they start playing normal games of chess. When I first starting teaching, I felt that pawn wars wasn’t a good substitute for simply playing actual chess. However, I took a second look at it and realized that this simple pawn game prepares beginners for more advanced concepts such as pawn and piece coordination and pawn structure. The benefits won out and I started extensively using it in my curriculum.

To play pawn wars, you set up only the pawns on their starting squares, the White pawns being set up along the second rank and the Black pawns along the seventh rank. Players take turns as both Black and White. The key to winning is getting a pawn to it’s promotion square, promoting that pawn and using the piece the pawn promoted into to capture your opponent’s pawns. The beautiful thing about this game is that it forces players to intuitively develop good pawn structure and avoid weak pawns. You can introduce the passed, isolated and backwards pawn to students immediately via this game. It also helps students practice moving the pieces legally as well as teaching them to think ahead.

As for what each player should promote their pawns into? Many teachers allow their students to promote their pawns into only Queens. The problem with this is that students will often favor the Queen, thinking it the only piece that’s good for attacking and capturing. This can lead to them bringing their Queen out early in regular games which leads to disaster. I have my students go through the other pieces first before promoting a pawn into a Queen, starting with the Knight, then Bishop, Rook, King and lastly, the Queen.

Most beginners have trouble with the Knight, which is why that’s the first piece allowed into the game. By starting with the Knight, beginners get a better feel for it’s movement and feel more confident with it when they sit down and play normal games of chess. They get a better feel for it’s “L” shaped movement because they’re forced to practice with it. Many beginners tend to favor one piece because it’s easier to move than the others. This version of pawn wars forces them to become adept at moving all the pieces. It also allows them to start seeing positions tactically. They naturally discover that when placed on certain squares, the Knight can attack two or more pawns at once. When they eventually learn about forks, the concept will seem less foreign to them because they’ve already learned it.

Next comes the Bishop. The Bishop, being a long distance piece, can attack from a great distance. However, it needs mobility which is learned through this pawn game.
The idea of good and bad Bishops can be introduced as well. I teach my students to destroy a pawn chain, which beginners seem to figure out without knowing what it’s called, by attacking the chain’s base. A lot of the learning when playing pawn wars is intuitive and lays a solid foundation for more advanced techniques. It’s important to let students figure things out on their own when playing this game. We learn from our mistakes!

The Rook comes next. The great thing about Rooks versus pawns is that the player with only pawns will learn how to use pawns to protect one another. The player with the Rook will learn how to spot weak pawns and take advantage of them. Again, I let my students discover more advanced concepts intuitively, only teaching them about those concepts after they’ve discovered them.

Then there’s the King. I introduce the King into the game before the Queen because the King can be checked. This means that the player with the King learns how to move it through hostile territory safely. Students intuitively discover the King’s value as an attacker and defender. Using the King prepares students for endgame pawn and King play.

Lastly, I have them promote a pawn into a Queen. However, I remind them that the Queen shouldn’t be introduced early in a normal game. While my students get a taste of the Queen’s intoxicating power, they’re using it in a position that’s closer to an endgame. While many find it easy to win the pawn war with the Queen, a few end up losing their Queen which plants a good principled seed into their brain; be very very careful with your Queen!

Each student will play a cycle of ten games, five games as White and five as Black. Each pair of games sees either player promoting a pawn into one of the five pieces in the following order: Knight, Bishop, Rook, King and lastly, Queen. If you want to hone you basic skills prior to playing a normal game of chess, this is a great way to do it. You’ll learn about advanced concepts early on and understand them much better when you study them in depth. Here’s a short game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

A Revival of the Sicilian Nimzowitsch Variation

Many players get round the ever increasing amount of opening theory with their own little specialities. This makes a lot of sense from a practical point of view, whoever adopts such lines will probably have a better knowledge of them than their opponents and a better knowledge of the ensuing middle game.

One such ideas is 6…Qb6 in the Nimzowitsch Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e5 Nd5 4.Nc3 Nxc3 5.dxc3 Nc6 6.Bf4 Qb6), which is really quite annoying for White as it’ definitely a concession to weaken the queenside with 7.b3. There’s not much theory which leaves plenty of scope for original analysis.

The leading exponent of this line is the Russian Grandmaster Aleksandr Rakhmanov. In the following game he beats Viktor Bologan with this 6…Qb6 idea:

Nigel Davies

Lesson in Endgame Pawn Structure

This was an interesting game. Black had a good plan against White’s queenside expansion. His Na6 was challenging. Nigel suggested some improvements for White around move 10. He liked my 17. c5 but thought it needed an engine to be confident. And he showed how Black could have come out in front in the resulting complications.

I found Nigel’s analysis at the end was very helpful. He proposed 35. Rc6 rather than my Kd3. His line would have kept the single pawn island for White and a potential e4 outpost for his Knight. If after my 35. Kd3 Black had played 35…exd4+ Black would have started to exchange some pawns and White would have two pawn islands.

After 38. Nd3 Black has nice outposts for all his pieces.

Dan Staples

Fighting In The Trenches (2)

“I’ve paid my dues in the classical trenches”
Laila Robins

Last time we stopped at below position between my club students from the top group. Probably it was not hard for you to decide White is still winning. The queen side pawns are the ones deciding it and there is nothing Black can do about it. Simply put any pawn counts in king and pawns endgame, including the double ones. A simple way to win is given below before continuing with the game play:

White did not play like that and a comedy of errors followed up on the chess board. There is an old saying fitted for writers: “Paper endures anything written on it”. I guess in this case “The chessboard endures any moves played on it” is a good analogy…

Not sure how successful you are in convincing yourselves or your students there’s no need to promote all your pawns to win a game. I keep on saying “Always look for the fastest win” and many a student would be able to repeat it by heart if asked. Doing it on the chessboard seems to be a different story. You can imagine White had a lot of fun promoting 2 pawns into queens and the crowd was having a blast cheering for the accomplishment. Do you know what happened next? Well, Caissa decided I needed help to get my message through and twisted the fate of this game in a powerful way. Look at the previous position before scrolling down and guess which move white made to create an instant teaching moment? It is not that easy to find considering how many ways (all except one…) you can win as White. Your mind should be wired the right way and refuse to even look at it! Here it is:

Remember, the idea is not putting down the players. It is to show what can happen when endgame knowledge is spotty at best. It also shows playing good endgames is like fighting in the trenches with a never give up attitude. Good play and bad play are intertwined with teaching moments almost at every step. Fight the battle in the trenches and you will be rewarded!

Valer Eugen Demian

Working Without Engines

My Dad and I usually look at chess without an engine, trying to figure things out for ourselves. Dad says that this is a better way to develop as a player because using an engine leads to people becoming too reliant on them in their thinking. Here is an example:

We found this position while going through IM John Cox’s book on the Berlin. Black played 47…c5 which looks like a great try, but Cox thought it might be a blunder. Carlsen then answered with 48.e6+ which was given two question marks, Cox commenting that 48.f6 ‘was immediately decisive’.

I think that Cox must have had the engine on all the time to make it seem so easy to him, the players did not find this easy to see and we struggled too. The reason is that after 48.f6 Black can let White get a queen with 48…cxd4 49.f7 dxc3 50.f8=Q cxb2 51.Qf1 c3, when the passed pawns are very strong and at first seem to tie White’s queen down.

It turns out that White can win after 52.Qd3+ Ke8 53.e6 c2 54.Qd7+ Kf8 55.Qd8+ Kg7 56.Qxe7+ Kh6 57.Qf8+ Kh7 58.Qf7+ Kh6 59.Qf4+ Kh7 60.Qh2+ Kg8 61.e7 Kf7 62.Qe5 Ke8 63.Qc7. However this only became clear when we looked at the position with an engine and the line is 15 moves deep.

Sam Davies

Missed Opportunities

Last time I left you with this position, from a training game in which I had the black pieces against an 8-year-old pupil.

White had just checked on h8, and discovered that after I played Kd7 his queen was unfortunately trapped.

It doesn’t look very interesting, and, but for my tactical incompetence, it wouldn’t have been very interesting. Let’s play on.

30. Qxa8 Nxa8 31. c4 Nxe4

I noticed that the white rook was overworked.

32. Be1 f5 33. cxb5 axb5 34. Ra3 Nb6 35. Ra7 Nc4 36. a4 Qg7

White’s done the right thing so far. If you’re playing in desperation mode you’re not trying to find the objectively best move, but the best way of gaining some sort of counterplay and retaining practical chances. Now, though, he has to defend g2 and has no good options.

After the natural 37. Rc2 Black has lots of winning moves, but the quickest and nicest is Ned2, cutting off the rook’s defence. You might or might not consider this a Novotny Interference: the interference with the rook is deliberate, but the interference with the bishop accidental.

Instead White chose a move which should have lost much more quickly.

37. g3 Nxg3

There was a mate in 5 here: 37.. Rxg3+ 38. Kf1 (or 38. Bxg3 Qxg3+ and mate next move) 38.. Rg1+ 39. Ke2 Qg2+ 40. Kd3 Nb2+ 41. Ke3 f4#. I really should have seen this but automatically captured with the lower value piece.

Never mind: I still have a forced mate.

38. Bxg3 Rxg3+ 39. Kh1 f4

This is mate in 8, but there were two mates in 7: 39.. Qg6, threatening Qe4+ and meeting Re1 with Qc2, and 39.. Rg2, planning Qg3.

40. axb5 f3

Still winning, although it’s not quite so easy now. Here Qg6 was again mate in 7, while Qf7, Qh7 and Qg8 were all mate in 8. I was moving too fast and had completely overlooked the idea of checking on the long diagonal.

41. b6 Qh6

Again Qg8 was more efficient.

42. Rxc7+ Kd8 43. R1xc4

The rook was needed on the back rank. After 43. R7xc4 I have to find some tricky moves: 43.. Rh3 44. R4c2 Ke7 45. b7 Qf4 46. b8Q (46. Rf1 f2 47. Rfxf2 Rxh2+ 48. Kg1 (48. Rxh2 Qf1#) 48.. Rxf2) 46.. Rxh2+ 47. Kg1 Qg3+ 48. Kf1 Rh1# 44.. Ke7 is not at all obvious, I think.

Now I again have mate in 5, but again I missed it. I should have sacrificed my rook: 43… Rg1+ 44. Kxg1 Qe3+ 45. Kh1 Qe1+ 46. Nf1 Qxf1+ 47. Kh2 Qg2#

Playing the queen move first, as I did, should only draw. White now has rook and knight for queen, a lot of checks and a dangerous passed pawn.

43.. Qe3 44. Rc8+ Ke7 45. R4c7+ Kf6 46. Rf8+ Kg6 47. Rg8+

47.. Kf5

I thought I was winning after this move but had missed an important defensive resource.

Instead, I had to play either Kf6 or Kh6, when White can either take the perpetual check himself or capture on g3, when Black will have no better than a perpetual.

For example: 47.. Kf6 48. Rxg3 Qe1+ 49. Rg1 f2 50. Rf1 Qe4+ 51. Nf3 Qxf3+ 52. Kh2 e4 53. b7 Qf4+ 54. Kh3 Qf3+ 55. Kh2 or 47.. Kh6 48. Rxg3 Qe1+ 49. Rg1 f2 50. Rf1 Qe4+ 51. Nf3 Qxf3+ 52. Kh2 Qf4+ 53. Kg2 Qe4+ 54. Kxf2 Qxh4+.

48. Rxg3 Qe1+ 49. Rg1 f2 50. Rf7+

Not the immediate 50. Rf1 because of 50.. Qe4+ 51. Nf3 Qxf3+ 52. Kh2 Kg4 and Black wins.

White has to force the black king to e4 first.

50… Ke4

I still thought I was winning here because I’d overlooked that White could play 51. Rf1. The best I can do is 51.. Kxd5 52. b7 Qxb4 53. R1xf2, but this should be an easy win for White.

Fortunately for me, my pupil missed the idea as well, capturing the queen without pausing for thought. The rest of the game is not interesting.

51. Rxe1+ fxe1Q+ 52. Kg2 Qd2+ 53. Kg3 Qxb4 54. b7 Kxd5 55. Rc7 (Nf3 would have made it harder for me, but he’d lost concentration at the end of a long game and was playing instantly.) e4 56. Nf1 Qb6 57. Ne3+ (A one move oversight, but it only hastened the end.) 57.. Qxe3+ 58. Kg2 Qb6 59. Re7 e3 60. Kf3 Kd4 61. Rd7 d5 62. Re7 Qb2 63. Rf7 Qf2#

Afterwards, as we both had time to spare, he watched as I entered the game into ChessBase. I pressed a button so that he could see the names of famous players who’d played the same opening moves as him. I then pressed another button so that he could see the computer analysis and pick up when one of us made a mistake. Finally, I printed off the game for him (in scoresheet mode) so that he had a complete record. He was amazed at how much you could learn if you recorded your games. I’m not sure how much he learnt, but I learnt a lot from this game. Perhaps I should have been kind to him and offered a draw at the end.

Richard James

The Life and Chess of Vera Menchik

With Hugh needing to finish his book I thought I’d step in with a post to celebrate Nigel Short‘s bid to become FIDE President. It would certainly be a good thing if FIDE had a bank account, not to mention having its funds spent on presidential travel expenses. There again some may feel that the FIDE President should probably be a diplomatic person, and possibly even a …. female.

Here is a video about a female player from Lucas Anderson:

Nigel Davies

Endgame 1 – Triangulation Training

I found this endgame lecture by IM Eric Rosen interesting particularly on triangulation.

His puzzle, reproduced below, was entertaining too. White to move and win.

I’ve been studying Nigel’s Endgame Course and I’ve been working on knight and bishop checkmate. Hard going. I watch his videos and think I’ve got it but then when I practice against the engine it isn’t exactly smooth!

Dan Staples

A Lesson from Neubauer – Sargissian, 2007

Position after Black’s 35…c5

Black has occupied the h file. The first move that came to my mind was to play Rh1 and exchange the rook on h8, and this in fact what was played.

Q: Is it the right way to proceed?

A: In fact Rh1 is a blunder in the given position as White can’t prevent Black’s king from penetration on the queenside via the light squares. The game ended after 5 more moves.

36. Rh1?? Rxh1 37. Kxh1 a4 38. dxc5

This is just another mistake but the alternatives also seem to lose:
a) 38. Be3 Kc6! 39. Kg2 b4! and Black is winning.
b) 38. Kg2 cxd4! 39. cxd4 b4! has the idea of bringing the king to c4/b3 via Kc6-b5-c4-b3, which is winning for Black.
c) 38. f4 cxd4 and same plan given in option b will win.


An exercise for readers: Why should Black should not directly capture the pawn on c5 with his bishop?

39. Kg2 Kxc5 40. Kf2 Kc4 41. Ke2 Kb3

White resigned.

Lesson: Do not exchange the last major piece from the board until and unless it is must because it can prevent the opponent’s piece from getting in to your position. It is also very useful for attacking the opponent’s weaknesses.

The correct way to defend the position was to play 36.dxc5 followed by pawn to f4 and it is very difficult for Black’s rook to find any good square on h file. After exchanging the rook the position was lost as White can’t prevent Black king from penetrating on the queenside via the light squares.

Ashvin Chauhan