Burn’s Right

“He who combinates is lost.” I have a vague memory, many years ago, of seeing this attributed to Amos Burn, but have never been able to track it down. Google only comes up with an old Addicts’ Corner column on a very old Richmond Junior Club website, which, for some reason, still exists out there in cyberspace, in which we asked for help on this subject.

As someone who has never been very good at combinating this has always had a lot of resonance for me. My experience is that more games are lost by unsound than are won by sound combinations and sacrifices. And then there are all the combinations and sacrifices you consider and, usually correctly, reject.

As teachers and writers, though, we like to demonstrate games which are won by brilliant combinations. There are all sorts of valid reasons why we should do this, but, at the same time, kids often get the wrong idea of chess: that all sacrifices work and that making sacrifices is the usual way to win a game. Therefore they often go round making random sacrifices without having worked anything out.

There are essentially two types of sacrifice. We might sacrifice because we’ve calculated that we can force checkmate or win back the sacrificed material, probably with interest. If we’ve miscalculated, though, we’ll just find ourselves behind on material and looking foolish.

We might also make a positional sacrifice, giving up material because using our judgement and experience, we believe the strong position we get in return is more than worth the material investment. To play the first type of sacrifice just involves the ability to calculate, but positional sacrifices require more abstract considerations, which are difficult for young children.

When Morphy was playing the Aristocratic Allies in the Opera House he made a positional sacrifice of a knight for two pawns to gain a strong position, and he was entirely justified in doing so. At the end of the game he sacrificed his queen because he had performed an accurate calculation and worked out that by doing so he would force checkmate.

Let’s see what happened to a few guys who got it wrong.

Our first example shows an unsound positional sacrifice. Black, observing that White had left his king in the centre and advanced some king-side pawns, decided to play a random sacrifice of a bishop for two pawns on g4. It didn’t work out well for him, though, and, although White didn’t play optimally and he had some drawing chances at one point, he eventually lost the game some 50 moves later. Don’t try this at home, kids. if you go round doing this sort of thing you’ll lose far more games than you’ll win.

In this position White saw the opportunity for a rook sacrifice leading to checkmate and played 1. Rd7 Qxd7 2. f6, hoping that Black wouldn’t be able to find a defence to Rg7+. But he was mistaken as Black had two ways to meet the threat. He could just have played Rxf6, returning the rook, when White has no mate and the black a-pawn will soon decide the game in his favour. Instead he played 2… Qd1+ 3. Qxd1 Kxg6, which was even better. He now had two rooks for his queen, White had no attack at all, and his a-pawn was going through. White’s rook sacrifice just made him look extremely foolish. This is what happens if you miscalculate. Get it right. Every time.

In our final example White had already made a random rook sacrifice to reach a totally wild position. He should have tried Bd2, which would have given him some practical chances but instead sacrificed another piece with 1. Ng6 Nxg6 2. Qxf5, hoping that Black wouldn’t be able to meet the threats to his knight and king. But again he’d failed to calculate accurately and after 2… Ne7 3. Qf7+ Kd8 Black’s king was perfectly safe and White had nothing to show for his missing pieces.

I’ll repeat this again and again, kids. You really have to learn to calculate accurately if you want to be good at chess. You can’t just make random sacrifices and hope for the best.

I think you’ll agree that the three losers in these games played pretty badly. But who were they? Were the games played in some fairly low level junior tournament, or in one of the lower sections of a weekend congress?

Far from it. If you follow top level chess you’ll probably have recognised the positions. They all came from rounds 3 and 4 of the recently concluded Grenke Chess Classic played in Baden Baden, Germany. The first example was World Champion Magnus Carlsen losing to Arkadij Naiditsch after punting a rather dubious positional sacrifice. The second example saw Carlsen the beneficiary of a miscalculation by former World Champion Vishy Anand, who, to be fair, had probably switched to desperation mode after losing his a-pawn while trying to build up a king-side attack. The third example was played by the only slightly less stellar David Baramidze, who, rated a long way below the other competitors, decided to go for broke and went wrong in an extremely complex position giving Naiditsch another victory.

If players of that level can misjudge or miscalculate perhaps Amos was right and he who combinates, more often than not, is lost. Or maybe chess is just too hard for mere humans. But let’s get the right message across to our pupils: 90% of the time that sacrifice you’re considering is really not going to work.

Richard James

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Confessions of a Self Learner

Teaching and coaching chess, my own game improves steadily. However, I put a minimum of two to three hours a day into studying chess because I practice what I preach, which is the idea that getting better at chess requires hard work. If you want to become a better chess player you have to roll up your sleeves and take action. Thinking about improving your own game does no good unless you actually do something such as studying. Action, in this case, is the act of creating a plan of improvement and following it.

I must confess that I can be the world’s laziest person when it comes to things I don’t want to do. My weed covered backyard attests to this fact! However, when I love something, I throw myself into it full throttle. Yet even my great love of chess doesn’t completely stop laziness from rearing it’s ugly head from time to time. I have to maintain self discipline to get through it and self discipline takes time to develop. Here’s my typical training day.

I start my day with a series of tactical mate in one exercises using a software program on my laptop. Typically, I’ll do sixty problems while having my first cup of coffee at 6:00 am. I prefer exercises that require me to look at the entire chessboard which helps improve my board vision. One tip I would offer in solving these problems is to look at all your pawns and pieces to determine which of them cover the enemy King’s escape squares. These pawns and pieces should remain where they are, leaving you to find the pawn or piece that can move and deliver checkmate. Approaching mate in one problems this way will help you avoid missing potential checkmates in your own games. You’d be surprised at how many potential checkmates players miss. Checkmate exercises help reduce the number of missed opportunities.

Once my brain is warmed up, it’s time to play a few games of Blitz against the computer. I start with a few Blitz games because I have commitments in the morning and often don’t have enough time to play an hour long game. I use my laptop’s chess program as an opponent. Blitz games that are five to ten minutes long are a good way to check your instinctual play. By instinctual, I mean testing out what you have retained in your memory (opening principles, tactics, etc). Blitz helps me play more aggressively and less defensively.

Because I have breaks throughout my teaching day, I often have thirty minute blocks of time to fill. This is when I study openings. I use an chess Ebook app on my tablet that has a small built in board so I can play through specific openings while reading the book. Teaching requires that I know quite a few openings so these thirty minute blocks of study time allow me to keep up with the numerous openings my students play. When I study openings, I approach them from the standpoint of how I would play against them. I take this approach because too often, we plod through the opening moves mechanically, looking at the opening from the viewpoint of the side the opening is designed for. We tend to pay just a little less attention to the opposition’s response. Paying just a little less attention can be disastrous when you use that opening in a game and don’t remember what the best opposition move was in a given position. When you look at an opening, say the Ruy Lopez for example, from Black’s perspective you not only learn more about White’s moves but Black’s critical responses as well. Openings are a two sided affair, so look at both sides, especially opposition responses.

During my classes, I make a point of playing as many students as possible. What I love about playing my students is their unpredictability. My students have been known to make some unorthodox but reasonable moves during our games. This gives me a chance to explore responses to those moves, forcing me to think outside of the box. While we learn chess in a somewhat mechanical fashion, purely mechanical thinking will lead to lost games. Learning how to deal with the unexpected will go a long way towards improving your play. Try non book/theory moves against the computer just to see what happens! You may get crushed but you might just find something interesting and useful. Be an explorer of the game!

After work, when I’m home in a quieter environment, I study the endgame. I have thirty minutes dedicated to this. Endgame studies require developing the ability to see many moves ahead which requires concentration. I tend to concentrate best in my office so that’s where I do my endgame work. I use software training programs and work through the positions very slowly. These are not mate in one problems, but mate in four, five and six moves. This means you have to take your time. Fewer pieces on the board means that the tables can turn on you very quickly if you lose a piece or even a single pawn. Endgame problems are a matter of quality over quantity.

After dinner I play a longer game against my computer, using what I’ve learned that day. It is during these games that I work on my middle game skills. What I’ve found in my studies is that we should start our middle game by building up small advantages rather than aiming for one large tide turning advantage such as a quick mating attack. Small advantages, when put together, make a large advantage. Because this large advantage is made up of smaller individual components, it will be more difficult for your opponent to thwart that overall advantage. Piece activity is a key consideration. The question you should ask yourself is whether or not your pieces are on their most active squares. Tactical combinations appear only when pieces are fully active!

The crucial aspect to self learning is getting into the habit of daily study. Like physical exercise, you have to do it regularly and not sporadically. If you do a little work every day, you’ll not only improve but be more apt to sit down and get to work on a daily basis without grumbling. I am fortunate in that I have a great deal of time to study chess. However, you may not. This means that you should put in a reasonable amount of time into your studies based on your schedule. To determine how much time you can put into your chess studies, take a look at your daily schedule and see if there is any down time, such as having to wait for a bus or train. If you have to wait for twenty minutes until your bus or train arrives, use that time to study. Sitting down for an hour at a time might seem a bit daunting. However, if you break it up into three twenty minute sessions, it may seem a bit more palatable. Use the time in between daily activities to improve your chess.

Sometimes you might not feel like studying chess. There’s nothing wrong with this. We all need a break now and again. In fact, I’d say taking time away from your studies can be good thing. Just make sure that you don’t stay away too long. Burn out is an occupational hazard so walk away when you need to. Remember, in chess, as in life, you get out of it what you put into it. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

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From Russia with Love

Well, not quite. However, my opponent in this chess game is a Russian woman. I did win and I love winning! My opponent’s last name sounds like that of another woman from Russia, Anna Kournikova.

In this section I ended up with 5 draws and 1 win. This game was my only win in this section. As a result of my failing to win an earlier game, the best that I can do in this section is third place.

I started this chess game off wanting to play the Max Lange Attack and I ended up with a Giuoco Piano instead. This line tends to be drawish, but my opponent gave my some chances for play and I took them.

I had the position after move number 9 in another correspondence chess game that I lost. This time, I played more accurately and my opponent is the one who was inaccurate.

On move number 11 I could have played the sharp Bxf7+, but I decided against that for some reason that I no longer remember. Perhaps the line that In played is safer for White.

On move number 12 I decided that it was best to get my King off the same diagonal as the Black Queen was on. Discovered checks can be a pain! Once Black castled queenside it was a race to see who could checkmate the other one first. However, I was not positioned for a queenside attack and thus I had to reposition some of my pieces.

On move number 14 I got my sacrificed pawn back. By move number 17 I had all of my White pieces in this game, but I still was not clear on where to attack first.

Move number 19 finally started some queenside play. Move number 21 started a combination that favored White (me). Starting at move number 23 both sides were aggressively attacking the other side and Lidiya never let up her attempts to trick or trap me until she was clearly lost.

Starting at move number 28 White was putting pressure on both the Black Rook and the backwards Black pawn at  f6. At move number 31 I won the Black pawn at h4 and then the Black pawn on f6 ten moves later. I was up two pawns at that point but Lidiya continued to fight.

On move number 42 Lidiya sacrificed her Bishop by taking the White pawn that was on h3, but I was not dumb enough to fall into her trap and I moved my King instead. She recovered one of her lost pawns but she was still losing.

On move number 44 I played the only move that wins for White and Lidiya had no chance from there. Still, she lasted for another 15 moves before she finally resigned.

Mike Serovey

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Then There Was Nunn

90% of the chess books should never have been written – Lev Polugaevsky

The five chess books which commenced my study of chess 40 years ago are the following:

  • Modern Ideas in Chess (Richard Réti)
  • Chess from Morphy to Botwinnik (Imre König)
  • 200 Open Games (David Bronstein)
  • 500 Master Games of Chess (Tartakower & Dumont)
  • Basic Chess Endings (Reuben Fine)

These books explain the technical basics of chess (as understood in their respective eras), basics I had lacked since learning the game as a child, such as the evolution of the openings, middlegame concepts and endgame technique.

Unquestionably the most useful books I have read the past 5 years are GM John Nunn’s books on the endgames. Nunn has undertaken to clarify the truth of the endgames and sweep away decades of error, enlisting all the literature, all the aid computers can offer us, and his own incomparable ability to make the truth digestible (though he admits his own failure in running up against queen endings).

It’s easy to generate lots of analysis using a computer, but a mass of variations by itself doesn’t convey understanding … In these two volumes I have made a big effort to explain in words the ideas that underlie the analysis. – Nunn’s Chess Endings, Vol. 2, Introduction

Some find Nunn’s works dull, but I find them gripping reading and indispensable to my continued development as a player.

Incidentally, GM Jeremy Silman once polled several of his fellow GMs about their favorite chess books and that excellent list of lists is here.

Jacques Delaguerre

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Mixed Strength Tournaments Produce More Brilliancies

In these days in which the main aim of organizers seems to be a ‘high category’, it’s worth remembering some of the reasons for organizing mixed strength tournaments. Besides giving local heroes a chance to beat star players, it can also lead to more brilliancies. It’s difficult to checkmate a 2700+ GM, but against lower rated players it’s a distinct possibility.

Here’s a brilliant win by Jan Timman from the days when mixed strength tournaments were still common. Black gets a dubious position out of the opening and is gunned down on the kingside in a cascade of brilliant sacrifices:

Nigel Davies

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Playing Too Much

Most amateur players find it difficult to get enough games. After balancing the needs of work and family there can often seem to be little time for chess. To some extent the internet has been helpful, as long as the games played there are treated in a reasonably serious manner.

There is also the opposite problem, that of playing too much. When players play vast numbers of games they can start to play on autopilot. This will tend to reinforce bad habits which then become very difficult to overlay with good ones.

Internet blitz is especially damaging in this regard as a lot of bad moves will go unpunished. And if you go on the internet after hard day at work you’re almost sure to play in a light hearted way which in turn can start to appear in your real games?

What’s the solution? Essentially it’s good to have a target of a particular number of games per annum whether they’re in club chess, tournaments or on the internet. Players with little time for terrestrial chess probably need a few internet games to make up the numbers, but then limits should be imposed. Have a plan to play a particular number of games, probably at one of the slower time limits, and then stick to it.

How many games should that be? The recommended dose for tournament games used to be around 50-70 long play games per annum, but rapid play games should count as 1/3 of the value. So a combination of 30 long games and 60 rapid games would just about meet the quota.

Nigel Davies

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Calculation in Endgames

This is a follow up to last Monday’s post about the necessity of calculating so-called ‘elementary’ endgames.

In that posting, the winning move was Kg4, while , on the contrary, a6 lost.

It is very easy to throw away a half-point or even a whole point in an endgame by a bad move.

It is necessary to acquire a knowledge of winning patterns in elementary endgames so that your calculations can be purposeful.

In the following position, there is only a King and Pawn on each side, and it looks difficult for Black.

But there is a way to draw this position, with a careful dance of Black’s King.

Have a go, and see if you can find the path to safety.

Steven Carr

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Teaching Kids the Ruy Lopez (5)

Returning to my series of articles on introducing kids to the Ruy Lopez, let’s start with the moves 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4.

What could be more natural or logical than playing 4… b5, driving the bishop back again and negating the potential pin on the a4-e8 diagonal? Children are more interested in creating threats than putting pieces on good squares, and, at low levels, you’ll win a lot of games because your opponent doesn’t notice your threats.

You won’t read a lot about this sequence in openings books, though, because it’s not popular with stronger players, and on the rare occasions they play it they follow up with Na5, immediately trading off the white bishop at the cost of a tempo. Mamedyarov, Morozovich and Agdestein have all started this way a few times, when play usually continues 5. 0-0 d6 6. d4.

It’s very natural again, though, especially for children who are probably more familiar with the Italian than the Spanish, to continue with a developing move like Bc5 or Nf6 just as they would after 3. Bc4. The position might look similar but the analysis is very different. If you’re playing chess at lower levels, particularly in junior tournaments, though, it’s good to know what’s happening.

By and large, the differences favour White, mainly because the bishop is safer from immediate attack on b3 than it is on c4.

Let’s take a closer look.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 b5 5. Bb3 Bc5 as in the Giuoco Piano.

The first point is that White can play, if he chooses, the Fork Trick with 6. Nxe5. You can’t do this in the Giuoco Piano, of course (although kids sometimes try) because 6… Nxe5 will hit the bishop on c4 and you’re not going to get the piece back.

Alternatively, White can continue in Italian fashion with 6. c3 Nf6 7. d4 exd4. We have two strong options here. 8. cxd4 Bb4+ 9. Bd2 Bxd2 10. Nbxd2 is very pleasant for White. In Italy Black can equalise with d5 hitting the bishop on c4, but in Spain we can meet d5 with e5 giving us a nice space advantage. We could also choose 8. e5, which again is well met by d5 in Italy, while in Spain Black has to move his knight to an awkward square.

So perhaps Black should play Nf6 instead. The stats favour White in many of these variations, mainly because a lot of the games feature stronger players beating weaker players, but the engines seem to think Black’s position is not unreasonable.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 b5 5. Bb3 Nf6. Many kids like to play Ng5, going for the Fried Liver Attack. After 6. Ng5 d5 7. exd5 Nxd5 8. Nxf7 seems even stronger for White than the Fried Liver proper, but Black can do much better with 7… Nd4 to trade off the bishop when necessary. Regular readers will be aware than in Italy Nd4 seems to give White a slight advantage if he knows what he’s doing, but in Spain it’s absolutely fine for Black.

Instead, White might want to try 6. d4 here. The engines seem happy with d6 or Nxd4 for Black. 6… d6 seems rather passive but 6… Nxd4 leads to interesting complications. White plays 7. Nxd4 exd4 8. e5 and Black has to give up his knight because of tactics with Qf3 or Qd5. Instead he can play the strange looking computer move 7… c5, trapping the bishop with c4 when the knight moves away. 7. Bxf7+ has also been played, which looks scary to me but not to the engines.

If Black knows the Two Knights Defence, though, he’ll probably play the Italian move 6… exd4. Now White, as in the line above, can play 7. e5 as d5 is not an option for Black. Black is quite likely to play Ne4 when either O-O or the immediate Bd5 are possible for White. We’re now in a position which can arise from a variety of move orders. For some idea of White’s prospects in this sort of position, consider the following short game in which a strong player suffers a painful defeat.

There are one or two loose ends which I may or may not tie up later. One of the ideas of this series of posts was to make the point that most opening books are written by and for very strong players. They have little relevance for those of us playing club standard chess and no relevance at all for kids just starting out in competitive chess. Opening books for kids should be based on what happens in kids’ games, not what happens in grandmaster games. I’ve been asked many times to recommend a good opening book for kids at this level. My answer has always been the same: I haven’t written it yet, but at least I’m now working on it.

Richard James

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Starting a Chess Club

I am often asked about starting chess clubs outside of my own chess classes by parents and teachers. I also receive frantic emails from teachers and parents who have started chess clubs and are having trouble maintaining them. Therefore, I thought I’d offer some advice on how to start a chess club for parents and teachers who may not have a great deal of experience with the game.

The first step in starting a chess club is finding a suitable location. Because chess requires concentration, the club should meet in a location that offers the least amount of external distractions. If meeting at a school, use the library or a classroom. Usually, a classroom will be assigned. Ask the person assigning the classroom if there is a classroom available that doesn’t have computers or musical instruments (both distractions). I recommend trying to use a classroom designated for Kindergarten aged students because the items found in this type of classroom won’t appeal to older kids. If using a library, ask if they have a smaller meeting room the chess club can use. Larger rooms make it more difficult to maintain control.

Invest in some basic equipment. This equipment includes boards, chess pieces, a few chess clocks and a demonstration board. Use non-weighted pieces because weighted pieces have a metal slug in them that can come loose and become a choking hazard. Chess pieces are based on King height and the height you want is 3 ¾ inches which is the tournament standard. Use vinyl chess boards with 2 ¼ inch squares. Start with five to eight complete sets of boards and pieces. As for clocks, invest in two to start. Most of your club’s members will be beginners and will not need to use a chess clock until they develop some real chess skills. Young beginners play too fast as it is, not thinking about their moves, and chess clocks seem to inspire them to play faster. The use of a chess clock should be earned through slow, good play. Use the use of a chess clock as a reward for hard work.

As for the demo or demonstration board, I recommend the old fashioned slotted pocket type. It’s old school but it doesn’t need batteries and won’t suddenly crash on you. Even though I have a laptop that can plug into my school’s projection system, I rely on my old demo board because it will not break down in the middle of a lecture.

The question that I’m most often asked regarding chess clubs is how to determine who in the club is a beginner and who is more advanced. If you’re a seasoned chess coach, you could have everyone start playing chess and be able to see who plays at what level. However, if you’re a parent or teacher who plays only a little chess, making such a determination can be difficult. The solution? A simple written quiz. This quiz should ask questions about piece movement, pawn and piece values, castling, opening principles as well as having some basic chess problems to solve. Have the club members take the quiz and sort those club members into two groups, beginners and intermediate players. I suggest two groups because most club members will fall into one of those two categories. What should you do if you get an advanced player into your club who might play chess as well as you? Make them your assistant coach and have them help fellow students.

What about the parent or teacher who isn’t a strong chess player? Well, you’ll have to put some work into your game. Use books to improve, such as the many books written by Bruce Pandolfini. You’ll get better and you can pass that knowledge on to your club members. Before you grumble, remember this; you signed on to start a chess club so you must have some interest in chess. If you have an interest in the game, you’ll enjoy improving along with your students. Here’s how I look at teaching and coaching: Wow, I get a chance to get better at the game I love and pass it along to others. That’s a win win situation!

Chess clubs are not a babysitting service. There are some parents who might look at an after school chess club as a cost effective alternative to paying a nanny. However, as the head of the chess club you cannot take this view. You have to be proactive. You have to make it an environment in which club members want to learn rather than simply pass the time. This brings us to the structure on the club itself.

Ideally you’ll want to meet once a week. Working with youngsters is different than working with adults. For one thing, young minds tend to lose concentration easily. Therefore, meet for one hour to start. You can give a lesson for the first twenty minutes, leaving forty minutes to play chess. Warning: Dull chess lessons can be comparable to watching paint dry. Keep the lessons simple. Trying to explain twenty different principles using a Bobby Fischer game that is sixty moves long will crush any enthusiasm your club members might have. Stick to the basics such as a lesson on checkmating with a King and Queen against a lone King or a lesson on the three basic opening principles (putting a pawn in the board’s center, developing the minor pieces and castling). Teach one concept at a time. Read anything written by Richard James for lesson ideas.

Regarding the opening principles, don’t teach specific openings until the opening principles are fully understood. Too often, the club leader will teach a specific opening which the club members memorize. Those club members will suffer on the board if they don’t know why they’re making those moves.

Have patience because you’ll need it! When you’re new to chess, which many of your club members will be, concepts can be difficult to grasp. The explanation you provide may not make sense to a ten year old. I tell my students that if I fail to explain a concept to their satisfaction then they have the absolute right to ask for another explanation of that concept. Encourage questions. Questions keep club members engaged and engaged minds are focused minds! My classroom lectures are a Socratic adventure in which the back and forth dialog reinforces my student’s comprehension of the subject matter.

Maintain discipline. You’re the adult so you have to keep order. While the majority of your club members will be focused, there is always one member who is troublesome. When I identify that individual, I say to them, “you’re my new assistant so I need you to give me a hand.” Even if its just to set stuff up, that individual will more often than not, feel a sense of purpose.

If you have trouble getting club members focused at the start of a lesson, try this: I’ll walk into the classroom, not say a word and set up the demonstration board. Then I’ll start playing through a game, making comments such as “that’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.” Of course, my students will suddenly start looking at the demonstration board and asking me what is so amazing. I then proceed with the lesson which actually started the minute I starting playing through the game and making comments. Be creative!

Play against your students but make it a reward for hard work. In other words, play only those students who pay attention to the lessons. Maintain quiet when club members are playing one another. I use a Judge’s gavel to bring order to the room and when students hear it banging against the desk, they know it’s too loud.

As for homework, I seem to be one of the few instructors that get student’s to do homework on a regular basis. 85% of my students have been with me for one to three years and know that improvement comes with hard work (homework). However, you cannot do this with new students. I suggest no assignment of homework, at least at first. Students have enough homework as it is. The lesson you give and club members subsequently trying out their new found knowledge on the chessboard will be enough for basic improvement. Encourage club members to play with their parents, etc.

Take it slow, take is easy and be patient. Make your lessons entertaining (I have pulled out a guitar and sung “The e pawn blues” to my classes) and engaging. Know your topic. If you don’t understand it how can you expect anyone else to understand it? Maintain a structured disciplined environment, otherwise you’ll be the ring leader of the circus of madness. Teach good sportsmanship. Above all else, have fun. Here’s a game to ponder until next week.

Hugh Patterson

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The Tiger Has Still Got Game, Does He Know It?

I used to think that Vishwanathan Anand must retire from chess but I feel otherwise now. Having played through a good number of Anand games I feel he is a very strong positional and strategic player who underutilizes that strength of his.  He possibly focusses too much on openings and complex positions which puts him at an distinct disadvantage against young energetic players who are very much at home in deep opening preparation and theory. Chess players tend to mature positionally as they get older. Looking at the great attacking and tactical players in history like Mikhail Tal and Alexander Alekhine and even Capablanca, shows a a solidifying of their chess style with age. They still played great games in their advanced years but the games were more solid positionally and generally the dashing attacks and flair of youth.

Age wise Anand might stand out with the current pack but I still think he is quite young looking at chess history. Look at Botvinnik and the likes of Capablanca. Botvinnik beat one of the greatest attacking players of all time Mikhail Tal at the grand age of 50! When Capablanca died at the age of 53, he was still playing chess. I think relying less on deep opening theory and preparation could free up Anand psychologically as he focusses more on positions and bringing out his understanding of chess. If you look at a good number of Anand’s very recent loses they are showing quite a few blunders or bad moves in critical positions especially against Magnus Carlsen. Critical positions used to be Anand’s forte. What happened? Age happened! Time is  hard taskmaster.  Roger Federer in tennis has shown that it’s still possible to compete at the very highest level by conserving energy in terms of strategy during actual games and matches and being very prudent in drawing up a playing schedule for the year.

Botvinnik won against Tal in the 1961 rematch by playing very solid chess. (On balance though Tal was probably not at full strength because of illness.) They were still playing great chess in their advanced years. Tactically Anand is not as sharp as he used to be but I think he can still cause many players problems with his deep understanding and encyclopaedic knowledge of the game. He needs to shift the batteground. Anand could probably play in tournaments without studying openings, I believe he is that good. Versatile in his openings, now being more rounded in his openings.

If you look at a player like Emmanuel Lasker he was competitive for a very long time. How did he do it? I believe that Lasker continued to play chess on his terms against many strong players. It has been said that he was probably the first player to really understand the impact of psychology on chess players. Lasker would vary his play a great deal depending on the player sometimes deliberately choosing a weaker move because he had carefully weighed that the specific player would not respond in the best fashion against that.

Anand’s hallmark over the years has been his incredible speed and brilliance in the game but that is now possibly a weakness rather than a strength now. Maybe tweaking his game strategy might bring about a change in results. The Tiger may be old but he is still deadly. He has still got game. The question is, can he find it!

Here Shakhriyar Mamedyarov vs Viswanathan Anand from from the World Chess Championship Candidates (2014) · Slav Defense: Modern Line. It was not the best game from Mamedyarov but Anand played with great skill.

Bruce Mubayiwa

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