QGD Grind

Here’s a game of mine from the Llandudno Major last week in which I won in a Queen’s Gambit Declined Exchange Variation. After 17…Bxc5 18.bxc5 I got pressure against Black’s weak pawn on b7, but it was difficult to win the position when Black defended the pawn. What I had to do was open a second front on the other side of the board, and this happened with 34.g4.

My Dad showed me this game of Anatoly Karpov, which is quite similar. But Karpov even brought his king to the queenside before opening the second front:

Sam Davies

Misunderstandings

Something I remember from nearly thirty years ago. My friend and colleague Ray Cannon is going through the solution to a tactics puzzle on the demo board. I’m watching at the back of the room together with some parents. One of the dads asks me: “Why is he doing this? They’re never going to reach that position in their games.” I try to explain the reasons: that children need to learn how to calculate tactics, and that, although they will probably never reach that exact position they may reach an analogous position where a similar idea works.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago. I was teaching a private pupil, not much more than a beginner. His grandmother, whom I’ve known for nearly twenty years, came to pick him up. She’s a passionate educationalist who has founded no less than three schools. I talked to her about the importance of children solving tactics puzzles. She was astonished. “Puzzles? Why do they need to do that? Chess is just memory.” Again, I tried to explain. “Oh, you mean like those square things in The Times every day, but at a much lower level?” “Yes, exactly!”

Richard Teichmann is alleged to have claimed that “Chess is 99% Tactics”. Well, I think ‘calculation’ is a better word than ‘tactics’ (since strategy involves a different type of calculation to tactics) and I think 99% is something of an exaggeration, but, even so, calculation is the single most important skill in chess. Yet most non-players and most of those who know the moves but nothing else, I suspect, have no understanding that this is the case. The general public’s idea of chess is, I suspect, that it’s mostly about memory.

Well, memory is a complicated subject. It’s hard to become a proficient chess player if you have a weak short-term (working) memory. Long-term memory is also important, and the stronger you get the more important it becomes. You’re going to have to remember opening theory, how to play typical endings, middle game strategy and standard tactical ideas. But without understanding, and without calculation, you won’t get very far.

Here’s something else that happened the other day. When I visited one of my youngest private pupils he and his parents had a specific request for the content of the lesson. He wanted to know the best way to play when he’d lost his queen. Further questioning as to exactly what he meant confirmed that he didn’t want to learn how to play queenless middlegames or endings, but the best way to play after he’d blundered and was a queen behind. Of course the answer is easy: don’t lose your queen! He loses pieces every few moves in his games because his concentration and impulse control are not yet fully developed.

Week after week, my younger pupils argue with me that it doesn’t matter if you lose a piece because you can still win. At their level this is true, but to raise your game to the next level you have to understand that good players, by and large, don’t leave their pieces en prise or move them to unsafe squares. Yes, if Chelsea have a player sent off they might still beat Manchester United, but they are much less likely to do so. Good players might sacrifice a piece because they’ve calculated that they can achieve checkmate or gain a material advantage by doing so. They might play a positional sacrifice because their assessment of the position, combined with their knowledge and experience of chess, that the positional advantage they game provides adequate compensation for the material they’ve lost, but this is a very hard concept for beginners.

Chess is basically this: other things being equal superior force (usually) wins. An advantage of two or more points is, with a few exceptions, enough to win, and an advantage of even one point will often win. Very strong players will sometimes resign even if they’re just a pawn down. Chess is mostly about calculation: looking ahead (I go there, you go there, I go there) to work out how you can get checkmate, win pieces, get your pieces on better squares or get your opponent’s pieces on worse squares. If, by some unlikely combination of circumstances, I find myself sitting opposite Magnus Carlsen in my first Thames Valley League match next season, if I don’t make any mistakes I won’t lose, and, if Magnus makes a mistake, I’ll win.

Yet most non-players have a totally mistaken idea about what chess is and the skills you require to play the game well. Even many strong players and teachers, to whom chess comes naturally, are unaware of the importance of teaching calculation skills and concentrate purely on passing on their knowledge of chess to their pupils.

You need to do just three things to play chess well:
1. Put your pieces on good squares
2. Calculate everything that moves
3. Avoid careless mistakes

How can we get this message across to parents and teachers, so that they can be more proactive in helping their children play chess?

Richard James

Chess: Art Versus Science

While chess has been called both an art and a science, I can’t help but wonder if it’s losing its claim as an art. I was born into a generation who didn’t have cellphones, personal computers, tablets let alone the internet. To a typical teenager, this seems akin to having been born into the dark ages. My generation were explorers of our world which was our backyard and the surrounding neighborhood. When not in school, we were outside exploring the territory around us. Today, kids seem perfectly happy to sit with their faces glued to the screen of whatever technology they have at hand. Rather than feel the warm sands of a beach on their feet or feel the sun’s last glimmer of heat of their face as it sets over the mountains, they look at pictures of the beach and mountains instead. Don’t get me wrong, I love technology and use it in my chess teaching and coaching. However, I know that should I want to experience the beach or mountains, I actually have to go there. What do any of my rantings as an old man have to do with chess, art and science? Let me tell you a cautionary tale I tell all of my students.

Roughly one hundred and fifty years ago, the game of chess was vastly different than the form of the game we play today. While the rules and principles were the same as today, the style in which the game was played was different. It was a daring game played by those who truly wished to venture into the realm of the unexplored. My students will shrug at this last statement until the hear the rest of what I have to say. I always instruct my students to be seated before I make a statement that might drive some of them into having repeated nightmares for the rest of their lives. I loudly announce, “there once was a time in which there were no cellphones, tablets, personal computers or the internet.” Trust me when I say that at least a few kids gasp and recoil in horror.

Roughly one hundred and fifty years ago, if you wanted to learn the game of chess you did so through a family member or friend. Chess was a right of passage in some families, with the game being proudly handed down from father to son or daughter. Once, a game solely played by nobility and the rich, it became a game played by intellectuals and Bohemians (those smart tortured guys who sat around Paris Coffee Houses trying to eek out a living as philosophers or poets. No wonder they were tortured). It eventually found its way into the average household. In those days, the game was handed down from generation to generation the way in which traditions were once passed down around ancient campfires. To learn the game of chess you had to first find someone who knew the rules. This is a very romantic notion, one that I quite fancy, finding another human being to teach you something (as opposed to living life online)!

The reason learning the game required such human interaction, something in short supply today thanks to social media, was because there were very few accessible books on the game. People traveled by horse or train, so getting to a major metropolitan city to acquire a chess book might take three or four days. Because chess was handed down from generation to generation, person to person, combined with a lack of written information about the game, there was a vast expense of unexplored positional territory. Most people played simple e pawn openings because that’s what they were taught. Think of the huge (and I mean huge) number of possible positions within a single game of chess and combine that with the fact that most people played one type of opening and you can see that there was a great deal to explore in the way of opening theory, middle-game play, etc.

Players in the mid 1800’s, which was the romantic era of the game, played in a swashbuckling style. They played gambits and wildly sacrificed material. They took chances, seeing if making a move no one else considered might lead to a new way in which to gain an advantage. These players were truly explorers, a trait lacking in many of today’s younger players. Art on the chessboard was created greatly during this period as well as into the twentieth century. In some regards, art was more was more important to the players of this period. Let’s fast forward to today’s modern young player.

Today’s serious chess player has a plethora of training tools and options thanks to technology. When I first learned the game, we relied heavily on books since that’s all that was available (guys who play guitar in punk bands cannot afford real chess lessons). Thanks to technology, younger players have training partners and coaches in the form of software programs such as Houdini and Komodo. These are extremely sophisticated chess playing programs that can give players deep analysis regarding a single move they’re considering making. Technological advances in training software have allowed the world to produce the youngest Grandmasters in history (of course, it also requires natural talent). Technology and chess! Sounds like a winning combination, doesn’t it? Yes and no.

Technological advances have made a near exacting science out of the game we love so much. Yes, chess playing software has removed your chance of making bad moves but at a cost. Young up and coming, soon to be titled players, rely on their chess programs to tell them the merits of a move based on analysis of the best responses to that candidate move by the opposition, in this case a program with a 3000 plus chess rating. However, when you solely depend on your software program to decide whether a move is wrong or right, might you be missing out on the chance to explore uncharted territory on the chessboard.

Obviously, you don’t want to go on a wild chess exploration while playing for a national championship. However, what’s so wrong about exploring when not playing in tournaments? Some of you would answer that these software programs have explored all there is to explore. After all, if there was something new out there, wouldn’t the computer program have found it? To that I say this: Humans, using technology, have the entire planet mapped out. We have a map for every square inch of our home planet (and other planets as well). However, why is it that we discover new species nearly every single day? Think about that for a moment. If you think of the huge number of possible positions that can be reached within a single game of chess, a number with more zeros attached to it than you can comfortably count, doesn’t it reason that there’s more territory to explore? Might not we create some amazing art on the chessboard just by doing so?

By simply sticking to what our software programs tell us to do, we’re dulling a game that once sparkled with possibility to a flat monotone hue. There has to be a middle ground. Much of the great music created throughout history was flawed by a wrong note played, a mismatched tempo or even imperfections in the equipment. Glorious mistakes from which high art was born. Again, I’m not saying you should purposely makes moves that lead to disaster. However, a little positional chaos can turn an otherwise boring game into an artistic masterpiece. Chaos drives art. Chaos forces you to look at things in a different way. Many of today’s young players only listen to their chess software’s suggestions, never wondering what would happen if they simply said “no Houdini, I’m going to try something else.” If Houdini suddenly wrote “You need to jump off a bridge now” in the analysis window, I suspect a few overzealous players might ponder this idea for a moment or two.

When we try new things, we usual fail, often many times. However, there are those individuals who keep trying and just when it seems that they wasted their time, the solution to their problem reveals itself. I blame chess software for creating a rising number of drawn games at professional levels. I constantly hear about promoters who want to bring professional chess to the masses. It’s great idea but you have to make the game exciting to people with a marginal interest in chess. Drawn game after drawn game isn’t going to do it. We need another Paul Morphy whose games were exciting because he often played dangerously. People like excitement. I would like to see some young player throw chess theory upside down. I don’t know exactly how but with so many possible positions within a single game, human’s might have missed something. Here’s one of those games that is crazy but exciting. Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

British CC Championships Update

As always with correspondence chess tournaments it is hard to predict the winner, as some players have more games still in progress than others. One thing I do know for certain is that in the British Championship 2016-18 it will not be me! I finished all my games with 6.5 / 14 (+1 =11 -2). There are still 14 games in play with the current ‘leader’, IM Anthony Balshaw, with 8 points (+3 =10 -0) and 1 game in play. Other possible contenders are Brian Thompson, IM Bill Lumley, and CCM Ian Jones all with 7 points and 2 in play. The reigning British Champion, Mark Eldridge, is also well in contention with 6.5 and 3 in play. It is also possible for other players who have up to 5 remaining games in play to catch up. Hopefully, my next report will give us more idea of the winner. You can view the tournament cross table at ICCF.com.  Meanwhile, here is my final game against IM Clive Murden: –

John Rhodes

ND – “Really good, just don’t repeat 3.Nc3!”

This is a game I played against John Duggan at the excellent Coulsdon Chess Club run by Scott Freeman. Nigel said it showed substantial progress apart from the ugly 3.Nc3. I think 8.e4 is instructive as a key pawn lever against the Dutch. I was pleased with my calculation of the ending. I allowed Black to promote his pawn next to his King, lost because of my King and queen mating net.

Dan Staples

L-shape Pawn Formation

“Pawns are like buttons. Lose too many and the pants fall down by themselves.”
George Koltanowski

The knight moves in L-shape right? We all learn that at the very beginning and struggle at first to figure out the move. I can go one square to the right and two forward or two squares to the right and one forward? That could be very confusing. Add the other directions and permutations of square choices and you will leave any beginner numb in front of so many possibilities. Do you know of any other area of the game where the L-shape is of importance? If you do and the title of this article gave it away, you have either studied our app lesson 26, level 4 (thank you for that!) or you are a very strong player and have known this for a while now.

Here is a study by L Kubbel to test your knowledge:


It is white to move. What does your gut feeling tells you about the possible result here? Can White win? How about Black? Is it maybe a draw?

As always let’s look at this together to make sure you get it right. Analysis:

  • In king and pawns endgames we always look for passed pawns: each side has 2
  • The White pawns are on the edge and doubled; this reduces their value quite a bit
  • The Black pawns are separated by a file
  • Both kings are in the imaginary square of all opposing pawns, meaning they can stop them from promoting
  • White looks to have no more than a draw; even if it captures both Black pawns, the Black king will easily reach the a8-corner and stop the promotion
  • Black could have a chance to win since the White king must stop 2 passed pawns in the same time
  • If the Black king manages to capture both White pawns, Black will probably win

OK, this does not sound very promising for White. When I worked on the puzzle, the first thing I looked at was how to deal with the Black pawns. The b5-pawn being the closest is an obvious first target. How would Black respond to that? Well, here you need to know about the L-shape pawn formation. That formation helps 2 passed pawns separated by a file fight the opposing king and survive. If that is the case and Black can easily reach an L-shape by playing d7-d6, what can White do? Standing still does not work because Black will capture the White pawns and win. Bringing the king forward though, would result in one of the Black pawns promoting.

Let’s pause for a moment. Take a deep breath and look for options. It looks like you cannot stop both Black pawns. What can you do then? Hmm, if the b-pawn promotes and the White king is on the a-file, we might get a stalemate. That is awesome! The other option with the d-file promoting, it is a clear loss. OK, now you have a plan: capture the d-pawn and run to the a-file; be careful on the timing though (see line C)! Hope you liked it and it got you interested about this important endgame aspect. All left now is raw calculation. Here is the solution to help you out:

Valer Eugen Demian

An Endgame from Llandudno

Here’s an endgame I played yesterday in the Llandudno Major. My opponent should have played 28…Kf7 straight away before the pin on the g-file became a problem. Instead he advanced his queen side pawns after which the loss of the f-pawn was the beginning of the end.

Sam Davies

King and Rook Checkmates

What I often do when playing young children who are lacking in confidence is head for an overwhelmingly won ending and turn the board round to let them win.

I was playing a boy at a school chess club the other day and duly turned the board round when I had a rook and lots of pawns against a few pawns. On swapping the positions my king soon captured my opponent’s pawns and, when I captured his last pawn we reached this position, with Black to move:

I explained to my opponent that he could mate me in two moves by playing a king move, and, more by luck than judgement, he was able to find it.

At the end of the club at this school I usually do a quick 10-minute lesson on the demo board for children who have finished their tournament games. I set up this position and asked if the students could find the mate in 2 (being careful to explain exactly what a mate in 2 was). There was one boy, the strongest player in the club, who had just missed out on qualifying for the Delancey UK Chess Challenge Gigafinals at the weekend, had some idea how to go about trying to work out the answer, but the rest of the class were unable to do anything other than making wild guesses.

I then changed the position slightly:

Again, they had the same difficulty trying to find the mate in 2 for Black. When they eventually found the answer I made another slight change:

When our strongest player found Rc6 I asked the whole class how many different answers there were to this question. At first they just made random guesses (2? 3? 22?) and I told them it wasn’t a guessing game: they had to work it out. Finally, someone found Re6 and it dawned on them that there were in fact five ways for Black to force mate in 2 moves in this position.

I would have liked, if I’d have had time, to have rotated the positions by 90% and 180% to see whether they would realise the answer was, in effect, the same, or whether they would go back and try to solve the puzzles from first principles. But it was the end of the session and the parents were waiting outside to collect their children. Another time, maybe.

The teacher who was in the room with me at the time, not a chess player herself, told me the lesson was very hard for them, and was impressed with their answers as well as with their enthusiasm and concentration during the lesson.

For chess players these examples are very simple and very basic. We know that, in order to play even reasonably good chess, we need to think “I go there, you go there, I go there”, but this type of thinking, even when “you go there” elicits only one possibility, is very hard and very unnatural for most young children, especially if they are not used to playing simple strategy games at home.

I suspect it’s because this sort of exercise introduces children to a totally new thinking skill that scholastic chess in the classroom might have a short-term effect in ‘making kids smarter’.

I also suspect that teaching kids how the pieces move in half an hour and putting them into a competitive environment will have no effect at all in ‘making kids smarter’. A ten-minute lesson of this nature after they’ve finished their tournament game will also have little effect unless the thinking skills are reinforced. Otherwise most of them will have forgotten it by the following week.

Richard James

Three Good Moves

When we first start playing chess, we often make the first move we see, good, bad or indifferent (usually the move falls under the heading of bad when you first start you chess career). Of course, we’re still learning the basics of the game so this is a natural part of the learning process. More astute beginners might stare at the board for a few minutes, examine the position from both sides and only then making a move. Thinking they’ve spent enough time to have found a good move, they’re often shocked when that supposedly well thought out move turns out to be a bad choice. Chess is about decision making and there’s an art or skill to this process. The first step in the decision making process is taking the time to properly make a good decision.

Last week at our Yearly Academic Chess Summer Camp, I noticed that our beginner’s group was playing extremely fast as if it were a game of Blitz. I looked on in horror as hanging pieces (those that can be captured free of charge) were not only there for the taking but remained there for many moves. Had these beginners taken more time to consider their moves, they might have seen and captured those hanging pieces. However, there’s more to making good moves than simply taking your time. You have to employ a logical system that allows you to find good moves and that’s what this article examines.

While it’s true that patience is an absolutely crucial skill in chess, simply staring at the board for a long time, with your thoughts scattered about, does a player little good. You have to employ a logical system with which to examine the position at hand in order to determine the best move. This is the toughest challenge beginner’s face when learning the game. Therefore, we have to assess the position in a sequential, logical order, starting with threats.

Threats, either yours or your opponents, are the first order of business. You must identify threats. Too often, beginners will blindly consider their potential threats which blinds them to those of their opponent. Therefore, every time your opponent makes a move, look for a threat by that opposition pawn or piece. This means looking at every square that pawn or piece is attacking and determining whether or not one of your pawns or pieces is on one of those squares under attack. If one of your pawns or pieces is under attack, determine whether or not to move that pawn or piece or defend it. In assessing this idea of moving or defending, the beginner should first determine the value of the attacking piece versus the value of the piece being attacked. If a three point Knight is attacking a five point Rook, then the Rook should be moved. If the pieces are of equal value, ask yourself, can I move the attacked piece to a more active square? If you can, then your opponent may be doing you a positional favor! You never want to make moves that help your opponent and if your opponent does so, take advantage of them. Good moves serve to strengthen your position.

If the pieces are of equal value and you cannot move the attacked piece to a more active square, then defend it. Again, consider the value of potential defenders. Obviously, if you defend a piece with a pawn then your opponent may reconsider capturing it, especially if doing so does nothing to help their position. However, make sure to look at the position to see if capturing your piece will create an opening in your defenses that allows for a strong opposition attack. If so, you may have to build up your defenses around the attacked piece and potential positional opening. Don’t worry my novice chess playing friends, most beginner’s games will not have such calculated attacks, so you probably will not face this issue until later in your chess careers. However, be aware that more experienced players will sacrifice material to open up the position for an attack.

Now look for potential threats you can create. With beginner’s games, those threats often revolve around hanging pieces. Look to see if any of your opponent’s pawns or pieces are hanging. If there are no hanging pawns or pieces, see if there are any threats you can make. When you first start playing you don’t think in terms of threats. Threats come in varying degrees of severity, a potential checkmate being the strongest threat. We’ve already looked for hanging pieces so next we see if there are any threats you can make that force your opponent to respond with a move he or she doesn’t want to make. What kind of move is this? One that slows down their development or one that weakens their position. If you can further activate your pawns and pieces while threatening your opponent’s material, while weakening their position or forcing them to make moves they don’t want to make, you traveling along the correct road to mastery! Good threats include attacking a piece of greater value with a piece of lesser value, moves that check the opposition King and force him to move (prior to Castling) or moves that set up tactical plays (forks, pins, skewers, etc). Then there’s the counter threat.

If your opponent threatens one of your pieces, see if you can make a bigger threat. If you opponent attacks one of your minor pieces with a pawn, look to see if you can threaten an opposition piece of greater value with either a pawn or a piece of lesser value. You opponent will have to deal with the bigger threat, yours, which may lead to them having to make a positional concession which could give you an advantage!

Always look to further activate your pawns and pieces, especially during the early phases of the game. Before starting to play for Middle-game exchanges, develop your pawns and pieces to their most active squares, especially those that allow pieces to control more of the board. As I stated in earlier articles, the more control of the board you have (especially on your opponent’s side of the board), the greater your options. The greater your options, the fewer options your opponent has. This leads to winning games.

Once we’ve done this, we must look for at least three good moves. I tell my students that the difference between a good move and a great move is this: A good move is just that, a good move. A great move is one that wins the game (or creates an overwhelming advantage). To find that great move, you have to consider a few good candidate moves (moves we’re thinking about making). Just jumping on the first move you see might cause you to miss that great move. Therefore, you should try to think of at least three good moves. When you think of each move, make a mental note to yourself as to why that move is good. Have sound/good reasons for that move! If you can’t come up with a good reason for the move in question then it’s not a good move! Then compare the three moves and decide which of them is the best. If you do this every time you’re considering a move, you’ll win more games than you lose (eventually). Speaking of moves, here’s a game to enjoy until next week that has more than a few good moves in it. Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

The Comeback Trail, Part 16

With the amount of opening theory around these days it’s tempting to look for short cuts. This certainly explains the popularity of unusual openings, but often they are unusual for a reason. Isn’t there a better way to reduce the amount of study time needed?

Besides playing openings that lead to solid middle game positions there’s another approach worth considering; prepare opening lines together with your chess friends. This kind of team work can pay great dividends, you can motivate each other to study and play training games in the line(s) selected. In addition you can share research and search for resources jointly rather than on your own. It makes a lot of sense on many different levels.

Why don’t more people do this? A lot of players want their opening repertoire to be private and perhaps even secret. They might see the involvement of other people in this process as a potential security leak. But if you play good openings and trust your chess friends, these fears should be baseless.

I’ve come across a few cases of such joint preparation being very successful. One of these was at a club I once played for, Berlin Zehlendorf. Several members specialized in the Four Pawns Attack against the King’s Indian, and they all did well with it.

The strongest Four Pawns exponent at Zehlendorf was Wolfgang Riedel; here he is in action with his favourite weapon:

Nigel Davies