Wrong Exchanges

It has been a common observation at amateur level that they tend to exchange almost equal value pieces whilst playing against stronger opponent, with a draw in mind. Sometimes, they just move mechanically based on general rules. This in fact, gives masters an opportunity to demonstrate their technique. Here is an instructive example:

In the given position, Black exchanged his knight against White’s bishop and went for a bishop vs. knight endgame. At first this looks quite innocent and even a good idea because we have been told that a bishop is usually better than a knight in the endgame against knight. Secondly the position is not so closed, so Black might be able to open the position & can change the pawn structure. Lastly, Black could emerge with a passed pawn on either c- or d-file.

But taking the bishop on d3 is actually a mistake because it has nothing to attack. And White’s knight would become very active on c3, d4 or f4.

Interesting Exercise: Change the position of the bishop from e8 to d8 and analyse the position! This kind of imagination is helpful in learning chess.

Question: How would you recapture on d3?
Answer: Recapturing with king is dubious due to 1…c5!. For example 1…c5! 2. Nc1 Bb5+ 3.Kd2 Bc4 from where the bishop can be exchanged against the knight almost by force, while pawns on c5 and d5 guarantees Black a better game.

In the game Alekhine played cxd3! and now c5 is rather dubious idea (compare it with the previous line 1. Kxd3)

1.cxd3 c5?! 2.d4! c4

2…cxd4 is even worse because of 3. Kxd4 Kc6 and 4. Kc5 is winning.

3.f5!

The pawn can’t be taken because of Nf4

3…gxf5 4.h4!

Fixing a weakness, which is quite common in masters’ game!

Black tried to fight for next 20 moves but failed to change the outcome of the game.

Interesting Exercise: From here try to win the position against your friend or even an engine.

Ashvin Chauhan

The Value of Chess Culture

Whilst recent studies have not confirmed the value of a bit of chess in raising kids’ IQs, I would maintain that they’re not looking for what’s important. Rather than try to study short term intellectual attainments, that may or may not be achievable by different means, it is important to look at chess as a whole and the deep history and culture of the game. It is not a puzzle or set of puzzles for the mind, it’s a multi-dimensional art form which can provide a unique sphere for ongoing personal development.

Music and traditional martial arts will have a similar effect; practitioners who become deeply involved with them will develop attitudes, beliefs and abilities that can lead to a complete transformation and benefits that will be with them for their entire lives. Yet to test the benefits of these arts after, for example, throwing a few punches or singing fara jaka a couple of times, clearly isn’t going to be a fair test.

What does chess have to offer besides the unproven hope of improved maths scores? Based on my 45+ years observation of the game and its players, as both a player and teacher, here are a few of the more important benefits that come with a deeper and more long term involvement:

1. Learning to take responsibility; if you lose at chess it’s because of mistakes.

2. Learning from mistakes, if you can uncover why you made a particular type of mistake you can learn to avoid it in future.

3. Learning to assess the risk of a particular operation and balance it against potential reward.

4. Learning the value of research, for example from books, software and the internet.

5. Learning the value of history and the idea that the players of today build on the efforts of past masters.

6. Learning to respect better players as people who can offer insights and help you in your own journey.

7. Learning to equate practice with improved results.

8. Learning to stay calm under pressure.

9. Learning to manage thinking time.

10. Learning to combine big picture movements (strategy) with short term tactical operations.

11. Learning to win without it going to your head.

12. Learning to lose without thinking you are diminished in any way and seeing it instead as an opportunity to improve.

You won’t find these benefits in simpler puzzles and games, they simply don’t have the depth or background and culture that chess does. And this is why kids should learn chess instead, starting out with simple stuff after which those who are interested can build layers of complexity. As the Indian proverb goes, chess is a sea in which the elephant may bathe and the gnat may drink, and I don’t think we have to be too bothered about the goal of their bathing or drinking. They’ll decide for themselves what they want out of chess once they’ve had the opportunity to learn.

So it’s great that there are many volunteers, parents, coaches and organisations (for example Chess in Schools and Communities) who try to get them started in the game, and long may they continue to do so. And hopefully there will be a focus on the fascination of the game rather than becoming too obsessed with ‘success’ and the horrors that can bring.

Nigel Davies

End of Opening, Start of Game

The solution to last Monday’s problem is that White can breakthrough with 1. b6!

1…Kxb6 is met by 2. Ba5+ and 1…Bxb6 is met by 2. Kb5.

In this week’s problem, the opening has just finished, so in many ways the game has just started.

Both sides should try to find plans, and try to find manoeuvres which prevent his opponent’s plans.

In this position White is to play and get an advantage. Try to work out what Black is intending to play. What move improves White’s position and tries to stop his opponent’s plan?

Steven Carr

I’ve Got a Little List

Firstly, a quick correction from last time. The study I referred to last week was actually commissioned by the EEF, who paid CSC to conduct it.

Most English chess players will be aware that, before doing anything of any importance in chess you should consult an organiser from Twickenham of below average height. So if CSC wanted to consult me, here’s what I’d tell them. (To be fair, they consulted me several years ago at the start of the project, but more recently I’ve only been speaking informally to some of my friends who work for CSC over a pint or a curry.)

Regular readers will know that I’ve always been sceptical about the research concerning chess making kids smarter. Apart from whether or not ‘making kids smarter’, whatever that means, is as desirable an aim as it sounds (I think it’s not) I have two problems.

1. Can we be sure that the improvement in kids’ maths or problem-solving skills is long-term rather than short-term? One possible interpretation of the failure of the EEF/CSC project to achieve positive results might be that the effect is indeed only short-term. It’s possible that if they’d tested the kids immediately after completing the chess course they might have produced different results.

2. Can we be sure that, if chess does actually improve kids’ performance at maths or problem solving, that the same, or even better, results, could not have been achieved using other games, perhaps simpler games which wouldn’t need investment in chess sets and the involvement of professional chess tutors? While I’m sure most kids will benefit, socially as well as academically, from playing a wide range of games, perhaps some kids will find chess too hard and would gain more benefit from simpler games.

There are, I think, several reasons (apart from making kids smarter) why you might wish to promote chess for kids. I’ve got a little list.

1. You might want to teach lots of kids how the pieces move.

2. You might want to get as many kids as possible playing low level competitive chess.

3. You might want to get as many kids as possible playing adult standard competitive chess.

4. You might want to produce champions and future IMs or GMs.

At the moment there are various projects designed for 1, 2 and 4, but little or nothing designed for 3. It’s not just because I’m an adult competitive player who has never had any ambition to become an IM or GM, that I consider number 3 to be the most important. But before you start any project you have to decide what your aims are and how you’re going to get there.

There also several methods you could use when promoting chess for kids. I’ve got another little list.

1. You can put chess in the classroom specifically as a non-competitive learning tool. Children will be playing simple games and solving puzzles using subsets of chess, not playing actual games of ‘big chess’. Many of the projects that have reported positive results have used this method. This will certainly achieve point 1 above. Whether or not it will achieve the other aims will depend on the local and national chess infrastructure into which kids who want to take things further can move. However, it will only work in schools that are fully committed to the project.

2. You can put chess in the classroom as a low-level semi-competitive activity, teaching kids the moves quickly and then encouraging them to play complete games of chess. This is the model that has been encouraged by CSC, although it’s possible some tutors and schools will have taken a slower, less competitive approach. They run inter-schools competitions, some schools take part in international competitions via the Internet, and kids are invited to visit the London Chess Classic, where they can get some instruction and watch the likes of Magnus and Vishy in action. This way, you’ll be achieving both the first and second aims, possibly at the expense of ‘making kids smarter’.

3. You could promote chess in secondary schools through a network of inter-school and inter-area competitions. If you’re linking up with adult chess clubs and competitions this will achieve our third aim above, but at the expense of the first two, and possibly also the fourth. At the moment, though, because of the nature of ‘adult’ chess clubs and competitions, as you’ll have seen if you’ve read my two recent articles about the Thames Valley League, are not really suitable for kids of secondary school age.

4. You could follow my suggestion. What I’d do is identify the areas I wish to work in, which, for several reasons, would be more deprived areas of the country, and this is what CSC are doing at present. I would establish a professionally staffed Junior Chess Club within the Borough which would meet at weekends and possibly also some evenings. This club would run courses for both beginners and intermediate level players as well as providing competitive chess, possibly including competitions for all ages as well as just for kids. This club would also provide outreach for schools within the Borough who wanted to run chess within their school. This could be non-competitive chess on the curriculum as a learning tool using mini-games, a quicker course on the curriculum (as CSC are doing at the moment), or a chess club which might be before school, at lunchtime or after school. Of course it doesn’t have to be just a junior chess club. There could be a section for adults, classes for adult beginners, for parents who want to help their kids, clubs in libraries, clubs for seniors and retirees, clubs for immigrants, using chess to help them integrate into their new community and much else.

To be fair to CSC, I’d add two points. Firstly, I understand that something like my proposal above is already happening in the London Borough of Newham: what’s happening there sounds great to me. Secondly, CSC has already had some success in producing young players through its schools who are excelling in both national and international competitions. This is great news which should be celebrated.

So my advice to CSC in the wake of the negative result of their study would be this. Concentrate on providing opportunities for competitive chess and move away from the idea of chess making kids smarter. Concentrate more on chess in the community than chess in schools. And bear in mind, most of all, that ‘big chess’ is just too hard for most kids of primary school age. They’ll learn the moves, sure, but will find it very hard to get much further. I’ll consider this in more detail next time.

Richard James

Parental Warning

This is more of a cautionary warning directed at chess parents and potential chess parents. I had an article written about the Scotch Opening all ready to submit, but a posting on Nigel’s Facebook page this weekend derailed my plans. What kind of social media posting could yield such power? A posting about a young chess player (eight years old) who was hit on the head for losing a junior level tournament. This absolutely caused my blood to boil. I told a friend of mine, who’s a former bank robber having made the FBI’s big time wanted list (he’s a college professor now, teaching writing not robbing) what he thought. He thought this to be a worse crime than armed robbery. Saying I was extremely angry regarding this issue was an understatement. So once again I am writing one of my open letters to the parents of young chess players. Think of it as a public service announcement regarding adults behaving badly, which alarmingly is becoming the norm at junior chess tournaments rather than the exception.

I suspect the root of this problem, parents and/or coaches verbally or physically belittling chess children, has to do with the adult in question’s shortcomings. In my experience as a coach who has spent a great deal of time in tournament halls watching my students/ teams play, I’ve noticed that one of the worst offenders is the parent who played chess in their youth. Typically, the adult in question was a decent junior player back in the day. They played many junior tournaments, laying claim to many a trophy. However, when they finally made it to the big regional tournament they went down in flames or worse yet, earned second or third place rather than first. For them, it was a matter of coming close but not close enough to take home the big prize. No matter though because they now have a son or daughter who can restore their family honor by making it to the regional tournament and grab that first place trophy. Yes, dear parent, you couldn’t do it so you’re now going to get your child to do it at all costs! Of course, you could substitute the parent who didn’t get first place in their elementary school’s finger painting competition with the parent who didn’t win the chess tournament as well. The point here is that some parents live vicariously through their children, forcing their children to right some silly wrong from their childhood. The result is the same, humiliation and suffering on the part of the child so the parent can rewrite their own history. This is how we lose potentially good players early on!

I’ve seen some adult behavior at tournaments that was borderline abuse and it angers me like nothing else. In my mind, it’s on par with beating an animal. Real adults simply don’t act this way. Case in point: I was at a junior tournament with one of my teams and had the opportunity to watch a parent as well as a coach have a complete meltdown when their team ended up in third place. Just placing at a large tournament is grounds for celebration but not for the team in question. Both the parent, who was acting as assistant coach, and the coach himself preceded to scream at the third place team. “You know why you’re losers? Because real winners come in first place, not third.” That was one of many memorable comments made by adults to a group of children ranging between nine and twelve years of age. Of course, there were lots of tears to be had by the third place team and not one of the other parents said anything to defend their children. Yes, I had something to say to say to the coach and parent in question (something I cannot repeat here due to rather colorful language, but not said within earshot of the children). Essentially, I told the two adult miscreants that they aught to be ashamed of themselves and they probably wouldn’t try the same tirade with other adults for fear of getting punched in the face. This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding things I’ve seen at junior tournaments.

Here’s the deal parents. You are not your children and should not try to rewrite your own competitive history by using your children as personal pawns so to speak. Let them find out about winning and losing in their own way. Belittling a child does absolutely nothing to support their interest in chess, in fact, just the opposite. A fair number of potentially good junior players learn to hate the game of chess thanks to their parents and coaches. Just because you lost the regional junior chess championship doesn’t mean you get behave like an insane dictator out for revenge. You lost so you have to accept it. Give your son or daughter a chance to win or lose on their own. They might not win this year but there’s always next year. Kindness and understanding will go a lot farther towards fostering a life long interest for chess.

Then there’s the parent who plays a little chess at their local chess club and insists on doing your job for you. This, coincidentally, is usually the same parent who lost the junior regional championship in their youth. When your car breaks down, you take it to the mechanic to be repaired. The mechanic is the expert at fixing cars which is why you pay him. You don’t stand around and tell him how to go about his business (if you do I guarantee he’ll charge you more). Therefore, if you’re a parent and you’re paying a professional chess coach to provide lessons, don’t tell the coach how he or she should teach. I have this problem from time to time.

The biggest problem with the “I’m going to help you teach chess” parent are the bad habits they’ve instilled in their children. I had a student whose father made a career of winning games against weaker players by employing tricks and traps in the opening. This translated to my student only being able to spring dubious traps on unsuspecting opponents in order to win. When the young man faced off against stronger players he lost because he was more interested in being a trickster rather than learning principled play. Many of my student’s bad habits come from well meaning family members. I probably spend just as much time breaking my student’s bad habits as I do teaching them good chess habits. It’s much easier to develop good habits than it is to break bad habits. Parents should leave the chess teaching to the professional. Seriously parents, you wouldn’t tell your surgeon how to take your appendix out during an emergency appendectomy so don’t do your chess teacher’s job.

Parents, you are the immediate role model that sets the standard for your children. When you act like a uncouth Barbarian your child thinks it acceptable. Don’t be that parent! Of course, the majority of my chess parents are wonderful, always being supportive of their children, win, lose or draw! They let their children learn life’s lessons on their own. To those winning is everything parents I say this: Your son or daughter might have what it takes to become a Grandmaster. However, you’ll never know if your behavior drives them away from the game. Treating your children badly because they don’t take home the first place trophy only makes you look bad. You had your chance now give your child a chance. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week when I’ll post my Scotch Opening article!

Hugh Patterson

Optimize Your Chess Training

Question and Improve Your Chess

I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.

-Rudyard Kipling

Optimizing isn’t about find the “best” training method – as a best method probably doesn’t exist. Instead, it is about constant improvement – both adding what is useful and stripping away what is outdated or less relevant.

To do this, it is essential to regularly and systematically question what we are doing, how we are doing it, and why.

What

Choosing what to study is essential to a successful training program. In general, as you get stronger, your study materials will have to be more specific to your needs. For beginners, study materials need to be broad and more general as there is a lot to learn. Here are a couple questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you studying games and positions that occur in your opening repertoire?
  • Are you studying concepts that target areas of need – e.g. your weaknesses?
  • Are you studying at a level that is appropriate for you – not too hard and not too easy?

When and Where

When and where you study is also important. Despite anecdotes of Botvinnik training with someone puffing cigerette smoke in his face, for the most part studying in a comfortable environment is recommended. Similarly studying when you are alert is better than when you are groggy or distracted. Consider the following:

  • Do you have a specific place in your home where you study?
  • If you study on your computer, do you shut off programs like Twitter and Facebook?
  • Do you study at a time when you are relatively free from distractions – e.g. when children are asleep?

How

The attitude and focus you bring to your training and study is also important. The more you are focused during your training sessions, the more you will absorb and remember. Also, studying actively – where you are asking yourself questions and trying to make connections with your previous knowledge – will help you apply what you learn to your games. Finally, going into a session with clear goals and objectives will help you measure the effectiveness of your training sessions. Ask yourself the following:

  • Do I know what I want to achieve in my upcoming training session?
  • Am I focused? Is my mind on other things other than my study material?
  • Am I positive about my progress and training?
  • Am I making connections between what I am learning now and the structures and concepts I have learned in the past?

Who

Besides your own efforts, who you play and converse with about chess has an effect on your progress. Playing on average slightly stronger players seems to yield the best results. If you play players you can never beat, you will be discouraged and be unable to practice the technique of winning a won game. If you play predominantly weaker players, you will not be punished for your mistakes – and therefore not learn from them. I wrote a more detailed article about who to play on betterchesstraining.com.

Besides people you play against, who refers to the mentors and coaches you employ to assist you in your game. Like learning materials such as books and videos, different chess coaches and mentors have different value in terms of their effectiveness. It is not necessarily the quality of the coaching, but also the personality fit that is important. In general, you want someone you get along with, but also someone who can clearly disseminate the material and concepts that you need to improve. Some of the best mentors are not necessarily professional players, but stronger players who can explain concepts well. As you get stronger, you may require more specific assistance in certain areas such as opening preparation or psychology.

Why

Perhaps the most important question you need to ask yourself is “Why?” Why do you play chess? Why do you want to get better? Here are a few implications of this question (as well as a couple more questions):

  • If chess is a recreational release from the stress of everyday life, then playing “fun” openings like various gambits and offbeat openings may be for you.
  • Do you plan on playing in open tournaments over-the-board or mainly online? What implications does this have on the training and openings you choose?
  • Is finding the “truth” of a position important to you? If so, playing mainline openings following the latest theory may be more relevant to you.

Conclusion

Perhaps this article uncovered more questions than it answered. You don’t have to make wholesale changes to the way you study chess. However, using these questions will help you to gradually improve your routine and practices. Question by question, answer by answer, day by day, you will see your progress as you employ the six honest serving-men: What, When, Where, How, Who, and Why.

Bryan Castro

Queen’s Gambit Declined Declined

1. P-Q4 P-Q4 leads to nothing.
– Bobby Fischer

I play much better than I did 30 years ago when my rating was higher. I depended more on memorization 30 years ago than I do now.

Returning with White from 1. g3 to my love of long ago 1. d4 I find that I sometimes lose the thread of the internal logic of that opening.

In a way that’s good, because I then have to work out precisely why tactically and positionally to play moves formerly played on visual beauty or on faith.

In today’s game, it certainly occurred to me during the game that in the old days I would have played 7. Qc2 instead of 7. Rc1. 7. Rc1 was a “safety”, taking refuge in a more familiar position.

Beyond memorization, I did imbibe the spirit of the Queen’s Gambit Declined, so it’s disappointing that I didn’t mobilize with 12. Qe2 etc. before proceeding with e3-e4. Apparently my Queen’s Gambit Declined has itself declined somewhat and needs brushing up. Nonetheless, my plan obtained an even game.

Luckily for me, after I began to drift slightly with 27. g4 my opponent overlooked my blunderous 41. Kg5?? which is tantamount to self-mate.

Jacques Delaguerre

Transforming An Advantage

Having a particular advantage is not always enough to win at chess. Sometimes you need to transform it into a different type of advantage in order to win. Here are some examples:

Relinquishing material for a decisive penetration


White has an outside passed pawn but that alone is not enough to win. But he can simply relinquish it by playing Kd6 in order to penetrate on the other side of the board with his king. This leads to simple win.

Lead in development transformed into strong attack (Morphy against Carl)


A lead in development is a dynamic advantage which evaporates with time if not used. Here Morphy had a lead in development which was quite usual with him! He had chosen to sacrifice a piece in order to convert his development advantage into a strong attack. On the other moving the bishop to d3 or e2 leads to satisfactory game for Black after 10…Nbd7. Here is the whole annotated game.

Transforming a queenside majority into a material advantage (Marshall against Capablanca)

It was Steinitz who considered a queenside majority an advantage due to its potential for creating an outside passed pawn. The example below shows Capablanca’s fine technique in transforming his queenside majority into a material advantage.

Ashvin Chauhan

Sinquefield Cup

My son and I have been watching the Chess24 video commentary on the Sinquefield Cup and very entertaining it has been too. I don’t follow top level chess too closely but this may now change.

Something that has interested me has been the recent relative fortunes of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Anish Giri. They are both extraordinary talents yet Vachier-Lagrave seems to be breaking through to a higher level whilst Giri has been struggling.

There could be many reasons why this is so but I wonder if it’s because the Frenchman has a clear chess identity, a dynamic player with similarities to Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov. With Giri on the other hand I don’t really see that, certainly he’s a brilliant tactician but the cautious way he lays out his game gives little opportunity for this to shine through. Of course he has plenty of time to develop and suspect that everyone will struggle with him when this happens.

Here meanwhile is a video of round one:

Nigel Davies

Breakthrough

The solution to last Monday’s problem is that White can get a big advantage by playing 1. Qb5! This is much better than 1. Qxb6 which also leads to an advantage.

After 1. Qb5 the Black King is trapped in the centre, with all of White’s pieces attacking it.

This week’s problem is about how to effect a breakthrough.

With good positional play, we can increase the pressure on our opponent’s position. But sometimes it can be hard to breakthrough.

One method is zugzwang where we force our opponent to move away one his key pieces.

Another method is to sacrifice , which will also force our opponent to move something he doesn’t want to move.

In this week’s problem, it is obvious that White has a good position, but how can he make a breakthrough?

Steven Carr