Sacrifice for Beginners

“Sacrifice (definition) = a move that gives up material to gain a positional or tactical advantage”

For a long time my first reaction when someone played a sacrifice against me was to feel shivers down my spine. How could I not see this? The sacrifice must be correct, right? The opponent knows what its doing. This of course put me in a defensive position and because of that the sacrifice was already successful. It did not let me look at it with the right frame of mind. How could I stand a chance to play my best against it? I thought about this as I was preparing my new lesson for the current level 2 group of students. We were covering basic mistakes in the opening and punishing those require more often than not one or more sacrifices. I know that for beginners the value of pieces is like the 10 Commandments and because of that reason alone, seeing sacrifices in their games is very rare. This means no chances to punish basic opening mistakes. Let’s take on the challenge to rectify this situation.

We were looking at the following game (also included in level 2, lesson 2 of our chess app):

The theme for this one is called “Cannot play one against all” and it is a hot topic for beginners. After reaching the position above, I could see their puzzled eyes looking at it and could tell they did not understand what was going on. I jumped at the opportunity to introduce them to the topic of sacrifice and did my best to make it as simple as possible.

  • Step 1: We looked at the position and observed Black had an extra pawn and with the last move it was threatening to win either a rook or a queen for the knight
  • Step 2: The first try when facing a sacrifice is to see what happens if you accept it. We played the best line we could think of starting with 6. Kxf2 … The conclusion was that accepting the sacrifice was not a good idea
  • Step 3: We started to look for alternatives and one target we have been talking about (the f7-weak spot) was already attacked by our Bc4; with one attacker and one defender (Ke8), we needed to bring into the action another attacker. This is how the move Rh1-f1 was discovered: it attacked Nf2 and once the knight would move away, we could have a second attacker on f7
  • Step 4: At this moment we had a closer look to see if there was a better move also bringing our rook on f1; O-O became evident within seconds
  • Step 5: Bringing the rook on the f-file meant sacrificing the queen. We have a rule of thumb saying “Sacrifice your Queen only if you can checkmate or get the queen back and then some”
  • Step 6: It was easy to see we could not get our queen back, so the class had the pleasure to look for checkmate

Hope you have figured out the solution by now. Enjoy it below and hope our quest to find it has been instructive!

Valer Eugen Demian

Beating the Schliemann

In the last round of the British Rapidplay Championships my opponent played the Schliemann Gambit against my Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 f5) and I replied with what seemed like a natural move, 4.d4. My Dad told me afterwards that this often leads to a piece sacrifice after 4.d4 fxe4 5.Nxe5 Nxe5 6.dxe5 c6 (my opponent played 6…Qh4, which seems dubious) 7.Nc3!?, but White can also just let the e5 pawn go with 7.Be2 and still gets compensation.

Here is a nice game of Judit Polgar’s in which she plays this way and gets strong pressure:

Sam Davies

Chickening Out

By now the league season had finished but we were still in the cup, facing Surbiton in the semi-finals. I had yet another white, against former RJCC member Jasper Tambini, who was graded 185 at the time, but is now 202.

I wheeled out my trusty QGD Exchange. Here’s what happened.

1. d4 d5
2. c4 e6
3. Nc3 Nf6
4. cxd5 exd5
5. Bg5 Be7
6. e3 h6

An unusual move order. Black usually plays c6 or O-O here.

7. Bh4 c6
8. Qc2 O-O
9. Bd3 Re8
10. Nf3 Nbd7
11. O-O Ne4
12. Bxe7 Qxe7
13. Nd2

White usually heads for the minority attack with Rab1 here. Bxe4 is another popular choice. My plan of trading knights on e4 shouldn’t give me anything.

13… Ndf6
14. Ndxe4 dxe4
15. Be2 Nd5
16. Nxd5 cxd5
17. Rac1 Qg5
18. Qc7 Re6

He could have played Be6 here, intending to meet 19. Qxb7 with Bh3. Tactical points like this are always important. Calculation in chess is more about spotting this sort of idea than ‘sac sac mate’. Now I might have tried 19. f4, but instead, predictably, head for the ending.

19. Qg3 Qxg3
20. hxg3 Rb6
21. b3 Bd7
22. Rc5 Bc6
23. Rfc1 a5
24. f3 exf3
25. Bxf3 a4
26. bxa4 Rxa4
27. R1c2 Ra3

White’s attacking the black d-pawn while Black in turn targets the white a-pawn. It’s still equal.

28. Kf2 Rba6
29. Bxd5 Bxd5
30. Rxd5 Rxa2

An alternative was 30… Rf6+ 31. Ke2 Re6, switching his attention to the e-pawn.

31. Rd8+ Kh7
32. Rxa2 Rxa2+
33. Kf3 Kg6
34. Rd6+ f6
35. Rb6 Ra7

This is clearly a mistake. Black should give up the a-pawn to remain active rather than moving his rook to this poor square. 35… h5 36. Rxb7 f5 and Black is holding. One idea is Kf6 followed by g5, g4+ and Rf2#, although of course White isn’t going to allow this!

36. e4 Kf7
37. Kf4 h5
38. e5

Giving Black some counterplay. 39. d5 should have been preferred.

38… Ra4
39. Rxb7+ Ke6
40. Rb6+ Kf7

Losing a vital tempo. 40… Ke7 still offered drawing chances.

41. e6+ Ke7
42. Ke4 g6

At this point Jasper unexpectedly offered a draw. My emotions were conflicted. Regular readers, as well as anyone who knows me in real life, will be aware that I’m almost always happy to agree a draw, regardless of the position. As my opponent is a former RJCC member and we’ve always been very big on cultivating sportsmanship, I’d assume he would only offer a draw if he thought he could hold the position. Offering a draw in a position you know is lost when your opponent has enough time on the clock is, to say the least, bad manners. It seemed to me like a position in which, whether or not I was winning, I could press without any danger of losing. But then I became tormented by negative thoughts. Perhaps I would freeze and end up losing on time. Perhaps he’d capture my g-pawns and his pawns would start advancing towards promotion. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

In fact the position’s an easy win for White, as long as I find some fairly accurate king moves to escape the black rook’s attention. For example: 43.Rc6 Rb4 44.Kd5 Rb5+ 45.Kc4 Rb2 46.d5 Rc2+ (or 46…Rxg2 47.Rc7+ Kd8 48.e7+ Kxc7 49.e8Q) 47.Kb4 Rb2+ (or 47…Rxc6 48.dxc6 Kxe6 49.Kc5 with a winning pawn ending) 48.Kc3 Re2 49.Kd3 Re1 50.Rc7+ Kd6 51.Rd7+ Kc5 52.e7 Re5 53.d6 and the e-pawn will eventually promote.

But of course I agreed the draw. Meanwhile, although we were heavily outgraded on all but the top board, a couple of the other games went in our favour. We lost the match 3½-2½, but if I’d played on and won, we’d have drawn 3-3 and gone through to the finals on board count.

What else could I say? A lot, actually, but not now.

Richard James

Music to Play By

Music has the ability to evoke a long lost memory from our distant pasts or change our emotional state for better or worse. A rough sketch of our very essence could drawn from the music we’ve listened to throughout our lives. It’s literally a part of every human’s existence. In fact, it’s hard to escape music. Music, having the ability to sway our emotional state, can be a useful tool when it comes to chess. Music as a chess tool? I know, that might not make a great deal of sense at the moment but read further and you’ll understand the idea!

Let’ start with the concept that music can alter our emotional state. For some individuals, that altered emotional state can drive them into a kinetic frenzy. Watch a group of people dancing at a club that plays techno music. The dancers literally pulsate to the rhythms, becoming one with the others on the dance floor as well as the DJ. For other individuals, a specific song or genre of music can bring them to tears or complete joy. The point to be taken here is that music can alter one’s emotional state and having the ability to change one’s emotional state can be of benefit to the process of thinking. There’s a reason that certain songs are played at sporting events and that reason is to pump people up, raising their excitement levels to new heights. It’s a method employed to drive a large group of people into a specific state of mind that, in turn, pumps up the sports teams playing in the stadium. What does this have to do with chess?

Prior to sitting down and playing a serious game of chess, the onus or burden is on you to get yourself focused. The ability to focus is a learned skill. While some individuals have a greater natural ability to hone in or focus on the task at at, they still have to further develop their natural abilities. One thing I have my students do before playing tournaments is to create a play list of songs they can listen to on their cellphones and tablets (using headphones) prior to sitting down at the chessboard. The only requirement is that the songs do a couple of things for the listener.

First, the songs have to take my students to a place they can clearly visualize, in great detail. I have one student that plays a song that, in the mind’s eye, takes him to specific street in San Francisco’s Chinatown. When he listens to that song, he can close his eyes and see the tiniest details of the street scene. With each listen prior to playing, I ask him to hone in on another detail, one previously unnoticed. This forces him to focus on this imaginary scene, looking for that elusive detail he missed the last time around. His mind clears of all other thoughts and focuses in order to find another hidden detail within the scene. I have all my students follow this procedure so they can remove the unnecessary thoughts that clutter their minds which allows them to focus on the task at hand, a game of chess. Visualization, using music to guide you, can help you develop your focusing skills. It’s also the most enjoyable way to exercise the mind in this way.

The other important aspect of using music as a training tool is that a song can really get you pumped up. This being the case, I have my students listen to the one song that gets them pumped up and ready for battle. Its the same idea as the music played at sports stadiums during big games, songs that get you excited and ready for the challenge ahead. My Students listen to their “fight song” before their “focusing song” and then afterwards, listen additional songs that evoke focus and excitement.

Each play list is specifically tailored for the individual and no two play lists are exactly alike. I don’t ever tell my students what to listen to (truth be told, I’d rather not have them listen to anything I’ve recorded because I suspect my songs would have the opposite effect, not to mention they all come with a parental warning label). All I do is give them the parameters of what the play list should do and they take it from there. However, to get them to the point where they’re choosing the correct music, I carefully go over the instructions as to what the music should do, emotionally and mentally speaking. You’d be surprised at some of the choices this youngsters make. There’s nothing funnier than an eleven year old listening to Wagner and then The Ramones!

Try this out but make sure to adhere to the parameters mentioned above. A little music can go a long way towards preparing you for taking on tasks, both those on the chessboard and those in your day to day lives. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week. I know one of the two players doesn’t use music as part of his program!

Hugh Patterson

The Mongolian Tactic Origin

“I will not return alive if I do not defeat the Jin army!”
General Muqali

Not long ago I wrote an article about the Mongolian tactic. You can review it HERE
At the end of it I asked the chess community to help find how this came about and got its name. I am happy one of our fellow chess enthusiasts was kind enough to send me more information. Thank you Martin for sharing it! I have done a copy and paste of his message below for everyone’s benefit. One final quick note before passing the floor to Martin; the Mongolian player’s name mentioned by Yasser was Lhamsuren Myagmarsuren. Hope you will find this useful and please keep your feedback coming!

“This is a short reply to the article “The Mongolian Tactic” where you have asked for the actual origin of the name “Mongolian Tactic” for the tactic you have shown in the same article. As you have pointed out GM Yasser Seirawan states that the name comes from Bobby Fischer. Here is a teaching video on YouTube where he explaines the origin of the name (from Minute 34:30 to 40:30).
Spoiler from here (better watch the video as an explanation because of the amusing story): in a tournament Bobby Fischer was facing some Mongolian player with a very difficult name. After asking multiple times for the name he simply wrote “Mongolian” on his table. This guy was the one who used this tactic in there matches. Greetings, Martin”

Valer Eugen Demian

Going for the Win

It makes sense to going for the win in chess instead of playing it safe. In this game I did so by turning down a draw offer, and I ended up winning my biggest prize ever by getting first place on my own:

Sam Davies

The Heffalump’s Escape

For my penultimate game of the season I was paired against a formidable opponent in Alan Perkins, joint British U16 Boys Champion in 1965 and student international in the 1970s. In recent years he’s preferred to ply his trade in the calmer waters of the local chess leagues.

My archives remind me that we first met 40 years previously in a weekend congress when I managed to draw. I was slightly worse in the final position but quite probably ahead on the clock. We met again in 2010, in another match between Richmond B and Ealing A, when I lost.

In both games I had white and faced the King’s Indian Defence, trying the Saemisch Variation in 1977 and the Smyslov Variation in 2010. In 2017 I was again White, and it was another Smyslov Variation.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 g6
3. Nc3 Bg7
4. Nf3 O-O
5. Bg5 c5
6. d5

I’d learnt from my earlier game against Mike Singleton to play d5 here.

6… d6
7. e4

Looks natural, but the stats suggest that e3 is to be preferred. It’s slightly more popular, the choice of stronger players and has a much better percentage. Maybe next time.

7… h6
8. Bh4

Again natural, but the stronger players – and the stats, prefer Bf4.

8… e6
9. Be2

Again, Nd2 is the expert move.

9… exd5
10. exd5

Choosing a King’s Indian rather than Benoni formation. An unpopular decision which also scores poorly for White. If you’re playing a 2200 strength opponent it helps if you know some theory!

10… Qb6

A new move. 10… g5 11. Bg3 Nh5 is the recommended plan.

11. Qd2 Bf5
12. O-O Nbd7
13. h3 Rfe8
14. Bd3 Ne4
15. Bxe4 Bxe4
16. Nxe4 Rxe4
17. Rac1

White has problems with the long diagonal but could defend tactically: 17. Qc2 Rae8 18. Qa4.

17… Rae8

Here there was no reason why Black couldn’t have taken the pawn: 17… Qxb2 18. Qxb2 Bxb2 19. Rb1 Bg7 20. Rxb7 Nb6 and c4 will fall while Black can hold d6.

18. Rfe1

There was no reason not to play 18. b3 here, and no reason for Black not to trade rooks and then take on b3. We’d both misjudged the position.

18… f5
19. Bg3

Again, I could have played 19. b3 and he could have captured the pawn.

19… g5
20. Rxe4 Rxe4
21. Nxg5

21. b3 was still about equal. I was concerned about my bishop being buried alive after 21… f4 but I can always play g3 at a convenient time.

Instead I lash out with a ridiculous sacrifice, hoping to get three pawns against a piece. Or perhaps, aware of Alan’s tendency to get into time trouble, trying to lure the heffalump into a swamp in a deep dark forest. You decide.

21… hxg5
22. Qxg5 Qxb2
23. Bxd6 Qf6

I’d missed this simple defence. I might have played 24. Qg3 to keep the queens on, but instead traded.

24. Qxf6 Bxf6
25. Rc2 Be5
26. Bxe5 Nxe5
27. f3 Rxc4

Now I only have one pawn for the piece. Time to resign?

28. Re2 Nf7
29. Re8+ Kg7
30. Re7 Rc2

30… b5 was the easiest way to win.

31. Rxb7 Rxa2
32. d6 Kf6
33. d7

My passed pawn reaches the seventh rank. Black will have to be a bit careful.

33… c4
34. Rc7 Ra4
35. g4 fxg4

35… Ke7 was the way to go: 36. d8Q+ Kxd8 37. Rxf7 c3 and the white rook can’t get back.

36. fxg4 Nd8

Now Ke7 doesn’t work because the white rook can return via the f-file to stop the c-pawn.

37. g5+ Ke7
38. g6 Ra6
39. g7 Rg6+
40. Kf2 Rxg7
41. Rxa7 Kd6
42. Ke3 Kc5
43. Rc7+ Kd5

The territory’s becoming swampy for Black now as he only has one pawn left and the white d-pawn is surviving. The only path to victory here was 43… Kb4, but it’s not so easy in the quickplay finish.

44. h4 Rh7
45. Ra7

The wrong plan. The way to hold was to get the white rook to the eighth rank to have access to the b-file. So: 45. h5 Rxh5 46. Rc8 Rh8 47. Rb8/Ra8 and there doesn’t seem to be any way for Black to make progress.

Now 45… Kc5 would have put Black back on track, but instead he captured the h-pawn.

45… Rxh4
46. Ra8 Rh3+
47. Kd2 c3+
48. Kc2 Kc4

48… Rh8 was a simple draw, and even Kd4 was good enough. But instead the heffalump tumbled head first into the swamp. Will the tiger put the boot in and score an unlikely and, frankly, undeserved victory?

49. Rc8+

Sadly not. All I had to do to win the game from here was to play one of the most obvious moves in the history of chess: 49.Rxd8 Rh2+ 50.Kb1 Rh1+ 51.Ka2 Rd1 52.Rc8+ Kb4 53.d8Q Rd2+ 54.Kb1 c2+ 55.Kc1 Rxd8 56.Rxd8 and wins. For some reason (or for no reason at all other than having to blitz during a mutual time scramble) I had a brainstorm and decided I needed to check before rather than after capturing the knight.

49… Kd4
50. Rxd8 Rh2+
51. Kb3

Moving up the board because I was scared of mate threats. This is fine but Kb1 and Kc1 also draw, although Kd1 loses. Ironically, without the white pawn on d7 the draw would be automatic.

51… Rb2+
52. Ka3 Rb7
53. Rh8 Rxd7
54. Rh4+

54. Kb3 was again an automatic draw. He could only prevent Kc2 by playing Kd3 when I can just play Rh3+.

54… Kd3
55. Rh3+ Kc2
56. Rh2+ Rd2

At this point I stopped recording my moves. I’m not sure what I played here but it certainly wasn’t Rxd2. The position’s still drawn but it’s easy for White to go wrong now, which is what happened, and Alan just about had enough time to force checkmate.

An exciting ending which I certainly should have drawn, and was, for just one half-move, winning. I really shouldn’t have been allowed to get that close. Perhaps randomising the position on move 21 was justified even though it was an awful move.

You might also think that trying to play a proper game of chess in 2½ or even 3 hours is ridiculous. I agree, but I also think both adjournments and adjudications are ridiculous.

Richard James

Why Play Chess?

Chess is a bit ironic in that you can learn to play the “Game of Kings” in a matter of a few hours yet spend an often maddening lifetime trying to master its complexity and many mysteries. Those mysteries are elusive and only reveal themselves to those who are willing to dedicate their lives to the quest. However, many people play chess casually and are happy to simply use the game to pass the time of day. Over six hundred million people play chess across the globe, most being casual in their efforts. It’s one of the oldest and most popular games and can mirror real life on the chessboard’s sixty four squares. It’s a mix of science and art with a dash of warfare as well. In the hands of masters, it’s a dramatic battle of the mind, a theater-like event that would make Shakespeare take note. It requires patience and planning, courage and cunning, focus and deep concentration. These attributes being what they are, why should you play chess as opposed to another game that requires less effort?

Chess seems to fit a number of personalities, from the casual hobbyist to the dedicated seeker of chess’s mysteries. The great thing about learning this game are the benefits it provides. However, we first have to dispel the greatest chess myth, the one that claims chess is played by the smartest of people (not to mention the idea that chess will make you smarter). If you want to make a character in a movie or book look brilliant, you set the scene with that character sitting behind a chessboard playing a game against their arch rival. We’ve all seen countless movies in which the hero outwits his or her nemesis by beating them up on the sixty four square battlefield. James Bond appears to be brilliant because he plays chess! However, you don’t have to have the IQ of a genius to play well!

In fact, Albert Einstein was an average club level chess player. It’s more a question of recognizing patterns within a given chess position (the combination of pawns and pieces on the board) rather than shear brilliance that makes a great player. In the end, we’re born with a certain level of brain function and can, at best, hone the brain we’re born with to function at it’s highest level. This brings me to my next point, honing the brain to function at it’s maximum level of efficiency.

Most of us, myself included, think we solve our day to day problems logically and expediently. The truth is, we often simply do things our way which means we solve problems in a manner that is comfortable within the way in which we think. We believe we’re going from point “a” to point “b” in a straight line but in reality, we’re all over the place. Our sense of logical problem solving isn’t always as logical as we think it is. This is where chess offers much needed help!

Playing chess well requires solving a series of continual problems in the simplest, quickest manner. With each move made by both players, a new problem arises that must be addressed immediately by each participant. If you procrastinate, you’ll lose the game. Therefore, chess can be a valuable tool for those trying the break the bad habit of procrastination. However, the real bonus here is the development of sound problem solving skills and more importantly, exercising the mind. Chess forces you to seek a direct solution to the problem at hand and provides specific game principles to guide you in the decision making process. It also teaches you to develop the lost art of patience (something in short supply these days). However, the real gift that chess provides all players, whether casual or professional, is mental exercise.

As we grow older, we tend to think less sharply than we did in our youth. We may have a greater knowledge base, gained through a lifetime commitment to educational pursuits, but our ability to think quickly with accuracy dwindles as we age. Chess provides a way to exercise our brains. Think of it as a mental martial art. I tell my students that chess is “ Kung Fu of the mind.”

In my youth, I was much more apt to make a decision quickly and execute a solution to the problem at hand speedily. Of course, being a subscriber to that old adage regarding, “the folly of youth,” some of my decisions may have been a bit flawed. Yet I solved the problem facing me with some degree of accuracy. Approaching middle age, I found myself becoming stuck when faced with a problem, not for lack of coming up with a viable solution but because my brain was operating in a slower gear. Thanks to chess, I’ve been able to get back some of that youthful mental speed when problem solving. Combined with the ability to apply logic and reasoning to come up with strong solutions, acquired by studying chess, I have regained some of that lost brain power. This gift that chess has given me can be applied to ever part of my life.

As a professional musician, I have to be able to play very specific jazz lines or leads at the drop of a hat (my punk guitar playing requires a bit less music theory). If playing guitar was a hobby, I could take my sweet time ( I seriously miss those days). However, when someone is paying me a pretty penny to sit in a recording studio and come up with guitar parts, time is of the essence. Chess helps to keep my mind sharp, avoiding that “deer in the headlights” syndrome many musicians face when under pressure in the studio. You can think of chess as the oil that keeps your mental engine well lubricated and running at optimum efficiency. Let’s face it, we need our minds to run well just to face the day to day challenges we encounter. Chess helps keep our minds sharp. Again, it’s mental exercise (watching the History channel doesn’t count as mental exercise).

I say that any fun way to pass the time that also keeps your mind working well is well worth pursuing. You can play the game casually or become a disciple of it’s mysteries and spend your entire life trying to master the game. Either way, the benefits are enormous. We worry about our bodies as we grow older but ignore the general condition of our minds, opting to blame our weak thinking on aging. Exercise your mind and you’ll be a happier more productive person. This is why you should play chess! Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

Colle Flower

This was a nice win for the Colle. Last season I’d played IM James Adair in these lines and lost, albeit narrowly! However, our Captain said after the game that he’d never known Yousuf to lose. Yousuf himself said that he used to play the Colle but frustratingly had forgotten the correct line.  I had been anticipating playing James Adair again and had looked at 11.a3 lines instead of 11.Qe2 but in response to 10… Qc7 not 10…0-0. So in the absence of 10… Qc7 then in hindsight I expect 11.e5 was the move! How our minds work… I’d be interested in comments from fellow Colle players.

Dan Staples