How NOT to Play Against Stronger Opponents

This win against a much lower-rated opponent put me into temporary first place in this section. However, games that finished after this one did dropped me back into a tie for fourth place.

Going through the crosstable for this section I played over my opponents games that he has finished. So far, he has one forfeit win and about five losses. He will most likely finish in the second to last position. In every game that I looked at, he played the same Carro-Kahn like set up as both White and Black. I sent a message to him telling him that passive play against strong opponents will get him clobbered every time!

On move number 7 White played a novelty that may not have been that good. Move number 12 was also weak because is was played to support move number 14, which was an outright blunder. After Black’s 14th move, White was dead lost. White resigned when Black had checkmate in 5 moves.

I now have enough content in the membership area of my chess site to start taking a few new members to help me beta test this site. I gave Tai one free membership to this site and he has yet to do anything with it. I will take up to a total of 10 free members to beta test this membership area. After that, I will be charging for access to this site. If the beta testers do not give me any useful feedback, then I will cancel their memberships and they will have to pay to rejoin this site! If you are interested in joining then contact me.

Mike Serovey

IF .. THEN .. ELSE

It was al-Biruni in 10th-century Baghdad who explained how to calculate 264 efficiently by repeated squaring. He was definitely a computer scientist. He knew how many grains of wheat there were without doubling 64 times. al-Khwarizmi, who lived about 150 years before that, gave us his name as “algorithm.” There were great books about chess already in the 9th century. – Dr. Donald Knuth, interview, Dr. Dobb’s Journal, 1996.

The connection between computer science and chess has long been noted. Chess, like a computer program, is the navigation of a downwards-branching decision tree. The nodes are the positions after each ply.

The Nimzo-Indian defense with 4. e3 can almost be described in high-level pseudocode. Black is either going to trade the b4 bishop for White’s c3 knight or not. White, in a surfeit of confidence in the bishop pair,  used to prod Black to commit. Nowadays usually White continues to develop, while Black, waiting for White to expend the tempo on moving the pawn to a3, is compelled to move into the center, rendering moot plans to exploit a weakened White pawn structure after the exchange via piece play around Black pawns on, say b6-c5-d6-e5. After Black has had to play d7-d5 waiting for the right moment to exchange, the exchange becomes less attractive, and Black typically dissolves the center allowing his bishop to retreat to a7 when challenged.

In today’s game, Black didn’t wait to be challenged but exchanged anyway. White  went for the win of a pawn. Black had fair compensation but was unable to navigate the decision tree and lost the rook ending.

Jacques Delaguerre

Pawn Levers

Pawns are natural blockaders of lines so every pawn move opens up some lines while closing Others. The quality of your long-range pieces depends upon the availability of open lines. Besides this pawn levers can be very useful in busting the opponent’s pawn structure or improving one’s own pawn structure. Therefore every pawn move and lever must be taken into account very seriously, even if it looks impossible to play them.

Here is an instructive example:

Spasskay against Avtonomov in 1949
White to play and win.

Black’s last move was 11…Nb4. His idea was to create a strong blockade on d5, and at first sight it looks as if no harm can befall him. But Black is in fact already lost here. Find the winning continuation for White!

11. d5!!

A pawn lever looks impossible at first sight. What is the point behind this sacrifice?

11…Nbxd5 12. Bg5!

This is the point and the only winning continuation. Not only does this allow the opening up of lines against the king, but it also breaks up Black’s pawn structure by force.

12…Be7 13. Bxf6! gxf6

Forced.

13…Bxf6 loses a piece because of pin along the e file whilst 13…Nxf6 loses the queen.

14. Nd4! Kf8??

A blunder under pressure. 14…Qd7 can prolong the fight but can’t change the result. Castling was not possible due to Nc6.

15. Nf5

Threatening Rxd5.

15…h5

16. Rxd5! Qxd5

Accepting defeat.

17. Qxe7+ Kg8 18. Qxf6

Winning the queen by force. So Black resigned.

Ashvin Chauhan

Adrian Hollis – Classics Don and Correspondence Chess Grandmaster

Adrian Hollis was one of Britain’s leading chess players both at correspondence and over-the-board chess in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s. There were many good obituaries in the newspapers when he died a few years ago and I am not intending to match any here, just to show how good he was at chess. I will say that his father served as Director-General of MI5 from 1956 to 1965 and that Adrian’s distinguished academic career at Oxford University focused mainly on Hellanistic and Roman poetry in which he was a world renowned expert.

He played for Oxford University Chess Club in four Varsity matches between 1959 and 1962, being on top board in 1961 and 1962. He played in some British Chess Championships (over-the-board) in the 1960s and was 7th equal in 1961. He was British Correspondence Chess Champion in 1966 (jointly), 1967 and 1971. He represented Great Britain in the famous Potter Memorial Correspondence Chess Tournament of 1973 and was awarded the Grandmaster Title for first place in 1976 with a score of 9 / 12. During the 1980’s he advised Victor Korchnoi on certain openings of which he was considered an expert. He was a regular member of the British Olympiad Team.

Here is a game from the Potter Memorial Tournament against Dr Fritz Bambach who later became World Champion. Remember that this game was played before chess computer programs were widely available. Ken Messere, another participant, wrote an excellent book about the tournament from which this game and notes were taken. The book is still available from the BFCC website for only £5.00 plus postage if overseas (bfcc-online.org.uk).

John Rhodes

Endgame Studies

The solution to last Monday’s problem is that White can draw with 1. Kb7! a5 2. Kc6! Kb4 3. Kd5 Kxa4 4. Kc4 and White can bring his king back to c1 and prevent Black from promoting his pawn.

Endgame studies can be useful for practising calculation and imagination.

Some endgame studies use positions which seem so composed that they are unlikely to occur in actual play. By contrast, this week’s problem has a position which could have come from a game.

How does White play and win?

Steven Carr

Chess and Music Part 7: Nette Sings, Daniel Plays

If you were wondering why I was posting so much about chess and music, there was a good reason. It was inspired by a recent event which I was fortunate to be able to attend.

On Friday 6 May, jazz singer, artist and chess player Nette Robinson hosted an evening of chess and music in Hammersmith (as it happens, opposite my old school).

The format was a blitz tournament with the qualifying event before the gig and the semi-finals and finals, played on Purling Dark Chess boards, during the interval.

The blitz event was a 5-round Swiss with the top four going through to the semi-finals. Pall Thorarinsson (Iceland) won the qualifying tournament with 5/5, followed by FM Andy Smith (Ireland), Jim Stevenson (Scotland) and WIM Natasha Regan (England) on 3½/5. Other strong players such as David Okike (Nigeria) and Rick McMichael also took part, along with John Foley, Director of Educational Development and Training at Chess in Schools & Communities and Phil Ehr, former ECF Chief Executive. Stewart Reuben was also present at the event.

In the semi-finals two games were played, with each player having 3 minutes for each game. Andy Smith beat Jim Stevenson 2-0, while Pall Thorarinsson eventually defeated Natasha Regan in an Armageddon decider. The final, between Andy and Pall, also went to an Armageddon, and was decided when Pall made an illegal move. There were prizes of prints of Nette’s chess art for the successful participants.

The jazz band providing the music comprised Nette Robinson (vocals), Keith Arkell lookalike Dominic Ashworth (guitar), Andy Trim (drums) and Dan King (bass), with Nette’s husband Tony Woods playing the saxophone in some numbers. Yes – THAT Dan King. Daniel, alongside his talents in various aspects of chess, also has an exceptional gift for music, playing both acoustic and electric bass in various bands. Speaking to Nette and Tony after the gig, they were very complimentary about Daniel’s playing, saying that, although an amateur, he performs to professional standards.

It strikes me that this is exactly the sort of thing we should be doing a lot more of. We need to promote chess to adults as well as to young children. We need to take chess out of the ghetto of primary school chess clubs and draughty church halls and get the message out about what a great game chess really is for all ages. We also need to promote the message that chess is an art as well as a game, and, given Nette’s expertise in both art and music she is in an ideal position to do this. Being young, female, attractive, talented and charismatic also helps, of course!

I took some photographs at the event, which you can see here.

Clips from this and Nette and Daniel’s previous chess and music gig at the Bull’s Head in Barnes are not (yet) available online, but here’s a number from another Bull’s Head gig, featuring Nette’s Little Big Band. If you listen carefully you might just hear me clapping at the end.

Nette would admit that her chess is not yet at the same level as her music or art, but she’s making excellent progress. In this recent game played at Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club, she defeats an opponent with a grade of 141.

Daniel doesn’t play so much these days, concentrating mainly on making DVDs, broadcasting, writing and teaching. Here’s a win from back in 1989, when he was much more active as a player.

Richard James

Just Because You Can…

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you actually should! Standing on the side of a busy road, you wouldn’t simply run out into traffic blindfolded and hoping for the best. Sure, you could do it but the results would be disastrous! The beginner often takes this same approach to chess, doing something even though the game’s sound and solid principles suggest doing otherwise. Take the capturing of material.

Beginners love to capture material for a plethora of reasons. Of course, the more experienced player will approach the acquisition of opposition pawns and pieces cautiously, weighing the pros and cons of capturing before doing so! On the other hand, the beginner has some preconceived notions as to why capturing every pawn and piece makes sense, ignoring that old chess adage “don’t capture material unless it helps your position!” We’ll start this exploration into the potential disadvantages of madly capturing material with every chance you get by looking at the beginner’s mindset.

The novice player is taught, by chess teaching characters such as myself, that a material advantage can be decisive. After all, if you’re up a Queen up (having both your own Queen in play and your opponent’s Queen in pocket, so to speak), you’ve eliminated a very dangerous piece from your opponent’s arsenal. There’s no enemy Queen to swoop in and deliver a fast checkmate. Having four minor pieces in play going into the middle-game while your opponent only has two minor pieces sounds promising as well. Therefore, the beginner translates this idea of having a material advantage as free reign to capture opposition pawns and pieces at every opportunity. In theory, this sounds vaguely correct. However, there’s a huge practical void between theory and reality, namely position (in chess). Often, an experienced player will trade a piece of greater value for a piece of lesser value, or perhaps simply sacrifice a piece, in order to get a better position. If a Knight stands in the way of delivering a solid mating attack and you can trade a Rook (a piece of greater value than the Knight) for that Knight, then you should, says the experienced player. On the other hand, the beginner will simply look at this trade as a good one because her or she comes out ahead in the exchange (rather than in terms of clearing a line or removing a defender – real sound reasoning).

Therefore, the beginner should approach capturing and/or exchanging material by looking at the situation in terms of position. Of course, examining a position carefully and fully understanding the potential ramifications of the capture or exchange of material and how it changes that position, comes with experience on the board and careful study off the board. In short, it’s a lot of trial and error effort on the part of the beginner!

It’s always a question of “will this capture or exchange help me or will it work against me, weakening my pawn and piece structure (my position)?” We’ll start with the even trade. By even trade, I mean just that, a Knight for a Knight, a Knight for a Bishop or a pawn for a pawn, etc. From a material viewpoint, the beginner will think “three points for three points, this is a dead even trade.” It may very well be, solely in terms of relative value, but it depends on the position at hand. Let’s look at a simple example, an exchange variation of the Ruy Lopez:

After 1. e4…e5, 2. Nf3…Nc6, 3. Bb5…a6, 4. Bxc6…dxc6, the beginner might think “I’ve just traded a three point Bishop for a three point Knight, so it’s an even trade.” Considering only material value, excluding positional aspects, this is true. However, you must consider the position that results from the exchange to truly judge the real value of the trade. Before the trade of Bishop for Knight, the Knight on c6 defended the pawn on e5. With this exchange of minor pieces, there is no longer any protection for the Black e5 pawn and Black now has doubled pawns on the c file. The beginner, playing the White pieces, might make note of this and think the exchange to be absolutely in his or her favor. However, beginners don’t always see the entire positional picture. This means they might not consider the increase in Black’s control of territory because the Bishop on c8 and the Queen on d8 both have more room to move and thus greater access/control of the board (mobility). Black has also maintained the Bishop pair. Therefore, it might have been better not to have exchanged minor pieces on move four but instead, moving the Bishop to a4 (the mainline).

Then there’s the “I can trade a piece of lower value for a piece of much greater value and win” school of thought. Take a look at the example below:

Here, we see a typical beginner’s opening trap that leads to a fast checkmate. It starts off with 1. e4…e5, 2. Nf3…Nc6, 3. Bc4…d6. Black’s first problem arises from the idea that he or she can use a pawn to protect an already protected pawn (e5 has been protected by a minor piece, the Knight on c6). Better to develop more minor pieces who can control more space than a pawn! After White plays 4. Nc3, Black plays 4…Bg4, pinning the Knight on f3 to the Queen on d1. As we shall see, even such a powerful pin can lead to a dreadful positional demise. White plays 5. Nxe5, leaving the White Queen exposed to capture.

Now the beginner’s one sided, non positional thinking rears it’s ugly head. The beginner thinks “wow, I can capture the all powerful Queen and be far ahead in material which should lead to an easy win. All the beginner can see is the exposed Queen, not seeing the position for what it truly is, a fast checkmate for White! Black plays 5…Bxd1 and White puts the screws to Black’s now hopelessly weakened position with 6. Bxf7+, forcing the Black King off of it’s starting square (two attackers to Black’s one defender, the King, spells trouble with a capital “T”). Of course, Black now cannot castle the King to safety, but the worst is yet to come. Since the White Bishop is protected by the Knight on e5, the Black King cannot capture the attack piece and is forced to move to e7 with 6…Ke7 (the d7 square is covered by the e5 Knight). White hammers the final coffin nail in with 7. Nd5#.

The lesson in the above example is simple: Just because you can capture, in this case the Queen, doesn’t mean you should. Yes, you captured the powerful Queen but you lost the game! The Queen is an intoxicating piece to the beginner and its seemingly easy capture is often the basis for many a fast victory.

To remedy this problem, the beginner should always look at the entire board before considering the capture of opposition material. You should look at every pawn and piece belonging to your opponent and determine what squares those pawns and pieces are attacking. If you decide to capture an opposition pawn or piece, ask yourself if it weakens or strengthens your position. The weakening of a position is often difficult for the beginner to determine.

A position is weakened, for example, if you decide to capture an opposition pawn with a pawn only to have them capture it back with a minor piece that, after the capture, controls more space on the board. Sure, you just got a pawn for a pawn but your opponent got a pawn and greater control of the board. Greater spacial control, especially in the opening, leads to a stronger position. Lesser control means a weaker position. Always consider whether or not your opponent gets a better deal, from a positional viewpoint. In our Ruy Lopez example, two minor pieces were traded off but Black gained more spacial control due to the opening up of space for the c8 Bishop and d8 Queen.

You should always think in terms of how your opponent can improve their position through any capture or exchange of material before committing to any capture or exchange. Look at the position from your opponent’s side of the board before considering your side of the board. Good players will trade valuable material for less valuable material in an effort to open lines up (pathways to checkmate) and win the game, not because it’s fun to capture pawns and pieces! Just because a Queen appears to be free to capture doesn’t mean there’s not a steep price to be paid. It’s about position, not how material your have. Just because you can capture doesn’t mean you should. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week. This games finds one player down a lot of material but he still manages to win, proving the point!

Hugh Patterson

Amateur Versus Master: Game Twenty Three

I Had Some Klewe How to Draw This Correspondence Chess Game!

My opponent in the correspondence chess game is an ICCF master who lives in Germany.

White has a tendency to play unorthodox openings. In this correspondence chess game, White chose Benko’s Opening and I responded with the Modern Defense. We then transposed into the Kings Indian Defense, Panno Variation. Although I ended up playing some lines that I had never seen before, thanks to my databases of games, I was able to play a solid variation.

As Black, I ended up with a slight positional advantage and I kept that slight positional advantage after some middle game exchanges that traded down into an endgame. Part of that advantage included tandem (They are also called Horwitz Bishops after Bernhard Horwitz and mistakenly called Harrwitz Bishops after Daniel Harrwitz.) bishops that were aimed at the White Queenside. I still had those tandem bishops on move number 40 when White offered a draw, but there were no targets left on the Queenside for those bishops to attack. Because I was unable to find a way to capitalize on the very slight positional advantage, I accepted the draw offer.

This draw puts me into a temporary tie for third place in this section and fourth on tie breaks.

Mike Serovey

Bored Game

In the closing stages of an international tournament Réti was playing one of the weaker competitors and had obtained a won game… he seemed to fall into a brown study, did not move for ten minutes; then suddenly started up from his chair – still without making his move – and sought out a friend, to whome he explained he had just conceived an original and entrancing idea for an endgame study… His friend dissuaded Réti from demonstrating the idea on his pocket chess set, and Réti returned, somewhat disgruntled, to the tournament room, made some hasty casual moves and soon lost the game. – Harry Golombek, Foreword to his translation of Modern Ideas in Chess by Richard Réti

Réti went on to stay up all night working on his study, lost the next day’s game, and with it the tournament. His run of unsuccess at that point in his career was only terminated by his untimely death in 1929 from scarlet fever.

I feel for the man. Sometimes I’m exquisitely tuned in to chess and turn in commendable games. Other times, I’m bored with chess as other interests obtrude and distract from my focus. In particular, when programming projects are particularly interesting chess seems shallow, a sort of abacus next to the vastly shinier and more complex matrix of computer science.

The most striking thing I infer from watching videos of Kasparov playing is that Kasparov, another man of many interests, is able to dial it up at will. He seizes his head in his hands and grimaces and he has projected himself back into Chess World. Further, he is able to stay there until the end of the game. I need to be able to dial up focus in that fashion and intensity.

Jacques Delaguerre

Recognise the Pattern # 35

Today, we will see a typical exchange sacrifice on c3 (usually taking a knight) in the Sicilian defence. Black players like to make this sacrifice in order to get one or more following advantages:

1) Usually Black ends up with a knight and a central pawn against a rook with White’s busted pawn structure creating additional targets. Even if White has castled short this can prove to be sufficient compensation, though it varies from case to case.

2) White’s king won’t feel safe any longer in the absence of key defender and damaged pawn structure (usually if White castles long).

3) This typical sacrifice also increases the quality of other pieces, particularly Black’s dark square bishop and an active knight in the center.

4) It is very difficult for White to use his exchange in the absence of open files.

Here is an instructive example:

Nakamura against Gelfand in 2013

Q: In a given position Nakamura played 24. f5. How would you with the Black pieces?

Solution:

24…Rxc3!! 25. bxc3 Qxa3+

25…Ne5 26. Kd2 Bd7 is an option given in chess informant.

26. Kd2 Nf6!

Compare the activity of each side’s pieces. The Black ones are far more active and dangerous than White’s.

27. Qd3

The bishop can’t be taken because of Ne4

27…Bc4 28. Qd4 d5! 29. exd5

29.e5 is bad in view of Ne4+.

29…Bxd5 and White resigned after black’s 41st move. Here is the rest of game in case you’re interested.

30.Rg1 Be4 31.Bd3 Qa5 32.Qb4 Qc7 33.Bxe4 a5 34.Qxb7 Qf4+ 35.Ke2 Rc7 36.Qb6 Nxe4 37.Qd4+ Kh7 38.c4 Rd7 39.Qe3 Ng3+ 40.Qxg3 Qxg3 41.Rxd7 Qe5+ 0-1

Would you like to dig out further on the same theme? Study the following games.

Shirov against Anand in 2008

Mamedyarov against Gelfand in 2011

Movsesian against Kasparov in 2000

Ashvin Chauhan