English Correspondence Chess Championships 2017

The very first English Correspondence Chess Championships started on 31/03/2017 with a Final, two Semi-Finals and three Preliminary sections.

Curiously, the results for each section have been quite wide ranging so far, with the Final having 31/105 games finish with 30 draws and only 1 decisive game. The Semi-Final A has 19/55 games finish with 15 draws and only 1 decisive game plus 3 defaulted games. The Semi-Final B has 19/55 games finish with 10 draws and 9 decisive games. The Preliminary A has 27/55 games finish with only 4 draws and 22 decisive games plus 1 defaulted game. The Preliminary B has 27/55 games finish with 8 draws and 18 decisive games plus 1 defaulted game. The Preliminary C has 30/55 games finish with only 5 draws and 25 decisive games.

So, what does this all mean? Well, in order to try and reduce the high number of draws, players are now only allowed to make one draw offer throughout each game. This does not appear to have made any difference to the highest level games which, so far, come out at 97% drawn with the lower level games at only 15% drawn. I suppose the Finalists are better prepared and play more cautiously than the lower sections. My theory is that all the games which are level going into the endgame are finished off quickly, so players can concentrate on the games where they have a clear advantage or disadvantage, or does it just mean that they are all using the same computer assistance!?

Anyway, here is my game which was the first decisive game in the Final: –

John Rhodes

The Solid French

I think this is an interesting video by GM Yasser Seirawan. He looks at one of his student’s games in a French Exchange. I am searching for greater clarity when explaining to students why the centre is so important in chess and this helps. I’ve always talked about the centre as being e4 d4 d5 and e5. In this Yasser talks about a bigger centre with the corners f3 c3 c6 and f6 and describes it as being higher ground.

I follow it with a game I played in the York Summer Tournament last week. A good win for the Solid (Rubinstien) French. I can’t say I would have resigned when White did but it is 90 minutes a game and I was well ahead on the clock.  Akiba!

Dan Staples

Practical Chess Endgames for Beginners

This article is aimed at beginners, to show them why they should study andlearn endgames. Here is my game from the current tournament where my last move was Re6 to win a pawn.

My opponent was rated 1482 and played opening and middle-game really well, but finally I got a chance to win a pawn. How would you continue from here? Which pawn will you save, b6 or h6?

In the game he played b5 and I went on win due to the following reasons.
1. My rook is more active than his as it is behind his passer.
2. I have a chance to create two connected passed pawns on the kingside.

Instead he should have played Kg7(!), protecting the h6 pawn after which Rxb6 is a draw. He was perfectly aware of the Lucena and Philidor positions, however he was not aware that there are more chances where these 3 vs 2 pawn positions can lead to a Philidor position. That is why I always insist that learning positions is not enough on its own. You should repeat them on regular intervals and also learn how to achieve them. In practice you won’t get book positions very often.

The game was not easy even after …b5 and Rxh6. Here is the analysis:

Ashvin Chauhan

Endgame play (5)

How do you feel about king and pawns endgames with equal number of pawns on the same side? Are you concerned and study them? Do you know them and believe they are simple to deal with? What do you think about the following classic endgame and how it got played out?

Do you think White is lost here anyway because of the better position of Kd5 and possible loss of the f5-pawn? Of course not being able to use the opposition to stop the opposing king from invading your position is a concern, the same is having unprotected pawns (like the f5-pawn) left behind by their adjacent friends. The key is to know all resources available in your position. Can you think about a resource Chigorin missed? White has no way to push forward, nor breakthrough to create a passed pawn. If it simply retreats (like it did in the game), it won’t even be able to think about holding a draw in a king versus king and pawn endgame for 2 reasons:

  • The Black king will be in front of its pawn(s) as it should
  • Black is going to be up minimum 2 pawns after winning the f- and h-pawns

Retreating is basically surrendering! The only chance is to look elsewhere and from the remaining options the only one making sense is stalemate. How do we force black to stalemate us? We need to find a good spot for our king and give black no options. A good spot we can reach is on the h-file, where the h5-square not only suits our idea but also blocks the h4-pawn in the same time. All you need now is care to put together the right move order:

Did you know about this stalemate idea? If you did, don’t forget it. If you did not, remember it as you never know when it can come in handy. Here are a couple of more recent examples where it paid off to know it. The first one is from a game played by well known top players:

The second one is from a recent game between 2000 to 2300 players:

I hope this article makes a good case for learning and perfecting the fine details of this endgame with pawns on the same side. It does not look like much when you go over it; however knowing it is essential and can bring you invaluable half points in your games.

Valer Eugen Demian

Unsound Sacrifice

Here’s a game from a couple of years ago in which my opponent, who was much higher rated than me at the time, tried to throw me with an unsound sacrifice (21…Bxh3). Fortunately I kept calm, exchanged off the attacking pieces and then won in the endgame.

Sam Davies

As Others See Us

“Chess. Quite boring if you ask me but chess club is the sort of thing you should belong to aged 8 if you’re going to graduate to the Bullingdon Club and then become a Tory MP.”

(A note for non-UK readers: the Bullingdon Club is, according to Wikipedia, “an exclusive but unofficial all-male students’ dining club based in Oxford … noted for its wealthy members, grand banquets, boisterous rituals and destructive behaviour, such as the vandalising (“trashing”) of restaurants and students’ rooms.” It’s former members include David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson.)

This is the opinion, not that anyone, as far as I know, was asking her, of one Sophia Money-Coutts, in a recent Sunday Telegraph article about board games. I guess she should know about Tory MPs, if not about chess. Sophia’s grandfather was Bill Deedes, a Tory (or Conservative, for those of my friends who like to make the distinction) MP famous for his friendship with Margaret and Denis Thatcher, and from a long line of MPs dating back almost 400 years.

I suppose it makes a change from the usual stereotypical description of chess players: we’re usually portrayed as being introverted nerds with poor social skills and dubious personal hygiene, shabbily dressed and with our sandwiches in a carrier bag. Articles about chess on internet news sites often conclude with the obligatory ‘all chess players are loonies’ feature, with paragraphs about Morphy collecting women’s shoes, Steinitz giving God odds of pawn and move, Carlos Torre taking his clothes off on the bus, and Fischer – well – just being Fischer. Given the way we’re presented in the media, it’s not surprising that parents sometimes tell me they don’t want their children to be good at chess. Sure, they want them to play chess because they’ve read that ‘chess makes kids smarter’, but, understandably, they don’t want them to grow up to become either Billy No-Mates or Boris Johnson. To be honest, I’m not sure which is worse.

Perhaps, though, there’s also an element of truth in Sophia’s perception of school chess clubs as being mainly for intelligent boys from upper-class families. We could start by looking at the schools taking part in the final stages of various national schools competitions.

Let’s start with the EPSCA (English Primary Schools Chess Association) Under 9 Championship.

The final eight teams this year, in order of finishing, were as follows:
1. Westminster Under (the junior branch of Westminster School, one of London’s leading academic schools)
2. Homefield (upmarket prep school in South London with a strong recent chess record)
3. St Paul’s Juniors (the junior branch of St Paul’s School, another of London’s leading academic schools, whose former pupils include Jon Speelman, Julian Hodgson and many other chess players)
4. Wetherby (top people’s prep school in central London, former pupils include Princes William and Harry)
5. The Hall (upmarket prep school in Hampstead, also with a strong recent chess record)
6. Hallfield (prep school in Edgbaston, an affluent suburb of Birmingham)
7. Akiva (Jewish fee-paying primary school in North London)
8. Dulwich Prep (the junior branch of Dulwich College, another top academic London school, whose former pupils include Ray Keene)

Eight fee-paying schools, seven of them in London. Will the Under 11 Championship be any different?

1= Westminster Under
1= Haberdashers’ Aske’s (prep department of leading independent school in Elstree, just north of London, another school with many recent chess successes)
3. Heathside (another upmarket prep school in Hampstead with a strong recent chess record)
4. North London Collegiate (prep department of leading independent girls’ school in North London)
5. North Bridge House (upmarket prep school in North London, again with a strong chess tradition)
6= Homefield
6= Brookland (state primary school in Hampstead Garden Suburb)
8. Heycroft (state primary school in Essex with chess on the curriculum via CSC)

So 14 schools were represented in this competition, of which 12 are, I believe, fee-paying, 12 are in affluent areas of London and one in an affluent area of Birmingham.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against any of these schools and offer my congratulations to all of them, to their pupils, their chess tutors and their parents. It’s especially gratifying to see the CSC (Chess in Schools and Communities) pupils from Heycroft and the girls from North London Collegiate doing so well. But it does look as if, taking only school chess clubs into consideration, Sophia Money-Coutts has a point.

The ECF Under 19 Schools Championship is not very different, although, partly because of the way it’s run, there’s a much wider geographical spread: as far as I can tell, the final 16 schools were either fee-paying or grammar (selective) schools.

(For those readers not familiar with the UK education system, in most parts of the country children move from primary to comprehensive (non-selective) schools at the age of 11, but in some areas there are also state grammar (selective) schools which require children to pass an examination. There’s also a thriving private sector with many fee-paying schools.)

1. Royal Grammar School Guildford (fee-paying)
2. Hampton School (fee-paying)
3= Reading School (grammar)
3= Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School (fee-paying)
3= Queen Elizabeth’s School Barnet (grammar)
6= King Edward’s School Birmingham (fee-paying)
6= The Judd School (grammar)
6= Nottingham High School (fee-paying)
6= City of London School (fee-paying)
6= King Edward VI Grammar School Chelmsford (grammar)
6= Wilson’s School (grammar)
12= Sir Thomas Rich’s School (grammar)
12= Eltham College (fee-paying)
12= Wirral Grammar School for Boys (grammar)
12= Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital (fee-paying)
16. Yarm School (fee-paying)

Here’s an exciting game from this event with a remarkable conclusion. Can you find an improvement for Black on move 24? The winner is an IM elect from Haberdashers’ Aske’s school: his opponent was representing Sir Thomas Rich’s School.

While I’d again like to offer my congratulations to the participants, and my thanks to the orgainsers of both competitions, this does make the whole schools chess set-up in the UK look very elitist, in the worst sense. I wonder how many of the participants will indeed go on to read Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford, join the Bullingdon Club and become Conservative MPs.

I’d suggest two things: we should be doing more to promote chess in the state sector, especially within comprehensive schools (CSC is already doing great work in primary schools), and should also strive to promote a more positive image of chess itself: as an exciting and beautiful, not a boring game, and of chess players: as serious sportspeople, not as either nerds or toffs.

The answer to my question above: Black missed the extraordinary defence 24… Qd7, when, after the moves 25. Bxd5 e6 26. Nxe5 Qxd5 27. Qf4 Qb7, my computer assures me that White will eventually draw by perpetual check by moving his knight to g4 and then to f6. Chess is only boring to those who, like Sophia, don’t know enough about it to appreciate its excitement and beauty.

Richard James

Back to Square One

Music and chess have so many parallel characteristics in regards to mastering either of them that the training method of one can successfully be applied to the other. We’ll start this article by examining the process employed when mastering a musical instrument, in this case the guitar. After reading this description, ask yourself if this sounds a lot like trying to master the game of chess. I think the similarities will astound you!

When I first starting playing guitar, my relationship with this instrument was casual at best, with the guitar spending much of the time collecting dust in my bedroom closet next to the chess set my mother purchased for me. However, when I turned 13, I suddenly found myself falling deeply in love with music thanks to albums by bands such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Jimi Hendrix. While my friends were listening to bubblegum rock, I was listening to the dark, complex side of rock and roll. During this period, I discovered that the guitar was the real star of those bands, creating amazing tones no human voice could come close to mimicking. Just as quickly as I discovered music, my guitar was pulled out of the closet and dusted off. I decided that I would master the guitar, being able to hold my own, note for note, with Jimmy Page. Taking the guitar out of the closet, dusting it off and deciding to fully master it left me feeling as if I finally found my true calling and purpose in life (as if that actually happens with a scatter brained thirteen year old). However, there was one slight problem with all of this, I actually had to learn how to play the guitar. Up until this point, I had simply banged away on the strings with reckless abandon, jumping up and down on my bed while Led Zeppelin blared loudly on my stereo. Therefore, since my parents were a bit dubious when it came to paying for guitar lessons, I took the road traveled by all professional musicians. I did what every other aspiring thirteen year old rock and roll guitarist did, I found someone on the block who knew a few chords. After I learned those chords, I found a guy in the neighborhood who knew a few guitar leads or solos, slowly working my way across the city’s burnt out guitarists (a frightening group of guys straight out of the movie Wayne’s World), one chord progression and lead guitar solo at a time.

So I finally because serious about learning to play the guitar. Back in the Stone Age, you had to learn songs either by ear, listening to an album and learning a song a single note at a time, or you purchased instructional books for aspiring guitarists. There were no home computer apps let alone the internet, so your choices were extremely limited. Learning a song one note at a time took up a great deal of time and most of us hadn’t developed the skill of listening to a song a few times and then playing it correctly. Eventually, we’d get there but not early on in our careers!

So I hit the books, learned a slough of chords, leads etc. I worked or trained with other guitarists, all of whom were much better than I. If you wish to master an instrument, you need to study with a teacher who is a master of that instrument. You don’t get better studying under teachers with less experience than you! Of course, you have to balance theory and practice. You can learn three hundred guitar leads and play them perfectly. Then you try them out with your neighborhood garage band and things sound terrible. They sound terrible because you’ve been sitting in your own garage, playing by yourself. You’ve had no interaction with other musicians so you don’t have the sense of rhythm needed to play succinctly when other instruments are involved.

It’s easy to learn a bunch of guitar leads. However, there’s more to guitar than just playing lead. You have to be a well rounded player rather than a specialist because great guitar players have impeccable rhythm or timing, knowing when to throw in a little lead work to spice things up and knowing when to keep their guitars quiet to let the drummer and bass player have a piece of the action. You have to look at guitar playing as a more dimensional art. If you listen to a great guitarist, you’ll hear them control the volume and tone of their guitars because they can accent certain parts of the song with something as simple as dropping their overall volume down or going from a distorted tone to a clean tone. What does this have to do with chess (if you didn’t find the similarities)?

Chess is a game in which you need to employ theory and practice. Theory is reading and studying chess books. While this is an important part of your training, it does no good unless you put that theory/studying into action through practice or playing. Just like the musician who spends too much time studying lead guitar books and not enough time playing with other people in a band, chess players need to balance the two, theory and practice! All the book studying in the world isn’t going to make you as good a player as the person who does both. Books will give you positional situations that are carefully set up while playing chess against human opponents will give you more realistic situations in which the game changes with each move. By realistic, I mean moves that you’re likely to encounter. What does any of this have to with going back to square one?

The best guitarists in the world will always go back to the basics (back to square one so to speak) and study them, even though they know the material at hand. Why? Because we often find that our playing has gotten off track and going back to our educational starting point often steers us back in the right direction. Practicing something as simple as scales will force our fingers to work with greater coordination. For example, guitarists tend to take short cuts, such as using three of our four fingers for playing notes because our littlest finger is the weakest finger on our left or right hand. We can play clearer note using three fingers. However, going back to playing scales with all four fingers gives us the ability to play more notes in a single phrase, so we go back to square one. Chess players, as they improve, sometimes take certain opening principles for granted, taking chance they never would have taken earlier in their career. Going back to square one is also a good way to break bad habits you might have developed. Of course, it’s harder to correct a bad habit than it is to maintain good habits! Going back to square one, even when you’re a strong player is a great idea, one that will improve your game (or your guitar playing). Speaking of games in which a titled player ignores some game principles, here’s one to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

Nourish Your Back Brain

I was pleased with this game, a quick win… at the time. However, Nigel really didn’t like 12.g3. He said that while I brought my usual good calculation and energy to bear…. “very strong players use their back brains a lot”. He advised looking at a lot of QGA IQP positions.

I played 12.g3 so as to put my bishop on f4. I thought that if the pawns advance on the Q-side this would stop a rook coming to b8. I couldn’t see the point of playing it to g5. However, rather than seeing the clear reason for a move I think the point is to see the ugliness of g3 and in future not to entertain it as a possibility. You don’t want to block the third row for a possible rook lift. Nigel’s variation at move 12 makes a lot of sense to me now and is far more aesthetically pleasing.

The theme for Black of playing Nb4 to d5 was unknown to me then and apparently to Black, thankfully. It is an important theme in such positions.

Dan Staples

Sicilian Dragon : A Model Game for Beginners in the Yugoslav Attack

In my last article I tried to describe White’s plan to destroy Black’s king side in detail. Here I will annotate the game in detail which I believe, can be served as a model game for this.

Ashvin Chauhan

Endgame play (4)

Today’s position is a very good example of how important pawn endgames are; even a momentary lapse of reason (do you know Pink Floyd’s great album with the same name from 1987?) could be fatal to any player, beginners and grandmasters alike. Have a look at the position, do a quick assessment and decide what should be the result of it with black to move:

Everyone knows or should know GM Wolfgang Uhlmann (GER) a guru in French defence. That becomes obvious while looking at his annotated games (our app level 4, lessons 2 to 7 has a great selection) from the 80s. Any French defence player should study them to gain invaluable knowledge about this solid opening choice against 1. e4 …
IM Tania Sachdev (IND) is much younger and on top of her excellent chess results, you might have heard her as part of the official commentary team for the 2013 (Chennai) World Championship Match between Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand. We should agree both are top players with a high level knowledge of chess in general.

Your quick assessment should cover at least the following aspects:

  • Material is equal
  • We are in a King and pawns endgame with no passed pawns
  • In such an endgame the opposition, tempo and pawn breakthrough (all covered in level 3 of our app) should be closely monitored

Of course it is much easier to discuss it after the fact, but in reality if you have a solid endgame knowledge foundation, that will help you navigate the still waters with care and avoid judgement lapses. I am going to go out on a limb and say 1… Kf6 should be an easy choice to make here for Black. Going down the possible line (see line to get there at the end of the article), they could have reached below position A1. The position is a dead draw. Give it a try (Black to move) if you wish to practice your endgame knowledge!


Tania misjudged the position and chose to play 1… a6 using the tempo move available instead of the opposition. Going down this possible line (see line to get there at the end of the article), they would have reached below position A2. The difference is minimal: the a5/a6 pawn pair is placed one square away from the A1 position above. Does it matter? Give it a try (Black to move) and see what comes up:

Post mortem Tania was in disbelief hearing her position was lost after 1… a6 Of course in an OTB game where time could be a factor, such fine details might be easily overlooked. Here I would say 1… Kf6 is a more natural move to find and play. Holding the opposition is a safer bet. It is possible Tania thought after 1… Kf6 2. a6 … the White pawn is closer to queening and more dangerous, when on the other hand the a7-pawn is farther away from the White king which would need an extra move to reach it.

Wolfgang had the game within grasp and all he needed to play was the winning move 1… a6?? 2. e4! … Nobody knows but him why he chose a losing move instead. There is no doubt he wanted to win as much as any of us if given the chance. He simply missed the following decisive pawn breakthrough, proving once more how important pawn endgames are. Enjoy the swift pawn breakthrough Tania played with confidence and its devastating result. Hope you liked it and it will convince you to study these pawn endgames more than you’ve done so far.

Valer Eugen Demian