Chessize, Don’t Verbalize

Possibly the surest way to get better at chess is to avoid verbalizing about it. Chess is a non-verbal symbolic language. Chessize in your skull instead of verbalizing.

It’s a old saw that words are not the things they describe. Zen calls verbalization “a finger pointing at the moon”. And it’s a cliché that those who talk the most know the least.

Cold counsel for someone as verbally oriented as I am. But my best performances have always been at those times when I am able to suppress the rendering of my chess thought into words and express the game to myself internally as combinatorial musing.

In 1972, noted American interviewer Dick Cavett, a brilliant intellectual in his own right, asked Fischer what it takes to make a grandmaster. Fischer’s eyes darted for a moment, , then he smiled and replied, “Well, you have to be able to see the pieces move in your head.”

It follows that most discussion of chess is wasted. 90% of what one learns in books one must eventually discard. Reading words about chess is largely the coach coaxing you into doing the exercises that will make the right “muscles” grow.

Our host, GM Davies, will possibly disagree with me on this point, but I think his own words on Chess, as compact and as neat as poetry, support the thesis.

Jacques Delaguerre


How To Avoid Preparation

In these days of computer databases and ever stronger engines, preparation is becoming an increasingly important factor. And it can be a particular problem if your games are on a database, for example at 365 Chess or Chess-db. Some players might even pull your games from internet servers if they know your handle there.

So how should someone avoid preparation? Here are a few ideas:

Be The Ultimate Expert

Many players go this route, aiming to stay ahead of their opponents’ preparation with ongoing research into what they play and studying their own games more thoroughly than their opponents will. In this way they hope to get their ideas in first or have answers ready for anything their opponents throw at them.

Play Openings Which Are Hard To Prepare For

This is perhaps the simplest way. If you play openings that simply lead to a balanced and interesting middle game it will be very hard for your opponents to prepare. The best openings for this are based on plans and positional ideas rather than sharp tactical lines and include the French, Queen’s Gambit Declined and Stonewall Dutch.

The drawback is that not everyone will like such lines. In this case the next idea may be more suitable:

Become A Moving Target

A narrow repertoire makes it easy for your opponents to prepare, a wide one makes it virtually impossible. Of course you have to be able to play lots of different openings and position types, but some players are able to do this successfully. The prime example of this approach is Magnus Carlsen.

Play Under A Pseudonym

If your internet handles are known your games can be plucked from the servers. So a number of well known players choose to play under a pseudonym, and in this way experiment in secret.

Don’t Let Your Games Go To The Databases

This last one is perhaps the best of all, but it can be difficult to implement. Yet Evgeny Sveshnikov has managed to keep many of his games off the databases by agreeing this with tournament organizers beforehand, and I must say I have great sympathy with his approach.

Of course you might have to be a famous Grandmaster to pull it off, unless of course attitudes were to change…

Nigel Davies


Concentration To The End

It is very important to concentrate on every move. On every move, there is the possibility for you to blunder away a half-point or even a whole point.

This especially applies if you are winning. If you blunder in a lost position, you can give your opponent the chance of a really nice finish to the game. This is tiresome, but at least you can console yourself with the thought that the blunder didn’t cost you a point, as you were losing anyway.

But if you are winning and you blunder that can really hurt you.

It is possible to blunder even in the simplest looking positions.

Often players think that king and pawn endings are simple. But even they need concentration.

The following position looks very simple. White is to play and win. No need to think here, is there? This is just a king and pawn ending with a pawn on each side.

How many of us would play a6 without thinking? But it is wrong! Try to work out the correct move, and remember to always concentrate on every move.

Steven Carr



More on the Ruy Lopez later, but you might be wondering what happened to my adventures with 1…e5.

Since I last posted in this series I’ve had three more games with Black, facing d4 twice and f4 on the other occasion.

Here’s my most recent game against d4, in yet another Richmond v Surbiton match. This time I was playing for our A team against their B team, facing a slightly lower graded opponent. A positional battle ensued.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 Nc6

For many years my main defence to 1. d4 has been the Dutch, but I’ve also played this on a few occasions. I’d resolved to play it more often this year. If White plays 3. Nc3 I’m planning to play an immediate e5, meeting d5 with Ne7, Ng6, Bb4 or Bc5 depending on what White does in the meantime, and then d6. Most players at my level haven’t studied this rather unusual defence, which scores very well for Black in the databases. In my previous 1. d4 game, playing for Richmond B against Wimbledon A, my opponent, Russell Picot, graded some way above me, clearly had studied it and came up with a very dangerous line. A few days before our game he’d partnered Kramnik against Giri in the final of the Pro-Biz Cup at the London Chess Classic so perhaps Big Vlad had given him some tips.

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 Nc6 3. Nc3 e5 4. d5 Ne7 5. Nf3 Ng6 6. h4 (This scores 71% for White in BigBase 2015, whereas the most popular move, e4, only scores 27.5%.) 6… h5 7. Bg5 Be7 8. e3 Ng4? (Careless, allowing a strong reply. I should have played d6 instead.) 9. d6 Bxg5 10. hxg5 cxd6 11. Bd3 Nf8? (Ne7) 12. Qc2 (Bf5!) 12… g6 13. O-O-O a6 14. Be4 Rb8 15. Kb1 b5 16. cxb5 Bb7? 17. Bxb7 Rxb7 18. Ne4 Rb6 19. Nxd6+ Rxd6 20. Rxd6 axb5 21. Rd5 Ne6 22. Nxe5 Nxe5 23. Rxe5 O-O 24. f4 Qb8 25. Rc1 Qb6 26. Qb3 Rb8 27. Rd5 d6 28. Qd3 Nc5 29. Qd4 Ne6 30. Rc8+ Nf8 31. Rxf8+ Kxf8 32. Rxd6 Qc7 33. Rd7 1-0

3. Nf3

White prevents an immediate e5 so Black’s plan is e6 followed by Bb4, d6 and e5.

3… e6
4. g3 Bb4+
5. Bd2 Bxd2+

We’ve now transposed into a variation of the Bogo-Indian Defence. I showed the game to a friend of about 2200 strength who suggested this was a wasted move and that I should have preferred Qe7. In the main lines of the Bogo-Indian, yes, but with a knight on c6 I think this move is fine. If my opponent plays d5 in reply to my e5 I’d really like e7 for my knight. In a closed position such as this the lost tempi (I’m also spending two moves getting my pawn to e5) don’t really matter. My other line of thinking was that, as I’d have less space if my opponent met e5 with d5, I wanted to trade off my potentially bad bishop, and I’d rather trade it for a bishop than a knight, which I’d have to do if he played Nc3 followed by a3.

6. Nbxd2 O-O
7. Bg2 d6
8. Qc2 e5

Now White has to make a decision about the pawn formation. Should he close the centre with d5 or capture on e5 and open the d-file? Perhaps he should have chosen d5 but either way I’m very comfortable.

9. dxe5 dxe5
10. Rd1 Qe7
11. e4?!

I guess he was worried about my playing e4 at some point but this really isn’t what he wants to do, blocking in his bishop and giving me an outpost on d4.

11… h6

Just waiting, and preventing Ng5 should I play Be6. I could well have played Bg4 immediately, though.

12. O-O Rd8
13. Nb1?!

Trying to redeploy his knight to d5 but instead he lets my knight reach d4. My plan now is obvious.

13… Bg4
14. Rxd8+ Rxd8
15. Nc3

He might have admitted his error and gone back to d2 instead.

15… Bxf3
16. Bxf3 Nd4
17. Qd3 c6

Taking d5 away from his knight. We’ve now reached a pawn formation which can arise from a King’s Indian Defence, or, with colours reversed, from a Ruy Lopez where White’s played c3 and d4, Black’s played d6 and c5, and White’s traded pawns on c5. This formation favours Black slightly anyway, and here my knight has already reached its dream square. In addition I was, unusually, well ahead on the clock (we were playing 35 moves in 75 minutes).

18. Bg2 Nd7
19. Kh1 Nc5
20. Qb1 a5
21. f4?!

Running short of time, it’s understandable that White wants to open the position and free his bad bishop on g2. Capturing didn’t occur to me at first, as you usually try to keep the position closed with a knight against a bishop, but I wasn’t sure how to make progress if he answered, say, f6 with f5, taking the important staging post at e6 away from my knights. But then I noticed that I could follow up the trade with Qh4, when my knights have more squares, my rook will be able to invade down the d-file at some point, and his king is not looking very secure.

Instead he would have done better to wait with something like b3 and see how I was planning to improve my position.

21… exf4
22. gxf4 Qh4
23. e5?

He’s trying to give his bishop some air, but this is just losing. Now my knights come in on f4 and d3 with decisive threats. He should have tried f5 instead, to keep my knights out of e6.

23… Nde6
24. f5 Nf4
25. Qc2 Ncd3
26. e6?

An oversight in time trouble, but after 26. Qd2 Nh3 27. Bxh3 Qxh3 28. Qg2 Qxg2+ 29. Kxg2 Nxb2 Black’s going to mop up several of the overextended white pawns. Now a rather improbable knight fork on wins a piece.

26… Ne1
27. exf7+ Kxf7
28. Qe4 Nexg2
29. Rxf4 Nxf4

Quite an easy game to play as my opponent made some positional errors.

(My apologies to my friends at Streatham and Brixton Chess Club for borrowing the title of their 1970s annual.)

Richard James


Dollars and Sense

Once you’ve acquired some basic chess knowledge, such as an understanding of opening principles, rudimentary tactics and endgame principles, you’ll feel a bit more confident at the chessboard. You’ll get through the opening relatively unscathed and prepare yourself to unleash some of those tactical ideas you’ve learned (forks, pins, skewers, etc) at some point in the middle game. However, before you get a chance to demonstrate your tactical prowess, you see a chance to exchange some material. This exchange seems like a good idea and you jump into it. After a few moves, you’re down material, stuck in a weak position and wondering what went wrong. The exchange of material in chess comes down to dollars and sense, chess sense that is!

What does money have to do with chess? In chess we assign a relative value to the pawns and pieces. The pawn, for example, is worth one point and serves as our base value. The minor pieces, the Knights and Bishops, are worth three points. Rooks are worth five points and the Queen nine points. The King is priceless because losing the King loses the game. I assign a monetary value to the pawns and pieces because students, especially adults, are more apt to consider their choices carefully when there’s money on the line (even pretend money). Using the dollar system, a pawn is worth $1.00, Knights and Bishops $3.00, Rooks $5.00 and the Queen $9.00. No one likes to lose money and most people would be happy making money, which is why I use this system.

My beginning students often face an exchange on the chessboard and don’t know whether or not to go through with it. If trading a Rook for a Knight, saying your trading a five point piece for a three point piece doesn’t have the same impact as saying “would you trade $5.00 for $3.00, losing $2.00?” Even a seven year old would say he or she wouldn’t want to lose $2.00! Using dollars (or the currency of your country) instead of points helps solidify the concept of exchanging pieces when doing so will allow you to come out ahead in the exchange.

When trading or exchanging material, ideally we want to gain more material than we lose or at least break even. Of course, we could choose to lose material, as in the case of a sacrifice, if it leads to checkmate. However, beginners have no business sacrificing material until they’ve learned how to make advantageous trades. An advantageous trade can be one that gains material (but doesn’t weaken your position) or evenly exchanges material to improve your position. It should be noted that you should never capture material, even if you come out ahead in the exchange, if it weakens your position. Having more material does you no good if you then lose the game because your pawns and pieces are poorly placed.

You can sometimes make an even exchange of material, dollar for dollar, only to find that it severely hampers your efforts. On move six in the game below, White uses the dollar method to guide his exchange of pieces. After 6. Bxf7+…Rxf7, 7. Nxf7…Kxf7, both sides have gained six points of material. White wins a pawn and the Rook ($6.00) while Black wins a Bishop and Knight ($6.00). Is this an even exchange? Using the dollar method, it’s an even trade. However, if we consider the material involved, things change! This is where the idea of using sense, or chess sense, comes into play. We’re in the opening phase of the game. Opening principles tell us that we should develop our minor pieces centrally and that our minor pieces are very powerful in the opening. The same principles tell us that Rooks should be developed later on. In the exchange below, we’ve just traded two powerful minor pieces that should be employed to control the center for a Rook and pawn that are not as active. Using some chess sense, we see that this exchange, although monetarily equal, is not equal from a positional standpoint. Black has four minor pieces to White’s two minor pieces. Those lost minor pieces would have been much more valuable during the opening than Black’s Rook on f8 and the pawn on f7.

In our next example (below), we see that Black pins the Knight on f3 to the Queen on d1 on move four (4…Bg4). Using our dollar system, the idea has merit. After all, if the Knight moves, Black trades a $3.00 Bishop for a $9.00 Queen which nets Black $6.00! Would White be crazy to move the Knight on f3? Absolutely not! White plays 5.Nxe5! Black does the math and decides to make the trade, netting $6.00.

Black should have used some chess sense and asked the question, why would White give up such a valuable piece? If it looks too good to be true then it most likely isn’t true! White sacrificed the Queen to deliver checkmate. While this is an extremely basic example, it serves to make a point. You can’t assume an exchange is advantageous just because you came out of it with more dollars in your pocket. You have to use your chess sense. Ask yourself, “why would my opponent give up his or her Queen to capture a pawn. There’s something terribly wrong here and maybe I should take a look at the whole board and not just at the Queen on d1.” Had Black looked at the f7 square, noticing that the f7 square was being attacked by both the Bishop on c4 and the Knight on e5 (not to mention the Knight on c3), he might have thought twice about capturing the Queen.

So when using the dollar system to determine the outcome of an exchange, remember that dollars are not the only factor in the equation. Sense, or chess sense, is needed as well. Consider the worth of a pawn or piece by it’s role in a position or phase of the game. How active is that piece you’re about to exchange? If you and your opponent are about to trade minor pieces, don’t trade your active minor piece for your opponent’s inactive minor piece. While both may be worth the same dollar amount in theory, the active piece is worth a bit more in reality. The activity of a piece should always be considered when engaging in an exchange. The more active a piece, the more value it has.

Always question a potential exchange by thinking outside of the box, using your chess sense. Using the dollar method for determining material value serves only as a starting point. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson


Titles Or Excellence?

FIDE’s recent announcement about the introduction of new titles brought back memories about enquiries I’ve had for lessons in which the stated goal was to ‘get a FIDE title’. I guess those people will be happy that their goal has been placed within easier reach but I wonder whether it is aimed at benefiting chess or just making money by selling certificates.

Martial arts have had this debate for many years with many of them rejecting a belt system because it might attract students for the wrong reasons. Belts are certainly no guarantee of excellence, it all depends on the standards that are required. And if tests come at a cost there must be a temptation to lower standards in order to increase revenue.

So should chess players pursue these titles or not?

My own pursuit of the International Grandmaster title was because I wanted to continue chess as a career and Grandmasters were generally better placed to make a living out of chess. It played a role as a marker for my development as a player, but there were other ways of measuring this. It certainly didn’t mean much in terms of showing off at cocktail parties.

There might be a case for getting one in order to improve one’s CV, potential employers can be impressed by external pursuits such as chess as long as core skills for doing the job concerned are in place. Of course deeper enquiries might reveal that there’s not much substance to the title concerned so pretending it’s more than it is could rebound.

They could also help as a boost to self confidence, a marker of achievement for those who don’t naturally have a high opinion of themselves. The ECF introduced it’s own master points system some time back and it’s served as an incentive for a number of players I know. But the Master Points System seems rather more tasteful in that it avoids using terms such as ‘Grand Master’ and ‘International Master’. These seem too easy to confuse with the real titles and the confusion could lead to a devaluation. I’ve heard of players calling themselves ‘Grand Masters’ without even having gained any sort of title, and marketing coaching services on the back of this.

At the end of the day I guess it’s down to the individual as whether they want to pursue these things and fork out their hard earned cash. But remember that it has little to do with the pursuit of real excellence and playing better chess. That’s down to the board, the pieces and lots of practice.

Nigel Davies


Last Throes

Breyer has been misquoted more often than quoted, but 1. e4 is more or less of a pawn sac seeking to exploit the unfortunate position of Black’s king in the opening array. If Black replies 1. e5 the drawing lines are legion.

Alternatively, 1. e4 can reasonably be answered by 1. … c5.

So White plays 1. c4 and Black answers 1. … e5.

1. d4 dodges these tradeoffs by advancing a protected pawn to a center square on the gravitational, if not geometric, center file of the board in the opening position.

When the center resolves in the e4 games,  there typically follows a head-on clash in which White, perhaps a pawn down, manages a draw by dint of superior activity born of White’s space-time advantage in the e4 games. The activity is in the form of constant combinatorial threats leading to perpetual check or conversion to an unwinnable ending.

When the center resolves in the symmetric d4 games, White’s first move has typically yielded an intrusive presence. By means of mild combinational threats (e.g., a pawn win) the intrusive presence is maintained through conversion after conversion while Black struggles for neutralizing exchanges.

In the d4-e5 and d4-c5 openings where Black challenges White’s blockade via direct contact, the resolution in the center leads to an asymmetric struggle that looks at first glance perilously close to won for White. But it’s not really true: The 20th century main line of the Orthodox KI with Bd2 is so resoundingly drawn it has become abandoned in grandmaster practice. Whereas the popular variation in current Orthodox KI practice, Be3, appears objectively to present to White a slightly less attractive position calculus than the Bd2 line.

Jacques Delaguerre


Why Games From Opens Are More Interesting

Most  chess fans love it when there are super grand master tournaments? The very best in the world playing against each other. That should make for very exciting and instructive games in chess. Unfortunately this is not always the case. As a general rule I believe the games from open tournaments are more instructive and interesting.

Opens are becoming more and more lucrative than before. Generous appearance fees and the lure of winning big prizes is proving too much to resist from super grandmasters. The 2014 Qatar Masters is an example of a tournament where super GMs Vladimir Kramnik from Russia and Anesh Giri of Holland but were surprisingly unable to win the tournament. Both were upset by Yu Yangyi who had started the tournament as the 13th seed, rated 2705, but went on to beat the two Top Ten players,  who were both in great form by the way, to take clear first.

In super grand master tournaments the world’s elite are generally very familiar with one another’s play. There is tendency towards conservative play in Super GM tournaments which might explain the huge number of draws.  Many of them have been playing one another for a long time and they know what to expect from each other. This takes out the surprise factor out of most games at the top level unless one of the players has prepared a novelty or new move in their pet lines. It is not unusual for games at the very top level to feature deep opening lines where the players play as many as 20 moves from home preparation or theory. These kinds of games are generally of limited value to chess students. If the death of chess is ever to come about at some stage, it will more likely be from games between super grand masters than games between very strong players and their weaker counterparts.

On the other hand in an open tournament like the recently held Qatar Masters or Gibraltar Open, there is larger field of players with greater variation in Elo ratings. You can have situations where super grand masters are playing opponents who are more than two hundred rating points below them. In theory the much stronger grand master should win but practice is showing that there are plenty of upsets. The stronger player is probably more motivated to win because they have a higher rating and want to justify it. This could mean taking more risks than they would otherwise take against another player of similar rating or at the same level.

In the opens very strong grand masters are more likely to be taken out of their comfort zones, playing opponents whom they know very little about. The strong GMs have a a great deal  at stake in the form of precious rating points. Their lower rated opponents are however, much more motivated to take bigger risks. They will gain more rating points from winning the game than the rating points they lose if the game does not go their way. The games are more interesting, varied and more unpredictable. From a learning perspective when players have large rating differences, the games are likely to be more instructive because of the difference in the standard of play.

In the Opens games where much higher ranked players are upset by lower ranked players tend to be very interesting.  The lower ranked player has punched above their weight and upset their form book and probably played an inspired game in the process.

Below is a game from the 2014 Qatar Masters Open tournament between two grandmasters separated by at least 200 rating points, Viktor Bologan and Das Neelotal. And the result! The much lower ranked player won and what a game it was.

Bruce Mubayiwa


The Love For Wood

Here’s another interesting Youtube documentary featuring leading Dutch players from the 1970s. There are subtitles available if you click on ‘settings’.

For the young it gives an insight into what chess was like before it became an Olympic sport, and I must say that I feel a certain nostalgia!

Nigel Davies