Amateur Versus Master – Game Five

This game is from the final round of the 2011 Golden Knights Correspondence Chess Championship. Because John and I agreed to email our moves to each other instead of using snail mail, this game finished well ahead of the other ones in this section. The rest of my games in this section are still in the openings or are transitioning to the middle games.

John is the lowest rated opponent that I have in this section. I lost playing the Black side of the Benko Gambit. This loss, combined with a few other ones, has convinced me to stop playing the Benko Gambit in correspondence chess. I used to win whenever my opponent fully accepted my gambit. Lately, I have been losing whenever White shoves that passed pawn down my a file!

I am the only non master in this section. Therefore, I have no delusions of grandeur about winning this section. I am simply trying to get an even score and this loss will not help me any.

On move number 6 I decided to change up my usual move order because I was hoping to confuse my opponent and thus gain a psychological advantage. This almost worked. John did get confused a little, but I lost anyway.

Whenever White allows Black to capture the Bishop that is on f1 White gives up the right to castle. This is where Black gets his compensation for the sacrificed pawn. I am no longer able to keep my advantage in this variation.

Black completes his basic development on move number 11 and then White begins his assault by moving that passed a pawn down my throat. I still need to find Black’s best reply to that.

By move  number 14 Black is  bringing his rooks and knights over to the Queenside to launch his counter attack. White is going to break open the Center.

On move  number 15 White anchors a Knight on b5 and this Knight creates problems for me for quite a while afterwards.

Looking back at move number 16, I now doubt that trading my fianchettoed Bishop on c3 was the best move for Black. Allowing White to get a pawn on c4 created many problems for me. From move number 21 on Black is losing.

Mike Serovey


Back to Basics: Mere Development

There have already been many articles here at The Chess Improver on the importance of timely and harmonious development in the opening as vital principles for obtaining a decent game. I recently played a game that I thought was a thematic illustration of simply developing all the way to victory.

My opponent as Black played a dubious “Knight on the rim” opening idea that I’d never faced before. I simply developed normally and by move 11 already had a lead in development and a better Pawn structure. In the absence of early tactical tricks and advantageous Pawn structures, a lead in development is a big deal in chess. After move 11, White has three minor pieces out, and the Queen and two Rooks have obvious places to be developed at will without any barrier. Contrast this situation with Black’s: Black has only two minor pieces out, and although one Rook is “developed”, in reality it is in a position of weakness where it can be attacked easily. And worst of all, the Queen side is not only not developed, but also it is not clear how and when it can be: the light-squared Bishop cannot emerge without at least first making a Pawn move to free it.

Black’s 11th move, a Pawn move did open up the way for development of the light-squared Bishop, but White developed the Queen. Black’s terrible 12th move just blocked it back in, as well as weakened the d6 Pawn. The game is already lost at this point. White already had enough forces developed to immediately begin winning material, by developing a Rook to back up the Queen. After White’s 13th move, let’s do some counting:

  • White has 5 developed pieces: Knight, two Bishops, Queen, Rook.
  • Black has 3 developed pieces: Knight, Bishop, Rook.

After Black lost an exchange, White continued developing. After move 24:

  • White has 3 developed pieces: Queen, two Rooks.
  • Black has 1 developed piece: Queen (the Queen side Rook and Bishop are still at home).

Here I somewhat slacked in my conversion to a win. Objectively I could have prevented Black from developing the final two pieces and gone for mate against the King, but instead, I chose a slow plan of advancing my passed e-Pawn. This plan allowed Black to develop the final two pieces, albeit very passively and defensively, but it was a simple way to squeeze to the point of being able to force a trivially winning ending. But the ending never happened, because Black simply blundered a Bishop away.

The annotated game

Franklin Chen


Five Basic Weaknesses

In Hinduism we have an expression that we should try to overcome certain human weaknesses. Here my intention is not to start a spiritual debate but rather show you how this also applies to chess when you are serious about improving.

Attachment: It is something like you’re playing what you like rather than what position requires. For example a person who loves attack on king will sometimes try to launch an attack when it is inappropriate. If I talk about myself, I prefer endgames, and because of this attachment I have missed many opportunities to launch a winning attack on the enemy king.

Anger: This is related to emotional instability and we all know that a person with unstable emotions can react badly. So I think there is no need to discuss this further.

Fear: This works on all levels. For example if you are going to play match against a stronger player there are more chances that you start playing with some fear rather than playing naturally. How many of us have had this feeling? Probably everyone. But the best way to proceed is to treat your opponent as an opponent rather than IM, GM or super GM. I mean to say that it’s best not to overestimate your opponent.

Greed: There are many examples where even GMs get greedy, and amateurs do this quite often.

Pride: Here it is closely connected with arrogance. Again, rather than giving the example of someone else suffering from this, I will start with myself. I lost so many games against weaker opponents because I took them casually. So don’t underestimate your opponent.

I’m going to ignore ‘lust’ as I can’t correlate it with chess. But what are the solutions? Pranayam, meditation and yoga all fall under the solution list but if you want to dig deeper you may find my other article interesting as we often ignore basics.

Ashvin Chauhan


What To Do About Gambits

Speedy development is often worth the investment of a pawn in the opening. Examples include the Smith-Morra Gambit of the Sicilian 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 when White has a very promising initiative for the pawn that often brings dividends. Devotees of this line can become highly attuned to its nuances. If that is the case you have to ask yourself as Black whether taking them on in their most familiar territory is the most intelligent thing to do. You might decide it is better to avoid it than to try to refute it. Even if you like spending many an hour with opening books, there is no substitute for hours of practice playing the line over and over again – which White will of course be doing. Perhaps Smith-Morra Gamiters’ would find the Caro-Kann or the French Defence, or something else, really annoying. If so, play that against them! It is wise to get your opponent out of their familiar territory.

This is the sort of thing that can be considered if you know your opponent and you’re playing them in an over-the-board game. Of course, if someone plays a gambit against you in a correspondence game and you are allowed to use software for help, then that is a different matter. For example, silicon monsters nowadays are less impressed with the Smith-Morra than we humans are. Below is one of my own correspondence games against a line of the Smith-Morra that I would have found difficult to play against over-the-board. But, with assistance from HIARCS, I found it easier to deal with. It takes a long time, but eventually White’s initiative dissipates and then it is all about whether Black can convert the ending. The knight and pawns ending was particularly pleasant to play for Black. If you would like to play some correspondence chess online, try FICGS – The Free Internet Correspondence Games Server.

Angus James 


A Textbook on the Open File

When I lived in Moscow, one of the strongest local masters in the city was Evgeny Dragomaretsky, whose games I frequently witnessed in tournaments held in the Central Chess Club. His excellent technical command, allied to first-rate tactical awareness, made his games very instructive. The following is a favourite example, a veritable textbook on the seizure and exploitation of the open file.

Starting at move 19, White commences a standard manoeuvre to triple on the open d-file, and thereby seize control of it. Having done so, he soon finds Black has covered all the entry squares, so he then moves to a classic kingside pawn advance, to drive away a key defender and create targets. The climax comes with the pawn sacrifice 32.g6!, which undermines Black’s entire kingside pawn structure and sets up targets along the 6th rank. The rook then penetrates along the open d-file, to pick up material.

The whole game is a classic example of the theme of the open file, and a careful study of it will teach you more than any half-dozen opening books in existence.

Steve Giddins


Steps Revisited (3)

Revisiting the Steps Method has encouraged me to think again about the best way to teach tactics. Assuming, of course, that our students have developed excellent chessboard vision and understand the basic principle that (other things being equal) Superior Force Wins.

Steps is very thorough at outlining every possible tactical idea to win material and providing excellent puzzles to reinforce each concept before the students move onto the next idea.

But there’s not so much, at least in the main part of the course, about the actual thinking process. I teach my pupils to look at every check, capture and threat by telling them to use a CCTV to look at the chessboard. The first C stands for Checks, the second C for Captures and the T for Threats. Checks, Captures, Threats and Violent moves, or, if you prefer, for those of you who correct children who ‘kill’ their opponent’s pieces, looking for Checks, Captures and Threats leads to Victory.

I think it was Purdy back in the 1930s who introduced the concept of looking for Checks, Captures and Threats. “Examine moves that smite!”, he said. “A good eye for smites is far more important than a knowledge of strategical principles.”

In the 1970s, Kotov’s book Think Like a Grandmaster was hugely influential. Kotov advised his readers to identify ‘candidate moves’ and form a tree of variations, taking each forcing move in turn and trying to analyse each sequence of checks, captures and threats until quiescence is reached, then assessing the resulting position. As time went on, though, Kotov’s work was criticised by other writers who claimed that this was not really how chess players thought.

Well, perhaps it was how Kotov thought. I certainly found it helpful for improving my play when I first read it 40 years ago, although I usually forget to look at all checks, captures and threats in my own games! My method of teaching tactics uses a similar approach at a much lower level. The Steps Method takes what I think is a slightly different approach, emphasising the different tactical ideas rather than the thought processes you might use. In a sense it’s the same principle as “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for life”. By using CCTV you can in theory solve any tactical position.

Perhaps, at least for some players, learning the thought processes will be more efficient. If you learn, say, Philidor’s Legacy you can remember it and use it yourself, but it won’t help you with any other position. If, on the other hand, you learn to analyse all sequences of checks, captures and threats, you will, in theory, be able to solve very many positions.

There’s a third method, as well, which might be used: intuition. You might well think of someone like Tal in this context. An intuitive player will play a move because it looks right, or even just because it looks interesting, without precise calculation.

Ideally, we need to use a combination of methods when teaching tactics. We need to teach the specific thinking skills – analysing all checks, captures and threats for both players. We need to teach visualisation skills to enable students to look ahead and calculate accurately. (As it happens, the Steps people are developing a new series of workbooks designed to develop this skill.) We need to teach the basic tactical ideas: forks, pins, discovered attacks, deflections and so on, which the Steps course does outstandingly well. We also need to encourage our students to develop intuition, creativity and fantasy, partly by encouraging them to play open games where tactical opportunities will abound: something that is encouraged within the Steps course.

Richard James


Learning from Chess History

I noticed a great deal of commentary at various chess sites lately regarding the fact that younger players know little about chess in a historical context. I’m not talking about the game’s origins but about the many fantastic players that elevated the game to its current status. I decided to see just how little many (but not all) younger chess players know about previous generations of players by asking a room full of junior players to name some chess players from the past few centuries. Of course, Bobby Fischer was mentioned as well as Paul Morphy and a handful of other well known players (of course, Nigel Davies is always mentioned by my students). However, I was shocked that the list of names was so small. A parent asked me later, why a knowledge of chess players was important, after all isn’t it about just playing the game? While I had to shut my mouth to keep any snarky commentary from pouring out, I did think long and hard about this question. Here’s my answer.

If you want to really understand an opening, for example, you have to understand it mechanics. To fully understand those mechanics, you need to study the opening’s evolution. This means starting with the earliest incarnation of the opening and following it through its history. Here’s an analogy: When I purchased my first car it was used or previously owned. Sure enough, it broke down after about eighteen months. I took it to the mechanic who told me it would be $800.00 to fix. I knew nothing about cars, except how to drive one, so the mechanic could have been cheating me for all I knew. Chess openings are like cars. You may be able to drive your car but driving that car doesn’t give you any real insight into the underlying mechanics. Therefore, I took an automotive repair class. The teacher took us through the history of the combustion engine. Of course, someone asked why we were studying outdated and obsolete engines and our teacher sternly stated that you could not understand the complexity of a modern engine until you understood the basic mechanics of simpler engines, such as those from the past. The same holds true with chess openings. So what does this have to do with chess players from the past? Well, who do you think developed these chess openings and improved upon them? That’s right, many brilliant chess players from the game’s rich history.

In the classroom, we’ll spend two or three weeks looking at the history of an opening and the chess players that contributed to that opening, from early practitioners to modern players who refined it. I usually choose the Italian Game, one of the oldest known openings, because examples of this opening can be found from the late 1500s. It is also an opening that is played by master level players today. Here’s an example of an early game I use in our exploration of the Italian Opening:

The game was played in 1575 between Polerio and Lorenzo. I set the stage for this game by talking about what the world was like back then, especially as it relates to chess. Of course we talk about chess players from this time period. Chess players today are spoiled by the wealth of chess information available to them. I point out that simply acquiring a chess book in the 1500s was next to impossible. Chess knowledge was gained through playing the game. Early pioneers of the game had to gain experience in battle rather than refer to the theory books! While there are some rather clumsy moves made in the above game, we also see moves that lay the foundation for more modern versions of this opening such as 4.c3. In the above game, the move 4.c3 provides support for the eventual push of the d pawn to d4. After going through a few more games employing this opening from later centuries, we find ourselves playing through a more current game:

I remind my students of the first four moves in the first game we looked at, pointing out that even though over four hundred years has passed, the game’s initial four moves have remained the same. What does this mean to the beginner? It means that this opening has stood the test of time. While it may not be a Grandmaster favorite, it can work well for the beginner. We discuss the players of the above game, examining a few informative facts about each of them.

We compare each game we study with the previous game studied, looking at the evolution, in this case, of the Italian Opening. Surprisingly, my young students enjoy what might be considered a tedious task by less than enthusiastic adults because there is history involved. We look at the bigger picture while studying the smaller one. We talk about Italy in depth and the players that changed this opening into what it is today.

As a final examination of the Italian Opening, I set up two chessboards. On one board, we’ll play through the game from 1575 and on the other, the game from 2008. We play the games simultaneously, move for move. White makes the first move on board one and board two, then black. When we get to move four for black (on both boards) we see a parting of the ways so to speak. We look at the placement of the Queen in front of the King (1575 4…Qe7) and talk about the dangers of such a placement. We compare that to the smarter and more active move 4…Nf6 (2008). We continue to play through both games simultaneously, comparing moves. I’ve found that examining an opening from a historical perspective helps my students further understand the opening’s underlying mechanics and appreciate the players who developed them. Like my auto shop teacher said, you can’t understand a complex engine until you master the workings of a simple one.

I’ve also instated a new extra credit exercise in which my students have to research historical chess players and tell me a bit about them. The extra credit points can be redeemed for additional chess lessons from me. I don’t want my students to be ignorant of the many brilliant players that helped shape the game I love so much. I also encourage them to work at their game because one day they might be one of the game’s great players! They might become a part of the game’s history. Chess has a wonderful history whose great players have shaped. Let’s not let this history fade into obscurity. See you next week.

Hugh Patterson


Candidates Review

Unusually for me I’ve been taking a look at some of the games from the Candidates Tournament with the official web site being here. There’s certainly been plenty of fighting and original chess, the following game quickly leaving the beaten track early on (11.f4 looks like over the board inspiration). Shakhriyar Mamedyarov must have missed 14.Nde4 as that wins his queen for inadequate compensation:

In the following Youtube video Magnus Carlsen offers some nice insights and seemed to be enjoying watching the scrap to get to face him.

Nigel Davies


A Scrappy Example of Psychology and Luck in an Ending

In the sixth (and final) round of the Pittsburgh Chess Club Championship, I played one of those unfortunately scrappy games I have been playing recently. From an easily winning position, I carelessly threw away the win to reach an ending that (to me) was obviously a draw. However, I kept playing for a win, hoping for a swindle, aided by the fact that my opponent had very little time on the clock and appeared to have spent a lot of energy earlier, and now appeared to be still nervous (indicating that he was not certain, unlike me, that the ending was a dead draw). Our subsequent play was sloppy, to say the least, but I got the win (aided by my incessant blitzing that left him in fact losing on time in the final position), and ended up just catching the leader to tie for first place in the tournament, to become one of two 2014 Pittsburgh Chess Club co-champions. I am happy that I achieved this, but know full well that I got there with a lot of luck in all the rounds that I aim to replace in the future with new skill (for example, every ending that I didn’t do right, I have studied after the fact).

Flaws aside, I think it’s useful to see how, amidst imperfect play, having a possible swindling winning idea is useful, because with luck it might actually work out. We are human beings, not computers, so there will always be some luck involved in human chess. I’d like to think there is a little bit of skill in pursuing a swindling idea, latching onto interesting aspects of a position and trying to make use of them.

In the sport of chess you have to do what you can even after misplaying an earlier part of the game. The swindle involved making moves that were risky or had obvious (to me) defenses, but part of the art of swindling involves trying to guess that your opponent might not see what you see and setting possible traps.

The ending

We reached a position with equal material: Two Rooks and one Bishop and four Pawns on each side. As White, I had a single b-Pawn and three King side Pawns. Black had an a-Pawn and b-Pawn but a fragmented King side with an f-Pawn and h-Pawn. So I concentrated on hoping to make something of Black’s weak King side before Black’s Queen side majority became a factor.

So one observation I immediately made was that perhaps I could make progress by getting my f-Pawn to f6 to make Black’s King inactive, and also to semi-trap it and bring my Rooks over to the half-open g-file, or even to try to win the h6 Pawn. Or try to round up the f7 Pawn. Meanwhile, having the move, I had an opportunity to block Black’s a-Pawn on a7 and artificially isolate the b5 Pawn. So I played Ra6, an active-looking move attacking Black’s h6 Pawn. I did this even though I knew Black could play the simple and effective …Bb6, because I had to try something. I gambled that my opponent would not want to move the centralized Bishop on d4 “backwards” as defense, but would want to keep it there to attack my undefended b2 Pawn. Yes, psychology at work.

I gambled further by not taking the offered h6 Pawn in return for my b2 Pawn, because simplification, even though objectively this was clearly the “best” move, because the “best” move doesn’t mean much if it only reduces swindling opportunities in a dead draw, and again because of psychology: my opponent had not played …Bb6 in the previous move, and probably would not play it again, and therefore would be playing the passive …Kg7 instead. And that happened. And I continued with advancing my f-Pawn to f5.

There was some risk in playing these suboptimal moves: a good defense would have left me fighting on the worse end of a draw. But I needed to win this game, and had plenty of time on the clock, so I was willing to fall back on defending a draw if anything did not work out.

Then I offered to trade our opposite-colored Bishops, by unprotecting my Bishop while moving my Rook up to “threaten” to come to the g-file. There was no real threat, but as I hoped, my opponent eagerly swapped Bishops, thinking (correctly) that this would neutralize the “attack”. However, objectively, the trade only benefited me. I got rid of a strong Bishop and lost my weak one.

A couple more gambles, and I made progress, losing my b-Pawn in return for his a-Pawn but now having one Rook on the g-file and one Rook on the 7th rank. Optically it looks a little scary, but that’s an illusion. Nevertheless, when an opponent is short on time, creating illusions can be useful.

After more passive moves by Black, I achieved my final dream position: Pawn on f6, Rook on a7, Rook on g7, about to win the f7 Pawn. It’s amazing how this fantasy position I had imagined early on actually came about. Still a draw, of course. But Black remained passive, and after a trade of Rooks, we actually ended in a Rook and Pawn ending that was winning for me. Unfortunately, at move 42, with the win in sight, I hastily made a passive move myself (Rg4) that threw away my win. I realized a few move later that the game was a truly dead draw. But I kept playing. A few seconds before his flag fell, my opponent made the only losing move, trading Rooks into a lost King and Pawn ending (two Pawns to one). Tragic, but in this tournament, where none of us were Masters, and endgame knowledge is weak, this stuff happens.

The moral of the story:

  • Endgame knowledge is very important. I’m not going to lie: I’m currently remedying my defects in the endgame (better late than never). I’m tired of displaying my games in which my weakness is obvious.
  • Even if you know an ending should be a draw, press on because you might get lucky.

The annotated game

Franklin Chen


Traps: They Work!

I remember many games in which I had a good position but I lost those because I failed to spot some small traps set by my opponent. If you study the games played by players 2000 or lower you will find very few games which are won strategically, but often they end with mistakes. What kind of mistakes are there? Well you set a trap and your opponent falls for it. The trap could be anything from a mate threat to trapping the queen (I did this a lot while playing against French defence two knight variation) or even drawing traps in worse conditions. I believe that you should not play opening traps as most of them are having decent solutions, though they can be played against weaker opponents with caution. But I do believe that in general in makes sense to play for some traps; it can offer hope even in some hopeless situations.

There are a number of situations in which playing for traps can be particularly effective. Here are some that I’ve noticed:

When your opponent is in serious time trouble:
This is the most obvious one; without adequate thinking time it’s easy to make an oversight. I have read many annotated games with a note that says ‘a mistake in time trouble’

When your opponent has various options to deal with the situation, there are more chances they will fall into it:
It is something like when you enter a Chinese restaurant for the first time and you have been offered menu with many choices. Overwhelmed by the different options there are more chances that you will not choose something you like. With a much simpler menu, on the other hand, you will not suffer from such confusion.

When your opponent is winning:
It is easy to overlook your opponent’s tricks in winning positions. This is because you’re already counting on the full point and lose a certain amount of vigilance.

Everyone has fallen for a trap but few give much respect to this skill. But it should be remembered that chess is battle where everything that is legal is fair, and playing for traps can be very effective!

Ashvin Chauhan