Remember Games and Patterns

You might have heard that Carlsen can remember numbers of positions and recall them over the board in a limited amount of time. In the book GM-RAM, by Rashid Ziatdinov, the author emphasises remembering key positions and games and claims that “if you know just one of important classical games, you will be able to become a 1400 level player, to be world champion you will need to know 1,000 such games”. This may be too much but we can’t deny fact that remembering these games cold will definitely help you towards chess improvement.

I tried different ways to remember games, for example playing them over the board many times, guessing them move by move, using Chess Position Trainer etc. But they didn’t work that well for me.

Then I tried one more thing and succeeded. This method uses lots of time but definitely works; after a month without playing them through a second time I am able to remember the games and their critical positions.

The way to do this is to take a book of your favourite player where he has annotated his games. Now we are going to annotate his games in our words rather than going through author’s annotations first. You can use different software but a pen and paper works best for me.

The most important thing is that your focus must be on one direction but with inherent flexibility (if your opponent blunders you must be able to punish him). This tends to be missing from the play of amateur play as they fight in different directions. Write down your ideas for each move (for both White and Black) and don’t worry if you repeat the same thing over a series of moves. Once you finish it (normally I take 4 to 6 hours) go to the experts annotations and compare. You will find that now it is very easy to understand the author’s points and your mistakes, this wouldn’t have happened if you went directly to the author’s annotations .

It is also wise to go for a second opinion also, if someone has explained the same game. Players who have the time and work like hell will definitely get benefit from this!

If you find this is very hard and time consuming, first watch this video:

Ashvin Chauhan


There Is No Fury Like Chess Scorned …

We chess players, have all had bad games — especially mere mortal and non-titled players such as myself. We’ve lost pawns, dropped pieces, got swindled, and fallen for tactics we really shouldn’t. Some of us may even have comitted the ultimate sins and lost a queen here and there, or even worse, walked in to mate.

But, you know, it’s not only the mere mortals who are having bad times at the board. In the 2014 World Rapid Championship, World Champion Magnus Carlsen grabbed a pawn and got a piece skewered against Anand; and, even more recently, (within the last week or so actually), Veselin Topalov had a real bad game against Fabiano Caruana, at the 2nd Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis, USA.

As well as making us feel slightly better about our mistakes, dear reader, such blunders by the top players are also something of a mystery, arent’t they? How can such masters of the game make such errors?

Well, I have thought long and hard about this, and I think it very often boils down to the fact that the top players are pushing the boundaries of chess further and further all the time in order to find novelties and nuances to gain an edge. It’s rather like a racing driver, who drives their car to its absolute limit — arguably to within a hair’s width of suicidal. When it goes right, it is exciting, entertaining, dramatic, and gives witnesses a thril. On the other hand, when it goes wrong things can (and do) get ugly.

There is also the fact that top players tend to sometimes take ridiculous liberties, not castling for example, throwing pawns forward willy-nilly, behaving like the tried and tested fundamentals of chess (which we do our best to drum in to the beginner) do not apply to them. This can be even more so, in openings in which the players feel at home. They can sometimes be guilty of treating the game too casually, bordering even on the contemptuous.

I have to say, that looking over the Topalov-Caruana game mentioned above, I’d have to plump for the latter option. Topalov certainly did not play ambitiously as White in allowing the Symmetrical English. Mind you, it has to be said that even though this opening is often seen as dull and rather tame, it does not have to be. That being said, however, one has to spice it up in the right way. Topalov certainly didn’t, and seemed to lunge for sharp play with his 17.g4? Actually, his position had started to wane even before this move, and perhaps he was feeling a little vexed.

Unfortunately for the Bulgarian, though, when one does not show our beautiful game enough respect, the consequences tend to be very painful.

John Lee Shaw


Scholastic Chess

My last two articles considered two possible reasons for running a junior chess project: to produce young people with a lifelong interest in chess and to identify and train potential IMs and GMs.

There is a third reason which is becoming increasingly popular throughout the world: scholastic chess. This involves using chess as an educational tool on the curriculum in the classroom, usually in primary/elementary schools in less affluent areas, and not necessarily having any expectations that children will become very strong players or even take a lasting interest in the game.

There have been many studies over many years which have claimed educational benefits from chess and suggesting that studying chess might improve children’s problem solving skills and their performance in maths and English.

Personally, I have some reservations about this. Many other activities, which may be of more practical use than chess, are also claimed to provide educational benefits: learning musical instruments, singing in a choir, learning fluency in a second language, learning coding and much else. There just isn’t time for schools to put all these activities on the curriculum. It’s also not clear to me whether other, simpler strategy games, which wouldn’t require specialist teachers, would have a similar effect, or whether the improvement in academic performance is long term or just short term.

Having said that, if schools are enthusiastic and supportive, scholastic chess can be, on its own terms, very popular and successful. If, on the other hand, the class teacher doesn’t support the lesson, just sitting at her desk looking bored and doing her marking, if the chess sets are locked away from one week to the next so that the children have no opportunity to play and reinforce what they’ve learnt, if there’s no communication with parents about what the children are learning and why they’re learning it, it’s probably not going to be very effective.

A further important question with regard to scholastic chess is that of competition. You might think that chess is by its nature competitive, but many teachers have reservations about the role of competition within education. Is it a good idea to run chess competitions for children who barely know how the pieces move and are confused about checkmate? If we decide it’s a good idea for children to have the opportunity to compete in mental activities as well as physical activities, is chess the only option? Could schools run competitions for noughts and crosses, Connect Four, draughts, various pre-chess games using subsets of the pieces and/or rules?

Here’s my take on how scholastic chess should work.

Chess in the classroom should be non-competitive. Of course children will spend some of the time playing games, but these will be seen as learning opportunities, not competitive activities. Children will also solve puzzle sheets as individuals while there will be harder puzzles to be solved by children working collaboratively in groups. The lessons will need to proceed slowly to ensure that no child is left behind. If you start with pawns, as CSC does, it will take several weeks before the whole class has mastered the pawn move (and that’s before you introduce the en passant rule). If a chess tutor is being used, the chess tutor and class teacher should lead the lessons together. The class teacher should be actively involved in the lessons and demonstrate her enthusiasm to the children. There should be posters round the walls reminding children of how the pieces move and the other basic rules. Chess sets should be available for children who want to play at break or lunchtime, before or after school rather than locked away in a cupboard. Parents and carers should be made aware not just that their children are learning chess, but how and why they are learning. You might want to run workshops in the evening for parents who would like to learn more so that they can help their children at home. There should be an after-school or lunchtime club for children who want to play low-level competitive chess. The school should take part in competitions against other schools and, in the UK, run a heat of the UK Chess Challenge. Links should be forged with local junior chess clubs (assuming they exist) so that children who want to play competitive chess at a higher level can be pointed in the right direction.

One final question is this: to what extent should national chess federations support projects that are unlikely to lead to a significant increase in participation in serous competitive chess?

Richard James


The Pawn Game

The pawn is the most misunderstood member of the beginner’s army. While the experienced player knows just how valuable an asset pawns are during all phases of the game, the novice player views them as expendable. In the eyes of an inexperienced player, pawns are on the bottom rung of the chess ladder for a number of reasons. First off, pawns are the lowest valued unit according to the relative value system employed in learning chess. A pawn is worth one point while the Queen is worth nine. Beginner’s tend to view comparisons such as the relative value system as absolute. If the Queen is at the top of the value system, the pawn is at the bottom. Adding to this conceptual problem is the fact that players starts the game with eight pawns each. Beginner’s often think that having so many pawns, combined with their low relative value, means that they’re expendable. After all, you have eight pawns at the game’s start. Certainly you can afford to lose a few? Absolutely not! You’ll have to give up pawns to move forward in the game but they must be given up for the right reasons.

Another problem with pawns, in the eyes of the novice player, is that they are unidirectional. Pawns move in one direction only, forward, while pieces move in multiple directions. White’s pawns march towards Black’s pawns along a single file and Black’s pawns march towards White’s pawns along a single file. The exception to this rule is when a pawn captures another pawn or piece, in which case it captures diagonally, meaning that the pawn doing the capturing moves to a new file (the file the captured pawn or piece was on). This means pawn moves are absolutely committal. Move a pawn forward and there’s no going back!

Then there’s that special pawn rule, pawn promotion. Tell a beginner that they can promote a pawn into a Queen if it safely moves to the other side of the board and that beginner will envision winning the game because they have multiple Queens. Suddenly, pawns are being pushed towards their promotion squares with complete disregard of anything else, such as a good position.

Pawns play different roles during the game’s three phases which means there’s a lot to learn about the pawn. Countless books have been written solely about pawns during the opening, middle and endgames as well as pawn structure. There is a great deal of pawn theory for the beginner to learn. I use the term pawn theory as an umbrella phrase to cover all pawn related concepts. One method I employ to teach pawn theory is the pawn game. This starts as a “pawn only” game that allows students to learn how to work with their pawns.

To play the first phase of the pawn game, both players set up only their pawns, White’s pawns on the second rank and Black’s pawns on the seventh rank. Pawns adhere to the standard rules of the game such as being able to move one or two squares forward on their first move and then one square only after that. The goal of this game phase is to get a pawn to the other side of the board, promote it into a Queen and use that Queen to capture the remaining enemy pawns. After this game phase is finished, the student’s play phase two. In phase two, when a pawn reaches it’s promotion square, it promotes not into a Queen but a Rook. The Rook is used to capture any remaining enemy pawns. The game is played again, phase three, but upon reaching a promotion square, the pawn is promoted to a Bishop, then a Knight in the following game phase (phase four). The idea here is to have players learn how to use different pieces (upon promotion) in conjunction with pawns to win the game. Of course both players can promote pawns during the same phase which makes the game a bit harder.

Prior to playing the pawn game, my students and I discuss pawn structure. The first concept we discuss is pawn cooperation or pawns working together. Beginner’s have a habit of thrusting lone pawns out onto the board and leaving them unprotected. To avoid this problem, we discuss the pawn chain. A pawn chain is simply a group of pawns connected to one another so that each pawn defends the pawn ahead of it diagonally. An example of a White pawn chain would be a pawn on b2, c3, d4 and e5. The base of the pawn chain is the b2 pawn while the head of the chain is the e5 pawn. In this pawn chain, pawns protect one another leaving the major and minor pieces free to partake in more important tasks. This is a case in which the pawn’s low relative value works to an advantage in that most players will not trade a minor or major piece (of greater value) for the lowly one point pawn!

Then we look at pawn islands. A pawn island is a pawn or group of pawns separated from one another by a file. The rule of thumb here is that the more pawn islands you have, the harder it is to defend your pawns. Therefore, the fewer pawn islands you have the better off you are. Other key concepts covered before starting the pawn game are isolated pawns, a pawn who has no friendly pawns to defend him on adjacent files and backwards pawns, pawns whose fellow adjacent file friendly pawns have advanced past the point of protecting him. An example of this (for White) would be pawns on b5, c4 and d5, the c4 pawn being the backwards pawn. Then there’s the passed pawn, a pawn able to promote because there are no enemy pawns on adjacent files to stop him nor is there an enemy pawn on the same file to block his promotion. Always try to created a passed pawn or two!

I have my students write these definitions down on a sheet of paper they will refer to as they play the pawn game. After the first run through of the pawn game (four phases), I have my students add Kings to the board (on their starting squares). The objective is now to checkmate the enemy King using a pawn promoted to a Queen and any remaining friendly pawns. The game is repeated, with the promoting pawn promoting into a Rook (phase two), then a Bishop (phase three) and finally a Knight (phase four). As students complete a full promotion cycle of the pawn game, promoting to Queen, Rook, Bishop and finally Knight, a new piece is added to the board. After the King, a Queen is added followed by a Bishop, etc (one minor/major piece at a time). Pawns are promoted as in the previous phases.

By the time my students have gone through these numerous phases, they’ve developed some basic pawn skills. Only then do we start our study of pawn endgames. I use the pawn game first because it allows students to study the interactions between pawns and pieces in a simplified scenario. I have my more advanced students do these exercises as well because you cannot spend too much time studying pawn theory. Remember the pawn’s motto, “we may be small but we do big things.” However, those big things can only happen when you know a bit about pawns. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson


Clash of the Titans

OK, both my opponent and I are experts, not yet masters. Still, this chess game was hard fought by our chess engines! We both were posting our analysis on the server. I could see what he was analyzing with Stockfish 5.0 SE and he could see what I was analyzing with Houdini and Deep Fritz. Truthfully, I doubt that either one of us would have found half of the moves that we played had this been an OTB chess game. Again, ICCF rules allow us to use chess engines.

This chess game is one of two draws that I have in this section. I also drew the player that Miloslav defeated, so Miloslav is temporarily in first place, I am in second place and Don Pedro is in third place. If I can finish my remaining games with at least a draw in each one I may remain in second place in this section.

Against unknown opponents I will often play the Modern Defense. It did not take long for my opponent to get me out of my database of games and into unique analysis. About half way through this game I realized that someone was anonymously following my analysis on From that point on, my opponent was playing whatever moves Stockfish recommended. There were a couple of times in the thick of it that my chess engines thought that something else was better for White. The notes that I made during this game (see below) explain the rest.

Mike Serovey


What Not To Do If You Have The Isolated Pawn

A typical introduction to positional principles in chess covers the advantages and disadvantages of having an isolated Pawn, a Pawn that has no Pawns on the files adjacent to it and therefore cannot be protected by another Pawn. (In particular, the most common isolated Pawn is the isolated d-Pawn.) Since it is easiest to understand why an isolated Pawn might be a long-term static disadvantage, many players reflexively go out of their way to avoid ending up with one. The situation is not helped by the use of illustrative games in which one side has an isolated Pawn and suffers quite a bit before losing the Pawn and the game.

But as a student of mine pointed out while studying such games, the situation is not actually that simple. Yes, it can be frustrating defending a position in which you have an isolated Pawn without any of the benefits (not discussed here) of having one, but that does not mean the position is actually lost. Whether your opponent can actually make any progress is another matter. It is instructive to know how to play for a draw in an unpleasant defensive position. Much chess instruction focuses on how to win, but ignores questions of how to avoid losing.

Here’s a classic isolated-Pawn game that ended poorly for the defender.

Korchnoi-Karpov, World Championship in Merano, 1981

Sliding from an advantage to equality

In the opening, Korchnoi as White accepted an isolated d-Pawn position. Karpov responded with a “Knight on the rim” move 11…Nh5 to trade off dark-squared Bishops. This wasn’t actually very good. It potentially gave White precious time to create a thematic good position: White could have played Re1, Ne5 with pressure against Black’s f7 and e6 Pawns, then begun a thematic attack on Black’s King side (especially with the h6 advance weakening the King side already), either through a Qd3/Bc2 lineup and/or a Rook lift with Re3/Rg3, something like that. (Full discussion of how to attack if you have an isolated d-Pawn is outside the scope of this article.)

White dawdled with 13 Bb3 and then 15 Qe2, which did nothing to create threats against Black’s position. And then White played 16 Ne4? which resulted in a simplification that left White fighting for a draw.

Simplifying trades are what you do if you are playing for a draw with an isolated Pawn, to reduce the other side’s attacking possibilities.

Refusing to accept that the goal should be to defend a draw

On move 19, White had the opportunity to trade Rooks and practically guarantee a draw. The fewer the pieces, especially powerful long-ranging major pieces, Rooks and Queens, the fewer opportunities for the opposing side to win the Pawn and still have a middlegame initiative to win the game. So White should have simplified here. The task of drawing would still have been slightly tricky, but doable, requiring keeping track of Black’s Queen, Rook, and Knight activity.

On move 22, White made another mistake and played the backward-moving 22 Qe1? It was best to simply wait around and do nothing, after having everything well-defended: White’s Queen was centralized at e4, protecting the d4 Pawn and exerting pressure on the d5 square.

Often, in a defensive position, the best thing to do is to wait for the draw to happen. Trying a funny plan when there is nothing really going for you can backfire badly. White has no winning chances in this position.

Unnecessary passivity

On move 23, White played 23 Rcd3? which just turned a fine Rook (on the open c-file) into a purely defensive piece. OK, the idea may have been to dissolve the isolated Pawn by playing d5, but this was easily parried by 23…Rd6.

Final simplification

On move 27, White traded the Bishop for the Knight on d5. Objectively this is OK, actually, if the goal is to draw. But the followup shows that was apparently not the goal. So the real problem is a mismatch between an idea and what is consistent with that idea.

Own pieces in disarray

28 Rb3? was a terrible move that took a defensive Rook and removed it from its defensive function, and also exposed the White Queen to a pin of the d-Pawn, in case Black ever got in …e5. 29 Qc3? compounded the problem by leaving the Rook on d1 completely undefended.

33 Qa3? removed the Queen from the action in the center and King side after White had already weakened his King’s position with the necessary 30 f4 earlier.

Now all that was needed for Black to win was to tactically take advantage of White’s uncoordinated pieces and unprotected King, and Karpov did that precisely.

An important note about how to draw

Sometimes the easiest way to draw is to just give up the weak isolated Pawn without a fight, in exchange for activity and simplification. Instead of risking King unsafety with 30 f4, White could have decided to just lose the d-Pawn but keep King safety intact and Rooks and Queen active, say with 30 Qf3. I will confess that I have been held to a draw a couple of times in games in which I expended effort to win an isolated Pawn but at the cost of massive simplification and could not win the ending.


To answer my student’s question about this game: yes, there were multiple turning points in the game at which White could have held still and played for a draw. Especially in the case of an isolated Pawn and much piece simplification, there is often no way to win the Pawn or force some other concession somewhere else, if one just puts pieces on good defensive squares and then just waits. The only way for the other side to win is to break through by distracting the defensive pieces and taking advantage of pins and the single possible Pawn break (…e5 here) to create threats elsewhere on the board (such as on an exposed King). Note that the game was not lost because of losing the isolated Pawn: the game was lost by trying too hard to hang on to it.

The complete annotated game

Franklin Chen


Attacking The King

You can find lots of material in books which teaches you how to attack the king. However, there are also some key factors I’d like to present, which my own experience has led me to believe are the most important.

1. Removal of key defender: In my city a very popular saying is that you should ‘kill a knight on the castled side you win’. At club level they follow this technique blindly and surprisingly are successful most of the time. Study the classic bishop sacrifice on h2 or h7; most of the time you will find absence of the knight on f3 or f6.

2. Rook Lift: A rook lift can be a very effective weapon. Normally rooks only take part at a later stage of the game, but through the rook lift an extra and important attacker. Here is an example;

3. Open lines: Open lines are important for empowering your pieces compare to your opponent’s. In order to open lines two elements should be examined closely. One is the available pawn levers and another is a sacrifice to access the enemy king. Here is one of the best games of Bobby Fischer which is relevant to our topic:

4. Attention levels: One should always consider the counter blows, escape squares, defensive resources and tension in the center before going in for the kill.

Ashvin Chauhan


A Lesson From Judit Polgar: Fear Nobody …

It is such a pity to learn of the retirement of Grandmaster Judit Polgar, who confirmed that she is leaving professional chess at the end of the 41st chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway. This ended on August 14th; and with it, then, chess lost one of its strongest exponents and finest ambassadors.

The reasons for her retirement, one can only speculate, Judit said in a recent interview with The Times newspaper, that she wanted to focus on her chess foundation which aims to spread chess through schools, and that she also wants to spend more time with her children. Who can blame her? I remember speaking with her Husband at the Corus Chess Tournament a few years ago, and he told me that she found the travelling and separation from her family very hard.

Also mentioned in the article was Polgar’s struggle to be recognized along with the male chess establishment. Sexism is ever-present in most walks of life, and no less in chess. Judit’s tireless resistance and condemnation of this has gained her much admiration from the chess world, from male and female alike.

I think that chess players can learn a lot from Judit Polgar, not only from her games, many of which contain powerful strategic and tactical finesses, but also from the way that she approached her opponents. Namely: all the same. She showed the same respect to amateur and Grandmaster alike, and was afraid of none. Let’s not forget that she was the first female player to defeat Garry Kasparov (who apparently once referred to her as a “circus puppet”) in tournament play. This happened in a rapid game, which took place during the Russia versus the Rest of the World Match, played in the September of 2002.

What strikes me about this game, is that Kasparov is never actually present in it. Judit punishes him for uninspiring play, and asserts herself right from the word go. With precise and aggressive play, she sends out a clear message that she is not to be trifled with, and that no one (not even the strongest player, world number 1, and multiple World Champion) can take liberties with her.

The game is below. As you play through it, notice first Kasparov’s allowing the early exchange of Queens as Black and neglecting his King which remains in the centre of the board, how his position lacks development, and how he allows his opponent far too much space. To me, this game strikes as an under-estimation at best, and a lack of respect at worst.

In her response, Judit Polgar does not stand on ceremonies, but instead takes full advantage and seizes her opportunity. This is a fine example of how to play against any opponent, even more so when you are the underdog. Do not be intimidated, but stay true to yourself, and focus on the board rather than the person. Play the best moves you can find. For at the end of the day, it is that and not reputation which will decide the outcome of the game.

John Lee Shaw


Is Chessboxing Healthy?

Following up my post last Tuesday I thought I’d investigate whether the growing craze of chessboxing is healthy. Well probably it’s OK to look at but I wouldn’t recommend participating. Here’s a match as an example:

There’s clearly some good cardiovascular exercise involved but hitting each other in the head lots of times seems like a clear downside from a health perspective. Now I know they were using head guards but research has shown that this actually INCREASES the likelihood of concussion. There’s an article about this here.

Overall I’m astonished that chessboxing has been greeted with such enthusiasm whilst chess itself has question marks over its health aspects. Yet as boxing has been shown to cause brain damage (especially with head guards) shouldn’t chess plus a good brisk walk a day be rather better?

The answer seems clear, at least to me.

Nigel Davies