Chess Games of Gioachino Greco

Studying chess games is perhaps the best way to improve your chess game, and this applies to beginners too. Initially beginners can achieve quick development by practicing tactics. And short games provide the same learning value with the added element that they can apply the same tricks against their friends and possibly register quick wins.

Chernev’s 1000 best Short games of chess is an excellent resource for such miniatures but I personally like Gioachino Greco’s Games.

Beginners love to attack with a single piece, and in particular with the queen. This game illustrates the dark side and also guides you as to how to play against it. It also addresses the beginner’s question as to why 2…Nf6 is a better move than 2…Qf6?

It’s worth searching for other games of Greco against this 2…Qf6 move, which illustrate some other variations.

Ashvin Chauhan

Draw Or No Draw?

“If your opponent offers you a draw, try to work out why he thinks he’s worse off”
Nigel Short

Mentioning draws in competitive chess brings up first Fischer’s approach to play for a win in every game; possibly close behind is Short’s advice, something quite popular in junior and club chess levels. Of course things are not as simple as they seem and the correct way to look at draws is to take a balanced approach, analyse the situation at hand and decide if you need to play for a draw or not. We all start playing with the intention to win; some might even know the saying:
“If it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?”
Vince Lombardi
It is however possible to look for a draw all along if the opponent is quite strong or famous. One of the latest examples in this regard is the first game between Magnus Carlsen and Bu Xiangzhi at the FIDE World Cup 2017. Bu sacrificed a piece to open up Magnus castle. All the pressure was then on Magnus who had to choose between going for a perpetual or playing ahead and proving the sacrifice was wrong. What would have you done in his shoes? It depends, right? Going back to Bu’s decision, it shows one of the right ways to go for a draw: attack the opposing King, offer a perpetual line and have a strong attack with practical chances as the other option. Time could also become a factor since the stronger player would have to use it to decide what to do and how to navigate the stormy waters of defending properly. Magnus did not handle it properly and Bu’s decision brought him a decisive win:

The second and decisive game between Bu Xiangzhi and Magnus Carlsen (same event) was another good display on how to play for a draw from the beginning. Bu played very solid and maintained a small advantage throughout the game. Magnus could not muddy the waters, nor was he given any opportunity to create a weakness in White’s position. It is very hard to play for a win with the Black pieces in such cases.

I am sure if you look in your own databases of personal games, you could find several samples where you were faced with the same dilemma: “draw or no draw?”. My next two personal examples have passed the test of time and will forever stick with me, proving that draws can also be memorable.
The first one comes from my junior years. My queen side attack was not very inspired and my piece placement proved to be unfortunate. I remember sensing something was wrong and hoping I could hold on. My opponent came up with a brilliant plan, only to follow it up with a huge blunder when all he had to do was to collect the win. That gave me the opportunity to force the draw in a unique position. See it for yourself:

The second example is also a personal milestone, representing my first result for the national team. Back in 1989 Romania managed to arrange a friendly correspondence chess match with Germany, a perennial powerhouse. A number of young and full of potential players were selected to represent both countries and I was fortunate enough to also be selected on our side. I did not know much about my opponent except his high ICCF rating at the time (2485), while I had no international rating. We were playing two games in the same time (one as White and one as Black), moves being sent back and forth by post. The pace was about 1 move a month; the postal connection between Romania and Germany was still very sketchy at the time. I got an interesting position as white in the semi-Slav and had my eyes on attacking at the first opportunity; for that purpose I was ready to take risks.
“He who takes risks can lose, he who doesn’t however will lose for sure.”
Savielly Tartakover
Black got in time trouble, played a couple of dubious moves and then decided to go for the available line leading to a draw by perpetual.

Hope I made a good case for looking at the draw option with an open mind. Today chess is played under fast time controls and holding a strong position where you could offer a draw at anytime is a strong choice for all of us. Looking at the FIDE World Cup 2017 semifinal, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had the chance to play for a draw in his Armageddon game versus GM Levon Aronian. He did not succeed, but the possibility to decide the winner of the match like this was/ is of major importance. We need to be prepared to play for a draw if the situation dictates and there is nothing wrong with that.

Valer Eugen Demian

Perseverance

After a tough week in school I started with a miserable 1.5/4 in the Intermediate section of the English Rapidplay Championships. But I managed to win both the junior and grading prizes by getting 4 points from the next 5.

It’s important to persevere when things are not going well as this builds character. My Dad has always insisted that I fight on in tournaments and never withdraw, even if I get fed up. This is a great lesson that can be adapted to many situations outside of chess.

My Dad came 4th in the Open with 6.5/9 and he himself bounced back after slumping to 4.5/7. His last round win was against International Master James Poulton:

Sam Davies

Speed Merchant

My next game featured a return encounter with the Harrow junior I played in my first game of the season. Here’s how our earlier game went. My opponent played all his moves (there weren’t very many of them) more or less instantaneously. I thought perhaps he was rushing the game because he had some homework to complete but that didn’t seem to have been the case.

Here’s the game, in which I had the black pieces.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4 Nf6
4. d3 Bc5
5. h3 d6
6. O-O Na5
7. Bb3 Nxb3
8. axb3 Be6
9. Nc3 a6
10. Bg5 Qd7

A pretty crude attempt to set up a sacrifice on h3. There were probably better plans available, but I suppose you can’t argue with success.

11. d4 exd4
12. Nxd4 O-O-O
13. f4

The engines prefer White after a move like Qd3. After this move, opening up the g1-a7 diagonal, the sacrifice is immediately decisive.

13… Bxh3
14. gxh3 Qxh3
15. Nce2 Ng4
16. Rf3 Qxf3
17. Bh4 Qe3+
18. Kg2 Qxe4+
19. Kg1 Ne3 0-1

The return encounter with our north west London rivals involved a relatively complicated journey by public transport: a bus, two trains and another bus. The trip started badly: the first bus took 20 minutes to get past the first two stops due to a traffic jam so I was running very late. I was pretty flustered when I arrived, finding myself facing the same opponent as in the previous game, but this time with the advantage of the move. He played at the same speed as last time.

Here’s what happened.

1. d4 d5
2. c4 c6
3. Nf3 Nf6
4. e3 Bf5
5. Nc3 e6
6. Nh4 Bg6
7. Nxg6 fxg6

A very strange decision. My database has 1340 games with hxg6 and only 16 with this move.

8. Bd3 Nbd7
9. O-O Bd6
10. cxd5 exd5
11. e4 dxe4
12. Nxe4 Nxe4
13. Bxe4 O-O
14. g3 Kh8
15. Bg2 Qb6
16. Be3

I’d assumed, correctly, it would be dangerous for Black to capture on b2 but my opponent didn’t think twice about it.

16… Qxb2
17. Rb1 Qxa2
18. Rxb7 Nb8

Nb6 or Nf6, allowing me to capture on c6, would have been better alternatives.

19. d5 c5
20. Qc1

My computer likes Qg4 here, with a fairly obscure (at least to me) tactical idea: for example 20. Qg4 Re8 21. Bh6 gxh6 22. Qf3 and now 22… Rf8 loses to Qc3+ while 22… Be7 loses to Rxe7.

20… Qa6
21. Qb2 Be5
22. Qb5

Chickening out by giving Black the option of trading queens. 23. Qb3, retaining the initiative, was correct.

22… Bd6

But instead Black blunders. 22.. Qxb5 23. Rxb5 Nd7 was only slightly better for White.

If I saw this in a tactics book I’d have no problem finding the very simple 23. Rxb8, destroying the defender and winning a piece. Indeed there are plenty of similar examples in Chess Tactics for Heroes, written for players of under 100 ECF/1500 Elo strength (if you want to see the first draft let me know and I’ll email you a copy).

How could I miss such a simple tactic? I was thinking that his last move defended c5 so he was planning to trade queens and keep his extra pawn. Therefore I had to retreat my queen to foil his plan. It just hadn’t occurred to either of us that my last move created a threat. Short circuiting in this way happens over and over again in my games.

23. Qb2 Be5
24. Qb5 Bd6

He repeats the same blunder, and, even after thinking a long time about whether or not to repeat moves I fail to spot the winning move. Instead I decide on a threefold repetition.

25. Qb2 1/2-1/2

What went wrong? Was I still flustered after the traffic problems on the way to the venue? Was I still lacking confidence after losing to a much lower graded opponent a few months earlier? I teach my pupils to look for checks, captures and threats, so why can’t I do it myself?

This was not the only game I played last season which featured simple tactics missed (regular readers will have seen some other examples already). Nor was it the only game in which I agreed a draw in a completely won position.

Richard James

Finding the Right Opening

There are many ways to start a game of chess. We call the starting phase of the game, the opening and when it comes to the opening, we have many choices regarding the type of opening we employ. Beginners face their first challenge when deciding which opening is right for them. While all good openings (for both Black and White) adhere to the opening principles, some require a more advanced skill set if they’re to be employed successfully. Some openings are very clear cut and safe (beginners take note) while others are wrought with less clear cut (to the beginner) but still strong moves aimed at controlling the board’s center which is the goal of the opening. When choosing an opening to study and use, the beginner should always pick an opening in which the opening principles can clearly be seen. Too often, beginners choose openings that are currently being played on the tournament circuit or by their favorite chess player. This can be a deadly mistake for the beginner because their favorite player has spent years studying opening theory and can make the employment of a difficult opening seem easy. When our beginner tries to play that opening he or she doesn’t get the same results because extremely precise play (of the opening) is required. Should the beginner ignore these complex openings altogether? Absolutely not. However, they should build up to them, skill-wise, the way in which a musician learns simpler songs first and then moves on to more complex pieces.

The opening you eventually settle on depends on your personality. Are you aggressive and a risk taker or are you more reserved? As you improve your opening play, you’ll find an opening that suits your playing personality. However, to start, choose an opening that clearly demonstrates the opening principles. If you’re new to chess, the opening principles are a series of sound and solid ideas that serve as a guide regarding which pieces to bring into the game first and where to place those pieces. They can be thought of as the way in which you complete your opening goal which is controlling the center of the board (e4, e5, d4 and d5). The principles, simply put are as follows:

Control the center of the board with a pawn or two, develop (move) your minor pieces (Knights and Bishops) towards the center squares, get your King Castled to safety and connect your Rooks. Avoid moving the same piece twice (or more) during the opening unless you have to. Don’t make too many pawn moves and please don’t bring your Queen out early. Lastly, always play to control the board’s center before your opponent does. There, that was simply enough. Write these suggestions down so you can refer to them. Also remember that principles are not rules and can be bent under the right conditions. However, you need to be very sure of what you’re doing before bending them. As for breaking the principles, doing so will lead to positional ruin.

To get an idea regarding what I meant by choosing an opening that clearly demonstrates the opening principles versus one in which the principles may not be as clear (to the beginner), let’s look at two openings, The Italian Opening and The Ruy Lopez (Spanish) Opening for White. Both openings start with 1. e4. This adheres to our first principle, controlling the center of the board with a pawn. After Black plays 1…e5, both of our openings play 2. Nf3. The Knight attacks two key central squares, adhering to our second opening principle regarding the development of our minor pieces. After Black plays 2…Nc6, we come to the move that defines and differentiates the two openings. In The Italian Opening, White plays 3, Bc4 and in The Ruy Lopez or Spanish Opening, White plays 3. Bb5. While there is a difference between the two moves, both moves influence the center.

In The Italian Opening, the Bishop on c4 attacks a center square (d5) while also aiming itself at the weak f7 pawn. This clearly adheres to the principle of developing your minor pieces towards the center. A beginner looking at this position will see the opening principles clearly in action. By the way, White can now Castle on the King-side so we’re following our principles to the letter. What of 3. Bb5? Beginners will look at this move and wonder how this could possibly influence or control the board’s center. Should black play 3…a6 and White then play 4. Bxc6 (the exchange variation of the Ruy Lopez), the e5 pawn will no longer have the protection of the Knight, thus the idea of indirect central influence. This makes perfect sense to the more experienced player but to the beginner, it’s often a lost idea!

If you wish to play chess at a high level, such as rated tournaments, you’ll have to eventually learn the Ruy Lopez. However, you need to learn how to walk before your run! Like the music student, you have to learn simple techniques before moving on to advanced techniques. It’s the learning process and it applies to every subject you study. One of the reasons that I suggest my beginning students learn The Italian Opening has to do with its simplicity and flexibility, eventually moving on to the Ruy Lopez only after my students have fully grasped the nuances of the opening principles.

The Italian Opening, 1. e4…e5, 2. Nf3…Nc6, 3. Bc4 (you’ll see why I didn’t include Black’s third move momentarily), nicely and clearly (for the beginner) illustrates the opening principles that are necessary to learn in order to master any chess opening. As for flexibility, this opening can transpose into the Evan’s Gambit or the Fried Liver Attack, giving the beginning player an introduction to two additional openings as well as introducing them to the idea of flexibility.

Flexibility is extremely important when it comes to chess. Many beginners create overly rigid plans that fail instantly when their opponent makes a move that doesn’t fit into that plan. This is especially true during the opening phase of the game. A beginner will learn the opening moves by solely memorizing them and then play them as memorized regardless of what their opponent does which leads to failure early on. With The Italian Opening, the beginner can react accordingly to their opponent’s moves. If Black plays 3…Bc5, the beginner can consider playing 4. b5, launching into the Evan’s Gambit or after 3…Nf6, play either 4. Ng5, signaling the Fried Liver Attack or sticking with the mainline Italian. Of course, I teach my beginning students the complete Italian Opening before teaching them The Evan’s Gambit or Fried Liver Attack. Again, what I like, in terms of being a chess teacher, is the clear and concise way in which this opening demonstrates the opening principles.

When learning chess openings, the beginner should always start with a simple opening and work their way towards more complex openings after their skills have improved. Beginners really should try many different openings as they gain a stronger knowledge of opening theory. They should also play both sides of the board when studying any opening because you’ll never know what your opponent is going to throw at you. I highly suggest a book that contains a large number of openings for both Black and White, such as The Dummies Guide to Chess Openings. This type of book allows the novice player to examine in some detail the large variety of openings available to them.

It should be noted that just because today’s current roster of Grandmasters aren’t playing a particular opening doesn’t mean that opening is bad, especially for the beginner or intermediate player. Don’t let opening trends dissuade you from playing a particular opening. Play what feels right for you but always remember, before you take on an opening, make sure it’s on par with you skill level. Of course, you should always exercise your brain by taking on an opening that is slightly beyond your skill set, even though it may be hard mental work when it comes to mastering that opening. Just make sure it isn’t so difficult that you become frustrated. How do you know if an opening is above your skill set? If you cannot clearly see the opening principles in action within the opening or the text describing that opening doesn’t make sense, work at other openings and build up your knowledge of opening principles. Then, when you’re more comfortable with opening mechanics, try the opening the once made no sense. Be patient, study theory, practice that theory, and you’ll be rewarded. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

Flatten Your Heart

I used to play the Torre with some success. I switched to the Colle when I did Nigel’s Opening Course. I think I will return at some point. In this game Black should have played for some central control with 5…d5 rather than …b6. I did take the center and should have pursued the idea of expanding there with 8.e5 (and at subsequent points thereafter) which could have been difficult for Black.

I was doing quite well with my knight taking on d6 and the queen and knight fork. My problem is one of seeking to calculate. I chose this complicated line rather than the simple and positionally good e5 at an earlier stage.  I (try) to live and learn. However, after move 15. I was doing well. I lost most of the advantage with 16.Bh6 rather than Qf4 – I was trying to get the queens off and simplifying material up.

That said, I was still better but managed to slowly dissipate my advantage. I think I felt that I should have got more from the game and on move 36 I lashed out with a very unsound attempt not seeing Black’s simple response and wound up losing.

Nigel introduced me to the Buddhist saying “Flatten your heart”. The idea is to not let your emotions control you and to learn to respond appropriately to ups and downs. This is a useful concept in chess.

Dan Staples

Modern Computer Chess: An Alarm!!

Computers have changed chess a lot and top level chess is becoming dominated by opening preparation. Our current World champion might be an exception to some extent.

I have been following the FIDE world cup 2017 and this game perhaps violates most of the general principles. Black played 7/9 moves with his knight and finally managed to win! No castling and fancy moves with the kings.

Here is the game:

Whether you believe it or not, people follow leaders. I am not criticizing these two grandmasters as they have to prepare in such way in order to compete in at the highest level. But such games influence lower ranked players so we may see players much further down the rating list playing like this.

It might be a time to move towards some other chess variants in order to avoid this kind of thing. You decide.

Ashvin Chauhan

“What Say You?” The 1 Minute Challenge (4)

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer”
Bruce Lee

A quick reminder about how to do it:

  • Have a look at the position for 1 minute (watch the clock)
  • Think about the choices in front of you and pick the one you feel it is right
  • Verify it in your mind the best you can
  • Compare it with the solution

Are you ready? Below is this week’s position asking you to choose the next move for White. What is the most likely result based on your choices?

Here are my thoughts:

  • Material is equal
  • Each side has a passed pawn and both kings are within reach (see rule of the square in our app level 3, lesson 26) with a plus for the Black king being closer
  • Pushing the pawn forward 1. c5 … gives Black time to activate its king (1… Ke6 for example). White will have to capture the a-pawn, while Black will do the same with the c-pawn; after those pawns come off the board, Black’s king will be closer to capture the g4-pawn and promote its remaining f6-pawn (see basic pawn endgames in our app level 2, lesson 19). Black could win in this case
  • Based on the above idea 1. Kd4 … does not look like a good idea either because it also allows 1… Ke6. The difference in this case might be the fact the White king stays close to its c4-passer, it could capture Black’s a-pawn and come back in time to defend the passer; hmm, this is an interesting thought after all
  • Continuing along this line of thought 1. Kd5 … looks the best since it is keeping Kf7 away. The problem here is that after 1… a4 there is no other response but the forced 2. Kd4 … or the a-pawn promotes. We are now back to the previous line with the a-pawn farther down the board. This will draw the White king away and allow the Black one to activate; after the simple moves 2… Ke6 3. Kc3 Ke5 4. Kb4 Kd4 there is nothing better for each side than pushing pawns down toward promotion and a draw
  • Going back to 1. Kd4 Ke6 and using the information gathered in the 1. Kd5 … line, this must be the move to play. The a5-pawn has not moved yet and black must choose between moving it or bringing its King closer; in both cases this is good news for white

Conclusion: 1. Kd4 … gives white the best practical chances and should be played. You might be out of time by now to be able to determine if white can win this or not. The endgame has one more nice wrinkle white must consider in order to win and you can see it looking at the solution below:

What can we conclude out of it? Sometimes we might have to go ahead and play the most promising line even if we don’t see the final result for various reasons. We must keep our focus and apply our thought process along the way to uncover opportunities and achieve the best possible result. Start with the simple stuff first and build on it based on your knowledge; wherever your knowledge stops, mark it down and make sure you focus on expanding it during your home preparation. Good luck!

Valer Eugen Demian

King Power in the Endgame

Following up my earlier column about king centralization, here’s a great example of a strong king being decisive in the endgame. It was also a huge upset, with Vishwanathan Anand losing to a player 259 Elo points lower than himself!

Sam Davies