Giving Odds to the Almighty

Ree asked Fischer about … how Steinitz believed he could give odds to God. Fischer … replied that no one could give odds to the Almighty. He added “But with White I should be able to draw against Him. I play 1. e4 and if we have a Ruy, the position would be balanced. I could never lose.” Andrew Soltis, Bobby Fischer Rediscovered

It’s hypothesized that chess overall is a draw. But are certain lines that have been played for decades, or even centuries, actually lost for Black with best play?

When I rebooted my chess in the 21st century after a 20-year hiatus from tournament competition, I was looking for a safe haven. I decided to play the Modern with both colors. The reason for that was, as cramped as it is, this seemed the easiest to deal with an era of computers (and computer cheating) for two reasons:

  1. The formation and ability to defer committing is very similar in Chess, Bughouse and Kriegspiel (yes, in the two latter it’s really e6/Be7 instead of g6/Bg7, but you probably see the point). It’s sort of an ideal sort of restrained formation given the original location of the pieces.
  2. It’s always the same opening. Anything the opponent does turns into more or less the same thing.

Our host GM Davies disagrees:

Nigel Davies A lot of Modern Defence lines will be lost for Black when you go deep enough, not draws.

Jacques Delaguerre Do you mean that a lot of popular lines (e.g., the blitzy but hideous Gurgenidze) are lost? Or that there is no defense in the main lines?

Nigel Davies I suspect so. If White plays the best lines Black’s position sucks, which is a large part of why I stopped playing the Modern.

So far no opponent has convinced me of GM Davies’ pessimistic outlook, merely proving that I make mistakes. I’m struggling to tighten my focus and competitive skills to a level where I can hope to approach some answer to this kozmic question of Chess theory!

Jacques Delaguerre

Recognise the Pattern # 28

Today, we will see a simple endgame pattern which is quite easy to remember but difficult to recognize over the board. As we will see in the following example, even a strong grandmaster failed to spot it; during the game, Black played 74…Ke4 and won on move no 237.

Laurent Fressinet (2650) against Alexandra Kosteniuk (2525) – Black to move

Question: Can you do better than Kosteniuk?
Hint: In the endgame, the easiest way to win is often to convert one advantage into another.

Solution: The easiest way to win this game is…


Black is preparing to exchange on f2 and transition into a winning king and pawn ending.

75. Rf4/Kg1 Rxf2!

Let’s check few alternatives
a) Rg7 then Rxf2 followed by Kf5 is winning
b) Kh1 then Rxf2 is just winning
c) Rc7 then Rxf2 followed by Bd4 is winning

76. Rxf2 Bxf2 77. Kxf2

Now what?


Black has transitioned into a winning king and pawn ending.

Now Black can win the g3 pawn where the opposition doesn’t matter, as we know the very generous rule, “King on the 6th rank before the pawn always wins”.

Ashvin Chauhan

Exchanging Key Defenders (6)

In this classic example, Botvinnik spies a weakness on the light squares in White’s camp. From the diagram, he ruthlessly removes, on successive moves, the only two white minor pieces which can defend those squares, namely the Nc3 and Bc2. The result is a position with a gigantic knight, about to land on e4, against a crummy dark-squared bishop, blocked in by White’s own pawns. Botvinnik went on to win, despite strenuous and inventive defence from White.

Steve Giddins

Space Advantage On The King Side

A White pawn on e5 in openings like the French Defence can give White a space advantage on the Kings side and help him build a strong attack. In particular, a pawn on e5 drives away a Black Knight from f6, and this weakens the defences of the Black King.

In this week’s problem, White can win using the weak Black King as a target. How does White win?

In last week’s problem, White wins with 1. Ke4! Bd8 2. b6! Ka6 3. Ke5 Bg5 4. h7 Bc1! 5. Kd6 Bxb2 6. Kc7 Be5+ and it is zugzwang. Black must allow White to play b7 and Kc7 promoting a pawn.

Steven Carr

Rook Endings (1)

My friend Chris Kreuzer, a former pupil at Richmond Junior Club and now a colleague at Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club when he’s not playing for the English Deaf Chess team, sent me a game resulting in an exciting and error-strewn rook ending. His opponent in this Thames Valley League game was talented Richmond Junior Alfie Onslow, whose game against me from earlier in the season featured here a few months ago.

Chris is a strong player whose results seem to me to be affected by his addiction to time trouble. This game was played with a time limit of 75 minutes per player for the game. There are no increments in ThamesValleyLeagueLand where, in the impoverished suburbs of West London (irony alert), most clubs can’t afford to buy digital clocks. When the rook ending was reached Chris was down to about 3 minutes on the clock to Alfie’s 12 minutes. Chris had won a pawn in the middle game but gave up material in the quest for activity and was now a pawn behind.

We’ll join the game here, where White’s just captured a pawn on c5.

Black has to choose his 45th move. In fact there are two possible moves here, as someone pointed out after the game the possibility of 45… Kd7 46. Bxe7 Kxc8 47. Bxf6, which will lead to a draw. With not much time on the clock it’s understandable that Chris missed this, instead playing the obvious bishop exchange. So…

45… Bxc5
46. Rxc5

White’s a pawn ahead in this ending, but Black’s king is centralised and he’s about to put his rook behind the passed c-pawn. My pupils know about KUFTE (King Up For The Ending, for which thanks to the late and much missed Mike Fox) and RBBPP (Rooks Belong Behind Passed Pawns).

46… Rc1

On general principles this can’t be wrong and indeed it’s fine for a draw, as are various other moves such as f5 and Kd6.

47. Rc6+ Kf5
48. c5 Rc2
49. f3 Rc4
50. Rc8 Kf4
51. c6 f5
52. c7

Perfectly reasonable play by both sides so far. Charlie White has now reached the seventh rank so Black has to be careful to shelter his king from checks.

52… Rc2

Still fine for a draw, and perhaps not expecting the white king to march bravely up the h-file. Another way to share the point was 52… Rc1 53. g4 Kxf3 54. gxf5 e4 55. f6 when Black has to find 55… Rc2+ 56. Kh3 Rc6 in order to prevent the f-pawn’s advance and draw the game.

53. Kh3 Rc4
54. Kh4 Rc1
55. Kh5

White’s king is becoming dangerous and now Black has only one route to equality. He has to remain active and play 55… Rc2 56. g4 fxg4 (again the only move to draw). Now White has two tries: 57. Rf8+ Kg3 58. c8Q Rxc8 59. Rxc8 Kxf3, which is a draw; or 57. fxg4 Rh2+ (only move again) 58. Kg6 Kxg4 (the final only move), which is also a draw.

55… Rc6

Natural enough in time trouble, I suppose, as Chris wants to prevent Alfie’s king advancing, but unfortunately it loses.

56. g4

The winning move. White’s threatening both g5 and gxf5, when a recapture will be met by Rf8+. Perhaps Black should try 56… fxg4 when the immediate 57. Rf8+ is only a draw but the simple recapture 57. fxg4 is winning.

56… Kxf3

57. gxf5

Now it’s White’s turn to go wrong. This recapture should only draw but instead 57. g5 e4 58. g6 e3 59. g7 e2 60. Re8 and White wins the promotion race. Note that his king is supporting the g-pawn but is too far away to support the f-pawn.

57… e4
58. Kg5

Or 58. f6 Rxf6 59. Re8 Rc3 60. c8Q Rxc8 61. Rxc8 e3 with a draw.

58… e3
59. f6 Rc4

Running out of time, Black makes what looks like a fairly random move instead of pushing his pawn.

After 59… e2 60. f7 (60. Re8 is a safer draw) 60… e1Q 61. f8Q+ Kg2 White has no more checks and, although he has an extra pawn his rook is out of play and his king is in trouble. My computer tells me he has only one way to draw, the far from obvious (at least to me) 62. Qg8. (In real life, though, with his flag hanging, Black would take a perpetual rather than looking for a mating sequence.) Black’s other drawing move is 59… Rc5+ 60. Kg6 Rc7 61. Kg7 e2 with similar play to the line above.

60. f7

And, unfortunately for Chris, it’s all over.


What lessons can we learn from this?

1. Endings can often be tactical: you have to be good at accurate long-range calculation to play this sort of position well. (Of course the paradox is that positional players are likely to reach more endings than tacticians.)

2. Activity is important in rook endings.

3. Pushing passed pawns is important in endings.

4. If you’re playing any fairly fast time limit, especially without increments, if you get significantly behind on the clock in an otherwise level ending you’re probably going to lose, either by running out of time or by having to rush your moves and consequently making mistakes

Richard James

The Importance Of The Endgame Four

One of the first checkmate beginners learn is the Rook Roller, in which a pair of Rooks systematically push the opposition King to the edge of the board and deliver checkmate. This is followed by Queen and King versus lone King and King and Rook versus lone King mates. While these checkmates are easy to master, the beginner becomes very dependent on the pieces used to deliver mate and falls short in the victory department when they lose one of these key pieces before they can deliver checkmate. We’re going to look at using a pair of Bishops to deliver checkmate in today’s article. However, before we start, lets take a look the Rook Roller. I want to go over this simple mating attack because it will serve as a comparison point when discussing checkmate with a pair of Bishops.

It should first be noted that while the Rook and Bishop are both long distance pieces, there’s a huge difference between them when it comes to spacial control. Rooks can control both light and dark squares simultaneously while Bishops can only control squares of one color due to their diagonal movement. In the above example, white plays 1. Ra4 which sets up a barrier across the the 4th rank that the black King cannot cross. After 1…Kc5, white creates a second barrier with 2. Rh5+ forcing the black King back a rank with 2…Kb6. Both white Rooks work together to easily push the black King to the board’s edge. Of course, black tries to slow white down by covering the the a6 square so the the Rook on a4 can’t safe check. Beginners often lose this Rook with a hasty check ,but in our example, the a4 Rook simply glides across the board and prepares for mate with 3. Rg4. Black tries in vain to stay in the game, but after 3…Kc6, white checks again with 4. Rg6+. Note that the Rooks always maintain a pair of walls in front of the black King. With 4…Kd7, white checks again with 5. Rh7+ and mate occurs with white’s next move no matter what black does.

Notice that the white King didn’t have to involve himself in this endgame fracas. However, when we use a pair of Bishops to deliver mate, the white King will have to roll up his sleeves and fight for the mate along with the Bishops! Look at the example below:

I’ve taken the liberty of placing the white King on the square he needs to be on to assist in this checkmate. It’s important to move your King to a square that allows him to control squares the opposition King needs to use for escape. This means you have to get your King close to the opposition King rather than chasing that King around with your Bishops which gets you nowhere. Keeping the opposition King off of escape squares is a key concept in minor piece checkmates. Unlike the Rook who can control entire ranks and files, minor pieces have a limited ability to control space around the enemy King.

In our example, the dark squared Bishop on b4 keeps the black King from occupying a5. The white King controls b6 and b7. Our goal is to drive the black King to the a8 square. With 1. Bc4+ we force the black King to a7 (1…Ka7). Note the opposition of the two Kings. With the light squared Bishop covering a6, it’s time to push the black King once more with 2. Bc5+, forcing the black King to a8 (2…Ka8). We finally deliver mate with 3. Bd5#. The idea here was to drive the black King to the mating square while covering possible escape squares with our King and one of the Bishops.

In the above example, things are a little different. Here, King opposition is crucial in delivering mate, specifically the control of the a7 square. Less work chasing the opposition King around the board helps to avoid costly mistakes. When white plays 1. Kb6, creating King opposition, he keeps the black King from using the a7 square to avoid the mating attack. The black King is forced into the corner with 1…Ka8. It’s at this juncture that beginners playing the white pieces often end up with a stalemate because they play 2. Be5, which leads to stalemate, instead of the correct move, 2. Be7. This (2. Be7) is one of those great quiet moves that gives the black King a square to move to while still keeping an eye on the position. Black plays 2…Kb8 and now we can play for mate with 3. Bd6+. The Bishop on e6 covers the c8 square so the black King is forced back to the corner with 3…Ka8 and white mates with 4. Bd5#. Always be weary of stalemate when you have these types of positions. Before even considering the delivery of the first check, note which escape squares your King and Bishops cover and make sure the opposition King has a square to move to in order to avoid stalemate. As you can see, it’s all about piece coordination with minor piece mates!

Our last example is a slight variation of the previous example. I cannot stress enough the importance of practicing Bishop and King endgames, especially since it will teach you a great deal about how to force the opposition King to move where you want him to move.

In this example, white plays 1. Bd4 to use the Bishop rather than the King to control the a7 square. The opposition King moves to c8 (1…Kc8). With 2. Bf6, the Bishop reminds the black King that minor pieces are in charge in this position. Black makes a run for the a7 square with 2…Kb8. Now white moves his King into opposition with 3. Kb6 which cuts off the a7 square. Note that white had two options for controlling the a7 square, the King and dark squared Bishop. The black King tries to avoid the corner with 3…Kc8 and white checks with 4. Be6+. Notice that the dark squared Bishop on f6 keeps the black King from running away towards the h file. Always control potential opposition escape squares. The poor black King shuffles back over to b8 (4…Kb8) and gets hit with 5. Be5+ and the end is near! The black King if forced to a8 (5…Ka8) and white mates with 6. Bd5#.

With the Bishop pair you have to use your own King to help cut off the opposition King. Your Bishops will then corral the enemy King to the mating square but you need to be very careful when doing so because stalemate can be just a move away if you’re not observant. I recommend that you practice this type of mate, placing your King and two Bishops on their starting ranks and the opposition King towards the middle of the board. In the above examples, the pieces were placed in positions that allowed for a quick demonstration of the checkmate. In over the board play (real life), you won’t be as fortunate. Play through them because next week, we’re studying the Knight, Bishop and King against lone King. That’s a tough one. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

How Modern is Alekhine’s Defense?

This correspondence chess game was over before this section officially began. ICCF will post the pairings for server-based correspondence chess games two or three weeks before the sections officially begin. This correspondence chess game is one of several that I have completed at ICCF before the sections that those correspondence chess games were in officially started.

This win put me in temporary first place in this section and a later draw has kept me there so far.

My lower-rated opponent decided to gamble with a chess opening that is risky in Over the Board (OTB) chess and ill advised against a higher rated player in a correspondence chess game. After some research online I determined that the best way for White to play against Alekhine’s Defense is to go into either the Modern variation or the Exchange variation. I believe that this correspondence chess game went into the Modern variation.

I considered a sacrifice line that is in my analysis and decided against playing that in a correspondence chess game. However, I may play that in an OTB game against a lower rated opponent.

Mike Serovey

A Pleasant Opponent

“Ya gotta give squares to get squares.” – Bobby Fischer

A pleasant game with a pleasant opponent who did not grouse but sat down and attempted to analyze afterwards.

The only real cuteness in the game is Black’s 20… Qc5.

Jonathan and I in our chat afterwards disposed of some common misconceptions about openings.

  • The names mean nothing. Openings are a continuum of related positions.
  • Don’t spend much time memorizing lines. For the beginner, this is equivalent to missing the forest for the trees.
  • Focus on enduring characteristics of a position

In line with this latter, consider the Sicilian. Bronstein used to refer to the “3-row defenses”, where Black’s army is initially constrained to the first three rows. As opposed to the 4-row defenses, e.g., the Giuoco Piano, White must expend an extra move to make contact with the enemy. Provided Black’s setup in those three rows is flexible enough, White’s necessity of stretching out gives Black has enough time to counter White’s initiative and benefit from any holes White has left behind in his position by dint of his exertions towards the far side of the board.

Jacques Delaguerre

ICCF Olympiad 16 Postal Final

The ICCF Olympiad 16 Postal Final, which started in 2010, has just finished. The overall winners are the Czech Republic with a high score of 69% and 33.5/48 with an average start rating of 2619. Germany are second with 59%, 28.5/48 and 2572 and France are third with 55%, 26.5/48 and 2554.  Other teams finished in the order of Poland, Brazil, Israel, Slovakia, Sweden, Italy, USA, Ukraine, England and finally Finland. The winning Czech Republic team consisted of GM Roman Chytilek (2693) on Board 1, IM Jiri Dufek (2579) on Board 2, GM David Vrkoc (2607) on Board 3 and GM Jiri Vosahlik (2600) on Board 4.

England, with myself on Board 2, scored 42% and 20.5/48 which was the same as the USA and Ukraine. Considering we had the lowest average start rating it was a good result and we avoided last place. Our team consisted of SIM Russell Pegg (2440) on Board 1, myself on Board 2, IM Julian Corfield (2395) on Board 3 and SIM Ian Pheby (2248) on Board 4 with non-playing Captain Neil Limbert. This was the strongest tournament I have played with Category 13 on Board 1, Category 12 on Board 2, Category 11 on Board 3 and Category 9 on Board 4. We are all grateful for Captain Neil Limbert’s help and guidance throughout this marathon event which could well be the last time England play in a Postal Olympiad.

Of course postal chess can be very slow when compared to server chess and the final game, between our own SIM Russell Pegg and Dr Fritz Baumbach, has only just finished after 116 moves and almost six years of play!  Congratulations must go to Russell for drawing this game and securing third place on Board 1. This game and all other games can be viewed on the ICCF website at: –

I have to admit that I found the going tough and, although I had some good games, I never won any. My team mates, however, all won a game each against higher rated opposition and I will show Russell’s game against IM Livio Olivotto below.


John Rhodes

Exchanging Key Defenders (5)

This week’s example sees Petrosian make a surprising offer to exchange off his good knight for Black’s bad bishop. However, two factors make this the right decision:

1. The “bad bishop” on e6 is actually doing a very solid job of defending the weak pawn on d5 (bad bishops are frequently good defenders of weak pawns, as Mark Dvoretsky has pointed out)

2. After the exchange, the remaining white bishop is much stronger than the black knight. This is another example of the rule which governs all exchanges: look at what stays on the board, not what comes off.

Steve Giddins