Chess for Goldfish

Here’s a game played a couple of months ago between two of Richmond Junior Club’s less experienced members.

You’ll see a lot of typical mistakes. They exhibit the goldfish syndrome, thinking only in the moment, oblivious of what happened a few moves ago, they only look at part of the board, not the whole board, they miss backward diagonal captures and they fail to look ahead.

If the game remains simple, children at this level can give the impression of playing a decent game, but when things get complicated, as they did here, both players will make a lot of oversights.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Nc3 Bb4
4. Bb5 d6
5. d3 Bg4
6. Be3 a6
7. a3?

A typical mistake that this level where children are tempted to counter-attack instead of moving the threatened piece. Either Ba4 or Bxc6+ would have been fine.

7… Ba5?

Black misses his chance to win a piece with 7… Bxc3+ 8. bxc3 axb5. I’d seen this position while watching them playing so was particularly keen to go through the game afterwards. Both children were wide eyed with amazement at the idea that you could actually look one and a half moves ahead in this way.

8. Ba4 h6
9. h3 Bh5
10. b4 b5

This time it’s Black who prefers a counter-attack to moving his threatened bishop. ‘Copycat’ moves of this nature are very popular at lower levels of children’s chess.

11. Rb1

White chooses a seemingly random move. Instead he could have won a pawn: 11. Nxb5 axb5 12. Bxb5 Nge7 13. bxa5 Rxa5 14. a4.

11… Bb6

Black spots that his bishop is threatened.

12. Nd5?

But now both players seem to have forgotten that the white bishop is in danger. They both consider only the last move rather than looking at the whole board. Instead 12. Bb3 was equal.

12… Ba7?

Black doesn’t notice he can take the white bishop.

13. g4 Bg6
14. g5? hxg5

For the next few moves both players are looking only at the kingside where there’s quite a lot going on. Being able to scan the whole board is too hard for players at this level, but it’s an important lesson they’ll have to learn if they are going to make significant progress.

15. Bxg5? Nf6?

Black could win a piece here with 15… f6, when both white bishops are under attack.

16. Bh4

One of White’s problems is that he tends to play the occasional random and seemingly pointless move. When I asked him why he told me it was because (and lower level primary school age players often think like this) ‘if he takes my bishop I’ll take his rook’.

16… Bh5

In fact Black can, and should, take the rook: 16… Rxh4 17. Nxh4 Nxd5 18. exd5 Qxh4 19. dxc6 (19. Qf3 Nd4 20. Qg3 Qh5 21. Qg4 bxa4) 19… Qxf2#. At this level, though, you can’t expect players to see this far ahead.

But this move is also good, as was 16… bxa4 (yes, it’s still there and still nobody’s noticed). White’s last few moves have just created weaknesses.

17. Rg1

White wants to threaten the g-pawn, but now Black can win most easily by playing Nd4 when White can’t defend the pinned knight on f3.

I was watching the game again at this point. Black picked up his king intending to castle, but then changed his mind (rightly so because 17… O-O 18. Bxf6 is winning for White), and panicked. 17… Kf8 was winning but instead he played…

17… Kd7?
18. Rxg7

Undermining the defence of the pinned knight on f6. Suddenly White’s right back in the game. As it happens, Black’s best move is to play 18… Nxd5 when he gets a lot of pieces for the queen. At this point, though, Black took a look round the board – and suddenly noticed that he could capture the bishop on a4.

18… bxa4?

Unfortunately for Black this is exactly the wrong time to capture the bishop.
White can now win by playing the simple 19. Nxf6+. Fortunately for Black, though, White played…

19. Rxf7+??

Another typical mistake, not just at this level. It’s often said that backward diagonal moves are the easiest to overlook and here White does just that.

19… Bxf7
20. Nxf6+ Ke6?

Black’s a rook up and just has to keep his king safe. At this level children tend to play the first legal move they see when they’re in check rather than considering the alternatives. 20… Kc8 is the way to go here. Ke6 looks – and is – very scary.

21. Nd5

The position is, not unexpectedly, too complicated for both players. This move loses because Black can take twice on h4 after which he’s threatening mate (don’t forget that bishop lurking on a7). Instead White could win by playing 21. Ng5+ Kxf6 22. Qf3+ (discovered checks with the knight win the queen, but not the game) when he’s a rook down but has a winning attack.

21… Rxh4
22. Nxh4 Qxh4
23. Nxc7+ Kd7
24. Nxa8

Overlooking Black’s mate threat but by now Black was winning anyway.

24… Qxf2#

Richard James


Cramped Positions

When we first learn how to play chess, we study open games as opposed to closed games. In an open game, there are plenty of available squares on the board, making piece placement easier. Long distance attackers, such as the Bishop, Rook and Queen rule the positional roost. In a closed game, there is less space available, so our long distance pieces can’t openly control the board. Our Knights and pawns become the positional weapons of choice. Open games lead to more tactical play while closed games lead to more positional play. The beginner, more often than not, becomes lost when their opponent steers the game toward a closed position. In closed games, the center of the board is often cramped which leaves beginners wondering what to do. Here are some simple suggestions for un-cramping a closed position.

When faced with a closed or cramped position, you have to create a plan for relieving the pressure. Many beginners end up further cramping their position because they make moves that avoid exchanges, thinking that if they can further close the position down, their opponent will eventually have to give in and make a move that costs them material. Wrong! If you’re playing an opponent who has experience with closed or cramped positions they’re going to, as the saying goes, give you enough rope and watch you hang yourself. Remember, you are used to open positions while your opponent may be used to closed or cramped positions. This is the type of position they like! Therefore, you have to have a plan, which can be difficult for those not used to this type of situation. There are four ideas you can employ to relieve the cramped or closed position.

First, consider removing or trading opposition pieces that are cramping your position. Bishops, for example, are at their best in open positions where they have great mobility. However, if they have no room in which to move, they’re “bad Bishops.” On the other side of the coin, because Knights can jump over other pieces, they work extremely well in closed or cramped positions. If your opponent has “good Knights” and you have “bad Bishops,” see if you can find a way to trade you immobile Bishops for your opponent’s mobile Knights. While Knights and Bishops have the same relative value, this value changes depending on the type of position they’re in. Trading a bad piece for a good piece will help to unclog the position, opening things up. The better a piece’s mobility, the better that piece is!

Second, use pieces of lesser value to push back pieces of greater value that stand in your way. This is a realm in which pawns are King! Because pawns have the lowest relative value, a pawn attacking a minor or major piece is (in most cases but not all) going to force that piece off of its square. The same holds true with minor pieces (Knights and Bishops) attacking major pieces (Rooks and Queens). However, you must take care when attacking in such a way. This type of attack is only completely successful if it drives the targeted piece away without weakening your position. If you successfully drive the piece in question away, only to create a position that allows your opponent to win material or checkmate your King on the next move, you might reconsider your attack. Don’t be discouraged by this last statement! In closed or cramped positions, it usually takes more than one opposition move to ruin your game.

Third, consider attacking your opponent’s weakest point on the board, which can be difficult for beginners to determine. The easiest way for the beginner to find the weakest point in their opponent’s position is to look at each opposition pawn and piece and determine the number of defenders that pawn or piece has. Since attacking the King is the name of the game, start by looking at the pawns and pieces defending the opponent’s King. However, there are often weaknesses elsewhere that can provide an avenue for attack. Always count the number of attackers you have and compare it to the number of defenders your opponent has. Remember, you’ll want to have more attackers than opposition defenders.

Fourth, Attack the opposition’s space advantage straight or head on! When experienced chess players navigate closed or cramped positions, the scales are a bit more balanced. By this, I mean that both players have a more even positions, cramped as it may be. When beginners face a closed or cramped position, they are more often than not playing someone who knows this type of position better. This means, the beginner’s pieces are cramped together with no room to breath while their opponent’s pieces have a bit more in the way of mobility. This means the beginner has to bit the bullet and attack. However, you can’t just attack any piece! Examine the position and look for the piece that controls the most space. When I refer to space, I’m talking about space on your side of the board! Think about where you’d like to put your pieces and determine which opposition piece prohibits this. That’s your target. You might consider exchanging a piece of great value for an opposition pieces of lesser value if doing so gives your other pieces much needed breath room.

I have my students learn a bit about closed positions early on, not so they can start playing closed games out of the gate but so they can recognize openings or sequences of moves that lead to closed or cramped positions. Recognizing that a position is heading towards becoming closed helps you prepare for such a position. If your opponent is trying to close or cramp a position, you should be trying to keep it open. If you find yourself in a cramped position, try using my four suggestions to open that position up. Here’s a game by a gentleman who loved closed positions. Enjoy!


Chess Improvement Takes A While

Chess improvement takes a while, just as you can’t master the violin overnight. The 10,000 hours rule, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell still seems reasonable for chess, despite studies that show it may not be universally applicable. Ability counts as well of course, but there’s no substitute for dedication.

So why is it that most people look for short cuts, despite the evidence to the contrary? I suspect there’s a lot of hope in this, plus the fact that most adults struggle to find time for pursuits such as chess. It tends to be a lot easier to find time when you’re young and don’t have other responsibilities.

Of course it’s possible to study the right things more efficiently, and I do believe we can shave a good percentage of that 10,000 hours away. It’s also possible to make good progress with less time than that, as long as the focus is on what counts. This was one of my main motivations in creating my Tiger Chess web site, I wanted to shorten the process for serious improvers.

How long does it take? Well for people who can dedicate an hour or so a day to chess it’s possible to notch up a thousand hours in three years. If those three years feature a focus on the right things (tactics, strategy and endgames) then quite substantial progress is possible. Who does this? Not many, which is of course why it’s the route to an edge. Generally speaking adult players spend very little quality time actually studying the game, they are far more likely to chat about it online and buy another openings book.

So what does my web site offer? Well I’ve just launched a 160 week endgame course to add to the 160 week strategy course that has been running for a while. Plus there’s a monthly clinic for members games, book recommendations, articles etc etc. But be warned, there’s not a single promise of how you can become X points stronger in Y amount of time, in other words a sales guru’s nightmare!

Not that this will distract me…

Nigel Davies


Tolle Lege

I’ve still got many pages to read in Secrets of Rook Endings and it was in my backpack. Nonetheless, on the way to the airport, I stopped into the bookstore hoping for some more entertaining chess reading to enjoy in small doses in the cattle pen of modern jet airliner economy class.

I found what I was looking for in the form of My Best Games of Chess 1905-1954 by Savielly Tartakower, recently (November, 2014) reissued in a “21st Century Edition”. Aside from an introduction by Andy Soltis and an editor’s preface by Taylor Kingston, the enhancements to the out-of-print classic are described as follows:

— Combining and collating both volumes and indices into a coherent whole
— Conversion to figurine algebraic notation from English descriptive
— Modern opening nomenclature and ECO codes
— Additional diagrams
— American spelling and punctuation
— Explanations for Tartakower’s Latin sayings
— Correction of typographical errors in notation and text
— Modern annotation symbols

Additionally, there is a downloadable PDF of analytical notes prepared in computer-assisted fashion correcting Tartakower’s analysis. Tarakower spent 40 years in the world top 20 and opined that “a chess game is usually a fairy tale of 1001 mistakes”. The analytical notes are themselves supplemented by the editor’s interesting and revealing observations about Tartakower’s life, career, writings, and annotation style, the latter essentially consisting of constant frantic authorship in order to cover the gambling debts that devoured his livelihood.

This is certainly the book of the year for chessplayers who base their style on comprehensive familiarity with the panorama of chess development over the centuries. It is eminently readable, having been penned by the premier epigrammatist of the game. It is still useful: the games in Bird’s Opening (A03) and the grandmaster’s eponymous variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined  (D58-D59) are alone worth the purchase for the student who cannot be satisfied with playing modern move orders without understanding at a combinatorial level the why of it all.

This masterpiece by Tartakower, who was, if not the heartbeat, certainly one of the arteries of hypermodern chess (he himself coined the term), is historically indispensable and highly recommended by this satisfied reader.

Jacques Delaguerre


Teaching Kids Through Classical Games (4)

This gem throws some lights on the difference between fake development and real development.
The checkmate Patterns covered are:
1. Queen on h6, bishop on b1-h8 diagonal and no defender of f7.
2. Queen h6 and rook along the g file

I am aiming to present this game only to show how it can be used to teach kids:

Tarrasch, S – Mieses, J [C10]
Berlin, 1916

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Nf3 Ngf6 6.Bd3 Be7 7.0–0 Nxe4 8.Bxe4 Nf6

Q : Is it good to exchange a light square bishop for a knight?
A : No, it is a good Bishop and very active one, compared to its counterpart.

9.Bd3 b6

Q : Is it right time to play b6 in order to develop bishop?
A : No it is not the right time to play b6 as now White can play very energetically, hindering the development of black’s light square bishop and castling. The immediate 0–0 was better.


Beginners have been advised to not to move same piece twice in the opening. But in chess there are no universal rules, even though you can create many rules for better playing. Similarly any Bishop move here would be development for the sake of development. However, with the knight on e5 White is able to make Black’s development very difficult.


10…Bb7 11.Bb5+ Kf8 costs Black his right to castle.

11.Nc6 Qd6 12.Qf3

Q: Can Black play Bb7 ?
A: No, because Nxe7+ wins a piece. Thus Black is forced to play Bd7 and now we can see that with careful play White manages to take the driving seat.

12…Bd7 13.Nxe7+ Qxe7 14.Bg5 Rac8 15.Rfe1

Q : What is the idea behind Re1?
A : A rook lift. Via this rook lift white brings one more piece into the attack, a very important idea to remember.

15…Rfe8 16.Qh3 Qd6

If 16…g6 17.Qh4 Kg7 18.Re4 or 16…h6 17.Bxh6 gxh6 18.Qxh6, and Black is paralysed.

17.Bxf6 gxf6

Q : Would it be good to play Qxh7 or there is something better? Try to see the reasoning behind Black’s Qd6 move.
A : It is good but there is a much better move in Qh6. This is because black’s idea is to find shelter on e7 and try to generate some counter play on g and h file. Black is also trying to protect the g7 square with Qxd4.


This is typical mating pattern, a queen on h6 and bishop on b1–h7 diagonal with no defender of f7. For example 18…a6 19.Bxh7+ Kh8 20.Bg6+ Kg8 21.Qh7+ Kf8 22.Qxf7#, which is a pattern you should study more closely. Coaches should provide more examples on the same theme.

18…f5 19.Re3 Qxd4 20.c3

In order to prevent checkmate the Black queen has to stay on the a1–h8 diagonal. But now there is no good square to stay on so Black has to sacrifice the queen. Instead he choose to throw in the towel.

Better was 20.Rg3+ Kh8 21.c3 Qe5 22.f4 and its over.


Ashvin Chauhan


Experimenting With the Slav Defense, Chameleon Variation, Part 1

This chess game was one of my first attempts at playing the Slav Defense, Chameleon Variation. I saw a YouTube video in which GM Leonid Kritz advised playing this opening, so I decided to give it a try. So far, the results have been mixed. That video can be viewed here:

I won this chess game and that result gave me third place out of seven. My opponent is currently in last place. That third place is temporary as there are still games in progress in that section.

The first four moves of this variation are typical of the Slav Defense, but playing a6 on move number 4 allowed me to delay or disguise which variation I was going to transpose into. It seems to offer some degree of flexibility.

By move number nine, Black is lagging a little in piece development but has a space advantage on the Queenside. On move number 11, I (Black) moved a Knight for the second time before I castled. I do not normally move a piece twice in the opening unless I have a good reason to, such as the piece is being attacked. I no longer remember why I did here.

By move number 14, I was trading pieces in the Center and attacking the White Queen on the c file. By move number 20 we got the queens and rooks off the board and I am down a pawn. I continued moving my pawns forward and trading off material. Normally, I try to trade pieces when I am up material and pawns when I am down material. In this chess game I did a little of both.

Once we got into the endgame I centralized my King. It is important to bring my King into the Center once the queens and rooks are off the board because then the King is less subject to attacks and can become a supporting piece in an attack on my opponent’s material.

On move number 28 I am still down a pawn and my opponent helps me by offering to trade pawns. Of course I accept the trade even though it gives my opponent a passed pawn that is also isolated.

On move number 30, White begins to centralize his King. On move number 34 I am still down a pawn and then I sacrificed more material for a chance to queen a pawn first. White takes the free pawn but not the Bishop. On move number 36 White blunders and then he can’t stop me from queening the passed a pawn.

On move number 38 I decided to keep the White Knight tied down to defending a1, the queening square, and I also needed to prevent White from queening his own passed pawn.

On move number 41, I pulled my Bishop back to f6 so that it could help me to stop White from queening one of his two passed pawns. I kept my Bishop on the a1 – h8 diagonal for as long as I could.

Then, I found that I needed to keep my Bishop on the a3 – f8 diagonal. Although my opponent could have lasted for several more moves, he resigned in a position in which he had no good moves left to play.

Mike Serovey


Keep It Simple, Stupid (2)

The following position is a very quiet position. There is nothing spectacular to find.

White has a slight grip on the position. But how can he make a move which squeezes Black just slightly more?

These are the sorts of moves which are very difficult for amateur players to spot. What move would Black like to play to ease his position slightly, and how can we as White stop it?

The only clue is that we should look at the worst placed pieces for each side.

If you find the move that Karpov as White played in this position, consider yourself to have a fine feeling for so-called ‘simple’ positional play.

The solution to last Monday’s problem was that Black squelches his opponents counterplay by playing Qc6.

The main variation is 1…Qc6 2 Qb5 Qxb5 3 cxb5 Kxb3 4 e4 Kxa4 5 e5 Kxb5 and wins.

Here is this week’s problem. White to move.

Steven Carr


My Favourite Things

“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.” Jolly nice they are too, but they’re not MY favourite things.

I like to tell my students that my three favourite things are chocolate, especially plain chocolate, ice cream, especially chocolate ice cream and … pawn endings.

So imagine my excitement when I saw this position on the board while watching some games at Richmond Junior Chess Club the other day.

It was White’s move in a game between two of our (relatively) stronger players, round about 1200 strength. RJCC, sadly, isn’t what it was 20 or 30 years ago.

Let’s have a look at how the game continued.

It’s immediately clear to any experienced player that, with the kings on e3 and e5, White, to move, will lose, whereas Black, to move, will not be able to make progress. A classic case of the OPPOSITION. The players both told me after the game they’d heard of ‘the opposition’ but clearly White, at any rate, didn’t actually understand it. This is why you need worksheets to test that children have actually understood the lessons at a higher level.

Players of this strength tend to think statically rather than dynamically, which is why they’re stuck at 1200 strength. If you’re only thinking statically it will be natural to play Ke3. You know you want to defend your pawn so you move your king next to it. If you’re applying dynamic thinking to chess positions you’ll be looking ahead, calculating everything that moves, and then you’ll see the problem.

So White can draw by playing Ke2 (or Kf3). He needs to be able to play Ke3 when Black plays Ke5 so he needs to stay in contact with the e3 square as long as Black is in contact with the e5 square.

White, after some thought, played 1. Ke3? and Black of course replied with Ke5. Now White realised he had a problem and tried 2. Kf3 Kd4 3. e5. This is a good attempt, forcing Black to make a decision about how to capture the pawn. He chose to take with the king. When I asked him why after the game he told me he wanted to keep his pawns together. This seems to be to be a case of misunderstanding basic principles. Generally speaking you want to keep your pawns together to make it easier for you to create a passed pawn (you’d rather have f and g pawns v g pawn than f and h pawns v g pawn, for instance), but if you have the chance to create a passed pawn in the ending you should generally seize it with both hands. After 3… fxe5 Black wins very easily. Play it out for yourself if you’re not sure. Instead, 3… Kxe5? left White having to make a decision about which way his king should move.

Again, if you understand the opposition you’ll make the right decision and play Ke3, which, as long as you know what you’re doing, will lead to a draw. Of course you have to know exactly how to defend after 3. Ke3 f5 4. gxf5 Kxf5 but this is very basic knowledge which all competitive players of any age should know back to front. But if you don’t understand the opposition and you’re thinking statically rather than dynamically you may well do what White did in the game and play Kg3 instead. He explained to me after the game that he wanted to be near his pawn to defend it. This time Black made no mistake and the game continued 4. Kg3? Ke4 5. Kg2 Kf4 6. Kh3 Kf3 (you need to understand that in this sort of position the white pawn can be attacked from two squares but only defended from one square) 7. Kh2 Kxg4 and Black soon obtained a queen and delivered checkmate.

So much to learn from such a simple position. You can see why pawn endings are among my favourite things.

Meanwhile, you might be wondering what happened to my adventures with 1… e5. Well, I’ve had a few more blacks without facing 1. e4 again. I did reach a pawn ending, although not a very interesting one, in my most recent game, though.

Although there are lots of pieces on the board here both players should be thinking about a potential pawn ending as either player can trade queens and White can, whenever he chooses, initiate a mass exchange on d5.

I had the black pieces and had to make a decision in this position where White has just played 26. c4. At this point we probably both realised that any potential pawn ending would be drawn. I decided to trade queens at the point and centralise my king so we continued 26… Qxf4 27. gxf4 Kf7 28. Kf2 Ke7. Now White can continue to maintain the tension but instead chose to trade on d5. I then had to decide how many pieces to trade off. I could perhaps have kept one pair of rooks on the board, although it’s unlikely that the result would have been different. Instead I went for the pawn ending: 29. cxd5 Bxd5 30. Bxd5 Rxd5 31. Rxd5 Rxd5 32. Rxd5 exd5. It’s well known that this type of pawn ending is drawn. Black can never activate his king because of White’s protected passed pawn and likewise White cannot activate his king because of Black’s queenside pawn majority. We continued 33. Ke2 b5 34. Kd3 a5 35. a3 b4 36. axb4 axb4 37. Kc2 c4 (The only move to draw. Black has to threaten to create a passed pawn. 37… Ke6 38. Kb3 is winning for White.) 38. h4 h5 39. Kd2 Ke6 40. Ke2 Ke7 and my draw offer was accepted.

Richard James


External Pattern Recognition Exercises

Parents often enroll their kindergarten aged students in a chess class with the idea of introducing their children to logic and reasoning skills early on. When teaching children of such a young age, conventional chess teaching approaches have to be reconsidered. I have one class that is made up of both Kindergarten and First Grade students only. I’ve had this class for roughly nine months and we’ve made some remarkable progress in the development of their chess skills. One technique I’ve used to help develop their chess playing is external pattern recognition exercises. These exercise have worked so well that I’m recommended them to older students as well.

Let me start by explaining the difference between internal and external pattern recognition in terms of my curriculum. Internal pattern recognition is finding or seeing patterns on the chessboard during a game. While this is a goal all chess players strive for, it should and is strengthened by external pattern recognition exercises. External pattern recognition exercises take place far from the chessboard, often in within our daily lives. External pattern recognition exercises lay a solid foundation for recognizing patterns on the chessboard. By employing these external exercises, your ability to recognize specific patterns on the chessboard (internal) will increase at a faster rate.

Because I teach students of all ages, I have to create external pattern recognition exercises appropriate to specific age groups. While all the exercises work well for older students, very young students require exercises that they can comprehend. If they can’t comprehend an exercise, they won’t get anything useful out of it. Therefore, I’ll start with exercises for the youngest of my students.

The idea of pattern recognition can be completely foreign to a Kindergarten or First Grade student. Thus, the definition I give them is “things that match.” I have my young students create a simple list of things they see in their daily lives that match, such as a pair of socks or four tires on a car. This is external pattern recognition (away from the chessboard), Each week, my young students give me their list of things that match. We then look at a chessboard, set up to play a game. I ask them to show me everything that matches on the chessboard, such all the White pawns, all the Black pawns and so on. At this point, I ask them to create a new list, this time looking specifically at nature for examples. When looking at a grouping of similar trees, is there one that has more branches than the others or is leaning in the opposite direction than the others? We increase the scope of their pattern recognition with each passing week. We always go back to the chessboard where I ask them to further explore patterns such as the diagonals, ranks and files. This continues throughout their chess classes for at least six months (no matter how good their chess playing gets).

For older students, I use card games to help build their pattern recognition skills. We start with Solitaire, namely the computer program version of the game. The student plays a three card draw version of Solitaire rather than the single card at a time version. The reason for this is simple. While trying to match the appropriate cards, they have to keep track cards they need within the three card set they’re trying to play. I recommend playing this card game for ten minutes each day because it helps to focus the mind towards recognizing specific patterns. If you want to try this, set the game options so it isn’t timed. Then, once you get used to playing it on a regular basis, use the timer. Solitaire can be an excellent way to enhance pattern recognition.

For adult students, I recommend playing draw poker, specifically the apps designed for tablets. Draw poker has some useful advantages for the novice adult chess player. First, it teaches pattern recognition in a very visual way. You essentially have five cards on the screen and are given the choice to hold those cards or to exchange them for new cards from the deck (exchanging one to five cards per hand). The app always gives you the odds of specific hands such as a pair, three of a kind, four of a kind, etc. Another advantage to using this draw poker game for training is that it forces you to play more scientifically, ultimately (if you’re playing correctly) taking less chances. How does draw poker playing apply to chess?

I spoke of wishful thinking in my last article. Wishful thinking is hoping your opponent will make the move you want them to make as opposed to the best move they can make independent of your ideas. In draw poker, for example, novice players will play a pair of twos rather than hold onto a Ace. If you look at the odds chart that comes with the game, you’ll see that it’s better to hold the Ace. While it is tempting to play the pair, hoping the computer program behind the app will bend to your will, it’s wishful thinking!

Speaking of programming, I introduce my older students to the idea of playing the program’s algorithm, the mathematical instructions that tells the computer how to respond to the card hand you play. Because this version of poker is based on a mathematical formula, it will respond to specific situations in a calculated way (it’s programming), not just responding to your card hand based on odds. You play the algorithm by noting patterns in the hands being played. For instance, if you win two hands, one with a pair of Queens, the next with three Queens, holding a Queen in the next or third hand dealt might not work. The computer program behind the app is designed to respond in a specific way to the cards you play. I have been researching the algorithm behind a specific draw poker app with a group of students and we have been able to win quite a bit by playing the program not just the odds.

The point to all this is to use external methods to improve your pattern recognition because you can literally find patterns everywhere you go and the more you study patterns off of the chessboard, the better your pattern recognition becomes on the chessboard. Games such as Scrabble are also wonderful for pattern recognition. Try some of these exercises and you’ll not only improve your chessboard pattern recognition but see life in a more interesting way. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson


Manoeuvering the London System

When I lost in my first experience of the London System it was extremely unpleasant. It was like being in the grip of a slow squeezing octopus, one schooled in the ocean ruled by Petrosian and other Gods residing in Positional Parnassus.

Used to a fighting K-Indian middle game, here I was in a rather mild and boring middle game going nowhere, with no real plan. The cause of all this anxiety is that in  the London System White seeks to avoid the usual pawn structures and levers; instead plays simple chess; developing without worry over a possible outpost for black on his weak black squares, and playing for incremental stalking into the center, with a pawn structure similar to the Colle System. (White Pawns on c3,d4,e3, with the added benefit of getting his QB out from behind the pawn wall, and tucked in at h2).

Anyone who has played a weak black player using the Colle System understands the ease of obtaining a middle game with a plan for attack on the King Side. I think the analogy holds.

So this week I wanted to present two London system games in which Black found ways to counter. I was particularly interested in Black attempts early in the use of the London System vs. later games. It turned out, their plans are quite similar, and hope you find them instructive in playing against this quiet but dangerous system for White, when you are a K-Indian proponent.

The search for these games was conducted using Chess King, and the analysis is through the Hiarcs Chess Engine.

It’s always interesting to see how the engine will find alternative moves and note errors humans make. Even games fraught with errors has instructive moments, as these games attest.

Ed Rosenthal