Really? A Battle of the Sexes

If you follow chess news around the world, you may have read a recent article about whether or not men are better at chess than women. Of course, the article created a bit of an uproar. The article’s author, a person I respect highly as a chess player, failed to provide any scientific evidence to back the claims being made that men make better chess players than women. If you are going to make a claim that men may be better than women at chess, please provide some sort of support or at the least some personal experience regarding the issue at hand. It reminded me of a journalist who interviewed a general about trench warfare in World War One. The general painted a rosy picture of the situation, making it out to be a bit of a camping adventure. If you really want to know about life in the trenches, ask the poor soldiers who had to live there in a world filled with death and decay, not the generals who spent their days and nights in luxurious homes miles from the front line carnage! I say this because I’m in the trenches of chess education, day after day, and have some experience regarding the issue of men versus women in chess.

Here are a few thoughts that ran through my head while reading the article in question. While I didn’t do any scientific research regarding those thoughts, I still think they raise some valid points.

First of all, if you compare the number of men playing chess to the number of women playing chess, you’ll find the number of male players greatly overshadows the number of female players. You would need more even numbers to make a real statistical comparison. For example, if over six hundred million people play chess worldwide (a number used when numerically describing the popularity of the game) and the number of male players to female players is a percentage greater than seventy percent, you can’t form a sound statistical model to base an argument on. You’d need a more even number to determine whether men are better chess players than women and you’d need a serious scientific study to back up such a claim. I haven’t seen such a study, have you?

Then there are the Polgar sisters. If you follow chess’s rich and interesting history, you’ll know that the Polgar sisters are extremely talented titled players. In fact, so strong are their talents that they could easily beat the majority of all the male chess players currently playing chess. This isn’t to say that they’d beat every single titled player in the world but they’d beat the majority of male chess players, who are not titled players. A trio sisters against, let’s say five hundred million male players, (a conservative estimate), crushing those male players (if given the chance to play them). I’d say that puts a slight dent in the argument that men are better chess players. Oh, did I mention the plethora of other titled women chess players who could equally crush our non-titled male players?

In my own work as a chess instructor and coach, I have found that my female students tend to do better when learning the game than their male counterparts. They tend to focus more on the lessons and immediately apply what they’ve learned to their games. I am a huge supporter of women in chess and work very hard to ensure that more young ladies learn to play the game. It can be difficult for them, not because there is a intellectual difference between the male and female brain, but because it’s a male dominated game and this seems to be the root of the problem.

In any given chess class that I teach, the ratio of male to female students tends to be eight to two at best, meaning that eighty percent of the class is male and twenty percent is female. Often, my young ladies will feel a bit out of place because they can sometimes be the only female in the class. Because of this, I work very hard to make them feel part of the group. I also ask them how they feel about being only young lady in the class. When they tell me they feel a “bit weird,” I tell them that rather than feel weird, feel like a hero because they are blazing the trail for other young ladies to take up chess. I also ask them if they think chess should be dominated by men? Of course, they say no! I tell them that they have the chance to change this and while they might feel uncomfortable at first, being in a male dominated situation, they can be part of chess history by turn the tide and becoming an example. My young ladies are true trail blazers and heroes, at least in my opinion.

One of the things that drew me to chess was the idea that we are a global community that doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, liberal or conservative, Christian or Muslim, male or female. We gather at the chessboard because of our love of the game. To make a claim regarding one group being better at chess than another is a direct attack against the cohesive nature of our global chess family. I take offense at the idea that men are better chess players than women!

Seriously, chess is a game that requires certain intellectual skills, meaning that one needs a working brain to process the information presented on the chessboard. Skills, such as pattern recognition, are not more developed in male brains. Both sexes have equal claim to the intellectual skills required to play chess.

The real issue at hand is the fact that you cannot claim that men are superior to women when it comes to chess and not have any proof to back it up. I know plenty of women who crush their male opponents, my wife being one of those women. Believe me, it wasn’t a sunny day at Patterson Manor when Mrs. Patterson got wind of that article. I plan on going back to more instructive articles next week as long as certain members of the chess community don’t end up in the news again. Here’s a game by a woman who is beyond brilliant when it comes to chess. She is a role model for my young ladies! Enjoy and remember, chess is for everyone.

Hugh Patterson

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I tried to Stack the Odds in My Favour

This is one of my correspondence chess games that was played on the ICC Server. My opponent is this game is from Australia. Whenever I suspect that my opponent will play some anti-Sicilian line I will sometimes alter the move order and play a Franco Sicilian. When they think that I am going to play the French Defense and then I throw in c5 on my second move many of the less experienced chess players will get confused. This usually works only once against each opponent. Sometimes, I have had some difficulty against the better prepared players. Eventually, we ended up with some odd Benoni variation.

I wasted a move when White kicked my Bishop and then I realized a move later that I needed to capture White’s Knight on f3.  I dislike trading bishops for knights, but sometimes I need to.

White tries to get some pressure on the e file by doubling up his rooks,  but I mange to reduce some of that pressure by trading off some pieces.

It took me 20 moves to reposition my pieces and then to get a fianchettoed position.

White managed to keep control of the e file for quite a while, so I opened up the b file and grabbed that file with my rook. That gave me some counter play. After trading off queens neither side had any real advantage.

After trading off some pawns I ended up with two isolated but passed pawns on the Queenside versus a passed pawn for White on the d file. After more captures it was my passed pawns on the Queenside versus White’s passed pawns in the Center. I then set up a clever exchange of bishops that left us with just one passed pawn each. However I dropped my last pawn and I ended up in a King and Rook endgame in which White had the only pawn left on the board.

Once we got into the endgame tablebase I convinced White that the position was even and he agreed to a draw.

Mike Serovey

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White to Play and Win ….. At Last!

Having already drawn the first of our two games against my lower rated opponent with Black, I was keen to do better with the White pieces. My Hertfordshire team, ‘Eight of Hearts’, needed the points as did my own rating! Since the widespread use of computer assistance it has been increasingly difficult to get any wins in Correspondence Chess!

As far as move eighteen I thought the game was reasonably level, although my opponent now gives me a passed e-pawn for nothing. I suppose he thought that I would now have three isolated pawns against his one. The diagram position shows that after thirty moves my position is looking quite good, although I need some kind of breakthrough to make progress. See if you can find the best continuation.

Yes, White’s 31st move is not so difficult to see, although not so clear to some computer programs who would prefer Re2 or Rb4. Of course, Black would have been better to play 33…Rexe6 to give back the exchange, although I doubt if that would have affected the result. I did enjoy my move 41.Qe8, leaving my queen en prise for the remainder of the game.

John Rhodes

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Teaching kids Through Classical Games (8)

Mayet,C – Anderssen,A
Berlin New York, 1851

This game demonstrates dangerous attack against castled king using h file.

1. e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5

The Spanish Game.
Q: I always ask my students what White is threatening.
A: Most of the time answer is “to win the e5 pawn”, but we all know that it is not a real threat. For example… 3…a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.Nxe5 Qd4 wins the pawn back.

3…Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.Bxc6 dxc6 6.0–0

The pawn still can’t be taken as e4 is hanging too.

6…Bg4

The purpose of this move is to protect the e5 pawn whilst bringing a fresh piece into the action. Remember the you should try to mobilise your forces as quickly as possible in the opening phase.

7.h3 h5

Q: What is idea behind such a sacrifice? Is it worth it?
A: The idea is to open the h-file for Black’s rook on h8 and to get his queen to h4. It looks like a very dangerous attack but it is not because of 8. hxg4 hxg4 9. d4. Note that the best way to fight against a wing attack is to attack in the center, particularly when the opponent’s king is still in the center.

8.hxg4 hxg4 9.Nxe5??

After this you are invited to find the winning continuation for Black. Instead 9.d4 gxf3 10.dxc5 Nxe4 11.Qxd8+ is better for white

9…g3??

A gross blunder. Black can with the game with 9…Nxe4 when the threat is …Qh4. After 10.Qxg4
how can you win White’s queen?

10.d4 Nxe4

Here Mayet missed hxg3, which is winning for White and the simplest way to stop …Qh4.

11.Qg4??

Can you see a trick that wins the queen?

11…Bxd4

Not accurate but still winning. 11…gxf2+ 12.Rxf2 Rh1+ 13.Kxh1 Nxf2+ 14.Kg1 Nxg4 was better than the text move.

12. Qxe4 Bxf2+ followed by checkmate in few moves.

0–1

Ashvin Chauhan

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A Five Pawn Attack Against The London System

Here we end our series of games of the London System.

In this game Black does two strategic things – he fianchettoed his queen bishop and also moved his Queen to e8; and as as seen in previous games you normally do one or the other, but perhaps not both.

By move 20 Black has 5 pawns abreast marching into the White Camp. By move 30 the tactics resulting from threats around White’s King forced a wide crack in the White Resistance.

Notes:
Category 20 is an Elo rating range of 2726–2750; one of the highest rating Category Tournaments.
Between 2009 and 2015 the score of these two giants – 14 games together – is tied at 4 to 4, with 6 draws (according to chessgames.com).

Ed Rosenthal

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Zugzwang

Often your opponent is defending an endgame, and he has arranged his pawns and pieces on just the right squares to defend against each and every threat you may have.

However, if it is his move, he will have to move a pawn or a piece away from its current position and so weaken his own position – sometimes fatally. This state of affairs is called ‘Zugzwang’ and sometimes it is the only way to win an endgame.

In this week’s problem, White uses Zugzwang to break down the resistance of Black. How can White to move win the game?

The solution to last Monday’s problem is that White plays 1 Qe5+ Bxe5 2 Bxc3+ Bxc3 3 Kxc2 Be1 4 Kd3 Bxf2 5 Ke4 and draws the game as Black will only have a Bishop and a King left.

Steven Carr

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Remembering Colin Crouch

I was very sad to hear of the recent death of English IM Dr Colin Crouch at the age of 58.

Colin was one of the most popular members of the English chess community. He was not just a strong player but also a highly respected author and a very successful junior chess coach.

We all know chess players with no interest at all in life outside the 64 squares. Colin wasn’t one of those. He was extremely well-read and knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects including history and politics (he had been a member of the Labour Party). His doctoral thesis was on the economics of unemployment in Britain. He was blogging on politics and history as well as chess up to a week before his death.

We also know strong players who consider it beneath their dignity to talk to anyone with a rating under 2200. Colin wasn’t one of those either. He was happy to talk to anyone at any time, as witnessed by his dedication to coaching young children in Harrow and Pinner.

Colin had been in poor health since suffering a major stroke in 2004 which robbed him of much of his eyesight. On my shelves I found two books, both published by Everyman Chess, about his games after returning to competitive chess. Why We Lose At Chess is essentially a puzzle book based on his games during the 2006-07 season. Analyse Your Chess is a collection of his games played between Spring 2009 and early 2010. Both books are instructive, with lucid and detailed analysis of his games and brutal honesty about his mistakes. But more than that, they’re intensely moving about how he came to terms with his visual handicap and other health issues caused by his stroke.

But the book I got most pleasure from was the Hastings 1895 Centenary Book (Waterthorpe Information Services), co-written by Colin Crouch and Kean Haines. The original Hastings 1895 book (every home should have one) featured all the tournament games annotated by the participants, but, strangely by today’s standards, they didn’t annotate their own games. Crouch and Haines re-annotated the games through modern eyes, providing a fascinating perspective on how a leading contemporary player and writer viewed the way chess was played a century ago.

I knew Colin for forty years, but we were acquaintances rather than close friends. We met twice over the board, the first time at the London Chess Festival in 1975, one of my better tournaments (perhaps I’ll show you the games some other time), where an exciting rook ending led to a draw. We crossed swords again in 1992, on top board in a Thames Valley League match between Richmond B and Pinner A. This time my ill-judged central break led to a speedy defeat.

Two games against more challenging opposition, from consecutive rounds of the 1991 Krumbach Open:

Richard James

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The Power of the Threat

While executing an attack or promoting a pawn can lead to a winning game, beginners often do so because they think that action (attacking or promoting) is more powerful than the threat of action. Taking action, such as launching a successful attack against your opponent or promoting a pawn, certainly can lead to victory. However, sometimes just the threat of such actions can have a greater influence on the course of the game in the long run. An attack can fizzle out and a passed pawn can be captured. However, a good threat can create long term problems for your opponent, stalling their plans while they deal with yours!

Typically, the beginning chess player only looks at moves that lead to something concrete or immediate, such as employing a fork to win material or getting a pawn to its promotion square to add another Queen into the game. These are certainly good goals to have in mind when determining the next move in your game. However, beginners employing this type of thinking are actually looking at things in black and white terms. While the majority of the game’s principles appear to be black and white in nature, there are exceptions or gray areas which more experienced players understand and take advantage of. The threat is one such example.

When we first learn the game’s principles, such as having more attackers than opposition defenders, we approach this principle in a rather primitive way. We pick a target and start aiming our pawns and pieces at that target. As beginners we develop tunnel vision, seeing only our target which limits our consideration of other positional aspects. We use such chess principles to improve our game but when we treat a principle as an iron clad rule we run into problems. Take the threat of doing something compared to making good on that threat and taking action.

A threat is suggesting that you’re going to do something without actually doing it. You’re neighbors might be talking about throwing an all night party so you knock on their door the day before the party and tell them you’ll call the police if the party goes on past a certain hour. This is an example of a threat. Your neighbors might reconsider their party if they think the police will show up and shut it down. You might not have to even call the police because the threat of taking action means those troublesome neighbors will most like reconsider their plans. This same idea holds true in chess.

The simplest example of a strong threat in chess can be found in the passed pawn. A passed pawn is one that has no opposition pawns on the files on either side of it. So, if you have a pawn on the c file and there are no opposition pawns on the b and d files, that mighty little c pawn has a chance to make its way to its promotion square (c8 for White and c1 for Black). The threat is the threat of promotion. This creates problems for your opponent because he or she will have to keep an eye on that pawn, in the form of employing pieces to stop its promotion. Valuable opposition pieces will have to stop what they’re doing, participating actively in the game, to prevent the promotion.

Lets say you get your c pawn to the square c7. Now that pawn is one move away from promotion. The pawn on c7 is a major threat that your opponent cannot ignore. Just keeping the pawn on c7, using a pawn or piece to protect it maintains the threat. This means your opponent has to deal with that threat which can weaken his or her position because someone has to pull guard duty. If you are able to safely promote the pawn, that’s great. However, if you can maintain the threat of promoting that pawn for five or six moves you’ll be doing more damage to your opponent’s game because they’ll have to deal with that threat during each of those five or six moves.

Tactical threats are also very useful, using the same idea that your opponent has to deal with the threat. Let’s say you see a potential Knight fork that will garner material if the fork is executed. Your opponent might see the threat and have to adjust his or her plans to prevent it. If you can keep the Knight positioned so that the threat is maintained for another move or two, your opponent will have to keep shuffling pawns and pieces around to deal with the threat. This means your opponent isn’t able to execute their immediate plan and instead, deal with your threat. While gaining material is certainly worth something, forcing your opponent to deal with a threat by potentially weakening his or her position is worth more. Dealing with threats often means weakening one’s position.

Employing threats in chess is also a great way to learn how to be patient. Beginners are far from patient when they start their chess careers, often launching early attacks that might gain material but weaken their position. When developing a threat on the chessboard you have to hold off on executing the threat, or taking action, until the moment is right. In the case of our Knight fork, you don’t want to try to maintain the threat indefinitely. You want to let your opponent weaken their position and then execute the tactic, in this case a fork. This teaches the beginner a valuable lesson in both patience and timing. When to execute the fork depends on a number of positional aspects. If you’re about to lose the opportunity to execute the fork, then employ this tactic, letting the threat become reality. The same thing holds true with our pawn promotion example. All threats have an expiration date and all expiration dates are different, depending on the position.

One good way to learn about threats is to play through master level games. I have my students go through a game looking for threats. They’ll go through one game four or five times. I have them play through the game twice, simply getting a feel for the game itself, noting whether it’s open or closed game, etc. My students will then note each time a tactic is played or a passed pawn created during their third play through of the game. Next they go back and look at the moves leading up to the tactical play or moment the pawn became a passed pawn. In the case of the tactic, they note when the threat of the tactic started and how long (in moves) it took for the threat to be turned into reality (when the fork, for example, was finally employed) or stopped. With passed pawns, I have students follow the action from the moment the passed pawn was created to either its promotion or capture. How long did the threat hold up? How many pawns and pieces did the opposition have to use to deal with the threat? How was the opponent’s position weakened while dealing with the threat? By playing through master level games, students clearly see the effectiveness of threats which they can then employ in their own games.

Threats can have a greater long term value in the form of tying up opposition material and weakening one’s position. With master level games, it’s extremely educational to see how both sides make and deal with threats. Here’s a game chock full of threats by my favorite chess player, Boris Spassky. Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

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I Had a Swinging Time with Charlie

My opponent in this chess game is named Charlie and he uses the handle DevanteSwing on ICC. Somehow my correspondence chess rating on ICC got reset to zero and then several correspondence chess games were started with me that I did not ask for. This is one of those games. I was declared the winner of four of these games by adjudication after my opponents abandoned these games. However my rating went down after three of these games were adjudicated!! I am baffled by this! My current correspondence chess rating at ICC is 1884 after 11 games, all wins.

This is one of the correspondence chess games that I got to finish with a win.

Black blundered on move number 7 and his game went downhill quickly after that. White’s “sacrifice” on move number 8 sets up the combination that wins material for White and chases the Black King around. After White wins a pawn both sides continue with “normal” development, but the Black pieces are a bit uncoordinated. White wins another pawn on move number 15.

White finally castles on move number 16 ( a bit late) and the win is fairly easy for White from there.

Mike Serovey

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More 2015 Colorado Closed Championship and Scholastic Championship

Life is full of little ironies for the stupid – P.J. O’Rourke

One irony of chess is that sometimes the most satisfying games artistically are the competitive stumbling blocks. For example, we present two games from the recent 2015 Colorado Closed Championship and Scholastic Championship in which a lower section winner suffered a loss, These were, in my opinion, two of the most exciting games of their respective sections of the tournament. Afterwards, we present two outstanding games from the top section.

Victor Huang won the Colorado Closed Scholastic Championship 2015 on tiebreaks. Perhaps his most entertaining game was his 4th round loss to 6th-place Daniel Herman, who is up a knight at move 35. The easy win is 37 … Qxc5, but instead Herman has to win the game all over again with a lot of luck.

The Challenger section was won by student and young giant Gunnar Anderson, who is edged out in sharp play by 5th-place Chris Peterson.

Here is one of my favorite games from the Championship, in which 2nd-place Ponomarev wins a game from 3rd-place Bloomer that is positionally on knife’s edge from the fifth move.

This 3rd round game effectively won the 2015 Colorado Closed Champion title for Lior Lapid. In the diagrammed position, White threatens to win the queen for two minors.

Jacques Delaguerre

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