Playing Better Rook Endgames

You can learn technical rook endgames using any good endgame book, but what I am going to share is based on my experience and little reading. If you deploy following points while playing rook endgame it will definitely help you.

An active rook is your hero: Rooks love to attack in the endgame. Here are two simple examples which will help you to understand what I mean by that.:

With these examples I am not claiming that an active rook will always secure you a win or draw a pawn down, but it will definitely provide you better chances to win or defend in worse conditions.

In order to keep your rook active you should know the Tarrasch Rule which is to place rooks behind the passed pawn, whether it is your passed pawn or your opponent’s.

Cutting off the enemy king: This can happen a lot in practice and often decides games (a very useful tool to obtain lucena position!)

In this position Rd1!! is a forced win for White and no other move will do. Here the Black king is cut off by a file, and if you want to check how effective a rook is when it cuts off enemy king along a rank, please study the Philidor position.

Rook works well when weaknesses are fixed rather than mobile, something I have learned by studying Capablanca’s rook endgames. And in order to target those weaknesses you must have an entry point into the enemy camp. You can do that by working hard!!

Ashvin Chauhan


Thoughts on the Sacrifice …

Sacrifices in chess are among the most exciting things to observe. They are also very satisfying to play … especially when they go right. They have the ability to take calmness and turn it on its head, giving the game a dramatic and tense flavour.

However, sacrifices are not things to be taken lightly or made on a whim. The player is, after all, giving material to the opponent. So how should sacrifices be approached in chess? This, like everything else, is a much debated topic, of course. There are some materialists who wont entertain sacrifices; then there are others who will sacrifice at the slightest opportunity. Neither player is right, in my opinion, the decision should always be based on the position, with as deep an insight as possible.

In playing over Grandmaster games featuring sacrifices, some factors do stick out, however. I would not call them ‘rules’ exactly, but they are consistently present in the games. More specifically, they are present in games where the player making the sacrifice is successful and vindicated.

First, the reasoning must be valid. Even in the case of so-called ‘speculative’ sacrifices, one can never approach it with a ‘let’s see what happens’ mentality. Even a speculative sacrifice must have something that one can use or work with: activity, it opens up the King, it creates an avenue for passed pawns to march, or some other form of compensation. Ultimately, it gives the opponent considerations. These considerations by themselves can prove decisive.

Second, one must commit. There is no going back after a sacrifice of material, no second chance, and usually changing one’s mind will not have positive outcomes. Therefore, once a sacrifice is made, the player sticks to it.

Recapture material only when the motive behind the sacrifice has been achieved — or, if the sacrifice is refuted and you get lucky enough to get your material back, I guess. I have seen countless games where good sacrifices are made, only for the attacker to lunge at regaining material later on. It often follows, that the rewards reaped following the sacrifice are diminished … often making me wonder why the player sacrificed in the first place to be honest.

So, with these in mind, let’s look at the following game, played between Emil Sutovsky and Ilya Smirnin in the Israeli Championship of 2002. Sutovsky takes relative tranquility and blows it wide open with two bishop sacrifices.

If we look at our factors, we should probably conclude that his sacrifices were valid — he opens Black’s King, which is not able to run for cover. On top of this he obtains activity, while the Black pieces lack quality. Following on from that, Sutovsky commits fully to his action. His focus is firmly on the Kingside, Black’s king specifically; and well, he gave two bishops, if that’s not commitment I am not sure what is.

Then, when he has the opportunity to re-capture material, he declines it at first, and only does so when it is not at the cost of what the sacrifice brought him. Finally, with all these factors in place, Sutovsky goes one step further, finishing the game in style and making yet another sacrifice to mate his opponent.

This is a lovely sacrificial game, I hope you will enjoy it.

John Lee Shaw


Learning The Najdorf

Many players are put off from learning a defence like the Sicilian Najdorf (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6) because of its reputation for being highly theoretical. This is true, but only if you play the sharpest lines at the highest level. At club level the Najdorf can be played with very little knowledge, especially if someone steers clear of the most fashionable lines.

These were my thoughts when I made my Foxy Openings DVD on the Najdorf back in the 1990s. I avoided the most fashionable lines and found that there was relatively little that Black needed to know. And I wasn’t surprised that it hadn’t dated much when I reviewed the material for publication at Tiger Chess.

There was one line that needed some attention, 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Bd7 8.f5!?. This became known as a dangerous try after my initial recordings, but putting it under the microscope it didn’t look that scary and I filmed an extra clip showing how Black should deal with it. So my Najdorf recording is back in business and represents an excellent way for people to get on board this opening.

Here anyway is some more about the Najdorf recording and Tiger Chess:

Nigel Davies


Deliberate Practice

There is now a general understanding that to achieve mastery in any worthwhile field you require deliberate practice. Sadly most parents and schools either fail to understand that this is true of chess or fail to understand exactly what deliberate chess practice might involve.

I asked a class of children aged 8-10 at a local primary school chess club if they practised chess. A lot of them told me they did, so I asked them how they practised. Some told me they played their mum or dad. Others said that they played their computer or on a website. No one mentioned anything other than playing games. I them asked how many of them had piano lessons. Many hands went up. They all told me they practised their scales as well as the pieces they were learning. Again, I asked how many played tennis. Again, a lot of hands were raised. They told me they practised different shots: backhand, forehand, topspin. So they, or their teachers, have a good idea of what deliberate practice looks like in music and tennis, but not in chess. Playing games is only useful practice if you’re getting constructive feedback. Playing every day against a parent who doesn’t know the correct names for the pieces or play by the correct rules isn’t much good. Nor is playing against a computer program that beats you every time without telling you why.

One thing you need to do in many disciplines is develop fluency – speed and accuracy – in simple skills. If you’re learning maths you need to be fast and accurate with basic arithmetic. If you’re not, you’ll find anything else difficult. At the age of 6 or 7 we all sat in rows chanting our times tables until we learnt them off by heart. These days the primary school maths curriculum is much broader, less boring and more ‘fun’, but has this come at the expense of the rigour of learning your tables off by heart? If you’re learning the piano you’ll be expected to practice your scales and arpeggios over and over again even though you may well find it boring. If you’re learning golf you’re going to practice simple short putts over and over again until you’re confident you can hole them every time. In chess you develop fluency by solving puzzles. At one level this means solving simple (to you) puzzles quickly and getting them right every time. It also means challenging yourself to solve harder puzzles. By solving puzzles you’re doing lots of things. Yes, you’re developing speed and accuracy. More specifically, you’re improving your chessboard vision: the ability to glance at a position and take in where every piece is, what it can do both now and in the future, to identify all the attacks and defences, to see every possible check. You’re also learning pattern recognition. You’ll see the same ideas over and over again, learning to recognise them and use them in your own games. Once you move onto two-move puzzles you’re learning to think ahead, to visualise the next moves without moving the pieces: one of the most vital chess skills to acquire. As you graduate to harder puzzles you’re learning to look further and further ahead. You’re learning concentration and impulse control – many children fail to make progress because they lack these vital skills. Puzzles are also use to develop non-cognitive skills such as persistence: not giving up if you find a puzzle difficult to solve.

We’ve known for the past 30 years about the importance of puzzle solving. It’s how Laszlo Polgar taught his daughters. It’s the basic idea of the Dutch Steps Method. It’s what children at chess academies in Baghdad and Baku have to do for homework. If you compare learning chess with learning an instrument or a sport it becomes obvious.

Many non-players or non-competitive players, though, don’t understand the point of solving puzzles. I remember many years ago standing at the back of the room watching my colleague Ray Cannon demonstrate a tactical puzzle on the demo board. A parent who was watching with me asked me “Why is he doing this? They’re not likely to reach that position in their games.”. But of course that’s not the point. Parents are often reluctant to make their children do chess homework solving puzzles. They often don’t understand the purpose of solving puzzles, think it might not be ‘fun’, it might be ‘boring’. But most children enjoy solving puzzles so doing this sort of work can be presented in a positive light.

Deliberate practice at chess will also involving learning and honing new skills. At lower levels this might be learning specific endings: practising the king and queen checkmate, for example. At higher levels this will involve learning more complex endings, learning and practising new openings, possibly by playing games online, learning and practising how to play typical middle-game structures such as IQP positions. It also involves, at higher levels, targeting specific weaknesses: concentrating on skills which you’re not so good at in order to improve them. If you’re tactically weak you might work on improving this by playing blitz games online using sharp openings. Or if you’re positionally weak, playing games using positional openings to improve this side of your play.

The point of Chess for Heroes is that it provides opportunities for deliberate practice. The first volume gives children a lot of very simple puzzles to solve. I’m currently working on an endgame book which, as well as puzzles, will include positions to play out to develop your skill at winning simple endings. Further books on tactics and other aspects of chess are also planned so that children will have a complete programme of practice materials taking them from learning the moves up to the point where they can compete in low level adult competitions.

Richard James


Middlegame Planning

Once the beginner has a grasp of the opening principles and some basic endgame knowledge, they often feel confident that their chess has improved enough to start winning games. However, they often run into trouble during the phase that comes after the opening and before the endgame, the middlegame! The middlegame generally starts after both players have connected their rooks, which means moving the Queen up a rank or two, allowing the Rooks to patrol along their starting rank. Planning in the middle game can be difficult because both players have no concrete information regarding what pawns and pieces will be remaining on the board when this middle phase starts. So how do we formulate a plan? There are five points to consider when creating a middlegame plan.

The first point to consider is material. Before starting your plan, ask yourself if you’re ahead or behind in material. To determine where you stand, count both your material and your opponent’s material, noting who is ahead or behind. The player who is ahead in material will generally plan to trade or exchange material with their opponent to reduce that opponent’s counterplay. So, if you’re ahead in material you might consider a series of exchanges that will further reduce your opponent’s ability to fight back. If you’re behind in material, your opponent having more pawns and pieces than you have, you’ll want to avoid those trades in order to maintain some force on the board. If you have less material than your opponent, you need to hang on to what you have.

Pawn structure is the next consideration. I constantly tell my students that good pawn structure must be maintained throughout the game, starting from their first few moves. Look at the board and note how the pawns are positioned for both sides. You’ll want to note any doubled, isolated or backwards pawns. If you have any of these dreadful pawn problems, you need to look for a way to rectify these issues. However, don’t move on to the next planning point until you ask yourself, “is there any way I can give my opponent doubled, isolated or backwards pawns?” These types of pawns lose their mobility and effectiveness which takes away their ability to be useful during the game. If your opponent’s pawn structure can be damage, you may want to consider moves that create problem pawns and the subsequent damage they bring with them.

Our next point to consider is mobility. Mobility is a key factor in all three phases of the game. How active are your pawns and pieces? Too often, beginners develop their minor pieces early on and then stop overall pawn and piece development to launch a premature attack. Pieces that have better mobility have greater control of the board. Greater board control makes for better attacks. Look at every pawn and piece and determine whether or not it is on its most active square. Don’t simply look at your pawns and pieces. Look at your opponent’s pawns and pieces. Note what squares they control and then compare them to your own pawns and pieces. Before asking yourself “what can I do to increase my pawn and piece activity,” determine what your opponent can do to improve his or her pawn and piece activity. Can you slow down their control of the board with a specific move? Beginners tend to think in terms of what their best move is without considering their opponent’s best potential move. It takes two to play a game of chess. Only considering one player’s position, namely yours, will lead to lost games.

King safety is next. I mentioned in my last article that castling should be delayed, if possible, in favor of greater development. However, King safety always trumps development if a possible checkmate by the opposition is in the air. Ask yourself whose King is safer. If your King isn’t safe then castling and a good defense should be considered. If your King is safe and you’re considering an attack against the enemy King, it’s time to look at your opponent’s position, namely the pawns and pieces protecting the opposition King. Can you weaken the position? How long will doing so take? However, you better first take a look at your own pawns and pieces surrounding your King, determining if you opponent can do likewise.

Lastly we must look at threats. Beginners have a bad habit of launching attacks when their position is under threat. A threat assessment must be made before formulating a plan of action. Before considering any threats you can make, ask yourself “what are my opponent’s threats?” Look carefully at all of your opponent’s pawns and pieces and examine what those pawns and pieces can do on the opposition’s next move as well as the following move. A good threat can force pawns and pieces into defensive rather than offensive positions, which help with a potential attack by the aggressor!

Now that you’ve gone through the planning checklist list, its time to think about a plan. During the middle-game, positions can drastically change from move to move. This means that plans should be flexible and short term. By flexible, I mean plans that have the ability to change fluidly as the board’s position changes. Therefore, long term plans are too stodgy and lack flexibility. Make plans that address the next few moves rather than the next ten moves.

Plans must have a specific short term goal. While this might seem to contradict the idea of a flexible plan, you don’t want to try and do everything at once. Don’t think in terms of doing too much at once or you’ll lose the game. Your plan should consist of simpler, short term goals, such as reducing the mobility of a single piece, the isolation of a pawn or the weakening of a key pawn or piece (or even square) that supports the enemy King. Keep your plans short term during the middlegame and consider the five points discussed above. Keep it simple. Play for flexibility and fluidity during the middlegame. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson


Two North Americans Take on the English

My Canadian opponent and I played the English Opening to a draw. After about 20 moves it became clear to me that we were evenly matched and that I was unlikely to win.

After three moves I could have transposed into the Queen’s Gambit Declined, but I have never liked playing the White side of that opening. I also considered trying to transpose into the Catalan Opening.

Black’s fifth move took me out of the QGD and into something that I had never seen before. Black’s eighth move took me completely out of my database of games and from that point on I was on my own.

White gets his pawn back on his ninth move. Black offered to trade queens on his tenth move but White declines because he did not want to strengthen the Black Center after 11. Qxd5 cxd5.

From move number 14 on White is trying to trade down into what he believed would be a slightly better endgame for him. On move  number 18 White wins a pawn. Black does not want to trade rooks on the d file if it will give White control of that file. White also realized that if Black captures his pawn on b3 with his Bishop then White can play a Rook over to b1 and take the pawn on b7 after that Bishop moves. If White ever got a Rook on the seventh rank (Black’s second rank) then Black would have some problems defending his position.

After deciding that my extra pawn on the Kingside may not be enough to win I offered a draw and Sam accepted.

Mike Serovey


The Common Problem Of Following A Pattern Without Understanding It

Last week, I wrote about the importance of learning and teaching through comparing similar but different situations. Again and again this theme pops up, and is easy to miss if one is not careful. It is easy to memorize a pattern without understanding its context and purpose, or more charitably, to have understood it once but getting it mixed up with another pattern during the heat of battle. What is the solution? Sometimes the solution is just to review concrete details. Sometimes the solution is to remember a higher-priority pattern that gives real force and justification to the pattern at hand.

Here’s an example I recently saw, involving the elementary Lucena position which is a win for the side with the Rook and Pawn versus Rook, if one understands the fundamental concept, which is “building a bridge” in order to block the opposing Rook’s checks and therefore ensure Pawn promotion.

Lucena position

The standard easy win for White is to

  1. Chase Black’s King further away from the Queening square by checking.
  2. Lift the Rook to the 4th rank in preparation to “build a bridge”.

However, White in eagerness to “remember” the key pattern, that of the Rook lift, failed to perform the first critical step, and the result was a draw by mistake! Building the bridge is pointless if it only results in Black’s King reaching the advanced Pawn and gobbling it up.

The solution to this mistake is to remember that the primary goal in this position is not to build the bridge. The real goal is to successfully Queen the Pawn, and getting Black’s King far away is the most important part of that, not the bridge building. The bridge building is not the goal, but the means to the larger goal. Without remember this, it is too easy to just vaguely remember one aspect of what the winning technique is, and use it outside of the larger context.

Franklin Chen


County and District Correspondence Chess Championship 2013/14

Yorkshire ‘A’ are the winners with 11.5 / 16 with Warwickshire ‘A’ and Yorkshire ‘B’ joint second and third with 10 / 16. I am afraid to say that my own team, Hertfordshire ‘A’, did not do so well this year with only 6 / 16 and ended up in a quadruple tie for last place with Sussex, Essex ‘B’ and Nottinghamshire ‘A’.  I did not help matters by losing and drawing!

Our player on Board 2 is the FIDE International Master, Lorin D’Costa, who is currently in the top thirty English list of over-the-board players and here is his excellent and instructive game as Black against his Nottinghamshire opponent. I especially like the ending!

John Rhodes


Alapin’s Folly …

It is of great comfort to us (or should be anyway) that even masters get things wrong in chess. And why shouldn’t they? After all, chess is not straight-forward, nor is it an exact science. And when that is mixed together with the human brain, (which though powerful is not infallible), mistakes will happen. However, is it very rare for a master to get things abominably wrong, as if to scorn the very game itself.

This week I would like to share one such instance with you. It is a game that I have known of for many years, and I remember analysing it for the first time in my late teens. Back then, I thought it was a super attack by White, and my appreciation of the dramatic finish was very high. Now, looking over it again, (for the first time in a couple of decades I should think … ouch …), I do not only appreciate it, but my chess taste buds tingle with excitement.

It is a testament to how my chess understanding has progressed over the years. Nowadays I do not only highly appreciate the dramatic finish of the game, but I shake my head in wonder at Black’s absolutely ludicrous play. I feel the tension as White prepares to show him the error of his ways.

The game is apparently a friendly game, between chess legend Aaron Nimzowitsch and analyst and problem composer (and no feeble player either, despite his showing in this game) Semion Alapin. You will see Alapin, playing Black, commit the most blatant chess sins. He will firstly commit his Queen in to early action — though this is not always a sin in itself, it is when coupled with neglect of development, which is his other offence. He will also grab material … for which he will pay a hard price.

Nimzowitsch, playing White, is exemplary. He develops quickly and finds optimum squares for his pieces. Move by move his advantage increases and the apprehension in the position sizzles. He gives his opponent no time to correct his errors, and pounces forcefully and precisely.

John Lee Shaw


A Shielded Knight Micro-Pattern

A vital part of chess skill is a subconscious understanding of ‘micro-patterns’ that jump out at you whenever they arise. There are many such patterns in chess, with strong players quickly realizing things such as the position of rooks relative to passed pawns (usually they should be behind them!).

In the following game I’d like to point out one tiny pattern, that a White knight sitting on b3 behind a Black pawn on b4. This may not look like much at first, but the knight is a tower of strength on that square, being immune from attack along the file. Eventually it captures Black’s pawn on a5 before heading over to the kingside via c6. An Alekhine wins in crushing style.

This pattern is one of the things I discuss in the first of my monthly Tiger Chess clinics which Full Members can access here. It occurred in two of my students’ games, and from entirely different openings. This in turn shows how pattern recognition in chess goes beyond knowing that you have to do X, Y and Z in a particular opening and how strong players are able to orient themselves in lines that they’ve never played before.

Nigel Davies