The Comeback Trail, Part 9

Having previously examined the role of opening preparation, and how one should go about it, today I thought I’d look at the topic of preparing for specific opponents. It can certainly be useful to understand how a prospective opponent is likely to play, for example which openings might crop up and what sort of middle game decisions might be made.

Usually such preparations are made before a game and once the pairings are known. But you can also keen an eye on opponents you are likely to meet in your chess area, provided it isn’t too large of course.

The way to go about this is to make a list of the stronger players who you are likely to face. The size of this list depends largely on how much preparation you’re willing to do and how thoroughly you want to do it. After that you create a database for each one, perhaps using Chess DB as your reference source. Updates can be done periodically and you can have your favourite engine annotate the games. If certain opening lines crop up quite frequently, make a note of them and see if there’s a good antidote.

This kind of preparation has tremendous practical value but who actually does it? Of course your opponent’s games will need to have been published for this to be doable.

Nigel Davies

Isolated Pawn: An Overview

A pawn which has no pawns of its own colour on neighboring files is called an isolated pawn. The most common sort of isolated pawn is a d- file pawn known as an IQP. It offers its owner some advantages and disadvantages, and these in turn are the basis for formulating strategies around the isolated pawn.

Advantages that isolated pawn offers include a space advantage, two half open files for the rooks and the possibility of sacrificing it and liberating the power of the pieces. The main disadvantage is that it can’t be supported by a pawn and therefore needs to be defended by pieces.

If you’re playing with an isolated pawn you should keep at least one pair of minor pieces on the board to defend it. If you are playing against it you should keep major pieces on the board and try to exchange minor pieces in order to win it using a pin and a lever (…c6-c5 or …e6-e5 against a pawn on d4). Of course proper blockade is must.

Here are two nice games which illustrate the strategy of playing with and against isolated pawns.

1. Huzman against Aronian in 2010

2. Adersson against Portisch in 1985

Ashvin Chauhan

Mednis Principles

“With major pieces (queen or rook) on the board, having bishops on opposite colors favors the side with an attack.”
Edmar Mednis

Not long ago I mentioned Mednis and his principles while annotating a voting game. You can review that article here. This time I have another nice example on how true these principles are and how they can help you decide and implement your strategy during your games. The following game has been played online with 3 days per move. It was a positional game from end to end and with my annotations I am trying to show that such games do not have to be complicated nor confusing to play.

Hope you liked it. The match was declared as won by Canada 1-0 by a shoddy team forfeit rule very early on. Both teams continued playing to the end. My other game ended in an interesting draw I might present later on. Match wise team Iran won it 281.5 – 260.5 (271 boards) even if it did not mean anything. It was and is ridiculous all players efforts on the chessboard were nullified like this. That is all I have to say about it. If you have any games and/ or positions you would like me to look at, please do not hesitate to let me know. I will gladly include them in my column for everyone’s benefit. Looking forward to your messages!

Valer Eugen Demian

A Turning Point

Here’s a game from almost two years ago when I’d been playing in adult long play tournaments for less than a year. Up to that point I’d struggled to hold my own in the bottom section but this was the start of a surge forwards. The following summer I won Minor sections at Heywood and then Manchester and was ready to move up to the Majors.

My dad showed me the Caro-Kann so I could learn more about pawn play and avoid the tricky lines White has after 1.e4 e5. In this game I got a broad pawn centre with …f6 and …e5 which helped push White’s pieces back, then afterwards I got a winning sacrifice on g3:

Sam Davies

Silence in Class

Last week I asked a question which was posed at the London Chess & Education Conference:

“Silence, Touch Move, Timers: how strict should chess classes be?” We might also ask other questions such as whether or not we have scoresheets, or whether or not we allow children to play Bughouse (Exchange), Suicide and other chess variants?

Thinking about this you might like to bear in mind Neil Postman’s views (as discussed here last week) about the difference between adult play and children’s play and consider which is better for young children.

Well, it depends, doesn’t it, what sort of chess class you’re running. I’ll consider the classes I’m involved with.

After-school chess clubs in my part of London are little more than child-minding sessions. The children just want to be able to play once a week with their friends, and they and their parents, for the most part, are too busy to be able to spend any more time on chess. Even if I offer parents free books and free lessons I don’t get any takers. So how strict should these clubs be? I guess Neil Postman would think they shouldn’t be strict at all. I don’t entirely agree.

First of all, some of these children will take part in external tournaments: some of them will qualify for the Megafinals of the Delancey UK Chess Challenge, where they’ll have to play touch move, and also have to play in silence. So if we introduce the idea of competition in this way we have to be pretty strict about enforcing touch and move for any child able to play a complete game. I’m slightly uneasy about it, for reasons that Postman would have understood, and I’m also uneasy about putting children who know very little about chess into any sort of competition, but it’s where we are and the kids enjoy the fluffy mascots so there’s not much I can do about it.

I think, to be honest, the discipline of touch move is, generally speaking, good for children, as it helps them in developing self-regulatory skills such as impulse control. So, yes, we play touch move in school chess clubs.

Silence is slightly more of a problem. Children have been working hard at school all day and are usually coming straight to the chess club without a break from their last lesson. It seems to me to be verging on cruelty to expect them to spend an hour sitting in silence. On the other hand, if there’s any noise it’s going to be very hard for them to concentrate on their games. Here is the crux of the issue about the difference between adult and children’s play. In some schools the chess club is seen as part of the school day and there is a teacher present in the room to keep noise levels down. In other schools it is seen as something separate from school and the noise level is the chess tutor’s responsibility. Some chess tutors have a strong classroom presence and are able to keep the kids fairly quiet, some, including me (which is why I’ll only do school clubs where a teacher is responsible for discipline) struggle with this, while others don’t mind if there’s a lot of noise as long as they get paid.

Clocks and scoresheets: by and large I don’t use them in schools. If a school is really big on chess, all children learn the moves and they can play at any time, then only the stronger players will join the school club and using clocks and scoresheets would be appropriate. But for most school clubs there’s really no need: children who are serious will be fed through to more serious clubs where they will learn these skills.

Inevitably children at this level will need arbiters, and in this sort of club the chess tutor will also be the arbiter. The role of an arbiter in school chess clubs is mostly to answer questions like ‘is this checkmate?’ and ‘can you remind me how to castle’. In an ideal world children would know all the rules and be able to identify checkmate and stalemate before taking part in a competition, but it’s not where we are, so there’s not much I can do about it.

Whether or not to allow chess variants is another matter on which opinions differ. My view, as usual, is somewhere in the middle. I don’t allow Bughouse at all (and don’t teach it) but have no problem with children, once they’ve finished their tournament game, playing Suicide Chess or Scotch Chess. Some of them will also play mini-games such as variants of Capture the Flag. As far as I’m concerned this is all part of chess culture and shouldn’t be discouraged. Children will often try to invent their own variants, which will usually make little sense: should this be encouraged or not? Neil Postman considered that inventing their own rules is an integral part of children’s play. On the other hand, I have some colleagues who won’t allow any chess variant at all, while, at the other extreme, some let children spend the entire session playing Bughouse.

I’d be interested to hear your views about school chess clubs. More serious chess clubs, such as Richmond Junior Club, are very different. I’ll consider this next week.

Richard James

Taking Advantage

We see many beginner games in which our novice player launches an attack only to see it fall apart, often leaving a weak position in its wake. Yet the experienced player will launch an attack and the results will be positive. What’s the difference between attacks? Knowing when to launch an attack by taking advantage of the situation, which is usually a weak opposition position. This means you have to look at your opponent’s position and attack only when you can take advantage of it!

Beginner’s tend to launch two kinds of attacks. The first attack usually involves a couple of pieces working independently of one another. In other words, those pieces are not working as a team. To work as a team, pieces have to support one another or protect one another when launching any attack. We often see early checkmates in the games of junior players that use a Queen and Bishop (Scholar’s Mate) or a Queen and Knight. These mating attacks work because the Bishop or Knight supports (protects) the Queen. The pieces work with one another through coordination. The minor piece protects the Queen which keeps the opponent’s King from capturing the her when the attack is launched. Notice the minor piece supporting the major piece, the Queen. Because the Queen can attack along the ranks, files and diagonals, she is the piece best suited to attacking the opposition King because she can cut off any escape squares

Imagine now, the the Knight or Bishop previously mentioned isn’t positioned to protect the Queen and her majesty goes in for the attack. The opposition King would then capture her and you’d be down your most powerful attacking piece. Piece coordination is therefore critical to any successful attack.

The other beginner’s attack is what I call the kitchen sink attack in which everything is thrown at the opposition King. This sounds great in theory but if our beginner doesn’t have his or her pieces protecting one another (piece coordination), then material will be lost and their position ruined. As a chess teacher, I teach the idea that the more pieces you have attacking the opposition, the better your chances of a successful attack. However, I point out that those pieces must be coordinated, otherwise you’ll lose material. I repeat this point over and over because beginning students will hear “the more pieces you have attacking the opposition King, the faster you’ll checkmate that King,” missing the key point regarding piece coordination. The beginning student will often throw their entire army at the opposition King and watch in horror as their army is captured. So how does the beginner launch a successful attack?

The first idea any beginner should embrace is patience. Junior players tend to be very impatient, only wanting to make moves that do something spectacular, such as capturing a piece or checking the opposition’s King. Beginners want to win and win fast. While beginner’s games tend to be short and fast, when playing other beginners, there will come a time when they’re playing strong players who can easily repel impatient attacks and usually turn the position around in their favor. Patient is a necessary skill all chess players must develop if they want to improve! Being patients means slowing building up your attack rather than launching a slap dash guaranteed to fail fiasco.

Of course, simply being patient isn’t enough to win the game. You have to be doing something while being patient, namely developing your pieces to their most active squares when preparing for your attack. The idea here is that the more material you have on active squares, those around the board’s center during the opening or those that give you attacking lines when preparing to attack your opponent’s King, the more attacking options you have and the fewer defensive choices your opponent has. The player will greater options has greater control of the board and the game!

Active squares in the opening are fairly straight forward. They’re squares that control the board’s center. However, when preparing a middle-game attack on the opposition’s position you have to develop material to specific squares. In the case of a mating attack, those squares will be those nearest the opposition King. However, you often have to do some additional work before attacking the King. Where do you move pawns and pieces then?

During the middle-game, you want to exploit weaknesses in your opponent’s position. Weakness include, doubled and isolated pawns, undefended pieces, pieces trapped on their starting ranks, defenders of squares that, if those pieces weren’t there, would give you an open line (rank, file or diagonal) to the enemy King or weak squares themselves. Of course, beginners will always try to look for tactical plays such as forks, pins, skewers, etc. However, you often are deprived of any immediate tactical plays so you have to look for weaknesses. The key idea here is to take advantage of opposition weaknesses. Often, those weakness create tactical plays.

For example, if your opponent’s pawn structure is plagued with problems such a doubled pawns, isolated pawns and too many pawn islands, your opponent will have to use some of his or her pieces to defend those problem pawns. If you put pressure on those pawns, such as threatening to attack them, your opponent will have to defend them or lose them. I say threat because a threat can be better than simply capturing the material being threatened. The point here is that opposition material becomes tied down when having to defend against attacks on poorly placed pawns and pieces. This means there are fewer opposition pieces able to repel your attack when you launch it because they’re tied down to the defense of their own poorly placed pawns and pieces. Another idea or concept beginners should learn is the notion of removing the defender of a key square. Removing that key defender makes it easier to open attacking and mating lines.

Multiple threats are a benefit from the patient development of your pawns and pieces. If you have multiple threats across the board, your opponent often can only deal with one of those threats leaving you the opportunity to take advantage of the position your opponent has left undefended. Multiple threats also lead to overloaded material, pieces that have to protect multiple pawns and pieces at the same time.

Timing is the key to a good attack. Only attack when the time is right. When is that? When there’s a weakness in your opponent’s position that gives you the opportunity to attack. When you and your opponent make moves, even the the best moves can leave you or your opponent with a weakness, namely the squares you leave behind. In simple terms, a White Knight on f3, controls the g5 and h4 squares so the Black Queen can’t move to these squares without being captured. Let’s say White hasn’t castled his or her King KIng-side and decides to capture an undefended Black pawn on e5 with the f3 Knight. After doing so, White has given up the defense of or left behind two important squares which the Black Queen takes advantage of by, in this case moving to g5. Now White’s Knight is under attack and so is the g2 pawn. While this example brings the Queen out early, something you shouldn’t do, it makes a good point. Black took advantage of a bad move on White’s part, only launching this early attack when the timing was right. Of course, experienced players would never take the pawn in our example, but beginners are know to do such things!

Wait for your opponent to create a weakness in their position before attacking. Even when playing principled chess, there comes a time when you or your opponent will have to make a move that may weaken their position. If you’re paying close attention, you’ll spot it and take advantage of it by either building up an attack or launching into one. Be patient and wait for an opportunity to arise and only then consider an attack after carefully building up your forces. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week. You have to love a guy named Pal Benko.

Hugh Patterson

4th British Webserver Tournament – Division 1

The 4th British Webserver Tournament Division 1 recently started on 1st January 2017 with seven teams of four players. You may remember that each team consists of two British players and two international players. The winner of the first event were ‘Pawn Stars’ who narrowly beat ‘ICCF Warriors’, however, ‘ICCF Warriors’ went on to beat ‘Pawn Stars’ by the smallest of margins in the second event and also beat them in the third event. Over the four events, my team, ‘Pawn Stars’ has remained with the same players, although our board order changes depending on starting grade! This year we are the highest rated team with an average grade of 2408, against 2343 for ‘ICCF Warriors’, 2334 for ‘SchemingMind A’, 2297 for ‘SchemingMind B’, 2287 for ‘BCCA Kings’, 2249 for ‘BCCA Knights and 2177 for ‘Social CCA A’.

The ‘Pawn Stars’ team consists of Board 1 SIM Gino Figlio 2457 from Peru, 2 SIM John Rhodes 2396 from England, 3 SIM Michael Millstone 2400 from the USA and 4 Austin Lockwood (Captain) 2381 from Wales. The ‘ICCF Warriors’ team consists of Board 1 SIM Olli Ylonen 2451 from Finland, 2 LGM Toni Halliwell 2315 from England, 3 LGM Natalia Litvinenko 2294 from Kazakhstan and SIM Ian Pheby 2312 from England.

The tournament can be viewed from the ICCF website at www.iccf.com/event?id=63895

This year the teams seem fairly evenly matched, so I expect the result to be very close with, very likely, a new winner. It is too early to show any games, as at least ten need to be finished, but I can show you one of my wins from the last tournament against my old adversary A.N. Other! Here I have a long endgame with queen and three pawns against rook, knight and five pawns.

John Rhodes

The Comeback Trail, Part 8

Last time I introduced the subject of preparation, pointing out how older players are often handicapped by their old fashioned attitudes with regard to databases and engines. Let’s expand on this a little.

First of all I should say that there’s little need to have very detailed preparation if you’re under 2000 Elo, at this stage you should still be building up core skills such as calculation, positional understanding and endgame skill. But the further you get beyond this the greater the need for sophisticated preparation.

Where should one start? A good place is to have a good general understanding of the openings you wish to play, and for this I would recommend the Chess Explained series by Everyman or their Move by Move titles. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have this kind of grounding, without this kind of strategic overview it’s hard to make sense out of a modern opening.

After that it should be straight into the theory together with databases and engines, and here too I think Everyman gets it right by offering books in database format. Other publishers seem to be slow to adopt this idea, perhaps because they’re worried their work will be copied. But for advanced opening work in which you add new games and use engines, there’s no point in having the book in paper format. Any interesting lines will have to be put into database form, which will of course be very time consuming.

I also offer database files of the opening moves at my Tiger Chess site so members can drill the lines with Chess Position Trainer, Chess Opening Wizard or at Chessable and develop them with their own notes.

Nigel Davies

Just Another Prodigy?

There’s always a lot of fuss about kids who do well at chess early on, the media just loves this kind of thing. Personally I’ve never found it very interesting.

Chess for most of us is a personal, participation activity in which we try and do a bit better than last time, and even if we’ll never be the best it’s exciting and fun to play. Meanwhile many of the prodigies fail to live up to their early promise, chess is a long and winding journey in which we need to keep going and learn over a long period of time. It’s not whether you have talent but staying power that really matters.

Having said that, this kid Mikhail Osipov doesn’t seem bad for 3. I can’t fault his chess though with stardom coming he might want to sack whoever’s cutting his hear and get a more professional job done:

Nigel Davies

Volga-Benko Gambit Line Busted (2)

One of my friends from Eastern Canada, Bob Taylor, has given me some very interesting insight after reading my previous article Volga-Benko Gambit Line Busted. He was enthusiastic about my call to help improve Black’s play for a better outcome. In this article we offer together a few ideas to get things rolling for those willing to take on this task more seriously.

Idea #1
It is probably not a good idea to play such gambit at long time controls. It works well in over the board games, especially in quick ones such as blitz or less than 1 hour per player because Black’s quick development pressures White’s position. The quicker White needs to figure out a way to deal with that pressure, the more likely it is to play less correct. In correspondence chess (or turn based chess) with 3 days or more per move, where both players can consult literature and/ or have engine support, the gambit looks very desperate and probably is.

Idea #2
The following line is interesting. Studying it might not lead to the discovery of many sample games at the beginning, but one should look further down the road after a few more moves are played:


Only after going this deep you can truly start the study of it. In the first article I mentioned briefly two sample games and now I have added them here to help your research. Please select each game from the pull-down menu on top of the diagram:

Idea #3:
The following move order looks more precise:


One thing to notice is the elimination of the 7.a7 … option for white. IMO that is a good thing for Black because being forced to take on a7 puts the a8-rook on a less desired square. A rook there is of no use later on, so moving it back or away when forced, it is going to waste a tempo. It is also important to compare middle game positions from different lines. Here is one comparison found by Bob where Black looks better in position 1. Please select each game from the pull-down menu on top of the diagram:

Hope you all find this information of interest. Thank you Bob for your contribution! If you have any games and/ or positions you would like me to look at, please do not hesitate to let me know. I will gladly include them in my column for everyone’s benefit. Looking forward to your messages!

Valer Eugen Demian