King’s Indian Attack

This was a good game by my Dad in the King’s Indian Attack. I was impressed with how he outplayed another Grandmaster in this system using some moves which looked strange at first. When Black played …e6-e5 his d5 pawn became weak.

Sam Davies

Pitman Shorthand

Today I want to look at a forgotten story from the heady days of the English Chess Explosion.

The year was 1980. Chess in the UK was booming, and, in particular, the game was becoming very popular in Primary Schools. What could be better for catching the Zeitgeist than a chess teaching scheme, combined with a series of tournaments?

And so it was that Pitman House, part of the company originally founded by shorthand pioneer Sir Isaac Pitman, published Learn Chess, the first volume of the Pitman Chess Teaching Scheme. The scheme incorporated three Progress Tests, with certificates and bronze, silver and gold badges awarded to successful candidates. The tournaments would be sponsored by Morgan Crucible, and, we were told, the first tournament would be held in 1981, open to teams of five, plus one reserve, whose members had all passed the third (lowest) level Progress Test. The early rounds would be held at local level, followed by regional and zonal competitions, with the top eight teams playing in London at the sponsor’s expense.

I have the Teacher’s Book in front of me now. The course was written by Edward Penn and John Littlewood. John Littlewood, of course, was a brilliant attacking player and the author of several other chess books. By profession he was a French teacher. Eddie Penn was described as ‘one of Britain’s most stimulating teachers of chess’ but was better known as an organiser and purveyor of chess books and equipment. Other contributors included many of the great and good in British chess: Michael Basman, Bernard Cafferty, Bill Hartston, John Nunn, Mike Price and John Roycroft.

The course starts, predictably enough, by introducing the pieces, starting with the pawns and the king. We then look at some king and pawn v king positions before moving onto the other pieces, the knight, bishop, rook and queen. A slightly strange order, you might think. By the 14th lesson we know all the rules and are now ready to play a complete game. We look at ‘pieces in action’ and are suddenly plunged into some pretty complicated tactics.

The supplementary material for this lesson includes, for example, this position. You might like to analyse it yourself before reading on.

We’re told there are two equally effective moves: the spectacular Rd5 and the only slightly less spectacular Re5. In fact my computer tells me that Rd5 is mate in 7, h6 (not mentioned) is mate in 11 and Re5 is mate in 18. It’s not entirely ridiculous to demonstrate this sort of position to beginners: if you give hints such as “What would you play if the black rook on d8 wasn’t there?” and “What would you play if the black queen wasn’t there?” You might like to compare and contrast something like the Steps Method, where students spend a year solving hundreds of puzzles involving looking at the board and another two years solving 1½ move tactics before moving onto more complicated positions. Two courses based mainly on tactics, but two very different approaches to teaching chess. One going very slowly and the other very fast: a Pitman Shorthand chess course, perhaps. (My own views, you won’t be surprised to hear, lie somewhere between the two extremes.)

So what happened? Was the course successful? Did lots of schools take part in the local, regional and national competitions? It seems not. I may well be mistaken, because my involvement in schools chess was only indirect at that time, but I can’t recall hearing about any local or national tournaments at all, or encountering any children proudly showing me their badges and certificates. There seems to be nothing in the BCF Year Books in the early 1980s.

I’d be interested to hear from anyone with any more knowledge than me about exactly what happened, but it seems like it wasn’t as successful as the publisher and sponsor had hoped. Perhaps the course went too fast. Perhaps there just wasn’t a market for that sort of course within school chess clubs.

In 1984 a second volume appeared: Learn Chess 2. John Littlewood was credited as the sole author, but thanked Michael Basman and John Nunn for their contributions. Mostly advanced (at least by my standards) tactics, expertly chosen, but with some endings as well. An excellent book, but, in my view, far too difficult for a second book for near beginners. The two volumes look identical: same rather unusual size and same distinctive cover design, but closer inspections reveals a change of publisher. The second volume was published, not by Pitman House, but by Adam & Charles Black. There’s no indication that Pitman had gone out of business or had sold anything else off to Black, so I’d assume they opted out of the second volume for commercial reasons. In his introduction, Littlewood apologised, particularly to teachers, for the delay in producing the second volume, adding that it was not economically viable to produce a separate Teacher’s Book. There’s no mention at all of badges or certificates, of tournaments of any nature, or of Morgan Crucible and their sponsorship. And of course it’s no longer the Pitman Chess Teaching Scheme, just Volume 2.

The scheme was a brave attempt: I’ve written before, on many occasions, about the need to combine a systematic method of skills development with competitive chess. It’s a great pity it wasn’t more successful.

Richard James

Chess and Simpsons

With Hugh away this week I find myself in the unfortunate position of having to fill in for him. Rather than attempt to match his brilliant articles I thought it better to offer some light entertainment in the form of Chess and Simpsons. And no that’s not the famous Simpson’s restaurant in the Strand but rather Homer Simpson and family.

Here are some Simpsons youtube clips featuring chess. Enjoy!

Nigel Davies

Rating Inflation?

In recent years there has been talk about rating inflation due to top players achieving ever higher Elo ratings. Were so many players really so much better than Bobby Fischer, Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov?

I’m not sure that the effect can really be described as inflation as at the other end of the scale there appears to have been the opposite effect. With more players becoming Elo rated and the ratings going down much further, many titled players who have to play against them (for example in Elo rated weekend events) have struggled to maintain their ratings. So what I think we have is an increased spread in the ratings, and much depends on who you get to play against.

The following ‘upset’ features an ‘ordinary’ GM beating a super-GM in fine style. It’s hard to believe that the winner is really almost 300 points lower rated:

Nigel Davies

Down Memory Lane

The game below is a real trip down memory lane for me. It was played in my first Elo rated tournament when I’d just turned 17 and I still played openings like the King’s Gambit and Schliemann Defence.

The Schliemann featured in this game and my opponent, Jeff Horner, didn’t really know what to do against it apart from ‘common sense’ development. But allowing the doubling of White’s c-pawns was not a good idea.

Horner and I would play many more times over the years and with very good results for me. It can help to get off to a good start against someone.

Nigel Davies

When to Follow General Principles and When to Ignore Them

“It is the aim of the modern school, not to treat every position according to one general law, but according to the principle inherent in the position”

-Richard Reti

When we start learning chess, we are often given general principles or “rules of thumb” to follow. Here are an example of some general principles we may have learned along the way:

  • In the opening, we should control the center, develop our pieces, and castle fairly early.
  • Don’t move a piece more than once in the first ten moves.
  • In the endgame, your rook should be behind passed pawns, both yours and your opponents.
  • A knight on the rim is dim.
  • When ahead in material, trade pieces but not pawns.
  • When behind in material, trade pawns but not pieces.

You get the idea.

These are very useful in our decision making process because they give us a short-cut and help to speed up decisions. They also give us a means to make evaluations within our positions. All-in-all, it is good to learn these.

However, there are times and situations where general principles should be ignored or at least verified through concrete analysis and calculation. Especially as we get stronger as players, it is important to discern when we should follow specific general principles and when it is correct to deviate.

How do we know when we should do this? Admittedly, I think most of it comes from experience and study. However, here are a few ideas that you can consider during and after your games.

  • When the position offers several viable moves with outcomes resulting in similar evaluations – e.g. one path is not clearly better than another – then following general principles can often provide us with a path to follow.
  • The more critical a position is – the more uneven the evaluations between the best moves and less-good moves – then the more one should rely on concrete analysis.
  • When you have a clear plan that can be backed up by concrete variations that leads to a clear advantage, it is often safe to ignore general principles.
  • After your games, evaluate your decisions. Did you make decisions based on general principles that didn’t apply to that specific situation? Analyze whether your conception of the position was incorrect – e.g. you used the wrong principles to evaluate – or whether you miscalculated – e.g. the principles were correct, but you made an error in calculating the resulting position.
  • Did you make decisions based on concrete variations that would have been better evaluated based on general principles? For example, quiet positions that may require deeper understanding of the positional elements but not necessarily the calculation of forced moves (since there aren’t many).
  • In your opening repertoire, do you select openings that have clear plans and can be played successfully based on general understanding and principles? Or do you play openings that require a lot of memorization and specific moves that don’t necessarily follow general principles? Understanding this is very important to selecting and studying your openings.

To illustrate these points, I’d like to share a game that I think balances the following and use of general principles as well as the selective (and timely) ignoring of such principles.

In the game below, Capablanca aggressively strikes out against his opponent, weakening his own pawn structure while his king remains in the center. However, as we see in the game, it is all part of a grand plan. His opponent, Aron Nimzowitsch, allows an opposite color bishop endgame that general principles lead him to believe he could hold, but Capablanca’s grasp of the specific nature of the position leads him to victory.

In closing, please understand that I believe general principles are very useful and essential. However, we must understand the “when” and “why” of their use and be willing to go against them when the specifics of the position call for it.

Enjoy the game!

Bryan Castro

100 Chess Tests, Basic Tactics

“100 Teste de sah, Procedee tactice elementare”/ “100 Chess tests, Basic tactics”, ISBN 978-606-8298-58-0, Editura Unirea – Alba Iulia is the third book in Romanian by MF Marius Ceteras (ROU), a follow up on the previous two very popular ones for beginner and intermediate players. His books are recognized by Romanian Ministry of Education and are officially used for teaching chess in schools across Romania and Republic of Moldova. The success of those books can be measured by the public positive response and desire for more of the same: they asked Marius to help them get more puzzles for practicing all the concepts presented. This third book is in response to that request.

The book is divided by 3 levels of difficulty plus one final review chapter and it is suitable for players rated around 1200 to 1600. Although it is written in Romanian, this book can be used by anyone rather easily. In today’s day and age the online free translation services solve decently any language barrier, including here for the rather minimal use of Romanian language in the description of each test. The puzzles are simply illustrated with their item number and either letter A (if White moves first) or N (if Black moves first). The solutions for all puzzles are located at the end of the book and checking them requires minimum effort even if you don’t know Romanian. The Romanian chess symbols for the pieces are (you can also Google them):
C = Cal (Rou) = Knight (Eng)
N = Nebun (Rou) = Bishop (Eng)
T = Turn (Rou) = Rook (Eng)
D = Dama (Rou) = Queen (Eng)
R = Rege (Rou) = King (Eng)
An English speaking reader might get mixed up at the beginning by the use of “N” or “R” (symbols for different pieces in English), but with a bit of practice things will work out well. I still get mixed up occasionally when translating between Romanian and English; this comes even after using both languages for many years!…

There are 100 tests of 6 puzzles each for a total of 600 puzzles. IMO this is a minimum number of puzzles any club player should solve on their own in order to get better. The puzzles are grouped by the tactical procedure required to solve them, as well as by level of difficulty. This aspect of the level of difficulty cannot be stressed enough! The internet is full with countless puzzles and sites offering puzzle solving; where the majority of them fall short is having those puzzles logically arranged in a meaningful and helpful progression. It is of very little use (sometimes no use at all) to try to solve a puzzle suitable for a 1600 level when you are under 1000. If you don’t even realize the puzzle is not suitable for you, there is a danger of turning an engine on to solve it for you; in that case you would learn nothing.

Levels 1, 2 and 3 have 30 tests for a total of 180 puzzles each, while the final review chapter has 10 final tests for a total of 60 puzzles. Marius personalizes all tests with a couple of nice local touches: all of them are from games played by Romanian players from Romania and Republic of Moldova; also their skill level varies from promising juniors to Grand Masters. There are tests where a tactical procedure is revisited as part of the same or a different level; the distinction between them is made by labeling them with letters such as: (A) for the first test and (B) for the second test.
Example I: level 1, test 6 deals with the “discovered attack” and it is marked (A), while test 7 also deals with the same subject and it is marked (B).
Example II: along the same idea level 2 has test 34 about “Attraction” (A), test 44 “Attraction” (B), while level 3 has test 66 “Attraction” (C) and test 76 “Attraction” (D).
This is a bit confusing and I am sure it could be improved in future. The number of tests per each tactical procedure has been chosen based on a statistical analysis of the frequency each might appear in a game, as well as how complex the procedure is. I believe this also is an important qualitative aspect of the book.

The solution of each puzzle could lead to the following possible outcomes for the side moving first:
– forced checkmate
– winning material advantage
– winning attack on the oppposing King
– won endgame
– winnning position
– draw if that is the best possible outcome
This book also covers the following tactical procedures not included in the previous two books; for each one I have added a sample puzzle to better illustrate what to expect:
1. The X-Ray attack (level 1, test 18)

2. Taking control of a square (level 2, tests 68 and 78)

3. The intermediate move (level 2, tests 69 and 79)

4. The counterattack (level 2, tests 70 and 80)

Other suggestions for improvements could be related to the layout: for each diagram it might be sufficient to have the lines and rows marked only on one side of the board (instead of both) to save space; also instead of using the letters A (if White moves first) or N (if Black moves first), it could be simpler to use an empty circle (if White moves first) or a dark circle (if Black moves first). It would go along the Informator type of layout and make it more appealing to a wider audience. The book can be purchased in local bookstores if you happen to visit Romania or online HERE. Hope you found this short review useful plus the offer interesting chess-wise (quality of material) and price-wise (18 Lei is approx 4.21 USD or 3.98 euro). An interesting interview with Marius will follow up in another article.

Valer Eugen Demian

Raymond Smullyan – and a Postscript

I was saddened to hear of the recent death of Raymond Smullyan at the impressive age of 97. Smullyan was a mathematician, stage magician and concert pianist as well as a philosopher, but was best known as the author of many books on logic.

He was also interested in chess and published two books of ‘chess logic’ puzzles based on retro-analysis: The Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes (1979) and The Chess Mysteries of the Arabian Knights (1981). My bookshelf includes the latter, but not, as far as I can recall, the former. In Smullyan’s puzzles the solver has to use logic to work out how the position was reached, rather than, as in most chess puzzles, what should happen next.

Here’s his best known puzzle.

Set up this position on your board: a white bishop on a4, a black bishop on d5, black rook on b5 and black king on d1.

In the Arabian Knights book Smullyan explains that Haroun Al Rashid, the White King, has made himself invisible, a trick he learnt from a Chinese sorcerer. He is on one of the 64 squares of the enchanted chess kingdom, but no one can see him. Your task is to discover his location.

You might like to work it out for yourself before reading on.

You’ll spot that the black king is in check from the white bishop, but that there is no possible last move for that piece. But if Haroun Al Rashid is on b3 he will be in what appears to be an illegal double check from the black rook and bishop.

You’ll need a bit of lateral thinking to realise that this double check is not quite impossible: it could come about from an en passant capture.

This is how the position might have arisen (the black bishop could be somewhere else on the long diagonal). Black plays 1… Bd5+ and the game continues 2. c4 bxc3 (en passant), giving double check from the rook and the bishop by opening two lines, and then 3. Kxc3, giving you the required position. So the answer is that Haroun Al Rashid is on the c3 square.

This was first published by Leonard Barden in what was then the Manchester Guardian in 1957, but, as Barden had been sent the puzzle without any further information, the composer was not named. A few weeks later, Smullyan made contact with Barden, who later published several more of his chess logic puzzles.

By way of a postscript to last week’s article, I have a more conventional puzzle for you to solve.

Black to play: choose your next move.

You might recall that last week I demonstrated how my two most recent games featured missed opportunities for very similar tactics: sacrificing a rook for a pawn to set up a fork regaining the rook.

Since then I’ve played another league game, and again I was awarded the white pieces. In this position my opponent has an extra pawn on c3 which might not be very safe, while I might also be thinking about taking advantage of the slightly insecure black king by playing Nxg5.

They say things come in threes, and, for the third consecutive game both players failed to notice the possibility of a very similar combination.

Black can play 1… Rd1+! 2. Rxd1 c2 winning material by forcing the white queen away from her protection of the rook on b5. White’s only hope now is to give up the exchange: 3. Rxb6 axb6 4. Qb3 cxd1Q 5. Qxd1. Instead, Black, who was starting to run short of time, played Rd6, and, a few moves later, panicked and gave up material unnecessarily. I eventually won the game.

This is slightly harder from last week’s positions. Firstly, it involves a sacrifice on a vacant square. Secondly, there’s the additional motif of deflecting the white queen so you have to see one move further ahead. The basic concept is quite similar, though, and again, if you look for checks, captures and threats, you should be able to find it.

Richard James

The Important of Tactics Four

The pin, at least as far as chess is concerned, is mightier than the sword! In the last three articles, we looked at a tactic called the fork. Like the fork, a pin requires that the tactician (you) keep an eye out for pieces that lie on ranks, files and/or diagonals. Unlike the fork, a tactic all of your pawns and pieces can engage in (from pawn to King), pins require the use of your long distance pieces, the Bishop, Rook or Queen. A pin takes place when one piece is attacked and should that attacked piece move, a piece of greater value will be captured. The pieces involved in a pin must lie on a rank, file or diagonal, thus the employment of a Bishop, Rook or Queen. There are two types of pins, the absolute pin and the relative pin. In an absolute pin, the piece behind the piece being attacked is the King which means the piece being attacked cannot move. With a relative pin, the piece being attacked can move but if it does the piece behind it, which is of greater value than the attacked piece, will be captured. Therefore, Absolute pins hold greater weight since the pinned piece is literally glued to the square it’s on due to blocking an attack on the King in question. There are three pieces involved in any pin, the piece doing the pinning (Bishop, Rook or Queen), the piece being pinned (Knight, Bishop, Rook or Queen) and lastly the piece of greater value that sits behind the pinned piece (with at least one empty square between it and the pinned piece. Take a look at the example below:

In the above example, we have a relative pin. It’s important to note that a relative pin can be ignored at the loss of the more valuable material behind the pinned piece. However, pins, as we shall see, are not always rock solid! The game starts off with both players advancing their e pawns with 1. e4…e5. White develops the King-side Knight with tempo, attacking the e5 pawn while Black defends it, 2.Nf3…Nc6. White moves the King-side Bishop to c4, with 3. Bc4, denoting (possibly) the Italian Opening. Black plays 3…d6, which adds a second defender to the e5 pawn and allows the Black Queen-side Bishop to develop. When Black made this last move, White should be able to clearly anticipate that the newly freed Bishop on c8 will come down to g4, pinning the f3 Knight to the White Queen on d1. White continues development with 4. Nc3. Now Black plays 4…Bg4 activating the pin. How effective is this pin? As we shall see shortly, it doesn’t deter White at all. In fact White plays 5. Nxe5, acting as if the pin is non-existent!

It should be noted that White had two alternatives to 5. Nxe5. White could have blocked the pin with 5. Be2, allowing the Knight on f3 to move without consequence to the Queen. White could also have pushed the h pawn with 5. h3, nudging the Black Bishop away or forcing a trade. However, a trade of Bishop for Knight would have caused the White Queen to capture back which would have had the Queen and c4 Bishop aimed at the weak f7 square. In the case of an exchange, we wouldn’t capture back with the g2 pawn because that would leave doubled pawns and a hole in White’s King-side pawn structure should White castle King-side. However, White ignored the pin altogether leaving Black with the opportunity to capture the White Queen.

Any good chess player commanding the Black army would first look closely at the position, especially the placement of the Knight on e5, the Bishop on c4 and the White Knight on c3. They’d immediately avoid the Queen capture and quickly defend the f7 square. However, our greedy player took the White Queen with 5…Bxd1. Now it’s too late. White first checks the Black King with 6. Bxf7+. The Black King is forced to e7 with 6…Ke7 and White delivers the final blow with 7. Nd5#, checkmate!

I used this example because it teaches us an important lesson regarding pins and that lesson is that a pins are not always as strong as they seem. While Black won the White Queen, White won the game and you don’t win by having more material than your opponent! However, the idea behind this pin was to keep the Knight on f3 from participating in the game. If White didn’t have the opportunity to deliver checkmate, the Knight would have been stuck on f3 as long as the Black Bishop remained on g4 and the White Queen on d1. Pins are employed to keep opposition pieces from participating in the game. In our next example, we’ll see an absolute pin, one in which the King is behind the pinned piece, in this case the Queen.

It’s extremely dangerous to have your Queen directly in front of the King on either a rank, file or diagonal. In the above example, the Black Queen (f7) is in front of the Black King (e8) on the h5-e8 diagonal. White takes advantage of this mistake by playing 1. Bh5 pinning the Queen to the King. It’s important to note that this pin only works because the Bishop is protected by the White Queen on d1. Because the King is behind the Black Queen, her majesty cannot move out of the line of fire. She has no choice but to capture the attacking Bishop with 1…Qxh5 or moving the King, losing the Queen either way. Now White plays 2. Qxh5+, winning Queen for Bishop and attacking the poor Black King. The key factors that made this pin successful were first, it was an absolute pin. When a King is behind a pinned piece, as is this case, the pinned piece cannot move out of danger. The second factor regarding this successful pin was the protection of the White Bishop by the White Queen. If the Bishop wasn’t protected, it would simply be captured by the Black Queen free of charge. Because the White Queen guarded the Bishop, the pin was successful.

The key to all pins is looking for a rank, file or diagonal occupied by two opposition pieces, one being more valuable than the other. It’s important to remember that if the piece being pinned can attack the piece doing the pinning, the piece doing the pinning needs protection. In our example involving the Black Queen and King, the value of the pinned piece was greater than the value of the piece doing the pinning, making it an extremely deadly tactical play. If we replaced the Black Queen with a Black Knight, the pin would have the effect of Keeping the Knight glued in place, unable to move because it was shielding the King from attack. While this would be useful because it would keep the pinned piece out of the game temporarily, it wouldn’t have the same effect as being able to win the opposition Queen.

If you have the chance, you should always add pressure to a pinned piece. What do I mean by this? Add another attacker to the pinned piece. Pile up attackers on the pinned piece to really put the thumbscrews to the opposition’s position. Pawns are great for this because if a piece is pinned and then attacked by a pawn, the piece is a goner!

We’ll go into more detail regarding pins in my next article and introduce Rooks and Queen into this tactical tool. Remember, potential pins are seen only to those who closely examine the ranks, files and diagonals continuously throughout the game. It’s the keen eye that finds them. I suggest you look at some random games in any chess books or databases you have and see if you can spot potential pins. If you see a potential pin and it doesn’t get played in actual the game you’re looking over, see if you can determine why. This will teach you both how to spot potential pins and also how to determine whether they’ll work. Happy hunting. Here’s a game to enjoy until then.

Hugh Patterson