Learning From The British Championship

There’s still a game to go in this year’s British Championship but it’s been a fascinating event. Most of all the presence of Michael Adams, a top class GM who has successfully competed against the best players in the World, has provided many great lessons. It’s interested to watch the games as they unfold because you can then try and guess the move and get a sense of the important decisions by the amount of time taken.

The following game was a vital one as Adams was pitted against the number two seed, David Howell. Adams won a tough game shown here with commentary by International Master Andrew Martin:

Nigel Davies

Choking in the Clinch

Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.
-Ernest Lawrence Thayer, “Casey at the Bat”

http://bostonbaseballhistory.com/myBlog/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Casey-at-the-Bat.jpgYears ago on a programming team I had a co-worker, “Bob”,  a brilliant control engineer and programmer. He had one weakness: he could easily freeze up during debugging.

Bob would call me into his office, his voice quavering and with tears in his eyes, “Please help me! I’ve been on it for hours and I can’t find the bug!”

“No problem!” I always replied, because truly it was no very great problem. I had learned how to debug with Bob. He’d “drive” (sit at the screen and operate the keyboard and mouse) and I’d navigate. “Show me your code … okay, let’s follow this function down … no, let’s back up and look at the next statement …”

It didn’t really matter, I would just casually and aimlessly walk him around his code until I sensed sensitivity. “Jacques, we’ve been over this, why are we going to that statement again?” As soon as I sensed touchiness, I’d bear down. “Let’s look at this again …” “I told you, we looked at that!” Bob would almost shout, and when he was ready to explode with rage I knew we had closed in on the bug. It worked like a charm, every time.

Last week, I came home after narrowly failing to win the second tournament in a row. In both tournaments, I had choked in the clinch, dispatching with finesse my quality opponents, only to lose both times in the last round to a lucky woodpusher. Why? Why?

The wife, no chessplayer she, setting out dinner that night opined casually, “Maybe you have trouble handling the pressure?”

“No, that’s not it,” I said angrily, and then I thought of Bob.

Jacques Delaguerre

The Passed Pawn Blockade

In general blockading is a very rich concept. Some opening systems are designed around the concept of blockading. For example in the Gruenfeld Exchange Variation one of Black’s strategies is to blockade a White passed d-pawn and simultaneously try to roll his queen side pawns forward. Meanwhile the following variation of the French Defense demonstrates the importance of blockade in order to limit the activity of the opponent’s pieces: 1. e4 e6 2. Nf3 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. d4 c5 6. dxc5 Nc6 7. Bf4 Bxc5 8. Bd3 f6 9. exf6 Nxf6 10. O-O O-O 11. Ne5 blockading the e5 square.

In this article, we will deal with blockade in relation to passed pawns only.

Q: Which piece is the best blockader of the passed pawn?

A: Usually a piece whose activity can’t be restricted by the passer is the best one, therefore knights and Bishops are good blockaders and in the endgame the king turns to be a very effective blockader. Though, it is not necessarily true every time.

Here is an instructive example that illustrates the blockade and how to fight against a blockading strategy.

Max Euwe against Herman Pilnik in 1950

Q: How would you proceed with the Black pieces?
A: In the game Black played 12…Nc4 with the idea of …Nd6 which not only improves knight’s placement but also blocks White’s passed pawn.

Q: How should White fight against Black’s strategy?
A: White strategy should be to roll the d-pawn down the board so the first step should be to remove the blockade on d6.

Here are two options:
A) 13.Nb5 which can be met by Nc7!.
B) 13. f4 this is bit deep idea of removing the blockade by rolling the pawn to e5.
One should check both ideas deeply before proceeding and they might also be played later on.

In the game, White played in another way:

13. b3?!

There is nothing wrong with this move but it does not address the key issue of how to advance White’s d-pawn.

13…Nd6 14.Be3 b6 15.Qd2 Re8 16.f4

The idea mentioned above.

16…Nc7 17.Rf2 exf4

In view of the strong hold on e5 that Black gets.

18.Bxf4 Ba6 19. Re1

19.Bxd6 is bad because of 19…Qxd6 20. Rc1 (20. Qf4 is blunder due to the pin along the long diagonal.) 20…Re7! (Vacating the e8 square for knight.)
21.Qf4 Ne8! with a strong blockade on d6 and strong hold on e5. Black has the upper hand here.


Again with a nice grip over e5 and d6 squares. Black stands better if not winning, here is the rest of the game in case you’re interested.

Ashvin Chuahan

England v Croatia Server Match in Close Finish

With the reigning ICCF World Champion, GM Ing Leonardo Ljubicic, on Board 1 for Croatia it looks like a close finish for the England v Croatia Match on the ICCF Server. The current score is England 22.5 and Croatia 20.5 with 3 games still to finish, 2 of which are on Board 1.

It is not for me to comment on unfinished games, but England can still afford to lose one game if they draw two, which would win the match. The World Champion is playing England’s IM Edgar Flacker on Board 1. I managed to draw both my games for England against Zdravko Tesic on Board 4. You can view finished and unfinished games here https://www.iccf.com/event?id=51755

Here is my symmetrical English game as Black.

Here is a short game by Neil Limbert for England on Board 8 taking advantage of his opponent’s early blunder.

John Rhodes

Automatic Moves

The solution to last Monday’s problem is that White can punish Black’s greed by playing 1. Qc1 and the Black Queen is trapped. 1.. Qa5 is met by 2. Bb5+.

This week’s problem shows the pitfalls of making automatic replies.

White sees that his Queen is attacked and that the Black Pawn on b6 is en prise, and so automatically plays 1. Qxb6 after a few seconds thought. Black castled and White did not have a big edge.

What had White missed? How can he get a big advantage by keeping the Black King in the centre of the board where it can be attacked?

Steven Carr

No Change

So I went along to the Thames Valley League AGM for the first time for some years. As I’m currently captaining a team in the league I thought I ought to be there.

Still very much the same people who’ve been attending for the past 40 years or so. No change there. And, of course, no discussion of the real problems facing the league.

There was much discussion on adjudications. Yes, adjudications. If you live on Planet Sensible you’d be more likely to find Elvis playing chess with the Loch Ness Monster than a league which still has adjudications. But there you go. That’s where we are. Over the past few years there have been maybe 5 or 6, but last season nothing happened. There were three games with no result recorded. It transpired that one was an adjournment which the two players hadn’t got round to playing off, but the other two were indeed adjudications, one from one of my team’s matches, which the league secretary, due to a combination of health problems and pressure of work, hadn’t sent off to the adjudication secretary. Fortunately they didn’t affect league winners, promotion or relegation. These days, of course, most games which would in the past have gone for adjudication will have their results agreed followed by consultation with Stockfish or Houdini, but there will always be a few which are genuinely unclear. You might ask yourself why the league has an adjudication secretary at all, given that there are so few adjudications, but he’s been in the post for several decades and no one wants to upset him by telling him his services are no longer needed. You might also wonder, as one or two did at the meeting, why the positions for adjudication could not be sent directly to the adjudication secretary, but, until a few years ago, he didn’t have access to email and no one had thought to change the rules once he entered the current century.

There has been some talk in the ECF in recent years about not grading games decided by adjudication, and it’s even been proposed that events which allow adjudication shouldn’t be graded. Extreme, maybe, but my view is that adjudication, at least outside primary school chess clubs, should have no place in the modern game. My view also is that adjournments are fine for consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes, but shouldn’t be forced on anyone. If the league wants to be attractive to stronger players, and to attract new players, playing to a finish in one session should be the default option. Yes, it doesn’t suit all older players. It certainly doesn’t suit me. Although I’ll always agree to finishing in one session, I inevitably panic in the quickplay finish, and, if I’m anything less than a queen ahead I’m likely to run short of time, blunder and lose. It’s a price I’m prepared to pay for the survival of the league.

The good news from the evening was that my Chess Improver posts have more readers than I thought. My Surbiton friends had read my recent piece on Keith Arkell’s visit to their neighbourhood. More surprisingly, I discovered that the league Chairman had read the column from several months ago in which I annotated my win against his King’s Gambit. Perhaps, then, I should use this column to make some proposals. If you’d like to support me or make alternative proposals please get in touch.

We agree the time control at the start of the game. At present the order of precedence is:
1. Slow time limit with adjournment or adjudication of unfinished games
2. Faster time limit with intermediate time control
3. Faster time limit with no intermediate time control

I’d propose instead the following order of precedence:
1. Faster time limit with intermediate time control
2. Faster time limit with no intermediate time control
3. Slow time limit with adjournment of unfinished games (no adjudication)

Personally, I’d prefer 1 and 2 the other way round, but I know I’m in a minority on that one. If you play in the Thames Valley League, or even if you don’t, what do you think?

Richard James

Into the Crystal Ball

Have you ever played someone who seems to anticipate every move you make as if they have a crystal ball that allows them a glimpse into the game’s future? It happens a great deal to beginners who sit mystified at the chessboard, wondering how their opponent had developed such an impressive skill. When they learn that their opponent can think many moves ahead, beginners start to believe that their skilled opponents are thinking ten or eleven moves ahead. This leaves the beginner, who can barely think a move ahead, feeling as if there’s no future for them as far as improvement is concerned. What it I told you that you only have to think one and a half moves ahead to improve your chess? Would you, the beginner, feel better about your journey towards improvement?

I first came across the concept of thinking one and a half moves ahead when I acquired a copy of Power Chess for Kids by Charles Hertan. In the book, students are taught to think one and a half moves ahead as their starting point. One and a half moves ahead translates to the move you make, your opponent’s best response and your follow up (move) to your opponent’s best response. I quickly incorporated this method into my teaching program and it has worked extremely well.

However, it sounds easier than it actually is to employ this method when you’re first starting your chess career. Here’s why: When you ask a beginner what their plan is, they’ll more often than not tell you that they’re going to make this move and their opponent is going to make that move which will be followed up by another move and so on. The beginner proudly states that he or she is thinking three or four moves ahead. Except there’s one big problem, the beginner is thinking of opposition moves they want their opponent to play, not the moves their opponent is actually going to play. There’s a difference here. Your opponent is simply not going to play into your hands by making the moves you want them to make. They’re going to make moves (hopefully for them) that derail your plan! After all, they want to win as well!

Therefore, if you think in these terms you’re rarely, if ever, going to win games. When you consider that first move in our one and a half move system, you need to think of a sound move from the start. For example, young players love Scholar’s Mate. In four moves they can deliver checkmate with the light squared Bishop (white) on c4 and the white Queen delivering the mate on f7 (either via f3 or h5). If the person manning the black pieces is oblivious to this fast checkmate they’ll lose in four moves. However, anyone with a bit of playing experience can easily deflect this mating attempt. Thus, playing for Scholar’s Mate is a good example of making moves in our system that are unrealistic regarding sound play.

Move two, our opponent’s response to our first move is the first thing we need to consider when plotting our own first move. When considering a candidate move, we should pretend to switch places with our opponent and see if we can come up with as a crushing response. Doing so allows us to test the validity of our potential move before committing to it. If you don’t do this, you won’t get far. It’s that simple. You have to consider the strongest response to your potential or candidate move before making it. Doing so allows you to see the position through the eyes of the opposition which can shed light on potential problems on both sides of the board. Chess is all about seeing the position at hand from both sides and solving problems. Look at every pawn and piece when considering a response to your move idea because you’re less likely to miss that killer opposition reply. It takes time to do this but you’ll develop patience which is key!

Patience is a critical factor here! Patience may be one of the hardest things a beginner has to learn. It literally takes time to develop patience and he or she who takes his or her time when playing will do best in the long run. Beginners have a tendency to play fast. If one’s opponent makes a fast move, the beginner will often respond in kind, thinking of this quick response as a way to show their opponent that “I’m just as smart as you and can play just as fast.” Wrong! Just because someone decides to drive past you on the highway at 110 miles per hour doesn’t mean you should step on the gas pedal to match their speed. Common sense says just because someone does something foolish doesn’t mean you should! Take your time when examining potential moves and responses by your opponent.

Where things get a bit tricky is when you have to come up with the response to your opponent’s move. It’s the starting point for understanding the art of the combination. Most tactical plays are based on a combination of moves. While you do sometimes fall into a situation in which a tactical play, such as a fork or skewer, comes out of nowhere because your opponent made a poor move, you usually have to set up a tactical play. Therefore, getting good at coming up with that third move, your response to your opponent’s move, is extremely important. It’s called follow through!

During the opening, your first moves might be simply to develop a pawn or piece to a good square. Let’s say you want to develop your Queen-side Knight to c3. You eye the c3 square as a great place for the Knight. Then you think of your opponent’s response which might be using his or her King-side Bishop (moving it to b4) to pin your Knight on c3 to your King on e1. Simply knowing this pin is possible goes a long way towards helping you determine whether you want to make this move. You then think to yourself, if I move my Knight to c3 and my opponent uses their King-side Bishop to pin the Knight to the King, what are my options, my best response? You examine the board and see that you can Castle out of the pin. This is the way to employ the one and a half moves ahead concept.

This thinking can be applied to the middle and endgame as well. In the middle game, it’s all about tactics for the novice player. Therefore, you need to take this approach from a tactical perspective. If I make this move, the start of the tactical combination, how can my opponent stop my tactical play. Don’t think in terms of I’ll do this and he’ll do exactly as I want. Your opponent is going to do everything humanly possible to stop your tactical idea. If, after look at all your opponent’s material, you see that he or she can’t stop the tactical play, carry on. If you see that your idea can be rebutted, come up with another one and a half move plan.

In the endgame, things become a little clearer with less material on the board. However, just because there are fewer pieces on the board doesn’t mean things get easier. Endgame calculations, unlike middle-game calculations, can be a lot deeper, meaning players are thinking a lot more than one and a half moves into the future. Beginners should still employ the one and a half move system rather than try to calculate five moves ahead. Keep it simple until you gain more calculation experience.

There’s only one way to develop your ability to calculate moves ahead and that is experience, playing a lot of chess. However, if you use the one and a half move system, you’ll get better at calculating a lot faster. The point here is that you have to have a plan of action with every move. If you have no plan, you might as well be giving your opponent free turns because that’s what the opposition will garner with every bad move made, a free opportunity for them to further develop their pieces or launch a solid attack. Patience is your best friend when playing chess. Good positions must be carefully shaped the way in which a sculptor creates art from a lump of clay or stone. Always put yourself into the opposition’s shoes when considering a response to your move and make sure you have a follow up. Do this and you’ll be playing better chess in no time! Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of Middlegame Understanding

Look on any internet chess forum and you’ll find much discussion of particular opening variations. The participants will look up similar games and use the latest engines running on fast computers but appear to neglect the most important thing. It is vital, in playing any opening, to understand the sort of middle game it will lead to.

Without this it’s impossible to stay well orientated if something unexpected happens, for example if an opponent fails to play the book moves. And there are also so many possible variations in the early stages that it’s impossible to remember everything anyway.

A player I’ve grown to admire immensely over the years is Anatoly Karpov. His positional understanding is extremely subtle, yet at the same time it is grounded in the classics. Here he is conducting a classic minority attack against the strong Argentinian GM, Daniel Campora:

Nigel Davies

Where Is There An Opening?

Bodhi is originally without any tree;
The bright mirror is also not a stand.
Originally there is not a single thing —
Where could any dust be attracted?
– Huineng, 6th Partiarch of Zen Buddhism


Sixth Patriach Tearing the Sutra

In Huineng‘s day, the Sutras, the sacred scriptures of Buddhism, were hand-written and brought to China by traders from India and were worth their weight in silver. When Huineng, the original champion of immediate enlightenment which characterizes Zen Buddhism, reached satori, he ripped a Sutra to shreds, providing later generations of Buddhist artists a theme as familiar to them as, say, the Passion was to Christian artists. Along the same lines are Krishna’s comment in the Bhagavad Gita that “to the enlightened man, the Vedas (Hindu scriptures) are as superfluous as a cistern in a flood.”

I’ve meditated on this truth while reading a popular openings treatise. Weighty, up-to-date, impassioned, it exercised my chess mind but left me feeling completely detached from the goals of the author while respecting his prowess and hard work. The pieces move. We reset the board. The pieces move again. Where is there an opening?

Jacques Delaguerre

The Passed Pawn – Underpromotion

Last week, we looked at the passed pawn in general. Promoting a passed pawn usually ends the game in favour of the promoter as it creates huge material imbalance if the pawn becomes a queen. But this is not always the case!

Sometimes underpromotion is necessary in order to checkmate the opponent king and to meet opponent’s resources such as counter promotion, checkmate threats, the threat of capturing the promoted piece and drawing tricks. Here are some enlightening examples:

1) Robert Fontaine against Maxime Vachier Lagrave in 2007:

Underpromotion to meet perpetual checks and checkmating the opponent king

Q: How would you proceed with Black pieces?
A: Black can checkmate the opponent king with series of forcing moves using underpromotion.

1… f1=N+!!

This is the only way to pocket the point, promoting the pawn into a queen leads only to a draw after Qxc7.

2.Kf4 Rh4+ 3.Kg5 Be3+!

Sacrificing the rook.

4.Kxh4 g5+
5.Kh5 Ng3+

White resigned in view of 6. Kg6 g4#.

2) Aron G Reshko against Oleg Kaminsky in 1972:
Underpromotion to avoid stalemate tricks

Q: What would you promote to on a8?
A: Promoting to a queen or rook fails to Qf7+!! due to stalemate tricks. In the game White promoted the pawn into a bishop and went on win after couple of moves.

3) Nakamura against Kramnik in 2012:
Underpromotion leaves Black without any counter chances.

Q: How would you proceed with the White pieces?
A: In the game White played 1.c8=N+, the only move to win the game because promoting pawn into queen can be met by exd1=Q+ whilst 1.Kxe2 can be met by f3+ followed by Bxc7. Black tried hard for next 18 moves but failed to save the day. Here are rest of the moves in case you’re interested.

62…Kf6 63.Kxe2 Ke5 64.Nb6 Kd4 65.Bg2 Be1 66.Nd5 Ke5 67.Nb4 Bh4 68.Nd3+ Kf5 69.Kxd2 Kg4 70.Ke2 Bf6 71.N1f2+ Kg3 72.Bf3 Bd8 73.Ne4+ Kh4 74.Ne5 Bc7 75.Ng6+ Kh3 76.Ne7 Bd8 77.Nf5 Bb6 78.Kf1 Kh2 79.Bg4 f3 80.Nh4 1–0

Ashvin Chauhan