Distraction

Last night I drew a game against USCF Life Master Brian Wall and at the same time won a victory over myself of the sort described in an earlier posting here. The challenge this week was both over the board, around the board, and under the board.

Firstly, whatever his virtues, Brian Wall is a master of distraction. It’s hard to tell with him what’s intentional and what just happens, as he is by nature cloaked in an improbability field. He bumps the board while writing his move and tilts it half a degree. He adjusts pieces on his opponent’s move unless reprimanded, sometimes including his opponent’s pieces. He stands up and wanders around the room on his own move, then reappears standing behind his opponent to see if the position looks any different from his or her side. This week he managed to set his clock erroneously (as Black, he had choice of equipment) to 30-second increment rather than 5-second delay, which we only discovered when he was in his characteristic time trouble. I called the TD, but of course it’s both players’ responsibility to see the clock is set correctly, so there was no penalty.

At the start of the game, there was a soap spill in the men’s room and Brian departed the board to try to clean it up with paper towels, gambiting ten minutes for a somewhat theatrical performance followed by a loud announcement to avoid the slippery floor. He appeared genuinely not to know one can’t clean a soap spill with paper towels but must mop.

As Brian finally sat down to play, there was yet a pair of players setting up their board who simply would not shut up. They chatted in a conversational tone, oblivious to everything around them.

Finally, there was the customary weekly sound irruption occurring right on schedule in the middle of the game: our TD, possessor of a lovely bass voice, each week steps behind a retaining wall in our playing room with 12-foot ceilings so that he may converse with the club treasurer, in the mistaken impression the wall masks the sound. It doesn’t. The aperture into the room acts instead as a bass amplifier so that the entire room rumbles almost to the windowpanes with his every muttered confidence until someone yells, “Knock it off!”

Fortunately, having suddenly shaken off in the middle of last week’s Tuesday night game the slew of family dramas and health crises which had their impact on my play over the past few weeks, I managed to stay focused.

After the exceptionally long (remember the clock?) game, Brian and his teenage son importuned me for a ride home, which I granted and was rewarded to hear Brian muse along the way to himself, “Yeah, that Czech formation [as he called my treatment of the Modern Reversed] is pretty solid. There’s no way  in.”

Here’s a somewhat similar game from FIDE play where Black does decide on an h7-h5 attack.

Jacques Delaguerre

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Recognising The Patterns: Challenge # 3

Today’s challenge: Find the typical pattern – Lasker to move:

Lasker against Fortuijn in 1908


White is the exchange and a pawn up and should win. But is it a good idea to offer the exchange back by playing Ra4?

Hint: You just need to open a file in order to access Black’s monarch.

Answer: The pattern is Anastasia’s mate and Black can’t win exchange because of a checkmate threat.

In the game Lasker played:

28. Ra4 Nc5? 29. Ne7+

Now Black is forced to give up Queen and still mate can’t be avoided, but the move now played allows a quick finish:

29… Kh8??

The game ended after 2 more moves.

30. Qxh7!!

Opening up h file.

30…Kxh7 31. Rh4#

The next example has been taken from “The Art of checkmate” – Renaud & Kahn:

Lasker – N.N.

Question: Black is in serious trouble. Is it wise to castle here?

Answer: Of course not as after castling White gets a devastating attack based on Anastasia’s checkmate pattern.

Here are the rest of the moves:
9… 0-0 10. Nxe7+ Kh8 11. Qh5

The threat is to play Qxh7 followed by Rh5#.

11…g6

11…h6 won’t help much after 12.d3 when the c1 bishop wants to take on h6.

12. Qh6 d6

This is suicide.

13. Rh5!

Checkmate can’t be avoided.

13…gxh5 14. Qf6#

Milan Vidmar against Max Euwe in 1929

Question: White to move. Black has created the devastating threat of Qf4, how cn you meet this?

Hint: This is a similar pattern in horizontal form! And Black’s Rook on c2 is undefended.

Answer: White can with Re8+.

34. Re8+ Bf8??

Allows checkmate, but if 34… Kh7 then 35. Qd3+ picks up the rook.

35. Rxf8!! Kxf8? 36. Nf5+ 1-0

Euwe resigned here because if 36… Kg8 then 37. Qf8+!! followed by Rd8 is mate.

Ashvin Chauhan

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Inventing Your Own Lines

A great way to improve your chess is to try inventing your own lines. Unlike the ‘monkey see, monkey do’ approach to openings that many adopt, trying to find new ideas engages and helps develop chess skills. You need to understand typical plans and then find ways to implement them on the board.

Is it necessary to find something completely new in order to be inventive? No. You can take an established line and try to come up with some new wrinkles later on, say around move 10 or 12. Of course it helps if the lines you investigate are not the most fashionable ones as these can get picked apart rather exhaustively.

One of my own efforts in this field was the development of 2.d3 against the Sicilian (1.e4 c5). I’d seen an article by Lawrence Day on ‘big clamp’ formations and wanted to formalize his strategic concepts to create an anti-Sicilian repertoire. It worked quite well and I subsequently made a video on it for Foxy Openings which can now be found at my Tiger Chess site.

Here’s some more about the 2.d3 video which you can add to your Tiger Chess membership whether you’re a full or video member:

Nigel Davies

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Visualisation

Another way to develop visualisation skills is to try to solve some chess mazes.

These puzzles were created by Bruce Albertson and they are good fun.

In each position, White has only one piece apart from his King and Black is not allowed to move.

White’s task is to check the Black King in as few moves as possible. However, he is not allowed to put his piece en prise, not even when giving check. White can take as many Black pieces as he wants, but he must never put his piece in a position where it can be captured by an enemy piece.

Oh, and Black is not allowed to move. Did I mention that?

Here is one position. White can check Black using his Rook in six moves. What are those six moves?

Steven Carr

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Ilford Interlude: Forty Years On

I was planning to return to my occasional series highlighting some of my better tournament performances in the 1970s, but you might be amused to see my worst performance.

For many years a weekend tournament was held in the East London suburb of Ilford over the Whitsun Bank Holiday weekend, and I played several times in the 70s. This is the other side of London from me and involved a long commute on three trains. Here’s what happened in 1975. Is it really forty years ago?

The first round went well. I managed to draw against a promising teenager named Shaun Taulbut, a future IM who is currently the Chairman and Co-Editor of the British Chess Magazine. In the second round I was paired against Richard O’Brien, a prominent player and organiser who later became well known as an author and publisher. I reached an equal position but played too passively and was driven back in the ending. This was before the days of quickplay finishes and if your game was still in progress when time was called someone (usually Bob Wade at Ilford) came round to adjudicate. In this game I was deservedly awarded a loss.

I was hoping for an easier game in round 3, but no such luck. I was again facing a stronger opponent. I reached an active but slightly loose position with Black and then this happened:

Choose a move for Black. You probably did better than my choice of Rbd6, inexplicably walking into a knight fork.

I finally encountered a low rated player in round 4 and, having the white pieces, was expecting to treble my points tally.

1. c4 e5
2. Nc3 Nf6
3. Nf3 Nc6
4. g3 d5
5. cxd5 Nxd5
6. Bg2 Nxc3
7. bxc3 e4
8. Ng1 f5
9. f3

Timman chose the pawn sacrifice 9… e3 against Larsen (Bled/Portoroz 1979 ½:½, 50) but my opponent preferred a different way of giving up a pawn.

9… Bc5
10. fxe4 O-O
11. d4

And now, not liking my central pawns, he gave up a piece.

11… Nxd4
12. cxd4 Bxd4

This is quite tricky for White. My silicon assistant tells me 13. Bb2 Bxb2 14. Qb3+ Kh8 15. Qxb2 fxe4 is White’s best bet, but he still has to untangle his position and his king will remain stuck in the centre. But 13. Qb3+ Kh8 14. Bb2 doesn’t work: Black has 14… Be6 15. Qxe6 Bxb2 16. Rb1 Bc3+ 17. Kf1 fxe4+, regaining the piece with a winning position.

This was still much better than my move, though. No doubt without much thought, I moved my threatened rook to its only square, b1, overlooking the obvious reply Bf2+ winning my queen and eventually the game.

With just a half point from my first four games and having lost in such a ridiculous fashion, I was very tempted to withdraw from the tournament and went so far as to write a note to the controllers, but I eventually decided to return the next day and play the last two rounds.

Round 5 featured another blunder, but this time I was the beneficiary. In this position my opponent played 19. h4, unguarding the g3 square and again allowing a knight fork. The game continued 19… Ng3 20. Qf3 Nxf1 21. Rxf1 h6, which wasn’t best (21… e4 instead), when White won a pawn after 22. Qh5 Kh7 23. Bxh6, but it was still enough to win the game.

In the sixth and final round I had the white pieces. A series of exchanges led peaceably to a rook ending. In this position I had to decide on a plan. Going after the b-pawn with Kd3 was fine for a draw. Going after the g-pawn with Kf4 was also fine for a draw. Instead I decided to go after the d-pawn and played Kd5, which, after my opponent’s obvious reply, was sadly not fine for a draw. Another absurd oversight, my third in the last four games.

By that time I was a reasonably competent player so how could I possibly have made so many crude mistakes within two days? I still find it hard to explain. Making one mistake is perhaps explicable at my level, but making three mistakes can only be attributed to a complete loss of confidence and an inability to deal with bad experiences. The long train journey home was not a lot of fun.

Meanwhile I had some more tournaments coming up. The following month Kingston Chess Club held a weekend tournament to celebrate their centenary. I scored 2/5 against a fairly strong field: not brilliant but a definite improvement. Two of my opponents in that event are both currently active on the English Chess Forum: Kevin Thurlow and Nick Faulks, who is also secretary of FIDE’s Qualifications Committee.

That summer a big international chess festival took place in London, and that was to be the venue of my next tournament. Would I manage to avoid silly mistakes there? Find out as this series continues.

Richard James

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King Opposition

As I’ve said in previous articles about the endgame, beginners seldom know what to do when in this game phase. Of course, most beginner’s games end well before a proper endgame so I can’t fault them for lacking practical experience. However, one problem beginner’s face when they do end up in an endgame, in which Kings and pawns are the only material left on the board, is the use of their Kings. Beginners tend to leave their Kings sitting inactively on their starting ranks. King activity is absolutely a must in King and pawn endgames!

The beginner who has gained a small modicum of experience knows to defend their King in the game’s first two phases, the opening and middle-game. During the opening, the beginner castles his King to safety and develops his or her pieces actively. During the middle-game, our beginner keeps a watchful eye out for opposition attacks on their King while launching their own attacks on the enemy King. Then, if they reach the endgame, the beginner often attempts to advance pawns across the board to their promotion squares. However, they often do so without the assistance of their King. When the majority of you and your opponent’s material is off the board, you need to employ the power of the King!

When students ask me to analyze their endgame, asking who has the better chance of winning, I first look at the balance of material. If they have a superior force that can corral opposition pawns while helping to promote one of their own pawns, they’ve got the opportunity to win. If the position is equal, material-wise, I look at King activity. If their opponent’s King is active and their King is not, the opposition has better opportunities to win. Again, you have to get your King into the game if you’re going to deliver a successful checkmate!

King opposition is a key factor in endgame play! Simply put, Kings in opposition are Kings facing one another on a rank, file or diagonal with a single square separating them. You’ll want to have the opposition to gain the advantage. What do I mean by having the opposition? You have the opposition when the other King has to move. In other words, if you’re playing the white pieces in such a position and it’s black’s turn to move, you have the opposition. When the black King moves, he gives the white King the right of way so to speak. Look at the example below:

In this example, it’s black to move. The black King moves to f6. The white King now has two choices. He can move to f4, maintaining the opposition, or he can move to d5, outflanking the black King. Outflanking means getting past something by moving around its side. A key point beginners should embrace is the idea that the opposition King can never move to squares controlled by their King. This means that you’ll want to use your King to control squares you want to keep the opposition King off of. This becomes a critical idea when using your King to aid in the promotion of a pawn. Now let’s see these ideas employed in an endgame situation in which both players have their Kings and a pawn each.

It’s black to move, so white has the opposition. The black King moves to d7 (1…d7) in an effort to protect his pawn and go after the white pawn on f5. However, getting the white pawn will prove difficult. It is too soon for the white King to outflank the black King so white keeps the Kings in opposition with 2. Kd5. Black moves his King to e7 (2…Ke7) to prevent white from placing his King on e6. So far, white is dictating the play in this endgame! Only now does white outflank the black King with 3. Kc6. Timing is everything in an endgame scenario such as this. The white pawn on f5 cuts off the e6 square and, combined with the white King’s control of d6 and d7, the black King cannot get onto a good square. Note that the white King is on the same rank as the back pawn, preparing to go after that pawn. In our example, black plays 3…Ke8 which merely puts off black’s demise by a few moves.

White then plays 4. Kd6, heading toward the poor black pawn. One point that should be made about pawn and King endgames is that you should always consider your opponent’s best response to your move before you make it. When white moved his King to d6, he knew that black would play 4…Kf7, trying to protect the pawn. As a beginner, you should note that this type of endgame position relies completely on the Kings. Since the pawns are locked in place, it is up to one of the Kings to free his pawn by capturing the opposition pawn. White plays 5. Kd7 and this is the critical move, placing the King’s in opposition. Since it’s now black’s turn to move, white has the opposition and, because of the position of the Kings and pawns, black is forced away. Black plays 5…Kf8 and white will win.

The game continues with 6. Ke6. White is now next to the black pawn so black tries to hold onto it with 6…Kg7 but white has anticipated black’s move and now plays 7. Ke7. The black King cannot go to g6 because of the white pawn on f5 so he is forced away from the defense of his f6 pawn, playing 7…Kg8. White will now capture the black pawn with 8. Kxf6.

It is at this point in the position that I would tell a student playing white to slow down and think very carefully about the next few moves. Experienced players might say “oh, but this is such an easy win!” The problem is that beginners often see the end result, checkmate, and become so excited that they play quickly which leads to a blunder which leads to stalemate.

Black now plays 8…Kf8. Black is hoping to somehow block the white pawn’s advance but white should fear not because white has his King in front of the pawn. When trying to promote a pawn with the aid of your King, you want your King facing your opponent’s King, in opposition. You don’t want your King behind your pawn which leads to a draw. This means that white has to think carefully about the next move. White plays 9. Ke6, outflanking black’s King. This allows white to control two key squares, e7 and f7. Black plays 9…Ke8, trying to maintain opposition. After 10. f6, black plays 10…Kf8, desperate to stop the advancing white pawn. After 11. f7, black is lost because he has to move off of the white pawn’s promotion square (f8). Black plays 11. Kg7. Here white moves his King to e7 with 12. Ke7, which protects both the white pawn and its promotion square. With nothing better to do, black plays 12…Kh7 followed by white promoting his pawn to a Queen with 13. f8=Q. Needless to say, white will win!

You should always use the ideas of King opposition and outflanking in endgame play. Always bring your King into the endgame and always take your time during this phase. Rather than give you a game to enjoy, here’s some homework: Set up five endgame positions, using Kings and pawns, with your computer or human opponent. Play through them and practice the ideas I presented above. Enjoy your homework!

Hugh Patterson

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10 Steps To Improve Your Chess

I thought I’d do something a little different in this post. Obviously, as a contributor here, I do quite a lot of thinking on how best to improve one’s chess. The problem is, that there is not one piece of advice that will be of great benefit on its own. The game is just not that easy, if it was, everyone would be a Grandmaster.

It will very much depend on the player concerned as to how he or she can improve their game. However, I think, generally, the list below would be a good place to start for most …

Analyse your games.
It’s important to know where you are going wrong and what your weaknesses are. This is the way to find out. There is no hard and fast formula, it takes a great deal of time and effort, and a lot of blunt honesty with yourself. However, it is worth every bit of it. Think of it as using the benefit of hindsight, in order to improve your foresight for future games.

Learn Opening Systems and setups before lines.
When it comes to the opening, the most common approach is often to sit down with a book and play through lines, trying to commit each one to memory. This often backfires, the human brain works best by association, especially the older we get. Therefore, before you get in to the meaty stuff of variations, it is much wiser to first become familiar with opening. First, general opening principles, like: control the centre, “bishops and knights out like lights”, castling early, not wasting time with prophylactic pawn moves, and so forth.

Then one is well equipped for learning a specific opening.

A good way to do this is to play through master games featuring the opening in question. This will highlight themes, and concepts, and one will already be noticing common move orders. Critical positions will also be indicated and recent games will highlight trends and novelties. At the end of this initial piece of research, the player will better understand the opening’s general principles, and know which lines to focus attention on. This is a much more productive way of learning an opening, in my opinion, than just trying to commit lines to memory.

• Learn endgames with the same dedication as openings.
I am not sure of exact figures but the endgame features in a good percentage of chess games. Therefore, it does puzzle me somewhat, that it is largely under-rated. Especially when compared to the opening. There are tons of books on the opening, but very few on the endgame — very few good ones anyway. So, where does one start with the endgame? I would recommend picking up a good book, and benefitting from experience. 101 Chess Endgame Tips by Steve Giddins is a good place to start. The games of masters are also very useful here.

• Learn pawn centres and their nuances.
Fixed, mobile, open, fluid, closed. A player who knows the differences (some subtle) between one from another, will enhance their middlegame (well, especially middlegame) understanding. The player who also knows the differences in strategy, technique, piece capabilities/limitations, has a very fine string to their bow.

• Don’t favour pieces.
When we learn chess, we are told (by a teacher or author) what the value of the pieces are. We are also told that bishops are slightly better than knights. I would not dream of trying to argue with the general intentions behind these pointers, but that is what they are, pointers. They are used to help the beginner learn the game and to appreciate the value of the various bits.

The downside of this approach is that it can also be limiting, and close a player’s mind. I see it so often that a novice will endeavour to get the bishop pair, by hook or by crook, having been told that it is advantageous. This kind of thing, though well meant, very often backfires. I once saw a player so focussed on obtaining the bishop pair, that he failed to notice the board closing up. In the end, he ended up with two bad bishops and a position constantly probed and influenced by his opponent’s knights.

• Learn how to think.
In a game of chess, one just thinks, right? Plain and simple. What should we play? What are the candidate moves? Let’s look at a few variations in each. It’s actually not quite that simple. The way one approaches the analysis of a position, will depend very much on the position. A tactical position will demand more precise calculation of as many valid variations as possible, whereas a quiet, positional situation wont and will be mainly general piece placement considerations. Once a player grasps the different thought processes that are applied to different types of position, his or her game can come on leaps and bounds. Alexander Kotov, teaches this in enlightening fashion in his books Think Like A Grandmaster and Play Like A Grandmaster.

• Play Correspondence (or turn-based) Chess.
Most players will play chess over-the-board and across from another person. The next most popular method will be live chess online I think. However, correspondence chess should not be over-looked. Correspondence chess (called ‘turn-based’ chess by some) is great for allowing deep analysis of chess positions, for which the player has a greater amount of time than normal. It can also be useful if you are still learning your openings, as the use of databases are legal.

• Adopt a GM.
Sounds like a TV appeal, I know, but choosing a Grandmaster (especially a very good one) to follow closely can help one’s chess remarkably. If he or she plays your openings all the better, but this is not essential. Your choice should be fairly similar in playing style, however. By analysing their games, and observing closely how they deal with certain situations, one can learn a lot, and take positive influences in to their own play.

• Exercise.
This is a rather strange piece of advice at first sight, but an active body breeds an active mind. It has been shown that exercise helps the brain to function better. Most of the top chess players are pretty active, swimming and walking being very popular activities — can’t be coincidence … ?

• Practice, practice, practice!
I suppose ‘play! Play! Play!’ would be more appropriate? Chess takes little time to learn, but a good time to become proficient at. A deep understanding of our beautiful game will take many hundreds of hours and just as many experiences. Ultimately, few are able to call themselves ‘masters’. If you take to chess with the main goal of becoming a Grandmaster, you are very likely to be in for a disappointment. However, if you take it up because it is a beautiful, fascinating game, one which you enjoy and wish to learn more and more, then you are at the start of a very rewarding love affair.

And, like all love affairs, it will fill your heart with joy one moment and have you wanting to walk away forever the next, so all the very best of luck!

John Lee Shaw

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When I’m Sixty-Four

When I started blogging hereabouts, I thought I would be writing about game theory, but most of my game theory observations are either briefly stated or inaccessible to most readers. The more generally interesting and perhaps useful observations I can offer are about the struggle with one’s self to achieve excellence in chess, excellence long deferred, and to do so in one’s sixties (I’ll be 64 next June).

I returned to formal chess competition after a twenty-year hiatus in 2011, having to relearn the game for the computer age as I have noted previously. My technical skills have improved immensely but still the struggle is with myself, being able to engage at will from the first move.

In the following game I am mentally AWOL until dead lost. A miracle occurs, and my opponent misses the winning idea. Then I really get to work and turn in a stellar defense, still lost, but not fading into the weakening attitudes (“Oh, my opponent deserves to win, I didn’t really feel like playing, I’ll go home and have some soup, etc.”) that have characterized my play in the past.

My hope against hope was rewarded. As the clocks wound down, my opponent forgot for a minute to punch his clock. “Did I forget to hit my clock?” he asked. “Yes, you forgot to hit your clock, but it doesn’t matter,” I replied. “This knight ending is a win.” And so it was.

Jacques Delaguerre

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Recognising the Patterns: Challenge # 2

Today’s challenge: Find the typical pattern and move like Capablanca.

Capablanca against Fonaroff in 1918

White is a pawn up and has a nice knight on f5. In addition he has a rook on an open file and should win, but can you finish off Black quickly using a very simple checkmate pattern?

Answer: The typical pattern is a back rank mate. This is a very familiar theme and occurs quite frequently after a king has castled.

Here White can win the game with:

20. Nh6!! Kh8
21. Qxe5! Qxe5

There is nothing better.

22. Nxf7+ and Black resigned because 22… Rxf7 leads to a back rank mate and if 22… Kg8 then 23. Nxe5 wins the piece. I have already annotated this game here.

Bernstein against Capablanca in 1914

Here is another back rank combination by the legendary Chess Machine. Black’s last move was …Rc5, offering the pawn on c3 (Black’s dangerous asset). Will you take it?

White can play his knight back to d4 and the game is on. Taking the pawn costs White a piece:

27. Nxc3 Nxc3
28. Rxc3 Rxc3
29. Rxc3 Qb2!!

Of course not 29… Qb1 as 30. Qf1 Rd1 runs into 31. Rc8. But now the point behind sacrificing the pawn is clear and White resigned as it costs him net rook.

30. Qd3 Qa1+

Not 30…Rxd3 because of 31.Rc8.

31. Qf1

Forced and now Black wins the rook on c3.

Reshevsky against Fischer in 1970

White’s last move was Kg1, which allows Black to win with a back rank mate trick. It was better to play Qb5 instead of Kg1.

29… Qd4+
30. Kh1 Qf2!!

Winning on the spot.

Ashvin Chauhan

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Third British Webserver Team Tournament Division One

The Third British Webserver Team Tournament Division One started in June 2015. The team who I play for, “Pawn Stars”, won the very first tournament and only lost the second on a tie breaking rule to “ICCF Warriors”. It consists of seven teams, each with four players playing six games each and two players can be from overseas. Fortunately, our Welsh based team has stayed together for each tournament, although the board order changes according to current grade, and consists of SIM Gino Figlio (Peru); SIM Dr Michael Millstone (USA); Myself (England) and Austin Lockwood (Captain, Wales). This year we have an average rating of 2419, only beaten by “ICCF Warriors” who, this year, have an average rating of 2422 and consist of GM Mark Noble (New Zealand); SIM Olli Ylönen (Finland); SIM Andrew Dearnley (Captain, England) and SIM Ian Pheby (England).

This is a very popular tournament and gives British players a chance to play high ranked players from around the world without taking on too many games. Many teams and players will have a chance to meet up in Cardiff, Wales, this year for the ICCF Congress. I only wish I could be there myself! This is something that correspondence chess players rarely have a chance to do!

My games, so far, have been very hard fought and any wins will be difficult indeed. It is rather too early to show any games yet, but there promises to be some exciting battles to come.

John Rhodes

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