An Error in Minev

My Dad was showing me this rook endgame from Nikolay Minev’s book on rook endgames. Minev gives this as winning for Black after 77.Rb2+ Kc5 78.Rc2+ Kd4 79.Ra2?? Ra6 but I asked why White can’t play 79.Rc6. We came to the conclusion that it draws, and the engine says that 79.Rc8 and 79.Rc7 draw too.

In the game Gheorghiu played 77.Ra1? and after 77…Kb4! he resigned because after 78.Rb1+ Ka5 79.Ra1 Ra6 White is in zugwang, which must have been difficult to see. After 80.Ra2 Kb4 81.Rb2+ Kc3, the rook has run out of checking room.

Sam Davies

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Commercial Break

I guess 94 is a pretty good age, but it’s still sad to have to mourn a passing.

I was sorry to hear that the London Commercial Chess League has decided it has no choice but to close down.

The league website reports:

“On June 5th 2018, The Executive Committee of the London Commercial Chess League took the unhappy, but nonetheless necessary decision, to dissolve the League. With the withdrawal of DHSS (The Department of Health and Social Security), BBC and TFL (Transport For London), the League was left with just three clubs, with four, possibly five teams for next season. This is clearly insufficient for a meaningful league, and would only delay the inevitable if we attempted to run for another season.

“It is clear that the League has run its course in the face of the changed nature of the modern world. With fewer and fewer commercial enterprises based in London, and even fewer of then having “works teams”, which used to be so common for every sport in the past, the League has effectively lost its raison d’être. Add to this the ever increasing security issues surrounding access to company buildings in the evenings, the Committee felt it had to face the fact that the writing, that has been on the wall for some years now, must finally be taken note of.”

As you will see, the league, founded in 1924, at first proved very successful, reaching a peak just before the Second World War. After the war the numbers soon rose again, reaching a second peak in the late 50s/early 60s. The Fischer boom saw another increase, but from 1980 onwards there was a rapid and inexorable decline. I played in the league for one season – 1984-85 – myself, but that’s another story for another time.

Chess has changed a lot in the past half century, but, more importantly for the London Commercial League, work patterns have also changed a lot.

The LCCL was probably never a league where you’d find many really strong players, but in its time it attracted some distinguished figures from other walks of life.

Here’s a game from 1962. The engines approve of White’s excellent combination starting on move 17, but think he should have kept the queens on at move 22. It’s understandable, though, to trade off into what appears to be a won ending.

Yes, this was THE Dr Jacob Bronowski, the celebrated polymath best remembered today for his TV documentary series The Ascent of Man. At the time he was the National Coal Board’s Director of Research. It was no doubt in part due to his support that the NCB won the league in the 1962-63 season.

The Bronowski Trophy is still held in his honour, a mini-league between teams representing the London Commercial League, along with the legal, banking and insurance professions. In the past, the Civil Service also used to take part. There are still, as I write, a couple of postponed matches still to be played in this season’s competition. It’s not, at the moment, clear whether it will survive the demise of the LCCL. The London Banks League seems to have been renamed the City Chess Association, which runs a Swiss tournament with various banking teams, legal and insurance teams, plus a team from Athenaeum, a central London chess club.

I’ve written before about how our culture of evening chess leagues has held back the development of the game in this country, but even so it’s sad to lose a part of chess history in this way.

Nevertheless, it’s not all doom and gloom in the London chess scene. New leagues are being formed, new clubs are being formed, and several long established clubs are actively promoting chess in the community, and increasing their membership as a result. I’ll consider this further over the next few weeks, along with more on Dr Bronowski.

Richard James

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Chess and Heavy Vehicle Rescue

We’ve all driven by vehicular accidents on motorways and silently hoped the victims weren’t badly hurt. However, we seldom give a moment of thought to the men and women who have to clear those wrecks off of the road. When a truck flips over and blocks the motorway, it’s these men and women who not only have to clear the road so traffic can flow again, but also have to rescue or save the valuable cargo contained within the truck’s trailer. Add to this the dangers of getting hit by a passing car while trying to clean things up and you have a job taken on by only a brave few.

I started watching a television program called Highway Thru Hell, about a heavy vehicle rescue team in Canada recently. This team patrols the Coquihalla Highway, one of the most beautiful and dangerous highways in North America. What does this have to do with chess? Surprisingly, everything. As I watched episode after episode, I couldn’t help thinking that the owner of Jamie Davis Motor Truck and Auto Ltd, Jamie Davis, uses his mind the way in which a strong chess player does.

The Coquihalla Highway, or Coq as it’s known, is a major transportation route for commercial vehicles in Canada. It’s busy every single day of the year. During the winter it becomes covered with snow and ice, requiring around the clock snow removal. During the winter months, ice is the enemy and an enormous number of truckers lose their battle with it every single day. If a large truck overturns and blocks a lane, traffic builds up for miles and miles. If all lanes are blocked, commerce comes to a standstill. Often all lanes have to be blocked to remove a large wreck. This highway depends on guys like Jamie Davis to keep it open. Still, what does this have to do with chess?

If you’re in the position Davis is in, every single day of the year, you have to solve very complex problems quickly. Those problems are multifaceted. On the one hand, you have to clear the road. Of course, you could use brute force and drag the wreck off the road. However, on the other hand, the owner of the cargo that’s inside the truck wants what’s left of the cargo to remain intact. If the load inside the truck’s trailer is unharmed but the trailer itself is completely damaged, you have to not only save the cargo but do it fast. The only people who can do this are people who can quickly and correctly analyze a problem and then create a flexible plan in case there are any additional, unforeseen problems. This sounds like positional analysis and planning in chess!

Chess players carefully examine candidate moves in order to determine which one is best. Davis carefully looks at the problem and comes up with a number of solutions, only choosing one after thoroughly working though each, comparing their individual merits to determine the best course of action.

Of course, this is where experience comes into the equation. We’ve all seen experienced chess players analyze positions as if it was second nature. They can analyze a position with little trouble because they’ve been doing it for a long time. The same idea holds true for Davis. Watching him work through a specific problem is like watching a strong chess player working through a position. When it comes to vehicle rescue and recovery, he’s a Grandmaster.

I’ve had a few chess players ask me while I seek chess knowledge outside of the realm of chess. You don’t have to be a chess player to make really great decisions based on logic and reason. Problem solving is the key to playing good chess. It’s also the key to being good at everything else in life. The reason I look at how other people solve problems in unrelated fields is because I sometimes find a new way to approach a problem that allows me to find a better solution on the chessboard. Just because chess has principled methods to guide you when solving positional problems doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look elsewhere, especially if you want to improve your methodology. Sometimes the best solutions are found far from the environment in which your problem resides.

Yes, you have to study chess to get good at chess but there are other avenues you can take to improve your game. Yes, you have to learn principled methods to solve positional problems, but your chess education shouldn’t stop there. I’ve taken to watching documentaries that revolve around problem solving. Some of these are medical in nature and some deal with truck wrecks on an icy highway. What they have in common is this: People being forced to solve complex problems in a short period of time. That’s how I develop my positional problem solving skills. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

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Levers: Instructive Positional Errors

This was a game in our Summer Tournament. I was White against a Leningrad Dutch. I misplayed the opening and didn’t give myself a clear pawn lever plan to play for. Nigel’s comments on the possible lever play later are worth studying.

Once I had got my bishop to f3 I was back on with a possible future e4 lever. However, my recapture with the knight rather than the queen on move 14 is an instructive error. If I had taken with the queen I would have kept the possibility of playing e4 alive. Taking with the knight showed that I wasn’t aware of the key plan.

My move 34 was poor. If I had swapped my knight for his bishop it would as Nigel pointed out have been a simple winning pawn endgame. I think I was still thinking of the way my knight had dominated his bishop and wasn’t alive to the favourable transition.

Dan Staples

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Pattern Backfires: The Remedy

This article is aimed at beginners only. Building a pattern bank is a very important step towards your chess improvement because we play what we know. But sometimes these patterns backfire too. Here is an example:

Position is taken from a game played on chess.com

Black sees a typical opportunity to win a pawn & unpin his knight by playing 1…Bxf2+ followed by 2…Ng4+, winning back his sacrificed piece with 3…Qxg5. This pattern is very common in the opening stage but one has to be careful in the execuation. Here Bxf2 is a blunder because Black had only seen the typical tactical pattern; if he had tried to calculate or see just half move further, he would have rejected the move based on White’s Qa4+!.

1…Bxf2?
2. Kxf2 Ng4+
3. Kg3! Qxg5
4. Qa4+!

This collects the knight on g4 and Black is lost.

Here is another example:
Bjarte Leer-Salvesen vs Jimmy Mardell, Rilton Cup – 2007


White has threatened the b7 pawn, which is usually known as a poisoned pawn. You might have seen many chess traps where taking such a poisoned pawn resulted in the queen being trapped or some similar disaster, so Black played Nc6 with an idea of Rb8 to trap the queen. Unfortunately for him he has missed something, what is it that he has not seen?

1… Nc6
2. Qxb7! Rb8??

Black can still try Nd4! but I guess he did not recheck before playing Rb8. This often happens with beginners.

3. Qxc6!!

This forces resignation.

As with the previous example the solution was to look a little bit further rather than trust the pattern blindly. Chess is not just pattern recognition, it also needs accurate calculation.

Ashvin Chauhan

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“What Say You?” The 1 Minute Challenge (12)

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer”
Bruce Lee

A quick reminder about how to do it:

  • Have a look at the position for 1 minute (watch the clock)
  • Think about the choices in front of you and pick the one you feel it is right
  • Verify it in your mind the best you can
  • Compare it with the solution

Have a look at below’s position and decide:
a) What should White do here
b) What was the opening played


It is a straight forward middle game position. Material is equal and both sides are castled queenside. White has more space. It is not obvious what should White do with no clear weaknesses in black’s position. A good idea in such cases is to look at the opposing king. One can never go wrong with attacking it. Once you arrive at this point, ideas begin to flow; probably 1. a4 … is the first coming to mind and it is a good one. Black is not ready to stop that pawn and as it advances, it should create weaknesses around the king.

The other approach is to involve more pieces and it is the one I took: 1. d5 … It is a riskier decision because White’s center disappears in the process; also Black’s pieces come into play as well. I looked at it and decided the opportunity to involve Nf3, an upcoming pin on the b7-pawn and my pieces attacking the c6-pawn were enough to go for it. See how the game continued:

Did you get an idea what the opening might have been? Was the pawn structure helping you or maybe the pieces position on one side or another? It was a trick question. If you spotted the header, that gives away the answer: it was a chess 960 opening. Surprising, eh? Here is the starting position:

Valer Eugen Demian

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More Tactical Sharpness

Here’s some more tactical sharpness, this time by the Chinese lady star, Hou Yifan. I don’t think Anatoly Karpov appreciated the strength of 18.b5! until it was too late and White soon emerged with an extra piece. I now know why my Dad wants me to practice tactics every day, you need to be on your guard against such ideas all the time:

Sam Davies

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The Wrong Rook’s Pawn

Every Russian schoolboy (and girl) knows that if you have just a king, and your opponent has a rooks pawn along with a bishop which doesn’t control the promotion square, you can draw if your king can reach the corner.

Let’s look, for example, at this position from a game in the 1991 Richmond Junior Championship.

Black was winning easily but erroneously queened a pawn on a1, which White captured with his knight. Black’s bishop took back, and White played his king from e2 to f2, reaching this position. You’ll see that he could have drawn most simply by playing g4, moving his king to h1 and waiting for his opponent to shake hands. But no matter: this position is still drawn.

Let’s play on a few moves.

1.. Kg4
2. Kg1

This move or g3 will draw: other moves lose.

2.. Kg3
3. Kh1 Kf2
4. Kh2

Now the white king is safely in the corner everything draws.

4.. Be5+
5. Kh3

If you don’t know this ending it might look natural to head towards the pawn, but this move loses. Instead Kh1 and g3 are both easy draws.

Now it’s up to Black to find the winning plan. At this point there are seven winning moves to choose from: five safe bishop moves along the h2-b8 diagonal, Kg1 and h6. His choice, as you’ll see, isn’t the quickest, but it’s good enough.

5.. Bg3
6. Kg4

It’s crunch time. Black now has only one winning move. Did he find it? Can you find it?

The only winning move is 6.. h6. The plan is to defend this pawn with the bishop and then force White’s king away.

A sample variation: 6.. h6 7. Kh5 Bf4 8. Kg4 Be3 9. Kh3 Kg1 10. Kg3 Bd2 11. Kh3 Be1 12. g3 Bd2 13. Kg4 Kg2 14. Kh4 Bc1 15. g4 Bg5+ 16. Kh5 Kg3 17. Kg6 Kxg4

He didn’t find this plan, though. Instead the game continued:

6.. Be5

Now White has one drawing idea: 7. Kg5 Bg7 8. g4. Without this pawn Black would be winning, but now he has no way of making progress.

7. Kh3

Now Black’s winning again. He has the same seven moves as two moves ago, and this time finds the quickest win.

7.. h6
8. g4

Black again has seven winning moves – bishop moves on the h2-b8 diagonal, Kf1 and Kg1. Bg3 is the neatest and quickest move, forcing White to play g5 and covert the h-pawn into a g-pawn, mating in 14 moves. Bf4, to defend h6, takes one move longer.

Alas, he chooses something else:

8.. Bf6
9. Kh2 Kf2
10. Kh3

There’s still nothing wrong with hiding in the corner: Kh1 is once again an easy draw, but this should stll give White a half point.

10.. Be5

Now the white king can’t return to the corner. There are two legal moves: a 50-50 shot. White still doesn’t really want to force the black pawn onto the g-file, does he? Perhaps he should try the king move instead. What do you think?

11. Kh4

The wrong decision: after 11. g5 hxg5 it’s an unexpected stalemate! If Black plays anything else the draw is also clear.

Now Black made no mistake. The game continued 11.. Bf4 12. Kh3 Kf2 13. Kh4 Kg2 14. Kh5 Kh3 15. Kg6 Kxg4 and White resigned.

If you like the sort of endgame questions like those I posed here, you’ll find a lot more, all based on games from the RJCC database, in CHESS ENDINGS FOR HEROES. The first draft of both this and CHESS OPENINGS FOR HEROES will be completed this summer.

Richard James

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I’ll Play Chess Anywhere

I’m going to tell you a cautionary tale regarding the appropriate time and place to play chess, rather than offer any practical advice on improving your skills. Think of this as a life skill lesson regarding what not to do. While most people work chess into their often busy lives, I schedule my life around teaching and studying chess. It’s the nature of the obsessive, compulsive type. I have very mild OCD or obsessive compulsive disorder and have used it to my advantage when it comes to studying various subjects, such as chess. However, it’s been brought to my attention that I sometimes take my love of the game a bit too far. I play chess everywhere even if it’s not appropriate. Case in point.

A number of years back, a man I knew from the music scene had died and I decided to go to the service because I heard food would be served afterwards. Everyone at the service had tears and kind words for this fellow. Truth be told, he was a self serving insufferable jerk who I didn’t like. I was sitting in the back with a few friends. Our eyes were glazed over from the tedious lies being spewed from the pulpit regarding the love and kindness of the dearly departed. I had a travel sized chess set in my bag. I motioned to the guy next to me, seeing if he wanted a quick game to which he gave me a thumbs up. I know you’re probably thinking this is in bad taste, which it would be if I actually cared about the guy in the casket. I set up the board and we started to play, occasionally nodding our head to let whoever was speaking know that we cared. Things went well until my opponent, who was rather drunk, accidentally knocked his Queen off the board. I was starting to bend down to find it under our pew when my drunken friend screamed “where did that god damn Queen go.” When one of the ushers came to shut him up, he started a fight and everyone in our pew got thrown out. I refused to leave until I found the Queen. Make a note, don’t play chess at funerals. I still do but have smartened up, playing on my tablet which won’t say a word because I keep the volume down.

I’ve played chess at weddings as well. Trust me, it’s a great way to un-waste the four or five hours of your lifespan you have to commit to such celebrations. When I got married we got the entire event finished in three hours. Our guests thanked us for this months later. I once was at a wedding and the speeches were getting a bit ridiculous. I’m all for pontificating about how you grew up with the groom and what a fine man he was, etc, etc. However, the groom at this wedding was a womanizer and his bride found out about it thirty minutes before saying “I do.” While playing a few games, again, on the back pew in a church, the parents of both the bride and groom had a verbal argument over the groom’s terminal case of wander lust. Fortunately, we didn’t kicked out but the groom sure did. Was there any fallout from playing chess during a wedding? Absolutely! The bride’s sister said to me to me, years later, that I was a self indulgent psychopath because I played chess during what was supposed to be the happiest day of her sister’s life. I suggested she might want to vent her anger at the groom. After all, I wasn’t the one cheating on her sister.

I also play chess when I either play music live or go see others play music live. This is the one place where no body seems to mind you playing. I do it before my own gigs because it helps me both relax and focus my mind. The only time it became a problem was during a barroom fight in which a body was thrown across our table and the position ruined. For a brief moment, I thought about hitting the guy whose body ruined my winning game. However, looking at him crumpled on the floor, I realized that he’d already been punished. Besides, I’m a Buddhist and we’re not allowed to participate in barroom fights (it’s in the small print of the Staying Out of Trouble section of Buddhism for Dilettantes).

Playing chess on a tablet or your phone is great during family reunions. Rather than spending time listening to family members recalling precious moments that never actually happened, you can improve your game. Rather than remind your ninety eight year old mother that you didn’t fall off the boat while traveling down the Amazon because you were never there, you can improve your game. However, you have to train your family to put up with it. My family, because I earn a living teach chess, decided that they’d put up with my playing chess at the dinner table because they think I’m working. Actually, I’m avoiding being dragged into conversations that make me want to jump off the roof. Play freely, play anywhere, enjoy the game and disregard those who don’t Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

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C-file control – Collateral Complications

I think I played this game okay – 6/10 perhaps. I misplayed the opening somewhat and won with a nice tactic. As ever, Strategically wanting but I live and learn!(?).

I got myself in trouble with 23…Qc7. Nigel said 21..f4 and again 23…f4 would have been the way he would have played it. I did consider the f4 idea but as I couldn’t see a “concrete” advantage I rejected it. A good illustration of how a Grandmaster sees things differently to me.

12…Nb8 is interesting – Nigel is a big fan of backwards Knight moves.

19…fxe4 would also have been an improvement.

Nigel concluded by saying “Messy game, but in a way this was an example of ‘collateral complications’ helping Black control the c-file.”

Dan Staples

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