Tag Archives: chess

Improving Endgame Play – Step 1

Like so many chess players, I mis-spent my youth in pool halls … well, no, that’s not quite accurate. The truth is that I did squander alot of time studying the most popular, complex chess opening variations. “If my opponent falls into this trap at move five, then I’ve got him – I know it twenty moves deep all the way to mate! And in all variations!!” Or, I thought, “More likely, he won’t fall for the trap, but then I’ll play Fischer’s latest improvement at move 22, thus guaranteeing a small but comfortable edge.”

Although the traps did win a few games, in most cases my “deep preparation” was totally wasted. Most of my opponents didn’t even know the main lines, and my stronger opponents were equally uncooperative, easily sidestepping my dark designs.

On rare occasions in those days, I would take out an endgame book. I was told that endgames were good for you – sort of like taking vitamins, only a lot more work. I did manage to learn some basic endgame principles, but then it was always more fun to study tactical puzzles and even easier to go back to the openings. After all, it seemed essential to have a backup system for everything I played, just in case of “emergencies.” In all candor, after decades of tournament play I have never actually had such an emergency.

Nonetheless, it is a well known fact that I am single-handedly responsible for keeping Barnes and Noble in business, having purchased immense quantities of highly specialized opening books for many, many years. What’s worse, I actually spent time reading them. Then, when chess engines became commercially available, I started “checking” the openings book analyses and looking for theoretical novelties. Well, that didn’t last long – I soon realized that the authors, aside from being grandmasters, had engines at least as powerful as mine… In time, I also discovered that, except for rare early tactical skirmishes, engines are not of much help in the openings.

So, at Nigel’s suggestion, I’m now making some opening repertoire changes that will reduce the amount of material I have to study. At the same time, these changes produce more solid positions that avoid feeding my habit for ultra-sharp positions (which require complex calculations at almost every move, an increasingly taxing task on my aging brain). But best of all, Nigel’s approach leaves lots of extra time to address an important neglected area, i.e. improving one’s endgame play. So that’s Step 1 – finding the time  and making endgame study a priority.

Here are a few instructive endgames I’ve studied so far this week – games by two of the greatest endgame players in history, Jose Raul Capablanca and Akiba Rubinstein.


The Master Game: Larsen – Schmid

Here’s one that I missed so it was nice to catch up after three decades. In this one we get to see the great Bent Larsen explain his thoughts and Schmid blunders in what should have been an OK position.

The commentary was insightful as always but I wish that Jeremy James knew to pronounce Gligoric’s name as ‘GligoRITCH’ rather than ‘Gligorik’. And on the subject of pronunciation note that Max Euwe’s surname is pronounced ‘ERVER’ rather than ‘yuw’.


Visual Impressions

An interesting and unexplored area in the World of errors are those made through ‘visual impressions’. Positions often look better or worse than they actually are with this impression only being corrected by deep and accurate analysis. When players are unable to make such analysis they can fall victim to their impressions rather too often.

A nice example of this effect can be seen in the Albin Counter Gambit in which many White players don’t like the look of Black’s d-pawn after 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e5 3. dxe5 d4. What do they do? Try to exchange it of course with 4.e3. But this can land them in very deep trouble.


Correspondence Chess Openings

An interesting question came in this week about the openings someone should use in correspondence chess and whether these should be the same as the ones in over-the-board games. Well, it depends…

If someone wants to play correspondence chess for its own sake then they should use the ‘most principled’ moves in the most challenging lines and not worry about either wild complications or lengthy theoretical variations. This approach will reduce both sides’ margin for error and lead to sharp struggles, which is rather necessary in this kind of chess, especially if computers are allowed.

On the other hand if someone uses correspondence chess for training purposes (a major recommendation of mine for over-the-board players) they should use the openings they intend to use in over-the-board play. Using them against super-GM opposition (which is what happens when you marry a 1900 player to a long time limit plus Rybka and Chessbase) is a wonderful way to iron out any wrinkles.

It is possible of course to tick both these boxes if one wishes to participate successfully at GM level and the following game was one of my own attempts to do so. It’s also one of my best at any form of chess.