Need Sure Points? Caro-Kann Defence Edition, Steinitz Variation

“A dream becomes a goal when action is taken toward its achievement”
Bo Bennett (businessman)

Caro-Kann defence is used by Black as an alternate to French Defence if they don’t like having their Bc8 blocked for lengthy periods of time. Black’s game is solid but not very dynamic. It could lead to pretty dull positions requiring a lot of maneuvers. It is not an opening one faces too often, so it could take White by surprise. The Steinitz variation has been introduced by the first World Champion Wilhelm Steinitz and was used with success by other former World Champions such as Vasily Smyslov (7th World Champion), Anatoly Karpov (12th World Champion) and of course Garry Kasparov (13th World Champion). Subjectively Garry has played it in one of the most iconic games, the last one from his match against Deep Blue back in 1997. You can find the game HERE

The play on both sides involves piece maneuvers that could lead to massive exchanges in the opening and the beginning of the middle game. It is what you can see in both sample games below. The strategy and idea used by both sides is rather easy to remember and apply in your games. I think this variation could easily become one of your alternate weapons against 1. e4 … Being aware of possible traps in the opening is important in general. Here Black needs to know only one and it can see it from a mile away. I have added it as reference as sideline in the first game below.

In the event white already knows all the above and wishes to play aggressively against it, one of the better choices is the one chosen by Deep Blue versus Kasparov. In that game Black blundered especially considering who was playing with the White pieces but following the well known move order should give Black a decent game.

Valer Eugen Demian

Benko Gambit

The Benko Gambit is quite a fun opening as Black often gets counter play instead of being tortured by White. One of the greatest experts was Lev Alburt, and here he wins with it against a well known chess author and trainer:

Sam Davies

2017-18 Season (6)

Another game, my ninth of the season, and yet another match against Surbiton. This time I was facing another tough opponent, Chris Briscoe, a friend and former Richmond Junior Club member with an IM norm to his name. At least I had the white pieces.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 e6
3. Nf3 b6
4. a3 d5
5. cxd5 exd5
6. Nc3 Be7
7. Bg5 O-O
8. e3 c5
9. Be2 Nc6
10. O-O h6
11. Bh4 Be6
12. Qa4 cxd4
13. exd4

Maybe 13. Nxd4 was better with play against the IQP.

13.. Na5
14. Ne5 Ne4
15. Nxe4 dxe4
16. Bxe7 Qxe7
17. Rac1 Bb3

Probably not very sensible as it leaves Black’s pieces slightly loose. 17.. Rac8 looks about equal.

18. Qb4 Qg5
19. Rc3 Bd5
20. Rg3 Qf4
21. Rg4 Qf5
22. Qd2

22. f3 was an improvement. If Black captures White has a lot of open lines against the black king, and after 22.. e3 the e-pawn is likely to fall of the board fairly soon.

22.. Rac8
23. Rg3

A ‘creeping move’ creating two threats. Of course the immediate Qxh6 would be met by Qxg4. Regular readers might have seen this position before. Black has only one way to meet both threats, but Chris doesn’t find it.

23.. Kh8

The only move was Qe6, defending the h-pawn and planning to play f5 in reply to Bg4. A good defensive puzzle which may well end up in Chess Puzzles for Heroes.

24. Bg4 Qg5
25. Qxg5 hxg5
26. Bxc8 Rxc8
27. Rxg5 Rd8

Now I’m the exchange and a pawn ahead with queens off the board. It should be easy, but the clock is ticking and I’m facing a dangerous opponent who excels at speed chess. Best now is Rc1, taking the open file.

28. Rh5+ Kg8
29. Rh4 Nb3
30. Rd1 Rc8
31. Ng4 Nd2
32. Ne3 Bb3

Playing for tricks. I have the position under control, but not the clock.

33. Rxd2 Rc1+
34. Nf1 Bc4
35. h3 Bxf1
36. Kh2 Bd3
37. Rh5 g6
38. Rd5 f5
39. Rd8+ Kf7
40. Rd7+ Ke6
41. Rxa7 f4
42. Rb7 b5
43. Rb6+ Kd5
44. Rxg6 e3

The last few moves haven’t been the most accurate and I’ve allowed Chris some counterplay, but fortunately I can return the exchange and reach a simple rook ending. At least it would have been simple if I’d had more time on the clock. The Thames Valley League is not yet well up on the subject of increments.

45. Rg5+ Kxd4
46. fxe3+ Kxe3
47. Rxd3+ Kxd3
48. Rxb5

At this point I stopped recording my moves, and after another 20 moves or so I had rook and two pawns against rook, but only eight seconds left on the clock. I offered a draw, hoping Chris would be generous enough to accept. He thought for a moment, declined the draw – and resigned instead, saying that I had outplayed him and deserved to win. A very sporting gesture. Chris had assumed Surbiton, who outgraded us by an average of 36 ECF points a board, would win the match, but in fact Richmond scored another three upset victories and a draw for an improbable win.

At the end of the season Wimbledon finished a point ahead of Surbiton, but with fewer game points. If Chris had agreed the draw Wimbledon would still have won, but if he’d played on and won on time Surbiton would have won the league title instead.

I still feel guilty about winning in this way, but then I always feel guilty when I win – and bad when I lose. Which explains why I’ve never really enjoyed competitive chess.

Anyway, it was only my second lifetime slowplay win against a player graded over 200 – and the other game, more than 40 years ago, also came about more because my opponent wanted to lose than because I wanted to win.

Richard James

A Single Defining Moment

A great philosopher once said that a single moment defines our future. I’d have to say that I agree with that statement in that we all have a defining moment that charts the course we travel on our life’s journey. The single defining moment that brought me to where I am today happened in 1977 when I moved next door to a well known local musician who recently passed away.

In 1977, I was a completely lost teenager with no identity of his own, not fitting into the social structure of my high school. I wasn’t cool enough for the cool kids and not nerdy enough for the nerds. I lived in the dark void of perpetual loneliness that so many young people find themselves trapped in. We moved from Monterey California to San Francisco and settled in the Haight Ashbury district of the city. Every single day I’d start my morning by having a cup of coffee in our kitchen. Living on one of the city’s steep hills, I had a bird’s eye view of my neighbor’s apartments. One morning, while staring out the window, I saw a man standing in his kitchen. However, he looked like no man I had seen before. He had shocking red hair and a James Dean swagger to him. His clothes were the sort that your mother wouldn’t want you to wear. I was fascinated.

Every morning from that point on, I’d stand at our kitchen window waiting for the “cool man” to appear. He wound occasionally glance back and glare at me as if I was disturbing his privacy, which I was. I wanted to go next door and introduce myself but he seemed too cool to bother with the likes of me. Eventually, we ran into each other on the street in front of my flat and started talking. He invited me into his place and in an instant, my world changed. It was as if I had spent my entire life viewing the world in two dimensions when there were really three.

Johnny Strike was the founder of a band named Crime. They were the coolest band around town and had a loyal, large following. When I entered his place, I was taken back by his amazing choice of furniture. It was a futuristic post pop vision straight out of a Philip K. Dick novel. Of course, I felt like a country bumpkin standing there taking everything in. He asked me if I played guitar and of course I answered yes. My playing at that time consisted of three camp fire chords which I could barely play. He asked me about the music I listened to. I proudly said I listened to the band Yes. He grunted and sat me down in front of a stack of records. “This is what you need to listen to” he said as I stared flipping through the massive collection. Names like David Bowie, Mark Bolan and Sparks filled the album covers. These were bands I had never heard of. Rather stupidly, I asked him if Bowie was a girl. Rather than admonish me for my complete and epic lack of musical taste, he told me to have a listen to music’s future and threw some Bowie on the turn table.

I was instantly hooked. I didn’t know music could sound like that, jagged, sexy and loud. He told me I needed to start a band but I had to do something about the way I looked. He didn’t say it like that because Johnny was an extremely nice guy. While he might have seemed cold and dark on stage, he was very kind off stage. He gave me instructions on where to go for clothes, what to look for music-wise and most importantly, where to get decent hair dye. The greatest lesson I received from Johnny came in a single sentence. He told me that I was to make the rules that governed my life.

Within twenty four hours I too had shocking red hair. My rather drab look had been replaced by thrift store clothing. I remember looking in the mirror at my now glaringly red hair and feeling a strange sense of freedom from the rest of the world. I would go on to start a band once I went to a night club called the Mabuhay Gardens, the club house for the rest of the kids who once felt as I did and decided to live life by their own rules. So what does any of this have to do with chess? Everything.

Johnny and I lost touch over the years but rekindled our friendship in middle age. While still a musician, he’d gone on to be a fantastic writer. The life lessons he taught me so long ago made me a good chess teacher in the here and now. In my youth, he had imparted the importance of showmanship. By propelling me into music, he taught me how to be comfortable in front of people, a skill a lacked as a teenager. I can now stand before a roomful of strangers and deliver a lecture with no stage fright. These two lessons allow me to give chess lectures to my students and make them entertaining.

Over the years, he hook me up with interesting people. You’d think I’d know all the jazz guitar playing chess players in the city. Johnny actually knew them all while I knew none. Every few months, I’d get a message on Facebook from Johnny saying “you really need to hook up with this cat.” Of course, I’d meet the person in question and wonder how was it I didn’t know this person. The people he introduced me to were absolutely amazing. Johnny knew a lot of interesting people, far more than I did.

When he passed away last week, I felt as if I’d lost a huge piece of my life. The very books I read, movies I watch today, music I listen to, clothes I wear and art I love were influenced by Johnny so many years ago. Where I stand today in my journey through life is a direct result of his influence. He recently said “I bet you like Tal because he smoked, drank and had a brief love affair with morphine.” He was right. Of course, Tal’s chess playing had something to do with my love of Tal. Johnny, wherever you are now, I bet you’re the coolest cat there. Thank you for making me who I am today! Speaking of Tal:

Hugh Patterson

The Curious Case of Analysis and Style

Before computers were so dominant, chess books were the number one source of finding analysis of important games. When computers did come out, and tore holes in old analysis, many people wondered whether analysis from older publications had any value at all. Some Class players would question whether or not it’s useful to read the analysis of World Champions games by players with lower titles (NM/FMs for example), and I myself was skeptical of any analytical work on a player when it was not done by the player himself.

The main thing though is that analysis is understandable to you the reader. Some self-proclaimed tactical/positional club level players only like to go through games that are in their style, but the problem is that most club players need work on all areas so they have a strong foundation to really start building preferences on later. Some players see their opening choices as being indicative of style yet you can find players really high up in the ranks that have a style of play that belies their preference of openings.

Each style of play can provide important lessons, so when learning it’s a good idea to study various masters for various things. How should someone study these games? My personal favorite is to analyse games ‘backwards’, working from a point where games are bit clearer and looking back to find the decisive moments that led to the eventual outcome. Another good method is to go through critical moments which can be done by going through a game and trying to guess the next move. Yet another approach is to research articles and analysis on the specific position in front of you, which works very well in correspondence chess when permitted by the rules. Last but not least you can go through games with the help of a coach, databases and engines.

Styles do play an influential role of understanding a players games and why schools of chess are relevant even today. This is why revisions of old game collections can be very useful, an extension of the work from the previous classics having been reanalysed by modern players with engines and a better view of the historical perspective. Endgame experts aren’t constrained by the superficial and thus you may find even greater pleasure from the analysis of endgame authorities like GM Kartsen Mueller, Vasily Smyslov & Capablanca to name a few.

I have no game to show today but I will be going into more detail with schools of play.

Jaylen Lenear

Observations from Beginners Games

Last Sunday, one of my friends asked my help for arranging kids tournament for his academy. I had to look after the under 7 category and I observed some interesting things.

First of all I noticed that beginners often tend to keep their pieces loose and play with only a single piece, trying to attack the opponent by giving checks and capturing stuff. Once it is eliminated they look for another piece to do the same thing with.

Secondly I found that they only respond to threats made over a short distance, irrespective of material. For instance if a White queen is on d5, attacking a Black knight on e5 and a rook on a8, there is more than a 90% chance that they will save the knight because they didn’t notice that rook was also attacked. Meanwhile if the queen on d5 attacks a knight on e5 and some other pieces on c5, they will notice both. I think that exercises where a piece attacks two or more objects on different edges of board might help a lot.

Here meanwhile is how it should be done with all the pieces working together as a team. This is one of Capablanca’s best games:

Ashvin Chauhan

100% Tactics

“I can see the combinations as well as Alekhin, but I cannot get into the same positions.”
Rudolf Spielmann

This week I am proposing an interesting checkmate in 3 puzzle composition. Based on the task at hand and material balance White needs to focus on tactics alone.

You can of course jump right ahead and go for it based on your chess sense. It might work or it might not. The other approach is to have a plan: rely on what you know and look to discover new clues leading to the solution. I am going to let you decide which approach to take and will present my plan.

Any composition worth anything must have the minimum amount of pieces required to reach the solution. This means each White piece must be on the board to help deliver the checkmate. We are going to start with the obvious:

  • The White king must be on the chessboard and the message here is “Never underestimate the obvious”; his Royal Highness covers the e2- and f2-squares

Now we need to see what is the purpose of the other pieces:

  • The queen is the most powerful (another obvious point) but is placed awkwardly. It covers the g1-a7 diagonal and the 5th rank
  • The knight is placed awkwardly like the queen as well; it is like white has an overloaded the queen side. Considering the position of Kf3, it is important to notice it covers the e2-, e4- and d5-squares
  • Both pawns are compensating for the overloaded queen side; most certainly their position is carefully chosen. They cover the f5-, g3 and h5-squares. It is also important to notice the g4-pawn being unprotected and under attack

The next step is to begin looking for moves. In my opinion it is obvious either the knight or queen must move toward Kf3 to restrict its movement even more.

  • The more obvious choice for that purpose is the queen. You can begin trying different queen moves and I believe considering to defend the g4-pawn must be a high priority. Go ahead and see what you can come up with. Write them down
  • The other choice is bringing the knight over and one justification to do that is bringing over firstly the slower piece. Here it is a bit easier to come up with alternatives since they are less; also moving the knight over does not defend the g4-pawn. Do you think that is important? Write down your choices

Now it is the moment to say this is not as easy as it looks. If you have figured out the solution by now, you should be very proud. It is a hard puzzle to solve because the lone King has a number of options to choose from after white’s first move. Without further ado, please see the solution below and go over it with care. That will give you the opportunity to experience its beauty. Do not forget, there is only one mate in 3 and it was composed back in 1888 when there were no computer engines!

Valer Eugen Demian

A Nice Game by my Dad

Here’s a game of my Dad’s which I thought was very well played. His moves were simple and logical and then he finished with a nice sacrifice with 23…Nxg2.

Sam Davies

2017-18 Season (5)

Back to last season’s games.

Game 6 saw our B team facing a much weaker side from Wimbledon. My opponent went badly wrong in the opening and I was able to win in 13 moves. You don’t really want to see that game, though. You do? Oh well, if you insist.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Bb4 6. Bg5 (Correct, as you’ll see in a few weeks time, is 6. Nxc6 bxc6 7. Bd3) 6.. h6 7. Bxf6 Qxf6 8. Ndb5 O-O (8… Ba5 is more accurate, but this is still very good for Black) 9. a3 Ba5 10. b4 Bb6 11. Qd2 (He had to play 11. f3, although it didn’t help much in the game Scerba – Valenta Liberec 2003 which concluded 11.. Nd4 12. a4 Nxb5 13. Nxb5 a6 14. Na3 Qc3+ and Black resigned) 11… a6 12. Nxc7 Bxc7 13. Bd3 Bf4 0-1

My next game, number 7 of the season, was at home to Hammersmith. I’d never seen my opponent before so had no idea what to expect, although I assumed from his position in the team he was about my strength. It later transpired that they’d played him a few boards too high.

1. Nf3 Nf6
2. c4 e6
3. Nc3 b6
4. g3 Bb7
5. Bg2 Bb4
6. Qc2 O-O
7. O-O d5
8. cxd5 exd5
9. d4 Nbd7
10. Bg5 h6
11. Bxf6 Qxf6
12. e3 c6
13. a3 Bd6

The bishop is a bit vulnerable here. Be7 would have been preferable.

14. Rac1 Rac8

An oversight: now White can win a pawn with 15. Qa4, threatening Nxd5 as well as Qxa7, when the queen doesn’t quite get trapped. Another good move here for White would be 15. e4, when Black can’t really trade: 15.. dxe4 16. Nxe4 Qe7 17. Rfe1 and Black has problems on the e-file. Instead White continues with some rather inconsequential moves.

15. Qd2 Rfe8
16. Rfd1 Bf8
17. Qe2 Qd8
18. Bh3 Rc7
19. b4 Nf6
20. Qb2 Bc8
21. Bg2 Bd6
22. Ne1

Missing another tactical opportunity: 22. Ne5 when after 22.. Bxe5 23. dxe5 Black can’t play 23.. Rxe5 because of 24. Nb5 Rce7 26. Na7, while 23.. Ng4 would be met by 24. b5, undermining d5. This is still about equal, though, and not so easy to calculate at our level.

22.. Bf5
23. b5 Qe7
24. Ra1 Qe6
25. bxc6 Rxc6
26. Nb5 Bb8
27. Rac1 Rec8

White’s clearly lost the plot: now I’m doing very well. His next move is a blunder, losing a pawn.

28. Rxc6 Qxc6
29. a4 a6
30. Na3 Qxa4
31. Ra1 Qc6
32. Nb1

Losing at once, although by now White’s position was beyond salvation.

32.. Qc1 0-1

Game 8 of the season paired me against a regular opponent who, like me, has been playing for too many years. Our six encounters had all been drawn, several of them very quickly. He told me before the game he wasn’t feeling well (he didn’t look it either) and asked if I’d be happy for a draw. I wasn’t going to object, and, five minutes, a few moves of theory and a queen exchange later he was free to go home.

Richard James

Be an Optimist

Teaching and coaching chess, I see a lot of frustration when it comes to learning the game and it’s not just felt by beginners! Advanced students face the same frustration as beginners, sometimes even more so. Frustration is part of the learning process. No matter how good your teacher or how good a learner you are, you’ll reach a point in your studies that is simply frustrating. You’ll inevitably reach an educational wall that must be broken though in order to advance your knowledge base. Reaching and dealing with this wall is a defining moment for a student. Whether or not that student breaks though the wall, reaching a higher level of knowledge in their studies, depends on attitude. The pessimist sees a wall of stone with only their fists to break through it. The optimist, on the other hand, sees the wall as a glass barrier that can carefully be breached. Be an optimist and you’ll see greater success in your studies.

Of course, being an optimist doesn’t mean you can coast through your studies, wishing your way to mastery! You’re always going to have tough times during your studies but as an optimist, you’ll challenge any roadblocks in your way, mentally muscling through them, never giving up.

I’ve trained a large number of people, taking them on as novice players and watching them turn into strong club players. Many of them will play chess for the rest of their lives while some give up because they reach a wall in their studies they perceive as un-breachable. Try as I may to cheer them on and work with them when they’re in doubt, they give up on their chess studies. While chess isn’t for everyone, some of my students who have given up have been really good players. I suspect they reached a wall they thought they couldn’t break through. So what do you do when reaching a wall that seems impossible to break through?

First off, see the wall coming before it hits you in the face! If you don’t, you’ll suffer great intellectual pain. How do you see this wall coming? Let’s say you’re studying tactics as a beginner. You learn about the various tactics and how to spot them by solving one move tactical chess puzzles. Eventually, you get good at solving them. However, a nagging thought rattles around in your mind. Where do these tactics come from? How do you create them in your own games? The moment you ask these questions you can see the wall coming. The questions you have are the indicator that a wall is quickly approaching. This particular wall is a tough one for beginners because creating the combination of moves that allow a tactic to be executed is a hard skill to master. To break through this wall you need the sledgehammer of preparation. When have a single thought that tells you things may get difficult, prepare for the battle early on. How do you do this?

In the case of tactical combinations, move on to tactical puzzles that require you to solve them in two moves. Become comfortable with them and move on to three move puzzles. Only then should you consider reading a book on tactics and combinations. Doing all those puzzles will help you understand how to create combinations and make reading a book on the subject much easier. The idea is to prepare to meet the wall long before you reach it. This brings me to an important skill in chess, patience.

Mastering anything is often a slow and tedious process. You’re not going to master chess in six months. You’ll make great progress in six months but mastery can take a life time. Therefore you have to be patient. Take it slow and don’t set your goals to high. You always want to set goals that a little difficult but not so much so that they are unrealistic. Again, be the optimist, be patient and see the walls coming. Patient learners go much further in their studies than impatient learners. Don’t rush through your studies. Only partially understanding a key idea. Be patient and completely master a concept before moving on. Learning anything isn’t easy. If it was, we’d all be rocket scientists and have our walls filled with college diplomas. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson