My Checkered Road

In Memoriam IM-ICCF Valer Vasile Demian
December 15, 1934 – November 16, 2018

My father was a chess player. He took an amateur level family passion for the game to a correspondence chess National Championship title (1968), three ICCF Coppa Latina Europe titles (1st, 2nd and 3rd editions) with team Romania (he was team captain during the 3rd edition), a 3rd place with team Romania in the OTB 3rd Blind Chess Olympiad Weymouth 1968 (a tournament where he finished 1st on board 1), plus an IM-ICCF title (1972). There are many more milestones of various importance I am overlooking now; apologies dad!

Of course it is hard to choose from a chess career spanning roughly 70 years and two centuries. The title of this article is the translation of his hand written selection of games and thoughts he left me in a notebook. The samples below are a modest attempt to share them with the World. First I have a sample my father has saved from many played versus his dad (my grandpa). It shows his early affinity for the move Nb1-c3 and his ambitious nature by playing the King’s gambit.

Winning the national title in 1968 engraved his name in Romania’s chess Parthenon. An interesting detail is that the decisive game, securing him the title, was against one of my junior coaches from the same city (Arad). Marian Stere (ROU) has saved and uploaded online a slew of Romanian chess magazines in pdf format and the one from December 1968 (pages 186-187) contains an article about it. Those wishing to see it and possibly read it in Romanian, can do so here.

Below is that game:

His OTB chess was as impressive as his correspondence chess. He played a lot while I was young and had to give it up slowly because of the travel bans during the communism years, as well as his fragile physical condition. Over the years he played a number of top Romanian OTB players such as GM Gheorghiu, GM Ghitescu, IM Pavlov, IM Ungureanu, IM Mozes, etc including in his only participation in the Romanian OTB Final 1967. His participation in the 3rd Blind Chess Olympiad 1968 as board 1 for Romania and his final result are a solid testament in that regard. Details here
He has annotated a number of games from that tournament and my choice below is for sure sentimental. The annotations are by my dad.

For many years he was well known in Romania and Europe for playing 1. Nc3 … in both OTB and correspondence chess at all levels. Here I am proud to share with him a number of games in the same opening, many published in several printed magazines. His participation in the “Sleipner International” 1. Nc3 … thematic correspondence chess tournament organized by Anker Aasum (Norway) between 1990 and 1994 is a culmination of his love for the opening. He called it the “Romanian opening” and we hope those promoting the “Veresov opening” name will not mind this too much. There are too many games listing the “Demian” name on the White side!…

In his latter years he continued playing correspondence chess without a chess computer(!), managing to win a surprising number of games. He experimented a lot playing in various national correspondence chess tournaments, using for example 1. g3, 1… g6 (same first move as White and Black) in all his games or such. He also started to explore lesser known areas of chess such as studies. Here he connected chess with mathematics (he used to be a high school math teacher) and composed a number of studies in the mirror, any first move aided checkmates, as well as studies with solution valid on an infinite chess board. Below are two samples. Hope you find them interesting. Thank you for reading my eulogy!

Valer Eugen Demian

Bird’s Opening

Here’s a game by my Dad with the offbeat Bird’s Opening. He soon gets a position with a lot of space which makes Black’s position very difficult:

Sam Davies

Easy Ryder

Last week I looked at the Ryder Gambit an even more dubious variation of the dubious Blackmar-Diemer Gambit. But who was this Ryder?

Most sources quote a game Ryder-NN played in Leipzig in 1899. Ryder doesn’t sound like the sort of name you’d expect to encounter in Leipzig, does it?

Thanks to BDG guru Tim Sawyer we can find out a lot more about the game.

Firstly, the game was played in 1898, not 1899, 1889 or any other date you might encounter. Secondly, the moves published in most online sources are incorrect, demonstrating a variation, rather than the complete game.

Let’s take a look.

1. d4 d5
2. e4 dxe4
3. Nc3 Nf6
4. f3 exf3
5. Qxf3

The Ryder Gambit

5.. Qxd4
6. Be3 Qg4

Black correctly avoids Qb4, when he might fall into last week’s Halosar Trap.

7. Qf2 Qb4

But now he’s seduced by the idea of hitting the b-pawn. There were better alternatives: Qf5, trying again to trade queens, or e6/e5, trying to develop some pieces, for example.

8. O-O-O Ng4

Tempting, but again Black would have been better off trying to get some pieces out.

9. Nd5

A good move, but there was something better. 9. Qh4, pinning the knight and preventing the e-pawn from moving because of Rd8#. For example, 9.. Qa5 10. Rd5 Qb4 when White can trap the queen by playing 11. a3, but the engines prefer simple development with Nf3.

9.. Qa5

The only way for Black to stay in the game here was to play Qd6. Now White’s winning, but Ryder again missed the best move. He had an immediate win here with the beautiful Qe1, when White has no intention of recapturing the queen.

10. Bb5+ c6
11. Bb6

Pretty, but again only second best. 11. Qe1 Qd8 12. Bf4 was the winning idea.

11.. Na6

In such a complex position it’s hardly surprising that both players miss the best moves. 11.. Bd7 was the correct defence. (Some unreliable online sources give the game as concluding 11.. Bd7 12. Qf5 and Black resigns – in fact Black is winning this position. White should prefer 12. Nc7+ with ongoing complications.) Now Ryder could have won with 12. Qd4 (Nf6+ and Nc7+ both also work), but instead prefers a flash alternative.

12. Qc5 Qxb6
13. Bxa6 e5
14. Qxb6 axb6
15. Nc7+ Ke7
16. Nxa8

The last few moves were forced. Now after 16.. bxa6 the position offers equal chances, but Black miscalculated.

16.. Nf2
17. Nxb6 Bg4
18. Be2 Nxh1
19. Bxg4 Nf2
20. Rd7+

Black resigned, as White is now a piece ahead.

The Ryder Gambit is clearly unsound, but can lead to tricky and unusual tactical positions.

I still haven’t told you who Ryder was. In fact he was Arthur William Ryder, born in Ohio in 1877. After graduating from Harvard he went to Germany, studying in Berlin and Leipzig, where he completed his doctorate with a thesis on the ancient Indian language Sanskrit. On returning to America he taught Sanskrit at Harvard before moving to the University of California. He continued playing chess, as well, becoming one of the strongest players on the west coast. A few of his earlier games are available online.

Described as “a loner with a caustic wit”, he died of a heart attack in 1938. One of his pupils was J Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb. But that’s another story for another day.

Richard James

Student and Teaching Observations

Teaching is a tricky business because it’s not just about being able to clearly communicate the ideas your presenting to your students. The best teachers get to know something about their students and that something is what makes them tick, namely their processing of information. Sadly, teaching has been reduced to a one size fits all form of communicating ideas. Sure this might work on a larger percentage of students than other methods but it can often alienate the best and brightest who have their own way of learning, and it’s these best and brightest students who will go on to shape the future.

I teach in a variety of schools, from public institutions to high end prep schools. My students are extremely varied in terms of socioeconomic backgrounds, yet the majority of them share a common denominator. They’re extremely bright and very expressive. This sounds like the ideal students which they are. However, there’s another common denominator they share, becoming easily bored. In talking with some of my student’s regular teachers, I’ve been told that some of the students I work with have behavioral problems. Surprisingly, I don’t see it when working with those students and I suspect that the teachers declaring behavioral problems in certain students never considered that those students are very bright and easily bored which can lead to behavior issues.

While I not a child psychologist, I was one of those bright kids in school who got easily bored and ended up earning a permanent seat outside the headmaster’s office for the majority of my education. Usually, I’d anger one of the science teachers because I’d ask about alternative theories or simply want a better explanation that actually made sense rather than an antiquated text book definition. In short, I know about being the bored student who ends up in trouble.

I make a point of learning a little something about each of my students such as what interests them. While it’s hard with two hundred plus students, I do because it allows me to figure out the way in which they learn. Many of my students are visual learners who only really grasp a concept if it’s visually presented. Thankfully, chess teaching is visual in nature. However, you do have to provide a verbal explanation to accompany the visuals. This is where some teachers fail because they provide an explanation from a book they read and that explanation made sense to them. There are many explanations that make sense to me but go right over my student’s heads. Therefore, you have to take an explanation and rework it so it make sense to your students. How do you do this? Easy!

Well, easy if you’ve taken the time to learn a bit about your students. Many of my students seem to have a fascination with ancient history, especially ancient battles. Do you see where I’m going with this. When presenting the opening principles, I do it as an ancient Roman battle. Rather than bore you with my entire lesson, I’ll give you some key ideas regarding my analogy. Principle one, control the board’s center with a pawn. Here’s that statement presented as a Roman battle analogy: The Romans sent their foot soldiers (pawns) out onto the field of battle. The Roman generals, realizing that the enemy King was behind his central forces, only sent foot soldiers that were centrally positioned (e, d and c pawns), holding the rest back until later in the battle. The Romans wanted to conquer enemy territory so their foot soldiers were sent as close to the enemy’s line as they could go (for white, the forth rank, for black the fifth rank).

You can create these analogies around anything your students are interested in. However, it doesn’t work unless you know what interests them. I do the same thing with adults now. If I do a corporate lecture for a bunch of investment bankers, I present chess ideas in terms of American Football. They can relate and therefore learn. The point here is to teach to peoples interests and get them learning. Again, it only works if you find out what your students are interested in. Here’s a game to enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

Alekhine vs Podgorny, 1943

You can usually learn from almost any classical game, but this game is unique in my eyes because it contains so many important lessons:
1) 11. d5! is a pawn sacrifice to open the e-file against Black’s uncastled king.
2) 12 axb4 sacrifices an exchange so that later on Alekhine can exploit Black;s queen position on a1.
3) Moves 13 to 17 illustrate the importance of time.
4) Exchanging queens achieves a winning endgame
5) Finally Alekhine exchanged the last major piece which showed how the position should be assessed concretely rather than via some general rules.

You can find this game annotated by Kasparov in mega database. Here it is with my brief analysis:

Ashvin Chauhan

Must Save the Queen

She looked him squarely in the eye. “Checkmate.”
Katie Hadley

We learn at the very beginning how powerful the queen is and that fascinates us for a long time. The queen dominates beginner’s games to such extent many a time it wins the game on its own by capturing most of the opposing pieces. On the other side of the board not having the queen is like a death sentence. You can see the player in that situation feeling lost at words and will power to keep on fighting. Here is one interesting situation from a friendly game played this past week at the club where the queen was front and center.

You might say this is not much of a game. The important aspect to add here is these kids barely new how to checkmate and play basic moves about 2 years ago! Hope this clarifies it a bit and makes you look at it with different eyes. Did not follow it up longer to see how Black managed to win the game in the end. It is not that important even if it sounds far fetched. We all need to go through that stage of vacuuming opposing pieces if we have our precious queen or watch in horror how to it does that if we are on the other side of the board. Hey, it might be more or less distant memory but we all thought 1. e4 e5 2. Qh5 or Qf3 followed by 3. Bc4 and 4. Qxf7# was a deadly way to start the game.

Now it is easy for me to talk; however back then I was pretty much the same. It took me a long time to even consider sacrificing my queen for compensation. Below game has remained for me one of the few sticking with me and you for the rest of our chess life. It is the game when for the first time I could have sacrificed my queen for compensation and I did not. It did not even cross my mind even if I was about 1800 rated. Here it is:

In the post mortem a couple of members from our club pointed that to me. At first I did not understand what they were talking about. How could 2 knights and a bishop be enough compensation? It did not make any sense. Luckily the truth is in life once someone points to something new you have never known or seen before, you are changed forever. From that point on I would consider it as anyone should. I always liked this quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr:
“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”
Your mind is being stretched by new experiences too. All I can say is embrace it and go with the flow. It always leads to better situations.

Valer Eugen Demian

Another Benko

Here’s another Benko gambit played by Magnus Carlsen. The finish was spectacular starting with 30….Ng4 and then 34…Qd4+ followed by 35…Re3, which left White defenceless.

Sam Davies

The Halosar Trap

I saw a post somewhere on social media the other day asking for recommendations for openings similar to the Halosar Trap. I’d never heard of the Halosar Trap. Was it something like the Fishing Pole Trap? I decided to investigate.

It turns out it’s a variation of the notorious Blackmar-Diemer Gambit.

1. d4 d5
2. e4 dxe4
3. Nc3 Nf6
4. f3 exf3

White usually plays Nxf3 here, hoping to get a quick attack in exchange for the sacrificed pawn. A foolhardy player might prefer the Ryder Gambit, giving up a second pawn to drive the black queen round the board:

5. Qxf3 Qxd4

5.. c6 is a popular alternative, but, as long as you know what you’re doing, there’s nothing wrong with taking the pawn.

6. Be3

Where should the black queen go? After Qg4, for example, White probably doesn’t have enough compensation for the two missing pawns. A very tempting alternative is..

6.. Qb4

.. eyeing the b2 pawn and also, you might think, setting a little trap.

7. O-O-O

This is what White wants to do, but it might also be what Black wants White to do. But who is the trapper and who is the trapped?

7.. Bg4

After 7.. c6 Black is reasonably safe, but instead he snatches at the bait. It’s very easy to assume that White will just move the queen, but instead..

8. Nb5

Creating two threats: Nxc7# and Qxb7. Black has no good defence.

The game might continue:

8.. Na6
9. Qxb7 Qe4
10. Qxa6 Qxe3+
11. Kb1 Qc5
12. Qb7 Bxd1
13. Qxa8+ Kd7
14. Nc3 Bg4
15. Nf3

White has a winning attack.

The question you’re asking, of course, is “Who was Halosar?”. It turns out he was, unexpectedly, the sucker who fell into the trap. Emil-Josef Diemer – Hermann Halosar (Baden Baden 1925) witnessed Black playing 9.. Rc8 in the line given above, and Halosar resigned after 10. Qxa6.

You might also be wondering who Ryder was. I’ll return to that question another time.

Many players, particularly those learning chess, have an obsession with traps like these which very rarely happen in real life. My database of more than 7 million games has just eight examples of the position after 8. Nb5. Of course, you and I both know that this isn’t what chess is about at all, but if you tell them that chess is mostly about grinding out wins in endings with an extra pawn or a more active rook, they probably won’t want to know.

Many players also have an obsession with the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit, while others, mostly much stronger players, hate it with a passion.

Should you play the Ryder Gambit? Probably not, except perhaps in the occasional online blitz game.

What about the main lines of the BDG after 5. Nxf3? If you’re a reasonably strong player, probably not. Your opponents are likely to be well prepared and, more often than not, you’ll find yourself with insufficient compensation for the pawn. If your opponent is good at grinding out wins in endings with an extra pawn you’ll just lose. At lower levels you’ll get the chance to win some quick brilliancies: if that’s what you want from chess and you’re not really interested in improving your rating, don’t let me put you off. I even spent some time playing it in online blitz and bullet games some years ago, and scored some nice victories with king-side attacks.

Objectively, it’s not a good opening, but if you want something fun to play in less serious games it might just be what you’re looking for.

Richard James

Forking Your Way to Victory

I’ve been writing a great deal about tactics recently because it’s a chess skill that beginners have trouble with. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, successful tactics require making a combination of moves that set the tactic up. While many tactical opportunities suddenly appear in the games of beginners due to poor piece placement by one’s opponent, the execution of tactics in the games of advanced players require a great deal of planning or seeing ahead. Seeing ahead is another term for calculating a sequence of moves. In other words, if I make this move and my opponent makes that move, I’ll be able to make the move that set’s up the tactic. Seems simple enough, right? Wrong! The problem is that the initial move you make has to force your opponent to make a specific move that allows you to execute your tactic. This is what combinations are all about.

Most beginners employ wishful thinking when trying to set up a combination. They make a move and then expect their opponent to make a specific move, no matter how bad that move is. Once their opponent makes this unrealistic move, our beginner executes the tactic. Beginners often forget that their opponent is trying to win the game as well so they’re not going to purposely make bad moves. The only way to ensure that your opponent will make the move you want them to make is by forcing them to do so. This is why checking your opponent’s king is so powerful when used as part of your tactical combination. The check must be dealt with. In other words, your opponent is forced to react to your move in one way.

Another problem beginners have? Try to force tactics every chance they get. The problem with this idea is that you’ll more often than not, damage your own position, leaving your pawns and pieces weak and susceptible to attack. It’s best to keep an eye out for any potential tactics, looking for enemy pieces lined up along the same Rank, File or Diagonal. Only then should you consider employing tactics. As you become a stronger player and can set up combinations accurately, the forcing of tactics will become easier and safer to execute. Being able to set up forcing tactics requires the ability to accurately calculate many moves ahead. One miscalculation and you might find yourself in a losing position. Beginners should start by mastering simple Knight and Bishop forks because it requires less calculation skills and the combination of moves tends to be shorter in length.

In a fork, one piece attacks two or more enemy pieces simultaneously. Pawns can fork and well as the King. The minor pieces, Knights and Bishops, are great at forking because of their low relative value. The Knight is especially well suited because it’s attack cannot be blocked and it’s “L” shaped movement makes it hard for your opponent to clearly see what it’s up to until it’s often too late. Let’s look at the first fourteen moves of a game in which Black employs some powerful Knight and Bishop forks.

Forks can appear anytime during a game. However, they tend to be employed most often in the middle-game. In this game, Black delivers a pair of devastating forks early on. After 1. d4…d5, White plays 2. c4, signally the start of The Queen’s Gambit. Rather than a more traditional move such as e6, Black plays 2…Bf5. This move follows the opening principles (developing a minor piece to control the board’s center) and isn’t particularly suspicious. Play continues with 3. Nf3…e6. White is making principled moves as is Black. After 4. Nc3…Nc6, White’s showing good opening play. However, White’s next move, 5. Qb3, starts the downward spiral. First off, this move does something you shouldn’t do during the opening, bringing your Queen out early. The opening is about minor piece development. Yes, the Queen is targeting the b7 pawn but that pawn is easily defended! Black responds with a move White never considered, 5…Nb4. The Black Knight on b4 is protected by the f8 Bishop and not only blocks the White Queen’s access to the b7 pawn but creates an enormous threat on c2.

White’s Queen move to b3 is an excellent example of wishful thinking. White planned on taking the b7 pawn, then the Knight of c6 with a fork against the Black King and a8 Rook. This would only work if Black made a series of really bad moves, Black did not and White’s game is now lost. White tries a pointless check with 6. Qa4+ and Black responds with the natural, 6…c6. After 7. cxd5, Black doesn’t capture back but instead, launches into a series of game winning forks, starting with 7…Nc2+, forking the White King and a1 Rook. Because the King is involved, the fork is forcing. White plays 8. Kd1 and Black captures the Rook with 8…Nxa1. White continues to pawn grab with 9. dxc6 and Black hits White with another devastating fork, 9. Bc2+, winning the White Queen. White plays 10. Ke1 and Black wins the Queen outright with 10…Bxa4. The games continues with a few additional forks by Black and White finally resigns.

White’s mistake start with bringing the Queen out early followed by moving the King to a light colored square after each fork. Had White moved the King to a dark colored square, Black’s Bishop wouldn’t have been as effective. Also, when the King and Queen were forked, White should have captured the Black Bishop with the Queen and after the Black Knight took the Queen, White could have captured the Knight with the King, reducing the loss of material.

This was an example of one player not looking at the entire board. Had White paid attention to the entire position after 5…Nb4, the game might have ended differently. Instead, White was looking at Black’s side of the board, using wishful thinking to guide the decision making process. This was a rare example of the power of tactics because this doesn’t happen often so early in the game (not to mention the back to back forks). However, it should serve as a somber warning of the power of the fork and a reminder to be vigilant when exercising board vision. Make sure to look at your side of the board as well as your opponent’s side. Also, don’t bring your Queen out early to hunt for pawns! See you next week!

Hugh Patterson

The Better King

You must have use your king in the endgame that is what you have read somewhere from the book, heard from your coaches. But have you ever noticed that it is much easies for you to use your king in the endgame when facing weaker less experienced players? Why is this?

In my view the following factors play an important and decisive role here:

1) More active & mobile pieces: When you have more active pieces you can often restrict the activity of your opponent’s king. For instance if you have a rook on the 7th rank it can tie the opponent’s king to the 8th rank.
2) Pawn weaknesses or pawn structure.
3) Piece coordination.

First point is very easy to explain but other two are more subtle. I think they are illustrated by two games from the World Chess Championship played between Petrosian and Botvinnik in 1963. In both the games, Petrosian had the better king than Botvinnik. I strongly recommended readers to study both the games bearing in mind the points above.

Ashvin Chauhan