Man Up Boys, Things are Going to Get Worse

From years of coaching young chess players, I’ve learned that honesty wins out over getting one’s hopes up. One of the phrases I’ve often said to my chess teams when faced with an opposition team that’s much stronger is “man up boys, things are going to get worse.” Reading this, you might think this an awful thing to say to a group of young players faced with tough opponents. You might think I didn’t care about my players. You’re wrong. I love those guys and gals as if they were my own children. However, there’s one golden rule I have, don’t get your players hopes up. Here’s why.

Contrary to popular belief, disappointment can really embed itself in the young mind. While kids tend to quickly forget about little things that once made them cry, when they work really hard at something and then fail, it can be crushing. Teenagers are like angst ridden philosophers in that one crushing blow sends them into the downward spiral of existentialist depression. Treating a child or teenager like a “special snowflake” only makes matters worse. Life is going to tough for all of them as they enter adulthood. Being honest with them now prepares them for life in the real world. Therefore, I tell them the truth about any given situation. I have to be honest with them. Of course, I have an ulterior motive.

If you say to your players,“you guys and gals are a strong team so you should have no problems winning,” there’s a chance your players aren’t going to work as hard. Sure they’ll respond, move-wise, the way they’ve been trained. However, they’ll only find the good moves not the great moves. To find the best moves you not only have to develop your chess skills, you have to be hungry and a little frightened. By frightened, I mean you have to think that your opponent is going to give you a tough game. You need to be in a frame of mind that makes you work harder than you ever have before.

Often my teams are faced with better players on the opposing team. I tell my players the truth regarding their opponent’s. I don’t give the old football coach speech, “you have to win this and you will win this because everyone remembers the losing team because they’re the losers.” I tell them the truth.

By telling them the truth, they work harder if for no other reason then to prove me wrong (I give bonuses for proving me wrong). They become hungry! Do they overcome the stronger team? Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t However, their playing improves when facing off against stronger players and if they lose, they know they gave it there best effort and won’t make the same mistakes (after our postmortem).

We seem to live in a day and age in which parents are over protective of their children. Of course, the world is more dangerous now than it was when I was young. However, it’s that “everyone gets a trophy because everyone’s special and everyone’s a winner” attitude that creates problems. Competition drives civilization. Yes, your children are the most important person in the world to you, but sheltering them from reality will blindside them when they go out into the real world. One thing I like about chess tournaments is the idea that you have to compete for a trophy because there’s a finite number of trophies to be won. It’s a simple equation. Those who work hardest win tournaments. When a child enters their first tournament, unless they’re unbelievably gifted, their going to rank very low in the results. There’s nothing wrong with this because it’s a learning experience. Sadly many parents make up excuses why their son or daughter lost, such as “the other kids were much older than you” or “you just had a bad day.” Be honest. Tell them going in that this is their first tournament and their goal should be to play the best chess they can and not to worry about winning or losing.

Surprisingly, the girl’s teams I coach loves the phrase “man up boys, it’s going to get worse.” It’s become their motto. I’ve had parents tell me it’s a sexist comment but they-re the same parents that force their children to eat raw Kale for a snack, something I consider border line child abuse (just kidding, sort of). While I try to explain to them it’s a phrase from an old movie and the kids like it, the parents still look at me as if I’m some sort of knuckle dragging caveman. Still, the girls all say it in unison, standing in a classic football huddle, just before the tournament starts. Parents put up with me and my often politically incorrect slogans because their kids aren’t crying at the end of the tournament because they didn’t get a trophy. They’re not crying because they knew what they were getting into thanks to a bit of honesty. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week. Time for me to crawl back into my cave!

Hugh Patterson


Pawn Imbalances – What Capablanca Would Aim For

Time is short for most of us. So when I go through my games with Nigel one key thing in my mind is to get clear on where I first go wrong.

It won’t usually be a blunder but rather an error in the opening or early middlegame that I can improve on next time.

In this game played in the Yorkshire Woodhouse Cup it was move 8 (8…a6 rather than 8…c5).

c5 is the most common pawn lever in the French and I should have played it. However, I was worried about White playing Bb5 and simplifications. I asked Nigel to give me a sample variation to understand how the game might unfold. He did this in the variation starting 8…c5 and talked about what Capablanca would be interested in. I have got out Chess Fundamentals and found it very good. I have played the resulting position against an engine.

The game is an good illustration of my lack of positional understanding and I should have grabbed White’s hand when he offered me a draw on move 32!

Dan Staples


Ride On

“…Ride on, standing on the edge of the road
Ride on, thumb in the air
Ride on, one of these days I’m gonna
Ride on, change my evil ways
Till then I’ll just keep ridin’ on…”
AC/DC, Ride On

In the previous article you could follow my play down a risky road intended to lead away from a simple draw. You can review it HERE
We stopped at the following position:

White is up a pawn but that aspect is hardly important. Black’s idea up to this moment was to do something about the h4-pawn. Promoting it was a long shot and white ensured this would not happen when it decided to keep its king in front of it. Now there are two aspects to consider:

  • Black is basically attacking White’s king trapped in the corner; attacking the opposing king is always more dangerous than creating a passed pawn and promoting it
  • There will soon be 3 pieces attacking Kh2 with Bb5 and Rc6 isolated on the queenside

It is never a good idea to ignore any attack on your own king; too many times I have been guilty of doing that and have paid the penalty of losing many a game. In positions like this one it feels good to be on the other side of such ideas for a change. Yes, the adrenaline of seeing the f6-pawn so close to promotion could push you toward fear. The thing is you should reject sliding in that direction and keep your attack going. Rarely your opponents will just defend to the bitter end or simply succumb to your attacks without putting up a fight. Those rare games are underwhelming and soon forgotten. There is very little to learn from them. Embrace the challenging ones and ride the risks presented in front of you!

Looking at it from White’s point of view, it should be evident what Black wants. Could White promote before its king gets in big trouble or not? If it can, White wins. What do you think? A pawn exchange on f6 frees up the d5-pawn and Black cannot stop its promotion. This should give White peace of mind on that front and help him focus on how to defend its king. What good does it do to be up material and lose because your king cannot be defended anymore? Of course white can hope and pray Black has nothing decisive. The ostrich does the same thing and is a well known example on what not to do when facing an adverse situation. The other option is betting Black won’t find anything and that hardly works in chess either. Without further ado, here is how my ride continued till the end of the game:

Valer Eugen Demian


Anatoly Karpov

A player my Dad admires a lot is Anatoly Karpov. He was the World Champion after Bobby Fischer and held the title for 10 years before losing to Garry Kasparov.

Karpov is really good at endgames and grinding away in better positions. Here is an example from this year:

Sam Davies


London League

Although the London Commercial League has finally turned over its king and stopped the clock, the London League itself is still going strong, just has it has been since the 1888-89 season.

There are currently four open divisions (top three played over 10 boards – top division reduced from 12 a year ago, Division 4 over 8 boards) plus two grade restricted divisions (4 boards each).

For the last 16 years, the league champions have been Wood Green, a team ostensibly representing a rather nondescript North London suburb. In fact the team has little or nothing to do with Wood Green, except by historical accident. The team is heavily sponsored and most of the players, including the likes of Luke McShane and Jon Speelman, are paid to take part. This season, as usual, they won all their matches, by an average score of 9-1. Members of other clubs have mixed feelings about this: some consider it unfair, and that the league loses some of its interest because everyone knows in advance who the winners will be. Others, though, are pleased to get the chance of taking on a famous grandmaster once a season.

I’m pleased to report that this season, my club, Richmond & Twickenham, finished second. I hasten to add that this is nothing at all to do with me: the last time I played in the London League was in the 2000-01 season. Instead credit is due to our captain Gavin Wall for his ability to recruit strong players and inspire them to play their best. After the 1963-64 US Championship, in which Fischer famously scored 100%, Hans Kmoch congratulated Bobby on winning the exhibition, and Larry Evans, who finished, second, on winning the tournament. Wood Green win the exhibition every year, and, at least as far as we’re concerned, this year Richmond won the league. We don’t get our name on the trophy, though.

We have actually won the league twice in our history: in 1975-76 and 1987-88. Recently, some of our longer serving members, who joined the club 40 years or so ago, were reminiscing about who might have played in those teams. As it happens, I was club secretary for a few years in the mid 70s and kept detailed records of our results, which I still have. So I tabulated the results, posted them on Facebook, and also sent them to my clubmates. If you remove Wood Green from the equation, the teams were roughly comparable in strength to those 42 years on. The average age, though, was a lot lower.

Our squad was headed by Michael Stean, team captain Andrew Law and future IM David Goodman, with former international Michael Franklin a board or two below them, and other young players such as Jon Benjamin, Peter Sowray and Julian Hodgson on the lower boards. I was already a Richmond veteran at that point, in my tenth season with the club. No one else who represented Richmond that season still plays for us, although several current members joined the club shortly afterwards. Peter Sowray, who is still involved with junior chess in the Richmond area, remarked that he didn’t remember his game from the match against Athenaeum, but he still remembered Jon Benjamin’s win against Tim Harding. As it happened, Jon annotated the game for RAT, the club magazine, which I was editing at the time, so it was interesting to compare his notes with what his team mate Michael Stean would, the following year, refer to as the ‘bloody iron monster’. Today’s engines, of course, are far more monstrous than when Michael made that remark.

1. e4 d6
2. d4 g6
3. f4 Bg7
4. Nc3 Nf6
5. Nf3 O-O
6. Bd3 Nbd7

This was first played in a game between Cochrane and Bannerjee (whom I wrote about a few months ago) in 1850. By the time of this game it was generally considered inferior to what was then the main line, Nc6. More recently, 6.. Na6 has become popular.

7. e5

The strongest reply, played by Max Weiss against Louis Paulsen in 1883.

7.. Ne8
8. h4

Going for a crude attack. Ne4 is the main line here, while Ng5 and Qe2 are also strong.

8.. c5
9. e6 fxe6
10. h5 cxd4
11. hxg6

The three games on my database reaching this position all continued 11. Ne4 with White scoring 100%. The engines are happy to play black, but of course it’s not so easy for humans to defend this type of position. Jon prefers a typically creative piece sacrifice.

11.. dxc3
12. b4

This was Jon’s brilliant idea, preventing Qa5 when the black queen defends along her 4th rank. Neither this nor Tim’s reply impress the engines, which think Black’s winning after h6, hxg6 followed by Rf6, or the immediate Rf6 among other moves.

12.. Qb6
13. Qe2

My computer tells me Jon should have preferred 13. gxh7+ Kh8 14. Nh4 Rf6 15. Qh5, when Tim should sacrifice a knight and both rooks for a perpetual: 15.. Nf8 16. Qxe8 e5 17. Ng6+ Rxg6 18. Bxg6 Bh3 19. Qxa8 Bxg2 20. Rf1 Bxf1 21. Kxf1 Qc6.

13.. Rf6
14. g4 Nf8

Instead, 14…hxg6 15.g5 Rf7 16.Bxg6 Nf8 17.Bxf7+ Kxf7 and White has nothing to show for his material deficit.

15. gxh7+ Kh8
16. g5 Rf7
17. g6 Rf6
18. Ng5 Bd7
19. Be3 Qxb4
20. Rg1 Nc7

The losing move, overlooking White’s threat. He had to play 20.. e5 21. Nf7+ Rxf7 22. gxf7 Nf6, with, apparently, a slight edge for Black.

21. Nf7+ Rxf7
22. gxf7 e5
23. Rxg7 Ng6

Falling on the sword, but after 23.. Kxg7 humans play Qg2+ and promote on h8, while computers play Qh5, announcing mate in 9.

24. Rg8+ 1-0

Athenaeum’s team was headed by the legendary Bob Wade, with Correspondence GM Keith Richardson on board 2. Several of their other players were involved with Bob in writing projects. Tim Harding himself is now a respected chess historian: I’ve just bought his most recent book, to which I might refer in a future post. Hilary Thomas, on board 10, wrote some books on Tal, edited a short-lived magazine – and then changed his name to Richard Pentreath. I won’t provide a link. Jon Benjamin sadly died in 2000 at the age of only 41. A highly creative and imaginative player, who played for the sheer enjoyment of the game rather than to reach the heights his talents deserved, he is still much missed by his many chess playing friends.

Richard James

Editor’s Note: Richard has had a number of books on chess published that can be found at Amazon:


Getting the Most Out of Studying a Game

On of the key factors in improvement is studying the games of master level players. We study those games because they allow us to see the many principled ideas we learn in action. While applying the game’s principles to our own play helps with self improvement, seeing those principles applied by the world’s best players, both past and present, increases our understanding of specific principled ideas. There is no substitute for studying the game of others. Yet, beginners often have a difficult time getting the most out of the games they study. Here are some ideas to help the beginner and even more advanced player, get the most out of learning from the games they study.

When first playing through a game, most beginners try to take in all the variations and alternative moves being made. Doing this can confuse the beginner from the start. Therefore, I urge you to not look at anything but the primary moves made in the game. Don’t worry about lines of play based on computer analysis. In fact, acquire a piece of light cardboard or paper and use it to cover up any analysis or variations. If you don’t know what these are, they’re the game moves that are printed in a lighter or smaller font under the actual moves made in the game. Sometimes you’ll see the words “better yet” before the analysis or variation line. They can also appear inside of brakets. Ignore those for now. Why ignore them?

To understand any variations or analysis lines, you need to first understand the moves that were made when the game was played. If you don’t understand those moves, the alternative moves will make no sense. Start by playing through only the game.

Starting with move one, note what principle was used by both players. The opening phase of the game being studied should be relatively easy to understand in terms of principles. Both players will develop a pawn or two towards the board’s center, develop their minor pieces towards the center, castle and possible connect their Rooks. However, some openings tend to be more obvious in terms of opening principles than others, especially to the beginner. Take the Ruy Lopez or Spanish Opening. With an opening like the Giucco Piano or Italian Opening, the King-side Bishop moves to c4 on move three where it attacks the board’s center. With the Ruy Lopez, the King-side Bishop moves to b5 on move three. Beginners have a hard time determining how this move helps to control the center. After 3…a6, White has the choice of moving the Bishop to a4 or exchanging it for the Knight on c6. In the exchange variation, after 4. Bxc6…dxc6, the Black e5 pawn no longer has protection and could be captured by White’s f3 Knight. 3. Bb5 indirectly effects the center. Study the game, move by move. Don’t proceed further into the game until you know why a specific move was made.

Work your way through the entire game one move at a time, not going forward until you know why that move was made. This requires work but your knowledge of principled play will greatly increase. If you speed through the game and skip over a move you don’t understand, the remaining moves will make little sense. Did I mention you need to play through the game five times before considering looking at the variations? You need to know the game well before considering and understanding the computer analysis lines. When you come to the fifth run through, grab a pen and a piece of paper. You’ll need these items because on this last run through, you’re going to see if you can come up with any of your own alternative moves.

Often, you’ll make the move played in the game and ask yourself, “why didn’t White or Black make this move instead?” When you have such a thought, write down the move and see if you can come up with a good response from the other player. After coming up with a response to your initial move idea, see if you can find a good move to answer that response. This requires a great deal of work but will help you with your calculation skills. Now we’re going to look at the analysis lines that are either generated from a computer program or take from similar positions in other games.

With the piece of paper you wrote down your own alternative moves by your side, play through the game again. When you get to a variation based on computer analysis or actual recorded games, compare what you thought was a good move to the analysis. You might have chosen a move the analysis chose. If this happens, you’re making real progress. Don’t worry if your ideas don’t appear in the game’s text. You don’t have the analytical capabilities of a computer engine! Play through the analysis one move at a time. Go through the analysis lines five times.

Lastly, as you play through the games, take notes regarding what you liked and what you didn’t understand for future examination. I know this seems like a mountain of work but think of a good chess game as a piece of art. When you to a museum and look at a painting for five minutes, you might think. “this is simply amazing” and move on to the next painting. The art expect might spend six months closely examining that same painting to unlock the real mystery behind it’s beauty. When the art expert says “this is simply amazing,” he or she knows why it’s amazing because they’ve studied it in detail. Studying chess games is the same way. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson


Not to be Repeated

This was a game I deserved to lose. I went wrong at move 4 and is a lesson in playing the opening stages with more care. It wasn’t a mistake leading to loss of material but it restricted possibilities. I made that mistake on move 10. I gave up the centre and was on the brink on getting crushed. White allowed me to unravel and escape.

Dan Staples


Using the King in the Endgame

This position is taken from a game one of my students played at Mayor Cup, 2018 (C Category) after 46…Rb5. In the game my student decided to block the Black’s passed pawn with the rook (47.Rc4) and lost very quickly.

Q: What do you think? Is it possible for White to save this position?


In this case, blocking the pawn with the rook is necessary as White’s king is too far from the Black’s b pawn. But the blockader must be changed to the king very soon because the rook can’t block two passed pawns. The correct move is 47 Kf2! which allows the rook to reach to b1 in two moves compared to three via c4. This one is not so hard to find but the issue was that he simply didn’t consider the king move. Play might continue as follows:

47.Kf2! b3 48.axb3 axb3 49. Rg1 c5

After the tricky 49…Rc5! White can generate his own counter play with pawn to f4-f5 advance as Black’s king is already cut from the g file.

50. Ke2 c4 51. Kd2 b2 52. Kc2 c3! 53. Rb1!

Otherwise Ra5 to a1 is winning for Black.


Now white can start pushing his f-pawn.

54. f5 Kh7 55. f6 Kxh6 56 Rg1!

The game is now a draw, which is a good example of the value of using the king.

Ashvin Chauhan