A Game at the Junior Club

There was just time before the lesson started at Richmond Junior Club for me to play a quick friendly game against a boy who, the previous weekend, had shared first place in the Under 8 section of our qualifying tournament for the London Junior Championships. My opponent generously allowed me to play White. Here are the first few moves.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5

I decided to test him on the Spanish. He looked slightly puzzled as he was expecting Nc3 or Bc4, but eventually played…

3.. Bc5
4. O-O Nf6

The most popular move here is c3, but I decided to show him the Fork Trick, which is also fine in this position.

5. Nxe5 Nxe5
6. d4 Bxd4

Very natural if you don’t know the theory, but not best. The recommended moves here are a6 and c6, but, as this level, these moves are not easy to find. There are 33 games with this move on my database with White scoring 92.4%.

7. Qxd4 Qe7
8. Nc3 O-O
9. Bg5 d6

If you’ve read my previous two articles you might think Black should have played c6 here, to keep the knight out of d5. A good idea, but it’s well met by 10. f4 (which I probably wouldn’t have found as I was playing quickly).

Now I can play the familiar (again from my last two articles) attack on the pinned knight, again gaining a tempo because the queen is on e7.

10. Nd5 Qd8
11. Nxf6+ gxf6
12. Bh6 Re8

As it happens I’m winning the exchange here because my bishop is on b5 rather than c4.

13. Bxe8 Qxe8
14. h3

I wanted to keep the black knight out of g4. The engines consider this the best move.

14.. Bxh3

“Ah!”, I thought, being reminded of my private pupil’s games in the Under 10 section of the same event. “Another junior who plays random piece sacrifices in front of his opponent’s king.” So, hoping for a quick finish, I took the piece off without stopping to think or look at the rest of the board.

Instead, 15. f4 is winning. After 15.. Ng4, hxg4 is strong and Rf3 even stronger. The next thing I knew, my young opponent’s knight landed on the f3 square and he announced ‘check’! He’d looked ahead and seen the fork coming – which is pretty impressive for an inexperienced player at this level.

15. gxh3 Nf3+

I can still draw here: 16. Kh1 Nxe4 17. Bg7+ with a perpetual check, but instead I played Kg2 and eventually lost.

There are two lessons for my opponent to learn from this game, though. Two very familiar tactical ideas which should be part of every junior’s armoury. You have to know the Fork Trick: when you should play it, when you could play it, and when you shouldn’t play it. You also have to know, repeating last week’s article, the idea of Bg5, pinning the knight on f6 in front of the castled king, followed by Nd5 and doubling the f-pawns.

Of course, Chess Openings for Heroes features sections on both these ideas.

Richard James

The First Round

Continuing last week’s story, in the first round my pupil had the black pieces against one of the stronger players in the event. The game was very typical for this level.

Here’s what happened.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4 Bc5
4. O-O

While there’s nothing wrong with this, it’s just a developing move with, as it turns out, no particular plan in mind.

4.. d6
5. h3

White wants to avoid the pin, but by playing h3 before Black has castled he’s setting up a target. Black might think about a plan involving h6, g5 and g4, along with O-O-O.

5.. Nf6
6. Nc3 O-O

There’s still nothing wrong with this, as long as you’re aware of the danger.

7. d3 Nd4

Another idea was Na5 to trade off the white squared bishop, but at this level they never find this because they’ve been taught not to put their knights on the side. When he reached a similar position in a later game, as you saw last week, he played an unsound sacrifice: Bxh3.

8. Nxd4 Bxd4
9. Bg5 h6
10. Bh4 Qd7

Black is scared of the pin, and also scared of moving the pawns in front of his king. But this is a big mistake. He shouldn’t be scared of the pin so much: instead he should be scared of getting doubled pawns in front of his castled king where the enemy queen is strongly placed. So he needs to do something about Nd5: he should either play c6 to prevent this, or Be6, prepared to trade off the knight. As it happens, g5 is also possible here as White can’t sacrifice a piece for two pawns: 10.. g5 11. Bg3 Kg7 or c6.

11. Qf3

Missing the chance to play 11. Bxf6 gxf6 12. Nd5.

11.. Qe7

Now Black’s wasted two tempi moving his queen to a worse square, where it will be hit by Nd5. There were better alternatives: Bxc3 or Nh7.

12. Qg3

The simple and obvious Nd5 was now completely winning. But instead White is seduced by the idea of pinning the g-pawn, hoping for a mate on g7. So many children get obsessed with this plan to the exclusion of everything else.

12.. Kh8

Again, he’s scared of the pin so moves his king out of the way. But this was worse than useless. After 12.. c6 he’s back in the game. What he should really be scared of here is Nd5.

13. Nd5

Finally White seizes the opportunity and the game is soon over.

13.. Qe8
14. Nxf6 gxf6
15. Bxf6+ Kh7
16. Qg7#

The basic plan here (Bg5, Nd5, double your opponent’s f-pawns in front of the castled king, use your queen to deliver mate) is essential knowledge for all juniors as it happens over and over again at this level.

Many children try it with White and are often, as here, rewarded with swift victories. If you like, it’s the next level up from Scholar’s Mate. If your opponent doesn’t know what’s happening you’ll win quickly, but, against a well prepared opponent you’ll just get a rather dull position.

To make progress, though, you need to move on, to learn how to play different types of position, and, specifically, more open games.

You’ll still need to know it with Black, and, because it’s based on a symmetrical opening, the idea works with either colour. If you’re playing in intermediate level junior events you’ll meet a lot of opponents who just develop (e4, Nf3, Nc3, Bc4, O-O) without thinking. If you understand this game you’ll stand a pretty good chance of winning quickly.

Even if you decide to switch to the Sicilian with black, you’ll still get the chance for this sort of attack against opponents who think the opening’s just about getting your pieces out.

Most opening books will tell you very little about this important plan. That’s because they’re based on what happens in master games, not what happens in intermediate level games. There is one exception: Chess Openings for Heroes. If you’d like to see an advance (unproofed) copy please get in touch.

Richard James

Qualification

One of my private pupils came round to show me the games he’d played in a qualification tournament for the London U10 Championships.

He needed to win his last round game with the black pieces to score 3½/6 and achieve his aim of qualifying for the London U10 Minor.

Here’s how the game went.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Nc3 Bb4

He explained that this was a fingerslip. He’d intended to play Bc5, which he thought was the correct move. I told him that I preferred Bb4 as Bc5 could be met by Nxe5. He’d seen this several times before but, of course, had forgotten about it.

4. Bc4 Bc5

Now he decided to correct his previous move, but he’s just lost a tempo.

5. d3 d6
6. h3 Nf6
7. O-O Bxh3

But what’s this? He’s seen lots of games where the winner sacrifices a piece against the opponent’s castled king, but as yet doesn’t have the maturity to understand that you have to calculate whether or not it works, or at least have the experience to tell whether or not it’s likely to work. Here’s he’s only getting one pawn for the piece. You might consider it if you already had bishop and queen lined up against h3, but here, no. If White plays h3 and O-O in this sort of position (not the best combination of moves) you should consider h6 followed by g5 and perhaps g4, intending to castle on the queen side.

8. gxh3 Qc8

Qd7 would have made more sense, to allow for a future O-O-O, but, as yet, he doesn’t have the thinking skills to differentiate between the two moves rather than playing the first move he sees that attacks h3.

Now Kg2 or Kh2 would leave him with insufficient compensation for the piece, but, at this level, I suppose, some practical chances. He had a different idea, though. He thought that Black’s idea was to play Ng4 at some point so decided that the knight needed to be eliminated.

9. Bg5 Qxh3
10. Bxf6 gxf6

The cure, as so often, was far worse than the disease. By now, my pupil had seen what his opponent missed: that the g-file was now open for a mating attack.

11. Nb5 Rg8+
12. Ng5 Rxg5+
13. Qg4 Rxg4#

In round 2 he’d faced a beginner and again played Bxh3 against the castled king. She could have taken the bishop, but didn’t. Next move he played Bxg2 and she didn’t take that either.

In round 4 he’d played white against a stronger opponent:

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4 Bc5
4. d3 Nf6
5. Ng5

I’ve spent the past year or so trying to persuade him not to play this opening, showing him games with more interesting variations of the Italian or the Ruy Lopez, and giving him the moves to take home and play through again, but he still plays this every tournament because it’s what he knows.

I’ve also told him regularly not to play Ng5 when your opponent can castle. He still plays it because it works against beginners who don’t know how to defend, but here his opponent knows exactly what to do.

5.. O-O
6. Nc3 d6
7. Qf3 Nd4

Black already has a large advantage. I asked him if he deliberately allowed the fork here but he told me he hadn’t seen it.

8. Qg3 Nxc2+
9. Kd1 Nxa1
10. Nxh7

Sacrificing a piece because he’s seen a way to threaten mate.

10.. Nxh7
11. Bh6

A very familiar idea. I’ve seen so many games at this level where players sacrifice their entire queen side just so that they can create this threat. Again, Black’s a good enough player to know what to do.

11.. Qf6

White’s a rook and knight down for nothing. Black, of course, won easily.

Next week we’ll go back and look at his first round game.

Richard James

The Frightful Revisited

Chapter 3 of The (Even More) Complete Chess Addict is entitled ‘The Frightful’. The worst players of all time. The worst tournament performances of all time. The worst games of all time. The worst moves of all time. The worst games and moves of the best players.

Over the past few days I’ve encountered two games which would certainly qualify for the next edition, should I decide to write it at some point.

As I write, the Altibox Tournament is taking place in Norway. This position arose in the pre-tournament Blitz. World Champion Magnus Carlsen was White against Lev Aronian.

In this position Aronian had just played 51.. g4. Carlsen had to decide which way to capture. With only a few seconds left on the clock, he chose to take with the h-pawn, and you don’t need me to tell you what happened next. The correct capture would have ensured the draw.

Now we turn the clock back more than a century, to 19 November 1915, and a simultaneous display given by the great Capablanca, a player renowned for his accuracy, at the Franklin Chess Club, Philadelphia. One of his games, against William H Snowden Jnr, reached this position, with Capa having to decide how to get out of check.

The game continued 47. Kh4 Nxe4 48. h6 and White eventually won. I’m sure you will have no problem finding improvements for both players in this sequence.

My source for this game was Edward Winter’s Chess Notes, essential reading for anyone with any interest in the byways of chess history.

If, as I’m sure you did, you managed to find the correct answers to these two positions, feel free to tell your friends that you can play chess better than Carlsen and Capablanca. Yes, we’re talking about a simul and a blitz game, but, even so, you’d expect any strong player to find the right move in a nanosecond or two.

It’s reassuring for those of us with no pretensions to being good at chess to know that even the best players in the world can make really stupid moves from time to time.

Richard James

Passed Pawns

Something I noticed many years ago looking at lower level junior games is that passed pawns in the ending are worth much more than at higher levels. Children will often panic and make unnecessary sacrifices instead of calmly working out how best to stop them.

One of my private pupils recently won an Under 9 tournament and had managed to record two of his games which he brought in to show me. His round 1 game, in which he had the white pieces, had several points of interest, two of which involved passed pawns.

Let’s take a look.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bc4

Stop here! In lesson after lesson I tell my private pupils not to play this move order, partly because Black might reply with 4.. Nxe4. We often tell the Richmond Junior Club intermediate group the same thing. But every week, every tournament this is what they play. It’s what they know and feel comfortable with, and they don’t want to change. If they really want to play a Giuoco Pianissimo, I tell them, remember PNBPNB: e4, Nf3, Bc4, d3, Nc3, Bg5 in that order. But they never do it. Or, better still, learn a different opening. You’ll only make significant progress if you gain experience of playing different types of position. But most of them never do.

4.. Bc5 5. Ng5

Stop again! In lesson after lesson I tell my pupils not to play Ng5 in this sort of position if their opponent can castle. In lesson after lesson I explain why. But they still play it, hoping that their opponent will fail to see their threat. I guess the only answer is proactive parental involvement: going through their opening repertoire the evening before the event. In this game Black was strong enough to get the next few moves right.

5.. O-O 6. d3 h6 7. Nf3 d6 8. O-O Bd4

A position which has arisen quite often in low level games. On my database Black scores close to 75% after the normal 8.. Nd4 in this position, although White’s OK after either Be3 or h3. In this game, though, Black decides to trade his two bishops for the two white knights.

9. Be3 Bxc3 10. bxc3 Bg4 11. h3 Bxf3 12. Qxf3 a6 13. d4 exd4 14. cxd4 b5 15. Bd3 Nb4 16. e5 dxe5 17. dxe5 Nxd3 18. cxd3 Qxd3

The first blunder of the game. Two moves ago White played e5 to threaten the black knight. Black plays a couple of trades first, and then forgets that his knight is en prise. capturing a pawn instead. This is a very typical type of mistake at this level and age. Children will just look at the last piece that’s moved rather than the whole board, and, because their concentration is not very good, they will forget what happened a couple of moves ago if there have been some intermediate moves.

19. Bc5

White doesn’t notice, or possibly decides, mistakenly, that he’d rather win a rook than a knight.

19.. Qxf3 20. gxf3 Rfe8

Black sees the attack on the rook so moves it to safety. Now, finally, someone spots that the knight on f6 can be taken. 20.. Nd7 would have offered even chances: Black will have a pawn for the exchange and is quite likely to pick up another one in the near future.

21. exf6 Re5 22. Bd4 Re6 23. fxg7 Rg6+ 24. Kh1 Rd8

White should be winning now with his extra piece, but instead he makes an understandable (at this level) oversight.

25. Rad1

It’s natural to protect the bishop rather than moving it again, but now Black could have played Rgd6 (PIN AND WIN!), regaining the piece with a position that should be winning. White failed to ask himself the MAGIC QUESTION “If I play that move, what will my opponent do next?”, and Black failed to look for all forcing moves (use a CCTV to look at the board: looking for Checks, Captures and Threats leads to Victory), instead choosing to prepare to push his passed pawn.

25.. Rc8 26. Rg1 Rxg1+ 27. Rxg1 c5 28. Bc3 b4 29. Bd2 Rd8 30. Bxh6 c4 31. Bg5 Rc8 32. h4 c3 33. h5 Kxg7 34. h6+

34. Be7+ would have won one of the dangerous black pawns.

34.. Kh7 35. Rg4 c2 36. Rg1 f6 37. Bf4 Rd8

An inaccuracy, allowing White to get his rook behind his passed pawn. (RBBPP – Rooks Belong Behind Passed Pawns: the other day I lost a drawn ending by failing to follow my own advice, which I’ve been teaching for the past 45 years or so.)

38. Rg7+ Kh8 39. Kg2

Missing 39. Rc7 with an easy win.

39.. Rd4

White’s still winning, but has to play 40. Be3 Rc4 (otherwise 41. Rc7) 41. Bc1 here. You have to calculate accurately when your opponent has a passed pawn. Instead, White overlooks a tactic, which Black does well to notice.

40. Kg3 Rxf4 41. Kxf4

He doesn’t have to take the rook here: Rc7 is a drawn rook ending. At this level, though, they usually move first and think later.

41.. c1Q+ 42. Kf5 Qh1 43. Kg6 Qb1+ 44. Kxf6 a5 45. Rd7 Qb2+ 46. Kg6 Qc2+ 47. Kf6

White has some threats of mate or perpetual check as well as a passed pawn, but as long as Black calculates accurately he’ll win easily. For instance, 47.. Qxa2 48. Rd8+ when Black can either play 48.. Qg8 and win the pawn ending or 48.. Kh7 and run with his king. But instead he panics and returns his queen at the wrong time. Another recurring mistake at this age/level is to trade off the last pieces without calculating the pawn ending first. There’s a lot about this in CHESS ENDINGS FOR HEROES.

47.. Qh7 48. Rxh7+

No doubt played without thinking, as one does. At this level I’d expect nothing else, but White can gain a vital move by trading on g8 rather than h7: 48. Rd8+ Qg8 49. Rxg8+ Kxg8 50. Ke5 a4 51. Kd4 b3 52. axb3 axb3 53. Kc3 Kh7 54. Kxb3 Kxh6 55. Kc3 Kg5 56. Kd3 Kf4 57. Ke2 and White wins by a tempo.

48.. Kxh7 49. Ke5 Kxh6 50. Kd4 a4 51. Kd3

This loses a tempo, but shouldn’t affect the result: 51. Kc4 b3 52. axb3 axb3 53. Kxb3 Kg5 54. Kc3 Kf4 55. Kd2 Kxf3 and Black just gets back in time to draw.

51.. b3 52. axb3 a3

A fatal miscalculation. Instead 52.. axb3 is an immediate draw. Of course if White’s king was on e3 instead of d3 he’d have been quite correct. I’d guess he’d seen the idea before but chose the wrong moment to use it.

53. Kc2 a2 54. Kb2 a1=Q+ 55. Kxa1 and White had no trouble promoting a couple of pawns and checkmating his opponent.

A game with many mistakes which are very typical for young players at this level.

Richard James

Reductio ad Finis (Latin)

Going straight to the end (approximate translation)

When there are no more dropped pieces for free and those around you are not scared anymore of the Fried Liver, the games grow longer. They test you patience and resilience, especially when you reach the endgame more often. It is the time when you should seriously start looking at the game of chess backwards or in other words to start from the end. Our app level 2 covers the basic endgames: queen versus pawn, rook versus pawn plus king and pawn versus king to understand the concept of the opposition. If you start going this way, it will reveal an important aspect: fewer pieces on the board do not mean a simpler game, but quite the opposite. There are a number of tricks you need to know to be successful and it is not enough to know them just for a month or two after you think you understood them. You have to know them for as long as you will play the game.

Let’s look at a couple of positions my students have played lately:


This was the end of a club game between students of around 800 CFC (Chess Federation of Canada) rating strength. They play decent openings and in the middle game can come up with interesting ideas and plans. The endgame however is what it is… How many mistakes did you see above? Here is a list:

  • In the initial position Black has the material upper hand and a simple 1… Rh1 would have maintained it; it is obvious Black was focused on capturing the g2-pawn without thinking the possible endgame outcome should have guided her against it. Anyone who has studied the basic endgames should realize quickly the exchanges on g2 lead white to a simply won position because of the extra, passed f4-pawn
  • The second important moment comes after 5… b5 White is still winning and all it has to do is to make sure Black runs out of pawn moves on the Queen side; once that happens, the Black king must move away and the f4-pawn march down the board is going to end up with a queen promotion and an easy win.
  • A simple move like 6. b3 … changes the situation on its head; now after 6… cxb3 7. axb3 a5 white cannot win anymore and should observe how the a5 and b5 pawns versus b3 will give Black a passed pawn that must be stopped. We are entering a more complicated endgame situation where the rule of the square governs (our app level 3) and ignoring it always leads to disaster. The move 6. Kf3 … loses on the spot
  • Game over right? Well, not so fast; in order for it to be over, Black must know what to look for (the rule of the square). I switched my attention from it to record another result when both players asked me to come over and told me they agreed to a draw. I was speechless. Our endgame lessons cannot come soon enough!


This one was played by my favorite student C you are already familiar with from previous articles. What do you think of the play on both sides? Are there any moments when you might have played differently? I bet there are. Let’s review a few of them:

  • White is indeed winning at the starting point of the above position
  • The first mistake is 38. b4 … Being up material, the main concern White should have is to take care of the h3-pawn, the only threat capable to give him headaches; obviously he lost track of it
  • The second mistake in a row is 39. Na5 …; again, it makes not sense to look for spectacular combinations white thought he saw (?); his material advantage is going to be lost
    It is hard to explain 43. Ke2 … for someone who can answer right away when asked “In the endgame the kings must go in the center”. This simple king move leads now to a draw instead of a win after 43. Ke4 …
  • Did you read the comment on move 46. Kd3 …? Talk about being confident. Rooks are out of the way and it must be a win, right? No!
  • The last mistake decides the winner: 49… Kb4 was not needed. Based on the rule of the square mentioned above, both kings can easily catch the opposing pawn
  • After 52. f8=Q+ … we reach one of the basic endgames queen versus pawn. White floundered around for another 13 moves, but managed to win it. There is hope though: he remembered this endgame and promised he will review it to play it better next time

Not sure if the above makes a strong enough case for studying endgames as part of your tournament preparation. I honestly hope it does. A player strengthening his game backwards (beginning with the basic endgames) will experience a sudden jump in rating to over 1000 and more. This growth will continue as the study of endgames will go deeper. There is excitement and rewards when going straight to the end!

Valer Eugen Demian

Are You Good at Chess?

This happens to me regularly. I’m on a bus working on tactics puzzles on my phone or I’m in the bookstore browsing a book on endgames, and some stranger will see me and ask: “So…are you good at chess?”

I never know how to answer that question. First, I’m not sure what the person is asking. Do they wonder whether I can beat them, or most people like them, at chess? Or do they wonder whether I can beat top players at chess? Second, I just started playing chess about two years ago, and after three tournaments my provisional rating with the Chess Federation of Canada is 1115. In my experience that’s good enough to beat most casual players most of the time, but it’s still low enough that I’m a below-average club player. To casual players I seem very good, but to tournament players, I look like a complete beginner.

Some will want to dismiss the question “Who is good at chess?” as meaningless or a matter of perspective to which the only possible answer is, “It depends whom you ask.” But I think the question is an important one, and that when it comes up (as it often does on various Internet forums), we should try to give as clear and as justifiable a response as possible, for two reasons.

The first reason is that every beginner wonders whether he is good at chess. We like to be good at the things we work hard at. We stick with those things, while we drop other activities for which we believe we have no talent. Believing that we are good at chess, or that we might one day be good at chess, is an important motivator for us beginners. It would be nice for us to know where the bar lies. Currently in the chess world the only clear benchmarks are the various chess titles obtained by a tiny fraction of all chess players: Expert, Master, Grandmaster, etc. Surely these are all categories that lie far beyond the humbler title “good at chess,” which ought to describe more than the top 2% of players. The absence of consensus in the chess community over what counts as “good”–or is it the snobbish unwillingness to concede that the term might mean anything less than “Master”?–is a motivational stumbling block.

The second reason is that public chess organizations, whether in schools or clubs, need a goal, something they can promise to the students they teach. That goal should not be to produce future Masters—no public program can promise to achieve something that depends on so many factors outside of its control. Yet, once again, in the absence of clear benchmarks below the chess titles, what else can a chess program aim at? In my opinion, the obvious baseline goal of every chess program should be to produce good chess players. So we need consensus over a definition of “good at chess” and the more specific we can be the better, both for individual students and for organizations.  How can we define this term in a way that avoids the problem of perspective?

Here’s my method: The definition of “good at chess” should strike a balance between two competing intuitions. On the one hand, you are good at chess if you can beat the majority of chess players in the world. This intuition will lead to a low bar for “good at chess,” probably somewhere around 1000 in FIDE’s rating system. On the other hand, you are not yet good at chess until you are taken seriously by the game’s Experts. This intuition will require the bar to be higher. What is the Goldilocks rating that captures both intuitions—not too high to be unattainable by most serious players, but not too low to be laughable by the standards of the game’s Experts?

Here’s a suggestion. Let’s say that if your rating is just high enough for us to expect you to beat chess Experts some percentage of the time, then you should be considered “good at chess.” After all, if you can be expected to take a percentage—any percentage, even just 1%—of your games against an Expert, then surely this is a good reason for the Expert to take you seriously. And surely the rest of us should count you as a good chess player.

If you share my intuition that being just good enough to expect to win 1% of the time against a chess Expert is a reasonable criterion for being “good at chess”, then who is good at chess? Well, first we need to know who, exactly, the chess Experts are. In most federations “Expert” is an informal term whose official version is “Candidate Master.” In FIDE, the lowest rating bar for this title is set at 2000. So if we take 2000 to be the lower limit for chess Experts, then who can expect to win 1% of their games against a 2000 player? The answer can be easily calculated using the ratings tables available on FIDE’s website: a person whose rating is 620-735 points below their opponent can expect to win 1% of their games against that opponent.  So…

Here’s the answer you’ve all been waiting for. Who is good at chess? By my reasoning it’s anyone whose FIDE rating is at least in the range of 1265-1380.

This range is both low enough to capture the first intuition and high enough to capture the second. Somebody who is rated above 1265 will crush casual chess players. Such a player won’t exactly strike fear into the 2000 Expert, but he will make the Expert work, and can even expect to win a rare game against him. I cannot imagine any other sport, art, or discipline in which giving the Experts a run for their money wouldn’t be enough to count as “good”!

Now, I’m not suggesting that FIDE institute a new title, “Good at Chess”, for 1265+ players.  We don’t need new official titles, just new ways of presenting the game and its culture to the broader chess-playing public.  On a practical level, I’m recommending a way to talk about the qualitative meanings of ratings and to set minimal goals for chess programs.

I can hear the objections pouring in, and the debate over who is good at chess will inevitably go on. But to conclude, here is the perspective of International Master Jeremy Silman on players whose ratings lie in precisely the range I’ve argued as constituting “good at chess”:

“I remember going to my first tournament at age twelve. It was all quite magical, and as I watched other players’ games in the under 1600 section I recall being amazed at their skills—skills which were far beyond anything I could fully understand at that time. Indeed, my view of 1200-1399 players as being demigods is not that far out of line…If he plays in tournaments, he holds his own against many experienced players. If he competes against non-tournament playing friends, he most likely dominates them” (Jeremy Silman, Complete Endgame Course, Part Three).

If an International Master thinks 1200+ players can be called “demigods,” then I would say it’s safe for the rest of us to call 1265+ players “good”!

Michael Hickson

Short and Sweet (2)

In a recent Thames Valley League match my teammate Chris White managed to win a game against an opponent graded 173 in only ten moves.

Here’s how it went.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Be2

Chris is playing a reverse Philidor, which doesn’t seem the most likely place to find a ten-mover. Still, you never know.

3… Nf6
4. d3 d5
5. Nbd2 dxe4

This seems rather obliging. Bc5 and Be7 are more challenging options.

6. dxe4 Bg4

Again he might have preferred Bc5 here.

7. c3 Bd6
8. h3 Bh5
9. Nh4

Chris wants to put a knight on f5 (a knight on the rim isn’t dim if it’s on its way somewhere else) but he has to calculate this accurately.

9… Nxe4

A familiar tactic, apparently winning a pawn, but Chris has it all worked out.

10. Nxe4

Now Black, to his credit, realised that he was losing a piece and resigned without waiting to be shown:

10… Bxe2

Or 10… Qxh4 11. Nxd6+

11. Qxe2 Qxh4
12. Bg5

And Black’s queen is trapped.

This is a quiescence error. Black thinks the position after Qxh4 is quiescent (there’s nothing immediate happening) but it isn’t. You have to look at all forcing moves before deciding a position is quiescent and stopping your analysis.

This seemed to be a relatively unusual idea, although I’d remembered seeing this game in Chernev’s 1000 Best Short Games of Chess.

I did a quick search on MegaBase 2018 and found several other examples. The game between Roberto Diaz Garcia (2037) and Leandro Jimenez Jimenez (1974) played in the Championship of the Dominican Republic last May, was almost a repeat of Busvine-Birnberg, the only difference being that White had played O-O rather than Nf1.

A few more examples of the same queen trap. This one’s from a very different opening and has happened more than once. 8. dxe5 would have been OK for White.

Even fairly strong players seem to miss this idea.

The final example features a very different setting, but the queen still gets trapped in the same way.

So there are two tactical ideas you might want to learn. If your opponent plays Nh5 you can sometimes win a pawn using a discovered attack: Nxe5 followed by Qxh5. But you must make sure your queen isn’t going to be trapped as a result. The general idea of trapping a queen in this way is also worth remembering.

Richard James

Why Nf6 is Better Than Ne7 (A Trap)

This article is aimed at beginners only. Like other beginners, when I was in the initial stage of learning chess I was really attracted by chess traps in order to register quick wins.

What I am going to show you is not really a trap because you’re not offering anything. It’s just a wayto punish your opponent for developing a piece on wrong square. In general, while playing king’s pawn openings, …Nf6 is much better than …Ne7 because of the knight’s influence on center. Meanwhile a more critical task of Nf6 is to protect the king. If this is ignored it is usually decisive, and in my database I found 2 games where players rated over 2000 played. Clearly there is a greater chance that beginners will make this mistake, here is the sequence of moves I am talking about:

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. d3 d6 5. 0-0 Ne7? 6. Ng5! and White is winning at least a pawn by force.

The game between Vasco Diogo (2220) vs Jose Maria (2051) continued with 6…d5, the only move that might prolong the fight. The game proceeded with the moves 6… d5 7. exd5 Na5 8. Nc3 Nxc4 9. dxc4 Ng6 10. Qh5 Be7 11. f4 Bxg5 12. fxg5 Qe7 13. Ne4 Qb4 14. b3 Bd7 15. Be3 b6 16. Rf2 O-O-O 17. c3 Qa3 18. g3 a5 19. c5 Ne7 20. Bc1 1-0

As we’re discussing this from the beginners’s point of view, they might consider Ng5 bad as they can simply castle, and White is moving the same piece twice in the opening! But this can also result in disaster for Black as follows:

6… 0-0 7. Qh5!

The Greco setup, a deadly way to attack the castled king in the absence of natural defender.

7…h6

7…Re8 fails to 8. Bxf7+ Kf8 9. Nxh7# or Kh8 then Qxh7#

8. Nxf7 – Rxf7

8…Qe8 leads to typical checkmate 9. Nxh6++ Kh7/h8 10. Nf7+ Kg8 11.Qh8#

9. Qxf7 is winning.

I experienced this pattern many times in Queen’s Pawn Openings too. When White’s bishop is on the b1-h7 diagonal but Black’s knight on g6, and that gives some chances with Ng5 and Qh5!!.

Ashvin Chauhan

Sacrifice for Beginners

“Sacrifice (definition) = a move that gives up material to gain a positional or tactical advantage”

For a long time my first reaction when someone played a sacrifice against me was to feel shivers down my spine. How could I not see this? The sacrifice must be correct, right? The opponent knows what its doing. This of course put me in a defensive position and because of that the sacrifice was already successful. It did not let me look at it with the right frame of mind. How could I stand a chance to play my best against it? I thought about this as I was preparing my new lesson for the current level 2 group of students. We were covering basic mistakes in the opening and punishing those require more often than not one or more sacrifices. I know that for beginners the value of pieces is like the 10 Commandments and because of that reason alone, seeing sacrifices in their games is very rare. This means no chances to punish basic opening mistakes. Let’s take on the challenge to rectify this situation.

We were looking at the following game (also included in level 2, lesson 2 of our chess app):


The theme for this one is called “Cannot play one against all” and it is a hot topic for beginners. After reaching the position above, I could see their puzzled eyes looking at it and could tell they did not understand what was going on. I jumped at the opportunity to introduce them to the topic of sacrifice and did my best to make it as simple as possible.

  • Step 1: We looked at the position and observed Black had an extra pawn and with the last move it was threatening to win either a rook or a queen for the knight
  • Step 2: The first try when facing a sacrifice is to see what happens if you accept it. We played the best line we could think of starting with 6. Kxf2 … The conclusion was that accepting the sacrifice was not a good idea
  • Step 3: We started to look for alternatives and one target we have been talking about (the f7-weak spot) was already attacked by our Bc4; with one attacker and one defender (Ke8), we needed to bring into the action another attacker. This is how the move Rh1-f1 was discovered: it attacked Nf2 and once the knight would move away, we could have a second attacker on f7
  • Step 4: At this moment we had a closer look to see if there was a better move also bringing our rook on f1; O-O became evident within seconds
  • Step 5: Bringing the rook on the f-file meant sacrificing the queen. We have a rule of thumb saying “Sacrifice your Queen only if you can checkmate or get the queen back and then some”
  • Step 6: It was easy to see we could not get our queen back, so the class had the pleasure to look for checkmate

Hope you have figured out the solution by now. Enjoy it below and hope our quest to find it has been instructive!

Valer Eugen Demian