“What Say You?” The 1 Minute Challenge (14)

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer”
Bruce Lee

A quick reminder about how to do it:

  • Have a look at the position for 1 minute (watch the clock)
  • Think about the choices in front of you and pick the one you feel it is right
  • Verify it in your mind the best you can
  • Compare it with the solution

Looking at below position you have to find answers to the following questions:

  1. What is the striking particularity of this position?
  2. What should White do next?

A quick piece count reveals equal material. Did it take you more than 10 seconds to do that? You should be in that range by now. Kings seem equally protected at first glance. Did the positioning of pieces on both sides catch your attention? If it did, your positional sense is strong. Black’s pieces are absolutely dreadful. The simple fact they are all placed on the back rank is the answer to the first question. It is a striking reality anyone should notice right away, regardless if looking from one side or the other of the chessboard. It is hard to make a case for any Black piece being placed properly. Have a quick glance at each one of them and think about an adjective to describe it. This is helpful in raising your level of awareness about it. The white pieces look World beaters in comparison.

Black’s last move was 27… Bg7-f8 offering the exchange. On first account this is a good decision because trading down is a way to defend a weaker position. The explanation is it reduces the number of attackers. White should be aware this is an important moment in the game; if it does not do much, black will have time to improve its position. What should white do though? Taking control of the open file is an option. The argument is with exchanges coming up, taking control of an open file might not be the strongest play.

What else can White do? Did you sense the dark squares around Kg8 are going to become weaker after Bf8 is exchanged? If you did, the next step is to look what white pieces are actually pointing in that direction. Bc4 does and with the f7-pawn being pinned, the g6-pawn is actually weak. Would this be enough though to attack the opposing king? Well, Nc3 and Rf1 would need quite a bit of time to be able to join the attack. How about the observed fact the Black pieces are placed dreadfully? In reality only Ne8 offers some protection to its king. This means Bc4 and Qe3 could be more than enough for launching an attack on the King side.

Attacking the castle is the right decision. Once you reach it, the only remaining challenge is to calculate the correct move order. It might feel daunting at the beginning but once you start piecing them together, it should become obvious white is simply winning and rather easily. It should not come as a surprise. Winning combinations become possible in strong positions for the attacker, or in dreadful positions for the defender. Please verify below if you got the same line and options as in the game.

Valer Eugen Demian


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


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:


“What Say You?” The 1 Minute Challenge (13)

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer”
Bruce Lee

A quick reminder about how to do it:

  • Have a look at the position for 1 minute (watch the clock)
  • Think about the choices in front of you and pick the one you feel it is right
  • Verify it in your mind the best you can
  • Compare it with the solution

The play up to this point (see diagram) was positional. I sacrificed the g7-pawn for the use of the semi-open g-file and after exchanges, I had a simple decision to make: hold the fort or risk going for the win? These were my thoughts at time:
– holding the fort was a very simple proposition; Bb5 was on f3 at the time and my knight was clearly better
– my King was on b7 taking care of any kook intrusion on a7
– the c4-pawn was an obvious target White had to defend; that left White with little offensive perspective
I decided to risk it. How did I do that? Well, I allowed White to reposition Bf3 to b5 and gave his rook the control over the 7th rank (big no-no right?). What did I get in exchange?

The obvious one is a chance to do something about the h4-pawn. Please pay attention to where the pieces are placed for both sides : White’s bishop and rook are committed on the queenside, while Black’s knight and rook are focused on the king side. Probably White wants to capture the b6-pawn and eventually push forward the c4-pawn. Black wants to push the h4-pawn and add a wrinkle to it; did you sense Kc5 could join the attack in a hurry? From this point of view Black’s king is far more useful.

Did you choose to go for it with 1… Nf4+? It is perfectly understandable since this is why I went down this road. Now, would that give Black any advantage? It could if White allowed the pawn to go all the way to h2; if it did not and simply exchanged it, black had no more than a draw. That felt to me underwhelming for the risk taken. I wanted more. Please see below how I continued and what could have happened after 1… Nf4+ The end of the game will be presented in the following article.

Valer Eugen Demian


Fighting In The Trenches (3)

“I’ve paid my dues in the classical trenches”
Laila Robins

When one “talks the talk”, it must also “walk the walk”. Now it is my turn to do so. Last week I went over a chess 960 middle game position where I was lucky to get 2 pawns out of a combination; some games are like that. You do not need to play perfect chess. Leave room for your opponent’s mistakes as well!… I stopped at the moment where we reached a queen and pawn endgame. Planning for what to do next, I followed my own advice and proceeded with step 1: reach an easily won endgame.

After reaching an easily won endgame, step 2 was to bring my king in the center and start pushing the Black King backwards.

The Black king has not been forced backwards yet as the king side pawns had moves to play. It was a moment when I should have paid close attention to the position and go for the correct move. The Black pawns still have one more move to give and I overlooked it; not the best moment to be superficial. That brought me to a fork in the road.

This is a good “What say you?” moment for those familiar with my articles. Would White be forced to leave the b-pawn as a decoy and go to the other side to grab the remaining Black pawns? If the answer is “No”, is White in danger of stalemating Black as we know it to be the case in the latter part of the king and pawn versus King endgame? Take a minute and ponder both answers before you move forward.

It might not have looked like the most exciting endgame; however it was still full of little twists and turns white had to be careful about. It served as another important lesson one cannot be superficial in king and pawns endgames. The mistake 12. b3? … made it more interesting than it should have been. It is much better to win them simple and boring, something strong knowledge and constant attention to details will give you time and time again.

Valer Eugen Demian


“What Say You?” The 1 Minute Challenge (12)

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer”
Bruce Lee

A quick reminder about how to do it:

  • Have a look at the position for 1 minute (watch the clock)
  • Think about the choices in front of you and pick the one you feel it is right
  • Verify it in your mind the best you can
  • Compare it with the solution

Have a look at below’s position and decide:
a) What should White do here
b) What was the opening played

It is a straight forward middle game position. Material is equal and both sides are castled queenside. White has more space. It is not obvious what should White do with no clear weaknesses in black’s position. A good idea in such cases is to look at the opposing king. One can never go wrong with attacking it. Once you arrive at this point, ideas begin to flow; probably 1. a4 … is the first coming to mind and it is a good one. Black is not ready to stop that pawn and as it advances, it should create weaknesses around the king.

The other approach is to involve more pieces and it is the one I took: 1. d5 … It is a riskier decision because White’s center disappears in the process; also Black’s pieces come into play as well. I looked at it and decided the opportunity to involve Nf3, an upcoming pin on the b7-pawn and my pieces attacking the c6-pawn were enough to go for it. See how the game continued:

Did you get an idea what the opening might have been? Was the pawn structure helping you or maybe the pieces position on one side or another? It was a trick question. If you spotted the header, that gives away the answer: it was a chess 960 opening. Surprising, eh? Here is the starting position:

Valer Eugen Demian


The Wrong Rook’s Pawn

Every Russian schoolboy (and girl) knows that if you have just a king, and your opponent has a rooks pawn along with a bishop which doesn’t control the promotion square, you can draw if your king can reach the corner.

Let’s look, for example, at this position from a game in the 1991 Richmond Junior Championship.

Black was winning easily but erroneously queened a pawn on a1, which White captured with his knight. Black’s bishop took back, and White played his king from e2 to f2, reaching this position. You’ll see that he could have drawn most simply by playing g4, moving his king to h1 and waiting for his opponent to shake hands. But no matter: this position is still drawn.

Let’s play on a few moves.

1.. Kg4
2. Kg1

This move or g3 will draw: other moves lose.

2.. Kg3
3. Kh1 Kf2
4. Kh2

Now the white king is safely in the corner everything draws.

4.. Be5+
5. Kh3

If you don’t know this ending it might look natural to head towards the pawn, but this move loses. Instead Kh1 and g3 are both easy draws.

Now it’s up to Black to find the winning plan. At this point there are seven winning moves to choose from: five safe bishop moves along the h2-b8 diagonal, Kg1 and h6. His choice, as you’ll see, isn’t the quickest, but it’s good enough.

5.. Bg3
6. Kg4

It’s crunch time. Black now has only one winning move. Did he find it? Can you find it?

The only winning move is 6.. h6. The plan is to defend this pawn with the bishop and then force White’s king away.

A sample variation: 6.. h6 7. Kh5 Bf4 8. Kg4 Be3 9. Kh3 Kg1 10. Kg3 Bd2 11. Kh3 Be1 12. g3 Bd2 13. Kg4 Kg2 14. Kh4 Bc1 15. g4 Bg5+ 16. Kh5 Kg3 17. Kg6 Kxg4

He didn’t find this plan, though. Instead the game continued:

6.. Be5

Now White has one drawing idea: 7. Kg5 Bg7 8. g4. Without this pawn Black would be winning, but now he has no way of making progress.

7. Kh3

Now Black’s winning again. He has the same seven moves as two moves ago, and this time finds the quickest win.

7.. h6
8. g4

Black again has seven winning moves – bishop moves on the h2-b8 diagonal, Kf1 and Kg1. Bg3 is the neatest and quickest move, forcing White to play g5 and covert the h-pawn into a g-pawn, mating in 14 moves. Bf4, to defend h6, takes one move longer.

Alas, he chooses something else:

8.. Bf6
9. Kh2 Kf2
10. Kh3

There’s still nothing wrong with hiding in the corner: Kh1 is once again an easy draw, but this should stll give White a half point.

10.. Be5

Now the white king can’t return to the corner. There are two legal moves: a 50-50 shot. White still doesn’t really want to force the black pawn onto the g-file, does he? Perhaps he should try the king move instead. What do you think?

11. Kh4

The wrong decision: after 11. g5 hxg5 it’s an unexpected stalemate! If Black plays anything else the draw is also clear.

Now Black made no mistake. The game continued 11.. Bf4 12. Kh3 Kf2 13. Kh4 Kg2 14. Kh5 Kh3 15. Kg6 Kxg4 and White resigned.

If you like the sort of endgame questions like those I posed here, you’ll find a lot more, all based on games from the RJCC database, in CHESS ENDINGS FOR HEROES. The first draft of both this and CHESS OPENINGS FOR HEROES will be completed this summer.

Richard James


Teacher’s Delight (2)

“… Skyrockets in flight!
Afternoon Delight!…”
Starland Vocal Band

We all have our good days and bad days. It is what makes this life worth living. How would you know it is a good day if you could not have a bad one? This past week we definitely had a good one and we definitely recognized it as such! Matthew is a student showing a lot of potential primarily because he works at it weekly with enthusiasm. He is also the one bringing you from the abyss to the edge of your seat and all this in one game.

The first example is from a game where white built a strong position and somehow managed to win an exchange. In the ensuing complex endgame he traded it down to rook versus knight with a clear cut passer on the a-file. Of course it would be too bland to just promote the pawn and win; somehow black managed to capture the passer (while his lone Knight was fighting both the rook and pawn!…) and make a game out of it. Here is where they landed. Admire how white surgically removed all doubts and collected the full point:

In below’s game Black moved Qd8-e7 in the opening, overlooking White’s d5-knight. If you think that is a terrible blunder you would never do, don’t be so sure about it. I remember how back in University (feels like yesterday though…) I was playing an important game, nursing an extra pawn while under positional pressure. It was a time when you would have 2 hours for 40 moves. I spent about 45 minutes calculating something very clever and elaborate just to miss one important, tiny detail: the starting move for that line involved placing the queen en prise. I did it (all seemed perfect) just to watch in shock and disbelief how my opponent snatched my queen within seconds. Don’t you hate it when it happens? It is what they call tunnel vision and nobody is immune to that.

Back to the game Black continued with determination (I resigned that game of mine on the spot) and somehow reached below position. Here is how things unfolded:

Valer Eugen Demian


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


Fighting In The Trenches (2)

“I’ve paid my dues in the classical trenches”
Laila Robins

Last time we stopped at below position between my club students from the top group. Probably it was not hard for you to decide White is still winning. The queen side pawns are the ones deciding it and there is nothing Black can do about it. Simply put any pawn counts in king and pawns endgame, including the double ones. A simple way to win is given below before continuing with the game play:

White did not play like that and a comedy of errors followed up on the chess board. There is an old saying fitted for writers: “Paper endures anything written on it”. I guess in this case “The chessboard endures any moves played on it” is a good analogy…

Not sure how successful you are in convincing yourselves or your students there’s no need to promote all your pawns to win a game. I keep on saying “Always look for the fastest win” and many a student would be able to repeat it by heart if asked. Doing it on the chessboard seems to be a different story. You can imagine White had a lot of fun promoting 2 pawns into queens and the crowd was having a blast cheering for the accomplishment. Do you know what happened next? Well, Caissa decided I needed help to get my message through and twisted the fate of this game in a powerful way. Look at the previous position before scrolling down and guess which move white made to create an instant teaching moment? It is not that easy to find considering how many ways (all except one…) you can win as White. Your mind should be wired the right way and refuse to even look at it! Here it is:

Remember, the idea is not putting down the players. It is to show what can happen when endgame knowledge is spotty at best. It also shows playing good endgames is like fighting in the trenches with a never give up attitude. Good play and bad play are intertwined with teaching moments almost at every step. Fight the battle in the trenches and you will be rewarded!

Valer Eugen Demian