Category Archives: Intermediate (1350-1750)

What the Papers Say

Last week you saw my game against Ron Bruce (who had previously lost to Alekhine in 12 moves) from Paignton 1976. There are two further stories to be told about this game, reprinted here from RAT, the Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club Newsletter/Magazine with kind permission from the author, editor and publisher.

The story so far. Those few RAT readers who actually play through the games may recall that I published a mildly amusing but somewhat inaccurate game I played at Paignton in the last issue. Anyway, imagine my surprise when I forked out seven of my hard-earned pence for the New Inflationary Evening Standard on my way home from work on Monday 31st January. I turned, as is my wont, to the Leisure Page, read my horoscope – Leo, would you believe – laughed at ‘Clive’ and ‘Bristow’, Bridge with Rixi – ah! Chess with Lenny, and read the following attached to the diagram on your left (or even below) (translated into Algebraic for trendies and Eurofreaks).

“R.M. Bruce v R. James Paignton 1976. Black’s pawn is about to queen, so White’s effective choice is limited. Should White (to move) play (a) 1. Rxg7+, (b) Bxg7, or (c) another move- and which (if any) of these alternatives saves the game?

“Par times: 30 seconds, chess master; 1 minute, expert; 3 minutes, strong club player; 5 minutes, average club; 8 minutes, weaker club or school; 20 minutes, average.”

Curious, for a reason which will become apparent later, I turned to the solution and read:

“In the game, White chose (a) 1. Rxg7+ and resigned after Kh8 since he has no more useful checks. The Richmond chess magazine claims a draw by (b) 1. Bxg7 Qxb7 2. Bxb7 Kxg7 3. c6 a1Q 4. c7 Qf1+ 5. Kh2 Qf2+ 6. Kh3, but then f4! 7. gxf4 Qe3+ wins as Black will win White’s pawn on the seventh. So Black wins in all variations.”

Now this refutation had been claimed to me a few weeks previously by RAT reader Nevil Chan (Harrow – we get around) but looking at the position again I thought I could cope with it. In any case I was under the impressiou I had given 5.. Qe2+ rather than Qf2+ in my notes. But surely Leonard Barden couldn’t be wrong. Had I really failed to solve the problem with the regulation 3 minutes, or, as some have claimed, 5 minutes? Would I be consigned for ever to the category of ‘weaker club or school’, or, even worse, to the grey mass of mediocrity indicated euphemistically by the terse ‘average’? Was ‘RAT’ to become a byword for shoddy analysis? Would I become known all over London as a perpetrator of inaccurate annotations?

I rushed home and checked that I had indeed, as I had thought, given 5.. Qe2+. First blood to me. I then set up the position and found that again, as I had thought, after 5.. Qf2+, Kh1! draws. (After 5.. Qe2+, Kh1 loses to Qd1+ and Qc2+ but if 5.. Qf2+ White’s king can go to h3 when Black checks on either d2 or e2). I checked this analysis at the club later that evening with David Goodman amongst others and my findings were confirmed. Right again, the position is, as I claimed, a draw.

Returning to 2018, here’s the critical position with Black to play. After 5.. Qf2+ 6. Kh3? f4! Black is winning: 7. gxf4 and now Black can choose either Qe3+ or Qf1+, with an eventual fork picking up the passed pawn. So White must play 6. Kh1! instead. Now Black can try again: 6.. Qf1+ 7. Kh2 Qe2+. This time 8. Kh1? loses: Black has time to zigzag to the c-file and pick up the pawn. So now White has to play 8. Kh3! leading to a draw. It’s a bit confusing at first, isn’t it? After Qf2+, Kh1 draws while Kh3 loses, but after Qe2+, Kh3 draws while Kh1 loses. For those of you who teach chess, this position, or, for a harder puzzle, the position in the first diagram, might be a good quiz question. Possibly something I might use in CHESS PUZZLES FOR HEROES! Anyway, back to 1976/7 for the second story.

Incidentally, as my notes were already rather too long, I neglected to include the following conversation which took place immediately after the game.

RMB: I should have played Bxg7 but forgot that my rook was defended by my king’s bishop.
RJ: After Bxg7 I play Qxb7 Bxb7 Kxg7 and my pawn queens.
RMB: Oh, yes.
Enter Harry (Golombek), an old sage.
HG: I see vice triumphs over virtue once again.
RMB: Not at all. My opponent played very well.
Exit, pursued by a bore.

It was only back at the hotel that I realised that Black had problems as White could push his c-pawn.

Of course all this happened more than 40 years ago, while it was 38 years before this game, almost to the day, that Ron Bruce lost to Alekhine. Time passes. Everything’s different, but again, everything’s very much the same. I’m still here and still playing chess. Leonard Barden’s still here, and still writing a regular column (online only these days) in the Evening Standard.

Richard James

Need Sure Points? Scandinavian Defence Edition

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

Wikipedia provides a very nice introduction for this entry:
“The Center Counter Defense is one of the oldest recorded openings, first recorded as being played between Francesc de Castellví and Narcís Vinyoles in Valencia in 1475 in what may be the first recorded game of modern chess, and being mentioned by Lucena in 1497.”
According to the same source its name began to switch to what we know today in the 60s when a number of well known GMs played it occasionally. Their intention was to surprise the opposition and render home preparation useless. If you think about it, this is still true today: how many of you prepare to face it in your club games? Common, be honest now…

We are all told from the very early beginnings how bad it is to get our queen out too early. There are countless examples punishing the side doing that, regardless of colour. Can you tell though how many of those examples you have been shown or have discovered on your own are against the Scandinavian? I do not recall any. This actually proves the GMs are not cocky or weird using it. Scandinavian is a decent opening. Our World Champion Magnus Carlsen has used it with success not long ago it two Olympiads. I have added both games below for your convenience. You can access them by selecting each one at a time from the menu above the diagram:

If the above games have tickled your curiosity, I have 2 more samples to give you confidence. The first one is a game played by the highly talented GM Istratescu. Andrei has the inner talent of calculating accurately and blindly fast for a GM. Quite often his games would show minimal reflection time for him and up to the maximum for the opposition. He still is deadly in tactical situations where he finds the correct line in most complicated positions. In the game below he played the Scandinavian in aggressive fashion and got an easy draw early in the middle game.

The second game shows that Black should not fear an early chase for his queen. It is one reason why the recommendation is to play positional when facing the Scandinavian. It is far better for white to go for a quick castle (preferably with a g2-g3, Bf1-g2, O-O setup) and slow build up pressure; eventually the odd position of the black Queen might create difficulties for black.

Valer Eugen Demian

Alekhine Number Part 2

I left you last time in Plymouth in 1938. Now we’re going to move forward 38 years and sail round the South Devon coast until we reach the seaside resort of Paignton.

Regular readers may recall that I played in the Challengers there in 1974, sharing first place in my section, so now it was time for me to try my luck in the Premier. In Round 5 I had the black pieces against Ron Bruce, who lost the 12-move game against Alekhine you saw last week.

I annotated the game for RAT, the Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club newsletter/magazine. Here, with my contemporary notes (a few minor amendments), is what happened. I’ve added some other comments, mostly from my computer, in italics.

1. c4 g6
2. g3 Bg7
3. Bg2 c5
4. Nc3 Nc6
5. d3 e5

The Botvinnik System, which can be played by White or Black. It is also an effective equalising system against the English or the Closed Sicilian, and gives Black good winning chances against passive or planless White play. The disadvantage is the hole on d5, but Black can attack on the K-side with f5, on the Q-side with b5, or even in the centre with d5, depending on White’s plan. (I’d learnt this from Ray Keene’s book Flank Openings and played the set-up a lot with Black at the time.)

6. e4

More usual is 6. Nf3 d6 (Not 6.. Nge7 7. Ne4 d6 8. Bg5) 7. O-O Nge7 when White can play for Q-side expansion with Rb1 and a3, or equine occupation of d5 with Nf3-e1-c2-e3. Hmm. 6.. Nge7 is often played, and 7. Ne4 very rarely played in reply. After 8. Bg5 Black seems equal: 8.. h6 is usually played but other moves are possible. I’m not sure where that variation came from.

6.. d6

Giving White the option of developing his knight on an inferior square.

7. Nge2

Not so good is Nf3 when the knight will soon have to move again to allow f4. Another plan is 7. f4 Nge7 8. Nf3, when Hempson-James London Chess Congress Open 1976 continued 8.. Nd4 9. Nxd4 cxd4 10. Ne2 (better Nd5=) with a slight edge for Black, but I eventually lost by choosing an artificial plan in what should have been a winning position.

7.. Nge7
8. O-O O-O

Although the position is symmetrical I felt I had some advantage here as I suspected I was more familiar with the position than my opponent.

9. h3?!

I was right! This is quite unnecessary as yet.

9.. Be6
10. Kh2 Qd7
11. Nd5 f5
12. Bg5 h6
13. Be3 Kh7
14. Qd2 Nd4
15. f4

Black has gained a tempo. The position is once again symmetrical but this time it is my move. Now to find something useful to do with it.

15.. Rab8
16. Nec3 Nxd5
17. Nxd5

Guess what. Black has gained another tempo. Relatively best was 17. cxd5. The engines tell me Black should trade on e4 and f4 before playing b5 here.

17.. b5
18. Rae1?

Leaving his position en prise, but Black is threatening bxc4, fxe4 and Bxh3 as well as what he plays in the game. Perhaps best is 18. fxe5 dxe5 19. b3. The engines tell me trading on d4, then on f5 before playing b3 is equal.

18.. bxc4
19. dxc4 exf4
20. Rxf4 Rxb2!?

Flash Harry strikes again! But first 20.. Bxd5 would have made life easier, answering 21. cxd5 Rxb2 22. Qa5 with Nc2. The engines have a slight preference for Bxd5, but it’s more complicated than my note suggests. My move is perhaps the more practical choice.

21. Qxb2

White’s best practical chance.

21.. Nf3+
22. Rxf3 Bxb2
23. exf5 Rxf5
24. Rxf5 gxf5

Not 24.. Bxf5 on account of 25. Bxc5. Not the right reason for rejecting Bxc5. After 24.. Bxf5 White should play 25. Bc1 Qg7 26. Re7 Qxe7 27. Nxe7 Bxc1 28. Nxf5 gxf5 reaching a bishops of opposite colour ending where Black has an extra pawn but White should have no problem holding the draw.

25. Rb1 Bxd5?

Now this puts the win in jeopardy. After either Qg7 or Bg7 Black should win without too much trouble. If 25.. Bxg7 White has 26. Rb7, a nice echo of Black’s 20th move (perhaps not surprising considering the symmetrical opening) but after simply 26.. Qxb7 27. Nf6+ Bxf6 28. Bxb7 Bxc4 Black is two pawns up in a double Bishop ending. I think the question mark is rather harsh: Black should still be winning after this move. My computer thinks this the fourth best move, having a slight preference for Qg7, Bg7, or, best of all, Be5.

26. Bxd5 Bg7

After 26.. Qg7 White plays 27. Bc1 when a) 27.. Bxc1 28. Rb7 when the resulting bishops of opposite colours ending is drawn despite Black’s extra pawn, or b) 27.. Bf6 28. Rb7 Be7 29. Rxa7 and it is not clear how White can make progress. After 26.. Qg7 27. Bc1 Black’s best move is Qc3, which retains winning chances. Instead of Bg7 or Qg7 Black could also consider either Qe8 or Qe7.

27. h4

Necessary here or next move to create a haven for the king.

27.. Qa4

This, however, is a mistake which I hadn’t noticed at the time. Instead 27.. Qe8 is best, with possible infiltration via h5 or e5 depending on White’s next move. 27.. Qe7 is also preferable to Qa4.

28. Rb7 Qxa2+
29. Kh3 a5

Black has no convenient defence to the threat of Bf4-xd6-f8/e5 but plans to queen his a-pawn, if necessary giving up queen for rook to reach an ending where the central pawn configuration prevents White’s Bishop from returning to stop the pawn.

30. Bf4 Qa1
31. Bxd6 a4
32. Bxc5

Not 32. Bf8 a3 33. Rxg7+ Qxg7 34. Bxg7 Kxg7 and the a-pawn cannot be stopped. But White has a better defence in 32. Ra7 (Rooks Belong Behind Passed Pawns!) 32.. h5 (perhaps not obvious but best according to the engines) 33. Bxc5 (or 33. Bf8 Kh8!) 33.. Qf1+ 34. Kh2 Qe2+ 35. Kg1 Qd3 36. Kg2 f4 37. gxf4 Kg6 when Black may be winning. This is very much a computer line, though: at my level it wouldn’t be possible to find all those moves over the board.

32.. a3
33. Bf8 a2
34. c5 Qf1+
35. Bg2 Qa6?

The winning line is 25.. a1Q and now a) 36. Bxg7? Qh1+! or b) 36. Rxg7+ when Black can choose between i) 36.. Qxg7 37. Bxg7 and not 37.. Qc4? when 38. Bf8 loses to Qg4+ and f4 but 38. Be5! Qxc5 39. Bf4! sets up a fortress position and draws but 37.. Qe2! preventing Be5 and winning and ii) 36.. Kh8 37. Bxf1 Qxf1+ 38. Kh2 Qe2+ 39. Kh3 Qe8! winning the bishop with a technical win, so White’s best try is c) 36. Bxf1 Qxf1+ 37. Kh2 Qf2+ 38. Kh3 Qf3! 39. Rxg7+ Kh8 40. Kh2 Qe2+ 41. Kh3 Qe8 reaching the position after Black’s 39th move in variation b(ii)). A computer writes: Variation b(i) after 37. Bxg7 is interesting: Qe2 is the only winning move. 37.. Qe1 also only draws after 38. Bd4!: Black has to prevent Be5 and threaten Qg4+ at the same time. In variation b(ii) I slightly prefer 38.. f4 to Qe2+. And in variation c, 38.. Qf3 certainly doesn’t deserve an exclam: 38.. Qg1! is mate in 5.

36. Rxg7+?

Missing the draw after 36. Bxg7! Qxb7 37. Bxb7 Kxg7 38. c6 a1Q 37. c7 Qf1+ 38. Kh2 Qe2+ 39. Kh3 and draws. Indeed, but there’s a bit more to it than that, and a story behind this position which will be continued next week.

36.. Kh8

White resigns. A curious conclusion.

Richard James

Fair Assessment

“All assessment is a perpetual work in progress.”
Linda Suskie

Last week we had a look at an endgame from one of our club games. The article is available HERE The position in the spotlight was this one:


Neither player did a very good job assessing the position (White was far too pessimistic, while black was too optimistic) and a number of moves later they reached the following one. How would you assess it?

White is still down a pawn which is surprising after being on the verge to even up the material in the first diagram. We made the observation it had to play aggressive. That did not happen and the main reason was poor assessment: she considered her position was lost!… You do not need a lot of endgame knowledge to observe now a number of differences:

  • The d6-pawn has advanced only once; pushing it towards promotion should have been the main focus
  • Kb7 is stopping Ra5 from reaching the 8th rank and help with the pawn promotion
  • Black’s pawn chain is still alive and far more dangerous now with the passed e4-pawn

Your chess sense should tell you black is back in the game and has a fighting chance. Now imagine you’ve been playing this game and whatever you felt in the first position, this one feels worst. Key is in such moments to calm down, reset and see what can be done to still achieve a good outcome. Have you ever been told of being too easy to play against? That means in tough situations or when things are not going in your favour, you cannot stop the slide and put up a fight. It is possible white was aware the latest position was worst; unfortunately it did not cross her mind to look for a way out. You might say that is impossible: white might just as well resign, saving time and effort if it accepts her faith. That is true except there’s always one hope we all have: the opponent might blunder. Of course you need to put up a fight and give it the opportunity to do so. Very rarely opponents blunder on their own.

Going back to the position a fair assessment should include a way out of it. White must eliminate the dangerous black pawns even if that means losing the important d6-pawn. Once white has that, it could look one more time to see if there’s more and if finding nothing, it should settle for a draw. It would be better than losing as it happened in our game after they reached a Black queen for a White rook type of endgame. In retrospect Black could think he was right all the time to think he was winning. That would be wrong; a fair assessment is needed at all times regardless of the outcome.

Valer Eugen Demian

Alekhine Number (Part 1)

If you happen to be Alexander Alekhine your Alekhine Number is 0. If you’ve played Alekhine your Alekhine number is 1. If you’ve played someone with an Alekhine Number of 1, your Alekhine Number is 2.

You can maintain a hardline view and only include serious competitive games, or you can take a more lax approach and include simul games, casual games and online games.

I wonder how many people still alive have an Alekhine Number of 1. Arturo Pomar, a child prodigy in Spain in the 1940s, who died two years ago, was a pupil of Alekhine and played him three times in tournaments, drawing one of the games. He may well have been Alekhine’s last surviving opponent from competitive games. However, there’s still at least one active player who faced Alekhine over the board: Dimitrij Mathon. Mathon was born in 1927, claims to have played Alekhine in a simul in 1943, and is currently playing in the Czech 60+ Championship. (Thanks to John Saunders and Roger Emerson for this information.)

If you know anyone else still alive who played Alekhine I’d love to know: please get in touch.

My Alekhine Number is 2. Over the next two articles I’ll show you the games.

For the first game we travel back in time to Devon, to the city of Plymouth, famous for its naval base, and for Sir Francis Drake’s game of bowls. It’s 5 September 1938. The local chess club has organised a small all-play-all tournament of eight players to celebrate its golden jubilee. They’ve invited the world champion, Alexander Alekhine, and the Women’s World Champion, Vera Menchik to take part. The most interesting of the other competitors is Paul List, who was born in Odessa in 1887, moved to Germany in the 1920s and then settled in England in 1937. There were also three English internationals, Sir George Thomas from the older generation, and, representing the younger generation, Stuart Milner-Barry and George Wheatcroft. The field was completed by two local players, Ronald MacKay Bruce and Harold Vincent Mallison. Can you imagine Magnus Carlsen, or any other top grandmaster, agreeing to take part in such an event today?

Alekhine conceded two draws, to List and Thomas, which was only enough for a share of first place with the veteran Baronet, who scored one of his greatest successes. The other players finished well in arrears: List and Milner-Barry on 3½, Menchik on 3, Wheatcroft on 2½ along with Mallison, making a highly creditable score in such company. Ron Bruce was somewhat out of his depth, only managing two draws and losing to the world champion in just 12 moves.

1. e4 c6
2. Nc3 d5
3. Nf3

The World Champion chooses the Two Knights variation against Bruce’s Caro-Kann Defence. 3.. Bg4 is the most popular move here, but there’s not a lot wrong with just taking the pawn.

3.. dxe4
4. Nxe4 Bf5

4.. Nf6 is the usual choice. In the main line Caro-Kann Bf5 is excellent, but here it’s slightly inferior.

5. Ng3 Bg6

There’s a big difference between the Two Knights and the main line, as you’ll see on move 7. Instead Black should play Bg4 here.

6. h4 h6
7. Ne5 Bh7
8. Qh5

This position has been reached over 400 times on my database, with White scoring 86%. I’d have thought it was, by now, common knowledge that this position is close to winning for White, but apparently not. Quite a lot of 2200+ players have reached this with Black.

8.. g6

Now White has two very strong continuations. Alekhine chooses the flash move, but the alternative might be even better. After the simple 9. Qf3 several games have concluded 9.. Nf6 10. Qb3 Qd5 11. Qxb7 Qxe5+ 12. Be2 Bg7 (or 12.. Nd5) 13. Qc8#

9. Bc4 e6
10. Qe2

With a Big Threat, which Bruce overlooks. The best chance is 10.. Qe7 when Black’s still in the game, even though his king-side looks extremely ugly.

10.. Nf6
11. Nxf7

This position occurs in 11 games in my database. There are also 28 games with 10.. Bg7 11. Nxf7 and 17 games with 10.. Nd7 11. Nxf7.

11.. Kxf7
12. Qxe6+ 1-0

A trap which is well worth knowing, especially if you play the Caro-Kann. You might also like to try this variation with White.

The tournament schedule was pretty tight: seven games had to be fitted into six days, along with adjournments. This game was played on the Tuesday morning, and later the same day Ron Bruce found himself facing Vera Menchik. He wrote himself into the history books by becoming probably the only player to lose to two reigning world champions in a tournament on the same day.

(ChessBase mistakenly assigns the black pieces in this game to Rowena Mary Bruce. Rowena was Ron’s pupil and, from 1940, wife, as well as many times British Ladies Champion. At the time this game was played she was still Rowena Mary Dew.)

Richard James

“What say you?” The 1 minute challenge (11)

“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

Endgame play continues to be a tough nut to crack as I can see week after week at our club. I asked both players about this position and got the following answers:
Mengbai: “Don’t know. I guess I am losing”
Steven: “Don’t know. Winning?”
Have a look at the position (White to move) and decide for yourselves.

It is an interesting endgame, one you could encounter quite often at club level. Going over the position we can see the following important aspects:

  • Black is up a pawn
  • Kf4 is by far better than Kg8; the rather obvious Kf4-e5 would put it right in the center, supporting the d5-pawn
  • White has a passed d5-pawn, while Black has a passed a7-pawn; d5 is much stronger since it already is on the 5th rank. Black stands to lose the a7-pawn fairly quickly
  • Rd1 is pretty much tied up behind the passer but if White is not playing aggressive, it could swing to the 2nd row and possibly capture some white pawns in the process; if Black captures the f2-pawn and there is no imminent win for White, the e4-pawn becomes a passer and a threat
  • Rc5 is not placed in its best position but working together with the d5-pawn and its king, could make it very useful

Did you have something similar coming out of your analysis? How about a plan of action for White? In my opinion, after Kf4-e5 the combined threats of promoting the d5-pawn and back rank mating Kg8 (when it moves over to stop the passer) are overwhelming. White is simply winning here. The only challenge is to find the right moves and play aggressive.

In the game White managed to win the a7-pawn but her play was very tentative. I am not sure what was she concerned about when her passer reached the d6-square and stayed there longer than needed. Probably it is a good thing I had to watch other games meantime and missed a number of moves played. The simple line below shows a straight forward way for White to win. Next time we are going to look at the last part of this endgame.

Valer Eugen Demian

Missing Once, not Missing Twice

“It is better to learn late than never”
Publilius Syrus

I have been talking about turn based chess for a while now. To some having 3 days to think for a move sounds outrageous; to others they understand you do not really think for 3 days. Life happens around us and that reduces the reflection time and attention span quite considerably. Today I have an interesting example from one of my games.


I had a promising position from the opening, just to rush it and allow Black to open it up. Black’s last move was 23… Bd5xa2, winning a pawn and obtaining two passed pawns on the queen side. Does White has anything to compensate the material disadvantage? I think it has:

  • The White pieces work together and are much better placed
  • Ra8 is not playing at all and as long as that is the case, White is actually up in material
  • Black’s castle has a chip in it White might be able to exploit
  • The combo queen + knight is always better than queen and bishop. Hope you know why

Are you convinced White has enough compensation for the pawn? It has. Do you think it might have sufficient compensation to play for a win? I was not so sure of that. The real question needing a good answer was how to continue the attack. Should I go for 24. Qe4+ or 24. Qh4+? Checking on h4 looked a bit too narrow. There was nothing imminent happening and I wanted to keep my pieces central. I also wanted to combine the attacking threats on the castle with a possible win of the a7-pawn. Unfortunately I did not analyse the position close enough and missed the resource available. Luckily later on I saw the attacking idea with the queen and knight combo and that allow me to get the perpetual. Hope you will enjoy the play and learn a thing or two from it.

Valer Eugen Demian

“What say you?” The 1 minute challenge (10)

“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
Last year I published an article about “Quick decisions” needed in short time control games. You can review it HERE
This past week I had a flash back about that storming the castle attack and for some reason I felt the solution presented in that article was actually not the best. Let’s have another look at it and see which of the available options you prefer given the outcome. Have a look for a minute at the options presented and choose.

Here are some helpful thoughts for each line:
3. Qe2 (Played in the game) – having the queen not only join the attack but lead it, seemed an attractive choice. My guess is having your most powerful piece in the front line provides some confidence and could strike fear into the opposition. If Black plays like in the game, 6 moves later White reaches a clearly won position. Of course Black can play 3… Ng6 and the position holds.
3. Bxh6 (Suggested line) – it opens up the h-file, something white wanted all along. Black manages to play 3… Ng6, but that cannot do more than delay losing. Black has no useful defensive moves and both rooks (b7 and f8) do little to nothing.
3. Qb2 (New option #1) – the idea here is to take advantage of the pin along the g-file. The combination of White rooks dominating the g- and h-files and the battery along the a1-h8 diagonal is deadly. It is however a not very intuitive move: play on the queen side when the action is on the king side. I have seen stranger moves at club level though
3. Qc3 (New option #2) – same idea to take advantage of the pin along the g-file. The slight difference here is Black being able to play 3… Ng4 since Rg3 must defend the White queen. White wins the knight and reaches a won endgame. This queen move is not as strange as the other one; some might see the battery connection along the 3rd row and think that could be used to bring the queen to the king side. In the same time the queen keeps an eye on the c7-pawn.

Has your opinion changed after reading the above? Possibly you did not choose 3. Qe2 since Black holds at correct play. We all should consider the best replies for the opposition when deciding what to play. The other three choices however lead to different winning positions. Not sure which one fits your style. Personally in a game situation I think I would stick with my suggested line (3. Bxh6). In the end it still feels the most direct for me. The beauty of it is to discover two other options and that makes it worthwhile. This should be a good sample of what home preparation is about. Positions, combinations, lines stick with you until you find a reasonable solution resonating with you. Do the work and don’t let them linger on.
P.S. The exciting article by Richard James “Missed Opportunities” is perfectly timed. What better example of how useful the 1 minute challenge as part of preparation could be? GM Meier could have used it.

Valer Eugen Demian

Missed Opportunities

This position is taken from a game played in Round 5 of the Grenke Chess Classic.

White, the German GM Georg Meier, is about to play his 39th move against Magnus Carlsen.

After 1 minute 28 seconds, and with just five seconds remaining on the clock he decides to play safe: 39. Ra1. The pieces were traded off and he captured the a-pawn to reach a drawn ending.

He wanted to look at something in the post mortem.

39. Rh1 Qe7 40. Rxh7+ Kxh7 41. Rh5+ Kg6, and, on reaching this position he realised that he’d missed the second rook sacrifice 42. Rh6+ Kf7 (or 42… Kxh6 43. Qh5#) 43. Qh5+ Kg8 44. Rh8#. Black could avoid the mate by playing 41.. Kg8 but after 42. Be6+ Rff7 43. Rh6 White has a winning attack. In this line Black could also try 39.. Qf7, when White replies 40. Bf5 and Black can’t hold h7.

Unfortunate for Meier: with more time on the clock he’d have found the brilliant double rook sacrifice to defeat the World Champion.

In fact White has two other wins in this position.

One of them is 39. Rh5 with very much the same idea. Now after 39.. Qe7 40. Rxh7+ still works, but even stronger is 40. Be6 threatening 41. Rxh7+ Kxh7 42. Qh5#. Alternatively, 39.. Qf7 40. Rxh7+ Kxh7 41. Rh1+ Kg8 42. Be6 wins the queen.

The other winning move is 39. Rf5 Rxf5 (or 39.. Qb8 40. Rxf8+ Qxf8 41. Rb1 with Rb8 to follow) 40. Bxf5 Qc7 (one of White’s many threats was Rh1) 41. Qe8+ Rg8 42. Qe6 Rf8 43. Rh1 and again Black has no way to defend h7.

Three ways to win, and a couple of other promising moves as well (Be6, Rb1), but, with only 90 seconds or so left, it’s understandable that Meier chose a safe, but not winning option. Chess is a cruel game.

Moving onto the next round, let’s watch world championship candidate Fabiano Caruana struggling to hold the ending against Hou Yifan. Hou, playing black, is about to make her 64th move.

Understandably enough, she moves her threatened a-pawn. Meanwhile, chess fans throughout the world, watching the chess24.com engine, realise she’s missed a beautiful win.

It starts with 64.. Kd2 when White has nothing better than 65. Bxa6. Now come two stunning moves. 65.. Nd3+!, sacrificing a knight to undouble the white pawns, followed by 66. cxd3 d4, sacrificing the rest of her pawns to force promotion. Totally amazing!

White doesn’t have to capture the knight, though.

66. Kb1 Ne1 67. Bxb5 Kxc3 68. Bc6 d4 69. Be4 Kd2 (but the immediate Nxc2 only draws) 70. a4 Nxc2 71. Bxc2 d3 72. Bxd3 cxd3 (but not Kxd3 which is only a draw) and Black will promote with check and win by a tempo.

After 66. Ka2 there are several ways to win. One attractive line runs 66.. Kxc2 67. Bxb5 Kxc3 68. a4 Kd2 69. a5 c3 70. a6 c2 71. a7 c1Q 72. Bxd3 Kc3 73. a8Q Qb2#

66. Ka1 is similar to Ka2.

In fact, after 64.. a5 65. Kc1 Hou is still winning. The way to secure the full point runs: 65.. Ke2 66. Bc6 Ke1 67. Bxb5 Ne2+ 68. Kb2 Kd2 winning the c3 pawn. Instead she continued 65.. Ne2+ 66. Kb2 Kd2 (going back with Nf4 was still winning) 67. Bxd5 Nxc3 and Caruana managed to hold on, the game eventually being drawn on move 98.

Another missed opportunity, but it’s very difficult for anyone to spot this over the board. For Caruana, as for Carlsen in the previous round, a narrow escape.

These two positions demonstrate just how beautiful – and how difficult – chess can be. Which is why playing it and teaching it, at least to pupils who want to play chess well, is so worthwhile.

A tweet from chess historian Olimpiu G Urcan summed it up: “You really have to feel pity for those who don’t play or understand chess in moments like this”.

Richard James

Need Sure Points? Volga-Benko Gambit Edition

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

A while ago I wrote two articles about Volga-Benko gambit. The first one was based on a game I played and the second one was a follow up with ideas of improvement for Black’s play. You can review the second one HERE
This article is a follow up of idea #3 from it. The main point of both games below is once Black achieves an active setup, that balances out the sacrificed pawn. A balanced position poses interesting questions:
White: I am up a pawn and under pressure. How much risk should I take to continue? If I give back the pawn, my position could be worst and then I have to fight for a draw. If I do nothing, why would I play ahead?
Black: My active position compensates being down in material. If White decides to risk it, I have to make sure I will get my pawn back. If White sits tight and does nothing aggressive, I can also wait and maintain my active position
Hope the games below will be a good starting point in your preparation if you wish to introduce/ maintain Volga-Benko as part of your repertoire.

Game 1: a game played years ago with white looking to surprise black with a lesser known variation. Black managed to setup an active position with ease and both players agreed to a draw.

Game 2: a newer game where both sides made sure they reached a desired setup; once that happened, it felt like a standoff with neither side willing to blink first.

Valer Eugen Demian