Category Archives: Richard James

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

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

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

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

The Three Cs

There’s an excellent junior chess club in Oldham, Greater Manchester, called 3Cs, which stands, rather prosaically, for Children’s Chess Club.

If I were thinking of starting a children’s chess club and the name hadn’t already been taken I’d consider calling it 3Cs, but my three Cs would stand for something different.

I recently came across a blog post by a young English chess player and teacher, Chris Russell. As it happens, when Chris was a pupil at Norwich School my brother Michael taught him English, which might in part explain why the post is so well written.

Chris writes about the community of chess players:

“Chess is the way we have all chosen to engage with the world and the presence of others helps to give meaning to our journey. I have long ago stopped trying to explain why I spend time on chess to those who don’t. I used to be met with creative variations of “what’s the point?” and never really had a satisfactory answer. Nowadays, I think it is a broader question of networking, support, interest and motivation.”

Chess is the way I’ve chosen to engage with the world, as well. We all need to be part of communities: it’s what makes us human. We can’t always choose our family or our workmates. Sometimes we need to escape and be part of a community of our choice. For some it will be the local pub, or perhaps a place of worship. For others it will be a club or society where they can meet other people with a common interest, people who see the world the same way as they do. Communities of this nature are, by and large, struggling at the moment. Pubs are closing, church congregations are declining, chess clubs are finding it hard to survive. Younger people are spending more time engaging with the world via screens rather than in person. You might, as I do, find this sad. Of course virtual communities also have their benefits: there are communities of those who play chess online, those who discuss various aspects of chess on social media.

So there’s one of my Cs: COMMUNITY.

For many members of the chess community, the main point of chess is to be able to test your skill against other people. Most children and young people enjoy any form of competition, as, of course, do many older people. Competition fulfils a lot of basic human needs. As a society we’re pretty good at promoting physical competition through a wide variety of sports, but less good at promoting mental competition. We should be promoting chess, as well as bridge and other brain games, as outlets for young people’s competitive instincts.

My second C, then, is COMPETITION.

Beyond community and competition, I believe that chess has a cultural significance. Not to the same extent as literature, art and music, of course, but it’s still there. Aesthetic beauty is an inherent part of chess. There’s beauty in a brilliant sacrificial attack, and a very different type of beauty in a subtle ending. Most of us might only dream of playing like that, but at least we can appreciate the artistry of others. There are also specific areas of chess devoted to beauty as opposed to direct competition: the worlds of chess problems and endgame studies, which themselves also include competitions both for solving and for composing. This is only part of the cultural significance of chess. There’s the whole iconography of chess: the beauty of chess pieces of different designs and in different materials, the use of chess in art and literature. I’m very much in favour of introducing children to great music, great art and great literature, and, for this reason I want to introduce children to chess.

My final C: CULTURE.

If chess makes my pupils smarter as well, then so much the better. If they become grandmasters, I’ll be thrilled. But what I really want to give them is COMMUNITY, COMPETITION and CULTURE. These are three basic human needs: to belong, to compete, and to appreciate beauty. Chess can offer all three.

Richard James

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

Tennison Gambit

One of my private pupils rushed in excitedly to tell me he’d discovered an amazing new opening: he always wins whenever he plays it.

I asked him the name of the opening. “The Tennison Gambit”, he replied.

The what? Unless you’re an expert in obscure gambits you could be forgiven for not knowing what he was talking about.

First of all, it’s nothing at all to do with Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Tennyson the poet was appointed President of the revived British Chess Association in 1883: I guess they were looking for a big name, and in 1883 celebrities didn’t come much bigger than Tennyson. His actual interest in chess, though, seems to have been fairly peripheral, although back in 1862 his 8-year-old son Lionel played chess against Lewis Carroll. I imagine his dad taught him the moves. History doesn’t record whether or not young Lionel played the Tennison Gambit.

So what is the Tennison Gambit? It’s named after the Danish born American amateur Otto Mandrup Tennison (1834–1909) and starts 1. Nf3 d5 2. e4 (or, if you prefer, 1. e4 d5 2. Nf3).

Here’s a game he played in 1891:

1. Nf3 d5 2. e4 dxe4 3. Ng5 f5 4. Bc4 Nh6 5. Nxh7 Rxh7 6. Qh5+ Kd7 7. Qg6 Rh8 8. Be6+ Kc6 9. Bxc8+ Qd6 10. Qe8+ Kb6 11. Qa4 when Black, rather prematurely, resigned instead of trying to struggle on with 11.. Nc6.

How did my pupil discover this opening? It seems like he read somewhere that 1. Nf3 was the Réti Opening, and, under the misapprehension that the idea of the move was to transpose into a king’s pawn opening, decided to try it out. He played a game online starting 1. Nf3 d5 2. e4, which he won. The computer informed him he was playing the Tennison Gambit, and, because he won the game and he knew 1. Nf3 was popular, he assumed this gambit was both popular and strong. He also told me that after 1. Nf3 e5 he’d play 2. e4, transposing into what he knows. “What about playing 2. Nxe5 instead?”, I asked, but he didn’t seem interested. So his idea was that 1. Nf3 is a great move because after 1.. e5 you transpose, but if Black errs with 1.. d5 you play the brilliant Tennison Gambit.

Is the Tennison Gambit any good? It looks like you’re playing a reverse Budapest with an extra move, and the Budapest is certainly playable for Black, at least at club level. But if you stop and think about it you’ll realise that, if you play the Budapest with Black you’re doing to because you think you can take advantage of White’s c4 by playing Bb4+ at some point. The Tennison Gambit doesn’t give you this option.

So, in a word, no, it’s not any good. You’re just giving up a pawn for next to nothing. But if you google ‘Tennison Gambit’ you’ll come across a few videos like this. To save you the trouble of watching, you’re advised to play these moves:

1. e4 d5 2. Nf3 (if you really want to play the Tennison Gambit you’re more likely to get it after 1. Nf3 than 1. e4) 2.. dxe4 3. Ng5 Nf6 (3.. Bf5, which, according to the video, ‘doesn’t look right’, is more accurate while 3.. e5 is another option) 4. d3 (4. Bc4 is probably a better move, when White has some initiative) 4.. exd3 5. Bxd3 h6 (White isn’t actually threatening anything so something like 5.. Nc6 leaves White with little to show for the missing pawn) 6. Nxf7 Kxf7 7. Bg6+ winning the black queen. You may well recognise this, with colours reversed, as a familiar trap in the Budapest. How many times have the moves in this game occurred in my 7 million game database? A big fat zero.

You see why so many kids tell me about the ‘secret opening tricks’ they’ve learnt: this is one of a whole series of videos by the same presenter. Even some otherwise reputable sources have their fair share of videos recommending dodgy opening traps (don’t get me started on the Fishing Pole Trap). If you look at the comments you’ll soon discover that there must be millions of players worldwide who have been taken in by this sort of thing and think the idea of the opening is to memorise traps and spring them on unwary opponents. Facebook groups concerning chess books and chess teachers are bombarded with requests for recommended books and lessons about opening traps.

In this case, no harm was done and some important lessons were learnt. Misunderstandings are an important learning tool, as long as you have a teacher who can put you right. I wonder how many novices, misled by the seductive idea of opening traps, fail to make progress and eventually give up because they have the wrong idea about what you’re supposed to do at the start of the game.

Richard James

Indian Defence

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about John Cochrane’s games against Moheschunder Bannerjee from the 1850s. Bannerjee had learnt chess using the rules prevalent in India at the time, in which, amongst other differences, pawns were not allowed to move two squares on their first move.

In many of the games in which Bannerjee had black, he experimented with what would now be called the King’s Indian Defence, with Cochrane usually choosing the Four Pawns Attack. If you believe ChessBase (not a 100% reliable source but I don’t have immediate access to the contemporary records) some of the games started with the Pirc move order: 1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6, with Cochrane, not wanting to block his c-pawn, preferring 3. Bd3 to the usual 3. Nc3. They investigated the further moves 3.. g6 4. c4 Bg7 5. Nc3 O-O 6. f4 e5 7. fxe5 dxe5 8. d5.

If you’re interested in what King’s Indian Defences from the 1850s looked like, here are a couple of examples.

In this game Black miscalculated the tactics on move 24, missing the force of Cochrane’s queen sacrifice

Here, Bannerjee brought off a neat finish.

Although the King’s Indian Defence was Bannerjee’s usual choice when Cochrane opened 1. d4, he also tried other ideas.

Here’s a Grünfeld Defence, in which Cochrane brings off a familiar smothered mate:

Finally, a Nimzo-Indian Defence where Bannerjee blundered a piece in a difficult position on move 25.

The name ‘Indian Opening’ was first used by Löwenthal in his book on the London 1862 Congress (published in 1864), annotating a game between Valentine Green, another player who spent time in India, and Louis Paulsen, which started 1. e4 e5 2. d3. ‘Indian Defence’ was first used in the Chess Player’s Chronicle in 1884, referring to one of the Cochrane-Bannerjee games which started 1. e4 d6 2. d4 g6. The current opening nomenclature was only developed in the period between the two world wars, when what we now call the Indian Defences (starting 1. d4 Nf6) were being investigated by the Hypermodern School and their immediate successors.

If more notice had been taken of Bannerjee’s games against Cochrane, chess openings might have developed in a very different way.

Richard James

Unsound Sacrifices

It was the last week of term at the primary school chess club. The children had all completed their games the previous week and received their fluffy mascots. At the start of the session we handed out the Megafinal qualification forms to the lucky recipients and then moved onto the traditional end of term simul.

There were 19 players present and six large tables in the room so I appointed the six strongest players as team captains, with one to a table, and distributed the other players into teams, leaving one team with four players and five teams with three players each.

One of the games started like this:

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Nc3 Nf6
4. Bc4 Nxe4
5. Nxe4 d5
6. Bd3

I was impressed that they found the right move here, and, when they suggested it, confirmed that it was the best move. At this level most of my opponents play Bxd5, but it’s clearly better to keep the bishop rather than the knight.

6.. dxe4
7. Bxe4 Bd6
8. d3 O-O

At this point I expected them to do something sensible like O-O, the usual move here, but instead they surprised me by playing Nd4. I explained that I could capture the knight. “Yes, we know”, their captain replied. “We want to play this move.”

I then realised what they had in mind, so the game continued:

8. Nd4 Nxd4
9. Qh5

As expected. They were sacrificing a piece for a mate threat, hoping that I wouldn’t notice.

9.. g6

Good enough, but 9.. Nxc2+ was more accurate as White could now have played Qd1.

10. Qh6

Now I spotted that they might be planning Bg5, followed by Bf6 and Qg7#, but I decided I had time to meet that threat and played:

10… Nxc2+, winning easily with my extra material.

I suppose I have to be impressed with the idea, which demonstrates imagination and creativity as well as the ability to think ahead. Unfortunately, that sort of thing isn’t going to work against a reasonably competent opponent. If you want to play for a mating attack on move 8 it would make much more sense to play Ng5 when Qh5 really is a threat, but instead they wanted to bait the trap.

I should add, in case anyone from the school is reading this, that the teams played really well in the simul, two of them totally outplaying me, although I think I might have almost equalised in one game when time was called.

Two days earlier I’d been demonstrating the Aronian-Kramnik game from the Candidates Tournament to a group of rather stronger players (about 800-1000 rating) at Richmond Junior Club.

You’ve probably seen the game already, so will be aware that the first moves were:

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5 Nf6
4. d3 Bc5
5. Bxc6 dxc6
6. O-O Qe7
7. h3

I asked the class to guess Black’s next move, telling them it wasn’t an easy move to find.

Several of the class liked the idea of Bxh3. One of the stronger players in the group told me he’d play either Bxh3 or Bg4. Someone else suggested Ng4, possibly thinking of the Fishing Pole trap.

Again, you have to be impressed, up to a point. They’d identified that White’s last move had created a weakness and they wanted to take advantage of it. Most of them have seen games in which the winner successfully sacrificed a piece for a winning attack on the enemy king. I might have been more impressed if someone had suggested the idea of Be6, Qd7 and then Bxh3, which, if White gives you the opportunity, will give you two pawns for the piece and a stronger attack.

As you probably know, Kramnik actually played 7.. Rg8 here, continuing with Nh5 and g5, and winning with a brilliant sacrificial attack against Aronian’s king.

It occurred to me some time ago that I was mistaken in thinking that when players at this level lost a piece they were either playing too impulsively or looking at the board but not seeing. Once you talk to children about their moves you’ll realise that very often they know they’re losing a piece but either think it doesn’t matter, or, as in these two examples, think they’re doing something rather clever.

This is what happened, for rather different reasons, in both these examples.

In the first position, they were simply setting a trap which they hoped I’d fall into. How should we look at this? A failure to consider risks and probabilities? Immaturity of thought, playing a move based on what they hope their opponent will play rather than what their opponent is likely to play? A lack of understanding that Superior Force Wins and how to play endings?

The second example (playing, for example, Bxh3 rather than Kramnik’s Rg8) is a higher level error. These players have seen lots of examples of sacrificial attacks but lack the ability to calculate whether or not the sacrifice works and the experience to estimate whether or not the sacrifice is likely to work. Of course all chess teachers like to demonstrate this sort of game, but as you progress in chess you realise that in real life most potential sacrifices don’t work, and that you’ll reject the majority of the sacrifices you consider.

Returning, for a moment, to the first diagram, according to my database, two players (rated 1855 and 1949, so about my level) have tried 9. Bxh7+ here. If you’ve learnt the Greek Gift sacrifice it’s very tempting, isn’t it? I suspect that if I showed this position to the Saturday group, many of whom will know the idea, a lot of them would suggest the same thing.

In this position, though, it just doesn’t work. After 9.. Kxh7 10. Ng5+ Kg8 11. Qh5 Black can defend comfortably with Bf5 (or, if he prefers, 11.. Bb4+ 12. c3 Qxd3 13. cxb4 Nxb4). It’s important to know basic tactical ideas like the Greek Gift and Légall’s Mate, but you have to understand that they don’t always work. The Greek Gift, for example, is unlikely to work if your opponent can, as in this position, play Bf5 in reply to Qh5.

Richard James

The Cochrane Gambit

John Cochrane (1798-1878) was one of the most interesting figures in 19th century chess. Rod Edwards ranks him among the world’s top 15 players for half a century, from 1820 to 1870, yet he never played any formal competitive chess.

Cochrane was a scion of the Scottish nobility, a member of the family of the Earls of Dundonald. He joined the Royal Navy as a young man, but changed his career and became a barrister. In the early 1820s he played casual games against the leading French players of the time and wrote a book on the game. He then moved to India to further his legal career. He spent the years from 1841 to 1843 in London, where he proved himself superior to everyone except Howard Staunton. Back in Calcutta, he played many games against two local players, Moheschunder Bannerjee and Saumchurn Guttack, which were published in England, mostly by Staunton.

Cochrane is perhaps best remembered today for the Cochrane Gambit, which goes like this:

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nf6
3. Nxe5 d6
4. Nxf7 Kxf7

There are 848 games with this on MegaBase2018, with White scoring a healthy 59%.

Cochrane and Bannerjee tested this over many games in the 1850s, with Cochrane invariably following up with the natural 5. Bc4+. Bannerjee tried three ways of getting out of check: Ke8, Be6 and d5.

One of their games continued:

5. Bc4+ Ke8 6. O-O c5 7. h3 Qc7 8. f4 Nc6 9. Nc3 a6 10. a4 Qe7 11. Nd5 Qd8 12. d4 cxd4 13. e5 Nxd5 14. Bxd5 dxe5 15. Bxc6+ bxc6 16. Qh5+ Kd7 17. fxe5 Kc7 18. Rf7+ Kb8 19. e6 Bd6 20. Bg5 Qb6 21. a5 Qc5

So far Black has defended well, but this is an oversight. The correct move was Qb4. Cochrane now has a pretty win: 22. Bf4 Qb4 23. c3 and Black will have to give up his queen to prevent Bxd6#.

22. b4

White misses his opportunity…

22.. Qe5

… but Black gives him a second chance. Instead, either Qc3 or Qd5 would have provided a sufficient defence.

23. Bf4 Qxe6

Losing at once. His only chance was Qxf4.

24. Qc5 Qxf7
25. Bxd6+ 1-0

Cochrane’s gambit led an underground existence for more than a century, until it was revived in the late 1970s, its most prominent regular practitioner being the Latvian IM Alvis Vitolinsh. 5. Bc4+ was now considered insufficient and instead attention turned to 5. d4, which was almost always played at this time.

By the late 1990s attention had switched to another 5th move for White: Nc3, which is preferred by today’s engines. It reached the big time when Topalov punted it against Kramnik in 1999, the game resulting in a thrilling draw.

Since then, though, the Cochrane Gambit’s only appearance in top level chess came in 2016, when Ivanchuk was unsuccessful in a blitz game against the Chinese GM Li Chao.

Objectively, the gambit is not quite sound. If you like this sort of thing it may well be worth a try in blitz games at lower levels. For the piece you get two pawns and some attacking chances against Black’s displaced king, which, if you’re not playing a well booked-up master strength player, might be considered reasonable compensation. Why not give it a go yourself, in commemoration of the life and chess career of John Cochrane?

Richard James