“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

Share

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

Share

“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

Share

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

Share

“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

Share

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

Share

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

Share

Fighting In The Trenches (1)

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

Many a player have to fight in the trenches, in the endgame trenches that is. It turns out endgame is the less intuitive part of the game. Patterns need to be known, moments must be seized. We have started to dig our trenches at the club. The fight is going to be long and could not be avoided any longer. Here is another example why:

What do you think about this position? Who is winning? Take a quick glance and depending on how skilled you are, the result should be more or less obvious. Of course there is more than one way to skin a cat, so you have a number of options to choose from. Which one is yours?


Can you still win this endgame? Do you believe White can still win the endgame? Most of the times believing is all that matters. Think about this until next week. To be continued…

Valer Eugen Demian

Share

Teacher’s Delight

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

Teaching is a journey of 1,000 miles. There are countless ups and downs along the way and key is to keep on moving no matter what. In the same time teaching requires two willing parties: the teacher sharing their knowledge and the student absorbing it. The best reward any teacher craves and cherishes in the same time is to see their students apply the shared knowledge. Today I share with you one such reward from Eric, a cheeky 8 years old always eager to try new tricks on his opponents. Enjoy the game spiced up by Eric’s comments:

Valer Eugen Demian

Share

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

Share