03 March 2015

Manual of Chess Combinations

In January, a young woman showed up at a youth chess tournament that I was running with an interesting book of chess combinations. She told me that this book had been recommended by her coach, who is a Russian master.* She also said that she was working her way through the book and finding many challenging problems that demanded creative and flexible thinking.

I looked up the book on Amazon and added it to my wish list. It is Sergey Ivashchenko, The Manual of Chess Combinations, vol. II (Russian Chess House, 2002).

I almost bought the book that day, but I waffled because I was also planning to buy the Encyclopedia of Chess Combinations, 5th edition (Chess Informant, 2014). At the 23rd Dave Collyer Memorial Chess Tournament, a used copy of Ivashchenko's was among the books that IM John Donaldson brought to sell. It was $10. I grabbed it instantly while he was still unboxing the other books.

Ivashchenko claims that this book is designed to lift players from 1600-1700 up to 2200 or higher. Hence, in theory, I should be able to work through the first two or three sections rather quickly, and then find more challenging problems. Indeed, I have solved a few of the early problems in two minutes or less. Nonetheless, a couple have proven more difficult.

After five minutes with Problem 15, I worked out the idea and verified that it would succeed, but I missed a nuance in Black's defense and so did not have the whole sequence correct.

White to move

*The young woman has been playing in my youth tournaments since fourth or fifth grade. She is now a high school senior. When she was in middle school, I coached her for a month or so to prepare her for the Idaho Girls State Championship, where she tied for first. She now plays as well as a solid A Class player, albeit with a much lower rating. I was happy that I was not paired against her in the Collyer. If she keeps playing chess through college, she will become a master.

01 March 2015

The Critical Position

This position comes from my round two game against Bob Rajala in the 23rd annual Collyer Memorial. He played a Caro-Kann, and I struggled to find an advantage. We reached a position where I thought that I could be in trouble with a single inaccuracy.

Black to move

Bob played 28...Qg6, much to my relief. I exchanged my rook for his bishop and knight, and ten moves later he resigned.

I expected, and he had planned, 28...Qg5!

Should I play 29.g3 or 29.g4?

28 February 2015

Taking Care of Business

My friend John Julian always reminded me that high rated players must take care of business in the early rounds of a Swiss tournament. That is, players in the upper quarter will be paired against players that they are expected to beat. They need to do so. In a two-day Swiss, the tough games come on the second day.

Taking care of business is not always easy.

I have had a cold this past week, and today the congestion resulted in a persistent headache. It was not terribly severe, but it refused to leave. Combine the headache with with my penchant for photographing as many players as possible during the early rounds of Spokane's weekend tournaments, and I was in a bit of trouble before I became properly focused on my first round game.

I recall a conversation with my opponent between rounds during last year's Collyer Memorial. He drove up from Oregon to participate in the event. This game was the first time that we played.

My opponent opted for the Ponziani, which had been my new weapon last year. It made the beginning of the game psychologically difficult. I spent six minutes on my third move.

Beverly,Jacob (1462) -- Stripes,James (1872) [C44]
Collyer Memorial Spokane (1), 28.02.2015

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3 f5

I think that Paul Morphy might have played this move were he in my seat.

4.exf5 e4 5.Qe2N

Black to move


I have learned playing the Ponziani that opponents often freak out, so, I freaked out and blundered a second pawn after intentionally sacrificing a first.

5...d5 seems best.

6.Qxe4 Nf6 7.Qc2 d5 8.Bb5 0–0 9.Bxc6

9.d4 was better.

9...bxc6 10.0–0

Black to move


I was rushing to win back one of the pawns. Morphy, on the other hand, would find the best squares for his pieces.


As expected, and best.

11...Nd6 12.Nd4

Here, I became alert to many threatened knight forks that interfered with my plans.

12...Qd7 13.Nd2


13...Nxf5 14.Nxf5 Qxf5 15.Nf3 Bd6 16.Be3

16.Nd4 was better.

Black to move


I don't know how I missed  16...Qh5 as that was part of my intent behind 15...Bd6. I spent seven minutes on Bd6 and two on Qg6.

17.Nh4 (17.g3 Rxf3) 17...Qxh4-+.

I considered 16...Qg4 17.Nd4 (17.h3? Qh5 18.Ne1 Qe5 19.g3 Bxh3-+).


17.Nh4 Qh5 18.g3 Bh3-+.

17...c5 18.f4 Bf5 19.Qb3 c6 20.Rd1 Bg4

White to move

At this point in the game, I had used a full hour to my opponent's 25 minutes.

21.Rd2 Rfe8 22.Nc2 Rab8 23.Qa4

Black to move


I spent fifteen minutes on this move.

23...Rxb2 occupied much of my long think. I was uncertain, and so played a move that seemed safer. 24.Qxc6 Rxc2 25.Qxd5+ Qe6 was not my likely move, although it is the only one in the position that leaves Black with an advantage.

24.b3 Rb7 25.Qa5 Bf5 26.Bxc5

Black to move


26...Rb5 was suggested by Darren Russell during the post-mortem. It is the computer's top choice.


27.f5 Bxf5 28.Nd4


Finally, I am winning. At this point I had 37 minutes left on the clock.

28.Rc1 Be4 29.c4 Bd6 30.g3 Bxf4 31.Rf1

Black to move


I didn't even consider 31...Bxg3 which leads to checkmate in seven moves.

 32.Qxd2 Rf7 33.Re1 Rf3 34.Bf2 Ref8 35.cxd5 cxd5 36.Bc5

Black to move


I found the checkmate in three. Indeed, I had been trying for it for several moves prior.

37.hxg3 Qxg3+ 0–1

In round two I had a more difficult game against the Caro-Kann that seemed roughly equal well into the middlegame. As I was organizing my forces to create attacking chances, I overlooked the danger of my opponent's counterplay. Then, he moved his queen to the wrong square, allowing me to exchange a rook for two minor pieces and end his prospects for attack.

With my bye in round three, I start round four tomorrow morning with 2 1/2, which is what I expect in weekend Swiss.

24 February 2015


Morphy -- Lowenthal, London 1858

The fourteenth match game between Paul Morphy (1837-1884) and Johann Jacob Lowenthal (1810-1876) is an instructive game that highlights Morphy's positional understanding, which was decades ahead of his time. As Valeri Beim notes, this game is a "treasure even by modern-day standards" (Paul Morphy: A Modern Perspective [2005], 108).

Over the past week, I have played through this game several times. First, I looked through without any assistance and found the zugzwang. Then, I probed the database for some perspective on the opening.* Third, I entered variations that highlight tactical and strategic alternatives. Variations were expanded and contracted as I read through Beim's comments on the game (106-108). Finally, a couple of lines were checked with Stockfish.

Morphy,Paul -- Loewenthal,Johann Jacob [C77]
London m London (14), 21.08.1858

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.d4

This game was the first one recorded with this sharp line.

5...exd4 6.e5

6.0–0 is also possible, and is vastly more popular.

6...Ne4 7.0–0 Nc5

7...Be7 is also popular.


8.Bb3 Nxb3 9.axb3 Be7 10.Re1 0–0 11.Nxd4 Nxd4 12.Qxd4 was drawn in 52 moves in Lochte,T (2165) -- Hiermann,D (2190), Germany 1996.


8...bxc6 appears twice in the database, played only by relatively weak players (albeit close to my level). Lowenthal's choice to activate the queen must be the correct idea.


It is interesting that this position has been reached a few times with White on the move, that is, via a different move order that excludes Bb5-a4.

9...Ne6 10.Nxe6 Bxe6 11.Qe2

Black to move


"This natural looking move is the root of all Black's troubles" (Beim, 106). He suggests 11...Qd4.

12.Nc3 Qe7 13.Ne4 h6

The first time that I played through this game, this move looked strange. But a few seconds of analysis revealed that it was necessary to prevent Bg5.

13...Bb6 14.Bg5

a) 14...f6? 15.exf6 Qf7 (15...gxf6 16.Bxf6 Qf8 17.Rad1+-) 16.fxg7 Qxg7 17.Bf6+-.

b) 14...Qd7 15.Rad1 Qc8 would be awkward for Black.


"A outstanding positional decision" (Beim, 106). Beim notes that depriving Black of the bishop pair gives White the advantage on the dark squares.

14...Bxe3 15.Qxe3 Bf5

15...0–0–0? 16.Qa7.

15...b6!? 16.f4 0–0–0.


"Morphy bravely sacrificed a pawn for a small, but lasting initiative" (Beim, 106).

16.f4 Bxe4 17.Qxe4 0–0–0 gives White a slight advantage

16...Bxc2 17.f4

Black to move



a) 17...Bg6? 18.f5 Bh7 and White is clearly better.

b) 17...Bh7!?

c) 17...0–0 18.f5 Qg5 19.Qc3 Ba4 20.e6 with an initiative for White.

d) 17...Qb4 is Stockfish's choice.


White threatens to play 19.Qc3

Hypothetical Position

I looked at some alternatives to this move.

a) 18...Ba4 is easily refuted. 19.exf7+ Kxf7 20.Qc3 Bb5 21.Rfe1 Qf6 22.Qb3+ Kg7 23.a4.

b) 18...0–0 leads to a maze of complications that mostly seem better for White.
19.Rf2 Bf5 20.Nxf5 gxf5 21.Qb3

b1) 21...b6 22.Re1

b2) 21...fxe6 22.Qxb7 Rfb8 23.Qxc6 Rb6 24.Qc3

b3) 21...Qxe6 22.Qxb7 Qd6 (22...Rfb8 23.Qxc7) 23.Qb3.

c) 18...0–0–0 19.Rac1 Bd3 20.Qa7 Qxe6 21.Rcd1 (21.Rfd1?! Beim points out that this is the wrong rook 21...c5 22.Qa8+ Kd7 [Beim's line continues 23.Rxd3+ Ke7 24.Rxd8 Qe3+–+] But the computer offers 23.Qxb7 when White seems slightly better) 21...Qc4 22.Rf3 with a clear advantage for White.

19.Nxf5 gxf5 20.exf7+ Kxf7 21.Qh3 Qf6

21...Rad8 22.Qxf5+

22.Rae1 Rhe8 23.Re5

Morphy simply puts his rook on a secure square on an open file.

23...Kg6 24.Rfe1 Rxe5 25.Rxe5 Rd8

Lowenthal grabs the other open file for his rook.


This check gains a tempo to make possible White's next move.

26...Kh7 27.h3 Rd7

Lowenthal might have held the position with 27...Rd5 28.Re8 Qg7 29.Qh4 Rd1+ 30.Kh2 Rd2 31.Re7 Rxg2+ 32.Kh1 Rg1+=.

28.Qe3 b6 29.Kh2

"Morphy, always energetic, proceeds to straightforwardly strengthen the position, knowing that the necessary level of coordination between his pieces has not yet been attained" (Beim, 107). The italics are Beim's. Throughout Paul Morphy: A Modern Perspective, he emphasizes Morphy's understanding of dynamic play, piece coordination, and development. He contends that focus on Morphy's play against weak opponents has led to a distorted view of his strengths. His play against the top players of the day, including Lowenthal, show that he possessed an intuitive understanding of many concepts that would be articulated over the course of the next century. Morphy anticipated not only Steinitz, but also Nimzovich.

Black to move

29...c5 30.Qe2 Qg6 31.Re6



31...Qg8! might hold 32.Qe5 Rf7 33.Re8 Qg7 and no White breakthrough is in sight.

31...Qf7? 32.Qe5 c4 33.Re8+-.

32.Qh5 Rd5 33.b3

This is the position that I posted in "Zugzwang!" earlier this week.


33...Qf8 34.Qg6+ Kh8 35.Re8+-
33...a5 34.a4 and still zugzwang.

34.Rxa6 Rd6 35.Qxf5+

35.Rxd6 cxd6 36.Qxf5+ Kh8 37.a4 bxa4 38.bxa4 should be winning.

35...Qg6 36.Qxg6+ Kxg6

White to move


Beim gives a long line that Morphy could have calculated leading to certain victory:

37.Rxd6+ cxd6 38.Kg3 b4 39.Kf3 d5 40.g4 Kf6 41.h4 Ke6 42.h5 Kf6 43.Ke3 Ke6 44.g5 hxg5 45.fxg5 Kf5 46.g6 Kf6 47.Kf4 d4 48.Kg4 Kg7 49.Kg5 d3 50.h6+ Kg8 51.Kf6 d2 52.h7+.


37...c6 38.a4 bxa4 39.Rxa4 Rd3
(39...Rd4 40.Rxd4 cxd4 41.Kg3 h5 42.h4 c5 43.Kf3 Kf5 44.g3 Kf6 45.Ke4 Ke6 46.b4+-)

38.g4 c6 39.Kg3 h5 40.Ra7 hxg4 41.hxg4 Kf6 42.f5 Ke5 43.Re7+ Kd6 44.f6 Rb8 45.g5 Rf8 46.Kf4 c4 47.bxc4 bxc4

White to move

48.Kf5 c3 49.Re3 Ra8 50.Rd3+ Kc7 51.Rxc3 1–0

I will need to go through this game again and again. I may return to it in a few weeks or months.

Tomorrow morning, I begin a week on Barnes -- Morphy, London 1858, first match game.

*I was able to spend a few minutes discussing the first few opening moves with FM Jim Maki, who has recently moved to our area and offers game analysis to youth players at area scholastic tournaments. I direct these tournaments. For the first few minutes each round, before any games finish, Jim and I get a few minutes to talk. Then children arrive with their notated games to get superb instruction and a raffle ticket.

23 February 2015

Pawn Endings: The Key Position

Lesson of the Week

This diagram may be the single most import one for understanding elementary pawn endings. It is the key to understanding many complex pawn endings.

If it is White's move, White wins.

1.e7 Kf7 (only legal move) 2.Kd7 and the pawn promotes. The position can be shifted to the right or left, and the White king may stand on either side of the pawn. However, if the pawn is on a rook file (the a-file or h-file), the position is a draw.

If it is Black's turn, Black draws.

1...Kd8 2.e7+ Ke7 3.Kd6 stalemate.

As a practical matter, White may try to confuse Black by playing 2.Kc5, or other moves, aiming to triangulate and recreate this position with White to move. Black easily stops these ploys unless he or she becomes careless in time pressure.

The defender should keep in mind the king's idea position is directly in from of the pawn. When that is impossible, in front of the pawn with one intervening square, or in front of the king with one intervening square must be selected. As long as the diagram position with White to move is avoided, Black holds.

Another important pawn position may reach the first in some variations.

White wins no matter which player is on move.

With White to move:

1.Kd6 Kd8 2.e6 Ke8 and the first diagram is reached with White to move.

If 1...Kf8 or 1...Kf7 2.Kd7 supports the pawn for the last three squares of its journey.

With Black to move:

1...Kd8 2.Kf7 and the pawn has the support of its king.

A third diagram serves to illustrate how the first diagram is a foundation for more complex pawn endings.

If Black's h-pawn falls, the position is elementary. Hence the Black king must shuffle between g8 and h8.

Black to move, loses.

1...Kh8 2.h4 Kg8 3.h5 Kh8 4.g4 Kg8 5.g5 Kh8 6.g6

A form of the first diagram will be reached after 6...Kg8, or after 6...hxg6 7.hxg6.

If White moves first, it is necessary to move one of the pawns a single square on its first move in order to reach the last diagram with Black to move.

21 February 2015


Working through a random set of combinations from the Anthology of Chess Combinations, third edition, I find that I need the patience to slow down and improve the accuracy of my calculations. Too much blitz and timed tactics solving has cultivated an expectation that I should see things instantly.

This position is a case in point. I found the correct key (first move), the correct idea, and saw clearly and correctly the final position. However, I missed the second move of the sequence.

White to move

19 February 2015


Black is ahead one pawn and has everything defended against White's threats. There is just one problem. Black must move. Every possible move produces weaknesses.

Black to move

From Morphy -- Lowenthal, London 1858.

Two moves later, White was ahead a pawn.

18 February 2015

Building a Foundation

My lessons with beginning chess students and with accomplished scholastic competitors are designed to build a foundation for a lifetime of chess. Most young chess enthusiasts play the game actively for a couple of years in elementary school, and then take up other activities. Some return to chess later in their youth. Others may put the game aside until they have children of their own.

Whether they keep playing, or play for a while and then return, elementary endgames and basic tactics should serve them now and in the future.

My advanced students this week are grappling with a famous combination played by Paul Morphy at the First American Chess Congress. The whole game with analysis was posted yesterday at "Morphy's Immortal".

Black to move

For those students that find the combination, I will play Qd3 on White's third move from the diagram because Black's refutation is particularly challenging to find.

My beginning students this week, and some of my advanced students last week, are reviewing (or learning for the first time) "Six Pawn Endings" (see the Lesson of the week from mid-December at the link).