23 October 2016

Superior Pawn Structure?

According to Ketevan Arakhamia Grant, who annotated this game for Chess Informant 124, White has the upper hand in this position.

Black to move
After 29.b3

The game was played in the first round of the 2015 Women's World Championship in Sochi, Russia. Her opponent  was Thanh Trang Hoang, who played the French Defense.

Black has a passed pawn and apparently has White's queenside pawn majority stopped.

What accounts for the assessment that White is better?

21 October 2016

Playing with Rooks

Lessons for both my beginners and advanced students focused on rooks this week. For the beginners, the lesson focused on an elementary checkmate. The advanced students learned the basic plans for defending the Philidor Position.

Checkmate with Rook and King

White to move

I showed the students two methods and then asked them to practice with a partner. As several of these children are still learning how to set up and move the pieces, mastery of this skill was not expected. We will revisit this skill again later this fall.

First Method:

Drive the enemy king to the last rank, using check when the two kings stand in opposition.


Taking control of the fourth rank confines Black's king to half of the board.

1...Kf5 2.Ke2

White's king moves forward on the file adjacent to the Black's king's file.

2...Kg5 3.Ra4

When the rook is attacked, it runs to the other side of the board.

3...Kf5 4.Ke3 Ke5

White to move

The two kings stand with one square between them on the same file. We call this position opposition. Controlling the opposition is an important element in pawn endings (see "Opposition and Outflanking").

Here, it is time to move the rook forward, checking the king and driving him backwards towards the eighth rank.

5.Ra5+ Kd6 6.Ke4 Kc6 7.Kd4 Kb6 8.Rh5 Kc6

White to move


Moving the rook one square presents Black with a choice: move closer to an edge or take the opposition and be driven back by a check.

9...Kd6 10.Rg6+ Ke7

White continues repeating the same patterned moves, slowly pushing the Black king backwards.

11.Kd5 Kf7 12.Ra6 Kg7 13.Ke5 Kh7 14.Kf5 Kg7 15.Rb6 Kh7 16.Kg5 Kg7 17.Rb7+ Kf8 18.Kg6 Ke8

White to move

19.Kf6 Kd8 20.Ke6 Kc8 21.Rh7 Kb8 22.Kd6 Ka8 23.Kc6 Kb8

White to move

24.Rg7 Ka8 25.Kb6 Kb8 26.Rg8# 1–0

The first method is neither efficient nor elegant, but it has the virtue of being easy to learn. At least some students find it easier to learn. Others might find the second method, the one that I usually teach, just as easy.

Second Method

Confine the enemy king to an ever-shrinking box. Use the rook and king in coordination. A distinctive element of this method is that it can be performed without checks until the final checkmate. The stronger side forces the weaker side back by controlling the desired escape squares.


White's king moves closer. 1.Rf2 also works.

1...Kf5 2.Ke3 Ke5

White to move


In the first method, White would play Rh5+ here. 3.Rd1 confines the Black king to a box bordered by the d-file and the fourth rank.

3...Kf5 4.Rd4

Securing the box.

Black to move


Naturally, Black attempts to provoke an error. How can White make progress now?


White's move does not change the principal feature of the position--the box maintained by the rook. Now, Black must move away from the rook.


White to move


White makes the box smaller. Now the fourth rank and the e-file are the boundaries.

6...Kg5 7.Kd4 Kf5 8.Kd5 Kf6 9.Re5

Black to move

Compare Black's confinement to nine squares after nine moves to the other method where Black still has eighteen squares after the same number of moves.

9...Kf7 10.Re6 Kg7 11.Ke5 Kf7 12.Kf5 Kg7

White to move


Black's king is confined to four squares.

13...Kh7 14.Rg6

And now Black is confined to two squares. Do not confine the king to only one, however, for that would be stalemate.

14...Kh8 15.Kf6 Kh7 16.Kf7 Kh8

White to move

17.Rh6# 1–0

Philidor Position

The defensive technique known as the Philidor position was described in François-André Danican Philidor, Analysis of the Game of Chess (1777). See "Philidor Position: Historical Note" for his analysis.

For my students, I found two games played by chess masters more than a century ago where a Philidor Position arose and was played correctly. Naturally, the stronger side will play many moves in the hope that the other player goes astray due to boredom or time pressure.

My students are accustomed to coming into chess club to find a position on the demo board. They inquire as to who has the move, and then begin suggesting the move they think is best.

I insisten that they needed not a move, but a plan. First, they must ask whether White's position is better, equal, or inferior. Once they determine that it is inferior, they know that a draw would be a good result.

The plan: White occupies the third rank with his rook and maintains it until Black advances the pawn. Then White's rook goes to the eighth rank to endlessly check the enemy king.

Marco,Georg -- Albin,Adolf 
Monte Carlo (11), 1902

White to move


One student may have suggested this move instantly, but it is acceptable only after the plan has been articulated. A chess engine can suggest several moves that lead to a draw. With brute force calculation, the position is not yet critical. Humans need less calculation when they understand the plan.

52...Ra5 53.Rb3 Ra2 54.Rc3 Rd2 55.Rb3 Re2

White to move

Black tries to create complications by contesting the third rank.


The other element of the plan is to keep the king in front of the pawn. In order to play rook endings properly, a player must understand the fundamentals of pawn endings. White could lose here via 56.Ra3 Re3 57.Rxe3?? fxe3 58.Kf1 Kf3-+

56...Rh2 57.Kg1 Rh5 58.Ra3 Rd5 59.Rb3 Kf5 

White to move

60.Kf2 Kg4 61.Ra3 Rd2+ 62.Kf1 Rb2 63.Rc3 Rb4 64.Kg2 Rb2+ 65.Kf1 Kf5 66.Ra3 Rh2 67.Ra5+

Black to move

White is happy to check endlessly from the long side of the pawn. It is worth noting that checks from the short side do not work.


Black returns his king to refuge from checks.


White returns to the third rank.

68...Rd2 69.Rb3 Kf5 70.Ke1 Rd4 71.Ke2 Ke4 72.Ra3 Rb4 73.Kf1 Kf5

White to move

74.Kf2 Kg4 75.Rc3 f3

Having tried a few tricks that failed, Black advances the pawn.

76.Rc8 Rb2+ 77.Kf1 ½–½

Black saw no reason to continue. It had become clear that Marco was a student of Philidor, as all chess players should be.

The second example contains fewer moves.

Winawer,Szymon -- Weiss,Miksa
Vienna (32), 19.06.1882

Black to move


Knowing the plan, students quickly suggested and explained this move.

129.Rh5 Kc7 130.Rh7+ Kc8 131.c5 Rf6 132.Rh5 Rg6

Just shuffle the rook back and forth on the sixth rank as far from the enemy king as possible.

133.Kc4 Kc7 134.Kd5 Rf6 135.Re5 Rh6 136.Re7+ Kc8 137.Ra7 Rg6 138.Kc4 Rh6 139.Kb4 Rg6 140.Rf7 Rh6 141.Rf5 Kc7 142.c6 Rh1 ½–½

20 October 2016


White played the strongest move in this position from Marovic -- Pomar Salamanca, Espana 1969, Chess Informant 7/505.

White to move

I will respond to solutions left in the comments section below.

16 October 2016

Find the Only Move

These positions arose in Simon Williams' commentary on Gelfand -- Nakamura 2010 in his video "Hikaru Nakamura Teaches the KID" on Chess.com.

The first position arose in three games. Once, White found the correct move. FM Delisle Warner was White in that game, scoring an upset win against IM Kevin Denny.

White to move

The second position comes about a couple moves after 22...h4 instead of Nakamura's 22...Nh4.

White to move

Finally, Gelfand could have stayed in the game with the right move in this third position.

White to move

Can you find the only move in each position?

13 October 2016

Fried Liver Attack

In the second week of after school chess club, my beginning group doubled in size and includes several who have never played chess. While emphasizing how the pieces move and other first things, I showed the group Gibaud -- Lazard 1924, then offered assistance as the students paired off and played.

The advanced group saw this game, but not with all of the annotations presented here.

Von der Lasa,Tassilo -- Mayet,Carl [C57]
Berlin Berlin, 1839

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5

White's aggressive move immediately presents Black with some problems.

4.d3 is the main line and scores best.


4...Bc5 is the other principal way of meeting White's threats. 5.Nxf7 Bxf2+ 6.Kf1 and White should be better 6...Qe7 7.Nxh8; 4...b5 5.Bxf7+ Ke7 6.Bb3.

4...h6 5.Nxf7 Qe7 6.Nxh8 was played in De Wit -- Soylu 1999.

5.exd5 Nxd5

Accepting the Fried Liver gives White strong practical chances. Black is okay, and probably better, but it is much easier for Black to err. Moreover, errors are often fatal.

5...Na5 is a recommended alternative, as we saw last week.

White to move


6.d4 is an alternative, leading to:

a) 6...Bb4+ 7.c3 Be7 8.h4 Bxg5 9.Bxg5 Qd7 10.dxe5 Nb6 and was drawn in 47 moves Stoltz,G (2487) -- Karaklajic,N (2436), Belgrade 1952.

b) 6...exd4 7.0–0 Be6

7...Be7 was played against Paul Morphy when he was playing blindfold 8.Nxf7 Kxf7 9.Qf3+ Ke6 10.Nc3 dxc3 11.Re1+ Ne5 12.Bf4 Bd6 13.Bxe5 Bxe5 14.Rxe5+ Kxe5 15.Re1+ Kd4 16.Bxd5 Rf8 17.Qd3+ Kc5 18.b4+ Kxb4 19.Qd4+ 1–0 Morphy,P -- Amateur,New Orleans 1858.

8.Re1 Qd7 9.Nxf7 Kxf7 10.Qf3+ Kg8 11.Rxe6 is the line recommended by Tartakower and Du Mont, 500 Master Games of Chess (1952). Last week's game also came from this book.

6...Kxf7 7.Qf3+ Ke6

Beginners sometimes play 7...Ke8 8.Bxd5 Qf6 9.Bxc6+ bxc6 10.Qxf6 gxf6 11.d3 and White has a clear advantage with both material and positional superiority.


Black to move


8...Ncb4 is Black's principal alternative, and one that I prefer as Black.

White's main responses are:

a) 9.Qe4 c6 10.a3 Na6

Alternately, Black can return the material in hopes of finding a secure home for the king 10...Nxc2+ 11.Qxc2 Kf7.

11.d4 Nac7 12.Bf4 Kf7 13.Bxe5 Be7 14.0–0–0 with a clear lead in development for White.

b) 9.Bb3 c6 10.a3 Na6 and Black is surviving for now.

c) 9. a3 Nxc2+ 10.Kd1 Nxa1 11.Nxd5 Kd6 12.d4 Be6

In a correspondence game ten years ago, I played 12...b5 13.Ne7!? and I spent several hours finding Bg4.

The knight is untouchable:

13...Bxe7 14.Qd5#
13...Kxe7 14.Qf7+ Kd6 15.Qd5+ Ke7 16.Qxe5+ Be6 17.Qxe6#
13...Qxe7 14.Qd5#

13.Re1 b5 14.Nb4 bxc4 15.Qc6+ Ke7 16.Bg5+ Kf7 17.Bxd8 Rxd8 18.Qxc7+ Rd7 19.Qxe5 Rd6 20.d5 Bd7 21.Qf4+ Kg8 22.Qxc4 a5 23.Nd3 a4 24.Nc5 h5 25.Nxd7 Rxd7 26.d6+ Kh7 27.Re6 g6 28.Rxg6 1–0 Shirov,A (2709) -- Sulskis,S (2544), Tromso 2014.

9.d4 b5 10.Nxb5 

Black to move


Students were asked to find White's refutations of 10...Ng6.

11.Bxd5+ Qxd5 12.Nxc7+

11.Nc3 Qb6

11...Bb7 is met by 12.Ne4.

12.dxe5 Bb7 13.Ne4 Qb4+?

13...Kd7 may be Black's best chance.

14.Bd2 Qxc4

White to move

This position offers a good example of materialism vs. piece activity and coordination. White has sacrificed two minor pieces, netting three pawns, but has a decisive attack.

15.Qg4+! Kxe5 

15...Kf7 16.Nd6+ Kg8 17.Qe6#
15...Nf5 16.Ng5+ Kd7 17.Qxc4+-.

16.f4+ Kd4 

16...Kxe4 17.Qe6+ Kd4 18.Be3+ Nxe3 19.Qe5#.


17.0–0–0 wins as quickly.

17...Nxc3 18.Bxc3+

Black to move


18...Qxc3+ 19.bxc3+ Kc4 20.Qe2+ Kd5 21.0–0–0+ Ke6 22.Ng5+ Kf5 23.Qe6+ Kxf4 24.Nh3#.


Von der Lasa missed a quicker checkmate:19.0–0–0 Qd3 20.f5+ Kd5 21.Rxd3+ Kc5 22.Qb4#.

19...Kd5 20.0–0–0+ Kc5 21.b4+ Kb5 

21...Kb6 22.Qxc4

22.a4+ 1–0

White regains far more material than he sacrificed to create an attack against the king.

07 October 2016

Converting the Advantage

The most difficult part of chess is to win a won game.
Wilhelm Steinitz*
I might have won my last round game in the Eastern Washington Open on Sunday, which would have given me an even score for the event. My game had been comfortable throughout and my position was never worse. My confidence was also strong.

Courtney,Caleb (1466) -- Stripes,James (1794) [C02]
Eastern Washington Open (5), 02.10.2016

Black to move
After 39.f4
I was certain that I was winning at this point in the game.


Thinking the a-pawn would be easy to stop without a serious concessions, I chose to force the rooks off the board immediately.

39...Rb2 wins more easily. One possible line might be 40.Rf1 Rxa2 41.Rf2 Ra1+ 42.Rf1 Rxf1+ 43.Kxf1 d4 44.Ke2 Ke6 45.Kd2 Be4.

40.Rxb1 Bxb1 41.a4 Ke6 42.Kf2 Be4?

I also considered 42...Bf5 and  42...d4. Bf5 is no better than Be4, but 42...d4 is best, according to Stockfish. I imagined my bishop and pawn standing side-by-side on e4 and d4, barring entry of the White king into action. I did not look at the two pieces accomplishing the same standing on d3 and d4.

Earlier in the game, I felt that I had pushed my c-pawn too soon, rendering the win more difficult. Now, I was reluctant to push the d-pawn before preparation. Unfortunately, White's drawing chances are now very good.


My opponent thought this move was forced, but as long as the king remains on f2, it can be delayed. First, White needs to reduce the bishop's mobility by forcing it to remain on the long diagonal,

43.a5! d4 44.a6 h5 45.a7 Kf5 46.g3 g5=


Again, I considered 43...d4, which had been the only winning move.

44.Ke3 Bf5 45.Kd4 Bh3 46.a5 Bf1 47.h3

47.f5+ Kxf5 48.Kxd5 g5 49.e6 Kf6 50.Kd6 Bb5!

47...g6 48.g4?

48.Kc5 Bc4 49.Kb4 Be2=

Black to move

Now, thinking that I could very easily lose, I spend ten minutes on this position. I worked out pretty much the line that the game followed where both players promote on the same move, but also thought that I might still have some winning chances.

48...h4! 49.f5+

49.g5 creates problems for Black, but Ke7 leaves White practically in zugzwang.

49...gxf5 50.gxf5+ Kxf5 51.Kxd5 Bxh3 52.Kd6 

Black to move


I played this move almost without hesitation. I felt that I had solved my problems and could secure the draw. Alas, I was still winning and could have easily invested half of my remaining sixteen minutes discovering how. White's problem in the race between his e-pawn and my h-pawn is that his king must also move.

After the game, we looked at 52...Bg2 53.e6 Kf6 54.Kd7 h3 55.e7

Analysis diagram after 55.e7
55...Bc6+! 56.Kxc6 Kxe7 57.a6 h2 58.a7 h1Q+ and Black wins.

Even better is 52...Bf1 53.e6 h3 54.e7 Bb5 55.a6 h2 56.a7 h1Q with an easy win.

Before playing 48...h4, I had examined 52...Kg6, and worked out that it was losing, missing that after 53.a6, 53...Bg2 kept the win in hand.

53.a6 Bg2 54.e6 h3 55.e7 h2 56.e8Q h1Q 57.Qe5+

My opponent offered a draw here, stating that he had a perpetual. I said that I did not disbelieve him, but wanted to see the proof.

57...Kg4 58.Qg7+ Kf3 59.Qf6+ Kg3 60.Qg5+ Kf2 61.Qd2+ Kg1 62.Qe1+ Bf1 63.Qg3+ ½–½

Even at the end, I thought I might play on 63...Qg2 64.Qxg2+ Bxg2 and let the game end when my bishop captures his last queen.

It was a disappointing tournament, as were all my others in 2016. Nonetheless, I enjoy learning from my errors in this game. Perhaps next time I play chess in a weekend Swiss, I will play with determination and creativity, finding every win that presents itself even after making depressing errors.

One more tournament like those that I played this year and I will be at my rating floor, down almost 300 from my peak in 2012.

*This quote and others that are similar have been attributed to several chess masters, most often Emanuel Lasker or Frank Marshall. Electronic searches of Lasker's Common Sense in Chess and Lasker's Manual of Chess fail to turn it up, however. Edward Winter, who continually labors to source such expressions, offered in A Chess Omnibus (2003) Adolph Albin, Schach-Aphorismen und Reminiscenzen (1899). Albin lists it among a sequence of chess aphorisms.

Then, in Chess Note 5349 (26 December 2007), Winter notes that the saying appears in Chess Player's Chronicle (13 December 1890), where it is attributed to Wilhelm Steinitz. Winter requests earlier attributions.

06 October 2016

Lesson of the Week

A new scholastic chess season has begun. The first tournament for Spokane's youth will be held October 22. My chess clubs started this week. For my beginning students, we looked at three instructive miniatures from the Encyclopedia of Chess Miniatures (2014). My advanced students saw a game from 1936.

The opening played in this game is popular in scholastic chess.

Spielmann,Rudolf -- Eliskases,Erich [C59]
Match Semmering AUT (7), 1936

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Na5 6.Bb5+ c6 7.dxc6 bxc6 8.Be2 

8.Qf3 has been recommended by a local chess teacher and appears in many games.

8...h6 9.Nf3 e4 10.Ne5 Qc7 11.d4 exd3 12.Nxd3 Bd6

White to move


This game was the only one in the database with this move. The most popular response was played by none other than Garry Kasparov.

13.b3 0–0 14.Bb2 Re8 15.h3 Ne4 16.0–0 Qe7 17.Nc3 Nxc3 18.Bxc3 Qxe2 19.Bxa5 Bf5 20.Re1 Qxd1 21.Raxd1 Rxe1+ 22.Rxe1 Rb8 23.g4 Bg6 24.Kf1 h5 25.Re3 Rb5 26.Bd2 f6 27.f4 Rd5 28.Ke2 hxg4 29.hxg4 f5 30.c4 Rd4 31.Bc3 Re4 32.Rxe4 fxe4 33.Ne5 Bxe5 34.Bxe5 Be8 35.Ke3 Kf7 36.Kxe4 g6 37.Kd4 Ke7 38.Kc5 Kd7 39.Bb8 Kc8 40.Bxa7 Kb7 41.Bb6 Bd7 42.g5 Bf5 43.b4 Bc2 44.a4 1–0 Kasparov,G (2805) -- Timman,J (2620)/Moscow 1994.

13...Ba6 14.g3 0–0 15.0–0 Rad8 16.Be3 Nd5 17.Bc5 Bxc5 18.Nxc5 Nc3 19.Nxa6 Qe5 20.Qe1 Nxe2+ 21.Kh1 Rfe8 22.Rd1


22...Qh5 23.h4 Qg4 24.Kh2 Nxg3 25.fxg3

Black to move


25...Rxe1 26.Rxd8+ Kh7 27.Rxe1+-

26.Rf2 Rxf2+ 27.Qxf2 Qxd1 0–1