28 February 2012

Playing for a Draw

Lesson of the Week

In my round four game of the 20th Dave Collyer Memorial tournament, I had Black against a player who has enjoyed somewhat better results against me than our rating difference would predict. After gaining a comfortable position out of the opening, I missed some things and was passively defending a cramped position. Even so, my position remained solid. It was not easy for my opponent to find a win. After an exchange of another set of pawns, my rooks gained some mobility. I now had the position that I had been seeking.

Black to move
One rook controls the second rank and the other can swing back and forth along the first rank delivering checks from the rear.

I played 45...Re1+ and offered my opponent a draw. There will be some complications after the king finds safety in front of his h-pawn, but I thought that at that point I might be able to deal with my bishop that is under attack.

Instead of the expected 46.Kf6, my opponent played 46.Kd4. Can I prove the position is drawn?

If play had continued 46.Kd3 Rd1+ 47.Ke3, would I still have the draw in hand?

27 February 2012

Breaking Through 1900!

New Peak Rating
No more waffling will be permitted. I aim to become a USCF Expert. I had set the modest goal of pushing through the next rating level, 1900, and wrote my New Year's Resolutions to achieve that aim. My first tournament of 2012 was an astounding, and wholly unexpected success! I wanted to score 3.5 or better, believing that would propel me over 1900. I won all my games, took my usual third round bye, and finished in second place in the 20th Dave Collyer Memorial. My new rating is 1933! My head is reeling from the thin air.

Ironically, my winning strategy in two games was playing for a draw. I can neither pursue this strategy with plans for success, nor recommend it. Even so, there is something worthwhile in the efforts to become difficult to beat. In "Rating Estimation," one of the most popular posts on this blog, I mentioned increasing my drawing ratio as part of the path to improvement.
To get to A class, I've needed to learn tactics and endgames, and expanded my opening repertoire. But, more important, I've needed to reduce the obvious blunders made in haste, and I've needed to become far more consistent against lower rated players. I've also increased my drawing ratio.
"Rating Estimation"
I certainly made errors in my four games this past weekend, but these errors were far less severe than some that had been common. My game against Michael Cambareri in round four is a case in point. Just a bit over a year ago, I played a memorable game against Michael. I was talking with others on the nearby boards about this game before round one began. Michael often plays the opening extremely fast, and I became caught up in matching his speed one Thursday night. In the 2010 Turkey Quads, I instinctively pushed my c-pawn without the necessary preparation.

Cambareri, M (1884) -- Stripes, J (1841)
Turkey Quads, Spokane 2010

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e5 Nd7 6.Bxe7 Qxe7 7.f4 c5?? 8.Nb5 1-0

It was possible to play on and make my opponent prove his ability to convert the advantage gained from winning the exchange. I opted to go home and watch television with my wife. In previous games, Michael had demonstrated to my satisfaction his ability to convert such an advantage. Spending an hour or two suffering from slow strangulation did not strike me as the way that I wanted to spend the evening.

Black to move
Black must play 7...a6. When I played this move yesterday, Michael laughed. He, too, had clear memories of our previous game in the Classical French. This time, after a long think, Michael played an unusual move. It may have been an error. I was able to temporarily win a pawn, and might have taken two. I had a solid position with no clear weaknesses, but for a time was defending passively due to some positional errors. The opportunities that my opponent missed were far less obvious than his opportunity after my egregious tactical blunder in the Turkey Quads. In the end, under time pressure, he turned down my draw offer and then promptly walked into a mating net.

26 February 2012

Pawn Wars

Teaching chess to young children, I constantly stress the benefits of playing pawn wars. Two variations: just pawns, first to promote wins; pawns and kings from several set positions (see my 2009 "Pawn Wars"). In the last round of the 20th Dave Collyer Memorial tournament, I was on board two as one of two players with 3.5. Two players with perfect 4.0 scores were battling for first on board one, and I was battling with an expert for second alone, a massive tie for second, or a share of first (if the players on board one draw). Our game ended with kings and pawns.

White to move

White has a clear advantage, but I did not know it. Indeed, before the rooks were exchanged, I thought my opponent (Black) had found the way to win a game that I was trying to draw. He sought the pawn break from this position.

Black to move

We had reached this position twice, on moves 23 and 25. The second time, he opted for 25...f5. There were several possibilities, but we reached the position in the first diagram after 31.Rxd7 Kxd7. There, we have a position that will not be drawn. One of us will be in zugzwang when the other runs him out of pawn moves. Calculating such things with the rooks and a knights on the board is very difficult.


I remain in pursuit of the next rating floor. Currently my USCF floor is 1600. When my brain deteriorates due to age and ill health, I will always remain at or above 1600 rating. A win today in two efforts could propel me up to a floor of 1700.

24 February 2012

Four Blunders

Chess Informant 91/412 is the game Xu Jun -- Pendyala Harikrishna, Tripoli 2004. In the annotations, Xu Jun identifies his move 23 as a blunder. This error is followed by Harikrishna's move 23 blunder, another White blunder on move 24 and another Black blunder in reply. Jun went on to win. Here, Harikrishna missed his first chance to score the point.

Black to move
Everyone errs. Errors produce training positions.

22 February 2012

Stopping Pawns

Lesson of the Week

Take your time to study this position. The game was played on Chess.com at three days per move as part of the World League. Black represented Team USA: Northwest and White represented Team Slovakia.

Black to move
Count the passed pawns. Evaluate the chances that each one has for promotion. What must be done to stop each pawn?

White could have claimed a draw by repetition after the moves 44... Rb2+ 45.Nb3 Ra2 46.Na5 Rb2+ 47.Nb3 Ra2 48.Na5. The same position has occurred three times with the same player to move. In fact, two different positions have been repeated three times, and if Black plays 48...Rb2+, a third position will have appeared for the third time. The position in the diagram appeared after White's moves 44, 46, and 48.

Black was repeating the position because he believed that he could not stop White's a-pawn. If he could find a way to stop this threat, his own passed pawns become the focus.

21 February 2012

Instant Gratification

This week, I am avoiding bullet garbage. Although I would like to say that serious training has taken its place, the truth is that I've become obsessed with beating a weakened Shredder on my iPad. Last November, I wrote about the Shredder iPad app's tactics training feature. It also has a playing feature that automatically adjusts its strength up or down as the user wins, loses, or draws. There is no timer limiting human think time, but Shredder moves instantly, or nearly so. At least it so moves at the weakened level merited by my demonstration of skill, or lack thereof. I'm playing these games at a pace between the instant moves of bullet and the almost leisurely pace (in comparison) of three-minute games. I am seeking the instant gratification of immediate victories. The quality of my chess is hardly worth discussing.

Shredder throws the game. If I recognize the error, I win easily. If I miss the chance, I may lose.

Black to move

Black has a slight advantage despite the apparent exposure of the machine's king.


Shredder makes a horrendous move. Without taking a moment to consider the tactics, I opt to win back the pawn and get a pig.


34.Qg6+ was the correct move, as it keeps the Black queen off the b1-h7 diagonal.

34...Qxa3 35.Rxb7

White has an overwhelming advantage.


Black moves into a mate in four.

White to move

But, I go for the mate in eight. Again, Qg6+ was the correct move.

36...Rfd8 makes it mate in four once again.

37.Qh8+ Kf7 38.Qg7+ Ke8

White to move
And now I miss the mate in two.


39.Qg8+ finishes things.

39...Kf8 40.Bg7+ Kg8 41.Bh6+ Kh8 42.Qg7#

At least there was some gratification from instantly working out a mate in four from this position. It would be better to have found the mate in two. Perhaps that's another reason to set aside junk play and concentrate on the 320 problems in Lev Alburt, Chess Training Pocket Book II.

20 February 2012

Reviewing Chess World Game History

Part of My Opening Statistics
It is useful to review one's previously played games. Chess World, an online correspondence site where I have played since 2004, has a feature called "My Opening Statistics" that provides access to games previously played there. Clicking on the ECO code in the right-hand column brings up the games in that opening system sorted by color and result. The link also offers pie charts that reveal at a glance essential information, such as that my winning percentage with the Queen's Gambit as White is decent, but that I fare quite poorly on the Black side of this opening.

Pie Graphs
From the list, I am able to scroll to the highest ranked opponents, and then select a game to play through on the site. I located my highest rated draw as White in the Queen's Gambit this morning. While playing through the game, I noticed that I forced a draw from a position where my pieces were well-coordinated and active, but my opponent had a threat. I began to reassess the threats. Was it essential to force the draw? Looking at tournament information attached to the game, I learn that it was a four-player double round-robin, a common tournament structure for that site. I've played many of those and have won my share. In this one, I placed third. My other game against this opponent was a loss. The game was played in late 2006.

I opened the game in my database and looked a little longer at the key position where I opted to force a draw.

The original game began:

Stripes,James (2051) - Yansuse (2170) [D46]
www.ChessWorld.net server game, 2006

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.e3 Bd6 6.Bd3 Nbd7 7.0–0 0–0 8.e4 dxe4 9.Nxe4 Nxe4 10.Bxe4 e5 11.Qc2 h6 12.Rd1 exd4 13.Rxd4 Qc7 14.Be3 Ne5 15.Bh7+ Kh8 16.Nxe5 Bxe5 17.Rh4 f5 18.Bg6 f4 19.Bd2 Qe7 20.g3 Qg5 21.Rh5 Qf6 22.Rxe5 Qxe5 23.Re1 Qf6 24.Bc3 Qg5 25.Re5 Qg4 26.Rh5 fxg3 

White to move
Here I opted for the draw by repetition, and my opponent quickly conceded the half-point.

27.Rxh6+ Kg8 28.Bh7+ Kf7 29.Bg6+ Kg8 30.Bh7+ ½–½

Was my attack strong enough to make a defensive move and play on? I tried 27.hxg3 against Rybka 4. After many moves, including some sub-optimal play on my part, the game was drawn.

27.hxg3 Bf5 28.Rxf5 Rad8 29.Rxf8+ Rxf8 30.Be4 Rd8 31.Kg2 Qd1 32.Qxd1 Rxd1 33.Kf3 Kg8 34.Ke2 Rd8 35.f4 Kf7 36.g4 g6 37.a4 Re8 38.Kf3 Rd8 39.a5 a6 40.Ke3 g5 41.fxg5 hxg5 42.Bf5 Ke7 43.Ke4 Kd6 44.Be5+ Kc5 45.Be6 Rd2 46.Kf5 Re2 47.Bc3 Kd6 48.Bc8 Kc7 49.Be6 Kd6 50.Bf7 Rf2+ 51.Kg6 Rf4 52.Bb4+ Ke5 53.Bc3+ Kd6 54.Bg8 Rxg4 55.Kf5 Rf4+ 56.Kxg5 Rf8 57.Bh7 Kc5 58.Bd3 Rf3 59.Be2 Re3 60.Bf1 Rf3 61.Be2 Re3 62.Bg4 Rxc3 63.bxc3 Kxc4 64.Bc8 Kxc3 65.Bxb7 Kb4 66.Bxa6 c5 67.Bd3 c4 68.Bxc4 Kxa5 ½–½

Using the annotations built into the Fritz family of engines, I went back to the point where the engine evaluated the effects of my move as leading to equality and tried the engine's suggestion. With this one take-back, I quickly provoked resignation by the silicon monster.

White to move
48.Bg8 Re8 49.Bh7 Re2 50.Kxg5 Ke7 51.Bf5 Kf7 52.Kf4 Ke7 53.Kf3 Rh2 54.g5 Rh5 55.Kg4 Rh1 56.Bc8 1–0

18 February 2012


On the first day of 2012, I posted "New Year's Resolutions." I have failed. Although I may have averaged fifty tactics problems per week, I have yet to solve a single problem in Gaprindashvili, Imagination in Chess. Only in the past week, have I started working through Alburt, Chess Training Pocket Book II. I have spent close to half an hour the past week, but this time was harried and fragmented. It was not the sort of focused quality training that I had in mind.

Despite my failings so far, the year is yet young. With the 20th Dave Collyer Memorial one week away, I am feeling an interest in renewing my commitment. A good score of 3.5 to 4.0 (I will be taking a bye in round 3) in this year's Collyer would likely push me over 1900.

Problem 10 in Alburt's book was my first clear success this week. It took a minute or two to find the correct sequence.

Black to move
7r/4k1KP/2p3p1/5p2/2pP1P2/2P5/1P4P1/8 b - - 0 1

Although I am driven to push my pathetic bullet rating on Chess.com back over 1800, I resolve to limit participation in such nonsense this week and concentrate on quality tactics training so that I'm in shape for the Collyer. I also intend to review my blog output so as to belatedly suggest to Robert Pearson a few entries for the "Best Of!" series.

16 February 2012


As I continue training with Chess Informant electronic books, I turned my attention to the Best of Chess Informant: Anatoly Karpov CD this morning. The first exercise in "Play Like Karpov" brought me frustration. Over and over in the solving mode, I received the comment, "Karpov wouldn't even consider that!"

White to move

The first move was easy, but the combination runs eighteen moves. I could find about half of the moves. The problem comes from a game that Karpov played in 1973 when he was the strongest player in the world who was not busy ducking competition. Perhaps it is not realistic for me to try to play in such a manner.

15 February 2012

Informant Combinations

I saw the power of the horses and the discovery/pin in this problem, but missed the deflection. The problem is from the Combinations section of Informant 106, as was the position in "Monday Morning Tactics."

White to move

I should spend more time training with Chess Informant. I have the first 106 issues, and hence many hundreds of combinations to solve and study.

14 February 2012

Lesson of the Week

Removing the Guard is an important tactic. Attack the piece that defends another one that you would like to attack, and often you can win one of the two. This position is number 475 in Fred Reinfeld, 1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations. This book is readily available for about $10 at many bookstores, but in order to read the solutions, you need to understand descriptive notation. Reinfeld explains descriptive notation in the front of the book. Many chess masters started with this book as their first text for tactics training. Computers dominate most players' training regimen today, but even Reinfeld's book has not outlived its usefulness. See "Where the Rubber Meets the Road" for a suggestion of how this book is useful in computer training.

White to move

13 February 2012

Monday Morning Tactics

From this position I made the error that was played in the game. The game was Iordachescu -- Svetushkin, Chisnau 2009. The combination appears in the Combinations section of Informant 106. The game ended in a draw, but Iordachescu offers an alternate line that leads to decisive advantage for White.

White to move

09 February 2012

Lesson of the Week

On the way out the door en-route to chess club Tuesday afternoon, I grabbed this month's Chess Life in the knowledge that Bruce Pandolfini's "Solitaire Chess" column would have half a dozen tactics positions. My Chess Life subscription is a benefit of membership in the United States Chess Federation.

I selected two positions for the K-2 group that I met with that afternoon. In the course of looking at the problems--one featuring a pin, and one featuring a skewer--I sought to impress upon the children some general principles of tactics. All tactics involve some form of double attack. Each turn in a game of chess, a player moves one piece. Children are quick to point out the solitary exception to that statement: castling. Moving one piece means that it is normal to achieve one objective with that move. But, when one move can do two things, then we have a tactic.

One = two

Children love to challenge the absurdity of the math in the equation above. Hence, they remember the claim. Getting them to seek to do two things with each move, or as many as possible, is the beginning of getting them to look for tactics. Eventually, they will learn to accomplish positional objectives as well as tactical ones.

Having left my copy of Chess Life at the school on Tuesday, I set up the positions from memory yesterday. I believe these are accurate, but in the second one, the White pawns may be one file off. Black's king might be on the wrong file as well. Neither of these differences affect the tactic.

Use a pin to win material.

Black to move

Employ a skewer to win material.

Black to move

07 February 2012

Kramnik -- Lerner, Gausdal 1992

I am marveling at the calculations behind Vladimir Kramnik's move in this position.

White to move

The game is among the 100 Best Games on the CD Best of Chess Informant: Vladimir Kramnik. It was published as Informant 53/1.

01 February 2012

Lesson of the Week

In pawn endgames, there are many positions where a single correct move must be found. Some of these positions have a habit of appearing with some frequency. I had White in this position while training against the computer yesterday (see "Small Differences").

Black to move

Black must play 1...Ke6, and then after 2.Kxf4, Black moves in front of the enemy king, 2...Kf6.

White to move
This position is a draw if White is the player to move. If it is Black's turn, White wins. Move the pieces one square further up, and the same is true. Move the pieces to another file, and it is still true for every file except the a-file and the h-file.

Memorize this position. You will see it in your games.