31 March 2012

Best of Chess Blogging Part III: What a Wonderful World

There are many chess enthusiasts blogging about their play, chess news, programs of self-improvement. The skill levels of these range from struggling, but optimistic patzers, to strong Grandmasters.

Robert Pearson has completed a three part round-up of the best blog posts.

Happy reading!

Best of Chess Blogging Part III: What a Wonderful World

See also Part II (6 March 2012) and Part I (1 February 2012).

Thanks Robert.

30 March 2012

Slaying the Dragon

In honor of the Dragonslayer youth chess tournament tomorrow at Saint George's School, the tactical problems below all come from recent tournament games in the Yugoslav Attack against the Sicilian Dragon.* Sometimes the name St. George Attack is used for certain lines of the Yugoslav attack. I have failed to find historical information concerning this name in the usual places, but it seems appropriate for a line with a reputation for making a dragon's life short and unpleasant. On the other hand, the legend gets a little mixed up when the dragon becomes a mascot. Sometimes the beast prevails against our gallant knight in the positions below.

There may be more than one move that maintains an advantage for the side to move in some positions. We are looking for the best move in each case.

Black to move
Haria -- Wang, High Wycombe Open
3r2k1/p4p1p/3rb1p1/q1p1Q3/2B2P2/1P4P1/P1P4P/2KRR3 b - - 0 26

White to move
Ibrahimova -- Leolko, Moscow Open
2rq1rk1/1p1bppb1/3p2pB/p3n2n/3NP1p1/1BN2P2/PPPQ4/2KR3R w - - 0 16

White to move
Moreno Carretaro -- Perez Manas, Catalan Team Championship
5rkb/pp3p2/3p2pP/4pb1P/4q3/4B3/PPPQ4/2KR3R w - - 0 23

Black to move
Vuckovic -- Fedorovsky, European Individual Championship
r5k1/3R1pn1/1q2pQp1/1N4P1/5P2/2P5/1P6/2K5 b - - 0 40

White to move
Pokhlebin -- Kalinin, Moscow Championship
1r1qr3/4ppk1/2bp2p1/1p6/5Q2/1pN2P2/PPP3P1/2KR3R w - - 0 23

*[T]he name Yugoslav Attack, or Velimirovic variation, would not acquire that name until Dragoljub Velimirovic began playing it in the 1960s. See "12th Soviet Championship: Smyslov."

29 March 2012

Instructive Games Worthy of Memorizing

Choosing to memorize whole chess games demands identifying games with instructive value. The miniatures that I committed to memory last week are useful to the chess teacher who works with beginning players (see "Memorizing Chess Games"). They are of less value to my objective of making Expert (see "Breaking Through 1900!"). Consider the most important elements in a brief game that I played during the course of a single minute during lunch a few months ago, and have been able to replay ever since. To this day, I have not checked my analysis with an engine. It was an entertaining disaster for White in a three minute blitz game.

Internet Opponent -- Stripes
Chess.com 2012

1.e4 e6 2.f4 c5 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Nf6 6.e5 Ne4 7.Bd3 Qh4+ 8.g3 Nxg3 9.Nf3

Black to move

9...Qg4? 10.hxg3? Qxg3+ 11.Ke2 Qg2+ 12.Ke3 Bc5+ 13.Ke4 f5+ 14.exf6 d5#

Black should have played 9...Qh3 when the knight remains safe. After 9...Qg4, White should have played 10.Rg1!

It was a fast game, and I have not analyzed it in any depth. Likely, there is an improvement that I have overlooked. It serves to illustrate the en passant rule, to show the danger to a king drawn into the middle of the board, and to illustrate the sort of mating attack that often presents itself in games of weak players. Memorizing this game required no effort. I played it at lunch on my iPad, saved it to tChess Pro, and showed it to a group of elementary school students an hour later. It has remained lodged in my memory since because I have shown it to others.

What elements give this game instructive value?

1) The truth of the position. Both players made errors. Perhaps the diagram position is worth knowing because the next move was Black's most significant error, which was followed by White's missed opportunity to use a pin to win material. Does Black have a clear advantage before 9...Qg4? Does White gain the upper hand after the unplayed 10.Rg1?

2) Tactical motifs. The queen's attack along the e1-h4 diagonal can occur in many positions, and it particularly effective when supported by a knight. White's knight is also a factor that often refutes such attacks.

3) Opening ideas. The game began as a French Defense, but quickly transposed into something resembling the Sicilian Grand Prix Attack. Was 6.e5 a useful move for White?

Process of Memorizing

Many games of fifteen moves or less can be memorized with minimal effort. Even players who claim they have never memorized an entire game can demonstrate Fool's Mate and Scholar's Mate. Legall de Kermeur's only recorded game should present no difficulty for the average player. My process in rereading Chernev's 1000 Best Short Games of Chess is a slightly more difficult exercise, but not onerous. It is an exercise in translation. I read through a short game in descriptive without reference to a chess board, close the book, and then play through the game on a board. Later, I write the game in algebraic notation without looking at the board.  In the 1970s I played a few blindfold games using English Descriptive Notation, but have become rusty in its use since learning Algebraic Notation in the early 1990s. With Chernev, I am honing my reading skills in the ancient language that exists in dozens of chess books on my shelf.

It is possible to memorize a game without understanding, particularly a short game. With longer games, however, the ability to play through an entire game from memory is either the precondition or it is the natural consequence of understanding the strategic features and tactical possibilities in a particular struggle between two players. Two years ago, I began an effort to identify useful whole games and commit them to memory. This effort was suspended for reasons having nothing to do with chess.

Those games that seem worthy of learning whole are the games from which critical positions have been extracted. Rashid Ziyatdinov wrote, "In Russian folklore it is said that there are 300 positions which comprise the most important knowledge which an aspiring player must acquire" (GM-RAM, 12). Lev Alburt stated something similar, "To become a strong tournament player, you must indelibly carve into your chess memory a limited number of essential positions and concepts" (Chess Training Pocket Book, 7). The terms "aspiring player" and "strong tournament player" are imprecise. My goal is specific: become a USCF Expert.

Both Alburt and Ziyatdinov stress that the essential 300 differ from one player to another. I have three books that each present approximately 300 candidate positions for my own 300: Alburt, Chess Training Pocket Book; Alburt, Chess Training Pocket Book II; and Ziyatdinov, GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Chess Knowledge. Ziyatdinov compares critical middlegame positions to fingerprints, "from this fingerprint, the associated game can be identified" (77). See "Fingerprints" for more discussion of Ziyatdinov's ideas.

Adding Games to the List

Earlier this week, in "Problems in the English Opening," I annotated a game that I won. White made a series of small strategic errors that led to a theoretically lost position. I have made some effort to commit this game to memory. It is not the celebration of winning a miniature from the Black side of the English that has merit, but the struggle to identify White's errors. I, too, play the English Opening. White's play must be improved so that I never find myself on the losing end of such a game.

Yesterday and today, I am reviewing the first twenty positions in Chess Training Pocket Book II. Positions 5-8 all come from the game Spassky -- Evans 1962. One position is from the actual game. Three are hypothetical positions that follow from moves that Evans did not play. Looking at the game, I concluded that the final mating attack was also worthy of knowing.

Spassky,Boris V - Evans,Larry Melvyn [E80]
Varna ol (Men) fin-A Varna (10), 1962

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 c6 6.Be3 a6 7.Qd2 b5 8.0–0–0

Black to move

This position is not uncommon, but Evans' move here has been repeated only a few times and with terrible results for Black.

8... bxc4 9.Bxc4 0–0 10.h4

Alburt's first problem is finding this move. The other there are variations involving tactical shots after  alternative moves that are worse than those played by Evans over the next few moves from this position, 15...Nh5 for instance.

10...d5 11.Bb3 dxe4 12.h5 exf3 13.hxg6 hxg6 14.Bh6 fxg2 15.Rh4 Ng4 16.Bxg7 Kxg7 17.Qxg2 Nh6 18.Nf3 Nf5 19.Rh2 Qd6 20.Ne5 Nd7 21.Ne4 Qc7 22.Rdh1

Black to move

Improvements for Black must be found before this position is reached. No matter what Black tries here, the aspiring player should have a clear plan of attack for White.

22...Rg8 23.Rh7+ Kf8 24.Rxf7+ Ke8 25.Qxg6 Nxe5 26.Rf8+ 1–0

28 March 2012

Missing Tactics

Hou Yifan is the Women's World Champion in chess, and the number two junior player (behind Anish Giri). In August 2011, she participated in the Chess World Cup, a qualifier for the Candidates stage of the 2013 World Chess Championship. She lost in the first round to Sergei Movsesian. Things might have been different. In her game with White (she and Movsesian played two games), she missed a winning tactic. The critical position was presented in the Combinations section of Chess Informant 112. I was frustrated to miss the tactic during my morning training, but at least I'm in good company!

White to move

Can you do better than the Women's World Champion?

Chess Informant Expert Software

Viewing Chess Informants is best within their proprietary software. Chess Informant Expert presents the positions much as they appear in the print edition.

Screenshot of CI 112 Combinations
Clicking on a diagram opens the position for solving. Feedback is limited to whether the answer is correct or wrong. A button (the green check mark) at the bottom of the screen reveals the full problem annotation. The hand makes the next move of the combination. The board can be flipped as well.

Solving Screen in Chess Informant Expert

27 March 2012

Problems in the English Opening

White collapsed far too rapidly in an English Opening: Reversed Sicilian where I was lucky to have the Black pieces. Although it is tempting to revel in the efficient beauty of my mating attack, improvements for White must be found.

The game was played at correspondence time controls on Chess.com, and was part of a team match between Team USA: Northwest and Team Ukraine. It is a large match with 52 players on each side. At the moment of this writing, Team Ukraine leads 37-19. Each pairing of players creates two simultaneous games.

In correspondence games, or turn-based chess as some folks call these online game at three or more days per move, both players have access to books and databases. Chess.com has a direct link from the game to a collection of master games. Whether the players avail themselves of these resources is up to them. For general comments concerning some ways players employ this distinctive aspect of correspondence chess, see "Playing with Databases." "Databases and Their Discontents" references a discussion in the forums on Chess.com revealing that not everyone finds the use of such resources desirable or even acceptable. I wrote about some previous success using Chess.com's Game Explorer and other resources in "Reading Annotations."

My opening study concentrates on practical application to ongoing games. Sometimes post-game analysis extends this work. During this particular game, I was looking for ways to optimize Black's chances. Now I am more interested in finding improvements for White. Below my annotations to the game are some model games, most of which present ideas that have worked for White.

Grabovetz,Vladimir (1850) - Stripes,James (1999) [A21]
Team USA: Northwest vs. Team Ukraine -- Chess.com, 28.02.2012

1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Bb4

White to move

According to the Game Explorer, this move is Black's fourth most popular. It also has the lowest scoring percentage for White. The Game Explorer gives it the name Kramnik-Shirov Counter, a name that provokes a bit of discussion in certain forums. Shirov won six of eleven games with Black from this position 1990-1996, and has played it a few times since. Kramnik played it three times in the early 1990s with an even score. Notably, he defeated Joel Lautier in 1993, and Lautier subsequently defeated Shirov in 1994. From the White side, Lautier has scored 4-3-1, his only loss to Kramnik.


White should consider 3.Nd5. See below Kasparov -- Shirov, Novgorod 1994; and Lautier -- Kramnik, Cannes 1993.

3...Nf6 4.Bg2

Via a different move order, we have reached the Smyslov variation of the English. In 1959, Smyslov defeated Fridrik Olafsson with Black from this position, but five years later Mikhail Botvinnik showed a better plan for White (see below Botvinnik -- Smyslov, Moscow 1964). Smyslov faced his own variation on more than one occasion, and played e2-e4 before the Black e-pawn could disrupt the harmony of his forces (see Smyslov -- Hartoch, Hastings 1968).

Confusion concerning variation names can result from the moves 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 d6 3.Nf3 Bg4 also bearing the name Smyslov variation. 

4...Bxc3 5.bxc3 0–0

White to move

The most popular move from this position is 6.Nf3. However, the strongest players have played 6.d3 (Nakamura -- Efimenko, Gibralter 2008) or 6.e4 (Sargissian -- Hasangatin, Moscow 2004). 6.d4, as my opponent played, is quite rare.

6.d4 d6

I found during the course of the game that 6...d6 was the most common move in this unusual position, and that White's scoring percentage was abysmal. Despite promising percentages, Black's advantage is slight. White might yet maintain equality. I found one White win between strong players, an Internet blitz game (see below, Fancsy -- Komliakov, Dos Hermanas 2004).


7.Nf3 may be slightly better, even though Black's e-pawn will chase the knight away. Although Black went on to win Strzemiecki -- Krzyzanowski, Wroclaw 2011, it was not on account of White's opening.

7...Nc6 8.Ne2 Re8 9.0–0 e4!

White to move

Black's pieces have greater mobility, and his pawns are somewhat better. White has the bishop pair, but the awkward placing of White's pawns and Black's happy e-pawn neutralize any advantage they might confer. Black has an advantage, but by no means is it a decisive one. One idea that White might pursue would be Bc1-a3 to support c4-c5, turning the doubled c-pawns from liability to asset. Seizing the half-open b-file with Rb1 also seems sensible.


Although control of the g4 square seems important, the pawn on h3 also becomes a target for Black.

10... Na5

Black attacks a weakness.

11.Qa4 c5

White to move

Black's advantage grows by small increments.

12.Rb1 Bd7

It is interesting that Houdini 1.5 and Rybka 4 see Black as ahead by nearly one pawn, while Hiarcs 12 sees Black's advantage as closer to two. Hiarcs has better positional judgement in my opinion. Black has a clear initiative due to better mobility and piece coordination. Although not yet abundantly clear, subsequent play in this game suggests that perhaps the White king is vulnerable.

An important element in this position is Black's troublesome pawn on e4. It cuts the White position in two. If Black can mount an attack on the kingside, White's pieces will prove to be terribly placed on the queenside.

Perhaps f2-f3 is a move that White should prepare.

13.Qc2 Nxc4 14.Rxb7

Although this move is not terrible, it is worth noting that 1) the pawn is not undefended, and 2) it fails to resolve White's problems on the kingside where decisive action may soon take place.

14.g4 is the choice of the engines.

14...Qc8 15.Rb1 Bxh3

White to move

White's position has become critical. Black has a clear, and possibly decisive advantage. However, accurate defense here forces Black to labor in order to convert the advantage to a full point.

16.Nf4 Bg4

The engines think that I should have exchanged bishops here. My intent was to lock down the kingside where my pieces, and only my pieces, can play. After 16...Bxg2 17.Kxg2 cxd4 18.exd4 d5 Black has a nice position: a one pawn advantage, a target on c3, more space (mobility), and a reasonably secure monarch.

17.Re1 g5!

It is difficult psychologically to throw forward the pawn in front of one's king. Concrete analysis, however, reveals that Black's king is not vulnerable if White has no way to get his pieces there.

18.Ne2 Bf3 19.a4?

A waste of time, but what can White do to stop Black's attack? Trying to play on the b-file seems his only prospect. 19.Qb3 perhaps.

Black to move

19...Qg4 20.Qd1

20.dxc5 followed by 21.Rb5 was probably White's last chance to mobilize his pieces. Moving the queen into a pin only hastened Black's assault on the White king.

20...Qh5 21.Kf1 Ng4 22.Qc2 Bxg2+ 23.Kxg2 Qh2+ 0–1

Model Games

1) Kasparov,Garry (2805) -- Shirov,Alexei (2740) [A21]
Novgorod 1994

1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Bb4 3.Nd5 Be7 4.d4 d6 5.e4 c6 6.Nxe7 Qxe7 7.Ne2 f5 8.dxe5 Qxe5 9.exf5 Nf6 10.Qd4 Bxf5 11.Bf4 Qa5+ 12.Qc3 Qxc3+ 13.Nxc3 0–0 14.0–0–0 d5 15.Bd6 Rc8 16.f3 Nbd7 17.g4 Be6 18.g5 Ne8 19.cxd5 Bxd5 20.Bg3 Be6 21.Bd3 Nc5 22.Bc2 Rd8 23.h4 Bf7 24.Ne4 Nxe4 25.fxe4 Kf8 26.Rdf1 Kg8 27.h5 Rd7 28.Rf2 Nd6 29.g6 Be6 30.gxh7+ Kh8 31.h6 g6 32.Rf6 Re8 33.Rxg6 Nc4 34.Be1 Kxh7 35.Rg3 Ne5 36.Bc3 Bc4 37.Rg7+ 1–0

2) Lautier,Joel (2645) -- Kramnik,Vladimir (2685) [A21]
Cannes 1993

1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Bb4 3.Nd5 Bc5 4.Nf3 e4 5.Ng5 e3 6.d4 exf2+ 7.Kxf2 Be7 8.Nxe7 Qxe7 9.e4 d6 10.Bd3 Nc6 11.Bc2 Nf6 12.Re1 Bg4 13.Qd3 Nd7 14.Ba4 h6 15.e5 dxe5 16.d5 Nd4 17.Qe4 Be2 18.Nh3 b5 19.Bxb5 Nxb5 20.Qxe2 Nd4 21.Qd1 Qh4+ 22.Kf1 0–0 23.Be3 Nf5 24.Qc2 Nxe3+ 25.Rxe3 f5 26.Kg1 Rae8 27.Nf2 e4 28.Qc3 Nf6 29.g3 Qh5 30.Rf1 Nd7 31.Kg2 Ne5 32.h3 f4 33.gxf4 Rxf4 34.Rxe4 Qg6+ 35.Qg3 Rxf2+ 36.Rxf2 Qxe4+ 37.Kh2 Nxc4 38.Qxc7 Qxd5 39.Qxa7 Qd6+ 40.Kg2 Ne3+ 41.Kh1 Qd5+ 42.Kh2 Nd1 43.Rg2 Qd6+ 44.Kh1 Re1+ 45.Rg1 Qd5+ 0–1

3) Botvinnik,Mikhail -- Smyslov,Vassily [A22]
URS Spartakiad Moscow 1964

1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e5 3.g3 Bb4 4.Bg2 0–0 5.a3 Bxc3 6.bxc3 e4 7.Nh3 Re8 8.0–0 d6 9.Nf4 b6 10.f3 e3 11.d3 Bb7 12.Qe1 Nbd7 13.g4 h6 14.h4 Nf8 15.Qg3 Ng6 16.Nh3 Nh7 17.h5 Nh4 18.Bh1 f5 19.Bb2 Qf6 20.f4 Bxh1 21.g5 hxg5 22.fxg5 Qe5 23.Qxh4 Bc6 24.Rf4 g6 25.hxg6 Nf8 26.Qh6 Qg7 27.Rxf5 Nxg6 28.Raf1 Rf8 29.Rf6 Qxh6 30.gxh6 Rxf6 31.Rxf6 Kh7 32.Bc1 Rg8 33.Ng5+ Kxh6 34.Bxe3 Kh5 35.Rf7 Re8 36.Rh7+ Kg4 37.Kf2 Ne7 38.Ne6 Nf5 39.Nd4 Nxd4 40.cxd4 Rc8 41.d5 Ba4 42.Bd4 a6 43.e4 c5 44.Bf6 1–0

4) Smyslov,Vassily -- Hartoch,Robert G [A22]
Hastings 1968
1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3 Bb4 4.Bg2 0–0 5.e4 c6 6.Nge2 d5 7.exd5 cxd5 8.Nxd5 Nxd5 9.cxd5 Bf5 10.0–0 Nd7 11.a3 Bd6 12.d4 Rc8 13.Be3 Nb6 14.dxe5 Bxe5 15.Nd4 Bd7 16.b3 Qf6 17.Qd2 Qd6 18.Qb4 Qf6 19.Rad1 Rfd8 20.Nb5 1–0

5) Nakamura,Hikaru (2670) -- Efimenko,Zahar (2638) [A22]
Gibraltar 2008

1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e5 3.g3 Bb4 4.Bg2 Bxc3 5.bxc3 0–0 6.d3 d6 7.e4 Nc6 8.Ne2 Bd7 9.h3 Ne8 10.0–0 a6 11.a4 b6 12.f4 exf4 13.Bxf4 Ne5 14.Nd4 g6 15.Nc2 Ng7 16.Ne3 f6 17.d4 Nf7 18.g4 c6 19.Ra2 Ne6 20.Bg3 Neg5 21.Qd3 Qe7 22.h4 Ne6 23.Rb2 Rab8 24.Rbf2 Nh6 25.c5 bxc5 26.dxc5 Nxc5 27.Qxd6 Qxd6 28.Bxd6 Nxa4 29.Bxf8 Rxf8 30.g5 Ng4 31.Nxg4 Bxg4 32.Rxf6 Rc8 33.R1f4 Bd7 34.Bf1 1–0

6) Sargissian,Gabriel (2618) -- Hasangatin,Ramil (2515) [A22]
Moscow 2004

1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Bb4 3.g3 Bxc3 4.bxc3 Nf6 5.Bg2 0–0 6.e4 c6 7.Qb3 b5 8.cxb5 cxb5 9.Nf3 d6 10.0–0 Qc7 11.Re1 a6 12.d4 Nc6 13.a4 Rb8 14.axb5 axb5 15.d5 Na5 16.Qb4 Nc4 17.Nd2 Nd7 18.Nxc4 bxc4 19.Qa5 Qxa5 20.Rxa5 Rb1 21.Rf1 f5 22.Ba3 Rb6 23.f3 Nf6 24.Bb4 fxe4 25.fxe4 Bg4 26.Rfa1 Be2 27.Ra6 Rfb8 28.Bh3 Nxe4 29.Be6+ Kf8 30.Bf5 Nc5 31.Bxc5 dxc5 32.d6 Rxa6 33.Rxa6 Kf7 34.d7 Bd3 35.Bh3 Ke7 36.Rc6 Rd8 37.Rxc5 Kd6 38.Rc8 Ke7 39.Rc5 Kd6 40.Rc8 Ke7 41.Be6 Bc2 42.Bg4 Bd3 43.Be6 Bc2 44.Kf2 Ba4 45.Bxc4 Rxd7 46.Ke3 Kd6 47.Bd3 h6 48.c4 Bc6 49.Be4 Bxe4 50.Kxe4 Rf7 51.h4 Re7 52.c5+ Kd7 53.Ra8 Kc6 54.Ra5 h5 55.Ra6+ Kxc5 56.Rg6 Kc4 57.Rg5 Kc5 58.Rxh5 Kd6 59.Rg5 Rf7 60.Rxe5 g6 1–0

7) Fancsy,Imre (2409) -- Komliakov,Viktor (2435) [A21]
Dos Hermanas 2004

1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3 Bb4 4.Bg2 Bxc3 5.bxc3 0–0 6.d4 d6 7.Rb1 Nc6 8.Nf3 Qe7 9.0–0 e4 10.Ne1 Na5 11.Bg5 Bf5 12.Rb5 Nxc4 13.Rxf5 c6 14.h4 d5 15.Bxf6 gxf6 16.e3 Kh8 17.Nc2 Rg8 18.Qh5 Rg6 19.Rb1 a5 20.Rf4 Rag8 21.Bf1 Nd6 22.Be2 b5 23.Bg4 Qf8 24.Bf5 Rh6 25.Qe2 Nxf5 26.Rxf5 Rxh4 27.Rxf6 Qc8 28.Qf1 Qg4 29.Rxc6 Rg5 30.Ne1 Rgh5 31.Qg2 Rh1+ 32.Qxh1 Rxh1+ 33.Kxh1 Qe2 34.Ng2 Qxf2 35.Kh2 b4 36.cxb4 Qxa2 37.Rf1 Qe2 38.Rf5 axb4 39.Rxd5 Kg7 40.Rb6 h5 41.Rxb4 Kg6 42.Rb8 f6 43.Rg8+ Kh7 44.Rf8 h4 45.gxh4 Kg7 46.Ra8 Qd2 47.Rf5 Kg6 48.Rf4 Qd3 49.Kg3 f5 50.Rb8 Qd1 51.Rb6+ Kg7 52.Rxf5 1–0

8) Strzemiecki,Zbigniew (2420) - Krzyzanowski,Marcin (2370) [A29]
Wroclaw 2011

1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e5 3.g3 Bb4 4.Bg2 Bxc3 5.bxc3 0–0 6.d4 d6 7.Nf3 Nc6 8.0–0 h6 9.Ba3 e4 10.Nd2 Qe7 11.e3 Re8 12.c5 d5 13.c4 dxc4 14.Nxc4 Be6 15.Nd2 Bd5 16.Rb1 Rab8 17.Qc2 b5 18.Rbe1 b4 19.Bc1 a5 20.f3 exf3 21.Nxf3 Be4 22.Qa4 Qd7 23.Qb3 Bd5 24.Qc2 a4 25.Bb2 b3 26.axb3 axb3 27.Qc1 Qd8 28.Nh4 Nb4 29.Re2 Bxg2 30.Nxg2 Re4 31.Qc4 Qd5 32.Qc3 Qh5 33.Qd2 Nfd5 34.Ref2 Rf8 35.Ba3 Rb8 36.Bxb4 Nxb4 37.Nf4 Qg5 38.Rb1 Nc2 39.Re2 Na3 40.Rb2 Nc4 41.Qd3 Nxb2 42.Rxb2 Rbe8 43.Rxb3 Qg4 44.Ng2 Ra8 45.Qb1 Ree8 46.Rb7 Qd7 47.Qb2 Qd5 48.Rb3 Qf3 49.Ra3 Rxa3 50.Qxa3 Rb8 51.Qa2 Qd1+ 52.Kf2 Qc1 53.Kf3 g5 54.Ke4 Qf1 55.d5 Qf6 56.Kd3 Kg7 57.d6 cxd6 58.c6 Qf1+ 59.Ke4 Re8+ 60.Kd4 Qf6+ 61.Kd3 Qf5+ 62.Ke2 Qb5+ 0–1

26 March 2012

Premature Draw

Fabror the Guru posted a game played during a chess exhibition put on by his local club (see "Simul at the Office"). He states, "[w]e agreed to a premature draw" and notes that White appears better in the final position. I concur. It seems to me that White's pieces are better coordinated, and despite superficial appearances, White's king is less vulnerable.

White to move
After 23...Rxb2 Draw agreed
In order to test my conviction that not only did White have an advantage, but a substantial one, I set the position up and played against Rybka 4 at game 25 time control. With none of my frequent take-backs during such exercises, I was able to provoke Black's resignation after less than fifteen minutes of play. The machine used two-thirds of this time thinking while I used the other one-third. Half of my time was spent on a single move.

I began with a move that looked good to me while playing through the game on Fabror's blog, and that was discussed there.

24.h6 Rb8

I expected 24...g6

25.hxg7 Kxg7 26.Bd3

Rybka expected 26.Rh4. Running Hiarcs 12 as I annotate this exercise, I find that it prefers my move.

Black to move

26...Rg8 27.g4 Kf8 28.Bf5

Now that the pony on a2 is undefended, I'm looking around for a lasso.

28...Bxf5 29.gxf5 Rg2+ 30.Kd3 Rg3+

White to move


Rybka expected 31.Kd4. Hiracs concurs that this move is best until it thinks longer, then it chooses my move. I used a mere three seconds to play my move. Several moves later, there was a moment where I perceived a checkmate threat that I needed to avoid.

31...h6 32.Rxh6 Kg8

White to move


I love it when the computer gives an evaluation of the position that then takes a jump up several pawns after I make an unexpected move. Rybka had +4.49 before 33.Ne8, but +9.66 afterwards. Hiarcs found this move after several minutes, and its evaluation jumped from ~+5.00 to ~+7.50 and continued to climb while I typed this comment. I spent twenty seconds finding the move. Of course, I do most of my thinking while the engine thinks, and 32...Kg8 was easy to predict.

33... Kf8 34.Nf6

I spent 2:12 on 34.Nf6 because the second best move was tempting. Here I saw the nasty disappointment that could have occurred. 34.Rh8+ Ke7 35.f6+ Ke6 36.Ng8+ Kxe4 37.Ra8?? Rc3#.

34...Rc3+ 35.Kd4 c5+ 36.Kd5 1–0

Black to move
Black gave up

Rybka 4 resigned. I foresee hiding my king behind Black's c-pawn where he helps stitch together a mating net for the enemy king. It's always nice to humble the silicon beast, even from a set-position that is theoretically winning.

25 March 2012

Training Log

My weekly training update begins with my 2012 New Year's Resolutions, and this week adds a fourth element.

1. Solve a minimum of 50 tactics problems per week.

Continuing with the puzzles in the Shredder iPad app, I solved 58.
1440 puzzles: 11292/14400 points 78%
last 10 puzzles: 74/100 74%

In addition, I did one session with the Tactics Trainer at Chess.com. Without prior logging, and with a viewing limit of the past twenty-five problems, I do not know the total number of problems attempted during this session. There were certainly more than twenty-five attempts. My cumulative data going back to summer 2008 provides a benchmark for future weeks.

At Chess.com, I constantly strive to get each rating--blitz, bullet, tactics trainer, etc.--equal to or above my USCF rating. After adjustments to the rating formula at the site a bit over a year ago, all ratings have dropped. Just staying over 1800 in Tactics Trainer proves challenging.

2. Spend thirty minutes once per week solving problems in Lev Alburt, Chess Training Pocket Book II and Paata Gaprindashvili, Imagination in Chess.

The thirty minutes spent with Alburt's text was not high quality time. During two hours of chess classes where the students were all engaged playing each other, and wanting no interference from me, I managed to work through a few problems with this text. That I failed more than one suggests that the text meets important criteria for effective training: deliberate practice. See Temposchlucker's informative post last week, "More about plan A." Temposchlucker's definition, "you only train puzzles you did slow or wrong," differs from how Neil Charness, et al. explain the term in "The Role of Deliberate Practice in Chess Expertise." Charness refers to an earlier article that defines deliberate practice as "appropriately challenging tasks that are chosen with the goal of improving a particular skill" (152). "Slow or wrong" does seem to be a reasonable measure for "appropriately challenging."

My difficulties with Alburt and Gaprindashvili have been that: I get them wrong, or I spend an inordinate amount of time solving the problem. Problems in the Shredder app must be solved successfully, and the scoring is based on time and number of errors. Full credit requires speed. Speed is a vital element in the Chess.com problems as well, but the problem ends when an error is entered or when the time expires. Chess.com's Tactics Trainer does present "appropriately challenging" problems because success brings harder problems, while failure brings easier. My pass rate of 45.7% is encouraging in this aspect, but careful reflection is not an integral element.

Sanjoy Mahajan has an article at Freakonomics highlighting careful reflection as the heart of deliberate practice. Mahajan's article also links to an earlier Freakonomics article, "The Science of Genius: A Q&A with Author David Shenk." It was Shenk's The Genius in All of Us (2010) that led me to articles by K. Anders Ericsson and Neil Charness (see "Seeking Failure").

This past week, I did only a few problems in Alburt, but did reflect on my failure. I have gone through the first eighteen problems in the text.

3. Complete my Pawn Endgame flash card project.

An earlier scholarly article by Charness led me to start a project that has limped along: 200 one-hour sessions on pawn endings. I put in one quality session this week, and posted a detailed description of that session in "Pawn Endings Flash Cards."

[R]esearch by Chase and Ericsson (1982) on the effects of practice on a specific task measuring the capacity of STM [short-term memory] has shown that through extended practice (more than 200 hours), it is possible for subjects to improve performance by more than 1,000%.
K. Anders Ericsson and Neil Charness, “Expert Performance” (1994), 735.
4. Additional Training Focus

Yesterday, I posted "Memorizing Chess Games." Tactical and strategic elements of chess skill can be developed through active pursuit of memorizing entire games, especially as these games increase in quality. The brief games that I memorized this week are more useful in teaching than training. But, the ease with which these were learned inspires me to put forth the effort needed for longer, higher quality games.

24 March 2012

Memorizing Chess Games

My training method is eclectic and varied. While I maintain some semblance of consistency in certain activities, I frequently try new regimens or return to old ones. This past week I have resumed efforts to play through entire games from memory. There are a handful of games that I maintain in my long-term memory though frequent use instructing beginning players, such as Legall de Kermeur's only recorded game (see "My First Chess Book") and a variant of the same idea from Greco. Time spent revisiting Irving Chernev, 1000 Best Short Games of Chess thirty-seven years after my first encounter with this text has quickly planted several full games deep enough in memory that I can play through them without reference to the game score.

In "Fingerprints," I noted, "Rashid Ziyatdinov advocates learning entire games thoroughly." For a few weeks after that post, I worked on the first ten games in GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Chess Knowledge (2000). I was able to play through as many of five of those games successfully, but I cannot reproduce any today. There is enough of each in my memory, however, that I am confident that ten minutes review would be sufficient to put any one of these games into my memory cache.

This week I have learned several short games. My method is to read the game score in Chernev, where it is presented in descriptive notation, then close the book and either enter the moves into a database or play them on a physical chessboard. In addition to games in Chernev, the earliest recorded instances of the Petroff Defense have become accessible, however briefly. See "Petroff Defense: Early History." I can confidently reproduce the two Petroff's from Damiano, and the first from Ruy Lopez. From Chernev, I was able to enter the following games directly into a database from memory. I did need to consult the book for the players and location of the third game.

Blake - Hooke [C41]
London, 1891

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bc4 f5 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nc3 exd4 6.Qxd4 Bd7 7.Ng5 Nc6 8.Bf7+ Ke7

White to move

9.Qxf6+ Kxf6 10.Nd5+ Ke5 11.Nf3+ Kxe4 12.Nc3# 1–0

Taylor,I.O. Howard - N,N [C42]
London, 1862

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bc4 Nxe4 4.Nc3 Nc5 5.Nxe5 f6 6.Qh5+ g6 7.Bf7+ Ke7 8.Nd5+ Kd6 9.Nc4+ Kc6 10.Nb4+ Kb5 11.a4+ Kxb4 12.c3+ Kb3 13.Qd1# 1–0

N,N - Bruening [D32]
Berlin, 1907

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.Bf4 cxd4 5.Bxb8 dxc3 6.Be5 cxb2 0–1

After 10.a4+

The quality of the third game hardly merits retaining it in long-term memory. The first game after 8...Ke7 presents a nice checkmate in four position worth knowing well enough to be able to place on the board during a chess lesson. Taylor's alleged announcement of a forced checkmate in eight moves (Chernev, 2) is likely a fabrication (see Edward Winter, Chess Notes 7564). Even so, the game is worth remembering not only for the king hunt that took place, but for the possibilities had Black played 6...Ke7. There are several different possible mating patterns that conclude on moves 11-13. Most remarkable about this game is the foresight needed to find the initial 6.Qh5+ because 6.Bf7+ looks as good until 10...Nxa4, a move that is not possible with the queen on h4 (see diagram).

Perhaps after the ease of memorizing and studying a bunch of these miniatures, I will return to memorizing full games that offer more potential for developing my battle skills against experts and above.

23 March 2012

Petroff Defense: Early History

The Petroff Defense (or Russian Defense) has an ancient lineage. It is found in several of the oldest books on modern chess, including the works of Luis Ramírez de Lucena, Pedro Damiano, Rodrigo (Ruy) López de Segura, and Giaochino Greco. These early works present model games that are more a record of analysis than a record of play. In these model games, the Petroff often appears as an opening that cannot be recommended. However, there may have been some veneration of this opening much earlier than commonly thought.

Lucena's Repetición de Amores y Arte de Ajedrez con ci Iuegos de Partido (1497) does not seem to have influenced subsequent writers. According to H. J. R. Murray, A History of Chess (1913), "W. Lewis was the first writer to give an account of the work from the point of view of chess, in his Letters on Chess from C.F. Vogt, translated by U. Ewell, 1848" (787). This work was no translation, but a work that the author refused to acknowledge as his own (see Edward Winter, "A chess Watergate" C.N. 4337).

In contrast to Lucena's lack of influence, Damiano's Questo libro e da imparare giocare a scachi et de li partiti (1512) was printed in several countries in the sixteenth century, and had a clear influence upon the work of Ruy Lopez. Several of the games in Libro de la invencion liberal y arte del juego del axedrez (1561) follow those in Damiano's, but diverge in the last few moves. Games from these texts then appear in Greco's work, although carried forward a move or two further.

Such is the case for the oldest Petroff Defense game found in the ChessBase database. In Big Database 2011, game 57 is attributed to Greco, but matches one copied from Damiano by Joseph Henry Sarratt. One needs access to the archives of the world's best libraries just to see copies of the texts of Lucena, Damiano, and Lopez. However, Sarratt, The Works of Damiano, Ruy-Lopez, and Salvio, on the Game of Chess (1813) is widely available even as a free ebook because Google Books scanned a copy from the New York Public Library. Sarratt asserts that he "has frequently and attentively played and examined" the games in the texts of these authors, and he, "is strongly impressed with the belief that they are calculated to assist in a material degree unpracticed players" (xv). Sarratt's reputation has suffered due to his reputation for errors in his texts. Murray notes:
[Sarratt] introduced his generation to the work of the older masters, Damiano, Lopez, and Salvio, in a series of translations. That, as we now know to be the case, these translations were careless, inaccurate, and incomplete, did not rob them of their value at the time they were made, though this discovery has had a very damaging effect on his reputation as a writer. It is unfortunate that the badness of this portion of Sarratt's literary work should have prevented his successors from recognizing the importance and real merit of his other services to chess.
Murray, A History of Chess, 874.
Among Sarratt's contributions cited by Murray was his advocacy that stalemate should be a draw. Through this advocacy, the London Chess Club adopted a rule that was already standard in other countries.

The Games

Sarratt's notation reflects the state of chess notation in English in the early nineteenth century. It is awkward, but readable to the modern reader. The first game in Sarratt's The Works is presented as two variations (1-5). It is Damiano's record of the Petroff as it may have been played in his day. Damiano's two games show hazards that may befall a careless player of the Black pieces. Greco's sole Petroff carries the first of these games two moves further. Lopez's games 35-37 present three variations that are equal or better for Black (Sarratt, 136-141). Lopez's game scores would seem to suggest that the common belief that Black's 2...Nf6 was held in low regard until the mid-nineteenth century may not be fully accurate.

Below are the game scores from these five early studies of tactics in the Petroff (a name the opening would take on in the nineteenth century when it was revived as a viable alternative for Black). The comments are attributed by Sarratt to Lopez.

(1) Damiano,Pedro [C42]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 Nxe4 4.Qe2 Qe7 5.Qxe4 d6 6.d4 f6 7.f4 dxe5 8.dxe5 Nd7 9.Nc3 fxe5 10.Nd5 Qd6 11.fxe5 Qc6 12.Bb5 Qc5 13.Be3 +-

(2) Damiano,Pedro [C42]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 Nxe4 4.Qe2 Qe7 5.Qxe4 d6 6.d4 f6 7.f4 dxe5 8.dxe5 Nd7 9.Nc3 fxe5 10.Nd5 Qd6 11.fxe5 Qc5 12.Be3 Qa5+ 13.Bd2 Qc5 14.b4 Qc6 15.Bb5 Qg6 16.Qxg6+ hxg6 17.Nxc7+ +-

(3) López de Segura,Rodrigo (Ruy)  [C42]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 Nxe4 4.Qe2 Qe7 5.Qxe4 d6 6.d4 f6 7.f4 dxe5 8.dxe5 Nd7 9.Nc3 fxe5

White to move

10.Nb5 Nf6 Black has the best of the Game

(4) López de Segura,Rodrigo (Ruy)  [C42]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 Nxe4 4.Qe2 Qe7 5.Qxe4 d6 6.d4 f6 7.f4 dxe5 8.dxe5 fxe5 9.fxe5 Nd7 10.Bf4 g5 11.Bg3 Bg7 Black will regain his Pawn

(5) López de Segura,Rodrigo (Ruy)  [C42]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 Qe7 4.d4 d6 5.Nf3 Qxe4+ 6.Be2 Bf5 7.c3 Nbd7 8.Nbd2 Qc2 Black has the best of the Game.

It is curious that in Lopez's first game, he reaches the same position as in Damiano's games. But, in Lopez White plays differently. Inasmuch as the move given by Damiano appears stronger, it raises a question that can be answered through examination of the original Lopez text. Did Lopez include also the variation that is favorable to White, and Sarratt exclude it to avoid duplication?

22 March 2012

Checkmate with Heavy Pieces

Several years ago I made this video to help elementary age children learn basic checkmate skills. The original was twenty minutes long--too long for YouTube. I sliced it in half and uploaded it earlier this week. The first twenty-two seconds lack sound because I originally created the video with nice music that someone else owns, and edited it out to avoid problems in publication.

21 March 2012

Chess Endings for Beginners

Joseph Henry Blake, the winner of one of the miniatures presented Monday in "My First Chess Book," was also the author of a highly regarded endgame text more than a century ago. Chess Endings for Beginners (1900) describes Blake as "compiler" rather than author, explaining:
Beyond the mode in which this collection of End Studies is presented to players, little originality is claimed by the compiler, as most of the positions are found in larger works on the royal game.
He acknowledges two major sources: Stratégie Raisonnée des Fins de Partie du Jeu d'Echecs by Philippe Ambroise Durand and Jean Louis Preti, and Theorie und Praxis der Endspiele by Johann Berger. These texts as well as Blake's are available as free ebooks through Google Books, as well as in various print editions through a range of outlets.

The book contains 124 positions divided into two groups: "Pawn Endings" and "Miscellaneous Endings." Several diagrams represent two positions. For instance, the second diagram presents position No. 2, "White to move; Black to draw" and position No. 3, "Black to move; White to win." My second diagram in "GM-RAM: Essential Knowledge" is similar, except that Blake's diagram shifts the White pieces one square to the right, and the Black king two squares. Slight variations of this essential position are in many endgame texts, and should be in every chess player's memory. Blake's third diagram (positions 4 and 5) corresponds to my first diagram in the referenced post. His fifth diagram is one that I employ testing pupils on their knowledge of opposition and critical squares (my third diagram in "Opposition and Outflanking").

The term "chess endings" evokes studies in technique, such as one might expect to find in Reuben Fine, Basic Chess Endings or Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual. Indeed, many of the positions in this text are of that sort. Blake presents the position and the desired result, and in the back of the book presents the solutions. There is not a discussion of the ideas--opposition, breakthrough, triangulation, under-promotion. The book is small (75 pages of content).

Some positions fit more into the class of chess puzzles than that of chess endings. No. 6 is a case in point.

White to move and mate in two

No. 11 took me a few minutes, and I was delighted by the clever solution.

White to move and mate in three

In the Miscellaneous Endings section, there are positions calling for checkmate in a set number of moves. But unlike the two puzzles above, these strike me as elementary mating patterns that are part of learning to checkmate with certain combinations of pieces. These sorts of ideas are found also in Jose Capablanca, Chess Fundamentals; Fine, Basic Chess Endings; Jeremy Silman, Silman's Complete Endgame Course; and many other basic texts.

No. 72, for instance, resembles a position that I have been using with young players since finding the same relationship among the pieces in a lesson in Pandolfini's Endgame Course.

White to move and mate in two

Chess Endings for Beginners is a useful little book for beginning players, and a quick refresher for tournament players who may find a gap or two in their knowledge. It is one of those texts that renders the Google Play Reader iPad app a useful tool.


Blake No. 6: 1.a8N+ Kb8 2.h8Q# or h8R#

Blake No. 11: 1.f8R, and then
if 1...Kxf8 2.h8Q#
if 1...Kxh7 2.Kf6 Kh6 3.h8#
if 1...Kg6! 2.h8R Kg7 3.Rfg8#

Blake No. 72: 1.Rf1 Kd8 2.Rf8#

20 March 2012

Zurich Chess Challenge

Two of my favorite players will be slugging it out in a training match the last week of April. The official website is now launched: http://www.kramnikaronian.com/.

Pawn Endings Flash Cards

Regarding study of the endgame, Mark Dvoretsky states, "One should study relatively few positions, the most important and most probable, but study and understand them perfectly. ... The positions that I consider part of the basic endgame knowledge system are shown by diagrams and comments in blue print" (Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual, emphasis added). Such as level of understanding is advocated in GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Chess Knowledge (2000) by Rashid Ziyatdinov with Peter Dyson (see GM-RAM: Essential Knowledge).

I have the forty-eight blue diagrams from the first chapter of Dvoretsky's text on flash cards. I frequently carry these with me, along with an electronic edition of Dvoretsky's text on my iPad. From time to time I sit at the dining room table with these cards, a chess set, Dvoretsky's book, my iPad, and a notebook for recording my analysis.

Yesterday, I quickly went through the cards separating them into two piles. Those that I believed I knew thoroughly within a few seconds went into one pile (twenty-nine total), and those I believed required more analysis into the other. I began working through the "known" pile to test my belief. For each card, I set up the position to play against the Shredder iPad app. In the hour devoted to this exercise, I made it through nine cards. Several diagrams are two positions: with White on move, and with Black on move. One that I judged in my instant analysis to be a draw either way proved to be a win with White to move. In the notebook I recorded the diagram in FEN (Forsyth Edwards Notation), my analysis, the moves of my battle with Shredder, and in the case of this card, FAIL. Seven more cards were judged PASS, and then I came to one that I believed I had accidentally placed in the wrong pile.

White to move

Although this position resembled one that I had  faced in a recent tournament and played successfully (see Pawn Wars), I lacked confidence in my knowledge. My first efforts against Shredder were failures that proved my self-doubt; the card was in the wrong pile. Determined, I set up the position on the board and began serious calculation. An idea that I pursued in my OTB game with confidence, even though it was a slight inaccuracy in that instance, proved to be the only correct idea in this instance. Moreover, the king must move first.

When I finally succeeded against the iPad, I recorded the moves in my notebook.

1.Kf3 Ke5 2.h4 a5 3.h5 a4 4.h6 b5 5.a3 Ke6 6.Kxf4 Kf6 7.e5+ Kg6 8.Ke4 Kf7 9.Kd5 Ke7 10.e6 Ke8 11.Kd6 Kd8 12.e7+ Ke8 13.Kc5 Kxe7 14.Kxb5 1-0

Shredder deviated from Dvoretsky's analysis on move 4, but at that point I had found the key idea, and the rest was simple. The next task is to examine the same position with Black to move. Black should win by depriving White of this h-pawn advance.

19 March 2012

My First Chess Book

Lesson of the Week: Value of Books

There is a story that I like to tell, an autobiographical story that explains the source of my chess skill. My intent is to motivate aspiring chess students (and their parents) to delve into the world of chess books. This world becomes harder to promote as electronic substitutes grow in quality, diversity, and availability. But it remains a world of value.

My story concerns how my little sister taught me the moves of chess after learning the game from the neighbors. I was in second grade; she was in first. For the next several years, chess was one of the games that we played like Parcheesi or Monopoly. None of us were skilled. Being the oldest, I won more than my share and was able to maintain the self-deception that I understood the game. Then, in Junior High (they call it Middle School now), I was visiting a friend and saw that he had a chess book: Chess in 30 Minutes. "Wow," I told him, "You have a book about chess, you must be pretty good." We determined through the course of a game or two that he was no worse than me, and maybe a little better.

This event took place the year that Bobby Fischer was laying out more and more demands concerning his upcoming World Chess Championship defense against challenger Anatoly Karpov. They never reached agreement and Fischer forfeited his title. The drama kept chess in the news for several months. We did not understand all the details of Fischer's demands, nor was our knowledge of World Championship matches more than superficial. We did understand that there was some appeal to a long match of more than twenty games between the same two players. That was enough comprehension of world events to inspire action. We commenced a match of twenty-one games or so that took place over the next few weeks or months. Alan also introduced me to golf, which occupied most of our time together.

As I recall, Alan and I were about equally matched when the games began. During my next trip to the Cannon Air Force Base Library, I found the chess books. I checked out an armful, or perhaps one or two. The book that I remember reading was Irving Chernev, The 1000 Best Short Games of Chess (1955). From this text I learned to coordinate pieces in attack. I learned to attack the king. As I usually tell the story, I learned to read chess notation from the explanation in the front of this book. This past week I acquired a paperback copy of this now relatively rare Chernev text from Brused Books in Pullman, Washington. To my surprise, the text does not contain an explanation of how to read chess notation!

What else in my story proceeds from faulty memory? I am certain that Chernev's text was one of those I found at the Cannon library, and have only a vague memory of others. Perhaps I read something by Fred Reinfeld. Likely, I remember Chernev's classic because I spent more time with it than the others. It also influenced both the style of my play, and my skill level. By the end of our match, I was better than Alan. Developing my ability to attack carried me a long way, even into USCF C Class. Moving up from there, however, required more of a positional style. But that gets decades ahead of the story.

Back in 1975 a new friend moved in next door--people were constantly moving into and out of the neighborhood as is typical of military life. We were comparable in our chess skill. We started a match. I kept reading chess books. My skill development outpaced his. I became better at chess than my friends.

Then I played my Dad.

After my mother and siblings had gone to bed, my father and I faced one another across the dining room table. We were there late into the night drinking tall glasses of orange juice and maneuvering our armies. He taught me how to play slower, to think about every move. I managed to win both games, each of which was played on a separate evening.

Then I joined the chess club at Yucca Junior High. That meant taking the early bus to school one day per week. It was dark at the bus stop and cold outside the school while we waited for the janitor to open the door.

I have been an avid chess player since 1975, although I played very little from 1980 to 1989. My first computer and Chessmaster 2100 brought me back to the game. I returned to the Spokane Chess Club in 1995, the year after I finished graduate school. I've lost count of how many chess books that I own.

The Lesson

Chernev's book was my first encounter with the famous checkmate trap attributed to Legall de Kermeur, and with which I became reacquainted through a book that I read twenty-five years later (The Art of the Checkmate [1953] by Georges Renaud and Victor Kahn). It is game 10 in Chernev (5).

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bc4 Bg4 4.Nc3 g6 5.Nxe5 Bxd1

White to move

How did the game finish?

Game 15 in Chernev's text is a game between Joseph Henry Blake and William Hook, played in London 1891.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bc4 f5 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nc3 exd4 6.Qxd4 Bd7 7.Ng5 Nc6

White to move

According to Chernev, "White now announced a mate in five moves" (7). Chernev gives the moves, but you can work find them for yourself.

The young chessplayers will be challenged to work out the solutions. They may work together using chess boards.

18 March 2012

Training Log

It was a productive week! On Monday I started to become serious about working on my flash card project.
3. Complete my Pawn Endgame flash card project.
Two years ago, I created cards that contain all the blue diagrams of the first chapter in Mark Dvoretsky, Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual. I review these cards regularly--they contain no answers--with the intention of being able to know in an instant when looking at each how the position should be played. See the last paragraph of "GM-RAM: Essential Knowledge."
See "New Year's Resolutions"
I selected one card at random, and it was sufficient to keep me busy for over an hour. First I set up the position on a chess board. Then, without moving any pieces I recorded observations and variations in a notebook. Finding a critical position that required more thought, I moved the pieces to it and recorded more. There were a few false starts, but I thought that I had worked out the main lines. Without leaving the table, I set up the initial position in tChess Pro on the iPad and played against the computer at full strength (est. Elo 2500). Success. I tried against a stronger engine on the iPad: Shredder (est. Elo 2600) with more success. Then, I set up the position on my notebook computer and played against Rybka 4. I wrote about the exercise in "Opposition and Outflanking."

Many more hours were spent with this position through the course of the week that do not count as part of my training. I used the position in teaching some of the stronger players that I coach, and I spent time researching the history of the composition (see "Algebraic Notation: The Language of Chess").

Tactics Exercises

I managed to spend more than one half hour with Lev Alburt, Chess Training Pocket Book II, working through problems that I had visited some months ago. This book is frustrating because I think that I should do better at finding the correct answers. I failed on one problem in exactly the same way that I had before: it is Black to move, and my analysis focused on how White should pursue the attack. That's a useful prerequisite for finding Black's necessary defense, but I never looked at Black's initial move.

I did succeed in working out the key idea and main lines in this problem.

White to move
1r6/2p5/1bRp4/3Pp1pk/1R2Nr1p/2PK1P1P/6P1/8 w - - 0 1

I also solved far more than fifty total problems. Current Shredder tally shows 51 problems in the past week:
1382 puzzles: 10858/13820 points 78%
last 10 puzzles: 87/100 87%
In  addition, I solved the first 30 exercises that are part of the Chess-wise iPad app. It comes with 300 exercises. No timer, no points. Realistic positions that might occur in play. Add the dozen I worked on in Alburt's text, and that's more than 90 problems the past week.

17 March 2012

Keep the Rooks on the Board

A game between friends at the Market Place Wine Bar yesterday reached the following position.

White to move

The game continued 1.axb3 axb3 2.Rxb3 Rxb3 3.Bxb3

White needed to keep the rooks on the board. The bishop is on the wrong color squares to aid in the pawn's promotion.

16 March 2012

Algebraic Notation: The Language of Chess

Studying the Endgame in Three Languages

Endgame article by Jan Drtina
International publications use figurine algebraic notation so that chess enthusiasts can play through the games no matter what language they read and speak. Figures identify the pieces, while the letters and numbers describe their movement. But even publications that employ letters instead of figures can be translated readily without much difficulty.

The king's name starts with the letter K in several European languages, and the letter R in others. The English rook (R) is often a castle or tower in other languages (der Turm in German = T). The Queen is a dame in many languages (German: die Dame). The knight leaps, and so in German is der Springer and represented by the letter S. In German, the bishop is a runner (der Laufer), but in French is a fool (Fou), while in Russian it remains true to the game's ancient origins and is an elephant (Slon).

My German is weak, and my abilities in such languages as Russian and Czech are nonexistent. Nevertheless, I can read the chess notation in the endgame article "Theorie pĕšee proti králi" from Časopis českých šachistů (1907). The words are beyond my skill set aside from a handful of essential cognates: I can make out the terms opposition, diagonal opposition, vertical opposition, and critical square in the article.

In this article, Jan Drtina (1834-1907) examines both opposition and critical squares with reference to four diagrams. The article was published posthumously--an obituary for Drtina appears several pages earlier. I shall give what I am able to decipher concerning the second position.

White to move

1.Kd2 seizes the opposition, but Black replies 1...Ke7. Then, 2.Kd3 Kd7! and now Black has the opposition. White's pawn will not promote.

Drtina then gives the line 1.Kc2! Ke7! 2.Kb3! Kd6 3.Kb4! Kc6 4.Kc4! Kc7 5.Kd5 Kd7 6.c4 (here he has a reference to the previous position's analysis) 6...Kc7 7.Kc5! Kd8 8.Kd6 Kc8! (here he says something about a critical square) 9.c6 Kc8! 11.c7.

Drtina goes on to discuss the work of Johann Berger, Theorie und Praxis der Endspiele (1890). My sense from the text is that he takes issue with Berger's discussion of the opposition, but I must bone up on my German and spend some time perusing Berger's text as a preliminary step to struggling with the Czech in Drtina's article.

Of this much I am certain. In the position below, White has two moves that seize the opposition.

White to move

1.Kb6 seizes the vertical opposition and leads to a draw.
1.Kd6! seizes the diagonal opposition and wins in a manner much akin to the end of the Drtina's line from the previous diagram.

Google translate helps:
"Tady to sice neni oposice (Here it is not opposition) ... 1.Ke6 neb i odtud dosahne kritickeho pole d7 a tu je jeste jedna take-take-oposice (1.Ke6 because thence to a critical field d7 and there is still a take-take-opposition)."
"Theorie pĕšee proti králi," 137.
Taking the opposition is insufficient to win, one must seize a critical square. There is some indication in a few things that I have read that the theory of critical squares was developed by Jan Drtina independently of Abbé Philippe Ambroise Durand, Stratégie Raisonnée Des Fins de Partie Du Jeu D'Échecs (1871)--half a century earlier (see discussion at chessgames.com by Gypsy). Such work adds fundamentally to Berger's discussion of the opposition.

In "Opposition and Outflanking," I quoted Jeremy Silman: "the opposition is only a means to an end, not the end itself."

15 March 2012

Easy Tactic

I found myself with Black to move in this position during a game on Social Chess.

Black to move

After I found the tactic my opponent resigned.

14 March 2012

Opposition and Outflanking

A seemingly simple problem with five chess pieces, and for which I had a vague recollection of the solution, managed to occupy half an hour of my time on Monday. That half hour was spent solving and verifying, mostly by looking at a chess board with the position, and without moving the pieces. Another half hour was spent testing my solution against tChess Pro and Shredder on the iPad, then against Rybka 4 on the notebook.

The position is one of the blue diagrams in Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual (2003).

White to move

I have converted all of the blue diagrams from Dvoretsky's chapter on pawn endgames to flash cards for study and review. The answers are not on the cards, so I must keep a copy of Dvoretsky's text handy when I need an answer. I purchased the first edition of the book in paperback, and the second edition as a Kindle edition for access on my iPad. When I am on the road teaching chess in schools or giving private lessons in homes or cafes, I always have my deck of pawn endgame cards and the Kindle edition of Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual. With some students, we pick a card at random and try to solve it. Of the 48 cards, I instantly know the solution to 35-40. My plan (see "2012 New Year's Resolutions") is to know all 48.

On Monday, the diagram above was on the card that I randomly picked for my own training. I eventually solved it. I remembered that Dvoretsky had emphasized the importance of the f-file, and that grabbing the distant opposition with 1.Ke1 led only to a draw. After a few minutes, I remembered the first move 1.Kg2! Working out why this move was correct and the main variations took some time.

As it turned out, the key ideas were part of my teaching curriculum.

Elementary Instruction

In How to Reassess Your Chess, 3rd ed. (1993), Jeremy Silman presents an exercise that I find useful enough that I have incorporated it into my Scholastic Chess Awards curriculum. For the Bishop Award, the student must force his or her king to f8 or h8 against my efforts to prevent.

White to move

The process is simple when the student understands opposition and outflanking. Simply having the opposition is not enough. Silman explains, "the opposition is only a means to an end, not the end itself" (6).

This king vs. king exercise develops some of the requisite skills for prevailing over a skilled opponent in the next diagram.

White on move wins
Place the Black king on e7, and White must be the player on move for this position to be a win. After some practice and understanding, the student should become capable of winning this next position.

The player with the move wins

Training with Dvoretsky

Back to the problem that I wrestled with on Monday.* Swinging the king to the queenside to win Black's pawn was among the ideas that cropped up in my initial analysis of the position. But the immediate dash in that direction permits Black to defend successfully by maintaining the opposition in the battle for the key squares on the sixth rank. White cannot penetrate. But, some maneuvering on the kingside and then a transfer to the queenside works.

I found this key position in my analysis.

White to move

Reaching this position with Black to move draws. With White to move, the king runs around his pawns, using the a-file to outflank the Black king, and wins the Black pawn.

White to move

White must move to the a-file. These last two positions occurred in my battles with tChess Pro and Shredder, but Rybka kept its king on the eighth rank. Nevertheless, White's moves were the same in similar positions.

I was impressed by the need to play the whole board from the g-file to the a-file in order to win this game. On Monday, I posted my battle with Rybka 4 in a replayable format on my Chess.com blog.

*The problem from Dvoretsky's text appears in the Encyclopedia of Chess Endings as No. 846 in the Pawn Endings volume. Dvoretsky credits Jan Drtina as the composer, but in ECE it is attributed to František Dedrle.