29 February 2016

Rating Woes

I set goals and resist setting goals. Setting these goals in terms of rating produces disappointment. It is better to set them in terms of learning targets.

I might set as goals:

1) In 2016, I will master the French Defense. See "A Batch of Games".
2) I will be able to reproduce the whole games from each of the first 48 fingerprints in GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Knowledge. See "GM-RAM: Essential Knowledge" and "Year in Review 2015".

Nonetheless, rating strokes the ego or chops it down. Last Thursday I was at the top of my game with blitz rating peaks on two sites, both over 2000. Thursday night after my wife went to bed, I renewed my USCF membership in preparation for the Collyer Memorial Chess Tournament. Then, I renewed the licenses for two of my dogs. It was probably 10:00 pm at that point.

Four hours later, my wife asked from the bedroom. "what are you doing still awake?" I looked at my Chess.com blitz rating and saw that it had dropped to the low 1800s. I cannot account for those four hours, but I must have been playing blitz and playing it badly.

This graph shows last week's gain and then collapse. The two horizontal lines represent 1800 and 2000.

After winning a nice miniature in round one of the Collyer, I had the tactical collapse in round two that I posted yesterday in "Don't Be Clever". There was still a chance to cut my losses with two wins on Sunday. Somehow, I managed to lose two games. In round four, I gave away a minor piece, then converted that to a rook through further errors.

A rook down marks an improvement over dropping a queen on Saturday!

In the last round I played my friend Ted Baker. He is always convinced that he will lose when we play, but he has an even score over the past several years. He won biggest upset in one tournament when he beat me.

He and I were both convinced that I was winning very late into our long game, but in the end I lost. My rating dropped 70 points.

This graph shows my USCF rating over the past four years, including my peak in 2012 of 1982.

Maybe I should just play chess because I  like the game. Setting goals sets me up for frustration.

On the other hand, it seems that only yesterday I first broke through to A Class (see "Class A!"). Moreover, I had more fun analyzing and playing chess this past weekend than in many tournaments over the past few years.

28 February 2016

Don't Be Clever

"You can have all the knowledge in the world and still play crappy chess."
Cam Leslie
I had this position and a clear plan

White to move

The plan had been to swap knights when my opponent moved his to e4, and then play Rf1. Maybe I have enough play to seek an advantage in the endgame. When the moment arrived, however, I started looking deeply at the strategic implications of a tactical plan: he takes my rook, I take his rook with check, then my queen goes to g4.

23.Ng4?? Rh1+ 0-1

After the game, I showed my blunder to Cam Leslie, and showed him the variation to Mayet -- Anderssen (1851?) that I show young chess players regularly (see "Sacrificial Attack").

I am more or less assured that my rating will go down when the 24th Collyer Memorial Chess Tournament is rated. My opponent in round two was rated roughly 200 below me. But, at least I'm having fun and gaining more positions that I can show students.

25 February 2016

Outpost: Threat and Execution

In the 1990s, I read Peter Romanovsky's subchapter, "The Eternal Knight", in Chess Middlegame Planning (1990) and found it a useful beginning towards the understanding of outposts. Michael Stean's discussion in Simple Chess (1978) takes my understanding a step further. At the end of his first illustrative game, Stean notes:
Particularly noteworthy was the terrible restraining influence exerted on Black by the continual threat of Nd5. Having completed his development very harmoniously. Black found it difficult to undertake any active plan without allowing the inevitable Nd5. Indeed, he only had to decentralise one piece (20...Na5) and the White knight jumped down his throat.
Stean, Simple Chess, 18.
This game, Tal -- Bronstein, USSR Championship 1959, was my lesson of the week for my advanced students. We started with this postion.

White to move

With a definition of outposts written on the white board, I asked students to identify the outposts in this position.

An outpost is a square that might be occupied by one's own piece, ideally supported by one's pawn, and that cannot be attacked by an enemy pawn. With some guidance, the students were able to see that d5 was an outpost for White's pieces, and that d3 was a potential outpost for Black.

We then went through the bulk of the game and Stean's comments.

The diagram above is prior to 14.Nf1. The knight finally occupies the critical outpost of d5 on move 22.

White to move

Stean comments:
The moment we've all been waiting for, not to mention the white queen, rook, and bishop who have been patiently queuing up behind the e-pawn for some time. White's decision to play his trump card now is prompted by the fact that Black's knight has been drawn out of play to a5. This may not seem to be very significant, but with the rapid opening up of the position which must surely follow, the abscence of even a single piece from the central field of battle will cause great difficulties for Black. Stean, Simple Chess, 16.
The game as whole is interesting and serves as a good example of employing the threat of an outpost as a strategic and tactical weapon. Restraining the opponent's choices via the threat to occupy an outpost is a notion less evident in Romanovsky's treatment of this topic.

Beginning Students

My beginning students this week solved the problems in Beginning Tactics 9 (see "Lesson of the Week" [13 December 2012]). When they stumbled on the seventh problem, I showed them the game Mayet -- Anderssen 1851 (see "Sacrificial Attack").

24 February 2016


This morning's thirty minutes of tactics was nine problems in Encyclopedia of Chess Combinations, 5th ed. (2014). Problems 352-360 begin the Basic portion of those classified as Clearance. Three problems took more than five minutes each.

White to move

No. 354 Urosov -- Kalinsky, corr. 1880.

Black to move

No. 358 Von Feilitzsch -- Wildegans, corr. 1939.

Black to move

No. 359 Gomes -- Netto, Rio de Janeiro 1942.

23 February 2016

Build Pressure

Finding myself in this position in a recent game, I considered capturing the rook.

White to move

There is no question that White regains material in excess of the pawn that had been sacrificed by playing 14.Bxa7. On the other hand, I have been criticizing hasty exchanges in the play of one of my young students. Sometimes it is better to build up more pressure. In this case, there is no hurry to capture the rook as it has no escape from the bishops.

Stressing efforts to build up more pressure in the games of my student has cultivated self-reflection. Sometimes I exchange to hastily when it wins material, but can wait.


Then, Black collapsed.


Had Black played 14...f6, then 15.Bxa7 Qxa7 16.Nf3 and White has the better game.

After 14...Re8, 15.Qa3 applies pressure along two lines: the a3-f8 diagonal and the a-file. In addition, 14.Qc1 prepared Rfd1.

After the move played in the game, the bishop has better prospects that would have been squandered by 14.Bxa7.

15.Bxe7 Nxe5 16.Bxf8 Kxf8 17.dxe5 Qxe5 18.Qa3+

Black to move

Black capitulated a few moves later.

21 February 2016

Rough Morning

Midway through my first cup of coffee this morning, I started solving some tactics problems on Tactics Trainer on my iPad. Or, rather, I started by failing three. Beginning from a tactics rating that is no source of pride, I managed to drop twenty Elo in three fails. Then, feeling empathy, the app handed me an easy one that lifted my rating 1.3 points.

White to move

I tried 1.Rxd4, expecting 1...Nxd4 2.Qxa1, but Black has 1...Qxd4. I failed to calculate.

White to move

I considered the correct move first, rejecting it in favor of 1.Rc8+ completely oblivious to 1...Qxc8. Maybe I needed that second cup of coffee.

White to move

I tried 1.g6, thinking that 1...Qxg6 2.Rh6+ was somehow winning the queen, but it does not.

White to move

Finally, I got one correct. I continued solving problems this morning getting eighteen correct and eight wrong. I managed to lift my rating five points. Time to take my wife out for a nice Sunday breakfast.

18 February 2016


Lesson of the Week

My young chess students were presented with exercises this week that are designed to develop their calculation skills. For the advanced students, I culled six problems from a workbook that I created for my chess camp two years ago and that I updated this week so that other chess coaches might find it useful.

Problem 2 is from a game that I lost to an alum of the chess club where I now coach. He is our current city champion. The game from which the position is extracted was played when he was in high school.

Problem 6 asks the young players to find the move that I considered, but did not play, against IM John Donaldson in a simul in 2003. I managed a draw (Donaldson scored 26-2-2 in the simul), but had winning chances had I played the move that I had been aiming at for several moves prior. Donaldson was moving around the boards quickly and I did not have enough time to resolve my doubts concerning the sacrifice.

White to move (1-3)




Black to move (4-6)




I introduced my beginning students to the knight's tour exercise to develop their abilities to handle that piece. The worksheet had a sample with the first ten moves entered and three blank chess boards for them to write on. The image below displays part of this worksheet.

The Workbook

My workbook is titled "Basic Training for Chess Success: Lessons from Camp" and was created for my 2014 summer chess camp. I have been creating new workbooks each year for my summer chess camp since 2008, often reusing materials that were particularly useful. "Basic Training" uses a section from my 2010 workbook, which was wholly focused on Adolf Anderssen (see "Learning from Errors: Adolf Anderssen"). This is followed by a section drawing lessons from Paul Morphy that I created for my 2012 workbook and then a short lesson that has appeared in several workbooks that applies Dan Heisman's Elements of Positions Evaluation to Pillsbury -- Lasker, Nuremberg 1896. There is a short endgame section culled from my work on Vasily Smyslov that formed the core of my 2011 workbook. Finally, the workbook contains a "glossary of tactics" and 124 exercises with solutions.

15 February 2016

Swiss Tournament Tie-Breaks

It is relatively easy to split a sum of money equitably between two or more recipients. However, cutting a trophy into halves or thirds only makes a mess. Consequently, chess tournaments use tie-breaks to determine the relative standings of chess players who finish with the same scores.

The Swiss System method for running chess tournaments accommodates a large number of competitors. It was first used in Zurich, Switzerland in 1895, where it was developed by Julius Müller, a founding member of the Swiss Chess Federation (see Edward Winter, Chess Notes 4118, 20 January 2006). Random pairings were used among winners and losers when first used, but the system has developed more sophistication since its first use.

Swiss System tournaments are non-elimination. The basic rules* are simple:

1) No one plays the same opponent twice.
2) In each round, players are paired as nearly as possible against others with the same score.
3) Each player should have approximately the same number of Blacks and Whites.

At the end of an event with a number of players that does not exceed 2 to the power of the number of rounds, there will be no more than one perfect score. It often happens, however, that there is no perfect score. In such case, who wins first place? Tie-breaks are used to make this determination. Tie-breaks also sort players below first place for additional prizes.

Tie-breaks attempt to determine the first among equals by measuring the quality of each player's opponents. There are several methods for making this determination. Usually more than one is used by tournament directors. Below I describe tie-break methods and display how each sorts the participants in one particular tournament. As will be seen, different methods lead to different results.

In this event, three players shared first place, Lucas, Ernest, and Henry. Each of these three won four games and lost one. Each one's only loss was to another of the three. Lucas beat Ernest, the top rated player, but lost to Henry. Henry lost to Ernest.

Henry might prefer Cumulative, as that puts him on top. Lucas comes out on top with Average Opposition. Ernest prevails via Opposition Performance, Opposition Cumulative, and Solkoff.

U.S. Chess Federation rules prefer a system that employs Modified Median, Solkoff, Cumulative, and Opposition Cumulative in that order. In Washington State scholastic events, the standard tie-break system employed is Solkoff, Cumulative, and Opposition Cumulative.

Average Opposition

Average opposition employs the mean of the opponent's pre-tournament ratings. This system will tend to favor the higher rated player, but that did not occur in our sample tournament.

Standings. Average Opposition

#NameRtngRd 1Rd 2Rd 3Rd 4Rd 5TotTBrk[A]
1Lucas Beauchamp1418W12W5W2L3W44.01128
2Ernest Thayer1643W11W4L1W6W34.01123
3Henry Bird1448W14W10W8W1L24.01076
4Flannery O'Connor1069W7L2W11W8L13.01016
5David Duncanunr.W9L1L6W14W103.0950.5
6Gilbert Chesterton889L10W15W5L2W73.0888
7Robert Zimmerman419L4B---W13W9L63.0761
8Joanne Rowling809W15W13L3L4W143.0732.5
9Shaun Alexander934L5W12W10L7W153.0645.5
10Charles B. Brownunr.W6L3L9W11L52.01022.5
11Robert Frost793L2W14L4L10W122.0931
12E Dickinson432L1L9B---W13L112.0824.5
13Carl Sandburgunr.H---L8L7L12B---1.5553
14Rodney Serling588L3L11W15L5L81.0900.5
15Stephane Mallarmeunr.L8L6L14B---L91.0805

Average Opposition Performance

Rather than using pre-tournament ratings, opposition performance employs performance ratings. Performance rating is determined by opponent's rating + 400 for a win, opponent's rating - 400 for a loss, and opponent's rating for a draw.

Standings. Opposition Performance

#NameRtngRd 1Rd 2Rd 3Rd 4Rd 5TotTBrk[P]
1Ernest Thayer1643W11W4L2W5W34.01194
2Lucas Beauchamp1418W12W6W1L3W44.01182
3Henry Bird1448W14W10W7W2L14.01101
4Flannery O'Connor1069W9L1W11W7L23.01116.5
5Gilbert Chesterton889L10W15W6L1W93.0941
6David Duncanunr.W8L2L5W14W103.0934
7Joanne Rowling809W15W13L3L4W143.0766.5
8Shaun Alexander934L6W12W10L9W153.0744.5
9Robert Zimmerman419L4B---W13W8L53.0737
10Charles B. Brownunr.W5L3L8W11L62.01014
11Robert Frost793L1W14L4L10W122.0976.5
12E Dickinson432L2L8B---W13L112.0807
13Carl Sandburgunr.H---L7L9L12B---1.5743
14Rodney Serling588L3L11W15L6L71.0944
15Stephane Mallarmeunr.L7L5L14B---L81.0783


Cumulative sums the scores round by round. A player losing in early rounds will face weaker opponents than one winning in early rounds.

Standings. Cumulative

#NameRtngRd 1Rd 2Rd 3Rd 4Rd 5TotTBrk[C]
1Henry Bird1448W14W10W5W2L34.014
2Lucas Beauchamp1418W12W9W3L1W44.013
3Ernest Thayer1643W11W4L2W7W14.012
4Flannery O'Connor1069W8L3W11W5L23.010
5Joanne Rowling809W15W13L1L4W143.010
6Shaun Alexander934L9W12W10L8W153.08
7Gilbert Chesterton889L10W15W9L3W83.08
8Robert Zimmerman419L4B---W13W6L73.08
9David Duncanunr.W6L2L7W14W103.08
10Charles B. Brownunr.W7L1L6W11L92.07
11Robert Frost793L3W14L4L10W122.05
12E Dickinson432L2L6B---W13L112.04
13Carl Sandburgunr.H---L5L8L12B---1.52
14Rodney Serling588L1L11W15L9L51.03
15Stephane Mallarmeunr.L5L7L14B---L61.01

Opposition Cumulative

Opposition cumulative sums the cumulative scores of each player's opponents.

Standings. Opposition Cumulative

#NameRtngRd 1Rd 2Rd 3Rd 4Rd 5TotTBrk[O]
1Ernest Thayer1643W11W4L2W6W34.050
2Lucas Beauchamp1418W12W5W1L3W44.048
3Henry Bird1448W14W10W7W2L14.045
4Flannery O'Connor1069W8L1W11W7L23.048
5David Duncanunr.W9L2L6W14W103.039
6Gilbert Chesterton889L10W15W5L1W83.036
7Joanne Rowling809W15W13L3L4W143.030.5
8Robert Zimmerman419L4B---W13W9L63.028.5
9Shaun Alexander934L5W12W10L8W153.028
10Charles B. Brownunr.W6L3L9W11L52.043
11Robert Frost793L1W14L4L10W122.036
12E Dickinson432L2L9B---W13L112.028.5
13Carl Sandburgunr.H---L7L8L12B---1.522
14Rodney Serling588L3L11W15L5L71.038
15Stephane Mallarmeunr.L7L6L14B---L91.029


When two tied players have played each other, the winner of their game wins head-to-head. If they drew, however, or if more than two share the same score, head-to-head is useless. The scores below give each player 100, then subtract 1 for each loss to another player with the same score. As can be seen, it was effective for determining last place.

Standings. Head-to-Head

#NameRtngRd 1Rd 2Rd 3Rd 4Rd 5TotTBrk[H]
1Ernest Thayer1643W11W4L3W5W24.099
2Henry Bird1448W14W10W6W3L14.099
3Lucas Beauchamp1418W12W7W1L2W44.099
4Flannery O'Connor1069W9L1W11W6L33.0100
5Gilbert Chesterton889L10W15W7L1W93.0100
6Joanne Rowling809W15W13L2L4W143.099
7David Duncanunr.W8L3L5W14W103.099
8Shaun Alexander934L7W12W10L9W153.098
9Robert Zimmerman419L4B---W13W8L53.098
10Charles B. Brownunr.W5L2L8W11L72.0100
11Robert Frost793L1W14L4L10W122.099
12E Dickinson432L3L8B---W13L112.099
13Carl Sandburgunr.H---L6L9L12B---1.5100
14Rodney Serling588L2L11W15L7L61.0100
15Stephane Mallarmeunr.L6L5L14B---L81.099


The Kashdan system rewards aggressive play by awarding 4 points for a win, 2 points for a draw, 1 point for a loss, and 0 for an unplayed game.

Standings. Kashdan

#NameRtngRd 1Rd 2Rd 3Rd 4Rd 5TotTBrk[K]
1Ernest Thayer1643W10W4L3W6W24.017
2Henry Bird1448W14W11W7W3L14.017
3Lucas Beauchamp1418W12W8W1L2W44.017
4Flannery O'Connor1069W9L1W10W7L33.014
5Shaun Alexander934L8W12W11L9W153.014
6Gilbert Chesterton889L11W15W8L1W93.014
7Joanne Rowling809W15W13L2L4W143.014
8David Duncanunr.W5L3L6W14W113.014
9Robert Zimmerman419L4B---W13W5L63.010
10Robert Frost793L1W14L4L11W122.011
11Charles B. Brownunr.W6L2L5W10L82.011
12E Dickinson432L3L5B---W13L102.07
13Carl Sandburgunr.H---L7L9L12B---1.53
14Rodney Serling588L2L10W15L8L71.08
15Stephane Mallarmeunr.L7L6L14B---L51.04


The Median system sums the final scores of each player's opponents, discarding the highest and lowest. This system is also known as the Harkness system for its inventor, Kenneth Harkness.

Standings. Median

#NameRtngRd 1Rd 2Rd 3Rd 4Rd 5TotTBrk[B]
1Ernest Thayer1643W11W4L2W6W34.010
2Lucas Beauchamp1418W12W5W1L3W44.010
3Henry Bird1448W14W10W9W2L14.09
4Flannery O'Connor1069W7L1W11W9L23.09.5
5David Duncanunr.W8L2L6W14W103.08
6Gilbert Chesterton889L10W15W5L1W73.07.5
7Robert Zimmerman419L4B---W13W8L63.07
8Shaun Alexander934L5W12W10L7W153.06
9Joanne Rowling809W15W13L3L4W143.05
10Charles B. Brownunr.W6L3L8W11L52.09
11Robert Frost793L1W14L4L10W122.06.5
12E Dickinson432L2L8B---W13L112.06
13Carl Sandburgunr.H---L9L7L12B---1.54
14Rodney Serling588L3L11W15L5L91.08
15Stephane Mallarmeunr.L9L6L14B---L81.07

Modified Median

Modified median treats players with even scores (i.e. 2.5 in a five-round event) the same as the Median. Players with plus scores discard only the lowest scoring opponent's score. Players with minus scores discard the highest scoring opponent's score.

Standings. Modified Median

#NameRtngRd 1Rd 2Rd 3Rd 4Rd 5TotTBrk[M]
1Ernest Thayer1643W11W4L2W6W34.014
2Lucas Beauchamp1418W12W5W1L3W44.014
3Henry Bird1448W14W10W9W2L14.013
4Flannery O'Connor1069W7L1W11W9L23.013.5
5David Duncanunr.W8L2L6W14W103.012
6Gilbert Chesterton889L10W15W5L1W73.011.5
7Robert Zimmerman419L4B---W13W8L63.010
8Shaun Alexander934L5W12W10L7W153.09
9Joanne Rowling809W15W13L3L4W143.09
10Charles B. Brownunr.W6L3L8W11L52.011
11Robert Frost793L1W14L4L10W122.07.5
12E Dickinson432L2L8B---W13L112.06
13Carl Sandburgunr.H---L9L7L12B---1.54
14Rodney Serling588L3L11W15L5L91.08.5
15Stephane Mallarmeunr.L9L6L14B---L81.07


The Solkoff tie-break method sums the final scores of the opponents. No scores are discarded.

Standings. Solkoff

#NameRtngRd 1Rd 2Rd 3Rd 4Rd 5TotTBrk[S]
1Ernest Thayer1643W11W4L2W6W34.016
2Lucas Beauchamp1418W12W5W1L3W44.015.5
3Henry Bird1448W14W10W9W2L14.014
4Flannery O'Connor1069W7L1W11W9L23.015.5
5David Duncanunr.W8L2L6W14W103.013
6Gilbert Chesterton889L10W15W5L1W73.012
7Robert Zimmerman419L4B---W13W8L63.010
8Shaun Alexander934L5W12W10L7W153.09.5
9Joanne Rowling809W15W13L3L4W143.09.5
10Charles B. Brownunr.W6L3L8W11L52.015
11Robert Frost793L1W14L4L10W122.011.5
12E Dickinson432L2L8B---W13L112.010
13Carl Sandburgunr.H---L9L7L12B---1.57
14Rodney Serling588L3L11W15L5L91.012.5
15Stephane Mallarmeunr.L9L6L14B---L81.010

*The United States Chess Federation Official Rules of Chess, 6th ed (2014) list these three as priorities 1, 2, and 4, respectively. Number 3 is upper half versus lower half. The USCF rules also list a 5th priority: alternating colors.

11 February 2016

Lesson of the Week

My advanced students were presented with an elegant endgame scenario that proved difficult. I found it in the Chess Quest iPad app.

White to move

Some of my students this week also have been presented with an instructive position that arose in a youth tournament game.

Black to move

Chess players who have invested time to learn fundamental checkmate patterns often find that they can solve this checkmate in six moves within a few seconds. There are several excellent books designed to develop this skill. The Art of the Checkmate (1953) by Georges Renaud and Victor Kahn remains my favorite, but there are others that are useful. Murray Chandler, How to Beat Your Dad at Chess (1998) is popular. Chapter four of The Art of Attack in Chess (1965) by Vladimir Vukovic offers a succinct pattern list. In addition, there is a well constructed lesson presenting 26 key patterns in the first chapter of Practical Middlegame Techniques (1997) by Danny Kopec.

All of these texts have their merits, but I am partial to a privately published pamphlet that is currently available as a PDF file: my own "A Checklist of Checkmates," available via a link in the sidebar to the right. My "Checklist" presents 37 key patterns in a manner similar to Kopec's but with an organizational scheme not found in any other publication. The heuristic that I developed for this pamphlet facilitates learning and memory. I sought to build some of the instructional value of Renaud and Kahn. Most beneficial are the 139 exercises in seven sets. When students are working on my Bishop Award, they complete the first two sets of problems from this pamphlet: Corridors and Diagonals.

In the position above, the checkmate pattern that I call Two Pigs suggests itself, but that pesky knight on f3 gets in the way.

Greco's Academy

My beginning students worked through a worksheet that I created as part of my camp workbook for my 2013 chess camp. It is the first of three pages in a section that I call Greco's Academy--fifteen of Greco's model games with simple questions. Their worksheet contained six games.

Many of Greco's games are short illustrations of a single tactical motif. Imagine yourself as one of Greco's students. He composed these games for you. Play through the games, answering the question: What is the threat at the end of the game?

(1) 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.h3 Nf6 4.c3 Nxe4 5.Qa4+ 1–0

Threat: _____________

(2) 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e3 b5 4.a4 c6 5.axb5 cxb5 6.Qf3 1–0

Threat: _____________

(3) 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.Nc3 c6 4.Qf3 b5 5.Bb3 b4 6.Na4 d5 7.d3 h6 8.Ne2 d4 9.Ng3 Bg4 0–1

Threat: _____________

(4) 1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nf6 3.Nc3 exf4 4.d4 Bb4 5.Bd3 Qe7 6.Qe2 Nc6 7.e5 Nxd4 8.exf6 Nxe2 9.fxe7 Nxc3
10.a3 Ba5 11.Bd2 1–0

Threat: _____________

(5) 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.Ng5 0–0 6.d3 h6 7.h4 hxg5 8.hxg5 Nh7 9.Qh5 1–0

Threat: _____________

(6) 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.Bc4 g4 5.Ne5 Qh4+ 6.Kf1 Nh6 7.d4 d6 8.Nd3 f3 9.g3 Qh3+ 10.Ke1
Qg2 11.Nf2 1-0

Threat: _____________

07 February 2016

Endgame Training

Eight to ten years ago, I played out one hundred pawn endings against the computer. I am now working through the same set of problems a second time. These one hundred problems are the first of three sets made available as PDF files by Michele Deiana at DejaScacchi. The selection contains composed endgame positions with instructive value for practical play. Many of these problems appear in standard endgame books, such as Mark Dvoretsky, Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual and Yuri Averbakh, Comprehensive Chess Endings.

Problem 14 in Deiana's collection is a study attributed to Jean-Louis Preti (1856). It is the same as a position that I posted last May, but with colors reversed (see "Three Pawns Problem"). It builds upon technique practiced while solving problem 11, attributed to Josef Kling, presumably from Chess Studies; or Endings of Games by J. Kling and Bernard Horwitz (1851).

White to move

1.Kc2 c4 2.Kc1

Black to move

This position is critical. White will step directly in front of whichever pawn Black moves forward. Soon, all three pawns fall.

2...b3 3.Kb2 d3 4.Kc3

Black to move

This position is the heart of a king versus three pawns. White's king stops all the pawns. However, if the pawns were one square closer to promotion, then one could be promoted to deflect the king from defense of the other's promotion square.

Playing these positions against the computer means playing until checkmate. I checkmated Stockfish 7 on move 24.

04 February 2016

A Dubious Line

A French Miniature

Blitz may serve as training for testing ideas that arise in the course of study. As noted yesterday, I have been going through all of the French Defense, Steinitz variation games ever published in Chess Informant. One line that caught my eye leads to an imbalance of three pawns for a knight. In a blitz game this afternoon. I gave it a go.

Unfortunately, my opponent missed the critical line. Instead of taking my knight and letting me have three pawns, he gave me a one pawn advantage. My pieces came to life and created concrete tactical problems for my opponent. I won a miniature instead of gaining the experience sought.

Internet Opponent (1805) -- Stripes,J (1799) [C11]
Online Blitz, 04.02.2016

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 Qb6?!

When I played this move over-the-board several years ago, I usually was made to suffer.

8.Na4 Qa5+ 9.c3 cxd4 10.b4

My opponent used 23 seconds on this move. That is a lot in a three minute blitz game.


White to move

Recently, I have looked at more than two dozen games in Chess Informant with this line. White scores better than average, but the positions are interesting and double-edged, so I thought I would try it in a blitz game. My move took nine seconds, but had been a plan in the back of my head when I played 7...Qb6.


Immediately. my opponent failed to find the correct reply.

11.cxb4 Bxb4+ 12.Bd2 Bxd2+ 13.Nxd2 b5 14.Nb2 Nc5 15.Bd3 0–0 16.0–0 Qb6 17.Rf3 Bb7 18.Kh1 f5 19.Nb3! Nxb3 20.axb3 Rac8 21.Qe2 a6 22.Rg1 Rc3 23.g4! fxg4 24.Rxg4 Rc1+ 25.Kg2 Bc8 1–0 Kortschnoj,V -- Gurgenidze,B, USSR 1967, Informant 4/224.

11.Nxd4 Nc6 and Black has the edge.


11...Nc6–+ is better. My move is the second choice of Stockfish 7. The rest of my moves match the computer's first choice--evidence that the lines are forcing and replete with elementary tactics.


12.cxb4 Bxb4+ 13.Kf2 Black has a better game.

12...Nc6–+ 13.Qb3

13.Rc1 Ba3 (13...Qxa2 14.Nd3)


13...Ba6 is Stockfish's top choice for the first half minute of analysis. My choice moves to the top when it reaches a search depth of 22 ply.

14.Nxd4 a6

I considered 14...Ba6.

15.Nc6 Qc7 16.Nb4

16.Nd4 seems a little better.

16...Nc5 17.Qc2 Ne4 

White to move


18.Rc1 After the game, in the effort to understand how matters collapsed for my opponent, I thought that Rc1 might hold. Then I found the nasty pin.

18.Rc1 is the engine's top choice. 18...Qxc3+ 19.Qxc3 Nxc3 20.N2d3 (20.Rxc3 is far worse 20...Bxb4–+ and this pin is too much for White.) 20...Ne4–+ White has nothing for the two pawns; Black has no problems.

18.a3 is worth considering.

18...Bxb4 White resigns 0–1

My opponent's novelty did not lose immediately, but it made his position vastly more difficult.

03 February 2016

A Batch of Games

I was lucky to get a draw against an underrated youth player in late summer 2014 in the Spokane Falls Open. Happily, this same event went much better for me the following summer (see "Winning an Open"). Against the youth player, we reached this position after a couple of minutes and then I started to rush matters and handed him a long-term initiative through inaccurate play. In the end, he did not see his winning chances and fought hard for a draw while I sought an elusive win. Eventually, kings were all that remained on the board.

Black to move

This position is a typical position in ECO C11*, the Steinitz variation of the French Defense. My game against the underrated youth was not the first time that I had steered too close to the ditch in this variation.

Weaknesses become strengths when training is guided by deliberate practice (see "Hanging Pieces"). When Chess Informant's Paramount Database arrived, I browsed through some its features. Of immediate interest was a list of the openings that had in excess of 500 published games through the first 123 volumes of Informant. There have been 588 games in C 11!

Naturally, I set out to quickly run through all of them. Some days I have raced through thirty games. Other days, I am too busy with other things to look at any from this set. A few times, I have forgotten which game I left off with and have gone through a batch that I had seen a few days prior.

When I have finished all 588 games and pick up any of my opening monographs on the French Defense, the reference games for the Steinitz variation shall be familiar. This morning I am on Nijboer -- Visser, Hoogeveen 2002, Informant 86/284. It is game 392 in the list of 588.

*ECO Code is a trademark of Chess Informant.