23 May 2017

Seeing Patterns

Tal's Winning Chess Combinations (1979) has influenced my perception. Last week, I read the first chapter of this book by Mikhail Tal and Victor Khenkin, which exists under several titles with and without Tal's authorship. This chapter concerns the rook and corridor checkmates and checkmate threats. These corridor vulnerabilities are most often back-rank weaknesses, but there are other corridors, including a position where a rook must be given up to avoid checkmate between two walls of pawns alongside the f-file.

The large number of deflection combinations to threaten checkmate has made me more alert to these possibilities when going through other games. Of course, these ideas are not new to me. I was familiar with the idea even before Lev Alburt's Chess Training Pocket Book (1997), which I read fifteen years ago, stimulated my imagination for the maneuvers with this exercise.

White to move

Alburt gives the exercise the title, "Defection Detection". It is number 93 in the book.

This morning, I was reading Baskaran Adhiban's annotations to his draw against Wesley So at the Tata Steel Chess Tournament in January when the deflection motif jumped into my perception. After 25.Bxa7, So could have played 25...Rxa7. He did not, playing 25...Bxc3 instead.

What if he had grabbed the bishop?

White to move

Immediately, I saw 26.Qd5+ Kh8 27.Qxe5. However, nothing compels the suicidal 27...Rxe5. So would have had choices: 27...Raa8, 27...Qb6+, and others. In Adhiban's case, his offer of a bishop wins So's bishop, but no more. The game, as he points out, was, "[a]n exciting draw with lots of interesting twists!" (Chess Informant 131, 49).

22 May 2017

Uh-Oh!

In a blitz game this morning, I had an uh-oh moment. Either I was losing my queen or a bishop. I spent 21 seconds contemplating the position, and reasoned that I had compensation for the queen. Then, in the complications, my opponent faltered. I missed some quicker checkmates, but maintained a clear advantage while pressing the attack against a vulnerable king. Most of my opponent's pieces were spectators.

Stripes,J (1845) -- Internet Opponent (1809) [D07]
Live Chess Chess.com, 22.05.2017

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 Nc6 4.Nc3 Bg4 5.Ne5

5.cxd5 seems better. One hopes that I will be prepared to make this capture when appropriate should I reach a similar position OTB.

5...Nxe5 6.dxe5 Nd7

6...d4 7.Nb1 Ng8 8.Qb3 Bc8 9.Nd2 e6 Portisch,L (2575) -- Hermann,M (2405), Bad Woerishofen 1992 and drawn in 56 moves. Both players' anti-development highlight the lack of coordination of their pieces.

7.Bf4?

7.Qd4 Bf5 8.cxd5±

7.Qxd5 c6 8.Qd4 Be6 +=

7.cxd5 Nxe5 8.Qd4 f6 9.Bf4 Bc8±

7...dxc4 8.Qa4 Be6 9.e4 c6

It is clear that winning the pawn on c4 is no easy matter.

10.Rd1 Qb6

10...b5 and Black's pawn in secure.

11.Rd2 g6?!

11...Nc5 12.Qa3 Nd3+ 13.Bxd3 cxd3 14.0–0=

12.Bxc4! Nc5

White to move

13.Bxe6 (box) Nxa4 14.Bd7+ Kd8 15.Bxc6+!?

15.Bh3+ forces a draw 15...Ke8 (15...Kc7 16.e6+ Kc8 17.exf7+ e6 18.Bxe6#) 16.Bd7+=.

15...Kc7 16.Bxa4 (box)

Black to move

16...Qe6?

16...e6 was the only move, with a slight edge for Black.

17.Nd5++- Kc8 18.0–0 Bg7

18...b5 19.Bb3+-.

19.Rc1+ Kd8

White to move

20.Nf6+

Perhaps the seventh best move, but easily winning, as Black has two legal moves. One leads to checkmate on the move. The other returns the queen.

I missed the forced checkmate in eight: 20.Nc7+ Kc8 (20...Qd6 21.Ne6+ fxe6 22.Rxd6+ exd6 23.Bg5+ Bf6 24.Bxf6#) 21.Nxe6+ Kb8 22.Nd8 a5 23.Rd7 Rxd8 24.Rxd8+ Ka7 25.Be3+ b6 26.Rc7+ Ka6 27.Rxa8#.

20...Qd6

20...Qd7 21.Rxd7#

21.exd6 Bxf6

Black walks walks into checkmate in six.

21...exf6 22.Rc7+-.

22.dxe7+ Kxe7 23.Rd7+

23.Bd6+ leads to a faster checkmate, and also demonstrates understanding of bishops and rooks cooperating. 23...Ke6 24.Bb3+ Kd7 25.Ba3+ Bd4 26.Bxf7 g5 27.Rxd4#.

23.Rc7+ Kf8 (23...Ke6 24.Rd6#) 24.Bh6+ Bg7 25.Rdd7 Bxh6 26.Rxf7+ Kg8 27.Bb3 Rd8 28.Rf6+ Rd5 29.Bxd5#.

23...Ke6

White to move

Black walks into a checkmate in three.

23...Ke8 was more stubborn 24.Rxb7+ Kf8 25.Rcc7 g5 26.Rxf7+ Kg8 27.Rxf6 Rf8 28.Rxf8+ Kxf8 29.Bd6+ Kg8 30.Bb3#.

24.Rxb7 Be7 25.Rc6+ Bd6 26.Rxd6# 1–0

21 May 2017

Blunders

An appalling number of chess games are lost (and won) because a player puts a piece where it is free for the taking. Chess players use the term en prise, which no one in America pronounces correctly, when a piece is within grasp (see Edward Winter, "En Prise [Chess Term]," History Notes, updated 28 February 2015). In Essential Tactics: Building a Foundation for Chess Skill (2017), where I define such terms, I offer the following simple exercise to introduce the idea.

White to move

Such positions often arise from blunders. In a comic blitz game yesterday, it seems that neither player was looking at the board.

Black to move

Black has an extra pawn and a slightly more secure king. However, Black threw the game away with a foolish check that leaves his queen en prise.

26...Qg4+??

However, White did not snatch the free queen, even though his own queen was also undefended.

27.Kf1??

Evidently Black then noticed that the queens were in contact because he defended his queen.

27...h5??

Finally, White awoke and removed the offending queen.

28.Qxg4 hxg4

A few moves later, White won back the pawn. Nonetheless, he lost after a long battle that both players might wish to forget.

When I think of blunders, I often remember a game that I played fourteen years ago. It was my only standard rated loss to Jim Waugh, against whom I am 10-1-1. Including rapid games, my record reflects two additional losses: 25-1-3. We have played many casual games as well, and he has won a few of those. This loss in the 2003 Inland Empire Open, however, was painful, and remains fresh in my mind. I have a clear and relatively easy win.

Black to move

Inexplicably, I played 22...Re3, thinking to drive the queen from defense of his vulnerable king. Once he had the upper hand, Waugh did not let up.

16 May 2017

Develop Your King

In one of my many blitz games this morning, I had one of those many experiences when I realized that I was playing poorly and now seemed to be losing material.

Stripes,J (1806) -- Internet Opponent (1852) [D06]
Live Chess Chess.com, 16.05.2017

1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3 Bf5 4.Bf4 e6 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.e3 Nb4

White to move

In my despair, I remembered the words of Wilhelm Steinitz:
[W]e consider it established that the king must be treated as a strong piece both for attack and defence. This means that so far from requiring great protection early in the game a few simple precautions which we shall further explain, will render him so safe that any attampt at attacking his wing will be more dangerous for the opponent than for himself.
Wilhelm Steinitz, The Modern Chess Instructor (1889).
Steinitz was concerned with the king's role in self-protection on the king's side, when the king itself is the target. My opponent was angling for my rook, winning an exchange.

7.Kd2! Bc2

My opponent might have tried 7...Ne4+ 8.Nxe4 dxe4 9.Ne1 (9.Ne5? f6)

8.Qc1 Ne4+ 9.Nxe4 dxe4 10.Ne1

Black to move 

10...Nd3

10...Ba4 seems to be a better effort to take advantage of the king in the center.

a) 11.a3 Nc6

11...Nd3 is as in the game 12.Nxd3 exd3 13.Bxd3 f6 White has a one pawn advantage.

a1) 12.Bg3 (12.Qc3 e5 appears dangerous). 12...e5 13.d5 Na5 and White is losing at least an exchange.

a2) Nc2

b) 11.b3 is probably safest.

11.Nxd3 Bxd3 12.Bxd3 Bb4+ 13.Ke2 exd3+ 14.Kxd3

Black to move

14...0–0 15.a3 Be7 16.Rd1 f6 17.Ke2 Qe8 18.Bg3 h5 19.h4 and I went on to win the endgame.



14 May 2017

Play as Philidor

As may be well-known, François-André Danican Philidor asserted, "pawns are the soul of chess." In Analysis of the Game of Chess (London, 1790), he developed this idea with a number of games showing pieces standing in the rear so as to support a group of pawns that decide the game. Yesterday, as I was beginning to come out of a blitz slump that lasted three days, I played a game of which Philidor would approve.

White to move

Stripes,J (1897) -- Internet Opponent (1842) [A43]
Live Chess Chess.com, 13.05.2017

26.Qg4

26.Qh6 decides matters more quickly.

26...g6 27.h4 Qe6 28.Qg3

The computer likes 28.Qxe6, but the resulting rook ending is a crap shoot in blitz. Both players have chances as blunders are inevitable.

28...Kg7 29.h5 Rh8

White to move

30.hxg6

30.d5 Qe4 31.Re5 Qd3 32.f4

30...fxg6?

30...f6 gives Black good chances to hold. Too often, I overlook these sorts of moves in blitz.

31.d5

A good move, but not best. Even so, White's pawns are starting to roll per the prescriptions of Philidor.

31.f4!

31...Qf6 32.e4

32.f4 would have demonstrated understanding of Philidor, who preferred that three pawns march together whenever possible. 32...Rh6 33.f5 Rf8 34.d6.

32...Rh6 33.e5 Qf7 34.e6 Qe7

34...Qf6 35.f4 (35.Re5).

35.Qe5+ Qf6

White to move

36.e7?

36.f4 Rch8 37.Kf2 Rh4 38.Kg3

36...Re8?

36...Kf7 forces White to struggle.

37.d6+-

The pawns will decide.

37...Qxe5 38.Rxe5 Kf6

38...Reh8 makes a threat that I was cognizant of, although in blitz I overlook such things often enough. 39.f4 (39.e8Q Rh1#).

39.Re2 Rhh8

White to move

40.Rb1

40.Rfe1 is stronger 40...Kf7 41.d7

40...Rb8

40...a4 41.Rxb6 Kf7 42.Rb4 Rc8 43.Re1 Rce8 44.d7

41.d7 1–0

Black's two rooks must go away to eliminate White's two queens.

12 May 2017

Imbalances and Planning

Years ago, I read Jeremy Silman, How to Reassess Your Chess, 3rd ed. (1993). The book offers useful instruction concerning imbalances and planning. However, sometimes in blitz, I play as if I am in utter ignorance of how to assess a position. Instead, I play for simple cheapos that are easily refuted.

This position from a blitz game offers a case in point.

White to move

I played 21.g5, hoping for 21...hxg5 22.hxg5 and thought that somehow my rooks could penetrate. Not only is there no clear tactical breakthrough, but it's not entirely clear that I should seek exchanges on the kingside.

How should White play here?

11 May 2017

Elementary Checkmate

There is nothing difficult about this checkmate in two, but it is notable. This position arose in a blitz game this morning. Much of that game resembled a correspondence game that I won two years ago (see "Beating a National Master"). White's kingside pawn storm, including the pawn sacrifice was similar, as was the resulting Black pawns on g7 and g6. Again, my king was able to find refuge on f7, temporarily.

Black to move

The simple checkmate in two was included in my book, Forcing Checkmate, which I wrote in March.

09 May 2017

More of the Same

In my Knight Award exercises, I include a position from Horvath -- Vigus, Haarlem 1998.

White to move

This exercise was part of my lesson of the week just before the winter holiday last December, where it was paired with a similar position from one of my online blitz games (see "Pattern Training").

This morning, while reading an old classic that I acquired yesterday, I found a similar position.

White to move

This position is given as Gutmatyer -- Sviderski 1928 in Mikhail Tal, and Victor Khenkin, Tal's Winning Chess Combinations, trans. Hanon W. Russell (1979). I failed to locate this game in any of my databases.

White played 1.Rc1, and then missing the checkmate threat, Black blundered with 1...Qxe5. Tal and Khenkin observe that 1...Qd3 was Black's correct response.

03 May 2017

Breaking Down Tactics

Some tactics training sessions are long; others short. Yesterday morning, I attempted three problems on Tactic Trainer on my iPad. This app, which sells for $2.99, is one that I have used off and on for several years. As the database of problems are stored on my device, it is useful when I go off the grid--away from internet service. Using this app a few years ago on a fishing trip, I was able to spend three hours solving exercises while making coffee and breakfast for everyone. I reviewed this app in "Chess Tactics Training on the iPad" (February 2013).

I cut yesterday's training session short because it seemed necessary to review. I solved the first problem quickly and correctly. What did I do right? How did I see the combinations? It is worth breaking the problem down to understand what I saw and understood in a matter of seconds. I failed the second problem by choosing the wrong second move. My move was clearly winning, but there was a better move. Was I hasty or shallow in my thinking? The third problem was another success, but I thought that the twenty to thirty seconds I used was unreasonably long for such an easy problem. Why did I require so much time?

One drawback of this app, in contrast to ChessTempo, Chess.com's tactics, and similar training tools on several other websites, is that it does not record my solving time.

Black to move

1...Qxd3!

Instantly I saw that Black attacks the knight twice and White defends it twice. That alerted me to a possible tactic if the king could be driven away after an exchange on d3. It took a few seconds to see Black's control of d2 and e1 with the bishop, and also to see the possibilities of thrusting the f-pawn forward. Is the rook on f8 necessary to the combination? It is.

2.Qxd3 f3+ 3.Kf1

3.Qxf3 is also possible, and that reveals the importance of the rook on f8. 3...Rbxf3. I recall calculating also 3...Rfxf3 and observed that both the bishop and rook cover f8 to meet 4.Rc8+.

3...Rxd3

Black has won a bishop.

It seems that quickly recognizing the deflection tactic was the key to solving this exercise. Some calculation was necessary as well.

White to move

1.Nxf6+

The first move was obvious, as the exchange either decoys Black's queen into a pin or removes the defender of the knight.

1...Qxf6 2.gxf4

I chose 2.Nf3 and failed. I overlooked 2...h6, although then White is still winning and still has 3.gxf4, although 3.Rg1 is better. I saw one pin, but missed possible pins on the g-file.

Acoording to my computer, the best line continues 2...Qxf4 3.Bxg5 Qe4+ 4.f3. I do not know how far the exercise would have extended had I played 2.gxf4.

What causes me to see one pin and miss another? What causes me to overlook 2...h6? Distraction and haste could be factors. I solved this exercise quickly. Also, in the morning during coffee time, my wife and one or more dogs are with me in the living room. But, I think there is something else. Something curable through training.

Black to move

1...Rg1+ 2.Kxg1 Qh1#.

This problem was easy, and I solved it correctly. However, I first started calculating lines that begin 1...Qh3+ and also glanced at 1...Bh3+. It became clear that these lines did not produce checkmate quickly. Only when these lines appeared futile, did I see the correct solution. That may have been after twenty seconds, or it may have been as long as a minute.

As in the previous exercise, I saw a move that looked good and began to pursue it. In both cases, there was a better move. In the third exercise, I found the better move before making my move. In the second exercise, I played a good, but not the best move.

It is good to remember the adage frequently attributed to Emanual Lasker, and pushed back a few years by a reference on Wikipedia, "When you see a good move, look out for a better." As an historian, I must point out that Domenico Ponziani should be credited with the saying.
[I]t is necessary always to bear in mind these prudential rules, viz.: having a good move, to seek for a better; having a small but certain advantage, not to risk it for a greater but uncertain one. Dominico Ercole del Rio, The Incomparable Game of Chess, trans. J.S. Bingham (London 1820), 35-36.
Bingham incorrectly attributes this work by Ponziani to Ercole del Rio, as is pointed out in "Domenico Lorenzo Ponziani," The Chess World, vol 2 (1867), 327-336, an article reprinted from American Chess Monthly.

As a chess student, these historical forays chasing footnotes are less critical than the advice itself. Through three exercises yesterday, I have identified an area to work on: flexibility in calculation. Seeing one pattern, I need to remain alert to others. When I do my tactics exercises, I must slow down. Parts 3 and 4 of David Pruess's video series, "4 Exercises to Become a Tactical Genius," offer suggestions for exercises that specifically address these calculation errors.

01 May 2017

The Polgar Brick: eBook Edition

A Review

Chess: 5334 Problems, Combinations, and Games by László Polgár contains 306 checkmate in one, 3412 checkmate in two, 744 checkmate in three, and then 600 miniature studies. These miniatures (game of 25 moves or less) are sorted into six groups. Each group contains 100 games that featured a sacrifice on one of a pair of squares--f3.f6, g3/g6, h3/h6, f2/f7, g2/g7, and h2/h7. I described one of the ways that I found this section useful in "Building Upon Morphy". Following the miniatures section are 144 simple endgames and then 128 combinations from the Polgár sisters, Susan, Sophia, and Judit. Susan and Judit are Grand Masters, and Judit was in the FIDE top ten a few years ago. Sophia, who was more interested in art than chess, is an International Master.

The book was first published by Könemann in 1994 under the title Chess in 5333+1 Positions. The "+1" in the original title reflects the distinctiveness of the final position, an artistic checkmate in two composition by Sophia. In 2006, Black Dog & Leventhal brought out a new edition that is approximately half the size--same thickness, but 6 x 9 inches instead of the large 8 x 12 format. I have the Könemann paperback edition, which I bought for $25 in 1998. The smaller edition is still a large book, although considerably lighter than the original. At some point, this book acquired the nickname "Polgár Brick" in several social media forums. Both editions are 1104 pages.

The Black Dog & Leventhal edition added an introduction by Bruce Pandolfini, while eliminating front matter in languages other than English. The Könemann edition has the table of contents, Polgár's forward, and other material in ten languages.

It is a useful book for self-study and useful to chess teachers, but it is awkward to carry in a backpack. Last week, I bought the Kindle eBook edition for $2.99 and now have the book on my iPhone and iPad. Hence, I always have it with me unless I am swimming.

Fifteen years ago, I spent 20-30 minutes per day with this large book during my morning coffee. I would solve each exercise looking at the diagram and write down my answer on a piece of paper. Then, I would check the answers in the back of the book and record the percentage that I got correct. When this percentage was below 90, I would rework the problems a few days later. Over the course of a few months, I solved the first 1596 problems. Since then, the book has mostly sat on a bookshelf alongside other neglected books. Occasionally, I would pull it off the shelf when looking for some instructive checkmate exercises for students or to work through some of the book's miniatures.

Even strong players capable of solving difficult tactics problems could benefit from working through the checkmate in one exercises. The first 156 contain a minimum number of pieces. Beginning with number 157, the board is crowded with pieces. How many can you solve as fast as you turn the page? I found that I could solve the first 156 instantly, but then slowed down. Some took a few seconds; others were as easy as those with few pieces. Solving these exercises quickly and repeatedly should improve board vision and pattern recognition.

Some of the ckeckmate in two exercises are challenging, depending on your skill level. But, they are intended by Polgár to require only a few minutes and to build the reader's confidence. Naturally, the checkmate in three are more challenging, but still not horrendously difficult.

In the print edition, there are six problems per page. The eBook presents one per page. In the solutions, the composer is indicated if is was not Polgár. For the checkmate in one (naturally) and the checkmate in two, only one move is given. The solutions to the checkmate in three are carried out to checkmate. In the eBook, the problem number is a hyperlink to the solution and the number above the solution links back to the problem.

Only a few of the first 4462 positions are from real games. The 600 miniatures, of course, are all real games, as are 127 of the 128 from the Polgár sisters.

The eBook edition extends the usefulness of this book. It is certainly much easier to carry, as noted above. There are a few formatting issues, but these serve only as distractions and do not mar the book's usefulness. Some of the solutions seem to be in a larger font, for example. In the bibliography at the end of the book, the Russian language sources listed are in a smaller font than the other texts.

Now that I have the eBook, I expect to make much more extensive use of the miniatures section. Last fall, I carried the mammoth book to a chess lesson with a student so that we could look at a few of the miniatures together. Then, it sat on the floor of my car for most of the winter. No longer. The book need not leave my house, and I will always have it during chess lessons. I rarely do not have my iPad and never leave my home without my phone.

Print Edition First Miniature
In the book, the miniatures contain the early moved of the game, then a diagram with the critical position. Underneath the diagram is the conclusion of the game. This is the same structure that one finds in the Encyclopedia of Chess Miniatures (2015). Ideally, the student would look at the diagram and solve the position without looking at the continuation below. This exercise is most easily accomplished by covering the moves below with a scrap of paper.






eBook Edition First Miniature
In the eBook edition, the initial moves and diagram are on one page, and the game's conclusion is on the next page. That structure makes it more useful as a training tool than the print edition and the cost is slightly more than 10% of the publisher's list price.

If you do not have this book, it might be time to download the free Kindle app and enter the world of chess eBooks. There are many exceptional chess books in this format. Few are as good of a bargain as the Polgár brick. Do be careful, however, there are chess eBooks that are complete rubbish. Some are even written by people who do not know how to play chess (see "Kindle Chess Books").


29 April 2017

Watching Fireworks

A couple of evenings ago, I played a blitz game online that seemed as though it turned bad in a hurry. My assessment was wrong. At the very moment when my opponent opened up the center and initiated exchanges, causing me to feel helpless, I had a clear win. My assessment, much to my delight, was completely wrong. I made the only moves that seemed sensible, and it turns out that most of them were the best possible move.

Stripes,J (1978) -- Internet Opponent (1921) [A33]
Live Chess Chess.com, 26.04.2017

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 c5 4.g3 cxd4 5.Bg2

5.Nxd4 may be more accurate.

5...Nc6

5...e5

6.Nxd4 Bb4+ 7.Nc3 Bxc3+

7...d5

8.bxc3 0–0

8...Qa5 9.0–0 0–0 10.Qb3 d5 11.Rd1 Ne4 12.cxd5 exd5 13.Nxc6 bxc6 14.c4 Be6 15.cxd5 Bxd5 16.Qa3 Qb5 17.Bf3 Nf6 18.Bf4 Bxf3 19.exf3 Rfe8 20.Rd2 Re6 21.Rad1 ½–½ Schlosser,P (2485) -- Hracek,Z (2455), Brno 1991.

9.0–0 a6 10.Ba3 Re8

White to move

11.Rb1?

11.c5 Qc7 12.Rb1 Rb8 13.Qb3 Qe5 14.Bxc6 dxc6 15.Nxc6 Qh5 16.Nxb8 Ng4 17.h4 g5 18.c6 gxh4 19.c4 bxc6 20.Nxc6 Bd7 21.Ne7+ Kg7 22.gxh4 f5 23.Qg3 Kf6 24.Rb7 Rxe7 25.Bxe7+ Kxe7 26.Rd1 1–0 Schroll,G (2385) -- Kwatschewsky,L (2300), Gamlitz 1993.

11.Bd6!

11...d5

11...Ne5 and White's advantage is minimal.

12.cxd5 Nxd5?

12...exd5 hold White to a minimal advantage.

White to move

13.c4

13.Nxc6 is better 13...bxc6 14.c4+-.

13...Nc3?

13...Nde7±.

14.Nxc6

Only non-losing move.

14... Nxd1?

I saw and expected 14...bxc6 15.Qxd8 Nxe2+ 16.Kh1 Rxd8 but I didn't realize that I was winning here.

15.Nxd8+-

Only non-losing move.

White has an overwhelming advantage, but I did not yet know that. I thought I was fighting for a slightly worse position, thinking that I would be down an exchange. On ChessTempo, it is possible to train with tactics exercises labelled "counting pieces". That's where my assessment failed during this game.

Black to move

15...Nc3 16.Nxb7!

The best move.

16...Nxb1 17.Rxb1+-

The best move.

17...Bxb7

White to move

18.Rxb7

18.Bxb7 is better 18...Rab8 19.Bd6 Rbd8 20.c5.

18...Reb8

18...Red8 is also losing, but keeps the game going longer.

19.c5!

The best move.

19...Rxb7 20.Bxb7

The only non-losing move, of course, but easy.

20...Rb8 21.c6 1–0

Black must give up the rook to stop the pawn from queening.

28 April 2017

The Final Lesson

My after school chess clubs meet from October through April. The end date varies from year to year, but corresponds with the Washington State Elementary Chess Championship. This year, the state championship is tomorrow in Tacoma. It has been in Spokane twice. I was the principle organizer in 2009 and the tournament director in 2015.

This week's lessons were kept light and fun. The children played chess. When one group seemed to want some instruction, I showed them an extremely complicated game more for entertainment than instruction. Another group opted to all play me in a simul. There were six players in the group. I played perhaps ten games against these six. One of the young players who will be at the tournament tomorrow was beating me until he hung a rook as we were running out of time.

Other activities have interfered with my planned study of this game this week, but I have been over it a few times.

Polugaevsky,Lev (2558) -- Nezhmetdinov,Rashid (2554) [A53]
RSFSR-ch 18th Sochi, 1958

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 d6 3.Nc3 e5 4.e4 exd4 5.Qxd4 Nc6 6.Qd2 g6 7.b3 Bg7 8.Bb2 0–0 9.Bd3 Ng4 10.Nge2 Qh4

White to move

It was worth pointing out to my beginning students the threat: 11.O-O Qxh2#. I pointed out that Rasgip Nezhmetdinov did not play 10...Qh4 in hopes that he would get a quick checkmate. Rather, his aim was to delay White's ability to castle while also bringing his queen to an aggressive square. Already in the game, it seems as if Black has the initiative.

Castling queenside drops the pawn on f2.

11.Ng3 Nge5 12.0–0 f5 13.f3 Bh6 14.Qd1 f4 15.Nge2 g5 16.Nd5 g4 17.g3 fxg3 18.hxg3 Qh3 19.f4 Be6

White to move

20.Bc2

20.fxe5 would be a mistake in view of 20...Bxd5. Then, 21.exd5 gives Black a forced checkmate in two.

20.Rf7 21.Kf2 Qh2+ 22.Ke3 Bxd5 23.cxd5

Black to move

23...Nb4! 

Black opts to leave his queen where White can win it.

24.Rh1 Rxf4 25.Rxh2 Rf3+ 26.Kd4 Bg7 27.a4 c5+

White to move

Most of the students in this group did not know how to play chess six months ago. Even though we have been over en passant several times, they struggled to find White's only legal move.

28.dxc6 bxc6 29.Bd3 Nexd3+ 30.Kc4 d5+ 31.exd5 cxd5+ 32.Kb5 Rb8+ 33.Ka5 Nc6+ 0–1


When the state chess tournament was in Spokane, the local PBS station produced this video. I showed it to the students who will be attending the state tournament for the first time. It's hard to imagine what it's like playing chess in a room with one thousand or more fellow competitors. This video helps reduce the shock that afflicts many newcomers on Saturday morning.


26 April 2017

One from Greco

The oldest English language book that presents games from Gioachino Greco (c.1600 - c. 1634) is Francis Beale, The Royall Art of Chesse-Play (London 1656). This book contains 154 games attributed to Greco, as well as examples of Fool's Mate and Scholar's mate. This number of 154 exceeds the 77 Greco games that one can find in databases and at sites such as chessgames.com because the variations were reduced to those Angelo Lewis considered the main games. Angelo Lewis (1839-1919) wrote under the pseudonym Professor Louis Hoffman. His The Games of Greco (London 1900) is the basis for those found in David Levy, and Kevin O'Connell, Oxford Encyclopedia of Chess Games, vol. 1, 1485-1866 (Oxford 1981), which in turn became the source when databases were created.

In between Beale and Hoffman, William Lewis (1787-1870) produced an edition of Greco's games, Gioachino Greco on the Games of Chess (London 1819), which was based on a French edition of Greco's games. In Lewis, Greco's games are 168 variations of 47 games.

In Beale's book, the games are called "Gambetts" and numbered with roman numerals. The first game in the book is also in Hoffman and the Oxford Encyclopedia, but the final move differs.


Gambett I (Greco) [C23]
Beale 1656

1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Bc5 3.Qe2 Qe7 4.f4 Bxg1 5.Rxg1 exf4 6.d4 Qh4+ 7.g3 fxg3 8.Rxg3 Nf6 9.Nc3 Nh5 10.Bxf7+ Kxf7 

White to move

11.Bg5 Nxg3 12.Qf3+ Kg6 13.Bxh4 Nh5 14.Qf5+ Kh6 15.Bg5#

15.Qg5# is given in ChessBase per Hoffman; Levy, and O'Connell; and Lewis.

1–0

This game is in Lewis 1819, 70; Hoffman 1900, 110; Levy, and O'Connell 1981, 4; and Beal 1656, 18-19.

My eBook, Essential Tactics: Building a Foundation for Chess Skill (2017), contains a composed position that I derived from the diagram position above.

White to move

My method in creating that book was to take positions from actual games and typical structures that might occur in games, and then strip away the extraneous pieces. I made such modifications necessary that in most cases there is one clearly best move, and often only one winning move (or drawing move in certain cases).


25 April 2017

How Easy?

I created this exercise four years ago for my students. It is one of what I call "one-move worksheets". I create a single page of four to nine exercises that I am able to photocopy for my chess students. I have made some of these worksheets available to other coaches.* Some have been collected and gathered into two books that I self-published through Amazon. Essential Tactics consists of 150 exercises with ten pieces or fewer. Forcing Checkmate contains 160 exercises leading to checkmate.

This position is number 82 in Essential Tactics. Every time I look at it, I worry that White cannot win, but that it should be drawn. Some of my exercises do lead to draws, but not this one.

White to move

This morning, I played the position out against Stockfish and checkmated the silicon beast in 29 moves. I think that I might have won a couple of moves faster if I had calculated a little better. One imprecise move was immediately obvious to me after I made it in haste.


*Use the contact form to the right if you are a coach with interest in my teaching materials for your use.

21 April 2017

Tactics: Basic and Advanced

Lesson of the Week

Bobby Fischer has been my theme this week. Most of my students have seen various positions derived from his brilliant win against Donald Byrne at the Rosenwald Trophy Tournament in New York, 1956. The whole game is posted at "Byrne -- Fischer, New York 1956". The students in my advanced club did not have difficulty finding the smother checkmate that might have occurred, but struggled to work out the game's finish without moving the pieces.

Black to move
After 18.Bxe6 (not played)
 Black to move
After 36.Kf1
Fischer found a checkmate in six, but there was one in five. Either would be acceptable if my young students could describe the sequence in chess notation without moving the pieces.

Students in my clubs were also presented with the worksheets Essential Tactics 7-10. There was no expectation that they would complete all four, but only the suggestion that they spend fifteen minutes solving exercises before playing chess.

These exercises are extracted from my eBook, Essential Tactics: Building a Foundation for Chess Skill (2017). Originally created four years ago as the worksheets Beginning Tactics 1-18, I have revised them as Essential Tactics 1-25. The same 150 exercises are on the worksheet sets and in the book. However, the first set of worksheets used chess pieces in some of the diagrams that the students found confusing. I switched all to the pieces ChessBase calls Fritz (used in the diagrams in the post). The number of worksheets increased in the revised set because each sheet contains six exercises. In the original series, worksheets 5-18 had nine exercises each.

To my surprise, my top second grader struggled with this exercise.

White to move

A few of the exercises on Essential Tactics 10 get to the core of finding two move combinations.

White to move

White to move

20 April 2017

Creating the 300

In GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Knowledge (2000), Rashid Ziyatdinov offers his version of the legendary 300 positions that a player must know to become a strong chess player. I have written about this book on several prior occasions, especially "Hitting the Books" (March 2015); "The Training Standard" (January 2015); "To Know a Position" (December 2014); "Morphy's Fingerprints" (December 2014); "Fingerprints" (April 2010); and my initial review of the book, "GM-RAM: Essential Knowledge" (February 2010).

Ziyatdinov leaves 47 of the 300 to the reader. I am tentatively and slowly adding critical positions from my study in search of 47 that matter to me. I have so far added:

Alekhine -- Levenfish 1912

White to move
After 14...Qxb2
Carlsen -- Tomashevsky 2016

White to move
After 12...Ng6
Byrne -- Fischer 1956

Black to move
After 11.Bg5

19 April 2017

Byrne -- Fischer, New York 1956

"Game of the Century"
It was quite an experience to watch [Bobby Fischer] during the critical stage of the game. There he sat like a little Buddha, showing his moves with the calm regularity of an automaton.
Hans Kmoch, "Game of the Century," Chess Review (December 1956)
Hans Kmoch, as manager for the Manhattan Chess Club, directed tournaments there. The Third Lessing J. Rosenwald Trophy Tournament took place 7-24 October 1956 at the Manhattan Chess Club and the Marshall Chess Club. Fischer was invited because he had won the U.S. Junior Championship in July, the youngest player ever to do so. The Rosenwald tournament was the first time that he played against the top masters in the United States. His round 8 win against Donald Byrne won the tournament's brilliancy prize and was dubbed the "game of the century" by Kmoch.*

Kmoch wrote that the game, "matches the finest on record in the history of chess prodigies" (Kmoch, Chess Review, rpt. in Bruce Pandolfini, The Best of Chess Life and Review, vol. 1, 1933-1960 [1988], 525).

This game has been annotated many times. For my annotations, I went through the game several times. At several critical positions, I wrote my anticipated variations without moving the pieces. After recording these lines, I checked mine against Garry Kasparov, My Great Predecessors, part IV Fischer (2004). I then checked some of my lines with Stockfish 7.

This game strikes me as a good one for honing a player's calculation skills. It is among my candidates for "best game ever played."


Byrne,Donald -- Fischer,Robert James [D97]
New York Rosenwald New York, 1956

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.d4 0–0 5.Bf4 d5 6.Qb3 dxc4 7.Qxc4 c6 8.e4 Nbd7 9.Rd1 Nb6 10.Qc5?! 

10.Qb3 seems better.

10...Bg4 11.Bg5?

11.Be2 seems necessary.

11...Na4!

This move stunned me when I was playing through the game on a chess board last week. On the one hand, it is a simple deflection combined with a threat to remove the guard of the e4 pawn. On the other hand, Black cannot win a pawn, but rather offers an exchange sacrifice. Fischer had to calculate several lines. In all of these, the vulnerability of White's king proved decisive.

White to move

This position was on my board at the dining room table for most of the weekend. I returned to it several times to study and record possible variations.

12.Qa3

Alternatives begin with 12.Nxa4 Nxe4 and then:

a) 13.Bxe7 was the first line I recorded in my notes. 13...Re8 is the computer's second choice (The engine prefers 13...Qc7 14.Bd6 Nxd6) 14.Bxd8 Nxc5+ (Kmoch has this line, but revereses the order of the previous two moves) 15.Be2 Nxa4 16.Bh4 Nxb2 and Black is clearly better.

b) 13.Qxe7 was my second line. 13...Qxe7

My analysis falls short here. The engine prefers 13...Qa5+ 14.b4 Qxa4 15.Qxe4 Rfe8 16.Be7 Bxf3 17.gxf3 Bf8 Garry Kasparov credits Sergei Shipov with this line. Clearly Black is winning.

Continuing my line: 14.Bxe7 Rfe8 15.Be2 (The engine prefers 15.Bd3 ) 15...Rxe7 16.0–0 (The engine prefers 16.h3 ) 16...b5 17.Nc3 Nxc3 18.bxc3 Rxe2 Black is ahead a piece.

c) 13.Qc1 Qa5+ 14.Nc3 Bxf3 15.gxf3 Nxg5 is offered by Kasparov. I did not look at this line.

d) 13.Qb4 Nxg5 14.Nxg5 Bxd1 15.Kxd1 Bxd4–+ Kasparov. Another line that I failed to examine.

My third line continued:

e) 13.Qa3 Nxg5 14.Be2 Nxf3+ (Stockfish prefers 14...Bxf3 15.Bxf3 Qa5+ 16.Nc3 Qxa3 17.bxa3 Nxf3+ 18.gxf3) 15.Bxf3 Bxf3 16.Qxf3 and Black is winning.

12...Nxc3 13.bxc3 Nxe4 14.Bxe7 Qb6

White to move

15.Bc4

What if White accepts the exchange sacrifice?

15.Bxf8 Bxf8 16.Qc1

I also considered 16.Qb3 Qxb3 (Kasparov gives 16...Nxc3, attributing the suggestion to Yuri Averbakh) 17.axb3 Nxc3 18.Rd2 Re8+ 19.Be2 Bb4-+

16...Re8 17.Be2 Nxc3

Analysis diagram after 17...Nxc3
I spent a lot of time trying to find a defense for White here. Instead, I found only lines leading to checkmate or to an overwhelming material advantage for Black.

18.Rd2

(Stockfish prefers 18.Qxc3 Bb4 and there was no doubt in my mind that Black was winning here)

18...Rxe2+ 19.Rxe2 Nxe2 20.Kxe2 Qb5+ 21.Ke1

(21.Kd1 seems best 21...Qd3+ 22.Qd2 Bxf3+ 23.gxf3 Qxf3+ 24.Kc2 Qxh1-+)

21...Bb4+ 22.Kd1

(22.Qd2 Bxd2+ 23.Kxd2 [23.Nxd2 Qe2#])

22...Qd3+ 23.Qd2 Qxd2#

15...Nxc3 16.Bc5

I considered 16.Qxc3 Rfe8 17.0–0 is Stockfish's choice, as it was mine (I did not look at Kasparov's line 17.Bxf7+ Kxf7 18.Ng5+ Kxe7 19.0–0 Bxd1 20.Rxd1) 17...Rxe7 and Black has a clear edge.

16...Rfe8+ 17.Kf1 Be6!!

White to move

18.Bxb6

After the possible 18.Bxe6, I spent a lot of time looking at complex and unclear lines before I saw Fischer's plan: 18...Qb5+ 19.Bc4 Qxc4+ 20.Kg1 Ne2+ 21.Kf1 Ng3+ 22.Kg1 Qf1+ 23.Rxf1 Ne2#.

I also saw 18.Qxc3 Qxc5 19.dxc5 Bxc3 20.Bxe6 Rxe6.

After Fischer's queen sacrifice, the moves seemed rather forcing and I did not look at variations again for many moves.

18...Bxc4+ 19.Kg1 Ne2+ 20.Kf1 Nxd4+ 21.Kg1

I did not examine 21.Rd3 axb6.

21...Ne2+ 22.Kf1 Nc3+ 23.Kg1 axb6 24.Qb4 Ra4 25.Qxb6 Nxd1

White to move

26.h3

I did not examine 26.Qxb7 Bd5 27.Qd7 Re2.

26...Rxa2 27.Kh2 Nxf2 28.Re1 Rxe1 29.Qd8+ Bf8 30.Nxe1 Bd5 31.Nf3 Ne4

Here it seems to me that White is running out of moves. He has not been in the game since capturing Fischer's queen. In fact, he was lost before that. His role is to make the moves that permit the young Fischer to demonstrate his skill.

32.Qb8 b5

Kasparov mentions 32...Kg7.

33.h4 h5 34.Ne5 Kg7 35.Kg1 Bc5+

White to move

36.Kf1

I knew that 36.Kh2 would lose quickly, but my Ra1 is inferior to 36...Nd2!

I saw 37.Qc7 (37.Nf3 Bd6+) 37...Bg1+ 38.Kh1 Nf2#.

36...Ng3+

36...Bc4+? 37.Nxc4.

I found another checkmate as fast as Fischer's: 36...Rf2+ 37.Ke1

37.Kg1 loses faster 37...Rf4+ 38.Kh2 Rxh4#.

37...Bb4+ 38.Kd1 Bb3+ 39.Kc1 Rc2+ 40.Kd1 (40.Kb1 Nc3+ 41.Ka1 Ra2#) 40...Nf2#.

37.Ke1 Bb4+

Kasparov points out a faster checkmate: 37...Re2+ 38.Kd1 Bb3+ 39.Kc1 Ba3+ 40.Kb1 Re1#.

38.Kd1 Bb3+ 39.Kc1 Ne2+ 40.Kb1 Nc3+ 41.Kc1 Rc2# 0–1

After this game, the world noticed Bobby Fischer. Within a few years, he became a leading candidate for a future World Championship match. When he finally reached the summit, he gave up on chess. Of course, there were reasons. He set conditions that were not met wholly.


*For some of the historical details concerning this tournament, I am indebted to John Donaldson, and Eric Tangborn, Bobby Fischer: The Early Years: 1943-1962 (Amazon Digital Services, 2017).