29 March 2019

A Capablanca Error

The book that I recommend more than any other is Chess Fundamentals by Jose Capablanca (1921).

Capablanca's book offers well-chosen examples with clear prose explanations. The structure of his work has influenced how I teach children. He starts with simple checkmates. The second section of chapter one presents pawn promotion and the idea of the opposition. Then, he offers slightly more involved pawn endings where the stronger side has two pawns to the weaker's one. He follows these basic checkmates and endings with middle game positions, then a discussion of the value of the pieces, then general opening principles.

Following chapter one, Capablanca repeats the sequence with more advanced lessons. Chapter two concerns endgames. Chapter three deals with planning in the middle game. Four develops middle game concepts that also have application to the opening and concludes with a model game. Five returns the endgame. The final chapter develops openings and middle games further. The book concludes with illustrative games drawn from his own play.

Capablanca's structure inspired my own rotation that I use teaching young players, whether through individual lessons or part of a club. I develop this structure in my ultimate camp workbook: Five Days to Better Chess (2017), available from Amazon. The five stage repeating process moves from checkmates and endings to middle games, openings, miniatures, and finally great games.

I have an old hardback edition of Chess Fundamentals published in 1934 that is in pretty good condition. I could protect it, but I use it. I also use a version that came free with one of those chess reader apps for the iPhone and iPad. I also have a database of all the positions from the book that someone put up on the web a couple of decades ago.

Yesterday morning, I was glancing through the database and decided to play Example 8 against the engine for practice.

White to move

After playing the position all the way to checkmate with Capablanca's method, I checked my solution with an engine. The computer found a faster checkmate.

Capablanca's solution begins with 1.Ke4. He claims that White cannot win with 1.f5 in view of 1...g6 and that the student should work this out.

The engine favors 1.f5 as the optimal solution.

All the years that I have been reading Capablanca's book, and I did not work out why 1.f5 fails. Once the computer informed that it was the winning line, however, I tried it against the engine and won easily. But, the engine did not attempt Capablanca's refutation, as that loses even faster.

As it turns out, the reasons 1...g6 does not refute 1.f5 are pretty easy to work out.

1.f5 g6 2.fxg6 Ke6 3.g5!

Perhaps this was the move overlooked by Capablanca. I'm not certain.

Black to move

3...Ke7 4.Ke5 Ke8 5.Ke6 Kf8 6.Kf6 Kg8

White to move

It is hard to believe that Capablanca would have believed this position to be a draw.

7.g7 Kh7

Maybe he saw this position in his head and not on a board, recognizing that 8.Kf7 would be stalemate.

8.g8Q+! Kxg8 9.Kg6

Black to move

This position is always a win no matter who has the move. It is also identical in important particulars to a position reached after the eighth move of Capablanca's sixth example (the pieces are on the e-file).

This error will not deter me from continuing to recommend Chess Fundamentals. Although not without small errors, it offers some of the best instruction available for those who have started to play chess are in need of fundamental principles of strategy and tactics.

28 March 2019

Chess as Sport

A professional chess player often spends up to seven hours of focused concentration on one game during a tournament, and then devotes several more hours towards preparation for the next day’s game. An amateur often plays three games on a Saturday, each game lasting as long as four hours. Such play can be physically exhausting, even though most of this time is spent sitting in a chair. Do the physical demands of chess competition make the game a sport?

27 March 2019

Foresee the Threats

Black to move

What are the merits of 8...Qxd4?

The position comes from Luer -- Rattman, correspondence 1922 and published in Irving Chernev, The 1000 Best Short Games of Chess (1955).

26 March 2019

Learn from Greco

Greco,Gioachino -- Greco's Pupil [C36]
Model Game, 1620

1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5

This game is the oldest one in the ChessBase database with this move. Of course, there are very few games before Greco's, so that is no surprise. Nonetheless, there are two games in said database with White's second move, showing that the King's Gambit is indeed a very old opening. The next two with 2...d5 were played in 1837 by Baron Tassilo Heydebrand von der Lasa, once as White and once as Black. Those two games deviate from this one on White's fifth move.

3.exd5 Qxd5

The first important lesson that a novice chess player might gain from study of this Greco game is the danger of bringing the queen out too early. White gains time kicking the queen around. In ChessBase's PowerBook, which cuts out old games and games between weak players, there is only one instance of 3...Qxd5. White won in 17 moves. See comments at move 5.


Angelo Lewis (Professor Hoffman) classes this Greco game as King's Gambit declined, offering 3...e4 as an improvement, which he calls the Falkbeer Counter-Gambit. The Oxford Companion to Chess gives 2...d5 as the Falkbeer, and 3...e4 4. Bb5+ as the Nimzowitsch variation. There are other named variations proceeding after 3...e4. Falkbeer's loss to Anderssen in 1851 is the oldest in the database with this move. Howard Staunton also played the move in 1851, winning with Black.

3...exf4 is more popular among masters today.

4.Nc3 Qe6

Black threatens a discovered check that wins a pawn.


Greco is willing to sacrifice the pawn for rapid mobilization. Who said that Paul Morphy was the first chess player to understand this idea?

5.fxe5 was played both by and against the Baron 5...Qxe5+ 6.Be2 Bd6 and the Baron won with Black in 52 moves (6...Bg4 and the Baron won with White in eighteen moves.


White to move


Whose king is more vulnerable?

6.Be2 would allow White to castle.


The temptation to check the opponent whenever possible is the cause of a great many positional errors that are routine in the games of beginning players. Perhaps this tendency could serve as the definition of a beginner: no matter how long you have played chess, if you play a move that checks the opponent without also having a second purpose, then you are a beginner.

6...Nf6 threatens Ng4+ 7.Bb5+ (7.d4) 7...Bd7 8.Re1 Ng4+ 9.Kg1
6...Be7 might be best.


White blocks the check, attacks Black's pawn on f4, and drives the bishop back.


Black moves the bishop to safety and defends the attacked pawn.

White to move

This position is part of my standard tactics set for young players.


This check has a second purpose: now the rook can move to e1, pinning the queen.


Moving the king to get out of check is not required. Often, as in this instance, it is possible to block the check. Sometimes the checking piece can be captured.

8...Kf8 is presented as the move in this game in the ChessBase database. Francis Beale's collection of Greco games offers both Kd8 and Kf8 with the same concluding moves. Angelo Lewis also offers both.;

8...c6 9.Re1 Qxe1+ (9...Be5 10.Rxe5) 10.Qxe1+ Ne7 11.Bd3

9.Re1 Qf5

9...Qxe1+ 10.Qxe1 c6 11.Bd3

10.Re8# 1-0

This is the same checkmate pattern that we saw in Morphy's Opera Game.

24 March 2019

Last Game

The last game to finish in the youth chess tournament that I ran yesterday determined the winner of the K-5 section. It was a back and forth game with both players going for checkmate. I captured a photo of the position while a player was contemplating his predicament.

White to move

My student did not play the correct move.

21 March 2019

Wrong Answers

Once in a while I use the tactics training at Chess.com, as this morning. The first five were correct, then I failed this one.

White to move

The exercise has a rating of 2457. I saw the first move instantly, but missed the second.

I failed the next problem as well.

Black to move (Black on bottom)

I considered almost every legal knight move except the correct one. The exercise is rated 1858. My calculations sought to effect a checkmate that is there, and that I saw, but my efforts all fail because of a defensive resource that I overlooked.

The next two were correct, then two more were wrong.

Black to move (Black on bottom)

The first move was easy, but finding the second demonstrated the failure of my imagination. Exercise rating: 1996.

White to move

After the obvious first move, I missed a mate in eleven. Instead, I played a move that assured a draw. Exercise rating: 1731.

My current tactics rating is 2046.

03 March 2019

My Worst Game

I had a date Friday night. My son and I met a woman and her son at a pizza place, had dinner together, and then went ice skating. The next morning, I was not well focused and found myself on board one against the top rated player.

Rodriguez,Luis (2211) -- Stripes,James (1472) [B21]
Collyer Memorial Spokane (1), 21.02.1998

1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 d6

I was playing by rote, barely conscious of White's moves.

4...e6 is what I would play today.
4...Nc6 is also good.

5.Bc4 a6

Although not yet disastrous, it seems to me that this move accomplishes very little.



Black to move




7.Bxf7+ Kd7 (7...Kxf7 8.Ng5+ Ke8 9.Qxg4) 8.Ne5+ Kc8 9.Qxg4+ Kc7 10.Nd5# 1–0 Ferreira,V (2198)--Tokarchuk,Y Dos Hermanas 2004.

Black to move


I must have seen 7...Bxd1 8.Bxf7#
7...Be6 is Black's only chance.

8.Bxf7+ 1–0

There was no reason to play without my queen.

Rodriguez went on to win the tournament. I lost every game in the event and placed dead last. In 2012, I won every game that I played in this annual event, took a third round bye, and finished in second place.

02 March 2019

Library Chess

The term coffeehouse chess is often used by chess players for play based on simple traps that often work in casual chess. But most of the games I've played in coffee houses have been against a former student--I coached his high school team about a decade ago--who is now a little better than me. These transparent traps usually fail. Our games may be more casual than tournament games, but they call for strategies that should work in more serious games.

On the other hand, from time to time I am challenged to a game of chess by a complete stranger in one of my city's or county's libraries. I conduct most of my individual lessons in such places, so I am often sitting at a library table with a chess set in front of me while waiting for a student to arrive. Such was the case yesterday. Usually these games are quickly forgotten. However, yesterday, I was able to recall the full game and enter it into a database after arriving back home.

A stranger -- James Stripes [C24]
Library Chess Spokane, 01.03.2019

1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.Qf3

I find that most of those who walk by my table and decide that they would like a game are accustomed to getting something from simple, direct attacks on my king. In this case, though, with my knight already on f6, I'm not sure what the stranger has in mind.


I opt to harass the queen.


4.exd5 Bc5

4...e4 would have been consistent with my notion of kicking the queen around.




White to move



6...Ne4 7.Qxe5

7.Qf3 Nxf2 8.d4 Nxh1 9.dxc5 Qh4+ 10.g3 Qxc4

7...Re8 8.Qf4

Black to move


Throwing away the advantage. 8...Nxf2+

9.Ne2 Nxf2 10.Rf1 Ng4??

I usually give my opponents in the library an opportunity to stay in the game. This opportunity is not offered purposely, but rather through carelessness.

10...g5 11.Qg3 Ng4

11.d6 Bxd6

White to move


White seemed oblivious to the attack on his queen until the next move.

12.Qxf7+ Kh8 13.Qxe7 Bxe7=

12...Kh8 13.Qf3 Nxh2 14.Qh5 Bg3+ 15.Kd1 Bg4 16.Qb5?

16.Qxg4 Nxg4 17.Bxe8 Nf2+ 18.Rxf2 Bxf2

16...Bxe2+ 17.Qxe2 Qxe2+ 18.Kc2 Nxf1

White to move


White's position is hopeless, but it was possible to avoid imminent checkmate.

19.b3 Ne3+ 20.Kb2

19...Ne3+ 20.Kb3 Qc4+ 21.Ka3 Nc2# 0–1