10 November 2023

The Week's Lessons

My own failures often become lessons for my students. Tuesday morning I had a winning position in what should have been a drawn ending, misplayed it, and managed to win on the clock after my opponent recovered from his error. I had briefly studied rook and bishop vs. rook ten years ago after watching Levon Aronian and Fabiano Caruana play out a drawn ending for 37 moves in the Tata Steel tournament in Wijk aan Zee (see "Tata Steel Chess, Final Round" and "Rook and Bishop versus Rook").

I had this position from which I created a problem for my opponent.

White to move
70.Ke5 Rd2 71.Ra7+

Driving the king to the back rank is White's only chance to create a winning advantage.


Black finds the only square for the king.


Black to move

Black must play 72...Ke8

73.Kf6 Re3

White to move
Several of my students saw this position and were given a chance to win from the White side. I failed to find the winning plan and my students mostly played it the way I did with the same result. Then, I showed them how I and they could have played.


This move does not spoil the win, but nor is it the correct idea.

White wins quickly with 74.Rh7 Kg8 75.Rh1

Black to move
Analysis diagram
Black is in zugzwang.

a) 75...Rf3 76.Rd1 renews the mate threat and Black can delay longest by exchanging rook for bishop.
b) 75...Re2 allows Be6+ and exchanging rook for bishop is the only move to prevent immediate checkmate.


74...Kg8 is no better.

Now, White forces a return to a position with a second opportunity to play it correctly.


75.Ra7 is slower. 75.Rc7 is best, as it threatens checkmate.


Black plays the most stubborn defense.

White to move

Of course I knew, or should have known that driving the king off the back rank returns the game to a technical draw. I spent 13 seconds on this error.

76.Rd7+ was best, driving the king back towards mine. 76...Ke8 (76...Kc8 allows a discovery that picks up a rook) 77.Rc7 Kf8 and White can win with 78.Rh7 as above.

Lessons are tailored to the student's skill level.

Other advanced students were presented with a sequence of tactical positions to solve from classic games that every chess player should know. Working from a series of books that present 300 critical positions (Rashid Ziyatdinov, GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Knowledge [2000], and a trilogy by Thomas Engqvist, 300 Most Important Chess Positions [2018], 300 Most Important Tactical Chess Positions [2020], and 300 Most Important Chess Exercises [2022]), I am assembling study positions for my students. The link to a Lichess study is public.

Beginning students worked on checkmates in one and saw two short games: my worst OTB tournament loss and a recent online win with the same idea.

White to move
8.Bxf7+ deflects the king from defense of the queen (also see "Attraction").

03 November 2023

Attack the King

The importance of Irving Chernev, The 1000 Best Short Games of Chess (1955) to me personal development as a chess player was articulated in “My First Chess Book”. But, I read very little of the book when I had that library copy nearly fifty years ago. In the past few years, the book has served as a source for student lessons on many occasions. Finally, however, in September 2022, I resolved to play through every game in the book. Progress is slow, deliberate, attentive.

There are many fine games with creative attacking ideas, and there are many games where an unfortunate blunder led to immediate collapse. As I work through this book, many positions make it to Chess Skills’ Facebook page, and from there to other chess pages on Facebook.
This morning’s games included number 853, Taubenhaus — NN, Paris 1909, which concluded with an instructive forced checkmate in five moves.

White to move
Yesterday, I posted a mate in eight from Jambert — Tibi, Aleppo 1946. Game 848 in the book.

White to move
In both cases, Black’s defense was inadequate prior to the mating sequence. Tibi, in fact, had the advantage when White’s knight came to e7 with check. Moving the king was the fatal error.
Chernev’s book is worthy of study by chess players looking to improve their game, and it is good fun for those with no ambitions. It is a rich source of tactics and checkmate exercises for players at many levels.

25 October 2023

A Game of Skill

Chess is a game of skill. In contrast to games with cards or dice, chess players win because they demonstrated greater skill than their opponent. Random chance does not affect the game. Skill can be developed through practice. One of the first skills a young player needs is recognizing checkmate. Learn how to create it and how to avoid it.

White to move
White's king is attacked by the knight--it is in check. The rules require that White move out of check. As nothing can capture the knight, the king must move. There are three squares where the king may move.

In a game that I played this morning, my opponent chose the wrong move.  It let me force checkmate in two moves. Where did White move? What was Black's response?

This position was presented to my Tuesday afternoon chess club for students in grades K-2. After discussing the position, they were paired and played what may be the first round of a club tournament. As games ended, they were given worksheets with some checkmate in one exercises.

Some of the students found the first worksheet difficult and needed help, as some only just started learning chess at the beginning of this month. They worked in groups. Some students finished three worksheets with six problems each. These worksheets are part of 48 checkmates in one that I assembled from real games several years ago. They are available as a PDF. Use the contact form on the right if interested.

Additional Resources

Solving many checkmate exercises in one, two, and more moves is highly recommended. A beginner who solves hundreds of mates in one will improve quickly.
Chess King’s iOS app, “Mate in One”, is probably the single best resource for those using iPhones and iPads. I believe there are also Android versions. It contains 2434 exercises that are well-selected. The app tracks progress and offers chances to retry missed problems. I raced through all 2434 problems in January while testing resources for my students. 
Chess King also has a Mate in Two app, and several other apps with checkmate exercises. All of these offer a small selection with the free download. If you want the full set, it requires an in-app purchase. The most I’ve paid for the full version of one of their apps is $8.
Searching Lichess studies for “mate in one” turns up more than I will count. Because any member can create a study, these will vary in quantity. I created this one from some games played in youth tournaments: “Mate in One”. It has 50 exercises. These are completely free.

24 October 2023

“Incredible precision”

Although “coach” on chessdotcom states that we played with “incredible precision” in the endgame, I threw away a drawn position with only three seconds of thought when seven minutes were left on the clock. Using one second, my opponent returned the favor. After 48…g2, we reached a position substantially the same as that which I analyzed in “Knowledge” (December 2021).

My own 48.c4 gave my opponent an opportunity, also analyzed in that post two years ago. In this case, however, the presence of additional pawns on the board could render Black’s winning chances less clear. Nonetheless, my attention to the nuances of the position should have been rooted in knowledge. Until Black pushes the g-pawn one square further, I was better off shuffling my king between a2 and b3.

White to move
The reader is referred to the earlier post linked above for analysis of this ending. 

18 October 2023


Decoys and deflections differ but share the idea of drawing an opponent’s piece where it would rather not go. Sometimes neither term fully articulates the manner in which the enemy king is drawn into a fatal trap. Two games I looked at this morning from Irving Chernev, The 1000 Best Short Games of Chess (1955) are worth remembering. Black’s king is drawn towards White’s forces until surrounded with no possibility of escape.

Since September 2022, I have been slowly working my way through this book. Some days, two or three games add flavor to my morning coffee. Other days, I read The Wall Street Journal.

About Mackenzie — Mason, Paris 1878, Chernev writes, “this queen sacrifice and the subsequent play of the minor pieces is now standard equipment for the master” (444).

White to move

Three moves prior to this position, White played 14.Raf1. I had thought until that moment that controlling the e-file with a rook was part of the planned mating net.

Prior to this game was Imbaud — Strumilo, a 1922 correspondence game. How much of White’s idea can you work out from this position?

White to move

02 October 2023

Slipping Away

The round four battle with Nikolay Bulakh was my most interesting game in the 2023 Eastern Washington Open. He surprised me with 1.c4! and we both made unusual moves that had us out of book by move five. After Nikolay chose to keep his king in the middle, my confidence in the strength of my position soared. After a sequence of parried threats that had us repeating a couple of positions, Nikolay offered a draw.

Black to move
My response to the draw offer was to push a pawn.


My silicon friend suggests that 27...Ne7, threatening f6-f5, offered prospects of an advantage. I doubt either of us would have found the engine's line: 28.h3 Bxh3 29.Bxh7+ Kf8 30.Rf2 with a slight advantage for Black.


28.Bxd5 was possible 28...Bxd5 and several lines that White can choose keep the balance.


I continue with the idea  I was pursuing before the draw offer, now with the a-pawn on a5 instead of a7.

I recall glancing at 28...a4, which deserved deeper calculation.

29.Kd2 Rd8 30.Nf4 f5

White to move
31.Bf3 Bh6

By attacking both knights, I threaten to win the d-pawn, but White's defensive resources are sufficient.

32.Be2 Rdb8 

I keep shifting targets, but cannot generate any tactics that Nikolay does not parry.


"A strong move", Nikolay said during our postgame analysis during lunch. I concurred.

33...Nc6 34.Nd6

Black to move

I had been trying to win this pawn since I opted to defer taking it with my bishop on move 15. After the game, I decided that this move was the critical mistake, suggesting to Nikolay that I should have played 34...Rfb6. Stockfish agrees my suggestion is better, but not decisively so. "Am I in trouble here," Nikolay asked. Our lunch break was coming to an end as round five would be starting in about ten minutes. We analyzed a couple of lines quickly.

35.Rxc5 Bf8 is better for Black. However, 35.Nxe6 fxe6 36.Nc4 maintains equality. I don't recall whether we looked at this line.

35.Rxb3 Rxb3 36.Rxc5

Black to move

It would have been wise to play 36...Rb2+ 37.Kc3 Rb3+ when White has nothing better than letting Black repeat the position. Blocking the check on the second rank with the rook keeps Black's outside passed pawn and a knight vs. bishop ending that should be drawn. We would have played it out, of course.


Now, White has an advantage. Any chances that I thought I had slipped away. I played another 14 moves as my position grew worse and worse. Then, I resigned and we went to lunch with 50 minutes before round five would begin.

In the last round, Nikolay drew the tournament's top seed on board two, finishing in a tie for second place. I won my round five game quickly (see "Checkmate Exercises"), then enjoyed watching the battles on boards two and three.

01 October 2023

Checkmate Exercises

After losing a tense and interesting struggle in round four, my fifth round opponent in the Eastern Washington Open perceived an attack where none existed and lost a piece. Soon, my pieces were aiming at his king.

White to move

I knew this move led to checkmate in a few moves.


From here I calculated the moves all the way to checkmate, but my calculation was incorrect.

18...Qxf6 offers the most stubborn defense. 19.exf6 e5

White to move
Analysis diagram
What sequence forces checkmate in six?

19.Qf4 Kh8 20.Qh6 Rg8

White to move


This inaccuracy allows Black to hold out a couple of moves longer. What was the correct move?


Now I have a mate in three.

White to move
What was my next move? It provoked resignation.

Had Black played 21...Qxf6, the move that exploits my inaccuracy, what would be my quickest mating sequence?

White to move
Analysis diagram

29 September 2023

Stafford Complications

I blame Eric Rosen for my interest in playing the Stafford Gambit. His Lichess study and accompanying YouTube video gave me a ready-made tactics and opening lesson for my students in an online group class in winter 2022. It has been an occasional weapon ever since. most notably giving me three quick wins in a nine-round OTB blitz tournament in May 2022. This morning my opponent played a move that I last faced almost a year ago. That game was a learning experience.

Internet Opponent -- Stripes,J.
Chessdotcom 29.9.2023

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 Nc6 4.Nxc6 dxc6 5.d3 Bc5

White to move
From this position 6.Be2 is most common and best. I have no less than 6 identical wins after 6.Bg5?? This error is met with 6...Nxe5 when the bishop must retreat to e3. Taking the queen gives Black a mate in two.


Three prior games in my personal database have this move, all in 2022. 


Previously, I played 6...b5?, managing two wins and a loss. White is objectively better after this foolishness.


7.Qe2 is better.
7.dxe4?? loses the queen. That's what I learned after my game in October 2022.

7...Bd6 8.Bd3 Qe7 9.O-O O-O 10.Re1?

10.Nd2 is best.

Black to move
The fun begins now.


Played without hesitation. Next time, I'll try 10...Qh4 with some of the same ideas as in the game plus a wrinkle if White goes for 11.g3.


11.Kf1 is approximately equal.

11...Qh4+-+ 12.Kg1 Qxf2+ 13.Kh1

Black to move

Sometimes a combination that one has seen many times brings out routine play, oblivious to an additional resource.

13...Bg4! was the move I should have played.

14.Kg1 Nf2?=

There was still a chance to play 14...Qf2+ 15.Kh2 Qg3+ 19.Kg1 Bg4-+

15.Bxh7+! Kh8

15...Kxh7 16.Qc2++-

White to move

16.Qe2 is the only move to maintain equality.

16...Ng4-+ 17.Be4

I expected 17.Rd1, planning 17...Qh2+ 18.Kf1 Re8 with mate threats and a dominating position.


I missed some things. My opponent missed more.