28 February 2023

Problem of the Week

In September 2011, I began posting my "lesson of the week" on Chess Skills. I had been coaching youth players for a little more than a decade. Every week for the next few years, at least part of the material placed before my students appeared with the label "Problem of the Week". The practice resumed with less regularity in the past two years.

My hope is that some of my students and their parents take advantage of the opportunity to review what students are learning in after school chess clubs or in individual lessons both in-person and online. Of course, many lessons are tailored to individual students and these do not appear here. The "Problem of the Week" represents a core that is used with many or even most students and then adapted as needed.

During the past two weeks, most of my students saw positions from the last 300 exercises or so in Sergey Ivashchenko, The Manual of Chess Combinations (1997). I worked through the 1320 exercises in this book from 25 February 2022 through 23 February 2023. The first 700 or so took me less than a week at about 30 minutes per day. Then, the book was set aside for several months. I resumed in January and made a commitment to finish it.

The book is constructed in stages, each of which is more difficult than the preceding one. When I reached Stage 5 (exercises 1021-1320), I occasionally found some difficulty. There were even six or seven pages where I scored 50%. As I was finishing, I often worked through the problems and my thinking process as a lesson with my students. See "The Manual of Chess Combinations" for more about this book and its sequels.

My intention this afternoon was to start my students with a position from the 30th Collyer Memorial Chess Tournament that emphasizes assessment of danger when it appears there is an opportunity to win material. Alas, nearly eight inches of snow fell overnight and we have a snow day. Chess Club does not meet this week.

White to move
Can White win back the pawn that Black snagged 15 moves earlier?

25 February 2023


I'm playing in the 30th Collyer Memorial Chess Tournament this weekend. The event usually draws 60-70 players and is the largest and strongest event in my city. This year's is the last for this event and we have 110 players. The TD is using accelerated pairings, something new this year. I managed to win my first round game against a player whose rating is rising fast. It took me 80 moves and required understanding of Philidor and Lucena rook endgame positions. At one point in the game, however, I blundered and gave him a chance to win.

Black to move
What should he have played?

24 February 2023

Derived from Alekhine

Alexander Alekhine gave a cute checkmate idea that did not occur in his game with Arthur West, Portsmouth 1923.*

The hypothetical position makes a good puzzle, except that there are two ways to achieve checkmate in four moves. Sergey Ivashchenko improved the puzzle by removing a pawn and shifting Black's rook one square to the left. Alekhine's solution remains mate in four, but the alternate idea now takes five moves. Encountering Ivashchenko's puzzle in The Manual of Chess Combinations, vol. 2, no. 65 this morning, I chose the alternate idea, failing the puzzle (I gave myself half-credit).

White to move
The game reached this position after 27 moves.

White to move
28.Bxd5 was played.

28.Bd1 Nb4 leads to the position where White has two ways to force checkmate.

White to move
Analysis diagram


Black needed to address the threats to his king instead of capturing the bishop, but even then his game is lost.

29.Nf6+ and Black resigned.

What was the idea that Alekhine rejected?

*I do not know where Alekhine discussed this game. My source is a comment on the game by Sally Simpson on chessgames.com.

15 February 2023

Flawed Combination

Yesterday, I played what I thought was a nice forcing sequence and my opponent resigned. After showing it to some some students and posting the position on Chess Skill's Facebook page, I looked at chessdotcom's game analysis and was surprised. "Coach" was critical.

In the following position, Black blundered to give me a clear advantage.

Black to move

Black could have played 8...Bb4+ 9.Bd2 Nge7 with a clear advantage. After the blunder, I spent a little more than half a minute working out the combination that led to my opponent's resignation. But, we both missed a resource.


"Coach" opined: "Curious move. Maybe not exactly what the position demands -- but an interesting idea."


9...Kd8 was more stubborn, shows the flaw in my idea, but still leads to a winning advantage for White.

White to move
Analysis diagram after 9...Kd8
White now should proceed with normal development, such as Be3 or O-O. Black's king remains in the middle and White's pieces are far more mobile. But, the win of the rook through a knight fork does not occur.

Going back a move, White could have played 9.Qd6!

Black to move
Analysis diagram after 9.Qd6!
After the superior 9.Qd6, the engine favors 9...Rh7 when White wins the other rook with 10.Nc7+ Kd8 11.Qxf6 gxf6 12.Nxa8.

9...Qxd6 leads to the same position as occurred in the game.

After my 9.Qxf7, Black followed the line I had analyzed with 9...Qxf7.

White to move
10.Nd6+ Kd8 11.Nxf7+ 1-0

As he is losing the rook and cannot trap the knight, Black resigned.

13 February 2023

One Page

While solving endgames exercises that were not challenging to me, I was pleased that those on a single page in Sergey Ivashchenko, The Manual of Chess Combinations (1997)* offered modest challenge and each position applied an idea distinct from the ideas in the other exercises. I say they were not challenging, but one of them required most of the five minutes I expended working through the set. I copied the page (178) and presented it as a puzzle contest for participants in the Groundhog Gambit youth chess tournament the next day. One brother sister team turned in a sheet with all answers correct and won a chess endgame book.

My after school chess club may see these on Tuesday.

White to move

White to move

White to move
Composed by Jenö Bán 

White to move

White to move
Composed by Hans Fahrni

White to move
Composed by Hans Fahrni

12 February 2023

Two from Maki

Jim Maki, a FIDE Master, runs the analysis table at youth tournaments in my city while I run the pairings. He nearly always has a couple of puzzles to show me. He doesn't compose them, but is very good at finding puzzles that balance instruction, simplicity, and thinking outside the box.

Sometimes I can solve them, often I struggle. Yesterday, I solved the harder one quickly, but failed the easier one. Both are forced checkmate in two move. Maybe you'll do better than I did.

White to move

White to move

11 February 2023

The Manual of Chess Combinations

Relics of the Soviet School

Since February 2022, I have been working my way through volume 1 of The Manual of Chess Combinations, which is aimed at young beginners. Naturally, I am able to burn through a substantial number in a short session. Nonetheless, I have answered incorrectly on a small number (25-30 wrong through the first 720). Currently I’m at 1045. I do one page and then check my answers. Usually I get all six correct in only a few minutes. Sometimes a problem takes longer, and I fail a few. Last night I solved 1003-1032 over the course of half an hour. I failed one. This morning, I failed three of 12 in 1033-1044. One of my wrong answers leads to forced checkmate, but in more moves than the correct solution.

My principal interest is in the structure and sequencing of the exercises.

I acquired volume 2 of this series in 2015 (see "Manual of Chess Combinations"). In late February 2022, I added volumes 1 and 3 because IM John Donaldson had them for sale at a low price. Then I ordered volume 4 from an online book seller.

My copy of the first book was brought into print by a publishing venture connected to the corrupt then president of FIDE and of the Russian Republic of Kalmykia, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. A letter from Ilyumzhinov in the front of the book identifies The Manual of Chess Combinations (1997) by Sergey Ivashchenko as "the first book from the new publishing house named 'Kirsan-Chess'" (4). My copy of volume 2, also by Ivashchenko was published in 2002 by Russian Chess House. The currently available edition of volume 1 is broken into 1a and 1b.

Ivashchenko's  statement in the beginning offers a clue about his background: "This book concludes the author's 25-year-long work on the creation of a manual of chess tactics" (4). In volume 1, Ivashchenko states: "the set was tested during my 25-year practice of teaching beginners" (6).

Earlier editions of these books exist, according to the US Chess Federation store, claiming Ivashchenko's books were best sellers in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, selling more than 200,000 copies. I was having difficulty learning anything about the author so inquired in Chess Book Collectors on Facebook. Some links to articles in Russian were provided (thanks Andrew Waldie!), including the very useful "Sergei Danilovich Ivashchenko", which discusses some of the publishing history and sales. There were two earlier editions published in Russia. Also these articles make clear that Ivashchenko is Ukrainian and teaches (or taught) at the Nizhyn Children's and Youth Sports Chess School. His teaching is emphasized in "Nizhyn chess player Serhiy Danylovich Ivashchenko celebrates his anniversary."*

Volume 3 is the work of Alexander Mazja and was published in 2003. Sarhan Guliev. The Manual of Chess Endings (2021) is volume 4. I have seen volume 5 advertised on the back cover of volume 4, but have not found the books readily available in the United States yet. A volume 6 appears to exist as well. Are these newer editions of Soviet classics?

The Soviet Union dominated chess more than four decades in the last half of the twentieth century. Russia, as well as Ukraine, Armenia, and other former Soviet Republics continued predominance well into this century. It could be argued that Russian success in our day and Soviet success in the twentieth century has roots in Czarist Russia with the work of Alexander Petroff, Karl Jaenisch, Mikhail Tchigorin, and others. R.G. Wade, Soviet Chess (1968) begins with such predecessors, for instance.

The Curriculum

The quality of instruction evident in the series of books Chess School 1-4 is undeniable. Ivashchenko's sequencing is well-constructed, spanning two books with 2,508 exercises in 11 "stages of studies". The book claims these exercises will carry a beginner to a rating of 2000. Of course, other instruction must form the core, while the exercises offer practice. Such rating estimates give a good idea of the difficulty level of the exercises by the time one reaches stage 11, but offer no guarantee. Chess School 1 has stages one to five.

Checkmate in one move is the whole of the first stage and part of stage two. The first sixty exercises are arranged by the piece delivering the final check: rook (1-12), queen (13-30), bishop (31-42), knight 43-54), and pawn (55-60). Then 60 checkmates where the piece delivering mate is not specified. 

Early exercises teach basic patterns and in many cases are grouped, such as a swallow's tail checkmate in no. 19 and dovetail checkmates in nos. 20, 23, and 30.

Clear triangles indicate White to move. Black triangles indicate Black to move.

Stage two continues with thirty mate in one, then a series of tactical exercises for material gain organized by the identity of the target. First, a rook is gained (151-174), then a knight (175-186), bishop (187-198), and queen (199-240).

Some important endgame positions appear in stage four and again near the end of stage five (the last problems in the first volume). Through the first three stages and most of four, the reader is told whether playing for checkmate or trying to win a particular piece. There are also sets where one must find a draw. Near the the end of stage four and through all of stage five, the direction is “how to proceed”. The student must discern the possibilities, whether mating, forcing a winning advantage through pawn promotion, forcing a draw, or winning material.

A substantial number of the exercises in volume 1 and quite a few in volume 2 are familiar to me from seeing them in other books or in classic games. A small number are compositions, especially in the selection of endgames.

Any student—child or adult—who invests time working through these exercises will improve their game.

The print books are on the expensive side, roughly $40 each through Amazon, but you might luck into a bargain, as I did, buying previously owned copies. Chess King also offers software and app versions of the first two volumes. On my iPad and iPhone, the app was free with the early exercises. For $7.99 each, I was able to purchase the entire contents. They are sequenced differently in the app. For instance, you go through all of the rook checkmates (through several stages) before moving on to the bishop. These apps make the contents accessible and interactive. Tactics for Beginners is volume 1. Manual of Combinations is volume 2. The Mate in 1 shown is another Chess King product with nearly 2500 exercises. 

I recommend these books and apps. 

*Machine translations of these articles clearly were less than perfect, but they gave me enough to get some of the information I was seeking.

21 January 2023

The Strongest Move

After having written two articles on the subject last spring, I should have found the strongest move here, even though it was a blitz game.

White to move
I did find the best move here, however.

White to move
Had this next position appeared in the game, I likely would have missed the strongest response, playing instead another move that also wins, but in more moves.

White to move
It mystifies me that I again missed the best move here below because it had been my intent a move earlier. As a consequence, my advantage began to slip away.

White to move
But, my opponent missed the critical reply.

Black to move
This next move was easy to find.

White to move
If you wish to see the whole game with annotations, this link should get you there.