25 October 2021

Youth Chess in Spokane

Some schools have returned to in-person after school chess clubs. Saint George's School, where I coach, is one of these. The large number of new players is overwhelming. After school chess clubs are filled with students eager to play, but who need instruction. 

Under ideal conditions, I would work with a small number of beginners and teach them the rudiments of the game with an emphasis on contacts (see "Lesson One"), as Momir Radovic advocates. In practice, however, when a large influx of students who have never played chess, or have recently learned the moves of the game, accommodating student needs and interests requires flexibility. Experience has taught me that students familiar with the game usually teach the others. It falls on me to teach some principles of tactics and strategy.

Our first meeting the first week of October, I took students through the geography of the chessboard, emphasizing ranks, files, diagonals, and the center. This first lesson concluded with an elementary checkmate demonstration based on one in José Raúl Capablanca, Chess Fundamentals (1921).

White to move

White wins quickest by first confining the Black king to the eighth rank. 

1.Ra7

Then White's king moves up, staying on the same file as Black's king until time to move to the sixth rank.

1...Kg8 2.Kg2 Kf8 3.Kf3 Ke8 4.Ke4 Kd8 5.Kd5 Kc8

White to move
6.Kd6 Kb8

If 6...Kd8, 7.Ra8# is checkmate.

7.Rc7 Ka8 8.Kc6 Kb8 9.Kb6 Ka8 10.Rc8#.

The second week featured another elementary checkmate.

White to move

From this position, checkmate can be forced in as few as fifteen moves. I did not display such efficiency while teaching this. Rather, I modeled thinking through the moves to 1) confine the king to a small area with the bishops controlling two parallel diagonals, 2) move White's king close, and 3) calculate the last few moves.

This morning, playing against Stockfish, I aimed for efficiency.

1.Bg5 Kf7 2.Bh3 Kg6 3.Bd8 Kf7 4.Ke2 Kg6 5.Kf3 Kf7 6.Kf4 Kg6 7.Be6 Kg7 8.Kg5 Kh7 9.Be7 Kg7 10.Bd6 Kh7 11.Bf8 Kh8 12.Kf6 Kh7 13.Kf7 Kh8 14.Bg7+ Kh7 15.Bf5# 1-0

Some miniatures (very short games) were shown illustrating quick checkmates because a player had weakened the short diagonal leading to the king. This unusual game, which appears as the first in Irving Chernev, The 1000 Best Short Games of Chess (1955), was followed by one from an online blitz game I had played.

Gibauld -- Lazard [A45]
Paris, 1924

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nd2 e5 3.dxe5 Ng4 4.h3 Ne3

White to move

White resigned as saving the queen with 5.fxe3, leads to 5...Qh4+ 6.g3 Qxg3#.

Internet Opponent -- Stripes,J [A45]
Live Chess Chess.com, 07.10.2021

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nd2 e5 3.dxe5 Ng4 4.Ngf3 d6 5.exd6 Bxd6 6.h3

Black to move
6...Ne3 7.fxe3 Bg3#

Guiding theme of the lessons are few pieces, emphasizing the power of one of them, or short games with few moves. Efforts are made to explain the rules, including how each piece moves, checkmate, and stalemate. One of the short games provoked questions about castling.

A problem composed by Gioachino Greco about 1620 was shown to highlight two themes--forcing moves and a bishop on the wrong color squares.

Black to move

Black forces a draw via 1...Ra1+ 2.Rf1 Rxf1+ 3.Kxf1 Bh3

White to move
White can capture the bishop, and have two h-pawns or let the Black play 4...Bxg2. In either case, Black's king will find refuge on h8, moving between this square and either g8 or h7, depending on White's efforts. The h-pawn will never promote and White cannot win. Some time was expended demonstrating efforts White can make and how many lead to stalemate.

During another session, an older composition was employed to highlight forcing moves and the power of pawns. This problem comes from a manuscript connected to Giulio Cesare Polerio, whose works influenced Greco.

White to move
1.Ng6+ hxg6 2.hxg6+ Nh6 3.Rxh6+ gxh6 4.g7+ Kh7 5.g6#

All of Black's moves were forced.

The next lesson will feature another instructive exercise from manuscripts that are part of what historians call the Polerio-complex.

White to move

Themes include a partial stalemate (king cannot move, but there is a legal move). en passant, pawn promotion, and a checkmate pattern.



24 October 2021

Greco Attack Before Greco

The first game with the Greco Attack in David Levy and Kevin O'Connell, Oxford Encyclopedia of Chess Games, Volume 1 1485-1866 (1981) is the first game therein credited to Gioachino Greco (1). Levy and O'Connell annotate this game according to variations presented in their source: Professor Hoffmann, Games of Greco (1900). Nearly the same game, but deviating with Black's move 18, appears in ChessBase Mega 2020 as games 47 and 99, the latter offering variations and a different date.

Eight of the seventeen games that precede the first of Greco's in the Oxford Encyclopedia feature the Italian Opening.

Greco,G - G-1 OECG [C54]
Europe, 1600

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6

4...Qe7 is credited to Lopez in OECG, and also played by Boi, Polerio (four games), Lorenzo (against Polerio), and an unnamed player against Busnardo.

5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Nc3 Nxe4 8.0-0 Nxc3 9.bxc3 Bxc3 10.Qb3

ChessBase Mega 2020 offers: "Greco invented free play with the pieces. Free pieces will win: free diagonals for the bishops, free files for the rooks!!" But, in fact, as will be shown below, all of these moves precede Greco.

Black to move
10...Bxa1

10...Bxd4 is Greco no. 2 in OECG; Also Game 2 in Hoffmann; third and fourth variations to game 1 in Lewis.

11.Bxf7+ Kf8 12.Bg5

Black to move
12...Ne7

12...Nxd4 13.Qa3+ Kxf7 14.Bxd8 Rxd8 15.Rxa1 Nc2 16.Qb3+ Kf8 17.Qxc2+- Game 1, var. B in Hoffmann. Also second variation in Lewis. Absent as a Greco game from ChessBase Mega 2020.

13.Ne5 Bxd4

13...d5 14.Qf3 Bf5 15.Be6 g6 16.Bh6+ Ke8 17.Bf7# Game 1, var. A in Hoffmann. Also first variation in Lewis. Absent as a Greco game from ChessBase Mega 2020.

14.Bg6 d5 15.Qf3+ Bf5 16.Bxf5 Bxe5 17.Be6+ Bf6 18.Bxf6

Black to move
18...gxf6

18...Ke8 19.Bxg7 Is given as the conclusion in two Greco games in ChessBase Mega (both identical but one analyzed).

19.Qxf6+ Ke8 20.Qf7#

This is Game 1 in Professor Hoffmann, ed. Games of Greco (1900). Also Game 1 in William Lewis, Gioachino Greco on the Game of Chess (1819). 

Peter J. Monté, The Classical Era of Modern Chess (McFarland 2014) lists eight Greco manuscripts containing this entire game, and another ending with 17.Be6+. He also notes that it appears as Gambett VI in Francis Beale's 1656 compilation of Greco's games (463). Monté does not mention the conclusion given in ChessBase Mega 2020.

Reading Monté last night and this morning, I returned to a book he mentioned and that I had downloaded from GoogleBooks several years ago: J.A. Leon, Forty-Six Games of Chess: by Giulio Cesare Polerio, rpt. from British Chess Magazine (1894). The BCM article appeared in August 1894 and was reprinted in Leeds by Whitehead & Miller. Following 24 King's Gambits, Leon offers the game that Monté notes, "presents the first Greco Attack" (224).

Polerio,Giulio Cesare [C54]
Rome, c. 1581

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Nc3 Nxe4 8.0-0 Nxc3 9.bxc3 Bxc3 10.Qb3 Bxa1 11.Bxf7+ Kf8 12.Bg5 Ne7

White to move
13.Re1

Leon's Polerio manuscript ends here with the note that White wins the queen and thus the game.

Monté lists two other lines from the Doazan manuscript, which has not been definitively dated, but precedes Greco.

Three alternatives to 13.Re1 appear in seventeenth century manuscripts.

1) 13.Rc1 Credited to Don Antonio in the Doazan MS (463). It is the only game attributed to Don Antonio, whom Monté believes was Don Antonio Mancino (270).

2. 13.Rxa1 Last move in Greco's Lorraine MS (1621)

13...h6 14.Bh5 d5 15.Bxe7+ Kxe7

White to move

16.Re1+ Kf6 17.Qe3 Qd6 18.Ne5 Bf5 19.Qf4 g5

White to move
20.Qf3 1-0

Contrary to the claim in the ChessBase database, Polerio should be the one credited with inventing "free play with the pieces". He likely originated the Greco Attack.


3. Greco improved Polerio's line with 13.Ne5.

Black to move
Greco's Innovation: 13.Ne5!

Polerio, as Greco, is poorly known by today's chess players (see "The Unknown Greco"). Much of what players learn from Greco was derived by him from the work of Polerio.

22 October 2021

The Unknown Greco

ChessBase Mega 2020 contains 82 games credited to Gioacchino Greco, most dated 1620 (which seems an arbitrary date). At the time of this writing, Chessgames.com has 90 games credited to the famous Calabrese. In "Gioachino Greco on the Game of Chess" (2013), I wrote about the abundance of Greco's variations that can be found in William Lewis's 1819 text of that name. The better known and more accessible (the notation is standard English descriptive) 1900 text by Angelo Lewis, writing under the penname Professor Hoffmann, also has variations that are absent from databases.

Peter J. Monté, The Classical Era of Modern Chess (McFarland 2014), which I described in "Monumental Scholarship" (2020), offers far more detail from Greco's manuscripts, and also permits the diligent reader to separate Greco's contributions from lines he learned from others. In Part I of the book, Monté describes manuscripts and history from Lucena to Greco, concluding with a discussion of the development of castling and the pawn's leap. Part II. Openings and Games of the Classical Era of Modern Chess is a thoroughly documented move tree (439-530). The so-called Greco Attack is documented across four pages (462-465).

The Greco Attack begins with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 (In some of Greco's manuscripts 2.Bc4 Bc5 is played, and the knights deployed on the following move) 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Nc3.

Black to move

Play continues:

7...Nxe4 8.O-O Nxc3

8...Bxc3 is the mainline today, and offers a very good reason not to play the Greco Attack.

9.bxc3 Bxb3

9...d5 or 9...Be7 have been recommended.

10.Qb3

A fine miniature that I learned from Leonard Barden and Wolfgang Heidenfeld, Modern Chess Miniatures (1960) continued with 10.Ba3. See Corte -- Bolbochán 1946 (2016).

10...Bxa1

Greco also has games that continue with 10...Bxd4.

11.Bxf7+ Kf8  12.Bg5

Black to move

In the ChessBase database, Greco's games all continue with 12...Ne7. Chessgames.com, however, has one game that continues with the line I present below.

12...Nxd4

This move was played against me in a rapid game on Chess.com on Sunday, and I had faced it at least four times prior.

13.Qa3

13.Qb4+? is a blunder that appears in the ChessBase database in ten games played 1996-2016.

13...Kxf7 14.Bxd8

Black to move

In 1619, Greco had access to a manuscript known today as Boncampagno -3, which contains the following variations (Monté, 277, 463). This manuscript is among those classified as the Polerio Complex. Monté dates it between 1594 and 1619. Authorship is uncertain.

A.
14...Rxd8 15.Ng5+ Kf6 (or Kg6) 16.Rxa1 Kxg5 17.Qe7+

B.
14...Nxf3 15.Qxf3+ Bf6 16.Bxc7

Black to move

Greco's original contribution to this line begins from this position and appears in two manuscripts from his sojourn in England, the Mountstephen manuscript (1623) and the Grenoble manuscript, which is undated, but believed to precede Mountstephen.

16...Re8 Qh5+ Kf8 18.Bd6+

Mountstephen ends here.

Black to move

18...Be7 19.Re1 h6 20.Rxe7 Rxe7 21.Qe5 and Qxe7 follows.

Not everything credited to Greco was his own work, and yet much of his work remains unknown to most chess enthusiasts.

15 October 2021

Poor Decisions

Fifteen years ago, more or less, I was analyzing a game with another member of the Spokane Chess Club. We were looking at his game, examining missed opportunities. His opponent stopped by to interrupt our discussion of what should have happened with the authoritative, "but that's not what happened", proceeding to show us anew the errors that we were striving to correct. Both players were rated about 1400. The one with whom I was analyzing subsequently climbed to the mid-1600s before falling back to a plateau near 1500. After a few more poor events he fell to his 1400 floor and then started climbing again just before COVID-19 shut down OTB play. The other player briefly peaked more than a decade ago over 1500, but is nearly always between 1370 and 1420. I remember the interruption because the actual result of a game is usually less interesting and less useful than what might have happened. I believe the interrupter holds himself back through his refusal to study the possibilities.

Last night I beat a difficult opponent and won a small cash prize for finishing second in the club championship. Notably, I was never worse through the course of a 58 move game. This was the conclusion reached when I entered the game on my iPad late last night with a weak engine running.

However, I was equal more than once after having had a clear advantage, and I once seriously considered a line that would have left me worse. This roller coaster of clear advantage followed by slight advantage and equality became clear as I analyzed the game more deeply this morning. Through the course of the game, I made a series of poor decisions. I did not correctly assess the positions that I saw an opportunity to create through tactical operations, opting instead for a seemingly safer course that, in fact, squandered the advantage.

White to move

My opponent could have played 15...d4, leading to this position. I then intended to play 16.Nxe7+ Qxe7 17.Bxd4. Much better for me would be 16.Nxd4.

Instead of 15...d4, my opponent played 15...Bb4.

White to move

I overlooked 16.Nxd5! Nxd5 17.Qxd5 Qxd5 18.Bxd5 with a substantial advantage for White.

Instead, I played 16.Bd4.

After a few moves.

White to move

I spent six minutes contemplating 21.Bxe4 dxe4 22.Ne6! (or Nc6? when the queen has options and my knight will almost certainly retreat to b4) 22...Bxe6 23.Rxd8 Raxd8 24.Qc2.

Black to move
Analysis Diagram

This position should be winning for White, although play clearly may be difficult. I mistakenly believed that 22.Nc6 was the better line and spent more time trying to find some clarity there, ultimately rejecting 21.Bxe4.

A few moves later:

White to move

I played 24.a3, and after 24...Qb6 25.Qe3 Rfe8 26.Rd3, my opponent could have equalized with 26...Rac8. I considered all too briefly--using only a minute off the clock--24.Bxe4 dxe4 25.Nxe6 fxe6 when White has the upper hand.

After 26...Nf6, instead of the equalizing opportunity, I made another hasty decision.

White to move

27.Rb3

I considered the better 27.Nxe6, which forces queens off the board, and then I can play Rc7.

After 27...Qa7, I played 28.Nxe6 (three minutes thought), but 28.Rc7 would have been better.

The queens came off and my game was starting to look as though it was headed towards a comfortable endgame for me.

White to move

31.Kf1 and I have a clear edge, but even here, 31.Rc7 is better.

My opponent struggled to get some counterplay, eventually leading to a rook ending where I had more pawns and more active rooks.


14 October 2021

Lasker's Originality

I am watching chess videos that are part of the Fritz Trainer DVD, Master Class, vol. 5: Emanuel Lasker (2015). Mihail Marin makes the argument that Emanuel Lasker was an original strategic player who sought to bring new ideas into familiar openings. In the fourth game of his World Championship match with Siegbert Tarrasch, Lasker brought his rook to the fifth rank, then transferred in to the fourth, where tactical complications ensued. Tarrasch made a few small errors, leading to this position.

Black to move

How should Black deal with the fork?

06 October 2021

Elementary

This position was presented by William Lewis in Elements of Chess (1819) for teaching chess to beginners. I have shown it to hundreds of young students, including those in their first few days with the game and others who think they have advanced beyond the beginner's stage.

White to move

Nearly all young students play the queen forward one square and work to drive Black's king towards the eighth rank. Lewis suggests that White should seek to checkmate on the side of the board that Black's king is nearest, stating that Qe2+ or Qb3+ (both have been suggested by many students when I have shown this position) "would have played ill" because it forces the king towards the center, "as far removed from the side of the board as he was at the beginning" (30).

Something that should be second nature does not even enter the imagination of many players who think they know elementary checkmates.

This position is Lewis's "fifth situation". His second is instructive, too.

White to move

The tendency of beginners and many others who think they have advanced beyond that stage is to move the king. Mate is thereby delivered on the fifth move. He points out that checkmate in four moves is "more masterly and shorter" (28). Drive the king towards your own.

26 September 2021

Patterns

This position appeared in a book, The Art of the Checkmate (2015) by Georges Renaud and Victor Kahn. It appears as well in older versions of the text, but this one is in algebraic.

White to move

From Pillsbury -- Wolf, Monte Carlo 1903.

"Here Pillsbury missed the bus."

Renaud and Kahn point out that Pillsbury played a move that was winning, but he had two other moves that win much faster. The faster win was pointed out after the game by an amateur, James C. Boyce.

18 September 2021

The Art of Defense

This position is analyzed in Modern Chess Miniatures (1960) by Leonard Barden and Wolfgang Heidenfeld. It is from Corte -- Jac. Bolbochan, Mar del Plata 1946.

Black to move

The second position and analysis can be found in Colin Crouch, Chess Secrets: Great Attackers (2009). The position is from analysis of Kasparov -- Sokolov, Vilnius 1975.

Black to move

What would you play?