30 October 2011


Black to move
 How did Black create a lasting advantage in this correspondence game?

29 October 2011

Reading Annotations

Playing a novelty on move twenty in a line of the French Defense brought victory in the final game of a tournament, evened the score with my opponent, and gave me a share of first place. The event was a French Defense Thematic on Chess.com that began in July 2009 and finished a few days ago. The event began with 32 players paired in groups of four. Within each group, contestants played two games against each opponent with the top two in each group advancing to the next round. By the fifth round there were five players in two groups. There would have been three players in the final round, but the third player was banned for cheating. The banned player scored an impressive 28-0-0 record and was in clear first until the purge.

Chess.com and similar sites offer a form of correspondence chess sometimes called turn-based chess. Time controls are expressed in days per move, and there is a general understanding, rendered clear in the site's Terms of Service agreement, that players may use books and databases, but not chess engines or friends. Previous posts in Chess Skills addressing these rules were put forth in January 2009, January 2010, and March 2011.

The process leading to my victory in the final game of the event sheds light on some of the available resources for correspondence chess. In an ironic twist, a brief lapse in the research process--a failure of memory while making moves in a cafe during lunch--led to more laborious research and the win. Without this lapse on my part, the game may have ended in a draw.

Ziryab (2019) - albatros1 (2294)
French Defense Thematic Tournament, Chess.com, 25.09.2011

1.e4 e6

This is the starting position.

2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Bb4

My opponent opts for the MacCutcheon Variation. I have played this myself on several occasions. It can lead to a position that looks terribly awkward, but which is quite playable. I selected a line that has given me trouble when I have Black. So far in this game, I am playing wholly from knowledge of the opening gained through extensive play, use of ChessBase Training CDs, and study of a handful of excellent books on the French Defense, especially Lev Psakhis, French Defense: Steinitz, Classical and Other Systems (2004). I can look at these resources during this game, but up to this point have seen no reason to do so.

5.e5 h6 6.Bd2!

The line that gives me trouble, and that contributed to my near abandonment of the MacCutcheon variation. From the Black side, I much prefer 6.exf6 hxg5 7.fxg7 Rg8. Psakhis gives a lot of attention to lines following my move.

6...Bxc3 7.bxc3 Ne4 

 White to move

I might have taken a look at a database at this point. I do not remember for certain. My first impulse is towards the move that I played, but I may have taken a look at the Chess.com Game Explorer to confirm my memory of the main lines. Next to the move list in the Chess.com game view are several links: "analyze" opens a new window with a board on which it is possible to move the pieces around for both players; "explore" opens a new window with database information (see image below at move 18); "get PGN" offers several options for viewing the game score in PGN format, or saving it as a file to one's computer; and "flip board" lets a player see the board from the opponent's side.

I use the analysis board with some regularity, but first labor to work things out without it. Online correspondence chess, while interesting on its own, serves as training for OTB chess. By default, the Game Explorer opens to a collection of master games, but users may select a different collection, including previous games played by any player on the site, including the current opponent. I often will download the PGN file and then open it in ChessBase 11 where I can explore databases vastly more comprehensive than the Master Games collection in Chess.com's Game Explorer. Within ChessBase 11, I also can access the extensive annotated games from Knut Neven's two ChessBase training CDs on the French Defense. I refer myself to Neven's annotations in a marginal note that I penciled into my copy of Psakhis's book, as it happens, at the position reached with my move 11 in this game.

At some point late in the opening stage of this game, I saved the PGN file to my computer and began using the five million game collection in Big Database 2011 and the somewhat larger collection in ChessBase's Online Database, one click away from their proprietary software. I did not use Neven's CDs nor Psakhis's book in this game, although clearly I have used these resources in the past in other games following this opening system. I have been in this position in correspondence, blitz, and OTB games.

8.Qg4 g6 9.Bd3 Nxd2 10.Kxd2 c5 11.h4

Black to move

11.Nf3 is slightly more popular.

By this point in my game, I was spending some time going through top grandmaster games to get a general sense of the patterns of play. The ChessBase software identifies both moves as "hot," but my move as slightly more so. I opted for 11.h4 because it creates action on the kingside, while it is quite clear that Black plans some action on the queenside. In some lines, the knight goes to e2 instead of f3. Nf3 secures the e5 pawn, but Black often launches an attack against the base of White's central pawn chain. Ne2 protects c3. I thought it best to defer my deployment of the knight.

I frequently read chess forums where the subject of database use is discussed, most often by those with minimal experience or knowledge of correspondence chess. They often claim that database users are not using their own brain, but simply imitating others. I disagree. My practice, when I use them at all--I do not always,--varies a bit. Sometimes I use the Game Explorer of ChessBase to watch percentages and steer the game towards favorable lines. I suspect that some of my opponents have done this in a manner that employs extensive research into transpositions as a means to steer the game to a favorable percentage.

So far in this game, I am watching these percentages, but am traveling familiar trails. I am choosing my route on the basis of strategic principles rather than database percentages.

Had I looked at my own previous games, I would have known that an opponent in 2006 played 11.Nf3 against me in a game at Red Hot Pawn, another correspondence site where I played for several years. I lost that game. In this Chess.com event, I previously played 11.h4 in summer 2010 against the player later banned for cheating. I lost.

11...Nc6 12.Qf4 

I played 12.Nf3 in the game that I lost in 2010. I copied into the game score in my database several Grandmaster games that featured 12.Nf3: evidence that I spent some time considering that move.

12...cxd4 13.cxd4 Qa5+ 

White to move

The percentages look very good for Black here.


Had I been playing the percentages, I might have selected 14.Ke3. But, I was looking only at games played by the strongest players, many of which ended in a draw. I was content to draw against a stronger player, pick up a few rating points, and finish this tournament in second place. I wanted to be done with it, having found the two days per move rate a bit too frenetic. I prefer three days per move.


14...b6 scores better for Black.


We are down to four games in Big Database 2011, three of which are found in Chess.com's Game Explorer. The ChessBase online database contains fifteen games in this position with a 70% scoring percentage for White. Had I looked there, I might have developed some confidence of victory. Alas, I had seized on a different idea: I found a line in which White sacrificed a rook to force a draw by repetition.

15...Rf8 16.Ne2 b4 17.Rhc1 Rb8

White to move

At this point, there are two games in Big Database 2011. Game Explorer has one. Black won the game in Explorer: Edlund--Brynell 2003. The other game that I examined ended in a draw, Hermannson--Brynell 2002. My intention was to follow this game. Sometimes I make my moves in the morning, accessing Chess.com via my notebook computer. This computer has ChessBase 11 installed, and thus contains my notes on the game, including both of GM Stellan Brynell's games.


The Game Explorer view prior to my opponent's move 17
I played this move on my iPad at lunch in a cafe. Now, we are following Edlund--Brynell, rather than the line I had planned.

18...Ba6 19.cxb4 Nxb4

It was time to do some deeper research. I did not like Edlund's next move. I knew that he lost; I was making efforts to discover where he might have played differently. 20.Bxa6, played by Edlund, continues action on the side of the board where Black is strong. Meanwhile the White queen is out of play due to the decision earlier in the game to prevent Black from castling.

Hermannson's drawing tactics might have suggested a better move here: a sacrifice of material to expose the enemy king. He sacrificed a rook to create perpetual check and a draw by repetition. In this position, a sacrifice of White's bishop, trading it for two pawns, creates some action on the kingside. Instead of battling a rook, queen, and knight with two rooks and a knight, White creates action where he has a queen and knight against a rook. With the battle waging on both sides of the board, the question becomes who gets there first.

18.Ke3 turns out to have been prophylactic, slowing Black's attack.

Screenshot of Edlund's annotations: Informant 90/245
I might have worked out these ideas on my own, but after his loss to Brynell, Robin Edlund annotated the game for Chess Informant. He identified 20.Bxa6 as a dubious move and offered an improvement.

I played Edlund's improvement, and for the next couple of moves, the game followed his annotation. An inferior choice by my opponent on move 22 led to a rapid conclusion.

20.Bxg6! Qb6 21.Nf4 fxg6 22.Qxg6+ Ke7 23.Qg7+ Ke8 24.Ng6 1–0

Credit Chess Informant for this win.

28 October 2011

Social Chess iPad/iPhone App: Review

The Social Chess iPad/iPhone app is well-liked by its users, at least by those who take the time to give it a rating on the five-star scale and write a comment. Nearly every reviewer gives it five stars. The comments typically call it the best chess app, but Chess with Friends is the only other app mentioned in comparison. Cult of Mac offers a similar perspective.

Social Chess has a clean interface, implements an Elo rating system, and permits players to chat while playing. Finished games may be saved to an archive or emailed in PGN format. It is simple, ad free, and functional. It works on the iPad and iPhone. It is free.

On the other hand, there is no game clock. There is no way to choose colors when issuing a challenge: the challenger always gets white. A recent update claims to have changed the timing aspect. Now games expire after completion if they are not archived. If a player has not moved in three days, the other player may cancel the game. Perhaps it is possible to claim a win on time as well, but I have not reached that point yet in my efforts.

Comparisons to Chess with Friends intrigue me. I played one game on that app when a friend from Facebook and college--we studied math together--asked me to get the app so we could play a game. He had noticed my frequent posts about chess, including links to completed games at my two favorite turn-based chess sites: Chess World and Chess.com (joining through the links to the right will credit my account).

My only Chess with Friends game is still accessible when I open the app. Games finished last week, on the other hand, have disappeared from my list in the Social Chess app. When I first started playing with Social Chess, all my finished games remained visible, including several abandoned games. I'm glad to see the abandoned games disappear, but would have liked a chance to archive the others in order to save them. Removing completed games via the tardy implementation of time controls suggests that the developer of Social Chess may be largely unfamiliar with turn-based chess--the online version of correspondence.

Social Chess has more features than Chess with Friends. The developer of Social Chess continues to make changes in response to suggestions. If only these two chess apps existed, Social Chess would merits its praise.  Fortunately, there are better apps for playing online in a social environment.

Every game that I have played at Chess World, Chess.com, Red Hot Pawn, Game Knot, and many other sites is saved by the site. Among these, only Chess.com has an iPad app. The app is free, as is membership in the site. Perhaps the Chess.com app carries advertising. As a paying member, I don't see ads. But, in my experience Chess.com is the best social chess app for the iPad. Social Chess is not in the same league. PeeWee soccer is not the World Cup.

With the Chess.com app, I can play my turn-based games at a variety of time controls. Most of these are team matches or tournaments--social features wholly lacking in Social Chess. I can solve tactics problems. I can watch training videos. I can play blitz and bullet. I can post to the extensive chess forums, including a members only forum devoted to discussions of online cheating, cheat detection, and cheater bans. As Social Chess grows, its failure to prevent cheating will ruin it.

One of the pleasures of correspondence chess stems from the research aspect. Playing with Databases is an integral part of play at Chess.com. This aspect is not well-integrated in the Chess.com app. Apps for playing chess on the iPad do not replace play with a normal computer, but they can integrate with play that is carried on over multiple devices: Chess.com does this. Social Chess does not.

Update: 30 October 2011

After posting this review, I sent suggestions to the developer. We have exchanged a series of emails concerning his future plans for updates. At present, I regard Social Chess as overrated due to an astonishing number of five-star reviews by users who have low expectations for iPad/iPhone chess apps. Even so, I trust that there is a future for Social Chess as it improves. In the meantime, I am playing half a dozen games.

Update: 11 August 2013

My review, "Correspondence Chess on the iPhone," updates my experiences and views of SocialChess, as well as several comparable apps. I have employed both iPad and iPhone to play on SocialChess. After my opponent resigned this afternoon, I will be able to leave this app alone for another year. The "improvements" in this app over the past two years have made it vastly more expensive, but not substantially better. Other apps offer far more at less cost. My games will continue, and I will add more, on ChessWorld.net (sadly no iOS app), Chess.com (web and iOS), ChessByPost (exclusively mobile--iOS, Android, Windows), and others. With better alternatives, SocialChess is not worth my time.

27 October 2011

Lesson of the Week

This week we are looking at consequences of grabbing material. We are looking at king safety.

The Italian Opening does not always lead to a quiet game.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6

Black invites White to become aggressive.

4.Ng5!? Bc5

4...d5 is more common and invites the Fried Liver Attack.

White to move

This position appears in the Knight Award Checkmates and Tactics problem set. There is not a single correct answer, but several ways to play it. I want students to find two:

5.Bxf7+ safely wins a pawn. After 5...Ke7 (or Kf8), White retreats the bishop to b3 or d5.


The aggressive and ambitious option. This move initiates a fun and interesting game.


White to move

6.Kf1 seems the safer alternative.

6.Kxf2 invites disaster, but with accurate defense against the coming onslaught, White has chances and may even win.

In my chess clubs, we play out a variation or two on the demonstration board. I encourage players to spend time with these positions.

Study Material

Players whose parents help them access this blog get a bonus. Some study material: interesting games that were played with this beginning.

One of my favorites was played as a match between the former world champion and readers of the state newspaper in his nation, the Soviet Union. It has been imitated several times.

Pravda readers - Tal,Mihail [C57]
URS telechess Moscow, 1968
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 Bc5 5.Nxf7 Bxf2+ 6.Kxf2 Nxe4+ 7.Kg1 Qh4 8.g3 Nxg3 9.hxg3 Qxg3+ 10.Kf1 Rf8 11.Qh5 d5 12.Bxd5 Nd4 13.Qh2 Qg4 14.Qxe5+ Be6 15.Bxe6 Qf3+ 16.Kg1 Ne2+ 17.Kh2 Qf2+ 18.Kh3 Qf3+ 19.Kh4 Qf2+ 20.Kh5 Rxf7 21.Bxf7+ Kxf7 22.Rh2 Qf3+ 23.Kh4 g5+ 24.Qxg5 Rg8 25.Qh5+ Qxh5+ 26.Kxh5 ½–½

Black to move

The game ended here, but in a Young Masters tournament in 1999, the contestants played it out a couple of moves more to illustrate the draw by repetition.

White's game collapses in the second example.

Small,Simon (2245) - Van Tilbury,Craig (2300) [C57]
Novi Sad ol (Men) Novi Sad (13), 1990
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 Bc5 5.Nxf7 Bxf2+ 6.Kxf2 Nxe4+ 7.Kg1 Qh4 8.Qf1 Rf8 9.d3 Nd6 10.g3 Qd4+ 11.Kg2 Nxc4 12.dxc4 Qe4+ 13.Qf3 Qxf3+ 14.Kxf3 Rxf7+ 15.Kg2 Nd4 16.Na3 b6 17.Re1 Bb7+ 18.Kh3 d6 19.c3 Nf3 20.Rf1 Kd7 21.Be3 Raf8 22.Rfd1 h5 23.c5 bxc5 24.Nc4 g5 25.g4 hxg4+ 26.Kg3 Rh7 27.Kxg4 Nxh2+ 28.Kg3 Rf3+ 29.Kg2 Rxe3+ 30.Kg1 Rg3+ 31.Kf2 Rg2+ 32.Ke1 Nf3+ 33.Kf1 Nd2+ 0–1

This short and instructive draw is worth examining.

Massironi,Marco (2082) - Bove,Alessandro (2129) [C57]
ITA-ch U20 26th Bratto (7), 27.08.2003
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 Bc5 5.Nxf7 Bxf2+ 6.Kxf2 Nxe4+ 7.Kg1 Qh4 8.g3 Nxg3 9.Nxh8 d5 10.hxg3 Qxg3+ 11.Kf1 Bh3+ 12.Rxh3 Qxh3+ 13.Kg1 Qg3+ 14.Kh1 Qh3+ ½–½

After 6.Kxf2 Nxe4+, Rybka recommends 7.Ke3. Two games featuring this move are a good place to begin exploring the possibilities.

Young,DH - Hull,JC [C57]
BCF-ch U18 Bath, 1963
1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.Ng5 Bc5 5.Nxf7 Bxf2+ 6.Kxf2 Nxe4+ 7.Ke3 Qe7 8.Kxe4 d5+ 9.Bxd5 Qh4+ 10.Ke3 Qd4+ 11.Ke2 Qxd5 12.Qg1 Nd4+ 13.Ke1 Qe4+ 14.Kf2 Qe2+ 15.Kg3 Nf5+ 0–1

Johnstone,Glenn (2300) - Finegold,Benjamin (2490) [C57]
USA-op Dearborn (7), 1992
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 Bc5 5.Nxf7 Bxf2+ 6.Kxf2 Nxe4+ 7.Ke3 Qh4 8.g3 Nxg3 9.hxg3 Qd4+ 10.Kf3 d5 11.Rh4 e4+ 12.Kg2 0–0 13.Qh5 Rxf7 14.Bxd5 ½–½

19 October 2011

Two Pigs

Judit Polgar's defeat of Garry Kasparov nine years ago offers a nice illustration of the power of pigs. As near as I can tell, this was Kasparov's only game on the Black side of the Berlin Wall. This defense was a key weapon for Vladimir Kramnik when he captured the World Championship title from Kasparov. In the WCC match, Kramnik employed the Berlin four times, earning four draws. There were three more Kasparov -- Kramnik battles in the opening in 2001, with White's single win coming in June at Astana. In September 2002, Kasparov played the Black side against the youngest and strongest of the Polgar sisters.

Polgar,Judit (2681) -- Kasparov,Garry (2838) [C67]
RUS-The World, Moscow 2002

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0–0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 9.Nc3 h6 10.Rd1+ Ke8 11.h3 Be7 12.Ne2 Nh4 13.Nxh4 Bxh4 14.Be3 Bf5 15.Nd4 Bh7 16.g4 Be7 17.Kg2 h5 18.Nf5 Bf8 19.Kf3 Bg6 20.Rd2 hxg4+ 21.hxg4 Rh3+ 22.Kg2 Rh7 23.Kg3 f6 24.Bf4 Bxf5 25.gxf5 fxe5 26.Re1 Bd6 27.Bxe5 Kd7 28.c4 c5 29.Bxd6 cxd6 30.Re6 Rah8 31.Rexd6+ Kc8 32.R2d5 Rh3+ 33.Kg2 Rh2+ 34.Kf3 

Black to move

Black attempts to harass White's king.

34...R2h3+ 35.Ke4 b6 36.Rc6+ Kb8 37.Rd7 

The first pig is born.

Black to move

37...Rh2 38.Ke3 Rf8 39.Rcc7 

Two pigs!

Black to move

39...Rxf5 40.Rb7+ Kc8 41.Rdc7+ Kd8 42.Rxg7

Black to move

42...Kc8 1–0

There is no reason to play on. 43.Rxa7 Kb8 44.Rae7 Rf8 45.Rgf7 leaves Black in a hopeless position.

18 October 2011

Lesson of the Week

Elementary Checkmates

Among the most common regrettable scenes at children's chess tournaments is the litany of useless checks as a queen or rook chases a lone king all over the chessboard. Check, check, check, ... but never checkmate. Jeremy Silman, in Silman's Complete Endgame Course (2007) uses the term "overkill mates" for situations he describes thus:
When you are up by a Queen and a Rook, or even by two Queens (or more!), one must wonder if your opponent (who could give up and show a bit of respect) is bullheaded or simply enjoys suffering and/or pain. Whatever his reasons for continuing might be, you are the one who must now demonstrate how easy it is to score the victory.
Silman, Silman's Complete Endgame Course, 3
I teach young students to never resign, but to make their opponents prove basic skills. There's plenty of time to discuss appropriate etiquette of resignation after they make it to C Class. First, they must acquire the skills that will raise them to D Class (1000-1199). Silman's rates his first chapter, teaching elementary checkmates with heavy pieces, as appropriate for players up to 999. In my experience, some players rated 700 know these skills well, but a few rated 1100 will fail, usually by stumbling into stalemate.

An aspiring player looking to build a small, but substantial chess library, would do well to invest $25 in Silman's Complete Endgame Course. But, beginning players can spend less money, and gain good, well-sequenced instruction through purchase of Pandolfini's Endgame Course (1988), available from Amazon for $11.

Knight Award Skills

In my scholastic chess award sequence, youth who have demonstrated their basic understanding of chess through earning the pawn award, or by winning enough tournament games to achieve a rating over 500 begin with the Knight Award.

Knight: the Knight Award recognizes that the recipient has learned certain fundamental endgame and checkmate skills
1. Previously earned Pawn, or achieve a NWSRS rating over 500.
2. Demonstrate understanding of checkmate of lone king with heavy pieces:
* queen and rook,
* queen and king, and
* rook and king (each from two random positions selected by the coach).
3. Demonstrate understanding of “fox in the chicken coop” pawn promotion technique.
4. Complete “Knight Award: checkmates and tactics” worksheet.
5. Demonstrate ability to read chess notation.

I test knowledge of checkmate with queen and rook by looking for the patterns in the first two positions from Pandolfini's Endgame Course: the queen and rook roll, and the rolling barrier. Jeremy Silman calls the second one the staircase, and I starting using the term zig-zag many years before Pandolfini's book was published. I learned the technique with two rooks (problem 3 in Pandolfini's text) sometime about 1968, when I first began playing chess.

Checkmate with Queen and Rook

The Queen and Rook Roll

White to move

Do not move the rook to safety. Defend it with the queen, while at the same time, attacking the king and driving it towards the edge.


Note how the White pieces control every square around the king, except one. Note how they protect one another. Black has one legal move.

Black to move


Now the rook moves.

2.Rf6+ Ke7

Then the queen.

3.Qd6+ Ke8

And now checkmate.


The Rolling Barrier

Starting from the same position as above, White has a second way to deliver checkmate in four moves. Black has more choices in the king's movement, but always moves closer to the edge where checkmate takes place.


Black to move

Black's king must move to the sixth rank, but may choose d6 or e6.

1...Ke6 2.Rf6+

The rook is protected by the queen. Black must move to the seventh rank.

2...Ke7 3.Qg7+

Black must move to the edge, and White checkmates by controlling the seventh and eighth ranks.

3...Ke8 (or Kd8) 4.Rf8#.

Applying Skills: Examples from Play

Black to move

In this game from the Internet Chess Club, 2001, Black has a checkmate in four using the rolling barrier.

White to move

There are two initial moves that deliver checkmate in five moves from this position. My opponent at the Internet Chess Club, 2002, opted for a variation on the queen and rook roll.

14 October 2011

Learning from Errors: Adolf Anderssen

Prodigal Pawn laments the absence of well-annotated game collections focused on many players of the past, and present. He issues a call to such chess writers as John Nunn, Andrew Soltis, Nigel Davies, Neil McDonald, and others to write books on such chess greats as Adolf Anderssen, Harry Pillsbury, William Steinitz, and others.

My skills are far below Nunn and company, but I did write a pamphlet on Adolf Anderssen last year. Each year for the past several, I put on a brief chess camp for elementary chess players. In order to keep the camp fresh, and to give the participants something to take home, I change the theme each year. In 2010, the theme was "Attacking with Anderssen". I spent many hours poring through Anderssen's games looking for simple skewers, forks, decoys, and other tactical motifs in order to create problem sets. I also sought games to illustrate strategic themes, and other useful elements in Anderssen's chess career.

Last summer, the theme was "Studying with Smyslov" and we did some strong work on the endgame.

What follows was printed in the first three pages of instruction in the 2010 camp workbook.

Learning from Errors

Anderssen's first important match was against Tassilo von der Lasa. Von der Lasa was a Prussian diplomat who spent his spare time with chess. He accumulated an impressive library of chess books and also finished work begun by Paul Rudolf von Bilguer, editing Handbuch des Scachspiels (Handbook of Chess). The Handbuch became the dominant opening reference until the twentieth century.

Anderssen's six game match with Von der Lasa took place 1845-1846. Anderssen suffered some instructive losses in the beginning. As White, he favored the King's Gambit, an immensely popular opening in his day.

Match with Von Der Lasa
Game 1

Anderssen, A -- Von der Lasa, T [C38]
Breslau, 1845

1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5

White to move


For 4.h4 see Anderssen -- Von der Lasa, Berlin 1851 (also included in the workbook).

4...Bg7 5.d4 d6 6.c3 h6 7.Qb3?

7.O-O transposes into a line with some popularity, but that favors Black.

Black to move

White has pressure against f7 with the battery, but Black's kingside is secure. This error looks logical. However, on b3 the queen might become hemmed in by her own pawns--loss of mobility. She also could become vulnerable to attack.

7...Qe7 8.O-O Nd7 9.Na3

Thirty years later, Anderssen would try 9.a4 Anderssen -- Riemann, Breslau 1875.

9...Nb6 10.Bd2 Bd7 11.Rae1 Ba4 12.Bb5+ forced 12...Bxb5 13.Qxb5+ c6 14.Qa5

Black to move

The queen has no scope. Black's problem was not that 14.Qa5 was an error, but that this move is a consequence of a bad plan. 7.Qb3 brought the queen out where its vulnerability led to poor mobility. Even before then, Anderssen played moves that gave him minimal prospects of success.

14...Qd7 15.e5 d5

White to move


Anderssen offers a clever sacrifice that leads to a material imbalance, but one that favors Black. He should have hunkered down and tried to defend. Let Black play the aggressor. He might have sought better squares for his queen and the a3 knight.

16...fxe6 17.Rxe6+ Qxe6 18.Re1 Qxe1+ 19.Nxe1 Nf6

White to move

Black's pieces are better placed; the White queen has far less potential in this position than the Black rooks.


Alternatives are worse: 20.Qc5 Ne4-+; 20.Qb4 Ne4 21.Bc1 O-O-O-+.

20...Ne4 21.Be1 O-O 22.b3 Rf7 23.Nc2 g4 Black's pawns are potent 24.Qa3 g3 25.Qc1 The misplaced queen arrives back in action too late. 25...Raf8 26.Bd2 f3 27.gxf3 Rxf3 28.Nce1 28.Ne3 might be better.

Black to move

Now, Black converts his advantage. He trades the greater mobility and coordination of his forces for a clear material advantage and an easy endgame.

28...Rf1+ Black has a forcing combination 29.Kg2 Nxd2 29...R1f2+ may be stronger 30.Qxd2 R1f2+ 31.Nxf2 Rxf2+ 32.Qxf2 gxf2 White is down a piece 0-1

Anderssen's positional error in the placement of his queen was as significant as tactical blunders. He squandered the initiative early and never recovered. In the middlegame, he initiated a forcing combination that gave his opponent a clear advantage.

12 October 2011

Practicing Breakthrough and Hitting Walls

Because I am teaching the concept of breakthrough in pawn endgames to young chess players this week, I also am honing my own skills. Chess Endgames (1999) by Laszlo Polgar contains 4560 positions. The bulk of the book consists of 169 themed sections, each containing 24 problems. Yesterday, I started working through the two dozen classified as "breakthrough". The second led to my post "Breakthrough". The fifth problem created some frustration: I could not find a solution.

I study the diagram in a book, and when I believe that I have the correct ideas worked out, I set up the position and play against an engine.

White to move

The theme offers a clue, and so 1.c5.

Houdini 1.5 replied 1...bxc5. 1...dxc5 is obviously no good in the light of 2.d6 cxd6 3.Kxd6+-. (Correction noted: see comments below.)

2.Kb5 Kc8! 3.Kxa5 c6 4.dxc6 d5!!

White to move

White cannot win from here. After perhaps half an hour or trying different lines, including some that lose for White, I checked the answer in the back of Polgar's book. He gives 2...Kd7 for Black. My engines--Houdini 1.5, Hiarcs 12, Rybka 4--concur that White is winning after 2...Kd7. They all find 2...Kc8 to equalize, however.

The key variation given in the solution is instructive:

2...Kd7 3.a4! Kc8 (if 3...c6+ 4.dxc6+ Kc7 5.b3! losing a tempo) 4.Kxa5 Kb7 5.Kb5 and the solution carried it out to move 13, but the plan is simple. The a-pawn will advance to deflect the Black king from defense of c7. Once that pawn falls, the White king mops up the entire Black army.

Black to move

Here 5...c6+ fails. 6.dxc6+ Kc7 7.a5 c4 8.Kxc4 Kxc6 9.b4+-.

In the original problem, Black can play the game of tempos too. That strikes me as the beauty of 2...Kc8! Instead of the logical seizure of the opposition with 2...Kd7, Black makes a move that leaves both Kb7 and Kd7 as possibilities. If White tries 3.Kc6, Black has adequate space for maneuver to keep the rearward c-pawn secure.

I ran Rybka in Monte Carlo mode for four hours. Then, I ran infinite analysis for another four. This morning, I let Hiarcs 12 work for nearly two hours. I am convinced that there is no win here.

Books usually have errors. This one frustrated me yesterday. Even so, failure is instructive.

11 October 2011


Chess Endgames (1999) by Laszlo Polgar offers this position, attributed to Teed 1885, as problem number 2936.

White to move

The first move is easy.


But White has a problem to solve when Black replies, 1...h5!

2.Kf6 leads to a draw. 2...hxg4 3.hxg4 Kh6 4.Kf5 Kh7 5.Kxg5 Kg7

White to move

This position would be a win if it were Black's move, but it is White's.

White must find the breakthrough idea.


Black to move

Play might proceed, as it did when I played against Houdini 1.5.

2...Kh6 3.Kf6 gxh4 4.g5+ Kh7 5.Kf7 h3 6.g6+ Kh6 7.g7

09 October 2011

Lesson of the Week

Pawn Basics: Breakthrough

I plan to work on some pawn basics with young chess players this week. The position below is well known. Young players who have not yet learned it must do so.

White to move

White wins easily by giving up two pawns in order to promote the other.

The second position is less difficult.

White to move

The third position gets into the heart of the matter, but remains elementary.

White to move

The fourth position will prove difficult to most players. It comes from an endgame study published in Chess Informant many years ago, and republished in Informant 101 as part of retrospective look at the career of Artur Jussupow. See "Latent Patterns" for a note on the spellings Yusupov/Jussupow.

White to move

06 October 2011

Chess Improvement Carnival

Mark Weeks wrote the latest edition of the Chess Bloggers Carnival:
If, like me when I first heard it, the phrase 'blog carnival' makes you think of Mardi Gras, Rio de Janeiro, or the Gilles of Binche, you've got the wrong carnival. That carnival is a Christian tradition that precedes the observance of Lent, the pleasures of the flesh that precede the forty days of abstinence. No, our chess blog carnival is what the dictionary defines as 'a traveling amusement show or circus', and this month the show stops here at 'Chess for All Ages'.
Read the rest at Chess for All Ages: Chess Improvement Carnival, October 2011 Edition

05 October 2011


If you think you have an advantage and then find you have not, that the position is really equal, the effect can be as bad as if you threw away a real advantage. The opponent who is more objective may be able to benefit from his clear-sightedness.
Tim Harding, Why You Lose at Chess*

In this past weekend's Eastern Washington Open, I played four games. Remarkably, I won three. In three games, I made an egregious blunder at a critical moment. Each blunder changed the game's evaluation.

I went from a winning to a losing position, twice, in the first game through blunders. I went from a winning to a drawing position in my best game of the event. I went from an even position, to one that was lost in the final game. Each blunder occurred in a positions where the correct move was relatively easy to find. Each blunder was a consequence of overconfidence.

Self-confidence is critical to competition. But, confidence in one's chances in any game must be tempered through objective analysis of the position. As one's opponent creates problems, and as these problems are solved, confidence grows. Often the position improves. A winning position still must be won. Accurate play requires continuous evaluation and calculation.

My first game was against a young player new to tournament chess. He had White and maintained the initiative quite some time into the game. After an inaccuracy, I trapped his bishop. Even so, he gained two pawns from the deal, and then snatched a third. He had a pawn that I could grab, but I sought to apply pressure that would cause his position to collapse. I was looking deeply into some maneuvers that I hoped would give me an overwhelming advantage, but I failed to see the threat of his last move.

29.Qg3 attacks my bishop

Black to move

I examined 29...Qd1+ followed by Qa1 or some other move designed to get the bishop and queen working together. Anticipating the eventual exchange of queens, I decided to activate my king.

29...Kg7?? 30.Qxc3+ and White has an overwhelming advantage.

A winning position is not a won game. The position, although hopelessly lost for me, still requires some technical skills from my opponent. I played on. He matched my errors with his own, and I was able trade queens in a way that gave me a superior pawn endgame.

Black to move

This position is winning for Black, but only one move here maintains this advantage. All others shift the advantage back to White. Almost without hesitation, I played 45...Kxe7, and my opponent answered with the winning move 46.Kg4+-.

He failed to find the winning idea: penetrating with his king along the h-file, so again I dodged a bullet.

After the correct 45...h5, I would have been able to win both e-pawns. Then with two to one on the kingside, my king would get to the queenside in time to create two connected passed pawns over there.

In round four, I played one of my best games ever. I went into an endgame that was clearly winning, and I played it relatively well. As my opponent's horse hopped around the board grabbing pawns, I forgot for a moment, the critical moment, how a bishop can dominate a knight.

White to move

56.g4?? does not look terrible, and Rybka 4 still gives White's position +1.75. Chess engines easily mislead, however. After this error, accurate play by Black can deprive White of all opportunities to make progress.

The simple 56.Be2 traps the knight, and the rest is elementary.

In the last round, I played the top seed. I was in a three-way tie for first and my opponent was one-half point behind. He let his opportunities to build up pressure dissipate, and I reached a point of relative equality. I began to cherish the fantasy that I could win this game.

Black to move

Several moves keep the position equal here. I considered 32...Qe8, and vaguely remember considering 32...Kf8. I rejected 32...h6 because driving the knight back brings White's bishop into battle. I played 32...Qxa4?? I saw 33.Qe7 Qe8 34.Qxf6 Qe3+ and reasoned that I would be trading knight for bishop. But, it does not work that way. White checkmates Black after 35...Qxd3.

A draw in the final game would have assured me second place in the tournament, shared with one other player if he won his game. A win in this game would have given me a tie for first in the event. The loss put me in a tie for third, and out of the money. With only one player over 2000, there were no Class A prizes.

I survived three of my blunders in this event. Next time, Caissa may not be so kind.

*Harding's quote is on page 84 of the Dover Publications second edition, 2001.

04 October 2011

Excelling at Technical Chess

A weakness is a defect in one's position. It can take the form of a pawn, a square, a file or a diagonal. A weakness is of a permanent nature.
Jacob Aagaard, Excelling at Technical Chess
At some point during my Sunday morning game in the Eastern Washington Open, I recalled the effect upon my play of reading, several years ago, Jacob Aagaard's Excelling at Technical Chess (2004). This book helped cultivate my resistance to offering or accepting draws when there is an imbalance in the position, whether the imbalance concerns pawn structure, material differences, or clear initiative. If more than one of these is present, and one player has two weaknesses, the chances are great that the other should be playing for a win.

My game featured a long endgame in which I had one pawn more than my opponent, pawns were on both sides of the board, and I had a bishop versus a knight. The first draw offer by my opponent was a reasonable effort on his part to get out of a jamb. I recorded "DO" on my scoresheet, and made my move, signaling my refusal. His second draw offer irritated me. After the third offer, I scolded him with a threat of complaining to the TD, who could impose a time penalty. Two moves after the third offer, I blundered. Although my practical winning chances remained strong, especially as my opponent now had less than one minute remaining on the clock, I had let the technical win slip away.

I went through the game, entering my comments and evaluations. After doing so, I checked my evaluations with Rybka 4. Only then, did I discover the critical error in my endgame play.

Stripes,James (1824) - Joshi,Kairav (1886) [D02]
Eastern Washington Open Spokane (4), 02.10.2011

1.Nf3 c5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 d5 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Nc6 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.c4 e6 8.0–0 Be7 9.Nc3 Bb7 10.Bf4 0–0 11.Qb3 Ba6 12.cxd5 cxd5 13.Qa4

Black to move

I felt that I'd gained something from the opening: queenside pawn majority, bishops aiming at the queenside, rooks connected and ready to come to the open c-file and the half-open d-file. I would like to swap pieces and go into a pawn endgame. Trading my e-pawn for Black's d-pawn, or provoking the d-pawn to advance where it becomes weak are considerations. I have a comfortable game and a slight advantage with long-term chances for a better endgame.

13...Bb7 14.Rfd1 Qb6 15.Qb5N

Using the novelty annotation feature of Chess Base 11 brings up this game for comparison: 15.Be3 Qa6 16.Rac1 Rfc8 17.Qxa6 Bxa6 18.Bf3 Nd7 19.Bf4 g5 20.Be3 Ne5 21.Bg2 Nc4 22.Bd4 Bb7 23.b3 Nd6 24.Be5 f6 25.Bxd6 Bxd6 26.Nb5 Bc5 27.e3 a6 28.Nd4 Kf7 29.Bh3 Bxd4 30.exd4 Rxc1 31.Rxc1 Rc8 32.Rxc8 Bxc8 33.Kf1 Ke7 34.Ke2 Kd6 35.Kd3 a5 36.Kc3 Ba6 37.Bg4 h6 38.Bd1 e5 39.Bc2 e4 40.b4 axb4+ 41.Kxb4 f5 42.Kc3 f4 43.Kd2 Kc6 44.a3 h5 Eckhardt,C (2260)-Ozturk,K (2034)/Kusadasi 2006/CBM 111 ext/1–0

Is this game score complete and correct? The position appears even. Surely Black did not resign in such a position.

15...Bc5 16.Qxb6 Bxb6

As my opponent and I discussed in the postmortem, 16...axb6 seems better, activating the queen's rook.

17.Rac1 Ng4!

White to move

I had used eighteen minutes getting to this position, and now thought for seven minutes--my second longest think of the game. This was the only time in the game when Joshi's superior tactical skills were a significant factor in the game. I decided almost immediately upon the correct move, but realizing that my bishop would become trapped, had to find a compensating resource. It appeared to my opponent that this resource was more than adequate, and as a consequence, he opted to let my bishop escape. I added "to my opponent" to the previous sentence after going through the variations with Rybka, although during play I was far from certain that my resources were sufficient to secure the decisive advantage that I thought was just within reach.


Rybka prefers 18.Rf1. In other words, my "correct move" was probably incorrect.

18...e5 19.Bg5 h6

The critical line that had me concerned after Black's move 17 begins with 19...f6! I planned to play 20.Bh4 in order to avoid opening the f-file, but also intended to go into another long think here. I believed that allowing Black counterplay along the f-file would neutralize my advantages elsewhere.

Rybka denounces 20.Bh4 in favor of 20.Nxd5 fxg5 21.Nxb6 (21.Ne7+ is no good 21...Kh8 22.Bxb7 Nxf2 with advantage for Black) 21...Bxg2 22.Nxa8 Bxa8 23.Rd2=.

After 20.Bh4, Black might proceed 20...g5, leading to clear advantage for White after 21.Nxd5 gxh4 22.Nxb6 Bxg2 23.Nxa8 Bxa8 24.Rd7. But, perhaps 20...g5 is not Black's best option. In any case, Black's 19...h6 was a relief.

20.Be7 Rfe8 21.Nxd5

At this point, having won the d-pawn, I become confident that my winning chances are very good.

21...Bxd5 22.Bxd5 Rab8 23.Bd6 Rbd8 24.Bc7

Black to move

I believe that I have a technical win. But there is much play ahead to demonstrate this advantage. I went on to win against my A-Class opponent, but this position merits practice against the engines. If it is indeed a technical win, can I win against Rybka? Houdini? Hiarcs? Fritz?

24...Rc8 25.Bxb6 axb6 26.Bc6 Re7 27.Bf3 Rxc1 28.Rxc1 Nf6 29.Rc6 e4 30.Be2 Nd5 31.a3 Rc7

White to move


32.Re6 is less good. A bishop versus a knight with pawns on both sides and a majority on the queenside is a technical win.

32...Rc5 33.b4 Rc1+ 34.Kg2 Nc3 35.Ba6
32...Rc1+ 33.Kg2 Rb1 34.Rxd5 Rxb2
32...Rc2 33.Rxd5 Rxe2 34.Rb5


Now I am certain that I have a technical win, and the plan is straight-forward. The majority must be converted into a passed pawn, tying down one of Black's pieces. Then with two active pieces to one, White shifts attention to the kingside in order to create another passed pawn.


First, the kings race to the action.

33...Kf8 34.Ke1 Ke7 35.Kd2 Kd6 36.Bc4

attacking a vulnerability


36...f5 gives the bishop a target

37.Kc3 b5

This move seems tactically necessary, but White wants Black's pawns on light squares.

White to move


Observe the bishop's ability to restrict the knight. White is happy to trade minor pieces because the pawn endgame is a simple win.

38...Na6! 39.Kd4 Nc5

White to move

Now my longest think of the game: eight minutes. I will lose the f-pawn, and possibly the b-pawn, but will pick up the b-pawn and e-pawn in exchange.

40.Be8 Nd3 41.Kxe4 Nxf2+ 42.Kf3 Nd1 43.Bxb5 Nxb2 44.Ke4 Nd1 45.Kd4 f5 46.a4 Nf2 47.Be2

Black to move

Protecting the h-pawn

47...Ne4 48.a5 g6 49.a6 Kc7

Black's king becomes inactive. The white bishop, although tied to defense of the passed pawn, is nevertheless able to move about restricting the knight. Trading minor pieces remains a possibility because White's king is centralized and able to move over and gobble all the Black pawns before Black's king can return to the action.

50.Ke5 Kb6 51.Ke6 Nc3 52.Bd3 Nd1 53.Kf6 Nxe3 54.Kxg6 Ng4 55.Kxf5

Now, I can give up the h-pawn.


White to move


My plan is to eliminate Black's last pawn and force the knight to trade itself for my g-pawn. The rest will be easy. This plan came to fruition, but my opponent found some complications. He might have found a fortress after this error, but had less than one minute on his clock. I had forty-seven minutes remaining at this point. I have traded the technical win for practical winning chances.

56.Be2 was the correct move, trapping the horse.

56...Nf3 57.Kf4 Nd4 58.Kg3 Ne6 59.Bf5

I wanted to transfer the bishop to b7. This plan reduces the bishop's flexibility, but also reduces its vulnerability. It can be captured, but at the cost of the knight. The remaining pawn game on the kingside is easily won.

Black to move


59...Nc5 makes things more difficult for White 60.Bc8 Ka7 61.Kh4 Nd3 62.Kg3 Nc5 63.Kf4 Nd3+ 64.Kf5 Nf2 and White is making no progress.

60.Bc8 Ka7

60...Ne8 makes White's job difficult 61.Kf4 Nd6 62.Bb7 Nc4


Black to move

Again I have a clear win, and not only because my opponent is down to a few seconds.

61...Kb6 62.Ke5 h5! 63.g5

I gave this move a box.

Rybka sees a second alternative: 63.a7 Kxa7 64.g5 Kb8 65.Bh3 h4 66.g6 Kc7 67.Kf6 Nh5+ 68.Ke7 Kc6 69.Bg4 Nf4 70.g7+-

63...h4 64.Kf4 Ne8 65.Kg4 Nd6 66.Bb7

Black to move


66...Nxb7 67.axb7 Kxb7 68.Kxh4 Kc7 69.Kh5 Kd7 70.Kh6 Ke7 71.Kh7+-

67.Kxh3 Kc7

67...Nxb7 68.axb7 Kxb7 69.Kh4 Kc7 70.Kh5 Kd7 71.Kh6 Ke7 72.Kh7+-

68.Kh4 Nb5 69.g6 Nd6 70.Kh5 Ne8 71.Kh6 Kb6 72.g7 Nxg7 73.Kxg7

Black to move

The rest is elementary.

73...Kc7 74.Kf7 Kb6 75.Ke7 Ka7 76.Kd6 Kb6 77.Kd5 Ka7 78.Kc5 Kb8 79.Be4 Ka7 80.Kb5 Kb8 1–0