28 June 2012

A Better Novelty

The Spokane City Championship Contenders tournament is going well for me. At stake is a chance to be the challenger in the Spokane City Championship, a four game match with the current champion. In 2008, the champion was FIDE Master David Sprenkle and I lost the match 2 1/2-1/2 (see "Fifteen Minutes"). Although two difficult opponents remain ahead of me, my chances look good right now. On Monday I won against our city's current highest rated player. Yesterday, I won against Nikolay Bulakh. He went 1-1 against my two remaining opponents. Nikolay has had bad results against me, worse than my results against Michael Cambareri, one of those whom I must still play. Last year, Michael won the Contenders tournament, but lost the match with John Julian. Michael's chances also look good this year.

As in my game on Monday, yesterday I played a novelty. This time, however, my novelty appears sound. After what appeared to me a simple tactic to gain the bishop pair, my opponent complicated the game by trading two minor pieces for a rook and pawn.

Stripes,James (1933) - Bulakh,Nikolay (1923) [E01]
City Championship Contenders, Spokane 2012

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 c6 5.Nf3 Bd6 6.Qc2 0–0 7.0–0 Nbd7 8.Nc3 dxc4 9.e4 e5 10.Rd1 Qc7 11.d5N!

Black to move

10.d5 had been played prior to Rd1.

See Van de Mortel,Jan (2401) - De Waal,Mark (2322)
BEL-chT 0102 Belgium (6), 06.01.2002

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 Bd6 5.0–0 Nbd7 6.c4 c6 7.Nc3 0–0 8.Qc2 dxc4 9.e4 e5 10.d5 cxd5 11.exd5 a6 12.a4 Rb8 13.a5 b5 14.axb6 Nxb6 15.Rd1 Bb7 16.Be3 Qc7 17.Bxb6 Qxb6 18.Nd2 Qc7 19.Ra4 Rbc8 20.Nxc4 Qe7 21.Na5 Rfe8 22.Qe2 Ra8 23.Rda1 Bc8 24.Nc6 Qb7 25.b4 Bg4 26.Qc4 e4 27.Nxe4 Nxe4 28.Bxe4 f5 29.Bg2 Be2 30.Qc2 f4 31.Nd4 f3 32.Nxf3 Bb5 33.Ng5 g6 34.R4a2 Qe7 35.Ne4 Rac8 36.Qd2 Rc4 37.Nxd6 Qxd6 38.Rb2 Qf6 39.Rd1 Ba4 40.Rf1 1–0


The engines favor 11...Bb7

12.dxc6 Qxc6 13.Nxb5

I went to the toilet and drinking fountain, confident that I would deprive my opponent of the bishop pair and have a better position. I overlooked my opponent's next move.


Time used: 21 minutes for White, 37 for Black. As in my game on Monday, my opponent found himself in serious time pressure. "You move too fast," Nikolay told me after the game.

14.Nc3 Ng4

White to move

Here I went into my longest think of the game, eleven minutes. I considered several alternatives to defending the f-pawn with my rook. All of them appeared to give my opponent material superiority and the initiative.


The engines prefer 15.Rf1.


The engines prefer 15...Bb7

16.Rxf2 f6 17.Nd5 Bxf2+ 18.Qxf2

Playing with Imbalances

Imbalances are the heart of chess strategy. Someplace I read the exchange of bishop and knight for rook and pawn described as a typical beginner's mistake. But my opponent's decision cannot be dismissed so lightly. What must I do to make my advantage in number of pieces, and my bishop pair more telling than his extra rook?

Black to move

I ran several engines on this position. They all see White as having an advantage approximating two pawns. Realizing that advantage is no easy matter. I would like to support the knight on d5 with something other than a pawn. Black's e-pawn is supported, and could create problems for me if it became a passed pawn. My dark-squared bishop is a strong piece, but has no clear targets. Both my b-pawn and my opponent's c-pawn are potential targets. Black's king looks relatively more secure.

18...Rf7 19.Be3 Nf8 20.Rc1 Qa4

White to move


Moving too fast, I missed the opportunity to defend my a-pawn with 21.Bf1

21...Be6 22.Nc3

On positional grounds, I had already rejected 22.Nd2 Bxd5 23.exd5 Rc8 24.Ne4. Hence, I did not examine it. Rybka 4 thinks I erred by not playing this line.

22...Qe8 23.Ne1?!

This move marks the beginning of a plan that is too slow and easily prevented by my opponent. It would have been better to play 23.Nh4 with the idea of Nh4-f5. I was determined to place a knight back on d5, but supported by pieces. Then, I intended to attack the c-pawn. According to my chess engines, I am letting a clear advantage slip away. Are the engines correct?

23...Ng6 24.Nc2

24.Bf1 may have been stronger. I considered it.


White to move


Now that my plan to play Nc2-b4-d5 is effectively stopped, I shift to another dubious effort to improve coordination of my pieces. At points in this game, it appears than I am more interested in running my opponent out of time through offers of red herrings, than I was in finding an effective attack.

25...Ne7 26.Rd1?! Nc6 27.Nb5?


I wanted a knight on d5 supported by a piece. My opponent's last move made that possible. Instead, I went in search of a fork. Trying to provoke my opponent to chase illusions, I chase them instead. He is down to 22 minutes, while I still have 70 remaining.

27...Rd7 28.Bf3

Black to move


28...Rxd1 29.Qxd1 and the imbalances balance according to Rybka 4.


29.Rxd7 was likely better.

29...Rxd1 30.Bxd1 Qd7 31.Be2 Nb4!?

White to move

Wow! I did not see that coming. Now I spent five minutes contemplating two possibilities. My opponent was down to 10 minutes on the clock. After my reply, I had 57 minutes remaining.

32.Nxb4 Qxb5 33.Nd5 Bxd5

Both players have about equal chances. White's early advantage after the creation of the imbalance has dissipated. 33...Qxb2 34.Qxa5 Rb8 35.Bc4 also appears to be about equal. White does have a substantial advantage in time remaining on the clock. Perhaps it would have been better, however, to use more time and play better moves. The position was rich with strategic possibilities that I failed to take the time to comprehend. Consequently, my opponent concocted some tactics to which I had to find appropriate responses.

34.exd5 Qxd5 35.Qc3 Rc8 36.b3 Qc6

White to move


Playing fast as my opponent fell under the four minute mark, I missed an easy tactical opportunity to snatch the Black a-pawn.

37...Qxc4 38.Bxc4+ Kf8 39.a4 Ke7 40.Kf2 h6 41.Bd2 Rc5 42.Bb5 Rc2 43.Ke3 f5

White to move


If I played as well as an engine, I might have seen that White has a strong advantage after 44.Bxa5 Rxh2 45.Bb4+ Kd8 46.a5

44...Rc5 45.Bxa5 Rd5+ 46.Ke2

I grabbed my king and moved it to e3, but keeping my hand on it, thought for a few more seconds and changed to e2 before releasing the piece. Now that Black's a-pawn is gone, White has a clear advantage. Having 49 minutes to my opponent's less than two only makes the win easier.

46...Kd6 47.Bb4+ Kc7 48.Bf8

Black to move


48...g6 was the last chance for stubbornness.

49.Bxg7 Kd6 50.Bf8+ Kc7 51.Bc4 Rd8 52.Bb4 Rd7 1–0

I seem to be missing a move or two at the end of the game score. I wrote 53.Bb5+, but neither my scoresheet nor my memory can account for how Black's king made it to c6. We had a problem with the time delay on the clock as my opponent's time went down to seven seconds. It appeared that he was not getting his five second delay. We reset the clock with the delay apparently working correctly, and gave him one minute. At move 51, he was at 17 seconds to my 46 minutes.

26 June 2012

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

The secret [to creating theoretical novelties] is to look for bad moves.... I mean those moves that are obviously so bad that no one ever takes the time to prove their awfulness.
Andrew Soltis, Karl Marx Play Chess

Yesterday, I played a move in the opening that I am not likely to repeat. On the other hand, I could explore it further and make it part of my repertoire.

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.g3 Be7 5.Bg2 O-O 6.O-O c6 7.Qc2 Nbd7 8.a3?!N

In truth, this move has been played before. ChessBase Online database has eight games that have reached this position. In two of these eight, both players were over 2000. In one game, White was over 2400 (Vladimir Okhotnik), but his opponent was 1733.

What is wrong with this move?

It abandons efforts to develop the initiative. It presents Black with no difficulties.

Franco Valencia (2176) -- Mercado (2066), Pereira 2011 continued:

8...b6 9.Rd1 Ba6 10.Nbd2 Rc8 11.b4 dxc4 12.Nxc4 c5 13.dxc5 bxc5 14.Nce5 cxb4 15.Nc6 b3 16.Nxe7+ Qxe7 17.Qxb3 Bxe2 18.Re1 Nc5

Black has the initiative, an extra pawn, and better piece coordination. Black went on to win.

Baldwin del Castillo (2045) -- Baigorri Navarro (2178), Collado Villalba 2008 continued:

8...b6 9.cxd5 cxd5 10.Bf4 Ba6 11.b4 Rc8 12.Qb2 b5 13.Nbd2 Nb6 14.Rfc1 Na4 15.Qb3 Bb7

White went on to win.

Stripes (1933) -- Moroney (2075), Spokane 2012 continued:

8...a5 9.Nbd2 b5

Here we reach the game's actual novelty.

Okhotnik (2447) -- Fournel (1733), Fouesnant 2009 continued:

9...Re8 10.e4 dxe4 11.Nxe4 Nxe4 12.Qxe4 Nf6 13.Qc2 Qd6

Black's queen rook never came into play, White directed event in the center, and his pieces penetrated the king's defenses.*

My game continued:

10.c5 Qc7 (we agreed after the game that 10...Bb7 is better) 11.Nb3 Bb7 12.Bf4 Qd8 13.Nc1 Re8 14.Nd3 Nf8

White's pieces seem well-placed, but if Black has any weaknesses, they are difficult to detect. We both struggled to find a plan. My opponent struggled harder and burned a lot of time off the clock. After some exchanges many moves later, Black was slightly better, and I opted to sacrifice a pawn to keep more of my pieces on the board during his time scramble. I was then two pawns down and objectively lost. Then, my opponent, with perhaps one minute left on the clock, missed an X-ray/discovery tactic and I won a bishop. I won back the pawns, plus another one.

I won, but my opening reveals some need for improvement. Parts of the game are not worth showing to the world.

*In the game score from ChessBase, Okhotnik's last move 31.Rxg5 is a howler that loses his queen. But, if he played 31.Rf5+ he was executing a forced checkmate in five. I suspect the latter is the actual move.

25 June 2012

Digging Through My Library

It has been a few years since I have counted my chess books, so I do not know how many sit on the shelves in my office. These days I acquire more electronic versions than printed, but even so, I have bought several new paperbacks in the past few months. In my office, one four shelf bookcase that is two feet wide contains only chess texts. Another wider bookcase has two shelves that are each more than 80% chess. Then, there are chess books tucked here and there in several other places in my office, such as my Chess Informants that sit atop some bookcases that contain mostly works in history.

I thought it might be interesting and potentially useful to take a look at a few of these more than 200 books that have been doing little more than gathering dust.

Starting on the left of the top shelf of the wholly chess bookcase, there is a book that came to me when I had ordered something else and the order was botched. Dragoslav Andric, Sahovski Zabavnik (Beograd: Sahovski Informator, 1985) is in Serbian (I think). This text appears to have many interesting curiosities that are inaccessible to me because I cannot read the language. However, the universality of chess notation, abundant diagrams, and the help of Google Translate opens up some possibilities. The book is a compendium of short articles. In the first, a miniature is presented with a diagram showing the final position.

Edwards - Amateur [C35]
ENG corr England, 1963

1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 Be7 4.Bc4 Bh4+ 5.g3 fxg3 6.Bxf7+ Kxf7 7.Ne5+ Ke6 8.Qg4+ Kxe5 9.0–0 gxh2+ 10.Kh1 Bf6 11.d4+ Kxd4 12.Be3+ Kxe3 13.e5 Bxe5 14.Re1+ Kf2 15.Qg2+ Kxe1 16.Nc3# 1–0

Remarkably, the game continues 16...O-O-O! 17...Kxb2 18.Rb1+ Kxc3 19.Qe4! with the idea of 20.Qd3#

There are many more fantasy chess illustrations in this book and much text requiring translation. It appears to be an interesting book with at least as much wit in evidence as in the next book on the same shelf.

Andrew Soltis, Karl Marx Plays Chess (New York: David McKay, 1991) is a first edition paperback. It is a compendium of the author's favorite "Chess to Enjoy" columns that he wrote for Chess Life beginning in 1979. The column was popular among many readers, and the topics are quite varied: "whatever chess subject tickled [his] fancy," Soltis tells us in the Introduction. The section "Hooked on 'Book'" (230-257) gathers together several columns on the opening. In one, Soltis reveals how to discover a theoretical novelty: "The secret is to look for bad moves.... I mean those that are so obviously bad that no one ever takes the time to prove their awfulness" (231).

The next two texts are Edward Winter, Kings, Commoners and Knaves (Milford, CT: Russell Enterprises, 1999), and A Chess Omnibus (Milford, CT: Russell Enterprises, 2003). I recall browsing A Chess Omnibus in the bookstore after the cover caught my eye. It shows a fine House of Staunton chess set and a felt-lined wooden box. Around that time, I had recently purchased the much less expensive Reykjavik II set from the House of Saunton. It is an elegant wooden set that I am happy to own, and that I carry to tournaments. However, it has never seen a blitz game. For one reason or another, I was ignorant of the work of Edward Winter at the time that I found this book. Browsing through the text in the bookstore, it quickly became obvious that this text would not sit on the shelf unused. Nor does it today. Hardly a month goes by when I am not pulling one or both of these texts off the shelf to browse, or to read something that Winter's fine chess site informs me has been printed there. Winter's other books are on my list of wants.

Winter's books are compendiums of his Chess Notes, which have been published through several outlets. For the past few years, the Notes first appear on his website. Many of Winter's Chess Notes have instructive value for the chess student looking to improve his or her game, but the emphasis in his work seems to be getting details of chess history accurately presented and well-sourced from primary materials. Readers of my other blog, Patriots and Peoples, should be well-aware of my views concerning sourcing in history.

After these four books at the left end of the top shelf, the instructional materials begin. First, there is Graham Burgess, John Nunn, and John Emms, The World's Greatest Chess Games (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1998). My copy has yellowing pages and the spine seems fragile. It is the first American edition, and published the same year as the British original.

Next are two books by Irving Chernev: The 1000 Best Short Games of Chess (1955) and The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played (1965). I wrote about the former back in March in "My First Chess Book." Next along the shelf to the right are a series of tournament books, followed by books concerning specific players. First in the row of tournament books is David Bronstein, Zurich International Chess Tournament 1953, translated by Jim Marfia (1979). Other tournaments and several World Championship matches are represented, including Mikhail Tal's classic Tal Botvinnik 1960.

Perhaps it is time to put the computer away, get out a chess set, and do some serious reading.

24 June 2012

A Blogging Milestone

Training Log

Chess Skills blog began late in 2007, less than two weeks after I started my history blog, Patriots and Peoples. Chess Skills immediately became the more active of the two. In 2008, I created 103 posts for Chess Skills; 61 for Patriots and Peoples. Both had fewer posts in subsequent years. Then, in mid-February earlier this year, I started a run of activity with posts nearly every day. For nearly eight weeks, Chess Skills had one new post per day (perhaps five days were skipped during this run). As a consequence of this increase in activity, today's training log (my usual Sunday morning post since 11 March) is post number 103 for 2012. Less than half-way through 2012, the total number of posts equals the total in the most active previous year--2008!

My endgame training this past week was limited to in-depth post-game analysis of a key position from online correspondence play. Computer analysis revealed something that my opponent and I had missed: drawing possibilities. A fair amount of time was invested this past week using the computer to aid my analysis of two games that finished. "Chess is Art: Imbalances" shows the whole of one of these games.

For tactics, I solved three problems in the Chess-wise Pro set while I was waiting for the Novocaine to take effect during dental work on Wednesday. I solved eleven from the 1000 problem set in the Shredder iPad app.

Shredder totals
After 1695 puzzles: 13374/17060 points 78%
In the last 10 puzzles: 76/100 76%

This past week was my Dragon Chess Camp. Nine youth spent fifteen hours playing chess, solving chess problems that I had assembled for them in a workbook, and following through discussion of great games from the past. I awoke far too early on Monday, the first day, and had a long Chess Tempo training session in which I demonstrated a miserable lack of skills. On Tuesday, I did much better. Over these two sessions, I worked 87 problems.

Chess Tempo totals
Problems Done: 2028 (Correct: 1087 Failed: 941)
Percentage correct: 53.6%
Average recent per problem time spent 89 seconds

My percentage correct dropped, as did my average time per problem. Average time per problem was affected by one problem that too me more than ten minutes early Monday morning as I was drifting in and out of sleep, doing training on the iPad in bed.

I attended the Spokane Chess Club weekly meeting on Thursday. FM Curt Collyer showed us three games from the National Open in Las Vegas. In the first three rounds, he drew GM Ray Robson, GM Alejandro Ramirez, and GM Ivan Ivanisevic. It was fun and instructive discussing these fighting draws with a former Spokane youth, now in his late-20s and living in Seattle.

23 June 2012

Breaking the Berlin Wall

Judit Polgar's defeat of Sergey Karjakin nearly one year ago from the drawish Berlin Wall excites me. I was a fan of Vladimir Kramnik's successful use of this defense in his title match with Garry Kasparov in 2000, when Kasparov failed four times to defeat it. I am a fan of games decided in the endgame, especially when grandmaster games are decided by a superior pawn endgame. In this case, especially, I am pleased to see Judit winning with a final move that disrupts the structure of Karjakin's pawns.

Black to move

White's king will gobble up all the black pawns, leaving White at least two pawns ahead. Judit's older sister, Susan, mentioned in Breaking Through: How the Polgar Sisters Changed the Game of Chess (2005) that "pawn wars" was part of the girls' early training. It seems reasonable to believe that Judit's early training, too, included mastery of key pawn endgames. Such training would have made clear her plan in this game to push her passed a-pawn down to draw the black king to the queenside, away from the decisive kingside pawn endgame.

After my initial enthusiasm for the endgame waned, I thought to investigate the opening through some database research. Given the drawing reputation of the Berlin Wall, how often has a player rated 2700 or higher lost since the World Championship match between Kasparov and Kramnik?

I have downloaded the latest updates for Chess Base Big Datatbase 2011, so my database is reasonably complete. A search reveals that when Black is 2700+, there have been 200 games in the years 2000-2011. 42 White wins, 37 Black wins, 121 draws. Black does quite well. All of the White wins are decided through endgame technique. Some of these games conclude with textbook examples that are worthy studies for the improving class player, such as Michael Adam's demonstration of how to create a Lucena Position.

22 June 2012

Chess is Art: Imbalances

A recent correspondence game on Red Hot Pawn featured the exchange of a queen for rook, knight, and pawn. The game lasted a mere two weeks because both of us moved fast. Do not be deceived about the rapid play; I made extensive use of the analysis board, often spending half an hour on a single move. For a couple of moves, I logged in, looked at some variations, then thought about it all day before logging in again and making a decision.

It seems that I did not employ databases because I made an inaccurate move while still within the theory on this Volga Gambit (aka Benko). I had Black, and I've played the Volga off and on long enough that I lost a memorable game with it in which the moves were transmitted by postcard.

The game took a unique departure from prior practice with White's fourteenth move, and the critical decision for Black to give up his queen came as a result of White's fifteenth move.

Anonymous Opponent (1805) - Stripes,J (1869) [A57]
www.redhotpawn.com, 2012

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.c4 c5 4.d5 b5 5.cxb5 a6 6.b6 Qxb6 7.Nc3 d6 8.Nd2 Nbd7 9.e4 Bg7 10.Be2 0–0 11.Nc4 Qc7 12.Bf4 Nb6 13.Ne3 Bb7?! 14.Rc1 Rad8 15.b4

Black to move

Forcing lines are easier to calculate, while passive defense can be uncomfortable. Moving one of the knights to d7 to secure c5 is worthy of consideration. Sliding the rook over to c8 is as well. Why did the rook move to d8, instead of c8, in the first place? I had been looking at an e-pawn thrust, and d6 needed to be more secure to avoid loss of material. Perhaps it was also a waiting move.

Now, my opponent has attacked. Moreover, he has done so while his king is in the middle, while mine is safely in his castle. The forcing line was attractive.


Since this game ended a couple of days ago, several chess engines have had a go at this position. I let the engine calculate the top three lines until it reaches a search depth of 18 ply.

Houdini 1.5 prefers 15...Rc8 and gives Black a 0.34 pawn advantage.
Stockfish 1.7 also prefers 15...Rc8 and evaluates the position as even. My 15...cxb4 is Stockfish's second choice, but it gives White an advantage of 0.20.
Rybka 4 has the same first two choices as Stockfish, but favors Black at 0.30 for Rc8 and 0.26 for the move played in the game.
Hiarcs 12 prefers 15...Rc8, but favors White at 0.45. Its second choice of 15...Nbd7 favors White at 0.56.
Fritz 11 prefers the move played in the game and sees the position as tilting in Black's favor by nearly one-half pawn: 0.43.

My decision to capture the b-pawn embraced an imbalance. I gave up my queen for a rook and knight, and at least temporarily a pawn. If I hang on to the pawn, the most common point count system has the material equal. Such an imbalance, however, is rarely equal.

After the move played, the next point with branching possibilities comes at White's move 18.

16.Na4 Qxc1 17.Qxc1 Nxa4

White to move


18.Qc7 is the principal alternative.


I do not recall looking at any alternatives. My engines. on the other hand, tend to prefers moves like 18...Nc5, Rb8, Nd7. For some reason, they do not see White then snatching the undefended b-pawn. Rather, 19.e5 is a leading choice. This center strike is a common idea in the Volga Gambit. Without it, the bishop looks funny on f4.

Normally, in the Volga, Black gives up the queenside pawns in order to gain some play with the heavy pieces. In this game, Black has a queenside pawn majority instead.

19.f3 Nc3

In my initial post-game analysis with Hiarcs 12, I gave my last move a ! (good move). Hiarcs prefers other moves until after this move is played. Once on the board, and when Hiarcs reaches a search depth of 14 ply, the evaluation rapidly drops from slightly favorable for White to even, and then to favorable for Black. Later evaluation to greater depth generates an assessment that the position is balanced.

20.Qc7 Rd7

White to move


As a consequence of this move, Black gets a strong initiative on the queenside. That White attacked with the b-pawn thrust before castling now matters. Over the next few moves and to the end of the game, I felt good about the coordination of my bishops and rooks.

White should have tried 21.Qb6. Even then, however, Black gets activity for his pieces and a slight advantage. But where else did White go wrong? Was 15.b4 an error?

In my analysis before playing Rd7, I considered the move played as the main line. That 21.Qxa5 was an error did not occur to me. The move that was hard for me to see as meritorious was my 22...Nxe2. When a queen battles several weaker pieces, she needs targets and an open board. Once all the queenside pawns are liquidated, her opportunities become much reduced.

21...Ra8 22.Qxb4 Nxe2! 23.Kxe2 Rxa2+ 24.Ke1

Black to move

Part of the difficulty of conducting my attack is finding the right time for the necessary Rd7-c7. Rd7 was played to drive away the queen, and to protect the bishop. But the rook needs an open file. I could spend more time with the engines exploring move order alternatives. Whether the sequence of my moves was optimal or not, I believe that for the most part, I found the correct moves. They were not particularly difficult to find.

24...Nh5 25.Bg5

I recall expecting 25.Bg3. It is a common miscalculation on my part to think that an attacked piece must retreat.


I spent some time trying to calculate some maddening variations. I decided to play my move, let my opponent show me where his queen would move, and thereby reduce the work.

White to move


That Rybka prefers 26.Qb1 reveals that Black has a decisive advantage.

26...Bc3+ 27.Kf1 Ba6+ 28.Kg1 Ra1+ 29.Nd1

White moves into a forced checkmate. Even so, after 29.Kf2 Rxh1 Black has an easy win.

Black to move

29...Bd4+ 30.Be3 Bxe3+ 31.Qxe3 Rxd1+ 32.Kf2 Rc2+ 0–1

I recently returned to Red Hot Pawn after several years away. After this game, and a much easier one against a weaker opponent, my rating has climbed to a new peak on that site. When I quit playing there, my RHP rating was nearly 200 higher than my USCF rating. Now it is ~50 lower.

20 June 2012

Simple to Complex

Complex and difficult chess positions contain simple ideas that are easily learned. It is not always an easy matter to break them down into their component parts, but this skill can be practiced.

The critical endgame position in a recent online correspondence game illustrates how a handful of simple ideas are the keys that unlock the truth.

Black to move

This position came about after White thrust his h-pawn forward with hopes of creating a structural weakness in Black's pawn structure. White's plan was to exploit the resulting weakness with his rook while his king guarded the open file. Black responded to the h-pawn thrust with an offer to exchange rooks. White believed that he had a winning pawn endgame, and so traded rooks.

Was White correct in this assessment?

White's h-pawn is en prise. Capturing this pawn gives Black a passed pawn on the h-file. White invites this capture because his king is in the square of the pawn.

The square of the pawn is a simple idea that should form part of the instruction for every beginning player. Imagine a square made up of some of the squares on the chessboard. The first two corners are the pawn's square and its promotion square. Two squares an equal distance to the side form the other two corners. If the defending king is in this imaginary square, he stops the pawn.

The Black king is outside the square. However, if it is Black's move, he steps into the square and stops the pawn. If it is White's move, the Black king will always remain one square outside as the pawn runs and the king attempts a futile chase.

Note that if the White pawn were on b2, the square would be the same. The king always move one square. A pawn may move two if it has not yet moved.

In the game, not only does the White king have the ability to stop a passed h-pawn, he can penetrate into Black's position along the same. Black's king, however, can prevent decisive penetration there.

The game continued 32...gxh4 33.Ke2 Ke6 34.Kf1 f5 35.Kg2 Kf6 36.Kh3 Kg5

White to move

The Black king has stopped White's kingside penetration. Alas, Black has a problem on the queenside that also requires the attention of his king. White has a pawn majority. Even before the beginning chess player learns about the square of the pawn, he or she should learn about majorities. A pawn majority offers conditions for creating a passed pawn by force.

I teach the concept of majorities to young children by having them play Pawn Wars (first pawn to promote wins) from the following position.

Both sides have pawn majorities. Who will promote first? With best play, the player who moves first will promote first.

The game continued 37.c4 bxc4 38.bxc4

Is the Black king within the square of White's passed c-pawn? Yes. However, chasing the c-pawn gives up the kingside pawns. White will create another passed pawn. My opponent opted not to chase my pawn. Instead, he sought to create his own passed pawn. This quest was successful.

38...fxe4 39.c5 Kf4 40.fxe4 Kxe4 41.c6 Kf3 42.c7 Kxf2 43.c8Q e4

From here, the queen easily mops up Black's pawns. The most important ones are the a-pawn and the e-pawn. White could capture the a-pawn, exchange the queen for the e-pawn, and then run the b-pawn to promotion.
Back to the original position. What if Black chose a different move, say 32...Ke6. White may still create a passed pawn via 33.c4 bxc4 34.bxc4 Kd6 35.c5+ Kc6

White to move

The White king must remain close, ready to step to e2 to remain in the square if Black ever captures the h-pawn. Meanwhile, Black threatens 36...a5! 37.bxa5 Kxc5 when the Black king is in the square of White's a-pawn, will capture it, and will then return to action on the kingside where knowledge of opposition and triangulation, as well as the gxh4 threat will win the f-pawns, then the e-pawn.

Instead, if Black does not capture the h-pawn, White must resist the queenside pawn break. Instead, the players create fortresses with limited points of penetration. White cannot force issues on the kingside. Black cannot force issues on the queenside. White's king must remain within the square of the potential passed pawn on the h-file, but Black need not create it. Black's king must remain with the square of the potential passed c-pawn, but White need not create it.

I played the position against Rybka 4. The truth of the position prior to 32...gxh4?? is that the game should be a draw. Perhaps White's decision to trade rooks was an error, or perhaps that exchange was necessary to avoid a losing position. White was wrong to believe that he exchanged into a winning pawn endgame even though he managed to win it.

17 June 2012

Training Log

Preparing for Camp

Dragon Chess Camp starts tomorrow and runs all week. It is a chess camp  for youth going into grades K-6.  In the camp, the kids will solve chess problems, practice endgames, learn tactical motifs, and compete against each other. Each day, I will take them through at least one game between strong players. Their workbook contains ten annotated games. I wrote this workbook. Its preparation occupied the bulk of my chess time the past two weeks.

I prepared the following games:

Szen -- Falkbeer, Vienna 1852 (endgame only)
Loewenthal -- Szen, Budapest 1842
Lichtenhein -- Morphy, New York 1857
Morphy -- Loewenthal, London 1858 (game 8 of match)
Morphy -- Loewenthal, London 1858 (Game 12 of match)
Tal -- Uhlmann, Moscow 1971
Botvinnik -- Tal, Moscow 1960 (game 2 of match)
Chernin -- Yudasin, Sverdlovsk 1984
Seirawan -- Bisguier, San Diego 1975
Seirawan -- Karpov, Saint Louis 2012 (game 1 of match)

In addition, the workbook contains an annotated fragment of Pillsbury -- Lasker, Nuremberg 1896. I annotated this game in 2004 and it has become a standard in my summer camp workbooks. Because the same opening as Lichtenhein -- Morphy appeared, the workbook includes the unannotated game score of Botvinnik -- Tal, Moscow 1960 (game 12 of match). My annotations were enhanced through study of several printed texts: Emanuel Lasker, Lasker's Manual of Chess; Valeri Beim, Paul Morphy: A Modern Perspective; John Nunn, 101 Brilliant Chess Miniatures; Mikhail Tal, Tal Botvinnik 1960: Match for the World Championship; Vincent McCambridge, The Games of Yasser Seirawan.

There will not be sufficient time to go through all of these games. The camp participants get to keep their 82 page workbook at the end of camp. My hope is that some of them will find time later in the summer to study some of the other games.

My workbook contains an important section on pawn endgames. Naturally, I reviewed these while writing this year's workbook. This is my fifth year of a one-week chess camp the week after school let out for the summer. The past four years, the camp was called Black Knights Chess Camp, as it was held in Deer Park, where I coach the Black Knights Chess Team. This past year was my first as coach of the Saint George's School Dragons chess team, and I moved my camp to the new school. Funding for the Deer Park program remains uncertain for next year. The old source of funding was eliminated by the state in budget cuts more than one year ago, but the district found a source of temporary funding for the year that just ended.

Routine Training

In addition to reviewing elementary pawn endgames, I continued with frequent tactics exercises.

I attempted 47 problems in three sessions on Chess Tempo. Having watched my percentage drop the past couple of weeks, I slowed down in the third session. The slowing kicked up my average recent per problem time by 20 seconds, but gave me one session with 63% over 16 problems.

I spent 4:48 correctly solving Problem 77240. That was my longest time on a single problem.

White to move

Problems Done: 1941 (Correct: 1052 Failed: 889)
Percentage correct: 54.2%
Average recent per problem time spent 89 seconds

Perhaps a dozen or so problems with Shredder's iPad app.

1695 puzzles: 13289/16950 points 78%
last 10 puzzles: 73/100 73%

Thanks to the recommendation of fellow blogger AoxomoxoA, I tried a new site for training: Chessity. See
"Chessity: New Tactics Server "from" the developer of the Steps (Stappen) method" at AoxomoxoA's blog. The problems there seem to differ from Chess Tempo in the skill sets that they develop. More will be written concerning the nuances of tactical skills in problem solving. I solved 137 problems.

13 June 2012

Play as Yasser

It is exciting to see Yasser Seirawan returning to active competitive chess. He is from my home state, although living in the Netherlands these days. On the USCF rating list for active players in Washington state, he remains No. 1, where he has been many years.* With him playing again, and with me looking for players to profile for my chess camp next week, I've been looking over some Seirawan's games old and new.

This position comes from the US Open 1975. Seirawan was fourteen years old and had been playing chess roughly two years. It was published as Chess Informant 20/45.

White to move

Seirawan played 35.Re5! Annotators Robert Byrne and Edmar Mednis gave the position after his move as decisive advantage for White. The rook move is perhaps not so difficult to find, as Black must lose the queen to prevent checkmate. Rather, the previous 34.Bf4! demonstrates Seirawan's understanding of the tactics in the position. From these tactical shots, he achieved a clear positional advantage.

Later in the game, he gave up his queen for the Black bishop in order to promote the c-pawn to another queen.

*I have found myself as high as No. 69, but at the time of this writing stand at 71. The change was not due to my rating changing, but that of others.

12 June 2012

Long Think

Certain positions require deeper calculation, whether they are tactical or positional. Sometimes there is the need  to find a plan. Other times one must find an only move in a critical position. Then, there are efforts to find the most convincing continuation in a superior position. In a 15 0 game on Free Internet Chess Server this morning, I reached the following position with 9:57 remaining on the clock.

White to move

r3r1k1/pp2bppp/4b3/2pN4/2N1B3/1R4P1/q2P1P1P/3Q1RK1 w - - 0 22

My opponent might have suspected that I abandoned the game. After several minutes, I saw the message "hello" pop up in the chat box. I replied, "I'm thinking," and he left me to my work. When I finally moved, I had 3:51 remaining on the clock. That's slightly more than six minutes in a fifteen minute game.

After the game ended, I brought up the game in ChessBase 11, navigated to this position, and opened Rybka 4. Rybka favors the move that I actually played +3.41 to +3.00. When the game was over thirty-one moves later, I had 1:58 remaining on the clock. That is just over five minutes for the first twenty-one moves, six minutes for move twenty-two, and less than two minutes for the rest of the game.

It is satisfying to go into a long think and come out having made the strongest move.

10 June 2012

Training Log

The Funk

Losing puts me into a funk. Sometimes it's not the loss, but an unreasonable concern with meaningless online ratings. Make no mistake, ratings are useful for measuring personal progress over time, and for finding appropriately difficult opponents. But ratings are too easily compared.

My USCF rating of 1933 is solid. I spent years struggling to rise above 1800, and then celebrated the achievement. Now, if I suffered a losing streak and dropped below 1900, it would put me into a funk.

Compare my USCF OTB rating to an online correspondence rating of 2275. The higher rating is deemed inflated by some, but it strokes my ego. At another site my rating is 1840, and it hovers near 1700 at yet another. These are correspondence ratings, and at my most active sites they are near 2000.

Online blitz is another matter. My blitz rating at FICS, where I have not played for several years, is slightly over 1600, and my peak rating there was mid-1700s. On Chess.com, my blitz rating is a tad over 1800, and has been over 1950. On ICC, it is near 1600, but based on a mere handful of games. Most of my play on ICC is in the 3 0 pool and the 1 0 pool. Those pools are brutal, and the ratings are embarrassing. Yesterday, I drew a Women's International Master (or lost on time in a clearly superior position)--I cannot recall, exactly, except that I was not outplayed. Her rating was near 1500, and it is a good day when my rating climbs above that. I have yet to crack 1600 in the 3 0 pool. Even so, I am mid-1900s in the 5 0 pool, albeit based on fewer than one dozen games.

I know well that ratings are relative. Indeed, I'm constantly preaching this point when the subject arises in online chess forums. Even so, some ratings put me into a funk. My response to losing or even drawing a player whose rating seems too low to me is to play more, but increasingly my play is foul: I'm playing the rating instead of the player. My play gets worse, and I play more. As the quality deteriorates, the quantity grows to gargantuan proportions and my mood worsens.

Much of my work is done from home. This convenience creates a flexible schedule that permits chess study. But, it also renders possible a wholly dysfunctional waste of days--hundreds and even thousands of online blitz and bullet with nothing to show for the time except a foul mood, a funk.

The Training

All this lamenting of my weakness for binges on nonstop garbage chess is to say that my training regimen lacked a sense of purpose this past week. No effort was expended solving the challenging and well-selected chess positions in Chess Training Pocket Book II, nor in Imagination in Chess (see "New Year's Resolutions"). No effort was put forth on my efforts to master fundamental pawn endgames. There were, however, three sessions (two quite short, and one long) working standard tactics on Chess Tempo for a total of 83 problems. As noted in "Counting Pieces," I had a pleasant reminder of the benefits of such training on Friday.

Chess Tempo total:

Problems Done: 1894 (Correct: 1025 Failed: 869)
Percentage correct: 54.12%
Average recent per problem time spent 79 seconds

09 June 2012

Counting Pieces

Profiting from Chess Tempo Training

Chess Tempo performance statistics give me percentage scores for my performance on each of the tactical motifs it recognizes. My lowest percentage after the first several hundred problems was in Counting, which CT defines as, "a tactic occurring due to a mistake in evaluating the material balance arising after a series of takes." After identifying this weakness, I created a problem set consisting of all the Counting problems rated 1600-2000. A portion of my training each week has been with this problem set.

This work paid off in a critical position yesterday. I was playing David Griffin in the Spokane City Championship Contenders Tournament. Griffin organizes and funds this remarkable event. Participants must be invited. The participants are selected through a grand prix points system after those winning local weekend tournaments and twice annual club championships have taken the first slots. It is a six player round-robin event. The winner becomes the challenger in a four game City Championship match.

In 2008, I won this event and then lost to FM David Sprenkle 2 1/2 - 1/2 in the championship. In 2010, I tied John Julian in the Contenders Tournament, but he had better tie-breaks. Julian played Sprenkle, losing. Sprenkle then moved out of state due to employment opportunities elsewhere, and in 2011, Julian played Michael Cambareri in the championship match. Julian is the current city champion.

This year's Contenders includes Griffin, the lowest rated player; Tim Moroney, an Expert and the highest rated player at present in our fair city; Cambareri, Jeremy Krasin, Nikolay Bulakh, and me, all in the 1900s USCF. Although ostensibly the weakest player, Griffin is well-experienced and capable of beating any of the rest. He drew Moroney in their encounter.

We left the main traveled paths rather quickly, as both players opted for uncommon moves. My seventh move rendered the game unique in the annals of chess history, but already by that point we had departed from the play of anyone over 2100.

Griffin,David (1611) - Stripes,James (1933) [A31]
City Championship Contenders Spokane, 08.06.2012

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 c5 3.c4 g6 4.Nc3 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Bg7 6.Bf4?! d6 7.Nf3 Qc7N


White to move

8.e4 Nbd7 9.Qd2 Nc5 10.e5 dxe5?!

10...Nfe4 11.Nxe4 Nxe4 12.Qd5 Nc5 =

11.Bxe5 Qd7 12.Qxd7+

12.Qe3 +/=

12...Bxd7 13.Nd5 Rc8 14.Nc7+?! 


14...Kf8 15.b4?

Defining Counting as an error in calculation, Griffin's assault on this knight was a critical error in the game. It led to a position that I spent four minutes studying before making my move, my second longest think in the game. I was playing relatively fast, using a total of forty minutes for the whole game. Griffin used eighty.

Black to move

15...Ng4! -/+

I played the strongest move, which was the result of confident calculation of a series of exchanges. Confidence during the game stemmed from the hours of training on Chess Tempo. Also of concern was that moving my knight to safety permits white to start rolling his queenside pawn majority, and thereby freeing his light-squared bishop for action. I had a clear advantage from this point on in the game. Even so, Griffin found a way to make things interesting, and one or two inaccuracies on my part gave him opportunities, the most important of which he kindly failed to exploit. In the end, he overlooked a checkmate threat.

16.Bxg7+ Kxg7 17.bxc5

During my calculation for move 15, I had to examine 17.Nb5 Bxb5 18.cxb5 Ne4 19.Be2 Nexf2–+. I did not continue my calculations to consider 20.0–0 Ne4.

17...Rxc7 18.h3

18.Rb1 Nf6–+

18...Nf6–+ 19.Rb1

Black to move



20.Rb5 Nd7 21.Nd4

Nothing can be done to save the bishop, but my knight is better than his bishop even in this relatively open position. However, the doubled pawns and open g-file gave my opponent play that easily could have been prevented. Black still has a clear advantage.

21...Nxc5 22.Nxf5+ gxf5 23.h4 Rd8 24.Rh3 b6 25.Rg3+ Kf6 26.Rg5 e6 27.Be2 

Black to move


I spent about three minutes considering the relative merits of the text move and 27...Rcd7. Possible the latter was more accurate. Rybka prefers the move that I played.

28.Rh5 Kg6 29.g4 Nc3? 

I failed to even consider 29...fxg4, the correct move.

White to move

30.gxf5+ Kg7! 31.Re5 Rcd7? 32.fxe6?? 

We spent some time after the game examining the rook endgame after 32.f4 Nxe2 33.Kxe2 Rd2+. Black is better. White could have played 32.Kf1! when Black's advantage is slight.

32...Rd1+  0–1

Next move is checkmate.

07 June 2012

Identifying Errors

For deliberate practice to work, the demands have to be serious and sustained. Simply playing lots of chess or soccer or golf isn't enough. ... It requires constant self-critique, a pathological restlessness, a passion to aim consistently just beyond one's capability so that daily disappointment and failure is actually desired, and a never-ending resolve to dust oneself off and try again and again.
David Shenk, The Genius in All of Us, 55 (emphasis added)
Deliberate practice is defined as a quest for failure. Does this translate into a rationale for an obsession with blitz when one is playing badly? Perhaps the critical question should be posed another way.

05 June 2012

Rated Tactics Training

Many years ago, before I was a member of the United States Chess Federation, I was able to borrow copies of the organization's magazine from the library. In those days it was called Chess Life and Review. One of my favorite regular features was Bruce Pandolfini's column. After presenting the first few moves of a game, he asked the reader to slowly uncover the article while guessing the move of the player who won. By keeping track of my guesses, I was able to score each game. A chart at the end of the article presented a rating estimate based on that score.

In the early 1990s, as my interest in chess was growing again after more than a decade away from competition, I returned to Pandolfini's column. The rating estimate gave me an inflated and inaccurate perception of my likely playing strength. Some twelve years of tournament play were needed before my USCF rating approached the estimates from those old columns.

These days no one reads magazines. Everything is on the web. Some of the most popular tactics training resources give users a chess rating that seems as though it may correspond to a USCF or FIDE rating based on play. Users who do not compete may believe their tactics rating predicts the rating they would have if they played.

03 June 2012

Training Log

After a nice weekend tending to my crops, the fever struck. I suffered with a strange and irritating late-season flu most of the past week. Training was almost non-existent.

I worked nineteen problems in the Shredder iPad app.

1688 puzzles: 13236/16880 points 78%
last 10 puzzles: 79/100 79%

I did watch the rest of the television series Lie to Me.