31 October 2012

Lesson of the Week

Akiba Rubinstein is down two pawns against Frank Marshall and his queen is under attack. Perhaps, there is something he can do.

White to move

26 October 2012

Defensive Resources

Problem number 30 in Anthology of Chess Combinations has elements of the first problem in the volume, a well-known mating pattern. The first problem is from Paulsen -- Morphy, 1857. In number 30, however, White has additional defensive resources. Determining the correct sequence of moves for defeating these defensive efforts requires deeper calculation.

Black to move

I quickly found the first few moves while drinking my morning coffee. Near the end, however, I faltered. I missed the key deflection that seals the deal.

It is an interesting quirk of the Anthology of Chess Combinations that White's best moves are given in the notes. The mainline leads to checkmate, but with different defensive moves, Black ends the combination with a decisive material advantage. The attacking theme is preserved, but players trying this problem against a computer must be prepared for a stubborn defensive effort that is not executed by the Chess Informant Solver's Kit, the software packaged with the CD version of the Anthology.

25 October 2012

Should be Easy

This position is from the Anthology of Chess Combinations in the instructional section. I am using the electronic edition and the Chess Informant Solver's Kit. One encounters it with the knowledge that Black plays to reach a win. There's not much that Black can do, as most of his piece are immobile. Attacking the king--the only vulnerability--is the clear plan. Nonetheless, I struggled to find the correct move.

Black to move

I could see the idea that creates a checkmate threat. It does not work. How do I change the dynamics of the position so that Black's defensive resource is no longer available? Had I asked this question, which Paata Gaprindashvili suggests in Imagination in Chess (2004), the solution would have been immediately evident. Gaprindashvili uses the term "reciprocal thinking" for correcting an idea that does not work via altering the order of moves, or choosing an intermediate move.

Flexibility is another term that seems appropriate here. Despite a limited number of pieces, Black has more than one way to attack the king. Flexible thinking discloses the correct sequence. The term flexibility describes the resources on the chess board, and it describes the necessary mental processes for utilizing those resources.

24 October 2012

Lesson of the Week

The Anthology of Chess Combinations (1995) contains one position from the games of Akiba Rubinstein. It is this week's lesson. The position appeared in the 1927 Polish Championship, which Rubinstein won. His opponent was Moishe Hirschbein.

White to move

This problem is not difficult for the average adult club player, but may prove difficult to scholastic players who are just beginning their life as chess players. In my Tuesday groups, one first grader found the correct move, but most of the other players had difficulty.

I continue to stress the thinking process of first assessing the position, then developing plans. However, this week, I mentioned to the young players that strong players do not always use such a process with every move. Tactics training develops pattern recognition. Good knowledge of patterns allows a player to immediately observe the threats in this position: Black has some vulnerabilities that White is prepared to exploit. Calculation of the combination takes precedence over positional evaluation. Nonetheless, one must see the position at the end of the combination and evaluate that position correctly. In this case, White gains a decisive material advantage.

Young students need preparation to see the tactical opportunities in positions such as this one. Hence, the players again received a sheet with six elementary problems. In each position, they are to find White's correct move. In chess terminology, the correct move is the strongest one.

The fourth problem on the students' sheet did not have a pawn on a2. This difference does not alter the tactic, but it does affect the evaluation. Without the pawn on a2, best play by both sides leads to a draw. With that extra pawn, White has a winning position.

19 October 2012

Elementary Tactics

Beginners need simple problems featuring two-move combinations. Are these problems easy enough? White to move and reaching a winning position in each.

18 October 2012

Input Solicited

This year, my weekly scholastic lessons feature a select group of great players. In addition to learning strategy and tactics, young players will learn a bit of chess history. From mid-September through the end of October, the lessons have been from the games of Akiba Rubinstein.

Rubinstein is considered the brightest proponent of the Steinitz School of chess strategy. He also studied thoroughly Seigbert Tarrasch, Dreihundert Schachpartien (1896). For the lessons from early November until the winter holiday, which player should I feature? Readers may vote in the poll in the sidebar to the right.

If Tarrasch, the lessons will come from his annotations in the English translation of Dreihndert Schachpartien: Sol Schwartz, trans., Three Hundred Chess Games (1999). In addition, Tarrasch, The Game of Chess (1935) explicates the principles of the Steinitz School.

Alternately, I might explore the principles of the Steinitz school through the words and games of William Steinitz himself. Steinitz's The Modern Chess Instructor (1889) lays out his elementary principles.

Lasker founded no school, but his Lasker's Manual of Chess (1925) has been a source for lessons in the past, and he defeated Steinitz to become the second official World Champion. Common Sense in Chess (1910) also puts forth some principles that are commonly quoted by chess teachers today.

Paul Morphy was the best player before Steinitz's discovery of positional play, and yet Valeri Beim argues that Morphy's tactical brilliance was possible because he understood those positional principles that would be articulated only after he had given up playing chess. Beim's Paul Morphy: A Modern Perspective (2005) would be my primary resource.

Your input can influence my decision.

16 October 2012

Lesson of the Week

Last week's lesson was too difficult for most of the youth in my clubs. This week's lesson might be easier. At the Ostende tournament in 1907 (same event, different year as last week's lesson), Rubinstein defeated Aron Nimzovich from the Black side of the board.

Black to move

We need to keep asking our routine questions.

Who is better?
What are the plans for both sides?

When the mind is trained to spot tactics, some positions do not require these questions. It is not always necessary to consider a position deeply when tactics are present. However, young players are too impulsive and must train to slow down. Standing by the demo board in a room full of elementary students, I have fielded many strings of suggestions that seem like random guesses.

Learning to Spot Tactics

I have been working on a new series of worksheets for my young players. Each worksheet consist of six problems on one page. The problems are simple one-move problems with few pieces on the board. Last week, I spent a short time with a player who has just learned the moves. Together, we went through the first test in Bruce Pandolfini, Beginning Chess (1993). This book has three hundred one-move problems, each with ten or fewer pieces on the board. The young student needed some prompting through the first few problems, and then he began to spot tactics. He solved the last three problems in the first test quickly and on his own.

It would be useful to get this book into the hands of each and every young chess player before he or she plays in a tournament. That is not likely. Even if possible, many students will not work through three hundred problems without additional rewards. Getting groups of players to work through six problems in one sitting is much easier. If I make it a game with prizes, perhaps the necessary habit of tactics training will take root.

Repetition of simple ideas and of common patterns is the heart of chess training. Here are my first six problems. White moves first in each.

15 October 2012

Exploiting Opening Errors

My opponent has made an error in the opening. How can I exploit it? Do I understand why it is an error? How does a chess player learn to spot opening errors?

Studying many positions in which an error has been made helps develop this understanding. Consider the following position with White to move.

Black has just played 6...b6? This position occurred in Rubinstein -- Heilmann, Barmen 1905. I found it in Akiba Rubinstein: Uncrowned King (1994). The authors, John Donaldson and Nikolay Minev, identify the move as an error. I have not played against it, but had Black with the position before the error in one internet blitz game--I played 6...cxd4, which is the second most popular move. I lost that game, but not due to the opening. Rather, I blundered away a knight on move 25. The main line is 6...a6. Both my choice and the main line are presented in the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings as offering Black good prospects to achieve equality.

Knowing the main line is no assurance that one will recognize errors. A deviation from a main line is not always an error. It could be an improvement. In many cases, deviations are simply another way to play a given position. There are more than 85 billion possible legal chess positions after the fifth move. The majority must be quite bad for one player or the other, but certainly there are many good positions that have yet to be examined.

Minev has faced this error over the board twice.

From the position after White's 6.a3, twice Vassily Ivanchuk has played 6...dxc4, drawing both. That move and 6...Be7 are given in footnotes in ECO. Bobby Fischer played 6...Ne4 during his Candidates match with Tigran Petrosian in 1971. 6...Ne4 is the first line in ECO, but is presented as favoring White slightly. 6...b6 is the most popular move that is not in ECO. The Chess Base online database turns up 108 games when 6...b6 was played. White scores over 75% in these games.

What is wrong with 6...b6 in the symmetrical variation of the Queen's Gambit Declined, Semi-Tarrasch?

It weakens the a4-e8 diagonal, exposing the c6 knight to a pin. Does this pin allow White to gain material or positional advantage? In Akiba Rubinstein: Uncrowned King, the authors give the game Minev -- Morcken, Moscow 1956 with the line 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.Bb5 Bb7 9.Ne5 Rc8 10.Qa4. "White wins at least a pawn," they observe (21).


Other moves have been played, but other moves fail to exploit the weakness on c6. 7.dxc5 might have merits, as after 7...bxc5 White plays 8.cxd5.

Black has two replies: 7...Nxd5 and 7...exd5.

Studying the games that have been played by strong players following both replies offers a method for developing the skills to exploit this error. While trying to show the Rubinstein -- Heilmann game to a friend on Saturday, I forgot about Rubinstein's 9.e4!

Rubinstein -- Heilmann continued:

7...exd5 8.Bb5 Qd6 9.e4

Black to move

Heilmann quickly found his pieces lacking mobility and the game ended ten moves later. Most other efforts by Black fared just as poorly.

09 October 2012

Lesson of the Week

After a few inaccuracies, Akiba Rubinstein found himself in a hopelessly lost position against Ossip Bernstein. The game was played in an early round of a grueling event in the Belgian resort town of Ostende in 1906. The format, designed to accommodate 36 players, favored youth. Rubinstein finished in third place, and Bernstein in fourth. The event "greatly enhanced their reputations," according to John Donaldson and Nikolay Minev, Akiba Rubinstein: Uncrowned King (1994), 42.

Bernstein,Ossip -- Rubinstein,Akiba [D37]
Ostend, 1906

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 Be7 5.Bf4 0–0 6.e3 c5 7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.cxd5 Nxd5 9.Nxd5 exd5 10.Bd3 Bb4+ 11.Kf1 Be7 12.h4 Nd7 13.Rc1 Nf6 14.Nd4 Qb6 15.Qb3 Qxb3 16.Nxb3 Bd7 17.Ke2 Rfc8 18.Be5 Ne4 19.f3 Nd6 20.Nc5 Bc6 21.b3 Re8 22.a4 Nf5 

White to move

Some positions require clear calculation of a series of exchanges that might proceed in any of several ways, and then accurate evaluation of the resulting position. After eleven moves of piece trading, the players reached the critical position in the endgame.

23.Nxb7 Bxb7 24.Bxf5 Ba3 25.Bd4 Bxc1 26.Rxc1 g6 27.Bd7 Re7 28.Rc7 Ba6+ 29.Kd2 Rd8 30.Rxa7 Bc4 31.bxc4 dxc4 32.a5 Rexd7 33.Rxd7 Rxd7

White to move

This week's lesson begins with this position. We ask the questions introduced last week:

1) Who is better?
2) What are the plans for both sides?


Bernstein commented that this hasty move cost him the win. If we arrived at clear and correct answers to our questions, will these answers help us find the correct line of play?

34...Rd6 35.a7 Ra6 36.Kc3 Ra4 37.e4 h5 38.Be3 f6 39.Bb6 Kf7 40.Kd4 Ke6 41.f4 Kd6 42.f5 gxf5 43.exf5 Kd7 44.g3 Kc8 45.Bc5 Kd8 46.Ke4 Kd7 47.Bd4 Ke7 48.Bc5+ Kd7 ½–½

Imbalances are the heart of chess strategy. In the second diagram above, White has a bishop and one pawn for a rook. The common material point value system puts pawns at one, bishops at three, and rooks at five. Materially, Black has the advantage. But, the interplay between these pieces, the positions of the pawns, and the position of the kings all affect the position.

08 October 2012

Monday Tactic

This position was reached in Rubinstein -- Burn, Ostende 1906

White to move
2rq1rk1/pp3ppp/4pb2/3nN3/3P4/1B6/PP2QPPP/R3R1K1 w - - 0 17

06 October 2012

Practicing Visualization

During a social time at a professional retreat for my spouse, I found a surprising opportunity to practice board vision and visualization skills. Her group met all afternoon yesterday, and they are meeting all day today. Their work is interesting and engaging, but it differs from mine. I came along to enjoy Eden Valley Guest Ranch (outside Oroville, Washington), and to care for our puppies.

View from our cabin at Eden Valley Guest Ranch
While the planners (that's their profession) work, I enjoy the woods, the views, and the solitude of the cabin. I brought along a chess set and my copy of John Donaldson and Nikolay Minev, Akiba Rubinstein: Uncrowned King (1994). Although the book is old, it is new to me. It arrived in the mail earlier this week. As I read the biographical portions of the book, I play through selected games on the chess board.

One of the games that caught my interest yesterday afternoon was a miniature from the Barman Chess Congress, August 1905. Donaldson and Minev explain that the Hauptturnier was for those who aspired to the rank of master:
Rubinstein made his international debut at the Barmen Chess Congress in August of 1905. Playing in the Hauptturnier, which was comprised of aspiring masters, Akiba turned in an excellent result, scoring 12 points from 15 games to tie for first with Oldrich Duras. (20)
Rubinstein had White against Ernst Heilmann in the second round. Heilmann finished the event in seventh place with 9.5.

Rubinstein,Akiba -- Heilmann,Ernst [D40]
Hauptturnier-A Barmen (2), 1905

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 e6 3.c4 c5 4.e3 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.a3 b6? 7.cxd5 exd5

In the notes, the authors present a few moves from a game that Minev played in 1956. Minev's opponent played 7...Nxd5 and White won a pawn. That game ended drawn, although that bit of information is not in this book.

8.Bb5 Qd6 9.e4! Bd7

10.e5 Qe7 11.0–0 Ng8 12.Nxd5 Qd8 13.Qa4 Rc8 14.Bg5 Nge7 15.dxc5 bxc5 16.Rad1 a6 17.Qxa6 Nd4 18.Nxd4 cxd4 19.Rxd4 1–0

After spending a bit of time studying Heilmann's errors in this brief game, and looking through a few others in the text, my wife's afternoon session ended. Spouses and others accompanying the retreat participants were invited to dinner and the social time before and after. My wife and I spent half an hour playing with the puppies, then we put them in their kennels with food, water, and toys. We headed back down the hill to the conference center with a few bottles of wine. Others in the group brought some local beer. I opened a couple of our bottles of wine, sampled the beer, and fell into some conversations. A few of the planners whom I was standing with started talking about their afternoon's workshops. Nothing surprising there, but it left me on the margins of the conversation.

It would have been rude to force a change of topic so that I could participate. Instead, I stood quietly, smiling and nodding, keeping others comfortable with my presence. Meanwhile, my mind was back at the table in our cabin. I was playing through Rubinstein -- Heilmann in my head.

In my mental analysis, I made it as far at the diagram in the game score above when I was addressed directly by one of the retreat participants. She showed me some cards the group had worked with earlier that day. The cards were color-coded lists of behavior patterns, mental orientations, personality traits. I matched pretty well with the list on the green card.

04 October 2012

Rubinstein's Rook Endings

In Akiba Rubinstein: Uncrowned King (1994), John Donaldson and Nikolay Minev write, "it was in the ending, particularly Rook endings, that Rubinstein's genius was made manifest" (i). As a guide to beginning study of Rubinstein's endings, the authors provide a list of seven games featuring rook endings (v). The first two on this list are from the St. Petersburg tournament of 1909 in which Rubinstein and World Champion Emanuel Lasker shared first place. Rubinstein defeated Lasker in their individual encounter.

Rubinstein won a pawn in the opening, and then reached an endgame where Lasker's rook and king were forced into passive positions. Although I can see Rubinstein's clear advantage at the game's end, I am puzzled a bit concerning the moment Lasker chose to resign. As it followed Rubinstein's move 40, reaching the time control could have been a factor. However, according to Donaldson and Minev, the time control was reached at move 37 (144).

Rubinstein,Akiba -- Lasker,Emanuel [D32]
St Petersburg 1909

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 e6 4.Bg5 c5 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Nc3 cxd4 7.Nxd4 Nc6 8.e3 Be7 9.Bb5 Bd7 10.Bxf6 Bxf6 11.Nxd5 Bxd4 12.exd4 Qg5 13.Bxc6 Bxc6 14.Ne3 0–0–0 15.0–0 Rhe8 16.Rc1 Rxe3 17.Rxc6+ bxc6 18.Qc1 Rxd4 19.fxe3 Rd7 20.Qxc6+ Kd8 21.Rf4 f5

White to move

After White's move 21, Lasker commented: "A splendid conception. ...Black's only alternative is to exchange Queens and lose the end game" (The International Chess Congress, St. Petersburg, 1909 [1910], 28). In the book of the tournament, Lasker does not analyze the ending after the exchange of queens. Donaldson and Minev present Lasker's comments alongside those from two books by Hans Kmoch, an earlier biography of Rubinstein by Yury Razuvaev and V.I. Murakhveri, and some unnamed text by Reuben Fine.* Fine, Basic Chess Endings (1941) discusses this game, and some of the analysis resembles that attributed to Fine in Akiba Rubinstein: Uncrowned King. But, I am unable to locate the precise words in Fine's text. The words attributed to Lasker by Donaldson and Minev deviate slightly from the tournament book, and the authors correct a notation error in the original. I suspect the abundant comments attributed to others in Akiba Rubinstein: Uncrowned King should be considered paraphrases, rather than quotations. In the game analysis portions, these statements are presented without quotation marks.

22.Qc5 Qe7 23.Qxe7+ Kxe7 24.Rxf5 Rd1+ 25.Kf2 Rd2+ 26.Kf3 Rxb2 27.Ra5 Rb7

White to move

Fine's analysis in Basic Chess Endings begins from this position (364-365).


Fine notes that 28.e4 "is also good, but to have the Black King confined is helpful" (364).

28...Kf8 29.e4 Rc7 30.h4 Kf7 31.g4 Kf8 32.Kf4 Ke7 33.h5 h6

"Why, one naturally asks, does Lasker create a hole at g6  with his Pawn move? The answer is that he cannot afford to let the White Pawn get to g6" (Fine, 364).

34.Kf5 Kf7 35.e5 Rb7 36.Rd6 Ke7 37.Ra6 Kf7 38.Rd6 Kf8 39.Rc6 Kf7

White to move

40.a3 1–0

Why resign now? The answer was not immediately obvious to me. Akiba Rubinstein: Uncrowned King gives the move an ! and offers analysis attributed to Kmoch:
Zugzwang! 40...Re7 (or 40...Ke8 41.Kg6 and wins, since the only useful answer 41...Rb4 is prevented) 41.e6+ Kg8 42.Kg6 Re8 43.e7, followed by Rd6 and Rd8. (148)
Fine gives the move !!! and presents Kmoch's main line, as well as:
40...Kf8 41.Kg6 Rb3 42.Rc8+ Ke7 43.Rc7+ Ke6 44.Rxg7 Rxa3 45.Kxh6 and the two connected Pawns are irresistible. (365)
After studying the analysis in these two books, Lasker's resignation makes more sense to me.

*Donaldson and Minev state that space limitations prohibit a full listing of sources, but they list certain "most helpful" (315) works, including:
Kmoch, Hans. Rubinstein Gewinnt! (1933).
_____. Rubinstein's Chess Masterpieces (1941).
Razuvaev, Yury, and V.I. Murakhveri. Akiba Rubinstein (1980).

They also list Lasker's tournament book.

03 October 2012

Lesson of the Week

In October, each week's chess lesson will come from the games of Akiba Rubinstein. One hundred years ago, Rubinstein won four consecutive tournaments with an overall 72% winning percentage against most of the world's top players: 39 wins, 24 draws, 8 losses. The strong tournament at San Sebastian, Spain was the first of these four. One of the games from that tournament provides this week's lesson.

Rubinstein -- Schlechter is one of two Rubinstein's wins in Irving Chernev, The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played: 62 Masterpieces of Chess Strategy (1965). The other was the source for the lessons of the week for 17-21 September, and 24-28 September.*

Carl Schlechter was one of the strongest players in the world in the early twentieth century with many tournament victories. He played World Champion Emanuel Lasker in a match for the title in 1910. The match ended with one win each and eight draws. Lasker retained the title due to the rules agreed by the players. That was the best result a challenger had achieved against Lasker since he earned the title in his victory of Wilhelm Steinitz in 1894. Rubinstein also sought a World Championship match with Lasker, but the scheduled match in late 1914 could not take place due to the beginning of World War I.

This week's lesson concerns center control and piece mobility: two elementary positional concepts. Control of the center nearly always confers control of the whole board. When one player's pieces are mobile, and the other player's are not, the player with mobile pieces often has a substantial advantage.

Rubinstein,Akiba -- Schlechter,Carl [D41]
San Sebastian, 07.03.1912

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 e6 4.Nc3 c5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.e4 Nxc3 7.bxc3 cxd4 8.cxd4 Bb4+ 9.Bd2 Qa5 10.Rb1 Bxd2+ 11.Qxd2 Qxd2+ 12.Kxd2 0–0 13.Bb5 a6 14.Bd3 Rd8 15.Rhc1 b5 16.Rc7 Nd7 17.Ke3 Nf6 18.Ne5 Bd7

This position was on the demonstration board.

White to move

Young players have a tendency to begin shouting out moves. I seek to teach them how to think about a position. Before moves could be suggested, I needed answers to two questions.

Which side is better?

There are three possible answers, I told the players. White is better, Black is better, or the position is equal. In this position, White is substantially better due to control of the center of the board and due to more active pieces. Black's pieces have little power because they lack mobility.

Young chess players tend to regard the position as equal because the material is equal. Nonetheless, one young girl in Tuesday's groups recognized that White's pieces were on better squares than Black's. She was rewarded with a chess pencil.

What are the plans for both sides?

Black needs to get his pieces active. White's plan is harder to articulate. I suggested a pawn storm to drive the knight away from defending the bishop. White does not want to trade active pieces for passive ones unless it leads to clear vulnerabilities in Black's position. Attacking the knight, however, makes Black's most active piece less useful.

After discussing this position, I reset the board in the starting position and showed the moves that led to Black's inactive pieces. 9...Qa5 was a critical error. Chernev criticizes 12...O-O, but 12...Ke7 fails to solve Black's problems. After the exchanges on moves 10-12, White dominates the board. Black has no reasonable means for developing his forces. Indeed, the single merit in Black's position is his queenside pawn majority. If only the kings and pawns remained on the board, Black would have the advantage. However, with each player possessing a pair of minor pieces and two rooks, White's central pawn majority is more important than Black's queenside majority.

After playing the game up to this point, I showed the students the next several moves.

19.g4 h6 20.f4 Be8 21.g5 hxg5 22.fxg5 Nh7 23.h4 Rdc8 24.Rbc1 Rxc7 25.Rxc7 Rd8 26.Ra7 f6 27.gxf6 gxf6 28.Ng4 Bh5 29.Nh6+ Kh8 30.Be2 Be8 31.Rxa6 Kg7 32.Ng4 f5 33.Ra7+ Kh8 34.Ne5 fxe4 35.Bxb5 Nf6 36.Bxe8 Rxe8 37.Kf4 Kg8 38.Kg5 Rf8 39.Kg6 1–0

The young chess players were reminded of the key concepts: mobility and center control. The process of thinking about a position through the steps of evaluation, plans, and then moves will be reinforced in subsequent weeks.

Bonus Position

Schlechter did not play 10...Nc6. What tactical shot refutes this error?

White to move
r1b1k2r/pp3ppp/2n1p3/q7/1b1PP3/5N2/P2B1PPP/1R1QKB1R w Kkq - 0 11

Irving Chernev offers the answer.

*My after school chess clubs begin this week, and so these youth did not get the lessons from Rubinstein -- Duras, 1908. The home link classes have been meeting for two weeks.