30 November 2012

Bullet Skills

Winning one minute chess often becomes a matter of rodent control. The result hinges less on who plays better than upon who plays faster. Even so, strategy and tactics do come into play. Sometimes, bullet tests elementary checkmate skills. Can you checkmate with two queens in four moves or less? Some players know only one pattern for checkmate with two queens, or a queen and a rook. These players deservedly lose a few won games.

White to move

It is checkmate in two, but White played nine more moves before losing on time. White had 3.8 seconds: enough for two good moves. Black had 6.3 seconds remaining, and was down to 0.3 when White's time expired. Clearly White outplayed Black, but White was found wanting in basic checkmate skills.

After 52.Qg5 Kc5, White missed a checkmate in one. A no point through the last nine moves was White more than three moves from checkmate.

28 November 2012

Lesson of the Week

Paul Morphy found the correct move after Johann Jacob Loewenthal blundered. This game is not a strong example of Morphy's play, but reveals that he sometimes groped through the darkness. In the end, however, Black's failure to attend to king safety led to his defeat.

In the Wednesday and Thursday classes, I plan to do as I did in the Tuesday classes. The second diagram will be on the demonstration board. In order to offer a solution, students need a ticket: completion of the nine problems on the worksheet Beginning Tactics 7. These "beginning" problems are growing more challenging. Several problems in Beginning Tactics 7 employ the tactic of removing the guard. There are forks, too, a skewer, and a forced checkmate in two using an X-ray.

Morphy,Paul - Loewenthal,Johann Jacob [C43]
London 1858

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d4 exd4 4.e5 Ne4 5.Bd3 d5 6.Nxd4 c5 7.Ne2 Nc6 8.f3 Ng5 9.f4 Ne6 10.0–0 Qb6 11.Kh1 Be7 12.Nbc3 Nc7 13.b3 Nb4 14.Ng3 Nxd3 15.Qxd3 Qc6 16.f5 g6 17.Bf4 Bxf5 18.Nxf5 gxf5 19.Qxf5 Qg6 20.Bg3 h5 21.Qxg6 fxg6

White to move


Morphy offers a pawn that Black should have refused. Advancing the pawn also creates a discovered attack on the knight.


22...0–0–0 would have maintained equality.

23.Rae1 Rf8??

Another Black blunder, and now White has exactly one winning move.

White to move

24.Rxf8+ Nxf8 25.Nxd5 1–0

Had Loewenthal played on, the game might have continued 25...0–0–0 26.Nxe7+ Kd7 27.Rd1+! Kxe7 28.Bh4+ only move Kf7 29.Rxd8 and White is ahead a rook.

Beginning Tactics 7 (sample)

Find the correct move for White in each diagram.

Update 22 March 2017: All of the beginning tactics exercises and solutions can be purchased for viewing on Kindle readers. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XKG1VZD

27 November 2012

iPod/iPhone Chess Games Collection: Review

BoldApps LTD offers a database app for iPod/iPhone/iPad called Chess Games Collection. The app itself is free, but the information in the Apple Store is somewhat misleading. The description claims: "Chess Games Collection includes more than half of a million games exactly as played by world famous chess players." In order to access the half-million games, it is necessary to purchase ten additional collections in addition to the small number of games that come with the app itself. Inasmuch as there is likely some duplication within these additional collections, the total number of games may be slightly less than advertised.

These additional collections range in quantity and price from Pro (250,000 games for $4.99) to Women (20,000 games for $0.99). The Demo collection that comes with the app contains a sampling of games played by Alexander Alekhine (15 games), Jose Raul Capablanca (8 games), Max Euwe (8 games), Emanuel Lasker (10 games), and Akiba Rubinstein (10 games). There are not 51 games, however, because of duplication: three games were played between Alekhine and Rubinstein, for example. The roughly three dozen games included offer instructive value with emphasis on quick knockouts, such as Rubinstein's 17-move knockout of Bartoszkiewicz in 1897 (see screenshot).

The app permits searching by player, opening, year, number of moves, and result. It is a welcome addition to the small, but growing number of database chess applications for iDevices. For those who already have access to PGN databases and the ability to transfer them among programs (in other words, those who are computer literate with respect to chess software), there are better apps. For the casual chess player looking for ease of use, and willing to spend a few dollars to gain access to more games, Chess Games Collection might be a good choice.

The app works only in portrait mode, and does not flip. As it is designed primarily for the iPod Touch and iPhone, the graphics quality suffers slightly on the larger iPad.

When I wrote "Chess on the iPad" ten months ago, tChess Pro appeared to be the only database app for these devices. It remains one of the best. Now, users have many more choices, including, CBase Chess, ChessDB HD, and ChessBase Online, among others. ChessBase Online offers the most comprehensive collection and exceptional search options. However, it frequently crashes or fails to open at all. It also does not work offline (something that still matters for some users). ChessDB HD is awkward to use, and does not contain some of the advertised features. CBase Chess is primitive, but supports annotations better than any other app. Hiarcs offers limited database functions.

None of these apps are free, but the claim that Chess Games Collection offers half a million games in a free app is dishonest. Chess Games Collection is a free platform designed to sell databases. Most users are better off buying an app that supports unlimited transfer of PGN files (subject to the storage limits of the device). On the other hand, those apps that offer the best viewing and analysis support (analysis engines, configurable chess sets, rotation capabilities) also lack search mechanisms. That feature might warrant reappraisal of the merits of this app for advanced players.

26 November 2012

Instant Gratification

Benefits of Study

Studying master games brings long-term benefits to chess players who are ambitious to improve their play. Occasionally, study also brings instant gratification. Yesterday, I had a moment of the latter. After spending the better part of my study time the past week studying Karpov -- Korchnoi, m2 (1974), I was able to apply a lesson from this game in my own online blitz play. In the end, however, I blundered, giving away the game. My opponent failed to seize the win, answering my blunder with one of his own.

Game losing blunders are in the nature of blitz. Study, however, facilitates reaching a decisive advantage after eighteen moves played in under one minute.

Stripes (1748) - Internet Opponent (1694)
Live Chess Chess.com, 25.11.2012

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0–0 8.Bc4 Nc6 9.Qd2 Bd7 10.0–0–0 Rc8 11.Bb3 Ne5 12.h4

Via a different move order, we have reached the same position as in my reference game.

Black to move

12...h5 Black prevents White's thematic pawn sacrifice and action along the h-file.

13.Bg5 Nc4 14.Bxc4 Rxc4 15.Nde2 a5N

15...Qa5 16.Kb1 Rfc8 17.Bxf6 exf6 18.Nd5 Qd8 19.c3 b5 20.Ne3 Bh6 21.Qxd6 Bxe3 22.Qxd7 Qa5 23.Rd5 a6 24.Rhd1 R4c7 25.Qd6 Rc6 26.Qe7 Bc5 27.Rd8+ Kg7 28.Qe8 Rxd8 29.Rxd8 Qxd8 30.Qxd8 Bf2 31.g3 b4 32.Qd5 Rc5 33.Qd3 a5 34.c4 g5 35.Nd4 Re5 36.Nf5+ Kg6 37.Qd8 Rxf5 38.exf5+ 1–0 Suder,R (2222)-Dukaczewski,P (2336)/Poznan 2007/EXT 2011

White to move

Here I spotted a tactic that I remembered from Mikhail Botvinnik's annotations in Chess Informant 18/433. The position differs from Karpov -- Korchnoi, but the vulnerability of the bishop on e7 is the same.

16.e5! dxe5?

16...Nh7 17.exd6 Nxg5 18.dxe7 Qxe7 19.Qxd7 Qe3+ 20.Qd2 Qxd2+ 21.Rxd2 Ne6±

17.Bxf6 Bxf6 18.Qxd7+- Qb6 19.Nd5

19.Ne4 would be better

Black to move


19...Qf2 20.Nec3

20.Nxf6+ exf6 21.c3

I should have played 21.Nc3


21...Qf2 22.Qd3 does not lead to advantage for Black, but is better than in the game.

22.Qd5 Qe3+ 23.Qd2 Qc5 24.Ng3 b4 25.Ne4 bxc3

White to move

26.bxc3 Qa3+ 27.Kb1

27.Qb2 is better

27...Rb8+ 28.Ka1 f5 29.Nf6+ Kg7 30.Nd5 Rd8 31.Rb1



White to move


32.c4+- was the only move

32...Qa4 33.Nb6 Qxa2+??


34.Qxa2 1–0

23 November 2012

A Fingerprint

While studying Mikhail Botvinnik's annotations to the second match game of the 1974 Karpov -- Korchnoi Candidates Final, I took an interest in annotations regarding a position that did not occur in the game. After Karpov's 16.Nde2, the position in the diagram below was reached.

Black to move

This position might serve as a fingerprint for the game, although the position after 19.Rd3 is more specific to this particular struggle, as it was Karpov's novelty (according to Informant 18--the move appears in two other games in 1974).

In the diagram position, Black faces a difficult choice. 16.Nde2 was first played in 1973, but had been analyzed following the fourth match game of Geller -- Korchnoi Candidates Quarter Final, 1971 where 16.Bh6 had been played. Korchnoi himself was the first to mention the move in Informant, suggesting it in annotations to Trofimov -- Nesis 1972 (15/407). It was relatively new when Korchnoi faced it over the board. Informant 17/461 presents the move as a novelty (the volume covering the first half of 1974) even though it had been played in a correspondence game the previous year.

Korchnoi played 16...Qa5, which is now given in the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings as dubious with Karpov -- Korchnoi 1974 as the first of several reference games in the notes. The mainline (ECO B 78, line 13) is 16...Re8, which had been played twice by James Edward Tarjan in a tournament in Torremolinos, Spain. Perhaps Korchnoi was familiar with these games, both of which Tarjan lost, when he opted for 16...Qa5.

Debate in the Annotations

After 16...Re8, the annotations in Chess Informant become interesting.

In Martin Gonzalez -- Tarjan 1974, Black played the critical line after 17.e5. Botvinnik omits this line from his annotations to Karpov -- Korchnoi (Informant 18/433). Botvinnik gives 17.e5 dxe5 18.g5+/- as a note to the game. Enver Bukic annotated Martin Gonzalez -- Tarjan for Informant. There 17.e5 was met by 17...Ng4, which later became the critical line. In a note, Bukic gives 17...dxe5 18.g5+-. Thus, Botvinnik's annotation downgrades White's advantage in the position from decisive to substantial.

Neither Bukic nor Botvinnik comment on the merits of 17.e5. However, another game played by Tarjan appears in the next issue of Informant, this time a Black win. Dragoljub Minić annotated Informant 19/403, and gave the move 17.e5 an interesting (Tarjan's opponent, Planinic, played 17.Bh6) with the line 17.e5!? Nxg4 18.fxg4 Bxg4 19.exd6 evaluated as unclear.

Two years later, Milan Matulović followed Planinic's idea of playing e5 one move later against Tarjan, who seems to have a knack for getting into theoretical battles in this line of the Yugoslav Attack against the Sicilian Dragon. That game with Matulović's comments proceeded from the diagram position: 16...Re8!? 17.Bh6 Bh8 18.e5! Nxg4 (only move--18...dxe5 19.g5+-) 19.fxg4 Bxg4 20.exd6 (Informant 21/389). Matulović played an improvement suggested by Minic at move 24.

Tibor Florian carries the debate further in annotations to Bernei -- Schneider 1976 (Informant 22/482). Bernei played 17.e5, which Florian assesses as an error. In the notes, he presents Matulović's line, 17.Bh6 Bh8 18.e5! Also in Informant 22, Henrique Mecking presents a line following from 17.e5, but with no evaluation. Mecking's annotations appear in Tan -- Mecking 1976 (Informant 22/486), where 17.Bd4 was played.

Mecking presents without comment both Matulović's line (17.Bh6 Bh8 18.e5 Nxg4 19.fxg4 Bxg4 20.exd6 Qxd6 21.Qxd6 exd6 22.Rxd6 Bg7 23.Bxg7 Kxg7) and 17.e5 Nxg4 18.fxg4 Bxg4 19.exd6 Qxd6 20.Qe1 Qa6. Neither line is referenced, but the latter is from Martin Gonzalez -- Tarjan 1974. Is Mecking's lack of evaluation marks itself a comment concerning a lack of clarity concerning the merits of both lines?

Commenting on Beliavsky -- Filguth 1976 (Informant 23/439), Minic repeats his evaluation 17.e5!? That game continued as Matulović -- Tarjan until move 26. The debate in Informant concerning 17.e5 seems to have ended there, but ECO presents 17.Bh6 as the main line and gives several reference games following 17.e5?! in notes.

Other later moves also exhibit similar changes in evaluation from one issue to another. These games, and the debate concerning the merits of variations following 16...Re8 contribute to an understanding of what did not take place in Karpov -- Korchnoi 1974, second match game. This game, won by Karpov, was one of five decisive games in the twenty-four game match that chose the World Championship challenger to Bobby Fischer, and thus chose the new World Champion the year following the match.

20 November 2012

Lesson of the Week

Henry Bird played top level chess for the last half of the nineteenth century. He was an accountant in his career, but played chess as often as possible. He was 28 years old when he played a match against Paul Morphy (scoring a mere 1.5 in twelve games). Despite the lopsided result, he tested Morphy's skill. As Morphy played stronger and stronger opponents in Europe, his skill grew.

This week's lesson contains two tactical positions from a wild King's Gambit.

Morphy,Paul - Bird,Henry Edward [C30]
London 1858

1.e4 e5 2.f4 Bc5 3.Nf3 d6 4.c3 Bg4 5.Bc4 Nc6 6.b4 Bb6 7.a4 a6 8.h3 Bxf3 9.Qxf3 Nf6 10.d3 Qe7 11.f5 Rd8 12.Bg5 Nb8 13.Nd2 c6 14.Nf1 d5 15.Bb3 Qd6 16.Ng3 0–0 17.Nh5 dxe4 18.dxe4 Nxh5

White to move

19.Rd1 Qc7

19...Bd4 was better, leading to 20.Bxd8 Rxd8 21.Bxf7+ Kxf7 22.Qxh5+ Kg8 23.cxd4+-

20.Bxd8 Rxd8 21.Rxd8+ Qxd8 22.Qxh5 Be3 23.Qd1

Morphy might have played 23.Bxf7+ Kf8 24.Qe2 Bg5 25.Be6+-

23...Qh4+ 24.Ke2 Bb6

Perhaps more stubborn, but still losing is 24...Qf2+ 25.Kd3 Qg3 26.Qe2

25.Kd3 Nd7 26.Qg4 Qf2

Bird might have played 26...Qd8 27.Qe2 a5 28.Kc2 Qc7

White to move

27.f6 1–0

Morphy ends the game with an instructive double attack. If the knight takes the pawn, 28.Qc8+ leads to mate after Black blocks the check with bishop, then knight. If the queen captures the pawn, 28.Qxd7 wins the knight and threatens checkmate.

Black can throw in some spite checks beginning with 27...Qe3+, but once the White king finds security on the queenside, the checkmate threats remain.

19 November 2012

One Good Move

I played too much blitz yesterday. Any blitz is too much, it seems sometimes. I play blitz because I like it, not because it is good for my game. During the last game of the day, my opponent played some weird stuff against my French and we were in an endgame by move 15. He missed several opportunities to put me away. His last error was when we were down to two pawns each.

After his 43.g5, it is my turn.

Black to move

I played 43...Ke6. 44.gxf6 would have drawn, but my opponent miscalculated the square of the pawn and played 44.g6??. 44...f5+ drove the White king back and made my pawns untouchable. Meanwhile, my king was able to gobble up both pawns.

18 November 2012

'Tis but a flesh wound

The Spokane Game 10 Championship was held yesterday. I did not win it. In fact, I finished quite a way down in the standings. There were fourteen players, and we played a double round robin. That would have been 26 games, but a few players could not stay for the marathon and left early. There was only one player whom I failed to beat (an international student from China who is attending high school in our city), but I also managed to lose to nearly every one as well.

I started the event giving up a draw to one of the weaker players (he's a strong sixth grader in the youth tournaments that I run).

Black to move

I played 30...Rd2??

In the second round, I played the other sixth grader. He let me get this nice position.

White to move

I played 12.Bg5 and 13.Bxh6, going on to checkmate my opponent on move 23.

In round three, my opponent missed my mate in one threat on move 14. After three easy games, I had 2 1/2 points.

I won a tough game in round four. I stopped keeping score after my 30.Kg2  because I was under three minutes on the clock.
Black to move

Then, in round five, I successfully navigated complications against last year's Idaho Girl's Champion, but walked into a simple discovery from this position.

Black to move

29...Qxa4 would have maintained my winning advantage. Instead, I played 29...Qxd6??

I continued keeping score for three more games, although only one other player was doing so and it was difficult to notate during such rapid time control. In round eight, my pencil ran out of lead. I might have borrowed a pen or pencil from the tournament director, but chose to cease writing down the games. A few games were instructive and would have been worth preserving, but likely all of them contain egregious tactical oversights that are best forgotten.

I was the second highest rated player. Number three won the event. My performance was a disaster, but at least it only affects my quick rating. It was an enjoyable day of chess with players from Idaho, Montana, and Washington.

At least the top player (the Montana participant) and I managed to get in some wine tasting at Nodland Cellars during the lunch break.

15 November 2012

Tracking Down Greco's Games

Footnote to Lesson of the Week

In the "Lesson of the Week" posted for this week, reference was made to a line attributed to Gioachino Greco. A search of the ChessBase database fails to turn up this game. The absence of documentation in Garry Kasparov's My Great Predecessors renders my source text useless for tracking its sources.* Fortunately, a well-known English edition of Greco's games is readily available through Google Books, which digitized a copy that is held in the Harvard University Library: Professor Hoffmann, trans. and ed., The Games of Greco (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1900).**

Skimming through Hoffmann's book, I was able to locate a diagram bearing resemblance in several particulars to the position on the board in the variation given by Garry Kasparov in his notes to Paul Morphy's opera game. The checkmate motif in the line given by Kasparov is present in Greco's game, but the moves differ. Hoffmann presents Game 18 with one variation (54-55). The main game is in the ChessBase database, but the checkmate is in the variation and not available in that five million game reference.

Here, I present the game complete as found in Hoffmann with additional notes that I have added. The game also is present in William Lewis, Gioachino Greco on the Game of Chess (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1819) as the third variation of game nine (35). This text is digitized by Google from the Frank J. Marshall Collection at the New York Public Library.

Gioachino Greco

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bc4

Morphy's game at the Paris Opera continued with 3.d4.

3...Bg4 4.h3 Bxf3 5.Qxf3 Qf6

Lewis and Hoffmann both comment that Qd7 is better.

6.Qb3 b6 7.Nc3

Black to move

ChessBase has Greco's game continuing 7...c6 8.Nd5 Qd8 9.Nxb6 Qxb6 10.Bxf7+ Kd7 11.Bxg8 d5 12.exd5 Qxb3 13.dxc6+ Nxc6 14.Bxb3 1-0. Greco presented each variation as a separate game. Later editors of his work arranged the games by opening and treated similar games as variations. There is very little reason to believe that any of his games were from actual play, but that all were created for instructive purposes. Whether ChessBase should include any is as important as questioning why some are excluded.

7...Ne7 8.Nb5 Na6 9.Qa4 Nc5

White to move

10.Nxd6+ Kd8 11.Qe8#

This game is a worthy addition to the database, and merits memorization for those inclined to the study of miniatures.

*The first three volumes of My Great Predecessors contain no footnotes, bibliography, nor any other references to source material beyond the abbreviated attributions in the text itself. Volumes IV and V each contain a two page bibliography listing Russian sources and non-Russian sources. No text of Greco's games appears in either list.

**Professor Hoffmann was a pseudonym used by Angelo Lewis who wrote books on a variety of topics, including magic. See Edward Winter's Chess Notes 5620 and 5716.

14 November 2012

Lesson of the Week

This week's lesson for my youth chess clubs concerns a game that Paul Morphy won against two men, both French royalty, who collaborated in determining the moves for Black. The game was played at the Paris opera in 1858, and is well-known for the final combination. The checkmate motif known as the Opera Mate derives from this game.

Morphy,Paul - Count Isouard and the Duke of Brunswick [C41]
Paris, 1858

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Bg4

"Nowadays every schoolboy knows this is bad, but in those days it was even played by Harrwitz!"
Garry Kasparov, My Great Predecessors, vol. 1 (2003) 39.

4.dxe5 Bxf3 5.Qxf3 dxe5 6.Bc4 Nf6?

Kasparov points out the alternatives:

6...Qf6 7.Qb3 Bc5
(7...b6?! 8.Nc3 Ne7? 9.Nb5 Na6 10.Qa4 Nc5 11.Nd6+ Kd8 12.Qe8# was published by Greco, according to Kasparov)
8.0–0 Bb6 9.a4 a5 10.Nc3 Ne7 11.Be3 Nd7 12.Rad1;

6...Qd7 7.Qb3

I did not go through these variations with the young players, but spent a minute explaining how White would have won a pawn had Black played 4...dxe5. This alternative was presented to explain Kasparov's comment about 3...Bg4.


Black to move


7...Bd6 8.Bxf7+;
7...Qd7 8.Qxb7


Morphy did not play the best move, but he made a move that illustrates his principles and the reason for his success: he always sought to bring more pieces into the battle.

Black's idea behind 7...Qe7 is made clear by 8.Qxb7 Qb4+ 9.Qxb4 Bxb4+ 10.Bd2;
Kasparov suggests the best line for White as 8.Bxf7+ Kd8 (8...Qxf7 9.Qxb7) 9.Qxb7 Qb4+ 10.Qxb4 Bxb4+ 11.c3 "Black can resign."

8...c6 9.Bg5 b5

9...Na6 is no better 10.Bxa6 bxa6 11.Qc4 h6 12.Bxf6 gxf6 13.0–0–0;
Nor is 9...Qc7 10.0–0–0 Bc5 11.Bxf7+ Qxf7 12.Rd8+

White to move

10.Nxb5! cxb5 11.Bxb5+ Nbd7

I made certain in my comments that the young players observed Morphy's relentless activation of all of his forces, and his effective use of pins.

11...Kd8 is met by 12.0–0–0+

12.0–0–0 Rd8

12...Qb4 is met by 13.Bxf6

White to move


"The point of this sacrifice is quite simple. On the next move, White temporarily obtains a decisive material advantage in the only important area of the board. This is the dynamic of chess--everything is evaluated in motion and everything hanges instantly!" Valerie Beim, Paul Morphy: A Modern Perspective (2005), 127.

13...Rxd7 14.Rd1 Qe6

14...Qb4 is met by 15.Bxf6


Black to move


15...Qxd7 also loses 16.Qb8+ Ke7 17.Qxe5+ Kd8 18.Bxf6+ gxf6 19.Qxf6+ Kc7 20.Rxd7+ Kxd7 21.Qxh8;

15...Ke7 loses to 16.Qb4+ Qd6 17.Qxd6+ Kd8 18.Qb8+ Ke7 19.Qe8#;

15...Kd8 is refuted by 16.Qb8+ Ke7 17.Qe8#

16.Qb8+ Nxb8 17.Rd8# 1–0

10 November 2012

Finding the Sacrifice

I failed one of the so-called instructive (easy) problems in the Anthology of Chess Combinations, and then managed to fail the problem again less than one week later. At least I did not fail on the first move the second time. What should I notice in the position that would open my eyes to the sacrifices leading to checkmate?

White to move

The first move is a clearance sacrifice, but is really a not so simple exchange of knights.


Is 1.Nc3 as good?

1...axb4 2.Qxd6

White's second move removes the defender of e8.


White to move

I failed to find 3.Qd5, which pins the rook. Black's response, 3...Kf8, creates a position where White must begin a series of real sacrifices leading to checkmate. The final position is a common and well-known checkmate pattern, but the sequence of moves leading there remain difficult for me to anticipate from the diagram position.

4.Rxg7 Qxd5

Now, the position contains the decoy motif that I should know from Mayet -- Anderssen 1851.

5.Rg8+ Kxg8 6.Re8+ Rf8 7.Rxf8#.

The entire sequence has White giving up three pieces for a knight to effect checkmate, and employs the tactics of clearance, removing the guard, pin, and decoy. It is problem 32 in the Anthology of Chess Combinations, and has been the most troublesome combination in that set so far.

09 November 2012

Footnote to Morphy's Mate

In "Morphy's Mate," I presented the sixth game from Paulsen -- Morphy, New York 1857. The critical position prior to Morphy's stunning queen sacrifice is the first problem in Anthology of Chess Combinations (1995), and it appears on the cover of Valeri Beim, Paul Morphy: A Modern Perspective (2005). Morphy launched a blistering and memorable mating attack. But, he misplayed it.

Black to move

Morphy played 22...Bg2+, which wins. Beim writes,
As Zukertort later pointed out, another forced win was 22...Rg2! 23.Qd3 Rxf2+ 24.Kg1 Rg2+ 25.Kh1 Rg1#.
Beim, Paul Morphy, 46.
Beim's bibliography at the end of the book lists nothing by Johannes Hermann Zukertort. Nor is there any thing in the text that would lead a curious reader to a secondary source mentioning Zukertort's analysis, unless perhaps reading everything listed there. Publishers understand that footnotes and endnotes do not sell books, and thus they mak minimal demands upon authors to document their assertions.

In my history blog, Patriots and Peoples, I have written extensively about documentation. One text that I discuss with some frequency there has abundant references, but examination of these texts often reveals that they present information and arguments almost opposite what is asserted in the referring text. Historians must document their work--it is an expected professional standard, and they must do so with honesty and accuracy. Why may chess historians adhere to a lower standard? They should not do so. Good chess history must meet the standards of good history.

Despite Beim's failure to document, Google Books quickly offered help. A search for Zukertort as author turned up volume 8 of The Chess-Monthly (September 1886 - August 1887). The February 1887 issue contains an article by Zukertort, "The Morphy-Paulsen End-Game" (171-173). Zukertort mentions several discussions of Paulsen -- Morphy in the chess clubs of London, Vienna, and New York. Writing about one of the discussions at the St. George's Chess Club of London, he states:
On one of these occasions (about the end of 1880) I pointed out that Morphy, in his masterly tournament game with L. Paulsen, overlooked both a mate in six and then in four moves, with no desire to detract from the general play of the great master, but just to illustrate the carelessness of all his commentators of the past. (172)
He also claims that he showed it to Paulsen two years later, and that led to discussion among masters in Vienna.

06 November 2012

05 November 2012

Morphy's Mate

Lesson of the Week

Morphy's Mate is a checkmate pattern inspired by a game in which it did not occur. It could have appeared if Morphy had found the strongest finish after his game winning sacrifice. The position after White's seventeenth move is the first position presented in the Anthology of Chess Combinations. In the solution in the Anthology, the actual moves of the game are presented as a variation.

The checkmate pattern employs a bishop and rook working together in a manner similar to Pillsbury's Mate. How these two patterns are distinguished is not clear. Does it matter whether the bishop or the rook is the checking piece? In Morphy's signature game from which the pattern takes its name, both pieces are giving check and there is a second bishop in the attack. Perhaps Morphy's queen sacrifice is the defining feature.

For young players needing to learn how to use the chess pieces in a coordinated fashion, the nomenclature is unimportant. Pillsbury's Mate and Morphy's Mate may be learned together and understood as variations upon a single pattern.

Paulsen,Louis -- Morphy,Paul [C48]
USA–01.Kongress New York (4.6), 1857

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Bc5 5.0–0 0–0 6.Nxe5 Re8 7.Nxc6 dxc6 8.Bc4 b5 9.Be2 Nxe4 10.Nxe4 Rxe4 11.Bf3 Re6 12.c3 Qd3 13.b4 Bb6 14.a4 bxa4 15.Qxa4 Bd7 16.Ra2 Rae8 17.Qa6

Black to move

17...Qxf3! 18.gxf3 Rg6+ 19.Kh1 Bh3 20.Rd1 Bg2+ 21.Kg1 Bxf3+ 22.Kf1

Black to move

What is the strongest continuation? Morphy missed it.

22...Bg2+ 23.Kg1 Bh3+ 24.Kh1 Bxf2 25.Qf1 Bxf1 26.Rxf1 Re2 27.Ra1 Rh6 28.d4 Be3 0–1

Tactics for Beginners

Morphy created a threat that is apparent if we postulate a move that Paulsen never would have considered. For my beginning students, however, it may prove instructive. If Paulsen had played 17.Qc2, what was Morphy's threat?

Black to move

The end of the combination that might have been may be solved by beginning students. It is checkmate in one move.

Black to move

Another six problems offering training in elementary tactics will be offered to the young players at the start of each club meeting this week. The first of these offers an important lesson.

White to move

White could capture the rook and be ahead a pawn, but the resulting pawn ending is drawn. One need not understand pawn endings, however, to see that White can win the rook with no loss of material. Pile on the pinned rook, and then capture it with the pawn.

03 November 2012

Match Wits with Rubinstein

Since mid-September, my lessons for young players have been drawn from the games of Akiba Rubinstein (1882-1961). Rubinstein was a strong strategic player. Positions from his games have been employed to induce young, and often impulsive players, to consider the elements of the position before looking for candidate moves. Even so, positions have been presented in which there is a clear tactic. Pattern recognition alerts a player to a tactic, suspending positional analysis. But, at the end of a forcing sequence of moves, it remains important to assess the position accurately.

Today is the first scholastic tournament in Spokane for the 2012-2013 season. During check-in, the contestants will find a sheet with nine positions from Rubinstein's games. One of these appeared two weeks ago in "Monday Tactic"; another occurs after a position used in one of the weekly lessons. Players can use their time between rounds attempting to match wits with Rubinstein. In each position, he played the strongest move. Some of these positions are quite complicated, and may prove difficult even to the most skilled players. A couple are elementary.

 The correct answers will be posted during round four.

White moves first in the first four problems.





Black moves first in the remaining five problems.






01 November 2012

Positional Play: Lessons from Akiba Rubinstein

Teaching positional chess to third and fourth graders, many of whom are beginners, resembles teaching William Faulkner's novels to college freshman. There is more in the lesson than the students have the time and ability to absorb. I have taught Faulkner's Go Down, Moses (1942) as a unified novel in a college introductory literature class.* I teach positional chess concepts to third graders. I may be nuts.

Elementary Tactics

Beginners struggle to spot simple forks. Beginners capture pinned pieces, instead of piling on with a piece of less value. Indeed, even some of the successful third graders--measured in numbers of trophies earned since kindergarten--do not always handle an elementary pin in the correct manner. The first problem in my Knight Award Checkmates and Tactics set should be easy, but even players who have won trophies at the Washington State Elementary Chess Championship have erred while solving it.

White to move

I took this position from Barnes -- Mongredien 1862, but it appears in fourteen games in the ChessBase online database. The Black knight on c6 is pinned, so White easily wins material piling on the knight with 1.d5. Barnes made this move in the game, and then Mongredien replied 1...a6. While beginners often fail to see 1.d5, most of those with some experience find the correct move. Alas, after I ask about their reply to 1...a6, they fail. Even state trophy winners have told me they would capture the knight with the attacked bishop.

If a player cannot see to retreat the bishop, maintaining the pin and winning the knight for a pawn, he or she may not be ready for positional chess. Endless repetition of elementary tactics seems necessary first. My chess pupils may advance more rapidly if I induce each of their parents to purchase Bruce Pandolfini, Beginning Chess (1993) and compel working through the 300 problems therein as a precondition to participation in tournaments.

In mid-October, I started creating worksheets with simple tactics and few pieces--problems inspired by the method in Beginning Chess. Some groups required more than thirty minutes to solve the first six of these elementary problems (see "Lesson of the Week" [16 October 2012]). The second and third weeks, the young players solved the problems more rapidly and with greater accuracy. Some beginners, however, continue to struggle.

This simple problem was one that many missed this week on their first try.

White to move

White has a simple tactic, but there is a more advanced element too. After the elementary fork, 1.Be5+ Qxe5 2.Rxe5 Kxe5, White has only one winning move, 3.Kg3. For the worksheet this week, students need only find the winning fork. This position may appear again later in pawn ending training.

Endgame Skills

The resulting king and pawn endgame requires understanding of opposition and outflanking. My chess students begin learning such lessons after earning the Knight Award. For the Bishop Award, a player must demonstrate understanding of Jeremy Silman's king vs. king exercise (see How to Reassess Your Chess, 3rd ed. [1993], 3-8.), and two elementary king and pawn exercises. I play Black; the student must win both.

White to move

White to move

A student who has earned the Bishop Award has developed endgame skills well beyond the vast majority of scholastic chess players. In addition to understanding the rudiments of opposition and outflanking, he or she knows how to checkmate with two bishops, and has solved 64 chess problems in addition to those completed for the Knight Award. The Knight Award Checkmates and Tactics problem set consists of twelve problems. The Bishop Award Checkmates and Tactics problem set has 24. In addition, two sets of twenty problems must be solved from my "Checklist of Checkmates" workbook: Corridors and Diagonals.

Positional Chess
[E]ach chess move begins in the head. If you attach importance to playing a good game of chess, you must first of all learn how to think properly.
Alexander Bangiev, Squares Strategy CD
Even while observing a significant lack of skills in elementary tactics, I have been encouraging young players to consider the strategic elements. Until the late nineteenth century, the world's top chess players were masters of attack. None of them were particularly capable defenders. Modern players sometimes scoff at the alleged brilliance of some of these attacking games because even strong club players of today easily spot superior defensive moves. The attacking play of Adolf Anderssen, for example, appears rooted not so much in his tactical brilliance as in the wholly inadequate defensive play of his adversaries (see "Understanding Mayet's Thinking" for an example).

As the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, positional play became the focus of top chess players.  The elements of positional understanding were first articulated by Wilhelm Steinitz, followed by Siegbert Tarrasch, and others. Garry Kasparov asserts that Akiba Rubinstein was the "brightest" of the so-called Steinitz School that ushered in this era of positional play (My Great Predecessors, vol. 1 [2003], 187). Since mid-September, my weekly lesson for young players has featured a position from the games of Rubinstein.

Over the course of the 2012-2013 school year, additional lessons will come from a small group of players from the beginnings of modern chess. In November and December, lessons will come from the games of Paul Morphy. There will be tactical positions in abundance, but I will labor to encourage students to understand the positional base from which these tactics became possible. Although considered an attacking player, study of Paul Morphy's play from the mid-nineteenth century reveals that he understood positional concepts. In January, we will turn our attention either to Emanuel Lasker or to Siegbert Tarrasch. The other will follow from mid-February through the end of March.

In The Modern Chess Instructor (1889), Wilhelm Steinitz set out to articulate the "maxims of development" as the basis for emerging chess strategy (viii). He notes, as an example, how the French Defense deprives White of many sacrificial possibilities against the vulnerable f7 square. Consequently, when Black meets 1.e4 with 1...e6, White is forced to attend "to the balance of forces and position on all parts of the board, and the accumulation of small advantages if possible" (xxxii). Chess players since the time of Steinitz have been able to articulate that one side stands better in many positions even when material is equal and no immediate tactics are available. The position from "Lesson of the Week" (3 October 2012) offers a useful illustration.

White to move

Most skilled chess players immediately notice that White has a lead in development. That would have been a suitable answer when I posed the first of two questions that I introduced to young players the first week of October--the week that most of my school chess clubs began.

1. Which side is better?
2. What are the plans for both sides?

White is better due to a lead in development. However, most third graders cannot understand such abstractions. How does Steinitz define the term development? How does Tarrasch? How do other chess coaches working with young players communicate this abstract term so that it can be understood by those as young as six years old?

White's occupation of the center--four squares in the middle of the board--is much more concrete. Black is contesting two center squares. The one unoccupied center square, d5, is attacked by two Black pieces. Only the knight attacks e4, which is occupied by a White pawn. One White piece attacks (or defends) the e5 square occupied by White's knight. Two pieces protect the pawn on e4. White's king is the only piece that asserts control over d4, currently occupied by a White pawn. Counting makes it clear that White not only occupies, but more importantly controls the center of the board.

Another concrete exercise that young players can easily learn is counting the total number of legal moves. It quickly becomes clear that White's pieces are more mobile than Black's. They have more squares to which they might move, even though most of the potential moves for both players would lose material. Mobility and Center Control are more concrete concepts than development.**

Lessons from Rubinstein

I began the school year with a lesson on truth in chess: "Every conceivable chess position has a truth that may be discovered" ("Lesson of the Week" [18 September 2012]). In the illustrative position, Rubinstein capitalized on an error by his opponent. As a consequence, he reached a superior endgame. He had a material advantage, but he traded the material advantage for clear positional superiority. In that game, positional superiority was manifest in mobile passed pawns. One of these was sacrificed to promote the other. His opponent quickly removed the new queen from the board, but at the cost of a rook. This ending was the lesson for the last week of September.

My two positional questions were introduced the first week of October, and then reinforced the second week. That lesson came from a game that Rubinstein did not win. Instead, he secured a draw because his opponent erred in a critical endgame position. In mid-October, Students faced the third key position from the games of Rubinstein in which they were asked to assess who stands better. In that position, from Nimzovich -- Rubinstein 1907, Black's control of the open file proves a contributing factor to greater piece mobility. Even more telling, however, is that White's pieces seem to get in one another's way, while Black's Piece Coordination facilitates an attack that wins material.

Even as I continued with these positional lessons from Rubinstein, however, attention in my after school chess clubs shifted towards elementary tactics. The young players did not get much of a chance to express their views on the position from Nimzovich -- Rubinstein because they were busy solving elementary problems. Knowing the problems would be too easy for some players, however, I was armed with photocopies of three different worksheets as the students entered the room. The newest beginners were given the six problems on the Elementary Tactics I worksheet (see "Lesson of the Week" [16 October 2012]). Beginners who had been in last year's clubs were handed the Pawn Award Checkmates and Tactics worksheet (six one-move checkmates). More advanced students were given the Knight Award Checkmates and Tactics worksheet. My top third grade players may have brought home a team trophy from state last year, but none of them have completed this worksheet and earned the Knight Award (there are additional requirements).

During the last two weeks of October (and carrying over to 1 November for the Thursday afternoon club), the lessons from Rubinstein received greater attention. Even though I continued to give players elementary worksheets as they entered the room, these were completed more rapidly. I continue to insist that players begin their offer of solutions to the problem on the demo board with a clear assessment of "who stands better?" No player may blurt out a possible move before offering this assessment. Even so, there are times when positional analysis must be subordinate to tactical calculation. Recognizing such moments becomes possible when tactical training develops pattern recognition. Also, the positional element of Vulnerability comes into consideration.

Forks were prominent both in the Elementary Tactics II problems presented to the young players at the start of club the week before Halloween, and in the position from Rubinstein -- Hirschbein 1927. Rubinstein's combination in that game is his only representation in the Anthology of Chess Combinations (1995) ("Lesson of the Week" [24 October 2012]). Many students saw the fork on f6, but fewer were able to assess why it does not work, and then find the tactic--removing the guard--that renders the fork a viable threat. One first grader, however, after being the first in his club to solve the six easy problems, suggested Rxd7! I was less strenuous in stressing positional evaluation as the prerequisite to suggesting this move, but did walk him through some positional analysis before acknowledging that he found Rubinstein's move.

In the final weekly lesson from Rubinstein's games, he is down two pawns and his queen is attacked. Many players were quick to observe the vulnerability of the White queen. Fewer noticed that Rubinstein was down two pawns. I should be pleased that the young players are not so materialistic as to count all the pieces before seeking to rescue the queen. But, they need to see the corresponding vulnerability of the Black king. The White queen is safe so long as the Black king is in check.


*Go Down, Moses was first published as Go Down, Moses and Other Stories. Some readers consider it a collection of seven works of short fiction, somewhat related to one another. Others consider it a unified whole. I side with the latter group.

**My debt to Dan Heisman should be clear to well-read chess players. For many years, I have used Elements of Positional Evaluation, Rev. ed. (1999) as my key text for articulating positional concepts. More recently, I have been studying Elements of Positional Evaluation, 4th ed. (2010). Heisman's work deserves the attention of all serious chess players and teachers. Heisman refers to development as a pseudo-element. The Elements, he argues, are Mobility, Flexibility, Vulnerability, Center Control, Piece Coordination, Time, and Speed. He might note that even Steinitz, in the effort to define development and the relative value of the pieces, employs mobility:
The superiority of the Bishop over the Knight is also shown by the fact that the former when placed on any square of the board will command at least 7 squares of one or more clear diagonals. In the middle of the board at K4, K5, Q4 or Q5, he will command 13 squares. On the other hand, the action of the Knight may be reduced to the command of no more than two squares, if he be placed into any of the four corners of the board, and the maximum of squares which he can command is eight. (The Modern Chess Instructor, xxxviii)

The elements put forth by Heisman are already present in the writings of Steinitz, Tarrasch, Lasker, and others of their era.