28 February 2014

Simple Deflection

Black to move

Black's pawn will promote. Alas, White managed to win this pawn and the game.

27 February 2014

Two Exercises

Lesson of the Week

Knowledge of tactical motifs open a chess player's imagination to the possibilities. Accurate calculation verifies whether such possibilities should be played. These two exercises may prove difficult for scholastic players, but they are almost routine for strong class players. They both stem from play on the Free Internet Chess Server (FICS).

White to move

Black to move

26 February 2014


Whose king is more secure?

White to move

White's king has an intact pawn shield, while Black's was shattered by White's sacrifice of a knight.

Black's h7 pawn appears to be a target, but Black has the diagonal leading to it blocked with a pawn that is well-defended. White could try to create a battery along the h-file with a rook lift, but Black has the resources to find additional defenders along the seventh rank.

Black's bishop is prepared to take up residence on c6, while his heavy pieces might all find their way to the g-file. With light-squared bishops on the board, the White king will be less secure on h1 than the Black king on h8. The pawn on f5, currently serving a defensive role, may be able to move to f4 should White play g3.

Black has a slight material edge due to White's sacrifice earlier in the game. Black's pieces are better coordinated than White's. Despite superficial appearances relating to Black's shattered pawn shield, his king is more secure. Moreover, Black has a decisive advantage.

The game continued 21.Re3 Ng6 22.Qh6 Qd4 23.Rh3 Qg7

Black's move is the only one that does not lose. 23...Rf7 loses because the h-pawn in pinned. 24.Qxg6+-.

White to move


24.Qxg7+ was best 24...Kxg7.

24...f4 25.Qc5

25.Qf3 is better.

25...Bxh3 26.gxh3?

The final error. 26.Qg5 allows White to play on even though his position is irretrievably lost. 26...Be6.

Black to move


Black spots the mate in four.


In Elements of Positional Evaluation: How the Pieces Get Their Power, 4th ed., revised and enlarged (Milford, CT: Russell Enterprises, 2010), Dan Heisman offers vulnerability as a positional element to replace the pseudo-element of king safety. A key element of vulnerability that Heisman addresses is strength of the forces the guard a vulnerable piece.

The king is absolutely vulnerable because he may not be sacrificed. An attack on the king must be met. But, in the illustration above, the Black king's relative vulnerability is low because there are more pieces defending than attacking.

23 February 2014

Losing my Virginity with the Ponziani

In the second round of the Collyer Memorial tournament yesterday, I played the Ponziani for the first time in a standard game. My prior experience with the opening had been limited to a few games of online blitz the previous three days, one game against a beginner in a chess class that I teach, and another against the winner of Spokane Chess Club's winter championship in Friday's blitz tournament. In that game, I had a nice position but then hung my queen.

I have looked over a few Grandmaster games in the past few days. My interest in the opening was stimulated a year ago when Magnus Carlsen played it against Pentala Harikrishna in the 2013 Tata Steel tournament, and then had the Black side in his game against Hou Yifan. The latter was mentioned on this blog while it was taking place. More recently, I have been looking through the games of Rezső Charousek and spent some time this week looking at a miniature that he lost to Geza Marozcy. Here is that game with a few comments.

Geza Maroczy -- Rudolf Rezso Charousek [C44]
Match Budapest (2), 19.04.1895

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3 d5 4.Qa4 f6 5.Bb5 Nge7 6.exd5 Qxd5 7.d4 exd4


8.cxd4 Bd7 9.Nc3 Qf5 10.0–0 Nc8??

10...0–0–0 11.Be3 a6 12.Be2 g5 13.Qd1 Nd5 14.Nxd5 Qxd5 15.b3 g4 16.Bc4 Qh5 17.Nd2 Bd6 18.g3 f5 19.f4 b5 20.Bd5 Rhe8 21.Re1 Bb4 22.Rc1 Ne7 23.Bh1 Qf7 24.a3 Ba5 25.b4 Bb6 26.Qc2 Nd5 27.Qb3 Be6 28.Bxd5 Bxd5 29.Qc3 Bb7 30.Qb3 Qd7 31.Nf1 Bxd4 32.Red1 Bxe3+ 33.Nxe3 Qe7 34.Nd5 Bxd5 35.Rxd5 Rxd5 36.Qc2 Qe3+ 37.Kh1 Qe4+ 38.Qxe4 Rxe4 39.Rc2 Red4 0–1 Kelling,F -- Gyles,A, Auckland 1914

11.d5 Nb6 12.dxc6 Nxa4 13.cxd7+ Kd8 14.Bxa4 c6 15.Rd1 Bc5 16.Be3 Bb6 17.Rd6 Kc7 18.Rad1 Rad8 19.Bxb6+ 1–0

For the past few days, I have been contemplating deploying the Ponziani in a tournament game. Self-doubt has been a deterrent. Having been pleased with my play in round one, I decided to play it.

Stripes,James (1899) -- Lombardi,George (1429) [C44]
Collyer Memorial Spokane (2), 22.02.2014

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3

I briefly considered 2.f4, which would have been Charousek's move.

2...Nc6 3.c3

I also considered the Spanish and the Italian, both of which I have played in many games over the years.


Black has several choices, but this move is most popular.

4.d4 Nxe4

I had looked at games with this move, but forget the main lines. I was now completely on my own tactical and positional understanding without any database memory. To be forced to create something new early, and to force one's opponent to do the same is a principal appeal of the Ponziani.


I found the main line.

Black to move


I was busy taking photos of the players for the Spokane Chess Club when my opponent made this astounding move. Returning to my own board, I was certain the move was an error. Nonetheless, my king did become exposed and I had several alternate lines to consider.

6.Kxf2 Bc5+ 7.Be3 Bxe3+ 8.Kxe3

Black to move

My king's position reminds me of a conversation I had the previous evening concerning the Steinitz Gambit, where Steinitz himself marched his king forward to e3 in some King's Gambit games. The prompt was the second game that John Donaldson showed during his lecture. In that game, White's king stepped up to d2 to connect the rooks, then moved to the third rank. Eventually, it took up position on f2 where it helped keep Black's rogue queen trapped.

8...e4 9.dxc6

I spent six minutes on this move (compared to four for the whole game prior). Most of that time was spent contemplating my next move.

9...exf3 10.Qxf3

The materialistic 10.cxd7+ struck me as being a bit too helpful to Black's mobilization. With a vulnerable king, that seemed a foolish course. A computer can work out the tactics and may favor the material gain. I may check this game with an engine after posting these annotations.

10...0–0 11.Bd3 dxc6

White to move


This set-up of a cheap tactic invites trouble. I seemed to be daring my opponent to find a way to skewer my queen to get at the rook. Perhaps Re1 puts the rook on a better square. I also contemplated Nd2.


Somehow I overlooked this zwischenzug to set up the skewer.

13.Kf2 Qh4+ 14.Kg1 Bg4 15.Qf4

A strong chess player would have found this pin before playing 12.Rd1, and then assessed the consequences of Black's choices.

Black to move 


15...g5! looked dangerous to me. 16.Bxh7+ Kxh7 17.Qxf7+ Kh8 and I would seriously consider bailing out of this game with a draw.

My opponent chose a forcing line that kept me from burning much clock time contemplating alternatives. It appeared there were none.

16.Rxe1 Qxe1+ 17.Qf1 Qe3+ 18.Kh1 Re8 19.Na3 Be2

My opponent used ten minutes deciding upon this move, and I had already decided to force the queens off the board with the bishops. The clock showed 1:32 remaining for me and 1:06 for my opponent. Our time control was 1:55 for the game plus a five second delay.

White to move

20.Qxe2 Qxe2 21.Bxe2 Rxe2 22.Rb1?

22.Nc4 must be better.

22...b5 23.Kg1 f5

White to move


My seven minutes on this move was my longest think of the game. I should have spent a few of these minutes on move 22.


The critical line that I examined was 24...Rxb2 25.Rd8+ Kf7 26.Rd7+ Kf3

The king could consider e8 and e6, too, as I'm not interested in the kingside pawns just yet.

27.Rxc7 Rxa2 28.Rxa7 with the idea of 29.Nxb5 if the rook remains on the a-file.

A version of this line is still possible after 24...Kf7, but is more likely advantageous for White, or so I thought during the game.

25.Rd7+ Re7

My opponent makes my job easier. At this point, my opponent from the previous round stopped by and looked at the game. He smiled because in our postgame analysis, we had played out a variation where I had a knight against a superior number of pawns. He, too, had sacrificed a knight for two pawns and an attack.

26.Rxe7+ Kxe7 27.Nc2

Black to move


Black needed to address the threatened fork with 27...c5 or 27...Kd6.

28.Nd4 Kf6 29.Nxc6 a6 30.Kf2?

The immediate 30.Nb4 was decisive.

30...h5 31.Nb4

Black to move

Another fork is coming.

31...a5 32.Nd5+ 1–0

I am pleased with the result.

Five players finished day one with 3.0 and with my third round bye, I am one of three with 2.5. This morning, I have a stronger opponent.

22 February 2014

Blunder follows Blunder

This blitz game was played between two USCF A Class players at the inaugural Collyer Memorial Blitz tournament. The Collyer Memorial is Spokane's strongest annual tournament now in its 22nd year. Yesterday, a blitz tournament preceded the annual lecture and simul by IM John Donaldson.

The players names are withheld per request.

White -- Black [B41]
Collyer Blitz Spokane (2.1), 21.02.2014

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 5.f4 

This move looks dubious to me.

5...Bc5 6.Be3 

6.Nb3 seems better.

6...Qb6 7.Nc3

Black to move


Black throws away the game. 7...Qxb2 looks promising.

Is this pawn poisoned? 8.Na4 Qa3 9.c3 Ba7 seems okay for Black.


White refuses the win.

8.Na4 is something that has happened to me playing the French in blitz. White should win this game. 8...Qa5+

     8...Qa7 is worse 9.Nxc6.

9.c3 Bxd4 10.Bxd4 Nxd4 11.Qxd4 Ne7.

8...Bxe3 9.Ne5 

9.Qd3 may be White's best chance bxc6–+.

9...Bf2+ 0–1

Final position with White to move

21 February 2014

Practicing Rook Endings

After my opponent and I both managed to blow the rook ending in a blitz game that I played on my iPhone, I spent some time playing through possible variations against the computer. This sort of training can build confidence as I solve problems. It can lead to despair as I fail. Both are instructive.

White to move
After 37...Rc3
I played 38.Rb5?

The game continued 38...Rxe3 39.a5 Ra3 40.Rb8+ Kh7 41.Rb7 Kg6 42.Ra7 f6?! 43.exf6 gxf6

This position may be equal.

White to move

44.a6 e5 45.Kg1

Black to move

45...e4?! 46.Kf2= Kf5 47.Ra8 Kf4 48.g3+ Kf5 49.a7

Black to move


I went on to win. 49...Ra2+ holds the draw.

Training Game A

In the first practice session, I returned to the position after 37...Rc3 and tried 38.Ra8+. Rather than burdening my reader with all the moves in the long battle, I will limit myself. The game came one move short of a draw by the 50-move rule. I wish to present a few of the positions that I think are instructive.

White to move
After 39...Kg6
White can endure a few checks:  40.Kg3! Rxe3+ 41.Kf4 Re2 42.g3 Ra2 43.a5=

Black to move

The White king is vulnerable to checks, but the a-pawn is a threat that compensates.

The computer and I reached this position.

White to move
After 62...Ra6
I felt a sense of despair that my h-pawn was to fall, but making the only moves that seemed sensible demonstrated than my g-pawn was equal to the Black rook.

63.g4! Rxh6+ 64.Kg3 Rd6 65.g5 e1Q+ 66.Rxe1 Kxe1 67.Kf4 Rd4+ 68.Kf5

Black to move

In another line from this game that diverged at move 49, I found myself in this position.

White to move
After 64...Rh2
Again, my h-pawn looks threatened. This time, however, I do not have a g-pawn that I can push. However, I quickly noticed that I could reach a Philidor Position--the classic third-rank defense.

Hence 65...Rb8! Rxh4 66.Rb4+

(I could have played 66.Rb3)

66...e4 67.Rb3

Black to move

Training Game B

In the second game against Hiarcs, I started with an improvement on the part of my opponent at move 45. Instead of 45...e4, I loaded the position after 45...Kf5! Defense of a slightly worse position was difficult, but after several takebacks, I seem to have found a way to maintain equality.

The most instructive position came after 62...Ra4+.

White to move

63.Kf5! is the only move that draws. This time, White's h-pawn proves to be an equalizing threat.

63...Kxg2 64.h4 Kg3 65.Rg8+ Kh3 66.h5 f3 67.Rg1

Black to move

67...Ra5+ 68.Kg6 Ra6+ 69.Kg7 f2 70.Rf1 Kg2 71.Rxf2+ Kxf2 72.h6

Black to move

The engine always plays until lone kings stand on the board, but at this point the result should be clear.

20 February 2014

Throwing away a Win

Lesson of the Week

This week's lesson is simple, but important. It comes from a recent online game.

Black to move

White has just played 65.g6. How does this move effect Black's prospects?

19 February 2014

Exposed King

The first game of the second and longer match between Geza Maroczy and Rezső Charousek was an instructive win by Maroczy. Charousek delayed castling, and then was forced to make a capture with his king. Proceeding to castle by hand, he found his monarch under attack.

The critical position occurred after Charousek's 20...Nd8.

White to move

13 February 2014

Blowing It

In a blunderfest during my lunch break, my opponent and I reached a rook and pawn ending that should be drawn. Suddenly, however, I found myself with a clear advantage and seized the moment, only to toss it away a few moves later.

Black to move
After 37.Re2??
37...Ra3+ 38.Kd2 Rxa2 39.Kd3 Rxe2 40.Kxe2 Ke6 41.Kd3

Black to move

Black's d-pawn will become the queen. The plan is simple: both kings move towards the a-file, which will be the only opening for the kings. As White yields way, the a-pawn advances until the Black king can occupy c4. That's how it worked when I replayed the game from the first diagram against Hiarcs after the game concluded.

I played the game on FICS through the Chess-Wise Pro iPad app. Having some time for review after the game, I reviewed how and why I blew a simple ending.

41...f5?! 42.Kc3 g5? 43.Kb4 f4??

White to move

44.g4 not only deprives Black of the win that he had a few moves ago. It presents Black with an unresolvable set of problems. After rounding up Black's a-pawn, the White king will outflank the Black king to win the d-pawn and the game.


White returns the favor. instead of winning the game.

44...fxg3 45.hxg3 h5 46.Kxa6 h4 47.gxh4 gxh4 0-1

It is almost embarrassing to evaluate the truth of the positions that occur during blitz in the light of the result of these games. It sometimes appears that players lack rudimentary skills that every elementary student should know. Indeed, faced with the position in the first diagram this afternoon, a fourth grader that I coach was able to win the game from the Black side against my best efforts while carrying on a conversation concerning Valentine's candy with his classmates.

12 February 2014


Going through the games of Rezső Charousek (1873-1900), I found this uncommon position that emerged from the Barnes variation of the Spanish Opening (3...g6).* Charousek had Black against Geza Maroczy and played a move that would be played again in Teichmann -- Pillsbury at Hastings later the same year (1895). Nearly a century later (1991), Vasily Smyslov would play the same move in this position. All three of these games were fairly quick wins by Black.

The games began: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 g6 4.d4 exd4 5.Nxd4 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Nc3 O-O 8.f3

Black to move

In the three games mentioned above and at least twenty others, Black played 8...Ne7.

Samuel Tinsley annotated the Teichmann -- Pillsbury game, and here noted:
Preventing an inopportune exchange by White, who might possibly have taken the Piece earlier without much harm. Black is also now ready to assail the weak central position by d5 etc.
According to Chessgames.com
Smyslov commented "with the idea of d7-d5" (Chess Informant 53/318).

Maroczy -- Charousek continued 9.Qd2, which has been White's most frequent response. Teichmann played 9.O-O and Dueckstein, Smyslov's opponent, played 9.Nde2.

Charousek quickly seized the initiative.

9...d5 10.e5 Nd7 11.Bxd7 Bxd7 12.Bh6

Black to move


In Kuzin -- Romanov, Tula 2006, Black opted to sacrifice the exchange with 12...Bxe5 and lost in the endgame. Black also had the initiative through much of that game, but White defended successfully.

13.Qxh6 c5 14.Nde2 Nf5 15.Qd2 d4 16.Nd1 Qh4+

White to move

17.g3 Qe7 18.f4 Bc6 19.O-O Qe6 20.Kf2

After castling, the White king feels unsafe. White has made a series of small inaccuracies in a position that seemed to worsen rapidly through the late stages of the opening into the middle game.

20...f6 21.exf6 Rae8

White to move

22.Ng1 Ne3 23.Re1 Ng4+ 0-1

Charousek's games are characterized by deep tactical complications. Here, however, he seems to play more simply with small threats that lead to inaccurate responses and a rapid collapse. This game was the first in a short match between Charousek and Maroczy in April 1895, which Charousek won. Later in the year, they played a longer match that Maroczy won decisively.

*I have faced the Barnes variation once over the board, and it struck me at the time as an unusual approach. In contrast to the games above, I played 4.c3. Both 4.d4 and 4.c3 are presented as main lines in the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings. That game transposed into another obscure variation of the Spanish and left established theory with my opponent's ninth move. I was pleased with my play in that game because I was playing on general principles beginning at move four, and because I went on to win a nice endgame (see "Pawn Wars" February 2012).

11 February 2014

Understanding Threats

Lesson of the Week

Rezső Charousek (1873-1900) created deep combinations. In this position, his opponent Jakob Wollner has material superiority, but a vulnerable king.

Black to move

How should Black play?

In the game, Wollner played 18...Qg8.

How should White proceed?

09 February 2014

Simple Tactic

Elementary tactics win chess games. I made the second best move from this position, which was good enough to gain a decisive material advantage.

White to move

08 February 2014

Youth Tournament Lessons

Today I was the tournament director for the second annual Frosty Pawn, the seventh scholastic tournament in my area for the 2013-2014 school year. I was able to spend a little time in the playing area watching games and captured a few key positions on my iPhone.

Every youth tournament seems to have at least one instance of Scholar's Mate. I photographed a game in the first round that ended with this position:

White to move

White played 4.Qxf7#. I suspect that Black's last move had been 3...Nf6.

In round four, I watched a player who has not yet learned how to checkmate with a rook and queen chase his opponent's lone king across the center of the board after missing several checkmates in one or two moves. He then promoted two pawns--one to a rook and one to a bishop. Finally, they reached this position.

Black to move

Black played Qd1 and after several minutes, they understood that the game had ended in stalemate. I did not interfere in their process other than to confirm that after Qd1 it was White's move. They had spent enough time in the resulting position to have become uncertain.

One of the young girls whom I coach was playing out a rook and king against a king while her father and I watched from thirty feet away. I think that she had this position, or one very similar several times before she found the correct move. But, in the end, she found the moves and won the game.

White to move
White Checkmates in Two Moves

It was a happy moment for her father and I because I had worked with her on this checkmate some weeks back and her father had been working with her at home on "making the box smaller."

Two of the top players in the K-6 section reached this complex position. Black had been winning early, missed a chance to win White's queen, but kept up the pressure on the White monarch as White gained several pieces, such as the unmoved rooks.

Black to move

Playing this position against Fritz 11, I was able to force a draw both with Qh3+ and with the move played in the game, g4+.

Both players made errors through the next several moves from this position and soon reached another situation that I caught with my phone.

Black to move

I would have played Qd5, which against Fritz quickly produced a pawn ending that is easily won. Black played f5, which may still leave Black with an advantage. Instead, several moves later White skewered the king, which had moved back to the back rank, and won the queen on a8.

I could not bear to continue watching as White started pushing his a-pawn forward to gain a second queen instead of quickly forcing checkmate with the cooperation of king and queen. All Black's pawns were gone soon after he lost his queen.

06 February 2014

Playing it Out

Sunday morning I posted "Assessing Threats," which contained a position from Exner -- Charousek 1898.

White to move

I asked whose threats are more credible? I had gone through this game and a few others to cap a week in which I had gone through every available game played by Rudolf (Rezső) Charousek. Chessgames.com has 184 games, more than any other source available to me.

It is my recollection that the star move 32.Bh4 was suggested by an engine. By creating interference on the h-file, White forces Black to deal with his threat.

In the game, White played 32.b7 and soon lost. 32...Bxh3 33.Kxh3 Rh6+ 34.Bh4 Rxh4+ 35.Kxh4 Qf6+ 36.Kh3 Qh6+ 37.Kg4 Qg6+ 38.Kh4 Qg3+ 39.Kh5 Rf5#.

It seems likely that Exner underestimated Black's attack, or thought that his was stronger.

I played out the position against Fritz 11 beginning with 32.Bh4. Along the way, I missed some nuances that maintain an advantage for White, according to Stockfish. I let y passed b-pawn fall and still had a passed c-pawn against which to contend. Even so, I was able to provoke exchanges that reduced to an opposite colored bishop ending where White easily holds. At move 82, Fritz accepted my draw offer.

Stripes -- Fritz 11
from diagram above

32.Bh4 Bd5 33.Rab1 Qc2 34.Rbf1

My move is Stockfish's third choice. The engine likes 34.Qa1 Bb7 35.Rb2 Qf5 36.Re1 Qh5 37.Be7 Rc8 (diagram)

White to move
Hypothetical Position
It is clear that Black's attack against the king is no longer a threat in this computer line, which Stockfish sees as advantageous for White. With my move, White's advantage is less.

Stockfish's second choice is 34.Qa3, which is reminiscent of the line linuxguyonfics offered in the comments to "Assessing Threats".

My battle with the engine continued: 34...Qb2

White to move


According to Stockfish, White still has a significant advantage after 35.Qd7 Bc6 36.Qc7 h6 37.Rf2. My intention was to eliminate Black's checkmate threats even at the loss of my advanced pawn. Knowing that White lost this game, I was content to play for a draw.

35...Qxb6 36.Qxb6 Rxb6 37.Be7 Rc8 38.Rd2 Bb3 39.Rd8+ Rxd8 40.Bxd8 Rb7 41.Rc1 c4

White to move


I spent more than four minutes on this move, but worked out the ideas to the finish.

42...Rb5 43.Bc3 g5 44.Ra1 Bc2 45.Ra7 Kf8 46.Ra5 Rxa5 47.Bxa5 Kf7

White to move

Now, it is necessary to liquidate most of the pawns on the kingside so the king and bishop may hold all secure.

48.g3 fxg3 49.Kxg3 Ke6 50.f4 gxf4+ 51.Kxf4 Bg6

White to move

I played against the engine for another thirty moves. Occasionally. Black threatened to penetrate with the king or White threatened to win Black's h-pawn. These threats were easily parried. Once my pawn advanced to h4 and my bishop stood on the h4-d8 diagonal, while my king stood on c3, I offered the machine a draw.