31 May 2014

One Rook or Two

White to move

According to Bogdan Lalic  (Chess Informant 113/141), his 21.b3 in this position was an error. He offered as an alternative:

21.Qxc5 Rxc5 22.Rac1 Rxc1 23.Rxc1 g6 24.g3 Rb4 25.b3! Rxb3 26.Rc5 Ra3 27.Rxa5 when it should be clear that White retains winning chances.

Black to move
Theoretical Position

In the game, after 21.b3, the queens were exchanged and White managed to retain the a-pawn and a one pawn advantage long enough to advance the pawn to a7. However, with each player possessing two rooks, Black stopped the pawn on a7, hitting it with two rooks. Only one rook defended it.

The players agreed to a draw.

Black to move
Final Position

22 May 2014


I found myself in this position during a blitz game.

White to move

It was nice to win after yesterday's appalling losses.

21 May 2014


I teach young children that when they calculate a sequence of moves, they should then recheck after the first move is played. My failure in this tactics problem on Tactic Trainer this morning illustrates this point. Although I found a checkmate, I failed the problem because there was a shorter checkmate.

Black to move
Black is at Bottom
I found 1...Nf4 and White's obligatory 2.g5. I then played without further calculation 2...Ng2+ with the idea 3.Kh3 fxg5 4.b7 Nf4#.

I missed 2...h6! with mate forced on the next move.

Perhaps it is not fair that my training rating went down nearly six points for a checkmate in four when there was a checkmate in three, but those are the rules of the training app. I accept these rules.

19 May 2014

Beating Nikolay

Nikolay Bulakh is the Spokane City Champion, a title that he earned beating me 2 1/2 - 1/2 in a match last summer. A few years ago, I was having a good run against him. Although every game was tough, it seemed that I always won. He beat me for the first time in a standard tournament game in our club's 2013 Winter Championship, then beat me in a quick event a week later. He won the first two games of the City Championship to make it three standard wins in a row. In game three of the match, I might have had some winning chances, but missed them and drew.

Friday night, before our blitz game, we were discussing this summer's City Championship, which could be a rematch of last year. I commented that getting past Michael Cambareri and Jeremy Krasin will be tough, and "I'm not getting any younger." To play in the City Championship, I need to win the Contender's Tournament. "Your rating is not getting higher, either," Nikolay noted. It is true that I have dropped to 1900 from my peak of 1982, and was briefly 1899.

I won the blitz game, but lost games to Michael and Jeremy. Michael won the blitz tournament. Jeremy was second. I was third, and Nikolay finished fourth.

In round four of the Inland Empire Open, I had White against Nikolay on board two. Michael was on board one against Cameron Leslie. They were the only players with 3.0. Jeremy was on board three. Nikolay, Jeremy, and I were the only players with 2.5.

Stripes,James (1900) -- Bulakh,Nikolay (1980) [A29]
Inland Empire Open Spokane, 18.05.2014


The Benko Opening earned its name at the 1962 Candidates Tournament in Curaçao. Pal Benko played it in his first eleven games with the White pieces, beating both Bobby Fischer and Mikhail Tal. It usually transposes into something else.

1...Nf6 2.c4 e5

We have an English Opening, Sicilian Reversed. In the 1990s, the English was one of my main weapons with White. I have some experience on the Black side as well.


3.Bg2 is more accurate.

3...Nc6 4.Nc3 b6 5.Bg2 Rb8 6.d4 exd4 7.Nxd4 Bb7N

White to move


I did not like 8.Nxc6 Bxc6 9.Bxc6 dxc6 10.Bg5 or 10.Qa4, but it was better than my choice.

8...Bb4= 9.Nde2?!

9.0–0 is better.

9...Ne5 10.0–0

Seemed to be my only move



11.Nxc3 Nxc4

White gets a lot of activity for the pawn.

White to move


I had two somewhat better choices:
12.Qd4! Na5 13.e5 Ng8 14.Qg4 Kf8±

12...Ne5 13.Bf4

According to my engine, 13.f4 is better. 13...Nc6 14.e5 Ng8±. I do not play like an engine.

13...Qe7 14.Qb5

Black to move


Nikolay spent nearly thirty minutes on this move. I took a walk while he was thinking, trying to make certain that I could get in my 10,000 steps for the day.

The computer prefers 14...c5!

15.h3 a6 16.Qa4 Nf6 17.Nd5 Nxd5 18.exd5

Black to move


18...0–0 was probably best.


19.Qc2 was my second choice, but is the first choice of Stockfish.

19...d6 20.Rfe1 f6?

I expected Nikolay's move and he played it quickly. Engine analysis reveals 20...0–0 21.Bxe5 dxe5 22.Rxe5 Qd6 and White has a slight edge.

White to move


From this point on in the game, the computer's evaluation is a decisive advantage for White. What such evaluations mean in human terms is that White knows that he should be doing well and feels the pressure. Nerves become jagged. As other games finish, a crowd gathers to watch the game, increasing pressure on the players.

21...0–0 22.f4± Qd7 23.fxe5 dxe5 24.Qc5

Black to move

I felt that I had a comfortable position. I was also ahead on the clock at this point with 49 minutes remaining to 22 for my opponent. Such "comforts" rattled my nerves and I started to notice the crowd of spectators.

24...Rfd8 25.Ba5 Rbc8 26.Red1 Qf7 27.Rac1 Rd7

White to move


Does this move merit two exclamation marks? I spent about ten minutes on the move.. The tactics seemed rather complicated under the pressure of the tournament hall, but less so on Monday morning. This move forces issues and carries the game to its natural conclusion (although this "naturalness" was far from obvious during play).

28...Bxg2 29.Kxg2 Qxa2

I expected 29...c6 30.Bc7 Qxa2 31.Qxc6 Qxb2+ 32.Rc2 Qb3


Not the best move, according to the engines. Nonetheless, it was important to me to reach an ending where I could maintain control with minimal complications.

30.dxc7! Qxb2+ 31.Rc2 Rcxc7 32.Bxc7

30...Qxd5+ 31.Rxd5

Black to move


Again I expected 31...c6 32.Rd3

32.Bc7 c4 33.Ra1 Ra8 34.Rxb5

An elementary tactic further simplifies the position.

34...axb5 35.Rxa8+ Kf7 36.Rb8 

At this point, I thought that my win should be fairly simple. I also had nearly thirty minutes left on the clock, while Nikolay was down to about eleven minutes. A large crowd hovered near our table.

Black to move

36...Ke6 37.Rxb5 e4 38.Rc5 f5 39.Rxc4 Kd5 40.Rc1 g5 41.b4 e3

White to move

Time for some counting


This move invites counterplay, although the win remains fairly straightforward.

42.b5 is best.

42...Kd4 43.b5 Kd3 44.b6 g4+ 45.Kg2

45.Kf4! I should have calculated 45...gxh3 46.b7 Kd2 47.Rc5 h2 48.b8Q h1Q 49.Qb2+ Kd3 50.Qc2+ Kd4 51.Qc3#.

45...Kd2 46.Ra1 f4 47.gxf4

Black to move


47...e2 48.b7 e1Q 49.Rxe1 Kxe1 50.b8Q

48.Kxh3 Rg7 49.b7 Ke2 50.b8Q Rg6 51.Qb5+ Kf2

51...Kf3 52.Qd5+ Kf2 53.Ra2+ e2 54.Bb6+ Kf1 55.Qh1+ Rg1 56.Qxg1#

52.Rf1# 1–0

I reminded Nikolay that someone had told me on Friday that my rating was not going up.

I was tired after this game. After a rushed lunch, I sat down to play Cameron Leslie on board one. I dropped a pawn through an opening blunder. Unlike this game, I did not get any play for the pawn.

18 May 2014

I Blundered Here

In the second round of the Inland Empire Open, I struggled to find my way in a winning position. As my opponent, Loyd Willaford, matched my errors with his own, my winning position was restored.* I finished the first day with my customary 2 1/2: two wins and a half-point bye to allow time for wine and hot tub before the tougher opponents today.

Black to move


Black retains a decisive advatage with 38.Qf2, which I considered, as well as 38...Rd2, which I thought was bad, and even 38...Kh7. White now has equality.


39.Rxd3 cxd3 40.Qc3=


Now White is winning.

39...Qf6 retains an edge for Black.

40.Rxd3 cxd3 41.Qb3+ Kf8 42.Nxh6 Ne5 43.Qg8+ Ke7

White to move


Allows, nay forces, the Black king to escape.

44.Qg7+ Ke6 45.Nf5 Nf7 46.Nge3+-

44...Kd7 45.Qg7+ Kc8 46.Rc1+ Kb8

The Black king is secure, and Black may now return to the business of attacking. Two more moves were played and then White resigned.

*In the second round of the Collyer Memorial, I had White against Loyd. I gave him a winning position out of the opening with a badly played Ponziani, but he lost his way in the complications. We seem to battle to see who can make worse errors.

17 May 2014

Playing it Out

Alexei Shirov resigned as Black in this position. His opponent was Alexander Grischuk, The game was played in the European Cup in 2011.

Black to move

It was not instantly clear to me how White would win, so I played the position against the computer. I took Black.

51...Re6 52.Rh7+ Kg3 53.Kb7 Rf6

Stockfish prefers 53...Re4, but after several top engine choices, the game reaches a position almost identical to one reached in my effort against the box. 54.b5 axb5 55.a6 Re8 (see digram below).

54.b5 axb5 55.a6 Rf8

White to move

56.a7 b4 57.Rh5 Kf4 58.h4

Black to move

I was now confident that I could win if I had the White pieces, but I tried a few different moves for Black in any case.

a) 58...Kg4 leaves White only one winning move, but it is easy to find. 59.Rxg5+ Kxh4 60.Rc5. Black's remaing pawn is stopped and the Black rook must give itself up after a8Q.

b) 58...Rf7+ 59.Ka6 Rf8 60.Rxg5 b3 61.Rb5 as above.

c) 58...g4 59.Rb5 g3 60.Rxb4+ Kf5 61.a8Q Rxa8 62.Kxa8 g2 63.Rb1 Kg4 64.Rg1 Kg3

White to move

65.h5 Kf2 66.Rxg2 Kxg2 67.h6 1-0

16 May 2014

Improving my Instincts

This position appears in Yelena Dembo's annotations to Tiviakov -- Rapport, Groningen 2011 (Chess Informant 113/124). They occur after an alternative move for Black that renders White's job less elementary. My instincts likely would lead me to play a move that results in a line she gives as a draw, but White has a win.

White to move

15 May 2014


Lesson of the Week

Pinning is the first unit in the classic text, 1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations (1955) by Fred Reinfeld. This week's lesson was chosen at random from that unit. I played the position against Stockfish DD prior to putting the position in front of students.

White to move

The position is number 63 in Reinfeld. He does not give the source.

14 May 2014

Beware the Aggressive King

Black to move

This position arose in Bok -- Neumann, Bundesliga 2011. Analysis in Chess Informant 113/116 stops ten moves prior to this position.

Black played 38...Rh3 and was quickly lost. Did Black have a chance to draw?

13 May 2014

Transition to Philidor

The position below arose in Bologan -- Erdos, Sibenik 2011. The opening and early middle game appears in Chess Informant 113/113 stopping at a point where White, a pawn ahead, has only one move to avoid checkmate. Informant gives the evaluation that Black has compensation for the material.

Black to move

My analysis engine favors 40...exd5, which my eye likes because the White king appears cut off from the passed d-pawn. Even so, White's pawn majority should lure the Black rook to the a- or b-file.

Stockfish DD offers: 40...exd5 41.Kg3 Kxf6 42.b4 d4 43.a4 h5 44.Rb1 Ke5 45.b5

Black to move
Analysis Diagram
45...axb5 leads to a drawn queen ending. The engine favors 45...d3. That, too, leads to a draw although it is less elementary.

In the game, Viktor Erdos opted for 40...Rxd5.

The game continued 41.Re4 Kxf6 42.Ra4 a5 43.b4 axb4 44.Rxb4 Rd2+ 45.Kg3 Rxa2

White to move

White has only one move that holds the draw.


Can the Black king find shelter from the checks? Erdos sought refuge on e8, but h8 was also possible. Best play appears to lead to a draw in either case.

46...Kg6 47.Rg4+ Kf7 48.Rf4+ Ke8

White to move

49.Rf6! Ra3+ 50.Kg2 Ke7 51.Rh6 Kd6 52.Rxh7 Kd5 53.Kf2 e5

White to move

White has achieved a Philidor Position with the Black pieces one rank further back.

54.Rh4 e4 55.Rh8 1/2-1/2

08 May 2014

Lesson of the Week

Defending a Pawn

Black to move

Find Black's best move so as to not fail as Black did in this online blitz game.

The following pawn ending was reached after following the suggestions of a young player from the diagram above. It took me less than a second to declare that White is winning no matter who is on move.

Naturally, the young player did not agree with me. I played the position out against Hiarcs on the iPad to demonstrate the elementary win.

06 May 2014

Blowing an Endgame

Yesterday morning, I shared on Facebook a link to an excellent article from The Chess World, "7 Chess Training Habits You Should Drop Now." The author, Yuri Markushin, highlights several practices that develop sloppy and lazy thinking. He begins with blitz and bullet.

Last night, I played a blitz game that illustrates this problem with blitz. In contrast to calculating the consequences of a rook exchange and then playing the pawn ending correctly, I intuitively guessed that I would benefit from an exchange of rooks and then threw away the pawn ending.

Black to move

32...Re3+ was the correct move. But then, 33.Kd4 Rxa3 34.bxa3, it was time to assess the resulting pawn position.

I played 34...f5, playing hope chess. I hoped that my opponent would facilitate my dreams of a passed pawn with 35.gxf5. He refused to cooperate, playing instead 35.a4.

Did I then seriously consider 35...e5+, a move that may at least hold the draw?

No. I played 35...fxg4 and quickly reached a position that was hopelessly lost. Several moves later, we reached the position below.

White to move

My opponent wins easily with 44.Kf5. However, 44.Kd4 was played. In the ensuing pawn race, we both promoted pawns. The queen ending was a dead draw. But, as often happens in blitz, a series of senseless checks were employed to run the other player out of time.

04 May 2014

Gaining a Tempo

White intends to win back a sacrificed pawn and swap queens. But there is more. Choosing the correct move order gains a tempo by imposing upon Black an additional move. This tempo helps White maintain the initiative.

The game was Popovic -- Bogut, Hrvatska 2011 and was published as Chess Informant 113/103.

White to move

10.Bxf7+ Ke7 11.Qxd8+ Kd8 12.f4 Ke7 13.Bb3

White went on to win the game.

03 May 2014

More Rook Ending Tragicomedies

Thanks to the need to effectively teach the Lucena and Philidor rook endgame positions to a strong young chess player, I have been using my database to review my own games. My OTB (over the board games) reveal some degree of skill, but errors in blitz expose weaknesses in my intuitive understanding.

Blitz can reinforce bad habits, but it may also be useful for diagnosing and correcting those habits.

Black to move

I threw away a decisive advantage with 57...gxh3. This game was played in April 2014.

Black to move

53...Kf4 preserves winning chances, but I played 53...g4?? to reach a dead drawn ending.

The Good News

Despite these many failings, my database reveals an abundance of games in which I was able to convert a Lucena or or similar position.

This one from the Free Internet Chess Server (FICS) in February 2014 shows that I missed the best line, but found a wholly adequate solution nonetheless.

White to move

67.Rf6+ (67.Rb8 was best) 67...Kg3 68.b7 Rb6 69.Kc4 Rb1 70.Kc5 Kg4 71.Kc6 Kg5 72.Kc7 Rc1+ 73.Kb8 Rb1 74.Rc7 Kf6 75.Kc8 Re1 76.b8Q Re8+ 77.Kb7 Rxb8 78.Kxb8 and my opponent opted not to test how quickly I could deliver checkmate with a rook and king against his lone monarch.

I also avoided a trap in this finish from March 2013 on Chess.com. Then I saw a trap that was not there.

White to move

47.Kc6 Rf2 48.Kc5 Rc2+ 49.Kb4 Kc7 50.Ka3 Rc3 51.Kxb2 Rxb3+ 52.Kxb3. Game drawn.

02 May 2014

Philidor Position: Practice

Demonstrating fundamental understanding of the Philidor position in rook endings is one of the tests for the Rook Award in my series of scholastic chess awards. Naturally, when I have a student working through that stage, I spend additional time looking through my own games both to find evidence of correct play and to extract study positions where failure occurred.

Tragicomedies abound in my database of online games, which includes thousands of turn-based (correspondence) games, nearly as many "standard" (fifteen minute and longer) live online games, and fifty thousand blitz games. There are dozens of games where the last several moves clearly indicate both players trying to run the other out of time in a dead drawn ending, or even in endings where one player has a decisive advantage but the other manages to win. There are also far too many games where moves played demonstrate intuitive failure or lack of understanding of correct technique.

Using the classification keys in ChessBase 11, I am able to quickly locate hundreds of rook endings and skim through the positions rapidly. With an eye for thematic positions, I seek those with results at odds with the truth of the position. I play out the position from before the error to practice correct technique. This practice also tests my understanding of which positions are drawn and which won or lost.

As White, I threw away a draw from this position, but then won on time a few moves later. The game was played on the Internet Chess Club in August 2000.

White to move

54.Ra6?? loses to 54...Rf6+. My opponent returned the position to drawn status with 54...f4, allowing my rook to maneuver to f1 where it awaited help from its king.

My ICC opponent in 2000 could have held the next position easily by shuffling the rook across to a3, b3, ... Even 78.Rh5, the move played, could have held if not for the blunder several moves later.

White to move

78.Rh5 Kg4 79.Rh3 Re7 80.Rg3+ Kf4 81.Rg2 Rh7+ 82.Kg1 Ke3 83.Rf2?? and I won with a rook swap that took us into an elementary pawn ending. Playing my opponent's position against Stockfish DD earlier this week, I reached a draw in a few seconds of play keeping the rook on the third rank until Black advancd the pawn to f4, then keeping up a barrage of side checks.

My own errors were glaring in the next game.

Black to move

In a three minute game on ICC in 2001, I played 55...Re5?? in this position. My opponent exploited the error to win.

In this game from 2001, I maintained the draw for several moves. Even so, my moves call into question my intuitive sense. Keeping my king in front of Black's pawn should not require conscious thought.

White to move

70.Ke3 (I played 70.Kf3 against Stockfish) 70...Ra3+ 71.Kd4 Ra4+ 72.Kc3?? and I lost the game.


Moving forward in the database to 2006, I should find better play. By then, I had spent at least a little time learning some principles of rook endings, although serious work began in 2007. It was then that I bought Jeremy Silman's new book, Silman's Complete Endgame Course (2007) and quickly went through everything up through the chapter for C Class. In the fall of 2006, I also broke through to B Class with my USCF rating.

After studying the section on the Lucena and Philidor positions in Silman's text, I changed the requirements for my Rook Award. The Lucena and Philidor positions replaced checkmate with a bishop and a knight. Silman's arguments concerning the relative value of each influenced my decision, as did one of my pupils requiring 51 moves to checkmate my king with a bishop and knight after many attempts over several weeks.

In this game on Free Internet Chess Server (FICS), I started well.

White to move

52.Rh3+ Ke4 53.Rb3 f4 54.Kf1 f3

I have occupied the third rank. Black has advanced his pawn.

55.Rb4+ Ke3 56.Rb3+ Kf4 57.Rb4+??

I threw it away. It was time to check from the rear.

In another game on FICS in 2006, I threw away a win.

Black to move

56...f2?? leaves my king unprotected from White's checks. Against Stockfish this week, I won quickly after 56...Re1+.

Several years later, rear checks allowed my to transition into a drawn pawn ending in this game from Chess.com that was played in 2013.

Black to move

70...Rxg3+ 71.Kf4 Rg1 72.Ke5 Re1+ 73.Kd6 Rxe6+ 74.fxe6 Ke8

My opponent tested my time management skills for seven moves before we reached stalemate.

Nonetheless, failures continued to manifest themselves in 2013.

I blew a draw in this game on Chess.com.

White to move

70.Rf3+?? leads to passive first rank defense that is lost (and straight out of the textbooks).

Against the engine, I held the draw after 70.Rb6+ Kc3 71.Kb1.

As recently as January of this year, I demonstrated a continuing need for improvement.

White to move

Choosing the short side is as effective here as 52.Kf1.

52...f3 53.Rc4+ Kh3 54.Rc1??

54.Rc8 would have been simple and effective. Passive defense leads to checkmate.

The work continues.

01 May 2014

Philidor Position: Historical Note

The Philidor Position in rook endings is one where the weaker side's king stands in front of stronger side's pawn, on or near the promotion square, and in which the weaker side is able to prevent the stronger's king from advancing to the sixth (or third) rank. Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual (2003) offers a typical example (145).* The position is so-named because François-André Danican Philidor was the first to demonstrate the defense in his Analysis of the Game of Chess (1777), 275-282.

With Black on move, moving the rook to almost any square along the b-file holds the draw. 1...Rb6 is the clearest and easiest demonstration of the technique. Philidor noted, "By keeping that line with his rook, he hinders your king from advancing" (275).

Mark Dvoretsky notes that Philidor thought that White could win if he were on move, but later analysis has revealed that he is wrong on this point. In Philidor's position, White is on move, but his initial setting differs in one important respect from Dvoretsky's diagram. The pawn has advanced to the fifth rank in Dvoretsky.

Philidor presents the following position.

White to move

After the moves 1.e5 Rb6 2.Ra7, the position is almost identical to Dvoretsky's with only the Black rook on a different square. With Black on the move, Dvoretsky's key move creates the position in Philidor's analysis, but in Philidor Black is still on move. In some positions, such a transfer of the side to move proves critical, but here it is not so.

Philidor gives 2...Rc6 with the comment: "He ought not to depart from this line with his rook, but at the very instant when you push your pawn" (277).

3.e6 Rc1

"If he had given check, he would have lost the game" (Philidor).

4.Kf6 Rf1+

Philidor asserts, "He must continue to give you check, in order to drive you away from your pawn; and at the very moment when your king falls upon his rook, he will attack and take your pawn" (277).

Philidor's Back-Game**

Philidor's analysis of the position where he asserts that White may win begins from his diagram and offers Black moving first, 1...Ra1.

White to move

We see the essential elements here are the same as in Dvoretsky's position with White to move.

2.Kf6 Rf1+ 3.Ke6 Kf8 4.Rh8+ Kg7 5.Re8

Philidor states that this move is the only one that "can insure the game" (279). Checking the position with tablebases confirms that Philidor was in error, as noted by Dvoretsky.

5...Re1 6.Kd7

Black to move


This move is the key error. Philidor offers an alternative in the notes: 6...Rd1+ 7.Ke7, but he misses the key defensive idea that was discovered by later analysis, 7...Ra1!

7.e6+ Kg7 8.Ke7

Here, White missed the winning 8.Ra8 (also Rb8, Rd8, and Rc8).


8...Ra1 draws, again.

The rest of Philidor's analysis is a good illustration of a winning technique that works in some Lucena positions, but differing from the orthodox bridge building on the fourth rank.

*Other books offer slightly different positions. Silman's Complete Endgame Course (2007) has 6R1/4k2r/8/3KP3/8/8/8/8 (126). Fundamental Chess Endings (2001) by Karsten Muller and Frank Lamprecht has 1r3k2/R7/8/5PK1/8/8/8/8 (177). Grigory Levenfish and Vasily Smyslov, Rook Endings, trans. by Philip J. Booth (1971) has a partial mirror image of the position in Philidor's text: the White king is flipped to the other side of the pawn and the rooks have swapped rook files. It is 4k3/R7/7r/3K4/4P3/8/8/8 (15). Reuben Fine, Basic Chess Endings (1941) is almost identical to Philidor's with only the Black rook one square to the right (287).

**Back-game was the term employed for variations in seventeenth and eighteenth century chess texts.