31 August 2015

Training with Karjakin

While working to shore up some weaknesses in my French Defense, I became interested in Svidler -- Karjakin, Khanty-Mansiysk 2014 from last year's Candidates Tournament. The game was annotated by Suat Atalik for Chess Informant 120/98. This game transposed into a French Defense, King's Indian Attack after beginning 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 d5 3.Bg2 e6 4.O-O Be7 5.d3 c5, when Svidler played the provocative 6.e4! After the subsequent 6...Nc6 7.Qe2 O-O 8.e5 Nd7 9.c4, we reach the point that caught my interest initially.

Black to move

In The Flexible French (2008), Viktor Moskalenko presents this position from one of his own games as Black. He played 9...dxc4, opining that 9...d4 "would be a strategic mistake, since the blocked center offers Black no counterplay" (249). Yet, 9...d4 was the move played by Karjakin!

IM Christof Sielecki offers interesting analysis of the whole game on his YouTube channel.

A complex game developed and Svidler sacrificed a pawn on g6 to open the h-file. In the endgame, Karjakin's doubled g-pawns proved to be a strength.

I played a training position against Stockfish 6.

Black to move

Karjakin spent fifteen minutes thinking on this position, and must have calculated the twenty moves to the end of the game.

64...Rxd4! 65.Kxd4 b6 66.Kc3

Stockfish varied from the game here, so the training begins. The plans are as in the game: push the forward g-pawn to force White's rook off the board in exchange, then work to promote the other g-pawn. Stockfish played in a manner that presented me with another winning method after exchanging the forward pawn for White's rook.

Stockfish 6 -- Stripes

66.Re7 g4 67.Re1 g3 68.Rf1+ Kg4 69.b4 Kh3 70.Rd1 g2 71.Ke5 Kh2 72.a4

Black to move


I like this move.

73.Kf6 Bxc4 74.Kxg6 Bf1 75.Rd2 Kh1 76.Rxg2 Kxg2 and twenty-one moves later I checkmated the Silicon Beast. Most of the remaining moves were executed rather quickly. I only had to be wary of letting White exchange the b-pawns and get its king to a1.

27 August 2015


I am working through a book that had been collecting dust on my shelf for a few years. Nikolay Minev, A Practical Guide to Rook Endgames (2004) offers an informative discussion of tactical elements and strategic elements in the first chapter, which comprises half of the book. The tactical elements listed are skewer, double attacks, pinning, deflection, far-advanced pawns, and stalemate. He describes each of these elements in simple terms and then with reference to rook endings from actual play.

This position is the last one in the section on skewer. It occurred in Vasiukov -- Dzindzichashvili, Soviet Championship 1972.

White to move

25 August 2015


Several years ago, a high school sophomore who attended a school's satellite program showed up at at a high school chess club where I was the coach. He wanted to know whether he could join the club. He could and did.

Kevin Baker had an odd opening that he cherished, but that I did not think was very good. With a lot of effort, I convinced him to play conventional openings.* He became the Spokane High School Individual Champion and he led his team to the Spokane High School Team Championship.

He graduated and left town, moving first to Seattle and later to Los Angeles. He travels due to his work as a model. When in New York, he usually visits the Marshall Chess Club, where he learns from players a lot stronger than I am.

After graduation he resumed playing the offbeat opening that I discouraged years ago. He has beaten masters in tournaments with it. Sometimes on Chess.com he gives me the opportunity to reveal its weaknesses. I usually fail.

That's what every coach dreams about: being surpassed by his students.

Last night, just before I closed my iPad for the night, a blitz challenge came in from Kevin. He won the first three games. Then I evened the score. Then he won one, then I did. I won another, then lost. We kept trading wins and threw in a draw for good measure. The score for the night was even until he won the last two games.

This position arose in one of the games.

Black to move

30...Rb6 seems obvious, but maybe I was tired or maybe I was in time pressure or maybe I was trying to rush moves as a blitz strategy. In any case, I played:

30...h5 31. g4 Kh7

31...Rb6 still offered prospects for advantage.

32.gxh5 gxh5

32...g5 was Black's last hope.

33.Rxh5+ Kg6 34.Rff5 Rxf6

34...Rxe5 avoids immediate checkmate.

35.Rfg5# 1-0

*It may be worth noting that the first time I played what I have called the Danish Morra, I was playing chess with Kevin in a bowling alley. While one was knocking down pins, the other would make a move on a chess board. He knocked down a lot more pins that I did, but I won more chess games.

The Danish Morra begins: 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Bc4 (this move, a feature of the Danish Gambit is not usually played in the Smith-Morra Gambit). 4...cxb2?! 5.Bb2. At least in casual games and blitz, White gets plenty of compensation for the two pawns.

21 August 2015

Winning an Open

I won the Spokane Falls Open with a score of 4.5/5. It was my first win of an open Swiss, although I have won club tournaments, quads, and a few invitationals. I also tied for first in the reserve section of the 2006 Washington Challenger's Cup. I normally play four games in a five round weekend Swiss. I won all four games one other time, the 2012 Collyer Memorial Tournament. In that event, IM John Donaldson played all five rounds and also won all of his games, so I finished second.

In the Spokane Falls Open, held last weekend, there were two players rated higher than me. I beat both of them. My games on Saturday, when I played lower rated players, were far from easy. These two games lasted seven hours and 110 moves.

A chess player's job is to set problems before his or her opponent, and to solve the problems set by the opponent. The winner is the one who solves these problems more effectively. Below are some of the critical positions from my games in the tournament last weekend.

My first game was against an underrated youth player. Early in the game, he took advantage of my errors. I faced a difficult decision whether to give up a pawn, or to give up a rook for a knight.

White to move

I gave up the pawn.

Several moves later, he faced a difficult choice.

Black to move.

In the second round, my opponent shattered the pawns in front of my king, trading a knight for three pawns and an attack. My defensive resources were adequate, and we found ourselves in an ending where I had a knight for two pawns. I missed the winning plan from this position.

Black to move

Nonetheless, my advantage again became overwhelming a few moves later.

After a round three bye, I faced the top rated player in round four. The last time I had played him was in the 2009 Collyer Memorial. I drew all four games in that event. He gave me several difficult problems to solve. This was one of the critical positions. What is Black's best move?

Black to move

My opponent played hxg3, presenting me with some difficulties. Of course, I took the pawn on g4 with check, but then what?

In the last round, I faced Kairav Joshi (see "Excelling at Technical Chess"). He had White.

White to move

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

Joshi played Rg4+. After the game, he said that he thought that move was a critical error. I did not disagree.

16 August 2015

Chigorin -- Davidov 1874

Early this summer, I faltered in my 2015 goal to work through one game each week from the selection in GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Knowledge (2000) by Rashid Ziyatdinov. To some extent my training shifted when Chess Informant 124 arrived, but I also have wasted far too much time playing bullet and blitz. Last Sunday, I resumed my course through Ziyatdinov's book.

I spent several hours Sunday morning going through Chigorin -- Davidov, St. Petersburg 1874. Chigorin played a Muzio Gambit, quickly brought all of his pieces to bear in the attack, and succeeded in checkmating his opponent's king. Davidov's queen's rook was a spectator. Despite White's knight sacrifice, he always had a material advantage in the battle.

Chigorin,Mikhail -- Davidov,Mikhail [C37]
St Petersburg, 1874

1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5

How many White moves are playable here? Is one better than the others? 4.Bc4 Seems sensible as it directly attacks f7. It usually leads to the Muzio Gambit with a knight sacrifice, however.

4.h4 has lots of theory.
4.Nc3 is recommended by John Shaw for players seeking a line with less theory.
4.d4 seems playable.


4...Nc6 is recommended by John Shaw, The King's Gambit (2013). He thinks that White should not play 4.Bc4, and that Black should not reply 4...g4.


White gives up a knight for rapid development.

5.Ne5 Qh4+ (5...d5) 6.Kf1 saves the piece. (6.g3 fxg3) 6...Nh6.

5...gxf3 6.Qxf3 Qf6


7.e5 Qxe5

White to move


8.Bxf7+ is considered the principled move in the Muzio. However, the text is favored by 1/2 pawn by Stockfish 6, and more than 1/2 pawn by Komodo. 8...Kxf7 9.d4 Qf5 and Black is better, according to Shaw.

Shaw gives a reference game that I found in my database and also identified as of theoretical interest: 10.g4 Qg6 11.Nc3 Nf6 12.Bxf4 d6 13.Bg3 Kg7 14.Nd5 Nxd5 15.Qxd5 Nc6 16.Qc4 d5 17.Qxd5 Be6 18.Qb5 Be7 19.Qxb7 Qe4 20.Rae1 Qxd4+ 21.Rf2 Bd7 22.Qxc7 Bc5 23.Kg2 Qd5+ 24.Rf3 Rhf8 25.Bf4 Rac8 26.c4 Qxf3+ 0–1 Showalter,J--Taubenhaus,J, New York 1889.

8...Bh6 9.Nc3

9.Bd2 was also popular in the nineteenth century.

9...Ne7 10.Bd2 Nbc6 11.Rae1 Qf5

All of White's pieces are mobilized.

White to move


In my database is a reference game that led to a long struggle and eventually a victory for Black. 12.g4 Rg8 13.h3 Nd4 14.Qf2 Ne6 15.d4 c6 16.Bd3 Qf6 and Black won in 81 moves, Anderssen,A--Neumann,G, Berlin 1866.



13.Bc3 Re8

13...Rg8 was played in two earlier games, and it would not be unreasonable to suppose that Chigorin knew these games. Davidov, too, probably had studied them. 14.Bf6 Bg5

(14...Bf8 led to catastrophe 15.Qe2 Qe6 16.Nxe7 Qxe2 17.Nxc6+ Ke8 18.Rxe2+ 1–0 Cochrane,J--Mahescandra, Kolkata 1854)

15.Rxe7 Bxf6 16.Re4 Bg5 17.g4 Qg6 18.h4 Bxh4 19.Qxf4 d6 20.Qxf7 Qxf7 21.Rxf7 Ne5 22.Rxh7 Nxc4 23.Rxc4 c6 24.Nc7 Rb8 25.Rf4 Be7 26.Rff7 Kxc7 27.Rxe7+ Kb6 28.Rhg7 Rxg7 29.Rxg7 Be6 30.Rg6 Bxa2 31.Rxd6 Rg8 32.Kf2 Rxg4 33.Ke2 Rg2+ 34.Kd1 Bb1 35.c3 Rxb2 0–1 Kolisch,I--Paulsen,L, London 1861.

14.Bf6 Bg5

Perhaps Davidov was remembering the Paulsen win above, but the position is different. Paulsen played 14...d6 is this position. That game went on 15.Bb5 Be6 16.Bxc6 bxc6 17.Bxe7+ Rxe7 18.Nxe7 Qc5+ 19.d4 Qxd4+ 20.Kh1 Kxe7 21.Qxc6 Rc8 22.c3 Qb6 23.Qe4 Rg8 24.Qxh7 Rg6 25.Re2 Qc5 26.Qh8 Kd7 27.Qa8 Qc6 28.Qxc6+ Kxc6 29.b3 Kd7 30.c4 Bf5 31.Rfe1 Re6 32.Kg1 Bg4 33.Re4 Bf5 34.R4e2 Bd3 35.Rxe6 fxe6 36.Kf2 e5 37.g3 fxg3+ 38.hxg3 e4 39.Rh1 Bd2 0–1 Schallopp,E--Paulsen,L, Berlin 1864.

White to move

The game has reached one of the middlegame positions in Ziyatdinov's text.

15.g4 Qg6 16.Bxg5 Qxg5 17.h4 Qxh4 18.Qxf4 d6 19.Nf6

Black to move


19...Rf8 defends against White's short-term threats.


With the exchange sacrifice, White falls further behind in the material on the board. However, he maintains an edge with the material in the battle balanced and Black's pieces tied down. Despite the absence of a pawn shield for the White monarch, Black's king is the one under pressure.

One of my students was able to find 20.Rxe5 rather quickly, although he credited the understanding that came from my suggestion that Black should have played 19...Rf8. In training, we often know that a decisive position has been reached in the game we are examining. While playing, these moments are less clear.

20...dxe5 21.Qxe5 Bxg4

21...Bd7 may hold.

22.Qd4+ Kc8

White to move

This position also appears in GM-RAM.

23.Be6+ Kb8

23...Bxe6 24.Qxh4.
23...fxe6 24.Qd7+ Kb8 25.Qxe8+ Nc8 26.Nd7#.

24.Nd7+ Kc8 25.Nc5+ Kb8

25...Bxe6 26.Qxh4.

26.Na6+ bxa6 27.Qb4# 1–0

I found some tactical positions in this game that I was able to use with my students, advancing their knowledge as well as my own. Cochran's miniature and Paulsen's two games offer additional study material and training positions.

The next in the series is Steinitz -- Blackburne, London 1876, first match game.

15 August 2015

Knight versus Pawns

In round two of the Spokane Falls Open this afternoon, I had Black in this position. The first move that I considered was the right one, according to Stockfish 6. I did not play it, but went on to win anyway.

Black to move

12 August 2015


This problem was posted on Facebook with "Black to move, mate in two." There are two simple checkmate patterns and it seemed that both could be easily refuted. After I failed, as did many others, even arguing that the correct solution was impossible, a question was posed. What was White's prior move?

Black to move

08 August 2015

Thinking about Development

Ever since reading Elements of Positional Evaluation, rev. ed. (1999) by Dan Heisman fifteen years ago, I have thought a little differently about development.* Before reading this book, I had been content to get my pieces out, hopefully to good squares. I did not think deeply about which rook to move first, nor when to delay deploying a bishop because I was uncertain of its best square, nor what exactly is meant by the term development.

Heisman calls development a pseudo-element.
Development theory yields more contradictions than any other single positional theory, and if noting else comes out of this work, it is hoped that the overused "development" will be exposed for what it really is: a vague catch-all which confuses more than it clarifies. For a definition, we finds such indefinite generalizations as "getting your pieces into play," "moving a piece from its original square," and "putting your pieces on squares where they are well placed for the middlegame."
Heisman, Elements, 28.
I have sought to employ Heisman's seven elements--mobility, flexibility, center control, vulnerability, piece coordination, time, and speed--in my teaching of juniors and in my own play. I have sought through my reading and rereading of classic works to understand the historic evolution of the concept of development. Chess writers before Steinitz concerned with positional play used the term time before development became a catch phrase.

A position that I recently faced in a correspondence game provoked further considerations of development, and surprisingly, perhaps, found me relying on something I read in Siegbert Tarrasch, The Game of Chess (1935). Tarrasch employs the concept of development throughout this book. However, he breaks it down into three factors: time, material, and space.

White to move

It was my move in this position. My first impulse was to play 10.Nxf6+, but then I remembered Tarrasch's sage advice in his section on time, "every care must be taken not to develop one's opponent, for by so doing one presents him with one or more tempi" (227). There was no rush as this was a correspondence game with seven days to move. I spent a leisurely 45 minutes or so contemplating and researching this position.

It seemed clear to me that White had an advantage. Tarrasch would note White's occupation of four ranks while Black's pieces occupied three (space). Counting tempi in the manner that Tarrasch suggests yields 5-4 in favor of White because a knight on the fourth rank is worth two tempi (229). Capturing the knight on f6 would restore the balance of tempi, something obviously not in White's best interests.

Heisman's elements were also helpful. White's pieces struck me as slightly better coordinated than Black's. The old pseudo-element (Heisman's term) of space helps. In particular, White's pieces are well coordinated to generate pressure against h7 and start an attack on the castled king. Despite seemingly adequate protection, Black's king could prove vulnerable if White could build an attack.

I looked at several lines designed to create a checkmate threat on h7. Inevitably, Black was forced to play g6, but then Black's bishop became well-posted on g7 or f6. As pieces were exchanged, White's initiative failed to expose the king and began to dissipate.

Exploring my database, I found that this position had occurred in at least fourteen prior games with thirteen White wins and one draw. One of the wins, however, came as a consequence of a long endgame with one knight and five pawns each. Black was outplayed in what looked to me like an equal position. In those fourteen games, White had played ten different moves.

Before looking at the move that I played and the subsequent course of the game, it may be of interest to see how this position came about.

Stripes,J (2175) -- Internet Opponent (1919) [C04]
www.ChessWorld.net, 31.05.2015

1.d4 e6 2.e4 d5 3.Nd2 Nc6

The Guimard variation has long had a reputation for being weaker than 3...c5 and 3...Nf6, as well as the flexible 3...Be7 that is recommended in several recent books on the French. Even so, John Watson offers a chapter on it in Dangerous Weapons: The French (2007).

4.Ngf3 Be7

4...Nf6 is nearly always played and is the only move discussed in Watson's Dangerous Weapons. Other moves that can be found in ECO are 4...g6, 4...Nh6, and 4...dxe4. The last transposes to a obscure variation of the Rubinstein French.

5.c3 has been played in over half of the small number of games reaching this position. White's score of 84% is impressive, but the sample is too small and most of the games are between players below Candidate Master.

5.e5 f5 (5...Nh6 6.c3 Bd7 7.Bd3 Nf5 8.Nf1 Na5 9.Ng3 Nxg3 10.hxg3 h6 11.g4 a6 12.g5 h5 13.g6 Bb5 14.g4 h4 15.gxf7+ Kxf7 16.g5 Ke8 17.Bxb5+ axb5 18.Qd3 c6 19.Nxh4 Nb3 20.Rb1 Nxc1 21.Qg6+ Kd7 22.f4 Qf8 23.f5 Nd3+ 24.Kd2 Nf4 25.fxe6+ Nxe6 26.Rbf1 Bxg5+ 27.Kc2 Qe8 28.Rf7+ Be7 29.Nf5 Rxh1 30.Nxg7 Rh6 31.Qf5 Qxf7 32.Qxf7 Rf8 0–1 Fernandez Romero,E (2383)--Pons Boscana,G, Mallorca 2000) 6.c4 Nh6 7.cxd5 exd5 8.Nb3 Nf7 9.Bd3 a5 10.0–0 a4 11.Nbd2 g5 12.Bb5 Ra5 13.Bxa4 g4 14.Bxc6+ bxc6 15.Nb3 Ra7 16.Ne1 Ba6 17.Nd3 Qa8 18.Re1 Bb5 19.a3 Ba4 20.Bd2 c5 21.dxc5 d4 22.e6 Nd8 23.Nf4 Bxc5 24.Qc2 Bd6 25.Qxf5 Bxb3 26.Qh5+ Kf8 27.Ng6+ Kg8 28.e7 Ne6 29.Nxh8 Bxe7 30.Qf7+ Kxh8 31.Qxe7 Ra6 32.Bh6 1–0 Rogers,I (2574)--Buecker,S (2341), Hertogenbosch 1999.

5...dxe4 6.Nxe4 Nf6

White to move

With Black's move the game transposes into a slightly larger data set, perhaps the seventy games are sufficient for justifying some optimism for White in the 92% score.


A thematic move against the French.


7...Qd5 8.Qe2 0–0 9.Bf4 Nxe4 10.Bxe4 Qa5 11.0–0 Bd6 12.Ne5 Bxe5 13.Bxe5 Bd7 14.a4 Nxe5 15.dxe5 Rab8 16.b4 Qa6 17.b5 Qb6 18.Qd3 Rfd8 19.Bxh7+ Kf8 20.Be4 c6 21.c4 Qc5 22.Qa3 Qxa3 23.Rxa3 Be8 24.Rd3 Rxd3 25.Bxd3 Rd8 26.Rd1 cxb5 27.axb5 a6 28.bxa6 bxa6 29.Be2 Rxd1+ 30.Bxd1 a5 31.f4 f6 32.Kf2 Bc6 33.g3 a4 34.Ke3 a3 35.Bb3 fxe5 36.fxe5 Kf7 37.Kd4 Kg6 38.Kc5 Be4 39.Ba2 Kf5 40.Kd6 g5 41.h4 gxh4 42.gxh4 Bf3 43.h5 Bxh5 44.c5 1–0 Mortensen,E (2440)--Crawley,G (2345), Copenhagen 1987.

7...0–0 is the most popular move in the position.


8.Qa4 has been played by the strongest players who reached this position 8...Bb7 9.0–0 (9.Bb5 Qd5=).

8...Bb7 9.Qe2 0–0

And we have reached the diagram position at the top of this post. Notice that it emerged from the Tarrasch variation of the French.

Fourteen games in the ChessBase database have reached this position. White has tried ten different moves. One game was drawn and White won all the others.


Moving my rook to the semi-open file strengthens my grip on the center, prepares for an eventual rook lift if I can generate an attack on Black's king, leaves d1 available for the other rook, and defers development of my dark-squared bishop. Even more important, it makes no concrete threats that guide Black's choices. I am developing with a very slight increase in pressure. I have increased the mobility of my rook (Tarrasch would count the rook's placement on e1 as a tempo because there is no White pawn blocking it). My pieces remain well-coordinated as others join in the battle. I continue to eye potential vulnerabilites in Black's position. I am not wasting time, nor am I helping my opponent gain time through exchanges.

Whether my move is better than others that have been played in this position is unclear. It seems that almost everything has led to success.

Indeed, I like this position for training because it is not the move, but rather the rationale that is most telling. Although I will likely never see it again, and my students are not likely to ever play it, it could be a useful position for asking students to articulate their thinking. The concepts and principles that a player brings to this position may help identify what one still needs to learn concerning positional play in the later phases of the opening.

10.Qc2 was played on move 11 in a fifteenth game. 10...Nxe4 11.Bxe4 f5 12.Bd3 Bf6 13.Bc4 Bc8 14.Re1 Qd6 15.Qxf5 Bxd4 16.Qe4 Bf6 17.Bf4 Qc5 18.b4 Qh5 19.Bxe6+ Kh8 20.Qxc6 1–0 Jovanovic,Z (2541)--Patarcic,D (2157), Bosnjaci CRO 2015.

10.Nxf6+ Bxf6 11.Qe4 g6 12.Bh6 Re8 13.Qf4 Qe7 14.Bg5 Bxg5 15.Nxg5 e5 16.dxe5 Nxe5 17.Be4 Bxe4 18.Nxe4 Nd3 19.Nf6+ Kh8 20.Qh4 h5 21.Qg5 Qf8 22.Nxe8 Rxe8 23.Qb5 Nc5 24.Rfe1 Ne6 25.f4 Rd8 26.Qe5+ Kg8 27.f5 Qc5+ 28.Qxc5 Nxc5 29.Re7 Na4 30.Rxc7 Nxb2 31.fxg6 fxg6 32.Rxa7 Nd1 33.Rb1 Nxc3 34.Rxb6 Rd1+ 35.Kf2 Rd2+ 36.Ke3 1–0 Mirabile,T (2203)--Stenzel,H (2077), Nassau 1999.


10...Nxe4 helps White 11.Qxe4 g6 12.Bh6 Re8 13.Bb5 Bf8 (13...Na5 14.Qf4) 14.Bg5 Be7 15.Bxc6 Bxc6 16.Qxc6 Bxg5 17.d5 with an attack.


This move becomes Stockfish's second choice after several minutes, although it does not make the top six through the first minute or so. It does not make it into Komodo's nor Hiarcs's top eight even after five minutes. The moves that appear favored by more than one engine are 11.Nfg5, 11.b4, and 11.Bd2. 11.Nxf6+ is an early choice that drops after the engine has a few minutes of thinking time.

Black to move


This move fails to address the needs of the position. White's forces are well-deployed for action against the king.

11...Nd5 is the top choice of every engine that I checked. 12.Bd2+/=. Perhaps 11...Nd5 was the only move with all others giving White an explicit advantage.


The time is now! Black's position is collapsing.


12...gxf6 was the only try 13.Qe4 f5 14.Qh4+/-.

13.Qe4 g6 

I was surprised to see that this move was Stockfish's top choice. I considered it tantamount to surrender.

13...Rfd8 or Rfe8 struck me as the only reasonable try. Both moves drop two pawns and leave White with kingside pressure. 14.Qxh7+ Kf8 15.Qh8+ Ke7 16.Qxg7+-.

14.Bxf6 1–0

Black resigned.

I was preparing for a longer struggle. By slowly building pressure and forcing my opponent to make critical decisions in a seemingly quiet position, I gave him the opportunity to self-destruct.

*The fourth edition came out in 2010 and is much expanded over the edition that I read fifteen years ago.

07 August 2015

Blitz Hinders Skill

Speed kills. Chess players are prone to error when they are under time pressure. In blitz, the time pressure begins with the first move. Games start in the normal fashion as players make moves they have made many times before. Some games may go twenty moves or more without either player being forced to confront an unfamiliar position. Some endgames, too, can be played very rapidly with little error.

In complex middlegames, however, blitz is groping in the dark. There is no time for analyzing the position. There is only time for reacting to concrete threats or for playing generic principled moves without concrete analysis of the nuances that are unique to the position on the board. Often there are familiar patterns in the position, of course. Strong players see more of these patterns and consequently make fewer errors.

Weak players reinforce the bad habits that make them weak. Improving players stagnate.

Blitz can help players improve. In one of the many chess forums discussions on the merits of blitz, a strong internet player offered a succinct statement on the principal benefits:
Blitz is good for getting a sample of what to expect against your opening repertoire. It also helps with exploring your intuitive tactical vision to see where you need work.
FirebrandX, "Does Blitz Actually Help Your Chess?" Chess.com
If you play enough blitz, you should encounter every likely response to your opening repertoire. That can be a useful addition to one's training regimen. To benefit, however, it would seem that a player needs more than just the experience of playing against every likely response. Playing the best moves in reply would be useful experience. To gain this experience, it is helpful to save blitz games into a database and review them. Check the lines against opening monographs and encyclopedias. Check these lines against a database. Check key moves with an engine from time to time. Play through master games in those lines.

Post-game analysis of blitz games helps to reinforce any lessons available from the opening. Such analysis seems even more critical for determining areas of one's intuition that need work. Here, too, a database can be a useful tool. During post-game analysis, if you see you failed to account for a bishop tucked away on a7, you can search your games to see if this problem is a recurring one.

01 August 2015

Why Play Bullet?

Most of the time that I'm playing bullet chess, I'm unhappy.* I lose completely winning positions because my opponent shuffles pieces almost randomly with enough speed that I cannot execute the win before my clock expires. Other times, I revel in the absurdity that giving away one's queen with five seconds left on the clock is a more effective route to victory than making good moves. I've been on both sides of that farce. The key seems to be making unpredictable moves.

Playing bullet against a lagging opponent is even worse. The rhythm of the game feels like the opponent is using more time, but the reverse is true. That's when I become bellicose. My dogs usually head outside when I curse at the computer screen.

Despite the misery, I play thousands of bullet games every year. Usually, I go on a two or three week binge where I play hundreds of games per day. Then many months transpire between bullet games.

What draws me to this misery? Sometimes I execute a decent combination that required less than a second to spot. Bullet can test, and maybe develop, quick recognition of the patterns that are essential to chess skill. I enjoy executing elementary checkmates when I have less than ten seconds on the clock. In simple endings that involve a pawn race to promotion followed by checkmate with a queen and king or two queens, I have sometimes made as many as fifteen moves in six seconds. These few moments are exhilarating.

Sometimes I win a nice game against an opponent who usually stomps me.

Yesterday, I played half a dozen bullet games while cooling off after my shower. I lost the first one on time with a superior position. I blundered away a nice position in the second when I allowed my opponent's lag (almost a minute in a two minute game) to distract me. I split a handful with a much weaker player who played the same subpar opening because I was trying several different ideas against it. Then, I won this nice game against a much stronger bullet player. I used 45.5 seconds to make 51 moves. My opponent used 49 seconds.

We both made serious errors, but relatively few by bullet standards.

Internet Opponent (1940) -- Stripes,J (1645) [E17]
Online Chess, 31.07.2015

1.Nf3 b6 2.g3 Bb7 3.Bg2 d5 4.d4 e6 5.0–0 Nf6 6.c4

With this move, the game transposes from some obscure, rarely played lines, to a more common position.

6...Be7 7.Nc3 c6



8.Ne5 leads to a position that I'm fairly certain that I've played as White.

Black to move 


8...h6 9.Bxf6 Bxf6  was played in a game that White won in 42 moves Medina,A (1853) --
Torres Cardenas,L, Bogota COL 2013, The Week in Chess 996. The computer prefers my move, but by an insignificant margin.

9.Re1 Nbd7 10.Rc1 Ne4 11.Bxe7 Qxe7 12.Nxe4 dxe4 13.Nd2

Black to move

13...Nf6? loses a pawn


14.Nxe4 Nxe4 15.Bxe4 c5 16.d5 exd5 17.Bxd5 Bxd5 18.cxd5 Rad8

18...f5 preventing e4 was better.

19.e4 Qe5 20.Qc2 f5

White to move



21...Qxd5+/= 22.Rcd1 Qa8?

22...Qxa2 was a missed opportunity for near equality.

23.Rxd8 Qxd8 24.Qe4 Qf6 25.Qe6+? 


25...Qxe6 26.fxe6 Re8

White to move



27...Kf8 28.g4 g6 29.f5 gxf5 30.gxf5 Kg7 31.Kf2? 


31...Kf6= 32.e7? Kxf5=/+ 33.Kf3

33.Re3 was better, with the idea of making the rook active and keeping rooks on the board. White needs to play for equality.


White to move


Black is now winning.

34.Rd1 keeps the game close to even.

34...Rxe7 35.Rxe7 Kxe7–+ 36.Ke5

Black to move


Throwing away the win.



37.b3 secures the draw.


All other moves lose.

38.Kc5 a6

All other moves lose.



Black to move


From here to the end, the game was played almost entirely through premoves. The only remaining battle is with the clock, and I have plenty of time, relatively speaking. I probably had 18-19 seconds remaining at this point.

40.Kxa6 c3 41.bxc3 bxc3 42.a4 c2 43.a5 c1Q 44.Kb6 Qb2+ 45.Ka7 Qxh2 46.a6

Black to move


46...Qc7+ 47.Ka8 Kd6 48.a7 Qc8#.

47.Kb7 h5

I went for a much slower win, but one possible via premoves.

47...Kd6 48.a7 Qb2+ 49.Kc8 Qg7 50.Kb8 (50.a8Q Qc7#) 50...Qc7+ 51.Ka8 Qc8#.

48.a7 Qxa7+ 49.Kxa7 h4 50.Kb6 h3 51.Kc5 h2 0–1

I'm certain my opponent was confident that fifteen seconds was more than enough time for me to deliver checkmate. He or she resigned.

*Bullet chess is less than three minutes per game. One minute for all moves seems to be the most common time control, but I've played a fair amount of two minutes per player or two minutes plus one second increment. Playing with an increment reduces the losses on time.