31 July 2016

Don't Look Too Close

Blitz chess reveals a player's skill. It reveals intuition, judgement, and pattern recognition. Sometimes, it shows endgame strength or the ability to perform elementary checkmates in under ten seconds.

My strength is evident by my rating, which put me briefly on the USCF list of the top one hundred players older than 50 (see "Top 100"). My chess.com blitz rating, which is based on vastly more games, tells another story. It is volatile because my skill rises and falls day-by-day and hour-by-hour. Sometimes I play well when I squeeze in a game or two between other activities. Sometimes my play is horrid, especially during an addictive binge.

The Past Ninety Days

My ability to play well during a winning streak cultivates self-confidence. It reveals that I am a strong player as long as the games are not examined too closely.

This morning, I prevailed with the White pieces against a Sicilian Taimanov. We castled on opposite wings and both threw our pawns at the other's king, just as Alexander Kotov recommends in The Art of the Middle Game (1964). With a clear attack, I shed a bishop with nary a worry, Then, I blew it. An error in calculation gave my opponent a clear win.

White to move
After 21...Qb7
White's space advantage should lead to victory, However, Black might get some play on the a-file if White dallies.

The game continued:

22.g6 fxg6

Black's prospects improve after 22...e5, but White still has the edge.

23.hxg6 hxg6

I was prepared to meet 23...h6? with 24.Rxh6.

24.Bc4 d5 25.Qh2! dxc4 26.Qh7+ Kf7

White to move


This defensive move was unnecessary.

27.Rh6! Bf6 28.Qxg6+ Ke7 29.Bxf6+ gxf6 30.Rd1 and White wins.

27...Bf6 28.Bxf6 Kxf6 29.e5+

29.Rcg1 is better.

29...Ke7 30.Qxg6??

It should not have required more than a few seconds to calculate 30.Qh4+ Kf7 31.Qf4+ Ke7 32.Nd6 Rdc8 33.Qg5+ Nf6 34.Nxb7.

30...Bb5 31,Qg5+ Kf7 32.Rhg1??

Black to move


32...Kg8 and is is White's turn to defend. With best play, Black will prevail.

33.Rxc4= Qd5 34.Rf4+ Kg8 35.Qe7

Black to move


35...Qd3+ 36.Ka1 Qc3+ and Black forces a draw by repetition.

36.Rf8+ Kh7 37.Rh1+


37...Kg6 38.Rg1+ Kh7 39.Qh4#.

In the end, I could not even coordinate my queen and rooks with enough precision to demonstrate skill. It might be time to give up blitz after such a performance. On the other hand, blitz is fun. I also managed to play two games in a row with the Taimanov Sicilian, winning first with Black, then with White. Even though the games do not bear scrutiny, the experience could prove useful should I play the Taimanov in a tournament game.

27 July 2016

What is Development

Every chess player is taught to develop his or her pieces. When did this term come into being as a cardinal principle? How is the term defined?

I offer this selection of quotes as a partial definition. All quotes have been typed from a physical copy of the book in question.

“The process of moving pieces from their starting positions to new posts, from which they control a greater number of squares and have greater mobility.” Yasser Seirawan, Winning Chess Strategies (1994), 240.

“By development is to be understood the strategic advance of the troops to the frontier line.” Aron Nimzovich, My System (1930), 4.

“[I]t is essential to bring pieces into play quickly at the start of the game. This process is called development.” Graham Burgess, Chess: Tactics and Strategy (2002), 459.

“The whole art of the Opening consists in bringing into action pieces which are first shut in, in freeing pieces by a very few pawn moves, and in getting them to favourable positions and that as quickly as possible. … A game is usually already more or less developed when, after the necessary pawn moves, the minor pieces are out, and the player has castled, generally on the King’s side.” Siegbert Tarrasch, The Game of Chess (1935), 231.

“Development is getting the pieces out. … The basic principle is that it is essential in the opening to develop all the pieces harmoniously and in such a way as to secure the most favorable position possible in the center.” Reuben Fine, The Ideas Behind the Chess Openings (1943), 2.

“To have the better development is to have one’s pieces more effectively placed, always an advantage; to be ahead in development is to have a greater number of pieces in play, usually but not necessarily advantageous.” David Hooper and Kenneth Whyld, The Oxford Companion to Chess (1992), 107.

“The process of moving chessmen into positions where they can play an active and aggressive role, either defensively or offensively. … To get the chessmen into organized, cooperative and active positions, as quickly as possible, is the essence of sound development.” Byrne J. Horton, Dictionary of Modern Chess (1959), 50.

“In a chess game, develop means to move the pieces off their starting squares on the back row to squares where they have more freedom.” Jeff Coakley, Winning Chess Strategy for Kids (2000), 46.

“The main opening principle is rapid development of your pieces. What this means is that you should bring your pieces into play as quickly as possible.” Roman Pelts and Lev Alburt, Comprehensive Chess Course, vol. II (1986), 35.

“[T]he principle of bringing into play the greatest number of pieces in the shortest possible time.” Valeri Beim, Paul Morphy: A Modern Perspective (2005), 16.

“[I]t is essential to develop the pieces without delay, to bring them quickly into action and not lose any time.” Richard Reti, Masters of the Chessboard (2012 [1930]), 20.

“First of all we shall mobilize our troops, make them ready for action, try to seize the important lines and points which are yet wholly unoccupied.” Emanuel Lasker, Common Sense in Chess (1917), 10.

“The process of increasing the mobility of the pieces by moving them from their original squares.” Larry Evans and Burt Hochberg, How to Open a Chess Game (1974), x.

18 July 2016

Balancing Advantages

A friend posted this position on Facebook, which he had reached in a game against a computer. He managed to lose it. Initially, I thought that his move from this position was the losing move and suggested another. After a few minutes analysis playing ideas out on a board, I discovered that his move and mine lead to the same result.

After more time with the position, I concluded that it had instructive potential.

White to move

How do you play?

a) Escort your passed h-pawn?
b) Rush your king to the queenside with ideas of capturing Blacks pawns there?
c) Something else?

13 July 2016

Remove the Defender

This position arose via a French Tarrasch.

Black to move

I played the correct move after 3.7 seconds of thought. My opponent overestimated its potency and abandoned the game after one more move.

It looked to me that Black is simply winning, but Black has some problems and White has some resources.

11 July 2016


Reading Chess Informant

Last Thursday, Chess Informant 128 arrived via courier. With each new issue, I resolve to read all the articles or play through all of the games in the traditional section (see "Discovery"). With each new issue, I fall short of my goals.

I am determined to establish a new pattern, reading all of Informant 128.

Since Thursday, I have read all of the narrative text in Ernesto Inarkiev, "Moscow Candidates Tournament 2016"; Aleksandar Colovic, "Moscow Opening Report"; and Sarunas Sulskis, "European Championship 2016". I also solved rather quickly the first ending and was working on the second when I was interrupted by a text message that required action. Using the CD version that comes with the printed book, I have been working through the games and analysis in Inarkiev's article.

Black to move

Sergey Karjakin played 17...cxb4.

Inarkiev's comment brought my reading to a halt. He writes, "This is a tempting decision. Black sacrifices his queen for a rook, minor piece and a pawn, a balance of material that is usually sufficient" (18). My eye did not perceive the danger to the queen until I saw 18.axb4 Bxc3 19.Nc6 on the board, and only then could I begin to calculate the resulting imbalance.

Karjakin's determination at the Candidates shines in Inarkiev's narrative and analysis. The depth of the analysis and the complexity of the games reveals to me that my determination to read all of the issue clear through will require a significant investment of time.

My reading of Informant goes back two decades. The quality of my play has benefited. On this blog, I wrote about the first tangible benefit--a correspondence win in the 1990s--in "Playing by the Book" (March 2011). In a more recent correspondence game, I had this position with White.

White to move

Our game had been following Botsari -- Polgar,J, Eretria 2011, which Polgar won. Botsari played 28.Re7 and Polgar's pieces put an end to White's initiative. Apparently unbeknownst to my opponent, however, was the analysis of this game in Informant 112/51 by Dejan Antic who recommended 28.f7. I played that move and our game followed Antic's line 28...Rg7 29.Re8+ Nf8 30.Qd6 and then instead of the necessary 30...Qh4, my opponent played 30...Qh5+ and I won a few moves later.


If I continue to read Informant in bits and pieces and utilize my complete collection in electronic format as a reference in correspondence games, I will continue to see benefits. But I want more. I remain determined to improve my performance in USCF tournaments, reverse the slow downward slide that has been occurring since summer 2012, and renew efforts to push to a new peak rating (see "Eleven Consecutive Wins!" [July 2012]). I believe that Informant is among the most useful tools that I have for improving.

In the wake of my tournament success in 2012, I purchased Informant 113 as book and CD combination. Prior to that point, I acquired most of my Informant books after they went on sale because they were a year or more out of date, and acquired even more electronically via the CDs that had a year's worth. Gaps in my collection were filled when I placed fifth in the Reader's Contest for those who purchased Best of the Best 1000 (2008). When I bought Informant 113, I had a complete collection through the current issue. Several months later, when my collection was no longer current, I began systematically working through the games section (see "Training Log: August 2013"). That enterprise lasted several months, but eventually gave way other training priorities and my recurring obsession with blitz.

I bought a few more multi-issue CDs in 2014. Then, with download editions of Informants 119, 120, and 121, I was up-to-date with the latest issues. These were followed with timely downloads of Informants 122 and 123, keeping me current. Beginning with Informant 124, I became a subscriber. Each issue becomes the center of my chess focus for a few weeks after its arrival, but I never get through more than a fraction of the issue. I skim several articles and play through the games that interest me. Several printed issues contain brief notes that I make as I go through the games on the screen of my computer.

I am determined that with Informant 128 I will maintain the focus and self-discipline to work through every article, the games section, and the endings and combinations sections. There will be distractions. Since Thursday, I have played dozens of blitz games online. I also remain committed to study of Greco's and Morphy's games. I use these with my students. Time spent reading Informant must balance with study of classics.

The time and effort spent on Informant will improve the quality of my play.