30 September 2016

Learning Old Ideas Anew

Games played by others are a source for ideas in one's own games. That is why many chess players go through hundreds of games month after month. With enough source material, some ideas should prove useful. Sometimes new games offer reinforcing lessons on old ideas.

This position was reached in Padeiro -- Rico, Lisbon 2015. The game was played in the Portuguese Championship. I found the game through a search of my database for positions with Black hanging pawns on c5 and d5. This search was inspired by a video on Chess.com: Ivan Sokolov, "Karjakin's Winning Strategy: Openings Approach." Karjakin had five games with this pawn structure in the Candidates Tournament, four as Black, and had a +1 score through these five games. Sokolov showed the opening and middlegame phase of Karjakin -- Nakamura.

White to move

Padeiro,Jose Joao Tato (2293) -- Rego,Pedro Filipe (2223) [E14]
POR-ch Lisbon (3), 14.09.2015

Black's hanging pawns on c5 and d5 drew me to this game.


White temporarily goes ahead a pawn, but Black's little combination restores the material balance.

31...Qh3+ 32.Kxh3 Nxf2+ 33.Kg2 Nxd3 34.Rc7

The position appears equal and material remains balanced. Both players have an isolated central pawn. Bothy have a majority on one side of the board.


34...Re8 leads to a draw, according to Stockfish 7 35.Rxa7 Rxe3 36.Nd4 Re4 37.Nf5 Re5

35.Nd4 Re8

White was threatening to win a pawn with 35...Ne5 36.Rxg7+ Kxg7 37.Ne6+ Kf7 38.Nxd8+ Ke7 39.Nb7

36.Nf5 Re5 37.g4

37.Nxg7 Rxe3 38.Nh5 Re6 39.Rd7 might be better.

37...g6 38.Nh6+

How far did White calculate?

Black to move

38...Kf8 39.Kf3

I might be inclined to try something like 39.Rf7+ Ke8 40.Rxh7 Rxe3 41.Ra7

39...Re7 40.Rc3 Ne5+ 41.Kf4 Kg7

The knight appears trapped.

42.g5 fxg5+ 43.Kxg5 Nf3+

Black gets all White's kingside pawns.

44.Kf4 Nxh2 45.Kg3 Nf1+ 46.Kf2 Nxe3 47.Rxe3

Black to move


It seems simple enough to trade into a 5-2 pawn ending, but White's queenside pawns are powerful. Indeed, they are decisive because the Black king is too far from them. Black's only chance was to leave the rook on the board and let the knight escape.

47...Rc7 was necessary, when after 48.Ng4, White's slight material advantage might be insufficient for the win.

The power of an outside passed pawn, or a majority that can create one, is a lesson that most players learn early in their chess development.

48.Kxe3 Kxh6

48...a5 49.a4 Kxh6 50.b4 axb4 51.a5+-
48...Kf6 49.Kd4 Ke6 50.b4 Kd6 51.a4 Ke6 52.Nf7 Kxf7 53.b5 axb5 (53...Ke7 54.bxa6) 54.a5+-


49.a4 is also winning.

49...Kg5 50.a4 h5 51.b5 axb5 52.axb5 h4 53.b6 d4+ 54.Kf3 d3 55.b7 1–0

22 September 2016

Protect the King

A game brought to my attention by a video lesson by Dejan Bojkov on Chess.com offers a nice display of Ann Chumpitaz's king hunting skill. The game was played in the Continental Championship in Lima, Peru last February.

White to move

Can you work out the winning combination?

21 September 2016


Mark Dvoretsky, Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual, employs the term tragicomedy for instructive endgames where serious errors were committed, often by strong players. As I am working my way through Chess Informant 128, now knowing that I will not complete my course through every article prior to the arrival of Informant 129 next week (see "Determination"), another tragicomedy presented itself at the start of Karsten Mueller's endgame column. Mueller's focus in this issue is zugzwang.

Mueller presents this position from Georgiev -- Berkes, Tallinn 2016.

White to move

Georgiev played 79.Ke5? and settled for a draw after twenty more moves. Mueller points out that after 79.Kg5, White will be able to put Black in zugzwang. ChessBase News (24 January 2016) shows that 79.f3 also wins. CB News also displays Georgiev's tweet, where he notes that he missed wins both against Berkes and against Gelfand.

Additional information, if accurate, is available at Chess Bomb. Playing through the game score there reveals move times. According to Chess Bomb's times, Georgiev spent six seconds on 79.Ke5 and had only 43 seconds left on his clock at the time. Berkes had 1:36 left.

How many players at any level could have found 79.Kg5 or 79.f3 in six seconds?

09 September 2016

Playing by Intuition

Yesterday, I was showing an ending from a blitz game to an adult student. As he does not play blitz, he seemed skeptical of the value of understanding errors that were made because they were played without thought.

It was a challenging teaching moment for me. In blitz, play is by intuition most of the time. How important is this intuition when there is plenty of time on the clock?

We backed the game up to the beginning of the endgame, when I forced queens off the board to go into an pawn ending that I considered comfortable.

Black to move

I played 37...Qg6+ after six seconds thought. For the rest of the game both players moved in one and zero seconds every move, suggesting that we were racing the clock more than playing the board. Nonetheless, during my postgame analysis, I sought to extract the truth of the position as preparation for the lesson with my student.

He wanted to know what I would have thought about if I had fifteen minutes.

Black's pawn structure is worse, I said. With queens on the board, both players are playing for three results: win, draw, or loss. Exchanging queens, I said, reduces the possibilities to two. I am playing for a win or a draw.

However, that explanation assumes correct play. In fact, with correct play this game should be drawn with or without queens. Exchanging queens eliminates the isolated pawn, as was my intent. Even so, both players have three results possible. It is a draw with correct play and a win for one player if the other blunders.

As it happens, I blundered.

38.Qxg6 hxg6 39.Kf3 Ke7 40.Ke4 Ke6 41.g4

Black to move

White's last move restrains Black from playing 41...f5?? Yet, that is exactly the move that I played.

This error gives White an outside passed pawn on the h-file. Black's king is forced to contend with the h-pawn, permitting the White king time to mop up the other pawns. See "Outside Passed Pawn" and "Fox in the Chicken Coop".

Even so, it is not as simple as racing over to the a-file thanks to Black's pawn majority in the center.

Later, my opponent erred by pushing the h-pawn prematurely. My blunder was the second to the last error, and it was the last error that decided the game.

With enough time to think, I would not have played 41...f5. Likewise, my opponent would have held back the h-pawn if not for his or her time pressure.

Today in a rapid game, I played instantly in a position that required a simple counting exercise. Counting might have taken five seconds, but I moved instantly (see "Panic Mode"). My memory or my intuition gave me the result of counting without expending the five seconds to verify. I could have invested the five seconds with ninety seconds remaining on the clock, plus a small increment that can add time.

White to move

It is helpful to be working with a skeptical adult student who wants to learn endgames. He will distrust my intuitive blitzing mode and ask how I calculate.

How do I know that White's h-pawn will promote before Black's a-pawn?

54. Rxg5?? leads to a position where both players have the same number of pawns and neither player can hope for more than a draw. That's why I played 54.Rxc7+ and went on to win the game after a successful pawn race.

If the rook exchange took place on c6, instead of c7, the Black king gets White's a-pawn one move faster. Even then, however, White's queen covers the promotion square and the Black king is too far beyond its pawn.

It seems to me that counting is not the only element of knowledge of rook endgames and pawn endgames that guided my intuition here. There are many pawn races where pawns promote in opposite corners. In the dramatic denouement of the film Searching for Bobby Fisher (1993), Josh Waitzkin's opponent promoted first. However, his king stood on the long diagonal. Josh promoted his pawn with check and skewered the king to win the queen.

My memory of the ending of this movie was not conscious during the game. Did it contribute to informing my intuition?

03 September 2016

Panic Mode

Effects of Bullet Chess

After playing too many bullet games over the past few days, I played instant moves during a critical phase of a rapid game. Although I had six or seven minutes left on the clock, I moved as if I was down to the last few seconds.

I played the opening slower, but it did not go as planned. My first few moves were a gambit that I have had success with not only in blitz, but also over the board and in correspondence chess. However, my opponent met my gambit with an unusual reply. If his plan was unsound, I failed to find the refutation. At least, that's how I felt about the game. After sacrificing a pawn, no attack materialized. Soon, Black picked up another pawn and seemed to have as much of an attack as I did.

Nonetheless, the dreaded knight fork of my two rooks was deferred and I was able to get some pressure on the kingside. Postgame analysis with an engine revealed that I was afraid of empty threats. My position was better than I thought. Meanwhile, Black's queenside remained undeveloped with neither bishop nor rook yet mobilized.

Black has just grabbed the second pawn.

White to move

White has a forced checkmate in six, but I did not know that. The first three moves were instantly perceived and instantly played. Then, three memorized patterns competed for my intuitive mode and I selected the least effective.

26.Qe7+ Rf7 27.Rh7+ Kxh7 28.Qxf7+ Kh8

White to move

I played 29.Rh1+, which is still winning, but served to bring Black's queenside bishop into play, albeit without a future.

During postgame analysis before turning on the engine, 29.Rxg6 suggested itself. This move threatens both Qg7# and Rh6#. Black cannot defend against both, but can delay for five moves. Alas, these non-checking moves, even when they force a result, are too easily overlooked when playing in panic mode. Such a move takes only a few seconds to spot, however. With more than six minutes left on the clock, I could have taken these few seconds to check for checkmate patterns.

Even better, and forcing, is the immediate sequence that begins with 29.Qe8+. This move, too, is part of a memorized pattern that I would often play when I am not distracted by the check on the h-file. Perhaps due to play in panic mode, I had subconsciously erased the undeployed bishop from my consciousness. Maybe I thought that Rh1+ was checkmate.

A few moves later, I had a forced draw by repetition while still down material. I played two moves of the repetition and set up my opponent to play the third. Perhaps he, too, overestimated his position. He avoided the draw. After a few moves more, I saw an opportunity to liquidate into an ending with a queen, bishop, and three pawns for me and a queen and four pawns for my opponent.

I won a long ending.