28 December 2018

One from Chernev

More than six years ago, I wrote about the importance to me of Irving Chernev's The 1000 Best Short Games of Chess (1955) (see "My First Chess Book"). I still go through the games in this book in small batches from time to time. This one caught my eyes this morning. The entire game has been played at least three times, according to ChessBase's database.

Schuster -- Carls [B15]
Bremen, 1914

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Ng3

5.Nxf6+ is the main line


White has a problem. Harry the h-pawn is coming for his knight.

White to move




Black is winning

7.Bxf6 hxg3 8.Be5 Rxh2 9.Rxh2

Black to move


The star move!

10.c3 Qxe5+ 11.dxe5 gxh2 0–1

27 December 2018

A Snubbed Handshake

Game of the Week

After languishing on my shelves for a decade or longer, Chess: The Art of Logical Thinking (2005) by Neil McDonald came off for some serious study. Marginalia on many pages reveals that I have previously worked through the first several games, but have not worked through the whole. I spent half a morning last week creating a database with all thirty games and then racing through all of them for a first look. The next step was to work through the first game carefully before reading what McDonald has to say about it.

The plan is to study each game, then read McDonald's comments. I followed this process with the games in Irving Chernev, Logical Chess: Move by Move (1957). McDonald follows Chernev's classic by commenting on every move.

The first game in McDonald's book is the game that began with Victor Kortschnoj* holding out his hand before the game, only to be snubbed by Anatoly Karpov who said he he would no longer shake hands because of Kortschnoj's behavior. The behavior in question concerned his complaint about the seating in the audience of Dr. Vladimir Zukhar, a parapsychologist who was part of Karpov's team. Kortschnoi wanted Zukhar further back from the stage where the match took place. This game was the eighth in the championship and the first that was not drawn. Karpov went on to win the match, reaching his sixth win in game 32. Kortschnoj won five games.

McDonald does not discuss this historical background, despite his comment in the Introduction:
[P]sychological factors should be considered. ... When there is no obvious right or wrong, the character of the player has a major impact on the decision taken. This can be for both good and bad as the games of even the greatest players are frequently won and lost by impulsive or inspired decisions.
McDonald, Chess: The Art of Logical Thinking (5-6)
Karpov,Anatoly (2725) -- Kortschnoj,Viktor (2665) [C80]
World Championship 29th Baguio City (8), 03.08.1978

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6

What are the merits of the Morphy variation? McDonald does not ponder this question, nor offer much help towards an answer. He does dress the move 3...a6 with an exclamation mark.

4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Nxe4

Black temporarily wins a pawn. The exchange of center pawns shifts the focus towards active piece play. Playing through this game, I game to realize that my understanding of the Open Spanish is somewhat underdeveloped. It's not something I've played as Black, nor often faced as White.

5...Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3

6.d4 b5

6...exd4 seems dubious 7.Re1 f5 8.Nxd4 Be7 9.Nxf5 d5

7.Bb3 d5

7...Na5? invites tactics

a) 8.Bd5 c6 9.Bxe4

b) 8.Bxf7+!? Kxf7 9.Nxe5+ Kg8

b1) 9...Ke6 10.Qg4+ Ke7 11.Qxe4;

b2) 9...Ke8 10.Qh5+ g6 11.Nxg6 hxg6 (11...Nf6 12.Re1+ Be7) 12.Qxg6+ Ke7 13.Bg5+ Nxg5 14.Qxg5+ Kf7 15.Qxd8; 10.Qf3 Qf6 (10...Nf6 11.Qxa8; 10...Qe8 11.Qxe4) 11.Qxe4 Bb7 12.Qd3)


This pawn will not be easily removed by Black and controls some key dark squares.


White to move

There are things that I don't like about Black's position: the backwards c-pawn, placement of the bishop in the pawn chain, and White's pawn striking at f6 and d6. But, Kortschnoj understood these consequences of his fifth move. This position has been played many thousands of times by top players with many Black wins. White's overall score is strong, but Kortschnoj's wins with Black include such opponents as Tal and Petrosian, and even Karpov later in this match.

My database contains 97 games with this position and Kortschnoj as one of the players, nearly always as Black. The overall score is 50% with 24 wins for each side and the rest draws.

My assessment of this position was skewed by lack of familiarity with the Open Spanish compounded by the tendency to annotate by result. Because Kortschnoj lost, I was looking for defects very early in the game. However, this position is an interesting tableau in the Spanish.

9.Nbd2 Nc5

9...Nxd2 Seems plausible and has been attempted by strong players, but with a score exceeding 75% for White. 10.Bxd2 Be7 (10...Bc5)


Is White already slightly better? Black's light-squared bishop is part of a pawn chain, while White's e-pawn puts a clamp on the dark squares. Meanwhile, Black's king remains in the middle of the board. This position has appeared well over 1800 times in the annals of chess with a 58% score for White, but with over 400 Black wins.

Black to move


This move was criticized by Raymond Keene and others. Keene's criticism appears in a book that I bought about forty years ago, when it was new: Raymond Keene, The World Chess Championship: Korchnoi vs. Karpov (1978), which claims to be the "inside story of the match". Keene was part of Kortschnoj's team. However, another book suggests that Keene was too much focused on journalistic dispatches to England to be an effective team player. Persona Non Grata (Thinkers' Press, 1981) lists as authors Viktor Kortchnoi with Lenny Cavallaro. However, Kortschnoj is consistently referred to in the third person in this book, suggesting that Cavallaro may have had the leading hand as author.

Persona Non Grata offers an account of the snub.
The 8th game. Viktor arrived at the table; Karpov did not get up. Kortchnoi sat down and held out his hand. Karpov replied that from that moment he had no intention of giving him his hand. ... The shot hit home. Kortchnoi played a poor tenth move (among others); Karpov conducted his attack quite well. (39-40)
What were the alternatives? Four moves have been played more often that Kortschnoj's.

a) 10...Nxb3 is fourth most popular 11.Nxb3 Be7
b) 10...Bg4 is third in popularity and Black has done well
c) 10...d4, the second was popular move was played by Kortschnoj later in this match, and three times in the 1981 match.
d) 10...Be7 strikes me as simple. It is the most popular move. There is no rush to castle as the king might find safety on the queenside or be needed for an endgame.
e) 10...Nd3 ihas been played less often than 10...g6, but still appears in more than two dozen games. 11.Qe2 is the usual continuation 11...Nf4 12.Qe3 g5 13.Rd1.


Kortschnoi repeated his 10...g6 twice in later years, leading to

a) 11.Re1 Nd3 12.Re3 Nxc1 13.Rxc1 Bh6 14.Rd3 0–0 15.Qe2 Ne7 16.Rd1 c5 17.Bc2 Bf5 18.Nf1 Bxd3 19.Bxd3 Qc8 and White won in 87 moves, Fedorchuk,S (2564) -- Kortschnoj,V (2634) Warsaw 2002.
b) 11.Bc2 Bg7 12.Re1 Nd7 13.Nd4 Nxd4 14.cxd4 and drawn in 28 moves, Almasi,Z (2676) -- Kortschnoj,V (2632) Budapest 2003.

11...Bg7 12.Nd4!

Kortschnoj believed this pawn sacrifice was not in Karpov's character, or so Keene claimed.

Black to move


12...Nxd4 13.cxd4 Nb7 (After 13...Nxb3 14.Nxb3 0–0 McDonald points out a simple winning plan--moving all the heavy pieces to the c-file to hammer away at the backwards c-pawn.)
12...Qd7 is favored by McDonald and was played by Mihai Marin in 2007: 13.f4 0–0 and Black won in 45 moves, Thesing,M (2393) -- Marin,M (2551) Predeal 2007.


I thought that Black was already in deep trouble at this point, but in 2012 Sarunas Sulskis went on from here to win with Black.


13...Ned3 was Sulskis's choice. 14.f5 (14.Bc2 Nxc1 15.Raxc1 0–0) 14...gxf5 15.Nxf5 Rg8 16.Bc2 Sulskis seems to have taken the weaknesses of Kortschnoj's position and turned them into strengths. 16...Qg5 17.Nxg7+ Rxg7 18.Nf3 Nxc1 19.Raxc1 (19.Nxg5 Nxe2+ 20.Kh1 Rxg5–+) 19...Qg4 There is not much left of White's attack. 20.g3 Ne4 21.Qg2 Qh5 22.Rfe1 0–0–0 and Black went on to win in 71 moves, Azarov,S (2667) -- Sulskis,S (2595) Jurmala LAT 2012.

14.f5 gxf5 15.Nxf5

Black to move

Black has won even from this position, but there was a rating gap over over 400 Elo favoring the second player.


I think that Karpov has the upper hand at this point in the game.

15...Bf8 16.Nf3 Ne4 17.N3d4 c5 18.Nxe6 fxe6 19.Qh5+ Kd7 20.Bxc4 bxc4 21.Ne3 Nd6 22.Ng4 Bg7 23.Bg5 Qe8 24.Qh3 h5 25.Nf6+ Bxf6 26.Bxf6 Rf8 27.Rad1 Kc6 A secure king! 28.Rde1 Ne4 29.Be5 Qg6 30.b3 Rf5 31.Rxf5 Qxf5 32.Qxf5 exf5 33.bxc4 dxc4 34.Rf1 Rf8 35.Rf4 Kd5 36.Bg7 Rf7 37.Bh8 Ke6 The bishop is trapped 0–1 De Coverly,R (1992) -- Sarakauskas,G (2415) Bournemouth ENG 2015.

16.Nxc4 dxc4

16...Nxb3 17.axb3 bxc4 18.bxc4 Black's king will suffer.

17.Bc2 Nd3 18.Bh6 Bf8

18...Bxh6 was more stubborn 19.Nxh6 Rg7 (19...Rg6 20.Nxf7) 20.Nf5 Rg6 (20...Rg8 21.Rad1) 21.Rad1

White to move


Black's king is stuck in the middle. All White's pieces are in the attack, while Black's pieces are mostly tied down or watching helplessly.


19...Bc5+ 20.Kh1 Qd5 21.Bxd3 cxd3 22.Rxd3 Qc6 23.Ng7+ Rxg7 (23...Ke7 24.Bg5+ Kf8 25.Nxe6+ and checkmate is coming soon) 24.Bxg7 Bd6+-


White's decisive final attack brings pressure along the three central files d-f. McDonald emphasizes the absence of Black's queen's rook from the battle. This decisive blow had to happen now, or Black would castle queenside and have exceptional counterplay. In such a case, Black's wrecked kingside pawn structure becomes rather an open line against White's monarch.

20...cxd3 21.Rxd3 Qc6 22.Bxf8 Qb6+

This move gains a necessary tempo, but is not enough to save the game barring a blunder from Karpov.

22...Kxf8 23.Nd4 Qb6 24.Qxe6 Kg7 25.Qxb6 cxb6+-

23.Kh1 Kxf8

McDonald points out 23...Rxf8 24.Qf3 Rd8 25.Ng7+ Ke7 26.Qf6#

24.Qf3 Re8 25.Nh6

Wasn't f7 the target when White played 1.e4?

Black to move


a) 25...Ke7 26.Nxg8+ Rxg8 27.Qf6+ Ke8 28.Rd8#
b) 25...Kg7 26.Qf6+ Kf8 27.Nxf7 Qc6 (27...Qb7 28.Nd8+ Bf7 29.Qxf7#) 28.Ne5+ Bf7 29.Qxf7#
c) 25...Rg6 26.Qxf7+ Bxf7 27.Rxf7#


All four of White's pieces aim at f7. This move seems obvious in retrospect, but perhaps is not immediately obvious. McDonald gives it a double exclam, calling it "The star move" (17).


26...Bxd7 27.Qxf7+ Rxf7 28.Rxf7#

27.Nxf7 Bxd7

a) 27...Ke8 28.Ne5 Rg8 (28...Rxd7 29.Qf8#) 29.Qf6 Qd6
     a1) 29...Bxd7 30.Qf7+ Kd8 31.Qxd7#
     a2) 29...Qc5 30.Qxe6+ Qe7 31.Qxe7#
30.Rxd6 cxd6 31.Qxe6+ Kd8 32.Qd7#

b) 27...Bxf7 28.Rxf7+ Kg8 29.Rf8+ Rxf8 30.Qxf8#


Black resigned.

28...Bf5 is the only defense against checkmate 29.Qxf5+ Ke7 30.Qf8+ Kd7.


McDonald's annotations are light, focusing on the essential position elements in the game with a few tactical variations.

*Spelling note: I favor the spelling of Viktor Kortschnoj that is used in Chess Base for this post, but where the name in quotes or front matter of books, I retain the spelling employed in those books.

23 December 2018

Smash Through

Black to move

From Gelfand,B. -- Kramnik,V., Berlin 1996. This game is featured in Neil McDonald, Chess: The Art of Logical Thinking (2004), which I am going through superficially this morning. My intention is to go through the games and then the book more slowly in the coming weeks.

Solve This!

White's pawns are coming. What can Black do?

Black to move

This position arose in Vujosevic,V.--Miljanic,B, Tivat 1997, and I found the game in Chess Informant 69/282.

The label "Solve This" at the bottom of this post and in the index on the margins takes you to 335 posts with diagrams and no solutions. Solutions suggested in comments will be confirmed or challenged as responses.

22 December 2018


I lost a Classical French yesterday (Black side), so I'm reviewing some Grandmaster games from old Chess Informants. This ending caught my eye.

Black to move

This position is from Hjartarson,J -- Seirawan,Y, Reykjavik 1991, Informant 52/282.

Seirawan played 62...d3 and a draw was agreed. How would play proceed if he had played 62...a2 instead?

20 December 2018

Perceive the Threats

I think this position from a ten minute blitz game yesterday is instructive.

Black to move

Black played 27...Ba6 and fell to a forced checkmate. But, Black's only move to maintain an advantage (as Stockfish sees it) is not so easy to find.

17 December 2018


This morning after feeding the dogs and making our coffee, I sat down on the couch and began following a game in the Ukranian Championship. I know nothing about either of the players, but they are playing the Italian Opening, and it interests me.

I considered "live blogging" the game, recording it as it transpired along with my thoughts and efforts to guess the move. I decided against that plan and simply watched. The game had some interest, but the players agreed to a draw before move 20. I was disappointed.

Baklan,Vladimir (2655) -- Kravtsin,Martyn (2608) [C54]
Ukranian Championship Kiev (5), 17.12.2018

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d3 Bc5 5.0–0 0–0 6.h3

Philip Sergeant has been justifiably criticized for the comment, "In nothing was Morphy so fortunate as in the frequency with which his opponents played P-R3" (Morphy's Games of Chess [1957], 44). That comment, however, appeared in a Scotch Gambit game where Black fatally weakened his kingside with such a move. In some lines of the Italian, the move is required to prevent decisive attacks on a pinned knight.

6...h6 7.Re1 d6 8.c3

I spend a lot of time working to get my students to understand how this move can be far more useful than a knight on this square, especially after the prophylactic P-R3.


My database tells me that this move has been played only once before. Of course, my database is not 100% up-to-date. Even so, that confirms why I was not expecting this move. After the move, however, there are five reference games, so the idea has been played via other move orders. Notably, Kravtsin was Black in the highest rated of these games. Baklan might have expected it.

9.Nbd2 Be6

White to move


Keeping the light-squared bishop! This move was played in six of the nine games that reached this position. Clearly, the apparent novelty of 8...a5 was merely a move order nuance.


Wow! This strikes me as a new idea. I'll need to check the database.

Kravtsin played 10...Bd7 in 2015 and went on to win the game.

In my database, I found over one thousand games in the Italian with Black's queen on b8. Most of these featured the move late in the game. There are a few with Black's heavy pieces arrayed on a8, b8, and c8 before move twenty. Even so, in the few dozen that I glanced at, I did not find any that compared substantively to this game.

11.Bxc6 bxc6 12.d4

Black seemed to go into a long think here, and I spent time looking at other games. However, Black used less than a minute on this move and nine on the subsequent move. Sometimes the boards and clocks in the Follow Chess app are not up-to-date.

12...exd4 13.cxd4 Bb6

These were the moves that I expected without a long think. Even so, I'm curious what else Black was looking at. Is Black considering moving the queen up, or lifting a rook and putting the queen on a8 with ideas of swinging the other rook over to the queenside? Years ago, I played a lot of games with my heavy pieces deployed in this manner in the Benko Gambit. Does the idea have merit in the Italian? The half open b-file could offer prospects of attack for Black. On the other hand, White might get a strong kingside attack if Black pursues this plan.


Black to move

Now, Black thought for 41 minutes.

14...d5 15.e5 Ne4 16.Be3 a4

White to move


The first move that I considered, played after sixteen minutes. My fantasy position puts the rook on d3 and drops the f3 knight back with ideas of a bishop sacrifice on h6.

This game has everything that I need of instructive value for my students: classic opening, provocative novelty, and a minor piece imbalance.


Both defends the attacked c-pawn and brings the queen closer to the king.


Maybe my idea of Rd1–d3 and N3h2 is too slow.

18...Nxg3 19.fxg3 ½–½

A draw? I'll grant the position is probably equal, but there is plenty of play left in the position.

There was a lot of talk--mostly complaining--about the twelve straight draws in the recent World Championship, but with one exception those were hard-fought draws from start to finish. Even the one was drawn after slightly inaccurate play by the World Champion. He may have had more dynamic chances a few moves earlier.

I did not embrace these complaints. The string of fighting draws was very satisfying high-level chess of terrific instructive value.

But, this game, it seems to me should not have been drawn so early.

14 December 2018

Recent Games

During my morning coffee today, I passively watched several Grandmaster games that had been played in the past few days, and one of the AlphaZero -- Stockfish battles. The Follow Chess iOS app has a useful autoplay feature that allows me to back the game up to the beginning and then sit back and watch the game take place while sipping my black nectar.

I started with two rapid games from the London Chess Classic. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave outplayed Levon Aronian in the Berlin Endgame and Hikaru Nakamura defeated Fabiano Caruana.

I had not been following the tournament closely, so I was surprised to learn that this position was part of Caruana's preparation and that he was not already worse. Being forced to move the king strikes me as unpleasant.

White to move

Later, I looked at a classic time control game between these players with the same opening. Then, I watched the live commentary, still available on ChessBase's website.

10 December 2018

One by Reti

This endgame composition by Richard Reti employs the same idea as his most famous one.

White to move

07 December 2018

Premature Resignation?

This position arose in an online blitz game. In such games, some players attempt to appear respectable and resign when slightly worse. Others try to win dead drawn opposite colored bishop endings on the clock. There are many other behaviors in between these extremes.

White to move

White is clearly better. However, White's move 33.Bxh6 is not the knockout that White imagined. Nonetheless, Black resigned.

Play might have continued 33...Qf3+ 34.Qxf3 exf3+ 35.Kxf3 gxh6.

Although White's advantage is clear, it is far less than it was before 33.Bxh6 and in blitz, errors should be expected.

06 November 2018

It could have been this ending

I reached an interesting position after some horrid play. First, I lost a bishop to save a fraction of a second through premove--an online blitz resource that has cost me many games. As the game went on, I dropped pawns with no concerns for the future. Then, my opponent returned the bishop and let me stop his passed pawn.

We reached this position after many more moves.

Black to move

I played the correct move without understanding my plan.

46...Rf4+ 47.Rf5

White loses with any other move.


Throws it away. Later in the game, my opponent missed a checkmate in one, and a checkmate in two on the following move. Then he missed a checkmate in three when time was critical, and five moves later ran out of time to give me a draw.

I could have earned the draw in this endgame.

47...Rxf5 48.Kxf5

Black to move

Both 48...f6 and 48...h4 draw.

a) 48...h4 49.Kg4

Black to move

49...f5+! 50.exf5 h3 51.Kxh3 Kg5 results in a position that is an elementary draw.

b) 48...f6 49.f4

Black to move

49...Kh7 draws if you are a computer.

Simpler for carbon life forms is 49...Kg7 50.e5 fxe5 51.fxe5 h4

05 November 2018


In 1864, Johannes Zukertort reached a level in his chess skill high enough that Adolf Anderssen no longer gave him odds. That year, the two played a number of games. David Levy and Kevin O'Connell, Oxford Encyclopedia of Chess Games, vol. 1 1485-1866 lists eight games between these two players in 1864. Zukertort had White in all eight. Levy and O'Connell list their source for the games as Neue Berliner Schachzeitung (1867). Zukertort began serving as principal editor of this serial in 1867.

Anderssen's play reveals weaknesses that were less frequent in his tournament play of the time. These games offer a number of interesting positions for exploring the elements of chess strategy.

Black to move
After 12.Qe2
What are the plans for both sides?

Anderssen castled and went on to lose after several errors.

30 October 2018

A Pig and a Fork

After executing an elementary tactic in a blitz game a few days ago, I started looking for training positions for my beginning students. A rook on the seventh (or second) rank is sometimes called a pig, perhaps because of its tendency to gobble up pawns. Sometimes a weak back rank that is not fatally weak--that is, there is no checkmate--can lead to a position where a rook becomes a pig with check that also attacks a pawn. This situation occurred in my game.

Black to move

26...Qd1+ 27.Qxd1+ Rxd1 28.Kf2 Rd2+

The fork

29.Ke3 Rxb2 30.Ra4 a5 31.Ra3 Rxh2

White to move

With a two pawn advantage, Black went on to win.

I used the Manoeuvres search tab in ChessBase to find some training positions with hopes that my students could learn to play similar positions easily. My search was not narrow enough and I had to go through a hundred games to find a few of the sort that I sought. But other tactics emerged in this batch of games as well, and I filed away several positions.

This position from Euwe,M. -- Kroone,G., Amsterdam 1919 is simple enough.

White to move

32.Rc8+ Kg7 33.Rc7+ Kg6 34.Rxb7

White has restored the material balance and has healthier pawns and an active king. The effort to create threats and counterplay led Black to reduce his own rook's mobility and White won. Whether White already has a clear advantage, however, is less clear. The ending may prove instructive for my students. In particular, it was from this position that Stockfish evaluated the game as going from an advantage for White to a decisive advantage.

Black to move

Black played 38...a2. The engine sees Black holding after 38...Ra2.

White more clearly gains a decisive advantage with the maneuver in Zukertort,J. -- Pitschel,K., Paris 1878. This game also featured a queen exchange to simplify matters, as in my game.

White to move

34.Rc8+ Kg7 (other moves lead to a quick checkmate and another elementary lesson for my students.

35.Qg3+Qxg3 36.Kxg3

Black to move


And now the fork on the seventh. White won the rook ending easily, or so it seemed.

37.Rc7+ Kf6 38.Rxa7 Rxc2 39.Rd7 Rxc3+ 40.Kh4 e4

Black also has a passed pawn.

41.Rxd6+ Ke5

White to move


White let Black back into the game, but nonetheless went on to win. The lessons from this point in the game are for another day.

26 October 2018

Find the Error

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
Wilhelm Steinitz famously claimed, "by best play on both sides a draw ought to be the legitimate result" (The Modern Chess Instructor [1889], xxxi). I introduced to my students in an after school club this week the notion that a game of chess can only be won one way: someone must make an error. The good news is that their opponents all make errors. The bad news is that they also do so.

We then proceeded to examine this game. First we went through all of the moves on the demo board without comment. Then, after resetting the pieces, I asked students for their ideas concerning Black's decisive error.

After some discussion, we went through the game again considering the consequences and alternatives where they thought they perceived error. A student earned a chess pencil for suggesting the move given a question mark by John Donaldson and Nikolay Minev, Akiba Rubinstein: Uncrowned King (1994).

Rubinstein,Akiba -- Heilmann,Ernst [D40]
Hauptturnier-A Barmen (2), 1905

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 e6 3.c4 c5 4.e3 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.a3

Black to move


This move's weakening of the c6 square does not look so bad until Rubinstein demonstrates how to exploit it. Even so, it had been employed by Staunton and a few others prior to this game, and has appeared since in dozens more.

After claiming that chess is a draw with best play, Steinitz lists several types of errors that can be fatal, including "the mere weakness of any square on any part of the board" (xxxi).

7.cxd5 exd5

7...Nxd5 fares somewhat better for Black than the text, but White still wins a substantial percentage.


Black to move


This move was another of our candidates for the decisive error, but it was my suggestion rather than that of a student.

P. De Saint Amant -- H. Staunton, Paris 1843 continued 8...Bb7 9.Ne5 Rc8 10.Qa4 Qc7 11.Qxa7 In analysis with the youth players, I took it as far as Black's tenth move and suggested that Black was not in as bad of shape as Heilmann found himself.

9.e4 Bd7 10.e5 Qe7 11.0–0 Ng8

One student criticized this move, but every alternative we examined seemed worse. By this point, White has a decisive advantage.

White to move

12.Nxd5 Qd8 13.Qa4 Rc8 14.Bg5 Nge7 15.dxc5 bxc5 16.Rad1 a6 17.Qxa6 Nd4 18.Nxd4 cxd4 19.Rxd4 1–0

Rubinstein was given an opportunity, but it was one that could have been overlooked had he not been prepared.

04 October 2018

Informant 137

Chess Informant 137 arrived today. While quickly thumbing through, I noticed there is a Best of Hikaru Nakamura section, as well as several other interesting looking articles, and the usual games section. Then, I installed the CD version on my notebook and started poring through the games in Milos Perunovic, "The French Combats" (83-90). This position is from a game that Perunovic references with a line ending with 13.Bd3 and White has the upper hand, Van Foreest,J. -- Christiansen, J-S., Reykjavik 2017. The CD contains the entire game.

White to move

30 September 2018

Understand the Threats

This position arose in my fourth round game in this weekend's Eastern Washington Open. I had Black and won, then won my fifth round game as well, finishing with 4.5/5 and a tie for first in the event. This was the second time I won a weekend Swiss (see "Winning an Open").

White to move
After 20...Rf6
White played 21.Bb2? and resigned on move 25 when checkmate was inevitable.

23 September 2018

Beat Magnus

Chess Informant 136/166 has a diagram and analysis showing an opportunity that Georg Meier let slip past him.

White to move

From Meier,G. -- Carlsen,M., Karlsruhe/Baden-Baden 2018

22 September 2018


After losing my first two blitz games on a lazy Saturday morning, and then dropping a rook in the third, it would be easy to give in to despair.

Black to move

However, I have been reading Erik Kislik, Applying Logic in Chess (2018). Kislik distinguishes between "mastery-focused (task-based)" goals and "result-focused (ego-based). Result-focused players tend to want to defeat specific opponents and be seen by their peers as winners" (9). He asserts that 90% of chess players are result-focused. He also claims that a task-oriented approach leads to more enjoyment of chess.

Although this blog offers plenty of examples of a task-oriented approach in my study and play, the honest truth of my online blitz and much of my tournament play is that my ego and emotions rise when I win and suffer when I lose. I enjoy chess when I am winning and often play long periods of blitz because I am angry with myself for playing such junk. I nurture this anger with more junk.

I could beat myself up for missing the tactic that led to dropping a rook and likely losing a third game. Or, I could take a fresh look at the board, and see what I can learn about the game. I could resign with dignity, review my errors, and try to play better in game four.

My attitude this morning improved as I remembered what I read last week in Kislik's book, and I finished my morning playing session 2-2. But, the results matter less than the process.

18 September 2018

Whither Draw

Bobby Fischer has just played 28.Be3 and a draw was agreed. From Fischer,R. -- Ames,D., 1955.

Black to move

Would you play on?

16 September 2018

Knights before Bishops

Most chess players have heard the rule that one should deploy a knight towards the center before moving a bishop. The standard move order in the Spanish opening is a good example--for White, a center pawn, the king's knight, and then the king's bishop. The Italian opening follows the same sequence. Likewise, in many lines of the Queen's Gambit, White will deploy both knights before moving a bishop. In other lines one knight comes out and one bishop a move or two later, while the other minor pieces await developments that reveal their best square.

However, in the London System, White plays the queen's bishop on the second move, and may bring out both bishops before a knight moves. Likewise, Black's first minor piece to come out in the Caro-Kann is a bishop.

Erik Kislik states that knights before bishops, "is not a very useful rule" (27) in Applying Logic in Chess (2018). This rule is the first of ten that Kislik quotes from the work of some unnamed grandmaster, presented as rules for beginners. He makes an important point:
Rules in chess assume 'all else is equal',but all else rarely is equal, so we need to judge ideas based on specific circumstances. Most of the time, advice given to amateurs is in the form of rules. Chess is a concrete game though, and more often than not, this advice is too stereotypical to be of much applicable value.
Kislik, Applying Logic in Chess, 26.
Kislik runs through each of the ten rules, offering his views of how each develops principles in certain circumstances but falls short in others. His analysis is almost completely verbal, with few diagrams and analysis of specific positions.

The Review

John Hartmann sold me Kislik's book through his review in Chess Life ("Logical Ambition," CL, September 2018, 20-21). Hartmann calls Kislik's book "one of the most interesting titles to appear in recent years, ... also one of the most maddening" (20). Hartmann notes that the cover, with a flowchart for making decisions in chess, is "misleading": "There is nothing in the text that resembles a flowchart for thought" (21). Kislik's view of logic and reason is more modest.

Another book on my shelf offers flowcharts, Paata Gaprindashvili, Imagination in Chess: How to Think Creatively and Avoid Foolish Mistakes (2004). I reviewed it here on Chess Skills in February 2017. The core of that book is found in the quality and difficulty of the exercises. I have found the flowcharts marginally useful.

Hartmann's comments took me back forty years when some fellow undergraduates were taking a course on logic and making the efforts to systemize thought in terms like, "if p, then q". I did not find such an approach to logic any more useful for learning to think than studying semiotics for learning to read and write. The notion that seemed to represent this more modest view of logic, which Hartmann quotes from later in Kislik's book, that chess errors always can be explained clearly, was enough to interest me in the book.

Hartmann also notes that, "there are multi-page stretches unsullied by diagrams or analysis" (21).

Kislik's Assessment

After declaring the rule "not ... useful", Kislik highlights both its merits and shortcomings. He starts out noting that the corollary to the rules that, "developing bishops early on is suboptimal ... is definitely not true" (27). What matters, he suggests, are the reasons. Kislik highlights piece coordination, the principle of improving the worst-placed piece, and flexibility. The last is where the rule's merits become evident. The knight on g1 usually finds itself well-placed on f3 early in the game, but the optimal placement of the bishops is less certain.

His views on this rule and those that follow are thought provoking and worthy of attention. Nonetheless, his discussion seems incomplete. He laments the instruction methods for beginners that proclaim these rules without, "making sense of the principle or idea, or understanding where it came from" (26). My way of thinking about "where it came from" drives me towards historical explanations. Kislik does not offer any history of these rules.

In Common Sense in Chess (1917), Emanuel Lasker offers the text of lectures that he presented in London in 1895. In the first of these lectures, he develops four rules--including knights before bishops--through concrete analysis of several short model games. Five years ago, these rules and games, as well as a few others that I selected, comprised the core of my lessons for youth players over several sessions (see Lasker's Rules).

Rule Independence

Erik Kislik is not original in his suggestion that concrete analysis of specific positions should take precedence over abstract and universal rules. This idea was well-expressed in John Watson, Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy: Advances since Nimzowitsch (1998). Even so, strong Grandmasters who teach young players still promulgate these rules with the understanding that their pupils will need to learn how and when to violate them. I recall during a tournament broadcast a few years ago, hearing Peter Svidler discuss his struggle with both promoting and resisting the teaching of such rules. These rules have a purpose even though in the long-run they can retard development.

Consider the very common position after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5

White to move

Many youth players will not reach this position because they would have played 3.Nc3. While this move is not inherently bad, young players will make it by rote, often oblivious to the moves played by Black. They will often play it without thinking. Kislik's underlying notion, it seems to me, is that even at this early stage of the game, it is critical that reasoning must be part of every move. Whether one plays 3.Nc3, 3.Bc4, 3.Bb5, 3.d4, or some other move, it must be rooted in understanding.

From the diagram, most of the youth games that I have witnessed continue 4.Nc3. Master games, on the other hand, more often proceed with 4.d3 or 4.c3 (which violates one of Lasker's rules). In my play, I favor 4.c3 as more dynamic, and I usually will follow it with 5.d4. However, as more and more opponents fail to exhibit the greed that leads to disaster in the Greco Gambit, I am shifting towards 5.d3.

In my play and in my teaching, I teach students that it is okay to play 4.Nc3 (or 3.Nc3), even though I think there are stronger moves. What is critical, I urge is that these moves are made with thought and understanding, not simply played by rote. In the end, that's the point of these rules for development: they are guidelines that assist our thinking, not rules that direct our play. I think Kislik agrees.

13 September 2018


If I could simply always remember everything that I once knew, my chess play would be stronger. Among the dozen or so miniatures that I regularly show to my chess students is one that I won in thirteen moves after showing up twenty minutes late for round two. From this position, I played my move, and after a few minutes thought, my opponent resigned.

White to move

Despite knowing every move in this game, I somehow failed this tactics exercise last night.

Black to move

12 September 2018

Slight Advantage?

Sometimes the variations in published analysis sends me off in pursuit of an idea. Such was the case today while reading through annotations to Akobian,V. -- Shankland,S., St. Louis 2018, one of Shankland's victories enroute to winning the US Championship (Chess Informant 136). To Akobian's ordinary looking twelfth move, placing his bishop on the diagonal to oppose Black's, Danilo Milanovic gives the evaluation ?!, suggesting instead an intermediate attack on Black's queen. There are three options offered for Black with the longest line going another ten moves to reach this position.

Black to move

Milanovic states that White has a slight advantage? Why? Control of the c-file? The bishop's greater mobility over the knight?

Surely such an ordinary looking position has occurred in countless games. This exact position cannot be found in the database, but searching for games where both sides have two rooks, there is a bishop versus knight imbalance, and 4-6 pawns each, turns up hundreds of games.

I searched the database of my online games and found many entertaining blunders in seemingly routine positions. For example, I lost this game three days ago because I was oblivious to the creation of exploitable weaknesses.

Black to move

Play continued from this position 22...Rd1+ 23.Re1 Rad8 24.Kg1 b4 25.cxb4 Bxb2 26.Kf2 Rxe1 27.Rxe1 Bc3 28.Re4 Bd4+ 29.Kf3 Bb6

White to move

Perhaps White has a slight advantage with the queenside pawn majority and a more active king. But, an active king can be a vulnerable king, too. Inexplicably, I played 30.a4??

Black wasted no time pointing out the error and I resigned four moves later.

09 September 2018

Attack with Simple Moves

The past two days I have been going through games and analysis in Mihail Marin's column in Chess Informant 136, "Attack with Simple Moves" (47-58). The 1967 game Portisch -- Petrosian, in particular, captured my interest.

Portisch,Lajos -- Petrosian,Tigran V [D13]
Moscow 3/584, 1967

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.cxd5 cxd5 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.Bf4 e6 7.e3 Bd6 8.Bg3 0–0 9.Bd3 Re8 10.Ne5 Bxe5 11.dxe5 Nd7 12.f4

Black to move


Mikhail Yudovich, who annotated the game for Informant 3, gave this move a question mark. Marin adds, "A curious 'pawn grabbing based' plan with incomplete development" (53). Curiously, the diagram position has occurred in at least 18 games (Portisch -- Petrosian was the second) and 12...Qb6 has been played in 13 of these.

In the one previous game, Max Euwe won from the Black side in 20 moves after 13.Qe2. But White has a healthy 65% score over the 13 game batch.

13.0–0 Qxe3+

Yudovich recommends 13...Nc5, which still remains unplayed in subsequent games.

14.Kh1 Qb6

After 14...a6, Black went on to win in Stobik,D. -- Hoffmann,H., Germany 1977, and also in Pira,D. -- Van Rompu,A., France 2008.

White to move


15.Nb5 was played in the only other game to reach this position, and Black won, Dreyer,M. -- Mohammad,S., Yerevan 1996.


Marin offers two alternatives: 15...h6 and 15...g6. My computer suggests that 15...g6 is Black's only hope for eqauality.

16.Rf3 Ng6 17.Bf2 Qd8 18.Nb5

Marin notes Black's "chronic weaknesses" (54). This position is the sort that I am always in search of to present to my students for illustrating the consequences of pieces that are mere spectators. All of White's pieces are in the battle on the kingside, or will be soon. Most of Black's pieces are doing nothing.

18...Nce7 19.Nd6 Bd7

White to move


20.Nxe8 wins the exchange, but gives Black time to bring the rest of his pieces into the game. It is a grave error to exchange a strong attacking piece for a spectator.

20...Qb6 21.Rh3 h6 22.Bf6 Qxb2 23.Rf1 Nf5 24.Bxf5 1–0

Checkmate comes soon.

08 September 2018

Floating Square

This position occurred in yesterday's tactics training. I solved it quickly because it is elementary. However, the 51.1% pass rate suggests that not everyone finds it so. I post it to remember to use it with my students.

White to move

07 September 2018

In a Heartbeat

I would play Black's move here in a heartbeat, but it takes longer for me to see the ramifications with clarity. From a blitz game.

Black to move

Aronian,L. -- Anand,V., Zurich 2016.

31 August 2018

Anatomy of a Miniature

Miniatures (games ending in fewer than 25 moves) occur because one of the players makes a catastrophic error. This game was played with each player having three minutes for the whole game. With such a time control, errors abound.

Internet Opponent (1952) -- Stripes,J (1967) [D30]
Live Chess Chess.com, 24.08.2018

1.Nf3 e6 2.d4 c5 3.c4 d5 4.e3 Nf6 5.Qc2

5.Nc3 is the main line.

5...Nc6 6.a3

6.dxc5 was played in a game in the database 6...Bxc5 7.a3 Bd6 8.Nc3 0–0 9.Be2 dxc4 10.Bxc4 a6 11.Bd3 Bd7 12.0–0 Rc8 13.Rd1 Qc7 and drawn in 28 moves, Nyzhnyk,I (2544) -- Slugin,S (2427) Kiev 2010.


The only other game I found reaching this position continued 6...cxd4 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.e4 Nf6 9.Bb5?? Qa5+ 10.b4 Qxb5 and White gave up after move 30, Hennemann,H -- Zolanwar,F Heroldsbach 1997.

White to move

7.Be2 dxc4 8.Qxc4 cxd4

8...b5 9.Qxb5 Nxd4

9.Nxd4 Qa5+ 10.Bd2 Qg5 11.0–0 Be7 12.e4 Qh4 13.Nc3

Black to move


13...Nxe4 wins a pawn.


14.Qc7 Nxe4 15.Qxb7 Nxd2 16.Qxa8+ Bd8 17.Qxa7 Nxf1 18.Bxf1±

14...0–0 15.g3 Qh3

Black's idea is clear and simple.

White to move


16.f3 and no knight will occupy g4. Black needs a new idea.

16...Nfg4 17.Bxg4 Nxg4 18.Nf3

Black to move


18...f5 is the best way to dislodge the knight.

19.Rfe1 Bc5 20.Be3 Bxe3 21.fxe3 Bxe4 22.Nbd4

Attempts to secure the knight.


Low on time and losing a knight, White resigned.

22...Nxh2 was a better way for Black to finish the attack. 23.Kf2 (23.Nxh2 Qg2#; 23.Re2 Nxf3+ 24.Nxf3 Bxf3 25.Qd3 Qh1+ 26.Kf2 Qg2+ 27.Ke1 Qg1+) 23...Ng4+ 24.Ke2 Qg2+ 25.Kd1 Bxf3+ 26.Kc1.