25 January 2019

Evans -- Larsen 1957

Game of the Week

After several people recommended J.H. Donner, The King: Chess Pieces (2006), I finally bought a copy. It arrived two days ago. This game is presented in one of the early essays in the book, "Fun and Seriousness" (26-28).

Evans,Larry Melvyn -- Larsen,Bent [D32]
Dallas, 1957

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5

J.H. Donner notes, "Officially, the line is known to be unfavorable for Black" (27). Readers of Seigbert Tarrasch, on the other hand, know that in his opinion this move must be played sooner or later, and playing it without loss of tempo has its merits.



4...Nf6 5.Nf3 Nc6

Symmetry, it seems to me, should favor the first player.


6.a3 has become the main line.


White to move

I have had this position at least 27 times in online play. Black scored over 60% in my games. I had White in 13 of these 27 and my record from both sides is +1.

7.Bb5 a6

This move has not been played by any of my opponents, nor by me.

7...Bd6 is slightly more popular. It seems sensible to prepare castling before the center opens further. I have faced this move once. I won that game after a long struggle.


8.Be2 The handful of games with this move have favored Black.

8...bxc6 9.0–0 Bd6

9...c4 and Black won in 35 moves in Howard,G. -- Whitfield,K., Hamilton 1924.

10.dxc5 Bxc5

White to move

This position has been reached more than fifty times since this game.


"It seems White is taking the initiative" (Donner 27). Three other moves are more popular. Trying to open the center before Black castles seems sensible.


11...0–0 12.Bg5

12.e5 does not seem to offer White much 12...Nd7.

12...Be7 13.Nd4

Striking at an obvious target that is easily defended. Does this move provoke a concession as Black defends the pawn?

13.exd5 cxd5 Black has two isolated pawns 14.Nd4 (14.Qd3) 14...Qd6 15.Qd2 Ne4 and White went on to win after a long struggle (60 moves) in Barlocco,C (2144) -- Wohl,A (2362) Arco 2008.

13...Qd6 14.e5

14.Nf5 Bxf5 15.exf5

14...Qxe5 15.Nxc6 Qxg5 16.Nxe7+ Kh8 17.Nxc8 Raxc8

White to move

Donner, who was preparing to face Larsen over the board when he wrote this article states, "Black has easily parried all white threats, obtaining comfortable play. That is when Larsen is at his most dangerous" (28). Perhaps the point of White's move 13 was to eliminate the clergy.

18.Qd3 Rfd8

"If Evans thought even for a moment that Larsen would defend the a6 pawn, he didn't know whom he was up against" (Donner 28). It seems to me that now Black is seizing the initiative.


Donner gives this move !??. Does this annotation mean an interesting blunder?

19...d4 20.Ne2 Rc2

"Note that Black is no longer in danger of being mated on the back rank" (Donner 28).

21.Rad1 Qe5 22.Ng3

One alternative, 22.Nxd4, is the sort of move weak chess engines make when they are programmed to see three plies deep, as it appears that White is provoking a back-rank weakness. 22...Rxd4 23.Qa8+ Ng8 24.Rxd4 Qxd4. It's also the kind of move I might make in blitz.

Black to move


Donner gives this move an explanation mark. The computer sees snatching the b-pawn as the only way for Black to maintain a slight edge.

23.Rfe1 Qd5 24.Re2

Quite possibly the decisive error.

24.Qd3 Rxb2

24...d3 25.Re3

A mistake, according to Donner.

25.Red2 Rxd2 26.Rxd2 h4 27.Nf1 Ne4 Black still has the upper hand. That's why I see the critical error as one move earlier than Donner's assessment.

Black to move

This position makes for a good tactics exercise.


Donner offers a double exclam and, "A most unexpected combination, with the point appearing soon" (28).


26.Kxf2 Ng4+


The computer likes 26...Ng4. Perhaps Donner might have noted the role of luck in chess, because here Larsen lets it slip away, if only Evans, who has been under enormous pressure could have found the  correct response.

White to move

This position, also, could serve in a battery of tactics exercises. White might yet resist Black's attack.


Now, Larsen can finish.

27.Rdxd3 Qg5 28.Rxd8+ Qxd8 29.Rxe4 Rxb2 and this position should develop into a draw.


Another double exclam from Donner, and possibly a third tactics exercise.


28.Kxf1 Qf5+ 29.Rf3 (29.Kg1 Qc5+ 30.Rd4 Rxd4 31.Qa8+ Rd8+ with smother mate to follow) 29...Rxd1+ 30.Ke2 Nc3+ 31.Rxc3 Qf1+.


Evans resigned.

29.Kh1 Nf2+ 30.Rxf2 (30.Kg1 Nh3+ 31.Kh1 Qg1+ 32.Rxg1 Nf2#) 30...Qc1+ 31.Rd1 Rxd1+ 32.Rf1 Rxf1+ 33.Qxf1 Qxf1#


21 January 2019

Exercise from Facebook

This exercise was posted in the LiChess Group on Facebook by Sim Sim, who found it through a mobile chess app.

White to move

I solved it, then played out my solution against Stockfish, revealing that it might be time to revisit an old post.

15 January 2019


This afternoon was my after school chess club for beginners. "Beginners" in the context of my two after school clubs at the same school references a lack of successful tournament experience. Once a student has scored three points in a five round scholastic tournament, he or she is eligible for the advanced club. That is the standard for qualifying for our state championship, an event that draws one thousand or more elementary children together each spring.

The plan for today was to present them with worksheets from my Essential Tactics set. Essential Tactics are 150 simple exercises with ten pieces or fewer. I composed 130 or so, and a few others are standard endgame positions one finds in many textbooks, a Paul Morphy composition, and one clearly derived from Paul Morphy's composition. These 150 exercises are available at Amazon in two forms: Essential Tactics: The Worksheets (2017) presents the 25 worksheets that I use with my students in reproducible form (permission is granted to purchasers), and Essential Tactics: Building a Foundation for Chess Skill (2017) offers the same exercises with solutions in Kindle Reader format.

When I arrived at school, I made photocopies of worksheets 5-10. Some of the students wanted number six, others chose number five. I also wanted to present a simple tactical exercise on the demo board, but did not prepare one beforehand. On the drive to school, I remembered a blitz game that I played this morning and what seemed like a simple tactic to reach a drawn position. However, once I set it up on the demo board, it became clear that my opponent missed a clear win. The more I looked at the game before and after my intended "instructive position", the more interesting it became.

White to move

The game continued 49.Bb2+ Kd5 50.Bxe5 Kxe5 51.Kc3 and the position is clearly drawn although we played out to move 63 before I was able to claim a draw by repetition.

That simple sequence would have been fine for my beginning students, except that both players blundered on move 49, and Black also had a much better move 48 that wins easily.

If we back up a few moves, we find a position that should result in a draw, although Black has an extra pawn.

White to move


An error, according to engine analysis, but it seems not yet a fatal one. After 45.Bf4, White has demonstrated the idea to keep the Black king from penetrating and the passed pawn from advancing.

45...Bb6 46.Bc1 Bc7 47.Bd2

White understands the importance of e3 as an entry point for the Black king.


White to move


The bishop is well placed, White needed to move his king.


Now, we have the first position in this post.

Black could have played 48...d2 and after 49.Bxd2 Kd3 50.Bc1 Ke2, Black has an easy win.

49.Bb2?? Kd5??

49...Ke3 wins. 50.Bxe5 d2 51.Kc2 Ke2 and the pawn promotes.

The game continued as above.

I showed the students the skewer and what happened, then tried to elucidate the possibilities of what might have happened.

10 January 2019

Instructive Positions

Grandmaster games from our era often are too complex for novice players, especially young ones. I coach several players who are relatively strong by local youth standards, but who should still be considered beginners from other perspectives. Their ratings are in the 900-1200 range in a rating system that is regional, rates mostly youth players, and uses the same formula as the US Chess Federation. These young players include the top third grader in my city and a seventh grader who often finishes near the top of middle school players in the area. The school I coach consistently finishes among the top teams.

As I teach these young players, I gravitate towards classic games played by nineteenth century masters. Paul Morphy's eighteen tournament games and another half-dozen or so are among the games that my students will work through if they are with me long enough.

Nonetheless, even games played by strong grandmasters have moments when the tactics and ideas clearly reflect fundamental ideas of tactical and positional play. There are several positions in Quang Liem Le's most recent win that I think will be particularly useful. He is number 32 on the January 2019 rating list and tied for first with Andrey Stukopin in the Bay Area International tournament that took place in San Francisco the first seven days of this year.

In the final round. Le had Black against Hovhannes Gabuzyan.

Gabuzyan,H (2605) -- Le Quang Liem (2714) [A04]
Bay Area Int Open 2019 Burlingame USA (9.2), 07.01.2019

1.Nf3 c5 2.b3 d6 3.c4 e5 4.Nc3 g6 5.e3 Bg7 6.h4 Nc6 7.Bb2 f5 8.Be2 h6

White to move

Black's more advanced pawns give him more space, hence his pieces have greater mobility.

9.Nd5 Nf6 10.Nxf6+ Qxf6 11.d3 Be6 12.a3 0–0

White to move

If White castled now, it would drop the h-pawn and Black might get a strong attack against White's king.

13.Nd2 d5 14.cxd5 Bxd5 15.Qc2 Bxg2 16.Rg1 Bd5 17.Qxc5 Bf7 18.Nc4 Rac8 19.Qb5

Black to move

White has activity on the queenside.

19...Qe7 20.Bf3 Rfd8

White to move

Whose pieces are better coordinated?

21.Rd1 Be8 22.Bxc6

Black to move

How should Black capture the bishop? Why?

22...Rxc6 23.Qb4

White threatens a pawn.

23...Qxh4 24.Qxb7 

Black opts to exchange his b-pawn for White's h-pawn. Who benefits more from this exchange?

24...Re6 25.Qxa7 Qh2 26.Rf1 g5 27.Qc7 Rd7 28.Qc8 Qg2

White to move

What are the plans for both sides? White has an advantage of one pawn, but perhaps Black's position is better in other respects.

29.d4 exd4 30.Bxd4 Ree7

White to move

Observe the pins.

31.Kd2 Bxd4 32.exd4 Rxd4+

Black has restored the material balance.

33.Kc3 Rxd1 34.Rxd1 Qxf2

White to move

Neither king is shielded by pawns, but Black's king is shielded from the side with pieces along the e-file.

35.a4 g4 36.Qd8 Re6

White to move

37.Rd6 Qe1+

Improving the e-file defenses while also keeping up pressure on White's king.

38.Kb2 g3 39.Rd1

Black to move

How should Black respond to the threat on his queen?

39...Qe4 40.Ka3 f4 41.Nd6 Qc6 42.Nxe8 Qxe8 43.Qd5 Qe7+ 44.b4

Black to move

Black's rook is pinned.

44...Qf7 45.Qa8+ Kh7 46.Rd3 Re2

White to move

Black threatens checkmate in one, but this move had a second purpose also.

47.b5 g2 0-1

06 January 2019

Aggression and Objectivity

The positions below all come from an online game characterized by egregious blunders by both players. White played all out for a checkmate that was not there. In the end, Black was threatening checkmate in one, and overlooked a defensive resource for White. With an objective assessment of each position, the correct and only move reveals itself.

White to move

White to move

White to move

Black to move

03 January 2019

Exploiting an Open File

Game of the Week

I am working through Neil McDonald, Chess: The Art of Logical Thinking (2004). This book follows the method made famous by Irving Chernev, Logical Chess: Move by Move (1957), which I reviewed here six years ago. My process for reading this book is slow and deliberate.

First, I play through the game without reference to McDonald's book. I play through the game several times without any resources. While observing the flow of the game, I seek the critical moments. Where was the error that made victory possible for the other player? What alternatives might have been considered? This process usually takes several days with varying amounts of time spent on the game each day.

As questions about the opening form, I check my databases for opening innovations. By this point, I have a pretty good idea where the game became unique.

I record my observations and alternate lines in ChessBase. Sometimes, as in the present game, I will take a quick look at annotations in Chess Informant. Sometimes other historical resources are consulted, as in the first game. Finally, I look through McDonald's annotations. If I use a chess engine, it is only after studying McDonald's comments.

The first two games in Chess: The Art of Logical Thinking concern games in the Spanish Opening, or Ruy Lopez. My study of game 1 resulted in "A Snubbed Handshake" last Thursday.

Huebner,Robert (2620) -- Portisch,Lajos (2605) [C92]
OHRA-A Brussels (9), 12.1986

This game can be found in Informant 42/434

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Re1 b5

At this point, McDonald addresses my question in the previous game regarding the merits of the Morphy Defense. Black protects c6 from White's light-squared bishop and gains space on the queenside. On the other hand, these moves also slightly weaken Black's queenside pawn structure. In this game, Huebner steadily puts pressure on the queenside until Portisch errs.

7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0–0 9.h3 Bb7 10.d4 Re8 11.Nbd2 Bf8

All more or less main lines to this point. With move 12, the number of games drops below 1000. Four White twelfth moves have been played over 600 times, with Huebner's the most frequent.

White to move


Also popular are 12.a3, 12.d5, and 12.Bc2.


Played by both Svidler and Azarov in 2008, both winning.

12...h6 is the main line, and had been played by Gligoric, Karpov, and others with some frequency prior to this game. Karpov also has played 12...Qd7.

12...Na5 13.Bc2 b4 14.cxb4 Nc6 15.Nb3 Nxb4 is a viable alternative.


This move was the novelty according to Huebner's annotations in Informant. It had, however, been played by Efim Geller the previous year in a game that ended as a draw a few moves later.


13 games in my database reached this position.

13...Na5 14.Bc2 and McDonald highlights the threat of b4, when the knight must go to c4 and White will likely win a pawn. 12...Na5 (see above) has appeared in more than four dozen games.


Black to move

I posted this position, which has appeared in five games beginning with the present one, on my Facebook page with questions. What are the plans for both sides? Respondents found Black's position uncomfortable.


14...c5 seems like a sensible idea to me 15.dxc6 would have been Huebner's move, I suspect, drawing clues from his Informant annotations. 15...Bxc6 (15...Nxc6 16.axb5 axb5 17.Rxa8 Bxa8 18.cxb5 Ne7 19.Bc4) 16.axb5 axb5 17.Rxa8 Bxa8 18.cxb5.

15.Bc2 c6 16.b3 b4

Perhaps partially closing the queenside is not in Black's strategic interests. This pawn is undefended, but not easily attacked. Moreover, Black can quickly play a5 when needed. McDonald thinks this move is well timed.

16...Qc7 17.Nf1 bxc4 18.bxc4 a5 and Black won in 53 moves, Van der Wiel,J (2540) -- Karpov,A (2725) Tilburg 1988.

16...bxc4 seems to me a viable alternative 17.Nxc4 Qc7. Karpov achieved this improvement by changing the move order. In that game, both sides had active piece play and it would seem good chances. Karpov outmaneuvered his opponent to secure the win.

17.Nh2 Qc7 18.Ng4 Be7 19.Nf1

Black to move


This move may have been the critical error as it opens the c-file, which White was able to control and use. Huebner identified this move as a mistake, suggesting 19...c5 as the alternative. McDonald calls this move a blunder.

McDonald states, "White's knight manoeuvres have unnerved Portisch" (23). Was the error a failure of logic? Did Portisch have concrete reasons for this move? Perhaps he understood the strategic idea of penetration on the c-file and judged his defensive resources to be adequate. If he closes the queenside, as recommended in Huebner's annotations and McDonald's, White still might mount a kingside attack and Black's position remains cramped. I do not dispute that this move was the critical error, but I think the reader would be better served if McDonald had worked harder at finding an explanation for the error grounded in logic, rather than psychological speculation.

20.cxd5 Nxg4

Perhaps Black can contest the c-file 20...Rac8 21.Nfe3.

21.hxg4 Bc8

21...Rac8 22.Ne3 Bg5 23.Nc4 Bxc1 24.Rxc1 White has several potential outposts on the queenside, while the doubled g-pawns offer flexibility and strength, as well as the long-term possibility of building an attack on the h-file after g2–g3.

22.Ne3 Bg5 23.Nf5

McDonald states that White has a "strategically winning position" (23).

23...Bxc1 24.Rxc1 Qd8

24...Qb6 25.Bd3 Bb7 26.Rc2 (26.Re3) 26...Rac8

White to move

Black's lack of mobility is becoming apparent

25.Bd3 Ne7 26.Qd2 Rb8

26...Bxf5 opens up attacking possibilities on the kingside for White, according to McDonald. 27.gxf5 a5 28.Bb5 (28.Qg5 f6 29.Qg4) 28...Rf8 29.f6 gxf6 30.Qh6 Kh8 Perhaps Black can defend.

27.Rc2 Nxf5 28.gxf5 f6

Reducing the queen's mobility, although the queen cannot do much on the kingside alone and now other piece can get there. Now all play will focus on the c-file, which White controls.

28...a5 29.Bb5 seems unpleasant.

McDonald points out some checkmate threats that 28...f6 prevents. 28...Re7 29.f6 gxf6 (29...Rc7 30.Rxc7 Qxc7 31.Qg5) 30.Qh6 Rc7 31.Re3 Rxc2 32.Rg3+

29.Rec1 Re7 30.Rc6

Black to move


30...a5 31.Bb5 Bd7 32.Rxd6

30...Bb7 31.Bxa6 Bxc6 32.dxc6 was prepared by Huebner, according to McDonald. Indeed, Huebner gives this line in his Informant annotations.

31.Qe2 a5 32.Bb5 Bb7

32...Bd7 33.Rxd6

33.Rc7 Rc8 34.Qc4 Raa8

34...Rxc7 35.Qxc7 Qxc7 36.Rxc7 is also given by McDonald as worse, and it was in my annotations before reading his.


McDonald gives this move a double exclam, and the move is also praised in comments on chessgames.com. As Black can do nothing, there is no rush. White has time to improve the position of his king.


35...Rxc7 36.Qxc7 Qxc7 37.Rxc7 Rb8 38.Bc6 Ba8 39.Kf2

36.Kf2 Rab8 37.Ke3

Black to move


37...Rxc7 38.Qxc7 Qxc7 39.Rxc7

38.Bd7 Rxc7 39.Qxc7 Qxc7 40.Rxc7 Ba6 41.Be6 Rb7 42.Rc6 Bf1 43.Rxd6 Bc4

One last trick before resignation.

43...Bxg2 44.Rd8+ Kg7 45.d6

White to move


44.bxc4?? b3 and Black will get a queen.


This game is a good example of White gaining the initiative out of the opening and keeping up the pressure. The most significant error led to a clear strategic plan that White executed well.