23 August 2023

The Saving Fork?

In a game today, I played 24...Nd5 in a position that had been difficult for an hour.

White to move
How should White proceed?

20 August 2023

The Appeal of Informant

A question was raised in social media: does anyone still use Informant? As the question was in response to me, having claimed that Informant is the chess periodical that I read more than any other, I took the question as a personal challenge. I like the books, but now am more likely to read them on my computer screen while jotting notes in the print edition.

In the early days of Chess Informant, it was a vital source of games for readers. It no longer serves that purpose. We can watch them as they are played and have several ways to access them after they finish. What, then, is the appeal of Informant today?

My first Informant was number 64. I acquired it as I was getting into correspondence chess after a brief effort two decades earlier. One of the games in that issue gave substance to the concept of flexibility.* That game helped my planning and positional judgement in a correspondence game that I won (see the game at "Playing by the Book"). Of course, there are many ways to get access to games that will help one play correspondence chess. That Informant did this for me may have been no more than coincidence. It was what I was using for study. Is there anything inherent in the publication that makes it more useful than other resources for such a purpose?

More recently in another correspondence game I had Black in the French Defense and was facing a frightening appearing pawn storm. We were still in book, so I did a search of my database containing all games published in Informant for the position before me. There were more than one hundred games. Over the course of the weekend, I played through all of these games on my computer screen. Our game diverged from the databases a couple of moves later, and yet ten moves later I was developing plans based on a game I had seen that weekend. My memory of the game had errors—I incorrectly remembered had been played by Viktor Kortschnoj. Even so, I went on to win. Of course, a search of ChessBase Mega that controlled by rating would have given me most of these games and more, along with the same benefits.

Less is More

Chess Informant's
system of signs and language-less annotations contribute both to its appeal and limit its usefulness to many players. Chess players looking to improve often crave annotations expressed in words more than variations. These are vital for explaining concepts that must be absorbed in order to play well. However, words can distract as well.

When I was trying to improve as a C-Class player in the late-1990s and early 2000s, I became aware that my interior dialogue while playing tournament chess reflected a great deal of confusion. I did not lack ideas. Rather, I spent much of my thinking time on ideas that were unproductive. I examined lines that a master would immediately reject, but that seemed good to me. Learning the Informant system of signs and investing time reading through annotated games in that periodical helped me to quiet this internal dialogue. Chess analysis in Informant offers less, not more. Only critical lines at important moments are offered. The ideas that can be expressed through the system of signs are few, but they are important. If an idea cannot be expressed through these symbols, perhaps it should be discarded. Through the first decade of this century, my rating rose over 400 points. I was in my 40s. Informant was not the only tool that facilitated my rise, of course, but it was important. Several memorable successes are tied to Informant.

Informant today offers less in another way that maintains its appeal to me. It contains only quality games and analysis. Each Monday, Mark Crowther releases another issue of The Week in Chess with recent games from important tournaments. The last issue of 2022, number 1468, contained 7201 games. Number 1469, the first of 2023, set a record for quantity with 10,627 games. TWIC is a terrific resource and I keep my database of all TWIC more or less up-to-date. I don't know who, if anyone, succeeds in going through all of these games. Some selection is necessary. 

Informant culls a small sample from this mass of data, but every game merits attention. Usually the annotations are light, but some of the lines go deep. For a substantial number of games in each issue, several other recent games or game fragments are embedded in the annotations.


Chess Informants are attractive books. Through something more than the first 100 issues, little changed on the cover except the colors. The design was spare, economical, and highlighted the global nature of chess culture. The "new Informants", however, each have a unique cover design. Sometimes these are colorful and whimsical. Sometimes the connection to chess is not explicit, such as the Spaghetti Western influenced cover of Informant 128 (see "Determination"). Sometimes, there is a puzzle quality to the cover. I won a copy of Chess Informant Paramount (a software package with Informants 1-123 and indices) by correctly identifying the image and context of the cover of Informant 125--the issue title was "Enigma" and the image was of part of the hardware used by the Bletchley Park codebreakers who cracked Nazi Germany's Enigma code. The most recent, CI 156 Mesmerized, has an image of the sky and clouds with shades of blue, orange, and white. It provokes the imagination.

*The notion of flexibility as an important strategic principle entered my thinking more soundly when I read Dan Heisman, Elements of Positional Evaluation, rev. ed. (1999) several years later, but the foundation was built by productive study of Informant 64.

09 August 2023

One from Cozio

Position 132
Carlo Cozio (c. 1715 -- c. 1780) is best known for a book published in two volumes, Il Giuoco degli Scacchi o sia Nuova idea di attacchi, difese e partiti del Giuoco degli Scacchi (1766), and for an offbeat variation for Black against the Spanish opening. An original of his book is dated 1740, and was in the collection of Lothar Schmid, according to A. J. Roycroft in his article, "Cozio!, Part I", in the magazine EG (July 1973). Roycroft asserts, "occasionally the play is either atrocious or incomprehensible." Nonetheless, some of his work has been deemed to be of value. Roycroft published 9 of Cozio's studies in Test Tube Chess: A Comprehensive Introduction to the Chess Endgame Study (1972) and 18 more in his article in EG.

After a game that I played yesterday, I went looking in Yuri Averbakh, Rook v. Minor Piece Endings (1978) for some guidance regarding my errors. The position Averbakh gives is credited to Cozio.

After reaching an endgame of bishop vs. rook and pawn that I thought I could draw, I managed to throw the draw away no less than ten times in 31 moves. I drew because my opponent did not know how to exploit my errors. More likely, neither of us recognized the errors for the blunders that they are.

White to move
This position, which occurred in my game yesterday, is identical to Cozio's number 132 as it appears in Harold van der Heijden, Endgame Study Database VI (2020). If you read the Italian in the screenshot above, you will see that it mirrors diagonally the one in Cozio's text, but changes nothing vital. Colors are reversed and the defending king is in in the opposite corner. In Averbakh's book, Cozio's colors are maintained with Black defending, but the position is flipped vertically.

White's defense is relatively simple. Keep the bishop on the b8-h2 diagonal. Averbakh makes this technique clear. I had been reading this book last week, preparing lessons for my students on rook vs. bishop endgames, but had not yet gotten to the point where Cozio's study is presented (28). Otherwise, I would have known what I was doing. However, my confidence that I could draw stemmed from this study and practice with my students of similar endings--rook vs bishop without a pawn.  I reasoned correctly that a rook pawn did not change much. After some unfavorable developments, I raced my king to the "safe corner". My opponent should have prevented this journey.

77.Bc7 Kf3 78.Bb6??

78.Bb8 or 78.Kg1 hold the draw.

78...Rf1+ 79.Kh2

Black to move

79...Rc1 is the only move that wins here. Black must understand White's defensive idea and prevent the bishop's return to the critical diagonal. The direct attack on the bishop forces the bishop back where it belongs.

80.Bc7 Kg4 81.Bd6 Rf1 82.Bc7 Rf2+ 83.Kh1

We have returned to the position after my 77th move.

83...Rg2 84.Bd6 Kf3 85.Bc5??

This was the ninth time that my bishop wandered away from its duties.

85...Ke2 86.Bb6??

The tenth and last.

Black to move


Again, Black should have prevented the bishop's immediate return to the correct diagonal with 86...Rg7.


Knowing what I do now, I would play 87.Bc7. But in this position, it is not critical. Black's king should be seeking to go to h3 after the pawn advances. That becomes possible if I keep leaving the key diagonal.

87...Rc2 88.Bb6 Rg2 and the game was drawn by repetition.

The moves Cozio gives in his book are less instructive, but he keeps the bishop on the correct diagonal.

White to move

1.Rc8+ Ka7 2.Rc7+ Ka8 3.Kb5 Bd4 4.Kc6 Be3 5.a7 Bxa7 6.Rc8 Bb8

We reach a position that I have been teaching to my students the past two weeks.

White to move
7.Rh8 Ka7 8.Kb5 Ka8

White cannot make progress.

9.Kb6 Stalemate.

08 August 2023

TWIC 1500!

Yesterday, Mark Crowther released the 1500th issue of The Week in Chess. His database now contains 3,581,971 games. Kudos to Crowther for dedication and consistency for 29 years! A couple of years ago, I filled in gaps in my own collection through a donation to TWIC. Crowther sent a link to download his personal copy. Now is a good time to do this if you have not already.

My copy exceeds Crowther's number by almost 3000 because I do a poor job of clearing duplicates. If my settings are wrong in the "find duplicates" feature of ChessBase, I could lose some of the sixteen games mentioned in "A Glass of Scotch". The moves may be the same, but the players, dates, and a events differ. Duplication is part of the historical record. I've also corrupted enough databases to be wary of changing large databases beyond simply adding more games.

I've been using The Week in Chess since I first discovered it twenty years ago. Crowther gathers all the games from the most important tournaments. These are then made available free. Someone who purchases ChessBase and pays an annual fee for updates should be able to get the same games. ChessBase is getting them from Crowther, I suspect.

I prefer keeping ChessBase Mega as it came from ChessBase without modification, and then use TWIC for games played in the past few years.

04 August 2023

A Glass of Scotch

Isn't this a forced draw?
Ryan Ackerman

Computer moves.
Cam Leslie

Black to move
After 10.Ba3

After a game at the Spokane Chess Club where this position arose, there was some discussion among the top players, experts Ryan Ackerman and Cam Leslie. I looked up the position in ChessBase's iPhone app, finding quite a few games that followed Ackerman's recommendation.

10...Nb4! 11.Bb2

11.g3 has been played. The computer says Black is better, but White has managed to draw at the top levels.

11...Bg7 12.a3

12.f4 is another try the engine finds dubious where White managed to draw among players rated over 2400.

12...Nd5 13.Nd2 O-O 14.O-O-O Rfe8

White to move

15.Qf3 Nb6 16.Ne4 Bxe5

16...d5 would be a novelty, but also leads to a draw if players can find the engine's moves.

17.Bxe5 Qxe5 18.Nf6 Kf8 19.Nxe8 Qa1+

White to move

Checking The Week in Chess finds fifteen games that have followed this line, all drawn. This line may be a forced draw at the top levels, but a few inaccurate options for White could serve to complicate matters at the club level.

In my game from the diagram at the top of the post, my opponent played 10...Qe6. He resigned after 11.cxd5 cxd5 12.Qxa6

After returning home, I drank a glass of Scotch.