29 September 2023

Stafford Complications

I blame Eric Rosen for my interest in playing the Stafford Gambit. His Lichess study and accompanying YouTube video gave me a ready-made tactics and opening lesson for my students in an online group class in winter 2022. It has been an occasional weapon ever since. most notably giving me three quick wins in a nine-round OTB blitz tournament in May 2022. This morning my opponent played a move that I last faced almost a year ago. That game was a learning experience.

Internet Opponent -- Stripes,J.
Chessdotcom 29.9.2023

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 Nc6 4.Nxc6 dxc6 5.d3 Bc5

White to move
From this position 6.Be2 is most common and best. I have no less than 6 identical wins after 6.Bg5?? This error is met with 6...Nxe5 when the bishop must retreat to e3. Taking the queen gives Black a mate in two.


Three prior games in my personal database have this move, all in 2022. 


Previously, I played 6...b5?, managing two wins and a loss. White is objectively better after this foolishness.


7.Qe2 is better.
7.dxe4?? loses the queen. That's what I learned after my game in October 2022.

7...Bd6 8.Bd3 Qe7 9.O-O O-O 10.Re1?

10.Nd2 is best.

Black to move
The fun begins now.


Played without hesitation. Next time, I'll try 10...Qh4 with some of the same ideas as in the game plus a wrinkle if White goes for 11.g3.


11.Kf1 is approximately equal.

11...Qh4+-+ 12.Kg1 Qxf2+ 13.Kh1

Black to move

Sometimes a combination that one has seen many times brings out routine play, oblivious to an additional resource.

13...Bg4! was the move I should have played.

14.Kg1 Nf2?=

There was still a chance to play 14...Qf2+ 15.Kh2 Qg3+ 19.Kg1 Bg4-+

15.Bxh7+! Kh8

15...Kxh7 16.Qc2++-

White to move

16.Qe2 is the only move to maintain equality.

16...Ng4-+ 17.Be4

I expected 17.Rd1, planning 17...Qh2+ 18.Kf1 Re8 with mate threats and a dominating position.


I missed some things. My opponent missed more.

21 September 2023

My Chess Journey

When I was eight years old, my sister, a year younger, returned from the neighbor's house and taught me what she had learned there. This became my first lesson in a game neither of us would understand for several years to come. Chess joined Parcheesi, Monopoly, Go Fish, Connect Four, Life, Scrabble, and many other games that we played with our siblings, neighbor children our age, and sometimes with adults.

Seven years later, I was visiting a friend and saw a book on chess, Chess in 30 Minutes. The idea that someone would write a book on a game that children played was revolutionary to my thinking. Our family regularly visited the library. On the next visit, I found the chess books and borrowed a few. First step was learning to read: 1.P-K4, P-K4 2.N-KB3, P-Q3 3.B-B4, P-KN3 4.N-B3, B-N5 5.NxP BxQ?? Once these codes were deciphered with help from one of the books, reading began. There were several books, but the one that I remember most clearly was Irving Chernev, The 1000 Best Short Games of Chess (1955).

I played a game or two with the friend who had the chess book. We decided that we would play a match of twenty games or so. The year was 1975 and we had some sort of vague understanding of the battles then raging between Bobby Fischer and FIDE regarding his World Championship Defense against Anatoly Karpov. By the end of our match, I was much better than my friend. I’ve mentioned this story before (see “My First Chess Book”).

Over the next few years, I played a lot of games with a couple of friends. We played war games like Panzer Blitz, Luftwaffe, Highway to the Reich, Russian Campaign. The majority were World War II simulations. We also played Risk, of course, and we played chess. Matt Jessick liked 3D chess and always destroyed me. I preferred the classic game and increasingly favored it over other games. My sophomore year of high school, a group of students formed a chess club. I was near the top in strength. Jim Van Epps was clearly the best. He loaned me his copy of I.A. Horowitz, Chess Openings: Theory and Practice (1965). I studied the four pawns attack and finally beat his Pirc Defense. He introduced me to the Spokane Chess Club.

Our school’s chess club sent letters to all the other schools in the district, resulting in matches against the other schools that have clubs. My opponent in the match against Gonzaga Prep, Patrick Kirlin, remembers our game much better than I do. We played that team match in 1977 and he told me in 1995 that I had played the Sicilian Defense. None of these events were rated. I played in one tournament at the Spokane Chess Club, also not rated. Not everyone wrote their moves. I remember feeling almost embarrassed when I beat an older man with a bank rank checkmate. He was crushing me until leaving himself vulnerable to a mate in one.

As I was finishing high school and starting college, I played a USCF correspondence tournament. The game scores I have from this event are the oldest games in my personal database. There is a position in one of them that I use in teaching.

White to move

In college, there was a guy on my floor who liked to play chess with me. Sometimes we would start a game in the late morning and I would end up skipping my Philosophy of Religion class at 11:00. I won most of these games. Gradually, other priorities displaced chess. Occasionally I would play through some games in a book, but none of my friends were at my level and I did not seek out a chess club.

Interest in chess was revived almost ten years later when I bought my first computer and with it Chessmaster 2100. I was in graduate school.

I rejoined the Spokane Chess Club in late 1995 and played in my first rated OTB event in March 1996. In October, I played my sixth event and no longer had a provisional rating. By the end of the year, my rating had risen to 1495, but it would be several years before rising over 1500 in 2002. In early 1998, my worst event ever (I lost all five games) dropped me from 1472 to 1378 and it took me three events to bring my rating back into C Class.

In November 1996, I played in the Washington Class in Federal Way. I nearly won my section. I was on board one in round four tied with one other player, my opponent, 1/2 point ahead of the others. A win would secure at least a tie for first place. I had a winning position. I faltered, losing that game and the next, finishing the event with 3.0 and tied for 8th place.

Black to move

From my return to active play in the mid-1990s, active study of chess books has been a constant in my life. I also played correspondence chess (postcard, then email, and then websites like ChessWorld.net and Chess.com) continuously from 1996 through 2018, but only a few games since. Beginning in 1998, live play online also became a norm. I estimate that I have played more than 160,000 games.

My rating remained in C Class for nearly a decade, but in the 1500s for the second half. I was getting better, gaining both knowledge and skills, but progress was slow. Too much online blitz may have held me back.

In the summer of 2006, Curt Collyer gave me some lessons. He was my third round opponent in that terrible 0-5 event in 1998. Now in college and with a rating near 2200, he was the top player from my city and offering chess lessons during his summer break. In fall 2006 after this work with Curt, I crossed into B Class for the first time.

In 2008, I won the Spokane Contenders and played a four game match against FM David Sprenkle for the City Championship, losing 2 1/2 - 1/2. He beat me fairly quickly in the first game played on Thursday night. In the second game, I lost in 72 moves, learning while entering the game in my database that we had a three-fold repetition as I had suspected during the game. In the third game, he offered a draw when a repetition appeared best.

White to move

I was rated in the mid-1700s during the match with Sprenkle having risen rapidly through B Class. The Washington Open in May 2009 lifted me into A Class. I tied for fourth in the Premier section 1/2 point behind the top three.

My rating continued to rise, peaking after an astounding run of eleven consecutive wins.

My journey from wholly ignorant beginner in the late-1960s, to competitive high school player in the late-1970s, to active C Class club member in the mid-1990s involved a lot of book study. The journey from C Class in my 30s to high A Class in my early 50s (I peaked at 1982) included books, active play, private lessons, chess videos.

After peaking in 2012, I have struggled to stay in A Class. Through four events in 2016, my rating fell from 1886 to 1750. My last 2016 event lifted me back to 1791 and then I won the Winter Club Championship, my first event of 2017, lifting me back up to 1845. See "Home Preparation" for my win against the top rated player in the event, Michael Cambareri.

Since then, my rating has fallen and risen again within the range 1809 to 1875. Now in my 60s, the effects of aging impacts my ability to maintain focus during tournament games. Ambitions to reach expert no longer motivate me. However, I study chess regularly and continue to gain knowledge and experience. In the past year, I have solved more than 12,000 puzzles and exercises, including 7,262 on Chess.com alone.

During the Inland Empire Open in May and two events since then, I am enjoying the game whether I win or lose. After misplaying the opening in one game, I was enjoying watching how my opponent capitalized on his advantage while I struggled to put up resistance (see "The Saving Fork?"). Of course, I enjoyed even more pressing my advantage when my opponent missed the forced checkmate and then blundered two moves later.

Appended is a list of my best tournaments.

Weekend Swiss Events
2006 Washington Challenger’s Cup
Reserve 4.0/5 first—tie
2009 Washington Open
Premier 4.0/6 fourth—tie (1/2 point behind winners)
2012 Collyer Memorial
                4.5/5 second
2015 Spokane Falls Open
        4.5/5 first
2018 Eastern Washington Open
        4.5/5 first—tie
2023 Inland Empire Open
        4.5/5 first

Club Events
1996 Taxing Quads
        Quad 2 3.0/3 first
2006 Koz’s Quick Chaos
                3.0/3 first
2007 June Quick
                3.5/4 first
2008 Spokane Falls Action
        3.0/3 first
2008 Christmas Chaos
                3.5/4 first
2009 March Madness
        3.5/4 first
2009 Ajeeb Quads
        Quad A 2.3/3 first—tie
2009 Chaos
                4.0/4 first
2010 July Robin
                5.0/7 first—tie
2011 Turkey Quads
        Quad B 3.0/3 first
2011 December Quick
                3.0/3 first
2014 Blazing Heat Blitz
                8.0/9 first—tie
2016 Quick Night
                3.5/4 first
2016 Turkey Quads
        Quad B 3.0/3 first
2017 Winter Championship
        4.5/5 first

Closed Events

2008 City Championship Contenders
2.5/3 first
2010 City Championship Contenders
4.0/5 first—tie
2012 City Championship Contenders
4.5/5 first

Online Events

2016 US Chess Blitz on Chess.com (5-23)
4.0/5 first—tie
2016 US Chess Blitz on Chess.com (5-30)
4.5/5 first—tie
2016 US Chess Blitz on Chess.com (10-24)
4.5/5 first
2020 Morning Membership (8-14)
        4.0/4 first—tie
2020 Morning Membership (11-6)
        4.0/4 first
2020 Morning Membership (12-4)
        3.5/4 first
2020 Morning Membership (12-18)
4.0/4 first

20 September 2023

Speed Kills

While playing this ending, I first thought that we had reached a simple drawn position. Then, my opponent erred. I sensed (correctly) that I was now winning, but managed to throw it away. Later analysis showed that it should have been drawn until my error gave my opponent a winning opportunity, but perhaps not an easy one to find.

Black to move

I rejected hastily 41...f4+, although it should have been clear to me that 42.gxf4+ Kf5 43.Kd4 Kxf4 leads to a pawn race where both players promote on the same move--a draw.

Stepping back with 41...Ke6 also allows Black to regain the opposition if White tries to advance his king.


My first clue that I had missed something instructive in this ending was the website's game analysis calling this move a miss. Using the retry function, I found the idea, but further analysis showed that it was more intricate than I then thought.

White's winning idea is to transfer the king to h3, then create a passed pawn.

42.Kf2! Kd5 43.Kg2

Black to move
Analysis diagram

If Black tries 43...Kc4, White's breakthrough takes place instantly for Black's king cannot get back into the square of the pawn. The pawn on f6 blocks the diagonal route after 44.g4 fxg4 45.fxg4 Kd4 46.gxh5.


Without some calculation, I assumed that Black's b-pawn would promote before White's kingside pawns could break through, but the variation just above shows that is not true. Instead. Black's king must stay on the kingside. This also fails.

a) 44...Ke6 45.g4! f4 46.gxh5 Kf5 47.h6

Black to move
Analysis diagram
47...Kg6 48.Kg4 Kxh6 49.h5 f5+ 50.Kxf4 Kxh5 51.Kxf5+-

b) 44...f4 45.g4 f5 46.g5 and now Black's king is tied down to stopping the passed g-pawn allowing White's king to run to the b-file.


I was thinking that we would shuffle our kings back and forth and agree to a draw.


Black to move
43...fxg4 44.fxg4 hxg4 45.h5 f5??

I hallucinated that my king could stay in the square.

45...Ke6 leads to an easy win.
45...g3 also leaves Black with a decisive advantage


I blitzed out a few more moves because my opponent was low on time, but resigned when it became clear that my opponent would finish easily with the 20 seconds or so remaining.