29 February 2024

Break the Rules!

Neil McDonald writes in Break the Rules! A Modern Look at Chess Strategy (2012), "experienced players ... tread a fine line between the moves they want to play and the moves they are compelled to play." He continues, "Rules and precepts are useful starting points, but we have to use our judgement, creativity and knowledge to find the best move and plan in the specific position in front of us." A game he employs to illustrate has White beginning the game with eight consecutive pawn moves. The game is Navara -- Shimanov, Vilnius 2010.

When I read this book last year, I was already familiar with both the concept and a different Caro-Kann game from having seen them yoked in John Watson, Secrets of Modern Chess: Advances since Nimzowitsch (1998). Watson cites as an example of rule independence a game that Andy Soltis presents in The Art of Defence where Black's first ten moves included seven pawn moves. Yet, somehow I remember it as the same line presented by McDonald (maybe it, too, is in Watson's book).

After McDonald's explication, however, I began playing this line against the Caro-Kann in my online games. I've trapped several bishops when my opponent strayed from the best course. In other games, I've also sacrificed a pawn on e6 to lock in Black's dark-square bishop. These games turned out to be good preparation for a tournament game when my opponent attempted to play the Nimzo-Larsen Attack. But there was more: inspiration from a game I looked at nine years ago.

A game in Chess Informant 124 (2015) inspired me such that I have been meeting 1.b3 with 1...a5 ever since with good results. That game is Rapport -- Adly, Tsaghkadzor 2015. Sometimes I enjoy creating chaos at the board, but I always find it useful to remove my opponents from their comfort zone.

Both these games inspired and guided me during my round four game against David Griffin in the Inland Classic last weekend.

Griffin,David (1522) -- Stripes,James (1873) [A04]
Inland Classic Rathdrum (4), 25.02.2024

1.Nf3 Nc6 2.b3 a5N

A novelty inspired by Rapport -- Adly. Rapport is a devotee of 1...b3. I call this move a novelty because the position does not appear in my usual databases. However, further research shows that the move in the present position has been played 902 times on Lichess.

I did have an OTB game against Griffin Herr in 2019 that began 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.b3 a5. Before the game, Griffin had asked me how I responded to 1.b3. I told him the truth, not knowing that we would be paired.

3.Bb2 e6 4.e3 a4
White to move

5.a3 seems important, as I suggested to David after the game.


5...Nf6 6.0-0 Be7 7.d4 0-0 8.c4 d5 9.bxa4 b6 10.Nc3 Na5 0-1 (34) Shytaj,L (2459)--Ponkratov,P (2613) Riadh 2017.

6.Bc3 Nf6 7.0-0 d5=

White to move

8.d4 has been popular on Lichess, where this position has occurred in 114 games. David wanted to avoid this move because his bishop's scope on the long diagonal was his intended manner of play.

8...Nxd4 9.Bxd4

9.exd4 Bd6 and I would have continued with somewhat more normal development, perhaps seeking to take advantage of the absence of White's king's knight.

9...c5 10.Be5

10.Bb5+ Bd7 11.Bxf6 gxf6=
10.Bxf6 gxf6= (10...Qxf6 would be a mistake).


I am aiming to trap the bishop. After my a-pawn push, I suspect Griffin did not assess the concrete analysis behind this move.


11.h3 was David's suggestion after the game.
11.d4 is also good.


We have reached the game's critical position. Both sides still have chances. After White's next move, Black gets the upper hand and carries it to the end.

White to move


12.f4! Qb6 (12...f6? 13.Bxh5+ Ke7 14.Qg4 Qa5 15.Qg6 fxe5 16.Qe8+ Kd6 and White is better) 13.Na4 Qc6 and White is slightly better.
I anticipated 12.Bb5 f6 13.Bg3 h4 with a slight edge for Black.


I'm winning the bishop.

13.Bf4 g5

Here, I wrote 9/13 in the margins of my scoresheet and then went and asked the tournament director whether I had broken the rules by doing so.


Perhaps David's strongest move of the game. The bishop cannot be saved, but Black might yet be punished for an inordinate number of pawn moves and a king that likely will remain in the center.

14...gxf4 15.exf4 d4 16.Nb5 Nf6

White to move


17.f5 seems best and principled. Black's material advantage remains, but White has good chances to create some play in the center.


Finally! After eleven pawn moves and five knight moves, I develop another piece. Already, I am looking towards some checkmate ideas.


David's focus on removing my a-pawn did not help his game.

18...h3 19.g3 Qc6 20.Bf1

Forced. There cannot be very many positions in the database where Black has pawns on h3 and a3 on move 20.

Black to move


I wanted to avoid White's bishop pinning my queen against my king with the knight on a3. Also, I might get an opportunity to create a bishop and queen battery along the long diagonal.

21.Nxa3 Bd6

Targeting the unprotected pawn on f4

Stronger was 21...Qf3 22.Qd1 Qxd1 23.Raxd1 Rxa3-+


22.f5 Qf3

22...Bxf4 23.Ne5

23.gxf4 Rg8+ and checkmate follows.

23...Bxe5 24.Rxe5 Ng4

White to move


25.Qe1 is best, then 25...Qf3 26.Rxc5 Rh5! a deflection that I might have missed 27.Qe2 (27.Rxh5 Bc6 and White can only delay checkmate) 27...Qxe2 28.Bxe2 Rxc5.


Bc6 will be decisive

26.Qd1? Qxf2+ 0-1

Although my play was unorthodox, it worked because David did not adapt his plans to the needs of the position. The early a5 thrust by Black is not dangerous, but it is disruptive if White does not meet it appropriately.

28 February 2024


In the Inland Classic tournament last weekend, I played reasonably well, despite giving up a 520 point upset to an underrated high school senior who has been one of the top youth players in my city since he was in elementary school. There were points where my play could be improved. The positions below highlight points when errors were made. How would you play?

1. Black to move
How should Black meet the fork threat?

Later in this same game, my round one loss, I had a clear advantage after errors on both sides. Choosing the wrong course from this position turned the game in favor of my opponent.

2. Black to move
In round two, I had a decisive advantage by move six. Nonetheless, I missed a quicker finish from the following position.

3. White to move
My round five game was a long battle and was among the last games to finish. Early in the middle game, I made a sensible move using a minute of thinking time. The position demanded more thought because another idea, which I considered briefly, was sufficiently complex that it could have offered my opponent the opportunity to go wrong.

4. White to move
Two moves later, I threw away a small advantage.

5. White to move
My error in this last diagram maintained a clear advantage, but there was a much better move.

6. White to move

27 February 2024

Ways of Reading

After finishing the process of going through every game in Irving Chernev, The 1000 Best Short Games of Chess (1955), I was motivated to tackle another classic. Now, I am following the same process with P. H. Clarke, 100 Soviet Chess Miniatures (1963). I downloaded the PGN file from Bill Wall’s Chess Page and opened it in tChess Pro on my iPad. During my morning coffee a day or two per week, I go through a game on the iPad, sometimes several times, then I go through the game while reading Clark’s annotations. Sometimes, I then find the game on chessgames.com and drop a note there.

Clarke’s book had some competition for my attention. Bobby Fischer, My 60 Memorable Games (1969) also beckoned. Wall has a PGN for that book as well. It, too, resides on my iPad. But as I was going through Fischer — Sherwin 1957, I had a strong impulse to set a chess board on the table for the purpose of studying Fischer’s annotations in a manner that is more difficult with tChess Pro.

Working through My 60 Memorable Games will be more work, but I also think it is worth doing. Perhaps I will do a quick orientation to each game in tChess Pro, then switch to a chessboard on the table and the book for further study.

26 February 2024

Study Material

What might I gain from some focused study of the works of Aron Nimzowitsch? I’ve had My System and Chess Praxis in the old English descriptive versions since the 1990s and have dipped into them often enough to have a grasp of his central concepts. Of course, prophylaxis, blockade, pawn chains, the isolated queen pawn, and other ideas that he articulated before anyone else are found in many books today. One cannot read chess books and fail to encounter the work of Nimzowitsch.

John Watson, Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy has been in my possession close to twenty years and I’ve read chunks. In fact, it was much on my mind during yesterday’s round four game, as was Neil McDonald, Break the Rules! Both Watson and McDonald present a Caro-Kann line in which White begins the game with eight pawn moves. Concrete calculation trumps general principles, Watson notes. In my game yesterday, prior to 17…Qb6, I had made 11 pawn moves and 5 knight moves. Also, I had trapped my opponent’s bishop.
Last summer, I purchased both the original edition of Raymond Keene, Aron Nimzowitsch: A Reappraisal and the somewhat newer algebraic edition. I’ve read only the first chapter. Yesterday, at the chess tournament, the new translation of Nimzowitsch’s classics was added to my book collection thanks to the generosity of IM John Donaldson attending and playing in our local tournament. He has been doing so for a quarter century and has made a habit of bringing books that he sells at bargain prices.
Perhaps the new book will end up on the shelf gathering dust. Perhaps I will make some time to study it. 

12 February 2024

Failed Twice

On Friday morning, I spent about ten minutes struggling with this chess problem, then gave up and looked at the answer in the back of the book. Friday's failure was a repeat of the same process with the same problem several months ago.

White to move and win
It was composed by Oldrich Duras and published in Deutsche Schachzeitung (October 1908), 310. The solution was published in January.

I encountered the position in Sergey Ivashchenko, The Manual of Chess Combinations, vol. 2 (2002). Reuben Fine presents it without a diagram in Basic Chess Endings (1941), 121.

While attempting to solve the puzzle, I had a faint recollection of some of the key ideas from a study by Alexey Troitzky that I had spent some time with last summer after getting a copy of Yuri Averbakh, Bishop Endings (1977). Troitzky's study also appears sans diagram in Fine, Basic Chess Endings.

White to move
I could recall the bishop maneuvers in the Troitzky study, but forgot the importance of the king's position.

In the Troitzky study, White wins with 1.Be6 Ke7 2.h6 Kf6 3.Bf5! 

I remembered this idea.

3...Kf7 4.Bh7

And this paradoxical move.

Black to move
4...Kf6 5.Kf4

This necessary move is not possible in the Duras study. The solution in Deutsche Schachzeitung (January 1909) reaches a similar position after one of the moves that fails, 1.Bc5, and the line was part of what I examined before I gave up.

Most of my effort, however, was spent trying to make 1.Bd6 work. That move was also the first one that FM Jim Maki tried when I showed him Duras's study during a youth chess tournament on Saturday. Black's drawing idea of the king taking refuge on and adjacent to the promotion square is one I learned the hard way in a tournament game a quarter century ago (see "A Memorable Lesson").

If Bd6 and Bc5 both fail, how can White win? I know now. Maybe I will remember the next time that I see this study by Duras.

01 February 2024

Maczuski -- Kolisch 1863

On Tuesday, I showed a short game to my young students that is the source for exercise 19 in Checkmates and Tactics (2019), a book that presents 150 exercises that I developed in 2006 for scholastic chess players. While doing so, my ignorance grated. I knew nothing about the players, although the name of the losing player was familiar enough that I thought I should know more.

While printing the game score before club, it surprised me that only two games played by Ladislav Maczuski appeared in ChessBase Mega (online was no different). This paltry selection was surprising particularly because the game data indicated it was part of a four game match between the players. ChessBase has 151 games played by Ignatz Kolisch, plus two consultation games. Maczuski's performance in the game against a strong master suggests that he should be better known. Kolisch was "one of the world's leading players from 1859 to 1867", according to David Hooper and Kenneth Whyld, The Oxford Companion to Chess (205).

It is not surprising that chessgames.com has more information than almost any where else that I searched. Edward Winter's Chess Notes is also useful. Note 2335 has an 1876 game played by Maczuski as part of a blindfold simul that does not appear in databases. Note 11728 recommends Fabrizio Zavatarelli, Ignaz Kolisch The Life and Chess Career (2015) for "a detailed discussion". Chessgames.com led me to the first publication of the game and a second the next month. ChessBase referenced David Levy and Kevin O'Connell, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Chess Games, Vol. 1 1485-1866 (1981), which also references Schachzeitung (1864). Levy and O'Connell get the date wrong, an error carried forward in ChessBase.

I know more than I did on Tuesday and know how to learn a bit more should I manage to acquire a copy of Zavatarelli's book.

Here is the game.

Maczuski,Ladislav -- Kolisch,Ignaz [C45]
Match Kolisch--Maczuski +2-2=0 Paris (1), 03.1863

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Qh4

The fifth most popular reply wins a pawn, but often a great cost


5.Nb5 is an alternative 5...Bb4+ 6.N1c3 Ba5 7.Be2 a6 (7...Qxe4? 8.Nxc7+ Kd8 9.Nxa8 Qxg2 10.Bf3+-) 

5...Bb4 6.Qd3!?

6.Be2 and 6.Ndb5 are more frequently played

Black to move

6...Nf6 7.Nxc6

Also possible: 7.Nf5 Qxe4+ 8.Qxe4+ Nxe4 9.Nxg7+ Kf8 (9...Kd8) 10.Nh5 (10.Bh6 Nxc3 11.Nf5+ Ke8 12.a3 Ba5 13.b4 Bb6) 10...Nxc3 11.Bh6+ Ke7 12.Bg7 Ne4+ 13.c3 with equal chances.

7...dxc6 8.Bd2 Bxc3 9.Bxc3 Nxe4

9...0-0 seems prudent, but White does not yet have full compensation for the pawn with the line played.


Black to move

10...Bf5 has also been played here 11.Qe5+ Qe7 12.Qxe7+ Kxe7 13.Bxg7 Rhg8 14.Bd4 (14.Bh6 may be better) 14...Rad8 15.c3 c5 16.Be3 b6  and Black won in 60 moves Trabert,B (2285)--Tomescu,V (2436) Montecatini Terme 1999.

11.0-0-0 Qg5+??

A terrible blunder.

11...Nxc3 12.Qxg7 Nxa2+ 13.Kb1 Rf8 with a slight edge for Black, who went on to win in 65 moves Rizovic,S--Minic,M Vrnjacka Banja 2006.

White to move
This position could make a good exercise.

12.f4! Qxf4+

Black could also play 12...Qe7, but the game is lost in any case.

13.Bd2 Qg4

13...Qh4 14.Re1 0-0 15.Rxe4+-
13...Qf6 also prevents checkmate.

White to move
This position appears in my Checkmates and Tactics book. My students have been solving it, or failing to solve it nearly twenty years.

14.Qd8+ Kxd8 15.Bg5+

The game as it appears in La Nouvelle Régence (image above) would seem to indicate that the last move was not played.

15...Ke8 16.Rd8# 1-0