Saturday, February 27, 2016

Why be ordinary?

Why do ordinary players remain ordinary? Is it because they lack the exceptional talent of good players? Sure. But that is not the only reason. Ordinary players can become far better than they are. In fact some like Lasker believed that following the right course of study anyone could reach Master strength. More recent teachers of chess (Purdy, Dvoretsky, Polgar, Ziyatdinov etc...) also believed that the right study will significantly improve anyone. If you have the talent as well as the right course of study, you will become a chess master.

But there is a problem. Human nature. Too much choice. Wanting things quickly without doing the work required.

Recently I was having another look at the great (perhaps greatest) teacher of chess, Siegbert Tarrasch. His book ‘The Game of Chess’ (1931) is still in print (Dover Books have a current copy). He wrote in that book that he had developed an innovative way of teaching chess compared to the manuals of his day.  He adhered to essentials, taking a total beginner to a stage where he/she would be a good player, and then able to go on improving according to their innate talents. He began with the elements (how the pieces move) then endgames, the middle-game and only finally the openings. It makes sense to master simpler forms, dealing with basic patterns, before tackling the complexities of the opening.

I picked up my copy and had a look at the openings Tarrasch discussed. I thought they were still of use to an ordinary player as a starting point to looking at modern ideas. Then it hit me. What I was doing wrong. Why I had not given myself the chance to reach my potential best. I was reversing Tarrasch’s methodology. Skipping ahead to the instant gratification of what opening ideas I could use. Not willing to follow his lesson plan. Cheating myself and disrespecting Tarrasch. How dumb is that?

I think that is what happens with many ordinary players who never become good players. Today’s players are spoilt by the myriad of openings books, databases, DVDs on openings and the idea that if you know an opening or a variation you can crunch your opponent. Having deep knowledge is seen as slow and ponderous compared to the panache of reeling off 20 moves and seeing your opponent squirm at your opening surprise.

What I should have done when young, and what young players can do today (even older players) is taken the time to go through the lesson plan of a great chess teacher (Tarrasch, Lasker, Purdy, Dvoretsky, Mednis, whoever is reputable and understandable), as they outlined it. Patiently absorbing the knowledge, learning the basics, step by step. In the case of Tarrasch, learn the basic endings, then the middle-game key combinations and patterns, before looking at the openings, studying great games and putting into practice his teachings. It may have taken 6 months, maybe a year to do? That is very little over a lifetime of playing chess. What a great investment in yourself.

It is of course what talented players lucky to be part of a sophisticated chess culture have done in the old USSR and in chess-advanced countries today. The chess teachers instruct and the students learn. By the time they start to play competitively they instinctively know the right thing to do. But we ordinary players can also improve and at any age. Just follow the program. What has been shown to work. Put aside your arrogance and impatience. Pick up the book of instruction and go through it as you are supposed to do. Invest the time. It really works.

I have recently gone back to Tarrasch’s book. There is a lot of wisdom in it and a genuine love of the game. This time I am starting to read it from the beginning.

Here is one of my favourite instructive games of Tarrasch, worth playing over a number of times for the Rook ending:
Manchester Tournament (1890) 
French Defense, Tarrasch Variation
Tarrasch Versus Thorold

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 c5 4. ed5 Qd5 5. Ngf3 cd4 6. Bc4 Qh5 7. O-O Nc6 8. Nb3 e5 9. Ne5 Qd1 10. Rd1 Ne5 11. Re1 f6 12. f4 Bb4 13. Bd2 Bd2 14. Nd2 Bf5 15. fe5 O-O-O 16. Bd3 Bd3 17. cd3 fe5 18. Rac1 Kb8 19. Re5 Nf6 20. Rce1 Rhe8 21. Re8 Ne8 22. Re7 a6 23. Nb3 b6 24. Nd4 Rd4 25. Re8 Kc7 26. Re3 Kd7 27. Kf2 g6 28. Rh3 h5 29. Ke3 Rd6 30. d4 Re6 31. Kd3 Re1 32. Rg3 Re6 33. Re3 Rd6 34. Re5 Rf6 35. a4 Rf2 36. Re2 Rf6 37. b4 Rf1 38. Re5 Rf2 39. Rg5 Rf6 40. h3 Kd6 41. Ke4 Re6 42. Re5 Rf6 43. d5 Kd7 44. Rg5 Kd6 45. Rg3 Ke7 46. Rf3 Rd6 47. Ke5 Rd8 48. d6 Kd7 49. Rf7 Kc8 50. Rc7 Kb8 51. Rc2 Re8 52. Kf6 b5 53. d7 Rh8 54. Ke7 Rh7 55. Kd6 Rh8 56. Re2 1-0

Here is an instructive drawn game played between two ordinary players on a chess server in a correspondence chess tournament where no computer assistance is allowed. It makes a nice change and is more sporting. Dare I say, more authentic?
CCLA Bicycle Event B39, 2015-2016

Lam Choong Wai, Edwin (White, rated 1908) versus Eraclides, George (Black, rated 1889)
Ruy Lopez, Open Variation

1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 e5 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Nxe4 (Tarrasch believed that 1...e5 was the best reply to e4 and that the Open Variation the most principled variation in the Lopez) 6.d4 b5 7.Bb3 d5 8.dxe5 Be6 (this is best practice and known for decades. Black has mobility in return for a little looseness in his position; White is compact, castled and ready to uncoil) 9.c3 Bc5 (this move can lead to risky sacrifices on f2 but they did not seem sound to me. Instead, I played this variation because I liked the way this Bishop pinned the f2 Pawn and could not easily be driven off; but it has some disadvantages)10.Nbd2 O-O 11.Qe2 (he now threatens to win a Pawn and illustrates one of the disadvantages of Bc5 – the c5 square is not available for the night on e4) Nxd2 12.Bxd2 Qd7 (I believe the great Lasker played this move in an exhibition game he won, planning to open the centre after centralising his Rooks. It seemed to me a sound idea as well but I was not wholly pleased with my position just the same) 13.Rad1 Rae8 (maybe a little better was 13...Na5 first 14.Bc2 Nc4 15.a4 (15.Bc1!?) Nxd2 16.Rxd2 c6 17.axb5 axb5 18.Nd4 with a slight plus but perhaps Black can do something on the a-file) 14.a4 (this is why I was concerned. In the Lopez, White always uncoils and goes on the attack somewhere. If Black is not ready he /she will go under. At least Black has a little more space than in other Lopez variations) Na5 (best; 14...f6 just fails to 15.axb4 axb4, 16.QxP Bxf2+ 17.RxB Rb8 and White is better) 15.Bc2 Nc4 16.axb5 Nxd2 17.Rxd2 axb5 (hoping the two Bishops will balance Black’s prospects; 17...Qxb4 18.Bd3!) 18.b4 Bb6 (Black wants to keep the pin onto f2, the only plus in his favour) 19.Qd3 g6 20.Nd4 (very annoying) c6 21.Kh1 (getting out of the pin but as the game will show, the Bb6 retains an essential dynamism and arguable, saves the game for Black as will be seen) f6?! (is this a brave move? Black’s Pawns on the Queen side are obviously weak but 21...Bxd4 22.cxd4 Bf5!? 23.Qc3 Rc8!? 24. Bxf5 Qxf5 leaves c6 vulnerable but it is hard to see how White can ever break through) 22.f4 fxe5 23.fxe5 Rxf1+24.Qxf1 Rf8 (I began to see a glimmer of hope thanks to Lasker’s idea back on move 12.) 25.Rf2 Rxf2 (I offered a Draw here but it was declined. White should have taken it but he misjudged the position forgetting an essential point made by Tarrasch in his book ‘The Game of Chess’ as well as Purdy in his time) 26.Qxf2 Qa7! (the power of the Pin. Yes, he moved the King but placed his Queen in the line of fire anyway) 27.h3 Qa1+ 28.Kh2 Qxc3 29.Qf6 (the only move to avoid defeat) Bxd4 (best because it pins the e4 Pawn and the Qc3 defends c6. He now has to play for the perpetual check. If he tries anything cute he loses e.g. 30.Qxe6 Kg7 31.Qd7+ Kg8 32.e6? Be5+ 33.g3 (if K moves Qe1 mate) Qxg3+ 34.Kh1 Qh2+ mate) 30.Qxe6+ Kg7 31.Qf6+ Kg8 32.Qd8+ Kg7 33.Qf6+ Kg8 34.Qd8+ (White offered a Draw which was accepted) 1/2-1/2

Until next time may the spirit of Tarrasch look over you. And you better do as he tells you to do or else!

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Sunday, July 19, 2015

The best of the best

Hi Pilgrim,

In my opinion there are nine chess champions who are the greatest of all time, superior even to other world champions or players who could have been champions.

The criteria I use are that the player must be recognised as the champion or be accepted as the best player whether or not the title of ‘champion’ was in use at the time; and the player must be clearly superior to his contemporaries for a substantial period of time, not just a flash in the dark and later just a first among equals.

The nine players are, in alphabetical, not strength, order:
Alekhine, Botvinnik, Capablanca, Fischer, Lasker, Karpov, Kasparov, Morphy, and Steinitz.

I think any fair assessment would agree that these players meet the criteria I have set. You may argue others like a Philidor or Tal should be in the list. However, I think the players above have the edge in reputation over all other champions to date. In the future there will be others to add to the list. Carlsen is likely to be the tenth player but only time will tell whether he will meet the criteria.

Nine players over a time span of about 165 years works out as one every 18 years or approximately two per generation (a generation is 30 years). Very interesting – we get two new superb players every generation.

Below is a little known game of Capablanca, which won a brilliancy prize against one of the Corzo brothers, famous in Cuba at the time it was played, and keen rivals of the young genius. It was played 102 years ago, at a tournament in Havana, Cuba, February 15, 1913.

What I find fascinating about this game is the brilliant tactical ideas of Capablanca (see moves 7, 10, 15, and 23) in a game that has the look and feel of a ‘boots and all’ club game between bitter rivals. It looks to me as though the Corzo brothers must have thought they could knock over Capablanca with aggressive tactics but they misunderstood the essence of his strength: Superb positional judgment allied to tactical awareness second to none. Alekhine knew this from bitter experience and only managed to defeat the great Cuban with positional play and substantial preparation (something Capablanca never did – seriously prepare).

Because a player chooses a positional or initially conservative approach, does not mean he or she cannot handle sophisticated tactical play as well. Beware the apparent mouse that roars!

Juan Corzo Versus Jose Raul Capablanca (1913)

Old Indian Defence

1. d4 Nf6 (Capablanca occasionally tried ‘Indian style’ defences, as known in his day) 2. c4 d6 3. Nc3 Nbd7 4. e4 e5 5. f4 (Needlessly aggressive; better is g3 or Nf3) exd4 6. Qxd4 Nc5 7. Be3 Qe7! 8. Nd5 (If 8. Bd3? Ne3 or if 8. e5 Ng4)  Nxd5 9. exd5 Bf5 10. Nf3 (Perhaps he should have Castled long) g6! (If now 11. Qxh8 Qxe3+ 12. Kd1 Ne4) 11. Kf2 (Castling long was still worth a try) Rg8 12. Re1 Bg7 13. Qd1 Ne4+ 14. Kg1 (The King’s Rook remains blocked and missing in action the whole game) Kf8 (Safer than Castling long) 15. Bd4 g5!! (Capablanca gave the following variations: 16. Nxg5 Bxd4+ 17. Qxd4 Nxg5  18. Rxe7 Nh3++; 16. fxg5 Nxg5 17. Rxe7 Nh3+ 18. gxh3  Bxd4++; 16. fxg5 Nxg5 17. Nxg5 Bxd4+ 18. Qxd4 Qxe1; and best is 16. fxg5 Nxg5 17. Bxg7+ Rxg7 18. Nxg5 Qxg5 with the better position) 16. Bxg7+ Rxg717. Nd4 Bd7 18. f5 (More careful is 18. Bd3 f5 19. Bxe4 fxe4 20. f5)  Qe5 19. Qd3 Re8 20. Ne6+?! fxe6 21. fxe6 Rxe6!! (Prepared much earlier by Capablanca) 22. dxe6 Bc6 23. Qf3+ Qf4! (A Queen exchange strongly favours Black: 24. Qxf4 gxf4 25 h4 (if 25. Bd3 Nc5 26. Bf1 f3 and if 27. g3 f2) 25...f3 26. Rd1 f7+ 27. Kh2 Ng3 28. Rd2 Nxh1 29. Rxg2!) 24. Qe3 Ke7 25. b4 b6 26. b5 Bb7 27. g3 Nd2! (Bad is 28. gxf5 gxf5+ 29. 30. Qg3 fxg3 wins; His only chance was: 28. Bg2 Qxe3+ 29. Rxe3 Bxg2 30. Kxg2 Nxc4 31. Rc3 d5 with still good chances for Black – a player of his class and two safe Pawns up) 28. Qc3? Nf3+ 29. Kf2 Qf8! (Decisive; now comes a last desperate flurry from White) 30. c5 Ne5+ 31. Kg1 Nf3+32. Kf2 bxc5 33. Qa5 Ne5+ 34. Kg1 Qf3 35. Qxc7+ Kf6 36. Qxd6 Qxh1+ 37. Kf2 Qxh2+ 0-1

Notes by the great chess writer, Fred Reinfeld.

Until next time.

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Saturday, May 02, 2015

Miles to go to find St George

One of my favourite players from the 1970s through to the 1990s was the English GM Tony Miles. He was the first English player to gain the GM title, a very difficult task in an era when there were not so many tournaments and Elo ratings were not as inflated as today. He had victories over World Champions Karpov, Spassky, Smyslov as well as Candidates like Larsen, Geller, Korchnoi and other giants of the game. At his best, he was in the top ten strongest players in the world. He did not prepare much off the board, not with the intensity of the average grandmaster, and this eventually counted against him in the era of computers and hordes of advisors employed by leading players. He never made it to a Candidates tournament and it is not clear that his low prep approach would have been sufficient in match play if he had made it.

Nonetheless, he was a superb player, positionally aggressive, tactically highly resourceful in the middle-game and an excellent player in the endgame. He liked to try off-beat but sound openings in order to get players out of their comfort zone (book theory). The annotations to his own games are very much worth reading for the average player because they show how to think about your position rather than what theory says should happen, and rarely does, in the real topsy-turvy battles on the board.

His most famous victory was against Karpov when he was World Champion and at his best. Miles as Black played the St George Defence (1.e4 a6!?). Apparently Karpov was not amused, perhaps insulted, that such a dreadful move would be played against a player of his stature. Miles obtained a reasonable position as Black and in fact when on to defeat Karpov when overreached (maybe wanting to teach Miles a lesson?) and blundered. Miles won a straightforward ending even you and I, dear reader, could have won.

Here is the game. Maybe the St George should be played more often.

Kapov V Miles Skara 1980 Euro Team Ch St George Defence. Annotations by Miles.

1. e4 (Karpov is always at home in well-known theoretical lines so it is best to avoid them. A couple of years ago I had a ridiculous!? idea of an all-purpose defence to anything but as yet had not found a suitable opponent to test it on. Now, I decided, was as good a time as any) 1 .... a6!? 2. d4 b5 (By this time the spectators' laughing was becoming embarrassing) 3. Nf3 Bb7 (It's only 1 ... b6 with a bit more space really!?) 4. Bd3 Nf6 5. Qe2 e6 6. a4 c5!? 7. dc (If 7 e5 c4 is unclear) 7 ... Bxc5 8. Nbd2 b4 9. e5 Nd5 10. Ne4 Be7 11. 0-0 (I expected Bg5) 11 ... Nc6 12. Bd2 (Now if Bg5 f6 and a quick 0-0-0) 12 ... Qc7 13. c4 bc 14. Nxc3 Nxc3 15. Bxc3 Nb4 16. Bxb4 Bxb417. Rac1 Qb6 18. Be4 0-0 (Black has a perfectly reasonable position. Now White tries to force matters prematurely) 19. Ng5 h620. Bh7+!? Kh8 21. Bb1 Be7 22. Ne4 Rac8 23. Qd3? (Presumably an oversight. The battery looks threatening but never gets time to operate) 23 ... Rxc1 24. Rxc1 Qxb2 25. Re1 (25. Rc7 was the alternative but even then Black has a wide choice of strong continuations) 25 ... Qxe5 26. Qxd7 Bb4 27. Re3 Qd5 (Forcing a winning ending. The rest is technique) 28. Qxd5 Bxd5 29. Nc3 Rc8 30. Ne2 g5 31. h4 Kg7 32. hg hg 33. Bd3 a5 34. Rg3 Kf6 35. Rg4 Bd6 36. Kf1 Be5 37. Ke1 Rh8 38. f4 gf 39. Nxf4 Bc6 40. Ne2 Rh1 + 41. Kd2 Rh2 42. g3 Bf3 43. Rg8 Rg2 44. Ke1 Bxe2 45. Bxe2 Rxg3 46. Ra8 (I now sealed ... Bc7 but Karpov resigned without resuming)
Source: 'Play the St George' by Michael Basman, Pergamon Press, 1982.

He also liked to play the English Defence against 1.d4 (1.d4 e6 2.c4 b6!?), not just as a patriotic gesture but because he believed it was quite reasonable and could catch out the average GM or IM who prepare for the more common defences. Be aware that if you want to play the English Defence after 1.d4 you need to be prepared to also play the French, should your opponent reply 2.e4 to your 1...e6.

Here is a little gem of Miles with 2...b6.

Ogaard V Miles, Reykjavik, 1978 English Defence

1. d4 e6 2. c4 b6 3. d5 Qh4 4. e3 Nf6 5. a3 Bb7 
6. Nf3 Qh5 7. de6fe6 8. Be2 Qg6 9. Nh4 Qh6 10. Bf3 
Nc6 11. g3 g5 12. e4 Ne513. Bg2 Qg7 14. f4 gh4 
15. fe5 Ng4 16. Bf4 O-O-O 17. Nc3 Bc518. Qd2 Ne5 
19. b4 h3 o-1

What can we average players learn from the games of Miles? How to form and execute a strategic plan; simply marvel at his tactical endings; that there is life after computers just as there was before computers (BC); innovation and surprise can unsettle any player; and many opening the ‘authorities’ deem questionable are no such thing in the real world of weekend tournament chess with quick time controls; lastly, his resourcefulness in difficult positions.

Geoff Lawton has edited a superb book on the life and games of Tony Miles, titled ‘Tony Miles: It’s only me’ published by Batsford in London, 2003. If you can find a copy, get it.

Miles suffered from diabetes and was taken away from us in 2001 at a relatively young age (1955-2001). He was a player eschewing much preparation and computer analysis, preferring to mix it on the board, and producing some marvellous games that are his legacy for all time.

Inspired by Miles I tried his English Defence as Black in a server game. Alas I am no Tony Miles and I only obtained a draw. I had a safe position and all the winning chances. Not bad for Black.

The game was played in a Team Event, Argentina versus Australia in 2013 played on the ICCF Webserver.

German Fernadez (1971) Versus George Eraclides (1971) Board 18

English Defence

1. d4 e6 (Miles played this only when he was confident his opponent would not go into a French Defence, which he did no like) 2. c4 b6!? (The !? marks are a tribute to Tony Miles; they describe both his style and the status of the English Defence) 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 Bb7 5. g3 Be7 6. Bg2 Ne4 (Both players have played sensible, solid, moves. Correct now is either Qc2 or even Nxe4) 7. O-O (Apparently he does not mind the doubled Pawns but in fact they are a great weakness in almost all cases. In the rest of the game I simply followed Nimzovich’s advice on how to deal with such a ‘Pawn Complex’, reminiscent of the Samisch Variation in the Nimzo-Indian) Nxc3 8. bxc3 O-O 9. Qd3 (Intending a quick, central development and advance but it does not work out that way) Nc6 10. d5 Na5 11. Bf4 Ba6 (I could feel the presence of the shade of Nimzovich as I made this move or perhaps it was just a trick of the light) 12. Nd2 Rc8 13. e4 Bg5 (A clever plan to neutralise the White centre, leaving behind the doubled Pawn weakness) 14. Bxg5 (Necessary. Already the problem of defending the doubled Pawn  restricts White’s strategic options) Qxg5 15. f4 Qe7 16. Rf2 (He wants to be able to play a Bf1 to defend the weak Pawn complex and still be able to get Rooks into the centre to generate some play) exd5 (We are taught to capture towards the centre but here the Ba6 pin makes it impossible) 17. exd5 Rfe8 18. Bf1 Qe3 19. Rc1 d6 (Black now cannot lose and he may even win. 19...Qxd3 first is not better: 20. Bxd3 Re3 21. Bf1 Rae8 22. c5 seems unclear) 20. Qxe3 Rxe3 21. Re2 Rxe2 22. Bxe2 Re8 23. Kf2 f5 (Taking e4 away from the White Knight) 24. Bd3 g6 25. Re1 Rxe1 26. Kxe1 (draw offered by White and accepted) 1/2-1/2

I accepted a draw because I thought the pieces were locked into entrenched positions in a demilitarised zone where any move by one frees the other to move or capture material. Therefore no piece moves, and the Kings and Pawns also counter each other, with no chance to penetrate. Perhaps Black could have done better earlier; maybe he should have played on.

Still, a half point from a position of strength with Black, having played a supposedly dubious defence, is achievement indeed.

Thanks Tony Miles (RIP).

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Saturday, November 08, 2014

Losing R-E-S-P-E-C-T

As in the famous song by Aretha Franklin, you have to have respect.

In a recent article in Chess, John Saunders reviews the impact of computers on chess and how they have changed our perceptions of chess-players at the highest levels (Saunders on Chess, Chess, October 2014, p 58). I agree with most of what he has to say, and being of a similar age (BC – Before Computers), I too lament the more free-flowing and in hindsight, naive 1960s, the last decade of computer-free chess.

He points out the way in which computers have made everyone an instant expert on chess, able to critique the moves of the greatest players as they are made, simply by having an analysis engine running in parallel with the human players. This has led to a lack of respect for the top players because by pointing out sub-par moves, the computer shows their limitations. Once they walked as Gods among us but now they are shown to be merely human (‘Human, all too human’ by Friedrich Nietzsche).

I take a rather different point of view. I too have lost a certain degree of respect for modern chess players but not because of the mistakes they make according to analysis engines. Rather, my decrease in respect is because they use them to prepare to such an extent that you know (because they often tell you) that the win of a game was brought about by excellent memorisation of lines prepared by the computer. I compare these games with the intellectual effort across the board by chess geniuses of the past. Yes, there was extensive preparation in the past, certainly since Alekhine. But it was the players own thinking which was involved. The discovery process was human not silicon circuitry calculation. And the use of general principles (not universal, hence there were always some exceptions) and practicality, are human traits which all of us use to navigate through a chess-game and also life itself. In other words, the effort is no longer even significantly human. At least that is how it looks.

The skill-set of the modern player is different – how to drive the technology and it’s not as easy as it looks. But it doesn’t feel to me as though the quality of thinking is at the same level as the greatest players of the past. The computer gives so much help that some of the deep thinking is sub-contracted out to that machine. This is doubtless a generational issue. An old fashioned bias (guilty as charged, m’lord). But let us put it to the test. Let the top players play against each other with no silicon preparation, as I have suggested in a previous post. Randomly selected credible openings with no adjournments. I bet there will be some significant surprises. Recall the time when Chigorin swept all before him in Gambit tournaments?

Here is one of Chigorin’s greatest games – fittingly an Evan’s Gambit played against Steinitz from a World Championship Match in 1892.

Mikhail Chigorin Versus Wilhelm Steinitz (Game 1, World Championship, Second match, 1892)

Evan’s Gambit

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. b4 Bb4 5. c3 Ba5 6. O-O d6 7. d4 Bg4 8. Bb5 ed4 9. cd4 Bd7 10. Bb2 Nce7 11. Bd7 Qd7 12. Na3 Nh6 13. Nc4 Bb6 14. a4 c6 15. e5 d5 16. Nd6 Kf8 17. Ba3 Kg8 18. Rb1 Nhf5 19. Nf7 Kf7 20. e6 Ke6 21. Ne5 Qc8 22. Re1 Kf6 23. Qh5 g6 24. Be7 Ke7 25. Ng6 Kf6 26. Nh8 Bd4 27. Rb3 Qd7 28. Rf3 Rh8 29. g4 Rg8 30. Qh6 Rg6 31. Rf5 1-0

The following effort is not at such an elevated or wild level as the game of Chigorin. It is, however, reasonably instructive. On Board 29, I have White against Ioan Secrieru of Romania in a match Australia/NZ versus Romania.

The game is simple to understand. I play a passive but safe opening (sorry Mr Chigorin – I wimped out), which gradually leads to a superior position because of elementary mistakes amateurs tend to make. I obtain the better centre, control of a key open file and pressure on my opponent’s weak pawns. I work on those advantages in a slow, methodical way, not allowing any counter-play, until checkmate.

G. Eraclides (1987) Versus Ioan Secrieru (1867)


1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.e3 d5 4.Bd3 c5 5.c3 g6 (this is not quite right and allows White’s Knight to assume an early active position) 6.Ne5 c4 (definitely bad; many amateurs play this way but it drives the Bishop where he is comfortable and eases any pressure on White’s centre; White no longer has to worry about a Pawn exchange on d4) 7.Bc2 Bg7 8.Nd2 Qc7 9.O-O O-O 10.Qe2 Nbd7 11.Nxd7 (N2f3 was also good but White wants to play the ‘classic’ central advance in the Colle. It gives Black the chance to free his position slightly but without any real prospects. Black hopes to create some options for his ‘bad’ Queen Bishop, although the Bg7 is not that good either, ‘biting on granite’) Bxd7 12.e4 dxe4 13.Nxe4 Nxe4 14.Bxe4 Rfd8 15.Qf3 Bc6 16.Bxc6 Qxc6 17.Qe2 (exchanging Queens gives Black chances against b2 and makes c4 look good as it restrains White’s Queenside; it is also better to hold on to the Queen as she will create threats) b5 18.Bf4 (centralisation, restraining e5 and controlling b8; Nimzovich would be proud of this amateur’s play) a5 19.Rfe1 b4 20.h3! (a hideaway for the Bishop f4; the coming Pawn exchange strengthens White because Black cannot easily get a Rook into b8 to contest the file, which will become White’s in time) bxc3 21.bxc3 a4 (Black hopes to fix the Pawn on a2 but nothing comes of it; in fact, it weakens b4 which turns out to be very important; note also the defensive role of Black’s Queen. As a piece, the Queen is better in attack and her potential is wasted having to defend a mere Pawn) 22.Rab1 Qd5 23.Rb4 (see what I mean?) Rdc8 24.Reb1 Bf8 25.Rb5 Qd7 26.Be5 Bg7 27.Rb7 Qd8 28.Bxg7 Kxg7 29.Qe5+ Qf6 (hoping the Queen swap will relieve the defence; if Kg8 then R1b4 and White just waits ‘zugzwang’ style for Black to implode) 30.Qxf6+ Kxf6 31.R1b5 (again restricting e5) h5 (what else?) 32.Kf1 g5 33.h4! (seizing the opportunity to create, attack and win the weakened Pawns) gxh4 34.Rxh5 Rg8 35.Rxh4 Rg5? (Rf8 held out a little longer) 36.Rf4+ Rf5 37.Rxf5+ exf5 (or he loses another Pawn on f7 but his position is dreadful) 38.Rb4 f4 39.Rxc4 Kf5 40.f3 f6 (the position is quite unusual and not unattractive although Black is lost) 41.d5 Ke5 42.Rd4 (White’s technique is logically straightforward – Passed Pawns should be advanced if practicable) Rb8 43.d6 Ke6 44.d7 Rd8 45.Ke2 (it’s all over ‘bar the shouting’) Rxd7 46.Rxd7 Kxd7 47.Kd3 (Black could resign here but plays on hoping for an asteroid to strike the Earth and cause the game to be cancelled) f5 48.Kd4 Kd6 49.c4 a3 50.c5+ Kc6 51.Kc4 Kc7 52.Kd5 Kd7 53.c6+ Kc7 54.Kc5 Kc8 55.Kd6 Kd8 56.c7+ Kc8 57.Ke5 Kxc7 58.Kxf5 Kc6 59.Kxf4 Kc5 60.Ke3 Kc4 61.Kd2 Kd4 62.g4 Ke5 63.Kc3 Kf4 64.Kb3 Kxf3 65.g5 Kg4 66.g6 Kf5 67.g7 Kg6 68.g8=Q+ Kh6 69.Kc3 Kh5 70.Kd3 Kh6 71.Ke4 Kh5 72.Kf5 Kh4 73.Qg4# 1-0

If only all our games followed this kind of template: get the superior position (with help from weak moves by your opponent) and then use good technique to grind out the win. No mind-numbing tactics, just the patient application of technique or as Belgian crime-writer Maigret said – the order and the method.

Until next time may all your games be brilliant wins (unless you play me).


Friday, March 07, 2014

An outpost, an outpost, my kingdom for an outpost!

Hi Pilgrims,
Well may your whole kingdom depend on an outpost. Apologies for the tardiness of this new posting.

First, some grumpiness given expression. Recent faster time-controls in professional chess is an affliction which has been increasing over the last decade and may now be approaching levels at which we need to call in experts in epidemiology to put this scourge down. Faster time controls equals poorer strategic decisions which equals shallow play which leads to tactical errors and therefore poorer chess. Fans may like it – afficionados do not. Botvinnik was right to stay away from this form of chess.

It does not help that games now have to be completed at one sitting to avoid cheating with computers, so endgame play suffers as well.

Now that I have got this off my chest I feel better already.

The following game is between two amateurs and illustrates the importance of sound development and gaining an outpost for you pieces. Eventually one opponent succumbs to such pressure, makes a blunder, and loses the game. This happens to the professional players as well although their ‘errors’ tend to be more nuanced and the exploitation of error is undertaken far more skilfully than any amateur can do it. Well, I should think so!

This game is for beginners or amateurs and illustrates some basic themes.

Jose Miquel of Spain (1255) Versus George Eraclides of Australia (1584)
Played on Lechenicher SchachServer

February 2013

Queen’s Pawn Irregular

1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. Bg5 Bg7 4. c3 (he is trying to blunt the future action of the g7 Bishop, but in the process he concedes too much space in the centre, while Black gets on with development) O-O 5. Qc1 (far too premature; development with g3 or Nbd2 was better) d5 (the Gruenfeld set-up is more effective here because it captures more space) 6. Bh6 Nbd7 7. Bxg7 Kxg7 (the King guards the black squares quite adequately for the remainder of the game; White is simply not sufficiently developed to do anything substantial but he still continues with his flawed, time-wasting, plan of an early attack) 8. h4 h5 (note that in these types of positions, with the Black King on g7, a player can always swing a Rook across to h8 if needed for the defence) 9. Nbd2 (finally some development; White’s style seems to be to attack, and only if unable to make any progress, think about development; it is as though Steinitz never existed to enunciate his principles of chess; perhaps because both players are amateurs, White thought principles could be set aside; alas, you cannot ignore sound principles without incurring a cost) c5! (central play before White can fully develop) 10. e3 Qc7 11. g3 (11.b5 c4 cramps White and the position is then even - Black's Queen Bishop and White's Queen's Knight are both 'developmentally challenged') e5 12. dxe5 Nxe5 13. Nxe5 Qxe5 14. Nf3 Qe7 (the seeming win of a tempo – after having given so many away – which forces the Queen to retreat, only serves to drive her to where Black intended the Queen to be) 15. Bg2 Bf5 (15...Bg4 was also good but on f5 the Bishop is eyeing e4 and d3 for future action) 16. O-O Rad8 17. Ng5 Ne4! (Black now sees a possibility for an outpost)18. Nxe4 dxe4! 19. Qc2 Rd3 (and now we have an unassailable outpost; positionally, White is lost because Black controls the d-file absolutely) 20. Kh2 Rfd8 21. Rad1 R8d6 22. Rfe1 Qd7 23. Rxd3 Rxd3 24. Bf1 Rd2 25. Qb3 Rxf2+ 26. Bg2 Qd2 (note how safe the Black King has been throughout the game) 27. Rg1 Bg4 (28. Qxb7 Bf3 and it is over) 0-1
The lessons from this game between amateurs are firstly, not to neglect development, especially because of an ephemeral, premature attack. The opponent must have made some error, there must be a disturbance of the equilibrium in your favour (Pachman’s excellent terminology), to justify a commitment to the attack. Also, an outpost in enemy territory, especially one which is hard to dislodge, is highly advantageous. If you do not blunder, then with patient manoeuvring you should win the game.
That’s all folks and may all your outposts in future be incontestable.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Chess on the edge

Hi Pilgrims,

For average players it is very important to be able to recognise, and know what to do with, certain recurrent patterns or structures. Experienced and strong players do this almost instinctively, while the rest of us waste mental energy trying to work things out.

We are often told by chess teachers, that a Knight on the edge of the board is a bad thing. The Knight is a piece whose strength is the ability to jump other pieces and obliquely attack or control important squares. Its natural habitat is somewhere around the centre of the board. At the edge, much of its energy is dissipated into nothingness.

Yet the injunction to never place Knight at the edge of the board is really only a generalisation rather than a universal law. There are important exceptions and being able to recognise, and take advantage of them, is critical for all players. We are all familiar with situations where it is perfectly sound to move a Knight to the edge of the board as part of some tactical threat or to exchange, say, an enemy Bishop on g6.

But there is also sometimes, a very important positional advantage to placing a Knight on the edge of the board, which super-grandmasters know, or should know, since a famous game between Rubinstein (W) and Takacs (B) at Budapest, 1926.

That game revealed that a Knight at the edge of the board can inflict crippling pressure on certain kinds of pawn formations: the formation of pawns on a7 (or a6), b7, c6 with a Knight on a5.

A modern, and perhaps more instructive, instance of this theme occurred recently in a game between Morozevich (W) and Mamedyarov (B) at the Grand Prix even in Beijing, July 2013.

Mamedyarov, perhaps out of necessity, poor planning, or even ignorance (it happens to even super GMs), gave himself the formation of pawns on a7, b7, c6. Morozevich, recognising it instantly, pounced by placing his Knight on a5. The point is, as you will see from this highly instructive game, that playing b6 to drive away the Knight, is not possible due to the loss of the pawn on c6. Hence the need to defend this pawn formation constantly, which completely distorts Black’s whole position. Structural weaknesses that have to be constantly defended, while your opponent dances around doing what he can to bury you, are absolutely horrible to play. Unless your opponent makes a mistake, you are doomed to endless passive defence or Kamikaze-style counter-play.

When you play over the game, notice how Morozevich, after he has planted his Knight on a5, expertly ties up the position, gaining more and more small advantages as an increasingly desperate Mamedyarov fights a losing battle to survive.

Is this what they mean when they say the win ‘is only a matter of technique’?

Probably, but it helps if you are a superb player like Rubinstein or Morozevich.

Play this game over carefully; learn, enjoy, and remember.

Morozevich  V  Mameryadov, Biejing 2013

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 O-O 5. d4 c6 6. O-O d5 7. Qb3 dxc4 8. Qxc4 Qd5 9. Nbd2 Qxc4 10. Nxc4 Be6 11. b3 Bd5 12. Ba3 Re8 13. Rac1 Nbd7 14. Na5 Rab8 15. Rfd1 Bf8 16. Ne5 Bxg2 17. Kxg2 e6 18. Bxf8 Kxf8 19. Nec4 Ke7 20. b4 Rec8 21. a3 g5 22. Nb2 Ne8 23. Nd3 f5 24. h4 g4 25. Nf4 Nef6 26. Rc2 Nd5 27. Nd3 Rf8 28. e3 Rfe8 29. Re1 N5f6 30. Rb1 Rec8 31. Rbc1 Rd8 32. a4 Ne4 33. b5 cxb5 34. Rc7 Nd6 35. Nc5 bxa4 36. Ncxb7 Nxb7 37. Nxb7 Rf8 38. R1c6 Rf7 39. Nc5 Ke8 40. Rxe6 Kd8 41. Rec6 1-0

For the sake of historical completeness, here is the original gem by Rubinstein where the Na5 is used to telling effect after Queens are exchanged.

Rubinstein  V Takacs, Budapest 1926

1. c4 Nf6 2. d4 e6 3. Nc3 d5 4. Bg5 Nbd7 5. e3 Be7 6. Nf3 O-O 7. Rc1 c6 8. Qc2 a6 9. cxd5 exd5 10. Bd3 Re8 11. O-O Nf8 12. Rfe1 Bg4 13. Nd2 N6d7 14. Bf4 Bg5 15. h3 Bh5 16. Bh2 Bg6 17. Bxg6 hxg6 18. Qb3 Qb6 19. Na4 Qxb3 20. Nxb3 Ne6 21. Na5 Ra7 22. Kf1 Bd8 23. b4 f5 24. Nb2 g5 25. Nd3 Kf7 26. Rc2 Bb6 27. Bd6 Nd8 28. Nc5 Nxc5 29. Bxc5 Bxc5 30. bxc5 Ke7 31. Rb2 Kd7 32. Reb1 Kc8 33. Ke2 Re7 34. Kf3 Re4 35. g4 g6 36. Rg1 Nf7 37. h4 gxh4 38. gxf5 gxf5 39. Rg7 Nd8 40. Rg8 f4 41. Rh8 fxe3 42. fxe3 Kd7 43. Rg2 Re8 44. Rxh4 Re7 45. Rh8 Kc7 46. Rgg8 Rd7 47. Nb3 a5 48. Nc1 Ra8 49. Nd3 b5 50. cxb6 Kxb6 51. Nc5 Rd6 52. a4 Rc8 53. Kg4 1-0


I have been asked by readers, why I do not embed chess game app as part of the posting (it’s easy), to make it easier for readers to play over games in two dimensions. It is a belief (or prejudice) on my part, that because chess is most often played competitively in a real world of three dimensions (with time as the fourth), it is best that we break out the traditional chess set and play over games in this real world. I think it is better for the mind. Portisch and Petrosian preferred to do that.

Until next time, Pilgrims.

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Friday, July 05, 2013

Simple Beauty in Chess

Apologies for the very late new posting. I have had to contend with illnesses, a new job, and numerous writing projects, some of which were fortunately part of my income stream. In compensation some classic games and a poem are thrown in for free.

One of the best chess magazines in print, for average players, is CHESS ( ). The analysis does not involve too many spewings from a chess engine but rather actual human-mediated thought processes. In other words, you get words telling you what is going on in the position, strategically and tactically, which is better for understanding and thus improving. I imagine that the names and images of the chess writers are of actual people rather than clever computer interfaces. You also get snapshots of the latest chess news from many different levels of the chess universe.

I mention this magazine because in a recent issue (May 2013, p36) there was an interesting article by a thoughtful young player, Peter Lalic: ‘Bringing back the good times’. In this article there is discussion about poetry in chess – not the kind with stanzas and lines with metre (see below an effort by yours truly) but rather a game that has such a distinctive form  that it is like the structured beauty of a poem. It is exemplified in a game of Capablanca’s against Treybal, played at the great Karlsbad tournament in 1929. Capablanca is White.

I will let the game speak for itself.

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 e6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.Bxe7 Qxe7 6.Nbd2 f5 7.e3 Nd7 8.Bd3 Nh6 9.O-O O-O 10.Qc2 g6 11.Rab1 Nf6 12.Ne5 Nf7 13.f4 Bd7 14.Ndf3 Rfd8 15.b4 Be8 16.Rfc1 a6 17.Qf2 Nxe5 18.Nxe5 Nd7 19.Nf3 Rdc8 20.c5 Nf6 21.a4 Ng4 22.Qe1 Nh6 23.h3 Nf7 24.g4 Bd7 25.Rc2 Kh8 26.Rg2 Rg8 27.g5 Qd8 28.h4 Kg7 29.h5 Rh8 30.Rh2 Qc7 31.Qc3 Qd8 32.Kf2 Qc7 33.Rbh1 Rag8 34.Qa1 Rb8 35.Qa3 Rbg8 36.b5 axb5 37.h6+ Kf838.axb5 Ke7 39.b6 Qb8 40.Ra1 Rc8 41.Qb4 Rhd8 42.Ra7 Kf8 43.Rh1 Be8 44.Rha1 Kg8 45.R1a4 Kf8 46.Qa3 Kg8 47.Kg3 Bd7 48.Kh4 Kh8 49.Qa1 Kg8 50.Kg3 Kf8 51.Kg2 Be8 52.Nd2 Bd7 53.Nb3 Re8 54.Na5 Nd8 55.Ba6 bxa6 56.Rxd7 Re7 57.Rxd8+ Rxd8 58.Nxc6 1-0

It is worth recalling how good these great players of the past actually were, playing in the era before chess became a professional pursuit and with computers doing the substantial part of the thinking for a chess player.

Karel Treybal (1885-1941), was no slouch. He was a Master level player with an ELO of 2490, Champion of Czechoslovakia in 1921, winner of the Silver Medal in the 1933 Olympiad, and he came 6th at Karslbad in 1929. He had an older brother, Frantisek Treybal (1882-1947) who was also a strong player and Champion of Czechoslovakia in 1907. Not bad at all. Here is a game of Frantisek his against the brilliant but flawed attacking player, David Janowski.

Janowski, Dawid Markelowicz - Treybal, Frantisek
Prague 1908

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 c5 3.e3 e6 4.Bd3 Nc6 5.O-O Nf6 6.b3 Bd6 7.Bb2 O-O 8.Nbd2 b6 9.Ne5 Bb7 10.f4 Nb4 11.Be2 Ne4 12.a3 Nc6 13.Nxe4 dxe4 14.Qe1 Qc7 15.c4 f5 16.Rd1 Rad8 17.Nxc6 Qxc6 18.dxc5 bxc5 19.Qc3 Rf7 20.g4 Rdf8 21.gxf5 exf5 22.Bh5 Rd7 23.Rf2 Rfd8 24.Rg2 Bf8 25.Rd5 Qe6 26.Re5 Qf6 27.Rg5 h6 28.Rg3 Rd3 29.Qc1 Qh4 30.Rxf5 Qxh5 31.Rxh5 Rd1+ 32.Kg2 R8d2+ 33.Kh3 Bc8+ 34.f5 Rxc1 35.Bxc1 Rc2 36.Rg1 Kf7 37.a4 Bd6 38.Ba3 g6 39.Bxc5 0-1 (source: accessed July 3, 2013).

It appears that during World War II, Karel Treybal was involved in resistance activity on behalf of his country and paid the ultimate penalty. I quote the following (from accessed July 3, 2013): ‘Treybal  had been arrested on 30 May 1941 in his office at Velvary and was escorted to the Pankrac prison in Prague. He was charged with concealment of weapons for use by Germany’s enemies and for having personal possession of a pistol without authorization. He was condemned to death on 2 October 1941 and executed the same day.’

A sad finish for a brave man, in one of the bleakest periods of human history. Incidentally, Capablanca and Lasker also passed away from natural causes during that momentous year 1941.

Here is the poem mentioned above. A mere exercise in structure for a poetry class but not without some value:

‘The Grandmaster’s Simultaneous Exhibition’
He stops at my board

This small grey man with

Darting, hungry eyes

And watches me move.

He leans on one hand,

Ponders his reply,

Then his other hand - 

A fell bird of prey -

Swoops down to capture

The piece I dared move.

When he comes around

To my board again

I ask him to pass;

Let other players

Fall before I do

I think in my pride.

But his souless eyes

Look up from the board,

Their gaze fixed somewhere

Deep inside my head.

With finality

He utters these words:

‘There is no point

To further thought,

Your game is lost’

And shows me the win

Before moving on.

I leave the table

Humbled and disgraced,

My eyes averted,

First to lose a game.


How often has this happened to ordinary players in simuls?


See you next time pilgrims.