Sunday, December 31, 2006

Chess Tips 1 ~ Survive the Opening and Succeed in the Middle Game

Hi Pilgrims,

How do I prepare for a tournament?

I decide first how I will open with White. Whether it will be e4, d4, c4 etc... Then I decide how I will play as Black. I have a main defence against e4, d4 and c4. I rely on my own judgment as to what to do against the irregular openings.

After these key decisions, I look at the main variations I would select for White if an opponent played any of the standard responses. For instance if I choose d4 I look at replies such as a King’s Indian, Nimzo, Benoni, Queen’s Pawn etc... For e4 I have to prepare against a Sicilian, French, e5, etc...

For Black it is simpler in some ways. I choose one defence against e4, d4 and c4 and prepare my lines against the main variations White may try. For instance against e4 I may play the French, and then if White chooses Nd2 lines I prepare say Nf6 or if the choice is Nc3 I may play the Winawer. Against d4 I may play the King’s Indian, and I may play a similar formation against c4 or anything else White throws up.

By preparing, I mean I go over the main lines, make some notes, try them out against clubmates or a computer. I try to understand the meaning of the lines, the strategy, rather than simply memorise lines. Memory without understanding is useless and will just get you into trouble against an opponent who understands the point of the opening and knows what to do. So I learn enough of the lines to understand what I am doing when I play them. For instance the c5 and f6 thrusts in the French, restriction and blockade ideas in the Nimzo etc...

Having done that, I feel confident that I can orient myself in situations where I may not know the exact sequence of moves. I simply do not have the time or memory capacity of a Master level player to learn all the theory. I also work on my psychology, telling myself that I am well prepared, to take my time and not worry too much about the clock, to breathe deeply so as to relax during the game (especially the opening or when surprises occur), and to talk to myself (internally) so as to help my thinking. I know that if I get through the opening phase I can do well against any opponent of my strength.

If you want to play a reasonable game of chess then you must follow the first maxim of chess: ‘Do Not Blunder’. Eliminating obvious errors is the first step to playing well. Then come what I call the bunny rules (or Purdy rules) and the rest is refinement by experience, a grounding in basic theory, and a knowledge of the main positional ideas from the great theorists.

I promised in an earlier posting to explain what I mean by the ‘bunny rules’, and I shall do so now.

They were first enunciated by C. J. S Purdy, a wonderful chess teacher and the first International Correspondence Chess World Champion. If you ever get a chance to get hold of his books, do so and study them. They will do more for you than any ‘Win with’ series of books. I was first introduced to the ‘Purdy Rules’ by IM Terrey Shaw (see previous post ‘Slam Dunked by the Masters Part 3’) and I promptly renamed them the bunny rules because I think that ordinary players, and even quite strong players, need to ‘think like a bunny’ before they let their thoughts wander onto the higher plains of chess strategy.

You begin first with the simple. When you have mastered that, then you go onto the next level. And so on. Simple isn’t it? Just like primary school. But too many of us leap ahead, often beyond our ability or at least our knowledge. That’s dumb. Consider the fluffy tailed denizen and how he deals with life.

The bunny first moves to the end of his burrow and sniffs the air.

He waits then moves out a little more, always sniffing the air and looking around; eventually he leaves his burrow and starts to explore and find food. But, he always checks around him, sniffs the air, looks for any movement around the place. Sometimes he gets caught out (just like a chess player) but checking around him all the time is his best chance against the fox. If he spots something, he has a chance to save himself. Otherwise, it’s checkmate and rabbit stew for the fox.

The ‘bunny rules’ say you should play chess like a bunny in the initial phase of your thinking process. When it is your turn to move ALWAYS check for all possible captures, checks, pins, forks, nets (tactics which surround - net - a piece or stalemate it for capture) or outright mates. ALL POSSIBLE. Sorry to shout but the point is important. However ridiculous it may seem, CHECK.

When it is your turn to move, run the bunny rules from your opponent’s point of view. That pin or capture you assume is stupid may in fact mean you lose a piece or get mated further along in the game. Then check all YOUR possible captures, checks, pins, forks, nets, mates. You may have a crusher in hand and miss it otherwise. Maybe there’s a crusher you can angle for later. Do this before every move you play. Eventually it will become a habit. You will discover crushes for yourself, and avoid blunders. There is no point in adopting a refined strategy for yourself and overlooking the loss of a piece or a mate in two.

Once you have applied the bunny rules, and there’s no brilliant zinger for yourself or a hidden killer shot for your opponent, then you can look at strategy and tactics in a broader framework. You go from the simple to the more complex, just like in school.

Purdy’s Rules are based on the maxim that tactics trump strategy and positional play. As said above, that brilliant outpost, that gorgeous open file, that flank attack is worth zip, if your opponent can do you in one. And also think of all those brilliancies you may discover, by the application of the ‘bunny rules’.

I know in my own chess play, even in correspondence chess, I have overlooked the simple in search of the complex, and been outdone. Most chess players, whatever their level, would improve if they applied the bunny rules to their game. You can still be a refined genius if you like, but at least you will not blunder. Build the foundation first.

I wish I could apply the bunny rules all the time, but I let myself down too many times for my own good. Maybe if I had had it drummed into me as a child learning to play, it would have become instinctive for me. Remember that if you are coaching young players. For the rest of us, all we can do is TRY HARDER.

There is one important thing you should do when you prepare your openings for a tournament. Study carefully all those moves and variations which the opening's gurus, with their thimble of pathetic wisdom, say are bad. You know what I mean. The kind of dismissive comments about a move as obviously bad, maybe with a question mark symbol, or an offhand remark that a variation is inferior, without going into much or any detail. On the surface, it seems the phoney gurus are right, so you don’t pay any attention to the line they dismiss.


Ordinary players make weak moves. They have even been known to select lines which the cognoscenti KNOW are bad. But, if you have not prepared yourself; if you have not even looked at the variations, just to know the main idea or how to orient yourself; if you have been too trusting or naive about the opening’s ‘experts’, then you have to work it out across the board with the clock ticking. Then the feeling will come over you ‘I know the move he/she just played is bad, but how am I supposed to refute it? Damn, I could end up losing on time even if I get a good position.’

But if you had bothered to check on all those obviously bad moves, then you may have not only saved time, but by playing with the confidence that comes with true understanding, won the game easily.

I did not do any of that in the past. I was a dumbo and only learned the main lines in my openings of choice, assuming falsely that they would turn up most often. Not so at the level of the ordinary player. The game below is an example where I was lucky to win in a Vienna despite getting into time-trouble working out across the board a refutation I should have known from my preparation.

The Tournament the game was played in was magnificently organized in an excellent venue, the air-conditioned Waratah Room of the Whitehorse Council Centre in Nunawading (in Melbourne - the world's 'most livable city'). Even Bobby Fischer would have been proud to have played in such a venue.

The event was approved by the Victorian Chess Association, the games were all rated, it was deemed to be a Class 2 Grand Prix event; featured participants included International Grand Master Darryl Johannsen (2530), a number of Master level players between 2100 and 2400, many strong club players, and of course my good self.

The tourney was organized over two days, with four rounds on Saturday and three on Sunday. They were going to be very long days, as there was often at least one hour break between rounds to recover from the ordeal of playing. The event was a seven round Swiss ‘accelerated at the discretion of the arbiter’.

Overall we had about seventy players participating. As it in fact turned out, I was the oldest player against all my opponents.

My opponent was then one of Australia’s most promising young female juniors. Her rating, like that of all juniors, was on the move upwards. Mine, as with most middle aged players, was on the move to the basement.

G. Eraclides (1629) VERSUS Narelle Szuveges (1780)

Box Hill One Hour Championship October 20-21, 2001. Round 3

Vienna Gambit

1. e4 e5
2. Nc3 Nf6
3. f4! d5
4. fxe5 Nxe4
5. Nf3 Be7

This is supposed to be the soundest defence to the Nf3 Variation of the Vienna Gambit. It’s about time that this variation (Nf3) was given a proper name, and if no one else wants to do it, then I will. I hereby declare it to be ‘the King’s Knight’s Variation’.

6. Qe2 Bh4+?!

Black's move cannot be right. The theoreticians dismiss this variation with a few comments, but I had neglected to look at the line as I assumed nobody would play it, saving my preparation for the main lines (see my introductory remarks above). Black was supposed to play either Nxc3 or Ng5/c5. Both players are now at a point of no return. I suspect Narelle took a chance because she looked at my rating, my tournament score thus far, and decided I was an idiot.

7. Nxh4?!

Correct according to theory is:
7. g3 Bxg3 (Nxg3 just loses a piece for two pawns)
8. hxg3 Nxg3
9. Qg2 Nxh1
10. Qxh1 and White with his two extra pieces will wreak havoc on Black in the middle game before her Rooks can unite.
Do you suppose I could remember this bit of theory? How could you remember ideas or moves you did not bother to study? Instead, I sat there and worked things out across the board, while the clock was running, and my opponent looked skyward with that, ‘I must be playing a moron’ look a lot of juniors seem to adopt against anyone over the age of 21.
I sat and thought, then discovered another line, which as it turned out, was good for White. The cost? Time.

7 ........Qxh4+
8. g3 Nxg3
9. Qf2!

Seems very clever to me.

9 .........Nf5
10. Qxh4 Nxh4
11. Nxd5 Kd8
12. d4!

Clever and dynamic. Open lines are needed, even at the cost of a pawn. One of my psych-tricks was to say to myself: 'Think like or play like -------'. In this case it was Morphy, letting pawns go for the sake of open lines. Much better than 'Think like Eraclides....'.

12 ...........Nf3+

Perhaps Ng6 was safer, although she will still be in difficulties after

13. Kf2 Nxd4
14. Bg5+!

Kapow! The previous comment comes from the comic-book school of annotating. The rest, as they say, should be a matter of technique, and in time-trouble I wish I had some.

14 ...........Kd7
15. Bh3+ Kc6

The powerful centre, superior development, the two Bishops with open lines, and the conjunction of Mars with Jupiter in the House of Aquarius, are some of White's advantages in this game.

16. Ne7+ Kc5

Anything else gives White even more tempi.

17. Bxc8

White can also play Nxc8, but I saw a very good forcing variation when the Bishop captures.

17 ..........Nbc6
18. Bxb7 Rab8
19. Bxc6 Nxc6
20. Nxc6 Kxc6
21. b3 Rae8
22. Rhe1

White has a won position a piece up. However, I was in dreadful time trouble, hence the difficulty in the next phase of the game in prosecuting the endgame.
Black, as an experienced junior, tried to make matters as difficult for me as possible so I would get flustered and blunder. But I was not going to let this one go.

22 ..........Re6
23. Rad1

Cutting off the Black King from the central squares.

23 ..........h6
24. Bf4 g5
25. Bc1!?

Best - why let her attack my fine Bishop on g3?

25 ..........Rhe8
26. Bb2 h5
27. Bc3

White is trying to exchange one pair of Rooks as this will make the win easier; the Bishop on c3 guards the Rook on e1 (in fact the square e1, a subtle difference great players of the endgame seem to understand instinctively). The e1 square is now protected twice; if Black plays f6/f5 after White moves the Rook on d1 to d3, then White can play PxP(ep).

27 ...........a6

Getting the pawn away from a square my Bishop can attack - obviously my opponent has had some basic tutoring on the endgame. However, even there it will become a target.

28. Rd3 g4
29. Red1

Now that the f-pawn cannot advance, White turns his attention to exchanging a pair of Rooks.

29 ...........h4
30. Rd8 R8e7
31. Rg8 Rg6
32. Rxg6 fxg6
33. Rd8 Rf2+
34. Kg1 Rf3
35. Bd4 Rf4
36. c3 Re4
37. Rg8 Kb5
38. a4+ Ka5
39. Rxg6 Re1+
40. Kf2 Rb1
41. b4+ Kxa4
42. Rxg4

It is much more important that the King-side Pawns be stopped or captured.

42 ...........Rb2+
43. Kg1 h3!

43 .........Rb1+
44. Kg2! Black is doing her best to cause White to consume his rapidly dwindling time, but with one pair of Rooks exchanged, it is easier for me to calculate.

44. Rg6 Kb3
45. e6 Re2
46. Kf1! Re4 (Necessary)
47. Rg3 Rxe6
48. Rxh3 Kc4
49. Rg3

It’s all over now. Once I worked out the idea of a shield cover for my King, the moves came easily. White’s Rook provides a shield for his King and its ‘Goodnight Irene’.

49 ...........Rh6
50. Kg2 Rh5
51. Rg4 Kd3
52. Kg3 a5
53. bxa5 Rxa5
54. h4 c5
55. Bf6 Ra1
56. Kf4! Rh1
57. Kg5! Rf1
58. h5 Rh1
59. h6 Ke3
60. Kg6 Kf3
61. Rg5 Resigns

Narelle held out her paw and resigned graciously. ‘I was just trying to get you to use up time’ was her comment. She went on to win the 2002 Australian Women’s Championship title, so she must have learned something from playing against me.

Once again, the Vienna Gambit had produced a good win for me. But I had to work hard at a stage of the game when I should have been thoroughly prepared, and got into time-trouble.

So remember, study the weak moves as well as the main variations.

Here endeth this lesson.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Who is Tom McKay?

Hi Pilgrims,

Tom is nobody and somebody. He is not a master or strong player, but one of the old familiars who are the mainstay of any chess club. They turn up to everything, play anybody, put their name forward for every club championship, have more than a few tricks up their sleeve with which to surprise opponents, and you would swear from the way they talk, that they were contemporaries of Botvinnik and remember kicking a young Fischer around the chess board, before he got some teeth.

Is Tom McKay a real person or a figment of your dear blogger’s fevered imagination? Well actually he is, or was, a real person, but I like to write about him as the ‘every chessplayer’ who is the backbone of chess clubs the world over. Without the Tom McKays of the world, you ain’t got a chess club, unless you come from Moscow and your name starts with a ‘K’ and maybe in that case, you don’t need a club at all.

Tom was a club mate of mine, a member of the Essendon Chess Club to which I belonged for a time during the 1980’s. For the benefit of my vast overseas readership, I will mention that Essendon is part of the area of Moonee Ponds, the home of ‘Edna Everage’ a woman of formidable mediocrity, and one of the key characters created by the brilliant satirical performer, Barry Humphries, who as far as I know doesn’t play chess.

Tom was always ready for a game. Skittles or a fair dinkum tournament, his eyes lit up at the prospect. He loved to play the Marshall Attack as Black and had gathered many scalps to prove the old adage, that if you know a sharp line really well, you will get enough points to offset those occasions when you play against someone who actually knows what they are doing.

I present as an accompaniment to your glass of wine or snifter of Brandy, two interesting games I played against Tom. The first was played for points. The second was played for blood.

Tom passed away in the late 1990’s, long after I had left the club, and I am sure he is in heaven troubling all complacent chess players with his sharp counterattacks. He may even be showing the shade of Frank Marshall a trick or two. Go Tom!

Tom McKay (1550) VERSUS George Eraclides (1487)
Essendon Chess Club Championship May-June 1995
Nimzo Indian (club style)

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 e6
3. Nc3 Bb4
4. Qc2 0-0
5. Nf3 d6

This is too passive. Better is c5.

6. e4 Nbd7?

Black wants to play e5, but Nbd7 is bad; better is c5.

7. Bd3?

As so often happens in the nervous opening phase of a game in a club
championship, mistakes become complementary. White misses a tactical opportunity to secure a winning position after 7.e5! If Black plays 7...Bxc3 then 8.bxc3! secures White an advantage in all cases. Even an exchange of Pawns by Black, before or after Bxc3, leaves him weak because he has no good square upon which to place the f6 Knight. White could even have played
7. Bg5 and after h6 8. Bh4 e5 9. dxe dxe (best because if Nxe5, 0-0-0) 10. 0-0-0 Qe7 is unclear. Note that 7. Bf4 Qe7 or b6 is solid for Black.
The threat after 7. Bd3 is 8. e5 winning the h7 Pawn.

7 .............e5!

Black is eating up the clock, but this is a needed ‘blockade’ move. The White centre, which threatens to become mobile, must be neutralised before routine development takes place. I know this, because I once read a book by Nimzovich.

8. 0-0

If 8. dxe5 Nxe5 9. Nxe5 dxe5 is equal; if 8. d5 then BxN and Nc5 are equal.

8 ...........Bxc3

The Bishop’s job is over and he sacrifices himself for the well posted White Knight.

9. Qxc3

If 9. bxc3 h6 with Qe7 and White is at risk of becoming passively placed with weaknesses in the ending. The ending would be difficult for White because of the doubled Pawns; if d5, a Knight can slip permanently into c5.

9 .............h6

Prophylaxis in order to avoid the unpleasent pin.
Interesting is 9...exd4 10. Nxd4 (also good is 10. Qxd4 Ne5 11. Nxe5 dxe5 and the Queen does best to retreat while Black plays h6 and Qe7; if 12. Qxe5 Re8) 10...Nc5 (10...Ne4 11. Bc2 is good for White) and now after 11. Bg5 Nfxe4?! is dramatic but insufficient after 12. Bxd8 Nxc3 when13. bxc3 Rxd8 wins a Pawn for Black, but 13. Bxc7! Nxd3 14. bxc3 Nb2 15. Bxd6 Nxc4 16. Bg3 favours White by the diameter of a cat’s whisker. In this line, another alternative besides 11. Bg5 is 11. Qc2 Nxd3 12. Qxd3 Qe7 13. Re1 (or f3) Re8 14. f3 or 14. Bg5 with a substantial plus.

10. b4!

To stop a Knight landing on c5.

10 ..........exd4
11. Nxd4

Possible is 11. Qxd4 Qe7 12. Bf4 Ng4 13. Rae1 and White is good;
11...Ne5 12. Nxe5 dxe5 13. Qxd8 (13. Qxe5 Re8) Rxd8 14. Bc2 is unclear.

11 ..........Ne5
12. Bc2 Qe7
13. Re1 Be6!?

Finally the dormant Bishop - a worry for Black - is developed with a threat. But Bd7 is probably sounder.

14. Nf5?!

I think that there are better moves to gain an advantage. For instance 14. Nxe6 (14. Bb3 is unclear) Qxe6 15. Bb2 is better because of the two Bishops and strong centre. Also 14. f4! Nc6 (not Nxc4 15. f5!) 15. Nxc6 bxc6 16. Bb2 and Black has a lot to worry about.

14 ............Bxf5

The Prelate developed only to be exchanged. White’s Pawn on f5 will be an impediment to him. White should have done a lot better with his opportunities after 5...d6 and 6...Nbd7.

15. exf5 Rae8

Finally secure centralization is achieved. Can White’s two Bishops deal with Black’s prancing ponies?

16. Bd2

Interesting is Bb2!?

16 ............Qd7
17. Rad1 Qc6!
18. Bb3 Ne4!

The Knights dance merrily in the centre causing havoc and stealing a Pawn.

19. Qd4 Nxd2

The two Bishops were dangerous to Black. It’s ironic that the Queen Bishop for both sides developed late and was soon vanquished.

20. Qxd2

If 20. Rxd2 Nf3+!

20 .............Nxc4
21. Qf4

If 21. Bxc4 Qxc4 and the heavy piece ending is fine for Black with 4:2 Pawns on the Queen side.

21 ..........Nb2!

With the threat of Ne3. Beware the prancing knights, with their odd movements which can leap tall pieces at a single bound. If 21...Ne5 22. Bd5 Qb6 23. f6?! Ng6 24. Qf3 or Qg3 is unclear and White has too much mobility for my liking. If 21...Nb6 22. f6?! is also troublesome.

22. Rxe8

If 22. Bd5 Qxd5!

22 ..........Rxe8

Black has the only open file plus a Pawn and should win.

23. Rb1

I think 23. Rf1 is slightly better; note that if Rc1 then Ne3!

23 ..........Qc3

White cannot be allowed to play Qd2 and improve his defensive chances.

24. h3

He needs a bolt hole, as any self-respecting Monarch has always needed throughout history. One’s subjects, let alone enemies, can be very intimidating.

24 .......Re1+?

Dumbo! 24...Ne3 first is winning; the Knight attacks the Queen and b4, and most importantly is out of the pocket.

25. Rxe1 Qxe1+
26. Kh2 Qe5?

Dumbo! Again too quick to get into the ending; Ne3 is still relativel best. You must know when to transpose into a good ending. This is poor play by Black in time-trouble.

27. Qxe5 dxe5
28. Kg3 Nd3
29. a3 Kf8
30. Kf3 Ke7?!

I think 30...Nf4 31. h4! (threatening g3 or g4) Nh5 was better for Black. Now the Knight stops prancing.

31. g3!

Shutting down all escape routes.

31 .........f6
32. Ke3 Nb2

If 32... Nc1 33. Bc4 c6 34 Kd2 b5 35. Bxb5 and I am not sure about the ending although perhaps Black still has winning chances. In the meantime I had seen another good move.

33. Kd2?

Tom repays the favour: 33. f3?! Kd6 34. Kd2 (34. b5 Kc5!) b5! 35. Kc3 Na5+ is still volatile with a very interesting K+P ending when/if White plays BxN bxa4! Now Black in time-trouble finds a saving resource.

33 ..........e4!

With a Draw offer which White accepted. The Black Knight has a square to run to, but analysis later showed that Black still had winning chances but for his time-trouble. For instance: 34. Ke3 Nd3 35. Kxe4 Nxf2+ or 34. Bd5 c6!
35. Bxe4 Nc4+ or 34. Kc2 Nd3 35. Bd5 c6 36. Bxe5 Nxf2 37. Bg2 Kd6 and the Black King comes to the rescue of his brave Knight.

Although the game was infected by the results of poor analytical skill by both players, the game itself was interesting and typical of a club championship where first one player has the advantage and then the other. It must be mentioned that 33...e4 was a surprise which rocked White.

The next game was played in a Rapid Tournament at the Essendon Chess Club on March 6, 1996.

The final position is enjoyable. We need mistakes now and then to give some ‘frisson’ to our lives.

If you get nothing out of this next game, at least you will have learned a new word, as in ‘I have just been frissoned.’

George Eraclides (1487) VERSUS Tom McKay (1550)

Vienna Irregular

1. e4 e5
2. Nc3 Bc5!?
3. d3 d6
4. f4

I am always keen to play this move, even if I am not involved in a proper Vienna Gambit. As this is a ‘rapid play’ event, expect loose play.

4 ......Ne7?!
5. Nf3 Nbc6
6. Na4

The Bishop on c5 is a nuisance, and I want to castle King-side.

6 .........Bb6!?
7. Nxb6 axb6
8. Be3 Bd7?!

Too passive for a fighting player like Tom. Better is 8...exf4 9. Bxf4 Ng6 or 8...Bg4 9.h3 Bxf3 10. Qxf3 exf4 with interesting play to come. I shudder to think of all that mayhem about to be unleashed on the board. White’s King Bishop is a worry, but in hte ned he does not have to do much.

9. a3

Blocking the a-file to Black.

9 ......0-0
10. f5!

The logic is as follows: Black has steadfastly refused to capture the f-Pawn in case he opens lines for a White attack. He wants to capture in his own good time and play Ng6 to build up a counter-attack. BUT, and it’s a big BUT, chess is a game of two minds and I don’t mean split-personalities. White reasons that since Black had to play 0-0 (leaving his King in the middle is too risky), f5 stops Ng6 and allows a later advance to f6 opening lines after castling. This has happened not a few times in my Vienna games. Black is in difficulties if he takes on f4 because he develops White’s game, or he is in trouble after an f5.

10 ........d5

The natural response to weaken the White Pawn chain.

11. Be2 d4?!

Lets the pressure down, but 11. dxe4 dxe4 is also good for White.

12. Bd2 Nc1

He is feeling the pinch.

13. 0-0 Nd6
14. Qe1

Where is this lady going with her flashing sword and murder in her eyes?

14 ........Kh8

He doesn’t like the look of that fearsome woman.

15. Qg3 f6

It is hard to suggest any good moves for Black. White’s attack plays itself.

16. Nh4!

I was having incomplete flashes of a combination streaming through my mind.

16 ...........Qe7?

And in time-trouble, which is the essence of blitz play, Tom makes room for the combination happen.

17. Ng6+! hxg6
18. Qh4+ Kg8
19. fxg6 Resigns

It is mate in two. Black has been punished for not taking the f-Pawn earlier.

I wish I could play like this in normal time-control chess, but on the other hand, an opponent’s mistakes would not be happening either.

Remember the f4/f5 push because it is useful in many similar situations. Once I played it I knew I would win the game.