25 November 2017

Activity

For the past three months, I have been too busy with other matters to create articles for Chess Skills. I have studied no chess. My chess activities have been limited to coaching and a few games of online blitz most days. Things should get back to normal in December.

I had White and the move from this position against a FIDE Master on Thanksgiving morning. It was my third victory against a titled player in one week. The position will be useful for my elementary students.

White to move

02 September 2017

Thompson -- Morphy, New York 1857

Paul Morphy's first opponent at the First American Chess Congress was James Thompson. He had been born in England and emigrated to the United States as a child. After completing his education, he established himself in business in New York City, where he came to be known as a formidable chess player. In 1853, Thompson won the first tournament among members of the New York Chess Club. He represented New York in several correspondence matches with other cities.*

Morphy beat Thompson 3-0. The games offer useful lessons concerning opening principles, as Morphy easily gained better mobility and coordination of his pieces. Two of the games featured endgames where Morphy demonstrated how to convert a small advantage. In the third game, which I present here, a tactical error in the middlegame cost White a pawn. In the endgame Morphy's bishop proved far stronger than Thompson's knight. Having an extra pawn made the game easier.

Morphy won this game in the middlegame, but had to demonstrate proper endgame technique to complete the victory.

Thompson,James -- Morphy,Paul [C54]
USA–01.Kongress New York (1.3), 08.10.1857

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d3

This move is superior to 5.d4. I tend to play the inferior move (see "Materialism").

5...d6 6.h3

I have my doubts about the merits of this move (see "Wasting Time" for Phillip Sergeant's criticism and Macon Shibut's rejoinder regarding the frequency that Morphy's opponents played this move).

6...Be6

6...a6 seems the top choice today. With Morphy's move, White has a problem: How should he resolve the tension between the bishops along the diagonal leading to f7?

White to move

7.Bb3

I might prefer 7.Bxe6 fxe6. Black's control of the central squares with his pawns more than compensates for any apparent weakness on the kingside. However, White's prospects might be better than in the game. The combination of the unnecessary prophylactic 6.h3 and this retreat of the bishop puts White two tempi behind. Soon, Black seizes the initiative.

Here we have a position that is typical of Morphy's games against all but his strongest opponents, and even a few games against his strongest. A few moves into the game, Morphy has all of his minor pieces mobilized. Many of his opponents, on the other hand, have fallen behind.

7...d5

Morphy seizes the opportunity to take the initiative.

8.exd5 Bxd5 9.0–0 0–0 10.Bg5

Black to move

Thompson is ever alert to tactical possibilities. He threatens to force a weakening of the pawns in front of Black's king.

10...Bxb3 11.axb3 h6 12.Bh4 g5 13.Bg3 e4

Thompson's tactical threats have forced Morphy to play this move. However, Black's position is superior due to White's difficulty bringing the b1 knight into the game. This positional weakness will prove decisive.

White to move

14.Ne5 Nxe5 15.Bxe5 exd3 16.Bxf6

16.Nd2 might be better than exchanging the only active piece in order to immediately regain the pawn.

16...Qxf6 17.Qxd3

Black to move

Now, Morphy mobilizes his rooks with further gain of tempi. Meanwhile, White's queenside knight and rook remain spectators to the action.

17...Rad8 18.Qc2 Rfe8 19.b4 Bb6 20.Na3

20.Nd2 is now impossible in the light of 20...Re2.

20...Qf4

Morphy prevents Nc4, and also prepares a battery along the diagonal leading to h2.

21.Rad1 c6 22.Rd3?

White's position was slightly worse. Now, it is lost. However, Black must strike vigorously, or White's will equalize.

Black to move

Surprisingly few chess players have found the correct plan for Black when I have posted this position online.

22...Bxf2+ 23.Kh1

23.Rxf2 loses instantly. 23...Re1 24.Rf1 Rxf1#.

23.Qxf2 loses the exchange. 23...Qxf2+ 24.Rxf2 Re1+ 25.Kh2 Rxd3

23...Rxd3 24.Qxd3 Re3

White to move

Black's checkmate threat is quite serious.

25.Qd8+ Kg7 26.Qd4+

26.Qd7 Bg3!

26...Qxd4 27.cxd4 Re2 28.Nc4 Re1 29.Rxe1 Bxe1

White to move

White managed to fend off the checkmate threats and enter a minor piece ending down a mere pawn. However, Black's bishop will prove vastly superior to White's knight.

30.Na5 Bxb4 31.Nxb7

This moment in the game can be useful for provoking a discussion of schematic thinking.

31...Kf6 32.Nd8 c5 33.Nc6 Ke6 34.dxc5 Bxc5 35.g4

It is hard to criticize White's effort to hinder Black's pawn majority on the kingside in this manner, but the problems on the queenside prove fatal. The knight is helpless to manage workloads on both sides of the board and the king alone cannot battle Black's forces.

Black to move

35...Kd5 36.Nd8 f6

Reducing a vulnerability that could permit White back into the game.

37.Kg2 a5 38.Kf3 a4 39.Ke2 Bd4

Only now does Morphy attack the unprotected pawn after preventing its advance.

White to move

40.Kd3 Bxb2 41.Nf7 Be5 42.Kc2 Kc4 43.Nd8 a3 44.Nb7 a2 45.Na5+ Kb4 46.Nb3 Ka3 0–1

The final position offers a nice illustration of zugzwang.


*The biographical sketch of Thompson in Charles A. Gilberg, The Fifth American Chess Congress (1881), 77-80 provides these details. The Congress was held in 1880. The book contains a detailed history of the first four congresses, as well as the games of the fifth.

11 August 2017

Critical Moments

How do you analyze a chess game?

I do several things, but the first step--whether my own game or one played by others--is identifying the critical moments in the game. When did the loser reach a technically lost position?

Today was the last day of my tenth annual youth chess camp. The students spent the week--fifteen hours--solving exercises in a workbook (available on Amazon), playing tournament games, discussing games and parts of games with me and with each other. Throughout the week, I stressed a learning process that extends well beyond the week of camp: work on endgames, then tactics and planning, then openings, then study whole games. When they arrived this morning, I had two positions on the two demo boards. We talked about the endgame first. Then we talked about the middlegame.

Black to move

With two legal moves, Black chose the one that loses.

White to move

White turned an advantage into a lost game by moving the queen to the wrong square.

The whole game with annotations at the critical moments is offered below.

Stripes,J. (1911) -- Internet Opponent (1892) [A43]
Chess.com, 10.08.2017

1.d4 e6 2.c4 c5 3.Nf3 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 5.g3 Qc7 6.Qc2 b6 7.Bg2 Bb7 8.e4 Nc6 9.Be3 Nxd4 10.Bxd4 Nf6 11.0–0 Bc5 12.Bxc5 bxc5 13.Nc3 h5 14.Rad1 h4 15.Qe2 hxg3 16.fxg3 Ke7 17.e5 Nh5 18.Ne4 Bxe4 19.Qxe4 Rag8 20.Rd6 f5 21.Qh4+ [21.Qd3] 21...g5 22.Qh3 Nf4 23.Qxh8 Ne2+ 24.Kf2 Rxh8 25.Kxe2 Rxh2 26.Kf2 g4 27.Rfd1 a5 28.Kg1 Rh8 29.b3 Rd8 30.Bc6 dxc6 31.Rxd8 Qxd8 32.Rxd8 Kxd8 33.Kf2 [33.a4 Ke7 34.Kf2 Kf7 35.Ke2 Kg6 36.Kd3 Kg5 37.Ke3 f4+ 38.gxf4+ Kf5 39.Kf2] 33...Kc7 34.Ke3 Kb6 35.Kf4 a4 36.Ke3 Ka5 37.bxa4 Kxa4 38.Kf4 Ka3 39.Kg5 Kb4 40.Kf6 Kxc4 [40...f4 41.gxf4 g3] 41.Kxe6 Kd4 42.Kxf5 c4 43.e6 c3 44.e7 c2 45.e8Q c1Q 46.Qd7+ [46.Qe4+ Kc5] 46...Ke3 47.Qe6+ Kf3 48.Qe4+ Kxg3 [48...Kf2 49.Qf4+ Qxf4+ 50.Kxf4 c5] 49.Qxg4+ Kf2 50.Qf4+ Qxf4+ 51.Kxf4 Ke2 52.Ke4 Kd2 53.a4 Kc3 54.a5 Kb4 55.a6 c5 56.a7 c4 57.a8Q c3 58.Kd3 c2 59.Kxc2 1–0

After these two positions, we looked at Fischer -- Stein 1967, which they have in their book. Following that presentation, the students worked in groups studying other great games. Then, they played the last round of their tournament. During the last fifteen minutes, we went through the whole game from which I had extracted the two positions that we began with nearly three hours earlier.

08 August 2017

It's Only Blitz

I beat a National Master yesterday afternoon. It has been a couple of months since my last win against a titled player, so I was happy to get this one. It was my last game in a blitz playing session characterized by poor play, but it was a better game. Of course, I made errors, but they were less egregious than in my previous several games.

I spent a little more than an hour playing blitz, and at least that much time analyzing this one game. This game was played in less than six minutes. Did it deserve more than an hour of post-game analysis? My opponent shall remain unnamed because he left a clue on his Chess.com page that suggests he would prefer it that way.


Stripes,J (1892) -- Internet Opponent (1926) [E11]
Chess.com, 07.08.2017

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Bb4+ 4.Nbd2

4.Bd2 is the most popular move. Some years ago, I bought and read partly through The Chess Advantage in Black and White (2004) by Larry Kaufman. Many of the lines that Kaufman recommends do not suit me well, but his basic idea has been an influence. He advocates "second best" moves early in the game when it reduces the amount of theory that one must learn.

I am not certain that 4.Nbd2 is second best, but it is second most popular. 4.Bd2 is played twice as often. 4.Nbd2 has a better scoring percentage for White and a slightly higher Elo performance as well. I had the impression that 4.Bd2 was the choice of top Grandmasters, but a check this morning refuted that. Garry Kasparov has played both moves. Magnus Carlsen has played both, but 4.Nbd2 more recently. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave seems to favor my choice.

I spent some time thinking about the relative merits of the choice that White makes here in the Bogo-Indian Defense. Why is 4.Bd2 more popular?

4...Qe7 5.g3 b6

The databases suggest that this move is rare, but the structure is certainly familiar.

6.Bg2 Bb7 7.0–0 0–0

Castling leads via transposition to a small batch of reference games.

8.Nb3

It is hard to believe that this move has not been played before. There must be something wrong with it. Perhaps, this move offers a clue to the popularity of 4.Bd2. The knight blocks the bishop when it stands there. It also lacks good squares that can be reached from d2. On b3, where I placed it, it interferes with queenside pawn expansion. Other moves seem worse.

Black to move

8...d5 9.a3 Bd6 10.c5!?

This brilliant pawn sacrifice was actually an oversight. I was unaware that I was down a pawn until at the end of the game, savoring my victory, I noticed that material was equal. This sacrifice creates a minor piece imbalance that sometimes favors White, but was it worth a pawn?

10...bxc5 11.dxc5 Bxc5 12.Nxc5 Qxc5 13.Be3 Qd6

13...Qe7

14.Rc1 Na6

14...Nbd7

15.Bf4 Qd7

15...Qe7

16.Ne5 Qe7 17.Nc6

Black to move

At this point of the game, I was pleased with my position. I seem to have my opponent's forces tied down.

17...Qd7 18.Qc2 Rfc8 19.b4 Nb8 20.b5 Bxc6

After this exchange, we have two bishops against two knights and only the c-pawns are blocked.

21.bxc6 Qe7

White to move

How might White squeeze Black from this position?

22.Qb3 with the idea of Qb7 seems to have some merit.

22.Bg5 threatens e4.

I did not spend much time on this position during the game, but invested about fifteen minutes with it on the deck in the evening. It might be one that could be added to the store of middlegame positions for performing Jeremy Silman's inventory of imbalances.

22.e4 dxe4 23.Bxe4 Nxe4 24.Qxe4 a5

Maybe 24...Qxa3

25.Rfd1 Qxa3

Maybe 25...Ra6

26.Bxc7! Na6

26...a4 27.Bxb8 Raxb8 28.c7 looks overwhelming for White.

26...Rxb7 27.Rd8+ Qf8 28.Rxf8+ Kxf8 and the material balance has shifted strongly in favor of White. Even so, a queen and pawn agianst a rook and bishop is not always a winning material advantage in time pressure.

27.Bd6 Nb4 28.c7 h6

White to move

29.Bxb4?

29.Be7! My target is d8. Why not make a move that contributes to this plan?

29... axb4

29...Qxb4 30.Qxa8!

30.Rc6

Black to move

30...b3

30...Qa5 is equal and takes advantage of my error a move earlier.

31.Rcd6 g6 32.Rd8+ Kg7 33.Qe5+ f6 34.R8d7+

34.R1d7+ Qe7 35.Rxe7#

34...Kg8 35.Qxe6+ 1–0

Maybe my pawn sacrifice was sound. Both players committed the sort of positional errors that one might expect in a blitz game.

07 August 2017

How to Think about Checkmate

This week is my tenth annual youth chess camp. During this camp, I am making more explicit a training process that I have advocated for many years: work backwards through the game in your study. That is, start with checkmates, move from there to endgames, then study tactics and middlegame strategy, and only then examine the opening. Finally, look at whole games. Repeat this sequence with more advanced materials. Keep repeating the sequence from the end to the beginning to the whole.

This process is the structure of Jose R. Capablanca, Chess Fundamentals (1921), which I have long advocated as among the best books for beginners and intermediate players. This process is the structure of my camp workbook for this year, Five Days to Better Chess: Essential Tools, which I have made available through Amazon.

Students begin each day with a warm-up exercise. The first day's warm-up consists of questions two and three from a test administered for several years by Richard James, and presented in "Chess Thinking Skills in Children," in The Chess Instructor 2009, edited by Jeroen Bosch and Steve Giddins.* Each question is a diagram where one must find White's best move (Black has a checkmate threat) and explain the reasons for this move. My quick grading of these warm-ups as students finish will facilitate putting them in groups for additional work on checkmates.

Following a period of individual and group work targeted at each student's skill set, the whole group will come together for a short lecture. These are my notes for the first lecture.

How do you think about checkmate? In order to finish the game well, you need to checkmate your opponent.

Coordination of Forces

Checkmate requires coordination of your pieces, and of their contacts with your opponent's pieces. The minimum number of pieces that are needed for checkmate are both kings and either a queen or a rook. Examples will be presented.

Checkmating an opponent with only one of your pieces requires the assistance of his or her pieces. For example, a back-rank checkmate requires that a king be hemmed in by at least two of his own pawns. In the diagram below, Black's f-pawn would be unnecessary if the Black king were on h8. A smother checkmate requires three of a king's own forces holding him down.


Here we have a corridor checkmate from Five Days to Better Chess (30). The back-rank checkmate above was presented as a threat that Black had to address.

White to move

Knowledge

There are millions of possible arrangements of the chess pieces to create checkmate.** Nonetheless, most checkmates resemble a few dozen patterns. The better you know these patterns, the more likely you will find checkmate in your games. Five Days to Better Chess lists 37 patterns, but does not present examples of all of these.

Corridor checkmates--always delivered with a rook or queen--are a family of checkmate patterns that are easy to learn. A back-rank checkmate is the simplest corridor checkmate. In Five Days to Better Chess, there is a diagram where White threatens this checkmate, but it is Black's move. This position came about in the game Ansaldo,A. -- Boyce,C., Melbourne 1922 in the Championship of Australia.

Black to move

Black found a forced checkmate in six moves. That is an ideal worth striving towards.

22...Rd2+ 23.Bxd2

If 23.Kf1 Qd1#

23.Kh3 leads to a sequence much like the game's finish.

23...Rxd2+ 24.Kh3

This is the position presented in the workbook.

24.Kf1 Qf3+ 25.Ke1 Qf2# Here is another pattern utilizing a queen and rook that one should learn. It is one of the final positions that can occur after a queen and rook roll, discussed at the beginning of the checkmate unit in the book.

24.Qe6+ g4

25.Kh4 Rxh2+ 26.Kg5 Qf6+ 27.Kg4 h5#. Here, we do not have a corridor checkmate, but rather one of those positions that has elements of several named patterns. Observe that Black's queen, rook, and pawn are assisted by White's pawn on g4.

25...Qh6+ 26.Kg3 Qe3+ 27.Kh4 Rxh2#

White to move

White's king is checkmated on the h-file. Two other pieces hold him there: Black's queen covers two squares and a White pawn prevents escape to another. Three squares on the g-file and three squares on the h-file are controlled by Black or occupied by a White piece. Checkmate on the edge requires coordination of pieces to control six squares. This is an example of what I call an "edge-file checkmate", which is similar in important respects to a back-rank checkmate.

Anastasia's Checkmate is another example of a corridor checkmate. Here is one from a Grandmaster blitz game last year, Harikrishna,P. -- Dominguez Perez,L., Huai'an 2016.

Black to move

Defense

Learning checkmate patterns facilitates finding them when you are on the attack. This knowledge also helps when you are defending. When you see the checkmate threats, you can stop them.

In this position from this year's Tata Steel Chess Tournament, Wesley So has Black's king tied down with a rook, and his knight and pawn are well placed to begin working towards an Arabian Checkmate. First, however, he must meet Black's threats.

White to move

42.Kf1 would lose instantly. 42...Qf2#.

42.Kd1 also throws away the win, as So must must avoid Richard Rapport's endless checks that lead to a draw. Nor can White's king find shelter from these checks. 42.Kd1 Nf2+ 43.Kc2 Qxe2+ 44.Kc3 Qe3+ 45.Kb2 Nd3+

White to move (Analysis position)

46.Ka1 walks into checkmate in two.

Facing both checkmate threats and draw by repetition, So played the only move that preserved his advantage, although it also led to a barrage of checks. In this case, however, Black had only one piece harassing the White king, and it was able to find refuge.

42.Qxd3! Qxd3 43.Ng8 Qf3 44.h5! Kh8 45.Rg6 Qh1+ 46.Kd2 Qxe4

White to move

47.Nf6

So threatens checkmate in one.

47...Qb4+ 48.Ke3 and Rapport resigned, as it was clear that he would run out of checks. Black could have tried Qc5+ 49.Kf3 e4+, but after 50.Kg2, all further checks lose the queen.

Quest for Advantage

Checkmate threats can lead to a material or positional advantage. You threaten checkmate; your opponent sees it and prevents it. There is a simple example of White gaining the advantage of a pawn with a checkmate threat in the section on Legall's Mate in Five Days to Better Chess. 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 d6 4.Nc3 Bg4?! 5.h3 Bh5 6.Nxe5!

If Black snatches the queen, White has a checkmate in two.

6...Nxe5 7.Qxh5 Nxc4 8.Qb4+ forking knight and king. After Black gets out of check, White grabs the knight. White then has a material advantage of one pawn, as well as more active pieces.

This position from Chigorin,M. -- Judd.M., New York 1889 offers a more complex example.

White to move

20.Rg3

White's rook lift aims for checkmate along the h-file with Rh3, Bxf6, and Qxh7#.

Black's defensive resources are thin due to the cramped position of his pieces. But he finds an ingenious way to avoid checkmate.

20...h6 21.Rh3 Kg8 22.Bxh6 Nd7 23.f6

Black to move

23...Qxf6

Otherwise, 23...Nxf6 24.Bxg7 and White will force checkmate in a few more moves. Students might choose to work out the sequence from here on their own.

24.Bg5 Qh6!

In Book of the Sixth American Chess Congress (1891), Wilhelm Steinitz wrote:
This ingenious move, whereby Black escapes at the expense of the Exchange from the pressure of an apparently irresistible attack against the King, was probably overlooked by White in his forecalculation on the 23rd move. (35)
25.Qxh6 gxh6 26.Bxh6 Bf6 27.Bxf8 Nxf8

Black survived the mating attack, but White emerged ahead a rook and pawn for a minor piece and went on to win the game.


Everything that we do on the first day will be focused on developing checkmate skills both for attack and defense. The second day, we will work on endings.





*Longer versions of James' original articles are available on his website: richardjames.org.uk/articles.htm.

**The total number of unique chess positions has been estimated to exceed 10^43 (a one followed by 43 zeros), but most of these, of course, are not checkmate. Even so, my "millions" may be ridiculously low.

05 August 2017

Five Days to Better Chess

Five Days to Better Chess: Essential Tools was published a few days ago. What is this book about? Who is the audience?

This book offers content and process. This process is for all chess enthusiasts who seek to improve their own game, or who help others to do so. The content aims principally at developing players up to average club strength (Elo 1400-1600). Will it lift you to this level in five days? No. It was noted by a critic on Facebook that a title like "five days to..." cheapens content by promising what no book can deliver. Maybe I could have called it "five steps ..." instead? Better is not best. Improvement is a journey; this book offers a map.

The process mapped in Five Days to Better Chess is neither original nor the norm in chess training. The process is rooted in the experience of watching players of all levels fail to demonstrate basic skills. This process begins at the end of the game and works from there towards the beginning. That is, it starts with checkmate. First, there are elementary checkmates with a few pieces against a lone king. Chess Fundamentals (1921) by Jose R. Capablanca begins the same way. From elementary checkmates, Capablanca moves to simple pawn endings, then middlegame positions, and finally general opening principles. He then repeats the sequence from endings, through middlegames to openings. In Chess Fundamentals, this sequence repeats a third time, then the book contains illustrative games.

Five Days to Better Chess advocates this repeating process, but the book is structured in five units: checkmates, endings, middlegames, openings, and great games. The first four units each begin with relatively elementary skills and build towards more complex. The plan is for readers to read part of each unit and then go through the book again, reading other parts.

The beginning of the checkmate unit illuminates this structure:
How do you become better at checkmate? Skill at execution of checkmate is your tool box for finishing the game. Your tools are 1) mastery of elementary checkmates with heavy pieces, 2) experience with minor piece checkmates, 3) recognition of common checkmate patterns, and 4) calculation skill.
Among the patterns are a list of 37 checkmate configurations, a section on the varieties of corridor checkmates, some work on the weakness of f7/f2 designed to steer players away from attempting scholar's checkmate. Legall's pseudo-sacrifice is offered as a better effort to trap the unwary. Finally, there is a section on the classic bishop sacrifice (Bxh7+) that highlights defensive resources.

Several instructive portions in each of the first three units offer a small number of exercises. Each of the first three also have forty exercises that conclude the unit. For strong class players (above 1600), these 120 exercises could offer a quick warm-up before tackling tougher problems. For those under 1400, they may prove challenging. The exercises offer a range from quick and easy, and thus within reach of those new to the game, to a few with instructive nuances that cause stronger players to pause and calculate.

When I was studying Byrne -- Fischer 1956--the "Game of the Century"--a few months ago, I had this position on the dining room table all weekend.

White to move

Without moving any pieces, I tried to calculate and record the principle variations. I became caught up in long and difficult assessment of variations that follow after 18.Bxe6, which was not played in the game. The obvious answer finally hit me while folding my laundry. The position after 18.Bxe6 is on the book's cover and is Checkmate Challenge #70 at the end of the checkmate unit. The notes that I produced that weekend also appear in the fifth unit, devoted to great games.

After checkmate, the process advocated in Five Days to Better Chess presents endgames as day two. It begins with elementary king and pawn positions that highlight the square of the pawn, breakthrough ideas, and the fundamentals of opposition and outflanking. There are sections on knight vs. bishop, queen vs. pawn, and queen vs. rook. A large chunk on endings presents the most important rook endings, concluding with two examples of Vasily Smyslov's exemplary defense against a rook and two pawns with a rook (pawns on the f- and h-files). All of these topics are treated in much greater detail in books by Yuri Averbakh, Jeremy Silman, Mark Dvoretsky, and others. Nonetheless, my explanations may prove useful to many students and coaches. Five Days highlights those skills that are most fundamental.

A section of the middlegame unit offers an extended discussion of the many aspects of pins. Then a short glossary defines with examples the other thirteen most common tactical ideas from attraction (decoy) to zwischenzug. A section on strategy builds upon Dan Heisman's Elements of Positional Evaluation (1999) through deep analysis of the key moments in Pillsbury -- Lasker 1896.* Lasker's own presentation of this game in Lasker's Manual of Chess (1947) validates the usefulness of Heisman's seven elements. Annotations to a couple of Paul Morphy's games further develop the reader's understanding of positional play.

The opening section develops basic principles, and then returns to Lasker's critique of his loss of time against Pillsbury, then offers move-by-move discussion of one line of the classical French (the opening in that game). Four more openings are presented, highlighting verbal explanations of basic principles--Italian, Spanish, Queen's Gambit, and London System. These are tied to model games, including a thrashing of Pavel Eljanov's Catalan by Magnus Carlsen. The exercises at the end of the chapter are twelve instructive miniatures for readers to analyze. Solutions in the back of the book highlight the key errors.

The chapter on great games offers a narrative of my quest for the best game ever played and annotations of three masterpieces that just missed the top ten. The annotations highlight my own learning process as a model for readers, including an extended discussion of how Vladimir Barsky, The Ragozin Complex (2011) helps elucidate strategies Jon Ludvig Hammer employed in his masterpiece last year in Stockholm. My ten candidates for best game are presented in full for reader analysis. Five Days offers brief statements of the merits that I see in each game. The focus in this unit is offering suggestions on how students of the game might approach learning from such games, especially how these games teach all elements from the opening to the endgame.

Two Notes

The subtitle, essential tools, employs a metaphor. Those are my tools on the cover. The metaphor comes out in the writing.


Regular readers of Chess Skills already know that I am a historian. This book offers many anecdotes and vignettes of chess history, such as the origin of the word pawn.

Genesis of the Work

Five Days to Better Chess is the culmination of more than ten years' work. In summer 2008, I offered my first chess camp for children at the school where I had been coaching eight years. My work as a youth  chess coach began as a parent volunteer at my son's school. When he moved on to another school, I was offered a stipend so that I would stay on as the coach.

Offering a chess camp extended the chess work one week into the summer, while also intensifying the learning opportunities. To keep the children focused, I prepared more exercises than they could possibly finish even if that is all they did during camp. Camp included competition--a pawn wars tournament, checkmate contests, a camp tournament with one game per day--lectures, and solving sessions. Camp points  accumulated as long as behavior was good and exercises were completed. Bonus points were awarded to those who won games, and to those who practiced chess notation.

Assembling the exercises and some of the instructional material into a workbook gave the students something they could take home. My hope was that they would study on their own through the summer. The school photocopied my materials, and then I had them spiral bound with card stock covers at Kinkos or Staples.

I used the same workbook the second summer, changing only the date on the cover. The third year, I created a new workbook focused on learning from Adolf Anderssen, titling it "Attacking with Anderssen". Tactics exercises came from his games. I recycled some of the materials, especially the elementary pawn endings. As the theme changed year after year, some materials that I recycle were fine-tuned. These appear in Five Days to Better Chess.

When I published Forcing Checkmate through Amazon this spring, I learned that Amazon's printing cost and mark-up was barely more than I paid at Staples for spiral binding. It seemed time to expand my workbook and get professional binding. I aimed for 200 pages because that was the minimum length that would allow printing the title on the book's spine. I ended up with more than 225 double-column pages of content, plus front matter and a couple of blank pages to facilitate design elements.



*The second edition of Heisman's book was published in 1999. I have the fourth edition as well.

04 August 2017

Smother Checkmate

As I work my way slowly through Tal's Winning Chess Combinations (1979) by Mikhail Tal and Victor Khenkin, I am combing my databases for additional examples. In this way, I am building a database of exercises for personal training, teaching, and hopefully a revision of my pamphlet "A Checklist of Checkmates" with work of such quality that I can interest a legitimate publisher.

I posted a clever smother checkmate from Tal and Khenkin's book two days ago. Since then, I have played through all of the moves in every game published in Chess Informant that ended with checkmate by a knight. There are only 47 such games, although certainly smother checkmate threats led to resignation in many other cases.

I found one instance of a the textbook classic checkmate in five. There were also a few variations on the theme. Below are four checkmate exercises from games published in Informant.


White to move
From Timman -- Short, Tilburg 1990 Informant 50/120

White to move
From Peters -- Lombardy, Lone Pine 1977 Informant 24/296

Black to move
From Steingrimsson -- Arnason, Island 1990 Informant 50/578

White to move
From Jorczik -- Strunski, Deutschland 2010 Informant 109/227

Leave your answers in the comments below. I usually reply.

02 August 2017

Alekhine -- Lugowski 1931

An unusual smother checkmate piqued my interest. It is presented in Mikhail Tal and Victor Khenkin, Tal's Winning Chess Combinations (1979), where it is credited as Alekhin -- Lugovsky 1931 (58). Due to spelling variances, my initial efforts to turn up the game score fell short. However, the game is in ChessBase database with the spelling Lugowski, and also on Chessgames.com. The game appears in John Donaldson, Nikolay Minev, and Yasser Seirawan, Alekhine in Europe and Asia (1993), spelled Lugovski.

The game was played as part of a simul during Alekhine's tour of Yugoslavia between two blitz tournaments in Ljubljana (12 December 1930) and Zagreb (25 January 1931). Alekhine in Europe and Asia contains 47 games from this tour and a table compiling his score through 555 games in 17 events (70-76).

Alekhine,Alexander -- Lugowski,S [C25]
Belgrade 1931

1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.Qg4

Already, Black must make an unpleasant choice.

Black to move

4...Qf6

I do not agree with the Chessgames.com user who identifies this move as the losing one.

4...g6 is the most popular try, and was played in Larsen -- Portisch, Santa Monica 1966, which continued 5.Qf3 Nf6 6.Nge2 d6 (here ECO recommends 6...Bf8) 7.d3 Bg4 8.Qg3 h6 9.f4 Qe7 10.Nd5 Nxd5 11.Qxg4 Nf6 12.Qh3 Larsen went on to win in 53 moves.

4...Kf8 has been tried fairly often. Of note is a game won by Viswanathan Anand when he was a teenager 5.Qg3 d6 6.Nge2 Nd4 (6...h5 might be better) 7.Nxd4 exd4 8.Na4 Be6 9.Bxe6 fxe6 10.Nxc5 dxc5 11.Qb3 Qc8 12.Qf3+ Ke7 13.Qg3 Kf7 14.Qf4+ Kg6 15.Qg4+ Kf6 16.d3 Anand,V (2405) --Ravisekhar,R (2390), New Delhi 1986 (57 moves).

4...Nd4 5.Qxg7 Qf6 6.Qxf6 Nxf6 7.Bd3 has occurred in a few games.

4...Bf8 led to a miniature worthy of analysis. 5.Qg3 d6 6.Nge2 Nf6 7.f4 exf4 8.Nxf4 Nd4 9.Qd3 Nc6 10.Qg3 Nd4 11.0–0 g6 12.Qf2 Nxc2 13.d4 Nxa1 14.Nfd5 Bg7 15.Bg5 0–0 16.Nxf6+ Bxf6 17.Bxf6 Qd7 18.Qf4 1–0 Genzling,A (2408) -- Migot,T (2257), Belfort 2012.

5.Nd5 Qxf2+

There is no better option. Here also, the comments on Chessgames.com are less than helpful.

5...Qg6 is no good. 6.Qxg6 hxg6 7.Nxc7+ Kd8 8.Nxa8+-.
5...Bxf2+ is just as bad 6.Kf1 Qg6 7.Qxg6 hxg6 8.Nxc7+ Kd8 9.Nxa8 Bxg1+-.

6.Kd1 Kf8

6...Bf8 was played in Lengyl -- Ruck in the 1995 championship of Hungary and Black won. Lengyl played 7.Nh3, but a better line seems 7.Nxc7+ Kd8 8.Nxa8 d5 9.Qe2 Qxe2+ 10.Bxe2 when White has the upper hand.

7.Nh3 Qd4?

7...h5! 8.Qg5 Qd4 9.d3 and White's threats are not yet decisive.

8.d3

Black to move

8...Bb6?

Black defends c7, but the knight on d5 also targets e7.

8...d6 was played by none other than Mikhail Chigorin, who also lost quickly. 9.Qh4 Bxh3 10.Qxh3 Na5 11.Rf1 Nxc4 12.Qd7 f6 13.Nxf6 Qf2 14.Rxf2 Bxf2 15.Nh5 1–0 Mieses,J (2467) -- Chigorin,M (2546), Ostend 1906.

8...h5 still seems worthwhile. 9.Qf3 d6

8...Nf6 9.Nxf6 d5 10.c3 Bxg4+ 11.Nxg4 dxc4 12.cxd4 is better than was played against Alekhine.

9.Rf1 Nd8

A sad looking move, but Black is already lost.

10.c3 Qc5 11.Ng5

White has five pieces attacking Black's king.

11...Nh6

A defensive fork

11...f6 seems reasonable, but also loses.

12.Qh4

Threatening a discovered attack against the knight with a fork of king and queen.

Black to move

12...d6 1–0

12...Ke8 would have held out longer.

According to Donaldson, et al., Alekhine announced a checkmate in four (74). This checkmate is what caught my interest in Tal and Khenkin's book.

Do you see it?