Friday, December 23, 2011

Odds and Year-end

I am currently deep into the innards of the Neo-Grunfeld without much in the way of a guide. Avrukh vol II has two chapters of variations, but his book has no games. I am stuck with a bunch of "obviously white/black stands better" positions for which I have not a clue. I have unannotated games from the databases, but I do not know which are thematic and which are not. There are a few annotated complete games in RD Keene's Flank Openings, but the book is old. I was hoping the Neo-Grunfeld would have been in Wojo's Weapons II, but that book is only King's Indian. Neo-Grunfeld is one of the things that Wojo's Weapons III should cover according to a post by Hilton on the Chess Publishing  forums. It definitely looks like a line with which one would like years of experience.

I think, using Chess Tactics Server for finding new (to me) tactical patterns is working. My CTS rating is stuck around 1450, which keeps showing me the simple problems I need. My rating is kept down, by the many problems with  rich situations, where the obvious move is the solution (I take too much time fully understanding the postion). I will find out in the coming tournament cycle how much this is helping.

I am travelling for the Holidays. I hope to analyze/memorize another game from Chernev's Most Instructive Games of Chess for January and post it as my next post on 1/6/2012. Another post on the Neo-Grunfeld should follow later in January.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Nakamura places 2nd in London Classic

Some Russian ex-world champion placed first.

Nakamura is definitely showing he belongs in world class tournaments, losing only to Magnus Carlsen and winning over Aronian and Anand.

I watched some of the games live via The Week In Chess including Nakamura's rather sloppy win as black against Anand in a mainline King's Indian Defense: Bayonet Attack Variation. in the 4th round on 12/6.

I have been annotating this game off and on over the last week. has the game and kibitzing, while here my annotations.

Chess terms: Theory


The term Opening Theory has always bugged me a bit. I guess I carry around a hard science prejudice that holds that a theory is a mathematical model that has been well tested by experiment. Once a hypothesis becomes theory it is rarely overturned, even when contrary evidence is found. The usual result is that the old theory becomes a special case or approximation of the new theory. Newtonian mechanics is still a very good approximation for most of our dealings with reality. Relativity only becomes relevant at high velocities or accelerations. Quantum mechanics only rears its tangled head when dealing with the very small. Both are much too complicated to prove why it is a good idea to keep a kid in a child seat rather than on your lap, but pointing out the equivalent weight of holding that child in an accident is their mass times the deceleration of the crash is much simpler (Newton rules! whoa!)

Opening Theory always seemed much mushier than that to me. More like trial and error, than each move a hypothesis, and each game a complex experiment providing evidence for or against those hypotheses. I doubt the validity of those experiments. I know the games I play are not well designed experiments. And if my fallibility is not enough, there is that dude (or dudette) across the table who I have no control over.

 The advent of computers only makes it worse: database statistics cluttered by widely varying skill levels of players and games decided by middlegame or endgame blunders, computer evaluations of positions based on deep analysis trees that no human could begin to memorize or understand, good novelties discarded because it was played once in a losing game by a patzer in 1987.


Don't fret about it too much. Play openings that often result in positions you understand and are comfortable in. You most likely did not lose because of the opening, but because you made the last mistake. (Unless you are a grandmaster. In which case, why are you reading this patzer's blog anyway?)

Opening Theory Made Easy:

  • Keep your king safe.
  • Fight for control of the center.
  • Develop your pieces.

OTOH, the term Endgame Theory is just silly. Exact endgames are fact. The details of such endgames are computable. 6-piece tablebases exist and memory continues to get cheaper. 7-piece tablebases are only 70 Tbytes so they are just around the corner. The growing cloud will make even more memory available.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

TCCL round 4

The team lost the match. I made a horrible blunder. I thought I had a simple two move combination to win a pawn, and somehow did not see one of two recaptures my opponent had. I have no idea why I did not see it.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Boleslavsky vs Lisitsin 1956: The Most Instructive Games of Chess #3

1956 must have been a bad year for Mr. Lisitsin. Last month I looked at game #2 from Chernev's The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played: Tal v Lisitsin 1956. This month in game 3, Lisitsin loses another Sicilian Dragon, this time to Isaac Boleslavsky.

The amount of time I spent with Tal v Lisitsin was not enough to memorize that game. Though I remember many of the features of that game, I have lost track of all the moves. Memorizing another's game is a harder task than I thought. I will try again with Boleslavsky vs Lisitsin. OTOH, I do remember Wojtkiewicz v Binger from the Prepare Like a Grandmaster post.

Anyway, here is my analysis of Boleslavsky v Lisitsin checked by Houdini with opening variations added by Fritz.

The key feature of this game is Boleslavsky creating a secure outpost for his knight on d5.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Book review: Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy reprise

I have finally completely finished Watson's Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy. My earlier review is still valid, but I have a few warnings about the conclusion.

His conclusion implies that studying middlegame strategy books is a waste of time, and that memorization of openings, games and endings is the way to improve. That may be true for master strength players, who already have a good (or intuitive grasp) of middle game features, but as long as Watson's admonition not to take "principles" too seriously is followed, I think these books are good for class players. Especially, Silman's treatment of them. His focus on "imbalances" rather than "principles" sets the right tone, and he often deals with the good and bad of features.

As I have said before, I think the memorization of opening lines is a waste of time for class players. Watson points out that is what Grandmasters spend much of their time memorizing openings, implying that would be good for the rest of us. This is just nonsense. There is no point to spending time memorizing lines, when basic ideas like on what files to place rooks are still a mystery. (This is currently one of my struggles. I get open/half-open files, files that are likely to become open/half-open, and opposite the enemy queen, but why in some lines it's Rac1 and in others its Rfc1 is puzzling me)

Watson does not really touch endgames in this book. He mentions them in passing, and implies memorizing endings is useful. I agree to a point. For winning games, again I like Silman's method (his book Complete Endgame Course, which I highly recommend). But memorizing rare endgames can teach one much about chess that will help in other areas. The B+N checkmate for instance should help with seeing knight moves, even though Silman does not include it in the book, because it is so rare (twice in tournament games for me in my life, once on each side)

Watson's book is important, and a good read, but wait till you are knocking on the door to expert to read it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Chance to Prepare Like a Grandmaster

In the next round of the Twin Cities Chess League, I am scheduled to play George Binger on Nov 18 2011. He is an Expert with a bit of history. He played Aleksander Wojtkiewicz in 1999 in Reno. That game is a treatment of the finachetto variation of the KID, that I have only seen once before when  IM Sean Nagel destroyed me in the June 2011 Rochester Summer Open: The Kavalek Defense (ECO E62). George Binger has another Kavalek defense game out on the web. Though both of Binger's E62 published games were losses for him, it is still a good opening for an above 2000 player against a class player, so I hope he is still playing it. I am going to take this opportunity to prepare against it anyway. After all, I may play IM Nagel again. I found Binger's games on the internet on 11/6 and started my preparation and this blog post subsequently. I will outline my preparation then finish and post after the game with the results. This is likely to be a mega post, or maybe I will cut it up into several, when I am done.

I do not recommend spending this kind of time to prepare an opening in normal circumstances. This is a special case. I know who my opponent will be, and I have published games (though a decade old) to work from. I do not think this is a good idea even in this case, really, because the games are too old, but I want to do it. It is a chance to play pretend.

There is a chapter on the Kavalek Defense in Wojo's Weapons vol 2. This book covers the fianchetto variation of the KID from a white perspective. I had not started this book, because I have done a lot of work on the KID before, and I have larger holes in my repertoire to fill in the symmetrical English. So, this chapter will form the backbone on which I will construct my preparation.

The Fianchetto Variation:

KID fianchetto variation after 6.O-O or various other move orders
I began though with the chapter on the fianchetto variation from Starting Out: The King's Indian by Gallagher. Most likely, if Binger has abandoned the Kavalek defense, he is still playing the King's Indian, and I will choose the fianchetto variation. Gallagher's other KID book Play the King's Indian focuses on the black side of the Gallagher attack (6...Nbd7 7.Nc3 e5 8.e4 exd4) and the perhaps more precise (6...Nbd7 7.Nc3 e5 8.e4 8...a6), which can easily slip into the Gallagher attack, but is not as committal as 8...exd4. ST:TKI also focuses on these, but has two games plus a bit on the Panno variation (6...Nc6 7.Nc3 a6). All of these focus on attacking the c4-pawn, which is weaker than if the white light square bishop was on e2, and the danger to white along the a1-h8 diagonal if he plays b2-b3 to support the c4-pawn, or the weakness of f3 if the bishop returns to f1. White can easily misstep and lose a pawn, the exchange, or a whole piece, but if white can weather the storm, he should have at least a slight advantage going into an endgame.

The Kavalek Defense:
Kavalek Defense after 6...c6 7.Nc3 Qa5
In my game against Sean Nagel, I played the silly 8.Bd2 not realizing that black's ideas here focus on attacking the d4 pawn and the rest of the a1-h8 diagonal by exchanging or pinning the Nf3. The main line goes 8.e4 Bg4 9.h3 Bxf3 10.Bxf3 which George Binger faced in his game against Wojo. 10.Qxf3 is an alternate main line that George Binger faced in 1997 in another game.
Kavalek Defense main line after 8.e4 Bg4 9.h3 Bxf3 10.Bxf3
Here in Wojo-Binger, Binger played the best move for black, 10...Nfd7 opening up pressure on the d4 pawn and the a1-h8 diagonal. Wojo replied with the tricky 11.Rb1 c5 12.d5 and Binger took the apparent pawn sacrifice with 12...Bxc3 13.bxc3 Qxa2 14.Bh6 Re8 not realizing that 15.Rxb7 Nb6 does not really trap the rook.
Wojo-Binger after move 15...Nb6
16.Qa1!? Qxc4? 17.Rxb6 because the a7-pawn is pinned 17...axb6 18.Qxa8 Qxc3 and white is up a piece for two pawns, has the two bishops and will be able to pick up the b-pawn. After a few more moves Binger decided that that was enough against a grandmaster. 16...Qxa1 would have preserved the position and likely gone into a drawish endgame (at least I could not find a winning line for white). Wojo was extremely good at such positions, so he would have had good chances to win the game. I on the other hand, have a hard time finding a winning idea for that endgame.

  1. Where would Binger improve on this game?
  2. How should white reply to each of these improvements?
  3. Does white have a better move earlier?
  4. Is 9.h3 a waste of time as black wants to remove the Nf3 anyway?
Improvements for black and responses/avoidances:

16...Qxa1 leads to a drawish endgame. 17.Rxa1 Nbd7 18.Raxa7 Rxa7 19.Rxa7 Ra8 20.Rb7 Rb8 and either white repeats with Ra7, or goes into an endgame, which is totally wrong for the two bishops. Two bishops against knights want an open center and mobile pawns on both flanks. Because both knights can focus on one square, they can overpower either bishop. Eventually the position will open up and the bishops come into their own, but I think white will be fighting for a draw, then. 16.Bg4 is better than 16.Qa1
A drawish endgame after 16...Qxa1

15...Nf6 16.Qa1 gives a better version of the game, because if black plays the best 16...Qxa1, white retains at least one rook in the endgame.

15...Ne5 is much better than trying to trap the rook with 15...Nb6 (probably because it hinders 16.Bg4). White should reply 16. Be2 and things get complicated from there.
after 15...Ne5 26.Be2
The main ideas revolve around mating threats and the restricted nature of black's pieces.

The black King is lonely, the Rb7 threatens the 7th rank and can sacrifice itself on e7 to open up the f6 square (16...Nxc4? 17.Bxc4 Qxc4 18.Qf3 {threatens  19.Rxe7 Rxe7 20.Qf6 and the mate threat forces Qxc3 and loss of black's Queen}).

Black has trouble developing the Nb8 without losing it (16...Na6 17.f4 Nxc4 Qd3) 17(16...Nbd7 17.f4 {wins a piece, but black gets counterplay, may be black's best choice, but hard to see})

Trying to trap the rook with (16...Qa6 17.Qb1 Nbd7 18.f4 Nb6 19.Rxb6 axb6 20.fxe5 dxe5{results in nominally equal material, but white has a dangerous Kingside initiative} 21.Bg4 Red8 22.Qd3 Qa4 23.Qf3)

13...Qxc3 taking the other pawn leads to trouble, also. 14.Bg5 f6 15.Bh6 Re8 16.Rxb7 
and black's Queen is offside while white attacks on the kingside with the help of the rook on the 7th rank. White threatens Bg4 and if black plays 16...Ne5 then 17.Be2, and the Rb7-b3 can drive the black queen away if needed. 

12...Qb4 helps white, because 13.a3 chases the queen away.

12...a6 and 12...Na6 are less committal moves that work better for black. This may be the trickiest area for white to maintain an edge. If black opens the center (...e6), then the bishops should begin to exert their influence, while if the center remains closed, white should be able to advance pawns on the kingside.

11...a6 allows 12.b4 which leads to 12...Qd8 13.Be3 b5 14.Be2 bxc4 15.Bxc4 (Hansen-Mortensen Taastrup 1998)

11...Na6 hinders b2-b4, but12.a3 c5 13.d5 is much like 12...Na6, but white has possibly wasted a move with 12.a3.

10...e5 and 10...Nbd7 kind of lead to the same place. After 11.Be3, the best move for black is the other. White should sustain an edge after 12.d5 cxd5 13.cxd5 where the action will take place on the queenside and the likely fight over the c-file will result in a liquidation of the rooks. White's bishops controlling the f1-a6 and g1-h7 diagonals should make this hard for white to lose.
Idea position after 10...Nbd7 or 10...e5 from Stohl-Martinovic Germany 1997

Better moves for white:
Instead of 16.Qa1, Houdini likes 16.Bg4 Qa6 17.Rc7+-. The rook is safe, pressures the 7th rank, and black has a tangled queenside. White has a deep attacking threat in 17.Be6 fxe6 18.Qg4

10.Qxf3 is an alternative, with which Johnson,L beat Binger in 1997. It has a lot to recommend it: the Bg2 remains safe, the h3-pawn is defended, and the queen is off the back rank, so Rfd1 is easily played to defend d4.

9.h3 is not a waste of time.
h3 is a useful move for white in many KID variations. Here, it will prevent the Nf6 from opening up the long diagonal with ...Ng4, which would make a white Be3 uncomfortable, or with a mate threat if ...Qh5 has happened. With h3 in place, black must interfere with his own development (...Nfd7, ...Ne8) to open up the long diagonal. It also does not allow black to delay the exchange on f3 for a more opportune time.

What about George Binger's other games?
In the late 1990s for which I have published games, Binger played the Sicilian Dragondorf and the KID. He likes a kingside fianchetto and queenside pressure. He played a King's Indian Attack as white versus a French Defense. I would guess he favored tactical games.

My Game with George Binger
was not a Kavalek Defense. He played the KID, and I played the fianchetto variation, but he chose the Panno.  My preparation fantasy was fun, but in the end not productive. I did play over a couple of games of the Panno variation, but I have not really prepared for it. I think he was definitely better coming out of the opening. After 43 hard fighting moves, we agreed to a draw. I may decide to make a post about the game, after I study it during the coming week.

So I still have to get past move 10 in any memorized opening preparation during a tournament game.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Tal v Lisitsin 1956 The Most Instructive Games of Chess #2

Life Master A.J. Goldsby (a believer in the hard sell from his writing style) recommends memorizing grandmaster games as a training tool (tip 18). I do not believe in memorization alone as a good thing. I specifically recommend against memorizing opening lines for class players (except for traps to avoid in your openings). I firmly belive your opening study time should be spent concentrating on understanding the whys behind the moves played, while studying verbosely annotated complete games. But studying a grandmaster game so completely that you memorize it seems like a good idea to me.

I have already started a project of trying to analyze the games from Chernev's The Most Instructive Games Ever Played. The second game is a Sicilian Dragon that is similar to some lines of the Pirc that I play. So I think I will combine the two ideas. I will try to memorize Tal v Lisitsin by study and analysis.

Here is my analysis (with Fritz's help) of Tal v Lisitsin:

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Tactics update, Steps Method

Tactics problems update:

I have done a week of Chess Tempo problems in blitz mode. Chess Tempo gives more time for the blitz problems than Chess Tactics Server, so I am faced with harder problems than I am looking for. From a free solution standpoint, Chess Tactics Server looks like a better choice for me to get the problems I want. Chess Tempo's interface is better for going back and looking at the problems for lessons. I think if you are willing to pay for a Chess Tempo membership, then you can customize criteria for a problem set to get the right kind of problems. I am going to get a Chess Tempo membership to help develop a week long chess camp on tactics for advanced scholastic players sometime before next summer, so I will try for a maximum images tactics sets on Chess Tempo, when I do that. Till then, I will go back to the Chess Tactics Server.

Teaching: Steps Method Course: Step One

It has been over 40 years since I learned to play chess. I have no memory of any chess learning before I read Fine's Chess the Easy Way in 5th or 6th grade. Though Fine has a short coverage of the rules at the start of the book, the rest is coverage of tactics, strategy, endgames, and opening theory. I actually have no conscious knowledge of  Chess the Easy Way, though I know it had a profound effect on my ability to play. Before I read the book, my father won most of our chess games, afterwards he never even got close to drawing.

So with no knowledge of learning to play chess, I have decided to buy the Steps Method course to help me teach chess better.

I have read through the teaching philosophy section of step one, and skimmed the rest of step one's lessons. This is a very well thought out and practiced progression for teaching the rules of chess. Much of the discussion of children's learning process reminds me of the materials I read on Maria Montessori's method while my children were in primary school.  I think the steps method might be improved by consideration of Montessori methods. Particularly conscious application of the Montessori Spiral of Learning and explicit instruction to the teacher of this concept.
I want to think more about this, but I am sure that chess instruction can benefit from this concept.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A few quick items

Tactics Problems:

I have been doing Chess Tactics Server problems for a week, 10 minutes a day. CTS only has blitz mode, so I have to pick a solution quickly. I think Chess Tempo has much better statistics and a better interface. I will try Chess Tempo blitz this next week. I think the blitz problems are showing me more images. I hope I am turning the missed or too slow problems into quality images. I do go over them carefully after the session.


I just got the Steps Method chess course (English version) from New In Chess. I did not get any of the extras. I do not think there will be much in it to improve my chess playing, but I hope I can use it to help me teach better. I will post a review after I have evaluated the materials.

The BSA chess merit badge is longer than I thought. I tried to combine the endgame instruction portion and notation instruction with playing and recording a game(the scouts must do three) in a single troop meeting, and I ran out of time. Also, a significant portion of the class set up the beginning position wrong, so I goofed in not teaching that.

Studing Master Games/Opening Prep:

I have finished the first pass of a Catalan book, and am starting on an English opening book to start covering non-d4, non KID responses to 1.Nf3. I will start playing 2.d4 in response to 1...d5. I have already begun sparring with Fritz. I find that my exemplar (Aleksander, Wojtkiewicz) like to transpose into the Maroczy bind given a chance, so I have more resources to find. He also played the Accelerated Dragon as black, which is one of the candidates I am considering for expanding my black repertoire.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


I think I have reached a plateau in strength. I know that I play much stronger with a long time control, but my results in the local  tournaments (G/60) are not what I would wish. I seem to be in the middle of Class A somewhere.

One idea of which I am fond, is that plateaus happen because you have accumulated as much new knowledge as you can, and you have to play a lot of games to integrate that new knowledge, before you can absorb more.

I have taken a big chunk of time recently to restructure my openings with white. When I am done (soon I hope), I will start playing games regularly on the internet, this should help me integrate some of the acquired knowlege.

Another idea on improvement, that I picked up from a Dan Heisman column, which may originate from Michael de la Maza (author of Rapid Chess Improvement), is that you need to do lots of easy (for you) tactical problems so that you gain instant recognition of patterns and don't have to calculate them. Dan Heisman claims that there are 2000 basic tactical patterns (attributed to IM Mark Dvoretsky famous chess coach).

Dan Heisman has two Novice Nook articles with a tactics quiz. I scored 1400 on one and 2050 on the other. That shows I instantly recognize some of the patterns, but not enough.

tactics quiz one

tactics quiz two

So maybe I am using ChessTempo sub-optimally. I am doing 3 very hard tactics problems a day in regular mode and taking a long time on each. Based on the above emphasis on quantity over quality, I should be doing lots of easy problems a day in blitz mode. How many problems? I don't know. I guess less than 30 mins of time. Each fail should be thought over carefully, so the more fails, the fewer problems done a day, but the more fails, the more new patterns to learn.

Alternatively, Michael de la Maza method is to do the same set of problems (around 700) 7 times, taking less time each pass.  (His method is documented in  Rapid Chess Improvement)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Boy Scouts Chess Merit Badge

The Boy Scouts of America have added a Chess Merit Badge.

Based on the requirements, It should be an easy merit badge for any youth tournament players, and I think that an average tournament player could be a merit badge counselor. I have signed up as a counselor at my local council (Gamehaven). I am currently running about 14 scouts through the Chess Merit Badge in the troop for which I am an assistant scoutmaster.

The Chess Merit Badge pamphlet has good content for the space (96 pages) and the price( $4.49), but there are much better books for beginning chess players. The tactics examples are excellent, but only enough to illustrate the motifs discussed.

Friday, October 7, 2011

How to improve in chess article

Read this excellent article on how to improve in chess.

I think I may have a slightly different take on the topic once I get to master, but that is better than I could write right now.

One thing I would change is not to use a problems book. I would concentrate on web resources like and Shredder's problems. The only problem book I recommend is Ray Cheng's Practical Chess Exercises.

I would add that you should study your own tournament games, and make flash cards of game and problem errors you can generalize into a lesson.

I want to re-emphasize this: lots of Experts and Masters do not play book lines. Memorizing opening lines is a waste of time, but studying annotated games in the openings you play is good. GM Christiansen's advice to play over lots of GM games (unannotated) in the openings you play may be good, too. You want to learn common tactics and strategies for the openings you play, and understand the why of moves, not memorize move sequences. Seirawan's Winning Chess Openings is all you need for quite a while.

Update: An email from a friend prompted the following distillation:

My current thought is that great improvement can be had for 1000-1800 level players by focusing on three areas: tactics, playing discipline, and understanding the game.

Understanding the game, starts with the endgame. It is easier to grasp the strategic elements in an endgame, when there are fewer pieces on the board. Playing over well annotated games in your openings is another piece. Analyzing your own games and trying to develop general lessons from your mistakes is the third piece.

Playing discipline encompasses having and following a move method (including blunder check!), clock discipline, and a good attitude.

I think tactics can be addressed by a general overview and then lots of puzzles.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Problems as Must Win Situations

There are weaknesses with solving tactical problems. The most obvious, is that when you are presented with a problem position, you know there is a solution.

The problem of the day from (should be in a widget on the right) sometimes does not have a "solution", and if there is a solution, it is given by the commentors, some of whom are very good. (Once's posts are always well worth the time spent on the problem.

Another problem is that you often know whether you are playing to win or draw. The problems at Shredder's page do not have this issue. They are just find the best move, and sometimes they are wins and sometimes they are draws.

Problem 43918 from Chess Tempo has this second problem.
Black to play and win

It is not too hard to find the draw starting with 1...Nxf2, but seeing the win is much harder. But seeing the only move that can win, knowing that there is a win? Not so hard. 1...Nxc3 is the only way to win. It might lose, except that this is a problem and you know there is a win. After 2.f6, again there is only one possibility for a winning move. All moves but 2...Ne4 are sure losers, so that must be the move. After 3.f7, the only possible winning move is Nxf2, as there is no checkmate, and no hope against Q+R with only N+B and pawn. After f8/Q, setting up the d-pawn to queen with Ne4 is again the only possible winning move, for which the site awarded me the solution, and a nice +3.5 rating.

In a game, I would only have played 1...Nxc3 in a must win situation. I had good discipline on this problem, and though I knew that 1...Nxc3 was the only possible winning move,  I still spent 30 minutes on this problem, working through the variations to find the path to this position:
White to play
Black will need to find shelter for his King from the checks, and keep some of his pawns. Then White will have to take the Ne4 with his Q leading to ...d2+ and ...Bxe4, and a won endgame for Black.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Game Analysis--Cabablanca v Tartakower NY 1924

I bought a chess book for my son. The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played by Irving Chernev. It was a 1992 edition that is in descriptive notation. So I have taken it as an exercise to periodically take a game from that book and analyze it myself. I will then compare my analysis to Chernev and when I can find it others. As this game is from the NY 1924 tournament, for which I have the book. I also have Alehkine's annotations.

The NY 1924 tournament is very interesting. I was 22 rounds of games among some of the strongest players of the time. The previous world champion Em. Lasker took first, the current world champion Capablanca took second, and the next world champion Alekhine took third. Marshall, Reti, Maroczy, Bogoljubov, Tartakower,  Yates, Ed. Lasker, and Janowski rounded out the field. Bogo lost 9 games, so there has got to be a really great game there. The prize fund was $5475 with expenses of the players $3568 and travel $1940. The dollar sure was stronger back then.

Here is my commentary on Cabablanca v Tartakower NY 1924. I analyzed the game alone first, then looked at the notes of Alekhine from the tournament book. I think I covered most of what Chernev did, but his is better.

Instructive 1

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Fastest Path vs The Best Path

I am doing two Chess Tempo endgame problems a day to help with two things. One is to get faster at exact endings, and the other is to achieve a deeper understanding of piece interaction in a simpler context.

The Chess Tempo endgame problems have two modes: theory and practice. In theory mode, you fail the problem if you do not follow the fastest path to mate defined by a tablebase. In practice you keep going as long as you pick a winning move, and the extra count against your score. I am using practice mode, because I do not think it is humanly possible to memorize tablebase fast paths, and I want to move quickly in the endgame. So I work on understanding processes and patterns, which I can apply to solve the problems.

Chess Tempo problem 66560 is a good example of this difference.
White to move and win
The key elements for how I decided to play, was that White's king is in the square of the a-pawn, and the White knight prevents the Black king from taking the h-pawn. So White can march his king over and take the a-pawn, and Black cannot protect it without leaving the square of the h-pawn. Then the White king marches back and with the knight forces the h-pawn to queen.

The fewest moves path is to recognize that White can force the h-pawn home without the need to take the a-pawn by the threat of this position:

To achieve this, the knight will need to blockade the a-pawn, and be able to get to f7 before black's new queen can enter the game. From a4 to f7 is four moves, a3 to f7 is three moves, so either would work for the mate. However, it is three knight moves to control a4 and two to control a3, and white needs one move of the king to secure the h-pawn. So the blockade takes place on a3. This is a good counting and visualization exercise.

I would play the clearer but longer(more moves) plan in a game.

Apologies: I could not get my normal PGN viewer to work, today. I could not figure out how to make the board larger on this one. Here is the PGN if you want to take it somewhere else.

[Event "Chess Tempo Endgame"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2011.09.24"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Us"]
[Black "Problem-66560"]
[Result "1-0"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "8/p4k2/8/7P/3K2N1/8/8/8 w - - 0 1"]
[PlyCount "19"]

1. Ke5 {to secure the h-pawn, Ke4 and Ke3 both work} a5 2. Ne3 a4 3. Nc2 {The
knight catches the a-pawn} Kg7 4. Kf5 Kh6 5. Kg4 Kh7 6. Kg5 Kg7 7. Na3 Kh7 {
now the h-pawn advances and the end is nigh} 8. h6 Kh8 9. Kg6 Kg8 10. h7+ {and
Black must choose between being mated and letting the h-pawn queen.} 1-0

Saturday, September 17, 2011

TCCL 2011 round 1

Twin Cities Chess League round 1:

The good news: We are playing in the siver division, where the teams should be more competitive.

The bad news: Probably fewer masters and experts for me to play.

The "good" news: I got stomped in the first round by a player rated 2359.

He played a Botvinnick system against my KIA. This was the same defense that GM Kudrin used in his demolition of me. I have also seen it while playing the KID. I think I will be able to extract some lessons from this game.

The more bad news: everyone else on the opposing team was rated over 2000,  and they swept us.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Take the Time to Count.

I had a disappointing drawn in the Region VI Championship. In the following position I played (as black) a combination that reduced to a winning endgame.
black to play
30...Nxe4 31.Nxe4 Rxe4 32.Rxe4 Rxe4 33.Qxe4 fxe4 34.Rxf6 Kxf6 35.Bxe4 Bf5 36.Bxf5 Kxf5 my king is placed much better 37.Kg2 Ke4 38.Kf2 Kd3 39.Kf3 to reach this position.
black to play

Here I messed up badly. I was worried about getting my king trapped on the a-file. I was not in time trouble, I had plenty of time. I messed up the visualization of the position after 39...Kc3 40.Ke3 Kxb3 41.Kd3 Kxa4 42.Kc3
black to play
This is a clear win for black with 42...b5. There is no problem even if  black did not have a b-pawn, because white will have to eventually release control of b4 anyway,. but even though I was not sure this was a win, If I had counted the possible other paths, I would have known that they were at best draws, and this was the best position for me, even if I was trapped and it was a draw.
black to move
This diagram is messy, but the different colored arrows mark moves to make a queen. Without interference, White's red path to queen the d-pawn is 8 moves. Black's green path to queen the c-pawn is 8 moves, but it interferes with white's red path halting it after move 3 (White's cannot move Ke6-d7, because it leaves the d-pawn loose. White's path to queen the g-pawn is 9 moves. Black's counter to that path starts with 39...g5, which is answered by 40.h4 g4+ 41.Kf4 and 8 more moves to queen the h-pawn, but black queening the c-pawn has not started, so it is still 8 moves. The red path for Black counters the white h-pawn plan with a 7 move path, but now the white d-pawn path is 7 moves, because the white king has taken one step. So 39...g5 makes it easier for white to queen a pawn, but no easier for Black. My 39...g5 was a horrible blunder that threw away the win. All resolvable with some counting. Tedious and time consuming, but I had the time. Since all paths but 39...Kc3 were draws or worse, that was the right move, even if it ended with my king trapped.

The key is to visualize each path in turn and count it out.

Addendum: there is a better win after ...Kxb3 41.Kd3.
black to move
41...Kb4! and white will have to abandon the c-pawn. (42.h4 Kb3)

Addendum 2:
For those who are screaming at me, that trapping a king in front of his rook pawn does not work unless the pawn is far advance, I know that now.
black to move
1...Ka3 2.Kc3 a4 and black has the opposition and is released
either to b2 to escort the a-pawn to queen, or to b4 to free and escort the c-pawn. The rook pawn alone in this position would be a draw, because white can get to the queening square, or trap black's king.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

2011 TCCL starts Friday 9/16

I just took a look at last years TCCL. All the teams in the Gold division except for the Rochester teams are headed by a master. Some have several.

That's interesting

I wish I was ready to start playing the Catalan, but at least I should get plenty of learning material.

Perhaps, I will get lucky and have black on Friday.

I am still going though the games for the Region VI Championship. I blew a couple of endgames (drawing a win, losing a likely draw). I should get a post done this week on the draw. I still don't understand enough about the loss, yet. I did win an endgame, because my opponent got into time trouble and missed the perpetual I gave him.

I really need to work on endgames.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Knights are Weird

While daydreaming about topology the other day, I was taken by a singular question.

"How do the chess pieces view the chess board?"

If each move is taken as a single step, if each square that a piece can move to is considered adjacent to the square the piece is on, each piece lives in a very different world from the others.  Bishops do not even see half of the board. On an empty board 14 squares are adjacent to the Rook, and 49 others 50 are two steps away, no matter what square they are on. This is not new ground of course, it is covered often when discussing the mobility of the pieces, but it is another step closer to verbalizing and understanding a vague idea I have had for a while.

When I was teaching my sons how to play chess, I tried to help them visualize how the pieces interact, by calling the squares that a piece can move to the shape of the move. I was reaching for a Euclidian geometric description.

The chessboard appears to be a Euclidean place, 64 squares assembled into a flat 8x8 grid. The Go board is such a place, but the chessboard isn't. It is a network of 64 points, but the connectivity of that graph is different for the different pieces. The graph changes for the pieces as other pieces move. No point is reachable for a piece if a ally piece occupies that point. For the pawn, the graph changes radically as the pieces move, because diagonal moves are dependent on an enemy piece occupying a point.

And the Knight views the board in a wholly different way:
1-red, 2-orange, 3-yellow, 4-green, 5-blue, 6-purple
I have colored the squares based on how many moves it takes for a Knight to reach them. But beyond the red squares (one step) coloring is not enough, because the path to those squares matters. Lets place a white pawn on f2, so the knight can only go through g3.
1-red, 2-orange, 3-yellow, 4-green, 5-blue, 6-purple
Now it takes two more moves to reach e1, e5, d1, d3, h3,g4, b2, and b4 .

I think it is well known that Knights are tricky, but how do we get better at using our Knights? I do not think that this is so clear. I am going to try working on knight endgames. They are not very common (Silman does not even include the N+B mate in his Complete Endgame Course), but I think the clarity of endgame positions will help. OTOH, here is a fun puzzle game called Black Knight, that you maneuver a knight around different board topologys.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Get Back Up On That Horse!

Just noticed the Region Six Tournament announcement is up on the MSCA website with full details on the Chess Castle website.

I just sent in my entry fee and reserved a room for Sat night. After falling off a horse in the Aug 20 tournament, I guess its an opportunity to get back up on the horse.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Playing to win or Playing to learn (aftermath)

Well, the run has been too good to last. I messed up badly in last weekend's tournament, and I have two games to learn from :)

The first loss was a Pirc, which showed me I was missing an important aspect of the Pirc. In the classical variation, where white looks to exchange bishops via Bh6, Black's light square bishop should be traded for White's Nf3. This will enervate White's attack.  I am sure there are more that I will discover in the future, because the Pirc is a tricky defense to play. I also made a strategic error in the endgame, which I will need to study to extract some general lessons. I think I should have been able to salvage a draw.

The second loss featured a strategic mistake. Again I released the tension, when I should not have. This is an important area for me to really work at understanding better. I also made some calculation/visualization errors, but I am clear on how to improve those.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Playing to win or Playing to learn (One year playing update)

I am in the midst of changing my opening repertoire for white. I have advanced more rapidly in rating than I was expecting (now at 1920 in the 9/2011 supplement from 1419 in the 9/2010), even though my record with white is less than 50%. (as of early June 2011 +9-10=4  47.8%)

I was expecting to have to change from the Pirc first, as I advanced, but I seem to be doing quite well with it. The King's Indian Defense is still played a lot at the top levels, and it may be the last thing I change. My black record is doing well (Black +17-4=1 79.5%)

I am about half way through vol 1 of Wojo's Weapons: Winning with White and I now realize, that I will likely have an even worse record with white as I move forward. The repertoire I am attempting is going to put me in middle game situations that will be strange to me, and also rely heavily on winning the transition from middle game to endgame.

I hope this will force me to grow as a player. I should be playing to learn, as I have a long way yet to go.

This weekend I will begin to repeat tournaments. I restarted one year ago with the local G/60 4 round tournament in August.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Interesting game between two class D players

I annotated this game for a couple of local players, and I think it has some interesting middle game errors that short of balanced out into an interesting rook and pawns endgame.

I am trying something new with this post. It is a pdf file of a printout of a game I annotated in Fritz. I have several ways of creating chess documents into pdf, but Fritz is the easiest to get, though not the easiest to control the output.

I am using the Scribd method from this post

But in short the method is to upload to Scribd and use the embed button under Share to get the HTML to embed. I think the lack of contrast in the diagrams is due to Fritz. They show up well off the printer, but are a little light in the Acrobat reader. They show up a little better if you use the Scribd "fullscreen" button.


Friday, August 5, 2011

Play through 200 GM games a week?

Last Friday (July 29, 2011), the Rochester Chess Club presented a lecture by GM Larry Christiansen over the internet (ICC and Skype). It was a very interesting talk with Larry leading us through some very interesting games.

In answer to a question about chess study,  he said something challenging, "You should go through 200 GM games a week on the openings you play". Being a GM, I suspect that he can get value from a game much faster than I can, but also how is one to find that many games? This post will cover how extract games with your openings.

How to find lots of new games is easy. The Week In Chess has a download each week with lots of games, both in PGN and CBV(chessbase) format.

You could load this up into Chessbase or the small version they include with Fritz, and look for your tabiya with the position search function. The problem is that you have to do repeat the search with each tabiya you have. The full version of Chessbase may have a way to batch this up, but I don't know how. (You can narrow it down to GM games for one step per tabiya)

I like to use the free chess database ChessDB, which is available for download here. ChessDB loads in PGN files, or can automatically download TWIC. The date on the TWIC site is in European format, so number 873, which I will be using is dated Monday Aug 1, 2011. When you install ChessDB it may associate PGN files, so you can just unzip and open the TWIC file, or you can open in ChessDB with the Tools->Import File of PGN games. The initial database when ChessDB comes up is the clipbase, so nothing you do here will affect any other database you may have.

There are 4,537 games in the TWIC 873 pgn file. The first game from is a nice Ruy Lopez Berlin between, Shirov and Carlsen, but we are looking for our openings, which for this exercise will be the Kings Indian Defense. But first we are going to filter to get only Grandmaster games, by selecting Search->Header and changing the ratings for games with only above 2500 ratings playing. I have circled in magenta where I specified the rating range.

The next window is the interesting one. We are going to open the Repertoire editor, which will allow us to specify many positions that we want to filter games. We can save the Repertoire editor values to use in the future.

Move the pieces in the main window to set up the tabiya you want, or use the Edit->Set Up Start Board window. When you move pieces in an existing game, it will ask what you are doing, and you should select the "Try Variation" button. I first enter 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 which starts many of the lines of the King's Indian Defense. Then in the Repertoire Editor, I select Edit->Add Group. I then add the moves 4.e4 d6 in the main window, and Edit->Add Line in the Repertoire Editor, which now looks like this:

In this group we can add more lines both include for more specific positions and exclude for lines we are not interested in, but I will add another group for the Fianchetto variation. I could have had one group after the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 and a longer line 3.Nc3 Bg7  4.e4 d6 but I chose two groups with one line each for this exercise. After changing the main window to show 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nf3 Bg7 4.g3. I add a group and a line for this position. After adding all of your groups and lines, you should save the repertoire with File->Save As, so you can use it again next week, when you will load it with File->Open.

I now search on these two lines by seletion Search in the Repertoire Editor and the "And" selection in the search popup window. I get 5 games, but Shirov-Carlsen still shows up, too. I get to my first King's Indian Defense game by selecting Game->Load First Game, which is Shankland-Nyzhnyk. You can get more games by adding more lines, or relaxing the rating requirements.

You can step through the games, or you can export it/them to PGN via Tools-Export Game and load it up into your favorite chess program for replay and analysis. You can also use the Header and Repertoire searches on ChessDB's huge database to pick through your openings games by date range. You can have many repertoire files, but it is likely that two (one for white, one for black) will do. You might want to set the rating on only the color of the openings.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

On Courage

When we speak of courage, we often focus on the great courage of those that risk life and limb: Soldiers, Firemen, Police, and individual acts of heroism to save others in risky conditions, but courage is displayed more often in smaller ways.  Anytime we behave well in the face of fear, we are courageous. Maybe the quality of courage is less than those that jump out of airplanes to fight fires, but courage none the less.

Losing at chess hurts, not just because we want to win, but because chess is a contest of thought. Thought is core to being human. Even mistakes we make in victories are troubling. Examining our mistakes hurts again, because we relive the damage to our self-esteem. It takes courage to face the fear of the pain, and to examine our mistakes.

We must examine our mistakes if we are to improve. We must not just quickly look at our mistakes, excuse them (I was tired or time was short) and move on, but really understand where the mistake came from. Excuses relieve the pain, but those conditions will recur, and if we do not root out the causes of error, we will continue to make mistakes.

Improving at chess takes courage. We must face our mistakes to learn. We must delve into them deeply to understand fully the lessons they hold.

In the following position, my opponent(white) and I(black) were both short on time. I saw that with ...Nd3 I could prevent white from winning, but ...Nxb3 had better winning chances, but allowed his king and bishop freedom to enter my position. I was concerned with the problem of protecting my f and d pawns if his bishop gains the a4 to e8 diagonal. I did not notice that ...d4 for me would force a passed pawn.
I could have excused the draw the short time I had left, but time pressure will happen. I could have excused the draw on not recognizing the passed pawn creation motif ...d4, but there will always be things we don't know.

The root cause of my making the inferior move ...Nd3+, was because I was afraid of a loss. I needed the courage to face the fact that I had given in to fear.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


I am teaching a chess class this week, so I have been focused on preparing material for that. I have done a first pass on my games from the Columbus Open, and two may make good videos.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Columbus Open 2011

I got 3.5 out of 5 for sole possession of the under 1900 prize. I was lucky, there were lots of under 1900 players at 3.0 points to share the 2nd place under 1900 prize. It may be the last under 1900 prize I will be eligible for.

I reentered after I lost my Friday night game to a National Master, who ended up taking 3 place. My reentry was not fortuitous. I thought I might get lucky and get paired down. Close, if one less higher rated player had entered, I would have been at the bottom of the top half, ...but... I ended up at the top of the bottom half and got to lose to Grandmaster Sergei Kudrin. Highlights of the tournament were my last round draw with a National Master, and my Saturday night win that that went till 78 moves and ended after 1:00am.

No one that I knew from 35 years ago was there.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Next To Last Mistake

End of June post, just made it :) Next post will be in late July. I am trying to put together a lesson plan for a chess camp for scholastic players, and I will be gone on a trip in early July, ending with playing in the Columbus (Ohio) Open.

I finished a video of a game from the Rochester Grand Summer Open. The title is from Tartakover's saying,  "The winner of the game is the player who makes the next to last mistake." Here is the game in a replayer.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Rochester Summer Open 2011 results

I am a little in shock. The field was very strong, and I scored 3.5 out of 5, including a win and a draw against experts for a class A norm. I made a really stupid blunder early against IM Sean Nagel, so I missed a great chance for an educational game.

All four of my positive results had some element of time pressure on my opponent, I did much better at controlling my time. My practice with the move method may be working. Though I seem to have reached a plateau on in the low 1800s the tactics practice may be helping, too.

My endgame seems a little stronger.

I will be on vacation for a while. I expect to play in the Columbus Open (Ohio) in early July. I may get one video made before the end of June, otherwise, stop in in mid-July for updates.