Chess Blindness of the Champions

Yes, it can happen. Even at the very pinnacle of chess, a blunder can be made and the opponent misses their opportunity. Game 6 of the World Championship match in Sochi, Russia, saw it happen. Magnus Carlsen had a winning position and blundered. Vishy Anand missed a rather obvious combination that many improvers would have seen and eventually lost. As Carlsen said during the interview after the game, he was very lucky that day.

Click here to read about this and other examples of chess blindness among the greats of the game at ChessBase.com.

Lisa: A Chess Novel

Lisa: A Chess Novel

I recently posted a ate in 2 chess problem from GM Jesse Kraai’s debut novel, “Lisa: A Chess Novel.” My review of the book is now complete and posted on the ChessBase site today. Rather than steal my own thunder, I’ll just quote one sentence: “There are many memorable moments in the book that lead me to give it an enthusiastic recommendation.” I encourage all chess players to read the entire review.

You can view the review of “Lisa: A Chess Novel” by clicking here.

Beautiful Middlegame Possibilities

FM Aviv Friedman has posted a video that is loaded with practical advice on the middlegame tactics for intermediate to advanced players. This is part of the Advanced Player Class series for the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis and definitely a video not to be missed.

Solving Mate in Two Problems

Solving “Mate in Two” problems can be tricky, even when one side has overwhelming force on the board. They make good practice for beginners and intermediate players to inprove their chess vision.

The example below comes from GM Jesse Kraai’s new book, a work of fiction entitled Lisa: A Chess Novel. He approached me by e-mail a few weeks ago and asked me to review the book. He read a few of my reviews on Amazon.com and thought I might be interested. I had been intended to read it, so I downloaded it.

Without spoiling the plot, when Lisa meets GM Igor Ivanov, he gives her a book with “Mate in Two” problems and tells her to solve the first 500 problems overnight. Her reaction, which would have been mine, was something along the lines of “Yeah, right. 500 problems in one day.” The interesting point of this problem is that the there are lots of forced mates. Black should resign, since it is only through extreme carelessness that a stalemate would occur. However, there is only one move, a quiet move, that results in a forced mate in two. That move is Qa7. Lots of other moves win. But only Qa7 wins in two moves.

Some beginners miss the merit in these sorts of problems. What does it matter if I mate in two moves or three moves or even four moves or five? The most important reason is that these problems teach precise endgame play. That’s a critical game skill that can come only with lots and lots of practice.

Sustaining Pressure and Enduring Pressure

There is an old chess adage, “Patzer sees a check, patzer plays a check.” My experience is that intermediate player often fall into a similar pattern of play. They see an attack on a pawn or a piece and they rush to capture the material.

One of the most valuable pieces of advice I learned from my first chess coach, IM Valeri Lilov (and I received many), was to carefully evaluate the position and consider whether sustaining the pressure on an opposing unit is better than quickly making the capture.

I’ve played more turn-based games against my opponent in the game below, and I just noticed that he’s lost roughly 100-150 rating points over the last year. He makes premature attacks and simple tactical oversights.

My initial plan was to focus pressure on the h6 pawn. Russian players have a term for these tiny advances of the rook pawns. The call them “little ears.” Novices and even some intermediate players makes them almost instinctively to fend off minor pieces. The idea of suffer the temporary inconvenience of a pin is something they want to avoid, even at the expense of a permanent positional scar in the pawn structure in front of their king. Some players even instinctively advance both rook pawns straight away. There are opening variations where advancing one rook pawn of the other by a single square is a sound move. Stronger players learn when the position requires this move and when it merely creates a target for the opponent. There are many occasions in chess when it’s better to endure pressure than to react immediately in a way that weakens your position

In my notes to the game below, I made a move that ChessBase identified as a novelty. Perhaps it is a weak play. I considered the move carefully and if my analysis was faulty, I’d love to learn how. So please don’t be shy about posting a comment with your own analysis.

The idea of 10.Qc1 was to apply pressure to the h6 pawn. I was entertaining the possibility of a positional sacrifice, the trade of a minor piece for Black’s h- and g-pawns. That would expose the black king. Black’s game quickly fell apart with an outright blunder on move 11 that captured my d-pawn instead of recapturing my bishop. This left me with a minor piece advantage. Black could have played on at a disadvantage by recapturing. It would have left his kingside dawn structure in a mess, but at least Black would not have the deficit of a minor piece without compensation.

I did not intend to rush forward with my plan of attacking h6 directly. As the game notes indicate, I intended to maintain the pressure on h6 while at the same moving on with my development with Nbd2, adding a complication on the queenside with the pawn thrust to a4, and than completing my development by connecting my rooks with the queen move from c1 to c2. The queen move would reduce the pressure on h6 but protect the pawn on a4, freeing the rook on a1 to come to a more active square.

Neglect Development at Your Peril

Development is one of the critical opening responsibilities for both players. When you neglect it, you risk a rapid collapse of your game. Or, perhaps, a slow, tortured constriction. Moving the queen to an advanced, aggressive position might seem to be a developing move. Rarely is that so, since a queen who rushes forward is often vulnerable to be harassed by enemy pawns and pieces.

My opponent in a turn-based Internet game made an early queen advance to d5. This was too aggressive. My opponent likely thought it would lead to panic. Looking over the board, I saw no reason to immediately push the enemy queen back. That could be done with a simple development of my king knight. Instead, I played d6 to open the diagonal for my queen bishop. It was a wait-and-see move that prepared for further development and watched to see if White intended to play early with just one or two pieces, a common mistake by intermediate players.

White castled queenside, another aggressive move. I repulsed the white queen by developing my knight to f6, proving the white queen picked the wrong perch.

The remainder of the game is an example of the danger associated with delayed development. White had ample opportunity to develop the king knight and connect the rooks. White consistently neglected development and quickly lost the game.

Outsmarting Yourself

I got “cute” in a game that finished yesterday. My opponent was rated approximately 100 points lower. I had a position I evaluated to be winning. I decided to exchange a piece for pawns. I should have given that decision a lot more calculation. It turned out to be a serious blunder. From that point, I was struggling, just hoping my opponent would make a mistake serious enough that I could find a draw. Another 20+ moves, down a minor piece, with weak doubled pawns, I resigned.

When you face a critical move — and the decision to exchange a minor piece for pawns is definitely a critical move — you need to think long and hard. I didn’t.

The Vancura draw

In the ending rook + pawn v. rook, every tournament chess player should know the Philidor draw and the Lucena position. Another is the Vancura Position, which occurs more often than many players expect. Karsten Müller explains how to turn a loss into a draw with recent grandmaster examples.

Click here to read Karsten Müller’s "Understanding the Vancura Draw "

Aggression and Defense in Chess

Chess is not a game of simple aggression. To be successful, you need to build up an attack patiently and be able to accurately calculate the result of a sequence of moves.

It’s my experience that being aggressive will get you to the ELO 1700-1800 rating over weaker opponents. After that point, defensive skills become keener and simple aggression will usually not suffice. You cannot rely on feints with a minor piece or two, as my opponent did below. Playing 12.Nb5 was too aggressive. White’s bishop was vulnerable on d3. I even questioned 10.Bg5, when White made the move. As White, I would have opted for 0-0-0 and then Rhe1 to apply pressure down the center.

14.Nxa7 was a further example of rushing forward. The continuation was easily calculated. White would have the bishop pair, but at the cost of the a2 pawn, a black rook on a2, and a strong queenside initiative for Black.

There are situations where the bishop pair is worth a pawn, but those require very careful evaluation of the position. When you sacrifice material, you might not be able to regain it. In this game, White not only sacrificed a pawn, he also accepted serious positional deficits, as well that led to an early resignation.

Bashing the Benko

IM Andrew Martin poses a simple question in his latest video? Do you struggle as White against the Benko Gambit? You’re not alone. Andrew has advice for the White player using the recent game H.Olafsson-M Kobalia, Reykjavik (2014). I’ve added the PGN after the video.

A Loss in the Najdorf

The Najdorf Sicilian is one of my frequent choice as a Black reply to 1.e4. I just finished a turn-based game against an opponent of equal strength and managed to make a suboptimal move quickly followed by a blunder that caused my position to collapse. As I’ve noted before, it takes only one move, especially in a sharp opening, like the Najdorf Sicilian, to lose a game of chess.

Dealing with the King’s Gambit

Many improvers are intimidated when they play Black and their opponent replies to 1.e4 e5 with 2.f4. IM Andrew Martin has released a new YouTube video that tackles the King’s Gambit. He reassures viewers that Black can play a comfortable game, with a little instruction on how to handle the opening.

Double Rook Endgames Require Patience

Double rook endgames can be a challenge. In the game below, I had a 3-2 pawn majority on the kingside against an opponent who was approximately 200 rating points weaker. A one pawn advantage is sometimes insufficient in rook endgames.

My opponent played well until the double rook endgame emerged. Then my opponent appeared to be unsure how to proceed. This is common among intermediate players in endgame play. Inexperience leads to weak moves. A common reaction is to make fruitless moves, waiting for their opponents to take the initiative. Then they can react.

Being patient is a critical skill in the endgame. You have to play precisely. That requires careful calculation. One false move can be the difference between loss and draw.

There is an important difference between patience and indecision. White had reasonable chances for a draw when we exchanged down to the double rook endgame. White should have tried to keep the center blocked instead of opting for doubled isolated queen pawns. This allowed Black to seize the e-file and separate the white king from its rooks. Black would have eagerly swapped both pairs of rooks, pressing the 3-2 majority on the kingside to bring the black king forward and then shifting over to the queenside as White dispatched the extra black kingside pawn, eventually promoting a queenside pawn.

Keep Your King Protected

I played the Albin Counter-Gambit against a player of equal strength. I felt quite a lot of pressure in the early moves of the game. My opponent had obvious experience against the opening. My opponent allowed me to equalize the game by playing somewhat passively, generally a mistake when facing a gambit (or a counter-gambit).

The black pawn on d3 can be a strong irritant in the Albin Counter-Gambit. White allowed it to sit there for a long time. That combined with keeping the king on e1 facing strong pressure from R+Q turned the game from equality into a rout. It appears that White missed the follow-up to a rook sacrifice on e3. The e-pawn was protected by the f-pawn. A rook for a pawn? Yes! By placing the queen behind the rook on the e-file and directly in front of the enemy king, a clearance sacrifice was possible that allowed the black queen to hurl herself down the e-file. White chose the wrong reply. Even playing 35.Kd1 would have left Black with a decisive advantage.

Bad Choice of Opening

I’ve mentioned before that gambits and risky lines are dangerous against an unknown opponent. I chose the Schliemann/Jaenisch Defence to the Ruy Lopez against a player of equal strength. Against an unprepared opponent, the Schliemann Defence can be intimidating.

My opponent was obviously prepared and exploited my opening choice. I ended up in a disadvantageous position after just eight moves! My development was behind, my queen was exposed, and my king was going to be less secure than White’s (which was already tucked away).

GM Daniel King Interviews Garry Kasparov

GM Daniel King has been conducting interviews at the 2014 Chess Olympiad in Tromsø. Just a handful of days before the FIDE election for President, GM King had an extended interview with the former World Chess Champion. The interview covered a range of topics, including the world championship, the campaign for FIDE President, and even what he taught Magnus Carlsen.

A Positional Sacrifice

A common trait among us improvers is to be too materialistic. We miss opportunities for game-changing sacrifices. Study the games of strong players, and you’ll find a willingness to make well-timed sacrifices.

I’ve found that the difference between winning and losing among strong players often comes down to just one or two moves.

I just finished a game today with a player who’s my equal in rating. I credit my win with three moves.

One was a quiet move. 19.Bh3. This move blocked the rook’s protection of the h4 pawn but the bishop had excellent scope on the h3/c8 diagonal.

The most important move of the game was 21. Nxd4: a positional sacrifice. I was willing to trade a rook for a bishop in order to place my bishop on d4 where it protected the passed pawn on c5 and had tremendous influence along the long a1/h8 diagonal. Black had traded off the very bishop needed to protect the black squares around the king. I reasoned that two strong bishops and a rook were worth more than two rooks that were doing very little except protecting the back rank and a knight.

The third critical move was 31.Rg1. This pin of the knight forced Black to play – in effect – without a minor piece until I released the pin with 34.Rd1. The rook protected my back rank from mate by the black queen and forced the black knight to stand there like a pawn while my bishop was free to maneuver.

Another interesting feature of this game is how I coordinated my pieces. I used my queen, bishop, and pawns to keep my queen and bishop to keep them all secure. For much of the endgame, my rook was hanging on the back rank. By a combination of shielding the rook with my f2 pawn (protected by my bishop), the rook remained safe on g1.

In the end, it was the passed c-pawn that won the game. By the time it reached c7, it was a true monster and Black resigned.

The Power of the Rook

My opponent chose to play the f4 Sicilian with little or no apparent experience. What’s more instructive about this game is the dominance of my rook down the d-file. White squirms under a pin on one bishop and then the second bishop. While that happens, my queen is free to pillage the pawns on both sides of the board.

White should resign. The position is, as the chess journalists say, “Hopeless.” White is caught in a mating attack. My forecast for the continuation of this game: more pain for White.

Opening Blunders

It happens. We all make mistakes. I made one early this morning. Right after returning from my AM walk. I carelessly blocked the protector of my b-pawn and my opponent immediately capitalized on my mistake. As a result, I was down a pawn with no compensation.

Losing a Tempo

Rook and pawn endgames can be tricky. The game below is one such endgame. If you look at the position, my opponent hoped to be able to hold a draw. Had I been playing White, I’d have offered a draw and if that was rebuffed then I’d resign.

The rooks are locked on the black pawn on a2. The White king is a long way from offering assistance. My rook has the a-file to protect itself, when the White king comes over to threaten it. The deciding action is on the kingside.

In order to win the endgame, I needed to lose a tempo by playing 51…Kh7. The calculation required is not deep but there’s no substitute for calculation in most rook and pawn endgames. The more direct 51.Kh6 would be a mistake, since the white king can then shoulder the black king away by occupying the f4 square. Losing a tempo with the side step to h7 allows the black king to penetrate and the win is relatively simple from that point onward.

Rooking the Queen

Yesterday I posted a link to an article on Chess Café by NM Bruce Pandolfini. The topic was using knight and bishop to capture the opposing queen. Today he has a new article. This one is posted on Chess.com. The topic of this article is using the rooks to capture the queen.

Click here to read Bruce Pandolfini’s article “Rooking the Queen” on Chess.com.

When a Bishop and Knight Rule the Queen

NM Bruce Pandolfini is a well-known and highly-respected chess coach. He has assembled a collection of ten tactical examples where a knight and bishop are used in tandem to capture a queen.

Click here to read Bruce Pandolfini’s article at Chess Café and try his tactical exercises.