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.

Attack When the Time Is Right

I have been interested in the Albin Counter-Gambit since I watched the ChessBase video on the topic a couple of years ago by former FIDE World Champion Rustam Kasimdzhanov. An Internet turn-based game by an opponent this week allowed me to play the opening. My opponent and I are closely matched, about 100 rating points separate us and at the level of intermediate club players, that’s not really all that significant.

What is significant in this game is my opponent’s lack of familiarity with the opening. The tabiya for the Albin Counter-Gambit is easy to remember: White pawns on d4 and c4 for the Queen’s Gambit and Black pawns on e5 and d5 offering the e5 as a counter-gambit. White accepts the e-pawn. Black declines the c-pawn and instead advances to d4.

When White is experienced with the opening, as with many/most gambits, Black can have difficulty proving the rapid piece development is adequate compensation for the pawn. When White is unprepared, Black can develop his pieces with ferocious speed.

My opponent made the comment that (s)he was expecting the final conflict to begin. My reply was simple. Not yet.

Novices tend to play timidly or attack carelessly. Intermediate players learn better how to evaluate positions and their judgment about when to attack improves.

I agree with my opponent that the position in the diagram below favors Black. As I pointed out to my opponent, the White position is still defensible. White is definitely cramped and tied down on the kingside. There are still matters for Black to address, however. My preference is to finish my development and connect my rooks. The question is Be7 or Bg7. My evaluation of both moves is a coin flip kind of decision. I’m going to play Be7 because it reinforces the pawn on h4 and attacks White’s c5 pawn.

The point is this: don’t rush your attacks. Be sure to evaluate the position carefully by examining the entire board. Don’t just focus on the point of attack and its immediate surroundings. That’s how we fall into mistakes like back rank mates. As players become stronger, they learn to prepare their attacks carefully and initiate them when the time is right. My judgment here is, the time is not yet right. Thus, finish my development and continue to apply pressure on the kingside and in the center. Continue to probe the White position, trying to provoke weaknesses. Then, when I have overwhelming force in the correct position, that’s the time to attack!

Too Greedy

When I play the Scotch Opening, I tend to play the Scotch Gambit. I find that improvers are inclined to get greedy and take not just the first pawn that’s offered but also the second. Then they try to hold on to their material advantage.

The problem with this strategy is that it ignores why White would sacrifice two pawns in the first five moves. In blitz or rapid chess, an unfamiliar player might not have enough time to work out how to handle the Scotch Gambit. In the game fragment below, which has been played today, my opponent has plenty of time to reflect. It’s a turn-based Internet game with a three-day per move time control.

The general advice is to accept the pawn in a gambit. First, this is general advice and is not a good substitute for applying sound chess judgment by evaluating the position. Second, I’ve found that this rule does not work out so well when a second pawn is immediately offered. You should be alert to some sort of trap. If there is no immediate trap, then your opponent has to be offering two pawns for some sort of compensation. That usually takes the form of open lines and quick seizure of the initiative.

I chose this variation of the Scotch Gambit because it allows my pieces to shoot out with ferocity. If you play through the moves of the game, you’ll see that I rejected quieter alternatives on several occasions. I chose the opening with the idea of seizing the initiative. Each subsequent move I made, I weighed the effect on my initiative. If I surrendered it, I’d be down material without sufficient compensation. Within fourteen more moves, I recovered my two pawns and Black is hopelessly tied down.

The open lines for my pieces also made it difficult for Black to get developed. My pieces controlled so much of the board that Black was completely cramped. Take a look at the final move in the game fragment and you’ll see that Black’s queenside bishop and rook have an unhappy future after I reinforce my rook on c7 by playing Rfc1.

Steinitz vs. Zuckertort – 1st World Championship

Here is a classic game that every chess improver should study. Chess Grandmaster Bryan Smith presents game 12 from the first World Championship match between Wilhelm Steinitz and Johannes Zuckertort. This is part of the Grandmaster Lecture series from the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

I’ve added the PGN and analysis from ChessBase Mega 2014 for the game so improvers can follow along and also study the game more deeply after watching the video.

Alekhine’s Gun: A Powerful Priyome

Alekhine’s Gun is a famous chess formation from the game Alekhine v. Nimzowitsch, San Remo (1930). Alekhine placed his two rooks on an open file and his queen behind them with devastating effect. It’s a powerful priyome. Six years later, Alekhine (as Black) defeated William Winter in Nottingham with the same formation.

Priyome is an interesting Russian word for positional patterns to learn and remember. (For more on this, you can read my article, Mastering Priyomes: A Key to Chess Improvement.)

In the game below, I played a variation on the same formation. I also had a queen and double rook battery. Instead of being placed behind my rooks, my queen was between them. The file has half-open instead of open already.

I used Alekhine’s Gun to pry open the file. Black then chose to liquidate a rook and queen. My passed and advanced c-pawn combined with the advantage of rook versus bishop resulted in an easily won endgame. Black resigned after the next move: 32.c6!. (32.Rb6 would also win, but the pawn advance to c6 wins more quickly and easily.)

Improving chess players should remain alert for opportunities to play Alekhine’s Gun. I’ve also included the game and analysis from ChessBase Mega 2014 for Alekhine v. Nimzowitsch, San Remo (1930) following the PGN and analysis for my own game.

Here is the game that gave the name “Alekhine’s Gun” to chess lore:

Tabiya

Tabiya is an Arabic word that has migrated into chess. In Arabic, it means “normal manner.” From Arabic, the word stretches back to Persian and Sanskrit.

In chess, a tabiya is pattern of pawns and pieces that arises during a chess opening that is so common that it becomes recognized as a “standard” or “typical” position for the opening. These are important mental markers for the strong chess player because they are also critical decision points. They’re critical because the alternatives lead to different plans.

When you watch strong players and you see them making the first several moves “automatically,” what you’re almost certainly witnessing is the players proceeding to some tabiya. Once reached, the moves will slow as the players deliberate more.

A quick example is the tabiya for the French Defense, Tarrasch Variation. It’s 1.e4 e6, 2.d4 d5, 3.Nd2. That’s it. Instead of playing 3.Nc3 to protect the e-pawn, White plays 3.Nd2. This leaves the c-pawn free to advance and also avoids the Winawer Variation (because 3…Bb4 is repulsed by playing 4.c3 and Black loses a tempo). The “problem” with the Tarrasch Variation is this: the bishop on c1 is blocked. That means an extra tempo at some point to get the black-square bishop into the game. Nd2 is also less aggressive that posting the knight directly on c3. Black has four reasonable alternatives to the Tarrasch Variation: 3…c5, 3…Nf6, 3…Nc6, and 3…Be7. Much rarer is 3…a6. The resulting plans are very different. For example, 3…c5 encourages dxc and Black has two ways to recapture. 3…Be7 and 3…a6 are “wait and see” moves. With those choices, Black avoids making an early commitment to a particular plan. Etc.

Tabiya come in hierarchies. The French Defense tabiya is 1.e4 e6. First decision point. 2.d4? That leads to the most common variations. 2.d6 signals the King’s Indian Attack. Let’s assume White chooses 2.d4 and Black responds with 2…d5. We can then explore tabiya for the Tarrasch Variation, the Advance Variation, the Exchange Variation. Within each, we will find tabiya for subvariations, and (in some cases) tabiya for well-known lines.

Here’s another example: the Botvinnik Variation of the Semi-Slav. That tabiya is fourteen moves deep.

From this position, Black can choose from several plans. During a game, when both players are familiar with the position at the end of these 14 moves, that’s when the analysis and planning really starts. For us improvers to really understand an opening variation, it’s best to ask ourselves why this position arises. What happens if we get the move order wrong? Once we understand why this particular position is “standard” and why the move order is critical, memorization of the move order will be easier. The next step will be to understand the alternatives that proceed from the tabiya. What are the different plans associated with those alternatives? Perhaps one of them lends itself better to our style of play. In this way, tabiya become more easily digestible chunks of opening theory than simply memorizing opening variations and subvariations.