Monday, February 26, 2007

Advice from Alekhine

In their tournament game played at Dresden in 1936 Alexander Alekhine noticed that his opponent Efim Bogoljubow had set a clever trap for him. If Alekhine captured a certain pawn Bogoljubow would reply with a move that won a piece. After some reflection Alekhine decided to fall into the trap because in the concrete situation Bogoljubow's piece was going to be no match for Alekhine's pawns. “White falls into the trap,” wrote Alekhine, “and thereby proves that it is the fastest way to win!”

In the late stages of a tournament game many years ago my opponent set a trap to win my queen. In the diagrammed position I am an exchange ahead but in compensation my opponent has a strongly centralised knight and is also ahead on the clock. My last move was 1.Ne8 attacking his bishop. Objectively speaking the strongest reply is 1...Bf8 but my opponent saw an opportunity for a tactic and played 1...Bh6!?

The idea is obvious: if 2.Bxh6 then Black replies 2...Nxf3+ and White's queen is lost. But I could also see that if I take on h6 then Black's king will suddenly be short of squares. With the seconds ticking down and Alekhine whispering in my ear I went ahead and played 2.Bxh6! anyway. My opponent gave an audible gasp and banged out the move 2...Nxf3+. There followed 3.Kh1 Nxd2 and now I calmly played 4.Nf6+! This is a clearance sacrifice that gains time to bring White's rook into the attack. After 4...Nxf6 5.Rc8+ Black was forced to resign since he is mated in a couple of moves.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Study time

In a recent issue of Chess Today GM Alex Baburin looked at some endings in which a lone bishop must contend with a knight plus two pawns that are separated by one file. If the defender's king is on scene a surprisingly large proportion of these endings cannot be won for the stronger side.

Baburin's article caused me to recall a 1929 study by the Soviet composer A. Gurvich, which is shown in the diagram. This study has been republished in a number of places, most notably Volume 5 of the Encyclopaedia of Chess Endings from Chess Informant as well as the Chess Endgame Training CD from Convekta.

Endgame studies are a fascinating branch of chess creativity. The stipulation – White to play and win or White to play and draw – usually if not always looks impossible of achievement but closer examination will reveal a tactical solution that eventually overcomes all resistance. In the best studies a forcing line of play will appear to hit a dead end several moves along but then a new tactic that has arisen as if by chance will allow further progress to be made. There is no better way of increasing one's powers of combination and calculation than solving endgame studies. For best results I recommend setting up the position on a board but not allowing yourself to move the men. In fact I suggest you do that here before reading further. To help with this I have not set the moves of the solution in bold type.

In Gurvich's study White is called upon to win against any defence. This looks typically impossible because Black is threatening to capture the h-pawn and then give up his bishop for the f-pawn. A lone knight cannot deliver mate so White must prevent this plan. The only way forward is 1.Nh5+ since 1...Kxh7 loses the bishop after 2.Nf6+. Black must therefore play 1...Kh8.

White must now be careful. Both 2.f6 and 2.Kf6 fail to 2...Kxh7 since the knight check is now blocked. 2.Kg6 is met by 2...Be4! 3.Nf6 Bd3 (or 3.Bc2) and White cannot make further progress since any move of the knight runs into ...Bxf5 followed by capturing the h-pawn with either king or bishop according to circumstances. So White must play 2.Kh6, protecting his pawn. This has the added virtue of threatening 3.Nf4 followed by 4.Ng6 mate.

Black has two moves to counter this plan: 2...Bf7 and 2...Be4. The first one is overcome in prosaic fashion after 3.Nf4 Be8 4.f6 Bf7 5.Nd3! Bg6 6.Ne5 Be8 (or 6...Bxh7 7.f7 Bg8 8.Ng6 mate) 7.f7 Bxf7 8.Nxf7 mate. The second move is more difficult to meet but a little reflection reveals that White must push his f-pawn with 3.f5. Everything else allows Black to force a draw with 3...Bxf5. This includes 3.Ng3 Bxf5! since 4.Nxf5 is stalemate.

After 3.f6 Black of course must take on h7 – otherwise White wins as in the line with 2...Bf7 that we looked at earlier. So 3...Bxh7 and now 4.f7 looks quite deadly. But Black is not done yet: 4...Bg8! threatens to take the pawn and force a draw, and if White promotes to a queen (or rook) Black is again stalemated.

We have reached the culminating point of the study. White must promote his pawn to either a bishop or a knight. It is well known that two knights can deliver mate only in exceptional circumstances, which do not apply here since Black has a bishop standing ready to prevent the mating move. So the only move left is 5.f8=B. Black is now free to move his bishop anywhere he likes, but in every case White will reply with 6.Nf6! This takes away the king's flight square on g8 and threatens an unstoppable 7.Bg7 mate, thus satisfying the stipulation. All of White's pieces are on dark squares so without the stalemate factor Black's bishop may as well be on another board!

To those interested in delving further into the wonderful world of endgame studies I can recommend two books: 1234 Modern End-Game Studies by Harold Lommer and Test Tube Chess by John Roycroft. Both are available in Dover reprints and should be relatively easy to obtain.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Attacking technique

I was impressed with White's attacking technique in the game Agnos-Miladinovic, Greece 1998. In the first diagrammed position White has already established some of the preconditions for successful kingside operations. First, he has a firm grip on the centre and for the moment Black cannot challenge him there. Second, he has traded off the black knight that was on f6 and with Black's queen also somewhat offside White has a preponderance of force in the key sector. Third, the unpinning operation against Black's light-squared bishop has brought White's kingside pawns into play and they are set to inflict further damage. Finally, it is White's move!

17.h4! Rfe8
For the time being Black decides to remain passive and not weaken his position further, a defensive strategy that complies perfectly with classical principles. However, modern strategic thinking requires a player to anticipate his opponent's threats and adopt specific countermeasures even if they look strange to classical eyes. Because it was not difficult to foresee White's plan of driving off or exchanging the remaining kingside defenders Black should have considered the move 17...h5!? here. This has the idea of building a light-square barrier against White's attack which would show to advantage after 18.gxh5 Bxh5. All very reasonable but further consideration exposes the defect of this idea: White simply plays 18.g5 Be7 19.Rd2 followed by Nh2 and Bf3 winning the exposed h-pawn and Black has no adequate counter to this manoeuvre.
18.g5 hxg5 19.hxg5 Be7 20.Nh4! Nf8 21.Nxg6 Nxg6 22.Bc1! (second diagram)
The first stage of White's attacking plan is concluded and he now intends to play Be4 with strong pressure against Black's kingside.
A critical moment. The idea of opening the e-file and exchanging some pieces before White can generate serious threats is an ambitious one on Black's part. It is true that the line 23.dxe5 Rxd1 24.Rxd1 Bc5! gives Black good counterplay but White is not obliged to capture on e5 as the game continuation demonstrates. A better defensive plan starts with the move 22...Qc7. This brings the queen back into play and also conceals a neat tactical point: if White carries on with 23.Be4 he loses a pawn after 23...Nf4! 24.Bxf4 (24.Qg4 Bxg5! 25.Qxg5? Nh3+) 24...Qxf4 25.g6 Qg5+ 26.Kf1 f5! 27.Bd3 Bd6 followed by ...Qxg6. Not that Black is better here, but he is certainly not worse either. White can meet 22...Qc7 with 23.Qh5 but after 23...Nf4 24.Bxf4 Qxf4 25.g6 fxg6 26.Qxg6 Bh4! 27.Re2 e5! Black's simplifying idea from the actual game is realised in a much superior version. Finally, White can try 23.Rd3; for example, 23...Nf4 24.Bxf4 Qxf4 25.g6 Bd6 26.gxf7+ Qxf7 27.Re3 but here too Black can stay afloat, this time by sacrificing the e-pawn: 27...Bf4!? 28.Rxe6 Rxe6 29.Qxe6 Qxe6 30.Rxe6 Kf7 and it is difficult to see how White can make progress.
23.Be4! c5
Black's king comes under direct attack after 23...exd4 24.Bxg6 fxg6 25.Qe6+ Kh7 ( or 25...Kf8 26.Qxg6 dxc3 – to prevent 27.Rd3 – 27.Qf5+! Kg8 28.Qe6+ Kf8 29.g6 and wins) 26.Kg2 Bxg5 27.Rh1+ Bh6 28.Rxh6+! gxh6 29.Qf7+ Kh8 30.Bxh6 and mates shortly. Perhaps the best try is 23...Rd6 but White can play 24.Bxg6 Rxg6 25.Qxe5 Qd8 26.d5! Rd6 27.c4 with a large advantage. The contrast between these two variations illustrates a modern concept in chess strategy: a kingside attack can function as a strategic element that may be converted to other forms of advantage.
24.d5! Nf4 25.Bxf4 exf4 26.Qg4 g6 27.Qxf4 Qxb2
How times have changed... here is Black, a modern grandmaster, basing his defensive plan on capturing the QNP with his queen! It was much better to acquiesce to the pawn sacrifice and play 27...Qd6 28.Qg4 Bf8. Although White is clearly better it will again be difficult to make progress.
28.Rd3 Bf8 29.Kg2 Bg7
There were two other defensive tries here but in the end neither of them would save the game:
a) 29...Bd6 30.Qh4 Be5 31.Bxg6! fxg6 32.Rh3 Rxd5 33.Qh7+ Kf8 34.Rf3+ Bf4 35.Qh8+ Kf7 36.Qxe8+ Kg7 37.Re7#;
b) 29...Qb5 30.Rf3 Qd7 31.Qh4 Bg7 32.Rh1 Rxe4 33.Qxe4 Qxd5 34.Qxd5 Rxd5 35.Rb1 Rxg5+ 36.Kf1 Rd5 37.Rxb7 with a winning endgame for White.
30.Rf3! Rf8 31.Qh4 Qb6
More stubborn is 31...Rd7 but after 32.Rh1 Re8 33.Qh7+ Kf8 34.Bxg6 Re5 35.Bf5 Rdxd5 White can expose the frailty of Black's position with 36.Rb1! Qxa2 37.Rxb7 with decisive threats.
32.Rh1 Rfe8 33.Qh7+ Kf8 34.Bxg6
Along with this pawn goes Black's last hope of a successful defence. Now White concludes matters with an incisive combination that either mates or wins material.
34...Rd7 (third diagram)
35.Bxf7! Rxf7 36.Rxf7+ Kxf7 37.Rh6! Qd8
Or 37...Qb2 38.Rg6 Rg8 39.Rf6+ Ke7 40.Re6+! Kf7 41.Qg6+ Kf8 42.Re8#.
38.Rf6+ Qxf6 39.gxf6 Kxf6 40.Qh4+ Kf7 41.d6 Bf6 42.Qh5+ Kf8 43.Qg6 1-0

A very nice attacking display by Dimitrios Agnos.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

No draw

The semi-endgame position shown in the first diagram arose an open tournament held in Italy a number of years ago. White is on move. As always the key question is: who stands better and why? I think the most accurate assessment is that White has an edge but Black will manage to neutralise it. With careful play on both sides one could easily expect a handshake and a draw within the next ten moves or so. All very reasonable except that this is the game D.Gurevich-Korchnoi, Bratto 1998. Both players are in the running for first place and both players are grandmasters so today there will be no agreement to a draw until the position is a draw. And with time running short on both sides, things are going to get bumpy...

17.Rc2 Nb8
The immediate 17...a5 was also possible: 18.Na4 (not 18.b5 Nb4! 19.axb4 axb4 20.Rac1 Rxc3 21.Rxc3 bxc3 22.Rxc3 Rd5 23.Rb3 and White is now on the shady side of the draw) 18...axb4 (or 18...Na7!? 19.Rxc8 Nxc8 20.bxa5 bxa5 21.Nd4 Bf8 with equality) 19.Nxb6 Rc7 20.axb4 (definitely not 20.Rac1 b3! 21.Rxc6? Rxc6 22.Rxc6 b2 and Black wins) 20...Rb8 21.Na8 Rcc8 22.Rac1 Rxc8 23.Rxc6 Rxc6 24.Rxc6 Bxb4 25.Rc7+ Kg6 and neither player will make much progress from here.
18.Rac1 a5 19.Na2
White is playing for a win. He could practically force a draw with 19.Na4 Rxc2 20.Rxc2 axb4 21.axb4 Bxb4 22.Nxb6.
19...Rxc2+ 20.Rxc2 axb4 21.Nxb4 Bc5!?
Black also seems to be playing for a win. He can achieve a compact defensive position after 21...Bxb4 22.axb4 Na6! 23.Rc6 (23.b5 Nc5=) 23...Nxb4 24.Rxb6 Nd5 25.Rb7+ Ne7 26.Nd4 Rd6. The next few moves see White play on the slight insecurity of the bishop's post on c5.
22.Rc4 Nd7 23.a4 Ra8 24.Nd3 e5 25.Nd2 Ke6 26.e4 Kd6 27.Nb3 Ba3 28.a5!?
The point of White's preceding manoeuvres, but it is all bluff.
There is nothing wrong with 28...bxa5; for example, 29.Ra4 Bc5 30.Nxa5 Kc7! and Black has no problems.
White cannot achieve anything by exchanging on c5 because Black's king is well-placed to deal with White's a-pawn. So he marks time and waits for a better opportunity.
29...g6 30.Rd2 Ke7? (second diagram)
Black can defend his position with 30...Kc6!; for example 31.axb6 Bxb6 32.Nb4+ Kc7 33.Nd5+ Kc6 34.Rc2+ Kd6. Perhaps Korchnoi was keeping the tension as a way of playing for a win. But after the text move the game takes a big turn in White's favour.
31.Ndxc5! bxc5
No better is 31...Nxc5 32.Nxc5 bxc5 33.Ra2! c4 (or 33...Kd6 34.Kd3 Kc6 35.Kc4 Ra6 36.g4! and Black will eventually succumb to zugzwang; for example, 36...Ra7 37.a6 Kb6 38.Ra3 h6 39.Rb3+! Kc6 40.Rf3, etc.) 34.Kd2 Kd6 35.Kc3 Kc5 36.Rd2! Rb8 37.Rd5+ Kc6 38.f3! Rb3+ 39.Kxc4 Rb2 40.Rc5+ Kd6 41.Rb5 Rxg2 42.Rb6+ Ke7 43.a6 Ra2 (43...Rxh2? 44.Kb3!) 44.Kb5 Kd7 45.Rxf6 and the rest will just be a matter of technique.
32.Kd3 Rb8 33.Kc4 Rb4+ 34.Kc3 Rb7 35.a6
Also possible was 35.Rd5 Rc7 36.Kc4 winning the c-pawn.
35...Ra7 36.Kc4 Ra8 37.Kb5!
Definitely not 37...Ra2 Kd6 38.a7 Kc6 39.Ra6 Nb6+ and Black is suddenly better.
Or 37...Rb8+ 38.Kc6 Rc8+ 39.Kb7 Rb8+ 40.Kc7 Rxb3 41.Rxd7+ Ke6 42.Rd6+ Ke7 43.Rc6! Ra3 44.Kb6 Rb3+ 45.Kxc5 Ra3 46.Kb6 Rb3+ 47.Kc7 and White wins.
38.Na5 Rc8
If 38...Nb8 White wins neatly with 39.Rd8! Nxa6 40.Rxa8 Nc7+ 41.Kc6 Nxa8 42.Kb7! trapping the knight.
In some time pressure White does not notice that he wins quickly after 39.a7 Ra8 40.Ka6. But the text does not spoil anything.
39...c4 40.Rc2?!
On the last move of the time control White commits another inaccuracy, and a more serious one this time. He could still decide matters quickly with 40.a7! c3 41.Rd6+ Ke7 42.Rc6 Ra8 43.Nd6! Kd8 44.Nc8! However this was not easy to calculate, especially in time pressure.
40...c3 (third diagram)
Both sides have reached time control and Korchnoi has typically managed to scrape up counterplay in the form of his passed c-pawn. But with more time available for reflection Gurevich finds a beautiful winning line that involves the immediate surrender of his biggest asset: his passed a-pawn!
41.a7! Ra8 42.Rxc3 Rxa7 43.Nd8+!
The beginning of a forced manoeuvre to drive Black's king offside. This enables White's king to take over.
43...Kd6 44.Rd3+ Kc7 45.Ne6+ Kb8
No better is 45...Kc8 46.Rc3+ Kb8 47.Kc6 Rb7 48.Kd6 Nb6 49.Nc5 Nc8+ 50.Ke6 Rb6+ 51.Kf7 with a decisive attack on Black's kingside pawns.
46.Kc6 Kc8 47.Rc3 Ra6+?
Losing immediately, but everything else lost eventually.
48.Kb5+ 1-0

Dmitry Gurevich is not in the first rank of grandmasters but he has a respectable record against Viktor Korchnoi: +2 -2 =7.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Storm clouds

It is Black's move in the game Varavin-Terekhin, Perm 1998. His kingside is under some pressure from White's active pieces, all of which are in play. On the other hand it is not clear that White can land a decisive blow just yet. On top of that Black is a pawn up and can annoy White with moves like ...Rb8 and ...c6.

Black's next move was 1...Qb8? He had probably decided that White was threatening the manoeuvre 2.Qg4-h4 and so he rushed to meet it with a manoeuvre of his own: 2...Qxb2-c1#. But sending the queen away from the kingside should have set a few alarm bells ringing because it temporarily gives White a huge preponderance of force in that sector.
Varavin didn't need any more encouragement than this. He plunged ahead with 2.Qh5!? and left his opponent to think it over. Taking the queen would lose immediately (2...gxh5? 3.Nf6+ Kh8 4.Rxh5+ Bh6 5.Rxh6#) so Black was forced to play 2...Rd8. Now White opened up some lines with 3.Rxg6 fxg6 4.Qxg6.

Black is a rook ahead but has a difficult decision to make. If he tries 4...Qb6 then White mates with 5.Rh8+! Kxh8 6.Nf6! Nf3+ 7.Kf1 Ng5 8.Qh5+, etc. That leaves only two choices: should Black put his bishop in play with the unpinning move 4...Kf8 or should he start a counterattack against White's king with 4...Qxb2? He chose the queen move to which Varavin found the cool reply 5.Kf1! This not only avoids the threatened mate but also cuts out ...Nf3+ as a defence to White's attacking move Ng5.

The game continued 5...Qc1+ 6.Kg2 Qf4 7.Rh7! Qf3+ 8.Kg1 Qf7 and now Varavin settled matters with 9.Rh8+! Kxh8 10.Qxf7. Black had to resign a few moves later.

When I first looked at this game I wasn't impressed with White's combination. Let's peel back to the position after 4.Qxg6 and try the alternative defence 4...Kf8. In Informant 75 Varavin dismisses the king move with the variation 5.Ng5 Nf3+ 6.Nxf3 and makes no further comment. But then how does White deal with 6...Rd6? I can't see a clear way forward; for example, 7.Qf5+ Rf6 8.Qxe5 is met by 8...Qe8 and now if 9.Be2 then 9...Rxf3!? 10.Rh8+ Bxh8 11.Qxh8+ Ke7 12.Qxe8+ Rxe8 13.Bxf3 Rb8! and Black has an easily won ending.

Instead of 5.Ng5 White can also play 5.Rh7. This looks more promising but Black can set up a solid defensive line with 5...Rd7. After 6.Qh5 White has reached maximum activity but the further tactic 7.Rh8+ leads only to perpetual check.

The conclusion is that White's attack after 1.Qh5!? is only good enough for a draw.

Time to bring in the heavy artillery. I gave the position after 1...Qb8 to Toga II, one of the stronger chess playing programs available. Instead of playing 1.Qh5 it wasted no time knocking Black to the canvas with 2.Nf6+!! Bxf6 3.Qh5! Deflecting the bishop away from g7 is worth a whole piece because it sets up two crushing threats. Of course the first one is 4.Qh7#. The second one is revealed after 3...Re8 4.Rxg6+ fxg6 5.Qxg6+ Bg7 6.Rh8+! Kxh8 7.Qh7#. In this line Black can refuse the first rook but after 4...Kf8 5.Rxf6 Ke7 6.Qxf7+ Kd8 7.Rh7 he must give up one of his own rooks to avoid mate. Simple, beautiful and incisive!

As Emanuel Lasker correctly advised, when you have found a good move, wait – there may be a better one!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

En prise? En garde!

The first diagram shows a late middlegame position from the game Simagin-Zagoryansky, Ivanovo 1944. White has a bit more space and an active bishop but has not managed to land a decisive blow. Black is threatening to consolidate by playing his knight from e7 to g6 to f4, and if that happens the game will almost certainly end in a draw. If he wants something positive from the game, White must act quickly. With this in mind Simagin played

White sacrifices a pawn to open lines for his rooks and to prevent Black from consolidating his position.
If 1...Re6 2.f4 Rf8 (stronger than 2...exf4 3.Rhxf4 as given by Simagin) 3.gxh6+ Rxh6 4.Rg4+ Kh8 5.fxe5 Rxf1 6.Kxf1 dxe5 7.Rg5 Re6 8.Kf2 with advantage to White.
2.Rh7+ Kf8 3.Rfh1 Ke8?!
Although it was very hard to see in advance, this is the wrong idea. Black must play 3...Rf7 in order to challenge White's rooks.
4.Rg7 Rf7 5.Rh8+ Kd7?
It was not too late for 5...Rf8; for example 6.Rhh7 Rc7 7.Kh3 Rf4 8.Rxg5 Rf7 9.Rgh5 Rxh7 10.Rxh7 Rd7 and is defending his position successfully.
(second diagram)
After 5...Kd7 White appears to be at a standstill. 6.Rxc8 is met by 6...Rxg7 and 6.Rxf7 is met by 6...Rxh8. Is Black off the hook? No, not quite...
Amazing – with both rooks hanging White puts his only remaining piece en prise! The bishop can be taken in three different ways or not taken at all but it makes no difference: Black is losing.
If 6...Kxc6 then 7.Rxc8+ followed by 8.Rxf7 wins; if 6...Rxc6 then 7.Rxf7 wins; and if 6...Nxc6 then 7.Rxf7+ followed by 8.Rxc8 wins.
7.Rh6+ Rf6
Now what?
A pleasing “echo” of the previous move.
8...Kxd7 9.Rxf6 Re8 10.Rxg5
The win is now a matter of (not too difficult) technique. The remaining moves were:
10...Ng8 11.Rg7+ Ne7 12.Kg3 Rh8 13.Rff7 Re8 14.Kg4 Kd8 15.Kg5 a6 16.a4 a5 17.Kf6 Ng8+ 18.Kg6 Ne7+ 19.Kg5
19...Ng8 20.Rd7+ Kc8 21.Rc7+ Kb8 22.Rb7+
Black resigned.

You will not find this game in the big databases. I have taken it from Simagin's book Luchshie Partii (Best Games), which was published in 1963. “Vladimir Simagin was a real artist whose name is forever engraved in the annals of chess.” – Lev Hariton.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

First impressions

The young boy depicted in this photograph looks to be somewhat in awe of his much older opponent, who is out of camera range. And there was plenty to be overawed about: a simultaneous exhibition by a famous grandmaster with a reputation as a chessboard fighter and opponents on all sides going down to defeat. But first impressions are not always accurate. This boy was someone different, a player without too much experience but with enormous talent and will to win. It's too bad the photographer wasn't around to capture the resignation at the end of the game. It was the boy's famous opponent who had to turn down his king.

Three questions: who is this young boy, who was his opponent, and what was the venue?

UPDATE: It is January 1976 at Hastings and veteran Russian grandmaster Viktor Korchnoi is being taken down by ten-year-old Nigel Short. According to Leonard Barden in The Guardian, "the loser was unwilling to have a post-game discussion until [David] Bronstein took over, praised Short's manoeuvres, and conducted an instant master class."


In the 1990s FM Gary Basanta was one of the dominant players in British Columbia chess, winning the Provincial title five times outright. The outcome of the 1992 championship was settled in a dramatic encounter with eventual runner-up Mayo Fuentebella, which I am today presenting in full. The Black pieces against a dangerous rival, a must-win situation... it doesn't get more interesting than this!

M. Fuentebella – G. Basanta
British Columbia Championship
New Westminster 1992
English Opening A28

1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.e4 Bc5 5.h3
It is better to "prevent" ...Ng4 with the forcing manoeuvre 5.Nxe5 Nxe5 6.d4 Bb4 7.dxe5 Nxe4 8.Qd4, leading to a position that is somewhat better for White. With his next move Black secures his position on the queenside and in the centre and has no further opening difficulties.
5...a5 6.d3 h6 7.Be2 d6 8.0-0 0-0 9.Be3 Bxe3
Black might consider 9...Re8 since 10.Bxc5 dxc5 is of no real help to White.
10.fxe3 Ne7 11.d4 Ng6 12.Qd2 Re8 13.Bd3 c6 14.Bc2 Bd7 15.a4
Preventing a future ...b5, although it is not clear that this was anything to worry about. The drawback is of course the weakening of the square b4.
15...Qc7 16.Rac1 Rad8 17.Rf2 Bc8 18.Bb1 Qb8 19.Ne1 Nf8!
Black's manoeuvres are straight out of Aron Nimzowitsch's classic book My System.
20.Bd3 Ne6 (first diagram)
White should try to keep his central pawn position intact with 21.Nf3. The advance of the d-pawn signals the end of White's queenside ambitions and the beginning of a new phase in the struggle.
21...Nc5 22.Bc2 Qc7 23.b3 Rf8
A prophylactic move anticipating the doubling of White's rooks on the f-file.
24.Nf3 Nh7 25.Rcf1 Qb6 26.Rb1 g6 27.Ne1 Ng5 28.h4?!
Another pawn advance and another weakening of White's position. Better was 28.Nf3 Nxf3+ 29.Rxf3 when Black still has the edge but it is not as easy for him to make progress.
28...Nh7 29.Nd3 Na6!? 30.Rbf1
Perhaps White should try to stir up some queenside action with 30.Na2!?
30...Qc7 31.Rf3 Qe7 32.Qf2?!
The best defence was 32.g3 Bh3 33.Rb1 g5 34.Qh2 Bg4 35.Rf2.
32...Bg4 33.Rg3 Qxh4 (second diagram)
Black has won the ill-fated h-pawn and now has a large advantage. White's only compensation is pressure down the f-file, but that will not be enough to stop his opponent making progress.
34.Bd1 h5 35.Bf3 Kh8
Or 35...Ng5 36.Bxg4 hxg4 37.Qf6 Nb4! ( 37...Qxg3? 38.Qxg5+-) 38.Nxb4 axb4 39.Ne2 Qh5 and White has nothing better than 40.Nf4 exf4 41.Rxf4 Nh7 42.Qe7 Qe5 43.Qxe5 dxe5 44.Rfxg4 Nf6 45.Rh4 Kg7 and Black wins.
36.Bxg4 hxg4 37.Ne2
If 37.Rf3 then 37...Qg5.
37...Nb4 38.Nxb4 axb4 39.dxc6 bxc6 40.Qe1 c5 41.Kf2 Qf6+ 42.Kg1 Qg5 43.Nc1 Nf6 44.Rxf6 Qxf6
White has been forced to give up the exchange, leaving Black with only a technical task.
45.Rxg4 Kg7 46.Nd3 Rh8 47.Nf2 Rh4 48.Rg3 Kf8 49.Qd1 Qe6 50.Qf3 Ke7 51.Qd1 Rdh8 52.Qd3 Kd7 53.Kf1 Kc7 54.Ke2 Rf8 55.Rf3 f5 56.Qd1 Kb6 57.Qb1
If 57.a5+ Kxa5 58.Qa1+ Kb6 59.Qa4 Qe8.
57...Ka5 58.Qd1 Rf7 59.Qd2 Rd7 60.Qd3 Rf7 61.Qd2 Rd7 62.Qd1 f4 63.g3 fxg3 64.Rxg3 Rg7 65.Qg1 Rh5 66.Rf3 g5 67.Rf8 Rg8 68.Rf5 Rh4 69.Rxg5 Rhh8 70.Rg7 Kb6
Also possible was 70...Qf7 71.Rg3 Rxg3 72.Qxg3 Rf8 73.Qg2 Qh5+ 74.Kd2 Qf3 75.Qxf3 Rxf3 76.Ng4 Kb6 77.Nh6 Rf2+ 78.Kc1 Kc7 79.Ng4 Rf1+ 80.Kd2 Rb1 81.Kc2 Rg1 82.Nh6 Rg2+ 83.Kb1 Rg6 84.Nf5 Rg4 and wins.
71.a5+ Ka6 72.Qg5 Rxg7 73.Qxg7 Rc8 74.Nd3 (third diagram)
Black can win quickly with 74...Rg8!; for example, 75.Qh7 Qg4+ 76.Kd2 Qg2+ 77.Kd1 Qf3+ 78.Kc2 Rg2+.
75.Qh6 Qc6 76.Qg6 Kxa5 77.Nb2 Ka6 78.Na4 Rh8 79.Qg7 Rh4 80.Qg6 Rh2+ 81.Kd3 Ra2 82.Qg4 Ra3 83.Qd1
More stubborn is 83.Kc2 but Black wins after 83...Rxa4 84.bxa4 Qxa4+ 85.Kb2 Qa3+ 86.Kb1 Qd3+ 87.Ka1 Ka5 ( 87...Qxc4? 88.Qc8+ Ka5 89.Qd8+ Kb5 90.Qd7+ Ka5 91.Qc7+ Ka4 92.Qa7+ Kb3 93.Qa2+ Kc3 94.Qc2+ Kxc2 stalemate!) 88.Qg2 b3 89.Kb2 Kb4 90.Qf2 Qc3+ 91.Kb1 Qxc4 (definitely not 91...Kxc4? 92.Qf7+ Kd3 93.Qf1+ Kxe3 94.Qf2+ Kxe4 95.Qf4+ Kd5 96.Qe4+ Ke6 97.Qg6+ and draws by repetition) 92.Qd2+ Qc3 93.Qe2 c4 etc.
White resigned
Footnote: I spoke to Gary Basanta last summer and encouraged him to make a return to chess, which he has largely abandoned in favour of poker. He gave a positive reply but did not commit himself to a timeline...

Sunday, February 11, 2007


The grandmasters of bygone days knew a few things about chess and it is good to study the classic games that they produced. The diagrammed position, which comes about after the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Bd3 Bd6 7.0-0 0-0 8.e4 dxe4 9.Nxe4 Nxe4 10.Bxe4 Nf6 11.Bc2, was first seen in the game Pillsbury-Winawer, Budapest 1896 and according to the Big Database has since occurred several hundred times in tournament and match play. White has achieved a massive plus score due mainly to poor defence by Black but it must be conceded that matters are already difficult for the second player because of the latent pressure on his kingside.

Here are some classic examples:

H. Pillsbury – S. Winawer, Budapest 1896
11...h6 12.Be3 Re8 13.Qd3 Qc7 14.c5 Bf8 15.Ne5 Bxc5 16.Bxh6 Bxd4 17.Qxd4 gxh6 18.Qf4 Nd5 19.Qxh6 f6 20.f4 Re7 21.Ng6 1-0

J.R. Capablanca – C. Jaffe, New York 1910
11...h6 12.b3 b6 13.Bb2 Bb7 14.Qd3 g6 15.Rae1 Nh5 16.Bc1 Kg7 17.Rxe6 Nf6 18.Ne5 c5 19.Bxh6+ Kxh6 20.Nxf7+ 1-0

J.R. Capablanca – R.H. Scott, Hastings 1919
11...b6 12.Qd3 h6 13.b3 Qe7 14.Bb2 Rd8 15.Rad1 Bb7 16.Rfe1 Rac8 17.Nh4 Bb8 18.g3 Kf8 19.Qf3 Kg8 20.Nf5 Qc7 21.Nxh6+ Kf8 22.d5 cxd5 23.Bxf6 gxf6 24.Qxf6 Ke8 25.Rxe6+ fxe6 26.Qxe6+ Kf8 27.Qf6+ 1-0

E. Geller – A. Papapavlou, Amsterdam Olympiad 1954
11...c5 12.Bg5 cxd4 13.Qxd4 Be7 14.Qh4 h6 15.Bxh6 gxh6 16.Qxh6 Qa5 17.Ng5 e5 18.Bh7+ Kh8 19.Be4+ Kg8 20.Rae1 Bg4 21.Re3 Rad8 22.Rg3 Rd4 23.Ne6 1-0

In the penultimate round of the 1990 British Columbia championship I was paired with the local master Harold Brown. At the time we had nicknamed him The Secretary of Defence after his namesake who had served in the Carter Administration. When the Pillsbury-Winawer position appeared on the board I knew The Secretary's assignment was going to be a difficult one.

D. Scoones – H. Brown, Victoria 1990
11...h6 12.b3 b6 13.Bb2 Bb7 14.Qd3 Re8 15.Rfe1 Qc7 16.Ne5 Bxe5 17.dxe5 Rad8 18.Qg3 Nh7 19.Bc1 Kh8 20.Re4 f5 21.exf6 Qxg3 22.hxg3 Nxf6 23.Re2 c5 24.Bb2 Kg8 25.Bg6 Re7 26.Rae1 Rd6 27.Be5 Rc6 28.Rd2 Rd7 29.Red1 Bc8 30.Rxd7 Nxd7 31.Be4! Nxe5 32.Rd8+ Kf7 33.Bxc6 1-0

Friday, February 9, 2007

Knight time

When I traded down to reach this knight ending I had already decided that 37.Nd4! must be winning for White. I mean, look at that weak a-pawn! But it was going to be hard to prove. This was a rapid game (30 minutes for all moves) and we both had less than 4 minutes left. It's a plain fact that knight endings involve a lot of calculation. And I don't care who you are, no one can accurately calculate a knight ending with this many pawns and this little time. For once it doesn't matter how much Dvoretsky (or Reuben Fine) you have read. Well, it matters a little, but not enough.

So I got to this position all set to play 37.Nd4... but then started to worry. I could see that Black's knight was going to get at my pawns on the kingside and I wasn't sure who was going to be faster. With the seconds ticking away I suddenly backed out with 37.e4!? dxe4 38.Nd2. I know... this is ultra-lame... but at least there isn't a lot of danger. Black played 38...Ke6. Now I could have taken the c-pawn with my knight when White is probably still a bit better. Instead I played 39.Nxe4 (safer, you know.) The game continued 39...Kd5 40.Nd2 Ne5 41.f4 Nd3 42.Nxc4 Nxf4 43.Nb6+ Kc6 44.Nxa4 Nxg2 45.Kd4. I don't have a reliable score after this. A few moves later we liquidated each other's pawns and then shook hands.

Back at home I set up the diagrammed position and started looking at 1.Nd4. It's tricky, but I'm pretty certain that White is winning. Here is the main line of my analysis:

37.Nd4 Ne5 38.Nb5 Nd3 39.f4 Ke6 40.Kd4 Nxb2 41.Nc7+ Kd6 42.Nxd5 Nd3 43.Nb6 Ne1 44.Nxc4+ Kc6 45.g3! Nf3+ 46.Kd3 Ng1 47.h4 Nf3 48.Ke2 Nh2 49.e4 Kc5 50.e5! fxe5 51.Nxe5 Kd4 52.Kf2 Kc3 53.Kg2 Kb3 54.Kxh2 Kxa3 55.Nd3 Ka2 56.h5 a3 57.h6 g6 58.g4 Kb3 59.f5 gxf5 60.g5! followed by 61.g6 and White wins easily.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Horizon effect

In a recent tournament game I had played into the ending of rook and bishop vs rook and opposite-coloured bishop, arriving at the position shown in the diagram. For an aggregate of small reasons White is clearly better here. His pieces are more active and he has fewer pawn islands. He can make progress by attacking Black's kingside and either weakening his pawns or hemming in his king. But one of the biggest elements in White's favour is a psychological pitfall that many players would fall into as Black.

White's next move was 37.h5!, fastening onto Black's kingside and forcing him to make a very difficult choice. Can he keep White's advantage within manageable limits and if so how?

My opponent, who was well behind on the clock, thought for only a few seconds before playing 37...Rd6?! 38.Rxd6 Bxd6 39.hxg6 hxg6 40.Bxg6 Kg7, simplifying into an ending a pawn down but with bishops of opposite colour. Now as everyone knows, endings with bishops of opposite colour are often difficult if not impossible to win for the stronger side, an extra pawn or two making no difference at all. The big problem for Black is that this abstract idea does not apply to the present case. White is in fact winning easily. The game concluded 41.Bd3 Kf6 42.f4 Bb4 43.Kf2 Bd2 44.Kf3 Be1 45.g4 Bb4 46.g5+ Kg7 47.f5 Kf7 48.Kg4 Kg7 49.f6+ Kf7 50.Kf5 and Black resigned (1-0).

Instead of 37...Rd6 Black can try several other ideas:
A) 37...gxh5!? 38.Rxh7+ Kg8 39.Rxh5 Kf8. This keeps the rooks on the board, which may help with counterplay later on. White should probably play 40.Rf5+ Kg7 41.g4 in order to make progress on the kingside.
B) 37...g5!? 38.Rxh7+ Kg8 39.Rb7. Yet another way of keeping rooks on the board, with the additional idea of making it difficult for White to get connected passed pawns. However, White can still make progress with Kg2-f3-g4.
C) 37...Rc6. Black passes and waits to see what White will do. How about this: 38.h6 Bf6 39.f4!? and Black is well on the road to zugzwang; for example 39...Re6 40.Kf2 Re3 41.Bc4 Re8 42.Rf7 Bd8 43.Bb5 Rg8 44.Kd2!
D) 37...Bd6 38.h6 Be7 39.f4! Re3 (or 39...Bf8 40.Rd8 Rf6 41.Kg2, playing for zugzwang as before) 40.Kf3 Rxe3 41.Rxe7 Kg8 42.Rg7+ Kh8 43.Rb7 and the rook ending is hopeless for Black.

The conclusion is that Black's position is very difficult to defend no matter what he does. From White's side of the board the paradoxical 37...g5!? looks to be the defensive idea needing the most effort to overcome.

For a dash of perspective I gave the position after 37.h5 to Toga II, one of the strongest chess playing programs on the market. After some time it too played 37...Rd6?!, which I would attribute to the horizon effect. The program cannot “see” that Black will lose his bishop to the advancing White pawns because it is too far over the event horizon.

Saturday, February 3, 2007


When a player rated below 1800 asks me for some quick pointers I will often start by playing out the first few moves of the Scotch Gambit: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 Bc5. Giving the student the Black pieces I will then play the move 5.Ng5 for White and ask him or her to respond to the threat of taking on f7. The resulting position is shown in the first diagram.

In the early part of the 19th century, chess theory held that attacking moves should always be given priority and that pure defensive moves are to be avoided unless absolutely necessary. Sometimes you must defend of course but if you can find a defensive move that attacks at the same time – well, there's a really strong move for you!

The defenders of long ago who reached this position with Black usually had no difficulty finding the move that followed the thinking of the day: 5...Ne5!? attacking the bishop on c4 and defending f7. But then one day someone found a tactic: 6.Nxf7! Nxf7 7.Bxf7+ Kxf7 8.Qh5+ g6 9.Qxc5 (see the second diagram.) White is temporarily a pawn down but he is recovering the d-pawn since if Black defends with 9...Qf6 then the pawn on c7 is left en prise. With Black's king in an exposed position White has all the chances. A dangerous opening, that Scotch Gambit!

Fast forward to 1855 and a young man named Paul Morphy is playing one of his father's colleagues, a Judge named Alexander Beaufort Meek. Judge Meek adopts the Scotch Gambit and plays the 5.Ng5 line. Morphy thinks for a minute and responds with a new move at that time: 5...Nh6!?. The judge executes the same combination: 6.Nxf7 Nxf7 7.Bxf7+ Kxf7 8.Qh5+ g6 9.Qxc5 (see the third diagram.) Morphy now plays 9...d6 and the Judge is somewhat annoyed to find that he cannot capture White's d-pawn because it is protected. Something has gone wrong... He plays 10.Qb5, which Morphy quickly meets with 10...Re8. It is becoming clear that Black has taken over the initiative and he wins in only 11 more moves.

I can still remember the deep impression these two game fragments made on me when I was a young A-class player. There is no better illustration of the principle of development than Morphy's simple move 6...Nh6, which makes all the difference between a very dubious position and a very promising one. No matter that the knight is oddly placed for a short time; what counts is that the other one stays in place and protects the d-pawn.

If you can find the handful of tournament and match games produced by Paul Morphy a century and a half ago, please set up your board and pieces and replay them for yourself. I would be very surprised if this doesn't cause you to discover new ideas in your own games.

Small decisions

During a recent tournament game my opponent had an opportunity to centralise his knight and attack my queen in the process. Not an uncommon occurrence of course but I had already seen that best play would give him a chance to complicate matters by changing the material situation. There were actually two different sacrifices on the menu, one of a piece for two pawns plus some immediate threats and the other of two pieces for a rook and two pawns plus some longer-term positional factors.

Such ideas cannot be ignored or even dismissed because they may turn out to be dangerous. In this case I was able to analyse both sacrificial lines and make a choice that I think was clearly correct.

The first diagram shows the position after my last move 15.Rac1. Before playing this I had to take account of the reply 15...Ne5, when obviously the queen must move. The retreat 16.Qb1 looks far too passive and White should not consider 16.Qc2?! because of the freeing advance 16...b5! 17.cxb5 axb5 when the pawn cannot be captured because of the pin on White's knight. Thus there are two main variations: 16.Qe2 and 16.Qe3. Which is stronger?

After 16.Qe2 Nxc4!? 17.bxc4 Bxc4 18.Qe3 Bxf1 19.Bxf1(second diagram) Black has a rook and two pawns against White's bishop and knight. This material balance can be difficult to assess and this case is no exception. White will make progress if he can centralise his pieces and attack and win a pawn or two or especially if he can win back the exchange. Black will make progress if he can keep his pawn position intact and trade some pieces. A lone rook can easily dominate a bishop and knight if it also has weak pawns to attack and that is potentially the case here.

After 16.Qe3 Bxc4!? 17.bxc4 (and not 17.f4 because of Bxf1 winning the exchange) 17...Nxc4 18.Qe2 Nxd2 19.Qxd2 (third diagram) Black has given up a piece for two pawns. One of the challenges in assessing a position correctly is whether there are residual tactics to consider. After 19.Qxd2 Black can immediately pile up on White's knight with 19...Qa5 and it cannot move up to the key square d5 because White's queen is undefended. If White does not have a good reply to 19...Qa5 then he will have to allow the other sacrificial line by playing 16.Qe2. Fortunately, I was able to spot the proper answer to 19...Qa5, which is 20.Nb1! Black can play 20...Qxd2 21.Nxd2 Bb2 but things start to go White's way after 22.Rxc8 Rxc8 23.Rb1 Rc2 24.Nb3 Ba3 (White was threatening 25.Bf1 followed by 26...Bd3 ejecting Black's rook) 25.Ra1 Bb2 26.Rd1! Ba3 27.Rd2. White's pieces cooperating nicely and things are not looking promising for Black.

The conclusion is that the correct reply to 15...Ne5 is 16.Qe3. That is what I played and the game continued 16...Nc6 17.Rfd1 Nd4 18.Be1! with a pleasant advantage for White that I was eventually able to convert to victory.

In assessing the position after the exchange of a rook for two pieces and two pawns we said that White would make progress if he could then win the exchange. This would leave him with a piece for two pawns, which is exactly what he gets in the second variation. So from this perspective the second variation is already an improvement. This is not surprising because giving up a piece for two pawns is clearly a sacrifice whereas giving up two pieces for a rook and two pawns may just be a transaction.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Late slip

At the recent Tal Memorial tournament in Moscow the young grandmaster Magnus Carlsen did not manage to save a rook and pawn ending so basic that the drawing method is in all standard textbooks. The complaint is being heard that an unintended casualty of accelerated time controls in modern chess has been a deterioration in the general quality of endgame play. This certainly squares with my own experience although I cannot claim any special capability in this department.

Some time ago I spent several days studying the ending of rook and pawn vs rook. The standard textbooks can be a bit dry so to give the material a practical aspect I hit upon the idea of searching my database for grandmaster games featuring this ending. After analysing about a dozen examples I came to the conclusion that even experienced players often make simple errors that change the normal result of a game.

One of the endings in my notebook arose in the encounter between Ludek Pachman and Peter Biyiasas at the Manila Interzonal in 1976, which ended in victory for the future Canadian grandmaster. In fairness to grandmaster Pachman it must be said that the particular ending he faced was a difficult one to defend correctly. When the proper method – a combination of methods in fact – is illustrated it becomes quite simple if only in retrospect. The action starts from the first diagram where Black has just captured a White pawn on c5.

This is the only move to draw. The pawn ending is clearly hopeless so by default White must keep rooks on the board and he must attack the pawn in order to restrict Black's movements. If White plays 55.Rh1 intending to check the king from the front his own king will be fatally cut off along the rank after 55...Rc2.
If 55...Rc2 56.Rd6+! Kc5 57.Rh6! Kb4 58.Ke3 c5 59.Kd3 and White is clearly out of danger.
The only move to draw.
56...Kc3 57.Ke3
Other moves also draw, including rook anywhere along the 6th rank (except c6!) but the text is simplest.
57...Rc4 58.Rd3+ Kc2 59.Rd2+ Kb3 60.Rd6
The rook must go behind the pawn; everything else loses.
60...c5 (see the second diagram)
White has defended perfectly so far but this natural move turns out to be a mistake. The only way to draw is 61.Rb6+! Kc2 and now 62.Rb5 Kc3 63.Rb1 Rd4 64.Rc1+ Kb4 65.Rb1+ Ka3 66.Rc1 Rd5 67.Ke4 Rh5 68.Rb1! and Black cannot make progress. This defensive plan illustrates two principles of rook endings: checking the enemy king along a file in order to drive him in front of his pawn (and his rook); and defence by frontal attack where the enemy pawn is on its fourth rank.
61...Rc2+! 62.Kd1 c4! 63.Rc6 Kb2!
It has been Black's turn to play perfectly and he now threatens the forced manoeuvre 64...Rc1+ 65.Kd2 c3+ 66.Kd3 Rd1+ 67.Ke2 c2 with a simple win. If White's rook starts checking from the rear Black just walks his king up the a- and b-files until the checks run out and then he queens his pawn.
64.Rb6+ Kc3 65.Rc6
If White tries the plan of checking from the side with 65.Rh6 then Black drives the White king out with 65...Rg2 66.Rc6 Rg1+ 67.Ke2. Now the most accurate move is 67...Rc1! in order to secure the pawn's advance. White can drag things out slightly with 68.Rc8 but after 68...Kb2 69.Rb8+ Kc2 70.Ra8 c3 71.Ra2+ Kb1 72.Ra8 Rh1 73.Rb8+ Kc1 74.Rb7 c2 75.Rb8 Rh5! (the fastest way) 76.Ke3 Re5+ 77.Kd4 Re7 78.Rb3 Rc7 the win is ironclad.
White's king is now driven off the queening square onto the long side of the pawn, which in this situation is quite hopeless for him. Put the White king on b1 instead of d1 and Black cannot win. White's king goes to the short side of the pawn and his rook goes to the long side. Black's king is then harassed with checks and he gets no chance to queen his pawn.
66.Rc8 Rh1+ 67.Ke2 (see the third diagram)
Yet again the accurate way to win. Peter Biyiasas has obviously studied rook endings in some detail!
68.Rc7 Kb2 69.Rc8 c3 70.Rc7 Kc2 0-1

A very instructive display illustrating several important ideas in the ending of rook and pawn vs rook.

About Me

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Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada
National master (Canada) since 1984. B.C. Champion 1977 and 1984. Runner-up 1991 and 2002. B.C. Open Champion 1972 and 1982. B.C. U/14 Champion 1964-65-66. Mikhail Botvinnik once wrote that publishing your analytical work forces you to be accurate because it exposes you to criticism. Hence this blog.