Sunday, September 30, 2007

Quiet please

Playing White in a recent blitz game I reached the position shown in the first diagram. This is a Classical French with the extra moves h4 and ...h6 thrown in, a small detail that will improve White's attacking chances should Black decide to castle kingside. On the reasonable assumption that his king would soon go the other way, I repositioned my queen in order to create some attacking chances.

13.Qe3!? 0-0-0 14.f5!?
It was objectively stronger to maintain positional pressure with 14.Kb1 Kb8 15.a3 Bc8 16.h5, but one cannot apply tournament standards to a blitz game.
14...d4 15.Nxd4 Nxd4?
The correct defence was 15...exf5 16.Nd5 Qxe5 17.Nb6+ Kc7 18.Nd5+ Kc8 and neither side can advantageously avoid the draw by repetition; for example, the cheeky 18...Kd6!? is met by 19.Qc3.
16.Rxd4 Bc6 (second diagram)
I suspect Black was quite satisfied here since it looks like he is exchanging my active rook and taking over the d-file. But the unfortunate grouping of pieces on the c-file means that it's suddenly White to play and win!
17.Rc4! Nd7
No better is 17...b6 18.b4 Bd5 19.Rd4 Nd7 20.Nxd5 exd5 21.Bxa6+ Kb8 22.Rxd5.
18.Rxc6+ bxc6
The exchange sacrifice was obvious enough, but now White should not rush to take the a-pawn with check. Instead there is a quiet move available that transforms the capture into a deadly threat:
Black's next move is the only defensive try but it is not enough to save the game.
19...Rde8 20.Bxa6+ Kd8 21.Qa8+ 1-0
Black resigned
here since he is mated after 21...Nb8 22.Qxb8+ Kd7 23.Rd1+.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Anthology piece

In the game Tukmakov-Panno, Buenos Aires 1970, the Ukrainian GM executed an impressive final combination that has deservedly found its way into the anthology books. But equally impressive was the play leading up to the combination.

In the first diagram Black has just played 11...Na5 with the obvious intention of disturbing White's pieces with 12...Nc4. Tukmakov takes immediate action to prevent Black's plan, simultaneously aiming his queen at Black's kingside:
12.Qd3! Bd7 13.g4 Kh8?!
A passive defensive regrouping that does not properly address the vulnerability of the square h7. Both 13...Rac8 and 13...d5 were more in the spirit of things.
14.g5 Ng8 15.Rf3 Nc6 16.Rg1!
I like the way Tukmakov is bringing all of his pieces into play before going over to direct attack.
16...Nxd4 17.Bxd4 f5?!
In Informant 10 GM Aleksandr Matanovic suggests 17...Bc6!? without further analysis. But as in the game White carries on with 18.Rh3! and it is difficult to see a good defence for Black.
18.Rh3 e5 19.Nd5 Qd8 20.fxe5!
White had to foresee that Black's next move would not get him out of trouble.
This brings us to the second diagram, the one that is in the puzzle books. It's White to play and win!
According to the game score as published in Informant 10, Panno saw what was coming and resigned here. It wouldn't surprise me if this were the case, but according to the tournament bulletin some further moves were played:
21...exd3 22.Bxd3 h6
In Informant 10 Matanovic gives 22...Nf6 23.gxf6 Bxf6 24.Rxh7+ Kg8 25.Nxf6 and wins; or 21...Be6 22.Rxh7+ Kxh7 23.Qxe4+ Bf5 24.Qh4+ Nh6 25.Nxe7 and wins. In the Encyclopaedia of Chess Middlegames, 21...Be6 is refuted more simply by 22.Bxg7+ Kxg7 23.Qd4+, when Black must interpose his rook to avoid mate. That costs him his queen after 23...Rf6 24.gxf6+.
23.gxh6 Nxh6
Or 23...Nf6 24.hxg7+ Kg8 25.Rh8 mate.
24.Rxh6+ Kg8 25.Rxg7 mate 1-0

Monday, September 24, 2007


Many years ago I reached this position as Black against a young expert. I had just managed to trade off two of my opponent's active pieces, which was helpful because sometime earlier I had played the mysterious weakening move ...g7-g6, leaving my king in a very draughty position. But now I was the one with the active pieces.

Naturally enough I was starting to think about how to get something going against his king. Queen to the long diagonal looks crunchy, but there is the small problem of his queen and knight controlling key squares. Deflect his queen perhaps? How about taking the rook pawn with my rook? Queen takes rook is met by queen to c6 check – a killer. But he can take with his rook. I get a couple of checks with my queen and knight, but what then? Suddenly it all became clear:


My opponent gave a small gasp of surprise, then put his head in his hands and began to stare intently at the position. I didn't feel like staying at the board, so I got up and wandered around the tournament hall, leaving him to think it over. Five minutes went by, then ten, then fifteen. Finally after twenty minutes my opponent turned and looked at me across the hall and smiled. Then he reached over and stopped the clocks.

Because 2.Qxa3 Qc6+ loses immediately, White must play 2.Rxa3. But then comes 2...Qc1+ 3.Kg2 Qg1+ 4.Kf3 Nd4+ and if 5.Kf4 then 5...g5 is mate. Instead of 5.Kf4 White must play 5.Qxd4, but after 5...Qxd4 Black faces only a technical task in order to notch the point.

In our next encounter my young opponent won a pawn with forceful play and then ground me down in a long bishop ending.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Black to play and... lose

This rook ending arose in the game Wolff – Fishbein, USA Jr. Ch. 1988 and was analysed by Fishbein in Informant 47. Black will soon have to surrender his rook for White's advanced pawn, and his drawing chances will turn on whether he can promote his own pawn safely. Because it is still on its home square and White's pieces are not too far away, indications are that the race will be a close one. In the game Fishbein managed to achieve the draw as follows:

Unavailing is 1...Rc1+ 2.Kd8 Kg5 3.Ra5+ Kg4 4.Rd5! (making it more difficult for Black to control the queening square) 4...Ra1 5.Ke7 Ra8 6.d8Q+ Rxd8 7.Rxd8 h5 8.Kf6 h4 9.Rd4+ Kg3 10.Kg5 h3 11.Rd3+ Kg2 12.Kg4 h2 13.Rd2+ Kg1 14.Kg3 h1N+ (or 14...h1Q 15.Rd1 mate) 15.Kf3 and wins.
2.d8Q+ Rxd8 3.Kxd8 h5 4.Ke7 h4!
Of course not 4...Kg4? 5.Kf6! h4 6.Ra4+ and White wins as in the previous note. In these positions the technique of “shouldering off” the opposing king always plays an important role.
5.Ke6 h3 6.Ke5 Kg4 7.Ke4 h2 8.Rh7 Kg3 9.Ke3 Kg2 10.Rxh2+ 1/2-1/2

Based on this rather straightforward result, the diagrammed position is labeled by Informant 47 as “Black to play and draw.” But it turns out there is a large and surprising improvement for White:

1...Kg5 2.Ra1!!
Black must of course avoid the capture, but the result is that White's rook gains crucial checking distance against Black's king.
2...Rd2 3.Rg1+! Kf5 4.Rh1! Kg6 5.d8Q
After some accurate play to restrain Black's king, White now cashes in his pawn for Black's rook. Meanwhile Black's pawn has still not moved.
5...Rxd8 6.Kxd8 h5 7.Ke7 Kg5 8.Ke6
White is obviously somewhat ahead of the game Wolff-Fishbein, and the difference is enough for a decisive result. Here is one possible conclusion:
8...h4 9.Ke5 Kg4 10.Ke4 Kg3 11.Ke3 h3 12.Rg1+ Kh2 13.Rg8! Kh1 14.Kf3 h2 15.Rb8 Kg1 16.Rb1 mate.

As they say, it just ain't over till it's over!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Queen sacrifice

In his heyday Mikhail Tal used to watch the televised chess lessons that were aimed at beginning players. The World Champion declared in an interview that it can never do any harm to review the fundamentals of chess strategy and tactics, no matter what a player's ranking may be. Given his outstanding accomplishments it is hard to argue with this claim.

A couple of weeks ago I went back and started working through Fred Reinfeld's two-volume set of combinations and mating attacks. I honestly can't remember looking at these books anytime since my days as an A-class player. But I well remember the important role they played in helping me break the 2000 barrier.

The first chapter of 1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate is completely given over to queen sacrifices. Having solved perhaps 200 of these mating combinations over a period of several days, I decided to take a break and play a few games of online blitz. In one of those games... you guessed it: I managed to force mate by sacrificing my queen.

I am playing White in the first diagrammed position. My kingside pressure has already induced my opponent to sacrifice a piece. However, his remaining forces are quite active and on top of that my king is rather exposed. I have to play aggressively without being too reckless.

1.Bf4! Qa5+
White was threatening to increase the pressure with 2.Qh2! since whenever Black takes on f4 the immediate result is mate on h8. The queen check is designed to break the pin and here the most accurate reply is undoubtedly 2.Ke2! intending 3.Rag1. But I saw an opportunity to set up a mating combination and couldn't resist it...
2.Bd2 Qb6 3.Bc3!? Qe3+
The best defence is the prosaic 3...Bxc3 4.Nxc3 Qd4 but since Black has only one pawn for the knight this cannot promise any happiness.
4.Kf1 Qf3+ 5.Kg1 Qe3+ 6.Kg2
Here too Black can exchange bishops and then queens but as before the endgame is hopeless. Whether by design or oversight Black decides to continue his “attack” with:
6...Rxd3? (second diagram)
Now it's White to play and win!
7.Qh8+! Bxh8 8.Rxh8 mate!

A satisfying combination but one likely to be realised only in a blitz game.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Jekyll and Hyde 2

Here we go again with a pair books by the same author -- Ukrainian GM Valeri Beim -- with cover art of two quite contrasting standards.

The cover of the first book reminds me of a few experiences from my teenage years. It seems my mother did not share my passion for chess because she wasn't always diligent about putting my board and pieces away before using the kitchen table for other purposes. Needless to say, I soon learned to take better care of my things!

By contrast the cover of the second book is a model of effective design. Paul Morphy's pieces are of a modern Staunton pattern, while those of his opponent Louis Paulsen are of a nineteenth-century pre-Staunton pattern. What better way to graphically depict the "modern perspective" on Morphy?

Recommended reading: Ogilvy on Advertising, by David Ogilvy (Random House 1985).

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Endgame study

The importance of studying the endgame was underlined once again by the outcome of a recent blitz game of mine.

I am White in the diagrammed position and it is Black to play. My opponent saw that he could not go forward without moving his knight and surrendering his last pawn in the process. So he offered me a draw, and of course I accepted it immediately.

This outcome seems reasonable because in the overwhelming majority of cases the ending of knight vs pawn is a trivial draw. But a little analysis shows this particular case to be an exception. Let's have a look:

1...Kd7! 2.Ka8 Nd6!
The idea Black had missed. He can sacrifice his last pawn because despite the greatly reduced material White's king is caught in a mating attack.
3.Kxa7 Kc7 4.Ka8 Nc8!
Forcing White's reply.
5.a7 Nb6 mate!

On his third move White can avoid capturing the pawn but it makes no difference:
3.Kb8 Kd8 4.Ka8 Kc7 5.Kxa7
Now this is forced.
5...Nb5+ 6.Ka8 Kc8 7.a7
Unfortunately this too is forced.
7...Nc7 mate!

You all know the moral of the story so I won't bother repeating it.

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.