Sunday, December 30, 2007

My Year In Review: Part 2

Crazy as it may sound, but this year has not been a total wipeout for me.

Has my chess strength grew the past year? I don't think so. In fact, I think I was at my strongest near the early middle half of the year where I was constantly working through exercises and started concentrating heavily on chess tactics and endgames. With the onset of my studies, chess unfortunately took a back seat and I had indeed backslided. I know because my play has dramatically suffered.

These days, in over the board games, I realised I'm falling prey to 1 to 2 move checkmates. Those really hurt! In the past, I would've spotted them dead easy but for some reason, I'm having some kind of mental block. In particular, I've noticed a number of glaring weaknesses appearing in my play:

1. My endgame technique while vastly improved is still lacking in some areas especially in grasping the concept of taking advantage of pawn chains and pawn structures arising from IQP positions. Additional weaknesses include not knowing how to play R+pawns v R+pawns endgames
2. I have problem visualising the long-range attacking (and blockading!) power of the Bishops and the Queen and in particular, movements that involve moving either of these pieces across the entire length of the board.
3. Being oblivious to my opponent's plans. It happens with such frightening regularity that my play has become somewhat affected by it.
4. Being too eager to make a move without properly calculating out the consequences. The less said of this, the better.

Things that I've improved:
1. My endgame play is now much more stable.
2. Learning the Indian openings. So far, my opening repertoire now includes some lines of the Nimzo-Indian, the Queen's Indian and the Bogo-Indian Defence. The King's Indian Defence is still something I could not grasp in its entirety.
3. In response to 1. e4, my Black repertoire includes the Sicilian Kan, the French Winawer and the Accelerated Dragon.
4. I'm not afraid to play against the Sicilian anymore as White. In fact, I look forward to it and I usually either play a variation of the Grand Prix or the Keres Attack.
5. Coming in second despite forfeiting 6 games at my chess club competition in the under 1400 rating was a nice bonus.

Things that I've done nothing about:
1. The Berlin Wall is my biggest headache. Same goes for the Archangelsk and the Marshall lines.
2. Understanding pawn structures and pawn play eg. when should you push the pawns and when you should not.
3. Greater understanding of squares and how to take advantage of them.

With the coming of this new year and hopefully with the conclusion of my studies, I hope I can make better progress in chess. I'm another year older and I've definitely have to be a year wiser.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Setting Traps

In chess, setting traps can be fun. Especially when your opponent falls headlong into it.

By the way, I am not encouraging people to set traps. There are 2 problems with setting traps:

1. Your opponent detects your trap, you're well and truly busted
2. You didn't calculate deep enough and your trap ends up busting you (sort of like the Roadrunner cartoons).

In this case here, have a look at the following position.

This position arose out of the Sicilian Najdorf. I am White.

Black just played 23... a5 (see 1st diagram on left).

I was half tempted to play 24. g4 and do the usual pawn race (as so often happens when both sides castle on opposite sides) when I thought I play a little trick.

I didn't really think my opponent would fall for it but it did work.

The move I played was 24. Rhf1!

I know what you're thinking.... you just gave up a pawn!

Anyway, my opponent grabbed it without hesitation.

24. ....Bxh4 25. Rh1 Be7 (see 2nd diagram on left)

Now what has changed from the position?

Do you see what I see?

Yes, the next move is of course..... *drum roll* the classic Bishop sacrifice!

26. Bxh6 gxh6 (I ran this past Fritz and Fritz didn't even consider retaking the Bishop)

27. Rxh6 Bg5

My opponent tries to block the g-file but it's too late.

28. Qg3 (pinning the Bishop) f6
Once you start an attack, you don't stop.

29. Nf3 (no prizes as to what I am doing next)

Curiously enough Fritz gives this as White as having a winning advantage... Fritz tried a multitude of variations that I've reproduced below and none of them were sufficient to stop White's attack.

Analysis by Fritz 10:

1. +- (6.92): 29...Be8 30.Nxg5 Qg7 31.Rdh1 fxg5 32.Qh2 Rc7 33.Rh8+ Kf7 34.Rh7 Rg8

2. +- (5.11): 29...Qg7 30.Rg6 Rc7 31.Nxg5 fxg5 32.Rxg7+ Rxg7 33.Rxd6 Bxe4 34.f6 Rh7 35.Qxg5+ Kf7 36.a3 Re8 37.Qg4 Rh1+ 38.Ka2

29.... Bxe4
30. Nxg5 fxg5
31. Qxg5+ Kf7 1-0

At which point my opponent resigns as he will fall into a multitude of problems and White wins in a variety of ways.

The last picture on left paints a sorry tale for Black.

The Queen is getting skewered with 32. Rh7+ and Black is going to get mated eg. 32.Qg6+ Ke7 33.Rh7+ Rf7 34.Qxf7+ Kd8 35.Rh8#

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Seasons Greetings!

Here's Wishing You
A Very Happy and Merry Christmas!

May The New Year Bring You
Great Tidings Of Joy And

Friday, December 21, 2007

One Of My Most Difficult Games To Date

I've been meaning to get around to annotating this game that's been sitting inside my database for 2 weeks now.

And I'm still not sure if I made the right moves. I'll need to arrange a time for Fritz to give it a look through.

This game was hard.... very hard. Because it took me a long time to get the position I am now. I am Black and it is my turn. This game arose from the Closed Sicilian without g3 (B23). See 1st picture on left.

Both my opponent (rated 1500) and I were trying hard not to make mistakes and we had consumed copious amounts of time and we were now in a bit of time trouble having played 24 moves each.

My pieces are slightly better coordinated than my opponent's. My king is relatively safe in the center and my pieces protect one another (in harmony - which is very rare for me).

The position looks quiet but threatens to explode at any moment and I felt the next few moves are critical and would determine the outcome of the game.

I took a long time over my next move. First I scanned my opponent's threats.

The Queenside is all locked up.

My first inclination was to play 24...Kc7 or 24... Kc8 and move my King inwards away from any stray threats.

My worry here was that White can play d4! And after either cxd4 or exd4, suddenly White's pieces are free, the light square bishop can go to Bb5+, his Rook can shift to the Queenside and suddenly I've got holes everywhere on the Queenside (see the red arrows in the 2nd picture on the left)

Not good.

But while thinking of the King move, I suddenly realised that White also has the release mechanism c3! at his disposal which threatens to shatter my Queenside and Qc2 and Rc1 is going to be problematic.

I feel I need to strive and take over the initiative now.

White has weakness on the light squares. If I can engineer a break through on the light squares, I just might be able to take over the initiative. So I relook again at the board (see 3rd diagram)

My Bishop stands marvelously on b7 and it has its trained eye on the weak e4 pawn. This is the square I plan to break. If need be, I can quickly shift my Queen to a8 and double on the diagonal to give the Bishop more power.

I decided to go for broke and play 24... d5!

In case you haven't noticed, I've also laid a little trap for my opponent. Can you spot it? :)

If you did, good for you. Because my opponent didn't. He fell headlong into it and missed the following forced combination.

25. Bxh6?? White thinks it's winning a pawn and threatening Bxf8 but in reality, White is losing as now the following forced sequence reveals itself.

White missed my immediate reply 25... Nxg4+! The Bishop on h6 is threatened so White is forced to take my Knight.

26. hxg4 Rxf3
27. Rxf3 (see 4th picture on left) and now the moment reveals itself....

27.... Bg5!

Now I gain back my piece. More importantly, I've traded off White's important dark-square Bishop, I have a nice open h-file for my Rook and I forced the White Queen to retreat. Sweet.

28. Qe1 Rxh6+ 29. Kg2 Bf4 (blocking the f-file from the White's Rook and threatening Qh4 with Qh2+ and White will get mated soon once I take the Knight (removing the guard on the square h1) with my Bishop.
30. Qg1 (protecting h2 and attacking c5 pawn) Qe7 (I saw this of course, no way I'm letting his Queen break the Queenside. I'm not worried about White playing the d5 pawn since it's poisoned)
31. Nf1? (hmm.. my opponent is panicking. He just opened up the diagonal for my Bishop) dxe4
32. dxe4 Bxe4
33. Bb5+ Kc7
(see last diagram on left)

White's pieces are all tied up. The Rook is dead, the Knight cannot move anywhere, the Bishop is free but aims at nothing, the Queen cannot move and White has weaknesses on the d and h files.

White has run out of tricks and I won the game shortly after a few more moves.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Photo Is Worth A Thousand Words

(click on the photo for a larger picture)

Oh my......!! *jaw dropped*

This rare photo (taken in 1970) was taken from a very old Russian chess book highlighting the "Match Of The Century".

Can you identify all the heavyweight chess players from all over the world? I've so far managed to identify only 8 of them. But when I saw the complete list of people in this photo, it blew me away.

FYI The complete list of players as follows (in no particular order):

B. Spassky, B. Larsen, T. Petrosian, R. Fischer, V. Korchnoi, L. Portisch, L. Polugayevsky, E. Geller, V. Smyslov, M. Taimanov, M. Botvinnik, M. Tal, P. Keres, L. Stein, D. Bronstein, V. Hort, S. Gligoric, S. Reshevsky, W. Uhlmann, M. Matulovic, M. Najdorf, B. Ivkov, F. Olafsson, K. Darga

Team Captains:
D. Postnikov, M. Euwe

B. Kazic

That's 7 World Champions in 1 room! And the rest of the field are no slouches either, including some of the strongest match candidates of their time.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ramblings... Is Chess A Part Of Your Life?

Last night, I was at a chess club and one of the fellas there was saying how he had resigned to the fate of not being able to improve in chess because of studies and work.

While I empathise with him, I do not share his sentiments in agreement. You can improve but only if you are willing to put in the hard work and time. All of us have 24 hours every day. How we utilise that time is up to us.

For most chess nerds..... errrm, chess players out there, we just have to figure out for ourselves exactly what we want out of our lives. The clock's a ticking and every minute we spent wondering about the what-ifs is a minute we'll never get back.

The main idea is to focus on what do we want to achieve out of our lives and question ourselves if we want chess to be part of that journey. If the answer is yes, we need to set goals or targets. And aim for that target.

Is it to get to a 2000 rating? Is it to beat that numero uno jerk at the chess club? It's all up to us.

I know in my case, it's neither. It is my need for challenge and to be challenged.

Sure, I could've take the easy road and do like what my colleagues always do ie. go for dinner or hitting the pubs after work and kill my brain cells.

But is that the life I want to go to? Nope. Unfortunately, that's just not me.

I constantly crave for cerebral stimulation.

My normal routine consists of solving Jumble, Sudoku and the crosswords every morning/lunch at work.

And added to that, I study in an unrelated field outside of work.

My boss thinks I'm the biggest nerd there is in my department. It's hard to find any of my colleague who has a combination of chess+computers+geekiness and someone who watched Robocop 10 times, Predator 15 times and quote lines from Sneakers (see 1st picture on right. "Setec Astronomy", anyone?).

I can't stay still.

I'm like the Energizer bunny (or Duracell bunny depending on which part of the world you're from) and I can't stop till I run flat - one reason why my wife thinks I'm going to die of a heart attack one day.

One good side of learning chess the last year and a half is that I found that it has improved my mental stamina, steadied my nerves and gave my concentration a big boost.

Cassia is a harsh cookie. She rewards those who work hard at chess and promptly punishes those who quits or not willing to put in the mileage. Chess is a very hard and a very cruel game. It's one of the hardest games to play. There's no element of chance in it. You can spend 1 hour and 29 minutes making the most beautiful and perfect 100 moves and all it takes is just 1 move after that to ruin it all. No one will care about the 100 moves you made before that. What people see is, you've blundered and lost. And no amount of screaming or yelling will change that fact.

Just so you know, when it comes to chess, I don't play the person - as the famous GM Svetozar Gligoric says it,"I play against pieces."

Monday, December 17, 2007

My Year In Review: Part 1

Has it ever happen to you? You wake up one morning, and you realised the world has passed you by.

It happened to me this morning. As I realised to my horror, I'm starting to fall pretty badly behind my peers at the chess club. Joshua, Arthur and Ted are making marked progress and are now in the 2000 stratosphere while I am still languishing in the sub 1500s.

I formulated a plan a few months back of consistent studying and playing but have since abandoned it because my work plus studies took its eventual toll and I could no longer keep up with the strict regime without my studies suffering.

I hate making resolutions for the new year because in the end, inertia sets in and I'll fall back to my old ways. As a result, I have to put my foot down now and that is to start playing more OTB chess consistently and regularly. I am thinking of joining the chess club at North Sydney Leagues club every Tuesday night once the new year starts and commit myself there.

I play online games a lot more these days now that my studies won't start till mid-February 2008. In between now and then is probably my last hope of taking my chess skill to the next level ie. the 1500-1800 level.

I am still making improvements albeit in small steps but I need to be at the point where I have to make big strides instead.

And that means, on the top of my list in order of importance:

Master endgames and I don't mean just learn it. But MASTER it. I've got a few books lined up:

Sherevesky's Endgame Strategy (which I am currently reading),
Muller's Endgame DVDs set (1-4),
Muller's ChessCafe articles,
Smyslov's Endgame Virtuoso,
and finally, Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual.

and I've got Total Chess Training software to work through.

I will still continue to work on combinations and tactics in the meantime.

Today, I was reviewing one of my online games, adding annotations and letting Fritz do its handy work when I noticed 2 particular variations and I thought it was very instructive so I'm going to post them here.

Have a look at the first diagram on the left, this 1st test position was the result of a rather long variation given by Fritz.

I was White. Black decided to take the pawn on e4 with:

1. .... Nxe4

Here's the question:

Problem #1. Can you see how White can win here?

The answer can be found within the brackets

[ Yes! White goes for a mating attack starting with...
2. Nc6+
Black has 2 possible continuations and both of them lead to mate.
2.... Qxc6 3. Rxe8#
2... Ke6 3. Qd5#]

The second one here is tougher. See the 2nd diagram on right.

The position has somewhat changed. Black played

1.... Nxe4

The question is this:

Problem #2. Can you find the best move for White?

Answer can be found within the brackets

[ If you chose
2. Qg4+ Kf7 3. Qxe4. You didn't see a stronger move.

The correct answer is:
2. Qg4+ Kf7
3. Rg8!! (Now comes the point of this move. Black is forced to capture the Rook with the Queen) Qxg8
4. Qxd7+! and now 4... Kf8 leads to Qe7# and 4... Kg6 leads to 5. Ne7+ forking King and Queen]

To tie things up, I jumped onto FICS and played a few Blitzes for fun. I lost the first game (making a horrible endgame blunder when I should be winning..... grrrrr.) and won the next one which I've highlighted here (*insert chest-beating Tarzan yell*). The following game itself is not great at all. But I do notice that I am processing faster with my tactical vision (my opponent making things easy for me didn't help matters). I guess all this self-study is showing its results. In all, I took 3 minutes for the whole game. I am going to go cold turkey on Blitz games for a while.... at least until I get my endgame technique down to a pat.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Christmas Presents For Chess Buffs

It's that time of season again. And this year, my Christmas presents have been planned beforehand.

My father-in-law is getting Muller's Endgame DVDs from Chessbase for his Christmas present.

Last year, I got him Ari Ziegler's The French Defense DVD (from Chessbase) for his Christmas present but apparently, he didn't think much of the French Defense. The year before, I gave him the book Tal-Botvinnik 1960 which he did read it and play through and analyse the annotated games in less than 1 week!

My brother-in-law on the other hand is getting one of Daniel King's PowerPlay DVDs.

With Christmas around the corner, I'm enjoying Convekta's Total Chess Training and am currently reading a rather nice book, Mikhail Sherevsky's Endgame Strategy. I hope to finish the book come new year.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Sicilian Defense

First off, I like to say that I've had my fair share of wins and losses playing both sides of the Sicilian Defense. It is one of the defenses I really dread playing as White (being a 1.e4 player) because Black players sometimes come armed to the teeth and they have lines memorised up till move 30 (that's indeed scary). Unfortunately, that's also not how I play chess. I have full respect for the Sicilian Defense because the endgame is usually favourable for Black.

But I find that the Sicilian Defense is one defense where Black needs to have a solid understanding of the line or variation that Black wants to play. The Sicilian Defense, as some of you know, comes in many flavours:

The Sveshnikov, the Kalashnikov, the Kan, the Najdorf, the Scheveningen, the Taimanov, the Dragon etc.

White also has a host of weapons in its arsenal to tackle the Sicilian Defense. They include the much feared Keres Attack, the Yugoslav Attack etc. you get the picture.

The problem I find with the Sicilian Defense is that usually, all it takes is one minor slip on either side and it's toast.

In this game, Black clearly has no idea once I took him out of his preparation on move 3. He was definitely not prepared nor was he aware of the ideas behind the Bb5 line (which is a good thing for me). Note that I have made quite a few mistakes in my moves. I profess my play here was far less than optimal.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Errr.... I Won Something?

Tonight, I turned up at my local chess club and the club head honchos were giving out prizes to all the winners for the various club competitions held this year at the club.

But what floored me was when Les Mikolajczyk suddenly mentioned my name and told me that I had won a prize for coming in 2nd in the Rapid Chess tournament in the Under 1400 category. Sweeeeeeeeeet! :)

My brother-in-law Steven (he had a handful of trophies to take home with him) and I then proceeded to have a nice club dinner (which was organised by the chess club) at one of the main dining rooms of the League club.

Having only studied chess on and off for the last 1 year and 8 months thereabouts, this $20 really gave me a HUGE morale boost because I honestly didn't expect to win anything. In fact, I didn't even know I had come in second.

And yes, that's my real name printed... err... handwritten on the prize envelope.

Now what should I do with the $20? I was thinking of giving maybe half the money to charity and the other half.... well... I dunno... get another chess book? Heck, maybe I should just donate the whole $20 to charity. I think I will do just that.

A French Exchange

Jumped onto FICS this morning, and started playing a relatively innocuous game. And yes, folks, it's another French Exchange variation! :)

In all fairness, it appears my opponent didn't know what to do after the pawn exchange. He wasted far too many moves and didn't develop his pieces properly while I slowly build up and went for his throat.

I am also happy to report that I've beaten my brother-in-law Steven on Monday night (woohoo! this event is so rarely seen that it is akin to ... errrm... errrm... having Harrison Ford star in an Indiana Jones movie - see pix on right)

He played a 1.d4 opening and we quickly moved into King's Indian Defence territory and he tried a Minority Attack ala Bayonet Attack on the Queenside which amounted to nothing (I actually have no knowledge of how to effectively handle the Bayonet Attack in the KID well - I definitely need to reinvestigate this line).

Despite his best attempts to break my kingside, with 2 bishops, a Knight, a Rook, a Queen and a White pawn on h6 (My king was tucked away safely on h7 hiding behind his h-pawn in all irony), his attack floundered when I managed to force him to trade all of his attacking pieces.

It was only after the smoke had cleared that he realised he had a slight problem. In the ensuing B v B endgame, we had light-squared bishops and all his pawns were stuck on light squares and all of mine were on dark squares. He resigned a few moves later.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I Know How A Predator Victim Feels Like Now

I am predominantly a 1. e4 player.

Because of my relatively short knowledge of opening repertoires, I am now forced to learn 1.d4 openings.

The problem is: I like playing 1. e4 openings. I feel that as a beginner, learning tactics is the best way to go and to do that is to play 1.e4 where tactics and combinations fly. That's also why I am not afraid to face the Sicilian Defence head-on (although I sometimes play the Bb5 and c3 Sicilians just to annoy my opponents).

Yesterday night, I was with another player (I am sorry I didn't get your name - if you're reading this) at the chess club at Manly-Warringah RSL and who else but Michael Morris turned up. Michael proceeded to play a simul lightning game against both of us (!). Michael is a fine chap. He is rated 2150+ and is Australia's 8th best under-20 chess player.

It's thus no surprise that he proceeded to kick the crap out of me (his other opponent fared better). I've never lost pieces so fast in under 5 minutes. In my first game, I lost my Rook in 2 minutes. In my second game, I lost my Queen in 3 minutes.

Ripped to shreds would be a more apt description, sore of like the victim that is being hunted by this hunter-of-all-hunters (see image on left above).

Sunday, December 9, 2007


Calculation is everything in chess. In this post, I highlight two games which I had last night. Both games need some calculation (not much but you should be able to see them as they're not hard to calculate).

On the first diagram on the left, I am Black and it is White's turn to move. White was thinking of Rd8+. Note that his Queen and Bishop are vulnerable.

Question #1: Can White play 1. Rd8+?

Answer can be found by highlighting between the brackets.

[No, this simple trick doesn't work and in fact, loses a piece immediately with 1.... Re8. Now 2. Rxe8+ Rxe8 and White must lose his Bishop]

Now here's another problem.

I am White in the 2nd diagram on the left and it is my turn to move.

My first thought was 1. Bxh6 winning a pawn as after the Bishop gets taken, 2. exf4.

Question 2: Is there a problem with this 1. Bxh6 plan?

Answer can be found by highlighting between the brackets.

[Yes, there is! 1. Bxh6 Qxh6 and now White cannot play 2. exg4 because of 2... Ng3+ and White will lose the Rook for a Knight]

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Preparation All Over Again

At my local chess club here last night, I got plastered by Joshua 6 times out of 6. He must be wondering what is he doing playing a patzer like me. At one stage, he wondered if he was playing the "old" me and said,"What happened to you?"

At this point, I was quite tempted to say,"This is not me. I am actually his evil twin."

I am so badly out of shape and lacking tournament match practice. Unfortunately, I am due to have a holiday overseas in January which will put me out of contention for the Sydney Open in January at Parramatta.

A shame really. My study term starts pretty soon in mid Februrary and this was probably my best chance to improve my chess.

Back to tactics training!

Sometimes I wonder why I subject myself to such a rigorous routine. I'm going to end up studying, then forgetting chess tactics, then restudying tactics, then study then...... you get the picture.

My wife thinks I'm nuts.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Calculating Your Endgame

The following endgame occurred.

I am Black.

White had just played:

42. Kd4 (see 1st diagram on left)

Now here's the question:

Should Black swap rooks by playing 42....Rxc5?

Give yourself a few minutes to think this over before proceeding to the answer below.

Before swapping Rooks, it is important to calculate first if the resulting pawn race is a win for Black or not.

What do you do after the White King recaptures with 43. Kxc5? How do you stop any of the White pawns from strolling up the board? Is there enough time to stop any of these pawns? If so, how?

Let's first consider the line 42. ... Rxc5

White naturally recaptures with 43. Kxc5 (see 2nd diagram on left)

Now we come to an important decision. What should Black play next?

When looking at endgames, it is important to calculate your tempi carefully. In endgames like this where it's down to a pawn race, every tempo is worth its weight in gold.

At the current position, only 2 of Black's pawns can Queen without being hindered by Black's King. The d and g pawn. Let's look at the g-pawn. It takes 5 tempi to get the g-pawn to Queen and 4 tempi for the d-pawn to Queen. It takes White 5 tempi for either the a or b pawn to Queen. With that in mind. Let's proceed.

We have a look first at 43... Ke4. This tempo is a wasted move. Why?

Look at your pawns after 43.... Ke4. 44. a4. Black needs 4 more pawn moves for the d-pawn to Queen. White's a-pawn also needs 4 moves to Queen. In other words, Black's pawn Queens then White's pawn Queens and the resulting endgame is a headache as both sides try to fight for an advantage. The position becomes messy as Black is trying to manouevre the Black Queen into a position so that he can trade off White's Queen or attack the remaining White pawn and White will do its utmost to keep up with annoying checks on the Black King to force a draw. It's not much fun and gives you an immense headache in the process. Black is probably winning but it's difficult.

But it secures the d-pawn, you say.

Well, does the d-pawn need securing? Is there any reason to be afraid of Kxd5? The answer is no. The simple reason is that this is a pawn race. White can ill afford a King move so any other move other than the pawn move results in a precious loss of tempo and letting Black queen first. So put your mind at ease. White will not take your d-pawn.

What about 43... d4 then?

Well, what about it? White is now forced to play 44. Kxd4 and again we have 2 pawns queening one after another and a prolonged fight ensues.

No. There has to be a simpler and quicker method to end White's misery. And there is.

Look at the White King. What is the problem with the White King's position?

Yes, it happens to rest on a diagonal belonging to a potential Queening square. The g1 square.

In other words, if I push my g-pawn I would Queen with check, gaining a precious tempo before White can queen (see 3rd diagram on left).

This tempo is enough to secure Black's win.

43 .... g5 (let's say White pushes the b-pawn although the end result doesn't really matter if the a-pawn was pushed).
44. b4 g4
46. b5 g3
46. b6 g2
47. b7 g1=Q+ (see last diagram on left)

Now White is lost.

If White captures the d-pawn with
48. Kxd5 Qg2+ (see the green arrows) secures the b-pawn

If White plays
48. Ke6 Qb6+ (see the red arrows) secures the b-pawn again

If White plays
48. Kc6 Qa7 (see the yellow arrows) results in White having to waste more tempi and Black's d-pawn simply races up the board while the Queen sacrifices itself for White's b-pawn leading to a simple win.

So the final answer to all of this is:

Yes, Black should play 42... Rxc5

Unfortunately, this is where where I erred. As I was short on time, I made things difficult for myself (this was a blitz game). I did not swap Rooks and played 42... Rd1+. I was lucky that my opponent blundered in time pressure and the game was subsequently won. However, I am still unhappy with the fact that I made the wrong move and gave myself unnecessary headaches in the process. I must work on my endgame technique more.

I hope that by showing you all of my blunders, I am helping you to make less mistakes as well.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

All Worth It


Here it is (see diagram on right) , the reason why I:
a. forfeited my last 6 games in my chess club competition
b. took 1 week of annual leave from my work
c. woken up with "keyboard" face (aka. falling asleep at my keyboard) more times than I can count
d. ate instant noodles the last 8 days

My next study term doesn't start till February next year. So I have a good 3 months to brush up on my OTB chess skills. *grin*

Now that we got that out of the way, I thought I take a little breather (especially after that last post) and post a small little review of a Chessbase (yes, the nerds from Germany- I can't count the number of times that website has pictures of attractive looking women playing chess which is highly embarassing) DVD.

It's a slightly dated DVD. It's from GM Daniel King's PowerPlay 1 DVD - Mating Patterns.

Yes, it's another less than veiled attempt by Chessbase to seduce you to part your hard-earned money.... and to provide GMs with some additional income.

Btw the picture on the right of Daniel King is not him asking you for a handout (although it may appear to be so) nor to buy more of his DVDs (which he certainly won't mind).

Bad jokes aside, in this DVD, King explores in detail the following main mating patterns:

a. the Greek gift sacrifice
b. the Lasker double bishop sacrifice
c. the Lawnmower Mate
d. the Bishop See-Saw
e. the H-file Rook distraction
f. the Knight mate
g. the Back Rank mate

In each of these patterns, King throughly explains the combinations needed to carry out each of these tactical treats successfully and when to recognise the tactics fail.

I have to say that among other commentators in other Chessbase DVDs, he is one of the most interesting commentators and there's seldom a dull moment in his presentations.

King is precise, clear and engaging. He also slips in a few jokes to keep up the interest of the viewer, which I think is wonderful in that it breaks up the monotony - especially if you've been viewing 3 or more lectures (like I have been doing) consecutively.

In all, there are approximately 40 lectures and 11 exercises in this DVD, totaling about 4 hours.

The only caveat of this DVD is that most of these tactics can be read from say, Vladimir Vukovic's classic The Art Of The Attack and there is little fresh material here if you are already versed in these mating attacks.

Most of the lectures start off from middlegame positions where tactical shots abound.

There's a minor quirk here. King was puzzled at one stage on how to remove the arrows he had placed all over the board and had to ask, "Mr. Cameraman, what am I doing wrong?" which clearly demonstrated his unfamiliarity with the ChessBase user interface. *tsk tsk*. ;)

But other than that small slip, his annotations are excellent.

Now the million dollar question. Will I recommend this DVD to other players?

Well, I am quite tempted to ask you to read Vukovic's classic and other well known chess tomes instead. This DVD fills the gap for an improving player who has little time to study and wants an introduction to the world of mating attacks and mating combinations.

I would rate this DVD more suitable for beginners to early intermediate players.

Oh, I find the review at Chessbase on this DVD is pretty much spot on.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Candidate Moves

First off, I apologise for the length of this article. This position arose out of the Queen's Indian Defence (notice how I play a variety of openings?). Make sure you have a good cuppa ready before delving into this article. Really.

In this article, what I am trying to do is put my thoughts down so that I know how my thought process works and check with other chess engines to fine tune my thinking process. I think this is a good step (as advocated by Blue Devil Knight on his Confessions Of A Chess Novice blog) towards improving your chess skills.

Anyway, back to the game (I am Black):

21. Qxe5. (see 1st diagram on left)

A few questions popped in my mind at the moment but one that is most important.

Should I move my Queen?

If I trade Queens, I liberate and free White's bishop after (21... Qxe5 22. Nxe5). My position has weakened. White has a strong Knight on e5 and my bishop is in a nasty pin. I could always retreat my Knight to the safe outpost on c5 to protect my Bishop but after (22.... Nc5 23. Bxb7 Nxb7). My pieces are all on the last 2 ranks and I am losing valuable tempo having to reactivate them. No, I am determined to strive for activity here and take central control. To do that, my Queen has to stay on the board.

Allowing White to trade Queens with (22. Qxc5) is not in my best interests either as I have to retake with my Knight else my pawn structure is fractured (if I do 22...bxc5) and we run into the same situation with (23. Bxb7) again (as I mentioned earlier). Hence, I need to move my Queen. So what candidate moves are there?

(21.... Qxc4)
(21.... Qxe3+)
(21.... Rfe8)

I discarded (21... Rfe8) immediately since I need to move my Queen.

(21... Qxc4) is nice, winning a pawn but that pawn is absolutely going nowhere. The pawn is isolated and that means that it is weak. When the pieces come off the board later, White will have difficulty defending that pawn anyway. Thus, I didn't think there's a rush to take the pawn for now. It's nice but not the best move, I thought.

That leaves (21.... Qxe3+). Now we're talking. Taking a pawn and giving check, winning a tempo. Don't forget that sooner or later one of the White Rooks is going to come and plant itself on the e-file so in this case, taking the most forcing move to gain a tempo is crucial. I chose the most forcing move.

21.... Qxe3+

Fritz apparently loves the idea of Qxe3+.

22. Kh1 (forced) Rfe8 (to get the Queen off the e-file)

23. Qb2 (forced) (see 2nd diagram on left) as White has to stop any potential Nf2+ tricks

Now we come to a curious juncture. White's move Rae1 or Rfe1 is definitely coming but if I calculate this right, I should be able to pull my Queen away from it in time.

At the moment, there are no obvious threats to Black. So I followed Makaganov's Famous Rule which is,"In a position where there are no immediate or direct threats, improve your worst placed piece."

So what is my worst placed piece?

Evidently my Rook on a8. So I moved it.

23.... Rad8 (taking control of the d-file)

It so turns out that Fritz also favoured this move.

Other considerations given by Fritz were (23....Nd6). Honestly, this move didn't occur to me because I have the positional advantage. Why give it away by retreating the Knight from its central outpost where it covers a lot of squares? The only thing I have to be wary of is my Bishop on b7 (which is unprotected) so I need to keep a close eye on Bb7.

24. Rae1 (surprise, surprise)

I thought this over for some time. My candidate moves were:

(24... Qc5)
(24... Qc3)
(24... Qd4)

Let's consider each move in turn.

(24... Qc5). I didn't really like this move. It moves my Queen, protects my Knight. But it doesn't threaten anything.

(24... Qc3) I didn't really feel like trading Queens at this point.
(24... Qd4) Same as above.

Then suddenly a thought came to my mind.

(24.... Qh6) Nice. I am threatening (25... Nxg3+) next. I've always loved moves that threatens my opponent because it forces my opponent to halt his attack to perform protective duties.

Only problem is: What do I do after that? So I start to explore this line further. What can White do?

(25. Ne5?) Possible. The Knight is threatening (26. Nxf7) forking Queen and Rook. But that would lead to (26... Nxg3+) forking King and Rook. If I take the Rook subsequently with (27...Nxf1), White can't play (Nxf7) anymore. But then I run into the problem of (28. Bxb7 Ne3) and then (29. Qc3!) (protecting both Knight on e5 and attack my Knight on e3). I also have the added problem of a possible Bd5 in the future where my f7 is coming under enormous pressure. I gained a Rook for my Knight but more importantly I have lost the dynamics of my position and White despite the small tradeoff, may even gain a slight advantage .

Surely, there must be another way. Ah yes, I found it (I'll explain later). I played

24... Qh6! Fritz complains here, preferring (24.... Qc5).

25. Ne5 (expected) (see 3rd diagram above on left) Nxg3+

26. Kg1 (forced)

Now comes the intermezzo move that took White evidently by surprise.

26... Bxg2! (see 4th diagram on left)

Fritz liked (26... Nxe1), taking the Rook first. However, I have a little trick up my sleeve.

Can you see the trick?

Let's see what White can play.

His Rook is obviously under attack twice. So let's consider the candidate move:

(27. Rxf7)

I'm going to take time out here and consider this variation so you have a good idea why this move is bad. There's a problem with this move. Because Black has an even more surprising move in store.

(27... Ba8!!) (see 5th diagram on left) What??!! You probably ask.

Here's the nasty trick.

White cannot play (28. hxg3) (taking the Knight because of (28... Qh1+ - highlighted by red arrow - 29. Kf2 Qh2+) skewering the undefended Queen.

If White doesn't capture the Knight and moves his Rook on f7 away, now comes the killer move:

(30.... Rd2) (highlighted by the yellow arrow) (threatening 31...Qxh2 followed by mate so White must give up the Queen)

If Knight on e5 moves to f3, Black trades Rooks anyway with ... Rxe1 followed by ...Ne5 (yellow arrow) and ....Rd2 and the position is absolutely crushing.

Now let us return to our position (see diagram on left) after 26... Bxg2.

27. Qxg2 (forced because 27. Kxg2 runs into the horrible fork 27....Rd2+! winning the Queen)

Now (27. Nxf7 doesn't work because of 27... Qg6 28. Nxd8 Be4! with threats of 29... Nxf1+ or 29... Ne2+ and best of all, White still cannot play hxg3 because of mate on g2 after Qxg3+)

Now let's get on with what White actually played.

28. Nxf7? (see last diagram below on left)

And now the final trick presents itself.

28.... Qxh2+!

And White is now busted. Interestingly, Fritz didn't like this move. Well.... duh. Of course I am going for the endgame and trade off the Queens.

29. Qxh2 Nxh2
30 Rxe8+ Rxe8 (White Resigns as he is a whole Rook down)



I have no doubt that my chess skills is not up to scratch and my piece co-ordination still lacks finesse. This is an area I definitely need to improve upon.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Failing In Tactics

Over FICS, I played against a 1500 rated player and promptly lost despite having an advantage. Bummer!

Here's the position with Black to play.

This position arose from a Reti opening (yes, I do play the Reti Opening). Black has a positional advantage and White's pieces are currently tied up in knots. The White Knights have no good squares to relocate to, the Rooks are passive, the Queen is passive.

And being the absolute idiot that I am, I played 26... Bxb2?? An error of humongous proportions. Do you know why the b2 pawn is taboo?

....... You've probably seen it by now. Because of 27. Ne1 and it's goodbye Bishop! From that point on, it was pretty much downhill all the way.

In this position, I should have played a far stronger move.

Can you see what should Black do to press home the advantage?

Please stop reading now if you do not wish to know the answer.

The correct response is 27...f4!! White has a couple of responses. None are good.

28.exf4 Bxf4!
(see 2nd diagram on left) threatening Bxc1 and Bxg3+ forking King and Queen. The Bishop cannot be recaptured because of Re2 winning the Queen

Qf1 fxe3
29. Qxd3 Rxd3
30. Ne1 Rd2+!!
31. Nxd2 exd2
32. Rb1 Bxg3+! (see 3rd diagram on left) and Black wins (Rxe1 is coming and no force on earth can stop the d-pawn from Queening)

28. Kg2 fxe3
29. Qf3 e2

30. Ne1 Qd1

31. Rc2 Bd4

32. Nxd4 cxd4 (see 4th diagram on left) and Black wins as the next move is d3->d2 and White is powerless to stop one of the pawns from Queening.

Oh well, back to the drawing board!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Don't You Just Hate The French Defence?

Folks, I'm learning the French Defence and that means learning both sides of the French.

I find that most players in my club mistake the French Defence as a passive, boring defence much like the Caro-Kann but with the added disadvantage of Black's light-squared bishop being hemmed in (which as Korchnoi so lovingly puts it,"his problem child") and remaining inactive for much of the game.

However, the French is not a passive defence. I've found that it's a dangerous counter-attacking defence. Yes, counter-attacking. That means, you as Black don't sit back and let White squeeze you, you go straight for White's throat while White is messing around and shuffling pieces to break the f7-square.

The long-term strategy behind the French Defence is surprisingly simple. Break down White's center and then break White.

Why play the French Defence? I mean, no super GM plays it at the top level other than GM Morozevich and even then his results in the French as Black have not been spectacular. eg. see this tactical game where Morozevich was slowly but surely losing in this year's Linares (Topalov v Morozevich 1-0).

But less not we forget, openings change like the wind. A decade ago, the Sicilian Najdorf was the (and still is) the main reply to 1.e4 but its presence has been diminished with Kasparov's retirement. Instead, the Ruy Lopez (Anand, Kramnik), the Catalan (Kramnik), Petroff (Kramnik), the Slav/Semi-Slav/Queen's Gambit Declined (Anand, Leko, Kramnik, Topalov) are the rage these days.

In fact, the Ruy Lopez Berlin Defence is so tough to crack that I am now forced to switch openings. I was surprised to encounter it as White during one of my OTB games a month ago vs a 1700 player (which I won but only because my opponent blundered when he had the advantage) but who clearly knew how to play the Berlin Defence.

Anyway, here's a French Defence game I played recently on FICS.

We reached the position (I am Black) as shown 33. Rg4 (see 1st diagram on right).

White is trying his best to break down the position but I've got everything tidied up.

Now imagine the board without the Queens and the minor pieces. What do you see?

Bingo! Black has a strong central pawn majority and it is these pawns that will give Black an advantage in the endgame.

The isolated pawn on e5 will fall and I still have pawn triggers of f6 or g6 (at the opportune moment) to cause serious damage to White.

I therefore, not surprisingly, head straight for the endgame.

33. ... Rc4 (trading off the Rooks naturally)
34. Rgf4 Rxf4 35. Rxf4 Rc4 36. Rf2 (waste of time) Bc5 (even if White didn't move I am relocating my Bishop to c7 for reasons mentioned below)
37. Rf1 Re4
38. b4 Bb6
39. Rf3 (see 2nd diagram on right)

Now this is my plan. I intend to attack the e5 pawn - it cannot be defended because of the vulnerability of the back rank check (losing the Queen in the process). The dark-square bishop will slice through the b8-h2 diagonal.

39.... Bc7
40. Qh2 Bxe5

41. Bg3 Bxg3
(I was so tempted to do 42. Re1+! and then trading off his Queen for my Rook and Bishop but I feared the position might be complicated. I was thinking to myself. I have a winning position, I just need to keep my pieces on the board. Put more pressure and White will crack soon enough)
42. Qxg3 f6
43. Qh3 Re1+

44. Kh2 Qb8+

45. g3 Qe5
(see 3rd diagram on right) (now it is all over, my Queen threatens c3, e2+ and h5 and my Rook threatens e2. If White plays 46. Qg2 Qxh5+ 47. Qh3 Re2+ wins the Queen)
46. Rf2 Qxc3 (White's Queenside pawns will get gobbled up and the pawns simply march down to win) 0-1

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Czech Mate

Excuse the bad pun.

I'm still wrapping my head around using Chess Publisher and am loving it. This was a team match correspondence game played this year.

I've never understood the Czech Benoni (I doubt I ever will). I ran this through Fritz. My own comments are in bold.

In the game above, I find I didn't have to make any mistakes. My one worry was castling Queenside right into his Bishop pin. But I took a look around the board and couldn't find anything threatening and went ahead with it.

I'd noticed that certain openings can be played based on general understanding, and for other lines, move memorisation is required. I'll be honest, I've never remembered any line beyond the 6th or 7th move so I do not play lines like the Najdorf and the Slav because the amount of theory is too mind boggling.

At my level (which I estimate to be around 1200), I just need to understand concepts and general ideas, practice on my tactics and perfect my endgame technique. Until I get to at least 1800 level, I do not intend to bother with deep move memorisation. However, what I do also want to acquire is knowledge about pawn structures and ideas behind certain openings. I feel this is an invaluable knowledge tool to any aspiring chess player.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

How Not To Play Vs The French Defence

I've finally decided to take the plunge and have a go at Chess Publisher instead of constantly loading my games to Fritz and then copying and pasting the images to the blog.

ChessPublisher is still a little temperamental at times but overall, the change has been very positive and I am very pleased with the results. I would like to give my utmost thanks to Andrew Ooi for giving the chess blog world a terrific way to present chess games. His contribution cannot be any more understated.

Here's a game I just played in FICS. I decided to vary my repertoire a little and play the French Defence. I have not added in a lot of game comments as the game was simple from start to finish.

Incidentally, because of studies, I have also forfeited my remaining 5 games at my chess club. I have to take 4 Module exams and 2 Finals exam within the next 7 days (it's just not funny). I was running in 3rd place. Oh well, it's only a Rapid competition anyway and it was fun while it lasted.

Getting to the chess club on Wednesdays is fast becoming a huge hurdle to overcome. I finish work at 7pm and the competition starts at 7.30pm. This means, I have to get to my office garage, hop on, blaze full speed to the club (it's about a 15-20 min drive away), park and run up to the club.

I do notice one particular habit forming.

I ALWAYS lose my first game. Without fail. It seems that by the time I get to the club, I'm so hurried that I started to make mistakes. Mistakes I would not normally make (like not seeing a mate in 1 for instance!).

However, usually after my first game, I find that I am much settled down and will start to play at a much improved level and I win more often than not. I guess I have to rethink about joining another chess club soon after my studies. I can't keep doing this week after week.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Endgame Trouble

This position arose from a Sicilian. I am White.

Black offered to trade Rooks on f8 and I did (see 1st diagram on right).

32. ..... Kxf8

While this may not seem like it, but Black is now in trouble.

Why is Black in trouble?

A few things.

1. I have a queenside pawn majority and Black has doubled pawns on the b-file. This is a long term weakness which Black cannot expect to hold.

2. My center is guarded only by my e pawn while Black has 2 central pawns. That should give him an advantage, you say. The answer is no.

3. That's because White has the g and h-pawns and it is these 2 pawns that will win the game for White and ironically stops Black from pushing his central pawns. I find it strange how pawns on the side actually controls the pawns in the center.

First of all, what did I play as White?

I made the standard move. I activated my King.

My plan is very simple.

Notice how my kingside pawns is guarding the crucial squares f5, f6, g6, h6? White has a central blockade and this makes the Black king task impossible to get around this pawn structure.

In this position, it is crucial that my pawns deny the Black king any activity.

33. Kc1 e5?? (see 2nd diagram on right)

A blunder in time pressure. With the pawn move, the Black king cannot attack my e-pawn now and this makes my task simpler.

I continue to move my King
34. Kd2 Kf7
35. Kd3 Ke6

Now I am ready to deal with the weakness of the doubled pawn on the b-file.

36. c4! bxc3

(see 3rd diagram on right)

Now I am winning. I simply take the c-pawn with my King and storm down the b-file.

37. Kxc3 d5?

A mistake. Black cannot hope to achieve any counterplay with this pawn break as now my g and h pawns romp home.

38. exd5+ Kxd5 (the King is now outside the rule of the square for my h-pawn and White's h-pawn queens easily)

39. g6! (hxg6
40. h6 Ke6 41. h7 Kf7 42. h8=Q) 1-0

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Interesting Tactic

I was on FICS again this morning and played a 1300++ rated player.

We arrived at the position shown.

I am Black. White had just played
28. Rd1
placing my Queen under direct fire.

I knew that if we trade pieces, I have an advantage all the way to the endgame.

So after much thinking, I played the move.

28.... Qf4!

A very surprising move. I loaded this into Fritz and Fritz didn't even consider this move. But tactically it works.

White cannot play Bxd5. The Knight on d5 is forbidden fruit.

The reason I can play this and not worry about the Knight is because White has a back rank problem and is weak on the dark squares.

Let's say White plays
29. Bxd5 Rxc1 (2nd diagram)

Now the situation's very clear.

White now must play

30. Rf1 (Rxc1 leads to mate after Qxc1 while Qxf4 is also impossible because of Rxd1 leading to mate) Rxf1+
31. Kxf1 Qxe4
32. Bxe4 Rb1 (and Black has a decisive material advantage going into a R v B endgame with a passed a-pawn)

My opponent didn't play this series of moves btw.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Finishing Your Opponent Simply

This game was played against a 1200++ player on FICS.

Black made a tactical blunder and is now a whole Rook down but chooses to play on.

White is completely dominating. It is clear that Black has tried to mobilise the King in an effort to try to defend the key squares d7 and d8 (highlighted in yellow) to stop White from entering the position and hence the move

31. .... Ke8

There's a fatal flaw in this move. Can you spot it?

What is that Black has done wrong and how can White gain entry into Black defence?

Take note that White must be careful not to let Black gain an initiative eg. leaving the e4 pawn en-prise.

Answer :

If you've figured it out by now, the killer move was 32. Qd5.

Why is this move deadly?

1. It stops Black's counterplay and protects e4.
2. More importantly, the White Queen is going to play Qa8+ and Black's Queen is history.

Black now tries to alleviate the position and played the move

33 ... f6??

The question is:

How does White swap the Rook for the Black Queen, thereby finishing off Black in the process?

Highlight between the brackets for the answer:

[White now wins the Queen for a Rook with a simple tactical trick.

34. Qg8+ Qf8
35. Rd8+! Kxd8
36. Qxf8+ ]

Friday, November 9, 2007

Making Horrid Moves

It's times like these that I sometimes want to bury my head in the sand.

On FICS today, I made a strategic blunder.

Take a look at this I just played 12. ....Qh4 (see diagram on right).

I am Black. What is the problem with Black's position?

A couple.

1. Black hasn't castled (is the King that safe in the center - I don't think so, not with the Rook on g7)
2. my h-pawn is going to die real soon (hence my Qh4 move)
3. my Knight on b8 is doing diddly squat
4. my Rook on a8 needs to stay there to protect the a6 pawn

Play continued.
13. Qd2 Qxh2? (this is a blunder)

Why is it? That's because White is clearly preparing to castle longside. So what's wrong with being greedy and grabbing the pawn? The answer will be coming.....

14. O-O-O Bxe2? (another blunder)

Black should maintain the pin and quickly get his other pieces out as Black's position is close to collapsing and in danger of getting crushed.

Now my opponent makes a fatal mistake.

15. Qxe2?? (see diagram on right)
A horrible horrible blunder.... in trying to protect the e2 pawn which White should not have done.. now comes

15... Qh6+ (forking King and Rook and my opponent resigned) 0-1

What did White do wrong?

White has a humongous advantage along the d-file.

So what do you do when you have Q+R on a file? That's correct, you break open the file.

White should have played 14. Bxe2 (see diagram on right) and then played d5 - cracking open the file and threatening all sorts of mating threats on d7,d8.

What Black should have done is counteract this plan with it's own release by playing d6 and closing off the center. Black is by no means okay and has to struggle but it's definitely far better than what I played.

In short, this was a terrible game from me.