Sunday, November 28, 2010

Analysing Difficult Positions

This game is complicated. I am Black. In this online game, White threw everything except the kitchen sink to conjure up an extremely powerful attack on Black's king.

It is Black's turn.

If this was a blitz game, there is no way anyone could see the motifs and the correct move.

If Black can hold on to his position he would win. In razor sharp positions, where a single move can lead to a win or a loss, it is vital to be able to understand the "truth" of the position.

How would you analyse this position? If you were Black, what would you play?

In this game, I lost because I failed to understand the position.

If you do not want to know the answer, STOP READING NOW!! :)


The way to tackle this problem was to first of all, understand how to go about analysing this.

Think for a moment, if this was White's turn, what would White play?

The answer is obvious.

2. f7! Now White is threatening mate on g8 so the next move is forced.
2. ... Bg7 (any other move is instant mate after 3. Qxh6#)

With this in mind, we know that once the h6 pawn falls it is checkmate.

So what would White play as a followup move?
3. Rh2! with the intention of 4. Rxh6 Bxh6 5. Qxh6# (again!)

Ok. So how do I stop the Rook from sacrificing itself on h6? What this means is that Black has only 2 moves to prevent checkmate.

The Black Queen is way offside. The light-squared Bishop on c4 is hindered by the d4 pawn. True, it can temporarily sacrifice itself with Bd3 but after Rxd3, Black can save the situation since it requires 2 moves by White to reposition itself back on the h-file. This can be saved but is there a better solution (remember the axiom "if you find a good move, look for a better one")?

The Rook on a8 takes 3 moves to reposition itself to the h-file. This is far too late.

How about 1.... b5 trying to pin the White Queen and stopping f7? The problem comes again.
2. Rh2 and now preparing 3. Rxh6+ Bxh6 4. Qxh6 Kg8 5. Qg7# (another mate!)

So what is left? It's the Black Queen.

Is there a way to stop the Rook from entering the h-file with the Queen? Well, given that the Black Queen is on a light square, it needs 3 moves to get to the h-file but the problem is that if the Queen retreats to b7 or c8, White will play f7 and the 7th rank is totally cut off for the Black Queen. It's starting to look grim for Black.

What now? Now that we've identified the threats and possible solutions. Let's look at this position now, with a fresh pair of eyes.

So we know that the Queen retreat doesn't work, the Rook takes too long to lift itself and the c4 Bishop (short of sacrificing itself for tempi) cannot go back in time and b5 pawn moves doesn't work either.

Now imagine if White has a chance to play Rh2, where would you put the Black Queen if you have free rein? If the Queen is on the 1st rank to give check to the White king, then after ....Qf1 it is Black who is now giving checkmate. In other words, if we can find a way to get the Queen to f1 in 2 moves, we can stop Rh2.

The solution to this predicament has to be 1. ....Qa4!! intending .... Qd1+ Kg2 and then Qf1# (if White tries Rh2).

So the correct move to stop this is 1.... Qa4!!

Shocking, isn't it? :)

Friday, November 19, 2010

NYC: Watch Where You Play Chess

7 men ticketed for playing chess in playground by cops in bulletproof vests

Reminds me of a scene from Dirty Harry:

Callahan: Are you trying to tell me that ballistics can't match the bullet up to this rifle?
DA: It does not matter what ballistics can do. This rifle might make a nice souvenir. But it's inadmissible as evidence.
Callahan: And who says that?
DA: It's the law.
Callahan: Well, then the law's CRAZY!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Botvinnik-Petrosian Book Review

For readers who have been wondering where I have gone, I have been reading some of the books I bought the last 3 months. And I've just finished reading Botvinnik-Petrosian - The 1963 WCC Match by Mikhail Botvinnik.

I started reading the book 2 months ago and despite it being a somewhat thin book, it was hard because trying to find time to read the annotations and play the game (using a chessboard and its variations) is time-consuming!

If you've ever wanted to know about the old Soviet chess champions, this book is very insightful. It details the going-ons of the clash between 2 heavyweight chess personalities.

Note that this is a patzer's review so hang on to your seats!

Book quality:

This book is printed by New In Chess. The covers have a slight cardboardish glossy feel to it that is typical of many softcover chess books (slightly better than what softcover novels use). Inside, the pages are of pristine white paper and the quality of the paper makes it very easy to move between pages. The binding is glued based but considering how relatively thin this book is, it does the job decent enough in holding the pages together. The font is in Times New Roman using figurine algebraic notation. The font is just a shade bigger (about 1-2 points bigger) than most chess books which makes the annotations stand out very clearly and makes reading a joy. The typeset in combination with the white pages makes reading comfortable.... very comfortable. The book is presented in 2 columns on each page.


The presentation of the book is well thought out. A table of contents was accompanied with a foreword from Karpov, followed by notes from Igor Botvinnik, a simple overview of the match regulations and a match table containing the 22 games fought.

And with that, the game begins in earnest.

This is where things get a little uneven.

The annotations do not have a uniform feel to it. This is of course, no doubt in part due to the different annotators of each game. While we would all like to have all game annotations from Botvinnik or Petrosian, unfortunately, this is just not possible. So the book has to make do with annotations from other notable chess figures.

Annotations are as follows:-
Game 1 - Mikhail Botvinnik
Game 2 - Tigran Petrosian
Game 3 - Alexander Kotov
Game 4 - Mikhail Botvinnik
Game 5 - Tigran Petrosian
Game 6 - Vladimir Akopian
Game 7 - Vladimir Akopian
Game 8 - Mikhail Botvinnik
Game 9 - Vladimir Akopian
Game 10 - Mikhail Botvinnik
Game 11 - Mark Taimanov
Game 12 - Salo Flohr
Game 13 - Mikhail Botvinnik
Game 14 - Mikhail Botvinnik
Game 15 - Garry Kasparov (from My Great Predecessors)
Game 16 - Mikhail Botvinnik
Game 17 - Viktor Kortchnoi
Game 18 - Vladimir Akopian
Game 19 - Vladimir Akopian
Game 20 - Vladimir Bagirov
Game 21 - Vasily Panov
Game 22 - Vasily Panov

It must be noted that by game 20, Petrosian had an overwhelming 3 point lead. At this stage, Botvinnik knew the game was pretty much over. He tried making an effort in game 20 but when that quickly petered to a draw, games 21 and 22 were just signatory moves that only lasted 10 moves. I don't think anyone can really complain about the annotations of the last 2 games! :)

This is followed by what must be the highlight of the book. A valuable 10 page insight given by Petrosian about the match. In it, he explains the circumstances surrounding the match, his preparation, his psychology and state of mind.

Somewhat oddly included after is a symbolic game of Botvinnik's preparation in his game against Mark Taimanov. This is then succeeded by a 2 page excerpt taken from Chess World 1964 by Botvinnik on why he lost the match.

9 games of Botvinnik-Petrosian were then shown, of which only 2 were properly annotated while the others were simply shown with little or no annotation at all (what a pity!). This is followed by training games between Botvinnik and Furman (no annotations) and the book concluded with Botvinnik's final notebook on opening preparation.

I admit that I've not played through these games but I might possibly do so at a future date when time permits.


The unevenness of the annotated games makes one feel a tad disjointed. One moment, we are treated to Botvinnik's pedantic style, the next, Akopian's more modernish annotations (with some very extensive annotations by virtue of the length of some of the variations that run up to 20 ply moves!)

I think this is probably the only criticism I have of the book and indeed, it's very difficult to find fault with the book.


The book is littered with many pictures of the 2 players. This is a nice departure from the Botvinnik-Smyslov book where annotations and more annotations fill the book.

All of the annotations were superb and I find it hard to pick out the best game annotation of the whole book. If I were given a choice, I would nominate Game 5 annotated by Petrosian. What makes Game 5's annotations memorable was that Petrosian himself inserted some very interesting comments between moves (including the match environment).


This book is going to be one of my favourite books for many years to come. The nice thing is that due to its largely fewer pages (when you see the Botvinnnik-Smyslov tome, you would know what I mean), it is an extremely handy and great book to read along to fill in the time.

I would judge this book to be very educational for players who want to improve their game or for readers who simply want to know about the 1963 match.


A solid A+ effort!

I've done 1 book and 2 more to go.... I don't expect to finish reading the next 2 anytime soon. They are Botvinnik-Smyslov and San Luis 2005 *gulp*

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Carlsen Quits World Candidates

I guess the biggest news now in the chess world is Magnus Carlsen withdrawing from the World Championship cycle.

Instead, Magnus favours the tournament method (link to Chessbase article)?

I'm sorry Magnus but you've lost me. The matches have been a mainstay and the main attraction of the chess world since its inception to produce a World Champion whether you like it or not. San Luis 2005 only produced a FIDE World Champion much like in the preceding years before it. Mexico 2007 was a special event and one which produced Anand as a unified World Champion because the then existing World Champion Kramnik agreed to play under FIDE's rule. Anand subsequently solidified his status a year later in Bonn and no one has since doubted his status.

No one ever said the path to being a world champion was easy. In the 50s and 60s, players had to qualify for Interzonals and then the Candidates before facing the World Champion. Players who reached this summit truly deserved to be a World Champion. That is why players like Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, Fischer proved their mettle and their names are etched in the minds as great chess players in everybody's hearts and minds.

So why a tournament format? It's obvious that Magnus shines in such a format and it is one which guarantees his best chance of winning. But winning such a tournament is worthless in the eyes of the chess world. The years of the split between FIDE and Kasparov are well known and FIDE's introduction of the tournament format was ample proof of that.

I find it amazing that Carlsen qualified not because he had passed through the Interzonals nor the Grand Prix but because FIDE gave him a free ticket to the seat by virtue of his rating and he is still not satisfied.

This is not going to sit well with the rest of the chess world.