Monthly Archives: March 2009

When you really need to think deep in chess?

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In an earlier article, I pointed out that in the middle games, you cannot possibly visualize all the positions that can emanate from your next 4-5 moves without having a computer-like memory. Most likely, you will decide on the next move based on your reading of the overall position.

But in the endgame, with few pieces standing on the board, it is possible to make a deeper analysis and this often makes the difference between a win and a draw or loss. But it is easier said than done, as even experienced players sometimes fail to see the right moves available as it is, or fail to identify a bad move from the opponent that could be exploited.

The following two examples will make the point clear and establish the importance of studying endgame tactics. You should also see the 4 endgame tactics given before as some of those themes occur in the following examples also.

endgame2

In the position shown, Black seems to have the advantage because of an extra pawn plus the poor pawn structure of White due to doubled pawns. In this position, Black played h5 which was a bad move as it deprives black king of one of the two escape squares at h3 and h5. But White could not utilize this opportunity and ended up a loser.

How could White turn the table after Black’s move? Here is the possible sequence:

1. h5  
2. Qf6 Qh3  

 

You can see that Black cannot afford to exchange Queens on f5 or f6 square as after that, White’s KP cannot be stopped from ‘queening’.

Even retreat to f4 square does not help as White’s Queen will capture Black’s KP, thus freeing his own KP to advance. Advancing NP by Black to create a counterplay also fails as it allows check by White Queen along d8-h4 diagonal forcing exchange of Queens. In the race for ‘queening’, White KP gets it one move before Black’s QP does and White gets the chance to finish off the game before Black’s promoted Queen can move!

3. Qf7 d4  
4. Qf8 d3  

 

White is maneuvering to force Black to advance the pawn so that he can strike at the right moment.

5. Qb4+ g4  
6. Qe7#  

 

 

endgame1

In this position, White has a Bishop and Pawn against Black’s single Pawn. But the Bishop has no control on white squares, so it cannot capture Black’s pawn. So long as black King is hovering around the pawn, White’s King cannot get near the black pawn to capture it. White’s pawn cannot advance past Black’s pawn without getting captured and a King and Bishop are inadequate to deliver a mating attack. Even if White Pawn could proceed to “queening” square (a8), the bishop will not be able to support it. On the other hand, Black also cannot advance the Pawn without handing over the game to White. It looks like an impasse, doesn’t it? So your conclusion will be the same as that of the actual players who agreed to a draw. But is a draw inevitable?

You know what strategy Black has to follow. So, to prevail upon Black, your strategy should be to push the Black King away from the 3×3 square (a8-c8-a6-c6) through Bishop checks. At the same time, your White King should try to gain the opposition to prevent Black King from reentering this square. Black in turn will try to use opposition to block White King’s approach or to take refuge at a8 square. So White has to follow some precise steps as follows.

1. Kd4 Kc6   If White K moves to c5 or c4, Black delivers check by advancing pawn and White has to capture it. Black then proceeds to a8 square to create a stalemate situation.
 
Black in turn cannot advance his pawn or move K to d-file without giving the initiative to White
 
2. Bb6 Kd6   If Black goes to b5, White King can occupy d5 preventing Black King from going back to save his pawn
3. Kc4 Kc6  
4. Kb4 Kd6  
5. Kb5 Kd7  
6. Kc5 Kc8   Other moves of Black King will allow White Bc7 and then Kb6 to keep Black King at bay
7. Ba7 Kc7  
8. Kb5 Kd7  
9. Bb8 Kc8  
10. Bh2 Kd7
(or Kd8)
 
11. Kb6   and White wins as he will soon capture Black’s pawn and promote his pawn unhindered

 

Morning shows the day?

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In 1979, in a category IX tournament (average elo rating 2451-2475) held in (the then) Yugoslavia, there were 16 players. There was one player who was 16 year old and did not even have any FIDE rating in a field of 14 Grandmasters (including a former World Champion) and one IM. Reportedly, a mistake on the part of Russian Chess Federation (they thought it was a junior tournament!) enabled him to participate (or were they trying to groom him in an underhand way?)

Whatever may be the truth, that player did not lose a single game  winning 8 and drawing 7 and won the tournament with a lead of 2 points over the player who came second. This was the first Grandmaster norm for the player as he earned a rating of 2595! I read about this in a syndicated column of Michael Stean in a sports magazine of those times and he predicted World Championship for that young player. Garry Kasparov vindicated him by winning the world championship six years later in 1985.

 

How far deep can you analyze?

Unlike what you may think, even players of GM caliber are said to go only about 4-5 moves deep in middle games. With a still crowded board, the sheer number of possibilities go beyond the capability of human brain. In end game it is different as there are not many pieces and only a handful may be active in a position.

With this background, you will definitely find it very interesting to play through the moves of the 1956 game between Bobby Fischer and Donald Byrne (available at many sites). Fischer was a 12 year old kid and was playing with Black pieces. Byrne was 26 year old and had won the US championhip three years earlier. By his 17th move, Fischer offered his queen to White to get two minor pieces in exchange and a good attack! But the point of his queen sacrifice became clear with his 24th move, after which Fischer gained decisive material compensation. A few moves later, it was apparent that White had a losing position and could as well resign. But Byrne played on quite sportingly to allow the kid the satisfaction of delivering a checkmate, which Fischer did on move 41. You will not find Byrne making any serious error but the way Black played between his 17th and 24th moves, we are bound to think that Fischer had seen to a depth of 7 moves!

 

Is this how chess games are won?

If you ever feel miserable after losing a game through your blunder, please don’t and take heart that you may be in a very enviable company! Samuel Reshevsky was a child prodigy, a US champion, a Grandmaster in 1950, a strong contender for world championship and author of several books including “How Chess Games Are Won”! In 1973, he had a game as White against Vladimir Savon who became a GM in 1971 and was never a contender for World Championship. Just take a look at the board position after 39 moves.

chesstrivia

The following set of moves gives White a forced win.

40. g5+ Kxg5   40. … Bxg5 allows 41. Rh8#
 
41. h4+ Kxh4   41. … Kh6 allows 42. Rh8#
42. Qf4#  

 

What does Reshevsky do? He played 40. Qxg6+?? and Black gratefully accepted the queen by 40. … Bxg6. What a way to lose a winning position!

 

Is this how world champions adopt winning strategy?

Take a look at the 1993 game Karpov played as Black against Christiansen. The game went:

1. d4 Nf6  
2. c4 e6  
3. Nf3 b6  
4. a3 Ba6  
5. Qc2 Bb7  
6. Nc3 c5  
7. e4 cxd4  
8. Nxd4 Nc6  
9. Nxc6 Bxc6  
10. Bf4 Nh5  
11. Be3  

 

Position after 11. Be3:

grandmasterly way to gift a piece?

11. Bd6??  
12. Qd1 Resigns  

 

Black cannot avoid losing either the bishop or the knight getting only a pawn in exchange. Karpov must have felt disgusted with himself and resigned forthwith.

How many violations did Karpov make regarding the winning strategies we discussed? Losing tempo by moving same piece twice, retarded pawn development, backward Queens pawn blocked by an unsupported bishop, knight placed on the edge of board, no coordination among pieces …

 

10 steps to raise your game – part 3

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Continuation from 10 steps to raise your game – part 2

8. Practice, practice, practice

Like in any other sports, practice makes perfect in chess also. At least, it will embed in your mind whatever you have learnt in previous steps. But try to play with opponents who are of equal or greater strength compared to you. If you join a chess club which are now available in most towns, you will certainly find opportunities to sit opposite strong players. Try to participate in whatever tournaments come your way as this also gives you valuable practice (and stronger nerves!) plus opportunity to play against some good players. These days, you can play on line with players in different parts of the world. Many sites allow you to play free games with their computers but here you should check the quality of the software running behind the computers. How you fare will give you the idea in this respect. It should also be possible to choose different levels of difficulty and a facility to download the record of the games played by you (remember tip 3?)

If you cannot afford to be on line for long, you can think of getting chess playing software many of which are offered free on the Internet (though I cannot vouch for their quality as I have never used such software – I like to play with someone I can see!). I have seen some software which have selectable difficulty levels and a capability to record the moves also. You have to download and try out. This will help you to practice as long and as often you may want. Playing through the games of masters (tip 7) is also a valuable practice.

9. Build up self-confidence

Confidence in yourself will help you to achieve more wins. You have nothing to be ashamed of when you lose to a better player and even top grandmasters have lost games through silly moves a beginner will not make. If you lack confidence, you will be nervous which will cause you to make mistakes. There are many tournaments which are open to all and not restricted to players of certain levels. Utilize these open tournaments to build up your fighting spirit.

10. A final thought

I have refrained from naming books as there are hundreds, if not thousands, of great books on chess strategy and techniques. But I found one book that takes a completely different approach to teach amateurs. The book contains 25 simulated games played over 25 days between an amateur and a master. Each game takes some different opening variation with an explanation on the underlying theme of that opening, and then continues to show whether the play is consistent with the theme or not. Most moves are annotated with reason for such play, good and bad moves are identified with reasons and tactical situations are analyzed when they arise. The amateur continues to gain in strength though losing the first 22 games. In the last 3 games, the tables are turned and the amateur defeats the master. You will get valuable insight in different aspects of chess and I am sure it will improve your game also. The book is titled “Road to Chess Mastery” and written by grandmaster Max Euwe who was world champion during 1935-37 and regarded as one of the best writers on chess.  As far as I know, the book was published in a paperback edition also under the title “Chess Master vs. Chess Amateur”.

10 steps to raise your game – part 2

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Continued from 10 steps to raise your game – part 1

5. Learn the tactical processes

Strategy is the overall plan of how you want to play out the game. Tactics are like battles within a war to implement your plan in varying situations. In chess, you will find that certain themes recur repeatedly if you know how to identify those and your tactical knowledge will help to make the most in such situations. For example, bishops and knights are considered to be of equal value, but most players will prefer to have two bishops rather than two knights because of the ‘long’ leg of the bishops. But this advantage of bishop pair gets nullified when many rows and files are blocked by pawns and bishops cannot move about. In such closed positions, knights often play better because of their ‘twisted’ moves! If there is only one bishop, half of the squares are out of its reach whereas a single knight do not suffer from such handicap. Tactics is your dominant tool in the middle games, but may continue into the end game phase. For example, if you have king and one pawn against your opponent’s solitary king, it should be a winning game for you if, and it is a big if, you know the tactics for putting the situation to your advantage. If you stray and your opponent knows the tactics, you will have nothing but a draw because of the stalemate situation that can be created by the opponent. These are of course very basic examples and you will find many others like pin, discovered check, double check, zugzwang etc. which you can create towards your advantage if you know how.

There are many books on tactics that explain the situations and the techniques that can be applied. You can also try to solve the chess problems published in sports magazines or in Sunday newspapers where they ask you to find how White (or Black) can win/draw in the given situation in specified/unspecified number of moves. These are all tactical problems and trying to solve these will enhance your tactical skills. Books are also available containing only such tactical problems for you to solve and learn the techniques. Take a peek at the solution given if you cannot find it on your own.

6. Study end games

If the game is not decided by end of the middle part, it enters into the end game phase where only few pieces are still on the board and the game often becomes a slow, grueling affair. The initial strategies (tip 4) we discussed earlier does not have any role now and you have to adapt an appropriate new strategy and the tactics that will go with it. Because of small number of pieces, it is possible to make a deeper analysis for the moves available. But if you are aware of the fairly common endings, it will be easier to formulate your strategy and tactics. There are plenty of books specifically on chess endings and you should try to memorize and recognize the situations. Seasoned players can often salvage their games during this phase.

7. Study the games of masters

Such games can be found on the Internet or you may get books on such collections. The books may be a compendium of games by different players, compiled and annotated by other masters. If you are more interested in modeling your game in line with your favorite champion, you will get books like “My best xxx games” by the players themselves, with explanations on the significant (good or bad) moves of both players. If you play through the moves and the variations that were possible, you will start getting the idea on what constitutes a good or bad move in a particular situation.

continue to 10 steps to raise your game – part 3

10 steps to raise your game – part 1

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Once you start playing, you will find chess a lot of fun but it is serious fun, if such a thing exists. The fun that comes from any battle of wits is there in chess also. Where is the serious part? It is in your will to win. In different fields of sports, there are people who grandiosely claim that result is not important, playing the game is. Well, let them have their say but don’t believe if this comes from a chess player. Any player worth his/her name will always want to win at whatever level in which he/she may be competing. If you accept this truth, your only way to win is to take your game a notch higher than your opponent’s. Sometimes you may get away without raising your game but that is because your opponent played one notch lower than you. This happens because of mistakes, not due to any lack of will to win on the opponent’s part!

Given above, how can you keep improving upon yourself? Everybody is entitled to his opinion, here is mine.

1. Know thyself

People come in all shapes and sizes, not just physically but mentally as well. Find out which styles of play suit your temperament. If you like a slap bang type of game (the dominant style in earlier eras of chess) which certainly creates more spectator interest, you will possibly be looking for more tactical opportunities and select opening/defense techniques adapted to such games. But if you are a patient type who builds up advantages move by move through a lot of maneuvering and likes complex situations, your choice of opening/defense will be quite different. In a very broad way, King’s pawn openings will suit the former types and Queen’s pawn openings will help the latter ones.

2. Know thy opponent (if possible)

You are not playing in a vacuum, there is always one sitting on the other side of table. A preconceived set rule will not work against all opponents, so you must be able to adapt your game. If you are playing against someone you know, you should already have some idea about his style. Of course, if you are against a stranger you do not know much but keeping the first tip in mind, you can see what openings and styles he is following. In a tournament, go through your opponent’s earlier games to get this insight.

3. Keep records

Self-analysis is an essential part of improving yourself. No matter if you are playing with your friend or your club member, keep a record of all the moves played in the game. It may feel a little tedious to start with, but soon it will become a habit. When you lose, go through your moves to find out where you went wrong and why. If you win, do the same regarding your opponent’s moves. You learn both ways.

4. Select your strategy for opening/defense

This follows from the first two tips. But the problem is: which ones to choose from more than thousand openings (including variants) that have been identified, as your memory may not be up to the task of remembering most of them? Even if you want to concentrate only on those suitable to your style, that will also be quite a large number. But remember that your opponent will also have the same problem. So choose a limited number you are comfortable with and explore their more common variations. If you keep playing those regularly, they will soon become a part of your repertoire and you will be able to handle the opening phase satisfactorily. You can follow the same procedure to prepare for defense when playing as Black. What if your opponent goes into a territory uncharted for you? If you know your main themes, then such unknown moves will mostly be inferior and you can look for taking advantage of the situation. The other alternative is to mostly keep to your track and bring everything to familiar ground through ‘transpositions’ which often just involves changing the sequence of your moves.

Important point to remember during opening phase:

White is considered to have a slight advantage because of having the first move. When playing as White, you try to carry that advantage to the middle game. When playing as Black, your aim is to neutralize that advantage and once Black is able to achieve that, Black is said to have equalized.

continue to 10 steps to raise your game – part 2