Category Archives: General Chess

Chess Combinations: the eternal beauties of chess

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Ask any chess player which aspect of chess he/she finds most interesting and it is most likely that chess combinations will have this pride of place! Of course, combinations are nothing but chess tactics of one or more kinds strung together by a series of moves. Why this fascination with chess tactics?

We tried to explore the roles of chess strategy and chess tactics by raising questions on What is chess strategy? Isn’t a chess game all chess tactics?. Here we are trying to examine what lies behind our preoccupation with chess tactics.

Good strategy adds fillip to chess combinations, giving it a direction leading to the ultimate win which is the prime goal of any chess player. But all strategies become meaningful only with the support of appropriate chess tactics. On the other hand, you may be able to produce brilliant combinations without being much aware of the presence or absence of underlying chess strategies.

Also, chess tactics is much more visible than chess strategies. That is why tactical players get much more adulation from the spectators or those who study their games when compared to the positional players. Even the best players fall prey to this temptation and can be seen to go for sacrifices and other tactics to get the win when some prosaic moves could fetch the same result!

All the above may be correct observations but they still do not answer the question on our fascination with combinations. Appreciation of chess-playing public may be an incentive, but not the complete answer. When you are playing with your friend with no one looking, don’t you still look for creating something in the lines of Morphy or Tal? And when you do create one, you will surely like the rest of your world to know about it! Read some other chess blogs and you will know what we mean!

There is part of the answer – ego satisfaction. But this ego is not always a matter of conceit but something much deeper than that, the fulfillment of the superego. It is something akin to the joy of creation felt by anyone in a creative pursuit, be it art, sculpture, literature, music etc. – and I would even like to include sports and games also when some of the top players ultimately compete with themselves to keep raising the bar!

This brings to the fore another aspect – the challenge of it! This is ingrained in our love of puzzles of any kind. But in chess, this puzzle is more refined. Normal puzzles are created by someone and by trying to solve, you are taking up the hidden challenge of the creator. But in chess, complex positions come out of the play without anyone foreseeing it. When these happen, both you and your opponent are trying to find the best way to resolve it. This desire aided by inspiration brings about combinations which give the creator that sweet feeling.

The pleasure of getting recognition is a bonus when some of these chess combinations find their way into chess lore to create wonderment for present and future generations. Chess problems are diverse and so are their solutions, hence there is no dullness of repetition that happens with other types of puzzles. Even where the solution falls into a pattern, the way to it will be different – so every problem and solution appears unique.

The other interesting thing about chess combinations is that they are not the prerogatives of top players unlike in other creative fields where the really good creators climb to the top sooner or later – if not in their lifetime then after it. But the world of chess preserves brilliant combinations which have survived their creators – ordinary players who themselves have passed into obscurity. In Chess Games: Amateurs can also produce gems!, you may read about a case in point.

Accepting that brilliant chess combinations are treated like great works of art by chess aficionados, we will try to show in our next series of articles some chess combinations that we liked in games from lesser known chess masters. We hope you will enjoy those as much as we did!

Chess Openings: the most popular ones

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As all chess games start with a first move by White and then Black has to decide on his response. It is not surprising that the most common questions from beginners are related to the openings they should adopt when playing as White and the appropriate responses when playing as Black.

In 10 steps to raise your game, we discussed about the general issues that should be considered in taking such decision. You should also be familiar with the principles of good chess strategies as the opening moves lay the foundation of the kind of game you are likely to have with its advantages and disadvantages.

All chess openings aim to achieve certain strategic targets as have been discussed in Chess
Strategy and Chess Tactics in a nutshell
as also in Classical Opening Principles in Chess. But as your opponent also has his targets which will try to nullify yours, it is not possible to achieve all the ideal strategic goals unless your opponent is playing badly! Normally, you gain advantages in some areas while conceding some to your opponent. The theoretical ideas behind the openings from both White’s and Black’s sides try to balance these gains and losses.

When playing as White, you will naturally try to play the opening moves that give you a decided advantage. But if your opponent is as good as you are, he will obviously not allow you to follow those lines and choose his moves to take you to areas that give him at least equality at the end of the opening phase. So whatever you may adopt as the opening of your choice, learn the underlying ideas and play to fulfill those to the extent possible. The same goes for you playing as Black in preparing the responses against White’s moves.

After saying all these, we are now giving a list of the most popular opening moves by White and corresponding responses by Black as per the basic data available at Wikipedia but spread over its different pages. What we have done is to make a gist by combining those data to give you a kind of ready reckoner for the most popular combination of first moves by White and Black and the ECO codes that relate to those first moves. We have included only those first moves which are estimated to occur in at least 2% of the games used by Wikipedia to prepare the statistical data. It appears that the following set of first moves cover 86% of the games.

White’s 1st move Black’s response Frequency ECO codes Nature of Game
e4 c5 18% B20-B99 Semi-open
e4 e5 11% C20-C99 Open
e4 e6 6% C00-C19 Semi-open
e4 c6 3% B10-B19 Semi-open
e4 d6 2% B07-B09 Semi-open
e4 d5 2% B01 Semi-open
d4 Nf6 20% A45-A79, D70-D99, E00-E99 Semi-closed
d4 d5 10% D00-D69 Closed
d4 e6 2% D31-D49 Semi-closed
Nf3 Nf6 5% A05 Flank opening
Nf3 d5 3% A06-A09 Flank opening
c4 Nf6 2% A15-A19 Flank opening
c4 e5 2% A21-A29 Flank opening

 

You can understand that after these first moves, the subsequent moves can take you to a wide variety of openings as apparent from the number of ECO codes shown against each set of first moves. The nature of game that may arise is only a broad indication. From the applicable ECO codes, you may choose one or several lines of play that most suit your personal preferences.

 

Aronian New Rapid World Champion

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I will keep this post short and sweet. I thought I will share this story with all my readers. Great end to a great game and Aronian won in a smooth style. Here is the link to the full story Aronian New Champ.

I will be posting some great tutorials in coming days.

The coming battle for the Chess crown

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In order to take a look at the shape of things to come in the future world of chess, we necessarily had to come close to the present first. The most important event coming in near future is the World Chess Championship match, planned to be held in April 2010 and the bidding process for selection of venue will end on September 30 of this year. Everybody by this time knows that Veseline Topalov of Bulgaria will be challenging the reigning champion Viswanathan Anand of India to determine the World Champion in 2010, after which such matches will be held at two year intervals.

But before I took up my telescope again to take wistful looks at what I consider as the romantic periods of chess, I was wondering where to focus attention in this present era. Then I got the idea: what better than to look at recent games between the defender and challenger to the title.

To dissuade people from making own different interpretations of what I am going to present, I want to make clear my criteria for selection of the two games played between these two players. I wanted both games from recent periods (2007-2008), both players getting to win while playing as White, and both games to be of comparable length but fairly short (within 30 moves) to keep our article size within limit! That automatically limited my choice and in fact I could get only two that met all the criteria, so no one can blame me for a biased selection!

The first game was played at Leon in 2007 with Anand on the White side winning in 29 moves and the second one was at Bilbao in 2008 with Topalov as White winning in 25 moves. We would like to assure readers that because the way the games were chosen, they cannot purport to represent the actual playing ability of the players. The readers are free to draw their own conclusions.

You have of course seen example of Vishy’s play in The stomach is an essential part of the Chess master and the fighting spirit of Topalov in Attacking Chess Tactics: Hounding the enemy King which produced one of the great games of chess in spite of his losing it to Kasparov.

Though neither player needs any introduction, we want to keep up the practice of presenting the actors before showing their acts. Anand has already been introduced in The stomach is an essential part of the Chess master, so we need not do it again.

Veselin Topalov (b.1975) was born in Bulgaria and became the World under-14 champion in 1989 and a GM in 1992. Along with Kasparov, Kramnik and Anand, he has also crossed the FIDE Elo rating of 2800, the only four players ever to do so. Though living in Spain, he represents Bulgaria in Chess Olympiads.

The diagram shows the position in Anand-Topalov game after 24 moves.

anand-topalov game

25. b6 Ra5 White was threatening 26. Bb5+ to capture the rook
 
26. Rd1 Bg5 It is right strategy for Black to try to exchange White’s Bishop of the same color as the promotion square b8 for White’s NP
 
27. b7 Ke7 Black had to attend to the immediate threat posed by White before he could implement his strategy!
 
28. Bb6 Re5 Threatening the Rook was just a gain in tempo but White’s aim went deeper than that!
 
29. Bd8+! Resigns The best Black could do was 29. … Rxd8 (best) 30. Rxd8 Kxd8 31. b8=Q+ Kd7 32. Qxe5 with an easy win for White

The Topalov-Anand game after 21 moves stood as under:

topalov-anand game

22. Nf3 c4
23. Qh4 Nc5
24. Re7 Rd8 In the given situation 25. Rxe8 Rxd1+ 26. Kg2 Rxe8 getting two Rooks for the Queen must have been acceptable to Black (and so, White would not give him that benefit!)
 
25. Rf1 Resigns The likely continuation could be 25. … Qc6 26. Ng5 h5 27. Nxf7 Rxf7 28. Rxf7 Kxf7 29. Qxd8 giving White one extra passed pawn and a Rook against Knight, which should be enough for him to win.

Watch first Game – Anand Won

Watch second Game – Topalov Won

Shape of things to come in the world of chess?

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Though no one has complained as yet, but in response to our article Chess Sacrifice as a Chess Tactics: recovering the investment with interest, one reader held that White (Schulten) simply played badly and another reader felt that the game was very old, implying rightly that modern players with White pieces would not play that way and fold up so easily!

Accepting their points, I would still like to bring out what Grandmasters almost a centuries later and of the stature of Mikhail Botvinnik and Nigel Short had to say about Morphy’s play and their comments were included in the article so that readers may not hasten to a judgment. A player like Bobby Fischer held that Morphy was probably the greatest of them all! We could certainly argue on Fisher’s views but there is no denying the fact that great players can make good players look average!

In any case, I accept that most of the illustrative games used in the articles so far belong to periods possibly half a century earlier or even before that. Why is this fascination with period pieces!?

The number of games played all over the world is increasing very fast thanks to online chess. Modern communication technology is making the moves and results available almost in real time, whether the chess play is over the board or online. With easy access to powerful computers and progressively more sophisticated software, almost anyone can dissect a game threadbare, what used to be the prerogatives of chess masters in earlier days! With so many analysts from Grandmasters to club players equipped with their PC and software, the openings have been analyzed to a depth where you can possibly rattle off the first dozen moves in any opening without even thinking! If anybody makes a mistake, it is because all people are not blessed with a computer-like memory! There may also be the tragedy of missing the forest in looking at the trees!

I sometimes wonder if it is tending to make modern games more stereo-typed (for want of a better word) and there is less to enthuse people the way Morphy games used to do 150 years earlier, or Marshall games 100 years earlier, or Tal games 50 years earlier…

You may argue that their games used to be flawed on many occasions, but can you deny the magic also that they produced by some electrifying moves? When you play through the games in Chess Sacrifice as a Chess Tactics: diverting opponent’s piece or Chess tactics: A move worth some gold pieces? or Chess Sacrifice as a Chess Tactics: gaining space for attack, do you think of the flaws or wonder at the way the victors conjured up their moves?

In one article, I expressed that according to experts, all brilliancies arise out of mistakes by one player. In fact, if both players played perfect chess as per the theoretical lines projected by analysis, what result would you expect from such games? And when you choose to play games from master level, what percentage of those do you take from drawn games? Quite low compared to the decisive ones, I am sure.

If I may use a simile, modern nutrition theory and health studies have analyzed all our food to such an extent that anyone caring about it knows for each food its calorie content, the chemicals it contains, their favorable/unfavorable effects, the risks of diseases we run and so on and so forth. But how much will you enjoy your food if you keep doing it for all your food? Conversely, do you think of these when enjoying your triple sundae? How many of us do not have weaknesses for ice-creams and chocolates in spite of knowing their flaws in respect of health-giving quality? If you stick to the guidelines, you will be in better health (!) probably, but I wonder how much enjoyment you will have left in that life.

Chess is a food for your mind and some analysis definitely helps us to understand complex positions. But over-analysis will surely create the same effect as I described for your favorite foods. I have another thought on game analysis which may appear controversial to many of you. It is my view that unless the players themselves annotate their games immediately afterwards, the analysis of moves that get published may not reflect the truth behind the logic of the moves when those were played. Except where a link can definitely be established between a previous and a later move (like Breyer’s 14th and 23rd moves in Chess Tactics: Well thought-out combinations), we can never be sure how much of the brilliant idea in a move owe itself to the player and how much to subsequent analysis! Also of relevance are our thoughts on chess logic and chess intuition.

Such may be the thoughts working in the unconscious mind of all those people like me who love to play and discuss the games that Morphy, Marshall, Tal and others of their ilk have left behind. Let us keep playing and enjoying and sometimes getting thrilled! In future, we may only be getting more and more drawn games.

We just produced some food for thought – how the reader takes it will depend on individual appetites! If your curiosity is aroused regarding the truth of the matter, you may like to compare between the periods say 1950-1959 and 2000-2009 regarding the percentage of drawn games in total games played. Or a similar comparison for the games from the World Champions of say 1905, 1955 and 2005. I do not mind getting corrected. Any takers to find and share with us?

To save this article from boring you to death, given below is a game from 1925 played at Debrecen (Hungary) between David Przepiorka and Lajos Steiner who even in their times were not among the notables. Just play it and think what I said.

David Przepiorka (1880-1940) was a Polish player of Jewish origin and became the Polish champion in 1926. He was executed by the nazis in a concentration camp. Though not well-known, he has to his credit victories over some more famous players like Teichmann, Tarrasch, Spielmann, Rubinstein, Nimzowitsch etc.

Lajos Steiner (1903-1975) was a Hungarian Champion in 1931 and 1936. He emigrated to Australia in 1939 and became Australian Champion a few times. He was awarded IM in 1950. Like his opponent, he had also scored victories over players like Tarrasch, Marshall, Tartakower, Gruenfeld, Nimzowitsch etc.

Watch the Game

 

No one pointed it out, so we presume everyone missed a small error in the video! At the end, it says “Black Resigned” but if you have watched the video carefully, you will see that Black went all the way till he was checkmated!