Category Archives: General Chess

“The stomach is an essential part of the Chess master”

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It takes a lot of effort in searching for suitable content, collecting information, and finally creating and editing the article for putting it up on the blog site. All this effort gets its reward when readers come out with their comments which shows firstly, that they have read it and secondly, that they felt something about it! We are thankful to the readers who write back for another reason also: their views and comments give us ideas for fresh articles and these help to sustain the cycle.

The idea for the present article came from the comments of two readers on two different topics.

Reader Ralphe commented on Chess Trivia: What the List of Grandmasters reveal by saying “I wonder why Vishy is not in the list, he was pretty young when he got his GM as well.” We clarified to him why Vishy was not on the list, but that set our thoughts to write some article using one of his games when he was pretty young. But which aspect should we consider as a theme for our article?

Here we came to remember what reader Chess king had to say on Chess Sacrifice as a Chess Tactics: to seize initiative. He brought us the quote from GM Bent Larsen: “The stomach is an essential part of the Chess master”. So why not show that Viswanathan Anand, more popularly known as ‘Vishy’ in chess circle, had it in him even when he was barely 16!

This game we have chosen was played in London in 1985 when Vishy was still an IM and his opponent Mestel was a GM.

Viswanathan ‘Vishy’ Anand (b.1969) became an IM in 1984 at the age of 15. He won the Indian Championship in 1985 and World Junior Championship in 1987. He became the first GM from India in 1988. He became FIDE World Champion in 2000 and proved his undisputed ability in the rapid play version of the game by becoming 2003 FIDE World Rapid Chess Champion. In 2006, he became only one of the four players ever to cross FIDE Elo rating of 2800 (others are Kasparov, Kramnik and Topalov). After FIDE was reunited in 2006, Anand became the undisputed World Champion in 2007 by winning the double round robin tournament held by FIDE with 8 top players (Kramnik – reigning champion, Anand, Gelfand, Leko, Svidler, Aronian, Morozevich, Grischuk) of the time with the exception of Topalov. He successfully retained the title in 2008 by defeating Kramnik in the older format of match play between Holder and Challenger. He is the current World Chess Champion.

Note: As compensation for being denied entry to the 2007 tournament, Topalov was given some special privileges by FIDE by which, after defeating Gata Kamsky in February 2009, he is the new challenger against Anand for World Championship Match to be held later this year

Andrew Jonathan Mestel (b.1957) of UK was World Under-16 Champion in 1974 and became an IM in 1977 and GM in 1982.

The diagram shows position after 18 moves.

starting an attack keeping an eye on enemy's threats

19. Nf5 Rfe8 if 19. … Bxc3 then 20. Qxc3 Qxa2+ 21. Kc1 and any idea of Black bringing pressure on White Queen and c2 square by Rac8 fails due to White’s threat of Qg7# and trying to counter that allows White Queen to capture the Knight at b3
20. Nxg7 Kxg7
21. Qd4+ e5 This move of Black was an error because in trying to guard against one line, he exposed himself in another as White proved soon
22. Qxd6 Rac8 In trying to create his own threats, Black overlooked what White had in mind
23. Qf6+ Kg8 After Black’s previous move, White was aware that once Black got time to play Rxc3 to remove his defender knight, his King would be two moves away from a mate starting with Black’s Qxa2+. He had to be sure of retaining his tempo against that threat at the back of his mind and this showed that he had the stomach for it!
24. Rd7 Rf8 White was threatening mate in two against Black’s mate in three!
25. g6 Resigns 25. … fxg6 was obviously out because of 26. Qg7#, but other alternatives do not provide any respite. For example:
25. … hxg6 26. Rg1 with threat of 27. Rxg6+ followed by mate next move irrespective of Black’s response
25. … Rxc3 26. gxf7+ Rxf7 27. Qxf7+ Kh8 Qh7#

The position after White’s 25th move is shown below.

disregarding the Damocles' sword

So you see how Vishy kept his nerve to always remain one step ahead of Black’s threats working on the principle of attack being the best defense!

Watch the Game

Chess Trivia: What the List of Grandmasters reveal

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Wikipedia has a list of all the Grandmasters, updated up to 2008 and contains 1267 names.

Our analysis of this list revealed some interesting information.

 

A. The Oldest and the Youngest to receive the title

Enrico Paoli (1908-2005) of Italy was awarded Grandmaster title at the age of 88, the oldest ever.

Sergey Karjakin (b.1990) of Ukraine was awarded Grandmaster title at the age of 12, the youngest ever.

 

B. They are not alone, others are close by

In the Senior group, there are 5 others who got their GM title after they crossed 80. They are:

  • Jacques Mieses (1865-1954) of Germany got it in 1950 (Inaugural list) at 85 years
  • George Koltanowski (1903-2000) of USA got it in 1988 at 85 years
  • Vladimir Makogonov (1904-1993) of Azerbaijan got it in 1987 at 83 years
  • Mario Monticelli (1902-1995) of Italy got it in 1985 at 83 years
  • Esteban Canal (1896-1981) of Peru got it in 1977 at 81 years

Jacques Mieses would certainly have got it much before, had the formal rating system existed earlier.

In the Junior group, there are 8 others who got their GM title before they reached 15. They are:

Name Country Year Born Year GM GM at
Parimarjan Negi India 1993 2005 12
Etienne Bacrot France 1983 1997 14
Bu Xiangzhi China 1985 1999 14
Teimur Radjabov Azerbaijan 1987 2001 14
Magnus Carlsen Norway 1990 2004 14
Ngoc Nguyen Vietnam 1990 2004 14
Wesley So Philippines 1993 2007 14
Hou Yifan China 1994 2008 14

 

From above, you will possibly agree that prodigies are not bound by any geographical boundary!

 

C. The Patriarch of them all!

The oldest living Grandmaster is Andre Lilienthal of Hungary, born in 1911 and now 98 years old. We all wish to see him complete a well-deserved century!

 

D. The latest one

As per this list, the latest player to join the Grandmasters is Billy Joe Mills (b.1983) of USA who got the title this year (2009).

 

E. What is the most likely age for becoming a GM?

Excluding 27 Grandmasters who got the title in 1950 (the inaugural year for awarding title by FIDE) as it does not truly reflect when they reached the GM standard and another two names for whom birthdates are not available, there are 1238 names in the list. It is noted that the number of people who became GM in different range of age can be tabulated as below:

Age Group No. of GM
11 – 20 233
21 – 30 606
31 – 40 293
41 – 50 62
51 – 60 14
61 – 70 16
71 – 80 9
81 – 90 5

 

This can be better projected by a chart as shown below:

Likely age for becoming GM

It can be seen that two-thirds of the total number of GMs achieved it before they crossed 30, out of whom two-thirds achieved it when they were no longer ‘teenagers’!

 

F. Have the astrologers got something to say on this?

Discounting 10 names for whom birth month is not given, there are 1257 Grandmasters listed. Out of them, about 50% (617) were born in the first five months from January to May, almost uniformly distributed (average 124 per month). Rest 50% (640) were born in the later seven months from June to December, again almost uniformly distributed (average 94 per month). With reference to overall monthly average of 105, the average for the first 5 months of the year is 20% more, whereas that for the next 7 months is 10% less.

Does it mean you stand a better chance of being a Grandmaster if your birthday falls during January to May?

 

G. Does Numerology reveal any pattern?

For those who do not know about numerology, it is a sister (I do not know why FATE is taken as a woman, I’m just following the convention) to astrology, Numerologists hold that numbers (represented by your birth date, full date of birth, your house number, the numbers representing your name etc. etc.) hold significance for your life status!

Of course the date of the month when you were born is considered something of prime importance, so much so that you will find regular astrological columns in, newspapers, magazines etc. that run like ‘what this day/week/month/year holds for you if your birth number is 1, 2, 3, … 8, 9′!

Those uninitiated will ask: why up to 9 when there can be up to 31 days in a month?

Well, the numerology practitioners reduce all numbers to a single digit i.e., 1 to 9 (no 0 obviously). If it is a single digit date, no problem but for double digits, you keep adding the two digits till you get a single digit e.g., if you were born on 17th, it reduces to 8 (=1+7). If born on 29th, it reduces to 2. (2+9 gives 11 which in turn gives 1+1=2, got the idea?)

Leaving out 10 for whom birth date is missing, we checked the remaining 1257 in the GM list to find the distribution of the numerological birth numbers 1 to 9, counting as 1 all birth dates of 1, 10, 19 and 28, 4 for birth dates of 4, 13, 22 and 31, 9 for birth dates 9, 18, and 27, etc. The graph below shows the result.

Has birth number any significance?

You will find two zig-zag lines, one in RED other in BLUE, the lines for birth numbers 1 to 4 should be taken as common to both RED and BLUE. The RED graph depicts the number of GMs having a particular birth number e.g. 175 GMs with birth number 1 (which stands for birth dates 1, 10, 19 and 28), remembering that for numbers 1 to 4, the graphs are common.

The Black line with short dashes represents the trend pattern of the RED line. Ahh, see how that slopes down, the numerologists will say. Number 1 is tops! People with 1 as birth number has much greater possibility of being a GM than those with 9 as birth number!

Hold on for a moment, please. Do you know why I have plotted two lines? Has it occurred to you that whereas birth numbers up to 4 can cover 4 dates (though not in all months), numbers 5 to 9 can represent only 3 dates each? Statistically, would you expect more people under numbers 1 to 4 (each covering 4 dates) than under numbers 5 to 9 (each covering 3 dates)? You would, wouldn’t you?

To level the field, I RATIONALIZED for the inbuilt disadvantage for numbers 5 to 9 by using a multiplying factor of 1.33 (=4/3). The results are plotted as BLUE line for numbers 5 to 9. The trend line for this RATIONALIZED graph for numbers 1 to 9 (no rationalization was needed for 1 to 4, of course) is shown as a Black line with long dashes. And now what? This trend line is practically horizontal giving equal chance to all aspiring people for becoming a GM, whatever birth date they may have!

Well, if you say that even after RATIONALIZATION, those with 8 as birth number seem to have some edge, I have nothing to say!

Or may be something to say! Die-hard numerologists will trash all my statistics by using that famous quote on ‘three kinds of lies: lies, d—-d lies, and statistics’ ascribed to Benjamin Disraeli, but I do not know if Disraeli was a numerologist!

 

Chess Sacrifices as Chess Tactics: Think before you leap!

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It is stating the obvious that in a chess game, both you and your opponent are striving to win. The win may come in many ways. In the most unlikely way (1.f4 e6 2.g4 Qh4#) it may even happen without exchange of a single piece or pawn! But realistically speaking, the most frequent will be games where one of the players gain some material advantage and the superior force is used to bring down the opponent.

All chess players must be aware of the relative values of the chess pieces as a strategic consideration. Though several systems exist, the most commonly accepted values are: Pawn – 1, Knight – 3, Bishop – 3, Rook – 5, Queen – 9. This tells in a broad sense that two minor pieces give better value than a rook, two rooks better than a Queen and so on. But it should be common sense that the position on the chess board and the influence exerted by a piece in a given situation may drastically alter the perceptible value of a piece to the players concerned.

When we talked about the ‘material advantage’, we said so in terms of strategic values. Not considering the situational values, a player in general may be said to gain such advantage when the value of the enemy pieces captured by him is more than that of the pieces surrendered in exchange. During a game, the normal chess tactics of any player is to use it for gaining material advantage, may be even just a pawn, whenever such opportunity presents itself. The other player surrenders such advantage only when compelled by the superior chess tactics of his opponent.

It, therefore, always becomes a source of surprise and wonder when one player, without being under any compelling pressure from his opponent, deliberately makes moves that will hand over a ‘material advantage’ to the opponent. The use of ‘deliberately’ implies that such a move was not the result of any oversight or gross miscalculation unexpected from a player of certain standing. The chess tactics of using a move that can result in a material loss is known as ‘sacrifice’ in chess parlance. A sacrifice is an attacking chess tactics to break down resistance and bring about a decisive result.

To make a finer distinction, a simple sacrifice involves the loss of a piece or pawn without getting any material in exchange, whereas an exchange sacrifice involves getting material of lower value while giving up something of higher value (like Rook against Queen). The greater the difference in value, the more is the interest generated in public mind about such sacrifice and many such moves and corresponding games earn their place in chess hall of fame (provided of course that the player making the sacrifice wins the game)!

The last part in the previous paragraph is important because the loss of a game after a sacrifice only indicates an unthinking move whereas a win after incurring significant material disadvantage shows a deep calculation and foresight on the part of the winner.

You must realize that when a player offers to surrender such an advantage to his opponent, he does not do so simply for the pleasure of it but definitely to gain something, though what it is may not be apparent immediately. So let us see what kind of advantages can be sought through such a sacrifice.

Recourse to a sacrifice may be made to achieve one or more of the following:

  • to threaten mate
  • to drive the enemy King into open where other pieces can target it
  • to remove pawns comprising the enemy castle to expose the King to attack
  • to draw an important defending piece away to free up the line of attack
  • to divert a piece from a certain square that could enable counterplay by opponent
  • to gain space for other active pieces
  • to free a square needed for one’s own pieces
  • to open files or lines of attack
  • to gain time to attack
  • to start an attack after enough accumulation of power to sustain it
  • to gain initiative
  • to gain tempo (a capture or a check)
  • to create passed pawns that will keep enemy pieces tied up or yield winning endgame advantage
  • to gain time to promote a passed pawn
  • to get back more material than surrendered after a certain stage

When you think that a situation has arisen in your game where you could use a sacrifice, carefully think about the above points to be clear in your mind what you are planning to gain. Remember that a sacrifice can be a double-edged weapon. If you cannot see it through to reach a winning position, and your opponent can muster his defenses, the material shortage will work against you and pass the initiative to your opponent.

On the other hand, a well-executed sacrifice can be a talking point for you and your friends for years to come and who knows, may even win a brilliancy prize for you!

 

Chess Tactics in Middle Game: Might of united Passed Pawns

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You have seen how chess tactics was used for utilizing the power of a passed pawn to settle the outcome of a chess game. Let us now look at another game showing the greater might of united passed Pawns that Black obtained by sacrificing his pieces.

If you sit back and think, you will realize that such sacrificial moves, though looking so spectacular, are essentially not a sacrifice but only a long-term investment. Giving up one Rook for a Pawn and another Rook for a Bishop to get a passed Pawn that becomes a Queen is actually getting better of the bargain (Queen and bishop against two Rooks)! The brilliancy lies in identifying the possibility and deploying suitable chess tactics to make it a reality.

The position shown below was reached after 26 moves and Black initiated his combination with a stunning move that earned its place among the best moves in chess history.

chess tacics in middle game for united passed pawns

As suggested before, see if you can find the move on your own after White played 27. Ng3, though this time it should not be difficult with the hint that you have got already. But finding the sequence of moves in the combination may prove to be more difficult.

Here is how the game went from the above position.

1. Ng3 Rxe3  
2. Bxe3 Rxe3  
3. Nxh5 Nxh5  
4. Qxh5 Bc6  
5. Qg5 Rxc3   From a semi-passed QNP, Black has now got united QNP and QBP, albeit by giving up Rook against Bishop and Pawn and another such exchange to follow in next two moves
6. Qd2 Rxc2  
7. Rxc2 Ne6   Black threatened the last of White’s center pawns and White has to guard it
8. Rd1 b4   The passed pawns have started exerting their power
9. Rb2 b3  
10. Qc3 Nc7  
11. Re2 Qa7  
12. Qb4 Nb5  
13. Re7 Qa3   With those menacing passed pawns having the support of the Knight, Black could afford to exchange Queens, but not White
14. Qe1 c3   But the Pawns go marching in! Black does not care if White wants to exchange his Rook for Black’s Bishop and Knight in the supreme confidence that two connected passed pawns on their 6th rank cannot be blocked by a Rook and Black Queen is there to take care of any interference by her counterpart!
15. Re8+ Bxe8  
16. Qxe8+ Kh7  
17. Qxf7 Qa8   But White had a more sinister plan to salvage a draw and so went for Black’s KBP rather than his Knight! Black rose to the occasion to thwart White’s plan of salvaging a draw. For example: 17. … c2 18. Qh5+ Kg7 19. Qe8+ Kh7 20. Qh5+ Kg7 and draw by perpetual check. It shows that you can never be too careful even in a won position!
18. Re1 Nd6   Threatens the Queen and guards the vulnerable e8 square
19. Qc7 c2   With immediate threats taken care of, Black resumes the pawn march without bothering about the Knight
20. Qxd6 b2  
21. Qf4 Qc6  
22. Resigns  

 

Chess Trivia: To err is human even if both are GMs!

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Are you still smarting from the blunder that made you lose your game against another amateur in your chess club? You would surely wish that you got to play against Nimzovitch or Rubinstein, two of the stalwart Grandmasters in the field of chess, as you might fare better if the following position is any indication!

more missed opportunities

Both the players made moves before and after this position was reached, oblivious of the fact that a mate in two existed (1. Qxf7+ Kh8 2. Qxg7#)!

The occurrence of these blunders is all the more startling in view of the fact that the players were competing for the first position in a tournament and this game would decide the winner!