Issue 2 – May 2014
Palma de Mallorca
For top-end UK club-players, like SFC’s very own Peter Constantinou, playing abroad is a crucial part of gaining the experience required to become an international-level player. Here he shares his most recent travels and travails on the road…
This March, in stubbornly sunny Mallorca, veteran IMs and young hopefuls gathered for the Winter Chess all-play-all tournament with a chance at an IM norm.
The adjective that normally precedes “all-play-all” tournaments is
“cushy” but there was much more fighting chess than prearranged draws in this
line-up. Sebastian Nadal organises “chess-and-holiday”-style tournaments with
the rounds starting in the evening or afternoon, so many battles raged on into
The easy winner of the tournament was the very strong Dutch Junior
Jorden Van Foreest , but as I discovered, his 12 year old brother is also a
pretty good player! Here he teaches me a positional lesson:
A weekend away at a chess congress is the highlight of the month (or even the year!) for many players. Renewing old acquaintances, reviving old rivalries or simply relaxing away from the daily routine – weekenders draw us all for one reason or another. Last month saw two of Scotland’s longest-established events take place, and SFC brings you reports from both of them. First up….
The Glenrothes Congress 2014:
by George Pyrich
The 26th Glenrothes congress was held at its customary venue, the Lomond Centre, over the week-end of 21st to 23rd March. Total entries reached 108, a welcome increase over the previous year’s 97.
The Open was perhaps not as strong as in previous years but a keen contest was expected between the experienced trio of Andy Burnett, Paul Roberts and Ian Robertson. Instead there was a major surprise as Bon Accord youngster Murad Abdulla romped home in fine style with 4 wins which included the scalps of Burnett and Robertson in Rounds 4 and 5 following a 1st Round Bye hence achieving a very impressive 2392 TRP .
However, youthful skill didn’t have it all its own way as senior veterans William Clinton (Livingston) and Derek Coope (Oban) (achieving the week-end’s only 100% score) won the Major and Minor respectively.
Here is the critical Sunday morning encounter on top board, with notes by the winner.
and now his final round game which rounded off a fantastic weekend for the youngster, with notes by George Pyrich
The Edinburgh Congress 2014:
Rainy days in Scotland
by Ronald Gouma
I am a Dutch amateur chessplayer rated just below 2000 ELO. As I also like to travel, I play a lot of tournaments abroad – together with friends or alone. With my club Fischer Z (Amsterdam) I also visit many cities to play friendly matches.
In 2004 I played the amateur Olympiad in Mallorca, Spain. In the last round I had to play Stephen William Hogg from Edinburgh. Stephen won the game and we had a long analysis afterwards. As the tournament had ended, and we both had to spend some more days on Mallorca, we decided to explore the island together for one day. Our trip started in Calvia/Megaluf and brought us to Palma, Inca, Manacor and Portocristo, where we visited the Dragon coves. After the trip Stephen invited me to come to Scotland and play the Edinburgh Congress. I agreed on doing that, but first I played a lot of other tournaments in other cities…
Last year, on the Chess Train, I met another guy from Edinburgh: Andy Burnett. We had to play on our way from Innsbruck to Salzburg. Andy created a huge passed pawn, but forgot to defend his rook after a hidden attack. After the game we talked about chess and we intended to play a future match between our clubs. He also invited me to come to Edinburgh to play the Edinburgh Congress.
So now I finally had to come to Scotland! And that’s why I played the Edinburgh Congress 2014 which was held from Friday 4th ‘til Sunday 6th April in the David Lloyd Leisure Centre in Leith, close to the harbour of Edinburgh.
On arrival in the late afternoon of Thursday it started to rain. I stayed in a small, but very good, bed & breakfast in Leith. As the first round started Friday 18:30 I had the whole Friday to see the highlights of Edinburgh, but…it was still raining. And raining… and raining… There was also a rainy fog and down in the centre I was unable to see Edinburgh Castle upon the hill. Fortunately in the late afternoon the weather cleared up, but then the tournament started.
50 players in the Premier. Coincidentally, I had to play Andy Burnett again. Same colour, same opening. After 14 moves the following position occured:
In the second round I had a difficult opening but in the middle game I managed to equalise. We ended up in an opposite-colour bishops endgame. I even managed to capture a pawn. But the bishops were still opposite!
Another quick draw in the third round. After the opening I had achieved nothing against a young player. Outside the weather was fine – not raining anymore – so I offered a quick draw which the young player accepted immediately. He was happy with a few rating points and I was happy to visit the centre of Edinburgh again to see the main highlights without rain.
The fourth round, on Sunday morning, I had to play the experienced James MacRae. He kindly asked me my opinion about Edinburgh. As I hesitated for a moment to answer (“ehh…, well….”), he immediately drew the conclusion saying, “I understand, is it the weather…?”. I couldn’t have explained it better! Our game was easy again. After the opening James suddenly sacrificed an exchange giving me an unstoppable passed pawn.
In the last round of the Edinburgh Congress I had to play John Jarmony:
So I ended 3/5. 10-17th place, together with GM Matthew Turner and Andy Burnett. Best player below 2000 (unfortunately the rating prize was up to 2100) The tournament was won by FM Alan Tate and IM Mark Orr, both 4,5/5.
The Ayr Congress 2014:
One of the newest congresses on the Scottish weekend circuit is Ayr, on the west coast. This year they managed to have a live feed of the top 14 boards in the Open section, a trial run for next month’s Scottish and Commonwealth Championships in Glasgow, and a real boon for those who couldn’t attend but wanted to keep abreast of the action. One person who could make it was Jonathan Livingston who graciously provided us with 2 annotated defeats, though as we shall see he certainly didn’t disgrace himself (in the 1st game at least!)
Fast forward to the final round, and Jonathan has the white pieces against another regular on the congress circuit.
# Ayr Congress photos courtesy of Brendan O’Gorman
#Edinburgh Congress photo courtesy of Geoff Chandler
Re-inventing the Wheel!
This month’s attempt to re-create (or avoid!) opening theory ties in very well with the Black Belt chess lesson later in the magazine – we are looking for ways to stay away from that which our opponent knows well (or at least better than we do!)
A few months ago I noticed that several strong players in Scotland had started using 1.b3 and its close relative, 1.Nf3 d5 2.b3, as white. As ever, when players we can expect to meet over the course of a year in club and congress chess do something unusual, we would do well to pay attention to it – and perhaps cook up an interesting counter for when we meet it. Sweating in preparation at home is far more comfortable than sweating in play at the board! For my part, I had already faced this slightly unorthodox opening – the Nimzowitsch-Larsen – some years previously and had concocted an unusual response….
Moving on a few years, and the b3 idea is back in fashion; even Kramnik has played it!
A couple of rounds prior to the Babin game, I had faced my friend Mikey Groves for the first time OTB. I think I had already explained my ideas behind this opening system for black – Mikey came up with an interesting and aggressive approach.
To conclude, here are a couple of games highlighting many of the ideas for both sides, played against much stronger opposition than most of us will normally face!
This final game in the system has notes taken from shortly after the game, which I planned to use in a previous article. Along with the approach from Mikey Groves, it is one of the most important attempts by white to cut across black’s plans. This was played in the final round of the Edinburgh congress and a win for either of us was likely to be worth £400-500. Not quite a lottery scoop, but not to be sniffed at either!
Having coached several players of Blue Belt level (under-1500) rating for a couple of years now, I have come to the conclusion that general standards of play in this bracket have risen quite a bit. Quite possibly this is due in main to the information boom since I was this level some 30+ years ago! Players nowadays have access to all sorts of help; databases, strong chess engines, e-books, dvd’s, online play and forums.
All these factors allow players to find answers to their questions at the click of a mouse, whereas I and others back in the day had to scour whatever magazines and books we could find to help us improve. Although blunders and ‘bad play’ still exist, the general movement in chess is positive. Utilising these tools is where improvement can be made most quickly for Blue Belt players, and in the 2 examples which follow I will point out how this can be dome most effectively.
First up, a sharp encounter in the Sicilian Dragon!
Our victor in the previous game appears again,this time on the white side and against a stronger opponent who is in the Red Belt Zone (1500-1800). How will he cope with this and how can he improve to that level himself?
From these 2 games it is clear that Mark understood his Sicilian Dragon position much better than he did the white side of the Pano-Botvinnik in the Caro-Kann, and this is absolutely fine so long as he now goes and spends a little time on the latter, especially if he plans to use it every time he faces the Caro-Kann. Gradually increasing your knowledge by looking at your games afterwards, utilising all the tools easily available online to aid your study, is a fairly simple and productive process, and one that every player hoping to improve should do!
Cup Finals Day!
Months of organising teams, hard-fought matches and nail-biting finishes culminated in the prestigious Chess Scotland Finals Day for the nation’s top clubs. With the silverware within reach, both literally and figuratively, how would they fare?
The premier team competition in Scotland is the Richardson Cup, and this year saw 2 surprising finalists; Wandering Dragons were the less-surprising of the 2, but had defeated the very strong Polytechnic team from Glasgow in the semi-finals (who boasted 2 GM’s and an IM). The biggest shock, however, was that produced by Bon Accord from Aberdeen. This team of strong youngsters and solid ‘old-heads’ had defeated Hamilton Chess Club in the semi-final, a tremendous result which led Hamilton captain IM Andy Muir (who somehow managed to miss the match) to post ‘What happened guys?’ on the CS noticeboard.
Though favourites on paper, Dragons certainly weren’t planning to take the final easy and strengthened their team slightly for the big day. Bon Accord turned up with pretty much their best team to, so the scene was set.
With a relatively non-eventful top board being drawn, Bon Accord were first off the mark with this fine game on board 2, annotated by the winner.
With several games looking murky-but-better-for-Bon Accord, it appeared for a good while that the following game would be of great importance to the end result, and with Dragons failing to score on boards 3 and 4, so it proved! Jonathan takes us through it…
So, despite losing a crazy game on bottom board, Bon Accord upset the bookmakers once again and lifted the Cup for the first time! Congratulations to a very good team, and hopefully SFC magazine will be reporting on their adventures in the European Club Cup in Bilbao this September for which they qualified by winning the Richardson.
The secondary final, the Spens Cup, saw Hamilton’s B-team rueing a costly last-minute cock-up which saw them default on bottom board. Despite the following fine win on top board (annotated by Phil Thomas) it was Irvine who emerged victorious in a hard-fought match!
The Campbell Rosebowl was another tough affair, with Edinburgh Civil Service edging out a strong Troon team, who for a while looked well set for lifting the trophy after the following excellent game on board 4 with notes by the winner…
#Photos courtesy of Stephen Ritchie and Alice Lampard
‘Over-the-board’ battles are no longer the be all and end all of chess! Almost everyone plays online in some form or another, and the face of correspondence chess in particular has changed beyond almost all recognition with the ubiquitous chess engine, e-mail replacing ‘snail-mail’ and countless ‘turn-based’ online events. Interested in the use of computers as analysis tools, I asked correspondence IM George Pyrich to analyse some of his games which would hopefully explain the different approach he takes nowadays, compared to his OTB play.
Top of the pile in Hyeres!
As every chess player knows, no holiday is complete without a good dollop of chess, preferably including a tournament. So when Hamish Olson decided to go to France, the only concrete plans he made (Hamish is not a planning kind of person, he claims; the only things he is capable of being on time for are chess related…) were for which tournament to play in. Fortunately, his report was on time for this issue!
For various reasons I ended up taking a year out of my physics degree half way through second year, and moved back in with my parents. This has its ups and downs, but among the upsides (along with no exams) is the opportunity to travel a bit, so fairly arbitrarily I decided to save up to go on a trip sight-seeing around France. Forking out on a railcard for 8 days free travel and ending up going from Marseille where I started off to Bordeaux (where my flight back was) via Toulon, Hyeres, Paris, Rennes, Dinan, Angers and Lourdes (possibly omitting one or two).
Most people would do a fair bit of research into an event in a foreign country before committing to play; I just looked on the Fide website, saw a weekend tournament in a place called Hyeres, looked at the Wikipedia page of Hyeres and decided that it sounded like a nice place. I fired off an e-mail to the contact email of the event’s organiser Bernard Ramazzotti, who congratulated me on my excellent French (thanks Clement!) and said see you there!
About a month later I walk, somewhat out of breath from running half the way there, into this nice looking building that has the French for chess on it.
Bit of a panic moment when I realise that I didn’t look into this event at all and my presumption that this is going to be identical to a tournament such as Marymass or Lothians (hopefully minus the missed pawn forks and lost by move 10 positions that had been a hallmark of my play in the first half of this season…) was not correct. It was a bit less of a panic when I realised that “our champion, the 7 year old girl” was the club’s most promising junior rather than the previous winner of the tournament but it was still evident that the tournament hall was much too small for more than 20 or so adults (at a push!).
In another time and place the realisation that my average opposition was likely to be in the region of 1700 rather than 2150 might have been a bit of a downer but when you are in a place as gorgeous as Hyeres , oldest resort in the French Riviera (according to Wikipedia) and are as frustrated with chess as I was at the time, you just go with the flow and enjoy what life throws at you. Anyways, to the chess!
Round 1 was a stodgy affair where persistence made up for a lack of alertness on my part and I eventually ground out a 60 move win as white against a 1700, not a great game but a win is a win!
Round 2 was an entertaining mess where my opponent’s swashbuckling opening was simply too dubious and his behaviour at the board failed to intimidate me.
Round 3 I was white against the player I had quickly marked out to be the main threat in amongst the 17-1800s, a 12 year old boy who crushed the second seed in round 1 as he was an unknown. I looked him up in the database and decided to go for my trusty 1.d4 2.Nf3 “this will be boring and it will be long” approach and it worked fairly smoothly. He played the Bogo-indian, a surprise as I’d seen one game online in the Kings Indian, but I don’t think he had learnt much of the theory and was just playing an opening with a boring reputation to try and get a draw against the higher rated player. This is a really, really bad way to play against a higher rated player in particular (IMHO) (it is bad for your chess in general if you just want a draw although there’s nothing wrong with solid) as it eliminates any randomness and just lets him get on with his game, ensuring his superior positional understanding and probable greater experience in endgames (higher rated players games tend to last longer as there are less blunders relatively speaking) will inevitably tell. As Simon Webb says in his excellent Chess For Tigers, the best way to deal with somewhat stronger players is to make as much mess as possible and hope that they stumble first (everyone is human and in tactical messes even the very best of players are inevitably going to slip at some stage).
Round 4 was a very boring Catalan where my 1500 opponent blithely assumed that even material rook endgame = draw and collaborated with me in hoiking all the pieces off the board allowing me to torture him with no risk.
Round 5 was the decisive match up with 1850 rated second seed as a draw would win the tournament for me. I met 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 c5 with c3 and she immediately took and played d6, giving me a comfortable space advantage that she did not contest. I won a pawn on the queenside and we swapped off into a bishop endgame and she put her pawns on the same colour as her bishop and I won.
To celebrate I played a bunch of blitz games with my round 2 opponent who refused to play me other than for money so we played first to 5 gets a fiver and I won 15 euros over the course of the lunch break.
Round 6 was an interesting exchange Caro-Kann which I was rather pleased with, but Fritz laughs! Eventually I got a big centre in a rook and knight endgame and finished off pretty quickly after that.
6/6, against an average of 1750 opposition so tpr (Tournament Performance Rating) not too far above my grade (by CS calculations anyways). A helpful 16 points on my FIDE rating though, and nearly back to my start of season grade (which has taken a bashing mainly due to the efforts of one D. Deary, although miscounting the number of moves and losing on time against a 1700 this week when in a winning position does not help either!).
I had a wonderful time in Hyeres and would strongly recommend it to anyone who loves chess, sunshine, red, red wine and communicating in a mixture of terrible French and pointing with a bunch of friendly fellow enthusiasts. Who knows, maybe I will be back for Hyeres Tournoi du Paques 2015 or one of the numerous other tournaments on the Tour Hyeroise?
Getting to Know You!
…the Streetfighting Chess interview
Please share a little of your chess background with us; when you learned chess, successes/failures, what the game means to you?
When I lived in England, my primary school encouraged us to play chess every morning. Intrigued and with the help of my best friend I learned how to play the game at the age of 7. My dad signed me up to an online chess site called Kasparovchess.com. I quickly became addicted and out of pure luck I won the chance to play the then World Champion: Vladimir Kramnik. Part of playing Kramnik involved a chess reporter called John Henderson interviewing me and writing a quick piece. He told my parents about Edinburgh chess club and I soon joined. It was here I learnt about the chess world and made my first serious steps.
I started playing in tournaments regularly at the age of 12 and in my first year I won the Primary Individual and the Scottish Boys Under 18 Championship. With this success I was invited to play for Scotland in the World Youth Championships. For the next eight years I would represent Scotland in World and European events.
When and why did junior coaching become a major part of your chess life?
Coaching became a major part of my life after I left school in 2008. As a junior, I felt a lot could be improved; after finishing school I decided to take a gap year and offer online coaching. I believe I was the first to offer online coaching in Scotland.
Around about 2012, online coaching received a huge boost as the new IJD, Paul MacDonald, with the help of Robin Moore backed my idea of a CS online coaching program. Since then, the program has steadily expanded; we have seven active coaches and roughly 40-50 students.
Do you train students individually? As a group? Following a set-plan/syllabus?
Currently both, group coaching at Fettes as GM Jacob Aagaard’s assistant and individual coaching online or face to face. For educational purposes, individual coaching is clearly superior but I believe the group atmosphere and social aspects of group coaching should not be underestimated. Junior’s should really have both.
I have a syllabus that I use but will tailor it to who I am coaching. The material I use is based on authors that I rate: Jeff Coakley, Murray Chandler, Yasser Seirawan, Artur Yusupov and Jacob Aagaard. Chessity is another fantastic resource, which my students use regularly. One of the main problems in chess is there is too much information out there and a lot of it is bad.
I saw you defeat one of your own top students recently in Edinburgh and you were visibly upset after the game. Can you explain why?
Playing your students is not a pleasant experience and not wanting to win the game is a very strange feeling. I was in control for most of the game, to only blunder a pawn, when Murad took control. In the end, the victory came through a time scramble. I was disappointed as I knew how upset he would be and in the manner that I had won. When he beats me in the future, he will know he will have really beaten me.
Theory or non-theory in the openings for junior students?
Teaching openings is very difficult. My students have managed to reach 2000 level without really knowing them, so I don’t think they are really that important.
If I was to answer the question, it has to be main lines. Main lines are the best moves and gaining experience in them from a young age can only be beneficial. A quick look at some of the top junior players in the world shows them playing main lines from a very young age.
A perennial question: What is the best way for an adult player to approach a game against a junior?
Simple, forget you are playing a junior. Focus on playing the best moves; I am not a fan of psychology in chess.
What would you like to see happen in ‘junior chess/coaching ‘ in the future? Is there a ‘model’ approach which can be followed?
I could talk about this forever but I will try to keep it brief. The success of the online coaching program has been staggering. It has surpassed all expectations and those that receive online coaching are dominating. We need to market the online coaching through the CS website to increase the number of students; this could possibly be a revenue stream for CS too. A lot more can be done through the internet and I think this cost efficient way is the future. Online tournaments, a guide for parents and chess videos are something I’d love to see online.
At a grass roots level, the standard is very low. It is depressing to watch kids at these tournaments not know how to checkmate with two rooks. It takes one minute to fix this; we need to get coaches into schools. School chess clubs need to be more than simply playing games, there needs to be education. The Dutch course known as the “Steps” method is a very good place to start. Chessity is basically this but interactive which the kids prefer. Learning through iPad’s and computers is definitely the way forward, everything should be interactive.
Other things I would like to see are contracts for international players and chess exams. Like I said, I could talk about this all day…
What are your personal goals in chess, as a player and as a coach?
In my gap year, my goal was to increase my fide rating from 2000 to 2300. My fide live rating was 2290 at one point, before personal circumstances forced me to end playing tournaments prematurely. I feel I have some unfinished business here and would love to get the FM title.
As a coach, the ultimate goal would be for one of my students to become a Grandmaster.
#Photo courtesy of Fiona Steil-Antoni
One of the most striking, and devastating, features of games between low and high red-belts is the number of times an early attack wins the game for the higher-rated player. At lower levels (Blue Belt and lower) the attacking and defensive skills are generally not well-enough developed to allow for quick wins and losses-chances and counterchances are missed too often; at higher levels (Black Belt and above) the ability to spot potential disasters and techniques to prevent them are quite highly developed; many attacks never see the light of day, or are subverted into different types of advantage when the attacking potential is spotted.
In the middle-ground is the red belt, an area where players are strong enough to launch and force through an attack, even if it is often not quite ‘principled’ enough to be theoretically justified. When facing an attack, players quite often delay too long before countering, or rely on fairly superficial means of defence. The following games show exactly how this presents itself in practice – and gives a clear indication of why aggressive chess at mid-to-high club level is so often effective.
Richard Carter takes us through the first game himself…
So, it becomes quite clear from this game that defence is not easy and that attacks often have a 2nd or 3rd chance to find a way through. Our 2nd example shows an even more brutal attack which white completely fails to recognise in time. When he does start to defend, he appears to do so through panic rather than a sober asessment of his defensive resources and counterchances.
This is not atypical – I’m not trying to show the player of the white pieces up by discussing this game in fairly bold terms – it happens very often in Red Belt territory as can be evidenced by the Thomas-Gillespie and Jackson-Lampard games shown earlier in the CS Finals article. Your job, as someone who wants to improve your level, is to recognise such situations BEFORE they become too serious and act accordingly!
How can you avoid such painful debacles?
-Firstly, by recognising that your opponent has a plan early enough! I don’t think white quite realised what black was up to until too late, which was followed by a panicked response leading to a brutal knock-out.
-Secondly, as with most of the other articles in the Belt series of this mag, try to ensure you know the basics of openings you are playing (preferably before, but at worst afterwards so it doesn’t happen again!). What am I trying to achieve? What does my opponent generally want to do in this opening/middlegame?
-So, stick to openings and positions you know and understand when you are playing, and expand this knowledge by studying, and then playing them online or in less important games (rapidplay/blitz/ etc.), before venturing them in league, cup and congress games which mean a great deal to you/your team.
Inspiration for club-players: Part 1
Chess inspiration pops up in the strangest places. Sometimes a simple comment in an article will cause you to stop and think about something you might not have previously considered. Or, a comment might have you reconsider a long-held belief. This happened to me recently, twice, and I’d like to tell you about these “a-ha” moments writes Mike Denson.
A couple of weeks ago I was reading The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal, the last place I would expect to find inspiration for a club player of my limited talent. After all, it’s been said of him that “he doesn’t move the pieces by hand, he uses a magic wand”, and this is certainly not the case with my playing. But I was soon to be shocked.
Mikhail was playing a tournament and performing at his normal stellar level when suddenly he blundered his Queen! Tal, blundered his Queen! No way. I do that far too frequently, but then it’s expected at my level, but not the Magician of Riga, one of the greatest attacking players of all time. I didn’t think he even knew the word Blunder. But there it was, in his book, written in his own hand. He blundered the Queen. I had to stop reading and put the book down. Misha had blundered his Queen!
It’s hard to describe just how comforting I found this. Knowing that a player of this calibre occasionally blunders was reassuring. Sure, I have read about GM blunders, and know that you have to lose thousands of games while slowly grinding your way up the ratings ladder. But I guess it had always been somehow other-worldly. I knew it was true, but I couldn’t relate to it. Until now. Chess began to look different to me. We all screw-up, and indeed it’s how we improve. But, knowing the immortal Misha had blundered his Queen made my blunders seem a little less traumatic, almost acceptable.
Chess can really be fun; mistakes are to be expected and learned from, not agonized over. And it’s this last point that led me to my next inspirational discovery.
I live near Tampa, FL, a chess no-man’s-land, without much OTB chess activity, except for scholastic events. Finding the competition on ICC too formidable, my play is limited to chess.com, and usually only on-line (correspondence, or turn-based) chess. If you haven’t tried chess.com I highly recommend that you sign-up for a free account and give it a go. In addition to both turn-based and live chess, there are loads of discussions on topics ranging from chess openings to books, endgames and current chess players. Videos galore are available, and there is a great Tactics Trainer. Basic membership is free, but check out the paid membership options as the benefits increase rapidly.
One day I received an email from The ChessWorld titled 5 Strange Ways to Get Better at Chess (http://thechessworld.com/learn-chess/9-training-techniques/377-5-strange-ways-to-get-better-at-chess). Hmm, okay, sounds interesting, so I opened it up and read the first method; and my chess life took a 180 degree turn, for the better. My on-line rating at the time hovered around 1400, and I generally played opponents rated in the 1300 range. My hope was to increase my rating maybe 100 points so I thought by playing folks rated a little lower than I was I should win most of my games. Well, that was not quite working out the way I’d hoped, and my rating dropped to the mid 1300’s, and I got very upset at each loss. So much so that I quit playing for a little while, and even after returning to playing, I wasn’t really enjoying chess. And then I read the article’s first suggestion: Play Stronger Opponents and Don’t be Afraid to Lose!
The piece was written by Yury Markushin, and it hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. Here is the first suggestion:
What type of chess players do you think you need to play to get better at chess? Those who are of your level? 100 points higher rated? 200? 400? Just think for a second.
Answer: definitely not those of your level. If you want to play an “interesting” (aka entertaining) game, sure, play those who are100-200 points higher/lower rated. You will win or lose. You will feel good about yourself but will learn nothing new. Why? Because those of your strength know and think in a similar way as yourself. If you really want to improve your game play those rated 400 points higher. That will give a good kick to your brain, and you will be on the way to improvement!
This is something I intuitively knew, but reading it just had a huge impact on me. My problem was that I was playing against slightly lower rated players, and was devastated at every loss, feeling that I should have won the game. And generally that was true – statistically I should have won more than I had, but I often gave games away with sloppy play and blunders.
This short suggestion re-energized my chess and opened up a new world. Playing higher rated players was what I needed to do, and while expecting to lose, I was also inspired to play as hard as I could. My fears were gone, and I faced each new game with renewed enthusiasm.
Maybe you will find inspiration in these examples too; but the real point of this is to be open to inspiring thoughts and comments, you never know when one will pop-up!
TWISTS AND TURNS IN BISHOP ENDINGS
by Peter Bennett
To be brutally honest, I have never been particularly good at using bishops in the endgame; and I was reminded of this recently when I lost a minor piece endgame in the Edinburgh OTB League, in which my opponent had the knight and I had the bishop. I would rather have been playing on his side of the board!
Yet sometimes, if we know our weaknesses and put in some hard work on that account, we can turn a weakness into a strength. The three correspondence bishop endgames in this article have several features in common:
(1) they all produced wins from level or potentially drawish positions beyond move 30;
(2) all were materially level both before and after the transition from level to winning position, such that the wins arose from a positional plus, not a material plus; and
(3) all were played in recent competitions.
It is well known that, in rook endings, the aggressive rook position is generally more important than the pawn count. In bishop endings it is not so simple. The pawn count still matters, and keeping one’s own bishop active is also crucial; but the most important factor is restricting the activity of the opponent’s bishop, better still “baddening” it (to “badden” meaning to render “bad”). A bad bishop in the endgame is not quite the same as a bad bishop in the opening (in which, typically, it is merely physically hemmed in by a locked pawn structure). All these points will be illustrated in the games that follow.
I have chosen three contrasting bishop endings: (a) with the four bishops; (b) with bishops of the same colour; and finally (c) with bishops of opposite colour. The annotations concentrate on certain key themes, for the sake of clarity. This, of course, also means that I have largely ignored the unplayed lines and tactical sub-plots which exist in any correspondence game. When reading articles with masses of variations, I find that I “cannot see the wood for trees”.
Unless the reader has a particular interest in the opening variation from which these endgames arose (for which purpose I have nevertheless included the full game scores), I suggest ignoring the first 40 moves of each game, picking up the action only at the first diagrammed position and then playing through the endgames without an engine. The idea is to bring the human chess brain to the fore!
The third and last game in this sequence addresses the knotty question of “bishops of opposite colour”. Euwe and Hooper in their seminal text, “A Guide to Chess Endings” (1959) averred that a single pawn advantage was generally insufficient for a win. Indeed, the notion that these endings are drawish and that White usually needs two extra pawns for a win has been benchmark advice at chess clubs up and down the land for 50 years.
Not long ago, however, I attended a workshop at my OTB club at which the presenters challenged that view. Their claim was that it all depended on king position, as well as which B was the more active. The next game gave me the chance to put some of these ideas into practice in correspondence play – and against an IM, to boot.
One gratifying feature of these endgames is that White would have won none of them by lamely following engine lines. I put a huge amount of analytical work into these positions, and considered a range of alternative strategic ideas, often pushing wood into the small hours, well away from a computer screen.
The task of playing your opponent’s bishops out of the game is simply not a tactical strike, and cannot be accomplished in the way that an engine can execute a perfect combination. You need a strategy and a plan, as well as its execution.
The chess equivalent of ‘home advantage’ is often considered to be playing white as opposed to having the black pieces. The slight theoretical advantage for white can be compared to having the serve in tennis or playing in front of your own fans in football.
I would argue that a more accurate and important comparison is… playing an opening and/or middlegame position which is on YOUR territory. For example, dragging the opponent deep into Sicilian Dragon theory if that’s your forte; aiming for dry technical positions where endings are more likely if you’re good at them; implementing off-beat opening systems if your opponent is a theoretical whizz in the main-lines. Essentially, playing positions you know and like and are not what your opponent really wants!
Let’s look at a couple of my recent games which highlight the problems facing a player when he stumbles or voluntarily steps into the opponent’s favourite territory. In this case, MY Benoni!
So, where did white go wrong and what can ‘black-belters’ learn from this game? Firstly, if you plan to take your stronger opponent on in his favourite line, you have to have an idea! Hamish did, but it was superficial and he didn’t have much experience of the resulting positions to fall back on when it the plan failed.
As mentioned, he had hoped to discuss the opening with his friend whom I had previously played in this line, but given that he hadn’t managed to do so, he would have been well-advised to play something different until such time as he could chat to Calum and learn some of the secrets of the position.
I was reminded of the time I lost a 5-minute game to one of our up-and-coming juniors many moons ago. It was in a sharp Dragon position and it transpired that my young opponent had been looking at the line the previous day with GM John Shaw in a training session and they had cooked up a strong novelty. The young lad was over-joyed at beating me, but I was also extremely happy….that he hadn’t kept the novelty for an important tournament or league game! 5-minute games I can happily handle losing!
OK, our 2nd game in this month’s Black Belt tuition was played a week or 2 after the game with Hamish. I was facing another of our strong, younger players and was expecting a tough battle, particularly as Hugh is very solid with the white pieces.
What ought Hugh to have done in the opening? Well, unless he was very sure of his knowledge of the Old Benoni, he probably ought to have replied on move 2 with 2.c3, and tried to engineer a transposition to the London System or something else familiar.
In general, when playing a stronger opponent, unless your preparation is of a very specific tactical nature, you have to balance things against the greater understanding of the resulting middlegame positions which your opponent will have on their territory.
Finally, when things don’t work out as you had planned, you have to make sure you don’t make BIG mistakes (such as 25.Nc3 in the first game, or 14.h4 in the 2nd.) Knuckle down, forget the psychological blow of not reaching your desired position/type of position, and force your opponent to prove his strategy and knowledge all the way!
-Scottish and Commonwealth Championships!!
-The SFC team abroad!
-and much more!