I’ve recently been appointed Director of Coaching at the Chess Kids Academy and today was my first session with the students, and the last day of the first term.  I’ve been working hard organising a timetable and subjects for the lessons.

The Academy day starts at 8.30am when the students arrive and play 5 minute challenge games against the coaches.  I managed to win all my lightning games despite being a little out of practice.  We then moved on to our “chess topics” session in which we try to educate the students in some aspect of chess – like, ratings, titles, on-line chess, laws of chess, etc.   I did this presentation and chose to take about “chess titles” so I gave the students a history lesson as to how the title of “World Champion” had evolved over time and how titles such as “grandmaster” and “international master” came about.   We talked about the unofficial world champion Alexandre Deschapelles who lost a hand in the Napoleonic wars and was described as “the best liar in France” and about Alexander Alekhine, the only World Champion to die whilst holding the title.  He was killed by a sausage!   Then I told a story how I persuaded the President of FIDE to create the FM title for Max Fuller (FM = Fuller master) for people who were not of IM standard.  During the talk I asked the students “homework questions” and gave the first person to answer correctly a Lindt chocolate Easter bunny.   For example: “Name the player who has won more Australian Championships than anyone else yet he has never been the best player in Australia.”   This provoked a deathly silence then one wag blurted out “Michael Baron!”   Everyone else burst out laughing.   (The correct answer is Darryl Johansen).  Hopefully it was all a bit of fun for the kids and I got to eat the left-over chocolates!

We then corrected their homework from last week and moved off into the lesson topics with Julia taking one group and Kanan the other.   Julia for instance talked about “The tree of analysis” whilst Kanan was doing “Endgame Tactics”.

The students then broke for lunch.   Next term we are looking at taking them to a nearby park for their lunch break.   Outdoor chess?  After lunch there was a 15 minute puzzle session using 4 puzzles by famed chess columnist Leonard Barden. Then followed the afternoon practical session and this week we played transfer chess.    The winners were Liam and Atlas.   The tournament ended at 3.30 with the students either playing social chess or doing endgame puzzles until they were picked up.   All-in-all a fun day of chess.

Kanan and Julia giving a lesson at the Academy.


For today’s puzzle lets have a look at a spectacular finish to the game Kramnik v Aronian in the Candidates tournament currently in progress in Germany.  It is Black to play and blunder!


The Australia Day long weekend is a popular date on the Australian chess calendar as on that date many of Australia’s top chess players head to Ballarat for the Ballarat Begonia Open.  The 52nd incarnation of this tournament!

This year the tournament boasted 4 grandmasters (Smirnov, Zhao, Ly and Johansen) plus IM’s Morris, Ikeda and Solomon heading a field of 131 players.  I stayed there for the whole week-end to support my students who were playing and I even found time to visit the begonias and take some beautiful pictures.

Ian Rogers doing the game commentary.

One of the best things about the tournament is that GM Ian Rogers is on hand to supply commentary on the games in progress and regale us with stories from the past and present.  His opening knowledge and memory is really astounding.

The finish to the tournament was spoiled a little when outright leader, James Morris, going into the last round ahead of a pack of 5 players, instead of being paired against GM Anton Smirnov, which would have been a great game to watch, was paired against the lowest player in that pairing group.   In the finish there were a couple of quick draws on the top boards and James and Anton ended up sharing first place on 6/7.   Each player took home $1875 for their efforts!   Ian explained to his audience how FIDE had adopted this bad pairing system some time ago and had not yet gotten around to changing it.

IM James Morris, = first with Anton Smirnov.

For today’s puzzle I have chosen a position from one of Zhao’s games.  The thing about good players is that they either analyse deeper than an average player or look at more candidate moves/ideas and this is one of the ways that they beat their opponents.  I was in the analysis room watching Zhao’s game and he made a quick move in time trouble and we all gasped as it appeared that he had made an obvious mistake.  A couple of moves later Zhao’s opponent resigned as the grandmaster had looked that little bit deeper than the rest of us and seen a cool winning tactic.  Let’s see if you can find it.  Black to play and win.

What do you do when you are down on material and losing the game?   Some players stake everything on a tactical chance which doesn’t work but they hope their opponent may miss it.  If the opponent spots the tactic they are dead.   Others may tend to get dejected and resign themselves to losing …. going down without much of a fight.

The best approach of course is to dig in and try to make it as hard as possible for your opponent to finish you off.  After all, the longer the game goes the great the chance your opponent may miss something and let you back into the game.

In today’s puzzle Black is the exchange up for a pawn which should be enough for a win in this sort of endgame where the rook should dominate?   His problem?   He doesn’t have a passed pawn.   In addition White, who has a Knight, is trying to keep the position blocked.   Black tried placing his rook on the “c” file but White just blocked it with Nc4.   Now Black tried to infiltrate via the “e” file and White has blocked it with Ne5.  What is Black to do?   Perhaps, dear reader, you can help him?   Black to play and win.


As a chess coach, what do you think is my biggest battle in trying to teach kids how to play better?  It’s to get them to stop analysing and rather to try to understand what is happening in the position and instead to look for ideas.

On seeing a position most children just launch into analysis.   “What can I threaten?” ….. “Do I have an attack?” and so on.   I had a class last Wednesday where I tried to explain to the students that if you are trying to solve a puzzle for example, there are in fact four things that you need to think about.

  1. What do I want to do?
  2. What does he want to do?
  3. What can he do to stop my plan?
  4. What can I do to stop his plan?

If you stop and first look at the ideas as above then that will clarify what is happening in the position and help you to refine/reduce the amount of anaysis that you have to do.   For instance if you want to queen a pawn and he does also, but his pawn is faster, then you can forget about attacking ideas and focus on how to stop him queening.

Chess, after all, is largely a battle to see ideas that your opponent may have missed.   An average player may reject moves because they appear to be bad (that move loses my queen!) but a better player will look a little deeper just in case there is something good there even if you do lose your queen.   Even simple ideas can sometimes elude us as most players are just coasting along looking at the obvious moves whereas a more imaginative player is looking at more candidate moves than his opponent.

The other night I was playing through some games on chess24.com and I stumbled across a nice example of one player totally missing an idea.  I bet he kicked himself after the game.

Have a look at the position below (Black to play) and see if you can find an idea for Black that just might work …. with a little help from your unimaginative opponent.

A couple of weeks ago I was at the Australian Junior Championships, along with many other chess coaches, and was chatting to Carl Gorka.  “Is Ian Rogers here” I enquired?  “Yes” Carl replied, “I’ve just been watching him coach some of his students …. it’s funny you know but Ian tells his students what they should have done whereas you ask them what they should have done.”

I’ve never really thought about this much but certainly my approach has always been rather than teach my students the solution to a puzzle I try to teach them how to solve the puzzle.  It’s like the old saying about giving a starving man a fish and you feed him for a day, but give him a fishing rod and you feed him for life.
The first thing you need to find the winning idea in a position is the correct attitude.  Your task is to out think your opponent …. to see an idea he hasn’t considered or to analyse deeper than he does.  If he does a sacrifice for instance your first thought should be “can I find a flaw in this sacrifice”?  Most people just launch into the analysis of a position but I encourage my students to first try to understand the position and the ideas that are there.   Often I get them to think backwards from their desired outcome, for instance I ask “How are you going to win?”   The answer might be “by checkmate”.  The next question then is “On which square shall you checkmate the King?”  After they tell me that I ask “And which piece is the most likely to give checkmate?”  So, as you can see, if they ask these questions their mind can better focus on precisely what they are trying to do.   Another handy question to ask is “where do you want your pieces?” so again I am encouraging them to think in general terms rather than just analysing.
Perhaps you would like to try this yourself?   Have a look at the position below – a rook ending where White has a extra pawn but Black has reasonable defensive chances (White to play).  The questions you could ask White are:
1. How are you going to win?  (e.g. checkmate, win Black’s rook or queen a pawn).
2. What is stopping you from achieving this type of win?
3. How can you remove the obstacles to this winning method?
Now see if you can find the best play for White.

The first school term for 2018 is starting shortly and I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of chess lessons particularly as next week will see the opening of the Chess Kids Academy for 2018.  Unfortunately I’ll miss the first day, as I’m going to Brisbane to watch the Davis Cup tennis match against Germany, but over the holidays I have been working hard compiling material for the Academy students.

My special subject is “strategy” so I thought that today I’d say a few words on what sort of strategy you should adopt when playing a much higher rated opponent.  There are basically two options.  Firstly you could try to make the game a big mess, with lots of tactics, and hope that your opponent makes a mistake …. however it is much more likely that you will!   The second option is to play a really boring game, swapping off pieces when you can, and “threatening” your opponent with a draw.  If you do this well to beat you your higher-rated opponent will have to take risks to unbalance the position and beat you and there is a fair chance he could risk too much and you end up winning!

It was therefore very interesting last night when I was watching the live games from the first round of the Box Hill Autumn Cup as there, on board one, was one of my students, Shawn Zillmann,  playing against the top seed Carl Gorka, who is rated 900 points above him.  Shawn opted for the second strategy and took every opportunity to swap off pieces eventually reaching a bishop ending where Carl (playing White) had more space but the position looked drawn.  The thing that you need to understand about Bishop endings is that, in general, your strategy should be to put your pawns on the opposite colour to your bishop so that they can’t be attacked by the opponent’s bishop and also perhaps you can set up a blockade where (for instance) your bishop controls the dark squares and your pawns control the light squares.   Unfortunately Shawn hasn’t quite grasped this idea yet and put some of his pawns on the same colour as his Bishop but he did have the possibility of an outside passed pawn which gave him good counter-play, particularly if they swapped off into a king and pawn ending.

Carl, according to the script, pressed for the win but went astray and suddenly Shawn had an easily winning game with Bishop and 2 connected pawns against Bishop.  The story is not over though!  Good players are hard to beat and I can remember from my junior days so many times when I would achieve a drawn position against a strong player and still manage to lose, or achieve a won position and only draw.  Alas Shawn missed a couple of easy winning chances then pushed one of his pawns onto a black square and Carl seized his chance and set up a position where he would win one of the pawns.  This would leave Shawn with only one pawn, which was blockaded by Carl’s Bishop, so a draw looked inevitable and they shook hands and split the point.

Back at my place, watching on the internet, I was busy pulling out some of my few remaining hairs as my computer was saying that Shawn could still win!  It is, in fact, a very good lesson in problem solving and in finding the correct strategy.  I’ll show you the whole game below, but for today’s puzzle see if you can work out a winning plan for Black in the final position.

Last week was a very big week at Chess Kids culminating in the RJ Shield Finals on Sunday and then the National School Finals on Monday and Tuesday, all played at Melbourne University’s Queens College.

There were 60 players in the RJ Shield Finals with Shawn Zillmann emerging victorious on 6.5/7 followed by Gavyn Sanusi-Goh and Oliver Cordover finishing in second and third places on 6 points.  Shawn played excellent chess, drawing with Oliver and defeating the defending champion Gavyn.  The Warm-Up Tournament had 83 players and was won by Victor Sun and Akshayan Manivannan both on 6.5/7.

RJ with Shawn Zillmann – winner of both the RJ Shield Finals and the Primary School Finals.

The National Finals were contested in three divisions with teams from across Australia and New Zealand competing for the titles.  As always, Melbourne High dominated the Open Secondary scoring 23.5/28 from Mazenod on 18 points.  David Cannon scored a perfect 7/7 for Melbourne High.

The Middle Years event was also won by Melbourne High with 23.5 points from three teams tied on 20.5 points in second place.

The most exciting event however was the Primary Competition where the result was in the balance until the final game had finished.  Atlas Baillieu from Geelong Grammar was battling Shawn Zillmann on top board and needed a draw for his team to win the tournament but again Shawn came out on top scoring 6.5/7 to be the highest scoring player.  This left Geelong Grammar tied on 20.5 points with Doncaster Gardens who retained their title on count-back.  A mere half point further back on 20 points were Balwyn North and Tucker Road with Balwyn North securing third place on count-back also.  You can’t get much closer than that!

Instead of a puzzle today I think I will show you a whole game from the State Primary Finals.  It is full of tactics, blunders and missed opportunities.   Black gets an overwhelming attack but somehow manages to go astray and ends up losing.   See if you can spot the mistakes both players make and come up with some winning moves.

Two weeks ago saw the State Finals of the Chess Kids Interschool Competition with the winning schools being as follows:

PRIMARY: Doncaster Gardens Primary 30.5 points.

JUNIOR: Melbourne High 28.5 points

JUNIOR PRIMARY: Wooranna Park Primary 22 points

Doncaster Gardens – Primary School Champions

The finals were played at the Hungarian Club in Knox and it was great to see the large playing hall filled with so many keen chess players over the four days of the tournament.

On Friday, after the Interschool events, I again had a busy day at the Chess Kids Chess Academy which is being run on Fridays during Term 4 as a trial before the official launch next year.  Approx. 24 kids attended with coaching being provided by 4 International Masters and a Women Grandmaster.  In the morning seasons we first met with our mentor groups and went through anything of interest.  I chose to show a game from the Interschool Competition then we did a Chess IQ Test.   This was followed by each coach taking a group in their special subject – my subject is “strategy.”  After lunch we held 3 simuls with James, Julia and I each taking on a small group of kids.

I enjoyed my simul games and even found a pretty finish in my game against Aaron.  Play through the game and stop before White’s 17th move to solve the puzzle.

There was a chess event a couple of weeks ago that I haven’t reported on yet, and which has received little publicity in Australia the “2017 THE FIRST CHONGQING “THE BELT AND ROAD” INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL TEAM CHESS CHAMPIONSHIP”.

This was in fact a 7 round team event for players U12 from 14 countries with the Australian team being Oliver Li, Michael Jiang, Gavyn Sanusi-Goh and Shawn Oliver.   Australia came a creditable 12th in this very strong tournament with Oliver scoring 4 points, Shawn 3 and Gavyn and Michael 2 points.

The day before the tournament the boys played in a simul against a 2700 rated Chinese GM which strangely the organisers stopped after the allotted 1.5 hours play with the games still in progress!

(Above). The Australian Boys playing in the simul.

It must have been a fabulous experience for our players, seeing and playing against some of the best juniors in the world, and will hopefully inspire them to keep improving their chess.


For today’s puzzle we move to the other end of the age spectrum with a nice win by 75 year-old Doug Hamilton in the Box Hill Open.  White has just played 21.Rb1 ….. how does Black exploit this mistake?