My topic for today is books.  I have too many of them.   When you want to move house and downsize that’s a problem.  My solution has been to give half of them away.   “That must have been traumatic” grandmaster Ian Rogers commented, but it had to be done sometime.   The MV Anderson Chess Collection at the State Library of Victoria took 29 boxes, mainly foreign books and magazines, and were quite pleased as on looking into the first box she opened the librarian said “we haven’t got about 50% of these!”    The Melbourne Chess Club received 16 large plastic tubs of English language books (and two bookcases) which they are now selling off to chess players for $5 each.  Let’s hope they all end up in good homes.   Actually one of the coaches at Chess Kids said to me the other day “Robert, I bought this openings book from the Melbourne Chess Club and it’s got your signature in it!”  A collector’s item no doubt.

I’m still left with about 6 or 7 bookcases of my english language periodicals and my old and better books which I have kept.  I guess that in my old age sorting and cataloguing them will give me something to do.  Actually I found quite a few unexpected items as I was sorting through my collection.  One large box contained 1500 copies of the 1973 edition of the Laws of Chess …. no doubt one of my better purchases in the past.   I think Cecil Purdy bought 10,000 of them from China in the 1970’s so this must be my share from that lot!

The topic of “books” also arose at the first session of the Chess Academy in term 2 when James Morris was telling the class what he did to become a master and he noted that he just read heaps and heaps of chess books.   Strangely, since that time, a number of my students have asked me to lend them some books to read so perhaps books may yet come back into fashion.

So now we must move on to a puzzle.  Have a look at the position below from the game of one of my students from the recent RJ Shield in Ringwood.  He is doing well but next move blundered.  In my lessons I keep asking my students to identify the problem in the position then try to find a solution to the problem.  Of course there isn’t always a way out, but in this case there was but my student missed it.   Perhaps you can do better.   Just follow the notes one move at a time ….

I’ve been busy lately gearing up for the opening of the Chess Kids Academy (Saturday) on 5th May which I’m really looking forward to.  Our topic for discussion is “How to become a chess master” and the panel of IM James Morris, IM Kanan Izzat and myself will describe what we had to do to become chess masters and then discuss what the students need to do to follow in our footsteps.

In general the junior who breaks through to become a master will be the one who is the keenest, who has worked the hardest and has done things that his rivals didn’t manage to do.  I have a few stories to illustrate this idea.  A few years ago when the Australian Junior Championships were held in Melbourne I had to give the opening speech.  I noted that we had about 300 of the keenest and best juniors in the country present at the championships and who amongst all of Australia’s juniors, I pondered, would go on to become our next master or even grandmaster.  Answer: none of those present!  Why?  Because our best two juniors were not here in Melbourne – one was in Auckland playing in the NZ Open and the other was in Brazil playing in an international junior event.  They had already progressed to the next stage and were doing more than theirs peers in Melbourne.  I can tell a similar story from the Australian Open way back in 1973.  There were about 100 players participating and in those days very few juniors played in adult events.  One player was having a bad tournament and was bemoaning to the Arbiter who said ” Don’t worry, next round I’ll pair you with a 12 year-old boy.”  The player walked away content in the knowledge that he had an easy game.  The boy’s name, by the way, was Ian Rogers and you can guess who won the game.

It’s a similar story this week as (now) grandmaster Anton Smirnov is in Thailand playing in the Bangkok Open against a strong field including GM Nigel Short who usually plays in this event.  With two rounds to play Anton was on board 1, half a point behind the surprise leader, 18 year-old FM Novendra Priasmoro from Indonesia.

FM Novendra Priasmoro

 

 

 

Let’s have a look at a position from their crucial game which can serve as the puzzle for today.

See if you choose the same move as Anton played.

One of the interesting things about chess is the different playing styles of players.  Some players love attacking and analysing imaginative lines of play; others prefer a positional style and try to just outplay their opponents by accumulating small positional advantages; others love the endgame and will swap off into an equal endgame confident that they can outplay their opponent and some are perfectionists who always look for the best move then get into time trouble and usually play a few imperfect moves.

In tennis some of the best matches to watch are between players of different styles, for example a base-liner (Borg) against a serve-volleyer (McEnroe) and I guess it’s the same in chess.  I’ve just been watching and playing through the games of the 2018 Doeberl Cup and when I see a pairing Solomon v Ikeda for example the question arises will Ikeda get crushed in the endgame or will Solo fall victim to a vicious attack before he can swap off into his beloved endgame?  Come to think of it the same applies in my chess lessons.  You could clasify me as a positional “Boa Constrictor” sort of player so one of the most enjoyable lessons I have is with my student Amit who favours tactics and attacking.  The clash of ideas is always stimulating.  As we play through some games in our lesson Amit invariably is hitting me with attacking ideas whilst I am suggesting that he slows down and builds up a bit more before trying to attack.   A good chess player has to be able to handle all types of positions and to treat each position according to it’s needs rather than the player’s own preferences.

One strategy that I use with attacking players is to select an attacking game for our lesson then, at various stages throughout the game, I turn the board around and get the student to take the role of the defender.  There was an amusing incident in my last lesson with Amit when we had switched roles and I, as Black, was trying to find a winning attack whilst White was trying to hang on to his extra material and swap off pieces.  Have a look at the diagram with Black to play.  I played 1…Qa5+ 2.Qb4 Qa2 3.Qb2 Qa5+ 4.Qb4 then it happened.  “Scoresheet!” I cried at the top of my voice and people came running from everywhere to see what had happened.   [This cry harks back to my days at Monash University Chess Club where the club would be packed with players playing lightning chess and if anyone played a brilliant move they would scream “scoresheet!” so as to write the position down for posterity.  Everyone rushed over to admire the brilliant combination.]

So your puzzle for today, dear reader, is to see if you can spot the brilliant move that we had both missed.   I may be a positional player but, as they say in America, “even a blind squirrel may sometimes find an acorn.”

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.