My favourite website these days is chess24.com which shows live games from many of the big international chess tournaments and is thus a great source of material for a chess coach.

It was great watching Kasparov briefly come out of retirement to play in the rapid/blitz event at St.Louis against many of the world’s best players.  One could say that he had a disappointing result in finishing third last but another way of looking at it was that he finished two points above Anand!

There were many huge blunders in the tournament, understandable with a fast time control, but I’ve been amazed at the number of good players who have walked into checkmate in some recent events.  I was playing through some games in the Spanish Teams Championship for instance (players rated around 2200+) and in one queen endgame White found his king on g2 in check from the opposing queen on the long diagonal.   He had a number of king moves available but chose Kh3 and was no doubt a little surprised when his opponent replied 1… Qh1 checkmate!   Similarly in another game White had castled kingside with a fianchettoed king-bishop and his opponent played 1… f3 attacking the bishop.  White retreated the bishop to the only safe square with Bh1 whereupon his very happy opponent was able to play Nh3 checkmate!

Later that evening, after seeing the above blunders, I was emailed a scoresheet from one of my students who had just won a game at the Croydon Chess Club.   I started playing through the game and my student entered a minor piece ending two passed pawns down.  “How did he end up winning” I pondered.  I soon found the answer.  His opponent had her King on f4 checked by Black’s pawn on g5 so she replied Kf5 whereupon my student was able to play Nd6 checkmate!   Perhaps blunders come in threes?

For today’s puzzle let me show you not so much a blunder as a very nice attacking sequence by White.   The game was played in the Chinese Chess League and White is a 2700+ GM.   Strangely the names of the players are X.Bu v Z.Xu.  Is that a record for the shortest named players in a chess game?  Anyway, see if you can find the attacking sequence of moves by White and, if you want to be super clever, find the killer move that he missed.

I’m back from school holidays now, getting into the swing of my chess lessons, but only a week ago I was stuck in the middle of Gippsland a full 15 minute drive away from a good cup of coffee.   And getting a cup of coffee was not easy …. on one trip driving back from the nearest cafe in the early evening I nearly ran over a huge wombat squatting in the middle of the road.   He must have been a chess player as he sat there, totally unperturbed by his approaching death, and did not flinch a muscle as I swerved to miss him.   Would that my students could control their emotions that well during their chess games.

If you haven’t guessed I was at the Chess Kids annual camp, this time being held on a farm somewhere north of Wilson’s Promontory.  The camp was a great success … nice weather and I made friends with a huge pig who ate my apple cores after I had finished eating.  The camp also gave me the opportunity to do a humorous post on Facebook as follows:

“I’m currently stuck on a farm in the middle of Gippsland for our chess camp. There are 32 kids divided into four groups for lessons. No one told me who was in my group so I went up to some kids and said “are youse in my group?” They replied “yes” so now I’ve found my group (see photo) but where are the chess sets?”

The camp featured lectures by the Chess Kids coaches, a teams tournament, various recreations like flying fox and rope climbing and a chess trivia quiz.  I don’t wish to boast but my table “Chess Parents” won the quiz despite a few of the questions being very suspect.  I was particularly annoyed after being asked to name openings named after animals and the quizmaster accepted “Bird’s Opening” as a correct answer.  As everyone should know, that opening was named after a 19th century English accountant named Henry Edward Bird, who would probably not appreciate being called an “animal.”

The theme of the camp was “ranks, files, diagonals and outposts” so in my lectures I showed a series of positions to test my young students.  Sometimes they did well and saw the answer.  Other times I had to scream at them in desperation “can anyone see mate in two moves?”  Let’s see if I have to scream at you .   Look at the diagram below.   Black is losing and so is looking for swindle chances.   What should he play?

Last weekend was the Queen’s Birthday long weekend so I spent a lot of my time visiting the Melbourne Chess Club in Fitzroy to watch the Vic Open Chess Championships.  The tournament has a big field of 92 players but unfortunately few of Victoria’s top players decided to play.   By contrast there were a lot of strong juniors playing, including some of my students, and a visiting WGM Julia Ryjanova who I had not seen play before.

The winner with 6.5/7 was IM Stephen Solomon, a former Victorian who has been living in Queensland for many years, followed by David Canon on 6/7.  Solo beat Ryjanova in the last round to secure top spot.  Strangely last Friday I went to Serpell Primary school for their weekly chess lesson only to find Ryjanova there (as a new Chess Kids Coach?) plus IM James Morris and myself.  Is this a record having 3 titled players coaching at one school?

It was fun watching the games at the Vic Open and a big thanks also to Thai Ly for posting a lot of the games on chess chat for people to play through.   One of my students has a bit of a problem at the moment in that he keeps agreeing to draws in won positions.  I received an email from his proud father to tell me that he had just drawn with an 1800 player by perpetual check after he had been losing the game early on.   I played through the scoresheet and, sure enough, instead of taking the perpetual check he had a winning line available instead!   This is the hard part about teaching chess …. trying to persuade your students that when they find a good move they should look for an even better one.  It’s must be a common fault as it happened twice also to Solo on top board in the Vic Open.  Perhaps you can do better.  Have a look at the diagram below.

Today I feel like a bit of a rant.  On Sunday I went to the RJ Shield to watch my students play and record some of their games.   It was a good event with a stronger field than usual with Gavyn scoring 6.5/7 to secure first place from Shawn and Oliver on 5.5/7.

Gavyn (first) and Shawn (second) in the May RJ Shield.

And my rant?   WHY CAN’T PEOPLE SEE TACTICS?   Take the first round for example.  One board 1 Daniel is coasting along a piece ahead against a player rated 650 points below him when he makes a move that leaves a Rook en-prise with check.  Result….. Daniel loses.

Round 2 …. the number 3 seed, Shawn, is coasting along a piece up (but in time trouble) when he makes a move allowing mate in one move!   His opponent thinks.   He thinks some more.  Finally his hand hovers above his rook and he makes a rook move instead of Qxg2 mate!  Shawn is moving quickly, facing a probable loss on time, when his opponent makes a huge blunder allowing Shawn a back-rank mate in two moves.   Shawn ponders for a few seconds and instead plays QxQ+ allowing the game to continue with his opponent winning on time.

Even the tournament winner, Gavyn, was not immune to missing tactics.   Simple things like he can take a free rook on d1 with his queen (a good move) but an even better move is to first play Qe2+ forcing White’s King to the back rank and enabling Black to take the rook with check and keeping the initiative.   The tactics are all there but players are not stopping to look for them.   Gavyn won the event because he played carefully and did not make any big blunders (other than perhaps missing a few better tactics for himself).

In the final round I was recording the game between Daniel and Gaby where Daniel played the English opening and Gaby had a B on c5 and a B on e6 and a N on c6.  The obvious move for me was White playing d4 attacking the B on c5.   When the B moves White can play d5 skewering Black’s pieces on c6 and e6 and winning a piece for White.  Did the players notice this tactic?  Yes …. but only on the 4th opportunity White had to play this winning move.

Why all these blunders and missed opportunities?  To be a good player you have to be good at tactics and to find tactics you have to look for them.  Not some of the time … not only in attacking positions … but every single move.  Something I will clearly have to work on in my chess lessons.

One of the reasons that kids miss tactics of course is that they move too quickly.  Take the position in the diagram for example.  It’s a pawn ending so there shouldn’t be much to think about ….right?  Wrong!  The players blitzed out some moves and Black lost.  He could easily draw if he studied this position for a while to discover the drawing idea.  After the move he played White himself had a winning reply but he didn’t look for it and quickly went chasing pawns.  Perhaps, dear reader, you can do better?  First find the drawing move for Black.   Then find White’s winning move against the move that Black actually played.

 

I have a problem.  Actually it’s my students’ problem but it’s my job to help them solve it.   They “can’t see how to win.”   There have been three recent examples where my student is the exchange, or the exchange and a pawn, up for nothing yet they accept/offer a draw.  When quizzed as to why they just say “I couldn’t see how to win.”

Actually I have had this problem for many years.  My usual response is “why do you have to see how to win?   You can’t see how to win on move one of a game can you?   Just play!”  I can understand why you would agree to a draw in a situation where that wins you a prize or a title, but other than that agreeing to a draw in a position that is not a “dead draw” is just demonstrating a fear of losing ….. and good players are not afraid!  They are confident in their ability and they play on.  If they play badly, yes, they may lose but if they play well they may win and if both players play OK it could still be a draw.   So I’m trying to inculcate my students with the philosophy of NO DRAWS!   Declining a draw places your opponent under pressure and implies that you think you are the better player and you think you can still win.

Now lets return to solving my problem.  Look at the position below for example.  It’s from the Rookies Cup yesterday where Black, the exchange up for nothing, agreed to a draw.   It’s true, White has a solid position and well-placed pieces, but he doesn’t have any “play” and his drawing strategy is probably to just sit tight.  So the question is what can Black do to break through White’s position?   Exchanging Queens would give Black a clear advantage but to justify playing on Black doesn’t have to “break through” he just has to find a way to improve his position or place White under pressure.  My computer has one suggestion and I have another …. have a look at what you would do then play through the moves and see if we agree.

The other point to make of course is that most players don’t know how to just “sit tight” on a position but rather think that they have to be doing something (like attacking).   So if Black just plays on for a few moves an opportunity may come up.  What does Black have to lose?

 

Chess is all about thinking.  About being able to see an idea that your opponent has missed.  Of course we cannot analyse all the available moves, like a computer can, so we have to limit the number of candidate moves that we examine and also how deeply we analyse the variations.

I can remember when chess computers first came out and one way to try to beat them (particularly in an endgame) was to find a good move or idea beyond their analysis horizon and thus you could get an advantage.   Unfortunately most chess players are lazy.  They see a good move and they play it … looking for a better move, analysing a bit deeper or looking for new candidate moves is hard work.   A good chess player needs however to be constantly trying to out-think his opponent.  If the opponent does a sacrifice you look for a flaw in it.   If he has a plan you look for an idea to counter it or for a better plan for yourself.

It’s so easy to limit your analysis by rejecting obviously “silly” moves.   “If I go there he takes my queen” …. end of analysis.  But a good player says “Yes, I lose my queen, but do I have anything after he takes it?”

How to get juniors to think like that?  That’s a difficult task that I am still working on.  One method I use is to show them examples where there is a clever hidden idea that you may perhaps find …. if only you look for it!

I was playing through some tournament games on chess24.com the other day looking for such examples when I played through one of the games from the World Seniors Teams Championship.   White was the English grandmaster Dr.John Nunn, who I knew of, and he reached the following position.   He has a N but Blacks has 2 really strong passed pawns.  Nunn lost to a very pretty tactic.   Let’s look at that first.   Here is what happened.

My computer however thought that White had a better move which had good chances to hold the draw.  I looked at the move the computer was suggesting but it still looked hopeless for White.  “What is the idea” I pondered.   After about a minute’s hard thought I found it … a very nice idea which I think few players would find in a tournament game  ….. except of course you and me!

I play through a lot of games by young players and one thing strikes me about them …. most of the time juniors only think about what they can do and little if any thought is given to what their opponent can do.  Imagine if you were a toddler standing at the side of the road and on the other side he sees a lovely puppy.  The toddler would love to pat this puppy so what does he do …. he starts waddling across the road towards the puppy.  Has he stopped to consider that there may be cars on the road which will run him down and kill him?   Of course not.   That’s how young chess players play!

The other day I gave a lesson on this theme at a Primary School, demonstrating what happens if you don’t consider your opponents moves/ideas, then we started the school tournament.  I strolled around looking at the games.   One boy had quickly played … Nxe4 winning a free pawn.  “”Have you” I asked him, “considered what your opponent may reply?”  He gave me a vague, guilty look.  “Because if he is very clever” I continued “he may play Rd8 checkmate!   You have overlooked mate in one move.”  I moved on.  At the next board White had a black rook on f7 in a deadly Bishop pin against the black King on g8.   He could take the Rook and win the exchange, but he wanted more so he played f4 hoping to exchange this pawn and open the “f” file for his rook to join in the attack on f7.  “That’s a really clever idea” I commented, “but have you considered what you opponent may reply?”   He gave me a vague, guilty look.  “Because if he is very clever” I continued “he may play BxK!   You have just made an illegal move!   Clearly I have a bit more work to do to get my message across.

Over the last few days I have been visiting the Melbourne Chess Club to watch the Anzac Day Tournament in which a few of my students were playing.  Most times when a junior plays stronger opponent the opponent will get a better position and grind them down over a number of moves.   Sometimes, if you are lucky, there may be a brief opportunity to turn the tables and cause an upset, but the hard part is being alert for these opportunities and seeing the chances when they arise.   A typical example is shown in the puzzle below.  Black is rated about 900 points above his young opponent and has had the better game since the opening.   He has just played Nf4 to fork the R and B but, if he is alert, White now has a chance.  What should he play?

 

Last Sunday I went to watch the RJ Shield Tournament at Mt.Waverley.  Some of my students were playing so it was a good opportunity for me to watch their games and see how they are progressing.

I came away very disappointed!  Juniors, it seems, don’t like thinking/analysing and often choose their moves simply based on the desire to threaten something.  Have they analysed their opponent’s possible replies?  Have they looked around for tactical ideas?  Probably not.

My observing got off to a bad start when I watched the round 2 game on board 2.  White played the Fried Liver attack which his opponent clearly didn’t know.  White had won a pawn and exposed the Black King but it was Black’s turn to move.  He chose 6 … Nd4 attacking the white queen on f3 and White quickly replied 7.Qf7#.  Oh well.  Next round I switched to board 1 in search of a better game.  Again I was soon disappointed.  By move 6 White had blundered a pawn and 3 moves later his opponent, the top seed, had blundered it back …. but of course White missed this 2 move tactic.

For round 4 I went back to board 2 as two of my students were playing each other.   By move 7 White had blundered a pawn and 4 moves later he blundered a second pawn.  Black now had a won game … two pawns ahead with no weaknesses in his position, so what did he do?  Did he complete his development and use his extra pawns to keep White’s pieces out?  Of course not.  He started making one-move threats which White easily got out of.  Then he allowed White to open up Black’s Kingside.  White blundered allowing a one move piece skewer … but of course Black didn’t notice.  Soon Black found that his N was trapped and he was a piece down with a totally lost game.  What a turn around!

There was one redeeming moment when I went back to board one where White finally produced a good game which he concluded with a nice tactic.   Let’s see if you can find it.  White to play and win.

Like most keen chess players on the Labour Day long weekend I journeyed to Ballarat for the 51st Ballarat Begonia Open Chess Tournament.  GM Nigel Short was not there this year but the tournament still boasted 4 Grandmasters and 5 International Masters with my role being to supply the live commentary.

The event was very exciting with IM Ari Dale leading on 5.5/6 going into the final round followed by 5 players on 5 points.  Ari had to face IM James Morris as White in the final round and played solidly to keep the position level but slowly but surely James managed to create chances and he eventually ground out a win to join GM Zhou, IM Smirnov and IM Solomon in joint first place.  Each player received $1375.  Half a point behind on 5.5 points were GMs Illingworth, Ly and Johansen and IM Dale.  They got nothing!  The ratings prizes however were very generous.  One of my students happily pocketed $600 for his efforts.

The tournament started strangely.  I received a copy of the draw and noticed that listed to play GM Max Illingworth on board 3 was someone named Harrison Harrison rated 1750 FIDE.  I approached the arbiter and said surely this is a clerical error and the player should be Liam Harrison from Mildura.  “No, no” I was assured, “Harrison Harrison is a local Ballarat player …. they call him Harry.”  I went back to the top boards and started watching the top boards hoping to get some interesting games for my live broadcast.  Harrison’s game started strangely with him playing 1.Nc3 then 2.e3 then 3.Ne2 then rapidly got worse!  I rushed back to the arbiter and showed him the start of the game.  “This opening is the worst I have ever seen” I exclaimed …. “The guy is a beginner.  Can we check his ID or something as he can’t have a rating of 1750.”   We talked to Kevin Perrin, doyen of the Ballarat Chess Club, and he advised that Harrison was strong tactically but played weird openings …. he did well in their club events!   Here is the game for your interest.

 

Despite this rocky start I did manage to find a number of interesting games to use in my live game commentary.  Ari chopping up Max Illingworth generated a lot of comments from the audience, however my favourite game is Smirnov v Puccini in the final round.  Anton played some very nice sacrifices to bring about checkmate a queen down.  Play through the game and see if you can guess Anton’s moves.