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.


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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?


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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 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.

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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!

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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?


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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.

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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.


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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.
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“Searching for Bobby Cheng!”  No, it’s not the title of the latest chess movie.  It’s what I have been doing for the past few weeks.  Bobby decided to skip the Australian tournaments over the holidays and instead went to Europe in search of his grandmaster title.  A few weeks ago he was playing in a tournament in England, then he popped up at the Gibraltar Open … scoring OK results but no GM norm.  Last week I discovered that he was playing in the 9th Batavia Invitational tournament so I presumed that he was somewhere in Eastern Europe.  It turns out he is actually in Holland, playing at the Batavia Cafe, and Bobby was doing quite well.

After 4 rounds Bobby led the event with 4/4 and so needed only 2.5 points from his last 5 games to achieve a GM norm.   Alas, he came unstuck in the next 3 rounds scoring 2 losses and a draw but he bounced back in the penultimate round with a win against one of the lower players.  This left him needing to defeat GM Baron Tal, rated 2544, in the final round with the Black pieces to secure his norm.  I sat up all night watching the game, which fortunately started early, and Bobby’s opponent did not play solidly for a draw but instead attacked right from the start and gambited a pawn for attacking chances on the kingside.  It was a good sign when White thought for 34 minutes on move 10 and it was soon apparent that White had nothing for his pawn.  Indeed Bobby just developed logically, with better placed pieces and more options for pawn play, and after only 24 moves his opponent threw in the towel.

Even better, Bobby’s rival for top spot, the young Dutch player IM Van Foreest who Bobby had defeated in round 1, lost his final game so both players tied for top place on 6.5/9 with Bobby winning on count-back.  They both had secured a GM norm so would be very happy with the result.

For today’s puzzle let’s see if you can do as well as Bobby (or perhaps better!) in his crucial first round game against Van Foreest.  In the diagram below Bobby found a winning move …. but not the best move!   What move would you play?

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Bobby Cheng with his trophy for winning the 9th Batavia chess tournament.

In my day, playing tennis, it was all about playing in a team with your friends and sometimes you ended up playing together for decades.  Today’s tennis is all about individual tournaments and tennis has become largely an individual sport rather than a team sport.  It’s a big problem because as soon as young players realise they won’t be the next Lleyton Hewitt they give up the sport.  A great pity and a challenge for tennis organisers.

It’s pretty similar in chess.  In my day club chess was very strong and you played in a four or five man team in inter-school and inter-club competitions.  If you were very good you even got to play in the Olympiad, in your nation’s chess team, and I always enjoyed playing in these team events, and achieved some of my best results in them.  So is mateship dead in chess?  Is everyone out to do their best and their opponents are enemies, not friends?

I was at the RJ Shield tournament at Mt.Waverley yesterday and saw something to give you hope that mateship and chess are not incompatible.  The two top seeds, Gavyn and Shawn were a class above the other entrants and were expected to fight it out for top spot.  It was great therefore to arrive at the tournament to see Gavyn and Shawn messing about together and playing friendly games before the tournament started.  They quickly despatched the other players and met in round 4 to decide who would finish in top spot.  It was a close, hard fought game, which swapped off into an even pawn ending.  At one point Gavyn blundered but Shawn responded instantly and missed his chance to win the game.  Finally a blocked position was reached so the boys shook hands and happily wandered off together to report the result.  They ended up sharing first place with 6.5 points out of 7 and left the event well pleased.  At chess tournaments you can not only play well but you can also make friends and have a great time.   That’s how it should be!

Gavyn and Shawn with their trophies.


Next week I shall discuss Bobby Cheng’s quest for his GM title.  Bobby is currently playing in a tournament in Batavia and leading with 4/4.  For today’s puzzle have a look at the position below from his last game.  Bobby found a winning line but it was not the best move!   Can you do better?  White to play.

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This week the theme of my chess lessons was “Blunders”.   As I sat at home last night watching the live games in the Box Hill Autumn Cup I was gifted several new examples to illustrate this topic.

On board 1 the top seed Eugene Schon was facing 3-times Australia Champion, Doug Hamilton, who, at age 75, still plays a pretty good game of chess.  They arrived at the following position with Black to play.

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Meanwhile on board 2 Issac Zhao and Kris Chan had arrived at a really boring rook ending with rook and 4 pawns each and no passed pawns.  Surprisingly they did not agree to a draw but swapped of into a king and pawn ending with the higher rated Chan (Black) pressing for a win.  They arrived at the following position with both sides racing to queen first.  Eventually they realised that they both queened and so agreed to a draw.  Play through the moves and see if you can find what they missed!

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On board 3 there was also an interesting game in which Luis Chan appeared to blunder a rook.  They played on and surprisingly White was able to hold a draw so the “blunder” turned out not to be so bad after all.   Chess is a strange game.

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