Archive for the ‘Chess Strategy’ Category

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 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.

Archive for the ‘Chess Strategy’ Category

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.

Archive for the ‘Chess Strategy’ Category

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.

Archive for the ‘Chess Strategy’ Category

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?

Archive for the ‘Chess Strategy’ Category

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?


Archive for the ‘Chess Strategy’ Category

It’s great to be on school holidays but the work of a chess coach doesn’t stop.   I have to find new material for my lessons next term but fortunately the Victorian Youth Championships start tomorrow and run for 4 days so I should get plenty of material from the games played there.

Holidays are a great time to work on your chess skills by doing such things as trying to solve tactics puzzles and playing through the games of famous players.   When I was young I used to get the book “1001 Checkmates” and try to solve each problem.  Those that I couldn’t solve I marked in the book so that when I had finished the book I could go back and try to solve again the puzzles that I had failed on.  This was a good way of ensuring that the checkmating patterns remained in my memory bank.

As for playing through games it’s a good idea to pick a player that you like (in my case it was Karpov, Capablanca or Fischer) and to look up some of their better games (for instance on chess preferably with notes, then you try to guess your player’s next move.  When he makes a move that is different to your choice you can stop and try to work out his idea, or there may even be a note where the great player explains his thinking.

I was quite pleased when one of my students asked if I could give him some puzzles involving strategic play as opposed to tactics.  Tactics will help you to win most of your games but you can’t become a good player without understanding strategy as well.  Strategy involves understanding such concepts as “pawn play”, “strong and weak squares”, “building up on weaknesses” and so on.  I gave one of my students a couple of puzzles today involving some unusual strategic ideas such as “retreating” in order to place you piece on a better square eventually or just “passing” to see if your opponent wanted to unbalance the position.   He didn’t come up with the correct ideas but at least now he may have the concepts in his brain for use next time.

My other major source of chess material is the website which has live coverage of most of the world’s leading chess tournaments and is thus is an abundant source of interesting games and positions.  Here is such a position from a tournament played a few days ago.  It’s Black’s move and he is tossing up between 1…Qxg3 and 1…Rhg8.   How would you advise him?


Archive for the ‘Chess Strategy’ Category

I’m very busy these days with a good range of private students and a few schools that I coach it.  What is the hardest job of a chess coach?   It’s probably trying to encourage your students to use their imaginations rather than just coasting along and playing the “obvious” move.

Chess is such a complicated game and there are so many possibilities that most of us are inclined to seek the easy way out and limit our analysis to a couple of routine moves.   He takes us…so we just take him back…nothing to think about there …. but what if we had a brilliant queen sacrifice available and we just failed to look at it because one doesn’t normally look at “silly” moves like losing your queen.   Most times we miss a good continuation either because we don’t look at that line at all or we reject it after a cursory glance.   To be an imaginative player we need to either look wider (more candidate moves) or deeper or both!  I’m constantly stressing to my students that chess is a battle of ideas and your job, if you want to win the game, is to find ideas that your opponent has missed.

I stumbled across a good example of this the other night when I was playing through some games in the Batavia Open which is on in Holland at the moment.   My interest in this event is sparked because of the participation of Australia’s Moulthun Ly who is spending some time in Europe in an effort to gain the grandmaster title.   I was playing through one of Moulthun’s games and he reached the diagrammed position as White.  His predicament of course is that Black has the powerful threat of 1…Ra1# so White’s options are limited.   Is he lost?   Can he get a draw?   Can he win?   What do you think?   Let me just say that one of the players missed a clever idea that would have won the game.   Perhaps you can do better?

Archive for the ‘Chess Strategy’ Category

Let me start off a new year of chess blogging with a confession.   When it comes to chess I am a terrible tease.

I think back to my uni days when I played lightning chess every lunchtime and one of my favourite opponents was Neil Davis.  Neil was an OK chess player, rated around 2000, but he did have a tendency to resign his games a bit early.  When this happened I would invariably say “Neil, I don’t think your position is so bad …would you like to swap sides and we can play on.”  We swapped sides then I outplayed him again and he resigned again … at which point I would repeat the procedure!  The fun was in seeing how many times you could fool poor Neil into resigning in the one game.

These days I don’t play much lightning chess so instead I have to content myself with teasing my chess students.  Yesterday when I rocked up to the chess shop for a private lesson the new receptionist, who had been there whilst I was giving a lesson the day before, commented “I thought you were very funny yesterday.”   Funny?  She was probably referring to the Russian accent I put on when I show my students a position from a grandmaster game and try to persuade them to resign or accept a draw as the case may be.  I see my main role as a chess coach as trying to teach my students how to think and to problem solve.  We always start lessons with a puzzle which often involves me in trying to trick them.  Indeed one of my students, little Atlas, has cottoned on to my scheme and when I set up the puzzle and explain what the task is instead of looking at the board he starts off by staring into my eyes.  I have a pretty good poker face however and rarely give him any clues.

You may be interested in an example?  Here is a position from the recent Australian Junior Championship …. a rook and pawn ending where White is a pawn ahead with a strong passed pawn and a more active King.  I tell my students that they are Black and that White has just offered them a draw after playing the move d5.  Do they accept or, if they play on, what move do they make?

Most either accept White’s kind offer or decide to play on if the see 1…Rc2 which looks OK for Black.  I then swap the board around so that they are playing White and tell them that I am playing Black now and have decided to decline the draw offer but play a different move.   I play my move (can you guess what it is) and then they make a move for White.  I then spring my trap and my poor, red-faced students have to resign and admit that they have missed my sneaky idea.  Sure, I may have teased them a bit but hopefully they have learnt to look for ideas on the chessboard and to adopt a philosophy of trying to out-think their opponent.


Archive for the ‘Chess Strategy’ Category

One of the hardest things to do in chess is to actually beat a higher ranked player.  I can look back to the early 1970s when I was playing against Max Fuller, Australia’s highest rated player.   I would get a drawn position and often lose.  I would get a winning position and only draw.

One of the problems involves psychology.  At the start of the game the pressure is on the higher rated player to beat you … but say he blunders and you are now winning.  Suddenly the roles are reversed.  You are expected to win.  The pressure is now on you.  Maybe you get a bit tentative or take a bit too long thinking.  The higher rated player switches to “swindle mode” and keeps setting traps for you.  Most times he will manage to swindle you.  If not you have passed the test and are on the way to becoming a stronger player.

This was the dilemma facing Aussie junior Justin Tan, already an IM and now taking a year off his studies in the quest for the grandmaster title.  In the last round of the Isle of Man Open last week Justin was paired against British GM Keith Arknell and after some good opening play found himself a clear pawn ahead in a position that he couldn’t lose … but could he win it?  The grandmaster had been just sitting tight on his position and placing his pieces on good squares.  The pressure was on Justin to find a way to crack Black’s defence.  Should he take a risk or play safe and probably only draw?   Have a look at the position below.  Black has just played Re2 threatening to regain his pawn deficit.  See if you come up with the same decision as Justin.