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.

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