24 February 2015


Morphy -- Lowenthal, London 1858

The fourteenth match game between Paul Morphy (1837-1884) and Johann Jacob Lowenthal (1810-1876) is an instructive game that highlights Morphy's positional understanding, which was decades ahead of his time. As Valeri Beim notes, this game is a "treasure even by modern-day standards" (Paul Morphy: A Modern Perspective [2005], 108).

Over the past week, I have played through this game several times. First, I looked through without any assistance and found the zugzwang. Then, I probed the database for some perspective on the opening.* Third, I entered variations that highlight tactical and strategic alternatives. Variations were expanded and contracted as I read through Beim's comments on the game (106-108). Finally, a couple of lines were checked with Stockfish.

Morphy,Paul -- Loewenthal,Johann Jacob [C77]
London m London (14), 21.08.1858

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.d4

This game was the first one recorded with this sharp line.

5...exd4 6.e5

6.0–0 is also possible, and is vastly more popular.

6...Ne4 7.0–0 Nc5

7...Be7 is also popular.


8.Bb3 Nxb3 9.axb3 Be7 10.Re1 0–0 11.Nxd4 Nxd4 12.Qxd4 was drawn in 52 moves in Lochte,T (2165) -- Hiermann,D (2190), Germany 1996.


8...bxc6 appears twice in the database, played only by relatively weak players (albeit close to my level). Lowenthal's choice to activate the queen must be the correct idea.


It is interesting that this position has been reached a few times with White on the move, that is, via a different move order that excludes Bb5-a4.

9...Ne6 10.Nxe6 Bxe6 11.Qe2

Black to move


"This natural looking move is the root of all Black's troubles" (Beim, 106). He suggests 11...Qd4.

12.Nc3 Qe7 13.Ne4 h6

The first time that I played through this game, this move looked strange. But a few seconds of analysis revealed that it was necessary to prevent Bg5.

13...Bb6 14.Bg5

a) 14...f6? 15.exf6 Qf7 (15...gxf6 16.Bxf6 Qf8 17.Rad1+-) 16.fxg7 Qxg7 17.Bf6+-.

b) 14...Qd7 15.Rad1 Qc8 would be awkward for Black.


"A outstanding positional decision" (Beim, 106). Beim notes that depriving Black of the bishop pair gives White the advantage on the dark squares.

14...Bxe3 15.Qxe3 Bf5

15...0–0–0? 16.Qa7.

15...b6!? 16.f4 0–0–0.


"Morphy bravely sacrificed a pawn for a small, but lasting initiative" (Beim, 106).

16.f4 Bxe4 17.Qxe4 0–0–0 gives White a slight advantage

16...Bxc2 17.f4

Black to move



a) 17...Bg6? 18.f5 Bh7 and White is clearly better.

b) 17...Bh7!?

c) 17...0–0 18.f5 Qg5 19.Qc3 Ba4 20.e6 with an initiative for White.

d) 17...Qb4 is Stockfish's choice.


White threatens to play 19.Qc3

Hypothetical Position

I looked at some alternatives to this move.

a) 18...Ba4 is easily refuted. 19.exf7+ Kxf7 20.Qc3 Bb5 21.Rfe1 Qf6 22.Qb3+ Kg7 23.a4.

b) 18...0–0 leads to a maze of complications that mostly seem better for White.
19.Rf2 Bf5 20.Nxf5 gxf5 21.Qb3

b1) 21...b6 22.Re1

b2) 21...fxe6 22.Qxb7 Rfb8 23.Qxc6 Rb6 24.Qc3

b3) 21...Qxe6 22.Qxb7 Qd6 (22...Rfb8 23.Qxc7) 23.Qb3.

c) 18...0–0–0 19.Rac1 Bd3 20.Qa7 Qxe6 21.Rcd1 (21.Rfd1?! Beim points out that this is the wrong rook 21...c5 22.Qa8+ Kd7 [Beim's line continues 23.Rxd3+ Ke7 24.Rxd8 Qe3+–+] But the computer offers 23.Qxb7 when White seems slightly better) 21...Qc4 22.Rf3 with a clear advantage for White.

19.Nxf5 gxf5 20.exf7+ Kxf7 21.Qh3 Qf6

21...Rad8 22.Qxf5+

22.Rae1 Rhe8 23.Re5

Morphy simply puts his rook on a secure square on an open file.

23...Kg6 24.Rfe1 Rxe5 25.Rxe5 Rd8

Lowenthal grabs the other open file for his rook.


This check gains a tempo to make possible White's next move.

26...Kh7 27.h3 Rd7

Lowenthal might have held the position with 27...Rd5 28.Re8 Qg7 29.Qh4 Rd1+ 30.Kh2 Rd2 31.Re7 Rxg2+ 32.Kh1 Rg1+=.

28.Qe3 b6 29.Kh2

"Morphy, always energetic, proceeds to straightforwardly strengthen the position, knowing that the necessary level of coordination between his pieces has not yet been attained" (Beim, 107). The italics are Beim's. Throughout Paul Morphy: A Modern Perspective, he emphasizes Morphy's understanding of dynamic play, piece coordination, and development. He contends that focus on Morphy's play against weak opponents has led to a distorted view of his strengths. His play against the top players of the day, including Lowenthal, show that he possessed an intuitive understanding of many concepts that would be articulated over the course of the next century. Morphy anticipated not only Steinitz, but also Nimzovich.

Black to move

29...c5 30.Qe2 Qg6 31.Re6



31...Qg8! might hold 32.Qe5 Rf7 33.Re8 Qg7 and no White breakthrough is in sight.

31...Qf7? 32.Qe5 c4 33.Re8+-.

32.Qh5 Rd5 33.b3

This is the position that I posted in "Zugzwang!" earlier this week.


33...Qf8 34.Qg6+ Kh8 35.Re8+-
33...a5 34.a4 and still zugzwang.

34.Rxa6 Rd6 35.Qxf5+

35.Rxd6 cxd6 36.Qxf5+ Kh8 37.a4 bxa4 38.bxa4 should be winning.

35...Qg6 36.Qxg6+ Kxg6

White to move


Beim gives a long line that Morphy could have calculated leading to certain victory:

37.Rxd6+ cxd6 38.Kg3 b4 39.Kf3 d5 40.g4 Kf6 41.h4 Ke6 42.h5 Kf6 43.Ke3 Ke6 44.g5 hxg5 45.fxg5 Kf5 46.g6 Kf6 47.Kf4 d4 48.Kg4 Kg7 49.Kg5 d3 50.h6+ Kg8 51.Kf6 d2 52.h7+.


37...c6 38.a4 bxa4 39.Rxa4 Rd3
(39...Rd4 40.Rxd4 cxd4 41.Kg3 h5 42.h4 c5 43.Kf3 Kf5 44.g3 Kf6 45.Ke4 Ke6 46.b4+-)

38.g4 c6 39.Kg3 h5 40.Ra7 hxg4 41.hxg4 Kf6 42.f5 Ke5 43.Re7+ Kd6 44.f6 Rb8 45.g5 Rf8 46.Kf4 c4 47.bxc4 bxc4

White to move

48.Kf5 c3 49.Re3 Ra8 50.Rd3+ Kc7 51.Rxc3 1–0

I will need to go through this game again and again. I may return to it in a few weeks or months.

Tomorrow morning, I begin a week on Barnes -- Morphy, London 1858, first match game.

*I was able to spend a few minutes discussing the first few opening moves with FM Jim Maki, who has recently moved to our area and offers game analysis to youth players at area scholastic tournaments. I direct these tournaments. For the first few minutes each round, before any games finish, Jim and I get a few minutes to talk. Then children arrive with their notated games to get superb instruction and a raffle ticket.

23 February 2015

Pawn Endings: The Key Position

Lesson of the Week

This diagram may be the single most import one for understanding elementary pawn endings. It is the key to understanding many complex pawn endings.

If it is White's move, White wins.

1.e7 Kf7 (only legal move) 2.Kd7 and the pawn promotes. The position can be shifted to the right or left, and the White king may stand on either side of the pawn. However, if the pawn is on a rook file (the a-file or h-file), the position is a draw.

If it is Black's turn, Black draws.

1...Kd8 2.e7+ Ke7 3.Kd6 stalemate.

As a practical matter, White may try to confuse Black by playing 2.Kc5, or other moves, aiming to triangulate and recreate this position with White to move. Black easily stops these ploys unless he or she becomes careless in time pressure.

The defender should keep in mind the king's idea position is directly in from of the pawn. When that is impossible, in front of the pawn with one intervening square, or in front of the king with one intervening square must be selected. As long as the diagram position with White to move is avoided, Black holds.

Another important pawn position may reach the first in some variations.

White wins no matter which player is on move.

With White to move:

1.Kd6 Kd8 2.e6 Ke8 and the first diagram is reached with White to move.

If 1...Kf8 or 1...Kf7 2.Kd7 supports the pawn for the last three squares of its journey.

With Black to move:

1...Kd8 2.Kf7 and the pawn has the support of its king.

A third diagram serves to illustrate how the first diagram is a foundation for more complex pawn endings.

If Black's h-pawn falls, the position is elementary. Hence the Black king must shuffle between g8 and h8.

Black to move, loses.

1...Kh8 2.h4 Kg8 3.h5 Kh8 4.g4 Kg8 5.g5 Kh8 6.g6

A form of the first diagram will be reached after 6...Kg8, or after 6...hxg6 7.hxg6.

If White moves first, it is necessary to move one of the pawns a single square on its first move in order to reach the last diagram with Black to move.

21 February 2015


Working through a random set of combinations from the Anthology of Chess Combinations, third edition, I find that I need the patience to slow down and improve the accuracy of my calculations. Too much blitz and timed tactics solving has cultivated an expectation that I should see things instantly.

This position is a case in point. I found the correct key (first move), the correct idea, and saw clearly and correctly the final position. However, I missed the second move of the sequence.

White to move

19 February 2015


Black is ahead one pawn and has everything defended against White's threats. There is just one problem. Black must move. Every possible move produces weaknesses.

Black to move

From Morphy -- Lowenthal, London 1858.

Two moves later, White was ahead a pawn.

18 February 2015

Building a Foundation

My lessons with beginning chess students and with accomplished scholastic competitors are designed to build a foundation for a lifetime of chess. Most young chess enthusiasts play the game actively for a couple of years in elementary school, and then take up other activities. Some return to chess later in their youth. Others may put the game aside until they have children of their own.

Whether they keep playing, or play for a while and then return, elementary endgames and basic tactics should serve them now and in the future.

My advanced students this week are grappling with a famous combination played by Paul Morphy at the First American Chess Congress. The whole game with analysis was posted yesterday at "Morphy's Immortal".

Black to move

For those students that find the combination, I will play Qd3 on White's third move from the diagram because Black's refutation is particularly challenging to find.

My beginning students this week, and some of my advanced students last week, are reviewing (or learning for the first time) "Six Pawn Endings" (see the Lesson of the week from mid-December at the link).

17 February 2015

Morphy's Immortal

Game of the Week

This week, I am working on the sixth match game between Louis Paulsen and Paul Morphy. Some commentators have called this game "Morphy's Immortal". The decisive combination that begins with a queen sacrifice is the first problem in Anthology of Chess Combinations.

I have been reading several chess books, and also watching YouTube videos to get a sense of what others say about this game. In addition, I read through A.J. Goldsby's annotations and all of the comments on chessgames.com.

This game is number ten in Rashid Ziyatdinov, GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Knowledge (2000).

Paulsen,Louis -- Morphy,Paul  [C48]
USA–01.Kongress New York (4.6), 1857

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Bc5 

Morphy's move is still a popular choice among some Grandmasters today.

4...Nd4 was first played by Emil Shallop against Paulsen. 5.Nxe5 (5.Ba4 Nxf3+ 6.Qxf3 c6 1–0 in 42 moves, Paulsen,L -- Schallopp,E, Berlin 1881) 5...Qe7

4...Bb4 is most popular.


5.Nxe5 Nxe5 (5...Bxf2+? 6.Kxf2 Nxe5 7.d4±) 6.d4 Bd6.


5...d6 6.d4 exd4 7.Nxd4 Bd7 8.Nf5 0–0 9.Bg5 Bxf5 10.exf5 Nd4 11.Bd3 d5 12.Bxf6 gxf6 (12...Qxf6  is better 13.Nxd5 Qg5) 13.Na4 1–0 in 26 moves, Paulsen,L -- Zukertort,J, Leipzig 1877.


Black to move


6...Nxe5 is an interesting possibility 7.d4 Bd6 8.f4! (8.dxe5 Bxe5) 8...Nc6 9.e5 Be7 10.d5 (10.exf6 Bxf6) 10...Nb4

6...Nd4 7.Be2 d5 ½–½ is 32 moves. Marco,G -- Marshall,F, Monte Carlo 1904

6...Bd4 7.Nf3 Bxc3 8.dxc3 Nxe4 9.Bd3 d5 ½–½ in 33 moves, Tarrasch,S -- Schlechter,C, Monte Carlo 1903.


7.Nf3 "gives an advantage" (Kasparov, My Great Predecessors, Part I, 33).

7...dxc6 8.Bc4 b5

8...Nxe4? 9.Nxe4 Rxe4 10.Bxf7+ Kxf7 11.Qf3++-.


9.Bb3?! Bg4 10.Qe1 b4 with a slight advantage for Black, according to A.J. Goldsby 11.Nd1 Rxe4 12.Ne3 "is hardly advantageous to White" (Kasparov, 33).

9...Nxe4 10.Nxe4

10.Bf3? Nxf2 11.Rxf2 Qd4 12.Ne4 Rxe4–+.

10...Rxe4 11.Bf3

11.c3 is playable here Qh4 12.d4 Bd6 13.g3 Qh3 (with the idea 14...Rh4) 14.f4 Bd7 15.Bf3 Re7 and White has chances for advantage.



White to move


"A simply hideous move: who would think of allowing the queen in at d3?" (Kasparov, 33)

12.d3 has been suggested by most commentators, including Ray Keene.

"We can safely say that the play, as above given, was the main cause of White's disasters, particularly when contending against such a far-sighted and powerful adversary as Mr. Morphy."
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper (28 November 1857).

A.J. Goldsby diagrees, offering: "Yet another perfectly reasonable move. (The main idea is to play d4, and block out Black's powerful dark-squared KB.)  I know Reinfeld condemned this move here, but again I am not at all sure that this criticism is either merited -- or justified. (David Lawson gives this a whole question mark, but this is completely and totally unjustified.)"

Goldsby offers the following variation: 12...Qh4 13.g3 Qf6 14.c3 Re8 15.d4 Bh3 16.Bg2 Bxg2 17.Kxg2 Bd6 18.Bd2 Qf5 19.Qf3 Qc2 when Black may be a little better.

12.a3? a5 Black has a clear edge.


Yikes! The cramping effect of this move reminds me of my victory over Stockfish from a set position based on analysis of Mayet -- Anderssen (see "Training with Anderssen").


13.Re1 seems better 13...Rxe1+ (13...Rb8) 14.Qxe1 Bf5 15.Bxc6 Rd8 16.Qe5 Qc2 17.Bf3 Bd6 18.Qxb5 Bd3 19.Qc6 Kf8 "Black still has the advantage" (Kasparov, 34)

13...Bb6 14.a4

"Probably worse for White" 14.Re1 Rxe1+ 15.Qxe1 Bd7 16.Qf1 Qc2 (Goldsby).

14...bxa4 15.Qxa4

Black to move


15...Bb7 may be superior. Indeed, Kasparov identifies 15...Bd7 as Morphy's most significant miscalculation. 16.Ra2 Rae8 17.Qd1 Ba6 18.Rxa6 Qxa6 19.d4 Qc4 20.Bd2 a5 and Black has a clear advantage, according to Kasparov (34).


16.Qa6! was Paulsen's last chance.

16...Rae8 17.Qa6

Black to move

This position is the first one in the Anthology of Chess Combinations, third edition.

17.Qc2 was no good. 17...Qxf1+ 18.Kxf1 Re1#.


"Beautiful as unexpected. Mr. Stanley, one of the bystanders, remarked of Mr. M., on his making this seemingly rash move, that he should be confined in a lunatic asylum. No one present could fathom the meaning of this bold play, until move after move showed to the wonder-struck spectators how accurate had been Mr. M.'s calculations. Just think of this, student--seeing into a dozen moves ahead, with all its attendant variations."
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper.

"One of the most amazing moves ever played on a chess-board." A.J. Goldsby

17...Qxf1+? 18.Qxf1 Re1 19.d4 Rxf1+ 20.Kxf1 and White has an advantage.

18.gxf3 Rg6+ 19.Kh1 Bh3 20.Rd1

20.Rg1 Rxg1+ 21.Kxg1 Re1+ 22.Qf1 Rxf1#.

20.Qd3 tests Black's calculation.

Black to move
Analysis diagram after 20.Qd3
I put this position in front of the members of a Chess.com fan page on Facebook. No one found 20...f5!

a) 20...Bg2+ was suggested 21.Kg1 Bxf3+ 22.Qxg6 hxg6 and White is materally ahead.

b) 20...Bxf2 was the best of the suggestions on Facebook. 21.Qxg6 fxg6 22.Rd1 Be6 23.Ra1 Bd5 24.Kg2 Bh4 Black has a bishop and pawn for a rook, and perhaps a slight advantage.

c) 20...f5! keeps the attack alive. 21.Rd1 Bg2+ 22.Kg1 Bxf3+ 23.Kf1 Bxd1 and Black should win.

20...Bg2+ 21.Kg1 Bxf3+ 22.Kf1

Black to move


Morphy missed 22...Rg2! 23.Qd3 Rxf2+ 24.Kg1 Rg2+ 25.Kf1 (25.Kh1 Rg1#) 25...Rg1#.

23.Kg1 Bh3+

23...Be4+ 24.Kf1 Bf5 25.Qe2 Bh3+ 26.Ke1 Rg1#.

24.Kh1 Bxf2 25.Qf1

25.Rf1 Bxf1 26.Qxf1 Re1 27.Qxe1 Bxe1 28.Rxa7 h6-+

25...Bxf1 26.Rxf1 Re2 27.Ra1 Rh6 28.d4 Be3 29.Rf2 Rxf2 30.Bxe3 Rfxh2+ 31.Kg1 Rh1+ 32.Kg2 Rxa1 33.Bxh6 gxh6 0–1

15 February 2015

The New Informants

Long a publication that crosses language barriers, in recent years Chess Informant has been expanding its front sections with articles written in English. These changes began with opening theory and expanded into articles on many topics.

Informant 110 offered a new feature called CI Labs with five articles concerned with new trends in the openings. Each article contained a short introduction in English. CI Labs expanded to six articles in the next issue, which also added two other articles. "Chess History" by Harald Fietz celebrates the centenary of Jose R. Capablanca's entry into the world elite. Anna Burtasova's "Women and Chess" marked the 50th birthday of Maia Chiburdanidze, five-time world champion.

CI Labs peaked at ten articles with Informant 113 and that issue also included the first "Garry's Choice" column, which ran through Informant 118. In these columns, Garry Kasparov offered his analysis of recent Grandmaster games. The number of articles continued to grow as did their breadth and depth. With Informant 119, the company added download versions customized for the ChessBase database software. Because I use ChessBase daily, this feature puts Informants in easier reach.

The new content is outstanding. While Informant has long been a periodical that was indispensable to professional players, some average players found it intimidating. Many of the new articles aim at the average tournament player.

Mihail Marin's column, "Old Wine in New Bottles," has proven illuminating. In Informant 119 (the Viking edition), he explored rook endings. Viswanathan Anand missed a draw in a difficult rook ending in his World Championship match with Magnus Carlsen. Most chess enthusiasts know that, but still may find Marin's analysis illuminating. In the same article, he points out a hidden resource in the well-known game Capablanca -- Tartakower, New York 1924. Marin poetically notes that the reputed author of the aphorism, "all rook endings are drawn," missed a drawing opportunity in his most famous loss.

In Informant 122, Marin examines the role of memory in chess through an exploration of the double bishop sacrifice. He works his way back through time, beginning with recent play by a teammate and working towards Emanuel Lasker's famous game against Johann Bauer (1889). The importance of pattern recognition in chess training is brought home for ambitious players and chess teachers working with all levels of students.

There are also compelling columns by Alexander Morozevich, Ivan Sokolov, Karsten Mueller, Wesley So, and an ever changing cast of Grandmasters. These columns are suitable for chess enthusiasts across a wide range of skill levels.

Informants have long had versions compatible with ChessBase, but not all commentary translated well. The image below shows Informant 75/156 in Chess Informant Expert (left) and ChessBase (right). The intended text "with the idea of 17...Rac8, 17...Qa1" is almost unreadable in ChessBase. (readers may click on the image for better viewing).

Side-by-side CI Expert and ChessBase
In the latest versions created especially for ChessBase, such commentary reads perfectly. Below is some text from "Midnight in Moscow: Avoiding the Saemisch by a Less Traveled Road" by Alexander Morozevich. "With the idea" is spelled out, and the figurine algebraic displays correctly.

Informant 122 in ChessBase
I have been a fan of Chess Informants for nearly two decades. My first issue in late 1996 or early 1997 was Informant 64 and it quickly paid dividends in a nice win in a correspondence game (see "Playing by the Book"). In the early years of this century, I started buying electronic editions of Informants and reading them in Chess Informant Reader (CIR). Later, the company came out with Chess Informant Expert, which offered editing and publishing functions not available in CIR. CI Expert also offered a more pleasing interface with options for different color combinations.

CI Expert offers functionality not available in ChessBase. For example, from the electronic edition of the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings, it is possible to jump to reference games in the relevant issue of Informant, as I demonstrated in this YouTube video.

Despite the advantages of reading Informants in their proprietary software, or in print, I welcome these new ChessBase versions. Designing Chess Informant publications specifically for ChessBase software makes Informants more accessible.

13 February 2015

Lesson of the Week

My clubs and several private students this week have examined a position from Thompson -- Morphy, 1857. This game was the third in Paul Morphy's first match during the First American Chess Congress, which he went on to win.

As last week, we are anticipating threats and seeking to understand necessary defensive measures. Last week, Alexander's Alekhine's defensive measures muted White's threats and led to a position that he was able to win. In this week's lesson, Thompson's response to Morphy's threats ended the immediate crisis, but still left Morphy with a technical win.

With the beginning students, we have only looked at the immediate threats. More advanced students have also seen this game through to Thompson's resignation.

White to move

White has two concrete problems to solve: 1) the queen is attacked, and 2) Black has a checkmate threat.