29 March 2011

A Little Endgame

With some time on my hands and my iPad nearby, I played a quick game against Shredder. The device is set to play weaker than full strength based on my previous performance. This game seemed all wrapped up until Shredder threw me a surprise.

Black to move


If I capture this pawn, it is stalemate. But that is better than losing a pawn race, so I made a quick check to see that Shredder would not promote with check. I too will get a queen, so:

43.g5 f4 44.Nc2!

Black to move

I, too, have surprises. If 44...bxc2, then 45.Kxc2 and my pawn promotes with checkmate.

44...f3 45.g6 a6 46.Nb4+ Kb1 47.Bxa3 f2 48.g7 f1Q 49.g8Q

Black to move

49...Qf3+ 50.Nd3 Qc6+ 51.Bc5 Qf6+ 52.Kxb3

Black to move

Black has run out of useful checks.

52...Qf1 53.Qg1

Bye-bye queens. Time to practice checkmate with knight and bishop, but not much practice. The Black king is already trapped in the right corner.

53...Qxg1 54.Bxg1 Ka1 55.Be3 Kb1 56.Bc1 Ka1

White to move


I missed the quicker 57.Kc2 Ka2 58.Nb4+ Ka1 59.Bb2#.

57...Kb1 58.Nf4 Ka1 59.Nd5 Kb1 60.Nc3+ Ka1 61.Bb2#.

28 March 2011

Databases and Their Discontents

Ever since the dawn of civilization, humans have sought help in games of chess that did not conclude in a single sitting. Such help takes many forms. Sometimes the help is actively encouraged. Other times it is forbidden.

When I was young, top level chess tournaments and world championship matches were characterized by adjournments. After many hours of play, a competitor would seal a move, eat a small meal, and go to sleep. While he slept, teams of seconds would labor through the night, analyzing the likely continuations. After a night of sleep and a hearty breakfast, the player would spend the morning with his seconds learning the results of overnight research. He returned to the game fully prepared for the next stages.

When I started playing correspondence chess, I began to value another sort of assistance: reference books. While playing my games, I would pore through every chess book within reach looking for comparable positions. Playing better correspondence chess became a principal motive for acquiring certain books. The benefits of this research spilled over into my non-aided games. More often I found myself playing openings that I had studied in great detail with practical application to some game in progress.

The emergence of database software sped up the research process. While it once took many hours to find all of Alekhine's games against the Nimzo-Indian, now they could be located in seconds. Going through the games to glean the necessary insights still required much labor, but it was no longer necessary to set up a chess board. Games in the database could be played through on-screen.

The Rules

In correspondence chess, help is openly encouraged and forbidden depending on the venue and the nature of the help. Some chess organizations conclude that help from books, databases, and even engines is undetectable and make no efforts to prevent assistance. Others distinguish between allowable help and banned: most often books and databases are permitted, but engine use is not.

The United States Chess Federation rules are typical:
You may consult chess books and periodicals but not other players. You cannot use a computer or computer program (chessplaying algorithms) to evaluate a game, but you may use computers for record keeping and databases.
"Your Responsibilities as a Player," http://main.uschess.org/content/view/7521/393/
Countless hours might be spent gathering evidence against suspected violators so they might be disciplined.

In the past ten years a growing number of chess sites have added another dimension. Correspondence chess games are much faster, there is less record keeping, and far less expense. Moreover, thousands of players who never mailed a postcard are engaged as adversaries. These chess sites have offered a new vocabulary to describe an old practice: turn-based chess, online correspondence, correspondence-style, online chess, net-chess.

The terms and conditions of these sites explain acceptable and unacceptable help:
"Immoral and unfair External assistance"
1) Using computer engines to generate your moves
2) Getting someone else (who may be much stronger) to play ones moves
3) Getting your opponent to artificially resign by pre-agreement

"Moral and fair External assistance"
It is however acceptable and encouraged to use conventional resources which are in the spirit of correspondence chess, such as referencing Opening books (which could be electronic), etc. The use of such resources is considered "research" which has always been an attraction of correspondence chess.
"ChessWorld Terms and Conditions," http://www.chessworld.net/chessclubs/termsandconditions.asp
The sort of databases that are permitted is specified in some cases:
While a game is in progress you may not refer to chess engines, chess computers or be assisted by a third party. Endgame tablebases may not be consulted during play but you may reference books, databases consisting of previously played games between human players, and other pre-existing research materials.
"Red Hot Pawn Terms of Service," http://www.redhotpawn.com/myhome/termsofservice.php
Fritz's infamous rook lift against Vladimir Kramnik must be excised from the database if a player intends to use that collection of games for help during play, and massive databases of games from the Playchess engine room are clearly out of the question. In a forum post on Chess.com, Gonnosuke took issue with the distinction made in RHP's TOS, but in reference to something similar at Chess.com:
If you're going to argue against databases, I think you should be arguing against all databases. To allow some but not others is extremely inconsistent when, for all intents and purposes, there's no difference between looking at a high level GM game and an engine game.
Gonnosuke, "Databases -- What is Allowed?" http://www.chess.com/forum/view/community/databases---what-is-allowed?
Chess.com recognizes opening databases as allowable computer assistance.
You can NEVER use chess programs (Chessmaster, Fritz, etc) to analyze current ongoing games unless specifically permitted (such as a computer tournament, etc). The only type of computer assistance allowed is games databases for opening lines in Turn-based Chess and Vote Chess. You cannot receive ANY outside assistance on Live Chess games.
"Chess.com Terms of Service," http://www.chess.com/legal.html#termsofservice
These sites offering web based chess at correspondence time controls have not only brought in minions of newbies, they host chess forums where players and other interested chess scholars can debate whether databases should be used, how they might be used effectively, and whether such online play resembles correspondence chess or something entirely different. Many of these debates begin with a question posed by someone who neglected to peruse the terms of membership prior to registration.

Opposition to Database Use

Many players express the view that use of databases is distinct from putting thought into the game. A chess enthusiast calling herself ChessMom raised this issue stridently on the Red Hot Pawn forums in a thread called "How to learn and not cheat," "you're supposed to play out of your own brain, not somebody else's brain." The thoughtlessness of database use cropped up again in "Nagging Question: Are you for or against the use of Databases, and why?" on Chess.com. Peedee suggested, "[u]sing someone elses [sic] brain for the first 20 moves completely invalidates ANY contest. In fact, getting outside help AT ALL is just nonsense."

Several posters in these threads offer their views that research requires skill.
Every chess player should strive to improve him/herself, and that includes reading and analysing. Correspondence chess gives players a concrete game to study and learn about while playing it. They have the opportunity to play the very best moves they can find by using research techniques.
Fezzik, "Nagging Question"
To what extent are research techniques an element of chess skill? A player calling himself richie_and_oprah brushed aside the relevance of research skills in "Databases -- what is allowed?"
[I]f things come down to who has the better database OR who is the better researcher, how is this a measure of who is better at playing chess?
richie_and_oprah, "Databases"
Another player responded directly that chess players are librarians.
Postal chess is library chess. It's not OTB chess. Moves are researched... in the old days people went to their libraries and periodicals to research moves... and would go to their homecooked prepared lines when they could. So yes, it was in part about who was the better librarian... that's certainly part of the fun of cc. Sadly IMO ICCF rules allow engines, so modern CC is less librarian than ever before, more software engineer.
JG27Pyth, "Databases"

Chess games are compared to math exams where calculators might be permitted, or to open book exams in history class.
The purpose of such exams is to determine what you can infer from the texts, not your ability to memorise them. Correspondence and online chess are similar: we accept that, not being grandmasters, we have not the time to devote to memorising all the games and positions we would like, so we allow databases.
NickYoung5, "Nagging Question"
When I see these threads, I usually offer my view that database use remains one of the principal attractions of correspondence chess. Nevertheless, vocal players continue to insist that such helps seems like cheating, or that it becomes a crutch. Players relying upon outside help are cheating themselves, it is argued.
I would prefer to discuss how effective use of databases might enhance correspondence play. How can research-oriented competition expand enjoyment of the game, personal chess knowledge, and perhaps even make the database user a stronger player in OTB (over the board) play?

Postscript 29 March 2011
The thread "Nagging Question" on Chess.com has been deleted by an administrator. Although there was a bit of personal abuse, there were many excellent comments that also went away as a result of this rash act.

27 March 2011

Playing by the Book

Among the attractive features in correspondence chess is the research element. In ancient times, serious correspondence players with the means and the space built up huge libraries of chess books and periodicals. When Chess Informant come into existence with its innovative opening classification system, this publication became the standard. Not everyone had equal access to information, naturally.

Kon Grivainis explained his strategy while playing in the World Correspondence Chess Federation's championship without the access to the latest theory that was available to his opponents:
Due to my travels I had discarded all my opening books. I did not have any. ... I had to find obscure variations! Remember Fischer--he used to do that to get away from the Russian research.
Grivainis, Winning Correspondence Chess (1997), 70.
He adopted the Trompowski Attack as part of his strategy to avoid the deep study of trendy opening manuals.

My first taste of correspondence play began with friends in the 1970s, and I entered one USCF tournament. My "extensive" chess library consisted of some one dozen books, including I.A. Horowitz, Chess Openings: Theory and Practice (1970). As college brought new activities into my life, chess play all but ceased. I returned to active chess after finishing graduate school, and entered some correspondence events in the late-1990s. It was then that I bought my first issues of Chess Informant, and the first two volumes of the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings.

One game that I played in the late 1990s became memorable because my research took me to one specific game in Chess Informant 64. My game had the same position as the reference game for a single move, but studying Chess Informant suggested an idea that carried me through to victory. Of course, notes in the printed copy of this volume, and in the margins of my printed ECO confirm that I looked at a great many games with similar ECO codes. In addition to CI and ECO, I had a copy of Zoltan Ribli and Gabor Kallai, Winning with the English (1992). The Informant reference game was a win by Ribli in the 1995 Hungarian Championship.

Ribli,Z - Sherzer,A [A12]
Magyarorszag 64/7, 1995

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 d5 3.Bg2 Bf5 4.d3 e6 5.0–0 Be7 6.c4 c6 7.b3 0–0 8.Bb2 Nbd7 9.Nbd2 a5 10.a3 h6 11.Qc2 Bh7 12.Bc3 b5 13.cxb5 cxb5 14.Qb2 Qb6 15.b4 axb4 16.axb4 Rfc8 17.Rxa8 Rxa8 18.Nb3 Bd6 19.Ra1 Re8 20.Bd4 Qb8 21.Bc5 e5 22.Ra6 Nxc5 23.bxc5 Bc7 24.d4 e4 25.Ne5 Bxe5 26.dxe5 Nd7 27.Qd4 Nxe5 28.Qxd5 Nc4 29.Bh3 e3 30.f3 Rd8 31.Bd7 Qc7 32.Ra8 Bc2 33.Bf5 1–0

My opponent was Faneuil Adams, Jr., one of America's premier chess patrons. The game was played the two years prior to his death. We began early in 1997, and he resigned in November 1998. During the game we carried on a bit of conversation concerning scholastic chess on our move cards--I was a single father of a young boy who began showing an interest in chess at age four, and Adams helped found New York's Chess-in-the-Schools program. I remember the conversation as much as the game. It was a privilege to play this distinguished opponent.

Stripes,James - Adams,Faneuil [A12]
97 CA 17 USCF Class, 1998

1.c4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.b3 Bf5 4.g3 Nf6 5.Bg2 e6 6.Bb2 Nbd7 7.0–0 h6 8.d3 Be7 9.Nbd2 0–0 10.Qc2 Bh7 11.a3 a5

Through an entirely different move order, we have reached the same position as Ribli-Sherzer 1995 that I found in Informant 64/7.


Copying Ribli. Studying Ribli's game suggested reasons for this move: supporting b3-b4, and vacating b2 for the queen. From b2, the queen asserts her influence along the long diagonal and supports action along the a- and b-files. The flexibility of these two-pronged assaults and their facilitation by the quiet Bc3 was outside the scope of how I had been thinking about chess strategy prior to this game.

12... Qb8

12...b5 was played by Sherzer

13.b4 axb4 14.axb4 Rxa1 15.Rxa1

15.Bxa1? Bxb4 16.Rb1 c5 gives Black an edge.

15...e5 16.e3 Re8


White prepares the advance b5.


Black plans e4.

18.c5 Bc7 19.d4 e4 20.Ne1

20... h5

One of the small errors: failing to interfere with White's plan. 20...b5 21.Qa3 would have left White with a very slight edge.

21.b5 g5

Rybka prefers 21...Bf5 22.Nc2.

22.Nc2± h4

Another slight error.


23.bxc6+- bxc6


I might have built up pressure more effectively with 24.Nb4 Qb7 25.Ra6 Kg7 26.Rxc6 Rd8+-.

24...Nxb8± 25.Ra7 Re7 26.Nb4 hxg3 27.hxg3


One of only two moves given a question mark by Rybka 4 full analysis. It's an ugly move that reduces the mobility of Black's light-squared bishop. Such dynamic positional concepts within the algorithms of chess software, it seems to me, contributes in large measure to the current strength of Rybka, Hiarcs, Fritz, and other leading engines.

27...Bf5!? and Black is still in the game

28.Na6+- Nxa6 29.Rxa6 Re6 30.Nb3 Nh5?

The other move that Rybka deemed an error. But, the superior 30...Ne8+- does not change the game's evaluation. It is clear that White's penetration on the queenside will roll up Black's defenses. What can Black do to generate some play? My opponent seized on the idea of sacking a piece for two pawns, perhaps creating a vulnerability for my king.

31.Ba5 Bxg3 32.fxg3 Nxg3 33.Bc7 Nf5 34.Be5 f6 35.Ra8+ Kg7 36.Ra7+ Kg6 37.Bf4 Bg8 38.Bf1 Bf7 39.Ba6 1–0

13 March 2011

A Modicum of Caution

The endgame of queen versus knight is so elementary that it is ignored altogether in such texts as Fundamental Chess Endings (2001) by Karsten Muller and Frank Lamprecht and in Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual (2003) by Mark Dvoretsky. Even so, Reuben Fine treats it briefly in Basic Chess Endings (1941).

Reti gives the following position.

White to move

His solution is 1.Kb2 Kd5 2.Kc3 Ne4+ 3.Kd3 Nc5+ 4.Ke3 Ne6 5.Qf5+ Kd6 6.Ke4 Nc5+ 7.Kd4 Ne6+ 8.Kc4 Nc7 9.Qc5+ Kd7 10.Qb6 Ne6 11.Kd5 Nc7+ 12.Ke5 Ne8 13.Qe6+ Kd8 14.Qf7 Nc7 15.Kd6 Nb5+ 16.Kc6 1–0

Reti comments that queen versus a minor piece "is a simple win in all cases, regardless of the number of pawns that go with the piece" (569). I'm certain that we can create a position with enough pawns that the queen has a hopeless task, but sloppy prose aside, Reti makes his point. The key, as he points out, is "exercising a modicum of caution." There is nothing quite like a knight forking queen and king that can ruin an otherwise elementary win.

In "Queen Against Pieces," posted yesterday, I commented on a game that reached the position below.

White to move

I had White and settled for a draw. This morning I played this position against Rybka 4 in order to practice the endgame that Reti claims can be won easily. Should I ever have a similar position again, even in a blitz game, I should win easily. Can I win this in thirty seconds? Ten? I started with ten minutes, but used barely three.

Stripes,James - Rybka 4 x64
Blitz 10m, Spokane 2011

1.Qh8+ Kg5 2.Qd8+ Kf4 3.Qxa5 Nd4

White to move

I presented this position yesterday as an analysis diagram. Here the practice begins.

4.Qd2+ Ke5 5.Qg5+ Nf5

White to move

6.Ke2 Ke4 7.Qxg6 h4 8.Qg4+ Ke5 9.Kd3

Black to move

Black must lose the pawn. Then White systematically drives the king and knight towards the edge, eventually forcing the knight to leave the king's protection. Once this separation is achieved, the rest is a simple queen checkmate.


9...Ke6 10.Ke4

10.Qxh3 Nd6 11.Qe3+ Kd5 12.Qd4+ Ke6 13.Qc5 Nf5 14.Ke4 Nd6+ 15.Kf4 Nf7

White to move


I could have finished more efficiently with 16.Qb6+ Nd6 17.Qc6 Ke7 18.Ke5 Nf7+ 19.Kd5 Ng5 20.Qh6 Nf7 21.Qg7 Ke8 22.Ke6 Nd8+ 23.Kf6 Nf7 24.Qxf7+

16...Nd6 17.Qe5+

I missed 17.Qa2+ Ke7 18.Qd5 Nf7 19.Qc6 Nd6 20.Ke5 Nf7+ 21.Kd5 Ng5 22.Qg6 Nf7 23.Qg7 Ke8 24.Ke6 Nd8+ 25.Kf6 Nf7 26.Qxf7+

17...Kd7 18.Qd5 Ke7 19.Ke5

19.Qc5 is better 19...Kd7 20.Ke5 Nc8 21.Qc2 Nb6 22.Qc1 Na8 23.Qh1 Nc7 24.Qb7 Kd8 25.Kd6 Ne8+ 26.Kc6 Nc7 27.Qxc7+

19...Nf7+ 20.Kf5 Nd6+

White to move


I missed the more efficient 21.Kf4 Nf7 22.Qc6 Nd6 23.Ke5 Nf7+ 24.Kd5 Ng5 25.Qh6 Nf7 26.Qg7 Ke8 27.Ke6 Nd8+ 28.Kf6 Nf7 29.Qxf7+


21...Ne8 does not help much 22.Qf7+ Kd8 23.Qh7 Kc8 24.Kf5 Nc7 25.Ke5 Kd8 26.Kd6 Nb5+ 27.Kc5 Na3 28.Qg7 Ke8 29.Kd6 Nb5+ 30.Ke6 Nd4+ 31.Qxd4

22.Kf6 Kc7 23.Ke7

Faster is 23.Ke6 Nb7 24.Qb5 Nd8+ 25.Kd5 Nf7 26.Qe8 Ng5 27.Kc5 Ne4+ 28.Qxe4

23...Nc8+ 24.Ke6 Nb6

24...Kb6 is no salvation 25.Qd8+ Kc5 26.Qxc8+

White to move


25.Qb5 is more precise 25...Nc8 26.Qd7+ Kb8 27.Qc6 Na7 28.Qa6 Nc8 29.Kd7 Na7 30.Qb6+ Ka8 31.Kc7 Nb5+ 32.Qxb5

25...Kb7 26.Kd6

Rybka 4 shows me the more efficient 26.Qd6 Nc8 27.Qd7+ Kb8 28.Qc6 Na7 29.Qb6+ Ka8 30.Kd7 Nc8 31.Qb3 Na7 32.Kc7 Nb5+ 33.Qxb5

26...Nc8+ 27.Kd7 Nb6+ 28.Kd8 Na4

White to move


Again, I might have played 29.Qc4 Kb6 (29...Nb6 30.Qb5 Ka7 31.Kc7 Nd5+ 32.Qxd5) 30.Qxa4

29...Kc6 30.Qxa4+ 1–0

12 March 2011

Queen Against Pieces

Vasily Smyslov, the future world champion, annotated his youthful win against Sergey Belavenets in My Best Games of Chess, 1935-1957 (1958), noting concerning the diagram position, "[a]fter [18.e4] Black's position becomes critical" (6).

Black to move

He chose to give up his queen and fight for the only open file. In the ensuing melee, his rooks and bishops prevailed against White's queen and rooks.

Inspired by this game, I spent some time this morning poking through my database of online games looking at imbalances of queen vs. rook and minor pieces. A draw played on the Internet Chess Club in 2002 revealed egregious errors on both sides. I had White and a lost position.

Black to move


43...Nh2+ or 43...Nd2+ maintain a decisive advantage.

44.e7! The only try Nxb5??

44...Re2-+ stops the pawn

45.e8Q Ra1+ 46.Kf2 Rxa5?

White to move


Now White makes errors. Winning the rook with an elementary fork was the right way to proceed. 47.Qh8+ Kg5 48.Qd8+ Nd4.

White to move, analysis diagram

Playing out this position against Rybka 4, I learned of the need to practice my calculation skills. Winning the pawns was easy, but the knight seems slippery. It should not be difficult.


White to move

Perhaps I was horribly low on time, because I went for the simple draw by repetition.

48.Qe7+ Kh6 49.Qf8+ Kh7 50.Qf7+ Kh6 51.Qf8+ Kh7 52.Qf7+ Kh6 53.Qf8+ Kh7 ½–½

09 March 2011

Ruy Lopez!

In the ChessBase database of 4.8 million games. more than 400 thousand reach this position:

In nearly half of these games White played 3.Bb5. The second most popular move 3.Bc4 (the Italian opening) has 95 thousand fewer games.

No opening is more popular that the Ruy Lopez, or Spanish as it is known in some circles.

07 March 2011

Smyslov - Keres 1941

In the Absolute Championship of the Soviet Union in 1941, Vasily Smyslov reached this position on move against Paul Keres.

White to move

My engine finds a continuation slightly better than the one Smyslov chose.

When I tried a seemingly obvious plan against the computer, I fell into a drawn pawn endgame.

One Bad Move

Yesterday on ICC, my opponent handed me a gimme in a three minute game:

Black to move

Inexplicably, 19...Qd7 was played, fatally weakening f6.

06 March 2011

An Elusive Game: Smyslov's Loss

Among my study projects are going through games of Vasily Smyslov (1921-2010). He is one of a small number to reach the pinnacle of world champion, but his brief reign there obscures his longevity in competitive chess. At the age of 62 he reached the Candidates Final, losing to the up-and-coming Garry Kasparov. I have a collection of Smyslov's games that I downloaded several years ago from Guenther Ossimitz's megasite. The earliest Smyslov loss in this collection does not appear in my largest database--the 4.8 million game collection Big Database 2011 that I acquired a few days ago as part of the ChessBase 11 package. Nor is the game in ChessBase's online database.

Is the game score authentic? What is the source employed by whoever submitted the database to Ossimitz?

The game appears to have been part of the Moscow Championship 1939. Big Database 2011 contains seventeen games from this event. RUSBASE 1920-1994 offers more: a crosstable, and a database containing twenty-one games. Perhaps this site is trustworthy for an accurate score. The notation matches that in the Ossimitz database.

I have a hunch that the small number of games available from this event were published, and perhaps annotated, in Soviet newspapers or magazines. Perhaps Panov's own annotations exist somewhere.

Smyslov,V - Panov,V [C90]
Moscow 1939

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 Na5 9.Bc2 c5 10.d4 Qc7 11.Nbd2 0–0 12.Nf1 Nc4 13.Qe2 Nb6 14.Ng3 g6 15.h3 Re8 16.Bg5 Kg7 17.Rad1 Ng8 18.Bc1 Bf6 19.d5 Bd8 20.Kh2 Ra7 21.Nf1 h5 22.Ng1 Nf6 23.g3 Rh8 24.Kg2 h4 25.f4 hxg3 26.fxe5 dxe5 27.Nxg3 Nh5 28.Nxh5+ Rxh5 29.b3 c4 30.Qf3 Qd6 31.Be3 Re7 32.b4 Nd7 33.Qf2 Re8 34.Bc5 Qf6 35.Qxf6+ Nxf6 36.Re3 Reh8 37.Rg3 Rh4 38.Bd6 Nh5 39.Bxe5+ f6 40.Bd6 Nxg3 41.Bxg3 Bxh3+ 42.Nxh3 Rxh3 43.a4 R8h5 0–1

This game features an instructive assault upon the white king that begins with an h-pawn thrust, but my quest for Smyslov's errors this morning have kept me exploring the opening. The game opened as a closed Spanish.

Smyslov,V - Panov,V [C90]
Moscow 1939

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3


The usual move from this position these days is 8...O-O. Garry Kasparov calls Panov's move dubious in his annotations to the third game in the 1908 World Championship, Lasker - Tarrasch. Through White's move 11, this game followed two games from that event: Lasker's defeat in game 3, and Lasker's victory in game 5. Lasker was an important early influence upon Smyslov.

Kasparov recommends the move order 8...O-O 9.h3 Na5 10.Bc2 c5 11.d4 Qc7 as "more accurate", noting that Tarrasch's generation feared 9.d4 after 8...O-O because they failed to understand Black's counterplay after 9...Bg4 (My Great Predecessors, Part 1, 161). Lasker corroborates Kasparov's assessment in his note to move 11.Nbd2 in Lasker's Manual of Chess that 11.h3 strikes him as a waste of time. Perhaps the position is different one move later when Lasker played 12.h3 in his two games against Tarrasch. Kasparov calls 12.h3 "non-essential" and refers readers to Capablanca - Duz-Khotimirsky, St. Petersburg 1913 where he mentions Capablanca's recommendation of 12.d5 (Capablanca played 12.Nf1 in the game). According to the crosstable at Rusbase, Duz-Khotimirsky handed Smyslov his only other loss in this event won by Lilienthal with Panov and Smyslov one point behind.

12.h3 transposes to my game against Alex Chow in the 2005 Eastern Washington Open where Alex played this move much earlier (and thereby avoided the Marshall Attack I had planned). I won this game only when Alex missed a key tactic in the middle game.

9.Bc2 c5 10.d4 Qc7 11.Nbd2

Here the Lasker - Tarrasch games continued 11...Nc6 12.h3 reaching a position with four instances in the past half-dozen years among the selection in Big Database 2011.


Vasily Panov's choice is far more common, appearing in Kamsky - Eljanov, Jermuk 2009 among nearly twelve thousand other games. Now Smyslov selects an unusual move.


The "non-essential" 12.h3 is vastly more common: ChessBase Online contains 11,861 games with 12.h3, 79 games with 12.Nf1, and 43 games with Capablanca's recommended 12.d5. Smyslov's move has the highest scoring percentage.

Such percentages easily mislead. The highest rated Black player to lose after 12.Nf1 was 2351 in the game Pon - Mohota, Chennai 2009 from the Women's championship of India. That game came down to a bishop vs knight endgame in which White's king became more active on the queenside. 12.d5 appears in encounters among stronger players, but the "non-essential" 12.h3 has been played by the likes of Ivanchuk, Leko, Karjakin, Svidler. It appears no less than eight times since 2009 by players rated over 2700. Perhaps the world elite have not read Kasparov's book.


ChessBase Online offers eight games that reach this position, which includes one correspondence game absent from Big Database 2011. The only Black win in this set is Petera - Cekan, Klatovy 2003 which gives no ratings for the players. The earliest game to reach this position was Reti - Van Nuess, Dortmund 1928 (Reti won) and the most recent was a draw between two experts in 2009. That draw and two White wins continued with 13.b3, the first move I considered and the choice Hiarcs 12 prefers. Rybka 4 concurs.

The knight is not particularly dangerous on c4, and when driven back to b6 is one move from d7, while also keeping an eye on a4.


No other game contains this move.

01 March 2011

French Advance with 5.f4

In French Defense 2: New and Forgotten Ideas (1998) Nikolay Minev observes that 5.f4?! (he assesses the move as dubious) is absent from the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings. My own search confirms that it also is absent wholly from any issues of Chess Informant. Minev presents the game McConnell-Morphy, New Orleans 1850, which Morphy won in fourteen moves with "superb" play (Minev, 49). Knut Neven's ChessBase training CD French Without 3.Nc3 contains 292 games after 5.f4, but lacks the oldest win by White available in my database, Steinitz-Golmayo 1888.

When my opponent played 5.f4 on Sunday, it did not strike me as a particularly bad move. Kingside pawn storms have given me trouble in the French on more than one occasion, so the move seems sensible. But, as this early pawn thrust weakens the diagonal where the white king wants security, I started my pressure along that line instantly (something I had failed to do in a correspondence game a few years ago). Two moves later my opponent, a young C-class player, failed to adequately protect his d4 pawn and I seized both the material and a lasting initiative. After a few tactical inaccuracies in a very difficult position, my opponent conceded defeat and we proceeded to the skittles room to determine why White's game fell apart so fast. He recognized that 5.f4 seemed dubious, but I highlighted 7.Be2 as the critical error.

We reached the French Advance via the Franco-Benoni, a dubious choice by Black that I trot out from time to time and often regret.

Clark,J (1553) - Stripes,J (1835) [C02]
Collyer Memorial, Spokane 2011

1.e4 e6 2.d4 c5?! 3.c3 d5 4.e5 Nc6 5.f4

The database of my games reveals that 5.f4 was new to me in OTB play, but another database has fifty instances of the move in online play. I have played it eight times in online blitz, have faced it forty times in the same, and twice have faced it in online correspondence games. Black scores well in these games.


I played the less precise 5...Bd7 in a game on Red Hot Pawn in 2006. It continued 6.Nf3 cxd4 7.cxd4 f6N 8.Nc3 Nge7 9.exf6 gxf6 10.Nh4 Bg7 11.Qh5+ Kf8 12.Be3 Be8 13.Qe2 Ng6 14.g3 f5 15.Nf3 Bf7 16.Bg2 Qb6 17.0–0? and I won a pawn, going on to win the game in fifty-five moves.

6.Nf3 Nh6

The move 6...Nge7? was played in the correspondence game Clayton-Armstrong, Scotland 1993 and is annotated on Neven's CD. White won in thirty-two moves.

7.Be2? Bd7


On a turn-based website where I no longer play, my opponent continued 8.0–0. After 8...cxd4 9.cxd4 Nf5 10.Bd3 we reach a position that I use as a training position in my teaching of young players. Black wins a pawn with 10... Ncxd4 11.Nxd4 Qxd4+.

8...cxd4 9.cxd4 Bb4+


10.Bd2 was played in Stesser-Wallin, Vaxjo 1992 and Black won in twenty-one moves.
10.Kf2 is better.

10... Nf5 11.g4? A bad move in a bad position 11...Nfxd4 12.a3 Nxe2 13.Qxe2 Bc5 14.Nc3 Nd4 15.Nxd4 Bxd4 16.Bb2 Bxc3 17.Bxc3 Bb5 0–1

This miniature was my only game in this year's Dave Collyer Memorial. Work responsibilities (teaching history) kept me from playing on Saturday, so I stood by on Sunday as the house player and was needed in the fifth round.

Reference Games

Cochrane,J - Staunton,H [C02]
London 1841
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.f4 Qb6 6.Nf3 Nh6 7.Bd3 Be7 8.Bc2 0–0 9.0–0 f5 10.Kh1 Bd7 11.h3 Rac8 12.a3 a5 13.Rg1 cxd4 14.cxd4 Qc7 15.Nc3 Na7 16.g4 b5 17.gxf5 b4 18.fxe6 Bxe6 19.Ng5 Bxg5 20.fxg5 Nf5 21.Bxf5 Bxf5 22.Ne2 Be4+ 23.Kh2 Qc2 24.Qe1 Nb5 25.Be3 Qd3 26.Rg3 Rc2 0–1

Mc Connell,J - Morphy,P [C02]
New Orleans 1850
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.f4 Qb6 6.Nf3 Bd7 7.a3 Nh6 8.b4 cxd4 9.cxd4 Rc8 10.Bb2 Nf5 11.Qd3 Bxb4+ 12.axb4 Nxb4 13.Qd2 Rc2 14.Qd1 Ne3 15.Bc3 Nxd1 16.Kxd1 Ra2 17.Rxa2 Nxa2 0–1

Steinitz,W - Golmayo,C [C02]
Havana 1888
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.f4 Qb6 6.Nf3 Bd7 7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.Bd3 Be3 9.Na3 Bxc1 10.Qxc1 Nge7 11.Nc2 Rc8 12.Ne3 Nb4 13.Be2 0–0 14.Qd2 Qxe3 15.Qxe3 Nc2+ 16.Kf2 Nxe3 17.Kxe3 f6 18.g3 Nc6 19.exf6 gxf6 20.Rad1 Rc7 21.Rhe1 Re8 22.Kf2 Kg7 23.Nh4 Ne7 24.Rd2 Bc6 25.Bh5 Ng6 26.f5 exf5 27.Rxe8 Bxe8 28.Nxf5+ Kf8 29.Rxd5 Rd7 30.Rxd7 Bxd7 31.Bxg6 hxg6 32.Ne3 Be6 33.b3 Ke7 34.h4 Kd6 35.Kf3 b5 36.Ke4 a5 37.g4 a4 38.bxa4 bxa4 39.a3 Bf7 40.Kd4 Kc6 41.c4 Kd6 42.Nd5 f5 43.gxf5 gxf5 44.Nf4 Bg8 45.c5+ Kc6 46.h5 Bf7 47.h6 Bg8 48.Nd5 Bh7 49.Nf6 1–0