31 January 2012

Small Differences

Vassily Ivanchuk won an instructive pawn ending against Anish Giri in round 9 of the Tata Steel Chess Tournament in Wijk aan Zee. While watching the game, I was focused on Ivanchuk's h-pawn and less attentive towards the threats of Giri's a-pawn. Hence, I missed the point of 56.e7! until looking through the annotations by Karsten Mueller at CBM Training: Endgames from Tata Steel.

The rook endgame, too, is instructive, especially what might have happened. Ivanchuk explained the key error: Giri's 47...Rb7.

Ivanchuk still might have gone for the pawn race, but with Giri's king one square closer to the h-file, Black is winning. After 47...Ke6 48.Rh6 Ke7, Ivanchuk says that Black has good drawing chances.

White to move

49.Rh7+ Kd8 50.Rxc7 Kxc7 makes 51.f4 untenable. In the actual game, 52.f4 was the only winning move after 47...Rb7?? 48.Rh7+ Kc8 49.Rh8+ Kd7 (It appears that Ivanchuk repeated moves while calculating the pawn race) 50.Rh7+ Kc8 51.Rxb7 Kxb7. Indeed, 52.e6?? loses, as pointed out by Mueller.

49.Rxa6 leads to a rook ending with a one pawn advantage for White. Play might proceed 49...Rb7 50.Rf6 Rb4+ 51.Ke3 f4+ 52.Kf2 Rb8 53.Rg6 Rh8

White to move

It is hard to see any prospects for White to find a win here. Playing against one of my engines, Hiarcs 12, I tried 54.Rxg5 Rxh2+ 55.Rg2 Rxg2+ 56.Kxg2 leading to a drawn pawn endgame.

Black to move

56...Ke6 57.Kh3 Kd5 58.Kh4 Kxe5 59.Kg4 Ke6 60.Kxf4 Kf6 =.

26 January 2012

Pawn Endings in Wijk aan Zee

There has been an abundance of fighting chess in the currently running Tata Steel Chess Tournament in Wijk aan Zee. Several games have been played down to lone kings. Another ended with a pawn's underpromotion to a bishop, the immediate capture of the doomed piece, and a draw by insufficient material. Several games have finished as pawn endgames. Some of these serve as illustrations of the value of mastering that element of the game. In some of these games a flurry of exchanges led to a position that was basic, and that a C-player should be able to handle, but others are more complex.

Employing the endgame keys in ChessBase 11, these two pawn endings from the A Group show up from the early rounds.

Carlsen -- Giri, Round 5
Black to move

It is an elementary draw for Giri that even relative beginners should be able to find.

Navara -- Karjakin, Round 4
Black to move

Karjakin's compact queenside pawns are stronger than Navara's scattered pawns, but the king must fight effectively to secure the win. Moreover, if both sides promote pawns, one must understand the queen and pawn ending too.

24 January 2012

Lesson of the Week

In Saturday's Winterfest Scholastic, I offered a special prize for the most complete and neatest game scores through the first four rounds. The prize was a hard cover scorebook for recording games. As a result of the contest, I have a store of more than a dozen games from the event from which to create lessons that feature the sort of position that Spokane youth are likely to see. Sunday's "Opening Disaster: Damiano's Defense" is one such lesson.

Here are the first eleven moves of a game that Black won in thirty-seven moves. Already after the first few moves, Black has a material advantage of two pawns, more active pieces, and a safer king. Black took advantage of White's errors that began with the third move. Even so, Black missed opportunities to gain far more. The players' names remain undisclosed.

1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.Qf3?

Black to move

In "Opening Disaster: Damiano's Defense," 4.Qh5+ is the correct move for White. However, in the absence of a clear opportunity for attack, the queen should not move before the minor pieces have been deployed. Of course, in scholastic tournaments, players often win quickly with Scholar's Mate. They get in the habit of bringing the queen to f3 or h5 early because the idea is rewarded. In this case, Black's deployment of the knight to f6 has blocked the queen's access to f7. Time to break the unhealthy habit. 

3...Bc5 4.h4?! 0–0

I would not castle just yet, especially after my opponent has thrown his or her h-pawn forward. It might be better to castle long in this game.

Black to move

Black missed an opportunity: 5...d5 6.Qxe5 Bxf2+ 7.Kf1 (7.Kxf2 is worse, because Ng4+ wins the queen) 7...dxc4 winning a piece.

6.Qg5 Nxe4 7.Qh5
Black to move (analysis diagram)

Black could have exploited the vulnerability of White's royalty with 7...Bxf2+ 8.Kd1 (Kf1 loses the queen). And now there are two logical lines worth examining:

a) 8...Nf6 9.Qe2 Bxg1 10.Qe1 (10.Rxg1 Bg4) 10...Bb6
b) 8...Bxg1 9.Rxg1 Bg4+ 10.Qxg4 Nf2+

8.Qg5 Ng4

8...Bxf2 still has merit.

9.d3 Qxg5 10.hxg5

Black to move

10...Bxf2+ is slightly better

11.Rh4 Ng4 

The next move in the notation is Bc4-d3, which is not possible. I can possibly reconstruct the game by looking further ahead, but there's plenty of instructional value in the opening moves.

22 January 2012

Opening Disaster: Damiano's Defense

The 2012 Winterfest Scholastic, a youth tournament that has run for more than ten years, featured a miniature that highlights a not infrequent opening error. The error has a name: Damiano's Defense. Pedro Damiano, although not regarded as a particularly strong player, recognized the weakness of Black's defense of the e-pawn and Ruy Lopez gave the opening his name.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f6?

After White's second move, Black must either protect the e-pawn, or attack White's, as in the Russian defense (2...Nf6). 2...f6 is a terrible way to protect the pawn. Here there are many ways to proceed. I recommend immediately demonstrating the error with a knight sacrifice. Actually, the word sacrifice seems odd here, because White gains a lot for the temporary investment of the horse.

3.Nxe5! fxe5??

If 2...f6 is an error, then 3...fxe5 is the blunder that practically assures White's victory. Possibly the strongest player to ever experiment with the lunacy of 2...f6 was Mikhail Chigorin. Chigorin played 3...Qe7 and that game ended drawn. Chigorin's skill, as well as his phenomenal contribution to chess in Russia, and thus the modern world, is such that my assignment of the question mark to 2...f6 could be viewed as hubris. After 3...Qe7, I cannot find a way for White to maintain the one pawn advantage. While the 2...f6 move creates a weakness, exploiting the weakness is not always as easy as it seems that it should be.

Schiffers,Emanuel Stepanovich - Chigorin,Mikhail [C40]
St. Petersburg 1897

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f6 3.Nxe5 Qe7 4.Nf3 d5 5.d3 dxe4 6.dxe4 Qxe4+ 7.Be2 Nc6 8.0–0 Bd7 9.Nc3 Qg6 10.Ne5 Nxe5 11.Bh5 0–0–0 12.Bxg6 hxg6 13.Qe2 Bd6 14.Ne4 Nf3+ 15.gxf3 Bxh2+ 16.Kg2 Bh3+ 17.Kh1 Be5 18.Kg1 Bh2+ 19.Kh1 Be5 20.Qe1 Bg4+ 21.Kg1 Bxf3 22.Ng3 Ne7 23.Qe3 Bc6 24.Qxa7 b6 25.Be3 Nf5 26.f4 Nxg3 27.fxe5 Rh1+ 28.Kf2 Rh2+ 29.Kxg3 Rdh8 30.Qa6+ Kb8 31.Bxb6 Rg2+ 32.Kf4 Rh4+ 33.Ke3 Rh3+ 34.Kf4 Rh4+ ½–½

The game on Saturday, however, was played by elementary students. The White player is among the strongest of the area youth, plays in adult tournaments, and has a disciplined study regimen. It was the Black player's first event of the year, and he was rather mismatched in the first round (an ordinary feature of Swiss System tournaments). The rating difference between the players was nearly 500 Elo.


Black to move


4...Ke7 is the only legal alternative, and should result in 5.Qxe5+ Kf7 6.Bc4+ d5 (the only move that keeps Black playing).

5.Qxe5+ Be7?

5...Qe7 seems to me the only reasonable move. White maintains a decisive advantage, but Black gets a bit of counterplay if White fails to bring additional pieces into the attack, or responds inappropriately to Black's threats. I offer as an illustration, this quick White win against a master who adopted Black's self-defeating strategy. 5...Ne7 is better than 5...Be7.

Benavides Jojoa,Cristian - Torres,Javier (2259) [C40]
Bogota 2010

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f6 3.Nxe5 fxe5 4.Qh5+ g6 5.Qxe5+ Qe7 6.Qxh8 Qxe4+ 7.Kd1 Qe6 8.Qxh7 d6 9.Bb5+ Bd7 10.Re1 Nf6 11.Bxd7+ Nbxd7 12.Rxe6+ Kd8 13.Qf7 c6 14.Rxf6 Kc7 15.d4 d5 16.Bf4+ 1–0

6.Qxh8 Kf7?

It is hard to suggest a reasonable alternative for Black here. Possibly, admitting the loss of the knight in addition to the rook, and preparing Qe7 with the bishop's retreat 6...Bf7 is the main alternative to simply resigning.

White to move

7.Bc4+ Ke8

7...d5 is the only move that averts a forced checkmate.

8.Qxg8+ Bf7 9.Qf7#

Black's play offers a lesson to avoid. White deserves credit for understanding the error of Black's second and third moves, and punishing the errors. Scholastic players are well-advised to learn from this miniature. Black's 2...f6 is shockingly common in scholastic play.

15 January 2012

Fabiano Caruana's Strong Move

In today's round two of the Tata Steel tournament in Wijk aan Zee, Fabiano Caruana handed Sergey Karjakin his second loss of the event. Caruana gained a material advantage that he was able to nurse to victory. The sequence of forcing moves that led to material advantage began with a relatively quiet strong move from the position here.

White to move

12 January 2012

Lesson of the Week

Damiano's Checkmate

This week's first problem comes from a book published in the early sixteenth century. Pedro Damiano, Questo libro e da imparare giocare a scachi et de li partiti (1512). According to H.J.R. Murray,  A History of Chess (1913), Damiano's 1512 text may not have been the first edition, although it is the oldest still in existence. Little is known about Damiano except that he was from southern Portugal, and was an apothecary by profession. The text was published in Italy and went through eight editions in the sixteenth century. The fifth edition is the first to use the image of a castle for the chess piece now known in English as a rook.

Pedro Damiano gives advice on play, which Murray summarizes:
No move should be played aimlessly; do not commit oversights (Sp. cegara, blindnesses); do not play fast; when you have a good move look for a better; when receiving odds exchange whenever possible except at a loss; with a winning advantage do not be tempted to disarrange your game merely to win a Pawn; use the King's leap to place it on a good square; do not move the Pawns which stand in front of your King after its leap; spread out your pieces; try and maintain KP and QP [the center pawns], and if possible the two BPs (c- and f-pawns] on their 4th squares.
Murray, 788
The king's leap is an ancient rule that has been replaced in modern chess rules by castling. Murray notes also that Damiano's text is the oldest that clearly indicates that the h1 square must be light--light on right, the first rule for setting up the board, and the one most often violated by movie and television directors in our day.

The checkmate pattern known as Damiano's Mate comes from a diagram from his text, and reproduced with the given solution by Murray (799-800). In Murray's text, and presumably in Damiano's, there is no white king. I took the liberty of placing one on the board to conform to the rules.

White to move

It is checkmate in five. Damiano's solution is worth knowing.

1.Rh8+ Kxh8 2.Rh1+ Kg8 3.Rh8+ Kxh8 4.Qh1+ Kg8 5.Qh7#.

Unfortunately, the problem is cooked. There is another checkmate in five, although not every response is forced.

1.Qb3+ (or Qd5+) Rf7 2.gxf7+ Qxf7 3.Rh8+ Kxh8 4.Qxf7 Kh7 5.Rh1#.

If we remove the rook on f1 in the diagram, the problem improves. There is material equality, and Damiano's idea is the only forced checkmate.

Knowing this pattern can be useful for it is sometimes possible to set up the opportunity for delivering this checkmate. In this Chess Skills blog, I presented examples of having succeeded in "Damiano's Mate" (August 2008), "Warm-up" (December 2008), and "Another day, another blitz trap" (December 2008).

In this week's chess clubs, I am presenting another example from a game that I played in 2009.

White to move

My opponent played 20.Rf3, which led to 20...Rh1+ 21.Kxh1 Rh8+ 22.Kg1 Rh1+ 23.Kxh1 Qh8+ 24.Kg1 Qh2+ 25.Kf1 Qh1#.

White has several ways, other than the blunder 20.Rf3, to prevent Black's checkmate plan. Two of White's moves are winning. Black staked his game on the checkmate, sacrificing a knight to get the pawn placed on g3. White committed an oversight by playing too fast. Ignoring Damiano's advice, White fell to Damiano's Mate.

Find these winning moves.

09 January 2012

Learn to Play Chess

Chess Magnet School offers online lessons that are well designed. For those just beginning chess--needing to learn the rules or to practice basic checkmates, these lessons are free. Even the rare skill of checkmate with bishop and knight is among the free lessons.

The link: http://www.chessmagnetschool.com/learnchess.php

04 January 2012

Lesson of the Week

Checkmate requires using the pieces in coordination.

Black to move

There are many ways to finish this game. Find the quickest checkmate (two moves) and the one employed in the game (three moves). This position comes from a game played by Kevin Baker, a former Spokane High School Champion, now working in Los Angeles and New York. In December, he took second place in the under 1700 section of the North American Open in Las Vegas with 5.5/7. This position comes from one of his wins.

01 January 2012

2012 New Year's Resolutions

It is that time of year: time to make promises to oneself in a fit of motivation for self-improvement. And so, I have some concrete promises designed to lift me over 1900 USCF, and if Caissa has a warm heart, to lift me into the Expert class. In truth, I am unlikely to play the number and strength of events in 2012 that would make Expert a realistic goal, but that is the horizon in view.

The Resolutions

1. Solve a minimum of 50 tactics problems per week.

That should not be difficult, as most days I solve ten of those in the Shredder iPad app. In addition, from time to time I spend enough time with Chess.com's Tactics Trainer to rack up some numbers. Hence, the challenge in number 2.

2. Spend thirty minutes once per week solving problems in Lev Alburt, Chess Training Pocket Book II and Paata Gaprindashvili, Imagination in Chess.

The goal here will be to work through the whole of Chess Training Pocket Book II in 2012, as I did the original Chess Training Pocket Book several years ago. Over the course of the year, problems in the Shredder app and in Alburt's books become the warm-up for more challenging exercises. Over the course of the year, regular work with Imagination in Chess should become the norm. The easy success of quantities of basic tactics should give way to success in solving complex exercises.

3. Complete my Pawn Endgame flash card project.

Two years ago, I created cards that contain all the blue diagrams of the first chapter in Mark Dvoretsky, Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual. I review these cards regularly--they contain no answers--with the intention of being able to know in an instant when looking at each how the position should be played. See the last paragraph of "GM-RAM: Essential Knowledge."

These three resolutions are not too onerous. They demand no new behaviors, but rather greater consistency and purpose in productive activities. Doing these may mean there is less time for one-minute chess. That shift is vital to improving my over the board performance.