28 September 2012

French Defense: King's Indian Attack

The Modern French: A Complete Guide for Black (2012) by Dejan Antic and Branimir Maksimovic begins with the King's Indian Attack. I have had a few memorable games on the Black side of this opening. All of them required more than the usual amount of work through the first ten moves. Nonetheless, my results have been reasonable. In four games, I have one loss and three draws. Two draws were against substantially higher rated players. My rating average through the four games was 1707; my opponents' average was 1861. Now that I am 1970, however, it becomes time to convert those draws into wins. The first ten moves must become easier.

Before diving into Antic and Maksimovic's work, it seems worthwhile to orient myself to the main lines of theory through Encyclopedia of Chess Openings (ECO). The code C 00 covers several moves other than 2.d4 against the French. 2.Qe2 is covered in lines 7-8. Michael Hosford, Steve Merwin, and Scott Smyth all played that line against me. I responded each time with 2...Be7, which ECO gives in the notes. 2...c5 is the main line. The Modern French does not address 2.Qe2.

In my game against Merwin, he opted for an old line employed by Mikhail Chigorin in the 1890s, and I shifted from a French to a Sicilian in my plans. He launched a strong assault on my king, misplayed the attack, and let me escape with a draw.

Black to move

ECO gives Chigorin -- Tarrasch, Petersburg 1893, 14th match game, which continued 3...d5 4.Bb2 Bf6 5.e5 Be7.

My game with Merwin (Collyer Memorial, Spokane 2009) continued 3...c5 4.Bb2 Nf6 5.Nf3N.

Hosford and I (Collyer Memorial, Spokane 2006) reached a position after move six that is given in line 12 of ECO.

1.e4 e6 2.Qe2 (2.d3 d5 3.Qe2 Nf6 4.Nf3 Be7 5.g3 c5 6.Bg2 Nc6 is the move order in ECO) 2...Be7 3.Nf3 d5 4.d3 Nf6 5.g3 c5 6.Bg2 Nc6.

This line is the first one examined in The Modern French. I lost the game against Hosford. My study today begins with this position.

27 September 2012

Lesson of the Week

Converting an Advantage

Last week, we looked at a position where Black made a critical error in the early middlegame that lost a pawn. This week, we look at the finish.

White to move

Akiba Rubinstein understood that one extra pawn can be shed if it speeds the other towards promotion.

31.Rb7! Ra1 32.b6 Rxa4 33.Ra7 Rb4 34.b7

Black to move


Black must do something, but there is nothing useful.

35.Ra8+ Kf7 36.b8Q Rxb8 37.Rxb8

Oldrich Duras played on for two moves more, but I ended the lesson here. Nonetheless, I emphasized that a player should not resign unless 1) he or she knows how to win from the opponent's side against strong opposition, such as the World Champion or Rybka, and 2) the opponent has demonstrated the requisite skills.

The first position above was presented as a problem for student players to solve. They played chess with one another, and a few made efforts to find the winning line. None were successful. How can I teach my students the requisite skills to handle such endgames? Some players reveal a tendency to check whenever possible regardless of whether it accomplishes a strategic objective. For instance, one student suggested 31.Ra8+.

Reaching a Winning Endgame

The critical position in Rubinstein  -- Duras was not part of the lesson last week, nor this week. After winning the pawn, Rubinstein swapped off several sets of pieces. He also deprived Duras of the bishop pair even though this action activated a Black rook. The active Black rook threatened a pawn.

White to move

Rubinstein gave up his extra pawn in order to activate his own rook. His active rook created two connected passed pawns on the queenside.


Duras did not play 22...Rxh2, but he might have. I spent some time playing this position against the computer before my chess class. Perhaps there is a lesson there for another day. White has a clear advantage, but what skills are needed to win against master level resistance? Duras made a number of small errors in defense. Chernev highlights these errors in The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played, but his instruction focuses upon Rubinstein's play. I think this game has instructive value that Chernev lets slip away.

18 September 2012

Lesson of the Week

Today marked the initial meeting of my chess classes for home schooled students during the 2012-2013 school year. My after school clubs begin in October. Part of today's lesson will be used again in October.

Complexity and Truth

I seek to impress young chess players with the staggering complexity of chess, as well as to impress upon them a simple idea: the truth of the position. Every conceivable chess position* has a truth that may be discovered. White or Black may have a decisive advantage, or a slight advantage. The position may be equal.

In the starting position, White is generally regarded to have a very slight advantage because White moves first. From that position, each player has twenty legal moves. After each player has moved, there are 400 possible positions. In some of these, the advantage has shifted to Black, or the position is closer to equal. White often retains a slight advantage, particularly in the openings employed by masters.

After the second move, there are 72,078 possible positions. In four of these positions, White is in checkmate. The truth of each of those four is determined easily. In the game as a whole, there are perhaps 10^43 possible positions (estimates vary because the precise number is very difficult to determine). Most of these positions never have been seen on a chess board, neither in play between humans nor in calculations by computer. Some positions have been known, and the truth about each has been known for hundreds of years. Some positions have inspired debate as strong players attempt to determine the truth.

Each playing session usually results in many previously unseen positions. Chess players have the opportunity to seek the truth in each of these new positions.

Chess offers astounding possibilities for problem solving. Chess players are on a quest, searching for the truth of every position.

Illustrative Position

After this brief introduction, we looked at a position from a historic game. The position appeared in a game that is featured in Irving Chernev, The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played: 62 Masterpieces of Chess Strategy (1965).

Position from Rubinstein -- Duras, Vienna 1908

White to move
r3kb1r/p1q1pppp/2n2n2/1p6/1PN3b1/P3PN2/1B3PPP/R2QKB1R w KQkq - 0 11

Black just played 10...b5??

Chernev presents the next several moves as "a spectacular combination" that is "brilliant and clear-cut" (34). My approach differs. I emphasize the truth of the position. Prior to Black's move, the position was close to equal. After Black's 10...b5, White has a clear advantage. Using my computer prior to class, I examined the next six moves. All the moves by both players were the top choice of Hiarcs 12.

The game continued: 11.Nce5! Nxe5 12. Nxe5 Bxd1 13.Bxb5+ Nd7 14. Bxd7 Qxd7.

Here, we also examined 14...Kd8 15.Rxd1 e6 16.Nc6+ Qxc6 17.Bxc6++-.

15.Nxd7 Bh5 16.Ne5.

White has won a pawn and has a clear plan: force the exchange of pieces, and use the extra pawn to create a decisive advantage in the endgame. The endgame will be next week's lesson.

*A chess position differs from a diagram, which is the arrangement of the pieces on the board. In a position, we also know which side is on move, and whether castling or en passant is legal. For instance, the following diagram is two positions: 1) White to move, and 2) Black to move. If it is White's move, White has a decisive advantage. If it is Black's move, the game is even--Black draws with best play.

My data on the number of possible positions comes from the work of Fran├žois Labelle: http://wismuth.com/chess/statistics-positions.html.

11 September 2012

New Books

Books made me a better chess player. When several new books arrived in yesterday's mail, it was cause for excitement. New books promise many hours of pleasure and prospects for improved skills. My order included Chess Informant 113 (book and CD), The Flexible French by Viktor Moskalenko, and The Modern French by Dejan Antic and Branimir Maksimovic. The two opening books are published by New in Chess.

I bought The Flexible French upon recommendation of a friend. I had a complete collection of Chess Informant in electronic editions through 112. The last print edition I had bought, however, was CI 73. Recent exciting changes in the format of Informant provoked me to try CI 113 in both CD and print form (see "Chess Informant Innovations"). They cost more that way, of course, and I likely will resume my practice of awaiting to whole volume compilation CD, which keeps me a year or so behind.

Glancing through Informant 113 last night pushed my excitement to a point where I thought I might need some medication. I can barely restrain myself from setting a chess set out on the table and beginning to pore through the detailed grandmaster analysis of recent games, of key opening innovations, of brilliant combinations. If not for non-chess work that has me extremely busy this week, I would have done so.

The Modern French also provokes enthusiasm. It is a model for structuring opening manuals. It is not a comprehensive text on the French Defense, but an exploration of fresh ideas in six key variations: The King's Indian Attack, Exchange, Advance, Tarrasch, Steinitz, and McCutcheon. I played the McCutcheon quite a bit when I was switching from the Sicilian to the French, but abandoned it several years ago. Perhaps this book will motivate me to bring it back into my repertoire.

Antic and Maksimovic explain that their goal was not to cover all possible variations, but offer "extensive analysis of strategic plans from the basic to the most complex" (7). Two notable features of the book struck me on first glance: extensive verbal comments and an exceptionally well-organized index of variations. Each chapter offers in-depth examination of each move with several branches. Rather than extensive branching, however, the emphasis is upon the ideas of select key variations. The authors promise theoretical novelties.

Chess books that explain ideas as well as showing variations are too few. Antic and Maksimovic show that human thinking expressed through verbal commentary can become the substance of an opening monograph.

05 September 2012

Returning to Chess

I play chess every day, except on days that I do not play chess. During the month of August, I stopped playing chess. Even so, I made moves in my correspondence games, played perhaps two dozen games of online blitz, and solved dozens of tactics problems. I studied a couple of games in Chess Informant. This chess holiday is coming to an end. Next week, I am back in training mode. My attention to the ancient game does not waver. Some days, the game gets a few minutes. Others, chess occupies hours. My regime of tactics training, opening study, and endgame skill development resumes.

This blog will have several new entries each week. I may resume my Sunday morning training log, which tracks certain training activities during the previous week.

2009 Washington State Elementary Chess Championship
School in my community started last week. This morning I was in the first and second grade classroom of a school where I coach the elementary chess team. Our chess club / team meetings begin in October. September in the classrooms is recruiting time. Beginning late in September, I will develop a lesson or two every week. These lessons range from elementary skills and basic rules to tactical and strategic problems that vex experienced young players. Some positions in these "lessons of the week" may challenge strong club players. I post the lesson of the week as a service to the youth who call me coach and as a service to their parents.

In between lessons of the week that show what I am teaching to children and tabulations of my personal progress on the road to expert, other items of interest will appear on this blog. My competitive success in early summer pushed my USCF rating to 1982. It also put me in a four game match with the Spokane City Champion, John Julian. After winning the coin toss and choosing White in the even numbered games, I faltered and lost in three games. Games one and two are posted with comments on the critical moments. John reminded me last week, that I have failed to post my analysis of game three in that match. He said that I promised. It was delayed. Before completing it, I turned my attention away from chess. Now, my attention is turning back again.

I am ambitious to improve. Currently at #55 among active players in Washington State and rated 1970, my immediate goal is to become a USCF Expert. My hope is to play well enough through my next few tournaments to push my rating over 2000. My long term goal is to achieve a master rating: 2200+. That level of competitive performance will require years of intensive study and training. This blog tracks some of that training. It offers a place for others on the path to improvement to make suggestions and share experiences. Constructive comments are always welcome. Spam that makes it past the filter will be deleted.