05 December, 2015

Too much focus....

...in the heat of the game, is as bad as too little !

White to play and win

In what was probably a losing struggle for me as White at this point, I was focused on winning a pawn (e5) or Bishop, and had worked my Rook to the 7th rank for the purpose, also thinking of using the Bishop at h4 for attacks on the Knight.

So yes, focused, and with more than one idea, but I missed the key idea, since in this position I believed my Bishop was well-placed, defending b4.

A simple combination wins easily for White.  Can you see it ?

On the other hand, you can never get enough of Focus, the band !

It seems amazing that "Hocus Pocus" reached the top 20 in 1972, with its nonsense yodelling vocals, but it did, probably a credit to the skills of all the musicians concerned, and possibly to a more discerning music public back then.

"House of the King" was the B-side of the same single. I thought it was great when I discovered it via a friend's "Focus III" album, but finding the live clip below ( that hair, those boots ! ) is a marvel !

I bought the re-mastered "Focus III" and enjoy it immensely, along with "Focus Live at the Rainbow", both great music, and memories of my youth !

Focus still record and perform, but these days without guitarist Jan Akkerman who remains a solo artist.

08 November, 2015

White to play, and not make the obvious mistake : a cautionary tale

This has echoes of a previous post on focusing on material too much...

White to play
Has Black made a mistake ? The knight has played in front of the Queen ready to be pinned.

But if White obliges with Re1, then the knight has a diversionary job to do... Nf3+ !

White loses the exchange and the game

31 October, 2015

Black to move, with a killer blow

I always enjoy it when White opens with 1.d4.

Replying e6 and seeing 2.e5 appear on the board, allows me to steer straight to the French Defence, and find out if White really intended this or not.

Here's what I saw today....

3. Qg4 ?!
Never seen that so early in a French ( and my database agrees : only two games found, both played in Junior competitions ).

I know why it is played at later times ( often after Bb4+ ) to force the weakening g6 or the return of the Bishop to f8, with the loss of a tempo, but on move 3, it just doesn't work. 

It probably means that White does not know the French Defence, and this was proved true in a short space of time.

Here is the critical position after Black has developed and won material, by chasing the Queen. 

Black to finish White with a killer blow, and not difficult to find.

Black to play and win

25 October, 2015

T66 Openings

Below, the top 10 T66 Openings so far ( Playoffs are ongoing) ...

4 e4 openings, 4 with d4, and 2 others ( Réti/English).

Hardly much of a change in major openings played, nor on the split between King- and Queen-pawn, with 1.e4 grabbing 53% of the games.

Oddest opening was 1.a3, which lost, although the opening can hardly be blamed for the tactical oversights in the game.

One Falkbeer Counter-Gambit, and also nice to see 1.Nc3 appearing twice, once transposing to a Philidor and the other remaining independent. Dirk van Geet would be pleased to see it still in action !

Seven games less than 10 moves, but no traps, just over-looked tactics at fault.

                           T66 Top 10 Played Openings

B20-B99Sicilian 116 (15.6%)
C00-C19French Defence 64 (8.6%) 
D00-D05Queen's Pawn ( General ) 54 (7.3%)
A10-A39English  48  (6.5%)
D30-D69 Queen's Gambit Declined44 ( 6.0 % )
B10-B19Caro-Kann39 (5.3 % )
C60-C99Spanish Game ( Ruy Lopez)36 (4.9 %)
A45-A50Indian & Torre Attack32 (4.3 %) 
A04-A09Reti30 ( 4.0 % )
E60-E99King's Indian  28 ( 3.77 % )

All games were re-indexed by ECO code using Chess Assistant 11,. 

The Opening classification ranges ( ie grouping ECO codes), I based on those from Chessville (many thanks, although it seems to have disappeared :(

See also T56 Summary,  T55 SummaryT51 Summary,  T50 Summary and T47 SummaryT57-59 Summary , T61 SummaryT62 Summary and T63 Summary

09 October, 2015

Black to Play...again

A recurring theme...blitz, what is is good for...

The answer not being 'absolutely nothing, say it again ! ''

It's fine for a bit of relaxation, maybe for trialling and gaining some experience in a new opening, but the most frustrating part is going over the games afterwards and finding that you missed a great combination or sacrifice, which you may well not have missed in a 'proper game' with more time.

Here's an example.

Black to Play

I know why I missed it ( I'm Black, by the way ) as I had been focusing on defence around the king. threats down the h-file, threats of knight and Queen versus h7, etc, plus the fact that it was 'second time around', since it had been on show a couple of moves before.

But I did, I missed a lovely riposte that would have switched Black to attack.

Nevertheless, I managed a draw,which was a satisfying result for me.

Any ideas ?

Solution [ Nxd4 ! ]

...."What is it good for ? Absolutely nothing "

26 August, 2015

Focus on Material ?

We are always warned of being greedy with material captures, and in hindsight its always easy to spot mistakes.

These occur in standard as well as blitz, but the latter gives rise to more of them.

Here's a few from recent games....

In the first White just played QxR on h2

Black to play : should he re-capture with Rxh2 ?

In the second, no capture, but Rc6 threatens the Bishop, leaving Rf8 en prise
White to play : should he play Bxf8 ?
Here White has captured a pawn, with Nxa3. Should Black take the knight ?

Black to play: should here re-capture with bxa3 ?

Not difficult decisions, but in the heat of the moment, and with the focus on your own plans, mistakes can be made !

The secondary point, is to bear in mind spotting mating patterns. 

An obvious one in the first example,in the second its clear, but maybe not obvious.

The third is also less obvious, but quite straightforward.

In fact, the third example could have been much easier for White...

White to play
Black has played c6, what is White's best move ( and its not Nxa3 ) ?

12 August, 2015

Bishop to the rescue

A neat way out here...

White to play

Although at first glance it looks bad for White, in fact the precarious position of the Black King offsets his passed pawn !

I would be extremely happy to be able to find such a combination in a match situation !

Highlight for solution [ 1.Bg5 c8=Q 2.g4+ fxg 3. Bxc1 g2 4.Be3 ]

28 July, 2015

Black to Play, and exchange correctly

As Black, I was presented with this position, after the Knight has captured a pawn on d4.

Instinctively, I felt there was a correct combination here, that would give an advantage to Black.

What would you play ?

My game continued [33...Nxd4 32. Rxc8 Ne2+ ?  33. Kh1 Rxc8 34. Bxe5 Re8 ? 35. Rd5 ?? Nf4 ] which won, but was a bad combination.

22 July, 2015

Improving Tactics

This isn't a complicated " White to play", but from my point of view its more that it shows for me that these days I appear to 'see' things more than I used to.

The idea occurred on the previous move when the Black Queen was on d8, but it didn't work. 

As soon as Qe7 was played, I knew what I would play, and did so...

White to play and win

Solution if required [  1. Rxc6 bxc 2. Qxa5 ]

12 July, 2015

White to Play

The surprisingly summery Summer has distracted me from the blog.

Just to keep things ticking over, here's a simple one for you.

Taken from a blitz game, Black has just captured a Bishop on a4...

White to play
Solution if required [The Queen recapture gives Black a steady win. White should play 29. Rc8+ Rxc8 30. bxa and wins ]

14 June, 2015

Newspaper Endgame, Barden Openings

A simple, but intriguing endgame from the Leonard Barden chess column in the Guardian.

Leonard Barden was one of the two chess authors who enriched my schoolboy days, the other being Harry Golombek. 

Although Fred Reinfeld may be very well known in the US, in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s, I had barely heard of him, and, obviously, stuck with home-grown authors.

My local library appeared full of Barden and Golombek books, and after many borrowings, eventually I bought Golombek's "The Game of Chess" and Barden's "Chess" ( I think those were the titles ). I also dabbled with "Teach Yourself Chess", which in those days was written by Gerald Abrahams, another great chess educator, but frankly, not for youngsters, as it is far too erudite.

I still have the Golombek book, but Barden's book is nowhere to be found in my house, maybe its hidden at my parents'. 

A couple of years ago, I saw and bought another Barden book, his 1957 'A Guide to Chess Openings', in hardback, and in remarkable condition for its age ( it was second-hand ).

It is very enjoyable seeing recommendations from 50+ years ago, along with games by players that are distinctly minor now, but presumably were significant at the time, such as Borodin, Unzicker, von Scheltinga, Kramer , as well as stalwarts of the British chess scene like Milner-Barry, Thomas and Yates.

08 June, 2015

Blitz chess : strange resignation

Blitz chess for me, is addictive, and almost pointless, often together.

It is easy to waste hours online playing it ( hence 'pointless' ) , with practically no "chess" knowledge-gain at all, whilst losing an immense amount of time. That's not to say it isn't enjoyable, just that you need to be honest with yourself about why you are doing it !

I am sure that used properly, in a focused and controlled manner, something can be gained from it, I mean, of course,  something in 'chess' terms, not just an aimless whiling-away the time...

However, I am equally sure that such a gain will work primarily for players who already have the appropriate tactical skill level and so can concentrate on the positive aspects they want out of blitz, rather than constantly avoiding tactical mistakes in the limited time available ( or is that "suffering from the inevitable blunder"  ? ).

This positive aspect is often presented as 'gaining experience of new positions' or  'trying out new openings', ie playing a lot of quick games to end up with a feel of what positions arise from the opening, and then using this as input to the next stage in opening practise, that of adding (more) theory.

For my part, I have re-appraised how I spend my blitz time on the Net.

24 May, 2015

Endgame Queens

This isn't a difficult problem, but I believe I solved it without thinking why it worked.

A few minutes thinking about it afterwards has, I hope, cemented the reasons behind it, which are not just the threat of checkmate from White, but equally avoiding the checks from Black.

White to play
Solution if required [ 1.Qc3 Qb7 2. Qa1  

17 May, 2015

Last Tactics Position, and minor musings on learning from CTB

At the end of this post, is the last position from Chess Tactics for Beginners (CTB ).

Time-wise, and reflecting my lack of obsession regarding a speedy completion of these, I have probably taken a comfortable 9 to 12 months ( in elapsed time ) to do this, with a boost last Thursday for the last 32 examples , some of which I repeated again this morning, since a midnight finish is not the most sensible.

The final position was straightforward, and not involving any technical things such as "opposition", "queening squares" or "shoulder-charging" or the like, just a simple calculation.

I don't think my particular version of CTB exists with Convecta/ChessOK any more, as they have been ' peshka-ising'  their old CD products for some time now.

I suspect that the nearest is now this, which is a 3-part product having approximately the same number of examples to solve ( 2500 ).

CTB was one of the products that was used previously in the chess blogosphere to try to emulate the 'de la maza' tactics splurge ( see here for one example ).  

[ The 'de la Maza' info is viewed statistically here and here by the excellent Empirical Rabbit blog and his story summarised by Heisman here ). ]

Repeating standard tactics a set number of times ( often, the magic number of  7 is mentioned ) was often an initial step in the 'Knights Errant' chess improvers, with a view that such positions were retained and used as a base for further improvement. It should be noted that the target time for completion of these repetitions was generally a lot less than the year I took for one :)

14 May, 2015

Pawn Endgame

The theme in this type of endgame is the pawn structure, or maybe more accurately the squares they can control from the rook file.

White to move

Once you see this, and play a few examples, it becomes very obvious, but I am sure that being presented with this in a game , especially with  limited time, it could seem like a difficult place to be.

However, the idea of the power of the doubled pawns , in conjunction with other blocks, is a useful tool to have and use.

Highlight for solution [1. g5    ]

05 May, 2015

More Radio Chess, Steve Davis and Magma

Hey, don't be turned off my the post subject, chess has little enough media coverage as it is, so any blip on the radar is good  !

The format in this series is a continuation of previous ones , where someone is interviewed over a game of chess about both chess, and their own 'sphere of knowledge/interest/fame', with GM Daniel King giving a rather banal commentary.

This time around there is a distinct chess presence as Garry Kasparov is one of those interviewed, but the series starts with Steve Davis.

Who's he ? asks a large number of readers ?

If you are a snooker fan you will know the name instantly, as he was World Champion in the 1980s, dominating the game for a number of years. His final in 1985 had an amazing 18 million viewers for the last game of the match ( a so-called 'black ball' game as the entire final eventually rested on the last ball of the the last frame). 

Davis lost it to Dennis Taylor, but sealed his place in sporting history.

Chess-wise, he was also a dedicated amateur ( best in his school, apparently ) , although by his own admission not a great player. 

He co-authored a couple of chess books in the 1980s with English GM David Norwood, both firmly aimed at the amateur.

11 April, 2015

Not a Smothered mate

Here's another CTB position, and no, its not a smothered mate despite so many pieces on the board and around the king.

Its also notable that there isn't a forced mate, although that is the solution given in CTB.

Admittedly, if you don't follow the given solution ( ie the reply from Black ) , then Black is on a fairly downward course, but technically, its not forced !

Its not a smothered mate either, or have I already said that ?  This mate is often termed ....

White to move

Solution if required [ 1. Qxf6+ Kxf6 2. Bd5#    and its an epaulette mate, I think ]

05 April, 2015

More tactics on a stifling theme....

As I trawl through CTB slowly, I find some interesting positions. 

Here's one related to a theme that I seem to enjoy.

Not that hard, but you'll probably dismiss the solution first time around.

Solution if required [ 1. Ng5+ Kh6 2. Rh7+ Bxh7 3. Nf7 mate ]

02 March, 2015

T64 Openings

Below, the top 10 T64 Openings...

5 e4 openings, 4 with d4, and the Réti.

                           T64 Top 10 Played Openings

B20-B99Sicilian 135 (13.5%)
C00-C19French Defence 98 (9.8%) 
D30-D69Queen's Gambit Declined 80 (8%)
D00-D05Queen's Pawn ( General)  64 (6.4%)
A45-A50 Indian & Torre Attack59 (5.9 % )
A10-A39English54 (5.4 % )
B10-B19Caro-Kann53 (5.3 %)
C60-C99Spanish Game ( Ruy Lopez)52 (5.2 %) 
A04-A09Reti32 ( 3.2 % )
B07-B09Pirc Defence  30 ( 3 % )

All games were re-indexed by ECO code using Chess Assistant 11,. 

The Opening classification ranges ( ie grouping ECO codes), I borrowed from Chessville (many thanks, although it seems to have disappeared :(

See also T56 Summary,  T55 SummaryT51 Summary,  T50 Summary and T47 SummaryT57-59 Summary , T61 SummaryT62 Summary and T63 Summary

05 February, 2015

Smothered Improvement

How to know that you are improving at chess ?

A complicated question, since it pre-supposes you have a base level, and an ongoing plan or improvement schedule.

As I am not rated via FIDE or national standards, I rely on a general feeling of improvement rather than changes in recognised rating numbers  ( although you could say that at least the Team League rating is a consistent one to benchmark against, albeit not a "recognised" one ).

I had a deja vu feeling when playing this game.....

Not here, where after f3 appeared on the board, I saw the lovely check with Qd4...

Promptng Qd4+

...and expected that White would play Rxf2 to limit his losses.

29 January, 2015


Well, isn't that a co-incidence !

On the same day that Stockfish 6 is released, out comes another new engine...

I doubt if there is any competition, since BootChess  ( or here ) is only 487 bytes in size, and " doesn't do" castling, and is fairly lax on applying chess rules !

Created in homage to the ZX81 chess games of the early 80s, it is an attempt to create the smallest chess-playing code and demonstrate optimisation in coding, using assembly language.

I tip my hat to the guy, since I only did assembly language coding once, back in 1984, when learning the basics of programming. I have never had to do it for real, and for that I am truly grateful !

I suspect that Bootchess vs Stockfish would a foregone conclusion, but it might be fun trying to play Bootchess just the once, although it would take me a while to work out how to compile it !

See the BBC for the full story, or ArsTechnica for a more geek view.

24 January, 2015

T63 Opening Summary

T63 is still running, but for playoff qualifiers only : the main show is over, but the encores are about to start, so to speak.

Since both teams I am involved with didn't make the playoffs, ( though in both cases only just falling short ! ) here's the breakdown of the season in openings so far in TL chess.

It is hard to put things any differently than previous posts, since  both the Sicilian and French Defences remain top choices for Black against the main White start of 1.e4.  ( In fact, 485 games start with e4 vs 308 with d4 ).

The remaining openings jostle for position in the runners-up enclosure, but are usually in the same proportions, except that this time, the Spanish (Ruy Lopez) has stormed into 3rd place.

Makes one wonder what happened in the last few months. New book or DVD on the Spanish ? Major victory by a super GM ?  Time warp back to 1914 ?

Regardless, a classic opening is back for a while !

Other openings just after the top 10, and in double figures for games played, are the Dutch, Centre Counter, Slav, Nimzo-Indian, Pirc, Grünfeld, Philidor, Italian, Benko Gambit and Guicco Piano.

You could probably say that second slice of openings is a 50/50 split of e4 vs the rest, so e4 is definitely taking the lion's share of the attention.