An unexamined life is not worth living.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Solving Susan Polgar’s puzzle

Solving this chess puzzle from Susan Polgar’s blog, I had a bit of a dilemma, choosing between transforming the position into one of two possible endgames.
Kulon – Juracz, 2011
image Black to move.
Everyone answering the question (other than me) – decided on the exchange sacrifice 1… Rxa2 2. Rxa2 Bb2.

OPTION 1 – “Pawn endgame”
image  White to move. I quickly considered this position, which is practically equivalent to a pawn endgame, and it appeared slightly unclear. However because Black bishop covers ‘d4’ and ‘e5’, White will loose the d5 pawn and the game because of zugzwang. Everyone else who answered the puzzle in comments on the blog – went for this solution. I however chose a more complicated way, which I think is also sufficient for a win.

Why not just trade rooks with 1… Rxe2 2. Kxe2 f5 and go for endgame with bishops of opposite colour – which I am a big fan of:
OPTION 2 – Bishop Endgame
image White to move. Two passed pawns are hard to stop in the long run – in quick analysis I was unable to hold this for White. Black king threatens to break through to b2, so White has to guard against that, but otherwise Black forms a passed pawn on the kingside. For example: 3. Kd3 Kf8 4. Kc4 Ke7 5. Kc5 Bd6+ 6. Kc6 g5
image Black pawns begin marching 7. Kb5 Kf6 8. Kc4 Ke5 9. Kc3 h5 10. Bb1 g4 11. hxg4 fxg4 12. Kd2 Kf4 13. Ke1 Kg3 14. Kf1 Kh2 15. Kf2 h4 16. Kf1 g3 17. Ba2
image Black to move. 17…h3  wins on a spot.

If White chooses a different plan, and transfers the king to guard the ‘a’ pawn and free up the bishop, we can get a position like this:

image Black to move. 1…f3!? 2. fxg4 g3!? creates an instructive position:

image Black wins because his bishop guards both of White’s pawns from the same diagonal – as per Mark Dvoretsky’s teachings.

Success in chess depends on knowing typical ideas and recognizing those patterns on the board. Sometimes there is more than one way to win the chess game – in a tournament you only need to find one! In analysis, we can, however, muse around and come up with multiple solutions for our own entertainment…

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Crushing Attack – Splitting the Chess Board into Two Parts

In his books and videos – Garry Kasparov has often emphasized the skill of splitting the board into two halves. After that - an attack on the side where you have a numerical advantage is very likely to succeed, even if you are temporarily down in terms of overall material on the board. Once I was taught a good lesson in a blitz game, that illustrated this thesis.

aggro-Garryncha, ICC, 2003
 image White to move. Black just played 18…Nb4. The White pawn on e5 prevents Black’s Queen knight and Rook from taking any part in the action on the kingside. White quickly took advantage of this situation.

19. Bxh7!! Kxh7 20. Re4 (20. Bf6!! forces mate even faster) 20... Qxc2 21. Bf6!

image Black to move. He is completely helpless even though he can grab the second extra piece.
21… g5 22. Rh4+ Black resigns 1-0

image It is interesting how White delivers attack on the dark squares, as Black’s bishop and queen are uselessly guarding the light ones.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Liudmila Belavenetz – Best Chess Coach for Juniors

Liudmila Belavenetz (Людмила Сергеевна Белавенец) is mentioned in most reports on Russian junior cthat you see online today. That is not a surprise to me because I have been honoured to be her student for several years in the mid 90’s when I attended the Spartak Chess School in Moscow. A rare chess teacher has so much love for the game and passion about their students successes in competitions.


Liudmila Belavenetz was USSR Champion among Women in OTB play in 1975, and she was also the World Chess Correspondence Champion (1984-1992), so she is a very strong player herself. However she has a talent to explain chess in simple terms to young kids and teach the basics – with kindness and humour.

image I was delighted to read this interview (in Russian) that tells a story very similar to mine.

I played chess a lot between the ages of 4 and 8, but later took a break as the game suddenly became no longer fun. When I was 12 - curiosity brought be back to the chess club, but it was really Liudmila Sergeevna Belavenetz who made me interested in chess again. Moreover, it was probably because of her that I got myself into teaching chess years later. As I was getting older and more competitive – I got to understand why several of her students were world champions in their age groups. In addition to explaining opening tricks, a coach needs to know how to support a young player during the competition – after a win, and after a loss. I have seen very few chess teachers do this with as much kindness and skill as Liudmila Belavenetz. Computer software can help you to prepare for opponent’s openings before the game, but only a good coach can set you with a positive mood and inspire you to succeed.

I was recently glad to see lead the awards ceremony for a Women’s blitz tournament in Moscow:

image Liudmila Sergeevna awards Valentina Gunina

I hope Liudmila Sergeevna continues to be a vibrant force in Russian Junior Chess for many years to come!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sacrificing a Pawn for Having ‘No Bad Pieces’ – Marshall Gambit

My only tournament game against a grandmaster was played in 2004, during Canadian Closed Championship in Toronto. In the first round I got this position as Black against Kevin Spraggett, after the slightly unusual opening moves: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 b5 5. Bb3 Na5 6. O-O Bb7 7. Nxe5 Nxb3 8.axb3 Nf6 9. Re1 Be7 10. d3 d5 11. exd5 Nxd5

image White to move. Is Black’s compensation sufficient?
In my preparation, I had analysed forcing moves like 12. Qf3 and 12. Qh5. The grandmaster thought for a little bit, and played the simple 12. d3-d4. He won fairly easily after I made a judgement/tactical error at some point and my compensation went astray (I ended up down a pawn, with a bad bishop to boot). After the game he made a comment that made an impression on me; it was along the lines of “This gambit looks reasonable, Black has no bad pieces and it will be very hard for White to win. It can be a 100 moves game”. He also mentioned that similar gambits were appearing in other lines of the Spanish around the same time. I was, of course, thrilled not only to have played a game against a famous player, but also to be a given a free lecture afterwards.

image  Kevin Spraggett, photo by Federació d'Escacs Valls d'Andorra

There was a lot of truth to the Grandmaster’s observations. Not surprisingly, one of the recently popular lines of the Marshall Gambit carries strong resemblance with my home grown gambit (it was really invented by my coach back in Russia who strongly believed in Black’s solid compensation in the form of two bishops and sound structure).

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 O-O 8. h3 Bb7 9. d3 d5 10. exd5 Nxd5 11. Nxe5 Nd4 12. Nc3 Nxb3 13. axb3

image Black to move. Two bishops and better pawn structure provide Black with compensation that grandmasters have been willing to bet on. Below is a sample game where Black’s initiative got out of hand. The two diagrams have only slight differences (the Marshall Gambit version is better for Black since he already castled and White committed to a relatively useless h2-h3 – maybe this tempo makes all the difference?). John Watson’s Mastering Chess Openings is full of such examples, where a healthy opening strategy appears in similar variations, benefiting a player with a rich opening repertoire.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Online Tactics – Find the combination

Garryncha – slipperyfish, ICC, 2004
image White to move. White has a powerful battery on the g file, but Black controls the center. That control however is fragile – the Queen defends the ‘d7’ rook, which defends ‘d5’ pawn, which in its turn defends the ‘e4’ rook, which also defends the ‘e5’ pawn. This sounds like a house of cards – and it is, White just has to find one precise move!

PrezAcc – Garryncha, ICC, 2004
image Black to move. The goal of the rather unexpected combination is to lure Black king into a mating net. I am glad that I was able to find this trick in the blitz game, and not sure if it would have occurred to me today.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tactics – Attack with Opposite Coloured Bishops

BONO-Garryncha, ICC, 2004
image Black to move. White has weak spots on light squares on d3 and b3, so the tactics shots are in the air

garcikrespo - Garryncha, ICC, 2004
image Black to move. Again - the powerful bishop on the long diagonal is aiming at the exposed White king, and it is the matter of destroying the pawn protection…

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Blitz Tactics – Find the Combination – Black to Move

Dirk – Garryncha, ICC, 2004
image Black to move. Black has a positional advantage, as White has a weak pawn on d4 and his king is exposed

Garryncha – Styxon, ICC, 2004
image  Black to move. White had just protected the pawn with Re1-g1, missing a powerful shot

ghost-buster – Garryncha, ICC, 2004
image Black to move. Black has a positional advantage, and White’s pieces are a bit uncoordinated. How to take advantage of it?

All 3 positions are examples from my online games that played a few years back. Players rarely find deep strategic plans in their blitz games, but simple tactical shots take a second or two to spot, so players found the best move in all 3 of these games.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Alexander Khalifman on Opening Preparation

I just watched a pretty entertaining interview with former FIDE World Chess Champion Alexander Khalifman. When asked why he made a quick draw with White against a lower rated grandmaster (who was rated 2530), Alexander the Great made a few remarks on how opening preparation works these days:

  • If your opponent prepared the opening variation with Rybka, his rating is not 2530, his rating is 3000!
  • There is a saying that if a grandmaster looked at the opening variation a week ago, it feels like as if he never looked at it
  • Memory is the main skill that gets affected as chess players get older, or stop studying chess intensely
  • Khalifman’s former strength – broad opening repertoire – is now becoming a vulnerable spot, since that requires keeping too many sharp variations in his head

The last remark definitely resonated well with myself, as I had to considerably constraint my repertoire, choose between 1.e4 and 1.d4 as White and focus my study on lines that I actually intend to play – a reasonable approach for a chess amateur. Here is the video of the interview – in Russian (which I loosely translated), recorded at the just finished Aeroflot Open

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Kasparov Wins TV Quiz Show

These days media often reports on Garry Kasparov as a politician (and not always with a positive twist), so by recently winning a Quiz Show in Georgia he reminded of himself as a prominent intellectual. For example he has written personal success and has supported revisionist theories on world history. Kasparov has been involved in the so called “What? Where? When?” show in Russia a few times, but those events were not as widely publicized. Does this success indicate that chess players are more intellectual than the average population? To me – this mostly indicates that Kasparov has fantastic memory, a lot of interests outside of chess, as well as enormous ambition and desire to win – at anything. I am hoping the video of this recent show will soon become available online.

image “Что? Где? Когда?” has been a very popular Russian Tv Show for over 30 years.

Update as of February 26, here is the video of the show

Monday, February 14, 2011

Windows Live Writer - Backing up your Chess Blog

This post is of course not only relevant to a chess blog, but to any blog that is created with Windows Live Writer (I use 2009 version). Following my several computer disasters in the last couple of years, I have been a bit more diligent about backups, and Windows Live Writer Backup tool is part of the routine; Windows Live Writer backup is a very simple tool that lets you export most of your Blog data into a single file. I have once had to do a restore, and it worked pretty well.

image Just run the tool and press Backup (you might have to run it as an administrator).

As an added benefit, it lets me monitor how my blog grows in size over time (also indicates why my blog takes so long to load on slow connection)


On that note – here is a quick tutorial on how to use Windows Live Writer to add chess content, such as diagrams, to your posts.

In this video I show how to insert chess diagrams to your blog post with only a couple of quick shortcuts. This how-to video assumes that you already have Chess Base Light 2009 and Windows Live Writer installed . Both are free tools from ChessBase and Microsoft respectively. You'd need to have a blog setup already as well. The post I made in the video is here.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Reading about Karpov – Kasparov duels – book review

Reading through Garry Kasparov’s record of his chess games , I get a bit of a better idea of why Kasparov and others claim that Karpov-Kasparov matches triggered the explosion of analysis and in depth study of various openings. Here is an example that struck me in particular: in game 16 of their 1986 match Kasparov got to the position on the diagram in his analysis and concluded that after 20… b4! the best chance for White is to play is 21. Rb3!

Kasparov – Karpov, 1986 match, analysis position from game 16

image  White plays Ra3-b3! Rook and bishop are both attacked, but White moves the rook to another attacked square!

r3rbk1/1b1n1pp1/p2p1q1p/3P4/PppNP3/1R1B1N1P/1P3PP1/2BQR1K1 b - - 0 21

Amusingly, this whole line of the Zaitzev variation of the Spanish opening was then re-played 20 years later – in K.Lahno-E.L'Ami, Wijk aan Zee 2006, and probably in some other games. To me that seems to indicate that it takes 10-20 years for the chess world to catch up with Kasparov’s opening preparation from the pre-computer era.

image Game 16 of the 1986 match is definitely one of the main highlights of Garry Kasparov on Modern Chess, Part Three: Kasparov v Karpov 1986-1987

Replay through the entire line with brief notes from Kasparov

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Play Like Mikhail Botvinnik – free training course

Convekta has released a free course for their Peshka Training software. The course is easy to install and start using and consists of two main parts – Theory and Practice.

image Theory mode consists of lightly annotated games played by Botvinnik.

image Practice mode is probably the more useful part of this free offer

In practice mode you also get to see statistics – either per lesson, or overall

image Percentage of correct moves - I have not solved a single exercise correctly

In practice mode you literally get to train to play like Mikhail Botvinnik – and test from your strategic skills to tactics. Around 10 years ago I thoroughly studied a collection of games by Mikhail Botvinnik and got a great deal of respect for his art of planning and brief and clear explanations that got to the essence of every position. This course is exactly what a chess student would want to have after going through such a collection. To summarize:

Pros of this course:

  • It is free!
  • A large number of examples
  • Exercise format is well implemented – your time is tracked for every position, and you can see various metrics on your progress


  • I’d like to see more verbal explanations, especially given the nature of Botvinnik’s positional style

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