Sunday, December 8, 2013

Come See Me at

I have had a couple of people point out that this blog isn't very active.  That is true, but the main reason is that I write a daily piece for ChessIQ.  So please come see me at

I am not going to completely stop writing here, but I can't currently keep up with both and since both are essentially the same I am slowing down in this space for now.

I will most likely reserve this space for writing about things that don't necessarily fit in for ChessIQ, for example, my take on chess politics or anything else controversial.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Practicality of Endgame Studies

You may have noticed that from time to time I mention that solving studies was something I was encouraged to do when I first started taking chess lessons.

In fact, if you read my "other" blog at then you will see me talk about them even more often.

The reason that studies were suggested to me are as a form of calculation exercise.  But the truth is that there is a lot more to them than just that.  The truth is that studies can be very practical.

The reason that studies can be very practical is that often times the study is based on one aspect of the position that if you could change it would lead to a win.

Let's take a look at this study by Alois Watawa that appears in Mark Dvoretsky and Oleg Pervakov's excellent book Studies for Practical Players

This is a study that I just finished solving.  It's White to play and win.

The reason that I find this to be practical is that while this position isn't that likely to occur in a game, the idea itself is.

If you would like to take a crack at solving the study first please do so.  Then continue reading below once you have worked this

When I began looking at this position the first thing that became immediately obvious was that Black's king can't move.  With that in mind it's a simple deduction that if White can give check it's going to be mate.

So how can White give check.  The obvious way is along the h file.  Of course the problem is how to move Black's rook off the h file?  I couldn't figure out a way in which to do so.  The Black rook can shuffle endlessly between h6, h7, and h8 and there is no way for White to attack all of those squares simultaneously with just a rook.  And clearly the White king can't run around to help since Black's h pawn would promote.

So the next evolution in my thinking was that if there was a way to give a check from the White side of the board on the h file then that might win as well.  The issue is that I couldn't find a way to get the White king out of the way and even if I could there is no way to then insert the rook so that it can capture the pawn while being guarded by the king in order to deliver mate.

Then I realized that White could play Ra1 - Rg1 - Rg3 and if Black captures the rook with the f pawn then fxg3 by White is checkmate.  Ah, but there is a problem...After 1.Ra1 Black can simply play 1...Re7 (or d7, c7, or b7 for that matter) and then after 2.Rg1 Black plays 2...Re2.  Now if 3.Rg3 then Black wins with 3...Rxf2+ picking up the White rook when the king steps away from the check.

Seeing all of that you now see that if there was a way to prevent Black from swinging his rook over to the e/d/c/b file then White would have a vital tempo needed for the Ra1 - Rg1 - Rg3 plan.

Which makes the solution suddenly obvious...1.Ra8.  This forces 1...Rh6 to prevent 2.Rh8+ leading to mate.  Now White plays 2.Ra1 and with the pawn on g6 blocking his rook Black has no defense.

The idea being that while this position isn't likely to occur over the board, the idea of winning a vital tempo will.  And that is something that has a practical application OTB.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Time to Find the Next Gear

A little over two years ago I went over 1700 for the first time.  However, I clearly wasn't ready for it as I almost immediately fell back below.

I then crashed all the way down to 1560 in August of last year due to a crisis of confidence.  However, I have gained 220 points since that time and feel poised to continue to gain.

At this point I have played two games, both in the final rounds of tournaments, in which a win would have put me over 1800.  I didn't succeed in either game, but I don't believe it's due to a mental block, I just think that you're not going to win every game, and both of them happened to fall into that category.

However, I am also a pretty serious student of human nature, and if there's one thing that human nature tells us it's that if you give something enough of a chance to become a hurdle it will.

Therefore I need to find the next gear.  I need to fight hard with every ounce of my being to have a solid result that will propel me past 1800 so that I can get that monkey off my back.  Once I do so I will be able to stop worrying about it and hopefully I will be able to just focus on improving...meaning that the rating will improve on it's own as a natural result of my actions.

To that end I have been studying like made.  Tons of tactics.  Tons of Alekhine's games.  Tons of annotated games in general.

I should also take heed from the games in Chennai and switch some focus to endgames.  Look at game four earlier today...Vishy was able to save the game because he knew that R+P vs R+2P was a draw with pawns on the same side of the board.  Magnus was able to keep the game going longer because he knew that by keeping a pair of rooks on the board he increased his winning chances.

Just knowing those things told those guys what to play for in the late middle game and as they transitioned into the endgame.

So it's time for me to find that next gear and get this show on the road...

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Review of The Hague-Moscow 1948 by Max Euwe

What a pleasure it was to learn that this book was finally available in English! 

For anyone who may not be aware of the history, in 1948 a Match/Tournament was held to fill the void left by the death of Alexander Alekhine in 1946.  Held under the auspices of FIDE for the first time the idea was to not only crown a new champion, but also to set up a regular cycle of title defenses. 

Prior to FIDE stepping in to take over the process the world champion himself would decide how often the title would be defended and against whom.  That process led to the ridiculous dry spell from 1937 when Alekhine regained his title from Max Euwe, to 1946 when Alekhine died of no title matches taking place.

FIDE stepped in to ensure that there would now be a regular championship cycle beginning with this event.

This book is published by Russell Enterprises and is 240 pages, using Figurine Algebraic Notation.  The sections of the book include a Foreword by Hans Ree, articles about the lead up to the tournament, and games comprising the prior meetings between the contestants.

I have long been a fan of the history of chess and the world championships, but this tournament has always remained somewhat shrouded in mystery.  Mostly because there was little available in the way of annotated games that were published in English.  I had purchased Gligoric's book on the world championships simply to get the game scores a few years ago.

So it was with a high level of anticipation that I sat down to read this book.  It did not disappoint!

After Alekhine's death there was some talk of simply reinstating the title to the prior world champ, Dr. Max Euwe of the Netherlands.  In fact, Euwe was fond of saying that he was world champion twice...the first time from 1935-37 when he held the title he had won from Alekhine, and the second time for one day in 1948 prior to the decision being made to hold this match/tournament rather than simply restoring the title to Dr. Euwe.

One thing that seems to have been mostly lost with the passage of time is the knowledge that while there were five contestants (Mikhail Botvinnik, Vassily Smyslov, Paul Keres, Max Euwe, and Sammy Reshevsky) who played in this event, there were originally six who were slated, with the final spot being given to the American, Rueben Fine. 

However, by that time Dr. Fine had made the decision to pursue psychology rather than to continue as a professional chess player.  At that point FIDE considered adding Miguel Najdorf in the final slot, but ultimately decided to run the event with five players, meaning that everyone would get extra rest days since each playing day one of the contestants would have a bye.

Naturally the majority of chess aficionados recall that Botvinnik won the title rather handily.  Sadly, however, the event was not completely above board.  In the years afterwards it came to light that the Soviet authorities pressured Paul Keres to throw games to Botvinnik.  There is much debate on the extent of the pressure, with varying opinions on whether or not it actually took place, but it seems to me that based on what I've read from Soviet GM's (i.e. David Bronstein in Secret Notes) that there was at least some coercion to this effect.

That being said, the tournament was designed to be split between two cities, with the first ten rounds taking place in The Hague and the final fifteen in Moscow.  (Keeping in mind that in order for five contestants to play twenty games each five additional rounds were needed due to the byes.)

Sadly for the Dutch fans, their hero Euwe got out of the gates slow, and slowed down further from there.  After the first ten rounds Euwe had managed only 1.5 points.  Botvinnik meanwhile had opened a two point lead which he never relinquished.

The detail level of the annotations of the games varies greatly, with some games being only lightly annotated whilst some are covered with a far greater level of detail.

There is a writeup at the beginning of each round which describes the state of the tournament and related events, followed by the games for that round.  The ECO codes are given for each game along with the name of the opening, and there is an index in the back of the book by both name and code, making cross referencing a breeze.  Furthermore, in an ingenious move the games are separately indexed between the prior meetings leading up to the tournament and the tournament itself.  I found this to be a very nice feature.

Dr. Euwe annotations are very much geared for improvement at the club level as they are more wordy than they are variational.  The focus is on clear explanations which can be understood by all readers.  However, when the situation warrants, detailed variations are given.

Overall I give this book a very solid four out of five stars.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Plan for November

This November will be different than the last two since I returned to playing.  In both 2011 and 2012 I (more or less) took the better part of a month off.  In 2011 it was December.  Last year it was November.  Granted, in both of those months I had some activity, but it was minimal compared with how much I had been playing.

My intent with the time off both years was to give myself a bit of a break and to spend more time studying with the intention of solidifying the results of the prior year.

This year I have no intention of taking a month off.  In fact, I might look to play a bit more.

With that in mind, I give you the plan for November, and it's the simplest plan to date:

Have Fun

Yep, that's it.  Have fun.  Read what I want to read, study what I want to study, and just enjoy myself.

I think that the monthly plans I have devised, while they had a good intent behind them, haven't served me all that well.  If for no other reason than I typically do what I want to do and ignore the things I don't want to do.

So this month I'm just opening the floodgates.  Let's just kick back and have ourselves a good time.

I do want to reach my goal of 1800 by years end.  It's well within reach since I'm essentially one OK result away (just hit a new peak of 1786) so I just need to focus on being consistent with my results and I should make it.

If I do, then I'll work on the next goal.  If I don't then I'll work on a new timeline for this one.

So with that in mind, I'm ready to get this month started!

Recap for October

October's plan was relatively simple.  I wanted to continue to learn the Taimanov Sicilian, and I wanted to analyze my own games.

I didn't work on the Sicilian at all.  I did some minor opening tuneups but nothing major.  Although I do want to become much stronger in the opening, I am starting to realize that improving the other areas of my game is more important and that by focusing on them openings will improve naturally.

As for analyzing my own games, that it something that I continue to do.  I am not perfect about it, but I do analyze the vast majority of them, so it's at least a start.  I want to get to a point where I can truly lose myself in the analysis of my games.  To become so immersed in the variational possibilities that I can get ever closer to learning how to seek the truth of the position.

So all in all I would say that October was a semi-success as far as sticking to the plan, but a smashing success in terms of performance.  I did set another all time peak rating by hitting 1786.

So far 2011 has been a relative success.  I started the year rated just under 1700 and have increased my rating this year in a slow but steady arc.  There haven't been many peaks or valleys, just a gradual increase.  The good news is that this shows that my play is getting much more consistent.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"You've Been Here Before, Sure You Have."

I've tried everything else, so why not the opening sentence to a wonderful Stephen King novel, Needful Things for a title...

This coming Thursday I will get my second shot at making Class A.  I will have Black against Tom Fogec.  I have played Tom only once before, and that game was rather interesting.  Tom had White in that contest as well and played the London against me.  I found a rather interesting pawn sac to get a lot of piece activity, but neither of us could find a lasting advantage so we split the point.

However, that was a little over a year ago.  Now, I find myself 150 points higher rated than I was at that time.

So I will have to make sure that I find my internal focus and don't let anything go to my head as it were.

A couple of years ago my friend Dave Cardenas and I were at a tournament and I read a sentence in something he had that literally changed my way of thinking.  It read "There is action in waiting, and waiting in action."  To me this has become something of a mantra.  My version of "don't hurry."

Is it my time to shine?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ain't It Funny How Time Slips Away

Each month I write a plan for the month on this blog.  It's interesting how two things seem to be tied to that process.  The first is that I generally feel like I am making up the plan on the fly, and the second is that I never seem to find time to do all of the things I claim I will in the plan.
For example, for this month I claim that I want to learn the Taimanov Sicilian, which is a true statement.  But do I need to learn it now?  After all, I play the Scheveningen decently and I also know the French fairly well if I don't feel like playing a Sicilian.

But what about my other openings?  Well, as Black I have been starting to play the Slav after years of playing the King's Indian.  So wouldn't it make more sense to focus on learning the Slav rather than the Taimanov?  Of course it would.  But since I just make my "plans" up on the fly rather than by putting some thought into them this is the kind of result I get.

So is that a reason to disparage?  Not necessarily.  After all, one of the truisms of chess is that studying one area of the game tends to lift your skill levels in other areas of the game.  Meaning that a thorough study of endings will still lift your level of strategic play, etc.  So studying the "wrong" thing is still studying and will still produce results.

Having said all that, I think that if I start to take time to truly focus on making a plan for what is most needed that I will progress more rapidly than my current rate.

Food for thought.

Review of My Chess by Hans Ree

My Chess by Hans Ree - 2013 - Russell Enterprises, Inc. - 240pp - $24.95

Before we get started on this book let's talk about what it is not.  It's not an instructional manual in any way.  It's not a collection of games.  It's not about how GM Ree improved when he was younger.  Rather than any of those things this book is a collection of well-written short stories about people, places, and things that have been a part of Ree's chess career.

If you are someone like myself who enjoys chess history then this book is for you.  If you are someone who enjoys playing and studying chess, but who doesn't know much about the games rich history then this book may very well be your first step towards a deeper appreciation of the game.

The content itself is comprised of forty-two essays.  The writing is so clear and descriptive that I was somewhat surprised to find out that the book was translated from Dutch as I had half thought it was written in English.  So serious kudos are due to Piet Verhagen who handled the translation.

For anyone not familiar with the author, Hans Ree is a Dutch GM.  Born in 1944 he became an IM in 1968, and a GM in 1980.  These days he still maintains some activity in his playing career, but is primarily a journalist.  He has been writing for New in Chess for several years, and also currently writes "Dutch Treat" for the REI website.  You can view the current column here.

As for the book itself, the essays are centered around various topics, in many cases people, such as Max Euwe, Jan Timman, or Bobby Fischer (Ree actually played a game against Fischer in 1968 which you can see here) while in other cases the topics are as wide ranging as alcohol or the sin of pride.

As you would expect given the nationality of the author, many of the stories relate to various Dutch chess personalities.  Some of them are very well known, i.e. Timman and Euwe, whereas some are less well known, but still known, such as Hein Donner.  There exists, however, a third category, and that is those whom I had never heard of.  Included in this last group is Lodewijk Prins.

Prins was a rather colorful character in Dutch chess for several decades.  A GM and a journalist, his life was completely dedicated to the game.  The Prins variation of the Grunfeld (7...Na6) bears his name.  Based on the stories Ree relates one of Prins' most enduring qualities was his ability to hold a grudge.

A fascinating story is relayed about a tournament in Tilburg in which a dinner is held where Prins is sitting at the same table as Jan Sorgdrager, the tournament doctor.  The two had been friends, but hadn't been on speaking terms for quite some time (this seems to be a common theme with Prins) which was making for an awkward dinner for the rest of the attendees.

Someone suggested that the two make up for the duration of the dinner, which was agreed to by Prins.  He and Sorgdrager then spent the rest of the dinner chatting amiably as though their friendship had never been strained at all.  So much so that Sorgdrager was ready to continue the conversation as dinner was winding down.  However, Prins simply turned his back and walked away, instantly resuming the feud.

Another character I found to be rather interesting from a tragicomic perspective was Emil Joseph Diemer, purveyor of the Blackmar-Diemer gambit.

Diemer was a German-born chess master who found very little success early in life.  In 1931 he joined the Nazi party and was promptly thrown out of the house by his father.  As a Nazi Diemer found a bit more success simply because he was now being paid to be the Nazi chess reporter.

During most of his life Diemer passionately advocated the Blackmar-Diemer gambit with modest success.  However, his real achievements came later on when he won the Reserve Group of Hoogovens (Wijk aan Zee) in 1956 and a few years after when he became champion of the Netherlands.

Sadly Diemer's life took a turn for the worse and he wound up being admitted into a psychiatric hospital in 1965.  Apparently he had started reading the writings of Nostradamus and became convinced that he had cracked the code of those writings.  He wrote over 10,000 letters to various people containing his views on the code, which played a large role in his downfall.

Diemer does find some redemption six years later which some of his admirers manage to get an earlier lifetime ban by the German Chess Federation lifted so that Diemer is once again able to compete for his home country.

There are many other stories just as fascinating as those in this book.

I give this book a very solid four out of five stars and I think that GM Ree has done an excellent job of keeping the memories of some very colorful characters alive.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

World Championship 1948

Russell Enterprises was kind enough to send me a copy of this book to review and so I started reading through it this morning.

The book is written by former World Champion Max Euwe, who has long been someone who's games I've admired.  Not to mention that Euwe is probably the most instructional writer among world champions.  (Yes, can argue that Kasparov's books are better, but I think that Euwe's books were written for a much wider audience...)

I have always had a soft spot for this tournament since for the first time in history a governing body (FIDE) stepped in to ensure that there were world championship matches held on a regular basis.  To me this tournament was the stuff that legends were made of.

Just take a look at the participants... Mikhail Botivinnik, Sammy Reshevsky, Paul Keres, Vassily Smyslov, and Max Euwe.  Rueben Fine was also slated to participate, but dropped out to focus on his career of psychoanalysis. 

Played as a quintuple round robin (20 rounds!) that were split between The Hague and Moscow this is the event that culminated Botvinnik's ascent during the 30's to finally place him at the top of the chessic pyramid.  "First among equals" as he liked to say.  This is also the event that brought players such as Smyslov to the forefront of the international chess scene.

Round One featured Euwe - Keres (0-1) and Smyslov - Reshevsky (1/2-1/2) in two beautiful games.  Euwe had a good position against Keres, and then faltered before outright losing the thread of the position and with it the game (although while in extreme time pressure Keres does miss a simple knight fork which would have won Euwe's queen.) Meanwhile, Smyslov builds up a strong attack against Reshevsky before missing a thematic idea and allowing the game to peter out to a draw.

So far I am really enjoying this book and am looking forward to the review.  Look for it to be published here in the next couple of weeks.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Plan for October

"I can see you on the hill (oh why do I...)
You're comatose, but walking still (oh why do I...)" - Neil Young

New month, newish plan.

This month will just be a partial continuation of last month.  For October I plan on working on exactly two things:

Sicilian Taimanov

It's time to get a handle on this one.  I like the positions that arise from it.  I like that it's less muddy than my beloved Scheveningen, and I like that it's something that can be played by feel to a large degree.

So I will continue to read The Siclilian Taimanov: Move by Move by John Emms, and I will continue to study the games of Igor Miladinovic.

Analyze my Own Games

I plan on working hard to analyze each of my games in October, along with the two September games I haven't analyzed yet.  This month I will be playing in a Swiss at the Southwest Club, and will be playing in the Hales Corners Challenge next weekend.

Don't get me wrong, these aren't the only two things I will be doing as I will also be solving tactics puzzles on my phone as well as reviewing Alekhine's best games book and a book on pawn tension, but these are the main two areas of focus I intend to work on.

September Recap

September had already flown by and here was the plan...

  • Learn the Sicilian Taimanov
  • Work on Calculation
  • Work on Analysis
  • Study Fischer Games
So how did I do?  Well, this month I feel that I did so-so.  Let's take them one by one...

Learn the Sicilian Taimanov

I did start to read The Sicilian Taimanov: Move by Move by John Emms.  And in fact, as noted in an earlier post I sort of play a Taimanov.  I didn't play much of one, but I did do some groundwork at least.  I feel comfortable in some of the positions since I am comfortable in the Scheveningen lines already.

Work on Calculation

I didn't specifically do any calculation-related drills (i.e. solve endgame studies) but nevertheless I have noticed that my calculation skills are improving.  I find myself having an easier time more thoroughly examining lines.  I also seem to find candidate moves much easier than I was. 

I am fairly certain that this is a byproduct of the hard work I have put in on analyzing my games. 

Work on Analysis

I didn't do as much as I would like, for no other reason than I have the last two games I have played unanalyzed to date.  I did some post mortem work on them, but nothing in depth and they aren't even in ChessBase.

So lots of work to do in this area, but I did some of what needed to be done and can see the results paying off so far.

Study Fischer Games

This one I did very little of.  One of the down sides to reviewing so many books is that I don't really have as much time to chose what I am going to study on my own.  That's not necessarily a bad thing since I get to study some truly amazing stuff.  For example, I am currently working on the newly released algebraic edition of Alekhine's best games. 

So this area was a total failure.

Nevertheless, September saw my first shot at making Class A, and even though I fell a little short I know that getting there is just around the corner.  I will make it as long as I keep doing what I have been doing.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Looking for a Student

I am looking for a student local here in WI.  I am extremely negotiable on the rate. 

My preference would be someone rated between 1000-1500, but I would work with anyone from about 600-1600 really.

What qualifies me to be a coach?  Simple...I know what it takes to improve.  I have improved about 250 rating points over the past 2 1/2 years myself since I started playing again.

What I bring to the table is a solid understanding of what to study, how to study, and how to apply what you study.

When I first started playing again in Jan 2011 I "studied" all the time.  I read tons of books, I watched tons of videos.  But I was wasting a lot of time until I started taking lessons.  The best thing about a coach is that they will tell you what you need to work on because a player stronger than you can always seen where you need the most help.

Anyone interested please email me at

If you are willing to learn and ready to work I can make you a stronger player.

Algebraic Alekhine!

Earlier this week Russell Enterprises put me on their list of official book reviewers.  For me this was wonderful news as I really was interested in their recently released algebraic version of My Best Games by Alekhine.

Yesterday it arrived in the mail, so I will be reviewing it for this blog and will have my review up in a couple of weeks if not sooner.

So far in playing through the games I am overjoyed.  I have a copy of the Dover version (and in fact recently gave away the two volume Tartan Press version) and while I don't mind descriptive notation, I strongly prefer algebraic.

The reason is that while in the opening it's not too difficult to play through descriptive in your head once you get to the middle game it becomes harder for me.  On the other hand, with algebraic I can easily play through variations in my head that are anywhere from three to five moves, on up to seven or so depending on the position.  This means that I don't have to play everything through on the board, which I personally believe helps with visualization.

Even better of the other books that REI sent to me was Euwe's book on the World Championship tournament of 1948!!!  What a treasure trove!  I didn't even know that this book existed, but I have always enjoyed this tournament (although I've always felt bad for Euwe's miserable performance - he was one of my early heroes...)

Lastly I was sent a copy of My Chess by Hans Ree which is a collection of his stories.  I read the first 20 or so pages and was highly entertained!

So look for reviews of all three books coming soon!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Tomorrow I Get a Shot at Class A

Tomorrow I will be paired as White against Jon Hildeman, rated 1703, in the final round of a Quad at the Southwest Chess Club. 

If I win then according to the ratings estimator my rating will be 1813, putting me in Class A for the first time in my life.

I know that Jon will play 1...d6 with the idea of trading queens immediately.  i.e. 1.e4 d6 2.d4 e5 3.dxe5 dxe5 4.Qxd8+ Kxd8.  Knowing that I need to decide if we are going to play that line or if I will force him to keep queens on the board. 

Last time we played and I had white I move ordered him in a King's Indian Defense, which I know he has been studying, so I need to take some time to weigh some pros and cons.  In that game I didn't get much and we drew by repetition somewhere around move 25-30.

So I'm not sure what I will do, but I do know that it will involve playing for as long as it takes.  I won't overpress to win, but I also won't agree to a draw with any play left in a position.

Stay tuned for more info after the game tomorrow.

Friday, September 13, 2013

New Sicilian, Take One

So last night I had the first game in a club quad.  I had Black against Robin Grochowski.  I have been studying the Taimanov Sicilian lately, so I thought I would mix it up and play it although I hardly know any lines.

Instead, I decided to completely go off the deep end and play some sort of hybrid nothing which was a huge waste of time rather than playing a more traditional Taimanov move order.

I got nothing out of the opening, and was lucky that my opponent wasn't playing the most aggressive continuations.  After my 13th move, having no advantage at all that I could perceive I bailed out and offered a draw, which fortunately for me was accepted.  Houdini confirmed the wisdom of this decision on both our parts since the evaluation is even.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Review of Chess Endgames 12 - Rook vs Knight by GM Karsten Muller

Karsten Muller p- Chess Endgames 12 – Rook vs Knight – fritztrainer DVD – ChessBase

Unless you are new to chess or just returning to chess after an absence of several years you are most likely aware of German GM Karsten Muller’s excellent DVD series on the endgame.

With this release, GM Muller continues his quest to impart high level endgame knowledge to the viewer.   This time in an ending that, while somewhat rare, is difficult to convert without the knowledge of how to do so.

This DVD is broken down into eight chapters.  They are:

1.       Rook versus Knight

2.       Two Rooks verses Rook and Knight

3.       Rook and Bishop versus Bishop and Knight With Opposite Colored Bishops

4.       Rook and Bishop versus Bishop and Knight With Same Colored Bishops

5.       Rook and Bishop versus the Knight Pair

6.       Rook and Knight versus the Knight Pair

7.       Rook versus Bishop and Knight

8.       Rook versus Two Knights

ChessBase was kind enough to send me this DVD to review, and so after watching the DVD here are my thoughts…

First of all, let’s acknowledge just exactly what it is that we are dealing with here….is Knight versus Rook an ending that you can expect to play frequently?  The answer to that is no, it is quite rare.  How rare is it you ask?  So rare that it happens roughly one in every 100 endgames (0.97% to be exact according to Fundamental Chess Endings which was written by GM Muller back in 2001 along with Frank Lamprecht.)

So what is the value in studying something that you will only see a handful of times in your career?  Well, one answer is that perhaps someday you’ll face it in the last round of a tournament with $5,000 on the line.  But that’s not likely.  What is likely is that you will be able to take the concepts that you learn from the study of this endgame and apply them to late middlegame situations as well.

For example, GM Muller introduces the concept of the “knight check shadow” early on in the DVD.  Here are the main two examples:


[FEN – “8/3N4/8/1k4p1/3p2p1/8/1K6/8 w - - 0 63”]


[FEN – “8/8/6n1/8/2K1R3/8/2k5/8 b - - 0 71”]

In the first example the king is limiting the mobility of the enemy knight, while in the second example it’s the rook that is restricting the knight.

The idea of the knight check shadow is to force the knight to spend more tempi to get where it needs to be, if indeed it can get there at all.
Another benefit to this DVD is that when you take all of the various configurations covered in the chapters and add them up you are looking at approximately 20% of the endgames you will play.

Here is an ending from Chapter One that illustrates the knight check shadow technique:

Ju – Kosintseva 2011


[FEN – “R4nk1/2R4p/p4r2/6p1/8/8/7P/6K1 w - - 0 49”]

In the intro to this video clip GM Muller begins by stating that although it may seem surprising White is winning.  This is mainly due to the fact that she can activate her king along with the fact that Black’s pawn on g5 is slightly overextended.

Black begins by exchanging off a pair of rooks to alleviate her cramped position, but ultimately White is then able to dominate the Black knight by using the knight check shadow technique.

49.Kg2!? Rf7 50.Raa7 Rxc7 51.Rxc7 Ne6

[ 51...Ng6 52.Kg3 Ne5 53.Rc5 Nf7 54.Kg4 Kg7 55.Kf5 Nh6+ ( 55...Nd6+ 56.Ke6 Ne4 57.Rc2 g4 58.Ke5 Ng5 59.Kf5+- ) 56.Kxg5 Nf7+ 57.Kf4+- ]

52.Ra7 Ng7

[ 52...Nd4 53.Kg3 h5 54.Rd7 Nf5+ ( 54...Ne6 55.Re7 Nf8 56.Re5 Nh7 57.Kf3 Kf7 58.Ke4 Kg6 59.Re6+ Kf7 60.Rxa6 h4 61.Kf5+- ) 55.Kf3 Ng7 56.Ke4 h4 57.Kf3 Ne8 58.Rd8 Kf7 59.Kg4 Ke7 60.Rd1 Kf6 61.Rd5+- ]

53.Kf3 h5?!

[ 53...h6!? 54.Rxa6 Kh7 55.Kg4 Ne8 56.Kf5 Ng7+ 57.Kf6 Nh5+ 58.Kf7 Nf4 59.Ra7 Nh5 60.Re7 Nf4
61.Kf6+ Kg8 62.Rd7 Kh8 63.h4 gxh4 64.Rd4 Ne2 ( 64...Ng2?! 65.Kg6+- ) 65.Rg4 h5 66.Rxh4 Ng367.Kf7 Kh7 68.Rh3 Kh6 69.Rxg3 h4 70.Rg8 Kh5 71.Kf6 h3 72.Kf5 Kh4 73.Kf4+- ]

54.Ke4!? g4

[ 54...h4 55.Rxa6 Kf7 56.Ke5 g4 57.Rf6+ Ke7 58.Rg6 Kf7 59.Rxg4+- ]

55.Kf4 Ne6+ 56.Kf5 Nd4+

[ 56...Ng7+ 57.Kg6 Ne8 58.Kxh5 Nf6+ 59.Kg6 Ne8 60.Rxa6+- ]

57.Kg6 Kf8 58.Kxh5 Nf3 59.Kxg4 Nxh2+ 60.Kf4 Nf1 61.Rd7


After watching the analysis clip of the position above I gained an appreciation for these types of endgames where the appearance can be deceiving.  I looked at the position before watching the clip and thought it to be a dead draw.  After hearing GM Muller explain the concepts (for example the misplaced pawn on g5) I will be more mindful of these items in my own games.

Chapter Two is Two Rooks vs Rook and Knight.  This chapter starts out with an example taken from a game between Garry Kasparov and Evgeny Bareev from Novgorod 1997.

Here is the starting position of the video clip:

[FEN – “4r3/6R1/8/5K2/8/8/1R2n2k/8 w - - 0 72”]

GM Muller starts off by pointing out that when there are no pawns on the board then positions tend to be drawn the majority of the time, but that White has chances to play for the win.
In the game Kasparov played 72.Rg6!? and then after 72…Re3? 73.Re6 Bareev resigned as he can’t prevent the loss of the knight.
However, Bareev could have played:
72…Kh3! as after 73.Rb3+ Kh2 the position is a draw.


[FEN – “4r3/8/6R1/5K2/8/1R6/4n2k/8 w - - 0 74”]

In fact, I let Houdini run for 3-4 minutes in this position and clipped the analysis below.  Feel free to play through it to see the ideas.
Analysis by Houdini 1.5a w32:
1. =  (0.26): 73.Rb3+ Kh2 74.Rg4 Rf8+ 75.Ke5 Re8+ 76.Kf6 Rf8+ 77.Ke6 Rd8 78.Ra3 Rf8 79.Rg7 Nf4+ 80.Kd6 Re8 81.Rg4 Nd3 82.Rg7 Nf4 83.Rg4

2. =  (0.21): 73.Kf6 Re3 74.Rg8 Ng3 75.Kg5 Re5+ 76.Kf4 Rf5+ 77.Ke3 Re5+ 78.Kd3 Rf5 79.Kd4 Rf4+ 80.Ke3 Ra4 81.Rb1 Ra3+ 82.Kd4 Ne2+ 83.Kc4 Rc3+ 84.Kd5 Ng3 85.Rb4 Re3 86.Rc4 Ne2 87.Rc6 Ng3 88.Rcc8 Kg2 89.Rc2+ Kh3 90.Rh8+ Kg4 91.Rg8+ Kf3 92.Rf8+ Kg4 93.Rc4+ Kh3 94.Rh8+ Kg2 95.Rc2+ Ne2 96.Rf8 Kg3
When pawns are on the board it can be a completely different matter.  Here is a famous example of this type of endgame from St. Petersburg 1914 between world champion Emmanuel Lasker and future world champion Alexander Alekhine.

GM Muller first discusses this position:

[FEN – “r7/2R5/2pr4/2N2k2/8/8/1P6/1K6 w - - 0 47”]

If either of the Black rooks were removed along with the White rook then this is an easily winning position for Black, a fact which is confirmed by six piece tablebases.  Therefore Black’s plan here will involve trading off a set of rooks.

GM Muller then fast forwards to this position:

[FEN – “3r4/8/2p5/1k6/8/1PKN3r/8/3R4 b - - 0 83”]

80.Rd1 Rh2+ 81.Kc3 Rd8 82.Rg1 Rh3 83.Rd1 Rdh8 84.Rg1 R8h5 85.Kc2
[85.Rg4 Rd5]
85…Rd5 86.Rd1 Rg5 87.Rd2
[87.Rf1 Rgg3 88.Rd1 Rg2+ 89.Kc3 Rg5 90.Rd2 Rhg3 91.Rd1 Rc5+ 92.Kb2 Rg2+ 93.Ka3 Rcc2]
87...Rhg3 88.Nc1

[FEN – “8/8/2p5/1k4r1/8/1P4r1/2KR4/2N5 b - - 0 88”]

[88.Nf4 Rc5+ 89.Kb2 Rcc3 90.Ne2 Rcd3 91.Nd4+ Kc5]
88...Rg2 89.Ne2

[FEN – “8/8/2p5/1k4r1/8/1P6/2KRN1r1/8 b - - 0 89”]

[89.Rxg2 Rxg2+ 90.Kc3 Rg3+ 91.Nd3 c5 92.Kc2 Kc6 93.Ne5+ Kd5 94.Nc4 Kd4 95.Kb2 Rg2+ 96.Ka3 Kc3 97.Nb6 Rg4 98.Na4+ Kd4 99.Kb2 Rg2+ 100.Kb1 (100.Ka3 Rh2 101.Nb6 {101. Nb2 Rh3 102. Ka4 Kc3 103. Nc4 Rh4 104.Kb5 Rxc4 105.bxc4 Kd4} 101...Rh6 102.Na4 Ra6 103.Kb2 c4 104.Nc3 cxb3 105.Nb1 Rb6 106.Nd2 Kd3) 100...Rh2 101.Kc1 Re2 102.Kb1 Kd3 103.Nxc5+ Kc3 $19 104.b4 Kxb4 105.Nd3+ Kc3 106.Nc1 Re1]

89...Kb6 0-1
In the interests of space I won’t cover examples from every chapter, but suffice it to say that each of the remaining chapters also breaks down ideas and concepts into variational truths such as the examples given above.
My opinion of this DVD is that this is something that pretty much any player serious about improving should own, if for no other reason that a lot of this material is sparsely covered elsewhere.
Does this mean that you are likely to start getting these endgames in your own games?  Not necessarily, but many of these concepts will translate into late middlegame concepts.  Also, knowing the material in this DVD gives you one more weapon in your arsenal as you will have know when to trade into these endgames with confidence.
I give this DVD four out of five stars.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

In St. Louis for the Sinquefield Cup

For the next three days I will be in St. Louis for the Sinquefield Cup!  This tournament features Magnus Carlsen, Lev Aronian, Hikaru Nakamura, and Gata Kamsky playing in a double round robin format.

If you would like to stay abreast of what's going on please look for my updates published on the blog, which is located here.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Plan for September

As usual it's time to work out the plan for the new month.

This month I am going to continue with what I did last month.

Opening Prep

Specifically I will continue to enter each game I play into ChessBase and then search to see where the deviations occurred and how I or my opponent should have continued with best play.

I also intend to being learning the Taimanov Sicilian.  I have GM Emm's book The Sicilian Taimanov: Move by Move and intend to read it.

My thought process behind this is that it will be less vital to stay near the cutting edge of theory in this opening than it is in my beloved Scheveningen..  Right now that doesn't matter a whole lot, but as I continue to grow in strength, and, as a result, play stronger opponents on a regular basis, it will likely become more important.

Make no mistake, I intend to become a master and I want to give myself every advantage I possibly can.

Analytical Ability

I intend to continue analyzing my own games as I play them.  In addition, I have been going back and analyzing some games which I played over the past few years.  I will continue to post those games here as they happen.

I also welcome all comments, because, as I pointed out earlier, I try to analyze on my own rather than with the computer.  So if you see any holes in the analysis I would appreciate you pointing them out.

Calculation Ability

I will continue to work on quick tactics.  I also need to start working in more endgame studies than I have been.  I've been doing a couple a month.  I need to change this to a couple a week.

Study Fischer's Games

That is this month's new work on.  I need to start working through more Fischer games than I have been.  I'm not sure why I have never systematically looked at his games.  But it's time to at least start.  I do need to get a copy of My 60 Memorable Games at some point.

So there it is there.  Nothing too grandiose, just a nice, simple plan to adhere to.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Recap for August

The plan in August consisted of four items.  They were:  Opening Prep, Analyzing Games, Working on Calculation, and Working on Endgames.

So how did I do?  Let's look at them one by one...

Opening Prep

I think I did well here.  I spent some time sitting down working through lines in books, i.e. Bologan's book on the Chebanenko Slav.  But most of the effort was spent in entering each game I played into ChessBase, and then seeing where the deviation occurred and what else could have been played.

Analyzing Games

For anyone who reads my blog here you will know how I did on this one.  I put up analysis of many of the games that I played.  Granted, the analysis is limited by my skill level since I (mostly) avoided using computers, but I find that I am learning a lot more about chess and the hidden possibilities that lie within each position by working through each of my games.

In the near future I plan on spending a lot more time on each game, but for now what you are seeing typically takes a couple of hours or so.


I have been doing tactics puzzles each day.  Not always for a full 15 minutes or so, but at least close to that on the days that I fall short.  I just do a couple here and there with an app on my phone as I feel like it.

Working on Endgames

This is the area in which I feel somewhat short.  I did spend a little bit of time working on them, but it wasn't the effort that I intended to give.  I spent maybe two to three hours total rather than two to three hours per week.

So overall I think that this month went well.  I am still on a roll and the climb upwards continues.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Another Rating Peak Achieved!

After this year's Southwest Chess Club's championship I managed to achieve another all time peak rating of 1771. 

Things still seem to be going rather well for me.  I feel that my approach at the board has changed a great deal over the past few weeks since I started to seriously analyze my games.  I now make a point to analyze every game after I play it.

I still plan on working on my repertoire until I get it up to par, and I know my endgames need some work, but at this point I feel like things are really continuing to improve and that slowly but surely I am climbing up to where I feel I should be.

Time will tell.

Look for some more games to be posted here soon!

Never Lose Focus

This game is a great illustration of why you should never lose focus.

I played this game against Scott Haubrich last night in the final round of the club championship.  Scott is in the midst of an incredible run having gone 7-2 in the US Open winning the Expert prize outright.

I am crushed out of the opening because I foolishly fail to play ...Qc7 which allows him tactics that get my pieces totally uncoordinated. 

Yet I then fight back to take the initiative and missed a few fighting chances.

The message?  Stay focused!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Cultivating the Will to Win

Something I've been thinking about a lot lately is the will to win.  What separates the best from the rest?  I think that it's the will to prevail rather than to make any assumptions.

For example, look at Gata Kamsky.  He gets into drawish endings where he has the slightest of advantages and then he just keeps pressing until his opponent cracks.  Sometimes that gets him into trouble, such as yesterday against Tomashevsky in the World Cup, but more often than not he doesn't crack under the pressure and he converts an awful lot of those positions.

Now it's easy to say that Gata is a veteran and that's why he has developed the ability to press on in those positions.

Then yesterday I'm looking at a game from when Magnus Carlsen was a twelve year old IM.  He has the White side of a Berlin and he heads right into the endgame line with the annotators noting that even at that young age Magnus was well content to get into an ending with a slight edge and just grind away.

Sometimes I like to think that I am developing that ability myself.  But then you only need look back a few weeks to this to see that I haven't fully developed this ability.

I think that this will be a rather important next step in my improvement.  It's not enough to say you want to win, you actually need to go fight to make it happen.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

What a Difference a Year Makes

What a difference a year can make when it comes to chess.  Last year on August 16th my rating had fallen to 1560 after having been at 1711 only eight months before.

It seemed like I couldn't so much as sit down at the board without dropping game after game to players rated 1200-1400.  Every time I played I felt like I was going to lose.  It was a terrible outlook to have but I just couldn't help it.  I was wondering if I would make it all the way down to my floor of 1500.

Then, something happened.  I remembered that in the first year of my return to competitive play I had taken my rating from 1500 to 1720.  Yes, I then dropped 160 points, but so what.  I had gotten there, hadn't I?

I had gotten cocky and hubris had bitten me.  It was time to relax and remember how I had made it in the first place.

So that's exactly what I did.  I started working hard again when I would study.  I started to remember that rating differences exist for a reason.

Essentially I remembered that if I just played my game the results would follow.  I lost the fear.

In the past 12 months I have been over 1700 for about half that time, and am currently at my all time ratings peak and I feel like I am still trending up.

Here is the game that I credit for turning my attitude around:

Friday, August 16, 2013

Interesting Game

This is a game I played yesterday with an Expert, Troy Zimmerman.  This is the third time I've played Troy (second in a month or so) and was our third draw.

This represents only about two hours or so of analysis, so there are likely some things that I missed.  I would certainly be interested in hearing your comments if you see something I missed.

What I find fascinating about games like this is that it shows that Experts make plenty of mistakes, and it shows that it's possible to make mistakes when playing Experts and survive.

Overall Troy is a far better player than I am now, but for whatever reason I just seem to play him tough.

This was in the fourth (of six) rounds of the Southwest Club Championship.  After this game I have 2.5 points.