Monthly Archives: March 2020

The En Passant Rule

En Passant means “in passing” in French, and you’ll soon see why the rule is named this way. It should be the last of the three special moves taught to a new player, after castling and pawn promotion. Players are often confused by en passant, but I promise to make it clearer!

Things to Remember about En Passant

En passant can definitely be found here

USCF Official Rules of Chess

  • En passant involves pawns capturing pawns. No other pieces can capture or be captured.
  • The capturing pawn must be three squares from his starting line. So a white pawn must stand on the 5th rank to make the capture and a black pawn must stand on the 4th rank.
  • The pawn-to-be-captured must jump two squares from its starting position, ending up next to the capturing pawn.
  • The capturing pawn, standing next to the enemy pawn, moves diagonally behind it and removes it from the board.
  • If the chance for en passant appears, you must do it immediately or you lose your chance with that combination of pawns.

En Passant examples

Now, let me show you what I mean. Take the following position:

I’ll show en passant for both sides. First for white:

Example 1

For black:

Example 2

Let’s say you pass up your chance for en passant. Well, you might get a different opportunity later, even with the same pawn! How? The following position will show what I mean.

Example 3

The en passant rule is not so bad, is it?

Summary

  • Pawns capture pawns
  • Capturing pawn three squares from starting line
  • Enemy pawn moves two squares from the starting line at once, standing adjacent to the capturing pawn
  • Must capture immediately if desired

The Internet Chess Club (ICC): Why I still pay to play

I’m an Internet Chess Club (ICC) dinosaur, I guess.

There are a lot of popular chess-playing sites nowadays, many of them free. The biggest at the moment seem to be chess.com, chess24.com, and lichess.org. These “big three” are free.

Internet Chess Club logo

Internet Chess Club logo

Still, I happily pay $69.95 each year to play on ICC, the Internet Chess Club.

The former industry leader (established in 1995) keeps losing market share to other sites, but there are two huge reasons I haven’t switched.

ICC’s Barrier to Entry

I like the fact that to play on ICC with anything but a guest account, players need to make a financial commitment to do so.

I believe a person is less likely to “fool around” or cheat when they have real skin in the game. There’s no incentive to do so.

This means I rarely encounter players who let their clock run out in hopeless positions. I also can’t ever remember facing someone I felt was using computer assistance. Players give their best effort, and the games are very “professional.”

I don’t like to chat with my opponents. I have set an auto “Thanks for the game” message to appear after each game, and no talking allowed during play. It’s rare I get a rude comment after a game, even if I win in a time-scramble — I get such comments less than ten times a year.

Part of this “professionalism,” I’m sure, has to do with who I’m facing.

The Pool of Players (Literally!)

ICC has “pools.” When you join the 1-minute, 3-minute, 5-minute, 15-minute, etc. pools you are automatically paired against another player in the pool. Pools aren’t unique to ICC, other sites have them too.

The thing is, I nearly always get a worthwhile game. True, ICC occasionally pairs me against a player with too few games to have an established rating. Overall though, I don’t feel like I waste my time when I log on, having to face players far below my skill level or who may be using computer assistance.

I’m not saying no one cheats on ICC, and I’m not accusing other sites of having lots of cheaters. My point is, I see no need to change what works for me. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for everyone.

Caveat Emptor…ICC isn’t perfect

One of the increasingly annoying things about playing on the Internet Chess Club is that it can take some time to be paired in the pool, sometimes around a minute. No doubt this is because of the decreasing number of opponents available to play. It’s not too big of a deal, though.

A 1500 player probably wouldn’t get the same value from ICC compared to one of the big free sites. And for many years, I have only recommended ICC to players roughly 1000 or more. So if you’ve finished Chess School 1a, give it a shot!

My current USCF rating is 2075. Not enough to get perks on other sites (or on ICC either, for that matter), but too strong to be mixed in a giant pool with a lot of weaker players. At least I think so…maybe I’m wrong. The hypothetical 1500 player I mentioned earlier isn’t bumping against the top of the scale.

Perhaps my read is incorrect and I’m just being stubborn? I’d love to hear what other people think about this topic!

Chess Tactics: Uhlmann—Zwaig, 1967

Tactics are everywhere

I recently looked at the game Uhlmann—Zwaig from Halle 1967, and a possible tactic caught my attention (it did not actually occur in the game). It’s a great example of looking for checks, captures, and threats before considering other moves!

If you haven’t been looking for checks, captures, and threats before when playing chess, try it. I guarantee it will transform your play, and your results. This is how you can apply the chess middlegame tactics you have hopefully been practicing!

How to Choose a Chess Move: Step by Step

If you want to choose a chess move, or a good one at least, forget about inspiration, luck, or genius. The key is knowing what to look for.

Person looking through a telescope

Finding better moves will improve your game, no doubt about it. There’s a cost, however: you realize “doing whatever you want” doesn’t bring optimal results.

Many casual players enjoy finding interesting ideas in chess spontaneously, and discover that improvement reduces their enjoyment of the game! You have been warned.

The steps to choose a chess move

1. Look to see if you are in check; if you are, play the best move you can.

2. Look for possible captures that win material.

3. Improve a piece while making a threat. The stronger the threat, the more priority you should give the move.

4. Force an enemy piece to a worse position.

5. Improve one of your pieces, even if it does not create a threat.

6. Look for good exchanges. Trade off your opponent’s well-placed piece for your badly-placed piece. A piece is good if it doing something useful or is posted where the action is taking place.

7. Improve your pawns. Especially, exchange off your weak pawns (isolated, backward, doubled).

The FIDE Candidates Tournament. Let’s discuss.

What a mess!

The big news in the chess world is the decision to pause the FIDE Candidates Tournament held in Yekaterinburg, Russia after the first half. The winner of the Candidates Tournament will challenge World Champion Magnus Carlsen in the next title match.

Logo for the 2020 FIDE Candidates Tournament

Logo for the 2020 FIDE Candidates Tournament

Starting the event was questionable in the first place. While I would have postponed the tournament, I can see the reasoning for going through with it. In my view, it wasn’t just about throwing off the timing of the World Championship Match.

FIDE didn’t want to disrupt the zonals and continental championships for the 2022 cycle. Understandable, but short-sighted.

Around the beginning of March, FIDE apparently issued Teimour Radjabov an ultimatum about playing in the Candidates Tournament or not. When he declined, they inserted first alternate Maxime Vachier-Lagrave into the tournament.

No takebacks

Once Radjabov was out and MVL was in, FIDE was already stuck. They had to start the tournament even though things looked increasingly grim as the March 15 start date approached.

What were they going to do by, say, March 13? Postpone the event, try to send everyone home, and replace MVL with Radjabov again? I’m sure, privately, FIDE already knew before the tournament started that they had messed up. Hindsight really is 20/20.

FIDE took a decision that they would only allow outside forces to stop the event. It was a very risky course and I didn’t agree with it, but now the question is: what to do with half the tournament completed and Radjabov looking for answers?

What should be done about the Candidates Tournament now?

Radjabov can’t be added to the event now. He should be an automatic entry for the 2022 Candidates Tournament, along with the loser of the 2020/2021 World Championship Match, removing one of rating qualification slots. This isn’t fair to Radjabov, but I’m not sure what else to suggest besides additional financial compensation, which would also be appropriate.

The rest of the field should stay as is. Ian Nepomniachtchi and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave can be happy with developments, but just about everyone else will feel that their tournament would have started much better in a more normal environment.

A small rant…

There was so much criticism of Kirill Alekseenko being chosen for the wildcard ahead of Vachier-Lagrave. Well, one of the reasons organizers bid for such events is the ability to name a wildcard. FIDE did the right thing by restricting the criteria so only a small number of players could be named the wildcard, but the organizers chose from that pool of players!

Of course the Russian organizers wanted a Russian player in the tournament! This is not outrageous, corrupt, or anything else. Organizers from any other country with the chance to pick one of their countrymen would also have done the same. MVL had many chances to qualify directly and failed.

It seems there is not enough interest ($$$) from patrons or governments in Western countries to host top-level chess events. The big exception of course is Rex Sinquefield in Saint Louis.

We should be happy there are entities with resources to hold these events and support the players. One wildcard out of eight players seems like a necessary trade to me, in this day and age, for a 500,000 euro prize fund. A lot of fans just don’t like it when higher-rated players aren’t chosen.

Chess School 1b

Chess School 1b will take your tactics to the next level

Chess School 1b by Sergey Ivaschenko is the sequel to Chess School 1a and contains 680 puzzles, bringing the total for the two books to 1299.

Chess School 1b

Chess School 1b

1b is intended for players rated 900 to 1500. In my experience, this range is accurate; students reach that level when they finish the book. It’s important to work on other things, but nothing is possible in chess without tactics.

There are six positions on almost every page, same as the first volume. Diagrams are just the right size — huge diagrams mean a much larger book, and tiny diagrams are hard to see.

You need to find 2-3 move sequences to win material, make a draw, or figure out “How to Proceed?” The last 300+ puzzles don’t give you any clues — just like in a real game!

A lot of tactics books teach patterns; this book will improve the way you see chess.

Your analytical skills will be stronger by the time you finish the book, and your endgame play will also improve. The many endgame positions in books 1a and 1b set them apart from other tactics collections.

The cover art and illustrations show the book was intended for kids, but adults wanting to improve should not be put off by that.

This book has stood the test of time, and there’s no need to search for a flashy alternative.

Chess School 1

If you see this one, buy it!

I should also mention: there is a lime green-colored Chess School 1 which contains Chess School 1a and 1b in one hardcover volume! It’s hard to find, so buy it if you can find it! Not to mention, it’s cheaper than buying 1a and 1b separately.

This book (or 1a and 1b together) will take a beginner to 1500-1600, provided they get some instruction on other parts of the game. Certainly, the downfall of most players — tactics! — won’t be a problem.

Chess School 1a

The tactics book I recommend above all others!

I started assigning Chess School 1a to students circa 2007, and still recommend it in 2020.

Chess School 1aThere are 719 puzzles in this book, with an intended audience of absolute beginnners up to an approximate rating of 1000. I definitely recommend it as a first tactics book, and it can help a player for awhile.

The book starts with mate-in-1 positions where you are told what to mate with, followed by mate-in-1s where you aren’t told what to use. Next are puzzles where the object is to win a piece. Later come mate-in-2 puzzles, drawing combinations, endgame puzzles, and more.

I love the variety of the examples chosen and the gently increasing difficulty.

Directions are given at the top of each page in English, German, Russian, and Spanish. There are puzzles for white and for black, and the solutions are at the end of the book.

Chess School 1a will improve your pattern recognition and tactical skills. This book is not always easy to find, but it’s definitely worth it. I have ordered it from overseas in the past, but at the moment this isn’t necessary.

When you finish the book, be sure to move on to Chess School 1b!