Chess Tactics: Najer — Yuferov, 2000

I recently came across the following miniature by Evgeny Najer from the 2000 Chigorin Memorial. It serves as yet another example of the care required when castling behind a fianchettoed bishop!

How did White bring the game to a sudden end?

White to play.

19. ?

Wayward Bishop

Chess Tactics: Mecking — Rocha, 1969

Here’s the conclusion to another beautiful combination from the early career of Brazilian prodigy Henrique Mecking:

In this game from Mar del Plata 1969, how did he finish off a lovely mating attack?

White to play.

21. ?

Mar del Plata
The coast of Mar del Plata, Argentina. Henrique Mecking tied for third place in this 1969 zonal tournament, as Najdorf and Panno tied for first with a monstrous 15½/18! Source: istockphoto

Another King stuck in the middle

Chess Tactics: Wang Chen — Wei Yi, 2016

Wei Yi
Wei Yi. Photo: FIDE

Wei Yi was born in Yancheng, China in 1999 and was one of the greatest child and teen chess prodigies.

He earned his Grandmaster title at the age of 13 years, 8 months, and 23 days in 2013. At the time, this made him the fourth-youngest GM in history.

Wei won the World Under-12 Championship in 2010 and became the youngest winner of the Chinese Championship in 2015, a title he defended in 2016 and 2017. He took the 2018 Asian Continental Championship as well.

In March 2015, at the age of 15, Wei Yi became the youngest 2700 player ever, a record previously held by Magnus Carlsen, and one Wei still holds.

In August 2017, at 18 years old, Wei Yi reached his peak rating of 2753 and peak ranking of World #14. Today he sits at 2729 and World #21 … he’s not 23 years old yet, but such a distant peak for a young player is concerning.

I’m rooting for Wei to hit new heights in the coming years.

 

In this game from the 2016 Chinese League, how did Wei Yi conclude a nice game against International Master Wang Chen?

Black to play.

21… ?

 

Direct beats Indirect

Italian Game: Which Defense?

Italian Game
The starting position of the Italian Game.

The Italian Game begins with the sequence 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4, and is extremely popular at all chess levels.

It is named for “Il Calabrese,” Gioachino Greco (c.1600-1634) who analyzed the opening in the early 17th century. I definitely recommend playing through Greco’s many instructive games and analyses.

Now, how should Black meet the Italian Game?

Like a lot of things in life — and chess — that depends on many factors.

 

Three Main Choices

We can meet the Italian Game with 3…Nf6, 3…Bc5, or 3…Be7. In 20 years of coaching, I have recommended all three moves based on the needs of the student I was working with.

Coaching is an individual endeavor. Never forget that. No cookie-cutting!

Now, I’ll give a breakdown of each defense to the Italian from a coaching perspective.

Two Knights Defense: 3…Nf6

After 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6

We get the most combative choice against the Italian.

As is often the case, “most combative” also means “most complicated!”

To play the Two Knights, you must be okay with a (possible) early tactical melee and be willing to memorize some lines. Otherwise, stay away!

If my student doesn’t show an appetite for learning how to deal with 4.Ng5, or keeps forgetting one of the key lines, the defense is not for them. And that’s not even getting into the Max Lange Attack (4.d4 exd4 5.0-0 Bc5 6.e5), etc.

GIUOCO PIANO, 3…Bc5

With 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5

We get the big practical advantage of not allowing 4.Ng5. For many beginners, this is reason enough to recommend the move.

I believe most gambits are dubious, but after 3…Bc5 White has one of the very best in chess available to him: the Evans Gambit (4.b4).

In addition to having a plan against the Evans (there are a number of ways to deal with it, but you must study a little!); Black must also be ready to handle stuff like the Canal Variation (and Canal Trap), Møller Attack (4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Nc3), etc.

Have you studied your lines?

HUNGARIAN DEFENSE, 3…Be7

Now we get to my controversial pick: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Be7:

I’m not a crusader for this line, but I think it has its place.

Not every student wants to study openings the way some need to be studied.

3…Be7 cuts out all the tricky lines White has against 3…Nf6 and 3…Bc5. The first player simply doesn’t have anything to aim at.

Higher-rated players understand that the Hungarian is dubious because of the space it cedes, but this isn’t a concern below 1400…and probably higher!

Once a player gains some experience, and confidence, you can consider switching them to other lines.

CONCLUSION

Players should not just choose the Giuoco Piano or Two Knights because “everyone else” does…or at least right away. Do those openings suit your needs?

I have students who do well with these lines; but they either have the temperament required to play them, or are willing to put in the work to get good at them.

Some kids just want to play chess a little, not study too much, and spend time on other activities. Don’t force them to be something they don’t want to be.

I’ve had many students do very well with the “passive” Hungarian Defense. Their opponents couldn’t use the aggressive schemes they were accustomed to against it, and got outplayed.

Know your student, and create an opening repertoire that suits them.

Winning Chess Tactics for Juniors

Winning Chess Tactics for Juniors

534 ONE-TWO- AND THREE-MOVE COMBINATIONS FOR THE DEVELOPING CHESSPLAYER

Winning Chess Tactics for JuniorsEditor: Lou Hays
126 Pages. Hays Publishing, 1994
(Reprinted 2011)
Get it for under $10 on Amazon!

Note: I may receive a commission on products purchased through Amazon links on this page. Thanks for your support!

While continuing to go through some of my boxes of chess books, I came across another I’d like to discuss today.

A Tactics Book?

In 2022, many chess lovers use their smartphones to play and study, but I’ve never been comfortable with this, and I’m surely not alone.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve embraced technology in chess. I almost never use a chessboard, and do nearly everything chess-related on my computer including playing, solving puzzles … and blogging! But chess-by-phone is a bridge too far for me.

 

Cheap, Portable Tactics Practice!

If you’re like me and want to practice tactics in book form while on-the-go, portability is a big concern.

I’m holding an older edition of Reinfeld’s 1000 Winning Chess Combinations and Sacrifices overlayed with Winning Chess Tactics for Juniors. WCTJ is only very slightly larger around the edges (less than ¼-inch all the way around!), but much thinner. Both books feature the ideal six-diagrams-per-page.

It’s a great read on the bus or train, or while waiting in an office.

What’s very appealing about this one, and why I’m reviewing it here: it can be purchased very cheaply … as low as $6 on Amazon, including shipping!

 

Chapters

1. Discovery
2. Queen Sacrifice
3. Pin
4. Knight Fork
5. Double Attack
6. Attraction
7. Clearance
8. Overloading
9. Diversion
10. Back Rank
11. Mixed Themes
Solutions

 

Juniors Only?

The title is a misnomer. We know scholastic tournaments are all the rage, and this was already the case in when WCTJ was first published in 1994. Think how many sales this title generated at “kiddie tournaments” …

The premise is partially that WCTJ was based on the much larger and more difficult Combination Challenge! from 1991 by the same publisher. I remember this book being well-regarded in it’s time, but with it’s large size and (still!) high price, I don’t see a reason to recommend it over Chess School 1a and friends.

Adult improvers should not feel embarrassed about studying a book with “Juniors” in the title.  Winning Chess Tactics for Juniors is a good tactics set for anyone rated below 1600.

How to Win Quickly at Chess

How To Win Quickly At Chess

How to Win Quickly at ChessAuthor: IM John Donaldson
143 Pages. Summit Publishing, 1991
Get it for under $10 on Amazon!

Note: I may receive a commission on products purchased through Amazon links on this page. Thanks for your support!

 

What’s in a game collection?

Now in my 20th year of teaching chess, more than ever I’m convinced most improving players bite off way more than they can chew. I’m no exception.

This applies to every area of chess, especially in selecting a coach or choosing which instructional materials to study.

Game collections are always popular with chess fans; Irving Chernev and Fred Reinfeld mostly built their repuations as authors with their books of highly instructive, well-annotated games.

Well-annotated, but not too well annotated!

There are plenty of game collections with dense notes by grandmasters, backed up with computer analysis … but do these “correct” books actually help most readers improve their play?

There’s nothing wrong with grandmaster commentary … but their notes are often written for very strong players. In the United States, only 2-3% of tournament players have ratings over 2000. I suspect things are similar in most countries.

 

Don’t be fooled by the title

How to Win Quickly at Chess is yet another example that the author makes a chess book, not the subject matter!

John Donaldson (born 1958) is an International Master (1983) and FIDE Senior Trainer (2020) who has captained the U.S. (Open) Olympiad team since 1986. He’s written dozens of books on all phases of the game, including a number of historical works. I could have justifiably included him in my Great Chess Authors series, and in hindsight maybe I should have.

Miniature collections can be fun, but often feature “gimmicky” chess and lack instructional value. Not this one!

Donaldson defines a “miniature” as a game that ends in under 21 moves, and gives 76 examples, one to four pages each, in these chapters:

Introduction
Chapter One: History Repeats Itself [games 1-9]
Chapter Two: King Pawn [games 10-28]
Chapter Three: Queen Pawn [games 11-48]
Chapter Four: English and King’s Indian Attack [games 49-57]
Chapter Five: Perpetuals [games 58-70]
Super Short Games [games 71-76]
Bibliography

Chapter One features games where multiple victims fell pray to the same (or nearly the same) opening pitfalls.

Chapters Two, Three, and Four feature miniatures divided by opening family; within each chapter, the games are sorted by ECO code.

Chapter Five features short games drawn by repetition or perpetual check. There are a couple of well-known examples, but most you are not likely to have seen.

Super Short Games is just what it sounds like; included is the backstory to the infamous Zapata—Anand game from Biel 1988.

 

How to Win Quickly at Chess is not a must-buy, but it is a fine modern game collection for the improving player. At 2000+, I myself picked up some useful ideas. Leave the dense tomes behind; get easy-to-read volumes like this one by serious authors that contain excellent instructional content.

Recommended!

Reader Question: Which Sicilian?

A few weeks ago I received this question from a reader; sorry for the late post and reply!

Hi Andre,
My name is Marc and I love your website! I am trying to find my Sicilian! I like your article. I don’t want to play Sveshnikov or Dragon or Najdorf as it’s too much theory. Though I do like sharp positions.
I was thinking of playing the Richter-Rauzer and vs most other moves [like] f3, Bc4, and Bg5 play a Dragon (or if Be3, play …Ng4) or play Schevenigen with …e6 move order and deal with Keres attack.
I think Taimanov though also combative is under hard times somewhat due to Be3 and Qf3.  Or do you have another idea?
Thanks,
Marc Sicina

Hi Marc,
Thanks for the kind words and the question!
My first thought is that if you want to play a sharp Sicilian, don’t run from theory.
I don’t think the Classical (against which the main line is the Richter-Rauzer, as Marc points out: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 and now 6.Bg5) is right for a sharp player. It’s more of a positional system.
I’m not an expert on the Scheveningen, but allowing the Keres Attack seems very risky and gives your opponent the sharp position, not you!
The Sveshnikov is theory-heavy, but not super-sharp, but of course a great choice.
I’m going to give you the answer you probably already know but won’t like: I think if you want a sharp (and sound) Sicilian, you have to choose the Najdorf or Taimanov, if you want to avoid Dragon theory. Remember that you whatever theory you don’t know, generally your opponents will know even less!

Chess Tactics: A. Sokolov — Novikov, 1984

Andrei Sokolov
Andrei Sokolov in 1986. Photo: Lothar Karrer/ChessBase

Andrei Sokolov was born in 1963 in Vorkuta, Russia (then part of the USSR). A superstar in the 1980s, he is largely unknown by chess fans today because his career as a top player was relatively short.

Sokolov won the World Junior Championship in 1982, and captured the USSR Championship in his first appearance in 1984. At 21 years old, he was one of the youngest-ever Soviet Champions.

Still, he kept rising. A 3rd place finish in the 1985 Biel Interzonal (behind Rafael Vaganian and Yasser Seirawan) was followed by a tie for 1st-3rd place in the 1985 Montpellier Candidates Tournament (with Artur Yusupov and Vaganian).

Finally, there were Candidates matches. After defeating Vaganian (4 wins, 4 draws) and Yusupov (4 wins, 7 draws, 3 losses) in 1986, he faced former World Champion Anatoly Karpov in the 1987 Candidates Final. A victory here would have meant a World Championship match with Garry Kasparov!

Sokolov lost this match (7 draws, 4 losses). This is the same score Ian Nepomniachtchi managed in his 2021 World Championship match against Magnus Carlsen … and it’s also the same score Kasparov had against Karpov after 11 games in their 1984 match!

In 1987, Andrei Sokolov was ranked World #3 (with Yusupov, behind Kasparov and Karpov) at 2645, and he was just 24 years old. It seemed the sky was the limit.

Alas, the 1985-87 cycle would be the peak of Sokolov’s career — after 1988 he fell out of the Top 20, never to return. Since 2000, he has represented France.

 

Here we look at an early battle between Sokolov and Igor Novikov (born 1962) who would become one of America’s top players in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

White to play.

17. ?

 

Controlled aggression

Chess Tactics: Cuellar — Uhlmann, 1973

Wolfgang Uhlmann
Wolfgang Uhlmann. Photo: The New York Times.

Wolfgang Uhlmann (1935-2020) was eight-time champion of East Germany between 1955 and 1985, and an early International Grandmaster, earning his title in 1959. He reached the Candidates Quarter-Final in 1971, but was eliminated by Bent Larsen.

Uhlmann was arguably the greatest expert on the French Defense in the history of chess. He replied to 1.e4 with 1…e6 almost exclusively. This is exceedingly courageous in high-level play, when all of his opponents would have been expecting it! To this end, I still highly recommend Uhlmann’s 1995 book Winning with the French, as his insights are invaluable even if some of the theory has moved on.

 

Today we’ll look at Uhlmann’s sparkling victory with the Black pieces against Miguel Cuellar Gacharna (1916-1985) in the first round of the 1973 Leningrad Interzonal. Cuellar Gacharna was an International Master (1957) and nine-time champion of Colombia between 1941 and 1971. During his career he scored several victories over top players including Efim GellerViktor Korschnoj, Miguel Najdorf, Oscar Panno, and Samuel Reshevsky.

 

Black to play.

15… ?

 

What we have is failure to coordinate

Chess Tactics: Korobov — Taher, 2021

Anton K
Anton Korobov. Photo: Sunway Chess Festival

Anton Korobov (born 1985) is a Ukrainian Grandmaster (2003) and four-time Champion of his country (2002, 2012, 2018, 2020). His peak rating was 2723 in January 2014, and he has been ranked as high as World #25 on a couple of occasions.

He is a formidable player on the international circuit, having won such events as the Czech Open, Abu Dhabi Masters, and Poikovsky Karpov Tournament. In addition, he has collected individual gold medals at the Chess Olympiad and European Team Championship.

Anton Korobov is currently the top seed at the 2021 Sunway Chess Festval in Sitges, Spain — an event he won in 2019. In Round 3 he played a game that should make it into future textbooks: the isolated pawn couple that appears reminded me of Akiba Rubinstein‘s classic game against Georg Salwe in 1908.

 

Korobov’s opponent is Yosef Theolifus Taher (born 1999), International Master (2018) from Indonesia and winner of the 2018 Asian Universities Chess Championships (Men).

White to play. What should he do?

11. ?

 

From Lodz to Sitges

 

And here is the Rubinstein — Salwe game …