Tag Archives: Openings

The English Opening: Playing 1.c4

The English Opening or …

I am by no means a specialist on openings in general, or the English Opening in particular, but I have opened with 1.c4, 1.d4, 1.e4, and 1.Nf3 in my tournament career.

As many before me have said, 1.e4 is the most straightforward first move, and 1.d4 can be very direct as well if the player intends it to be so.

A 1.Nf3 user often employs transpositional “games” against their adversary, aiming for certain openings or variations while avoiding others. Two defenses that regularly get frozen out in this way are the Nimzo-Indian and the Grünfeld, when white plays an early Nf3 and c4, but not d4.

Why 1.c4?

One of the main arguments for 1.Nf3 is that it avoids 1…e5.

In contrast, the 1.c4 player wants to play “English” positions; not just transpose into favorable d4-lines. Specifically, I’m talking about positions that arise after 1.c4 e5.

The 1.c4 player likes playing these positions since black has ceded control over the d5-square white hopes to clamp down on:

I began to like these positions after studying How to Play the English Opening (Batsford, 2007) by Anatoly Karpov. The ex-World Champion spends a lot of time covering the Four Knights Variation with 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.g3:

…mainly through his games against Garry Kasparov and other absolute top players. He also covers other choices on move 4 besides g3.

Game Changers

Kosten's famous book on the English Opening

I doubt Kosten imagined the influence his small book would have on the popularity of the English Opening!

Karpov’s book is underrated, but that likely has to do with the enduring popularity of The Dynamic English (Gambit, 1999) by Tony Kosten, and the authority Mihail Marin established with The English Opening (3 Volumes, Quality Chess, 2009-2010).

Kosten and Marin recommend the move order 1.c4 e5 2.g3. Kosten’s book in particular is very system-based, which appeals to many players. But with the explosion of chess information over the past 20 years, black players are more aware than ever how to deal with his main setup, the Botvinnik System:

That doesn’t mean white should hesitate to play this way if s/he enjoys the resulting positions. The strongest ideas in chess are those that are effective even if your opponent knows they’re coming.

But the “Old” English Opening was Popular for Decades!

1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 is less predictable: both sides have freedom to choose their preferred setup — black can even try 2…Bb4. Going into lines with 2.Nc3 is something to consider for a player who has more advanced positional skills than their peers and has reasonable hopes of outplaying them — though I wouldn’t recommend the English until a player is 1600, at least.

Flank openings are more structurally fluid than 1.e4 or 1.d4, but choosing 1.c4 over 1.Nf3 takes that to another level. If you can become a specialist in “pure” English positions, there are plenty of points to be scored simply through better familiarity of the terrain.

Irving Chernev: Great Chess Authors, Part 6

After seeing my choice of Fred Reinfeld last week, today’s selection should not be a surprise. In fact, he co-authored a few books with Reinfeld.

Irving Chernev (1900-1981)

Irving Chernev. Photo: World Chess Hall of Fame.

Irving Chernev. Photo: World Chess Hall of Fame.

Born in Pryluky (part of the old Russian Empire, now Ukraine), Irving Chernev emigrated to the United States in 1920.

He wrote 20 books, including classics that have been updated to Algebraic Notation from Descriptive Notation.

While I consider Max Euwe the most instructive chess author, there is no one I enjoy reading more than Irving Chernev. His love of chess shines through on every page. Well-chosen examples, insightful comments, and easy reading.

Game Collections

I absolutely love game collections, and Chernev wrote several good ones, including Logical Chess: Move by Move (1957), The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played (1965), and The Golden Dozen (1976). There is also 1000 Best Short Games of Chess (1955).

I was also gifted The Russians Play Chess (1947) by Charlie Ebbecke while I was a member of the Bronx Yonkers Chess Club in the late 1990s. I played through many of the games in this book several times!

But my favorite — and one of my top ten books — is Capablanca’s Best Chess Endings (1978).

If you have trouble making sense of endgame play, take a couple of weeks and play through the 60 games in this book. It will transform your entire outlook on chess. Chernev isolates the final phase of the games and explains in words what is going on. Brilliant stuff.

Instructional

By my count there are Combinations: The Heart of Chess (1960), Practical Chess Endings (1961), and two earlier books Chernev worked on with Reinfeld: Chess Strategy and Tactics (1933), and Winning Chess (1948).

Others

I’ve always wanted to get my hands on 200 Brilliant Chess Endgames (yes, I have a weakness for endgames!). Other titles include The Fireside Book of Chess (with Reinfeld, 1948), and The Bright Side of Chess (1948).

Final Thoughts

Irving Chernev wrote a great deal of good books for the improving and average player. His works are easy to read and you can easily spend hours on them without realizing you have done so…

Chess Tactics: Von Scheve — Teichmann, 1907

Richard Teichmann. Photo: Deutscher Schachbund.

Richard Teichmann lost sight in his right eye in the 1890s. Photo: Deutscher Schachbund.

Richard Teichmann (1868-1925) was one of the best players of the early 20th century.

The German master was nicknamed “Richard V,” as that was often his tournament placing.

Karlsbad 1911 proved to be a different story: he rose to the occasion and achieved the greatest result of his chess career.

Teichmann won the 26-player round-robin by a full point over a string of current and future top players — Akiba Rubinstein, Carl Schlechter, Frank Marshall, Aron Nimzowitsch, Savielly Tartakower, Alexander Alekhine, and Rudolf Spielmann among them.

 

 

Here is a brevity against Theodor von Scheve, played at the Berlin Jubilee Tournament of 1907.

Black to play. How did Teichmann conclude the game in short order?

12…?

Don’t abandon your castled king

Should I Play 1…e5 Against 1.e4?

If you are rated under 1000, YES! Without a doubt. Start with the Double King Pawn.

It’s important to learn how to fight for and maintain control of the central squares before trying to counterattack your opponent’s center.

After my first few rated tournaments, I began playing the Pirc (1.e4 d6):

And had no idea what I was doing. I simply chose the opening because I saw it in MCO-13 and it had a lot less pages to “study” than most other defenses to 1.e4. By study, I meant “memorize,” because that’s what I thought opening learning was about in those days.

When I was around 1000, I switched to the French (1.e4 e6):

About which I did have a decent idea thanks to the books Mastering the French with the Read and Play Method by Neil McDonald and Andrew Harley; and French Classical by Byron Jacobs.

My play was passive and one-dimensional. I didn’t learn how to attack, instead sitting back and waiting to spring a counterattack. I played other dodgy openings like the St. George Defense (1.e4 a6) sometimes, scoring over 50% with it.

You can get away with this against the Under 1800 crowd, but I wouldn’t recommend it!

I dabbled with other openings over the years, too: the Caro-Kann (1.e4 c6):

The Scandinavian (1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6):

Even, for one or two tournaments, Alekhine’s Defense (1.e4 Nf6):

I deliberately avoided 1…e5 and the Sicilian (1.e4 c5)

Because they were “too complicated.”

Yes, there are many choices available to white after 1.e4 e5, but not a lot of different ideas. That is the key.

You want your pieces to become active and to not allow white to get (or maintain) a pawn duo on d4 and e4.

After the common sequence 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6:

Black’s control of d4 does not allow white to push the d2-pawn there without it being exchanged. If that exchange happens black will have decent control over the center.

Black is fine in the Italian game as long as he or she doesn’t fall into a trap, so let’s look at a common line in the Scotch Game:

Black has nothing to worry about here, with good development and a solid position.

This begs the question: why not play an early c2-c3 in order to play d2-d4 and replace a captured d4-pawn with the c3-pawn? Well, that’s what the Ponziani Opening tries but fails to achieve:

Black has other good tries on move 3. The point is, white can’t keep the entire center intact.

That brings us to white’s best attempt, and the main one black traditionally worries about when deciding to play 1..e5: the Ruy Lopez.

This is perhaps white’s strongest attempt to trouble black after 1.e4 e5. Black can also choose the solid Petrov Defense (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6):

Which is arguably even more solid.

I recommend all new players get considerable practice in the Double King Pawn before trying something else. At 1400-1600 a player can branch out if they feel they must.

The #1 Ingredient for Chess Improvement

Chess improvement is a goal of most players

Maybe you dream of raising your rating 100-200 points…achieving a rating of 2000…winning a Club or National Championship. I have done each of these things, when a year or two before it seemed unlikely.

There are endless chess books, websites, and coaching options available to players who want to get better. All of these tools can be helpful if utilized well, but one factor is more important than any other in determining how far a player will go in their chess endeavors: dealing with losses.

You’re going to make mistakes, blunder, and lose games you shouldn’t. You will also have bad tournaments — possibly streaks of bad tournaments — and sometimes feel like your efforts at progress are going nowhere.

Why am I spending all of this time, money, and energy training and playing tournaments? Maybe I should just cut my losses and stop torturing myself.

Have thoughts like this ever crossed your mind? They have for me, many times over the years!

Somtimes you can push these thoughts away, and sometimes they have a stronger pull, causing you to “take a break” from chess.

To keep moving forward, accept all results as simply feedback and don’t get so personally attached to it. Much easier said than done! And, admittedly, something I have never been able to do for even a full year at a time.

I reached my highest-ever rating in October 2016, at 2137. The dream of becoming a National Master after 20+ years seemed so close! Two great tournaments, three good tournaments, or four above-average tournaments might bring me to 2200.

Then I made a big mistake. Several mistakes, actually:

  • I did not recognize that my rating gains were partially luck and not the result of great play on my part. Winning from worse or losing positions, opponents walking into my opening preparation, timely draw offers accepted when my opponents should not have done so…
  • I forced myself to play events when I did not feel 100% prepared.
  • I decided to change my style and hired a coach to help me play in this alien style.
  • I put more pressure on myself as my rating slid further away from 2200 with each passing event.
  • I became demoralized and “pulled the plug” four tournaments later in June 2017 when my rating sank to 2075.
  • I have not played a tournament since!

I mean, I know better. When you lose your objectivity, you can lose everything.

Funnily enough, I was planning to play again in April 2020 alongside one of my students. Best laid plans…

I have been working on my game at a slow pace, and should be ready to compete again when COVID-19 becomes less of a threat.

My advice to you (and to myself):

I mean, I’m not providing earth-shattering advice here. Most experienced players know what to do…the question is, will you do it?

Fred Reinfeld: Great Chess Authors, Part 5

Not everyone will agree with this selection, but generations of American chess players grew up on the works of my next great chess author. I have read several of his books myself and always enjoyed them.

Fred Reinfeld (1910-1964)

Fred Reinfeld

Fred Reinfeld. Photo: World Chess Hall of Fame

Fred Reinfeld was born in 1910. The lifelong New Yorker was one of the USA’s best in the 1930s, playing in two U.S. Championships.

Retiring from active play in 1942, he never competed internationally. As a result, FIDE did not award him the International Master title when it was created in 1950. He likely had the requisite chess strength for this rank by today’s standards.

Reinfeld had the two ingredients every great chess author needs: playing strength, and an ability to reach improving players. His clever anecdotes and memorable rules are forever part of America’s chess heritage.

 

More Than 100 Books

Reinfeld was a prolific author, and I can’t name all of his works. Still, some of his titles stand out:

1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations (1955)

1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate (1955)

These are still among the best puzzle books available. They’re cheap, filled with good material, and you can stuff them in your pocket and work through them on-the-go.

There are typos and the diagrams are not the most pleasing (at least in the old editions, new “21st century” editions of these books have been published in the last several years). But in a time before chess tactics software, web-based tactics training, and an overload of chess study material, I have no doubt these books helped create an untold number of master-level players.

I’m a big believer in Chess School 1a and Chess School 1b for players up to about 1600. At the same time, I would not second-guess anyone who put their trust in the Reinfeld duo.

The Complete Chess Course (1959)

The first Reinfeld book I read; and I still feel nostalgia when I see it in Barnes & Noble. Yes, it’s written in Descriptive Notation, as all of his books originally were.

This book, in eight parts, won’t do any harm, something I can’t say for every highly-acclaimed chess book. I borrowed the 700-page tome from the library circa 1995 and somehow finished it. I don’t remember much because my eyes began to glaze over at some point. There are many books I would recommend ahead of The Complete Chess Course, but I guess it was an amazing resource for its time.

Hypermodern Chess: As Developed in the Games of Its Greatest Exponent, Aron Nimzovich (1958)

Great Brilliancy Prize Games of the Chess Masters (1961)

Great Short Games of the Chess Masters (1961)

All of these game collections contain dozens of instructive games, each preceded by a catchy headline and introduction setting a frame for the battle. The Nimzowitsch book places more emphasis on the man’s theories as they come about in his games.

Reinfeld doesn’t go crazy with the analysis, and does a good job of choosing instructive lines to illustrate the play without getting bogged down in endless variations. Take out a chess set on a nice afternoon and play through a selection of these games!

Others

Reinfeld wrote many other books, some co-authored. One of the most enjoyable chess books I have ever read is Chess Traps, Pitfalls, and Swindles (1954) by Reinfeld and I.A. Horowitz. I still remember some of the stories I read in that one almost 25 years later, and the book helped me look for unlikely resources in bad situations — something that happens to me a lot…

He also wrote books on checkers, coin collecting, literature, and other things.

Which Reinfeld books are your favorites?

Final Thoughts

I’m not sure if Fred Reinfeld’s books will endure in the 21st century the way those of Euwe and Nimzowitsch surely will, but I hope they do! His books are instructive and engaging, and I heartily recommend you give them a try.

Chess Tactics: Gusev — Auerbach, 1946

This has to rank as one of the greatest queen sacrifices ever, and it is of the rare positional variety! The move is stunning, but once you see the idea everything becomes crystal clear.

Enjoy!

White to play. How did Gusev earn a slice of immortality?

24.?

Cornered!

ICCF: Official Correspondence Chess

Intro to Correspondence Chess

Most players are used to over-the-board, or OTB, chess. Correspondence games are played over a period of months or even years, and not in person.

Screenshot of a completed ICCF correspondence game

Screenshot of a completed ICCF correspondence game.

They were traditionally played by postal mail, with each player sending moves to their opponent on a postcard. This is rare nowadays, and most games are played via a webserver — just log in, bring up your game, and enter a move on a chessboard. You can also exchange messages with your opponent if you wish.

Individual correspondence tournaments are round-robins with an odd number of players. You play all of your games simultaneously: half with the white pieces, and half with black. The time control is given as X moves in Y days: for example 10 moves in 50 days. This repeats as long as the game continues and a player has not run out of time.

Many sites offer correspondence chess, and the number grows if we include online servers that offer everything from blitz, to standard, to correspondence-style play. However, there is only one place to play official, FIDE-recognized CC: the ICCF.

 

The International Correspondence Chess Federation (ICCF)

The ICCF logo.

The ICCF logo.

Let’s learn a bit about ICCF’s history, from the body itself:

ICCF is the International Correspondence Chess Federation. ICCF was founded in 1951 as a new appearance of the ICCA (International Correspondence Chess Association), which was founded in 1945, as successor of the IFSB (Internationaler Fernschachbund), founded in 1928.ICCF

And the key part:

ICCF is closely co-operating with the leading world chess organization FIDE. All ICCF titles, championships and ratings are recognised by FIDE.ICCF

Titles

In addition to World Champion, the ICCF offers the following titles for correspondence play (in descending order):

  • Grandmaster (GM)
  • Senior International Master (SIM)
  • International Master (IM)
  • Correspondence Chess Master (CCM)
  • Correspondence Chess Expert (CCE)
  • Note: the Ladies Grandmaster (LGM) and Ladies International Master (LIM) titles have been phased out, as have Ladies Correspondence World Championships.

Normally, to achieve these titles a player must score two or more norms totalling a total of 24 games, similar to over-the-board GM/IM/WGM/WIM titles (two or more norms totalling 27 or more games).

CCE and CCM were added in the past few years, but I don’t think they’re prestigious, even though I have the CCE title and have a very good chance of completing the CCM title in my current tournament.

What About Computers!?

ICCF does not prohibit outside assistance. Players are allowed to use engines, which I freely admit to doing.

Besides ICCF being officially recognized by FIDE, this is the other main reason I chose ICCF play: they don’t pretend to police computer usage in long games played across the globe.

Now, no one suspects anyone else of anything. It would be much worse if computer assistance was not allowed, and some players used it anyway to cheat. I have no doubt this happens on other servers.

And I’ve got news for you: simply turning on the engine and having it do all the work for you will not get you very far when everyone else can do the same thing! This has made ICCF play very different than it was in the past, but I don’t see a viable alternative in the computer age. The vast majority of games end in draws.

I’m not very skilled in ICCF play, and don’t take it super-seriously. My opening prep is slipshod, and I’m nowhere close to being a computer expert. Still, there is scope for creativity in opening choices, directing the line of play, and steering games to the endgame. I find “centaur” (human plus computer) chess stimulating, and in some ways it has helped my standard chess, too!

Have you ever played correspondence chess before? Would you ever try it? And how do you feel about the ICCF not prohibiting engine assistance?

Aron Nimzowitsch: Great Chess Authors, Part 4

I continue my survey of chess authors by examining perhaps the most influential of them all.

Aron Nimzowitsch (1886-1935)

Aron Nimzowitsch. Photo: World Chess Hall of Fame

Aron Nimzowitsch. Photo: World Chess Hall of Fame

Half a century before Mikhail Tal and Edmar Mednis, Aron Nimzowitsch was born in Riga (now the capital of Latvia).

He gradually improved his level, competing in lower divisions of Coburg 1904, Barmen 1905, and Ostend 1907 — the latter event a 30-player round-robin lasting six weeks!

Nimzowitsch hit the big time in Karlsbad 1907, tying for fourth place behind Akiba Rubinstein. He continued to prove he was a top player and received an invite to St. Petersburg 1914, but did not reach the finals won by World Champion Emanuel Lasker.

Nimzowitsch fled Latvia during the Russian Revolution in 1917, eventually settling in Denmark. In the 1920s he won several elite events, reaching his peak by winning Karlsbad 1929.

One of the five-best players in the world in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Nimzowitsch could not secure financial backing for a World Championship Match. It was instead Efim Bogoljubov who got two chances at the throne in 1929 and 1934 againt Alexander Alekhine, before Max Euwe finally wrested away the title in 1935.

Leader of the Hypermoderns

The hack-and-slash Romantic Era (think Adolf Anderssen and Paul Morphy) was emblematic of 19th century chess. The reaction was the positional logic of the Classical Era led by Wilhelm Steinitz, Lasker, and Siegbert Tarrasch beginning in the last quarter of the 1800s.

By the 1920s, it was time for another sea-change. Nimzowitsch, Richard Réti (1889-1929), and Gyula Breyer (1893-1921) led the Hypermodern Era of the 1920s and 30s. Influence the center from afar with pieces, using plenty of fianchettos! Entirely new opening branches were explored, including Alekhine’s Defense (1.e4 Nf6), Nimzo-Indian Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4), and Grünfeld Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5).

It’s notable that the top players of the era including Alekhine, Rubinstein, and Jose Capablanca embraced Hypermodern concepts and incorporated them into their own play.

Literary Legacy of Aron Nimzowitsch

Nimzowitsch may be the only top player more remembered in chess history for his books than his games! I wonder how he would feel about that?

Before moving to NImzowitsch’s most famous works, I’ll mention Как Я Стал Гросмейстером (How I Became a Grandmaster) which contains some of his early games and suggestions for improvement, but has not been translated into English (as far as I know). I’m very interested in reading this book one day, though my Russian is poor.

Ok, here we go:

The Blockade (1925)

This small (<50 pages) exploration of Nimzowitsch’s ideas on blockade is a great introduction to his theories and also contains some of his early articles. He is over-the-top as usual and, never one to shy away from a pissing contest, leaves ample room to attack Tarrasch and others.

My System (1925)

The most influential chess book of the 20th century, and there isn’t a close second.

Nimzowitsch begins with what he calls The Elements. My System is considered a middlegame textbook, but in addition to strategic ideas like open files, passed pawns, and pawn chains, he includes tactical ideas like pins and discovered checks!

I’ll note that his remarks on endgame technique are very helpful as well, especially on “welding” your forces together and “general advance!” Keeping this in mind has helped me overcome my opposition more easily when I have a clear endgame edge.

The second part of the book is all about positional play, and here Nimzowitsch delves into the concepts that define him including prophylaxis, overprotection, and the isolani.

It’s time for me to pick up My System again! After I cure my laziness, of course…

Chess Praxis (1929)

NImzowitsch annotates over 100 of his own games. This was the first work I read by the great author, when I was rated roughly 1000. My advice…don’t read any of Nimzowitsch’s stuff until at least 1600, and maybe higher! Start with Blockade because it is short and easy to get your teeth into, then My System. If you want even more, there is Chess Praxis as well. And finally…

Carlsbad International Chess Tournament 1929 (1930)

This tournament book is disappointing! Nimzowitsch doesn’t cover all (or most) of the games, and the annotations are sparse. It seems the entire exercise was an effort to make a few bucks while attempting to secure a title match with Alekhine. Buy it if you love collecting chess books or are a Nimzowitsch diehard, but don’t expect great instructional value here.

Final Thoughts

Aron Nimzowitsch died in Copenhagen in 1935 at 48 years old.

His contributions to middlegame theory are second to none. Nimzowitsch also had a profound influence on openings, especially the Nimzo-Indian and Queen’s Indian Defenses, but also the French, Sicilian, and others.

This man left his fingerprints all over the chess world, and his influence is felt to this day.

What do you think of Nimzowitsch? Is he regarded appropriately, underrated or overrated?

Chess Tactics: Chiburdanidze — Dvoirys, 1980

Maia Chiburdanidze wearing the World Champion wreath

Maia Chiburdanidze wearing the World Champion’s laurel wreath, apparently from her 1984 title defense. Photo: Georgia Today

Maia Chiburdanidze (born 1961) became Women’s World Champion in 1978 on her first attempt at just 17 years old. Only Hou Yifan has since bested this record, winning the title at 16 in 2010.

Maia defeated Nona Gaprindashvili, the Champion since 1962. The young Georgian title-holder defended her title on four occasions in the 1980s before losing to Xie Jun in 1991.

Here is a game I first remember seeing in Attack with Mikhail Tal from the Tbilisi semi-final of the 1980 USSR Championship. It is spectacular!

White to play. Can you spot Chiburdanidze’s concept?

12.?

Connected vs. Unconnected Rooks