Tag Archives: Scholastic Chess

Tournament Chess Board Options

Choosing the right tournament chess board is a topic I’ve thought about over the years, trivial as it might seem. After last Friday’s post, I decided to share my thoughts and get your opinions as well. Let’s go through different options — what is your ideal tournament surface?

I’m also assuming we’re playing in tournaments where we have to bring our own equipment. I won’t discuss square size because there aren’t a range of options here.  FIDE regulations state that the side of a square should measure 5 to 6 cm (roughly 2.0 to 2.4 in).

Here we go:

Fold-Up, Roll-Up, or Neither

By “neither,” I mean a hard, one-piece tournament chess board like the one I discussed last week. These tend to be the most aesthetically-pleasing boards, but they’re obviously not the most convenient. Choose this route only if you’re driving to a tournament, and a nice playing surface is an important part of your enjoyment of the game.

Personally, I would consider this option if I drove to a tournament and stayed in a hotel for a few days or longer. However, I rarely see players use these kinds of boards in competition.

Another seldom-chosen option is the fold-up board. I imagine the “crease” in the middle of the board is distracting, even though these boards can be very attractive otherwise.

By far the most popular choice is the roll-up board, and with good reason: these boards are cheap, compact, and easier to clean than other types.

Color

Apparently black-and-white is not good for the eyes over a long period of time. Most players opt for a green-and-white surface, but other choices are popular as well. Next time, I might choose brown-and-white — just to be different. I’m tired of green and I’ve never been a fan of blue or burgundy.

Of course, roll-up boards are so cheap you can buy more than one and choose a color that fits your mood…

Material

Assuming you go with a roll-up board, you still have to consider the material of your playing surface.

A vinyl roll up board.

When I first began playing chess in the 1990s, vinyl was the material of choice. I suspect it is still the most popular type of board purchased: it’s easy to clean, easy to roll or fold, and provides a decently-thick playing surface.

 

A mousepad board, in purple.

Recently, rubberized surfaces akin to a computer mousepad have become an option. They lay very flat, don’t move easily during play, and don’t develop creases like vinyl boards sometimes do.

The main issue with mousepad boards is they stain easily and can’t be wiped off as easily as other boards. I primarily don’t like them because of their texture.

 

Tournament Chess Board

A silicone roll-up board.

Another alternative is silicone boards. They can be twisted or mashed into any shape, and wipe off easily, like vinyl. It seems to me that silicone boards grip the playing surface they’re laying on better than vinyl boards do, but not as well as mousepad material.

I haven’t converted to silicone because I don’t like the thinness of the surface, and I’m not a fan of the texture. Still, I do think they will only grow in popularity in the coming years.

A tournament chess board is a very personal thing! You’re going to be spending a lot of hours with it, and I think it’s important to use a product you like. What do you like to play on during a tournament game? Is there anything I have left out? Please comment!

Should I Withdraw from the Tournament?

The “¡No Más!” Tournament Withdrawal

I’m not talking about an early tournament withdrawal because of another commitment, or because you’re feeling legitimately ill. I’m also not talking about scheduling a last-round bye in advance. Let’s exclude withdrawing in order to return as a re-entry, too.

I’m talking about those cases where you could continue, but don’t want to — usually, because you’re having a bad performance and want to “stop the bleeding.”

Don’t worry, I won’t judge you. I’ve made this kind of quick escape more often than I can count. Plenty of my tournaments at the Marshall Chess Club have ended with this sequence:

  • I have a hopelessly lost position…
  • Repeatedly shake my head, make faces to no one in particular, and finally stop my clock…
  • I quickly shake my opponent’s hand and reset the pieces before others see the carnage…
  • Run to the pairing sheet…
  • Mark the win for my opponent…
  • Write OUT next to my name and circle it…
  • Race out the door without saying a word to anyone.
Tournament Withdrawal at the Pairing Sheet

How to Tournament Withdrawal: Write OUT next to your name on the yellow pairing sheet and circle it! Photo: SportzCosmos

This way no one has to see me explode or make an @$$ of myself. I do that in private…

Hypocrisy? Fake Encouragement?

Yes, I realize this “procedure” goes against my recommendation to do a post-mortem analysis with your opponent…but do as I say, not as I do, OK? Anyway, I said that step is optional!

I don’t condemn the “bruised ego tournament withdrawal” because I know it’s not easy to play your best with a sub-optimal state of mind. In fact, I don’t try to cajole my students into carrying on if they really don’t want to. That could do more harm than good.

There’s always another tournament. We can recharge and come back stronger next time.

Some parents and coaches won’t agree with my stance and will counter with platitudes like “never give up,” or “quitters never win.” My dad once threatened to never register me for a tournament again in my early years when I suggested withdrawing after a poor performance. I had to play, but didn’t learn some deep life lesson — I was just annoyed and lost badly.

Anger and disappointment can be powerful motivators. The same cannot be said of despair.

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…

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.

How to Offer a Draw in Chess

You Can Offer a Draw in Chess?

If you’re new to chess, you may not know that a player can offer a draw for any reason, almost whenever they wish. Fans of other sports and games argue that this should not be allowed, but there are a lot of positions in chess that are impossible to win. Many more can’t be won without a lot of help from your opponent.

But Why?

Players can sensibly agree to a draw when it is clear no other result is on the cards.

Of course, if you’ve been a fan of chess for any length of time you know that draws can often puzzle observers…even anger them!

Players sometimes agree to draws because they are afraid to lose, or because they want to secure a prize or other achievement (such as qualification to another tournament, or a norm).

Last-Round Scenarios

While pre-arranged draws are illegal (players agreeing to a draw before even starting a game; both players can be forfeited, each receiving zero points), two players often have an incentive to not risk losing.

A common example is two players leading a four-round tournament with a 3-0 score who are paired in the last round. By making a draw they each get to 3½ and will share 1st and 2nd place, unless a player with 2½ also wins to catch them.

Losing would give them a much lower place, whether in a cash or trophy event.

Another example is a last-round game where one player wants a draw to secure a prize, and the other needs a half point for a norm.

The vast majority of chess players have to pay their own way.

Most players have to pay their own way.

I am never against these kinds of draws in open tournaments as a player must pay their own expenses. Fans shrieking in horror won’t compensate the “brave” player who goes for glory but loses and gets almost nothing.

An invitational event where players receive conditions (money and other compensation just for showing up) is another matter — players in these events have more of a responsibility to the organizer and to fans.

Anti-Draw Rules

To short-circuit early draws, some tournaments employ Sofia rules which prevent draw offers before move 30 (excluding move repetitions). These “anti-draw rules” are so named because they were popularized by the M-Tel Masters super tournaments held in Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia from 2005-2009.

Procedure

Unlike draw claims, a draw offer involves you and your opponent, and not the arbiter. Here’s how you do it.

  1. You can only offer a draw when it is your turn!
  2. Decide on your move.
  3. Play your move on the board.
  4. Write down the move on your scoresheet, followed by =.
  5. Offer your opponent the draw. “I offer a draw” is fine.
  6. Press the clock, stopping your time and starting your opponent’s.

Now your opponent considers the offer. They may:

  1. Agree to the draw.
  2. Decline the draw verbally.
  3. Decline the draw by touching a piece.

The opponent can also do nothing, but eventually they must take one of the actions above (or run out of time). Once you have offered the draw, leave them alone to think. Don’t ask them if they heard you!

Note that with a draw claim you never start your opponent’s clock (and sometimes don’t even play your move on the board). WIth a draw offer, you always start their clock after offering the draw.

One More Thing

If your opponent has declined your draw offer, don’t offer another one unless the position has changed significantly. There’s no formula for this, but:

  • If your position deteriorates, your opponent definitely will not accept a draw!
  • If your position improves, there is no reason to offer another draw!

My rule of thumb is: never make two draw offers in a game unless your opponent has made one in-between (that you declined).

Summary

Draws are part of the game, no matter if some fans like it or not. I hope this post has shown you how to properly offer a draw to your opponent…whatever your reasons!

Watch Strong Players Play, in Person

Inspiration and Motivation

I recently wrote about my first chess tournaments. The beginning of a player’s career is critical in the development of their feelings and attitudes about the game and their own place in it.

The skittles area looks different, and yet the same. The site: Borough of Manhattan Community College. Photo: Tribeca Citizen

If you’re as clueless about chess as I was and feel you’re bashing your head against a wall — go watch strong players in person.

“Strong” depends on your level and respect for “chess authority.”

As a newbie, I was awed by the 1700s playing blitz and bughouse at the 1996 Greater NY Junior Championship organized by the Chess Center of New York.

They let me play some games, too…and crushed me in humiliating fashion.

I have never forgotten it. It kept me motivated to get stronger. Even when I sometimes wanted to quit.

A week later at the same location I watched GMs Joel Benjamin and Michael Rohde play a long series of blitz games…these guys wrote articles I read in Chess Life each month! I was starstruck.

It didn’t much matter that I finished 60th out of 65 players. Walking out of BMCC I was shaking my fist determined to improve.

Years later

During my time as Assistant Manager of the Marshall Chess Club (2003-2005) I loved watching “regulars” play. Examples: Marc Arnold, Julio Becerra, Salvijus Bercys, Jay Bonin, Fabiano Caruana, Asa Hoffmann, Giorgi Kacheishvili, Dmytro Kedyk, Kassa Korley, Irina Krush, Yury Lapshun, Alex Lenderman, Adam Maltese, Leif Pressman, Boris Privman, Raven Sturt and Leonid Yudasin. It was my favorite part of the job!

I always take the opportunity to watch high-rated players play as a player. spectator, or director. It isn’t about chess osmosis, though I do believe that exists. These experiences connect me with chess in a way solitary study and online play cannot.

The answer to chess improvement is desire…and maybe, just maybe, getting mad. You will manage a way. Watching strong players play in person, and sometimes getting your clock cleaned, can be a real help.

How to Claim a Draw in Chess

Draw claims are less frequent than before

Nearly all games today are played with time delay or increment. As a result, “quickplay finishes” (FIDE) or the notorious claims of “insufficient losing chances” (USCF) are mostly a thing of the past. The players decide the result of the game between themselves, as it should be.

Draw claims are a lot messier when not using time delay or increment. Photo: Caissa Chess Store

Draw claims are a lot easier with digital clocks, which unfortunately means beautiful clocks like the Garde are less common. Photo: Caissa Chess Store

Still, knowing how to properly claim a draw is important for a tournament player in two main instances:

  • The 50-move rule
  • Triple occurrence of position

Note that this is different from offering your opponent a draw — I’ll cover that in a future post.

Draw claims don’t involve the opponent. You call over the Arbiter or Tournament Director, who then makes a ruling.

You can only claim a draw on your turn, with two possibilities: the key position has already appeared, or your next move would bring it about.

The 50-move rule

If 50 consecutive moves (by white and black) have been made without a pawn move or a capture, a player having the move can claim a draw.

Scenario A
50 consecutive moves have already been played without a pawn move or capture.

To claim a draw: Pause the clock, call the Arbiter, and state your claim.

Scenario B
Your next move will complete 50 consecutive moves without a pawn move or capture.

To claim a draw: Write down your next move, pause the clock, call the Arbiter, and state your claim. Do not play the move after writing it down!

In both cases, it is important to not start your opponent’s clock! If you do, it is now their turn and you cannot claim! There are no retroactive claims; If the position changes into one where a claim is no longer possible, you’re out of luck!

Tip
If neither player has made a claim after 75 consecutive moves without a pawn move or capture, the Arbiter steps in and declares the game a draw.

Triple Occurrence of Position

If an identical position has appeared on the board for the third time, the player on move may claim a draw. The position need not recur consecutively, but identical moves must be possible all three times. When thinking of Identical possible moves, also consider castling and en passant.

Scenario C
An identical position has occurred for the third time.

To claim a draw: Pause the clock, call the Arbiter, and state your claim.

Scenario D
Your next move will bring about an identical position for the third time.

To claim a draw: Write down your next move, pause the clock, call the Arbiter, and state your claim. Do not play the move after writing it down!

Once again, do not start your opponent’s clock!

Tip
If neither player has made a claim after an identical position has occurred five times, the Arbiter steps in and declares the game a draw.

Summary

Write down your next move (if necessary), pause the clock, and claim. Do not play the move you have written down, and do not start your opponent’s clock!

May you always make correct draw claims!

Chess Game Analysis: Triple or Quadruple

I’m sure these suggestions for chess game analysis have been mentioned elsewhere before, but let me share an effective way I studied my games when I was serious about improvement.

A chess game analysis method helpful for climbing this chart!

Better game analysis can help in climbing this chart.

The Method

  1. Make a database in ChessBase containing your tournament games. I call mine “My Games.”
  2. Play your tournament game. Really, you should have 60 minutes or longer of thinking time where you can give your best. Definitely use this method for multi-day events!
  3. Optional but highly recommended: Analyze the game with your opponent. Discuss the play with words and variations. This is the Quadruple Game Analysis variant.
  4. Enter the game into ChessBase and write detailed notes about it. Variations you saw and did not see, fears, emotions, internal distractions, general time usage by both players…everything you experienced during the game. At the end, enter a few paragraphs of summary: what you learned, things to improve, etc. If you did a post-mortem analysis with your opponent, include their comments and variations (noting the material that came from your opponent).
  5. Next, run your favorite chess analysis engine. Note that we do this after entering our own comments, to avoid computer worship! Don’t “correct” the previous analysis: you’re looking for resources missed in the previous analysis that radically change the assessment of a position (winning to drawing, drawing to losing, or winning to losing). Enter relevant comments into your notes. For example: “24…Rc7! 25.Ke3 Kf5 26.Be4+ Kg5 wins — Stockfish 11
  6. Email the whole thing to your coach and ask for their comments. They can enter notes into the game directly or type a detailed email summary. Alternatively, you can incorporate their comments during your discussion of the game during the next lesson.

What to expect from this kind of chess game analysis

A single chess game analysis using this method takes hours. It will bear fruit though, especially if you play fairly regularly and stick to the same openings (refining them over time). Commit to this method for 6 months or a year: your play will improve a lot, and you will move one or two tiers higher as a result.