Monthly Archives: November 2020

Attacking Chess: the French

Excellent for the Right French Player

Attacking Chess: the French by Simon Williams lives up to its name. This lines chosen in this book are for the player who wants to employ the French Defense in an aggressive style, and not for the player who wants to just sit back and equalize.

I read this book when considering going back to the French Defense a couple of years ago, and found many of the recommendations intriguing. Ultimately, I recognized that this kind of play is just not my style and I didn’t adopt the book’s suggestions … but if uncompromising play with Black is your style, you will be very happy with your purchase!

Even though I haven’t “used” this book, I don’t regret buying and reading it. Good repertoire books are hard to find, but I know one when I see it.

About the Author

Simon Williams, author of Attacking Chess: the French

Simon Williams. Photo: ChessBase

Simon Williams is well-known as a chess commentator, having teamed up to cover events with Irina Krush, Jovanka Houska, Elisabeth Pähtz, and Fiona Steil-Antoni, among others. He is a mainstay of the Gibraltar Chess Festival.

He is an unabashed attacking player, and has scored wins against chess heavyweights like Ivan Sokolov, Boris Gelfand, and Radoslaw Wojtaszek in classical chess.

Committed attacking or counterattacking play can be exciting and very effective! Attacking Chess: the French is a good example.

An Important Bishop Endgame Concept

Bishop Endgame Theory

In particular, we’re going to discuss the same-color bishop endgame. The attacking side has one pawn, and the defender has none.

If the defender can sacrifice their bishop for the last pawn the game is drawn, so the attacker must proceed carefully.

What the Defender Wants in this Ending

The position is completely drawn if the defending king can reach a square in front of the pawn opposite the color of the bishops. The king stays put and the defender moves their bishop around forever … or until they can call over the Arbiter or TD and claim a draw. Here’s an example:

Things get much more complicated if the defending king is behind the advancing pawn. In that case, the bishop desperately tries to control a square the pawn needs to cross in order to prevent it from queening. The attacking king and bishop look to attack the defending bishop, forcing it to move and give up control of the pawn’s path.

This is why you nearly always want your king to blockade passed pawns in the endgame: he can control all of the squares around him, and it’s harder to push him away than a rook, bishop, or knight!

A Worst Case Scenario

Anyway, a plausible scenario is the following:

This is a famous endgame study by Genovese composer Luigi Centurini (1820-1900) published in 1856. You’ll find it in every endgame encyclopedia, for example Basic Chess EndingsDvoretsky’s Endgame Manual, and Magnus Carlsen’s favorite Fundamental Chess Endings … but for years I didn’t quite understand it.

The Black bishop can stop the pawn on either the long b8-h2 or mini a7-b8 diagonal. If White can gain control of both diagonals, the Black cleric will be unable to stop the pawn.

Chase the Bishop!

 

More Room to Operate

Notice that Black lost because of the short a7-b8 diagonal. To draw, Centurini taught us that the defender usually needs both diagonals to be at least four squares in length. Then, there will always be at least one square on one of the diagonals that the attacker cannot control.

Here’s a famous example of successful defense:

 

Hopefully you now understand this classic bishop endgame if you previously struggled with it!

How to Defeat Kids in Chess Tournaments

The Impact of Scholastic Chess

Children usually have more time to devote to chess improvement.

Kids have been taking over chess for a long time now. This is great for the game in the long term, but what about the adults who have to face these youths in tournaments?

A kid or teenager is usually still improving; if an adult is getting better, it’s typically at a slower rate. I’ve never been convinced that this is because of “younger vs. older brains.” Older players simply have more life responsibilities which require focus and energy that cannot be spent on chess.

Given two players of the same rating facing off, I would bet on the younger player in the absence of other information.

All is not lost, however.

Understand Your Adversary

I have played in many quads over the years where all of my opponents were kids or teens rated similarly to me, that is, in the 2000-2100 range. Bearing in mind everyone has a different style, here are some things I learned:

Home prep can make a huge difference

Kids stick to their openings and either don’t suspect or don’t respect prepared variations.

Research! If you know what openings your rival plays, do some pre-tournament work and find wrinkles to set them challenges. You can really make hay if you regularly face the same set of opponents and can develop a game plan against them.

Also, especially in Swiss tournaments, remember to go for a walk early in your rounds to see what potential opponents are playing. On a related note …

Put your thinking cap on

In one event, I noticed in the first two rounds that a player I was due to meet in the final round displayed impressive middlegame and endgame play, both tactical and strategic. His openings were quite refined as well. I asked myself: “Why is he under 2100 and not 2200+?”

I concluded the reason was likely psychological. Probably, he gets nervous and doesn’t handle pressure on par with other players of his rating class.

When we faced off, he got a definite advantage with the White pieces, though Black has some counterplay:

Trusting my scouting report, I played 21…Nd5 confidently and … offered him a draw!

Mind you, the clock wasn’t an issue for either of us.

He started to think … and think … and think. He began turning red and looked ill.

Soon he did what I expected, and agreed to the draw. I could tell he knew he shouldn’t do it, but he didn’t have the stomach to play on. I understood his emotions, because I’ve been there!

Target their Weaknesses

I faced one Expert kid five times. I lost the first game, drew the second from a much better position, and then won the last three encounters!

What happened?

In the first game I went for a slow, maneuvering Chigorin Ruy Lopez as Black, with the idea that young players are generally more comfortable with livelier positions. I was outplayed and lost the game, but I got to watch some of his other games in that event and others before we met again.

In our second game I went for a kingside attack, after observing that he didn’t handle direct attacks very well. I had great winning chances, but couldn’t crash through and drew.

After seeing more of my adversary’s games, I was able to prepare effectively for the final three battles and went for aggressive play. Our fourth game began with the sequence 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 (I knew he played this line) and now 4.Nf3 Nbd7 5.g4!? which had been popularized by Alexei Shirov.

I won in 17 moves.

I’m not a great attacker, but judged that he was an even worse defender.

Don’t be a Hero

Conversely, another Expert I often faced became my angstgegner. This was in large part because I was stubborn and kept trying — and failing — to refute his opening. But at a certain point, I felt I was doomed against him no matter what I did, and it affected my play. The final tally: one win, one draw, and four losses.

The bottom line: learn as much as you can about your young opponents’ playing style, openings, and likes/dislikes. Prepare well, establish a blueprint for your games in advance when possible, and trust your skills!

Good luck!

John D. Rockefeller V Gift to USCF

Yesterday, the US Chess Federation announced a huge $3,000,000 donation from John D. Rockefeller V. These funds will be used to perpetually endow many USCF Invitational Events, old and new.

One of the best parts to this story? Mr. Rockefeller is a Senior Tournament Director and has directed over 100 tournaments! That tells me more than anything else that he loves chess. We are very fortunate.

Congratulations to the USCF, and chess in the United States!

And from one Senior TD to another: thank you, Mr. Rockefeller, for your generosity.

Hacking Up The King: Chess Calculation Practice

Killer Instinct in Chess

Hacking Up The King

The kings will experience harsh treatment from beginning to end in Hacking Up The King!

Hacking Up The King is all about trying to checkmate the enemy king, whether castled or still in the center. There are countless books in this genre, but the 2014 work by English International Master David Eggleston is better than most.

If you like Attack with Mikhail Tal (which I reviewed previously) or the Larry Christiansen duo Storming the Barricades and Rocking the Ramparts, this book will be right up your alley.

I’ll go even further and tell you I prefer Hacking Up The King to Art of Attack in Chess, one of the most overrated “classics” in all of chess literature.

Eggleston fills his book with plenty of lines (variations), but also a serious dose of commentary. He put a lot of effort into this book, and a serious read will sharpen your attacking skills.

Eggleston’s book is not for beginners; I suggest at least a 1700 rating to benefit from it.

Higher-rated players can read it without a board to practice your calculation and visualization. It’s tough, but worth it!

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, check out the images below to get a feel for what you’ll encounter.

Hacking Up The King: Contents

Hacking Up The King contents

Other Images from the Book

Eggleston page 47

 

Eggleston page 131

 

Eggleston page 188

Check out this book for a good calculation workout while sharpening your attacking skills!

If you have read Hacking Up The King, what are your impressions of it? Which attacking books do you recommend? Comment below!

Which Chess Opening Move is Best? Part 1

Should I Open with 1.e4, 1.d4, or something else as White?

Not surprisingly, the short answer is “it depends.”

Let’s dig deeper.

First, there is one thing you certainly should not do. Don’t play offbeat moves (1.b3, 1.b4, 1.f4, 1.Nc3, etc.)  just to avoid theory. I’ve touched on this before. Only use moves like this if you enjoy playing the resulting positions. 

Having gotten that out of the way, we really have only four or five serious moves left. There’s no question which one we should discuss first.

1.e4 — Best by Test?

The famous game Fischer-Tal from the 1960 Leipzig Olympiad was a sharp draw in the French Defense. You can actually purchase a print of this photo here.

To a certain extent, I think Bobby Fischer was right. But not everyone should follow his advice.

Opening with the King Pawn requires the most well-rounded skills. Generally, you must attack the Sicilian Defense or give Black at least equality. Aggressive play is also the best recipe against the French Defense, Caro-Kann, and Pirc Defense, among others.

At the same time, patience and maneuvering skills are needed to play the Ruy Lopez or Italian Game well.

The higher up the rating ladder a player advances, the less opponents are afraid of gimmicky attacks — aside from feeling confident against gambits, they might willingly enter slightly worse positions with a chance to grind you down. Michael William Brown was in my group at the 2008 Western Invitational Chess Camp (organized by Robby Adamson). His main defense was the Closed Ruy Lopez, and he really knew how to play it. Sure enough, Michael became a Grandmaster in 2019.

Maybe the biggest question is: can you break down the Berlin Wall or Petroff Defense?

My point is, I think 1.e4 requires the most diverse range of skill to play well consistently — in other words, to legitimately play for a win against strong opposition. Contemporary role models include CarlsenCaruana, and Karjakin. 

It’s no coincidence these players have contested the last two World Championship Matches!

Not everyone prefers the King Pawn, or possesses the ability to play it well — or at least as well as the ability to play other first moves.

Next time, we’ll discuss some alternatives, starting with 1.d4.

Chess Tactics: Malinin — Andreev, 1989

Vasily Malinin: Double Grandmaster

Vasily Malinin

Vasily Malinin. Photo: Rewal Chess Festival

Vasily Malinin (born 1956) is a Russian Grandmaster of both over-the-board and correspondence chess. He was also the 21st and last USSR Correspondence Chess Champion (the final of this multi-stage event, the Rozinov Memorial, was played from 1998-2002).

Here Malinin plays an absolutely wild game and finishes it beautifully. He certainly found his Mona Lisa.

There really isn’t much else to say, except … enjoy!

What did Malinin (White) play on his 17th move to continue an already crazy Benko battle against Konstantin Andreev?

 

Sac, Sac, Mate

A breathtaking game by Malinin!

Positional Chess Handbook: Strategy for All Levels

495 Chess Lessons in Your Pocket

Positional Chess Handbook

Positional Chess Handbook by Israel Gelfer

Positional Chess Handbook can be considered a strategy cousin to 1001 Chess Sacrifices and Combinations, the iconic puzzle book by Fred Reinfeld. Both are pocket-sized and ideal for studying on-the-go — but PCH is definitely the superior book.

I recommend Positional Chess Handbook to players (and coaches!) of all levels. Players rated from zero to at least 2200 will benefit. The book will give beginners ideas about strategy; it has much to teach club players; and it is a good refresher for the 2000+ crowd.

Originally published in 1991, it is filled with instructive game fragments from famous and not-so-famous players and composers. You’ll find examples from Morphy and Steinitz, as well as from Fischer, Karpov, and Kasparov. In all, there are 495 diagrams over 208 pages (plus index). I’m sure author Israel Gelfer (FIDE Master and FIDE Senior Trainer) spent many years compiling the examples that helped his students the most.

So what does it cover?

Positional Chess Handbook: Contents

Most of the 21 chapters isolate a certain positional feature, making it easy to reinforce understanding of a particular concept without distraction. A few sections are more general, but very instructive nonetheless. Of course, tactics are everywhere in this book, too — strategy cannot exist without them, right?

              1. Instroduction; Strong and Weak Pieces
              2. A Good Bishop versus a Bad Knight
              3. A Good Knight versus a Bad Bishop
              4. Bishops—Same Colour
              5. Bishops—Opposite Colour
              6. Knights
              7. Rooks
              8. Two Bishops
              9. A Rook versus Two Minor Pieces
              10. Choosing an Endgame; Some Aspects of the Endgame
              11. Key Squares—Strong Points
              12. Strategic Advantages
              13. Exchanges
              14. Cramped Positions, Restricted Pieces
              15. Pawn Structures
              16. Pros and Cons
              17. Active King; Central Supremacy
              18. Inducing Weaknesses
              19. A Diagonal
              20. Two Diagonals,
              21. Positional Sacrifices

            Index of Players and Composers

Images from the Book

Positional Chess Handbook, page 103 Positional Chess Handbook, page 81 Positional Chess Handbook, page 49

 

 

 

 

Positional Chess Handbook is one of the books I reread portions of regularly to keep my positional skills sharp. The others are Simple Chess and Judgment and Planning in Chess. You don’t need much else. Best of all in these tough times, each of these books can be had for under $10!

Have you read PCH? What are your impressions? Comment below!

The 2020 U.S. Class Championships

The 2020 U.S. Class Championships: An OTB National Event!?

Kudos to International Arbiter/International Organizer Anand Dommalapati and Capital Area Chess for holding the 2020 U.S. Class Championships over-the-board from October 30 through November 1 in Dulles, Virginia. 130 players participated!

Capital Area Chess organized the 2020 U.S. Class Championships.

Capital Area Chess organized the 2020 U.S. Class Championships.

In case you didn’t know, the U.S. Class is a 5-round Swiss system tournament with seven sections, one for each USCF class: Master, Expert, Class A, Class B, Class C, Class D, and Class E. The top two sections are FIDE-rated.

It’s held over one weekend: one game is played Friday evening, and two games each on Saturday and Sunday. The time control is Game in 120 minutes with a 10-second delay. There’s also a 2-day option, where players contest two faster games on Saturday morning, and then merge with the 3-day players on Saturday evening.

The winner of each class becomes the National Champion for their class. I won the Expert Class in 2009 (in Boca Raton, FL).

This year, GM-elect Hans Niemann won the Master Class on tiebreak with 4 points out of 5. FM Eugene Yanayt tied with him. You can view some of the Master Section games here.

Guy Cardwell won the Expert Class with a perfect 5-0 score.

Andrew Bledsoe claimed first place in the Class A section with 4½ points.

Samuel He swept the Class B section 5-0.

Anantha Kumar and Siddharth Kurup tied for first in Class C at 4-1.

Cole Frankenhoff (unrated) posted the third perfect score of the event, 5-0 in Class D.

The Class E section was a 2-day, 6-round event. Ethan Shaffer and Daks Dudipala, Jr. tied for first place with 5 points out of 6.

Hopefully I will have the chance to play in a future U.S. Class Championships, or be a Tournament Director or Arbiter for one! Contact me, Organizers…