Sep 042018

During last year’s summer programme we ran an endgame workshop all about the concept and practical applications of ‘zugswang’.

Carlsen vs. Nakamura, Sinquefield Cup 2018. It's White's 93rd move. How did the World Champion continue his masterplan here?

Carlsen vs. Nakamura, Sinquefield Cup 2018. It’s White’s 93rd move. How did the World Champion continue his masterplan here?

For the uninitiated, here is a dictionary definition for the term:

Definition: zugzwang

(German for “compulsion to move” pronounced [‘tsu:ktsvan])

A situation found in chess and other games wherein one player is put at a disadvantage because they must make a move when they would prefer to pass or not to move. The fact that the player is compelled to move means that their position will be significantly weaker. A player is said to be “in zugzwang” when any possible move will worsen their position

This week I was very taken with two very different zugzwang ideas that were seen in the final round of the Sinquefield Cup in St Louis. There can be no better exemplars to follow than World Champion Magnus Carlsen and the dazzlingly creative Levon Aronian so both games are worth taking time to examine. In both cases the zugzwang concept was used to help the player with the White pieces to victory and a share of first place.

Aronian vs. Grischuk, Sinquefield Cup 2018. Black's king is open but it isn't easy to apply the finishing touch. How did Aronian proceed here?

Aronian vs. Grischuk, Sinquefield Cup 2018. Black’s king is open but it isn’t easy to apply the finishing touch. How did Aronian proceed here?

See if you can spot the ways to create winning zugzwang positions from the diagrams on the right. The answers are given in the games in the viewer at the end of this post (I’ve also published the zugzwang examples that were used in the endgame workshop last year).

Carlsen’s game featured a typically remorseless grind against Hikaru Nakamura. Carlsen finally took victory after almost 100 moves but he sowed the seeds of his win much earlier on and his technique in the rook and pawn ending was absolutely flawless. It’s an endgame that is well worth a closer study. I’ve added a very few notes to the game viewer but you can watch GM Danny King’s ‘Powerplay Chess’ You Tube channel video about it below for a clear and erudite exposition of the ending.

By stark contrast, Aronian’s win against Alexander Grischuk was a tactical masterpiece featuring a relatively speculative sacrifice in the romantic style of Mikhail Tal. Again, there is plenty to learn from and admire prior to the zugzwang position which is merely the coup de grace. Again, Danny King provides an excellent guided tour in the video below. I’ve only really added notes about the zugzwang position in the game viewer.

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Jul 042015
"What did we learn Palmer?"

“What did we learn Palmer?” J.K. Simmons plays a mystified CIA Superior in ‘Burn After Reading’

That was something like the question Matthew Parsons asked Nick Sykes and I as we drove back from the final round of the Calderdale Congress just over a month ago. Matthew was, of course, trying to be helpful and draw some lessons from a full on weekend where we had all played 15-odd hours of chess. We were pretty frazzled and couldn’t come up with much of a coherent answer. It reminded me strongly of an amusing exchange at the end of the film ‘Burn After Reading’ where two confused CIA officers sift through the wreckage of the farce that has gone before, desperately trying to make sense of it.

CIA Superior: What did we learn Palmer?
CIA Officer: I don’t know, sir.
CIA Superior: I don’t [blooming] know either. I guess we learned not to do it again.
CIA Officer: Yes, sir.
CIA Superior: I’m [jiggered] if I know what we did
CIA Officer: Yes, sir, it’s, uh, hard to say.

It’s a very funny film and well worth watching if you haven’t seen it.

Anyway, I think my point is that sometimes you need a bit of time to put perspective on events and draw conclusions. I think I can speak for the three of us in the car that night, and perhaps for Pete Leonard who also played in the competition, that the Calderdale Congress highlighted just what strange decisions people can make when they are fatigued and under pressure. There were several pretty stark and tragic examples of this that we were involved with during the three days of action. But first, just to illustrate it can happen to anyone. Take a look at this simple endgame position

Hammer vs. Topalov, Norway Chess 2015

Hammer vs. Topalov, Norway Chess 2015

This game (right) was played in the recently concluded Norway Chess 2015. In this position, having defended tenaciously for quite some time, White simply needed to find the reasonably straightforward 74.f5 gxf5 75.Ke5 in order to exchange off the last Black pawns and guarantee a draw. Tragically, he played 74.Kc6?? and when his opponent replied with 74…Ke6 he released his error and had to resign at once. In the post-mortem interview after the game Topalov accounted for his opponent’s lapse by suggesting that White had anticipated that Black would play 73…Bb8 after which 74.Kc6 is indeed the best move. That sounds plausible but it’s still a pretty terrible mistake to essentially play a move without even consciously registering what your opponent has just played!Even more extraordinarily, this was not the first point that Veselin Topalov had ‘donated’ to him by a Norwegian in that tournament. The World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, arrived a little late for his round 1 game with the Bulgarian and missed the arbiter’s introductory talk explaining the various time controls before the clocks were started. Consequently, when he got to move 60 he thought that he would get 15 minutes added to his clock and sat thinking about how best to convert his winning advantage in a queen and pawn ending.

However, Magnus had a rude surprise in store because he did not in fact get more time added to his clock and was instead obliged to play on increments of 30 seconds per move. Consequently he over-stepped the time limit and lost. It was a result that upset his equilibrium for three or four more rounds after this one as he started with only ½ out of 4!

Connor vs. Shapland, Calderdale Congress (Major), Round 5

Connor vs. Shapland, Calderdale Congress (Major), Round 5

So, even the World Champion is not immune to making elementary mistakes that cost him dearly. However, the Hammer example is one that more of us can probably identify with and it just goes to show what six hours of intense concentration can do to your brain. Even the simplest tasks become terribly difficult. For us chess mortals it doesn’t take anything like six hours for this kind of hypoxia-effect to take hold. At Calderdale for example in my last round game my opponent and I had been playing for barely three hours (though it was the second game of the day!) when we reached the position on the right.

White had absorbed a significant amount of pressure during the middle-game and early endgame and has reaped the reward for his resilience because I had lost the thread of the position and now found myself in a hopeless situation. Only my willingness to try and help my club colleague get a share of second/third prize (by salvaging a draw) prevented me from resigning. However at this point I saw that, if White naturally enough elected to exchange off the knights on g5, it was possible for him to then play inaccurately and give me a chance to hold.

So, White did indeed play 56.Ng5+ (there were many other winning moves but this is still sufficient) Nxg5 57.hxg5 a6 and now White needs to play precisely to win the game.  For example, I had seen that if 58.Kc5? then b5 comes and Black will liquidate the queen’s side pawns and then capture the doubled g-pawns to hold the draw. The correct response is 58.a5! after which White can capture en passant if 58…b5 comes and so White wins. What I could scarcely have imagined was that my opponent would play 58.Kc7?? which actually loses to the same pawn advance. After 58…b5 White is lost.

Did I deserve this win and the accompanying prize money that I had now swindled from my club colleague? No, of course not, but chess is not a just game.  Only in the previous round I myself had made a similarly catastrophic over sight in a king and pawn ending, but I had escaped with a draw.

Shapland vs. Sykes

Shapland vs. Sykes, Calderdale Congress (Major), Round 4

On the right is the position close to the end of the game with Nick Sykes (which is well worth playing through in its entirety because it’s extremely interesting). I had just acquiesced to exchange rooks on d2 thinking that the resultant king and pawn ending was at worst drawn. However, this was based on me simply counting the moves that it would take for both I and my opponent to queen a pawn. After 42.b4 Kc3 43.Kf4 Kb3 44.Kg5 Kxa3 45.Kh6 Kxb4 46.Kxh7 Nick chose to queen his a-pawn by continuing with 46…a5. This is just as quick as moving the king and queening the b-pawn but there is a crucial difference because, what both of us had overlooked, was that the b-pawn queens with check and then Black can force the  exchange of the White queen and win the game with his remaining a-pawn!

OK, so this example is slightly more difficult to spot and calculate compared to the previous example. Especially from the point at which I had to decide on whether or not to exchange the rooks. What it does illustrate though is that in concrete positions like king and pawn endings, it’s vital to calculate accurately and look beyond the move that you think is the ‘last one’ in the variation because it may turn out not to be the case!

In king and pawn endings finding the correct method of proceeding is absolutely imperative as any mistake is usually terminal. Sadly, Pete learned this lesson to his great cost in the very first round as he, having obtained the winning king and pawn ending below, stumbled almost as he was crossing the finishing line.

Leonard vs. May

Leonard vs. May, Calderdale Congress (Major), Round 1

In the last of the diagrams in today’s post (right), Black has just played 45…Kb2 and here the same ‘counting-the-moves’ technique mentioned above is relatively straightforward. It will take four moves for White to queen a pawn f5-f6-f7-f8=Q whilst it will take Black six moves Kxa2-Kxb3-a4-a3-a2-a1=Q. That calculation should be enough to have any player stop ‘thinking’ and start blitzing out the remaining moves. But on this occasion, agonisingly for the kibitzers willing Pete on, he suffered an aberration and thought he needed to follow the Black king to the queen’s side. Then after 46.Kd3?? Kxa2 47.Kc2? a4 he realised that he couldn’t stop Black from queening and no longer had time even to run his f-pawn.

This was a traumatising defeat on the Friday night which Pete struggled to recover from. His opponent meanwhile went on to beat  Dave Shapland in round 2, Nick Sykes in round 3 and then drew with  ex-Hebden player Dave Sugden  in round 4 on his way to winning the section.

Ok, so that’s enough of the ‘epic fails’ let’s consider some of the more positive aspects of the congress. In the Major Nick Sykes played a very nice game indeed on Saturday morning to crush Mike Connor with some considerable ease without it ever being really all that clear what Black had done wrong. Besides this, as mentioned earlier, his draw with me in round 4 was very interesting and unusual. Both these games are annotated by Nick in the game viewer at the end of this post and I’ve has also annotated the same game so if you are really keen you can see what each player was thinking as the game progressed.

I had an unusual weekend because I managed somehow to avoid castling in all of my first four games! In the first two rounds this was quite voluntary and probably rather dubious in each case. In round three my opponent unleashed a combination on f7 which forced a recapture with the king and finally in round 4 the game went into a queen-less middle game where castling was not so important. The round 1 game is certainly worth looking at on the sole basis that it is quite interesting.

Pete recovered from his tough round 1 defeat to bounce back in round 2. Sadly he had another set-back in round 3 before closing the tournament out with two draws. Interestingly, there were no White wins in all five of Pete’s games. Pete has been kind enough to send us all of his annotated games (as has Nick) and I’d recommend that readers take a look at some of the interesting variations that appear in the round 4 match-up.

Matthew Parsons played in the Open Section and seemed not to suffer from any of the kinds of tribulations the rest of us experienced. He too has sent us his games and he had a good weekend where he was always in contention for the top prize, winning some nice games along the way. Sadly, his run came to an end against John Surtees in the final round but Matthew acquitted himself very well even in this game and enjoyed playing it despite the result. Three points was still enough for joint second place.

So then, now that we’ve had 6 weeks or so to reflect on the games from the Calderdale Congress, what did we actually learn? Here are my thoughts:

  • Calderdale was a sharp reminder for me that congress chess is very different from evening league chess. The games are longer, generally tighter and because every individual results matters, it’s more stressful.
  • The ending is the phase of a chess game that demands the highest level of precision and yet it is the phase of the game that you have to execute when you are most fatigued âˆ’ therefore expect mistakes to happen.
  • Even though calculation is vitally important in chess endings, having a plan is also crucial. If you can figure out how to achieve your objectives then you can sharpen the focus of your calculations towards the winning method.
  • Just because you played most of the game to a good standard, doesn’t mean that you’ll win (or even deserve to win) the game.
  • Above all we learnt that, whatever it was we did, not to do it again!
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Apr 032015
This position, the final one from the game Bak vs. Somerset, tells you all you need to know about Monday's match between Hebden Bridge 'A' and Halifax 'A'. It went down to the wire and the result could have gone any one of three ways.

This position, the final one from the game Bak vs. Somerset, tells you all you need to know about Monday’s match between Hebden Bridge ‘A’ and Halifax ‘A’. It went down to the wire and the result could have gone any one of three ways.

 There was yet another night of nerve shredding tension ahead as the penultimate round of the Calderdale League 1 season took place at clubs across Calderdale on Monday night. As reported here in our last post, there were three teams at the top separated only by board point with another team just two points behind them. Would all three teams still be in contention when the last round takes place on April 20th?

Let’s start by reporting the result of the Courier ‘A’ vs Huddersfield match which took place a week early at the home team’s request. These two were in fifth and fourth places respectively and knew that they were competing for the podium places rather than top spot. Still, that didn’t prevent them from bringing very powerful teams to the battle. Huddersfield had lost at home to Courier back in November at a time when they were riding high in the league table. That defeat was the start of a slump that cost them their tilt at the title.

Unfortunately a cold dish of revenge was not on Courier’s menu as they succeeded in doing the double on their rivals. Messrs Morgan, Cawston and Colledge beat Dave Keddie, Dave Tooley and Mark Rojinsky on the bottom three board to propel their team to victory. On board 2 Matthew Parsons beat Courier’s captain, Dave Patrick, to maintain his challenge for the league individual prize and the top board between Tony Slinger and Leo Keely was drawn. The result leaves Courier in 5th on 14 points and Huddersfield in 4th on 16.

Then this Monday last the other three fixtures were played out. At the bottom of the table Todmorden ‘B’ gave themselves an outside shot at a miraculous escape from relegation as they beat Brighouse at home. This match was a blood bath as all five boards ended in decisive results. On boards two and three Robert Broadbent and Nick Hudson took wins against Dave Innes and Mike Huett. Unfortunately for Brighouse though, Tod took the other three boards as Neil Suttie beat Dennis Breen on board 1, Robert Collier beat Paul Whitehouse on 4 and Richard Bedford continued his successful rehabilitation to the game with a win over Ron Grandage on 5.

League leaders Todmorden ‘A’ travelled to Belgrave for a match both teams absolutely had to win. Tod needed to ensure they stayed top and preferably extended their board count lead. Belgrave knew that their chances of staying up were running out fast. As it was the stronger team prevailed as Tod smote down the home team 1 — 4. On board 4 Karim Khan beat Carlos Gil-Fresno on time and that was all Belgrave could muster. Todmorden were going to stay top for the final round of fixtures.

The situation at the bottom of the league has been made extremely interesting by Tod ‘B’s win. Brighouse stay on 6 points but they are now just a point clear of both Tod ‘B’ and Belgrave. All three teams have tough assignments in the final round of the season. Brighouse host Courier ‘A’ knowing that a drawn match will probably be enough to keep them up. Belgrave travel to Huddersfield who now have nothing much to play for and may field a weaker than usual line up. Tod ‘B’ have to go to title challengers Halifax ‘A’ for the final round knowing that every half-point they score will help their ‘A’ team colleagues and if they do pull off and unlikely win (or draw and Brighouse and Belgrave lose) then they could still stay up. Most likely all three sides will lose but stranger things have happened!

Now to the main event. No disrespect to the other teams in action this week but the fact that so many spectators from other clubs turned up to watch the battle between Hebden Bridge ‘A’ and Halifax ‘A’ tells you all you need to know about the importance of the outcome. The players didn’t disappoint either as the match could still have finished in any of the three different results right up until the final seconds of the evening’s play. It was another epic struggle at the Trades Club.

These two teams had identical records (match and board points) before the start of play and so it was no surprise to see that Halifax and brought their best possible line up to take on the home side who also put out almost their strongest possible line up. As usual, Halifax demonstrated that they’d thought carefully about how to deploy their top three players. When the sides met earlier this season it was Winston Williams on board 1, Darwin Ursal on board 2 and Bill Somerset on board 3. This time Winston dropped to board 3 and Bill and Darwin both moved up a board. On 4 and 5 Halifax fielded Sam Scurfield and Carlos Velosa respectively.

Hebden’s line up was marginally weaker on paper than the visitors. They wheeled out Ihor Lewyk and Andy Bak on boards 1 and 2, then came Captain Pete Leonard on board 3 and finally Nick Sykes and Dave Shapland on boards 4 and 5. Only Pete Leonard was rated appreciably lower than his opponent but he’d drawn with Winston in the reverse fixture in November and so could be confident of holding his own.

The match unwound tortuously with the margins between success and failure on each board being tiny. First to finish was the Nick Sykes vs. Sam Scurfield encounter on board 4. Nick has been playing the White side of the Spanish with great skill this season and so he must have been happy to see Sam play the Breyer Variation of that venerable opening. However, Sam played the opening so accurately that Nick got nothing much at all from the opening and decided not to take any risks trying for more than equality. The players agreed and early draw and settled down to watch the rest of the drama unfold.

Halifax struck the first blow on board three later on. Winston managed to create a complete mess against Pete and somewhere in the confusion, Pete went wrong and ended up facing three advanced Black pawns on d4, e4 and f4! It looked difficult to play and so it proved. Winston mopped up. 0 — 1 to Halifax.

Now the pressure was right on the remaining Hebden players to pull a result out of the bag. This is a team that’s at their best when the backs are against the wall though and once again, they found a way. On board 1 Ig Lewyk had managed to get promising position from a modest opening. Darwin got himself all tangled up and Ig found the right way to capitalise and get a significant advantage. But Darwin is a world class wriggler and, by burning a big chunk of his time he found a way to get counter play and plug the holes in his position. As the time control loomed Ig made a big mistake and Darwin found the exchange sacrifice that opened up the White king. On most occasions it would have been curtains for Ig but, because Darwin was in such acute time trouble he missed the winning continuation on several occasions as they reached move 36.

Now it was Ig’s turn to wriggle free as he took his king for a precarious looking walk. Surprisingly Darwin overlooked a final opportunity to play for the full point and instead settled for a perpetual check to draw the game. It was probably a fair result, if an unlikely one.

On board 5, Halifax Captain, Carlos Velosa was fighting for his life against Dave Shapland. Rather than trying to blow Carlos’s trademark Owen’s Defence (1…b6) away, Dave tried to transpose into a line of the French Tarrasch that he is familiar with. When Carlos refused to acquiesce and didn’t play d5 it appeared that this could only be to White’s advantage. Both players used 45 minutes for their first dozen moves and it looked like this game too might be decided by clock pressure rather than good play.

Meanwhile on board 2 Andy Bak and Bill Somerset were engaged in a heavyweight positional encounter. Andy might well have expected Bill to play his favorite King’s Indian Defence against 1.d4. If he did he was to be disappointed as Bill offered a Nimzo-Indian and Andy opted for a Queen’s Indian set up. This set the tone for some extensive simplifications as all the bishops and the queens were exchanged off by move 13. The rooks were off the board too by move 20 leaving the players with a complicated double knight and pawns ending with plenty of time on the clock to devote to its intricacies. As the players reached the time control Andy managed to win Bill’s a-pawn and created an outside, passed a-pawn of his own at the same time. Bill almost immediately won back a pawn on e2 and now it was sown to whether or not Andy’s passer was enough for him to steal the full point.

Dave and Carlos reached move 36 with a minute and thirty seconds remaining respectively. By this stage Dave had lost control of the position but then regained it when Carlos made a single mistake in his time crisis. It wasn’t a bad blunder but it was enough for Dave to pick up a pawn. He then grabbed a second and Carlos missed the best way to counter which would have almost certainly led to a drawish ending. Instead Dave ended up with two extra pawns in an opposite coloured bishops end game. These are notoriously drawish but the presence of White and Black pawns on the a-file turned out to be the critical factor. Dave managed to amass an unusual constellation of pawns on the king’s side, unopposed, doubled h-pawns and a g-pawn. On their own even these three amigos may well not have been enough. But, Dave correctly found a way to overwork the Black bishop by marching his king over to the Black a-pawn and that was curtains. With only minutes each left on the clock, Dave had drawn Hebden level.

The final episode of this enthralling match now played out on board 2. Bill won a pawn but Andy kept his passed a-pawn as now the knights came off the board leaving just kings and pawns. In mopping up the a-pawn Bill found his king at a disadvantage and Andy was able to get his king into the Black camp. Both players thought they were winning and now both were down to their last few minutes and second of time on their clocks. They kept playing. Finally Andy managed to queen his h-pawn first and then prevent Bill landing his f-pawn. But Andy was almost out of time. At the end there was momentarily some confusion as Andy finally appeared to have a won position but ran out of time as a stalemate position appeared on the board. Bill hadn’t had the chance to claim a win on time and so the game and the match were drawn.

Everyone, particularly the two Todmorden ‘A’ players who had stopped by on the way home from Belgrave to watch the match, breathed a sigh of relief. These two teams couldn’t be split at the start of the night and they remained locked together with identical records at the end of the night too.

Here’s the match score card:

 Hebden Bridge ‘A’ vs. Halifax ‘A’
I.Lewyk ½ — ½ D.Ursal
A.Bak ½ — ½  W.Somerset
P.Leonard 0 — 1 W.Williams
N.Sykes ½ — ½  S.Scurfield
D.Shapland 1 — 0 C.Velosa
2½ — 2½

All this means that Todmorden ‘A’ take a single match point and a three and a half board point lead into the final round of fixtures where they will host Hebden Bridge ‘A’. If Todmorden win or draw that match they will be champions. If Hebden win and Halifax don’t beat Todmorden ‘B’ then Hebden will be champions and if Halifax do beat Tod ‘B’ then they will need Hebden to win by a smaller margin than them to retain their title. Get it? Someone asked on Monday what happens if Hebden and Halifax win by the same margin. Who wins the title then or is a tie declared? Unless Halifax win by virtue of alphabetical order I don’t know the answer to this. Does anyone else?

Whatever happens the final round is sure to be just as tense and thrilling as this one. Maybe Halifax could agree to switch venues and play their home match at Todmorden so that all three top teams can be in the same room. That would be fun!

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Sep 292010

Today I’m going to post some solutions and oddments as a means of bringing a few discussions to a close.

First of all, my “Bent Double” puzzle which I set for you to ponder when I posted my tribute to the Great Dane a couple of weeks ago. The solution is given below:

Congratulations to Fruitcake who claimed the proffered prize (a pint of his choosing at our beloved home venue, The Trades Club) on Monday night. The solution really is quite marvellous. It is quite hard to find simply because it doesn’t really fit with any standard mating patterns. Usually chess puzzles (especially mating solutions) can be solved by looking for well known and frequently recurring patterns and themes amongst the pieces in the starting position. Well done Fruitcake!

Now onto more serious matters… A couple of weeks ago I demonstrated that the final position of the final game in the final round of the Hebden Bridge Chess Club Lightening Competition contained hidden depths. The game between father and son Dave Wedge and Matthew Wedge-Roberts was adjudicated to be a win for white (Dave) and no one in the room could have argued with that for he was an exchange up in an apparently straightforward end game.

However, on closer inspection it turned out that the position was not at all easy to win for white. Indeed, I casually played out the game against my computer and found it to be quite tough. Therefore I asked readers of this blog to contribute solutions. I’m happy to say that the main protagonist himself has come forward with a methodology for white to win. I publish this along with my original notes below. In my view this endgame study is highly instructive and I encourage all readers to spend a bit of time running through it.

My thanks go to Dave for taking the time to find the answer. I hope he found the process of uncovering it as interesting as I did failing to find it!

Finally, I’d like to post a witty little denouement to a blitz game that I played last week at my other club, Leeds. I was playing white and feeling pretty glum in the position given below. I had been well ahead in the game and successively blundered away my advantage. Now I seemed destined to lose. But then, I managed to find a nice defensive resource. What does white play in the position below? Try to find the solution before hitting the “forward” button.

Following on from an article I posted a month or so back about knowing the right time to resign I’d like to offer this example as evidence to support the argument that, in blitz games, you really should play on in a theoretically lost position for as long as possible because you never know what might turn up!

Jan 162010

Today I’d like to introduce a new columnist to Chessticles readers. Because he is an eminent figure in the British judicial system (as well as a very strong chess player) he has chosen to use the nom de plume “M’Lod”. Readers will not be surprised to hear that he has been commissioned to ramble eccentrically about the laws of chess. When I say this however I refer not to the rules and regulations that govern the way the game is played but instead the “theoretical laws” that have been laid down for students of the game to follow by experts and tutors over the years. M’Lod will examine a case study in each of his columns and assess how the evidence it contains either supports or disproves the particular “law” that is being evaluated. Over to you M’Lod.

Silence in court! Let us begin.

When beginners are learning the game one of the first rules they are taught is the value of the pieces. The accepted theory is that Pawns are worth 1 point; Knights and Bishops 3 points; Rooks 5 points and the Queen 9 points. It is a simple way of assessing the balance of material on the board and in most cases a material advantage for one side or the other is decisive.

Unfortunately, the law is rather crude and needs further legislation in order to be enforced with any degree of reliability. For example, in the end game pawns assume a much greater value than they do in the earlier stages of the game as they have the opportunity to promote to a queen. Every pawn therefore has a potential value of 9 points and this dynamic can create chaos when it comes to assessing the merits of a position. One moment a pawn isworth 1 point, the next it is worth 9. How can this happen? Examine the evidence below if you will.

Case A — “Pieces are worth more than pawns”

Evidence — Ortueta vs. Sanz, Madrid, 1933

It is black to play in this position. A cursory assessment of the situation suggests that, although the material held by the two sides is equal, positionally, white is rather better. His knight is more active than black’s passive bishop and black’s doubled c-pawns are a potential weakness. Unfortunately they are also potential queens and black exploits this in a rather elegant fashion by playing…

1. … Rxb2!

Black is sacrificing his rook, but, in the process the value of his pawn on c4 has just increased as it is now a passed pawn.

2.Nxb2 c3

Already white finds himself in a spot of bother as, in order to stop the pawn he must play 3.Nd3. Sadly this will be met with 3….c4+ 4.Kf1 (4.Rxb6 cxd3 is winning for black) cxd3 5.Ke1 c2 6.Kd2 Be3+ sacrificing the other piece in order to promote his c-pawn which has suddenly assumed a 9 point value! In order to continue white must give back the exchange by playing…

3.Rxb6 c4!!

A truly stunning reposte! Black isn’t interested in regaining the rook. All that matters is queening the c-pawn and in order to do that he must prevent the white knight getting to d3 which he would suceed in doing after 3…axb6 4.Nd3. A purely material assessment of the position now shows that white is 8 points (Rook = 5 and Knight = 3) ahead but of course black’s pawn on c3 is worth a lot more than 1 point right now.

4.Rb4 …

This is white’s only hope right now as if 4.Rc6 then cxb2 will get the pawn home on the b-file. Now if black takes the knight with 4…cxb2 then 5.Rxb2 and if 4…c2 then 5.Rxc4 and white stops the pawn. Black therefore declines to regain the material once again.

4. … a5!

The coup de grace!

5.Rxb4 cxb2

With b4 and c1 unavailable to white’s rook black’s pawn can’t be stopped and has achieved its maximum potential value therefore white resigned.

Of course the evidence this game provides is a rather melodramatic, if exceedingly elegant means of disrupting the accepted order. Never the less it surely proves that a simplistic and rigid application of piece values is destined to get players into trouble. I would therefore recommend that the following amendments be made the law we are examining today.

Suggested amendments to the “Pieces are worth more than pawns” rule

  1. Pawns have a dynamic value that ranges between 1 and 9
  2. The longer a game continues the greater each pawn’s potential value become
  3. The closer a pawn comes to its queening square the greater its value become
  4. Pieces only retain their value over pawns if they can prevent a pawn from queening without sacrificing themselves

I believe there are further amendments to laws about the relative value of pieces that must be considered but let us adjourn today’s proceedings and continue this discussion another time.

Jan 162010

Today I give you an endgame position that I contested over the board recently. Endings are one part of my all round game that I’ve identified for remedial work. Many of my games never culminate in tight end games due to the fact that I’ve normally secured or conceded a decisive advantage by this stage of proceedings. Never the less if I’m going to improve my results I need to get better at playing endings. Recently I’ve been dipping back into the antique master work “How to Play Chess Endings” by Eugene Znosko-Borovsky and, although the going is heavy I felt like I was starting to make some progress. It seem I was wrong!

The game below gave me my first opportunity to my new found understanding to the test and I fear that I rather let the side down. The most challenging aspect of endgame play is the high degree of accuracy required. Judgement plays less of a role in this stage of the game and calculation becomes much more important. Even the smallest error can change the outcome of proceedings. Take a look at the position below.

White has just offered black the opportunity to exchange the knights off the board (with 33.Nd2) and enter into a king and pawn endgame. Should black accept or decline this offer? My recent studies have taught me that it is wise to have a clear idea of the theoretical outcome of the resultant position and how it should be approached before making a choice. King and pawn endings have concrete assessments you are either “winning”, “drawing” or “losing” there is no “unclear” or “equal” assessment. I figured that I was winning as after exchanging the knights I could play my king to d5 via e6, assume the opposition and eventually break through to win a pawn on the king’s side.

Unfortunately it isn’t that simple. I needed to look more carefully at the situation of the pawns on each side of the board. Who will be able to create a passed pawn most easily and who (without intervention from the enemy monarch) will be able to queen a pawn the quickest? The reality is that black must play with the upmost care to keep control over white’s king’s side pawns.
Play continued…

It’s pretty depressing to think that if it’s possible to make this many errors in a “simple” king and pawn ending then a more complex ending must be very difficult indeed!

Dec 192009
Well, it’s been a few months since I posted now. Time flies when you are having fun! My wife and I went to South Africa for our honeymoon for a couple of weeks and had the most amazing time. Of course when you get back from such an amazing adventure it’s easy to feel a bit jaded and restless. Between that and the build up to Christmas I simply haven’t got round to posting. The longer it’s been the harder it is to break back into it. Now that I’ve written this post I can feel the momentum building again!

The main impetus for this post was to report on the epic showdown between my team, Hebden Bridge A and Huddersfield in the Calderdale League. Both teams came into the match unbeaten. Indeed, neither team had even lost one game! As you may remember me relating in one of my earliest posts, Huddersfield are the current champions, the strongest team in the league on paper and the favourites to win again this year as a result. I gave us a chance of upsetting the established order at the beginning of the season, but thought it would be difficult for us.

We played the match on neutral territory in Halifax as Huddersfield’s usual home venue wasn’t available and this possibly gave us a tiny psychological advantage as I’d guess that “fortress Huddersfield” has not been breached in the Calderdale league for a number of years.

As we were the “away” team, we played with black on all boards and were marginally out-graded on every board except the top board (where both players had the same grade).Unusually for a fixture at this level the game on board one was the first to finish and it finished in our favour. Our top board seems to have Huddersfield’s top board in his pocket at the moment. He scored 1.5/2 against him last season and I’d not be surprised if he repeats or improves on this result again this year. It would certainly be fair to say that Huddersfield’s board one needs to revise his choice of openings if he is to try and buck the current trend. He played a Four Pawns Attack against our man’s Benoni and (as I’ve tried this line against him myself on several occasions) I can vouch for his ability to absorb the pressure and then kill you on the counter attack. 0-1 to Hebden Bridge.

Next to finish at the other end of the match was board five. Huddersfield’s captain equalised the match score by taking advantage of a positional slip from our player fairly early in the opening. White won a pawn and maintained a positional bind that our man couldn’t break. The rest was about 2 hours of torture. 1-1

The remaining three boards went right to the very death and, as the tension in the room started to become really acute I managed to salvage a draw in my game on board 4. I had gained a pretty good position out of the opening and begun to start looking for ways to press for an attack when I over looked a defensive resource and lost a knight for a pawn. The only other compensation was that I had a good initiative and some pressure against my opponent’s king which meant that I was pretty much obliged to just “go for it”. My opponent defended accurately but in fending off my attack he lost another pawn. It came down to an end game where I had a knight and four pawns against white’s bishop, knight and two doubled pawns and I was able to hold on for the draw and even overlooked a possible winning chance (see below). So with two games to finish it was still level pegging.

In the position above, I’d been hanging on for a while and by now was fairly confident I could hold for a draw. “Oliver” has just played 46.Bc3 to which I replied (pretty much straight away I’m ashamed to admit) with Ne4. Of course had I thought for a few minutes I might have found:

46…g5+! 47.Kxg5 Ne4+ 48.Kf4 Nxc3 winning back the bishop and maintaining a pawn advantage. It must be said that the resultant position looks hard for black to win but I could have had fun trying!

Next up our board three took a full point with a win on time. He had the better position when the game ended and had put his opponent under pressure for a long period. This had translated into a big time advantage on the clock which proved decisive. Suddenly we were up one point with one game to finish and looked like we might pull off a massive upset.

On board two our captain had been holding on in a tricky position for a long time. In a double rook ending Huddersfield’s man had a space advantage but it looked very difficult to exploit. Right up until the end it looked like our captain’s rear guard action would get us the draw we needed but sadly it wasn’t to be. White managed to get a passed pawn and it was all over. Final score 2.5-2.5!

What all this means is that Hebden Bridge A have a tiny advantage in the league based on our better “board count” in all matches (we have 19 wins to Huddersfield’s 16 over 5 matches played each).However, before the half way point is reached we still have to play our B team (who are third in the league) and Huddersfield play Halifax (who are bottom) so that points gap could be reduced to 1 point if we only win 3-2 and they win 5-0, which is entirely plausible.

So, if neither side drops any points for the rest of the season it could all come down to the last match in April when we will be at home and playing the white pieces. That is a fairly mouth watering prospect. Now we need to make sure we reach that match unbeaten!