Tuesday, October 10, 2017

October 2017 Tactical Training: Part 1

Apologies for the recent delays in posts; school work has taken away whatever spare time I have for article writing. Hence, I will fill in the gaps with a few more easy puzzles:

Have fun!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

September 2017 Tactical Training

4 more simple puzzles to finish off the month of September:

Have fun!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

NUS IFG 2017 Post-Mortem: Part 1

One more tournament done and dusted. The International Chess category of NUS Inter-Faculty Games 2017 was held on 10 September, and while I had no interest in the final rankings, I was more concerned over what could be learned from the games I played. And no matter what result each games ended with, they provided instructive lessons that I will like to share with y'all.

Playing hall before the first round

Games 1 and 2: Mad about squares

After a few moves into my first game, it became apparent that my opponent was a beginner, who fed me a free piece on the tenth move. But early in the opening, I made a major inaccuracy, which weakened the squares around my king. Thank goodness the other side was not able to exploit this weakness; a more seasoned veteran would have punished me badly for this mistake!

A close shave, and a good lesson on the dangers of creating weak squares around the king!

Game 2 was when the day's struggle really began.

Position after 12. Nh4

The position resembles a reverse King's Indian; the centre is closed but Black has the spatial advantage rather than White! With their last move (12. Nh4), White prepared an f2-f4 advance, reminiscent of Black's classic f5 pawn break in the King's Indian. How should I, as Black, respond?

A glance at the pawn structure reveals a pressing problem for both sides: The bishops risk being shut out of the game. For Black this can be solved with … Bc8 and … Ng4 finding new diagonals, while the White clerics find a better future on c1 and h3. Another point worth noting is that the dark squares—especially e3—in White's position will be weakened if White pushes f4. Thus, if Black can threaten to swing a knight onto e3, it might discourage White from getting in f4.

Thus, Black should consider … Bc8 relocating their pieces to the kingside, where the heat of the action is most likely to take place. This should be followed up with … Ng4, preparing to occupy e3 should White insist on advancing f4. In essence, this would escalate into a battle of squares, similar to Game 1.

So, did I play Bc8? No… during the game, I was so "mesmerized" by the prospect of White getting in f4 that I didn't even look at the e3 square. Instead I decided upon a half-hearted attempt to mimic White's plans with 12... Nh5, preparing my own pawn push f5. But this gave my adversary the initiative after 13. Qd1 Bxh4 14. Qxh5 followed by 15. f4, and White struck first. While the game was still playable after that, a terrible blunder soon sealed my fate, and spoiled what could have been a very interesting game.

What can we learn from Games 1 and 2? While chess is a battle of pieces, one should not forget about the squares. Along with the pawn structure, they form the terrain through which pieces seek anchor points and offensive/defensive pathways. A weak square near a king can be deadly, for it can be used as an invasion point for enemy pieces.

To summarize in a flamboyant manner, I paraphrase a famous quote from “Red Cliff”: With a strong understanding of squares, all 64 squares on the board will become soldiers at your command.

Game 3: Beware the pawn centre!

Back to the White pieces, and a tumble down the ranking table after my team's whitewash in Round 2. Funnily enough, I found myself in a "King"s Indian-ish" position again, with one difference: My pawn centre was not locked up, but instead given the freedom to advance anytime!

"It is of the greatest importance to strive for the mobility of our pawn mass, for a mobile mass can in its lust to expand, exercise a crushing effect"
-Aaron Nimzowitsch, My System

Soon, I was teaching my opponent a lesson on how dangerous an unfettered pawn centre can become:

The lesson from this game is a reminder on why a pawn centre should be blockaded, especially in King's Indian positions. Their desire to expand and wreck unparalleled destruction must not be underestimated!

"I came in like a wrecking ball..."

With that I wrap up the first half of IFG 2017; in Part 2, I will go through my next 3 games.

To be continued…


Saturday, September 9, 2017

Post-NST Tactical Presents 2017

Although NST is over, learning is never over!

Have fun!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Strategy and the Mastery of Imbalances: Part 2

In Part 1, we were introduced to the different imbalances that can occur in a game. Today, we will see how these concepts are employed to analyze critical positions, leading to the formulation of viable plans.

To recap the strategic imbalances discussed so far:

  • Material
  • Development
  • King safety
  • Centre and Space
  • Open files and diagonals
  • Piece activity
  • Pawn structure

Before coming up with a plan, use these ideas to do a breakdown of the imbalances on both sides, before deciding how to make use of those imbalances where you have the advantage.

Take a look at our first position:

Anand, Viswanathan vs Karpov, Anatoly
FIDE World Championship 1998
Position after 11... Nce7

The position's imbalances can be deconstructed:


  • More central space
  • More active pieces, especially when you consider Black’s trapped light-squared bishop
  • A slight edge in development (rook occupying the e-file)


  • Better pawn structure: White has an isolated pawn that is being blockaded
  • A strong square on d5, where the knights can be centralized

Imagine you are playing as White. There are no immediate threats on the board, so tactics are out of the question. How then, shall you formulate a plan? Of course you want to capitalize on your centre space, developmental lead, and better pieces, and shift the battle away from your isolated pawn weakness.

Having a lead in development and more active pieces are dynamic factors; they are temporary and can vanish if not exploited (e.g. the opponent can improve the position of his pieces if given enough time). With that in mind, White should mobilize his active pieces for an attack on the enemy king as soon as possible, before the opponent catches up in development.

On the other hand, his isolated d-pawn is a static factor, which is unlikely to change or vanish as the game progresses. So White should avoid the trading of pieces, since his isolated pawn will stay on the board and become a more vulnerable weakness in the endgame.

In essence, White's plan should be to use his more active pieces to attack the castled enemy king as soon as possible, and avoid trading into the endgame where his isolated pawn weakness becomes vulnerable.

How about Black? He needs to improve the position of his light-squared bishop, possibly by Bd7-Bc6. But more importantly, he needs to trade off White's active pieces to blunt any upcoming attack, and enter an endgame where Black has the better pawn structure.

Effectively, Black's plan is the reverse of White's. Improve the position of his light-squared bishop, exchange pieces to reach the endgame, and target White's isolated pawn weakness.

See how both sides carry out their respective plans in the ensuring struggle:

In our next example, White seems to have a problem: Black is threatening to exchange on d3 and remove White's bishop pair.

Checkerboard 5 vs Opponent
Online Chess Game 2017
Position after 8... Nb4

Some of us might think that the exchange will create an imbalance that helps Black, since he gets the two bishops. But although the bishop pair may be useful, they don't always work well in every position. We all know that tanks are powerful steel beasts, but put them in a muddy field and they are as good as useless.

Join the tankies, they said. Won't need to walk, they said

Similarly, the bishop pair becomes ineffective in a closed position, where the diagonals are blocked by pawns. A quick glance at Position 2 is enough to see that the closed pawn centre is not good territory for the bishops!

So White should not be afraid to exchange on d3, since his knights work well in the closed position, while Black's two bishop "advantage" gets neutralized by the myriad of pawns in the centre. The resulting imbalance is in White's favour, not Black's!

White's plan is to let Black exchange on d3, and concentrate on improving the position for his remaining pieces. He achieves this with the pawn push f4, opening up the f-file for his rooks and deploying his dark-squared bishop onto the battlefield. The game continued 9. f4 Ng4 10. h3 Nh6 11. fxe5 dxe5 (D)

Position after 11... dxe5

Break down the imbalances again:

  • More central space
  • A passed pawn on d5
  • The semi-open f-file
  • A slight lead in development: Black’s bishops are undeveloped and his king is not castled
  • Potential threats on the queenside with his queen-knight duo

Not surprisingly White has the advantage, and he should use the semi-open f-file to attempt a kingside invasion. This will be made easier by his centre control, which will interfere with Black's attempts to defend. However, White must watch for any counterplay Black may try on the queenside.

The last example is one of my most cancerous favourite games. It is a good demonstration of how one can use whatever imbalances they have at hand to save a bad position, and "scam" their opponent of any wins.

Opponent vs Checkerboard 5
Singapore Chess Meetup 2017
Position after 21. Ra2

It is obvious that things are going badly for Black. White has total control of the h-file, and a pair of dangerous—albeit doubled—passed pawns on the b-file. If we analyze the imbalances, it isn't hard to see the advantage lies with White.

  • Control of the open h-file
  • Control of the enemy 7th rank
  • Passed b-file pawns
  • Black has a hideously bad bishop on b7
  • A weak, isolated pawn on e3 to target
  • White's king is slightly exposed

As Black, I faced a dilemma. I could defend passively with Qc8 to preserve material equality. But then White would be free to carry out his plans, and after something like b6 he would use his imbalances (the h-file and passed pawns) to slowly crush me.

Or I could do something about the few imbalances I had. Namely, White's weak e3 pawn and his vulnerable king. That means bringing as many pieces as I could over to attack the enemy king. But this would mean that the poor b7 bishop would be left defenceless.

Which of these choices did I choose? Either way, I would be losing something. So rather than giving my opponent an easy, positional game, why not go all out and create as much problems for him as possible? I am already in a bad position, so I have nothing to lose anyway!

So I chose Plan B: Jettison the b7 bishop, and bring my remaining pieces over for an all-out attack against White's king.

Was my attack a sound one? No: White could have refuted it with 29. Nf1. But the numerous problems I created on the kingside made it easy for either side to slip up, and my opponent was unfortunate enough to do so.

And in case you were wondering whether this was a blitz game, it was in fact a casual game played without time control, so both of us had plenty of time to think. Now imagine what would happen in rapid time control, with both sides having limited time to think!

The lesson from this game is: When in a bad position, play as actively as possible and create problems for your opponent. After all, you have nothing to lose, and with any luck your opponent may make mistakes and get "scammed" of his win!

Wrapping up

Through these 3 examples, I hope y’all have a clearer idea of how to identify and use imbalances to your advantage. Again, the different positional factors are summarized as follows:

  • Material
  • Development
  • King safety
  • Centre and Space
  • Open files and diagonals
  • Piece activity
  • Pawn structure

It is by understanding the nature of a position that one can formulate an effective plan, and tip the scales in your favour. This is the art of chess strategy.

Part 1: https://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/08/strategy-and-mastery-of-imbalances-part.html

"How to Re-Assess your Chess" by Jeremy Silman
"21 Days to Supercharge your Chess" by Yury Markushin

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Strategy and the Mastery of Imbalances: Part 1

Many of us should be familiar with the term "Chess Strategy". It is the art of planning, based on what is happening on the battlefield. This is especially important when there are no immediate threats on the board for tactics to occur.

Image from azquotes.com

Unfortunately, many beginners fantasize their plans according to their emotions and preferences. They want to attack the enemy king, never mind that the position is cramped with no space to maneuver the pieces. Or maybe they just love trading pieces, not aware that a weak pawn structure will leave them crippled in the endgame.

A plan should be based not according to what you like, but what the situation on the battlefield calls for. In his work "Encyclopedia of Chess", Harry Golombek gives an accurate description of this:

"Planning is the process by which a player utilizes the advantages and minimizes the drawbacks of his position. In order to promise success, planning is thus always based on a diagnosis of the existing characteristics of a position; it is therefore most difficult when the position is evenly balanced, and easiest when there is only one plan to satisfy the demands of the position."

To analyze a position, one needs to understand the concept of imbalances, which are simply a difference between both sides in any position. They may or may not be in your favour; it is the player’s responsibility to maximize the imbalances that work for them, and reduce the effect of those against them. One can then work out a plan based on these imbalances, and adapt accordingly if the situation calls for it.

Imbalances: Tipping the scales in your favour

In our Positional Sacrifice article, we saw Jeremy Silman classifying material as an imbalance, to be analyzed alongside other positional factors. Now, we shall broaden our perspective to view other imbalances in the same picture.

Here is a breakdown of what strategic ideas one should consider when planning:
  • Material (how many troops you have)
  • Development (how many troops you have mobilized)
  • King safety (self-explanatory)
  • Centre and Space (the occupation of territory on the board)
  • Open files and diagonals (invading pathways for your pieces)
  • Piece activity (whose pieces exert greater control on the board)
  • Pawn structure (whether a system of pawns contains any weak points, or control key squares)
Some of these have been gone through in detail before, and the rest will be covered eventually. For now, let us see a brief overview of each one:


Everyone should know this by now... the side with more material has an advantage, since he can simplify to a better endgame.

But this doesn't mean material advantage is the holy grail of chess. We have seen many prime examples of this from our Positional Sacrifice article: If material is outweighed by other imbalances, then the advantage is not worth it!


There are many classical games which illustrate how a lead in development allows you to launch a decisive attack, even when down in material. Nimzowitsch gives a good example in the first illustrated game of "My System":

King Safety

Like material, King Safety is one of the more important imbalances: If your king is about to be mated in 3, then all other positional factors become useless, be it is your passed pawn on the 7th rank, your queen-rook battery on the open-file, or the enemy's hanging pawns.

Take a look at the following diagram, taken from one of my games played last year:

Checkerboard 5 vs Opponent
Queenstown Club 2016 (Round 4)
Position 1 after 15. Ne5

The imbalance is clear: White's king has castled, while Black's king is stuck in the centre. His knight is pinned and he cannot castle without hanging the knight. White threatens Bb2 and Rad1 increasing the pressure on e7.

The full game is shown below:

Centre and Space

Control of the centre is a common topic when beginners are introduced to the opening. The essence is that the side with more space has more freedom to maneuver his pieces and proceed with their plans. The following game gives a good explanation:

Open Files and Diagonals

Open files are a natural home for the rooks. They form the valleys through which our major pieces blast their way into the enemy position, with the goal of occupying the seventh rank.

"The main Objective of any operation in an open file is the eventual occupation of the seventh or eighth Rank."
-Aaron Nimzowitsch

In Position 3, White has occupied the open c-file, and prepares to advance his queen into Black's position. Black cannot mount an effective defense along the file, since his knight is cutting the bishop off from the c8 square.

Capablanca vs Horowitz
New York 1931
Position 2 after 24... Re8

White's plan is to play Ne1 defending his weakness on e3, followed by Qc7 invading Black's position.

Similarly, open diagonals are bishop territory. When not blocked by pawns, these diagonals form inroads into the enemy position. We witnessed a striking example of this not long ago, in Rubinstein's Immortal Game.

Piece Activity

Each piece has their own strengths and weaknesses, and it is up to the player to unleash their potential. More specifically:

  • Rooks and Queens:
    • Work best on open files, as covered earlier
  • Bishops:
    • Powerful in an open position, where the long-range bishop has an edge over the short-range knight
  • Knights
    • Excellent in closed positions
    • Stronger in the centre as compared to the side

Rubinstein's Immortal Game was a prime example of the bishops triumphing on open diagonals. Here is a counter-example revealing the dark side of the bishops: When they are blocked by pawns!

We have focused most of our attention on bishops. Next is a showcase of knights winning the day:

Pawn Structure

This is a broad topic, as there are many types of pawn structures that can arise from different openings. But the main thing to know is: The pawn structure dictates the terrain of the battlefield. This can mean anything from the presence of open files, to central pawns controlling key squares in the enemy camp.

Key things to take note of a pawn structure are:

  • The presence of weak pawns which can be targeted
  • Strong squares controlled by pawns that can be occupied by pieces
  • Whether the pawn structure creates an open or closed position

Common themes on pawn structures include:

  • Passed Pawn: A pawn which cannot be captured/stopped by enemy pawns. They can be extremely powerful if well supported by friendly pieces.
  • Isolated Pawn: A pawn which cannot be protected by friendly pawns. If not supported by friendly pieces, they can be weak and easily blockaded. But with sufficient support, they can control important central squares, and threaten to advance and become passed pawns.
  • Doubled Pawns: We have gone through this in our Doubled Pawns articles. Doubled pawns are a double-edged sword (pun not intended); they lack mobility, but help to strengthen square control in their immediate vicinity. 
  • Backward Pawns: Pawns that cannot be advanced or risk being captured. These pawns are often weak as they can be easily targeted by enemy pieces.

The study of pawn structures is too broad to be covered in a single article; I will just leave a couple of examples here. Our first game demonstrates the power that a passed pawn can have when advancing under strong support:

The next example explains how isolated pawns become targets of attack:

Opponent vs Checkerboard 5
Thomson Chess Fiesta 2017 (Round 7)
Position 3

Both sides have isolated pawns on opposite wings, but there is a difference: The proximity of Black's pieces to White's h5 pawn means they can easily pressurize it. Moreover, the h5 pawn is stuck on a light square, so White's dark-squared bishop cannot defend it.

With insufficient protection, White's isolated pawn is helpless. Black's plan would be to march their king to the pawn and pick it off. This will leave Black with connected passed pawns on the kingside, and a lasting endgame advantage.

In the actual game, Black did employ the above-mentioned plan, but blundered away his advantage later on. See the full game here.


When working out a plan, here are the following factors that should be taken into consideration:

  • Material
  • Development
  • King safety
  • Centre and Space
  • Open files and diagonals
  • Piece activity
  • Pawn structure

Now we know what type of imbalances are there, but how do we create, identify and convert them to our advantage? That will be covered in Part 2!

To be continued…

"How to Re-Assess your Chess" by Jeremy Silman
"My System: 21st Century Edition" by Aaron Nimzowitsch
"Understanding the Gruenfeld" by Jonathon Rowson

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Term 3 Tactics Part 3

Since NST is round the corner, here's 4 more simple puzzles to train your tactical vision.

Have fun!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Rubinstein's Immortal Game

Today we will look at a game showcasing the power of bishops on open diagonals. Our hero of the day is Polish chess master Akiba Rubinstein, who was considered one of the strongest players to never become world champion.

Rubinstein (right) vs Lasker, 1909

In this game, Rubinstein took advantage of his opponent's exposed king to execute a well-planned queen sacrifice, opening the diagonals for his bishop pair to swoop in for the kill. The resulting combination was called "perhaps the most magnificient... of all time" by Carl Schlechter (Wikipedia).

Rotlwei, George vs Rubinstein, Akiba
Łódź 1907

1. d4 d5
2. Nf3 e6
3. e3 c5
4. c4 Nc6
5. Nc3 Nf6
6. dxc5?!

Helping Black develop his bishop. More accurate was 6. cxd5 exd5 (6... Nxd5 7. Bc4) 7. Bb5 (7. dxc5 Bxc5 Black has an isolated pawn but has the possibility of pushing ... d4 creating problems for White.)

6... Bxc5
7. a3 a6
8. b4 Bd6
9. Bb2 O-O
10. Qd2?

Tatakower criticised this move as a "loss of time". Indeed, this is not the best square for the queen, as it does not exert any useful control over the centre. Better would have been 10. Qc2.

11... Qe7! (D)

Position after 11... Qe7

Giving up a pawn. The idea is to play ... Rd8 creating an indirect attack on White's queen.

11. Bd3

White was wise not to go for 11. cxd5 exd5 12. Nxd5 Nxd5 13. Qxd5 Rd8! gaining tempo with a strong attack.

11... dxc4
12. Bxc4 b5
13. Bd3 Rd8
14. Qe2 Bb7
15. O-O Ne5

Exchanging off the defender of h2.

16. Nxe5 Bxe5
17. f4

Black was threatening the following tactical combination after for example 17. Rab1? Bxh2+! 18. Kxh2 Qd6+ 19. Kg1 Qxd3 winning a pawn and forcing their way into White's camp.

17... Bc7
18. e4?!

White is planning for an e5 push, restricting the squares of Black's dark-squared bishop. But this exposes the king.

18... Rac8
19. e5 Bb6+

Alas, after all that effort in denying Black the h2-b8 diagonal, the bishop simply switches to another diagonal! White's king is in a precarious position now.

20. Kh1 Ng4!

Rubinstein wastes no time and goes straight for the attack. 20... Ne4 was possible too.

21. Be4

At last, Rotlewi realizes the danger his pawn pushes have created, and hurries to exchange off the bishop pair.

21... Qh4

Of course, Black is not going to exchange! He must press on the assault before White's king can find any safety.

22. g3 (D)

Position after 22. g3

A critical moment. Can you find Rubinstein's next move?


A stunning queen sacrifice, banked on the fact that that two bishops are strong enough to fence in White's king. Black's plan is to remove the two defenders of e4 so that he can capture White's light-squared bishop with check.

23. gxh4 Rd2!

Continuing with the plan, removing White's last defender of e4 with another sacrifice.

24. Qxd2 Bxe4+

White's king has no escape.

25. Qg2 Rh3 (D)

Position after 25... Rh3

There is no defense to ... Rxh2#. 25... Rc2 would have finished the game off in a similar manner.

This game was known as Rubinstein's Immortal and rightfully so; it is a spectacular demonstration of the power that two bishops possess on open diagonals.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

National Day Presents 2017: Test your Trivia!

In case you're too bored during your National Day Holidays, here are 15 questions (+1 bonus puzzle) to test your trivia. How well do you know your chess history?

Image from http://thehoneycombers.com

Q1: Which year did Kasparov first defeat Karpov to emerge as the World Champion?

(a)    1984
(b)    1985
(c)    1986
(d)    1987

Q2: What was Kasparov’s age at the mentioned year in Q1?

(a)    20
(b)    21
(c)    22
(d)    23

Q3: Fischer had a 20 consecutive win streak in 1971. Which player put an end to that streak?

(a)    Tigran Petrosian
(b)    Boris Spassky
(c)    Mark Taimanov
(d)    Bent Larsen

Q4: How many years was Emanuel Lasker World Champion for?

(a)    24
(b)    25
(c)    26
(d)    27

Q5: “Always put the rook behind the pawn… Except when it is incorrect to do so”. Who is credited for this famous saying?

(a)    Aaron Nimzowitsch
(b)    Wilhelm Steinitz
(c)    Siegbert Tarrasch
(d)    Saveilly Tatakower

Q6: How about this one? “The tactician must know what to do whenever something needs doing; the strategist must know what to do when nothing needs doing.”

(a)    Aaron Nimzowitsch
(b)    Wilhelm Steinitz
(c)    Siegbert Tarrasch
(d)    Saveilly Tatakower

Q7: Which event did the following position originate from?

White to move

(a)    Botvinnik vs Capablanca, AVRO 1938
(b)    Carlsen vs Karjakin, World Chess Championship 2016
(c)    Anand vs Caruana, Sinquefeld Cup 2017
(d)    Fischer vs Taimanov, Candidates Match 1971

Q8: What was White’s move in the above position?

Q9: Who is the famous chess master in the following photo?

Image from Wikipedia

(a)    Joseph Henry Blackburne
(b)    Wilhelm Steinitz
(c)    Johannes Zukertort
(d)    Paul Morphy

Q10: Mikhail Botvinnik held the title of World Champion from most of 1948 to 1963. But his reign was interrupted briefly by two other grandmasters. Who were they?

(a)    Robert Fischer and Bent Larsen
(b)    Tigran Petrosian and Boris Spassky
(c)    Alexander Alekhine and Anatoly Karpov
(d)    Vasily Smyslov and Mikhail Tal

Q11: In 2017, Teimour Radjabov won his first major tournament in more than a decade. What was this tournament?

(a)    Sinquefeld Cup 2017
(b)    Geneva Grand Prix 2017
(c)    TATA Steel Chess 207
(d)    FIDE World Cup 2017

Q12: Who is the oldest living former world champion at the time of writing?

(a)    Tigran Petrosian
(b)    Anatoly Karpov
(c)    Boris Spassky
(d)    Garry Kasparov

Q13: Boris Gelfand currently plays for Israel. But which country was he born in?

(a)    France
(b)    Soviet Union
(c)    Poland
(d)    Hungary

Q14: What was unique about the World Chess Championship 2007?

(a)    It was tied all the way till the Armageddon game
(b)    It was suspended halfway without any result
(c)    The winner won the match by a large margin of 3 points
(d)    It was a double round-robin tournament, rather than the usual match format

Q15: Which of the following is usually classified as a strategic rather than a tactical concept?

(a)    Passed Pawn
(b)    Interference
(c)    X-Ray
(d)    Skewer

Q16: Bonus Question: White to move and win

Enjoy your holidays!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Positional Sacrifice

Many of us are happy to give up material if it means an unstoppable attack. How about sacrificing for the position? That’s where many players hesitate. For some reason it is particularly painful for us to part with a pawn or the exchange for some long-term positional gain.

That’s because by nature, we humans prefer immediate results. By sacrificing something that has been drilled into beginners as one of the most important assets of the game, of course we want something good to justify it. An unstoppable mate or an irresistible king hunt looks tangible enough. But something more abstract, like superior piece activity or a passed pawn, doesn’t look convincing enough to amateurs. So when it comes to sacrificing for the position, the verdict stands: We can’t do it!

Just take the leap, they said

Obviously we have to remove this rigor mortis, if we want to win more games. In his classic work “How to Reassess Your Chess (4th Edition)”, Jeremy Silman takes the bull by the horns by removing material advantage from its holy seat, and placing it alongside other positional factors known as “imbalances”. He explains the way to overcome this mental reluctance to part with material as follows:

“(The player) has to train himself to view each imbalance as something wonderful, and he has to view material as just another imbalance to be collected or rejected, depending on the nature of the individual position.”

 That means that while material advantage is important, you shouldn’t place it on a pedestal and lose sight of all other positional imbalances. Rather, it should be weighed alongside other factors such as the centre, pawn structure and piece activity, and treated equally.

Here is a simple example of how material can be given up for a huge positional advantage, again taken from Silman’s book:

White to move

White enjoys more space, and would love to put a piece on that inviting e6 square. But the only access point, the e-file, is contested by both sides, and Black has no intention of giving it up! So if White tries something like 1. Rxe7 Rxe7 2. Re1 Rxe1 Black trades off the rooks and White can never exploit his spatial advantage.

But now, armed with the knowledge that material is just an imbalance like any other positional factor, you might not take long to find the positional sacrifice:

1. Re6!!

And the reason for giving up the material becomes clear: After 1… Bxe6 2. dxe6, Black’s position is totally hopeless! True, he may be an exchange up, but if we analyze the imbalances of both sides we see a very different picture:

Position after 2. dxe6

  1. Up an exchange

  1. Enormous central space, giving White’s pieces far more activity as compared to Black’s
  2. A strong, protected passed pawn
  3. Weak enemy pawns on d6 and f6 to attack
  4. An outpost on d5 for the knight
  5. Uncontested light-squares along the h1-a8 diagonal that can be used as an invasion route for the light-squared bishop.
  6. Superior minor pieces compared to Black’s rooks: Without any open files, the Black rooks are in fact worse off than any of White’s pieces!

From the assessment of the imbalances it is not difficult to tell that White is winning despite his material deficit. After something like Nd5 and Re1, the weight of White’s forces will crush Black underfoot.

A less extreme example can be seen in the following game, between Petrosian and Spassky in the 1969 World Championship. I must digress for a bit to talk about Tigran Petrosian, who was remembered not only for his impenetrable defensive style, but also his fondness for giving up the exchange to get a superior position. So if there is any role model to look for while studying the idea of the positional sacrifice… look no further than Iron Tigran!

Iron Tigran, the master of positional play

Spassky, Boris vs Petrosian, Tigran V
World Chess Championship 1969 (Round 11)
Position after 30. Nd2

Black has a position similar to our first example: More space on the queenside, and control over the c-file. But Petrosian is unable to use the c-file to invade Spassky’s position, since all the invasion points have been covered by White. 30… Rc7 followed by Rac8 doubling rooks on the file comes to mind, but White can simply reply Rdc1 and Rac1 trading off all the rooks, resulting in a drawish, closed position. Is there a way for Black to push forth his agenda of advancing on the queenside? Turns out there is, and if we remember what White did in our first example, the candidate move here shouldn’t be hard to find:

30… Rc4!

If White accepts the sacrifice with 31. Nxc4 dxc4, we see that Black gets excellent compensation after laying out the imbalances:

  1. Up an exchange

  1. Two strong, protected passed pawns on the queenside
  2. An open diagonal for his light-squared bishop
  3. A backward e3 pawn to attack

This isn’t as clear as the first example where Black was totally cramped up, but the monster passed pawns on the queenside are more than enough to make White think twice about grabbing the material. Spassky wisely declined the sacrifice, instead finding other ways to keep the game complicated:

No article on the positional sacrifice would be complete without Petrosian’s classical defence sacrifice example. The next position is a famous one that some of you might find familiar, but such masterpieces never get too old to be shared:

Position after 25. Rfe1

Things are going badly for Black: White threatens Bf3 followed by d5, setting the central pawn mass in motion and wreaking havoc in Black's camp. If only Black could get his knight to d5 via e7, but moves like … Ra7 or ... Red7 don't work because of the pawn advance e6. This means Petrosian must find a move that can help set up a blockade on both d5 AND e6, which seems impossible unless some concessions can be made...

We have seen two fine works of art by Petrosian, but I cannot resist showing another one. I will cap off this article with another of his masterpieces, where he sacrificed the exchange to set loose a rampaging pawn army, eventually overrunning the enemy with its numbers:

Through these games we can see how material, at the end of the day, is just another positional imbalance. Weighed against other positional elements it definitely carries more advantage, but one must be prepared to let it go when you see an even better opportunity coming your way.

So don’t be afraid to make that positional sacrifice; even if it doesn’t work, at least you have overcome your mental block and learned much from it!

“How to Re-assess your Chess: 4th Edition” by Jeremy Silman

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Term 3 Tactics Part 2: The Discovered Attack

Today we will resume our tactical training with 4 (simple) puzzles revolving around the Discovered Attack Tactical Motif:

Have fun!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Knight to Remember: Geneva Grand Prix 2017

The Geneva Grand Prix 2017 has come to a close not long ago, with Teimour Radjabov scoring his first tournament victory in nearly 10 years. Today, we will look at one of the highlights of the tournament: Rising Indian GM Pentala Harikrishna, outplayed veteran GM Levon Aronian after a few inaccuracies from the latter.

Aronian (left) vs Harikrishna, Geneva Grand Prix 2017

The game, which took the form of a reverse Sicilian, was equal until Aronian (as White) decided to try and win a pawn... unknowingly giving Harikrishna a huge positional advantage. This allowed the Indian to centralize his pieces, and suddenly Black's knight was wrecking havoc in the kingside.

"Bishops are stronger than knights, they said"

Aronian, Levon vs Harikrishna, Pentala
Geneva Grand Prix 2017 (Round 6)

1. c4 e5
2. Nc3 Nf6
3. Nf3 Nc6
4. g3 d5
5. cxd5 Nxd5
6. Bg2 Nb6
7. O-O Be7
8. d3 O-O
9. Be3 Be6
10. Rc1 f5

The position resembles what is called a Reverse Sicilian: Instead of White, Black is the one who is preparing for a kingside advance.

11. a3

While White counterattacks on the other wing.

11... Kh8 12. b4 a6
13. Re1 Qe8 (D)

Position after 13... Qe8

Preparing ... Qg6 letting the queen join in the subsequent attack.

14. Qd2 Bd6
15. Bxb6

Aronian must have sensed the impending danger to his kingside, and decides to liquidate some of his opponent's firepower, and damage the enemy pawn structure at the same time.

15... cxb6
16. d4 exd4
17. Nxd4 Rd8
18. Nxe6 Qxe6
19. Qa2

So far White has succeeded in trading off most of the pieces. If he can exchange into the endgame, he will have the advantage due to his better pawn structure.

19... Qh6

Obviously, Harikrishna doesn't want any of that! He rejects the trade and continues with the kingside attack.

20. f4

Restraining Black's dark-squared bishop, and preventing any unwanted opening of the f-file.

20... a5 (D)

Position after 20... a5

21. b5?

This looks like a winning move, pinning the knight to the hanging b7 pawn. But it gives Harikrishna a huge positional gift: Previously, his dark-squared bishop was staring into a wall of pawns on both wings, but with this pawn advance his bishop now has access to the queenside. After something like ... Bc5 this also opens the file for his rook. Simply put, a seemingly harmless pawn move has allowed Black to greatly improve the position of his pieces!

Aronian was probably worried that after 21. bxa5 bxa5 any advantage that he might have in the endgame would be lost, since Black undoubles his pawns. But he might have seen that 21. Nb5! solves his problems as well; in fact, it helps to push the battle further into the endgame after 21... axb4 22. Nxd6 Qxd6 23. axb4 Qxb4 24. Qb1! After which one of Black's queenside pawns will fall. The resultant endgame is about equal.

21... Bc5+
22. e3? (D)

Position after 22. e3

Allowing a neat tactic that activates Black's knight. But even after 22. Kh1 Bf2 23. bxc6 Bxg3 24. h3 bxc6 25. Red1 Bxf4 Black has 3 pawns for a piece, but his queen-bishop duo are generating huge problems on the kingside.

22... Ne5!

Threatening a fork on d3 as well as Ng4 piling pressure on the kingside.

23. Rcd1

Black cannot capture: 23. fxe5? Bxe3+ loses the rooks.

23... Ng4
24. h3 Nxe3

The potential discovered attack is threatening. But even deadlier is 24... Bxe3+! 25. Kf1 Nh2+ 26. Ke2 Bxf4 driving White's king into the centre. Black now threatens moves like ... Re8 or ... Qxf4 after the exchange.

25. Rxd8

White trades to the best of his ability to slow down the attack. But it isn't enough.

25... Rxd8
26. Kh2 g5! (D)

Position after 26... g5

Blowing open the kingside cover. 26... Ng4+ looks tempting, but after 27. Kh1 Nf2+ 28. Kh2 Black isn't making progress.

27. fxg5 Qxg5
28. Qe6

28. Nd5 might have been better, centralizing the knight and keeping watch over f4.

28... f4
29. Ne4 Qg7
30. g4 Nc2

White would love to swap off another pair of minor pieces on c6, but Black's monster knight gives him no breathing space to do so!

31. Rf1 Nd4
32. Qf6

At last, Aronian has found a way to trade queens and slow down the attack. Unfortunately, Harikrishna can afford to do this since he is a pawn up and has a firm advantage in the resultant endgame.

32... Qxf6
33. Nxf6 Bxa3
34. Bxb7 Bd6

And the passed a-pawn, supported by Black's minor pieces, will decide matters.

35. h4 a4
36. g5 a3
37. Kh3 Be5
38. Kg4 Nc2 (D)

Position after 38... Nc2

What can we learn from this game?

  1. Sometimes, going for a small material advantage is not always good especially if it gives the opponent a major positional advantage.
  2. When defending, exchange pieces to slow down the opponent's attack.
  3. Always seek to centralize your pieces so as to maximize their potential!


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Term 3 Tactics Part 1: The Pin

Today we shall go back to some basics, and look at 4 puzzles revolving around the tactical Pin motif.

Have fun!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Dominating the Two Bishops

For today's article, we will look at one of my friendly games that I played some time ago at the weekly Singapore Chess Meetup. Organized every Wednesday evening (6.30pm to 9.30pm) at Asia Square Tower 1, the Singapore Chess Meetup involves several players of varying strengths pitting their skills against each other in friendly games. A very good place to train and make new friends!

I found this game particularly instructive in the art of play against the bishop pair. Normally, we are taught that the two bishops are a powerful weapon in an open game. But in a closed position, their long-range advantage is restricted, as we had seen in my earlier Bishop Pair article series.

"Close those damn gates before them sniping bishops get us!"

Checkerboard 5 vs NN
Friendly Chess Game, Singapore Chess Meetup 2017

1. d4 Nf6
2. f4 g6
3. e3 Bg7
4. c3 d6
5. Nf3 O-O
6. Bd3 Nfd7
7. O-O e5
8. Bd2 f5?!

Exposing Black's king. This hands White the a2-g9 diagonal for free.

9. Bc4+ Kh8
10. Ng5 Qe7
11. Ne6 Nb6!

Black's only good move.

12. Nxf8 Nxc4
13. Nxg6+ hxg6
14. Rf3!? (D)

Position after 14. Rf3

With the h-file opened, I began to consider a kingside attack. But on hindsight it was not a very good plan: Only two of my pieces-- the queen and kingside rook-- were operational on that wing, while the other pieces needed some disentangling before they could be safely developed. But a bad plan is better than no plan, so the rook lift spelled the opening shots of the attack.

14. h3 followed by g4 was considered, but opening up my kingside for Black's light-squared bishop and queen (e.g. a possible ... Qh4) wasn't something which I desired.

14... Nxd2?

Alas, my opponent helps me with what was otherwise a poor attack. Why give up a good knight for a bad bishop, at the same time allowing me to develop my b1 knight for free?

14... Be6 developing normally was perfectly fine: 15. Rh3+ Kg8 16. Qf3 c6 followed by Bd5 taking over the centre. White still has to spend tempo bringing his dark-squared bishop to h4 before he can develop the b1 knight.

15. Nxd2 Be6
16. Rh3+ Kg8
17. Qf3 e4

Grabbing space and defending b7, but it closes the centre, which isn't very favourable to Black's bishop pair. Again,} 17... c6 followed by ... Bd5 could have been considered.

18. Qg3 Qf6
19. Rh4 Kf8

Despite the open h-file, there isn't a clear way for White to break through on the kingside: Al the invasion squares along the h-file have been covered! Moreover Black's king has smelt the danger and is preparing to evacuate the area.

20. Qf2

I decided to try another form of attack: Push h3 and g4 to open up the f-file, before bringing in the other rook with Rf1.

20. Qh3 If White persisted along the h-file, the result would have been something like 20... g5 21. Rh7 g4 22. Qh5 Bf7 23. Qg5 Nd7 Black solidifies the position, and the h7 rook is in danger of becoming trapped.

20... Nd7
21. Kf1

Since pushing the pawns exposes the White king, it had to be brought to safer waters as well.

21... Ke7
22. Ke2 Rh8! (D)

Position after 22... Rh8

Black has managed to extricate his king and bring out the rest of his pieces into the defence.

23. Rxh8

Effectively admitting that White's kingside attack has failed. Now both sides face a tough endgame ahead.

23... Bxh8
24. h4

To stop Black from pushing g5.

24... Nb6
25. Kd1 Qf8
26. Qg3 Qh6
27. Qg5+ Qxg5
28. hxg5 Nc4
29. Nxc4 Bxc4 (D)

Position after 29... Bxc4

Let's take a look at the position. White has a rook and extra pawn in exchange for Black's two bishops. In an open game the bishop pair would normally be advantageous, but in a closed position like this their strength is neutralized. Moreover, White still has the open h-file to play with: He has ideas like Rh1-Rh7 invading the seventh rank or Rh6 attacking the weak g6 pawn.

Additionally, I can also consider Rg1 followed by pushing g4 to be a viable plan, since exchanging on f5 leaves Black with another weak f5 pawn that White's rook can target.

30. Kc2 a5

Since the kingside is locked up, Black tries to open up on the other wing, hoping to get some space for his two bishops.

31. b3 Bd5

31... Bd3+ might have been better: The bishop cannot be chased away without great cost to White.

32. Rg1

Preparing to advance g4.

32. Rh1 was considered, but after 32... Bg7 33. Rh7 Kf8 followed by Bg8, Black's bishop pair covers the invasion squares and White must retreat.

32... b5
33. g4 c5?!

More accurate was 33... fxg4 34. Rxg4 Be6 35. Rh4 Bg7 where Black has managed to open some diagonals for his light-squared bishop. White has no quick breakthrough, for example 36. Rh7 Bg8 37. Rh1 planning Rf1 followed by g5, but Black simply repeats with 37... Be6 38. Rh7 Bg8 practically forcing a perpetual, with neither side giving way.

34. gxf5 gxf5
35. g6 (D)

Position after 35. g6

Now White has a passed pawn, and a target to attack on f5.

36. Rg5 Kf6
37. Kb1 c4
38. Kb2 cxb3
39. axb3 a4
40. bxa4 bxa4

Black gets his own passed pawn, but White's king is there to stop it.

41. Ka3 Bb3
42. c4

The threat is to advance c5 creating a second passed pawn.

42... Bf8
43. Rg1 d5+
44. c5

It is important to keep the position closed when your enemy has the bishop pair!

44... Kg7
45. Rg5 Kf6
46. Kb2

Stepping out of the a3-f8 diagonal pin.

47. c6 Bc4

47... Bxg5? 48. c7 Nothing can stop White from making a new queen.

48. Rg1 Ba6

48... Bb5 49. c7 Bd7 was better, after something like 50. Ka3 Bf8+ 51. Kb2 Bc8 Black is surprisingly holding out well against both passed pawns.

49. Ka3 Bc8?

Dropping the a4 pawn, Black's main source of counterplay, for nothing. Again, Black could have opted for 49... Bb5 50. c7 Bd7 51. Rc1 Bf8+ 52. Kb2 Bc8 53. Rg1 with the same fortress Black erected in the previous variation.

50. Kxa4 Bf8
51. Rb1 Ke7
52. Rb8

Now, the pressure from both passed pawns become too much for Black's bishops to handle. All White needs to do is to bring his king into the battle, and the game is effectively over from this point onwards.

52... Kd8
53. Kb5 Kc7
54. Ra8 Kd8
55. Kb6 Bh6
56. Kc5 Bf8+
57. Kxd5 Kc7
58. Kc4 Be6+
59. d5 (D)

Position after 59. d5

What can we learn from this game?

  1. When your enemy has the bishop pair, try to keep the game closed to neutralize their advantage.
  2. A bad plan is better than no plan.
  3. Learn the principle of two weaknesses: In this game, Black could hold out with one enemy passed pawn on the kingside, but when White created a second one on the queenside, Black's defences swiftly collapsed.

"Closing the Gates at Hougoumont, 1815", 1903, Robert Gibb, http://waterloo200.org/200-object/closing-the-gates-at-hougoumont-1815/

Saturday, June 24, 2017

June Holiday Presents 2017: Part 2

Are you trying to escape the cruel reality that the holidays are coming to an end? Here's a good hiding place, with 4 bishop-themed puzzles to lose your mind in!

Have fun!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Diary of a Chess Patzer: Part 3

As promised, I have saved the best for the last. Today I will analyze one of my most spectacular disasters throughout my chess career. And it wasn’t some beginner game played 8 years ago; no, it was from the recently concluded Thomson Chess Fiesta 2017, which was (not) coincidentally where two of my other games from Part 1 came from.

Before that, let me digress with a small anecdote. On the first day of the tournament, there was a major stir, when a player—let’s call him NN—outplayed his opponent, who was rated 400 points higher than NN, and reached the following endgame:

NN vs Opponent
Thomson Chess Fiesta 2017
Position 1: White to move

White is completely winning in this endgame. True, the passed pawn might pose some trouble, but all White has to do is put his bishop on the h1-a8 diagonal (Bc6+) and Black can never hope to promote.

Instead, White “saw” a more direct path to victory: In his excitement, he played 1. Bxh3??, sweeping Black’s last pawn off the board… except that he couldn’t!

An imaginary free pawn (image from Chess Memes)

And so, FIDE’s newest illegal move rule claimed its next victim. Poor NN threw away what could have been a major victory for him.

Returning to the main topic, I soon found myself in a similar situation, gaining an advantage over my opponent who was, incidentally, also rated 400 points higher than me.

Opponent vs Checkerboard 5
Thomson Chess Fiesta 2017 (Round 7)
Position 2: Black to move

As Black, I had a clear upper hand here. After 1… Rf5+ followed by 2… Rh5, there is no stopping Black from making a new queen. In fact, even the simpler and more intuitive 1… Kg2, which I had intended, forces White to give up his rook to stop Black’s pawn. White may still give problems with his connected passers, but Black’s extra rook and second passed pawn should be sufficient to reel in the point.

Except that in the heat of the moment, when my hands flew to the king-pawn duo intending 1… Kg2, my fingers instead closed around the h-pawn…

1… h1=Q?? 2 Rxh1 and while the game was still a salvageable draw with correct play, my morale had already taken a hit from the missed opportunity. After several more mistakes I completely threw away the advantage and gave my opponent the full point.

A perfect tragedy, especially since the original game was highly instructive:

After the game, NN, who had been spectating, came up to me with a reassuring look: “Don’t worry bruh, I feel your pain”

Well, that doesn’t change the fact that I came so close to beating an opponent who was, by official statistics, way stronger than me. I can only find solace in the fact that I was not the only patzer who threw his games that day. *Cries*

With that I wrap up this 3 part series of what you SHOULDN’T do in a chess game. Granted, learning chess by myself was never an easy task, and analyzing these games proved that I still have a long way to go. Hope y’all have been entertained by looking at these games, and learn from all the mistakes you’ve seen!

The End

Part 1: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/05/diary-of-chess-patzer-part-1.html
Part 2: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/06/diary-of-chess-patzer-part-2.html
Part 3: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/06/diary-of-chess-patzer-part-3.html


Sunday, June 11, 2017

June Holiday Presents 2017: Part 1

I don't need to say more... most of them should be simple enough.

Have fun!