Mindful chess has arrived in Bristol!

Mindful Chess is a London-born initiative for teaching school-children the art of chess; Jake and his team give us an insight into its creation and details about their ventures further West…

Rewind 20 years and my dad was running a chess club at the school we went to in North London. It was (and still is) an extremely relaxed environment for kids to come play chess, eat bagels and hang out. Both me and my brother would sometimes attend but I hadn’t quite caught the bug as yet… My love for the game only really began to develop in my late teens. My brother on the other hand had taught himself how to play at the age of 4 on an Atari by clicking on the pieces and then it showing him the possible squares they could move to.

Fast forward 15 years and I found myself living in a very local area of Hong Kong called Sai Ying Pun. I was exploring my art career while my partner explored her architecture and design work. I was spending most my time working in quite an insular environment with not all that much contact with the outside world. Finding me in a bit of a rut my partner suggested I explore doing some chess teaching. Having occasionally helped my dad out running his club and having since developed a far greater appreciation for the game, this seemed like not such a bad idea. I googled ‘chess teaching Hong Kong’ and clicked on a link titled Scholastic Chess. A phone call and one day later I found myself sitting in a local cafe with Benjamin Chui who set up and managed the school. The following week I began teaching sessions and developed a real love for it. Like my dad, Ben took an approach to teaching that placed great importance on the students enjoying the experience of learning the game. Ben also had an 18 chapter program of puzzles and exercises that students could dip into as and when they wished. I found the experience of working with the kids hugely enjoyable.

chess teaching

After six months we decided it was time to leave Hong Kong to return to London. On the way back we decided to go via Indonesia. I had never visited a country where people of all ages were so keen to play chess. I’d walk down the road holding a board and kids would rush up asking to play. We’d often spend hours just hanging out on street corners with groups of kids passionate to play or learn. Along with the children who showed a fantastic hunger for the game, we often found older men spending afternoons crowded round a board. One evening a few days before I left, I was driving down the street when I spotted someone playing chess with a couple of the local kids. I stopped my bike to ask if I could join in. It transpired he’d also spent the previous six months teaching chess to kids but back home in Melbourne.

The next couple of days weren’t spent almost entirely playing chess or surfing. Half way through a game he turned to me and asked if I thought about my breathing while playing. This was definitely not something I’d ever given consideration to in regards to a game of chess. He pointed out that my breath often became irregular and sped up over the course of a game. He on the other hand made a conscious effort to slow his breaths as he maintained focus. Over the course of the following few months I began to apply this to my chess and found sure enough I started both winning more games and also enjoying the experience even more. I’d been in contact with Ben from Scholastic chess and he’d very kindly offered to let me open up Scholastic Chess London and give me all his teaching materials, use of his logo and everything else relating to the company. Although I was hugely grateful of the extremely kind offer (and did say I’d love to have use of his 18 chapters of training exercises) I felt I wanted to set something up that took influence from my experience with him while also integrating some of what I’d been thinking about in relation to my chess since. Mindful Chess was born. I built a website and started contacting schools. After many many phone calls and even more emails I heard back from a school saying they would like a session once a week for a small group of students. Come September I turned up to find a class of 20 students eager to learn the game. Although I was able to run the sessions alone, I didn’t feel the students were getting enough input and hence decided to find someone else that would be interested in running the sessions with me. Through word of mouth over the next few months I started hearing from other schools asking us to come in to run weekly sessions. I started posting on Facebook groups to find others that were passionate both about chess and the equally important skill of communicating this to children.

After many many informal interviews in coffee shops and trial sessions, I met two other like minded individuals called Lawrence Northall and Sammy Mendell. As well as being passionate about the game, they brought a whole range of teaching ideas to how we could further improve on the speed at which students improved and the pleasure they took from the experience. Over the past two years, each term we have continued to gradually grow, now teaching over 300 students a week across 14 different schools. Along with myself Lawrence and Sammy, there are a team of other passionate chess teachers that have joined us who run many of the weekly sessions. We take an approach to teaching where we look to give the students an element of control over how they learn. Rather than just telling them to do chess drills and games, they get the choice between engaging in competitions within the class, working through our chess training program of puzzles and tactics training exercises or working with one of our coaches in small groups to develop specific areas of their game. We also now create every child their own chess kid account which means they can do additional training exercises at home or play against other students anywhere in the world in a totally safe environment. We are able to track students progress and tailor our teaching accordingly for each individual group we work with. As part of our mission to bring chess to as many students as possible, we have a policy where if parents can’t afford to send their child along, we ask them to pay simply what they can afford, no student is ever turned away.

As of the start of this year we have just started providing weekly sessions to our first two schools outside of London, Westdene Primary in Brighton and Hillcrest Primary School in Bristol. In the coming year we hope to make our teaching available to a number of other schools in both Bristol and other cities, along with starting to run evening sessions for adults that wish to either learn or further their chess skills.

For anyone that would be interested in learning or getting involved in teaching with us then please get in touch! (jake@mindfulchess.co.uk)

www.mindfulchess.co.uk

Instagram – @mindfulchess

Twitter – /mindfulchess

Facebook – /mindfulchess


Jake

Jake grew up in North London and following the experience of teaching chess to students in Hong Kong and Kids on the streets in Indonesia, decided to set up Mindful Chess in the UK.

Problems in February with GM Jones

GM Jones is back with another edition of chess problems – this time the theme is ‘distant self-blocks’ of all things!

Having last time presented a problem that I had managed to solve, this time I’m presenting one that I failed to solve when I recently came across it. Having said that, I then was kicking myself for my laziness (I’d only spent about five minutes looking for the solution) because it shouldn’t have been too difficult to find the key move and thereafter to have the pleasure of unearthing and admiring the continuations after Black’s various defences.

game1
White to play and mate in 3

This problem, by the late Friedrich Chlubna, won first prize in Problem in 1968. It is a 3-mover: White is to play and is to force mate on his third move at the latest.

As usual. the key is not a checking move, nor is it crude in any way. But looking at crude moves may help in arriving at the solution, because some of them will work if we can first induce Black to make a move that will work to his disadvantage.

The key is 1.Rg6!. This threatens 2.Qg4+ Kxe5 3.Qe4. Black has a number of defences – 1…Rg2 is met by 2.Rf6+ Kg3 3.Rf3, 1…Rf2 by 2.Qg5+ Kf3 3.Qg4, 1…Qd4 by 2.Qg4+ Kxe5 3.Qg5, 1…d5 by 2.Qg4+ Kxe5 3.Re6, and 1…e2 by 2.Qg5+ Kf3 3.Qg3.

The remarkable thing is that each of these defences features what a problemist would call a ‘distant self-block’: Black puts his piece on a square to which his King could otherwise move out of check. What’s more, these ‘self-blocks’ are distant: they are on squares to which the King is not yet adjacent, but rather on squares to which he will become adjacent. To show this in five continuations is a remarkable task achievement and (unlike some task achievements) an aesthetically appealing one.

The place where I saw this problem was the website of the British Chess Problem Society, and there are countless other similarly enjoyable problems there. On the homepage you’ll find a weekly problem selected by Michael McDowell. For many years he’s been selecting weekly problems for the website, and he chooses them with a solver’s as much as a composer’s eye. (He’s very good at both those activities!) At the foot of the homepage, beneath the problem, you’ll find a link to the archive of these weekly problems, so you will be able to spend as long as you like solving old weekly problems (or even, like me, rushing all too quickly to read the solution!).

Check out some past problems from Chris here:

November 2018

August 2018

July 2018

 


chriscircle

Chris is a GM problem composer and long-time member of the Bristol League

A wild game from the major cup quarters

No doubt this one goes down in Downend’s Hall of Fame – Michael ‘Tal’ Meadows pulls off an enterprising win in the cup

Sitting in a cricket club in December staring at zero winning opportunities whilst your team slowly get outplayed on all boards is no fun for a captain looking for his club’s only chance of sliverware. But sadly that’s where I was.

But the stresses of amateur captaincy melted away when, peeking to my left, I witnessed some wild and mysterious chess on the board next to me. It was none other than Meadows vs. Nendick – and is surely a contender for game of the season:

The Magician from Riga, Mikhail Tal, had a knack of landing in an endgame just one point of material ahead after a mind-boggling middlegame with several sacrifices. That’s what Mike achieved here, and the queen was simply dominant over the two rooks.

Here are some of Phil’s thoughts as it happened:

phil1
After 12. Bg5

Phil (black): “This got me out of book (!) so I spent quite a while trying to refute it. As it happens Fischer has played it so it’s probably not too bad.

After a6 and Ba4: The knight can now be embarrassed in some lines with Bd7 as it is now pinned to the bishop but I couldn’t make the tactics work. I decided instead for active defense.”

phil2
After 14. Bxf6

Phil: “I had initially planned 14…o-o the point being that White now has 2 pieces en prise so I’ll get one of them and I’ve got my king relatively safe. The problem is he can open it up with Bxg7.”

BCT: Phil played hxg3 instead

phil3
After 17…Qxf6

“This time 0-0 works well and maintains a healthy advantage”

BCT: Alas Phil grabbed the bishop and got his king in no-mans land (of course White’s king is in such a traditional place!)

phil4
After 20… Qxf7

Phil: “I thought this was pretty much forced as Qxe4 is coming with my king stuck in the middle but Qd6 again seems to hold the balance (if you’re a computer)”

phil5
After 24…Kxf6

Phil: “I thought I would try and make something of my kingside majority but hanging on to the queenside and hoping for a draw would probably have been more prudent”

BCT: It was very tough to defend after this because the rooks had no active plans, any attempt to move them up the board falls to nasty queen-checks. It was all lost at this point and I could tell Mike was much more comfortable. A great win and an overwhelming performance from the Downend team.

Why not send us your games? We’ll edit them how you want and show them off to the world!


 

mikecircle

Mike is co-editor of the Bristol Chess Times and plays regular league and tournament chess 

Half Season Update – 18/19

Winter is coming which means only one thing – the Bristol League season is half way done! Let’s have a look at the standings.

2018 saw tense FIDE elections, excited speculation about Alpha Zero’s chess learning ability – with publication of a few jaw-dropping wins and brow-raising losses against Stockfish, and all the while Magnus calmly saw off Caruana with an unpopular decision to draw the 12th game and send the match into rapids.

But, more importantly, here are the league standings over here in the South West:

table
Smaller clubs are flourishing so far – and everyone has got a point!

How are our predictions looking?

We picked a winner for each division, as well as a ‘Dark Horse’ pick for insurance, and we are well on track! We could well prove correct in all 4 divisions:

Division 1

Our top pick Horfield are still one of the 5 horses in the Division 1 race – but it is our ‘Dark Horses’ Bath in pole position – only dropping one match in nine.

Division 2

Again the Dark Horses (North Bristol A) have dropped just one match and look well on course for the title, with our top pick Clevedon B in 3rd.

Division 3

It’s not looking so good for our Dark Horse pick here (South Bristol B) but the top pick Cabot A is doing the business! Come on the Cabot!

Division 4

Clevedon C lie in 2nd currently behind Harambee A; but I’m afraid newcomers and our Dark Horse pick Congresbury have had to withdraw – so looking pretty unlikely there!

 

Outstanding performances

 

Grade? What Grade?

We give a shout out to those who are way out-performing their own grades:

James Sutton (Keynsham): +36

Alex Vaughn (University): +34

Alan Warne (Clifton): +34

Dave Tipper (Downend) is unbeaten: +32

Jerry Humphreys (Grendel) is on 7 from 7: +29

 

Draws are for wimps

A special mention to those swashbucklers who would rather battle on than make treaties (rules: must have played 8 games, and won and lost at least 1 game)

Matthew Wilson (Clevedon) 5/0/6

Richard Kirk (Hanham) 2/0/7

Derek Pugh (Horfield) 4/0/4

Rob Attar (Horfield) 3/0/6

James Facey (Horfield) 6/0/4

James Sutton (Keynsham) 5/0/5

Mike Minshall (Thornbury) 3/0/5

Lester Moon (Yate) 3/0/6

 

Best of luck to all in the new year – for those super-keen (like me) come along to Downend’s Buzzer tournament (10 seconds a move) on New Years’ Day!


 

mikecircle

Mike is co-editor of the Bristol Chess Times and plays regular league and tournament chess

Defensive sacrifices – the queen falls on her sword

Sacrifices are often associated with attack – but they can be equally effective as defence. We take a look at a queen ‘sack’ from the Bristol league.

This is the position from Stubbs vs. Helbig in a recent Division One match:

game1
Rb1 has just been played by White – attacking the queen on b8. What would you do?

White is beginning to take some control, utilising extra space and time; and is threatening to really tighten the screw and maybe land a piece on b6, supported by pawn c4-c5. This is just one possible plan, but it would also free the bad bishop on d3. However, Paul wanted that bishop to stay bad, and so played the deep queen sacrifice:

…Bxc5!

He gives up the queen for a rook and bishop after Rxb8 Rxb8 Black has three relatively active pieces which stand a good chance of stopping the queen rampaging – and the potential of co-ordinating to pressurise the king or get a pawn moving down the board.

Would you have thought of this move? It’s important to at least consider them. After a good 4-5 seconds thought, Stockfish comes to the same conclusion as Paul and gives up the queen also! Here are the lines:

Comp
Stockfish recommendations. Qe8 also draws but presumably it thinks this is a longer (and probably more painful) defence, so it puts Bxc5 at the top.

In the game there followed Qc3 Bd4 Qxa5 c5:

game2
After …c5 from Black

Without the a-pawn White would have no real way to make progress, and still has the weak bishop on d3 -which Black goes for now. Surprisingly, White simply gives the bishop up straight away rather than try to wriggle to worse and worse squares, and gets the pawn moving: Qa7 Rb3, a5! Rxd3, a6 White had worked out that the Black rook would have to sacrifice itself too for the pawn, but hadn’t counted on the bishops being so strong afterwards! Bxc4, Qb8+ Kg7, a7 and Black must give up the rook:

game3
Black is forced to play Ra3, planning to take the new queen

After a8=Q Rxa8, Qxa8 the bishops and the extra pawn provide Black with enough stability and potential counterplay to distract the queen from doing any damage. White tried the best plan to disrupt the pawns and open more lines for the queen, but had to settle for a perpetual check and a draw was agreed.

That’s some defence!

The rest of the game went Bd3, g4 g5, Qd8 h6, h4 gxh4, g5 hxg5, Qxg5+ Kf8, Qd8+ Kg7, Qg5+ Kf8, Qd8+ etc.

Always consider the defensive sacrifice – it may just be the best way forward.


 

mikecircle

Mike is co-editor of the Bristol Chess Times and plays regular league and tournament chess

UK Blitz Final (Dec 1st) – and interview with qualifier Fiona Steil-Antoni

We caught up with WIM and popular chess broadcaster Fiona Steil-Antoni and talked about chess in the modern world.

Last month I participated in the Bristol qualifier of the UK Open Blitz tournament, and came agonisingly close to the top two qualifying spots (around joint 13th… ahem).

However, I had the dubious honour of getting mated-in-one against Fiona Steil-Antoni, whose interview with us is below. Alice Lampard from Bristol Uni also qualified for the final – after a notable draw against me in which we both blundered queens – and is the only Bristol League representative (GM Nick Pert and Krystof Sneiberg also made it; full list below).

UK Blitz
The participants for December 1st in Birmingham

Interview

BCT: Thanks for speaking with us – and for choosing Bristol! How’s it going?

Fiona: Great thanks; I had a last-minute decision of which qualifier to go to, I’m glad I chose Bristol!

BCT: I saw you recently played a game for North Bristol as well – how did that come about?

Fiona: Yes I had a tough game against an FM [Tyson Mordue – he annotates the game here]. I had met a player from North Bristol at a weekender in Dublin; and they invited me to play so I said sure! Glad to get my debut here, shame it was a loss..

BCT: Best of luck next time! So you are quite a personality on the chess scene – seems like there has been lots of great stuff in professional chess recently – what’s your view on it all?

Fiona: It’s all great – streaming has been such a big improvement, people are enjoying watching chess online – and it is a big range of grades as well. It is something for everyone, and its enjoyable – really makes chess fun and accessible.

BCT: Are there any specifically you have enjoyed?

Fiona: Some really successful ones like ‘My Teacher Sam’, and the ChessBrahs come to mind, but there are many others. The Pro-Chess League has been particularly fun – obviously I have been involved in the broadcast of it for a while but there are others showing it as well. You get a team of 4 players and they could be a big range of grades. If you’re drawn against a big team you could end up playing one of the best – even Hikaru or Magnus – so it’s really exciting and players are getting their bit of fame so that was great to be a part of. Of course Ginger GM as well!

BCT: Of course. Do you think all this online growth is helping chess in general?

Fiona: It is growing definitely – the general public know more now. Magnus has done extremely well as world champion, it definitely helps that he is young, and attractive – I think chess today has a way to go to match the hype that it had in the 70’s, but its different now and who knows where it will go. All the online platforms have done a great job.

Thinking about today – faster games are good to increase viewers; at the final one thing I hope is that they get digital boards [DGT boards can relay the moves played]; it’s like 8 boards in each section, so 16 digital boards needed to enable everyone to watch the games live – seems like an easy way to make it much more exciting and attract viewers.

BCT: Yes let’s talk about today – who was your toughest opponent so far?

Fiona: Nick. [GM Pert – just the 400 rating points clear of the field]

BCT: Ah, of course. Second?

Fiona: Hmm. Hard to say – also can’t remember the names! [We hadn’t played our match at this point, but safe to say it wasn’t me].

BCT: You’re in pole position right now for the women’s final, so assuming you make it, who are you looking out for at the finals?

Fiona: Lots of great players I expect will be there, but Sophie Milliet (France) is very original and has been having good results, she will be very tough.

BCT: Again the very best of luck for that! One last thing – you’ve been following the Bristol Chess Times a little – what advice can you give us?

Fiona: Vlogging is very effective. Blogs are great but videos are just easier and people like to see behind the scenes nowadays. It’s also more instant, more present. Keep the blog going – that’s great too, but it’s mostly about streaming and vlogging now.

[Well Fiona, we took your advice and have done what we can – starting a YouTube channel – if we get the time then we’ll start vlogging too!]

BCT: Great, thanks – well I’ll let you actually take a break and recharge before the last 5 rounds!

Fiona: My pleasure, best of luck yourself

[I needed it. I’ll be back next year for what was a pretty intense and fun day, and will try to avoid mates in one, queen-blundering, and failing to convert games a rook up. Meanwhile I’ll be relaxing and watching the final]

Congratulations also to Bristolian Tom Thorpe who ran the qualifying event – he has since been awarded the title of FIDE International Arbiter!


 

mikecircle

Mike is co-editor of the Bristol Chess Times and plays regular league and tournament chess

Game of the Month – October 2018

We check in on the league and get started for a brand new season of Game of the Month.

The league is in full swing!

Division One proving as tough as ever and a little surprising; Downend B are on top thanks to a youthful and in-form team. Bath A are lurking with a match in hand and look very strong, for example only losing 2.5 points to all 3 Horfield teams put together!

Conversely to division 1, the ‘A’ teams are in charge of the other three divisions: North Bristol, Cabot, and Harambee with a much improved start compared to last season in division 4 (they have a game in hand over Clevedon C, level on points).

Game of the Month

Rob Attar vs. Max Walker

Horfield B vs Clevedon A (division 1)

I was playing in this match, and would have shown my own loss on board 1, succumbing to some nice tactics from my opponent, but there was a sharper game on board 4 from Max:

1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. Bf4 b6 4. e3 Nc6 5. Bd3 Be7 6. O-O Nb4

pos1
With Nb4, Max removes the ‘London Bishop’

7. c4 Nxd3 8. Qxd3 Bb7 9. Nbd2 O-O 10. e4 d5 11. cxd5 exd5 12. e5 Ne4 13. Rac1 c5 14. b3

pos2
Here Max goes for cramping the other bishop with g5!

14… g5 15. Bg3 g4 16. Ne1 cxd4 17. Qxd4 Bc5 18. Qd3 Ba6

pos3
Ba6! A nice tactical idea with the plan of Nxd2, trapping the rook on f1.

The engines prefer Qg5, which is always hanging in the air – but perhaps this is more a computer favourite because it shuts out a few perpetual possibilities for White. But if one thing is certain, Rob wasn’t looking for chances to bail out! With the g-pawn gone, this is still a very double-edged position.

Rob accepts the exchange loss and sets about creating counter-chances against the open king, but Max finds a cool defence:

19. Qxa6 Nxd2 20. Qe2 Nxf1 21. Qxg4+ Kh8 22. Kxf1 Rg8 23. Qf3 Qd7 24. Bh4 Be7

pos4
Be7(!) defends f6 but leaves a tempting Qxf7

And Rob takes the bait with Qxf7! This is a piece sacrifice, with the idea being that after Black escapes the pin with Qb5+ and then Bxh4, White has the nasty Rc7! Threatening h7 mate with no obvious escape.

But Max had seen one:

25. Qxf7 Qb5+ 26. Kg1 Bxh4 27. Rc7

pos5
Black has one defence to Qxf7…

27… Bxf2+! And Black either drags the king to an unfortunate square (If Kh1, Qf1 mate; and if Kxf2, Rf8 pins and wins) or distracts the White queen away from mate so that Black can bring in the reinforcements in time. Phew!

28. Qxf2 Raf8 29. Nf3 Qd3 30. Ne1 Rxf2 31. Nxd3 Rgxg2+ 32. Kh1 Rxh2+ 33.
Kg1 Rxa2 34. e6 Rhd2 35. Ne1 Rd1 36. Kf1 Raa1 37. Kf2 Rxe1 38. e7 Kg8
0-1 (Full game below)

Well played to Max and to Clevedon A who won that match and are definitely in the running for division 1. See you next time and remember to keep sending in those games!


 

mikecircle

Mike is co-editor of The Bristol Chess Times and plays regular league and tournament chess

Horfield win over ‘Rest of league’ in 75th anniversary celebration

Founded by air-raid wardens in 1942 and still going strong – strong enough to beat the rest of the league in their anniversary match!

Miraculously or not, two even-handed teams of 11 chess warriors rocked up for battle on Saturday morning, supplied with coffee, cake and biscuits and 45 minutes on the clock. It was Horfield’s 75th – playing against a mixed team representing 7 different league clubs. The captains were Bristol league legends John and John (Richards and Curtis), organised and arbitrated by yours truly.

round2
The top boards in round 2

A history of the club (also found on Horfield’s website) was on display, along with famous games past and present.

history
A long history

The pleasant and spacious playing hall was just upstairs from the usual dinky Horfield rooms – unfortunately reserved for Pilates on Tuesday evenings.

room
Plenty of mental gymnastics going on in the fitness room

Geoff Gammon got to play instead of arbitrate, and brought along a number of puzzles to add to the collection – one of the beauties is below:

puzzle.jpg
White to play and win (solution at the end of this article)

Though a friendly match, chess players are always up for a fight and Horfield will be rejoicing at the convincing scoreline, 15 – 7! Only two players won both their games – Derek Pugh and Phil Nendick of Horfield A.

result
Horfield won 7-4 with all players playing Black, and bettered that by 1 in round two with the White pieces to total 15-7

Memorabilia was also on display – including the charming ‘h-file’ leaflet/magazine:

hfile
Classic photos from yonderyear

Thanks to Horfield for putting on a friendly event for the league, and to all those who travelled to play and show support for a long-standing club.

In other news

I couldn’t stand to organise chess and not play for much longer, so I saddled on down to the Cross-Hands pub for some blitz on the Sunday night.

Through a combination of dubious sacrifices, grovelling for draws against people half my age, winning on time whilst literally getting checkmated and all-around time-scrappery, I managed to win a tournament outright for the first time in at least 5 years. So thanks to Downend, Derek and Elmira for organising and Geoff for arbitrating.

Come along next time on December 2nd (especially if you live in Downend – no excuse really!) Details will be on Downend’s website.

Puzzle Solution

After the ridiculous Kg5!! Black has a couple of waiting moves (c5 is met with d5!, and f4 is met with f3!) before fatal zugzwang, where the Black queen is lost with every move.


 

mikecircle

Mike is co-editor of the Bristol Chess Times, is now a feared blitz superstar across the land, and plays regular league and tournament chess

Chess events in Oct/Nov

Winter is threatening to unleash itself on Bristol, so we thought we’d remind you of some all-weather chess events before Christmas

Chipping Sodbury Rapidplay – Sunday 21st October

Everyone’s favourite Sodbury – the Bristol league will once again proudly host some rapid wood-pushers in this charming town. Lunchtime visits to the antique/craft/charity shops and several pubs are recommended/obligatory. Details here.

7_Major Dave

Horfield vs. The League – Saturday 3rd of November

Still spaces left for Bristol league players of any playing strength to enter this friendly anniversary match. There will be two medium-length games, as well as puzzles with a difference, free refreshments, some history of Horfield & Redland club and perhaps a speech from their humble chairman.

Crosshands Blitz – Sunday 4th of November

More blitz action organised by Downend’s Elmira Walker – see their site for details – we hope to make this one!

Screen Shot 2018-09-28 at 07.59.19
Remember places are limited on a first come first serve basis

…Nothing else happening in the chess world in November, right? 😉


mikecircle

Mike is co-editor of the Bristol Chess Times and plays regular league and tournament chess

Chess myths: Are there really 3 phases to a chess game?

Is it always this simple? Can you define a phase of a chess game? And does your perception of them change how you play?

Opening, Middlegame, and Endgame. This model is simple and may be a useful one to teach, and to define books and DVD’s (Master the Middlegame!, Improve your opening play, etc.). And I must admit I am a fan of chess quotes like these:

“Play the Opening like a book, the middlegame like a magician, and the endgame like a machine” – Rudolph Spielmann

or

“To beat me you have to do it three times – once in the opening, once in the middlegame, and once in the endgame” – World Champion Alekhine, at the height of his career.

However I also believe that seeing the game this way can alter your evaluations of your play and it can be limiting (“I’m really bad at endgames”) or (“That was lost from the opening”). It can be harmful to stop at these categorisations. You can get stuck in thinking only in terms of these three phases to the extent that it actually harms your moves. A few years ago I was stuck in thinking that a ‘lost’ endgame is irreparable – and I would prefer to make highly speculative moves in the middlegame rather than brave a slightly worse endgame. I didn’t appreciate that the endgame is long – and includes several phases.

To improve your game, we have previously advocated asking other players what type of player you are, and I realised something about my own play when someone said that I “win all my games in the middlegame”. I hadn’t realised, but he was right, I reached an endgame less often than other players.

Now, I’m of course still more than happy to win games in the middlegame – but when I am on the losing side I have learned to fight on and test out opponent’s endgame skills, rather than test their ability to refute a wild sacrifice. Through this, I have learned that a chess game is pretty long after all. The ‘endgame’ especially – can be exceedingly long both in moves played, and the amount of ‘play’ left. One example is this unfavourable position last season, which I managed to turn around:

position1
White is a pawn ahead – and has been since the opening. But Black has been avoiding easy piece-swaps, and therefore keeping the game alive.

I was forced to give up a pawn after a bad opening. Crucially though I had kept the game slightly alive and decided not to panic, and offer to go into double-edged middlegames and endgames. That doesn’t always mean keeping the queens on, it doesn’t always mean closing up the position – it just means finding some imbalance. Here I found myself in a double rook endgame where I could attempt to get my own passed pawn. It still wasn’t great, but it was enough to try.

I eventually conjured up a passed f-pawn which won me the game after a very natural move Rb8 was played here: (Full playback below)

position2a
White is winning, but the best is b5! to gain another passed pawn. My opponent played the natural Rb8, to which I immediately replied Rxa7! There followed Rxa7? and f2! winning for black. See the game below for the cheeky preparatory move Kg7…

My machine says that the game was about +3 to White from move 28 until the mistake on move 43. That’s 15 moves where Black is effectively down a whole piece. But in human terms, it was an extra pawn and some serious work to make it count.

Losing the psychological game

It can be the hardest thing to win a won game. And in amateur chess there are so many swings in the endgame (like the game above!) But take this as a positive – you can play for a win in a lot of positions, just stay positive and try to either prolong or complicate things until your opponent slips up. When you think you are losing, don’t stop looking for wins!

Have you ever been on the back foot in a game, and offered/accepted a draw only to realise that you were actually winning in the end position?

I think this has happened to many of us. If you reach an endgame and think “okay – I’m playing for a draw” then you may miss chances to steer thing around and transition to a winning ‘endgame proper’ – and instead of hanging on, you’ll see ways to complicate the position and create chances for your opponent to slip.

Transitions

In A + B, the ‘+’ is an important ingredient. Or something like that. The point is there is a moment between the Opening and Middlegame, or between the Middlegame and Endgame, which are called transitions. They may last a few moves, and there may be several of them in a row. Some examples include:

  • Exchanges – e.g. trading the queens to go into a ‘Berlin Endgame’ or trading minor pieces to ensure an ‘opposite-coloured bishops ending’
  • Pawn advances to change the structure – e.g. advancing a pawn to block up the centre – turning the game into a blocky, manoeuvring battle
  • Pawn advances to attack – typically the f or g pawns moving two squares with opponent’s castled kingside, signify so much about your plan (and because pawns can’t move backwards, you’re sort of stuck with it!)
  • Sacrifices – these change everything!

There are others of course, but transitions are often more than just one move, they may be preceded by preparatory moves or by other exchanges. They can be short phases – but incredibly important.

The Endgame proper

One phase that definitely deserves recognition is the ‘Endgame Proper’ – how many half points – or even full points – have you seen be lost or won with just a few pieces left? For example this one:

pawntrick
White to move – Kd6! wins, but the natural Kd5 actually loses to Kf4.

Or how about a rook and king vs bishop and king? Can you draw with the bishop? Can you mate with a bishop and knight? These are all ‘Endgame Proper’ examples and well-worth knowing!

The education of a chess player

I may be over-simplifying this, then again it may be a useful way to think about it, but I believe that the more phases you are able to distinguish in a chess game, the more chance you have to improve in all phases.

Let’s follow this through a typical learning curve:

New player – 1 phase

At the very beginning, you see 1 phase – just the game of chess; one long, incredibly complex and surprising string of moves that don’t seem to relate to each other that much. Total chaos in other words!

Beginner – 3 phases

Soon after learning a few things, you see 3 phases:

  • Opening
  • Middlegame
  • Endgame

This helps to break down that enormity and – for example – help you focus on learning the Guioco Piano, or queening an outside passed pawn in a king+pawn endgame.

Beyond – 5 or 6 phases

Later on you see more and more phases and start to think differently. For example, right now I am trying to see up to 6 phases:

  • Opening
  • Transition
  • Middlegame
  • Transition
  • Endgame
  • Endgame proper

Some people have suggested 7, with the addition of another Opening phase – but I’ll need to know more theory for that one! And some have suggested 5, in various combinations.

Of course at some point the distinctions become a less and less practical – like arguing how many dimensions or universes there might be. But even thinking about going beyond 3 can lay the groundwork for improvement.

And who knows what really happens in the minds of the Super-GMs – there may be many more definable phases, as well as the infinite parallel-universe games played out frantically on analysis boards. (If you are a super-GM reading this, by the way, please let us know what goes on!).

Conclusion

Chess is a game where it can all change in one move – let alone one phase – but the longer you see the game to be, and the longer you are willing to play it, the more ways you will see to win it.


 

mikecircle

Mike is co-editor of the Bristol Chess Times and plays regular league and tournament chess