Mental health and 5-aside chess – A small board with a big impact

The UK government recently appointed a Minister of Loneliness and Social Isolation but the problem has been known about and warned about for years and I know you’re all asking yourselves “So what is chess doing about it?” Well – a lot, and every day.

Last week I caught up with Ryan Child from Bristol-based charity 5-a-side chess – who use the game of chess to welcome all-comers and to start conversations about chess, life, mental health, the universe and everything… “Your first move is Hello, don’t you know.” [visit the 5 aside chess website]. ‘5 aside’ refers to 5 pieces (and 5 pawns) each to start with, played on a 5×6 board instead of the usual 8×8 – incidentally the same idea on a 5×5 board was a recommendation of mine for coaching.

1. 5aside chess

The delights of the game! A drop-in session of 5 a side chess is underway.

Here is the full interview:

BCT: Why chess?

Ryan: Chess is a game that represents so many of the core, mental attributes that seem to be slipping away in today’s ‘instant’ society. In one game of Chess you are required to show great discipline and really think through your actions. And there’s no doubt that with everything at our fingertips today, the need to think things through and plan is quickly falling away. For example, when people use twitter they are able to bash and criticise others without having to contemplate that person’s emotions or feelings. That emotional disconnect is really unhealthy, and I think Chess is a great counterbalance to that. Where every action is thought through and, subsequently, so is the effect it has on the person sat opposite you.

BCT: How did 5-a-side chess start?

Ryan: 5asideCHESS was started back in 2015 as a social project. The idea was to give out 1,000 chess boards to venues across the country. This was just before the curve of all the ‘board game’ cafes that have sprung up in the last few years. We wanted people to have more of a chance to connect. It worked to certain degree but we want people to be more engaged in the project now.

2. HELLO people

The initiative has cross-party MP support from David Warburton (Somerton and Frome), Heidi Allen (South Cambridgeshire) and Darren Jones (Bristol).

We have also developed a big mental health side of the project, because it’s just so prevalent in society today, and I think we can make a real and tangible difference. Our Blog mostly focuses on this, with tips for dealing with issues, first-hand accounts and interviews with experts. We are also starting a podcast of the same nature this summer.

BCT: Can people join even if they don’t know the rules of chess?

Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. The whole idea is that anyone can get involved. The board is a smaller version of the traditional one, and you have fewer pieces. So the game is shortened, with the same rules, and so offers a quick way to learn the game because you move through the phases much quicker.

BCT: Can you describe a typical day/session of 5-a-side chess? How does it work?

Ryan: So we have a team of volunteers called HELLO PEOPLE in Bristol, Bath, Birmingham and soon London who go out and sit in cafes with our boards, teaching people to play and also just giving the general public the chance to connect. In May, everyone will have the chance to be a HELLO PERSON because the Chess Pack will be going on sale at www.regencychess.co.uk.

HELLO PEOPLE sit with a ‘Do Disturb’ sign in cafes, nursing homes, homeless drop-ins and other venues where people may want to connect. Anyone who wants to play can sit for a while and play with absolutely no judgement and just for the simple reason of playing Chess and having a chat. Games typically last around 10-15 minutes.

3.Do Disturb

A DO disturb sign.

BCT: What sort of impact can you see happening? And what feedback have you received?

Ryan: Probably the watershed moment for me was in December of last year. I was at a nursing home in Bristol playing a guy with Down’s Syndrome and Dementia. He was actually the son of a Brigadier. Anyway, after about 5 minutes of playing he started telling stories about his childhood, about how his aunty had taught him to play while his dad walked around the house with all these subordinates following him around. It was a great story. And, it’s worth saying that we weren’t really playing, more he was moving the pieces around. Anyway, he was taken back to his room and the main supervisor, a woman called Jenny, started telling me that they had never heard him talk about any of his childhood ever. He’d been in that nursing home for 5 years.  There are a lot of other stories like that, but it’s a pretty good one in terms of showing just how much impact chess in general, but particularly our small and accessible game can have in terms of connection.

BCT: Can you share any plans or aims for the future?

Ryan: Our new partnership with Regency Chess means that from May onwards the project can make itself sustainable, which is a huge development for us. The sale of our Chess Pack, which include a sign, a board and a HELLO PERSON membership, will mean the money can be spent on furthering our message of connecting and promoting good mental health through Chess. Essentially, we want our members to be ambassadors for the core message of connecting and fighting loneliness and social isolation. We have seen the benefits for elderly groups, homeless people, men and women in rehab and also students. In fact, our Chess and Music lunches at Bath University have been a big success and if anyone wants to come own and join us they are more than welcome.

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Music and Chess – two things that need great harmony – at Bath University.

BCT: Would it benefit you to connect with anyone else in the chess world? (E.g. Leagues, Event organisers, Ambassadors, Players?

Ryan: I think to have players endorse the program would obviously be beneficial. We are planning on running a 5aside world championship in Birmingham actually. To me the potential is limitless and I would certainly encourage anyone in the Chess community that may want to reach out to do just that.

~ end of interview ~

The Bristol Chess Times will post any developments on the world champs, or any other events, and we are inviting anyone with similar initiatives and stories about the game to write columns for us. Look out for Ryan at local (8×8) chess tournaments too – and challenge him to a game of 5-a-side! Many thanks to Ryan for the fascinating interview and best of luck for the project!


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Mike Harris

Mike is a regular pretender in Bristol’s top division and can also be seen propping up local tournament ladders. He writes a regular column for the Bristol Chess Times and plays a solid 20 openings a season.

 

Razzle Dazzle

Tournament reports make me sad. They follow the same old tired format and frankly I’ve had enough. This one comes without a single annotated game or pre-match photo. Your mileage may vary.

The Southend Easter Congress promised to be a seaside special and we were duly greeted by torrential rain. I’d journeyed with Muswell Hill teammate Simon ‘The Increment’ Wilks. We also had the pleasure [sic] of Jerry’s company and, on occasion, his support. Although whether he was there to watch the chess unfold or to marvel at the longest pier in the world was in some doubt.

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For the serious player a congress provides an unrivalled opportunity to get lost in the game. The format (and weather) didn’t leave us much option with two 90 min + 30s/move games per day. This allowed for deep prep before the morning round and next to no prep each afternoon. It was a pleasant cross between posh 4NCL chess and local pub league fare. I took home several new opening ideas plus a mixed bag of results.

Analogue Chess in a Digital World

Tournament logistics aren’t as well suited to those with a more casual interest. At Southend the congress office displayed a live feed from the top 3 boards. As far as I’m aware, a new initiative for this year which seemed to attract a steady audience. But here we run into a fundamental problem: the real action is not on show because it’s happening inside the players’ heads. There is scope to present a spectacle for the layman without descending into being crass, however it requires exceptional commentators and tools to appeal to casual and serious chess enthusiasts alike.

The potential chess fan has the internet. With it comes an enticing array of alternatives to visiting local tournaments. You could follow the world’s elite from home with Chess24 or the ChessBrahs’ entertaining, astute commentary from the recent Candidates tournament. Or watch chess.com lead the way into the e-Sports market. Their Pro Chess League finals were held in San Francisco last weekend and streamed to over 23k peak viewers. Sadly, the UK blitz scene wasn’t represented with our London teams finishing 6th and 8th in their pool. It’s tough for analogue chess to compete with all that.

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To remain relevant in the face of digital chess, weekend congresses have to adapt. To be clear, it’s not my intention to single Southend out. The live feed addition alone puts it streets ahead of the competition. But we feel that the face-to-face chess world needs heaps more active promotion. A dash of razzle dazzle will help move away from its same old tired format. Ready to step up?

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(editors note – This article originally published on 14th April 2018 on Makepeace with Chess. Republished with kind permission from the author)


Chris Russell

Chris Russell

Chris is a part-time member of Downend and Fishponds and formerly played for Bristol University. He is now based in London where he co-founded Makepeace With Chess.

Interactive games, updates and next steps for Bristol Chess Times

Its been 8 months and 54 articles since we relaunched Bristol Chess Times in July 2017.  The engagement so far has been great and in previous articles I have spoken about the various statistics that are helping push forward the growth of both the league and our wider chess community.  Today I wanted to talk about some recent changes I am making to help take Bristol Chess Times to the next level.

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Interactive Game Analysis

The biggest change that I have introduced this weekend is the ability to play through games and perform analysis on diagrams within the site.  I gave a hint at this functionality yesterday on our Game of the Month article but today I wanted to showcase the wider functionality we have added.  When we talk about interesting games and positions in the Bristol Chess Times we can now:

  • Play through the whole game, including highlighting of last moves with arrows;
  • Include interesting variations within the body of the game analysis
  • Provide built in diagrams next to comments with target squares highlighted and also threats indicated with the use of arrows.
  • Indicate which colour to play by a small circle on the right hand side of the board.

All in all, we hope you can see that this change takes the Bristol Chess Times games analysis to the next level.  To demonstrate the new functionality I have used a lovely game from Waleed Khan (of North Bristol Chess Club) that was submitted for Game of the Month in February.

Waleed’s home analysis below showcases all the new functionality we can now provide and I hope gets players excited about submitting their games for future articles.

About Page

I have also updated the About page on the Bristol Chess Times to give credit to all the contributors and columnists who have made it a success thus far.  Each person who has contributed, no matter how many times, is now listed and I hope over time this will grow to show the range and depth of our chess community. Only by going out and seeking fresh opinions, games and insights will we continue to keep Bristol Chess Times blossoming.

My thanks to every contribution thus far but also a call out to anyone who wants to provide a voice to their opinion in the amateur chess scene. Get involved!

Next Steps

Hopefully you can see the positive changes occurring on the Bristol Chess Times and I hope that you continue to read and enjoy our efforts!  Moving forward we really want to get a more diverse range of contributors involved from all clubs and backgrounds.

Thus far we have only had contributions from four of the 16 clubs in the Bristol & District Chess League so it would be great to receive some thoughts from some of the smaller clubs especially.

But looking ahead, we also recognise that we want to receive thoughts from the wider chess community across the UK.  British League Chess is a wonderful creature and the life of the amateur club player so sorely under represented in most chess media.  If you are a reader and fan of the Bristol Chess Times but do not live in the South West of England then thats ok! Tell us what you want to read about.  What you are looking for and we will do our best to provide informative engaging content for all!

Finally, If you have made it this far in the article then it just leaves me to say a final thank you for your support.  Even if you do not want to write for us then you can still support the Bristol Chess Times by sharing, liking or retweeting as many of our articles as you can. Every small piece of promotion really does make a difference.

Until next time!


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Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.

Chessplayers of the world unite

You do not have to scale the mountain alone.

You sit at the board, you shake hands and you move the pieces. From the moment a game begins you alone must take full responsibility for its outcome. Chess could hardly be a more individual pursuit. Despite this there is undoubtedly a chess community. Why?

Camaraderie can be observed as soon as competitive play concludes. Players exhume the game and examine what might have been. Recent adversaries lay down their arms and teach each other new tricks. The post-mortem is definitely one of my favourite chess quirks. As a junior I failed to recognise the value of this ritual and would decline to analyse when I had lost. Judging from recent tournaments I was not alone in this defective thinking!

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In 1978 and again in 1981 the chess world saw battles between two wildly conflicting characters. Victor Korchnoi, child of the siege of Leningrad, defector from communist Russia, fighter against the system, playing Anatoly Karpov, poster boy of the Russian regime, communist ideologue, a beneficiary of all that communism had to offer and a star chess player. The two could hardly bear to shake hands with each other. Yet after play they spent time together in animated discussion over the game. When asked why, Korchnoi famously replied, “he is the only other person in the world who understands chess the way I do”.

This is why a chess community exists. From the perspective of individual success it makes little sense to share information with your potential opponents. Poker players do not do this. If chess were simply about winning we would instead carefully guard every scrap of information. There would be no books, training videos or coaches. In this world the perfect chess player would be a selfish lone wolf.

Now think about who you know in chess. In any cohort of chessplayers almost all the people you spend your time with will be within about 25 ECF of your grade (or maybe 187.5 Elo). Sure, you will know a few stronger or weaker players, but you probably find you spend little time discussing the game with them. Plenty of strong or weak players are friendly enough to approach but in reality you hardly speak to them at all.

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Strong players recognise instinctively the importance of stratified community. They have built their own training networks comprising of similarly motivated players and coaches, selected consciously or unconsciously, to give a support network of exactly the right strength. Next time you play a game, and indeed every time you play a game, take a good look at your opponent and think about the network. Remember his face and speak to him next time you meet. Some will fit in, others won’t. But those who do will end up being your valuable allies.

Chess is the way we have all chosen to engage with the world and the presence of others helps to give meaning to our journey. I have long ago stopped trying to explain why I spend time on chess to those who don’t. I used to be met with creative variations of “what’s the point?” and never really had a satisfactory answer. Nowadays, I think it is a broader question of networking, support, interest and motivation. Chessplayers have a value system that underpins chess which goes way beyond boosting rating.

Although we each have to develop our own system, we do not have to do it on our own.

Many thanks to Jerry Humphreys for supplying the Korchnoi anecdote and his extensive notes.

(editors note – This article originally published on 19th February 2018 on Makepeace with Chess.  Republished with kind permission from the author)


Chris Russell

Chris Russell

Chris is a part-time member of Downend and Fishponds and formerly played for Bristol University. He is now based in London where he co-founded Makepeace With Chess.

Book Review #1 – 100 Chess Master Trade Secrets by Andrew Soltis

“100 Chess Master Trade Secrets: From Sacrifices to Endgames” (Batsford Chess) has been on my book shelf a while and is a book that I regularly dip back into, especially before big tournaments.  Ive always been a massive fan of the writing of GM Andrew Soltis, so who better to start with for the first official book review on the Bristol Chess Times? Lets take a closer look…

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I love the design of the Batsford Chess book covers

What is a Priyome? Pardon? Even the most ardent chess players may not have heard this expression before!  GM Soltis explains at the start of the book that a Priyome is a Russian word which is best translated as a strategic pattern or a theme that a player can learn and apply in many situations. He talks about how the Soviet Chess School believed that there were a set of top Priyomes that every master has to learn in order to progress.  For example, in the diagram below, a simple priyome in a pawn and rook endgame with a single open file would be 1. Rd1 and 2. Rd7 leading to advantage white.

1

Priyomes and other strategic motifs are effectively the top trade secrets referred to in the title of the book.  GM Soltis believes that the 100 trade secrets described in the book are all known by masters and therefore essential for an ambitious amateur to learn. The book is effectively split into four chapters, each containing 25 examples of the patterns across four key categories:

  • 25 Key Priyomes
  • 25 Must-Know Endgame Techniques
  • 25 Crucial Sacrifices
  • 25 Exact Endings

Each trade secret has no more than a handful of pages dedicated to it in order keep each particular lesson light and simple, something that I enjoy and find easily accessible.  An essential need for the time poor club player with a busy life.  This choice of light touch lessons also has another advantage.  You don’t have to read the book in any particular order, or for any great length of time.  It reads more like a reference book that you can dip in and out of.  For example, with a big tournament coming up perhaps I will just refresh my memory on the top 25 priyomes (remember this means strategic device) to aid my planning and thinking.  Perhaps I will only feel the need to dive into five of these. Perhaps I will just remind myself of which openings in the Crucial Sacrifices chapters involve sacking the exchange on f3.

The great thing about this arrangement in the book is that I suspect most players pick up 100 Chess Master Trade Secrets and know a reasonable percentage of the content already. This leaves the reader reassured in their personal chess ability but also encouraged that they are also plugging valuable gaps to make them a better all round player.

To give you an example of trade secret that I suspect most club level players rarely think of (atleast below 1800 ELO), here is Crucial Sacrifice #5:The File Plugger

The File Plugger

GM Soltis writes:

This arises in several different pawn structures with an open file.  The sacrificer, White or Black, wants to close the file and secure positional benefits like a protected passed pawn.

2

Epishin – Dolmatov. Russian Team Championship 1992. White to play

White can occupy c7 with his rook but it can be challenged by …Rc8.

Better is 1. Rc6! threatening the pawns on b6 and d6.  After the forced 1…Bxc6 2. dxc6 we can evaluate:

a) White created a protected passed pawn at c6.

b) He opened a splendid diagonal leading to f7 and threatens Bc4

c) He is virtually certain to win back atleast one pawn.

Of course, Black has an extra exchange. But rooks need files to prove they are superior to minor pieces. Since the c-file is now plugged up, a diagonal, a2-g8 counts much more. 

(p129-130 in 100 Chess Master Trade Secrets, Batsford Chess)

3

The completed File Plugger

The author goes on to explore the idea of the “File Plugger” in more detail over the next handful of pages but again not to the extent of covering all known theory.  His intent is to provide the reader with a memorable principle (the names he chooses also help in this regard) that can be taken forward into your amateur games and hopefully spark an idea at the right time over the board.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I can thoroughly recommend this book to the amateur club player as I feel it just has so much to practically offer. For very experienced players I believe it still provides value as even if a player already knows 80 of GM Soltis’s 100 trade secrets, how much of a difference to their game could the remaining 20 make?  The structure of the book aids easy study, allowing the club player to focus on a number of key areas, specifically strategic themes, sacrifices, and endgame techniques without overwhelming the reader (like a lot of endgame manuals and tomes do).

Overall, a refreshingly different approach to learning key principles.

Here is a link to 100 Chess Master Trade Secrets.

Finally, I’ve been planning to write some book and DVD reviews for the Bristol Chess Times for a while now. If you are a regular reader and want to get involved in telling us about a particular favourite book or DVD then do get in touch at bristolchesstimes@gmail.com.  We always welcome contributions from new authors.


mecircle

Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.

Problems in February with GM Jones

I was interested to receive feedback that it would be good to see problems that featured more game-like positions. This set me thinking. ‘Mate in 2’ positions are very unlikely to fill the bill as White must have a totally overwhelming position with a choice of apparently immediately killing moves of which only one forces mate next move. Problems in other genres – helpmates, selfmates – certainly won’t fill the bill! (Though most of us have had the experience of unwittingly creating an inelegant helpmate in the course of a game…) So the likeliest place to find such problems is in the ‘Mate in x’ field where “x” is a large number.

I haven’t yet come up with a really good example to publish here. A candidate would be this mate in 9, but it’s hard work just reading through the solution, never mind trying to solve it!

B8A6DD4B-B758-487A-975B-5403719F5FD9

Andrei Zhuravlev, U.S.Problem Bulletin 1995

It turns out that Black has to try to keep his Bishop on a square that guards white squares from which the white Knight is imminently threatening to reach f7. In case you’re interested, the first move apparently is 1.Ng4, and thereafter there are numerous variations, in each of which White manages to wrongfoot, and so overload, the black Bishop.

In fact, this is similar to many studies that feature such duels between minor pieces (it’s just that in this case penetrating the defences gives rise to a mate, not just the win of a crucial Pawn or whatever). And if we’re thinking of studies then there are plenty of studies from game-like positions that are much more enjoyable, for instance this one, by former World Champion Vassily Smyslov (Pravda, 1976):

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White to play and win (solution below)

I’m indebted to Jonathan Mestel, who expounded this study in a recent issue of The Problemist (the magazine of the British Chess Problem Society). I’ll basically be cribbing his commentary! It looks as though White has a straightforward win by forcing Black to sacrifice his Bishop for the fP and preserving at least his hP which will in the end be able to promote. After 1.f7 Ba3 2.Bg7 does Black have any resources? As Jonathan remarks, he could try 2…Kd3 3.f8Q Bxf8 4.Bxf8 e2+ when 5.Ke1? f3 6.gxf3 Ke3 is a draw, but 5.Kf2 wins.

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2. …Kd3 isn’t the answer leading to white victory with …5.Kf2. What else?

In a game, you might be quite pleased to see this way to give White the chance to go wrong, knowing that you’d resign if he played 5.Kf2. In solving a study, you’d look deeper to see if there’s a way to show this idea without 5.Kf2 being available to White. And you might then find (if you’re a strong solver!) 2…f3! 3.gxf3 Kd3. The point is now that now, surprisingly, 4.f8Q only draws: 4…e2+ 5.Kf2 Bc5+! and either 6.Qxc5 e1Q+ leading to stalemate or 6.Ke1 Bxf8 7.Bxf8 Ke3 capturing both Pawns.

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Amazingly, promoting to a queen only leads to a draw after 5…Bc5. Hmmm

So we need an under-promotion! After 4.f8B! Black no longer has his stalemate defence and we have 4…e2+ 5.Kf2 e1Q+ 6.Kxe1 Ke3 7.f4! 8.Kxf4 Kf2. Jonathan adds 8…Bc1, saying that then 9.Bh6+ (and not 9.Bf6) is the only win. I don’t see why 9.Bf6 doesn’t also win (in the end) – perhaps you may be able to tell me. Whatever – this point in no way diminishes my enjoyment of the main play.

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The final position


chriscircle

Christoper Jones

Christopher holds the Grandmaster title for Chess Problem Composition and uses his skills to write a regular column for the Bristol Chess Times. He is also a longterm Horfield Chess Club player (where he is acting secretary).

Using chess.com explorer to prioritise opening study

For most of us in the amateur club scene we regularly purchase books or trawl YouTube for the latest “Win with Black with the Bonecrusher Opening” (editors note – This is not a real opening). Many club players spend ages reading and nodding along with the main line of their new opening only to discover that hardly anyone plays it against them.  Thus the big dirty secret of amateur chess emerges – the frequency of mainline theory is far far lower in amateur chess circles. Often the lines covered as an afterthought at the back of opening books, DVDs and YouTube under the “Other sidelines’ title are the very lines that we encounter most often. Lets look at how we can overcome this problem using a great feature on chess.com called MyGames Explorer.

For a while now I have been interested in the differences between professional and amateur chess players with regards to opening choices.  Fortunately, chess.com contains a lovely feature that does just that! Lets first look at what this feature is and where to find it and then we will look at an example using the Nf6 Scandinavian.

Looking at My Games with the chess.com opening explorer

When logged into chess.com go to “Explorer” in the navigation:

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The Explorer option is underneath the weird blue and white icon with an arrow on it…

You will see the following page:

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The main Explorer page on chess.com.

At the top of the Explorer page are two dropdown menus. Change the first dropdown from “Master Games” to “My Games”.  And you will get a full breakdown of statistics for all your games.  The second dropdown menu allows you to view your games with black or white.

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With MyGames and black selected I can start to look at the opening statistics of different lines that my opponents play against me online.

Now you know where to find this great feature, lets start to use it to understand how amateur chess players differ from professional and thus aid ourselves in directing our study efforts.

Comparing Profesional to Amateur Opening Statistics – An example

Ive been playing the Nf6 Scandinavian for almost 18 months and like most players who want to learn a new opening I bought a book and started playing loads of blitz games.  I highly recommend Smerdon’s Scandinavian by GM David Smerdon if you are interested in this opening, it really is one of the best opening books I have ever read. One feature I love (which is sadly missing from most opening books) is a diagram outlining the likelihood of facing each line out of every 100 games.

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The diagram (editors note – taken from Amazon’s preview feature, I don’t know why its grey and blue?!) at the start of Smerdon’s Scandinavian showing the likelihood of each line occurring. A wonderful feature for all opening books.

Im not going to dwell on Scandinavian opening theory in this article.  What I want to look at is the percentages of common lines occurring amongst professional / strong players according to GM Smerdon:

1. e4 d5 2. exd Nf6:

  • 3. d4 – 47% 
  • 3. c4 – 19%
  • 3. Bb5+ – 17%
  • 3. Nf3 – 11%
  • 3. Nc3 – 10%
  • All other lines – 6%

This all looks nice and normal right?  It would seem that I would be sensible to prioritise looking at d4, c4 and Bb5 lines as part of my study. Now lets compare these statistics to my own experience in online games against 1300 – 1900 rated opposition.  The MyGames Explorer feature on chess.com shows me that I have played 340 games of (admittedly blitz) in the Nf6 Scandinavian and my opponents have responded in the following way:

1. e4 d5 2. exd Nf6:

  • 3. Nc3 – 26%
  • 3. c4 – 18%
  • 3. d4 – 17%
  • 3. Nf3 – 13%
  • 3. Others – 8%
  • All other lines – 18%

Comparing the predicted occurrence of a line in the book to amateur occurrence shows some interesting insight:

  • The d4 mainline occurs a whopping 30% less of the time compared to predicted theory.
  • The third best line for white, Bb5, is not even on the radar of most amateurs with a measly 7 occurrences from 340 games or 2% of the time.
  • The fifth most common line at professional level, Nc3, is the most popular line at amateur level occurring 2.5 times more often.
  • Almost 20% of players don’t take on d5 on move 2 (compared to 6% of professionals).  A response widely regarded by theory as leading to inferior positions for white.
  • The propensity of greed (i.e. keep the d5 pawn) amongst professionals and amateurs is about the same (editors note – this is a joke before anyone kicks off!)

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Amateur chess players seem to demonstrate an annoying obsession with 3. Nc3…

To back these numbers up in over the board play, in the last 18 months I have played the Nf6 Scandinavian 12 times with the following breakdown of white responses:

1. e4 d5 2. exd Nf6:

  • 3. Nf3 – 25%
  • 3. d4 – 25%
  • 3. Bb5 – 25%
  • 3. Nc3 – 25%

Admittedly 12 games is not a large sample size but the percentages are certainly close to the amateur statistics observed online (with the exception of Bb5).

This is not the first time I have spoken about the differences between amateur and professionals in their opening choices. My article from last summer comparing responses to Larsen’s Opening has become one of the most popular blogs I have written and highlighted stark differences again. To me it is becoming clear that there is a demand at the amateur chess scene for opening statistics for the club level player to help prioritise which lines to study, especially given how time poor your average club player is with regards to study. This is exactly the gap that I see chess.com’s MyGames Explorer filling.

 

Conclusion

Whilst we all recognise that below 2000 ELO, opening study is unlikely to yield big changes in rating compared to studying tactics and endgames, we can’t get around the fact that we all love playing with our opening repertoires. Using the My Games Explorer has the potential to identify differences that we didn’t even know existed and allow us to plug valuable gaps in our knowledge at the amateur level.

I remain fascinated by the differences in move choice between amateur and professional levels and am certain that many publishers and producers of opening content could benefit from thinking about and recognising these differences.  In my opinion, we can’t ignore the fact that when it comes to amateur chess the sideline is the new mainline.

The MyGames explorer on chess.com could prove an invaluable tool to the average club player in terms of prioritising which lines to study or atleast which lines to have a response too. For example, I am now very comfortable with my response to 3. Nc3 in the Scandinavian scoring a respectable 53% with black. No I’m not telling you what it is, I need some secrets!

Thank you for reading and do let me know if you discover any other interesting differences in your own opening repertoires and if that changes which lines you study.


mecircle

Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.

 

More mini games for coaching chess

The less experienced you are, the harder it is to take specific lessons from a full game of chess. This is the claim that I made in the last article on coaching. There are just way too many factors in a full game, and most of the time any interesting strategic play will be dwarfed by blunders. It is for this reason I believe more in the value of mini games – this means a game specifically designed to teach one or two aspects of the game.

Last time I showed a few games which only use one major piece.

Bristol league alumnus Chris Russell has contributed a further mini-game which he has used with great success in coaching: King, Queen and 8 pawns vs. King, 2 Rooks and 8 pawns. A queen vs. two rooks does come up from time to time in games, and depending on the position, can be much better for either side. The rooks like to be co-ordinated, and the queen likes more open positions and some loose targets. In the scenario with 8 pawns on their starting ranks – Chris notes that the queen has a slight edge because she can keep attacking pawns early on, and the rooks find it hard to establish the right battleground for them – but there’s not much in it.

Since writing the first article, I’ve also discovered that Chess.com has several training games of exactly this nature. I tried the ‘Queen vs. Queen with two extra pawns’ game (you have 5 pawns, the computer has 3) and surprisingly I ended up losing the first two games…
Once I had snapped out of that I managed to press the advantage for a bit and ended up drawing the next two. Fifth time lucky, I triumphed – but I had to calculate a queen trade very carefully. It just shows how hard these ‘winning’ positions are to convert! Anyway, this time let’s see a few other types of mini-game:

Classic mini chess

I started playing this as a youngster; it is arguably a streamlined chess game, reducing down to one of each major piece. Apart from being a shorter game, I like this one for coaching for a couple of reasons. Firstly there is an immediate way to blunder checkmate, so it doesn’t take much to explain the link between a general strategy and checkmate. Let’s take a look [n.b. the board is 5×5, pieces set up with R,N,B,Q and K on a- to e- files; and pawns in front of them, which can only move one square per move, unlike regular chess]:

minichess

1.d3 ed??

Blunder! (You have given your opponent both control and access to the square right in front of your king!) It is forced mate in four:

2.ed – threatening Qe2+ and mate on e4. Black can prolong this with cd (answered by cd) or Nc3 (answered by bxc3) but mate will come on e4 soon enough.

The other thing mini-chess should teach well is that pawns are powerful weapons – where they are only three moves away from queening from the start, strategies for promotion should quickly become apparent.

(It can also teach you about zugzwang – but that’s a bit advanced!)

Push or defend

For this one you’ll have to imagine a solid line between the a and b file. One pawn starts on the a file and can freely wander to the other end. Once it is promoted, you win the game.

However, the other side is trying to checkmate you. Try this one: (White doesn’t have a king in these games, just some pieces to attack with. Here it is Qh1, Rg1, Pf2. Black has the pawn on a7 – which will promote in 5 moves unless Black uses up some moves to avoid checkmate: Kg8, Rf8 and pawns on f7,g7 and h7.)

Push or defend.PNG

This should teach the basic importance of time, and having your own plans (counterplay). As an attacker it should force you to think about forcing moves, and see which threats really are threatening.

Endgame cuts

This one I recommend for absolutely all levels of chess – and was surprisingly inspired by a method for cutting cake fairly! I remember a puzzle from years ago about cutting cakes that are not uniform – different amounts of icing, toppings, corners etc – a potential minefield for any cake cutting scenario. The question was how can two people can ensure a cake is cut fairly between them, using only a knife? (n.b. you are not told anything about the shape or design of the cake).

The answer was pretty simple: One person makes the cut, and the other one gets to choose their piece. This encourages the cutter to cut as fairly as possible.

Okay, its not perfect – it’s a little unfair on the cutter. However, the same approach actually works much better for chess training:

One person sets up an endgame, and the other person chooses their colour.

Why does this help? Two reasons – it gets you to try to evaluate positions. As you set the board up, you will be thinking through all the various parts of the position. Material, time, and quality. Two connected past pawns? Maybe that’s equal to a bishop? Maybe they’re not, maybe they’re easily better. The point is it’s up to you, and you can modify the position until you think it’s equal.

The second reason I like it (except that it trains endgames, which let’s be honest we all need to do more of!) is that when you lose with the side that you picked, you are forced to re-evaluate. Psychologically it’s much harder to ignore the flaws in your thinking when it’s you who chose the position!


mikecircle

Mike Harris

Mike is a regular pretender in Bristol’s top division and can also be seen propping up local tournament ladders. He writes a regular column for the Bristol Chess Times and plays a solid 20 openings a season.