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!

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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


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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).

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!


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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.

Fascinating endgame study for November with GM Jones

I hope you won’t mind if this month I present not a problem but a rather remarkable endgame study, composed only a few months ago by two of today’s foremost study composers, Karen Sumbatyan and Oleg Pervakov, as a birthday tribute to another top study composer, Yuri Baslov.

novemberproblem

In this fairly game-like position White can’t win by immediately pushing his bP, as then 1…Qf5+ would draw. So instead he plays 1.Qf3. Now Black wants to clear b1 for his own bP and to be able to play …Qe5, so 1…Qe1. So far so mundane. Now the pyrotechnics begin…2.Qf6! (more prosaic moves fail, e.g. 2.Qf5 Qf2). After 2…gxf6 3.g6 Black has …Qe6+! 4.Kxe6 b2.

november prob 2

The critical position with white to play…

This is a key position. If we continue with the obvious 4.Kf7 b1Q then although we can promote at g8 with check Black is OK because his Qb1 is guarding against Qg6# while also observing the potential route of the b6P. In fact if in that position it were Black to play then he’d be in greater difficulty. Any move off the b1-g6 diagonal, or either of his two available pawn moves, would allow Qg6#. So Black may be in zugzwang, needing to move his Queen off the b-file and so no longer observing the b6P. All of which goes to explain the otherwise unbelievable tempo move 5.Ke7!!. (If you were down to ten-second increments in a League match, you might be forgiven for missing this resource.)

So: now if 5…b1Q 6.g7+ Kh7 7.g8Q+ Kh6 reaches the position in which the bQ must leave the b-file. Better is 5…Kg7 6.h8Q+ Kxh8 and now – you guessed it – instead of playing 7.Kf7 straight away White again temporizes – 7.Kf8! b1Q 8.Kf7 – and Black has problems. His best is 8…Qf5! and now we have 9.g7+ Kh7 10.g8Q+ Kh6 11.Qg7+ (not 11.b7, when 11…Qd7+ is good enough for a draw) Kh5 12.b7 Qd7+ 13.Kxf6 Qxg7+ 14.Kxg7 c2 15.b8Q c1Q – and now with yet another new pair of Queens on the board the win eventually becomes clear – 16.Qh8+ Kg4 17.Qh3+ and 18.Qh6+, winning the black Queen.

november prob 3

After Qh3+ no matter where the black monarch goes he is lost after Qh6+ winning the black queen

A remarkable study! And although there are no problems in the column this month there is a good problem theme – those positions in which the apparently powerful bQ is stuck at b1 because it needs to control both b7 and g6 exemplify the sort of ‘focal control’ which is often seen in ‘White to play and mate in x moves’ problems.


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Christopher 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).