Two Latvian Gambit games from the Bristol Open 2018

Avid readers will recall that on June 15th I gave this advice for a must-win tournament situation against 1.e4: Play the Latvian Gambit – “…2.f5… Bd6, sack a rook and win the tournament in a blaze of glory”. That very night the Bristol Spring Congress commenced and as if I had scripted it – a player called Mike played the Latvian twice, won twice, and (jointly) won the tournament in a blaze of glory.

Unfortunately for me it was FM Mike Waddington – who in a cruel twist of fate also beat me with White after I played an ambitious f5, miscalculating after arriving 27 minutes late. But that’s another story.

Mike appears to also have a soft spot for the Latvian Gambit (and a better understanding of it). Here are his two wins which helped him on the way to 4.5/5 in a very competitive open field:

Gambit accepted: the exf5 line

“The best way to refute a gambit is to accept it”. After 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f5 White can play 3.exf5 – and the game is on.

latvian1

Mike appears to have read my advice (scroll to 3. exf5) and goes for e4, Qe7, Nc6 and rapid bishop development:

After Nxc6 dxc6, d3 and Bxf5 Black has some control and is not any material down – the engine gives it -0.44 (small advantage for Black). After a few more moves (play through the game below) the queens come off and Black is fine with the pieces on good squares and White’s d-pawn isolated.

The middlegame was not a typical Latvian tactics fest – but Mike eventually wins the endgame after a favourable exchange of the last piece.

Main Line

Mike got a second chance to play the Latvian and got the main line where the queen enjoys an early outing to g6: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f5 3.Nxe5 Qf6 4.d4 d6 5.Nc4 fxe4 6.Nc3 Qg6

The engine gives it around +1 here, but as I discuss in the original article it is often officially good for White but actually difficult to play. For example in our game here, it becomes a dangerous prospect for White to castle on either side of the board.

Mike manages to get in d5 and gets the classic Latvian bishop to d6 after: 7.Ne3 c6 8.Bc4 d5 9.Bb3 Nf6 10.Ne2 Bd6. Looks comfortable enough:

And it gets uncomfortable for White after some pretty natural moves – f4 was played here to try to avoid the oncoming assault on the king:

After f4 we have Bg4 and the pressure switches to the centre and White’s queen is quickly needing some space. Lewis gives up the exchange instead but there is no real compensation. Mike ends up three pawns up after giving back the exchange to get a comfortable ending:

Well done to Mike who also won against 4th seed Graham Moore (and against me, but that’s less impressive), to tie 1st place with IM Alan Merry.

We hope to see some more Latvians played at the top level soon!

…And in fairness to Mike’s other victims, here is my game:


mikecircle

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

Does your chess need a palete cleanser?

There is something to be said about not giving a damn in chess.  As aspiring amateurs we often find ourselves trawling YouTube videos, congress book stalls and other sources of knowledge for the definitive answer to our self improvement.  We desperately pour over each game looking for the secret kernel of truth that will lead to a couple of extra rating points. We self categorise and insist on playing a certain way because “thats who I am”. Ive spoken before about amateur players categorising themselves as a certain type of player (“Im a positional grinder”) and the dangers that this can bring.  Perhaps sometimes we just need to stop all this philosophising and just play? So what does happen when we stop caring and leave our baggage at the door?

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Wash your mouth out! Other analogies to playing carefree chess are also available…Photo by Sven from Unsplash

It was last week when I found myself on the wrong end of a bad blitz session online.  Going full tilt (its a poker term for those who haven’t heard this before) meant I kept playing and playing and playing, losing more and more rating points and perhaps most importantly of all playing worse and worse chess.  Having lost over 200 points in ELO I did the right thing and shut down the browser window.

How could this happen?  I know my opening repertoire inside out.  Some of them I’ve been playing for years. Ive been studying tactics and endgames yet I’m hanging pieces for fun.

I was in a bad mood.

I had a bad taste in my mouth.

Back to basics

The next day was the Second Chess Patzer Blitz Arena Tournament on Lichess (do check out the ChessPatzer movement here – Ill be doing a future piece on these crazy streamers).  I had a trip to IKEA planned and knew I couldn’t take part but could probably squeeze a few games in. Remembering my disastrous play the day before I approached it with a kind of “f*** it” attitude and decided I would simply toss pieces up the board and play.  Enough with the systems Ive studied endlessly and the memorised lines. Still smarting from the day before and with half an eye glaring at my new 200pt lower rating I clicked enter.

My first opponent in the Chesspatzer Tournament popped up.

Oh Joy.

An FM with a 2389 rating.

Im black.

He opened with c4.  In true care free fashion I played something novel and burned a pawn just because I could and I didn’t know what I was doing anyway.

I won in 19 moves!

Ok it was a crazy game of online blitz so we can’t put to much weight behind the result but it is still my largest victory by a country mile.  At the time my opponent being almost 700 ELO above my rating.

My point is that for the first time in a while I stopped thinking about the ratings and the openings and the sidelines and all the other stuff and just played.

I felt free and liberated.  From move three I was having to actively think and check lines.  the autonomy of bashing out the first 15 moves of theory that I know off by heart had gone and I was actually playing chess.

By move 16 he was going to win the exchange.  I didn’t even blink.  I didn’t care.  I would just attack his king where previously I would have been racked with guilt searching for the right move.

By the time I delivered the killer blow on move 19 I was probably just as surprised as my opponent. Suddenly reality returned and I was left staring at the screen wondering what I had just done.

Im back” I confidently declared as i moved onto my next game and promptly lost to a 1500 rated player as I resorted to my established repertoire and habits.

Cleansing the palete

Somehow I achieved one of my best results in all my years of chess by playing an opening I didn’t know, sacrificing material I didn’t know I could afford and ignoring the fact that my opponent was titled.

As amateur chess players we often spend an age defining ourselves and the way we want to play.  Whilst this can be great and is part of the joy of establishing your chess persona, sometimes you do just need to swill your mouth out.

Just once every now and then.

Try playing a game that really pushes your comfort zone.  That really challenges everything that you have defined about yourself and the game.  Most importantly, don’t give a damn when you do so.

Apart from my immediate loss to ChessPatzerWAL straight after this game (Well done BTW), I clawed back 150pts of the 200 I had lost almost immediately.  I am convinced that a lot of those subsequent victories were because of my “system reboot” game where I stopped caring, cleansed the pallet and remembered how to play chess.

Regular readers can see this post as the unofficial third article in my summer series on assessing your chess, in particular your opening repertoire.  The earlier articles can be found here:

Summer is a great time to seek changes and improvements in your game.  It would also appear to be an especially a great time of year to stop caring.

Until next time.


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.

 

 

 

A useful technique for assessing your chess opening repertoire

Competitive chess is traditionally a winter sport and therefore the summer months provide the ambitious amateur an opportunity to review the state of their chess.  Chess players love to tell themselves stories (‘I am just like Tal’ or ‘I’m so Karpovian it hurts’) but the reality of the situation is often very different. Today I would like to talk you through a technique or framework that I’ve been mulling over to help club players assess their opening repertoire.

In a previous article (“Is the Scandinavian holding me back?”) I reviewed my opening statistics for the last two seasons of competitive chess in the Bristol & District Chess League.  The findings were fascinating, breaking many of the assumptions that I had about my personal chess ability and skill.  For those who haven’t read the article, a thorough review of 54 competitive games revealed a considerable personal weakness when I face 1. e4 compared to almost all other moves.  It wasn’t the objective score per se that shocked me so much as the fact that if you had asked me what my strongest opening was I would have comfortably stated the Scandinavian. This statistical review led to me thinking about other types of assessment, which lead to my proposal for a new tool for amateur players.

“Do you feel lucky punk?”

It occurred to me that whilst just looking at raw statistics is pretty much what every chess player does, it doesn’t quite capture the human element and the different types of chess game that we have all experienced at different times in our chess career.  For example, the loss in a won position, the lucky escape, the bore draw or the “how the hell did I win that?” type scenarios.

Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 12.17.26
At the conclusion of same games you know that both you and your opponent held the half point confidently…
Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 12.17.42
…whilst other times you know you took too many blows to the face because your opponent had faster feet.

It occurred to me that if we could create a classification for these emotional descriptions of game and then apply them to our games could this lead to a new level of insight about our repertoires and types of position we excel in?  Well lets give it a go!

To start us off I have identified six types of game:

  1. “I was amazing” – Totally deserved.  You played well throughout, perhaps utilising a favourite line, and sealed a comfortable full point.  Whether it was tactical or positional is not relevant at this stage, simply that you controlled the game and deserved the point.
  2. “Fair play mate” – Sooner or late you and your opponent had to shake hands.  This is the type of game where perhaps you probed a bit, so did she.  Perhaps you were up and then let your opponent back in.  Not a blunder per se more good play from the opposition.  In a solid draw, both parties have little room to argue over the result.
  3. “Ouch, I deserved that.”– A loss.  You were either never in the running or perhaps your opponent just knew more than you.  Perhaps you knew you were drifting and punched out with an unsound line.  Perhaps you were slowly crushed to death under the weight of your opponents play.  Either way, you recognise that your score sheet doesn’t deserve anything other than a zero in the column.
  4. “Phew! Let me buy you a drink” – This could be a win or a draw but either way your smile is bigger than it deserves to be!  Somehow you were up against it and have wriggled free from your opponent’s grasp. Perhaps they committed a gross blunder in the endgame.  Perhaps you tried the cheekiest most unsound move and it paid off.  Whilst it is possible to play in a lucky way (for example, always trying to get your opponent into time trouble”) sooner or later it will run out.  Look in the mirror and ask yourself if you truly understand the position you just escaped from or understand how you got into that mess?
  5. “I just about held that” – This type of game is a draw. But unlike the solid draw above, I’m classifying this as the type of game where you walk away with a share of the points but were only ever really playing for two results – a draw or a loss.  These are the kinds of games where you never felt like or indeed actually had any winning chances.   I also don’t consider these types of game a lucky escape.  You have justified the draw with good defence and play but victory was never in reach.  In football (soccer for our American friends) we might refer to it as “parking the bus”
  6. “Nooo, what have I done?” – The worst type of game.  We have all been there.  Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.  Great play that at the last minute has somehow turned to dust.  Typically thee games involve gross blunders but it can also be that we achieve a winning position and somehow let it slip through our fingers over several moves.  Perhaps we achieve a great position and implement the wrong plan?  Whatever happened, these ones hurt. A lot.

So there we have my six definitions of the different types of game that I am sure we have all experienced at some stage.  Im sure some readers may think of others or quibble with my particular definitions but for now, lets see how we could use this framework.

So is the Scandinavian really holding me back?

Again using the same 54 games dataset as previous, I worked my way through the 17 games of the Scandinavian that I have played in competitive OTB in the last two seasons.  Obviously applying this technique requires the chess player to be completely honest with themselves (unless you work through it with a friend or coach).

Here are my results:

  1. “I was amazing” (a deserved win) – 2 games
  2. “Fair play mate” (a deserved draw) – 3 games
  3. “Ouch, I deserved that” (a deserved loss) – 5 games
  4. “Phew! Let me buy you a drink” (a lucky win or draw) – 3 games
  5. “I just about held that” ( a solid tough draw that was never going to win) – 4 games
  6. “Nooo, what have I done?” (a tragic loss) – 0 games

I don’t know about you but I find this really interesting as an additional level of analysis to the statistical breakdown that most players start (and stop) with.

As a quick recap, from our 17 game sample of the Scandinavian I had scored 41% against opposition typically ranked 10 ECF / 75 ELO lower than me. Not great.

But by applying our framework we start to see that even in games where I scored some points, often they were in positions where I was lucky or was holding onto the draw.  Seven of the 17 games (1 win and 6 draws) I was able to classify as either a lucky escape or defensive rearguard action.  This does not install confidence that I know how to play the kinds of positions I am getting in the Scandinavian.  It also goes someway to explain the amount of games in the “Ouch I deserved that” column (5 games).  If you are constantly clinging on then sooner or later you will fall off.

Another telling piece of analysis is that it shows I have not been unlucky or riddled with blunders.  None of my games with the Scandinavian featured horrific blunders.

The application of this technique has really helped reinforce a belief that I already suspected regarding my play in the Scandinavian.  That is that my tactics are mostly good but I don’t seem to understand or play well in the positions I find myself.

I haven’t been swindled.

I haven’t thrown won games away.

I was never winning them in the first place.

Conclusion

I have found this technique a fast and rapid way to get some additional insight into my opening repertoire and fully intend to apply it to the rest of my games.  I feel that for the amateur player it could prove to be a valuable tool to break the cycle of telling ourselves false narratives around our play.

Its human nature in chess to remember the glorious wins whilst forgetting the crushing defeats but perhaps a lot of amateur players are missing a trick by blinding themselves with this bias.

Across the six types of game I have defined it seems possible to indicate a type of approach or teaching need for each type of game that you play with an opening:

  1. “I was amazing” – You obviously know the opening and understand the plans associated with it.  Well done!
  2. “Fair play mate” – You again understand the opening well but perhaps need to work on identifying the right plan to help you push ahead and convert those draws into wins.
  3. “Ouch, I deserved that” – Go back to school!  Something has gone wrong for you and if you are having a lot of games classified in this category then start at the beginning again or get a new opening.
  4. “Phew, let me buy you a drink” – A tricky conclusion.  Being lucky can feel great but it may be holding you back in the long term.  For example, always fluking a win against 1600 opposition may all be well and good but that might also explain why you don’t beat those 1800’s you so desperately want to.  Is your luck blinding your inadequacies in understanding?
  5. “I just about held that” – You get it.  You understand the opening.  But is it enabling you to push on.  Having learnt the opening, how do you find winning lines or should you look for something a little more double edged?
  6. “Noooo, what have I done” – Study tactics. Study endgames. Your problem isn’t the opening.

I hope you have found this technique interesting and can see the potential in spotting flaws (or even maybe coaching others).  Its early days and I am sure some readers have some comments on the classification scheme.  Keep talking to me and let me know how you get on using it.

Until next time!


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.

Attack against e4 – The Latvian Gambit 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f5!

This aggressive opening with Black could be your next surprise weapon – highly recommended for a must win game.

The Latvian is one of the most aggressive sound openings out there, but it is underused and largely unknown. If you’ve ever considered it before – you may have run it past an engine. They give it roughly a +1 after 3.Nxe5 (my engine lands on 1.17, meaning that it thinks White is even more than a pawn up, for nothing).

This alone may put you off reading any further – and if it does please do stop now. This opening is not for the faint-hearted. 2…f5 is basically an unmistakable statement that you intend to sack a lot of pieces for checkmate. If its stats you want, I’ve played this in Bristol league and tournament games about once a season for the last 4 years and I’ve won all 4 games – admittedly three against slightly lower rated opponents but one of them against a top coach.

It’s not played at the top level but there are a few masters and even world champions who dabble – even the great Bobby Fischer lost to it. Okay so Fischer was 11 at the time – but this game does show important attacking themes. Black benefits from the f-file being open quickly, and the bishop on d6 (staring at h2) is very typical for Latvian attacks. Because Black played f5 so early, White had no chance to calmly claim or block the centre, which means those nice diagonals are open for bishops.

Let’s see how the bishops can quickly triumph if White is greedy:

Aside: What’s a pawn worth?

Is an extra pawn going to win you the game? For Grandmasters maybe yes. It also may be the case in simple positions – one open file, obvious squares to contest, the player a pawn up can comfortably force trades and win with a pawn breakthrough. Again, simple positions. But if you are a long way off an endgame, forget about the material. It’s never just about the material, and in the Latvian gambit material is pretty much out the window.

move2

Back to move 2 – why f5?

First of all we must see the method behind the madness of f5. You should have a reason for every move you make, and it turns out f5 has many.
With e4 and Nf3 White is saying: “I’m going to castle kingside as soon as possible, distract you with defending e5, and have a comfortable life”
So what do we say in return? “Don’t get too comfy. Take my e-pawn, by all means; I’ll take yours. Or take my f-pawn and I’ll attack your only developed piece (with pawn e4 to e5). Castle kingside if you like, but I’ll quickly get a rook on the open f-file”

More strategically – you are opening the f-file for your own rook and threaten quick development by castling kingside. White can’t just let you do this, they must find something else to call an advantage.

After 2…f5!? we have several continuations. I’m not going to go into huge detail – I want to make you aware of the types of positions you get, and if you like what you see you can learn more about it on thechesswebsite.com, buy the book by Tony Kosten, or get a board out and try it yourself.

The main thing I want to tell you is that the engines have this one wrong. Well not totally wrong, but despite the evaluations a human playing White will have some major difficulty against the Latvian – unless of course they know it in great depth, which I would suggest is unlikely.

More to the point – the natural 3.Nxe5 is nothing to be scared of. The move to be mildly concerned about is 3.d4. But I will recommend a solid way to play in that case. Most of the time players will not play 3.d4 – and I’m talking about everyone below say 1900.

Why is this not played a lot?

There are some very simple answers here. It is sharp, a little bit wacky, difficult to play for both sides, and computers don’t think much of it. But the main reason I think is more psychological: Amateur players shy away from openings where they could lose quickly. Maybe it is fear of embarrassment, maybe it is the sunk cost of travelling to a venue to play a game of chess. But I’m here to convince you that is exactly the reason why you should consider these sorts of openings; because your opponent will have those same tendencies, and often will choose the safer (worse) option.

Let’s get down to some moves; so Black has two pawns en-prise – but the problem for White is they only have one move, not two. Either capture is okay for Black:

3. exf5

exf5

3…e4 4.Qe2 Qe7 5.Nd4 Nc6

and if they take our knight we take with the d-pawn, so that we recapture the f-pawn eventually and the other bishop settles on d6. They may try to hang on to the pawn but it’s not worth it.

6. Qh5+ Kd8

messy

and you can easily attack that pawn with d5, Qf6, Ne7 etc. G4 will lead to interesting games but Black should be better with the big centre and chances to make White’s queen look foolish.

3. Nxe5

Nxe5

3…Qf6
An alternative – for the real gambiteers, which I play on occasion – is 3…Nc6! 4.Qh5+ g6 5.Nxg6 Nf6! 6.Qh4 Rg8 7.Nxf8 Rg4! The engine still doesn’t love it but just look at the position below. Is White going to be loving life if they haven’t seen this before? We have rook takes e4 check coming (how many openings can say that?) with some awkward defence in store for White.

g6 line

Incidentally, Paul Keres dealt with 5.Nxc6 beautifully in this miniature.

After the main line 3..Qf6 we have 4. d4 d6 5.Nc4 and we recapture the pawn with fxe4; White stops us playing d5 with Nc3, but here’s one key move you’ll have to get comfortable with: Qg6. It seems strange to move the queen again, but we are okay – the knight comes to f6, we renew the threat of d5, and we can develop with Bd6, Bf5 or Bg4, castle and if needed tuck the queen back again with Qf7 and we are sitting pretty.

So after 6..Qg6 it is the start of the ‘main line proper’ – which is way too much to go into now, but Tony Kosten covers pretty much all the possible 7th moves for White:

mainline

Instead of capturing, White can of course ignore both pawns and develop:

3. Bc4

fxe4! 4.Nxe5 and either d5 or Qg5. Again things are going to get messy here. D5 is the most natural – but we do have to be comfortable with this line: 5. Qh5+ g6 6. Nxg6 Nf6! 7. Qe5+ Be7 8. Nxh8 dxc4 – and we are an exchange down but the knight is looking trapped – if White isn’t active then we can even walk the king over and take it.

Nxh8line

I don’t actually see Bc4 very often – but I’ll give a line that tempts White even more: 4..Nf6! Let these two games from Joseph Blackburne sway you. It’s the same opponent, who first tries to land a knight on f7, and then tries with the bishop – and gets pretty well crushed both times!

As I say, Bc4 is not too common. Among players who are unfamiliar with the Latvian, I believe the most common response will be:

3. d3

And this is just a different game. White tries to ignore the gambit and decides to save the light-squared bishop for defence. As Black we just continue with normal moves (Nf6, d6, Be7, 0-0) and plan on meeting exf5 with Bxf5.

The real test for you is when White decides to fight fire with fire, and opens up an attack on your e-pawn, with:

3. d4!

It’s a fairly decent move for White – but you’ll be okay if you memorise a few things:

  • Take the pawn that you threatened: 3..fxe4.
  • If they play Nxe5 and Bg5 then you’ll have to hold tight with Nf6 and Be7
  • Play either d5 or if you can’t then play d6 and kick the knight.
  • Remember the Latvian bishop – Bd6. For example in this game from Keres he plays d5 in response to Bc4, and his own bishop lands on d6. You don’t mind the knight staying on e5 – but you may have to get creative like Keres’ Kf8 and Kg7 to avoid tricks.

Conclusion

So – if you’ve read this far you hopefully view this opening as being worth a shot. With a bit of study, this is an awesome surprise weapon in your arsenal against 1.e4 and is a lot of fun to play.

Round 5 of a congress against the tournament leader who is half a point ahead of you? My advice is f5, Bd6, sack a rook and win the tournament in a blaze of glory.

I’ll leave you with none other than Boris Spassky employing the main line with great effect:


 

mikecircle

Mike is co-editor of The Bristol Chess Times and is a regular league and tournament player

Sometimes everything just flows – Bristol Chess Times on Twitch

So its 22:13 on a Tuesday and I’ve just finished live streaming the first Bristol Chess Times stream on Twitch.  If you don’t know what Twitch is then don’t worry, ill explain more about our live TV channel another time.  The most important thing is i’ve just played a beautiful game of Chess…

 

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It always seems to be the casual, non-thinking kind of games when everything just works.  As I sat here chatting away to the unknown masses watching online (Ahem – ok more like one man and his dog but hey everyone has to start somewhere) the game drifted into one of my favourite sidelines of Larsen’s Opening.  A 21 move masterpiece involving massive material imbalances?  Don’t mind if I do!

Its late and I won’t analyse it for you.  Just enjoy it for the simplicity of late night blitz conjuring up something magical.

 

I’ll be tweeting out the schedule for the live streams when we get the setup just right but in the meantime please do follow us or watch the live streams by visiting twitch.tv/bristolchesstimes

Until next time.


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.

You can’t calculate what you can’t see

I was playing online blitz early in the morning this week when my opponent fell into a well known mating trap on move 8.  The mating pattern is very pretty and always satisfying but it also occurred to me that it appeared to be one of those positions that everyone seems to fall into.  Bemused at why this would be the case I decided to look at some statistics and noticed that despite being a relatively rare line, every time I had had the position my opponent had walked into the trap.  I’ve talked about the difference between amateur and professional players before and this sequence is another lovely example.

The line in question stems from the Chigorin Defence of the Queens Gambit Declined.  After 7…Nxe5 it first appears that black is losing a knight.  However, it doesn’t take too much calculation to spot the checkmate threat on d1 should white decide to snaffle the knight on e5.

Indeed after white allows 7…Nxe5, black has equalised and discretion is the better part of valour for white with recommended moves such as Be2 or Nbd2.  However, in the four times I have had this position arise in my games, all four times I have delivered checkmate on d1 on move 8.  Now we can argue that these games are online and amongst amateur players but I do find it fascinating the confidence with which the black knight is snaffled on e5.  Sometimes the white player plays the mistake instantly, sometimes they think for a long while and still play the move. Why is this?

It is a common mantra amongst chess professionals and coaches that good players know when to start burning time in complex calculation.  Knowing when to invest time is a key skill. However, as well as knowing when to spend time calculating you also have to know what to calculate.  If you don’t see a threat or are blind to its existence then you will not calculate and obviously miss the risk resulting in losing to checkmate on move 8. The position in our line we are analysing, I believe, is a very good example of a position that the amateur mind struggles with.  There are a number of factors at play in the position, one or all of which could contribute to this very common mistake.  Lets list them out:

  • A queen less early middle game – Only two pieces are developed by either side and the queens have left the board.  Why would white necessarily be on the look out for mating threats against his own king?  Indeed, he or she has to calculate the knight capture doesn’t lose material (and it doesn’t) but an actual mate threat is not on whites radar;
  • The threat only arises from a vacated square – The checkmate is only possible by white releasing the power of the bishop onto d1 by vacating f3. Threats occurring by vacating squares are intrinsically harder to visualise when calculating;
  • The knight capture wins material – Whats not to like about winning material?! Greed is a powerful bias;
  • Its easy for white to believe black blundered – Until a move earlier the knight on f3 was pinned.  Following the exchange of queens this is no longer the case but it is easy to see how white would think black had miscalculated and blundered by grabbing the e5 pawn by telling themselves that black thought the f3 knight was pinned;
  • The capture on e5 creates nice threats on blacks king – As well as all of the above points, the white pieces start to build a lovely threat on f7 against blacks king.  Its easy to see how white could spend time calculating future threats and attacking options while simultaneously missing threats against his own king.

Having read the above list now lets look at the position side by side with the board flipped. Try looking at each board position and then running through the kind of thought process that white would be walking through.  I don’t know about you, but I actually think the threat is harder to see from the white side of the board because the position for white seems so appealing.

The same position from both white and blacks perspective.  Hard to believe that a mate in 1 threat exists and how the board can appear  so different from either side.

To be fair, I don’t know how many of the above factors contribute to the blunder 8. Nxe5 but it is highly likely some of them play a significant role (NB – Not a lot of people know that I am professionally trained in the analysis and evaluation of human error in complex environments.  A story for another time…).

Here we have a tempting position for white with many positive features such as material gain and kingside attacks combining with a very subtle, hard to see, totally unexpected terminal threat. A nasty combination for the amateur chess player to comprehend which seems to be the chess equivalent of all that glitters is not gold and bring me nicely to the title of this blog post.

You can’t calculate what you can’t see.

In our example, the amateur white player can calculate for as long as he or she likes but if they do not recognise the danger of checkmate then they will simply run analysis on the safety of their developed pieces and the opportunities for future attacks. Many stronger rated players could often laugh and scoff at such a blunder as 8.Nxe5 but I believe this would be unfair.  Human chess players (amateur and professional alike) are not computers. They do not calculate everything.  They only choose to calculate what stories they tell themselves.

“She’s just blundered that knight.  Surely she cannot take my pawn on e5?”

“If I take it then f7 looks weak”

“Queens are off.  There are no real threats at the moment.  I don’t see how he is gaining the piece back it must be a blunder”

“My f3 knight is no longer pinned!”

If your internal dialogue is spinning stories with a different narrative to the reality of the position on the board then the amateur player is in trouble.   In my games 100% of amateur players blundered and walked into checkmate on move 8.  Of the 9 Master Games in the database I looked at 0% of professionals did. Indeed the skill set  to remain completely objective when looking at any position is likely one of the key defining characteristics of weak vs. strong players.

I just loved this example as it seems to fall into that rare category of positions that really seems to befuddle the amateur mind.

Until next time…


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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beating the boredom in the French Exchange

Several years ago I was an avid French Defence player.  For several seasons in the league and congresses my default move against the kings pawn was to push 1…e6.  Its a great opening with dozens of fascinating variations and different plans and systems.  In the world of amateur chess thou there was just one problem.  No one would let me play these lines.  Instead, anyone below 2000 would make me play the exchange variation, my dreams of exciting double edged positions that I was familiar with dashed by move three.  If only there was a way to avoid the symmetry, avoid the exchanges, avoid the tedium of the exchange positions at amateur level.  Lets give it a go…

The propensity of amateur players to default to the French Exchange variation basically killed my love of (what actually is) a great opening.  Sadly I would estimate easily 50% of my games in the French were exchange variations. Now before any readers jump on me and say “hey Jon, the french exchange is a great opening you just don’t play it like Anatoly Karpov“, I know that.  Thats my point.

Unless you plan on playing like a Super GM then the French Exchange variation is boring at amateur levels as piece after piece is removed from the board and hands are quickly shaken.

Well my experience in the French has always rankled me and having written a piece several weeks ago on avoiding symmetry in another bane of the amateur chess scene, I got round to asking myself why I should simply accept the symmetry in the French Exchange.  Having dabbled with the the nf6 Scandinavian recently I initially toyed with the idea of ignoring the capture 3. exe5 and playing Icelandic Gambit style with 3. Nf6.

Note to self:  The French Exchange is not the Icelandic Gambit!

I quickly came to the conclusion that this move is rubbish! The best that can be said is that it gives white a pawn.  Lets move on.

The Scandi-French Exchange?!

However, contemplating the Scandinavian did make me ask the question why not simply capture with the queen on move 3 instead of the e pawn?

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5?!

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 22.11.40

“Why does everyone recapture with the e-pawn?” he says…

In theory it shouldn’t be terrible as its a bit like a Scandinavian defence and if John Bartholomew says its ok to retreat a queen to d8 then who am I to argue?!

A quick look at the statistics in the database shows I’m not completely insane:

  • Played 911 times
  • White scores 54%

The numbers are encouraging and straight away could we be looking at a way to mix up the position and avoid the symmetry and exchanges so associated with the French Exchange?

The obvious follow up for White is 4. Nc3 (as played in 614 games). Instead of retreating the Queen though we do have an interesting resource of 4…Bb4 (as played in 719 games – I suspect we are in transposition territory here but thats encouraging as it means we are moving further away from the French Exchange right?!).

From this position there are a range of moves available but two in particular stand out and cause me concerns for the player of the black pieces:

#1 – 5. Nf3: Played in 465 games and scoring 61%

Or

#2 – 5. Qg4: Played in 56 games and scoring 67%

#1 – 5.Nf3

For the sake of this article I am not going to explore the myriad of move options available to white in the nf3 lines.  As I am sure you can appreciate, if the white player so wishes they can just start to play normal developing moves such as Bd3, 0 – 0 whilst there appears to be some favourable statistics for Black if they fianchetto their Queen’s bishop with an early b6.  I have included one line that demonstrates a potential route that hopefully highlights how far removed from the “traditional” symmetry of a French Exchange this position is:

1.e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 Qxd5?! 4. Nc3 Bb4 5. Nf3 Nf6 6. Bd3 b6 7. 0-0-0 Bxc3 8. bxc3 Bb7

A different kind of position to the usual French Exchange and both players have plans ahead.

#2 – 5. Qg4

But what we really need to look at in detail is 4. Qg4.  With this move scoring an impressive 67% is our early queen manoeuvre already busted?  I’ve faced early Qg4’s in the past against other lines in the French and its never that fun.  White’s threat is the g7 square, whilst preventing development of the g8 knight.  Hmmm. There is however a remarkable, hard to see, unintuitive move (in my opinion) that suddenly holds this position together for Black.

5…nc6!

5…Nc6 miraculous defends the h8 rook by threatening the d4 pawn!  

Defend the kingside by developing on the queenside obviously!  Now if White takes on g7 then the d4 pawn drops and the rook on h8 is also defended.  All for the added benefit of developing a new piece.  As you can tell, I like this move.

White spends a tempo defending d4 with 6.Nf3 followed by 6…Ne7.  In the database I found 10 games in this position and the computer evaluation is unbelievably close to 0.00.

White has tried:

  • 7.Bd2 – 6 games (-0.20 evaluation)
  • 7.Qxg7 – 4 games (0.00 evaluation)
  • 7. a3 – 0 games (but seems reasonable to me – 0.00 evaluation)

As with the 4.Nf3 lines, I am not going to explore every variation in this article but again it seems to me that Black finds themselves in an equal position, lots of play on the board and with some opportunities to complicate by giving up the g7 pawn.  It certainly feels like we are a long way from the French Exchange that the player of the White pieces wanted to take us into.

Conclusion

There is obviously a lot more detailed analysis to be conducted on this “Scandi-French Exchange” but on first glance I like what I see, particularly for the amateur player.  A quick Google revealed that none other than Hikaru Nakamura has been known to try it in blitz. To be fair he is one of the best blitz players on the planet so he could probably play anything but hey, I take it as an endorcement.

I’m sure there must be some weakness to this treatment of the French Exchange but initial review suggests its likely to be that White is not really threatened and follows simple, easy  development and both players get a playable game.  The move 5…nc6 seems to remove the sting from whites most trying response of 4. Qg4, which is a relief.

In terms of our objectives of avoiding symmetry and exchanges:

  • The e file remains closed (a common problem in the French Exchange)
  • The position is unsymmetrical with different plans available to both players
  • Amateur (sub-2000) players will be out of their (very small) French Exchange book

Finally I will leave you with an entertaining 18 move game that I found in this line (admittedly through transposition) from the Pardubice Czech Open in 2007 which shows some of the bite in this line for black.

Lovely stuff!


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.

 

 

 

 

Seeking asymmetry in an anti-London system

The London System has a reputation for being solid and unexciting.  It can be a very frustrating system to play against as black because white can just adopt a series of system like moves and they will achieve a playable game, in a familiar position. Regular readers will know that I have tried to find ways to combat the London via the move order 2…Bf5 and then using principles from Chigorin’s defence. But what happens if white just decides to continue with their normal set up?  Lets take a look.

I suppose you could say that this article is the third entry in my exploration of fighting the London system using principles from Chigorin’s defence.  For those readers not familiar, my original anti-london article is here, whilst an addendum to the Nc3 lines can be found here.

In these prior articles, my approach to the London had been based on 2…Bf5 and 3. c4.  The move c4 has been recommended by numerous authors in the London system against 2…Bf5 and it was the d4, c4 pawn formation that originally inspired my thinking around an early Nc6 and e5 i.e. Chigorin’s defence.

However, there is an obvious draw back.

Despite 3. c4 being the objectively best response, white is not obliged to play it! Instead, the white player can simply continue to adopt the “classic” London set up as shown below.

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 22.19.48

The “Classic” London System setup where the first 6 or so moves can be bashed out and help the Black player with any problems they might have sleeping.

As anyone who has ever faced the London will testify, it is this setup that gives the system its reputation. Rock solid with opportunities to launch kingside attacks if Black ever threatens to exchange off the f4 bishop by exchanging on g3 and opening the h file. If my proposed approach to combating the London with 2…Bf5 was going to work then I would need to find a line that created an asymmetrical structure and a presented a playable plan for Black.

Avoiding symmetry by copying whites moves?

So lets begin.  Obviously when searching for an asymmetrical position the best thing to do is mirror several of whites moves in the early opening (sigh – I know but trust me there really is little else to do that doesn’t give white an edge). The opening line is as follows 1. d4 d5 2. Bf4 Bf5 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. e3 e6 5. Bd3

Its the move 5.Bd3 that irritated me for so long in this position as it just results in swopping off of pieces and leading to symmetrical pawn structures. That was until I noticed the remarkable statistics in my database for the move 5…Ne7. Played in 13 games it scores a lowly 38% for white with a computer evaluation of +0.28.  Surely a move worth exploring further.

There are two moves here for white, either 6. 0-0 or 6. c3 (continuing with the usual London setup).  Lets look at 6. c3 first.

Line #1 6. c3

If white continues to follow the London system by rote then black can unbalance the position with a plan built around an f6, g5 spike, hitting the bishop before castling queenside.

Black clears the way for queenside castling and also has the nice option of a kingside pawn storm with h5 coming.  Not something white is typically used to in the London system.

Admittedly, white could play 8.h4 here to prevent 8…g5 but that leads to 8…Bd6 when the usual white plan of falling back to g3 and then opening the h-file after the exchange on g3 is not available.  The best move then is 9. Bxd6 Qxd6 10. Nd2 and black again castles long.

If white plays to deny the g5 spike then Black can exchange the black bishops and has a choice of recapturing with the c pawn, f5 knight or even queen (as shown) and castling long.  

Lets be clear.  As was often the case in my previous articles on the London, I do not claim a refutation to white in this position.  Rather I like the asymmetrical nature of the position and the ability of this setup to run counter to many of the usual plans that white tries to adopt.  In the final position of this line, the computer evaluation is -0.29 to Black.  Equality.

Line #2 6. 0-0

We have seen that if white tries to stick rigidly to the usual London structure then we can achieve an asymmetrical position and nice attacking chances on the kingside with f6 and g5.  Now lets see if that approach works after whites other most logical move, 6. 0-0.

Again in this line we use the f6, g5 threat to create an asymmetrical position and begin a kingside attack. Objectively the computer evaluation is +0.57 to white but I like Blacks options.  In the two variations explored above we see how in both lines black’s plan remains the same – Castle long and Kingside attack.

Conclusion

It took me a while but I am greatly encouraged by this line for black in our 2…Bf5 anti-London system. Whilst objectively c4 is a good response by white (indeed we see it reappear in the 6. 0-0 lines), our approach of Ne7, f6 and g5 give us a wide of options and a clear plan to reach an interesting and asymmetrical position should the white player insist on sticking to their “classic” London structure.

Most of all, I like the fact that this approach results in whites key attacking plan of exchanging on g3 to open the h file before launching a kingside attack being unavailable.

The London system is not going away anytime soon in amateur circles.  I hope that this article (and my earlier ones) have helped inspire you to tackle this solid white system in a new way straight from move 2.  Do let us know at the Bristol Chess Times if you trial our approach and if you have anymore thoughts on the “theory”.

Good Luck!


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.

 

How not to play the Icelandic Gambit

Sometimes you play a game, irrespective of the result, that reminds you why you love chess. Ive been playing the nf6 Scandinavian for about 18 months but have yet to play the exciting Icelandic Gambit over the board. Fortunately I found myself facing an open minded opponent who was more than wiling to dive into complications.  I found the game very instructional from a psychological as well as theoretical perspective.  Lets take a look.

icelandgambit

Would the Icelandic Gambit offer an exciting tactical mess of a game?  Yes.  If Black knew how to play it…

The game was Board 6 of the Horfield (my team) vs. Clifton match of Division 1 of the Bristol & District Chess League. My opponent was Anton Muller who has virtually the same grade as myself (and attacking mentality).  My thanks to him for the game and permission to share.

So a great escape that highlighted all the great human elements of chess.  Throughout the game the plans and stories that I told myself led to inferior positions as I misplayed the opening and drifted into an inferior middle game.  However, in the end it was clock that was my friend not the position and the old adage of the person who makes the penultimate mistake wins.

Perhaps the most instructive lesson for me was the psychology of realising your position is busted but still has dynamic potential.  In my opinion the move 25.Nxf2 was probably the best move I played in the game and yet it actually results in a +5.00 swing to my opponent in the evaluation.

With regards to the opening, if you are interested in the Icelandic gambit then I hope this example game helps you learn how not to play the 6. Bd2 lines.  I feel I should have played Nc6 early on when he offered a queen swop and after recapturing then I would have had an immediate threat on c2.  it just didn’t feel very gambit like.

My thanks (and apologies) to my opponent for the game.  Fortunately the match result was 3 – 3 so everyone saved face in the end.


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.

The Beast from the East Opening

So the “Beast from the East” arctic blast has struck the UK and in typical British fashion everything has ground to a halt, including the 71st Bristol Chess Championship Congress this weekend (we will reschedule).  With a lot of chess players in the South West (and across the country) suddenly finding themselves with some spare time I thought I would write an article trying to find an opening worthy of the name “The Beast from the East”.  An opening that slows everything down, is boring and generally leaves you feeling cold.  But then I thought I have written enough articles about the London System lately (ba-dum tush!) so lets actually try to find something new!

A quick search online reveals a number of openings with suitable frosty titles such as “The Baltic Defence” (1.d4 d5 2. c4 Bf5), “The Finnish Variation of the Caro Kann” (1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 h6), The Icelandic Gambit (1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6 3.c4 e6!?), multiple Moscow variations and my personal favourite the so called “Siberian Trap” in the Smith Morra Gambit” (1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 Nc6 5.Nf3 e6 6.Bc4 Qc7 7.0-0 Nf6 8.Qe2 Ng4! 9.h3?? (or 9.Bb3??) Nd4!)

siberiantrap

The Siberian Trap variation of the Smith Morra Gambit is just plain nasty!

Finally after digging a little deeper I did actually find the “Arctic Defence” to the Reti which starts with the dubious 1. Nf3 f6?!

arctic

The Arctic Defence does indeed leave me feeling cold towards Black’s chances.

I found one humorous game in the chess.com forums (thank you for posting ZBicyclist in 2010) between two amateur players that highlights some flaws with this approach and ends with Black being checkmated with a pawn on move 11, hmmm.

oopps

The Arctic was quickly conquered in this game. Ouch!

Unimpressed with the “Arctic Defence” what can we do to find an opening suitable for the title The Beast from the East?  I started to think that it would have the following characteristics:

  • It would ruin everyones plans.
  • It would be very slow.
  • It would land and then just sit there.

With my criteria set, I started looking for something remotely playable that adhered to the above rules and had some reasonable statistics with it.  Ladies and Gentlemen! I give you my candidate for “The Beast from the East” Opening:

1.d4 a6 2. e4 d6 3. Nf3 h6 (frosty!) 4. Nc3 Nd7 5. Bc4 e6 6. 0-0

bfte

The Beast from the East Opening

‘The Beast from the East” creeps in with little opportunity for fast travel but white must be careful not to skid on the Black Ice (see what i did there?!) of the incoming 6…b5 and 7…c5 as the cold Queenside front pushes forward.

Is this opening as good as its powerful name suggests?  Or is it just a minor inconvenience that will be forgotten by the end of the weekend?  I leave it up to you to decide.

In the mean time.  Wrap up warm, chuck another log on the fire and lets get the boards up.


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.