Introducing the Philidor constellation at the Batumi Olympiad (YouTube)

Two Bristol League Players recently competed in the 43rd Chess Olympiad in Batumi, Georgia.  On the latest episode we showcase two games from Lewis Martin who was competing for the International Chess Committee of the Deaf (ICCD). Lewis scored a remarkable 72% across 11 games of stiff competition and rumour has it has qualified for the FM title.  Lets take a look.

The first game is a lovely Sicilian Najdorf where both players decide to ignore the concept of defence.  The second game is a tricky “Black to play and win” in a tactical finale.

Introducing the Philidor constellation at the Batumi Olympiad (20 minutes)

Please remember to subscribe to the YouTube channel to receive regular updates and share with all your chess friends!

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.

A refined anti-London system for club players (YouTube)

In the last year we have published several articles on an anti-London system based on an early queenside development by black. In our latest YouTube episode we look at how this has been evolving given most London system club players refusal to play 3.c4 and an adherence to the “classic” London structure. One things for sure, it ain’t going to be a draw!

 

An anti-London system for club players (16 minutes)

Leave us comments, suggestions and refutations below!  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.

Whose attack is faster in a tactical Semi-Slav? (YouTube)

In the latest episode, we showcase a tactical explosion in the Semi-Slav from a recent Division 1 clash between Horfield A and Horfield B. We look at the idea of a bad plan is better than no plan and how the speed of a players attack can be deceptive.

 

Whose attack is faster in a tactical Semi-Slav? – (23 minutes long)

If you are enjoying our game reviews and would like to nominate one of your games for the channel then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Please do remember to subscribe on YouTube and share with your chess friends!

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.

Why don’t amateurs play mainline openings?

I will confess that I had an alternative name for this blog post that went something along the lines of “Wading into the Sicilian swamplands”. However I decided that sounded more like a pulp fiction thriller than a conversation on amateur chess player habits.  In addition I feared it would put too much emphasis on the Sicilian rather than the wider aversion of amateur chess players to tackle openings more usually employed by the professionals.  Across the amateur chess scene you are more likely to see Owens Defence (1…b6) than a Berlin but why is that and what are we so afraid of?

 

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What shall we play today? Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

So unfortunately I fall into the category of amateur chess club player.  To give you an idea of the kind of club player I am I’ve broken down some facts about my play for you:

  • My OTB grade has hovered between 145 – 155 ECF (1788 – 1863 ELO) for the last 10 years.
  • I tend to play in Majors at weekend congresses where I occasionally win a prize
  • Recently i’ve played at the bottom of several Open tournaments where I claim the odd scalp and end up dining out on that far more than the three games I lost in the endgame (of which with best play I should probably have drawn two)
  • The type of openings I play include the Nimzo-Larsen Attack (1.b3), the Scandinavian (1…d5) and the Clarendon Court (1.d4 c5 2. d5 f5?!)

Like a lot of club players, I console my lack of progress (and justify my opening choices) by saying things like “I don’t have time” (note – I really don’t, my children are 2.5yrs and 13 days old) or “My openings drag my opponents out of book“.

But heres the thing.

The entire amateur chess scene says this.  The choice of obscure / semi-sound / non-mainline openings for time poor amateurs is further reinforced by a huge range of system style books and DVDs. As a result it is not unusual to watch a game in a Minor or Major section of a tournament involve 10 opening moves of system style openings where both players are overlooking obvious opportunities on the board in the name of getting to “their desired set up” (as dictated by whichever latest book or DVD you have studied this month).

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing overly wrong with this approach and indeed works well for a large number of club players.

Earlier in the year I wrote several pieces on reviewing your opening repertoire but also how, in my opinion in the amateur world sidelines are the new mainline.

However, is it ultimately limiting the growth of many players? This question is based on a recent eye opening experience that has challenged my belief in this approach.

Time to kill with a stale repertoire

As regular readers will know, I recently suffered a serious accident which has left me convalescing in bed for the last five weeks. As a result i’ve played a lot of rapid chess (10 minutes, no increment) online.

Forced to rest with a lot of time to kill and a growing believe that my repertoire needed updating I started playing anything in order to spice things up.  This radical approach led me to start playing…whisper it…the Sicilian.

1…c5

I know.

Take a moment.

If you were to ask my partner in crime at the Bristol Chess Times, co-editor Mike Harris, my personal opinion of the Sicilian he would probably tell you that its not safe for work and should be broadcast after 9pm in the evening. I hate the Sicilian.

Its complicated, it has entire libraries of theory and literature and every player has a special anti-Sicilian sideline (I’m looking at you 2.b3 weirdos) which makes studying it a nightmare.  Of all the possible opening moves available, I have never played 1…c5.

Well I guess circumstances eventually forced my hand and it turns out that i really like the Sicilian!

Its fun, its tactical and at no point have I bothered to learn any names of any variations.

That last point is key to my message today.  When I first started throwing the C-pawn forward I just started applying sound opening principles to see what happened.  I was just playing chess rather than starting from the position of looking for a new book or DVD involving the words “Crush”, “Win” or “Beat”.

I started winning.  I started winning cool exciting games. Beating 1900’s and 2000’s become the norm rather than the exception. My online rapid play grade went from 1840 to 1950 ELO, a personal best.

Lets look at the numbers taken from my rapid games on Lichess:

  • Scandinavian Defence – Won 38% / Drew 4% /  58% (24 games)
  • Sicilian Defence – Won 59% / Drew 0% / 41% (29 games)

Obviously being 10 minute games amongst amateurs the number of draws is very low. However, the difference is stark!

Noticing my general happiness in my chess improving following the adoption of the C-pawn, I decided to look up the variation I had naturally been playing.  Turns out its called the Scheveningen Variation and has been championed by none other than Gary Kasparov in the past.

Hold on.  This doesn’t compute. Im an amateur player. Every book, DVD and YouTube video  tells me I should be playing a system style opening that crushes all before me and yet I seem to be having fun and winning using a mainline opening played by possibly the greatest world champion of all time.

I shouldn’t be having fun. I certainly shouldn’t be winning because I haven’t learnt any theory in this behemoth opening that has always terrified me. Whats happening?

Style beats theory

Turns out that there is something about the Sicilian that resonates with me.  I genuinely don’t know whether that is that the plans make sense to me, I like the types of tactics or it dissolves into endgames that make sense to me? It could be all three to be fair.

Whatever it is, my personal style seems to connect with the Sicilian and it has really reinvigorated both me personally and my results. Ive learned a valuable lesson.

How much are amateur chess players holding themselves back by not playing mainline openings due to a fear of a lack of time and an intimidation of theory?  How much are club players short changing or even stunting their chess development by burying their heads in their hands because mainline openings are scary?

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“Curses! A mainline opening…(sigh)” Photo by taha ajmi on Unsplash

Ask someone else what your style is

Amateur chess players are famous for telling themselves stories about how they play (“Im a tactical wizard” or “Im a positional master“) but often the reality is far different.  Today I have spoken about how I have accidentally found a love for a mainline opening after shunning it for years.

Remember my point is not to go into realms of time consuming study. I have no more time in my daily life now than before and have still not studied any Sicilian Scheveningen theory (although somebody did mumble something about the Keres Attack, g4, blah blah something something).

Therefore, in my opinion, perhaps the most important challenge for amateur players is identifying their actual personal style rather than starting from the position of which time saving system shall I play? Given we often tell ourselves stories my best recommendation would be to ask your club mates, friends or coach about how they think you play.  Work through several of your games and look at the raw data, even if that data is from blitz games online. You might just surprise yourself over what you learn whilst saving yourself both time and money on that next “Beat everyone with this system” DVD you were eyeing up.


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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 (Yes. I know its not a mainline…).

Three challenges facing Chess960: A fan perspective

So I recently suffered a serious accident resulting in me spending a lot of time in bed watching chess videos (everything in life has a silver lining). In the past week I have been enjoying the excellent coverage of the Sinquefield Cup being broadcast by the St Louis Chess Club during which the topic of Chess960 has cropped up on multiple occasions amongst the commentary team and the worlds elite players.  Indeed on the 10th – 14th September the chess club will be hosting five matches of Chess960 between 10 elite players (including the 960 debut of Gary Kasparov) with a total prize fund of $250,000. With interest in Chess960 supposedly growing (especially at the top levels of chess) I thought I would take a moment to highlight three challenges facing this variant of chess from my own personal perspective as an “average” chess fan. 

What is Chess960?

Very briefly, Chess960 is a variant of classic chess first proposed by Bobby Fischer in 1996 in Buenos Aires.  It involves the randomisation of the home rank pieces for each player therefore rendering each players home preparation moot.  There are 960 possible combinations for randomising the starting positions of the home rank pieces, hence the name Chess960.  The classical setup of pieces (you know the one which can take a lifetime to master) would be considered position 1 of 960.

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One of 960 starting position for a game of Chess960. Guess we aren’t playing a Berlin then…

Routinely Chesss960 is often referred to as the ultimate test of pure chess skill.  Whilst I recognise that this can appeal and be an interesting variant for some fans and players, in my opinion there are a number of challenges from an entertainment perspective that need to be resolved if Chess960 is to garner a large following and interest in the established chess community.

Challenge 1: Identity

The number of chess fans tuning in to watch the Sinquefield Cup has been impressive with the show broadcast in over 200 countries and daily YouTube videos racking up views in excess of 100,000 in 24 hour periods.  Indeed the St Louis Chess Club broadcasts are easily setting the bar for the pinnacle in chess broadcasting.

In round 8 of the Sinquefield Cup Alexander Grischuk played 1.f4 (Birds Opening) to an explosion of delight to the fans in the YouTube chat, on Twitter and around the globe. Several people phoned into the live studio to ask excited questions of Jen Shahade, Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley about the Birds Opening.

Why?

Because, putting chess ability to one side for a moment, many chess fans love to construct their identities and styles of play (“I’m Karpovian, quiet and positional” or “I attack like Tal“) and openings (“You just can’t beat my London“).  To the average club player, identifying with a particular opening helps anchor them in the exceedingly complex game that we all love.  They know that they will never be a GM (or hit 2000 ELO for that matter) but in some spheres and realms it is enough to dream that we understand a little of this great game.  Hence when Sasha Grishchuk casually tosses the f-pawn forward on move 1, amateur fans around the word rejoice because they feel a connection, they relate and (whisper it) connect with it.

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Even Chess Arbiter Chris Bird enjoyed seeing 1.f4 on the board. Photo credit to @LennartOotes

Chess960 kills an amateur players identity dead.

There is nothing to hold onto. Nothing that is recognisable or relatable. Those openings that I’ve worked so hard on and are the reason we follow certain GMs results is suddenly gone and the amateur is set adrift in the sea of “pure chess skill”.  Leading us nicely to the second challenge in my view.

Challenge 2: Complexity

Chess is hard. Thats why we love it.

But the consistency of the starting position atleast helps give some level of understanding (even if often we are only just holding on with our fingernails) to the average chess fan.  A chess fan rated 1800 would be considered a strong club player. But when those players watch classical chess we are already starting with a 1000 point deficit compared to a Super GM.  By randomising the starting position to one of 960 possible variations, as a spectator, my ability and understanding plummets even more.

Now for a game that already suffers from an accessibility issue in terms of new people learning the game, do we really want to be making it harder for people to engage?

Don’t get me wrong. I totally understand why elite players would be interested in Chess960 as they have already mastered the classical position.  But if elite players find 960 more challenging then it is especially so for your average chess fan and infinitely so for newbies to the game.

From an entertainment perspective, in what other sport would organisers say: “Hey you know what?  Lets make it more complicated for the viewers“.

Challenge 3: History & Commentary

Chess players love history.  They love the mystique of famous matches and clashes. They love the cool names of variations and places.  They love the great stories that Yasser Seirawan casually drops into conversation when commentating about the time he was blitzing with Boris Spassky or some other such legend of chess.

Again Chess960 eliminates this aspect to the entertainment side of the game.  Admittedly, Chess960 is very young in comparison to classical chess so does not have such a rich history.  However, by reducing (a deliberate choice of word) the game to one of 960 possible starting positions it makes it very difficult to commentate on or make accessible to the casual chess fan.

At no point can someone say, “Ah yes this reminds me of the 2017 match between Carlsen and Nakamura using starting position 758“. Even if they could it will take decades for comparisons and useful commentary to start to appear.

Also, how do you name variations when a variation very very very rarely ever appears again? The short answer is you don’t.

Which leaves the commentary team just talking about the “pure test of chess skill” on the boards in front of them.  Maybe I’m old fashioned but I personally feel the chess viewing experience is lessened when the rich tapestry of chess history is removed.

Conclusion

In conclusion, It is not my intent to attack Chess960 itself. Im sure a great many players around the world enjoy the variant.  My intent was to raise question marks over how this version of chess can be marketed and promoted to the masses.

The St Louis Chess Club and others such as Chess.com are doing sterling efforts to promote chess and raise participation levels globally.  But with so much effort and research gone into making chess exciting and engaging to watch, is Chess960 really a step forward or is it a niche sub-variant for players of a certain high standard?

With $250,000 prize fund it certainly looks like Chess960 is starting to be taken seriously.

My question is by making it harder to follow, removing any sense of chess identity and eliminating chess history from the commentary are the chess masses going to as easily engage? Is the ultimate test of pure chess skill really what your average chess fan is really looking for?

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.

 

 

 

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.

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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:


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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.

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At the conclusion of same games you know that both you and your opponent held the half point confidently…
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…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…

 

Screen Shot 2018-06-05 at 22.23.57

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.