Beyond the fundamentals

The Soviet school of chess espoused a diligent focus on the fundamentals. Here’s Kramnik describing the tenets of his training:

 

“Botvinnik’s example and teaching established the modern approach to preparing for competitive chess: regular but moderate physical exercise; analysing very thoroughly a relatively narrow repertoire of openings; annotating one’s own games, those of past great players and those of competitors; publishing one’s annotations so that others can point out any errors; studying strong opponents to discover their strengths and weaknesses; ruthless objectivity about one’s own strengths and weaknesses.”
– Vladimir Kramnik

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Find the time, cultivate the habits and you too will develop a robust foundation of skills. For the majority of players, this program alone will be sufficient to eventually reach their chess goals. It’s reliable, safe and proven by test but it’s not all-encompassing.

There are unexpected factors which influence performance. You are doing chess a disservice to bundle them together as luck. I view breaking down ‘luck’ into learnable skills as a pivotal facet of whether coaching will be successful. Let’s look at how this works, drawing upon best practice from mental game training in poker.

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  • Diagnosis (unconscious incompetence)
    I have a student whose raw calculation ability wouldn’t be obvious from reviewing his games. Curious oversights litter his play and are holding back progress.
  • Awareness (conscious incompetence)
    Before this leak can be plugged, the student needs to know precisely what’s wrong. Having a mentor diagnose and explain a weakness will speed up this process.
  • Harness (conscious competence)
    Concrete strategies are presented to the student. We implemented a blunder check routine, discussed critical positions and measured the number of times he left the board during a game. The specifics here are less interesting than the model.
  • Mastery (unconscious competence)
    Once the routines have been successfully embedded by the student, they no longer require his conscious focus. It’s time to find another weakness and the cycle starts over.

Presented in this way, the journey looks almost trivial but I can assure you it isn’t. Combatting psychological biases is complex and fascinating work. Progress is non-linear and difficult to predict. To help, I’m developing new coaching techniques in tandem with my dissertation research on practice in mathematics. Not yet ready to go public though!

Chess pretends to be a game of perfect information. Disguised within its simple structure are sources of variance. Recognising, harnessing and finally mastering these hidden variables will elevate your game beyond the fundamentals.

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


Chris Russell

Chris Russell

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

 

Problems in June with GM Jones

The late great American composer Milan Vukcevich specialized in problems showing interesting things happening on on the lines on which a threat (often a threat of mate) is being defended. As such his problems are often more closely related to the game of chess than many I have quoted in Bristol Chess Times! Consider this mate in 4, which won 1st Prize in ‘Chess Life’ in 1988:

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Clearly we need to find a move that threatens mate. It turns out that this move is by the rather out-of-play Nc1, but it’s not immediately obvious that 1.Na2! does carry any threat. White is angling after possible mates by Nb4 and Nc3, but these threats are at present defended respectively by the bQ and the bR. Aha! But there is a threat, 2.c4+! This move, to the intersection of the lines h4-b4 and c7-c3, would present Black with an impossible dilemma. If he replied 2…Rxc4 then the R can be decoyed away: 3.Nb4+! Rxb4 (the point is that …Qxb4 is longer possible) and now another square the Rook had been guarding is available to White: 4.Qc6#. Something very similar would happen after 2…Qxc4: 3.Nc3+ Qxc3 4.Be4#.

But of course it is Black to play and he has two first moves that defeat the threat. One is 1…Qa4, pinning the cP. But something similar (but more spectacular) happens now: 2.Qc4+!. Now we have 2…Rxc4 3.Be4+! Rxe4 4.Nc3# (this wouldn’t have worked as a threat because after 2.c4+ Rxc4 3.Be4+ there’s 3…Qxe4)

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4.nc3 is the first of several pretty mates

and 2…Qxc4 3.Nc3+ Qxc3 4.Be4#.

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and again…

Finally, Black can defend with 1…Nxc2, and this time (hurrah) it’s 2.Bc4+ that works: 2…Rxc4 3.Nb4+ Rxb4 4.Qc6#

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Perhaps the most conventional mate by actually utilising a queen!

and 2…Qxc4 3.Qc6+! Qxc6 4.Nb4#. There are other black first moves which fail uninterestingly.

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Perhaps the prettiest of all

When moves such as these are to the intersection of two orthogonal lines of guard the device or motif or theme, call it what you will, is described as a Plachutta interference. The better-known situation in which the move is to the intersection of an orthogonal line of guard and a diagonal line of guard is known as a Nowotny interference. These interferences do sometimes crop up in games, and there are probably other occasions on which a player has failed to spot such an opportunity.


chriscircle

Christopher Jones

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

Problems in May with GM Jones

The British problemists’ magazine, The Problemist, recently challenged readers to compose ‘homebase helpmates’. There were some excellent responses to the challenge, none better than this one by the German composer, Norbert Geissler:

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Helpmate in 5.5. Solution Below.

A few words of explanation first. In a helpmate, Black and White make moves whose sole purpose is to reach a position in which Black is mated. In this case, “5.5” means that White plays first and mates on his sixth move. In a homebase helpmate, all the pieces on the board are on their starting squares. It really is a challenge for composers, subject to this limitation, to find positions in which there is a unique sequence of moves leading to mate. In Geissler’s problem, you might think that there is no way that the wN can be limited to one unique route, or that if the bQ has to move its movement(s) can be uniquely determined. But the German composer has skilfully surmounted these difficulties. You may like to have a go at solving it before reading further, though there’s no shame in deciding quickly to read on to get the solution, as it’s not easy to solve!

It turns out that we have to get the bK to the corner and the bR to g8. The way in which this is done is as follows: 1…Nc3 (this is actually a white move: by convention helpmate solutions show the white and black moves ‘the wrong way round’) 2.Kf8 Nd5 3.Kg8 Nxe7+ 4.Kh8 Nxc8 5.Qg5!! Nd6 6.Rg8 Nxf7. I’ve given 5.Qg5 two exclamation marks because it is remarkable that, when all that the move must accomplish is to get the Q out of the way, there is only square that doesn’t stymie the solution.

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Final position after 6…Nxf7 #

If you fancy having a go at composing homebase helpmates let me know. (I have a computer program to test helpmates for soundness.)

This month’s other problem, also gleaned from the most recent issue of The Problemist, is another helpmate, but this time a ‘golden oldie’:

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Laszlo Lindner
2nd Place, Negy oszag csapatversenye 1950
Helpmate in 3 

Solution Below

In this position, it looks too easy: Black plays his P to b1 to unpin the wB, which then goes to a4 and then d7 to give mate. However, White does have to make a move after 1.b2, and, although the d4N (not required for the mate) has plenty of moves available, it turns out to be difficult to find one that doesn’t get in the way. In fact there is only one. And then there is the further difficulty that after the wB has got to a4 it is Black for whom it’s difficult to find a move that doesn’t get in the way. Again, we find that there is only one – which, nicely, captures the white Knight. The solution runs: 1.b2 Ne2! 2.b1N Ba4 3.Bxe2! Bxd7.

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Final position after Bxd7#

If you would be interested to see a sample copy of The Problemist let me know – or, better still, go to the British Chess Problem Society website where there is plenty more readable material.


chriscircle

Christopher Jones

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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Problems in April with GM Jones

Even if you don’t generally have any time for helpmates you may like to look at this remarkable position, a helpmate in 7 which appeared in the Hungarian magazine Magyar Sakkelet in 1961, by Arpad Molnar.

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A help mate on black in 7 moves.  Black to play. Try not to mate white in the process!

Solution Below

The thing that immediately strikes one is that, given that in helpmates Black is doing all he can to collaborate in being mated, it is remarkable that there is only one way in which mate can be achieved in 7 moves. Upon further inspection we realize that the difficulty is that Black is going to find it very difficult to avoid mating White! In a helpmate Black generally plays first and he has only one non-mating move – 1.f4. (In helpmates, confusingly, Black’s moves are written ‘1.f4’ and White’s moves ‘1…h8N’ – the other way round from in the score of a game.) In playing 1…h8N White avoids 1…h8Q+, forcing 2.Nc8 mate! He is preparing to give Black something else to do instead of inflicting mate; 2.f3 Ng6 3.fxg6… and as 3…g8Q+ fails as before we have 3…g8B!. Play then proceeds 4.g5 Be6 5.dxe6 d7 6.Kc7 b8R 9.e5 d8Q mate!

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Final Position!

Amazingly, White has made all 4 types of promotion (problemists refer to this by the German term ‘Allumwandlung’, or ‘AUW’ for short). It’s always quite an achievement to set up an AUW in any type of problem; in helpmates, while there are a reasonable number of examples showing black AUW, it’s virtually unheard-of to show white AUW. Bear in mind that the composer not only has to create a scenario in which each promotion has to be that specific piece, but that he has to avoid ‘cooks’ (unintended extra ways of solving the problem), the perennial bane of a helpmate composer’s life.

For some reason, Hungarians (such as Molnar) have often been the most inspired helpmate composers. So I’d like to round this column off by showing you a helpmate by another great Hungarian composer, Gabor Cseh. This problem was one of Molnar’s favourites. It also features some truly remarkable promotions. It’s a helpmate in 8, published in Thema Danicum in 1997.

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A help mate on black in 8 moves. Black to play. Try not to mate white in the process!

Solution Below

Again it looks as though White is on the verge of mating Black in very short order. And again the big obstacle is that Black will find it difficult not to move his Knight so as to give checkmate. After 1.b4 (again, the only non-mating move), White mustn’t go in for 1…e8Q+ 2.Ne3 mate! Instead we have a series of promotions to Bishop. In the case of the first such promotion it’s fairly clear why it has to be a Bishop, but in the case of the second promotion (3…f8B!!) it isn’t at all clear, as 3…f8Q wouldn’t be check. You may like examining why 3…f8Q fails. Even when you see why the intended solution doesn’t work with a Q at f8, you have to admire the great technical skill of the composer in ensuring that there are no cooks in which the f8Q would get through to mate in some other way. The full solution: 1.b4 e8B 2.b3 Bb5 3.axb5 f8B!! 4.b4 Bc5 5.f2+ Bxf2 6.Kf3 f7 7.Re8 fxe8B 8.Ke2 Bh5 mate.

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Final Position! 


chriscircle

Christopher Jones

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

The unlikeliest chess move part 2 – the heavyweights

Let’s dive straight into Queens, Rooks and Kings – in our search for the most unlikely move possible. The short version of this puzzle is that it requires you to come up with a notated move – so what you actually write on the scoresheet – that implies an unlikely position on the board.

Here’s part 1 if you missed the preamble.

Queens

Each piece on the chessboard has its own magical qualities – but let’s start with the most powerful. The Queen can do most manoeuvres available (knight moves, castling, promoting and ‘en passant’ they have some trouble with). But there is one other thing they can’t do – and that’s be the discoverer in a discovered check! (Try it out, they really can’t). Going back to our themes we are left with ‘Checkmate’, ‘Captures’, and ‘More than one of the same piece able to move to the same square’. My proposal nearly offered all three – until I realised that a capture actually makes the positions of the queens and kings less precise.

“Qa1b2#”

So its Queen b2 mate – but the ‘a1’ implies there must be another queen on the a-file, and a third on the 1st rank and both able to reach b2 – although a2 and b1 together is actually impossible as moving to b2 wouldn’t then attack any new squares).

Unlikely-queens

Qa1b2# needs three queens on almost exact squares

The very close runner-up was the same but with the capture “Qa1xb2#” – it still implies 3 queens, but the other two could now be on a2 and b1, and the enemy king can now also be on the diagonal as well as the b-file or 2nd rank. On the flip side there must be a piece on b2 to capture.

Rooks

Before we begin – and this may be contentious I don’t know – but despite its name ‘castling’ is actually a king move; you move the king first and the rook leaps over to the other side. So we’ll leave it to the kings. My proposed rook move is this:

“Rbb2#”

Doesn’t sound so bad, right? A rook moves to b2 and delivers mate, and another one could also have done so. But here’s the catch; let’s say the rooks are on b1 and b3 – writing Rbb2# doesn’t clear anything up – you would write R1b2#, or R3b2#. So let’s think again – what if the rooks were on different files, say a2 and c2? Well then it becomes Rab2# – or Rcb2#… So what’s going on? The rooks have to be on a different file and rank – but then how do you deliver mate by moving a rook, when another rook already threatened all the new squares you threaten?? Okay you guessed it – discovered checks.

Unlikely-rooks

Rbb2# surprisingly implies a discovered check and mate.

Kings

I mentioned castling queenside (“0-0-0#”) to deliver mate in part 1, but is that the most unlikely? Although I have a hunch that castling kingside with mate is even less likely, I have not gone for either of these moves. The reason is only the practical one – if a player sees a chance to mate by castling, they are very likely to try to engineer it for the sheer aesthetic pleasure (or sadistic whim, depending on your outlook on chess). So I am going for the more prosaic:

“Kxa1#”

Unlikely-kings

The king can only discover a checkmate – taking a piece in the corner

Sadly there is no fun to be had with multiple kings, and there is no notation for stalemate. So the best for the king is a discovered checkmate on an unlikely square. But never fear, this is not the overall winner. The fun is reserved for the lightweight pieces – who are in action in part 3!


mikecircle

Mike Harris

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

The unlikeliest chess move – revisited

Is there anything left that computers can’t solve? My attempt at beating the machines a few years back resulted in the creation of a very different type of problem. I wanted to know what the least likely move in chess would be. I wasn’t interested in best moves, accurate moves, or stunning moves. Just one that makes you wonder how you got there.

I was pleased with the result – there was much discussion over the puzzle during an annual Christmas Curry evening with my chess club, and it uncorked a few bits of chess magic to appreciate and admire. However, I fell into the other trap of modern creativity – it had already been done before. Four years ago. And solved. By a much better player than me – GM David Smerden’s blog

Okay so it turns out, all was not lost by any means. On deeper inspection (after the initial heartbreak) I realised that my puzzle was crucially different by being much less logical than Mr. Smerdon’s – probably part of the reason he is a GM and I’m not! His answer to ‘The most unusual move in chess’ was still about best moves – about trying to win (or draw) a chess game. In contrast mine is purely about possible strange notations and what they say about a position. The delights and surprises are in mentally constructing ever wackier positions until you find the limit of impossibility (or a simpler way to notate the move).

smerden image

GM Smerdon’s composition is a superb idea – the best move for White is actually to promote to a bishop on a8 – utilising the bishop’s weakness to eventually force stalemate

The puzzle

If I could trace back my curiosity for ‘unusual moves’ it would be something like 15 years ago, perhaps a match for my school, where I first had to notate a move like ‘R2e4’. The nuance of having to specify that the rook moved from ‘2’ (2nd rank) to clarify which rook was moved to the e4 square could be viewed as an imperfection of ‘modern’ notation (in the old days you would write ‘e2-e4’ if you moved any piece from e2 to e4). But I do not take this view, as this puzzle and its various gems wouldn’t be able to exist without it.

Going back a step, it was clear that ‘R2e4’ would be less likely than a bog-standard ‘Re4’. Moreover, ‘R3e2’ was even more unlikely, as it implies there is one rook on e3 and one rook on e1 (by the way, if there were rooks on say d2 and e1, you would write ‘Rde2’ to move the one on d2 to e2 – as the files take precedence over the ranks.) But I went a bit further into less and less likely moves. How about Ba8 check? It’s not so clear – the bishop cannot check a king itself by moving to a8 (or any corner square).

So this search is one for the most unlikely move in chess.

Consider a move like ‘0-0-0 checkmate!’ Quite unlikely! Although it has been played before in many real games. This thread shows many of these. Strangely it starts with a miniature from a former world champion actually declining to play 0-0-0 checkmate, instead choosing Kd2 mate, perhaps rather like Ronnie O’Sullivan’s famous 146 break , he was happy enough just to show he could do it.

So to the point – ‘unlikely (but possible) moves’. The question became this:

“What’s the most unlikely move to appear in a legal chess game?”

[Note – we are not including annotations in analysis such as ‘!’, or ‘??’. Nor does it include move numbers, for example ‘7.gxh8=N++’. No – this puzzle is just about what you must physically write on the scoresheet.]

Some themes

This is reverse engineering in a sense – rather than seeing a position, finding the best move and writing it down, we see a move written down with no other context – and figure out what it tells you about the position. Back to our Ba8+ example, we find out that the check must be by discovered check, because a bishop moving into a corner attacks no more squares than it was attacking before.

Setting about this problem in a ‘human’ way, a number of ‘unlikely’ themes spring to mind:

  • Castling
  • Check
  • Checkmate
  • Captures
  • More than one of the same piece able to move to the same square

[Note: As far as I know, there is no official notation needed for either en passant or stalemate – so they don’t make it into this puzzle.]

It stands to reason that a checkmate is always more unlikely than a check – or a non-check. So our solution must be a checkmate. It also became clear to me that the theme of ‘More than one piece able to move to the same square’ had the largest scope for unlikeliness. Especially for queens – because you only start with one.

A solution?

There are too many interesting nuggets here to share in just one article. I have decided on my candidate solution for the ‘unlikeliest move’ – which I will share soon enough. But in checking over my own thoughts and explorations for this puzzle – I found something quite surprising; the unique qualities of each piece make for some very different types of thinking in finding their own unlikeliest move.

Therefore I will structure the rest of the musings on this puzzle by piece – part two will cover Kings, Queens and Rooks, and part three Bishops, Knights and Pawns. But here’s a little taster:

Unlikely-knights

Black to play and mate in one? Easy! Nxh8 mate! But which one?

If a knight on the rim is dim, then a knight in the corner must be… mourned for? (Editors note – Keep smoking whatever you are smoking Mike!). That is, unless, it can deliver checkmate! Which move did you choose? ‘Nfxh8#’? or ‘Ngxh8#’? Because therein lies the unlikeliness of all this. Forgetting the position a moment, if the notated move was just ‘Nxh8#’ then the king could easily be on f7 and just be mated directly with the knight. Not so unlikely – and has undoubtedly occurred before. But introducing a second knight by stating the move ‘Nfxh8#’, suddenly there must be a knight g6 as well (the only other square with access to h8) and so the king must be somewhere else – and must be mated by discovery! Hence the concoction above; there are other variations of course, but it shows how much is implied by a single notated move: The two knights must be on f7 and g6, there must be a piece on h8, the king must be on either f6 or g7, two rooks/queens must be on the same file and rank as the king, and other pieces must block all the other squares around him. Quite a kingdom for a horse move!

If you want to give this puzzle a mulling over during the next few weeks, we’ll be back with parts 2 and 3! If you arrive at any candidate ‘unlikely moves’ – please do send them in!


mikecircle

Mike Harris

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

Problems in March with GM Jones

Arguably the greatest of the British problem composers to gain the GM title was Norman Macleod (1927-1991), also a strong player (sometime stalwart of the Gloucestershire team) and one who (probably because of his playing background) aimed to produce problems that were not only aesthetically pleasing but also an enjoyable solving challenge.

One such problem does in fact come close to my aspiration to find problems with game-like positions. This is a mate in 6 problem published in the (then) Yugoslav magazine ‘Mat’ in 1978, where it received 4th Prize:

marchprob1

A lovely mate in 6 from 1978.  Answer below.

It’s only when you do a piece count that you think that Black might perhaps have resigned by now! Still, forcing mate in 6 seems a tall order considering the compactness of Black’s position. Perhaps the composer intends 0-0-0 to be part of the solution? Well, yes, but this is where we diverge from game-like thinking, for the reason for 0-0-0 turns out to be nothing to do with mobilizing the a1R; instead, it is to make the squares a1 and e1 available for the Bishop! (Has this reason for castling ever happened in an actual game??!) The solution (and full marks if, armed with this hint, you’ve been able to visualize how this works) runs: 1.0-0-0! a5 2.Be1 a4 3.Bc3 axb3 4.Ba1! b2+ 5.Qxb2 a5 6.Qxg7!

marchprob2

Once you see the pattern the finish is lovely!

Here is another example of the Macleod wizardry, again from ‘Mat’, this time winning 1st Honourable Mention in 1981:

marchprob3

Mate in 4 with white to play. Answer below.

This time the stipulation is mate in 4. On the face of it, this should make the problem easier, and indeed it does look as though it shouldn’t be too difficult to mate Black in that timescale – indeed, the surprise might be that there is only one way to do this (a prerequisite of this being a sound problem).

The difficulty though is that the black Bishop is a desperado – if it is captured then we have stalemate. If 1.Ra8? then 1…Bb4 and if then 2.R8h8 then 2…Be7. It turns out that the only way to do it is to play 1.Rc8!, threatening 2.Rc4 and so forcing 1…Bd4. Now we play 2.Ra8 and since any other black move fails to 3.Ra4+ Black plays 2…Ba7. Only now can we play 3.R8h8 and mate next move by 4.R8h4.

marchprob4

After 3. R8H8 an unstoppable checkmate is threatened wherever the black bishop moves.


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Christopher Jones

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

Problems in February with GM Jones

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

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

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Andrei Zhuravlev, U.S.Problem Bulletin 1995

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

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

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White to play and win (solution below)

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

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

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

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

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

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The final position


chriscircle

Christoper Jones

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

More mini games for coaching chess

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

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

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

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

Classic mini chess

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

minichess

1.d3 ed??

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

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

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

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

Push or defend

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

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

Push or defend.PNG

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

Endgame cuts

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Mike Harris

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