Monday, 30 April 2007

Short's classic king march

Last week, I posted an inspired king march by Mikhail Tal. Today's game shows Nigel Short launching an incredible attack with his king in the midst of a ferocious middlegame battle with Jan Timman.

Here's what Nigel had to say to Chess Tales about this modern classic:

"I think I could have won with Nh4! (threatening Nxg6! and Rh4 at some moment) I didn't see it at all at the time: I think it was pointed out by Krasenkow (or maybe even his wife) later. Actually I was in quite a bit of time trouble. And yes, I did see the idea of K to h6 when I played Kh2.", Nigel Short

Nigel Short - Jan Timman, Tilburg 1991

1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 g6 5.Bc4 Nb6 6.Bb3 Bg7 7.Qe2 Nc6 8.O-O O-O 9.h3 a5 10.a4 dxe5 11.dxe5 Nd4 12.Nxd4 Qxd4 13.Re1 e6 14.Nd2 Nd5 15.Nf3 Qc5 16.Qe4 Qb4 17.Bc4 Nb6 18.b3 Nxc4 19.bxc4 Re8 20.Rd1 Qc5 21.Qh4 b6 22.Be3 Qc6 23.Bh6 Bh8 24.Rd8 Bb7 25.Rad1 Bg7 26.R8d7 Rf8 27.Bxg7 Kxg7 28.R1d4 Rae8 29.Qf6+ Kg8

This is where Nh4! would have been strong.

30.h4 h5

Short vs Timman Tilburg Chess 1991

And now Nigel treated us to his incredible king march:

31.Kh2!! Rc8 32.Kg3 Rce8 33.Kf4 Bc8 34.Kg5 1-0

100 Not Out

Chess Tales reached a milestone today: it's 100th post. There's been some smooth shots, a few streaky outside edges and the occasional 'hoick' to cow corner, but that's 100 Not Out in just less than 2 months. (I'd prepared a whole post of cricketing analogies, but I'll stop there).

I started the blog as part experiment / part get a few stories off my chest; the way it's taken off has been fantastic.

I've had the opportunity to chat with some of the superstars of the game, but the most rewarding thing has been feedback from the regular readers all over the world: I hope we stay friends for a long long while.

Ok, I'm off to the attic to discover some more 'lost' chess gems.

Bumping into Nigel Short

How often does Nigel Short ask you for advice on playing Kasparov?

That's what happened on Friday to Chess Tales. Ok, it was a 'tongue in cheek' request, but it was the real Nigel Short.
"I could do with some tips on playing Kasparov. Can you give me some advice?" Nigel Short

I'd posted a response on a MySpace forum about chess improvement, suggesting they checked out our Saturday tips on Chess Tales, when Nigel appeared asking for help. A couple of emails later, I had a new 'friend' on MySpace and a couple of comments from one of the truly great chess players to use on Chess Tales (Stay tuned).

Check out Nigel's fledgling MySpace blog for details of his globetrotting playing itinerary.

(p.s. My work, when I'm not playing chess or writing about it, involves helping businesses prepare for the future; I'm particularly interested in the Internet (Web2.0), Social Networks (like MySpace), Blogging and all that. You can check out one of my recent presentations.)

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Definitive list of 'must-have' chess books

Here it is, the definitive list of the 'must-have' chess books.

A couple of weeks ago, Ryan Emmett asked me to produce a list of the best books for an aspiring club player. This task was way way harder than I first imagined, and has also made me realise I have some 'catch-up' reading to do.

I've broken it down into 4 categories, picked 2 books from each, but also listed some other worthy contenders. You'll notice there are no openings books, but only because the best ones depend on which openings you like to play. Reuben Fine's "The Ideas Behind the Chess Openings" nearly made it onto the list as a general guide, but apparently many of the variations are now too dated. As a general rule for openings books, avoid the reference manuals with variation upon variation and concentrate on the strategic concepts / key games / repertoire style books.


  1. "Chess Endings: Essential Knowledge" by Yuri Averbakh
  2. "Endgame Strategy" by Mikhail Shereshevsky

Averbakh's handbook covers all the basic endgame theory that every chess player should know (and it's amazing how many don't); essential... yes! For a guide to strategic endgame concepts and practical play then Shereshevsky is your man.

Going further: Dvoretsky's "Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual", harder work, but the next step after you've mastered Averbakh's book. For a deep insight into endgames arising from specific openings, and for a general improvement in your chess planning and understanding, "Mastering the Endgame (Volumes 1&2)" again by Shereshevsky are wonderful books. Finally, for an endgame reference work there is Keres' classic "Practical Chess Endings".

Middlegame / Strategy

  1. "How to Reassess Your Chess" by Jeremy Silman
  2. "The Art of the Middle Game" by Paul Keres and Alexander Kotov

This was the most difficult category, as I've read few of the great middlegame books. Both of the chosen works were recommended to me, and receive exceptional reviews.

Two books I have read that came close are the legendary "Think Like a Grandmaster" by Alexander Kotov (I'm somewhat sceptical on the first chapters about analysis, but the book remains fantastic) and Dvoretsky's "Secrets of Chess Tactics" (which is only kept off the list because I suspect it's best suited for 2200+ players rather than improving club players). In fact any of the Dvoretsky books could be in this list; I suggest looking out for the revised Olms versions as they appear this year, or picking up cheap used copies of the older works.

Other middlegame classics to consider are "Pawn Power in Chess" by Hans Kmoch, "Modern Chess Strategy" by Ludek Pachman, "Manual of Chess" by Emmanuel Lasker, and "Simple Chess" by Michael Stean. "From Beginner to Expert in 40 Lessons" by Alexander Kosteyev also deserves mention.

Games Collections

  1. "Zurich International Chess Tournament 1953" by David Bronstein
  2. "Understanding Chess Move by Move" by John Nunn

Bronstein's work on the 1953 Candidates tournament was the first book on to my list, and if you are only allowed one book on a desert island, this is the one to take. Thirty rounds of chess between fifteen fabulous players including 3 World Champions, inspiring analysis, arguably the dawning of the new 'modern age' in chess. Nunn's work could equally have gone into the strategy category, a deep but readable study of 30+ of the best games played in the 90's (excellent for studying the classic games, see yesterday's improvement tip).

There are many contenders: Timman's "Art of Chess Analysis" is similar to Nunn but covers great games from the 70's'; Chernev's "The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played" is a fabulous collection of well-chosen games, but I found the annotations annoying. Of course, Fischer's "My 60 Memorable Games" remains a 'must-have' book, but I'd be more tempted by Kasparov's five volume series on "My Great Predecessors" (start with part 5 on Korchnoi and Karpov). Interestingly, what is missing is a book of Kasparov's games by Kasparov.

The 'And Because' Category

Whilst the above books will all help your chess, this final category of books are in because I think it's important to know about the history of the game, in particular the Cold War politics, indoctrinated mindsets and repression that chess has been instrincally linked to:

  1. "Chess Is My Life" by Viktor Korchnoi
  2. "Fischer Versus Spassky: Chess Match of the Century" by Svetozar Gligoric

Also "Karpov - Korchnoi 1978" by Keene covers a fascinating match; "The Soviet School of Chess" by Kotov and Yudovich is incredible propaganda; Nimzovich's "Karpov - Korchnoi 1978" is wonderful from a historical point of view. Happy reading!

On Amazon: Chess Tales 'Must-Have' Books

I'm conscious the list is missing a pure tactics book (find the winning combination); any suggestions from Chess Tales readers welcome.

Friday, 27 April 2007

Chess Improvement 4: Studying the classics

Studying classic chess games is something that the former Soviet players and chess schools placed great emphasis on. It's certainly something you should be considering as part of your chess improvement programme.

chess improvement programmeStudying the games from the great players serves many purposes: you will learn more strategic plans; better understand how to recognise and exploit positional strengths and weaknesses; improve your pattern recognition and ability to form suitable plans; and have greater awareness of tactical opportunities.

My advice is to adopt the approach suggested by Dvoretsky (in Secrets of Chess Training): play through the opening, and then cover up one side's moves and try to guess them, spending at least 45 minutes on studying each game.

You will need the games available in a format that lets you cover up moves easily, and preferably you will want games that have been well annotated. We'll look at making a set of games available via Chess Tales in a suitable format.

Which games should you study? Dvoretsky and Kotov (in Think Like a Grandmaster) suggest beginning with Rubinstein (a master strategist and endgame player) and then moving on to Alekhine and Capablanca. Along with these 3, I suggest working back through the World Champions: Kasparov, Karpov, Fischer, etc.. An alternative is to get a well chosen list of games that has already been prepared, for example Nunn's Understanding Chess Move by Move.

Obviously time will determine how many games you can study, but even just one game per week would see you absorb 52 wonderful games of chess and new ideas by the end of a year.

Studying games like this will also have the side effect of helping you, as Kasparov recommends, to continually broaden and deepen your opening repertoire.

Chess Tales biased?

I've received some correspondence recently suggesting that Chess Tales is biased, that we lean to the left, or as they put it: we are all about 'b****y' d4 openings.

So, embracing the 21st paradigms of Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing, it would be great to hear from the Chess Tales readers:

Which chess openings would you like to see reviewed (strategic ideas, interesting lines, and famous games)?

Friday chess puzzle 3

Today's puzzle is White to play and it looks trivial, but there is a catch: you are only allowed to move your rook once:

The question:

Can White play any king move and still win? Or, has White only got one move that wins in this position? Is so, show me the winning line and how Black draws against the other moves.

Email me on roger AT 21thoughts DOT com. Answers on Wednesday.

Thanks again to Paul Dargan for showing me this position

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Nimzo Indian Sämisch Variation

Few openings are as direct and uncompromising as the Sämisch Variation of the Nimzo Indian, after

1 d4 Nf6; 2 c4 e6; 3 Nc3 Bb4; 4 a3 Bxc3+; 5 bc

White essentially has one idea in mind: I'm going to blast open lines for my rooks and diagonals for my bishops, and checkmate you on the king-side. White often carries out this plan at any cost.

Strategically, it's easy to learn and I've enjoyed playing it; Such direct attacking has notched me some notable scalps. Of course, there is a downside, a well organised defence can expose the lack of flexibility and positional weaknesses (notably the c4 pawn) in White's position.

Over the coming weeks, I'll show you a few games in this line (wins for both Black and White) and some of my own personal favourites. To start with though, let's go back to Zurich 1953, and the second round encounter between Efim Geller and former World Champion Dr. Max Euwe. This game was awarded a brilliancy prize. The notes are abridged from David Bronstein's in his excellent book of the tournament:

Geller - Euwe, Zurich 1953

White initiates a powerful attack on the king by sacrificing his c4-pawn. This attack gave Geller every hope of success, provided Black held to the traditional sort of queen-side counterattack. Euwe, however, carried out two remarkable ideas: 1. Utilizing his queen-side lines of communication for an attack on the king's wing. 2. decoying the enemy's forces deep into his own rear area, with the aim of cutting them off from the defence of their king.

Watch White's pieces in their frontal assault on the king, burrowing further and further, while Black is transferring his forces by roundabout routes.

1 d4 Nf6; 2 c4 e6; 3 Nc3 Bb4; 4 e3 c5; 5 a3 Bxc3+; 6 bc b6; 7 Bd3 Bb7; 8 f3 Nc6; 9 Ne2 0-0; 10 0-0 Na5; 11 e4 Ne8

Black retreats his knight to forestall the pin with 12 Bg5, and to be able to answer f3-f4 with f7-f5, blockading the king's wing. White therefore secures f5 before advancing his f-pawn. It would be senseless to defend the c4 pawn now: that pawn was doomed by White's 5th move.

12 Ng3 cd; 13 cd Rc8; 14 f4 Nxc4; 15 f5 f6; 16 Rf4

White's attack has become rather threatening. Black's previous move was necessary to forestall White's intention to push his pawn to f6, and then, after 16 ... Nxf6, to the pin the knight after all, piling up on the king with the combined firepower of queen, rooks and three minor pieces. Even now, White needs only two moves to transfer his rook and queen to the h-file, and then it might appear that nothing could save the Black king. (it's a wonderful feeling as White to be able to 'thump-down' f5-f6 in this variation, we'll see some games later where this happens - RC)

16 ... b5!

The beginning of a remarkable plan. Clearly, any defensive manouevres on the king-side are fore-doomed, since they involve pieces with an inconsequential radius of activity (.. Rf7, .. Qe7, etc.). But Black does have another defensive resource, and that is counterattack! The bishop at b7, the rook at c8, and the knight at c4 are all well based; all that remains is to bring up the queen. The basis for this counteratack is Black's preponderance on the central squares. With 16 ... b5, Black reinforces the knight on c4 and opens a path for the queen to b6. Still, one cannot help feeling that his operations are too little and too late...

17 Rh4 Qb6

Pinning White's queen to the defence of the d-pawn, Black prevents the intended 18 Qh5. After 17 Qh5 Qb6; 18 Ne2 Ne5, we get the echo variation with the rook unable to get to h4.

18 e5 Nxe5; 19 fe Nxd3; 20 Qxd3 Qxe6; 21 Qxh7+ Kf7; 22 Bh6 Rh8

If Black's 16th move was the beginning of his strategic plan of counterattack, then this rook sacrifice is it's fundamental tactical stroke, with the aim of drawing the White queen still further afield and decoying it from the c2, meanwhile attacking the king.

23 Qxh8 Rc2

Threatening mates in a few moves: 24 ... Rxg2+, 25 ... Qc4+, etc. Detailed analysis requiring more than just one week's time, showed that White could have saved himself from mate by finding a few 'only' and very difficult moves. First, he has to play 24 d5; if then 24 ... Qb6+; 25 Kh1 Qf2; 26 Rg1 Bxd5, White saves himself with 27 Re4!; and on the immediate 24 ... Bxd5, not 25 Rd4 - only 25 Rd1! works: after 25 ... Rxg2+; 26 Kf1 gh, neither 27 Rxh6 nor 27 Rxd5: once again, the only move is 27 Qxh6. Black would still have bishop and two pawns for his rook then, which would leave him good winning chances.

24 Rc1 Rxg2+; 25 Kf1 Qb3; 26 Ke1 Qf3 0-1

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Grünfeld Defence in Argentina

I was contacted online today by one of the authors of the Argentinian chess blog "Solo Ajedrez". The power of social networking software!

They have a team of high calibre players that includes International and FIDE Masters. They tell me their mission is to engage with their readers in an easy form and to avoid conventionality. The site is well worth a visit if you speak Spanish.

I've written a couple of times about the Grünfeld Defence, and was interested to see that it has also been covered recently in a class on Solo Ajedrez. They look at an energetic Black riposte to a sideline that has been tried by Korchnoi amongst others (1 d4 Nf6; 2 c4 g6; 3 Nc3 d5; 4 cd Nxd5; 5 Na4!? e5!?).

Grandmaster Preparation, the first ever chess blog

Grandmaster Preparation by Lyev Polugayevsky is an unusual but captivating chess book; browsing through it yesterday, I couldn't help but notice how much like a blog it feels.

The book is neither a middlegame manual, nor an openings primer, nor a games collection, nor is it a biography. Yet, at the same time, it contains elements of all these. What sets it apart and makes it feel like blog is the personal nature of the narrative: Polugayevsky talks about his thoughts, his emotions, what he was doing during the hours before key games, and his giving birth to and raising his child (a new and highly risky variation in the Sicilian Defence). Much of the material, presented chronologically, reads like the pages of a diary and further cements the blog like nature of the work.

The book starts with a discussion during a walk with Botvinnik, moves on to the Polugayevsky variation in the Najdorf, and finishes with chapters called "In the interval" and "On the eve", where Polugayevsky discusses interesting adjournments, and then games that were important to him, including meetings with Tal, Karpov, Fischer and Spassky amongst others. The chess annotations are very good; the narrative and insights are fascinating.

It's now out of print, but you can source second hand copies via Amazon: Grandmaster Preparation (Pergamon Russian Chess)

Friday chess puzzle #2: solution

I was surprised how quickly some of you solved last week's Friday puzzle from Asztalos vs Ban, Budapest 1956:

Asztalos vs Ban, Budapest 1956, Chess Tales Friday Puzzle

Obviously White can win Black's queen for his rook, but to win the game he also needs to get his king to the fourth rank first. So, the solution is:

1 Rh2+


1 ... Kg7; 2 Rg2+ Kany; 3 Rxg8 Kxg8; 4 Kg2 and the king reaches c4 with a straightforward win (see Chess Improvement #3: Your endgame databank).

But, Black has a clever defensive try:

1 ... Qh7;


2 Qxh7+ would be a mistake, as after 2 ... Kxh7, the Black king reaches c5 with the opposition, i.e. 3 Kg2 Kg6; 4 Kf3 Kf5; 5 Ke3 Ke5; 6 Kd3 Kd5; 7 Kc3 Kc5 with a standard drawn position

However, White can still win: 2 Kg2! and again the White king gets to c4 with a straightforward win: e.g. 2 ... Qxh2+; 3 Kxh2 Kg7; 3 Kg3 Kf6; 4 Kf4 Ke6; 5 Ke4 etc. or 2 ... Kg7; 3 Rxh7+ Kxh7; 3 Kf3

Stay tuned for this Friday's puzzle.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Marching the King

A King marching up a crowded chess board is a rare sight, but almost always the sign of a spectacular game. Most often, it is because the King has been driven up the board by the attacking pieces to be lured into a mating net, but occasionally the march is voluntary.

In this post, I've got an illustration of both. They are from two of the best games in chess history. The first sees Mikhail Tal strolling up the board, sacrificing two pawns in the process, to set up a winning ending. The second is a spectacular king hunt by Alexander Kotov; the most beautiful game played at the famous Zurich 1953 Candidates Tournament.

Tal vs Lissitzin, Instructive ChessThis is the postion after 24 moves in Tal vs. Lisitsin, Leningrad 1956 (Game no.2 in Chernev's "The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played"). Tal has sacrificed a pawn to hem in Black's bishop and break up the kingside pawn structure, but Black is not without compensation: his rook is on the open file, his knight is preparing to invade and White's kingside pawns are potentially vulnerable. Tal, though, hit on an inspired idea to exploit Black's weaknesses: he marched his king up the board:

25 Kd2! Ng3; 26 Kc3 f4; 27 Kd4 Bf5; 28 Rd2 Re6; 29 Nc5 Rh6; 30 Ke5! Bxd3; 31 cd Rxh3; 32 Kd6 Rh3+; 33 Kc7

Tal vs Lissitzin, Instructive ChessIn just 8 moves Tal's king has gone from c1-c7 and he has sacrificed a second pawn. However, he now uses the active position of his king to force a won rook ending:

33 ... Nf5; 34 Kb7 Nd4; 35 Rf2 a5; 36 Rxf5 Ne6; 37 Rg4+ Kf8; 38 Kxc6 Nxc5+; 39 Kxc5 Re6; 40 Kxd5

Tal is clearly better in this rook ending; it's instructive to follow his technique in concluding the game:

40 ... Rb6; 41 b4 ab; 42 ab Ke7; 43 Kc5 Rf6; 44 Rd4 Rf5+; 45 Kb6 Rf6+; 46 Kc7 Rf5; 47 Re4+ Kf6; 48 Kc6 Rf2; 49 g4 h5; 50 gh Kg5; 51 b5 f5; 52 Rb4 f4; 53 b6 f3; 54 b7 1-0

The next game, Averbakh - Kotov Zurich 1953 was greeted with quotes such as "unique in chess literature" and "once in a hundred years". This is what Bronstein had to say about the position after White's 30th move:

Averbakh - Kotov, Zurich 1953 Candidates Chess Tournament
"The creative element of chess is generally thought to consist of three things: logic, accurate calculation, and technuique (this last includes a knowledge of theory). There is a fourth ingredient also, however, perhaps the most intriguing of all, although it is often overlooked. I refer to intuition - chess fantasy, if you prefer.

Occasionally a position arises in the course of a game which cannot be evaluated on general principles, such as pawn weaknesses, open lines, better development, etc., since the state of equilibrium has been upset on several counts, rendering an exact weighing of the elements impossible. Attempting to calculate the variations doesn't always work, either. Imagine that White has six or seven different continuations, and Black five or six replies to each move; it's easy to see that no genius on earth could reach even the fourth move in his calculations. It is then that intuition or fantasy comes to the rescue: that's what has given the art of ches its most beautiful combinations, and allowed chessplayers the chance to experience the joy of creating.

It is not true to say that intuitive games were only played in the days of Morphy, Anderssen and Chigorin (as if now, in our era, everything were to be based totally on positional principles and rigorous calculation!): I remain convinced that, even in the games which received the brilliancy prizes at this tournament, not all of the variations were calculated to the end. Intuition has been and remains one of the cornerstones of chess creativity - of which we shall now see proof positive." David Bronstein, International Chess Tournament: Zurich 1953

Kotov began a remarkable combination by sacrificing his queen:

30 ... Qxh3+; 31 Kxh3 Rh6+; 32 Kg4 Nf6+; 33 Kf5

Averbakh - Kotov, Zurich 1953 Candidates Chess TournamentThe king has been driven into the net of Black's remaining pieces, and now 33 ... Ng4! would have finished the game quickly. Although, after the move Kotov played, 33 ... Nd7, White despite his extra Queen was still unable to defend the position.

You can play through the full games Tal vs Lisitsin and Averbakh vs Kotov online.

Monday, 23 April 2007

How much time do you spend playing chess?

I got an email over the weekend from a Chess Tales' reader in Pune, India. Prashant, a medical student, asked "how much time do I spend playing chess, and against whom?"

I'm sharing it with you because, I thought it would be a great question to put to all you Chess Tales readers.

I tend to 'keep my eye in' by playing on the Internet; I use a couple of sites: Buho21 and more often nowadays on Chess Assistant. Both are free to join, check out my previous post about them. Buho21 is also a great place to practice my Spanish, unfortunately I don't have any Russian to use on Chess Assistant.

I only play blitz chess online (between 1 minute and 3 minutes each / game); it seems crazy, but I don't have the patience for anything longer in cyberspace. I had a spell where I was playing a tournament or two everyday online (and probably about 1-2 hours / day), but due to commitments of starting a new company (and writing a blog!) I've not been a regular visitor recently. You can check me out on either site under the handle 'rogercoathup'; please say "hi" and challenge me to a game.

I also play league chess (3 hour long games) for Tynemouth, where I captain one of the teams. I don't find time to get to many club nights though. Other than that, it's tournaments (usually 3 or 4 weekend swisses each year and the county championship). Looking ahead, I'm planning an International tournament in the summer, and a better organised training schedule in preparation. If that goes well, I'd like focus my energy on these higher level events.

Prashant explained that he gets to spend about 2 hours / day playing, and that is against Fritz or ChessMaster on a handeld.

I don't play against computers myself, but do use them when I'm analysing / playing through a game: an early version of the Fritz engine in ChessBase on my PC, or Hi-arcs / Sigma on my Mac. Buho21 used to have a free engine called Sherlock, but it's no longer available.

The handheld is interesting, I saw someone running Fritz on one the other night; she was analysing my game (against her father) whilst we played. In this case it was innocent, but I guess highlights how they could be used surreptitiously.

So what about you guys? Where do you play and how often? How much time do you spend studying game? And, perhaps more interestingly, how much time would you like to spend studying chess?

Sunday, 22 April 2007

More European Chess Championship photos

The Women's section at the European Chess Championships:

Women's Boards, European Chess Championships

Sophie Seeber outside the venue:

Sophie Seeber, European Chess Championships

Pictures by Martin Seeber

Resources for chess news

I'd been planning to post about the best resources on the web for chess news, but instead will just point you to Mark Weeks, who has compiled an excellent and well annotated list on About, "Elsewhere on the web: resources for chess news".

We like Mark at Chess Tales, and not only because we are in his list of the top 21 chess blogs!

Thinking chess books

One of the Chess Tales' readers has asked me if I could recommend a list of "must-have" chess books. I've started thinking hard, but believe me it's not easy. For example, opening books pre-dominate in chess literature, but with so many openings out there, and everybody having their own favourites, it's difficult to make general recommendations. I've set myself a target though: a top 10 by next Sunday. Keep watching this space!

In the meantime, let me talk about a book that came out recently and has been fighting Kasparov's "Life Imitates Chess" toe-to-toe for the review column inches: "The King's of New York" by Michael Weinreb.

This is not your usual chess book, but more a chronicle of the lives, relationships, and ups and downs of a 'wrong side of the tracks' but highly successful school chess team. Edward R Murrow school is in Brooklyn, New York and draws its students from a diverse range of cultures; the chess team, coached by a former hockey professional, includes a Lithuanian and a Puerto Rican amongst others.

I have to admit I haven't read the book, but it would great to hear the thoughts of any Chess Tales' reader who has. Email me on roger AT 21thoughts DOT com.

You can also check out what the newspapers have been saying about the book, whose subtitle is "A year among the geeks, oddballs and geniuses who make up America's top high school chess team":

"Geeks, oddballs and geniuses", Daily Telegraph (UK) 19th April

"Mad hot chessboard", NY Times (US) 4th March

"Chess with God (and others)", The Guardian (UK) 21st April

"He was more fun in the pawn squad", The Guardian (UK) 22nd April

Saturday, 21 April 2007

Chess improvement #3: Your endgame databank

If you want to succeed at Chess, it's crucial to know how to play fundamental endgames, how to convert those final positions and get valuable points on the tournament board. Equally important, a knowledge of fundamental endings will help you earlier in the game, enabling you to spot opportunities to simplify into positions you know are won, or to create drawing chances when all seems lost.

Kasparov referred to this as "investing in your own bank of endgames": the more endgames you know, the more points you will chalk up on the tournament board. This advice is applicable to all players from beginner to World Champion. The number and complexity of the endgames might increase, but the basic principle holds fast.

In this article, I'll introduce you to some of the 'basic' endings, those that I think it is essential for a novice to learn, and that a club player should know (it's amazing how many don't, even very good ones). I'm going to assume that you know how to checkmate with K+Q vs. K, K+R vs. K, K+2B vs. K; if you don't, then make that your starting point instead (see the book recommendations later).

I won't give variations, instead consider it a checklist of positions to test yourself against. If you need advice for any of these positions, post a comment and I'll happily show you the best continuations. Alternatively, look them up in your endgame book; if you don't have one, it might be time to invest. I'll recommend some at the end of the article.

King and Pawn vs. King

Is this a win or draw for White? Well, the answer depends on whose move it is. Can you play it out with both Black or White to play, and know how it finishes with best play? This is the first ending any chess player should learn and essential to master; consult your endgame book, learn it and also about the concept of "the opposition".

To some of you, this may seem trivial, but here's how Scotland's top woman player at an Olympiad handled it:

Seeing that she was going to lose her pawn on d5, she incredibly resigned! Of course, the position is completely drawn: she simply has to ensure that she meets Kxd5 with Kd3 gaining the opposition and drawing.

If the pawn is a rook pawn, then the ending is almost always drawn. Again check your endgame book to discover the additional drawing resources.

By knowing these basic positions you can make much more informed decisions when determining the best continuation earlier in the game.

King, Rook and Pawn vs. King and Rook
Rook endings are the most frequently encountered ending. They are full of complexities and subtleties that would take several lifetimes to master. A rule of thumb is "the active continuation is usually better than the passive continuation", and as for basic endings, there are two that are essential to know how to play.

The first is how to win this position:

The solution was first published by Lucena over 500 years ago, and involves the concept of "building a bridge"

And the second is how to draw this position, first published by Philidor in 1777:

Other essential endings
Do you know how to play King and Queen vs. King and Pawn on the 7th rank? I used it to good effect in the second round at the recent Edinburgh Chess Congress, sacrificing an extra pawn in order to win the race to Queen and reach this won ending (with Black to move):

Knowing this position was won was essential to being able to determine the winning continuation earlier in the game. I was amazed that my opponent, a strong and rapidly improving junior (around 1800 rated), didn't know this ending and questioned me afterwards about whether he could have drawn the position. Do you know how to win from here?

It's also essential to know that this ending with a Rook Pawn or Bishop Pawn is not winning (unless your King is very close). Do you know the defensive resource that gains the draw with the Bishop Pawn?

The final ending I want to show is the Bishop and Rook Pawn of the wrong colour:

Despite the extra material, White cannot win this position. Black simply moves his King between a8 and b7 and the best White can do is deliver a draw by stalemate. Play it out if you are not familiar with this ending.

Knowledge of Bishop and Rook Pawn of the wrong colour has saved me many half points on the tournament table, by directing games into the ending, e.g. by exchanging off more dangerous pawns.

My concluding advice is:

  1. Build your 'endgame databank' by learning these basic endings (and how to recognise a won, drawn or lost position)
  2. Whatever your strength, work to keep expanding your 'databank' by learning further endings

And the book recommendations:

Averbakh's Chess Endings Essential Knowledge is definitely the place to begin; a guide to handling all the fundamental endings I've discussed and many more.

For endgame reference and some training, then
Practical Chess Endings by Paul Keres remains the best.

And finally, for the strong player looking to improve, you might want to give serious consideration to Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual.


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Chess Tales by Roger Coathup: A collection of online articles about chess and chess players.