Friday, February 2, 2018

Endgame Technique

So how did you go with this position from my last blog post? It is black to play and win! The first question is which pawn should black give up, as any move Black makes drops a pawn. I guess most people would look at dumping the least advanced pawn, so a bishop move backwards or forwards calls out. 1..Bh4 2.Kxf4 Bd8 3.Kf3 Bc7

This is a zugzwang position. Any White move will lead to a worsening of the position. White's bishop is stuck preventing Black's king from coming to h2. So White must make a king move. As Kf2 allows Black's bishop to skewer White's remaining 2 pieces by Bb6+, the only move is 4.Ke2, though this allows Black's king to improve. 4..Kg3

Now if White's king moves, Black will play Kf3 and then Bg3-f2, flushing White's bishop from it's guard post. So White has to let Black's king in. 5.Bc5 Kh2 6.Bd4 Kh1 7.Bc5

White can only play a wait and see policy. But Black now has the winning plan of Bh2-g1 forcing White's bishop away from defending Black's pawn's promotion.

This is a very instructive technique. And even without this technique, I think my junior opponent should keep playing and making me suffer while he had even a 1 pawn advantage. It is something we all have to learn, and taking inspiration from the current World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, in this respect is the way to go. If there is any play left in the position, keep fighting!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Start of Season Rust

The summer holidays give a well deserved rest to many people. Taking a break, a step back from normality, getting away and recharging are all worthwhile endeavours. The summer break comes to an end and we all have to get back to reality. Schools start back, holidays finish and it's back to work, and for chess players, the close season is over and we start our year.

Of course not all players take a summer break from chess. The summer can be a busy time with national championships and junior championships taking place. What that means, is when the new season of club chess begins, some players are decidedly rusty, while others are hotter than ever. There have been a few poor results by pretty good players in the past week, but I'll stick to myself!

I have changed clubs and now play at Box Hill Chess Club. For my sins I was the top seed at the Box Hill Autumn Cup (though I think I should have been second seed to Luis Chan as his FIDE rating is higher than mine) and had to play a junior about 600-700 points below me. Unfortunately, Shawn Zillmann is going to rise over 100 points from his excellent performance in the Australian Junior Championship, bringing him closer to 1700, and his rise is probably not stopping there, so he might be closer to 1800-1900 in real terms. While I'm close to 2200, and should still put players like this away most of the time, in real terms I was playing more like 1700 for this game, and really should have lost.

Shawn played excellently, though a little passively, but he defended and maneuvered well and the game was pretty much equal for much of it.Then towards the endgame, I blundered allowing Shawn a winning advantage of the chance to make an outside passed pawn which had to be dealt with, and while I was doing that, he cleaned up my pawns and went into a same coloured bishop ending with 2 connected pawns while I had none. We finally came to the following position.

Obviously, Black can't play 65..g1=Q as White plays 66.Bxg1 and after 66..Bxg1 Kf4 winning the final pawn. The easiest win (in my opinion) is simply to play 65..Bd6 (dropping it back to a safe square anywhere along the diagonal works) 66.Bg1 (to stop black playing Kh2)

Now Black can simply lose a move with his bishop when White will be in Zugzwang having to give way with either bishop or king. Ok, so I saw this over the bard, and was relieved when Shawn played 65..f4.

I played 66.Bf2 and 66..Bg3 is forced after which I played 67.Bg1 preventing his king from coming to h2.

At this point Shawn's head fell a bit and I could see he was resigned to a draw. I even felt a little sorry for him, as he truly deserved to win. But at this point he offered a draw, and I accepted thinking I'd make a miraculous save. Much to my surprise, this position is still winning for black, and I'm sure Shawn's IM coach will have told him how.

The question is, can you work out how to win this position for black, without using a tablebase or engine (as you're not allowed to use them in the game? I'll post the answer next time!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Isle of Man Reminiscences Pt 1

About a week ago I posted a picture of the British comedian Norman Wisdom. Wisdom lived on the Isle of Man for nearly 30 years towards the end of his life, and his statue is situated in Douglas, the main city of the Isle of Man.

I went to the Isle of Man to visit the chess tournament held there in October won by Carlsen. I was visiting family, and day tripped over, on a day that was shocking weather wise, strong winds and torrential rain. The previous time I had visited the island was when I played chess in 2004. I had a shocking time then too, suffering from a heavy cold at the start of the event, I think I lost my first 4 or 5 games without putting up much resistance. In the end I scored a couple of draws, and won a game, but it was a poor performance that helped me get my first FIDE rating, a lowly 2050ish (I had scored a 2300ish block before at Blackpool earlier in the year, and was hoping for 2200+ to start with).

Anyway, I was walking down the main pedestrian street of Douglas looking for a cafe (I actually went into a tea room, which is par for the course in England) when who should walk down the street towards me but Vladimir Kramnik, cigarette in hand. Kramnik also didn't have a great time in the Isle of Man, and the day I was visiting he drew his game against Lawrence Trent. Kramnik did manage to win his final 4 games to catch up to equal 4th place, but he still lost rating points.

Kramnik wasn't having the best start.

The tournament had drawn a brilliant international field, with a bunch of super strong players. But I was a little disappointed to see so few British players competing. Adams, Short, Howell, Jones are all great players and were fighting for the home country, but the second string of British players, and the many young, hungry talents around the country were absent. Trent, Arkell, Roberson and Eggleston were the only other English players above 2400. The field was limited to a certain number, but it would be good if more locals could play in a field with such superstars of the game. Of course, it might be that English players couldn't or didn't want to play, but they missed a fantastic opportunity to rub shoulders with the best. (The same can be said of Gibraltar, though it is a bit further for ,any UK residents to travel)

But what a field it was. Besides Carlsen, top 10 players Kramnik, Caruana, Nakamura and Anand were all playing, and legends like Short, Timman and Gelfand as well as prodigious talent like Xiong, Tari, Praggnanandhaa and Sarin Nihal. Even visiting and watching is good for the chess soul, let alone playing in the same hall. I remember a similar feeling when going to watch Kasparov-Karpov in London in 1986. There is a huge buzz around, and it just makes you want to go away and work to become a better player. I was even able to watch and take part in a post-mortem to the game Jones-Swapnil which ended in a draw.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Random Photo of the Day

Like most people, I have taken hundreds of photos, but only show a few. There are some that are quite interesting though, some that I've taken that are quite good, and some that have a decent story behind them.

So, here's a photo I took last year. Let's see if anyone knows:

a. who is it?
b. where did I take it?
c. what was I doing in this place?

Friday, January 19, 2018

Pawn Endgames 2

Yesterday, I introduced a pawn endgame between Csom-Suttles Indonesia 1982.

White had played for this position and must have thought the position was better or winning for him. For example, how will Black defend the king side pawns? 1..Ke5 is met by the opposition move 2.Ke3 and Black's king will have to give way as White has extra tempo moves with pawns. The only Black pawn that can move safely is the a-pawn, and that is, in fact, the move Suttles played, 1..a5. However, this doesn't solve Black's problem as after White advances their king 2.Kf3 Black has to prevent it coming to f4, 2..Ke5 and now 3.Ke3 gives white an opposition.

It is easy to see from this diagram that Black's king will be forced to move back. The only waiting move is 3..a4 but then the ball bounces back into Black's court after 4.a3 when Black will have to let white's king into f4. And even though Black can oppose the White king when it gets to f4, by moving to f6, White has spare tempo moves with the h-pawn. 4..Ke6 5.Kf4 Kf6

Now it really is clear to see that White will move their h-pawn and Black's king will have to move giving White's king a way forward. This is exactly what happened in the game, and White won this endgame.

So let's return to the original position:

the lines that I previously considered aren't too difficult to work out with just a basic understanding of pawn endings. So the only other measure is to counter attack. Black should look to run to the queen side with his king and try to promote simultaneously with White. So we come to the stage where we must count how many moves it will take to promote. Black has c6-b6-a5-b4-xc4-d3 and 4 pawn moves on 10 moves. White has f3-f4-xf5-h3-g4 (a trade on g4) then 4 moves with the pawn which equals 9 moves. As Black moves first that means that White will promote and then Black promotes straight after. 1..Kc6 2.Kf3 Kb6 3.Kf4 Ka5 4.Kxf5 Kb5 5.h3 Kxc4 6.g4 hxg4 7.hxg4

Now Black moves the king and both sides will promote simultaneously.However, where black moves their king is important. It might look as if b4 is a good square for black's king aiming at White's a-pawn as well as clearing the way for Black's c-pawn. But then White's king will be able to come back and defend.

7..Kb4 8.g5 c4 9.Ke4! and now if Black advances the c-pawn, White will simply move their king to d3 and that will be the end of promotion.

Black will have to advance his king to c3 which loses valuable time in the pawn race and White will promote a full move ahead of Black.

The correct move here is Kd3 (d4) shepherding the pawn through and promoting at the same time as White securing a draw.

Hopefully some of these variations will help you think about some key ideas in pawn endgames:

- should I trade into a pawn endgame?
- who has spare tempo moves?
- can either side win a crucial opposition?
- are there counter attacking ideas?
- counting accurately the moves to promotion is a good calculation skill.

Like I said, thse players are not world beaters, and the ending wasn't one of the greatest, but I found it interesting nevertheless.

Loading embedded chess game...

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Pawn Endgames

I saw on the MCC Facebook Page an interesting post by FM Michael Baron. Michael said "I have my own list of greatest endgames" but then directed others to a chessgames site called the Greatest  Ever Chess Endgames. It is important for players of all levels to have some knowledge of endgames and some guiding principles to lead one's play. Theoretical endgames become more important as a player gets stronger, but as in opening study, it is probably better to work on general understanding rather than theoretical knowledge. In this respect, looking at great games where great endgame ideas were played is fantastic advice, that you'd expect from an FM like Michael Baron. When an endgame particularly catches your interest, then deeper investigation can be undertaken with a book like Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual, or Muller's Fundamental Chess Endings.

Here's an interesting endgame that I saw recently. It isn't brilliant, and the players aren't overly famous, but it is still interesting. The game was between Csom-Suttles Indonesia 1982.

White is much better in this position. The d5 rook is dominant, while black's king is a bit intimidated. For instance, white can win a pawn straight off with 1.exd6+ Bxd6 2.Rxf5. However, both players were in the first time control and would have been seeing their clock hand turning toward the flag, so the Hungarian Grand Master decided to head for the pawn ending which he must have considered to be significantly better for him. The game saw all the pieces traded over the next few moves:

1.exd6+ Bxd6 2.Rxd6 Rcxd6 3.Rd1 Kc6 4.Bxd6 Rxd6 5.Rxd6 Kxd6 6.Kf2

A big consideration in endgames is whether it is good to trade into pawn endgames. On the more general theme of trading pieces, it usually isn't good to trade your good pieces for your opponent's less good pieces, so one could argue that generally speaking, white has given away the advantage he held by the comparative strength of his pieces. However, if by simplifying into a pawn ending we guarantee a win, then it is an acceptable thing to do.

The question is whether white can win this? What would be black's best try here to defend?

I'll carry this on tomorrow....

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Chess Inspiration with Magnus

Today I was at the Australian Junior Championship in Melbourne. It is a fantastic event with hundreds of kids from across Australia playing, and the venue at Swinburne University is great. There is even an excellent cafe just across the road serving superb coffee, the Axil Coffee Roastery.

So I have been chatting to some people,and looking at some of the kids game, a pretty good way to spend some time!

The question that always interests me as a chess coach is how can you bridge the gap between teaching and engaging? How can you improve someone's game while keeping it fun? There has to be some inspiration to guide the education. For oldies like me, it can be difficult to remember exactly what I found inspirational as a child, or even a young teenager. And as times change, things that inspire can change.

One thing that is constant are the top players in the game, and talking about Wijk aan Zee and how the superstars are doing is a great inspiration for the kids. (I actually like when the Junior Champs takes place at the same time as the Senior Championship, such as kids in the morning, adults in the afternoon so the kids get to see the best players in the country in action after their own games) There is no bigger superstar at the moment than Magnus Carlsen, so he is currently the biggest inspiration to kids in chess. On my recent trip to NZ I saw a book about Magnus that I nearly bought...

I didn't see much chess, but I learned that Magnus is keen to ride a motorcycle and go punk!

I took a look at my life now that I live in the country, and I finally decided to switch clubs from Melbourne to Box Hill. I have entered the next Friday night Box Hill tournament, the Autumn Cup which starts on 26 January, and I'll start writing about this as it happens. I won't stop writing about MCC which I have a great fondness for, and I'll try to play a weekend event or two this year.

Anyway, I'll be back to chess blogging as well!