14 June, 2015

Newspaper Endgame, Barden Openings

A simple, but intriguing endgame from the Leonard Barden chess column in the Guardian.

Leonard Barden was one of the two chess authors who enriched my schoolboy days, the other being Harry Golombek. 

Although Fred Reinfeld may be very well known in the US, in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s, I had barely heard of him, and, obviously, stuck with home-grown authors.

My local library appeared full of Barden and Golombek books, and after many borrowings, eventually I bought Golombek's "The Game of Chess" and Barden's "Chess" ( I think those were the titles ). I also dabbled with "Teach Yourself Chess", which in those days was written by Gerald Abrahams, another great chess educator, but frankly, not for youngsters, as it is far too erudite.

I still have the Golombek book, but Barden's book is nowhere to be found in my house, maybe its hidden at my parents'. 

A couple of years ago, I saw and bought another Barden book, his 1957 'A Guide to Chess Openings', in hardback, and in remarkable condition for its age ( it was second-hand ).

It is very enjoyable seeing recommendations from 50+ years ago, along with games by players that are distinctly minor now, but presumably were significant at the time, such as Borodin, Unzicker, von Scheltinga, Kramer , as well as stalwarts of the British chess scene like Milner-Barry, Thomas and Yates.

Along with the usual Openings fare, he also has neat comparisons between current ( ie 1957 ) openings and those of 50 years previously, for example annotating and comparing a Spanish Game between Steinitz/Tchigorin in 1892 and Keres/Tarnowski in 1952, as well as the same for a Queen's Gambit.

He concludes that modern (1957) openings are played with "greater exactitude", that modern masters have a "much better defensive technique", but that "no modern master could have surpassed the imagination and dash of Steinitz' final attack." 

I dare say the same holds today, but even more so, especially around defence.

In this book, I like his presentation of the openings, particularly as he gives at least one annotated game in full as a demonstration of his discussed points, plus in complicated openings, he also has diagrams showing "position favourable to Black/White" and giving concrete reasons.

His recommendations are, as was usual for the time, split into positional vs combinative players.  

I won't give them all, but as examples, he recommends combinative players with White, to choose the Vienna Opening or the B-B4 ( ie Bf4 ) line in the Queen's Gambit, or in the Nimzo-Indian, the P-R3 or P-K3  ( ie a3 or e3 ) variations.

For Black, the Sicilian versus P-K4, or else KtxP defences to the Spanish, and the Yugoslav systems in the King's Indian against P-Q4.

Positional players as White are advised to try the Spanish or else the Pirc-Eliskases* system against the King's Indian. 

As Black, out comes the French Defence, or Boleslavsky's variation of the Sicilian against P-K4, and in the Queen Pawn Openings, the Nimzo-Indian.

The book is squarely aimed at amateurs, or rather for use in "match-play", a term which I take to encompass the style of British County Tournaments from that period, similar to that used by William Winter in his excellent "Chess for Match Players" from the same time.

Maybe that "County Play" is the reason,that under "Other Openings"  he gathers the English Opening and gives only a paragraph to 'a quiet system with which the Belgian master Colle scored many successes in the 1920s' . 

These days, as the Colle System, this is championed by many amateurs, along with the London and similar Queen Pawn Systems, as an easy to play opening, but with a bite !

Evidently, match-players in the 1950s did not go for Opening Systems, but rather were encouraged to play 'proper' openings.

Now, back to the puzzle.

Barden describes it as " Black to play in a trivial rook ending. Is there a trick available? ", and that second sentence should be noted, since it is indeed a trivial Rook and pawn ending that any amateur could win as White, but on the other hand, if you are tired or over-confident...

I admit I had the correct idea, but not the actual solution.

Black to play

Hint [ Technically, this is more about what White did wrong after Black's encouragement, than anything else. Chess psychology to the fore! ] ]

Solution [Black chose 1…Kf7! and White quickly replied 2 Rh8?? expecting the standard trick Rxa7? 3 Rh7+ and 4 Rxa7 but found himself tricked after 2…Rh2+! and Rxh8.   ]

* The Pirc_Eliskases system, I cannot find, although I am not a King's Indian player so maybe its re-named these days.( Barden names it as such after d4, Nf6, c4, g6, Nc3).  
Using the example game given by Barden ( L Szabo vs F Molnar, Hungary, 1950, I believe these days it is called the "Anglo-Indian" and is now ECO A15 or E60,. Note that the the "L Szabo" is certainly Laszlo Szabo, but the "F Molnar" is probably Istvan Molnar.  Pirc we should all know :) , but Eliskases was new to me and turns out to be an Austrian Master, with one of his claims to fame being that he beat 3 World Champions ( Euwe, Capablanca and Fischer ) including defeating Capablanca in an endgame. He is probably the only Austrian Master to achieve such a feat !

08 June, 2015

Blitz chess : strange resignation

Blitz chess for me, is addictive, and almost pointless, often together.

It is easy to waste hours online playing it ( hence 'pointless' ) , with practically no "chess" knowledge-gain at all, whilst losing an immense amount of time. That's not to say it isn't enjoyable, just that you need to be honest with yourself about why you are doing it !

I am sure that used properly, in a focused and controlled manner, something can be gained from it, I mean, of course,  something in 'chess' terms, not just an aimless whiling-away the time...

However, I am equally sure that such a gain will work primarily for players who already have the appropriate tactical skill level and so can concentrate on the positive aspects they want out of blitz, rather than constantly avoiding tactical mistakes in the limited time available ( or is that "suffering from the inevitable blunder"  ? ).

This positive aspect is often presented as 'gaining experience of new positions' or  'trying out new openings', ie playing a lot of quick games to end up with a feel of what positions arise from the opening, and then using this as input to the next stage in opening practise, that of adding (more) theory.

For my part, I have re-appraised how I spend my blitz time on the Net.

24 May, 2015

Endgame Queens

This isn't a difficult problem, but I believe I solved it without thinking why it worked.

A few minutes thinking about it afterwards has, I hope, cemented the reasons behind it, which are not just the threat of checkmate from White, but equally avoiding the checks from Black.

White to play
Solution if required [ 1.Qc3 Qb7 2. Qa1  

17 May, 2015

Last Tactics Position, and minor musings on learning from CTB

At the end of this post, is the last position from Chess Tactics for Beginners (CTB ).

Time-wise, and reflecting my lack of obsession regarding a speedy completion of these, I have probably taken a comfortable 9 to 12 months ( in elapsed time ) to do this, with a boost last Thursday for the last 32 examples , some of which I repeated again this morning, since a midnight finish is not the most sensible.

The final position was straightforward, and not involving any technical things such as "opposition", "queening squares" or "shoulder-charging" or the like, just a simple calculation.

I don't think my particular version of CTB exists with Convecta/ChessOK any more, as they have been ' peshka-ising'  their old CD products for some time now.

I suspect that the nearest is now this, which is a 3-part product having approximately the same number of examples to solve ( 2500 ).

CTB was one of the products that was used previously in the chess blogosphere to try to emulate the 'de la maza' tactics splurge ( see here for one example ).  

[ The 'de la Maza' info is viewed statistically here and here by the excellent Empirical Rabbit blog and his story summarised by Heisman here ). ]

Repeating standard tactics a set number of times ( often, the magic number of  7 is mentioned ) was often an initial step in the 'Knights Errant' chess improvers, with a view that such positions were retained and used as a base for further improvement. It should be noted that the target time for completion of these repetitions was generally a lot less than the year I took for one :)

14 May, 2015

Pawn Endgame

The theme in this type of endgame is the pawn structure, or maybe more accurately the squares they can control from the rook file.

White to move

Once you see this, and play a few examples, it becomes very obvious, but I am sure that being presented with this in a game , especially with  limited time, it could seem like a difficult place to be.

However, the idea of the power of the doubled pawns , in conjunction with other blocks, is a useful tool to have and use.

Highlight for solution [1. g5    ]

05 May, 2015

More Radio Chess, Steve Davis and Magma

Hey, don't be turned off my the post subject, chess has little enough media coverage as it is, so any blip on the radar is good  !

The format in this series is a continuation of previous ones , where someone is interviewed over a game of chess about both chess, and their own 'sphere of knowledge/interest/fame', with GM Daniel King giving a rather banal commentary.

This time around there is a distinct chess presence as Garry Kasparov is one of those interviewed, but the series starts with Steve Davis.

Who's he ? asks a large number of readers ?

If you are a snooker fan you will know the name instantly, as he was World Champion in the 1980s, dominating the game for a number of years. His final in 1985 had an amazing 18 million viewers for the last game of the match ( a so-called 'black ball' game as the entire final eventually rested on the last ball of the the last frame). 

Davis lost it to Dennis Taylor, but sealed his place in sporting history.

Chess-wise, he was also a dedicated amateur ( best in his school, apparently ) , although by his own admission not a great player. 

He co-authored a couple of chess books in the 1980s with English GM David Norwood, both firmly aimed at the amateur.