When (not) to Castle

We are taught early on that we should always castle, both to get our king to safety and to develop our rook. That is usually sound advice, and one rarely has a valid opportunity not to castle. Naturally, there are exceptions, and today I would like to talk about those.

I’d split those exceptions into four categories:

  1. Player A has advanced his pawns on the kingside/queenside making it a bad choice to castle in that direction – that could be because a) the pawns don’t sufficiently shield player A’s king and/or b) castling would disrupt potentially powerful play with the pawns
  2. Castling would walk into a powerful pawn storm and/or mating attack – admittedly, I haven’t encountered this situation often.
  3. The king is perfectly safe without castling – that one is usually added to categories #1 and #2, but there’s an example of that which we’ll discuss in a moment.
  4. It’s an endgame – in the endgame, king activity is important, and the chances of getting mated are small.

Take this example:

Chernin

Black to move

In this fascinating position, I was black and without hesitation played 20… Kf7!. On f7, the king is absolutely safe, since white has no concrete threats against it. Also, my rook is better off on the h-file, where it could help with kingside pawn pushes. It should not come as a surprise to you that Kf7 is a good move and that 0-0 is not. This definitely falls into category #1. After pushing all those pawns and having promising prospects on the kingside, castling would simply be absurd.

T. Davis

Black to move

In this game, I was up to my usual risky pawn-grabbing business with black and reached this position. I’ve won a pawn, but my development isn’t the greatest, my king is stuck in the middle, and my h6-g5 pawn pushes appear to be more weakening than aggressive. But anyway, what to do with the king? 16… 0-0 is a bad idea on account of Qh5 and Ng4 business. Therefore, I decided to just play 16… Kf8!. It gets the king off the e-file and more importantly keeps the rook on the h-file. The king isn’t weak – it’s shielded by pawns and is surrounded by friends and family. And his majesty can always go to g7 if I feel the need to connect my rooks eventually.

What category does this fall into? It’s probably category #1, as black has been busy pushing kingside pawns. However, in some scenarios, castling kingside would not be a bad idea in this position, while in the first example, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where castling would be good!

OK, what’s the conclusion from those two examples? In both I pushed my kingside pawns, and as a result my rook was better placed on h8 than on f8. Also, in both examples, the black king was safe. Basically, I reached the same goal as castling – I got a safe king and an active rook. When I started pushing my kingside pawns, I threw basic principles into the garbage bin (admittedly with a good reason). This allows us to arrive to a different principle when you have advanced pawns on the kingside, castling kingside often doesn’t make sense.

Another reason why not to castle – you will likely get mated if you do so! In this case, I’m thinking about openings like the Sicilian where black often keeps his king in the middle and plays on the queenside so that white’s kingside pawn storm doesn’t murder him. This is a frequent theme in the Sicilian and a reason why in many situations, black will delay castling until  the right moment.

The Mysterious …Kf8 in the French

In the French Defense, black often plays Kf8, usually in order to protect the g7-pawn. One example is the following main line position:

Winawer Theory 2

The main moves here are 7… cxd4 and 7… Qc7, but the move 7… Kf8!? Is perfectly playable here. Why? Doesn’t it break all the principles?

OK, I probably can’t explain this one in a paragraph, but I’ll try. If black plays 7… 0-0 (which is a theoretical main line), after 8.Bd3, white starts an attack by targeting h7. The attack is not easy to counter by any means. After 7… Kf8, however, white has no clear way of attacking the black king. Black will focus his play on the queenside, and it isn’t easy for white to counter it. The big drawback of Kf8, however, is that black will have a hard time connecting his rooks – still, that’s something he can live with.

As I said above, these ideas with …Kf8 appear many times in the theory of the French. Sometimes they occur in situations where black can’t castle (or won’t be able to get away with it anyway), but even there it isn’t easy to explain. The French, especially the Winawer, is NOT an easy opening to explain using principles.

Puzzles

Before I finish, I would like to leave you with a few puzzles. Come back on Sunday, and I’ll publish the answers in the comments.

Disclaimer: Just because this article is suggesting that you shouldn’t castle, it does NOT mean that in all the puzzles castling is bad. It’s up to you to decide what’s best.

Puzzle 1

Brandon 1

White to move

Is 25.0-0 a good move?

Puzzle 2

Azarov 1

Black to move

How should black respond to white’s last move 22.Bc5?

Puzzle 3

Sveshnikov Theory

White to move

What is white’s best move in this theoretical position?

Puzzle 4

Cuarta

White to move

In this unusual position, is 24.0-0 a good idea?

Puzzle 5

Last but not least, I should finish with another fascinating and unique idea in the French Winawer.

Winawer Theory 1

Black to move

What is the most-commonly played move here? (Give yourself a pat on the back if you find the idea and haven’t seen it before!!)

Advertisements

My 2017 Recap

Oh man, 2017 is almost over!? I remember New Year’s Eve of 2016 like it was yesterday. There is still one more tournament to go this year, but now is as good a time as any to reflect what happened and play around with the statistics.

I increased my USCF rating from 2434 to 2508 and increased my FIDE rating from 2314 to 2405. More importantly, I got my final IM Norm and became an IM! 2017 was neither my most successful (2014 gets that honor) nor my most turbulent year (that was the one and only 2016). In general, I feel that my volatility had increased without costing me much. Time for the stats!

                                                                  GAME STATS

Win Draw Loss Total
White 45 19 10 74
Black 29 24 14 67
Total 71 42 23 141

 

                                                                 RATING STATS  

Win Draw Loss Overall Average Performance Rating
White 2196 2480 2474 2306 2485
Black 2282 2413 2487 2372 2451

Compared to 2016, there is improvement! It’s unusual that my opponents’ average rating is so much higher when I’m black then when I’m white. I honestly have no idea why this is true…

Average game length: 43 moves. That’s fairly normal (for me at least).

Shortest “game”: 9 moves. You can probably guess the result…

Longest game: 91 moves. That’s what happens when you spend over 35 moves trying to win rook + knight vs. rook. For those of you who are wondering, this game ranks as 8th longest game of all time. I did not finish keeping score (in mutual time trouble) in the game that was for sure my longest – I can only estimate that it was about 120 moves. My longest fully recorded game is 103 moves.

Highest scalp: GM Alex Shimanov (2718 USCF, 2650 FIDE). I covered the game in my article on the Philadelphia Open.

Worst defeat: Duncan Sheppard (2144 USCF, 1785 FIDE). That game was painful. Really painful.

Longest winning streak: 5 games. That was in my eventful tournament in Charlotte…

Longest losing streak: 2 games (only twice!!!).

Longest undefeated streak: 21 games. From the period of September until November, I somehow managed not to lose a game.

Favorite move: I think it’s still my move against Brandon Jacobson which I covered before in this article.

Worst blunder: I actually didn’t blunder any queens this year, though I did benefit from my opponents’ queen blunders! I did actually blunder a rook in one game, but it was in a completely lost position anyway…

Hevia Blunder

Black to move

Here I played 65… Kf8?? and after 66.Bd6+ Ke8 67.Re7+ I noticed that my rook on a3 was hanging! I resigned immediately.

Worst fail: Come on! Not cool!

Most embarrassing moment: OK, that’s hard to choose from…

One high candidate is my round 2 game from the US Amateur Team East. I was completely winning, my team was up 2-0, and I had just turned down a draw offer a couple moves earlier. I soon found myself near-busted and managed to scrape my way to a draw. This was embarrassing, though there was some “glory” because I had “worked hard until 1:30 am to ensure my team victory”…

Another candidate is my first round game in the US Masters, where I did my best to lose to a 2000 with white. I’ll give you a sample position…

Kevin Li

Black to move

I was white. Yuck!! Somehow, I managed to swindle my way to victory in this game! But the possibility that I had gone all the way to North Carolina to play a 9-round tournament in the hope of getting a GM Norm only to lose to a 2000 in the first round was humiliating.

Most painful loss: From a pain point of view, this one is my last round game against GM Ruifeng Li at the Philadelphia Open. Had I won that game, I would have crossed the 2400 rating barrier, gotten my IM title, and gotten a GM Norm. I’ve had more depressing losses, but in the long run, this one hurts the most.

Most important game: My win against Raven Sturt, after which I became an IM. OK, I had two other shots, but this one was successful.

Meanest swindle: I actually haven’t pulled off any sick swindles this year – aka no winning any -10 positions. Therefore, I will leave this one blank.

Weirdest game: When it comes to weird games, 2017 has actually been pretty quiet. There was one little game that should be described as “unorthodox”…

Brandon Weirdo Position

Black to move

I did, however, have one bizarre day, December 10th. I was playing in the Marshall Chess Club Championship, and my morning game looked like this:

Khamrakulov

Black to move

And my evening game looked like this:

Hans

White to move

We see these kinds of typical positions every day…

My New Year’s Resolutions

What? I’m supposed to make New Year’s Resolutions!? About chess!? No way…

My Holiday Shopping Guide

The holiday season is upon us, and with it comes an excuse to shop! Besides stocking up on Chess^Summit merchandise, you could take the opportunity to pile up on chess books!

I’ve based my personal recommendation on material that I myself found useful, interesting, or just plain fun. I did try my best to assign a USCF rating range to each of them. Do not hesitate to post your own suggestions in the comment section.

Openings

The amount of opening books in the market is astounding, especially considering that these are the days when information about openings is available practically everywhere. My personal opinion about opening books is that a book that has a title along the lines of “Winning with Opening ABC” or “How to Beat Opening XYZ” written by a low-key author should be taken with a grain of salt.

For beginners, knowing ideas behind openings is more important than remembering the moves. If you want a not-so-basic but not-so-overwhelming opening book, then I’d recommend Fundamental Chess Openings by Paul van der Sterren. It’s ideal if you are at the level when you should know the rudiments of openings but shouldn’t have to know an encyclopedia of variations – I’d say 1600/1700 and below.

Image result for fundamental chess openings

At the higher levels of chess, knowing opening theory is a must, and I’d recommend anything from the Grandmaster Repertoire by Quality Chess! Those books are high-quality and can be very helpful in both in-depth “research projects” and 10-minute pre-game preparation.

Tactics

These days, the best resources for tactics are online tactics trainers (ChessTempo, chess.com, etc.). Membership to those could make a perfect holiday gift.

One non-beginner tactics book I’d recommend is Forcing Chess Moves by Charles Hertan. I read it when I was around 2300 USCF. The exercises are far from straightforward, some are easier than others, and the minimum rating I’d give it is around 1800 USCF. If you want to hone your tactical skills on very realistic positions, I’d highly recommend it!

Another book I’d recommend is Invisible Chess Moves by Emmanuel Neiman and Yochanan Afek and which concentrates around “invisible moves” that are difficult for humans to spot. It’s a thought-provoking book that anybody could read.

Image result for forcing chess movesImage result for invisible chess moves

 

Middlegame specialties (i.e. positional play, dynamic play, etc.)

For amateurs, I’ll strongly advocate anything written by Jeremy Silman.  I believe everyone should read his book The Amateur’s Mind at one point or another. How to Reassess Your Chess is another excellent book, and so is The Reassess Your Chess Workbook. An off-the-beaten path book I’d recommend is Positional Chess Handbook which I read when I was around 1600-1800 USCF. It’s a great introduction (or semi-introduction) to positional play.

Image result for the amateur's mindImage result for how to reassess your chess

I’ll wholeheartedly recommend anything written by Jacob Aagaard with a warning: IT’S NOT EASY! I’d probably give his Grandmaster Preparation series a minimum rating of 2000 USCF. The late Mark Dvoretsky has also written countless books about middlegames. They are similar to Aagaard’s books both in style and in quality.

There are also two new books, Positional Decision Making in Chess and Dynamic Decision Making in Chess by Boris Gelfand that are AMAZING and are definitely suitable for a wide audience.

Image result for positional decision making in chessImage result for positional decision making in chess

Endgames

I should talk about the dreaded E word. OK just kidding…

For amateurs, I’d recommend Silman’s Complete Endgame Course. It’s divided into chapters based on rating (Class D, Class C, etc.) which I think is really useful. Another book I read and recommend is 100 Endgames You Must Know by Jesus de Villa which is the easy way out of theoretical (rook) endgames.

Image result for silman's complete endgame courseImage result for 100 endgames you must know

Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual is a masterpiece, but a word of caution. I’ll split the book into two parts: rook endgames and all other endgames. The chapter on rook endgames is over 80 (!!!) pages long and is hardcore but brilliant – my memories of reading it when I was about 1800 USCF are not pleasant – while the rest of the book is easier. Even now I would find the rook endgame chapter difficult… If you get Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual give yourself a favor and don’t start with the rook endgames chapter!

As for non-theoretical endgames. There is Aagaard’s book Endgame Play that I had a lot of fun with over the summer. It’s part of the Grandmaster Preparation series and though it isn’t easy by any means, some of the easier exercises are doable. And then there is a favorite of mine, Van Perlo’s Endgame Tactics. It’s a miniature encyclopedia of endgame tricks and tactics. It’s very entertaining, and I had lots of fun reading it while flying to Europe for World Youth in 2015. I should also recommend an “ancient” book, Endgame Strategy by Mikhail Shereshevsky, that I read when I was around 1800.

Image result for van perlo's endgame tacticsImage result for endgame strategy

Chess in General

When it comes to chess improvement, chess psychology, or just chess itself, I’m a big fan of Jonathan Rowson’s books. Another fun book to read it Move First Think Later by Willy Hendriks. It has an eye-catching title and is a very entertaining book to read with some fascinating insight. Stories about massive improvement are also great reads. Two examples are Pump Up Your Rating by Axel Smith and Amateur to IM by Jonathan Hawkins.

I hope you enjoy some of the books while drinking cup of tea or coffee from our Chess^Summit cup.

Chess^Summit Lt Blue T-Shirt Front

I wish you all happy holidays. May they be full of great chess moves (and books)!

The Magnus Effect: Revisiting the Past

Dear WordPress spellchecker: How is “Magnus” not a word???
Sincerely,

A passionate chess player!

Today is November 30th. It’s my aunt’s birthday (yes, it actually is). And it’s also Magnus Carlsen’s birthday! In honor of the occasion (Carlsen’s not my auntie’s, sorry auntie), I decided to thumb through Carlsen’s games – particularly his endgames. I was looking for interesting material from which I could learn something myself. I was especially curious to explore some of his games when he was younger. We all know more or less how he plays these days, and I thought it would be interesting to see how he played back when he was around my rating… Would I be able to relate? Would I understand his great moves as well as his mistakes? Would I make his mistakes and would he have made mine?

What did I find? I found a few instructive fails, though of course everyone has those. At one point I came across an interesting endgame that gave me a “flashback”.

CarlsenAge11

Black to play

Before I go any further, ask yourself the following question: is white winning? Just answer intuitively.

The correct answer is yes! Though white has no immediate win, black has no fortress. Take a look at how an 11-year-old Carlsen wins this endgame flawlessly.

This reminded me of a game of mine which wasn’t that simple. Actually, it wasn’t simple at all! Seeing the Carlsen’s game prompted me to revisit it. The position is similar to the one above, yet is very different. There is no clear win, not even a verdict. And yeah, I was sitting on the wrong side…

Balakrishnan, Praveen (2456 USCF) — Brodsky, David (2405 USCF) US Cadet Championship 2016

Praveen1

Is white winning? Probably not, though it isn’t as drawn as you may think… I say “probably” because I have no “official” verification that it is a draw… It goes without saying that fortresses aren’t one of the strong points of engines, and there are way too many pieces on the board for tablebases to be of any use. Unfortunately, the game continuation did not help the “theoretical” is-this-winning debate due to a serious mistake on my part. However, I do not see how white can crack through the “best” defensive setup.

I played 31… h5 making loft for my king. 31… g6? looks suicidal on account of 32.Bc3 ideas, and 31… h6 was also playable. I chose h5, however, because I wanted to prevent white’s kingside expansion, or at least slow it down by forcing him to trade pawns. Praveen played 32.Rb7 tying my king down to the defense of the f7-pawn. I didn’t like 32… f6 on account of 33.Re7, hitting the newly-created weakness on e6. However, that’s what I should have done – as you’ll see in the game, white got a much better version of this. Playing committal moves like 32… f6 are hard, especially in such an early stage of the endgame.

Instead, I danced for the next few moves and let white get into position. The game went 32… Ra1+ 33.Ke2 Rg1 34.Kf2 Rd1 35.Bc3 Rc1 36.Be5 Rc2+ 37.Kg3

Praveen2

Here, I was getting a little too worried about white’s setup and decided to play 37… f6. Looking back at the starting position, my “concession” with f6 was much smaller. First of all, the white king is better-placed now. Second of all, I’ll have trouble playing Kh7-g6 because of Bxf6 ideas (the g7-pawn is pinned).

The game continued 38.Bb2 h4+ 39.Kh3 Rc4 40.g3 hxg3 41.hxg3 Re4 42.Kg4 Re3 43.Bd4 Rd3 44.Bc5 Rc3 45.Bd6

Praveen3

I’ve managed to trade a pair of pawns, but white’s position looks menacing. Black’s best move is 45… Kh7!. The detail I missed was that after 46.Bf8, which seems to win the g7-pawn, black has 46… Rc8! the idea being that the white bishop is pinned after 47.Bxg7? Rg8. White can (and should) naturally try something other than Bf8, but black should breathe a sigh of relief that his king escaped off the back rank. White, however, has resources, and I’m not quite confident enough to declare it a draw, but I believe it should be one.

Instead, I panicked and made the losing move 45… d4?. After 46.Rd7! black is busted because the d4-pawn will fall. The game went 46… Re3 47.Bc7 e5 48.fxe5 fxe5 49.Rd5

Praveen4

We can all agree that black is busted here. I resigned a few moves later.

What’s the moral of the story? First of all, not everything that looks like a fortress is a fortress! And even some of the fortresses have gray areas… My first misstep was not playing f6 earlier in the game – when I finally did play f6, white was much better off. Things got dicey, and one awful mistake was all it took for me to lose.

This is how Magnus Carlsen, Praveen, and many other players win better endgames. Their opponents miss “clean” draws, and things get progressively worse and worse until they can’t bare the pressure anymore and crack. This is an example of me cracking under the “Magnus Effect”. Many players used this strategy before Magnus Carlsen and many will use it after him, but he sure is the current king of this phenomenon.

Happy birthday, Magnus!

Anyway, until next time!

Puzzling through My Game

This time around I want to try something different.

I’ll give you a crazy game I played recently, against FM Matthew Larson, in the form of puzzles, and you try to solve them. Take it as some kind of test with no time limit and no restrictions – just no peeking. I ought to warn you in advance. First of all, these positions are not easy – both my opponent and I are guilty of messing many of these up. Don’t expect to find the answer by looking at the next diagram!!

Even answering only a few questions correctly is great – both my 2400+ opponent and I are guilty of messing some of these up…

Anyway, let the games begin!

Puzzle 1

Larson1

What should black do in this Benoniesque position?

Puzzle 2

Larson2

How should white exchange the DSBs?

Puzzle 3

Larson3

White’s initiative is brewing. How should black counter it?

Puzzle 4

Larson4

What is white’s best move?

Puzzle 5

Larson5

Again, how to counter that initiative?

Puzzle 6

Larson6

How best to parry white’s attack?

Puzzle 7

Larson7

Again, how to parry white’s attack?

Puzzle 8

Larson8

Black has two pieces, but there are coordination and king safety problems. How to solve them?

Puzzle 9

Larson9

The last move before the time control. What should black do?

Puzzle 10

Larson10

Should white play 49.h4?

Puzzle 11

Larson11

Black to play and win!

Puzzle 12

Larson12

Can white hold this?

Puzzle 13

Larson13

Black to play and win!

Now here’s the game starting from the first position… The game contained so many interesting moments, I couldn’t pass the opportunity. And there’s no way I’d be able to describe it in my “conventional” way of highlighting a couple critical moments when in reality there are 13!

If you got a feel for the middlegame position and solved numbers 3-5 correctly, kudos! If you solved puzzles 11-13 correctly and figured out this seemingly simple endgame, another kudos! And if you solved puzzle 7 (which is the hardest IMHO), more power to you! If you feel like it, let me know how you did on the test by replying to this post.

I hope you enjoyed it! Until next time…

The Counterattack

Defense is a very important aspect of chess and even more so at the higher level of chess. Just because something went wrong or things look scary doesn’t mean a chess player should collapse. In this article, I’ll be talking about a key part of defense, counterattacks.

Counterattacks counter attacks (well, duh…). They follow the saying “the best defense is a good offense” which is obviously overgeneralized for picky people like chess players. However, counterattacks can be a handy defense when you think “normal” measures won’t do the trick. First, I should talk about defending against attacks in general.

Rule 1 of defense: Don’t panic (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference intended)

Don’t let your brain freeze up just because you’re under attack. You need to be able to calculate and think straight. You need to trust yourself. Do not overestimate your opponent’s chances. The fact that he is attacking doesn’t mean that there is any real danger.

Rule 2 of defense: Don’t panic

Really, don’t. Ok, now that we’ve covered that, there a couple things I should add.

Rule 3: Don’t go passive

Don’t curl up into a ball to survive an attack, metaphorically speaking. Try to defend against the attack actively. Feel free to counterattack. Of course, sometimes you need to be passive, but unnecessary passivity can be fatal. This is basically the point of this article.

Rule 4: Don’t be afraid to bail out

There’s nothing wrong with saying something along the lines of “My opponent’s attack is dangerous, and I’ll give back some material to get into a worse endgame that I may be able to hold.” That’s totally fine! But that does not mean that you should bail out against every little wimpy attack.

Dumb example: if your opponent is “attacking” you with 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5, that kind of thinking could be used to play 2… Nf6 3.Qxe5+ Qe7 so that you get the queens off and “defend a pawn down endgame”. No, no, no! You should have a concrete reason for bailing out, not just “I’m scared”.

Onto some examples…

Playing with fire

In the following game, I was under fire. Instead of calling the fire department, I started my own little blaze. Though what I did was not objectively correct, it was practical…

Brodsky, David (2388 USCF) – Aldama, Dionisio (2517 USCF) World Open 2016

Aldama 1

I had just won a piece, but black has serious compensation… he has two pawns, the white king is shaky, and white is a bit tied up with the pin on the d-file. However, black is not immediately threatening Red8 because of Qe3, counterattacking the white knight, and Nxf3 would fail to Qf4. However, black has ideas of sacrificing even more material with ideas of Rxd6 Qxd6 and Qf5 and harassing the white king.

Asking my silicon friend what it thinks about this position was quite entertaining… it gives white a little edge (maybe 0.4 or 0.5), though its top moves include the awe-inspiring 25.Rab1! (there’s actually a point behind it). Anyway, I decided to play with fire myself by going 25.Nxf7!? Rxf7 26.Re1!

Aldama 2

I’m not interested in taking the exchange, since black just gets free play. Instead, I’m pinning black up, and I’m considering going f4 or Nc4. Unfortunately, objectively, this entire thing is a draw 😢.

The game went 26… Ree7 (unpinning on the e-file) 27.f4 c4 28.Nxc4

Aldama 4

Here is where IM Aldama went wrong by playing 28… Bxc4?. After 29.Bxc4 Nxc4 30.Qd8+ white grabs the exchange, and black doesn’t have sufficient compensation. White is just much better, and I went on to win.

The correct move was 28… Nxc4!. After 29.Qd8+ Kh7 30.Rxe7 c5 31.Bxc4

Aldama 3

Black has enough to make a perpetual check. There are two ways: 31… Bb7+ 32.Rxb7 Qe4+ 33.Kg1 Qe3+, or the fancier 31… Bxc4 32.Re8 Rf8! 33.Rxf8 Qe4+, with the same perpetual check.

What’s the moral of the story there? Instead of curling into a ball, I started a counterattack myself and managed to bamboozle my opponent. I went for an active choice instead of a passive choice because I felt it was right. What I did wasn’t objectively correct, but it did the trick in practice. It was a weird and complicated position, but hey, who said that chess is easy?

My ultimate counterattack

This game goes into my all-time records. After an unusual opening, I won a piece, but had no development. You’ll see for yourself…

Brodsky, David (2449 USCF) – Jacobson, Brandon (2392 USCF) Marshall FIDE Weekend Feb. 2017

Brandon 4

Yeah, I had a point… White is a piece up, but his kingside is undeveloped. How to develop it? Err, ehm, eh… [insert coughing noise]. The details are unclear.

Black’s best continuation is 15… Rhe8! 16.e3 Na2. After 17.Ra1 Nxc3 18.Qg4+, it looks like black is just losing his queen because the mate on d1 is prevented. However, black has 18… Bd7!, and if 19.Qc4+ black goes back with 19… Bc6. That is just a repetition, and white can go 19.Rxa5 Bxg4, though he technically doesn’t have any advantage in the endgame.

Instead, Brandon played 15… Na2? 16.b4! (this is practically forced) 16… Nxb4

Brandon 5

Black’s attack looks very promising, but white has an incredible idea that saves the day… honestly, if I were to choose a best move from my entire career, I’d probably choose this one. Now, try to solve it! Here’s how the game ended.

What’s the moral of this one? Had I lost this one, it would have probably served as a horror movie shown to beginners to illustrate the importance of development… I’m half joking, but seriously, I could have easily lost in the confusion. However, I kept a clear head and managed to launch a deadly counterattack with my 17th move.

Being under attack isn’t the end of the world, not even the end of your game. For all you know the attack may be completely benign. Don’t panic and calculate. Many attacking games are won not because the attack was fatal to start with, but because the defender made a mistake. Try not to be one of these fatalities.

Pawns vs. minor piece

Here we go again! Material imbalances. The amount of articles about material imbalances seems never ending… don’t worry, there’s only a finite amount of material combinations to write about! Anyway, this time we’ll be taking a look at the pawns versus minor piece imbalance.

On the material scale a minor piece is worth 3 pawns, right? That is true, but don’t assume that three pawns are worth a minor piece! A couple of factors…

  • The number of pieces on the board – with the help of a few cronies, the minor piece can be a lot more effective than the three pawns. The more pieces, the better for the side with the piece.
  • The number of pawns on the board – the more pawns there are on the board means that there is a larger chance that the side with the piece will queen one in the endgame.

A simple example to illustrate point #2: say black has an extra piece and white has pawns on f2, g2, and h2 (original, I know)! If that’s it on the board, then white has all the winning chances, though it is objectively drawn. However, if you add some extra pawns on the queenside, far away from the white king, white is going to be in trouble, if he isn’t lost already.

Of course, other factors in the position should not be ignored, but those two are fairly logical rules that I’ll try to apply to the following three examples from my games.

A “normal” example

Jacobson, Brandon (2316 USCF) — Brodsky, David (2350 USCF) Marshall FIDE Weekend Feb. 2016

Let’s not go to any extremes early….

Brandon 1

This position is unusual. Black is temporarily a pawn up, but the pawn structure is plain bizarre. I could have gone 31… Qe8, but I didn’t like the prospect of dealing with white’s central pawn mass and my shaky g-pawn. However, my silicon friend says black is perfectly fine….

Instead, I went for another option by playing 31… Bxe5+!? 32.dxe5 Qxe5+ 33.Kh1 Rxf1+ 34.Qxf1 Qxe4+ 35.Kh2 b6

Brandon 2

Black temporarily has four pawns for the piece. The g7-pawn is going to fall next move, but the other three pawns are fairly secure. Black’s king will be safe hiding on a6, while white’s king is exposed and could be the victim of a perpetual. There aren’t enough pieces or pawns on the board for white to be better – the position is objectively equal.

The game went 36.Qf8+ Kb7 37.Qxg7+ Ka6 38.Qf6 Qc2+ 39.Kh3 Qf5+

Brandon 3

After the queen trade, white will win black’s remaining pawns on the queenside, but his king is too far away from the queenside. Black will make a draw by getting all the pawns off (he actually only needs to get the c-pawn off because the a-pawn is of the wrong color…). After 40.Kxh4 Qxf6 41.Bxf6 Kb5 42.Kg5 we agreed to a draw.

That part of the game was fairly typical. I sacrificed a piece to get three pawns and equality. However, not all games with this imbalance are typical…

A mess

Breckenridge, Steven (2399 USCF) — Brodsky, David (2300 USCF) UT Brownsville IM Norm Tournament 2015

Yes, this game was a mess. It’s in the databases, you can replay it here. My opponent sacrificed a piece for an attack, but nothing much came out of it. Queens were soon traded, and I had a piece for three pawns. It was a situation where I, with the piece, was on top. Things soon went haywire in time trouble, and after missing a couple wins, I reached this position.

Breckenridge 1

With my last two moves, I decided to bring my king into the game. However, I began to regret that after seeing the strength of the white bishops. Basically I didn’t want to get mated. Therefore, I played 38… Bb3? allowing a rook trade that favors white. Instead, I should have just gone 38… Ra2! where white has no mate (or any trace of mate for that matter). I needed to keep the rooks on, and had I done that, I would have been much better.

White should go 39.Bxa6 Bxd1 40.Bc4+ to get a tempo up version of the game (more about that later). Instead, my opponent played 39.Bc8+?. I should have gone 39… Ke5! 40.Bxa6 Bxd1 41.Bc4 Nd4!, stopping the b-pawn from advancing. Black retains a sizeable advantage there. Instead, I went 39… Kf6? 40.Bxa6 Bxd1 41.Bc4

Breckenridge 2

After reaching the time control, I realized that black doesn’t have much, because the white b-pawn is running fast and will tie up the black pieces. With the king on e5, I could go Nd4 here which would make for a totally different story. Later on, I declined two draw offers in a dead drawn position and tried playing for a win, getting myself in trouble in the process. Fortunately, it wasn’t anything serious, and we made a draw.

What’s the moral of the story? Passed pawns without any heavy pieces on can be annoying and hard to deal with! However, I can’t talk about annoying passed pawns without mentioning the next game.

An absurd situation

Gorti, Akshita (2315 USCF) — Brodsky, David (2430 USCF) Eastern Chess Congress 2016

In this game, I tried some “fake grinding” (aka trying to win an objectively equal/slightly worse position). Everything was within reasonable bounds of equality until I blundered an exchange. Oooooops…. However, I managed to get some noise going, and we reached this position

Akshita 1

White has four (!) connected passed pawns on the kingside, in exchange for a knight that is stuck on the other side of the board. I was really worried here…

Now, how should white win? Let’s first get one thing clear: all four passers will not go marching down the board side by side until the finish line. No, no, no! We’re being realistic here… a fast passer or two should do the job. Black’s hope to survive here is to make noise with the rook + knight combo. In light of that, white’s best move here is 47.Rf5!, giving up the e3-pawn. However, after 47… Rxe3+ 48.Kf6, white can push his g-pawn, and all noise is too late. White is just winning.

Instead, Akshita played 47.Kf4? protecting the e3-pawn. However, after 47… Nc1!, I got the noise I wanted. As crazy as it may seem, white may no longer be winning here! Akshita decided to give up the e3-pawn by playing 48.Rd5 Ne2+ 49.Kg5 Rxe3 50.h4

Akshita 2

The f3-pawn is obviously taboo on account of Rd2+, winning the knight. Now it’s time to bring my king back to civilization with 50… Kc3 and after 51.f4 I played 51… Re8!, harassing the white king. White’s best try is 52.Rd6, with the idea of blocking on g6. However, after 52… Ng3!, threatening a fork on e4, white should go 53.Rc6+ Kd4 54.f5 Ke5

Akshita 3

Black is now fine!

Instead, Akshita gave up yet another pawn with 52.h5 Rg8+ 53.Kh4 Nxf4. White doesn’t have enough to win, and we soon drew.

Conclusion

What’s the overall conclusion? First of all, the power of the pawns should not be underestimated in the endgame, especially with no rooks on the board. In light of that, the side with the piece should, in general, try to keep the remaining pawns on the board, and the side with the pawns should trade pawns – with caution, of course! Blindly following principles is never a good idea!

The pawns vs. minor piece imbalance is a fascinating one and isn’t easy to figure out. Anyway, I hope what I’ve said in this article makes sense, or that at least it’s made you think about it. Until next time!