Plans in the Scotch Gambit

June 28, 2010

Me and my practice buddy met on FICS the other day. Topic was the Scotch Gambit. I must say, practice buddies are a great improvement “tool”, especially if they happen to be stronger than you! Nothing compares to listening to a stronger player articulate his plans.

We focused on one line of the Scotch Gambit in particular: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Bc4 Nf6 5. e5 d5 6. Bb5 Ne4 7. Nxd4 Ld7 8. Bxc6 bxc6. Here’s the tabia:

The conclusions we reached hark back to two classical principles: the principle of securing the centre before attacking on the flank, and the principle of two weaknesses. To get more concrete, here are some plans for White:

  • castle and develop (obviously)
  • challenge Black’s knight on e4
  • prevent Black from playing c5 (securing the centre before attacking on the flank)
  • attack on the queenside with pawns to provoke a second weakness in Black’s camp and distract Black’s kingside defenders
  • attack on the kingside with the pawn ram f3-f4-f5-f6
  • once you manage to get Black into a bind (if you do), either bring your pieces to the kingside or invade on the queenside

I won’t go into details, and I’m not quite sure how to convert such plans into gifs. Here’s a gif showing key positions from one of our games in which I’m steamrolled by White, who’s putting the above plans into practice.

Speaking of pawn pushes, here’s an idea: don’t move your pieces to squares where you intend to push your pawns ;)

Update: To rub it in, here’s a gif summing up some plans for the player with more space (partly also inspired by Silman’s The Amateur’s Mind).

Some Resources in Rook Endgames

June 23, 2010

I’ve been reviewing the A-section of my one and only endgame book, Silman’s Complete Endgame Course, in particular rook versus rook and pawn on the 4th/5th rank. A couple of months ago, I made some gifs showing the abstract rules of such endgames. This time, I’ve added some more concrete ideas. Here you go:

Pawn on the 5th in the abstract: if the Black king is in the red zone, it’s a draw.

Pawn on the 4th in the abstract: if the Black king is in the red zone, it’s a draw.

So let’s get more concrete! Use your king to defend intrusion squares:

If you are defending, you want your king on the short side of the board and your rook on the long side of the board because of the checking distance:

If defending on the short side, return to attack the pawn to force the king to defend:

Once again: defend intrusion squares with your king.

White’s goal is to escape those checks and advance the pawn; seeking refuge from checks behind his rook is one last resource to achieve that:

Unfortunately in this case, it’s a draw: Black can exchange rooks and gain the opposition. Whenever you offer a rook exchange, you should ask yourself: What happens in terms of opposition? (The other big question is: does the exchange lead to a stalemate?)

Cutting off the enemy king along a rank rather than a file is sometimes the key to victory!

… which is why, once again, Black’s king has to defend the intrusion squares:

To sum up some of the key ideas in rook versus rook and pawn endgames:

  • opposition
  • cutting off the king
  • intrusion squares
  • refuge from checks
  • long side of the board / short side of the board
  • checking distance

Some Mating Patterns

June 18, 2010

I’ve borrowed Vukovic’s The Art of Attack from the library. His introduction to the attack against the castled king has a section on mating patterns. I think this is a good opportunity to make some gifs reviewing some of these patterns.

Two Knights Mate

Arabian Mate (pawn variation)

Damiano’s Mate

Bishop and Queen Discovery Mate

Quiet Bishop and Queen Discovery Mate (this coincidentally featured in one of LinuxGuy’s games recently)

Anastasia’s Mate


Greco’s Mate

Two Queen and Minor Pieces Mates

Good Old Smothered Mate

Some Mates Involving Rooks

ACIS of Caissa Improvement Post #8, or, From Chunk to Plan

June 13, 2010

I would like to draw your attention to this article, “Moving up the Ladder: A Class Player on Gaining 200 Rating Points”, that was recommended by ACIS member Harvey. The author’s suggestions in a nutshell:

  1. hire an instructor
  2. study plans and structures instead of lines / variations
  3. play up the ladder, i.e. play against stronger players, not weaker ones
  4. play serious blitz and analyse your blitz games
  5. solve tactics puzzles daily (30-45 minutes a day)
  6. get in shape

Not to beat a dead horse, but here’s a quick response, anyway:

  1. No money, sorry. I’m already extremely frugal with my chess expenses (no new books, no new chess software), and yet I feel the pain of travelling expenses and club/tournament fees.
  2. YES! (more below)
  3. Makes sense from a rating viewpoint, I guess; but even more importantly, is, I’d say, to play consistently. Don’t don’t care, neither when playing significantly weaker players nor much stronger opponents. Always try to find the best moves within your abilities.
  4. For me, Blitz = a chance to practise openings and plans. And, it’s fun.
  5. Sorry. I want to, I really do. But it just ain’t fun.
  6. See 5.
  7. Also: find yourself a practice buddy! Why does nobody ever mention this? I guess because chess players are more the lonesome ranger type of guy? I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to find a regular online training sparring partner for months… any takers? ;)

Alrighty, back to 3.: Study plans and structures, not variations and lines. The longer I think about it, the more feasible and important this sounds to me. Nothing feels better than investing your position with meaning! Because when you have a plan, it feels like you’re really playing chess. And here I get the impression I have improved. I’m not scoring significantly better yet, but more and more often, I have a sense of what’s going on in a game or position. And more and more often, my moves seem to have purpose. You may have noticed that I haven’t been producing that many chunk-gifs lately. I believe this in fact mirrors this development: I’m still trying to learn new chunks and ideas, but my games are now more about incorporating existing chunks into an overall strategy, or about pursuing a plan such as “dominate the centre, make piece placement awkward for him, then prepare for an attack” or “opt for an isolani and utilise the the potential of open lines/outposts/isolani push“. The gif format doesn’t lend itself to such general plans.

This is not say, though, that there are no more chunks to be had! In a recent game, for instance, I picked up the following two “defensive” chunks: the dangers of unprotected queens behind pawns and of the fianchettoed bishop pawn-pin:

For some reason, I’m more prone or willing to leave the queen unprotected than other pieces when positioning them behind the pawns, perhaps because she’s so mobile and powerful. That often leads to annoying pins. So assess carefully if you can afford leaving your queen unprotected behind your pawns.

Long-range threats along diagonals are particularly tough to spot instantly. That’s part of the appeal of the fianchettoed bishop, especially because the long diagonals (a1-h8 and a8-h1) target the weak b/g pawns or the rooks while at the same hitting the centre. So when you see a fianchettoed bishop, make sure your long-diagonal-danger-sense is in full gear.

In conclusion: I’m going to spend much more time on plans. One effective way of practising this, I believe, is to choose classical openings. My “teachers” here are Jeremy Silman and Katar (and let’s not forget Katar’s commentaries on Their analyses are clear and straight-forward, and often revolve around the domination of the centre and sensible, active piece placement, maintaining the tension in the position and consolidating it until it’s time to attack where your opponent is weakest. This is a philosophy I can understand, and that I think is a tremendous asset for the improving player. It invests their games with meaning, and turns their ideas into plans. Studying master games will be the key component in my future training; not studying them in painful detail, but playing through them rather quickly, trying to understand the general ideas, plans and themes of the game. This is similar to what Dan Heisman advocates. Studying master games in detail is just a waste of time at this level, I believe. The key goal here is to recognise recurring patterns à la “Oh, I’ve seen this knight hopping from f3 to e5 and then sacrificing on g7 before!”. That’s the kind of improvement I’m after.

One other aspect of my recent “improvement”: SCID! I’ve finally converted my annotated Aquarium games into SCID databases and I intend to use only SCID in the future. It’s not particularly intuitive and takes quite some time getting into, but I think it’s worth the effort. If you can handle SCID, you won’t have to spend those 200 bucks on ChessBase, and with Stockfish, you’ve got a free 3000 ELO engine that saves you the 100 bucks you would have paid for Rybka. Chunky out!

PS: Quick question to anyone using ChessFlash: How do you sign up on the ChessFlash website so that you can publish your games there? Do I have to bothr Glenn by e-mail or am I missing something? WordPress still doesn’t support ChessFlash, and I would like to link to annotated games in the future.