Bishop Pin on g5/f6

April 25, 2012

A rule of thumb for Black when playing against Spanish/Italian openings with a knight on f6: Don’t castle when your dark-square bishop is locked out by a pawn on d6; the pin created by the bishop on g5 against the knight on f6 tends to be very strong. Of course, if you know your theory, you’ll be able to wiggle out of the pin unscathed eventually, but for the less well-versed,having to defend against the pin is extremely annoying indeed. Hence, be wary of locking out your bishop and castling prematurely.

This works in very well in conchunktion (pun drum roll, please!) with the Bindelicious chunk.

Respect for Material

June 13, 2011

Despite the tumbleweeds skittering across this blog, I’m still playing chess, and I believe I’m improving, too, even though it’s not necessarily reflected in my rating. In any case, lack of time, but also lack of chunks has kept me from updating regularly, but today I’ve come across a nifty little chart I’d like to share that I found in Lev Alburt’s Openings for Black, Explained. The chart grades well-known chessmasters on a scale ranging from “healthy disrespect for material” to “healthy respect for material”.

Quite nifty, I thought. And a sensible way of looking at the play styles, too. I believe I currently belong more to the “healthy disrespect for material” camp, but often find myself opening with every intention of sacrificing for the initiative, and then ending up retreating to defend loose pawns at the first sign of danger, or unable to cash in my activity for a concrete advantage.

So I think it’s time for a change. For the past couple of months, I’ve chosen open games and aggressive openings to hone my tactics and improve my grasp of initiative and counter-play. And I think I made enough progres to now try a more conservative opening choice, especially for Black. Alburt’s tome recommends the Accelerated Dragon against e4 and the Nimzo-Indian against d4, so I’ll have a shot at that and see how it goes. If anyone wants to share their own experiences with these openings, you’re cordially invited to share! By the way: I used to believe firmly in the credo that beginners and intermediate players shouldn’t spend too much time on the opening. However, I’ve recently heard GM Jan Gustafsson challenge this, and I’ve also heard from a fellow club player who crossed the 2000 mark within 4 years (and is still improving) that he almost exclusively studied openings. This is not to say that I’ll abandon other areas of study completely, but I might reconsider my priorities. (Not that I’ve got much time to study chess these days, anyway.)

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).

Notes on Bishops and Knights

March 20, 2010

I’ve played two serious games: a draw against a 1850 player and a win against a 1750 player. Both games were in the Ruy Lopez. Two mental notes: First, the theory move after e4 e5 Nf3 Nc6 Bb5 a6 Ba4 Nf6 d4 is exd4. Second, don’t worry too much about unpinning your knight in the Bg5 Nf6 Qd8 setup; just shuffle other stuff around and wait for White to prove that the pin matters.

The other day I picked up Silman’s The Amateur’s Mind from a second hand bookstore. What a treat! After the first chapter on knight and bishop imbalance, I’m already in love. Having amateurs articulate their thoughts and contrasting them with the thoughts of a master is, I believe, an excellent way of approaching and teaching ideas in chess. The way players articulate their ideas tells you a lot about a player’s strength, and deconstructing the narratives of amateurs, as Silman does, is an ingenious method to open up your mind to new ideas and to encourage you to toss out old ones. Of course, introducing new narratives is no easy feat, and there was at least one point in the book so far where I thought: “Jeremy, please don’t just throw in a one-move variation and label it as ‘unpleasant” and expect the amateur to figure out why the line is unpleasant…” but other than that Silman does a good job at fleshing out his own ideas vis-a-vis the amateurs’. One overall lesson so far: do not try to justify move decisions based on narratives that sound nice but have no basis in the reality of the board. Or: don’t play hope chess sugared with idea-speak. Also: ask yourself whether you’re pursuing a plan of your own or whether you’re just responding to your opponent’s moves. Ideally, you ought to be doing both.

Here are a couple of chunks I thought worth illustrating from the first chapter: The first concerns the idea that when you have two bishops, your subsequent plan in a closed position is to open the centre to make space for your bishops. The other two are typical tactical ideas in certain bishop vs. knight setups; in this case Bg5 vs Nf6 and Nc6 vs Bb5. Here goes:

Chunk the first: With a bishop pair, play to open the centre:

Chunk the second: If the knight on f6 is pinned, consider a knight “sacrifice” against h6-g5:

Chunk the third: Black wins a pawn because he attacks White’s bishop while defending his own bishop:

Opening Pawn Fork

November 22, 2009

A super-common theme in openings where the bishops are developed to c4 and c5, respectively. Inspired by a game played and annotated by Prodigal Pawn.

Doesn’t always win material, but often puts the enemy’s developed pieces in disarray while at the same time developing the queen to an active square.


November 8, 2009

(Adult Chess Improvers Driven To Really Improve Practically) is the acronym suggested by Liquid Egg Product over at Confessions of a Chess Novice to reinvigorate the chess improvement blogosphere under a new guise. I have never been a part of the Knights Errant, nor have I expressed much enthusiasm or indeed trust in the circles method or any tactics-heavy training programme. This is not to say that I dismiss tactics entirely; indeed, I do my 5-10 puzzless on ChessTempo every now and then (Rating: 1899.9, RD: 56.15). However, I still feel tactics puzzles are much too concrete and artificial (by virtue of your being told that there is a tactic) to acquire chunks. I value them for practising my calculation ability in general, e.g. for honing visualisation skills or for anticipating moves. I do not see much happening with respect to storing chunks, though.

In answering why this should be so, I am tempted to draw parallels between chess improvement and language development: once we reach a certain aptitude, an expert structure if you will, we will be able to incorporate (often unconsciously) chunks into the existing network of knowledge by merely consuming a lot of source material (in this case, tactics puzzles). As a non-native speaker of English who’s been reading and listening to English a lot, I often surprise myself with expressions that I use or recognise that I wasn’t aware I knew. This, however, is a relatively recent phenomenon. I first had to practise English for several years consistently with traditional methods before I could immerse myself in the language to a degree where I stopped worrying about conscious learning and picked up stuff unconsciously, and I would credit this ability to the fact that I already had an “expert structure” in place. New teaching methods use a similar approach; the “advance organizer” teaching method, for instance, seeks to offer students an overview of a topic first, where everything that needs to be known is already visible, and only then proceed to look at the various elements in detail. This runs counter to more traditional approaches where teachers used to keep knowledge “hidden” from students and only gradually revealed it.

So at this stage, I feel it’s more appropriate for me to absorb abstract principles rather than drown myself in tactics puzzles. And the approach I’m following, obviously, is the Chunky Rook approach: animated gifs illustrating abstract principles or move orders. Have I had any success since the blog’s inauguration in March? Back then, I said: “The moment of truth is the moment I make a (good) decision based upon an idea I retained from watching a gif, the moment I’m looking at wooden pieces on a wooden board when suddenly an animated bishop on blue squares pops into my head …” And I’m very happy to announce that this has indeed been the case. I’ve played roughly twelve serious OTB games since March. I lost 2–0-4 against a player rated at 2000. I have scored 4-1-1 at a tournament in the 1500-1600 bracket. My last four games were 1:0 against a 1730, 0.5:0.5 against a 1800, 0.5:0.5 against a 1700, and a loss against a 1500. Among those games, the last one was perhaps the most motivating. Take a look at this position from the game (I am Black, and it’s my move):

middlegame_bkffileI played badly that day. But what happened at this juncture was very reassuring. When I had looked at this position a few moves ago, I was instantly reminded of this:

middlegame_openlines_08And I remembered that taking the bishop in this situation would be a bad choice, because you help White to bolster his centre and open a dangerous file for the rook. And yet, despite recognising this instantly in the game, I thought, “fuck it”, it’s a knight for a bishop and he’ll have to prove to me that the pattern’s right. Now, the game could have gone either way. There could have been a blunder. According to Crafty, Black’s got an 0.3 advantage in the above situation that drops to 0.0 after the knight captures the bishop. So no big deal, objectively speaking. But that’s not what matters in my opinion. What matters is that the chunk entered my mind at the right time. That I was able to instantly recognise a feature and gauge a potential continuation of the position.

There’s no doubt that the application of such chunks is limited, that they only stick if they are very basic, and that there’s always a danger of neglecting concrete calculation or missing something. And yet I still believe the approach has merit. While analysing a game recently with my opponent, I asked him whether the following knight manoeuvre in the Ruy Lopez was typical, which he confirmed.

opening_ruylopezknightI had not anticipated this manoeuvre during the game, but the moment he moved the knight, an illustrated gif formed in my mind. I believe this is an example of how you become better and better at absorbing patterns or chunks once an expert structure is in place; in this case, the expert structure might be called “certain openings use certain standard manoeuvres” or whatever. Doesn’t really matter. What matters is that when you practise chess on the basis of abstract principles, you create a structure (be it intuition or explicit knowledge) for standard situations, which serves as a coat hanger for absorbing more and more concrete patterns pertaining to that structure. Judging from my current experience, such chunks are extremely valuable to me in practical play. They give me ideas about my own plans and my opponent’s plan tied to concrete move sequences or piece squares, and that makes the calculation load and the burden of deciding on a move much easier — a very practical benefit indeed.

Suffocate the Heavies!

May 30, 2009

Incorporating opening patterns into the Chunky Rook project proves difficult, but I’m going to give it a shot with this pattern from a recent tournament game of mine.

The idea: always consider the breathing space of heavy pieces. We all know that bringing your queen out too early is dangerous because the lady might be chased around (or even hunted down) by minor pieces. But it’s easy to forget that the same goes for rooks: when you see a rook in a cramped position in which your minor pieces are well developed and the pawns near the rooks are hindering the rook or allowing access to your pieces, think about the breathing space of the rook and whether it can be exploited. In this case, the rook at a8 has only two squares to go, allowing an attack with a double threat: gaining the exchange and threatening mate.

The opening: this position arose from a Smith-Morra gambit. The Smith-Morra (or simply “Morra”) is an anti-Sicilian (1. e4 c5 2. d4!? 3. cxd4 c3!? 4. dxc3 Nxc3). Generally, the gambit is not supposed to be uber-sound, but not unsound, either. In other words, it’s perfectly playable until you reach 2000+, at which stage you might want to consider other options.

Be that as it may, the Morra features some interesting attacking ideas, especially if White manages to prevent the Black king from castling. One of the key ideas of the Smith Morra is that three or four of your minor pieces can lead a devastating attack against an uncastled and underdeveloped Black position. Sometimes, the result is mate, and sometimes it’s snatching up a heavy for a minor piece. So when you play the Smith-Morra and exchange queens, consider the attacking potential of your minor pieces against the cramped position: Heavy breathing for the heavies!

The Queensolani

May 17, 2009


Loyal readers, I apologise for the scarcity of updates. A new job has been keeping me not only from regular updates, but also from studying chess and acquiring new ideas. The only chess I get these days is the weekly tournament game. So far, I’m happy with my performance (3 1/2 points out of 4 games). However, my opening leaves much to be desired. At this stage, I’m opting for open games, and inevitably seem to wind up with isolanis. I don’t particulary mind that; the topic of the isolani is fascinating and it forces you to hone your attacking game, which is precisely what I want. Yet many of the subtleties of isolated pawn positions elude me still. One pattern I have to remember is the danger of a pinned queen isolani, arising, for example, in the Panov-Botvinnik attack, my weapon of choice against the Caro-Kann.

This week’s gif, therefore, is devoted to the pattern of the open line and rook-pawn-queen pin in isolated pawn positions. If you play with the isolani, try to anticipate this potential resource for the isolani-attacker, and make sure you can either move or hold on to the isolated pawn without incriminating your piece activity too much (you don’t want to use your pieces to become passive defenders of the isolani!) or, worse even, endangering your queen.

Edit: Apologies for the lame title as well. In my defence: lameness can sometimes serve as a useful mnemonic device!

Fianchettoed Bishops Against Isolated Pawns

April 6, 2009


The isolated pawn or “isolani” is a pawn that can’t be protected by a fellow pawn. The isolani used to be considered a weakness, and is almost always a weakness in the endgame. However, in the middle game, an isolani can also be an asset. If the player with the isolani avoids too many piece exchanges, she may be able to use the isolani as a support base, a battering ram or for some other purpose to assist her pieces in the attack. So if you choose to play with the isolani, you have to be aware that you need to convert it into an advantage during the middlegame, otherwise you’ll end up with a weak pawn in the endgame.

If you play against an isolani, your plan often entails immobilising it and then besieging it with your pieces, forcing your opponent into a passive defence. The gif above illustrates this idea during the opening phase: when you see that the upcoming pawn exchanges leads to an isolani on your opponent’s side, consider fianchettoing the bishops to attack the isolani from the flank.

On a related note: Temposchlucker mentioned in a comment that his goal is “to recognize all kinds of characteristics of a position”. Incidentally, Blue Devil Knight posted a quote by Jonathan Rowson on the danger of evaluating a position on the basis of words and explanations rather than moves:

[T]hinking of such models explicitly while your clock is ticking will generally do more harm than good. Anything other than the images of moves and variations is likely to be unhelpful noise in your head that will lead you to create narratives based on applying the model to the position. This awkward predicament leads you to try to fit the position to what is in your head, rather than allowing you to concentrate on the position and enjoy the experience of playing…[Y]ou will gain more from the material in this chapter if you allow it to ‘seep in’ subtly and quietly, rather than using it as some kind of checklist during your games.

Rowson’s warning struck a chord with me. I used to make up such “position narratives” all the time, and the reason, I believe, was that I saw no meaningful candidate moves, so I tried to make some of the available moves meaningful by constructing a narrative around them. Part of what I’m trying to achieve with the Chunky Rook is to learn more concrete and substantial narratives, namely narratives that are associated with specific positions and specific move sequences. The fianchettoed bishop against isolated pawns is one example for this.