30 June 2014

Three Fighting Draws

McDonnell -- De La Bourdonnais 1834

The chess games of Alexander McDonnell (1798-1835) offer abundant instruction in tactics. McDonnell, born in Belfast, Ireland, is considered to have been the strongest chess player in Great  Britain during the early 1830s. He is most often remembered, however, for his matches with Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais (1795-1840). McDonnell lost more than half of their 85 games played during six matches. He was thus the runner-up in the first unofficial world chess championship. He also won 27 of those games, however.

For the past several days, I have working through McDonnell's games during my morning coffee. My intention is to go through all of his available games (ChessBase has 110; chessgames.com has 105). Most of his play was at odds, as was customary in his day, so the selection of available games in databases is small. There are 35 games in addition to the match games against Bourdonnais. Two of these are short losses to Captain William Davies Evans, including what is probably the oldest recorded instance of the Evans Gambit. Most of the rest are games played during simuls.

After going through these 35 games neither as fast as Jeremy Silman claims was his habit as a young player, nor slow enough to understand every nuance, I reached the La Bourdonnais match games this morning. They appeared to play by a rule that would remain common for the next several decades: draws do not count and must be replayed. Hence, La Bourdonnais had White through the first four games. Each draw led to another game with the same colors.

Although all drawn, the first three games were battles from the first moves to the finish.

De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe -- McDonnell,Alexander [C21]
London m1 London (1), 1834

1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Nf3 c5 4.Bc4 Nc6 5.c3 Qf6 6.0–0 d6 7.cxd4 cxd4 8.Ng5 Nh6 9.f4 Be7 10.e5 Qg6 11.exd6 Qxd6 12.Na3 0–0 13.Bd3 Bf5 14.Nc4 Qg6 15.Nf3 Bxd3 16.Nce5 Bc2 17.Nxg6 Bxd1

White to move


18.Nxf8? loses material. 18...Bxf3. After the text, White remains down only the sacrificed pawn and retains a slight initiative.

18...Nxe7 19.Rxd1 Nhf5 20.g4 Ne3 21.Bxe3 dxe3 22.Rd7 Rfe8 23.Re1 Ng6 24.f5 Nf4 25.Rd4 Nh3+ 26.Kg2 Nf2 27.Rc4 Rad8 28.h3 h6 29.Re2 b5 30.Rd4 Rxd4 31.Nxd4 a6

La Bourdonnais's aggressive play has led to exchanges and an ending where Black retains the advantage of one pawn, albeit one that will fall.

White to move

32.Kf3 Nxh3 33.Rxe3 Ng5+ 34.Kf4 Rxe3 35.Kxe3

And now it is a knight ending with pawns on both sides. Such knight endings are often sought by players substantially stronger than their opponents because they offer better prospects of victory than rook endings.

35...g6 36.fxg6 fxg6 37.Nc6 Ne6 38.Ke4 Kf7 39.Ke5 h5 40.gxh5 gxh5

White to move

McDonnell has the advantage, but La Bourdonnais has the draw well in hand. As long as he holds, he gets another game with the White pieces.

41.Kf5 Nc7 42.b3 Ke8 43.a4 bxa4 44.bxa4 Nd5 45.Kg5 Ne7 46.Nb8 a5 47.Na6 Ng6 48.Kxh5 Nf4+ 49.Kg5 Ne6+ 50.Kf5 Kd7 51.Ke5 Nd8 ½–½

De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe -- McDonnell,Alexander [C44]
London m1 London (2), 1834

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4

Switching the move order of the first game has led to the Scotch Gambit, an opening occasionally employed as a surprise weapon in our day.

4.Bc4 Qf6 5.c3 d3 6.Qxd3

This time, White recovers the pawn quickly.

6...d6 7.0–0 Qg6 8.Bf4 Be7 9.Nbd2 h5 10.Rfe1 Bh3

McDonnell, too, shows some aggression.

White to move

11.Nh4 Bxh4 12.Qxh3 Bf6 13.e5 dxe5 14.Bxe5 Bxe5 15.f4 Nge7 16.fxe5

This time, it is White who has a vulnerable e-pawn that is far advanced.

16...Qg4 17.Qxg4 hxg4 18.Nb3 Ng6 19.e6 f5 20.Rad1 Nge5 21.Bd3 Rh5 22.Bc2

Black to move

22...Ke7 23.Nd4 Kf6 24.Rf1 Ne7 25.b4 Rah8 26.Ne2 Rxh2

McDonnell wins a pawn.

27.Ng3 g6 28.Bb3 Kg5 29.Rde1 Nd3 30.Re3 Nf4 31.Rf2 R2h7 32.Rd2 Nh5 33.Nxh5 Rxh5 34.Kf2 f4 35.Re5+ Nf5 36.e7 Re8 37.Rd7

Black to move

La Bourdonnais is positioned to win back a pawn, but McDonnell finds the way to another ending with a one pawn advantage.

37...Rh7 38.Rxc7 Rhxe7 39.Rcxe7 Rxe7 40.Rxe7 Nxe7

White to move

The players reach a minor piece ending where the bishop must contend with a knight that fights alongside a superior number of pawns.

41.a4 Kf5 42.a5 Ke5 43.Bd1 g3+ 44.Kf3 Nd5 45.Bc2 g5 46.b5 Nxc3 47.b6 axb6 48.axb6 Nb5 49.Kg4 Nd6 50.Bd3 Ne4 51.Be2 Kd5 52.Bf3 Ke5 53.Be2 Kf6 54.Bf3 Nf2+ 55.Kh5 g4 56.Bxg4 Ke7 57.Bc8 Kd6 58.Bxb7 Kc5 ½–½

The Frenchman survives again.

De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe -- McDonnell,Alexander [C44]
London m1 London (3), 1834

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 Qf6 5.0–0 d6 6.c3 d3 7.Qxd3 Qg6 8.Bf4 Be7 9.Nbd2 Nh6

McDonnell deviates from the previous game.

White to move

10.Rae1 0–0 11.Nd4 Ne5 12.Bxe5 dxe5 13.N4f3 Bd6 14.h3 Kh8

Preparing to thrust the f-pawn forward.

15.Nh4 Qh5 16.Qg3 f5 17.Nxf5 Nxf5 18.exf5 Bxf5 19.Ne4 Bxe4 20.Rxe4 Rf6 21.Rh4 Qf5 22.Qe3 Qd7

White to move

The tension builds in the match as the players keep their queens on the board longer than the first two games.

23.Bd3 g6 24.Be4

La Bourdonnais sets the stage for Aron Nimzovich to articulate the concept of blockade.

24...Raf8 25.Qg3

The g-pawn is threatened.

25...Qg7 26.b4 a5 27.a3 axb4 28.axb4 c5 29.Rb1 cxb4 30.cxb4 Bc7 31.Kh1

Black to move


31...Rxf2? 32.Bxg6

32.b5 Bd8 33.Rg4 g5 34.Bf3 h5 35.Re4 g4 36.hxg4 hxg4 37.Qxg4 Rh6+ 38.Kg1 Qh7

White to move

39.g3 Rg8 40.Qc8 Bb6 41.Qc3 Rxg3+

Exploiting the pinned f-pawn, and the continuation of tactical actions aimed at the rook on b1.

42.Kf1 Bd4 43.Qc8+ Rg8 44.Qc4 Rh1+ 45.Ke2 Rxb1

Black wins the rook


White takes a bishop in exchange.


46...exd4 appears to lead to a draw by repetition due to perpetual checks by White's queen.*

47.Rd2 Rxd2+ 48.Kxd2 Rd8+ 49.Ke2 Qh6 50.Qc3 Qg7 51.Be4 Kg8 52.Qb3+ Kf8 53.Qf3+

Black to move

Again, perpetual check appears to be a resource for White.

53...Qf7 54.Bxb7 Qxf3+ 55.Kxf3 ½–½

After three games without gaining a clear advantage with White, the Frenchman will find his way to victory in game 4 (see "McDonnell Blunders").

*It is my intention to go through these games and write my own comments without reference to engine analysis. I will check my analysis after completing a pass through all games.

27 June 2014

The Camp Workbook

This morning concluded my seventh summer chess camp for elementary age chess players. The first camp was in June 2008 and drew only youth from Deer Park School District, where the camp was part of a very active summer enrichment program. With permission of the summer coordinators, I began recruiting students from outside the district in 2009. The second year, the three hour block was split: 1:45 for the advanced camp and 1:15 for the beginning camp. This time seemed too short for strong youth players, but about right for beginners.

In 2012, I moved the camp to a private school where I was now coaching.* At the new school, I restored the three hour block and extended the camp from four days to five. Although I do not run a beginners camp, a few beginning players join each year. I make accommodations for them with some separate activities. Sometimes I produce a separate workbook for the beginners.

A distinctive element of my camp is the camp workbook. I do not know how common this element is among others who run camps for young players. I am certain that I am not unique. Even so, my changing themes year after year put me outside the norm.

My workbooks generally include annotated games, other related games presented without comments, tactics problems and a short glossary of tactical motifs, essential pawn positions. Some workbooks have more endgame positions, some less. Some elements of the workbooks are carried over from previous years.

My first two camps used the same workbook, except for the date on the cover. In 2010, my camp theme was "Attacking with Anderssen." The 56 page workbook contained several Anderssen games that I annotated for young players (see the link for an example). Also, the tactics problems stemmed from Anderssen's games. I reworked some of these annotations for this year's camp.

In all my camps, awards at the end of the week are based on accumulated camp points. Youth earn camp points for good behavior, solving chess problems, recording their games in the camp tournament, answering questions during presentations, and so on. The winner of the camp tournament does not always accumulate the most points, although that win is also worth some points.

In 2011, I produced my shortest camp workbook (41 pages), but edited it carefully. The focus was Vasily Smyslov's search for truth. I also found tactics puzzles from Smyslov's play. A section from that workbook on rook endings was imported into this summer's workbook, too, but was not included in the camp curriculum. The workbooks always contain more materials than we have time for in camp. Ambitious students go home with study material that will carry them through the summer.

The 2012 camp and workbook profiled a different chess player each day: Jozsef Szen, Paul Morphy, Mikhail Tal, Alexander Chernin, and Yasser Seirawan. This year's workbook recycled some of my materials on Morphy, which are built on the solid work of Valeri Beim, Paul Morphy: A Modern Perspective (2005).

In 2013, I omitted the endings from the workbook, although pawn wars remained part of the week's activities. This ambitious workbook of 59 pages was almost all new material. It had a long section on Gioachino Greco that was built on my work converting all the games and fragments from William Lewis, Gioachino and the Game of Chess (1819) into ChessBase format. Unfortunately, I failed to back-up this database and my hard drive crashed a month after camp. The material included in the workbook is all that remains. There was a shorter section on François-André Danican Philidor, which was also based on work with an old English text.

Most of the materials in this year's workbook were revisions of materials from previous years. However, I added a wholly new section: teacher vs. student. For many years, I have notated games played with young chess players during their chess club practice. I annotated two of these games for the workbook to highlight common errors made by young novice players. A camp theme was learning from errors.
Mistakes are part of chess. It is often said that the winner of a game was not the player who made no mistakes. Rather, the winner made the second to the last mistake. 
Good chess players learn from their own errors. After the game, they analyze with their opponent and often with a stronger player or coach. They seek to understand where they might have improved their play. Even wins are subjected to critical analysis. 
Better chess players learn from mistakes made by other players. The best chess players invest a lot of time studying other players’ games. They look for patterns that will be useful in their own games. They practice finding the critical errors and seeking better moves. They look for new ideas.
Stripes, "Dragon Chess Camp 2014: Basic Training for Chess Success" (7).
After presentation of one of these games, students worked together to identify the errors in a batch of other student vs. teacher games. Among their tasks was to try to discern which player was the teacher.

I also added checkmate in one problems to the start of the tactics problems at the back of the workbook. These proved helpful to the beginning students while also building confidence for the stronger players. At 87 pages. it was my longest workbook so far.

*I continue to coach the teams in Deer Park, as well. I started coaching chess in Deer Park as a parent volunteer, becoming a paid coach when we moved out of the district.

26 June 2014

Second Best

From this position, I played 17.Qh5+, missing the best move. My opponent found the second best move. Then, my reply was second best, too. A sequence of second best moves by both players resulted in an overwhelming advantage for White.

White to move

Would you have found a better move than 17.Qh5+ in a three minute blitz game?

24 June 2014

Pawn Promotion

In a blitz game last night, I was handed a gift by my opponent. I was no better in this game. Alas, my opponent was certain that he had a clear win and missed the critical move here. Twelve moves later, I checkmated him with two queens.

White to move

Had my opponent found the correct move here, I almost certainly would have missed my only chance to stay in the game.

23 June 2014

Missing Things

In my first game of the 2014 Spokane Contenders,* my opponent gave me a pawn early. It seemed to me that he was then trying to generate some tactics to win it back. Somehow, we both missed the moment when he could have done so.

Black to move

I played 16...Nf4. There were several better moves that maintain both the extra pawn and a positional advantage.

Other than this one lapse, my play was solid. I won the game.

*Entry to this tournament is via a system of qualification. There is no entry fee. The players work out the times and places of the games. All games must be completed by August 3. It began just before Memorial Day weekend. The tournament winner becomes the challenger in the Spokane City Championship in mid-August. I won the Contenders Tournament in 2008, tied for first in 2010 (but second on tie-breaks), and again won in 2012.

22 June 2014

Vulnerability on f7

In the King's Gambit, White seeks to attack the vulnerable f7 square immediately. In the nineteenth century, this was business as usual among top chess players. As chess players learned to defend, these immediate assaults and the King's Gambit itself faded from popularity.

Below the top levels, however, the King's Gambit remains a potent weapon. I play it with some regularity every few years, then shift to other openings. Many of the instructive games that I use with youth chess players are King's Gambits.

Black to move

This position arises after the moves 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.Bc4 Bg7 5.d4 d6 6.c3

White's intention with 6.c3 is obvious: bring the queen to b3 to construct a battery against f7. How should Black play?

This position occurred twice in the series of McDonnell -- De Labourdonnais matches in 1834. White won one and Black the other. McDonnell was White in both games. William Lewis had it in one recorded game. Tassilo von der Lasa had the position at least four times, three as White, before he was on the Black side in a game against Adolf Anderssen (one of the featured games in tomorrow's chess camp).

ChessBase Online contains 74 instances of this position. Black scores well with most moves. What is Black's best reply? Stockfish's top choice has been rare. Is the engine's second or third choice superior on positional grounds?

21 June 2014

Camp Warm-Up

My annual chess camp is next week. The young players are greeted each morning with a warm-up exercise. Due to he range of skill levels, I will use two warm-up exercises each day.

This position from a game we will examine Monday morning will be the harder of Monday's two warm-ups.

Who stands better? Explain why.

White to move

12 June 2014

Match Wits with Anderssen

This position arose in Anderssen -- Von der Lasa, Berlin 1851.

White to move

Adolf Anderssen played 9.Nf2, which seems sensible and sound. I wonder, however, whether he considered 9.d4. Is this position a good one for contemplating the sacrifice of a knight?

I am preparing some notes on this game, as well as several others, for my Dragon Chess Camp.

109: Dragon Chess Camp
Instructor:  James Stripes
Camp Location: Lower School
Dates: June 23-27
Times: 9:00am - 12:00pm
Dragon Chess Camp is fifteen hours of fun learning and practicing chess skills, as well as testing them in competition. Participants in chess camp will improve all aspects of their chess game: opening principles, middlegame strategy, tactics, endgame technique. There will be puzzle solving contests and lessons from great masters of the past. Awards will be based on camp points which are earned through each of the camp activities. Each participant will receive a camp workbook packed with chess tips, problems, and instructive games.
Grades: K-6
Tuition: $150

10 June 2014

Rating Inflation

It has become common in the chess world to assert that ratings today are inflated relative to historic ratings. As more and more players surpass Robert J. Fisher's peak rating of 2785, chess enthusiasts lament the inflation that creates the illusion that those players are stronger than Fischer. It cannot be true. Bobby Fisher is the best who ever moved a pawn.

Computer Scientist Ken Regan studies individual positions through computer analysis and compiles databases of hundreds of thousands of such positions. Through examining a player's moves over a batch of positions, he creates an Intrinsic Performance Rating (IPR). He develops methodology to catch cheaters. His analysis is also useful for estimating the Elo rating of players in the past.
What he found was that rating inflation does not exist. Between 1976 and 2009, there has been no significant change in IPR for players at all FIDE ratings ... the IPR for players rated between 2585 and 2615 has remained relatively constant over time. Today's thousands of grandmasters and dozens of players rated over 2700 indicate a legitimate proliferation of skill.
Howard Goldowsky, "How to Catch a Chess Cheater: Ken Regan Finds Moves Out of Mind," Chess Life (June 2014), 30.
Such is one of the many gems in the cover story of this months Chess Life, the magazine of the United States Chess Federation (USCF). I heartily recommend the article.

05 June 2014

Target e6

It has been more than six months since I started working through every game in Chess Informant 113. It is a slow process that I do not pursue every day. Nonetheless, I am finding it instructive. When I finish, I plan to repeat the process through an older issue of Informant. The plan is to work through issues that I possess in both electronic and print versions. I play through the games on my computer screen, but use the print version to record light notes and to serve as a bookmark.

This position arises as a variation in Informant 113/142, Lalic -- Straka, Sunningdale 2011. It strikes me as an almost elementary example of how a player of the White pieces employs checkmate threats against h7 to weaken Black's castled position and wreck Black's central pawn structure. The pawn on e6 is the target.

White to move

Bogdan Lalic gives the line 14.Ng5 g6 15.Qh3 h5 16.Nxe6+-.