30 May 2015

Bullet Tactics

Pattern Recognition

Combinations that win material can be recognized in an instant when they are comprised of well-known patterns. The pattern in the combination in this position comes from some of Greco's illustrative games and contains elements found in Legall's pseudo-sacrifice. There is no instant checkmate, but White wins material and gets an attack. Checkmate was delivered in twelve moves from this position, and could have been executed one move earlier.

White to move

White won material and drove the enemy king into the open where he can be relentlessly attacked. This position was from a bullet game on Chess.com.

23 May 2015

Three Pawns Problem

The problem of a king opposed to three united passed pawns was examined as early as 1617 by Pietro Carrera, but was first solved by József Szén in 1836.* Knowing the solution is the key to solving this endgame position.

White to move

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to look at an article that Szén wrote on the subject. I could not read the text as it was in Hungarian, but the analysis was a form of algebraic notation and there were diagrams. I also have spent many hours playing these positions against the computer (see "Pawn Wars" [October 2009]).

This morning, I played the diagram against Stockfish after someone posted the position on Facebook.

Stockfish 6 64 -- Stripes,James
Spokane, 23.05.2015

1.h4 Kf8

Black begins with a waiting game.

2.g3 Kg8 3.h5

Now, Black must move to the seventh rank.

3...Kg7 4.f4 Kh7 5.f5

Black to move

This position is critical for Black


Only move. Black is able to occupy any of the three critical squares on the seventh rank, depending upon which pawn White moves.


6.h6 Kh7 7.f6 Kxh6

6...Kg7 7.g5 Kg8

Only move.

White to move

 8.f6 Kf7 9.h6 Kg6

White to move

This position was one of the keys Szen discussed in the article that he wrote about the three pawns problem. It should be clear that White is in zugzwang.


10.h7 Kxh7

10...Kxf7 11.h7 Kg7 12.g6 Kh8

White to move

Playing against Stockfish often means playing until checkmate.


13.g7+ Kxg7 14.h8Q+ Kxh8 15.Ka2 c2

13...c2 14.Kxa3 c1Q+ 15.Kb4 Qb1+ 16.Kc3 Qxg6 17.Kd4 Kxh7 18.Kd5 Qc2 19.Kd4 Kg6 20.Kd5 Qc3 21.Kd6 Qc4 22.Ke5 Qd3 23.Ke6 Qd4 24.Ke7 Qd5 25.Ke8 Kf6 26.Kf8 Qa8# 0–1

*David Hooper and Kenneth Whyld, The Oxford Companion to Chess (1996), 420.

21 May 2015

Anderssen's Checkmate

This position arose in Anderssen -- Zukertort, Barmen 1869.

White to move

20 May 2015

Knowing Better

I failed my training regimen in the last round of the Inland Empire Open. In January, I studied Schulten -- Morphy, New York 1857 and had this game in my active memory when I played my last round on Sunday. Nonetheless, I ignored a lesson that I had extracted from that game when offered the opportunity to apply it to a new position. As a consequence, I lost more quickly than Schulten.

Stripes,James (1877) -- McCourt,Dan (1798) [C31]
Inland Empire Open Spokane (5), 17.05.2015

1.f4 e5 2.e4 d5 3.exd5 c6

White to move

While considering this position, I remembered that I had written that capturing the c-pawn had been Schulten's critical error. I knew that it would be a mistake even earlier in the game as well, but allowed myself to give in to the lure of material game.


4.Nc3 was best with two main possibilities:

4...exf4 5.Nf3
4...cxd5 5.fxe5


This position is equal, according to Nigel Short's annotations in Chess Informant 41/359.

White to move


5.Bb5 was played by Hans Ree against Nigel Short, Wijk aan Zee 1986. Both sides had chances for several moves.

5...Qh4+ 6.g3 Qe4+ 7.Qe2 Qxh1 8.Nf3

8.Qg2 Qxg2 9.Bxg2-+.

Black to move

White's only hope is to trap the queen. Alas, there is no real possibility of that.

8...Bg4 9.e6 Bxf3 10.exf7+ Kxf7 11.Qc4+ Bd5 12.Qf4+ Nf6 13.c4 Re8+ 14.Kf2

14.Kd1 holds out longer. 14...Bf3+ 15.Kc2 Nb4+ 16.Kc3 Qxf1-+.

14...Qxh2+ 0–1

It is checkmate in one. Dan bought me a beer after the game, and we played more chess in the bar. I did better in those games.

16 May 2015

Bad Decisions

It has been several years since I have lost a game on a Saturday during a weekend Swiss. As one of a half-dozen A Class Players at the top of the local pool, I can usually finish Saturday with two wins and my half-point third round bye.

Today, however, I played poorly against an underrated youth in the second round. After both of us pursued a somewhat unorthodox move order in the opening, I tried to be clever and gave my opponent the initiative and better squares for his pieces.

Stripes,James (1877) -- Miller,Travis (1667) [A40]
Inland Empire Open Spokane (2), 16.05.2015

1.d4 e6 2.Nf3 b6 3.g3 Bb7 4.Bg2 f5 5.c4 Bb4+ 6.Nbd2 Nf6 7.0–0 0–0 

White to move


8.a3 Bxd2 (8...Be7 9.b4 a5 10.b5 a4 11.Bb2+/-) 9.Bxd2 d6=

8...a5 9.Rd1 Ne4 

9...Qc8 was played in a 2002 game won by Black.


Still thinking that because I'm the higher rated player, I should have the advantage, I try to keep things complicated. Trading knights was better.

10.Nxe4 Bxe4 11.Bf4 transposes to a game drawn in 1998.

10...Qf6 11.d5?

Pursuing short term nonsense without due consideration of the weakening of the c5 square. I spent far too much time in this game seeking to avoid an exchange of light-squared bishops. Hence, I pursued a convoluted strategy.


11...e5 12.a3 Bc5 13.Be3 Bxe3 14.Nxe3 a4

White to move

15.Qd3 Another bad decision.

15.Qc2 Black has a better position, but the move played increases his advantage.

15...Na6 16.Qc2 Nac5 17.Rf1 Kh8? 

White to move


I missed 18.Nxf5! Qxf5 19.Nh4 Qh5 20.Bxe4

18...d6 19.Nd2 

19.Nxf5 Nxf2 20.Kxf2 Qxf5 21.Qxf5 Rxf5=

19...Nxd2 20.Rxd2–+

Black to move

20...Bc8 21.Nd1

I had planned, but then did not play  21.f4 exf4 22.Rxf4 g5 23.Rf2+/-

21...f4 22.Nc3 Bf5 23.Be4 

The last bad decision. I reasoned that I could protect the pinned piece, but missed the danger to my rook on f1.


23...Nxe4 24.Nxe4 Qg6 25.f3

Black to move

25...fxg3 26.e3


26...gxh2+ 27.Kxh2 Bxe4 0–1

I hate losing. But, if one will compete at chess, there will be setbacks. This may have been my first rated loss to an underrated high school player. I had been lucky in the past, giving up some draws, but no losses.

13 May 2015

Trapped in a Castle

During the War Between the States, often called the Civil War in the United States, Paul Morphy returned to Paris for a visit. While there, he played a few games of chess. One of his games against Jules Arnous de Riviere did not start particularly well. Morphy seized the initiative for the cost of a pawn, but only a tactical oversight by his opponent gave him the edge that he needed.

Black to move
After 14.O-O

Morphy had Black.

14...Bxh2+ 15.Kxh2 f4

Morphy sacrificed a second pawn.

16.Qxe4 Ng5 17.Qd4?

Black has little to show for the two pawns after 17.Qd3.

Black to move

Here the game reached position 178 in GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Knowledge (2000) by Rashid Ziyatdinov. This position may be the sole reason this game is worth remembering.


Down two pawns, Morphy sacrificed a knight.

18.gxf3 Qh4

White king is in danger, trapped in his own fortress.

19.Rh1 Bxh3< The only winning move. Indeed, the only move that does not leave Black worse. 20.Bd2 Rf6

White to move

White has no defense against Rg6 and Bf1.

21.Bxf4 Rxf4 0-1

10 May 2015

The Crooked Path

Most chess players are familiar with a famous pawn ending composed by Richard Reti in 1921. The Black king is in the square of White's pawn, but White's king is not in the square of Black's h-pawn. Nonetheless, White is able to draw by moving the king in a manner than both chases the enemy pawn and threatens to assist his own.

White to move

1.Kg7 h4 2.Kf6 Kb6 3.Ke5

If Black pushes the pawn, then White plays Kd6, supporting promotion of the c-pawn. If Black captures the pawn, then the White king enters the square of the pawn.

A similar idea is presented from a 1947 study by Ladislav Prokeš in Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual (2003).

White to move

White's actions towards support of the a-pawn creates threats that permit the king to reach c6 before Black plays h7-h5. Both pawns are stopped. Here Black has less choice because White queens first and the queen controls Black's promotion square.

1.Kc8 Kc6 2.Kb8 Kb5 3.Kb7 Kxa5 4.Kc6

The third position comes about from play against a computer from an ending that occurred in a game played by Paul Morphy.

White to move

1.Kxf4 draws easily. However, a single careless move here produces another instance of a king able to both support its passed pawn and deal with threats on the other side of the board.

1.Kxh4?? Ke5 2.Kg4 Ke4 49.a3 f3-+

If 2.Kh3 Kd4 49.Kg2 Kc3 and White will stop the f-pawn, but Black's a-pawn will promote.

02 May 2015

Learn from Wins

White to move

From this position, White's position deteriorated and then he won on time. Such is the nature of blitz.

White had been pressing most of the game, but fell short finding the finish. What would you play?