Friday, March 27, 2015

One Tal Order: Botvinnik vs Portisch, Monte Carlo 1968

Before we start, I feel it's only right to have some form of tribute to the father of our country, even if it's a little late. While it may seem like jumping on the bandwagon, it's still basic respect. Because without him, there will be no Singapore; with no Singapore, there will be no NUS High; with no NUS High, there will be no Black Knights; with no Black Knights, I won't be sitting here typing this out.

But as quoted by my platoon sergeant, "Life goes on". He has done his part, and now it's our turn. So don't let yourself get affected in any negative way. Continue to focus on your studies and chess training.

All ready? Let's get on to the main topic:


There is a quote on Wikipedia about Mikhail Botvinnik that piques my interest: "Botvinnik saw himself as a "universal player" (all-rounder), in contrast to an all-out attacker like Mikhail Tal or a defender like Tigran Petrosian."

So we have already seen a superb, all-rounded performance in his game against Capablanca. Now let's take a look at an even more extreme example: A fireworks display of sacrifice against Portisch in the Monte Carlo 1968 tournament. In this game, Botvinnik pretends to fall for a trap, only to spring back with a nasty surprise for his opponent. Move aside, Mikhail Tal.

Did someone call me?

So how does Botvinnik do it the Tal way? Sit back and enjoy the game:

Mikhail Botvinnik vs Lajos Portisch
Monte Carlo 1968

1. c4 e5
2. Nc3 Nf6
3. g3 d5
4. cxd5 Nxd5
5. Bg2 Be6
6. Nf3 Nc6
7. O-O Nb6

7... Bc5 is met by 8. e3 threatening to push d4.

8. d3 Be7
9. a3 a5

To prevent 10. b4.

10. Be3 O-O
11. Na4 Nxa4
12. Qxa4 (D)

Position after 12. Qxa4

Development with threat: The c6 knight is attacked by the Queen and also indirectly by the g2 bishop.

12... Bd5
13. Rfc1

Simple middlegame ideas like placing your rooks on semi-open files prove to be very useful. Here, Botvinnik wants to double his rooks on the c-file so as to increase the pressure against c6.

13... Re8
14. Rc2 Bf8

Possibly part of a plan to push e4.

15. Rac1 Nb8

Openly inviting White to capture the pawn. A alternative variation is 15... Qd7 16. Qb5 Rab8 17. Bc5 Bxc5 18. Qxc5 (D)

Position after 18. Qxc5

White now threatens advancing b4 followed by b5 kicking the knight, before breaking through on the Queenside. Play may continue: 18... Rbd8 19. b4 axb4 20. axb4 Qd6 21. b5 Bxf3 22. Bxf3 Nd4! Where Black uses a nice tactic to prevent loss of material.

Returning to the position after 15... Nb8:

16. Rxc7 Bc6

It seems that White has fallen for a trap here. But in a calculative mind, there is always more than meets the eye...

17. R1xc6! bxc6

Position after 17... bxc6

18. Rxf7!!

Portisch must have received a rude shock upon seeing this move!

18... h6

After 18... Kxf7 19. Qc4+ Kg6 (19... Ke7 20. Nxe5 and Black's king is also fully exposed., while after 19... Qd5? 20. Ng5+ White wins the Queen.) 20. Qe4+ Kf7 21. Ng5+ Ke7 22. Qxe5+ White has an unstoppable attack.

19. Rb7 Qc8
20. Qc4+ Kh8 (D)

Position after 20... Kh8

It seems Black has halted White's plans for now... or has he?

21. Nh4!!

What the __!! Is this Mikhail Tal is disguise? Not one, but two pieces being sacrificed!

21. Qf7 threatening 22. Bxh6 was also a strong alternative.

21... Qxb7
22. Ng6+ Kh7
23. Be4 Bd6
24. Nxe5+

Black crumbles under the relentless attack.

24... g6
25. Bxg6+ Kg7
26. Bxh6+ (D)

Position after 26... Bxh6

After 26... Kxh6 27. Qh4+ Kg7 28. Qh7+ Kf6 29. Ng4+ Ke6 (29... Kg5 30. Qh5#) 30. Qxb7 White's material advantage is overwhelming.


Breathtaking performance by Botvinnik, don't you agree? Not only does he have great positional skills, this game shows that he can also play chess the Tal way: Sacrifice and attack! Now we know how he managed to stay as the World Champion for so long, for doing things the Tal way is certainly one tall order (whoops)!


Friday, March 20, 2015

Rook Endgame practice 5

You know you've spent enough time in camp when you forgot what are "March Holidays". In any case, congratulations on those who survived NSI!

Now back to training. Let's take a look at the 3 rook endgame positions I left y'all with last week:

Position 1: Black to move. Is 1... a7 a good move?

The answer to this is: No! Using either common sense, or by referring to one of our articles discussed some time ago, it is clear that 1... a7?? takes away all legal moves for White's king. Thus, White can force a stalemate by sacrificing his rook. Black should have played 1... Kb4! 2. Rd4+ Kc3, where the mating threats on the back rank will ensure victory.

1... a7??
2. Rd4+ Kb5
3. Rd5+ Kc4
4. Rd4+

"Take my rook!"

4... Kc3

"Take it! I insist!"

5. Rd3+ Kxd3


Position 2: Black to move, can he win?

The position arose from Morozevich vs Gelfand, Amber Rapid 2005. In this situation, Black wants and can create a Lucena Position; his first task will be to cut off the enemy king from the site of battle before advancing his pawn:

1... Rf5+!

Cutting White's king away from the pawn: The first step to attaining a Lucena Position.

2. Ke2 g5
3. Ke3

3. Rg7 Kg2 4. Ke3 Kg3 5. Ke4 Rf4+ 6. Ke3 g4 And Black will slowly advance the pawn to its dream position on g2.

3... Kg2
4. Ke4 Rf4+
5. Ke3 Rf3+
6. Ke2 g4

Notice how Black combines rook checks with the pawn advance. Rook, King and Pawn all work together in this.

7. Re4 g3
8. Rb4 Rf8
9. Rh4 Re8+
10. Kd3 Kf2
11. Rf4+ Kg1
12. Kd2 g2
13. Rf7

Black has achieved his Lucena Position.

13... Rh8
14. Ke2 Kh1

You can look through the whole game over here:


Position 3: White to move. Should he play 1. Ke2 or 1. Ke4?

This is a tricky position, which arose from the game Kochiev vs Smyslov, Lvov 1978. Here, we have a pawn on 4th rank position, where White is cut off by only one file on the long side of the board. Thus this should be a theoretical draw, so long as White is able to prevent Black's rook from reinforcing his pawn.

With that in mind, it should be clear that 1. Ke4! is the correct move here, preventing Black from using Rd5 to protect his pawn and free his king for advancing. Unfortunately, in the actual game White played 1. Ke2?? and went on to lose:

1. Ke2??

The correct move for White was 1. Ke4! Kb5 2. Rb1+ Ka4 3. Rc1 Kb4 4. Rb1+ Ka3 5. Rc1 (D)

Position after 5. Rc1

And now Black can't play 5... Rd5 because White's king is covering that square!. Play may continue 5... Rd4+ 6. Ke3 Kb4 7. Rb1+. So long as White continues eyeing the pawn and raining checks from the first rank, Black can never advance the pawn safely.

Returning to the main line after 1. Ke2:

1... Kb5
2. Rb1+ Ka4
3. Rc1 Kb4
4. Rb1+ Ka3
5. Rc1 Rd5
6. Ke3 Kb2!

Black hits the enemy rook first before White.

7. Rc4 Kb3

After 8. Rc1 c4 Black has a winning "Pawn on 5th rank" position, where White's king is cut off on the long side of the board.


So that's another rook endgame challenge done for the day! Perhaps this should be enough for now... or is it?

Practice 1:
Practice 2:
Practice 3:
Practice 4:

"Silman's Complete Endgame Course" by Jeremy Silman
"Rosen's Chess Endgame Training" by Bernd Rosen

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Challenge yourselves: Rook Endgame practice 5

In between cleaning rifles and getting yelled at for not doing drills properly, my mind will sometimes stray to what could I possibly write for my next article. And I somehow love rook endgames so much I can't resist giving a couple more challenges for y'all... your pain, my gain. Sorry folks :P

Position 1: Is 1... a7 a good move for Black?

Position 2: Black to move, can he win?

Position 3: White to move. Should he play 1. Ke2 or 1. Ke4?

Once again you have until next weekend to attempt this challenge. Have fun!

"Silman's Complete Endgame Course" by Jeremy Silman
"Rosen's Chess Endgame Training" by Bernd Rosen

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Weak Pawn: Kickoff 2015 Chess Tournament (Round 1)

With the time that I have out of camp, you should know by now I like going through a couple of games and discuss them with everyone. Today, I decided to take a look at one of my recorded games which I have pulled back from the dust, to be revived before y'all.

This is one of my favourite wins, despite being blemished with a missed tactic at the start. It was also a relatively tense one for me, having beaten off my opponent's attack to capitalize on his weak pawn.

Opponent vs Checkerboard 5
Kickoff 2015 Chess Tournament 2015 (Round 1)

1. e4 c6
2. d4 d5
3. exd5 cxd5
4. Bd3 Nf6
5. Nf3 Bg4
6. Be2 Nc6
7. O-O e6
8. Bg5 Be7
9. Ne5?!

Position after 9. Nxe5

9... Nxe5?

When I looked through the game again, I realized that I overlooked a simple tactic: 9... Bxe2! 10. Qxe2 Nxd4 11. Qd3 Nc6 12. Qb5 Qc7 after which Black is one pawn with a slightly better position. Once again it shows the importance of tactical vision!

10. dxe5

The e5 pawn will become a target of attack for the rest of the game.

10... Bxe2
11. Qxe2 Nd7
12. Bxe7 Qxe7

As stated, the e5 square is now weak although Black has yet to castle.

13. Nc3

13. Qb5!? is an aggressive take, and leads to a highly sharp position: 13... a6 14. Qxb7 Rb8 15. Qxa6 Rxb2 16. Qc8+ Qd8 17. Qc3 Qb8 18. Nd2 O-O (18... Nxe5? 19. Rab1 Rxb1 20. Rxb1 Qd6 21. Qc8+ Qd8 22. Rb8 Ke7 23. Qb7+ and White wins.) 19. Rfb1 Rxb1+ 20. Rxb1 Qxe5 21. Qxe5 Nxe5. Here, White's chances lies on the Queenside with his outside passed pawn.

13... a6

Since the threat of Nb4-Nd6 is very real.

14. Rad1 O-O!?

During the game I felt that despite White's rook lift threat (Rd3-Rh3), Black will still be safer on the kingside since the centre is still very exposed. To confirm this I looked at other variations:

14... Qg5 15. f4! is simply a waste of tempo for me.

14... Qb4 15. Rb1 O-O 16. f4 Qd4+ 17. Kh1 and now I can't see any good plan for Black apart from f6!? 18. exf6 Qxf6 19. g4 g6 20. Rf3 (D)

Position after 20. Rf3

Here, White's kingside attack can be reinforced with moves like h4 and Rbf1. While Black can respond with his own rook lift (Rac8-Rc5) the position still looks very dangerous for him, and I would much prefer to play White over here.

15. Rd3! Nc5
16. Rh3 f6
17. Qh5

We mentioned in our "How to Attack" Series Part 2 that launching an attack is always a gamble; breaking through leads to victory, while failing leaves your position open to a counterattack. In this case, White has launched a kingside attack, but risks losing his weak e5 pawn should Black succeed in trading to an endgame. Sort of like putting all your eggs in one basket.

And hoping it doesn't drop

17... g6

Combining attack with defence!

18. Qh4

If 18. Qh6 I would still reply 18...  Qg7.

18... Qg7

Preparing Rf2 and Nd7, hitting e5 and protecting h2. This was truly a tense moment for me over the board.

19. Re1 Nd7 (D)

Position after 19... Nd7

More attackers and defenders joining the battle!

20. f4?

After the exchange the e5 square-- already weak-- is further weakened.

20. exf6 Rxf6

Not 20... Qxf6?? 21. Qxh7#

21. Ree3 Raf8

While Black's position has held out against the attack, at least White has no more weakness on e5.

20... fxe5
21. fxe5 Rf5!

Position after 21... Rf5

Active defence. White can no longer stop the fall of e5.

22. Kh1

22. Rf3 might have been better, but it won't stop White from losing a pawn.

22... Raf8

Since White has no way to reinforce e5, I take my time here to first improve my position.

23. Rf3 Rxf3
24. gxf3 Rxf3

Black has wrestled back control on the kingside, with a decisive endgame advantage after the fall of e5.

24... Rxf3 (D)

Position after 24... Rxf3

White's best move now will be 25. Qd4 where after 25... Rf5 26. Qh7 he can still wreck havoc on the Queenside. However, after 24... b6! he has no more counterplay. And after this I could heave a sigh of relief, because both the pawn and the game were mine for the taking!


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Chess Psychology: Ilyin-Zhenevsky vs Lasker, Moscow 1925

Imagine getting into a winning position during a tournament, until you become overconfident and start making mistakes that allow the win to slip away from your hands. I believe many of you (me included!) will identify well with this.

True, these are bad experiences. However, they are also valuable lessons from which we can learn from: Not to be overconfident, and always think properly regardless of how good or bad your position is.

For today, we will see how such psychology can be applied at even the master level. Our demonstrators of the day are Alexander Ilyin-Zhenevsky, one of the founders of the Soviet Chess School, and Emanuel Lasker, 2nd World Champion who held the title for a whopping 27 years. Lasker was well known not just for his Championship achievements, but also for his great contribution to chess theory and literature. He was also reputed to adopt a "psychological" approach to chess, sometimes playing unexpected (and even suboptimal) moves to surprise his opponents.

I have adopted annotations by both Bogoljubov and Ilyin-Zhenevsky into this analysis:

Ilyin-Zhenevsky, Alexander vs Lasker, Emanuel
Moscow 1925

1. e4 c5
2. Nc3 e6
3. Nf3 d6
4. g3 Nf6
5. Bg2 Be7
6. O-O O-O
7. b3 Nc6
8. Bb2 Bd7
9. d4 cxd4
10. Nxd4 Qa5

If 10... Nxd4 11. Qxd4 e5 12. Qd3 the d6 pawn becomes weak.

11. Qd2 Rac8
12. Rad1 Kh8
13. Nce2!? (D)

Position after 13. Nce2

Opening inviting Black's Queen to grab pawns at the risk of getting trapped. A less risky variation is 13. Rfe1 e5 14. Nxc6 Bxc6 but after this, Black threatens to push d5 and put White's e4 pawn under pressure.

13... Qxa2!?

What the ___!? Black boldly accepts the challenge instead of trading Queens. Haven't we been taught that grabbing pawns in the opening is a big mistake? Or does Lasker have something up his sleeve?

Let's take a look at what others have to say about this.

"A rather odd combination of Lasker's which happens to turn out very well indeed; yet, it was fairly risky to give up the Q for and R and a B even though Black does secure a fairly sound position. Lasker probably wished to avoid the exchange of Queens because he considered it to give White a superior position." -- Bogoljubov

In his article "Psychology of Chess Mistakes" (1928), Alexander Ilyin-Zhenevsky describes his thoughts over the board regarding 13... Qxa2:

"To tell the truth, I still don't understand this combination and I think that after this sacrifice, Black has all chances to lose. But over the board, I just thought that Lasker made a mistake. Other players thought the same. This excited me. Can you believe it - yesterday I won against Capablanca, today I'm winning against Lasker! Nothing can stop me now! And so I started to play quite hastily. Though I was also somewhat short on time." -- Ilyin-Zhenevsky

So could Lasker have played 13... Qxa2 simply to throw his opponent off guard and make him overconfident? We shall see.

Claiming victory when it's too early

14. Ra1 Qxb2
15. Rfb1 Qxb1+
16. Rxb1 Rfd8 (D)

Position after 16... Rfd8

We have reached an important stage of the game: Where both sides need to come up with their plans for the middlegame. The obvious features for White are the semi-open a-file and freedom of movement for his pieces on the Queenside, which favours a minority attack for him on that wing.

On the other hand, Black enjoys better control of the centre (the d5 and e5 squares) with his rooks in good position to exploit the semi-open c-file. He could try going for a central advance and re-open the diagonals for his bishops. Another alternative would be to go for a Queenside minority attack like White, using the Nf6-Ne8-Nc7 maneuver to support this advance. This, coupled with his good centre control, could be a great advantage.

17. c4 Ne8
18. f4

White needs to prepare e5 first, clearing the way for his light-squared bishop before turning attention to the Queenside. Unfortunately, this move also weakens the kingside.

18. Nxc6 was a "safer move", according to Bogoljubov.

18... a6
19. Kh1 Nc7

Extending protection for b5 and d5

20. Qe3 Rb8 (D)

Position after 20... Rb8

Black does indeed prepare for a Queenside minority advance. On the other hand White needs to thrust in the centre first before he can realize any Queenside plans.

21. Rd1 Nb4
22. Qc3 a5
23. Ra1

"That Rook had no business here!" -- Bogoljubov

23... b6
24. Qe3?

Allowing Lasker to unleash a tactical blow.

24. e5? trying to break the centre is not a good move either 24... dxe5 25. fxe5 f6 and after 26. exf6 Bxf6 Black gets a passed pawn and threatens e5 (winning the knight).

A better reply would have been 24. Nc2 Nxc2 25. Qxc2 White manages to restrain Black's advance; the best continuation here for Black might be 25...  e5 (25... Bc6 threatening to push e5 leads to 26. Nd4! and Black won't make progress, while after 25... Ra8 26. e5 Ra7 27. exd6 Bxd6 28. Rd1 Bb4 29. Nd4 White threatens 30. Nc6!) 26. f5 (Of course 26. fxe5? is bad, since after 26... dxe5 White gets an isolated pawn and his light-squared bishop has been cut off.) 26... g6 (D)

Position after 26... g6

With a cramped and unclear position, but definitely better for White as compared to the main line.

Now, returning to the position after 24. Qe3 (D):

Find the best move for White

Spot the best combination for White before scrolling down!

24... e5!

"My last move was, of course, a blunder, but my position was already poor even without it. That's the price of excitement over success." -- Ilyin-Zhenevsky

25. Nf5

25. fxe5 makes no difference; 25... dxe5 26. Nf5 Bxf5 27. exf5 Nc2 +-

25... Bxf5
26. exf5 Nc2

Black wins the exchange.

27. Qc3 Nxa1
28. Qxa1 Bf6
29. Qg1

The battle is not over yet; Black is up in material but still needs to demonstrate some technique to attain a decisive advantage.

29... d5
30. cxd5 Nxd5
31. fxe5 Bxe5
32. g4 f6
33. h4 b5

Black needs to exploit his Queenside pawn majority to create a passed pawn. The danger here is that White can try to simplify into a drawn opposite-colour bishops ending.

34. Nd4 Ne3!
35. Qxe3 Rxd4
36. Bf3 a4
37. h5 a3

Black has created his passed pawn, together with a dominating centre. Now his advantage is decisive.

38. Qe2 Rbd8 (D)

Position after 38... Rbd8


With a seemingly weird move, Lasker was able to throw his opponent off guard; a cunning execution of chess psychology. I end off with a fitting quote from Bogoljubov's annotations:

"A game showing Lasker, the great tactician, at his very shrewdest"-- Bogoljubov

"Psychology of Chess Mistakes" (1928) by Alexander Ilyin Zhenevsky

Friday, March 6, 2015

Rook endgame practice 4

I guess I've given y'all enough time to attempt the challenge, so let's go through them:

Position 1: Black to move and save himself

This one is dead easy, so I expect most of you should have no problem with it. Unless you have been wearing an army helmet for the past week, in which I understand since your IQ would have dropped by 50%.

Despite having a passive rook position, Black can hold the draw here because White can't use the "swing the rook to the other side" trick (well you still remember what that means, do you?). So all Black needs to do is to play 1... Rc8! protecting his king from any checks, and White can do nothing in the world to touch him.


Position 2: White to move, can he still draw?

Note: This position (as well as Position 3) was edited slightly during the challenge (everything shifted 1 square to the left), so apologies for the mistake.

This should also be manageable, assuming you still remember the concepts behind the Inverse Philidor. After 1. Kg8! (moving the king to the short side of the board) White ties down the enemy pawn with his rook on f8, and can threaten to unleash checks from the long side with Rb8-Rb7 if needed. The full drawing procedure is given in the Inverse Philidor article.

With that in mind, we move on to our third position:

Position 3: White to move, can he still draw?

Surprising, but the change in 1 square suddenly turns the game from draw to defeat for White! Two factors contribute to this:

  1. White's rook is no longer eyeing the e4 pawn, giving Black's king the liberty to step forward if needed.
  2. The position of Black's rook ensures that White's rook has insufficient space on the long side of the board to unleash side-rank checks safely.

1. Kf1!

White correctly brings his king to the short side of the board, but unfortunately this is not enough to draw.

1... Ra1+
2. Kg2 Ke2!

Black's king is free to gain more space, since the e4 pawn is not attacked. Note the difference between this and the previous position!

3. Rb8

3. Rf2+ Kd3 4. Rb2 e3 is similar to the main line, while after 3. Re8 e3 4. Kg3 Kd2 5. Rd8+ Ke1 Black has an upcoming Lucena Position.

3... e3
4. Rb2+

White's rook has insufficient checking distance (only two squares apart). Notice that if everything were shifted one square to the right, White would draw since after Ra8-Ra2+ he would have sufficient checking distance!

4... Kd3 
5. Rb3+ Kd2
6. Rb2+ Kc3

And White cannot stop the pawn from advancing, with an upcoming Lucena Position.


Position 4: Black to move. Assess the position.

This looks like a complex position, but by recalling our basics we can identify with some positions we looked at in the past. A passive rook in front of its pawn, with the enemy rook behind... perhaps this article can stir up memories? And indeed it is useful for us in solving this problem.

While White is two pawns up, Black can swindle a draw if he is able to get a Vancura Position, or can trade the queenside pawns in such a way that White will be left with a g or h pawn on the queenside (which will be a draw so long as Black's king stays on g7/h7). However, an analysis of the position shows that he will not be able to achieve either of these objectives:

1... hxg5

The best try; 1... fxg5 loses immediately to 2. f5! after which the f-pawn will pull Black's king off the critical g7/h7 squares.

Trying to get a Vancura Position here won't work: 1... Rc2 2. gxf6 Kg6 3. a7 Kxf6 4. Rf8+ and White wins.

2. hxg5

Of course 2. fxg5? fxg5 3. hxg5 is a draw since Black's king cannot be chased off g7.

2... f5

After 2... fxg5 White keeps his pawn on the f-file: 3. f5! (3. fxg5? is a draw since 3... Ra5 4. Kd2 Rxg5 5. Kc3 Rg6! allows Black to set up a Vancura Position.) 3... Kg7 4. a7 g4 5. f6+ (Pulling the king off the g7 square) 5... Kxf6 6. Rf8+ +-

3. a7 Kg7
4. Kd1

White's king wants to win the f5 pawn, so he marches slowly towards the Black rook first to break free from its restraint.

4... Kh7
5. Kc1 Kg7
6. Kb1 Ra3
7. Kb2 Ra5
8. Kb3 Ra1
9. Kc4 Rc1+
10. Kd4 Rd1+

10... Ra1 11. Ke5 Ra5+ 12. Ke6 Kh7 13. Kf6 +-

11. Ke5

The f5 pawn falls, and together with it Black's game.


So hopefully you managed to revise most of your basics through these challenges. Let's explore even further as time goes by!

Practice 1:
Practice 2:
Practice 3:

"Rosen's Chess Endgame Training" by Bernd Rosen
"Silman's Complete Endgame Course" by Jeremy Silman

Monday, March 2, 2015

Challenge yourselves: Rook endgame practice 4

Welcome back to another episode of rook endgames! As my time is running short (due to NS commitments), it seems our rook-endgame marathon will have to draw to a close soon. But before that, let us have another challenge:

Position 1: Black to move and save himself

Position 2: White to move, can he draw?

Position 3: Same as Position 2 but with the White rook on f8 instead of e8. Can he still draw?

Position 4: Black to move. Assess the position.

As usual I will give y'all time to look through the positions and challenge yourselves, before discussing them in the next article. Have fun! (:

Edit: For Position 2, everything has been shifted 1 square to the left, same for Position 3. Sorry for the mistake.