Monday, January 30, 2017

World Chess Championship 2016 Highlights: Part 4

In Part 1 of our WCC 2016 series, we started with a game analysis from the tiebreakers. In Part 2, we looked at a magnificent showcase of Karjakin's defensive skills. Then in the next article, we saw how Carlsen finally overcame his opponent's fortress to win a marathon endgame. In the final part of our series, we will bring it all full circle: Looking at two more games from the tiebreakers, one where Karjakin gained yet another miraculous escape, and another where Carlsen eventually prevailed.

In Game 2 of the tiebreakers, Carlsen came close to scoring another victory against his opponent. After sacrificing a pawn, he obtained two bishops against a rook in a tense endgame, slowly driving Karjakin's king into a corner:

Game 1, Position after 78. Be7

It looks like Black is on the verge of defeat; White just needs to get his dark-squared bishop to f8 and mate on g7 will ensure. However, Black found a life-saving resource: 78... h5!!

The point is that if White captures, Black can sacrifice his rook for the dark-squared bishop, leaving behind rook pawns and a bishop that cannot control the queening square. With this in mind, Karjakin sacrificed his rook and the rest of his pawns to force a stalemate. Just wow!

However, this defense turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory for Karjakin; the pressure Carlsen had imposed upon him throughout the match was taking its toll, leading to a defeat in Rapid Game 3 (as we had analyze in Part 1). And so both players entered the final game, where Carlsen only needed a draw to retain the title.

With a win required from Karjakin, he went all out, but failed to find any holes in the Norwegian fortress. To avoid a draw the Russian had to sacrifice an exchange, and at one point it looked like he was making real progress against the exposed enemy king:

Game 2, Position after 48... Qf2

White faces the danger of mate on g7. But Carlsen stole a march on his opponent, and found a beautiful counter-blow that struck the enemy king first. Can you spot it?

We show the full struggle below:

And just like that, Carlsen's stunning final move was a fitting end to an equally exciting World Championship Match. Congratulations to him on retaining the world title, and kudos to Karjakin for putting up an equally good fight!

Carlsen raises the championship trophy


Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:
Part 4:


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Chinese New Year Presents 2017: Test your Trivia 2

It's been more than 2 years since I last had a Test your Trivia. But rather than giving the usual puzzles, I decided to try out something new for CNY here: 15 questions (and one bonus puzzle) designed to test your knowledge of chess history and current affairs. How much chess trivia do you know?

And while you are looking at the questions, I take this time to wish everyone health and prosperity, and a happy Lunar New Year!

1. The World Chess Championship 2016 saw a historic clash between two chess legends. Who were they?

(a) Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand
(b) Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov
(c) Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and Garry Kasparov
(d) Sergei Karjakin and Magnus Carlsen

2. At the end of said championship match, how many points did the winner lead by?

(a) 3
(b) 2
(c) 1
(d) He won by tiebreakers

3. Take a look at the following diagram. Which famous game did it originate from?

Position 1: Position after 29... Qe7

(a) Anderssen vs Kieseritzky, London 1851
(b) Botvinnik vs Capablanca, AVRO 1938
(c) Kasparov vs Topalov, Wijk aan Zee 1999
(d) Carlsen vs Karjakin, New York 2016

4. What reply did White give to 29... Qe7 in the above game?

(a) 30. Ba3
(b) 30. Ne2
(c) 30. Nf5+
(d) 30. Kf2

5. In the FIDE elections 2014, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov defeated his opponent by a wide vote margin to retain the FIDE presidency. Who was the opposing candidate?

(a) Florencio Campomanes
(b) Anatoly Karpov
(c) Garry Kasparov
(d) Ignatius Leong

6. Who was the first official World Champion?

(a) Paul Morphy
(b) Wilhelm Steinitz
(c) Emanuel Lasker
(d) Aron Nimzowitsch

7. Refer to Question 6. What idea did said World Champion contribute to chess thinking?

(a) Slowly acquiring strategic advantages to improve one's position
(b) Sacrificing pieces to attack the castled king
(c) Controlling the centre with pieces from a distance
(d) Placing the rook behind an enemy pawn in the endgame

8. The 42nd World Chess Olympiad was held in Baku, Azerbaijan from 1-14 September 2016. Which country won the open section of the Olympiad?

(a) China
(b) Russia
(c) USA
(d) Armenia

9. In no particular order, name the players of the winning team from Question 8.

10. Who is the chessplayer in the following picture?

(a) Tigran Petrosian
(b) Max Euwe
(c) Boris Spassky
(d) Mikhail Tal

11. What is said chessplayer from Question 10 most famous for?

(a) Sacrificing pieces to create sharp, tactical attacks
(b) Inpenetrable defensive play
(c) Superior opening preparation
(d) Winning the World Championship 3 times

12. Which chessplayer holds the current record (as of January 2017) for becoming the world's youngest Grandmaster?

(a) Wei Yi
(b) Sergei Karjakin
(c) Magnus Carlsen
(d) Garry Kasparov

13. Name the winners of the World Rapid and Blitz Championships 2016 (open section) respectively

(a) Magnus Carlsen and Magnus Carlsen
(b) Wesley So and Levon Aronian
(c) Vasily Ivanchuk and Sergei Karjakin
(d) Fabio Caruana and Veselin Topalov

14. Which of these Grandmasters defected from the Soviet Union?

(a) Tigran Petrosian
(b) Viktor Korchnoi
(c) Mikhail Botvinnik
(d) David Bronstein

15. 50. Qh6+! I wonder which game did this position originate from?

Position 2: Position after 50. Qh6+

(a) Morphy vs Duke of Brunswick and Count Isouard, Paris 1858
(b) Rapport vs Carlsen, Wijk Aan Zee 2017
(c) Carlsen vs Karjakin, World Championship 2016 Tiebreakers
(d) Donald Byrne vs Robert Fischer, Rosenwald Memorial 1956

16. Bonus Question! White to move and mate in 8

Enjoy the pineapple tarts, and all the best for your chessplaying endeavours in the year ahead!

Friday, January 20, 2017

A story of doubled pawns: Part 5

In the fifth and final part of our doubled pawn series, I will wrap up by showing a few interesting games featuring the doubled pawns. Before we begin, let us first summarize what we have learned about them so far:


  1. Opening of files. When doubled pawns are formed an adjacent file has to be opened, and this can be exploited by your rooks.
  2. Square control. By far the greatest strength of doubled pawns lies in defense, as they control more squares than regular pawn chains.


  1. Limited mobility. Since the second pawn cannot advance unless the first pawn moves, doubled pawns cannot advance quickly.
  2. Vulnerable. The front pawn is prone to attack, as it cannot be defended from behind by a rook..
  3. Weak squares. The square in front of the doubled pawns is usually weak and easily occupied by an enemy piece. While advancing an adjacent pawn helps protect the square, it opens up other weak squares in the vicinity.

We first look at one of my online games played last year. White has two sets of doubled pawns on opposite wings, which prove to be a liability as they are vulnerable to attack. Using the good ol' principle of two weaknesses, Black alternated attacks on both pairs and eventually won material.

Game 2 shows a rather interesting situation: Both sides have doubled pawns. However, Black has control of the open file adjacent to his doubled pawns, and the pressure he exerts on a2 will eventually force White to push a3. Once that is done, Black can advance his pawns in an attempt to undouble them.

On the other hand, White's doubled pawns on the other wing cannot advance easily; Black makes sure of this by blockading them. Thus, while Black advanced on the queenside, White was unable to generate any form of counterplay on the opposite wing.

The game has been analyzed by GM Pachman in his work "Modern Chess Strategy", and I will include several of his annotations in our analysis.

So far we have been hammering on the weak points of doubled pawns. In our third game, we see how they are put to good use by a young Mikhail Botvinnik, who deliberately accepted a pair of isolated doubled pawns that helped control extra squares in the centre.

While his opponent struggled to find any sort of play against the "weak" pawns, Botvinnik simply increased his pressure along the d-file, eventually using it as a battering ram to tear down the enemy defenses.

The bigger the better, obviously

Through this 5-part series, I hope that you have gained a better insight into the truth behind doubled pawns. Rather than just saying that they are weak, now at least you know how to exploit their limited mobility. Or maybe one day you could happily accept doubled pawns that will help you dominate the centre or break into the seventh rank, surprising your opponent who fell under the spell of "doubled pawns are always bad"!

Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:
Part 4:
Part 5:

"Modern Chess Strategy" by Ludek Pachman

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

World Chess Championship 2016 Highlights: Part 3

It's already 2017 and I am still looking at highlights from last year's world championship! Looks like the games never get old.

Today we will look at 2 decisive games in the classical rounds: Rounds 8 and 10. In Round 8, Karjakin managed to obtain an advantage against Carlsen, and calmly defended against the Norwegian's counterplay. He missed two chances to turn the game decisively in his favour, but found a third-- and most spectacular-- opportunity, which was more than enough.

For the first time in WCC history, Carlsen was lagging behind

We join in at move 19, where Karjakin had his first chance:

Game 1, Position 1 after 19. Ndb5

Carlsen, playing as White, had pulled most of his pieces to the first rank, leaving outposts for his knights on b5 and c4. He has very good plans on the queenside, including a potential b4 push. The problem is that this leaves his kingside relatively undefended, so Black should try to push for counterplay on that wing.

Karjakin replied with the perfectly safe move 19... Bc6. However, many felt that he should have considered the aggressive 19... Qg5!, which creates a minefield by taking advantage of White's neglected kingside. If White doesn't tread carefully, he could very well blow himself up.

And hopefully the enemy blows up with him (Image from Wiki)

With this opportunity missed, both sides exchanged into the endgame:

Game 1, Position 2 after 37. Qd6

White has given up two pawns to obtain play against the enemy king. If Black can stave off the attack and consolidate he should have a lasting advantage. Accurate play is needed, and the best move here was 37... Qa4! preparing to jump back to d7.

Instead, Karjakin blundered under time trouble with 37... Qd3, giving Carlsen excellent drawing chances via tactics. White continued 38. Nxe6+! exploiting the overloaded black knight, before pushing e4 to cut the enemy queen off from the defense.

While Carlsen could have salvaged a draw from his opponent's mistake, he instead continued pressing for a win, finally arriving at our third position:

Game 1, Position 3 after 51. Qe6

In the closing shots of this tough battle, White seems to be holding out well with his queen keeping the a3 pawn in check. But Black has a very simple, very silent move that places his opponent in zugzwang... and Karjakin found it.
After 51... h5!!, whatever response White makes opens him up to the dual threats ... Ng4+ and ... a2. Amazingly, he has no way to get a perpetual despite Black's vulnerable king! Carlsen resigned after a couple more moves, making it the first time in WCC history he was lagging behind in points.

We show the full game in all its glory below:

Karjakin's victory in game 8 meant that Carlsen only had 4 more rounds to even the score. He promptly did that two games later.

For most of Game 10 it had been a typical scenario we saw throughout the match: Carlsen having a slightly better position, and Karjakin defending it. Only this time, Carlsen found the correct path to convert his advantage, and the Russian finally cracked under the pressure.

Curiously, Karjakin had a chance in the middlegame to force a draw:

Game 2, Position 1 after 18... Be6

Both sides had just finished development, but have yet to find concrete plans for the middlegame. Carlsen proceeded with a dubious 19. Bxe6? doubling Black's pawns, but opened the f-file and gave his opponent a drawing chance-- something the Norwegian doesn't want since he has to fight for a win!

After 19... fxe6 20. Nd2, Karjakin could opt for 20... Nxf2+, where Carlsen's best option would be to accept a perpetual check. Instead, he played 20... d5 after not much thought, revealing that he had missed out on certain lines within ... Nxf2 during the press conference.

Both sides traded into the endgame, where Carlsen had more active pieces and more space to maneuver them. He probed Karjakin's defenses for nearly 20 moves, arriving at the following position:

Game 2, Position 2 after 43. a5

It isn't difficult to infer that Magnus still retains his edge. He has pawn breaks b5 and g4 on opposite wings, and his greater space control means he can quickly relocate pieces from one wing to another to support either advance.

But Karjakin is holding out well, so Carlsen has to hold off from playing any premature breakthrough. He kept the Russian guessing on which pawn would advance by shifting his pieces back and forth for a few more moves:

Game 2, Position 3 after 56. Rb1

And at move 56, Karjakin slipped after a long and tiring defense. He continued 56... Rhh7?, cutting his rooks off from the queenside. Sensing the time was ripe, Carlsen pounced with 57. b5! and suddenly Black's position was falling apart.

As White was on the verge of crashing through, Karjakin had to sacrifice a pawn to obtain counterplay, trading down to our next and final position:

Game 2, Position 4 after 68.  Rxd6

... where Karjakin could still have kept up some resistance with 68... Kc7 followed by 69... Rb5 denying his opponent the 5th rank. But after 68... Re3? Carlsen occupied the 5th rank with his rook, before bringing his king in to finish things off.

Enough blabbering, it is time to show the full game:

Just like that, the Norwegian evened the score 5-5, and with 2 games left to go the match was still wide open. We will analyze a couple more games between these two giants in the 4th and final part of this series!

Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:
Part 4:


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Kickoff 2017 Tactical Challenge: Part 2

Because once is never enough!

Have fun, and enjoy your orientation!