Monday, July 30, 2007

Continuous update tournament

Day 9: points 6

After the blunder of yesterday I regained my spirit and beated a 1811 player in the last round. Except after one howler of a move yesterday I have never been in real danger this tournament. If it wasn't for that howler, it would have been the tournament of no losses in stead of no draws. My openingsplay is very strong and despite my gambits, very solid. I played 5 kings gambits, 3 scandinavian Marshall gambits and an English defense against c4. The latter was very stupid because I had prepared a new defense against c4 which I forgot to play. That was my dullest game. 4 wins, 1 loss and 4 draws against 30 points higher resistance at average. A TPR of 1845. So overall I'm very happy with the result, and the 55 euro's which I won compensated for Hansen's book. I haven't been in timetrouble at all.

Day 8: points 5

After 4 hours of fighting I had my opponent finally stretched out on the rack. When I just had to finish him off, I made a terrible mistake, giving the game away. It still took him another 40 moves to convert it into a win, which was an interesting endgame nevertheless. But what a disgust!

Day 7: points 5

A dull game and another draw. My opponent started an attack, and I defused it by trading all the pieces off. He offered a draw and I saw no chances to fight for a win.
The Phenom is first mentioned here (under update 21 july) and here (day 1). Read the comments too.

The Phenom is still committing his tiny little crimes against humanity. Yesterday he played against a 9 yo girl and tried to push her thru the clock in the hope to claim the win. He had only a king left and she was 4 pieces up. The arbiter knows him and was alert and declared it a draw a few seconds before her flag fell, so that she at least didn't lose on time.

Day 6: points 4.5

Another KG and a win purely originating in the endgame this time. The past 3 weeks study of endgame strategy are the most productive ever! I started to attack one move too early, I should have moved my king into safety at h1 first. That allowed my opponent to defuse my attack with a nasty pin. In the middlegame I could regain the initiative by simply choosing the most active moves. In the endgame she did about everything wrong that you can think of. Damaging her pawn structure for no reason, deactivating her pieces etc.. Just as I used to do a few weeks ago! Within a few moves I was an outside passer up and with a backrank trick I could force the trade of the last pieces. I played the pawn ending a tempo since I had only 5 minutes left on the clock while she had still 45 minutes. An easy win.

Day 5: points 3.5

Finally an endgame!
And what is more, a win from an 1847 rated player, the highest in my section. I didn't accept his draw offer. The win is quite due to my new acquired endgame knowledge. It took almost the full 6 hours so it was quite hefty. Boy, that feels good! Now we have a rest day, I look forward to study in Lars Bo Hansen's book.
You can find the game here. BTW nobody over here is watching the Tour de France anymore.

Day 4: points 2.5
1/2 - 1/2. Did I say "no draws"?
All 4 days I came out of the opening extremely well. One game against a lower rated player I won. Today was the 3rd draw against a higher rated player. I just lack the skills to finish them off in the complex middlegame. Since material is sacced, transition to an ending is no option. After the tournament I have to think hard and deep how to master the complex middlegame.
I have to analyse my games to find what is exactly the problem.

Tournaments always seem to have an opening theme. Sometimes you meet only Sicilians, sometimes only the French, one tournament I had to play with black against 1.e3, 1.d3, 1.b3 and 1.a3. This tournament I got for the second time in a row the Beckers defense against my KG. Very strange, since 7 years ago was the last time I got this. Anyway, I'm quite booked up again against this line.

The phenom is playing too, until now he has stayed rather quiet, allthough he lured our driver into a trick while he had left only 45 seconds on the clock and being a piece behind. It was our drivers birthday and he was not happy with this "gift".

I could not resist to buy Lars Bo Hansen's "Secrets of chess endgame strategy" It looks very promising. Margriet is interested in it as well, so we can study it together. Margriet is doing well with two wins and a draw, all against much higher rated players.

During the after-chess beer is flowing and we laugh alot.

Day 3: points 2
My style just isn't suited to play simple chess. I'm so used to sac pawns by the dozen that it is just madness to try to enter an endgame. And when I am worse, close to lost, and my higher rated opponent offers a draw, how can I resist? 1/2 - 1/2

Day 2. points 1.5
Today I broke my pledge. I was in a bad position and my 100 points higherrated opponent offered a draw. I couldn't resist. The fact that he thought the endgame was drawish is interesting though. I played a kings gambit and my opponent played the Beckers defense. Since it was 7 years ago that I memorized the lines and nobody ever plays it, I was quite out of book at move 5. Anyway, I'm happy with the draw. At least I did not offer it myself.

Day 1. points: 1

A lot of handshaking and renewal of friendships. My 1590 opponent decided to play a speculative knight sac. Since the position didn't ask for that, that is simply a matter of laziness. He could play obvious moves about 20 moves long. I had to calculate well and often I had to find the only move, but in the end I was left with a full piece up. How am I supposed to exercise endings with a piece up? No time trouble. You can find the game here.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Intermezzo II

Today is a restday, so there is time to dump some thoughts in order to create room for new idea's.

Consciousness vs repetition.
There is a saying repetitio mater studiorum est. For the non latinists among us repetition is the mother of study. The circles are based on this idea. My findings are different though. I would replace the saying with consciousness is the mother of study. Only in the case you have trouble to focus your attention undivided, you need repetition. Since we are used to operate on the automatic pilot most of the day, this is usually the case. But repetition in itself invites us to use the automatic pilot, in which case we pass over our goal. Belief me, I know what repetition is and what it does by now.

Essence, idea's and archetypes.
Some time ago I posted about pattern recognition in clouds. The essence of that post is that we have an archetype of a rabbit in our brains which helps us to recognize rabbits everywhere in clouds, no matter how distorted the picture. Science says that a master chessplayer has an 100.000 or so patterns stored. That's what caused me to do massive problemsets in the first place (on the automatic pilot, hence with little result). What happened yesterday casts doubts on this scientific approach, in favour for the idea that you only have to learn a limit amount of patterns, the archetypes so to speak, and that our natural skill of pattern recognition does the rest.

I have studied two games lately about bishops of opposite colors. The essence (archetype) of those two games was that when there are other pieces around, the initiative is paramount. Because if you attack with a light squared bishop, the dark squared bishop cannot defend the light squares. So basically you are attacking with a piece up. My game yesterday was quite different than the games I studied. Yet I recognized the idea immediately. It was evident that my higher rated opponent didn't know this idea and so he lost. Putting an idea into practice by playing is a way to transform the knowledge, that is incorporated in the idea, into skill.

This example indicates how to study mastergames. It is essential to formulate the winning idea's well, on the highest level as possible. Then you will be able to recognize these idea's in the most various positions without the need to study every position separate. The work is to generalize a specific idea from one position, so that you formulate the underlying essence of it. In that way this essence becomes the pattern that can be recognized in all different kinds of positions. Just by the miracle of subconscious pattern recognition.

The idea of avoiding draws is dismantled as a matter of fashion, based on a wrong idea of courage and fighting spirit. I have a subtle instinct that lets me know when to draw. That is when I have no confidence that I can handle the rest of the game well. The new acquired knowledge made me to decline his draw offer yesterday. Allthough I had never played according this new idea, I was confident since I did know in which direction to go.
When you draw a game that is not gnawed off to the bone, that indicates where you have to work. You are not confident there since you know you lack the knowledge how to play it. So use your draws as an indicator. Don't kill your subtle instincts by overshouting them because of fashion.

Friday, July 27, 2007


In the lower rated section of the tournament there is often a big discrepancy between the position on the board and the final outcome of the game. It is instructive to watch. Sometimes the winning move is quite obvious to me, while after a few minutes someone makes a move that gives the game away. More often than not, a move is made that I haven't even considered. If I extrapolate this, this means that the difference between a good player and a bad player is twofold: a bad player considers worse moves, and his evaluation is worse. The first is subconscious, the second is conscious, making use of the available knowledge.

I have been thinking alot about how to improve my study.
In order to get information to a subconscious level, the information must be processed in a conscious way first. Since the conscious processing of information is sequential and very time consuming, it is paramount to optimize this processing. I will give an example.

I have taken alot of time in the past to build on opening repertoire. The result is that I remember most lines pretty well. Margriet has adopted the same repertoire, but forgets the lines time and again. The reason for this is that she didn't process the information in a conscious and active manner like I did.

So this is the dilemma: when you think for yourself active and conscious, you will remember what you have found, in a subconscious way. You cannot find everything by yourself, though. In fact, you can find very, very little. And I mean very. Little.
So this is a plea to make use of what others have found. But that invites to a passive approach. If I watch a chessvideo about a new opening, the same happens to me as it did to Margriet. While watching the video I think, aha, that are interesting idea's! But within a few days I have forgotten all the lines.
Hence it is necessary to make use of the best of both worlds. Think for yourself active and conscious, but think about information from outside, supplied by the masters. I haven't thought about the way to optimize this. Yet.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Countdown to Dieren

Two days to go to the tournament in Dieren. My only preparation is the assimilation of a lot of endgame knowledge. I repeated everything 3 times plus I wrote an essay about it. I'm plateauing for 2 years now around 1730. Let's see if knowledge without skill can make a difference.

It is important to renew my pledges:
  • I will not take the consequenses of my actions for my rating into account. No matter what.
  • I will abstain from complex middlegame play, which is the second flaw in my play anyway, in order to avoid time trouble at all costs. I will play simple chess instead.
  • I will not offer a draw.
  • I will not accept a draw offered before I have less than 15 minutes on my clock in the last period of the game.
May Caissa help me to keep my word.

Todo-list for the next two days:
Review my new system against the Caro-Kan.
Review the QID.
Learn a new system against the French.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Endgame strategy. Thinking Out Loud

This is a post that will grow in the next few days. So please come back regularly and comment, because feedback helps me to think.

Update 1 black
Update 2
Update 3

To keep matters simple I describe the strategic idea's from the position of an attacker (white) who plays against a defender (black). The strategy for the defender is the negative from the attacker. To improve readability I drastically cut down on information that is considered common knowledge. For instance that having 2 pawn islands is better than having 3 pawn islands etc.. This is no scientific paper or so thus there is no need to be complete.

At the transition from the middlegame to the endgame the method to try to win changes for the attacker. In the middlegame you try to win a piece with a tactical shot, or to attack your opponents king. That crude methods don't work in the endgame. In the endgame there is only one method by which you can win:

Queen a pawn.

Ok, there can be an occasional matingnet or tactical shot, but that's not the meat of the matter. The fact that your king can walk out in the open without being harassed is a clear sign that the threat of enemy pieces has diminished drastically.

With the ultimate goal of the endgame in mind it is possible to define the task of the remaining pieces and of the king:

The task of the pieces is to assist the pawns with queening.

(remember I promised you triviality?)
Let's see what subtasks can be derived from this.

Look at the following diagram

In a balanced sitiuation the first subtask becomes evident:

Create a passer.

First the enemy pawns that impede the journey to the promotion square must be removed by all possible means: trade, decoy, conquest. This kind of reasoning tells you where you want your pieces and your king: behind the enemy pawns to stab them in the back.

You have to penetrate with your king and/or piece into the enemy camp in order to attack the pawns.

At the same time you must prevent of course that the opponent penetrates into your camp. Here you find the underlying reason for the maxim centralize the king in the endgame. In the center you are closer to the enemy camp. At the same time you are ready to defend.
When we talk about piece activity or king activity we always talk in relation to what do they do to the enemy pawns. If there are no enemy pawns in the center then your king is not active when he is in the center.

In order to help penetration special care has to be taken when you have a bishop. Take for instance the following diagram:

You always have to place your pawns at the opposite color of your bishop. No matter what piece your opponent has, knight or bishop from whatever color. Look what happens:
  • Your bishop and pawns work together. The bishop covers the light squares, the pawns cover the dark squares. Together they make it impossible for the opponents king to penetrate.
  • They tend to fix the black pawns on the light squares, what makes them potential targets for your bishop.
  • They tend to fix the black pawns on the light squares, where they impede their own bishop
  • They enable your bishop to move freely over the board, which helps when you want to penetrate your opponents territory to stab his pawns from behind.
You can see what happens to black when he places his pawns at the same color as his bishop: the white king can penetrate via the black squares.
When you replace the lightsquared bishop of black with a darksquared bishop, you get bishops of opposite colors. It is easy to see why such position tends to be drawish: any change in the pawnstructure that is beneficial for your bishop is automatically beneficial for the opposite colored bishop. Besides that they live in a different universe, so they cannot influence each other.

One of the problems with the pawns that are standing abreast is that they are flexible.

You can't shoot a moving target. So you have to fixate the pawnstructures.

King and pieces are much too volatile in the endgame. They are too fast to hunt them down. So if we talk about targets, or about weaknesses, we talk about pawns. When pawns are fixated they form chains. The backward pawn from a chain is a natural target.

An extra weapon that is seldom or never mentioned is the sole distance to the promotion square:

With advanced pawns a whole bunch of new threats come into play for the sole reason that the promotion square is nearby. In the diagram above a simple breakthru is enough to secure the win. Are the pawns advanced and fixed, than often a piece sac is enough. This leads to the following maxim:

Move your frontier ahead.

Whenever you can do it safely. Closely related to this is a method to get a local advantage with equal material or even with less material. Take for instance the following position where white is a pawn down:

At the right side only one pawn keeps three pawns under control. This is caused by the fact that the g-pawn is closer to promotion than the 3 pawns it keeps under control. On the left side white has a local majority which secures the win. Of course white must watch out not to end up in the same situation as black. 1.b4? would be a major blunder which gives blacks b-pawn the chance to block both white queenside pawns with 1. ... b5. In stead white should play 1. a4 in order to create an outside passer. This very important priciple is called by Capablanca:

One unit holds two.

An important technique to create a passer is when you have a local pawnmajority. That is just what happened in the diagram above. White has a local majority of 2 vs 1 on the queenside. The pawns are traded and you are left with a passer, Here you see the downside of a double pawn: for attacking purposes you have to reackon with 1 pawn less when you have a double pawn. For defending purposes there is no difference.

Use your local pawnmajority to create a passer.

If you have managed to inflict your opponent with a weakness and you attack that weakness, usually that bounds the enemy piece to the defense of that weakness. That is very good, since the attacker is always more flexible, since he is the one who can decide when to move his piece. Generally it is not enough to inflict only one weakness and is a second weakness needed to "stretch" the defense beyonds its limits. This is called

The principle of the two weaknesses.

Let's have a closer look at a weakness. The chessworld isn't very consequent in the use of the term weakness. The next definition is an attempt to avoid confusion:

A weakness is something that requires defending recources.

There are 3 kind of weaknesses:
  • Target. Since the king and the pieces are too volatile, only certain pawns can be a target. A target is a pawn that: 1. isn't protected by another pawn and 2. cannot be protected by another pawn in the near future and 3. cannot move into the protection of another pawn and 4. is accessible by an attacking piece or king. Typical targets are: isolated pawns. The backward pawn of a pawnchain.
  • Invasion square. Any square in the enemy camp that gives an attacking piece or king access to a target.
  • Passer. When the attacker has a passer, the road to the promotion square has to be defended by the defender.
It is kinda weird. After 3 month's of middlegame study I formulated that piece activity is the most import in middlegame strategy. After a few months of putting this idea into practice I want to change that in the following maxim: Activate your pieces in order to penetrate in the enemy camp.
If I had to summarize the essence of endgame right now it would be: Activate your pieces and king in order to penetrate into the enemy camp. Yet the methods and subgoals are quite different.

(To be continued/updated . . .)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Boiling down

I have collected about 96 quotes from annotated master endgames. I will put that together with my 47 endgame maxims and Takchess' braindump in a percolator to see if I can brew some endgame strategy. Expect that it drools from trivialism ("queen a pawn" or so:)

Maybe you can still remember what I came up with after 3 months study of middlegame strategy? [PIECE ACTIVITY!!]

Back on track

During a few days I was sidetracked by corresponding squares. I found an interesting article about the book "Opposition and Sister Squares are Reconciled" from Marcel Duchamp and Halberstadt. If I understand it right, they developed a method to cut the board in pieces and to shift them along each other. The effect is that you can find the right move by keeping the heterodox virtual opposition. The result is that calculation isn't needed any longer to find the right king move. You just treat it as the normal virtual opposition, played on a changed board.
Besides this, there seems to be an essay about corresponding squares divided in 11 subsystems from the endgame composer Zinar in Averbakh's book about pawnendings. I haven't read that.

These theoretical approaches are very interesting yet impractical. If you are willing to invest half a year in the method of Duchamp you will become a corresponding square monster which can solve problems whitout calculating within minutes. For tournament play it suffices that you have a bright idea how to apply the concepts in general. It is my take that people differ greatly in how fast the concept of triangulation will appear to them. But that is a different matter about which I hope to post another time.

To study corresponding squares to a certain degree has to be done anyway so I guess now is as good a moment as anytime. But since the tournament is only 6 days away I'm going back to my endgame strategy.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A little progress

I'm making a little progress in the understanding of yesterday's position of Grigoriev.
According to SOPE of Müller and Lamprecht this is the definition of a key square:
A square is described as a key square when its occupation by the king secures the win, no matter who is to move.

Since the Nalimov database reports a mate in 28 when white to move and a mate in 22 when it is black to move, the king on d2 is already on a keysquare according to this definition. Which proves that this definition is useless for practical situations. Besides that, it makes the choice of the keysquares (d4, e3, e2) by the authors of SOPE when they treat this position rather arbitrary. I already suspected so.

I have not thought about a better definition of a key square yet. In this position I would like to call d4 and e3 the key squares where white wants to invade.

In stead of working with numbers I found it much more clear when I work with colors.
In order to decide which color a square must have, I used the following steps:
  • Determination of the invasion squares d4 and e3
  • 0-move. Decision that you want to be in this position again, but with black to move in stead of white.
  • 1st move. Determination that white can't move the pawn. Determination that white can play one of the following moves: c3, c2, c1, d1, e1. Determination that black has only 3 squares available: e3, f3, f4. The g- file is tabu since it is too far from the invasion squares. The 2nd rank is tabu because black must stay in the square of d3 to prevent promotion. Moving to a green square by white allows black to attack the pawn on d3, which limits the possibilities of whites next move, so 1.Kc2 is the move to play. Black can only answer with 1. ... Kf4, since he must be able to parry Kc3 with Ke3.
  • 2nd move. White can do the triangulation by stepping twice on a blue square 2. Kb2 and 3.Kb3. Since black has only one blue square he can't keep up and white "loses a move".
  • If black answers something different after 2.Kb2, for instance 2. ... Kf5, then white has to move to a green square. Not 3. Kc3 since that is parried by 3. ... Ke5, but to 3.Kc1. Black cannot keep up since f5 is not adjacent to a green square. Black can try 3. ... Kf4. White answers with 4.Kc2, which is a yellow square. Since black is already on a yellow square, he can't follow. If black moves to 4. ... Kf3, then white plays 5. Kd2 and he has reached the same position as the start position, but now with black to move. When black moves away from f3 then white can penetrate into the black position.
I guess I can explain this to my mother.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Having a hard time

In every endgame book you will
find the same positions over and over again. Especially the studies of Grigoriev are very popular. That is actually very weird.
Since Gregoriev was always looking for unique positions, the one in a 100,000 kind of stuff. A study book is supposed to treat the common idea's, not the exceptions only.

Take for instance this position of Grigoriev about triangulation.

White to move and win.
I have posted about this position earlier here.
The idea how to play it is clear, I can win it from any chess engine. So that is not the problem. But for me both the keysquares as the corresponding squares are coming out of the blue. I can't formulate a systematic reasoning how you can always construct the right keysquares, corresponding squares and moves. For instance, when the following is played 1.Kc2 Kf4 2.Kb2 Kf5 then the best move is 3.Kc1! I can't stand it that I can't find a sytematic reasoning that even my mother would understand.

I guess that the biggest problem is that in order to work with corresponding squares you have to gather a lot of beercaps, so that your head is not quite clear before you start to think:)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A matter of technique

Most endings are for 95% practical and for 5% theoretical.
For the practical part of the endgame it suffices to acquire the general ideas by studying how the masters did it. You have to have a database with how a position will look like after you make a decision. Take for instance the following diagram:

diagram 1

Black to move.
White has just played Rb5.

If you haven't seen this kind of positions before, it is very tempting to play the logical move Ra8 in order to prevent white from taking on a5 and getting an outside passer. Only when you have seen the masters play this you will know that black will probably be killed in bed if he does so.
Black defends the weakness a5, white starts to push his kingside in order to create a second weakness. Whites rook will play a role in attacking both weaknesses, while blacks rook defends only one.

So black must play active and bring his rook behind the a-pawn. To a1 or a2 for instance. In that way he defends against the outside passer while he still can assist in an attack on the kingside.

Al these idea's how to play practical endgames cannot be found by yourself. Within a lifetime, that is. So you have to study the mastergames for that. You will not find this in an endgame book, unless in Secrets of Chess Endgame Strategy by Lars Bo Hansen, maybe. Which I will check out within two weeks (hattip to Blue Devil). Endgame books just treat theoretical endgames.

For the theoretical part of rook endings it suffices to know the Lucena attack, the Philidor defence and Vancura's schwindle.

Pawn endings.
What plays an important role in almost every practical endgame is the question "is the underlying pawn endgame won?". Since the answer to that question tells you if it is favourable to trade off the last pieces. The serious student must ask himself what he is going to do with pawnendings. I have choosen to study them thoroughly.

Most of the time that I have studied endgames, I have studied pawnendings. Most people think they are simple. They are not. Since most people have no idea how to play pawnendings they are not aware of the pitfalls. When you walk into a pitfall without noticing it and it is not punished by the opponent, both players will agree that there wasn't one.

Why are pawnendings so difficult? There is a whiff of magic in pawn endgames. Most of what is going on in a pawn ending is not visible with the naked eye. The structures are only visible to the minds eye, for the one who has learned how to see it.
The march of the king causes optical illusions, since in reality the diagonals are exactly of the same length as the rows and files. Zugzwang is another invisible weapon.

Corresponding squares.
Most battles are fought by the kings.
Not all. Breakthru and the pawnrace are weapons of the pawns, for instance.
But most of the time it are the kings that struggle to invade the opponents territory.
The attacking king strives in two different directions, the defending king tries to defend both.
There are two systems:
  • the Reti manoeuvre
  • corresponding squares
Both systems have in common the struggle with an eye on two targets. Targets in the broadest sense, so a target can be the defense of a pawn.
The Reti manoeuvre is based on the diagonal movement of the king which makes that the king can come closer to two targets at the same time with only one move.

There are a lot of techniques that fall under the common denominator corresponding squares. For instance all forms of opposition (normal, distant, virtual) and triangulation are based on corresponding squares. A thorough knowledge of the theory of corresponding squares is paramount.

There is a big but.
I couldn't find a useful explanation of the theory of corresponding squares. As described in SOPE the theory is incomprehendsible. Most descriptions on the web are even worse. Besides that, it is not practical.

In order to make it practical I must find out how the theory has to be applied in practice. How do you determine what the key squares are? Where do you start in complex situations? That is where the existing descriptions fail miserably. GM John Nunn even suggests to forget about the theory and to learn just a few tricks. I found it impossible to apply the tricks without understanding what I'm doing.

[disclaimer] Since my investigation hasn't finished yet, it isn't ready to explain the theory of corresponding squares to your mom. Yet. Technical ranting below.

I have written about corresponding squares before (a good read) and I intend to make use of the same position of Grigoriev:

diagram 2

Black to move and draw.
What are the invisible properties of this position:
  • The black king is bound to the rule of the square of d3 in order to prevent promotion.
  • White has two targets: he can try to invade into blacks territory via the left or via the right of the pawns.
  • If whites try to outflank black on the right side of the board, black can counterattack the white pawn on c2 and both black and white will queen a pawn in the resulting race.
Let's have a look at the key squares.

diagram 3.

If white can reach one of the blue keysquares of the first order, the black pawn will fall. Notice that d3 is a key square which white cannot use.

Black cannot defend the keysquares e3 and f3 by opposition, since he cannot make use of the square e4. So black has to shift the frontier one rank into whites territory.

diagram 4.

Black must prevent white from invading the green keysquares of the second order. Notice that that are all squares which are adjacent to the blue keysquares (d2, e2, f2, g2) but since d2 and g2 (counterattack by black against c2!) are not available for white, they are not colored green.

If there wasn't a second front at the leftflank it would suffice for black to take the opposition with Ke3. The problem is though that square d3 isn't available for the black king. If white heads to the left keysquares, and moves to c1, he is still in contact with the keysquare e2. If black moves to d4 at the same time, he fails to defend e2.

diagram 5

So black must make use of a trick. Since there is little space at the left, black can permits himself to shift his whole defense one file to the right. This way his king always stays one file to the right of the file of the white king.

diagram 6

That means that the first move of black from the beginposition must be 1. ... Kf3 in stead of 1. ... Ke3
The keysquares are still protected and black is just in time when white tries to invade the keysquares at the left. When both players have reached the utmost left of their defense (a2 for white and b4 for black), white can try to lure black into a trick by playing Ka1

diagram 7

Black must never forget that he has shifted his whole defense one file to the right. That means that if he plays Ka4 or Ka3, he will never be in time when white starts to run backwards for e3.
The same is true for the c-file. If black plays Kc5, he will be in trouble when white playsKa1-b1.
From c5 the black king can't go to the b-file (too much to the left) not to de d-file (too much to the right) and he cannot go to c6 (too far away from the battlefield).

So when white plays Ka2-a1 (the red arrow) black must stay on the adjacent b-file and play Kb4-b5

With this kind of reasoning the keysquares and the corresponding squares don't appear out of the blue any longer but it is a practical method how you can apply the theory behind the board.

Boy, am I running around in circles or what?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The right track

The past few days I have learned more from the endgame than in the previous 6 months with exercises of near-theoretical endings. At least that's how it feels. By playing thru the annoted mastergames I get the hang of most common endgames like B vs B, B vs N, N vs N en R vs R. It makes so much difference if you have an idea what to head for. The idea's how to play the common practical endgames are so much more important than those theoretical endings without a clue what you are doing.

And dare I say it, now I have finally a beginning I wouldn't even be too surprised if I'm going to be good at this part of the game. That is not going to happen any time soon, but I'm starting to like the endgame. It is a part of the game where logical thinking prevails over brilliancy. Logic is more of my liking. Besides that my brilliancy in chess is still somewhat limited:)

12 days to go to the tournament. I want to consolidate my new acquired knowledge and to get some practice. If I can find the time I will try to formulate a few of the found idea's.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Ape the masters

Margriet is a few days out of town and I have taken a few days off, so I'm doing some serious chess study. Inventing the wheel all by myself by pondering 10 hours per position in order to master practical endgames isn't very effective. There are a lot of annotated mastergames around though with useful endgames. I study everything I can lay my hands on. You must see the main idea's of all sorts of practical endings as played by the masters several times, before you can recognize these idea's yourself in a new position. That is simply 100x as effective as trying to find it all by yourself. Given the fact that I still have 2 weeks before the tournament, and given the boost in endgame insight, I must be able to play the endgame with confidence by then. Since I have no experience at all, I will not be a Capablanca right away, but when I have an idea what to head for in the position that makes a huge difference in comparison to my usual state of total despair when the queens have disappeared from the board.

K+B+N vs K is quite mastered.
K+Q vs K+N today I solved my first one. In 45 moves, so I have to exercise some more. It is difficult to train against the computer since the computer doesn't play the lines which are the most difficult to cope with for a human. I try to emulate that by playing against different engines, but humans know simply better which lines are the most difficult to handle.
K+Q vs K+R is in progress.

Everyday I do board visualisation exercises, which goes better gradually.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

A New Hope

After two bad hair days finally some hope is glittering on the horizon. Montse affirmed the results of my 10 hour meditation over yesterday's rook ending.
Maybe it is possible to learn something about this most important part of the game after all! I'm listening to all chessvideo's about the endgame that I can find, and a greater picture seems to reveal itself.

During a flash of megalomania I decided to go over the more difficult endings when I have a break from the study of yesterday's position. B+N vs K causes little problems, although I haven't the fastest of all methods. But why should I be bothered by that? But K+Q vs K+R is very tough. It used to be a pretty straightforward endgame, but with the advent of the endgame tablebases a new resource for the defender is found, the so called third rank defense. As far as I know only a few people know this. IM Kraai, who devoted an entire chessvideo on the subject, didn't know it for instance. I don't think that an attacker will find the solution over the board. For sure not in time trouble. In 2001 Svidler couldn't find it against Gelfand. Since there is a reasonable chance to get it when you start with rook endgames I want to know how to play it. It can happen when you sacrifice your rook to force promotion. I want to know how to play it both as attacker and defender. Further I'm trying Q+K vs K+N, which is said to be easy too, but I can't find it myself yet. This endgame can happen after a pawn race. The attacker queens first, the defender prevents mate by underpromoting to a knight.

The method of reasoning in practical endings is quite alien to me, but listening to chessvideo's is a fast method to get some idea's how to approach this part of the game.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Hitting the wall

Last week I had a nice chain of reasoning. Today I tried to play out the position from yesterday against various chess engines and immediately I hit the wall.
When I trade off to a rook ending, I'm not able at all to win this. On the contrary, in most variations I manage to lose. I have no clear picture what to do in this position. It is a side-variation from the game in the book, which means that I'm left on my own.

This is the position:

White to move.
The plus pawn looks promising.

I went to my endgame books for advice, but they only treat endings that are much closer to theoretical endgames.
This is the advice I could distill from my 16 endgame books:
  • Play actively, often even at the cost of material.
  • Trade the rooks when the remaining pawnending is won.
The other three "rules" I found had no relation with this position.
This advice is very flimsy. Even more since "actively" isn't exactly defined.
It's obvious I hit the same wall as Takchess.
It is pretty amazing that there aren't any books which treat the most important part of the game. There are two options that arise:
  • Study rookendings from annotated mastergames. But then again, when you try to play this out against the computer you will hit the very same wall when the computer deviates from the book. The only thing you can hope for is that the annotations give some clue what to head for.
  • Think for myself.
Bummer, I'm afraid I have to resort to the last option.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Pawns rule

Here you have a typical practical ending.

White to move and win.

This is a typical situation where the middlegame has just ended and the practical endgame has just began. White is better and a pawn ahead and should be able to win. I played this against a few different chess engines and proved that it is even possible to lose in this position with white. Which is the very reason why I would offer a draw in this position when I had to play it with white against an opponent with 100 ratingpoints more. Ok, by now you are convinced that this kind of positions is not my forte.

As you can easily see, theoretical endings are of very little use here at all. If all pawns and pieces are traded off I'm left with the a-pawn which would be a theoretical draw. So when things develop, there will come a moment that the knowledge of the theoretical ending king+rim-pawn vs king=draw might play a role and makes me steering away from it. But as for NOW, that knowledge is not going to help me.

The murky waters of the the middlegame which caused any plan to fail lay behind. Here is where chess begins. The kind of chess that is suited for the human mind. Where you can expect that a plan can be followed, no matter what your opponent thinks of it. With the element of luck eliminated. With the middlegame we left another sort of chess behind. A sort of chess that is not suited for the human mind. Where only repetition of the mantra "tactics, tactics, tactics" can offer some hope to survive.

What you see here are the leftovers from a copious meal called the middlegame. What you took home in your doggy-bag. All accumulated advantages during the previous stage are here. All the results from positional decisions, conscious or not, are found here. In the turmoil of the middlegame they were of no use. But now they are here ready to use. Of course you have to stay on guard for skewers, forks and matingnets. But tactics are not anymore the meat of this game. Here is what Capablanca meant with "in order to learn chess you have to start with the endgame". Ok, point made.

Shereshevsky warns us that in order to play this part of the game, you have to change your mindset. The goal from now on is obvious: queen a pawn and prevent your opponent from doing the same. You need other tools for this than you are used to in the middlegame.
You have to gather the tools you need here yourself. By studying this kind of positions from annotated mastergames. Playing out the positions against different chess engines will show if you master your newly acquired tools.

Pawns rule.
In the middlegame you might use your pawns as a crowbar to pry open the enemy king position. Or you sac them by the dozen to give your rooks some air. But this stage of the game is governed by pawns. It are the pawns that decide if a bishop is bad or a knight is good. The very structure of the pawns can decide the game. Here you will regret your gambit pawn. For the very first time the word weakness gets a meaning. Ok, you had weaknesses before in the middlegame of course, but as long as there are many pieces around they weren't paramount. Now they are. A weakness is a pawn that is difficult to defend. Defending it takes resources that limit your mobility. Another kind of weakness is an invasion square. Especially the kind that is used by a king to penetrate.

The role of the king.
The role of the king has changed dramatically. With less pieces there are less tactics around. And so there is room for the king to take part in the battle. GM's estimate the value of the king between 3 and 4 pawnunits in the endgame.

This is what Capablanca said about the position above.
"White's plan is to prevent the advance of the c-pawn (after which the b-pawn could become weak) and to control the entire board up to the fifth rank. This is achieved by moving the king to e3, and by placing the rook at c3, the knight at d4 and the pawns at b4 and f4. After he has attained such position, white will be able to advance his queenside pawns."
This is quite a different way of thinking about a position than we are used to. Usually we are variation-driven. But Capablanca is position-driven and works his way back thru the variations. He starts at the end in stead of the beginning. He thinks in schemes.
Further he talks about the control of space.
And he talks about a pawn that might become weak when prevented from advancing to b4 when c5 is played by black.
The game continued:
1. Nd4 Rb7
2. b4 Bd7
I was very surprised by 2. b4. I would have simply taken the bishop and inflicted the enemy with an extra isolani. But if you play that against the computer, you will find that that is not ok. You give the enemy king an extra tempo by chasing your knight. Since he is already closer to the center of action, this causes you trouble and gives black drawing chances.
So Capablanca gave whites king-activity a greater value than the extra isolani and the riddance of the annoying bishop. These are the kind of things you have to learn in order to play these positions well. These kind of things you cannot learn from a book, you have to learn them from experience. Thank Caissa there are computers!

I hope I have given you a good impression of what comes into play in practical endings.

Sometimes I think that I should study more and write less, with only 17 days to go to the tournament. But on the other hand it helps me to nail down my discoveries, which paves the road for new ones.

Aswers to the questionaire

Takchess, tag, you're it. More information here and here.

I have a mixed feeling about this. Why should I help someone who doesn't work for himself and who even is too lazy to read my blog where he can find more answers then he ever wants to know? On the other hand, it is my experience that if somebody gets something he didn't work for, he don't know how to appreciate it and mix it up with idea's of his own until the information has become counter productive, so that's my assurance.

1) Blogger name and URL?

2) How did you learn about the Circles?
By Googling around.

3) When?
Februari 2005

4) How long have you been going through the Circles, or if you have finished, how long did it take?
I have finished the circles with 3 different problemsets: ca 1500 problems from TCT, 1300 problems from Renko's intensive course tactics and 10,000 problems from CTS. It took me about 2 years.

5) How is your progress?
I gained 50 ratingpoints due to the circles.
(and 169 points due to previous tactical training without repetition)

6) Would working with the Circles alone work well in terms of chess improvement, or does it help more to join the Knight Errant to monitor and discuss the Circles?
You can't do it without help from outside to motivate you.

7) Are you a scholastic player?

8) Would you recommend this method, the Circles, to scholastic players?
In essence, yes. But I doubt if they have the discipline.

9) Do you use other chess training methods along with the Circles? If any, could you summarize them??
You will find a list here.

10) Any general comments about chess training or the Circles you'd like to provide?
I have done the circles too much on the automatic pilot. A conscious effort to assimilate the patterns is paramount.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Seeing the obvious

A major flaw in my play.
If I haven't killed my opponent before the end of the middlegame, then invariably I reach a position at the begin of the endgame where I have no clue whatsoever. I even have no idea at which side of the board I should look. So no matter how favourable the position, no matter how low the rating of the opponent, at this stage I offer a draw. Always. Often even when one or to pawns ahead. And when the oppenent declines the offer, I 'm invariably lost. I swap rooks which I shoudn't, I advance pawns which I shouldn't etc.. In an attempt to cure this problem I studied theoretical endgames daily for 6 month, without being able to lay the connection with my own games. That's why I abandoned the study of theoretical endings.

Discovery of the practical endgame.
Yesterday I discovered that there is a vast area between the middlegame and the theoretical endings. About 95% of the endgame play takes place in this area of practical endings. From the 16 endgame books that I have there are 15 which focus on the theoretical endings. Since that accounts for only the last 5% of the ending that is pretty ridiculous.

I don't know why those endgamebooks neglect this area. The only thing I can come up with is that you can write in definite terms about theoretical endings, while practical endings don't seem to be so conclusive at first sight. Or maybe what to do in this area is so obvious that I'm the only one on this planet who doesn't see it. Which wouldn't surprise me. Shereshevsky's book "Endgame strategy" is the first one which acknowledges the very existence of such area and that gives some guidance how to handle.


And that is quite a revelation!
The first discovery is the very existence of this area. With hindsight I don't understand why I didn't notice this before. Maybe for the same reason why 15 of the 16 endgame books don't mention it.
The second discovery is that the goal in this area is very evident: queen a pawn! Again I don't understand why I overlooked this obvious point. Maybe the middlegame has an hypnotic effect on me? In the middlegame the threats seem to well up spontaneous when you move your pieces around in an active manner. Here you have to create the threats. Since the pieces have lost their ability to deliver a tactical blow for 90%, this phase of the game is dictated by the pawns.
The third discovery is that the practical endgame is the first and only phase of the game where you can make a plan that has a realistic chance to work. Since the turmoil of the middlegame doesn't interfere any longer.

All good positional advice is aimed at this part of the game. "Get the bishoppair", "accumulate little advantages", "damage his pawnstructure", "give him a bad bishop", "create weaknesses" etc. are all aiming at this stage of the game. No wonder that it never worked in my games! All cryptic statements about the game like "the pawns are the soul of the chessgame" become clear in this phase of the game.


Don't expect that Shereshevky's book can do the work for you. It gives a clue and a few hints, but you have to do it yourself. But I'm confident that I can manage that now I have a start. I will give an example why I say DIY.
At a certain moment, Capablanca could trade off a knight against a good bishop. In the meantime inflicting the opponent with an extra isolani. But he didn't. And the book didn't explain why not. So I set up the position in the computer and tried to play it out. It appeared that the trade made it possible to get the opponents king into action much faster than your own king.
The valuation of the kings distances to the center of action relative to the wellknown advantages of removing a good bishop and causing an extra isolani can't be learned from a book. Only from experience.

There are only 18 days to go to the next tournament. I must focus on the major flaw in my play I just discovered, although it's short time.
In order to learn the utmost from the tourney and to overcome my hydrophobia I take the following pledges during the games:
  • I will not take the consequenses of my actions for my rating into account. No matter what.
  • I will abstain from complex middlegame play, which is the second flaw in my play anyway, in order to avoid time trouble at all costs. I will play simple chess instead.
  • I will not offer a draw.
  • I will not accept a draw offered before I have less than 15 minutes on my clock in the last period of the game.
Have a look at my new system against the Caro-Kan.
Have a look at the QID.
Have a look for another system against the French.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Finally le finale

The post with chess maxims is added to my sidebar.

Sometime ago I have dabbled around for 6 months with daily study of the endgame. I always had the feeling that it was not effective what I did. I had no overview over the area. The books I studied could only help me with the details of the study, but none of them gave an overview over the whole area. To work your way bottom up to a topdown overview isn't easy at all in such vast area. I'm not blessed with an innate feeling for the endgame. Or as I use to say it "I must have a great feeling for the endgame since I make always the wrong move, while statistically I should make a good move every now and then."

If you have no overview, you don't know what is important and what not. So you buy a book in good fate that the author will lead you by hand. Not.
The most endgame books are a mixture between a reference work and a book with endgame compositions. And they don't tell you at which moment they are what.

Working your way thru a reference work is like reading an encyclopedia. You never reach the "Z". And most things you read you will never encounter in real life.
For the compositions part: compositions are meant to show you the beauty of the game. To add them in a study book is as weird as adding differential equations to a mathbook about adding and subtracting. Without telling you that it are differential equations.

If I spill my time, I like to do that on my own initiative. If I do 70,000 problems at CTS, I know beforehand that I probably spill my time. But since it is an area that is not trotten by anyone before, I can accept that. Because afterwards I can exclude a whole bunch of speculative theories. That is what makes it worthwhile.
But when my time is spilled by the author of an endgame book, I'm not so forgiving. To make it quite clear: it generally aren't bad books. But the lack of pedagogic insight of the authors make them a spill of time and money for the endgame novice.

And so I abandoned the study of the endgame a few months ago.
The details I learned in that 6 months are probably forgotten. Since I couldn't give it a place in an overall framework. My games show an enormous gap between play and what I have studied. When pondering about my preparation for my next tournament over 3 weeks, I realized that I had to fill that gap though. One way or another.

So I decided to think for myself. Hence I gathered all the endgame maxims I could find, in order to blend them together and to distill a strategy out of it. In doing so I flipped thru the pages of my 16 endgame books. And so I stumbled on the interesting book of Shereshevsky, "Endgame Strategy". I have never read it before but the introduction seems to indicate that it might be what I'm looking for. Here are a few words from the introduction:

"In 1976 I happened to be the second of IM Mark Dvoretsky during the USSR Championship 1st league in Minsk. Dvoretsky adjourned his game with grandmaster Taimanov in a superior position. In one of the lines of analysis a rook ending with f- and h-pawns was reached. Dvoretsky referred to a book on rook endings, and began studying the appropriate chapter. I was surprised: after all, Dvoretsky is a great expert on the endgame. To my question he replied that he knew the basic principles of playing such endings, but did not even attempt to remember lenghty concrete analyses. Later during the tournament we frequently discussed the question of how to study the endgame. Dvoretsky considers it essential to know the classics, to analyze complicated practical rather than theoretical endings, and to find general rules and principles of play in complex endings. And in theoretical endings it is sufficient to know whether the ending is won or drawn, and to have a rough impression of the plan of play."

I'm going to read the book and let you know if it fulfills its promise.

My visualisation exercises are going well. I see about 70% of the board before my minds eye. What is most important, it is light and stable. Which means it doesn't fade away overtime. Maybe visualisation skills can play a role in calculating long variations in endgame play. That would be nice.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Gathering endgame maxims

Latest update:december 7, 2008

This post will act as a scrapbook for endgame maxims and will be updated regularly. From time to time it will look chaotic, maybe. After sorting things out that will disappear.
There is quite a difference between endgame technique and endgame strategy. In order to develop an endgame strategy I will gather all maxims I can find, put them in a blender and distill a strategy out of it.
I will try to avoid double maxims around the same topic: what good is for you to strive for is automatically bad for the opponent and has to be avoided by him and vice versa.

Endgames of the 0-st order: pawnendings.
  • If one pawn can hold two that is favourable.
  • If you have two pawns on adjacent files, push the one on the free file first. To prevent the previous maxim.
  • Have your pawnmajority on the side where it is not opposed by the enemy king.
  • Advanced pawns can lead to a favourable break because they are closer to promotion.
  • Create a passer whenever it is safe.
  • Create an outside passed pawn as a decoy to help your king to penetrate in the enemy position on the other wing.
Endgames of the 1st order: 1 piece+pawns vs 1 piece+pawns

The light pieces.
  • If you have a bishop, put your pawns on the opposite color. No matter what your opponents piece is. The idea is twofold: it makes your bishop active, and when the opponent pushes his pawns till they are blocked against yours, they automaticly become a potential target for your bishop since they are on the same color.
  • If you have bishops of the same color the previous maxim will make his bishop bad.
  • If you have bishops of opposite color, and you try to win, put your pawns on the opposite color as your bishop. If you are defending, put them on the same color as your bishop.
  • A bishop is strong in an open position.
  • A bishop is strong when working on two wings at the same time. Especially important with bishops of opposite colors.
  • If you have a knight, a knight is strong in closed (blocked) positions.
  • A knight is strong with all pawns on one wing.
  • With knight vs knight, the penetration of the king is the main motif, plus the outside passer.
  • A knight needs outposts.
  • B vs K deprive the knight from outposts, then dominate the knight.
Rook vs rook.
  • Before anything else you must be able to play the Lucena and the Philidor position and the 3rd rank defense.
  • Make your rook active at all costs.
  • Let your king help.
  • Try to bind the enemy rook to the defense.
  • Defend a passer from behind, i.e. the first rank, to leave the promotion square free.
  • Two joined passers are often winning, so you can sacrifice a few pawns for that.
  • A condition to play for the win is that there are pawns on both wings, which make it very dificult for the defending king to choose where to go.
  • If the pawns are on one wing you have only a chance when you can cut of the enemy king.
Rook vs bishop or knight
  • Keep the pawns on the board.
  • Attack the enemy pawns from behind (=7th or 8th rank).
  • Create weakness which you can attack with both your rook and king.
Endgames of the second order: 2 pieces+pawns vs 2 pieces+pawns

  • The attacker decides when to trade pieces for an endgame of the first order, since the defender doesn't want to change pieces.
Two bishops vs two bishops.
  • After the trade you will have two bishops of the same color. So the pawnstructure dictates which bishop to trade. You must be left with the good bishop. Your opponents bishop will automatically be bad.
Two bishops vs bishop and knight.
  • A russian proverb says: "The advantage of the bishoppair is that you can trade it off. " Beware that you keep the good bishop and avoid bishops of opposite color when the underlying pawn ending is better for you.
Two bishops vs two knights.
  • Open up the position. Create two wings. Trade off your bad bishop.
  • Pawns at the rim are difficult to stop by a knight.
Bishop+knight vs bishop+knight.
Bishop+knight vs 2 knights.
  • In general a good bishop is better than a knight. The only reason to prefer a knight is when your opponent has the bad bishop and the pawns are on one wing.
2 knights vs 2 knights.
  • Trade of a set of knights when the underlying pawn ending is better. Remember that the remaing ending with knight vs knight is about penetrating with the king and the outside passer.
2 rooks vs 2 rooks.
  • Trade off a set of rooks when you have winning chances.
What to do with your King?
  • Head for the center, from where the king can intervene where needed.
  • Walk to your passed pawns.
  • Walk to pawns that are susceptible of being attacked.
  • Free a piece that is bound to defence.
  • Penetrate the enemy positions when you are faster than the counter attack of your opponent.
General idea's.
  • When you don't know what to do, try to inflict your opponent with an extra weakness.
  • When you are worse, don't play for the win.
  • Only accept a draw or offer a draw when you are worse. Otherwise you will never learn to play an endgame. Worse can mean behind in time.

When to trade pieces and pawns?
  • When behind in material, head for a drawish endgame (bishop of opposite color or rook vs rook with pawns on one wing)
  • When behind in material, trade pawns, not pieces. In the end you can sac your last piece for his last pawn, when you leave him with insufficient mating potential.
Middlegame techniques to get a good endgame.
  • Minority attack. You attack with 2 pawns 3 hostile pawns. After trading off you leave your opponent with an isolani that you can conquer.
  • Inflict damage to the opponents pawnstructure: double pawn, isolani, backward pawn, many pawn islands.
  • Create an (outside) passed pawn.
  • No open files leads to a rook ending.

When you have additions and/or corrections, please feel free to submit!!

Made up my mind

Since a todo-list with 3 items is too long for me I have decided to focus my tournament preparation on visualization and endgame strategy. Forgetting about reasoning. The bulk will be endgame strategy. When I'm tired of that I relax with some visualisation exercises. I don't expect the visualisation exercises to be of any use for my chess, but I want to learn it anyway. It is meant as investigation of how to learn to use the LTM.
Ok, now let me gather some books.