Black to move and force checkmate. (Answer at the end of this article)
I was recently watching a chess video about dynamic play by GM Melik Chachnian who was coaching an American team in the World Youth and Cadet Championship. In it the GM reviews one of his protégés games and describes the under 12 section as the most brutal section because ‘they have no fear’. I agree – they are fearless, creative and tactical players who are improving their knowledge of positional, strategic and dynamic play. This combination, along with the chance of blundering and high emotions, makes the under twelve section seem like the Wild West – guns for hire that take no prisoners.
The under 12 open category is also the most hotly contested division of the competition with 70 players competing from every state except the Northern Territories. The players ranged in strength from mid 1700’s to players with no ratings at all, but as we know from the under 10 category (where an unrated player came 2nd) ratings can be misleading in junior competitions and every game had the potential to be won or lost.
The games started on Wednesday morning and over 5 grueling days they played 9 games, one at 10am and one at 3pm. The games were 60 minutes long per side with each move gaining a 30 second increment. Typically games lasted between one and two hours and this in itself is a big shift from the more junior divisions where play is faster. I think it is this ability to slow down that creates such improvement in this group. They are able to calculate better and further and this allows long tactical combinations to be played. The following game from the competition is a good example, it is between a NSW player as white and my son as as black.
In the end he won five games, drew two and lost two – which was a good result.
The only downside of the event was the result notification which I’ll touch on in my next post. This was a small frustration in an otherwise excellent tournament.
I was pleased by last night’s game which was part of my weekly long format competition. It was a game that I won and one in which I felt I played well both positionally and tactically. I was white again and I faced the Caro Kann. I know nothing about it but I set out to grab space, hinder my opponents movement and strike at weak squares and pieces. By doing this I was in tempo heaven. Here is the game.
When I was about seven I learned the moves for chess. I remember a friend of my dad’s visiting and my dad telling me that he was a chess expert, one of the best players in Belgium. I told this expert I could play chess and the board came out. The only thing I remember him telling me is that you should start with either 1.e4 or 1.d4 and castle as soon as possible. Over time other ‘rules’ have been added to my knowledge; control the centre, develop pieces, castle, grab open files, link pawns, close the centre before attacking on a flank, trade weak pieces, don’t bring out your queen early, etc…
Recently I have posted about the King’s Gambit and my joy at discovering such a wild opening which seems to break so many of these rules. I have also been playing deliberately more unusual moves and caring less about rules and set openings – aiming instead for tactical sequences. This hasn’t translated to better results but the games have been fun and I’m exploring more ideas. I was inspired to post about this change because I noticed a few moves by Carlsen in his second round match with Anand that seem to reflect this more tactical, combinative approach – moves I would have never considered as candidate moves a few months ago. The moves were 12. Nxb6 and especially the rook lift 14. Ra3. Here is the game.
This rule – breaking is something I have noticed in a lot of contemporary games. If you compare them to older games of the 1800’s they are markedly different and much looser. It seems to me that tactical combinations have greater weight than they used to.
Having a good position in a game seems to me to become more important as I improve. It becomes increasingly difficult to snatch a piece for free or land an unexpected checkmate. Instead my tactics need to be more focussed on bettering my position to create opportunities. The other day I recorded the following game that was played by a couple of kids. I’ll quickly run through the it to get to a position that I thought was very interesting – a better position, with equal material, that highlighted the importance of pressing an advantage. The game went:
The game arrived at this point and each player has the same material. Despite this material equality Stockfish shows that white has a massive advantage (5+ points) with blacks best move being 24. …d4. I think it is quite valuable to study this position and to calculate through different candidate moves for both black and white. What are the best move?
I found this game fascinating because it shows how you can develop play well so that you can have a big advantage despite material equality. It also shows how carefully options must be considered to maintain any advantage. This game occurred at my Tuesday chess club and the International Master who runs it immediately spotted that 27.Rxh7 was wrong and suggested 26.Qg7 at a glance. This move maintains an advantage. If we go back to the position above
Twenty five posts and only now do I mention tactics. I’ve always believed that tactics are at the heart of chess but two things have happened to make me more focused on tactics. Firstly with correspondence chess you can usually double check that the moves you initially make are sound by double checking them in game explorers. These moves can bring me well into a game before I am at a point where I need to rely on tactics and when I do reach this point I sometimes feel my games slip away because of my lesser tactical skill.
the second point of focus has been caused by me writing blog posts about beautiful games, brilliancies and immortal games. It has made me understand better what I like about chess and that is the romantic chess style of the Victorian era and it’s lineage through people like Tal and Kasparov. This kind of play seems to me to be tactics driven.
So how do I get better at tactics? Well a very easy solution would be to go on tactics trainers on websites such as Chess Tempo for 20 minutes a day. But I want to get away from computers because I find it too easy to be casual about what I absorb and I find that I lead a better life if I stay away from screens. So I have bought a couple of books that I hope will be useful – they are being sent by post. The first is called ‘The Complete Chess Workout II’ by Richard Palliser which has 1200 tactical puzzles in it. I did this because one of my son’s chess teachers uses the first version of this book in his class to help the kids look for tactical sequences – often of four or five moves. He obviously finds it good material and he is an International Master; this seems like a good recommendation. Another book I bought is ‘The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal’ by Mikhail himself. Apparently he is a good writer and I thought that reading about him and his games would be inspiring. The last book I am using, and which I already have, is not a pure tactics book but it is a book that I am enjoying that always makes me consider tactics. The book is called ‘Practical Chess Exercises’ by Ray Cheng and it has 600 ‘what is the best move’ puzzles. I find it very useful because it gives no clue as to what the aim of the puzzle is. The move might be the beginning of a tactical sequence, it might be a mating net, a positional manoeuvre, a prophylactic… Anything you might get in a game. The answers on another page tell you the move and then explain why it’s the correct choice, it also gives the puzzle a rating of difficulty. The good thing about this book is that it most closely mimics what would happen in a game.
So I’m going to set aside time and work my way through these books and see how it goes and report back.