Saturday, July 17, 2010

Chess Endgame Problem of the Week

Well, I was surfing the web and to my great sadness I found it very difficult to get good endgame problems. As you get better at chess, almost all of your games are going to go to an endgame. Often, one player will be slightly better and one player will be slightly worse.

Outplaying your opponent in the endgame is actually very possible to do all the way up to very high levels. This is because endgames are extremely hard to play properly. A chess player's intuition, which is usually what wins you games, is much less useful in an endgame. It does you know good to centralize your King if your opponent can do something crazy with his Knight and win!

Presumably, then, practicing going through these types of endgames is very helpful. Like I said above, the current amount of resources on this topic on the internet is pretty low. Maybe you will find some endgame "tactics", where you push a pawn or two and win. That is all well and good, but most of the difficult work in an endgame comes way before that!

Coming up with ideas in endgames where you have a slight advantage is critical to winning chess games. Thus, the positions I will choose will rarely have a clear winner. Instead, the position will be roughly equal, with one player having some sort of small advantage.

When solving these endgame problems, try and find the best moves for both sides. Some of these positions may be draws with perfect play, some of them may be wins with perfect play. Even if I know, I will not state whether a position is drawn or won for one of the sides. Figuring that out is part of the problem!

Solving these problems will be fairly complicated. In fact, solving one of these problems may be practically impossible. New analysis comes up fairly often for endgames played in the 1920s! Dont be discouraged by this fact, though. Working through the problems is the end goal here. Solving the problem is just sort of a nice afterthought. If you and I work through these problems, our endgame play should improve very nicely.

So as not to spoil anything for anybody, please refrain from posting any analysis in the comments to the problems. After about 2 or 3 weeks, I will make a Problem #X Discussion Post where I will post my analysis of the problem. Everyone else can post their own analysis in the comments to this Post.

As a final somewhat practical note, the endgame is often one of the most neglected areas of study for chess players. This means that a little bit of work by you can often lead to a lot of reward. I know for myself, the endgame is probably the strongest part of my game. I get away with all kinds of terrible opening and middlegame play because I can draw lost endgames! I also manage to pick up a few "undeserved" wins because of my endgame play. You would be surprised, if not shocked, at how bad some otherwise very good chess players play endgames.

As a even more final note, I will try and post the Chess Endgame Problem of the Week every Saturday.

Have fun and good luck!

Chess Endgame Problem of the Week #1

White to move.

Chess Tactic of the Day #41

White to move.

A Beginner's Guide, Part 5, Now What? Break it down.

Having read A Beginner's Guide, Part 1, How do the pieces move?, A Beginner's Guide, Part 2, Chess Notation, A Beginner's Guide, Part 3, Winning, and A Beginner's Guide, Part 4, Castling, you now know the basics of how to play chess.

However, you likely often wonder why or what you should move. You are able to see that you can move your knight, you can move your bishop, and you can move your Queen, but you have no idea which one of these pieces to move. Even worse, you dont even know how to analyze which of these pieces to move. You have no real goals other than the vague notion of checkmating your opponent's King. Even worse than that, you probably dont have any idea how to come up with real, specific goals. Basically, you have no idea what you are doing. This is when chess gets difficult, and this is generally the stage where beginners give up on chess.

You may have noticed through your study of the basics how complicated chess is. It is really really complicated. As an anecdote, Chess Endgame Tablebases exist for up to 6 pieces. These databases use very simple text notation, yet the files are 1000s of Gigabytes! If you write a 1 page paper on Notepad, the file will be about 1 or 2 kilabytes. To write a 1000 Gigabyte paper (also called 1 Terabyte), you would have to write a 1 billion page paper! This is just for the simple stuff in chess, like Queen, Pawn and King v Queen, Pawn and King. A common phrase in chess (and backed somewhat by math) is that there are as many possible moves in a 40 move chess game as there are atoms in the universe.

So, chess is complicated. This is why it is so difficult to come up with real, specific goals. For every attacking idea you may have, your opponent has 10 to 20 responses. After that, you have 10 to 20 responses. How can you think past 1 move when there are literally 1000s of possibilities? How can you study your game when you are likely never going to see these same moves again? How do we deal with all of this?

Well, lets simplify it. By breaking chess down into categories, we can decrease some of the complexity. By decreasing the complexity of a chess game, we can give ourselves some specific goals. Then, when we have 100s of possibilities to look at, we can find a move that achieves one of our goals and play it. With this framework in mind, you, as a beginner, will not feel so lost and aimless when playing chess.

So, lets simplify a chess game into three stages:

1) Opening

2) Middlegame

3) Endgame

Lets define each of the above.

The Opening of a chess game is the first 10 to 20 moves.

The Middlegame of a chess game is the most complicated portion of the game.

The Endgame of a chess game is the part of a chess game where each side has one to three pieces, not including the King or pawns.

That is pretty easy, right? We havent actually come up with any goals in the chess game, but at least you know what to study next. You need to study Chess Openings, Chess Middlegames and Chess Endgames. [POSTS ALL COMING SOON, You can google these topics in the meantime if you wish.]

To end this post, I am going to provide an analogy that should bring a bit of relief to any chess beginner. You have probably done all of the above (or if you are too young, you will). I am referring to driving a car. After all, the possibilities of driving a car are endless and similar to chess.

At first, you only have some vague goal of getting from Point A to Point B, just like you have a vague goal of checkmating your opponent's King. To get to Point B, though, you just simplify everything, by following a series of simple directions: left on Wilson St, Right on Oak Lane, Right on Main St, and enter the Parking Lot of Big Store.

While you are driving down Wilson St., you dont think too much about all the cars around you. You dont think to yourself, "Ok, there is a Green Ford one car ahead of me, a Blue Honda two cars ahead of me, and a Cheverlot Pick Up Truck three cars ahead of me. A Red Toyota just passed me on the other side, a Blue Toyota just passed me, a Green Ford just passed me. I need to push the gas down to move forward, I need to let off the gas a bit to slow down. etc. etc."

If you did, you would go crazy.

Instead, you have some basic rules of thumb that you follow.

I drive on the right side of the road. I will keep about one or two car lengths between my car and the car in front of me. I will keep my eye on the sides of the road so I can stop quickly if anything jumps in front of my car.

By simplifying the process into various groups, you can ignore a lot of the details that would otherwise make driving impossible. For instance, there is your car, and then there are other cars. Aside from police cars, ambulances and other types of vehicles, it doesnt really matter what type of cars the other cars are. They are just other cars.

As far as Streets go, they also are pretty much the same. It doesnt matter whether you are on Wilson St or Oak Lane, just drive on the right side of the road and stop at the stop signs.

You dont need to think about how far down you push the gas pedal. If you are going to fast, let off the gas and if you are going to slow push down on the gas pedal.

As you will see, you can use this same process to make chess a lot easier. One major difference with the driving analogy, though, is that while you are driving no one is trying to hit you. In chess, everyone is trying to hit you!

Still, though, if you drive you already do the type of thinking that is critical to be successful at chess. It is simply a matter then of transferring that same type of thinking to a new thing. Easy!

How's My Formatting? (Sort of Logistical Update)

One thing that seems unfortunately common to chess related internet sites is that the formatting is really terrible. I dont want to really name anybody, but I have seen quite a few sites that have some great chess information but terrible formatting of that information. Some of these formatting troubles make the sites annoying to the point of being unusable.

I absolutely dont want my site to be like that. That is why I have nice big fonts. A lot of older people play chess, also, if a kid has good eyesight he would play baseball! I also make my diagrams big and fit the screen pretty well.

My color scheme may look a bit random, and it sort of is, but I tried to use warm, cozy/fuzzy colors. I would imagine a lot of adult chess players work in jobs where they stare at bright white computer screens a lot, and that really can hurt your eyes after a while. For me, it also gets annoying to look at sterile after sterile thing. Otherwise, I might use more of a black background, because I think that is easiest on the eyes. That feels a bit too cold though.

I like to think my writing is good, but I am sure it is not great. I consider bad writing a part of the format for a chess blog. The writing probably isnt why people visit chess blogs, it is the chess. So the writing should be sort of like an paddle. It is necessary and helpful to get down the river, but the river is the main attraction.

Anyway, the bottom line is that I am going to put this post in Topics under Questions to the Readers. If anyone has any comment to make about formatting, and I mean any comment at all, please write a comment about it. No comment will be considered too nitpicky! Comments along the lines of, "too much space between posts" or "dont use the word chess so much" or "in Post X, paragraph 3, second sentence has a comma in an incorrect spot" are fine!

It is somewhat sad to me to see so many chess sites on the internet with such great information that is passed over because of bad formatting. I want to do anything I can to help put this chess information in as user-friendly a format as possible. My .html abilities are pretty minimal, but I will try and learn whatever is necessary to correct whatever problems or concerns are brought up.

Thanks in advance for any comments you make on the site!

Friday, July 16, 2010

US Chess League 2010, Schedule has been Released UPDATE

This is just going to be a real quick post that links to a nice table of the Philadelphia Inventors 2010 schedule. I went through and wrote out the schedule, but this table is a much better format.

As soon as they put up their Roster, I will start working on trying to give some brief info about each of the Philadelphia players.

Chess Tactic of the Day #40

White to move and mate in 2.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Chess Tactic of the Day #39

White to move and mate in 2.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

World Open 2010 Game 1 Analysis, Part 3, 4. b3 Introduction

You may recall from my last post on World Open Game 1 4. g3. You may also recall how I was going to try and split up my analysis posts so they are not massive. I also want to post analysis type stuff on an every other day sort of schedule.

So, in this post I am going to introduce my analysis of 4. b3. To do this, we are going to look at a nice old game.

Geza Maroczy is an Hungarian player who perhaps is a much better player than his renown would indicate. He actually was set to play Emmanuel Lasker in a World Championship match in 1906, but this fell apart because of various un chess related turmoil. His legacy to chess is the Maroczy Bind, an interesting opening where White plays e4 and c4 and attempts to prevent Black from playing the freeing pawn move d5. Play revolving around this idea is still very much alive today, and the moderately popular Hedgehog Opening retains many of the same ideas as the Maroczy Bind.

Vladimir Vukovic is best known for his book The Art of Attack in Chess. Personally, I dont like this book all that much and think it is overrated. It is possible, though, that the book has been emulated and the ideas in it have been transcribed in a better form. So the book is actually really good for the time. But updates of the material are now available and now the book pales a bit in comparison.

Anyway, the book just goes through a bunch of ideas about attacking. The best idea in the book is that you should attack various squares. Haha, that is little sarcastic, but that kind of is a large portion of the philosophy of the book. Aside from the philosophy, though, it does have a wide variety of very nice examples of attacking chess. The problem is, though, you can get a wide variety of excellent examples of attacking chess for free on the internet.

To a certain degree, it is a classic chess book, so if you are the collector type it may be worthwhile for you to own this book.

Moving along to the game, lets look at the position a bit after 4. b3.

White aims to fianchetto his dark squared Bishop. When he does this, he will neutralize Black's dark squared Bishop's pressure on his Queen side. He also may have the opportunity to trade off dark squared Bishop's which will greatly weaken Black's King side.

I am only going to point out a few brief things until move 13. On move 6, White plays Qc1 which protects his dark squared Bishop on b2. This move looks a bit clunky, but it does seem to work pretty well. I would definitely look for ways Black to exploit this move, though, as it just looks really clunky.

On move 10, Black effectively decides to fianchetto his light squared Bishop when he plays 10...b6. This doesnt look like a bad plan at all, but it is fairly committal and Black likely will have alternative places to put his light squared Bishop. Thus, it is worth noting that this may be an area where Black can try something a lot different.

Now move 13, where White plays Bxf6.

Here, we can see that Black's King side will be somewhat weak, especially his dark squares. White's Queen side will also be weak, but notably, White's King isnt there. This probably isnt the biggest deal for Black, though, because there are not a whole lot of pieces on the board that can attack Black's King.

Black has to take the Bishop with his Queen, so 13...Qxf6 and then 14. Qc3!?. I am not sure if I should just give this move an exclamation point. I gave it the "interesting move" notation because it is an interesting move. White is going to simplify into an endgame where he has doubled pawns on the Queen side. Normally, this is somewhat foolish, but here, White will get a lot of pressure on Black's d6 pawn.

Before I go on any longer, lets look at the position after 17. Rad1.

Black doesnt really have a great way to defend the d6 pawn. Also note that it is backward. A backward pawn means that the pawn cannot be supported by another pawn. For instance, in the above position, White's c4 pawn is not backwards because it can be and is supported by the b3 pawn.

I am not too sure about the terminology, but usually a backward pawn also connotes that the pawn is on an open file. This means that the pawn can be attacked by the rooks and queen of the other player. This can be a pretty serious weakness, and can often lead to the loss of the pawn and loss of the game.

Looking again at the position, note how White's c3 pawn is also unable to be protected by a pawn. However, White's c4 pawn and Black's c5 pawn block the file, so Black's Rooks will have a hard time attacking it. Generally, I wouldnt call White's c3 pawn backwards.

Regardless of what you call it, Black's d6 pawn is a weakness. Both players maneuver around a bit, and finally we get to the position after 23...e5.

Black's d6 pawn looks firmly backward at this point. However, this may be slightly deceiving. I believe what Black was going for here was a series of King side pawn pushes that would eventually break up White's bind on the d5 square, or at least provide some compensation to Black.

For instance, notice that if Black were able to play exf4 and White played gxf4, White's e4 pawn would actually be backward. Black's light squared Bishop is already providing a little bit of pressure on this pawn, so this is a pretty good idea.

I could be missing something here.

After a bit of maneuvering, this is sort of what happens. After 28. Ng4.

Black is able to initiate his exf4 idea, but White has developed some other interesting counterplay. A fairly series of exchanges

It is not at all clear to me why White doesnt take the exchange on move 30. Instead he plays Nxh7+. I dont think there are any tactics that he has to worry about. Rather, I think he just feels confident in the endgame he gets to after move 38. The endgame after 30. Nxg8 gets White up an exchange, but he is down a pawn on the King side and his doubled pawns on the Queen side may make winning this endgame difficult.

Here is the position after the possible 30. Nxg8 fxg3+ 31. Kxg3 Kxg8

I dont know, this looks pretty good for White to me. Maybe for a master level player, the rook game that actually occurs is an even easier win. Maybe I should work on my Rook endgames!

The endgame he actually gets to, after move 38.

Well, this actually does look pretty good for White as well. He is a pawn up, though it is doubled, and I guess you could say he has the initiative. After some maneuverings, the position after 49. Rd5 is this.

After move 54...Ke6 the position in this.

And here White decides to push a pawn.

White has undoubled his pawns, which makes his position look much better. Black cant do much in this position, but he has been able to move his rook from a somewhat passive position to a more active position.

After this, White aims to trade off both Black's Queen side pawns. He is willing to lose his g pawn to do this.

With two passed pawns, it is difficult or impossible for Black to stop the pawns.

Both sides push their pawns a bit, and get their Kings into position. With the move 77. Kc7, White finds the nice idea of trading off his a pawn to get Black's g pawn and good King position. With his King on c7, White will have a fairly easy time promoting his c pawn. Thus, Black must decline to take the a pawn.

This doesnt help though. The final position.

Black's Rook is actually no longer protecting his g pawn, because if his Rook moves off the a file, White will Queen that pawn. Even worse, if Black takes the a pawn after White's 82. Rxg3, he loses his Rook to White's Rg7+. Finally, if Black plays something like Ra2 just to get out of the way, Rg8 will guarantee Black either loses his Rook or White gets a Queen.

There is nothing Black can do, so he resigns.

So, that game wasnt exactly won in the opening. However, White came up with an interesting way to keep up a little bit of pressure throughout, and was able to simplify into a winning Rook endgame.

This doesnt really allow us to say anything conclusive about 4. b3, but it looks pretty promising at this point.

Chess Tactic of the Day #38

White to move and mate in 2.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Chess Tactic of the Day #37

White to move and mate in 2.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Chess Tactic of the Day #36

White to move and mate in 2.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Chess Tactic of the Day #35

White to move.

[Note: From this point forward, unless there is a specific mate in X, I am just going to say which sides move it is. This way, I can mix in "tactics" that are more like long positional wins with the normal move-move-move-win types of tactics. This should greatly increase the benefits of doing these tactic problems. You wont be able to discount quiet positional moves immediately.]