Queen Safety and Draw Opportunity

During the last meet-up of the Decorah Sjakklubb I had a few games in which there were worthwhile positions to study. In this first position, I was playing the black pieces and missed a great opportunity on this play (only to get very lucky with finding it on the next play).

It turned out that I blundered in this position with b6. There were a few candidate moves that would have still been winning for black such as Rd8 or Nb6, but can you find the move that produces a much better advantage here?

I needed to take the bishop on g2 with Bxg2. When white takes the bishop back with the king, I then produce a check and simultaneous attack on white’s queen with Nf4+. After gxf4, I get white’s queen!

Which leads me to this potentially game altering position of my b6 blunder. There is only one good move for white here. After the previous study, it might be easy.

I was much too concerned about the queen attack on the pawn on b7 and pushed it to b6. But I overlooked another much more significant attack. Can you find it?

I was very lucky my opponent did not see Bxh3, at which point I would have had to give up the bishop just taken or the knight the queen is defending. This would have been a game changing move that would have given the advantage to white.

Fighting for a Draw

In my third game against a very good player, I was playing as white and began to crumble at the end. However, we found ourselves in this position with white to move. Although I am two pawns down in this endgame, I have a chance to draw here. The first few moves may be easier to find than the third move.

In this crazy position, I could have drawn the game! Can you find the first three moves?

The first two moves are 1. Ra8+ Kh7 2. Rxe6 fxe6. This creates a dangerous passed pawn! What is the third move now that we’re in this position?

There is only one move that works here that maintains a big enough threat for a draw.

If you found 3 Ke3, you did well! After this move, black has nothing better to do but check your king on the g file while the white king dances between the e1 and e3 squares. If black jumps up to g5 ever, the f7 pawn push becomes unstoppable since the white king can eventually hide behind his a3 and b3 pawns to overcome the barrage of checks.

I ended up losing this game, but was happy to learn quite a bit from this position.

The Queen vs Rook Endgame

Why choose to study a game that occurs about 1 in every 1200 games?

After searching for something that wouldn’t take long I realized that this endgame cannot be mastered quickly. In my pursuit, I found chessable.com which has a fifteen chapter course on the Queen vs. Rook endgame!!

Again, why would one want to go through such a course for a 1 in 1200 chance at using it? While I just have a thirst to master any and everything in chess, I think there is valuable lessons in simply how the rook and queen can battle each other across the board.

For the rest of you out there who may like the smallest tidbit of knowledge about this game, I would recommend learning the Philidor position with black to move and also how to get to the Philidor position with black to move if it is white to move instead.

Philodor’s Position

That is covered in chapter 2 and is essential.

If it white to move and you want this position with black to move, you can do this in a few ways. Here is one.

  1. Qe5+ Ka7 or Ka8 (since 1 … Kc8 2 Qe8# and 1 … Rc7 2 Qxc7+ with mate to follow) 2. Qa1+ Kb8 (since 2 … Ra7 3 Qh8#) 3. Qa5

Now, you’re in the above position with black to move. There are several options, some lose quicker than others. All are worth studying, the hardest ones being those when the rook moves to b3, b1, f7, or h7.

Anyway, the main purpose of the post is to introduce you to the valuable chessable.com resource which has several courses that may go into much more detail than what you can find on chess.com or lichess.org.

Best Game of 2023 Nominee

The Romanian Chess Championships of 2023 may have a contender for the game of the year.  Check out the news on chess.com for a full write up of the Szabo v Stepaneucu game by GM Rafael Leitao.  I just wanted to highlight a few postions that I found insightful.

The following position was after black’s 15th move. There are a few options for white here who just went a pawn down. I don’t know if I could have been bold enough to take the route Szabo did here.

Things got hairy from this point on.

While 16. Qe2 seems to be the safe play here, Szabo went for the sacrifice 16. Qxd8+ gaining a rook and bishop for his queen after 16 .. Bxd8 17 Rxd8+ along with a king side attack that he felt was worth the exchange.

After black’s 19th move to get out of check 19 … Kg6, Szabo finds himself in the following position. He finds a brilliant move here (spoiler hint here) seemingly ignoring the queen attack on his rook. But is he really?

Good luck finding the best move here!

Szabo found 20 Ng2.  If black decides to take the seemingly hanging rook, look at what follows: 20 … Qxd8 21 Nf4+ Kh6 22 Nxf7+ Kh7 23 Nxd8 and white gets a pawn and the queen for black’s mistake.

The next position is after black’s 26th move, when the queen took the rook on a1. White had just previously made the bizzare 26 Nb5 move.

Only one good move for white here. Can you find it?

The only good move was 27 Nh6+. After careful inspection, we see black cannot capture the knight because of 27 … gxh6 28 Rf4#. Thus, black is forced to take the pawn on h4.

While there are several other postions that are noteworthy, the last one I’ll share is at the end of the game. It is white to move and there is a mate-in-3 and a mate-in-2. See if you can find both!

Szabo found the mate-in-2. Can you find it and the mate-in-3?

If you found either, good job! Since I read the article and followed along I was provided the mate-in-2 which was brilliant. The mate-in-3, however, was not provided so I met that challenge! I was certain the mate-in-3 involved a discovered check by moving the knight on g5. But where? Did I want a double check or did the e4 or e6 squares provide a better tactic? After careful study, I found 43 Ne4+ g5 44 Bxg5+ Kh7 45 Nf6#.

The mate-in-2 is found by 43 Rxg6+!! White is forced to capture with their own knight, and then the smother happens with 44 Nf5#. Stepaneaucu resigned after the rook take. What an awesome game!

The Match that Made a Novel

In 1892, between January 1 and February 28, Mikail Chigorin and Wilhelm Steinitz faced off in Havana for a World Championship rematch.  In was on this day (Feb 7) in 1892 that they played the 16th game of this championship.

What was so special about this game?  Author John Brunner found something interesting about this game as he used it in his 1965 novel, “The Squares of the City.” Reading like the Godfather in some ways, urban class citizens are caught in a political battle in the fictional South American country of Vados. The book went up for a Hugo award in 1966. It had some tough competition that year, however, as Dune was also on the list.

Using the appendix, one can familiarize oneself with how the characters line up with the pieces. Don’t read any further in the appendix unless you want spoilers on how pieces/characters are captured. Having the game printed out will allow one to read along and match the story line with each move in that game.

Some moves are much more obvious to spot in the story than others, especially when the move is a capture.  There was no storyline for casteling which the reader should just assume is implied. All other moves have a storyline but may be more challenging to spot. 

The concept of the novel was unique. I thoroughly enjoyed reading (and playing) along. As a stand-alone novel, one might think it was unneccesarily violent and quite a stretch at times. If you are both a sci-fi fan and a chess enthusiast, you should most definitely check out this book.

Puzzles from the Dubuque Scholastic Open

On Saturday, December 10, 2022, Fox Lana of the Decorah Sjakklubb participated in the Dubuque Scholastic Open.  Fox played five games where each player was given 30 minutes on a 5 second delay.  He brought home second place!

Fox Lana’s 2nd place trophy

Fox shared a few of his tournament games with me at our regular Sjakklubb meeting, and gave permission to share a few of his positions.

In this first position, Fox was playing black. White had just pushed the pawn to a5 and it is Fox’s move. He found a mate-in-5 from this position. Try and solve before reading on! (There are two paths to the mate in 5).

Fox (Black) found a mate-in-5 in this position

Technically, there are many more paths than 2 as you could interchange whites first and second responses in both paths that I’m referring to. Here is what happened in Fox’s game:

1. Qxh2+ Bxh2 2. Rxh2+ Rxh2 3. Rxh2+ Kg3 4. Nf5+ Kxg4 5. Ne5#

The other path is if white’s king decided to go to f1 on the third move: 3 … Kf1 4. Rh1+ Kg2 5 Rg1#

Owning the h-file proved to be a great tactic for Fox, and seeing the mate-in-five starting with a queen sacrifice was brilliant! The last two moves would have been challenging to calculate.

This second puzzle I thought was even more brilliant, and I’m not sure if I could solve this puzzle. Even the Stockfish engine had to take a second to find the move.  Fox, playing white, took 2 minutes to find the only good move in this position. See if you can find it! Black had just pushed the pawn to c5.

Fox (white) found a brilliant move

Although this is not technically a mate-in-3 puzzle, this turned out to be a mate-in-3 during the tournament. Don’t feel bad if you cannot find the move, as it is really tricky.

Fox found 1. Rxf6!!

If black captures with either bishop or pawn, white has mate in 2!

Fox saw that if white decides to capture his rook with either 1 … exf6 or 1 … Bxf6, he has a mate-in-2.  Although easier than the first puzzle, this may still be a challenge! Can you find it?

After either 1 …. exf6 or 1 … Bxf6, the line continues 2. Qxh7+ Bxh7 3. Nxf7# for a brilliant and unique smother mate. If black wanted to avoid the mate-in-3, their best response was 1 … Ne6 which still would have put them at a disadvantage engine-wise.

Even after black’s best response, white still has a +11 advantage (according to Stockfish on lichess)

I’d like to close with a big congrats and thank you to Fox for his achievement and for sharing a few of his games with us.

A Mate in the Middle

I ran across the following mate-in-4 puzzle for white reading 1001 Chess Exercises for Beginners by Masetti and Messa and had a difficult time with the analysis.

Puzzle 964 in the reference

As always, I encourage you to find the solution before reading on.

The discovered check move 1. c7+ forces black to take the bishop with his rook 1 … Rxf3, as there is no other moves available. When exploring this line, it was difficult to find what was next. Then, I stumbled upon 2. Qe8+. If 2 … Bxe8, then 3. c8=Q# is game over. So, instead, 2 … Rxe8. But , then we have the wonderful resource 3. Rxe8+. Again, same thing, if 3 … Bxe8, we have 4. c8=Q#. Is there anything black can do?

Yes. What if 3. Rxe8+ Kb7? While there is a winning path to checkmate with 4. c8=Q+, there isn’t a checkmate in 4 moves here. This is what made this so interesting to me.

So, instead of starting with the discovered check, let’s end with it!

1. Qe8+ Rxe8 [1 … Bxe8 2. c7+ Rxf3 3. c8=Q#] 2. Rxe8+ Bxe8 3. c7+ Rxf3 4. c8=Q#.

A Little Bit of Calculation – A Brilliant Move

This week, I want to share a few positions/puzzles with you. The first puzzle is one I’m hesitant to call simple, but much easier than I made it out to be. I had to walk away and come back in order to finally see the mate-in-3. The second one I’m very proud of, as I think of this one as a much more difficult puzzle that I worked out rather quickly!

Let’s start with the first. This is puzzle 898, called “Just a little calculation”, in the book 1001 Chess Exercises for Beginners by Masetti & Messa.

White to move – what is the mate-in-3?

I’ll give the second puzzle first, and then some hints and solutions below. This puzzle comes from puzzle 902 in the same book. It is titled “A brilliant move”.

White to move – Can you find the mate-in-3?

In “Just a little calculation”, I calculated too many of the wrong moves. I simply didn’t see the solution as a possible move for a long time. The solution begins with the rook taking the pawn on b6, forcing black to take the white queen with its own queen. Now that it is out of the path of the rook on bottom, that rook sweeps over to take black’s rook and deliver check and mate after the queen interposes. The line: 1. Rxb6 Qxc6 2. Rxa2+ Qa4 3. Rxa4#

By the time I reached the second puzzle, I did already have some practice. However, what made this difficult at first was the number of responses black has after the first move. It was challenging to work through how all of them didn’t stop the inevitable mate. The solution begins with 1. Qc6!!

Let’s look at the line with the obvious response first. 1 … Bxc6 2. Rd8 Qc8 3. Rxd8#

Knowing this, is there anything else black can do? Take the knight instead? No, as that is met with the same exact moves. If black tries instead to defend the back rank with Rg8 or Qg8, then there is a mate in only one more move with 2. Qxb7#. What if the queen rushes down ahead of time with 1 … Qc8?

This is met with the same second move 2. Rd8 leaving a few moves to analyze. Both 2 … bxa5 and 2 … Bxc6 would be met with 3. Rxc8#, and both 2 … Qxd8 or 2 … Rg8 would be met with 3. Qxb7#. This puzzle involved not only a brilliant move, but a brilliant study!

Queen vs Pawn Endgame – Mixed Motif Puzzle

Queen v Pawn

Many of you are capable of finishing most queen vs pawn endgames. A pretty basic tactic is to plant your queen in front of the pawn somewhere and then march your king over to take it.

However, there are a few of these type of endgames worth noting. Specifically, when the opposing pawn is on the seventh rank. Take a look at the following position.

With white to move, white can win.

This can be a very challenging endgame for someone that doesn’t know the trick. The black king will defend the pawn as best he can without stepping in front of it, since doing so gives white the opportunity to move his king one square closer to capturing the pawn. So, white’s goal is to make the black king step in front of his pawn.

Here is a likely sequence to get the job done.

1. Qf4+ Kg2 2. Qe3 Kf1 3. Qf3 Ke1 4. Kb5

We get to move the king closer! Now, let’s do it one more time to get the idea.

4 … Kd2 5. Qf2 Kd1 6. Qd4+ Kc1 7. Qe3 Kd1 8. Qd3+ Ke1 9. Kc4

Another step! This process continues until black sees that there is no hope and resigns or steps away from his pawn so you can capture and finish the game against the lone king.

OK. Time for a mind-blowing realization if you haven’t seen this yet. Take a look at the following position and notice what is different about the first position given above.

White to move, but black can force a draw!

All we have done is interchanged the king and pawn… and what?!? Black can force a draw?!?

Let’s play our regular series of moves and see why.

1. Qe5+ Kd2 2. Qf4+ Ke2 3. Qe4+ Kd2 4. Qf3 Ke1 5. Qe3+ Kf1 6. Kb5

Our king is on the way to the rescue! Let’s keep this up.

6 … Kg2 7. Qe2 Kg1 8. Qg4+ Kh2 9. Qf3 Kg1 10. Qg3+ Kh1!

The king steps away from the pawn to tempt white into taking it for a stalemate. Black can continue to do this and never step in front of his pawn to allow any more advancement of the white king! What an interesting endgame draw!

To conclude: if black has a protected pawn on the seventh rank in the a, c, f, or h files, black can force a draw (as long as white’s king is sufficiently far away). If black has a pawn on the seventh rank in the b, d, e, or g files, white can win.

Mixed Motifs Mate

White to move

Not sure if it was my tired mind and the end of the night last night, but I couldn’t find the best move here. Study the position and see what comes out as best.

I considered 1. Qg5+ for a long time until I saw the black response 1 … Rg6. That definitely wasn’t the best move. The next paragraph contains a hint, and the following will give the solution.

This puzzle is a mate-in-3 puzzle. If I were given that, I may have been able to find it!

The solution is 1. Rg7+. I’ll leave it to the reader to find the different ways you can mate in 2 more moves if black chooses 1 … Bxg7 or 1 … Kh8.

Tournament Experience

There is an upcoming chess tournament at Iowa State University in Ames, IA that I would like to encourage you to attend. It is the 2022 Iowa Open Reserve (U1600). While it spans 3 days from Friday, September 9 through Sunday, September 11, you have many options to participate however you would like.

Let’s say you choose the 3-day option. You’ll be slated to play five games using 90 minutes per side with 30 second bonus. The games will be played at 7pm Friday, 10am and 3:30pm on Saturday, and then 9am and 2:30pm on Sunday. You have the option of selecting 1/2 point buys for any games you may miss (say you can’t stick around for the 2:30pm game on Sunday or have to miss the Friday night game).

You can also choose the 2-day option. With this choice, you’ll also play five games, but with 60 minutes per side with a 5 second delay. These games will be at 10am, 12:30pm, and 3:30pm on Saturday, and then 9am and 2:30pm on Sunday. Again, you have the option of selecting some 1/2 point buys for any games you have to miss.

What to Expect

There really isn’t any need to show up really early. If you can get there 5-10 minutes early and check-in, you’ll be fine. You’ll also be fine if you show up exactly on time, but I would never recommend that. Allow yourself a little wiggle room for parking, and finding out where in the building you’ll need to be (there will be signs).

You’ll see many players that bring their own board and timers. Boards and pieces will be available at this tournament, but they’re asking to bring your own timer. You’ll probably be fine if you don’t have one (since most other players will have one).

Expect a cell phone policy. You may have to leave it in a box somewhere not on your person.

Do not rely on any snacks being available. I recommend bringing a small cooler with snacks and drinks. You may have time between games to escape the Memorial Union for a while and go down to campus town to grab something, but I would have some food available just in case time gets tight.

Practice ahead of time. Use chess club to play the games as they will be played in the tournament (1 hour 30 minutes per person with 30 second bonus for the 3-day, 60 minutes per person with 5 second delay for the 2-day). You’ll want to practice recording the game by hand on paper. For knight and rook moves, double check if extra notation is necessary (as in which knight or which rook is moving to a square if both can). You’ll also want to practice tournament play: and that is not to touch a piece until you have completely committed to moving it! Get in the habit of moving-hitting clock-recording in that order.

Let your mind wonder during the game when it is not your turn. Breathe. Relax. Look around at other players. Concentrate on relaxing any tension in your muscles.

Have fun. There is honestly nothing to be nervous about. Just play your best and learn something.

Max Lange Attack – An “actually quite simple” puzzle – The Philidor Position

Max Lange Attack

This attack is yet another branch off of the Italian Game. From last week, this begins with 1 e4 e5  2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Bc5. As a review, Evans Gambit from a few weeks ago is if 4 b4.  Giuoco Piano from last week is in the case of 4 c3. This week, for the Max Lange Attack, we look at 4 d4.

Max Lange Attack or Rosentreter Gambit

Black usually responds in one of three ways. Seirawan explores the line 4 … exd4 5 0-0 Nf6 (why not 5 … d6?) 6 e5. This brings us to the following postion with black to move.

Black to move.

If black moves the knight, say to g4 here, white has an interesting opportunity to regain a pawn: 6 … Ng4 7 Bxf7+ Kxf7 8 Ng5+ Kg8 9 Qxg4 and the game is pretty even.

White seems to have a better position. With Black to move, the game is even.

Instead, if we follow his main line: 6 … d5 7 exf6 dxc4 8 Re1+ Be6 9 Ng5, this brings us to the following postion.

Here again with black to move

Black’s best responses in this position are either 9… f6 or 9…Qd5. Let’s look at the mistakes 9 … Qxf6 or 9 … 0-0.  The first will lose a bishop with 9 … Qxf6 10 Nxe6 fxe6 11 Qh5+ g6 12 Qxc5 while the second loses even more after 9 … 0-0 10 fxg7 Kxg7 11 Rxe6!, where white wins a bishop that black cannot afford to take without a queen-king fork by the knight.

Castling on the 9th move for black is no good!

There are definitely some mistakes that can be made by black with the Max Lange attack that are worth studying.

It’s actually quite simple

The following puzzle is taken again from 1001 Chess Exercises for Beginners by Franco Masetti & Roberto Messa.  This one is puzzle 824. It is black to move and win. 

Black to move and win

If you need a hint, you’re looking for a move that will be a major threat that will soon end the game. The chess engine suggests that there is a mate in 7 for black in this position. Once you find the initial move for black, if you want a challenge, try and find how white can stretch the game out for 6 more moves. 

The answer is 1 … Qh3. Since 2 Rxe2 leads to 2 … Qxf1#, white doesn’t want to take the rook with his rook. If 2 Rf2, then 2 … Rxf2 3 Rxe8+ Bf8 and nothing stop the inevitible Qxh2# in time. 

How does white stretch it out? One way is 1 … Qh3 2. Qxe2 Rxe2 3 Rf2 Rxf2 4 Re8+ Bf8 5 Rxf8+ Kxf8 6 Bb4+ Ke8 7 a3 Qxh2#. White cannot do anything on the 7th move to stop Qxh2#.

The Philidor Position

Last week we looked at how to promote a pawn from the Lucena Position. This week we’ll look at the Philidor Position, one in which if you find yourself on the opposing side, you can easily force a draw. Let’s take a look at a classic position. All of this, BTW, is taken from Silman’s Complete Endgame Course.

Black to move and draw

If you put this into an engine, best moves will not always be the easiest to follow.  Silman breaks the method down into a few simple steps.  We first advance our rook to the row in front of the pawn to stop the enemy king from advancing in front of its pawn.  This is what we want to avoid. While on this rank, you’ll move your rook back and forth until white gets bored and pushes the pawn. 

At this point, advance the rook to the first rank with the idea of tormenting the enemy king with an endless supply of checks.  This is how you draw the game.

I just finished a lengthy, boring game playing the level 8 Stockfish engine.  The engine didn’t advance the pawn until the 50th move. I just hung out on the 6th rank moving the rook back and forth making sure it was safe from the enemy king and rook.

As Silman says, after mastering the Philidor Position, you should be able to draw any grandmaster that is playing white with ease.