Saturday Game Analysis

Setting up the clock with a 5 second delay and giving each of us 75 minutes (how the tournament in Des Moines will be timed), I sat down with Jerad for a game at Impact. Jerad was black. After black’s13th move (Be6), we found ourselves in this position. I made a careful calculation and found what I thought to be the best move. See what you would do as white in the following position.

White to move

Seeing the domination of my rook on the e-file, I found 14. Bxc6. This turns out to be a fantastic move if black does not respond accordingly, but a sub-par move to 14. Bxe6. If the bishop takes the knight here with 14. Bxc6, what is black’s best response? Do you retake with the pawn or queen? The best move is to take with the pawn, as taking with the queen is a blunder! By taking with the queen, you leave the bishop hanging on the e-file. So, after 14. Bxc6 Qxc6 15. Nxd4, white comes out a piece ahead.

Why is 14. Bxe6 better? After 14 … Qxe6, white begins an attack on black’s knight with 15. b5. In this situation, if black decides to move the knight to safety, then 16. Nxd4 is next using the relative pin on the e5 pawn. Black’s best response would be 15… Qa2 which attacks white’s rook as well as removes the relative pin on the e5 pawn.

Through several blunders (for both of us) we arrived at this position. In hind-sight, this should be finished every time against the most difficult of computer engines by white.

White to move.

Embarrassingly, with plenty of time on the clock (over 10 minutes), I let the time get to me and did not calculate out the position. While at some point, I would have to sacrifice my bishop for the pawn on the a-file, doing so immediately leads to a draw as there is no way for my king to take out both black’s pawns AND keep him away from the h8 square. In hind-sight, it is easy to see that Bc7 is the correct attacking move to ensure the win.

Bishop and Pawn Endgame

I read a valuable chapter in Jeremy Silman’s Complete Endgame Course last night and wanted to share it today before this evening’s Chess Club meet-up. This endgame involves a bishop and pawn against a lone king. 

Let’s say you are in the position of having the lone king. As long as the following three things hold, you can force a draw (stalemate). 

  • The pawn is a rook pawn (on files a or h)
  • The queening square for the rook pawn is the opposite color of the bishop’s squares.
  • Your king can get to the queening square in time.

If any of these things are violated, then the player with the bishop and pawn can win. Let’s first look at a situation in which the lone king can force a stalemate.

WIth white or black to move, black can force a draw.

In the above diagram, with either color to move first, there is no way for white to stop black’s king from moving to the queening square a8. This is where black’s king can hover, and eventually force the draw.

With Black to move, black can force a draw.

With the above diagram, if it were white to play, white can win if he plays his king to f6 and force black’s king away from the queening square. White must be careful in protecting the pawn and bishop on following moves. However, black can force the draw if it is black to move as they can get to the queening square via King to g7.

Now let’s look at a few situations in which one of the laws is broken and white can triumph.

White can promote and win: pawn is not a rook pawn

Although in the above diagram, the queening square is an opposing color as the bishop and the black king can get to that square, because the pawn is not a rook pawn, black cannot force a draw without a mistake on white’s end.

Queening square same color as bishop

In this case, the second rule is broken. With the bishop having the same color as the queening square, white is able to force the king off and away from that square to promote the white pawn.

Black king cannot get to the queening square

In this situation, although white has a rook pawn with a bishop opposite in color to the queening square, the black king simply cannot arrive at the queening square of h8 without white making horrible blunders.

It would be good practice to plug the three positions above into a chess engine and make sure you can promote and win against the strongest of engines.

Given what we have learned, let’s look at the following position.

With either to play, white can win this game. Black, with a knowledge of endgames, knows he cannot win with a lone bishop, so is out to try and force a draw. Black will be ready and willing to sacrifice his bishop for the pawn on the b file (as long as it isn’t protected by the pawn on the a file). White must be aware of this stalemate situation, and offer the utmost protection to the b file pawn. With both pawns in play, white is also ready and willing to exchange bishops.

Real Endgames

Last week I paid attention to an interesting endgame in which I felt that the game was a draw. After analyzing it further, with white to move, it was white to win. Study the game board below and see if you can find the winning move.

Only one move will win for white

There are several possible moves to consider. Let’s throw out a few right away. Pawn to g3 or g4 will allow black to capture (regular or en-passant), with no way for white to stop the promotion. Forget those.

White’s king capturing the pawn on f4 leads to … stalemate!  Black has no legal moves and the game is a draw.  We will forego analyzing king to e6 or king to f6 as we’ll see those moves would lead to the same consequences as other moves. Let’s look at king to e5, king to e4, and king to g6 in that order.

If 1. Ke4, then black has two options. Let’s only look at the threatening 1 … Kg3. The white king will have to step away from the pawn on f4, as the e3 square is protected, or maintain pressure on that pawn by retreating to e5 or f5. Either of which will lead to black taking the pawn on g2. The line could continue 2. Ke5 Kxg2 3. Kxf4 Kf2 and now white has to struggle to maintain defense of the f3 pawn while dealing with the advancement of the h5 pawn. This looks like a stalemate. 

If 1. Ke5, then the same sequence of moves above can occur and stalemate is likely without further huge blunders.

How can there be any hope in moving the king to g6? Well, before we give up for a stalemate, let’s take the patience to analyze before offering that white flag up.

With 1. Kg6 black is forced to move 1 … Kg3, which seems fine with him, as he is attacking the g2 pawn. Now consider what happens after 2. Kxh5 Kxg2.  White has the very effective move 3. Kg4! attacking the black pawn and protecting the f3 pawn! With black having no way of protecting its pawn, white will capture on the next move and carefully bring it down the file for promotioon and the win.

But what if 2 … Kf2 for black?  He opts not to capture the g2 pawn to provide protection to his f4 pawn after 3. Kg4 Ke3. Now white has the weapon of advancing his g pawn.  After 4. g3 fxg3 5. Kxg3, there is no way to stop white from advancing his f pawn for promotion (unless white makes a blunder). 

The Relative Pin

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to face a challenging opponent that was visiting the area. As he seemed to be on a time crunch, I didn’t want to record the game. In hindsight, this was a blunder, as I could have learned so much.

The match eventually ended in a draw, but I was able to recreate a position that we were in with white to move.  I recall it very specifically, as I thought I had found the best move in the position.  The position, it seemed, was not very pleasant for white.  Black had just placed a bishop on c3:

White to move

It appeared as if I was going to lose a minor piece in this situation. I had considered Rc1 for a long time, but saw that after the bishop takes my knight on f6, I would have to move my queen to safety giving black time to move their hanging knight on c3 to safety and I’d be a minor piece down.

I considered Nh5 also, taking advantage of the pinned pawn. But after black moved to h8 and the pin was released, I wasn’t sure how to proceed without losing that knight.

I finally landed on Qc1, which I was certain was the best move. This would initiate an exchange where I would remain a pawn up in the end game.  Black’s only good response would be to exchange at that moment. Play was as follows: 1 Qc1 Qxc1 2 Rxc1 Bxf6 3 Bxc6 and white was a pawn up in a challenging endgame.

Can you find a better move using the title of this blog post as a hint?

I was amazed later on analyzing this position with an engine to find the move Qe3! This places a relative pin on the bishop on c3, maintains the defense of my a2 pawn while immobilizing the bishop for at least one move. 

Although I am familiar with relative pins, they are usually something I can think about when I’m on the attack and in an offense mindset. My defensive mindset threw out the possibility of using a relative pin and even considering this move.

A move that seems to be just as good would have been Rb3. Can you find black’s best response to that?

Fried Liver Attack

For the last few weeks, I’ve looked for a game in which we could play the Fried Liver Attack as either white or black. So far, nobody has taken the black line far enough for me to initiate it as white, and when I was black and did take it that far, white didn’t use the attack. Oh well. At least I know it exists and will be a fun game when I get to play it.

The main line begins as follows:

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6

Black uses the Two Knight’s Defense

To initiate the Fried Liver Attack, white moves 4. Ng5 threatening to take the f7 pawn on the next move and fork black’s queen and rook. What would black’s best response to this be?

If you found 4. … d5, good job. This block’s the bishop from its attack on f7. After white captures with 5. exd5 we find ourselves in the following position.

Not yet to the Fried Liver Attack. It depends on Black’s next move.

It is suggested by Stockfish not to recapture the pawn right away, but to play 5. … Na5 to attack the bishop. We will not explore this line, as we want to explore the Fried Liver Attack, which means that the knight must recapture the pawn. So, play continues with 5. …Nxd5 and the Fried Liver Attack may commence!

6. Nxf7

After this odd and interesting play, white sacrifices the knight in order to bring out black’s king.

The Fried Liver Attack

Black’s only move here is to capture the knight to protect the queen and rook. But after 6. … Kxf7 white responds with 7. Qf3+. Study the following position and see how you would respond as black before reading on:

Here is where things get interesting if black has not yet seen this position.

With white having two attackers on the knight on d5, and black only having the queen as a defender, the best move for black is to add a defender while getting out of check with 7 … Ke6.

White continues to attack the knight with 8. Nc3. From here we’ll look at two lines that black could initiate, either 8 … Nce7 or 8 … Ncb4. The engine seems to favor the second option. To provide yet another defender for the knight pinned on d5, let’s say black answers with 8 … Nce7.

What is white’s next best move?

In this case, white’s best response is 9. d4. If black takes the bait with 9 … exd4, then white will win back the knight (and possibly a pawn) after 10. Nxd5 Nxd5 11. Qe4+. So, black should answer by providing further defenders to the d5 square with 9. … c6.

Playing it out from here would provide some interesting games!

Let’s back up and explore black’s slightly better move of 8 … Ncb4. Here, black initiates an attack on the c2 pawn while providing a defender for the knight pinned to d5.

Ncb4 takes the offense away from white

Rather than continue the attack, white now needs to think about defending the c2 pawn. After either 9. Bb3 or 9. Qe4, black can respond with 9 … c6 and interesting games can ensue.

Puzzles from my game last week

The game we played was pretty even for 16 moves. Moving my bishop to h6 was a huge error according to the Stockfish engine. After a few text moves we were in this position with white (my opponent) to play. What was his best move here?

White to move

The only defender to my bishop on h6 is the knight. White should threaten those knights the best he can with 19. e5. In the actual game, however, play continues with 19. Qd2 which kept black in the game.

Later on, we found ourselves in this position. White had just advanced the f pawn, and the black queen came down to take. What is white’s best response here?

White to move

White elected to trade queens here leaving black a bishop up. But look at 40 … Qh7+! The king is now forced to move in line with the queen with Kf8 or Kf7 and then white can now get black’s queen for their rook with 41 … Rf5.

A Chess Riddle

I’m a fan of puzzles and riddles. Last week I came across one involving chess so I wanted to share with the Decorah Sjakklubb.

In the puzzle below, black’s king is invisible and on the board somewhere in a legal square (which would be somewhere in the 6×6 square defined by the c3 to h8 diagonal). It is white’s move.

Black has to follow the rules of chess and cannot move into check. Since black is invisible, however, white is allowed to move into check (that is, the white king can move right next to the black king since white cannot see it, at which point the black king can capture the white king and win the game).  Since black has only the invisible king to work with, black will move into a stalemate situation if one becomes available.

It is white’s move. What series of moves will guarantee a victory without losing a piece?

Black King Invisible. White to move and win.

There are many solutions to this. It is a great exercise in using your pieces together to deliver a checkmate. For one such solution, and the source of riddle itself, visit FiveThirtyEight’s The Riddler, and scroll down to the solutions for last week’s Riddler.

The Englund Gambit

Wednesday, May 18, at 6pm, members of the Decorah Sjakklubb (chess club) will begin to congregate at The Landing in order to challenge one another to some chess matches. Come to learn and/or just to play.

In today’s post, I’m going to cover a small portion of the Englund Gambit, which occurs after a queen pawn opening. The beginning line is 1. d4 e5 and looks like this.

This is an interesting line for somebody who has not studied it, and if white is not careful, can fall behind to black rather quickly.  The appropriate response for white is to take the free pawn. The next few moves that usually occur are as follows:

2. dxe5 Nc6 3. Nf3

Here, a trap can be set by black that isn’t easy to see how to defend for those playing the line for the first time.  Let’s say black continues to put pressure on the e5 pawn with 3. … Qe7. Take a look at the position now and see what you would do with white to move.

If you happened to find either Bf4 or Bg5, both are fine. Moving the bishop to f4 to offer protection to the pawn, or moving the bishop to g5 in order to attack the queen are both decent moves. Let’s say that play continues with 4. Bg5 Qb4+ and produces the following position for white. Look at it and see if you can find the best move for white.

Although it feels like retreat is not the answer (as you just developed your bishop), the correct move here is to either retreat your bishop with Bd2 or put the knight in front with Nc3. When I first played this, I thought trading queens was best with Qd2 (and I’ve seen a surprising number of chess players who have not seen this line resort to this).  Black’s answer?  Black doesn’t want to trade when he can have your rook!  The (incorrect) line continues 5. Qd2 Qxb2

How is white going to keep the rook in this situation? Look at the position above a while and see what you can come up with before reading on. This is a difficult position indeed, as black is winning.

Playing this for the first time players may try and trade queens again, thinking this time it will surely work with Qc3. It turns out, this is a huge blunder. Why? Black will skewer the queen with the bishop with Bb4.  White is losing horribly on the sixth move of the game! 6. Qc3 Bb4

So, what should have white done? Let’s back up to the position before the fifth move. There are two moves that work. White has either Bd2 or Nc3. If black elects to take the pawn on b2, then white plays the other move (if Bd2 was played first, then Nc3… if Nc3, then Bd2).  So, the fifth and sixth moves could look like this:

5. Nc3 Qxb2 6. Bd2 Bb4

The good response by black is to bring the bishop down to b4 to put two attackers on the knight with only the one defender. If  white answers correctly here with 7. Rb1, then it will be a pretty good game from here with a slight advantage for white.

New Name and Logo

May the fourth be with you tonight as we meet up at The Landing from 6-9pm and then Pulpit Rock Brewery from 9-10pm for some chess games and strategies!

Exciting things are in the works for the Decorah Chess Club! Although we’ll still refer to the club as the Decorah Chess Club, the official name will be in Norwegian: Decorah Sjakklubb (prounounced “shock-lube”). The logo will be as seen on the koozie in the featured image.

Designers went back and forth on what to include in the logo that would both keep it simple and include something distinctively Decorah. Rather than include a graphic, it was decided that using the Norwegian word for chess club was the answer!

We’re still progressing on the logo, and will soon have chess log books and vinyl roll out chess boards (among other items) that will have our logo!

A preview of our logo

A Way to Get Better

When I was training jiu-jitsu in Kansas, one of my mentors encouraged me to record myself as I rolled (what jiu-jitsu practitioners call sparring) and then go over it later. You can discover small adjustments that can vastly improve the game. Likewise in chess. If we want to get over an improvement plateau, we should record our games. Obviously, the act of recording by itself isn’t going to help. We need to go over it later.

A way I get better is to use the free Stockfish engine on the analysis board provided by Take last Wednesday, for example. I played a game in which I offered a draw that was accepted after the 31st move. I was white.

Analyzing a Game

I like to quickly play out the first several moves and then begin thinking about any move that may have been slightly better and then toggle the engine on/off to see what move was better. Moves that don’t move the advantage by 3 or more points I shrug off at our level of play. If I were a national master or something, I may pay more heed to 1 point swings. Here was how the game started.

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 c5 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. Bg5 Be7 6. dxc5 Bxc5 7. exd5 exd5

White has an advantage in this position

It was at this point I made my first blunder by taking the d5 pawn with my knight. In my mind, I was thinking how he wouldn’t take it with his knight because he would lose his queen. Why I didn’t consider that he would just take my knight with his queen was the blunder.

8. Nxd5?? Qxd5

The game went from white having about a 2.5 pawn advantage to black having a 4.5 pawn advantage here. So, what was the better move to maintain the advantage. In hindsight, it is easy to see that I needed to remove the defending knight with 8. Bxf6 first. Whether black followed with 8 … gxf6 or Qxf6, we could then safely take the pawn with 9. Nxd5 and be a pawn up in material with about a 3 pawn advantage (according to Stockfish). The game continues:

9. Qe2+ Qe6 10. Bxf6 gxf6 11. Qxe6 fxe6 12. g3 Nc6 13. Bh3 Nd4 14. Nxd4 Bxd4 15. c3 Bb6 16. 0-0 Bd7 17. Rfe1 f5

I want to pause here because it was at this point, I thought I found a clever move after the f5 pawn push. The point of black’s f5 move was to provide a layer of protection on his g6 pawn, as white had both the rook and bishop attacking with only his bishop defending. With the g6 pawn pinned, I played 18. Bxf5. It turns out that this was not that great of a move. Black needed to respond with18 …Rf8 with the idea of 19… Bxf2 to follow. Instead, black has a small blunder with a queenside castle 18. …0-0-0. After 19. Bxe6 Bxe6 20. Rxe6 I (white) found myself coming back.

White has a fighting chance!

Black’s best move here to stay on top is 20… Rd2 with a double attack on that f2 pawn along with an attack on the b2 pawn. White will definitely be losing a pawn with whatever move would follow. Instead, black decides on the next small blunder 20…Rhe8 allowing white to get to an even game.

For some reason, I did not see that it was best to exchange the rook right away, which would have been in my best interests. Instead, I opted for the 21. Rae1. The game continued

21… Kd7 22. Rxe8 Rxe8 23. Rxe8 Kxe8 and the game was even.

My three extra pawns compensate for black’s bishop

We played this even game until I offered a draw. It turns out, however, that my last move was terrible and black should not have accepted! Take a look at the position after the accepted draw and see if you can find out why.

24. h4 Ke7 25. Kg2 Kf6 26. g4 Kg6 27. f4 h5 28. f5+ Kh6 29. g5+ Kg7 30. Kf3 Bc7 31. b4?? b5.

Black has great opportunities

By opting for b5 instead of something like a5, I establish my left side pawns on the dark squares! The bishop has attacking opportunities on the weak pawns on the third rank. With whatever I decide on my next move, black can begin attacking either the c3 pawn or the h4 pawn or threaten to attack both, and white’s king would be overloaded.

King & Pawn vs King Endgame

Another chess night is upon us, Decorah Chess Club fans and members! Looking forward to seeing many of you out at The Landing tonight (4/13/22, 6-9pm). I’m certain that Pulpit Rock Brewery will see some spillover games along with a few last minute fresh ones from 9-10pm.

King & Pawn vs King Endgame

Sometime tonight, make sure that you get with someone to understand the king & pawn vs king endgame. I’ll give a brief introduction at the beginning of the night. On your own with whoever you’re playing, sneak some practice in.

There are three different set-ups below that you should master as both white and black. Let’s go through them one at a time.

White or Black to move. White should be able to promote.

If it is white’s move, a good move is to gain the “opposition” by playing Kc4. If white were to move the pawn (either one or two spaces), black will then have the capability of drawing the game! This is why you need to practice these situations and learn the rules.

White’s goal here in taking the oppostion is to eventually force black off of the c-file and keep black off the c-file. Then, and only then, advance the pawn!

If it were black to play, they might try something like Kc7 to try tempting white into making a mistake and bringing forward the pawn. If white does so, black can draw by taking the opposition with Kd6

If it is white to play, white can promote. Black to play, black can draw.

Just like the first board, white must gain the opposition with Kc4. If black stays on the c-file with … Kc7, white answers by following black and maintaining the position with Kc5. The first time black steps off the file (say with something like …Kd7) in an attempt to try and go around the king to grab the pawn, the white king can step off in the opposite direction with Kb6.

Again, depending on what black does, white can respond accordingly and promote the pawn and win. If black moves toward the pawn with …Kd6, white can now safely advance the pawn.  If black moves back into the c-file with …Kc8, white needs to immediately take the opposition with Kc6 forcing black to move back off the c-file.

White or Black to move? Doesn’t matter; black can draw.

Equally important to knowing how to promote a pawn with white in these endgames, is to be able to shut white down when you are black and draw the game rather than lose. The general rule to follow is to take the opposition when you can, and if you can’t return to the c-file in such a way white cannot take the opposition back.

By the time pieces move to the back rank, black can eventually make white make the ultimate decision of leaving his pawn unprotected, or placing the game in stalemate.

When you feel comfortable and confident with this particular endgame, your game will have improved significantly!