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.

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.

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

Closed Sicilian

March is a great month for chess as it will bring 5 Wednesdays on which our wonderful club can meet and play and learn some chess. Come on out to The Landing anytime in the 6-9pm window tonight (3/23/22) for some chess games and fun.

In the lastest American Chess Magaizine (Issue #25), the closed Sicilian is explored. The Sicilian is signified by the moves 1. e4 c5, which is initiated by black after white’s king pawn opening. An “Open” Sicilian is signified by the next move 2. Nf3, while the “Closed” Sicilian is signified by 2. Nc3.

Closed Sicilian

While the Sicilian is intiated by black, white can then initiate an open or a closed Sicilian with the second move. Here is one such opening line for the closed Sicilian.

Main Line for a Closed Sicilian

Although the main line is given at the bottom of the picture above, it can also be arrived at through the following:

1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 d6 3. g3 Nc6 4. Bg2 g6 5. d3 Bg7

Yet another alternative:

1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. d3 d6 4. g3 g6 5. Bg2 Bg7

As you’ve noticed, we can interchange several moves to arrive at this closed Sicilian position.

So you might be asking what the next best move for white might be. Several options have been explored, with 6. Be3 being the most popular.  Other options include 6. f4 or 6. Nh3.. However, a chess engine would rather see 6. Ngce2 or 6. Nf6 rather than the previous two even though some chess experts disagree.

Missing Piece

Decorah Chess Club only has a few more winter meeting left, and only one more before we spring forward with the time change. Wednesday, 3/9/2022, at 6pm come out to The Landing and get in on several games. Until then, here are a few puzzles of put in the missing piece for a mate!

White’s Missing Piece

In each of these four puzzles, place the given white piece on the board for a checkmate!

Add a rook for mate
Add a pawn for mate
Add a knight for mate
Add a bishop to mate

Hopefully, these exercises helped you identify patterns and positions. Want more? Check out “1001 Chess Exercises for Beginners” by Franco Masetti & Roberto Messa. Answers are below.

  • Rook at e5
  • Pawn at e6
  • Knight at g6
  • Bishop at g4

Material Gains

Looking forward to chess club on Wednesday like I am? I appreciate the games, win or lose, as there is so much to learn from them. Where are your weaknesses? Your strengths? How are you at openings, midgame tactics and strategies, and the endgame?  There is quite a bit of literature out there to help you with any of these elements.

Decorah Chess Club will meet at The Landing at 6pm, 3/2/2022. Come out to play, observe, and ask questions. We’ll be happy to see you!

Until then, here are a few studies in opportunities to gain some material.

Gains in Material

I had some time on Monday to solve several puzzles on the lichess app. There were a few I really enjoyed that fell in the category of material gains. In this first one, black has just moved the bishop from e7 to the f6 square. What is white’s move to gain material?

Black a pawn up, but about to fall behind

This one took me a long time, as I always look for checks and threats on the king first. If you still haven’t got it, here’s a hint: move the bishop.

Indeed, white’s winning move is Bc7 threatening both the queen and knight. Black’s queen cannot move anywhere threatening after that without being taken.

In this next one, black decides to deal with the check by interposing with her queen moving from c7 to f7.

Queen interposition; white to play

Black is down in this position, even with the two pawn advantage. Can you see why? 

Need a hint? One of your rooks should move.

If you found Rxe5 (the rook on e8 takes the knight), good job! While the pawn could take it, that would mean black would lose his queen (and knight) for the cost of two rooks. This would be a material gain for white.

Skewers – Part 2

Decorah Chess Club will meet Wednesday, 2/23/2022, at the Landing beginning at 6pm. There will not be a set structure this week, but timed games that last under 45 minutes are encouraged so that we can switch players with as many members as possible.

If you have a timer please bring one! Or, you can download the lichess app which has this logo:


I’ll show you where you can find the chess clock on that and some very cool functionality if you want. Just find me at chess club!


The chess.com puzzles over the last two days have challenged me to look at gaining material through the use of skewers. Let’s check out this first puzzle from Feb 21.

Using the Pause Button from Chess.com

In terms of pieces, white and black are even. It is black to move, and with the move, can take a piece advantage over white. Try and find it before moving on.

If you found the skewer, 1 … Qb6 good job. The only good move for white at this point is to take black’s queen with 2. Qxb6. Now, we can get a piece ahead with 2 … Nxe2+ where white then is forced to move his king to either h1 or h2. Black then gets the queen back with 3 … cxb6 and ends up a knight ahead!

In this second puzzle from 2/22/2022, the skewer is already in place! We just need to know what to do with it. See if you can solve this to get a minor piece ahead for black.

Adding more “Zs” to Your Chess Vocabulary

Here, with the protected skewer in place, black wants to start by taking the knight 1 …. Rxf3. With white’s queen skewered to the king, the best move for white is to take black’s queen. We will also address what you should do if white advances the pawn to d4. After 2 Qxc5 it is important not to take the queen right away! Otherwise, black would be down a rook for a knight. Instead, the line finishes 2 … Rxf1+ 3 Kxf1 bxc5, and black is up a bishop!

If instead white plays 2 d4, the rook should continue the mayhem with 2 … Rxf2 3 dxc5 Rxf1+ 4 Kxf1, and black is still up a bishop. If instead black makes the mistake with 2 … Qxd4, then after 3 Qxd4 Rxf1+ 4 Kxf1 exd4, blacks rook on e8 is exposed and will be lost!

The Skewer

This week we’ll have a sign-up sheet for Decorah Chess Club that will gather just some basic information from each of you (Name, email, phone number) so that we can keep in contact with you about Decorah Chess Club meetings and events. With the increased turnout, let’s try and follow this schedule tonight (2/16/22, 6pm at The Landing):

  • 6 – 6:15 PM : Arrive, sign-up, and set round schedule
  • 6:15 – 7 PM : First round of games
  • 7 – 7:45 PM : Second round of games
  • 7:45-8:30 PM : Third round of games
  • 8:30-9 PM : Final fast round

After signing up, we’ll get the first few rounds scheduled and alter as needed with late-comers. We’ll have 45 minutes for each game (some pairs may be able to get 2 or more games in), so the use of a timer is encouraged using 20 minutes each with a 2 second delay.  For those that finish early, we’ll have some puzzles that you can explore printed out while you wait for the next round.

If you haven’t already, please sign up with an email at the bottom of this site as well to have a weekly update delivered to your inbox. You can unsubscribe from that list at any time.

The Skewer

Yesterday’s puzzle of the day on Chess.com (named Fever Pitch) was a good lesson in using a skewer! Let’s look at the puzzle to begin thinking about a good move for white.

“Fever Pitch” – 02/15/2022 puzzle on Chess.com

Reading the board, we can see that white is two pawns down in the game and the rook is under attack by the d4 pawn. While the black queen has an attack on white’s knight, the rook on a1 is guarding it so that is not the issue.

What to do with the rook then? If this were a real game, you may consider Rd3 or Re5 as some moves to put your rook into safety. Or, maybe an exchange of knight for bishop with Nxb7. It turns out that all of these moves are not very good for white, and would miss out on a great opportunity! If you began to consider the rook taking the bishop with Rxe7 good job!  You may think that this is bad, exchanging a rook for a bishop, but look at what it sets up!

The skewer! After the queen takes your rook with 1. … Qxe7 we find the beautiful move 2. Ba3 which skewers the queen to the king. The only thing that can get in the way is the pawn on b5 (which is something you would have wanted to think through before playing the initial move in the first place).  If black moves the pawn on b5 to b6 to block, the bishop can simply take it since white has the protective pawn on c3.

The best move for black is to take the bishop with the queen immediately, and save a pawn. In summary, the best line for each color is the following:

  1. Rxe7 Qxe7
  2. Ba3 Qxa3
  3. Rxa3

Although difficult to see, black’s best response after white’s first move is as displayed: to take the rook.  Not taking the rook leads to gaining more material and a much better position.

Queen vs Pawn Stalemates & Victories

The Decorah Chess Club is gathering again at The Landing on Wednesday, 02/09/2022, beginning at 6pm. Last week we closed the place down and enjoyed meeting and playing with 3 new-comers! If you have any interest, please come out and meet some chess enthusiasts from around the area and dive into a game or two or three!

Queen v. Pawn

I was unable to solve the daily puzzle on Chess.com last Saturday, because I was deficient in recognizing a few stalemates that I did not know about. It turns out there are situations in which if black (or white) has avanced a pawn all the way to the 2nd rank (or 7th rank) with the king nearby along either the rook or the bishop files, then you can force a stalemate to the opposing white’s queen.

Black can force a stalemate with white first to move

In this first position, although black can force a stalemate, it depends on the white king being as far away as it is. If the white king resides anywhere legal within the square defined by corners a1, a5, e5 and e1 with the exception of e5, then white can win.

White to move: Black can force the stalemate

In this second position, with the advanced pawn along the bishop file, black is even stronger than before only in the sense that the white king would have to be even closer in this situation to ensure a win. White’s king would need to be as close as a4, b4, c4, d3, e3, e2, or e1 (or closer) to be able to win. White’s king in either d4 or e4 is not good enough!

Learning what to do as white when you are just within range as well as learning what to do as black when white’s king is just out of range is good study material for the player wanting to develop their endgame.

Difficult Endgames

Last week was a great success! Not only did we have many members show up at The Landing, but there were several who spotted us and asked for more information!  Hopefully, we’ll continue to grow.

We’ll be meeting at The Landing at 6pm on Wednesday, February 2 (Groundhog Day)! Just learning? One of us will happily walk through the moves and some basic strategies. Already know the game but would like to get some real board experience? We’ll try and match you to someone close to your skill level.

Difficult Endgames

Chess.com recently tweeted a comic with a person asking a crowd of chess players who among them wanted to raise their chess rating. Everyone raised their hand. Then, when they were asked how many of them wanted to study some endgames, they all put their hands down and looked away.

A book I’m currently digesting is Chess Fundamentals by José Raúl Capablanca. It is very short and a good read for beginners. Chapter 1 covers a little bit of the basics of endgames until you get to Chapter 2, which is devoted entirely to endgames. I’ll share one that I am still struggling with: the queen against rook endgame.

Queen vs Rook Endgame: White to move

I recall looking at this thinking that perhaps 1. Qa6 is a decent move. But where do I go if black answers with 1. … Rc7+?  Do I move my king further away? Keep it on the same file? If white decides on 2. Kb6, then black will force a stalemate with 2. … Rc6+ threatening the queen if you don’t take the rook.  Notice, however, that 3. Kxc6 results in the 1/2 – 1/2 stalemate, as the black king is not in check and has nowhere to go!

So, what should white do?  The goal for white happens to be to try and return to this same exact position but with black to move. This can be done pretty easily with the following sequence. 1. Qe5+. This will be followed by either 1. … Ka8 or 1. … Ka7. (It will not be followed by 1. … Kc8 since then 2. Qe8# is checkmate). Then 2. Qa1+ Kb8 3. Qa5, and we’re back to the same position above but it is black’s turn.

Black should move their rook a distance along the rank or file so as not to be taken easily. For example, not 3. … Re7 or Rg7 since 4. Qd8+ or Qe5+ would win the rook on the next move.  Whereever the rook moves to, however, the queen can eventually get it and that is what deserves practice!

If you found this endgame intriguing and want to learn more, please ask me at Chess Club!