X-Ray Vision

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Ashley 2013, White to move and win (answer coming soon)

Ever backwards!

Smejkal-Hracek 1996, White to move and win

Smejkal-Hracek 1996, White to move and win

Knight’s Rock Tour (Part 1)

Ashley 2012, White to move and win

Ashley 2012, White to move and win

Can you guess where White’s knight wants to go? You will crack a smile when you see where.

Transformative Chess Practices

Transformative Chess Practices

For those really serious about improving

Want to improve at chess, but have no idea what to do? Here are 8 ideas to give your chess game a shot in the arm:

  1. Thematic chess: Play the same topical opening position (known as tabiya) over and over again from both sides against a training partner. It is best to do this on a web site that will allow you to instantaneously have a record of the games (www.chessclub.com, www.chess.com or www.playchess.com are ideal). Review the games afterwards (preferably with a computer and a theoretical manual) and play the exact same variation again within a few days. Keep doing this for a couple of weeks (or until satisfied) before switching to another variation. Feel free to consult a coach’s advice on the choice of tabiya and quality of games.
  2. Study an opening from the point of view of the pawn structure. Note the kind of changes that happen in GM games (play over 20 to 30 top games in a line). Remember: the pawns are the soul of chess. The pawn breaks that happen in an opening are everything.
  3. Do a minimum 1 hour of combinations a day for two weeks before taking a break for one week and then doing it again. This is super hard work, but it will turn you into a monster tactician. Use Ct-Art 4.0 http://www.chesscentral.com/CT_ART_4_p/ctart4.htm. (You might be able to get it cheaper elsewhere, but it’s worth the price.)
  4. Study only one basic ending a day. Practice it against a computer until comfortable. It’s important to make the job manageable. I personally like 100 Endgames You Must Know by Jesus de la Villa. http://www.amazon.com/100-Endgames-You-Must-Know/dp/9056912445.
  5. Deeply annotate one of the games you’ve lost recently. Include oodles of notes and the thoughts you had during the game. At this point, do not use a computer program. When finished, pass on the annotations to a friend for their honest critique. Then use the friend’s observations to refine the analysis. Now analyze the game with ChessBase and a computer program (such as Houdini) to refine further. Finally, pass it on to a much stronger player to get a worded opinion. Of all the ideas on this list, this is the one most people will not do. Ironically, it may the best one of them all.
  6. Play solitaire chess. Have a trusted person pick out a good game, and then try to guess the moves of one side. This can easily be done with ChessBase, or with a printout of the game where you cover one side. Make sure it’s a game of reasonable length (40 moves is fairly ideal). Spend no more than two minutes per guess, then spend no more than two minutes trying to understand the move actually played in the game (if you were in error). At the end of the exercise, tally up your score and try to see the points you missed.
  7. Find an innovation in an opening. Take a line and intentionally look for moves and plans that are not in any book you own. Use a computer to help if you like. The point is not to find an earth-shattering novelty. These days, any modestly researched move that is not in a database will give a huge competitive edge, even if it’s not that special. It’s all about creating some discomfort in the opponent’s mind.
  8. Exercise! Do lots of cardio work to build stamina for those long chess games. You’ve got to be fit if you want to be a hunter!

Knight’s Rock Tour (Part 2)

Ashley 2012, White to move and win

Ashley 2012, White to move and win

Before White’s knight begins its epic journey, it’s important to note that Black has to defend against the capture of the a-pawn, g-pawn and even the h-pawn. All of Black’s subsequent moves should be seen as a desire to defend against all of the knight’s marauding intentions.

1. Nf2 Ke3 2.Nd1+

2.Kg2 Kf4 3.Nd3+ Kxg4 4.Nb4 Kf5 5.Nc6 Ke6 6.Nxa7 Kd7 7.Nb5 Kc6 8.a7 Kb7 and Black draws easily, even without the kingside pawns.

2…Kd2

2…Kd4 3.Kg2! Black is caught between a rock and a hard place as the knight will play to f2–h3xg5 or c3–b5xa7 depending on the direction the king chooses.

3.Nb2 Kc3 4.Na4+ Kb4 5.Nb6! Kb5 6.Nc8

6.Nd5 Kxa6 7.Nc7+ Ka5 8.Ne6 nabs the g-pawn just the same.

6…Kxa6 7.Nd6 Ka5

7…Kb6 8.Ne4 a5 9.Nxg5 a4 10.Ne4 a3 11.Nc3 followed by pushing the g-pawn wins as in the main line.

8.Ne4 Kb4 9.Nxg5 a5 10.Nf3 a4 11.Nd4 Kc4

11…Kc3 12.g5! Kxd4 (12…a3 13.Nb5+) 13.g6 a3 14.g7 a2 15.g8Q a1Q 16.Qg7+ wins.

12.g5

Or 11.Nc2 Kb3 12.Na1+ Kb2 13.g5.

12…a3 13.g6 a2 14.Nc2 Kc3 15.Na1!

After 15 straight moves, the knight has arrived at long last at its final resting place. What a hero’s journey!

15…Kb2 16.g7 Kxa1 17.g8Q Kb2

Normally, the a-pawn would draw, but unfortunately for Black the pawn on h4 spoils the dream.

18.Qb8+ Kc2 19.Qa7 Kb2 20.Qb6+ Kc2 21.Qa5 Kb2 22.Qb4+ Kc2 23.Qa3 Kb1 24.Qb3+ Ka1 25.Kg4! h3 26.Qc2 h2 27.Qc1 mate!