Sunday, June 26, 2011

Gearing up for the World Open.

When I tell my co-workers what I am about to do for vacation next week, the common response I get “ You call that a vacation?” For the uninformed, the American chess scene that lacks sponsorships like our European cou

nter parts, attracting the masses of amateurs with a hefty prize does draw a crowd. However, the time table is a grueling 6 hours per game at 2 games a day during the peak. So when they hear I am signing up for 12 hours a day while holding my head as if I am in agony staring at 64 squares and a few little wooden pieces scattered about, they tend to go “ I you say so”. I call that fun.

I’ve been ramping up my preparations for this event. Because I am not a big named GM nor am I any way near the level of play of a GM, I have no “second” helping me train. Rather, my “second” is of the silicon base and add to it a very good chess club that has strong players who I can get a “lesson” from when I play against them. I’ve shared some of those lessons recently.

What I’d like to share about is how I am using my “silicon second”. Years ago, I signed up for pieces of software called Bookup, spent the money they Mike Leahy updated the software on several occasions almost to the point where it annoyed me as the next version always meant “ for a little more money” . At one point I emailed him back and told him flat out “ look, I paid for this earlier version and I use it, I don’t want to have to pay more for something that does the same thing.”

Mike was very receptive to this feedback and provided me with the registration code for the new stuff with no strings attached. That was two years ago. I finally got over myself and installed the new version called Chess Opening Wizard.

First, I must say that I used to use it purely as a memory drill exercise putting the tool in “training” mode where I would select an opening and play through variation after variation without thinking too much. Problem with this is that I have a horrible memory to retain such rote responses. I needed to augment the learning experience by verbal queues. This led me to barking at my computer screen cursory positional values but it was somewhat successful. The problem was that the database I used would drill each variation down to the last move of the game before cycling to the next branch causing me to start and stop the training at various points.

Then, I discovered the feature of “speed learning” . The COW tool will take a starting position of your choice in your database and create a set of flash card like problems from that line. You can select how far down the rabbit hole you want to go, select whose side to move for the positions and voila! You have a canned batch of exercises specifically out of your repertoire! I can’t tell you how excited I am about this. I’ve been trying to do this with ChessBase but its so cumbersome. Mind you CB has its merits …much for another post later.

Mike Leahy has a nice chess improvement tool out there and he’s been doing this for quite a while. It’s worth checking out the “light” versions to get an idea.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Baffled by the Benko

Because I play 1.d4 with the White pieces, I am constantly challenged to recall a dozen or so different responses like QGD, QGA, Nimzo-Indian, King’s Indian, Grufeld, Benoni, Dutch, Pirc, etc… I try to find a “system” for my insanity and steer the game towards a familiar pawn structure or position I am somewhat comfortable with. For the most part, I have been able to steer most of the games to an advanced d5 pawn chain, a palatable IQP or a Minority attack.

The big exception, has been the Benko Gambit.

At the last World Open, I was prepared for most of the above variations against 1.4 except for the Benko because I hadn’t run into all that much at the club. I was out of my game early as I declined the gambit and tried like hell to steer it into a more familiar positional territory. After the game, Dan Heisman spoke with me and gave me sage advice: “always accept the gambit , make them prove its merit”.

That’s all I remembered. I never looked at it again because I haven’t run into all that often, until recently. Once again, in the lion’s den at the club, I was faced with another Master. 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 I thought I was getting ready for a Benoni… but then 3…b5 was played. I took the pawn 4.cxb5 a6 and took again 5 bxa6 Bxa6 and then asked myself “now what?”

My game is too embarrassing to post here as it quickly went down hill fast from this point as I tried to avoid Black taking my Bishop on f1 and ruining my chances of castling…only to leave me in a horribly undeveloped position with Black on the attack.

Not all is lost. I asked my opponent to go over the fine points of this wretched opening and help me come up with a better plan that suits my style. Accepting the a6 pawn is a line but not for the faint of heart. It requires castling manual after the Bishop exchange on f1. It is very sharp tactically with open lines and lots of swashbuckling. I am more of a boa constrictor than a venomous viper I asked for a different way.

When I described my Samisch pawns and the d5 advanced chain he had a great suggestion: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.f3! and I can play e4 next.

( diagram) It doesn’t give Black the a6-f1 diagonal so early. Black will attempt to control the dark squares as they are weak with a Queen on b6 and B on c5. But that means playing …c4. White can grab Black’s c-pawn and hold on to two pawns fro compensation.

Black’s best response then is to go after the head of the snake and play 5…e6 6.e4 exd5 7.e5 Qe7 8.Qe2 Ng8 9.Nc3 Bb7 10.Nh3 c4 11.Nf4

This is an attacking line that can be very dynamic. I am still exploring this and not sure I am comfortable with a piece exchange for initiative and two pawns:

11..Qc5 12. Nxd5! Bxd5 13. Be3 Qb4 14.a3 Qa5 15.Bd2 Be6 16 Nd5 ( discovered attack) Qd8 17. Qxc4 Ra7 18. Rc1

White has a two pawns, lead in development, initiative and an easier position to play in exchange for the knight.

My alternate choice is 5.e3 a quieter line still under review.

In any case, if I face this at the World Open, I will enjoy playing it knowing a little more about this gambit and what to avoid.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Into the Lion's den: How I beat a Candidate Master

First A quick check in with the Knight’s Errant. Looking across the interweb, and the Knight’s Errant Revival seems to have lost some steam with exception to the energizer bunny otherwise known as Empirical Rabbit ( . I see he’s still sharpening his tactical skills through scientific analysis. As for myself, I shifted from doing exercises from CT-Art to Convektica’s Strategy 2.0 puzzles and do about 10 a day. These are more along the lines of “find the right strategy” but are mostly tactical in nature.

I’ve been working more on understanding Pawn structures and looked at several videos here on as well as picked up an out of print copy of Andy Soltis’ book Pawn Structure Chess and devoured it.

I am training for the upcoming World Open in Philly at the end of the month. Since I can’t afford lessons from a master, I decided to do the next best thing, play in the open section at my club for the Month of May and June. Every week is a lesson.

My first encounter with a Master in the Open section came at the hands of a 2300 player. It was an advanced Caro Kann, and I played a little too timid not understanding the advanced e-pawn chain structure fully. Had I known then, what I know now, I would have played 6…Qb6 to begin putting pressure on White’s d4. Then I failed to castle and chased ghosts instead. But hey, I got a good lecture after the game from my gracious opponent. Here is this sloppy game.

Fast forward to last week, by this time, I had played 3 games in May against strong players ( masters and experts) and absorbed their wisdom following post game analysis. I was also doing my background activity of learning the pawn structures most common in my games. I made notes and diagrams with ideas behind them. I set up positions and played against the computer to practice playing these positions so I could be comfortable “knowing” the position enough so I wouldn’t chase ghost. I did my daily exercises with the strategy CD and signed up for the open section again at my strong local chess club.

My goal was to reach a playable and familiar position I understood coming out of the opening and into the middle game. My opponent was a Candidate Master( at one time in his life he was beyond USCF 2200). He had a history of playing slightly odd opening s with move orders out of whack to throw people out of the comfort zone.

I had Black and played 1..c6 following his King pawn advance. He plays an odd variant of the Panov-Botvinick attack with 2.c4. My head was like “ I must support d5… Can I play it? Usually the knight comes out” ..and I played first mistake on move 2…Nf6.

I never played the Alekhine Defense before but I soon had a feel for what this defense was like. After moving my knight for the 4th time off to a6, I was finally able to advance the d-pawn.

“ Ok, so much for familiar positions” I thought. But I looked again and realized that White was about to play an advanced e-pawn structure like my previous game. THIS TIME, I knew a little more about how to handle it. I got Qb6 in early and it made the master think for a long time. I had a plan of putting pressure on d4 and controlling the c-file. It helped in looking at his threats and prioritizing where I needed to play. Since I had more energy in the center and open file, I was able to follow through with my plan before my opponent had a chance to execute his. At one point he sacrificed a pawn to gain activity on the King side but I was able to see through this and defend well. As he started to run into time trouble, he gave me opportunities and I found myself actually up the exchange!

That is not to say I went without blundering. By move 40, my opponent’s clock was running REALLY low and I found myself getting caught up with the “quickening” where had I used my time and slowed down, I would have trapped his knight . At one point I put myself in a position where he could have equalized with a knight fork but he missed it too much to the amazement of some onlookers.

Bottom line, a point is a point. A point from a master is my first victory against such a strong opponent.

Lessons to walk away from this include:

-take my time, what’s the rush.

-Knowing pawn structures and what plans work best helps when traveling in unchartered territory.

-Keeping the pressure on a weakness causes more problems than actually taking that pawn or square.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

New York, New York… an Historic chess Legacy

New York has a rich chess history of Super tournaments. Back in 1857, The first American Chess Congress was held. Paul Morphy won the event but refused the hefty prize of $300 ( estimated worth about $7000 today). Instead, he accepted a silver service consisting of a pitcher, four goblets and a tray! The event invited the top 16 American players shown below in the lithograph. Louis Paulsen was one of the players who came in second behind Morphy.

The Fifth (held in 1880 won by George Henry Mackenzie) and sixth ( held in 1889 and tied for first place by Mikhail Chigoran and Max Weiss,) American Chess Congresses were also held in New York Where this later event seemed to be the first to open the invitations to the greater International community. Gunsburg, Blackburne and Amos Burns finished 3-5th in the cross table. The top American , Lipschutz, game in sixth place. Because of such strong players at the sixth congress, challenges were made to then World Champion, Steinitz. Steinitz supported the idea that once a clear winner was determined that he must face a challenge from the second or third place competitor within a Month. IN a playoff match, Max Weiss and Chigoran remained tied. Weiss was not interested in playing a championship match. Ginsburg, however, challenged Chigoran and drew a match with him in 1890.

Fast forward 34 years and in 1924, we see ANOTHER great super tournament. This time at the site of the Alamac Hotel from March 6 to April 18th, we see an event organized by the Manhattan Chess Club ( A friendly rival to the Marshall Chess Club). This invited another group of strong international players. I mentioned in my last post that Dr. Em Lasker, at age 54, wins first place in this event and $1500 (worth $19,000 in today’s dollars). Richard Reti was one who broke Capablanca’s winning streak incidentally. ( I did a whole series on this event a couple years ago). The top American was Frank Marshall. He came in fourth.

Funny I should mention, Frank Marshall. Inspired by the great coffee houses of the past that supported this great game, like Café De La Regence and Simpsons in the strand, he decided to form a chess club that rivaled the Manhatten Chess Club (no longer in existence since 2002). His objective was to establish a meeting place for chess lovers and provide instruction for young players.

So with this long winded somewhat historical thread, I present the next big New York strong tournament. The 4th Annual New York International will be held on June 17th-21st. Top prize is $5000 in the open, and $4000 in the top B and C section ( U2200 and U1800). If you win, you could do what Morphy did and demand a silver set instead of the cash! Maybe you can throw the gloves down and challenge a World Champion. One thing is for certain, there will be opportunities for IM and GM norms because of such a strong event. The main event will be held at St. John’s University. You can register on line at the Marshall CC :

So if you are in the spirit of playing in a historic chess town, in a strong event sponsored by a historic chess club, you owe it to yourself to come on down to New York in couple weeks and get your game on.

Foot note: alright, guys at Brooklyn 64, if this gets you the Blunderprone Bump you seek… all I ask for in return is a Marshall CC tee-shirt in return ;)