Category: 1. e4 e5

Studying games of the classics to change one’s own amateur assumptions.

Hi guys, it’s Simon, back from a few weeks’ hiatus, I missed writing a lot. I thought about a few different subjects for this post, but after one of my online games this week I decided to discuss a position which comes up in my own games pretty regularly:



It’s a position from the Two Knights opening. The last move was 9.Nh3. Now, looking at this position, how many 1800s (and lower) players with Black pieces do you know who will resist their urge to take at h3 and claim they have a huge, probably close to winning, advantage , because of White’s kingside pawns being disrupted? Most of the people I play against take the knight without a second thought. But White’s seemingly vulnerable position has hidden powerful attacking resources- it’s not so much the extra pawn at the moment, but White will boldly castle, put his bishop on f3 and g2, move the king to h1 and the rook to the open file at g1. Then, if Black castles kingside as well, he has to be watchful for all the pins along the g-file, with Bxh6 being an obvious threat. And it’s not of the least importance that White keeps the bishop pair, whereas Black’s knight is clearly misplaced and will take a few moves to return to the game. I don’t mean to claim that White has a huge advantage, I’m far from being dogmatic in my opinions, I’d just say that this is a perfectly playable position for White where he can actually develop a strong attack rather than be attacked. Why am I even talking about this? Because most of the ‘B’ class or lower players will take. Perhaps they should study some classics. I did not write the theory of this. It was first played by Steinitz and later Fischer used it too. Would Mr. “I believe in good moves” play this on move 9 if Bxh3 was giving Black an advantage? In fact, in today’s computer era it’s a move that still comes up in grandmaster chess, but in those games Black actually resists taking the knight on h3, which in fact may be White’s main problem- he has to solve how to bring it back to play. So if you’re looking for alternatives to Ruy Lopez , Two Knights may be an option for you. Just study some classic games.

PS. A bit of shameless self-promotion- just recently I started a website where I can be contacted for chess classes that I offer. So if you’re interested, please check it out here.


Reflections on the Empire City Open tournament.

To end 2012 with a bang, I decided to play in  the Empire City Open tournament…I missed OTB chess a bit, having not played for almost a month because of all the December holidays. I finished in the shared second place in the U1900 group with 5 points out of 6 rounds (4 wins and two draws). My goal was to take the first place as I was one of the highest rated players in the group- 7th seed by rating, but two draws came along and I had to accept the second place. Still, it’s a very good result, and this performance is much better than my previous scores at other tournaments in the same rating group earlier this past year (where I also did pretty well). I think it will be useful to share my loose thoughts on how to approach this kind of event and what to do to (almost) win it. My advice may be less useful for players in rating sections other than the 1600-1900 rating group that I played in. There are several issues which I think are important and I’m going to list them below.

1. King safety. 

This may sound trivial to some but I cannot stress enough how important it is. The goal of this game is to get your opponent’s king and to not let them get yours. You should start thinking about this right in the opening- which side do I castle on, what kind of pawn formation will I have in front of my king, which pieces (Nf3, Nc3, something else? )will be protecting the castle that my king lives in ? You have to be serious about it. Once you have a fianchetto formation in front of your king, will you be risking too much of your safety by pushing your h-pawn one square ahead? Are there any nasty back rank mates on the horizon that your opponent is waiting to catch you off-guard with? You have to be super-vigilant about this, because if you want to win your game, you have to not lose it first. Check if your opponent has been equally careful about this- are there any weak squares around their king? Can you prevent them from castling? Can you provoke them to push the pawns in front of their king ? It may seem like I’m spending so much time writing about such an elementary issue that every player has heard of hundred of times, yet I see players failing to take care of their king again and again. These are the positions from my 3 different games with White pieces from this tournament:

                                                                                                                I’d take White over Black in any of these positions looking at kings placement only. I scored 2.5/3 out of these games. Another good aspect of having your king safe is just one less thing to worry about during your game- you can focus on calculating your attacks on the exposed king of your opponent, not the other way around. So keep your king safe, it will make your game easier.

2. Play for a win at all costs.

If you want to win a 6-round tournament, you can’t expect to achieve it with a score of less than 5 points. I scored 5 points out of 6 games and it only earned me a shared second place. So you cannot give points away, you cannot be lazy and agree to draws, your attitude should be to push for a win in every situation. If you have a theoretically drawn rook endgame, play it for an extra hour, there is always a chance your opponent will slip, it’s very easy to do. If you see no way through other than sacrificing material to get a winning chance, you should seriously consider doing that. Players at this level are not computers and most of them don’t defend correctly. In my 3rd round I had already had a draw from the second round when I got this position with Black to play:

 Black is not worse, but he has very little to do- his queen can’t move, neither can his rook from f6, the rook from f8 can move along the back rank but it doesn’t lead anywhere, there aren’t many squares the knight from e7 can go to either. My opponent would have been content with a draw here, but I couldn’t afford that. I decided to risk with 30..Nh5 31.g4 fxg4 32.hxg4 Nxf4 33.exf4 Rxf4 sacrificing my knight for a couple of pawns. There is no direct win in sight and it’s a purely intuitive sacrifice, counting on opening the lines towards the king and pinning the g2 bishop with my heavy pieces along the g-file. I didn’t see a win here, but saw no other way to win. It took a long time for my opponent to make a mistake under pressure of the attack, but he finally did it. I won in another 60 moves. By the way, it’s interesting to see that the point 1- king safety- is relevant here as well- White pawns in front of the king have been pushed ahead and are easy to break with the attacking knight, while the Black ones at g7 and h7 provide excellent security for the king, while the knight from e7 will go to g8 in case of a check from the back rank.

3.Opening preparation.

5P: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. By the time you have reached this rating level, you have most likely developed your own opening repertoire. Work on it, it really greatly helps your confidence to be able to play the first 10 moves in  two minutes without thinking( but knowing what you’re doing, of course) while having your opponent spend 20 minutes on as many moves. When you know the book moves and the main variations that you know are good, you will recognize inferior moves on the spot and then you can stop and think how you want to deal with them. You should know at least the first 10 moves or so in every variation of your repertoire, White or Black (Black perhaps probably deeper than White, because with White there is a broader range of Black’s responses that you have to deal with). Few weeks before the tournament, think about your openings and write down on a piece of paper which ones you need to work on- what have you been recently having problems with ? Before this tournament, I worked out my lines in the Alehkine, Caro-Kann, French and its subvariations, Scandinavian as White and refreshed my main line Accelerated Dragon and Grunfeld lines as Black. None of these openings appeared on the board during the tournament, but I had a pleasant feeling that I was never caught off-guard in the opening because I played book moves in every single one of them. I’m not saying that all of your study time should be spent on finding novelties in the Najdorf from the last Ukrainian Junior Championship, but be accurate within the variations that you have as your own- for example if you play Two Knights variation against the Caro-Kann don’t play secondary stuff like 5.d3 after 1. e4 c6 2. Nc3 d5 3. Nf3 Bg4 4. h3 Bh5 , etc, etc.

4.Endgames. I’m terrible at endgames and need to work on them the most. I hate when the game reaches that stage and I don’t understand anything. Yet it does happen all the time- all of my games at this tournament went beyond 40 moves and two out of my six games reached R+p vs R+p endgames. And this is where the half-point differences between wins or draws or draws or losses are decided. If I knew anything about the endgame, in this position with White to play:

 I would have considered playing the best move Kc2, understanding that it’s OK to give up the d4 pawn, because the Black rook will not be allowed back into the 3rd rank to attack my queenside pawns which are much more important here. Instead I played the automatic Rg4 and was forced to give up the g-pawn soon and later even got into a lot of trouble having to fight for a draw. So I clearly have to work hard on the endgame if I want to get that extra half-point and I would recommend the same to all of the players rated less than 2000.



5.Tactics. I don’t need to explain to anybody that it’s necessary to be tactically sharp at all times in these games. There will be positions on the board with opportunities for you that may not happen again in a given game, so you don’t want to miss these. They don’t have to be hair-raising positions from Tal’s games, most of the time these will be seemingly simple positions which you will not find in a puzzle book, but accuracy will make a difference between better and worse result. In my 2nd round game in the following position I was White:

I had just sacrificed an exchange and needed to make time control, but the pressure of the clock cannot be the reason to playing the wrong move. I played 30.Qxe4 without thinking- this is the key problem- not thinking about what you’re doing, in every position you have to stay focused and think about the move alternatives. I didn’t think about the alternatives here- his pawn wants to take my queen,but it’s my move so I’ll take the pawn first! This is not taking everything the position has into consideration. My opponent’s rooks are not connected, neither of them has protection, his king is on the d-file- if my pawn from d4 magically disappeared, I could check it with my rook from d1 , etc. I did not think  about anything like that. If I did, maybe I would have found a move which gives me an advantage- 30.Qb3.


To stay sharp, you have to have time assigned in your training to regular sessions of solving tactical examples from puzzle books/ software and going over grandmaster games and asking yourself why a certain move was or wasn’t played. In a week (at least) before tournament you have to increase the number of puzzles you do every day and the time you spend on them, to get used to having to deal with positions. I’m in strong favor of solving the positions by setting them up on a real board instead of having them on the computer screen- you will be playing your games on the board, not the computer, get used to that. Set the position as you found it in the book, stare at it for how long you need to (without moving the pieces), choose the move to play, write it down, set the next position, and so on. At the end of the session check the answers. Also, when you study grandmaster games, whether it’s for tactics or for anything else, doing it on a computer screen is an easy but yet again, inefficient way to do it. Think about it- all the technology is being made for us because we are lazy and we want to get everything easily. But studying chess is meant to be hard, there’s no escape from this. Scrolling over the moves with your mouse you will miss the point of the half of them if not more. Play them on the real board, move pieces from one square to another and think why, like you will during your tournament game. And one more thing- I’ve heard lots of times people talking how playing blitz improves their tactical ability. Maybe it works for Nakamura, but for the U1900 mortals this only develops bad habits- playing too much blitz will make you move too fast in your slow game (or move too slow, relying on your blitz skills to save you in the end, but why put yourself under pressure deliberately?). And in a blitz game you really don’t see all of the complexity of the position, 3 or 5 minutes that you have to spend for the entire blitz game will be easily spent on a single move in a serious game, so its training value is really questionable. Instead of playing a 5min blitz game, which takes 10 mins of your time, you could spend it on solving 2 puzzles from the book and this will be time better spent. If you have to play online, play slower games- at least 20 mins, and then have them saved to your database where you should analyze and annotate them immediately after you have played them.

6.Time management- play smart, play slow.  

Time control you get in these tournaments is 2 hours for the first 40 moves and an extra hour after you have made these 40 moves and the game is still going, plus there is a 5 second delay on each move. This is the slowest of all the different time controls I’ve had in my games, and for old and slow guys like me, this is a blessing. I’d work hard to hopefully get an advantage by move 30, then will make the 10 moves to reach time control, and then will be rewarded with an extra hour to finish the game off. In my opinion, in general you should not move fast in this type of game, with an exception of an opening when you’re still in your theory, and in situations where there is just one sensible move (e.g. recapture) to be made. Other than that, don’t rush, you have plenty of time, be in charge of the clock instead of the clock being in charge of you. Let’s say that you have made your first 10 theoretical moves in 5 minutes. The time on your clock has decreased by only 4% but the number of moves you have to make to reach move 40 is now smaller by 25% already. This means that starting from move 11, which reaches a position which you have never seen before, you can spend more time on thinking. And don’t hesitate to do that, there are positions where you just don’t see a plan or have hard time calculating all of the variations. Calm down, you have time, stop looking at the board, look away focusing on calming yourself down and then return your sight and thoughts to the board. I had this situation a few times during this tournament when I would stare at the position for 5 minutes and couldn’t decide what was really going on, so I would turn my eyes toward the ceiling and focus on breathing for the next 2-3 minutes. Just think about the air coming in and out, nothing else. Then look at the board again, and often you’ll see things you didn’t before. In my experience if I had 3mins remaining for each move till making time control, that was a safe enough cushion to have. In one game I had less than an hour remaining before reaching move 20, but I understood that this was necessary because the positions in it were very sharp and making one mistake would have detrimental effects. I took my time and by the time I played move 40, I was 3 pawns up. You may be used to playing fast games too much where people with better positions would often lose because of their low time on the clock- there is much less of it here, where your opponent will usually have enough time to finish you off once you gave them an opportunity, so the real emphasis should be put on playing the best moves possible. So, when it seems that your opponent is approaching time trouble, let’s say it’s move 30 and they have less than 10 mins, don’t fool yourself that you can win the game on the clock by making moves fast- they have played a good number of games like this in their life before and probably play bullet games on the internet like everyone else, they are aware of their clock, but of you’re not aware of everything in the position and rush the moves, once you are past move 40 you will be punished for making the position easy for them. Ignore their seemingly difficult situation on the clock and focus on making the board situation difficult for them instead. Also, I think you should repeat the position to get closer to time control whenever possible- if you are at move 20 and make two moves that don’t change your position but you don’t spend any time on them, you just cut the number of required moves by 10% and your time remains the same. An important psychological moment may arise right after move 40- you have just been given an extra hour, that’s a lot of time, don’t rush, you’re not under pressure anymore, go stretch your legs, get a snack, there is still a long game ahead of you, you don’t want to blow it up by rushing with moves that will have consequences you’ll never be able to deal with.

7. Non-chess stuff that may be not important that you think it is.

We all heard about things that help you play better- drinking a lot of coffee or orange juice, sleeping a lot before the games, eating salmon or wearing your hockey team’s jersey to the game. Hard to say whether any of these things matter, but if they do for you, take care of them ahead of time so you won’t have to think about them when you’ll have to be focused on playing. So a week before the tournament make a list of foods to eat, yoga exercises to make, inspirational movies to watch, clothes to wear etc. so when you win you can tell everyone how important it was on your way to the win. Good luck and have fun playing chess in 2013!


Critical moments.

Hello to all the readers of this blog, this is a new contributor Simon. We have known each other with Greg for a while now from plenty of games at the blitz meetup at the Tea Lounge  that I organize and from the tournaments at the Marshall that he directs and I play in. It’s been one of my favorite blogs for a long time, which makes me even happier to be one of the writers of. I will follow the general formula here of “thinking out loud” on all things chess, whether it’s a super-GM tournament kibitzing, online blitz madness, chess literature reviews or reflection on hopeless positions from my own games (will try to spare you these). I hope you enjoy my writing and appreciate all the comments.

For today’s article I chose to focus on the critical game of my favorite tournament of the year, London Chess Classic, which finished last week. It’s just a wonderful event to follow online, with a streaming live video commentary of all the games. Maybe it’s a good spoken English that does it for me? Or the British humor perhaps? And the games themselves somehow are always very entertaining (with Sofia rules encouraging players to fight).  As every chess player not living under the rock knows by now, Magnus Carlsen won it yet again, and by doing so, his live rating has reached a stratospheric 2861 level, which beats Garry Kasparov’s old record.


How does he do it ? One of the factors may be what Magnus said with a smile during one of the interviews in London: “I pride myself to be an unforgiving player”. He said it with a smile on his face, but he was serious. Playing against him even the slightest inaccuracy will put a strong grandmaster in trouble. We’ll see it in our featured game. In the final tournament standings Magnus was ahead just two points (or half a point in traditional scoring) of Vladimir Kramnik, who also had a fantastic tournament, elevating his rating over 2800 again. Upon closer look, you will find that this small difference between numbers one and two in the final standings was made in their games against Michael Adams (who himself had a very good tournament, finishing in the 3rd shared place). They both had Black pieces against Adams, they both even started with 1.e4 e5, but Kramnik drew and Carlsen won. So that was  the critical game. The thing is, Carlsen was for a long time worse in that game, but he managed to capitalize on Adams’ inaccuracies and win. We start with this position:




White is up a pawn, but he gives it up by playing 29.Nf3. Instead, Nc6 would have maintained his advantage and he shouldn’t be in any danger of losing. It is impressive to observe Carlsen’s technique, how he goes from a worse position to a winning one. One may argue that these were the mistakes of his opponent which allowed him to do that, but this is where he is so efficient like no one else- over the course of the next 11 moves needed to make the time control he just “improves his pieces” (these chess cliches really mean something, just compare the position of his queen to the one from the previous diagram) and it’s White to play with 3 seconds left on the clock:




Now, it’s very easy to understand that White didn’t want to play the computer move 40.Nd2, putting himself in a pin along the second rank, but this was his best defence here. Instead, 40.e4 loses a pawn (it’s a good tactical exercise- try to visualize the sequence that follows before checking the game below). What really is amazing for me to watch here is how Carlsen has everything under control and never loosens his grip- one thing leads to another – and he achieves a winning queen and pawn endgame where one would think there generally is a high ratio of draws, but not here- he methodically advances his queen and passed e-pawn without giving White any chance for counterplay. Finally, we come to a position where Black has to decide whether the time is right to exchange queens. Serious calculation is required- he will remain up a pawn, but is it still winning. He just has to see the pawn endgame position 14 moves ahead, including the king opposition battle dance and evaluation of the pawn race. Very exact calculation, and you’re not allowed to make a mistake because there’s no way back. So, when he’s looking at the position in the diagram on the left( Black to move), he sees its outcome 14 moves later in the diagram on the right, just like that:


Carlsen’s games (especially the ones from the last two years or so, since he has been winning almost everything) are full of examples like this- him being unforgiving. They are a great material to study for everyone who wants to learn the magical winning technique.

Please check the game annotations and variations below. Before writing this post, I saw commentary from the Chess Evolution weekly newsletter, which covers this endgame in much more depth than I do here- I certainly recommend it for its high quality material sent to my inbox every week.

The Cocksure Cochrane Gambit

After losing a game recently to the Petroff, I decided to forgo the sideline that had only ever brought me spotty success for the whacky Cochrane Gambit. For those of you aren’t familiar, it occurs after the moves: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nxf7 Kxf7 5.d4…

White gives up a knight for two pawns and to draw black’s king out into the open. Current theory frowns on the variation, but there are a few GM’s who have bagged some beautiful victories with it, such as Vitolins, who played it regularly, and Sulskis more recently.

In any case, below find some instructive games, along with some theoretical material for the brave among you who want to give this a shot.

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Upsets at the World Cup

(left: Polgar sisters as child prodigies playing 3D Risk)

In the Sunday NYTimes, FM Dylan Loeb McClain has a column where he covers the hot novelties and interesting chess tidbits that addicted chess fanatics such as myself crave. This last Sunday, while at Variety coffee shop slamming a stumptown ‘spro at 8a.m. before biking to the Marshall Chess Club, I picked up his column and saw this article. Sam Shankland upset Peter Leko at the World Cup- who could have seen that coming. It goes without saying that at No. 19 in the World, Leko is an elite GM. Thus, beating him with the black pieces is a major achievement for our own S. Shankland. The game is a Semi-Slav, which arrives at a curious position where Black’s pieces shuffle on the 3 ranks while white appears to have a better position for most of the game. Then, like an avalanche, Black’s kingside pawns start rolling forward and block out white’s dark square bishop, leaving black with a golden knight that is centrally placed. The game is nothing short of a positional masterpiece from the young American.

In my last post I think I lamented how most GM’s don’t have their own websites in an era where shameless self-promotion has become more than socially acceptable – almost mandated- but it turns out I spoke too soon. Sam Shankland has a site of his own here, and it’s not bad actually! Granted it isn’t a 20 thousand Euro website the way that Jan Gustafsson’s appears to be, but it isn’t an early 1990′s GeoCities looking chess website either, so kudos Sam.

Another upset which caught my eye was Judit Polgar eliminating the top seeded Karjakin in the World Cup. The masterful endgame is nicely analyzed over at ChessVibes (for no charge- believe it or not!)

Apparently, after having some babies Judit is back in action and gunning for an elite top spot again. How amazing would it be to see her in the candidates next time around? Having a female World Champion could give a lot of good publicity to chess and perhaps entice more women to play in general- like a gender specific Bobby Fischer effect. There’s no question that if any woman on the planet has a shot it’s Judit.

ok chess geeks -swoon-

If that game was juicy enough- in their second game Judit whipped out the Ruy Lopez Open as black to drawn (Swoon again!).

As those of you who follow this blog know, we have a bit of a love affair with the Ruy Lopez Open- check it out- I have all three Chess Informant Monographs on the subject by the hero of line himself!!

Naturally, the following game demonstrates Polgar’s ability to control the position and hold the draw.

I have to admit- despite all of the shenanigans her sister has been involved with here concerning the USCF (and I won’t mention specifics as I don’t want to be sued for defamation – ugh- ) i’m still a fan of Judit and wish her well.

The Philidor with g6!?

The other day, I was chatting with IM Renato Naranja about an idea that Nick Conticello showed him. It involves playing an early g6 in the Philidor, thus taking it into some sort of weird Pirc territory. The position in question occurs after the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 g6!?

After glancing at the position, i thought that white should have an advantage after playing f4 and simply going for it in the center. However, with each variation I tried from this starting point, Renato easily demonstrated the flexibility of black’s position.

I can’t condone playing like this (the philidor…my word…other than Master Jim West- who can get away with playing such a defense?) but it is always eye opening to see a new idea so early on – especially one that seems so logical. As I progress (can I call it progress?) I’m reaching the conclusion that it’s best to deviate early and focus your study time on tactics, tactics, tactics, so fresh and original ideas- such as this one and those presented in the New in Chess SOS series- are worth their weight in gold for both surprise value and conservation of study time. The awesome thing about this variation is two IM’s seem to think it is solid as a rock for black- which is good enough for me. Who says originality is dead in chess? I seem to come across these amazing new little gems all the time- and I’m a patzer!

Following are some games I found over on chess labs featuring this variation.

Harikrishna Loses First Game at 4th NY International

The 4th annual NY International started with a major upset on board one, with top seed Harikrishna surprisingly losing his game to Alex Ostrovsky. The game was a tense Ruy Lopez, where white maintained the tension in the center and emerged from complications with a clear winning plan of pushing his central pawns.

Left, Harikrishna ponders his position.

Shabalov on board two won his first game as expected.

Two Knight’s Defense: Modern Attack

If you play 1.e4 and wish to avoid the Spanish, than the Italian game with 3.Bc4 is the best option. Black’s logical responses are basically the Two Knights Defense, 3…Bc5(Italian game), or the Hungarian (3…Be7.) Naturally, against 3…Bc5 the Evans gambit is a fun option, but against the two knights defense I think the modern attack 4.d4 is actually easier and more straightforward than the mainline 4.Ng5. Here are three games from a big proponent of the variation, Asa Hoffmann.

I myself have had a lot of luck with this line in blitz games as of late. Some common themes for white are using his e and f pawns as battering rams to attack black’s kingside or in the alternative threaten to create a passed pawn. Black’s queenside dark square weaknesses are a key thematic idea as well, such that after the opening, if you remove all of the pieces from the board, the simple king and pawn ending would be winning for white, so white has that as an insurance policy in the middle game should he need it. Another idea worth mentioning comes from GM Dzindzichashvili, who advocates white develop his queenside knight to c3, allowing his pawns to be doubled. This is a theme we see in the following games as well.

When I asked Asa Hoffmann why he plays this line his answer answer was pretty simple: “It gives great practical attacking chances!”

Asa Hoffmann Lecture at Spectacle, Tuesday March 22nd @ 8 p.m.

Brooklyn 64 is sponsoring a lecture by legend Asa Hoffmann this month at Spectacle. The event space is suggesting at 5 to 10 dollar donation per guest, and the topic will most likely be uncommon opening ideas. I expect Asa will go over some of his own games in his signature witty style, quizzing the audience for ideas and variations.

Asa is a cornerstone of the New York City chess scene. He is at the Marshall Chess Club almost every evening, where he teaches, plays in tournaments regularly, occasionally lectures, and is an active member of the board. He was also formerly the vice president of the Manhattan Chess Club. To give a taste of his tactical brilliance, behold the following masterpiece in which he trounces Bobby Fischer:

Spectacle is an independent, not-for-profit theater in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY that screens hard to find and out of print films, silent movies, and hosts symposiums and presentations. It’s located at 124 South 3rd Street, Brooklyn, New York; between Bedford Avenue and Berry Street.


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Today In Italy-Chucky wins, all other games drawn

Today at the 53rd Reggio Emilia, Ivanchuk picked up a point from Godena in a Ruy Lopez. The move 31.f4 must be a blunder, though white’s position was already under a lot of pressure. It’s good to see Ivanchuk back in form again. This afternoon as the games unfolded however, I was following the Vallejo-Pons – Morozevich game much more closely. It began as a Najdorf, poisoned pawn, but the tension quickly released with a series of exchanges culminating in a quick draw after only 26 moves. Vallejo-Pons still leads the tournament comfortably, but Moro can still catch him.

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Today in Italy, Vallejo-Pons Leads

After Nigel short lost to Caruana in the black side of a French Tarrasch, he slid back to 2nd place in Italy today. Vallejo-Pons stole the show and clear first with a sharp win against David Navara in a Ruy Lopez Exchange. Moro lost again, this time to Gashimov, leaving him in last place with only half a point after round 3, and Ivanchuk played the Dutch again, this time drawing against Onischuk easily after 26 moves.

In the most tactically exciting game of the day, Vallejo-Pons – Navara, it looks as though black could have walked away with a draw after repeating moves at move 16, when white’s queen can only shuttle back and forth. Sensing that his position was superior though, Navara took a risk and played on. Only a few moves later he was up an exchange and seemed to have come out of the opening with an advantage, but Vallejo-pons’ heavy pieces infiltrated and dealt a stylish tactical blow. This is probably the most entertaining game of the tournament so far.

Beating the Marshall in Blitz

I have a secret to confess. When I face the Marshall in a blitz game my strategy is to weather the storm and win on time. It may sound like a cowardly strategy, but it can be very effective. If you think about it for a moment, in the Marshall, black builds a massive attack at the expense of a pawn and will wind up draining tons of time racking his brain for that elegant “coup de grace” continuation. Meanwhile, if white makes strong defensive and simplifying moves very quickly, then black will soon be faced with the ultimatum of either delivering mate somehow or losing on time. Naturally, as your time advantage grows the merits of your position matter less and less. I offer the following blitz game as an example of this strategy in action:

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Naka wins in London

Nakamura beat Short today in the 5th round of the London Chess Classic in a remarkably tame Marshall Attack, while Carlsen won against Howell and the other games were draws. Nakamura is now one of the front-runners of the tournament, along with Mcshane and Anand. The Bilbao scoring system awards 3 points for a win and only 1 point for a draw, so it differs considerably from the normal chess scoring system, inducing players to fight for wins where perhaps they would otherwise have been content to draw.

Nigel Short played the Marshall Attack, and specifically chose a tricky sideline with 9…e4 (Herman Steiner variation) instead of the mainline 9…Nxd5. One of the themes of this line is black’s thorn pawn on f3. If white captures the pawn straight away with the queen, he falls into a massive attack which I have lost to in blitz. In this game, Nakamura allows the “thorn pawn” to sit there the entire game, never picking it up despite it’s annoying cramping presence. Naturally, he avoids picking it up because he knows that (1) he shouldn’t waste time picking up a dead pawn and (2) by leaving that pawn there it’s almost goading Nigel by pointing out the harmlessness of his plan. Check out the hot trap in the parenthetical.

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World Champion Crushes Carlsen in London

After Carlsen’s temper tantrum regarding the current world championship cycle, the chess world reacted with dismay and disappointment fearing that the young player had missed an opportunity to become the youngest world champion ever. Magnus had some leverage to negotiate considering his position as number one in the world rankings, though his demands were comically outside the realm of possibility and no other top player agreed with him. When interviewed on the subject, most players expressed confusion as to his decision.

With the uncertainty as to his participation in the upcoming candidates match looming over every game Magnus plays, his game against the current world champion today took on special significance. Once again, Magnus chose to defend the Ruy Lopez, Breyer variation. This defense has been the battle ground for the last few meetings between these two, though all of the previous games have ended in a draw. Today the wheels came off and Anand turned the screws down hard on Black’s position. Anand actually missed several clear winning lines, however, his position was so solid and black’s so unstable that he had no reason to rush. Once again, the video commentary by the full english breakfast crew was fantastic, as was the post mortem analysis which you can see here.

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Bloondies…why oh why…

I have been on a massive losing streak lately. I lost the last tournament I entered, not even placing in the money, and on all of the websites I play chess on I have been shedding ELO points so gratuitously that I should probably have some kind of tangible excuse such as illness: I don’t. Case in point, the following game is one of the most embarrassing loses I have suffered in months. After coming out of the opening with a clear advantage, a number of slow moves on my opponent’s part allowed me to double rooks on the seventh and quickly go into a won ending. How then did I manage to lose such a simple clean up operation? By trying to hold on to everything. One of the things I have been trying to work on lately is the concept that you have to give a little to get a little in the game of chess, and that sometimes trying to conservatively escape into your turtle shell in a won ending is a surefire way to lose your advantages.

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