Saturday, 29 October 2011

Break moves

Last time we looked at a rook on the seventh.  To best use rooks we need to open files, but how do we do that?  The obvious answer is by using pawns, but we get told not to make too many pawn moves in the opening. That is true, but once you have developed then what?

This article is on break moves, but Dan Heiman has already written the perfect break move essay at Chesscafe, see here -  Most of what I present can also be found there.

After you develop, or along side developing you will often want to break the pawn position to increase the mobility of your pieces.
Dan writes: "A 'break' move is a pawn move that 'breaks up' an opponent's (fixed) pawn chain by attacking the opponent's pawns with that pawn."

Break moves are not solely for the use of the defender, but they are definitely required more when defending.  The attacker should often seek to advance a pawn alongside his most advanced pawn.  This action can also be thought of as a break move, but is often done more to gain space and cramp the defender.
White would like to advance a pawn to either e4 or d4 the yellow squares.  Black would love to break with c5 or e5 the green squares.  As always with chess short term tactics need to be considered, c4 is a much stronger move than e4, a Black pawn on c4 can be recaptured while e4 is a gambit.  Note that a true break move requires the pawn to be fixed otherwise the pawn may just be pushed past.

Lets look at another position: After 1.e4 e6, 2.d4 d5, 3.e5 we have the Advanced French

Black's break moves are c5 or f6.  f6 may leave the king a little weak, so may be delayed until the king is safe.  Nimzowitsch taught us to attack the base of a pawn chain, so c5 is very strong.  If White captures then Bxc5 develops a piece and leaves White with a pawn on e5 that needs to be defended.

In Dan's article he presents the following position:

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Be2 O-O 6.Nf3 e5 7.O-O (7.dxe5 dxe5 8.Qxd8 Rxd8 9.Nxe5 does not win a pawn because of 9…Nxe4 and if 10.Nxf7?? then 10…Bxc3+ wins a piece) 7…Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 - The mainline King's Indian
In this position what is Black’s best break move (hint: it is not legal – yet)?

Black wants to attack the base of White's pawn chain, so breaks on either b5 or f5.  Remember though the pawn needs to be fixed to be a break move, so b5 is not an option.  Therefore Black wants to play f5.  If you look through a King's Indian book you will see this position and perhaps wonder why Black plays either Nh5, Nd7 or Ne8 on his next move, depending on White's move, and doesn't move the at home bishop on c8.  Now you know the strategy of breaking, the knight moves don't look so strange.  Some of White's ideas in this opening are to stop Black's best knight move, so you will see lines beginning with 9.Ne1, or 9.Nd2, both prevent 9...Nh5 and allow f3 to support the e4 pawn.
Perhaps White should be trying to advance his c-pawn to c5 so he has a pawn alongside his most advanced pawn, but c5 allows the pawn to be captured, which cedes some advantage to Black.  9.b4 preparing c5 is one plan in this position and makes perfect strategic sense.

Note that in opening play, theory sometimes finds flaws in plans that seem perfectly strategically sound. That is because these ideas have been tested in thousands of games and tactical flaws discovered.  

Please read Dan's article it is available for free and is brilliant!

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Junior Club:Rook on the seventh

Coaching a large group of children is difficult, especially when there is a wide range of abilities.  This year we are trying to introduce more advanced concepts to the older or more advanced children.

Perhaps the most important element of chess are the pawns.  "The pawns are the soul of chess"  Philidor.  The pawn structure dictate where the piece should be placed, which pieces have more power and the plan to follow for an advantage.
Before any pawn play though, we looked at a rook on the seventh rank.  
For this we used one of the most famous examples J.Capablanca - S.Tartakower New York 1924.  You might think that showing Grandmaster games to children is too advanced, perhaps so for modern masters, but the giants of yesterday often played games of sparkling clarity that demonstrate particular strategic devices clearly.
Of this game Irving Chernev writes "Search the annals of chess from the days of Philidor to the reign of Karpov, and you will find no ending equal to this for demonstrating the power of a Rook on the seventh rank" in his excellent Capablanca's best chess endings.
Who are we to argue with that?  
Rather than play through the whole game we picked up the action after move 28.

29.Rh1 - Capablanca sizes the open h-file.  Placing the rook on an open file is usually a very good move.  Do you see how this fits in with the chat about pawns above?  Black's rook is tied to the defence of the pawn on g6, so can not prevent 30.Rh7
29...Kf8 - Did you spot the weak pawn on c3?  Why not play Rc6 then?  Unfortunately for Black Bb5 would pin and win the rook.  In every position tactics have to support the strategy.

Chernev obviously likes this game, as in The most instructive games of chess ever played he writes:
"Rook to the seventh - the magic move in rook and pawn endings.  What is the secret in the strength of this move?  It is this:
(a) The rook is in perfect position to attack any pawns that have not yet moved - those still standing on the second rank.
(b) The rook is prepared to attack any that have moved, by getting behind them without loss of time.  The pawns would be under constant threat of capture, no matter how many squares they advanced on the file.
(c)The rook's domination of the seventh rank confines the opposing king to the last rank, preventing him from taking any part in the fighting."

30...Rc6 31.g4!
31...Nc4 Black tries to activate his knight.  31...Rxc4 32.Bxg6 would give White two connected passed pawns and the f-pawn in particular would almost inevitably be able to queen.
32.g5 - White fixes the weak pawn on g6
32...Ne3+, 33.Kf3 Nf5
Black has managed to defend the g6 pawn by Nf5 from the White bishop, therefore Black now threatens Rxc3.
34.Bxf5 - Neil Mcdonald writes in "The Giants of Strategy" - "Capablanca trusts in the power of the seventh rank absolute to triumph over material.  He will give up several pawns in order to get his king to f6, where it will introduce both mating and queening threats."
34...gxf5 35.Kg3 - See the notes to 34, Cappa isn't bothered about 'spare' pawns, or indeed the pointless check.
35...Rxc3+, 36.Kh4 Rf3 37.g6! letting another pawn fall to advance the king. 
37...Rxf4 38.Kg5
Just note how dangerous Cappa's king has now become!  If for example Black continues with Rxe4 then Kf6 threatens mate next move when Black has to move his king which will allow White to queen.  Therefore Black plays 38...Re4, 39.Kf6 Kg8, 40.Rg7+ forcing the king to a non blockading square before the rook gorges itself on Black's pawns. 40...Kh7
41.Rxc7 - Here comes the payback!!  White is preparing to harvest Black's weak pawns in revenge for Black's earlier gluttony.  If he can promote the g-pawn to a queen bonus.  Note how the Black king is useless on the back rank, see Chernev's notes above.  A constant liability to Black the king has to be babysat by the rook otherwise the game will end very quickly. 41...Re8 - Passive, but forced, Tartakover will have hated making this move.
42.Kxf5 - Cappa takes the pawn before regaining mate and promotion threats.
42...Re4, 43.Kf6 - Another mate threat allows White to get his king across the e-file.
43...Rf4+, 44.Ke5 Rg4, 45.g7+ Kg8 Rxg7 Rxg7 is a completely lost pawn ending as White can quickly queen the d-pawn.
46.Rxa7 Rg1, 47.Kxd5 White now has four pawns for his earlier 2 pawn investment.
Black is lost, he now has to try and stop the d-pawn's advance.  Cappa finished the game quickly with
47...Rc1, 48.Kd6 Rc2, 49.d5 Rc1, 50.Rc7 Ra1 51.Kc6 Rxa4 52.d6 1-0

Explaining chess concepts in words can be difficult, but when the concepts can be seen in a game and students can play with the positions, ask questions and see how and why the strategy works then lessons are easier to understand and we think more fun.

How does this all fit in with pawns?  To get a rook to the seventh rank there must be pawn moves and most probably a pawn exchange.  The plan is to introduce pawn breaks next. 

Sunday, 9 October 2011

School chess Championship

On the 8th of October 2011 Yarm preparatory school held the 17th Yarm Chess Championship.  There was an under 11 section and an under 9 section.  Darlington chess club were delighted to send a team to compete for the first time.  The Darlington youngsters were joined by over 100 children from around the North East.

The competition was a team event with each team been made up from children attending the same school or chess club.  The format was a five round swiss event.

As it was Darlington's first time we had no idea what the standard would be like, would we be completely blown away?
Round one and Darlington were playing one of the super strong Royal Grammar School (RGS) teams.
The Darlington kids were smashed 3.5 - 0.5 with only 5-year-old Dylan securing a draw.

After that round I congratulated the kids, much to their surprise.  I was pleased at how hard they had fought, two of our games were the last to finish.  I likened them to wild cats fighting every inch of the way.  Round two came and the wild cats had their tails up winning 3-1.  Round three was another victory 2.5 - 1.5.  The Darlington kids were now playing well.

 Dylan, Lea, Harry and Aidan.

Round four we played the second placed RGS team and were smashed 4-0.  Time for a break.

A feature of the competition, was a room for the kids to eat and a large astro turf area to let off steam.  A large game of no rules football erupted, with 20-30 a-side teams, great fun and just what the kids needed.  We made friend with some great kids during the chess and the football.

Round five was a draw 2-2.

My man of the match was Dylan, I may be biased as he is my son.  At 5 the tables were too big for him to reach all the way to the other side of the board.  Below he executed his walk round the table to finish his move technique.

Dylan finished on +2 =2 -1.

I was very proud and pleased with the whole team.

Well done to Sean Marsh for organising a brilliant event.  Next year we hope to have at least two teams enter.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Junior Club - Breaking the pieces down

The coaching philosophy of Darlington chess club has always been a light touch.  Try and keep the coaching to short sessions and let the kids play chess.
There is such a range of abilities at the club we have started to coach more advanced topics to some of the older kids that are progressing well.  With the other kids we have decided to try and break the pieces down, so the kids get a feel for each piece's unique qualities.  This is not a new idea and it is mainly based on the ideas of Richard James.  I will give a flavour of what we are doing below, but if you want to see more of what Richard is doing take a look at

Playing mini games.
We pair the kids up and ask them to play the following position.
Black tries to get one of his pawns to the first rank and White tries to stop him.  Each child takes a turn with Black and White.  Give it a go here

The general consensus was the bishop is better than pawns.  Agreeing with this we showed them how the bishop can stop advancing pawns by controlling the squares in front of the pawns.  After playing the games the kids easily understood this concept.

Next time we played the same game with a knight
The overwhelming feedback here was that the pawns were stronger than the knight.  Interesting...

We encouraged the children to play with these positions to see how they affected the results.  For example

Next time we will look at what the advanced group have been up to.