Review of 1001 Chess Exercises for Club Players

1001 Chess Exercises for Club Players by FM Frank Erwich, New in Chess 2019 192pp

As many of you know, I enjoy tactics books. Solving books in general are what I enjoy the most. I am firmly from the school that books based on solving  are the closest a book can get to practical play and that’s why they are the most valuable.

Unfortunately for the past year or so I’ve been so busy that I’ve rarely had time to work deeply from books like this, and the results have shown in my games.

Lately it seems like many books of varying topics have been focused on club players. This makes a lot of sense to me as the largest potential audience for books is club players. So the idea of this book – a book revolving around solving and directed towards club players – was one I wholeheartedly embraced.

As I started glancing through the book I was struck by a couple of things.

First, I noticed that many of the diagrams have hints printed below them in the form of listing the themes. For instance, you will see “chasing” or “blocking” or “interference” below the diagrams.

For some of you those themes may sound familiar. That’s because they’re based on the Steps Method pioneered by Dutch trainers Cor van Wijgerden and Rob Brunia.

As I read the introduction it quickly became evident that was the intention of FM Erwich. It’s clear that he considers himself a product of the Steps Method, and that he wants to further their efforts.

The book consists of 12 chapters. They are:

  1. Elimination of the Defence
  2. Double Attack
  3. Discovered Attack
  4. Skewer
  5. Pin
  6. Trapping a Piece
  7. Promotion
  8. Draw
  9. Mate
  10. Defending
  11. Mix
  12. Solutions

The exercises are laid out in each chapter to become increasingly more difficult as the chapter progresses. While this is to a large degree subjective, the idea is that exercises towards the end of a chapter are noticeably harder than those near the beginning.

Here is an exercise at the beginning of the Pins chapter:

The hint here is “luring+pin”

Here is one at the end:

The hint here is simply “mix.”

In both cases the solutions are at the bottom.

For books of this nature I always recommend writing down your answers as you solve. This will force you to be both honest and accurate in your review of the puzzles as you can’t pretend that “Oh yeah, I saw that.” If you didn’t write it down, then you can’t fool yourself into believing that you’ve succeeded.

Once you have solved a series of problems you can turn to the back of the book to review. There you will find a lot of additional information such as which game a puzzle was from or alternative tries that you may be curious about.

So who benefits from this book? I’d say in this case the target audience is exactly as described in the book. Club players. Yes, many of the exercises would also be well served for many players who are 2000+. but there are books that are more targeted to those players than this one is.

Using this book for players in the 1000-2000 range should show results. Using this book as the material for the “seven circles” method would turn anyone who seriously works on that into a much stronger tactician than they are now.

If you’ve been looking for a tactics book, or are looking for a new one, then this book is for you.

Buy the book at a very affordable price here.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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Solution to Exercise One:

Solution to Exercise Two:

Beware the “Obvious” Move Unless You Have a Follow Up

Sometimes in chess we have moves in our games that seem so natural that you think they are obvious. That was the feeling I got looking at this position with White to move.

The game is Mista-Giri from Doha 2014. Giri has just put his knight on a4. Right now the position is dead level. To me it looks like 29.Bxa4 is just screaming to be played. Mista plays it, and Giri recaptures:

Here the position is still dead level. But lets take a serious look at it for a second… White’s a pawn hangs and his b pawn is backward. White can fix these problems by playing 30.Bb6 Nc5 31.Qe3 and now if Black plays 31…Nb3 White starts to reposition with 32.Rg1 and gets ready to start some action on the kingside.

Another way for White to play instead of Bb6 is the more dynamic exchange sac 30.Rxa4 Bxa4 31.Rxa4

I can’t pretend to understand the theory of exchange sacs all that well, but it seems to me that with Black having no obvious pawn breaks being down the exchange shouldn’t matter all that much. Instead of either of those options Mista chose to play 30.Ng3

This hangs the a pawn, and with it eventually the game. Here is the game in it’s entirety.

The lesson from this game is that just because a move looks obvious, unless you have a plan to follow it up with. Til Next Time, Chris Wainscott If you like this blog, please consider becoming a Patreon supporter. Any money I raise will go towards lessons and stronger tournaments. If you can spare it, please click here and become a supporter. Even $1 a month can help me achieve my dream.

An Interesting Game Jakovenko-Harikrishna 1/2-1/2

The game Jakovenko-Harikrishna from a few days ago in Shenzhen was quite interesting to me for a couple of reasons.

Here’s one of them. In a Taimanov Sicilian this position is reached with Black to move:


Here the normal move is 8…Ne5. Instead, Harikrishna plays 8…Nxd4 9.Bxd4 Bc5 10.Bxc5 Qxc5 and now after 11.Na4 Qc7 White gets a Maroczy setup with 12.c4

So this is one part of the game that I found interesting. I’m not sure what Black gets out of this, although I suppose it’s equal and that’s what Black has been trying for.

Then down the road a piece this position is reached, this time with White to move:

One of the maxims that we are taught as post beginner’s is that when you’re queen is lined up on the same file as an enemy rook it’s a good idea to move it, but here Jakovanko plays 15.Qd4

OK, so it seems to me like if Black plays 15…e5 here, then White is doing OK since Black has given himself a backwards pawn. As Black I don’t think I’d play 15…e5. But…I’m not a super GM, because what does Harikrishna play? You guessed it…he plays 15…e5

Clearly there are some strategic themes I am not understanding.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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Opening Plan

One of the things I’ve struggled with since my return to chess is the formation of a true opening repertoire.

I’ve bounced around playing “A little of this and a little of that” and haven’t ever really solidified what I wanted to do.

Last week I started working with a coach again and one of the questions I asked at the end of the lesson was how much sense would it make for me to play a narrow repertoire vs not worrying about it.

At the end of the conversation it was clear that while it’s certainly not critical, there are some very good reasons for me to narrow what I play.

While I haven’t made up my mind at this time, I need to determine what style of openings I want to pay.

One thought is just to play the same sharp stuff I’ve played for a long time. Sicilian and KID along with 1…e5 vs 1.c4 with the idea of sometimes playing a reverse Grand Prix setup.

Another thought is that I could group some openings, such as the Caro-Kann and the Slav, which have related pawn structures.

I’m not sure which direction I am going to head. To stay sharp or to become more of a grinder. I am leaning in the latter direction, in which case you’d like see my repertoire look something like this:

White: English, and then setups against the various 1.c4 Nf6 lines, which I generally play as mainline queen pawn stuff. So I’d need something against the Nimzo, KID, QID, and QGD/Slav. I’d also need something against the Slav for those who respond 1…c6 against 1.c4.

Black: 1…e5 against 1.e4; Slav against 1…d4, and 1…e5 against 1.c4 as well. 1…d5 against 1.Nf3, again with the plan of going into the Slav.

I’m going to be giving this a lot of thought over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime I will be taking weekly lessons.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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Understanding What’s Important

One of my bigger struggles is looking at a position and not understanding what the most important feature is.

It’s not necessarily that I look at the position and don’t understand the answer to that question – it’s that I often don’t even ask the question.

Take this position for instance:

The game is Aberg-Smith 2012 and it’s Black to move. Take a minute and ask yourself what the most important feature is.

I spent time trying to get the knight to the c4 square. But I never did like the idea of 17…Na3 18.Ra1 Nc4 19.Rxa7 and now Black is in a world of pain.

Then I thought about playing …f5 to try to lock down e4, but that doesn’t do much either.

Here’s the thing though…this game appears in the “no pawn break no plan” chapter of Pump  Up Your Rating by Axel Smith. So had I asked myself the question I would have noticed that Black can play 17…e5 right now to undermine White’s c pawn before it gets too dangerous, but that if Black doesn’t do so now, then White will play f4 and that’s that as far as the …e5 break goes.

So after 17…e5 White is forced to take or make serious concessions.  Then after 18.dxe5 Bxe5 White is still slightly better, but that c pawn doesn’t look nearly as scary as it did before.

I need to start adding a step where I ask myself in any position I’m analyzing “What is truly the most important feature of this position?” Hopefully if I do so I’ll get in the habit and this will simply become second nature.

Here is the entire game for anyone who is interested.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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Another Nice Blitz Mate

Every once in a while I play the reverse GP against the English.  This was one of those times.  My opponent missed some stuff which made my job easier, but the mate was nice.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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If you can spare it, please click here and become a supporter. Even $1 a month can help me achieve my dream.

My First Smothered Mate!

I’ve been playing chess for at least 30 years since I first saw the concept of the smothered mate.

Today I delivered my first one in a blitz game.

Here I thought I was in trouble as I thought my knight was just trapped:

Then I realized my position was really good and I saw the idea.  I started with 22.Rxe6 and he feel right into it.  See the entire game below.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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Review of Game Changer

Game Changer: AlphaZero’s Groundbreaking Chess Strategies and the Promise of AI by Matthew Sadler & Natasha Regan 2019 New in Chess 416pp

In December of 2017 DeepMind released a paper showing that their self-learning AI, AlphaZero, had defeated the powerful and popular engine Stockfish in a 100 game match by what seemed to be an inconceivable score of 28 wins, 72 draws, and no losses.

However, a deeper look showed that the terms of the match were deeply flawed. The playing field was nowhere near level, and so as many people in the chess world went all agog at the results, I was in the small group of non-believers. Yes, it was impressive *how* AlphaZero played, making speculative sacrifices, etc. but as my friend Hikaru Nakamura said in an interview “I don’t necessarily put a lot of credibility in the results simply because my understanding is that AlphaZero is basically using the Google supercomputer and Stockfish doesn’t run on that hardware; Stockfish was basically running on what would be my laptop. If you wanna have a match that’s comparable you have to have Stockfish running on a supercomputer as well.”

And as far as I was concerned that was that.

Then, a few weeks ago I was listening to Ben Johnson’s excellent podcast Perpetual Chess. The authors of this book were on and one of the things that they mentioned early on was that the DeepMind staff was also receptive to the criticism and as a result they had set up a second match.

As Wikipedia notes about the second match “In the final results, Stockfish ran under the same conditions as in the TCEC superfinal: 44 CPU cores, Syzygy endgame tablebases, and a 32GB hash size. Instead of a fixed time control of one move per minute, both engines were given 3 hours plus 15 seconds per move to finish the game. The version of Stockfish used was version 8. AlphaZero won with a score of 155 wins to 6 losses, with the rest drawn. DeepMind also played a series of games using the TCEC opening positions. AlphaZero won 95 out of the 100 mini-matches from these positions.”

Suddenly I found my interest in AlphaZero piqued. Perhaps there was more to this after all.

Then, like a beam of light shot straight into my soul I come home one day to find the book Game Changer in my mailbox.

The content is laid out in eighteen chapters in five parts.

Part I AlphaZero’s history

Chapter 1 A quick tour of computer chess competition

Chapter 2 ZeroZeroZero

Chapter 3 Demis Hassabis, DeepMind and AI

Part II Inside the box

Chapter 4 How AlphaZero thinks

Chapter 5 AlphaZero’s style – meeting in the middle

Part III Themes in AlphaZero’s play

Chapter 6 Introduction to our selected AlphaZero themes

Chapter 7 Piece mobility: outpost

Chapter 8 Piece mobility: activity

Chapter 9 Attacking the king: the march of the rook’s pawn

Chapter 10 Attacking the king: colour complexes

Chapter 11 Attacking the king: sacrifices for time, space and damage

Chapter 12 Attacking the king: opposite-side castling

Chapter 13 Attacking the king: defense

Part IV AlphaZero’s opening choices

Chapter 14 AlphaZero’s opening repertoire

Chapter 15 The King’s Indian Samisch

Chapter 16 The Carlsbad

Part V Conclusion

Chapter 17 Epilogue

Chapter 18 Technical note

After playing through the games of AlphaZero I really can’t rave about the games enough.

In addition to the book, the authors have created a YouTube channel where they only include games not otherwise included in the book.

The truth about the games of AlphaZero is that they are amazing works of art in so many cases.

Rather than listening to me ramble on, look at this game from the YouTube channel.

Then listen to the authors on Perpetual Chess:

Then go buy this book.  You won’t regret it.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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If you can spare it, please click here and become a supporter. Even $1 a month can help me achieve my dream.

Too Much Garry? No Such Thing!

So I come across this position in Timman’s latest book The Longest Game about the five Kasparov-Karpov matches from 1984-1990.

Here Garry plays 13.Bf4 with Timman noting “Against Marjanovic in La Valetta 1980, Kasparov had played 13.exd5 and won convincingly.”

I was wondering about that game and so I looked it up. Wow…just wow.

The blunder happens in this position:

The threat of course is 17.Nh6+ with the discovered attack on the queen. This game is the stem game in this line, and Marjanovic chooses the worst way to deal with the threat by moving his king to h8, after which his position implodes since the knight on c3 is able to come into the attack via e4 with tempo since the queen is unguarded on d7.

An interesting factoid here is that this game also seems to be a possible example of who was staying current in chess literature at the time and who wasn’t due to the very next game in this line, which took place the following year in Buenos Aires between Argentinian IM Raimundo Garcia and Columbian Augusto Pereira.  I can find ratings in the high 2200’s for Pereira so it seems likely he was close to FM strength although he never got the title.

The two games are the same through White’s 19th move:

Here Pereira deviated with 19…Qc5 rather than 19…Qf6. No matter, he still lost quickly.

The reason for my comment about staying current in literature is that back in these days there were no databases and it could be hard to find recent games. Those players who were better at it often had an advantage over those who weren’t.

The Kasparov game had been published in Informant 30, but unless players took the time to truly read and digest the Informants they would often be at the mercy of their better prepared opponents.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

If you like this blog, please consider becoming a Patreon supporter. Any money I raise will go towards lessons and stronger tournaments.

If you can spare it, please click here and become a supporter. Even $1 a month can help me achieve my dream.

Modern Advantages

Currently I’m reading Jan Timman’s latest book The Longest Game in preparation for a review.

I’ve long spoken about certain modern advantages about buying books that exist today, but didn’t 30 years ago when I first was playing in tournaments. Chief among them the fact that back in the late 80’s you’d see a book title in a catalog, and maybe a two-line description and that’s what you needed to use to decide whether or not to buy something.

These days you can go online and read excerpts along with finding numerous reviews, etc. This is why it’s generally agreed that we’re in a Golden Age for chess books.

However, there’s a huge advantage these days in the reading of chess books which I’d like to talk about a little today.

30 years ago books were the primary source of learning and improvement. Today they are just the springboard.

Let’s take a look at this position from the second game of the first K-K match.

Here Kasparov plays 8.Nh4 about which Timman says “The critical move, which had been introduced into practice by Polugaevsky in 1980. Before that, 8.Nd4 had been the usual move. However, in that case, Black can return the pawn by 8…Nc6 (Korchnoi’s 8…Bc6 is also possible, intending 9.Nxc6 dxc6) 9.cxd5 Nxd4 10.Qxd4 c5 11.Qd2 d6 with a playable Benoni position.”

This is the final position from that note above:

I sat there looking at that and asking myself “But why 11.Qd2 in that position?  Why block in the c1 bishop like that?” And that takes us to the point I want to make today.

Back in the times in which this game was played, when a club player would see a note like that from a GM commentating on a game it didn’t matter if we understood it or not. If you couldn’t reason out the idea behind the move then you just had to move on. You were also limited to the idea fed to you by the annotator of the game. Whatever they decided to mention as alternatives is what you got to look at. The end.

These days we’re not so hampered.  I simply opened ChessBase and put in the moves to take us to this position before 11.Qd2

Here I’m able to do a number of things. First, I run Stockfish 10 which tells me after a depth of 36 that 11.Qd2 is 0.64, 11.Qd3 is 0.60, and 11.Qd1 is 0.60.  OK, so this shows that there’s nothing inherently wrong with putting the queen on d2. My instinct of “but the bishop” is a knee jerk one, but in this day and age I can learn why.

So I go to the reference tab in my database. I can see that in the 8.5 million games in my database this position was reached 19 times and that there have been four moves played. 11.Qd3 has been played twelve times (last played in 1980), 11.Qd2 five times (last played in 1980), and 11.dxc6 (in 1978) and 11.Qd1 (in 1966) once each.

So now we can look at the games in the 11.Qd2 line. Of the five, four are GM games with one taking place between amateurs. If we disregard the amateur game and look at the four games we see that interestingly, Yuri Balashov was white in three of them, with the aforementioned Korchnoi having white in the other game. The players of the black bits were Timman, Inkiov, Furman, and Karpov.

Since Timman mentions Korchnoi, and since it’s the stem game,  let’s look at that game first.

Now let’s look at the four Balashov Whites in chronological order:

So in looking through those games it becomes easy to see that the idea for White was simply to play b3 and then develop the bishop that way. Therefore the queen being on d2 was not a detriment at all.

It’s also interesting to see that Korchnoi’s plan of b3-a4-Rb1-Ba3-b4 was determined to be inferior by Balashov who then developed the bishop to b2 instead. The engine agrees with the analysis as well.

I’m often amused at the view espoused by some that books are somehow outdated due to the fact that we have so many technological tools at our disposal. To me, books are enhanced rather than downgraded by these advances of the modern age.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

If you like this blog, please consider becoming a Patreon supporter. Any money I raise will go towards lessons and stronger tournaments.

If you can spare it, please click here and become a supporter. Even $1 a month can help me achieve my dream.