Don’t Touch That Pawn

Here is another interesting position I was just looking at:

Here White has won a pawn out of the opening, but it looks like Black can now get it back with 14…Nxb6.

Instead, however, Black plays 14…Bd6.

In looking a bit deeper it turns out that after 14…Nxb6 White not only regains the pawn with 15.Bf4 Rc8 16.Rxb7, but now once Black retreats the knight with 16…Nd7 White turns up the heat with 17.Bc4 and although there is still a lot of play left in the position this seems pretty clearly a strategically won position.  Black has gone from down a pawn to down a pawn with a terrible position.

The lesson here is to always double check that “free” pawn.

Here is the entire game:

For anyone wondering, the answer is yes.  This “R Huebner” is in fact German legend Robert Huebner.  He continues to play on a semi-regular basis even into his late 60’s.  Mostly just a game or so every month or two, but nevertheless, kudos to him!

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

The Power of the Bishop Pair

Every so often on chess.com I’ll read a post in the forums where someone is trying to claim that the bishop pair is meaningless.

Here is an excellent example of the bishop pair in action.  Look at this position through the eyes of, let’s say, an advanced novice (we’ll say rated around 1000) and the first thing that you probably see is that White is up a pawn and has “shattered” Black’s kingside pawns.

Yet Black makes the most of the bishop pair to steer this game to a draw.  Here is the entire game.  The position above is after Black’s 23rd move.

I’m sure there are thousands of flashier examples, but this one seems quite pragmatic.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

New Training Schedule

One of the things that I have historically done when I have sat down to study is…whatever I want.

In other words I rarely had a plan on how I would like to improve, but rather would often just do whatever I felt like doing at that moment.  On the one hand the idea that it’s easier to stay engaged when you are doing something that interests you has a lot of truth to it.  Yet on the other hand not conscientiously working on repairing weaknesses keeps those weaknesses as going concerns for much longer than they should be.

So I sat down a couple of weeks ago to make myself a rough sketch training schedule which looks like this:

Monday: Yusupov

Tuesday: Yusupov

Wednesday: Openings

Thursday: Entering My Game From That Night Into Chessbase

Friday: Game Analysis

Saturday: Endgames

Sunday: Gelfand (i.e. Positional Decision Making in Chess or Dynamic Decision Making in Chess.

The intent behind that is that while my main focus is Yusupov, those non-Yusupov items are still quite important.  The approach I take is that Wed-Sun I may still work on Yusupov, but not until I’ve spend a bit of time on the other items.

There is some method to the madness, especially from Wed-Fri.  I play tournament games at my club pretty much each Thursday, and I usually know well in advance who I will be playing and with what color.  So while I don’t try to do any deep prep, I do work on whatever opening seems the most likely to be played.

Thursdays I play the games, so I can’t really study much on a Thursday.  Therefore I try to at least get the game entered in to Chessbase.  This takes me to Friday, which is the heavy lifting day.

Fridays are for analysis.  My intention is to try to go through my games with my opponents as often as I can.  Then I analyze everything as well as I can without a computer.  Once that’s done I go back and check with the engine.

I’m not wholly dogmatic to this approach.  For example, this past Friday I didn’t get a chance to analyze my game from last Thursday with Curt Neumann, so I analyzed it yesterday and this morning.

For the most part though, if I miss something then I wait for the following week to work on it.  This may not be the best approach, but for now it seems to be the most pragmatic.

I’m curious to hear feedback from anyone as to what works or doesn’t work for you!

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

An Embarrassment of Podcast Riches

A couple of years ago I stumbled across the chess podcast The Full English Breakfast.  I think I was reading an interview or a profile of Lawrence Trent and it mentioned the FEB in some regard.

So I searched it out and found to my dismay that the last episode was a way back in the past.  This was sometime maybe around late 2015 or so and they hadn’t done anything since Jan 2014.  Even so their last regular episode had been all the way back in 2012.

Nevertheless I devoured those 27 episodes.  I must have listened to them 3-4 times each.  I found them to be enjoyable and insightful even if they were all from a few years earlier.  Events I had forgotten about suddenly seemed contemporary again.

But every time I came to that final episode I was sad to hear it end.

Then, on January 14th of this year the producer of The FEB Macauley Peterson, posted on their Facebook Page “What was your favorite all time FEB episode?  Or favorite individual segment? (BTW…Not just navel gazing here.)”

My immediate thought was “They’re bringing it back!” which was of course instantly followed by “But for how long?”

One of the things that seemed to plague the show was that it was always an on again off again affair.  The show premiered with a pilot episode, then was immediately on hiatus for around a year, then came back and was very intermittent.  Then, at times they tried to get into a regular rhythm but would go off the tracks just when they seemed to be right in the pocket.

We’ll get back to our good friends at The FEB shortly…and now for something completely different.

Flash forward to perhaps a month after Macauley’s semi-cryptic tweet.  The protest of Nazi Paikidze against the FIDE Women’s World Championship event is in full swing.

On one of her posts on either Twitter or Facebook (I don’t recall which) I see this guy named Ben Johnson say some words of support followed by something like “It was great having you on the Perpetual Chess podcast.”

“Woah woah woah!” I told myself.  There’s another chess podcast? Indeed there was!  NM, chess teacher, and former professional poker player Ben Johnson had started a weekly interview podcast.

From what I gather Ben had no former experience in the field of journalistic interviews, but he clearly has a lot of natural talent, which has grown as the show has gotten deeper in to its run.

Ben did the thing that really more of us should do.  He was stunned that there were no chess podcasts since The FEB had gone offline so he started one.  He saw a need and he took steps to fill it.  So kudos to him!

The format of the Perpetual Chess podcast is essentially the same as you would expect on a sports interview show.  Ben has a conversation with the guests on topics crossing many spectrums, those maintaining a chess centric theme.

So you very well may hear about poker, investing, Hearthstone, cooking, and fitness, but all the while never straying too far from the chess.

Back to our good friends at The FEB.  The format of their show has changed somewhat over the years, but the overall structure is relatively similar.  Generally it’s Macauley, Lawrence Trent, and another English player chatting about a topical chess item.

In the original incarnation of the show GM Stevie G (Stephen Gordon) held down the spot quite nicely.  However, he has apparently done the unthinkable and gotten himself a real job 🙂

In the current incarnation GM Simon Williams has been holding the chair and doing so rather well.  It would be nice, however, to hear his name in the introduction!

They now do one show each week.  The trade off is that the shows are much shorter than they used to be, but that’s fine since they are producing regular content!

So far The FEB has had 16 new episodes since their re-launch (although they are talking about a hiatus this Summer), and Perpetual Chess is on episode 29 and counting.

I urge everyone reading this to support both of these efforts.

For The FEB you can become a patron for as little as $1 a month!  I personally do the $5 a month donation and I really wish that more people would.

For Perpetual Chess you can purchase books from Amazon using the links from the Perpetual Chess Books page.  These are books either written or recommended by guests of the show.

Someday, when Ben adds a donate button I’ll become a patron of that show too 🙂

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

A Great Illustration of Wrongful Thinking

My friend FM Alex Betaneli just held the 1st Wisconsin International Chess Festival.

I had offered to take a half day at work the day the tournament began so I could go help set up.  Alex also asked if I would like to be a house player if needed, which I agreed to do.

As it turned out there were an odd number of players, so I did get the chance to play a game.

I was paired with Merissa Wongso, rated 1489.  During this game I made two horrible decisions; one psychological, one strategic.

Here is the first position.  I am White.

I have decent knowledge of the 9.Ne1 KID.  I also have working knowledge of the 7…exd4 KID since I used to play it.  I don’t know much about the Grunfeld since no one seems to play that against me, but I at least know a little.

So what do I do?  Do I play 3.d4 and head right down the road to a nice mainline opening?  Nope, I bail out with 3.g3.  Now there’s nothing wrong with the move in and of itself, and had the move order been 1.c4 Nf6 2.g3 g6 you’d expect 3.Nc3 and this position arises anyways. But I don’t play 2.g3 for a variety of reasons and so easily could have avoided this.

The problem is that I sit there and convince myself that playing something that my opponent is less familiar with should work to my advantage.  That’s ridiculous.  I should play the more dynamic mainlines and not duck and cover.

So that’s the psychologically incorrect decision.

Here is the strategically incorrect one:

Here my opponent has just played 13…Nd4.  I instantly saw that the pawn on b7 hangs.  So after 14.Nxf6 Bxf6 15.Bxf6 Qxf6 16.Bxb7 Rab8 17.Bg2 I’m up material.

However, compare the two positions.  In the second position two pairs of minors are off the board, all possibility for pressure on the king side is gone, and Black’s knight on d4 is strong.

Imagine instead I had played 14.Nd5 which forces 14…Bxe4 15.dxe4

In this position White is not up any material, but has a better position with more possibilities.

Here is the entire game.  My opponent played the rook ending extremely well.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Round One of the Southwest Chess Club Championship

This past Thursday the first round of the Southwest Chess Club Joe Crothers’ Memorial Championship took place.

I am relatively pleased with my first round game.  Other than one opening inaccuracy (11…c5 instead of 11…Bb7) and one ridiculous waste of time (17…Rc8, only to have to move right back to a8 on my next move) I think my play was fairly good.

So 1-0 to start with five rounds to go.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

A Fixable Problem

For a while after I started playing again in 2011 I would jump at the chance to take a draw either from a stronger player in almost any position, or from an evenly matched player when I didn’t have a dominating position.

Lately I’ve gone to the opposite extreme.  I don’t want draws at all.  On the surface that’s not the end of the world since it’s a piece of advice that you see many players given by coaches in their quests to improve.

On the other hand, it can be very bad when someone goes to such great lengths to avoid draws as to play intentionally bad moves.

Take this position for instance.  I’m white and it’s my move.

The correct candidate moves are 30.Bxc6, or possibly even 30.Bd5.  However, I didn’t want to exchange pieces. I wanted to keep as many pieces on the board as I possibly could.

So I played 30.f3 and my position immediately goes from slightly worse (once the bishops come off I’ll have some light square issues) to strategically dead lost.

This is clearly a serious issue that I need to work to overcome.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

An Interesting Case of Blindness

So tonight after quite the long layoff I got back into some Yusupov.

The chapter this is from is one concerning open files and outposts.

Here is the position given:

Here I started down this long flight of fancy trying to make 1.Bxd7 work to get a rook on the back rank.  Perhaps something like 1…Rxd7 2.Rb8 Qe7 3.Rxe8 Qxe8 4.Qf6+

Of course the problem is that after 2.Rb8 Black can simply exchange the queen for the two rooks and be fine.

Of course the actual plan is much simpler that all of that.  White can simply play 1.Rb7 and his position is excellent, which is what happened in the game.

But this begs the question…why the blindness.

Well, it’s one of two things, and now I have to figure out which.  It’s either because:

  1. Since I’m looking at a “solvable” position I’m treating the exercise itself as too much of a tactical problem.  Meaning that I’m looking at ideas which are far more complex than the position calls for in an effort to “win” the diagrammed position.
  2. I’m just not seeing these sorts of natural, penetrating moves.

I sincerely hope that it’s the first, since that is the easier of the two to solve, but I am realizing that this is something I’m going to have to pay close attention to in the analysis of my own games.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Do You Ear What I am Saying?

For the past week I have been afflicted with a fairly serious ear infection.  The most annoying part of this illness is that it makes it difficult to properly study chess.

I have still been doing tactical drills for 30-40 minutes daily, along with playing through a bunch of GM games in lines I plan on playing in the coming week based on upcoming club games, but that’s about it.

No actual work.  No solving.  No analyzing my own games deeply.  Nothing.

It’s hard to do real work when your head feels like a balloon.  This makes it tough to focus in any meaningful way.  Luckily I’m now on day three of a ten day course of medication to cure the problem, but it may be another few days before I am close to 100% again.

There is also a bad news/good news aspect to this.  The bad news is that with really aggressive goals of finishing one Yusupov book per month for the next two months this puts me far behind the timeline of where I need to be.

The good news though, and this is the part that I am choosing to focus on currently, is that I have not used this illness as an excuse to stop working completely.

While it seems likely that my tactical drills are having limited impact since my ability to learn new patterns is probably affected by my inability to focus clearly, I am certain that I am at the very least staying sharp with the patterns I already know.

In the “old days” (i.e. prior to the Quality Chess Challenge) I would have used illness as a reason to just take a complete break.

Instead I have stayed active to the best of my ability.

Here’s hoping that I recover soon and can get back to real work, but until then I’ll just keep plodding along.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Wainscott – Becker 1/2-1/2

Here is the game I promised to post.  I still haven’t had time to analyze it as I’ve been fighting a fairly serious ear infection this past week, but it’s still instructive nevertheless.

In the final position I am clearly better.  Plainly and obviously better.  However, this was the one round of the tournament which had no secondary time control, and I’ve had a couple of games like this against Allen where I was better and then lost the thread in time pressure.

So from a pragmatic standpoint the result seems OK on the surface.  In fact, I believe this makes my past two games against Allen draws, although the last one was dead dead drawn.

Yet from the standpoint of wanting to improve this result stings.  I know that I should have pressed, but I did not.  It’s tough to justify this.  The good news is that it’s been years since I last did this, so let’s hope it’s years before I do it again 🙂

All in all I’m pleased with my play in this game although I am annoyed at my lack of fighting spirit.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott