December 30, 2010

How to watch a chess game


Many of my friends ask sometimes about how do I train, how is the game being played, what should they do to understand what's happening on the board and so on (I'm talking about my non-chess friends of course).
While looking on internet for one of my future's posts, I discovered an amusing article, written many years ago, which might be an answer to their questions:)

Robert Charles Benchley (September 15, 1889 – November 21, 1945) was an American humorist best known for his work as a newspaper columnist and film actor.
Robert Benchley wrote, directed and acted in many short satirical films. He revealed how to watch a game in a 1923 article from THE HUMORIST:

We will suppose that you have found two people playing chess
     somewhere. They probably will neither hear nor see you as
     you come upon them, so you can stand directly behind the one
     who is defending the south goal without fear of detection.

     At first you may think that they are both dead, but a
     mirror held to the lips of the nearest contestant will
     probably show moisture. Soon you will observe a slight
     twitching of the eyelid or a moistening of the lips and
     then, like a greatly retarded moving picture of a person
     passing the salt, one of the players will lift a chessman
     from one spot on the board and place it on another spot.

     It would be best not to stand too close to the board at this
     time, as you are likely to be trampled in the excitement.
     The players may even forget themselves to the point of
     shifting their feet or changing the hands on which they are
     resting their foreheads. Almost anything is liable to happen.

     When the commotion has died down a little, it will be safe
     for you to walk round and stand behind the other player and
     wait there for the next move. You will perhaps find it
     difficult at first to keep your attention on the board. This
     can be accomplished by means of several little optical tricks.

     For instance, if you look at the black and white squares
     on the board very hard for a very long time, they will
     appear to jump about and change places. The black squares
     will rise from the board about a quarter of an inch and
     slightly overlap the white ones. Then, if you change focus
     suddenly, the white squares will do the same thing to the
     black ones.

     And finally, after doing this until someone asks you what
     you are looking cross-eyed for, if you will shut your eyes
     tight, you will see an exact reproduction of the chess-board
     done in pink and green, in your mind's eye. By this time,
     the players will be almost ready for another move.
The complete article can be found in the book: "Love conqueres all" by Robert Benchley, a collection of 63 short humor.

This volume (see picture) collects 63 excellent gems from his early professional work, when Benchley’s enthusiasm and style were approaching their peak.

December 29, 2010

Domination in endgame studies

I still get a lot of messages on facebook where people ask me how to improve their chess strength. 
The biggest secret of all secrets is: work, work, work and...when you really feel like throwing the pieces out of the window, work just a little bit more:) Besides, you will always have my chess psychology articles, under the label: Boost your career and some exercises.
Talking about work, here you have 3 more endgame studies, with the domination theme, one of my favourite. Soon you will start recognizing the patterns and successfully use them in your games! But, very important also, solving studies will improve you creativity, imagination's fun:)

White to move in all diagrams:

Because some more people wrote me the solution either on facebook, either on email, I am gonna write down the answer for the first diagram. It seems that you were all interested particularly in this one.
One suggestion: you can always comment on the blog:)
The ideas you gave are good, but we should always find the toughest defence, just like in a game. Otherwise, nasty surprises might appear on the board:)

The study was composed in 1929 by A. Troitzky and the solution is:
1.Bh6 Kg8 2.Ne4 Kf7 3.Nc5 Kg6 4.Bf8 h5 5.Kc2 Kf5 6.Bd6 Kg4 7.Kd2 Kf3 8.Ke1 Kg2 9.Be7 Kg3 10.Kf1 Kf3 11.Bd6 Ke3 12.Be5 Kd2 13.Kg2 Kc2 14.Kh3 Kb1 15.Kh4 Ka2 Kxh5 Ka3 17.Bc3 and White is winning;
A wonderful endgame in which coordinated action by White's pieces leads either to the immurement of the Bishop on a8 with its subsequent capture or to a mating net in the following variation:
1...c5 2.Nb5 --- 3.Nd6 B-- 4.Kc2 Kg8 5.Kd2 Bg2 6.Ke3 Bc6 7.Kf4 c4 8.Ke5 c3 9.Kf6 Bd7 10.Ne4 c2 11.Ke7 and White wins again.

December 28, 2010

The Fairest chess game ever!

 If a game was unfinished in the first four-hours, a player used to seal his next move in an envelope and hand it to an official for safekeeping until play resumed. In his book 'From Beginner to Expert in 40 Lessons', Alexander Kostyev cites an adjournment between Jose Capablanca and Milan Vidmar at London 1922:

    "Vidmar awaited his opponent with the intention of resigning.
     Time passed, but Capablanca didn't appear. Looking at the
     clock, Vidmar suddenly realized his opponent's flag was about
     to fall. Not hesitating for an instant, the Yugoslav
     grandmaster rushed up to the board and just had time to
     resign by tipping his king as the arbiter was about to
     declare him the winner on time. The British press dubbed
     Vidmar's action 'the most beautiful move ever played in a
     chess game.'"

Vidmar's position was hopeless but he showed up to continue the battle, not to resign. The real story is told in his memoirs:
    "When we parted I told Capablanca that I'd probably have to
     lay down my arms soon. We spoke in French, in which he was
     even less proficient than I. He nodded pleasantly and we
     went our separate ways.

     "When play resumed, the arbiter opened the sealed envelope,
     made my move on the board and then started White's clock.
     Later I felt someone touch my arm. 'Capablanca is still not
     here,' said the arbiter, who appeared anxious. 'He has lots
     of time left,' I replied, and watched other interesting
     games in progress, for how long I don't know. Suddenly I
     felt the arbiter's hand again. He was unmistakably very
     concerned. 'In a minute or at the most two, the world
     champion will overstep on time,' he said.

    "An oppressive feeling of anxiety overwhelmed me. What if,
    when we parted, I caused Capablanca to misunderstand me? What
    if he took my last words to mean I had written 'Resigns' on
    my scoresheet? If I eventually won first prize through this
    misunderstanding, it would be gained in an underhanded way.

    "With difficulty I pushed my way through the throng of
    spectators, arrived at my table and turned my king over
    without further thought. His flag fell. Capablanca came,
    saw my prostrate king, and smiled pleasantly at me.

    "We never spoke about the anguish I went through, or of
    the danger in which he had unwittingly placed himself. I
    must admit my game was not to be saved if it had followed
    its normal course on resumption.

     "I had long since forgotten this curious incident. But at
     Nottingham 1936, the president of the British Chess
     Federation introduced me as 'the man who played the FAIREST
     move ever seen in England.'"

How many players today, we wonder, would exhibit such sportsmanship?
If you know a similar story, don't hesitate to share it with us!

Source: Evans on Chess - 1995 from Chess Connection

December 27, 2010

Playing chess with nature

Most probably, if we choose two completely different activities, no matter how impossible would be to find a bridge between them, an analogy or a connection, if we really try to, we will always be able to come up with something:)
OK. We have for today CHESS and CHEMISTRY. How can we put those two next to each other?!

Right now I can think about 3 possibilities:
1. When playing in a team, an important factor for good results is...CHEMISTRY:) But I understand your protests, here it's used in a metaphorical way:) Let's go to number two than:
2. Chess analogies are being used by chemists to illustrate a research method:
- Chess players sometimes can "see" the mating or drawing idea and than , they work backward, to find the right moves in order to reach that particular position.
- In chemistry: working backward is a method for breaking down compounds, bond by bond, into smaller and smaller components.
3. Playing chess with nature: another metaphorical way for chemists to draw attention on how dangerous some chemical substances can be for our nature.

I am going to develop the third point, thanks to the big help I received from Daniel Stellwagen:) He is not only a well-known Chess Grandmaster, but also an expert in chemistry, in which he will soon achieve the final title: Doctor. Only one more norm he has to get: PhD, this is what he is doing right now, if you were wondering why we don't see him so often in chess tournaments.

Underneath you can see how well chemistry and chess can work together:)
IF YOU still remember your chemistry, you will notice that in the algebraic notations of the game, you will come across abbreviations of several elements like hydrogen(H), nitrogen (N), oxygen(O), fluorine (F), carbon (C) and boron (B).
Notations in a chess game can result in several compounds like NH3 or ammonia, a very valuable compound which is the source of nitrogen in plants.

A. The Ammonia Opening:


Ammonia is a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen with the formula NH3. It is a colourless gas with a characteristic pungent odour and commonly used in commercial cleaning products.

B. The Global Warming Openings:

Lately everybody is fighting against the global warming. What we can do, as chess players, is to at least avoid the moves which define hydroflurocarbons:)
Such moves, which can damage the ozone layer and surprise both your opponent and the public, are as follows:

1.c3 f5 2.h3
C3F5H3 pentafluoropropane opening

1. c4 h6 2. f4 
C4F4H6 fluorobutane opening

1. c3 h5 2. f3 
C3F3H5 trifluoropropane opening 

C.The Flyswatter Opening:

Definitely harmful to your ELO rating, but may keep the mosquito population down too:)
1. h3 c6 2. f3
H3C6F3 1,3,5 trifluoro benzene

D. The posttraumatic stress Openings:

After playing an important long game, many of us feel weak, tired or even sick. The following lines might be useful for your debriefing; though it is advisable not to use them too often, since it might cause dependence:)

1. h4 c6 2. Nf3
C6H4F3N trifluoromethyl-pyridine: precursor for various chemicals and pharmaceuticals; 

1. Nc3 c6 2. h3
(NC)3C6H3 benzene - 1, 3, 5 tricarbonitrile, also known as trimesonitrile, precursor to antiinflamatory drugs

E. The Rubber Opening:

1. c3 f6
C3F6 hexafluoropropylene is a type of fluoroelastomer, used in producing synthetic rubber.

Seeing all the above variations, I can happily say that we are one with the nature! I don't think that, as a chess player, you will consciously choose such moves:)

Your turn: It would be very interesting if you will succeed in creating a study where the solution will be a "chemical" one! Two days ago I published 3 studies in shape of a Christmas Tree. Maybe you can be a pioneer by introducing a new category in the world of chess studies: chemical formulas!

December 26, 2010

Chess is cool!

Today is a special day: my brother in law, Dennis l'Ami, writes his first entry on my blog. Dennis is a writer and published his first book "de Eeuwige Mens"(Eternal Man) last year. Following his ' little'  brother Erwin during his chess career, Dennis got an interesting inside in the World of Chess. He intends to share his insights with us from time to time!

by Dennis l'Ami 

As it has been stated before on this blog, chessplayers are often looked at as eccentric, weird or just extraterrestrial. Of course I can confirm that, due to the fact that there are some chess-players among my familymembers. But, surprising enough, most of the the times they act quit normal so there's more to it than the image that's constantly been projected on the players. On a more serious note, let's kill the myth today: Chess players are average, ordinary and very social creatures. Or aren't they? Let me first of all state for the record that it shouldn't be important what the image of the sport is. It should be all about the sport itself. The games, brilliant openings, elegant endgames and so on. On the other hand: it is important. Important for sponsors, media-coverage and the general view on how chess is looked upon by the public. This is all interconnected. Image is evertything; if a sponsor decides to combine beauty and brains in a commercial, a get together of Liv Tyler ans Magnus Carlsen could be the result. The image of a bright young kid playing chess, with a woman like Tyler by his side can do more for chess than one can imagine. The image says that chess players attract beautiful women, isn't? Karel van de Weide's piece on this topic is quite interesting.

True or false, Carlsen's ad campaign can give a sparke to some young kid somewhere in the world who sees it and thinks: I'm going to be a chess player one day!'
Let's further state that a chess-player, deeply concentrated during a game, in general is not particularly a pretty site to watch. Sure, a deep crack in the forehead might look photogenic in the papers, but photogenic and mass appeal are two different things. Maybe this is the first problem when considering the image of chess: People tend to identify the act of playing a game of chess with the character that's playing. For the same reason, people tend to think that moviestars and politicians can grow to mythical proportions because they talk about things bigger than themselves. The succesfully used slogan 'Yes, we can!'  makes you think you're part of a larger than life community while, at the end of the day, all Obama needs from you is your vote. Strange things happen here. The mask of the exciting event is projected at the person that's holding the mask, and make the person exciting. Or dull.
Let's see how it works in real life and why chess, despite it's image, is often used by producers and directors in Hollywood and actually looks cool while doing so.


Harry Potter's playing chess like it's supposed to be: sacrificing yourself, cliff-hangers with every single move, and a little bit of romance on the side.

A nice comparison in The Wire between drugdeals on the street and a game of chess. Never a dull moment around here!


Even Humprey Bogart made his moves, ever so gently. As we see the scenes in which chess is used as an accessory of intelligence, the following question comes to mind: If drugdealers in streetlife-serie The Wire, a magician like Harry Potter and classic icon Humprey Bogart needs chess to make them look smarter, more interesting of even more dangerous, isn't the mantra that remains echoing throughout the world, saying chess is for geeks, an outdated one? A teenage boy would kill nowadays to spend some time with actress Liv Tyler. Magnus Carlsen did, in a multi-million campagne for G-Star! It's 2010 and chess players are among the coolest, hippest and people alive! Throw the old image away, in comes the new one. Not because the players want to, or because the public says so, but because a new image pays hommage to the timeless game that chess is.

December 25, 2010

Christmas Tree Studies!

And I suppose I am not the only one who makes a little bit of chess today, for sure my husband will join:)...just a little bit, because otherwise our families won't be that happy:)
Of course not openings or difficult stuff, I don't need headaches early morning, especially not on Christmas Day! Just some bughouse, some blitz and...Chess Christmas Tree Studies!! White is to move in all 3 diagrams (studies taken from Glarean Magazin).

Mate in two

Mate in three

Mate in four

December 24, 2010


World Women Chess Championship

THE FINAL: Hou Yifan vs Ruan Lufei

Picture taken from the Official Website

The fourth game in the final battle for the World Title is an obvious sample of how much tension, pressure, emotions, hopes and delusions are connected to an important chess game. Although Bobby Fischer once said: "I don't believe in Psychology, I believe in good moves", it is clear that so many mistakes could have been made by such strong players (2480 and 2591 elo rating) only under special circumstances.
Savielly Tartakower knew very well what he was saying:
1. "Chess is a fairy tale of 1001 blunders."
2. "The winner of the game is the player who makes the next-to-last mistake."
3. "Some part of a mistake is always correct."
4. "The mistakes are there, waiting to be made."
Who is psychologically stronger, that's always the question...

I will briefly present the mistakes done by both players in this fourth game. My intention is not to make us all feel better because the top players can have similar bad games as we do:) What I want to point out is that there are two bad habits out there that kill confidence:

1. Setting unrealistic expectations: strict or high expectations can undermine and suck the life out  of confidence!
2. Letting self-doubt run wild: pessimism and/or perfectionism might be the cause in derailing performance.

Another big problem is that we tend to live either in the past (What a stupid move I did yesterday...Why couldn't I make just a simple draw?!), either in the future (I must win! I have to win! How great it would be to win!), and only occasionally in the present. And than again...the real winner is the one who stands up after falling (see my post on Motivated by Fear of Failure?).

After 4 rapid games, the title has been decided: Hou Yifan managed to turn the odds in her favour and became the World Champion!

But let's see the critical moments from yesterday's game:

In the following position Yifan chose to play 12...Qh2!?

For many people this move looked like the beginning of the end: why to send voluntarily the queen at the edge of the board?!'s the first computer's move:) Which means 12...Qh2 it's just an interesting idea which doesn't deserve a question mark.

The last move played by Lufei was 13.f4
Interesting was also 13.Kf1
First critical moment:

In the diagram seen above, Black played 13...Bd7? - the first mistake; better is:
13...Nd4 14.Qd4 Qh4 15.Bf2 Qd8 16.Qd8 Kd8 17.0-0-0 Kc7 18.Rd4 Be7 19.Rc4 Kb8 20.Rd1 and 20...Bd8! with unclear play.

Second mistake: 14...Nd4? more stubborn is:
14...Qh4 15.Bf2 Qd8 16.0-0-0 Rc8, it's not ideal of course, the position is better for White; in any case, it would have been better than what followed:

White is now almost winning; we were all waiting on facebook for 18.Qxa7 or 18.Rfd1 - as suggested by Anish Giri, with a more or less easy win. We all agreed that: "it smells like tiebreak:)".

Instead, Lufei chose to give Yifan hopes by playing:
18.Qc4+? - a clear sign of psychological pressure, when after 18...Kb8 as in the game, Black equalises.

The game continued and the following position appeared:

Lufei played here 22.Rdf1?! another inaccuracy. White should have opted for a better endgame by playing: 22.Rh1 Qg3 23.Rd5 ed5 24.Qf3 Qg4 25.Qg4 Bg4 26.Bd5 keeping the advantage.

So Yifan has now another chance to equalise, but she played...
22...Qh4?! and the Black queen can be seen moving all over the board in this game. Better was: 22...Rhd8 23.Rh1 Qg3 24.Bf3 (if 24.Rg1 than 24...Qh2 back!) 24...Rd4 25.Qe3 Kb8 with more or less equal position.

Another inaccuracy from Yifan arised in the next diagram:

Black played 26...Kb8?! More stubborn is: 26...Rhd8 27.axb7 Bb7 28.Bb7+ Kb7 29.Qe4+ Kb8 and if now 30.Qe5 (30.g5 Rd5! with an unclear game) 30...Qe5 31.fxe5 Rc7 32.g5 Rd2 resulting in a rook endgame, always tricky business:)

After 26...Kb8 which was played in the game, White played 27.axb7 and again White starts to take over.

As we all know, a mistake never comes alone...the last and fatal mistake played by Yifan occured in the following position:

31...f6?! Black is already in trouble, but a more stubborn defence would have been 31...Rc8 or 31...Qb6.

Black's position started to deteriorate with every single move that followed and thus, Lufei finally won the game. A game full of turns, where you can almost "touch" the intensity and drama that played an important role for the outcome.

Tiebreak time! Great for the public but a hell for the players. They are both tired, stressed and yet, they have to play rapid games, maybe blitz and, who knows, maybe even Armageddon! All on Chirtsmas Eve!
Chess is not a game for weak-hearted people...

As I mentioned on facebook, Ruan Lufei won all her matches only on tiebreak!

Round 1: Baginskaite - Ruan Lufei 1-1 and won by Lufei in tiebreak
Round 2: Ruan Lufei - Zhang Xiaowen 1-1 and won by Lufei on tiebreak
Round 3: Kosteniuk Alexandra - Ruan Lufei 1-1 and...won as usual on tiebreak
Round 4: Ruan Lufei - Harika Dronavalli 1-1 and the tiebreak spoke: Lufei won
Round 5: Ruan Lufei - Zhao Xue 1-1 and...of course we know: won on tiebreak

The FINAL: Ruan Lufei - Hou Yifan 2-2 and...Tiebreak!
This and the fact that she won yesterday's game, made me think she is the favourite in today's race.
Nevertheless, tiredness plays an important role...and once again, Hou Yifan managed to show her class by winning 3-1 in the rapid games.

We have now a new World Champion: HOU YIFAN!


December 23, 2010

Win an unique Rotterdam Chess Set!

Great news for the chess lovers: announces that there is a competition connected with the Tata Steel Chess Tournament in January to win three Rotterdam Chess Sets.

All you have to do is:
1. Send your predictions by email: for all three Groups: A, B and C
2. Name of the winner
3. Number of points 

Closing date 13th of January 2011 at 24.00.

Teun Koorevaar announces the competition: "Among the best predictors we have a lottery to give away three sets of the new Rotterdam Chessgame. Announcement of the winners on the last day of Tata Chess. The chess pieces represent famous buildings in Rotterdam City. It just arrived on the Rotterdam market and is a collectors item."
You can send your predictions to:

The pieces represent striking buildings in Rotterdam:

King: Euromast
Queen: Erasmus Bridge 
Rook: The Meuse 
Knight: Shipping and Transport College 
Bishop: World Trade Center 
Pawn: Cube Houses.


Erasmus Bridge

De Maas is Rotterdam's River,
(in English: The Meuse).
Probably the rook is designed after the
high buildings that can be seen along the river.

The Shipping and Transport College

World Trade Center

The cube houses

I wish I could win this beautiful chess set with such a remarkable and creative design...Maybe Caissa will help me?! Another option is to buy it:

There are two places from where you can buy (see underneath) the Rotterdam Chess Set for 250 Euro, including taxes. An XXL version of the same Rotterdam set can be purchased for 2500 Euro, including taxes, and it can be used for schools for example. You can see it exposed in the Central Library in Rotterdam, with an explanation of the pieces as well.

I am sure kids will love it, as it can be seen in the following video, from the previous year in a children festival:

These are the places from where you can buy the sets mentioned above:

1.Rotterdam Info

Binnenwegplein, Coolsingel 195-197
3012 AG Rotterdam 

Tel. 0900-4034065 (€ 0,35 p.min.) +31 (0)10 271 01 20 (Internat.)

2.Het Schaakstukkenmuseum (The chess pieces museum) 

Overblaak 94
3011 MH Rotterdam
(vlakbij de Centrale Bibliotheek Rotterdam)

Unusual chess sets

Because it's Christmas time and everyone is buying, giving, searching for gifts, I thought to share with you a selection of unusual chess sets. There are so many extremely beautiful collectible and rare items on the market that my task, very enjoyable though, became kind of difficult:)
Some of the chess sets presented underneath are available for purchase, some are taken from private collections and others are works of art from famous designers.
There are only two problems:
1. They are quite expensive
2. It's difficult to play with these sets:)

I will start by presenting you one of the most expensive chess sets in the world:

Renowned French artist and master of jewelry, Bernard Maquin created the Royal Diamond Chess set in 2005 bringing the game of chess to a whole new level. Noted for its abililty to combine fine art, jewelry, and the classic game of chess, this is one of the most expensive chess sets in the world.
Thirty craftsmen, under the direction of Maquin spent over 4500 hours creating the expensive chess set. The work was done all by hand and when it was completed, the artists used 1168.75 grams of 14 carat white gold, and approximately 9900 black and white diamonds, bringing the total weight to 186.09 carats and the total cost to $500,000.

This posh chess set is part of the Charles Hollander Collection, one of the most respected names in the diamond industry. 
But if you thought the Hollander set would make your chess game bling-bling, then you haven’t seen the most expensive chess set in the world yet. This label goes to the Jewel Royale Chess Set from Britain. Boodles, a British custom jewelry company commissioned its production.
Valued at over £5 million ($9.8m USD), this single chess set is the most expensive and exquisite game set of any kind in the world. Constructed of gold and platinum, it contains diamonds, emeralds, rubies, pearls and sapphires. The king piece alone weighs 165.2 grams of 18 carat yellow gold and has a spiraling mid-section graced by 73 rubies and 146 diamonds.

Further on you can enjoy the variety of unusual designs of Chess sets:
Designed by the chess sculptor: Oleg Raikis

Vertical Chess Set:

Givan Design Studio
Eating, Drinking and Playing Chess:)

Salt and Pepper Chess set

Edible Chess Set

Mario Chess Cake
Table Chess Set:

Fantasy and Mythology:
Fairies vs Faires

Dragons and Wizards

Gods of Greek Mythology
The Eastern Hemisphere:

Japanese Sumo Wrestlers


From the movie:
"Lucky number Slevin"



Doorknobs for cabinets


Geometric painted chess set:

There are plenty of sets, with differents motifs, to choose from: sport, celebrities, music etc. If we cannot afford to have them all, we can at least enjoy looking:)