Sunday, May 4, 2008

Sexy Chess

I have to apologize for this picture: I googled the post title, it came up, and then I just couldn't resist. The rooks crack me up. Sorry, Underage Readers!

A post or two I mentioned Charles Hertan's new book, Forcing Chess Moves, and I promised to show you some problems. I'm a huge fan of this book, especially of some of the more unusual sections like "Forcing Retreats" and "Surprise Forcing Moves." Also, the first couple chapters, "Stock Forcing Moves" and "Stock Mating Attacks," are beautiful for advanced level lessons. But "Quiet Forcing Moves" is my favorite chapter, because, for me, these types of problems are the only kind I've ever found "sexy." (By which I guess I mean:
1) they send a mental shiver down my spine and
2) that I feel the same sense of butterflies the second and third times I see them.)


Portisch - Berger 1964 white to move

Filguth - De la Garza white to move

Spassky- Hubner white to move

OK, some meaningless chatter from me to delay the appearance of answers on your screen before you're ready... I've decided on a way to improve the intellectual quality of my life: magazines. I will subscribe to a number of high quality monthly magazines and it will be like I have thoughtful, well-informed friends with whom I can discuss the important issues and questions. Friends I can take on the subway with me for one low annual fee. So far I think I'm going to get The Economist, maybe Harpers, the Atlantic Monthly, Time or Newsweek probably both and The Wilson Quarterly. Anyone have any other suggestions?

I got an email from Steve Goldberg this morning, letting me know he has a lesson on the Lucena position up at Which got me thinking: why do I teach this? In nine years of full-time coaching, I've only ever seen it once, and even then it wasn't actually the Lucena, just a position from which a kid could reach a Lucena in 10 moves. I don't think I've ever gotten it in 21 years of playing. The one compelling argument I can see is that it's a pretty good example of how rooks interact with kings on an open board. I just feel like I don't really get all that many rook endgames. Thoughts, anyone?

1.Nxh7 Kxh7 [1...Qa1+ 2.Rd1] 2.Rh5+ Kg7 [2...Kg8 3.Qxg6#] 3.Be5+ f6 4.Rg5 Line

1.Qh1 Qf6 [1...Qh5 2.g4] 2.Bg5 hxg5 3.hxg5 Line

1.Bg6 Nxe7 2.Bf7 Ng4 3.Rh3+ Nh6 4.Rxh6# Line


Anonymous said...

Harper's is the best -- highbrow, but with a sense of humor that the other mags lack, and the cryptic puzzles in the back will make you feel like a moron until you get the hang of them but a genius when you finally do.

Skip Time and Newsweek, unless you want your students to read them. They're neither thoughtful nor particularly informative. If you want to have a better sense of what's going on than the people around you on the subway, try Mother Jones. The Economist is good too -- it's good for learning what's clouding the brows of the powerful with only a small degree of establishmentarian bias. Mother Jones and the Economist together will give you a balanced and thorough, if alarming, view of the big picture.

Depending on how literary you feel, you might consider the New Yorker before the Atlantic, which is wonkier.

Anonymous said...

yeah new yorker is good

katar said...

FYI, more "sexy" examples can be found in fide master a avni's book, Creative Chess. the Qh1 example is in the intro to the Avni book. i got my copy of Creative Chess from Strand for $6.

Naisortep said...

I purchased 80 years of the New Yorker on DVD. Well worth the 40 dollar price.

Anonymous said...

Wow, nice chess set in the photo. Is it touch-move?

Anonymous said...

I started reading The Atlantic regularly after Andrew Sullivan'ts cover article on Obama several months ago. This month's article by Jonah Goldberg on Israel was also great. I read The New Yorker every week for the fiction as well as some of their regular non-fiction contributors like Seymour Hersh, David Remnick and Henrick Hertzberg. Between Time and Newsweek, I would opt for Newsweek because of columnists like Jonathan Alter, Fareed Zakaria, Howard Fineman. I may not agree with George Will on politics but he has some good columns about baseball.

Anonymous said...

I highly recommend The Economist. You (and I) won't agree with the political leanings, but it's not too in-your-face (hee). The huge amount of information in there easily makes up for it. And it's really a weekly news magazine, not an economics treatise.


P.S. I like the chess set. Is a life-size version available?

Anonymous said...

How about an animated version?

Anonymous said...

Regarding the Lucena position, reject teaching it at your own risk. That's because, by the logic expressed in your post, it appears you'd be equally justified junking all endgame instruction altogether, beyond the basic mates (and not even all of those - as you and others have pointed out, no one even bothers to teach K+B+N vs K any more, because it's so unlikely to ever arise in a student's game).

I'm not saying your logic is wrong; it's just that the conclusion - don't teach endgame play because most games are decided before the endgame - runs totally counter to what just about every respected coaching authority says. So you'd be really out in the cold if you went that way.

Althoug I don't teach other people, I've run into this issue repeatedly in connection with my own self-training. A couple years ago, while training for a major tournament, I finally resolved to incorporate some endgame study into my routine, for the first time. My games always get decided in the middlegame, if not the opening. But this time I told myself, "I will not only STUDY the endgame, but once my clock is ticking, I will actually play so as to have more than a 5 percent chance of reaching an endgame."

This soon took on a quasi-religious tone - specifically, Catholic, which I am not. "I promise to be a good boy!" I shouted to no one. "I will play the way I'm supposed to - conservatively. I instead of moving Heaven and Earth to keep queens on the board, I will actually WELCOME an exchange of queens! I will no longer expend all my time in the first 15 moves mentally undressing the position - that is, analyzing all those naughty but delicious sacrificial possibilities!"

The outcome? Like a chaste date. You know what a "chaste date" is? The short answer: Best intentions to the contrary, the evening never ends up that way.

At last the big day came. Round One. I sacked my first piece on move 12 or so. I had a won position by move 20, then made a spectacular queen sac that I thought would finish him off on the spot. But then my opponent came up with a beautiful counter-sac of his own queen, putting him back in the game. Momentarily the position was equal... but with us both short of time, my opponent promptly blundered and I went into this "endgame": Me with R+N+2P, him with R+2P. Now, that's MY kind of endgame!

To top it all off, my opponent happened to be Jacob Wamala, of all people. Given the above imagery, that makes one of the most twisted bits of real-life irony I've ever seen in the chess world.

Greg Shahade said...

are you insane? I get the Lucena position quite regularly. It's maybe the rook endgame that I get the most often, aside from the Philidor Position.

Anonymous said...

All the endgame stuff really seems pretty clearly strength-dependent. No point teaching Lucena to an 800. Kids/players don't get endgames (= relatively equal positions with few pieces on the board that require winning by non-material, i.e. space, time, factors) until they're about oh 1500 or so, and even then only when they're playing 1500's -- they don't get em against 800's or 2000's. Comes a time when every hard-working player will reach that level of, wow, I would have won that game if I'd known how to build a bridge. Then they need Lucena.

Anonymous said...

Greg, you're an IM. Different players have different styles - and strengths.

You might think someone 2200 would inevitably play lots of endgames (and I agree that for purposes of this thread, "endgames" and "Rook endgames" can be used pretty much interchangeably, since Rook endings are the most common type). But I'm stronger than that, and I don't recall ever handling the Lucena position in my life - maybe not even in blitz games, of which I've probably played upwards of 100,000.

Some of us simpy like (or are compelled) to squeeze all our action into the middlegame. For me, that seems to work all the time against opponents 2300 and below, and a good deal of the time against 2500 and below. Above there, endgames sometimes do arise: I sometimes have to struggle to get through the middlegame alive myself against 2500+ opposition. When I do, I often find myself in a difficult endgame, which I generally lose. And on those occasions when I manage to drag the heffalump into the swamp like Simon Webb advocated, and outplay him in the middlegame, those big guns usually are resourceful enough to keep the game going by some means (rather than letting me deliver an instant knockout blow the way lower-rated players almost always do once I've got their king in my sights).

Unfortunately, I don't often face 2500+ opposition. Having to work for a living leaves little time to travel to major tournaments (or teach chess to kids with taxpayer funding).

Anonymous said...

I don't imagine that chess is often taught to kids with taxpayer funding. I expect that the funding for chess classes in schools almost always comes from outside grants; maybe once in a while it comes from PTA fund-raising.

Elizabeth Vicary said...

firstly: "I'm not saying your logic is wrong; it's just that the conclusion - don't teach endgame play because most games are decided before the endgame - runs totally counter to what just about every respected coaching authority says. So you'd be really out in the cold if you went that way."

so you're saying that i'm not obviously wrong, thoughtwise, but i shouldn't disagree with respected authorities? sounds a little bit lame?

whatever, Greg, you can think im crazy, , by the way when is the next USCL game up (?), but I DON'T GET ENDGAMES HARDLY EVER. I took some lesssons from Dmitry Gurevich once and he watched me lose a pawn endgame at Foxwoods and afterwards he said to me "Have you ever played a pawn endgame before?" in a serious, nonconfrontational tone. Naturally I responded rudely, but he was expressing an honestly held belief (possibly) that people don't play endgames until they are at least 2000. And I think I might agree.

Anonymous said...

Of course, Irina's very detailed (and amazingly polite) take on this very issue is near the top of the current Chess Life Online menu.

She says the position she analyzed occurred "on one of the top boards" of the recent Girls Nationals, in the Under-18 section, no less. And that position wasn't even as technical as the Lucena or the Philidor: from the look of the positions Irina showed, you didn't have to KNOW how to play it out (initially to draw with Black, later to win with White), all you had to do was calculate a few moves and the correct plans jump out at you.

Elizabeth Vicary said...

Yeah, but what Irina is criticizing is not a lack of technical endgame knowledge, it's the fact that both girls were being total dumbasses.

Also, probably I should amend what I'm saying: it's not that I don't teach endgames at all or that they never arise in any form, I guess I'm saying that these fundamental technical positions aren't as common or essential as people suggest.

Anonymous said...

Maybe, but c'mon... it doesn't take much to learn these positions, really. An hour or two of practice, and it becomes as easy as mating with K+R vs. K.

I'm a lifelong B player, and I know them.

Granted, I usually hang a rook before getting close to any of these technical positions, but a few times I've saved a draw, or squeezed a win using this knowledge.


Anonymous said...

Matt, I disagree. The Lucena idea is pretty simple to remember (and almost equally simple is the "second" way to win the Lucena, without building the "bridge" on the 4th rank).

The Philidor, however, is something else again. It is fiendishly tricky - at least I found it to be, upon examining the authoritative source, Smyslov & Levenfish's Rook Endings. There are various traps the superior side can try, such as placing his rook on the 6th rank. It is very easy for the defense to go wrong then: in one version giving check along the rank loses for the defense, in a slightly different version it draws. Sometimes the defense can draw despite his rook being on the "short side" (if it's a center pawn); other times being on the "short side" is fatal. The differences between those branches can be quite subtle, and finding the right path by pure calculation - i.e., if you don't have the technical knowledge - is next to impossible, even for masters.

You do know that Magnus Carlson lost a drawn Philidor ending in an elite tournament less than two years ago - don't you?

And the Philidor is more common than the Lucena (in fact, I think the Lucena is one possible outcome - a branch up the tree - of the Philidor, if the defense is handled improperly). As with the Lucena, I don't recall ever reaching the position in my own games - I'm the guy who posted above, who like Liz, never plays endgames - but I do recall seeing it come up in tournaments I was in. A couple years ago in a class section of the World Open I saw Kasun Waidyaratne play a Philidor position, the side with the pawn. The defender had his king on the queening square, so it was a drawn position. But he lost anyway (he was rated over 2000), like Carlson did.

Naisortep said...

The philidor and Lucena positions are a good way to learn general ideas about rook endgames such as seeking or creating shelter for the king, that the rook is best placed attacking the king from a distance, and that if a rook attacking along the rank is ineffective switch to a file attack. I've had rook endgames appear in my games often enough to find these ideas useful.

Greg Shahade said...

FWIW I had this endgame when I was 1700 against a 2100 and didn't know what to do in a time scramble and drew back in like 1995.

Also sometimes when people aren't good at endgames they consciously try to avoid them and win by other means. This isn't an acceptable reason to not have a "lot" of endgames.

Greg Shahade said...

Also whats funny is I have this endgame all the time in freaking blitz games, not just tournament games. Or it's more like people avoid the psoition because they know its hopelessly lost, so they try to do something else. It happens all the time.

My sister beat some 2000 in Spain who didn't know the Philidor position. This stuff really comes up a lot.

Gurdonark said...

I suggest that in addition to the magazines, you also choose the similarly-satisfying and yet cost-free route of podcasts.

I like in particular the Jodcast,, sponsored by the Jodrell Bank Observatory in the UK. It's solid star-talk, neither jargon-bound nor spoon-fed, but just right.

I also suggest Bound Off,, intelligent narrative short stories.

For a "modern life" podcast, the CBC podcast of "Spark", is a great show, talking about technology and how it changes us.

For print magazines, I second the suggestion of the Economist, and also think that good, old-fashioned National Geographic is a darn workable read even yet.
Also, for a great combination of music reviews, musician interviews, film, and popular culture, written with the sensibility of a 30something with good listening selections rather than an 18 year-old enthusiast or someone who wishes they subscribed to a fashion mag instead, Paste is a really good read.

Anonymous said...

I'm only a class B player, but I get into tournamant endgames all the time; I'd say in 2/3 of my games. Rook & pawn, rook & minor piece, king & pawn - you nme it. Maybe it's just because class players refuse to resign no matter how bad it gets, but I don't see how anyone could teach chess without emphasizing endgame techniques. IMO, the whole goal of middlegame play is to find a way of transposing to a won endgame.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I'm a class player, and I don't refuse to resign.

Then again, I may be conditioned by also being a go player.

Blue Devil Knight said...

As a crappy player, I also have never seen the Lucena in practice.