Saturday, November 7, 2009

Adams-Torre, part 5 continued (so what's the right move?)

Let's take another look at the position after 20...Qb5:

 White to move and win (it will take a few moves!)

We just saw that 21.Qxb7?? loses to 21...Qe2!

Another idea is 21.Qc4, but that just leads to a repetition of position after 21...Qd7:  White could then play 22.Qc7 and Black would reply 22...Qb5: back where we started.

22.Rxe8? would be OK if we didn't have something better:  22...Rxe8 23.Rxe8+ Qxe8 24.Qxb7 wins a pawn, but Black has time to make Luft with 24...g6.  The Black queen will soon counterattack, and Black has good drawing chances.

The key to this position is to realize that the Black queen is running out of squares on the a4-e8 diagonal from which it can protect e8.  The White queen controls d7; the pawn on d5 attacks the c6 square.  So if we can find some way to attack the other two squares we can win immediately.  For example:

FANTASY POSITION (imagine White's b2 pawn was on b3)

White to play: 1.a4 wins immediately!

In this example, the Black queen has no safe square from which to guard the rook on e8.

But in our game, White has no time to play 21.b3, because Black will simply make Luft with a move like 21...g6, and there is no more back rank mate threat.  If Black has time to breathe, Black will create room to breathe.

The correct move is 21.a4!  Black's reply is forced, 21...Qxa4

White to play: how to drive the Black queen off the diagonal?

And now what?  Here are four possibilities:

a) 22.b3
b) 22.Re4
c) 22.Qxa5
d) 22.Qc4

Adams-Torre, part 5 (watch your own back rank!)

After 21.Qxb7??: Black to play and win!

In the Adams-Torre game, we've seen White sacrifice his queen on three consecutive moves.  So wouldn't it be cool to sac a fourth time?  Again, if Black were to accept the sacrifice with 21...Qxb7??, then 22.Rxe8+! would lead to a back rank mate.

The problem is that Black can reply with an even cooler counter-sacrifice: 21...Qxe2!  (It's an easy move to miss: one of the commenters fell into a different version of the same trap.)

After 21...Qxe2!  White to play

Black has a forced win here, but White can try to set a trap.

If White now plays 22.Qxc8, what's is Black's winning reply?

Or if White instead plays 22.Rxe2 Rc1+ 23.Ne1 (see diagram below), how does Black force the win?

After 21.Qxb7?? Qxe2! 22.Rxe2 Rc1+ 23.Ne1: 
find the win for Black

Tal Memorial

The Tal Memorial is the strongest chess tournament of 2009: World Champion Vishy Anand of India just took the lead in Round 3.  You can watch the games free of charge at the official siteChessBase and The Week in Chess are among the many sites offering free daily commentary.

Update: Levon Aronian of Armenia and former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik of Russia just won their games: they are tied Anand for the lead with two points in three games.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Adams - Torre, part 4

Adams played the incredibly beautiful 20.Qc7!!

  Black to move

As in the previous position, both the Qd7 and the Rc8 are committed to protecting the Re8: taking the "free" queen leads to a back-rank mate by force.

Torre played 20...Qb5.

White to play and win (still a few moves to go!)

I'll suggest a few moves: which do you think is strongest?  Please back up your opinion with careful calculation of all the possibilities!

a) 21.a4
b) 21.Qxb7
c) 21.Qc4
d) 21.Rxe8+

Adams - Torre, part 3

Adams played the amazing 19.Qc4!!

 Wow!  Black to play

While the white queen can be taken either by the Qb5 or the Rc8, both are fatal, as Black would then have only defender of the e8 rook, and 20.Rxe8+ would lead to mate on the next move.  19.Qc4 also prevents Black tricks based on the weakness of White's back rank.  For example, 19.b3?? Qxe2! would have been a killer: do you see why?

So Carlos Torre played the only move that controls the e8 square: 19...Qd7.

White to play

What was White's reply?  How deeply can you analyze the continuations?

Adams - Torre, part 2

Now that you've had the night to sleep on the question....  Adams played the brillant 18.Qg4!! 

Black to play

Variation A ) Black cannot play the natural 18...Qxg4, as 19.Rxe8+ forces mate on the back rank.

Variation B ) And the tricky 18...Rxe2 does not work as a defense for Torre: White would simply grab the queen with 19.Qxd7 Rxe1+ and now 20.Nxe1 leaves White with a decisive material advantage.

So Black plays the only move that allows him to continue to protect the e8 square: 18...Qb5.

White to move


1.  Suppose White played 19.b3 in response to 18...Qb5.  What would Black's best move be?

2.  Find White's best reply.

3.  Try to find the best moves for both sides.  How many moves ahead can you see?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

E.Z. Adams - Carlos Torre, New Orleans, 1920

As Frederick Rhine reminded us a few posts ago, this "game" is probably a product of the fertile imagination of Carlos Torre, Mexico's first grandmaster.

Former World Champion Alekhine invented at least one game in order to make him look like a greater genius than he already was. Torre, on the other hand, invented a game that he supposedly lost to his friend and patron, E.Z. Adams of New Orleans. Whether this was a true game or a mere "study," it's an incredibly beautiful example of the power of the back rank mate threat.

Adams-Torre, New Orleans 1920
White to move

Both players are potentially vulnerable to back rank mates, but White has two big advantages.  His knight on f3 offers protection to the crucial e1 square, while Black's bishop on f6, good-looking piece though it may be, is not doing much to help with the protection of Black's back rank.  Furthermore, it's White's move.  The rook on e8 is attacked twice and defended twice. 

What is White's best move?

Can you anticipate Black's best defense?

What move would you play then?

Capablanca as movie star

Carlos Torre and Frank Marshall also make appearances.

The Back Rank Mate: Bernstein - Capablanca, Moscow 1914

The Cuban world champion José Raúl Capablanca is one of the best players for beginners to study.  His play is clear and logical, and although the games from the early part of his playing career are more than one hundred years old, they don't feel old fashioned.

Here's a position from his game as Black against Ossip Bernstein (Moscow, 1914):

Black to move played 24...Rc6-c7

Capablanca's 24...Rc7! looks like a mistake after Bernstein's reply 25.Nb5: the red arrows in the following diagram indicate attacks against pieces and the green arrows indicates defenses of a piece.

 After 26.Nb5: Black to move
Now the poor Black pawn on c3 is directly attacked twice, and indirectly attacked once by the rook on c1 supporting the rook on c2.  The knight on b5 is also threatening to win the Exchange (that is, win a rook for a knight or a bishop: an advantage worth somewhere between one and two pawns). 

Capablanca decided to save the Exchange with 26...Rc5, and White grabbed the c3 pawn with 27.Nxc3 Nxc3 28.Rxc3 Rxc3 29.Rxc3, reaching this position:

Black to play: find Capa's amazing move

The Back Rank Mate in Action

I'm shamlessly stealing the next three examples from Murray Chandler's wonderful book How to Beat Your Dad at Chess.

You can exchange a defender of the enemy's back rank:

White to play and win

Or you can "eliminate" one of the defenders (and if you are successful, you don't care how much material it cost you!)

Black to play and win

Or you can interefere with the enemy defense of the back rank by putting one of your own pieces there.  Again, success is all, you don't care how much it costs!

White to play and win

The Back Rank Mate

Before we look at the famous Adams-Torre game, we should introduce the concept of the back rank mate.

In general, it's a good idea to castle early in the game, as your king will usually be safer after castling.  (Questions: 1. Why is the king safer after castling?  2. Which is safer, kingside castling or queenside castling?)

But there is one mating formation that is much easier to execute against the castled king: that's the back-rank mate.

White has just delivered checkmate on the back rank with Ra1-a8

Black's three pawns protect him well against frontal attack, but they also suffocate Mr. King, denying him escape from the first rank.

How can you, the alert defender, stop back rank mates?  You can create an air hole for your castled king in the pawn formation.  And in fact, the chess term for such a move is "Luft," from the German word for "air" (to remember the word, think of "Luftwaffe" or "Lufthansa"--it's pronounced something like "looft")

Black to play is OK: he has Luft on h7 

P.S.  Here's a nice introductory video on back rank mates at  

King and Pawn vs. King: Straight Back Draws


 White to play and draw
Vince Hart explains.

Eric Rosen knocks off his first grandmaster

Black to play and win

Eric Rosen, a 15-year-old student at Niles North High School, had an OK summer as a chess player.  He won the U.S. Junior Open, earned the National Master title, and beat his first Grandmaster in the final round of the 2009 U.S. Open.

GM John Fedorowicz introduced a risky-looking but basically sound opening novelty, which Eric managed to neutralize.  Even GMs can make mistakes: in the above position, Fedorowicz has just played his king from d2 to c3.  White would have been perfectly OK after 16.Kd2-c1!, but Black could have forced a draw.  (For full analysis of this game, see the September Illinois Chess Bulletin.)

But after 16.Kd2-c3??, Black has a quick kill.  Can you find it?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Prospect Chess

Check out Vince Hart's blog: he coaches a high school team, and offers great practical advice to scholastic players.

Speaking of the Evanston Chess Club...

Tom, Maret, and company are having one of their famous $5 tournaments this Saturday. It's perfect for adult beginners and advanced junior players. Preregistration is strongly recommended.

Peter Pelts pushed a pretty pawn to promotion

  A. Karklins - Pelts, Oak Brook, 1990

Black to play and win

FIDE Master Peter Pelts hasn't played much since the mid-1990's.  He was in good form at the 1990 Illinois Open, when he beat the formidable Andrew Karklins in a nifty pawn ending.

Can you find Black's only winning move?

And is it better to have an outside passed pawn or protected passed pawn?  (The correct answer, as always, is "Depends on the position.")


GreenCastleBlock is Matt Pullin of the Evanston Chess Club. Check out his chess videos on YouTube!

Position 247 (variation from Adams-Torre) revisited

Black to play

National Master Frederick Rhine (no relation to Fred Reinfeld) found a simple shot that destroys Reinfeld's intended solution (and mine)!

So what did I miss?  Evaluate the position.  (Sssh, Fred!  He already knows the answer.)

And what's the correct evaluation of the original position?

P.S. Frederick notes that Carlos Torre made the same blunder in his analysis!

King and Rook against King

White to play

In the last position, we saw that doing nothing can be useful.  (Tell this to your parents.)

How would you explain the winning technique in this position to a beginner?

And suppose we changed the rules of chess so that either side could choose not to move?  How many moves would it take for White to mate Black?

King, Bishop, and Knight against King

Black to play and checkmate in three moves

This is the hardest of the elementary mates.  If you're stuck, let International Master Jan Van de Mortel help you with the first move (there's more than one way to do it).  Van de Mortel led the Chicago Blaze to a blowout 3.5-0.5 win over the Dallas Destiny last Wednesday.  Tom Panelas provided his usual excellent coverage on the Illinois Chess Association website.  The Blaze plays its final U.S. Chess League match of the season tonight: please feel free to stop by the Holiday Inn Chicago North Shore (5300 W. Touhy in Skokie: 1/2 mile west of the Edens) to spectate.

This must have occurred in a real game...

White to play and win

Doesn't this look too silly for Reinfeld to have invented it?

Since intellectual property theft would be a bad thing, I'll stop the quiz with the tenth example (and 10 divided by 1001 is less than 1%, isn't it?). Please let me know how you did: too hard? Too easy? (If you scored 10 out of 10, feel free to brag!)

Now that I'm getting my blogging fingers warmed up, look for Chicago chess content in future posts.

Number 247

White to play and win

I feel less guilty lifting this great stuff knowing that Reinfeld stole, too. Now that you've found the win (you have found the win, haven't you?), you should be able to figure out what famous game this position is based on.  (The position never occurred in the game.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I like this one

White to play and win

So where's the Chicago-specific content, you ask?  Patience!

Hey! Scholastic players!

We interrupt this tactics quiz for a reminder to scholastic players (grades K-12) and their parents. Thursday is the last day to enter the 2009 Illinois All Grade Championship, to be held this Saturday, November 9th, at the Bloomington Junior High School. Parents, the price is right at $20, and the chess organizers in the Twin Cities always do a great job.

Worth a road trip!

What's the best move?

White to play and win

By now, you've probably realized that most of these quiz problems don't result in checkmate.  When there are a bunch of pieces left on the board, a two-pawn advantage is usually sufficient to win (other things being equal).  Bishops and knights are worth a bit more than three pawns.

Another easy one (I hope!)

Black to play and win

By now, I hope you've gathered that you should buy this book.  You can find copies on eBay, too.

Nothing glamorous

White to play and win 

We saw some fancy footwork in some of the earlier examples. 1001 Chess Sacrifices and Combinations also has its share of "boring" tactical exercises.

Do you think winning is boring?

Aesthetically pleasing

Black to play and win

Some quiz books are too easy, some are too hard. The Reinfeld collection is chock-full of the kind of tactics that win games.

This position is both practical and pretty.

Monday, November 2, 2009

If at first you don't succeed....

If the "natural" continuation doesn't work, try another move order!

Black to play and win

Who was Fred Reinfeld?

Fred Reinfeld was a New York State chess champion in the 1930's.  While he was a very strong master, he was far weaker than contemporaries like Reuben Fine and Samuel Reshevsky.  He wrote chess books for a living: some are frankly not very good.

When I was young, my friends and I would look down our nose at Reinfeld's books.  Don't be a chess snob like me: practice your fundamentals!

Black to play and win 

Here's another example from 1001 Chess Sacrifices and Combinations.  The first couple moves are not hard....


White to play and win

My name is Bill Brock, and I'm an amateur chess player who lives in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood. I plan to use this blog to ramble on about chess in general, and chess in Chicago in particular. I hope to avoid an inordinate focus on my own games, so please send me material!

I'm kicking myself for not having read Fred Reinfeld's
1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations forty years earlier. Please don't make my mistake: buy this book today!

Let's start things off with a little tactics quiz lifted from examples in this wonderful exercise book.