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Monday, March 23, 2015

Mating the Castled King- A review

I played in the National Team championships from the 20th-26th of February 2015, Goa, with my team called "Chess Is Life". 

The Chess is Life Team (from right to left) Vinod Bhagwat (2177), Atul Dahale (2034), Shashikant Kutwal (2210), Sagar Shah (2459), and my wife, Amruta Mokal (2053)

I played on the first board of the team and that meant facing some of the best players of the nation. For eg. PSPB had B Adhiban (2630) on the first board, Railways A had P Karthikeyan (2444), Railways B had GM Laxman (2377), LIC had GM Sriram Jha (2414) and many more strong players on the top board.

My main aim in this tournament was to play steady chess and not to lose a single game. Now considering the level of opposition this was not such an easy task. But I managed to do that. I scored 6.5/9 (4 wins and 5 draws). And I attribute this solid performance to just one book: "Mating the Castled King by Danny Gormally." I will come to the part of how the book helped me to achieve this task at the end of this review, but first let's have a look at what this book is all about.

Mating the Castled King published by Quality Chess and written by GM Danny Gormally was released in the market on 30th of April 2014 

A quick search on the author reveals that he has been a very strong player with a peak rating of 2573 in the year 2006. I didn't have much idea about Danny Gormally apart from the fact that I had read about an incident which involved him from the 2006 Turin Olympiad. 

As the title of the book suggests and the cover shows, this book is all about mating patterns against a castled king. The position that you can see on the cover is a very good example of how knowing the mating patters can make complicated problems look pretty simple.

Black to play and win

For the uninitiated this position would take quite some time to solve. But for experienced campaigners, the combination is as natural as breathing! 1...Rxh2+ 2.Kxh2 Rh8+ 3.Kg1 Ng3!

There is just no way to stop Rh1# Look how the three black pieces co-ordinate with each other to perfection to creating this mating net

This is basically what Gormally is aiming for with this book. A player should become so well versed with the themes and patterns that he/she could find such moves by just drawing ideas from his tactical arsenal. This book helps you to build up that arsenal of mating patterns. And how is he going to achieve this nearly impossible task of acquainting us with innumerable mating patterns and ideas?

The author makes a very good attempt. After an introductory chapter called "A few helpful tips", Gormally gets down to business familiarizing us with 20 mating patterns.

The 20 mating themes against a castled King

The most impressive part for me is that Gormally teaches you with examples that he has collected for each of these 20 themes. For eg. Let's have a look at the "Mate on the h-file" theme.

First there is small introduction like the one above where only the most important pieces are shown to you. This is done so that you can memorize the pattern and save it in your mind.

And then you have positions to solve based on the theme that is being discussed
The answers are given right behind the puzzles of a specific chapter which saves you quite some time in flipping through the pages.

In all there are 160 tactical exercises. A very important question to be asked is: What is the level of players that is being aimed here? I would like to share a very interesting incident that happened when I was on my way to the National Teams tournament. I was sitting in the train going from Mumbai to Goa and I randomly opened a chapter of the book. It turned out to be the pattern of "Rook and Knight."
No.136. Black to play and win

I thought for quite some time here. I was unable to find the mating pattern for nearly five minutes. Then it struck me! I could sacrifice my queen. And there it was 1...Qh6! 2.h3 (if 2.Rh1 then Qh3+ 3.Kxh3 Ng5+ 4. Kg2 Rxf2+ 5.Kg1 Nh3#) Qxh3! 3.Kxh3 Rh4+ 4.Kg2 Rh2 #
What a pretty variation. But I was sort of annoyed with myself. It took me quite long to figure out the answer. The main reason was that I wasn't quite aware of this pattern. I hadn't studied it before.

I then went to the next position:
No. 137. Black to play and win

It must have taken me less than five seconds to find the answer! 1...Qxh2 2.Kxh2 Ng3+ 3. Kg1 Rh1# This was a piece of cake, I thought to myself. Let's have a crack at the next one.

No.138  White to play 

Once again everything was just so easy! You take 1.Qxh7 Kxh7 2.Nf6+ Kh8 3.Rh3#

I had a feeling that I would complete this book within a day or two. I solved a few more and they all seemed not so difficult. Within just a few minutes I had reached the last position of the chapter. It was a position between Sunye Neto- Garry Kasparov, Graz 1981.

No.143  Black to play

After solving seven not too difficult positions, it is quite possible that you tend to lose your sharpness. It happens with us in our tournament games too. If you face easy opposition for too many rounds, you tend to stop calculating the best moves for your opponents. Something similar happened to me. I just couldn't crack this problem easily. I wanted to quickly solve this one too and get it over with. But things were not so easy.

The first thing I saw was 1...Bxe3. I immediately realized that 2.Qxe3 loses to Nf3+ 3. Kf1 (Kh1 Rd1) Rd1+ 4.Ke2 Re1# Now this was very encouraging. But what if he simply played 2.fxe3. Of course 3...Nxg2 looked strong but I couldn't find anything concrete for 3.Kf1. I started calculating after 1....Bxe3 2.fxe3 Nf3+ 

Where should the White king go to? Kf1 or Kh1

Both the moves looked plausible. 3. Kf1 was played in the game and I could instantly see a huge knight fork looming on d2 square. All that Black has to do is to clear that square with a tempo. 3...Rdxg2!
Even though Black is materially lagging, his attack his decisive. For eg. 4.Qc3 Rh2! Kasparov managed to create a strong attack and won the game in just three more moves.
Now the question was: What would happen to 3.Kh1?

Black to play

I was simply unable to find the winning combination. When I checked the answer I was simply stunned. 3...Rdxg2! 4.Nxg2 Rg3!!

An amazingly brilliant pattern!

Frankly speaking, this was first time I saw such a configuration of Black and White pieces. The knight on g2 cannot move as it allows Rg1#. And if the knight cannot move then Rxh3 is a forced mate. This was truly a brilliant conception. Even Kasparov said he couldn't remember seeing such a mating configuration before.

This is the beauty of the book according to me. You really have to be alert. A few easy ones could be followed by a real gem and if you are not ready to think over it then you might lose the opportunity of learning something very important.

Finishing off your opponent
One important skill that you will gain after working seriously on the book is the ability to finish off your opponent. The ability to calculate till its mate. Not just leave the calculation half way. Let me show you one position which elucidates this point.

Jose Cruz Lima - Angel Hernandez
  White to play

I tried to search this game position in Mega-Database but was unable to find it. I wonder how Gormally found this one but it surely is beautiful. The theme of this puzzle is "Dragging out the King." The first two moves are sort of obvious. 1.Nxf7 Kxf7 2.Qxe6!

The fact that queen sacrifice is promising can be seen by a player of any level. But to calculate the consequences of the same is not at all easy. In fact this can be a difficult problem even for a grandmaster. Below I reproduce Gormally's analysis along with some additions.

The book is filled with such in depth analyses. The wonderful thing about this problem is that it is useful for a beginner who gets acquainted with the idea of dragging the king out and it is also useful for a grandmaster who will be aiming to calculate right until the mate!

So is going through this book going to help you to become a better player? Of course! My personal experience is that your mind will start seeing patterns much faster. Here is one example from a very recent game played by my wife, Amruta Mokal.

Black to play

Of course, Black is winning in many ways. She could just play f5 or even double the rooks on the h-file. But Amruta played Qe5

Did you notice her threat? Her opponent did not and after Qc5, she was able to execute the very nice mating pattern with Rh1+! Kxh1 Qh8+! Kg1 Qh2#.

The point that I am trying to make with this example is that the move Qc7-e5 stems from an understanding of mating patterns. By knowing the pattern of mate down the h-file, Amruta put herself in the best situation to execute the mating idea. If she didn't know this theme there would have been very few chances that she would have continued this way. This is what the book of Danny Gormally is going to help you with.
It is going to make you more aware of the little nuances of where each piece should be placed so that a mating attack would work. This will help you to plan ahead and your mating attacks will be much more target oriented than just sprouting out of serendipity.

Your decision making in attacking chess is bound to improve after reading this book

How I worked with this book

When I went to Goa, I setup my chess board on a table in my room. I kept the book of Mating the castled King next to it. Whenever I had some time, I would open a random page and setup a position from the book and solve it. After solving the position, I would just make a note with a tick mark that I had solved the position. Add a star or two next to the problem if I really liked it. In this way, I was solving almost 5-10 positions everyday. This helped me to stay in excellent tactical shape and I was able to remain unbeaten in the tournament. I continued working with the book even after the tournament and I am happy to say that I have completed the 160 positions. I must mention that there are two other chapters entitled "Breakthrough with pieces" and "Breakthrough with pawns" which have attacking games selected and annotated by the author. On a parting note, I leave you with an extremely impressive attacking game played by Danny Gormally himself. The game has been taken from Mega-Database and the analysis has been done by Viktor Mikhalevski.

Final words:
"A unique book which not only helps you to get acquainted with mating patterns against a castled king but also helps you to improve your art of calculation thanks to the excellent quality of analysis."

You can buy the book from the official website of Quality Chess for 22.99 euros and also read the PDF excerpt from here.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Rajdeep's impeccable decision!

The International Grandmasters tournament has begun in Kolkata today. The tournament is extremely strong as can be witnessed from the starting list.

There are 131 participants with an Elo average of 2287! Quite impressive!

A tournament where a former World Championship finalist participates is bound to get international attention. Nigel Short in the centre with the chief organizer Dibendyu Barua and Abhijit Kunte. (picture credit: Abhijit Kunte's world famous selfies!)

Just as the round started, Asim Periera, the founder of follow chess app, made the following tweet:

But he soon realised that even for the bold and brave Nigel, this was crossing the limit!

Mostly all of the top seeds won their games with relative ease, though I must mention that Abhimanyu Puranik scored a super upset by defeated Ortiz Suarez (2625) who was rated almost 350 points above him. 

GM-killer: Abhimanyu Puranik. (picture by Amruta Mokal)

Though this was the result of the day, my attention was caught by another game that was also played by a young Indian on the adjoining board. Rajdeep Sarkar was up against the 2600+ Cuban GM Quesada Perez. After 47 moves, the following position was reached:

Quesada Perez vs Rajdeep Sarkar. White to play

Black's last move was Nb7-d6 offering White the option of entering a king and pawn endgame. Was this a wise decision or do you think it was some kind of a suicide? What is your opinion?

Offering the exchange of knights looks like a very poor decision by the black player. After all he has the doubled c-pawns and White has the passed e-pawn. But it turns out that this young Indian who is just 15 years old had calculated his chances to perfection.

The cool and calm: Rajdeep Sarkar 

Quesada immediately exchanged the knights with 48. Nxd6 Kxd6 and we reach the following king and pawn endgame.

In order to make progress, White has to take the g3 break, If he just plays Kg4 then after Ke5 Kxh4 Kxe4 Kg5 Kd3 Kxg6 Kxc3 , Black is very quick and in fact makes his queen before White does. Once you realize that the g3 break is imperative, then the next phase of the game becomes easy to understand. Here are the moves:

White has made a queen and Black has pushed his pawn to c2. It's White to play.

It is a basic rule in queen vs pawn on the 7th rank endgame that if the pawn is a bishop pawn, then the position is drawn. But first we must check if the White king isn't too near. If it is, then he can take part in mating the black king.

The rule in such endgames is the following: If the Black king is on the long side of the bishop pawn, White is winning if his king is two squares away from the e2 square.

The winning zone for the White king. Notice that all the green squares are two or less moves away from the crucial e2 square.

If you notice the game position, you will realize that the White king which is on g5 is just outside the box. Hence in this position, the White king is not going to be useful. The White queen has to do all the damage. 

If Black had just the pawn on c2 and no pawn on c5, we wouldn't have to discuss this position at all. It would have been an easy draw. The reason for that is the following. Let's just remove the c5 pawn and get the following position on the board.

All that we have done is we have removed the c5 pawn from the game position. Now let's see the drawing procedure.

And it's a stalemate! Most of you must be well acquainted with this technique of playing the king to a1 and letting the queen take the pawn to create a stalemate pattern. Now let us just randomly add a pawn, say on c7, and study the same position again.

With an extra pawn on c7, this endgame is winning for White because Black cannot try the stalemating pattern. This is the winning procedure:

You see, with an extra pawn, this turned out to be an easy win for the side with the queen. Let us come back to the position of the game between Quesada and Rajdeep.

So, was Rajdeep's decision to go into this endgame wrong? After all the extra pawn on c5 will not allow him to create the stalemating ideas.

As it turns out the c5 pawn doesn't allow the stalemate but it also doesn't allow Qb4+. This is a very important check. If the queen is not given this opportunity of checking from b4, then it is impossible to gain control of the b3 square. If the b3 square cannot be controlled then the black king cannot be pushed into the corner. Have a look at how the game progressed:

This is the crucial position that I was talking about. Now the Black king moves to b2. If the pawn were say somewhere on g7, h7, h5 etc. instead of c5 then the white queen would give Qb4+ and after Ka2 Qc3 Kb1 gain the access to the all important b3 square with Qb3+ winning the game. The c5 pawn is extremely important for not letting the white queen give the all important check on b4.

Quesada Perez tried for a few more moves before conceding the half point. This is how the game ended.

Picture credit: Amruta Mokal

Something that I find truly amazing is that Rajdeep was able to assess this endgame correctly when he played the knight to d6 and offered his opponent to enter the king and pawn endgame. This shows a deep knowledge of endgames. Hats off to the little kid and I hope that he keeps up this good form in the tournament.

Quesada Perez Yuniesky got a taste of some very high endgame knowledge from his much lower rated opponent in the first round itself!

(Special thanks to Ketan Patil who discussed a similar queen vs pawn endgame with me a few months ago.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A beautifully organized event!

Serious chess players put in hours of hard work and dedicated practice in order to perfect their art. They spend not only their time but also their money and resources in order to improve at the game. After sleeping, drinking and eating chess, the one thing they expect is for the organizers to respect this hard work and dedication towards chess.
Every chess player hopes for a wonderful playing hall and nice accommodation so that they can play chess to the best of their abilities.
Absolute high level of organization was on show at the 1st Deltin Rapid rating tournament held in Goa on 28th February and 1st Match 2015. The tournament had a total prize fund of Rs. 2,00,000.

Have you seen a better playing hall than this? The Panjim Community Center hosted the tournament.

The boards had sufficient space in between them and was not at all cramped!

The tournament was extremely strong. Among 215 participants was one GM and 13 IMs. And two players, Swayams Mishra and Srinath Narayanan had an Elo higher than 2500!

The titled players were given accommodation at a very high end property called the Deltin Suites!

Just in case you are wondering, Deltin is the same group that has the biggest casino in Goa called the Deltin Royale. Unfortunately the Deltin Suites were not on the ship! The organizers must be commended for getting such big guys to sposnsor the event.

The rooms were top notch....

...And had a gas stove in it for the enthusiastic chefs!

I have played many tournaments but these conditions trump the rest

The tournament was a 10 round event with a time control of 20 minutes + 5 second increment. Being spread over two days meant that it wasn't excruciatingly tiring for the players who had to play five rounds a day. It must be mentioned that the rounds started on time and as per schedule. This is quite uncommon in rapid events.
The first day ended really well for me as I finished with 5.0/5. I was joined by Swayams, Srinath and Joydeep Dutta. The latter playing competitive chess after quite some time.

On the next day in round six, Swayams was able to defeat Joydeep

And Srinath was able to get the better of me by underpromoting his pawn to a knight!

Black to play and win

I had just played my queen to e6 in the above position. My idea was to play Rf2, uncover an attack on the g8 rook and win the f2 pawn. The problem for black is that he cannot really move is rook on the last rank. Any rook move on the last rank is met with d3-d4! and the e2 pawn is lost. A move like Qd2? is met with Rf2 and now even underpromotion to a knight doesn't help.
Srinath found a very pretty idea with 36...Qd1! (36...b5! deflecting the bishop also wins) 37. Rf2. At this point I was wondering as to what Srinath had up his sleeve.

He played e1=Knight! And it was all over! Kg1 is met with Nf3+, Kh3 with Qh5# It's not every day you see an underpromotion deciding the outcome in the middlegame.

This meant that the top two seeds were now the sole leaders with 6.0/6. Round seven witnessed a mouth watering clash between the two 2500s. 

Two of the most talented rapid players of the country played a typical French IQP position 

The game ended in a draw. As Srinath told me after the game: "Swayams didn't play so well but I returned the favour and hence the draw was a fair result."

Srinath slowed down a little with a draw but Swayams ploughed on and scored another victory to become the sole leader at 7.5/8.

Himanshu Sharma was Swayam's next victim

The penultimate round was filled with action as Swayams beat Stany and Srinath was able to overcome Rakesh Kulkarni. Going into the final round things became extremely interesting. Swayams 8.5 and Srinath 8.

The job of stopping Swayams in the final round fell on Swapnil Dhopade's shoulders who did a pretty good job by holding the top seed to a draw.

Meanwhile on the second board, Chinmay Kulkarni who was playing extremely well and was unbeaten at that point was finally vanquished by Srinath. What a brilliant finale!
The first and second seeds finished the tournament with a score of 9.0/10!
The tie break was buch-holz and at the end of the penultimate round, Srinath was two points ahead of Swayams

But it seems Swayam's opponents did exceedingly well in the final round as he edged past Srinath by a mere half buch-holz point.

Final ranking list
The complete list can be found here

The top three prize winners: Swayams Mishra (center), Srinath Naryanan (left) and S. Nitin. They went home richer by Rs 35,000, Rs 25,000 and Rs. 20,000 respectively.

At stake were so many glittering trophies which were won by....

...Cute and talented little kids!

What better way to spend time with your spouse than analyzing! Sriram Jha with S. Vijayalakshmi

Seeing this picture might give you the feeling that owning a mobile is the secret to happy life! From left to right: M.G. Gahan, Srinath, Stany and Swapnil

The best players of Andhra Pradesh: CRG Krishna, Abhilash Reddy, Ravi Teja, Chakravarthi Reddy and Mehar China Reddy 

The two buddies from Bangalore: Joydeep Dutta and Himanshu Sharma

ChessBase author Priyadarshan Banjan (left) with Goa's talented siblings, Niraj and Nandini Saripalli

The strongest rapid players from Maharashtra: Sameer Kathmale. Rakesh Kulkarni and Chinmay Kulkarni

The first Deltin All India Rapid tournament was an amazing event. To tell you the truth I have never really played such a well organized tournament. Just in case you were wondering who the organizers were?

It was the Mumbai based Chanakya Chess Club led by Salil Ghate

Apart from Chanakya Chess Club, the Tiswadi Taluka Chess Association and the Goa Chess Association played an important role in making this tournament a grand success

I must take this opportunity to congratulate the organizers for hosting such a wonderful event. Not only were they able to give high quality playing conditions to the participants, they were also able to bring in corporate sponsorship (Deltin Group) into the game of chess. This was a tournament where one feels proud about being a chess player! This tournament might well usher in a paradigm shift in chess organization in the country.

On a parting note, I leave you, dear readers, with the final position of my 8th round game against Niranjan Navalgund.

Sagar Shah- Niranjan Navalgund, White to play
In the game I had very little time left (around 7 seconds) and I played 40.Bc7? which was met with 40...Nf1+ 41.Kg1 Nd2+ when I lost the rook. Now that you know the threat, the question to you is what should White play in this position?
The answer will be published soon in a separate blog post.