Saturday, August 16, 2014

Defenses to Mate in One

The five ways to deal with a mate in one threat are:

1. Capture, pin or deflect any of the pieces threatening mate,
2. Block any of the attacking pieces from reaching the mating square, or reposition a piece to allow a block after the check,
3. Run away with the king, create an escape square, or move the king to allow a block,
4. Defend the mating square, or
5. Counterattack with the goal of winning, drawing, or defending.

Let me elaborate a bit.  Everybody knows the three basic ways to get out of a regular old check:

1. Capture the piece giving check
2. Block the piece giving check
3. Move the king

But what about when your opponent is threatening to deliver mate on his next move?

You can expand the basic three defenses a bit and add two new (and very interesting!) categories of move ideas:

1. Capture the piece giving check ==> Expands to:  capture, pin or deflect any of the pieces threatening mate
2. Block the piece giving check ==> Expands to:  Block any of the attacking pieces from reaching the mating square, or reposition a piece to allow a block after the check
3. Move the king ==> Expands to:  run away with the king, create an escape square, or move the king to allow a block.

Here is a nice example of one of these 'basic' defenses in action.  White to move.  How can white defend against black's mate in 1 threat (...Rh1#)?

[HIGHLIGHT TO SEE ANSWER:  White's only defense is to move his king to allow the a6 bishop to block: 1. Ke1 Rh1+ 2. Bf1]

A new basic category can be added, which is not legal when in check:

4. Defend the mating square

But the most interesting category of moves is:

5. Counterattack.

Counterattacking can have many objectives, but all counterattacking ideas must address the mate threat:

- WIN: deliver mate of your own,
- DRAW: force draw by either repetition or stalemate, or
- DEFEND: check the king to rearrange your own pieces allowing any of the four basic defenses above.

Here Black finds a creative resource to prevent mate on f8. See if any of the four basic defenses are available first, and then look at counterattacks. Can you can find it? The GM playing White missed this defensive idea when he sacrificed material for what he thought was an unstoppable mate threat.

[HIGHLIGHT TO SEE ANSWER:  1....Qd1+ 2. Kh2 Qxf3 defends the mating square on f8. Alternatively 2. Bg1 blocking the check also works for black, as he is now just a rook up. ]

Whether on attack or defense, use these candidate move ideas and BE CREATIVE in how you search for specific candidate moves -- counterattacks offer the most interesting and creative options!

Endgame Study and Tactics

A while back I started to integrate endgame study into my daily tactical exercises, and I believe it is a very powerful training tool.  As I do my daily tactical drills of roughly 50-100 positions:

1. Calculate to find the tactic

2. Evaluate the final material balance AND THEN
3. Ask myself how comfortable I am with the resulting endgame.

After doing my set of tactical exercises, I pick one or two of the resulting endgame positions to play against my strongest computer.

To let off some steam, sometimes I pick an endgame I know really well and just go crush Fritz 13! Other times I pick endgames I don't feel completely confident playing.  I open my best endgame book(s), find the chapter on that position, and look for:

· key techniques used to win

· key defensive techniques
· critical positions to remember

The goal is not to become an expert on the particular endgame.  The goal is to become familiar with a broad range of practical endgame positions.  Focus on understanding the three points above, and then take a run at beating Fritz.  (If you are a nerd like me – I mean, umm, if you have the time and dedication – keep a journal of the endgame positions you select.  Print out the position, and write down the key winning/defensive techniques, and print out any critical positions.  Review them occasionally.)

Integrating endgame study into tactical exercises does three things:

· Improves Visualization (a key component of calculation)

· Improves Evaluation (a critical step in calculation)
· Improves Endgame skills (knowledge and technique)

Visualization: In order to evaluate the final position, you first have to clearly ingrain the final position in your mind. That is a good way to practice the stepping stone technique Tisdall recommended in "Improve Your Chess Now".

Evaluation: Determining the material balance is the most basic evaluation you have to do.  Otherwise, how do you know if your tactic did anything good for you? But asking yourself if you know how to win the resulting endgame helps your evaluation tremendously.  Practicing that endgame tells you if your evaluation was correct!!

Endgame Skills: These are real endgame positions that pose complicated problems for you to solve. Often our endgame studies are done in a vacuum, meaning we learn theoretical positions that may not arise in a real game. We shy away (or at least I do) from messy positions with a mix of pawns, rooks and minor pieces because they’re so very hard.

Even if you don't have the time or dedication (or nerdiness) take the last step of trying to play out the position, the simple step of including the question "Do I know this endgame?" as part of your evaluation process is very helpful.

Building Up Endgame Knowledge

Why endgames?
I have always felt that the endgame is the easiest phase of chess to learn and to master.  For one, the entire body of knowledge is finite.  The number of key positions (tabiyas) are known, and new discoveries are extremely rare.
Endgames are also one of the key building blocks to evaluating middlegame positions.  Additionally, simple endgames are a great way to develop an appreciation for basic tactical themes, and endgame studies can be a great way to highlight one or more of these basic ideas in entertaining ways.  Even the most basic piece configurations can embody multiple tactical motifs.  For example, Rook vs Bishop is an easy draw but there are plenty of tactical ideas for both sides:
- all of the line tactics (pins, skewers, discovered attacks/checks),- remove the guard,- double attacks against king and piece,- double attacks vs piece and mating square,- zugzwang,- stalemate, and- domination (usually of the bishop!).
My personal experiment to achieve endgame mastery.
I have studied endgames for many years and own about 30 books plus van der Heijden’s endgame study database, van Perlo’s endgame tactics, and other excellent studies/compositions.  But I have never had structure — I just learned endgames that I liked or that I recently lost.
I decided to add some structure and discipline, I broke the endgame down into three basic categories — pieceless endgames, pawnless endgames, and mixed piece/pawn endings.  Those are then subdivided into basic/complex.  See detailed breakdown below.
After dividing the material this way, I surveyed all 30 or so endgame books in my library to pull out the most instructive positions, along with the most intresting or compelling studies.  After reviewing the theory and trying to solve and digest the key positions on my own, I then enter the positions into Chess Position Trainer and review the material on a daily basis for one month before moving on to the next.
Pieceless endgames – this covers all endings with only kings and pawns.
Basic endings here include King vs Pawn, Pawn vs Pawn, 2P vs P, the 3P breakthrough, and other positions that emphasize the rule of the square, key squares, drawing themes, etc.  Roughly 160 tabiyas including studies.
Complex endings include multiple pawns for each side with one side having an extra pawn that is already a passed pawn, or a passed pawn can be created due to a majority, and then positions where king penetration is required to win a pawn/promote.
I have completed all of the basic pieceless endings of 160 or so tabiyas, and am ready to move to complex king/pawn positions.  I am collecting those tabiyas now.
Pawnless endgames – this covers all endings without pawns, only pieces.
Basic endings here include QvK, RvK, 2RvK, QRvK, two bishops, bishop and knight, QvR (philidor position), QvN, QvB, RvB, RvN, and RBvR (philidor).
Complex endings include QvRB, QvRN, QvBBN, QvR+2minor pieces, Rv2minor pieces, QvR and RBvR defenses (3rd rank, 2nd rank, cochrane, etc), and other irregular heavy/minor piece combinations.
I have completed all of the basic pawnless endings including RBvR and Philidor’s QvR, and am ready to move on to complex.  I am collecting those tabiyas now.
Mixed Piece and Pawn endgames – this covers all endings with both pieces and pawns.
Basic endings include Queen(s) and Pawn(s), Knight(s) and Pawn(s), Same-color Bishop(s) and Pawn(s), Opposite-color Bishop(s) and Pawn(s), Knight(s) vs Bishop(s) and Pawn(s), and of course Rook(s) vs Pawn(s).
Complex endings include various configurations of queens, rooks, and minor pieces.  This is where the ‘endings are finite’ argument explodes into limitless configurations and complexities.
I have completed all of the basic Queen and Pawn endings (queen vs pawn, and queen and pawn vs queen which can be very tricky — I like Axel Smith’s chapter on it in pump up your rating). I am currently collecting knight(s) and pawn(s) tabiyas.