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Your Chess Club

Most serious chess players eventually join their city’s chess club, where strong competition can be found and lasting friendships formed. Some players become fixtures at these establishments, waging their silent battles and passing on our chess heritage to youngsters or beginners. Stories and anecdotes build up around such characters, the solid pillars of any chess club – and then they’re gone. That old guy who used to sit at the corner table, reading chess magazines and taking on all comers. What was his name again?

Chess Club Player

John Hurt, Memphis Chess Club

His name was John Hurt. He started winning chess tournaments in 1933, and when he moved to Memphis in 1961 Mr. Hurt became a dominant force there for the next 25 years. Many times city and club chess champion, this gentleman gave countless exhibitions for schools and youth groups. He published a pamphlet on gambits, and loved to attack your King. John Hurt handed the game of chess to a new generation of Memphis players; he was the guy at the corner table reading chess magazines, taking on all comers.

We know these things because the Memphis City Chess Club has done an excellent job of preserving their history. The club historian, Dwight Weaver, maintains a web page  to this end with lists of champions, past tournaments and notable events. We find that the Memphis Chess Club was founded in 1877 and that a 1901 simul by Pillsbury energized the members, growing their numbers and stimulating regular chess tournaments. We learn that a World Chess Championship game was played in Memphis, between Lasker and Marshall in 1907, and of other visits by famous Grandmasters.

US Chess Open Trophy

US Chess Open Trophy, 1900-1914

Even the US Open trophy used between 1900 and 1914 is housed here, and has been in the Memphis Chess Club’s possession for nearly 100 years.

Many such American chess clubs have a long and proud history, and not just the top names in big cities. This second and third tier history, this “secret” chess history, is where our royal game really lives – in that corner seat where the old guy reads chess magazines and takes on all comers. He’s there because another fellow sat there before him, and another before that. So sit down and have a game; it’s your club’s future history being made.


Queen to Play

Queen to play: A film about Chess

Oscar winner Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda) and the luminous Sandrine Bonnaire (Vagabond) square off in this stylish and sophisticated dramedy of new-found passions and mid-life triumphs, set on the postcard-perfect isle of Corsica.

Lovely, repressed and quietly intelligent, French chambermaid Hélène (Bonnaire) discovers she has a knack for chess. This obsession—much to the chagrin of her husband and teen aged daughter—leads her to seek the clandestine tutelage of a reclusive American doctor (Kline, in his first French-speaking role)—a liaison that radically transforms both of their lackluster lives.

Starts April 1, 2011.

This unique film is in French with English subtitles. You can check out the opening schedules here:

Stay turned. ChessCentral is working with Zeitgeist Films for poster giveaways.

An endgame clinic – Bishop vs. Knight

In my last blog post we looked at a really interesting endgame involving a pair of Bishops vs. a pair of Knights with pawns on both sides of the board. This time around we’re going to examine the same idea, but we’ll simplify it a bit: we’ll look at a single Bishop against a single Knight.

In both cases, though, the underlying principle remains the same: in endgames in which both players have pawns on both sides of the board, Bishops tend to be better than Knights. It’s simply a mobility issue: Bishops move farther than Knights. A Bishop can not only zip quickly back and forth across the board in a single move (shuttling from the Kingside to the Queenside and back whenever necessary) but also just plain controls more turf than a Knight. On an open board, a Bishop controls seven squares at its worst, while at its best a Knight controls only eight squares:

Even a cornered Bishop can control seven squares

A centralized Knight controls just eight squares - and that's the best it can do

A Bishop can easily pick off opposing pawns and/or support and defend friendly ones on both sides of the board. But Knights are slow and often have to struggle just to defend friendly pawns on one side of the board — never mind trying to reach the opposite side in time to be effective.

Using a program like ChessBase 10, you can finds literally thousands of Bishop vs. Knight endgames. Here’s just one that I discovered, a game from 2009 played between grandmasters at the chess World Cup (and, by the way, the Black player isn’t the former World Champion of the same name):

Meier,Georg (2653) – Petrosian,Tigran L (2615) [D81]

World Cup Khanty Mansiysk (1.2), 22.11.2009

Position after White's 27th move

White is winning as he’s a pawn ahead, but Black can still make a fight of it as long as he tries to keep material on the board. White can’t advance the e-pawn to create a passed pawn (e5 is controlled by both of Black’s pieces) and his Rook is tied to the e4-pawn’s defense. Black’s best strategy is to try to keep White’s pieces tied up and play for the “frustration draw”.

27…g5 28.Be3

The Bishop retreats, but now Black decides to do something ill-advised: he’s going to trade Rooks. He’d have been far better off playing 28…f5-f4.

28…Rxe4 29.Rxe4 fxe4

Position after 29...fxe4

The material is now equal and neither player has a passed pawn. White, though, still has the advantage because (you guessed it!) his Bishop is better than a Knight with pawns on both sides of the board. And Black’s a-pawn is hanging…

30.Bxa7 Kg7 31.Bd4+

The Bishop hustles back and checks the King, picking up a tempo.

31…Kg6 32.Ke2 Kf5 33.Ke3 Nh6 34.h3 g4 35.a4

Here’s a fundamental reason why the Bishop is better than the Knight. White’s Queenside pawns, supported by the Bishop, can advance and create a passed pawn. Meanwhile the Bishop (if necessary) can still help out on the Kingside. Black’s Knight, less mobile, can only be active on the Kingside.

35…gxh3 36.gxh3 Ng8

Black loses more time as he tries to reposition his slow Knight to a more active spot.

37.b4 Ne7 38.Bc5 Nd5+

This just drives the White King to a better square. Black is really scrambling here: he can’t let White create a Queenside passed pawn, he needs to try to create his own passed pawn, and he really can’t afford to lose any more material. It’s just plain impossible for the Knight to be everywhere at once.

39.Kd4 Nf4 40.b5 Ke6

Position after 40...Ke6

Black is hopeful that his King can dash White’s plan to gain a passed pawn. But now the e4-pawn is dangling, and White’s in a happy place: he has a choice of winning moves.


[41.Kxe4 would also win. 41…Nxh3 42.f4, then Black really has nothing better than 42…Nxf4 43.Kxf4 Kd5 44.Be7 and, to use that really annoying phrase, “the rest is a matter of technique”. But, honestly, White’s game pretty much plays itself from here.]

41…Kd7 42.Kxe4 Nxh3 43.f4 h5 44.Kf3

Black is just plain sunk. Sooner or later he’s going to have to trade his Knight for White’s f-pawn, the White King will then snap up the h-pawn, and a White Queenside pawn (aided by the Bishop) will promote. In fact, Rybka4 (with the help of the Nalimov tablebases) finds a forced mate in fourteen here. Fire up your tablebases and see for yourself!

Black resigns. 1-0

So what does all of this mean to you? When you’re in a late middlegame or early endgame, knowing that Bishops tend to be better than Knights with pawns on both sides of the board will help you determine whether or not a particular minor-piece trade is a good idea. If you have Knights, try to trade them for your opponent’s Bishops if possible, but also try to keep your Rooks (or Queen) on the board (as seen in the game above). If you have the Bishops, try to hang onto them instead of trading them for an opponent’s Knights.

On the other hand, if you have two Bishops and your opponent has a Bishop and Knight, try to swap off the same-colored Bishops so you’ll have a straight one Bishop vs. one Knight endgame.

Want to learn more about minor-piece endings? ChessCentral carries Karsten Mueller’s FritzTrainer Endgame DVDs. ChessCentral also offers an extensive line of chess pieces, boards, software, and gift items (Christmas is coming soon!)

Have fun! — Steve

Dream Chess Career

Most chess players only dream of making their obsession into a profession, but with the rise of the Internet dreams can come true. No longer must you travel the highways and byways to make a buck at chess, when often travel expenses outweigh the compensation. Now you can sit back and relax in your living room and make a decent wage from chess.

Take for example Gregory Kaidanov, a top Grandmaster who moved from the Soviet Union to Kentucky. He teaches chess students from around the world by Internet, and as you can see in this video has made a very successful career  from chess.

Watch the video here

We at ChessCentral have also been blessed with the ability to follow our dreams and make a career out of serving the chess community through the Internet. We would like to thank each of our more than 100,000 loyal customers for their trust and help in making us the #1 Chess Shop on the Internet.

As our way of saying “thank you”, we would like to offer this one time coupon code:


for a 10% discount on your total purchase price.

Many thanks from Steve, Sid, Janet, Jeremy, Jeroen,  Ryan and Tom (the ChessCentral Team).

Would you like to be a part of the ChessCentral Team? We are expanding! Please fax a resume to:

Toll Free: 1-866-576-9755

Let us know about your chess career dream.

Free beginner chess videos from ChessCentral

I frequently encounter people who would love to learn to play chess, but who don’t know how to get started.

“I don’t want to buy a book and then find out I can’t understand how to play.”

“I bought a book and read the first chapter but I still just can’t understand how the pieces move.”

“I wish somebody could just show me how the pieces move, but nobody I know plays or wants to teach me!”

Ah! That last one — I’ve seen that one before, more than once, usually online.

So we’ve decided to take that particular bull by the horns. I’ve created a series of videos designed to take an absolute chess beginner step-by-step through the process of learning how the pieces move. I’ve also included castling, pawn promotion, and en passant captures for good measure, as well as checkmate and the various ways a game can be drawn.

Best of all, these videos are available online and are absolutely free. All you have to do is go to the host page at ChessCentral and start watching. Each video is very short (less than three minutes each); if you’re quick on the uptake and can remember the moves, you could start playing chess less than an hour after you start watching the first video!

Each of the video pages at ChessCentral contains three videos, except for the last one which has two. There are fourteen Flash videos in all, each viewable right there on the page.

If you’re well past the beginner stage but know some folks who’d like to learn to play, please send them the link to the videos. To make that easy, here’s a “cut and paste” version of the link to the start page:


And don’t forget to visit the other pages at ChessCentral, the leader in cutting-edge chess!

Have fun — Steve

Steve’s Chess Tips: Pigs on the Seventh Pt. 3

When GM Yasser Seirawan hung the tag “pigs on the seventh” on the seventh rank Rook pair, he was referring to the fact that they could gobble up opposing pawns just as greedy hogs devour slop. Even a single Rook on the seventh rank can mop up the opponent’s undeveloped pawns with relative ease, as we will see in today’s post.

This position is from the 1988 chess Olympiad. G. Martineau, a member of the Hatian team, is in position to invade the seventh rank with one of his Rooks. His opponent, San Marino’s Andrea Magalotti, appears to have been asleep through part of the game; his Bishop is trapped, his pawns are undeveloped, and his Rook and King are on the back rank. Black is way behind positionally, but White is about to put him behind materially as well:

Position after 24...Bh7


White’s Rook comes screaming into the seventh rank like a dive bomber.


Black’s intent is clear: he seems to have a single-minded fixation on freeing the trapped Bishop. He intends to play …Bxf5. Black’s real problem here is that there’s not much he can do; White’s Rook and Bishop are gunning for the f7-pawn. 25…Rc8 loses to 26.Rxf7, while 25…Rf8 gives White time for 26.h3 and the Black Bishop stays trapped. Black has actually played the best move, which gives us an idea of just how horrible his position remains.


And one pawn falls.

26…Kh8 27.Rxc7

A second pawn drops.

27…Bxf5 28.Rxb7

Followed by a third…

28…Re8 29.Rxa7

…and then a fourth. So we can see that a single Rook on the seventh (typically teamed with a second threat or magnifying an existing positional advantage) can easily devastate an opponent’s forces by snapping up unguarded pawns.

Position after 29...Rxa7

White is winning here, but give Black credit: he valiantly struggles on by trying to create counterplay as compensation for his lost material:

29…Re3+ 30.Kd4 Rh3 31.Ke5 g6 32.Kf6 Rxh2 33.Ra8+ Kh7 34.Bg8+ Kh8 35.Be6+ Kh7 36.Ra7+ Kh8 37.Bxf5 Rxb2 38.Ra8+ 1-0

With a forced mate on the board, Black throws in the towel.

ChessCentral carries the book and disk widely regarded as THE definitive work on the endgame: Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual. If you buy the disk version, ChessCentral will ship it free (no shipping charge!) through July 11, 2010.

Have fun! — Steve

How to Improve at Chess – Part 11

This series has been based on a series I wrote several years ago. The tips have been the same, but up until this point I have completely rewritten the text. However, upon reviewing my prior work, I don’t see a way I can add any major elaboration or improve upon the way I presented Tip #11. So I am going to present it here exactly as I originally wrote it five years ago:

11. Don’t kick yourself when you lose

Everybody loses sometimes. It’s not a cause for celebration (after all, the alternative to losing is much more fun), but it’s no reason for depression and self-loathing. Losing a chess game is an opportunity: you can learn from your mistakes and do better the next time. When I started playing tournament chess, I went months before winning a game – but the losing didn’t stop me; it helped me. So don’t kick yourself when you lose; instead you should use that opportunity for improvement.

And most of all remember that, at the end of the day when it’s all said and done, chess is a game – nothing more, nothing less. So always remember to have fun!

11. Don’t kick yourself when you lose

And now I’ll return to the present with some minor elaboration. Many people reading this series are doubtless longtime chessplayers who have hit a “plateau”, a place where they’ve seem to have settled with no further progress being made. I’ve been there too; in such cases we frequently find ourselves viewing chess as being akin to work. When I’ve hit that point in the past, I’ve often found it useful to take a step back and have a little break from the game. Walk away from the chessboard for a few days or even weeks if you wish. Come back when chess seems fun again. We learn best when we’re happy, relaxed, and not under pressure (self-imposed or otherwise).

Improving one’s chess should never be viewed as a chore. Look at it as an opportunity for learning and growth. And you needn’t do a little happy dance when you lose a game, but you should likewise refrain from kicking yourself. A loss is an opportunity for improvement and a chance to learn, which is itself often a fun and exciting adventure.

A fun way to improve is to solve chess problems. ChessCentral offers this electronic collection by Chris Ward.

Have fun! — Steve