Farewell, and A Final Group of Questions
A zillion people screamed: Don’t leave and let the trolls win!”
My view of the troll attacks never had anything to do with winning or losing. In fact, I’m very familiar with trolls. Allow me to share a bit of (true) background.
Way, way back in the early days of the Internet, there weren’t that many sites. However, there were lots of chat rooms, and people reveled in their newfound ability to make contact with others without worrying about distance. However, after a while a strange new phenomenon reared its ugly head: certain individuals (always representing themselves by a fake name) did nothing but attack everyone else, no matter what the subject might be. At first people tried to talk sense into this strange new species, then they raged at their disrespect, and then they realized that the more attention these people got, the more animated they became. This knowledge of the “enemy” prompted a universal message: DNFTEC.
At first this message seemed rather cryptic, but soon people came to understand that it was an acronym for DO NOT FEED THE ENERGY CREATURES. This idea of energy creatures was made popular by the original Star Trek series. One of the earliest was WOLF IN THE FOLD where the original Jack the Ripper turned out to be an energy creature. Another episode, AND THE CHILDREN SHALL LEAD, featured an energy creature named Gorgan (he was eventually beaten when Kirk got children to feel positive emotions), and after that there was DAY OF THE DOVE when another energy creature almost caused a Federation vs. Klingon war.
Of course, the concept of a psychic vampire goes back centuries – Guy de Maupassant wrote a short horror story in 1887 called LE HORLA about an invisible creature that gave humans nightmares in order to grow stronger. And Russian folk tales are full of energy creature depictions.
Thus, DNFTEC is imploring people not to get angry at the trolls since it only makes them more animated and stronger, while ignoring them makes them weaker (then they go away and look for new victims elsewhere).
In general, trolls are cowards (hiding in blissful anonymity while they spew invective in all directions), mean-spirited, and/or mentally ill. A few are merely attention seekers who think poorly of themselves and do everything they can to create some sense of self-importance. When it came to the comments section in my column, I allowed people to disagree as long as they gave a reason as to why. Just saying, “You’re wrong!” is not only rude, but it’s meaningless hot air. Tell me WHY I’m wrong and your post will be safe unless you present it in some insanely hostile manner (in fact, if I am wrong I want to know why so I can improve myself). I also deleted enormously long comments that are posted as a testament to the poster’s ego (they are not only useless, they also obliterate everyone else’s comments by covering the whole page). Simple disagreements that aren’t filled with hate and are on-topic were never deleted (okay, on the rare occasion I might have had a bad day and my itchy trigger [delete button] finger went off a tad too early).
One reason hate comments need to be deleted is that modern trolls have learned to gain strength by the hate speech of other trolls. Invariably, when one troll strikes, another quickly follows. This destroys any flow of real ideas in the comment’s section. Another reason to delete troll-speech is that most of what they say is 100% garbage scented with “eau de ignorance.” I answer questions so that people will know the truth of a subject. Those that don’t know any better might well leave the path of sanity and blunder into the troll-trap.
Yes, I realize that the trolls are eating all this up (I’m feeding them!). I’ve excited them and they are howling at the moon and lusting for blood. So I’ll end the anti-troll dialogue by saying that I actually wanted to stay on chess.com so I could convince the powers-that-be to rid themselves of overt trolls, and not tolerate the slime they leave in their wake.
Now we come to the real reason I’m leaving: I’ve entered into a business relationship and am now overwhelmingly busy (in fact, I expect the next several months to be the busiest of my life!). I just don’t have the time to answer questions. I deeply apologize to those people whose questions I didn’t manage to get to – I’ll pass them on to my replacement and hopefully he will answer them. I would like to thank those members who wrote me, asking that I stay (77 letters! I read each and every one.), and those members who posted incredibly kind comments in the appreciation blog – it was both moving and a tad embarrassing.
Answering questions, so that people would see that the full chess experience offered even more than they suspected, was a real treat. Thanks for allowing me to be a part of chess.com!
In your opinion, is a rating (whether it is a FIDE, USCF or BCF) really a good indicator of chess strength? And if not, what is the best way of evaluating a chess player?
In the case of an active adult, a rating is usually a solid indicator of a player’s strength. In the case of an active junior player, a rating isn’t a good indicator at all. The junior player often improves by leaps and bounds, and sudden bursts of strength are more the rule than the exception. This is why facing a junior player is so terrifying – you really have no idea what you’re getting. His rating might be 1200, but the rapidly morphing life form in front of you might be closer to 1600 (just a few months removed from being a true 1200!).
Inactive players are quite another matter. Rusty chess fans will find that their rating usually overshadows their true strength, though lots of practice will (in most cases) result in them regaining some measure of their past glory.
As for aging players, hey … I’m lucky to remember my name. Don’t you dare ask me to remember opening theory; and my calculation skills vanished long, long ago. Us older guys depend on positional knowhow, experience, and a bag of dirty tricks that took us a lifetime to develop. An older player’s rating usually is a good indicator of his true strength, but sometimes it doesn’t come close to indicating his true knowledge (which can often be superior to many much higher rated players). Sadly, other factors will drag his rating down – we get tired quickly, we can’t be bothered with new opening theory, our bad vision might make us pick up a Rook (thinking it’s a Bishop!), and we might even drool on the board (at times on purpose – it’s part of our bag of dirty tricks). We’ll do anything to win, but if we don’t we just shrug our shoulders since it’s no longer a big deal.
My current rating is about 1400, but my true strength is about 2450. No, just kidding! But I don’t think it will be impossible for me to break the 2000 barrier within a couple of years. I am currently reading your book THE AMATEUR’S MIND and learning tons of good stuff. However, my knowledge about book lines in the opening is rather limited. Is it necessary to focus on this stuff, or can the 2000 level be reached through knowledge of more general principles?
I don’t think you need to worry about book theory too much. Yes, you should learn a bit, but the fact is that most of your opponents won’t follow theory too far, which means that understanding an opening’s typical ideas, structures, and plans are much more important. These things, plus the experience you gain by playing the same opening over and over, will usually allow you to make logical opening moves. This means that even though you will most likely leave book theory behind, you’ll still have a perfectly playable position and (here’s the bonus!) your theory-hound opponent will be completely confused since he relied on memorization while your relied on understanding.
Of course, there are players (many players!) that live for theory, but I think it’s very possible to reach 2000 without serious theoretical chops – having a solid tactical foundation and knowing how to play good chess based on pawn structures and the various imbalances trumps theory addicts most of the time.
How does one deal with endgames with queens? I understand that just about any complex endgame is better understood when one has knowledge of simpler endgames (as mentioned in your book), but Queen endgames seem like a completely different game in its own right! I’m pretty sure that Queen endgame theory is quite complicated and vast, but are there any pointers you could give me?
From what I can tell from experience, it’s important to keep the Queen centralized if possible and to keep the King behind a nice, safe barrier, but is there anything more? Or am I doomed to learn from experience?
Queen and pawn endings are extremely complex, and many kinds of Queen endgame are simply beyond the pale of most masters, let alone amateurs. Studying the complex examples is (more or less) a waste of time, unless you wish to do so for pure enjoyment. But there are certain positions that really need to be understood.
In the case of Queen vs. one or more pawns (no Queen for the opponent), the result usually depends on how close the stronger side’s King is to the action or, if the stronger side’s King is far away, whether or not the King can successfully reach the embattled area.
For example, everyone should know that this position (White to move) is an easy win for White:
This position (White to move) is also an easy win:
And this is the same (easy win if it’s White to move):
1.Qd5+ Kc2 2.Qe4+ Kd2 3.Qd4+ Kc2 4.Qe3 Kd1 5.Qd3+ Ke1 6.Kg7 Kf2 7.Qd2 Kf1 8.Qf4+ Kg2 9.Qe3 Kf1 10.Qf3+ Ke1 11.Kf6 Kd2 12.Qf2 Kd1 13.Qd4+ Kc2 14.Qe3 Kd1 15.Qd3+ Ke1 16.Ke5 Kf2 17.Qd2 Kf1 18.Qf4+ Kg2 19.Qe3 Kf1 20.Qf3+ Ke1 21.Kd4 Kd2 22.Qd3+ Ke1 23.Ke3 and mates.
Thus if White’s King is far away and Black has a pawn on b2, d2, e2, or g2, White will win easily if he has the move. The technique is the same for all these pawns: force black’s King in front of his pawn so it can’t promote, then move your own King one square forward. Repeat the process, then move your King one square forward, repeat again and again until mate occurs.
However, if the stronger side’s King is too far away, the defender can draw if he possesses an a-pawn, c-pawn, f-pawn, or h-pawn on its 7th rank:
1.Qb8+ Kc2 2.Qe5
Threatening to win with Qa1 since then the pawn would be permanently stopped and white’s King could approach at its leisure.
2...Kb1 3.Qb5+ Kc2 4.Qc4+ Kb2 5.Qb4+ Kc2 6.Qa3 Kb1 7.Qb3+
So far white’s employed the usual winning technique, but after 7...Ka1 it instantly becomes clear that White can’t win because 8.Kg7 is a draw by stalemate.
Okay, rook-pawns are known to create funny drawing situations. But why in the world wouldn’t the c- and f-pawns win for the Queen in the usual manner?
1.Qa2 Kd1 2.Qb3 Kd2 3.Qb2 Kd1 4.Qd4+ Ke2 5.Qc3 Kd1 6.Qd3+ Kc1 7.Kg7 Kb2 8.Qd2 Kb1 9.Qb4+ Ka2 10.Qc3 Kb1 11.Qb3+
So far, so good. This seems easy!
11...Ka1! DOH! It’s a draw because after 12.Qxc2 we have another stalemate.
All these Queen vs. 1 pawn on the 7th rank positions should be mastered by everyone 1400 and above.
If the defender has two pawns on the 7th, White can still win IF his King is quite close to the action. But this is already a bit advanced and I wouldn’t waste time studying it until you reached at least the Expert (2000) level.
Far more complicated (useful, but insanely complex) are positions with Queen and pawn vs. a lone Queen. Even grandmasters screw these up, so why should you be expected to have a clue about them? One of the “easier” instances is the following:
If the pawn is on the 7th rank and the defender’s King is far away, White usually wins no matter where his King is. Of course, if the defender’s King is close to the pawn (allowing the King and Queen to gang up on it and chop it off) then a draw will result. The following example is a typical example of white’s winning technique, and also a fun example of a little known trick draw.
1...Qh5+ 2.Kg2 Qg5+ 3.Kf3?!
This still wins, but it allows a longer resistance and sets up the possible catastrophe that follows. More to the point is 3.Kf2! starting a bit of fancy footwork which will avoid the drawing Star Maneuver: 3...Qc5+ (3...Qd2+ 4.Kf3 Qd1+ 5.Kf4 and white’s King will manage to walk down to g8 when the King will ultimately give support to its pawn.) 4.Ke2 Qh5+ 5.Kd3 Qd1+ (5...Qh3+ 6.Kc4 Qf1+ and now White wins instantly with 7.Kb4 [no more checks!]. However, he must avoid 7.Kb3?? since 7...Qd3+! 8.Qxd3 leads to an immediate draw by stalemate.) 6.Kc3! Qc1+ (6...Qb3+ 7.Kd2!) 7.Kd4 Qb2+ 8.Kc5 (and NOT 8.Kd5?? since this allows the Star Maneuver by 8...Qb7+ when the game will be drawn. See our main line for a full Star Maneuver.) 8...Qa3+ 9.Kd5 Qa8+ 10.Ke5 and wins. A typical winning plan is: 10…Qh8+ 11.Kd6 Qb8+ 12.Ke6 Qb6+ 13.Kf5 Qf2+ 14.Qf4 Qc2+ 15.Kf6 Qc6+ 16.Kg7 Qb5 (16…Qe8 17.Qf7; 16…Qc3+ 17.Qf6) 17.Qf7 Qg5+ 18.Kh7 Qh4+ 19.Kg8 Qg5+ 20.Qg7+ and, with the exchange of Queens, it’s time for Black to resign.
Now it’s a draw due to the STAR MANEUVER (named by noted endgame expert Yuri Averbakh). 4.Ke3 will ultimately win, as in the note to white’s 3rd move.
4...Qh4+! 5.Kf5 Qh7+!
White’s King can’t move to e5 since that would hang the e7-pawn, while white’s King must also make sure it defends its Queen.
6.Kf4 Qh4+ 7.Kf3
7.Ke3 Qe1+ transposes.
7...Qh1+ 8.Ke3 Qe1+ 9.Kd3
9.Kd4 Qb4+ transposes.
9...Qb1+ 10.Kd4 Qb4+ 11.Kd5 Qb7+, draw. As you can see, the checks between h7, h1, b1, and b7 create a sort of “star”, which is how it got its name.
Nobody under master should bother with these Queen and pawn vs. lone King endgames, unless you simply find them beautiful and want to enjoy them for art’s sake.
In my view, the most important bit of general advice for Queen endgames is the following: Passed pawns are insanely important in this kind of endgame, and if your passer is further advanced than your opponent’s (even if you’re a few pawns down!) you can often still gain a draw.
Black is no less than 4 pawns ahead, and he has the move. But the game is drawn since Qb7 (or Qb8+ if the black Queen moves to e3 or d4) followed by a6-a7 will prove that white’s one mighty passer is worth more than black’s whole armada of pawns. Black would have to play for a perpetual check.
Being aware of this very important idea has helped players save seemingly difficult positions. The following game is a classic example.
Akiba Rubinstein - Jose Raul Capablanca, St Petersburg 1914
1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 e6 4.Nc3 Nbd7 5.Bg5 Be7 6.e3 0-0 7.Rc1 Re8 8.Qc2 c6 9.Bd3 dxc4 10.Bxc4 b5 11.Bd3 a6 12.Ne5 Bb7 13.Nxd7 Qxd7 14.Bxf6 Bxf6 15.Bxh7+ Kh8 16.Be4 e5 17.dxe5 Rxe5 18.0-0 Qe7 19.Bf3 Rc5 20.Qe2 Bxc3 21.Rxc3 Rxc3 22.bxc3 Rd8 23.Rd1 Rxd1+ 24.Qxd1 Kg8 25.h4 c5 26.Bxb7 Qxb7 27.Qd6
White’s a solid pawn up and one might think that black’s on his way down. However, Capablanca knew that, in Queen endgames, far advanced passed pawns take on far more importance than material. This knowledge allowed him to save the game.
White would have had more chances with either 28.c4 and 28.cxb4, but in both cases Black would be able to put up serious resistance.
28…bxc3 29.Qxc3 Qb1+ 30.Kh2 Qxa2
Though White enjoys a 4 vs. 2 pawn majority on the kingside, black’s passed a-pawn is so strong that Black will easily save the game.
31.Qc8+ Kh7 32.Qf5+ g6 33.Qf6 a5 34.g4 a4 35.h5 gxh5 36.Qf5+ Kg7 37.Qg5+ Kh7 38.Qxh5+ Kg7, 1/2-1/2.
The “passed pawns are gods in Queen endgames” rule can be understood and used by players of all ratings. Here’s an example from my game against International Master David Strauss:
Silman - David Strauss, Southern California Closed Ch. 1990
1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c6 4.e3 Nf6 5.Nf3 Nbd7 6.Qc2 Be7 7.b3 0-0 8.Be2 b6 9.0-0 Bb7 10.e4 dxe4 11.Nxe4 c5 12.Nxf6+ Bxf6 13.Bb2 Qc7 14.Rad1 Rad8 15.dxc5 Qxc5 16.Rd2 Ne5 17.Nxe5 Bxe5 18.Bxe5 Qxe5 19.Rfd1 Qg5 20.Bf1 Qe7 21.Qc3 g6 22.b4 Rxd2 23.Qxd2 Rc8 24.a3 Bc6 25.Qe3 Rd8 26.Rxd8+ Qxd8 27.Be2 Qf6 28.h3 Qb2
White’s gotten nothing from the opening, and the short-lived middlegame also offered zero gains. Does White possess anything that would allow him to put a little pressure on his opponent? The answer is yes – the queenside majority.
29.c5 bxc5 30.bxc5 e5 is very comfortable for Black, e.g. 31.Bf3 e4!
Of course, White isn’t winning after 31.Bf3, but it does set Black some problems to solve while White can push a bit without any risk whatsoever.
29…Bxf3 30.gxf3 Qc2 31.c5 bxc5 32.bxc5 Qd1+ 33.Kg2
The doubled pawns form an oddly effective protection for white’s King while the passed c-pawn is very annoying.
33...Qd5 34.Qc3 Qc6
Black wanted to avoid 34…Qg5+ 35.Kf1 Qf4 36.c6 Qc7 37.Qc5 when the pawn has become even more menacing than before!
Black cracks. 35…a6 would hold, though White can continue to probe with 36.Qb8+ Kg7 37.Qb6 Qd5 38.Qb4 Qg5+ 39.Kh2 Qe5+ (not black’s only move) 40.f4 Qc7 41.Kg3, etc. Even though the position looks safe for Black, he would have to be careful since “innocent” King and pawn endgames like 41…g5 42.Qd4+ Kf8? (42…f6! had to be tried) 43.Qd6+ Qxd6 44.cxd6 gxf4+ 45.Kxf4 aren’t innocent at all! A sample: 45…f6 (even easier for White is 45…Ke8 46.Ke5 Kd7 47.h4 f6+ 48.Kxf6 Kxd6 49.Kg7) 46.Kg4 Ke8 47.Kh5 f5 48.Kh6 f4 49.Kg5 f3 50.Kf4 Kd7 51.Kxf3 Kxd6 52.Kf4 Kd5 53.h4 Kd4 54.Kg5 Ke4 55.h5 e5 56.h6! Kd5 57.Kf6 e4 58.a4 a5 59.Kf5 Kd4 60.Ke6! wins for White.
36.Qb8+ Kg7 37.Qxa7 Qd5 38.Qe7 e5 39.a4 Kh6 40.a5 f5 41.Qd6, 1-0.