Readers’ Games, Questions and Comments, Part 3

Readers’ Games, Questions and Comments, Part 3

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Today we’ll look at three games and one comment. Each entry has important instructive points that are well worth pondering. We’ll start with the comment, alluding to my article, You Have It He Doesn’t! Part 1, which was all about taking advantage of weak dark squares in the enemy camp.

MarcoAKQ liked the article, and the first part of his comment made sense to me: “I enjoyed the article so much, but I really find the whole 'dark/light squares' strategy extremely difficult.”

I started the article saying that, though most players know about dark-square weaknesses, they don’t fully understand why they are so important. So Marco saying he finds this difficult is perfectly natural, and further study of lots and lots of examples should eventually make what was once confusing a piece of cake.

But I got a dose of whiplash when he said, “Okay, you have an extra bishop so you obviously look for tactics with it…”

MarcoAKQ, creating and making use of dark squares has, in general, nothing to do with tactics. It’s pure strategy and is a critical positional concept that has to be mastered. You might use tactics to take advantage of your dark-squared domination, or you might use tactics to help create them - or you might not see a single tactic in the whole game. When pondering weak dark squares, view it as a concept that needs to be fully grasped. And, at the risk of repeating myself, the way to do that is to look at many, many, many examples of it.

Thanks for your comment!


Our first game illustrates the importance of knowing the basics of the opening you play. But it also shows the enormous impact pattern recognition has on your game; the more positions/structures/setups you have in your memory-bank, the easier chess will be. 

N.N. (unrated) - Willhead13 (unrated),

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2

The popular Tarrasch Variation.


If you play the French, you’ll have to be prepared for 3.Nd2. Black’s choice, 3...c5, is a good one, though 3...Nf6 and various other moves are also very common. However, if you play 3...c5 you will be well served if you understand the ins and outs of the isolated d-pawn (Black often gets an isolated pawn in his system, and in some lines White gets one!).

This is one reason why those with very few patterns have little chance against those that know many. The “few patterns” person will have to reinvent the wheel over and over again, while the “tens of thousands of patterns” guy will know exactly how to handle the situation at a glance.


4.exd5 exd5 is the old main line. Here’s a common sequence: 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.Bb5 Bd6 7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.Nb3 Bd6 9.0-0 Nge7 and Black ends up with an isolated pawn but enjoys fluid development and active pieces.

I highly recommend that you look at my article, An Infestation of Isolated d-Pawns, which will give you the important basics on how to play either side of the isolated d-pawn.


4.exd5 Qxd5 is another very theoretical line: 5.Ngf3 cxd4 6.Bc4 when 6...Qd6 is by far the most popular, but 6...Qd8, 6...Qc5, and even 6...Qd7 also appear in grandmaster practice. A typical sequence after 6...Qd6 is 7.0-0 Nf6 8.Nb3 Nc6 9.Nbxd4 Nxd4 10.Nxd4 a6 11.Re1 Qc7 with a satisfactory position for Black.

The move White played in the game, 4.c3, avoids the main lines, though I suspect that White didn’t know them! However, quite a few strong players have embraced 4.c3. In a way, it makes the following announcement: “I’m willing to allow you to give me an isolated d-pawn. I might not have any clear theoretical advantage, but I will get a tense, interesting game where the player who understands the isolated d-pawn best will usually triumph.”

4...Nc6 5.Ngf3

Now the main move is 5...cxd4 6.cxd4 dxe4 giving White the isolated d-pawn, which leads to a position that might make both players happy.

5...cxd4 6.cxd4 dxe4 7.Nxe4 Bb4+ (7...Be7 and 7...Nf6 are also common, while 7...Nge7 is worth a look: 8.Bb5 Nf5 9.0-0 Be7 10.Ne5 Nfxd4 11.Qg4 0-0 12.Bxc6 f5 13.Qh5 bxc6 [13...Nxc6 14.Ng5 h6 15.Nxc6 bxc6 16.Nf3 Bf6 favors Black] 14.Ng5 Bxg5 15.Bxg5 Qd6 16.Rfe1 Ba6 17.Rad1 Rab8 18.Rxd4 Qxd4 19.Nxc6 Qxb2 20.Ne7+ Kh8 21.Ng6+, 1/2-1/2, P. Piscopo (2381) – G. Timoshenko (2518), [C07] Livigno Open 2012.) 8.Nc3 (8.Bd2 is the alternative, but 8.Nc3 is the way to go if you’re after complications.) 8...Nf6 9.Bd3 0-0 10.0-0 Be7 11.a3 b6 12.Re1 Bb7 13.Bc2 (intending Qd3) leads to a complex position where White has serious dynamic chances, while Black will try his best to milk his positional plusses, namely the isolated d-pawn and the hole on d5.

In the actual game Black played the very ugly 5...g6? which ignores the central tension, fails to develop a piece (which means his king will be in the center longer than it needs to be), and creates tons of dark-square weaknesses.

White responded with 6.Bb5 (a reasonable move) and Black, still ignoring his central King and dark-square liability, chose to end the pin by 6...Bd7?? which is more than Black’s position can handle. After 6...Bd7 let’s create a puzzle and see how you would play White’s position:

Puzzle 1:

The notes in this puzzle are very important, so please look at them after you solve (or try and solve) it.

Basic Lessons Learned

  • Get your king out of the center as quickly as possible.
  • Don’t create gaping square weaknesses – picture them as wormholes that allow the enemy pieces to leap into your territory at faster than light speed.
  • Try and create something that you can build on. In the present case, Black should have chopped on d4 and e4 (5...cxd4 6.cxd4 dxe4) giving White an isolated d-pawn. After that, both sides would be happy: White has compensation for the isolated pawn in the form of dynamic pieces and kingside attacking chances. Black has his stuff too: a hole on d5 (a great home for a knight) and pressure against d4. Whoever makes maximum use of their favorable imbalances will often win the game. And if one side uses his stuff while the other is oblivious about what he has, the game will often turn into a bloody rout.


Our next game shows two beginners doing the right thing: Play lots of games, make tons of errors, and slowly but surely, figure out what is and isn’t right in various positions. In other words, expect to lose countless games on the chess path. Weak minds and delicate egos avoid defeat by only playing people they can easily beat. These “I fear losing” folks will never improve. Those that are willing to have their ego battered about and who understand that losing is an integral part of the learning process will eventually rush right by the “I fear losing” guys.

Arkochelsea (1010) – Hahoma (996) 2014

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f6??

The infamous Damiano Defense. The name is actually extremely unfair since Pedro Damiano (1480 – 1544) made it clear that 2…f6 was a very weak move. In fact, the move 3.Nxe5 (which Damiano analyzed) was named after Damiano, and over time people gave 2...f6 Damiano’s name (I’m sure he turns over in his grave whenever anyone uses his name in this manner!).

Front page of Pedro Damiano's book | Image Wikipedia

Why is 2...f6 so bad? For a few reasons: It fails to develop a piece, it weakens Black’s king position, and it takes the f6-square away from Black’s knight.

Here are some possibilities:

It’s well worth going over these crushing games (no subtlety here!) since (aside from the tactics) it pushes home a few things:

  • A king in the center can easily get wiped out. In general, castle as quickly as you can.
  • Don’t make moves that weaken your king position (...f6 did that by opening up the a2-g8 diagonal)!
  • Try not to make pawn moves that block your own pieces (...f6 did that).

3.Nc3 a5?

Hideous. Black refuses to develop his pieces, and he’s also ignoring the center (which is the most important area of the board). 


A good move, but there’s an even stronger one:

Puzzle 2:

Back to the real game:

4...d6 5.d5?

An extremely instructive mistake. By closing the position you fail to make use of the a2-g8 diagonal via 5.Bc4, and you also ignore the important rule that a lead in development (which White enjoys) is strongest in an open position. By closing it, you make Black’s lack of development an easier cross to carry.


Black still refused to develop anything and he also creates a hole on b5. Notice how many of these moves are self-destructive (2...f6, 3...a5, 5.d5, and now 5...c5). 

6.Bb5+ Kf7

Now the obvious 7.0-0 gives White a huge advantage. However, White decides to slit his own wrists.



Noooooo!!! Take the piece! After 7...fxg5 8.Qf3+ moves like 8...Nf6 or 8...Qf6 leave White with nothing, and 8.Qh5+ g6 9.Qf3+ Kg7 is just as bad.

8.Ne6 Bxe6 9.dxe6 h5 10.g4 h4 11.f4 Qe7 12.f5+ and Black got wiped off the board.

Since some players hate looking at beginner games (though they might actually learn something by doing so), I’ll leap to another level by offering up a game sent to me by chess_sss. He pointed out that this game was played by his father, who had the White pieces. Chess_sss gives his father’s rating at 1593, but he played like a champ in this game!

Atul53 (1593) – rakija (1646),
Live Chess, 2014

1.b3 Nf6 2.Bb2 e6 3.e3 d5 4.Nf3 Be7 5.c4 dxc4?

A poor move, but one that most amateur’s play in one form or another. In fact, I view it as a disease which I call “fearing pawn tension.” This subject is worthy of a whole article, but the gist is that the d5-pawn is more valuable than the c-pawn. In fact, if White recaptures on c4 with his b-pawn, then (in effect) Black has swapped his d-pawn for White’s b3-pawn!

The other problem is that, if White decides to recapture on c4 with his bishop he does so in one move. If Black had waited, White, at some point, would have moved his f1-bishop and, after ...dxc4 (if Black still insisted on making this capture) the bishop would have to move a second time (thus Black would gain a move).

Returning to the fear of pawn tension, it’s ubiquitous among amateurs. The idea of pawns facing off, and the nerve-wracking reality of never knowing if the opponent will initiate the pawn capture, is usually enough to break (a mini-break, but still a break) even the hardiest soul. This is one of the many differences between amateurs and professionals: the amateur hates tension while the pro courts it!

There’s so much more I could say about pawn tension, but I’ll save that information for another day.


As I mentioned earlier, 6.bxc4 (which is also very good) brings the b-pawn towards the center and opens the b-file.

6...O-O 7.O-O b6 8.Nc3 Bb7 9.d4 c5 10.Qe2 cxd4 11.Nxd4 a6 12.Rfd1 

White enjoys a small, safe edge. He played the opening well, placed his pieces on good squares, and is getting his army out before seeking any kind of adventure - all of which shows a good deal of chess maturity.


Placing the queen on the c-file isn’t wise. Instead, 12...Nbd7 was more logical.

13.Rac1 b5?? 

Non-masters tend to have trouble when facing this kind of “simple” but powerful positional chess. Black, after the “twitch” on move 12, completely cracks on move 13. 


The alternative, which is also very strong, is 14.Bxe6! fxe6 15.Ncxb5. However, when you have two strong moves the rules of chess tell you that you’re only allowed to play one of them.

14...fxe6 15.Bxe6+ Kh8


The other choice was 16.Nd5.


A tougher defense is 16...Qa5 17.Nd6 Bxd6 (17...Qb6 18.Nf7+ Rxf7 [18...Kg8 19.Qc4 is crushing] 19.Bxf7 and Black’s two knights can’t handle White’s rook and three pawns). 19.Rxd6 and while White’s pieces are taking aim at Black’s king, Black’s pieces are having trouble getting into play. An example is 19...Qb5 19.Qd2 Ne4 and here’s a puzzle:

Puzzle 3:

Not done solving puzzles? Tactics Trainer is waiting!

17.Nc7 Bc5 18.Nxa8 Bxa8 


19.Bf5, 19.Bg4, and 19.Bh3 were smoother, but White’s choice gets the job done (admittedly with an extra bump or two).


Black finally creates a threat (20...Qxg2 mate), which makes him feel large and in charge, at least for one move. However, 19...Bxe3! was the only way to put up resistance: 20.Rc2! (20.fxe3? Qxe3+ 21.Kh1 Qf2 allows Black to stay in the game) 20...Ne4 21.Bd4 Bxd4 22.Rxd4 Ng5 23.Bd5 Bxd5 24.Qxd5 Ne6 25.Rdc4 Nd8 26.Rc8 Qf6 27.g3 and White should win thanks to the power of his two active rooks, the lack of mobility of Black’s knights (the rook and two pawns will crush the two inactive knights).


An easy move to understand. Defending the bishop and the g2-pawn should lock in the win. However, stronger (and less complicated) is 20.Bd5! Nxd5 21.Qxc5 Qxc5 22.Rxc5 Nf6 23.Rdc1 Kg8 24.Rc8.


Black should have tried 20...Ne4 and hoped for a lucky break. 

21.Qxc5! Qxc5 22.Rxc5 Rf8 23.Bxf6 gxf6 24.Bf5 Nc6 25.Rd7 Ne5 26.Rxh7+ Kg8 27.Rcc7 Rd8 28.Be6+, 1-0. Oddly, Black could have given White a scare with 28…Nf7! threatening both 29…Kxh7 and 29…Rd1 mate. Of course, White wins easily after 29.f3 Kxh7 30.Rxf7+ when White enjoys a FOUR-pawn advantage in the endgame.

A very impressive game by White!


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