The Return of Readers’ Games, Part 1

  • IM Silman
  • | Dec 24, 2013

When I was doing readers’ games (and I’ll return to that at some point next year) I would heap praise on good moves or even interesting moves, and I wouldn’t hesitate to call a horrible move what it was... horrible. Some readers would freak out and think they were being attacked – somehow they felt that if I said a move they played was bad, that also meant they as human beings were bad too. Of course, that’s nonsense – if you give me a game and ask for the truth, I’ll give you what you asked for. I’m analyzing moves, not human beings, and making people feel warm and fuzzy isn’t on my agenda. (Okay, I admit it! I do like making people feel warm and fuzzy, but you actually have to earn it)

Personally, I can’t stand gooey fake speech. Praising everything means that anything that’s said means nothing. Praise from such a person isn’t praise at all, it’s just posturing for fear that others are as insecure as you are.

Anyway, my students demand I tell it like it is (that’s why they hire me!), and I would also demand the same thing if I hired a grandmaster to help me get back in fighting form.

As I said, in 2014 I’ll probably write several articles based on games by members. (If you have a game/position you deem to be instructive — a loss or draw by you is preferred — then send it in! Beginner or master, I’ll cater to as many as possible!) Most people really appreciate it. But this time I’ll keep a heavy hand hovering over the “comments delete button” for those that want me to be Oprah, or think political correctness is king.

Two more things:

  • When I did this in the past, there would always be people who thought that annotating beginner games was useless. These selfish fools somehow felt that anything written should address them and nobody else. Since has members that cover the full range of ratings, it’s important that I give everyone in every rating category a chance. If you find low rated games offensive, keep it to yourself since any comment you make will be deleted (and repeated jerk-comments will get you thrown off the site).
  • A few people were so upset at my pointing out their errors that they sent me raving letters about how I insulted them. In each case, they had a fake name with no real information about who or what they are (for all I know, they could be an alien or a talking badger). Be warned that when I get a note that says, “You have insulted gigaboy189z3!” I’ll laugh (for a long time) and then delete your nonsense.

Here’s a fully annotated game, played by my student (and member!) BB. When I teach, I also give the student a printout of my notes so he can take the material home and look at it in a leisurely fashion. I’ll be sharing those (heavily edited) notes with you today so you can see the ups and downs of slow (face-to-face) tournament chess, and how real chess lessons might, or might not, be to your taste. I’ll also add in several puzzles, which will help you feel, in some way, closer to this game and its ideas.

[Warning! Quite a bit of this material is extremely advanced. Nevertheless, the ultimate message: "Push your own agenda!" is universal and important for everyone of every rating. As for the puzzles (many of which offer stunning tactics and amazing mating patterns), some are just about impossible to solve, but I'm hoping you find them fun, mind-blowing, or even instructive.]

David Argall (2000) – B. Buggs (1504)
Arcadia Chess Club, 2013

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Bc5 9.Qd2 a6 10.0-0-0 0-0 11.h4 Nxd4 12.Bxd4 b5 13.Kb1 Qc7 14.Rh3 Bxd4 15.Qxd4 

BB often gets this kind of position and, generally, he does quite well with it. Of course, he hadn’t faced White’s h2-h4 followed by Rh3, but that doesn’t chance the position’s basic nature: White will try and get an attack on the kingside while Black will go after queenside play via the open c-file and an advance of his queenside pawns. Another option for Black is a well-timed …f7-f6 crunch of White’s center.

One word of warning – when Black plays the French Defense, he should always strive to avoid a losing bad bishop vs. great knight situation. Here’s a classic example: 

Houdini thinks that the game is more or less equal, but any titled player will tell you, after a quick glance, that Black is probably dead lost!

And now I'll toss out our first puzzle (starting with the final position on the previous board)!

Puzzle 1:

Okay, back to our Argall vs. BB game!


You missed something! No shame there since lots of strong players would have also missed it.

15...Bb7 Idea: stops nonsense on d5 and also prepares for a rook to move to c8. Now White will do his thing and you’ll try and do yours. Here are a couple possible continuations: 16.h5 h6 17.g4 Qc5 18.Qd2 Rac8 19.g5 (19.f5 b4 20.Ne2 Nxe5 21.Nd4 Nc4 22.Qg2 e5 23.g5 Kh8 24.f6 exd4 25.fxg7+ Kxg7 26.gxh6+ Kxh6 27.Bxc4 dxc4 28.Qxb7 d3) 19...hxg5 20.h6 g6 21.fxg5 Nxe5 22.Qf4 Nd7 (22...f6 23.gxf6 Nd7 24.Qg4 Rxf6 25.Bd3) 23.a3 f5 24.gxf6 Rxf6 25.Qh4 Rcf8, =. Notice that Black didn’t panic in the face of white’s attack! Instead both sides pushed their own agendas. That is IMPORTANT! 


Not surprisingly, White also misses the trick.

Puzzle 2:

Here’s a puzzle that will test whether or not you saw the flaw in 15...Nc5.

And, once again, back to our Argall vs. BB game!

16...Bd7 17.f5 Rfc8 18.g5?

 A lemon! Correct was 18.a3 when I like White: 18...Rab8 19.h5 Qb7

Puzzle 3:

What happens if Black stops White’s h5-h6 by 19...h6?

Black to our analysis of 18.a3:

18...Rab8 19.h5 Qb7 20.h6 b4 21.axb4 Qxb4 22.Qxb4 Rxb4 23.hxg7 Rcb8 and we arrive at a critical position!

24.b3? (A very natural move, but it doesn’t seem to win) 24...Kxg7 25.f6+ and now 25...Kg6! (25...Kg8? loses) and I can’t see a way to bury the Black king!

Instead of 24.b3, White should trap the enemy king in a tomb by 24.f6!

The question now is, can Black generate enough counterplay against White’s king to offshoot the almost certain mate heading down the h-file? 

Before we see if you can navigate the very complicated, choppy waters of White’s winning paths (and I’m going to spare you the horror of the endless reams of analysis this position has generated in my notes!), we’ll break this madness down into two puzzles.

The madness starts with Black’s two replies: 24...Rxb2+ and 24...d4. We’ll start with the obvious and tempting 24...Rxb2+ 25.Kc1 (and not 25.Ka1?? Rxc2), which takes us to another critical position.

And here we’ll look at 25...R2b4, when a puzzle follows:

Puzzle 4:

Puzzle 5:

Now let’s see how White deals with 24...d4.

After all of that, we’re finally back to our actual game position.


Black is playing very well! One would guess that he was the Expert and White the 1500 player. However, the real test of a good player isn’t whether he can play some good moves. It’s whether he can play good moves for the whole game!



What happens if White chops off the b4-pawn by Qxb4? This calls for another puzzle!

Puzzle 6:


Another excellent move is 19...exf5 when gets rid of White’s strong attacking f-pawn while also winning a pawn AND preparing to bombard the e5-pawn with pain: 20.Rc1 Re8 21.Bg2 Ne4 22.Nf4 Qxe5 23.Qxe5 Rxe5 is clearly better for Black. Nevertheless, 19...Ne4 is also very good. As the old saying goes: “You can only play one good move at a time.”

20.Rc1 Bb5

20...exf5! is still correct. I’ll repeat why this is so good: Taking on f5 is a good move since you not only retain your queenside attack, but you also get rid of his dangerous f5-pawn which could advance to f6 (a good structure for White). Also this capture on f5 creates activity in the center and White’s pieces aren’t ready for that. I think you are more or less winning after 20...exf5! 21.Nf4 Be6 and though Black has a winning edge, 22.Nxd5?? makes things even worse: 22...Bxd5 23.Qxd5 Rd8 wins on the spot. 

21.fxe6 fxe6 22.Rf3?

White’s pieces are all over the place and he needs to consolidate in some manner. A better try was 22.Re3, which eyes e4 and protects e2 (which in turn allows White’s Bishop to move to h3 or g2). However, things would still be grim for White: 22...Qf7 23.Bg2 Rc4 24.Qd1 Qf2 25.Bxe4 Rxe4! (Not 25...Qxe3? 26.Bxd5! when White’s back in the game.) 26.Rxe4 dxe4 27.Ng1 e3 28.Qg2 e2 and now 29.Qxe6+ (29.Nf3 is a better defense.) 29...Kh8 30.Qd5 Rf8 is terrible for White.


A natural move, but it pretty much loses all of Black’s advantage. However, it’s very hard to criticize such a move since it feels right in so many ways: it defends b4 and intends to push on to a4 and a3. Unfortunately, the position is very sharp and called for a sharp solution. The slow nature of 22...a5 gives White the time to whip some stuff up for himself.

We’ll let you demonstrate a better path in the following puzzle!

Puzzle 7:


White responds to Black’s tame move with a passive reply. Instead he needed to force the play and avoid his opponent’s queenside attacking dreams. The best way of doing this was: 23.Bh3! Bxe2 24.Bxe6+ Kh8 25.Rf7 Qc5 26.Bc8 Rxc8 (26...Qxd4?? 27.Rf8 mate) 27.Qxc5 Nxc5 28.Ra7 Nd3 29.Rg1 Nxe5 30.Re1 (Also possible is 30.Rxa5, =) 30...Nc6 31.Rd7 Bh5 (Black needs to defend the e8-square since 31...Bf3?? 32.Rc7! wins for White) 32.Rxd5 with approximate equality.


I love the way Black did his very best to stick to his queenside agenda.


24.Qxb4? isn’t wise. I think this calls for another puzzle!

Puzzle 8:


White’s last move (24.Nf4), threatened both 25.Nxe6 and 25.Bxb5, so Black’s very natural reaction is completely understandable. But, there was some much better. This calls for yet another puzzle!

Puzzle 9:



A super sharp position and Black starts to defend. Your first thought should be to push your own agenda, and defending is NOT part of that agenda (you only defend if you 100 percent have to)! Let’s look at two alternative moves for Black in puzzle form (one of the moves will feature two puzzles):

Puzzle 10:

Our first one occurs after 25...Ng3 26.Rfe1 Qf7 defending e6 AND hitting the f4-knight AND threatening to mop up with 27...Rc4. White will reply with 27.Qe3.

Puzzle 11:

Our next alternative is 25...a3 when 26.b3 is correct. However, what happens if goes for the bait on e6 by 26.Nxe6?

Puzzle 12:

And here we’ll explore 25...a3 26.b3 Qc3+ 27.Qxc3 Nxc3 (Black’s a bit better here.) 28.Nxe6?? How does Black take advantage of this?

Once again, back to the actual game!


White missed 26.Nxd5! with some advantage for White, though the position after 26...Qd7 27.Qxe4 Qxd5 28.Qxd5 exd5 29.Rf4 Rc4 30.Rxc4 dxc4 is probably drawn. 


Black, who played so well earlier in the game, totally loses the thread – time pressure and/or tiredness and/or frustration often causes one side to unravel. Another very real possibility is that the position has simply become too complicated for Black’s range. After all, White, who is an Expert, has been struggling with the complications the whole game, so it’s not surprising that Black, rated 1504, should also struggle.

Nevertheless, can you find Black’s correct continuation?

Puzzle 13:

27.Rfd1 Ne4??

I'm sorry to say it, but this is one of those typical amateur moments that I see all the time. The amateur makes a one move threat (apparently not looking for any reply) and when the guy threatens the just-moved piece, he moves it back, thus losing a couple tempos for no reason. ALWAYS know how your opponent will respond to your moves! 27...Nf3 28.Qxb4 a3 29.b3 Nxe5 is still a bit better for Black in a sharp position. But for the love of god, don’t just retreat and roll over! 

28.Nxb4 Rb6 29.Nxd5?

29.a3 is a very sensible move, when White is better.

29...exd5 30.Qxd5+ Kh8 


Correct was 31.Rd3 Nc5 32.Rc3 Rbb8 33.Rc4 Qb6 and Black’s obviously better, but White can play on.

BB said: “After 31.Qxe4 Black resigned on move 34.”

The fact is, Black had missed 29.Nxd5 (though it’s a bad move!) and was sure he was dead lost. So he simply gave up mentally, played a couple more moves, and then resigned. BUT... it turns out that after 31.Qxe4 Black has a forced win! And when I say, “win,” I mean the kind of win that would take out Kasparov or Carlsen!

And so we’ll end this article with one final puzzle:

Puzzle 14:



  • 2 years ago


    The intro to this article is interesting. As a chess novice it is humble to admit mistakes and learn from them. As a sidebar, in Go the board game students should expect certain things. I remember a teaching game. The teacher asked me, "do you study life and death problems?" (a form of similar to checkmate problems). "Yes I do.". " Then obviously you have understood nothing of which you have read.". "Uh, thanks?", I wrote. I realized later that sugar coating was actually disrespectful of me as a player despite the temporary dissonance I felt. It's funny sometimes people use negative situations or ideas to motivate to provide mental energy, and when someone else does this they can't use it to their advantage. It is difficult as a chess player to mentally switch from confidence you must have in games solving problems to step back from that and objectively assess errors without condemning poor decisions. This idea isn't generally mentioned in chess literature nor why certain moves are made because of position, tactics,strategy, likely because such a book would be 1000 pgs or more to include that and algebraic notation of moves from games, but it is important. It appears in this article this has been done.

  • 3 years ago


    Where should we submit our games for consideration?

  • 3 years ago


    1. From this position in the accelerated dragon, what would be black's best ideas to gain an advantage?

  • 3 years ago


    I always liked these reader game articles with lower rated games, I felt that the moves and analysis for why were "within my reach". And I feel more connected playing through the moves from articles like these than I do playing through an Anand/Magnus game.  I like to read Silman articles and skim his books and Dan Heisman's books before tournaments. 

  • 3 years ago


    Now I just need to play a good game worth sending in!

  • 3 years ago


    Thanks, IM Silman, for such an instructive article. I have  FIDE of 2177, and I make silly mistakes all the same. Your analysis of this game is nothing but brilliant! Makes me want to play the French!

  • 3 years ago


    Merry Christmas Silman. I can't wait for part two as I have a game I believe you'll like featuring your favorite imbalance (knight vs bishop)

  • 3 years ago


    Good article, especially the first part :-)

  • 3 years ago


    Silman, I love you; you're a fantastic author, I have over a dozen of your books you wrote or co-wrote (especially like your endgame books), I read your column here on religiously, and you have been very nice to me when I sent an e-mail asking about a passage on Morphy in one of your articles.  

    However, as one of those "selfish fools" who offered criticism when you analyzed a game between two 1000-rated players, I feel you're mis-stating the objections.  

    Of course your articles aren't all things for every strength of player.  In fact, I would say that your articles are best appreciated by 1200-2200 strength players.  Anything below 1200, and your articles are probably too complicated for them.  Anything above 2200, and while it's still well-written, with some fine examples, most of the knowledge isn't new.  

    With that in mind, what is more instructive for players in the 1200-2200 range?  A hard-fought battle between a 1500 and 2000, with many instructive errors, like what you present above, or two 1000-rated players who make basic tactical blunders every other move?  I personally prefer the former, and I imagine the same would be true for other players in that 1200-2200 range. 

    So I have no problems with your reader games in 95+% of the articles, just that specific one.   

    Just to make some of the feedback clearer.  

    Anyways, I wish you an excellent and happy holiday, Mr. Silman!

  • 3 years ago


    If we've got a game or position that might be interesting, were should we send it? Should we just PM you?

  • 3 years ago


    @SPIKESTARS : u dont need engine to play the games. What you can do is :

    1 : play the moves on actual board

    2: can use game editor of, open game editor of on separate webpage and play the moves on it

    3: this is what i do. U get any free chess graphical user interface. I use scidvspc. theres lots of others, u can choose ur gui. N play the moves over it.

    Hope this was helpful. Thanks

  • 3 years ago


    Nici article!Smile

    Juci article!Smile

  • 3 years ago



  • 3 years ago

    FM TheNomNomFactor

    Attacking games are always fun to look at.  Part of me really believes that the reason Black played back Ne4 and missed several other combinations was because he had in mind that White was rated 500 points more than him.  It is harder to look for sacrifices and moves that give you an advantage because your mindset is like "What?  No way.  He's 500 points above me, how could he have possibly missed that?" and give yourself a false variation in that line to convince yourself that your opponent is better if you played that good move.  I find myself in this situation a lot of the time.  I naturally look for tactics less and miss more things I normally wouldn't miss against people much higher rated than me because "they know what they're doing, I don't have anything here".  If on the pairing sheet there was a printed mistake and White was listed as a 200, I'm sure Black would have spent more time looking for tactics and combinations and I believe could have been fully capable of finding some of the combinations that our awesome author here Mr. Silman here listed as puzzles.  Chess would be played more fearlessly if ratings were kept secret.

  • 3 years ago


    I can't play BB's game in my mind. What engine should I use to view it? Merry xmas

  • 3 years ago


    for puzzle 2, should the knight not take the pawn on b5 instead of d5? I struggle to see a line for white which regains the knight after

    17 ... Ne6.

    18. Qxd5 Bb7 I cant see a clear advantage but Im likely missing something

  • 3 years ago


    Brother Silman... beautiful job of reading them the "riot act".

    I really got a hardy chuckle from the "heavy hand hovering over the comments delete button".

    As usual your column is fun, entertaining and 'oh so instructive'. I especially like this format.

    Keep 'em coming!

  • 3 years ago


    Excellent article. Lots of material to sift through but it's all very instructive, as always Laughing.

    thank you IM Silman, and happy holidays to you and your family.

  • 3 years ago


    You guys are basically describing Silman's own book, The Amateur's Mind.  The book is basically him sitting with his students of various levels and having them think out loud while they play him, after which he tells them which of their thought processes he liked and which they should get away from.

    @Applefield: I'm jealous; I had a decent chess library (including several Silman staples) that the post office lost when I mailed them to my wife to facilitate moving across the country.  Thanks, OBAMA.

  • 3 years ago


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