Your Questions Answered By Andrew Martin

Your Questions Answered By Andrew Martin

| 20 | Other is very pleased to present the first in a series of regular articles by renowned chess author and experienced coach, International Master Andrew Martin.

Andrew will be answering any questions that members have about the game of chess.  You can find the email address to send your questions to Andrew at the end of the article.

So, without further delay, read on for Andrew's first column! 

First of all, let me say what a pleasure it is to have a regular column on this site and I look forward to answering all your questions in hopefully an instructive and humorous way.

Anonymous asked about castling.  He was undecided in certain situations when and where to commit his King.

We all know we should castle, but occasionally the move is mistimed and a player 'castles into it'.  This is a question of instinct and judgment.  If it's clear the game is shaping up into a situation where players are going to attack on opposite sides of the board you may not wish to commit your King early, retaining flexibility by keeping option open.  Take a look at the following game.

1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.Be3 Nd7 5.Qd2 c5 6.Nf3 This transposes into the Sicilian Dragon. [6.d5 Ngf6 7.f3 belongs to the Pirc Defence.] 6...cxd4 7.Nxd4 Ngf6 8.f3 a6 9.h4 This natural move is already inaccurate.  White forgets that Black hasn't castled yet. 9...h5! The inclusion of the moves h4/h5 favours Black, since White's main active plan is connected with ¥h6, which is no longer possible. Due to the fact that Black keeps his king in the centre, the advance g2-g4 does not achieve its goal either. Moreover, White needs to spend another move to prepare g2-g4. 10.Be2 Qc7 Before playing ...b5 Black wants first to be sure that White will castle long, in order to rule out White's a2-a4. [Nevertheless 10...b5 was a playable option. The position after 11.a4 b4 (11...bxa4 12.Rxa4 +/=) 12.Na2 (12.Nd5 Nxd5 13.exd5 Bb7 =/+) 12...a5 is about equal.] 11.0–0–0 [11.g4 hxg4 12.fxg4 Nc5 -/+ 13.Nd5 Nxd5 14.exd5 Ne4 15.Qd3 Ng3 and White will lose some of his multiple pawn weaknesses.] 11...b5 Black`s chances are at least not worse. 12.g4?! This apparently logical continuation of the initial plan is bad. In order to keep the position balanced, White had to concentrate on the central strategy. [12.Rhe1 Bb7 13.Bf1 is unclear] 12...b4 Black is deliberately delaying castling until the latest possible moment, creating meaningful counterplay first before he commits his King. [12...hxg4 13.fxg4 Nc5 14.h5 Nfxe4 15.Nxe4 Nxe4 16.Qd3 Nc5 17.Qc3 with compensation, with the idea of ...gxh5? 18.Nxb5!+-] 13.Nd5 [13.Nb1 hxg4 -/+] 13...Nxd5 14.exd5 Nf6 15.Nc6 Nxd5! A nice unexpected blow. 16.Qxd5 Bb7 17.Bd4 [The best was 17.Bc4 0–0 18.gxh5 Bxc6 19.Qd3 although here too Black is better after (19.Qg5 Bxf3 20.Bb3 Bxh5–+) 19...Bb5! 20.Bxb5 (20.b3 Bxc4 21.bxc4) 20...axb5 21.hxg6! a) 21.h6 Bxb2+! 22.Kxb2 Ra3 23.Qd2 (23.Qe4 Qc3+ 24.Kb1 Rxa2–+) 23...Rfa8 24.Ra1 Qc4 25.Kc1 (25.Bd4 e5–+) 25...e5! White is helpless after this move, which takes away the square d4 from the bishop. (25...Rxa2? 26.Rxa2 Rxa2 27.Bd4!) 26.Kd1 Rxa2 27.Rc1 b3–+; b) 21.Kb1 Rxa2! 22.Kxa2 Qa5+ 23.Kb1 Ra8 24.c3 bxc3–+; 21...Rxa2 22.gxf7+ (22.Bd4 e5 23.Be3 Rxb2 24.Kxb2 e4+ –+) 22...Rxf7 23.Rdg1 Kh8 -/+] 17...Bxc6 18.Qc4 e5 19.Be3 hxg4 20.fxg4 Rc8 21.Rh2 0–0!? Finally! [21...d5–+] 22.h5 d5 23.Qb3 d4 24.Bg5 Bd5 [24...Bd5 25.Qa4 (25.Qxb4 Qxc2#) 25...b3–+]  0–1  

There are no hard and fast rules about when and where to castle and when not. Modern chess demands flexibility as a key component of improvement. I suppose the main advice I can give here is to avoid AUTOMATIC moves.

Fabror the Guru asks about playing Black at recreational level. What's the best approach?

I've always been a big fan of easy-to-learn practical ways to play with Black. Choose the right openings and you can save a lot of time. A typical way to do this would be to look for variations which have the same basic pawn structure e.g. the Scandinavian and Slav or the King's Indian and Modern or Sicilian Dragon (although finchetto openings tend to have a lot of theory on them). A favourite opening of mine is 1.e4 d5! which is dead easy to learn and will provide a solid position and good results.

Rohin Bhagwat describes a situation where he seems to be affected by nerves. He freezes at the board and cannot find simple ideas (like tactics) that he would normally easily pick up on.

This could be a confidence problem.  My advice here is to develop a training routine for yourself and study chess every single day for a small amount of time; maybe only 15 mins, but give it everything for that quarter of an hour. Confidence is a fragile thing, but you will certainly build confidence through your routine. Don't worry too much about losing.  Play to enjoy the game and persevere after losses.  Go over your losses carefully using an analysis engine and try to find out why you lost. Increased understanding brings increased confidence.

Whilst we are on the subject of routine Joemz asked about the most effective way to study chess.

Little and often would be my strong advice, based on long experience. Keep it practical. Decide how much time you can afford to give to chess per week and slice it up into equal daily segments. Vary your training to keep it interesting.  Schedule in as much playing per week as study. In this way the game stays fresh and you will improve massively. Let's say you gain 1 elo rating point per week as a result of your routine (very pessimistic). Calculate that over 5 years!


James McDougall writes in with a hair-raising game. Where can White improve?

1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.e5 d5 6.Bb5+ c6 7.exf6 cxb5 8.Qe2+ Be6 9.Qxb5+ Nc6 10.fxg7 Rg8 11.Nf3 Rxg7 12.0–0 a6 13.Qxb7 Bd7 14.Re1+ [Now 14.a3!? looks interesting: 14...Bc5+ (14...Ra7 15.Qxa7! 15...Nxa7 16.axb4 Nc6 17.Nxd5 Bf5 18.c4 Nxb4 19.Nxb4 Qb6+ 20.d4 Qxb4 21.Re1+ Be6 22.Rxa6 Qxc4 23.Ra8+ Ke7 24.Bxf4 Phew! White has consolidated.; 14...Kf8 15.axb4 Ra7 16.Qxa7 Nxa7 17.Rxa6±) 15.Kh1 Ne7 16.Ne5 Bf5 17.Nc6] 14...Kf8 15.Ne5 Bc5+ 16.Kf1?? [Instead 16.Kh1 Nxe5 17.Qxd5 Bf2 18.Re2 Ng4 19.d3 holds out some hope.] 16...Nxe5 17.Rxe5 f3 18.gxf3 Bh3+ 19.Ke2 Rg2+ 20.Kd3 Ra7 21.Qc6 Bd6 22.Rxd5 Rg6 23.Ke2 Re7+ 24.Ne4 f5 25.d3 fxe4 26.dxe4 Rc7 27.Qxa6 Rxc2+ 28.Rd2 Rg2+ 29.Kd3 and white went on to lose. 0–1

When one plays the King's Gambit, one has to expect the occasional embarrassing loss. It looks as though White can improve on move 14 though! 

Well, that's it for now! See you next week and keep those questions rolling in!


To ask Andrew a question, email to  Please include your member name and your real name (you can still ask for your name not to be published, if you wish!).

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