Your Questions Answered By Andrew Martin

Your Questions Answered By Andrew Martin

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International Master Andrew Martin from England presents a regular series of articles to answer any questions that readers have about the game of chess.

If you want to ask Andrew a question, then send an email to and next time your question could be featured!  Please include your real name and your member name, but you can ask to remain anonymous if you wish!

Now it's over to Andrew for this week's questions and answers...

Joel  I just read a book by Michael de la Maza entitled ‘Rapid Chess Improvement’. The author's main idea is that the best way to improve as a class player (under 2000 rating) is by working exclusively on tactics. De la Maza argues that every class player's biggest weakness is tactics since the majority of class player games are decided by tactical errors, not opening or endgame technique.

Therefore, every class player's priority should be improving tactics regardless of their weaknesses in the opening or endgame. While it's obvious everyone should work on tactics to some extent, it's less clear whether everyone under 2000 should focus all their attention on tactics.

Dear Joel, I am sure that Mr de la Maza is right to an extent. My own view is that every class player's biggest weakness is THEMSELVES. There are very few players under 2000 who cannot make significant improvement by simply improving their mental toughness and all-round self-confidence.

With regard to what is best to study there is nothing that can beat a thorough examination of your own games, concentrating on the CRITICAL moments in those games. Critical moments include:

  • How you felt before the game-did that affect your play?
  • When your theory ends - the transition from opening to middlegame.
  • The exchange of pieces.
  • When you formed a plan of campaign and how successful it was.
  • Any tactical moments Transition from middlegame to endgame.
  • Finally, an overview of the game at the conclusion.

There is no real way to rapidly improve at chess, unless you are young and brimming with talent. Most likely improvement will come slowly and steadily.To conclude tactics are just one element of the game of chess. You need to concentrate on an all-round education, in our wonderful game.


Hans Gao I would like to know your view on the albin counter gambit.  Is it sound?

Dear Hans, I think it is a good practical bet, which will set the opponent problems. Black scores as well with the Albin than with other Queens Gambit variations, but of course, one does not see this variation at the highest levels, where I guess it would be considered too risky. But then, 99.99% of us do not play chess at the highest level. Over now to a few recent Albin games.

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 d4 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.a3 [5.Bf4 This old move,stemming from Reuben Fine,tends to encourage Black to attack the Bishop. 5...Nge7 6.Bg5 Bg4 7.Nbd2 h6 8.Bh4 g5 9.Bg3 Nf5 10.a3 Nxg3 11.hxg3 Bg7 Black has a good position already,with imminent recapture of the extra pawn on e5 and the two Bishops to keep him happy. 12.Qb3 Qd7 13.Ne4 b6 14.Nf6+ Bxf6 15.exf6 0–0–0 16.Qb5 Qe6 17.0–0–0 Qxf6 18.Nd2 Rhe8 A position for White to avoid, with no clear way to get the Bishop on f1 into the game. 19.f3 Bf5 20.Nb3 Re5 21.c5 Na5 22.Qa6+ Kb8 23.Nxa5 Rxc5+ 24.Nc4 Bc8 25.Qa4 b5 26.Qb3 Rxc4+ 27.Kb1 Bf5+ 28.Ka1 Qc6 29.e4 Rc1+ 30.Rxc1 Qxc1+ 31.Ka2 Be6 32.Bc4 Qxc4 33.Qxc4 bxc4 34.Kb1 Rh8 35.Kc2 Kb7 36.f4 gxf4 37.gxf4 f6 38.f5 Bf7 39.Rh3 h5 40.Kd2 Rg8 41.g3 Rg4 0–1 Collado Barbas,L (2046)-Rojas Pozo,J (1914)/Madrid 2009/CB08_2009; 5.g3 Nge7! Morozevich was responsible for reviving 5....Nge7. Black simply threatens ..Ng6xe5, equalizing. 6.Bg2 Ng6 7.Qb3 (7.Bg5) 7...Bb4+ 8.Nbd2 a5 9.0–0 0–0 10.a3 a4 11.Qc2 Be7 12.b4 axb3 13.Nxb3 Ngxe5 14.Nxe5 Nxe5 15.Be4 h6 16.Bf4 Ng6 17.Bxh6 gxh6 18.Bxg6 fxg6 19.Qxg6+ Kh8 20.Qxh6+ Kg8 21.Qg6+ Kh8 22.Rad1 c5 23.Nxc5 Bxc5 24.Qh5+ Kg7 25.Qxc5 Ra5 26.Qxd4+ Qxd4 27.Rxd4 Rxa3 28.f3 Rc3 29.Rb1 Rf7 30.Kf2 Be6 31.Rf4 Rc7 32.Rb6 Bxc4 33.Rg4+ Kf8 34.Re4 Rg7 35.h4 Rc2 36.g4 Ba6 37.Rbe6 Bc4 38.Rf6+ Kg8 39.Rb6 Rf7 40.Re5 Ra2 41.g5 Ra6 42.Rxa6 Bxa6 43.Re6 Bc4 44.Rb6 Bd5 45.Kg3 Bc6 46.e4 Rd7 47.h5 Rd1 48.Rb4 Rg1+ 49.Kh4 Rh1+ 50.Kg4 Bd7+ 51.Kg3 Bc6 52.f4 Rxh5 53.Kg4 Rh1 54.f5 Ra1 55.e5 Rg1+ 56.Kf4 Rf1+ 57.Kg4 Rg1+ 58.Kh5 Rh1+ 59.Kg4 ½–½ Cmilyte,V (2497)-Pantaleoni,C (2211)/Gibraltar 2009/CB07_2009]

5...a5 [I remember recommending this move in a previous video and I still think this could be the way to expose 5 a3 as slow. 5...f6 6.exf6 Qxf6 7.g3 h6 8.Bg2 Bf5 9.0–0 0–0–0=]

6.Qd3 Nge7 7.g3 Ng6 8.Bf4 [8.Bg5 Ngxe5! 9.Nxe5 Nxe5 10.Bxd8 Nxd3+ 11.exd3 Kxd8]

8...Bg4 9.Nbd2 Qd7 10.Bg2 Rd8 Yes, that was the drawback of 5...a5. Black cannot castle queenside with a clear conscience.

11.0–0 a4 12.Qc2 Na5 13.e3 Bf5 14.Qc1 [14.e4 Nxf4 15.gxf4 Bg4]

14...c5 15.Re1 Be7 16.Qd1 0–0 Lyell has not hurried and retains compensation for the pawn thanks to her strong passed pawn on d4.

17.exd4 cxd4 18.Bg5 Rfe8 19.Bxe7 Rxe7 20.b4 axb3 21.Nxb3 Nc6 22.Nc5 Qc7 23.Qb3 Na5 24.Qb4 b6 25.Na6 Qa7 26.Rad1 d3 [I presume that 26...Qxa6 27.Nh4 is the tactic White was planning: 27...Rxe5 28.Rxe5 Nxe5 29.Nxf5 Naxc4 30.Qe7 after which it is not so easy for Black to realise the extra pawn.]

27.Nh4 Nxh4 28.gxh4 Bc8! 29.Be4 Bxa6 30.Bxd3 Rde8 31.Qb1 h6 32.Qc2 Nc6 33.f4 Qc7 34.Bf5 Na5 0–1  You get the idea: the Albin promotes a messy, rather unorthodox struggle, which is a long way removed from the normal Queens Gambit fare. member: OMGdidIrealyjustsact
  I like your articles but I have a question that's been bothering me. If you have a choice between swapping either Bishop for a Knight should you swap your good bishop or your bad one? I figure that if you swap the good bishop the other one might be fatally bad, but if you swap the bad bishop your opponents unopposed bishop will be highly dangerous because its good.  Do masters prefer one of these to the other?

Dear Sir, I guess it all depends on the position! You have to have a good reason for making ANY exchanges in a game of chess, so if you could justify swapping your best Bishop for a Knight tactically or positionally, then why not? Chess is not a dogmatic game. Masters tend to try to make the move which best suits the demands of the position; they think in terms of WHAT IS and WHAT WILL BE. I hope that helps. 

Kenny Roger
  Hi Mr Martin.  I feel honoured to be able to write to you.  I think that you are an excellent teacher, and that is the reason I want to know what is your recommendation about the learning of endgame.  Which books, DVDs, etc do you think that are the best?  Many thanks for your help!

Hi Kenny, There are many good books on the endgame. My personal favourite is the one-stop volume 'Fundamental Chess Endgames' by Muller and Lamprecht' published by Gambit Books. This is a timeless work which contains many insights which will help you improve your understanding of the endgame. You don't really need to go any further, but if plodding through books is laborious for you then Muller's ChessBase endgame DVD's are both quirky, entertaining and packed with instruction.

Before we leave the endgame, I cannot resist showing a couple of my own favourite studies. The first is a minimal masterpiece. White to play and draw.

1.Kc8!! An astounding first move. [1.c8Q Bf5+ 2.Kc7 Bxc8 3.Kxc8 b5–+; 1.Kd6 Bf5 2.Kc5 Ke4 3.Kb6 Bc8 4.Ka7 (4.Kc5 Ke5 5.Kb6 Kd6) 4...b5 5.Kb8 Bh3] 1...b5 2.Kd7!! White gives Black two tempi and can still draw! 2...b4 [2...Bf5+ 3.Kd6 b4 4.Ke5 Bd7 5.Kd4 Be6 6.c8Q Bxc8 7.Kc4] 3.Ke6 Kf4 4.Kd5 Bf5 5.Kc4 







White to play-what result?  Black cannot stop the h pawn so he had better play for stalemate!  Can he achieve this? 1.h4 Kc7 2.h5 Kb6 3.h6 Ka5 4.h7 a6 5.h8N!! But this frustrates him! [5.h8Q?? b6] 5...b6 6.Ng6 fxg6 7.f7 g5 8.f8N! Another tremendous move. 8...g4 9.Nd7 g3 10.Ne5 g2 11.Nc6# 






Claude  I am trying to build an opening repertoire and I was wondering in your opinion what is the best way to approach this.  I actually play e4 and have a series of openings that I am learning studying certain ones on a particular day.  Is this a good way to learn or is it the long hard route?  Also how can I choose the best opening meaning ones that I like to play that also give you the best chances to win?

Hi Claude, There is no easy fix. You have to put a lot of work in to obtain a stable repertoire. You could get advice about choices. As a coach I could give you some good suggestions after seeing ten or so games of yours. It depends on your style and preferences. David Howell is a young English GM who has specialized in the 2 c3 Sicilian for many years. He really believes in the opening and scores extremely well with it.

1.e4 c5 2.c3 Nf6 3.e5 Nd5 4.Nf3 e6 5.d4 cxd4 6.cxd4 d6 7.Bc4 Nc6 8.0–0 Be7 9.a3 A Howell favourite and a move with two separate functions. a) The battery Bd3 and Qe2-e4 can be prepared undisturbed by a possible ...Nb4 b) b2-b4 may well be a useful gain of queenside space.

9...0–0 10.Re1 Qb6!? [After 10...Bd7 11.Nbd2 Rc8 12.b4 b5! 13.Bxd5 (13.Bd3 dxe5 14.dxe5 a5„) 13...exd5 14.Nb3 Bg4 Black has good counterplay: 15.h3 Bh5 16.Bf4 dxe5 17.dxe5 a5 18.bxa5 Nxa5 19.Nbd4 Bc5 20.g4 Bg6 21.Nxb5 Qb6 22.Nbd4 Nc4 23.a4 Nb2 24.Qd2 Bxd4 25.Nxd4 Howell,D (2519)-Aagaard,J (2467)/Great Yarmouth 2007 when 25...Nd3 26.Nf5 Bxf5 27.gxf5 Nxe1 28.Rxe1 Qb3! 29.f6 Qxh3 gives Black the advantage.]

11.exd6N Howell's improvement on the earlier 11 b4: [11.b4!? Rd8 12.Bd3 dxe5 It is tempting to open up the Rook,nevertheless there may have other alternatives worth consideration: (12...g6 13.Nbd2 dxe5 14.Nc4 Qc7 15.Ncxe5 Bf8 16.Qe2 f6 17.Nxc6 Qxc6 18.h4 a5÷) 13.dxe5 g6?! 14.h4 (14.Ra2! with the idea of Rc2 or Rd2 looks good for White, who has freer development.) 14...a5 15.b5 Nd4 16.h5 Bd7 (16...Nxb5 17.hxg6 hxg6 18.Bg5 Bxg5 19.Nxg5 f5÷) 17.a4 Rac8 18.Bb2 Nf5 19.hxg6 fxg6 20.Nbd2 Nf4 21.Nc4 Qc7? (21...Qa7!) 22.Bxf5 Qxc4 23.Re4 Bxb5 24.Qb1 gxf5 25.Rxc4± Kristjansson,S (2432)-McShane,L (2568)/Reykjavik 2003/ (25)]

11...Bxd6 12.Qd3 Nf6 13.Be3 Rd8 14.Nc3 Be7 [14...Ne7! keeping the isolated pawn under restraint,was preferable. Howell wastes no time in commencing the attack.]

15.d5 Qc7 16.Nb5 Qb8 17.dxc6!± bxc6 [17...Rxd3 18.c7 is the rather cool point.]

18.Nbd4 c5 19.Nc6! Giving hidden depth to what appears like a standard combination. White sees through to a winning endgame.

19...Rxd3 20.Nxb8! [20.Nxe7+ Kf8 21.Bxd3 Kxe7 22.Bxc5+ Ke8 23.Ne5 Qb3 24.Rad1 was a more complicated route and quite unneccessary when White is so much better.]

20...Rxe3 21.Rxe3 Rxb8 22.Rb3 Rb6 23.Rd1 Ne4 [Neither 23...Bb7 24.Rxb6 axb6 25.Ne5 Nd5 26.Nd7 Bd8 27.b4! cxb4 28.Bxd5 Bxd5 29.axb4 f6 30.Rc1+-; 23...Rxb3 nor 24.Bxb3 Bb7 25.Ne5 a6 26.Nd7 Nd5 27.Bxd5 Bxd5 28.Rc1 c4 29.Nb6 help Black's cause. Mestel is simply lost.]

24.Ne5 Nd6 25.Rxb6 axb6 26.Bf1 g5 27.Nc4 Nxc4 28.Bxc4 Kg7 29.Rd3 h5 30.a4! f5 31.Rb3 1–0

After 30...Bd8 31 a5! bxa5 32 Rb8 wraps things up. Very efficient from David Howell, although the opening skirmishes seem satisfactory for Black, with 10...Qb6 looking OK. To summarize for Claude: keep plugging away!

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