My Last Lesson with Dan Heisman


I just finished my regular bi-weekly lesson with Dan, so here goes:

Tonight we did something a little different than usual.  Dan mentioned that he's been using positions from Ray Cheng's book "Practical Chess Exercises" with some of this other students.  That sounded interesting to me.  

(available on here:  )

What's different about this book from most Tactics books is that it's NOT organized thematically.  Here's how Dan puts it in his blurb on the back cover: "The problems are of all types -- tactical and positional, and all levels.  Best of all, they are not labeled in any way other than who is to move, so for each position you have to find the relevant concerns and properly address them. ... This book answers the prayers of chess enthusiasts looking for 'unmarked' problems to test their skill."

So how to pick a problem?  "Give me any number between 1 and 600" was Dan's response.  I picked #531 based on the number of members of the DHLC at the moment.  Dan then quickly set up this position:     

So now what?   Remember, this is not "Black to Play and Win" or "Black to Draw" or "Black to Play and Mate in 3"  It's just "Black to Play"

"You know you are looking for something," said Dan, "but you don't know what until you examine the position.  So, you are Black to play.  Tell me about this position."

"OK.  Black is up a Queen for a Rook and down a pawn, so he's up about a net 3 pawns, which means he almost certainly has enough material to win.  White has two loose pieces, the Bishop and the Rook.  Maybe there is a 'seed of tactical destruction' here?

At this point I started looking for Queen moves that would win a loose White piece, but Dan stopped me after a few seconds.  "You are already on the wrong track" he said.  Oops!

"Look, you are already up by enough material to win.  Winning more material is great, but you don't need more material to win, so looking for ways to win more material should not be your first priority here."

Then it hit me, Of course, Don't Allow the Floobly!   If you don't know what the Floobly is, you are in for a treat!  See below:

"Your first priority should be to make sure that White doesn't have a threat that will win the game for him if you overlook it.  Once you eliminate those threats you can figure out how to win with the extra material you already have."

Take a look at the diagram.  Does White have a 'floobly'?  Yikes!  And how!!  "Ouch," I said, Black is threatening Rc8!, pinning the Queen and winning her.  If the Queen moves away from the defence of c8, he's got a back rank mate.  If the Queen doesn't move, then Rc8 gives White a better (possibly won) endgame."

"It's not a trivial threat" said Dan dryly. "What are you going to do about it?"

My first impulse was to give up the Queen for the Rook and try to find a way to hold the ensuing pawn-down endgame.  After a few tries I came up with this:


This looked plausible, and Stockfish confirmed that Black can hold the draw with accurate play.  "OK," agreed Dan, "you can hold the draw.  But is that good enough?  Is that ALL you want to try to do?  When you see a good move, look for a better one."

I looked.  Nope, nothing better.  "Look again," said Dan.  "You can't play what you don't see.  There is a better move in this position, a winning move, but you won't see it unless you ask the right question."

"OK, What's the right question?"

"You correctly identified the threat - Rc8," said Dan, "Now the right question is what are ALL the moves the prevent an immediate Rc8?"

"Well, there's Qd1, pinning White's Rook, of course." I said, "I did look at that, but as far as I can tell all that does is lose the Queen for the Rook on a different square and White still has the better endgame, so I didn't pursue that line earlier."

"Agreed," said Dan, "Qd1? is not the answer.  But there are THREE moves that prevent an immediate Rc8, and you've only examined one of them."

Three moves?  That was a revelation.  "Hmm...OK, there's Qc7?, which just loses the Queen for nothing, and Bc6 which loses the Bishop.  I don't see any point in those moves..."

*light begins to come on*

"Wait a minute...  If I play Bc6 then White can't take the Bishop because after Qd1! he's the one who gets mated on the back rank!  I never saw that."

"That's right," said Dan, "You can't play what you don't see, and you couldn't see the move because you didn't ask the right question."


Memorable, and GREAT fun!   It's amazing to me that Dan didn't prepare this puzzle ahead of time, he let me pick it at random and turned it into a terrific lesson.  I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!

BTW, if you enjoy Dan's teaching, and want to be part of an encouraging and supportive group, please join us the Dan Heisman Learning Center.  We'd love to see you there!  Several other members of the group are ALSO posting their write ups of recent lessons with Dan in our regular Forum "My Last Lesson with Dan..."