The 5 people you meet in online blitz chess

BadLoserBlitz chess: fast, exciting and fun. Who cares if it doesn’t do much for your overall game? Blitz is about reactions, pattern recognition and speed of both thought and movement. As long as you don’t confuse it with actual chess training, go for it!

Play online chess enough, though, and you’ll surely meet a few recurring characters. I’ve listed some of the most familiar faces below. How many do you recognise?

All blitz, no chess
This guy has only one thing on his mind: keep making legal moves until your clock runs down. Pre-move features heavily so expect him to avoid conflict with 1…d6, 2…c6, 3…g6, 4…Bg7 and so on. In the endgame he’ll waltz his King around the board without a care in the world as you snaffle all his pawns… only to lose on time.

Thinks you’re Houdini
You’ve just beaten him with a sweet tactic – and he’s not happy about it.
“Go to hell, ****ing engine!”
He’s not interested when you point out you blundered away a pawn earlier, something our silicon friends would never do. Take this outburst as a sign you’re playing well.

Player has disconnected
You’ve already played 5 games and you’re leading 3-2. He’s desperate for revenge but when he meets your Bg5 with a pre-move 0-0 you capture his Queen. He disconnects. You have to wait 1 minute to auto-win.

Claims to know your mother
Upon realising your pawn will promote 2 moves before his will, this guy reacts rather oddly. No “good game, sir” here. Instead he claims to be intimately acquainted with your mum – on a regular basis.
Two things: one, you’re pretty sure your mum has never been to Kazakhstan and, two, she’s like 60, ewwww.

The Gentleman
Let’s end on a positive note with this character worthy of playing the Royal Game. Win or lose he reflects positively on the art you created with “gg” (good game). In a position completely even on the board but with you only having 3 seconds on the clock, he offers a draw. When you sac a Knight then a Rook to invade with your Queen and make mate inevitable, he resigns and declares “nice tactic!”
You like him. You become friends.

Who do you meet most often? Do you know any not mentioned here?


Book review: What it takes to become a Grandmaster – Andrew Soltis

Publisher: Batsford Chess Author: GM Andrew Soltis 318 pages ★★★★½

soltis_what_takes_grandmasterGM Andrew Soltis returns with a sequel to his popular book “What it takes to become a Chess Master”. Whereas “Chess Master” talked about the new skills you need to move from club player to master level, “Grandmaster” points out the things only GMs do.

Right at the beginning Soltis warns that reading this book alone will not make you a GM. Instead he refers to a Kasparov quote to outline the book’s goal:

“70% of the moves could be found by any competent player,” was Garry’s view of the play between Carlsen and Anand in their first World Championship match. “25% could be played by any GM but 5% could only be played by World Championship level players”.

This book aims to show the kind of moves that form the 25% that “could be played by any GM”. Soltis includes 50 plans, formations and ideas that GMs have used to win games which might well appear counter-intuitive to start with.

Topics include:

  • Mystery Moves: Rook Pawns – the hidden advantages of pushing your a or h-pawn in the middlegame.
  • Delayed castling – Mikhail Botvinnik’s advice on getting more out of your opening than just King safety.
  • Hidden 3rd move: Why there is often a sting in the tail of 2 move combinations.
  • Endgame anchors – how to save an endgame an exchange down.
  • Piece nullification – the art of making your opponent’s pieces useless.
  • Impossible moves – the thought-process that finds moves normally reserved for chess engines.

Each section includes the author’s clear explanation of the idea and real world examples taken from games between top players, mainly from the modern era but including Capablanca, Fischer, Karpov and Kasparov among many others.

There are plenty of diagrams, normally 3-4 per 2 pages and the book is full of great quotes and anecdotes from/about famous players about each idea. One tells how the 14 year old Kasparov had adjourned a position down an exchange for a doubled pawn (2R3P v RB4P). Garry wanted to discuss the position in detail with Botvinnik but the Patriarch cut him off with a question, “Garry, just tell me one thing. Is your Bishop protected by a pawn?”
“No,” came the reply.
“Then you’re lost” was the brutally honest evaluation; and so it proved,

Some care is needed to make sure the ideas aren’t taken as universal solutions. Often they are exceptions, but powerful exceptions to be aware of. For instance, when talking about “uber-luft”, giving the King room to escape back-rank issues by advancing a pawn 2 squares instead of 1, Soltis admits that “in the vast majority of cases, one square will be better. But in that minority of positions, the benefit of two squares will be considerable”.

What I really like about this book is the ability to read it in almost any order, dipping in, picking up a new idea before skipping to another one that catches my attention. It’s pretty easy to follow the games without having to get a board out and it’s lightweight too so you can really reduce your exercise to a minimum!

While “What it takes…” probably won’t make you a GM on it’s own, it is sure to teach you a load of new concepts and understand chess at a deeper level. There are Quiz questions and answers to test your ability with too, a very important part of consolidating knowledge and making real progress.

All in all, a great book and highly recommended to anyone who enjoys learning new chess ideas.

Buy the book from the publisher here.

The 6 Types of Chess Player – Which one are you?

Yuri_AverbakhYuri Averbakh, Russian GM, author, endgame expert and currently the world’s oldest living GM at 93 (!), revealed in a 1997 interview in New in Chess that he placed chess players into 6 categories.

Here they are with his description of each and the names of some famous examples (as given by Yuri).

  1. The Killers – “players who are, figuratively speaking, trying to kill their opponent. As a rule, the main definition of a killer is a man who was raised without a father.”
    1. Fischer
    2. Botvinnik
    3. Korchnoi
  2. The Fighters – “They try to win with all means, but it’s not necessary to kill. ”
    1. Kasparov
    2. Bronstein (“He tries to pose as an artist. Maybe he has something of the artist but his main strength is that of the fighter.”)
  3. The Sportsmen – “For them chess is a sport like any other kind of sport. They are normal people, but when they play it is for them just like any other sport.”
    1. Spassky
    2. Keres
    3. Capablanca
  4. The Gamblers – “He wants to play any game.”
    1. Karpov
  5. The Artist – “For whom not only the result is important.”
    1. Simagin
    2. Rossolimo
    3. Zukertort
  6. The Expolorer
    1. Averbakh
    2. Nimzowitsch
    3. Rubinstein
    4. Fine

” Of course, not everyone fits just in one category. For instance, Tal had something of both the fighter and the artist. Karpov and Kasparov also have some killer characteristics, but not as strongly as Botvinnik.”

Blackburne in Lancashire.

BlackburneJoseph Henry Blackburne (1841-1924) only learned chess at 18 but became one of the most successful players in England, famous for his tactical play and talent for blindfold chess.

The following games take place between Blackburne and a player called John Lord who was now playing his chess in Lancashire. The games and italicized comments have been supplied by the Lancashire County Chess captain (and former coach to the young Nigel Short) Mike Conroy.

Blackburne got leave from a London tournament to fulfil prior engagement in
the Rossendale area of Lancashire. On June 15 he played a 30 board simul
against local players at Waterford Grammar School. He scored +28 =1 -1. On
June 16 he played an eight board blindfold simul. He scored +7 -1.

17 and 18 Nov, 1893 ordinary simul and blindfold simul at Rossendale CC,

25 years earlier Lord had won a tournament game against Blackburne.

Finally, another game between Lord and Blackburne, found on

Nakamura beats Bareev in 11 moves as Black!

An interesting miniature occurred at the Millionaire Chess tournament recently. The game was a rapid tiebreak between Evgeny Bareev (2669) and Hikaru Nakamura (2812).

The position shown was reached after Bareev tried to capitalize on the undefended h5 Knight with the ill-fated 8.Ne5?


Nakamura promptly took the Knight 8…Nxe5 but after 9.Qxh5 (9.dxe5? Qb4+ 10.Nd2 Qxh4) 9…Ng4! White’s Queen found herself embarrassingly short of squares.

The game continued 10.Bg3? (10.Bd3 was required to meet any …g6 ideas with Bxg6) 10…g6 11.Qh4 Bg7, Bareev had to resign.

The simple threat of 12…Bf6 13.Qh3 Nxe3 trapping the Queen was too much.

Bobby Fischer: Icelandic Kibitzer!

In 2006, the Icelandic TV station Ríkisútvarpið RUV broadcast a rapid match between masters Arnar Gunnarson and Bragi Thorfinsson  in which the position below was reached.


Gunnarson, playing Black and short of time, picked up his King before noticing the move would get him mated. He replaced his King and tried to play a Queen move instead but his opponent and the arbiter enforced the touchmove rule, resulting in 37…Kg8?? 38.Qxg8#

This was a blitz playoff game and these events are common enough. What happened next, however, was certainly not common.

The TV station received a call from a viewer suggesting that in the pictured position, Black could have won the game with a brilliant combination. The name of the caller? Bobby Fischer!

Iceland was Fischer’s adopted home from 2005 until his death in 2008 and it is clear that Bobby retained at least some of his love for chess.

The combination?

37…Rxg2+! 38.Kh1 (38.Kxg2 Rg4+ 39.Kh2 Qg2#) 38…Rh4!! 39.Nxh4 (best) Rxf2+ 40.Nf3 Rxf1+ 41.Kh2 Rxf3.

Book Review: Bronstein: Move by Move

Publisher: Everyman Chess Author: FM Steve Giddins 288 pages ★★★★☆

Bronstein move by move

The great thing about game collections – as opposed to opening/endgame books – is you get to see the game as a complete entity, including how the phases transition to one another. Not only do you learn something about each stage of the game, the ideas are often more memorable as you see the story of the game develop.

The subject of FM Steve Giddin’s book is the legendary David Bronstein, who famously drew a match against Botvinnik for the World Championship 12-12 in 1951, allowing the Patriarch to retain his title. Tragically for Bronstein, he allowed a 1 point lead to slip with just 2 games of the match remaining.

Equally, Bronstein is remembered for his excellent books Zurich 1953, 200 Open Games and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice as well as his creative play. It’s the latter that makes him a worthy subject for a book such as this.

The Move by Move format anticipates the reader’s questions as the game plays out, with the author’s answers elucidating the situation. FM Steve Giddins does a good job here, picking up on all the niggling confusions likely to trouble the reader and dissipating them well.

In this example, from Bronstein – Levenfish 1949, our hero has exchanged off a seemingly weak Black d5 pawn.

BronsteinLevenfishQuestion: I don’t understand what White has achieved over the last few moves. Hasn’t he just exchanged off Black’s weak d5 pawn for him?

Answer: Yes, but he has also opened more lines and cleared more space for his pieces. The d5 pawn was never in real danger of dropping off, but it was depriving the white pieces of some squares and lines that would have been useful. Now, for example, the a2-g8 diagonal is open, so Black must worry about the white bishop getting round the back to g8.

There are only a few pages of background and biography but that’s not the book’s aim. The 30 games are rich in ideas and varied in style, making them excellent material for the improving player and players rated under 2000 will pick up a lot from Bronstein: Move by Move.

If you like well annotated game collections then I can recommend this book. A free pdf sample can be downloaded from the publisher’s website.

Test position: Can you find Bronstein’s (White) move versus Korchnoi in this position?


Book Review: The Caro-Kann (Opening Repertoire)

Jovanka Houska

Publisher: Everyman Chess Author: WGM Jovanka Houska 480 pages ★★★★½

The Caro-Kann by Jovanka Houska

The Caro-Kann is a funny opening – it looks completely unambitious (would you open 1.c3?) yet it was a favourite of World Champions Capablanca, Botvinnik, Petrosian and Karpov. Of course, these guys knew what they were doing. The Caro-Kann gives Black a completely sound position and alleviates some of the development issues of the French, namely the c8 Bishop.

So solid is the Caro-Kann, that White often compromises his (or her!) own position in an attempt to get at Black.Solid can often be confused with boring but Black is just being patient, preparing diligently before attacking the centre and gaining space.

If you choose the Caro-Kann against 1.e4 you will soon realise the wealth of different ways the opening can go – at an early stage too. After 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 White might play 3.Nc3 (Nd2), 3.exd4, 3.e5 or 3.f3 and all have their own unique characteristics. That’s not to mention all the second move deviations.

Thankfully, WGM (and IM) Jovanka Houska is here to help out. “Caro Kann (Opening Repertoire) is a 480 (large) page book designed to give Black an excellent answer to all White’s questions. Because this is a book from Black’s perspective, don’t expect all Black’s possibilities to be covered in detail. Houska recommends a move and gives her reasons. Often this includes a short discussion of why it is to be preferred to the alternatives.All White’s likely responses are covered in detail, of course, so you are well prepared.

Inexperienced Caro-Kann players might learn best by going through the most common variations (3.Nc3, the Panov-Botvinnik Attack (3.exd5 cxd5 4.c4) and the Advance (3.e5)) and playing through the main lines. Jovanka Houska points out all the key manoeuvres, pawn breaks and general strategies to be aware of.

For instance, in the opening paragraph of the chapter on the Fantasy variation, she has this to say:

With f2-f3, White bolsters the centre with pawns and gets ready to open the f-file for his rooks to attack a la King’s Gambit… It does, however, have a clear downside: the pawn on f3 hampers White’s development and the Achilles’ heel of White’s position is the f2-square and the weakened g1-a7 diagonal. As such, Black should adopt a dark-square strategy.

More experienced Caro-Kann players will want to delve deeper into the chapters and become experts in their lines. Happily, Houska’s book is both accessible and thorough, so  suitable for all levels of player.

You can download a free sample of the book on the Everyman Chess website.