Thanks to everybody for coming out to the Suffern Lightning Swiss in August. We’re in the midst of another exciting year in Suffern. As we head to the fall, we look forward to the return of existing members after their summer vacations and welcoming new members to the club.

Dirty -Rotten-Scoundrels-m01

This last post in our chess animal series covers the most reprehensible of creatures, the chess skunk (aka cheaters). In fact, fears about cheating have become more prevalent than ever. It is no surprise that the June 2014 Chess Life magazine featured and article that chronicled the efforts of Dr. Ken Regan to weed out chess cheaters, especially at the highest levels of competition.

There is little mystery as to why people cheat. Chess can be a difficult game to master. It takes years of study to become proficient at the different phases of the game. There is no question that some players are able to absorb information more quickly than others. Those that feel they have been left behind may give in to their baser impulses and decide it’s better to cheat and win, then to hardly win at all.

Many online chess sites monitor the games and revoke memberships of players who are suspected of cheating. The online publishes a list of handles of players who have been caught cheating in an effort to embarrass those who have no regards for the rules.

Another big motivation is the chance to win easy money by cheating at a major event. Many large events have sections for class players that offer top prizes of $5,000 to $10,000. As cell phones and other digital devices get more powerful, it is easier than ever to find a platform to access a strong chess engine.

Fortunately, the vast majority of chess players, enjoy going to their local club to test their abilities against fellow enthusiasts. Books are educational and playing on the internet can provide competition any time of day or night, but nothing can replace the experience of face to face competition. It is also interesting to observe the many different styles of play at the local club or regional tournament.

However, beware of players who exhibit suspicious behaviors, especially those that suddenly perform way above their recent rating level for no apparent reason.

Below are a few examples of chess cheaters at noted in various publications:

  • John Von Neumann (1993 World Open, Philadelphia, PA): A player entered the tournament under the alias “John Von Neumann” (which is the name of a famous Hungarian/American mathematician and physicist). The player achieved a strong 4.5 out of 9 in the open section of the tournament, including a draw against a GM, and qualified for an $800 prize. Needless to say, tournament directors were suspicious and asked him to solve a simple chess puzzle before he could claim his prize. He refused and left the premises, never to be seen again.
  • Sebastian Feller, Cyril Marzolo, Arnaud Hauchard (2010 Chess Olympiad): Feller, a 20-year-old French Grandmaster was the gold medal winner at an International event. As detailed in the NY Times and on the Chessbase website, Cyril Marzolo an international master, was inputting moves on his computer while watching the online broadcast of the matches. Marzolo would send a text message to the French coach, Arnaud Hauchard, who would then relay the moves to Feller. The plot was uncovered when the VP of the French chess federation happened to see a text on Marzolo’s phone from Hauchard stating “hurry up, send moves”. After further investigation, over 200 text messages were discovered and conspiracy was uncovered. Feller was banned for 3 years and was also required to perform 2 years of community service. Marzolo was banned for 5 years. The coach was given a lifetime ban as captain and coach of French Chess Federation.
  • Borislov Ivanov (2012 Zadar Open, 2013 Bladoevgrad Open, 2013 Navalmoral Open): Not content with cheating and and getting away with it, 26-year-old Borislav Ivanov posted questionable results in three separate tournaments over a short period of time. Though Ivanov is a strong 2300 player, he defeated four Grandmasters at the Zadar Open and two other Grandmasters in the Navalmoral Open. He was eventually searched and a suspicious device was found on his person. He was expelled from the tournament after Round 6. He was eventually suspended for four months by the Bulgarian Chess Federation. He has since retired and would have a hard time competing in any future tournaments without facing intense scrutiny.

The sad fact is, there is no real justification for cheating at chess. Some steroid users on the Tour de France or other professional sports often state that “everybody else was doing it” or that it just “enhanced my natural abilities”. None of these excuses make sense for chess. What would tournaments be like if everybody brought their own computer? Imagine the results of a major tournament where all players tie for the lead with 9 draws in nine rounds!

Let’s hope that monitoring for suspicious activities improves and that those who are tempted to cheat see the error of their ways.


 HAL playing chess

elephant_chessBangkok Chess Club

Continuing with our theme of animals and chess, this month’s topic is Elephant Chess. Where can one find both chess enthusiasts and Elephants? Why Thailand, of course! After we stumbled across this picture, we did some research and learned that the Bangkok Chess Club has been around for a number of years. They recently held the 14th annual Bangkok open which attracted 149 participants and 13 Grandmasters from around the world. This year’s champion was Francisco Vallejo Pons, a semi-retired Grandmaster who achieved a score of 7.5VallejoPons points in the nine-round tournament. Pons “retired” from competitive chess back in 2012, but has participated in a number of events since then. In fact, the most recent FIDE ratings list has him ranked at #51 in the world (15 spots ahead of Judit Polgar who is ranked #66). There is a nice write-up on the tournament and the champion at (article link). The Bangkok Chess Club website has not been updated since April of this year, but provides information on how to participate in club events. Surprisingly, the club doesn’t seem to have their own playing location. The website indicates that they play on Tuesday evenings at the Roadhouse Barbecue and on Friday evenings at the Queen Victoria Pub. The club has over 200 active players and does not charge a membership fee, although you can get some bonus points by buying pints at the pub!

Elephant Gambit

While we are on the subject of Elephants, we were surprised to learn that there is actually an Elephant Gambit in chess theory.

ElephantGambitThe position at right is initiated by Black after the moves:

  1. e4  e5
  2. Nf3 d5

The objective is to immediately strike back in the center, develop quickly, and gain the initiative. A look at the 2012 Big Database of 5 million games from ChessBase reveals close to 2,000 games featuring this gambit, many of them as recently as 2011.

What become readily apparent is that this opening leads to very sharp lines. But, if white navigates through the tricky tactics, he can come out on top. A quick look at 73 recent games shows an advantage for white of 33 wins, 23 losses, and 17 draws.

Some interesting continuations were …

3. de  Bd6 (soon followed by an aggressive f5 by black) OR

3. de   e4   4. Qe2  f5 OR

3. Ne5  Bd6  4. d4  de  5. Nc3  Be5 (where black forces an exchange of queens and takes away white’s right to castle).

This isn’t a recommended gambit, but it is tricky and something that can throw off an unsuspecting opponent. So, beware of the Elephant on the chess table, or you might get squashed!


Bird Opening

Posted: June 25, 2014 in chess
Tags: ,


Continuinbird01-ewg our theme of animals and chess, this month we will bring our attention to the bird opening …

Of course, if you are a student of the game, you might know that there really is a Bird opening. According to MCO14, the English master H.E. Bird (1830 – 1908) played this opening in his heyday during the latter part of the nineteenth century. There is a certain amount of surprise value in using this opening as few people come across it in practical play. Many players adopted it in the early part of the twentieth century including Tartakower, Nimzovich and Larsen.

On the plus side, the opening moves provide a unique pawn structure. The general goal is to achieve control of the dark squares. Here’s a sample miniature from July 22, 1873 in which Mr. Bird pecks apart Oscar Gelbfuhs a Moravian-Austrian chess master.


Bird_1f4Starting off with the characteristic 1. f4, the Bird opening attempts to control e5 with the pawn, which will shortly be supported by the knight move Nf3.

The game continued in the aggressive style of the time:

  • 1. … f5
  • 2. e4  fe
  • 3. de  ed
  • 4. Bd3 Nf6
  • 5. Nf3 e6
  • 6. Ng5 g6
  • 7.h4 Bh6
  • 8. h5

The position is a bit of a mess, but white has managed to aggressively strike out at the black king which is increasingly exposed. Although the white king is also exposed, the active position of the white pieces points to an advantage.

  • Bird_8h59. fg  Nd5
  • 10. hg Qe7
  • 11. Rh7 Rh7
  • 12. gh Qb4+ (trying for activity)
  • 13. Kf1 Qh4
  • 14. Bg6+ Ke7 (see diagram below)
  • 15. Qh5!  … And suddenly all is lost.


There is no way to prevent the h pawn from queening. Trying Qc4 fails after Bd3. The knight is too far away to get back in time. And the other black pieces have yet to be developed.




No Chess – Wednesday, June 4

Posted: June 3, 2014 in chess

The town of Suffern needs our room to handle an overflow of meetings on Wednesday June 4. Please pass this message along to anybody who was planning to attend this week’s matches.

What would happen if Bill Gates the mastermind behind Microsoft were to play world champion Magnus Carlsen in a chess match?

Carlsen & Gates

Does Bill Gates have a hidden talent that nobody knows about? Well, the two met back on January 23, 2014 as guests on the Norwegian TV show Skavlan. Gates played the white pieces and was given 2 minutes on his clock. Carlsen played black and was given 30 seconds on his clock.

Here’s what happened:

Of course the players were just goofing around and the audience was impressed with how quickly and easily Carlsen won the game. But a in spite of the dubious move 3.Bd3, which was a strange choice,


Gates was actually winning before he blundered away the game on the penultimate move 9. Ne5?? Which resulted in mate after Qh2#.


One possible continuation would have been … 9. Re1 Nd3 10. cd o-o-o.

Here’s the complete transcript.

1. e4 Nc6 2. Nf3 d5 3. Bd3 Nf6 4. ed Qd5 5. Nc3 Qh5 6. 0-0 Bg4 7. h3 Ne5?? 8. hg Ngf4 9. Ne5 Qh2#

In fairness to all of the cat lovers out there, we decided to follow-up our Dog Tired post with this picture of a feline match.


By the way, what opening is kitty #1 playing? We haven’t seen that one in the latest edition of Modern Chess Openings!

Sometimes in the middle of a long match, a player may start to wear down and get “dog tired”.


When challenged with that situation, the best solution is to get up from the board, take a short walk and collect your thoughts. Perhaps grab a cup of coffee, a soda, or an energy drink. Then sit down at the board again with a fresh perspective and start again.

Or, you can just take a cue from the dog in the picture, and just lay your head down on the board and take a nap!

Here’s a question for new students of the game: “Can’t I just memorize all of the possible combinations over the first few moves? Then it will be easy to get off to a good start.”

Surprisingly, the answer is no!

new-york-new-yorkBefore we explain why this is the case, let’s discuss the real question. How do I know what a good move is, especially at the beginning of the game? The answer to that question is much simpler. If you are a new player and have a strong desire to get better, the first thing to do is play some games against better opponents. In a short time it will become apparent that some moves don’t work out so well. In fact, many times we learn more from losses than wins, because faulty strategies will be exposed very quickly against a good player.

Purchasing a book (or a DVD) on basic opening principles is a good next step. Some quick exploration will reveal simple tenets that all chess players learn. Fight for the center. Get your pieces developed quickly. Don’t move the same piece multiple times in the first few moves (unless you have a really good reason). Keep the king and queen safe. Think of a plan before making a move (“A bad plan is better than no plan at all!”). To learn more about suggested books, see our post from 9/18/2008 “Chess Library (thoughts on self-improvement)”.

Getting back to our original question, let’s discuss the permutations and combinations of the chess board. Believe it or not, there are over 9 million possible combinations of moves to arrive at positions after each player has had 3 turns. If we factor out transpositions which arrive at the same position, there are only 311,642 unique positions to remember!

To put the number 9 million into perspective, a person with an average stride taking 9 million steps, could walk round trip from New York to Miami twice and still have some steps left over. A person walking at a brisk pace of 3 miles per hour for 12 hours per day, would accomplish this feat in 125 days (or about four months).

That’s a lot of steps – and a lot of combinations to remember.

Who said this game was easy?Miami

karpov2After over five years in Suffern, we’ve been informed that none other than Anatoly Karpov is an avid reader of our chess blog! Even more surprising, he recently contacted us to find out how he could help us boost our membership.

We explained to him that unlike other clubs in the tri-state area, we do not have deep pockets and would be unable to provide him with an appearance fee, first class airline travel, a chauffeured limousine, or even a bag of pretzels.

We told him we could provide our undying gratitude, a number of players willing to participate in a simul, and a rapt audience to listen to a chess lecture. Or if that’s not possible, we offered to wash his car for him and have club members on call to work as his full-time butler the next time he’s in town.

Luckily, the former world champion has a big heart and after discussions with his seconds (and thirds) we were told that he would find a way to help us out once he has some spare time. Why? Because he wants to do for Suffern what he did for Lindsborg, Kansas! (you know – the site of the Anatoly Karpov International School of Chess).

As one might imagine, Anatoly has a busy schedule, he just got back from Australia after participating in the Just Owners of Koalas Event. He told us that there are many events in Russia (and Crimea) that allow club players to build their ratings, for example the Just Orphaned Kamchatkan’s Extravaganza.

He was very kind and gregarious and provided insight into the way a Grandmaster thinks by offering the following advice that is applicable to both novices and experts:

  • Always remember to bring two pencils to every match, just in case one breakskarpov-kasparov
  • Prepare for your opponents as if your life depended on it
  • Remember to move your knights first, unless you have a really good reason to do otherwise
  • Invest in good chess software, or find a good expert player for chess lessons
  • Losing isn’t so bad, it’s better than a poke in the eye, or a horde of Cossacks
  • Follow your heart, it will show you the right path
  • Only attack after efficiently evaluating an advantageous position, or if you just need to get home early
  • Often prepare for defense, sometimes an opponent may surprise you
  • Love your enemies, they don’t mean to be mean (they were just born that way)

Unfortunately, in the end, we couldn’t work out terms for a simul or a personal appearance. So, instead Anatoly agreed to observe one of our tournaments and give a virtual lecture via Skype. However, because his schedule is so busy, he has agreed to do the broadcast on June 31st of 2015. He might also have a double-booked appointment to visit the Russian space station, but he has assured us that he can do the Skype lecture from orbit if necessary.

What a great guy!

(oh, and happy April Fool’s day!)

The Fool