The platforms to play chess on: How to choke a grandmaster (and commit suicide afterwards)

Imagine where we would be without Lichess. After the decline of the Internet Chess Club (ICC) in recent years chess.com would be very close to being a world monopolist. With no one there to keep them on their toes we would have to play on a bloated platform packed with advertisements that has no incentive to keep up with recent developments and offer their users the best possible experience. Even the people who prefer to play on chess.com these days must thank its open source competitor to push the commercial alternative as hard as they do.

When it comes to chess software German company ChessBase is what chess.com is in the field of chess playing platforms: a quasi monopolist thanks to their database program ChessBase. While the open source alternative SCID vs PC is not nearly as close as Lichess is to chess.com, ChessBase’s (basically) only competitor ChessOK has found its niche, offers exellent value for money, but is light years away in terms of proliferation.

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The former frontrunner among the chess platforms Internet Chess Club still has the outspoken GM Alex Yermolinsky and his highly instructive show „Every Russian Schoolboy knows…“. Apart from that the site is sound asleep.

Maybe that is why ChessBase can afford to not push their own playing platform playchess? A constant stream of playchess users is guaranteed anyhow via the Fritz and ChessBase software. Apart from that they’ve never actually sought for a battle to become the biggest playing platform as well, not even after it became obvious that the original frontrunner ICC is sound asleep. And so playchess isn’t a crowded place exactly.

I’ve always felt that the playchess platform is overlooked and underrated. It looks much cleaner than chess.com, is easier to navigate and a good place to conveniently follow live games. As anywhere else some of the live commentary and the shows in the archive are better than others. They do not have an Uncle Yermo for instance. On the other hand they have Daniel King, and their tactics guru Oliver Reeh deserves a much larger audience. This guy really loves his tactics, and he presents them in a delightful, challenging way.

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The weekly GM simul is a nice feature. Each thursday GM Dejan Bojkov takes on a couple of playchess users. Bojkov, apart from being a chess grandmaster, is well known as a chess teacher. Unfortunately he has stopped his blog on chess.com, but he continues to produce videos for the site (on endgames mostly, for premium members). Bojkov has worked as a chess trainer in several countries and he has published a number of remarkable chess DVDs. I especially like the idea behind „Chess Highways“ that teaches beginners and medium strength players how to use their pieces most effectively: Each of them requires its individual highway to roam on.

The single one of my own games that I use for teaching purposes I owe to Dejan Bojkov. While outplaying the guy with fine positional chess like I rarely have outplayed anybody there were a couple of concepts in play. Space, planning of pawn breaks, good pieces vs. bad pieces and more were highlighted in the course of this encounter. Of course Bojkov didn’t play like the 2.500 GM that he is, rather like someone who just ends his day by shuffling pieces around against half a dozen random dudes from the internet. And so my pieces found beautiful chess highways while his didn’t find any.

The game also illustrates why I suck at playing chess: too weak, too slow. No killer instinct, no technique, no calculation. That’s the type of opponent you can still fish for chances against, even when you’re completely outplayed, even when the engine says it’s „-15“ already. Good game, Mr. Bojkov, and thanks for the lesson!

Bodenseeperlen – Bojkov, Dejan
Simul Game 2017, 7m+15s

1. d4 c5 2. d5 e5 3. e4 d6 4. Nc3

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In the few online games I play I encounter this surprisingly often. I am not even sure how Black’s opening is called, it may be an Old Benoni or a Semi Benoni (that’s what my chessbase opening classification says). Whatever its name is, it is not very good. If Black manages to maneuver accurately within his limited space, he will still be worse, and if he doesn’t manage, he will suffer badly for a long time. I really enjoy playing the positions after 4.Nc3, keeping the c2 pawn where it is and the c4 square open for a knight. Combined with he advance a2-a4-a5 the knight on c4 will often be a tremendously powerful piece.

4…Be7 5. Nf3

(5. f4!? immediately is interesting, and it illustrates what may also happen later in the game: going for breaks on the kingside is a possibility for White as well.)
(5. Be2 and only then Nf3, avoiding …Bc8-g4xf3, is an option, but then Black can get rid of his „bad“ bishop via 5… Bg5.)

5… Nf6

(5… Bg4 with the intention …Bxf3 may be more precise. Yes, Black likes his light squared bishop, but White likes his knight even more since it is supposed to go to c4 and be a force there.)

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White has a lot of options now, all of them reasonable.

6. h3

Most strong players don’t consider this necessary since objectively …Bg4 isn’t a positional threat anymore. But I find myself playing this again and again, it just feels useful. The loss of time is not much of a factor in a closed position like this. But most probably I’m just playing 6.h3 repeatedly because I can’t decide which one of the other pleasant options is best.

(6. Be2 Bg4 7. Nd2)
(6. Bb5+)
(6. Nd2)

6… O-O 7. Be2 a6

Sure, Black wants to go …b5, but this may not be the most precise way to do it. After 7…a6 he lacks squares for his light queenside pieces, that’s why most of the few GMs who play this prefer 7…Na6.

(7… Na6 8. Be3 Nc7 9. a4 a6 10. Qb1 Nd7 11. O-O Kh8 12. b4+= Shulman,Y (2540) – Malakhov,V (2510), Holon 1995, 1-0 (28))

8. a4

bojkov4.jpg

8… Nbd7?!

Developing a piece can’t be that bad, but there isn’t any useful plan to integrate this move into. In my opinion Black has put his cards on the table at this pont: queenside play or kingside play, what is it going to be? He should choose either 8…b6 (stopping a5, preparing a later …b5) or 8…Ne8 (intending … f5).

(8… b6)
(8… Ne8)

9. O-O Re8

Not exactly a great place for the rook (given that the …f5 break may be part of Black’s plans), but he wants to use the f8 square to shuffle his clumsy d7 knight via f8 to g6.

10. Be3 Nf8 11. Nd2

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11… Rb8

(11… b6 This was the last opportunity to go …b6, and Black should have taken it.)

12. a5 Ng6

Heading towards f4.

13. Re1

bojkov6.jpg

You may argue that the Be2 is White’s bad bishop and doesn’t need preserving, but I think the circumstances clearly favour keeping it on the board. First of all Black lacks space, so White doesn’t want to give him relief by exchanging stuff. Additionally on f1 the bishop will be a great stabilizer. For instance White can just go Kh2, then g3 and with h3 covered kick the f4 knight back into the black camp.

The bishop may also develop into an attacking piece. As soon as Black goes …b5 axb6 Qxb6 the pressure against a6 will pe a major part of White’s play.

13… Nf4 14. Bf1 Bd7

(14… g5 is a try to get at least a littlebit of counterplay.)

15. Kh2 Ng6

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16. Qf3!

Connects the rooks and prepares Reb1 and b4. I think it’s fair to say (and the last Black moves illustrates this) that Black is completely outplayed already. He is just standing there without an idea how to develop anything active.

(16. Nc4 reaching the long desired square, but 16…Bb5 17. Nxb5 axb5 gives Black some counterplay, and I felt the White position is already so good that he doesn’t need to allow any counterplay at all.)

16… h6 17. Reb1 Nh7 18. b4 cxb4 19. Rxb4 Bg5

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Begging for relief. White is happy to comply since the Be7 at least worked as a defender of the d6 pawn which is about to become White’s target.

20. Nc4 Bxe3 21. Qxe3 Qf6 22. Rb6

d6 will fall. The engine already says +4.5.

22… Red8

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23. Rxd6?

(Still good enough to keep a winning advantage, but the reasoning behind this move is somewhat embarassing. I thought that after the more natural 23. Nxd6 Black counters with 23… Bxh3 and didn’t notice that White now easily wins with 24. Nxb7.)

23… Qe7 24. Rb6 Be8 25. Rab1 Nf4

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White wants to go d6, but first the Nf4 has to be chased off in order to not have it reach the e6 square.

26. g3 Ng6 27. d6 Qd7 28. Nd5 Rdc8 29. h4 

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Threatening Bh3. This is fun.

29… Qa4 30. Rxb7

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Cashing in with a petit combination. Black may take on c4, but in the end the Be8 will fall.

30… Rxb7 31. Rxb7 Rxc4 32. Bxc4 Qxc4 33. d7 Bxd7 34. Rxd7 Qxc2

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Now all that’s left to do is conquer the a6 pawn, then get a second queen and gratefully accept Black’s resignation.

35. Rd6 Qc4 36. Qa7 Qxe4

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37. Qxa6?

(37. Qa8+ followed by Nf6+ or Ne7+ wins the queen and ends the game.)

37… Nhf8 38. Ne3 Qf3 39. Rd2 e4 40. Qd6 Qh5 41. a6 Ne5

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Black keeps fishing, and I started to feel the fear of overlooking something. From him saying „gg“ in the chat constantly I was able to deduce that it was now him vs me one against one. It makes me sad to compare my state of mind at this point with the engine evaluation of this position (+15).

42. Ra2

Not necessary.

(42. a7 is pretty easy, nothing Black can do.)

42… Nf3+ 43. Kg2 Ne1+

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Out of four possible king moves three win almost instantly and one gives Black chances. Guess which one I chose 😉

44. Kf1? Qb5+

Damn, these long queen moves! I had overlooked this one and was quite shocked to see him blitz it out instantly.

45. Kg1

(45. Kxe1 Qb1+ 46. Ke2 Qxa2+ 47. Kf1 is still winning, but not trivial anymore.)

45… Qb1

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46. Qa3?

(46. a7 Forces a draw at least. 46… Nf3+ 47. Kg2 Qxa2! (47… Qg1+? 48. Kh3 Qh1+ 49. Kg4 Ne5+ 50. Kf5 +- This line is the reason why I didn’t go 46.a7. I had tried to calculate it properly with the few seconds I had left, but couldn’t trust the idea of just walking my king into his camp. However, this is winning for White.) 48. Qb8 Qa1 49. a8=Q Qg1+ 50. Kh3 Qh1+ 51. Kg4 Ne5+ 52. Qxe5 Qf3+ 53. Kh3 Qh1+ =)

46… Nc2+?

Both players on increment, play becomes quite irrational. Black goes for the White queen, but this may not be enough for a win.

(46… Nf3+! is mate in 5. 47. Kg2 Qg1+ 48. Kh3 h5! and so on.)

47. Kg2 Nxa3 48. Rxa3 Qb4 49. Nc4

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This would also be a nice puzzle. Black to move wins.

49… Ne6?

(49… e3! -+ 50. fxe3 Qxc4 51. a7 and Black can stop the a passer by giving a check on the long diagonal and then putting his queen to a8.)
(49… Qxc4 50. a7 would be better for White due to the closed long diagonal. That’s why 49… e3! was a winner.)

50. a7 Nc7 51. a8=Q+ Nxa8 52. Rxa8+ Kh7 53. Ne3 g6 54. Ra7 Kg7 55. h5

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55… gxh5

(55… Qc5 winning)

56. Nf5+ Kg6 57. Nh4+ Kf6 58. Ra6+ Kg5

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Even after looking at it with an engine I am not sure, this might be a draw. White needs to set up a fortress, for instance with a rook on f4 and a knight on g2. With my eyes focused on the kingside, pondering how to build my fortress, I played

59. Ra5+

and resigned immediately.

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