What Was I Thinking?

My Journey to Chess Enlightenment - Very Much 'In Progress'

'Chess, like love, like music, has the power to make men happy.' [and women, too]

Under construction: as of 10/13/2019

Feline Chess Tournaments  Magnus Carlsen

Here are some of my own games that illustrate my learning curve and relate to the chess literature I have been using to learn how to play better. Feel free to contribute your own analysis and opinions about these games.

Waterville - 17 April 2019. On the weekend of April 13th 2019, roughly thirty intrepid souls gathered at the Waterville Grand Hotel for a "Maine Chess Player of the Year" event hosted by the Maine Chess Association. The tournament was organized by Michael Dudley and Dan DeLuca. This is just one of many chess events in Maine and Canada; it was my first tournament participation since the early 1970s. The participants were young and old, men and women, and all seemed to be enjoying themselves (regardless of their skill level). There were even a few observers (but I didn't see any media).

I have been playing at the local chess club in Waterville since March 2019; to find a chess club near you and for contact information, check out the MECA Clubs page. Playing chess is a great way to flex your intellectual powers (and a great way to practice humility). Here is a very short game from the tournament; one of my worst so far, but very instructive. My opponent was a young man from Orono, who taught me a very valuable lesson. I will share all four games eventually, but I thought starting with a shorter game might whet your appetite for the others.

  • The game record for my round 3 chess game from the tournament shows how quickly a mistake can turn into torture; at only 20 moves, this was the shortest of the five games I played in the tournament. I lost the game almost as a direct result of this very premature offer of a Queen exchange. My young opponent, who was polite and respectful (before and after the game), sensed blood in the water and pressed me relentlessly until the end.

    If you need help reading the moves, see the Chess Notation section below.
    Analysis by chess.com follows the moves (in navy); my comments follow the moves (in maroon). The diagrams that follow the moves are shown from the Black player's point of view, unlike traditional diagrams (which in most chess literature shows the White pieces moving up from the bottom of the diagram); this has a subtle impact on perception of the game by the reader; watching Black moves from the White player's point of view is like looking in the mirror (the "right" side of the board is on the reader's "left")!
  • 2019 Maine Closed Championship, Waterville, Maine - 13 April 2019 [Round 3]
  • White: E. Smith - Black: Don Smallidge
    B33 - Sicilian Defense, Open
1. e4 c5    
2. Nf3 Nc6    
3. d4 cxd4    
  • 4. Nxd4 Nxd4  * A better move was 4... e5
  • 5. Qxd4 e6  : All more or less normal "book moves" so far.
  • 6. Bc4 Qb6?!  : I thought challenging the Queen so early in the game would cause my opponent to relinquish his occupation of the center d4 square; but he saw that exchanging Queens and doubling Black pawns on the Queen Knight file would be advantageous to him. As you will see, Black never recovers from this decision.
    According to the chess.com analysis engine, Nf6 was the best move.

  • The Queen Move That Lost the Opening
  • The Queen Move That Lost the Opening: Premature Queen Exchange in the Open Sicilian Defense!
7. Qxb6 axb6    
8. Nc3 Bb4    
  • 9. Bd2 Bc5?!  * A better move was 9... Nf6
    : I need to get over my fear of developing the Knight to f6 under these circumstances; this is a longstanding bad habit that must be corrected.
    According to the chess.com analysis engine, the game could have continued (9... Nf6 10. e5 Ng4 11. Nb5 Bxd2+ 12. Kxd2 O-O 13. Rhe1 Nxf2 14. Nd6).

  • Black worries about developing the Knight
  • Black is worried about having to move the Knight after White's Pawn advance to e5.
10. Nb5 Kd8    
11. b4 Be7    
12. c3 d6    
  • 13. Be3 d5?  * The best move was 13... Bd7

  • Black not focused on Bxb6 check
  • Black did not focus on White's imminent Pawn capture with check.
  • 14. Bxb6+ Kd7?!
    : I moved the Black King to d7 instead of to e8 in order to avoid a Knight fork on c7, which would have cost a whole Rook. For some reason the chess.com analysis engine thinks e8 is a better move. Someone will have to explain to me why that is better!
    According to the chess.com analysis engine, the game could have continued (14... Ke8 15. Nc7+ Kf8 16. Nxa8 dxc4 17. O-O-O Nf6 18. Bc5 ...).
  • 15. exd5 Bd8?  * A better move was 15... exd5; according to the chess.com analysis engine, the game could have continued (15... exd5 16. Bxd5 Ra6 17. Be3 Rf6 18. O-O-O Ke8 19. Bf3 Bd7 ...).

  • Black hopes to exchange Bishops
  • Black is hoping to exchange Bishops
  • 16. dxe6+ fxe6
  • 17. Rd1+ Kc6??  * The best move was 17... Ke7
  • 18. Bxd8 b6  * A better move was 18. Rd6#

  • Black King walks into Mate by the Rook
  • The Black King walks into checkmate by the Rook (but White takes the Bishop instead)
  • 19. Rd6+ Kb7
  • 20. Rxb6#  : Checkmate! I had some alternative moves that would have prolonged the game and made it more of a contest [as shown above in the notes], but consistently failed to find better moves throughout the game; truly a humbling experience. But a good lesson. The chess.com analysis showed how I could have played better (even after the disastrous offer of a Queen exchange so early in the game).

  • Black King is toast

Next time I will share another game from the tournament (my only victory). My opponent was a teacher from Waterville. We had played several games at the Waterville Chess Club before the tournament (a mix of wins and losses). She fought me tenaciously every step of the way. Lots of good lessons in that game, too. Ultimately, I will provide all five of my games from the tournament.

On the long road to retirement, I regularly played chess on my lunch hour (and sometimes even after work). Here is a game against "Dave". Unfortunately, I no longer remember who he was (but probably a colleague since I was working in Cambridge at the time). This game is an example of the Nimzovich Defense.


I started playing on the It's Your Turn website many years ago; I found it particularly useful when I worked full time because I could play a move and wait a day or two to check for my opponent's reply. When you are super busy, this is a good way to keep chess in your life. I lost this 2018 game against John Gwynn, an opponent who has won a lot of our games in the past 25 years [both over the board and over the internet].


  • Checkmate in the corner
  • Not My Best Game - Click the image to see all the moves that led to this elegant mate.

  • Animated Chess Game
  • Slow Motion Train Wreck - Black punishes each of White's mistakes without missing a beat. But did he miss some opportunities along the way?

Here is my attempt to play the English Opening with White; looks like I need a bit more practice!

To get the most out of the Caissa's Web tool, use the Next button to walk the game forward (with the White pieces at the bottom of the diagram) [I lost the game]; after savoring John's victory, click the Start button, then the Flip button to see the game from Black's perspective. See if you can figure out what I was thinking (and why I lost the game).


My game with "Lurker88" was recorded with the GameKnot Web tool; click on the "Interactive" link to replay the game (with the White pieces at the bottom of the diagram) [I lost the game]; then click the Flip link to see the game from Black's perspective. This is a pretty good example of how NOT to play the Sicilian Defense!

Information about other chess clubs:

To get the most out of the Caissa's Web tool, use the Next button to walk the game forward (with the White pieces at the bottom of the diagram); after replaying the game from White's perspective, click the Start button, then the Flip button to see the game from Black's perspective.


  • Challenge Dark Bishop
  • Black challenges the London System's dark Bishop right away

This is an interesting example of The London System; I lost this game. Black responded aggressively on his fourth move with Bd6 and White decided against an immediate exchange of his dark square Bishop. Visiting from Massachusetts where he plays in the Wachusett Chess Club, Don Ostrowski taught me a valuable lesson about losing a tempo in the opening! We started the game at the Camden Chess Club, but had to suspend the game when the library closed. We finished the game online at lichess.org.


Here is another interesting example of The London System. Black responded aggressively on his third move with c5 and White decided to swap his light square Bishop. Evan has provided some commentary to our game (which appears below the board for selected moves).

See if you can spot where both players missed some good moves during the game.

Mark

Note: After many years of looking after the club, Mark McPheters has decided to step down. We will miss him a lot and wish him the best in his retirement.

I have set up a new web page for our club with a few of my games; there will be more games to come in the future (games with Anna, Arnold, Glenn, Isaac, Kevin, Ray, Ben, Kevin, John, Mark and Pete - victories and losses). This new page will serve as a communication vehicle about all matters relating to the club (including where and when we will meet).

This page collects up links to some of my favorite sites about chess on the internet. My intention is to share what I have found with like-minded enthusiasts (and for others who have expressed an interest in chess). I hope you will find plenty here to entertain you, to challenge you, to educate you and to enable you to connect with other chessplayers. If you need help with your chess journey or have something you would like to share with me, please get in touch.


The tab names below are a preliminary attempt to classify the contents of each of the categories; sometimes it is very difficult to find an appropriate slot to house the links. The Chess Commentary tab, for example, contains some instruction, some advice, some coaching, and some material that is probably for beginners. I will continue to ponder better ways to organize the material, but suggestions from you are most welcome!

Note: Some of the analysis and commentary from various sources is clearly better (and/or more polished) than others (and some of it really got on my nerves). I believe there is something to learn from them all. Your mileage may vary. More to come in the future, and perhaps a thematic organization to complement the list by presenter.

There is no better way to improve at chess than studying the games of great players. With that simple idea in mind, we present chessgames.com: a tool designed to improve the chess knowledge and skill of all players, from novice to grandmaster. Within this site you will find hundreds of thousands of chess games, which you can review move by move in your web browser. The access to this database is provided by the powerful search engine found on our homepage. Chessplayers from around the world are welcome to come here, peruse our collection of games for free, and interact with other members. Daniel Freeman, Alberto Artidiello, and the talented staff at 20/20 Technologies

In his book How Chess Games are Won and Lost, Lars Bo Hanson says:

Commonly, a game of chess is divided into three distinct phases: the opening, the middlegame and the endgame. Most books on chess improvement address one or more of these three phases. However, in my experience chess game has more than three distinct phases. I view it in terms of five phases, and each phase demands specific skills of the players.