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The Challenger, Third Quarter, 2023

Table of Contents


Note: The views expressed in the Challenger do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of the USBCA or those of the editor.

Important Notices

Upcoming Events

  1. World Open Championship in Greece, October 8 to 18, 2023. USBCA Board Member and IBCA delegate Marilyn Bland will be attending this event.
  2. Pan-American Championship, Guatemala, October 23 to 28, 2023. Jessica Lauser and Marilyn Bland will be attending this event. Let’s wish our members safe travels and the best of luck at their chess games.
  3. The USBCA ladder tournament is ongoing throughout the year. You can join at any time and work your way up the ladder by challenging those above you. This is a great way to gain additional experience playing chess games as well as making some new friends along the way. For details, contact Jim Homme @ jhomme1028@gmail.com or by phone at 412-592-6143.

Notice Board

Results of US Blind Open held in Elmhurst, IL July 21 to 23, 2023

Results of the Stephen Hilton Memorial chess tournament

In Memoriam, Norm Doerner

The USBCA experienced a very sad loss with the passing of long time member and friend, Norm Doerner. Jim Thoune, USBCA President, conveyed the sad news on August 20, 2023 that Norm had passed away the day before. Jim provided a beautiful sentiment when he stated, ‘We have lost a good friend and a fine human being. Maybe we can picture him sitting at a great chess board in the sky. I think he’d like that.” Drawing from Lou Gehrig, Norm himself so eloquently stated, ‘I’m the luckiest man in the world. I have chess and such good chess friends.”. I think Marilyn Bland spoke for many when she said, “In my heart I’ll be playing the revival tournament for Norm.” Requiescat in Pace. RIP Norm.

Editor's Note

by David Rosenkoetter

Chess is all about tension. Tense moments make us sweat as the final seconds tick away before someone's flag falls. Tense positions hold in a center where the tiniest pawn break may signal the breakthrough of white's rooks or black's success in plugging the gap in her defense. Tension brews to the surface as a Tournament Director edges his way to the table where competitors ask questions about whether a draw has occurred or if play must go on. Tension rises in the rhythmic breathing as competitors survey the board looking for that clinching, winning combination. And tension releases when the game ends followed by the postmortem analysis. So, as we analyze easy to hard puzzles, we look for those ways tension is resolved. When looking at our player spotlight, we may wonder how he or she performs at their best under tension. We analyze the winning game from this year's U.s. Blind Open and Paul Benson's Champing At the Bit Part 2. We rejoice with the winners of tournaments held over the summer and prepare thoroughly for the tournaments ahead. Yes, my friends, we had champions this summer as Mario Montalvo took first and Alex Barrasso took second in the USBCA's first USCF rated online event, the Jim Slagle Tribute Tournament. The crown was passed from Jessica Lauser to Alex Barrasso as champion of this year's U.S. Blind Open held in Elmhurst, IL. Under the direction of our new USBCA tournament director, Jim Homme, we will crown many more champions in the months to come as the Norm Dorner Memorial Correspondence Tournament is well underway. Once again this year, Jessica Lauser and Marilyn Bland will represent the United States in the Pan-American Games to be held in Guatemala. In the following pages, let the tension ride! Let it drive you to deep analysis and appreciation of the games we have in store. Rejoice with Alex Barrasso's spotlight interview with Glenn Crawford. Consider what our USBCA President, Jim Thoune, has for us in his perspective. Here is the September, 2023 edition of Challenger!

President's Message: The USBCA! Who Am Us, anyway! (The Firesign Theater)

by Jim Thoune

It seems a reasonable question to ask. As your President, to serve as your President, it seems perhaps the thing I should be most attuned to, does it not? As I consider the question, I find myself vocalizing the phrase "grass roots." Don't get me wrong, this is not necessarily a bad tag, but I believe it is a telling tag. I think it can help us to gain some perspective on some of the events of the past few months. I also hope and believe it can help us gain a perspective needful to help us heal and move on productively.

For the first 14 or 15 years, basically 1968 through 1982, the USBCA was actively involved with not only the correspondence tournaments which Gintas Burba used to run, RIP Gintas! The organization was also a part of assisting players with reaching foreign sites for IBCA events. That changed in the 1980's; I'm not sure why. We continued to have our annual over-the-board (OTB) event, and we had some pretty excellent turn out, consistently around 25 players, give or take. We played different venues. I personally attended tournaments in Findlay, Ohio as well as San Antonio, Texas. The venue change didn't seem to adversely impact the number of participants. Folks showed up, said "Howdy" and "Hey" to friends and acquaintances they hadn't seen in a year. It was fun! It was five rounds of some pretty good chess! It was generally marked by "Glad to see you" and "See you next year!"

Then, the internet happened. Aaah, the internet. Email. Skype. Over-the-board attendance figures began to drop, despite the fact that the number of participants in both Correspondence and real time play increased. True, we were aging. Many of the players I remember corresponding with back in the 70's and 80's have either died or retired from chess. This is to be expected. But, the number of people willing and able to travel to a site to play chess for a weekend has not kept up with the numbers gravitating to the ease and comfort of using the various online capabilities to play chess. Can we rectify this? Do we need to rectify this?

To answer the second question first, I'm sure that we do not need to alter the tide of movement toward online activity. Online resources far surpass what we as blind players had access to in the past. This is a good thing. In fact,

the only element that concerns me has to do with the turn out for our OTB Championship tournament over the last four years. In 2019, we seemed to turn a corner. Attendance, which had been in the single digits for more than ten years, suddenly hit double figures. We even had our first visit from a player younger than 20 years old. Nathaniel Figueroa was ten years old when he attended our 2019 OTB tournament. Then, of course, COVID hit. The whole universe changed. As we gear up for another winter and another predicted upsurge of COVID, we are still struggling with how to roll with the punches. The USBCA is rolling.

Perhaps you thought I would say "reeling," given the purely reprehensible events of June of this year. And indeed, what took place during June and into July made it clear that we had to take steps to ensure that such a chain of events could not happen again. Steps are already in progress. Though the organization has existed for over 50 years and changed fairly substantially over the last 15 or so, the Bylaws haven't had the same attention. I have already established a committee to work on bringing the Bylaws up-to-date. Proposed amendments will be circulated throughout the membership for ratification or rejection. The USBCA exists of, by, and for its members.

It was pointed out to me, recently, that we have not been especially transparent to our membership. Minutes of our Board meetings will begin appearing on our website as soon as our webmaster can accommodate it.

While one of the functions of the USBCA is to encourage players to participate in international events, we are not even incorporated as a non-profit, let alone established as a 501(C)3 entity capable of actively raising funds to help members. Application to acquire non-profit status is in the works and will be a reality before the end of the year.

While the USBCA has run numerous tournaments over the years, and will continue to do so, until this year, those tournaments have not been sanctioned by nor even recognized by the US Chess Federation. The USBCA is now working closely with the USCF to have our tournament directors certified. This means that we can run club tournaments, and have them rated, just like any mainstream club in the country. This means that for some of our tournaments, participants will have to belong to the US Chess Federation. Don't worry, those of you who have no interest in belonging to the USCF, we will still have tournaments open to anyone, regardless of USCF affiliation. But, one of our objectives is to promote chess among blind people. This doesn't mean that we settle for merely social activities exclusively for and within the "blind community." We need to be a functioning organization not only on a social level but also capable of serving those who aspire to compete in a mainstream environment.

This year, we held our first USCF-rated tournament online to honor and to celebrate the contributions and achievements of one of the USBCA founders, Jim Slagle, who has worked and competed in the mainstream world throughout his life.

This year, thanks to donations from two anonymous donors, we are holding our first event, a Correspondence tournament, with a cash prize fund. That is only a partial list of the ways that the USBCA is changing and growing.

So, who am us, anyway? We are all of us, whomever you are. We are not just the seven current Board members, a number planned to grow to nine. We are the sum total of all those who care to be a part of us. We are a vehicle engaged in providing a safe, supportive environment in which anyone who wishes to can learn, study, and play chess. And we are a learning, growing organization dedicated to protecting said environment to the best of our collective ability.

James Thoune, President, USBCA

Player Spotlight, U.S. Blind Open Champion Alex Barrasso

By Glenn Crawford

Alex Barrasso, Board Member of the United States Blind Chess Association (USBCA) and a member since 1992, is the U.S. blind chess champion for 2023. The tournament was sponsored by U.S. Chess and hosted by Caveman Chess. There was a prize fund of $4,000. First, second, third, and fourth place finishers earned $1,000, $800, $500, and $300 respectively. There were also several divisional cash prizes. Alex finished in first place with a score of five wins and one draw after playing six rounds in a Swiss style competition with a 90/30 time control.

The contest was held in the Frick Center at Elmhurst University in Elmhurst, Illinois from July 21 through July 23 of this year. Our board member, who lives in Washington DC with his wife and two children, flew to the tournament from Reagan International Airport in Arlington, Virginia. He has had service dogs in the past, but currently has none and uses the white cane method of navigation. At the Frick Center he said those with no usable sight needed to rely on someone with vision to help him and others locate facilities. The room accommodations comprised a suite of three bedrooms, one for each player, and a shared bathroom.

Jessica Lauser, a dorm mate of Alex and David Rosenkoetter, has some vision and helped him and David get around. Their rooms and playing areas were in different buildings. Jessica helped them with such things as getting them to the sites and with getting trays and food in the cafeteria. He said they would have been really lost without her.

At the tournament, Alex's draw was with Donald Crosswhite. During this game, the soon to be U.S. blind chess champion started to get into time difficulty. With about sixteen minutes left on his clock, he said he began to panic. "I let the clock get to my head and affect my play. And, I made some incredibly elementary endgame mistakes. I was lucky to draw."

In a subsequent game with Jessica, he also got into time trouble. "I had about ten minutes left, so less time than I had in the last game [with Donald]." He continued, "She offered me a draw and I said [to myself] you know what? I can't do what I did last time and let this clock get to me. I've got to play this out and try to win it. And, I did."

Alex, who has been blind from birth, learned to play chess at age eleven. He was introduced to the game at a birthday party for a friend. The guest of honor was a member of his school's chess club, and someone suggested playing the game. Alex knew nothing about chess and felt lost when others began to play. The birthday boy's father noticed his plight and took him aside to explain the pieces and moves associated with them, giving him his first taste of the world's greatest board game. This kind man contacted the chess coach at his son's school who located an adaptive set for Alex and took him on as a member of the chess club.

Alex continued through his educational years to play on the chess clubs of the different schools he attended. He became a member of US Chess and, by the early 1990s, attained a rating of over 1700.

Alex prefers real time games over those played by correspondence. "I have a strong preference for setting aside a bulk of time, whether it is a week, a weekend, whatever it is, going to a tournament and knowing, you know, this is what I'm going to do for the next week or few days."

When not playing chess, Alex spends his time with work and family. He is employed at the U.S. State Department in the foreign service. Between 2007 and 2021, he and his family were overseas in many countries, including Thailand, Brunei, The Czech Republic, and Saudi Arabia. He is a foreign service officer. His area of expertise is what he describes as the political cone or political arena. "The nuts and bolts of my job usually revolve around getting the political backstory in whatever country I am in and then providing some analysis of what the events mean for U.S. foreign policy and communicating all of that to Washington." He gets the backstory from sources in the host government, journalists, activists, NGOs, counterparts in the host nation's military, religious organizations, and anyone else who is willing to talk with him.

Given his life of world travel, Alex enjoys being a board member of the USBCA whose members are moving more toward international games with Marilyn Bland competing in the women's world championship and she and Jessica playing in the Pan Am games. He says funding for these activities is challenging. But, when the USBCA becomes a 501c(3) nonprofit organization, opportunities for members to compete globally will be easier to achieve. "I very much favor us as an organization supporting those players who want to compete internationally."

Champing At The Bit Part 2

by Paul Benson

This article initially appeared in the May 2021 UK BCA Gazette.

Here we shall examine a Grand Master with white vs a 20 years old International Master with black. This almost 300 Elo point difference offers a classic "Goliath vs David" clash. Clearly white expects to win, black probably hoping for a draw. Best laid plans…

B. Socko (2654) - I. Bulmaga (2375), European Individual Championship (Yerevan) 2014

Diagram, White to move:

White pieces: Kg1, Qd2, Ra1, Rd1, Nf1.

pawns: b2, b3, c4, d5, f2, g2, h2.

Black pieces: Kg8, Qg5, Rc7, Rf8, Nf4. Black pawns: a6, b7, d6, e5, f5, g7, h7.

(Despite the opening being a Sicilian Defence it has passed without excitement, but with 21. … Qg5 black cheekily threatens Qxg2+ mate.)

22. f3 e4
23. fxe4 fxe4
24. Kh1

(Sensibly getting off the g-file, ignore x-ray attacks at your peril. Instead blockading the black passed e4 pawn with 24. Ne3 allows 24. … Nh3+ 25. Kh1 Nf2+, black wins an exchange on d1. Black to play now grabs the initiative with an attractive sequence of active moves.)

24. ... e3
25. Nxe3

(Forced, any move which takes the white queen off the white 2nd rank allows 25. … Qxg2+ mate.)

25. ... Re7

(All black pieces are now attacking, white must be very careful. The initial threat is a deflection with 26. … Rxe3 when the idea is 27. Qxe3 Qxg2+ mate, easily prevented.)

26. g3

(A move of mixed consequences. The mate threats on g2 are eliminated but the light squares of f3 and h3 are handed over to black.)

26. ... Nh3

(A tactical doubler. Firstly, black threatens 27. … Qxe3 winning a piece. Secondly, black threatens 27. … Nf2+ winning an exchange on d1.)

27. Re1 Rf3

(Approxi-Kasparovism: "Every black piece is better than every white piece.", and just for the cost of a pawn. Black now has some nasty threats, white has only a single move to stay in the game.)

28. Qg2

(White escapes the black queen x-ray attack with an attack on the black undefended f3 rook and h3 knight. Instead 28. Nf1 Rxf1+ 29. Rxf1 Qxd2, white loses the queen for an exchange.)

28. ... Nf2+
29. Kg1 Rexe3

(Black captures the white e3 knight while maintaining a defence on the vulnerable f2 knight, looks like white has lost a piece, right?)

30. Rf1

(Nice, white triply-attacks the black f2 knight, the "apparently" lost piece is actually being regained.)

30. ... Qh5

(International Master confuses Grand Rabbit.

With so much black heavy piece kingside activity combined with temporarily being a piece up the position is surely screaming: "Winning Tactic Somewhere!", perhaps there is, how about: (A). 30. … Rxg3 31. hxg3 Rxg3 32. Qxg3 Qxg3+ is a rather cute mate. (B). 30. … Rxg3 31. hxg3 Rxg3 32. Rxf2 Rxg2+ 33. Rxg2 Qe3+ 34. Kh1 Qxb3 and a black queen, king, a pair of connected passed pawns will overpower a rook pair, black is winning. (C). 30. … Rxg3 31. Rxf2 Rxg2+ 32. Rxg2 Qe5 black is simply a queen for rook ahead and winning.)

31. Rxf2 Rxf2
32. Qxf2 Re2

(White has significantly reduced the attacking forces and yet black still has the initiative. Accuracy combined with some ingenuity is now required if white is to fight on.)

33. g4

(The white queen is in trouble, she needs some breathing space, the g3 square is vacated for her majesty. Instead running away fails: (A). 33. Qf4 Qxh2+ 34. Kf1 Qg2+ mate. (B). 33. Qf1 Qxh2+ mate.

Rooks just love being on the opposing 2nd rank.)

33. ... Qxg4+
34. Qg3 Qd4+

(Simplification is a temptation to be resisted until the maximum gain can be squeezed from the position. Yes, in the long term queens must be removed, but not quite yet, black keeps prodding around against the white king to immobilise the white queen.)

35. Kh1 Qe4+

(Fighting over control of the e1 square while the black threat of Qg2+ mate needs to be prevented.)

36. Kg1 Rxb2

(A move of mixed consequences. The sacrificed e-pawn gave considerable activity resulting in black emerging a pawn up. Fine, but surely now white can centralise with Re1 and have some serious threats of his own?)

37. Re1

(As anticipated, white completes development as the time-control approaches, black must have prepared a good answer to this, but what? Clue: Best move of the game about to be played…)

37. ... Rg2+

(Forcing the game into a won rook and pawn ending, and this clever resource needed to be in mind when capturing the white b2 pawn.)

38. Kf1

(Correctly declining as 38. Qxg2 Qxe1+ 39. Qf1 Qxf1+ 40. Kxf1 a5, putting a squeeze on the white queenside, is a won pawn ending for black. Instead 38 Kh1, inadvisably walking into an x-ray attack, offers an opportunity to show how tactics can arise with minimal material present: (A). 38. Kh1 Re2+ 39. Kg1 Rxe1+ 40. Kf2 Qe2+ mate. (B). 38. Kh1 Re2+ 39. Kg1 Rxe1+ 40. Qxe1 Qxe1+ avoids mate but is playing on a queen down, never done at this level!)

38. ... Rxg3
39. Rxe4 Rxb3
40. Re6

(Taking the 7th rank gains little as 40. Re7 b5 41. Rd7 Rf3+ 42. Ke2 and black continues in similar manner to game.)

40. ... Rf3+

(Appropriate Fischerism: "In chess it is important to know when to punch and when to duck." No one likes to retreat but the black rook must get back to save the d6 pawn. Instead 40. … Rb6 41. c5 Rb5 42 c6 bxc6 43. dxc6 Rc5 44. Rxd6 a5 45. Rd8+ Kf7 46. Ra8 Ke7 47. c7 Kd7 48. c8=Q+ Rxc8 49. Rxa5 seems to let white off the hook.)

41. Ke2 Rf6

(Black is consolidating. Those extra couple of pawns are a winning advantage, the only question is how long it will take to convert. Perhaps 12 moves or so should do the trick? Too optimistic, keep time on the clock for at least 20 moves, perhaps more?)

42. Re8+ Kf7
43. Rb8

(Aims are clarifying. If white can eliminate all the black centre/queenside pawns it is a draw. To win black must retain a centre/queenside pawn, ideally a pawn other than the a-pawn.)

43. ... b5

(Neither the black king or rook can defend the queenside pawns, it must be the d6 pawn which is retained if black is to win.)

44. Rb7+ Kg6
45. cxb5 axb5
46. Rxb5 Rf5

(Despite winning a pawn back white is still losing. Black can simultaneously pressure the remaining white pawns with the rook leaving white to find a way to defend them. Note that white dare not trade rooks, the pawn ending is a simple win for black. The short-term black aim is to try to surround and capture the white d5 pawn.)

47. Ke3 Kf6
48. Ke4 Rh5
49. Rb2

(Activity gets nowhere as 49. Rb7 Rh4+ 50. Kf3 g5 51. Kg3 Ke5 and the white rook must return to b5.)

49. ... Rh4+

(Forcing the white king back to his 3rd rank allowing the black king to advance to e5, the white d5 pawn is about to be surrounded.)

50. Kf3

(Thinking of using the king to guard the h-pawn permitting the b2 rook to go active again. Trying to stay near the stranded d5 pawn fail, a couple of ideas run: (A). 50. Ke3 Ke5 51. Rd2 Re4+ 52. Kf3 Rd4 the white d5 pawn falls. (B). 50. Kd3 Ke5 black follows up with 51. Rd4+ again picking off the white d5 pawn.)

50. ... Rd4
51. Rb5 h6
52. Kg3 g5
53. h3 Ke5
54. Rb8

(The white rook plans making attacks/checks from the distant safety of the 8th rank, these are forlorn hopes, black has it all under control.)

54. ... Kxd5

(At the point of consolidation, 41. … Rf6, a guess of 12 moves or so to win was floated. This is 13 moves later and black might need another 13 moves, right?)

55. Rh8 Rh4

(Establishing a triangle of "Mutual Protection", a strong static formation worth remembering. The black h6 pawn protects the g5 pawn, which protects the h4 rook, which backwardly protects the h6 pawn. This structure keeps the kingside completely safe permitting other units, here the black king and d-pawn, to make progress in the centre.)

56. Rd8 Ke5
57. Re8+ Kd4

(The black king is using the d6 pawn as shelter while leaving the d5 square vacant for a pawn advance.)

58. Re1

(As attacks from the rear gain nothing this rook plans to annoy the black king from the white 1st rank. Note that it is important to place the maximum distance possible between the disputing pieces when engaging in rook-on-king annoyances.)

58. ... d5
59. Rd1+ Kc5
60. Rc1+ Kb4
61. Rh1

(Defensive duties are being reversed, the white rook defends the h3 pawn releasing the king to try to prevent the promotion of the black passed d-pawn.)

61. ... Kc3
62. Kf2 d4

(Kingside pawn-play would be premature, it is the black d-pawn which must squeeze white into conceding the h3 pawn.)

63. Ra1

(Active defence seems the only chance. Instead just putting the white king on the back rank simply permits black to march the king to g3 followed by Rxh3 with an easy win even if the black d-pawn falls in the process. Black to play must take care.)

63. ... d3

(Avoiding the disastrous 63. … Rxh3 64. Ra3+ a skewer which picks off the black h3 rook and white wins.)

64. Ra3+ Kc2
65. Ra2+ Kb1

(Annoyances from the side cannot continue, white reverts to annoyances from the rear of the black king. However notice the key word here is "annoyances", white will never find anything forcing.)

66. Ra6 Rxh3

(We have now had 25 moves since black 41. … Rf6, consolidating, and yet there is still much more work to be done.

White cannot save this but there are always tricks to try, here is a specific formation worthy of mention. Imagine black marches the king back to the kingside to assist the shuffling forward of the passed pawns. If this idea appeals, there is a self-trap to avoid. Placing the rook on the black 7th rank, say b2 or c2, is fine, but beware that advancing a pawn to h2 with the white king on h1 throws it all away. The white king would be in stalemate if white had no rook, which gives that rook the opportunity to chase the black king with checks, irrespective of the safety of the rook, white wants to give it away. Handled correctly, some careful dancing is required at times, the rook can give a perpetual check until white concedes it cannot be won.)

67. Ke1 Rh2
68. Kd1 Kb2
69. Rc6

(Preventing the black king sprint to the kingside, fine, but does nothing to stop the kingside pawns, the poor white rook is overloaded, it has too much work to do.)

69. ... h5
70. Rd6 d2

(An important change has just occurred. The white king has no legal moves, if white did not have a rook it would be stalemate, which is a clue as to a trick up the white sleeve.)

71. Rd3

(Clearly 71. Rxd2+ Rxd2+ 72. Kxd2 is hopeless for white.)

71. ... g4

(Strategic clue for the black future: At the moment the black rook on h2 guards a couple of vital pawns, fine, but is there a similar square from where the same defences may be given, even if it not yet available? White to play has a clever trick, not forcing but worth a try, you never know…)

72. Rb3+ Ka2

(Avoiding 72. … Kxb3 stalemate. An immobilised king, here the white d1 unit was effectively in stalemate while the black king sat on b2, should set off alarm bells to both players when that king has just a single friendly fighter remaining in play.)

73. Rg3

(Further attempted gifting fails as 73. Rb2+ Ka3 74. Rb3+ Ka4 75. Rb4+ Kxb4 and the c2 square is available to the white king. Black to play cannot make progress with the king while the white rook owns the white 3rd rank. Furthermore the kingside pawns are restrained as black pawn h4 drops the g4 pawn. Process of elimination, the black rook needs re-locating, but to where? Clue: On h2 it performs an important double-protection, find the reflection.)

73. ... Rh3
74. Rg1

(Trading-down loses as 74. Rxh3 gxh3 75. Kxd2 h2 and black promotes.)

74. ... Rd3
75. Rh1

(There is nothing better, treading water fails. Instead 75. Rg2 g3 76. Rg1 h4 77. Rg2 h3 and the black pawns march through on their own. Note if the white king ever steps off the back rank black simply promotes on d1, forcing liquidation, those black passed pawns will then be decisive.)

75. ... Rd5

(Double-protection of pawns re-established, centre and kingside secure. Note that when the black rook transferred to the d-file almost all white tricks seeking stalemate evaporated. Now the black aim is to get the black king into the kingside to support pawn advances. And for those keeping count, this is now 34 moves since the black consolidation of the d6 pawn, will this game ever end?)

76. Rg1 Kb3
77. Rg3+ Kc4
78. Rg1 Rd3

(Black could instead drag the king back to d6 and try to charge up the f-file. White might try to put the rook on f2, but then black has pawn h4 and pawn g3, the white rook cannot control the f-file and restrain the black pawns, another case of overloading.)

79. Rh1 Rh3

(Retreating with 79. … Rd5 80. Rg1 is gaining nothing.)

80. Rg1 Rh2

(Double-protection of pawns on again. Yes, we have been here before, but now the black king is centralised and has a simple route into the kingside. Fine, but surely on h2 the black rook has re-created that potential stalemate trap previously avoided? Stalemating ideas are only possible if the black king denies the white king access to the c2 flight square.)

81. Rg3 Kd4
82. Rd3+ Ke4

(A variation on the theme, black avoids 82. … Kxd3+ stalemate.)

83. Ra3 Rf2

(Vacating h2, the h5 pawn is ready to run.)

84. Ra4+ 

(There is nothing better, shuffling on the white 3rd rank fails, the black h-pawn just rolls through.)

84. ... Kf3
85. Ra3+ Kg2 0-1

(Nothing sensible can stop the black h-pawn. With 41. … Rf6 black consolidated the rook ending, it then took 44 moves to arrive at resignation. Patience in endgames is not only a virtue but sometimes a necessity.)

Paul Benson

Down To The Last Seconds

U.S. Blind Open Championship Round 6, annotated by FM Tyson Mordue

BARRASSO, Alex vs LAUSER, Jessica US BLIND OPEN CHAMP (6), 21.07.2023

This is the critical last round game from the over-the-board version of the U. S. Blind Open held at Elmhurst, Illinois, in July. Fittingly it's between the old and the new champion and builds to a tense finish.

1. e4 d6
2. d4 c6
3. Nf3 Qc7
4. Nc3 Nd7
5. Bd3 e5
6. 0-0 Ngf6

After a few deviations into other openings we are now in a Philidor's Defence. This is a cramped choice by Jessica who lacks space for her pieces. One would expect her to be looking for exchanges but that doesn't happen, so I expect she was playing to win and swapping pieces was not part of a general game plan.

7. h3 h6
8. Be3 Be7
9. a4 a5
10. Qd2 Nf8

These are all moves that I would expect to see in a Philidor's or several other double King's Pawn openings. The main feature is that the advance of the a7- Pawn means Black isn't castling Queenside, so where is the Black King going?

11. Nh2 g5

This sets the tone for the game. Jessica wants to attack on the Kingside. In reply Alex swaps Pawns on e5 and attempts to play through the centre and on the Queenside, the classic counter to enemy play on the wing.

12. f3 Ng6
13. dxe5 dxe5
14. Qf2 Be6
15. Bb6 Qc8

This is quite deep stuff. On the face of it it's so easy to say that White should play 16. Rad1 here instead. However, Alex clearly intends to follow up with Bf1 to bolster his Kingside so that's why it's this Rook.

Okay, so why not put this Rook on e1 instead you may ask? Well, there's already a certain looseness to the White Kingside and the White Queen and a Rook on e1 make a tempting target for a potential …Be7-h4 later on. Yes, White can answer g2-g3 but what about the White Pawn on h3? Hence Alex is thinking a long way ahead here. White's a1 Rook may be slow getting into the game but Black's a8 Rook is in a similar state. Then again White can possibly double Rooks on the d- file whereas the b6 Bishop means Black won't be doing the same. 16…Nh5

17. Bf1 g4!?

This is not a blunder or an oversight. This is a deeply-considered positional Pawn sacrifice. It's also a clear statement of "I'm coming to get you!"

The main point is that it frees up the Black e7 Bishop to access the weak dark squares in White's camp. There are other ways that Jessica could have played the position but this is certainly one of the most interesting and direct! Ironically it also reinforces the point that Alex did choose the right square for his Rook earlier.

18. Nxg4

Probably the most solid way to take by keeping his Pawn structure as it is.

19. Qd2 Nhf4
20. Ne2 h5
21. Nxf4 exf4
22. Nh2?

Personally, I don't think that Black has enough compensation for the Pawn here, but I don't like this move. The Knight doesn't seem to do anything on this square and it can't move from it either. There is a theory that it's good to surround a King with pieces for defensive purposes, but I like mine to be doing something, not just being there for show. 22. Nf2 and out to d3 is the better move.


Admittedly this is castling on to a shattered wing, but there is no practical alternative and, curiously, the Black King proves to be safe enough.

23. Bf2?!

I wonder if Alex overlooked the reply to this. Some players would have strongly considered 23. Bxa5 snatching a second Pawn and asking Jessica to prove what she has for them. White of course would have a Queenside majority and the a1 Rook in a prime place to help it advance. I like 23. Qc3 improving the Queen and keeping the options open.


An annoying move. It exploits the White Knight's lack of squares after 24. Bxg3 hxg3, and it intends 24…h4 locking the Bishop in place and making it a long-term asset.

I think Alex finds the right way to deal with this shortly, but I'm not sure his next move is necessary. The immediate 24. Bd3 may be better and 24. Bc5 or d4 may be improvements.

24. Qe1 Qc7

If 24…h4. then 25. Ng4 gets the Knight out. Now the pressure on h3 is reduced Alex gets the steed out by a different route.

25. Bd3 Rae8?!

I'm not sure what this is meant to do. It's difficult to say that e8 is a better square for this piece and shortly it leads to a critical decision for Black. A much more natural move is 25…Qe5 improving the Queen and preventing both Bd4 and Bc5 for White, and there's not much wrong with 25…Rad8 either.

26. Nf1 h4!?

When you see White's 28th move do you wish you'd swapped Bishops instead?

27. Nxg3

So White gets to swap his poor Knight for that fine Black Bishop, but that's an equally fine Black Pawn replacing it and it's well-supported.

28. Bc5

Now it's easy enough to play 28…Ne7 to avoid losing an Exchange, but Black had ways of avoiding this inconvenience on move 25.

This is a critical moment. Jessica decides to surrender the Exchange as well, but it's important to point out that her own DSB has left the board already. In the resulting position she's replying very heavily on a breakthrough on h3 and tactical tricks on the g1–a7 diagonal, but Alex's central control should be enough to keep him ahead. However, from now on the Black Pawn on g3 takes on increasingly larger significance.

29. Be2 

This is a natural move covering f3 to rule out …Bxh3 sacs, but it could be a subtle mistake with some long-lasting consequences. This Bishop should really be on f1 to give extra coverage to the h3 square. Deep Rybka also says 29. Bf1 Bxh3 30. Qd2! followed by 31. Qxf4 will refute that tactic anyway. Meanwhile the hemmed-in Rook on f8 isn't going anywhere.

30. Qf1

This is a natural follow-up to the previous move but I don't like the Queen here. It's way too defensive. This is where I want the Bishop and I'd have been looking for earlier improvements. 30…Kg7

31. Bxf8+ Rxf8
32. Rd6 Bxh3

Saccing here before White sacs on e6. The latter would leave Alex with some technical difficulties converting his extra Pawn to a win, but Black would have no winning chances at all. Hence Jessica goes all in.

33. gxh3 Rh8
34. Rad1 b5

I probably wouldn't have done this as Black gets the c5 square to check on, but Alex has seen further and realises that he gets the d5 square for his Rooks. The lateral control of the fifth rank is the decisive factor.

36. c3??

In chess it is vital to be consistent. Both sides are attacking and this is no time to defend meaningless Pawns. 36. R1d5! is the move to play. The difference is that after 36…Rxh3 37. Rd8 there is no check on c5 and now 37…Qe6 38. R5d6 runs the Queen out of squares from which it can defend the h3 Rook. This difference will become apparent in the next note.


Missing a fleeting chance. Deep Rybka claims that after 36… Rxh3 Black is winning!

The point is that for the Rook sacrificed Black has a fixed local superiority near the White King in the form of the f4 and g3 Pawns. If they can co-operate with other Black pieces then there are potential mating nets. The only White units doing defensive work are the Queen and Bishop which are both badly hampered by the local Pawn structure. Black's main route into the White King position is via h3, but as White is protecting it with his Queen Black has to take with his Rook then find some way to vertically back that up with his own Queen, say via h8, and threaten …Rh1+ followed by a Queen mate on h2 or h3.

The difficulty for Black is that after 36…Rxh3 37. Rd8 cuts off the Queen from h8. and there are limited squares on the c8-h3 diagonal from which her Majesty can continue to support the h3 Rook. However, there is 37…Qc5+ and this is where things get rather awkward for both humans and engines. Obviously 38. Kg2 is answered by an immediate mate with 38…Rh2, but both Rooks can interpose on d4. 38. R1d4 is the better move - I'll explain why in a moment - after which Black plays 38…Rh2 again. Now Black intends 39…Nc6 forking the Rooks and allowing 40…Qh5 to support 41…Rh1 mate, so White's best is probably 39. R8d5 - this option left open by interposing the hinder Rook. However, Black then momentarily goes in reverse with 39…Qe7 threatening 40…Qh4 and White has no effective parry to the mate in the long term.

This is a lot for any human in time-trouble to work out. The maneuver …Qc8-c5- e7-h4 is hard to see. It was also a lot for the engine which changed its evaluation several times whilst working out the variations here, and I haven't even given all the possible lines.

Basically …Rxh3 is a strategic must for Black so it should be played, whilst …Qc5+ is a tactical resource so should be kept for an emergency. In the game Black never gets to the chance to take on h3 again and that's the title-deciding difference.

37. R1d4 Qc8

At first sight 37…Nc6 looks like a better move but 38. R6d5 Qa7 39. Qc1 intending 40. Qxf4 collapsing Black's Kingside is strong. The tempo gained for Bf1 to defend h3 is very handy, and bear in mind White is a Rook up here so he can comfortably afford to return an Exchange.

38. R4d5 Ng6

Black is now a whole tempo down on previous lines. As pointed out to the note at White's 36th the difference is that 38…Rxh3 39. Rd8 Qe6 - no check on c5 - 40. R5d6 and the Queen runs out of squares on the c8-h3 diagonal.

Hence the Knight is really en prise and something has to be done about it. Personally I would prefer 38…f6 to anchor the Knight and maintain control of d7 thus preventing White's next which cuts off the Black Queen from h3. However, 38…f6 39. Bxb5 Rxh3? is met by 40. Rd7+! severing said line anyway.

39. Rd7 Nh4

Intending …g3-g2 but that will just encourage the White Queen to come to f2 with all manner of threats. Black needs a Queen check first on the a7-g1 diagonal to force Kg1–h1 g3-g2+ but the White Rooks cover all the squares.

40. Rg5+ Kf6
41. Rdd5 g2

If 41…Qc7 42. Qd1 Qb6+ 43. Qd4 is a winning crosscheck.

42. Qf2 Ng6

If 42…Qxh3 43. Qd4+ Ke7 44. Re5+ Kf8 45 Rd8+ Kg7 46. Rg5+ and mate next move. I'd have made White play this.

43. Qd4+ Ke7
44. Rxg6!

The mark of an experienced player. By taking out the principal defender of the Black King Alex knows he should win easily, particularly as Jessica has only increments left on the clock.

45. Re5+ Kf7
46. Qd5+ Kg7
47. Re7+ Kh6
48. Kxg2 b4
49. h4

Coolly finished by Alex. After the sac on move 44 there may have been quicker wins available, but with Jessica's own King blocking the principal line of counterattack there is no longer any doubt. 1–0


Mate in 2 and 3

The following puzzles increase in their degree of difficulty. For each, both the FEN notation and the piece by piece algebraic locations are given. These are adapted from https://www.wtharvey.com/. Each solution is under a heading that says “Solution.”

Mate in two. White to move.



White pieces:

King: c3; Rooks at a1 and d5

Black pieces

King: a4; Rooks: b7 and e2; Pawn: a3.


1.Rxa3+ Kxa3

###Mate in three: White to move. Cristobal Henriquez Villagra vs Cristobal

Torres, Santiago, 2019


/1rb5/1p2k2r/p5n1/2p1pp2/2B5/6P1/PPPB1PP1/2KR4 or:

White pieces

King: c1; Rook: d1; Bishops: c4 and d2; Pawns: a2, b2, c2, f2, g2, g3.

Black pieces

King: e7; Rooks: b8 and h7; Bishop: c8; Knight: g6; Pawns: a6, b7, c5, e5, f5,


if 1...Kf8 
2.Rd8+ Kg7 

Difficult: Hint: White prevents the mating attack. CM FaustiOro vs CM

Kingscrusher, lichess, (2005)



White pieces

King: c1, Rooks: e1 and e8; Bishop: c4; Pawns: a3, c2, c3, g3, h2

Black pieces

King: b8; Rooks: d2 and d8; Bishop: f5; Pawns: a7, b6, c7, g6, h7.



Contact Information

Should you have questions, comments, or feedback, please send them to the Secretary, Marilyn Bland, at tinkerbelltx@hotmail.com