Jon Speelman's Agony Column #2

by ChessBase
5/18/2016 – In his second "Agony Column" Jon Speelman presents a mix of "Agony" and "Ecstasy", feelings that arguably are familiar to every serious chessplayer and sometimes occur side-by-side in one single game. The focus today is on tactics and calculation but Jon Speelman again offers lots of practical advice on how to think and make decsions in practical games.

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ChessBase Agony Column #2 Wednesday May 18th 2016

This week I thought we'd look at tactics and calculation. These two topics which are intertwined are perhaps the most crucial aspect of chess since positional play, however refined, will get you nowhere if you blunder.

As with everything else at the chess board, the most important thing is to try to orientate yourself and to make reasonable demands both on the position and yourself. If you try to attack when your opponent has a strong defensive position then the attack normally ought to founder. If you believe that there ought to be a winning line then if you can't find a knockout in a reasonable time, look for something simple which gives you sufficient advantage.

Conversely, don't try to find the perfect line which is so complicated that it bamboozles you. There are very few perfectionists today even among the world's very top players with the exception of Alexander Grischuk: and he has a terrible propensity for time trouble however well he then handles it.

We start with a very interesting position from a game by Dave Couture: a software engineer in his fifties from Massachusetts rated in the 1800s who has produced an ebook Progressive Tactics available on Amazon. The "Agony" he sent me was indeed horrible – a game where he won a rook early on and then "played down to his opponent's strength" to the extent that he managed to lose. We'll therefore draw a veil over it but the "Ecstasy" is most interesting: a win against Carissa Yip one of America's most promising young female players and still now only in her early teens.

Dave Couture v Carissa Yip, Position after 18.Bb4 (Black to play)

The main position I want to highlight is the diagram where before looking at the game below you might like to consider two questions.

1. Can you give a general assessment of what is going on?
2. How might Black try to take action immediately (nothing tremendous, just an idea).


The other games this week are both online efforts at PlayChess by Alfonso Lagman Jr, an NHS Biomedical scientist originally from the Philippines. He lives in Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire in the south of England and plays exclusively online. He was the winner of both games but sad that in the second he had allowed his opponent a chance during what had otherwise been a very nice game.

I'm just going to look at the critical positions.





Many thanks for your continuing emails which are the life blood of this column. Please do send games – preferably a pair of "Agony" and "Ecstasy" but a single good game is also fine. The best format is either ChessBase .cbv or .pgn as an attachment. I can also lift games in text format from the body of an email and paste them into the growing database.


About the author

Jon was born in 1956 and became a professional player in 1977 after graduating from Worcester College Oxford where he read mathematics. He became an IM in 1977 a GM in 1980 and was a member of the English Olympic team from 1980-2006. Three times British Champion he played twice in the Candidates reaching the semi-final (of what was then a knockout series of matches) in 1989 when he lost 4.5 - 3.5 to Jan Timman. He's twice been a second at the world championship for Nigel Short and then Viswanathan Anand against Garry Kasparov in London 1993 and New York 1995. He's written for the Observer (weekly) since 1993 and The Independent since 1998. With its closure (going online, but without Jon on board) he's expanding online activity and is also now offering online tuition. He likes puzzles especially (cryptic) crosswords and killer sudokus. If you'd like to contact Jon, then please write to

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