Archive for the ‘Personal Interest & Experience’ Category

If I were up for it, I would play in this.

But I am not up for it, Mentally I am not strong enough and I am awaiting results from blood tests. I cannot play chess. I cannot do anything. I just sit and wait and hope for a brighter future.

Mark. J. McCready 10.57pm, Monday May 1st,

Purgatory, Bangkok

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Suppose that you have a job, you have income, and you have time off -like most of us. Suppose that you take holidays and like to factor chess into them. That could mean entering a tournament or maybe just visiting a club to meet locals and survey the scene there -with a few pics for your Instagram account, or Facebook or whatever your preferred social media platform is.

Don’t tell me you don’t use any of them, I know you do!

Does this sound quite normal or quite abnormal? I can assure you, having been posted abroad for almost a quarter of a century now, it’s common to meet chess players who travel abroad to play our beautiful game because the options are boundless all year round. A great many do it, but I apologize, I can’t give you an exact number. Instead, let’s just assume it to be in the tens of thousands of those who have and continue to do so. Professional players, of course, make their living by travelling and playing chess at the same time, some of whom are on record as stating they have done so in over 100 countries. Admittedly, I have only played chess in 6 different countries, posing as the official photographer in only one of them.

We all blunder in chess no matter how good we are. The only difference being the frequency with which it occurs. We blunder away in life too, although this may be less obvious, depending on how well you know yourself, your take on consequentialism, and various other mitigating factors aided and abetted by your own drunkeness, tomfoolery, absentmindedness, dubious driving habits…I could go on.

Don’t do drugs!

Let us suppose you twice intend to visit the very same chess club on your hols, putting in the necessary groundwork in beforehand, establishing where the club is located, when they meet, and so on. But it doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen on your first trip. It doesn’t happen on your second trip. Why? How can a scheduled part of your holiday not come into play, and not just once but twice?

In asking such a broad question, invariably a multitude of plausible explanations arise. And not only that, crucial elements can be easily overlooked too. For example, what happens to people when they go on holiday? Do they stay the same or do they go into party mode and just want to have fun? After all, that’s what holidays are supposed to be all about right? Over the years I’ve seen all sorts of things go on including chess players spend thousands travelling half-way round the world to enter a prestigious international tournament and then weren’t even capable of making it out of their hotel let alone make it to the first round, owing to a drink problem so severe they were paralytic before the tournament began, as the tournament started, and then only got worse. I’ve seen GMs fly on in and party so hard they would resurface at each round looking either massively hung over or completely drunk still from the night before, causing them to behave erratically at the board and sometimes just resign on the spot. On one occasion a GM fell so far down the rankings, he was paired against one of my friends, who I have beaten in the past as we were both rated about 1900 then. Even my friend beat him because he was that hung over and didn’t want to play on!

Life doesn’t always go as planned, we all learn that as we mature. On holiday the likelihood increases as we tend to enjoy ourselves too much and this often factors in an excess of things, which aren’t good for us. Things like alcohol and drugs for example. Sometimes things develop which are good for us but derail our plans. You might meet a nice woman you want to spend time with, which might take priority over previously made plans. When you go abroad wanting to have a bit of fun, its hard to know exactly where it will take you, and for that reason what you had planned may not come about. As long as we’ve had some fun and enjoyed ourselves, our plans can be cast aside for another time, can’t they? Isn’t that how it goes?

I recently visited Cambodia, and its capital Phnom Penh. I see it as my second home in Asia because I used to live and work there and know the place pretty well. It’s a place where I can meet former colleagues, close friends, ex-girlfriends and enjoy a thriving ex-pat scene. It’s a city that has shown a greater degree of progress over the last 15 years than any other in south-east Asia and has a lot to offer. Not only that, the Khmer people are sincere, humble and hard-working. They are also very friendly and pretty good at speaking English too. They occupy a city untainted by tourism, and that cannot be said of the bigger cities in the same region. Unlike Bangkok, the closest major city to it, Phnom Penh isn’t a tourist trap full of hustle and bustle all day and all night long. Instead, it offers relaxing walks along the riverside, adorned by royal palaces and feels far more laid back. There are no roads gridlocked by traffic, only streets where anyone will offer their services to you if you need something or cannot find your way around. A stark contrast indeed.

Seen from the riverside Phnom Penh.

But despite my efforts I never did make it to the chess club on both my recent trips and I am too ashamed to say why. Okay, well I was whilst writing the previous sentence but I am not now. On the first occasion my own very bad habits got the better of me and made me so sick I had to spend days in bed recovering, missing the opportunity, and on the second I was accompanied by an ex-girlfriend from back yonder and that…erm, well, dominated proceedings shall we say. Or should we say being a romantic old fool, I didn’t want to leave her side? Unabashed hedonism with no regard to the consequences was what wiped out the chance of any chess and it’s absolutely fine, it really is. On my list of ‘to do’ things it wasn’t very high up. And what is true of my chess is true of my life too. I have made so many blunders throughout my life that they are no longer soul-destroying, having just rendered hours of effort to emerge victorious no longer possible. When I blunder in chess and life, the result is always the same. I feel nothing. Part of me expects it at some point. If I do not blunder yes there is a sense of relief but that is all I am capable of feeling: that and only that. I am not sad that I didn’t visit Phnom Penh Chess Club. Why? Because holidays can and do go badly wrong sometimes. Crime exists everywhere. Only death is real when confronted with your own. And no you won’t like it very much. And no you won’t know what to do. Most certainly it will radically alter the nature of your holiday, and for me, trigger an arresting escalation from being robbed on a deserted street late at night, as happened on the first visit, where all I lost was all my possessions instead of my life. May I offer some advice? As Franklyn D. Roosevelt once said ‘the only thing you have to fear is fear itself’. If danger, or wrongly perceived danger, comes your way, just punch your way out of it. Twice I tried to do that and twice my soon to be opponent backed off super-swiftly. It’s just a shame I couldn’t keep it up. Almost all who threaten only do so to scare you into getting what they want. And they will do so mercilessly because at the bottom of it all lies the undeniable truth that in Asia: life is cheap. Turn the tables on them with real intent and watch what happens -and don’t take too long about it either! Tough when your life is on the line but necessary. It will stop your opponent from thinking about killing you and suddenly start them thinking about how to defend themselves instead. Anger -and yes I do mean of the explosive kind- is your saviour, and your only saviour trust me -just don’t kill anyone!

And on that note I had better leave it there once more proud of myself for employing a Nietzschean technique, which my professor described as ‘pulling the rug from under your feet’.

‘From the military school of life: That which does not kill me only makes me stronger’.

F. Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

Comment from fan of the site: ‘I see this McCready is at it again, he loves to break the boundaries of chess just because he thinks its too conservative. He loves to trick you into thinking the content is chess-related then pulls you in different directions and inserts content that alters your emotions whilst reading. I take my hat off to him, he’s bloody good at it but I wish I hadn’t read this. Who wants to read about what to do if their life is threatened. He really is a bad sport this McCready fellow.

Comment from critique of the site: ‘I don’t like this post. That bloody McCready has put the fear of god up me! I was going to go to Rio De Janeiro but I think I’ll go to Bognor Regis instead! No I won’t! I’m going nowhere now! I’m staying at home! Bloody terrible post this is! Wish I hadn’t have read it now!’

Mark. J. McCready 6.39pm, Saturday April 29th 2023,

Laksi, Bangkok

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“Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.”

Aristotle -Politics

What would he have made of those who opt for online chess instead of OTB chess I wonder?

The Unhindered

Been back in Thailand for over three months now I have. Meet every Friday upstairs in The Royal Oak pub, Sukhumvit 33/1 Bangkok Chess Club does.

The Royal Oak, formerly The Red Bull

A little noisy it is, a little cramped for space too, but for a club moved on every couple years or so, our latest home is tolerable. Whether good (il buono), bad (il cattivo), or ugly (il brutto), I will still like it and enjoy going there most weeks. It’s a stark contrast to what I left behind: life in the desert was getting to me, of that there is no doubt but now unhindered’ I can do as I so wish -phew!

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly final scene

If anything, it has been a slow and gradual welcome return to the fold. In Bangkok for more than fifteen years to play chess now I have been, and make many friends along the way I did, most of whom are still here plying their trade OTB with a steady pint on hand by their board. Highlight of the week it is, play in the blitz tournaments I do always, even though play well I usually don’t. The topography of Bangkok Chess Club is a tough terrain, not just because the playing premises is subject to upheaval biennially…or thereabouts, but more so that several stalwarts aside you never do know who will turn up week to week. You don’t know how many also, with numbers varying between five to thirty usually. There’s a different bunch that make up the numbers as each week passes, predominantly ex-pats sometimes, predominantly local players sometimes, a mix of both usually. There’s a sense of continuity and impermanence stood side by side at Bangkok Chess Club, making each visit to the club both familiar and unpredictable. For me the overarching emotion in play is a sense of belonging. Neither a tourist nor resident, I am one who comes and goes, never staying for too long or too short a time. Not part of the furniture and not one of the passers by either, somewhere in between I am… .

Because of an unwitting and enveloping sense of ‘this is my home’ has grown and grown since my return to the club, it has made OTB chess a rock in my life. Always a pleasant night out where enjoy the occasion I do; the social aspect of the evening more dominant than the competitive side of it always it is… .

The Unabashed

Unleashed from the desert, now entering the city aka BKK was a breath of fresh air in itself. Just seeing people congregate on a sky train freely was enough per se not to mention seeing women in public, dressed as they so wish. Quickly, a spectacle was there to behold with nightlife awaiting. Having spent many years in Bangkok already, I knew everything was on sale, drink, drugs, women, anything I wanted, and plenty of it too. This meant that I started drinking alcohol in the chess club then was off out partying after it had finished ‘unabashed’. Cider was thy tipple in numerous bars in the red light district.

Magners Cider by the board

All this I had to reign in within a month or so because, as anyone can tell you, chess and alcohol do not mix very well. As the night went on, my play got worse and worse, reaching the point where I was blundering thus losing too frequently. It had to stop. So it did stop, and diet coca-cola soon took over. For sure thy cider enhanced the social aspects of the evening and assisted in mood elevation but on the chess front, it was not acceptable, so I pushed it out, and out it stays. Boycotting booze OTB is both good for my health and good for my wallet but what soon followed I didn’t expect. I curtailed partying too, and a month or so later, cut it out, and accompanying loose women I kept dating unsobered. Normality ensued, reigned supreme, and stayed put. There were no more cancellations to the chess club for the likes of her.

I spent quite a few evenings with her

Her nickname is ‘Nan’, her real name ‘Pannada’ and she’s 29 years old. She’s from up north, Nong Bua Lamphu to be exact, and came to like me quite a bit that night she pulled me out of the chess club -which I took as a compliment. Certify I can, she has quite a body on her 🙂 (and before you ask, yes of course I’ve had my hands all over her countless times but no Luton’s handsomest chess player is not telling you what his favourite part of her body is and not through faulty memory because I was bloody drunk all the time!) What the picture, perhaps, doesn’t show you is that when she wears make up and dresses herself up she really is a very beautiful woman.

The Unflappable

Rather than fool around/about/again drinking excessively at the club, making bad videos for this site, I started to focus on my chess more and more week by week. At first, it was far from easy: online chess has altered my level of concentration when I play so much, too much in fact, making me prone to make mistakes more because online chess is rather unserious, a corollary of which being concentration levels are nominalized. So step by step, I stopped online chess altogether, deleted the apps from my Samsung A8 tablet and focused solely on OTB chess aka the real thing.

Thy trusty tablet. With all online chess apps deleted

Notice that with OTB chess the ability of your opponent differs much more greatly than it does with online chess I did and take some weeks to adjust to it took. Was rusty me off the pace with blitz being played at 3m 2s per game? Yes. So speed up I did. Gradually, my results began improving but only because I lost on time less often. Emotions during play had to be contained, something I put into practice by not allowing myself to give up if a mistake was made, for the simple reason you could still win on time. Taught myself to become unflappable’ I have, and to focus solely on my next move during play became the norm. Adjusting to etiquette OTB, and FIDE rules too, has taken time. You can’t, for example, knock a piece over, press your clock, then put it back on its square. That’s illegal and loses you the game on the spot but easily done it is. And spotting illegal moves with so little time on the clock is not as easy as you might think, most often with kings not being moved out of check -immediate loss.

Three months have come and gone. The desire to act like a playboy do what I want has as well. What is left is a ‘to do what’s right OTB’ attitude. To win. To win more. And more still. The light at the end of the tunnel -pride in oneself! Chess has become a rock. ‘I am a rock, I am an island’ as Simon and Garfunkel once together sang.

Yes I do have a colourful life, don’t I? Quite unlike that of your average chess player, isn’t it? Wonder why? What if I told you under no circumstances whatsoever should I still be alive? And no I am not joking… .

I was sitting at home and had a profound experience. I experienced, in all of my being, that someday I was going to die, and it wouldn’t be like it had been happening, almost dying but somehow staying alive, but I would just die! And two things would happen right before I died: I would regret my entire life; I would want to live it over again. This terrified me. The thought that I would live my entire life, look at it and realize I blew it forced me to do something with my life.

Hubert Selby Jr.

Mark. J. McCready, 5.33pm, Tuesday, February 21st.

Chachoengsao, Thailand.

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You may have noticed that I am, on the whole, disdainful of chess literature. In case you ever wondered why, these comments (under the username olcmarcus) pretty much sum up my position on the matter.

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CHESS, May 1952, Vol.17 no.200, p154

In 1951, it was decided to run an International Union of Students’ Chess Tournament in conjunction with the National Union of Students’ Arts Festival at Liverpool this Easter. The British Universities’ Chess Association co-operated, and some eight teams with three players in each were expected to meet from April 4th to April 10th, but by the opening date only one Belgian, one Dane and one Indian were at Liverpool to meet the British and Finnish teams. It was known that players were to come from the Soviet Union, and their non-appearance brought many enquiries from reporters. There was no “mystery” about the matter; the late choice of players had meant late applications for visas. In fact, only four days was required for the issue of these once Bronstein and Taimanov were known to be waiting in Prague.

The three individual players were grouped into an “International” team, and while awaiting the arrival of the Russians a short Tourney was held in which Finland beat Britain by 2-1, and the International team by the same margin, while the British trio beat the latter by 3-0.

The Soviet Grandmaster and Master arrived at 6 a. m. on April 10th, and a tournament was hastily arranged with the fast time limit of 40 moves in two hours. This was unfortunately necessary, as two games a day had to be played on two of the five days available. The other competitors were the Finnish master Pastuhoff and his fellow-countrymen Nyren and Rutanen with the Danish player Dinsen and the Indian Katragadda.

As was to be expected, the Russians won all their games against the other players, though they met stiff opposition. Nyren had a drawn position against Bronstein after 40 moves but was outplayed in the ending. The draw between the Russian players was a bitterly contested struggle. Taimanov, a concert pianist by profession, gave short recitals to the other competitors, and Bronstein’s work at the British section of the Institute of Languages in Moscow was of great service, even if he appeared to speak our language rather more quickly than most British people!

Unfortunately the impossibility of issuing advance publicity meant that few spectators witnessed the rare spectacle of two Soviet masters playing in a tourney in Britain.

In their individual game Bronstein avoided a draw by repetition on the fifteenth move, and after intense study of the transition to the middle game obtained a superior position, but as the time limit approached he had to make twelve moves in three minutes. At this point Taimanov sacrificed a piece for an attack which gained him a draw by perpetual check, Bronstein having missed a winning line.

The text above has been lifted from the following site:

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Welcome back to my blog after a hiatus of nearly a month. Once more I sit with the lights off and air con on, only this time there is a carefully placed humidifier below it for I have upped ship and sailed off to the desert. Although locations do, some things never change. Again I sit naked in front of my computer in the dark, yes it’s the middle of the night. There is a can of diet Pepsi to my side, which I have only just started. It is 12.41 am exactly, and having slept already, I am all yours. A fortnight ago I fell into the habit of going to bed at 6 pm and waking up in the middle of the night, this is no exception… .

Since the Olympiad, I have put chess to one side and just got on with my life. No games played on line. No on line events followed either. No chess at all for a month or so, whilst my glorious summer holiday ended and a working life resumed. I don’t know what constitutes downtime for I don’t know how much time must elapse, but we could say we are in one…well I just stopped thinking about chess per se. In terms of motivating myself to get back into our beautiful game, you could say ‘the chips are down’ with no allusions to jiggery-pokery in play, only the use of metaphor.

Today, a major event in the chess calendar begins:

All eyes will be on the world champion and the gathering of elite players he is pitted against. I won’t be following it for it starts past my bed time. But I do recommend you take a peek.

I will sign off now. I am in a land that fielded a team at the Olympiad which I could beat quite easily if I wanted to. Does this alter my interest in chess itself, I mean to be in a non-chess playing nation of sorts? Well it does but oh-so slightly. More importantly, life moves on and whether we like it or not we must readjust to changing circumstances and what they ask, or demand, of us. I am no longer on holiday and cannot watch chess tournaments unfolding at my leisure, as much as I may like to.

I will touch base again once I have thought of something else to say.

Mark. J. McCready 12.53 am, September 2nd 2022

Room 306, Helwa Apartments

Sakaka, Saudi Arabia

That’s me to your right,. Taken four years ago. Shot style: headbanging mode methinks.

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Laos managed to draw their match against the British Virgin Islands yesterday rather than lose 4-0. They have a point in the table now. Let us hope they pick up another or even a victory but most importantly at all, let us remember the character of the Laotians and hope/assume that no matter what the results are, they are enjoying themselves -highly probable. And so even though they face tougher opponents today, let’s hope their national character wins through and it’s fun all round!

Pak Beng, deep into the Laotian countryside and only accessible by the river Mekong at the time. Do you know I once spent an evening there some 22 years ago in early Feb? There was only one hill, only some of it had electricity, most restaurants used candles when serving evening meals. I slept on wooden boards in a hut further up the hill. There the morning after, I still remember a toddler chase after some weird looking fruit rolling down the hill (which eventually ran out of speed in a puddle, which all excited, he then coveted with a big surreptitious smile) and that further up the hill was a different tribe with their own language as you would expect. Being a tourist, all the locals wanted to sell you was food, pens or drugs -and being me I went and got high whilst there in one of the restaurants and yes I still remember standing on the banks of the river looking at the stars, pointing them out until I got rounded up by a taken aback policeman and sent off to my wooden hut -ah those were the days!
T’was about there where I stood below a glassy evening sky, pointing out the stars.

The reason I stopped off in Pak Beng was because I took the boat to Luang Prabang. So highly recommended by all. I remember wandering around streets not knowing where I was going (because I couldn’t think straight and didn’t know if I had already walked down that street already), then running into the couple I started chatting to at the restaurant when I bumped into them by chance. ‘Where’ve you been? They asked with some exasperation since we got on so well in the restaurant in Pak Beng until, well until, well until it was, erm, well…the conversation became a bit intense and started to wander at the same time also…well anyway so I put on an act and said I wasn’t well and rubbed my forehead to back it up with a slight swoon…in retrospect that was better than saying I got out of it on that shit! But the thing is, for that little tourist loop, it was quite the norm amongst backpackers back then -so I was fitting in really!

Anyway, I am not suggesting you should visit Laos and go and get high, but from personal experience, I am not sure what else you could do. I most certainly don’t recommend getting high then putting about 60 kms on your bike across the countryside in the dark -that you should not do believe me. Ah maybe drink beer and look for someone to play chess on the street? They have their own version of chess there, so be ready, it’s much more popular and you can get a game on the street anywhere, so yes, now thinking about it, do that (but not whilst high). Beer + local variants of chess, and a few photographs…phew I finally worked out how to spend time in Laos more productively!

They might be up for a game or two but which version of chess will they play.

Mark. J. McCready 11.15am August 3rd

Laksi Bangkok

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I so nearly forgot that tragedy lurks round every corner and can’t be avoided indefinitely. Regarding the lottery, in the mid 90s there was a very tragic case where a young man killed himself because of the lottery. He spent time wondering whether to spend one pound on a valentine’s card for his girlfriend or putting it on the lottery. He chose not to play the lottery that week but his numbers came in and he would have won. But he spent that money on a card and got so angry with himself, he killed himself. A real tragedy I heard over the radio. Sympathies for his family… .

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The draft save is Feb 12th 2021 and this is about as far as I got. What it doesn’t say in the don’ts’s is don’t play it against people who are much better than you! I say this because you concede a lot of space, and if that’s used well you are in a difficult situation to put it mildly. Since this draft save I have adopted the Sicilian with 2. …e6 as it is more solid and gives you more chances. I really ought to point out here that I did play the St. George’s solidly for at least 6 months at a very busy time (300-500 games) but I am by no means a professional player. The book written by Basman I found to be rather poor but he did seem to know that if the centre is closed, you have to play on the flanks or you will get squashed basically. It’s a fun/novelty opening that can really throw your opponent but I certainly wouldn’t try to build a repertoire around it as its only a matter of time before you’ll be shot down in flames. What is written below is entirely from my own experience, and it became very rare that I was troubled in the opening.

The Do’s which provide playable middlegames.

-understand you are conceding the centre therefore you must play on the flanks.

-understand you gain space on the queenside and so that is where you should play. Attacks on the kingside come later, once your opponent is stretched somewhat or at least attending to your play on the queenside.

-minor piece development order is usually queen’s bishop, king’s knight, king’s bishop, and lastly, queen’s knight.

-you have less space than white and so one or two minor pieces should be exchanged so that you have more room for manoeuvre. White will find it easy to attack if this does not happen.

-because you will develop the queen onto a dark square -most likely b6- you should wait for your opponent to commit his light-squared bishop first unless it can be challenged immediately.

-do try to exchange the c-pawn whenever the opportunity arises because it makes it easier to use the b-file, and if the position stays closed you can’t generate counter play.

-given that it is unorthodox either your opponent won’t set his pieces up correctly, will sit and do nothing or will over-extend, if your play is harmonious he will find it hard.

-try to prevent the queen from gaining access to the kingside if possible. It’s the only option has but it can be deadly. In general you are too committed to the queenside to cope with sacrifices or exchanges which open lines.

-do try to understand its an unconventional opening rarely played, which means your opponent probably won’t know what to do and will go for a passive set up.

-if an early a4 is played, push on with b4. It is played to try and gain the c4 square, which you should not allow for that is a concession which will prevent you from opening the game up.

The Don’ts’ which get you out of the opening with a playable position

-don’t think in terms of transposition to The French or The Sicilian are not quite possible and likely to weaken your position quite a bit.

-don’t allow your opponent to gain a three pawn central majority because you won’t be able to undermine it.

‘the king’s knight shouldn’t stay pinned. h6 seems to work well, Be7 is less risky than Qb6, in general the queen isn’t needed on the queenside until mid to late middlegame. Remember, if the centre closes, the King can stay there.

-don’t come out of the opening with no minor pieces exchanged. Aim for two if possible as your position is rather cramped. Almost certainly the king’s bishop and quite often the queens knight.

…push the b-pawn early as its often a useful moves that alters the set up of the white queenside…

…it could be argued that because The St.Georges Defence is passive there is a greater necessy for black to free himself up and for the opening and early middle game that involves generating counter-play on the queeside and utilizing that, often to attack the white centre.

The black queen is a piece that has to be deployed carefully, sometimes it is best to wait because it may not be needed on the queenside, and is often targetted when placed there. It’s best square is seeingly b6, transfering pressure from e4 to d4 but care must be taken so that a bishop doesn’t come to b3 and a knight doesn’t hop into d5 or c4. Queen placement is probably the move which requires the most care.

…if white play is typically playing standard developing moves its because he doesn’t know what to do.

…* the e4 square is what white can win easily with. If the knight on f6 is removed, and you haven’t castled, then wait because the bishop and queen battery on the c1-h6 diagonal is hard to meet.

…when an early c4 comes, re-route the knight to b6 after the exchange on c4. Don’t allow white to capture the knight and double the d-pawns because they are too difficult to defend and your light squared bishop becomes hemmed in.

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As we know, competitive chess involves travel. From the images below can you guess which publication has been plundered?

Not know the answer then scroll down.

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