Check is in the Mail: 2023 Miniatures

“In ‘miniature’ games, errors are soon magnified” - Dylan Loeb McClain, New York Times

Hello chess friends! Welcome to the annual miniatures column, where we limit the entries to games of 25 moves or less in length. For this year’s selection, all of the games were won by the players of the black pieces. The games are presented here in order of ECO Code.

Our first game, Hayes – Chirillo, is a Sokolsky Opening that by move six leaves Black with four developed pieces against one for White. Is it any wonder that the pressure on White was too much? The result is a burst of tactics that costs Hayes at least two pawns.



Game two, Daniels – Garnett, is an English Reversed Sicilian in which White insists on weakening the dark squares in the center. After some wobbly middlegame play by both sides, White castles kingside and then instantly weakens his kingside, costing him a pawn and leaving his king vulnerable. On the 19th move Daniels moves his king in the wrong direction, costing him the game.



Our third game is another English Opening, but this time White chooses to weaken the light squares in the center. Mark Windsor does his best to build strength on the dark squares, but by move 15 Richard Ralls has a stranglehold on the light kingside squares. Windsor resigns after move 17.



Our fourth game is our third English Opening, and while White (Lelan Conti) chooses to weaken the light squares in the center, he keeps his central pawns flexible. Unfortunately he misses his best opportunity to grab his share of the center, and Black (Almyr Bump) responds by winning a center pawn and forcing White’s king to move before he can castle. The remainder of the game has White attempting to regroup while Black keeps coming for White’s king. Conti submits on move 25.



Our fifth game is our fourth and final English Opening (what does it say about 2023 that 18% of our miniatures are losses by the English Opening?). Moujan – Huffstatler is an English Four Knights that remains even until Black makes a queen move that White thinks is a mistake. His response misses the tactical point of Black’s queen move, and Black’s response in turn forces mate on the following move.



McCaffery – Brodhead is our sixth game, and it is an interesting struggle with a surprise ending. It starts as a King’s Indian Defense, but then transforms into a Modern Benoni defense. Black begins the middlegame playing somewhat timidly, and White responds in kind. On his 18th move White permits a black knight to post on d3, and three moves later allows his queen to be pinned against his king.



With our seventh game we enter the second ECO book (B). Graupe – Kotamraju shows us the Two Knights variation of the Caro Kann defense, which the competitors play solidly until after the kings are castled. White then plays two moves allowing Black to win a central pawn and destroy White’s center. White resigns after move 20 as he is losing a bishop.



Game eight is Renshaw – Finnegan, an Exchange Caro Kann that starts off solid but quickly sees White falling behind in development while Black’s pieces take up active posts. Unexpectedly, White resigns after the 15th move in a position where material is even and Black has an isolated d-pawn, but where Black is on the verge of a wicked kingside assault.



Our ninth game is Burrus – Strobehn, another Exchange Caro Kann that once again starts off solidly but veers off after Black castles because White chooses to castle queenside — what we used to call “castling into it.” Black instantly shifts his attention to the queenside, looking to force open a line for the heavy pieces. White avoids the opening of one line, but can’t postpone it forever. White decides to resign rather than make his 17th move.



Game 10, Caones-Paahana – Walsh, has White playing the Alapin variation against Black’s Sicilian defense. White sacrifices a center pawn in a position where it is both unnecessary and unproductive. Unfortunately Black doesn’t make the most of the initial opportunity, and must wait for a significant mistake to get a second chance. Fortunately for him, White still has two more mistakes in him before he chooses to resign in a position in which he loses a piece to a double attack.



My apologies to Lelan Conti for including a second loss, but the game is a pleasure to analyze. Conti – Castle starts as a French Defense, but White holds back his d-pawn at d3, similar to a King’s Indian Attack, but White doesn’t fianchetto his light-squared bishop. Instead the pawn tension that arises on move two continues for another dozen moves, with White gaining queenside space while Black develops his pieces with an eye toward the kingside. The positional mistakes in positions with pawn tension can vary from releasing the tension too soon to not releasing it soon enough, but here instead here we get White ratcheting up the central pawn tension, what I have heard referred to as “hitting the ‘Random’ button.” Black’s reply gets to the heart of what White misunderstood about the position: Black’s pieces are better positioned for the opening of the center. White’s final mistake drops his queen.



Brandon Vila plays an ancient variation of the Advance Variation against Adam Graupe’s French Defense that Nimzowitsch promoted in his classic book My System (his game against Hakansson in this line, the last game in the book, is an absolute treasure!). Black misplays the opening, gets his pieces into poor positions, closes his bishops behind a pawn chain, and has to scramble when White invades on the kingside. So how did Black win the game? White resigned in a won position.



Game 13 has Brandonn Vila on the winning side this time. Berger-Vila is a Vienna Opening in which the pawn structure is changed by Black. White’s attempt at a queenside fianchetto proves ill-advised, and Black quickly takes over the center. White’s last mistake is to capture a pawn that turns out to be poisoned, costing him a rook.



Our 14th game, Barton – Newman, shows Black getting a second bite at the apple. White misplays the Four Knights Game, allowing Black to equalize, and then gives up a pawn for no reason. Black then chooses to reposition his minor pieces, effectively handing over his entire advantage. Over the next four moves Whtie effectively gives the advantage back, with interest. Black’s last move of the game forces mate on the next move.



Game 15 is Williams – Hartstack, a Two Knights Defense that goes off the rails with White’s fifth move. Black follows with a significant mistake that pretty much hands over the advantage to White. Rather than take the advantage and run with it, White chooses to hang a knight and castle into an attack. Mate comes on move 16.



In Brodhead – Raines, another Two Knights Defense that follows theory for a bit longer than the prior one, Black sacrifices a second center pawn for some questionable attacking chances. White in turn obliges by castling into the attack rather than making a simple defensive move. Black then misses his opportunity to take over the initiative and instead walks directly into a tactic – which White misses as well. Both players stumble through the middlegame for another eight moves until Black finally forces a mating position.



Our 17th game is Sholl – Iglesias, which starts as a Ruy Lopez but transposes into a Giuoco Piano setup. White’s first mistake is to create a “hook” by playing h2-h3. White’s second mistake is to advance in the center rather than opening the d-file to open lines for his pieces. His third mistake is to make opening the g-file easy for Black. White’s fourth and final mistake is to exchange off one of his king’s defenders, which in turn caused him to have to weaken the pawns around his king even more, which in turn made room for Black’s pieces to invade on the kingside. It’s all over by move 18.



Game 18, Bump – McCaffery, has the ECO code for the generic Queen Pawn’s Game. White plays along the lines of the Jobava Attack, while Black defends with a solid Gruenfeld setup. Black maintains an advantage until he makes a radical pawn break that gives his advantage away. Given a second chance, White quickly compromises his pawn structure, trades away his king’s best defender, draws Black’s rook into an attacking position on the kingside, and then hangs his queen. After that, Black experiences little resistance.



McGroarty – Lloyd is a Gruenfeld Defense in which both players make minor positional mistakes until White’s 15th move, which hangs a bishop. Three moves later Black’s knight forks White’s queen and rook, which is enough to convince White to fold.



Game 20, our final game, is DeGroff – Wainscott, where Douglas DeGroff answers Chris Wainscott’s King’s Indian Defense with the solid Petrosian Variation, but then follows it up incorrectly. Neither player seems to have a solid grasp of the position until move 20, when White gives up a bishop for a pawn, and then promptly resigns.



Thank you for reading and for sharing your games. My first full year here as your scribe has been fun and fulfilling, and I wish you all the best during this holiday season.

Good skill in your games!



News From the Front Office

Michael D. Buss, US Chess Correspondence Coordinator


Reminder - Correspondence Chess Changes January 1, 2024

  • The entry fee for the Golden Knights and Electronic Knights tournaments will be increased to $35 per section.
  • The Electronic Knights will transition from email to the ICCF webserver, commencing with the 2024 preliminary sections.
  • Further transition of the Electronic Knights to the ICCF webserver will include the 2021 Electronic Knights finals and the 2022 and 2023 Electronic Knights semi-final and final sections once the qualifiers have been identified.


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