Check is in the Mail: Analyzing the Elements, part one

Examining the Elements, Part 1

Hello chess friends! This month’s column is the first in a series about the elements of chess analysis, using the email and correspondence games played by US Chess members as examples. Please forgive the length of the article; we have much to cover, including some background material.

A big part of my joy from chess is in the analysis – understanding what happened in the game as well as what might have happened if the players made different choices. It is also where I find my biggest learning moments when analyzing my own games. You will see a number of my games in this column during the year, and that is for two reasons. First, I learned as a young player that true analysts put their work out there for others to review and critique, and I am attempting to follow in that tradition. I am not yet a master, but it is a goal of mine, and it will only happen if I continue to learn about the game. Second, I put a lot of time and effort into analyzing my games, and some of them have, in my opinion, lessons suitable for other players. Since I played them, I am in the best position to explain them. I bring those games in to share what I have learned.

Mikhail Botvinnik, the sixth World Chess Champion, once said, “chess mastery essentially consists of analyzing chess positions accurately.” The goal of this series is to help developing players (like me) analyze more accurately, so that we have a solid basis for building the rest of the game upon. An inaccurate analysis will doom a plan before it gets off the ground. Understanding the elements and how they interact will make you a stronger chess player.

The Elements

Chess theory recognizes five different elements that impact the evaluation of a chess position: material, pawn structure, space, time, and king safety. Each of these elements will be discussed in turn in this column over the coming year.  We will start with king safety, which is the most volatile of the elements – when the king is unsafe nothing else really matters, while at the same time opportunities to attack can disappear if you hesitate. Therefore no price is too high to pay to get at the king when he is vulnerable, and we get to enjoy the combinations and sacrifices that delight us (unless they are used against us!). But first let us recognize all the elements and their basic differences.

Theory differentiates between dynamic elements (those that tend to change during the game) and static elements (those that tend to remain as they are through much of the game). When analyzing a chess position, one of the key differences between dynamic and static elements is how an equal exchange of pieces will impact the position. Dynamic elements tend to have less impact after an equal exchange of pieces (such as rook for rook, or bishop for knight), and so when you have an advantage in a dynamic element you should avoid trading pieces when possible. On the other hand, if your opponent has a dynamic advantage, you should seek piece exchanges when you can. Static elements instead remain the same after an equal exchange of pieces, and so you should seek exchanges when ahead in a static element and avoid them when your opponent has a static advantage. With this understanding, we recognize the dynamic elements to be space, time, and king safety, while the static elements are pawn structure and material. This month’s element of study is king safety, a dynamic element.

An advantage in a dynamic element can fade quickly if you do not manage it carefully; each additional move contains the potential for the advantage to dissolve before your eyes. The best way to make use of an advantage in a dynamic element is by making moves that contain threats, so that your opponent has no choice but to respond. When players or coaches talk about having the initiative, they are discussing the use of threats to increase an advantage in a dynamic element (king safety, time, or space), or to exchange it for an advantage in a static element (pawn structure or material). The threats must be addressed, so that your opponent’s agenda is put on hold. Through proper use of those threats you can build an attacking position move by move without having to bother wasting time on defense. Being on the receiving end of the initiative can be a humbling experience; you can go from what you see as a safe position to a blitzkrieg in a handful of moves without understanding why (see game two, Corkum – Irons).

The Games

King safety is an issue in all phases of the game, and ignoring it is risky. I wish to start with one of the best-known attacking devices recognized in chess: the classic Bxh7+ sacrifice. This device tends to occur more in the middlegame, but our first example takes place in the opening. I have been both the attacker and the victim of this device in my games; I have tasted both the sweetness of success and the bitterness of defeat at its hands. Here is your chance to share in my glory as well as my pain. Our first game, Irons – Fodor, is a Semi-Tarrasch Defense to the Queen’s Gambit where Black prioritizes developing his queenside bishop over striking at White’s pawn center. The result is the bishop sacrifice on move 11.


Our second game is another bishop sacrifice example, and a sore spot for me; at the time the 14th move arrived I thought I was at least safe. Tim Corkum, the 2022 US Chess Absolute Champion, showed me otherwise. I imagine he was smiling when he sent that move!



The game Glover – Jacobsen leaves opening theory on Black’s third move, and while White plays safely in the opening, Black tries for more and gets in a bit of trouble. First, he opens a line prematurely, then tries to defend passively when he should be seeking counterplay. White sees the opportunity to pick off a loose piece, after which his pieces swarm the Black kingside mercilessly. Although checkmate arrives at the 21st move, the game is effectively over by move 12.



Game four, Shannon – Blumberg, shows how kings can be hunted even in the endgame. The opening is a fianchetto set up by White against the Modern Benoni structure for Black. White hangs a pawn to a tactic on move 15, but then Black misses a strong follow-up, giving White another chance. Unfortunately, he doesn’t step up when it is needed, and when he seeks relief by trading queens his king is quickly cornered and killed by Black’s bishops.



Our next game shows how a small lead in development can be a real threat even in the opening. John Ratledge plays the safe Caro Kann Defense, and Adam Graupe replies with the Two Knights Variation, an old favorite of Bobby Fischer. One small slip on move five is enough for White to deliver mate on move six. The lesson here is to be aware any time your king is immobile; any check can be mate!



Our sixth game, Segreto – Souza, is a Queen’s Gambit Declined, with a sort of delayed acceptance on move four. Black seeks activity before he is fully developed, but White fails to take full advantage of the loss of time involved. Black creates a dark-square weakness on his kingside in response to a queen-bishop battery, and ten moves later White takes full ownership of the long dark-square diagonal, holding it while Black pursues counterplay against White’s kingside. At move 25 the position is pretty even and looks safe; mate comes at move 30, on that long diagonal.



Gambit openings let players try their hand at unbalancing the elements by trading material for time, in the form of a lead in development. Timothy Oltman plays the Smith-Morra Gambit against Peter Prigodich’s Sicilian Defense, and Black develops his queenside pieces first, leaving his kingside untouched until move ten. Both players struggle through the middlegame tension, with the evaluation varying from even to winning for White. Black’s 21st move opens lines around his king, and after a couple of piece exchanges White’s queen and minor pieces swarm the kingside. Black resigns on the eve of mate.



Anyone who loves attacking has experienced the misery of a failed kingside attack. Our eighth game, Reger – Morelle, starts with the sharp Four Pawns Variation of Alekhine’s Defense, with Black going after White’s king starting on move ten. The resulting position favors White, despite the fact that his kingside gets compromised during the assault. It only takes a couple of small errors from Black before White’s counterattacking opportunity arrives.



Our final game shows another opportunity to make exchanges among the elements, this time trading material for mobility. The game Hall – Irons follows theory for 17 moves, including the sacrifice of a Black pawn. Two moves later White’s queen captures another stray pawn when she is chased from the c-file by Black’s rook. While White gobbles pawns, Black activates his pieces. White offers a draw on move 27 after making his first rook move of the game, while Black’s pieces are poised to go wherever they are needed quickly. A spirited game!



King safety is everyone’s business – not only protecting your own king but looking for opportunities to attack your opponent’s king as well. Always guard your king well, and always keep an eye on how well guarded your opponent’s king is. The chance to attack successfully may disappear before your next move!

I will continue to analyze your games with regard to the elements, and part two of the five-part series should arrive in a few months. Please continue to send in your games, annotated or not, to me at Click here to show email address.

Good skill in your games!



News From the Front Office

2020 Electronic Knights Final Standings

The 2020 Electronic Knights tournament has concluded. The winner is Michael Buss of Indianapolis, Indiana. This is Buss’ second Electronic Knights championship, having also won the 2019 championship. One hundred and forty players entered competition which consisted of 20 preliminary sections, followed by five semi-final sections, culminating in one final section.



Finals Score

Overall Weighted Score



Michael D. Buss

5/6 (W4; L0; D2)




Robert P. Cousins

4½/6 (W3; L0; D3)




John Chirillo

4½/6 (W3; L0; D3)




Gerald H. Weiner

3½/6 (W3; L2; D1)




Brian C. Wiggin

2½/6 (W2; L3; D1)




Stuart Collins

1/6 (W1; L5; D0)




Johnny Owens

0-6 (W0; L6; D0)




Michael D. Buss





Johnny Owens





Gary Andrus






“In Passing”

Sanford I. Greene of Elm Hurst, New York passed away on March 21, 2023.  He had a 2312 CC rating. Greene played in the 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 USCF Absolute Tournaments, finishing in eighth place in the 2008, 2010 and 2011 events and tenth place in the 2009 tournament.


Jeffrey L. Caruso of Concord, Massachusetts passed away on June 7, 2022. He had an 1809 CC rating.


Peter Dessaules of Rocky Mount, North Carolina passed away on May 27, 2023. He had a 1467 CC rating.


Recent Event Winners

Walter Muir E-Quad

23W04, Edward Murphy 4½-1½

23W07, Jeffrey McGinnis 5½-½

23W08, Robert Irons 4-2

Victor Palciauskas

23VP02, Nicholas Sloan 6-0

Swift Quads

20SQ09, John Goins, $30 Gift Certificate 5½-½