04 April 2020

Annotated Game #239: Not a Hedgehog

This first-round game was a typical tournament start for me, featuring somewhat poor quality of play early on, but I was able to hold on long enough against a lower-rated opponent until I could generate some counterplay and finally break through. My opponent played well for most of the game, despite entering a dubious opening line (6...d5) that went against the Hedgehog structure just established on the previous move. I could have taken better advantage of this, however, and ended up allowing her to obtain a superior position in terms of space and piece activity. Most of the rest of the game consisted of me responding to threats in a relatively passive way, but the tide began turning around move 30, when I obtained some activity of my own and forced my opponent to have to respond to threats - thereby giving her a chance to go wrong, which she eventually did. One of the main lessons from the game analysis, other than from the opening phase, was how important (and effective) piece activity is in the endgame, especially when rooks are on the board. The other one, which tripped up my opponent in the end, was the decisive power of a more advanced passed pawn.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class D"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A30"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "109"] 1. c4 e6 2. Nf3 b6 3. g3 Bb7 4. Bg2 Nf6 5. Nc3 c5 {entering a Hedgehog structure. However, Black immediately violates this with her next move.} 6. O-O d5 {while general principles suggest it is good to occupy the center with a pawn, in this case it is one too many pawn moves in the opening. Black's idea and threat is to continue the pawn advance with ...d4, but White can combat this in multiple ways, the simplest being to exchange the c- and d-pawns.} 7. Ne5 $5 {this prevents ...d4 due to the hanging Bb7 and occupies a central outpost. However, White's advantage is less concrete here.} (7. cxd5 Nxd5 (7... exd5 8. d4 $16 {is even better for White, as the Black d-pawn is a useful target.}) 8. d4 $14 {White is ahead in development and has better control of the center.}) 7... Nbd7 8. f4 $146 {the idea here is to support the outpost on e5 and open the f-file if Black exchanges. Although less pressing than the main line, as some consolation Komodo puts it as its second choice.} (8. Qa4 $14 {is universally played in the database and is probably the most active way to continue, as in the following example game.} Bd6 9. Nxd7 Qxd7 10. Qxd7+ Kxd7 11. Rd1 Rac8 12. cxd5 Nxd5 13. Nb5 Bb8 14. d4 cxd4 15. Nxd4 Ke7 16. e4 Nb4 17. Bd2 Na6 18. Bg5+ f6 19. Be3 Nc5 20. f3 Na4 21. Rd2 Be5 22. Bh3 Bxd4 23. Bxd4 Rc7 24. Rad1 Bc8 25. e5 f5 26. Bf1 Bd7 27. b3 Nc5 28. Bxc5+ bxc5 29. Bc4 Rb8 30. Rd6 Rb6 31. Kf2 Bc8 32. Rxb6 axb6 33. Rd6 Rb7 34. Ba6 Rb8 35. Bxc8 Rxc8 36. Rxb6 c4 37. Rb7+ Kf8 {Bayaraa,Z (2194)-Bryant,J (2359) Dallas 2009 1-0 (83)}) 8... Bd6 $11 {an obvious response, developing the piece and pressuring e5 again.} 9. Nf3 $6 {this betrays a lack of imagination and failure to take into account the dynamic factors in the position.} (9. cxd5) (9. Qa4) 9... O-O { Black is in a hurry to castle and prevent the position being opened with her king in the center, which of course is not a bad idea.} (9... dxc4 {would grab a pawn with little compensation for White, however.} 10. d3 cxd3 11. Qxd3 Be7 12. f5 exf5 13. Qxf5 O-O $17) 10. b3 {protecting the c-pawn while preparing to develop the bishop to the long diagonal. However, Black could now follow up on her previous idea to advance the d-pawn.} (10. d3 {would be comparatively better, not locking the dark-square bishop in after ...d4.}) 10... Re8 { a standard rook development, but this lets me repair the problem in the center. } (10... d4 $5) 11. e3 {taking control of the d4 square. The position is now equal again.} dxc4 12. bxc4 e5 {consistently following up with a standard idea of an e-pawn break supported by her pieces. However, I should have ignored it and continued to develop, as there is no actual threat.} 13. fxe5 {a premature exchange. It wins a pawn, but Black gets more than sufficient compensation.} ( 13. Nb5 $5 Bb8 14. fxe5 Nxe5 15. Nxe5 Bxg2 16. Nxf7 Kxf7 17. Kxg2 $11 {and now if} Be5 $2 18. d4 {is possible.}) (13. Bb2 exf4 14. exf4 $11 {in the game, I didn't like the idea of having a backward d-pawn, but Black has no way of getting at it soon. Also, my control of e5 in this variation is cramping for Black.}) 13... Nxe5 14. Nxe5 Bxg2 15. Nxf7 {this is the tactical point, a desperado maneuver that threatens the Qd8.} Kxf7 16. Kxg2 Be5 $15 {Black's pieces are much more active and my c-pawn is hanging, so my opponent in fact has a small advantage here.} 17. Bb2 {I need to get the bishop into the fight.} (17. Qc2 $6 {would attempt to cover both the c- and d-pawns, but would leave me with more weaknesses.} Kg8 18. Bb2 Qd7 $15 {now Black can increase pressure on the d-file and also threaten to swing the queen over to the weak light squares on the kingside.}) 17... Qd3 18. Rb1 {this seems like an obvious move and covers things reasonably well after the game continuation. The engine finds a more active continuation for Black, however, based ironically on retreating the king, which however frees up the Nf6.} (18. Qb1 $5) 18... Qxc4 ( 18... Kg8 19. Qe2 Rad8 $17) 19. d3 Qe6 {we're now back to rough equality, which could be solidifed by playing Ne4 and taking advantage of the continuing f-file pin. However, there are long variations involved. The text move is inferior, but more understandable, as it removes the threat to the e-pawn.} 20. e4 (20. Ne4 {and now if} Qxa2 21. Nxf6 Bxf6 22. Rf2 Qe6 23. Qh5+ Kg8 24. Rxf6 gxf6 25. Rf1 $11 {in a complex position.}) 20... Kg8 $17 {Black has more space, with better piece placement and coordination. Meanwhile, I have to try to fight against space cramp and get my pieces to better squares.} 21. Qb3 { I evaluated my queen as being inferior to Black's, so seized the chance to force an exchange. Black might do better by making me burn another tempo to complete it.} Qxb3 (21... Rad8 $5) 22. axb3 Red8 {this leaves the other rook on a8, which appears to be intended to support a future queenside pawn advance. However, this reduces the pressure Black has on the central files.} 23. Rf3 { this is more flexible than putting a rook on d1. The d-pawn cannot advance in any case.} Rd7 24. Nd1 {offering another trade.} Bxb2 25. Nxb2 {Black still has an advantage, but I feel that with fewer pieces on the board the problem is a little more manageable.} Ng4 (25... Rad8 $5) 26. Rd1 (26. Nc4 $5 {is a bid for more activity.}) 26... Rad8 (26... Ne5 $5 {would powerfully centralize the knight and allow Black to dominate in the long run.} 27. Rf2 Rad8 28. Rfd2 Kf8 $17 {and Black's king can enter the fray in the center.}) 27. h3 Nf6 $6 { thankfully (for me) missing the opportunity to move to e5.} (27... Ne5 28. Re3 Nc6 $19) 28. Re1 {made under the rule that rooks belong behind passed pawns. A good practical choice, perhaps, as Black would have to make some non-obvious knight maneuvers to effectively block the e-pawn.} (28. Ra1 $5 {with the d-pawn guarded, it would be better to get this rook active on the a-file.}) 28... Re7 {now the e-pawn is pinned, which did not really register with me.} ( 28... Ne8 {followed by moving to c7 is Komodo's preference, controlling the b5 and e6 squares.}) 29. g4 {played with the thought of moving the king up to g3, but this ignores Black's possible responses.} (29. Ra1 $5) 29... Rd4 { evidently played with the thought of following up with ...Rb4.} (29... Nd5 $1 { would take advantage of the e-pawn being pinned to transfer the knight to a better square, in this case b4.}) 30. Nc4 {physically preventing the rook from getting to b4. However, seeking active counterplay would be even better.} (30. Ra1 {it's interesting to see how piece activity really is the key to rook endgames. For example} Rb4 31. g5 Rxb3 32. Nc4 Ne8 33. Raf1 {and now despite beign a pawn down, White's domination of the f-file and more advanced passed e-pawn make it an even game, or even a win if Black fails to defend with} g6) 30... Nd7 31. Ref1 {around here I started feeling better about the situation. Although objectively Black still has a similar advantage, according to Komodo, I'm finally in the position of having potential threats and making my opponent react to my moves, rather than me having to constantly defend.} h6 32. Kf2 { getting the king into the action, with the intent of taking over defense of the d-pawn.} Kh7 $6 {the king is no safer here and this gives me a valuable tempo.} (32... b5 33. Ne3 Rxd3 34. Nf5 Rxf3+ 35. Kxf3 Rf7 36. Ke3 {and White is a pawn down, but with good chances to hold, thanks to the active king.}) 33. Ke2 $11 {the position is now balanced.} Nb8 34. Rf7 {still an even position, but psychologically a rook on the 7th adds to the pressure on my opponent.} Rxf7 35. Rxf7 Nc6 $2 (35... Rd7 $11) 36. Rc7 {the correct follow-up, driving the knight away from protecting the a-pawn.} Nb4 37. Nb2 $6 {too passive.} (37. Ne5 $16 {and the knight is gloriously centralized.}) 37... a6 38. e5 {my opponent now finds the runaway e-pawn difficult to deal with.} Nd5 39. Rf7 $6 { if I wanted to keep the rook on the 7th rank, a7 would be a better square.} ( 39. Rc6 Nf4+ 40. Ke3 Nxh3 41. e6 $11) 39... Rb4 $2 {my opponent gets greedy, not counting on the strength of the e-pawn.} (39... Nf4+ 40. Kd2 b5 $15) 40. e6 {the Black rook is now effectively walled off from the central action and the Nd5 is the only thing stopping the passed e-pawn. Black at minimum will have to give up the knight.} Rxb3 41. Nc4 $18 {I believe my opponent missed the full effects of this move, which now threatens to undermine the Nd5 from e3.} a5 {attempting to race her own pawn down the side, but there is not enough time.} (41... Kg8 42. Ne5 $18) 42. Ne3 {now there is no way for Black to exchange the knight for the passed e-pawn and the game is effectively over.} Nf6 43. Rxf6 $1 {this was overlooked as well, I believe.} gxf6 44. e7 a4 45. e8=Q a3 46. Qf7+ Kh8 47. Qxb3 {there are quicker mates, but at this stage of the game you don't get extra points for speed. My opponent, a junior, as is often the case these days, does not resign in a hopeless position, so I just play the easiest moves until mate.} h5 48. Qxa3 f5 49. gxf5 h4 50. Qa7 c4 51. dxc4 b5 52. cxb5 Kg8 53. b6 Kf8 54. b7 Ke8 55. b8=Q# 1-0

07 March 2020

Top two things that hold you back

Progress in chess, as with many things in life, isn't just about gaining new skills and knowledge. It's about identifying flawed or unhelpful practices that are holding you back from greater success, and eliminating - or at least significantly reducing - them. As with any sort of bad habit, the most effective way of tackling them is to consciously adopt new and positive practices. Otherwise, it's too easy for your brain to gravitate back to its old habits, like a well-worn rut in the dirt just keeps getting deeper over time.

While amateur players normally need to work on all aspects of their game, I think picking the top two things that keep tripping you up, then consciously working on them in both training and game situations, can be an effective strategy for speeding up overall improvement. Analyzing your own games over time should naturally highlight what these major issues are, combined with some self reflection, although if you have a coach they should be able to point them out as well. I'll share mine here.

1. Materialism

This is a pernicious problem for many amateurs. Occasionally you may find ultra-aggressive players who never bother counting material and always play for mate, but most people still want to win material and will "count the points" - the traditional "scoring" scheme being 9 for a queen, 5 for a rook, 3 for a bishop or knight, and 1 for a pawn.

Once you get to a certain level of play, I believe using this scheme as part of your thinking process is much more of a detriment than it is a help. At the beginner level, some type of easy-to-understand guide to piece value is needed, so using the standard counting scheme and its variants (3.5 for a bishop and 3.25 for a knight, say) has its place. However, this is a very static way of thinking about the game. Failure to take into account dynamic factors will inevitably hold you back, both strategically and tactically. This is not just a human failing, either, as many computer engines before the most recent modern era - Fritz was notorious for this - had the same problem with materialistic evaluations. (More on the role of engines in a bit.)

One way to effectively combat this in the thinking process is to consciously assess (and reassess) the current and future potential value of each piece. Full details of how to do this is beyond the scope of this post; there are a number of positional/strategic books and lessons available that address this topic. The most basic questions about piece activity, however, will go far. Namely: how many squares does the piece influence? Are they important squares? Does the piece have the ability to move to a better square? Answering these questions will help both strategic and tactical thinking, by highlighting opportunities for your pieces, along with vulnerabilities you may have to your opponent's pieces. This is a major component of prophylactic thinking, which involves preventing your opponent's pieces from reaching their best squares.

An important practical tool in this evaluation is the use of an engine (after the game, of course). Modern engines such as Stockfish, Komodo, Houdini and others are very good at assessing the value of compensation for material, which essentially reflects the dynamic positional value of pieces. I find that Komodo in particular tends to give more weight to non-material factors, which is one reason I use that as my primary engine when analyzing. The engine will not tell you why it evaluates a position in a certain way, so it cannot replace your own study and insight, but it importantly provides an objective evaluation for you to ponder further.

Recognition of materialism as a problem has helped me take some practical measures, including:
  • Deliberately looking for ways to increase piece activity, including via methods like pawn sacrifices. The idea of clearance sacrifices, for example, is common in master-level play.
  • Consciously searching for other major sacrificial possibilities, rather than automatically suppressing them as part of the thinking process. This reveals opportunities that will otherwise be missed, for example in Annotated Game #5 (First Sacrifice). This is just as important to do when thinking of your opponent's possibilities, as in Annotated Game #233 (Boden's Mate).
  • Paying more attention to the comparative value of pieces when making (or avoiding) exchanges. Piece swaps are often taken for granted, as players assume that if the overall "count" is the same, then exchanges always have a neutral value. This is one way that masters end up beating amateurs on a regular basis, by better recognizing the longer-term value of the pieces (including pawns) that are left. My simul game versus GM Sam Shankland is a good example.

2. Laziness in calculation

The best training advice I have ever received (from a martial arts master) is "don't be lazy". This is especially important when calculating as part of the thinking process. This does not mean calculating endless variations every single move; rather, it's important to recognize when critical positions are reached. At that point, the variations being calculated have to work, otherwise the game's outcome will be affected.

Another meme-worthy formulation of this is "Don't think you are. Know you are" from The Matrix. In other words, don't think you know what will happen if you make a critical move, make the effort to know what will happen. This requires laziness to be banished and increased focus and energy applied. Fear and doubt can enter into the process as well, either when attacking or defending in a critical situation. It's better to put those things aside and focus on determining the reality of what will work and what will not.

Consistent application of a routine thinking process that involves blunder checking and looking at your opponent's resources is also part of this idea, of not being lazy. It's been too easy for me to over-focus on my own possibilities and then, unless I force myself to ask "what are my opponent's threats and ideas", get caught out by something unexpected.

Another aspect of laziness is stopping prematurely when reaching a key future position during calculations. This is normally a result of either dismissing a position as not being viable, when in fact it is, or the opposite problem, which is believing that the position is won/good for you, when in fact your opponent can bust the line with their next move. This means that you have stopped "one move short" of what should be done. Eliminating this problem is not easy, because of the inherently difficult nature of calculating and visualizing multiple potential future positions, but identifying when to make the extra effort and then applying it can go a long way to improving quality of play and your results.

14 February 2020

Commentary: 2019 Cairns Cup, Round 5 (Abdumalik - Krush)

With the current (2020) Cairns Cup ongoing, it's fitting that this next commentary game between IM Zhansaya Abdumalik and GM Irina Krush is an interesting struggle from last year's tournament. I selected it for analysis because it features an unnamed Caro-Kann sideline - essentially an Exchange Variation paired with the aggressive idea Nf3-e5 - that surprisingly often has appeared in high-level games (Carlsen, Anand and Kramnik top the list of White players) and can crop up at the club level. I suspect that the top players use it largely for surprise value and to avoid long book lines, while club players may more often use it out of lack of knowledge or experience in facing the Caro-Kann. As with any opening approach that is not unsound, it shouldn't simply be dismissed as a sideline and ignored by Caro-Kann players.

Remarkably, I've faced the move 4 position six times during my own tournament career, most often opting for a setup with ...Nf6 and ...Nc6 in response. Krush's play with ...Nf6, ...g6 and ...Nbd7 I think is superior to that and lets her equalize quickly. How she handles the strategic tension in the center, play on the light squares, and taking advantage of a missed idea by her opponent (liquidation of queenside tension with c3-c4) is worth the time for study.

[Event "Cairns Cup 2019"] [Site "Saint Louis"] [Date "2019.02.10"] [Round "5.2"] [White "Abdumalik, Zhansaya"] [Black "Krush, Irina"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B13"] [WhiteElo "2468"] [BlackElo "2435"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "90"] [EventDate "2019.??.??"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. Nf3 {this unnamed sideline can also arise from a 2. Nf3 move order. I've actually had this position six times in my tournament praxis.} Nf6 {this is what I played five times out of six.} (4... Nc6 {is as equally popular as the text move in the database and is more in keeping with standard Exchange Variation development. It blocks the diagonal to Black's king and helps guard e5. Used in Annotated Game #171.}) 5. Ne5 { White is attempting to chart an independent course in the opening, rather than sticking to normal development. This approach has been used successfully by a number of top-level players, although the surprise factor likely plays a role.} g6 {this has seen more success, scoring around 50 percent, than the other main alternative ...Nc6.} 6. Bb5+ Nbd7 {now Black has this more flexible and slightly less awkward response to the bishop check.} 7. O-O Bg7 {continuing to develop pieces. White's Ne5 is in a good position, but moving it twice has allowed Black to catch up in development.} 8. c3 {supporting the d4 pawn and looking to blunt Black's bishop on the long diagonal.} O-O 9. f4 {in keeping with the aggressive play featuring the Ne5. One can see this f-pawn push in some other Caro-Kann variations as well, having gained popularity in recent years. As with all pawn advances, it also leaves weaknesses in its wake, and Black now occupies the e4 outpost.} Ne4 10. Bd3 {this is where the bishop normally goes in the Exchange Variation, so arguably White has simply lost a tempo in development. Black's knight in turn has been diverted to d7 instead of c6, which seems more helpful for Black, as it can now move to f6 and support the Ne4.} Ndf6 11. Nd2 Bf5 $146 {making the strategic decision to maintain the Ne4. The Bf5 development is also normal in variations with ...g6.} (11... Nd6 {was previously played.} 12. Qe2 Bf5 13. Re1 Rc8 14. Ndf3 Bxd3 15. Nxd3 Nfe4 16. Nf2 Nxf2 17. Qxf2 Rc7 18. Qh4 e6 19. Qh3 b5 20. a3 a5 21. Ng5 h6 22. Nf3 b4 23. axb4 axb4 24. Ne5 bxc3 25. bxc3 Ne4 26. Bb2 Qb8 27. Re2 Rfc8 28. Rc1 Rb7 29. Ba1 Qa7 30. Qe3 Rb3 31. Rec2 Ra8 32. h3 Rc8 33. Kh2 Kh7 34. Qe1 Nd6 35. Qe2 Nc4 36. Nxc4 Rxc4 37. Ra2 Qc7 38. Rf1 h5 39. Qd1 Rb7 40. Kh1 Bh6 41. Qf3 Rb5 42. Qf2 Rc6 43. Re2 Rcb6 44. Ree1 Kg8 45. Rd1 Qb8 46. h4 Rb1 47. g3 Rxd1 48. Rxd1 Bf8 49. Qc2 Rb3 50. Rg1 Qb5 51. Rc1 Ba3 52. Rd1 Bd6 53. Rg1 Kg7 54. Rd1 Qc4 55. Kg2 Ra3 56. Bb2 Ra2 57. Rd2 Ba3 58. Qc1 Bxb2 59. Rxb2 Ra3 60. Rc2 Qa6 61. Qe3 Ra1 62. Rf2 Rb1 63. Qe5+ Kg8 64. f5 exf5 65. Qxd5 Qa1 66. Qc5 Rg1+ 67. Kh2 Rh1+ 68. Kg2 Qg1+ 69. Kf3 Qe1 70. Qc8+ Kg7 71. Qc6 f4 72. Qe4 Qxc3+ 73. Kxf4 Re1 74. Re2 Rf1+ {0-1 (74) Tomic,G (2216)-Andersen,A (2225) Djenovici 2018}) 12. Ndf3 e6 {stiffening Black's position on the light squares and also locking the bishop on the kingside. I admit I would be hesitant to play this kind of restrictive move, although objectively the Bf5 will have an out after ...Nd6.} (12... Nd6 $5 {is also an idea here.}) 13. Qe1 {this seems to waste time and put the queen on a less mobile square, although perhaps the idea was to enable the queen to eventually swing over to the kingside. Meanwhile, two queenside pieces remain undeveloped.} Nd6 14. Be2 {the bishop moves again, this time to avoid an exchange which would lessen White's ability to fight for the light squares.} b5 {with White retreating forces from the center, Krush now opts to mobilize her queenside.} 15. h3 {threatening g2-g4, but the bishop has the fine e4 square to go to.} Qc7 {connecting the rooks and adding to White's potential pressure on the queenside.} 16. b3 {this weakens c3, but gives White the idea of pushing the c-pawn, while keeping Black out of c4. It also opens up the c1-a3 diagonal for the bishop to get out.} Be4 { Krush now chooses to go for the exchange of bishop for knight.} (16... Rfc8 $5 {would activate the rook.}) 17. Ba3 Bxf3 18. Rxf3 {this is awkward-looking, but helps support the c3 pawn and gives the rook some mobility along the third rank, perhaps anticipating an eventual g2-g4.} (18. Bxf3 $5 {would instead fight for the e4 square.}) 18... Nfe4 {now the results of the bishop for knight trade look good for Black. Once again there is a strong Ne4, which in this position has greater reach than the bishop, targeting key squares such as c3 and g3.} 19. Rc1 {further reinforcing the c-pawn and preparing to advance it.} Rfc8 (19... f6 {is favored by the engines, which show a slight Black plus, but would represent a shift in strategy and require ...Rfe8 to support the e-pawn.}) 20. Kh2 {now White deliberately avoids the critical idea of c3-c4, to her detriment.} (20. c4 dxc4 21. bxc4 bxc4 22. Bxc4 $11) 20... a5 (20... Qa5 {is the engines' choice, forcing White to exchange on d6 or drop a pawn. However, White in return could get some activity and counterplay on the queenside.} 21. Bxd6 Nxd6 22. b4 (22. Bd3 Qxa2 23. Ra1 Qxb3 24. Ra6) 22... Qc7 23. a4) (20... Qb7 $5 {seems like a good practical choice as well, getting the queen off the c-file, reinforcing the Ne4, and keeping options open on the queenside.}) 21. Bd3 {this and White's next seem like waiting moves, with the idea perhaps of Qc1 afterwards. However, this gives Black too much time.} Qa7 22. Rc2 {this was the last chance to liquidate the tension by playing c4.} b4 $1 $17 {now Black's buildup pays off. The problem for White is that his Rc2 is overloaded, trying to cover both the a2 and c3 pawns, while the d4 pawn is also under pressure.} 23. cxb4 Rxc2 24. Bxc2 axb4 25. Bxb4 Qxa2 {breaking up White's queenside pawn duo, but limiting the reach of Black's queen.} (25... Qxd4 {is the choice of the engines, giving Black central control with a 5v3 majority and a centralized queen.}) 26. Bd3 {the bishop moves yet again, and again it seems to be hurting rather than helping White. Perhaps she is hoping in some long-run compensation for having the two bishops, but the light-square bishop is hobbled in this structure.} (26. Bxe4 Nxe4 27. Qc1 $17) 26... Qb2 { this gets the queen out of the way of the rook on the a-file and also targets the d4 pawn. Although material is even, White's two isolated, weak b- and d-pawns and awkward piece placement give Black a significant edge.} (26... Qxb3 $4 27. Bxe4 $18) 27. Bxd6 {this must have been played with some regret, exchanging White's better bishop, but it helps de-congest White's pieces and removes the Ne4.} Nxd6 28. Qb4 {finally giving the queen some scope and at least some theoretical hope for counterplay.} Bf8 {Krush improves her worst piece, with tempo, given its lineup on the White queen.} 29. Qb6 Qd2 (29... Ra2 {played first would keep the initiative and avoid the rook getting cut off by a potential Ba6.} 30. Bf1 Qd2 $19) 30. Bf1 (30. Ba6 $5 {would now interfere with Black's piece coordination and make her readjust her plans and pieces.} Qa2 31. Bd3 Kg7 $17) 30... h5 (30... Ra2) 31. Qc6 {White again misses the key idea of Ba6.} Ra1 $19 {now the rook moves into the attack and White is in trouble.} 32. Qd7 (32. Qb6 {would hold the pawns, at least for now.}) 32... Qxd4 {White's position now collapses.} 33. Nc6 $2 {White must be getting desperate at this point.} (33. Qd8 Rc1 $19) 33... Qf6 {controlling the e7 square.} 34. b4 {might as well push the passed pawn.} Ne4 35. Bd3 h4 {now Black takes advantage of White's kingside holes, preparing another square for the knight.} 36. Qc7 Ng3 {forcing the issue and winning material, with the threat of ...Rh1#} 37. Rxg3 hxg3+ 38. Kxg3 Ra3 {an exchange up with excellent activity for the rook and queen, and an exposed enemy king, the rest of the game is just mopping up for Krush.} 39. Ne5 Bh6 {pretty much everything wins here.} (39... Qf5 $5) 40. Qc1 Kg7 41. Qe3 Rb3 42. b5 Rb4 {now f4 falls to the Black forces.} 43. Ng4 Bxf4+ 44. Kf3 Qc3 45. Qe2 e5 {faced with further material loss, White resigns.} 0-1

13 February 2020

Training quote of the day #29: Simon Webb

The biggest difference between a Master and a club player is in positional understanding. This pays off most clearly in simple positions, where the Master knows exactly what to do, and finds it easy to punish the positional errors of his opponent. This almost certainly applies to you too when you play someone distinctly weaker than yourself.
From Chess for Tigers by IM Simon Webb, Chapter 5: "How to catch Rabbits" 

Annotated Game #238: Lining up the shot

In this last round of the tournament, I still had some pride and preserving my Class A rating to play for, both of which would require a win to be satisfied. However, there was relatively less pressure, as I'd scored a win in the previous round after losing the first three games, breaking the streak. I had been given two Blacks in a row, which in fact was fine by me, since I've scored just as well (sometimes better) with that color.

I was also cheered by the appearance of the London System on the board, which I've traditionally had good results against. This time was no different and I equalized easily, despite a bit of inconsistency in the opening. On move 16 I deliberately decided to keep the queens on the board, looking for more winning chances, although as the engine points out I would have gained a slight advantage in the endgame. The structure had enough imbalances for there to be significant play in an equal position, and therefore chances for my opponent to go wrong.

The game starts turning in my favor around move 20, when I am able to come up with a decent plan to better mobilize my queenside forces, while my opponent makes some aggressive-looking but also wasteful moves on the kingside. The weakening 24. g4?! allows me to a couple of moves later naturally line up my queen against his king on the long diagonal, then take a surprise tactical shot that combines a discovered check, attack on his queen, and an x-ray theme on the f-file. My resulting material advantage and advanced passed pawn seal the win and a satisfying end to what could have been a disastrous tournament.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D02"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "108"] 1. d4 d5 2. Bf4 {the London system has only gained in popularity over recent years, it seems.} Nf6 3. e3 Bf5 4. Bd3 Bxd3 5. Qxd3 e6 (5... c6 {is more popular here, controlling the b5 square, although as can be seen in the next variation, the queen check is not a serious threat.}) 6. Nf3 (6. Qb5+ {wins a pawn, but Black has full compensation. White's queen has to be careful not to be caught without squares, as Black's rook gain strength on the queenside open files.} Nbd7 7. Qxb7 Rb8 8. Qxa7 Rxb2 $11 {and now if White gets even more greedy, Black should win:} 9. Bxc7 $2 (9. Qxc7 $2 Qa8 $19) 9... Qc8 $19 { with the threat of ...Rb7.}) 6... Nbd7 7. Nbd2 Nh5 {played to target White's powerful bishop. However, White can avoid the trade and keep a small initiative.} (7... c5 {is a more logical follow-up to Black's previous move.}) 8. O-O (8. Bg5 $5) 8... c5 $6 {mixing and matching strategic ideas is not a good recipe for the opening. Luckily my opponent does not press his developmental advantage.} (8... Nxf4 {is the obvious follow-up, completing the idea behind the knight move.}) 9. c3 (9. c4 {with Black's king still in the center, White would do well to use this pawn lever to try to open the position. For example} Nxf4 10. exf4 Be7 11. cxd5 exd5 12. Qb3 $16) 9... Nxf4 10. exf4 Bd6 $11 11. f5 {now that I am ready to castle, this is not worrisome.} O-O 12. fxe6 fxe6 {the backwards e-pawn looks ugly, but White is not in a position to put too much pressure on it. The half-open f-file also serves as compensation.} 13. Rae1 Qf6 $6 {this is too committal of the queen.} 14. Qe3 (14. Qb5 { can be parried, but Black effectively wastes a tempo in doing so.} Qe7 $14) 14... Rae8 {now White cannot make any more progress.} 15. Ne5 Bxe5 16. dxe5 { I am fine with this bishop for knight trade, as now the d/c pawn pair is strengthened and White has a target on e5 he has to defend.} Qe7 {Here I had a long think about game strategy. This retreat looks slightly passive, but my thinking process was actually to preserve more potential winning chances by keeping the queens on the board.} (16... Qf4 {was my main alternative and Komodo's preference. The queen trade gives Black a small edge perhaps.} 17. Qxf4 (17. g3 $5 Qxe3 18. Rxe3 Rf5 19. f4 $11) 17... Rxf4 $15 {and my rook activity is superior.}) 17. f4 Rf7 {a slow plan. Komodo prefers to prepare to mobilize the queenside pawn majority (4v3), with moves like ...b5 or ...Nb8-c6. } (17... b5) 18. Rf3 Ref8 19. Ref1 {maintaining the equal tension.} b6 { thinking safety first and preparing ...c4.} 20. Rh3 {this effectively wastes a tempo.} (20. c4 $5 {would be more unbalancing, challenging Black's center and posing more problems to solve at the board.} Nb8 21. cxd5 exd5 22. f5 Nc6 23. e6 Rf6 24. g4 g6 $11 {should hold for Black, though.}) 20... c4 {clearing the square for use by my pieces and creating a potential outpost on d3.} 21. Kh1 { effectively another loss of tempo.} (21. b4 cxb3 22. Nxb3) 21... Nc5 $15 { good, but not best.} (21... Qc5 {is pointed out by Komodo as winning a pawn, given that both the f- and b-pawns are weak. I did not even consider it, though, based on my earlier decision to avoid exchanging queens.} 22. Qxc5 (22. Rhf3 Qxe3 23. Rxe3 Rxf4 24. Rxf4 Rxf4 25. Kg1 $17) 22... Nxc5 23. Rhf3 Nd3 $19) 22. Rhf3 Nd3 {Black gets an 'octopus' knight deep in enemy territory.} 23. b3 b5 {play has shifted to the queenside and as a result I now have the initiative and a space advantage.} 24. g4 $6 {an aggressive attempt to re-start kingside threats, but this is too weakening. The f-pawn (and by extension the e-pawn) now have less potential support. The h1-a8 diagonal is also now opened, which later becomes decisive.} (24. Qd4 $5) 24... Qc7 $17 { pressuring the e-pawn, thereby preventing an advance of the f-pawn.} 25. Nb1 $6 {this retreat and redeployment of the knight harms rather than helps.} a5 { this passes up an opportunity to strike a blow on the kingside, now that the knight has removed itself from the action.} (25... g5 26. f5 (26. fxg5 $2 Rxf3 27. Rxf3 Rxf3 28. Qxf3 Qxe5 $19) 26... Nxe5 27. Rg3 h6 $19 {and now the f-pawn will eventually fall.}) (25... Qb7 {immediately is also good.}) 26. Na3 Qb7 { consciously lining up on the long diagonal, as well as protecting the b-pawn.} 27. Nc2 $2 {missing the following tactic. The f-pawn is in fact sufficiently protected, which no doubt led to my opponent not considering the possibility of it being taken. However, the point is the discovered check and simultaneous attack on the queen, combined with the x-ray on the f-file.} (27. Kg1) 27... Nxf4 $1 28. Rxf4 $2 {this leads to additional material loss.} (28. h3 cxb3 29. axb3 Ng6 $19 {with a winning endgame.}) 28... d4+ 29. Qf3 Qxf3+ {now the x-ray tactic works.} 30. R4xf3 Rxf3 31. Rxf3 Rxf3 32. Nxd4 Rxc3 33. Nxb5 Rc1+ 34. Kg2 c3 $19 {with the material advantage and advanced passed c-pawn, the win is just a matter of simple technique.} 35. Na3 c2 (35... Ra1 {is quicker.}) 36. Kh3 Kf7 37. Kh4 Rh1 {forcing either the queening of the pawn or the loss of the knight.} 38. Nxc2 Rxh2+ {from this point on it's just cleaning up.} 39. Kg5 Rxc2 40. a3 Rb2 41. b4 a4 42. Kh5 Rb3 43. Kg5 Rxa3 44. Kh5 Rb3 45. Kg5 a3 46. b5 Rxb5 47. Kh5 a2 48. g5 a1=Q 49. g6+ hxg6+ 50. Kg5 Rxe5+ 51. Kf4 Qd4+ 52. Kf3 Re3+ 53. Kf2 Qd2+ 54. Kf1 Re1# 0-1