14 June 2019

Video completed: "How to Take Your Time in Chess" by Tatev Abrahamyan

"How to Take Your Time in Chess" by Tatev Abrahamyan, the second in her new Chess.com video series under the heading "Why You Should Never Rush", isn't about the time on your clock, but rather the idea of not rushing your play in a position. Although she doesn't actually use the word, it's another way of looking at the need for patience - even when you have obvious threats you can make on the board.
  • During an attack: don't rush, because all pieces need to be involved. Launch a premature attack, you run out of pieces. Once all pieces are developed and ready, then look for breakthroughs.The first game example featured GM Gukesh Dommarju (the 12-year-old Indian) vs. IM Dinesh Sharma. As happened a couple of times in her first video, there was some too-rapid narration the first time she suggested to pause and find a move, but that improved afterwards. 
  • Don't rush executing a threat. This second example featured Aronian-Nakamura, from this year's St. Louis Rapid and Blitz tournament. White has a dominant position, but rushes with the threat of pushing an advanced passed pawn. (Again proving Nimzovich's dictum that "The threat is stronger than the execution.") The game is also a good example of the previous video's header ("Why You Should Always Ask What Your Opponent Is Up To"), as the main problem for White is Black's counter-threat on the king, that could have been blocked.
  • Pushing too much / too far creates long-term weaknesses. The final example is Giri - Nepomnniachtchi (Tata Steel 2019). Here, White (Giri) gets into trouble by pushing pawns and creating a series of weaknesses. Another reminder of the fact that pawn moves are ones you can never take back, and they always leave behind weaknesses.
One of the things I've appreciated about the chosen examples is that the problem moves often look very reasonable and normal, not like they should provoke punishment by the opponent. This helps reinforce the idea of always checking your moves and not relying on the assumption that everything is fine. Abrahamyan in her narration also consistently does a good job of pointing out why certain moves aren't made due to different tactical consequences.

Finally, it's worth noting that the running time of the videos in the series (15-20 mins) is good for absorbing meaningful content in a single sitting, without losing focus.

12 June 2019

New comment moderation settings and policy

Until now, I've allowed unmoderated comments on the blog, although a Google account was required to post. There's been an uptick in spam comments on the more popular posts, though, so I've switched to full moderation. However, I've also removed the Google account requirement, so it's less restrictive in that sense.

Basically I'll welcome (and respond to) any comments that aren't spam, trolling, or ass-hattery. It's always helpful to see other chessplayers' opinions on topics, whether talking about general concepts or more specific analysis (like laramonet's recent comments on a Symmetrical English variation that's worked well for him).

Video completed: Tatev Abrahamyan's "How to Think Like Your Opponent in Chess"

"How to Think Like Your Opponent in Chess": in the past, this - or more precisely, the lack of doing this - was a major hole in my thinking. This fact was exposed during the process of analyzing my own games, and led to developing a more structured thinking process, including explicitly recognizing the need to falsify your candidate moves.

In this Chess.com video, which is one of a new series (under the header "Why You Should Always Ask What Your Opponent Is Up To"), Tatev Abrahamyan first picks a game of Nimzovich's and looks at some key points. She emphasizes the fact that the process of thinking like your opponent - in other words, about what your opponent is planning to do - is not just about avoiding tactical blunders, but also about playing the most effective moves. In some cases, this will mean moving to prevent your opponent's idea first, rather than directly pursuing your own plans.

Her narration is on point, although occasionally a little too rapid. For instance, in the two places she suggests that you pause to think about what Nimzovich (Black) should do in the first game example, she then immediately tells you the move played before you can move to pause the video. In the second game example (see below), though, she gives enough time to pause if you are alert.

The second example is from IM Anna Zatonskih - GM Marie Sebag (2019 Cairns Cup). The turning point comes in a surprise tactic by White just out of the opening, a temporary knight sacrifice which wins a pawn and gives Zatonskih a positionally won game. It reinforces the idea of never assuming there are no tactics in a position, even if it looks "normal", which is another repeated personal flaw in my play that was revealed during previous game analysis.

The last example game in the video is a classic one between Alekhine and Nimzovich in a French Defense. Abrahamyan looks at a critical moment where Nimzovich should have prevented a key idea of Alekhine's and shares some specific ideas about minor piece positioning in the structure, along with a more general lesson about being able to take your time in the absence of forcing threats from your opponent. Alekhine as White establishes a complete bind and can then improve the position at his leisure. (This game is where the famous "Alekhine's Gun" formation appears.)

As with most good instructive material in chess, there's not just one lesson to be learned from the video. I found the interplay of ideas in the first Nimzovich game, particularly regarding when it is OK to move the g- and h-pawns in front of the king, and how to blockade your opponent (a classic Nimzovich theme), particularly valuable. In the last game, seeing how Alekhine applied the strategic bind and then exercised patience and seemingly small moves to win by strategic zugzwang was also enlightening.

07 June 2019

Annotated Game #211: Deceptive symmetry

Having lost my first two tournament games, I was focused on holding the line for this next game and not losing. I was therefore pleased to see my significantly higher-rated opponent head for a drawish-looking line of the Symmetrical English. That said, symmetry can sometimes be deceptive, since one side can often quickly change the character of the game in their favor.

Here my opponent varies a little, but we still end up with a symmetrical pawn structure on move 17. However, now Black's pieces are able to come alive, while I start to get myself into a cramped position; this has been a long-term tendency of mine, particularly as White. My opponent misses a chance for a clear (if small plus) by playing the wrong pawn recapture on move 20, but I then dig myself into a positional hole with my two knights on the a-file rim. Luckily I am able to recover and then find the correct blockading strategy, being happy to take a draw in the final equal position.

I think it's important to be able to recover from an 0-2 start and not get too down on yourself. I also think it's a mistake to be playing deliberately for a draw. Here that wasn't the plan from the start, even though the opening was itself drawsh. So although I wobbled a bit in my play, I was satisfied that I ultimately found the right path and played according to the needs of the position.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A38"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "55"] {A38: Symmetrical English vs ...g6:4 Bg2 Bg7 5 Nf3 Nf6} 1. c4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. g3 g6 5. Bg2 Bg7 6. O-O O-O 7. d3 d6 {this is a very even but unambitious line from Black.} 8. Bd2 a6 {first breaking of the symmetry.} 9. Ne1 {an uncommon move here, but with a similar idea found in other Symmetrical Variation lines. White is repositioning the knight to c2, in order to support an eventual b4 advance and to unleash the Bg2.} (9. Qc1 $5 {with the intent of exchanging the Bg7 is another plan.}) 9... e6 {taking away the d5 square from White's pieces.} 10. Nc2 Bd7 11. a3 {preparing b4.} (11. Rb1 {may be preferable, as the rook has better prospects eventually on the b-file, and to get away from the latent threat to it from the Bg7 on the long diagonal.}) 11... Rb8 12. b4 {I saw no reason to wait, having prepared sufficiently.} cxb4 (12... b6 $5) 13. axb4 {I now have a small positional advantage on the queenside, having resolved the tension and ending up with a spatial plus.} Ne8 {this opens up the diagonal for the Bg7 and pins the Nc3, but is rather awkward.} 14. Rb1 {played to immediately break the pin on the Nc3 and support the b-pawn. However, this releases the pressure on the a-file and allows Black to equalize with his next move.} (14. Qc1 $5 {is preferred by the engine, getting the queen in play and also supporting the activation of the Bd2, which will eventually have prospects for going to g5 or h6.} b5) (14. Ra3 {is also a good alternative, breaking the pin and keeping the rook on the a-file.}) 14... b5 $11 15. cxb5 {I thought for a while here, since the decision here will have a major strategic effect on the course of the game.} (15. c5 {would unbalance the position by giving me much better central control, but would give Black two connected passed queenside pawns, which I did not like.} dxc5 16. bxc5 Nc7 $11) 15... axb5 {with a near-symmetrical pawn structure, it's a very drawish position now.} 16. e3 {the idea being to keep a Black knight out of d4 once the Nc2 moves.} d5 17. d4 {an interesting example of how symmetry is not necessarily equal. This move gives up the c4 square as an outpost for Black.} ( 17. Ne2 $5 {maneuvering the knight to a better square would avoid the positional issues that quickly arise in the game.}) 17... Nd6 {my opponent is quick to take advantage of the weak c4 square and vastly improve the Ne8's position.} 18. Re1 {I'm starting to get my pieces jammed up now, it looks like. The idea here is to vacate the f1 square for the bishop, although it might have been better to leave it on g2, potentially supporting an e3-e4 pawn push.} (18. Ne1 $5 {would mirror image my opponent's knight maneuver (e1-d3-c5).}) 18... Nc4 19. Bf1 {continuing with the original idea, which is to do something useful with the bad light-square bishop. The piece exchange is fine on its own merits, but the pawn structure transformation will be in Black's favor.} (19. Ne2 $5) 19... Qe7 20. Bxc4 bxc4 $6 {this is not nearly as good for Black as the d-pawn capture, since I now have compensation in the form of a passed b-pawn.} (20... dxc4 21. Ne4 $15) 21. Na4 $6 {heading for c5. Here I was thinking rather narrowly and only about piece play on the queenside.} (21. b5 { should equalize again, but at the time I was afraid the pawn would be overextended. However, it's even more of a target on b4.} Na7 22. e4 $11 { undermining the central pawn chain.}) 21... Na7 $17 {now controlling the b5 square.} 22. Na3 {protecting the Na4 with the queen.} Rfc8 {this gives me a little breathing room. Perhaps my opponent was reluctant to give up bishop for knight.} (22... Bxa4 $5 23. Qxa4 Rb7 $17) 23. Nc5 {Black still has an advantage, since his pieces are cooperating much better together, but I now have a strongly posted knight.} Bc6 24. Bc3 {blockading the pawn on c4.} Qe8 25. Qd2 {reinforcing the b4 pawn. At this point my plan is to block all further progress for my opponent, rather than seek counterplay (which isn't really feasible).} Bh6 26. Ra1 $11 {continuing the blockading strategy, as now that b4 is secure I can reinforce the a-file. Komodo now evaluates the position as equal, albeit with a slight advantage for Black.} (26. Nxc4 $5 { is the computer line and a tactical way to draw.} dxc4 27. d5 exd5 28. Qd4 f6 29. Qxf6 Qf8 30. Qh8+ Kf7 31. Qf6+ Kg8) 26... Ra8 27. Ra2 Nb5 28. Nxb5 { and I took a draw here, with my opponent shorter on time than me. Neither of us can make progress.} 1/2-1/2

03 June 2019

Annotated Game #210: Patience you must have

This second-round tournament game is an excellent illustration of how a completely level position may still require patience and your full attention, in order to avoid going astray. Here, White chooses a non-critical version of the Classical Caro-Kann and by move 14 (after playing the classic ...c5 pawn break), I am in fact quite comfortable as Black.

However, succeeding in implementing the standard opening plan here doesn't bring me any grand success on the board, just easy equality. My attention then wanders and I lack focus and a deeper understanding of the position, going for an unimaginative (and ultimately losing) strategy of delivering an unnecessary check and then simply swapping pieces. My opponent does a great job of finding the refutation of this and a pretty mate at the end.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B18"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "65"] {[%mdl 8192] B18: Classical Caro-Kann: 4...Bf5 sidelines} 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. Nf3 Nf6 {this is a move-order trick for Black, as now if White plays h4, Black can respond with ...Nh5.} 7. Bd3 Bxd3 8. Qxd3 e6 9. O-O Nbd7 10. Be3 {White has played a large number of different moves in this position. The text move is a safe but unambitious option.} Be7 { a standard move, but also played with the thought of keeping my castling options open.} 11. h3 $146 {while this is a database novelty in this position, Komodo likes it well enough. White doesn't have an obvious aggressive plan, so makes a moderately useful move while waiting to see where Black commits the king.} Qc7 {still keeping the options open while developing to a useful diagonal.} 12. c4 O-O {after my opponent's queenside expansion, now it definitely would not make sense to castle there.} 13. Rac1 Rfd8 {lining the rook up against the queen on the d-file.} 14. Qb3 c5 $11 {the classic pawn break in the Classical Caro-Kann. White's center is challenged, once the Black pieces are prepared.} 15. Rfd1 cxd4 16. Nxd4 a6 {a good example of prophylaxis, taking away the b5 square from White.} 17. Nf3 {the knight goes back home, not having a future on d4.} Nc5 {not a bad move, but not the engine's favorite choice. It considers the more long-term prophylactic ...h6 a better choice, which is probably the case; later on I have back-rank problems that contribute to the loss. It's not clear where Black's pieces are best placed here, so some patience is in order.} (17... Rac8 {would also be uncontroversially good, developing the rook.}) 18. Qc2 Rxd1+ 19. Rxd1 Rd8 20. Rxd8+ Qxd8 {In this level position, quiet maneuvering is called for.} 21. Ne5 Qa5 {here I started suffering from a lack of real planning and forethought, looking only at short-term tactical "threats" which are easily stifled by White. The Ne5 is hanging and so is the a-pawn, but this is not really a problem.} (21... Bd6 { is a good option, lining up on the h2-b8 diagonal.}) (21... Ncd7 $5 {now is much better than two moves from now.}) 22. a3 Qe1+ {This is still all right, but an old quote goes, "patzer sees check, patzer gives check."} (22... Qc7 { is the calm maneuver, keeping the game level.} 23. Nf3 Ncd7 $11) 23. Kh2 { here I got confused due to my lack of any real plan, and just looked at exchanging pieces without much thought. Now the knight retreat is unfortunately a mistake, due to my misplaced queen. I was still trying to justify its existence on the first rank, rather than evaluating objectively the needs of the position.} Ncd7 $2 {this was played without calculating the post-exchange consequences, in other words I did not falsify the move.} (23... Bd6 24. Nf3 Qa5 $11) 24. Nxd7 Nxd7 25. Qb3 $18 {simple but deadly, as the b-pawn lacks enough defenders and White can exploit that, plus the two hanging pieces on the 7th rank and my weak back rank.} Nc5 {now the desperation starts. } (25... b6 {might have been more resistant, or at least made White find a somewhat more difficult follow-up move to claim full advantage.} 26. Qa4 Ne5 27. Qxa6 h5 28. Qc8+ Kh7 $18) 26. Qb6 {this wasn't too hard for my opponent to find.} Nd3 27. Qxb7 Bf8 28. Qc8 {by this point I'm clearly lost, but it's still a bit early to resign.} Qa5 (28... h5 29. Qd8 Ne5 30. c5 $18) 29. b4 (29. c5 {makes it even easier for White} Ne5 30. c6 Nxc6 31. Qxc6 Qb5 $18) 29... Qxa3 (29... Qe5 {is the last straw} 30. Qxa6 h5 $18) 30. c5 Nxb4 {I actually put a lot of thought into this and figured it was the best chance for a swindle, but my opponent finishes the game masterfully.} 31. Bf4 Nd3 32. Bd6 Qxc5 33. Qxf8# 1-0