10 September 2022

"When Intuition is Wrong" - article

"When Intuition is Wrong" by FM Cats4Sale on Chess.com [edit: now deleted for whatever reason, but the quote below is the most important] is a helpful reminder of a common phenomenon:

Often times it happens that you play a chess game of which you're proud of your performance that was fueled by intuition, only to think up later with a level head that, in fact, you could've done better.

Ego-stroking yourself about your wins is dangerous for improving players, as it means you may be deluding yourself about the quality of your play. The antidote, however, is simple and should be a core feature of your chess practice: analyzing your own games. Some people make the mistake of only analyzing losses or only taking a superficial look at wins. An objective, open-minded approach to both is best and will strengthen your play that much more.

A personal example that immediately came to mind was a game that I was particularly proud of early in my tournament career, in which I beat a 1700 player for the first time. At the time, I felt that I had undertaken some brilliant maneuvering with my pieces, but in looking at it afterwards, it was more the case that my opponent had missed a relatively unusual long-range bishop move (Bg2-h3) that ensured he lost his pinned Nd7. With additional passage of time, I also can see my lack of understanding of central play and the resulting missed opportunities to open it to my advantage, due to stereotyped opening play and a desire to be a "positional" player and avoid playing moves like d4 or e4.

Intuition is a very important component of chess mastery, but needs to be balanced with concrete calculation and understanding. If you win a game because both you and your opponent missed a key idea that could have saved them, I think it is OK to still feel good about the win - but that does not mean you should ignore the opportunity to learn that key idea, for the next time.

30 August 2022

Commentary: U.S. Women's Championship 2017, Round 11 (Paikidze - Yu)

I try to pick commentary games based on thematic reasons and this next one features a Slav, so helps reinforce the material in The solid Slav Defence. It's also very interesting on its own, as this was the last round of the 2017 U.S. Women's Championship and IM Nazi Paikidze (White) was tied for the lead with WGM Sabina Foisor. Jennifer Yu (then with a 2196 rating, now an FM at 2297) goes with a solid main line Slav and Paikidze chooses the 4. Qb3 variation, which as can be seen in the game is not directly challenging, but gives White a slight initiative into the middlegame. Some of the key takeaways from the game:

  • Black made the strategic error of opening up the game for White's pieces on move 14, rather than sticking with a more solid semi-open structure.
  • White's initiative lasts for around another 10 moves, but she misses a chance to play more actively with 21. Nd5 - the idea of a strong/dominant knight on d5, either staying there or forcing a trade advantageous to White, is a recurring theme.
  • Black takes over the initiative around move 26 and masterfully works to gain space and penetrate White's position. For some time, the game is objectively equal according to the engine, but White is clearly under pressure and the best moves eventually become only moves in order to stay level. Move 35 is critical in this respect.

[Event "U.S. Championships Women 2017"] [Site "Saint Louis"] [Date "2017.04.09"] [Round "11"] [White "Paikidze, Nazi"] [Black "Yu, Jennifer R"] [Result "0-1"] [WhiteElo "2369"] [BlackElo "2196"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [ECO "D23"] [PlyCount "102"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 2.6.1"] 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 {the main line of the Slav Defense.} 4.Qb3 {this is a solid choice by White, but should not pose any problems for Black after the exchange on c4. This can now also be classified as a Queen's Gambit Accepted opening.} 4...dxc4 5.Qxc4 Bf5 6.g3 e6 7.Bg2 Be7 8.O-O Nbd7 9.e3 O-O {a standard Slav-type position has been reached that is comfortable for Black. White still has a slight initiative, but Black has a solid structure and good development.} 10.Qe2 {putting the queen behind the e-pawn and on a potentially more productive diagonal (d1-h5).} 10...h6 {here the engines like ... Bg6, with full equality. Black is in no rush to commit the rooks or pawns and by retreating the bishop, the sting is taken out of a potential future e4 push by White. The text move is just fine, though.} 11.Nc3 Ne4 12.Nd2 {forcing the trade, to get rid of the well-placed knight.} 12...Nxd2 13.Bxd2 {White completes her minor piece development and will look to push with e4 and/or activate her rooks.} 13...e5 {a thematic pawn break. Black needs to challenge White's center before it becomes too strong.} 14.d5 {with the idea of e4 as a follow-up.} 14...cxd5 $6 {this helps open up the game for White's pieces, who are better placed to take advantage of the open center.} ( 14...Nf6 {is the engines' choice. The point is that after} 15.e4 Bg4 $11 {is possible, pushing the White queen around or forcing the awkward f2-f3 push blocking the Bg2.} ) 15.Nxd5 $16 Bd6 {this bishop is "bad" and the Nd5 is clearly superior to it. However, White now unnecessarily retreats the knight. Activating the rooks seems more to the point.} 16.Nc3 $6 ( 16.Rfd1 ) 16...Nc5 $6 {the idea of ...Nf6 with the same concept of allowing for ...Bg4, as mentioned earlier, is superior.} 17.e4 $14 Be6 18.Rfd1 {now White begins to get her rooks into the game.} 18...Qe7 {getting off the d-file.} 19.Be3 {placing the bishop on a more effective diagonal and unmasking the Rd1.} 19...Rfd8 20.Rac1 Rac8 21.Rc2 {White chooses slow maneuvering over changing the position's characteristics.} ( 21.Nd5 {getting the knight back to its dominant square would be the most challenging, although that would admit retreating it in the first place was not the best idea.} 21...Bxd5 {gives White the two bishops and an advantage after} ( 21...Qf8 $5 $14 {is passive but considered best by the engine.} ) 22.Rxd5 Ne6 23.Rxc8 Rxc8 24.Bxa7 ) 21...b6 {blunting the g1-a7 diagonal and removing the threat of Bxa7.} ( 21...Nd7 {redeploying the knight, which is not in fact doing much on c5, looks good as well, with the idea of going to f6 when needed.} 22.Bxa7 $6 {is not favorable, since after} 22...b6 $10 {White will have to work hard to extract the bishop.} ) 22.Rdc1 Nb7 {d7 still seems like a better square for the knight.} 23.Nd5 {although White has doubled rooks on the c-file, there is no actual threat associated with this move, so it is less effective than in earlier variations.} 23...Qd7 24.Rd1 Rxc2 ( 24...Bg4 $5 {as an in-between move looks useful, forcing White to play f3 and block two diagonals first.} 25.f3 Rxc2 26.Qxc2 Be6 $10 ) 25.Qxc2 Rc8 26.Qd2 $10 {now the game appears fully equal, as White has no more even pseudo-threats and Black can start making more active moves.} 26...Qc6 {controlling the c-file.} 27.Bf1 {reactivating the bishop, which was doing nothing except staring at the pawn on e4.} ( 27.Rc1 Qxc1+ 28.Qxc1 Rxc1+ 29.Bxc1 Nc5 {can only benefit Black, whose pieces are more active now.} ) 27...Qa4 28.Nc3 {protecting both the a- and e-pawns and covering the c-file.} 28...Qa5 29.a3 {both protecting the a-pawn and covering the b4 square.} 29...Bb3 {while the position is objectively equal, the initiative has shifted to Black, who keeps making threats and puts White in a reactive mode.} 30.Rc1 Rd8 {lining up on the queen.} 31.Qe2 Bc5 {Black would be fine with an exchange that put her knight on c5.} 32.Bd2 {White appears to have everything covered, but Black continues to apply pressure with} 32...Bc4 {offering a tactical trade of the Bc4 for the Bd2, which of course would be in Black's favor.} 33.Qe1 {White's pieces are all now on the first three ranks, showing how little progress has been made.} 33...Bxf1 34.Kxf1 Qa6+ 35.Kg2 {this preserves the material balance.} ( 35.Qe2 Qxe2+ 36.Kxe2 Bxf2 37.b4 {is the engine line with equality, but going a pawn down, even probably only temporarily, would be a difficult choice to make in an endgame.} ) 35...Qd3 $1 $15 {Black's queen now penetrates, however, and applies even more pressure.} 36.Rd1 Qc2 37.b4 Bf8 38.Nd5 Nd6 {this creates a critical position for White, with only one good defense. The e4 pawn is threatened, most urgently.} 39.Bc1 $2 {the wrong square for the bishop.} ( 39.Bc3 {this is not the most obvious move and likely quite difficult to find under time pressure.} 39...Nxe4 40.Nf6+ $1 {is the tactical point, with the Rd8 hanging.} 40...gxf6 41.Rxd8 Nxc3 42.Rc8 Qe4+ 43.Qxe4 Nxe4 44.Ra8 $10 ) 39...Rc8 $19 {the best move and relatively subtle, although White's game now collapses in short order. In contrast with having the bishop on c3, Black has full control of the c-file and White is not threatening the e5 pawn. The e4 pawn now falls without any compensation.} 40.Kg1 Qxe4 41.Qf1 {a desperate attempt to preserve some counterplay possibility by keeping the queens on, but now Black simply dominates.} 41...Nf5 42.Be3 Rc6 43.Qd3 {White evidently had no better ideas, although it allows Black to simplify the win.} 43...Qxd3 44.Rxd3 Rd6 {the pin on the Nd5 is extremely awkward, since there is no other way for White to defend it.} 45.b5 {this clears the b4 square for the knight retreat, but does not solve White's problems.} 45...Nd4 {forcing loss of material by White.} 46.Nb4 Nxb5 47.a4 Rxd3 48.Nxd3 Nc3 49.Nxe5 Nxa4 50.Nc6 a5 {The Na4 holds things together for Black and now the win is inevitable, with two connected passed pawns on the wing.} 51.Ne5 Bc5 0-1

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08 August 2022

Video completed: The solid Slav Defence

I recently completed the FritzTrainer "The solid Slav Defence" by GM Nicholas Pert. It provides a total repertoire for Black against the Queen's Gambit; you can see the summary of the main variations below. GM Pert as part of the introduction shares how he started playing the Slav shortly before gaining the GM title. He used to play the Dutch, he narrates, but was struggling with it against the stronger GMs. He now plays the Slav as main weapon - not just to draw, but to go for the win. As a result, he presents attacking plans for Black in most of the variations, rather than drawish lines. The idea is to get equal, even if sometimes messy positions, but aiming for chances to play for a win. This includes in the Exchange Slav, which has a very drawish reputation, but turns out to have some surprising resources for Black.

Summary of major variations covered:

A couple of things to highlight on the repertoire choices:

  • The central part of the repertoire is the Classical Slav with 4...dxc4 (not 4....a6, ...g6, ...e6 etc.) 5. a4 Bf5; the most theoretical content is in the line with 6. Ne5. 
  • In the Slow Slav (4. e3), Pert chooses the classic treatment with ...Bf5 instead of ...Bg4. 
  • With the 3. Nc3 line, ...Nf6 is selected (in contrast to IM Andrew Martin's "Sharp Slav" with ...dxc4). However, the main line in the variation involves a modern Black gambit, so it's certainly not boring.

Some general commentary and observations:

  • In addition to the games presented in each line, which include variation notes that go beyond the video narrative, a model games (100) database is included. This is a sign of a serious product that guides you in further research and study, not just presenting a canned repertoire. GM Pert is also candid about the need to do further study on your own, especially when there are messy positions like those in the main line after 6. Ne5.
  • Included are a number of GM Pert's own games, which allows for better explanations of the thinking and decision process involved. This is especially true because he has played both sides of the opening. As well as top-level GM clashes, games presented include wins against lower-level opponents, which is important to show how to exploit mistakes - not just always showing the "theoretical best" play.
  • In addition to his repertoire choices, Pert highlights some other playable lines for Black that can be investigated, for example 8...O-O instead of ...Nbd7 (his repertoire) in the old main line Slav (with 6. e3). He also explains the benefits of his chosen repertoire line, which by postponing castling allows for greater flexibility in response to some of White's standard ideas, for example if White goes Nxg6 followed by ...hxg6, thereby opening up the h-file for Black's (uncastled) rook.
  • GM Pert usefully highlights the tradeoffs involved in his repertoire choices and the ideas and plans in the positions. Logical mini-plans for piece development are consistent and knowing the usual best squares and typical maneuvers for a piece goes a long way towards achieving a true understanding of the opening and being able to give yourself a good position in practice.
  • Similarly, it's useful to have him explain why some seemingly attractive lines aren't played, for either tactical or positional reasons. This is very helpful for comprehending the position at a deeper level, and provides the general benefit of being exposed to new and different ideas in chess.
  • GM Pert's explanations come from personal familiarity, study and use of the opening in tournament play over-the-board. This gives the product a certain depth and foundation of practical knowledge that I think is lacking in most theoretical opening treatments. For example, this is a contrast with GM Erwin L'Ami's Stonewall Dutch FritzTrainer - it's a top-level product, but he doesn't actually play the defense as Black, so there's a different, more detatched and theoretical feel to it.
  • The "Test Questions" at the end run through various middlegame positions from different games/variations, which is a great way to see how the typical setups and plans work, along with explanations given for why GM Pert evaluates different continuations the way he does. It also reinforces the tactical options available in certain lines.
  • There are relatively few negatives to report, mainly the occasional (normal) verbal slip in saying an incorrect square or move during the narration, although the board shown is correct, and a few on-the-fly corrections made when presenting the game lines.
Although I don't necessarily plan on adopting all of GM Pert's recommended repertoire lines, I've been playing the Slav since the beginning of my chess career, and found this to be a new and valuable resource on the opening, as well as an excellent product for encouraging general chess improvement.

30 July 2022

Commentary: U.S. Women's Championship 2021, Round 10 (Paikidze - Yip)


This commentary game closes out my personal review of games of interest from the 2021 U.S. Women's Championship, featuring the title-clinching win by IM Carissa Yip over IM Nazi Paikidze. This is one of those games where I assess psychology and meta-strategy played a large role.

What do I mean by "meta-strategy"? This has to do both with a player's opening selection and the type of game they want to play versus a particular opponent - really, these are synonymous things - rather than "pure" best play considerations. This type of strategic approach is often seen in top-level match play, when surprise is a factor and opponents have both a deep study of each other's games and recent practical experience. In tournaments where preparation and a player's recent games are a factor, such as the double round-robin championship format, "meta-strategy" can also enter into play.

The key to understanding this game's context is the round 7 loss by Paikidze, playing as Black in a similar Modern Defense / quasi-Hippopotamus setup. If you look at the linked analysis, it shows that Paikidze got a good game, but floundered in the middlegame and then had a somewhat traumatic ending where she could have saved a draw. Yip's selection of the Modern and then her adoption of a full Hippopotamus formation was likely a surprise and psychological shock for her opponent, both in terms of her not being prepared for Yip to use the defense, and also recalling the recent trauma of the loss. Beyond the surprise factor, the Modern/Hippo for Black is specifically designed to "turtle up" defenses via control of the 5th rank, then counterattack when the opponent overreaches. A more generally respectable version of this strategy can be seen in the Hedgehog formation.

Essentially this is exactly what happens in the game, as Paikidze plays directly into Black's strategy, with White's move 22 leading to the position breaking open and the appearance of game-winning tactics in Yip's favor. For me, this was an excellent illustration of how manipulating your opponent with "meta-strategy" can pay off on the board. Is it something that can and should be done every game? No. Can it be a successful strategy occasionally, including at key moments in a tournament? Yes.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2021"] [Site "http://www.chessbomb.com"] [Date "2021.10.17"] [Round "10"] [White "Paikidze, Nazi"] [Black "Yip, Carissa"] [Result "0-1"] [WhiteElo "2374"] [BlackElo "2402"] [EventDate "????.??.??"] [ECO "B06"] [PlyCount "70"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon by Komodo 2.6.1"] [BlackClock "0:31:54"] [BlackFideId "2090732"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] [WhiteClock "0:00:41"] [WhiteFideId "13603620"] 1.d4 g6 2.e4 Bg7 {In round 7, Paikidze played the Modern as Black and lost. An interesting psychological choice of Yip, to go into the same defense.} 3.Nc3 d6 4.Nf3 {the usual choices here are Be3 and f4.} 4...a6 {Black actually has a significant plus with this line in the database.} 5.a4 Nd7 6.Bc4 e6 7.Bg5 {White scores an astonishing 25 percent in the database with this.} 7...Ne7 {Black is going for the full Hippopotamus setup.} 8.Qd2 h6 9.Be3 {the bishop returns, having provoked ...h6, which is something Black likely wanted to do anyway.} 9...b6 10.h3 Bb7 {we now have the full Hippo. The round 7 game saw an earlier deviation by Paikidze as Black.} 11.O-O Nf6 12.d5 {breaking the symmetry in the center. Now Black must decide on whether she wants a more closed game.} 12...e5 {the answer is yes. Strategically, White has a significant space advantage. However, Black with a closed center can now start operations on the kingside without worrying about a breakthrough in the center by White.} 13.Nh2 Nh5 14.Rfe1 {this clears f1 for use by White's minor pieces, but the rook is doing less on the e-file and appears misplaced there.} 14...g5 ( 14...f5 $5 {is a natural-looking pawn break, but Black evidently prefers to continue emphasizing piece play on the kingside.} ) 15.g3 {while helping control f4, this pawn move does not seem necessary and weakens h3.} ( 15.Ne2 $5 ) 15...Ng6 {getting one of Black's other pieces developed or re-deployed seems more useful, for example ...Bc8 or ...Qd7.} 16.Qd1 {e2 seems like a better square, also targeting h5 while keeping the rooks connected and also forming a battery on the more useful f1-a6 diagonal.} 16...Nf6 17.Bf1 {covering the h3 weakness and with the idea of re-developing the bishop in a fianchetto.} 17...Bc8 {bishop was doing nothing on b7.} 18.a5 {logically playing on the queenside, where White has a space advantage. However, she then turns atteniton to the kingside and it becomes Black's game strategically.} 18...b5 {consistent with previous decisions, keeping the game closed.} 19.Bg2 ( 19.Bd2 {followed by Na2 with either c4 or Nb4 is the plan suggested by the engine, mobilizing White's queenside pieces.} ) 19...Bd7 {Black has limited ways to make progress. This allows the formation of a battery on the c8-h3 diagonal.} 20.Nf1 Qc8 21.Kh2 {forced, to protect the h-pawn.} 21...h5 {White can safely ignore Black's offer of the g5 pawn on the kingside and follow a queenside strategy, as the h/g pawn duo cannot break through. However, White chooses to focus on the kingside, with diastrous results.} 22.f4 $2 {now Black can open up the game to her great benefit, with the f4 square as the pivot.} 22...gxf4 23.gxf4 exf4 24.e5 {White must have over-estimated this move, which is immediately refuted by the game continuation. However, other continuations by Black also win.} 24...Ng4+ $19 {an excellent breakthrough sacrifice.} ( 24...fxe3 25.exf6 Bxf6 26.Rxe3+ Be5+ $19 ) 25.hxg4 hxg4+ 26.Kg1 dxe5 {with three connected, advanced passed pawns for the piece Black has a won game, with White's king position also a factor.} ( 26...Bxe5 $5 {also works, with Black not having to worry about the d-file.} ) 27.Bc5 Qd8 {time to mobilize the queen, heading for h4 at the earliest opportunity.} 28.Ne4 f5 {controlling e4, although Black has to be a little careful not to take prematurely.} 29.d6 {White's last hope. This opens the long diagonal and makes possible a bishop fork on e4, of the Ng6 and Ra8. Black therefore calmly eliminates the tactic.} 29...c6 30.Bb6 {White has nothing left except to harass Black's queen temporarily.} 30...Qh4 31.Bf2 Qh5 32.Qd3 ( 32.Ned2 Kf7 {and Black can consolidate her victory at leisure.} ) 32...fxe4 33.Bxe4 Nf8 {not necessary, but anything wins at this point. No reason not to be prudent.} 34.Bd4 f3 {naturally Black does not take the sacrifice and open lines to her king. Now ...Qh1+ is threatened.} 35.Bxf3 gxf3 0-1

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