29 November 2023

Video completed: Guide to the Advance Caro-Kann

I recently completed the video by FM Aleksandar Randjelovic "Guide to the Advance Caro-Kann" which can be found on YouTube or with a companion article on Chess.com. At 15 minutes, it packs a number of useful concepts into an introductory but also practical reference to the opening.

At first he discusses the fundamental ideas behind the 3...Bf5 line, and points out the main disadvantage - the bishop being "bad" and getting harrassed by White. He then turns to examine the 3...c5 line, while alluding to its related French Defense structures.

If White plays "normal" moves, Black can leverage the fact it is a Caro-Kann and not French by freeing the Bc8 and ideally placing it on g4. This also allows ideal placement of the knights on c6 and f5. If White takes on c5 immediately, FM Randjelovic judges 4...Nc6 as still playable, but ...e6 is considered better by theory, threatening to immediately recapture the pawn. 

Halfway through, he says he prefers to focus on typical plans for Black, rather than particular variations/move-orders, given the unlikelihood of your opponent following exact variations. This is refreshing and appropriate for this type of opening setup, which is not extremely sharp. Ideas for Black include undermining White's queenside pawns with ...a5 and ...b6; where to place the Ng8 and why; and the surprising ...g5 idea, which can lead to a powerful pawn sacrifice if White gets greedy.

Some more general points are made about opening play, including the point that, when a player looks at choosing particular moves, they should pick the one they understand the best. This is because playing an "objectively best move" that lands you in an uncomfortable position is actually detrimental to your performance in the game.

The video and FM Randjelovic's take on the opening I found practical, valuable and refreshing. As I noted in the article's comments section, it is probably the best concise explanation of the ideas in the Caro-Kann I have seen, with a focus on 3...c5.

25 November 2023

Commentary: 2022 U.S. Women's Championship, Round 12 (Foisor - Lee)

This next commentary game from the penultimate round of the 2022 U.S. Women's Championship concludes my examination of the event. It features another Keymer Variation, but White takes it in a very different direction, using a passive Hedgehog-like setup. This is a valid strategic choice, often used when a player wants to provoke their opponent into over-reaching; past international greats such as Petrosian, Ulf Andersson, and from time to time Viktor Korchnoi employed this strategy successfully.

However, in this game Black demonstrates the problem with this type of passive approach, by successfully occupying and controlling the center and then achieving what could have been a winning advantage on the queenside, with White's pieces relatively passive and bottled up. It appears that Lee may have misjudged the sequence starting on move 37, which actually requires Black to use a nice tactic just to stay even in the endgame. The strategic clash between the players and the particular importance of elements like recurring opportunities to exchange minor pieces made this game stand out for me.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2022"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2022.10.18"] [Round "12"] [White "Foisor, Sabina-Francesca"] [Black "Lee, Alice"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A06"] [WhiteElo "2203"] [BlackElo "2263"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "146"] [EventDate "2022.??.??"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. e3 {another "Keymer Variation"} Nf6 3. b3 Bf5 4. Bb2 {it now looks like a reverse Queen's Indian setup versus a reverse London.} e6 5. Be2 {keeping options open.} h6 6. d3 {this is now a commital move in the center. White will look to construct a rather passive Hedgehog-like structure, something she evidently was aiming for from the start.} Nbd7 {contesting e5 while not blocking the c-pawn.} 7. Nbd2 c6 8. O-O Be7 9. a3 {in keeping with the Hedgehog theme.} O-O 10. Re1 (10. c4 $5 {would strike back in the center and reduce White's level of passivity.}) 10... Qc7 {connecting the rooks, getting a nice diagonal for the queen and controlling e5.} 11. Bf1 {a logical idea, given White's previous move. Otherwise the Re1 is doing nothing.} Rad8 12. Qe2 {White seems determined to "turtle up" with all her pieces.} Rfe8 13. g3 {this move is not really in keeping with the idea of the original e3/Be2 development, but if White is not worried about things like tempi or challenging the center, then it is at least consistent with her strategic approach.} Bg4 {provoking White's next.} (13... e5 $5 {Black could also immediately seize more space with her well-supported central pawn.}) 14. h3 Bh5 15. Bg2 e5 $15 {Black has no weaknesses and a space advantage in the center.} 16. g4 Bg6 17. e4 {White now challenges for the first time in the center. Black then chooses to lock it, reducing her dynamic possibilities.} d4 {this makes the position simpler to play and certainly helps lock out the Bb2. However, Black could have done more with a mobile center and keeping the tension.} 18. Nf1 {with a closed center, White can return to leisurely maneuvering.} Nf8 19. Bc1 {the bishop currently has no future on the long diagonal. White can now think about further supporting a g4-g5 advance.} Ne6 20. Ng3 Nd7 {pre-emptively getting away from a pawn attack and opening up the Be7 on the diagonal.} 21. h4 {White's plan is very clear by now, to expand with all available pawns and pieces on the kingside.} c5 {not a bad move, but real counterplay on the queenside is far away, with all the action on the kingside.} (21... f6 $5 {would directly counter White's plan.}) 22. Bh3 Nf4 23. Qf1 {White at this point would be fine with a minor piece exchange on h3, thereby putting the queen on a more effective square.} (23. Bxf4 $5 {exchanging the bad bishop for good knight looks like a good deal for White.}) 23... b5 {continuing the idea of queenside counterplay through pawn advancement.} 24. Nf5 Bf8 (24... Nxh3+ 25. Qxh3 Bf8 {the engine evaluates as an improved version of the idea for Black.}) 25. g5 {this appears premature, as Black could lock things up and then proceed on the queenside.} h5 (25... Nxh3+ 26. Qxh3 h5) 26. Ng3 (26. Bxf4 $11 {is still best here, exchanging off the bad bishop.}) 26... Nxh3+ $1 {now Black goes for this idea, with admittedly more impact than it might have had before.} 27. Qxh3 c4 28. Qf1 cxb3 29. cxb3 Qc3 $17 30. Bd2 {otherwise Black comes in with ...Nc5.} Qxb3 31. Reb1 Qa4 {Black is now a full pawn up with no compensation for White. The 2-1 connected queenside majority is Black's potential winning formula.} 32. Ne1 {Other moves would have been more active, such as Bb4 or Qe2.} Nc5 $19 {Black has mobilized her pieces and looks ready to press forward on the queenside.} 33. Rb4 Qa6 34. Qe2 Rb8 {this overprotects the b-pawn, but allows White's next.} (34... Na4 $1 {is recommended by the engine, gaining a tempo on the Rb4 and offering up the h-pawn as a sacrifice with powerful compensation.} 35. Rb3 Rc8 {and now} 36. Nxh5 {is answered by the dynamic} Nc3 $19 {and White has no good choices:} 37. Qf3 (37. Bxc3 Bxh5 38. Qxh5 dxc3) 37... Bxh5 38. Qxh5 b4) 35. Nxh5 Qe6 (35... Bxh5 {why not exchange off the bad bishop?} 36. Qxh5 Qe6 $17) 36. Rab1 (36. Ng3 $5 {to preserve the knight / prevent the exchange.}) 36... Bxh5 37. Qxh5 Qh3 $6 {exchanging Black's b-pawn for White's d-pawn at first does not look like a bad idea...} (37... a6 $17 {is simple but effective.}) 38. Rxb5 Rxb5 39. Rxb5 Nxd3 40. Rb3 $11 {this now causes Black problems, however.} g6 41. Qe2 Nc1 {a creative solution to the pin, which is tactically broken.} 42. Rxh3 Nxe2+ 43. Kf1 Nf4 44. Rb3 {This is evaluated by the engine as equal, perhaps with a slight advantage to White. Clearly not what Black was looking for earlier. The protected passed d-pawn looks strong, but White has an effective blockade and her pieces will be active enough to fend off any threats.} Ne6 45. Nd3 Nc5 46. Nxc5 Bxc5 47. Ke2 (47. a4 $5 {becomes an idea, to free up White's rook and gain space.}) 47... Kg7 48. Kf3 (48. Kd3 {also looks solid.}) 48... Re6 49. Rb5 Rc6 (49... Bxa3 50. Ra5 {followed by Rxa7}) 50. Bb4 Bxb4 51. axb4 {this is now a drawn rook ending, although Black evidently still wants to try for a win.} Re6 52. Ke2 Re7 53. Rd5 Rb7 54. Rxe5 Rxb4 55. f4 Rb3 56. Kf2 Re3 57. Re7 Kf8 58. Rxa7 {eliminating the outside passed pawn and simplifying the draw.} Rxe4 59. Kf3 Re3+ 60. Kg4 {now White just needs to get her rook behind the d-pawn.} Re1 61. Rd7 Rd1 62. Kf3 d3 63. Ke3 Re1+ 64. Kf2 Re2+ 65. Kf3 Rd2 66. Ke3 Rh2 67. Kxd3 Rxh4 68. Ke4 {there's no point in continuing now, but the game is played out.} Rh1 69. Ra7 Re1+ 70. Kf3 Rf1+ 71. Ke4 Re1+ 72. Kf3 Rf1+ 73. Ke4 Re1+ 1/2-1/2

29 October 2023

Article: "Bridging the Gaps of Competency"

"Bridging the Gaps of Competency" is an insightful look at the mastery process over at Medium.com, by Sean Kernan. Some points and themes have been mentioned here before, including how plateauing works. It's a member-only story, but here are a couple of the most relevant quotes from the article, including a chess reference; the "spectrum" mentioned below is the four stages of competence.

I remind students that, regardless of if we are talking about art, coding, pottery, or any skill, change isn’t linear. It’s completely normal to be stuck at a certain level of competency, and then abruptly level up.  It’s like that moment you suddenly realize how to solve a math problem. It all falls into place.


A good teacher is effective at diagnosing where you are on this spectrum. They may not use these labels, but they can intuitively know and help specify where to make changes. They’ll also demonstrate unconscious competence. They’ll show you, in some tangible or visual way, what the skill should look like in its finished form. Don’t assume you need a grandmaster to teach you. In fact, your best bet might be someone who is a stage or two better.

For example, if you are stuck at stage 1 (unconscious incompetence), someone at stage 2 or 3 may have immediate memory of how they got to the next stage. In other words, don’t conflate ability with ability-to-teach. In chess, for example, a grandmaster may have an encyclopedic knowledge of openings and endgames but no patience for beginner mistakes...


You show me someone with an open mind, a desire to learn, and a fighting spirit, and I’ll show you someone who is on the road to mastery. 

28 October 2023

Video completed: The Stonewall Attack in 60 Minutes


I recently completed the video "The Stonewall Attack in 60 Minutes" by IM Andrew Martin, part of the ChessBase series of 60-minute videos on openings. I would generally agree with the comment in the post on The Stonewall Attack, in that the opening analysis is "frivolous" but the example games provided are all useful. Here's a screenshot of the table of contents:

As someone who has studied many (perhaps most) of the Stonewall Attack opening resources available, I would say that the video content could actually be a good starting point for study of the opening, just diving in with some familiarization on key setups and ideas. Personally I found it quite useful in also fleshing out my thinking about the different types of opening setups reached, since Martin provides clear (if brief) explanations about things like piece placement and certain opening ideas. Specifically:

  • Martin gives pride of place to what he calls the "kingside smash" that you can reach as a White player if Black tries standard "solid" moves, reaching a true Stonewall Attack formation. Seeing several examples of these, involving both higher and lower-rated players, helped reinforce typical plans, how to place your pieces effectively, and how to take advantage of normal-looking moves by Black that are actually quite weak.
  • The seminal game Rubinstein-Reti (1908) is a fine illustration of how White can keep going with an attack, even with the recommended defense for Black of 4...Nb4 and exchanging the light-square bishop.
  • Martin presents two games each in the King's Indian / Gruenfeld Defense setups by Black, which feature the idea of an early b2-b4 by White and rapid queenside expansion as the best plan.
  • I appreciated the inclusion of a game with Black playing ...Bg4, which in practical terms has given me the most trouble. White however still has a straightforward way of dealing with this after playing Qe1.
The relatively short format of the video did not feel like a constraint and in fact helped encourage me to re-review the game presentations, since they ranged from around 5-9 minutes apiece. So I will count it as a worthy addition to my Stonewall Attack resources.

24 October 2023

Commentary: 2022 U.S. Women's Championship, Round 11 (Cervantes Landeiro - Eswaran)

This next interesting game features the recently-named Keymer Variation (1. Nf3 d5 2. e3) which like the previous commentary game's setup has various transpositional possibilities, but also some unique characteristics. White ends up in a reversed Dutch position in which Black is doing fine and probably has a small advantage in the first part of the middlegame. White's masterful strategy of liquidating her center, freeing her pieces, then challenging Black's central control works very well, however, putting Black under strain and soon leading to a quick reversal of fortune.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2022"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2022.10.17"] [Round "11"] [White "Cervantes Landeiro, Thalia"] [Black "Eswaran, Ashritha"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A06"] [WhiteElo "2272"] [BlackElo "2365"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "85"] [EventDate "2022.??.??"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. e3 {this is now known as the Keymer Variation and flexibly can lead to various setups.} Nf6 3. b3 {getting into Nimzo-Larsen territory...sort of.} Bf5 {heading for a reverse London setup, although technically this way of development for Black was advocated by Lasker a long time before the London became popular.} 4. Bb2 e6 5. Be2 {White has nowhere else useful to put the bishop, so an easy choice.} h6 6. O-O Bd6 7. Ne5 {c4 is most commonly played here, but has a dismal result in the database (24 percent). The text move leads to an interesting reverse Dutch setup.} O-O 8. f4 Nbd7 9. d3 {White prudently first takes control of e4 in a reverse Classical Dutch arrangement.} Bh7 {getting the bishop out of the potential future line of fire, for example with e4 or g4 pawn advances.} 10. Nd2 Bc5 {targeting the weak e3 square, so White's next is logical.} 11. d4 Be7 12. Bd3 {now White has a position very similar to the Colle-Zukertort (without a pawn on a3) or the Stonewall (without a pawn on c3).} c5 13. Qf3 {e2 is normally a better square for the queen. On f3 it blocks both the knights and the Rf1 from potentially using the square.} Qa5 {hitting the now-undefended Nd2, another drawback of the previous move.} 14. Rad1 Bxd3 (14... Qxa2 {is possible but no more advantageous for Black.} 15. Bxh7+ Kxh7 16. Nd3 {protecting the Bb2 and now threatening to trap the queen.} Qa5 17. g4 $11 {and White has compensation in kingside space and pressure for the a-pawn.}) 15. Nxd3 Rac8 {of course ...Qxa2?? is no longer possible, due to Ra1 trapping the queen.} 16. dxc5 {White makes a good choice to liquidate her center, which also frees up the long diagonal for the Bb2.} Bxc5 17. Nxc5 (17. c4 $5 {immediately also looks good.}) 17... Rxc5 18. c4 {finally challenging Black directly in the center.} b5 {this feels a little artificial, and White is able to respond effectively.} (18... Qxa2 {is now possible again, with similar ideas as in the above variation.} 19. Bd4 Rc7 20. cxd5 exd5 21. g4 $11) 19. a3 {with the obvious threat of the b4 pawn fork.} Rc6 (19... b4 $6 {would physically prevent White from gaining more space, but White's structure is better after} 20. a4 $16 {and ideas of e4, g4 and Bd4 coming into play.}) 20. b4 Qa4 {although this sidelines Black's queen, it is surprisingly the only move which maintains equality.} 21. cxd5 exd5 {best, but now Black's central pawn is isolated.} (21... Nxd5 $6 22. e4 $1 $16 {and White now dominates the center, with strong prospects for a kingside attack.}) 22. e4 Qc2 {the point behind Black's 20th move, allowing the queen to strive for counterplay deep in White's position. Both the Bb2 and e4 are targeted.} 23. exd5 {liquidating the threat to the pawn with gain of tempo on the rook.} Rd6 {necessary to regain the pawn. The engine evaluation is equal, but it's clear that White has the easier game.} 24. Bxf6 Nxf6 25. Nb3 {eyeing the c5 and d4 squares next.} Re8 $2 {too ambitious, given White's next move. A number of other moves were fine here, including ...Qe4 or doubling rooks on the d-file.} 26. Nd4 $1 {now this permanently wins White a pawn with the fork on b5, or after Black's next allows for even stronger posting of the knight.} Qc4 $6 27. Nf5 {forking the Rd6 and g7, which after Qg3 is a major problem for Black. Eswaran opts to lose the exchange instead.} Rxd5 28. Ne3 Rxe3 29. Qxe3 $18 {Black has no compensation for the lost material and White's pieces are placed excellently.} a6 30. Rxd5 {following the rule to simplify down when winning.} Qxd5 31. h3 {safety first, evidently White was thinking, creating another square for her king.} Ne4 32. f5 {clearing the f4 square and threatening to advance further once the knight leaves e4.} (32. Kh2 $5 {tucking the king away and guarding g3 again.}) 32... Nf6 {physically blocking the f-pawn, with nothing really better.} 33. Qf3 Qd4+ 34. Kh2 Ne4 {Black seems to be out of ideas, so White logically pins the knight against the queen.} 35. Qf4 Qd5 {breaking the pin, but lacking anything else to do.} 36. Rc1 (36. Re1 $5 {looking to go to the 7th rank is another good alternative.}) 36... Nd6 {Black's pieces are too exposed to the Q+R combo, but she refuses to give up just yet.} 37. Rc5 Qd3 38. f6 {with the assault on the king position on top of everything else, the position is now resignable for Black.} g5 39. Qe5 g4 40. hxg4 {winning with calmness.} Qe4 41. Qxd6 Kh7 42. Rc8 Qxg4 43. Qd3+ 1-0