25 January 2020

Annotated Game #235: Beware of "standard" moves

Part of the process of learning a new opening is understanding when "standard" moves - typical piece placement and development, for example - should be played. In the Dutch Stonewall, as in other variations of the defense, it's often good to place a knight on e4 and get in the ...e5 pawn break when it is possible.

In this second-round tournament game, 9...Ne4 was not necessarily bad, but developing the bishop after 9...b6 or getting the other knight out to d7 both look less committal and more promising. The next move, 10...e5 is a blunder both tactically and to some extent strategically, being premature. Tactically the problem is that the otherwise strong recapture with the c-pawn after an exchange on d5 would result in losing a piece. I saw this one move too late, so was forced into losing one pawn, then gave up another one. I gained some compensation back in piece activity and could in fact have equalized, but missed some chances and my opponent played well to consolidate his advantage.

This game was primarily another building block in my understanding of the Dutch Stonewall structures, but also a reminder that it's very possible to fight back from relatively small deficits, especially at the Class level.
[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A10"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "56"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. c4 c6 3. g3 e6 4. Bg2 f5 5. b3 Nf6 6. Bb2 Bd6 7. O-O O-O 8. e3 Qe7 9. d4 {and we have reached a standard Stonewall Dutch position now.} Ne4 { while this is a standard move, here pursuing additional development looks better.} (9... b6) (9... Nbd7) 10. Ne1 e5 {premature both tactically and strategically. A good rule in the Dutch is to play the ...e5 break when it is possible, but that is not the situation here.} 11. cxd5 exd4 {unfortunately, I had missed a tactical refuation of cxd5 and am now forced to play the text move.} (11... cxd5 $2 12. dxe5 Bxe5 13. Qxd5+ $18 {is what I missed when playing move 10.}) 12. Qxd4 cxd5 13. Qxd5+ $16 Be6 14. Qd3 Rd8 (14... Nc6 $5 { at least defends against} 15. Bxe4 (15. Nf3 $16) 15... Nb4 16. Qd4 fxe4 17. Nc3 $14) 15. Bxe4 fxe4 16. Qxe4 {I'm now down two pawns, but the two bishops, open position (no pawns to block me now!) and better piece activity give me some positional compensation. Komodo assesses it as close to a pawn's worth, but of course that still leaves me significantly down.} Nc6 17. Nc2 $6 (17. Nf3) 17... Qf7 $14 {breaking the quasi-pin on the Be6 - I don't want to exchange queens - giving the queen a route to penetrate on the kingside, and also controlling the d5 square.} 18. Nd4 Nxd4 19. exd4 $6 {this move lets me back in the game, since I have a big development advantage now, in effect, and the impact of White's extra pawns are minimized. However, one curious effect is that my planned ...Bd5 is no longer nearly as effective in this line.} (19. Bxd4 Bd5 20. Qg4 Bf3 21. Qg5 Rf8 $14) 19... Bd5 $6 (19... Bh3 $1 {equalizes, as White has to guard the f-pawn.} 20. Nd2 {the engine shows that it's best to give up the exchange.} (20. Rd1 $2 Rf8 21. f4 Rae8 22. Qf3 Qg6 $19 {threatening both Rxf4, Bg4 and Qc2.}) 20... Bxf1 21. Rxf1 Rac8 22. Qd3 $11) 20. Qd3 $16 Re8 21. f3 {this is the problem with ...Bd5, as now White can play this advance to cover the light squares and have the f-pawn be supported by the queen. At this point I run out of effective counterplay.} Re7 22. Nd2 Rae8 23. Nc4 {White can now pursue a simply strategy of just trading pieces, if he wants, getting closer to a winning endgame.} Bc7 24. Rac1 Qh5 25. Ne5 Bb6 26. Kg2 Re6 27. Qb5 Rh6 $4 {looking desperately for counterplay, I miss that the Bd5 is hanging with check, and it's over.} 28. Qxd5+ Kh8 1-0

20 January 2020

Annotated Game #234: An excellent disappointment

As improving players, sometimes our best games against strong opposition still end in losses. As with any serious game, I believe it's what you get out of it, in terms of a better understanding of both the chess and yourself, that are important in the long run to gaining strength. The result still stings a bit when you know you should have won, though.

One pattern that has become very obvious in my games is that when I fully understand the early middlegame plans, I do very well. Otherwise, I am sometimes prone to crash and burn by around move 25, not really knowing what to do with my pieces and getting in trouble as a result. The below first-round tournament game shows the former case. I know how to put the pieces on their best squares, identify targets in the enemy camp, and capitalize on inaccurate moves to achieve first a substantial and then winning advantage.

The final result illustrates, however, how and why many master-level players are able to avoid losing, and in fact win, against lower-rated opposition. My opponent keeps taking active, practical chances for counterplay, even when completely lost. The length of the game starts taking its toll on my calculating ability and when the situation becomes increasingly pressured and sharp, I go off the winning path and in fact lose. My opponent well deserved the result, since he never gave up and did what was necessary to find pressuring moves that gave him the best chances. And although it was a loss, I can take away from it a number of positive reinforcements as well, to emulate in future games.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Master"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D40"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "94"] 1. c4 e6 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nc3 d5 {choosing to go for a QGD setup rather than a Nimzo-English with ...Bb4.} 4. e3 c5 {characteristic of the Tarrasch Defense, inviting a transposition with d2-d4.} 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Be2 {this is more of a waiting move than anything else, although the bishop development is consistent with White's original ideas in the opening.} (6. d4 {transposing directly to a Semi-Tarrasch is most popular here and scores reasonably well in the database at 58 percent.}) (6. Nxd5 {is played less often, but scores better at 70 percent and forces a positional transformation.}) 6... Be7 7. O-O Nc6 8. d4 { transposing to a Semi-Tarrasch opening. I thought my opponent probably knew it better than I, but I assessed it was nonetheless better to challenge actively in the center than to go for a more Hedgehog-type position after d2-d3.} O-O 9. Nxd5 {the idea is to head for either a symmetrical pawn structure or giving Black an isolated queen pawn, depending on how he chooses to recapture.} exd5 10. dxc5 Bxc5 {now there is a balanced but relatively simple and easily playable position for me to play, with clear ideas to follow.} 11. a3 {taking away the b4 square from Black's minor pieces.} a5 {preventing the otherwise logical follow-up with b4.} 12. Qc2 {an excellent square for the queen, on the open c-file and the b1-h7 diagonal, especially since it is currently unopposed on either and cannot be chased away by ...Nb4.} Bd6 $6 {I felt at the time this was inaccurate and Komodo concurs. Black's d-pawn is a target and this both removes a defender (blocking the Qd8) and also reinforces White's control over the blockading square d4 in front of the IQP.} 13. Rd1 $14 Be6 14. Bd2 { it's a common principle that playing Bd2 (or the equivalent development for Black ...Bd7) is rarely optimal. However, here the idea is to go to c3 and get on the long diagonal, which Black cannot prevent. I didn't want to develop it alternatively with b2-b3 and then Bb2 due to the weakening of the a-pawn that would result.} Rc8 {now the queen is no longer unopposed on the c-file. However, it has another good square to go to.} 15. Qa4 {there's no immediate threat from the queen here, but Black has to watch the pressure on the a-pawn. The queen also influences the key d4 square now, laterally.} b6 {reinforcing the a5 pawn but also weakening the light squares on the queenside. No pawn advance comes without this type of trade-off.} 16. Bc3 {a beautiful long diagonal for the bishop, targeting g7 and helping control the central d4 and e5 squares.} Qc7 (16... f6 $5 {looks ugly, but is suggested by the engine as one way to help blunt White's advantage.}) (16... Ne7 {looks like a retreat, but removes the knight from potential threats against it on the c-file.}) 17. Ba6 $16 (17. Rac1 {immediately is also good, perhaps better, as the Ra1 is currently doing nothing and Ba6 remains a threat.}) 17... Rb8 18. Rac1 $18 { White's advantage is now substantial, thanks to the under-supported Nc6. Positionally, all of White's pieces are active and have a purpose, while Black's pieces are much less coordinated and have few places to go, including being under threat.} Rfd8 (18... Bc5 19. Bb5 Rfc8 20. Bd4 $18) 19. Bxg7 { cashing in immediately on the threat to win a pawn, given the double attack on the Nc6.} (19. Bb5 {is given by the engine as a better version of the idea. As is so often the case, a good idea can be improved on with additional prepatory moves. However, this line is more complex to play.} Rdc8 (19... Na7 20. Bf6 $1) 20. Bxg7 Kxg7 21. Rxc6 Qe7 22. Qd4+ $18) 19... Kxg7 20. Rxc6 Qe7 21. Qd4+ f6 { a practical choice not to exchange queens, in the hopes of later counterplay. One problem is that it opens the 7th rank up, however.} 22. Bd3 {redeploying the bishop to pressure the now-weakened kingside.} (22. Qh4 $5 {would immediately take advantage of Black's closing the d8-h4 diagonal with his last move, pressure the h-pawn, and also provide some cover for White on the kingside.}) 22... Bc5 $2 {this now forces the queen to its best square.} (22... Bd7) 23. Qh4 Rh8 24. Qg3+ {taking advantage of the bishop moving off its excellent b8-h2 diagonal.} Kf7 25. Rc7 {Black's 7th rank weakness is now taken advantage of by White. At this point I thought the game was essentially over, and it should be.} Bd7 26. Bf5 (26. Bc4 {is the even better engine line, but the text move should also win.}) 26... Bxf5 27. Rxe7+ Bxe7 {White is significantly ahead on material and can target Black's exposed king, which means it should be a relatively easy win. However, Black has the two bishops and double rooks, which offer him dynamic possibilities, especially with the g-file available for him.} 28. Nd4 {I thought about this for some time, passing up the d-pawn in favor of better activity for the knight.} (28. Rxd5 { is perfectly fine, however, and probably a simpler route to victory.} Be6 29. Rh5 Rbc8 30. h4 Rc1+ 31. Kh2 $18) 28... Bg6 29. Qf3 {I thought for some time here, too. I was having trouble coming up with an actual plan.} (29. Qg4 $5 { would be more in keeping with my last move, using the knight as leverage to get into e6.}) 29... Rbd8 30. Rc1 Rd7 31. Qh3 {still making good, active moves. The queen targets the Rd7 and gets on the open h3-c8 diagonal.} Rd6 32. Rc7 { restricting the Be7 and getting on the 7th rank again.} Re8 {again, I have a dominant position, but am struggling with a plan.} 33. Qg3 {the Rd6 is hanging, with the Be7 pinned.} Rdd8 34. Qg4 {back to the excellent diagonal and looking to penetrate.} Kg8 35. h4 {the best move, according to Komodo. The obvious threat is winning the Bg6 due to the pin.} Bd6 36. Rc6 {White is still fine after this, but here is where I start to lose momentum and have calculation problems due to fatigue. I was concerned about back-rank threats if the rook abandoned the c-fiile, now that the Bd6 covers the h2 flight square for my king. However, this threat is easily handled.} (36. Rb7 Rc8 37. g3 $18 { White's king will be fine on g2, even with the light square weakness, since f2-f3 is available if Black goes ...Be4; meanwhile, the Nd4 covers the c2 square.}) 36... Re4 {now Black starts making threats and the pressure starts getting to me.} 37. Qf3 (37. f4 $5) (37. Qh3) 37... Be5 (37... Rxh4 $2 38. Qxf6 $18) 38. g3 {I thought afterwards that this was a bad move, being too passive, but the engine is fine with it.} (38. Rxf6 $5 Bxf6 39. Qxf6 {giving back material to defang Black would be a winning strategy here. The centralized knight and queen combine well against Black's weaknesses on both sides of the board.}) 38... h5 39. Ne6 {a good, active move. In the next sequence I am still winning by a large margin, but felt increasingly under pressure.} Re8 40. Nf4 (40. Ng5) 40... Bxf4 41. gxf4 d4 {the best practical move and one which caused my calculation efforts to seize up even more. The pawn threatens to queen and/or open the e-file, but these threats are in reality not difficult to deal with.} 42. Rxf6 Kg7 43. Rd6 (43. Rxb6) 43... dxe3 44. f5 $6 (44. Kf1 { holds things together.} exf2 (44... e2+ 45. Ke1 Rc4 {is what I was concerned with, missing however} 46. Rc6 $1) 45. Kxf2) 44... Rg4+ {now I needed to simplify down. It is psychologically hard to give up a queen when you have been winning for a long period of time, however.} 45. Kf1 $2 {the losing move.} (45. Qxg4 {I somehow thought Black might continue pushing the pawn, but of course that is not possible with the Bg6 hanging.} hxg4 46. Rxg6+ Kf7 47. fxe3 Rxe3 {with a rook ending advantageous for White.}) (45. Kh2 {also allows White to survive, with difficulty.} Rxh4+ 46. Kg3 Rg4+ 47. Kh3 exf2 48. f6+ Kf8 49. Qxf2 Bf5 50. f7 Re5 51. Kh2 $14) 45... e2+ $19 46. Qxe2 Rxe2 47. Rxg6+ { the final miscalculation, although it was lost anyway at this point.} (47. Kxe2 Bxf5 48. Rxb6 Rxh4 $19 {and the endgame is easily won for Black, thanks to the material advantage and advanced passed h-pawn.}) 47... Rxg6 0-1

05 January 2020

Synchronicity in chess study

It's a well-known phenomenon that when you are learning new material, you suddenly start seeing it pop up in different places, in what appears to be an uncanny manner. This is mostly explainable by the fact that, when you are more aware of a particular phenomenon, you are much more likely to consciously notice it.

Sometimes coincidence in timing appears more like synchronicity, Jung's acausal connecting principle (perhaps made most famous by the cover of the Police album.) For instance, similar themes I recently analyzed in Annotated Games #231 and #232 just appeared in the "Quiescence" post from dana blogs chess.

I view this phenomenon as a benefit of chess study. Exploring different situations and ideas will, it seems, almost inevitably lead - often seemingly by chance - to deeper understanding and enhanced pattern recognition both in your own games and when examining those of others. This is an advantage of exposing yourself during the course of training to broader material, such as collected master/GM-level annotated games, that go beyond the narrow range of your own opening lines. Not only are new concepts introduced, but you can also see familiar patterns in different circumstances.

This is not a new idea - one other example mentioned previously on this blog was "An improved version of the Fajarowicz Gambit?" - but I believe it's worth highlighting again, as a motivational factor in chess study. While too much training (especially when very repetitive) can lead to diminishing returns, broadening your study horizon can lead to new breakthroughs and insights into the game, which is how we become stronger over time.

04 January 2020

Annnotated Game #233: Boden's Mate

This last-round tournament game was actually going well, until a calculation/visualization error of mine led to my opponent being able to deliver Boden's Mate. This is a threat involving two bishops against a king castled on the queenside, as can happen in the Caro-Kann and other openings. Hopefully it's a lesson that only needs to be learned once.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class A"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B18"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "29"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. N1e2 Nf6 7. Nf4 e5 { this is the standard antidote to White's plan with N1e2-f4. Black's central counterattack resolves the tension with equality.} 8. Nxg6 hxg6 9. dxe5 Qa5+ { this is the main idea behind ...e5, regaining the pawn with an active queen.} 10. c3 (10. Bd2 {is played more often, but Black's response is essentially the same.}) 10... Qxe5+ 11. Be2 {this indicated White wanted to keep playing for a win. Qe2 is the standard alternative.} Nbd7 12. O-O O-O-O 13. Qa4 Bc5 14. Bf4 Qe8 $4 {I thought that this was the "safe" move to play, but completely missed the queen sacrifice for an unusual mating pattern. Even without that, b4 would also be winning for White.} (14... Rh4 {I considered for a while, as the dynamic (and it turns out only) response to White's last move, but calculated incorrectly that Black's rook could be trapped or put out of action.} 15. Bxe5 Rxa4 16. b3 (16. Bxf6 Nxf6 $11) 16... Rh4 {and Black is fine.}) 15. Qxc6+ 1-0

29 December 2019

Annotated Game #232: Deja vu, only better

This third-round tournament game started very similarly to the second round one (Annotated Game #231), only my opponent - significantly higher rated - made fewer opening inaccuracies and the quality of the game was better on both sides. It's unusual to get two Whites in a row and I hadn't expected it. I was nonetheless able to immediately apply some lessons from the previous game, also an English vs. Slav setup. I had a clearer understanding of the needs of the position, for example using the superior d3/Nbd2 development instead of Nc3, and then correctly found the plan to push the e-pawn, thanks to the lesson learned from way back in Annotated Game #2.

One consistent problem I have is in identifying my opponent's resources before I make my move, which here led to problems after 15...Nc5 (forcing a bishop for knight exchange) and especially after the blunder on move 20, which simply drops a pawn. I still had a good strategic bind on the position, however, and concentrated on making the best of it, rather than beating myself up for the lost material and opportunity. The rest of the game is a good illustration of how some relatively subtle inaccuracies can be exploited by active piece play, and the power of an advanced passed pawn in cracking your opponent's position.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A12"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "59"] 1. c4 c6 2. Nf3 d5 3. g3 Nf6 4. Bg2 Bf5 {facing another Slav setup.} 5. O-O e6 6. b3 Be7 7. Bb2 O-O 8. d3 {here it is evident that b2 is a much better square for developing the knight than c3} Nbd7 9. Nbd2 h6 {making a retreat square for the bishop on h7} 10. Rc1 Re8 {a reasonable idea, positioning the rook for the longer-term idea of e6-e5 and also vacating f8 for possible occupation by a minor piece.} 11. Re1 {a reasonable waiting move, developing and opposing the rook on the e-file.} (11. Rc2 {is most played here. The idea is to follow up with Qa1 to form a battery on the long diagonal, with Rfc1 also then possible.}) 11... Kh8 $146 {this appears to be just a waste of a tempo. Now I can play e2-e4 and force things in the center, since the bishop on f5 is attacked, giving Black fewer options.} ({Relevant:} 11... Bh7 12. Qc2 Bf8 13. e4 dxe4 14. Nxe4 Nxe4 15. dxe4 Nc5 16. b4 Nd7 17. c5 a5 18. a3 axb4 19. axb4 Qc7 20. Re3 Ra2 21. Bf1 b6 22. Qb3 Raa8 23. cxb6 Qxb6 24. Rc4 Reb8 25. Qd1 Rb7 26. Rd3 Nf6 27. Bxf6 gxf6 28. Qc1 Ra2 29. Rd2 Rxd2 30. Qxd2 Rb8 31. e5 f5 32. Qc1 Rd8 33. Bg2 Rd5 34. h4 c5 35. bxc5 Rxc5 36. Rxc5 Qxc5 37. Qxc5 Bxc5 38. h5 f6 39. exf6 Bd6 40. Nd2 Kf7 41. Nc4 {Aghayev,N (2342)-Mammadova,N (2230) Baku 2016 1/2-1/2}) 12. e4 {a lesson learned from Annotated Game #2: don't be afraid to play e4 in the English!} (12. cxd5 $5 {first, opening the c-file, also looks good.}) 12... dxe4 13. dxe4 $14 Bh7 {the problem with this retreat is that it takes a better square away from the Nf6 for its own retreat.} (13... Bg6) 14. e5 $16 {the key idea. Black is forced to undevelop the knight and White establishes control of the center.} Ng8 15. a3 $6 {too passive. I was looking to prevent ...Bb4, but this is not in fact necessary.} (15. Ne4 $1 Bxe4 (15... Bb4 $6 16. Nd6 $18) 16. Rxe4 Nc5 17. Rd4 $16) 15... Nc5 {Black's best reaction, targeting the d3 square and a potential triple fork.} 16. Bf1 { essentially forced, to exchange the knight landing on d3. The one positive for White here is that the bishop was not doing a lot of good on the long diagonal anyway, so the exchange of minor pieces is not bad in itself.} Nd3 17. Bxd3 Bxd3 (17... Qxd3 $5 {my opponent was apparently reluctant to expose his queen in this manner, although I have no way of targeting it.}) 18. Nd4 $14 {Komodo shows a small advantage to White here. After N2f3, my forces are still better deployed than Black's.} Bh7 $6 {this appears to be a reasonable precaution, but again loses a tempo for Black and allows me to increase the bind on the dark squares.} (18... Bc5 $5 {would activate the bishop.} 19. Ne4 Bxe4 20. Rxe4 $14) 19. c5 $16 {now the Be7 has nowhere useful to go and I can think about landing a knight on d6.} Bf8 20. Nc4 $2 {this was just a blunder, with me being too eager to play to my advantage.} (20. b4 $16) 20... Bxc5 $11 21. b4 { after a blunder, one can either beat oneself up for the rest of the game or proceed as best as possible. After a short period of self-recrimination, I continued to try to press my opponent.} Be7 $6 {Black is still OK after this, but this gives me some ideas to play with on the kingside.} (21... Bf8 { is a better defensive move, leaving the 7th rank open and reinforcing g7.}) 22. Qf3 {targeting the weak f7 square.} Rf8 23. Red1 {played with the game continuation in mind, specifically the move 25-26 variation, which requires a rook on the c-file for the tactic to work.} (23. Rcd1 $5) 23... Qc7 $2 { this allows me to get in the desired Nd6, finally.} (23... Qd5) 24. Nd6 $14 Bxd6 {this gives me a strong passed d-pawn, which becomes decisive.} (24... Bg6 {defending f7 seems better, although Black is still under a lot of pressure.}) 25. exd6 $16 Qd7 (25... Qxd6 $2 26. Nxc6 $1 $18 {and nothing works for Black now, for example} Qc7 27. Ne5 Qe7 28. Rd7) 26. Nb3 {preparing to go to a5 or c5 } Qd8 {anticipating Nc5} 27. Na5 {I thought for a while on the alternative squares and decided that this was a simpler approach, increasing pressure on both b7 and c6.} (27. Nc5 {is preferred by the engine, but is more complicated. } b6 28. Nb7 Qd7 {and now} 29. b5 {is necessary. The winning idea in this variation is the two connected passed pawns on the 6th, which are worth giving up the knight.}) 27... Qb6 {covers both squares, but the queen is now exposed and the d-pawn free to advance.} (27... Rb8 28. Be5 f6 (28... Qd7 29. b5) 29. Bd4 $18) 28. Bd4 Qb5 29. d7 {neither rook can go to d8 without further material loss.} Nf6 {Black's weak kingside and White's domination of the d8 queening square now decide.} (29... Bf5 {is an interesting try.} 30. Rc5 Qa6 31. b5 Qxa5 32. bxc6 $18) 30. Bxf6 1-0